Tag Archives: restaurant

How to plan for good food whilst travelling

4 Jan

People have asked me, particularly after my last trip, how do I make my restaurant choices when travelling to new cities? To that I reply that I make my choices based on a lot of research. Having been disappointed (and in some cases, disgusted) by meals that I’ve eaten whilst travelling, I rarely leave it to chance anymore – good food is just too important to me.

Sunset over the Duomo, Florence

There is nothing more disappointing (to me) than being in an exciting city and eating over-priced food which is targeted towards unsuspecting/hungry tourists and has been made with little care or pride. Vivid memories of astonishingly terrible meals that I have had on my travels motivates me into putting a little effort in prior to a trip so that I can have more good meals than bad meals (let’s face it, with even the most careful planning you will still encounter a mediocre meal). Here is a summary of how I generally tackle planning for a foodie trip:

  • Ask friends/family/colleagues for recommendations. This can be particularly fruitful if you share similar favourite restaurants at home. For example, one of our good friends who we go out for dinner with regularly, gave us a recommendation for a restaurant in Florence and it ended up being the best meal that we had there.
  • Research your favourite local food/travel bloggers and see if they have been to the destination you will be visiting. You’ll feel more confident with your choices when you have recommendations from someone that you are already familiar with.
  • Search for English-speaking food blogs in the city you are visiting. Often they are written by ex-pats who are exploring their new city and are very detailed. Whilst you are on these blogs, check to see if they have included any blog-links on their site – this is the fastest way (in my opinion) to find other relevant blogs as other food bloggers tend to know who else is covering the food scene in their city.
  • If the city you are visiting is well-documented, like Paris or New York, then food-focused books (like Zagat and Michelin Guide) will be vital-reading. Don’t forget to look in the food/travel section of your local bookstore for lesser-known books. I planned my whole Paris trip in 2012 based mostly on just two books (Paris, My Sweet & The Sweet Life in Paris).
  • In some cities, it can be worth waiting until you are there before nailing down some restaurants (except for fine-dining which you should reserve in advance) due to the free magazines that are offered in bigger places, like London. I found the free Time Out magazine was my guide the last time I was in London and the information was all current as of that week, including new openings.
  • I have found that TripAdvisor can be your best or worst friend. For every person who says that a restaurant was amazing, there is another claiming that it was the worst meal/experience that they’ve ever had. It can be very hard to decipher the true story as you really have no way of understanding who the person is that wrote it (their opinions are likely to be completely different to yours). I prefer to use TripAdvisor as a resource and then do my own research on each place that is highly recommended by cross-referencing with local food blogs, checking out the restaurant’s websites, etc. Don’t just default to the most popular place on TripAdvisor – everyone else is doing the exact same thing!
  • Ask locals, the people that work in the hotel you are staying in, or your local tour guides for recommendations but be clear about what you want. We made it clear that we were very interested in good food, not interested in tourist traps, and we were willing to traipse across the city in search of it.
  • If there is a restaurant that you have your heart set on going to, or if you know it is extremely popular, book before you leave. If it is a well-known or famous restaurant it will likely be fully-booked and you will miss your opportunity to go there.
  • When you have arrived, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for line-ups outside food establishments. Locals know the best places in their city and if they are willing to line up for it, you will probably want whatever it is they are having. Take a risk and jump in line!

Happy travels! Happy eating!

Truffle pasta – delicious!

L’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon, Paris

7 Nov

When I was planning our recent trip to Paris and Italy, I admit that I was much more excited about the food scene in Paris than I was about the food scene in Rome and Florence. Having indulged in so much good food the last time I was in Paris and having done extensive research of the city’s must-visit restaurants, I was more than ready to tackle Paris with my eating partner-in-crime, B. With limited time, we wanted to aim high so we booked ourselves dinner at L’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon. According to Wikipedia, Chef Joel Robuchon has 28 Michelin stars – the most of any chef in the world – and this particular restaurant is rated the 24th best restaurant in the world, according to San Pellegrino. It was a no-brainer to book dinner here.

P1070816L’Atelier Saint-Germain takes a less formal approach to fine-dining with an open-plan kitchen and wrap-around seating (although there are a few dining tables available). Whilst I was curious about this take on fine-dining, I must say that it didn’t enhance the experience for me, in fact, I think it distracted us from the experience.

When I am visiting a fine-dining restaurant and ordering a tasting menu, a vital part of the experience (for me) is the attention that you get from the server (one-on-one service, small chats), but also the surprise upon the arrival of each dish. When you are sitting side-by-side next to other diners, you (for better or worse) get to peek at their dishes when they arrive. If you are experiencing a tasting menu, like we were, then you may see the dishes being presented to other diners before you get yours, which inevitably ruins the surprise when you finally reach that dish on your tasting menu. This happened to us. We were also able to view dishes that were being presented to diners that hadn’t ordered the tasting menu, which also takes away a small part of the pleasure that you are experiencing because you may start comparing your dishes to theirs (particularly when their dishes are covered in freshly shaved truffles).

My other complaint was that I felt like I was on an airplane as I was sandwiched between two people. When you are cutting your dinner and your elbow is digging into the stranger next to you, things get awkward. Personally, I am not a fan of the communal, sit-next-to-your-fellow-diners. Give me a private table any day.

Thankfully, and more importantly, the food was flawless and beautifully presented. My favourite dishes of the night were: the tomato gazpacho, the St Pierre fish, the Black Angus steak and the lamb chops, which were served with the most heavenly truffled potato puree. The truffled potatoes alone are worth a return visit. Please note that the menu was in French so I’ve tried my best to describe the dishes with the limited information that I have.

P1070818Tomato gazpacho with croutons in golden mustard sorbet. Many flavours came through in this dish; particularly garlic and basil.

P1070820Crab with thin slices of spicy kale.

P1070823Caviar and sour cream on potato with olive oil. Delicious, but hard to scoop onto the spoon.

P1070824Egg with mushroom cream foam (yes, there is an egg hidden in there): the oddest dish of the night.

P1070828Foie gras with hibiscus jus and coco di Paimpol (a type of bean).

P1070830Chicken gyoza in broth.

P1070832St. Pierre fish with capers and pistachio oil.

P1070833Black Angus steak.

P1070836Lamb chops with an incredible truffled potato purée.

P1070838Coconut cream with passionfruit and banana and rum granite.

P1070840Creamy chocolate ganache with cocoa nibs and Oreo cookie. Extremely rich and chocolatey, in other words, sinfully good.

The oddest dish of the night goes to the egg and mushroom dish (served in the cocktail glass). The runniness of the egg was off-putting at first but thankfully there were mushroom pieces to add some texture. Texture was also very important for the foie gras dish, which was paired with beans which provided some firmness to balance the softness of the foie gras. There is no doubt that the food was the highlight, as it should be. However, I also expect good service when eating out, particularly when the restaurant is as highly-rated and as expensive (the tasting menu was €175pp/$245CAD) as this one is. Unfortunately, we found the service wasn’t as good as the food.

In the beginning, there appeared to be only one server for everyone seated at the bar (about 20 people) and the poor thing was over-worked and appeared to be unable to keep up with all of the orders. Because of this the service started out sloppy; lack of attentive service, forgotten wine menus, wines showing up late into the meal, etc. We also noticed that the French diners in the restaurant seemed to receive far more attentive service than the North American diners (there were three Americans seated next to us that seemed to have even slower service than we did).

I know that nitpicking over such small things at a wonderful restaurant makes me sound like an asshole (it is certainly a first world problem) but I stand by it because the restaurant has set customers up to expect a certain quality (by charging the prices it does and by having two Michelin stars). I can’t help but think that the slow/inattentive service and the claustrophobic seating could possibly be the reason that L’Atelier Saint-Germain dropped from #12 to #24 in a year on the San Pellegrino list. By no means was it a bad meal, it was a pleasant evening and the food was outstanding, however for the price, I was expecting better service and a better overall experience. Having said that, I would likely go back but I would most certainly request a table, rather than dine at the bar.

Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food, London Heathrow

28 Oct

Terminal 5
London Heathrow Airport
UK
www.gordonramsay.com/planefood

After months of planning and anticipation, our trip to Paris and Italy is now all but a memory and some photographs. We’ve just returned from three glorious weeks exploring Europe whilst eating and drinking whatever, and whenever, we wanted. We are now back in our lovely Vancouver and digesting (ha ha!) everything that we saw and the memories that we created. It will take me some time to edit pictures and write posts but for now I’ll leave you with the first meal that we had in Europe. Whilst waiting for our flight at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we were able to assure our taste buds that not all food tastes as disappointing as the plane food we had eaten on the flight over.

Love him or hate him, Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food restaurant is a pretty clever concept. If you have time between flights, you can have a meal in the terminal that doesn’t include over-priced, soggy sandwiches (typical of so many airports), or if you have limited time, you can take-away meals to eat whilst on your flight (a brilliant idea, in my opinion). We had a few hours to kill before our flight to Paris so we kicked back, had a glass of wine and had a three course lunch for £19.95/$33CAD (two courses are £16.95/$29CAD).

Roasted beef carpaccio, rocket, horseradish, and lemon)

White onion and haddock soup

P1070803Cured and braised pork belly with apple and fennel salad and celeriac mash

P1070805Pineapple carpaccio

Overall, I thought it was definitely worth the price and certainly a great way to pass an hour or so. The restaurant isn’t the same high-end Gordon experience that you would get at his fine-dining restaurants, which is not at all surprising because he is trying to attract a different, less-formal customer-base at this restaurant. Go and enjoy it for what it is; well-prepared food at a pretty good price. It was a great way to relax into the start of our trip.

Nook Kitsilano

30 Aug

1525 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
V6K 3E4

T: 604 734 3381
www.nookrestaurant.ca

So if I’ve not been in the kitchen this summer (see previous post), then what have I been eating? Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the recently opened Nook Kitsilano. Perhaps I have even been spending too much time there, who knows? All I can say is that it is dangerous for my wallet and my waistline that my favourite restaurant opened their second location only blocks from my place.

Nook’s original location is in the West End and has long been a favourite of mine. Some might wonder why this casual, small restaurant with a fairly simple menu is one of my favourites and I would respond with exactly that…it is casual, small (read: intimate), with an uncomplicated menu of Italian favourites. Oh, and the price-point is just right. So, long story short, they opened their location at Yew and Cornwall in mid-July and I’ve been there a lot. The new space is quite different from their cozy, intimate spot on Denman Street. The Kits restaurant is bigger and brighter and it definitely seats more people (not so much a “nook”), which is good because they have been busy every single time I’ve been there.

Besides some slight differences, the menu basically mirrors their West End menu and you will find the usual Nook offerings of excellent pasta, pizza, and antipasto. In addition to the menu, there are always daily pizza and pasta specials. Most menu items are well under $20 and I highly recommend ordering dishes to share amongst the table.

Nook

Daily pizza special: sopressata and egg.

P1070683

Daily Pasta Special

Nook KitsDaily Pizza Special: Bianco, zucchini, and pancetta

If you are wanting to try Nook Kitsilano but don’t want to forgo a sunny evening, you are in luck. You can take-away and with the beach only a block away, it is the perfect storm for a delicious picnic dinner at the beach. FYI, if you aren’t too full after dinner, try one of their cappuccinos – the foam is incredible.

So whilst I believe that the Denman location is slightly better than the Kits one (ambience, space, and service is better at West End), you still can’t really go wrong with the new Nook either. The food is still excellent and the price-point is the same – I’m just a sucker for the original.

Nook Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Kishimoto

24 Jul

2054 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, BC
V5N 4A9

T: 604 255 5550
No website

After yet another disappointing meal on Commercial Drive recently, I took to Twitter to ask people about their favourite spots on The Drive. I was certain that there had to be some better spots than the ones that I have sampled and, thankfully, Twitter did not disappoint. I was given many suggestions but the one that was recommended the most was a little sushi restaurant called Kishimoto. I visited the very next day.

Having returned to Kishimoto a few times since that first visit, I can see why it was so strongly recommended – it is indeed a worthwhile destination on The Drive (although I wonder if some of its popularity is due to the lack of competition on The Drive?). Whilst I do believe the quality of the sushi is above-average, I think it is on par with other above-average local sushi restaurants, such as Fresh (in Yaletown) and Sushiyama (near Main Street), but slightly below Minami. And that is fine because the prices are considerably less than Minami.

My favourite dish, the Minami-esque pressed salmon oshi sushi – $10.75

One for the vegetarians! Pressed asparagus sushi.

Ebi Harusame – $7.95

I really can’t visit a restaurant that serves pressed salmon oshi sushi and not order it, so I’ve ordered that dish every time that I’ve visited Kishimoto (it is just so good!). It is almost as good as Minami’s version, but it is slightly more citrusy. However, at only $10.75 for a generous serving, compared with $15 at Minami, I am not complaining. I was interested to discover that they also offered a vegetarian pressed sushi version, made with asparagus, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. It fell a bit short, particularly when compared to the pressed salmon, but a good option for vegetarians nonetheless. I haven’t tried enough of the rest of the menu, due to the pressed salmon, to recommend other dishes but so far, so good. What I think Kishimoto excels at is the presentation and the small details (watch for the carrot butterflies and the beautiful daikon flowers).

Seating is quite limited and I can almost guarantee that there will likely be a line-up when you go, yes, even during the week. But you should know that the line moves quite fast so even if you think it is going to be a while, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Kishimoto is a great find on Commercial Drive, and one worth seeking out if you are in the area. I’m looking forward to sampling more of the menu during future visits, although it will be difficult to bypass their pressed salmon oshi sushi.

Photo Visit – Wildebeest – May 2013

17 Jun

120 West Hastings
Vancouver, BC
V6B 1G8

T: 604 687 6880
www.wildebeest.ca

Brief Description: It should be quite obvious from the name of the restaurant as to what Wildebeest specializes in but in case you need more clarity, think meat, bones, and tongues. It is certainly not a place for the squeamish, or vegetarian.

Wildebeest has been one of my go-to places for brunch since they opened but I obviously hadn’t been back in a while as the last time I was there (a few weeks ago now) they had some new additions to their brunch menu. It was a smart decision to add some new items as it keeps things fresh and interesting for those that frequent the restaurant often.

WildebeestDaily special: Housemade pork patty with egg and asparagus and salsa verde

Sous vide egg on a biscuit, with ham

Both of these dishes were very tasty, and the sous vide egg dish was particularly delicious. I’m unsure if these new dishes are a permanent fixture on their brunch menu as they don’t appear to be on the website menu. However, there are other new items, such as “The Dutch Baby”, cow’s milk ricotta, poached rhubarb, rhubarb jam orange marmalade syrup and the nettle cassoulet, sunchoke granola, confit shallot, poached egg and comte.

Photo Visit – Nook – June 2013

16 Jun

781 Denman Street
Vancouver, BC
V6G 2L6

T: 604 568 4554
www.nookrestaurant.ca

Brief Description: Nook fills the West End void of affordable and unpretentious Italian food. Think generous portions of scrumptious pizza and pasta for under $15.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog just how much I enjoy visiting Nook. I dare say that it is my favourite restaurant in the city. Not because of any one thing but it is the combination of the friendly service, well-executed food, the unpretentious and intimate space, and the value for money, that make it a favourite. B and I love visiting Nook whenever we want to go out for a romantic, yet affordable, evening. This meal, plus 2 glasses of wine and a beer, came to just under $100.

Nook

Burrata and Proscuitto – $18

P1070318

Daily Pasta Special: Pork Ragu – $19
P1070322Italian Sausage Pizza – $15

Rumour has it that Nook will be opening their Kitsilano location in July. I, for one, cannot wait and I have my fingers crossed that they are able to keep the same standard that they consistently deliver at the West End location.

Nook on Urbanspoon

Photo Visit – Pidgin – June 2013

6 Jun

350 Carrall Street
Vancouver, BC
V6B 2J3

T: 604 620 9400
www.pidginvancouver.com

Come on, you’ve heard about Pidgin. With all of the protests and media attention it is hard to have escaped not hearing something about this new Gastown/DTES restaurant. Perhaps you’ve even googled the restaurant to see what all the fuss is about. I have – of course I have! I love food and enjoy finding out about new openings in the city. But after reading the menu, which is arguably one of the most innovative menus in Vancouver right now, I just wasn’t that excited. I couldn’t find anything on the menu that I was desperate to try but I went anyway to celebrate B’s birthday last week. And honestly? I’m still underwhelmed by it (although this was only my first visit so this is not my final decision). Anyway, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

P1070281-001Interior of Pidgin

P1070263Daily Pickles – $5 P1070266Daily Special of Sashimi Spot Prawns on Prawn Broth Glass Noodles P1070267Daily Special: Duck Confit Rillette with Endive SaladP1070271Pork Belly Rice Bowl – $12

P1070277Elk Ssam - $26 P1070285Peanut Butter Parfait with Salted Caramel & Banana Puree – $8

The interior of the restaurant was modern, with a clean white-look and exposed pipes on the roof. The kitchen was open-concept, although situated mostly away from the dining room so it wasn’t intrusive. The service was helpful and courteous. As for the food, some of the dishes fell short and those were the daily special of sashimi style spot prawns, served on prawn broth infused glass noodles, and the elk ssam was also quite uneventful flavour-wise (ssam is basically a lettuce wrap). At $26 for the elk, I was expecting much more.

The highlights of the night were the duck confit rillette, which was delightful, and the superstar of the evening was actually dessert! The peanut butter parfait with salted caramel was memorable and worth a visit for that alone.

I will return to Pidgin to try it again – even if it is just for some small plates and that heavenly dessert.

PiDGiN on Urbanspoon

Photo Visit – Bao Bei – April 2013

16 Apr

163 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1X3

T: 604 688 0876
www.bao-bei.ca

Brief Description: A funky, Chinatown-based restaurant offering non-traditional Chinese fare in tapas style. Bao Bei appeals to those who aren’t necessarily looking for an authentic Chinese experience but more of a modern, up-market version of that experience. Prices are between $4 (for small “schnacks”) but most are around the $14 mark.

It has been some time since I was last at Bao Bei but after tonight’s dinner I am wondering why I had left it so long. The flavours were popping tonight, the serving sizes were spot on, and the price (without drinks) was an affordable $43. One of my previous complaints about Bao Bei was the cost of their simple fried rice dish. At $17 a bowl I had a hard time justifying it, even though it was delicious. Well, I’m happy to report that the price (and size) of the fried rice has come down to a reasonable $12. This makes me much happier as the decrease aligns it with the cost of most of the other menu items (understandably, lamb and salmon are slightly more expensive).

Truffled Pork Dumplings – $7.50

Shao Bing – $12

Mantou – $9Seasonal Fried Rice – $12

The shao bing was well-rounded with a lot of flavour from the cumin lamb, punctuated with pickled onions and the fiery heat of the salted chillies. The seasonal fried rice sounded unusual (with iceberg lettuce and prosciutto) but the end result was actually very good but made even better by the addition of the chilli oil condiment available. The truffled pork dumplings were warming, with a light splash (more like an aroma) of truffle oil, and the mantou buns were soft, and spongey with just the right amount of pork belly (cubes rather than a big slab).

For a Tuesday night, the restaurant was steady and they still aren’t taking reservations in advance so either show up on a weeknight or plan for a bit of wait. Thankfully, there are now a few bars in the area where you can whet your appetite before waiting for a table to become free (I recommend The Keefer or The Union).

Photo Visit – Maenam – January 2013

4 Feb

1938 West 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC
V6J 1M5

T: 604 730 5579
www.maenam.ca

Brief Description: A popular Kitsilano-based restaurant that offers well-executed, modern Thai food. Maenam is friendly on the wallet, without sacrificing quality or ambiance.

I know that this makes me sound like a HUGE grump but I’m not a fan of Dine Out Vancouver. Yes, I understand that it gives a huge injection of cash to local restaurants when they so desperately need it (just after the Christmas rush) but I think it typically doesn’t portray a restaurant in the best light. When you have that many seats turning over in a night, I think service becomes strained and the kitchen loses its passion when it is cooking the same dishes every night for two weeks straight. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I normally avoid restaurants that are participating in Dine Out until it ends. However, there was a night last week where I just didn’t want to cook. I was feeling a bit blue and the thought of having to go through the whole process of making dinner just seemed too difficult. B was in the same boat so the decision was made to go out for dinner.

It had been a while since we were last at Maenam and as we entered the restaurant we realized that they were participating in Dine Out. Our initial reaction was disappointment but we were able to get a table and, as we love the food so much at Maenam, we decided to see what they could showcase by ordering the Dine Out menu. It was incredible value at $28 per person for one starter, one salad, one curry, and one stir fry to share between two people, followed by a dessert each. Perhaps my mind could be changed about Dine Out…

Our favourite salad, the grilled Thai sausage and crispy rice salad, was unavailable whilst Dine Out was on which pushed us to try something new. We started with the mussels with Thai aromatics and nahm jim sauce, which I didn’t get a photo of, but were steamed mussels with a light broth of lemongrass, bird’s eye chilies, and Thai basil. The nahm jim sauce added even more delicious heat, with a hint of sweetness. It appears that our favourite salad now has some competition. The rest of our meal unfolded like this:

Salad to share: Banana Blossom SaladStir Fry to share: Pork Belly Stir FryCurry to share: Green Curry of Halibut CheeksPassion Fruit TrioDark Chocolate Pot de Crème

All of the dishes were really quite impressive. The banana blossom salad was unlike anything that I’ve eaten before. The banana blossoms themselves were quite husky and crunchy which gave a really interesting texture to the dish, whereas the fresh mint and coriander, gave bold flavours. What can I say about Maenam’s curries? I love the curries here and the halibut green curry packs quite a punch but is one of my favourites. The pork belly salad was a must-order for B – for me, the flavours were good but I’m always a little put off by the obvious fat marbling of the pork belly (yes, shoot me now). Dessert-wise I had heard a lot of good things about the chocolate pot de crème, so I had to try that but I was kicking myself because the tangy passion fruit trio was, in my opinion, a better choice. The chocolate pot was delicious, but I had a hard time enjoying the tangy tamarind ice cream.

Final Thoughts: Overall, we loved the food at Maenam (we always have) and this menu really gave us a chance to try some different dishes. Maybe, just maybe, Dine Out isn’t so bad after all.

Maenam on Urbanspoon

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