Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chum Salmon Run - Goldstream Provincial Park, BC

It's been a while since I've last blogged.  A lot has happened since then, most noteworthy was our move from my birth province of Saskatchewan to British Columbia!  There are a lot of differences between these 2 provinces but that is another post for another time.

One of the most amazing things I've been able to experience since our move was to experience my first ever Chum Salmon run at Goldstream Provincial Park, an approximate 30 mins drive from our place in Victoria.  I had an idea what it would be like but never expected how shallow the water would be and how many dead fish there were :(  Reading about the salmon run on Goldstream Provincial Park's site revealed that it is normal for the fish to spawn and die, a fact I was not aware of. Apparently the salmon run lasts approximately 9 weeks so I would highly suggest checking it out if you have never experienced it yourself.  Just seeing the shear number of fish was astounding and seeing how much effort they have to go through to fight against the current was eye opening.  I'll save you the minute details about the salmon run as the site I linked to above does a thorough job at describing the process so I'll leave you with a few pics and a short video (apologies for the quality as it was raining out that day).

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bodega Tapas and Wine Bar (Victoria, BC)

Friday evening after work, after a few pints and games of darts, my husband and I decided to venture out for some food.  As we had our fill of liquids we didn't want to go anywhere that would be too filling.  As it turned out, we stumbled upon Bodega Tapas and Wine Bar, located at the end of the historic Trounce Alley, known for it's wine and tapas.

Location & Decor
As it turned out, it was the perfect spot.  This bar is the sister bar to The Tapas Bar which is right next door that opened not too long ago.  It's a tiny bar with one row of tables along the one wall and the bar opposite to it.  Near the entrance are a few additional tables but overall it is not big by any stretch and that was fine for us.  The decor is rustic feeling with a mix of wood and wrought iron furnishings, presenting itself somewhat as a high-end bar and the music wasn't over bearing.  Being a Friday night the vibe and ambiance was perfect to kick back and relax while nibbling on some tapas.

It's interesting to note that this bar has no formal kitchen area hidden behind a doorway.  The bar area is shared between the 2 chefs and bartenders that night.  To one side is the prep area where the chefs cook items on what looks like an induction stove and keep food warm in a convection oven.  They do all their prep work in front of you while the bartenders serve drinks beside them.

Their website offers  appetizing photos of their offerings as well as their menu, location and contact info - all of which are easy to navigate.  The restaurant also has a Facebook page to follow them on where they post specials of the day though not too frequently.  I couldn't find any other marketing efforts outside of their website and Facebook page but it doesn't seem to be hurting them.

Sitting at the bar we had great service.  The bartender was attentive even while the place became busier as the night went on and he was more than willing to answer any questions we had.  It felt in the beginning they were overstaffed but as the place filled up it was obvious they had the right amount of staff working.

Bodega's offers authentic Spanish tapas that are unique and creatively presented.  The menu isn't
overly large but allows you to select more than one item ideal for sharing.  That night we chose to have the Fennel Orange Salad, Carpaccio Del Pulpo (which is octopus), Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, and Albondigas De Cordero (local lamb meatballs).  Everything arrived in a timely fashion and was quite delicious.  Our one comment would be that the arugula salad that comes with the Carpaccio Del Pulpo was slightly over seasoned.  Overall everything was tasty and well prepared.

Being a tapas bar, I felt it was reasonably priced where you could order more than one item and not feel like you broke your bank account.  The prices ranged from $7-$14 which I felt was reasonable.

My first experience here was an enjoyable one where I can see us coming back again.  I would recommend this to anyone looking for Spanish tapas and a place to relax.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two Gun Quiche House (Saskatoon, SK)

Two Gun Quiche House first started out serving quiches from their food booth at Saskatoon Farmers' Market.  They were so successful they decided to open up their own restaurant in Riversdale, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Saskatoon.

Location & Decor
Two Gun Quiche House opened in 2012 and can be located at 135 20th St, Saskatoon Sk.  It is a cozy establishment with approx. 15 tables and street front parking.  The lower half of the walls are painted purple with the top a bright cheery yellow color.  Wanted signs/vintage signs hang on the walls which I am guessing compliment the name, Two Guns Cohen that the restaurant was named after.  My only critique was the floor near the front of the restaurant needed sweeping as there were crumbs and used coffee creamers lying around and the place hadn't been open too long that day.

Finding information about Two Guns Quiche House is a bit tough as they don't have a conventional website.  They do utilize Facebook extensively but nothing else.  Chef Bill Mathews seems to use Facebook as his only means of communication as he did post that he is postponing being open during supper due to a lack of clientele.  Maybe a website or more social marketing is in order?

My husband and I had gone to Two Guns Quiche House for breakfast one morning and it had a steady stream of clients.  It wasn't busy by any means so the one waitress on staff was able to keep up with demand and was attentive to our needs.  She was pleasant to interact with and I thought she did a good job.

The menu is quite small though that is not a bad thing.  They have a wide variety of quiches and Italian
Breakfast Quiche with coleslaw and half a Porchetta sandwich
sandwiches along with a few salads and soups.  Each meal is paired with soup or coleslaw.  Everything is made in-house using local fresh ingredients.  This seems to be the norm with new restaurants popping up all over the place in Saskatoon.  As they are known for their quiches, I had to try one.  I had their Breakfast Quiche consisting of fluffy egg mixes with bacon, potato and cheddar cheese.  I can't recall having a quiche before so I can't compare it to anything else but it was delicious.  My husband tried the Porchetta Sandwich, a boneless pork shoulder that is rolled in fresh herbs and slow roasted for 10 hours before being piled high on a focaccia bread.  I had a taste of it and it was tasty.  My only complaint would be to serve this on a softer bun as it was a bit hard to chew and distracted me away from the flavor of the meat.

Pricing here is quite reasonable.  Quiche and soup combo is around $11 while the sandwiches range from $12-13.  They provide you with decent sized portions so I find the prices fair.

My experience here was positive.  I can't say I am a quiche person but am willing to go back and try their other sandwiches.  I think they have a good thing going but just needs to market themselves a bit better instead of trying to rely on word of mouth.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chocolate Mousse Cake

For my husband's birthday I wanted to make something special for him, something I normally wouldn't make any other day.  I did some searching and ran across this recipe for Chocolate Mousse Cake which was perfect as I had just acquired a food ring mold and wanted to try it out.  Looking at the directions, it can be a bit daunting as there are many pieces to completing the final product but it is worth it!  The parts consist of: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, creme anglais, raspberry sauce, and chocolate ganache.  I skipped the chocolate ganache as I felt there was a lot of chocolate involved in this dessert (crazy I know!) but I definitely recommend making the creme anglais and raspberry sauce as it  takes this cake over the edge.  It also sounds a lot more difficult than it really is.

A few notes about making this dessert from my experience:

  1. When making the cake, be sure to shake the pan after pouring the batter in or use a spatula to spread it out to ensure your cake pieces are even/level.
  2. You can make the cake ahead of time as the recipe states saving you time.
  3. I recommend making the mousse the day of as it is easier to manipulate.
  4. An easy way to melt the chocolate is to first break up the chocolate into smaller pieces and place it in a metal bowl.  Place the bowl over a saucepan with a small amount of water (ensuring the water level doesn't touch the metal bowl).  Heat the water and slowly stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula.  This is a slow process as you don't want to burn the chocolate.  Once it is almost melted, remove the bowl and continue to stir the chocolate until it is smooth and shiny.
  5. When making the mousse and the chocolate has melted, allow it to cool to room temperature by letting it sit out.  Placing it in the fridge or exposing it to cooler temperatures too quickly will cause the chocolate to harden wrecking all your hard work.  
  6. Don't be scared to make the creme anglais as it is just a fancy term for heating up whipping cream and adding in an egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla.  This is a delicious compliment to the cake.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pint Sizes & Prices (Saskatoon, Sk)

When you dine out, do you know how much beer you are paying for when ordering a pint?  I usually don't as it's never been an issue until recently.  However with the number of new restaurants popping up in Saskatoon, it's become obvious restaurants don't follow a standard size when serving pints even though they still expect you to pay pint prices.  According to the Canadian Federal law, a legal pint size in Canada is 568 ml (20 Imperial oz).  Unfortunately this is not strictly enforced nor are there any penalties for false advertising which I feel is the root cause for the discrepancy of pint sizes being served in Saskatoon.  In BC, it wasn't until 2010 that pints were legal to serve.  Prior to 2010 the largest serving of beer you could order was 500 ml.

I decided to do some research and find out which restaurants were serving actual pints.  Out of the 19 restaurants I frequented at, only 9 restaurants served a true pint size.  The winners are: Copper Mug Pub & Eatery, Double Deuce Bar & Grill, Hose & Hydrant, Las Palapas Resort Grill, Louis, O'Shea's Irish Pub, Red Lobster, Somewhere Else Pub & Grill, and the Yard & Flagon.  It is interesting to note that it seems like the restaurants that have been around the longest serve true pints.  Of the remaining 10 restaurants/pubs, many try to pass off a US pint size consisting of 16.65 Imperial oz.  The worst offender was Brown's Socialhouse serving what they call a sleeve which I believe contained 14 oz for $6.  This scam is what led me to write this post as they don't even correct you when you order a pint nor did the waitress know how many ounces were in their sleeves.

Thinking about this, serving different pint sizes wouldn't be such a big deal if restaurants were up front as to what they were serving and priced their pints accordingly instead of short-changing their customers.  The best solution would be if restaurants were held accountable and penalized for false advertising.  I'm not sure what their logic is behind serving pints that aren't true pints as it is a well known fact that the more alcohol served, the more customers spend - isn't that what all restaurants want, for customers to spend more?  Are the restaurants that short-change customers lacking in business to the point where they have to stretch their keg out as long as possible?  If so, those are definitely not the restaurants I want to eat at.  Customers aren't blind to the fact that they are getting robbed on how much beer they are being served and it now plays a factor as to where my husband and I go out to eat.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Honey Bun Cafe (Saskatoon, Sk)

I first heard of Honey Bun Cafe from my husband as he works downtown and goes out for lunch often.  My husband had a day off from work so we decided to have lunch here so I could see what it was all about.  I was not disappointed.

Location & Decor
Located downtown Saskatoon on 2nd Ave S it has approx. 20 tables (from what I recall), a decent size for a cafe. The only downside of their location is that it is downtown and anyone who has ever tried finding a parking space will know what I am talking about as they are only open until 4 each day with the exceptions of Sunday and Monday.  Having opened in April 2013, the cafe is small and cozy using a grey and yellow color scheme.  The decor is very simple and effective for the space given, with small wall shelves on one wall featuring tea accessories and another wall featuring wood pallets strategically placed.  Each table is adorned with a fresh flower giving the place a clean and uncluttered look.

Honey Bun Cafe covers their bases when it comes to marketing.  They have accounts via Twitter, Facebook, and even have their own website.  With respect to their website, my only criticism would be to describe their food a bit more in detail.  They are the only place (that I know of), outside of Chinese bakeries, that makes stuffed buns which I find very unique and quite delicious.  Overall their usage of social marketing is quite well done, ensuring they post once a day, not overloading your news feed.

Since the cafe is fairly small, ordering involves going up to their counter and ordering off of their chalkboard menu.  After ordering the staff will bring you your order once it's ready.  I found the staff friendly and competent.

The menu is quite small making it quick and efficient to serve a large crowd as I assume it caters mainly to
Pulled pork and caramelized onion stuffed bun and mushroom soup
the downtown business crowd as they are open from Tues-Sat.  They do have a wide selection of caffeine options and a few decaffeinated offerings.  In terms of food, their signature item is their stuffed buns which I can attest are delicious.  They make 5 different versions - breakfast stuffed bun, pulled pork and caramelized onion, bacon and blue cheese hamburger, veggie and goat cheese and pizza stuffed buns.  I had their pulled pork and caramelized onion stuffed bun with soup and it was delicious.  The site mentions they use fresh, local ingredients and you can definitely taste the quality.  The portions they provide are generous in nature as the buns are quite large and the soups filling.  On the lighter side, they offer snacks such as cinnamon buns, yogurt and fruit cups.

Pricing at Honey Bun Cafe is quite reasonable.  Our lunch per person was under $10 that included a stuffed bun and soup of the day.

My first experience here was definitely positive.  The service was good and the food delicious so I can see myself making a repeat visit the next time I am downtown.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taverna Italian Restaurant (Saskatoon, Sk)

My husband and I have been going to Taverna Italian Restaurant for a number of years now.  It should be obvious with my other posts that we love to eat out (in addition to cooking) and are loyal to restaurants that are consistent in serving quality food and service.  Taverna is one such restaurant we often eat at.

Location & Decor
Taverna Italian Restaurant is located in the heart of downtown Saskatoon on 21st St E.  If I had one criticism of this place it would be that it could use a new color scheme as the decor is very reminiscent of the time period they opened (est. 1969).  Mirrors line the walls and the color scheme is a mix of soft pink/peach walls with brown tones from the wood structures.  As dining is an entire experience, they could use a minor face lift to match the quality of food they provide.  Plates and cups are a bit dated as well but for some reason this suits the place as it does a good job in presenting the food.

I'm surprised this restaurant does not have a website since it's been around for so long and only joined Facebook back in June 2011.  While the trend these days is to be online and social, I would think it alienates the few that are not on Facebook (and yes I do know a few people that do not use Facebook at all).  Also when I first looked them up in Facebook I was confused by their cover photo as it wasn't a factual picture of how the restaurant looks like presently but upon further investigation it was understood their exterior is undergoing a face lift soon so that made sense.  With respect to their Facebook page, they do an excellent job of advertising the daily features as well as provide informative facts about authentic Italian cooking.

The service at Taverna has always been good.  Upon entering we are always greeted right away and service throughout the night has been attentive.  They are more than willing to explain any menu item to you should you have any questions as many Italian words are used throughout the menu.

The menu is divided into sections: antipasto, minestre e insalate, piatti di pasta, specialita italiane, pizza, panini, and gelati e dolci with the appropriate number of items within each category so you don't feel overwhelmed looking at it.  The menu uses a lot of Italian terms but the description is detailed enough to understand what you are ordering.  They also provide a feature menu outside of the regular menu that changes every so often.  At times they have feature pizzas which are a bit confusing as it is often a different size and pricing compared to their regular pizzas.

Taverna Italian Restaurant has stepped up their game in recent years using Caputo flour in their pizza dough.  Caputo flour is the best flour to make pizza dough out of as it is finely ground and has a lower gluten content making the dough less elasticity.  Their pastas are also packed full of flavor using fresh ingredients.

Insalata di Cesare
During our last visit there, we started off with their Ceasar salad containing a light oil based dressing with a hint of anchovies.  I am a big fan of Ceasar salads using an oil based dressing versus the heavier creamy dressing other restaurants use that tastes out of a bottle.  On other occasions we've had their baby arugula salad that we've become quite addicted to.  The flavor of this salad is mix of balsamic vinegar mixed with finely diced shallots and a hint of lemon topped with fresh Parmesan.  We were also served fresh bread with an oil and balsamic dipping sauce which we liked.

For our main course, I had one of their feature pasta, Fettuccine Al Tarufo Nero - fresh garlic, asiago cheese, parmiginao-reggiano cream and fresh black Norcia truffles.  It was by far the best pasta I've had in a while.  The pasta was cooked to perfection and the sauce was creamy goodness where the flavor of truffles was definitely present.  The amount of sauce used was the right amount as well and the pasta was topped with bits of truffles.  I would definitely have this again and just thinking about it makes my mouth water.  My husband had the spaghetti and meatballs which he claimed was quite delicious.  He said it was probably the best he's had.

Fettuccine Al Tarufo Nero

Spaghetti and meatballs

Complimentary after dinner shot
The amount of food we were served was definitely ample enough that we didn't have room for desert.  However we were served a complimentary alcoholic shot which I believe is new to their service and was a nice way to end our meal.

The price of the meals is quite reasonable considering the quality of ingredients they use.  It is not extravagant by any means with regular pastas ranging from $13-$17 and main courses at $25.  They have a wide selection of wines that range in what I would consider reasonable prices.

Taverna Italian Restaurant is by far my favorite place to go for Italian food.  The ingredients they use are fresh and well balanced.  We've never had a bad experience here and will definitely be back.