Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To feast or to gorge - that is the question

It's a terrible excuse, but it's just getting to that time of the year where indulging and, more often than not, overindulging becomes the norm. The reasoning is that it's the holidays and you should celebrate and let loose. Let loose indeed, the top button of my jeans perhaps. And the timing excuse just really doesn't cut it when I'm heading to Hawaii in a few days, in no way bikini ready.

But, on the other chocolate sauce covered hand, it's Christmas and we all want to celebrate and spend time with family and friends. I've found that when I do spend time with these groups of loved ones, we do gravitate towards food and drink and plenty of conversation, from the serious to delirious.

But back onto the food. A pre-Christmas feast with the family (yeah, that makes sense... feast away before... another few days of feasting. Well, infinitely more fun than a pre-Chrissy workout with the family) at Nick's Bondi Beach Pavilion. Now I'm not sure who the sillier party is - the one that offers unlimited plates of food or the one that takes up the offer of unlimited plates of food. This is the offer at Nick's on Sunday and Monday nights, aptly called the Bondi BBQ and Seafood Feast, and the restaurant is pretty much packed inside and outside this particular Monday night.

For $25 a head there's the unlimited offer of a four option menu; sides, drinks and desserts being add ons. Admittedly, value for money seems very good and I'd imagine a hungry footy team would do rather well here. My issues with overindulgence and overeating aside, this makes for a fun meal - almost a buffet with table service and limited menu. As the summer sun takes its sweet time in setting, those facing the... (directionally-impaired pause) south may be advised to take sunglasses with, as some of the staff are well prepared for - they do this at Opera Bar too.

We start with a dish of each of the menu items, a garden salad and drinks, and straightaway the waitress brings a metal tiered stand to the table. Looks like fun already, although I think there may be problems seeing my diagonally opposite table diner when the food gets to the table. And when it does arrive, it's like an onslaught of food, food and more food. Three plates are placed on the tiered stand, looking like some sort of high tea on steroids, and the fourth placed nearby. And there's only one thing to do - dig in.

Mussels in tomato-based sauce served with chunk of bread
(there was also a white wine and cream sauce version)

The mussels are plentiful and fresh, though they don't seem to have taken on the flavour of the sauce. The tomato sauce is rich and smooth, perfect to be mopped up with the bread, chips or anything else that finds its way into my greedy little fingers. The white sauce version of the mussels is a little too heavy on the cream and salt for my tastes, but they get gobbled up by the hollow legs that sit beside me. Most of the mussels are open and we even find a baby mussel the size of my little fingernail - meat intact.

Char grill plate with chips

The next is a rather imposing plate of meat and chips. Really. On top of the handful of golden fried chips and next to the ramekin of standard BBQ sauce sits a mound of grilled meat. Where does one start? There's a fillet of chicken thigh, grilled with Cajun spices topped with capsicum bits. There's a mini rack of pork ribs smothered in more BBQ sauce. There's a piece of steak in a capsicum salsa type sauce. There's half a kransky. There's a lamb kebab skewer. There's another bit of steak and a cheese and capsicum sauce. What's with all the capsicum? I don't know but this is no sight for a vegetarian. This is barbequed meat overload; char grilled but not grilled to a char. Goodness, where are the greens?

The garden salad is a bowl full of some of the more interesting varieties of mixed leaves (think snow pea sprouts and curly endive), a couple of tomato wedges and cucumber slices and a dose of mayonnaise. At least I think it was mayonnaise - either way, not your expected dressing for a garden salad, but a welcome distraction from deep fried and barbequed things. Speaking of deep fried...

Golden seafood plate

Golden in that it's fried plus fried plus fried plus fried. More chips and seafood of questionable quality and freshness (we take a punt that all these items once knew a freezer intimately) tops our metal tower of food. There's two medium sized pieces of boneless fish fillets with skin - the flesh firm tending rubbery in an abundance of crunchy batter. Prawn cutlets are your standard frozen variety - you know the type, your first bite into it has you questioning "where's the prawn?". And calamari rings in their crumbed golden halos - all with a squeeze of lemon and a supposedly homemade tartare sauce which is super creamy and ideal for chips too.

BBQ pork rib racks

Sitting on its lonesome, ostracised by the inhabitants of the tower, sit three racks (not full sized) of pork ribs, covered in sticky barbeque sauce. We seem to have landed odds and ends of the rack as there's one huge end piece rack with a few smaller sized pieces, many with an unappetising layer of yellowed fat. Once said layer is removed with a grimace, the meat is pink and tender, but lacking depth of flavour aside from the external brushing of sauce.

We (almost) triumphantly finish the bulk of all these dishes; a few chips left here and there, mussel shells strewn in empty plates and bowls, and a rather sickly looking rack of ribs remain, but on the whole we've done round one. Bring on round two.

And thus the concept of unlimited feasting. A deep fried, barbequed gorge fest. There's undoubtedly the question of quantity over quality, but judging by the amount of diners hacking into their feasts, quantity is also quite popular. The staff manage to hide any potential disgust of said gorge fest and are rather happy to see you stuff yourself silly. Let me say now that none of us needed to be wheeled or rolled out of the restaurant, so there is some degree of self restraint, thank you. More golden seafood, more barbequed meat, many more mussels later most of us are reaching point of stuffed, although hollow legs make room for a final plate of mussels.

Other menu items look quite appealing too. There are very reasonably priced seafood platters for sharing, with bright red lobsters ruling these towers of food. The rest of the mains menu is mostly priced below $30 from memory. Desserts also look tempting, but on this occasion the feasting has been done, pushing out any thoughts of sweets. Thoughts turn back to Hawaii and bikini bodies, and unlimited feasting just doesn't seem to fit in. Thank goodness for the baby doll dress.

Nick's Bondi Beach Pavilion on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday arvo 'tude

Another weekend by, filled with eating out and drinking up, and forgetting to take photos. I'm hopeless, but I don't think that I'm completely to blame.

Sunday afternoons are fast becoming my favourite occasion for drinking. We clinked glasses to the cheer of "good afternoon". To me Sunday afternoons just epitomise the good life - think idyllic casual surroundings, good food, good wine, good company. This is how life should be, although maybe that afternoon summer wind could tone down a little. Sunday afternoons should be an attitude. It's one that I'm more than willing to take on.

Following some mild sunburn in the park, a fellow Sunday afternoon-ing friend and I shuffled into the safe enclave out of the sun that is the Clock Hotel. We grab two seats on the balcony looking out onto Crown Street and find this to be a perfect people watching position: the single balcony row of people wining and dining, and beer-ing of course, and the activity at street level. I even see Gai Waterhouse out for a stroll with her hubby.

Sun burn has given us a thirst and the call is for wine. It's not an extensive wine list at the Clock but it's not boring, peppered with interesting drops from around the country. We're still in the throes of our love affair with sauv blanc, although pinot grigio is getting a few lustful glances these days too. We settle on the Logan sauv blanc, the Orange heritage proving a selling point. We also ordered a small tasting plate - which was surprisingly well sized and priced, and beautifully presented that in my excitement I forgot to take a pic - and a rocket and parmesan salad to satisfy my obsession with the wily, peppery leaves.

Logan sauvignon blanc - from Orange, NSW

It's a very fruity drop, and I can taste the aromas of passionfruit quite intensely - and I'm no wine connoisseur. The label is delightfully cute, sort of crafty, cross-stitch like imagery. It's the perfect partner to our afternoon.

Again, some imagination will be required for the tasting plate. Served on a white rectangular plate, it's a mix of tapas-like items from the share menu. I start with the salt and pepper squid, which is now probably a standard Sydney menu item. Anyway, they do it very well here. The lightly golden roll is perfectly spiced and tender, not needing any additional sauce or condiment. Next, a cajun spiced chicken skewer (I think of thigh fillet) with a minty youghurt sauce - very, very moreish. There's a mini bowl of mixed olives with cumin and coriander seeds, and a somewhat lost mini bowl of a rather drab tomato salsa. We weren't sure what that was supposed to accompany, so I used it as a dip for my grissini. Then there was the bruschetta of tomato and Spanish onion on a lovely bit of crunchy bread and toped with parmesan - a little too onion-y for someone who doesn't really like raw onion. And finally the unusual looking stuffed jalepenos.

Prosciutto-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with ricotta and anchovy
(The photo's a little out of focus as I was probably busy
fanning my tongue or shaking with laughter)

Now I don't quite know why I thought that I should eat this. I think my train of thought was that if they're serving it, it shouldn't be excessively hot. And I may have been inspired by recent reading of My Year of Eating Dangerously in which there is a chapter the author goes on a chilli adventure. I cut a bit of the end of the jalapeno - not even getting any of the stuffing, silly me - and pop it in. At first, it tastes just like mushy capsicum. A few seconds in - bam. There's a blaze on my tongue as I hurry to swallow the mouthful and look around for potential extinguishers. Wine? No help. The redundant tomato salsa? Nope. Ice from the wine bucket? Some relief, but short lived.

About ten minutes later my tastebuds regain some normalcy and I've stopped making silly faces and berating myself. My companion was of the opinion that I was being overdramatic and just not a chilli eater (well, I'm not but I do like my spicy food) so later she has a go at the jalapeno. All good, then bam. She goes through the same rigmarole that I did, finding some comfort in the wine bucket. However, this time I am madly laughing at her for not heeding my previous show and warning. We agree that this is not one of our favourite menu items.

We polish off all the other items of the tasting plate, even the mixed lettuce leaves sitting below the pieces. The rocket salad is a satisfyingly generous bowl topped with parmesan shavings (that were getting blown off by the wind!), although it's slightly overdressed in balsamic vinegar. We kick back (not literally, as we're on stools) and watch the comings and goings of the balcony and Crown Street below, and wish that every moment was like a Sunday arvo.

Clock Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Busy kitchen fun

When things are going crazy all around, one can always retreat to the safety of the kitchen for comfort cooking and food. Failing that, at least a good few hours distraction, what with the recipe reading, mess making and other jolly activities.

Following groceries and phone debacles, I felt the urge for wicked and rich chocolate cookies. A quick recipe hunt finds me triple choc cookies, but I'm one choc short. I subbed in cranberries - for some reason cranberries are associated with Chrissy (must be the sauce for the turkey), and they add a sourness that might be good to offset some of the sweet, sweet chocolate.

After conquering the kitchen and removing any previous inhabitants, it's cookie time. And the immense battle to not steal too many pieces of the dark chocolate that goes into the actual cookie, or the white chocolate bits I'm adding as chunks. Mmm... dark chocolate.

1. Sifted flours and cocoa powder 2. Mixed in bowl with brown sugar
3. Chocolate in pan 4. Plus butter

At this point previous inhabitants return and fight for land (space on the kitchen table), and being the generous soul I am (they'll share the cleaning), I allow dim sim production to commence nearby (pics below). But on with the cookies!

Wet ingredients (melted chocolate and butter) meet the
dry ingredients (flours, cocoa and sugar)

Two eggs; two lightly beaten eggs

Wet meets dry

From here the colour and consistency of the mixture become less... photogenic, let's say. (I joked that this would be what Rudolph's poop might look like if he really got stuck into... white chocolate and cranberries). But rich chocolate smells continue to waft and I resist the urge to eat raw cookie dough - raw egg and flour can't be that bad for you, can it?

Addition of bits: white chocolate and cranberries

The mixture; in ball form; in flattened form

The smell of cookies baking is one I'll always associate with school days, before any worries of diet or health really came into mind. And I'll always have a soft, fudgy spot in my heart for chocolate brownies.

Cooling on tray, then rack

These cookies are bound for my tummy, friends and family I see in the next couple of days, and last but not least, an ice cream pudding dessert for Christmas day. Decadence and goodwill indeed.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen...

Pork mince and cabbage mixture

Wrapped in egg pastry

Ready for steaming...

... and eating.

But wait, there's more! Inspired from a lunch meal the other day (sort of remembered the blog three-quarters of the way through my meal) and my love for dumplings in general, we thought we'd try our hand at pan fried dumplings, making the pastry from scratch.

Flour, water, a crick in the neck from bending over the rolling pin and flour all over my shorts eventually produced randomly sized, paper thin pastry pieces to wrap the pork mixture. A oiled frypan later, and we have rather moreish dumplings ranging from bite sized to three-bites sized.

Yes, these are circles of pastry

Pan fried and randomly sized

But we've got too much dough left over! Never fear, thin, crunchy shallot pancakes to the rescue. Somewhere in between a pappadum, roti, crepe and pancake, these turn out to be one of the yummiest random creations from our kitchen. And no surprise, I've well and truly stuffed myself with food today.

Balls of dough become thin pancakes

Made with shallots from the garden

Cooking in an oiled fry pan

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend content

I think I just had a weekend with all the components ever needed for a weekend: sleep (and plenty of it), shopping, visiting friends, dinner with family, drinks at a hideaway bar, art gallery, drinks by the harbour in the sunshine, dinner with friends. And throw in a few holiday plans. Yeah, life is alright.

It feels like Christmas is on its way, judging by the amount of people shopping this weekend - not quite the hustle and bustle of previous years but hectic enough anyway. And I'm having enormous trouble buying gifts this year. And I'm still not feeling very Christmas-sy.

Anyway, the sunny weekend beckoned and I certainly had my fair share of SPF30 protected sunshine the last couple of days. Some indoor activity was had, such as the New Acquisitions 2008 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art down at Circular Quay. Admittedly, contemporary art often perplexes me but I relish the opportunity to interpret on my own and then sometimes share that interpretation with a fellow attendee I've dragged along, curatorial or artist notes, or simply the reaction of other museum-goers. It really is a fun couple of hours to me, and though this visit was slightly rushed I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition.

Out into the sunshine of a Sunday afternoon at this end of town and there really is just one place to go: Opera Bar. It's becoming a bit of a Sunday ritual but such a lovely time that I don't mind it as part of a weekly routine. On any remotely nice day out, Opera Bar tends to be packed and especially so today with a couple of private functions.

I've always found the menu at Opera Bar very reasonable considering the location, and while the food isn't mind blowing, it will certainly do. Atmosphere makes up for a lot. We just manage to nab a seat on the extreme outer, I'd almost call it balcony-like area, right near the water with a couple of beers, an order of wedges and unsurpassed views. I blame the warming sunshine, live jazz, cold beer, conversation and abundance of beautiful people and things for my forgetting a picture beforehand, but then again it was only wedges.

Half eaten serve of baked potato wedges with
sour cream and sweet chilli sauce

But then again, they were the best wedges I've had in quite some time. I love potato wedges with the skin on, as that seems to add another dimension of texture in addition to the crunchy outer and fluffy inner. These ones were in a jumble of sizes - some like a quartered potato and others more resembling chips. They've definitely got crunch but were not at all greasy or oily. The other point of difference to your standard frozen packet wedges was the sprinkled coating of a red spice mix - presumably containing some paprika, enticing the licking of fingers but not too much of a spice kick.

A perfect accompaniment to a beer or four, we wiled away a pleasant afternoon in the company of live music and happy tourists and locals alike against a backdrop of to-ing and fro-ing ferries, bridge climbers in the distance and an overwhleming sense of contentment.

Opera Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is the grass greener?

There's something about human nature - always wanting what you can't have. In which case knowledge is dangerous. Knowing that there are alternatives makes you want something else; something more. But there is also that argument in the unknown - that we seek to know, just in case it's better, in which case we want it.

The other side this day happens to be the north side of Sydney, and more specifically, the latest Hugos venture on Manly wharf. We wonder as we walk through the ferry terminal if it will be bub-friendly as today's fellow foodie has the little one in tow. Thinking about the Kings Cross version, I'm a bit nervous to think of the little one amid all the drinking, 'beautiful people', bouncers and all, but the worry is unnecessary.

The first sighting of Hugos is all warm brown timber and open window seating - already, I want to be sitting there sipping something bubbly and eating something tasty. We round the corner with pram, seeing a mostly above nappy-aged crowd who probably wouldn't appreciate the sounds of a crying baby - and rather busy for a Wednesday afternoon, I thought. An easy step up into the entrance and a smiling waitress greets us and points us in the direction of a relatively pram-friendly space near the entrance. So far so good.

We're handed menus which consist almost entirely of pizza - we must have just missed the lunch menu as the neighbouring table has just started into their mains, which look fantastic. But there's consolation to be had in a gourmet pizza and a bottle of something.

It's quite an extensive pizza menu with a reputation to uphold. I'm not really all too worried about what pizza to order as I expect them all to be amazing, but the promise of buffalo mozzarella is a little too tempting for me to pass up. The wine list has Aussie and French bubbles, a dedicated Italian whites list, and a range of Aussie whites and reds.

We ordered the pepperoni pizza to share and a bottle of prosecco, and wait watching ferries come and go along with groups of guests. It's a cool day; grey and sprinkle threatening to grow into something heavier, but there's only a light breeze and it seems the warming heaters are on a low setting that make it perfect for lounging about. Bub isn't enthralled with the atmosphere or people watching, preferring to make mum take her for a walk around in the pram and watching the water and birds.

It's a veritable mix of people: from the casual t-shirts and shorts, families with babies, toddlers and kiddies, to glammed up young 'uns and tables of long business lunches. There's something quite open and welcoming about the place, which may well be to do with the young, white-clad waiters and waitresses who are friendly, capable, professional and just intrusive enough. Service is top notch with glasses constantly refilled and people generally happy.

I, for one, am very happy when the pizza comes to join the prosecco on our table.

Pepperoni pizza with tomato, chilli, mint and buffalo mozzarella

Waiting for bub and mum to come back before starting is painful, as I can smell the cheesiness and pepperoni, and my will power is tested (I pretty much failed as I nicked a crispened slice of spicy pepperoni). I'm a touch disappointed in the quantity of mozzarella as I've been known to eat buffa mozzarella by the fist-sized ball. The mint seems an interesting variation on the classic insalata caprese with basil - which I could also probably eat by the bunch.

The base is perfectly thin and crisp, lightly smothered in a tomato paste. There's a good coverage of topping (my mozzarella gripe aside) and they've gone easy on the chilli as requested. The flavours meld together extremely well, and go down even better with the prosecco. It's a generous size - perfect for two not-overly large appetites and almost feels healthy.

A cheese plate arrival next door piques interest but we opt for more drinks rather than more dairy, but a definite order for next time. Relaxed, stomach full, bub asleep, we watch poor sods come off the ferry and chat into the happy noise that is the Hugos crowd. With good food, good wine and views all round, it's a good life on the other side too.

Hugos Manly on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Books and bumming

Like beer and a hot day; wasabi and soy sauce; Party Feet and stilettos - books and bumming around simply go hand in hand. I'm a big fan of buying books rather than going to the library. There's something about having and owning a great book that even buying average or crap books does not discount.

And to say that I'm absent-minded in my bumming days is something of an understatement. At a bookstore today I unknowingly purchased two books with the words "my year of x dangerously" in the titles, with 'x' denoting 'cooking' and 'eating' respectively. Seriously. Gee, wonder what's on my mind...?

Well, aside from food-related current affairs I do have bikinis on my mind for two reasons: 1) was supposed to go to the beach today, but got very windy and overcast by the time I got around to it; and 2) Hawaii. With Jetstar deducting hard-earned money (well, credit) from me yesterday morning, I am well in the throes of planning day and night activities in Waikiki and Honolulu, as well as the island Hawaii. Yay - I need this holiday, apparently.

And directly related to the topic of bikinis in Hawaii is my incessant eating out habit. A beach day would have meant some frolicking in water or sand; hence some usage of kilojoules. Instead, temperamental weather conditions blamed, I go for a late lunch with a fellow bum for the day. Followed by cupcakes, beer and chips but we'll try to ignore that in case my conscience gets clogged arteries.

Heading to Glebe I do walk from Central station, so there - that's my physical exertion for the day in humid, windy weather as well (like a sauna) in Nudie Long Johns (like Skins, ha ha). Wandered into Gleebooks with fellow bum and spent a little more than justified being a bum. Like I said, there's a magnetic attraction with books and bums. A momentary stroll down Glebe Point Rd finds us at Well Connected Cafe - sparse of customers but not empty, and welcoming like a share house lounge room.

We took the seat by the window in sort of swivel club chairs; comfy and linger-enticing. It feels very local, bohemian and laissez-faire; as if "be whoever, whatever, whenever, however, why-ever" - that's a bit vague, I know, or is it?

Table service sees us order iced mochas (that aren't served with cream - thank you!) and to my delight they come in huge glasses with a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream bobbing atop. Slight overexcitement on my behalf means that I made a mess of the drink and sipped and scooped away before remembering the all important pic - oops. My lame consolation is to imagine: chocolate staining the bottom of the glass, a few ice cubes submerged oddly mid-glass, a huge sccop of ice-cream topped with some chocolate powder, plus a long spoon and two pink straws. The first sip is a sweet coffee hit - my first for the day and indeed the week. I dig into my ice-cream and it's very satisfying at first, but then gets too sweet and lacking coffee for me. But this from a macchiato drinker.

On to food we've ordered light because, well, it's about 4.00pm - and our minds and stomachs aren't sure if this is lunch, a snack or dinner. Linner? Dunch? It just doesn't work as a word nor a concept really. Afternoon snack or pre-dinner appetisers work, but not so a meal in between. So with that implicit meal dilemma we have toasted turkish bread with dips - a favourite style of grazing food of mine as it is. A friend and I once vowed to do a grazing plate tour of Sydney - we're still working on it, what with all the distractions of proper meals.

Turkish bread with dips and a vague attempt at antipasti

Bread was fresh, warmly crisped outer though the two ends were toasted whereas the centre wasn't. Interesting approach for non-consistency. Dips were a touch hit and miss - starting from left the olive topped one was a mayonnaise-based something, that tasted like mayonnaise. Despite the orange hue, it tasted like mayonnaise. I will call this the orange mayonanaise - which was a miss. The centre one was hummus, which is difficult to get wrong - always a hit with me. It was topped with feta cheese which I skipped, as too the roasted capsicum atop the creamy capsicum dip - also a hit. I hate dip and antipasti plates that are stingy with their bread (or cheese plates with rations on their crackers), so getting a generous almost half-loaf of Turkish bread is very pleasing.

We also order a lavash wrap to share between us - the sometimes difficult decision of carnivorous versus herbivorous tending the vegie path this inter-meal meal.

Toasted lavash with Jap pumpkin, rocket, feta and olives
with side mixed leaf salad

The flatbread was toasted to an outer crisp perfection and was filled with chunks of sweet roasted pumpkin, a blanket of wild rocket, crumbly feta and a few sliced olives. My only complaint is that it needed a plumber - juices, probably from the heated rocket or pumpkin, were dripping steadily from both halves. Bonus soup? Fellow bum's complaint was that seated at the open window meant that her share was under attack from a passing bum, or homeless gent. I love a leafy salad so long as it's not iceberg lettuce, and the mixed leaves with cucumber slices and tomato slice are fresh and crisp with their balsamic and oil dressing. Another pet hate is mixed leaf salads with the odd wilted, stale leaf - may as well be a worm - but no problems here.

We cleaned up the plates and then retreated upstairs away from passing bums with a few bottled drinks. Upstairs has a rather different vibe from the downstairs. Obviously a converted residential, the narrow wooden staircase leads to, I guess, the upstairs of the share house. There's a fireplace area with a circle of mismatched dining chairs, bathroom with bathtub and shower (not sure if in working order), 'rooms' with lounges and more club chairs, and the irresistable balcony looking out on to Glebe Point Rd.

We headed straight to the afternoon sunshine on the balcony, which is pleasantly free of smokers. A bit of social planning and D&Ms were broken up with visits to the bathroom - which I describe only for it's hanging artwork above the bathtub. In fact, all of the upstairs walls are adorned with artworks which I believe are available for purchase - aha, I knew I could feel bohemian-ness. I looked out leisurely onto the street down below, which was active with the comings and goings of Glebe locals - this sure is one way to spend a bumming day.

Well Connected Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally, some food

For something that started with the idea of a food blog, there's been little food to look at. I know, I've been remiss. I've certainly been eating, but there's just a certain level of consciousness that one needs in remembering to take a photo before digging into a dish, or trying to identify ingredients rather than scoffing and just saying "Delicious", or most difficult yet - going to a restaurant where you're a regular and trying to find a name for that "yummy dish I always have".

Anyway, Monday night finds me at Sydney Madang Restaurant - my favourite Korean BBQ restaurant where, surprisingly, I prefer not to BBQ. It's at the end of a little laneway off Pitt St near Liverpool St, and it's the one where there are people waiting outside - not the other one. The couples, triples and quads waiting out the front can be a turn off for most people, but on this Monday night when I'm not starving, the wait isn't too bad. Just grab your raffle ticket from one of the black-clad waiters, and sit or stand around until luck turns your way and your number is called.

Service is quick and efficient, aided by the doorbell-like device at the corner of every table. Ring the bell and a waiter will be at your table within moments (sometimes seconds, so don't ring it until you're sure you're ready). I tend to have my favourite dishes when going to a regular haunt, even if I haven't tried all the menu. The starters vary but there's always the good ol' kimchee - here, fairly restrained on the chilli factor - yes, it's hot, but I'm not going to cry over it. A favourite is the grated radish on lettuce: simple, fresh and refreshing, especially after some of the hot and spicy dishes, and the potato in a sweet, cloying sauce (tonight with the peel on - a first in my experience). As always, you're free to request refills of your favourite starters throughout the meal.

Starters (clockwise from top left corner): potato, radish and lettuce,
kimchee, some (single) pickled chilli leaf, bean sprout salad

We tend to favour the 'entree' menu, simply because we're not doing the BBQ or steamboat menus. Plus, there's so much to choose from in the entree menu anyway, and they're all superbly tasty so it's hard to go wrong. First up is the tofu, which arrives a few minutes after our order is put through.

Tofu entree with cucumber and bonito shavings

It's a delightful dish of fried tofu with a crunchy skin and softly firm inner, with a sweetly tart dressing, the fresh green-ness of cucumber and hidden under a pile of bonito shavings. It's light and perfect to get the palate ready for more intense flavours to come.

Next comes an ideal summer dish, the raw beef salad. Now in written or spoken word, this dish may not sound all that appealing - but you'd have to admit that it looks good and sounds intriguing - and for me that would be reason enough to try something.

Raw beef salad

It consists of thinly julienned slices of - wait for it - raw, frozen beef. A dining companion unacquainted with the dish saw it arrive on the table and said: "It looks frozen." There's a dressing mixed through the beef - mildly sweet, sesame and a few other flavours that I can't quite identify. You mix in the raw egg yolk along with the thin cucumber and radish slices, and try to eat it before the beef thaws. It's still edible after, but it just lacks that almost whimsical feeling and texture. It's really quite good after something that hits the chilli sense a bit too hard.

Following is our third entree and my absolute favourite - the seafood pancake. I joke with the table (four of us all up) that we should order the large, just to see how big it really is. The small size is ludicrously big; more than adequate for four and it makes me wonder about the size of their frypans. I will attempt the large one day; probably will have that and nothing else.

Seafood pancake

It's not doughy or raw like some of the other pancakes I've tried, and always comes out crisp but not oily - very important in my books. Delectably tender bits of squid and prawn are scattered among the green shallots; the chilli sesame dipping sauce adding another dimension of flavour. The pancake can be quite filliing but I can't help it - it's my favourite and I especially love the end bits.

On to mains! I might add that these all come out in quick succession, so there tends to be many dishes on the table at any one time: four small dishes each; five for the starters; the tofu; the beef; the pancake; cups and bottles; two metal bowls of rice - oh, and we've got a gas stove addition for a hot pot dish that arrives steaming, massive, red spicy, and smelling so good.

Pork bone and potato hot pot

Not recommended for a hot summer's day, but it's a windy, cool night so we're not getting too much of a sweat up. The green leaves on top (not 100% sure what they were - but not like any Chinese vegie I've tried; a certain spicy flavour - and it wasn't the soup) get doused with the red hot soup - a steam/boil cooking technique. Underneath there's an abundance of shallots and bits of pork bone, with meat softened to a tender, almost falling off point. Keep it on the boil and it will fall off. Dig further and you've got potato hiding underneath it all. For the sensitive tongues, ladle some of everything into your dish once the vegies are ready and give it a good few minutes cooling. So as I sit patiently waiting for it to cool, picking at some lettuce and bean sprouts, others jump straight into the soup (not literally). There is no sense of taste bud conservation here.

It's spicy but not overly so, but there's rice to help conceal the chilli if necessary. There's not a lot of meat on the bones, but the flavours really seep in to justify sucking on bits of bone. The potato also acts to tone down the chilli as do the leafy greens and other vegies. And it's a seriously-sized pot, nothing delicate or petite. Last, but by no means least, the bibimbap.

Bibimbap (mixed - friend got to it before the camera did)

We always order the special one in the hot stone pot: a mixture of rice, spinach, zucchini, carrot, bean sprouts in a heated stone pot with a raw egg yolk on top. The idea is that you mix it all up so the hot stone cooks the egg and gives you crunchy clumps of rice. We usually have the pork mince add-on and always add the chilli (?) paste to it - it's very mild so be liberal. Let it sit awhile and then try and be the first to hog all the crunchy bits - if you're so inclined.

At this point you can imagine that the four of us would be quite stuffed. Conversation turns to how we're so accustomed to overeating that we all think our stomachs are much expanded from what they normally should be. I get another ladle full of the hot pot; the bibimbap gets finished across the table; and another round of lettuce with radish is ordered. It's not that we're insatiable - it's just a weakness for all things yummy.

A final ring of the doorbell contraption brings the bill to a very, very reasonable $25 per head (including two beers and a Coke). We walk out to pay and leave passing some ten or so hungry-looking patrons waiting outside the restaurant (yep, on a Monday night). It's still a cool, windy night so I take the opportunity to shake out my BBQ-smelling hair and self. It can't be helped so I can only advise that one doesn't wear a thick woollen or any other smell-sensitive item of clothing. On the way home I can actually smell BBQ on/in my skin - first stop is the shower.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Murderous marsupials on Sundays

I've always loved Sundays. Well, different parts of it anyway. As a younger child, Sunday used to be the only completely free day of the week - without school or any extra-curricular activities and a day when my parents would be at home as well. As such I've grown up associating Sundays with rest and relaxation, as many do.

Getting a little older Sundays were fine - just Sunday nights were a bit of a bother. Usually some last minute homework or assignment or report or 3,000-word essay to be done by the next day. Getting to the work life I absolutely dreaded Sunday afternoons. And considering I'm not an early riser, let's just say I usually dreaded Sundays on the whole. I'd probably wake up with a hangover of sorts, pretend to be human for the breakfast/brunch/lunch charade, and then realise that I'd have to work tomorrow and all the stress and worry that I was drinking to get away from will be back... reason enough to go back to sleep!

That's all quite stupid because thinking about the moment and what one could do to not stress or be mildly content in the hours before Sunday ends would probably be quite constructive. Keep that one for future reference. Anyway in the last couple of months, I started to use Sundays as yet another social day, introducing outdoor and pub-related activities to my Sunday arvos. So they started to pick up. And notice the busier your social life and calendar, there tends to be an inverse impact on one's bank balance. Coincidence? I think not.

Saw a ridiculous movie as part of the Japanese Film Festival tonight - one of the luxuries of not having to show up to the office tomorrow morning. Went to dinner at one of my favourite little places in Chinatown and forgot to take pics - I'm not going to be the most reliable food blogger, now am I? Did (sort of) manage to get a pic of a koala and rabbit as part of the director's showing of Executive Koala though - it is dark in the cinema, so try and spot the koala:

Minoru Kawasaki (director) at Greater Union, George St introducing Executive Koala

Truly a mad film with a vague attempt at a storyline and a handful of stupidly funny moments. Who would have thought koalas have homicidal nightmares? And that they come from a place called Sydney Village in the north of Japan? And not to forget the frog that runs a convenience store, and the director and crew's cameo at the end of the pyscho killer sequence. Unfortunately for Kawasaki, repeated use of dream sequences and resuscitatation gags did little to help the movie. The thing about foreign films is that they can get away with it. Say for example if the film were in English, it would be panned, as it coincidentally was in Japan. So the foreign aspect of the film compensates for the quality. Personally, anyway. I don't feel like I've been completely ripped off. It was truly as if Kawasaki had always wanted to make a love story, a horror movie, an action movie, and in doing a comedy of Executive Koala, he manages to not really hit any genre at all. Oh well, seeing a koala repeatedly bash a girl against a pole and for her to resuscitate herself and continue the fight scene - pretty funny.

P.S. The Glaswegians continue to enthrall me with their rocking melodies.
P.P.S. Why is it that you can't have been to the dentist recently if you're going to give blood? I'm trying hard to find the correlation...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Westfield is trying to tell me that it's Christmas. And nothing says Christmas like a caged deer in a shopping centre (see below):


Cue the bawling children sitting on Santa's knee. I normally love the festive season - the carols, the shopping, the food and drink, even the tacky decorations. But this year, whether I'm even more cynical and jaded than the year prior or it's the financial/economic crisis weighing a little heavy on me, I'm just not all too excited about Chrissy. And New Year's for that matter. The pressure of having a fab time in Sydney for New Year's shouldn't bother me, but I don't think I can stand another year of loitering around the city with a million others (some of them absolute tools, and then the drunks, and then the drunken tools) looking at the colourful combustion of surely environmentally unfriendly fireworks across the city.

Which brings me on to a little state that's getting me quite giddy and jolly, and pulling out bikinis from the nether regions of my wardrobe:

I'm trying to keep the excitement levels in check because I haven't made any bookings or confirmations as yet. And considering this trip is supposed to be happening in, oh, 3 weeks, I'd better get a move on. So a friend's and my desire to avoid Sydney New Year's (though saying that, I do absolutely adore Sydney - just not so much the New Year's celebrations...) have us looking at Oahu and Hawaii, and Jetstar flights and Waikiki hotel bookings, and my summer wardrobe and bikini collection, and camera and bank balance. It's all very exciting, especially in the planning/visualising stage.

To me, Hawaii is a dream place - somewhere I'd always wanted to go to. Like Disneyland. Maybe that's why it feels kind of surreal to be planning a trip to a dream place. That and the rush in doing it at the moment. On the Tuesday just passed, we were going to Hong Kong. Quick flight check shows that HK is rather expensive, as is Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia... What's reasonable? Honolulu - who would have thought?

So will confirm all on Monday (fingers crossed) when the travel agent gets back to me with a few details on the tour on Hawaii island (also known as Big Island so as not to get confused with the state of Hawaii) and I think it's all set. Ahh, the beauty of spontaneity when you don't need a visa to travel - bless Australia.

So that's what's making me smile today: deer in captivity and plans for Hawaii. That and the rocking sounds of those Scottish Glasvegas lads - got to love that accent.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Humble beginnings

Thus begins the blog:
Toy bee embracing cheeseburger bun bottom

Simple, borderline silly and just there - but it made me smile. Happy meal indeed - or maybe not considering it was left behind in such fashion.

I'm on a quest to find simple sources of happiness and joy - a smile here, a quickened heart beat there - because life's just a series of distractions afterall and it's up to the individual to choose their focus - the inevitable sad, bad, ugliness or the happy, good, beauty.

If I find happiness in a plate, cocktail glass or shoe box - then so be it. Yes, there's certainly more, but baby steps for now.


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