Rainforest Cafe – Orlando, FL


Rainforest Cafe
Disney Animal Kingdom
505 N Rainforest Road
Lake Buena Vista, FL
(407) 938-9100

Downtown Disney.  A destination location without a doubt.  Flooded with families and young children on a hot day in Florida, the scene is a quintessential vacation scene.  Sun, fun and shopping.  What’s not to like.  Especially for the kids.  But there is a dark side.  When it comes to eating, things can become a) quite pricey as they have you a virtual hostage and b) choices are limited.  With only two hours to kill and figuring we should at least check things out (no kids in tow of course) on a business trip, a colleague and I tried to squeeze in both some gift shopping and a late lunch.  Seeking shelter from the bright sun, our reprieve from the unwavering heat ended up being the Rainforest Cafe.  Not the only choice nor a preferred one, just the closest one…

In hindsight, I’ve learned this is a big chain in the States with roots in thirteen states.  As well, they have some international representation in places such as Tokyo, London, Paris, Mexico City and Dubai!  I suppose this theme-style restaurant that stretches the ideal through its menu and motif remains a popular one, despite the downturn of other such adventurous chains like Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe.  Inside and once seated, we got that “have you been here before?” query, no doubt something each server is required to ask patrons.  The reason?  Well, if it were not for the “warning” regarding the every-thirty-minutes sudden explosion of sights and sounds that occurs throughout the entire restaurant – attributed to the animal-themed decorations and props – I’m sure there would be quite the number of shocked customers.  Heart attack-inducing loudness I might add.  Complete with a thunderous roar of artificial sounding thunderstorms and lightning.  Yes, we are after all, in a rain forest people.

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National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill – National Harbour, DC


National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill
201 Waterfront Street
National Harbour, DC
(301) 965-4000

Some places and food just go together.  As a lifelong baseball fan, for me, this sport is all about hot dogs.  Its part of the experience of seeing MLB games live.  Strangely enough, having been through enough pork processing plants in my lifetime and gaining a full view into what goes into hot dogs, you would think I’d stay away from them.  Alas, I can’t when it comes to watching America’s favorite pastime.  This isn’t even limited to the outdoor environment, as if there is a game on in the bar, I’ll look to see if there are any ‘dogs in the house.  Yup, I’m predictable that way.

For those fans of the sport, you’ll know that Canada lost one of its top professional teams to the Americans.  The glorious  Montreal Expos franchise that gave birth to so many amazing players has relocated to Washington, DC.  The Nats as they are affectionately called are a fairly forgettable bunch, without a winning season in six years of their new existence.  I wondered when I came across this sports bar within this massive hotel facility, if it was tied to the franchise (I did see a logo on the front glass), given its name.  Its a little mixed, as I did see a lot of football paraphernalia adorning the room, including a pretty cool display case with helmets from all of the NFL clubs.  Looking for a quick bite to eat and to catch a glimpse of whatever sports game was on the gigantic screens that covered on side of the room, we were quickly seated by a slightly unenthusiastic hostess at one of the high tables in the middle of the floor.  A prompt order of some non-alcoholic beverages – since we were on the clock – and so began our lunch.

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Kongerang – Gyeongju, KOR


Kongerang
346-2 Ha-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
(054) 743-6282

After a morning spent outdoors in the sweltering summer heat taking in some live acrobatic performances and a long walk around the touristy Shilla Millenium Park, we headed back to the cooling comforts of our air conditioned car and sought out more places on my native host’s list of places to eat at.  A simple search in the auto’s GPS device turned up another location that was not too far away and so off we went.  Best known as a restaurant that specializes in dishes that contain beans (soybeans, peas, lentils, etc.), Kongerang was set just off the main road that passed by it.  It was situated in an older looking, traditionally-built Korean country home.

An ample parking lot was situated right on its parcel of land and it was full of cars!  A young man (who’s job I would never want) was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the road and as we approached, he came to our driver side window and explained their parking system.  Essentially, there were no open spots available now (and thus no unoccupied tables inside), but he was soon on his headset conversing with someone inside and gave us an estimated wait time of thirty minutes.  He allowed us to park on the shoulder of the street, and as one car left the lot, we were permitted to move the car onto the rocky stone-lined parkade.  This however did not mean our table was ready yet, but this place was prepared as they had a large tented (and air conditioned) area towards the back where other waiting patrons were patiently sitting.  Later on, a voice came out over the speaker inside noting our number and we then proceeded into the building housing the restaurant where our freshly set table was waiting.  A swift and efficient system!

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Chicken Delight – Burnaby, BC


Chicken Delight
7624 6th Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 521-2121

Another completely random, TOFTT kind of outing.  As I dug up the Urban Spoon reference for the address to be included in this posting, I was amused to see that someone had beaten me to this place – er, make that rather bewildered that somebody had actually decided on their own to have a meal here before my impromptu visit.  Surprise, surprise, it was none other than the adventurous author of I’m Only Here for the Food!

Chicken Delight only stood out as I drove by looking for a quick daytime bite to eat because of its gaudy, outdated colorful signage.  You know the kind, complete with windows plastered over in uncoordinated posters trumpeting various deals, combos and specials you can get inside.  A funny thing though, after I stepped inside (and became the only customer) I learned that one of the items on their posters wasn’t even available.  False advertising at its finest.  Its you can’t order it, take it down please.

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Japadog (Robson Store) – Vancouver, BC


Japadog (Robson Store)
530 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 569-1158

September 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Over the years, I can say I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve made it to the front of the line at a Japadog stand and ordered something to eat.  If I were to add the occasions when I saw a lineup and avoided it all together despite wanting a ‘dog and the instances when I’ve actually gotten into the queue only to give up part way through due to time (and my thorough disdain for standing in lineups), I would need all the digits on both hands and feet.  With this in mind, upon hearing that the minds behind this incredible food business success story began planning and finally were able to open the doors to their first non-cart venture, I was anxious to see what the setup would be, as well as the new menu offerings…

However, my trips to the downtown core and becoming few and far between of late, as I simply detest the traffic (the auto and human kind inclusive).  Perhaps its the slowly warming weather that’s making me testy when I have to dodge traffic on both the roads and sidewalks – as well as growing numbers of out-of-town tourists gawking at maps, suddenly stopping and pulling suitcases too if you ask me.  But in spite of these obstacles and mental anguish, I decided to bite the bullet and see if the storm of their launch had subsided somewhat, which would enable me to place and order and get my food and spend as little time as possible waiting as I could.  Choosing a sunny Saturday afternoon when other people had the same idea apparently, was what destroyed my dream of a quick in-and-out visit.

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Ristorante Avanti – Santa Cruz, CA


Ristorante Avanti
1711 Mission Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 427-0135

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

I recall that the brilliant food writer Jonathan Gold once wrote that he’s been to Campanile in Los Angeles hundreds of times.  When I read that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom such a concept.  But now the combination of steady employment and living in one place for a good chunk of time has conspired to generate a small handful of places that I’ve been to so many times and with which I have such a relationship that it’s less a business and more an annex of my own home.  One of them is Ristorante Avanti, owned and run by Cindy and Paul Geise for over twenty years and still going strong.

What leads me and the many other regulars to return so often? I suspect it’s the combination of well-executed food with a menu that has both dishes that I know will be available when I’m in need of something tried, true and delicious, and a rotating list of daily specials that ensures there’s always something new and exciting to try.

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Alvin Garden [Revisited] – Burnaby, BC


Alvin Garden
4850 Imperial Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 437-0828

Wow, its been over a year since gastro first introduced (it seems, to the world) this Hunan Chinese restaurant on the pages of foodosophy.  Much has been written about it since in the blogosphere, and it now has its share of fiery (to match the food) fans.  Pretty impressive for a place with a somewhat odd sounding English name, Alvin Garden.

Despite passing it numerous times since but never having solid plans to venture in with a group, I recently broke the barrier and visited as a solo lunch diner, just to get myself a small sample.  Well aware the experience in Chinese cuisine is best shared across many plates and with as large a party as possible in order to get a full range experience, I temper this report by saying that I only had one of their single plate, lunch specials.   As I looked around, there were just two other tables of two occupied this noon hour and from what I could tell, they were all doing the same kind of ordering.  With lunch deals in the seven to eight dollar zone, its not a bad idea.

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