san francisco (#5)

I’ve been to San Francisco five times in my long life.  Once as a 15 year old snarky teenager, travelling with my parents & brother in a camper van, twice with my husband (it is a very romantic city), once on a long layover from Australia, and then the last time – last week with my daughter Ella.  

As is our way on our chick trips, we ate our way through the City.  Here are some highlights:

Foreign Cinema for a fancy pants dinner – great service, terrific food and the best ambiance – Singing in the Rain playing on the large screen in the courtyard.  In the rain.
Standing in a pleasant line up in the sun to eat Mama’s crumb cake for brunch
A $6.14 dinner at In-n-Out Burger
Grabbing warm sweet buns from a random Chinatown bakery
A generous salami and blue cheese sandwich at Sutter Street Cafe when I was post-flight starving
The bounty of food and food products that is the Ferry Building, including Secret Breakfast ice cream for breakfast
A waffle shot and cannolis on the Avital North Beach Food Tour
Being treated to warm cream filled churros by my girl at Colibri Mexican Bistro

The great thing about San Francisco is that you can eat your face off…and then just spend the day burning it off climbing up and down the hills.  Viva la chick trip!

vancouver – favs so far


Last night, someone asked me:  where are your favourite places to eat in Vancouver?  We’ve been here 10 months, and it is time for me to update the answer to this crucial question.

Name ANY genre of food, and you can find it here.  This is both exciting and overwhelming.  Plus, somehow with the price of housing, you have to figure out an eating out budget.  This is important.

So far, I’ve scratched these surfaces and came to these conclusions:

Best BrunchYolks (I dream of their Chicken and Waffles).  Runner up, Red Wagon

Best Punk Rock Hot DogsWhat’s Up, Hot Dog

Best Dirty ChaiCoco et Olive (runner up, Platform 7)

Best Burritos, Baby! – Sal Y Limon

Best Artsy Mexican Food – Tacofino (Hastings Commissary location only, the Gastown location is snotty)

Best Cheap Take Away SushiNanaimo Sushi

Best Nice Sushi – Kazu Japanese Restaurant

Best Japanese (not sushi)Guu Thurlow

Best Wonton Dumplings Shao-Lin Noodle House

Best DoughnutsHoneys Doughnuts in Deep Cove

Best Cocktail – Portland Craft (their version of the Moscow Mule sent me straight to the tattoo place to get three tattoos.  True story).

Best RamenKawawa Japanese Restaurant (put an egg in it, please)

Best BakeryPure Bread (special shout out to their Buckwheat Sour Cherry Scones)

Best Birthday CakeCadeaux Bakery

Best Cronut (the only Cronut) – Swiss Bakery

Best Cream PuffsBeta5 Chocolate (best eaten in their sketchy parking lot)

Best LebaneseNuba (falafels please with garlicky potatoes)

Best Aussie Pie Peaked Pies (ya gotta drive to Whistler for this, poor you)

Best Food TruckLe Tigre (Kick-Ass Rice, please)

Best Bubble TeaBubble Lishus Tea House (I went through a serious Bubble Tea phase and this the winner).

Best Hipster Coffee Experience49th Parallel, deep in the bushy beards of Main Street.  Bonus:  indulge in a Lucky’s Doughnut‘s Maple Long John while you are at it.

Best Perogies Iwona’s Perogies in New West

Best BurmeseAmay’s House (tea leave salad yum)

Best Pizza DeliveryViva Sue’s

Best Ice Cream (very well researched) – Rocky Point Ice Cream for the quality of the ice cream, Rain or Shine Ice Cream for the best cones, Glenburn Soda Fountain for the sauces and toppings, Soft Peaks for the soft stuff

Best Italian DinnerAsk for Luigi (it is worth the wait)

Best Bizarre Italian DinnerAnton’s Pasta Bar (endure the wait in line, be rewarded with voluminous portions of pasta)

Best ThaiChad Thai (lovely family run place)

Best SandwichChez Meme Baguette (oh so French)

Best Dim Sum – Shanghai River (a random place in Richmond)

Best Fish & ChipsGo Fish on Fisherman’s Wharf (also Best Tourist Experience to grab fish & chips and then walk around the wharf to Granville Island) Runner Up:  Pajo’s

Best Fish TacosFish Counter

My Instagram feed also contains many excessive photos of food.


belle ville de Québec

I travel to many conferences, both as a speaker and as an attendee.  I’ve been to Montreal  several times, but I had my first chance to travel to Quebec City for a children’s hospital conference.

I have never ever eaten so well at a conference.  I ate duck every single day.  I also ate rabbit (by mistake.  Someone told me at the conference lunch buffet that it was chicken.  IT WAS NOT CHICKEN.  I am still recovering from that trauma).

But the conference food!  Fluffy scrambled eggs, juicy sausages, steaming pastas, duck and beans, pate, apple tarts…my, it went on and on.  There was also an exceptional amount of cheese.  Thank goodness I managed to slip out and walk and walk all this decadence off in Quebec City.  There, I ate poutine, more poutine, and drank wine and hot chocolate and Bailey’s.  My, the residents of Quebec sure know how to live life.

I ate some really good meals in this tiny jewel of a city.  Of note:

Le Hobbit – the staff put up with our rotten French, and served us duck cannelloni.  Yes, you heard right:  duck cannelloni.  Smothered in cheese.  The word decadent is too pale to describe this dish.  Thankfully the serving size was contained, as it was served in a tiny little cast iron pot.  This restaurant offered up my favourite setting:  dark with communal tables, flickering candles and brick walls.  Tres French Bistro.


a gnocchi masterpiece

Chez Boulay – this was a much tonier place.  It also served my most scrumptious meal: potato and seaweed gnocchi with asparagus.  I usually order the gnocchi because I like the way it sounds (tee hee).  But the description of this gnocchi does not do it justice (and neither does this photo).  It was somehow pillowy & crunchy and decadent & earthy all at the same time.

very french, non?

very french, non?

The Panetier Baluchon isn’t fancy, but it is a real neighbourhood bakery on Rue St. Jean, off the tourist track.  I happily sipped a hot latte while eating a flaky chocolate almond pastry that I am still thinking about a week later.

the hot chocolate & bailey's didn't hurt too.

the hot chocolate & bailey’s didn’t hurt too.

Well, then there was the poutine.  Four days, two servings of poutine, and that was me controlling myself.  First, Chez Ashton’s poutine, which is like McDonald’s of poutine in Quebec City.  Fast, cheap and cheerful, with the mandatory squeaky cheese.   It did the trick.  Then, Le Chic Shackwhich offers smashed potatoes instead of fries, which I’m still unsure about, but they were swimming in deep dark gravy, which I’m pretty sure about (as in yes.  Deep dark gravy is a good thing).

Sadly, there were no food tours offered on my time off, but I did sign up for a Tour Voir Quebec walking tour, with an entertaining and informative tour guide named Richard.   It was a two hour refresher on my Canadian history, along with a glimpse of this gorgeous little city:


roanoke virginia

from the rooftop in downtown roanoke

from the rooftop in downtown roanoke

In the fall of 2015, I travelled off the beaten path.  I found myself in Roanoke for a conference, and enjoyed the Southern hospitality.

free cheese! how delightful!

free cheese! how delightful!

My time was brief, and I ate mostly at the hotel, the regal Hotel Roanoke.  I recall a fair amount of items wrapped in bacon.  I was treated to a cheese plate upon check in – how nice was that?

I did sneak out for a dinner at the River and Rail restaurant.  I’ve never turned down an offer of grits, so I ate the pasteured chicken breast and sausage dinner with grits, apple and sauerkraut.  I left really stuffed and rolled my way back to my hotel room.  I’d describe the River and Rail as having upscale Southern food – fancy stuff, perfect for a special dinner.

My brief time in Roanoke was met with a warm & enthusiastic welcome.  It is a pretty place, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Little known facts:  Roanoke was once known as The Big Lick, and it boasts that Wayne Newton was raised there.  This is a lovely little historic city, nestled in southern Virginia – my talk was even written up in the Roanoke Times, which means I will always reflect fondly on my short time there.

vancouver eating honeymoon

IMG_6387Big news:  I’m no longer a tourist in Vancouver. I actually live here.  Since relocating with my husband and youngest son to the west coast in March, I still feel like I’m on holidays.  I’m madly in love with this place, and my eating honeymoon is not over yet.

One of my favourite things about Vancouver is this:  I can pick any country in the whole world, and then I can find that country’s restaurant here.  Any kind of food you can think of, Vancouver has it.  I’ve been getting my recommendations off Yelp and following foodies on Instagram. Also, folks at my new job have been generous with their food recommendations.  And my brother in East Vancouver is an amazing cook, and a walking encyclopedia of information about where to source local food.  Lucky me.

How do I start sharing all the fantastic bowls of ramen, plates of sushi, and mouthfuls of ice cream sandwiches that I’ve been privy to?  Here is my Vancouver eating portfolio from the past four months, broken into themes.

1.  I Scream, You Scream… I’m always on a quest for non-chain ice cream.  While BDI in Winnipeg remains my all-time favourite ice cream joint, Vancouver steps up with so many options.  My favourite is a mix of two places – the ice cream from Rocky Point Ice Cream (salted caramel is so creamy and kicky – why would I even try IMG_6791another flavour) and the light sugary waffle cones from Rain or Shine Ice Cream. A bronze medal in ice cream goes to Earnest Ice Cream.  Glenburn Soda Fountain is fun for an old-fashioned experience – try their special ice cream concoctions.  Oh wait, then there’s Soft Peaks in now trendy Gastown – organic soft ice cream with luxurious toppings.  And then Beta5’s generously delicious ice cream sandwiches.  Screw it – just try ’em all.

2.  Ramen is my New Pho Edmonton has a bounty of Vietnamese restaurants, so I have been hooked on pho for many years.  But Vancouver boasts so many varieties of ramen, which is my new favourite noodle-based soup.  Kamamarui Ramen delivers deeply-flavoured miso based soup with chewy noodles and funky seasoned rice with seaweed Bombs on the side.

3.  Yo Sushi There is sushi everywhere.  More sushi restaurants than any other type of restaurant in Vancouver.  More sushi restaurants than Starbucks.  Even more sushi restaurants than pot shops.  I’ve done fancy sushi to hole in the wall sushi.  I eat more take-away sushi than I should, but it is SO CHEAP.  A dinner sized entree at a regular sushi place will not set you back more than $12.  I do not yet have a chosen sushi place because I’m still judging sushi places.  Expect this to be an ongoing saga.

4.  Discovering Beverages I stumbled upon a lovely little French coffee shop on Main Street called Coco et Olive.  On the menu, they listed a Dirty Chai.  What is that, I inquired.  Chai latte with a shot of espresso, the gentleman answered.  BOOM.  My new favourite coffee drink.  And bonus, you can order it anywhere, even if it isn’t listed on the menu.  So I’ve had it at Platform 7, Caffe Artigiano, even Starbucks. I’m scared to order it at more purist coffee shops like 49th Parallel or Matchstick, so I stick with a latte with an extra shot at those spots.

IMG_71115.  Must Have Fish and Chips This falls in the category of ‘When in Rome.’  Like, duh, we live near the ocean.  Eat fish.  Lots of it.  While deep fried fish does not fall into the healthy category, it does fall into the ‘best food to eat outdoors by the ocean’ category.  My choice for the best is Go Fish on beautiful Fisherman’s Wharf, followed by Pajo’s, the Crab Shop in North Vancouver and Cockney King’s. Have visitors in town?  Take them for fish and chips and sit on the dock while you slowly munch your way through a day’s worth of calories.

6.  Special Finds
Burmese – when my lovely daughter and her man came to town, I promised them a visit to a Burmese restaurant.  The first place we  located was freshly shut down (!) but thankfully there was an even better option nearby:  Amay’s House.  I ate a tea leaf salad and crunchy noodles, and enjoyed flavours I had never encountered before.  It was awesome.
Meat Pies – can you say Aussie Pie Guy?  Look for the dude’s food truck around tIMG_6468own, or make the gorgeous drive up to Peaked Pies in Whistler to tuck in a meal contained in a pie.  Add a dollop of mashed potatoes and mushy green peas for good measure.
TacosTacofino migrated from Tofino and that’s a grand thing.  I’ve been to the location on Hastings, and it is funky and fun.  Kid friendly too.  I also consumed an exceptional sweet potato and spinach taco at Cafe Deux Soleils.  And Originals Cafe Mexicano is a little Mexican house in Port Moody that is worth the drive.  Oh, wait, El Comal in a industrial district in Burnaby is a special not-fancy spot – join the line-up of film crews from the nearby studios to chow down on huge burritos.  This is the real thing.

OH MY I’ve just scratched the surface.  As my husband gently reminds me, we don’t have to cram in every Vancouver activity – we are here for the long haul, and have many years to nosh at the many eating establishments on my ever growing list.  I haven’t even been to classics Vij’s or Tojo’s, and I’m dying to try Ask for Luigi and the Pear Tree.  So many restaurants to eat up.  Yum, yum, Vancouver.

NOLA, all in good fun

I went to five of the places on my New Orleans anticipation list.   Mr. B’s is impossible to get into without reservations, and we decided to go on a bus tour to the Garden District instead of going for brunch at Court of Two Sisters.  Plus, we were with a group of 12, so it is impossible to democratically figure out where to eat.  Ya gotta roll with this when you travel.  Instead, we unearthed some other New Orleans eating gems.  I successfully consumed jambalaya, po’boys, a muffaletta, pralines, beignets, gator gumbo, fried chicken, and shrimp and grits, so I was happy.

Red beans & sausage at Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar.

Our first night, based on a recommendation from the hotel staff, we wandered over to Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar.  We dutifully stood in line (man, the Americans do not mind standing in line) and squeezed our way into two seats at the bar beside the hot sauce station.  I liked this place.  It is a brightly lit diner, with proper Cajun food.  I had a gummy, yummy jambalaya and Mike tucked into red beans and sausage (see above).

I eat a Cafe Beignet beignet on our food tour.

I eat a Cafe Beignet beignet on our food tour.

I always go on a food tour when I’m in a new city.  This time was Tastebud Tours, which was a pleasant combination of a walking, history and food tour.  It was a great way to get the lay of the land around our French Quarter neighbourhood, and we got our bearings for our next four days of revelry.  There we discovered that New Orleans is a traditional city, chock full of stories about their food and celebrations.  There’s the King Cake with a baby Jesus inside, Cajun (one pot & inexpensive) and Creole (French & fancy), and a great mix of French, Spanish, Haitian, Irish and Italian influences.  Look up in the trees, and there are Mardi Gras beads hanging everywhere.  I learned a valuable lesson – do not laugh while eating an icing sugar dusted beignet (above), or you will inhale the sugar and not stop coughing.

Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone.

We went to the Carousel Bar at the glamourous Hotel Monteleone just to say we did, and had pricey cocktails while watching the bar turn slowly around.  (We were unable to snatch a spot right at the bar.  There was a huge realtors convention in town and they were greedily taking up all the spaces on the carousel).

My favourite dinner came next, at Red Fish Grill, which is a boisterous and lively place.  I had Bbq Gulf Shrimp and Grits, which featured spicy andouille sausage and sweet potato grits with plump shrimp perched on top.  That’s New Orleans in a nutshell:  spicy, sweet and plump.

Muffaletta at Central Grocery.

I consumed a number of muffalettas and po’boys.  Muffalettas are round Italian sandwiches on soft sesame buns, stuffed with Italian meat, provolone cheese and a runny yummy olive salad.  I proclaim the best muffaletta to be at Central Grocery.  Here’s something I’ve learned in my many years of eating: if there is a huge line up and rules to be followed in order to secure food, then the food is going to be good.  This is true at Salumi in Seattle, Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice in Kaua’i, Hamura Saimin Stand in Lihue and the Italian Centre Deli in Edmonton.  And actually pretty much everywhere in Italy.  All this means is that you’d better know what you want to order.  Be confident and definitive, don’t waffle, and have your money ready.  Or you may be yelled at or banished to the back of the line.

I did not hesitate when I ordered my muffaletta, and took it to the back counter to eat a quarter of a huge drippy sandwich.  I got olive juice all over my light pink shirt.  A messy success.

Secret Po’boy place, at the back of Erin Rose bar.

New Orleans is obviously a sandwich town.  Along with the muffaletta, the famous po’boys are mini-sub sandwiches filled with a variety of stuffings:  roast beef and shrimp are common.  You have to push your way through a crowded pub to the back of Erin Rose to stand in line to order a Killer Po’Boy.  Persevere, as it is worth it.   I ate both shrimp and pork belly po’boy sitting on a bar stool at midnight on two different occasions.  This is hearty, belly filling fare.

Willie’s Chicken Shack offerings.

As you can see from the picture above, I did not consume any fruits or vegetables while I was in New Orleans.  I ate mostly brown, white and beige food.  (It took me a week of drinking water and eating clean back at home to finally detox just from the food).  The calories consumed in New Orleans are similar to those accumulated on an all-you-can-eat cruise.  Walk a lot, and don’t worry about it.  Salads are awaiting you back home.

Breakfast at the Ruby Slipper.

More eating:  eggs & stuff at the Ruby Slipper, deep and dark duck and gator gumbo at the Palace Cafe (both on Canal Street).  Our final night out we went to GW Fins with our party of 12.  This place is swanky, with flawless service.  I had lobster dumplings, the Scalibut (scallops baked into halibut – why not?) and Ban-Nila for dessert (Nila wafer and banana ice cream – the closest thing I got to Bananas Foster).

Five days after we arrived, we rolled ourselves onto a plane for our 6:30 am flight back home, and arrived back just in time for the beginning of a long dark Canadian winter.  Our awaiting children amused us with a taste test of Louisiana Hot Sauces:

Hot Sauce Contest.

New Orleans, what a place.  Eat, drink and be merry – it is all in good fun.

the four stages of bourbon street

20141107_223124_resizedStage 1

OMG, this is like a massive bar right in the middle of the street!  You can drink openly on the sidewalk!  In fact, it is strongly encouraged!  The Americans free-pour their drinks and they are really strong!  Drink!  Collect beads!  Dance like nobody is watching!  Jump up and down, oblivious to the back pain you will endure tomorrow!  Go down the wrong way on Bourbon Street and wonder where the hell your hotel is!  Go the wrong way down the hotel corridor, running (for some reason) and lose your sweater!  Be spinning in the head in bed and sleep with the ice bucket parked next to you, just in case!

The next day, feel completely poisoned until about 4 pm.

Stage 2

Settle on a favourite take away drink. (Hurricane from Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar).  Pick out a favourite dancing bar (Famous Door, where the band plays 80’s music).  Dance your friends under the table.  Suddenly notice that people smoke in the bars here.  Sometimes cigars.

Stage 3

Have only one open drink on the street, for old time’s sake.  Stop hoping for beads because this seems silly, particularly since you are closing in on 50.  Find a local off-Bourbon Street pub called Erin Rose with more reasonably priced drinks and good music.  As an added bonus, they serve Killer Po’Boys in the back.

Stage 4

Don’t even bother walking down Bourbon Street.  In fact, skirt around it in entirely because you suddenly notice that it really stinks.  Bad.

New Orleans:  All in good fun.  Food post coming up next.