Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cactus Club

Arguably, the chain of all chains...of 'casual fine dining' restos

Cactus. Joeys. Milestones. Earls. Milestones. Earls. Joeys. Cactus.  It's the battle of the 'casual fine dining' chain restaurants.  They all have quite the number of similarities, more or less.  Good looking servers (more or less), check.  Exquisite decor and elaborate looking washrooms? Check (or maybe I'm just thinking Cactus Club). Long and extensive menus? Check.

Ok, so maybe I wasn't serious about Cactus Club being the 'chain of all chains'.  I do quite enjoy the Spicy Thai Drummettes from Milestones and their darn Chicken and Corn Hash on their brunch menu.  Ok, really, it's a toss-up between Joeys and Cactus, hence the 'arguably'.  I love Joeys for their Ahi Tuna Tacos, Lobster Ravioli, and their desserts!!!

As for Cactus - I love love love love loveeeeee their bellinis, Bandara Salad, and the relatively recent addition of Rob Feenie's signatures has made it even better.  Their Jambalaya is also quite drool-inducing.


On this night, I along with 2 other dining companions, shared 4 of their appetizers.  We had the Crispy Yam Fries, the Bandura Salad, the Mini Burgers, as well as the Goat Cheese and Feta Flatbread (one of the reasons why we came here).  The Yam Fries were nicely battered, plentiful and arrived with a garlic aioli dip.  The Bandura Salad was hugggeee and very refreshing.  It consists of cajun chicken, corn, feta, dates (!), crispy chow mein and topped with a honey-lime vinegarette.  The Mini Burgers (one of Rob Feenie`s signatures) arrived as three mini cheddar bacon burgers with a red pepper relish.  The meat was well-seasoned and flavoured - all ingredients tasted very fresh.  The flatbread was pretty good too.  I loved the combination of goat and feta cheese, caramelized onions, and cherry tomatoes.  They were the prefect ingredients.  The flatbread was a bit more doughy than expected (I`ve had more crispier, flat breads), but it still tasted very good.


They have the BEST bellinis here. Hands down.  They put just the right amount of alcohol, and their ratio of syrup to water to ice (and whatever else is put into a bellini) is just perfect.  They also have a new `Summer Sangria` ($9), it`s huge and so worth it.  The sangria itself is great, and they add in a dollop of their`s a splash of heaven, I tell ya.


Attentive and friendly


Prices are a little higher here (approx. $17 incl. tax per person for the appies)


Pretty much packed most of the time.  Loud (music & people). Beauuutiful washrooms (in fact, they are voted as having one of the best washrooms in Canada or something like that).  I saw Jojo (teenage singer) and Robin Williams at the Robson location once (they were in town filming the movie, RV)

Overall: 8.0/10

Yay:  Good food and even better drinks.  Come here if you miss `Feenie`s`. Nice, trendy place.

Nay: Usually busy at all locations that I`ve been to.  They don`t accept resos.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Benkei Ramen

slurrrrrrp slurrrrp...gulp!



Everything we ordered here was beyond satisfying.  As a first timer here at this location (Main St./E. 5th Ave), the standards were up to par, if not better.  Between my dining companion and I, we shared an order of their Onigiri - a sticky-rice ball sort of thing with bits of 'chasu' (pork) molded into a triangular shape with a piece of seaweed as the base.  We also shared an order of their Pork Gyoza, which was very fresh-tasting - I especially liked the thin gyoza skin. 

Chilled Ramen
For my lunch entree, I had the Akaoni Ramen - a spicy miso-based pork bone broth.  It was quite rich in taste, wasn't too spicy, had a light miso taste with a hint of garlic flavour.  The ramen was cooked just right with alongside it plenty of bamboo shoots, green onions and minced pork.  I really enjoyed it and have only ever tried the Akaoni.  I give the Akaoni three thumbs up!

Akaoni (Spicy Miso) Ramen

Luckily for me, my dining companion decided to order their Chilled Ramen (regular).  As usual, I was having extreme difficulty deciding whether to try the Chilled Ramen or, have my usual Akaoni Ramen.  All went well.  Of course, I was able to (more than) sample my d.c's Chilled Ramen and quite thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was basically a soup-less bowl of ramen, topped with an abundance of ingredients including: julienned cucumbers, boiled prawn, sliced mushrooms, red ginger, julienned strips of imitation crab meat, shredded pieces of fried egg and boiled pieces of pork.  Of course, there had to be some sort of liquid flavouring: sweet soy sauce.  It was very refreshing, and I thought that all the ingredients meshed well with one another.  Downside is that it's only available in the summer :(


Friendly, polite and prompt!


$7.80 for the Akaoni Ramen. $2.50 for the Onigiri.  Reasonable pricing, I believe.


Don't expect the Guu-type izakaya experience here - this is your typical sit-down, eat and leave ramen joint (albeit they do have a tv installed here).

Overall: 8.2/10

Yay:  They've got 3 locations, with one more coming soon.  Imho, this location is more favourable to the one on Robson for the quality of their food and location-wise (parking).  Benkei is also my number 1 go-to ramen joint out of the ones I've been to - Kintaro, Motomachi Shokudo, and Menya (worst one).  Prices are reasonable and you even get a stamp card for every bowl of ramen purchase! :)

Nay:  Limited seating.  Seats aren't the most comfortable either (wooden squared stools).  Not ideal for big groups.

Posted by: J

Dream Sushi

where sushi fantasies come true...


Top: Dream Roll
Bottom: Ocean Dragon Roll
Similar to Kadoya on Denman and Sake Maki on Commercial Dr., the menu and pictures look awfully familiar (with a few name changes here and there).  I enjoy both Kadoya and Sake Maki for their innovative fusion rolls (though I enjoy Kadoya less so because they tend to use more rice in their rolls).  Regardless, we found ourselves at another fusion-roll sushi joint and was uber excited to see what was in store for us!

Crunch Roll
After perusing the menu for an unusually longer period of time, we finally decided on the Ocean Dragon Roll and the Peking Duck Roll (which were both listed on the white board as 'specials'), the Dream Roll, and the Crunch Roll.  All rolls were equally exceptional (seriously).  The ratio of the rice was perfect.  The coconut sprinkles on top of the Crunch Roll was a nice topper.  All the ingredients in the Ocean Dragon roll blended so well together.  The Peking Duck Roll was nicely executed - with a fine amount of duck, topped with a nice crispy duck skin (although ideally, I would've liked the fat underneath the skin removed).  The hoisin sauce and onions added nice touches to the overall taste.

Peking Duck Roll

For appies, we opted for the usual Spinach Gomae (which Scoe thought was only ok - spinach was a lil too overcooked), while the Wakame was more drenched (as we would like it to be).  The Spicy Tuna Sashimi was ok - Kadoya & Sake Maki's versions are more saucier, but same ingredients.  We also tried out the Hamachi Sashimi (which was supposedly "fresh from Japan").  It indeed, tasted very fresh.  I would order it again.


Ok - we had to ask a couple of times for more tea, extra sauce, etc.  But they were pretty friendly.


$8.95 per Chef's speciality roll, $12.95 for the hamachi sashimi (9 pieces or so)


Similar to Kadoya, here you'll find rectangular sheets of coloured paper with all sorts of comments and suggestions left by customers taped to the walls.  The blue walls created a sort-of kindergarten classroom environment; I felt comfortable here, lol.  The restaurant isn't very big - with approx. 10 tables.

Overall: 7.9/10

Yay: Yummy, creative, nicely-fused fusion rolls - where else could you find a Peking Duck Roll? They've also got great lunch specials

Nay: $8.95 may be a bit hefty of a price for some, limited seating, not authentically Japanese (nor do they claim to be) - not a nay for us per se, but it might be for others

Posted by: J

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vivaaaaaaaaa Miami!

In the land of the superficial, the glitz, the glamour, the oozing night club scene, the South Beach diet, the vibrantly-coloured Art-deco style architecture and everything in between...comes fine, delectable gastronomic finds. From Haitian to Japananese Pan-Latin cuisine - everything we tried was devoured (and demolished)! A sad regret was not being able to try out the Cuban cuisine in Miami (and thus had to resort to buying a Cuban sandwich of mediocore quality, as our last hope, before departure). All in all, the food in Miami did not disappoint (after endless amounts of research, of course). :)

Here is a summary (in pictures) of our yummy, unforgettable Miami eats:
Miami Vices: Pina Colada & Strawbery Margarita
with a (not-so-pleasant) shot of rum in the middle

1st stop: Hard Rock Cafe for some good ol' American grub :)
Tuna Ceviche swimming in a chilled coconut-infused broth ...yum

Fried Gator Tails at Everglades' Gator Park
.... tastes juuust like chicken!

BEST gyozas i've had date: Duck Confit Gyozas with spicy ponzu sauce

BBQ Pulled Pork at Sun Life Stadium!

Cornmeal pancakes sandwiched with mozarella cheese! SO GOOD

Chocolate Peanut Butter Candy Bar with buttered popcorn ice cream

Spicy Crab Mix & Chorizo-Stuffed Calamari

Kobe Beef Tartare...cost an arm & a leg, but soo worth it!

a 'this little oinky' vacay trip is not complete without trying
the local fusion rolls!!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.

After watching the pizza episode on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, my dining companion and I had the immediate urge to go and grab ourselves some delicious pies of our own!  Looking to fill this instant craving of ours (oh, the effects of TV!), we wound up at one of the better places in town for pizza - Rocky Mountain!

We ended ordering a reg. size of the 'Classic' and the 'BBQ Pulled Pork' pizza.  In reality, one pizza would've been sufficient because we weren't particularly hungry at the time.  Needless to say, I love variety and have really been loving bbq pulled pork lately :)

Rocky Mountain prides themselves on offering homemade, hand-crafted flatbread pizzas whilst using local and organic ingredients.  Both pies were very tasty with an ample amount of a nice, sweet organic tomato sauce.  Toppings were sufficient.  The pulled pork pie arrived adorned with sliced green peppers, red onions and asiago cheese.  I enjoyed the taste of it, with my only complaint being that the pulled pork wasn't spread out evenly across the pizza.  The 'classic' pizza was bang on - topped with marinated cherry tomatoes, mozarella, asiago, Capriny's goat cheese and parmesan. 

The flatbread crust is a combination of whole wheat and unbleached white flour.  A little bland tasting, but expected.  It's not too big of a deal, but I think I've had better tasting flatbread crusts.  I originally had asked for the pizzas to be on a thin crust they have, but the request was denied.  Not sure why this was an issue, but I'm curious as to how that would taste.  Overall, the pizzas were really good and the quality was consistent to what I experienced, on my previous visits.

** Bonus: Everybody knows we are sauce freaks.  Rocky Mountain offers lovely dipping sauces perfect for the crusts and if you are me, to dip every bite of your pizza in :)  On this night, my d.c opted for the Sundried Tomato Hummus while I had the Roasted Garlic & Onion.  Who doesn't love a bonus? :)

For dessert, we chose one of the daily specials, the 'Banana Caramel Creme Brulee'.  On any given day, I would've chosen anything chocolatey, especially their homemade Chocolate Brownie, which is to-die-for.  But on this night, upon hearing the words - 'banana' and 'creme brulee', I couldn't resist.

Though, it could've been warmer and more creamier in texture, there was an abundance of banana present and satisfied my sweet craving.  Though, I think the next time I come here, I would stick to my default 'chocolate' choice :)


"Eh" - I had a coupon for a free dessert and somehow had a gut feeling that our server would forget to take it off the bill.  Needless to say, this was indeed the case.  He wasn't particularly friendly nor super attentive, but it was passable.


The 'Classic' pizza was $13.95 while the 'Pulled Pork' one was $15.95 (for a regular (10"?) size, I believe. A little pricier than average


From what I can recall - hardwood floors, relatively spacious patio, open 'artisan' pizza oven situated in the dining area.  They have a nice play area for the kiddies by the washrooms, and offers 'pizza making' birthday parties!

Overall:  7.8/10

Yay: Come here if you're looking for a 'healthy' tasting artisan pizza made with fresh, organic ingredients.  They also offer 'pizza making' birthday parties and are openly accepting of kiddie diners :)

Nay: Pizzas are a lil' pricier than average...

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

La Buca

                                                    A fantabolous little Italian gem ...(is hard to find!)


Immaculate and very very well-executed in both presentation and taste.  I rarely order pasta when I'm out, but I do know when I come across a good (great) pasta dish! We ordered 3 appies to share between the 5 of us, and each had an entree.  All were so delicious and plentiful! There were no complaints of any sort!

We started off with their Carpaccio of scallops, grilled pork bacon, roasted tomato, garlic and parsley vinaigrette.  Scallop carpaccio is one of the best tasting things to have, carpaccio-styled, on this planet! Thinly sliced with the tasting texture as smooth as silk...combined with the bacon, tomato, garlic and a parsley vinaigrette - this appy was definitely a combination of a palate cleanser and appetite satisfier :)

We also had the Garlic Butter (Tiger) Prawns - which were wonderfully seared, topped with fresh arugula, atop a fine piece of crispy Italian bread.  The Cauliflower Soup with Truffle (one of the (daily?) specials) was equally as amazing - fresh, creamy with a hint of truffles and (be)dazzled with truffle oil and a hint of cilantro.

For my entree, I opted for the Tagliatelle Chicken Cacciatore.  The chicken was tender and well-seasoned, hidden under a wonderful bed of tomato stew, or sauce.  Other entrees sampled were the: Seared Perch, Risotto, and Crab Bisque, Ravioli filled with eggplant and taleggio, and the Osso Bucco with Mushroom Risotto.  The portion of every entree was generally given, all flavours were excellent with the Osso Bucco dish being the favourite of the night.


Our server was very knowledgeable, attentive and polite.  (I guess it's not so hard waving down your server when there are only 6-7 tables in the whole restaurant :) )


Very good, imho. 


Very small (only 32 seats), walk-through kitchen to the single dual-sex bathroom (which I wasn't a big fan of), very modern looking dining space with black & white tile floors

Overall: 8.5/10

Yay: Wonderfully-executed classic Italian fare, Lots of parking available

Nay: Super small dining room, Walk-through kitchen (to get to the washroom)