Give thanks where it’s due

July 8, 2009

SpicytamarindlobsterRestaurant meals often bring surprises with them. Unfortunately, it’s usually a bad surprise that blemishes your mealtime; however, every once in a while you get a fantastically wonderful surprise when you dine out. We had that experience recently at a little restaurant in our neighbourhood called Sweet Basil.

To be honest, we went there by default since it was a Monday and our first choice Asian restaurant, Mi Ne Sushi, was closed. We’ve been to Sweet Basil dozens of times and while it’s usually good, it has never been phenomenal until our last visit when we ordered the special Spicy Tamarind Atlantic Lobster pictured above.

It was absolutely fantastic and, get this, only $32 for the same amount of lobster that would be sold for $50 (or more) at any Toronto steakhouse.

When’s the last time you had a wonderful restaurant food experience? Did you send your compliments back to the cooks in the back? If not, why not?

Restaurant reservations — kindly keep ’em!

May 8, 2009


Ahem, excuse me while I pull my soapbox over to the computer. Today, I am going to point out what, I hope for many of you, is the obvious: restaurant reservations are a commitment. When you make one, you’ve promised a business to bring a certain number of patrons to their door at a specific time. They, in turn, have promised to hold that table for your party no matter how many other people call asking for it.

It’s like buying a concert ticket – unless you sell your ticket to a scalper, the seat will be yours. The only difference at a restaurant is no one expects you to pay in advance. (I know that some restaurants expect a credit card number and charge for no-shows, but they are not the majority. If you are interested, you can read more about that here at Serious Eats).

So why, then, do so many people think it’s okay to call three or four restaurants and make reservations for the same time on the same night so that they can have their choice of places to go when the last minute arrives? Although I’ve heard maitre d’s say that the worst culprits are single men who make reservations at a range of popular restaurants so that they can impress their dates by offering to take them wherever they like, in my experience it’s women who make multiple reservations the most often.

Case in point: I have an acquaintance who likes to organize big nights out for a social circle. I’ve told her repeatedly why making multiple reservations for 6 or 8 people and then not showing up is disrespectful and financially harmful to restaurateurs but she just doesn’t seem to get it. In fact, she doesn’t even call the restaurants to cancel the booking once she and her friends have made their mind up about where to go. Blerg!

I know my readers are too sophisticated and considerate to do this kind of stuff so I ask you to pass this post around to anyone you hear of who doesn’t get that leaving a table empty for 30 minutes on a Friday or Saturday night while the maitre d’ waits for you is just as egregious as skipping a dentist’s appointment. If you can’t get there, then I think you should call within a reasonable cut off time (say three hours in advance).

What do you think?

Cosplay restaurants 101

July 15, 2008

Do you find Chuck E. Cheese and the Rainforest Café boring? Does Hooters fail to charge up your fantasy life? Is great food and good service just not enough to satisfy your appetite for adventure at meal time? If so, it might be time to make reservations at a cosplay restaurant.

Originating in Japan and then filtering through other Asian countries, cosplay restaurants are pop culture experiments as much as they are eateries. While mostly popular in Asian countries, cosplay restaurants are currently making inroads in the US and Canada. The most classic iteration of the trend is a Meido, where manga inspiration meets French maid costumes to create uniforms for waitresses who play their roles to the hilt. Don’t believe me? Check out imade café. (The picture above was borrowed from their website.)

Servitude not your thing? Check out these other cosplay restaurant concepts.

Indian: cutoff short clad waitresses wearing dream catcher earrings and head dresses serve Taiwanese food. This chain has outlets in Taipei and California.

DS Music Restaurant: the owners of this hospital themed Taipei eatery seem unaware that hospital food isn’t appealing to most people.

Class 302: a school themed restaurant with desks for tables and kilt wearing waitresses who serve food in lunch boxes. The menu is, of course, written on a chalk board.

Jurassic: just as the name suggests, this dinosaur themed restaurant looks like Wilma Flintstone went crazy with her credit card at the Bedrock Ethan Allen and then, too tired to cook, dropped into Ho Lee Chow for take out.

Weird restaurants

April 1, 2008

Toilet restaurant

About 15 years ago restaurateurs began to reconsider their role. Instead of being in the business of selling food, they realized that they could do well by providing customers a food experience. While this intellectual shift has been generally good for consumers – who doesn’t like nice décor, great service and thoughtfully prepared and presented food? – some entrepreneurs didn’t know when to stop. Today I share three such examples with you:

1. The most appealing of today’s trio is Belgium’s Dinner in the Sky, which elevates a group of 22 diners from a crane boom so that they can eat with a bird’s eye view of what ever monument or area they find fascinating. A second crane boom can elevate a pianist and a baby brand piano so that dinner is accompanied by more than airplane noise. Check out the pictures on their website. Words definitely don’t do this concept justice.

2. Marton is a Taiwanese restaurant concept that I just can’t understand. The décor – including serving dishes – is inspired by bathroom plumbing. The chairs are toilet shaped, the noodles come in little toilets and the tables are perched on bathtub bases. Just weird and wrong.

3. Penile cuisine is the concept at China’s Guo-li-zhuang Restaurant which Stefan Gates recently wrote about for the Times Online. He describes it as a “penis and testicle emporium that caters mainly to wealthy businessmen and Communist party officials.” (Fortunately I have been blessed in this lifetime by not falling into either category.) The real shocker is that I found articles about this eatery that date back more than 2 years – somehow this place is succeeding!

Hungry for more wacky restaurant concepts? Check out this article I found while doing research for this post.

Paris: a food lover’s paradise

March 4, 2008

FishDoes anyone know the name for the feeling that’s a combination of humility and envy? I need to know ‘cause I’ve been dealing with that unnamed emotion for a week. Last Tuesday I dialed into my RSS feeder to see what was going on in the many food blogs I enjoy reading. Turns out all the cool foodies are writing about their adventures in Paris:

Over at Orangette preparations are under way for a baguette-sampling trip to Paris while David Leibovitz (who I guess should be allowed to write about Paris given that he lives there) is talking about romantic Parisian restaurants. Then there’s Mark Bittman who goes through his archives to bring us the best of his Paris posts. Obviously, Paris is still the quintessential foodie travel destination in springtime.

Then there’s me. I saw the Eiffel tower the other day myself except it was this cheesy knock off and not the one located in actual France. Yeah, I know, I’m the classiest person you know and you really, really want to be my friend.

Despite the snark, I had some great French food experiences in Las Vegas. For instance, there was a great bistro dinner at Bouchon. This Thomas Keller satellite restaurant at the Venetian Hotel is a great place to nibble on silken foie gras terrine (if you go, share it as a starter –it’s huge) and to eat classically perfect trout almandine.

Martin and I also ate at Joel Robuchon’s eponymous restaurant that recently received 3 Michelin stars. Surely dining on the wares of a living French food icon makes me almost as cool as these transatlantic travelers?

Not convinced? Let me persuade you: dinner at Robuchon was a wonderful meal that I’ll always remember. The décor at Joel Robuchon is truly sumptuous: the massive chandelier that dominates the room is a crystalline feat of engineering while dark purple velvet banquettes, lavender silk curtains, black lacquer tables and white leather chairs furnish the room. I know it sounds like a brothel yet the room ends up being chic and elegant. Go figure.

Highlights of the lavish, $250 per person (yes, you read that price correctly and no, that amount didn’t include wine), six course meal we chose included the amuse bouche which featured avocado, fresh cheese and a tomato glee. Also wonderful was a hand-harvested, pan-seared Brittany sea scallop on a lobster sauce. Delish! Of course there were truffles thrown about lavishly (one course featured thinly sliced layers of black truffles used like nori to encase smoked eel and rice) but these two dishes had the most memorable flavours and textures.

Although the Arc du Triomphe I saw last was a miniature used as the entrance to a Vegas hotel breezeway, I suppose I shouldn’t feel jealous of these food writers who are enjoying Paris. After all, going to Paris right now would be like having my cake and eating it, too.

What’s the most memorable French food experiences you’ve had outside of France?

Note: Congratulations to Paul Villeneuve of Surrey, B.C., the winner of our Slow Cooker Mystery Word Contest. His entry was selected in a random draw and he correctly identified “jambalaya” as the mystery word to win a Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 slow cooker and a signed copy of Dana’s Top Ten Table. With almost 12, 000 entries received, thanks everyone who entered this contest and made it a great success.

Life-altering Italian soup

February 20, 2008

Guest Blogger Chef Sabrina FaloneItalyCiao tutti! My name is Sabrina Falone and I’m the test kitchen manager for Dana McCauley & Associates Ltd. I recently spoiled myself with a trip to Italy. I chose Italy because that’s where my family is from and I thought it only fitting to learn more about my culture before branching out into more exotic territories. I travelled all over the Central and Northern regions of Italy with a girlfriend and 40 other tourists for two weeks. I had a great time, but two weeks is not nearly enough time to truly appreciate Italy. It was ‘only a taste,’ our tour guide informed us at the beginning of the journey.The scenery was amazing and I met fantastic people. Both the art and architecture were literally breath-taking. (The Sistine Chapel can only be appreciated in person, so I won’t even try to express what it is like in words.)You must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the food yet. Are you thinking it’s because I’m saving the best for last? No, regrettably the food was actually very, very disappointing. Granted, it was the part of my trip I had the highest expectations for but I never dreamed I would come home with so few pleasurable flavour experiences.Let me explain before you think I’m just being a stereotypical cheffy snob. I did have some great food. The two gelatos a day I ate were always delicious; the pizza was always good, regardless of the type of crust or toppings. And I never had a bad cup of coffee, and the wine was some of the best I’ve had. I made a deal with myself before the trip: I would eat anything and everything I wanted while in Italy and deal with the repercussions when I got back; hence the two helpings of gelato each day. (It was in the name of research!)I did, however, endure grey mystery meat, tasteless tomato sauce, over-cooked pork and countless plates of disappointing pasta. I did, however, have a bowl of life-alerting soup. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating but it was damn good!It was served in the least likely of places. A very small, hideously decorated trattoria, tucked away on a sketchy side street in Venice that we chose simply because it was there and we were cold and hungry.The proprietress suggested a bowl of bean soup (zuppa di fagioli) that she said was very good. Keeping to my quest for good food, I took her at her word. The soup wasn’t much to look at. There was no thoughtful presentation, the bowls were far from designer and, truthfully, the colour was a bit concerning. But the aroma made up for these lackings; the delicious aroma would have been enough to knock us over if we’d been standing.Without saying a word, we picked up our spoons and dove in. We were, by this point, all so disappointed by the food in Italy that we didn’t trust our first impressions. After a second taste, it was unanimous — the soup was delicious!Creamy, hearty and earthy. The tender, slow-cooked beans floated in a pureed fine-quality chicken broth with deep herbal notes. You just knew this was a recipe that had been in the maker’s family for generations. I wanted so badly to quiz her about the flavours and techniques but between her broken English and my limited Italian there wasn’t much opportunity to swap recipes.It’s been three months since I returned home from Italy and I can still taste that soup in my flavour memory. Unfortunately, my several attempts haven’t been able to duplicate that wonderful soup. That said, I’m confident that I will eventually crack the recipe and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.[Dana’s note: Take heart, Sabrina! You’ll get this recipe dilemma solved. Just look at Luisa at Wednesday Chef. She finally solved her foccacia puzzle.]