Florida food flavours and (just a few) frustrations

I was lucky enough to be able to take my family to Florida, primarily to visit Universal Studios and Disney World. I realize this is something not everyone gets to do, so I wanted to share the experience that we had. And for those who do get to go one day, hopefully some of this feedback will help you on your trip.

The parameters of this food experience is what was walking distance of our hotel, the Coco Key Water Resort, or near or on-site of either of the theme parks. Our room only had a fridge and a microwave so we ended up eating out quite a bit.

Some fave flavours I wish to highlight:

  • I couldn’t resist trying the food at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. Staff are dressed in charact20151016_074413er, and even the greeter makes the experience memorable. I thoroughly enjoyed the beef and lamb stew platter, which came in a bread bowl with a side salad. The meats were cut in large pieces, perhaps for a rustic touch, and there was quite a bit of it. The bread would’ve been better had it been sourdough, but I was still satisfied at meal’s end. D shared the fish and chips with our little one and there were still left overs. I sampled the fish and found the batter crispy and the fish tender. You don’t have to eat there to go in for a picture but I’m glad we made it part of our food experience. I also had the butterbeer at a separate stop in Hogsmeade and still don’t know quite how to describe it other than to say it was sweeeeet. I didn’t try the hot or cold options, just the frozen one, which was just fine given the Florida heat.
  • For my birthday D treated me to the restaurant of my choice, again within walking distance. I decided on Fishbones, named for its fresh fish and aged steaks (hence the bone reference). Funny enough, I had neither. I wanted to try some Florida fare so I combined two appetizers as my meal. I had the Key West shrimp cocktail served with crisp plantain chips. I soon found out they 20151016_074330create the meal table-side and found it delightful. You definitely need the 20151016_074300chips to help cut the richness of the avocado, though. Their cocktail sauce is house made. My second part of my meal was the Florida alligator. It was bite-sized and lightly battered. While the menu even states, “It tastes like chicken.” I wouldn’t describe it that way. It is a very dense meat, so even the bite-sized portion was something to get through. It was tasty and had just a bit of fishy-taste to it at the end. I would’ve loved to try more dishes on a return visit but it is a pricey restaurant. They were very kid friendly given that our wee one was a bit active that night. We had my birthday “cake”, a slice of key lime pie, to go as a result. It was good but very tart.
  • Due to location and demands to eat from our son we ended up at the Comic Strip Cafe for lunch one day, but this turned out to be a happy accident! We were so surprised that they offered a platter that included rice. I enjoyed an “Asian BBQ half-chicken” which came with white rice and vegetables. There was plenty of chicken to share among the three of us. By this point in the trip I t20151014_152440hink we were all getting tired of fried fare.
  • The “islander” dish at Taverna Yamas was a highlight. The restaurant was practically our hotel’s neighbour so we knew we’d being going at least once. This seafood pasta dish was bursting with the fruit of the sea and all perfectly cooked. It included mussels, claims, large squid rings, juicy jumbo shrimp, and succulent scallops. It also had so much pasta I couldn’t finish it all. Downsides to the meal was that the dish was expensive ($27 USD) and the service wasn’t speedy despite us being in for an early dinner without any dinner rush as company.
  • Stumbling upon an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Brazilian Steakhouse was great. We came upon Cafe Mineiro on our way to Ponderosa’s, which was the original plan for that evening’s meal. Cafe Mineiro staff encouraged us to look at the buffet first to help make up our minds, and for $16.95/person USD, with JD being free, we did20151016_135352n’t hesitate and passed up on our previous plan. With this price you can access four types of meats: steak, pork ribs, chicken and sausage. If you paid about ten bucks more, they would bring several more meats on long skewers right up to your table, still AYCE. The rest of the buffet was okay, but to be honest it was the white rice and the meats that I was after. While some of the meat was salty, the best way to get the most of the experience was to remember that you could ask for meat at the doneness that you desire and to pace yourself.
  • We made the mistake of waiting too long to eat dinner while at Disney World. My research had suggested the best time for dinner was 4pm and we were already past 6pm. We were in Epcot being crushed by the crowd and were inevitably being pushed towards the feature country areas. It didn’t help that there was a food & wine festival going on at the time. We stopped where the line wasn’t too bad and ended up in “Mexico”, at La Cantina. D snagged a seat with the little guy while I ordered on the fly. Turned out great! I had pollo cascabel which was a decent sized portion of mexican rice, spicy chicken and sauce, with pickled onions. I had to dig around the dish for rice and chicken without the sauce that I could share with J and avoid the spice all together for him. D had cheese empanadas, and a refreshing coleslaw, which were tasty. One empanada was pretty thin, but the other three were filled nicely. Surprisingly enough food for dinner. One caution is the large pop that comes as part of the combo looks impressive until you realize the drink container is half-filled with ice.

mmmmura tip I can share: we were lucky to have a Panda Express (self-described as Chinese gourmet food) within walking distance of our hotel, especially because our son expects rice for breakfast. For those who are trying to find ways to save on food what we did was order the family feast. This provides three entrees and two large sides at a cost averaging about $30 USD depending on type of entree you choose. By asking for extra plates and cutlery and using the fridge and microwave in our room we were able to stretch this out for three different meals for all three of us. (We didn’t mind eating Chinese food for breakfast as we often have rice for breakfast normally.)

Some stomach grumbles that I need to share:

  • After a hectic and long travel day we decided to make our first day a rest day, so we took part in the buffet breakfast at our hotel. We chose this primarily for its water park and free shuttle rides to Universal Studios. Overall I enjoyed the experience there except for the breakfast. It wasn’t that it was bad or anything, it’s just that it was average. Basically the same food you would get at a Quality Inn or La Quinta, the only difference is those hotels include the breakfast for free, not charge $9.95/person. Needless to say we found other alternatives for breakfast for the rest of the trip.
  • While we were under the assumption that food in the U.S. is cheaper than in Canada, when you are on-site at the theme parks that goes right out the window. We had brought snacks with us, which helped, but be prepared to fork out a lot of dough if you get the munchies while in the theme parks. Also, I found that Disney World’s park maps were much better at helping pinpoint food options compared to Universal Studios maps.

Fulfilled longing for Longtail Kitchen

On my continued search for great Thai food near home, I think I have finally found my spot in Longtail Kitchen in New West.

I admit that I have been longing to go since I saw some of the dishes featured in “You Gotta Eat Here,” but was only able to try it last night, months after I saw the episode.

Found at the Quay, Longtail patrons benefit from some water views, although not much right now with some of the boarding up in  the boardwalk. You may be underwhelmed by the place’s appearance, which is very simple and basic, almost dive-like, but perhaps I am being too harsh. I was expecting more of a restaurant experience, but now remind myself that it is off of the Quay’s food court after all. We had to borrow a high chair from the food court as Longtail didn’t appear to have its own. The menu was short and on chalkboard. I was expecting more variety. Tables weren’t the cleanest as patrons are encouraged to bus their own, and food, even eating in, was not served on real plates. However, for those with environmental concerns, they were using what appeared to be bio-degradable cutlery and cute cardboard serving containers.

Look past all that, though, and let’s talk about the food. For the three of us we ordered their chicken wings with tamarind sauce on the side, the green papaya salad, the pad thai with shrimp, and the gailan with pork belly with rice. Again, because of the serving containers the appearance wasn’t the best but I think the food’s taste made up for it on the whole. The main disservice the containers do for the place is that it makes the food portion appear small, when that is not the reality! Even when we ate our fill, we had leftovers to bring home.

I didn’t get a great shot of the papaya salad, but I can tell you that I almost couldn’t stop eating it. It was spicy, so I knew I was only sharing with D., but still I had to restrain myself and leave at least half for her to enjoy as well. Very fresh, with a great kick!

chicken wingsJ. enjoyed the wings the most. That and the rice was pretty much all he could eat as the other dishes were spicy, even the gailan/pork belly one which was unexpected. It was a good portion for $8. It was four full-on wings (drummette, wingette, and tip/nub) so a lot of meat on the bone. The seasoning/light batter was a little sweet for my taste, but AFs know I don’t like sweet meat. The tamarind sauce was pleasing as a dipping sauce. I wouldn’t pour it on, but it’s a great accent. Our guesses are, other than tamarind, it probably includes some fish sauce, and perhaps a bit of shrimp paste as well.

shrimp pad thaiWhat I was really zoning in on was the pad thai. My other Thai restaurant excursions in this respect have not satisfied me. This one did. It tasted just as a pad thai should. The bean sprouts were fresh and crunchy and they love deep fried scallions as a garnish in almost all their dishes. The colour and taste of the pad thai was right on. Again a bit on the spicy side but exactly what my mouth was looking for! One critique may be that I am not sure if the $2 price difference from a tofu pad thai and a shrimp pad thai is worth it with only three shrimp provided. I’m not up on the latest food costs, so maybe that price is to be expected?

The real surprise was the gailan and pork belly. Its accompanying rice saved us when the sgailan pork bellypice from the salad and the pad thai were becoming too much. But, on its own, I really enjoyed it. The gailan was well cooked, and the pork belly was immersed in the dish’s sauce. The pork belly wasn’t crispy, but I think that would have taken away from the two main ingredients coming together in that dish. It was a welcome palette break from the intense spice of the salad and pad thai, however, it did have its own zing.

When ordering, I wasn’t asked about spice level, so I don’t know if there are options. If you plan on checking it out, ask, and let me know if they are able to adjust the spice to order.


Chomp at this chicken burger!

When I find a place that I enjoy, my habit is that I always order the same thing, because I enjoyed it so much the first time. The Bamboo Cafe is one example. I’ve posted about it before because I love their lip-smacking dry ribs.

Today, however, I prodded myself to move my eyes on their menu order board and try something else.

My latest discovery was their Chicken Club Burger. I had it to go and really wished that I took a pic so you could enjoy it with your eyes as much as I did with my taste buds.

Their chicken club is made with grilled chicken, thick-cut and crispy bacon, fresh large-leaf lettuce, crunchy pickle slice, and a firm yet juicy slice of tomato. All of this sits between a thick, yet soft ciabatta bun, and was quite the mouthful to bite all the way through. It was larger than I expected, and larger than most burger places serve. The mayo added to the “napkin-factor” of which I needed four in total. I had ordered a side of fries, but was so satisfied and full from the burger, I gave my fries away.

I know it’s been a few months since I last posted, so that in itself should be a testament to how much I enjoyed this burger! ‘Nuff said.

Pizza and Pasta from Pizzo Bella Cafe

A few nights ago we tried Le Pizzo Bella Cafe. I was looking for something in my neighbourhood and thought this was nearer to us than it actually was. It definitely isn’t walking distance, but it is just a short drive away.

It was only the three of us for dinner that night, but because of our different food desires I ordered three different items. The “All Meat” pizza for me, the “Gourmet Veg” pizza for D., and the ravioli for J.

I enjoyed all three items. The All Meat had great quality ingredients, including great spicy meat, a crispy but still light crust, and just the right amount of cheese (for me). The Gourmet Veg was excellent. The artichoke hearts were cooked to just the right texture for a pizza topping and I enjoyed the pesto.

When I saw their different pasta on the menu, I chose the ravioli. I didn’t realize it was baked, as the others actually said in the menu “baked spaghetti, baked penne”. Still, it was pretty good. They are very generous with the cheese, and they add drops of mozzarella cheese right before closing up the hot food package, meaning it would be even cheesier with the melt-factor. The pasta sauce, which their menu says is home made ended up being a bit spicy for J. but not for me, so I ended up enjoying the ravioli as leftovers.

I am intrigued by the “Le Pizzo Bella Mexicana” and hope to try it on my return….to be continued.

Le Pizzo Bella Café on Urbanspoon

Supper at Seoul Grill House

Last night, to help cap off a recent visit by my cousin B. from Winnipeg, a whole slew of us (kids included) took on supper at the Seoul Grill House in Surrey. My cousin-in-law S., organized a reservation for 18 of us, and this restaurant had an almost perfect set-up for that! They have long rows of tables that accommodated up to 16 and because of one absence and one late-arrival, that ended up fitting us to a T. Also, the mom in me can’t neglect to mention that in-between the rows of tables was still enough space to slide in a high chair in one of the middle regular tables (didn’t want the kid to be able to reach the in-table grills) and I thought it wasn’t much of an encumbrance at all.

It is my understanding that this placed used to be a different type of buffet, but is a fairly new Korean Buffet restaurant. Looking around there were some signs of that with new signage, or no signage for some of the food on the buffet tables. I think I even saw boxes of new kitchen equipment in the front entry. However, new also means a fresh opportunity to try something different in the area.

When S. described the buffet to me, I admit I was easily had at “it’s an all-you-can-eat Korean barbeque joint,” which translated to me as unlimited MEAT. However, I also had my hesitations as I imagined starving while awaiting the meat to cook on the grill, still traumatized by an experience I had years ago at a different Korean resto. What I appreciate at the Grill House was that they have a fair mix of cooked items that can (from my perspective) ‘tide you over’ while you are waiting for the meat.

20150329_173122I began with a pretty routine fried rice and a couple of fried chicken wings, while waiting on various meats on the grill, including marinated chicken, beef, pork ribs, and pork belly. I took a pic of my brother M’s meat layout as it seemed so symmetrically appealing. For me, the marinated beef was the most flavourful. I also enjoyed the pork side ribs but they took the longest to cook. I think the resto needs more readily available condiments to help increase the meat flavour profiles, unless there was a step I missed in terms of getting the items for grill before hand. They did have a small bunch of very basic condiments near the soup stations, but it didn’t seem a natural place for them given the meat cooler was at the other end of the long buffet table. I know that D. had to hunt down some vinegar to go with her pork belly. The staff change out the grill frequently, as the food may easily burn. But my sis and I was analyzing that and could see how it could work in their favour as well. Everytime they switch out a grill, it has to warm up again (not a super long delay) but still that can add up, and we know that in an AYCE situation, time can work against you as your brain catches up with your stomach and helps to realize that you are full. Speaking of time, they had a sign saying that there was a 90 minute maximum, but I think they were a bit relaxed on that which was good.

One surprise was a spicy seafood soup. I was looking to change up my palette after so much meat, and this soup certainly did that. It had claims, shrimp, and squid and the spice as promised. It also had bok choy which is one of my favourite veggies.

To cool off the evening many of use enjoyed the ice cream. An informal poll seemed to have mango as the top flavour, but the chocolate and strawberry were found in most bowls as well. Perhaps the mango-leaning was due to the all Asian tastebuds in attendance.

A few things on service: plates were collected fairly regularly, water was replenished on request (provided in these cute and covered water containers), and extra napkins were available from the servers. The weekend dinner rate is pretty pricey, and I’m not sure how much the menu would change from weekend to weekday, or from dinner to lunch, but I enjoyed enough of that meat (and other things) that I’m willing to make a return trip to find out.

Seoul Grill House on Urbanspoon

Flavour at a whole ‘nother level at Fat Duck

I love when I just come upon some great food by accident! Sometimes when you search for it, you get disappointed, so I love happy coincidences that bring good food and my mouth together.

I was working downtown and needed to eat lunch. Nearest food truck on my walking horizon was the Fat Duck Mobile Eatery. While it was a sunny day, it was pretty brisk (albeit by Vancouver standards), so I took it as a good indicator that there was a bit of a line.

20150113_124240I wasn’t feeling like having any sort of sandwich so I ordered the Dirty Rice Bowl, which is described on their menu as “infused rice with duck confit, braised pork butt & belly, pickled vegetables, scallions, cilantro, Kung Pao mayo and a sunny egg”, and all for just $10. From the first-bite my mouth was thrilled!

Every forkful brought on different textures with flavours that worked really well together. One bite might be from the crunchy pickled slaw. Another would be the tasty duck confit with perfectly cooked rice. Then you would take in a bit of the savoury pork belly that blended well with the Kung Pao mayo. The egg yolk added another dimension to the food as well. Then another bite would bring some crispy and fresh scallions into play helping to cleanse the palette a little and start the process all over again. I didn’t leave behind a thing. I haven’t had such a good meal for only $10 in a long time. Definitely makes the mmmmura scale.

Fat Duck Mobile Eatery Ltd. on Urbanspoon