Saturday, 30 March 2013

Arabesque Cafe

869 Victoria Street North
Kitchener, ON


In her opinion:
Let me start by saying "what a great place for Lebanese cuisine"! I enjoy a good shawarma and we have even had a "shawarma-off" to determine which was the best in our region - see results here. So when my better half suggested going to Arabesque Cafe...I said why not.

Arabesque Cafe is housed in a building that is not very actually looks like an old fast-food restaurant. On the inside they have added a few Lebanese touches to try and disguise the old fast-food feel. But the star of Arabesque Cafe is not the structure in which is it housed but rather its food.

Oh the food! Our first waitress came over and took our drink orders. Thank goodness they had Coke products...that scored a point with me. So after ordering my favourite Diet Coke. We went about studying the menu in order to determine what to have. We settled on ordering an appetizer to share and a main each.  

For our appetizer we ordered "Borak with meat". It is described on the menu as "Fresh dough stuffed with your choice of meat or cheese and deep fried."

This was a spring roll like morsel. Stuffed with a tasty meat mixture. I was not sure which type of meat it was to be could have a been a combo of beef and lamb. was very delicious.

For my main, I ordered the "Mixed Shawarma Plate". It's described  as "thin layers of chicken or beef marinated in our specialty spices". It was served with a choice of rice or French fries, hummus, fresh pita and your choice of salad. I opted for the rice and tabouli (parsley, tomato, onion and crushed wheat mixed with lemon juice and olive oil).

This was a large platter of food. The shawarmas were delicious. I preferred the chicken over the beef. The rice was flavourful and absolutely delectable. The tabouli was a huge portion and very refreshing. I enjoyed the hummus and fresh baked pita...incredibly good. Once you've had pitas like can't go back to the usual grocery store stuff!

Overall, the meal was excellent. I enjoyed it very much. As I went up to pay, I noticed a sweet little container of baklava calling my name.

I, of course answered its call and brought it home. They were so delicious.  Glad I decided to get them. I recommend anyone who loves Lebanese's a nice addition to Waterloo Region's dining scene.

In his opinion: 
Nothing says traditional Lebanese like Coca-Cola products and an old drive-thru style setting. Even though you can't get away from those Western products and settings; we came here for the food and that's what I will try to focus on.

Arabesque has been around for a bit and even though I had heard good things about it, I had never tried it before. I do appreciate Lebanese cuisine so this day was to be the one I would actually try it.

Friendly staff welcomes you, seats you and takes your orders promptly while taking their time to explain the menu and any other questions you may have. After browsing the menu, I had my sights on a certain dish and it was re-enforced by our waitress as a great choice.

We started with "Borak with meat". This is like a crispy deep fried roll, stuffed with meat. It was good, not great but good enough as I did find the meat inside a bit bland and the roll shell too crispy for my liking.

For my entree, I decided on the Chicken Mousahab. Grilled boneless chicken dipped in garlic, lemon and oil, served with fries and a Salad. The chicken was delicious with a good portion and the salad was also very good, sort of a mini Fatoush salad of sorts. I took full advantage of it. Worth bringing up are the big portion on the plate, enough to fill you and maybe even some to take home.

The fresh baked pita that came with the meal was also delectable. Straight out of the oven, moist and plentiful in its size. It went very well with the hummus and I even dared to make a mini Schwarma with it, using some of the items from my plate.

The Good: Great friendly service to match the great food served, prices are great for the type, quality and amount of food served.
The Bad: Wasn't a big fan of the Borak rolls...
The Verdict: Great value for your money and a wonderful place to have good Lebanese food. Extensive menu will allow you to return often to try everything. Great staff also.

I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 Olives as rating

Arabesque Café Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ye's Sushi

70 Sportsworld Drive
Kitchener, ON


In her opinion:
I love sushi and sometimes I actually crave it (my normal cravings are usually for sweets or comfort food). This was one of those times. I really enjoy Ye's Sushi. It was my original all you could eat sushi experience. After trying a lot of the all you can eat sushi competition in the area, I actually think it's my favourite. Sorry if that offends anyone but there is no accounting for personal taste.

Ye's has three locations in Kitchener-Waterloo. The Waterloo location, the downtown Kitchener location and the Kitchener/Cambridge border location. The Kitchener/Cambridge border location is the newest of the three and the location of this visit.

I am a sushi expert (in my mind at least) and know exactly what I like. So I basically go for the same things...Spicy Crispy Salmon Hand Roll, Tempura Shrimp Hand Roll, Spicy Salmon Sushi, Spicy Dragon Roll, Rainbow Roll and Green Dragon Roll. I also go for Shrimp Tempura, Mango Salad, Spring Rolls and Ye's Fried Seafood Udon.

Everything tasted great. It was all super fresh and delicious. I don't think I have ever been disappointed in Ye's and this time was definitely no different. It was a great meal with fabulous food.

In his opinion:

Ye's is the original all-you-can-eat sushi in our area. This place is somewhat of a pioneer for not only allowing us to have insane amounts of sushi for a moderate price, but also bringing us pretty good sushi for over 7 years now. Let's face it, back in 2006, 50% of the current Ye's clients had never heard of sushi, let alone tried it, so they deserve the credit that is due. For 7 years now they helped me forget about crappy sushi like SushiQ type of the ol' days.

Nowadays it's a free for all as there seems to be a new all-you-can-eat sushi place in every corner of our town, and that is as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. More selection is always good but it also means that anyone that has vacationed in Osaka, or bought a "Sushi Making Kit" at the Pottery Barn, thinks they can make sushi or worse, can open a sushi restaurant.

Ye's is what it is. Good sushi for an equally good price. I can't say that I have not had a bad experience at Ye's because I actually have. Those bad experiences mostly came from times where the food took too long or arrived quicker than I could fill my tiny dish of soya sauce. Most of the experiences have been good however. This time was an actual good experience, so I will focus on that...

I find it funny that after so many times eating at all of Ye's locations I find myself zoning in on my favourites only. There are still a few things I have not tried on their menu but I find myself starting off with the pieces that I crave. One piece sushi is a great way to start the dinner. White tuna, Ichiban, BBQ Eel and Spicy Salmon are my preferences. I would like to add that Ye's Spicy Salmon one piece sushi is probably my favourite thing on the menu. (Top left corner on the picture below.)

Then, you can never go wrong with some tempura, really tempura everything. Preference goes to tempura shrimp, eel and yam. How on earth did the Portuguese invent tempura and don't have it prominently in their cuisine? Odd fact!

Chicken Teriyaki skewer (Yakitori) and beef fried rice are also very good. For makis, I tend to stick to Ye's rolls, spicy crispy white tuna roll, Tokyo roll or anything that has avocado in it, and the selection is generous. Tempura shrimp hand roll (1 pc), spicy crispy salmon roll (1 pc) and any spicy dragon rolls (8 pc, green preferred but all good) are my favourites rolls.

If you are not ready to literally roll out of the restaurant at this point from eating so much, you may want to try some of their desserts or ice creams. Mango mousse and green tea or mango ice creams are a great treat.

The Good: Great value for your money, Ye's continues to deliver decent sushi, quickly, effectively and to pretty good standards for an all-you-can-eat.
The Bad: Some days food can be inconsistent, sometimes the rice and fish tastes fresher than others.
The Verdict: Sushi is good in most of these all you can eats, it is certainly not great. Granted it's a lot closer to real Japanese Sushi that the Mandarin is to Chinese food but still not exactly the same. Sushi chefs take years just to learn how to prepare sushi rice properly and minimum 8-10 years to be able to consider themselves a real sushi chef. So, the sushi we have at these restaurants is great for the price but not necessarily great sushi. 
Most people will probably never experience Masa or Soto in New York or even Sukyabashi Giro in Japan so maybe amazing sushi talk is a bit irrelevant.

Nevertheless, Ye's is definitely good enough to kill the sushi craving and more...

I give it 3 out of 5 Olives as rating

Yessushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 March 2013

Peller Estates Winery Restaurant

290 John Street
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON


In her opinion:
This is our fifth blog post about Peller Estates Winery Restaurant! So have you guessed yet that it's one of our favourites?

So when Fabulicious 2013 came around, it was only natural that we decided to visit this restaurant. It's menu was definitely appealing that we gave up trying somewhere new to return to this old favourite.

We were shown to our table in the separate dining room where we had previously enjoyed our Afternoon with Jason meal back in July, 2011. It had been set up to accommodate larger parties.

Our server Le-Anne was fabulous. She was very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about both the food and wine she was serving. She took our drink orders right away. I opted for the special Fabulicious Cocktail comprising of Riesling Icewine, orange juice and grenadine. 

This was a delightful cocktail. The combination of flavours worked really well together. It wasn't too sweet. A really nice and refreshing drink.

For my appetizer, I picked the "Riesling Steamed P.E.I. Mussels". It is described on the menu as a combination of "black garlic, pristine mustard and oven dried tomatoes".

I love mussels. These were so so delicious that when I was done I actually checked each individual shell to see if I had missed any! The black garlic, pristine mustard and oven dried tomato worked beautifully together. It was served with a slice of toast spread with a fabulous garlic spread! An excellent start to the meal.

For my main, I picked "Chanteclaire Chicken Pot Pie". It consisted of "Roasted Chicken, Woodland Mushrooms and Flaky Puff Pastry". It was served with an apple, arugula and walnut salad.

Let me begin with the most surprising aspect on the board...the apple and arugula salad. This was so delicious. These flavours worked beautifully together. I loved the crunch of walnuts.
The chicken pot pie can be described as pure comfort. A perfect choice for a late winter lunch. There was a tinge of tarragon in the sauce which heightened the flavours of the filling. The puff pastry was indeed flaky and the whole thing was incredibly good!

For my dessert, I picked the "Chocolate Blackout Cake". It was served with "caramel sauce and chocolate mousse". 

This was the best dessert of the whole weekend. I do love chocolate and put caramel in the mix and I am an extremely happy girl. The cake itself was moist and flavourful. It had a layer of crunch between it and the delicious chocolate mousse. So so good. 

Overall, our lunch at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant was fabulous! It was the perfect ending to a perfect culinary weekend. 

In his opinion:
You would think I own shares in this restaurant or in Hillbrand Estates given that we eat here so often. Many blogged visits and many other times without blogging, this is surely one of our favourite restaurants to dine in.

Why you ask? It's actually simple...of course the level of cuisine is stellar, the menus have a healthy dose of wine and ice wine inspirations, the setting is gorgeous and of course, celebrity chef Jason Parsons at the helm of this well run ship. It just really comes down to being an extremely consistent overall great dining experience.

For anyone that has never visited Peller or dined at its namesake restaurant, you are surely missing out on a lot. The saying "it's worth the drive to" certainly applies to Peller Estates and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Region in general.

Ok...onto the food already! This was Niagara's Fabulicious event, similar to Toronto's Winterlicious but without highlighting the obvious...the Winter part!
The menu at Peller looked extremely inviting (as usual) so we booked a lunch for a Sunday.

We were seated in the adjacent room as the main dining area was full but it is a part of the restaurant we enjoy, giving us good memories of our "Afternoon with Jason" event, one that you also must try so check for more info.

I started by ordering a glass of Pinot Noir, which by the way has come a long way in the Niagara Region. I don't think it's at the level of winning worldwide awards yet but very good indeed, especially this "Private Reserve 2010". I then, quickly made my selections as I had an idea before hand of what I wanted from the menu.

For my appetizer, I ordered the "ice wine corn chowder with cured bacon and saffron cream". The menu mentioned little neck clams but either they were too "little" or I had too much wine already because I didn't notice them.
The chowder was creamy perfect consistency and paired beautifully with the 
saffron cream that was delightful. The tiny strips of cured Bacon were the perfect texture contrast and a highlight of the dish.

For my entree, I went really different and ordered the burger. Not that I don't usually order burgers, just not a restaurants like Peller. The "braised beef and horseradish burger" somehow sounded interesting and I also know that it's not an item that Peller carries normally, so I ordered it. It was an amazing choice, with the braised beef taking center stage. It was my first time having braised beef as a patty on a burger and truthfully, I quite enjoyed it. Soft, tasty and a great compliment to the condiments and toppings of the burger. It was served with "thyme poutine", another well prepared side that was also great.  There was the option to add lobster for $5 but since I had lobster that morning for breakfast, I passed but certainly a great option for the money.

For dessert, I picked the "maple pecan tart". Three of my favourite things together in one dessert has to be commendable as if Jason knew what I liked. This dessert came on a bed of "creme Anglaise" and topped with chantilly cream. Overall, this rather simple dish was a winner and crafted very well.

To top the evening, Jason came to see us at our table as he usually does, even though we know how busy he usually is, especially at Fabulicious time. He also made the day of a young foodie in training, a friend of ours - Jacob, by taking a picture with him and giving him and his mother Liz a tour of the Peller Kitchen.

It's hard not to be amazed by the level of engagement with customers that is evident every time we visit Peller. Jason is truly a great person, with amazing customer service skills that is not always a trait of a chef with his profile as one of the top celebrity chefs in Canada. Thank you to Jason and his staff.

The Good: Great tasting food, wine and service, great company, and a few moments with Jason made it an excellent lunch. The burger was devine!
The Bad: No bad to report, wish Peller was closer to my house I suppose...
The Verdict: All the people that we have recommended this restaurant to, as well as all the friends we have brought to dine with us there, have all loved it and for some it has become their favourite restaurant. To me, that speaks as loud as their "Extraordinary" rating by Zagat or the top 10 distinction of Best overall dining experience by Simply a great experience.

I give it 4 out of 5 Olives as rating

Peller Estates on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 March 2013

Dee's Bakery

118 St. Andrew Street
Cambridge, ON


In her opinion:
I was very curious when a sign went up saying, "Opening Soon - Dee's Bakery - Butter Tarts to Die For". I think the humour in all of this is the fact that Dee's is right next to Coutt's Funeral Home. Some people in Cambridge thought it was so funny, they even sent videos to Ellen! But in reality...that has been Dee's Bakery slogan even before they opened up next to the funeral home.

Dee's butter tarts have been available at 97 General Store for as long as I can remember. I just didn't know that these were the same butter tarts that they were referring to on the funny sign.

We stopped in on a Sunday afternoon. I could see one of the dough rollers busy at work through the window. I had heard how good these butter tarts were...and every time I drove by, I always noted that the parking lot was always full. 

But proof is in the I ordered two raisin butter tarts - a classic combo of flavour! 

Well they were absolutely delicious. The crust was flaky and buttery. The filling was perfection. So delicious. I liked the sweet addition of the raisins. Overall, a perfect butter tart. I don't know if I would die for one...but they are really good!

In his opinion:

Okay, I will skip the jokes about "butter tarts to die for" and the funeral home beside it, although I think it's pretty funny. Usually when I think good butter tarts in my region, Mennonites butter tarts are what comes to mind. They are famous for their tarts and people come form far and wide to have them.

Could it be that non-Mennonites could replicate the velvety, smooth buttery tarts that we have grown to love? Only one way to find out...Stopped in at Dee's Bakery to find out what the fuss was about and at first glance it looks more like a French Patisserie than a butter tart store...whatever that is suppose to look like. Nevertheless, it's has a colourful exterior, with a pink door, pink awning and a pink theme that continues on the inside.

I promise that I will get to the tarts promptly...but I want to highlight the retro look inside with many "back in the day" artifacts and props, making you think you have literally gone back in time. More pink inside leads to the counter where the "goodies" are on display. Yes, they do have more than butter tarts and carry a good variety of items from quiche, to turnovers and also cookies and pies.

Now to the tarts. They are extremely good and rival some of the best I have ever had, either in our "English" world or in the Mennonite one. The inside is "buttery" smooth and the crust is flaky without being to hard. Almost a perfect butter tart and it would have been one if it had pecans instead of the raisins.

I understand that most of their business is done outside of the store with catering and delivering sweets to parties and gatherings but, I believe that it is well worth going inside this gem to feel it for yourself.
Can't wait to go back and try some more of their items...and soon I hope.
What are you waiting for? Off you go to get!

Dee's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro

215 St. Paul Street West
St. Catharines, Ontario


In her opinion:
What do foodies do when they are enjoying a wonderful meal? Why think about where to have their next great meal of course! So when we were enjoying our Fabulicious dinner at Ravine Vineyard Bistro, we of course asked our waiter about a great spot for breakfast. After some thought he suggested the Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro. He explained that it was fabulous and a true foodie delight.

The next morning we left our hotel and took off in pursuit of this fabulous breakfast place. After a few turns and misses, we finally arrived at our destination. As we walked in, we were greeted by our friendly waitress/hostess who came over to take our drink orders.

After our drink orders were taken, she gave us some time to check out the menu. We had already studied it the night before, so I think most of us knew what we wanted.

I ordered one of the two most popular dishes on the menu according to our server...the "crab cake with poached eggs, avocado salsa, toast and potato".

This was so delectable. It almost felt sinful having something this delicious for breakfast! The crab cake was excellent. Full of flavour. The avocado salsa was beyond words. So so good. It was like having an excellent chunky guacamole. This salsa made the whole dish in my opinion. The eggs were perfectly poached. The potatoes were a refreshing change from the normal fried breakfast potatoes. The toast was a delicious house made honey whole wheat which were served with a house made strawberry jam.

The Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro is an incredible restaurant for anyone who loves breakfast and excellent innovative cuisine. Chef Robby and his entire staff make for a truly unforgettable dining experience.

In his opinion:
It's always good when someone gives a good tip on a restaurant and it works out to be a great experience! Let's face it, dining tastes are a subjective thing and not everyone likes the same things, hence why tips are risky.

Luckily for us, it ended up that this person had the same outlook as us, wanting to share a good tip and also knew what he was talking about. So...we ended up in St Catharines, in what seemed like the "wrong" part of town but actually turned out quite quaint and in a great spot for breakfast.
The Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro is truly a gem and a foodie's dream. The menu is diverse with dishes that stand out from the usual breakfast types.

You could actually miss it if you weren't looking for it. It's tucked away on a street corner, without a splashy storefront like some restaurants but rest assured that the inside makes up for it. It's a nice layout, with limited seating especially since it's not a huge place but tastefully decorated, turtles on the wall included.

One quick look at the menu and a light beamed towards one dish. It's not everywhere that you find a dish like "Lobster Benedict" so I was hooked and had to have it. Now I'm just as skeptical as anyone else when it comes to having lobster in this a part of the country that is landlocked, and especially in a place I have never been before but I bit the bullet and went for it.

The dish was visually appealing and simple in its creation. Straightforward in its composition and leaving me to uncover all the layers of flavour, after the menu simply stated "Lobster Benny/Potato".

The white bread on the bottom was toasted just slightly to crisp up in texture and the hollandaise sauce was flavourful but not overpowering, letting the lobster play the main part of the flavours. The lobster itself was very good, a mix of shredded with chunky pieces of lobster and a perfect addition to the soft poached eggs, that ran their yoke into the soaking bread below.

The coffee itself was very good and so was the orange juice that was not quite freshly squeezed but far from minute maid in a box. Staff was friendly and attentive. The place quickly filled up after our arrival, many of them with reservation which is probably the only way to go if you want to have breakfast here.

The Good: Great place, sort of a hidden gem. Good menu, friendly staff and well executed food.
The Bad: Limited seating makes them turn away a lot of patrons without reservations.
The Verdict: I really hope that I get to try this place for lunch or dinner because breakfast left a great taste in my mouth (pun intended). The recommendation was spot on, great food, diverse menu and simplicity in its dishes. A must in St. Catharines, especially for their "known" foodie friendly menus.

I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 Olives as rating.

Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 March 2013

Ravine Vineyard Bistro

1366 York Road
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON


In her opinion:
I've wanted to try the Ravine Vineyard Bistro for a while now and when Fabulicious 2013 came about...I thought what a perfect opportunity! After all, how could anyone pass up a fabulous 3-course meal for $35.

I asked our foodie friends if they wanted to come along and made a dinner reservation as quickly as possible. Our group of five were seated immediately when we entered the warm and welcoming restaurant.

After making our drink selections...I choose a glass of the Ravine Cabernet Franc. It was a good selection to go with my dinner picks.

For my first course, I picked the "Chicken Liver Parfait". It is described on the menu as being served with "shaved fennel and shallot salad and house toast".

To begin with, I was very impressed with the presentation on the plate. The use of the cork as a spreader holder was brilliant! This was so delicious. The chicken liver pate was smooth and silky. So flavourful. I rather enjoyed the shaved fennel and shallot salad. I thought it proved the right acidic contract to the richness of the pate. Very very good.

For my main, I picked the "Braised Beef Short Rib". It was accompanied with "pomme puree and roasted root vegetables". 

Let me begin by saying...I do enjoy a well done short rib and this was a very well done short rib. The meat was fall off the bone and could have been cut with a spoon. That is what makes for a successful braise in my opinion. The sauce around the plate was wine based and delicious. I rather enjoyed the Brussels sprout and carrots that were roasted to perfection. The pomme puree was also impeccable. Smooth and full of flavour. Overall, an excellent main which was perfectly complimented by my glass of cab franc. 

For dessert, I picked the "Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Tart". It was served with "espresso mousse and vanilla  anglaise. 

This was a larger then usual portion for a prix fix dessert. It was nutty and chocolatey all in one with a punch of espresso flavour. The espresso mousse was the star on the plate. I was like having an espresso in mouse form. The dessert was so rich that I could not finish it. An excellent ending to an excellent meal.

Overall, a fabulous dinner experience. I rather enjoyed it. I think I would like to return to Ravine during the summer or in the fall when the vines are green and full of fruit. It is a gorgeous setting for a wonderful meal.

In his opinion:
This French country type bistro is a true gem in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located inside the Vineyard with the same name, it serves to showcase some of the products that the Vineyard itself had been known for and just never had a proper restaurant to showcase it in.

Its popularity has been on the rise for a while now and has quickly become a must go place in the heart of Niagara Wine Country. The name that it is  making for itself comes courtesy of things like having fantastic views of the Niagara Peninsula, a country store with artisanal cheeses, deli and preserves, a farm to table ideology and an in premises wood burning hearth oven.

We were very welcomed at the door by one of the employees and promptly shown our seats in the lower deck, near the glass wall with breathtaking views of the vineyard. Even in the dead of winter, we can definitely see the charm and appeal of the restaurant's location. The server was extremely attentive and even recommended a place for the next morning's breakfast.

The Fabulicious fixed price menu was quite appealing (one of the reasons we picked it) and displayed a well thought of mix of dishes. I opted first for a glass of 2011 Redcoat, a Bordeaux style type blend that was faint on the aroma but packed a good punch in taste for a medium bodied red.

For my appetizer, I picked the "Lemon Dill Brined Smoked Scallop" with cauliflower puree and Ravine pork belly. What an amazing combination of flavours this ended up being. This top notch Ravine pork belly was excellently cured and cooked to perfection. The scallops were perfectly seared adding a great soft texture contrast to the pork belly's firm and delectable taste. I would have this dish any day of the week and highly recommend it to others.

For my entree, I opted for the "Oven Roasted Capon Breast" served with parmesan polenta and vegetable ratatouille. Again a winning dish in my books that combines textures, savory and sweet tastes and a palate jolt that leaves you wanting more. The polenta was pan fried I believe and is able to maintain the same taste but with a firm, crunchy exterior that just works. The vegetable ratatouille (didn't know there was any other) was also exquisite,  hearty and soulful at its core.

For dessert, I went with the "Brown Butter Madeleines" with poached pears, and "Oast House Barn Raiser" and honey ice cream. This although well presented was the black sheep of the night and left me wanting something more. The poached pears were bland and so was the honey ice cream. The tasty madeleines (French butter cake/cookie) were the exception but unfortunately not enough to save this dessert.

The Good: Great local ingredients, friendly service and breathtaking views equal to a good experience.
The Bad: Dessert was below par and entertainment a bit loud for dinner service.
The Verdict: Overall, a great place to eat. The food shows the love for the local ingredients and you feel the true passion that goes into every dish. The casual/country feel of the main room in the front adds to the ambiance.

I give it 3 1/2 out of 5 Olives as rating

Ravine Vineyard Bistro on Urbanspoon