Tuesday 28 May 2013

Thoughtful Vegetarian Cuisine at Acorn

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Locavore Approved? YES (nightly "Harvest" dish featuring seasonal ingredients from local farmers, "limited time only" ingredients such as nettles and fiddleheads) but could do even better (Some dishes stay on the menu a bit too long- perhaps a chalkboard would be better so that dishes could be changed more frequently based on local availability of ingredients)

Acorn, opened now for almost a year, was the first to bring the concept of vegetarian fine dining to Vancouver.  Since its opening, other vegetarian joints have popped (Heirloom on 12th, the brand new Graze on Fraser), giving vegetarians more to order than the classic pasta and tomato sauce that appears as the token vegetarian option on many menus.  Acorn has shown that it can hold its own against Vancouver's best and brightest when it snagged an honorable mention in Vancouver Magazine's Best New Restaurant category.  This is not really a surprise considering the head chef, Brian Skinner, has worked at European Michelin star restaurants in Europe including the infamous Noma in Copenhagen, once named as the world's best restaurant.  He then was involved in debuting vegetarian restaurants in London and New York.  We are fortunate to have such an experienced chef back here in Vancouver.

I visited Acorn several months ago with Hubby and had quite enjoyed my meal.  I have been yearning to go back for some time but carnivore Hubby has not been so keen on this idea.  I was very pleased when a couple of work colleagues who had never been to Acorn before wanted to give it a try.  The three of us ladies went on a triple date there last Friday night.

The storefront for Acorn, located just north of King Edward on Main is quite minimalist, but the big acorn on the sign helps in identifying them.  Inside, the decor is simple, with lots of foliage and greenery that reminds me of a rainforest.  They have some unique lighting that kicks up the hip factor.   They have lovely white shutters on the windows that can be opened wide to let in some fresh air on nice nights. Tables are fairly close together but I did not feel too crammed in.  There is a nice bar with a few seats where diners can wait (and there usually is a wait, at least on the weekend) and enjoy a glass of wine or a signature cocktail (see below).  Be sure to make a trip to the washroom while you are there- you will be treated to the sounds of singing birds as you take care of business.  

Unfortunately, service on the night of our visit left a lot to be desired.  While the server that initially showed us to our table was quite friendly, our main server of the evening was rather curt, to the point of  being rude.  After ordering some drinks, we were enjoying some good conversation and were in the mood to enjoy our beverages before ordering food.  This plan did not seem to sit well with our server who interrupted us every couple minutes to take or food orders, getting seemingly more and more impatient each time.  What really took the cake for me was that our menus were whisked from underneath us after we ordered our appies.  When I asked to keep one in front of me so that we could discuss which mains we would order, I was told that menus were to be kept at the side of the table because we would spill something on them and they could then not be used for other guests.  I felt as though I was a child being scolded!  This really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, our food arrived in a timely manner and helped to dissipate my annoyance.  We ordered three appetizers and three mains plus one dessert, and shared all of them so that we could taste as many dishes as possible.   Here were our selections for the table:

The wine list is small but has many local options that include some of my favorite wineries (Joie, Blue Mountain).  The prices per glass are quite reasonable.  They also have an abbreviated cocktail list (only 4 creations) but I see that they are looking to hire a new bartender so perhaps this will expand.  Although there is not a whole lot to choose from, I did enjoy the Mirror Lake which was very refreshing (lots of lime and mint) and not too sweet.  Although it was made of bitters, ginger beer and bourbon, it did not have an overwhelming alcohol taste.  It is a very attractive beverage with a pretty rim of red at the top, and the slice of candied ginger on the side of the glass was a nice touch.

Then it was onto the food. We ordered three appetizers and three mains plus one dessert, and shared all of them so that we could taste as many dishes as possible.   Here were our selections for the table:

Kale- One of my dinner companions loves kale and makes a mean kale salad of her own so she was keen on seeing if Acorn's version could stand up to hers.  Fortunately, it did hit the mark.  This play on Caesar Salad was kicked up a notch with tempeh "croutons", crispy capers and strips of asiago cheese. Although it was a bit overdressed for my liking, the dressing had a very pleasant creaminess that was surprisingly light.  This salad could easily be a meal on its own- even this "small" size!

Chickpea- These little crunchy legumes were a great appetizer for the table, especially if you like spice!  The piquillo peppers packed a nice zip and the smoked tomato coulis added even more heat.  The addition of mint added a welcome balance to the spiciness.  I would recommend this more as a sharing dish as it might be a bit too much of the same for one person. 

Fiddlehead- This was a the table favorite of the all of the appetizers and my favorite part of the whole meal.  The fiddleheads were beautiful both in presentation and flavor and they were prepared beautifully. The light butter sauce was cleverly placed at the bottom of the dish so as not to soften the fiddleheads or mask their flavor.  Although I appreciate the fact that the the polenta and the walnuts may have been added for textural diversity, I think that it made the dish too "busy".  The fiddleheads were delicious enought to stand up on their own, especially as a first course. 

Stinging Nettle- What a beautiful dish with so many shades of green!  It was spring on a plate!  I loved the variety of mushrooms (who needs protein when you have all of this mushroom meatiness!) and the gnocchi was cooked beautifully.  I also enjoyed the creaminess of the creme fraiche that laid underneath.  I did think that they went a bit overboard with the number of peas on the plate, and I would have appreciated more of the nettle flavor to come through. 

Halloumi- Although online reviews have given this a big thumbs up, this was by far my least favorite dish.  Hubby ordered this when we went together when Acorn had just opened and he was not a big fan either.  I think the purpose of keeping it on the menu longterm is to appease meat eaters that are "dragged" here by a friend or significant other (kind of like Hubby was) but I think they could do much better.  This dish is just way to heavy and clunky (one bite of that deep fried cheese was more than enough for me!).  The creamy peas and the fried zucchini cake were decent on their own and, combined with lighter ingredients, would have made good sides.  I propose that Acorn try to dazzle self-professed meat eaters with delicious vegetables prepared in creative ways instead of defaulting to the deep fryer!

Havest (israeli couscous, baby carrots, radish, mushroom puree)- The concept of this dish is wonderful in that it showcases seasonal, local ingredients and is what I think Acorn should do a lot more of instead of sticking to the same menu items for months at a time.  I remembered enjoying the Harvest very much on my first visit so I was keen to see what they had in store this time.  Unfortunately, I was a bit let down by the lack of flavor in this particular dish.  There was way too much dry isreali couscous (no need for this much starch!) and the mushroom puree was a bit bland.  I do, however, commend them for bringing together ingredients that highlighted the transition from winter (carrots, mushrooms) to spring (asparagus, radishes) and for letting the vegetables be the focal point.   
Lemon- This beautiful, petite dessert that was a welcome contrast to the mostly over-sized appies and mains.  The lemon filling was wonderfully tart and light (a perfect palate cleanser!) and the tart was buttery. I would, however, have liked the taste of basil to be a bit more promient to make it a bit more complex in flavor.  The small meringues and cassis jellies were like little jewels on the plate and really made the dish pop.

Overall, I had a lovely evening out with my very fun (and foodie!) co-workers at Acorn.  The meal was very good in general, but there are certain things that I think could be better.  First of all, I think that some dishes were perhaps over-thought and over-complicated, despite the short and sweet one-worded names as they appeared on the menu.  Although I agree with "jazzing up" the veggies a bit, sometimes more is better and an extra 1-2 elements on the plate would have made it more successful than having 4-5 extra elements.  Secondly, I think that the portions are too large and too much of the same for one person.  I do not believe that they are meant to be sharing dishes but I was very pleased that we shared as I could not have eaten all of any one of those dishes (except maybe the fiddleheads) to myself.  And I usually have absolutely no trouble finishing everything on my plate!

Despite these suggestions, I commend Acorn for starting a new fine-dining vegetarian revolution here in Vancouver.  It is about time that vegetarian food gets the recognition that it so deserves!

The Acorn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Fusion Tapas at PiDGin- Yet Another Gastown Hotspot

350 Carrall St
Vancouver BC

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved? YES (website describes their efforts to support local farmers and fisherman, and as a bonus they also support their community through local fundraising initiatives.  Seasonal ingredients including spring vegetables and spot prawns.  Nice selection of local beers)

PidGin has been in the news a lot lately, but not for the reasons they had intended.  It opened in February of this year, and pretty much since the beginning of its short life, it has become the victim of protesters fighting back against the gentrification of the downtown East Side.  Their unfortunate location right across from Pidgeon Park, a favorite hangout of the protesters, makes them a prime target.  While this is no doubt difficult for this new restaurant as they aim to break into the ever-growing Gastown restaurant scene, they are not bowing to the pressure as we found out on our first visit there this past Saturday night. 

PidGin is quite unassuming from the outside, and one might walk right past without noticing it if they didn't know better.  Its black exterior with bars on the door may be interpreted as being uninviting, but I think it adds an element of mystery and intrigue that is in keeping with the whole experience.

PidGin's exterior is a sharp contast to its interior, which is largely done in white with dark undertones.  The lighting, desinged and crafted locally, is very unique with lamps shooting off in all directions overhead.  There is a mix of seating options including booths (very comfortable), bar seating, and both low and high individuals tables.  Although the design is avant-guard and hip, there is quite a relaxed vibe which lends itself well to tapas style dining.  There is obviously lots of attention payed to small details such as the stylish heavy white clipboards on which the menus were presented, the chopstick holders that doubled as a chopstick stand and the chic black envelope for the bill at the meal's end.

Service was friendly and attentive.  Our server was helpful in explaining all of our dining options (a la carte, prix fix, snacks).  Bottles of water (free of charge) were always replaced just as they ran out.  My only small criticism is that the space is quite loud and we had trouble hearing our servers' descriptions of the dishes which was pretty important considering the many different elements on the plates. 

PidGin has a nice beverage list, with a selection of unique cocktails, wine by the bottle and by the glass, beer, sake, sherry and single malts.   We had just gone to The Diamond for drinks beforehand for cocktails so we went with wine and beer.  My hubby was especially happy that they offered an assortment of beers from 49th Parallel Brewing which are made just down the road in East Van.

The food concept at PidGin is a fusion of Japanese, Korean and French.  I found the concept somewhat similar to Bao Bei (read more on this here) but a little lighter on the Asian side.  Although some may argue that the trend of fusion cuisine should be long dead, I think that PidGin pulls it off quite well to create quite a unique dining experience.  With some many new tapas-style restaurants opening in the past few year in the city, I think that PidGin is clever in trying to diversify itself.  The menu is also unique in that it offers a wide variety of dish sizes, from snacks to small plates for one, to small plates for sharing to entree size dishes.  This variety makes it amenable to almost any type of dining experience that one may want.  Snacks and drinks after work, a business meeting, an intimate date, a group of friends- they have it covered.  On the flip side, this may also be a bit confusing, as diners may not know which dishes serve their particular needs on any given night as they are all listed in one large list.  We found the task of sorting this out a bit daunting and therefore we took the lazy way out and ordered the premium prix fixe menu ($55/person) and gave control to the chef to send out whatever he so desired (items change daily).

Oyster shot, apple, horseradish- I am not an oyster fan by any means, but this was about as close as I have come to actually liking one.  Hubby, the oyster expert, really enjoyed it.  The apple grenada was superb and its sweetness was nicely balanced by the zippy horseradish.

Spot prawn ceviche with grapefruit and cilantro- I was super excited to get a spot prawn dish as these little gems are available for only a few weeks a year so I need to get my fill now!  This ended up being one of my faves.  The spot prawns were undeniably the star of the dish with a light sauce that complemented rather than overshadowed them.  The sourness of the grapefruit gave the otherwise mild dish a nice little kick.  The presentation was beautiful.

Beef tartare, wasabi tobiko, miso cream cheese, cucumber- Hubby has had his share of beef taratre and he enjoyed this version.  While if was not the best he has ever tasted, he commented on the smooth texture which was contrasted by crispy tobiko and frozen cucumber (this was cool).  Cream cheese was unexpected but surprisingly worked well with the other elements.  

Rice crackers, sweet soy anchovies- A co-worker had recommended this little snack so I was pleased to receive it as part of our tasting menu.  Unfortunately, it ended up being my least favorite dish.  I found it quite clumsy.  Some of the rice crackers were broken into such small pieces that they could not act as vehicles to get the salty little anchovies to one's mouth, so I was puzzled as to how best to tackle it.  Furthermore, I found the anchovies to have an off-putting texture.   Having said this, hubby had a different opinion and really enjoyed the dish, mostly because of its extreme saltiness.

Parisienne gnocchi, radishes, sorrel- This dish, another of my favorites, was served in a very delicate and pretty manner, and then we were told to had to stir before eating to meld all of the flavors and textures.  The gnocchi were some of the softest and lightest I have ever had.  The thinly sliced radishes were not only beautiful but also added a nice crunchy texture.  The sorrel was the main component in the sauce (what a pretty color!), which was light yet surprisingly complex in flavor.

Mushrooms, sugar snap peas, egg, soy yuzu brown butter-This was the table favorite, ever for the meat eaters!  The egg was wonderfully salty and it paired perfectly with the meaty mushrooms.  The snap peas were super fresh tasting.  Simple in concept, but again a very complex dish that came together just right.  

"Dan dan" kohlrabi noodle salad, tofu, almonds- This was a light dish, with "noodles" made of kohlrabi, which was well placed before the next two entree-sized dish that was next to come. The sauce was a nice mix of salty and sweet.

Scallops, fried polenta, brussel sprouts, XO, caper raisin- Although this dish had some high points, the scallops sadly overcooked (a major no-no in my books).  They did, however, have a nice sear.  The fried polenta was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside but was a bit dry (could have used a  sauce).  I did quite enjoy brussel sprouts (both leaves and stems) which were brilliantly green and fried to perfection.  All elements were good but there was no real wow factor and the components were not tied together.

Half duck, carrot cake, oranges, spices- This was another table favorite.  There were two different preparations of duck on the plate (confit under sliced duck) and both were succulent.  The portion was very generous.  The carrots which were cooked in duck fat were amazingly tender and flavorful.  The  carrot cake crumble and puree was unique and delicious (tasted just like carrot cake!).  The hint of orange added a welcome lightness to an otherwise heavy dish.  This was a home run.

Meringue, yuzu curd, vanilla, celery- This was, in my opinion, the perfect dessert- light, refreshing, and a great palate cleanser.  The yuzu curd tasted like a more pungeant lemon curd and the vanilla bean creme was amazing (could have eaten a bowl of this!).  The celery was a bit of a throw-away as there was not really enough of it on the plate to have any substantial impact.  Celery excluded, this was really special!

A caution to those who are watching their pennies- PidGin is not a place to go on a budget!  Our meal came to almost $200 when it was all said and done.  Perhaps a bit excessive for the amount of food that you get.

PidGin obviously strives to push the boundaries with unique, unexpected combinations of ingredients prepared using a variety of cooking techniques.  While such complexity has the potential to result in confused and disjointed dishes, I thought that, for the most part, PidGin succeeded in making balanced dishes in which the natural flavors of the ingredients still shone through.  In addition, the atmosphere and the menu is well suited to a variety of different dining experiences, from date to work meeting to a group of friends out for drinks.

Glad to welcome PidGin as another great addition to ever-growing fleet of Gastown foodie destinations!

PiDGiN on Urbanspoon

Friday 17 May 2013

Good Food with a View at Cardero's

1583 Coal Harbour Quay  Vancouver, BC V6G 3E7
(604) 669-7666

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES (most fish on the menu is certified Ocean Wise, they offer a daily market catch, good selection of BC wine and beer)

Cardero's is one of the first restaurants that I went to when I moved to Vancouver 3 years ago.  I discovered it on my first run through Stanley Park and knew that hubby and I had to go there to sit at such a prime location.  Located right on the water in Cole Harbour, with mountains in the background, it could be on a postcard for Vancouver.

I cannot exactly remember the details of our first meal, but with so many other places in Vancouver to dine, we have never gone back until this past week when friends of our came to visit from London, ON.  They were staying at the Westin Bayshore and when I googled the area to remind myself what was around there, Cardero's was the closest hit.  Knowing what an amazing view we would have, and that the food was at least decent from what I could remember, I booked it.  I went in looking forward to great conversation with our friends, but having few other expectations above that.

We had made a reservation for 8:15 and, although there was a bit of confusion at first about where our table was (I think they may have given our seats away) we were guided to the outdoor patio.  This was fine with us, as it was a nice night, the patio is heated and we did not feel like waiting around for another table indoors.  Of note is that this place is busy!  We could not get the time the exact time that I wanted when I called the day of to make a reso, and it was hopping from the time we got there until after we left.

After the small little hiccup with our reservation, the service was excellent.  From the three smiling hostesses at the door, to our very friendly server, we were really made to feel at welcome.  Our hostess recognized that we needed to time to chat after sitting down before we even wanted to open our menus (we had lots to catch up on!) and she gave us a good 10 minutes before coming over to ask us for drink orders and to tell us about the specials.  We did not feel rushed at all.  She knew the menu well and was helpful in giving us informed recommendations when asked.

As mentioned above, the setting outside of Cardero's is breathtaking and guests at the back of the restaurant and the back of the patio have an amazing view of the mountains backdrop.  The inside is quite casual and relaxed while still being refined and smartly decorated, and there is a nice open kitchen. The patio has nice heat lamps at this time of year, and there were even blankets on our seats if we needed to cozy up further.

The drink menu is quite extensive and has a nice selection of BC beers and wines.  The dinner menu is quite casual and offers a nice mix of sharing plates, salads, seafood and grill items such that anyone can find something to suit them.  There is also several dinner specials to choose from, including a daily soup, flatbread and entree.  Here are our dinner choices:

Seared Ahi Tuna- When my husband ordered this, I thought it was an odd choice for him as he does not often order fish for his entree, but he is becoming a big tuna fan.  Fortunately, it ended up being an excellent choice.  The fish was of excellent quality and nicely cooked (seared on the inside, raw on the outside).  It was served with a wasabi soy sauce that was tasty, but the wasabi all seemed to be on one side of the plate resulting in a few bites of wasabi overload (nose burn!!!).   It was served with brocollini and the fact that my husband ate it is a testament to how great it was (wish I could get him to eat this at home!).  It is a good thing that he ate his greens because he then chose to order a side of fries (there was no starch included in the dish) and, although it was not the healthiest choice for him, I was secretely glad that he did because I got to have some!  And they were worth it- plump, crispy wedges with just the right amount of salt. 

Halibut with red wine butter sauce- Our friends both chose the night's market fish special.  The generous portion of halibut was expertly cooked and served in a red wine butter sauce.  While they enjoyed the flavor of the sauce, one of our friends commented that the fish was under-seasoned.  The fish was served with rice (or potato if preferred) and veg.  The multicolor carrots and green beans added a nice pop of color to the plate and were beautifully cooked (still a bit of crunch).  A simple yet well executed dish.

Cardero's Big Salad with Seared Ahi Tuna- This salad is composed of quite a grab bag of ingredients and is certainly enough for a main course, especially when you add a protein on top like I did  (there is quite a selection of meat, poultry and fish as options).  The vegetables were all very fresh and the egg (boiled) and olives added some extra "oomph".  Most restaurants make the mistake of over-dressing their salads and masking the natural flavors of the ingredients but this is certainly not the case here.  One might argue that it was even a bit underdressed.  The tuna that I had added was perfectly seared and was served with its own sauce on the side which I found a bit odd since it was placed onto of the salad.  The sauce was quite nice and I used it to add another layer of flavor to the salad.  Overall, I really enjoyed this and would certainly order it again with the tuna.

Having gone into the evening with not much in the way of expectations, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with what a great experience we had.  Not only is Cardero's a perfect place to bring  visitors to give them a taste of the Vancouver's beauty, but it is also a great place for locals to enjoy good food while admiring the unrivalled view.  It is sure to make you remember how lucky you to live in such a beautiful city!

Cardero's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Some Cute Little Finds in the Sunshine State

My parents own a condominium in Madeira Beach, a sleepy little town outside of Tampa.  Hubby and I were fortunate enough to travel down for a visit this past week.  Although this part of Florida is not a foodie destination by any stretch, we did manage to discover some cute little finds along the way. Here are the highlights:

Sweet Sage Cafe

I give credit to my parents for recommending this cute little brunch joint.  The atmosphere is a little quirky but fun, and is a welcome treat from all of the bar/tavern brunch options that seem to be popular in this neck of the woods.  There is lots of outside seating, which is usually perfect for the Florida climate.  The two sides of the restaurant are separated by a little store selling funky little nic nacs.   Service is very friendly.  Dogs VERY welcome here, so much so that they even sell dishes made specifically for dogs that ca be ordered off the "doggie" menu.  I have certainly never seen anything like this before!

The menu (brunch and lunch only) offers a nice variety of dishes to suit all tastes.  From smoothies to egg scrambles to waffles on the breakfast menu, and salads to sandwiches to crab cakes on the lunch menu, there is sure to be something to please everyone.

We arrived at around 11am and were still feeling in the mood for breakfast.  I ordered the Veggie Scrambler (fluffy scrambled eggs loaded with spinach and other fresh veggies, plus parmesan cheese), served with flatbread (think thin hamburger bun) and fresh fruit (my choice of side).  The scrambler was delicious, and the fresh fruit was lovely, but I would have loved some homemade bread to round out the plate.  Hubby had the 4x4 (4 eggs, 4 pieces of bacon, and 4 pieces of french toast)- he devoured it!  My mother enjoyed the California Scramble (guacamole, salsa, bacon, cheese), while my father ate, but did not really enjoy, the Scrambled Crab Benedict (clunky, too many competing flavors, very heavy).

Overall, a very enjoyable meal and a very welcome change from typical Tampa area brunch fare.  Highly recommended:)

The Conche Republic Grill and Raw Bar

While the men went to see the baseball game one evening, my mother and I decided that we would rather stick closer to home for some quality. mother-daughter time.  My mother suggested visiting one of her favourite local spots for dinner, the Conche.  One of the perks of this place is that it is located right off the beach, so we were able to walk with our feet in the water the whole way there.  It was so beautiful on the beach that evening, and the walk was the perfect start to a great night together.

The Conche has a lot of character, both inside and out.  With colourful seats, big umbrellas and a huge outdoor patio and bar, it makes for the perfect setup for a great night out.

Before being seated, we decided to sit at the covered outside bar for a drink and an appie.  I was feeling in a particularly tropical mood so I ordered a refreshing mojito.  My mother followed suit and ordered a sangria.  The bar menu is full of all kinds of treats, many from the sea.  My parents had tried the Fresh Florida Fish Spread (made with smoked amberjack and maui) and said that it was delicious, but I had been yearning for some Florida shrimp, so we ordered a half pound of  A-1-A peel-and-eat shrimp (still not exactly sure what the A-1-A is all about, no one I asked seemed to know).  The shrimp were fresh and meaty, and were served cold with a simple cocktail sauce so that we could really appreciate their flavor.

After we finished our drinks, we decided to move inside for dinner as there was a little chill starting to make its way into the air.  The space was abuzz with happy customers enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.  The room is decorated in a very "Florida-like" manner, with wooden tables and ocean paraphernalia.  Servers are decked out in shorts and t-shirts.  Our server was very friendly and welcoming.

The menu is very seafood-focused, with many fish and shellfish options, prepared in lots of different ways.  There is a large chalkboard with additional daily specials made with the daily catch.  With most entrees, you can choose 2 sides from a list of over 10 choices. Grouper, a white and delicate fish, is big in this neck of the woods, and is something that is not typically found in Vancouver, so I wanted to give it a try.  I ordered it Cajun style (blackened and served with a pineapple-mango salsa) with a side of sweet potato (served with the most decadent cinnamon butter!) and broccoli.  The fish was cooked perfectly and the seasoning gave it a nice kick.  My mother ordered the crab cakes (her favourite!), with sides of sautéed asparagus and sweet potato (she also raved about that yummy butter!).  This is plain, no bells and whistle-type food, but it tasted darn good and we finished every last bite.

After the big meal, out walk back home was just the ticket to help us digest and, more importantly, to make this mother-daughter night last as long as possible.  Living on opposite coasts of this huge country is not conducive to frequent trips to see each other, so every moment we have together is precious.  Our night at the Conche will remain in my heart for a long time, and will give me happy memories to hold onto until out next mother-daughter night.  Plans are already in the works for a whole week in Victoria together in the fall:)

Frida's Cafe and Bakery

Lucky for me, I had some other relatives who were visiting Florida while I was there and we chose to meet up at this cute little local bakery and cafe for lunch together.  

Freida's is a great find, especially for those with a sweet tooth.  They have an incredible selection of baked goods, from fancy cakes, to homemade donuts, to cookies, to pastries, to breads.  You name it and it is there! They also offer gluten free options (a rare find down here, especially compared to Van). For lunch, they also offer quick an expansive menu, including crepes, sandwiches, soups and salads.

It was a gorgeous Florida day so we decided dine outside on the large patio.  Most of us chose a salad and were pleasantly surprised at how big they were!  The Three Berries Chicken Salad came complete with mounds of fresh lettuce, topped with berries and a generous portion of chicken breast.  The Summertime Salad was equally large, and was topped with candied pecans, asiago cheese and chicken.  I chose the Tabouli Salad, one of their newest offerings.  The tabouli itself was a lot more cracked wheat and a lot less parsley than what I am used to, but was tasty nonetheless. It was served with roasted beets (a rather strange choice I thought, but fine with me since I love beets!) and high quality feta cheese.  I enjoyed it very much.  All of the salads, as well as the sandwiches, are accompanied by a delicious piece of coconut bread, which is really more like cake.  Moist with just the perfect amount of sweetness, it made for a delicious little bite to end the meal.

At the end of our lovely meal together, we could not resist ordering a few treats for later.  We picked out the almond raspberry canoe, both a chocolate chip and an oatmeal raisin cookie, a macaroon and a healthy nut bar.  These were all pretty good as well, but I think that the lunch was the real star of the visit.

I would be interested in trying a cake or a doughnut to see how these might stack up.  Maybe next time!


Madeira beach is a pretty tiny little town, so when I passed by the local sushi restaurant, I thought that it was likely best to avoid it.  My initial impression was reconfirmed when I walked by its dark and rather dingy exterior.  As the week went on however, I started to wonder if I was perhaps missing out, as every night there was a pile of customers flooding in through the front door, and the parking lot always seemed to be full of cars. Not wanting to miss out on good sushi, I looked at online reviews, all of which were consistently excellent ("best sushi for miles", "fish is so fresh", "dozens of special rolls"). Knowing from past experiences that looks can be deceiving, and that we should never judge a book by its cover, I decided to check it out for myself.  And thank goodness I did!

Although Osaka's exterior is unappealing, its inside is just the opposite. It is quite a large restaurant, complete with a large sushi bar (10-12 seats) as well as individual tables.  All of the employees that I saw were Japanese, the decor was typical of a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant and the place was absolutely spotless.  It was like I had walked off the beach in Florida and had somehow been transported to downtown Tokyo.  Not at a what I had expected, but a very pleasant surprise.

Osaka's menu is several pages long and, in addition to the standard raw sushi and sashimi, it offers many cooked options for sushi "beginners" or those turned off by raw fish.  There is also a giant sized-page of "special rolls" with every ingredient combination that you could possibly dream of.  Special sauces, different textural elements (tempura, roe, etc) and many fish combinations, one of these rolls could easily fill you up.  I saw some coming off the sushi bar and they looked amazing (beautiful presentation). Because I was just ordering for myself and was taking it to go, I opted instead for a combo of my favourite sushi bar eats, including edamame, seaweed salad and, well, sushi of course! I chose the Sushi Appetizer, which included a California roll and 4 pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna, white fish and crab) and was quite a steal for under $10. The fish was fresh and delicious (large pieces, no skimping!) and the rice was prepared perfectly.  My dad, who has is certainly now branching out from his prior "meat and potatoes" self, also now quite enjoys sushi.  While he does like raw fish in small amounts, he prefers it cooked, so the Smoked Salmon Roll (smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese) was perfect for him.  He loved it and after the last bite, said it was the best sushi he had ever had.

So whatever you do, do not make the same mistake as me and be so quick to judge this  fantastic sushi spot based on its exterior alone.  This is quite an unexpected find in Madeira Beach which should not be missed by sushi lovers, and with all of its cooked options, it is also a great introduction to sushi for those who are not yet on the sushi bandwagon.  A must-try!


This little coffee shop, located just down the road from my parent's condo, was the daily stop for my morning caffeine fix.  Since I visited in March 2012, the shop has changed owners, changed names and changed its vibe.  Luckily, all of this change has been for the better.  There has been a switch to organic, fair trade and locally brewed coffee and its baked goods are made by a chef who uses mostly local ingredients.  They are open until 9pm on Friday and Saturday, and they have a decent selection of beer including many local varieties.  Service is very homey and friendly, and by the end of my week, I felt as though I had been a customer there for years.

On my first morning, I tried their coffee and it was a tad weak for me so the next morning I ordered an almond milk latte (yes, they have almond milk and soy milk!) that was delicious.  On subsequent mornings, I alternated between the latte and an americano and both were consistently good.

Over the course of the week, I also enjoyed some of their food offerings, including a greek yogurt parfait with fresh fruit, homemade granola (made right in the store) and local honey (impressive!).  It was very delicious!  I also brought home some cookies for hubby and my parents, including a chocolate expresso cookie (my husband was quite impressed at how good this was!), a macaroon for my mom and an oatmeal raisin nut cookie for my dad.  They all seemed fresh and very enjoyed by all.

I must say that this little place really surprised me.  Just like Osaka, do not be fooled by its rather unassuming exterior as there is lots of good stuff awaiting you inside!


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Conch Republic Grill on Urbanspoon

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