Phillips Seafood (Flagship) – Washington, DC


Phillips Seafood (Flagship)
900 Water Street SW
Washington, DC
(202) 488-8515
Monday–Thursday & Sunday, 11am–9pm
Friday & Saturday, 11am – 10pm
Weekend Brunch, 11am – 2:30pm

Overlooking the Washington Channel on the Southwest Waterfront, Phillips Seafood (Flagship) is reputed to be the only all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in Washington DC.  A large buffet of fresh seafood selections, as well other cooked and dessert specialties, make up an glutton friendly display.  A traditional a la carte menu is also available.  For those coming by car, you can swing below to an underground parking garage (complete with a man standing by the payment machine to help speed up the process at dinner time when the line can get long).  Its a pure tourist destination however, so be warned…

The choice for this massive group dinner was left to someone who’s been here before and thought the simple venue and dining style would be conducive to our party – filled with a bunch of big strapping fellows associated with a certain active military outfit and accustomed to big eating of the seafood variety (as they are based on the west coast).  I wasn’t particularly thrilled but decided to chalk it up to one of those unfortunate outings when one’s interest in eating well (and perhaps in more moderate quantities) was thrown to the wayside in the greater interests of group harmony and wasting time arguing about where to eat.  I guess I can be accommodating to a fault.

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Sandbar – Vancouver, BC


Sandbar Seafood Restaurant
1535 Johnston Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 669-9030

Much like an undercover agent infiltrating a tightly closed society, there are times when I deliberately jump right into the most touristy spots I can think of to try and get a sense of what drives non-locals to visit such eating establishments.  More often than not, these kind of places are always touted and raved about by the native city’s mainstream media and publications, that surprisingly have far reaching audiences.  Chalk it up to the incredibly connected and digital world we live in.  In the past twelve years,  I’ve had the pleasure of setting up a home base in four major cities now and in each one, I’ve conducted a similar exercise just for fun.  Here in Vancouver, The Sandbar rated high on my list of tourist traps.

However this time, I had some out of town visitors in tow with me as I guided them around the markets at Granville Island and rather than bother with making a long stroll back to the vehicle we came in, I popped inside up and up the stairs to see if we could get a table on short notice.  Being that it was a beautiful summer day, I had my doubts we could get one on the outdoor patio and that ended up being the case.  Instead we were seated just inside, but the view of the water below was pretty much obscured.  For visitors, provided you get a good stroll around the Island ahead of dinner, I think you can pretty much picture the view you could have if seated on the rail on the patio.

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Cioppino’s – San Francisco, CA


Cioppino’s
400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-9311

Big groups require big spaces to eat.  Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran.  With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal.  This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more.  It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.

Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine.  I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location.  But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention.  There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them.  Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation.  A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.

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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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Fog Harbor Fish House – San Francisco, CA


Fog Harbor Fish House
Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39
San Francisco, CA
(415) 421-2442

Not exactly high on my personal “bucket list” but I nonchalantly accepted the invitation from two of my fellow travelers – both first timers to Fog City – to go check out the Golden Gate Bridge after a long day and make the trek over it by foot.  I had no problem with the physical act of crossing, that perhaps took us 30-40 minutes, give or take some for various stops along the way to take photos.  Though we’d only intended to do this one-way, but without any taxi options on the other side, we reluctantly made a U-turn and made the same walk over back to where we came from.  By the end of it all, we pretty hungry and luckily flagged down a ride to take us to Pier 39.

As the fall chill at night on the waterfront is none too pleasant, we quickly scurried to the nearest spot we could find that looked remotely decent.  Our choice was made simply by scanning the signage in our line of sight.  Fog Harbor Fish House, situated on the second deck of the structure not far from where our taxi dropped us off it was.  No wait to be had, good.  Inside was bustling however, and seemingly with people mainly much older than us.  Especially in the back of the house near the restrooms, there were packs of people with white colored hair and fitting the retired tourist demographic.  What made this very interesting was the fact that our server was also in that plus-sixty age zone.  One of my dining partners remarked, “guess we’re getting served by grandma”.  It was cute watching her waddle down the row to bring us our drinks and warm, fresh serving of sourdough bread, it made us feel like we were in grandma’s house. 🙂

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Fore Street – Portland, ME


Fore Street
288 Fore St
Portland, ME 04101-4109
(207) 775-2717

The wave of public opinion is an interesting thing. You see it all the time, especially on public forums and boards like chowhound or egullet. Someone posts about a new restaurant – usually it’s very positive, and people get excited. They want to go and experience it for themselves. They all go in a flood, and validate what the original poster stated. “Nice service, great command of ingredients and technique, wonderful meal”. More people visit, and more people enjoy.

After some time, a few negative reviews come up. Natural, since it is hard for any restaurant to maintain their game day in and day out. But with the really popular restaurants, you start to get this negative backlash. A push. The term “overrated” is thrown around a lot. People go in with very high expectations, and come out disappointed. More pushback. More negative reviews.

Has the quality at the restaurant changed that much? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. I’ve been to some universally lauded restaurants that I didn’t like for one reason or another. I’ve been to some restaurants that have been criticized heavily, and found it to be very enjoyable. It’s why I always reiterate to people to “taste what’s in front of you.” Think about what you’re having, and actually taste it. Don’t assume that what I had tastes the same when you have it. Don’t automatically assume something will be good, or bad. Having an open mind is the most important thing when trying to qualify a dining experience.

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Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar – Vancouver, BC


Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton St (Yaletown)
Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4
(604) 688-8078

I wanted to like Blue Water. I really did. The Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar, from all appearances, was everything i wanted to like. They are in a nice space that isnt too pretentious and has a lot of energy. They serve environmentally sustainable seafood. The service was immaculate. Decent wine program. They even recognize the Japanese approach to seafood, and brought in Itamae Yoshihiro formerly of Yoshi’s on Denman to serve two very different styles of West Coast seafood. I really wanted to love it, and yet, i didnt.

Upon walking into Blue Water, we were immediately greeted by a friendly hostess. We had showed up early so we could have a seat at the bar, and take it all in.  Our bartender was busy – prepping drinks for tables, and other bar patrons, but took the time to let us know he’d be right with us. Through the course of our time there, he was friendly, efficient, helpful, and engaging.

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Besides the really tasty (and free) bread sticks that are available at the bar, we wanted to sample some oysters. While we were handed an oyster menu with 12 or 14 choices, listed, they typically only bring in 6 to ensure maximum freshness. We sampled these extensively, and while not all were to our tastes, they were all very fresh. We did find a couple that we loved, and ordered several more of those!

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Won Jo BBQ and Noodle Restaurant – Coquitlam, BC


Won Jo BBQ and Noodle Restaurant
105-508 Clark Road
Coquitlam, BC
(604) 931-1004

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The chill is definitely in the air in the Lower Mainland now after our fantastic summer.  Perfect time to switch my focus onto hot stews, soups and hearty, filling meals.  Thankfully, Korean cuisine has many choices when it comes to dishes like this…

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Empanada Hut – Richmond, BC


Empanada Hut
#1065 – 5300 No. 3 Rd
Richmond, BC
(604) 273-9130

After my eye-opening experience in Calgary having some excellent empanadas at Empanada Queen in Pizza Roma with foodosopher, I was in a desperate hunt to try and find something similar back in Vancouver.  My initial search led me to Empanada Hut, located in one of my least favorite areas in the Lower Mainland (aka “Ditchmond”) and to bring me down even further, inside a dreary looking shopping mall.  To show how anxious I was, I braved the rush hour traffic with some of the city’s worst and unskilled drivers that make Richmond notorious, and even drove down the brutal No. 3 road to find this place.

Upon locating the establishment within the food court, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a dreadful mistake.  First off all, the poor older woman hidden in the kitchen seemed to be stressed out, washing some pots and pans.  I was finally able to grab her attention and ask her how her day was.  She replied “very busy”, as it seemed she had recently lost another woman who worked there, and now it was all on her to keep the place running.  I felt sorry for her.

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Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant – Burnaby, BC


Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant
6408 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 432-9342

This stretch of Kingsway has several Korean restaurants in relatively close proximity.  Bada E-Yagi is one of them.  The ample parking lot right next door perhaps aids in drawing visitors to come inside.  I’d also remembered seeing it when I was in the area last year visiting Posh…

Arriving for an early afternoon weekday lunch, the place had a few other customers, a mix of both Korean speakers and non.  Immediately inside the front door, I noticed a large refrigeration unit, presumably they also sell food items to customers who are interested.  I neglected to take a real close look inside, so cannot comment on just what things they were selling.

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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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Todai Restaurant – Honolulu, HI


Todai Restaurant
1910 Ala Moana Blvd # 5
Honolulu, HI
Tel: (808) 947-1000

I debated even bothering with this particular post since it was such a disappointment in terms of both the food and service, but in the interests of not only writing about those places I’ve enjoyed and the incredibly bizarre episode in just getting seated, I thought I should mix in the bad when it does happen…

Out of shear desperation and fatigue after searching with inaccurate information for a seafood restaurant apparently in the same general area, our group stumbled upon the bright lights of Todai.   Having resigned to the fact we would not find what we were looking for, we approached the entrance of this restaurant.  Todai, whenever I hear this word, I immediately associate it with Tokyo University, as that’s its popular shorthand name.  We even joked, heck, maybe the cafeteria at that storied institution was so good, they’d gone the franchise route. 🙂

With about an hour before closing, several diners were making their way to the cash register at the main entrance.  I ducked in and nabbed one of the servers and asked for a table for four.  She said to wait outside for a five minutes, which I obliged, given the apparent rush at the counter of departing customers.

Five minutes soon passed and became ten.  I had enough and stepped back inside and stood face-to-face with the same server I had initially interacted with.  She looked right at me and asked how she could help me.  Clearly this blonde haired, Swedish-accented English speaking girl (you can catch a glimpse of her in the above picture) did not recognize me at all.  So I reiterated that we had spoken just a few minutes before and she’d asked us to wait.

No apology given, she grabbed some menus and led us to some tables and offered us the choice.  As one of them had yet to be cleared from previous diners, we took the obvious clean one.  As we settled into scanning the menus, some others came to clear the other table away, at which point Ms. Genius came back and asked if we wanted the other table now, despite us not having given any indication that we wanted that particular table.  A shake of the head, more so in my disbelief and she was gone never to be seen near our table again, much to our relief.

I’ve heard of poor service due to labor shortages, but this was ridiculous.

Todai is all about the buffet.  An extensive one yes, featuring various seafood and cooked items, as well as desserts.  The place is massive with each food section located in different parts of the restaurant.  Some are staffed by people creating the items (e.g. sushi) but you have no direct interaction with them, and most are self-service (e.g. take as much of whatever you like).

The nigiri, if you can call it that, was absolutely tiny.  I am not sure if the image above gives the full indication of just how small each piece was.  I’ve read more than a few reviews on other sites and comment boards that people enjoy the sushi here, and all I can say is that they have no clue what they are talking about.

The main exception to this rule was the snow crab legs.  Here, a lady behind the glass barrier would give you one set of legs (3 pieces).  Not wanting to keep going back and forth from my table a good 40 feet away, I asked her to give me more.  Reluctantly she did, but I knew not to press my luck by doing it again.  Instead, other members of our group went up there to her and got as many as she was willing to dish out, for the benefit of our table.

Again, not top quality by any means as there was more dead air space in the shell than actual meat, but I’d say it was the only half decent food item in the whole place, and I ended up eating only these.

I can’t begin to describe the wretched mess of cooked items.  Dried out, overcooked shrimp, mushy grilled veggies, and bland tasting noodle concoctions were some of the big lowlights.

A place like Todai just reinforced the stereotype of quantity-over-quality preferring Americans.  So it did not surprise me to learn that this chain originated in California, but was shocked to learn that it had made its way into more food conscious locales such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul.   For about USD30 per person, I can away thinking I got majorly ripped off.

Todai on Urbanspoon

Sakanaya – Shimoda, JP


Sakanaya
Bay Station 1F
1-1 Gaikaoka, Shimoda City
Shizuoka, Japan
+81 0558 23 0358

Having lived in various places when it comes to closer to home (Canada), please have often asked me which I prefer among my two latest stops… the coastal environment of Vancouver with its proximity to the ocean, or the majestic mountains that are a short drive away from a place like Calgary.  Put simply, am I a ‘water’ guy or a ‘land’ guy?

In response I’m apt to say, that as much as I enjoy outdoor hiking and think the Rockies are one of the most amazing natural surroundings any place on the planet, there is something about the beauty and calming sensation that comes with strolling along a beach with the waves crashing against the shoreline and the distinct scent of sea water that permeates the air.  Perhaps its also the Pisces in me, but that draw to the ocean always beckons me when I travel.  So whenever I come across a harbour with various boats as well as larger ocean liners, I always imagine what it would be like to travel the seas on a daily basis or over long periods of time.  Shimoda City is one such place that struck my fancy with its quaint little waterside marina and the following is a report on a simple meal I had there.

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River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise – Bangkok, THA


River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise
195 Ratwiti Road
Bangkok, Thailand
+66 (0) 2883 1588

Just about everyone who’s read a book in their lifetime, knows the age old expression “when in Rome (do as the Romans do)“.  But who knew the Thai’s would be coming along for the ride… literally.

The Chao Phraya River, though not an impressive sight during the day, becomes this magical waterway lined with some of the most incredible ancient structures that are lit up with lights, thus providing a breathtaking view that differs from what you can see from land during daylight.

Led by a Finn of all people, along with folks from Indonesia, the UAE, China and other nations, I found myself in a large group being taken for an unexpected dinner cruise aboard a vessel docked at the River Side Bangkok Hotel.  The taxi ride to this older part of the city was a bit doggy, but I must admit that it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get me to go.  After many trips to Thailand, I was running out of new things to do, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, as well as get a free meal to boot!

As I alluded to in my opening, I truly expected this to be a complete tourist trap, but low and behold, the entire ship was packed with Thai couples, families and friends out for a weekday dinner.  No other foreigners, aside from our group, to be seen for the entire voyage.

Before our ship set sail, we discovered this uncovered beer garden near the dock.  With at least an hour before we were to board, this made for a great opportunity to get going with some refreshments, and nothing beats a few cold bottles of Singha after a long day of networking.

I could imagine that this is a popular spot a little later in the evening (we were only there around 5pm) for those who aren’t interested in paying for the trip down the river, but would just prefer to have their drinks and food in the comforts of this wide open space.  If I was working nearby, I could see this as being an almost daily stopover on my way home…

The River Side Luxury Cruise is a journey aboard a massive boat.  It easily holds a few hundred people, complete with two decks (the top uncovered), and a large dance hall on the main floor with live entertainment provided by the in-ship band.  With numerous servers floating about catering to all the diners, it makes for a chaotic environment which is coupled by the gentle swaying of the ship as it gets into the open waters of the river.  Thankfully, our waitresses quickly delivered the many bottles of beer, wine and spirits that our group requested.

Despite the pleasant start to our journey, there was a part of me that was still hesitant about the food.  Would it be any good?  After all, it is aboard a ship, which probably had to have a restricted cooking space and the limitations that go along with it in terms of putting out great food.

Now I haven’t posted all of the possible photos of the food that arrived, but our first dish of a vegetable Thai curry was a solid opening volley.  A rich, creamy texture with the requisite spicy kick that pervades the food of this culture, I was really pleased with whoever ordered this for our group. The battle over the steamed rice quickly ensued and we had to order more.

Of all of the places that I’ve visited around the world, Thailand has always struck out one of the fantastic places for fresh seafood.  Even aboard a river patrolling ship this held true, as these giant prawns were amazing!  With the delicate slightly salty scent that suggested they were recently plucked from the sea, each bite into the juicy meat was met with a satisfying grin.  They were also very easy to separate from the shell, so this made scarfing them down all the more pleasant.  I can’t even remember how many plates of this were ordered, but I surely raised my cholesterol level as a result of one too many.

The simplicity of a fresh steamed white fish always makes for a great meal in my books.  Coupled with the taste enhancing ingredients like fine sliced onions, mushrooms, ginger, cilantro, lemongrass and the distinct access of fish sauce, I can honestly say this was as good as I’ve had in other places across Thailand’s coastal regions.  The fall-of-the-bone meat was oh so satisfying.

Leaving the food angle, and as described earlier, there was some in-ship entertainment, comprised of a six person band that went through various songs, Thai and English.  They really only got going later in the night after all the dining was done, and people were really getting into it to my surprise.  The dance floor in front of the stage was packed with locals bouncing around to the beats.  Quite the bit of entertainment in and of itself, just watching the crowds rather than the band.

Lastly, I thought I’d close this review by showing you the “views” from the ship itself, that I took from one of the outer walkways.  Some of the most impressive wats in Thailand are along this river, including my personal favorite, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  I’d gone during the day earlier in the week and climbed up to the highest deck that you can.

As a result of my four hour journey on this dinner cruise ship, I learned that I should never let any preconcieved thoughts affect my expectations…especially when they involve food.  This was a great lesson in having an open mind.

Angel Seafoods – Vancouver, BC


Angel Seafoods
1345 Grant Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 2X7
(604) 254-2824

outside_angel

Whenever I have the hankering for homemade sushi and sashimi, I head on over to Angel Seafoods. Angel is located in an industrial zone between Clark Drive and Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. Sushi restaurants from all around Vancouver source much of their sashimi grade fish from Angel. I happen to live nearby so it is a regular stop for me.

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Angel is in an odd setting. It doesn’t look like a typical fish store. It is located in what looks more like a warehouse. Upon walking inside, you will encounter their working clerical office. It feels a little strange at first….it is as if someone grafted a grocery store onto an insurance company office.

freezer4_angel

Look to your left and you will find a long room of chest freezers containing a boggling assortment of Japanese seafood – sashimi grade fish, kasu (sake lees) marinated fish, roe, dried seafoods of all sorts. They also stock rice, and other sundries. At the front desk is a list of fresh items – often including oysters and fresh uni (sea urchin roe)…make sure to ask for what’s fresh in the back. It changes nearly daily.

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The prices are quite reasonable – definitely lower than at other sources of frozen sashimi like T&T, the Chinese supermarket and Fujiya, the Japanese grocery just down the road.  Today I picked up an assortment of fish for tomorrow night’s family sushi night. We are having Yellow Tail, Albacore, Salmon, and  Toro. This little haul set me back about $25CAD….not bad. I just need to make sure my knife is sharp.

the_haul_angel