Monday, June 13, 2011

September 2011: Lisbon By Night

At the table: Nad B, Bibi, Shara


Lisbon By Night is a beautiful, authentic, Portuguese restaurant with an inviting atmosphere. The warm lighting and authentic decor makes you feel as if being welcomed into a traditional, Portuguese home. 





Though seafood isn’t the only choice here, it’s definitely the popular choice with the restaurant’s signature platter – a generous serving of mixed grilled seafood perfect for sharing. The serving is so large; it challenged groups of 6-8 people!


Nad B ordered a wonderful dinner of mixed grilled seafood set atop a lovely bed of rice paired with a sparkling white Portuguese wine, Azelda. 

Bibi and I went for the Fish Rodizio – an all-you-can-eat mixed grill featuring 8 types of fresh fish served right to your table with boiled potatoes, salad and rice and fish soup to start. The variety of seafood included: calamari, salmon, mahi mahi, sea bass, prawns, sardine (large and small) and catfish.



Next was the dessert trio - a choice of any 3 desserts on the menu. Our choices seemed easy - Chocolate Lava Cake, Creme Brulee and Toffee Pudding. However, our server convinced us to try the Fresh Creme and Eggs instead of the Toffee Pudding by assuring us it was the most authentic dessert on the menu and also the best. She was sooooo right. It was like a parfait of thick whipped cream, sweet creamy egg yolks layered with graham crumbs. It was our favourite of the trio and we literally scraped the dish with our spoons!

Overall, this is a great place to go for big family dinners, celebrations or an intimate date. Did I mention there was live music? Beautiful is the only way I can describe this experience.  And mmmmm.....Fresh Creme and Eggs!

Lisbon By Night on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Try It! Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago!

At the table: Shara (me)

What do you do when you have an entire day to yourself in Chicago? You take an architectural cruise aboard the Innisfree, shop the Magnificent Mile and eat deep dish pizza, otherwise known as "stuffed pizza" at Giordano's.

Thick, smokin' hot and ultra cheesy with a rich sauce. Worth the 40 minute wait. But after 2 Rolling Rock, I could only get down 1 piece - less than a quarter of the 10 in. monster (the smallest dinner size). I carried the rest back to my hotel, froze it and it traveled back home in my suitcase! Note: not as good when thawed and reheated.

Chicago, I hope we meet again! And Gino's....I'm coming after you next!

Pizza favourites?? Let's have 'em!

Giordanos Famous Stuffed Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 15, 2010

Try It! Bourbon BBQ Ribs to Beef Brisket Nachos!

I literally ate my way through August and September (and it shows!!). Let's just say the indulgence(s) were worth it! And this post doesn't include Chicago!


At the table: Mom, Dad, Steven, Maya, Shara (me)

The Village at Blue Mountain is a fun place to be in the summer, but choosing a restaurant isn't easy. Be prepared to spend premium in the Village. Rusty's seemed like they would have something to satisfy our varying tastes. True to form, we all ordered completely different dishes! Being seated right next to the smoker, the air was good enough to eat! So of course, I went for the smoked ribs - a full rack! The full rack was cut in half and stacked. The top half was perfect....fall off the bone, hot, smoky, sticky. The bottom rack was none of those things....chewy, dry, lukewarm. So I don't think the 2 halves came from the same rack. Bummer that I couldn't enjoy them start to finish. I'd go back to Rusty's, but probably opt for a big nasty burger instead. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the pickles!!! Rusty's pickles are awesome!

At the table: Steven, Maya, Shara (me)

While on holiday in Collingwood, I was ready to satisfy my craving for fish & chips. But I wanted the real deal...or at least as authentic as you can get "on this side of the pond". After an extensive web search for English pubs in Collingwood and an endless review of the reviews, we headed out for The Admiral's Post. The decor was typical of what you'd expect of an English pub (when not in England I suppose). The service was friendly from start to end....even when my 6 year old daughter pulled down the curtain with rod not 2 minutes after being seated! I ordered the Halibut & Chips, my daughter had the children's meal of Cod & Chips (not much smaller than my meal!) and Steven went for the Steak Pie. Craving satisfied, mission accomplished!! The fish was lightly coated, the way I like it. The halibut was meaty, flavourful and filling! I devoured everything on my plate, except the coleslaw. The "chips" absorbed the salt and malt vinegar perfectly. I crave it now as I write it! All went down easy with a pint of Stella Artois (I know, a dark stout would have been more appropriate, but I haven't acquired that taste). We ended the night at the Post with Maya dancing on the asphault to live music on the outdoor patio. A great dinner, a wonderful evening.

At the table: Nad B, Nad R, Tanya, Chris, Shara (me)

Margaritas!!! I don't usually like them as I developed an aversion to tequila in university. But I took a generous sip from Nad B's..... Suffice to say, Lone Star Cafe will be the only place I'll be drinking margaritas at from now on. The tequila is in there, but the flavour is subtle and actually enjoyable. While you're there, get the fajitas. We went for the trio - chicken, shrimp and beef. The fresh tortillas make this my favourite place for fajitas! Find a location near you on their website.

At the table: Nad B, Nad R, Vijai, Chrissy, Shara (me)

This was a night for celebrating our beautiful Nad B who chose On The Curve to bring us together for her birthday. I've been here many times before for many different occassions over the years and each experience has been different. It's earned a reputation as a "cougar bar". The clientele is majority age 30+. But many celebrations happen here - birthdays, anniversaries, bachelorettes, corporate events, etc. Then the night opens up to dancing, with live music on the weekends and it literally becomes standing room only. It's a classy, mature place and I think it suits its clientele, or maybe it's the other way around. In any case, the food here is terrific! The 5 of us decided to go for the "appie share" - order an appetizer each and share everything! We got more than we bargained for....the portions are generous, even for appetizers. The food here is worth listing out since we had a broad sampling (and I just want to make your mouth water):

Latin Spiced Chicken Salad
grilled cocoa mole rubbed chicken, balsamic basil banana chutney, pickled jicama vegetable slaw & romaine lettuce

Crispy Calamari
with cocktail sauce & banana pepper relish

Warm Cheese Fondue
baked Gouda & goat's cheese served with chipotle cranberry compote baked pita bread & tortilla chips to dip

Beef Brisket Nacho Plate
smoked beef brisket topped with cheese, jalapeños, green salsa, Gouda cheese sauce tomato salsa & sour cream

BBQ Chicken Flatbread
goat's cheese, scallions

All of this alongside my mojito and 2 glasses of Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - the wine I buy for home on a regular basis, a good reminder of how much we're gouged for booze at restaurants! And the shots - I think 3 or 4 came our way while I was there.....and I left early!

The latter half of September included:

Applebee's - one of my Dad's favourites for their beef tips and ice cold Heineken draft. And you can actually order a full steak dinner here for no more than 600 calories!

Boston Pizza - the "light" stromboli dinner is my favourite. Ok, that's not true...I love their chicken parmigiana. But I do also love the light stromboli dinner.

Kelsey's - I only like the one in Milton, ON. The restaurant itself is just nicer at this location and my half rack rib dinner was better than Rusty's.

See, I wasn't exaggerating when I said I ate my way through August & September. I still haven't shared with you yet the 3 great meals I had mid-September in Chicago or our September pick for the girls who like food! Even I can't believe there's more!

Friday, September 17, 2010

August 2010: Yangtze Dining Lounge

At the table: Nad R, Tanya, Chris, Nad B, Shara (me)

We were in for a treat, in many ways, with August. This month, the girls who like food were happy to have Tanya's husband, Chris at the table. Not only was he co-hosting our August dinner with Tanya, but our entire weekend! We traveled to Ottawa (not just for dinner) and had a fabulous time thanks to our dear friends.

I confess, the Yangtze Dining Lounge was not a first for me. I was privy to this favourite when I visited Tan & Chris in January. When they chose Yangtze for August's dinner during our visit, I think I literally jumped up and down clapping like a child at Disney World!


Located in Ottawa's Chinatown district on Sommerset St. W, it's easy to overlook this as a restaurant. The facade is nice, but the dining is actually upstairs, so if you don't look up, you don't see the people eating at the windows and you could easily walk right past it not knowing about the wonderful cuisine being crafted inside.

We got a table very quickly around 11am on a Sunday (with a reservation - highly recommended!!), but it appeared to be a slow morning. Fast-forward 20 mins later and the dining room was packed and the line up to get a table was down the stairs and out the door. All nations seem to congregate at 700 Sommerset St. W for dim-sum brunch on Sundays! Oh yeah, that's right - DIM SUM!

Dim Sum is a different way of eating. It's Cantonese and from what I know of traditional chinese dining, food is a way to bring people together by sharing a meal, although the tradition of dim sum began as tea tasting (yum-cha) only with food being added later.

So this is how it works....there's no menu. You get a pot of Chinese tea for the table, compliments of the restaurant with free refills! The servers push around carts of food, announcing what is on the cart as they stroll past your table. If it looks good, smells good and you think it sounds good, you say "yes please" and they put as many portions of it on your table as you want and mark your selection on a card at your table so they know what to charge you for when you are finished.

Most of the fare consists of a variety of dumplings, in all different styles and ingredients, steamed, fried, shrimp, chicken, pork, with sauce, without sauce.....  Basically, you could have just about any kind of dumpling you can imagine. One of our favourite dumplings was the pork shumai, not only because we love the way Chris says it, but also because it is soooooo good! I also loved the rice dishes, especially the rice and beef steamed in the banana leaf. I may actually try doing this at home if I feel confident one day!

One of Tan's favourites is the steamed pork bun - a pillowy white bun stuffed with bright red bbq pork. The spring rolls were also hit. But what I love the most is the shrimp cradled in a small piece of green bell pepper, lightly coated in a black bean sauce. Of course, there's no guarantee that your favourite dish will come around on one of those carts. I had almost lost hope for my little shrimp pepper boats. I had actually thrown in the towel, literally tossing my napkin onto my plate - my proclamation that I was stuffed and satisfied and couldn't possibly fit another bite in. But then it came. And I said "yes please!" and with my belly round and full, I left the place completely satisfied.

The service was a little impersonal and cold. I don't think it's intentional. I find the same kind of service consistency among most Asian restaurants I go to (except Mandarin where the staff is polar opposite of impersonal and cold). I think it may be that they're just down to business - they want to feed you exceptional food and make sure you come back for more. Did I mention that the line up was down the stairs and out the door soon after we sat down? It was still down the stairs and out the door when we were leaving. Look to your friends for smiles because efficiency and quick service is all you're gonna squeeze out of this staff. Oh, and beware the female server with the extremely short bob and bangs - she looks like she could be deadly with a pair of chopsticks!

It's impossible for me to list everything we had at this brunch - the food just kept coming! We all enjoyed this restaurant. It's a definite must if you're in Ottawa and a great place for a group of people. I love sharing a meal instead of just eating together. We all get to experience the same food, but can all have different reactions to it and opinions about it which makes it interesting. One thing we all agreed on - YUM! We also liked the price tag - $65 between 5 people!

Looking for Dim Sum in the Toronto area? My mom used to take me to some great places when she worked in Toronto. She may remember where (because I don't!). But about a year ago, I was working with some colleagues downtown and we went for an exciting lunch at Pearl on Queens Quay West. Our Chinese colleague led the food selections - some wonderful and some for the more adventurous appetite. I went for what I knew and loved all of it.

Dim Sum is no doubt a favourite of mine. If you haven't tried it, then make it your next dining experience and let us know all about it!

Friday, August 6, 2010

July 2010: Prince Sushi

At the table: Nad B, Nad R, Shara (me)

Nad R brought us to Prince Sushi for July. I've heard it recommended before from a couple friends who enjoy going there. From what I had heard, the restaurant is an all you can eat experience in authentic Japanese fare. I was somewhat wary, having never been there, only because I know it to be a chain restaurant found in the AMC Theatre plaza complexes. But I was also prepared to be ambitious - a bottomless pit of Japanese food at one price....perhaps I could finally afford to be adventurous with this Asian cuisine.


 Strike 1 - So first of all, when you go, don't plan on a long drawn out dinner - the kind we enjoy. There is a 90 minute limit on your table.

Strike 2 - This is not a traditional buffet where you get up and serve yourself as much or as little of what you want. Instead, you look at a menu, fill out an order card of what you want (1 card per table to begin with, not 1 card each) and then a server takes your completed card and brings you your food. The "all you can eat" part comes when you've finished your first round and want some more. And you can order as much as you want of whatever you want. But beware, these are full portions. So you can't order a couple pieces of sushi, you have to order the whole roll. With full portions, you end up with a lot of food. That would be ok except for the rule about finishing the dishes - you don't finish, you could end up paying the a la carte price of the dish.....in addition to the $23 buffet price that you've already committed to! We felt pressured to finish every bit of food and with the 90 minute deadline, we felt rushed and ended up eating way too much, way too fast.

Strike 3 - At the 60 minute mark, we were given a "last call for food". And I'll share this strike with the one where our server demanded that Nad B leave a cash tip on the table since she didn't include it on her card transaction.

Ok, so there must be some saving grace to this restaurant since the place was packed (small, but packed) and there was a line up at the door. I also noticed that most of the patrons were of Asian ethnicity. I don't want to assume all the Asians were Japanese, but that's supposed to be a good sign according to an Asian colleague of mine who says you know it's a good Asian restaurant when it's full of Asians! So of course there's a silver lining......the FOOD was AMAZING!


Everything is fresh. The sushi chef is right out in the open, so you can actually see your food being prepared. And there was much more to choose from than sushi. Overall, we shared the following dishes:

Miso Soup 
soya bean soup with tofu and wakame
Avocado Salad  
green salad, avocado with house dressing 
Tempura 
2 pcs. shrimps and 4 pcs. vegetables
Mixed Mushroom 
pan fried mixed mushroom with garlic butter
Yakitori Beef  
barbecued beef skewers
Yakitori Chicken  
barbecued chicken skewers
Green Onion Beef Roll 
garlic and green onion wrapped in thinly sliced beef
Soft Shell Crab 
deep fried soft shell crab with ponzu sauce
Gyoza  
Japanese dumplings filled with chicken and vegetable
Ebi 
shrimp
California Maki  
avacado, cucumber, tobika and crab cake
Spicy Tuna Maki 
tuna and avacado with spicy sauce
Katsu Chicken Dinner 
deep fried chicken with tonkatsu sauce   

I enjoyed all the food. I just wish I could have really taken my time and had smaller samples so we didn't feel pressured to finish; the portions, even for sharing, are generous. I love the ladies I was with, but I think if you're a first-timer at this restaurant, it helps to go with someone who knows more about this cuisine to guide you through if you're a novice like me. Bigger groups are also better so you can order more and sample more without having to eat large portions and pay the a la carte penalty for unfinished dishes. 

Nad R had been here before and enjoyed it and we appreciate that she wanted to share it with us. This was a first and a last for Nad B - not a big fan of sushi and she was not impressed with the time limits or the service. 

Even with 3 strikes, I wouldn't call this restaurant out just yet. I would go back because the food was very tasty and fresh, but I might opt for the a la carte take out menu instead of the time limited, cost-risk buffet. 

Do you know where to get a good bento box? Let us know!
      

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 2010: Queen's Pasta Cafe

At the table: Nad B, Bibi, Nad R, Vijai, Shara (me)

Queen's Pasta Cafe came highly recommended by some work friends who entertained an out-of-town colleague there last week. A particular favourite of one work friend who has been dining there for the last 20 years! It was wonderful to get together with the gals (minus 2) for the long weekend and indulge in some fabulous pasta creations! This was my pick for May.


The restaurant is located in Toronto on the corner of Bloor Street West & Durie Street with a quaint patio alongside the dining room. Our table was beautiful - right in the front window filled with natural light and we actually felt like we were a part of the outside patio. The rest of the dining room was small and intimate; dim lighting and dark decor contrasted well with the sharp white table covers. A quiet, comfortable place to be romantic, have fun with friends or get together with family. However, when the sun went down, it got a bit too dark. A lit candle or two on the table would have helped. In fact, I think a lit candle on every table would have brought the evening embiance to life.

The service was good - everything we ordered came with perfect timing. I think our waiter could have smiled more - definitely too busy for a sense of humour! But what he lacked in warmth, he made up for in efficiency.


Signature martinis and cocktails were the perfect prelude to a fun, fabulous dinner; Trebbiano chardonnay, appletini, espresso martini, red sangria and Vijai's soco martini - coconut rum, lychee liqueur, creme du cacao & pineapple! The drinks made for a colourful display, and tasted even better!

  

The appetizer portion of the menu was very small - mostly salads, a classic bruschetta and a calamari dish, but the appetizer special scrawled in neon chalk across the menu board caught my eye - large bacon wrapped prawns with arugula vinaigrette salad. This dish was so multi-dimensional in flavour that it was exciting! The saltiness of the bacon brought out the hidden flavours of the tender prawns. The dressing on the arugula was made in-house....the chef's own mild balsamic vinaigrette with a touch of honey (you know I'm gonna try adding some Billy Bee to my Newman's Own now!). We also tried the bruchetta - nice and chunky, but I really love bruschetta when it's loaded with garlic....this one wasn't "stinky" enough!

We liked that the menu wasn't overdone on the entree options; just one page of the menu, every option very different from the next and all extremely tempting!! It helped that we all ordered something different, so we had a pretty good sampling of some of the best sounding dishes.

Baked Farfalle (1 with, 1 without Chicken)

Goat Cheese Bautelli (I may have spelled this wrong; basically round ravioli)


Spaghetti & Meatballs


Special #3: Fettucini with grilled lobster, scallops, shrimp, baby arugula and onion in a spicy tomato sauce


The baked farfalle - a cheese lovers dream! I really liked the bite I had with the chicken. The goat cheese bautelli was mine which came heaping with grilled veggies in a basil pesto olive oil. Was good, but was expecting more of a punch from the goat cheese. The spaghetti & meatballs tasted exactly as expected - so comforting you just want to eat heaping mouthfuls! Special #3 truly was special. I had a small bite of the fettucini with the spicy sauce and it was so good - the perfect amount of heat.

Of course none of us were able to finish any of our dishes. Some of us were lucky to even make it half way through! Pasta - beautiful, comforting.....filling!!! We also wanted to save room for dessert which never happened. It may have been because we were too full, but the dessert menu left something to be desired. What exactly, who knows. Well, that's not true. For some reason, Vijai and I felt that crème brûlée  would be on the menu.....in an Italian restaurant. Yeah, I think we just have a one track mind for crème brûlée! But they did have some Italian classics - tiramisu, Italian ice. I settled for a cappuccino (I don't care if it's a morning drink as I was once scolded by an Italian gentleman) and Nad B went for a liquid dessert - coffee with Bailey's heaping with whipped cream.

I echo my colleagues' appreciation of this restaurant. Eat here, and you'll never go to an Italian chain restaurant again! All the pasta at Queen's Pasta Cafe is fresh and made on-site giving the food a very different feel. The only word I can think of right now is decadent...a richer bite, a better chew and a creamier texture than the hard stuff I buy in the grocery. Yet, I wasn't completely blown away. The creations were imaginative and I would go back to try some of the entrees I passed on. But I don't feel like I've found the most amazing Italian food in the Greater Toronto Area yet. I did go to a restaurant on College Street - aka Toronto's Little Italy- (I can't remember the name - there are so many!!) and had the best risotto of my life....to this day one of the best meals I've ever had in a restaurant.

If you're in the Milton area, there is quite a selection of Italian restaurants along Main Street. A fellow resident says Pasqualino's has the best Italian food he's ever had. Across the street from that is Osso Bucco (the old Post Office), and also a location in Brampton. An acquaintance said La Toscana, also on Main Street in Milton, is the best Italian food he's ever had.

So I think before I return to Queen's Pasta Cafe, I'll try a few of these others first, especially La Toscana for the oysters! It seems like I may not have to travel far for authentic mind-blowing Italian food afterall!

Ciao!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shuckin' Awesome! - Neptune Oyster, Boston MA

At the table: Steve, Carrie, Sue, Shara (me)

I'm in the uniquely wonderful city of Boston MA this week for a social media conference with 3 of my U.S. colleagues. I'm feeling a bit unfaithful sharing this experience because #1 I'm not with the rest of the "girls who love food", and #2 I'm nowhere near the Greater Toronto Area.

BUT....should you ever find yourself in Boston and in the mood for some oyster shuckin' and the best lobster that I've ever had, this one is for you....

Looking for the authentic - the unique prize of Boston - we sought the advice of the hotel concierge at Seaport. We knew we wanted seafood, no question. But where do we get the best of Boston?

Seaport Concierge Recommendation: Neptune Oyster. They take no reservations, but we were adamantly encouraged to go here and thus compelled!

On the jerky cab ride back to our hotel, we looked up reviews on urbanspoon.com (a la iphone). In less than 10 minutes we were convinced that we were in for a treat and a long wait, but well worth it apparently if you ordered the "lobster roll with hot butter" - let the drooling begin!

We met at the restaurant at 7pm, and were at first shocked at the size of the restaurant itself - if you were even 4th in line, you would be standing outside. The place was tiny!!! There's a bar (packed) and seating for maybe 20 people at a time in very close quarters. We had about an hour to wait, so the maitre'd took one of our cell phone numbers and we were free to wander around Boston's historic north end for an hour instead of having to stand in a doorway for our name to be called. Nice.

So we headed down Salem St. lined with treasures - boutique restaurants, italian bakeries, seafood nooks and spirit crannies! We killed our time at Bacco Ristorante & Bar with drinks and $5 appies! The best appies to ever cost $5:

Prosciutto di parma with warm grilled pears and gorgonzola balsamic vinegar
Reg. $9.95 (ours for $5!)

Crispy calamari with spicy three peppers
Reg. $9.95 (ours for $5!)

I liked the open atmosphere patio vibe with big open windows where we were serenaded by an accordian and violin duo. Tip worthy and talented!! A nice touch.

Then it came - the much anticipated phone call...our table was ready at Neptune Oyster. I wonder if the others felt as giddy as I did! We walked in like Neptune Oyster elite, were promptly seated and greeted by our server.

Drinks - I had a local brew on draft - Harpoon I.P.A. India Pale Ale - their tag "Love Beer, Love Life!" How can you go wrong?! You can't. Loved it.

Then came the oysters. You can order these in a variety of "finishes" to suit your pallet. I'm new at this. I've tried it only once before at a wine & cheese show and I didn't like it. But with oysters being the signature of this restaurant, and my dining companions all being fans (and foodies!), I was willing to try again....

This is worth sharing some detail:


Wellfleet Oysters
Origin: Wellfleet, MA
med-lg, very high salt, sweet butter finish, $2.60/ea
Island Creek Oysters
Origin: Duxbury, MA
med-lg, high salt, juicy, fruity finish, $2.50/ea
Onset Oysters
Origin: Onset, MA
med-lg, high salt, juicy, cream finish, $2.40/ea
Taylor Bay Oysters
Origin: Nasketucket, MA
med, high salt, plump, seaweed finish, $2.50/ea

It was "shuckin' awesome"! I can't wait to try oysters again. My favourite was the Onset, but I really enjoyed all. Lesson: if you've tried something and hated it, try it again (and again, and again).

And then came the piece de resistance. We saw it served to the guys sitting next to us first. They were from Florida, had been to Neptune Oyster before and wouldn't order anything else (except the "chowda" as a starter). Within minutes, they inhaled everything on their plates. You can imagine the excitement building inside me. Can something really be that good?? No sooner had I finished the thought when there it was, right in front of me ....The Lobster Roll.

The menu doesn't tell you much about this item - "toasted roll, available hot with butter or cold with mayo". The real description should be: A heaping pile of perfect, tender lobster on a toasted eggbread-like roll, hot and covered in yummy butter that will make you close your eyes while you savour and lock in the memory as it melts into your taste buds and you let out an audible "mmmmm"!


And the salad (you can order with fries too) was nothing to scoff at - fresh Boston bib lettuce sprinkled with pecans and dressed in a perfect vinaigarette - I don't think I've ever called lettuce "silky" until now. $25 and worth every cent.
Neptune Oyster - one of Boston's culinary jewels to be found no place else, tucked away on Salem Street. Worth the wait - an hour isn't hard to kill in this historic north end of Boston.

Have you had out-of-this-world seafood in the Greater Toronto Area? Tell us where to go!

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon