31 August, 2011

Delightfully Delicious...

Every once in a while I get into a mood...  I'm pretty sure everyone on the planet know this mood well.  It is called "Jonesing".  I recently discovered the history behind that phrase and I won't pretend like addiction isn't the name of the game with me.

One day while hastily running through what was supposed to be a short "in and out" trip to the local Rainbow Natural foods on Richmond, I rounded the new corner (remodeling does that sometimes) near the cold case to see if there was anything in the way of hummus or cold salads that caught my eye.  But...I didn't make it that far, for when I rounded the corner I SMELLED....sugar.  Now...don't tell me you've never smelled sugar.  We all have...we think we're smelling what the sugar was made into, but NO...your olfactory smells the SUGAR my friend...trust it!  

I stopped as if my life depended on it and scanned the shelves for the culprit...  There, larger than life were these beautiful blueberry concoctions, also known as Blueberry Oat Bars.  Now, even when it comes to "junk" foods, I err on the side of caution, so I immediately looked at the ingredients.  Oooh...organically sweetened...the plot thickens...   I counted the number of ingredients...LESS than 7.  We have a WINNER!  That's my limit...generally I won't put something into my mouth that has MORE than 7 ingredients unless I made it at my home myself.  More than 7 automatically qualifies the said item to be considered "processed" in my brain.  It is a good philosophy to adhere to, though I'll admit, sometimes life just doesn't warrant it.  There are of course exceptions, for instance...after having said blueberry oat bar, I would eat ANYthing made by the hands of their creator...just making that crystal clear.

I made sure to catch the name of the maker of these tantalizing little wonders before I sped out to finish my errands and get home in time to make dinner.  I checked out, got into my car and took a bite.  I was starving, so it seemed like the thing to do ya know?  As I brought the fork to my lips with the one hand I put my car into gear with the other; I figured the one bite would keep me satiated until I could get home.  Right...  Yeah...you know what's coming...  I slammed on the brakes as soon as the bite hit my tongue.  WHAT the French TOAST!?  The taste far surpassed my expectations to put it mildly.  To be real, bar didn't survive the drive.  Okay FINE!!  >.<  the TOTAL truth...it didn't make it 4 minutes.  It was promptly inhaled as soon as I hit the red light 2 blocks from the store.  As soon as I walked in the door, my curious hands went to work...  Who is this Auntie Loo's anyway...?

 On Facebook, in local stores and with a store front of their own, Auntie Loo's Vegan Treats get around to say the least.  Did you catch that nugget??  VEGAN....  Yeah, this bakery was going to be somethin' to write home about...I could FEEL it!  Auntie Loo is carried in over 10 stores around town...all either natural food joints or quaint little coffee shops.  Her story is a familiar one to me...right up to the part where she actually was able to make a business out of her talent for baking.  I've always been too terrified to try.  As I talked with Auntie Loo and listened to her unfold the journey to opening her own doors I was touched...  What hard work, dedication and confidence it takes to start up in this economy!  I just had to give her a hug... 

After I collected myself, making sure not to cry in front of her, I made a quick survey of her case...

I blinked twice and was really sure what I wanted...one of EVERYthing!  She was still talking to me about her bakery...her plans in progress to expand a wall over there and that there were some nanaimo bars in the fridge that still weren't ready...  Wait...hold the phone...say what?  What's a nanaimo bar?  What she described sounded like Heaven in a pan....crumb bottom layer, ooey gooey middle and chocolate on top.  I have famously horrible timing...so alas, no nanaimo bar in my box.  But, Auntie Loo's isn't going to disappear over night...not a CHANCE!  I kept looking around the shop while she was talkin' to me.  HA!  I had forgotten they do cakes!  I spotted a beautiful wedding cake model in the corner...

I couldn't get her story out of my mind on my drive home.  You have to respect someone that worked as hard as Auntie Loo has to make it to where she is.  I immediately knew I was in danger of seriously falling short on my ability to give this woman her due props in my flog.  As I brought my trappings in the door and put them on my counter in a particularly honorable place...the center island of the kitchen (the "NO matter how important you think something is...it doesn't belong THERE" spot in my house).  I took them out of the box and put them in my cake dome.  Everything looked almost too beautiful to eat.  That only lasted a couple seconds...

 The first item laid to rest was the banana split cupcake you see there on the right.  I had been plotting its death since I hit my exit.  Auntie Loo wasn't kidding when she said some of her stuff was really sweet.  But, it was CROSS your EYES delicious!  I hadn't been able to eat something like that in such a long, long time.  My particular problem with refined sugar greatly limits what I can eat.  Auntie Loo sweetens all her offerings with organic sugar sources or uses natural things like strawberry pulp.  Coupling these facts with the FANTASTIC taste, I was still in mild disbelief all her stuff is vegan.  I can get used to this...easily.  The next treat to meet its demise was the scone directly behind the cupcake I had just devoured.  I figured it would cut the sweet....I figured right.  BUT...what I didn't figure on was that it was going to be SO great.  I am not usually a fan of scones.  Quite frankly, I have never had one that didn't make me feel like I needed a Big Gulp to get through the sucker.  Her scone was unbelievably moist and SO well made.  The crunch on the outside was just as appetizing as the soft on the inside.  Bravo!  You've made a scone lover out of me, something not even my very talented baker of a mother has been able to do!  I won't bore you with the play by play of what happened to the rest of the victims, just know they have been laid to rest in the briny deep that is my tummy, for which my tummy was truly grateful.

The day before my visit to Auntie Loo's I cleaned Rainbow out of their supply of blueberry oat bars......again.


They also have met a tragic, but beautiful end...

It is hard for me to own up to this...being as "wordy" as I am, but I just can't really describe how wonderful her products are...you are just going to have to TRY them.  I could sit here all day, pick apart the recipes, describe how juicy the blueberries are in her blueberry oat bars or how WONDERFULLY strong the strawberry flavor is in her strawberry frostings because she uses real strawberry pulp in them....but, unless you've had something kinda like it, there is no frame of reference for you to "oh" and "ah" over.  Even if you have the BEST of creative imaginations...good LUCK trying to imagine the bliss that it is when an Earl Gray Lemon cupcake meets your tongue.  Yeah...try it...you'll fail miserably.  Even the title of this flog entry is an understatement if ever there was one.  So I also will extend a hearty congratulations to Auntie Loo for rendering this flogger nearly...mostly...speechless.

With offerings like that of strawberry lemonade, vanilla lavender and orange vanilla in the cupcake category and her various squares including my new personal FAVORITE addiction, the blueberry oat bar, Auntie Loo's Vegan Treats is WELL on its way to becoming a household name.  She may be already...have you already had YOUR Auntie Loo's today??  I have!  Bring some home tomorrow, I promise...you'll be glad you did.  

Auntie Loo's Treats on Urbanspoon

27 August, 2011

Just the Rolls...Thanks....

I'm sure I am not the ONLY person on the planet that goes through obsessions.....ahem......food "phases" every once in a while.  A month ago it was sushi but, I never flogged about it because I was going to the nearest place I could get it; not the "best".  In affect, I was eating sushi from a chain restaurant.  We all know what I think about chains...moving on.  For whatever reason, the past couple weeks I have been mildly attracted to gobbling up large, unhealthy amounts of fried foods and dessert type stuffs.  This will most likely be evident should you ever happen to see my thighs or rear.

When we were living out of a hotel in June I drove down Hazeldean a number of times and saw a sign that said "buy a dozen egg rolls, get 6 free!"  First thing I thought was "Whoa!  Who would eat 18 egg rolls?!", but then I realized in less than 5 minutes...right...you guessed it, this lady right here; I'd eat that many.  It would take me a day or two, but I'd get the job done.  Hot or cold...I’m equal to the task.  I drove past that sign almost 10 times before I decided to find out whom the sign belonged to.  On the last day I ever saw it on the boulevard I meandered through the parking lot adjacent to it.  The only place that fit the description of the offerings was a place called "Eggroll Plus".  How fitting....

As you can see...the place is next to microscopic.  Like many other places in town this place is delivery and take out only...not dine in.  There are 5 chairs that line the walls inside, so people can sit while they wait, but that is only if they arrive early...and only if they pick their food up themselves.  When a place delivers in this town, most people pay whatever they have to in order to make it come to THEM rather than the other way 'round.

 I am not a dilly dallier; I called ahead and asked them if they still had the "buy 12 get 6 free" deal.  The man on the phone said no and they only offer that on their anniversary week.  Good information to have, but irrelevant.  Egg rolls are just over a loonie a piece....  They offer 2 different kinds of egg rolls.  Egg Roll Plus and Star Egg Roll.  The egg rolls that were in the promotion were the Star rolls.  Those were the ones I fell in love with.  My Sprout did as well; even my Mister couldn't deny they tasted great.  When I placed my order for 8 Star rolls he told me I could pick them up in 10 minutes.  No matter where I have lived, they always tell me the same thing...10 minutes.  It never ceases to amaze me that they beat their own estimation as well.  For 8 Star rolls...sure, that would be NO problem.  But when we'd order 40 bucks worth of Mandarin in Oklahoma City...10 minutes...and it WAS done in 10 or less every time.  That's good service!

Star Egg Rolls

They aren't the prettiest queens at the prom, but they sure taste great!  I've never seen an egg roll made open ended until I ate them in Canada.  I could care less about how they look, the TASTE is my main event...and these are WONDERFUL!  Nice and crispy, not overly oily like some can get and all the veggies still crunch and have a fresh crispness to them on the inside.  They come with sauce, but I never use it.  Less is more with these gems.  They are ugly as sin but OH so yummly to my tummy! 

These are something you can bring home when you're making Chinese for yourself.  I do it sometimes.  Make my main entree and pick up some egg rolls or spring rolls rather than make them.  When you don't have the time or energy it is a great alternative!  When they are as good as these ones, why not!?  If you want to have some of the best egg rolls you'll ever try, head over to Eggroll Plus.  They have a nice sized menu, but I'm sticking with the golden goose...the Star Egg Rolls!  Enjoy!

Egg Rolls plus on Urbanspoon

25 August, 2011

On the Wall...

I was in the mood for a bit of Chinese; really I was STARVING.  I knew before we went anywhere it would be FAR more than a "bit" of WHATever it was that I was about to eat.  I also didn't want to have to leave our part of town to find something good.  Lucky for us we're just a hop, skip and a jump from The Rideau Restaurant.

 I found this place when I came to town and, since being here. have heard their name on the lips of nearly ANYone I ask for recommendations of Chinese establishments that are truly Chinese and not the western world's version of it.  When we arrived it was dull as tombs inside; just the two ladies working and not a soul in the place eating.  We 3 were about to change that in a jiffy.

I scanned the menu trying to figure out what I was really having a hankering for.  As soon as my eyes clamped on the Mu Shu Pork with pancakes I KNEW I wanted some of that.  The Sprout was already getting testy after we put him in the high chair.  We had to be quicker...  I asked the lady what she would recommend and what was written on the whiteboard in Chinese.  She politely side stepped interpreting the white board and asked us if we would be interested in trying the General Tso's.  We declined.  In the next couple minutes we decided on chicken fried rice, Imperial Chicken (their version of Kung Pao), Orange Flavored Beef and 3 spring rolls.  Not too soon after placing my order I looked at that white board again...I wondered what was on it.  There is nothing worse for my intense curiosity than to be denied an explanation....except outright avoidance.

There wasn't much to take in for decor.  It was pretty simple; set tables, chairs, the white board and one solitary picture on the East wall...one medium sized Buddha on the check-out counter.

It didn't take long before our spring rolls and accompanying sauce were out, piping hot and VERY large for spring rolls.

The rolls were crisp, warm and fabulous.  We all were enjoying them immensely when the next pieces of our order showed up...

 Imperial Chicken

Chicken Fried Rice

It is pertinent to mention that this restaurant is largely on the Cantonese side rather than Mandarin (AKA Beijing) of the Chinese cuisine offerings.  To get into ALL the differences and similarities between these two would take MUCH more room than I desire to devote to that, so I'll move it along by simply saying I am more of a fan of Mandarin than Cantonese.

 The Imperial Chicken was just okay.  The vegetables were cooked correctly; they were tender crisp and tasted fresh.  The chicken was moist as chicken goes, but the sauce was lacking in flavor.  It was a very sorry substitute for Kung Pao.  The huge chunks of celery were slightly annoying.  I tried to pick around them, but it was impossible.

The fried rice was good, though the pieces of chicken in the rice were microscopic.  I realize they are supposed to be on the small side, but the onion that was littered throughout were larger than the tidbits of chicken.  The Sprout was in love with it, so that was good enough for me.  I was getting impatient for the Mu Shu and pancakes to show up....  As if the ladies could read my mind; no sooner did I wish for them, then they appeared from the back with the platters of yumminess.

Mu Shu Pork with Pancakes & Hoisin Sauce

Orange Flavored Beef

HA!  Now this was MORE like it!  The Mu Shu Pork was excellent!  Wonderfully flavored and piping hot, the platter was filled to the brim with cabbage, carrots, green onion, pork and what I was pretty sure was cloud ear fungus.  My how the flavors played off each other!  When I held a pancake in my hand as though it were a soft taco shell, I could feel how light and soft they were.  I loaded it up with Mu Shu, drizzled some of the sweet Hoisin sauce on top, wrapped it up and promptly scarfed it down.  I grabbed my chopsticks and went for some of the Orange Flavored Beef.  I was great!  Nice and spicy...just the kick I look for when I eat Chinese.  The beef was moist and the pieces were large.  The mushroom that accompanied didn't take over the dish, my Mister and I were both pleased.  The Orange Flavored Beef was his choice, but tonight we were eating family style; everyone ate off of all the dishes.

Every once in a while I saw the ladies come out of the kitchen with huge metal bowls and steaming platters....I was still curious what the Chinese patrons were getting that we didn't, for they ALL pointed at and ordered of the infamous white board.  If only I could read Chinese!  Their food looked amazing.  But I digress...a loud bellowing scream that usually ushers in a tantrum from the Sprout was emitted into the air, echoing unmercifully for the whole room to hear.  We asked for to go boxes and the check.  The lady who was waiting on us looked very concerned.  I hope my reassuring look in our son's direction told the story well enough.  We certainly weren't leaving because we didn't like the food....and there was only so much of it uneaten because we hadn't had a chance to eat very much of it before he started acting up.   By this time 4 more tables had been filled and were being served; there was also a steady stream of phone calls to place orders and people sauntering in to pick up their orders.  I didn't want to try to appease the Beast.  I'd rather leave while we were still allowed to come back.

We ordered a TON of food and including tip spent less than 55 loonies.  The value for the money was definitely there.  I have items in mind to try when we go back, things I saw our lady bring to other people's tables.  I would have pulled her aside and asked her what each dish was, but she was very busy filling orders.  Perhaps next time she'll tell me what is on that curious white board of goodness.  The only word of warning I can give you is that their in house menu is extensive.  If you don't know what you like or what flavors appeal to you before you go in, you may find yourself in quite the predicament.  The take out menu doesn't have even a quarter of the in house menu on it either.  I have this sneaking suspicion that this place might be near to what it is like to eat food made by the "Soup Nazi".  Certain things are available to certain people, at the house's discretion, if you know what you want they are happy and if you ask too many questions....they will remember that.  This isn't personal, it is just a part of the culture.  But, if you want the good stuff...you have to learn to navigate the waters.  Don't be scared to try something new either, it may be the best thing you do for yourself all year.  I'll be back, but I'm just not sure how soon....

The Rideau Restaurant on Urbanspoon

21 August, 2011


Last night my Mister and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary.  If you knew us, you'd know there is reason to celebrate, for our marriage took place after a loooooong, drawn out courtship.  Finally getting married for me was almost like finishing my Bachelor Degree, except at the starting line rather than at the finish.  But it felt like I had won a prize all the same.

For whatever reason, my Mister decided he wanted to go to dinner at Tony Capone's West. We had driven past it a bajillion times when we were house hunting, and even stopped in once to look at menu prices for lunch.  At the time it seemed like it was priced too high for lunch, so we pressed on.  But, on occasions like an anniversary, we don't usually exclude options for any reason, especially not price.  Since I usually pick where we go, and most oft times WHY we are going, it didn't bother me in the least to let him take the wheel on this one.  For the moment anyhow....

Just walking into the place I felt like I was walking into a den.  It had all the feeling of a place from prohibition time...dark, close quartered and richly decorated.  It took me quite a while for my eyes to adjust so I could clearly read the menu.  I didn't want to waste time waiting to be able to see so I appealed to the waitress and the hostess for their recommendations.  Problem was everything they recommended was nothing I was in the mood for.  Their special last night was veal with ham and cheese rolled into it.  Way too heavy for me, and ham WITH veal?  No.  My eyes had finally adjusted so I was able to study the menu carefully; knowing I was in the mood for something rich with meat flavor, fruity but light on the grease.  When I asked our waitress for something that perhaps had red wine in the sauce she directed me to the Veal Marsala.  Done.  The appetizer was either going to be bruschetta or something else she recommended.  Both the waitress and the hostess asserted that a customer favorite was the Capone's Zucchini.  With my choices taken care of, we sent the orders in for Veal and the zucchini, and for the Sprout, Capone's spaghetti and meat sauce.  

I was ready to explore...



There is SO much Capone nostalgia art in this place you really feel like you're in a time warp.  It was kind of cool, plenty of things to look at AND read on the walls.  If you had NO idea who Alphonse Capone was before, you could walk around, literally read the walls and find out.  Very cool!

When I got back to the table there was a basket of dinner rolls waiting there.   

I was really hungry, so we prayed and dug right in.  There was pumpernickel, multigrain and two white rolls. We both had half each and gave the Sprout whatever he reached for; we didn't want any meltdowns tonight.  Little did we know the tantrums were right around the corner, so we were enjoying the tranquility while it lasted.

I was excited for our dinner.  When you go out, you WANT to enjoy it.  I don't know a single person that leaves their house thinking "I gotta find a place that makes me wish I would have stayed home and had a grilled cheese sandwich instead."  When our waitress marched up with the Sprouts spaghetti and our fried zucchini I was ready to have my socks blown off.  It LOOKED fabulous....

Capone's Zucchini

 At first glance these looked great!  I couldn't wait to eat them.  They LOOKED so crispy and the dip looked exactly how it was named, "creamy".  I grabbed a spear and greedily dunked it in the dip; I took a sound, largish bite and chewed....and chewed some more....then frowned.  It tasted exactly like fried zucchini.  This might not sound like much of a tragedy to most people...but for me, I felt like this appetizer lacked some SERIOUS imagination.  I couldn't fathom how this was a customer "favorite".  There was no flavor in the breading and the zucchini of course tasted JUST like zucchini.  Zucchini is a rather bland vegetable that has an AMAZING ability.  It can take on the flavor of just about ANYthing when prepared properly.  It was clear there was no effort made to give them any flavor other than "fried".  The creamy garlic dip just added even MORE heaviness to the dish as a whole.  I don't really need to beat a dead horse here, this appetizer was beyond disappointing.  Moving on...

I was a little afraid of what my entree was going to be like.  Right around this point I was eying up what little remnants were left in the bread basket, wondering if I should be selfish and eat them all without offering any to my beloved or my spawn.  Just then our entrees appeared....

Veal Marsala

I took my fork, closed my eyes and all the while I was talking to myself; just HOPING this food wasn't going to suck.  Quite frankly it didn't look too good.  I knew before we ordered that the vegetables for the night were cauliflower and braised cabbage.  I didn't know it was going to be red cabbage and that there would be SO much more of it than the cauliflower.  My Mister and I got an identical serving of vegetables which consisted of a GIANT posy of cauliflower with a drizzle of Italian flavored red sauce oozed on top of it and a even larger blob of braised red cabbage globbed onto the plate.  I tried the cabbage, knowing that was going to be the biggest challenge on the plate for taste...well, THINKing it was going to be the biggest challenge.  Lordy, was I ever wrong.  The cabbage WAS bitter and tasted horrible.  But, that thing you see on the plate that looks like a fried Twinkie is my "potato".  *whince*  Before I ordered, I asked the waitress what "potato" meant and did it include a baked potato or mashed or what, she said I COULD get a baked potato but what it typically is that comes is a potato croquet.  Oh, that sounded great!  I have had those before and loved them, but when it came out the way it did my excitement was quickly deflated.  My Mister kept calling it "the hush puppy", so I knew I wasn't imagining that they seemed rather DRY for potato croquet.  I moved on to the veal...  I assumed after the other elements proved to be less than up to par that at least one thing with the veal would be amiss.  *facepalm*  EVERYthing was "amiss"...it was a TOTAL miss.  The scallopini itself was on life support.  I tried to cut my veal with my fork...nada.  Not a good sign.  I whimpered as I reached for my butter knife.  I actually had to saw the pieces off.  Then there was the sauce.  The chef didn't cook off the alcohol completely; not even close.  The only redeeming quality to the veal portion was that the mushrooms were large beautiful, stem on pieces.  But, for those to be the ONLY thing on that plate that turned out correctly...  *sigh*  Epic fail.

I wouldn't recommend Tony Capone's for anyone that appreciates good Italian.  I've read other customer reviews of this place and I scratch my head.  Being part Italian, I can't figure out how people can classify this place's food as "great Italian" food and they attest that they keep going back for more.  I almost feel bad for them.  It goes without saying that if they find THIS place's Italian to be "top quality", they haven't had food in Italy let ALONE food made by a real Italian.  My vote is to take your 70 loonies and go to Little Italy and take your chances.  Buona fortuna!!

Capone's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

18 August, 2011

Qualcuno Pranzo?

We had some errands to run near Byward Market today so I checked out my "to eat" list for a place we could nosh on some good eats as we ferreted our way through town.  Not two blocks from our destination is a wonderful Italian market.  To be honest, La Bottega really is a great deal more than a "market".  Aside from the wonderful variety of imported things they offer they also carry fresh items from Art Is In Bakery, they cater events, offer their own baked goods and food made to order that you can either eat in or take out.

 No wonder the place is always buzzing.  Not a seat free outside!  We planned on eating in the bistro area in the back anyhow.  I had called ahead because lunch in Byward Market is an inundation like no other.  In some places, if they are any good, it is standing room only at lunch AND dinner time.  Not something you want to go through when you have a small child.  I always have my son with me when I dine, so this will ALWAYS be a consideration.  They let me know that 11:30 was a good time to arrive, so I got there 5 minutes early.  Lol...yeah, I'm that way.  It gave me a chance to look around the market.

There wasn't a section of this place that wasn't crawling with people everywhere I turned.  But it was time to get down to business.  I looked at the menu at 9 am, long before I picked my Mister up from work.  I had already done the all important line of questioning by asking what their customer favorites were and what their signature dishes were.  My Mister ordered one that was on the list, but I went solo on my choice and ordered up the Club Italia; we got a little pizza with goat cheese for the Sprout.

While we waited for our order I took what small amount of pictures that I could.  Quite frankly, there was no way to avoid pictures of other customers, but I did my best to protect their privacy.

Main Counter

                                     Our Table                    More Seating

We weren't there very long before the Sprout was getting testy.  It was nearing his nap time, so this didn't surprise me, but it gets old.  Parents, I'm sure you know the feeling.  They didn't have high chairs here but, that didn't seem to matter today.  The Sprout demands more and more "big boy" things these days include no high chairs, glasses without lids and real utensils...we'll say it has been a "trial".  When I asked for my usual "water with lemon please" they didn't have lemon in house.  So, our waiter left and went across the street to a vendor in Byward Market and bought some.  Nice guy.  I really appreciated that.  But, I'd think more about that later...our lunch was up, I was hungry....

Club Italiano

The club had a chicken breast and pancetta, spread with pesto and melted friulano cheese on what seemed to be nicely toasted focaccia bread.  The chicken was very moist but crisp on the outside; fitting the texture of the bread it was between.  I love pancetta and prosciutto so short of serving it raw or burned you wreck either one.  It was perfectly prepared.  The friulano was a very nice addition of salt to the sandwich.  I know sometimes it can have a hint of hazelnut to it and this is where things got tricky.  The pesto has pinenuts...  After a couple bites I felt like I was eating a nutty, chicken & pancetta sandwich.  I didn't finish my other half.  I brought it home and I am still working up the nerve to take a couple bites and see if this overly "nutty" experience is limited to the heat accentuating the oils in the nuts.  It is quite possible that once cooked this sandwich would be better served cool...  All in all...really you can't go wrong with a nice crusty breaded sandwich.  But I could have done without the salad, if you could call it that.  In one bite it was clear this was just an oil & balsamic drizzle; devoid of any flavor but those two elements.  It was in serious need of a bit of sea salt, garlic and perhaps some crushed red pepper or basil.  Or BOTH.  I finished it because every girl should eat her greens (especially when your 18 month old is watching!) but I had to add some salt and pepper before I could take another bite.

Before I came the people I talked to on the phone told me that their busiest day is Wednesday, when their lunch special is spaghetti and meatballs.  It was pasta primavera today.  I saw a couple people order it.  I also eyed some refrigerated cases in the market area that had fresh made pasta that you could take home and boil for dinner.  I'm guessing they are more known for their pasta than anything else.  If we ever go back, I'll be certain to order the pasta.  If indeed....

I decided the one thing I could love about this meal was the bread my sandwich came on.  Before we skidaddled out of there I grabbed a loaf of focaccia for home.  I paid the bill and we were on our way.  I won't lie; I've had WAY worse experiences in town.  But, would I go back?  The jury is out.  If you've had better experiences, feel free to let me know.  For the service, I'd totally be willing to give them another shot.  Making you feel comfortable and taken care of can heal even the freshest of wounds.  The place has a history, no doubt they have potential; I'm a sucker for effort.  If you have the time and you're down on George Street around 11...detour to La Bottega...  Let me know what you got, how it tasted and if you'd go back.  I'm very curious.  I went there wanting to love it and left wishing I could have liked it more.

La Bottega on Urbanspoon

16 August, 2011


I wasn't in the mood to go traipsing about town for dinner last night, but I knew it was high time I was getting at my "to eat" list again.  I could see a storm on the horizon so, when I made the reservation and was asked "inside or outside", I opted for dining in.  I'm glad I did.  We had our 6 o'clock reservation for the Cheshire Cat Pub, I'd perused the menu and knew what I was in the mood for; I was all about business.  Until I arrived; then enchantment took over.

From the second I saw this place, I felt like I was going to my Grandma's house for dinner.  The sun beaming over the rooftop and big beautiful trees shading the path to the door, how it used to be walking up to Grandma's door on Sunday afternoon.  I was delighted to see novelty decor scattered about that reminded me I was about to walk into a pub and eat some real English food.


What I could gather about this place is that it used to be a schoolhouse and they recently went through a renovation of their kitchen at the back of the property.  But I wasn't certain until I read through their website a second time after coming home from dinner.  

Whatever they did to the place suits the lay of the land well and looked as if it was always meant to be that way.  When we walked in, I observed the same.  It was made up to be quite cozy inside while still being functional.  Some of the tables had a single large armchairs for seating, others a bench but most of the tables had regular wooden chairs.  Our reserved table came with a big comfy red armchair.  I don't have photos of any of the seating inside except the bar, for the place was CONSTANTLY packed with folk and respecting others privacy while they dine is a MUST for me. 


The view from our table

Tons of non-smoking patio seating...very lovely & peaceful

I knew what I wanted to eat before I even walked in.  I spent about 20 minutes at home studying their menu, looking for things that whet my palate.  It wasn't hard.  I was in the mood for this kind of fare.  The Bangers and Mash sounded great and if I couldn't decide on something else, that was going to be my default.  But...I kept going back to this particular description..."Low and slow braised elk with roasted wild mushrooms and local 1855 ale baked in a flaky pie shell, topped with gravy and served with seasonal vegetables and choice of chips or mashed potatoes".  Yeah....  The more I stared at it, the more sure I was becoming.  When our waiter came, I asked what their "signature dishes" were with the hope that I was going to hear the name of THAT dish...and I DID!  A parade took off in my head; the order went in for Elk, Ale & Wild Mushroom Pie with mash.  We ordered a kids meal of Bangers and Mash for the Sprout and a starter called "Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Stack".

It took a fair amount of time before we got our appetizer; we weren't surprised.  The place was busy as restaurants go.  People had shown up a little early for the dinner hour.  Their kitchen was non-stop moving, but the people that were there before us were just getting served after we sent our order in.  Only time would tell if it was worth the wait. 

No one at the table dared to express their delight quite like the Sprout did when his dinner and our starter showed up.  I WISH I had been recording it.  The resounding "OOOOOOOH....OOOOHHHHH....OOOOOOOHH!" was something my husband and I will never forget.  We laughed so hard at his reaction that I worried they'd think we were laughing at the food presentation.  Of course we were not.  But, was the taste going to be worthy of the gushing display our son had put forward??

Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese Stack

It was!  The dry, sharp flavor of the warm goat cheese totally accentuated the sweet in the roasted peppers.  The herb oil & balsamic reduction drizzled over it rounded it out nicely and really aided in cutting through the strong goat flavor in the cheese.  (For those of you that have never had goat cheese, when you eat goat cheese most oft times it literally tastes how a clean goat SMELLS.  Quite interesting to me, but can seriously be misused or misplaced in a dish.)  The spicy greens that were in the stack did nothing but accentuate the flavor, added a peppery bouquet that I didn't expect.  My Mister and I both thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Sprout was in LOVE with his Bangers and Mash.  I tried it, so I fully understood his amour for the dish.

We had barely wiped our mouths with our napkins when our entrees came out.  Again...the Sprout jaculated his hearty "OOOOOH....OOOHH....OOOOOOHH!"  But this time he wasn't getting to try what he was eyein' up.  It was all MINE!

Elk, Ale & Wild Mushroom Pie

The first thing I did was try the gravy.  Believe it or not, gravies can be a quite telling precursor to what you're about to experience.  The tiniest of details left to chance can me the biggest of disappointments on your plate.  The gravy was wonderful; it really had a complex, richly deep flavor.  If I hadn't been thinking clearly I may have just starting licking it off the plate with my finger.  The filling of the pie was fabulous!  Whole mushrooms with huge, SOFT chunks of prime elk soundly coated in the savory gravy.  My mash was equally wonderful.  It was clear these potatoes were real and just made.  The vegetables were so fresh!  They were tender crisp in texture and VERY robust, like they had been picked when my order went in.  The crust of the pie was just so, so, but matched the flavors quite well.  I wouldn't call it a "flaky pie shell", but it got the job done.  The dish was an overall triumph!

Coming in the doorway from the patio, there was a familiar noise...a clarinet.  There would be live music?  Apparently so, just as we were leaving the violinist and bassist had arrived.  The Cheshire Cat regularly has entertainment and special events as well as a weekly specials menu.  I hadn't noticed the specials menu, but my Mister did.  That was most likely due to me being fixed on a dish before I came.  When I am not decided, I end up reading every letter of a menu before placing my order.  It can take quite some time.  Did I mention this WHOLE shebang only cost us about 54 bucks...for 3 meals?  Yeah...the least expensive dinner we've had in town yet....and one of the BEST so far!

Cheshire Cat's "about" page on their site boasts "If you're not already a regular, you will be soon!"  That is a truly bold statement to make in a place where people may be going for their first impression of you.  After partaking of the offerings, I find it to be a decidedly deserved, justified and confident description of how you will feel about returning to see what else they have to offer that you can't live without.

When I return, and I can guarantee you I WILL be going back for more....I shall have the adult sized Bangers and Mash.  Their Lamb Curry also piqued my interest, but I HAVE to have the Bangers and Mash!!  If it isn't obvious from what I have already said to this point, without a doubt I recommend you give the Cheshire Cat a whirl.  I promise your tummy will leave purring with delight!

The Cheshire Cat Pub on Urbanspoon

06 August, 2011


When I began this venture, I had every intention of flogging some of my own creations from home and even some product taste tests in addition to what you have been reading, which up until now has only been reviews of the fruits of others labors at the many restaurants I have dined in.  To wit, I have been baking quite a bit again now that we are mostly unpacked in our new home.  I LOVE baking and cooking; it calms me down on the rough days...

I frequently find reason to search out new recipes for old favorites.  I have a BAJILLION banana bread recipes at my disposal, but something was telling me that in order to flog about it, I needed to be sure this was a sure winner or at the very least a awesome revamp of something that I used to think was just "okay".  Which brings us to the best Banana Bread recipe I've ever used.

I had some bananas lying on my counter waiting for some love that just wasn't coming...so they ended up in the freezer.  We tend to buy smaller bunches of bananas in this house, so banana bread hasn't happened in ages.  But the other day I spotted the sorry bunch of black fruit sitting in the freezer and figured I'd better deal with it.  By battering it to death....

Banana Bread 
5-6 frozen bananas, thawed
8 T. Earth's Balance vegan buttery spread
2 extra large eggs
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease an 8 x 4 in. loaf pan, if you put this in a 9 in. pan it will reduce baking time.

 *Take your bananas out of the freezer the night before you make this bread.  When you open the rind, use kitchen shears to snip off the top of the banana and squeeze out the banana like you would squeeze a ketchup bottle.  Hold the end that it is being squeezed out of so when the juices follow the actual banana matter you can keep the extra juice from going into the bowl with the fruit.  This method concentrates the banana flavor SO much.  Make sure before you freeze the bananas they were half "dead"...meaning just under BLACK.  This makes for the HIGHEST banana flavor possible in your bread.

In a small bowl whisk flour, soda and sea salt together.  Beat bananas until no longer chunky in a separate bowl and set aside.  In a larger mixing bowl blend sugar with butter until creamy; add vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Alternately add flour mixture and banana to the wet ingredients in your large mixing bowl.  If using, fold in nuts now.  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check bread with a toothpick after 1 hour and 15 minutes passes and again every 5 minutes until toothpick clean. (Every oven cooks differently....some faster, some slower and some have hot spots and cold spots but all usually take at least the 1 hour.)

I will warn you that this may not rise "pretty" for you.  You can mess around with adding more baking soda to accomplish the uniform rise, but I didn't bother.  The taste was spectacular!  In fact, this was the BEST banana bread I have EVER had.  The Sprout couldn't lay off of it and neither could I.  There are a number of ways you can eat this.  Perhaps ways you've not thought of...but, maybe you have.  I know I am not the only person with good ideas.  I'll share a few of the ideas in case you haven't discovered these particular ones...

1.  Toast it, spread peanut butter on top and eat.
2.  Cut it into 1/2 inch slices and use for french toast. 
3.  Toast it, spread Nutella on top and eat. 
4.  Eat room temperature OR refrigerated with butter on top.
5.  Eat room temperature with honey on top.  Oh so yummly!
6.  Toast it, spread on cream cheese!  So creamy...

Peanut Butter

French Toast

Wildflower Honey

 Please, please, PLEASE if you have anymore ideas post them here.  Honestly the toasted with peanut butter and room temperature with butter are my two faves.  I'd LOVE to hear what you do with your banana bread...besides just the part where you devour it.  I hope you love this bread and all the fun things you can do with it as much as my family and I do.  Enjoy!!

For Chocolate Banana Bread omit 1/2 c. of flour and add 1/2 c. high quality cocoa powder (like Callebaut or Droste).  SO yummy!