Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Singing Praises of the Fat Canary, Williamsburg

The Fat Canary, Williamsburg Restaurant

Located at 410 W Duke of Gloucester St, next door to the Craft House, is the Fat Canary. It is a smallish place with an open air terrace for alfresco dining, and a fun, contemporary interior. We had some time to kill before being seated and decided to spend it at the bar. There were five specialty drinks that evening. The lady sitting next to me was sipping a martini called the "Tuscan Sun", made from orange vodka,and cointreau. It looked delish, and she confirmed that it was tasty. Having never been a big rum drinker, I suppose I was the among the very few to have never tried a Mojito. I decided to give theirs a shot, and my husband tried the Tuscan Sun. The Mojito was made with lots of fresh mint and really hit the spot. The martini was also refreshing. (I had to try a sip!)

Service was really on point that night. We were seated promptly at 6:30. Our waiter was very attentive, but not overbearing. He was knowledgeable of all menu offerings and skilled at making wine recommendations to complement dinner selections. We sampled four courses: soup, salad, entree, dessert. (Trust me, save room for dessert.) It was all excellent. We had a lentil soup that was the perfect marriage of flavors, a light and interesting peach salad, soft shell crabs (perhaps the best I have ever had, top 2 for sure) and macadamia nut pie a la mode. This pie was a serious indulgence. Rich, sweet and worth every calorie and fat gram. It was all I could do to restrain myself from licking the plate.

Price is a little bit on the high end, but I believe it is appropriate considering the end product. Parking can be a bit of a chore in the Merchant Square section. Give yourself some extra time to find a spot and walk a block or so. Duke of Gloucester street is always bustling, so the stroll is entertaining. For weekend dinner, reservations are a must. Holidays and other popular weekends will require calling a couple of weeks in advance. The bar was full of people dining that night, so you can probably get seated there if you want to pop in without calling ahead. The restaurant is connected to the Cheese Shop, a Williamsburg staple since the 70's. If you have the time and are a wine lover, take a few minutes to browse the shop's wine cellar downstairs. It is impressive.


Fat Canary on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Zona Rosa, San Francisco, California

Zona Rosa, San Francisco Restaurant

For quick and casual Mexican food, take a seat in Zona Rosa in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. This is a no frills kind of place, but very inexpensive and quick. A quick trip through the cafeteria-style line and you can have a burrito, quesadilla or homemade chips and homemade guacamole. The portions are large and everything is fresh. The guacamole was very good, some of the best I have had. You get to see a fun mix of people while dining, which always makes the experience more intriguing. Anything less would be unheard of in Haight-Ashbury. Following lunch, you can roam Haight Street and visit the plethora of clothing and souvenir stores (where you can wheel and deal on some of the merchandise - always fun!) as well as a few tattoo and piecing studios, Soul Patch being my choice and recommendation.

Zona Rosa is located at:
1797 Haight Street
(between Cole St & Shrader St)

Put on your most casual, fun and eclectic apparel and head on down to the neighborhood where the push and pull of gentrification is constant, but also where you can still see the psychedelic and grunge influences. Visit the Grateful Dead House while you are there for a groovy time.


Bocci's Italian Restaurant, Charleston, South Carolina

Bocci's Italian Restaurant, Charleston Restaurant

On a recent trip to Charleston, my friend, Tracy, some of her friends and I dined at Bocci's. If you are looking for fabulous, gourmet Italian cuisine, Bocci's is a must. The group started with the Calamari and a Tuna appetizer. Both were very tasty and of quite large proportions. Calzone, stromboli, pasta and entrees such as Grilled Salmon, Tuscan Duck, Veal Saltimboca and Chicken Conchiglia give the menu a wide variety. Our group had a mix of entrees, Chicken Parmesan, Baked Ziti, the Chicken Conchiglia, Ravioli Arrabiata and the Veal Saltimboca. We chose the Chocolate Almond Cassata Cake and the featured Cheesecake which was encrusted in pecans. The appetizers, entrees and desserts were fabulous and quite large in size.

Next time you are in Charleston, take your appetite to Bocci's for dinner.


Rose's Cafe, San Francisco, California

Rose's Cafe, San Francisco Restaurant

En route to the Outside Lands Music Festival, I came upon Rose's Cafe on Union Street with my friend, Jackie. We wanted something scrumptious for lunch before we journeyed to the concert in Golden Gate Park. We definitely found the place. Serving brunch until 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays and lunch and dinner daily, Rose's is a bright representation of an Italian cafe with seating inside and on the outdoor patio. The brunch selection includes Breakfast Pizza with Fontina, Smoked Ham & Eggs, Potato Hash, Spinach, Scallions, Corn & Smoked Mozzarella with Organic Poached Eggs, Linguine, Clams, Garlic, White Wine & Chile Flakes as well as an enticing variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. Jackie and I started with a wonderful piece of the Crescenza-Stuffed Focaccia and then opted for the Heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil pizza and the Rigatoni, Marinara & Reggiano. We finished with the Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ice Cream and the Vanilla Panna Cotta with fresh strawberries. The food and service were both wonderful.

Prices are very reasonable.


Lulu Restaurant and Bar, San Francisco, California

Lulu Restaurant and Bar, San Francisco Restaurant

I recently visited the wonderful city of San Francisco. One word, fantastic. My first evening in town, I went with some friends to Restaurant LuLu, a renovated 1910 warehouse in the SoMa district of San Francisco. The restaurant is open and airy and the kitchen has rotisseries and grills on display for the guests. Restaurant Lulu offers a contemporary cuisine and a wide variety of choices. Between the members in our party, we had the Tomato, Eggplant and Chard Gratin, the Pork Loin, a gourmet pizza and some other delicious selections. We chose sides, such as a gourmet macaroni and cheese, polenta, roasted cauliflower with black olives and rosemary and roasted seasonal vegetables. Dessert followed, warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and an assorted cookie plate with chocolate ice cream. There were many choices, it was difficult to decide. There is a large wine selection at the bar that carries over to dinner. Service was spectacular.

Entree Prices average $25-$30. If you are in San Francisco, Restaurant Lulu is a must.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kelly’s Tavern, Granby Street Location

The original Kelly's Tavern opened 25 years ago on Colley Avenue. I have been to several different franchise locations in the past, and never had any complaints. You see where this is going, don’t you…. Their website proudly boasts of "56 Best of Food and Dining awards in Hampton Roads for 2007!" Wow, is that some sort of "Best Of" record?

Let’s see…..where to begin? Kelly's Tavern on Granby is a bar. It looks like a bar, it smells like a bar. You enter to the distinct aroma of cigarette smoke, but once you are in the non smoking section, it is really too faint to notice. It has that worn in bar atmosphere. There are stains on the carpet and heel marks on the wall (yes, I mean wall). The restroom has one "out of order" stall, no lock on the other functioning stall, and a pink sink that is stained brown on the bottom. It was clean, just well used. This is another freezing cold place; really, really chilly. It didn't appear to be very busy when we arrived on Monday afternoon. We were one out of 6-8 other tables, and I only saw one server. She was okay. Not setting the world on fire, but proficient. The big problem here was in the kitchen. It took a good 45 minutes to get our food. The third time we asked if our food was almost ready we were told the kitchen was short staffed with only one cook. When we got our food, stuff was missing. I had ordered a dinner salad that arrived sans salad dressing. Five minutes later the server returned to tell me she could not find the vinegar and oil. Fortunately my crab cake sandwich was pretty good. The floor manager came over and asked us how everything was…I told her she didn't want to know. I mean,why ask? Obviously she knew we were having issues, or she wouldn't be at our table with the missing ingredients to Alex's salad. She backed up the kitchen excuse and offered to discount our meal for the inconvenience, which we gladly accepted. She was very nice and I appreciate that. Hey, things happen, schedules get messed up, salad dressings get lost. And there are about 50 other places to eat lunch in downtown Norfolk.


'You all are amazing today' is what Laine said to the waitress when
she said she could not find the oil and vinegar. Very well put. I
second Laine's review. My salad was just okay, but missing an
ingredient and you do feel like you are at a bar, not a restaurant.
I, too, have visited other Kelly's locations and have had much better
food and service. Laine and I have vowed to try another Kelly's, but
we need some serious recovery time from this experience. Things do
happen, such as MIA staff, but this was pretty much a full-fledged
fiasco. I am also thankful that the manager discounted us, but
really, could she have kept a straight face if she had not done so?
Laine noticed on the menu that before shows at The Norva, diners of
the downtown Kelly's get in 15 minutes ahead of everyone else. Our
thought is 'thanks, but no thanks, we'll wait in line with everyone
else to avoid having to dine in here again'.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fellini's Italian Restaurant

Fellini's Italian Restaurant, Norfolk Restaurant

Located near the intersection of 38th Street and Colley Avenue in Norfolk, Fellini's has a reputation for great Italian cuisine and friendly atmosphere. Appetizers include calamari, Bacon-wrapped scallops, focaccia bread and many others. There are also salads, pasta, burgers (including a fantastic turkey burger), entrees, such as Chicken Marsala, gourmet pizzas and of course, homemade desserts, including a wide variety of cheesecakes. The portions are large and the flavors are spectacular. Fellini's is well known for its Greek salad. This salad, topped with tons of fresh vegetables, feta and Fellini's house dressing, gets my vote for best Greek salad in town. The pizzas are also a favorite. From the Bourbon Street to the BBQ Chicken, Fellini's has pretty much any type of pizza you can dream of. The white pizza is particularly good.

It is easy to get a seat and the staff are always friendly and familiar. 5-7pm on weekdays, the spot has a special: cheap pizzas and beers at the bar.

Open for lunch and dinner and moderately price, Fellini's is always a great choice.


Fellini's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nordstrom Cafe at MacArthur Mall

Tucked away in the corner of Nordstrom's third floor, hidden behind linens and lingerie, lies one of downtown Norfolk's not so best kept secrets, the Nordstrom Cafe. Nationally famous for world class service, only at Nordstrom could you feel so good about strolling down a cafeteria line with your meal tray. Forget all your nightmares about high school cafeteria food. You will not see one piece of mystery meat or mushy vegetables on this line of food. No one is standing guard with an industrial sized spoon in hand, ready to slop runny mashed potatoes and gravy on your plate. What you will find is an interesting variety of freshly prepared soups, sandwiches, pizzas, entrees, salads, and deserts.

The line begins with 5-6 sandwich options, followed by two hot soups, a killer looking cheesy cornbread muffin, another half dozen entree options, 2-3 Panini sandwiches, 2-3 pizzas, grilled veggies and chicken and 6-7 freshly made salads. Everything is made fresh when you order it (except the soup, of course). For hot foods, you place your order and are given a numbered card to take to your table. At lunch, salads appear to be the most popular, as the line tends to come to a halt while patrons wait and watch the salad maestro mix and blend house favorites. I love the salad lady. She is always smiling. She has made so many salads that she barely looks down as she grabs the ingredients, pitches them in her stainless steel bowl and whips them together with one of their delicious dressings.

If you are not getting a salad, feel free to “cut” in line and head up to the registers. Just make sure you at least glance at the deserts on your way there. Staples in the desert case are cannoli, macaroons, cheesecakes, and assorted cookies. To die for. Worth whatever the fat and calorie content may be. Alex and I are always threatening to sneak out of work one day in the afternoon and just eat deserts. The cookies are so big that my 4 year old can’t even finish one….and she never says no to anything containing sugar. For those not returning to a job that prohibits working under the influence, there are several beer and wine options available. Since I need my job, I opt for caffeine related beverages. I am a big fan of the ginger peach tea. It can be a little strong flavored sometimes, but nothing that adding extra ice won’t temper. Ask for a “to-go” cup when you are paying and you can fill up before you leave and take some back to the office for later.

On Monday, Alex, my step-daughter and I headed up to the cafe for lunch. My step-daughter, who is also working downtown and looking for some lunch time dining options, had never been to the cafe. Anyone who knows me knows I love introducing people to Nordstrom Cafe. I drag everyone there. (No complaints yet, either!). I opted for one of my favorites, the Salmon Salad Nicoise. Their take on the traditional French salad is to replace the tuna with a Salmon fillet (covered in salty pesto type sauce) omit the anchovies and add capers. This is a hot salad, and overall is fairly salty due to the fish, olives and capers. I made the error of forgetting to ask for the dressing on the side, and was a tad disappointed when it arrived swimming in dressing. I’ll remember next time! However, it did not keep me from enjoying every bite. My step-daughter ordered the Chicken and sun dried tomato Panini, and a cannoli. I was glad to see that she could not wait until after eating her sandwich to try the cannoli. The sandwich arrived in a reasonable time, crispy, flavorful. It was gone in under five minutes. The remainder of the cannoli soon followed.

Service at the cafe consists of servers who will clear your trays from the table, bring out your meals, refill drinks, and get you just about anything you like. Although it is cafeteria style, tipping is expected and well deserved. Having gone there a number of years now, I can say that the staff seems to experience very little turn over. You will see the same people over and over again. Everyone has a great attitude and is very solicitous.

A few things to keep in mind about the cafe for lunch….lines can get long at the noon hour. You can however, get in and out in under an hour on most days. If there is a big sale going on at the store though, forget it. The place will be mobbed. Once the tables are full, the team working the line will purposely slow it down, so you won’t be left standing with a tray and no where to sit. They have it down to a science. The adjoining restroom/lounge is always clean. As for the temperature, it is freezing in the cafe. Let me go on record to say that I am NOT one of those women who is always cold too. Quite the opposite actually. So when I say it is cold in there, it’s really cold. Alex actually had blue lips on Monday. Bring a sweater or a wrap and your experience won’t be marred by the temperature. Prices for lunch are moderate. Typically lunch with a beverage will cost about $12-15, not including tip. For me, the Nordstrom Cafe is always a favorite.