Sham Buffet

I am one of those people who love a good bargain. I am easily distracted by big signs that promise low prices, and I have no shame in haggling and negotiating so I can walk away with a prized item at less than sticker price. What isn’t helping my problem these days, is the onslaught of daily coupon sites that offer discounts through the power of group buys. My email is inundated with dozens of deals every day, and no word of a lie, I am suckered into buying at least one a day. It’s just so easy to shop from my desk, and the deals are so amazing – I almost feel guilty with how big the discounts are. Almost. 

Of course, not all the emails that come through are deals, because they are still pricy compared to other places; or, the deal is for a place that isn’t very good...the process of shopping online, especially for places you aren’t familiar with, is a gamble that you have to be willing to take.

Unfortunately for me, I took a risk that didn’t quite pay off when I purchased a deal for Sham Buffet one day. Being that it is a fairly new restaurant, my quick research online didn’t find many reviews or comments about it. I did learn that the name of the restaurant referred to the region of Syria, and not the Western take on the word (that’s a relief). The deal I purchased was 2 dinner buffets for $18 (normally, it is $18 per person at dinner) seemed like it would be a cheap meal for the boyfriend and I, and really, how bad could it be, right? Famous last words, I know.

Sham Buffet is located in a strip mall just East of Dixie, which looked a little sketchy. There is a Goodwill store on one end, and a few furniture stores on the other, but the whole plaza looks like it has seen better days. Hoping that it wasn’t a bad sign, we still decided to go in. The restaurant itself is huge on the inside, with three separate dining rooms which all connect to the buffet area in the middle. It is clean with linen tablecloths on the tables, and Middle Eastern music playing throughout (which I found to be too loud, and an eclectic mix – from pounding dance beats to soft ballads). 

I was a little concerned that although it was 6:30 in the evening, we were one of three couples in the entire restaurant. The other two couples were just finishing as we sat down, so halfway through the meal, we were the only customers in the whole place. 

The boyfriend ordered a small Sham Cocktail ($2.99) which was described as strawberry, mango, pineapple, kiwi and banana topped with crushed pistachios and honey. The presentation was lovely and it tasted light, sweet and fresh.
The buffet area is large, and Sham’s website claims that it is the “biggest Arabic Middle Eastern buffet in Ontario.” There are two hot foot banquets, one cold food, and one for dessert. There was also a grill area, and a spot for ice cream, though I did not see ice cream on the day we went. 

Not being overly familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine, I was excited for the opportunity to try new items I hadn’t heard of before, and to sample some of my favourite tried and true dishes. I started with the spicy shrimp soup, which had tiny, dried shrimp and plenty of vegetables in a tomato based broth. The broth was too sour for me, and the vegetables had been sitting in it so long, they had begun to dry and shrink. There was no spice, and I was only able to eat a couple spoonfuls before giving up. There are also a few different rice dishes – one with meat, one with vegetables and one that was plain. I tried a bit of each of the choices available; my favourite was the one with meat, which was a tender chunk of beef on top of flavourful rice. 
When the staff saw us sit down, meat was put on the grill and brought to the table for us, which I appreciated as a nice gesture. That being said, the finished product we were given tasted as though it was pre-cooked earlier and just warmed up for us because it was tough and dry. The kebabs were salty without any other distinguishing flavour, and the chicken didn’t taste as though there was any flavour at all. All in all, we found the hot food to be dry and lukewarm from sitting under the heat lamps too long. None of the hot food tasted fresh, nor was there much of each item to choose from (there was two or three pieces of each item in each tray).
The cold food fared a little better, and I enjoyed the baba ghanouj and the hummus, but wished that there were pitas to accompany them. The boyfriend really enjoyed the tabouleh and said it tasted fresh and homemade.
Lastly, the desserts were of the pre-packaged variety and nothing special to write home about. There were slices of Swiss rolls, Nanaimo bars and cream puffs – all of which were dried out from sitting out too long. There were a few other things as well, but nothing stood out as memorable.
The service was attentive to start, but after we were the only customers, we seemed to have been forgotten as the employees sat in the back dining room, chatting amongst each other. The food was disappointing because everything had been sitting out too long, and the majority of the food was dry and unappetizing. I did notice that they packaged take-out containers using the food from the buffet, so that is something you may want to consider if you’re going to be ordering from them. Also, their website and the signs labelling the food in the restaurant are riddled with mistakes – something that I think looks extremely unprofessional for an establishment open to the public. All in all, the silver lining to this experience was that we had dinner for a relatively inexpensive price – even though we both left hungry. Had I paid full price for the meal, I would have been much more upset. As it stands, it was an unfortunate risk I took that didn’t pay off, and I won’t be returning. This could have been a fun post if it was a good experience – and I could have said “Sham Wow!”, instead I will point out the irony of a restaurant that truly lives up to its name.

Sham Buffet on Urbanspoon
 Sham Buffet
1456 Dundas St. E., Mississauga

MS Walk 2011

Not food related by any means, but still an important part of my life...

On April 17 I will be participating in the annual MS Walk in Burlington - something which I've done for the past few years to raise money and support for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Every year I walk in hopes that my small action can bring us closer to finding a cure.

If you would like to donate and support the cause, please go here:

Any support would be appreciated, or if you are unable to support financially, come out for the walk! The path takes us in and around some lovely neighbourhoods, and you get to spend some time with your fellow Burlingtonians.

For more information on the MS Society of Canada:

Bukamaranga Bean & Co.

Breakfast. Bagels. Buka. (Beets. Bears. Battlestar Gallactica. Anyone here watch The Office?) Anyhoo, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so of course while we were out and about early one morning and waiting for my car to get an oil change I declared I needed to eat at that very second, or I couldn’t possibly have the energy to move another muscle. My poor boyfriend must think I’m insane...or a squirrel, storing food for winter. Either way, we ended up at Bukamaranga (or Buka as many people call it) on a very busy Saturday morning.

Situated between Lick’s and Chapters, parking can be a challenge if lots of people decided they wanted to go shopping for books or burgers on any particular day, but we were lucky and found a spot right in front of the store next to the patio. 

The place was packed on this visit, and every seat was taken. There was a line of a few people in front of us, so we were playing it by ear if we were going to eat in or take our food to go. Buka is set up so you pick one of the freshly baked bagels out of baskets directly to the left of the entryway and you walk along to the counter, hand it to the server and let them know what you want to eat. On this particular day, I decided to go with a toasted Cheddar Herb bagel with the jalapeno cream cheese. One of the nice things about the cream cheeses is that all of them are light, so you save yourself a few calories there if that’s something you’re watching. The bagel was soft and chewy with the perfect blend of cheddar and herbs. The cream cheese was generous with the slightest hint of jalapeno to give it a mild kick. 
The boyfriend ordered the breakfast special, which was a bagel with butter, two eggs, choice of meat (sausage, bacon or ham) and coffee. The Chocolate Chip bagel was kind of a disappointment because the whole bagel only had about four chocolate chips, so it tasted pretty plain. However, the breakfast was cooked perfectly. Although the eggs were done in the microwave, they were cooked to a perfect over medium (something we can’t say for many restaurants that use an actual stove or cooktop) and the sausage was hot without being dry. The coffee was fresh and brewed to a perfect strength.
Overall, our breakfasts came to just under $9 after tax and we managed to grab a couple of seats along the breakfast bar on the high stools. We enjoyed the paper and a relaxing start to our morning for a relatively inexpensive price. There are a variety of fresh baked bagels and cream cheese flavours to choose from, so I will be back to try out different combinations. If you like bagels, I highly recommend trying Buka.

The Bukamaranga Bean & Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon
Bukamaranga Bean & Bagel Co.
3305 Fairview St., Burlington

Thai Siam

When we are looking for a cheap, quick and filling meal for lunch, it’s generally a safe bet to find a local Asian restaurant in the area. We have recently found a small Thai place in Oakville that meets all three of those criteria quite nicely (and is located dangerously close to a cupcakery to boot)!

Thai Siam is tucked away in a large, busy plaza with anything from a grocery store to a bank covering the gamut. Walking in, the restaurant is small and narrow, but with lots of natural light coming from the big windows at the front. There is usually a lunch crowd, so plan to get there early or a little later on weekdays if you would like a seat.

One of the reasons we like coming here is the extensive lunch menu that ranges in price from $7.95 to $10.95 for a mini meal that is more than sufficient to get us through the rest of the work day. Each meal comes with a salad (with the most delicious dressing) and a hot, crispy spring roll filled with mushroom and bamboo and goodness.

My favourite is the Basil Chicken, which I ask to be extra spicy. The portion is generous with lots of crisp, fresh vegetables and a few large strips of chicken breast. The dish smells and tastes garlic-y rather than basil-y and each time I order it, I always wish there was more basil. It comes with a generous amount of steamed rice, which is fantastic for mixing in with the salty, spicy sauce.
The Pad Thai has chicken, shrimp, egg and bean sprouts in a sweet sauce. The top is sprinkled with nuts, which isn’t mentioned on the menu – something to keep in mind if you don’t like nuts or are allergic. The sauce isn’t what I would consider an authentic Pad Thai flavour because it was a mixture between ketchup-sweet and fish sauce-salty. It reminded me of the flavour of food court Pad Thai, which wouldn’t be my first choice in an authentic Thai restaurant. That being said, the noodles were cooked perfectly (they didn’t stick together) and the shrimp were plump and juicy.
Sesame Chicken sounded a lot better on the menu than the actual dish. The portion was generous and there were plenty of chicken strips, but the sauce was too sweet and thick for my taste. It was reminiscent of a thinned out teriyaki sauce, and aside from the sesame seeds on top, there was no hint of sesame flavour. I was expecting more of a sesame-oil infused stir fry with chicken instead of a chicken teriyaki. 
Yellow Curry came out in a pretty bowl that looked like a flower (I’m so easily distracted by presentation) and it was chock full of crispy vegetables and chicken. The smell of curry was not over-powering and could have been a big stronger, but it was a hearty meal for the price.
This is one of our favourite places to go for lunch on a weekday, to get away from the office and unwind for a bit. The service can be slow on days when the restaurant is really busy (there are normally only two servers), but they are attentive and the food is worth the wait. If you’re in the area and looking for a lunch that won’t leave you hungry for more, I encourage you to try Thai Siam.

Thai Siam on Restaurantica
Thai Siam on Urbanspoon
Thai Siam
C4 - 1011 Upper Middle Rd. E., Oakville

Fran's Restaurant

Fran’s is a greasy spoon diner that has been around since 1940 (so their menu cover says) and some would consider it an “institution” in the Toronto food scene. I, myself, can look back and fondly recall many late night meals after a concert or play in the comfy booths. So when the boyfriend and I had tickets to see a show close to Fran’s, I was excited to take a bite out of nostalgia. 

It was about seven o’clock when we walked in, and the restaurant seemed fairly empty save a couple tables here and there. The decor is as kitschy as I remember, with mint green and checkered patterns everywhere. We were seated at a small table near the back of the restaurant and were handed our menus. Seeing as it wasn’t overly busy, I asked if we could move to one of the bigger booths along the wall, which seemed to confuse our hostess. She said she would have to check since it was in another server’s section, and came back shortly after to tell us the booths were reserved for groups of three or more. A quick glance at the few occupied booths and I saw that there was two or even one person in each, but I didn’t question it. No word of a lie, about five minutes later, a couple was seated at the booth directly across from us, followed by another couple at a booth behind them. I admit I was annoyed. Extremely annoyed, in fact. I wouldn’t have minded if she came back and said that she didn’t want to move us out of our server’s section to “even” the patrons out among servers, but no, she blatantly lied about it. I can’t stand people who lie. 

Taking my focus off my irritation, I turned my attention to the extensive menu. Being open 24/7/365 means the benefit of all day breakfast, which the boyfriend took full advantage of when he ordered the Corned Beef Hash with whole wheat toast and eggs over hard (his fave). The dish itself was typical breakfast fare. The corned beef had a lot of flavour and wasn’t greasy, and the potatoes were hot and crispy. The toast was dry, but the most disappointing where the eggs because they were undercooked and cold. 
Though my love for breakfast food is strong, I always get excited when I see a Reuben sandwich on a menu. There is something so delicious about grilled rye bread that makes me weak in the knees, and I had to order it when I saw it. I decided to get the tortilla chips and salsa as my side instead of fries, and was pleasantly surprised at the portion that came with the sandwich. The pretty colours of the lightly salted chips and the bright red salsa were aesthetically pleasing when our server placed the plate in front of me. The chips themselves unfortunately, were stale, and rather than being a light crisp, were a little chewy. The salsa tasted no different than the jarred salsa you can buy in the grocery store. However, I do appreciate the option for people who don’t want fries or salad.
The sandwich itself was also disappointing because it was toasted, not grilled like I was expecting. The fact that it was a triple decker seemed unnecessary because the addition of the third piece of bread didn’t do much to enhance the flavour. That being said, my biggest complaint was the amount of sauerkraut on the sandwich, or more accurately, the lack of sauerkraut. If you’re going to put so little on the sandwich, it’s just a tease. Why put it on at all??
Overall, this was a pretty disappointing visit. For the price of the meal (it was over $30 after tax and tip) we could have had much better fare somewhere else. I think Fran’s is one of those places that remain popular because people have been coming for years, and it’s something they are comfortable with. I too, was looking to reminisce of days gone by, but when really examining it, it’s not the Fran’s I remember. Some places are better left in memories past. 

Frans Restaurant on Restaurantica
Fran's on Urbanspoon
Fran’s Restaurant
200 Victoria St (Victoria & Shuter), Toronto, Ontario

Recipe - Kale Chips

One of the reasons that I’ve been quiet for the past while is because I decided to go on a health kick for eight weeks (this being week three) and that meant getting used to a few schedule changes to accommodate my recent lifestyle. Now that I’m getting more accustomed to my routine, I’m hoping that I can get back to writing here more often (and take you through my extensive backlog of restaurant reviews, but also a few recipes that I’ve picked up along the way).  

I’ve been trying to eat healthier, and one of the things that I have been having difficulty with is making sure I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day. Don’t get me wrong, because I do eat lots of greens, but I’ve been trying to eat more – and trying to find new and exciting ways to eat them. Let me tell you, I have found the Holy Grail of vegetable recipes. It has changed my life and I’m not afraid to admit it, left me with a newfound obsession. I can’t stop making/eating/thinking about them.

Kale Chips. Chips made from kale. Kale. That is like chips. Whaaaat? Sounds weird, I know. You may even be like me and think it’s a hoax to make you buy a bunch of kale just to get it into your house. No, friends, this is the real deal. The bomb. The shizzle. The best snack I’ve eaten in a long time. This simple method of preparing it has turned what is an unpleasant, bitter, tastes-healthy-so-it-must-be-gross, leafy vegetable, and turned it into a lighter than air, crisper than potato chips, you-can’t-eat-just-one, delight. In fact, each time I make this recipe, whole bunches of kale are devoured at a time. When have you ever said that? When have you willingly sat and ate an entire bunch of kale in a sitting – not because you have to, but because you want to? The first time I made these, I served them as a side to a “cheesesteak” sandwich, and the boyfriend looked at me with scepticism in his eyes. After his first bite though, I had to fight him to get the last few off the plate. This is the magic of kale chips, and I’m about to blow your mind with how easy it is to make these delicious beauties.

To start, wash your kale and then dry it very very thoroughly. I go to the extreme and run it through the salad spinner and then pat the leaves dry on top of it. You don’t want any moisture on it at all, to ensure that they’ll be nice and crispy once they’re baked. At this point, you can preheat your oven to 350.

A leaf at a time, cut out the middle vein (is it called a vein? I call it a vein) and keep the leafy part off the stem. You can cut it down into smaller pieces if the leaves are big, but keep in mind that they’ll shrink significantly in the oven. Toss everything into a bowl and drizzle the olive oil over the leaves, then use your hands and massage the oil into the kale – making sure you get every nook and cranny. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can also put the kale into a baggy and drizzle the oil into it, then squish it around in the bag. Once all the kale has been oiled, spread them out onto baking sheets without crowding them – I find one bunch of kale usually takes up two normal sized sheets pre-baking, but they shrink to almost half their size after they're done. 
Pop the sheets into the oven and bake for between 15 and 20 minutes. You want the kale to be crispy, but once it starts to brown too much, it will taste charred and the bitterness returns. Just watch it near the end to make sure, it’s a quick jump from crispy to burnt. Once they’re baked, remove the pans from the oven and sprinkle salt to taste. I don’t have an exact measurement, but I typically use sea salt, and find that a dime sized amount in the palm of my hand is perfect in giving me the saltiness that I like.
The beauty with these chips is that they taste so good, you feel like you’re getting a treat. The crunchy, salty combination cures any cravings you may have for unhealthy snacks, and dipping them in ketchup makes you feel like you’re having fries! They’re also extremely versatile, so you can flavour them any way you like – add chilli flakes, or roasted garlic, massage in some vinegar with the oil for salt and vinegar chips...the possibilities are endless, but the results will still be delicious. 

Try them. Love them. Eat your weight in kale and find yourself inexplicably talking about them wherever you go, to whoever will listen. I promise you’ll be surprised at how addictive they are.

Recipe: Kale Chips
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Optional: other seasonings to taste
Optional (but delicious): ketchup to dip

1.       Preheat oven to 350.
2.       Wash and dry kale thoroughly.
3.       Remove stem and middle vein from each leaf. If leaf is still too large, cut into smaller pieces.
4.       Place kale into bowl and drizzle oil over top. Using hands, massage oil into each leaf, making sure all surfaces are lightly oiled.
5.       Place on baking sheets, making sure not to crowd.
6.       Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until crisp.
7.       Remove from oven and salt/season to taste.
8.       Eat one. Moan because it is so good. Hoard the rest and don’t share.

Will store in airtight container for two days. If you’re not eating them immediately, store in the airtight container or else they start to go soft.

Total Cleanse Giveaway via Natural Mommie (Contest)

I've been on a health kick and have been dying to try a detoxifying cleanse to see if it makes me feel better and really does clear out the guk in my system/clear my mind. Most of my research has been on a Canadian company called Total Cleanse that does a three or five day juice cleanse. I'm curious if I can handle three days of ingesting nothing but juice and water, but apparently the benefits of doing it are tremendous and amazing.

One of the blogs I read, Natural Mommie, is giving away a 3 day cleanse for one lucky Canadian (which is always nice - I hate when it's US only and us poor Canadians get left out!)

Anyhoo, I entered the contest because I want to see if it's as beneficial and awesome as it says, then come back here and let you know too! Natural Mommie also has blog posts that talk about her experience while on the cleanse, so you can read how she fared. 

If you'd like to enter her contest, the link is: here

If you'd like to know more about Total Cleanse

Good Luck!


I just wanted to drop in and thank you for your patience with my lack of writing these days. I know it's been a while since my last post, but real life has managed to sneak up on me and keep me from writing.

I promise I will be back soon with lots to write about - my backlog is getting long! Hang in there!