Phobulous – Edmonton, AB


Phobulous
8701 109 Street
Edmonton, AB
(780) 988-2696

As you leave the U of A campus headed towards 109th street, staring directly in front of you is a restaurant with signage reading, Phobulous Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine.

phobulous_interior

This may sound odd – but I found my first experience here to be unusual, only because I had never eaten Pho in a nice looking establishment with clean chairs, tables and stain-free walls.  This is a tiny little restaurant, walls adorned with some interesting art and a large menu full of options.

I am not a huge coffee connoisseur, but I do enjoy  Vietnamese style iced coffee.  Individually brewed in a Vietnamese phin filter over a cup containing sweetened condensed milk – waiting for this to finish brewing can be excruciating.  Once it has finished – stir in as much of the sweetened condensed milk to suit your personal taste, before pouring over the tall glass filled with ice.

phobulous_weasel_coffee

Phobulous serves a unique brand of coffee – known as Weasel Coffee.  Coffee starts its life growing on shrubs or bushes as a fruit, which is then harvested, the outer fruit separated from the bean, dried, roasted, ground and is then finally ready for use.  In some South Asian countries, they use a civet or weasel, which gladly goes to work eating only the ripest berries from the crop, digesting the outer fruit, while simultaneously chemically altering the beans characteristics removing the bitter notes.  Eventually it “discards” the coffee beans, which are then painstakingly collected by hand, and further processed.

If you ever watched the Flintstones cartoons, you may remember the clever uses the animals played in their daily lives.  (i.e. Octopus dishwashers, Pelican garbage can, bird-beak record player).  Harvesting of Kopi Luak/Civet/weasel coffee reminds me of this. Picture if you will – a weasel perched on the kitchen window, with its head outside munching on coffee berries. Wilma walks into the kitchen,  lifts the weasel tail – and out comes some freshly picked coffee beans…  🙂

I read an article about this a few years ago, when a friend of mine was describing something he called “cat poo coffee”.  Kopi Luwak was being toted as the worlds most expensive brew (some even offering a certificate of authenticity), but as popularity grew – oddly, prices seemed to drop.  Thus, it was not a surprise to find that an artificial process has been developed to simulate the weasel’s gastric effect on the beans, which is commonly being sold as the real thing.  Regardless of the type of coffee – when mixed with sweetened condensed milk, it’s all good.

Maybe it’s just the establishments I tend to go to – but this is the first time I’ve ever found more than one option for goi cuon (salad rolls).  Available are the classic shrimp and pork, vegetarian, grilled chicken or grilled la lop – wrapped together with rice noodles, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and garnished with chives.

phobulous_goi_cuon

Photographed above are both the grilled chicken and the shrimp/pork.  Both were very good and prepared perfectly – the rice paper wrapper keeping its integrity and the fillings evenly balanced.  The dipping sauce is a thinned hoisin with crushed peanuts – providing a nice sweetness to roll.

In my past visits to this restaurant – I usually choose to go with the Pho dac Biet or humerously named Mother Pho. This is their fully-loaded Pho – served with rare steak, brisket, flank, tendon, beef balls, and tripe for $9.95 where the basic Pho Tai, named Pho Real is $7.95. For those who don’t quite get the joke – Pho is pronouced ‘fuh’ or as foot (without the ‘t’).

phobulous_motherpho

The broth is clear, with a great depth of flavour.  Noodles maintained a good bite, and quantity of toppings is fair.  The standard complement of bean sprouts, thai basil, lime, hoisin and sriracha were delivered as expected.

Hu Tieu Love? (The menu is full of this type of humor).
This Southern Vietnamese concoction is definitely worth another visit for me.  Pork-stock based broth, topped with chopped fried shallots and Chinese chives – delivers a sweeter, more complex broth as compared with the Northern Vietnam Pho.  Served with rice noodles, shrimp and plenty of thinly sliced pork – this was absolutely delicious.  I wish I could provide more commentary – but it was difficult trying to steal spoonfuls of soup without having my hand slapped away by my wife…

phobulous_hu_tieu

Located on the menu page labeled ‘Phobulous Introduces’ are a few interesting choices recommended by the server.  Ca-ri Ga (Chicken Curry Noodle Soup), Banh Mi Sate (Sate Sub), Bo Kho (Beef Stew) and Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Hue Noodle Soup).

The Ca-ri Ga, carried a mildly spicy broth of curry and coconut milk, served with large chunks of stewed carrots, potatoes, and tender chicken served over rice noodles.  Great flavours, very rich, and very good.

phobulous_cari_ga

The Bo Kho was fantastic.  The menu reads “A fragrant blend of star anise, lemongrass, carrots and tender beef brisket in a rich tomato broth served with rice noodles”.  Everything delivered as promised – and was good to the last drop. Anyone lacking solid chopstick skills will probably want to be extra careful, as the beef portions are rather large – and makes a big splash when dropped…

phobulous_bo_kho

Overall, I am very impressed with this restaurant.  I get the sense that the chef cares about the food being served both in presentation and in quality, service is attentive, and the atmosphere is great.  I will definitely be back again.

Phobulous on Urbanspoon

The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar – Seattle, WA


The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar
1301 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA
(206) 623-3500

“One for the road!” my pal exclaimed as we toured the area around Pike Place Market in the evening hours before we made our trek back to Vancouver (following an afternoon at the ballpark and a light meal at Elysian Fields).

With the still blistery hot temperature of the day (an all-time high for Seattle) prevailing, we soon were desperate for some shade and relative comfort.  It was baffling how the ambient temperature seemed to drop a few degrees as we got closer and closer to the waterfront – much needed relief from the high 30C weather.  With only the desire to be in some more manageable environment and a cold one to kick back with, we stumbled upon The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar.  With its open patio, we figured it would suffice.  But a total tourist trap, I know…

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Fatburger – Edmonton, AB


Fatburger (South Edmonton Common)
1755-102 Street NW
Edmonton, AB AB T6N 0B1
(780) 469-8180

fatburger

What makes a good burger?  I’ve found this to be a tricky question to answer, because for me – there are too many variables (bun, patty, condiments, smells, sides, and atmosphere).

For example – an oversized bun, an overcooked patty curled up like a small dish, a slice of processed cheese, and ketchup squeezed out of a small package – served outdoors, with the smell of the BBQ, sun, and a park/campground/lake – makes for a great burger.  😉

The retro diner décor at Fatburger is nice, nothing over done.  With locations found throughout western Canada and the U.S., there are tidbits of information on how this chain started back in 1952 – through various photos and plaques on the walls.  There are plenty of booths and tables to sit and wait for your food to be served, with easy access to the self-serve drink station.

With only one till to order your food – it can be a little slow.  I’m sure this is done on purpose, as the addition of more tills wouldn’t make the burgers cook any faster.  Busy hours usually have a queue leading right out of the front door.

What I love about this place is that they have no fear of stating the truth.  With menu items named Fatburger, Double Fat, King Fat, and Crispy Fat Chicken – make sure you clear things with your doctor, as there is a possibility of becoming addicted to their burgers, which won’t do you much good in the long run.   For the health-conscious, there is a salad called the Fat Salad Wedge – with the first topping listed as diced bacon.

fatburger_doublefat

The burger shown above is the Double Fatburger with add-ons of cheese, and bacon.   Oh yeah – plus gravy on the fries!   My lunch companion opted out of the gravy, but added a fried egg to his burger and thoroughly enjoyed his Real Ice Cream Shake.

This is a well constructed burger:  the bun is just the right size – keeping everything together nicely.  The patties are packed loosely providing a nice texture, and the standard condiments are balanced nicely.   Overall – I thoroughly enjoyed this burger!  The gravy on the fries was good, although the fries themselves were not the greatest.

Definitely more expensive than your neighborhood fast-food joints, with your closest comparable being Red Robins.

Not trying to stir up any controversy, but there is a lot of advertising on how the beef is never frozen, and that they use the highest quality USDA approved beef.   I could not find anything to tell me whether this applies to the franchises in Canada?

Fatburger (SouthEd Common) on Urbanspoon

Ramen Ezogiku – Honolulu, HI


Ramen Ezogiku
2420 Koa Avenue
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 922-2473‎

I admit, curiosity got to me when I saw the distinctive logo hanging from the banner outside this front entrance.  For our readers familiar with Vancouver, yes, this is the same chain that operates the two outlets in the Canadian city, both on Robson Street, going by the name of  Ezogiku Noodle Cafe.

Some more background…  The Tokyo honten (main branch) of Ezogiku is a tiny ten-person counter joint, located in the college-saturated station area of Takadanobaba, and competes with many ramen-ya and inexpensive eateries for the tight student wallet.  Offering a Sapporo-style miso ramen, Ezogiku has been around for over thirty-years and claims to be one of the first to bring true Sapporo miso ramen to the Kanto region.  Forgive me, but my first and only bowl there was way back in 1997, but I can faintly recall that it was pretty decent, a mid-thickness crinkly noodle and a miso soup that was on the heavier side on the fat meter.

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Elysian Fields – Seattle, WA


Elysian Fields
542 1st Ave South
Seattle, WA
Tel: (206) 382-4498

Preface: Being from Alberta, I know how at times it seems the province is actually part of Saskatchewan.  The seemingly large number of people from that Prairie province who live and work in Alberta, as well as those who actually make the journey to watch their beloved Roughriders football club play in cities like Edmonton and Calgary, further compounds this image.

On a recent day trip down to Seattle to catch the Toronto Blue Jays take on the local Mariners, I was surprised to find a row of ten young men decked out in full Roughriders fan gear – complete with those popular watermelon helmets, green body paint and colored wigs.  The curious and bewildered Yanks in the stands were coming down and taking pictures of these fellows, and as a Canadian, I was proud to see them showing love for our country (albeit, I am not a fan of that particular ball club, while my travel companion is).  Incidentally, the hottest daytime temperature ever in Seattle was recorded on this day!  Field level mercury was reported at 41 degrees C!

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Wild Tangerine – Edmonton, AB


Wild Tangerine
10388 – 112 Street
Edmonton, AB
(780) 429-3131

wildtangerine_frontage

If I was to open a restaurant of my own, I would experiment with some of my favorite flavours from around the world, and source out the best ingredients I could get my hands on.  Had this dream ever become reality – it probably would have looked something like this.

Wild Tangerine, centrally located on 104th Street is home to an unpretentious, fun and casual restaurant.  Described by others as  ‘east meets west’ or ‘Asian-Italian fusion’ – the menu is predominantly Asian flavours over local proteins, served with pastas, rice or vegetables.  A conscious effort has been made to use seasonal vegetables, and local meat which is antibiotic and growth-stimulant free.

wildtangerine_shrimplolipop

Anyone who has been here before, has probably had the shrimp lollipops.  A single large shrimp, skewered and wrapped in kataifi (shredded phyllo) – then fried to golden deliciousness.  Served with a side of wasabi yogurt, this never fails as a great starter.

Moving to the entrees – my wife chose the Thai Green Curry with Prawns & Tortiglioni.  Traditional gaeng kiow wahn (Thai green curry) is traditionally much soupier from the addition of water or coconut milk; however as photographed, expect more of a green curry paste stir-fry over pasta.  This dish provided a nice level of heat without burning-out any tastebuds.

wildtangerine_greencurry

So many cultures have devised a method of preparing pork.  Obvious favorites are bacon or pancetta, but for me – I whole-heartedly applaud the Chinese for inventing Cha-Siu.  Literal translation is ‘fork roasted’ but is commonly identified as the dark red BBQ pork found in Chinese markets.

So my choice this evening was the Cha-Siu Organic Pembina Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Tangerine Glaze.  The beautifully tender pork loin was served over a bed of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and garnished with what I can only describe as carrot tagliatelle.  The tangerine glaze has a fantastic blend of sweet, sour, with a touch of spice.  Portion sizes were plentiful, but when something is this good – there is never enough…

wildtangerine_porktenderloin

Reviewing the dessert menu, we decided to share the the ‘Warm Gingered Bread Pudding, with banana ice cream’.  Presented with a carmelized sugar cap, the ginger provided a nice spice within the warm bread pudding (albeit more of a sponge cake).

wildtangerine_gingerpudding

As we were finishing up, we took a look through the ‘mobile cuisine’ options available in quick take-out containers.  An interesting selection of soups, sauces and stocks, ranging from $4 to $10.

Hmmm,  I think I just uncovered a secret from a recent dinner party…

Wild Tangerine on Urbanspoon

Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice – Honolulu, HI


Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice
525 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI
(808) 735-8884

One of the several pre-trip, researched spots on my food adventures in Hawaii was Waiola.  It was also noted by someone I know who has a residence in Honolulu that it was along the same road as some others I’d asked him about, so as far as location went, it was perfect.

In a pretty run down looking building, complete with some garish plastic banners and graffiti, Waiola is mainly about the shave ice desserts.  Nothing more refreshing on a hot summer Hawaiian day.  A few other customers came in while we were there, along with a delivery guy who brought in huge cubes of solid ice.

Stepping inside does nothing to improve the sense of it having a dated and in need of a refresh design.  But this is part of the appeal of the place, knowing that despite its popularity and well known name, they haven’t plugged the money into expensive furnishings or makeovers.  At the same time, they’re not avert to plastering the joint with pages from various media publications that have reviewed or profiled the place.

With anywhere from thirty to forty toppings and flavors, Waiola can probably meet any craving you have for a tasty shave ice.  With its distinct soft, fine shavings, I tell you they are addictive.  And you get none of that dreaded “brain freeze” from say a more liquidly-ice concoction.  We tried a trio of flavors.  Pictured above, the adzuki (Japanese sweet bean) and mochi (Japanese rice cake balls) combination.  Easily the version among the three we ordered with the most interesting textures with each bite, and the sweetness was not too strong.

In comparison, this pineapple-flavored very basic shave ice was cleaner in taste profile and probably more refreshing as there was less to have to chew.  The fine shavings once again proved to be excellent – and I enjoyed this one more than the one I had at Island Freeze days earlier, thus confirming that Waiola is one of the best shave ice joints on the island.

Lastly, another Japanese-influenced flavoring in the matcha with mochi provided yet another twist.  Almost like a blended coffee-like drink as the flavoring was “heavier” than just the pineapple syrup of the other dish above.

So as you can see, this was just a sample of a few varieties of shave ice to be had at Waiola.  I’m sure there are many more interesting combinations to choose from, and perhaps if you make a visit, you can try them out for yourself.  If there are any readers who have any recommendations, please do leave them in our comment box for this post!

Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

Mexican Chicken Hof – Coquitlam, BC


Mexican Chicken Hof
A1-341 North Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 936-1444

H.O.F. Those three letters mean nothing on their own.  Unless you happen to be in South Korea and your eyes are swimming around looking at an unfamiliar language and fonts.  Especially if you are in a busy commercial zone full of restaurants, bars and other entertainment establishments in busy areas such as Kangnam in Seoul.

Derived from the German word hoffbrau meaning ‘royal or court brew’ which originates back in the days when beer was only available to the elite, its now often associated with German taverns.  The Koreans have adopted part of the terminology as their own, and in the modern day, a hof could be described as a Korean pub or drinking spot.  Incidentally, one of the very first hof’s I visited in Seoul over a decade ago was very much patterned after a German brew house, complete with huge beer steins, and delicious sausages on the menu.

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Flavours – Edmonton, AB


Flavours Modern Bistro
10354 – 82 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T6E 1Z8
(780) 439-9604

Flavours, a self described ‘modern bistro’ has been serving a mix of eclectic fare on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue following the fires of 2003.

flavours_modern_bistro

This little bistro caught my eye as we were driving along Whyte ave, looking for somewhere new to try.  As we passed by, we honestly weren’t sure whether it was a restaurant or an ice-cream parlour – but we pulled over anyways to check it out.  Worst-case scenario we have ice cream for dinner!

A chalkboard sign out front listed their special for the day, Pan seared salmon w/ Saskatoon balsamic red wine cream sauce for $25.  I was sold – simply because we had just picked some Saskatoon berries from a family farm the day before and was happy to see someone using them in-season.

Inside, a nice décor which blends a modern look (high art niches, long mirrors, dark woods) against a rustic side of exposed brick.

The menu reminded me of a grocery list I would take to the Strathcona Farmer’s Market  (i.e. Bison, gnocchi, goat-cheese, wild mushrooms).  Not surprising – as the market is literally just outside of the rear-door of this restaurant.  Wishing I could try a little bit of everything – I kept to my original lure, as I was reeled in by the posted special…

flavours_salmon_saskberry

The salmon was cooked to a perfect internal temperature (with just a hint of rare) and the sides were fantastic, but there was something about the presentation which was slightly unappetizing.  I think it was due to my preference to have a better pan-seared piece of fish (as seen on this post by Shokutsu) or maybe it was the sauce (which didn’t add much to the dish).  I am being overly critical, as this still tasted good.

My wife chose the seafood pasta (I apologize, as I have forgotten the details) but do recall that it was excellent and the definite winner between the two entrees.  Shrimp, scallop, assorted veg all cooked perfectly – this is a great example of how great ingredients makes for great food.

flavours_seafood_pasta

After our entrees were cleared, we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while we gazed into the display cooler filled with their dessert offerings.  Since I still had ice-cream on my mind — we were easily tempted to choose something to close off this dinner.

flavours_lemon_pie

The lemon pie was fantastic – presentation and all!

I am looking forward to another visit, as there were some very interesting dishes on the menu I would like to try.

Flavours Modern Bistro‎ on Urbanspoon

Rainbow Drive-In – Honolulu, HI


Rainbow Drive-In
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 737-0177

With two of my friends who I managed to rustle out of bed after a busy previous day of driving around the island’s north shore, we took this walking tour up busy Kapahulu Avenue in our quest to find a few local eateries that I had previously researched and been told of by someone I know who has lived on the island.

But it was by pure luck that we also came across the Rainbow Drive-In, as it was not originally on my hit list.  The lineup at the counter as we passed it while traveling northbound made us think we needed to come back for a visit and a brief inquiry about this place to a man in line resulted in him telling us enthusiastically how “amazing the food is here and that we had to try it out”!

After we completed our intended stops up the road, we did just that.

By then, about an hour and a half had passed and the massive lineup had subsided – in hindsight it was probably the lunch hour rush that we’d seen before.  But all of the available tables nearby were still all taken and a few people were in line ahead of us and awaiting their orders at the window on the other side.  A popular place is a popular place regardless of time of day.

Prices across the menu board were very reasonable.  Mixed plates (barbecue, fried chicken, pork cutlets, hamburg steak, sausages, etc.) with sides of rice and salad came in generally at under $7.  Hamburgers, hotdogs and sandwiches were also well represented and nothing was over $4.  A few local tastes such as Mahi Mahi, Loco Moco and what they called a “bento”, were also available.

I found the naming of some dishes that were using Japanese descriptors such as the Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Chicken interesting, until I found out the long time proprietors of the business were Japanese-American.

Given that I’d already had a big bowl of shave ice, and a trio of Malasadas, and an ice coffee within the last ninety minutes, even I had to admit I was quite full already.  But I had to make good on the promise to that man in the line that I would come back and at least try something on the menu.  Pictured above is the Rainbow Special burger ($3.30).  A cute little package, with the beef patties charbroiled, and sandwiched between a nice soft bun.  Quite tasty too for what it was, a low priced basic burger.  Throw in the aura surrounding this popular eatery and the generally good mood I was in on vacation, and it probably elevated my impression of the food.

If I hadn’t eaten as much as I had by that point, I probably would have gone for a mixed plate as well.  There’s always next time, as I am sure I will be back in Hawaii again.

Rainbow Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Ichiban Sushi – Toronto, ON


Ichiban Sushi
Front St. E & Wellington St. E
Toronto, ON
(416) 862-9191

Continuing my tour of downtown Toronto, I happened to find myself standing out the front door of Ichiban Sushi. Located across the street from the historical Godderham building (a.k.a. Flatiron Building), a couple blocks east of Yonge.

ichiban_sushibar

Ichiban – translating to ‘number one’ in english, is terribly overused in the naming of Japanese restaurants throughout North America.  This is one of my personal warning signs – usually preventing me from going to eat at a particular restaurant; however, my overwhelming hunger won.

I usually try to order at least one cooked dish at every Japanese restaurant to get a full picture of an establishment, and I’m a sucker for good gyoza.  These were served with a nice crisp base, and a flavourful filling.  It was a little off-putting to see them cooking these on a rickety stove just to the left of the sushi bar, but the outcome was just fine.

ichiban_gyoza

Next to arrive was the the green dragon maki.  The presentation is definitely non-traditional, but I did enjoy the playfulness of it.  On a side note (maybe this is just a mental thing) – but I much prefer the choice of naming this a dragon over a caterpillar (something I saw years ago at a different restaurant).

ichiban_maki

We also ordered the 20 piece chef’s choice nigiri combo.  This was rather disappointing.  I would have expected a higher quality and selection of fish, not to mention that the nigiri were ridiculously small.  Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that nigiri sushi needs to be big – but these were tiny ( I honestly could have slid my wedding ring over some of these).

ichiban_chef_sushi

The ebi were prepared poorly, as they were split right through (my guess is that they were using factory deveined shrimp), and the majority of the fish was dry and as already mentioned – the selection was weak.   From a presentation perspective – I’m not a fan of stacking sushi on top of another – and yet again with ridiculous garnishes of parsley, lemon, and baran.

I have since discovered that this restaurant is a franchise location (another of my personal warning signs).  Belonging to the Ichiban Sushi House organization, currently operating about 20 locations throughout the GTA.  It appears to be a Korean run organization – as their Ichiban sushi college website is entirely published in hangul.

I was a little perturbed with their claim that they are “one of the leading figures in Canada that developed the Sushi industry”, especially since they’ve only been in operation since 1983.   I know a few places even in Edmonton, which have been around years before this.

Ichiban Sushi on Urbanspoon

Cru Restaurant – Vancouver, BC


Cru Restaurant
1459 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 677-4111

With my usual favorite special occasion Vancouver restaurant no longer around (Parkside), I opted to book a table at Cru after considering a few other options.  With its deep list of accolades and press clippings, Cru has established itself as one of the city’s most popular destinations for Pacific Northwest and small plate cuisine.  And the prominent wine bar makes for an interesting arrangement and use of the long narrow dining space.

Given its reputation and relative close access to shopping areas (Granville Street) and performance venues (the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage as an example), reservations are an almost must at Cru, even on weeknights.  On this night, the place was full, with younger couples on dates, multi-generational family members out for a meal, and businessmen winding down after a long day at the office.  To keep things easy and balanced between the two of us, we chose the Prix Fixe Menu ($42 pp), paired with some wines by the glass.

Unfortunately, the setting wasn’t feeling good for whipping out the pocket camera given the very close seating arrangements with the tables on both sides.  Besides, this meal was less about a post for Foodosophy and more to enjoy the company and evening, so please forgive the missing first course photographs.  Just as a footnote, the appetizers eaten were the Soup of the Day which was a mild tasting cucumber-based creation which was very smooth; and the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with caperberries, truffle aioli and shaved parmesan, which was pleasantly larger than I thought it would be and full of interesting flavors and textures.

A little later into our meal and the larger group to one side departed and by then I thought it would be okay to snap some images…

As one of the mains, the Smoked Pork Tenderloin with braised pork shoulder, baby squash and gnocchi was the heartiest of our shared dishes.  The meat was well cooked and tender, with a good crust built up on the outside.  The accompanying mix of veggies added to the “summery” feel of the dish, especially the grilled baby squash.

The Pan-seared Halibut coupled with morel mushrooms and roasted fingerling potatoes, drizzled with orange hazelnut brown butter, was again well cooked and had a firm crust on one side.  Perhaps a touch on the salty side in seasoning though for some people.  I enjoyed this dish perhaps more so than the pork, maybe for the fact that I usually don’t enjoy cooked halibut but they do it very well at Cru.

To close, the pair of desserts included the Classic Creme Brulee and…

… a trio selection of hand-turned Sorbets.  I believe it was raspberry, lemon and lime(?).  Both met the seal of approval from my dining companion who is more of a dessert fan than I will ever be.

After our dining experience, we quickly decided we’d add Cru to our list of staple restaurants.  Perhaps not one to visit very frequently, but for a night when a relaxed, cozy, delicious dinner is required, this place certainly fits the bill.

Cru on Urbanspoon

Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House – Honolulu, HI


Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House
2058 Kuhio Ave
Honolulu, HI
(808) 983-7275

I’ve learned that I sometimes don’t make the best decisions when I am wandering around with no real intentions on my own in a new city.  After a long lazy day spent at the beach, I decided to go for a walk after sunset and stumbled upon Vit’s Hawaiian Steak House, deciding that I should get something to eat for dinner before my other travel mates arrived at the airport later that same evening.

Adjacent to a hotel on the far west end of the Kuhio Avenue before it merges into Kalakaua Avenue, Vit’s has both a decent sized bar and dining area.  A few of the tables and booths were taken by larger groups, and if not for the solo drinkers at the bar, I would have felt more out of place dining alone.  As I was within ear shot of the bar, I overheard a few conversations that suggested to me they were regulars and knew the female bartender quite well.

Recognizing the surf and turf focus on the rather standard menu, I decided to take my chances and ordered the top listed entree, the signature Ono Steak, being Vit’s was proclaiming itself to be a steakhouse after all.  As the above picture depicts, what came out on the plate looked like an oddly shaped/cut slab of beef, that was so-so tender.

Supposedly marinated in an Asian base of soy, ginger, etc. overnight, the flavour was just not as strong as I hoped it would be, and I almost regretted declining the offer of A-1 Sauce (which I despise and which seems so “American” to me).  The accompanying slices of carrots were cooked but still too raw for my tastes, and the mound of mashed potato with gravy ended up being the best part of what was on my plate.

If not for the two tall pints of Kona Longboard Island Lager I had, I think I could have easily walked out of there disappointed and with an empty stomach.

Guess that makes it a double “ono” (oh no!) for me when it comes to meals with the Hawaiian word for “delicious” in the title.

Vit's Hawaiian Steak House on Urbanspoon

Bikkuri Japanese Restaurant – Toronto, ON


Bikkuri Japanese Restaurant
36 King Street East
Toronto, Ontario  M5C 1E5
Tel: (416) 369-0330

I recently found myself staying downtown Toronto, near the financial district for a few days.  Much like the first time I visited this city – the humidex was up making my Alberta-acclimatized self,  feel as though I was standing in a steam-room.  😉

Stepping out onto Yonge Street – I pull out my trusty iphone and run the iSushi application, to identify the closest sushi restaurants from my current location.  Weeding out any obvious no-no’s, we start walking towards Bikkuri Japanese Restaurant located on King Street and a block east of Yonge.

We are promptly seated in this surprisingly large restaurant, and are given a large selection of choices from their huge menu.  We ordered some chicken karaage as an appetizer, and the mains consisted of the nabeyaki udon, nigiri sushi combo, and the salmon-teriyaki.  The latter two entrees came with a starter salad and bowl of miso soup, which both arrived quickly.  Both tasted very good, which put my initial concerns about our destination decision at ease.

The chicken karaage arrived quickly – served on a soba dish garnished with lemon wedges.  The karaage was cooked well, but the flavour lacked punch.  Figuring that a shot of lemon might perk this up a little – I found that it was difficult to use – as the wedge was subjected to some unnecessary knife-work to partially separate the fruit from the rind.

bikkuri_karaage

Moving to the entrees, the salmon-teriyaki scored average.  The salmon portion was huge – served in three slices, with veg and a bowl of rice.  The fish was cooked well, saved by the pleasant flavour of the teriyaki sauce being just right (not overly sweet).  The sides of carrot and broccoli seemed like an odd pairing though.

bikkuri_salmon_teri

The nabeyaki udon was by far the worst dish on the table.  Soup had no flavour (we even tried to make it palatable by adding lots of togarashi), and the presentation lacked any visible appeal.

The highlight of the night was the nigiri sushi.  Presented well, good balance of fish-to-rice, every piece tasted very fresh.  The shari had a slightly sweeter flavour than I’m used to, but was still good.   I would like to acknowledge the knife-work by the itamae, as he took the time to trim the ebi-tail for that little bit of flair, scored the tai and ika to attain a uniform nigiri form.

bikkuri_sushi

My only complaint would be that the tako was a bit thin, and the six lemon slices garnishing the plate were completely unnecessary.

Overall – I would recommend Bikkuri for their nigiri sushi, but think they should revisit their cooked dishes as they can use some work.

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Leonard’s Bakery – Honolulu, HI


Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI
(808) 737-5591

The story of this local Hawaiian icon weaves through a touching tale of immigration from far away lands in the late-19th century, family ties, hard work, and the origins of how this popular Portuguese confection came to the Islands. I always love hearing the background of ethnic foods/restaurants transplanted to other countries.

Leonard’s bake shop required a larger sized, modern facility in the late 1950’s, and has been in their current location on Kapahulu Avenue ever since.  It clearly has that era’s old school feel to it, from the moment you see the overhanging rafter with a pair of benches to sit on to enjoy your purchases inside, if you’re lucky.  The parking lot can get busy as well, and I even witnessed a fender bender between two cars that were jostling to use one spot.

The L-shaped counter where you place your order with the staff is filled with various baked goods, but I think most people are here for the Malasadas.   These deep fried, doughy balls of goodness coated in sugar are obviously not for the health conscious among us.

In general, Malasadas don’t have that distinct hole in the middle like doughnuts do, but some do have fillings (at Leonard’s they had custard, chocolate and coconut).  As pictured in one of the signs on the counter, this month’s special was Lilikoi (a tart-tasting grapefruit/passion fruit native to many parts of Latin America, areas in the Pacific and even Africa).

As they are freshly made in the back, once you give your order, they come out boxed and ready to go.  I’d recommend you get a few of each type, those dusted with white sugar, cinnamon sugar, and some with the fillings, to get a taste of each type available.

I think this is a growing trend, mainly to increase revenues from other sources when a food brand establishes itself, and Leonard’s also had peripheral goods for sale, including t-shirts.  There was one design my friend liked, but unfortunately they were out of his size.

Without a space to enjoy our bounty, our group walked down the street back towards Waikiki, and found the air conditioned comforts of a seating area within a Safeway store.  The aroma emerging from the open boxes flooded the space and we got the attention of several neighbors, who no doubt knew what we had.

The light but slightly crispy exterior and the fluffy inside was still quite warm when I bit into my first plain Malasada.  The texture was not as dense as I thought, which made for eating more than one in a single sitting quite easy.  I found the custard-filled variety equally as pleasing, and the slight coolness of the filling provided a contrast to the warmth of the dough.  Oh, and the Lilikoi one we sampled, was pretty good too.  I think combined with my tasting of Lilikoi mustard at Puka Dog, I’ve become quite the fan of this exotic fruit.

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