Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

Lumihai BeachWhen this post goes live J. and I will be lying on a beach in Hawaii. We have 7 days and nights of relaxation planned or not planned as the case may be in Kauai. Though we don’t have any activities planned, besides lying on the beach, we do have our food plans well and truly under control.

As I have mentioned previously, J. is more often than not in charge of our eating arrangements when we travel. He researches, reads, studies and discusses all the possibilities. He has been responsible for finding some of the most unique, out of the way, hole in the wall, restaurants/foodtrucks/shacks that we have ever been lucky enough to try. He is always organized for our trips but when it comes to Kauai he has taken it to an entirely new level!

Here is the evidence – THE SPREADSHEET!

THE SPREADSHEET

Puka DogA comprehensive document, organizing possible food choice by local. It details opening hours, location, whether they take cash only or credit card and possibly most importantly what kind of cuisine they serve. We have choices of traditional Hawaiian plate lunches, poke, seafood, burgers, Japanese and who knows what else. He has found us so many to choose from there is no way we will get to all of them!

We went to Kauai back in 2009 and discovered some amazing places to eat. They have made it Mark's Placeonto the spreadsheet, along with some of J’s new discoveries. The places I am looking forward to revisiting are Shrimp Station, Puka Dog, Mark’s Place and Hamura’s Saimin and a few others. The shrimp at Shrimp Station were delicious and amazing. I had never tasted anything like the hot dogs from Puka Dog. Mark’s Place and Hamura’s Saimin were just cool, low key locals joints.

Shrimp StationOf course J. has found us a whole new  group of places to try out. When we travel we try to stay away from the touristy places (although Puka Dog is definitely a popular destination) and go where the locals eat. Kauai, the second time around will be no different. I’m really looking forward to trying out Koloa Fish Market and also Chicken in a Barrel but there are so many other delicious options who knows what we will actually eat!

Hamura's Saimin

I’m sure as you are reading this we are either lying on a beach or eating some fabulously tastyfood! Stay tuned for Live from Kauai posts later this week!

ALOHA!

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Tortino Pasta.jpgMy final night in Washington DC, I took a gamble and went to Founding Farmers, hoping that being by myself I could get a seat. Unfortunately the gamble didn’t pay off. They were booked out and there was also a line out the door. Never mind, I had a back up.

On my walks around the neighborhood near my hotel I had spotted a small, Italian trattoria that intrigued me. Tucked into the basement of a brownstone, in amongst residences, Tortino just looked like the perfect neighborhood restaurant. Inviting, small and fingers crossed, delicious!

I took a seat at the bar to eat and also because it was still happy hour, I ordered myself a bellini (prosecco with peach puree). The bellini was delicious and I had to make sure I didn’t drink in a few seconds.

I chatted with the bartender about football (NFL… GO BEARS!) for a while and then asked him to recommend a pasta dish Bellini.jpgfor me. After making sure I liked seafood he suggested the pasta special. Handmade spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, mussels, and broccoli in a garlic butter sauce! I went with his recommendation!

While waiting for my food to arrive I sipped on a second bellini – I couldn’t help it, they were just too delicious!

My pasta arrived! A large bowl filled with spaghetti and a surprisingly huge amount of mussels. The pasta was good, al dente, just how I like it and how it should be. The mussels were perfectly cooked and smothered in the garlic butter sauce. The crusty bread was great dipped in the sauce. And even though I am not a big broccoli fan, I ate every bite.

This was a lovely, intimate little restaurant – it would be perfect for a date night. The food was good Italian comfort food and they had lovely, friendly staff who chatted to me and kept me company at the bar. Oh, and the bellinis were yummy.

I was happy with my random choice, even though it wasn’t Founding Farmers. I will go back to this restaurant next time I am in DC and will also hopefully make it into Founding Farmers too!

Mussels.jpgLast night I walked around downtown DC and worked my way towards another delicious dinner, recommended by Everyday Sarah Jane.

St Arnold’s Mussel Bar on Jefferson Street was my final destination and it was worth the walk. I arrived at a great, but small basement bar. There was a line out the door but the one benefit of eating alone is getting to skip the long line, and be seated immediately.

Though there are other delights on their menu I was always going to have mussels, it Pilsner.jpgwas just a matter of choosing what flavor to go with. In the end I chose to have the House Specialty, forgoing the Thai curry mussels and the Mexican inspired mussels. The specialty is Mussels St. Arnold’s – Mussels cooked in a house beer sauce with caramelized shallot, garlic and thyme and finally… wait for it…duck fat! Seriously, who cooks mussels in duck fat!

After ordering my mussels, my beer arrived. They have a fantastic selection of beers to choose from and I am sure if J. was here we would have made a night of it. When i say we, imean me and J. would get me home… Traveling alone I settled for a single beer, a Bavik pilsner. Yum!

Frites and bread.jpgThe mussels arrived accompanied by frites and bread… Carbs, seafood and duck fat – I was in heaven!

The frites were crunchy and perfectly cooked, not too oily. Dunking the bread into the beer sauce seemed incredibly decadent. The mussels themselves were perfect. The steaming cast iron pot was filled with plump juicy mussels, all open, which I think is the mark of a good seafood restaurant.

The broth was sweet and savory at the same time. Not oily or fatty at all. If I hadn’t Duck fat broth.jpgbeen bursting by the end of the meal I would have asked for the broth to go and had it as soup today. So deliciously good. They were some of the best mussels I’ve ever had.

It was a good thing I had a 2 mile hike back to the hotel to work dinner off. Thank you fellow bloggers, we’re two for two on restaurants! Being seated quickly also meant I got happy hour food prices with the mussels and frites costing less than $10!!!! Love it.

Friday night I am going to try Founding Farmers, I wasn’t able to get a reservation but thought I might try walking in, even though it is incredibly popular. I have a back up if necessary. Wish me luck!

Grilled Qual.jpgJ. and I like to watch a local PBS show called Check Please, Arizona. It is a funny little show that reviews restaurants here in Arizona. We have discovered a few places from watching this show and have also written off quite a few.

A few months back we were watching, looking for places we could possibly take my parents when they came to visit and Rancho Pinot was reviewed. It is a little fancy for our usual tastes but the Wild West décor and some of the menu items caught our eye.

We do occasionally like to try out some of the fancier restaurants so we decided try it out to see if it was the kind of place we would want to take visitors. The restaurant is decorated with a giant cactus skeleton in the middle of the restaurant – who knew they had skeletons. The walls are then decorated with Southwest themed photos, painting and bits and pieces. All very quirky and different.  I thought that it was something different for visitors.

Anyway, to the important stuff… the food.

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To start we ordered the small plate of grilled quail with sweet corn polenta, sautéed greens and peach mostarda. This was delicious and we were hoping it would set the tone for the rest of the night.

J. order scallops for his main course. He had seen them on the TV show and they were one of the main reasons we went there… His plate came out with 3 diver scallops that had been mesquite grilled, on a bed of corn risotto with tomato broth and bacon-fennel relish. Doesn’t that just sound amazing!! It was a small serving and I knew it wasn’t going to be enough for him so I had ordered accordingly.

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Though there was nothing wrong with the dish J. wasn’t raving about it and considering this was the main thing he had wanted to try, it was a little disappointing. He was also still well and truly hungry after he had finished it.

Fortunately I had ordered the Berkshire Pork. This was huge and served with creamy polenta, green beans and a roasted tomato. The pork was tender and flavorful, the polenta was tasty. Thankfully there was plenty for J. to finish it off.

Since we were out on the town for the night we ordered desserts. J. wanted to try the Olive oil cake with meyer lemon curd, which was tasty. I had the Shaker Meyer Lemon Tart, which was different from other tarts I had tried, more like a lemon pie, with pastry on the top as well as the Olive Oil Cake.jpgbottom. It was yummy and tangy, as a good lemon tart should be.

I don’t like giving bad reviews, and this isn’t really bad, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the food or the service. I would never tell someone not to go here. You will get good food and good service and be in an interesting restaurant. Plus they have a really good wine list.

Unfortunately though for us, it wasn’t memorable and it certainly wasn’t worth the price we paid. The most memorable thing for me all night was the Arizonan wine I had with my meal! As you can probably tell from this entry we weren’t really impressed or disappointed… it was all just fine. Not what you want when you spend $100+ on a meal.

Lemon tart.jpgWhen we are going somewhere nice for a special occasion this won’t be at the top of our list, there are other places that are more memorable and places that we rave about that come before this. They do have seasonal menus which means we might go back some day and try a new menu and could be wowed!

However, this is just our opinion and what we like – maybe you will have a better experience and it will be exactly what you want.

Plus, where else can you get Wild West fine dining!

20130721-190606.jpgI would never say that I am a beer connoisseur. I am nowhere near discerning enough to where that label! I am happy to pretty much drink any kind of beer, with little or no judgement. I do however have some beers that I don’t particularly like. Fruity beers often seem too sweet and less like a beer than I would like. Often I feel like I am drinking a soda or cocktail. I simply don’t believe in fruit beer!

J. isn’t really a fan of beer at all, occasionally he will have a beer and will always taste mine but I am well and truly the drinker in our relationship… I’m not complaining, after all that means I always have a happy designated driver.

We were out shopping on the weekend and I saw a six pack of San Tan Brewing Company‘s Mr Pineapple, pineapple wheat beer on special. J. had tried this on a visit to San Tan Brewery and had like it. San Tan is a small brewery and restaurant here in Chandler, not too far from our place. I have been there but had never tried the Mr Pineapple since it is a summer seasonal beer.

As an aside, the beers that I have tried at San Tan are excellent and we even took my parents there and Dad certainly enjoyed the beers he tried.

Anyway, we bought a six pack of Mr Pineapple and took it home. It was hot and humid here this weekend so a nice cool beer was perfect to go with our BBQ (Aussie Style not American style) dinner on Sunday night.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the beer. You can certainly taste the pineapple but it isn’t overpowering and just adds a little sweetness. The beer is definitely a beer, not a soda or cocktail and is incredibly refreshing.

If you happen to be in Chandler, Arizona definitely check out San Tan Brewery and try some of the beers and the food (which is also really good). If you are lucky enough to discover some of the beers in your local grocery store (try Wholefoods) pick up a few and give them a try… Mr Pineapple may just make a believer out of you too!

We’re back!

We haven’t really been anywhere but it seems as though life got in the way of the blogging for the last few months… However just because we were too busy to blog doesn’t mean we were too busy to eat.

We have been eating as hard as always. The last few months have been a combination of travelling, delicious tastes, addictive drink and great cooking home!

So stay tuned for some tales, recipes, photos and FOOD!

We’re happy to be back…

Betel Leaf.jpgFirst let me apologize for my absence. I haven’t been well and have not been up to sitting down and writing when I Watermelon.jpgget home from work. I hope I am back to normal and be posting regularly again from now on.

Back to food!

J. and I still have so much food to write about from our time back in Australia. I thought I would share one of the meals we had at a great Asian restaurant in Melbourne while we were there.

For Christmas we were lucky enough to get a $100 gift card for Red Spice Road, a very cool, very delicious Asian restaurant in one of the gorgeous laneways in Melbourne. For those of you who don’t know Melbourne, it is filled with small laneways that have some of the best food, coffee and nightlife the city has to offer, well really, Australia has to offer. Whenever in Melbourne, time must be taken to wander these laneways and see what has changed, discover new places and visit old favorites.

Oysters.jpgJ. had never been to this restaurant before so we decided to go all out and get the $75 per person tasting menu… Tofu and mushrooms.jpgwhy not when we had the gift card! We mistakenly thought that we needed to pick a few of the items from the huge tasting menu to have, however it turned out that we got enough of everything on the menu for two… Oh dear!

The first trio of dishes were little nibblies or starters. Just a bite of each for us. But those bites were magnificent! First up was Betel Leaf with Chicken, Crab, Coconut, Chilli & Kaffir Lime. I usually find things wrapped in betel leaf to bitter but this was just perfect. The chilli & lime fought against the bitterness and the sweet crab and coconut just tied it all together. The next bite was Watermelon topped with Sticky Pork, Peanut and Prawn Relish. As weird and unusual as this sounds it was probably my favorite thing of the night. I don’t actually know how to describe this accurately but it was a burst of sweet, savory flavor in your mouth. I could have eaten 12 of them but we only got 1 each.

Lamb Ribs.jpgThe last dish in this first trio was an Oyster with Chilli Jam, Lime Juice and Crispy Shallots. Now IBeef salad.jpgam not sure if I have ever expressed the love J. and I have for oysters on the blog before… but we seriously have an obsession with them. I think we would have been happy to eat the oysters and nothing else if we could have had 3 dozen of them! These were the perfect bite, but sadly just one bite each.

A few sips of wine and a little chatter later the next trio of dishes arrived. These would be the appetizers. First was the Beef, Rice Noodle, Herb, Pickled Carrot, Cucumber and Shallot Salad, seriously spicy and delicious. There is something so refreshing about this kind of salad!

Kingfish salad.jpgIn this trio we also had Crispy Tofu with Mushrooms, Wombok, Bamboo, Green Onion and Masterstock Duck curry.jpgand Twice Cooked Lamb Ribs with a Tamarind and Coconut Relish. Both of these were completely amazing. The lamb ribs, well the meat just fell off the bone and then the tofu dish was unbelievably delicious. J. even enjoyed the tofu.

I was getting full, really full by this stage and the main dishes were still to come! I thought they would be small but they were huge and this trio had my favorite dish from this restaurant in it so I had to find room to eat!

The final trio… could we do it??

First was the Raw Kingfish, Green Tomato, Asian Celery, Green Chilli and Coriander Salad, light and perfectly cooked… we managed to squeeze all of this in. J. was a trooper and pushed through the pain. Also in the trio was a Duck Red Curry with Pineapple and Sweet Potato. This was a creamy, spicy curry with just the right hint of sweetness. If I hadn’t already had 7 other dishes I could have dived into this!

Pork Belly Perfection.jpgThe last dish was the dish that I come to Red Spice Road for… Pork Belly with Apple Slaw, Chilli Caramel and Pandan Cream.jpgBlack Vinegar. What do I have to say really… the name says it all. Crispy pork belly with chilli and vinegar – PERFECTION!

We were full… 9 dishes of food… I know it was a tasting menu but those servings were not small… And then there was still the dessert. I didn’t know if we could do it but the waiter promised us it was light and refreshing…Pandan Cream with Puffed Wild Rice, Peanut Praline and Coconut. Well, the waiter was right. It was fresh, light and delicious. The best thing to finish off our feast.

It was a long meal… 3 hours. It was a delicious meal and it was a big meal! We were both so impressed and happy with our dinner. We didn’t really need to eat for a few days after but of course we were on holidays so that didn’t happen.

So if you ever find yourself wandering around Melbourne’s laneways definitely check out Red Spice Road!

Mixed Grill.jpgI am a city girl, I love the noise, the pace and the variety that a city offers… Until I moved here to Arizona, I had been living smack bang in the center of Melbourne city… The strange thing is, is that I grew up in the country. Small town Queensland. When we moved from first small town to second small town (of 10,000 people) when I was 14 I was so excited because they had traffic lights and fast food places… McDonald’s, KFC, Red Rooster… What a metropolis! I would never move back to live in a small country town but I love visiting and my parents still live in a small town so I get plenty of fresh air, country hospitality and good food when I visit them.

One of the great things I find about Australian small country towns is that there is always a good pub. At least one, sometimes 3, even 4 or more sometimes! You are never short of a pub in the country. The food at these out of the way pubs can often be some of the best, largest and most delicious pub food you will ever get. Meat so fresh you would think they had just carved it off a cow, servings so large to help fill the hole that country air seems to create. They would give many city pubs a run for their money when it comes to their food… not to mention their cheap drink prices.

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The Saturday night after we got back to Australia we had driven up to Mum and Dad’s and decided on the way we wanted to go to Meringandan Pub. This is a tiny, tiny little “town” about 10 minutes from my parent’s house and 15 minutes from a pretty big city (by Australian standards) but they have possibly the best pub food I have ever eaten!

The four of us, J., my parents and I headed off for our yummy meal. J. had decided to take on the challenge of the mixed grill that many have tried but failed to finish. I um’ed and ah’ed but finally decided to go with the surf and turf option. My Mum went with braised lamb shanks and Dad went with the bone-in rib eye.

I went up and ordered for us all and of course it is never as simple as that… the questions began… how would you like it, what kind of sauce; veggies or salad & chips??? So many options to go along with our meat… lots and lots of meat!

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Let’s start with the smallest meal – Mum’s lamb shanks were quite scrumptious. Nice and tender – the meat falling off the bone. She had veggies with her shanks, there were a variety of veggies, including potato done two ways… mashed and roasted. I think she was very happy with her selection.

My surf and turf was unbelievable… it came with a mountain of beer battered chips, a great garden salad and then the meat… I a couple of battered prawns and some crispy calamari on top of a huge perfectly cooked medium rare steak. I had a chosen the pepper sauce and it was great for dipping both the chips and steak in. I was unbelievably happy with this. The meal was so big I didn’t even come close to finishing it, the steak was hanging off the plate it was sooo big. I just have to say though that the chips were amazing and I just couldn’t stop eating them!

Dad had his rib eye on the bone, also with chips, salad and pepper sauce (we weren’t so original with the sauce choices). His steak was huge as well and perfectly cooked. That is something I have found at this pub – you never get a badly cooked steak!Rib on the bone.jpg

Last but certainly not least was the monster of all meals, J’s MIXED GRILL!!!! A plate piled high with salad and chips and then stacked with a steak, a lamb chop, a pork chop, a beef sausage and some bacon just to top it all off! J also got the pepper sauce just as a side note. Now my uncle has tried to finish this as have some other friends of ours but no one has ever succeeded… until now! J attacked it with a vengeance… head down, no conversation, he was a man focused and obsessed!

I was so proud of my man for conquering the mixed grill and it was enjoyed at the same time. He said it was great steak (he usually refuses to eat steak outside of our own home) and the rest of the meat was just delicious. He couldn’t believe how tasty the pepper sauce was either – who knew it would be that yummy!

Our dinner here was just fantastic… everytime we go home to visit my parents now we will definitely make a stop off here. If you are ever in Queensland – out near Toowoomba – stop here, get some lunch or dinner… just be prepared to sleep off a feast in your car afterwards if you have to keep on driving! Another great pub with fabulous food in a small country town… unbelievable!

Let me know if you know of any great country pubs with amazing food for our next trip home!

Italian Thick Chocolate.jpgAustralia is in the middle of summer right now, when we arrived in Brisbane back on the 21st it was hot, steamy and overcast. We had our lunch out with friends and had decided to explore the city center a little. We jumped on a bus and trundled into the city and watched the rain clouds gather…

Now this preamble is leading to a food adventure but I need to set the scene…

We arrive in the city and wander down the Queen Street Mall, the rain starts falling gently… we walk further… across the river to Southbank and the “beach”. Those of you who don’t know Brisbane, they have created a man-made beach right in the center of town on the south bank of the river. I am pretty soaked at this stage and even though it is hot and muggy the last thing I want to do is risk getting sick on our first day of vacation.

Then I saw it, an oasis from the rain… Max Brenner. This is a chain of “restaurants”/ “cafes”/ Spicy Mexican Chocolate.jpg“chocolate shops” that can be found around Australia… actually when I was just googling I found that there are some here in the US too, including Vegas – How did I not know this!?! They do some decadent waffles and sweets not to mention delicious chocolates. I suddenly wanted a hot chocolate! J had never been to Max Brenner for some reason so I suggested a short respite from the rain and a cup of hot chocolate to share!

So in we went to dry off and order a cup to share… well as if that was ever going to happen… we ended up ordering 2 cups, because we could! I wanted what I have always had, the Mexican Spicy Chocolate with Milk Chocolate and then J ordered the Italian Thick Chocolate with Dark Chocolate.

We sat down and sipped away at our mugs of steaming hot chocolate… they were so delicious and I have to say that J’s Italian Thick Chocolate is now my new favorite… (that sounds dodgy). Anyway, the chocolate wasn’t too sweet and was nice and hot. My Mexican Spicy one could have been a bit spicier but it was delicious anyway. J was pretty pleased with his choice and he would normally stay away from a hot drink in that kind of weather.

After we had dried off and consumed our drinks we were ready to get back out walking again! When I say consumed, I mean licked the cups clean…

What a way to force ourselves to stay awake and avoid jetlag. Hot chocolate in the middle of summer, I think hot chocolate anytime works really!

Fish & Chips.jpgWe arrived back in Australia (into Brisbane) early Friday morning… Greeted at the airport by my joking Dad and my teary Mum, we quickly headed to my Granma’s place to shower, refresh and then head out on the town… It was only 8.30am!

By lunchtime we were out eating already with my good friends K (I have spoken about K in earlier blogs) & R and their brand new baby H. My parents & K’s parents also joined us. So a big group of us for lunch – what better way to keep awake and beat jetlag.

There is a restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try since it opened in Brisbane, Alfred & Constance… unfortunately we had time limits and location difficulties for everyone to attend so we had to choose somewhere else. Check out the A & C website though… if you are in Brisbane sometime I think they would be worth a visit! Ok, enough about where we didn’t eat.

We met at one of the local shopping centres (mall) where we knew there is a variety of restaurants with outdoor seating and decent food to choose from. After some debating and studying of the menus out the front of each restaurant we settled on Groove Train.

The menu was quite eclectic and would offer everyone coming to lunch something to choose from. J. and I were Chicken Parma.jpgstarving by this stage and craving some Aussie food. Unfortunately there weren’t any pies on the menu but plenty of other stuff to choose from. In the end I went for fish & chips because I hadn’t had a great beer battered piece of fish since I left Australia and J. went with a Parma… or for those non-Australian a Chicken Parmigiana.

Lemon peppered beer battered served with lemon, fresh garden salad, chips and tartare sauce… how good does that sound! Anyway, I was incredibly happy with the fish. A nice crispy batter and not too greasy at all and the fish itself was delicious and flaky… it just fell apart as I cut into it. I can’t really say much about the salad, it really was just a regular garden salad, nothing terribly fancy about it at all… it was fresh though which is always important. The chips were yummy, perfectly cooked. My main thing with a fish and chips is that it can’t all be greasy and soggy and this wasn’t so it was a winner all round for me.

J’s parma came out and it was quite huge… this wasn’t a bad thing since he was starving. It looked pretty good – he was a fair way down the table from me so I didn’t manage to sneak a bite, though I kind of wish I did. It came out covered in Napoli sauce and melted mozzarella with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. He also had the salad and chips as sides so it was a big plate of food. He really enjoyed it.

It was a great lunch for us, and so fun to catch up with great friends. We were exhausted and jetlagged and probably not the best company for others but that’s what friends are for. After lunch we headed off into Brisbane city for a bit of exploring… stay tuned for the delicious delights we found during our adventure!