June 2010

Food: Las Vegas and Travels27 Jun 2010 11:34 pm

The only thing I may love more than restaurant design is hotel design.

Scratch that.

I love hotel design more than restaurant design. Therefore, it was with great interest that I checked out the new hotels of CityCenter in Las Vegas on the last visit. Overall, I found they were all pretty sterile, pretty clean, pretty new…then we went for lunch at Mandarin Oriental.

Angles of CityCenter.

The hotel is stunning. Even just walking around the sparse public areas, it was easy to tell it was something different. The valet was friendly, less frantic. The elevator was plush. Yes, you read correctly: plush. There was a tufted velvet seat in case you were SO weary you could not bear to stand for 10 seconds.

There was calming minimalistic music chiming and droning through the halls. Lighting, reflective surfaces, texture all used to great effect. There is a sky lobby on the 26th floor. It’s a stunning hotel.


I’m easily impressed though.

Anyhow, we went for lunch at MOzen bistro, which is the “casual” restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental. I will admit it wasn’t high on the list of places to visit, but after six days of wedding shenanigans I was tired of making decisions.

MOzen does pan Asian cuisine well. Their menu, at first glance, is a jumble of random Asian foods. Indian curries, Singaporean hawker food, Japanese sushi, Thai noodles… it looks like a nightmare.

I’m happy to report, as with many restaurants, the pleasure is in the execution. There aren’t many places that do an amazing curry on the Strip, but I can fully support the curries that MOzen makes.

It’s not the cheapest restaurant – fitting for the hotel with some of the highest standard rack rates on the Strip right now as well.

High ceiling-ed dining room overlooking the other hotels and condos of CityCenter.

An amuse bouche of pickled daikon, pork tenderloin and curried potato salad.

Grilled stingray with sambal and lime, wrapped in banana leaf.

Sashimi and sushi rolls made to order. The mackerel was sliced a little thickly, but was still quite fine.

Mike got the lamb shank curry with naan. It came with a side of lentils and rice, and house made pickles – it was bloody huge.

I got the tandoori chicken tikka wrap with cucumber mint raita, a house salad and super crispy fries.

Mike’s parents joined us part way through. His mom got this gorgeous looking cocktail, made with gin and gold flakes. That’s all I remember.

At the end, peanut butter jelly macarons. The server called them macaroons which made me twitch a bit, but other than that and accidentally being sent a vegetable wrap (which they came back for quickly) there were no mistakes in service. It was attentive and kind, but sort of forced. The food is what shone.

I’ve heard they do a great breakfast, and they’ve just started a Sake brunch which looks like a classy (if drunken) dim sum.

Afterwards, we did a little tour of the public parts of the hotel and visited Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist. Next time, my friend, next time.

Then onto the monorail to travel to the Bellagio and visit the spring gardens. They were extra impressive this year. I enjoyed the giant ant sculptures and rose snails.

MOzen Bistro at Mandarin Oriental
Las Vegas
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner daily

General17 Jun 2010 06:15 pm

Because at this point even I am over my own wedding, it seems like the perfect time to finally post photos. 🙂 I’ll just post some highlights, however. For the full set, please click here for the album.

First, the panoramas. Ryan Jackson, our photographer and my coworker at the Edmonton Journal, is well known for his panoramas. He does them for sporting events, building openings, fire scenes and just because in his work at the paper. I was so pleased he could do a few for our wedding.


CLICK ANY PHOTO TO MAKE IT LARGER. Especially recommended for the panoramas. Give them time to load, however.


Neon Boneyard photo panorama (Credit: Ryan Jackson)

Wedding Ceremony photo panorama (Credit: Ryan Jackson)

In the new wine cellar at Lotus of Siam after the rehearsal dinner

Shot in the parking lot of Lotus of Siam

I seriously hated my veil.

There's only one answer.

My maid and man of honour help me with my dress

Mike gets dressed...and realizes his pants are back on the Strip

This is my "Oh shit, the pants aren't here and are back on the strip and there is another wedding right after us and who is going to go and what are we going to do" face.

Of course, the show went on, slightly later than expected and everything was awesome because my friends and bridal party Matt and Amy are awesome and they went to retrieve the pants from the Strip.

My hands were shaking and I had trouble getting his ring on

wedding high five!

More neon boneyard photos

cruisin in the 1966 caddie

This is my standard WHHHHHAAAT? look

Of course, a food photo. I'll do a round up on the food at another time. (Photo by me)

Afterwards, we had a party that went into the wee hours in a suite at Mandalay Bay

This may only matter to photo nerds, but this is the HDR filter in Photoshop CS5. It's also a photo shot on a tiltshift lens.

There is only one way to get rid of left over wedding booze. And that is to drink it next to a fountain on the Strip. Mike's classy, and that's why I love him. (Photo by me)

Again, there are more photos here.

Food and Travels16 Jun 2010 11:15 pm

Because I’m moving to Japan, we thought we’d check out the Kasugai Japanese Gardens in Kelowna. Kelowna’s sister city is Kasugai, and the garden was built to commemorate that. They’re really beautiful and peaceful.

Along with obese koi, there was a cute turtle swimming around!

We stopped at a new retro antique and furniture store, Object Orange. They had some cool stuff in there that I might have bought if I wasn’t trying to downsize my life and belongings.

Ogopogo made an appearance.

I stopped by a local chain of coffeeshops called Bean Scene for a London Fog. There was a musician playing there that I honestly thought was CD at first, he was so on.

I love this sign so much.

Wings, nachos and draft Okanagan Springs 1516 at Tonics Pub.

The nachos were okay. Great cheese coverage on top, but serious lack on the interior, as per usual with ‘chos.

These spicy honey wings were some of the best wings I’ve ever had. Right mix of meaty and cartilaginous with not too much sauce, and super fresh. Plus they gave me about 16 wings for what was supposed to be 12.

We went for ice cream sundaes one night at the Okanagan Fudge and Sundae Company. Two scoops of ice cream, two toppings and a big dollop of whip. I found the whole thing a bit saccharine and could barely finish. Kids would love it. We ate it on the water front.

I hope someone has asked for a fudge and ice cream sundae. Sick, right?

Another sunny day in Kelowna

The flight to and from Kelowna is well worth the $300 for the drive time it saves and the beautiful view of the Rockies.

Food and Travels16 Jun 2010 12:14 am

Sad to say, but the semi truck was not my ride

You know the hotel in “Dirty Dancing?” The old school one that’s crazy busy in the summer with vacationing families, teenagers falling in love, people trying their hands at sailing or kayaking and packed to the gills dining rooms? That’s kind of what the Hotel Eldorado reminds me of.

It’s a really quaint hotel set built in 1926 on a particularly beautiful spot of waterfront property in Kelowna. And that’s saying something because EVERYWHERE is beautiful in Kelowna. It’s hot, it’s sunny, it’s green and there is fruit everywhere.

The hotel itself is like a big waterfront house with wood everywhere, touches of whimsy in the decor and a gorgeous view of the marina from the Lakeside Dining Room, which is where we ate.

Lakeside dining room. Does anyone happen to know if there is a story behind the missing pair of shoes in the boat?

View of the Marina on a rather unsually dreary day in Kelowna

The hotel has got quite a history. After being built in 1926 as a spot for travelers to rest in the interior of B.C., it was saved from demolition in the late 80s by a developer. It then burnt to the ground in an arson, but was reopened just a year later after being completely rebuilt. One of the coolest things remaining from the original building is the awesome retro sign out front.

I arrived in town to visit my brother early Sunday morning; 7 am. I had planned on having brunch at either one of the many wineries in town or buffet at the “El” as it is affectionately known around town. It seemed difficult to get a reservation on OpenTable for Sunday, but I eventually made two bookings. I cancelled at Quail’s Gate to eat the El. We had planned to arrive as the brunch buffet started, but turns out we were too early as the buffet starts at 9 a.m.

Instead of waiting 45 minutes for the seemingly small buffet to get set up and going, we ordered off the menu. They had the traditional offerings; pancakes and benedicts, among other things. The prices were a bit high, but reasonable. (An $8 fruit smoothie? They better bring the entire blender out for that.)

The buffet was a whopping $29.95; even though he wasn’t paying my brother refused to indulge, just on principle based on the excellent spread he’d experienced at the post-wedding brunch buffet at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I have to admit, he had a point. Even compared to the Post Hotel’s buffet, the El’s buffet was a bit lacking.

It wasn’t legal serving time, so we couldn’t get mimosas. (And they call this wine country!) With free flowing $4 Van Houtte drip coffees, we tucked into our food. Originally all three of us planned on getting the same dish but I changed my mind at the last minute and sprung for the Eldorado Benedict, which came with salmon.

Tory and Bruce got the mascarpone lavender blueberry pancakes. My brother complained the final taste was “bitter” but after having a bite I just explained it was the overly floral lavender flavour he was picking up. Lavender is a great taste to include in pancakes; it really lightened them.

The boys polished off their plates, and I think they got the better dish to be honest.

Lavender butter and saskatoon berry compote

Salmon benedict

My benedict (please, do not call them “bennies”) was ripe in flavour; the fish permeated and overpowered every bite. It was almost enough to make me wish I had kept the ham benedict they’d sent out by accident at first. The eggs WERE perfectly poached, however. The hash browns were passable. The fruit was ripe, but not particularly flavourful, which disappointed me. I think I just ordered wrong. I really do think the boys picked the best dish that day.

As we left I peered at the buffet and took some photos, since I canNOT believe there aren’t more Kelowna food bloggers who have written about it. It was quite difficult to find any non advertorial information on any restaurants in the area, actually.

The brunch had live action stations for omelettes and crepes, hot trays, and a lot of seafood such as pre-cracked Alaskan crab, salmon and such. Seemed kind of standard fare to be honest. I’m still not convinced it was worth the $29.99 charge, but it was filling up as we left. I’ve heard it’s one of the most popular brunch destinations in the Okanagan. This is probably due to the atmosphere.

The crab is always the most popular at buffets for some reason. They prepared well at the El for the contingent of crab cravers.

I was impressed with the pastry chef’s work with desserts, however.

I enjoyed our early morning breakfast at the “El”, but mostly due to company and atmosphere. Thanks to colleague and fellow blogger Shaughn Butts for the tip!

Lakeside Dining Room at the Eldorado Hotel
500 Cook Road
Kelowna, B.C.
Open daily for breakfast from 7 a.m.
Reservations for the Sunday buffet recommended

Food and Food: Edmonton14 Jun 2010 12:48 pm

One of the most difficult things for me to get over about moving away is that our neighbourhood is full of great food that surrounds us in a one block radius. With 45 seconds of walking I can have anything I want for dinner, ranging from Middle Eastern delights at La Shish, gelato and med bread on the sunny patio at Famoso, wings and beer at On the Rocks and deep dish pizza at Rosebowl.

There’s a new kid on the block though, and they are ready to play. Elm Cafe had a soft open today, offering up coffees, some sandwiches and muffins (breakfast, cold and hot.)

How lucky for me I had to visit the post office today, and “had” to stop in at Elm Cafe on the way back. It’s a place you may not immediately notice on your first drive by unless you live in the neighbourhood and notice things like these, but I predict the clean store front with vinyl decals will become a lunch landmark soon.

It’s a small place, but that shouldn’t put you or anyone off, despite the obvious problem I can see with people eventually lining up out the door and down the street for a fresh healthy sandwich. It’s a well oiled machine, even on their first day of operation at high noon – a giveaway that chef and proprietor Nate Box knows what he’s doing, so you won’t wait long.

Nate pulls an espresso

Nate looked for a space suitable for his endeavour for some time, and decided that the size of the space would not put him off. He’s doing a great thing; adding to the community and making great product out of a tiny spot. I can relate as a five foot tall woman – great things come in small packages!

There are beautiful photos depicting lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) on the walls, and a small bar to drink your coffee at. Things did get a bit hectic with people coming in to share their well wishes and order food, but groups came and went quite quickly. I did spy Giselle Beggs from Duchess Bakeshop and Shelly Solarz of Parlour Magazine checking out the place.

Menu for Elm Cafe, featuring light fare meant to take away.

The space is this: a long serving bar on the west side of the room and …

… a seating bar on the east side of the room. It was pretty busy as you can see.

Elm Cafe’s sandwiches were on a slightly chewy roll, wrapped up in paper for easy transport back to the office, or park or home…wherever you want to eat them.

I got a hot sandwich, the chick pea veggie one with olives, a host of herbs and lots of olive oil. I also got a cold chicken salad with creamy mayo, grapes, crunchy radish and apples nestled up against chunks of tender chicken. The bread was really incredible; I want to know the source!

Mike insisted we split and I’m glad we did because even after eating both, I still can’t decide what my favourite was. You could taste the care in these ‘wiches. They’re called “craft sandwiches” on the website, and the name is suitable.

Mediterranean sandwich

At $8 a pop, the sandwiches are well priced considering the work that goes into them. If you want to spend less, Subway is just around the corner so you’re welcome to go eat some trash for lunch. I’m sticking to Elm Cafe. I can’t wait to try the soups.

Welcome to the neighbourhood, guys!

Elm Cafe
#100, 10140 – 117 Street
(kitty corner from Rosebowl, below Stratica Pharmacy)
Edmonton, Alberta

Mon, Tues, Wed 7-5
Thurs, Fri 7-7
Sat 8-4
Sunday closed

Food and Travels14 Jun 2010 10:37 am

I really like where my brother lives in Kelowna. He’s got a great patio and lives within three minutes walk time to downtown Kelowna and among some interesting little shops that are popping up.

Although Kelowna is kind of an odd place with trashy transients clash with the tourists, blue hairs and yoga moms downtown and big box stores and chain restaurants may be more popular than in Edmonton, it’s got an artsy independent vibe you can’t deny, and some excellent ideas and people.

Chai Baba is one of those ideas. I was quick to write it off after my first visit last year. I strolled in when the owners were in, and I’ve never felt so unwelcome in a shop in quite some time. I wasn’t acknowledged, there was all sorts of nasty gossip going on and it was like some sort of chai clique. However, I was pleased to walk by on this last visit and find the shop empty. It was hot and sunny and I had planned on getting an iced drink from Bean Scene, but Chai Baba was four steps closer and I wanted to give it another chance.

The shop is bright and tidy, and features all sorts of loose teas as well as feature drinks. They also feature tea workshops on tea tastings and how to make matcha in a tea ceremony. I enjoyed the matcha I had last time I was in, but wanted something colder this trip.

Free samples of Rooibos Provence and Raspberry tea sat by the door

Drinks are on chalkboards

Cute clerk makes my iced tea

The clerk (tea barista?) told me they make any of their drinks iced, so I got the Yin Yang Ting Tang ($4.50). It was a lemonade based drink and had lavender syrup, ginger tea and raspberry syrup. It was tart and refreshing.

Next time I’m in Kelowna I want to try the Caramel Apple; creme caramel rooibos tea with vanilla and apple juice. Yum!

Chai Baba Tea House
1289 Ellis Street
Kelowna, British Columbia

Food and Travels13 Jun 2010 09:21 am

As you can imagine, I’ve been a bit busy. Posts have been sporadic, and I have not had much time to consider blogging as I’ve been busy with other things like Japanese lessons, packing and visiting my brother one last time.

So, I’m going to do things backwards and bypass Vegas posts for now. Last week I visited my brother in Kelowna, and had an awesome time. We hung out, his cats didn’t scare me or make me sneeze (much), we had some wine, I watched “Glee” for the first time and we ate some great food. Because these posts are already queued up and I’m still working on wedding photos, I’ll blast these and some other food related posts out before any wedding/Vegas ones, and hopefully I’ll get them all done before July rolls in.

I’ll start off with the meal I was looking forward to most while I was in Kelowna…dinner at RauDZ.

First things first. It’s pronounced “Rods.” Yes, it’s weird. But it becomes more clear when you find out that it’s a combination of the co-owner’s names: RoD (Butters) and AUdrey (Surraro). He does the food, she does the wine.

RauDZ opened in 2008 in the space occupied by a restaurant called Fresco – also owned by Chef Butters and Surraro. I think they have a good handle on what makes a restaurant successful. The focus at RauDZ is on fresh regional foods, which is perfect for a place like Kelowna because it is located in the epicenter of one of Canada’s best produce regions and is very close to other food producers like ranchers and farmers. They are extremely supportive and proud of locally made items and list their producers in columns on their menu.

Even the dining room features the work of local artisans. Heartland Millworks made the long 21-foot harvest-style table and the substantial pine door. The bar top was made from Vancouver fir. The photographs of local farmers hanging on the walls were taken by Kelowna based photog and film maker David McIlvride. The chefs go picking fresh morels in the nearby forests with each other ahead of dinner service. There’s a lot to love about a restaurant like this.

Tory peruses the menu

But how was the food?

Well, we’ll get to that.

We started off with some drinks, first. The “liquid chef” behind the bar prepares fresh fruit purees to use in feature martinis each day, and there is a long list of other cocktails to try. Add to that an extremely extensive Canadian wine list, and the bar is certainly impressive. We tried a series of local beers and various martinis and fresh sangria and enjoyed each one. I highly recommend the gingery “Cold Snap” beverage.

Tin Whistle ale and the Amante Picante cocktail with tequila, cucumber, cilantro and spicy agave nectar.

The fresh peach puree martini, with nasturtium and raspberries

We started with chicken confit poutine and gnocci, fulfilling the starchy component of the meal. The chicken poutine was savoury and cheesy and some of the best I’ve had west of Montreal. The dish it was served in prevented all of the fries from becoming soggy with gravy, but my brother commented that he thought the chicken was a bit slimy. It was, indeed, a bit too tender from confiting, but I enjoyed the savoury poultry depth it provided for the gravy and dish as a whole.

The gnocci were fantastic. My brother and Bruce said that they had seen gnocci in the grocery store but didn’t know what they were. Every culture has a potato dumpling, and gnocci are among the best. These were no exception; boiled and pan fried, salty and crispy and a bit chewy. They came with a zingy rocket salad and curls of parm cheese. Our appetizers made us excited for the mains and they did not disappoint.

Veal bolognese with hand rolled pasta – strozzapreti, perhaps?

Bruce’s “boring” cheeseburger, which was anything but.

Halibut cheeks with turnip and fingerling potatoes

Bruce said he was going to be “boring” and get a “plain old burger” but was very impressed with his dish. Seasoned fries lay alongside a ground-to-order stacked burger with fresh pickle relish and slaw. The burger was juicy, but not so out of control that Bruce couldn’t put it down, which is always nice at a classy restaurant.

Tory got the hand made pasta with veal bolognese. Some people fear veal, such as Bruce, and he wouldn’t try it, but I think it did a lot for the bolognese, making it taste a bit earthier and more complex than just plain beef would have been. The sauce was tomato rich and bordering on creamy, even without any added dairy other than cheese. The serving was substantial, but Tory polished it off.

I got the fish special. On a Tuesday! Anthony Bourdain probably woke with a cold sweat from whatever far off country he was traveling in. I couldn’t resist the halibut cheeks, and with halibut a dish on their regular menu, I felt confident I wasn’t getting weekend left overs. I found the vegetables were a bit too finely diced, making for a very mixed up flavour in every bite which may have been the only misstep. However the butter and fingerling potatoes helped balance it out. The fish was tender, not dry and meaty, not flaky. Pretty perfect, if you ask me.

The restaurant got extremely busy near the end of our meal.
Tory and the Valrhona fudgsicle; all desserts $4 a pop
Somewhat soggy apple fritters

Bruce double fisting his desserts

Because I am a glutton, I insisted we get dessert. Although they offer a full sized RauDZ special dessert at $10, the majority of the dessert menu is reserved for sweet martinis, ice wines, special coffees and dessert “tastings” at $4 each. I’m all for this. Sometimes, I just want a bite or two. Instead I pack down an entire dessert after I’m done enjoying it, but want to clear my plate. (see: glutton statement, earlier) We all appreciated the smaller bites, and got a few different ones to share.

The overall winner was probably the espresso vanilla bean creme brulee. The crispy burnt shell top gave way to a creamy coffee-y custard. Next most popular was the Valrhona fudgesicle. My brother asked what Valrhona chocolate was, and I drunkenly replied “chocolate…on ‘roids” He said it was an apt description.

The fudgesicles came coated in small crispy orange flavoured balls. Tory ate those first before going in for the kill on the chocolate, but Bruce ate his all together. I got the apple fritters which were the weakest offering I think. They were filled with Okanagan apples which can never be wrong, but the dough on the fritter was cold and soggy, made even soggier by the addition of a plop of ice cream on top. They weren’t my favourite.

At the end of the meal, our bill came with some charming in house made lollipops; peach-thyme and blueberry-lavender.

Service was well paced and knowledgeable, despite increasing amounts of diners in the space. I spied both Audrey and Chef Butters in the restaurant, working hard. This restaurant is their baby, and it shows.

After an extremely satisfying meal, we strolled home out of the PACKED restaurant to Bruce and Tory’s downtown condo just minutes away. It could be some time before I’m back in Kelowna again, but I hope not because I’d love to visit RauDZ again.

RauDZ Regional Table
1560 Water Street
Kelowna, British Columbia
Only open for dinner, 5 pm on every night
Dinner for three, with two appetizers and five drinks each came to $150