Posts tagged ‘shesaid’

August 19, 2011

ACMe Food Co. – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

ACMe Food Co. enjoyed a wild ride back in the day: always busy and packed on weekends. Sadly, consecutive changes in ownership ran it into the ground but the most recent owners of ACMe Rib & Seafood House (or ACMe Rib & Steakhouse depending on where you look on the web site) seem to really care about the place and are working to turn things around with the bold proclamation, “the fun is back!”  Having spent years watching the roller coaster at the corner of Commercial and Terminal Avenue, I walked in to ACMe wanting to find “food”, desperately wanting “food”.

What I also wanted was a nice, cold dark beer. Our wait for drinks wasn’t long but managed to feel interminable because it was noisy to the point of distraction. Maybe it was the layout but the place was over half empty and the voices from the next table — the elbow-bumpingly close next table — overpowered our own conversation. It was even hard to talk about how distracted we were.

That pint of Hermanns Dark Lager helped things.

The menu wasn’t far off what it has always been: West Coast favourites and sushi. Lots of sushi. In its heyday it was some of the best sushi in town but I’d need a lot of encouraging to take that risk.  What did catch my eye was the word sesame in connection with a steak salad. Sold. China Steps Steak Salad it would be.

Sadly the claims of sesame-ishness didn’t pan out. What, you can’t toast a couple of seeds and toss them in my general direction? The quality of the meat was passable but barely so; the soba noodles, gummy; the grilled vegetables consisted of two slices each of grilled zucchini and red pepper, pathetic, bland, wilty things. Most pathetic were the asparagus spears: grilled into submission, like they had lost their will, been utterly beaten.

But the single most pathetic element of that plate was the overall flavour profile. Sesame soya dressing makes me think of bright flavours, of a flavour experience, but there was nothing bright or flavourful there.  I couldn’t help but imagine what Gordon Ramsey’s response would have been if confronted with that $17 plate. Profanity, I imagined, and throwing it to the ground.

At least we didn’t pay for parking.

Food or fail rating: Fail

July 20, 2011

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

by SheSaid

I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by the Bowen & Northfield location of Alexandra’s.  The sign always catches my eye but I’ve never actually gone in, probably because there’s something I find totally repugnant about the particular mini-mall it’s in. Maybe it’s the proximity to one of the gnarliest intersections in town; turning in and out of the parking lot is an exercise in squeeze-your-eyes-shut-and-hope-for-the-best driving.  So that’s why I’ve never visited Alexandra’s but when I was seized by a powerful craving for pasta, well, go we did.

The storefront is large but we arrived to a space that was quite intimate. This wasn’t a cavernous room but a welcoming bistro-style space with a large curtain along one wall.  A peek behind that curtain revealed another, much larger room that I imagine opens for dinner.

Scanning the menu made me feel warm and happy: all the usual suspects were there but not an overwhelming array and prices were perfectly reasonable for lunchtime with entrees in the $10 range. What I wanted, what I absolutely craved, was standard-order lasagna with meat sauce and garlic bread. It’s a comfort-food classic with memories of childhood pizzeria visits with my dad. The garlic bread should be soft and squishy, made with a fresh traditional french loaf, and if they offered it as an entree you’d gladly take it. But of course they don’t because that would be nuts.

What I got, after only a brief wait, was pretty much just what I’d hoped for. The lasagna was warm and gooey and delicious and flavourful.  There was no skimping on the cheese. I will say that the day’s batch was a little on the salty side (fine for my palette but maybe not everyone’s). The portion size seemed a bit small to the eye but I was perfectly, comfortably full by the end of it. Sure, I could have inhaled an entire loaf of the garlic bread but that’s neither here nor there.

I plan to head back to Alexandra’s in the evening some time to suss out the vibe of the full-sized room.  And that keyboard in the corner?  I bet they roll out some great Manilow covers on that baby.

Food or fail rating: Food

July 4, 2011

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

by SheSaid

Let’s start off by admitting that we set out with a hankerin’ for some fish & chips.  Destination: Trollers.  Half hour wait there so we walked over to Penny’s Palapa which was also busy.  Having coughed up $1.50 for parking, we were resigned to lunch downtown so the Lighthouse Bistro & Pub it was.

The upstairs section was pretty deserted but the views were glorious, overpowering the vague bar-smell that lingered in the air.  (What is that?  Years-old tobacco smoke ground into the carpet with spilled beer?)

The menu was pretty unremarkable.  Except for the high price on the fish & chips.  That was remarkable.  $20 for two pieces.  Elsewhere the menu offered the usual suspects of West Coast Cuisine with sandwiches, pastas, and seafood mains.  But we were not to be deterred: bound and determined to chow down on some fried fish we decided to do sharesies on one order of salmon and another of halibut fish & chips.

The plates looked fine enough when they arrived.  What was billed as Pesto Coleslaw (a cool idea) was more like Pesto cabbage salad: each bite lifted to my mouth elicited cheek squirts, anticipating the tang of slaw, sadly finding none.  Then the fries were soft.  (In my world there is little that inspires more sadness than soggy fried foodstuffs.)  The batter may have been okay but it was hard to tell because both of the fish portions were greasy and required copious application of malt vinegar.  The tartar sauce was pretty good though; it appeared to be homemade, with texture but not too much chunk, so I’ll give ’em that.

Yes it was an unfortunate choice.  Would the Lighthouse have fared better if we’d gone without an agenda?  I don’t know that it would have.  And besides, if you can’t deep fry fish what are you doing on the waterfront?

Food or Fail rating: Fail

June 8, 2011

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

by SheSaid

I was unfamiliar with the popular Parksville lunch spot, Real Food, until they opened a second location in the Heritage Mews in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter.  On the recommendation of a friend we decided to check it out.

The web site www.realfoodfast.ca (under construction) shares a vision that includes simple food and unprocessed, chemical-free ingredients.  The menu has a narrow focus with soup, sandwiches, light entrees, and salads.  I’m good with that: do one thing and do it well.  There are too many restaurants trying to be all things to all people.

The menu selection of soups was impressive.  The soups actually available that day?  Not so much.  Apparently there was something about an accident and spillage involving soup meeting floor.  Bummer.

Fortunately there was one serving of tomato-based vegetable soup left.  It was filled with a selection of beautifully tender, nicely uniform vegetables.  What I didn’t expect was the level of spice, which leaned more heavily on the heat than I expected.  (To me, a vegetable soup should be mild enough to feed a toddler.  But that’s just me.)

Sticking to the theme I went for the mixed vegetable sandwich and was a little perplexed when I wasn’t quizzed on bread choice.  The bun it arrived on was delicious and fresh but felt a little small for a carb-glutton like me.  It was, however, stuffed to bursting with fresh toppings.  They were tasty. They were particularly tasty when taken together in one bite.  The unfortunate reality was that things slid around and about and most of the toppings wound up on my fingers and plate.  It was a three-napkin sandwich.

I am a fan of quality ingredients and I do love to eat local where I can but it felt like an expensive lunch, and not in a good way.  Local food is, unfortunately, expensive.  Go figure.

This was real food, it was fast food served in what felt like a fast-paced lunch joint, but the price-point on the meal just didn’t scream “value” to me.  In this economic climate it’s pretty dodgy ground to open your doors on.

Food or fail rating: Fail

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 – 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 – 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

April 21, 2011

Nori Japanese Restaurant – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

Walking through the doors at Nori we’re greeted with the classic shouts of “Irasshaimase!” from the chefs behind the counter (actual Japanese.  Good sign.)  It’s a nice enough looking space, traditionally sparse with an interesting detail: the chopsticks on the table are some sort of metal (kinda slippery).  Auditory ambiance takes the form of adult/contemporary with a bit of light jazz.  All in all, it’s an exercise in contradictions, like most of the ethnic food in town.

The tagline at the bottom of the lunch menu promises “the most entertaining and attentive service possible.”  This promise, sadly, will be broken.

We arrive well after the lunch rush so, in the absence of rush, the energy in the place is downright slack.  Granted, our tea was served immediately and the miso soup followed quickly after we ordered but that’s where it ended.  From the rest of the service to the food to the clearing up and presenting the bill, I didn’t feel particularly attended to nor entertained.

The Gomae appetizer was adequate, a little green mound reminiscent of something from Ghostbusters (okay, that’s Sean’s joke).  It was a little colder than I like but otherwise the highlight of my meal.  The spinach is just a vehicle for the sesame paste sauce anyway so it’s a hard dish to screw up.

Normally I love a bento box: food tucked away in little compartments appeals to my Virgo sensibilities.  There were the usual suspects: green salad with sweet sesame dressing, vegetable tempura, a deep fried gyoza, four-piece California Roll, and four pieces of nigiri (salmon, tuna, ebi, snapper) for the main.  The tempura, a little greasy, was mostly sweet potato, and we had to ask for the dipping sauce which wasn’t much to speak of anyway.  The sushi roll was somehow grainy (?!)  On the up-side, the salad was great – I always love the green salad.

I have yet to eat a really good Japanese meal in Nanaimo.  Being from Vancouver, I guess I was spoiled by plentiful quantities of some of the best sushi in the world.  I’d heard that Nori was great, “the best in town”.  I don’t doubt that it is.  I think I’ll save my Japanese cravings for the mainland in the future.

Food or Fail Rating: Fail