If you asked my wife what channel I watch the most, she’d tell you, without blinking an eye, the Food Network. And she’d be right.
It’s my go-to channel, especially when there’s nothing on, which for me is often.
In the beginning, “Emeril Live” gathered a big fan base and brought a lot of viewers to the channel. Oddly enough, I didn’t really get into Emeril all that much, but there was this other “small” show they offerd, “Good Eats” with Alton Brown, that caught my attention and quickly made me a fan.
My addiction grew from there, from watching the dubbed original Japanese version of the “Iron Chef” to watching the English version of kitchen stadium. I loved the creative lunacy found in “Ace of Cakes” (last year we drove by Charm City Cakes in Baltimore), and the delightfully cheesy but totally fun “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.” (I really want the cookbook from that show.)
“The Next Food Network Star” brought a whole new aspect to the channel, bringing a heavy dose of the reality game show to their offerings. I just can’t get enough of it. Though more and more of the contestants are professional, I find it more fun rooting for the home cooks, who I assume, like myself, are fans of the Food Network and are living out the fantasy of appearing on their channel. I admit it. I would love to be a contestant. My wife, on the other hand, would rather be on “Wipeout.” I’d imagine being on either show would be a painful but fun experience.
Now the current must-watch show on my radar is “Restaurant Impossible” with Chef Robert Irvine. Here, Irvine swoops into a restaurant that’s in trouble and with his extensive knowledge and a $10,000 budget, he revamps the place and its menu in two days to bring new economic life to the business.
I’m a little surprised that any restaurant would be willing to openly admit they’re a failing business on national television. It’s also surprising to watch many of these same owners fight with Irvine while he genuinely tries to help them to turn things around. It all makes for great television.
I was taken aback when I first that the , 9175 Pearl Rd., was going to be on “Restaurant Impossible.” I was especially jealous of my boss, Debbie, when I learned she was going to get to go and eat at Mad Cactus on their opening day with Irvine and crew in place. Oh, I would have so loved to have been a part of that.
I had to settle for a visit a few days after the TV hoopla died down, hoping that things haven’t changed too quickly from their opening day. So, on the following Sunday, my wife and I paid a visit.
I was quite curious how much the interior changed, as that’s a big part of the show. I’m sure it must have been a major switch, but it didn’t scream out at me, at least where I was seated in the smaller dining area just past the bar. The floor was certainly updated, the booths looked refreshed and seats recovered while the walls appeared lighter. I’ll be curious to see the episode on the Mad Cactus, scheduled for Nov. 2, and see what was actually done. I’m sure they tossed out a lot of stuff.
Of course, I was here to try the new menu and I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a problem with the old one, though it was a large one. No surprise that the new menu was slimmed down and could now fit on one sheet of paper.
Probably the most unique change is the Salsa Bar. Mounted where the lunch buffet formally stood are now about ten or so different salsas to sample. Some of the salsas include green tomato salsa fresca, pico de gallo, chimmi churri and peppered black bean.
I loved the Salsa Bar and enjoyed nibbling on a variety of fresh flavors. The one minor complaint I have is a few of the salsas were chopped too large making it difficult if not impossible to simply dip my chips into them. I had to use my spoon to place the salsa on my chip, often with the items falling off. Chop this stuff a tad more and I’d call this a fantastic addition.
The good news is it comes at no charge with a meal. The bad news is if you want to enjoy some chips with it -- and who doesn’t? -- it’s $3 a basket. Ouch. At least make the basket of chips bottomless.
When it came to choosing my dinner, my eyes went straight to the Puffy Tacos. It includes two fried tortillas stuffed with BBQ glazed mahi. That sounded good to me. My wife stuck with their Grande Burrito, one of the few items left from the old menu, such as the Sizzling Fajitas. According to our server, those two holdovers were still proving to be the top choices on the new menu.
My tacos looked great. There were also very tasty. The white fish was perfectly cooked and made a fantastic filling. I highly recommend this dish.
The burrito still looked . . . large and very inviting. My wife was pleased and that is all that matters to me.
Overall, I had a nice dining experience and I would definitely get my meal again. Still, there really wasn’t much else on the menu to bring me back. As good as they were, it’s not often I’m in the mood for Puffy Tacos.
I already miss the old Mad Cactus, but apparently a lot of folks don’t, thus the change. We’ll see if the switch sticks. I sincerely wish them good luck. Certainly this will bring plenty of publicity to them and, hopefully, a lot of hungry patrons.