Archive for May, 2011

May 21, 2011

Zougla – Sean’s review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

I’m not particularly fond of Greek and Mediterranean food, but I figure any restaurant that’s been there as long as Zougla deserves my attention. When we arrive, we’re seated by a soft-spoken hostess at a nice, private booth.  Moments later, our attentive server drops off a stack of 4 (count ’em, 4) menus. Drinks, features, lunch and a dedicated burger menu.

When the server comes for our drink order I fail to capitalize, as I’m still trying to figure out why I have 4 menus. By the time I can think of anything, she’s vanished and I’m forced to settle with water.

A look at the menu shows a selection of greek, oh, wait, there’s a taco, a selection of greexican, oh, wait, there’s a curry, greexicindian, oh wait, there’s western fare, oh wait there’s Kung Pow [sic] stirfry.

3 things. First, I can’t make a better word than greexicindian, and I won’t try. Second, never order Kung Pao from a place that spells it like the 2002 Steve Oedekerk parody. Third, since Zougla can’t seem to make up their mind about what type of food they have, I don’t feel guilty about ordering a hamburger.  Not yet, anyway.

I decide on the ultimate double burger, because I’m an ultimate kind of guy. Two patties on a rustic bun, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and Zougla’s “ultimate sauce”.

The meal arrives and I immediately dive into the fries (for which there isn’t enough ketchup), they’re hot, crispy and perfectly cooked. I devour the entire portion without going anywhere near my main.

It’s then that I turn my attention to the ultimate double. It looks so nice I want to frame it and hang it on my wall. Turns out I probably should have. As I bite into it, I can only imagine the look of disappointment that came over my face. I think, maybe it’s just the first bite, but each mouthful is equally as bland as the first. By the end of it, I’ve little left to do but soak up the drippings on my plate with the tattered remnants of my rustic bun in a sad attempt to find the lost flavour profile I had been so desperately seeking.

As a burger joint, Zougla falls fatally flat. As for their Greek menu, well, there’s other Mediterranean restaurants in town and I don’t like souvlaki enough to risk another disappointment.

Food or Fail rating: Fail.

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May 21, 2011

Zougla – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

I felt a little underdressed at Zougla as we were led to our seats, passing business people and ladies lunching, to a great little booth at the back, spacious for two and inordinately comfortable. To our side the wall of windows offered panoramic views of Departure Bay and the Coast Mountains beyond, sparkling in the brilliant sunshine we were all so desperately craving.

Pulling my gaze from the view and back to the menu I fail to see any of the Ultimate *Lunch* Specials advertised on the placard outside. There are however an entire sheet of burgers and another of specials (regular specials, less ultimate perhaps). Wading through it all I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the It’s A Small World of menus: mediterranean, western, mexican, chinese, and french cuisine together in perfect harmony. Maybe not so perfect though; my gut feeling is that it’s safest to stick with the greek classics.

I was disappointed to find that the souvlaki plates–my greek staple–were in the $16.95-19.95 range which is just way too high for lunch. I settled on the Greek Platter, overpriced at $13.95 and served without pita bread (for shame).  The waitress is, for what it’s worth, very friendly when she advises me of this.  Throughout our visit the staff are genuinely likeable, which is a pleasant change from some other recent experiences.

Back to the food… granted, what arrived was a decent sized plate of food. The average greek salad was made better by really nice quality feta cheese. The calamari was nice and crisp, well cooked, but the batter lacked flavour and demanded liberal dunking in tzatziki (well flavoured, thinner yogurt style). The spanakopita had a nice flavour but was unfortunately compressed and lacking flake where flake should be. (Full disclosure: I had been served a heavenly spanakopita–made by that restaurant owner’s father, an actual greek–just a couple of days before. This one was at a distinct disadvantage). Oh yeah, then there was rice. Whatever. Greek rice is just filler.

So yes, I happily cleaned the plate and didn’t come away feeling overly bathed in garlic. The flavours were good but I could have done with a little less rice, a little more salad, and maybe some complimentary pita bread. I mean, come on. It’s bread! Bread! Isn’t it the least you can do in this world to offer a girl some free bread?

Food or Fail rating: Food

May 19, 2011

Cucina di Casa – Sean’s review (aka “He Said)

by HeSaid

Until recently, I figured the only place in Nanaimo to get anything close to traditional Italian was Little George’s, so I was excited to discover an Italian eatery so close to home.

Cucina di Casa, previously the Grapevine Trattoria on Wesley street, is a (relatively) new Nanaimo restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine. The name, promisingly, means “home cooking” in Italian and I’m a BIG fan of traditional home cooked Italian cuisine so I was really looking forward to rockin’ a little lunch at il ristorante.

It was lunchtime when we arrived, and the Casa was casa-non-grata save for a single family seated across the room from us. The first thing that stood out for me (aside from the wrinkled tablecloth) were the menus. They offered a nice selection of dishes priced between $10 and $13 with a nice variety of pasta dishes, panini and other Italian classics. I opted for the polpetta (meatball) sandwich with a side of… fries? Not really traditional, but I do like a good fried potato so what the heck.

Food came quickly and didn’t disappoint. The meatballs were well spiced and cooked perfectly. Juicy, fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and Italian spice adorned my sandwich along with a smattering of savoury red sauce. Not so much as to drown the meatballs, but just enough to add a bit of extra flavour.

Fries were quite tasty, crispy and seasoned to perfection, though I feel they could have used another minute in the fryer.

After thoroughly demolishing my sammich, I found myself desperately wanting for an espresso. Sadly, I managed to pick the day that the machine would explode. It’s like the song says, you can’t always get what you want – but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

And that I did. While Cucina di Casa isn’t a traditional Italian diner as much as it’s a restaurant that serves Italian food – the service was adequate, the food was fantastico, and I’ll definitely be going back to try more. You should too, it’s totally buona.

Food or Fail rating: Food

May 19, 2011

Cucina di Casa – Alex’s Review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

I used to enjoy the Grapevine Trattoria in the Heritage Mews so walking into its new incarnation, Cucina di Casa, was like a flashback, bathed in a cream-coloured makeover with the same tables, chairs, and  layout exactly the same save for the fresh cream textiles.  The menu layout is strong, clean (is that Helvetica?) with a reasonable (read: not too large) choice
of the usual suspects for an Italian restaurant at lunchtime.  The price point is also good for the Nanaimo market ($10-15 range or $15-$25 for dinner).

The panino of bocconcini, prosciutto, tomato and lettuce with a side of mixed greens catches my eye.  Yes, it’s tasty.  Very tasty.  But I’m perplexed that it’s only grilled on one side.  In fact, the top piece of focaccia is toasted while the bottom is raw.  So I ask our waitress, “Is it supposed to be grilled on both sides?”  She answers, “No, it’s only grilled on one side.”  Which leads me to The Panini Thing:

1) Note: the oft-used term “panini” is actually the plural form of sandwich in Italian.  The appropriate term here, for a/my single sandwich, is “panino”.

2) I asked an actual Italian and apparently panini, when grilled, are customarily grilled on both sides.  A quick online search didn’t yield a single panini press with just one grill-plate.  Don’t have a panini press?  Grill one side then flip it and do the other.  (Suggestion of the same actual Italian).  Think about it: would you have a grilled cheese sandwich that was grilled on just one side?  No, you would flip it.  (That one’s from the wife of the actual Italian).

For a quiet Monday lunchtime (read: one other table) the service is actually pretty lackadaisical.  Hypothesis: the waitress, confronted with such an effortless shift, slipped into a mindset where she actually forgot she was working at all.  That said, she was friendly and we got what we needed without a long wait.

Notwithstanding the Grill Fail, I enjoyed that panino and cleaned my plate.  It won’t be a hard sell to get me back there for dinner but I’ll probably stick to the pasta.

Food or Fail rating: Food

May 10, 2011

Modern Cafe – Sean’s review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

We arrive at the Modern Cafe on the busiest night Nanaimo has seen in a year. Cruise ships, concerts and prom night have collided in a perfect storm of hippies, hipsters and boisterous wannabe bar-stars.

After a period of waiting in the entryway (perhaps they want to let us absorb the ambiance) we’re seated at small booth near the entrance.

It’s my wont to refer to front-of-house staff as servers instead of waitresses. Not tonight. Tonight, the term “waitress” takes on a whole new meaning for me while “server” loses any it had.

I leaf through a menu of standard west coast surf & turf. Pasta, prawns, steak, haddock…

Wait a sec… haddock? Isn’t haddock the crap they use in Captain Highliner’s fish sticks? (it is). I figure that the world must be out of halibut and cod and move on.

When our waitress (who I will call “Shannon”) shows up, it’s to tell me that they don’t have the pale ale I’ve selected. Good news though, they just got back from a sweet kegger and have some leftovers that I might enjoy.

I pick the lesser of two evils. From then on, it’s a long night of watching and waiting while Shannon performs a ballet of avoidance, going out of her way to ignore us at every opportunity. I remark that I may not be cool enough and suggest throat-punching a hipster and stealing their scarf to see if it helps.

Shannon finds time to bring us a single pint and glass of water to share. We remind her that we’re both thirsty and send her back for the remainder of our order. She returns (eventually) and with a twinge I order the $15 hamburger.

You should assume at this point that there was a lot of waiting in between when we ordered and when the food arrives. When it does arrive it’s impressively huge. A voice across the table remarks, “How am I gonna fit my mouth around that?” Insert obvious punchline.

The burger is good. Really good. $15 good. The beef is well flavoured, evenly cooked, and appropriately saucy with healthy portions of fresh veg and stringy mozza. The fries are just how I like ’em.

I eagerly devour my meal with the grace of a komodo dragon, put my napkin down on my plate and push it off to the side. Shannon walks by the table, deftly ignoring my empty plate and pint glass. She does this 15 more times, and would have again if another staffer hadn’t taken it away.

The Modern continues to morph into a 20 something martini bar while the upscale eatery I wanted disappears disappointingly into the rising volume of a bad iPod playlist. Does that make me old? Maybe. What it doesn’t make me is a returning customer.

Food or Fail rating: Fail

May 10, 2011

Modern Cafe – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

Wow. That’s pretty much the start and the end of it for me: wow. And not in a good way either.

I’ve never been blown away by the Modern Cafe but it was a new day, I liked what the new owner was doing with social media, and my heart was open. “We want you to have an unforgettable experience,” owner Scott Cooper says on the web site. Mission accomplished.

When we arrived on Saturday night the restaurant was still recovering from an earlier event; the staff, bar, and kitchen seemed visibly shattered before dinner service even began. The place was humming with no shortage of bodies on the floor, yet none seemed interested in what was happening at the door. Where we stood. And stood (a trend I noticed that evening.) When we were finally seated the hostess (?) dropped (yes dropped) our menus on the table and showed us her back.

It would be another ten minutes before we saw our waitress. We tried to order beers from the menu but they weren’t available so we waited some more and then received only one pint of what they did have. I did manage to get a glass of water though.

The menu–which we had no shortage of time to study–was standard West Coast fare. Already my confidence was shaken, and I didn’t want to chance a $20+ plate, so I opted for the burger. It came with french fries and fried potato products seldom disappoint.

We waited some more.

Now let’s get this out of the way: it was a very good burger with visible garlic, stringy mozzarella and bacon (not too crisp) with fresh vegetables and a nice thick patty, cooked evenly all the way through. “How am I going to get my mouth around this?”, I wondered aloud (yes, the joke writes itself). Our meal was tasty, the fries hand-cut and crispy. I managed to finish the whole thing but just barely.

Oh, the things we witnessed: hostess with back to customers at the door, waitress chatting at the bar (instead of taking our order), other customers’ expectant gazes, craving service. Our waitress would reveal herself to be a master of intentional-gaze-avoidance, striding past empty plates and glasses with nary a look. It was truly something to behold, this exercise in negligence.

After almost two hours we couldn’t wait to get out: the music was loud, the chatter overpowering, and our irritation palpable. As good as that burger was I won’t be forgetting not to go back. There are other good burgers in this town. And if I want crappy service I can get on the phone with Telus.

Food or Fail rating: Fail