March 2009

Food and Food: Edmonton10 Mar 2009 08:34 pm

Every night, after work, I have to walk by La Shish. It’s this little place that specializes in the most delectable of Middle Eastern treats: shwarmas and kebabs. It is about 20 steps away from our front door, and it actually closer than the grocery store, making it a fine excuse to dine upon often. The smell of the grilled meats brings me to my knees almost nightly, and it is a miracle I do not dine everyday on their fine dishes.

Tonight, it is very cold in Edmonton. Very, very, cold. I got home from work and immediately took to hiding under the blankets. While I did so, Mike graciously sacrificed his warmth and headed out to get me a mixed platter of grilled chicken, and beef kebab and kofta. He also ate the leftovers, instead of La Shish. What a doll.

We are so fortunate to live on the same street at La Shish. It has saved us many a lazy dinner night.

La Shish, downtown Edmonton

La Shish can be hit or miss, but lately it has been incredible. Juicy protein, savoury rice and extra creamy hummus. I suspect they have even switched to the soft fluffy Sunbake pitas which are an added treat.

La Shish Taouk
two locations: 10106 118 Street, 224 Mayfield Common
both open late most nights of the week

Food and Food: Home Cookin'08 Mar 2009 11:23 pm

As a child, the idea of rice pudding really repulsed me. Perhaps I had not quite grasped the concept of how delicious custards could be!

One night a few years ago while at the India Grill buffet on Edmonton’s southside, I cautiously tried a tiny bowl of kheer. Mike described it to me as “Indian rice pudding.” After inhaling the two spoonfuls in my bowl, I went up for more. I was hooked.

Everyday Food magazine printed a version of “light” rice pudding which I tried. While I would not describe it as light, it is not as fattening or cholesterol laden as its cousin “regular” rice pudding. It is now a favourite breakfast treat. Or any time treat, really. Most delicious when warmed.

So, how to turn this:

riceCalrose rice grains. I prefer the creamy starchiness this particular rice lends to the pudding.

into this:

rice pudding

Note, I have modified the recipe slightly so that it is not as “light.” Feel free to experiment.

UN-lightened Rice Pudding

(modified from Everyday Food, serves eight)

  • 1 cup Calrose white rice (you could use arborio or regular long-grain as well. adjust cooking time as necessary)
  • 6 cups whole milk (skim was used in the original recipe)
  • just under 1 cup sugar (I find a full cup too sweet)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon each freshly ground cardamom, grated cinnamon & nutmeg, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, plus more for garnish
  1. In a large pot, combine 5 cups milk and rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until rice is tender. With Calrose, this takes around 13 minutes. Be careful that the milk does not scorch.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, vanilla, spices and remaining cup of milk. Pour this mixture into the rice and stir constantly over medium low heat. The mix will thicken after 3-5 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture into a bowl, stir in raisins and any type of nuts you may desire. Resist eating the soupy mixture right then, for as it thickens it becomes even more heavenly. Refrigerate after mix has cooled.

I have also made this using lavender and honey (too plain) and pistachios and brown sugar (not as good), but always return to this combination.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels04 Mar 2009 12:42 pm

Pickle chips and the “All Nighter” milkshake at Chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT in the Mirage. Espresso, Kahlua, Baileys and coffee ice cream. The shake was heavenly, but I preferred the pickle chips and burgers from Stripburger we had in December. Luckily, BLT does shakes to go.

The Gold Coast was amazing for people watching.

At Yardhouse, a bar off Strip that serves 100+ beers on tap.

We also visisted the pinball museum again, and finally made it to Border Grill. I was feeling a bit under the weather, and neglected to take photos, but the food was fantastic. So was eating outdoors in February.

And reposting, because I’m so fond of these photos:

General03 Mar 2009 11:08 pm

I might have the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had. Well, it’s kind of writer’s block – there is not a lot of writing to be done. Mostly math in fact. So I guess it’s mathematician’s block. I am trying to complete a course in astronomy; it’s a self-directed learning/correspondence course, and I am frozen.

My five quizzes are done, but yet to be sent to the marker.

My five labs are half finished, a mess of graphs and equations and drawings of the moon.

I have not booked my final exam yet. I have set a deadline for myself to get it all done by May 1 (along with three other courses I am fighting off the urge to start that should prove to be much easier.)

I studiously take out my books every night after work and then find reasons not to do work. I have created studying music play lists. Lists of deadlines and tick boxes to motivate. Tried Studyhacks, working in small and large, social and isolated doses. Any suggestions on how to git ‘er done? This speedbump is quickly growing into Kilimanjaro.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels03 Mar 2009 08:01 am

bar charlie

We ate other things on day two of our trip, but only one meal bears mentioning.

After buying some tickets to Penn & Teller’s show at 9pm (I highly recommend using Tix4Tonight for discounted tickets), we were on a bit of a time budget for the night. I called Restaurant Charlie at the Palazzo cautiously. As I booked dinner for 5:30 pm, I asked if that was enough time to experience their 14-course kaiseki menu. “Well, it is a bit closer to 3 hours,” said the hostess, “but I will tell Chef you have time constraints.”

Three hours may be cutting it close for a meal? What.

Bar Charlie is a restaurant within a restaurant, in this case, Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant Charlie which is inside the Palazzo. Bar Charlie is a kaiseki restaurant, a sort of cuisine normally confined to Japan. One of my true regrets about our trip to Tokyo was missing the opportunity to stay in a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Sort of like a bed and breakfast. Kaiseki meals are very common in them.

With five, eight and fourteen course menus, Trotter has allowed his executive chef Hiroo Nagahara to really have fun and exercise his knife. Sometimes dishes are served in the Restaurant Charlie side, but mostly the chefs are working for you.

It’s extremely intimate to be the only two patrons at a restaurant. Even if it was filled there would only be room for fifteen to eighteen people. Later, as we were leaving, a couple came in and were seated, but for the most part it was one-on-one service. When I got my camera out to take some photos, Mike referred to it as the fifth person in the room. The normally super quiet lens opening became nails on a chalkboard. As such, I did not interrupt our dining pleasure with taking too many photos. But let it be known we were eating art that night.

Chef Nagahara was amazing. As the meal ended, we talked with him for some time. He told us he spontaneously comes up with many of his dishes, and the menu is never the same, which is a shock when you find out what they are and the complexities involved. His hope is that no one will ever experience the same meal twice at his restaurant. His meticulous care and preparation show in every step of the meal. He recognizes Japanese traditions in food (especially in kaiseki, where care is taken to present food as nature) and takes time to source seasonal ingredients straight from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. The glee in his voice as he described a still-in-rigour tuna he got in for Valentines Day was palpable. He implored us to come back and make special requests for next time. We also found out one of Chef Nagahara’s favourite cuisines was Ethiopian!

I’m not sure how long Bar/Restaurant Charlie will be around as it is definitely among the more dear restaurants in Vegas (and that is saying something) and it is pretty quiet. But it is definitely an amazing place. I am no critic, so just some photos and what I recall from our meal, below:

“Buttery Potato” cocktail. I have to say that savoury cocktails blow my mind. At $19, they should. The cocktail list at Restaurant Charlie is worth a visit on its own. They serve modern and vintage “pre-Prohibition” cocktails.

One of the two chefs working for us that evening. He never introduced himself!

“Cherry Blossoms in Snow”

Blue fin tuna tartare, with greek yogurt disc, seaweed tuile and pickled cucumbers

A new dish: cuttlefish, deconstructed.

The body, in the center there, made into a dumpling that was meant to have the texture of an egg. The wings, the lightest tempura you’ve ever had. The tentacles, grilled.

From pastry chef Vanessa Garcia, a series of desserts including:

Basil-infused blueberries with semolina pudding, tarragon semi freddo and lime-basil sorbet

Dark chocolate cocoa sponge cake with citrus salad, candied oro blanco (a variety of pomelo) peel tuile and oro blanco sorbet

Petits fours: Cookies and cream, fresh marshmallow, candied ginger and a gorgeous iridescent green truffle

Each dish was prepared fresh, right in front of us. When presented on the bar, the chef would explain every single component of the dish. The ones I recall, some better than others:

  • Japanese tai (red snapper) with black grape reduction, black grapes and kalamata olive gelee
  • An aji, or Spanish mackerel dish
  • Trout three ways: ice cream, roulade and ravioli filled with trout head (the ‘pasta’ was made of trout stock) with crispy trout roe and skin (this was my personal favourite dish, if only because it was so bizarre to eat fish flavoured ice cream)
  • Two different tuna courses, including bluefin tuna tartare, the other as “Cherry Blossoms in the Snow”, above
  • Carbonated carrots and scallops. The carrots were in a liquid and carbonated, so that it danced on your tongue.
  • “Oysters on the Beach”: Razor clams and oysters with horseradish granules (representing sand) and a sea water foam to represent the ocean.
  • Sushi rice risotto with wild mushrooms
  • A piece of two-day braised Kurobuta pork belly on a confit of quinoa and Fuji apples.
  • Finally, a sorbet, two desserts and a sampling of petits fours.

Every dish was unbelievable and had several mouth feels, tastes and flavours going on. Everything ranging from bubbly, soft, firm, crunchy, chewy, sour, bitter, sweet, cold, gelatinous, umami… a true experience.

I regret not taking notes, but it really was nice to just sit back, relax and take the entire experience in. For such a complex – at times esoteric – meal that may never be replicated this may have been a mistake, but I am certain I will remember it for a long time.

PS: We made it to the show on time after our two and a half hour dinner: Penn & Teller were great.

UPDATE: You can read about my fantastic return trip to Bar Charlie in July here.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels02 Mar 2009 09:45 am

At first, it was a joke. But deep down, I knew it was the truth. The reason for such a quick return trip to Las Vegas: to eat at the Border Grill.

Of course, there were other reasons, and other restaurants. But after hearing my parents gush about their amazing dining experience at the authentic Mexican eatery in Mandalay Bay, I knew we had to return. We ended up eating a few hours before our flight home (note to self: get entrees to bring home next time!) and I wasn’t feeling very well, so no photos. However, here are some of the other dining experiences:

Day 1: Ping Pang Pong

Inside the Gold Coast Casino (west of the Strip, at the corner of South Valley View Boulevard and West Flamingo Road) We had a car, but a cab or even the Rio or Gold Coast shuttle will get you there as well.

Drawn by rave reviews of the dim sum, we visited Ping Pang Pong as soon as we had our car rented. The Gold Coast casino is one of the sadder places I’ve been, but full of interesting folk and free giveaways: I saw many people walking around with “Swiffer” duster knock offs.

Since it was mid morning on a Sunday, the place was packed. We waited nearly 30 minutes for a table which was the only disappointing part of our meal. We gorged ourselves on seafood, dumplings, rice noodles, taro and BBQ pork buns. Everything was fresh, the sauces were incredible and were not just plain mayo or soy. The tea was a step well above average  and stayed super hot in its cast iron pot. Even the smell of cigarette smoke from the adjacent casino wasn’t even that bad. The dining room was efficient, and shaped into a lucky number “8” with most seating reserved for large groups, naturally.  It wasn’t the best dim sum I’ve ever had, but I would eat there regularly if I lived in Las Vegas. The total came about $30, I believe. It was a steal.

Unassuming entrance. There were at least 15-20 people waiting at any given time for a table.

Ceiling decor.

Day 1: Daniel Boulud Brasserie

(Inside Wynn Las Vegas)

It took a long day of shopping to be hungry for our late dinner reservation at the Wynn’s Daniel Boulud after eating at Ping Pang Pong. We had a hard time deciding where to eat. A return to Le Cirque, following our last triumphant meal? Perhaps a trip to the newly opened Sinatra at Encore? Mike read the description of the restaurant from the oversized glossy magazine promoting Steve Wynn’s twin properties earlier in the day, and it was incredibly persuasive. In the end, the promise of house made charcuterie at Daniel Boulud won us over, however.

Chef Boulud just took over Rob Feenie’s Lumiere in Vancouver. I had dined there nearly two years ago, in a meal that still remains fresh in my mind. As does seeing Feenie himself pushing dishes out of the swinging door to the kitchen. Boulud is a busy fellow and I doubt he is in his Vegas or Vancouver kitchen with any frequency, but I could be wrong. Either way, his direction has served well at Daniel Boulud Brasserie and the meal was great value and executed well.

To start, west coast oysters and the charcuterie board. The large glossy magazine had told us earlier that the Wynn has its own marine biologist to care for the multitude of lobsters and sea animals that are used in the hotel. The oysters were okay; nothing mind blowing here. The charcuterie, however, is worth a visit. There is an outdoor patio that was warm, even in Feburary, and I was fantasizing about returning to have a mid afternoon snack of pate and foie gras with a glass of wine on the patio. Meats of the day included chicken liver mousse, pâté of some kind, pistachio sausage, fig and duck terrine as well as a variety of cured meats, served with house made pickles and mustard.

Pickle platter

DB Burger

Skate grenobloise

(As you can see from the photo, it really needed more brown butter)

Mike went with the signature DB burger as a main, and I kept with the sea creature theme and had skate grenobloise. The burger was amazing: stuffed with braised short ribs, black truffle and foie gras, making it kind of hard to eat. It was shockingly juicy and meaty and a very over the top preparation for a burger. My skate was amazing; served in a rich brown butter sauce on a bed of roasted cauliflower, radishes and potato puree. Lobster is fine, but skate is finer. It has long been considered a ‘trash fish’ but it has a sweet, flaky texture and I would order it again if I ever saw it on a menu. The portions were a bit modest, but perfectly filling. I had no desire to feel nauseatingly full after with a visit to a tequila bar on tap, and instead just felt pleasant. Our server chatted with us for some time about Canada’s Yukon and the time he had spent there. It was a relaxed evening.

The patio overlooks the Wynn’s “Lake of Dreams” and there is a cheesy half-time show of sorts. Videos, music and inflatable animals are used to entertain the crowd for a few minutes every half hour. I found the food to be attention worthy enough and found the shows distracting. If you want to see it, however, it is also visible from the Parasol Down bar and SW steakhouse.

One of the shows at the Lake of Dreams

Travels01 Mar 2009 09:19 am

My first visit to Las Vegas, I stayed at the Tropicana. The Trop. Maybe you’ve noticed it, if you’ve been to Vegas. It sits at the corner of Tropicana and the Boulevard, facing the MGM, Excalibur and NY-NY. Kind of a sad place. Once great, I’m sure.

It was a weird experience. Floral covered bed spreads, green carpeting that may have been shag at one point, showers that squealed, no view to speak of, and the overwhelming smell of smoke and low-end air freshener which reminded me of a terrible job I once had at a hotel.

In later visits, I stayed at various other Vegas properties: MGM and Mirage. Timeshares. Lots of off-strip places – anywhere I could get a deal basically. Finally, though, prices have come down enough that I could rationalize staying at a five-star hotel. Using Hotwire, I secured a room at the Wynn at a deep discount. Although I had been hoping to get the Venetian (also in that star class), I need not have worried. The Wynn was amazing.

More than just old beef jerky and bits and bites.

I watched a Spongebob Squarepants marathon on that TV.

From the shower.

No squeal, insta-hot shower stall.

Large bathroom with TV, weight scale **, blow dryer, above average toiletries and plush towels and bath robes.

Disturbing level of personalization. My name also appeared digitally on the telephone and TV menus.

We faced the golf course, mountains and incoming plane route. If you leaned just the right way on the window, you could kind of see Encore

The pillows were the size of my upper body. Serious overkill, as the bed was supremely comfortable with out these.

It’s hard to say what I liked best, but I think just the over all feeling that someone had thought about all these things that I never knew I wanted or could have in a hotel room was great. Plus, for the location and service, the price could not have been beat.

** The scale came in handy when we needed to know if our suitcase was over weight.

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