Stone House Restaurant

When I was younger, I had a general rule that I did not eat anything that swam. This was obviously before I realised that many things can swim, but I was of the mindset that things that spent their time living in the water were simply not to be eaten. Thankfully that has all changed now that I’m older and I have grown to love eating all kinds of seafood.

While browsing through the local paper one day I saw an ad for the surf and turf buffet at the Stone House restaurant on Sundays. Having a craving for some good lobster and other shellfish, I made a mental note to try it out. My family was looking for a place to celebrate a birthday and I eagerly suggested Stone House and promised them all you can eat lobsters, shrimps and oysters. Lucky for me, my family loves seafood more than I do.

The buffet is the only option on Sundays and runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. We arrived around 6:30 p.m. and the front parking lot was so full we had to park behind the restaurant in the back lot. Thinking it would be extremely busy, we were surprised to find that the restaurant did not seem full when we walked in and were seated immediately in a cozy booth in the back.

Stone House is divided into three separate dining rooms from what I could gather. There is a bar to the right of the entrance with tables and booths, a full dining room to the left and down a corridor, and a dining room in the middle past the buffet stations. The whole restaurant is dimly lit with dark wood trim, large and cozy booths and white (Linen! Finally!) tablecloths on each of the long tables. For the buffet, there was a cold station just inside the entrance and across from the hostess booth, and the rest of the stations were set up in the middle of the restaurant.

The wine selection is fairly extensive, but reasonably priced. My family prefers red wine (whereas I can only drink white) so I chose a bottle of Malbec from Argentina ($30). I was told I made a fantastic choice and that it was one of the most popular bottles that the restaurant carried.

I cannot go on enough about how wonderful our server was. She was attentive without being overbearing, and ensured that we always had what we needed. In fact, all of the employees at the restaurant were excellent. The servers at the stations were helpful and friendly, and were encouraging to have you try the different foods. The servers at the tables were discrete but dutiful in making sure water glasses were filled and plates were cleared in a timely manner. 

The food selection does not seem large – partly because I have been spoiled by large chain buffet restaurants, and partly because there is not a large number of different dishes. However, what the Stone House lacks in quantity, they more than make up for in quality.

Served cold, there are fresh shrimp and freshly shucked oysters with a variety of condiments, including the house cocktail sauce – a spicy, tangy horseradish-laden tomato sauce that is a perfect companion to the sweetness of the seafood. Also at the cold table are fresh steamed crab legs that are served to you by an attending employee. Rounding out the cold table is a small offering of sushi that has crab and vegetables. Not the most authentic sushi I have had, but I was happy enough to eat other things instead.

There is a small salad bar that consisted of fresh Caesar salad with separate bowls of croutons and fresh, crisp bacon. Couscous salad with raisins, and a full smoked salmon were also some of the offerings. Though the salmon was fresh, some of the salads were soggy because of the amount of time they were set out on the table.

There are two soups: lobster bisque and seafood chowder. The chowder was creamy with plenty of vegetables and seafood, but the bisque was too salty for me to enjoy. The hot seafood consisted of mussels in a wine sauce with fresh diced tomatoes, and a lobster mac and cheese that although was creamy, had been sitting out too long and had begun to dry up. There were fresh lobsters, steamed in halves, with a cup of melted butter. The lobster was sweet and meaty, and cooked perfectly. Fresh baked mustard glazed ham and a delicious melt-in-your-mouth prime rib were carved to your liking. One of my favourite dishes was the barbeque beef ribs which were fall-off-the-bone and brushed with a tangy sauce. Other dishes include various starches such as potatoes, rice and pasta, or vegetables such as braised cabbage.

The dessert table had various coffee cakes and fruit, or warm apple crisp and bread pudding. The bread pudding was unfortunately baked too long and was dry with a slight burnt taste, but the apple crisp was full of fresh cut apples and a buttery, flaky crumble. There was also a tiered tray of mini tarts and mini cupcakes which were arranged very prettily. 

For $35 a person, I would highly recommend the seafood buffet at Stone House if you are a lover of fresh seafood. As mentioned, there were not a large number of dishes but they more than made up for it by making what few dishes they had high quality deliciousness. Being a buffet, you run the risk of having dishes that have been sitting out too long, but for the more popular dishes such as the lobster or the prime rib, they are constantly being replenished and you are pretty much guaranteed a fresh portion when you are ready. With excellent service and an endless supply of fresh lobster, I will happily go here on any Sunday and eat all sorts of things that swim.

Stone House Restaurant on Restaurantica
Stone House Restaurant
3106 South Service Rd., Burlington

Crema di Gelato

If I had a choice between sweet and savoury, I would always favour sweet. My sweet tooth is a force to be reckoned with once I get a craving. That being said, I tend to shy away from desserts that are overly sweet because I find they give me an instant headache. It’s a delicate balancing act to please my palette since my tastes are so specific and my tolerance level for sweet or salty is very exact.

While we were downtown, it was recommended that we try Crema di Gelato, a gourmet gelato shop that faces the lakeshore. Pleasantly surprised that it was still open even though it was November, we walked into the brightly lit store in search of a creamy, cool dessert.

The walls are stark white with white tables and chairs, with a few bright orange chairs randomly placed at the few tables. There is a display area that was half full with the varieties of fresh made gelato, and a display with pre-portioned desserts in a wide variety of flavours as well ($3.99 each). There are various choices of cones and waffle bowls, or if you just want a crunchy tease, there is a big bowl of wafers the size and shape of cookies near the cash register that are complimentary.

After a few sample tastes, we decided to try the Chocolate Peanut Butter and the White Chocolate Raspberry in small cups ($3.40 each). Crema di Gelato is cash only, so make sure you either hit the ATM next door or dig for change before you order.

The Chocolate Peanut Butter was a decadent and rich dark chocolate flavour with chunks of peanut butter swirled in. The White Chocolate Raspberry had fresh raspberries as well as a raspberry swirl in a creamy gelato with a very small hint of white chocolate flavour. Both were creamy and smooth and you could taste that they were made from fresh ingredients. The sign on the wall declares that the gelatos are made fresh daily, and it certainly tasted that way. Neither gelatos were overly sweet, but we preferred the lighter taste of the white chocolate over the richness of the chocolate peanut butter. Paired with the complimentary wafer that tasted like a fresh waffle cone, it made for an excellent late afternoon treat while walking around by the lake.

Crema di Gelato
1477 Lakeshore Rd., Burlington

Pepperwood Bistro

I’ve always been a fan of brunch because I like the idea of having breakfast food later in the day or having non-breakfast food first thing in the morning. I blame the rebellious side of me – the same side that will have dessert before dinner or cupcakes for breakfast.

So when the boyfriend and I decided to go for brunch with our good friend LJ, I was anticipating some gastronomic confusion to occur. Perhaps I would forego breakfast and dive directly into lunch foods, or maybe even skip it all and eat ice cream. The possibilities were endless, and my stomach was rumbling the whole ride over.

Pepperwood has been open for as long as I can remember. Facing the lake, it has a lovely patio in the summer that is always packed full every time I pass by. The decor inside is a mixture between old French Quarter New Orleans charm and a warm, quaint bistro. Eclectic art hang on the walls, framed by curtains haphazardly tied to simulate the look of windows. There are booths at the back corner with colourful throw pillows along the bench that add vibrant pops of colour. There is live music on weekends, and near the end of our meal there was a live jazz piano player near the front of the restaurant. The tables are dark wood and covered with white paper tablecloths (I’m seriously going to have to start buying stock in paper tablecloth companies. This is getting ridiculous.) with a stamp of the Pepperwood logo on each sheet.

What better way to celebrate the early afternoon hours of a Sunday than with glasses of wine? Wine by the glass is served in either five or eight ounces and ranged from $6 to $13 per glass. We each went with a variation of white and I was told the house white was particularly delicious. As for the menu, we tried asking what the Daily Catch and the Daily Features were but were told that neither were available because the chef hadn’t decided what they were yet. Confused? We were.

I had heard that the fries here were to die for, and managed to convince my eating companions to share in a start of Pepperwood Poutine ($9.95). The house fries are thin cut shoe string fries that are fried to a golden, crispy brown and sprinkled with a healthy dose of salt. Topped with dark ale gravy, cheese curds, shredded braised short ribs and chopped scallions, this dish is one of the best poutines I have had the pleasure of trying. The braised short ribs were tender and melted in your mouth. Coupled with the dark ale gravy, we all agreed the fries were actually on the salty side and I would recommend you ask that the fries be unsalted if you order this dish. The cheese was minimal, but what was on the dish was adequately melted to coat a few fries at a time. 

The half pizza and salad ($12.95) came with your choice of any of Pepperwood’s fresh pizzas and either a Caesar or a Bistro greens salad. The Caesar salad was nothing special and tasted like any other Caesar. The boyfriend chose the Brew House pizza: pepperoni, smoked bacon, roasted peppers and charred onions as his half, and was disappointed. Though the thick cut pepperoni was delicious, it was overshadowed by disappointing pizza dough that was cooked to a hard crisp and covered in a forgettable tomato sauce. He made the comment that he could have made a frozen pizza and had the same results rather than spending twice as much on half a pizza here.
My choice for the day was the Prime Rib Dip ($12.95) which came with a healthy portion of fries and a dill pickle. Caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and carved prime rib are piled onto a French baguette and served with a cup of au jus that tasted faintly of the gravy from the poutine we started with. The bread was fresh and crisp on one side and unfortunately soggy on the bottom. The caramelized onion was done beautifully and its sweetness complimented the sweetness of the cheese and saltiness of the meat perfectly. The prime rib itself was pretty average in my opinion. There was a fair amount on the bread, but the taste did not stand out as anything special. 

The best entree at the table was definitely the Crispy Salmon Salad ($18.95) which had a large (maybe five ounces) filet of salmon fried until the skin and outer edges were crispy but still stayed light and flaky on the inside. The mixed bitter greens were topped with sweet vinaigrette with fresh blackberries and chunks of feta. It was a delicious combination of texture and flavours, and made a great light choice.

A staple on the Burlington lakeshore for as many years as I can remember, Pepperwood serves okay food for okay-to-high prices. The service did not stand out as being either good or bad, but then again, neither did the food. Overall, Pepperwood Bistro is a pretty average restaurant, but it has a great patio in the summer if you want to be downtown.

Pepperwood Bistro on Restaurantica
Pepperwood Bistro on Urbanspoon
Pepperwood Bistro
1455 Lakeshore Rd., Burlington

Best Friend Chinese Restaurant

When I was younger, it was always a treat for us to venture off into Toronto and go to Chinatown. We would always make a day of it and start with a brunch at one of the many dim sum restaurants, some shopping, a lot of groceries and then an early dinner before heading home. Somewhere along the way, my parents discovered the Chinatown in Mississauga and we started going there instead. Albeit a smaller variety of stores and restaurants compared to Toronto, the distance was much shorter and we could always find what we needed closer to home.

While out and about running errands all day, we found ourselves close to the Mississauga Chinatown around dinner time. We decided that a Chinese meal was exactly what we needed after a long day driving here and there, and ended up at the Best Friend Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant itself looks like it was recently renovated with dark floors, dark tables and warm lighting. The tables are placed extremely close together in an effort to have as many seats as possible in the dining room. There are booths along the left wall and small tables along the right.

The restaurant was about half full when we walked in, but we were seated immediately and offered tea. Flipping through the menu, there is a large variety of dishes that range from traditional Chinese offerings such as congee, to common dishes such as fried rice and barbeque pork. There are also set menus for large groups of four to twenty.

In the mood for a lot of carbs, we chose the Beef Ho Fan ($8.99): stir-fried flat rice noodles with beef, bean sprouts and topped with chopped green onions. The portion size was large enough to feed both of us with plenty to spare. The dish had a smoky smell from cooking with high heat in a wok, and was very flavourful. The beef was tender and cut into large pieces the size of matchbooks, but the bean sprouts were few and far between. Although rice noodles can be greasy, the dish as a whole was fairly light and I would get it again.

Our second dish is one of my favourite things to get from a Chinese restaurant. Sometimes called Ying Yang rice, it consists of a bed of fried rice with two sauces on top: a cream sauce with shrimp and a sweet sauce with chicken. The vegetables in the dish can vary from peas to bok choy to onions and carrots. Best Friend listed the dish as Fried Rice with Chicken and Shrimp in Two Sauces ($10.95), and served the sauces with broccoli and onion cooked in. This is a very wet dish, and I only recommend it if you are not hesitant of a risotto-like texture for your fried rice. At this restaurant, the dish was a slight letdown. The white sauce was not as flavourful as I have had from other establishments and reminded me of a cornstarch and water mixture without much more seasoning. There were plenty of small shrimp and sliced broccoli stems cooked to a tender crisp. The red sauce reminded me of a muted “red” sauce you get from most Chinese restaurants to pour over chicken balls and other fried items. The boyfriend said the sauce reminded him of a watery barbeque sauce, which I could understand his reference as the only seasoning that I really tasted in it was black pepper. The rice was plain fried rice without anything added to it. I would probably pass on this dish again the next time I came back since there are so many other things I would like to try that I would likely enjoy more.

Near the end of our meal, there was a large group of about 25 people that came in and were seated at the large tables down the middle of the dining room. Since the tables are in such close proximity to each other, I, sitting with my back to the middle aisle was constantly being jostled as people walked by or settled into their seats. Thankfully we were just finishing up and quickly made our way out the door.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive Chinese meal that tastes decent and has extremely large portions, I would recommend you go to Best Friend Chinese Restaurant the next time you are passing by the Dixie/Dundas area.  I do recommend that if you are claustrophobic you ask to sit in a booth or you come early before the dinner rush. If you’re feeling sociable, you may even make a new friend with the person that is sitting very closely next to you!

The Best Friend Chinese Restaurant on Restaurantica
Best Friend Chinese on Urbanspoon
Best Friend Chinese Restaurant
888 Dundas St. E., Mississauga

The Olive Press

Coming home late from work on a cold night, I normally don’t feel like puttering around my kitchen and making an elaborate meal. These are usually the nights when I call home to the boyfriend and the roomie to see if either of them are feeling particularly adventurous to make dinner, or better yet, if anyone wants to go out for dinner. It’s always a small victory when I manage to convince both of them to go out for a dinner with me so I don’t have to cook.

This particular evening, we decided to go to the Olive Press because I have been numerous times before and the both of them wanted to try it. It’s usually fairly busy near the end of the week, with people parking along Dundas because there are no spots in the lot. The boyfriend called before we left and was told there was a 20 minute wait – not bad enough that we wanted to go somewhere else, so we all piled into the car for the short drive.

Once there, we were a little worried about the parking situation as there were cars parked along Dundas – usually an indication that the restaurant was going to be busy. However, we got into the parking lot and there were plenty of spaces and we lucked out with one close to the entrance. The restaurant is already decorated for the holidays, and there is a gorgeous trimmed tree right by the front door. The restaurant is softly lit with white, floating balls as light fixtures. Dark wood tables covered with strips of white paper (again, with the paper table covers. I don’t get it.) and dark wood floors create a warm, cozy atmosphere. Nostalgic music streams through the speakers softly enough to notice during a lull in conversation, but not too loud that you had to yell to be heard. We were seated right away by the hostess in a table that felt like it was in the middle of the walkway. I noticed that the restaurant was less than half full, and asked if we could be moved to one of the empty booths along the wall. We were told that the booths were kept empty for groups of four or more, and since we were only three, we had to stay where we were. I wasn’t overly happy with that since it was already past 8 p.m. and there were plenty of empty booths to choose from.

We were seated with our menus for what felt like an inappropriate length of time before we were acknowledged. A busboy came by and said although he wasn’t our server, he could take our drink order since our server was busy with a large group on the other side of the dining room. We gave him our drink orders (a Pepsi, a root beer and I ordered a Shirley Temple) and proceeded to continue waiting. Our server finally got to our table along with our drinks, and apologized that she had been busy with another table. Had we been approached when we sat down and given the explanation that our wait would be a bit longer, I wouldn’t have minded the slow service at the start. However, as it was not explained until long after we waited, I felt like we were neglected.

As we waited for our appetizer, a basket of fresh bread was brought to the table and olive oil and balsamic vinegar was poured onto a side plate for our dipping pleasure. The bread was warm and crispy on the outside with a soft middle. It made me wish there was more than one piece for each of us, since I’m pretty sure I could have eaten my weight in that bread alone.

Our appetizer came out next, and we had opted for the Three Cheese Bruschetta ($9.95). Four thick slices of rosemary focaccia topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, romano, mozzarella and feta cheese were baked until hot and crispy. The bread was amazing – the edges were crunchy but the middle was soft and fresh. The thick slices prevented it from becoming too soggy and everything held together well. The bruschetta itself was a slight letdown because it tasted like fresh diced tomato, but had no other distinguishing features to make it stand out as a bruschetta. The server mistakenly listed goat cheese as one of the three cheeses, and we were confused that there was no goat cheese taste. The portion was huge and was a good sharing option for the three of us.

The roomie was in the mood for pasta and ordered the Seafood Portofino ($21.95) as her entree. There were a handful of large black tiger shrimp a few scallops and seven mussels. The menu described the dish as having a white wine cream sauce coating linguini noodles, but it was disappointing and tasted similar to a bland alfredo. The dish was not very hot, which made the sauce thick and easily tiring. The roomie said that although it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t anything special either.

Parisian Chicken pizza ($16.95) was the boyfriend’s choice for the evening, and was easily the best dish out of everything we ordered. Roast chicken breast, chilis, spinach, bacon, mushrooms and cheese are layered on top of a parmesan sauce and a crispy, fresh baked crust. Though I could not taste the chilis, the combination of all of the other ingredients coupled with the creamy yet slightly tangy parmesan sauce made this one of my favourite pizzas ever. The portion size was healthy and even after sharing with the roomie and I, he still had to take some home.

Following the recommendation of the server, I decided to try one of the Olive Press’s new dishes, the Italian Braised Beef Ribs ($19.95): three beef ribs slow-roasted in a house barbeque sauce, served with roast potatoes and vegetables. The dish came out and looked impressive – these ribs looked like they should have belonged on a brontosaurus and I felt like Fred Flinstone when I was eating them. The dish itself did not taste as good as it looked. The vegetables were extremely overcooked and were a soft, mushy pile that I couldn’t eat more than a bite from. The roast potatoes were nicely seasoned and had a crispy skin and soft middle. The ribs themselves were the biggest disappointment of all – the house barbeque sauce was reminiscent of cheap grocery store sauce mixed with ketchup that was overly sweet but left no flavour.

Our server came by after we had started our meal and asked how our meals were, especially the ribs since she recommended them. I mentioned that they were “okay” and to her credit, she asked if there was anything else I would prefer instead. I didn’t want to be a bother, so I politely declined and said that I would be okay with finishing my meal. She came back at the end of our meal and said that we could have a dessert, compliments of the house because she felt bad that I didn’t like my ribs. We were very impressed by her genuine care, and we opted to share the Triple Fudge cake as our dessert.

The cake itself was unfortunately not a dessert I would try again. My general concern with chocolate cakes when I go out to a restaurant is my fear of it being too dry. The Olive Press unfortunately fell into this category. The thin cake is sandwiched between layers of chocolate and topped with a chocolate ganache. Though the dessert is not overly sweet, the cake was dry and the chocolate layers tasted almost like melted chocolate chips. As a whole, by far one of my least favourite chocolate cakes I have had in a restaurant.

Though our experience started off on a low note, the service we received picked up and was fantastic after we were finally acknowledged. The food had some strong high notes (the bruschetta and the pizza), some low notes (the chocolate cake and the vegetable medley) and the majority was average. The prices are reasonable for the portion sizes you are served, but the service and food seem to be inconsistent. I would go back simply because the service we did receive at the end was better than many restaurants I have been to, as well as for the Parisian Chicken pizza. If Santa could bring me that pizza, I would be one happy girl.

Olive Press on Restaurantica
Olive Press on Urbanspoon
The Olive Press
2322 Dundas St. W., Oakville

Recipe: Green Bean Casserole

One of my favourite things to do is search the web for recipes. Not necessarily to make anything, but I like reading and discovering new dishes. I also spend a lot of my time on various food blogs, wistfully scrolling through mouth-watering pictures of food. 

When I cook, I don’t normally use a recipe. My mother’s style of cooking involves pinches of this, dashes of that and tasting along the way – a habit that I have inherited now that I do my own cooking. It can be frustrating for some when I’m asked for a recipe since I really don’t know how to give units of measure when I throw something together.

Every now and then I come across a recipe that I’m curious about – either it sounds really delicious or I’ve never heard of it before and I want to try it. The latter was the case when it came to Green Bean Casserole. Before this week I had never heard of green bean casserole and had no idea such a dish existed. So, armed with a pile of green beans that were in desperate need of being used, and a recipe from Campbell’s which is apparently THE recipe for this dish, I attempted it for dinner the other night. 

The original recipe called for French fried onions, but it was rainy and cold outside and I really didn’t feel like running to the store. A quick online search for an alternative ingredient and I decided to try crushing potato chips over the top since many people suggested this made it even better. I also went ahead and sprinkled Italian seasoned breadcrumbs as well to give it extra flavour and crunch. I was worried that the dish would turn out bland so I grated sharp cheddar cheese into the dish as well as to top the crumb mixture. This turned out to be a great addition as it really held the soup to the beans.

Once baked, the casserole turned out pretty good. The beans stayed crispy and the crushed chips gave it extra flavour with the muted mushroom soup. The soup itself was still a bit runny for my liking, but it made a great sauce to be spooned on top once it was portioned out. I served it with panko crusted baked fish and some steamed rice, and it was an excellent vegetable side dish. The original recipe suggested that you could use canned beans to make this dish, but I would advise against it if you like some crunch to your vegetables. I feel like it would be too mushy along with the soup mixture, and would make for a very soft side dish. 

I liked the dish enough to add it to my repertoire of vegetable sides. It is a dish that is versatile to be paired with a variety of meats and starches, and was a great way to get the boyfriend to eat his vegetables!

Loosely adapted from the Campbell’s site, this is Neurotic Green Bean Casserole

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup (I used 98% Fat Free)
1/2 C milk (I used soy)
1 tsp soy sauce
4 C cooked cut green beans
1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Sprinkling of Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 C crushed regular potato chips
Ground black pepper to taste

1.       Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, beans and half the cheese in a 2 qt casserole dish.
2.       After prepping the beans, steam for approx. 3 minutes to start the cooking process but maintain crunch.
3.       Drain the beans and stir in soup mixture.
4.       Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until the bean mixture is hot and bubbling. 
5.       Stir the mixture.  Sprinkle with a layer of breadcrumbs, potato chips and the remaining cheese.
6.        Bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese has a bubbly crust.

Pho Mi 89

Having grown up in a fairly traditional Vietnamese household, I always find myself drawn to traditional Vietnamese food when I’m looking for comfort. Of course, with a cook as awesome as my mother (and who doesn’t say their mother is the best cook in the world?), I am picky with what I consider authentic Vietnamese.

Traditional beef noodle soup is a popular dish in Vietnamese cuisine. Pho (Please don't pronounce it "foe." The closest I can think of to explain it is by telling you to pronounce it “fuh.”) is a rice noodle soup in a beef broth, generally with sliced beef and onions on top. There is a multitude of Vietnamese restaurants in the Burlington-Oakville area, each with its own variety of dishes, but I judge whether or not I like a place on its pho. If I’m trying a new place, I will always order the hot, steamy bowls of noodle soup as my first meal; if it passes the test, then I will venture into other offerings.

It was cold and rainy yesterday so I told myself I wanted something hot and hearty. Soup. With noodles. And meat. Yum. I had been to 89 on countless occasions, so I knew exactly where I was going to get some heart-warming goodness. Plus, being swamped by meetings all day, I didn’t have much time on my hands and needed something quick that didn’t break the bank.

I pulled into the parking lot just after 1 p.m. and walked inside where the dining room was about 50 percent full. There were only two servers working outside the kitchen, and between the two of them they managed to take orders, serve, clean tables and man the cash quickly and efficiently.

Typical Vietnamese restaurants leave menus on the table for customers, along with a pen and a blank order form. Menu items are numbered and you are expected to write the number of your dish on the form, along with the quantity. It is a quick ordering system that saves the servers time instead of waiting for you to tell them what you want. Knowing what I wanted, I didn’t need to fill in a form and just asked the server for a small bowl of pho with everything in it (Pho Dac Biet, $5). By the time I had taken my jacket off and settled into my chair, my food had arrived. A hot cup of complimentary tea is always given, along with fresh vegetables to add to the soup.

With pho, you don’t want to see a broth that is murky with a lot of fat sitting on top. This broth was clear and flavourful, the noodles did not stick together in a clump (a huge pet peeve of mine) and the sliced white onions and scallions on top were nice and fresh. Since I ordered the Dac Biet, there was a plethora of meat on top of the noodles: well-done beef, medium-cooked beef, beef tripe, beef tendon and a single beef meatball. If all that sounds like it would make you hesitant, there are choices that include chicken or even no meat at all, though it is still cooked with beef broth, so it is not a vegetarian option.

The vegetables that should accompany a bowl of pho are fresh bean sprouts, sprigs of basil and a wedge of lime. I prefer my pho with a squirt of the lime, lots of hoisin sauce to give it some sweetness, and lots of hot sauce. The basil leaves are plucked off to soak in the bowl as you eat them with the noodles, and I generally don’t add bean sprouts because I find it cools the broth down too much, and I like it steaming hot.

Pho Mi 89 is a great option if you are looking for a quick, inexpensive meal and don’t want your standard fast-food junk. I feel better with an option such as this since there are vegetables and other fresh things and nothing is fried. For a meal that costs less than most burger combos, is satisfying and will leave you full without spending your whole pay, it is a choice you should absolutely consider. The service is quick (I was in and out in 20 minutes) and the food is comforting. Just be prepared to smell like Vietnamese food for the rest of the day, because that soup smell certainly knows how to permeate your clothes.

Pho Mi 89 on Urbanspoon
Pho Mi 89
2501 Prince Michael Dr., Oakville

Alice Fazooli's Oakville

Alice Fazooli’s is one of those casual restaurants that make you feel like you’re having a fancy meal without having to pay the fancy price. I like to think of it as a step up from East Side Mario’s or other Italian chain restaurants. Since it’s a bit nicer inside than some other places, you’ll often find business lunches happening in the middle of the day.

Which is exactly why I was there today. It can get pretty busy around lunch time, so we made sure we had a noon reservation for our party of seven. The building itself is pretty, with dark hardwood floors and dim lighting inside. There are tall shelves filled with wine bottles that give it a classy style. But detracting from the atmosphere are long sheets of white paper covering the tables in a makeshift tablecloths. Surely a restaurant that is trying to be a little more upscale doesn’t need to use paper table coverings? I felt like there should have been cups of crayons on the tables for us to doodle with while we waited for our food.

The service was attentive without being overwhelming, and the actual waiting time for food and drinks was short. While we waited, our server brought out a basket of warmed focaccia and a duo of dipping choices: an olive oil with herbs or room temperature marinara sauce. I preferred the oil since I found the marinara tasted like crushed tomatoes without flavouring and I am not generally a tomato fan.

There were a few featured dishes for the day, but I opted for the Goat Cheese Portobello Mushroom Panini ($12.95) off the regular menu and upgraded my side dish to the Arugula and Spinach Salad. The salad was fresh and fantastic. Fresh arugula tossed with crispy spinach leaves are topped with grilled red peppers, yellow zucchini, thin-sliced red onions, spicy caramelized pecans, red onions and wedges of mandarin orange. I asked for the sweet onion vinaigrette on the side, and the whole salad was sprinkled with black and yellow sesame seeds. Not only did the salad look gorgeous and fresh, but the flavours all blended perfectly together. The bitterness of the arugula was countered by the sweet and juicy mandarin oranges. The fresh roasted peppers and zucchini were soft but paired with the crunch of the pecans, they made a texture combination that was out of this world. The sweet onion vinaigrette was sweet and tangy without overpowering the other flavours in the salad. A perfect combination of ingredients and presentation that I would absolutely get again – probably in an entree size next time.

Sadly, my lunch went downhill from there. The panini came out in two very large triangular wedges with beautiful grill marks on the crispy bread, and I could see the goat cheese oozing from the sides with slices of portobello mushroom peeking out from its gooey blanket. I was excited to try the sandwich because a green-olive tapenade mixed with asparagus, provolone, portobello mushroom and goat cheese sounded like it should have created a taste explosion upon first bite. Unfortunately, the description sounded much better than the actual dish tasted. The premise was fantastic and the ingredients should have made a great sandwich, but the execution was poorly handled. There was so much goat cheese and olive tapenade that all of the other flavours disappeared. Everything was overwhelmed by the smell and taste of green olives, which made the whole sandwich too salty for my taste. I opened the panini up to look at the contents and was disappointed to see that there was only one asparagus spear and a few thin slices of portobello mushroom in each half. No wonder the flavours of the goat cheese and tapenade were so strong – there was very little else there to compete with it. I’m not sure I even found provolone on the sandwich, but if it was there it was too melted and hard to pick out.

My own lunch aside, my companions all seemed to enjoy their meals and were happy with their choices. Alice Fazooli’s is a good option when you’re going out for lunch in the middle of the day and you want to relax for a bit and enjoy your meal without the hustle and bustle of a fast-food place. The service is not rushed, but you’re not left waiting endlessly for your meal either. It’s a fine balance which this restaurant seems to have mastered. It just needs to decide whether it’s going to be a casual restaurant or a more upscale one.
Alice Fazooli's Italian Crab Shack on Restaurantica
Alice Fazooli's on Urbanspoon
Alice Fazooli’s Oakville
2015 Winston Park Dr., Oakville

JT Pluckers Wing & Crab Shack

Edit 06/28/11: I have a new review of Pluckers Wing & Crab Shack - the new location of the same restaurant in West Burlington. This time with pictures!
I like to consider myself somewhat of a wing snob. I’m picky with my wings, and have certain criteria that need to be met before I can consider a wing to have passed the test. I have tried wings from many different places – from fine dining and fast food to frozen and homemade. I of course feel like I deserve a Wing Connoisseur title because of this. Maybe I should start adding that to my business cards. Or not.

Located in a strip plaza on a busy corner, the lit-up palm tree outside JT Pluckers beckoned to my boyfriend and me. The chalkboard outside sealed the deal: Two-for-One Wing Night on Tuesdays? Done. I had wings on the brain, and there was no stopping me now.

The atmosphere was fairly typical of bars and casual food places. There is a bar directly to your left from the doors and a small dining roo

m with a handful of booths and tables. The TVs were tuned to everything from hockey to soccer, and there was even a digital jukebox along the wall if you didn’t like the music. In the centre of the ceiling in the dining room was an airplane made to look like it had crashed through the roof while being piloted by a giant chicken. Kitschy, yes, but it caught my eye and made me smirk.

We settled into a booth and our server brought us menus and took our drink order. To order the wing special you must eat in the restaurant and have a beverage – standard rules for these types of deals. We opted for 7Ups (only Pepsi products here) and started looking through the menu. It isn’t extensive, but there are a few sections and items that I certainly don’t consider typical bar food. There are plenty of items that satisfy the Crab Shack portion of the restaurant name: Crab cakes, seafood boils and an interesting surf-and-turf burger with Alaskan crab. Definitely something I want to try the next time I’m back – their menu declares they have the “Best Burger” and I feel it’s my duty to put this title to the test.

This visit, however, was all about the chicken wings. First place winners at the Hamilton Waterfront Wing Festival, Pluckers prides themselves on their unique wing sauces.  Although I’m not one of those people who can just eat chicken wings – I need something else with them or I get bored with my meal. Knowing this, we decided to order the Crab Shack Seafood Platter ($10.99) to get a taste of the seafood, and the white-wine sauce sounded too good not to try. Pluckers has a decent variety of sauces and each month there is a featured one.  November’s is Hot Italian: a marinara sauce with a bit of heat and some Parmesan. Our server suggested the featured sauce wasn’t as tasty as the regular offerings, and we ended up choosing one order of Garlic Parmesan wings and one order of Pluckers Signature wings ($10.99 for both with the deal). 

Although there were only about a dozen customers, the wait was a bit on the long side. We had asked for all the food to come out together, and they eventually made their way to our table. In retrospect, I wish we had asked for the seafood platter to come out quicker to stave off the hunger pangs I was experiencing. The seafood platter is served in a large cast iron skillet directly from the oven. Mussels, shrimp, scallops, red potatoes and diced onion are simmered in garlic butter, lemon and white wine and served with slices of baguette and a small cup of coleslaw. The bread wasn’t anything special, and I think it would taste better if it was lightly toasted or at least warmed up. The coleslaw was tossed in a light, creamy sauce – a good mixture between a heavy sauce and a vinaigrette. I actually enjoyed it, and found that it was a good accompaniment to the seafood sauce. The seafood was unfortunately overcooked to the point where everything was a bit rubbery, but there was a decent amount in the skillet. Six mussels, four or five small scallops and six medium-sized shrimp filled the dish. There was such amazing potential because the sauce was to die for. Perfectly seasoned with the flavour of the sweet onions cooked in, I could have put it into a bowl and called it soup. We actually asked for more bread to soak more of it up, it was that good. 

The wings themselves looked appetizing. The sizes are average – not so large and coated in batter you can’t find the meat, but not so small you feel like you’re eating a nugget. We got our wings with a very thin breading that was light and crispy. The wings did not dry out in the fryer, and the meat was moist and tender. There were about eight wings in each order – which are on the expensive side if you’re comparing wing size and quantity to price on a non-deal night. There are plenty of other places in town that give you the same number of bigger wings for the same price or less.

The Garlic Parmesan wings were also disappointing. A semi-dry wing tossed in garlic butter and sprinkled with Parmesan sounded like it was going to be a good choice, but it was a huge letdown. The garlic butter wasn’t strong enough to coat the wing, so although there were hints of the flavour, it was too subtle to pick out unless you knew to look for it. The Parmesan was the powdered kind you can buy in any grocery store and added a strange, almost bitter taste to the wing. It would have been much better with grated fresh Parmesan rather than the processed powder that was used.

The Signature wings were the best things we ordered. The sauce is a mixture of a sweet barbecue and hints of Cajun with a mild heat. The wings were coated nicely but not too saucy that they overpowered the meat. The boyfriend declared it to be his favourite house sauce in any wing place he’s tried. I, being more discerning, say it’s up there but I’m not sure if I would say it’s the best.

Overall, the food was decent though the service was slow. It is a good, casual place to go to if you want to hang out with friends and watch some sports on TV. There is a decent variety of options on the menu for everyone, and the wings are pretty good. However, this is a place I’d probably only go to on nights when they have their specials, to get more bang for my buck. I hear they have a burger special on Wednesdays... 

JT Pluckers Hangar and Bar on Restaurantica
JT Pluckers Wing and Crab Shack
1900 Walkers Line, Burlington

Cupid's Gourmet Cupcakes

Cupcakes have been the sweet world’s “it” thing for the past couple of years. Stealing the limelight from cakes and cookies, these little treats have been taking the world by storm. In Burlington alone I know of at least four bakeries that specialize in cupcakes in a variety of flavours that put vanilla and chocolate to shame.

I admit that I too have fallen under the spell of these mini delights. I love the idea of small food and I love to bake, so it really is a match made in heaven. My cookbook shelf consists of 90 percent cupcake books, my drawers and cupboards are bursting with cupcake pans, liners, materials... the list goes on. It is more than safe to say that I know my way around a cupcake.

So when I heard that a gourmet cupcake store was opening close to my work, I had to try. I had known of Cupid’s for a few months and I’m pretty sure I’d tried the majority of their flavours since discovering their store. There is a handy chart that is posted on the website to tell you what kinds are fresh baked each day, including a surprise daily Chef’s Choice. The storefront itself is small, brightly lit and simple. A small counter displays the day’s cupcakes neatly on cake stands. All flavours that are offered are available in normal size, or cute little mini cupcakes that are about two bites apiece. The open view to the kitchen usually shows bakers working as one or two people man the cash. If you follow them on Twitter, you’ll see the Chef’s Choice is sometimes posted, but not always.

Today’s Chef’s Choice caught my eye because it sounded both cute and delicious: Banana Split cupcakes are chocolate cake with a fresh banana wedge hidden inside, strawberry-and-banana swirled frosting, butterscotch drizzle and a maraschino cherry on top. I got a mini cupcake because I was curious how the banana wedge inside held up during the baking process.

Now I'm going to try something new - I took pictures with my camera phone, so please excuse the quality.

This is a pretty darn cute cupcake. The frosting is a soft pink on one side and a creamy yellow on the other, done with a seamless piping job. The caramel drizzle sits comfortably in the icing ridges, and the cherry is nestled in the frosting like it is being hugged by sugary, delicious arms. First bite in, and the chocolate cake is moist without being too sweet. Though the chocolate colour is dark, the actual chocolate flavour is light and not very chocolatey. The frosting is fantastic: the strawberry flavour is strong and you can tell that it’s not that artificial flavouring you find in processed snacks. The banana side of the frosting smells like bananas but tastes of a soft buttercream. Both flavours complement the cake well, and the drizzle of caramel is just enough to soften the frosting with its gooeyness.
See the tiny speck of white under the cherry? That's the banana. The banana wedge was so small that it was sadly overshadowed by the maraschino cherry. A tiny slice of banana sits just under the cherry at the top of the cupcake and didn’t have much of an impact on the taste overall. Perhaps it is better in the large cupcake, but it could have been left out of this one and wouldn’t have made much difference.

Cupid’s is a cute little bakery in a time when cupcake places are popping up everywhere. The cupcakes are light and not too sweet, and you can taste the freshness of each flavour. Cupid’s is a nut-free facility, which is always a good alternative if you have allergies. Of all the daily offerings, my favourites are the Bananas for Butterscotch and the Pucker Up. I highly recommend you check their Twitter account or, if you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by to see what the Chef’s Choice is for the day. I have been lucky and found many flavours that I have fallen in love with through the Chef’s Choice, and am waiting not-so-patiently for them to come back (Merry Berry, please!).

Cupid’s Gourmet Cupcakes
1011 Upper Middle Rd. E., Oakville!/Cupidscupcakes

simplyrice - Organic Brown Rice Crisps

Me: We have nothing to eat!
Person X: What do you feel like?
Me: I don’t know. Something... crunchy?
Person X: ...

I’ve got an unnatural addiction to crunchy foods.  When I crave something, it’s rare that it’s a specific food. I crave sweet or spicy or other seasonings, but there’s always a soft spot for crunchy. I always order my fries and bacon extra crunchy, and have been known to ask servers what the crunchiest item on the menu is. I cannot express this enough: I. Love. Crunch.

My latest crunchy treasure is actually a healthy one! I came across simplyrice’s Organic Brown Rice Crisps while hunting through the chip aisle during my most recent crunch expedition.  Offered in three flavours – Spicy Chili, Sea Salt and Tangy Tamari – these cracker-chip hybrids are surprisingly good for you in the grand scheme of snack foods.  Only 90 calories/2 g fat/50 mg sodium for approximately 18 crackers, these organic and wheat-free/gluten-free beauties may as well be considered health food! Armed with ambitious visions of becoming a supermodel (I’m buying rice crisps! Of course my modelling career is well on its way!), I grabbed a bag of the Spicy Chili crisps and daydreamed about which hot movie star was going to propose to me once I became famous. These crisps were powerful and I hadn’t even cracked open the bag yet! The anticipation was killing me.

The crisps come in a small 70-gram bag and can be found at most grocery stores. When you first open the bag, you’ll notice that the crisps come in different shapes – maybe to add a whimsical factor to detract from the fact that you’re about to eat rice chips?  What I liked most about them was the short-and-sweet ingredient list: brown rice flour, sunflower oil, chili powder, sea salt. That’s it. Nothing weird or hard to pronounce in these bad boys.

Each crisp is about the size of a small cracker and looks like a mixture of a potato chip and a Wheat Thin. There were flecks of red on them, so I was hopeful that there would be some spice to them as the name suggested. First bite and I was pretty impressed. The crunch was significant and airy, which is always a good thing. Unfortunately, the flavour was a bit of a letdown. I could taste the rice – a very toned down version of a fluffy rice cake – but that was about it. The salt and chili were too subtle for my palette and the whole thing tasted like a bland, ultra-crunchy rice cake.   

Ultimately, they were kind of disappointing. I would buy them again because I like rice cakes and the crunch these crisps generated, but I would need to pair them with something with more flavour. A really good hummus would make these rice crisps sing. Also, if I was on a diet and really needed a snack fix on the go, these would probably do the trick. Unfortunately, I won’t be giving up my potato chips for them any time soon... guess this means I won’t be a supermodel just yet.

Organic Brown Rice Crisps

Mangiamo Pizza Buffet

I actually heard about Mangiamo through a review I read on Twitter a while back. I'm starting to notice a trend here – Twitter is going to make me: 1) very poor and 2) unable to remember how to work a kitchen appliance. The premise sounded simple enough – an all-you-can-eat gourmet pizza buffet, with soup, salad and pasta to boot. Best of all, it was only $8.99 for each adult.  How could you go wrong?

I gathered a couple of pizza-lovin' friends and we all headed to Oakville. Mangiamo is located in a plaza that has a few small restaurants and a grocery store, so there is plenty of parking. At first glance, it made us almost hesitant to go in.  For one, the store is very bright and very exposed – it almost felt like a school cafeteria rather than a restaurant. There is a cash register right by the door and a small buffet bar at the front by an open window to the kitchen. There is also a fountain-pop machine, seating for about 50 people and a poster on the wall that reminded us of those old-school United Colors of Benetton ads.

We were surprised to find that although we arrived around 7:30 p.m., we were the only customers in the restaurant. We were greeted by friendly staff who pointed out where things were and we got settled at a table. We were asked if there was any particular pizza we wanted, and I asked if they could make us a mac-and-cheese pizza, since the review I read raved about it.  We were told they would put one on for us, and to let them know if there was anything else we'd like. On the first round, my friends decided to jump right into the pizza – there were about three or four slices each of a pepperoni, a Hawaiian and a vegetarian. I opted to try their special of the night – build-your-own tacos – and a forkful of spaghetti with meat sauce. The taco bar had two filling options – ground beef or bean chili – and a variety of toppings. The strangest thing I found was there was no cheese among the toppings, but there was a bowl of shredded carrots.  I've never had carrot on my taco before, so that was new for me. Not sure if I'd do it again – I think I'd prefer cheese, please.

The taco fillings were dry from being in the warmers for too long, but the toppings were crisp and fresh. The spaghetti sauce tasted homemade and had plenty of meat and tomato in it.  Unfortunately for my friends, the pizzas were cold and hard from sitting out too long. Here is where I was blown away by Mangiamo: We were asked how we were enjoying our food and we mentioned that although everything tasted OK, it would be better if they were not cold and hard from being out so long. Upon hearing that, they immediately apologized and then TOOK AWAY all of the old food and started making us fresh food. Keep in mind that they were about an hour away from closing, and we were the only people in the restaurant.

The hot, fresh thin-crust pizzas started coming out, and we were in a carby, cheesy heaven. All of the dough tastes like it's fresh and hand-tossed, and all of the ingredients were sliced thick and plentiful. Chicken with sweet-chili Thai sauce was the early frontrunner for best pizza (ever).  Big chunks of moist chicken breast with sweet onions and a sweet chili sauce that gave it a slight kick. The Hawaiian pizza had sweet pineapple and large cubes of peameal bacon with a homemade tomato sauce. Even the pepperoni pizza was better than most I've had from restaurants – each slice was covered in pepperoni that was thick and baked until crispy around the edges, and laden with gooey cheese. A Thai curry pizza followed – a mild curry sauce base topped with diced chicken breast, onions and fresh chopped cilantro. An explosion of flavour and freshness with every bite. The pièce de résistance was hands down the mac and cheese. A thin, crispy crust topped with soft mac and cheese and baked until the top is crispy and the cheese is melted and crusty, then sprinkled with Parmesan.  Carbs + carbs + cheese = the three C's of happiness. It was an instant hit with our group, and I can easily see why it's a crowd favourite, especially with kids. I even suggested that if they put sliced hot dogs on top they'd have both kids and university students knocking down their doors to get a slice.

The staff told us that the chef likes to get creative and invent pizzas depending on what ingredients happen to be available, or whatever strikes his fancy for the day. The atmosphere could use a little work, but the staff goes above and beyond to make your visit a pleasant one – even bringing the pizza to your table once it's out of the oven. As with any buffet, you run the risk of finding food that has been sitting out for too long, but if you mention it to them, they are more than happy to make you fresh food. The best part of Mangiamo is the variety of pizza you can ask for, or that they've already thought up for you. If you can dream it, I bet you Mangiamo is willing to put it on a pizza crust for you. 

Mangiamo Pizza on Restaurantica
Mangiamo Pizza Buffet on Urbanspoon
Mangiamo Pizza Buffet
579 Kerr St., Oakville!/mangiamopizza

The Alex

Tucked away behind a small storefront facing Brant Street is one of Burlington's newest restaurants, the Alex. Located where Trendz used to be, it's easy to miss unless you're specifically looking for it. After tweeting back and forth with someone from the restaurant for a couple of weeks and being tempted by menu teases, I convinced my boyfriend that we should stop by for a mini-celebration dinner. A restaurant that speaks of bacon every second word – I needed to try it!

The Alex markets itself as small-plate fine dining. My initial reaction upon hearing that was fine dining usually comes in small portions anyway, how much smaller can it get? I thought it was a clever way to charge more for less. However, I desperately wanted to try it and devoured the online menu and drooled over the pictures as I anticipated our visit.

There is no private parking here, but we were lucky enough to find a spot right in front of the restaurant. There was also a split-second of confusion because there is a door facing Brant Street, but you have to go in through the side. Throughout the evening, we saw many others trying to come in through the front door, although there are at least three pieces of signage that ask you to use the patio door. Oops! There is a small side patio where I can picture myself lingering over summer meals with a bottle of chilled white wine. Inside, the restaurant itself is small, with seating for 30 and painted in a rich, deep brown colour with gold trim along the top. Light fixtures that look like fluffy snowballs and local art adorn the wall to round out the atmosphere. A couple of booths along the side and a few tables with dainty leather chairs line the walls.

Our server showed us to our table and offered to take our coats. The chairs are surprisingly comfortable though they looked a little flimsy at first glance. The menu is a simple one-pager – but the offerings are far from simple. Every dish sounded intriguing and we asked our server how we should proceed. As they are smaller dishes, she suggested that four or five dishes should suffice for the two of us. We opted to order two at a time and kept the menu with us in case we wanted to order more. So when reading this very long review, remember that the portions are very small and although it sounds like a lot, it probably comes out to about the same size as two entrees.

The wine menu is reasonably priced with the most expensive bottle I noticed around $50.  The boyfriend was very excited that Malbec was offered by the glass ($7) and I opted for a white wine spritzer ($7). Both of us were happy with our choices as we waited for our dishes.

First up was the Sweet Potato Perogies with Crispy Pork Belly and Sour Cream ($9).  Soft perogy dough filled with mashed sweet potato are steamed and drizzled with sour cream, then plated with cubes of pork belly with a crispy fried skin. The pork reminds me of the roast pork from Asian barbecue places, but without the seasoning. The textures of the perogies and pork were great, but I found the taste to be a little bland.

Next up was the dish I had been dreaming about since I heard of its existence – Trio of Bacon ($10).  Bacon-wrapped bacon had such potential by the sound of it, but to the boyfriend and myself, it was the most disappointing of the trio. Thick smoked bacon was wrapped around what seemed like a pork chop and drizzled with a semi-sweet sauce. The meat was cooked perfectly, but again, we found it bland and not as flavourful as we were hoping. My favourite was the pommery-glazed bacon over smoked pork mashed potatoes. The pommery glaze gave the bacon a sweet spice that was paired perfectly with the smoky, creamy mashed potatoes. I could have eaten that all night.

The Pan Roast Petite Bavette Steak with Bacon Fries, Roast Zucchini and Peppercorn Sauce ($15) was amazing. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium and melts in your mouth. The bacon fries (bacon wrapped around thick cut potatoes) were a little disappointing  – you could taste that they were fried together, but they were not as crispy as I had hoped. The roast zucchini was overcooked and cold, but the peppercorn sauce was so delicious I asked my boyfriend if it would be rude if I licked the plate (unlucky for me, he said yes).

Spicy Sausage and Cheddar Stuffed Deboned Chicken Wings ($9) were recommended by our server and I'm glad we took her advice. The wing itself is deboned but the wingtip is left to give you something to hold on to. The sausage had a tiny bit of spice to it, and mixed with the cheddar and fried into a moist chicken wing... I don't think I ever want a normal chicken wing again! The flavours worked beautifully when paired with the understated bed of potato and cabbage; it was a fantastic dish that I'm still dreaming about.

Finally, we had to try the Charcuterie Board with Pickled Vegetables ($15) since both the Chef and our server raved about the amazing cured meats that are brought in. Five types of cured meat, fresh toast crisps, pickles, olives and Dijon mustard round out the board. I can honestly say it was some of the best cured meat I have ever tried in my life.  The thinly sliced prosciutto-style meat all melted on the toast; I took to calling one “butter meat” because it was so thin and so melty that I was amazed it was actually meat. The two sausage-style meats on the board had a bit of kick to them, so if you are wary of spice you have been warned. There were desserts available, but we were unfortunately too stuffed to try any.

All in all, this is a great addition to Burlington. There are plenty of restaurant gems in town, and the Alex is definitely one of them. The ingenuity in the dishes, the quality of the ingredients and the fantastic service from the staff make this a standout in the numerous downtown–core options. This is not a restaurant you go to if you are in a hurry or looking for a quiet and intimate meal.  Chef Matthew (who is in charge of the Alex's Twitter account) came out to talk to us and it was nice to put a face to the tweets. All of the staff at the Alex are knowledgeable about the dishes and seem passionate about the food. Matthew mentioned that this is not only a place where you go to enjoy the food, but to also enjoy the company and talk to your tablemates.  Judging by how loud it got in the dining room as the seats filled, people were certainly doing just that. It made me very glad to have made a reservation, and I can't wait to come back and see what else they can do with bacon.

The Alex on Restaurantica
The Alex
480 Brant St. S., Burlington!/alexrestaurant

Tim Horton's - French Onion Soup

I've been wanting to try Tim Horton's french onion soup for the longest time.  I never understood how some restaurants sleep at night knowing they charge upwards of $10 for a bowl of soup.

I honestly didn't have great expectations when I heard that a fast food style place was going to serve french onion soup.  It doesn't seem right without the crusty baked cheese on top, the bread with the crispy edges but the soupy makes me miss my mom's when she made them in the little bowls with the thick handles.  *sigh* Food that makes me feel nostalgic always have a soft spot in my heart.

After trying the Timmy's version, I can say that it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for either.  I had to rush back to the office, so I'm not sure if it would taste better had I been in-store.  When you take the lid off, the soup's appearance doesn't scream french onion.  It's a dark brown broth with cubes of bread floating on top.  My initial reaction was "where's the cheese??"  I'm not a huge fan of cheese, but you need it in this soup!  I stirred it around and found a puddle of cheese curds on the bottom of the bowl and a few onions.  The soup itself wasn't very hot - again, not sure if the 4 minute drive back to my office cooled it significantly, but I'm giving Tim's the benefit of the doubt.

Initial impression: it smells like french onion soup and it kind of looks unappetizing because of the odd shade of brown with no cheese on top, but the taste is decent.  It's not as watered down as I've found the majority of their soups, and there's a nice onion flavour.  The only problem with that statement is that there really weren't enough onions in the soup.  So either I got ladled a bowl from the top of the pot and the onions were at the bottom, or there are a lot of different "onion" flavoured seasonings in that broth.  I don't know if I'd classify it as a true french onion soup.  Perhaps a more accurate description would be a french onion-style consumme.

I would buy it again if I really craved the french onion soup taste, but didn't want to pay a lot of money. Or if I didn't feel like a lot of chewing.

Taking the Plunge

My impulsive behaviour has finally taken me down the blog path.  The rationale behind how I even came to the idea was pretty simple.  Basically, I go out to eat a lot.  More than anyone needs to (or should).  That's not to say I don't know my way around a kitchen - because I'd like to think that I'm a fairly decent cook/baker.  Sometimes I get lazy.  Sometimes I just want to put on my jammies, turn on Ghost Whisperer and eat some frozen pizza with chips crumbled on top.  Other times, I want to curl my hair, throw on some lip gloss, put on my stilettos and go out for a 5 course gourmet meal where I don't have to do the dishes afterwards.  It usually depends on 1) what's on TV 2) how my day at work went and 3) how social I'm feeling that day.   

Aside from eating, I seem to find myself with a lot of opinions about things.  For some reason, it feels like I'm always the girl that something goes wrong for when I'm out to eat.  Or I'll find that hidden gem that I want everyone to know about so they'll go there.  I guess I always have something to say about my food - sometimes good, sometimes...not so much.

So I figured I'd start a blog.  I've got high hopes that I'll talk about the restaurants I've tried, or the recipes I've attempted...or even the rare occasion I try to throw ingredients together to come out with an edible product at the end.   Hope you're hungry!