January 30, 2012

Winterlicious #1- The Drake Hotel

I'm slightly backlogged with posting, but I thought that I would go ahead and blog about my Winterlicious meals before the event ends. After being underwhelmed by 'licious meals a number of times, I was very careful to screen the restaurants when I made my picks. This means that I would only go if I was interested in both the restaurant and the menu. The Drake Hotel, having been on my radar for a while now, passed both tests. In particular, I've heard a lot of good things about their brunch. Even though I wasn't here for brunch, I thought that their Winterlicious menu ($20 for lunch, $35 for dinner) was quite interesting with good variety. I went with three friends and between the four of us, we covered most of the menu.
From the start of the meal, my problem was with the service. I swear, we were seated at the most conspicuous table in the entire restaurant- a brightly lit high table. Yet, we were still ignored. We could not, at any given time, find our server, whether to take orders, ask questions, or have water glasses refilled. I don't need super attentive service, but I was really annoyed that we couldn't flag down anyone despite repeated attempts.
Luckily, my mood improved after the food arrived. Mel and Timmy ordered soft + sexy pumpkin grits with sage pesto, roast apple and wilted greens. This was easily the best and the most memorable dish of the meal. In a word, it was scrumptious! The grits were creamy and rich, and I loved the pairing with the herbal pesto and sweet roast apple. It was a really homey and satisfying bowl of food, and I really enjoyed the multiple spoonfuls that I stole took from Mel.
James got the chicken noodle soup with egg noodles, dill, and root vegetables. I could smell the aromatic dill from across the table! But since I wasn't a fan of chicken noodle soup, I didn't try any. 
I wanted the pumpkin grits as well, but since I always want variety, I decided to order mezze instead- grilled pita, tzatziki, hummus, baba ghanoush and heirloom carrots. Overall, I thought my appetizer was rather mediocre, especially in comparison to the pumpkin grits. My favourite was the baba ghanoush, which was the eggplant dip. In contrast, I thought that the tzatziki was a little bland. But my biggest problem was the grilled pita, which was weirdly chewy. I had difficulty breaking them apart, as if they were stale.
For our mains, James opted for beer braised short rib with smashed yukon’s, cider onions and horseradish cream. I took a few bites. The short rib was quite tender and the flavours were nice, but I wouldn't have been able to finish such a rich meat dish in one sitting. This was Mel's favourite of the mains, but I didn't think it was extraordinary in any sense. To me, it was missing a wow-factor and didn't excite me.
Timmy declares that he's obsessed with fish, so he went for the pan seared cornmeal trout, which came with rice and beans, brussels sprouts and jerk sauce. This was my (and Timmy's) favourite of the mains. The trout was nicely cooked, and I liked that textural crunch from the cornmeal crust. The jerk sauce was creamy and delicious, and it reminded me of a béarnaise sauce. The only problem was that the brussels sprouts were nowhere to be found.
Mel and I were more adventurous and ordered the chicken + mushroom mole tostada with radish pico de gallo and queso fresco. Our tostada arrived with a mountain of veggies piled high. I liked that there was a fair amount of heat in the mole sauce, but I had expected the sauce to be a tad sweeter for some reason. The dish, overall, had pretty pungent flavours, so after awhile, it became a little too much for me. I couldn't finish my tostada and packed some of it home. Mel finished hers, but said that this was her least favourite out of the three entrées.
I was genuinely excited about desserts, especially the pudding chômeur- maple syrup baked with bourbon vanilla ice cream. I previously had this québécois classic in Montreal and I really loved it! However, the Drake's version was nothing like the one I had in Montreal, and a whole lot less satisfying. I expected a gooey, moist, and decadent bread pudding, but I was surprised by a piece of syrup-drenched cake. It wasn't very impressive, and I couldn't really taste the maple syrup nor the bourbon in the ice cream. And above all, it was too sweet. This was my least favourite dessert out of the three.
The second dessert was a pineapple upside down cake with sour Niagara cherries and brandy crème fraîche. Although this cake was a little too sweet as well, the acidity from the pineapple and the tartness from the cherries provided some balance. At least it was more interesting than the pudding chômeur.
The last dessert was  a chocolate caramel tart, featuring SOMA chocolate and a hazelnut crust. There was another long story behind the tart. After Timmy ordered it, the server came back to let us know that they were running out of the tarts, and told him that he could either order something else, or wait and see if there were any left when it was dessert time. He opted to wait and see. When the rest of the desserts arrived, his tart never came, and nobody followed up with us. Of course, it was impossible to get our server's attention, so it took us forever to finally get our tart, long after the other desserts were devoured. Mishaps aside, this was my favourite dessert out of the three. The chocolate tart was rich, dark, and luscious, but what I loved the most was that heavenly hazelnut crust. I'm very partial to hazelnuts, and it was a wonderful complement to the chocolatey filling.
All in all, I was underwhelmed by my experience at the Drake Hotel. There were some highlights the sexy pumpkin grits and the chocolate tart were yummy and memorable but the overall meal was marred by inattentive, or rather, almost non-existent service. However, I'm still intrigued by the Drake Hotel's ever popular brunch, so I'd still be open to coming back to try that.
The Drake Hotel on Urbanspoon

January 28, 2012

Dinner @ Nota Bene

I've been meaning to try Nota Bene for a long while now, but never really had a chance to till recently. I made a reservation through opentable for 7:15 pm. Upon arrival, I was told that they cancelled my reservation, but I could still have the table till 9. I was quite perplexed by the cancellation, but at least we still had a table albeit with the time constraint.
The restaurant was spaciously elegant and modern. 
To start the meal, we had some bread with olive oil. I didn't particularly like this type of bread. But by habit, I naturally gobbled up a lot of it. I should really start practicing self control and stop filling up on bread before a meal.
As our starter, my boyfriend and I split the cavatelli pasta ($16) with truffle-scented mushroom bolognese. Personally, I thought the pasta was a little undercooked, but that mushroom bolognese was rich and luscious. I really enjoyed that bold punch of earthy flavours. I just wished that the pasta was cooked a little more.
My boyfriend ordered an 8 oz grass-fed beef tenderloin ($42), cooked medium. The steak was pretty enjoyable, although not as good as the one from Jacobs & Co. I'm beginning to think that Jacobs is ruining all my subsequent steak experiences, because nothing seems to measure up. Nevertheless, this steak was still delicious and completely satisfying.
I love gourmet burgers, so I couldn't pass up on ordering Jennifer's Stilton beef brisket burger ($22), served with pommes frites. Ketchup, mustard, and mayo are provided on the side. I also substituted the customary blue cheese for some cheddar.
I love it when my burger is cooked medium rare, and this one was perfect! The patty was so juicy that I made quite a mess trying to pick it up with my hands to eat it. You can see here that the juice from the meat is seeping through the bottom bun, and I just loved that! The burger was marvelously flavourful and definitely one of the best that I've had. I barely ate any fries (thanks to the bread), so not much to comment on those.
For dessert, I wanted to try Nota Bene's sticky toffee pudding, but unfortunately my boyfriend is not a huge fan of toffee. So I compromised by settling with an apple galette ($12), served with vanilla ice cream. The galette reminded me an apple pie, but no complaints from me since I love apple pies. I wished the scoop of vanilla ice cream could've been slightly bigger. All in all, I had a wonderful meal at Nota Bene, and I definitely want to come back another time to try their onion rings. I spotted them at several tables and they looked absolutely fabulous!
Nota Bene on Urbanspoon

January 26, 2012

Four Course Seafood Feast @ Red Lobster

The Four Course Seafood Feast is back at Red Lobster! For $18, you get a soup, salad, entrée, dessert, and best of all- unlimited cheddar bay biscuits! Yum! I know it sounds like that I'm advertising for Red Lobster, but I honestly thought it was an incredible deal! There was so much variety and food for such a good price. I personally don't love red lobster's quality of food, but those buttery biscuits really tug at my heartstrings. I just can't stop eating them!
You can choose between New England clam chowder and their soup of the day. We went with the chowder, and it was pretty hearty. There were a lot of potato chunks and vegetable, so I didn't feel like I was just eating cream. I wouldn't expect a really refined clam chowder from red lobster, so this more than met my expectations.
Then, you get your choice of fresh Caesar or Garden salad. My boyfriend got the Caesar, and I got a garden salad. Again, nothing too special, but it's nice to have some veggies with the meal. I also liked the large variety of salad dressings available to go with my garden salad (I went with Thousand Island, my favourite).
There are 7 choices for the entrée, unfortunately none of them involve lobster. Our choice was the hand-breaded shrimps, which came out a little too greasy for my liking. I also did not enjoy the pairing with the cocktail sauce at all.
My boyfriend went with the "create your own feast" option, and chose peppercorn-grilled sirloin and island jumbo coconut shrimp: hand-dipped in coconut batter, then fried to a golden brown. The coconut shrimp was served with a piña colada sauce. The steak was pretty mediocre to me, but my boyfriend was satisfied. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the coconut shrimp! I could actually taste the coconut bits in the batter, and its subtle sweetness was wonderful with the crunchy texture. It wasn't any less greasy than the hand-breaded shrimp, but in this case, I didn't mind it at all. The piña colada dipping sauce was also a great complement to the coconut flavours.
Our dessert from the four course feast was triple-chocolate brownie à la mode. It was unbearably sweet for me. I had one bite and that was more than enough. Luckily, the portion was quite small, so my boyfriend had no difficulty finishing it by himself.
We had a lot of leftovers to pack home. I barely touched the hand-breaded shrimp and packed most of it to go. All the potato sides were also untouched, because there was just too much food! I would certainly come back for the jumbo coconut shrimp, since that is one of the 7 options for the entrée. Even though not everything was fantastic, this $18 four course seafood feast undoubtedly has great value!
Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

January 25, 2012

Family Dinner @ Casa Victoria

I love coming to Casa Victoria for dim sum, this was only my third time here for dinner- the reason being that it is super expensive. I usually associate Chinese food with cheap food, so I don't really do much Chinese fine dining. This was one of those annual family meals, so I felt less guilty for splurging so much, even though I didn't exactly pay for the meal. We started with crab and fish maw soup, which was quite hearty and perfect for a cold, snowy day. I like to add a lot of pepper in mine to spice it up.
The next dish was salt and ginger chicken with jellyfish and shredded cucumbers (literally, sand-ginger chicken). This was one of my favourite courses: the chicken was moist and flavourful, and I love the refreshingly chilled jellyfish.
Next up, roasted whole spice-marinated squab was wonderfully executed. Crispy skin and delectably juicy and tender squab... what more can you ask for? I wish I could have more than one piece!
The most expensive component of the multi-course meal was probably the sautéed lobster with maggi sauce. Nothing pleases me more than sautéed lobster, so this was another winner! It had great "wok hei"!
I have a weakness for sweet and sour pork. Instead of pineapples, Casa Victoria's version featured other types of fruits, like melon balls. Personally, I prefer pineapples, but the pork itself was delicious and not overly greasy. A lot of the times with sweet and sour pork, I find that I'm eating more batter than actual pork. Here, the batter was perfect and not too heavy.
Our veggie dish was ginger and garlic sautéed Chinese broccoli (gai lan). I prefer my gai lan cooked a little bit more, but the addition of ginger was quite interesting.
Now onto the filler food that I didn't have much of. First came a big pot of e-fu noodle in broth.
I liked that the broth was very light, but I didn't eat much of the noodles.
Fried rice with shrimp and scallop could use a little more salt. But overall, I really enjoyed the fried rice. I usually don't eat rice at all (because it's too filling), but this was so good that I ate a small bowl.
Dessert time! Their seasonal feature is a sweet pumpkin soup, and I previewed in my 2011 top 10 desserts post. I don't generally love Chinese desserts, but this was so delicious that it rendered me speechless. I couldn't stop gulping down the soup! Creamy, warm, and comforting, it was truly wonderful! I want to have a bucket of this everyday and all year round!
We were also served a plate of mini desserts, but these were not nearly as good as the sweet pumpkin soup. Nevertheless, they were nice bites to wrap up an indulgent meal. All in all, I had a fabulous dinner at Casa Victoria, though the price tag means that I really wouldn't come back unless for a special occasion.
Casa Victoria Fine Dining and Banquet on Urbanspoon

January 24, 2012

Brunch @ Goody's Diner

This post documents two meals that I had at Goody's diner in a span of 3 days. Because I loved my first experience at Goody's Diner so much, I dragged a couple of friends back here to enjoy a leisurely brunch. And two days later, I came back with my family for lunch to try more of their fabulous burgers. For our brunch, Sandy started with a lobster bisque, which arrived smelling tantalizingly good! Since she was sick, I couldn't mooch off her soup (how unfortunate). She did say that it was very creamy and thick, which was perfect for the cold weather. I wanted to order one for my second meal, but to my dismay it was sold out!
James was the only that ordered from the lunch menu. He opted for a southwest chicken chipotle wrap- BBQ chicken, lettuce, salsa, corn, black bean, and red onion sauce and monterey jack cheese, with a side of sweet potato fries. I didn't try any of the wrap, but it certainly looked very well-stuffed.  
Mel had a Monte Cristo sandwich-ham, egg, swiss cheese, mushroom on French toast with spicy potato wedges. She gave a generous portion for me to try, and I loved it! I'm a big fan of the sweet and the savoury combination, and I liked that the French toast wasn't sickeningly sweet. My favourite part, however, was the mushroom, which added a great earthiness to the sandwich. It was the perfect brunch sandwich! I loved it so much that I got it again when I came back two days later. On a side note, those spicy potato wedges were also really tasty as well!
I ordered a Breakfast club with bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese on rosemary focaccia. I substituted the default peameal bacon for the regular kind, as well as swapped my spiced potato wedges for sweet potato fries. The staff graciously accommodated all of my requests. The sandwich was quite delicious and moist, though not as good as the Monte Cristo, in my opinion. I particularly enjoyed the focaccia and the sweet potato fries.
Here are a few other dishes that I didn't try. Sandy got steak and eggs- 6 oz sirloin steak with scrambled eggs. I must say, it was very reasonably priced at $9.
Mona created her own omelette, but I can't remember what she put in it. She barely touched her crisp potato wedges, so I packed most of it home.
Timmy also got steak and eggs, but he had his eggs sunny side up. At the end of our brunch, we were all very satisfied and full, and I had two boxes of leftovers to take home and enjoy (consisting mostly of fries and potato wedges).
Two days later, I came back with my family to try more burgers! Our first choice is the much lauded Highwayman, featuring zucchini corn relish, 8 ounce burger patty, cheddar cheese, onion rings stuffed with homemade pastrami, Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, a fried egg, Swiss and Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion, garlic mayo. I've heard rave reviews about the burger, but from the small portion that I had, I wasn't really wowed. For me, there was a little too much going on, and everything together was a little too salty, especially the pastrami. I think the burger would've worked better if I was able to eat all the components together, but this was an impossible feat given the size. Nevertheless, everyone was still quite impressed with the burger.
I urged my sister to order the burger special of the week- The Orchard- with grilled apples and pears, bacon, apple butter bbq sauce, provolone cheese, and the usual lettuce, tomato, and onion. This was, to date, my favourite burger from Goody's Diner! The grilled apples and pears, in combination with the bbq sauce, were fabulous because they added that bright and sweet balance to the beef. As I said, I'm a huge fan of the sweet and the savoury, so this burger was the perfect for me. Even though the Orchard had less components than the Highwayman, I think everyone agreed that in terms of flavours, this burger was more sophisticated and interesting than the Highwayman. All in all, I loved both of my meals at Goody's, and I'm really hoping that they will extend operating hours! At least now that I'm back in school, I'll be able to make it on Fridays!
Goody's Diner on Urbanspoon

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