Bistrot Du Coin – Washington, DC

Bistrot Du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 234-6969

During short, non-leisure trips I’m often forced to put my interest in eating out and trying new things on the backburner due to various reasons, including unfortunate hinderances such as lack of free time and fussy travel companions. But there are those occasions when my interests do find a fortuitous match and I meet like-minded folks who know a good meal when they see one, and are willing to seek them out. A well travelled businessman, who was born-and-raised in the DC area introduced me to Bistrot Du Coin, which turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of my trip.

The sweltering heat of the DC summer did put a bit of a damper on my dinner experience as the inside was absolutely packed and the air circulation was minimal at best. We were seated on the upper floor overlooking the main dining area below, which perhaps made the stuffiness seem that much worse. With the boisterous crowd and plentiful tables full of wonderful smelling food, it felt part American overindulgance and part French bistro casualness.  I was so insanely hungry after another long day that I was willing to put up with the discomfort as long as the food was satisfying, and thankfully it was.

Continue reading

Hamersley’s Bistro – Boston, MA

Hamersley’s Bistro
553 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116-6306
(617) 423-2700

For the most part, I value good food over service. I used to say to people that “food is all that matters – service is irrelevant if the food isn’t good”, but i’ve since backed off such a polarized view.  After all, i realized that great service often colors one’s view of the food (it can be hard to separate the two – since you *want* to like the food more). And really good food with lousy service, sometimes isnt worth it. Depending on the situation of course.

A pricey, well regarded South End bistro with a special Sunday Brunch menu, Hamersley’s Bistro continually draws rave reviews for their food and service. Seemed like a nice place to meet up with family for a tasty meal. Especially when meeting the new “boyfriend” for the first time.

The inside of Hamersley’s Bistro has a nice, though formal feeling to it. White linen, columns, high arching ceilings, there is a tremendous amount of light that makes the space feel comfortable, yet a bit formal for my preference.

Continue reading

Simply French Café – Vancouver, BC

Simply French Café
3742 10th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6180

Saturday mornings and quiet times in cafés are becoming a combination that I’ve come to appreciate more and more of late.  Perhaps its the dreary winter season, but the mixture of powerful aromas and hot liquids and heart warming foods to start my weekend is something that can’t be beat by much else these days.  Any of our readers feeling the same way?

I had noticed this new café being established in a building along 10th Ave W, just before the Alma intersection.  I believe it had previously housed an antique shop.  The exterior signage is bold and noticeable when passing by, thus I was drawn in after I found out renovations were completed.  It has the simple, airy feel of a European hangout, complete with an assortment of various shaped wooden chairs and tables, a long counter at the back where food and drinks are prepared, and even a wall with various French food products for sale.  Its not the typical interior that one finds in coffee houses in this part of the city, so it was a refreshing change of pace for me.  Not sure about most of you, but the cookie cutter designs that dominate the chains and even independent coffee houses in town are starting to all look alike to me, with their use of stone, modern lines and earthy color tones.

Continue reading

Coco et Olive – Vancouver, BC

Coco et Olive Fine Foods & Café
3476 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 736 7080

Coco Et Olive on Urbanspoon

As I heard from my Alberta-based friends over the weekend complaining about the snow on the ground and the ongoing colder weather, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them as I strolled outside in nice sunny weather this past week along West Broadway in over 10 degrees Celsius weather.   With a clam breeze in the air, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stop into a little café and grab something warm to drink as well as a bite to eat.

Coco et Olive is probably best known among those who live in this end of Vancouver.  And by end, I truly mean that.  It really is far from the hustle and bustle of the more central and thus busier sections of this strip.  In the daytime on weekends, and lunch hours during the week, its filled with people from the neighborhood who clearly have more than their share of free time.

My assumption of this is based on the fact that a) there’s a lot of older folks who probably don’t have to work for a living anymore due to age, and b) younger uppity people who look like they are well off and don’t need to work.  Ah, I wish I could be one of the latter… minus the attitude of course!

With an eclectic arrangement of furniture as seating, and an airy bistro feel, its really easy to feel at home and want to lounge about alone with a cup of coffee (they serve Intelligentsia) or with friends sharing any number of sweets and sandwiches on the menu.  But with a full house and nary a seat to take, I chose an order to go.  [The associated pictures you see here are just simple plated shots once I was back in my kitchen]

The ordering process is straight forward, as the cashier will jot down your order on a notepad and go through the motions of pulling it from the case and if the line is busy, another staffer will handle the grilling.  As simple as that is, I sensed a lack of flow among the staff.  Some confusion among orders despite the written list, an absence of speed as there clearly is not enough space under the griller when more than a few sandwiches are on deck, were just some of the amateurish things I picked up on the service front.

On this day, there were about twelve different sandwiches on board, though some had nothing next to the name plates in the refrigerated case next to the ordering counter.  I did notice as time passed that re-fills from the back kitchen soon made their way into the display area.  The casual feel must pervade from the back, as people would walk in and out from the hidden room to the entrance door.  They seemed like staff, or perhaps friends of the owners (heard a lot of French flying back and forth), but they all seemed to be treating the place as if it were someone’s home, and not really concerned they were cutting in front of paying customers who were scanning the sandwich offerings.

Making your mind from the tantalizing choices is an exercise in both judgment and restraint.  After pacing in front of the case, I ended up picking the Lemon and Herb Chicken ($6.99), as well as a White Tuna Panini.  One of which was chosen as a sandwich & soup combo – an added $3 to the price – and the selection was a Moroccan Lentils soup.

Being handmade, you could immediately see the hodgepodge of sizes for the same kind of sandwich.  Overall, the paninis, of which I preferred the softer texture of the tuna spread as well as the flavor combination, were fairly good, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were outstanding or the best paninis I’ve ever tasted.

As a sweet dessert to round out the pair of meals that I was taking back home, I asked for two of the Almond Croissants.  They just seemed to beckon me, sitting on top of the sandwich display case, as I waited for my paninis to be grilled in the press.  I must say, they were absolutely fantastic.  A perfectly light flaky and crispy crust, and an oozy centre of almond cream, with an ample spread of sliced almonds on top.  I will definitely be back for these, and to try out some of the other cookies, scones, cakes, tarts, and brownies that are made in-house…

Coco Et Olive on Urbanspoon

Carthage Cafe – Vancouver BC

Carthage Cafe
1851 Commercial Drive
Vancouver BC
Tel: 604 215 0661

Carthage Cafe on Urbanspoon

It has been a horrific winter here in Vancouver so far. The incessant snow and now the subsequent downpour has really been cramping my eating. We have had rare respite from the weather which forced us to postpone and cancel a few holiday family gatherings. Here at home, I have been feeling cabin feverish and I had been dying to get out. Luckily, I live near Commercial Drive – a good neighborhood with affordable eating within walking distance. My last few dining forays outside involved Asian food – mainly  noodle houses on Hastings St and Vietnamese pho joints nearby. Yesterday, I felt like something different….”Tunisian”, I thought to myself.

The Carthage Cafe specializes in French-Tunisian cuisine. It is the kind of place that helps provide Commercial Drive with the reputation of being a street where you can find diverse and affordable dining experiences.  This street is lined with restaurants of various ethnicities — Italian, Cantonese, Sichuan, Ethiopian, Jamaican, Salvadorean, Vegetarian (is that a bonafide ethnic group? Methinks yes.), Mexican, Cuban (if you count the Havana as “Cuban”), Belgian, Japanese, Indian, Portugese, and of course, Tunisian, just to count a few.


I had been to the Carthage a couple of times before. I had their very good Mussels in Broth both other times I was there. Today, I thought I would try one of their truly authentic Tunisian dishes – their Chicken Tagine.

The restaurant itself is very well appointed. I walk past it nearly everyday and I have always been impressed with the efforts that the proprietors have taken to make it look and feel upscale. The decor on the outside and inside truly makes it feel like a bistro or a brasserie in Paris – with the dark wood tables, darkly finished trim, tiles, and in this case, the nice Middle Eastern touches (the very cool looking ceiling lamps, for example). The tables are always set with clean, gleaming wine glasses, linen and tableware – even when they are closed. The menu is focused – with only a couple of the classic dishes of this cuisine represented – couscous dishes, for example. For the most part, the menu falls squarely in the “French-Tunisian” fusion.


The service was prompt and efficient – unusual for Commercial Drive where we normally get lackadaisical waitstaff and ineffectual management. My server refilled my water and bread basket without my prompting, and my food came within minutes of ordering.

The tagine came piping hot…and it smelled terrific – with the notes of Middle Eastern spices (cumin, coriander, etc.) filling the air. I don’t have much experience in authentic Tunisian food (since it is a rare beast in this part of the world and I haven’t been to Tunisia or had it in France where this cuisine is well represented), so I will just have to rely on objective experience. I have attempted to cook it myself in the past – I relied on recipes from some of my cookbooks…so the tagine I have made previously will have to be my own benchmark.

The dish was well seasoned. The broth tasted of some of the signature ingredients of this cuisine: the spices provide the flavour foundation …olives and preserved lemon provided the flavour overtones of tang and a slight bitterness.  The chicken was tender… however, because it was made with chicken breast, I found the meat a bit on the dry side (a minor complaint as it was a delicious overall.)


With the looming recession starting to negatively affect restaurants around town, I fear for some of these smaller, more obscure (and definitely highly affordable) ethnic spots. While Vancouver has a reputation of being a great food city, the majority of diners tend to gravitate towards mediocrity…chains such as Milestones, Earls, and the like will probably do fine over the next few economically bleak years. I think it is the duty of those who seek deliciousness and diversity to patronize restaurants such as the Carthage. Don’t save up your dining dollars for “Middle-Eastern Inspired” dishes at chain restaurants…go to the real deal.

Carthage Cafe on Urbanspoon

Kogeno Tenshi – Ito, JP

Kogeno Tenshi
8-502 Omuro-kogen, Ito
Shizuoka, Japan
+81 557 51 2924

With the unusual winter conditions and massive snowfalls that have paralyzed the city of Vancouver recently, thus limiting my desire to drive outside and eat, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite things to do during this season in Japan – staying at an onsen (hot spring) and indulging in the food offerings at such places.

Continue reading

Fleur de Sel Brasserie – Calgary, AB

Fleur de Sel Brasserie
2-2015 4 Street SW
Calgary, AB T2S 1W6
(403) 228-9764

When I think of French food, my thoughts generally fall into one of three categories. High end, refined cuisine, delectable and precise pastries, and peasant food. While i can appreciate the skill and refinement of haute cuisine, as well as the skill of a Herme in creating perfect pastries, I really prefer peasant food. Coq au vin, beef bourguignon, rilettes, pates, stews, poulet de bresse, cassoulet – simple meals big on flavour, with generally safe and easy cooking methods. This is not sous vide – this is braised, hearty soul food. And the best place to get this is typically at a brasserie or a bistro. While there is a general shortage of good honest French food in Calgary, Fleur de Sel Brasserie bucks the fine dining trend by providing Brasserie-type fare.

On first look, the menu is an interesting mix of french classics, modern interpretations of french classics, and not so french classics like Jambalaya and smoked atlantic salmon with pickled ginger. A very extensive list – too extensive in my mind. I prefer most establishments to focus on fewer dishes, generally finding diminishing quality whenever a menu tries to be all things to all people.  I went at lunch, which has a different menu from dinner, by including some sandwiches and lighter fare.

When dining at any establishment, going at lunch has some advantages and disadvantages. The big advantage is typically price – lunch, though often serving the same thing at a slightly smaller portion size, is generally significant cheaper. However, there is often a limited menu, so you’re not able to order all your favorite dishes. At Fleur de Sel, you’re staring down a potentially pricey lunch menu – with entrees pushing $20-$30, it’s certainly not for someone looking for good cheap peasant fare. In order to get a wider variety of dishes to sample, i order their set lunch menu. A 3-course meal for $25.

First off came the bread with an olive oil and vinegar dip. While the bread was ok, i was a bit disappointed  in the quality. It was definitely lacking in a crispy exterior. Sacrificed for the healthier whole wheat/whole-grain combo.

Next up was the salad, which was lightly dressed in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. A nice collection of greens, simply dressed, it was decent. Nothing that made it stand out, but with a three course meal, I don’t feel it needs to be. Sometimes, a salad can and should be just a salad.

For an entree, I had a choice between a cassoulet, or egg fettuccine with fresh mussels. I wasn’t feeling supremely hungry, so i went with the mussels. The mussels themselves were plump, succulent, and well flavoured with the white wine they had been sauteed in. The egg fettuccine was simply dressed with butter and parsley, and swam in the white wine sauce from the mussels. Once again, decent, satisfying, but nothing that stands out as a must-have.

Lastly, dessert was chocolate mousse. With a slightly chalky flavour, i found it a bit off. It was definitely light and fluffy, but the light chocolate flavour combined with the chalky taste led me to believe it was made with cocoa powder, and not melted chocolate. The highlight of the dish was sadly the fruit on top of the mousse.

What do i think? Well, It’s not that French. And there is nothing all that exceptional about it. They serve good solid food that satisfies you, and in that regard i was happy. However, at the price point they are charging, i generally expect more. A lot more. While Table D’hote may have been a poor choice on my part, i feel that they would be better served trimming their dishes down to a manageable number that would allow them to focus on quality and value. They use some good quality ingredients that i recognize from purveyors around Calgary – grass-fed, Galloway beef, magret duck breast, things like that, but don’t do much that most people couldnt replicate in their own kitchens. Overall, i’d be happy if things were 30-40% cheaper, but at this price point, regardless of the quality, I won’t be returning.

Fleur de Sel on Urbanspoon

L’Epicerie – Calgary, AB

1325 1 Street SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 514-0555

L'Epicerie on Urbanspoon

September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

A L’Epicerie is a term used throughout France to designate a grocery or general store. Originally a spice counter, these stores now sell a variety of items, usually including charcuterie, dry goods, produce, meats and cheeses.

In Calgary, L’Epicerie is the name of a french deli opened up by Dominique Moussu, executive chef of Teatro. Conveniently located in the same complex as Manuel Latrouwe, and Bernard Callebaut just south of downtown, they have joined forces to create a premium food “destination”. All three businesses carry items positioned as high end, and this can only help them generate additional sales. At L’Epicerie, this includes things like their own terrines, gravlox, french cheeses (Epoisse!), Magret Duck breasts, Haricots Tarbais and other hard to find French items. A lot of this stuff is imported directly from France, and very difficult to otherwise find.

My experiences there have been generally very positive. Their service has been phenomenal, if sometimes just a touch slow. But I really don’t mind – this isn’t the express lane at your local supermarket, this is an Epicerie! 🙂 Like many new places however, they have had some difficulty with pricing. While I am pleased to note that prices have stabilized at a something a bit more reasonable (moving in the right direction anyway), the prices have been dropped a few times on several items I consistently purchase. While the prices are not for the faint of heart, they do provide access to some otherwise difficult to find ingredients.

In terms of take out/ready to eat, they primarily serve sandwiches. I first paid $18 for a full sandwich. New prices have changed to $7 and $14 for a half or full sandwich respectively. These sandwiches are made on fresh bread, with all high quality ingredients. I had the terrine of foie gras, which included arugula, moutard, and great bread. While it might not be worth $18, the quality of the terrine made for a very decadent, and  enjoyable experience. And now it costs $14, so even better!

My favorite thing that they carry are fresh-made potato chips. The first time i went, i ordered these because they were the least expensive thing i could buy, and gracefully leave with without looking sheepish. I wasn’t quite prepared for the price. They were $6 for a small bag if you’re curious. However, i loved them. Crisp, rich potato flavour with some great salt, these are sublime chips. Then their price dropped, making it only somewhat ridiculous in price ($4.50). Then they changed the potato they used, and they actually taste better. As a treat, I will occassionaly pick up a bag, but these are steep prices for day-to-day living. My waistline is quite relieved by this fact, as at $2-$3 for a small bag, I’d be there every day. I love my potato chips.

L’Epicerie is an interesting idea for Calgary, but I worry about its potential longevity. If a downturn in the economy occurs, I have a difficult time imaging people continuing to spend loads of money on many pricey french items they’ve had no experience cooking with, or utilizing. Some element of education maybe be necessary to explain why some of these ingredients are worth the cost. Very friendly and nice, i wish nothing but the best for them. The fact they continue to refine their price shows they care about their succeeding, and do listen to feedback. However, they might have been better off aiming for something a bit more affordable to the general masses. The bottom line though, if you’re in the market for some french rarities or high quality ingredients, wanting to try bistro or brasserie type food at home, L’Epicerie is the store for you.

L'Epicerie on Urbanspoon