29.7.16

Bar Isabel

www.barisabel.com


We chose Bar Isabel as a spot for a social outing with co-workers, both of us ashamed we have not yet checked out this talk-of-the-town spot. In between the multitude of dishes, flowing conversation and our attentive waiter, it became somewhat difficult to put together a detailed review, but we were able to capture the more vivid memories of our experience below.

APPEARANCE
From the outside, the wooden clad facade with geometric beveled details and the simple script wordmark made of fluorescent light, created a classy first impression. Mind you, looking a bit further up one can see left-over marks from the name "grappa" - the previous life of this space. The odd part is that since the Isabel writing is not easy to read, Grappa still plays a role in the restaurant's facade.
The Moroccan colourful tiles at the entrance and the address written in mosaic gave it unartistic edge. Upon entering, we noticed that the restaurant was dimly lit, with old wooden clad walls and plenty of colourfully lit pendants of all shapes and styles. It was rather chaotic and inconsistent. We couldn't react in any other way but to stop and smile at the seating area by the front window - it seemed like a long thin armrest re-purposed as a thin table - there was something so charming and spontaneous about that.

SWIRL

Overall, there was a healthy hum of flowing conversation all around us and hushed music somewhere in the background. We also noticed that the vintage wood finishes used and aged wall coverings balanced well the older furniture. Holistically, we got the impression of visiting an underground Spanish restaurant of sorts.

NOSE

As much as we enjoyed the warm, gloomier vibe, it made it difficult to read the menus and extremely difficult to take decent tapas photos. Our waiter only took a few seconds to get to us and we were promptly offered to go with a tasting menu. We were so happy this was an option. With a large selection of dishes available and our tummies growling, all we had to do was set a monetary limit per person. Our waiter politely asked us about allergies and preferences and we were impressed how very professional he was. The special for the day was a Punch Cocktail which we asked for right away. The local house option for wine was Xinomavro - Thymipoulous, Jeunes Viggnes 2014 from Naoussa, Greece which sounded pretty good to us too. If this restaurant is true in Western European fashion, we thought, it wouldn't let us down with the house wine selection.

PALATE
In five minutes or so, the plates started rolling out with detailed annotations from the waiting staff and ( for most dishes) an impeccable food presentation. Below we will go over some of the more memorable ones, from the plethora of plates which landed in front of us and hit our taste buds.

Lightly fried Shishito Peppers drizzled with olive oil and lime zesty juice were a perfect way to wake up the palate. They came with a side of large crystal salt. The peppers had a somewhat chewy texture with plenty of skin, making the smokey flavour linger a bit longer. Like the majority of plates, there was just enough food to get the taste for the four of us.

Chorizo Ibérico was of a traditional variety, made from dry-cured Ibérico pork (famous black-hoofed pig) and on a spicy side. Sharing platter was just enough to switch us up from the zesty taste of the previous dish.

Our next dish was on the sweet and sour side - Pan Con Tomate, thick slices of rye bread with great crust, topped with chopped tomatoes. The plate was simple, juicy and full of flavour, plus it also made a good transition piece to the upcoming Fois Gras which was a dish we requested from the beginning to be in our tasting menu section - we are big enthusiasts. It was served with Sobrasada (raw, cured sausage from ground pork with paprika), the delicate pate was grated on top with spicy sausage giving heat from underneath. We were a bit disappointed with not being able to enjoy a mouthful of Fois Gras, but the balance of this plate was quite different, and very experimental. The Sobrasada’s sharpness was softened up nicely in our palates.

Another spicy dish was making its way to our table - Potatoes Bravas. After the extravagant Fois Gras combination, the potatoes were somewhat plain. Topped with sour cream, green onions and hot sauce, they were easy to share and a fair amount per serving.

We also had Sorita Cheese, at least that was what we heard after asking twice for the name. Waiters either knew Spanish or had great pronunciation, as our difficulty understanding the dishes names was persistent all night. The cheese was smooth goat variety with thyme, not something we tried before, close to Manchego but not quite. We found this cheese to be a perfect match for the Xinomavro wine both in texture and fullness of flavour.

We had to have their much raved about Octopus, and it was beautiful in presentation and smokey in flavour as if it came right off the grill. Ma Cherie did enjoy the crispy skin after biting under which was soft shellfish meat.

We had to have their raved about Octopus, and it was beautiful in presentation and smokey in flavour as if it came right off the grill. Ma Cherie did enjoy the crispy skin after biting under which was soft shellfish meat.
By the time the smoky pork shoulder arrived, we were getting full. We though the crispy meat which topped the little sandwiches was tough tense in texture. We though this dish was difficult chew and enjoy due to that. Interestingly, it was Pork Secreto - a secret slice from the shoulder or at least the way it was introduced to us.

Lastly from our savour tapas and perhaps our favourite dish was the Adobo Pork & Quail Egg. It came on crisps with skewers to hold the little mountains together, topped with thin fried quail egg and curls of chives. These were all above the fatty and tender pork slices. Definitely worth leaving some space to try this unique dish – much unexpected taste and would have been great with a full-bodied red.

As a finishing touch, we had their Tarragon Chocolate Ice Cream which was one more unusual combination. Two finger-size ice creams in a waxy chocolate coating with an overwhelming tarragon taste. The herb overkill made the desert experience somewhat underwhelming for us.

FINISH
So many dishes to try here with quite a few being unique flavours we did not taste before. The tapas format makes it perfect for sharing culinary explores, while going with a pre-set menu ensured dishes kept on flowing our way in the right number of bites for us all to enjoy. It was a great experience, but note that the constant flow of various foods might result in a hefty bill if we didn't agree on a price from the get-go.

Bar Isabel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

24.7.16

3D's Eats & Treats

https://www.facebook.com/3Ds-Eats-Treats-170127706348633/

After staying at an awesome treehouse around the corner, we were in search of a quick breakfast – Three D’s was recommended as the place to go.

SHORT & SWEET
It was hard to miss this tiny restaurant with it's unexciting sign on the side wall. There is really not that much going on in Florence besides a car shop and a convenience store. An old brick building did not look too appealing, but there were cars parked outside on this Sunday morning so we ventured in.
We were welcomed by a square open room, dark purple chalkboard walls used as menus with illustrations and purple laminate table tops. There was lots of wood - chairs, wall panels, even fridge doors and a very local feel to all of it. While there were a couple cars with US plates outside, it appeared that most of the patrons were local. The experience reminded us of our travels through rural Georgia and Texas where restaurants served vegetables mostly in a form of ketchup with not much choice besides that. We ended up getting an Omelette with some bell peppers and ham. It came in quick along with a bland bottomless coffee. The food was meeting the basic standard and the prices were very reasonable - we ended up fairly happy with our experience. This spot was ideal for local people-watching (mind you we did stand out a bit more then we wanted) and even good for conversation-making, with how close tables were to one another. As far as diners go, Three D’s is an honest place to visit if you are around Florence. Don't expect anything over the top, but if your expectations are basic, you will not be disappointed.

3d's Eat's & Treats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23.7.16

Garlic's of London


www.garlicsoflondon.com

We were on our way through London and Garlic's (along with Tasting Room) was one of the most recommended places - we just had to check it out on this Saturday afternoon.

APPEARANCE
The restaurant is not very noticeable from the outside - it has a narrow storefront and huge windows which might make it stand out more in the evening. The quirky writing had a decorative, illustrative feel which can be a bit hard to read for those not knowing what to look for. Inside, our attention was captured by the ever-present yellow brick clad the walls with bold abstract, splash-like art - the same style on all walls. We thought it was a bit repetitive but we liked the funky mood it set. Garlic is a bit small, but cozy. Warm colours added to that comfy feeling.

NOSE & SWIRL
We noticed some branded products on display by the bar, namely garlic honey. A novel idea, presentation could be better though. The selection was simply laid out on the tray in no hope of attracting significant attention from the patrons, almost seemed like a last minute thought. To get ourselves going, we asked for a glass of Viogner ConoSur and a Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Unlike food, wine had no added garlic to it. We ordered Pan Seared Salmon Salad with a 5oz Atlantic salmon filets on organic quinoa as well as a Garlic Cuban Sandwich with shaved pork.

PALATE
After our fresh bread arrived, it took only another fifteen minutes to get the rest of the food. Salmon came nicely garnished with shepherds feta, dried cranberries, and toasted pine nuts in truffle oil with some local greens. It looked marvellous and only had a hint of garlic to it. Music was changing to something a bit faster paced as we dug into our dish. The salad was flavourful while the filet was simple (asking it for medium cooked was a good idea). A generous chunk of fish had light garlic with quinoa adding substance and feta for a kick. Our Garlic Cuban sandwich was not too large. It had marinated and shaved pork loin with Genoa and Soppressata style local salami, aged cheddar, dill pickles and light Dijon mustard all in between a panini pressed crusty bread. Dijon and the large pickle slice on the side made a salty difference here. The sandwich was a better deal for the money and more of a original dish, in our opinion. We did not feel too much garlic in it. We also had garlic fries in a small container on the side, which came generously covered with a cloud of thinly shredded parm and topped with chives. There was also some fried garlic pieces with the fries - yum. Once again, surprisingly not over the top garlic.
One more exciting dish we got to try was House Churned Roasted Garlic Ice Cream. We got a sampler portion which was a great idea to allow patrons to try something exotic without committing to a full portion. The ice cream was awesome - quite refreshing and almost like wild garlic herb in taste. There were even pieces of roasted garlic inside. It sounds like an odd dish, but mint in ice-cream is not too radical, so why is garlic?

FINISH
Our expectations were quite high and we cannot say we were blown away. While falling somewhat short of great, our time at Garlic was a very good experience. Friendly service, reasonable prices and excellent food were all present. Furthermore, the setting was enjoyable and garlic theme came in as an added bonus.

PS: Leaving, we noticed that the entrance corridor was finished in stucco-like style and Tuscan orange colour. We found it to be somewhat off the main theme. Also, instead of abstract paintings on the walls, how about a bit more garlic theme inside? This could be fun if done tastefully.

20.7.16

Greenwood Smokehouse

As a homage to tradition, we have a unique celebration called Nameday (yet another reason to get together, why not). For mine that recently passed, I decided to bring everyone to Greenwood Smokehouse barbecue spot. The reviews were good plus it is in the area, worth a shot.


APPEARANCE & NOSE
Welcomed by an R2-D2 BBQ at the storefront, sticking out boldly, we knew we were in for a treat with a twist. Their main storefront had a big rusty red metal sign with the name of the restaurant cut out - not easy to find, unless you know what to look for, at the same time, it was full of character. Inside, the space is filled with random objects and decorations from butcher farm tools to Japanese superheroes, Star Wars memorabilia and cottage country details. It fitted the traditional Texan joint feel – artistically rundown, but very cozy and casual. We were in luck to be the first ones on their tiny patio all the way in the back. In retrospect, we should have been more careful with our seat selection. There was plenty of smoke in our faces from the smoker and a hint of garbage smell from the little alley off the Danforth behind. Should have it been less hot, the garbage might have not been an issue and the smoke could be seen as a flavour enhancer. Fortunately, it was sunny and our friendly waiter was eager to get us fed.

SWIRL & PALATE
We wanted to try everything and so we got their medium platter as well as a couple of poutine portions. Feeling the heat radiating from the wooden posts wrapped in Christmas lights while, we seeped a beer on tap with name as well as any details of taste escaping us. Our Greenwood Poutine was topped with house bacon, and it was excellent. It came with double the cheese - Asiago, as well as curds and a unique smoked mushroom gravy. We also got the pulled pork one, but the bacon is what we recommend. As for our large platter order, it came on a metal tray with waxed manilla paper underneath, the meats all arranged in piles with a coleslaw in the middle and a couple of sauces. For the side, we had their re-fried beans and for a second side, the collard greens. We should note, the collard greens were very bitter and boiled to a point of being mushy, not an amazing option next to the re-fried bacon flavored beans. The coleslaw was decent, drenched in plenty of mayo sauce and a generous portion indeed. The meat did not turn out to be that much for the six of us, so we had to order some more after. Our least favourite were the wings - they had way too much Memphis BBQ sauce on and not that much of meat. The skin was great though, probably because they were "flash fried". We really enjoyed the smoked brisket topped with caramelized onion - it was tender and just fatty enough. We also liked their pulled pork butt with Carolina mustard. Topped with slaw, the pulled pork was juicy and perfectly flavoured. From the side, it looked like a happy baby’s accident (as my dad had to point out). Lastly, we were not impressed by the ribs - they were too fatty for our taste and, once again, doused in BBQ sauce.

FINISH
Walking under the exposed bulb light off the ceiling, with a pig themed aim in the background, Greenwood Smokehouse had all the right parts to enhance the mood. We would definitely recommend coming on a cooler month and trying their interior seats, for a comfort, personal feel. Plus, smoked meats are an awesome cure for the fall blues.

Greenwood Smokehouse BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato