Bloggers Unite at Houlihan's

Bull E. Vard and I received an email this week from the good folks over at Fleishman Hillard, which does marketing for the Houlihan’s restaurant chain. They asked us if we’d like to come partake in their “Fall Menu Preview” night over in Fairway where we’d receive samplings of food from their new menu. Of course, we accepted…I mean, someone has to do it, right?! Actually, Bull thought that maybe “all of the ‘real’ bloggers were busy, so they just asked us instead…” It was an honor to be invited!

Bull, his wife Stella, and I were quickly seated upon arrival at the restaurant. Our friends Owen (from Fat City), Foodie and her friend, Blue Moon, soon joined us at our table. We’d anticipated a much larger group than just our six, with maybe a long table somewhere at the back of the bar-area. I'd almost envisioned one-way mirrors, secret hidden microphones, and notepads with checklists at our dinner places. It was a more intimate setting at a small table, however, with only a few local bloggers invited to this, the first-ever "Houlihan's Menu Preview!" (although we haven't ruled out hidden microphones, Bull and I thought it best to not talk about the drifter we killed in Reno).

The service was exceptional, with G.M. Chase, Manager Carlos, and our attentive waitress Olivia seeing to our every need. We started off the evening with flights of martinis to whet our whistles before the meal. Our group favorites were the Guavatini (deemed the “best of the bunch” by Bull), followed by the Appletini with brown sugar and cinammon on the rim, the Chocolate Martini, and then the Key Lime Pie (which I happened to like the best – even though I’m not big on the fruity drinks). I was a little concerned that they didn’t have a Pickletini on the menu, which I’m sure Wichita’s own Abbey Ale would appreciate--having drunk, I’m sure, a Pickletini at Mort’s Cigar Bar in Old Town. We drew quite a number of interesting stares from around the restaurant as we were pretty liberal with sharing our drinks with each other.

Bull suggested to our waitress that we begin the food selection from the bottom of the menu and work our way toward the top. I found that interesting. Maybe he's dyslexic? I’m pretty sure I would have ordered straight down the menu--but that's just how I roll.

First came the rather large, peel and eat shrimp, which came with remoulade and cocktail sauces. They were good, but nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. It was a good helping of shrimp for the $7.95 price. Owen gave the shrimp an “Ahhh!” on his 4 note scale of “Eh – Ahhh – Ooohhhh!” He noted that, “sometimes if something is way off the scale, being ridiculously amazing, there is often no sound, but rather just an open mouth and maybe a gasp of air.” (a sound I last heard in my bedroom.) It would be rather difficult to add the sound of nothing to his food-rating sound scale.

Olivia asked me if I’d like anything else to drink, after having downed my first round of mini-martinis. I was in the mood for a beer, and asked if she had a “GiddyUp,”* which is my new favorite! It’s a thick, coffee-flavored beer brewed by New Belgium. But they didn’t have that, so Manager Carlos went to the bar and brought back a special surprise for me – an Amber Bock, which at Houlihan’s comes highly recommended. It’s been years since I’ve enjoyed an Amber Bock, and the frosty glass he brought alongside the bottle made it taste all the better!

*Owen joked that asking the waitress if she had a GiddyUp could be the best pickup line masquerading as a drink order until someone makes a cocktail called the "phone number". Ingredients for the "phone number" would be 1 part shame and 2 parts rejection.

Our main courses were to follow. First we sampled the Grilled Chicken Asian Noodle Bowl. The group concurred that it was “OK” but it seemed a bit too healthy for our standards and the chicken seemed to be lacking in flavor. We thought it needed more salt, but Stella noted that, “if you get a chunk of mushroom in your bite, it adds a lot of taste.” Sadly, the mushrooms were few and far between.

Second, came the Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Think of the Prince song “Portion Control” when you’re chewing into this massive meal… It was your basic, greasy, fried chicken, mama’s-home-cookin’-goodness! This was a very large meal, which could have easily been split between two people. The mashed potatoes that came with it were thick and hearty, but they needed a bit more gravy for dipping some chicken. Olivia told us they would be willing to give you extra, so order some extra gravy if that's your bag.

Next we sampled the Seared Scallops. I thought they were amazing, but the rest of the table was indifferent. Again, the consensus was just “OK.” I thought the portion size was just right, not too much, and not too little. I doubt though, that I would pay $18.95 for them….

The last part of our main-course meal was an 8-oz. Cabernet Filet Mignon. The steak arrived perfectly cooked and as tender as a stick of warm butter (in fact we were able to cut it with our butter knives)! None of us, however, liked that it came smothered in a dark red wine mushroom sauce with the consistency of a dark gravy. We all thought it would have been MUCH BETTER left on the side, or left off completely. The potatoes and the green beans were delicious. The price though, was not. It was too much at $23.95…

Dessert was nice – a Bourbon Pecan Pie. Nothing settles a fantastic meal like a warm piece of pie with a scoop of Cointreau Chantilly cream on the side! It was excellent.

Overall, the food and service were superb. There was nothing “exceptional” about the meal and we had a hard time trying to figure out what made it a “Fall Menu” setup. Everything we ate was something that you could get just about anywhere at a similar restaurant. We agreed as well, that the entrees were about $5.00 over-priced. It was almost as if they were trying to create a more upscale dining experience by over-charging for the food items, that generally one would eat at a comparable place such as Applebee’s or TGIFriday’s for a lower price.

Overall, we were pleased at the experience. The restaurant was comfortable and had a fantastic central bar (but a fun game for the cocktail enthusiast would be "stump the bartender" by ordering a cocktail not in the cocktail menu, actually it wouldn't be that fun, you will have stumped the bartender on the first round). The staff was friendly, and the service great. Go enjoy a meal over at Houlihan's! You will not be disappointed with your meal or with your martinis!

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