I remember once ages ago, I posted my Top 10 Meals in Year X. A friend (I believe it was this one) kindly pointed out that I must have some sort of seafood fetish because a disproportionate number of dishes in my Top 10 were all seafood.
I’m from the East Coast. What can I say?
I grew up on baked clams, fried calamari, and freshly caught snapper, caught with my own bamboo pole. My brother and I used to catch our own blue claw crabs along the shore at my aunt and uncle’s house in Rhode Island. (This activity was known locally as “chicken neckin’” as you would ask the butcher for whatever scraps of chicken he was willing to give away. The necks it was. ) My mother is infamous for her salmon and broccoli…a simple dish, but she does it so extraordinarily well that it is a regular request from the relatives.
So yes, I like seafood.
Probably no surprise that I love GT Fish & Oyster then. I’ve been twice…once with my cousin George, once all by my lonesome. GT is good for the solo diner because you can eat at the bar. Easily so. I like that.
Lovely meals, both times.
Especially the Tuna Poke…mango, cucumber, and black sesame. Lovely.
Also lovely…the chili crab pasta. I would go back for this dish and eat it again and again and again.
Also nice…the fish tacos. I had these on my first visit. The visit where I discovered my cousin George doesn’t like oysters. Not like oysters?? SACRILEGE.
The Verdict: I like GT Fish & Oyster. I’ll be back.
The Background: Yes, I’m on a bit of an oyster kick these days. And yes, I know it’s July and July doesn’t have an R in it. But I don’t care. If someone wants to feed me oysters, I will gladly partake.
Sadly, there’s no one feeding me oysters these days. So I have to feed myself. On occasion, I will also feed others. Like Brandon.
It’s nice dining with a chef because you realize that your obsession with food and restaurants in general is nothing — NOTHING — close to what they feel and how they see things. I follow food and know the big names; chefs follow food and know ALL the names. It’s an odd experience to be confronted with your own lack of knowledge on something you feel fairly knowledgeable about.
I like Shaw’s Oyster Bar. It’s fun. And $24 bucks (ish) for a dozen oysters is a mighty fine deal. But there’s A LOT of stuff behind the bar at Shaw’s. I should have taken photos. So much clutter. The OCD in me wanted to clear it all out. But that probably wouldn’t have gone over well.
$17 for a lobster roll is also a mighty fine deal, especially given the amount of filling. Seriously stuffed. Brandon took issue with the brioche-y roll. He’s a purist, that one. I didn’t mind it because untoasted hot dog buns (and untoasted hamburger buns) are really one of my most unfavorite things ever.
I wanted a lobster roll at Shaw’s because they’ve been all over the press these last 12 months. I’ve had lobster rolls before of course, but never in the midst of such a fervor. They were just there. And I ate them. OK.
So I ate Shaw’s lobster roll and I remembered…lobster and me…meh. Some people die over lobster. I’m not one of them.
I’ll stick with oysters, thanks.
The Verdict: You might remember I wasn’t a big fan of the main restaurant at Shaw’s. But the oyster bar is fun. And for oysters, a surprisingly good value. Ah also, I really liked the service. Really congenial. They’ve got a keeper, there.
I went to Vancouver for the Travel Bloggers’ Exchange Conference last month. It was okay. I stayed at L’Hermitage, which is the #1 hotel in Vancouver on TripAdvisor. I’m beginning to get the gist of TripAdvisor hotel reviews after a few ho-hum experiences…it’s all about location. I could not fault L’Hermitage for its location. But for its mattress quality? Yikes. And this is a new hotel.
The rooms at L’Hermitage are like studio apartments…all with a small kitchenette. I don’t like to eat breakfast out when I’m traveling — hello $35 at the breakfast buffet — so I really liked this aspect of L’Hermitage. Plus, the hotel was super close to a grocery store and a liquor store. I stocked up and treated myself not only to breakfast but to a little cocktail hour every afternoon. Good times.
Where I ate…
Japadog. Vancouver likes hot dogs. Especially Japanese hot dogs. Being a sucker for all things katsu, in a very small storefront on Robson Street, I went with the Tonkatsu. The Tonkatsu isn’t a real hot dog but rather fried pork with katsu sauce. For me, it was a bit on the sickly sweet side. And you know how I feel about untoasted buns. Lots of people like it here so I’d give it another shot, but my initial experience had me thinking…meh.
Given my disappointing “dinner” on Day 1, I was ready to make up for it Day 2. After consulting with the VERY helpful and VERY awesome concierge at L’Hermitage, we decided on Coast. (Also helped by the wonderful WhyGoCanada on Twitter.) It was a very perfect place for a late lunch, as they have a lovely bar that overlooks all the shellfish. You might recall my shrimp cocktail video from Coast and my delight with the dry ice treatment.
I couldn’t stop eating oysters while I was in Vancouver. I was very happy with the chef’s assortment at Coast. VERY happy.
I would go back to Coast if I were in Vancouver again. I liked the modern vibe, I liked the flirty service, and I liked the seafood…A LOT. (My goal in Vancouver was to stuff myself with as much seafood in a short amount of time as possible.)
At some point — I forget exactly when — I went to Herons Restaurant at The Fairmont and had lunch. It was only okay. The first problem was that the waitress took my order but only told me 5 to 7 minutes later than on weekend afternoons, they don’t offer the special of the day. I found this hard to understand. I changed my order and ended up with what I can only call diet food. Porcini-crusted salmon with organic vegetables. Meh. Nice. Healthy. But meh. I ordered a side of fries, which I really shouldn’t have done.
Herons is a nice place because it has a great view of the cruise ships (note the beautiful natural light), but it definitely had that hotel restaurant vibe. And I wasn’t too keen on my food. (Although I did like their very Canadian wine list.) Maybe I just ordered wrong.
That evening, I headed over to Blue Water Kitchen in Yaletown, another combined recommendation from my concierge at L’Hermitage and WhyGoCanada. I popped in super early and took a seat at the sushi bar in the back. I helped myself to more — surprise — oysters, along with the seafood ceviche. I unfortunately missed one very important word in the grapefruit, cucumber, lime, red onion, cilantro list of ingredients: GRAPEFRUIT.
I hate grapefruit. There are many foods that I don’t like, but I’ll still eat them — like mushrooms. But I really can’t eat grapefruit. At all. The grapefruit just about ruined a perfectly nice ceviche for me. Grapefruit bitterness is very pervasive. Very.
I also had the oddest lemon tart I’ve ever had at Blue Water…does this look like lemon tart to you??
I had to reread the menu. Ingredients? Frozen wild flower honey meringue, burnt orange sauce, caramelized almonds, pistachio and hazelnuts. Again, not paying attention. (Really though…how they can call this a lemon tart, I don’t know.)
Even with all this, I kinda liked Blue Water and would go back. But I would pay attention next time when ordering. Hah!
My last stop in Vacouver — I think — was the very sweet Zero One sushi. Super small, and not at all fancy. It’s exactly what I was in the mood for. HOLE IN THE WALL.
You place your order at the counter and the sushi chef is your waiter. I got one of the day’s specials — just a couple of small rolls — and used the miso soup to relieve myself of my TBEX hangover from the night before. Sushi Zero is not fancy nor is it gourmet. It’s inexpensive and honest, and sometimes that’s all I need.
So definitely some hits and misses in Vancouver, and I obviously had a seafood bias. If that’s not an excuse to go back and eat more, I don’t know what is!
My server was supremely flirtatious and possessed — when it came to white wine — a lethal tendency to pour. And pour some more.
Lavished with complimentary oysters and enamored by the free wifi (Are you reading, restaurants in America? Are you reading?), I had already checked in on Foursquare, Tweeted my lunch location, perused my Facebook fan page and read all of Coast’s Yelp reviews. I was so done with social media for the hour.
And then my starter arrived. With much drama. A welcome distraction from the World Wide Web. And there was smoke. (But no fire.) And while in hindsight, I am slapping myself in the head for not holding my iPhone horizontally, I am still pleased enough that I was quick enough to think “Video! Video! Youtube! Youtube!” and capture this small little moment of Vancouver.
Coast is located at 1054 Alberini Street in Vancouver. That’s in Canada. I would highly recommend a visit, both to the restaurant and the country.
The Background: Amy at Salon Blue has been cutting and coloring my hair since 1998. It all started with a dye job gone horribly wrong at a salon-to-be-left-unnamed, also in Lakeview. (Let’s just say that at the time, I had enough gray hairs as it was. I didn’t need any more.) Oddly, although I’ve yet to meet Chicago Food Snob, we’ve both been going to Amy for over 10 years.
When you see someone for that long at the same salon, you start to develop your routines. My routine was a post-haircut chicken chopped salad at Pompeii. Love that salad.
But the other week when I stopped by Salon Blue to cover up the grays, I saw that Fish Bar had just opened across the street. So I decided to change things up.
The Entrance: Fish Bar is PACKED when I enter around 5 pm on a Friday evening. That being said, I am the only person waiting. So I’m optimistic about my chances of grabbing a seat relatively quickly. Fish Bar has counter seating all around, along with three or four booths off to the side. I have a nice chat with one of the proprieters who explains that he also owns DMK Burger Bar next door, and how he used to have a Pompeii. I tell him about my love for Pompeii’s chicken chopped salad. I feel like we’ve made a connection. I get a glass (or, well, a jar) of white and settle in to wait for my seat. Remember, I am the only person waiting.
And I continue to be the only person waiting for about five minutes. Then another guy shows up. And then another couple shows up five minutes after that. The guy with the menus at the front door points to a seat and says that will be mine momentarily. The music is really pumping at this point–Fish Bar is fun and loud and boisterous. I’m really liking it big time already.
Until two seats open up at the bar, and the the couple that entered 10 minutes after me are seated. Dude, totally dissing the solo diner. I’m pissed. And I am pretty sure the guy with the menus totally knows this because he is avoiding any and all eye contact with me.
Even more so when the dude that entered after me gets seated next because his dining companion has arrived. Ouch…I’m even more pissed.
The seat that was supposed to be mine continues to be occupied. The woman there orders another dish. I don’t begrudge her this at all. I did, after all, think it was odd that they told me where I was going to sit while the woman was obviously in the middle of her meal. Now it all becomes clear to me.
They don’t want to seat a solo diner where they could seat two people. Their assumption, of course, is that a two-seater will spend more than a solo diner and if they give me one of two seats next to each other, it will be hard for them to fill that second seat. I can understand that, but I’d also make the argument that timing is a big factor in serving your customers. If a solo diner has obviously been waiting significantly longer than anyone else, give that diner a seat, why don’t you???
Finally…I get a seat. And I order some tuna carpaccio.
It’s nice. A little dry around the edges, but nice.
I opt for a side of fried lemon, onion, and jalapeño. It’s a wet mess. A bit undercooked, this. Tasty with good flavors, but undercooked.
Because I can never resist a little pulpo, I go for the octopus a la plancha. More good flavors — lemon, olive oil, chili, black pepper. But it would have been better if the octopus was hot all the way through and not cold in the middle like mine was.
Throughout it all, service was very friendly and attentive, almost as if she knew I was pretty pissed to have been dissed twice for a seat.
The Verdict: Fun environment. Interesting menu but only okay food. Good service once you’re seated. But still totally annoyed that I was skipped over not once but TWICE because I was dining alone. By one of the owners no less! I could maybe understand it if I hadn’t been waiting so long, but to have been the only person waiting for over 10 minutes…it’s just unacceptable.
The Damage: More than it should have been. $220 for two including one bottle of white.
The Background: One of the guys I work with in Israel (Hi Gideon!) was in Chicago last month and I took him out to Shaw’s. He knows about my restaurant blog and keeps asking me when I’m going to write about our meal or if maybe I wrote about it and he missed it. Honestly, I totally forgot about this meal, that’s how forgettable it was. (I’m talking about the food, not the company!) The one thing I have kept thinking about, however, is how expensive it was for a normal amount of food and a decently priced bottle of white.
We started out with a HALF order of scallops with lemon and garlic butter, rice and spinach. It was all fine really, although I remember that neither of the butters boasted much in the way of flavor. I believe we accidentally ordered the Nantucket Cape scallops because I remember thinking $42.99 for scallops? We’re going to get a half portion.”
One thing I did really like about Shaw’s is they were happy to have me create my own dish. (God bless America, Land of Options huh?) Having split the order of scallops to start, I had no interest in more scallops for my main. So I edited down one of the combo platters and got a 6 oz filet and four garlic shrimp.
I’ve probably been eating too many frozen shrimp from Vietnam lately. In comparison, these buggers just weren’t very hefty. And the rice pilaf that accompanied the dish just seemed like such a cop-out. The filet itself was fine. Nothing spectacular. I liked its cute size though. Very petite.
I neglected to take a picture of the HUGE side of spinach that was delivered to our table. $10 worth of spinach. WOW. I took the leftovers home and enjoyed spinach for lunch and for dinner and for the lunch again over the course of the next 48 hours.
The Service: Our waitress was AWESOME. She was very friendly, very attentive (but not overly so) and offered me options like half portions and creating my own entree when I seemed to be hesitating. The world needs more servers like her.
The Verdict: Shaw’s seems to be doing something right–the place was packed when we where there–so I’d like to give this another shot. If I get around to doing this again, I’ll skip the Nantucket Cape Scallops–even though we SPLIT a half-order, this dish was just to pricey. We were paying for rarity more than anything else. And I probably would order a crab cake or three instead of the shrimp. You know I like my crab cakes. I hear the oyster bar at Shaw’s is quite good so that alone is reason enough for a second visit.
El Barco Marisco 1035 North Ashland Avenue
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, November 17th
The Victims: My good friends Matt and Kim who were visiting Chicago, along with an assorted cast of characters.
The Damage: $40 each or thereabouts.
The Background: The best part about being back in Chicago is getting to see people I wouldn’t have had a chance to see otherwise if I still lived in London. Matt lives in Minnesota and sells boats for a living. That’s not going to send him to London very often. Kim I actually did see a few times in London, but the visits were few and far between. But here they were BOTH in town at the same time and as our table for dinner gradually expanded to eight people, I went in search of good and inexpensive group dining in Chicago.
I think the photos say it all. El Barco (as the locals call it) is good for groups because the restaurant loves to serve big platters of seafood. Their paradillada (the first photo) is full of everything, including chicken. But you know what?
It’s all pretty sh*t.
Undercooked, overcooked, over-salted, under-salted…you name it. (This must be why they keep so many hot sauce jars and limes on the table. So you can add your own flavor or mask their mistakes.)
That being said, the fried fish of indeterminate origin in the paradillada…that was good. (Frying covers up a multitude of sins.) And the refried beans. The beans were also good. As you can tell from the second photo, we also had whole fried snapper. Yes, it tasted as bad as it looked. But I liked the broccoli. It’s hard to mess up broccoli.
When we left, we all smelled like cooking oil. Uggh.
The Verdict: Everyone loves this place. They must not get out much. Never trust a restaurant shaped like a boat.
One of the difficult things about being a repatriating expat is the final flight home. Normally, you’d buy a return ticket because it’s cheaper. But as you’re getting ready to book your ticket back to your old home country, you think…”Hmmm…do I think I’ll ever be back in the UK? Can I use this return leg at some point in the future? WHEN?” But then you get all caught up in farecodes and the endless cycle of having a return ticket back to the UK that you can ever quite figure out what to do with. So you never use it.
Me? I had another idea. A part-cash, part miles one-way ticket on British Airways should be cheaper than round-trip. And in Club World no less! Might as well go home in style, huh? Done!
As part of this whole booking process, I remembered an old e-mail in my blog inbox. It was an offer to go on a food tour of Terminal 5. (Did any London bloggers ever do this? I never saw any posts.) I got back in touch with the PR, told her I’d be in Terminal 5 around noon on Friday September 3rd, and asked if the food tour was still available.
Well…it was…sort of. I could at least go to the Caviar House & Prunier (only my favorite place to eat in airports) and get a walk-thru of the menu there. That sounded just about perfect to me, so I headed off to Heathrow Friday morning, eager to stuff myself with smoked salmon and also maybe get a beauty treatment at the Elemis Spa in the Club World Lounge in T5.
Foursquare warned me: Elemis books up early. So I went straight there as soon as I’d checked in (around 12:15 pm) and took the first available slot at 2:20 pm. (See…they weren’t kidding.) Sorted. Now it was time for some smoked salmon. And maybe some champagne.
Although there was a slight mix up about my arrival and what I was exactly there for, it all worked out more or less for good. The team at Caviar House whipped me up the Balik Salmon selection, which goes for £32.50. The selection features nori, dill, and orange salmon filets (I liked the orange the best), deeply lovely Balik tartar, some Balik smoked salmon, and deliciously salty Balik pearls (roe), accompanied by a green salad and toasted brown bread. I could have eaten the tartar all day, seriously. Balik salmon is some of the most renowned in the world and is smoked in Switzerland based on the original smoke ovens used in Imperial Russia.
For me, they also threw in 10 grams of Prunier Caviar, made in France, but in the Russian style. Just doing the math based on on 30 grams, I think the 10 grams retailed for about about £30. It had me thinking about the story Leonid from Bob Bob Ricard tells…about the time that he threw all the extra caviar down the sink and it blocked up the pipes and he had to tell the plumber “Um, the sink is blocked with caviar.” (Leonid throws my kind of party.)
Not really knowing the proper way of eating caviar, I asked Caviar House & Prunier the best way to do it. They responded as follows: “The most natural way of tasting caviar is by eating off the back of your hand, at the junction of the thumb and forefinger. To preserve the full flavour of caviar use a mother of pearl spoon. Caviar is never eaten with a silver or stainless steel spoon, as this can distort and taint its taste. At Caviar House & Prunier at Heathrow, a popular dish is to serve caviar with crème fresh, egg whites, red onion and toasted blinis.”
All of this was washed down by the house champagne (£8.75 a glass) which was crisp and light. It had me wondering…how many bottles of champagne do they go through a day in Heathrow? How many salmons? And most importantly…HOW MUCH CAVIAR? I’m dying to know.
So I asked them. And here’s what they said:
“Approximately over 350 units of caviar is sold over the course of a week at Caviar House & Prunier. Additionally, over 250 glasses of champagne and over 50 bottles of champagne are consumed on average a day.”
After my caviar gorge-fest, I headed up to the Elemis Spa in the Club Lounge for an awesome 15 minute facial. I’m sad I only just realized that Club World gets free spa treatments; I flew Club World to Dubai in Januaryand just sat around in the lounge for ages during the blizzard. (And then 7 hours on the plane while we waited for de-icing, but that’s another story.) The Elemis staff sent me off with a few free samples which was kind of them. I also learned through them that Elemis and Bliss are now one company (along with a cruise ship spa company). Marcia Kilgore must be very rich now.
And after THAT, I just hung around in the Club World lounge (that’s the B concourse lounge pictured above), drinking Sauvignon Blanc, thinking…seriously, if you are going to leave, leave in style. Full of Caviar House & Prunier smoked salmon, caviar AND champagne, and with a few beauty treatments thrown in for good measure. I don’t think I’ll be able to duplicate this sort of afternoon anytime soon, but if you’ve got the resources, I can recommend it most highly. Goodbye, London!
Yes friends, I was a guest of Caviar House. What can I say? There was champagne involved.
Whenever I'm in an airport, I seek out the Caviar House. I don't know why. Maybe it's an excuse to drink champagne at odd times. Maybe it's the gravadlax, which I've always had a softspot for. Maybe it's the lemon served in mesh bags or the idea that if I really really wanted to, I could drop £165 on breakfast. (St. James Solo Caviar.)
The Victims: Canadia Boy, Andrew, Jeremy, Christina
The Damage: I forget…but maybe like £20 each? Jeremy paid, which he shouldn't have!
The Background: Canadia Boy is leaving us. Not to Canada. (He's not from there anyhow.) He's moving to D.C. Like tomorrow. And he's taking Stacey with him. In December. It's all very confusing. And sad. I don't want them to go. I think about all the times they've invited me over for dinner on a random Sunday afternoon and I want to cry. And I do cry. In front of them both. Later in the evening.
Stacey has asked me to organize a little "Farewell London" food crawl for Canadia Boy, based on my Gourmet Tour of London and all the restaurants they've read about on my blog but haven't had a chance to experience. I know Canadia likes oysters. A lot. So we start out at Randall & Aubin and get a platter of 18.
The Food: The natives are my favorite. Followed closely by the "oyster of the day," that we never quite get a clear answer on. The chips are good. The oysters are lovely. The service is slow but congenial and slightly charming. The atmosphere is Soho on a Saturday night. And the wine is a chilly smooth and stony Sancerre. Of course. We leave happy. And we're just getting started.
J Sheekey Oyster Bar 33-34 St Martin’s Court WC2N 4AL Date of Last Visit: Sunday, January 25 2009
The Victim: Mary Kate!
The Damage: £25 or so
The Background: I haven't seen Mary Kate in 10 years. And hey, I gotta say, neither of us have aged a bit! She's passing through town, working her way through some sort of environmental case. We make plans to meet up in Spitalfields at 1:30, but at 1:45, she's still nowhere to be seen.
Oddly, she turns up in Queensway and many texts and many many minutes later–something about a yoga class, a Blackberry, a yoga mat, a nap and a fire–I scrap the Spitalfields plans and we meet up in central London. I'm cold. And I'm wet. So I take her to Fernandez & Wells to warm up.
Well, after eating, what else is there to do but eat some more? I take Mary Kate to J Sheekey, which we have a little trouble finding because although Google Maps is good, it's not St. Martin's Court good. We are left wandering the streets for quite some time. Sorry, MK.
The Entrance: The oyster bar at J. Sheekey is empty at 3 p.m. on a Sunday. This isn't a bad thing for us. I feel like I've met our server before–I really should have asked where he used to work. And we settle in for some champagne and some oysters.
Only problem is that they're out of the special. (A half dozen Strangford Lough rock oysters, I believe, and a glass of champagne.) So we go with the Fines de Claires. Apologies.
The Food: All this and Mary Kate has never had oysters before! Now I feel doubly awful. Wandering around in the rain, all for some oysters that she might not actually eat. She tries one. Maybe two. She says politely that she likes them. "They taste like the sea." But it's me who finishes everything. Sigh.
The Verdict: I like it here. I'd come back. Particularly with my dad. I think he'd dig it.
The Background: For the last few years, Uncle George and I have spent Christmas Eve (or the day before Christmas Eve) shopping for Christmas presents for Aunt Ursula. This year was no exception, although I have to admit that my creative juices weren't really flowing. Normally, I'm able to summon up a couple of good ideas for gifts that she hasn't asked for. Not this year. I was practically brain dead.
I lost my energy completely in the ladies watches section of Sears around 11:30 a.m. Uncle George took one look at me and said, "Do you like crabs? How about some blue claws?"
And now hey, if that didn't perk me right up.
The Entrance: The St. Lucie Crab House is empty when we enter. It is Christmas Eve though. There probably aren't many people who decide to go out and eat a dozen blue claw crabs on Christmas Eve. Except for me and Uncle George. I let him do the ordering. He's good at it.
The Food: There you have it. One dozen local, South Florida blue-claw crabs. Covered in Old Bay Seasoning. Life would only be better if Otis Redding was playing on the stereo and I had caught the crabs myself. (As I used to do as a kid when I visited Aunt Ursula and Uncle George in Rhode Island. We called it "chicken-necking" because chicken necks are the unsellable bits the butcher will gladly give you and crabs LOVE 'em.)
The Problem: This is messy stuff. Working for your food is hard.
The Verdict: Fun. Probably better for dinner when you have nowhere to be afterwards. Because you know, crabs are messy business. I had to wear a bib.