Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Is Willows Inn the best dining experience in North America today?

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A full 5 Yums Up for me and a spot on my most memorable meal list. From the moment we pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by a fire in the grill and aromatic smoke chugging out of the smokehouse I was engaged in the experience of dining at Willows Inn. A good walk on the beach across the street set our appetites on fire. As the sun set, the chefs visited the grill and smokehouse more and the kitchen and dining room started to glow with light and activity. I was drawn away from the smokehouse to make a quick change before moving to the lobby bar for a drink, a snack and some excellent entertainment from a young man with a guitar, a violin, a ukulele and a great song list. Regular trips to the glass French doors to the kitchen built even more anticipation as I watched the chefs with calm and precision work magic as 6:30 approached. Soon we were all seated in the casually elegant dining room, drinks were poured and a parade of servers and chefs presented each of us with a small lidded cedar box.
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Samish Bay Smoked Mussel
Lift the lid and smoke escaped and we were all in; appearance, aroma and taste. By far the best mussel I have ever eaten and I wanted more, right then. I was soon distracted by tiny crispy crepes rolled around char roe.
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Crispy Crepe with Char Roe
The 1st two bites had the whole room humming. Things moved along pretty quickly but with plenty of time to savour the aromas, appearance and taste of each dish.

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Crispy kale with Black Truffles
 Next up was my favourite of the evening; crispy halibut skin stuffed with halibut emulsion and bits of razor clams dusted with seaweed dust. This had everything going for it; incredible presentation, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and flavour that made you long for more.
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Crispy Halibut Skins
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Spot Prawn poached in it's Roe

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Grilled Shitake Mushrooms

The lightly smoked oysters were so good, they delivered another order to our table.  Don't they look amazing?

Shigoku Oysters

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Black Cod wrapped in Caraflex Cabbage
The Black cod wasn't the most beautiful presentation of the evening but one of the tastiest.  I happen to know from hanging around the smokehouse that the cod was lightly smoked and there was a sliver of very crisp cod skin along the top of the fish before it was wrapped in cabbage.  My second favourite dish of the night.

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Pears Cooked in Embers
Pears cooked in embers was the pescatarian swap for tartare of venison and wild lettuces.

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Parsnip with razor clam sauce

I've eaten and cooked a lot of salmon and this is quite possibly the best smoked salmon I've ever eaten.

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Smoked Sockeye Salmon

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Slices of Persimmon

Things were starting to get a little foggy about now.  We'd chosen the wine pairing option and the pours were generous.  I don't know what the persimmons were in but it was refreshing and lively.
Only one other dish needed to be swapped out for our pescatarian request.  It was pine mushrooms instead of pork chop in juniper with turnips buried in embers. Once again I loved the taste of the fire on the turnip and the mushrooms and juniper were earthy, deep and dark.

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Pine mushroom and juniper with turnip from the embers

There was also roasted sunflower root, caramelized squid and charred radicchio, felicata squash and pine-flavoured cream, flax seed squares and bread from local grains with butter and onion drippings but my final favourite was goat's milk with grasses.  The grasses were in a broth and I was actually reluctant to taste it fearing it might be a bad end to the meal but it was amazing.  So bright it almost sang to me.
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Goat Cheese with Grasses

In all there were 11 courses and 9 snacks or surprises paired with 5 wines and 1 beer.  I made a mistake and ordered a bottle of Capitello Oregon Brut before dinner and also chose the wine pairing option with dinner.  I was drinking bubbly between courses instead of water and it may have had an effect on my judgement toward the end of the meal.  I wasn't the last person in the dining room as I'd intended to be and I regret it immensely.  

I've eaten at a couple of Michelin starred restaurants this year and some of Vancouver's best.  I've had farm to table meals in Spain, Vancouver, Palm Springs and Montreal and this meal is definitely my favourite of the year.

I've booked it for same time next year.

Wine Pairing:
Capitellp Methode Champenoise Oregon Brut
2013 Big Table Farm "Wirtz Vineyard" Edelzqicker, Willamette, Oregon
2011 Maison Bleue "Upland Vineyard" Grenache, Snipes Mountain, Washington
Longsdon Straffe Drieling Tripel, Hood River, Oregon
2011 Gramercy Cellars "Inifo Montoya" Tempranillo, Walla Walla, Washington
2012 Brook "Tehys" Riesling, Eola-Amith Hills, Oregon

I highly recommend Willows Inn.  Book early so you can stay right on property.

Eat on friends.  Cathy Moore

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jamaica Inn Blows my Mind

Jamaica Inn Ocho Rios is simply fantastic.  A boutique hotel with only 53 suites and villas nestled around a perfect crescent shaped beach, it's comfortable, elegant and casual at the same time. I was most impressed with the staff who were so proud of their tenure and keenly aware of your every need.  The inn has been owned by the Morrow family for over 50 years and Eric Morrow goes out of his way to meet new arrivals.

Jamaica Inn is all about gracious service.  Breakfast can be eaten in open air dining rooms or delivered to your room.  Every morning it's quite a sight to see all the young men moving quickly and gracefully through the resort with huge trays balanced on their heads.  Complimentary afternoon tea is served buffet style and there is always someone there to describe and serve what's on offer. I'm not a fan of strangers touching the food I eat so I especially appreciated the service. Before dinner, there are complimentary hot and cold appetizers in the bar as well as bowls of home made crisps and ridiculously addictive coconut chips.  Dinner is served under the stars with a live band playing.  The atmosphere is magic and the food and selection exceptionally good.  The menu rotates every 14 days so there's no chance to get bored.

The wine list  included a fine selection from the US as well as impressive old world offerings.  The wines were served at a good temperature, a somewhat difficult task when room temperature is about 30 Celsius.  I also really liked the fine wine glasses. Many resorts skimp on this and I don't care if you call me a wine snob, the glass matters.

Many guests at Jamaica Inn are regular annual visitors, it's the kind of place that you confirm next year on departure.  I think that says it all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Craving smoked marlin yam balls from the Round Hill Hotel, Jamaica

Round Hill Lobby at Night

Eating with Cathy

Dining at the Round Hill in Montego Bay Jamaica is a pleasant surprise.  I didn't expect to find a place in the Caribbean so passionate about their food, but a conversation with Billy who proudly heads up the organic gardens is enlightening. His enthusiasm for the project is infectious.  The hotel sources as much as possible from its own gardens and maintains a special relationship with other organic farms on the island to supply the rest.  Salads are super-fresh and dressings are bright with herbs from the garden. 

Breakfast can be served on your private veranda or eaten on the terrace overlooking the sea.  All of the breads and pastries are made in-house.  The “akai and salt fish” is delicious.  Full of deep umami flavours, it harkens back to the beloved “fish and brews” of my childhood Newfoundland.
Smoked Marlin Yam Balls
The very best dinner was the farm-to-table menu on Thursday night.  The theme reminds guests of the hotel’s eat-local commitment.  The star dish is the very special smoked marlin and yam balls.  The grilled snapper from the regular menu is possibly the best I've  eaten; and the coconut rice and beans aren't to be missed.  Calaloo is a popular dish of bitter greens with onions and grated carrots that grows on you over time. (I can envision Jamaican mom’s fighting the good fight with their children over this spinach-like dish.)

If you are lucky enough to stay at the Round Hill Hotel in Jamaica, the food will be a pleasant part of your stay. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Prince Edward County, Ontario gets another jewel in the Drake, Devonshire

Eating with Cathy

Chevre Chaud Factor:  Sadly none but Chicken Fried Oysters filled the gap

There are many good dining options in Prince Edward County and the Drake Devonshire had a good buzz going all the while it was being developed.  A beautiful and lovingly restored property on the lake in Wellington, the dining room is casual, comfortable, lively and fun.  We'd  booked 7 of us in for dinner on a Monday night and expected it to be quiet but it had a happy atmosphere going.
Pommes Frites Drake Devonshire

As I often say "you can't be my favourite restaurant if you can't get fries and a glass of bubbly on the table in under 5 minutes". A couple of cast iron bowls of Pommes Frites with rosemary salt were delicious but the drink service was slow and I ended up passing on the bubbly because the fries were gone before our drink order was taken.

Chicken Fried Oysters
I can no more pass up fried oysters than I can a chevre chaud so the Chicken Fried Oysters - Fanny Bays, kimchi mayo, celeriac and pumpkin seed remoulade were an easy choice for me.  Sadly the oyster arrived overcooked but were quickly replaced and proved to be very tasty on top of the outstanding celeriac salad.

Popcorn Shrimp

Pan Seared Pickerel
The Popcorn Shrimp with maple mustard vinaigrette and watercress salad was a popular dish and good value. Perfectly cooked large shrimp, the watercress salad more of a garnish than a salad but I bet these will be the most popular item on the menu.  Delicious.

Most of our table ordered Pickerel.  We all love pickerel and order it whenever it's on a menu.  This one, served on a mushroom, walnut and barley risotto was exceptionally good.

The Drake is still finding it's legs, there were a few small issues, but they were cheerfully managed and I'm confident that a little time will see them resolved.  I would recommend making reservations well in advance.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Palm Springs has lots of good restaurants. We chose Workshop Kitchen & Bar.

Workshop Kitchen & Bar Palm Springs

Chevre Chaud Factor: Outstanding 5 Yums UP

Roasted Mushroom Salad
While at a conference in Palm Springs four of us escaped the conference food one night for a more interesting dining experience. A bit of research led us to Workshop Kitchen and Bar, a farm-to- table restaurant with a menu offering something for everyone.
We started with 3 dishes to share, one being a roasted mushroom salad with endive, radicchio, arugula, goat cheese and truffle vinaigrette - a tasty and attractive dish, although it would have benefited from more mushrooms.

Shaved Brussel Sprout Bowl
We also had a shaved brussel sprout bowl with toasted hazelnut, bartlett pear, balsamic, olive oil and pecorino. It sounds better than it tasted. There was something lacking and oddly, it wasn’t served in a bowl. We didn’t finish that dish, so I’d have to give it a "Yum Down."

Crispy Goat Cheese
 Our final sharing plate was crispy coat cheese with braised lentils, glazed beets and scallions. Crazy delicious - a bowl of lentils topped with sliced beet and a crusted ball of warm goat cheese that melted into the beet and lentils as you ate it. This one hit it out of the park, and I know I’ll be trying to recreate it at home.


For main courses, two of us had scallops with spaghetti squash in a 5 saveurs (flavours) sauce. It was an interesting and tasty dish, but I thought it was too expensive. I guess that’s what you get when you order scallops in the desert.

Flat Iron Steak

The flat iron steak, served with fries, mushrooms, rapini and pearl onions offered much better value and was given a thumbs up.

Black Cod 
One entrée was amazing: white shoyu glazed black cod with roasted cauliflower,
cauliflower purée, golden raisins, pink beets and beet greens was the star dish. The menu offered many interesting dishes, so based on the ones we really loved I’m willing to bet there were more great dishes to be had.

 I recommend Workshop Kitchen & Bar.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Montreal has great food. Impasto and Chez L'Epicier were our top restaurant picks.

Chevre Chaud Factor:  3 Yums UP
Favourite Restaurant:  Cathy – Impasto       David – Chez L’Epicier  
I love Montreal.  It’s on a waterway and has a huge park at its heart.  It has a great arts and music scene and is truly bilingual, with locals easily shifting between French and English. And then there’s the food; fabulous markets, an abundance of great local cheeses and restaurants that will knock your socks off with some of the best wine lists in the country.  What’s not to love? 

Dinner reservations are a must.  The restaurants are very busy, even on a long weekend. 

Lemeac Ravioli
We arrived on Saturday in time for dinner at Restaurant Lemeac.  A casual French restaurant, the atmosphere and service and food were all acceptable, some of it quite good.   I started with a salad chevre chaud and David had the Vegetable Tian.  My salad was very nice, a modern version with panko crusted chevre and  lightly dressed frisee on top.  Walnuts and apples added a nice touch.  The vegetable tian was forgettable.  For main courses I had the Mushroom Ravioli with pine nuts and arugula.  A dish I would normally love but I didn’t notice that it was served with a demi-glace, which overwhelmed the flavours of the mushrooms.  I’m not sure why so many chefs choose to take a dish that would be perfect for vegetarians or pescetarians and taint it with meat.  In this case a mushroom broth would have kept the character of the dish strong and earthy.   David had the Seared Scallops ; served with mashed fingerling potatoes and mujjol caviar, it was a beautifully executed dish with the large scallops perfectly seared and sitting on top of the tasty mashed potatoes .  The mujjol caviar added just the right salty flavour depth.  Awesome spuds.  I’m going to try and replicate this, it was simply delicious. 
Milos Special
After a day of exploring we had dinner at Milos.  This was our 3rd Milos dinner, one in New York and once before in Montreal.  We weren’t so happy the last time we ate in Montreal but New York had been so great we decided to give it another go.  We love the menu and the quality of ingredients is outstanding.  The Milos Special is a must have. A stack of light and crisp fried zucchini, eggplant and saganaki stacked on top of the best tzatziki I’ve ever tasted.  The calamari and Greek salad were perfect.  The tomatoes tasty with true flavour.  Our waiter proudly told us about their tomato source and how they are grown just for Milos.  I’ve recently developed a guilty tasty for octopus and was compelled to try the appetizer as my entrée.  Sashimi quality and charcoal broiled, I could crave this.  David had Dover sole simply prepared with lemon, olive oil and capers.  Some Greek potatoes and greens and we had a perfect dinner.  Our waiter was helpful and knew his wines very well.  They had more Greek wines than I’d ever seen and he was able to describe the Sauvignon Blancs well.  We chose the Gerovassiliou   in the style of a Sancerre and were very happy with how it.  Dinner at Milos offers exceptional seafood and it’s busy with interesting people watching.  It is expensive. Be careful when ordering fresh whole fish.
Go! Chef Godbout

Thanksgiving Monday and we had dinner at Chez L’Epicier.  We had to guarantee our reservation with a credit card.  I was reluctant but many restaurants in Montreal are closed on Monday and being a holiday there seemed to be a lot of American tourists so reservations were hard to get.  The restaurant in Old Montreal was comfortable and welcoming and the staff was outstanding.  Our waiter was the best I’ve had in a long time.  He had an opinion, something I value and appreciate.  I was struggling with the extensive French wine list and when I asked his opinion of a choice between 2 wines he said he didn’t personally care for either and suggested a 2012 Morgon  Beaujolais.  He wasn’t trying to sell us a more expensive wine; there was an insignificant difference.  It was just good advice.  Chef Laurent Godbout will be competing for Canada in the 2015 Bocuse D’Or and our dinner promised big things for Canada.  From the moment we tasted the amuse bouche we knew we were in for a fantastic meal.  
Eggplant Chevre Macaron

Parsnip Soup
Eggplant macaron with a chevre filling, I could have happily made a meal of several with the wine.  

 David started with Parsnip Soup; brown butter panne cotta and liquid parsley were presented in a bowl and parsnip milk was poured over top.  Fantastic presentation and equally good taste.

Not Just Like Fish & Chips

I couldn’t resist the Just Like Fish and Chips.  I consider myself a fair judge of F&C and this wasn’t like anything I’d had before.  Completely deconstructed, the fish was thin slices of a Japanese white fish, seared rare, with batter pieces on the side and paper thin potato crisps with frisee and tartar sauce.  I wouldn’t order it again but it was interesting.  David had the Roasted Butternut Squash with crème fraiche, walnut crumble, grapes and bread crisps.  A very pretty dish but I was surprised by the cold squash and not a fan.

Cod & Zuccini Carbonara

I loved the Norwegian Cod, with crispy skin served on zucchini carbonara, sea urchin cream and white wine.  Wow!  Richness made light by the zucchini replacing the pasta.  We also had Truffle gnocchi with broccoli puree, crispy buckwheat, roasted cipollini onions and grilled garlic oil.  Both main courses were outstanding.  
Chocolate Club House
Finally we had the signature dessert; a Chocolate Club Sandwich, small triangles of white and dark chocolate cake on skewers with pineapple fries and a melon salad.  Very pretty and the pineapple fries were fantastic but I think there were better choices.    

I recommend Chez L’Epicier unreservedly and wish Chef Godbout good luck in 2015.

Squid Ink Pasta at Impasto

Our final dinner in at Impasto was hands down my favourite. Partly because we sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and the chef and team were focused and happy, turning out food that kept the room humming with appreciation. 
We tried as many dishes as we could, David declaring both the squid ink pasta and the walleye, the best he’d ever eaten.  I was quite taken with the beet salad and the scallops.    
The beet salad had tiny yellow, pink and red beets disks shaved raw, as well as cooked beet with different fresh cheeses and toasted hazelnuts with great dressing and pretty presentation.
Scallops on Chickpea Pancake
Scallops were large and perfectly seared on a chickpea pancake with an agresto (a pesto like sauce with almonds, walnuts some magic involved).  Usually served with ‘nduja sausage, the chef had to be consulted before they agreed to serve it pescatarian friendly.  I was glad he did.  I like to cook scallops but I would never bother with the chickpea pancake, which I really enjoyed and the agresto wouldn’t be easily duplicated.
 David had an artichoke flan that wasn’t a big hit for him but I tried to steal as much as I could.  Irresistible with the house made bread. 
The Squid Ink Pasta had fresh clams and mullet bottarga (sun dried mullet roe), briny and delicious. 
The absolutely best walleye ever was served aioli topped with red cabbage and crisp walleye.  Perfectly cooked and the cabbage and aioli were surprisingly complimentary.
We also had squash stuffed ravioli with sage butter and amaretti.   Similar to Feenie’s Cactus Club dish, it was very good but not as impressive as the other dishes.

We’re living on salad now.

Au Revoir Montreal

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sunday in New York - brunch in Harlem, walk the highline, Chelsea Market shopping and Del Posto for dinner

Brunch is the thing to do on Sunday morning in New York and the Red Rooster, Harlem was at the top of our list.  We were instructed to arrive early, did as told, and were rewarded with a fantastic seat facing the band.  The staff, musicians and vibe were all friendly and happy.  The food satisfying on a deep level.

Crab Salad in Butter Lettuce 
Corn Bread

We shared crab salad, served in small butter lettuce leaves and corn bread.  So good we had to hold ourselves back from ordering seconds and it was a good thing we did because our main courses were both delicious and hearty.

Blackened Catfish Grits and Deep Fried Okra

Grilled Shrimp and Cheddar Grits

We felt no pressure to finish up and in fact were told to relax and enjoy the music.  It was an intimate experience with some masterly musicians.  A great start to the day.

Efficient and Happy Kitchen at Red Rooster Harlem
Doors open at 10am for Brunch and Jazz on Sunday.  Buffet brunch and Gospel downstairs at Ginny's Supper Club, but that's for the next time.

After brunch we headed back down-town to the Chelsea Market. 
Chelsea Market Has Attitude

Rachel part of the crowd at Chelsea Market

 One of the best markets I've visited, we could have spent hours wandering around, shopping, eating, being entertained.  We left a little poorer with some nice treasures.  Next time we'll go early in our trip, have a meal and get some top notch room snacks.
Chelsea Market Crazy Cakes
Angry Bird Cakes

The Highline runs right over top of Chelsea Market so up we went.  New York is in love with it's new elevated pedestrian walkway with good reason.  It's well laid out, one of those things you know is perfection right away.

It was a hot day so when we came back down it seemed like a tall jug of iced Sangria was in order.  We walked into a large empty restaurant and ordered a jug.  In 20 minutes the restaurant was full and we still only had water but realized we had just lucked into perfect seats to watch the final World Cup Soccer game.  Several pitchers of Sangria later, Germany had won and we were running across the street to Del Posto and our terribly, horribly early dinner reservations.
Lobster with Burrata & Fermented Broccolini
I feel like I'm putting Batali and Bastianich notches on my eating belt.  The food really appeals to me, and  everything is polished, but something about it is contrived.  Just not quite as special as it thinks it is.

Few things can make an empty restaurant feel good and though I sort of like to eat early and am often forced to as a way to try all the great restaurants choosing not to take reservations, that's different.  I can't blame Del Posto for the lack of atmosphere.  But we had to get out of town, so early was our only choice, and not the right one for this large restaurant. 
Pasta with Black Truffle

The food has always been exceptional at the B & B restaurants and there were some great dishes here too. The Cool Lobster was a pretty dish with well balanced textures and flavours.  

The pasta with black truffle was unappealing but smelled and tasted better than it looked.
Salmon with Cauliflower and Calamari

The slow cooked salmon and with Calamari, cauliflower and hazelnut salad was impressive, with eye appeal and perfectly cooked salmon.

They had all the free and tasty snacks and sweets that come with crazy prices and we do love surprise food.
Sweet Treats
 It makes the meal fun and interesting.  Presumably the calories don't count if you didn't order it and you can eat it in one bite.  

That was our big day in New York.  Can't wait for the next one.  It makes a great stop on the way to the Caribbean.  I wonder if I can change my tickets to Jamaica.