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.

Advertisements

new orleans, here we come!

neworleans

Half the pleasure of a trip is the anticipation.  We are excited about travelling to New Orleans.  I’ve never been.  I’m trying NOT to over plan, which is hard.  I have not made any reservations.  We have a food tour booked with Tastebud Tours, and then I have a list of eating and drinking establishments within walking distance to our hotel.  This includes:

Beignet Café
Café Du Monde
Court of Two Sisters
Mr. B’s
Rampart Street Food
Central Grocery
Killer Po Boys
Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Cheap Voodoo Bbque
Tujague’s Restaurant
Napoleon House
Eat
Bon Ton Café
Café Amelie
Herbsaint
Cochon
The Funky Pirate
Razzoo
Carousel, Hotel Monteleone
Erin Rose bar

I hope to eat lots of Cajun, Creole, po’boys, beignets and seafood.  My drink of choice is a Hurricane.  Yum, rum, here I come.

victoria, bc 2014

I spent a week in Victoria with my youngest son, who was attending the awesome Power to Be program.  (I snuck off for a solo night at Sooke Harbour House when he was camping).  We had the good fortune to stay at a friend’s house in North Saanich, so we alternated between eating in Sidney, Sooke, and Victoria proper.  Here are some highlights:

 

Red Fish Blue Fish

Yes, I go here every time I am in Victoria.  Brave the 30-60 minute line up (bonus, they’ve added umbrellas to provide shade for their customers), encounter super nice dudes at the cash, and order away.  I had the special curry fish tacos and a ridiculously massive jerk fish poutine and I did not have to eat for the rest of the day. (Uh, but I did eat again.  Damn that digestion process).

jerk fish poutine

jerk fish poutine

 

 

The Fish Store, Fisherman’s Wharf

There is some disagreement on the Internet about what is the best fish and chips place on Fisherman’s Wharf.  We chose The Fish Store over Barb’s Fish and Chips for practical reasons:  the line was smaller.  But, as an added bonus, when there was a mix up of our order, the kind young chefs gave us a complimentary battered salmon while we waited.  Ya gotta love that.  Crunchy fish, crispy fries, too, best eaten right on the wharf.  Shield your food from those pesky gulls.

dude eats fish and chips.

 

Big Wheel Burger

This is the ultimate place for an 11 year old boy on Cook Street Village.  Order at the counter, sit down for a bit, and be rewarded with a huge juicy burger and fries.

 

Roost Farm Centre, North Saanich

We ate here a record three times.  Twice for breakfast, once for lunch.  You must go here if you arrive in Victoria via ferry or airplane.  It is just off Patricia Bay Highway, and it is a special place.

The Roost is a farm, a bakery, a winery, a bistro all in one.  I love the concept, and the food is generous and fabulous.  The eggs are bright and the lox sandwich is stacked high with velvety lox perched on gobs of cream cheese.  YUM.

digging into eggs & sausage.

Sidney

In Sidney, we went to Sabhai Thai twice because the Pad Thai was so damn good and the service was super kid-friendly.  We ventured to Carlos Cantina for burritos one night, just to mix things up.

Oh Victoria, you are gorgeous.  Thank you for the sunshine, ocean and birds.  Thank you for feeding us so well, too.

IMG_4928

my king of the world

 

 

 

sooke harbour house

IMG_4922

i was here.

Mama sneaks off to one luxurious night at Sooke Harbour House.  This place has been on my bucket list since Anthony Bourdain went there on No Reservations some years ago. (Tony has been there?  Then I want to go there too – like when I ate bratwurst sausages early one morning in Queen Victoria Market just like Tony did).

IMG_4900

delicate salad with flowers

Because I was dining alone, and had nobody to talk to, I wrote in my journal:

(at lunch) I am at the very famous Sooke Harbour House restaurant.  The setting is simply lovely.  Let us focus on the food.  I’m a bit peckish now, so I order a salad (flowers and radishes, and sunflower seeds) that tastes like I’m grazing right in the luscious garden.  There were two cookies waiting for me in my room, all warm and soft and oatmealy, and I think to myself:  “I’m not going to eat both of these.  I’m just going to have half.”  Ha, “I’m just going to eat half” is the great lie we tell ourselves.  I had half and then another half and then two other halves.  BAM.  Two cookies are in my belly. I walk around the well-appointed grounds, gazing at deer and the silver bobbing seal heads in the ocean while I await my dinner reservation.

(Later, at dinner):  There is a French family behind me with three young children.  I’m cheaping out and ordering an entree and dessert a la carte.  I blush at my own frugalness  The French family is all in, ordering the four course meal for each of them, with wine pairings for the adults.  Their children happily consume black pearl oysters and sunchoke soup.  (If my own child was with me, he would be demanding fries and ketchup).

I’m happy to be seated at a window with a view.  Outside, there are wandering Bambis, tall totem poles, the simmering ocean, and cloudy mountains.  As an added bonus, two seals are zonked out right outside the window, snoozing on a rock.  When I travelled solo in Australia, I was always seated near the ‘Toilets,’ and often had to ask to be moved.  This is not the case at Sooke Harbour House, for I have secured a primo spot.  

Gnudi me.

Gnudi me.

The service is professional and pleasant, and well-schooled in all things vino.  I overhear my server convincing a couple to order white wine with their oysters.   I order the gnudi because the name makes me giggle.  The food is pretty but not quite precious, for I know that is prepared with great care, and most of the ingredients are harvested from the rambling gardens outside.  Their tag line should be:  Sooke Harbour House:  where the food actually tastes like food. I eat my gnudi slowly, eager to savour each little pillow.

The setting is:  a roaring fire. Plush white couches.  The view, the view, the view.  Funny little crab sculptures on the wall.  Stained glass inserts of birds and fish.  White tablecloths and knotty pine chairs with woven seat covers.  I’d call this style:  wealthy academic.  Or beachy grandma.  The grounds smell like fennel and salty fish.  The smoke from the fire is popping and bursting.  There is lite classical music in the background.  Save for my Kindle and iPhone, this could be 1997, and that’s ok.

I finish with Quark cheesecake (Quark, now that’s retro ingredient) with basil ice cream, sour cherries and brittle.  It is a soft dessert, so the brittle helps.  Those sleeping seals are really out of it.  Perhaps they’ve shared a bottle of wine.  

bread pudding french toast

bread pudding french toast

I retire to my room and I build my first ever fire all by myself.  This pleases me.  I crack open the curtains at 4:30 am to be woken up by the ocean view.  Bread pudding french toast arrives for me in the morning, and I eat it out on the little deck beside my outdoor tub.  (There is something terrible sad about bathing alone in such a large tub, so I take a pass).   I finish my time with a walk up Whiffen Spit with the dogs of Sooke (and their owners).   It is 20 minutes out to the end of the Spit, where I dutifully snap a selfie and head back, my sandals crunching in the gravel, nodding and smiling at the Labs and German Shepards who gallop past me.  Ah, British Columbia.  This really is the most beautiful place on Earth. 

IMG_4920

whiffen spit

 

okanagan summer 2014

We’ve been coming to the Okanagan for summer vacation for a long time.  We love the heat, the scenery, the water activities, the lake, the food, and the wine.  My father-in-law lives in Summerland, and we generally stay across the lake in a gorgeous little hippy town called Naramata.  It is off the highway, at the end of the road north of Penticton.  It is a special place, complete with a little general store, an inn/spa, a clothing store, a stand up paddle place, and two restaurants.  It reminds me of the Canadian version of our beloved Hanalei in Kaua’i.

We had a glorious three weeks in our little cottage rental.  We swing this by working in the mornings during the week, and then shoving work in a compartment in the back of our minds and enjoying the afternoon/evening at the beach, on the riverfloat, jumping off the dock, visiting wineries, and eating.  It is a sweet life.

Here are some classic and new recommendations in Penticton and area:

Penticton

Il Vecchio deli

Il Vecchio deli

1.  Il Vecchio Deli – you have to be brave to order a sandwich here.  But put aside your Canadian timidness, and be definitive as you decide on two meats, one cheese, sweet/hot mustard and various accoutrements.  These sandwiches are made to order (including slicing the meat and cheese) and they are soft and scrumptious.  Perfect for a picnic on the beach or boat.

2.  Buy the Sea – the staff here are soooo very nice.  You can order fish and chips for lunch and then pick up a beautiful pink salmon for your dinner.  In an inconspicuous strip mall on Main Street.

Fish tacos at Salty's

Fish tacos at Salty’s

3.  Salty’s – others may dismiss Salty’s as a tourist trap, but we go here every year.  It is the only restaurant on the Penticton beach strip that has a line-up waiting to get in. That is a good sign, folks.  Friendly staff, awesome fish tacos and sangrias.  It is a loud, clattering rowdy place, but it is totally kid-friendly, and enthusiastic in service.  This is a fine Robins-Waddingham-Horne tradition.  The tourists go here for good reason.

My boys digging into Burger 55.

My boys digging into Burger 55.

4.  Burger 55 – things are moving up for Burger 55.  They have moved to a more substantial setting across the parking lot in downtown Penticton.  The selection of burger possibilities is dizzying, and the portions are massive.  A kid’s burger will probably do ya.

5.  Taco Del Norte – in the little shack that was formerly Burger 55, this place works hard to serve tacos with fillings from slow cookers simmering in the tiny kitchen.

6.  Wouda Bakery – the substantial line-up moved quickly, and I purchased fresh sourdough bread for my morning poached eggs, and florentine cookies just like my grandma used to make.

The Vanilla Pod view.

The Vanilla Pod view.

7.  Vanilla Pod – formerly housed on Main Street in sleepy Summerland, this eatery’s setting now matches its food.  The Vanilla Pod is perched above shimmering Lake Okanagan in the Poplar Grove Winery.  I met one of my favourite people there for lunch on our last day in the Okanagan.  We shared three tapas offerings, and were impressed with the chickpea salad, meat & salmon plate, and prawn and chorizo appetizer.  Everything was fresh and brightly flavoured.  Want to lunch at a winery with a view?  This is the best view in Penticton area.

 Naramata

1.  Grape Leaf – newly opened on the main street in Naramata.  My husband declared his breakfast the ‘best in BC’ which is quite the proclamation.  I had half a salmon salad sandwich and it was fluffy and moist and tasty indeed.  Our server was the co-owner, freshly transplanted from the Grape Leaf in White Rock.  White Rock’s loss was Naramata’s gain.

Pizza box courtesy of the Real Thing Pizza staff.

Pizza box courtesy of the Real Thing Pizza staff.

2.  Real Things Pizza – I love the sense of humour of this pizza joint – from their famous quotes on their sign, to the decorated kid’s pizza boxes.  Oh, and the pizza is really really good – creative, generous toppings and crunchy crust. I liked the Never Matter Pizza best – a combo of Hawaiian and pepperoni and mushroom.

Ella eats, post-spa

The lovely Ella eats, post-spa

3.  Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa – my daughter Ella and I spa’ed here for a luxurious massage. We arrived, smelling of Aveda products, to have lunch on the steamy patio – this is a fancy, old school place.

Other Okanagan

The aptly named God's Mountain.

The aptly named God’s Mountain.

1.  Joy Road’s Winery Dinner at God’s Mountain – looking for a magical Okanagan evening?  This dinner is worth the investment. This was my third time attending, and I’m still awed by the view, the table setting, the twinkly lights, the rice paper lanterns, and the long table of attendees.  The food is prepared and served by the infectious duo of Dana and Cam from Joy Road.  We chose an event co-hosted by La Stella Wineries…both the chef and the winemakers gave talks before each course, and we had fun getting to know our Vancouver, New Jersey and Palm Springs table mates.  My favourite courses were the main – lamb loin with fingerling potato salad and dessert – almond cake with orange blossom creme and raspberries.  As the sun fell behind the mountain, we indulged in a very special meal.

2.  Jen & Mike’s House – our best dinner came at a friends’ house on Naramata Bench.  Gorgeous view of the lake, fabulous local food and super company – this cannot be beat by any restaurant experience.  We drank chilled rose and ate homemade hummus, charred vegetables, salmon and goat cheese with basil and strawberry rhubarb crumble, and laughed and chatted around their fire pit.  How lovely.  Lucky us.

Similarly, my best dish came from the elderly lady who lived next door to our vacation home in Naramata Village.  She knocked on the door one afteroon with two handfuls of the final raspberries from the bush.  ‘These are only for you,’ she said.  ‘I know how it is to be the mom.’  My eyes welled up at such a lovely sentiment.  I ate those little jewels of raspberry with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a sprinkle of granola and maple syrup on top.  Best bowl of fruit I’ve ever eaten.

3.  Finally, on a rare rainy day, we ventured down to the OTHER Okanagan (spelled Okanogan) in Washington State, and ate massive burritos and drank freely poured margaritas at  Rancho Chico in Omak.  This restaurant is so eccentrically decorated that it is hard to know where to look: the murals on the walls?  The brightly painted chairs?  The display of horse saddles in the front?  Just keep your head down and enjoy the spirited Mexican accordion music and the burritos that are bigger than your head.

 

san diego eats

After Disneyland, we nipped down to San Diego for two days.  This was a quick trip consisting of hanging out at our hotel room pool, walking the boardwalk at Pacific Beach and taking a cheesy but informative Old Trolley Ride to see the sights.  Pacific Beach was pretty, but the shopping was minimal (and the partying maximum).  But, here’s a plug for the Pacific Terrace Hotel – the service there was exceptional.  Staff were friendly and went over and above the call of duty to serve guests.

I wished for Mexican food in San Diego, and was granted my wish on two occasions.

IMG_3923

this is tortilla soup

First at La Especial Norte, in Encinitas.  This place is right on the highway on the way to San Diego.  Yelp promised good soup, and I had the most excellent tortilla soup.  La Especial Norte is known for its soups, so order soup.  Super service in chaotic surroundings – why not throw in a mango margarita for good measure?  Go ahead.  You are on holidays.

IMG_3922

 

We took an early Valentine’s dinner at Whisknladle.  This is a buzzy place in the tony La Jolla neighbourhood.  Their crafted cocktails were awesome – I had a grapefruit and gin concoction that was a tarty delight.  Their menu changes often; we shared the Cutting Board and I had the Scallops a la Plancha.

IMG_3927

This is what the Cutting Board looks like.

Next time I do San Diego, I’ll make time for a food tour.  Little Italy was an especially intriguing part of town – all funky and hip.  I consumed a Butterscotch Rootbeer Float from Extraordinary Desserts, and we enjoyed a leisurely pasta lunch at Buon Appetito right on India Street in the middle of Little Italy.

Finally, we ate Mexican again for breakfast on Sunday morning.  We were not daunted by the long line-ups at Kono’s Surf Club on Pacific Beach.  The line moves fast, and you can supplement the wait with a Nutty Latte from the coffee kiosk next door.  We snagged an ocean-side seat, and were soon rewarded with big heavy breakfast burritos, stuffed with sausage, cheese and salsa.  Six bucks got me my favourite meal of the trip.  (I will admit to having a soft spot for diners and dives with really good food).   Plus the view of the beach didn’t hurt.

Pacific Beach view at sunset.

Pacific Beach view at sunset.

disneyland

IMG_3869

Alas, Disneyland was a bit of a bust, eating-wise, as I feared it would be.  I have decided that the best thing to do it is to rent a hotel room that is a suite/has a kitchen, and take a cab to a grocery store the first day to stock up on food.  Then eat breakfast in the room, grab a kiosk lunch and eat supper back at the room.  Go out for the occasional sit down meal.  But otherwise, the $60 breakfasts and $100 dinners are KILLERS.  And let’s face it folks, the food isn’t that good.

Of note, we did discover that there are two Starbucks – one in Disneyland, and one in Californialand.  They are both camouflaged behind Disney facades.  La Brea Bakery take-away has decent breakfast options from their take-away window.  And if you add an extra shot to their lattes, the coffee is bearable.

The restaurants in Downtown Disney tend to be LOUD and BRIGHT and not very relaxing.  Aaron and I did have a nice date night at Tortilla Joe’s, but that had more to do with his good company and the deep fried ice cream than anything else.  We did stumble upon the pricey, but dimly-lit Catal Restaurant, but don’t be dumb like us and sit upstairs, where the food is more expensive.  If they ask you if you want to sit upstairs, say NO.  The Uva Bar and Cafe downstairs is more reasonably priced.

Eating at Disneyland is a necessity.  The most magical place on earth is all about the RIDES, folks.  Keep your foodie expectations low, and make your own food if at all possible.  Otherwise, just go and have FUN.

IMG_3889