Review From The Cellar

It was not just the fresh contemporary style food but service beyond our expectations that made our dining at Sensi an experience to remember. Laurence, our server, was bubbling over with enthusiasm about the menu as he handed us an IPad loaded with pictures and descriptions of drink and dessert options. We each ordered a glass of the Woollaston Sauvignon Blanc 2012. From the Nelson wine district in New Zealand, just west of Marlborough, the wine had the unmistakable grassy, herbaceous aroma with an excellent balance of acidity with tropical fruit flavors.

The subtle sweetness of caramelized yam, scallion and garlic blended into a rich, thick creamy soup was my choice for a hearty start to a Thanksgiving lunch.  Canadian Thanksgiving was over 6 weeks ago and today it is the USA that celebrates.

Only the bright neon sign above the entrance hints that behind the non-descript strip mall doorway  is a restaurant that, according to locals, serves up some of the best Thai food in Las Vegas.  Lucky for us, at the FoodFightWrite 2014 conference, we met up with a Las Vegas friend who writes on SouthEastAsia Cuisine locally and  abroad. For our last dinner before departing Las Vegas early next morning, she took us to Lotus of Siam, one of her favorite local restaurants.

A Las Vegas visitor looking for a casual dining spot in the downtown area would likely pass by the logo-free store front of Carson Kitchen with no idea that inside fresh, wholesome food was being served up.

The aroma of warm sour dough bread with embedded slivers of caramelized onion, rising from the white napkin-covered basket compelled me to erase all thoughts of a bread-free dinner. Lightly buttered, the fresh airy slice tasted as good as its aroma promised, and kept me content while I decided on my dinner choices.

When seeing a play at the little Havana theatre tucked into the space just behind the Havana restaurant and bar, I like to get there early and indulge in some good Cuban cuisine.

Conveniently located just steps away from the two Granville Island Arts Club Theatre venues, Edible Canada at the Market is a perfect spot for a  pre-show meal, specially on a cold rainy Vancouver night. We were seeing Blue Box at the Revue Stage and opted to have supper at Edible Canada before the show..

 On a recent too-short visit to Honolulu for a dance competition I decided that the best use of my few free dining opportunities would be to visit some of Honolulu's most highly recommended restaurants in and near the neighbourhood of Waikiki. My picks for dinner were La Mer at the Halekulani Hotel and the Beachhouse at the Moana Surfrider, both a short walk from the Sheraton Waikiki which was the host hotel for the competition;  and Hoku's  at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, a short taxi-ride away. I also managed to enjoy a lunch at the Surf Lanai at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The links in this post will take you to my review for each restaurant.

The Kahala Hotel is a luxury resort in the Kahala district of Honolulu, about a twenty  minute taxi ride from the hotel where we were staying in Waikiki. Hoku's is one of about five dining options at the hotel, and offers innovative fusion food melding Hawaiian, Asian and European influences.

Arriving at the Beachhouse restaurant we waited a few minutes to be shown to our patio table. While waiting I enjoyed the view over the garden pub to the sea beyond. We were seated on the Beachhouse verandah overlooking the bandstand in the garden area below. This evening we enjoyed a perfect view to the west so that we could actually watch the sun dip below the horizon. I watched for the perfect green flash but did not see it. Perhaps I was too focused on taking a picture.

I have not eaten at Chambar since they moved a short while ago to their new location just up the street from their first spot. This was a good choice for lunch with a friend before we went to a VIFF screening at the Vancouver Playhouse a few blocks away.

After seeing a film at the Scotiabank Cinemas  we exited the complex to find that rain was pelting down with gusts of wind blasting our umbrellas inside out. We speed-walked a few yards to the corner of Smythe and Hornby to have supper at the Earls restaurant round the corner.

During my brief brief stopover in New York I had only two opportunities for evening dining before I was to once again board Cunard's majestic Queen Mary 2 ocean liner. The QM2  features a Todd English restaurant as their fine dining alternative. On previous trips I had dined several times at this restaurant and tried many of the menu items. I was curious to compare the Todd English  Brasserie in New York (which serves French cuisine) with the current menu items of the on-board restaurant.

On this brief pre-cruise stopover in New York I had only two opportunities for restaurant dinners. Having picked French cuisine (Ca Va Brasserie) for the first dinner, my second choice was Indian cuisine, a favorite cuisine of my fellow diner. The Mid-town West location of Benares was my first choice.

What a surprise it was to me to find an excellent restaurant located in a major department store and this discovery came about in quite an unexpected way. My westbound trans-Atlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2 ended in Brooklyn early on a Wednesday morning, and my direct flight from JFK to Vancouver YVR was scheduled to leave at 7 that evening. So unusually for me, I decided to sign up for a ship's transfer to the airport, with a half day tour of Manhattan included. So after disembarking, our bags were placed on the bus, and a tour guide came on board to give a commentary on the various neighborhoods we passed through. At lunch time the bus dropped us off near Macy's for an hour of free time, during which we could get lunch for ourselves.

Walking along West 44 th looking for 49, I nearly missed the entrance for Triomphe, not realizing that it is the restaurant of the Iroquois Hotel, a four star mid-town Manhattan boutique hotel. I had arranged to meet a friend there for brunch.

While dining out in Honolulu (Fine Food in Honolulu : a Sampler) I found myself confused on menu items such as hamachi, kampachi, and kanpachi which all seemed to be terms for yellowtail. Always wanting to improve my vocabulary I turned to the web to clarify these terms. I found the clearest explanation in a blog post Yellowtales in The Edible Ocean blog written by  fishmonger, MJ Gimbar.  

With only one evening to dine out and a plethora of fine dining options in the area to choose from, I decided to try a seafood restaurant.  Pacifica Seafood seemed to be a popular recommendation so that's where we went.

After some debate with myself about the carbohydrate/caloric load of a burger I ended up ordering the Greg Norman Kobe burger and fries. It came with aged cheddar cheese and caramelized onions, and a sundried tomato horseradish sauce. I only took a couple of bites of the bun but enjoyed the Kobe beef patty with the onions, lettuce and cheese. The burger was very satisfying after the foodless plane trip and I also treated myself to a glass of Wairau River New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

My first dining experience in a Hakkasan restaurant was in 2010 on a 5 day theatre and food visit to London before embarking on a dance cruise round the British Isles.

This review covers two separate dinners at this restaurant.  The first visit was before heading up to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to see an opera. I thought the calamari appetiser was one of the best dishes of this kind I have tasted, and when another friend came into town for a visit, I suggested we see if a repeat would be as good.  

After a hard day of training, the thought of my usual "nutritionally correct" supper of baked salmon and green salad was not really appealing, and instead we decided to head up to the local restaurant rows on Hamilton and Mainland Streets and pick somewhere for dinner.

Vienna may be variously termed the City of Music, the City of Dreams or the City of Waltz, but it most definitely merits the title of City of Fabulous Food and coffees.  In a short visit one can only touch the surface of the restaurant, cafe and coffeehouse scene but I certainly got a taste, so to speak, of the overall food scene, and I did not have a single bad dining experience.

After  morning dance lessons we lunched at the nearby Cafe Restaurant Diglas. I was intrigued by the chandelier which had a variety of coffee cups attached. Very unusual and clever.

After classes at the Tanzschule, four of us took a walk  to find a nearby place for lunch. We found a table at the Gustl-Bauer Wirsthaus. In my quest to understand the many terms used here for restaurant, I found that Wirsthaus like Wirstschaft means inn.

We chose this restaurant randomly for dinner, and it turned out to be my favorite dining experience. Our waiter was extremely obliging and efficient and there was a relaxed and homey ambience, as well as excellent food.

With a mid-morning flight to the US, as always I got myself to Vancouver International Airport with lots of time spare before boarding. Not wanting to succumb to the awful snack choices on board, I usually treat myself to a light meal at one of the restaurants. My favorite is Vino Volo, although I go for the appetizer plates rather than the nice wine selection but today I really wanted a breakfast omelette.

Hungry after a couple of intense hours of boot camp, we walked up to Mainland Street's restaurant row for supper but did not get very far. My dinner companion confessed that since his last visit here he had been craving for a repeat meal of the sushi burger at Hub Restaurant. So that's where we went.  The Sushi burger consists of sesame crusted albacore tune loin with a wasabi soy mayonnaise, cucumber avocado, lettuce  and a soy chili dip. There is a choice of side house or Caesar salad or fries.

The highly recommended choice for our second night of gourmet dining in Lima was Cala, also located on the water. We had a table on the terrace overlooking the sea and enjoyed a spectacular sunset view and another excellent dinner.

Driving in to the city if Lima from the airport, my attention was caught by a striking structure jutting our into the sea. Our driver informed us that this was a restaurant, La Rosa Nautica.

The  Verandah Restaurant on deck 2 at the Grand Lobby of the Queen Elizabeth features French cuisine from Cunard's Culinary Ambassador, Jean-Marie Zimmerman. Dining is a la carte but the prices are reasonable for the quality of food and service provided. The ambience is sophisticated and elegant with quietly efficient service. 

We finished our Hop On Hop Off Red bus tour of Athens around 5:30 and although it was really early, we were both famished and ready for some good Greek food. The restaurant Kuzina had been recommended to us, and although we passed restaurant after restaurant as we walked along Adrianou Street, we persisted until we found it.

For the first of what I hope will be many Cookbook Critiques on this website, I enlisted the help of my fellow foodies of our SASSY Supper Club to try out a range of recipes from Pat Crocker's "150 Best Tagine Recipes."

The desserts designated for the first Cookbook Critique event were cakes from the second cookbook that I have for review. It's called Piece of Cake! by Camilla V. Saulsbury, and the recipes are all designed to be "one bowl, no fuss , from scratch cakes." In other words not to belabor the point, theoretically the recipes should be "a piece of cake" to make. But could they also satisfy the discerning palates of the SASSY foodies and cake-baking friends?

When I first examined the brightly coloured cover of this paperback cookbook, my attention was caught by the description of the author as a culinary herbalist. I assume that the herbs and spies that are so widely used in the cuisines of the North African countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) must make these foods particularly interesting to a writer with a strong interest in culinary herbs.

Before you read any further, it is necessary that I explain that I am not renowned for my prowess in the kitchen. My qualification for food-writing lies in the fact that I am a dedicated foodie  who loves eating "not wisely but too well".

I confess that from sheer metabolic necessity  ( I put on weight just thinking about food) I rarely eat cakes or desserts but the picture of a luscious Cream Cheese Frosted Red Velvet Cake on the cover of Piece of Cake! was not to be denied. I paged through the book looking at more mouth watering pictures and reading recipes. Who can resist the thought of Mocha Cake with Coffee Buttercream or Butterscotch Blondie Bundt? I just had to try some of these cakes.

From time to time I receive offers of new books to review. Recently my attention was captured by the titles of two new cookbooks from Ontario publisher Robert Rose Inc., and I thought that as a natural expansion of our SASSY Suppers, undertaking practical evaluations of recipe books would be a useful new feature in the Sipping and Supping food-writing section of ReviewFromTheHouse.

Susan decided to choose Moroccan food for her SASSY dinner. I was supposed to be her sous chef  but her main course was a Moroccan lamb casserole  which she wanted to slow-bake for several hours. So she prepared it well ahead of time.

With its large diverse Chinese community, Vancouver celebrates Chinese New Year in style. This year a group of us, 12 in all, took the Canada Line out to Richmond, for a Chinese New Year banquet at the Shanghai River Restaurant. Arranged by Susan, whose petite frame belies her formidable social organizational skills, the evening promised to be a veritable feast and it was.

The last time I visited this location  at its previous incarnation as Gastropod I enjoyed an excellent meal. Since chef Angus An renamed  it Maenam and changed the focus to Thai specialities  in May last year, I have not had an opportunity to revisit. But heading off to the Jericho Arts Centre to see The Vic, we decided to test our taste buds against some spicy Thai dishes.

Being  South African by birth, I was naturally intrigued when Enigma was suggested as a before-theatre dinner spot. The proprietors are from South Africa and my  dinner companion suggested that the menu featured  several dishes of  African origin.  We were on our way to see Ivanov at the Jericho Arts Centre so the location of Enigma at 10th and Trimble, just up the hill from the Centre, was perfect.

For our pre-show dinner before seeing Beyond Eden at the Playhouse, we decided to visit Chambar Restaurant. I knew that it had been some time since I had last eaten there but was not sure how long. As we were led to our table in a section of the restaurant that had been added since my last vist - our server told me that it had been added more than a year and a half  ago. I hadn't realized it had been so long but I guess time flies faster and faster as we mature!

After a pleasant Sunday afternoon spent wandering around the neighbourhood of the new Simon Fraser University campus and the housing developments on the old Woodwards site, we decided to take in a movie at the Tinseltown cinema complex.

On an icy cold day, when the wind whipped against my skin till it burned red as if scalded, a friend and I rode the Skytrain out to New Westminster Quay. We had spent the morning riding the new Canada Line to the Airport and back to the Waterfront Station. Our plan was to enjoy a pleasant lunch and explore the Quay area.

Cru

Prior to heading off to the Stanley Theatre to see Mrs. Dexter & her Daily my theatre buddy and I opted to have dinner at Cru. Surprisingly I have not been there before although it is really convenient for pre-show dining if you are going to the Stanley Theatre. And even though it is a slightly longer walk, it is also quite convenient if you are going to the Pacific Theatre at 12th and Hemlock.

None of us had been to Fort Lauderdale before and we had one evening open for a nice dinner. Some research using food web sites on our I-Phones  led us to 3030 Restaurant featuring " modern American seafood"  by chef Dean James Max.

Of all the restaurants I have eaten at on this trip, this turned out to be the best surprise.

For my last Saturday night in New York, we had managed to get  tickets to Burn the Floor, the ballroom and Latin dance spectacular that so blew me away, that I had to see it again.

Perbacco, enoteca e cucina, describe themselves as a casual restaurant and wine bar in the East Village. When we arrived there close to nine pm on a Friday evening the place was crowded and we had to wait  a while for our table to be cleared.