The Final Frontier

12 10 2011

Hello readers,

As many of you may have already noticed, I haven’t been an active blogger. 

Blogging was a bit of an experiment on my end; I wanted to know if I could I write interesting and informative things on a regular basis that others would read?  Although I had most of my bases covered (interesting – I hope so, informative – I think so, readers – I know so!), writing a blog on a regular basis was obviously not my strong point.  With life and work getting in the way (in a good way), I have decided to retire my blog 😦

The good news is that I will leave the blog up for those who wish to have a point of reference to great (and not so great) food esablishments in Southwestern Ontario and surrounding areas.

In the words of Alton Brown, host of IRON CHEF AMERICA, “I bid you good eating!” 🙂

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Simple AND Satisfying

16 03 2011

Sometimes, the simplest food can be the most satisfying.  My experience at Nick and Nat’s / Uptown 21 was definitely that – and more.  My friend and I decided to try Nick and Nat’s only recently despite the fact that it has been on the uptown Waterloo restaurant scene for quite some time.  This is one of those places that I regret not going to earlier.  Not only did the pleasantry and professionalism of the experience endear us to the place, but the food really sealed the deal.

We arrived on a weeknight, rather late, looking for some good quality snacking.  At around 10:30 pm (yes, I was genuinely hungry at this time!) most restaurants tend to be in “shut down” mode.  Menu items are often unavailable or are not served as fresh as they could be, but Nick and Nat’s was busy for a random Tuesday.  The restaurant is quaint with only about 15 small wooden tables arranged within its rather narrow confines.  We were given a window seat, which was not very well insulated, so in order to warm up we promptly ordered some South American reds.  The waitress was pleasant and answered our myriad of questions about the menu as we found to be a little confusing.  Apparently, Nick and Nat’s had recently introduced a Prix Fixe menu – which is a good thing considering that the price of the food is a little on the steep side.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) we weren’t about to gorge ourselves in the late, late evening but wanted to order one of the items off the Prix Fixe.  We were told that it would not be a problem at all for us to order any item we wanted; this made us both very happy.  What we ended up with was a really great appetizer that paired beautifully with the wine, and an even more beautiful dessert.

Our wine arrived promptly and was served from a small decanter.  It was pretty good and, I must admit, at just the right temperature (I tend to like my red wine very chilled but it would have destroyed our appetizer).  We started with a cheese plate – this was a selection of one goat cheese, one cow’s milk cheese with a vegetable ash centre, and one blue cheese.  These three delectable “fromages” were served on a rectangular platter, each flanked by their own complimentary condiment.  The condiments were paired to match each cheese and consisted of pickled beets, lemongrass sticks and a fruit coulis.  The whole thing was served with some lightly toasted rye bread.  It was delicious and went oh-so-well with our wine.  In fact, we ate it all up much too quickly and contemplated ordering yet more cheese.  Alas, this was not to be as our dessert arrived shortly afterwards; we had ordered a tequila and chocolate parfait.  This culinary beauty arrived in a large, tall glass and was a perfect combination of dark-chocolate pudding layered with dollops of Patron-spiked whipped cream (heavily-spiked, mind you).   The juxtaposition of the rich, dark chocolate (which originated in Mexico) with the, metaphorically, lighter whipped cream tasting of tequila (also of Mexican origin) was brilliant.  This was served with a lightly sweetened puff-pastry twist which added just the right amount of crunch to the dish.  Thank goodness we shared both “snacks” since rich, ultra-creamy cheese and chocolate parfait is not what one should be eating so late at night!  Nick and Nat’s did not let us down.  The words in the menu were a direct reflection of the food we were served (which is often not the case), the service was good, and the place was pretty yet quaint.  Now to think of an excuse for a return visit to try that Prix Fixe menu…

The Milky Way

Perfect Parfait

A word about the setting: even though the place is small, we found it to be uncluttered and very clean.  A charming aspect of the restaurant is the fact that you can sort of see into the kitchen no matter where you are sitting in the restaurant.  The chefs looked like they were actually having fun back there and that is always a good thing – especially at 10:30 pm on a Tuesday.

 





Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover (Or a Restaurant by its Facade)

11 02 2011

The title of this post is an old and annoying adage but it’s one that has stood the test of time because it is true (although I really can’t resist judging books by their covers; but that’s another story for another day).  As human beings, we possess five senses.  Of those five, our eyesight is one of the strongest which is why when food looks unappealing, we have pre-emptive notions about the way it will taste.  In the food industry it is often said that “presentation is everything” and to a certain extent, I agree.  The same goes for the interior decor of a restaurant, its exterior facade, and the staff working within (don’t kid yourself, you know I’m right :)).

This is precisely why, on a recent visit to a new sushi restaurant in town, our group of three sushi enthusiasts (plus one sushi endure-er), were not so enthused with the idea of eating there, at first.  Our primary concern was the tired, weathered and worn out look of this “new” place.  True, it was in one of the old buildings on King Street in Waterloo but if a restaurant is “new”, an effort should be made to update it, repaint it and generally, make it more welcoming.  As we ventured in, we couldn’t avoid noticing the HELP WANTED sign in the window.  There is nothing wrong with this type of sign (given the current economy!) but it raises concerns when said sign is affixed to the front window with duct tape and is written on plain lined paper in equally plain Bic pen.

Upon entering, our hostess gave us somewhat confusing instructions.  We weren’t sure if we were supposed to follow her to a table or wait in the entryway.  After some hesitation, we decided to follow her and were promptly seated smack-dab in the middle of the eatery.  For a small restaurant, with just a few other couples dining in and some music playing much too quietly, we weren’t the best bunch to seat in the middle.  First of all, the sushi endure-er cannot whisper and tends to say lewd things in public, the other sushi enthusiast gets extremely grumpy and fidgety when hungry and the last two (myself included) already have a favourite sushi place so an (unnecessary) change in venue tends to bring on extreme complaining, whining and general mayhem.

Within a few minutes of sitting down, we were provided with menus which contained quite a few terms we had never seen before as well as plenty of White Out marks in the pricing columns.  White Out on restaurant menus tends to make me nervous and I always have the urge to scrape away the lies and reveal the mysterious truth underneath.  Except I didn’t this time; I was a good girl.  Instead, we all read and re-read the menu and tried to memorize what we wanted.  Trying to remember ones order of various pieces of fishy goodness can be quite a daunting task which is why most sushi restaurants provide paper and pencils.  Unfortunately, this one did not and there was some confusion when the waitress came to take our order.  The confusion resulted in two large pots of green tea arriving at once and three orders of miso soup instead of two.  This may have also been a result of the fact that at least three different wait staff assisted us during our dinner, so it was no surprise that there were a few hiccups.  When we asked for those wonderful, green, steamed vegetable shells that are practically the most perfect appetizer of all time, we were told that our “Ed-a-nah-nee” was coming right up.  We all cringed simultaneously but decided to just “go with it”.

Thankfully, the sushi was just fine and the plates and platters some of the best presentation I had ever seen at a sushi joint.  For example, the Edamame portion was quite large (although much too salty) and the miso soup was yummy.  The vegetable dumplings were quite good as well and the tempura yam was very fresh.  One of the hand rolls arrived in a champagne glass which was a nice touch and the spicy maki were actually…spicy!

But it was the Dragon Roll which arrived near the end of our meal that was the standout.  This consisted of about 11 sushi pieces which snaked around on a square plate.  The two front rolls were the “face” of the dragon and pickled ginger was rolled into a long snout and placed in front of the “face” pieces.  The green, plastic “grass” which comes in every bento box was actually used as the horns and tail of the dragon and everything was accentuated with an elaborate soy sauce pattern which was expertly dispensed on the plate.  It was fun to look at and equally fun to consume.

Crouching Tiger, Yummy Dragon

Overall, our sushi experience at the new place in town was just fine.  Although we all agreed that a return would be unlikely, because, as another old saying goes: if (Ye’s Sushi) ain’t broke, why fix it?

Proof that you can make anything with Lego





First Things First

13 01 2011

We all know that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that “breakfast is the food of champions” but sometimes, finding a good breakfast place can be a challenge.  And I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me personally, facing a challenge first thing in the morning without some coffee and carbs is just ridiculous.

On that note, a friend and I recently decided to catch up with each other over a morning meal (I’ll admit it was closer to noon but who’s paying attention to that on the weekend?).  Logistics aside, we ventured out in the snowy noon-hour to the Fireside Deli Restaurant only to find a line-up out the door which consisted primarily of large families with multiple children.  When I see line-ups at restaurants I become sceptical (if it appeals to the masses on that level, it is guaranteed to be generic) and then impatient, especially if it means standing out in the cold.  Since the aforementioned friend learned of the Fireside Grill by referral from HER friends, all I could think was “This better be worth it!” as we shivered and grudgingly endured the frosty air.

Once inside and, thankfully, out of the horrendous cold, we noticed that the place was packed but still well-organized.  Despite the general clatter, confusion and volume of so many people in a relatively small area, the staff were welcoming and friendly.  The Fireside Deli restaurant is roughly the size of a barn, but there were A LOT of people inside that barn and so the general atmosphere was more hectic than healing.  Our waitress was prompt and pleasant and did not make us feel rushed even though I am sure she and her co-workers was instructed to get patrons out the door as quickly as possible.  We ordered our food (a Vegetarian omelette pour moi and a Greek omelette for my friend).  Both large, 3-egged omelettes arrived with a myriad of additional food on the plate including 2 slices of toast (halved and “buttered”), baked beans, and a pile of home fries.  All of this was accompanied by the bottomless cup of coffee which was actually fresh and decent-to-good in the flavour department.

The omelettes tasted freshly made and the vegetables inside them were clearly identifiable (always a good thing).  The hash browns were basically a rendition of French Fries; instead of the slender strings of potatoes we love to love, these were simply small cubes of crispy goodness.  No salt.  I like this because it allows you to add as little (or as much) salt as you want.  The toast was…toasty…although they did offer the standard options of white, dark or rye.  The beans tasted slightly stale but I ate them anyway because I have no “off” switch when it comes to breakfast.  There was no fruit in sight, not even the random orange slices that accompany most breakfast plates.  Similarly, the jam was fruit flavoured spread and not actual fruit.  If you happen to hate Cora’s fruity, over-the-top, artsy arrangements and prefer no-nonsense food, this is the place for you.  I predicted the Fireside Deli’s generic nature and I was right, but at least it was the good kind of generic.

A few minor gripes: while we were enjoying our meals, a steady stream of people were coming in and leaving.  A word on the leaving – our table was situated by the exit so we were constantly and involuntarily refreshed by cold gusts of wind.  And speaking of cold: the washrooms felt like igloos!  For a place that serves bottomless coffee, one would think that heated restrooms are a given.

Brrrrrr!

The Fireside Deli restaurant offers good service, good portions and a good price; overall, a good experience.  You’re good to go.

 

Image courtesy of the internet.





Anything BUT

21 12 2010

Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, I lived with a man who claimed he loved food.  Judging by his bit o’ belly and slight love handles, I assumed he was being truthful.  I was happy and excited to cook for this man.  I toiled in the kitchen (well, not really, since I love to cook, but I definitely spent a lot of time in front of the stove) to ensure I was making fantastic feasts he would love.  I diligently searched for interesting recipes, and I battled my way through the grocery store to find the best ingredients.  But, when dinner time finally arrived, he vehemently opposed three quarters of what I set down in front of him.  I was disappointed.  I was upset.  And I was confused.  That what I had feared the most, had met me half way.

I realized I was living with a PICKY EATER (insert ominous musical theme here).

And so, we arrive at the present time when I must discuss a type of person known as an “Anything BUT”.  You know who they are: they get all excited about your dinner party and say “Make whatever you want, I’ll eat anything!”  They are thrilled about the idea of a potluck and can’t wait to contribute.  They meet you at a restaurant where they excitedly flip through the menu, mulling over their choices.  It all appears to be perfect until they utter the four words that grate on my nerves like no other: “I’ll eat anything, BUT…”  They then proceed to list at least 15 different food items, none of which they are allergic to.  The Anything BUT is the person who eats only the mashed potatoes and chicken wings at your dinner party, repeatedly brings chips and dip to a potluck, and orders a pepperoni and cheese pizza for the fourth time in a single week.  In my little world, the Anything BUT is a buzzkill.  What the Anything BUT doesn’t realize is just how much they are missing out on in the world of culinary wonder.  And the worst part is that the Anything BUT is unwilling to try anything new.  Ever.

I am always tempted to yell at such people: “How do you know you don’t like something, if you haven’t tried it???!!!” but somehow I usually manage to restrain myself, although I can assure you that my brain is screaming.

Research has shown that our taste buds actually change and evolve over time.  This means that our taste buds LEARN TO LIKE new flavours as we age.  This is probably the reason why kids tend to prefer food that is bland (I also think this could be due to the fact that they have younger, therefore, more sensitive taste buds) while older people (men especially, it seems) love to pepper the heck out of anything at all.  Drinking, smoking and health obviously play a part in how our taste buds function as well.  So, if you didn’t enjoy sweet potato when you had the flu, or you wouldn’t touch broccoli at the age of four, or you stopped eating chicken noodle soup because your mother-in-law (who is a smoker) insists on making it taste like the Dead Sea doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like this food now, in a new incarnation.

The key is to TRY IT AGAIN.  And again.  And sometimes, yet again.

The first step in learning to be more adventurous with food is to identify what it is you don’t like about each dish and then adjust it to suit your preference.  For example, many people dislike vegetables because they remember a mushy mess of unidentifiable matter on their plates whilst young.  But trust me when I say that almost any type of root vegetable (ie: carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets etc.) tastes divine when coated in some salt, pepper and olive oil; then roasted for a good 45 minutes in a very hot oven.  More delicate vegetables like peas, broccoli, cauliflower or beans really benefit from steaming until crisp-tender, then being tossed in a little butter.  Fruit is best enjoyed when in season (these details can be Googled) but if you insist on eating strawberries in February, try putting them in a blender with some plain yogurt and bananas, and perhaps a touch of maple syrup.  Blending is a good way to try a new fruit mixture without being inundated with one type of flavour you might find overwhelming in any other circumstance.  Fish is the type of food that seems to intimidate a lot of people and reminds them of that horrible “fishy” smell which wafts out of those notoriously greasy Fish ‘n’ Chip joints that seem to be located in every town, no matter how far said town is from a body of water.  But fish should never have a strong odour; instead, it should bring to mind the sea and have a cool fresh scent to it.  And when it comes to preparing it, you really can’t go wrong with some salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh herbs like parsley or dill, or both.  Toss to coat and put into a hot oven for about 10 minutes or until it flakes with a fork.  Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top and, voila!  If you don’t like spicy food, tone it down to suit your taste but don’t eliminate the spice completely because spice adds heat but also imparts specific flavours that are essential to a dish.  And if you can’t imagine eating buckwheat, try it boiled, drained, and then tossed with some caramelized onion.  The options are endless and many are much too simple to legitimately pass on a fruit, vegetable or grain forever.  You’ll miss out on so many wonderful dishes!

Of course, I wholeheartedly admit that, although I am food-adventurous, there are things I will not eat.  Horses come to mind immediately; however, I have heard many good things about “Chev” so I am not knocking anyone who eats it.  To each their own!

It’s good to be adventurous when it comes to food… and although it might not be necessary to be THIS adventurous, I have to admit that the “Departures” boys are quite entertaining 😉

Images courtesy of the internet; video clip courtesy of the wonderful, amazing, scrumptious and fantastically fantastic Departures Entertainment.





Fabulous Favourites Part 2

7 12 2010

Oh Canada - this is a perfectly acceptable dinner, in my opinion.

Fantasic falafel...drool.

Rataouille. Kat, this one's for you - - - "And this is where he let the rat go."

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack - anytime is the right time for croissants.

I'm in denial about the abdundance of chocolate in this post.

You know what's coming...

***** F R O M A G E *****

Someday, this will be my basement 🙂

Oh, and when someone asks me what I would eat as my final meal, here’s the answer:

Can't pick....must eat all...

Yup, it would be a double-plater breakfast WITH bacon…because we all know everything is better with bacon; even vegetarians agree!

SO, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST MEAL???

(I realize I can always be counted on to ask the morbid questions) 😉

 

Once again, a huge thank you to the folks on the internet who have inundated the various search engines with wonderful pictures of food.





Fabulous Favourites Part 1

7 12 2010

I know it’s been kind of dry on the posting front the past while but fear not, posts will be coming in abundance what with Christmas (and subsequently, lots of food) on its way.

In the meantime, I have decided to “cheat” and create a picture post of my favourite foods broken down by meal times.  Enjoy the eye candy (I know I did)!

Latte Love ❤

I never get bored of this, ever.

Eggs Benny...how I love thee.

Stack 'em up high!

I had to grow into this, but now I crave soup every day.

I could eat the whole boat...and feel like one afterwards!

"Beans, beans, the magical fruit..."

Veg Lasagna - yummers.

Fishes are so delicious.

From the homeland - mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi.

To be continued…