Montreal, CanadaFor the last few years, a good buddy and I have been travelling to Montreal, Canada, a city that we have fallen in love with for its walking neighborhoods, the quietness of a metropolis, the outdoor cafes and restaurants, the beautiful sights of cathedrals and wide esplanades, the carefree Jazz festival, the air of French sensibility without having to cross the Atlantic, and finally the wonderful cuisine that tantalized us during each visit. This francophone city boasts nearly as many restaurants as the top contender, New York City. Here is a list of eating establishments that we have visited and are worth mentioning.
Grilled SalmonBreaded Shrimp

SpanakopitaOn our last trip last week, after getting off the plane and dropping off our bags at the hotel, we immediately made a bee-line to the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood, specifically to Rue Prince Arthur, a pedestrian street lined with open air eating establishments. Here you are able to find local Greek restaurants offering great lunch deals, four-course lunches for around $15. On one visit (usually more than one is paid), my starter was a generous piece of Spanakopita pie consisting of light and flaky filo dough interspersed with some crumbly feta cheese and spinach filling made savory from some enigmatic Greek spices; my friend’s lentil soup in another establishment was his favorite starter. My main course (not entrée – here it means appetizer) was a plate of well-seasoned rice, a tasty and well-dressed Greek salad, some crispy wedges of potato and finally the main star, a healthy piece of grilled salmon steak, moist and perfectly cooked. My friend’s portion of butterflied shrimp was tasty but the breading was off-putting to him; he prefers plain grilled shrimp which he has had before at another establishment that has, unfortunately, burned down. Usually a slice of moist cake and coffee or tea are the remaining courses to the long lunches that we relish in. I would recommend both La Caverne Grecque and La Casa Grecque. A walk to the close-by Square Saint-Louis to look at the quaint French-style homes is our digestif from such a satisfying meal.

Portuguese Grilled ChickenPortuguese Ribs

Portuguese Passion Fruit SodaA bit north of the same area, many Portuguese restaurants abound in this rather diverse neighborhood. We met up with a Haitian-American Facebook friend who lives in this city, and he was dismayed when I had told him I had eaten in a specific Portuguese chicken joint a few year ago, renown for large quantities but nothing else. So, on this trip, he promised that he would take me to another that he particularly enjoys. Rotisserie Portugalia is a small corner establishment with a faded obscure sign which makes it a bit difficult to find. Entering the establishment is deceiving since all you see is a grill and a bar counter; however, the small dining room is at the back. Since the chicken is what this place is known for, my travelling buddy and I both got an order that came with a side of salad, rice, and fries. The sides were decent and tasty, but the attention-grabber was definitely the moist and well-seasoned chicken that was slightly smoky from being properly grilled and spicy from some chili flakes; even the breast meat was flavorful and not dry. My newly-met friend’s ribs were quite good but he said he had better on other occasions – sucking those bones clean sure was not a good indicator of slight discontent! The perfect drink to wash all of this down was Sumol, a Portuguese fruity soda, of which the passion fruit version really hit the spot for all of us. Thanks for the recommendation, mon ami!

Rotisserie Portugalia on Urbanspoon

Schwartz's Deli, MontrealEveryone talks about this place – Schwartz’s Deli. It is located in the same neighborhood, and there seems to be a line of tourists waiting patiently to get in on any given day in the summer. I think the place garners more attention from the fact that Celine Dion’s husband bought this sandwich shop for $10m than the reviews of the sandwiches themselves. Since my buddy and I are not excited about Jewish deli food while in Montreal, we have never entered its doors; the long lines are not exactly enticing either. But all the guide books make mention of this place, hence my two cents worth. If anyone has gone in, please let me know!





Sauteed Salmon with Garlic Flower Sauce

Pork Terrine and Peach ChutneyOn a recent trip, a long-time Salvadoran-Canadian friend took my travelling partner and me to a French-style restaurant around the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. Les Infideles is located off the main St. Denis Boulevard but according to my friend, it is a hidden treasure without the stuffiness of fine dining. The complementary Carrot Soup set the right tone for the rest of the evening with its rich flavors from a good amount of pureed carrot and a full soup body that made this bowl tempting to be licked clean. My friend and I decided to opt for a couple of appetizers since they appeared very appealing especially during the warm week that we had there. The Smoked Fish Plate featured pieces of Trout and Salmon smoked a la minute with Hickory wood that made each moist morsel delectable. The Snails in Blue Cheese Sauce with Puff Pastry was definitely a la francaise with plump snails matched with a perfectly balanced sauce that could have gone overboard. My appetizer of Wild Mushroom tart was bursting with the wild boschiness and the slices of blue cheese sending out its slightly bitter tones, all napped by a rich demi-glace sauce that made this vegetarian dish truly satisfying. My host’s main course of Sauteed Salmon with Garlic Flower Sauce created enough envy to this reviewer’s eyes with the moist piece of fish coated by a rich sauce, accompanied by a bouquet of plump vegetables including the dual-colored carrot that made the dish visually tentalizing. For my main, I choose the Pork Terrine and Peach Chutney which was completely up my alley with the mild and fresh-tasting chilled pressed meat well-matched by a fruity and sweet peach chutney and served with slices of rich Brioche bread. This place is well-worth the hike for its quality cooking, the value (especially for fine French cuisine), and the smart yet relaxed ambience (we complemented the waitress’s eclectic music selection). Another note: this place is BYOB, so stop for a bottle of your favorite vin on your way there.

Lunch at Jean Talon MarketLe Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal

Further up from Le Plateau-Mont Royal neighborhood is the Jean Talon neighborhood which is renown for its large open market. This is where we headed one early afternoon to have lunch. Around the food court you will find different vendors serving a wide variety of cuisines, an indication of the influx of immigration to this part of Canada. My friend had some Indian-styled lentil soup that was spiced by a touch of cumin, a rich buttery croissant, and a mango-orange juice smoothie to wash it all done. I had an Olive Ciabbata filled with roasted vegetables Blue and Goat cheeses that hit the right spots(when on a vegetarian mode) with the sweetness from the vegetables and the richness of the diary products (Brie is unpasteurized in Canada, compared to here, which tastes stronger and more bitter on the rind). For dessert, we walked around the fruits vendors and I sampled all the fruits a la Costco, enjoying all their fruity and sweet glory. We stopped by a vendor and ordered some rich Portuguese egg custard, Nata, and Macaroons that kept beckoning us to sample more unique flavors like Basil Lime. The Jean Talon Market is just off the Metro Jean Talon and worth an afternoon of gastronomic adventure.

Notre Dame, Montreal, CanadaOne of our favorite sights is Old Montreal, by the St. Lawrence River, specifically the Notre-Dame Cathedral. After a couple of hours marveling at the beautiful color-stained windows and lights that barely light up the massive house of prayer, we stopped by Les Glaceurs, an ice-cream and cupcake store. Although it is a local chain, it does not have that commercial feel. The ice-creams are well-made without being too sweet, offering a wide selection including sorbets. The cupcakes look very tempting, but the ice-cream seems to always do its job of satisfying the craving for something sweet while cooling us down. Don’t miss out on this small place located on the side of the cathedral when down by the Notre Dame.





Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken and Grilled shrimp

Not far from the Notre Dame is Chinatown located on the main Boulevard Saint Laurent. Many eating establishments in this area offer Vietnamese cuisine – some Vietnamese moved here due to their knowledge of French taught by their former colonialists. One simple eating establishment that we particularly enjoy is My Canh. My friend’s order of the Combo No. 1 (I’m always wary of anything combo) came with well-marinated grilled beef, chicken, grilled shrimp, along with Imperial roll, salad and rice, which he enjoyed tremendously. My order (Combo No. 2) was similar except mine consisted of lemongrass chicken filled with the root fragrance without being overwhelmed by it or too salty from fish sauce. The fish sauce dip to the tasty Imperial roll was the perfect balance of flavors. The opening clear pho soup was full of flavor and worth every sip. Note: only cash is accepted in this establishment.

My Canh on Urbanspoon

Pita with Brie, Dried Cranberries, & WalnutsSeafood in Beurre Blanc

Grilled Chicken in Mushroom SauceBistro 1272 is located in the gay-friendly part of town, Le Village, where the main Rue Sainte Catherine is closed to pedestrians decorated with overhanging pink balls in mid-air during the warm months. Bumping into some friends there, we decided to join them for dinner. After perusing the menu, I decided to go with the night’s special. The entrée was pita bread filled with flavorful Brie cheese (not the American pasteurized crap) paired with sweet dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, creating a tasty balancing act of flavors. The order of Grilled Chicken in Mushroom Sauce took this cut of poultry to a good place. Moist chicken slices are smothered with a rich and slightly woodsy brown sauce that made it worthwhile mopping up with some bread; the sides of Pommes Purée and vegetables were also well-executed. My friend’s order of Seafood in Beurre Blanc was a revelation for him. The pieces of shrimp, lobster, and scallop were bathed in a rich and flavorful shallot and lobster-infused butter sauce that made my friend effusive throughout his meal. You can find well-executed meals here at a very reasonable price, and it is worthwhile dining al fresco watching the pedestrians stroll by.

Montreal, CanadaAh, we can’t get enough of this charming city every time we visit it. Just when we thought we had calculated enough days for our trip, we always felt a few more would have made it perfect. With such great food, amiable friends and strangers, and wonderful street life and eating ambience, it is hard to press the stop button and come back to the daily grind. But such wonderful experiences only allow us to continue with our trying lives while looking forward to returning to this beautiful respite again and again. With such wonderful gastronomic offerings, Montreal seems to make that call continuously to us, louder each time. We’re coming back soon; don’t worry!

Le Channel

During my recent visit to London, I stayed with my cousin who used to take care of my siblings and me when we had little weekend breaks during the school year in boarding school.   She would spoil us with her wonderful cooking, from French crepes for breakfast to aromatic Malaysian curries for dinner, interspersed by a trip to a good Chinese restaurant.  She is equally an avid foodie like I am, and our meeting-ups are filled with conversations constantly revolving around the topic of gastronomy, to which her sons are perplexed about.  So, on this last trip to the UK, she asked me to reserve a day to make a day-trip to Calais, France.

Le Channel, Calais, France

Le Channel, Calais, FranceHaving driven with her and another couple for an hour-and-a-half to the white cliffs of Dover, we took a ferry that transported us smoothly across the English Channel sailing for around an hour (Hovercrafts are just too choppy of a ride, albeit faster).  After getting off the boat, we immediately used GPS to search for Le Channel, a Michelin-worthy restaurant hugging the French coast not far away from the port that we disembarked from.  Since we had arrived earlier than our reservation time, we walked around parts of the city while our anticipation for fine French cuisine was stirring in our minds and the increasingly hungry bellies.  At 12:30 p.m., the time of our reservation, we walked into the restaurant and took our seats by the expansive window.  I will write this review starting with the photos and the food description of the various diners’ dishes, followed by the review.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Amuse Bouche: Cantaloupe, Iberian Ham, Shrimp, and Russian Vegetable Salad.

Le Channel, Calais, France
First Course 1: Fruits de Mer – Crab, Shrimp, Scampi, Welts, Oysters, and Brown Shrimp.

Le Channel, Calais, France
First Course 2: Foie Gras with Black Salt and Armagnac, Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Caviar, Tender Artichoke Hearts, Yellow Tomato Gelee, Brioche and Cooked Vegetables.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 1: Oven Roasted Red Mullet Fillet, Basque Red Pepper Sauce, Fried White Onions.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 2: Salted Cod Brandade, Sea Bass Beignets, Fresh Peas, Creamed Emulsion of Cooking Juices.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 3: Skillet Steak with Raw Butter, Smoked Eggplant Rounds, Parmesan Cone with Mushrooms, Avocado Sauce.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 4: Sole Murniere, Seasonal Vegetables.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Cheese and Dried Fruit Plate – the waiter’s recommendation of three of the strongest cheeses in the house.

Le Channel, Calais, France

Chariot de Dessert: Mille Feuille, Opera, Multi Fruits, Paris Brest, Iles Flottantes, French Trifles, Mousse de Chocolat, Mousse de Café.
Le Channel, Calais, France
Dessert Plate: Multi Fruits, Iles Flottantes, French Trifle.

As the saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words” or in this case, many photos. Looking at them, they represent what the true experience was about: top-quality fresh ingredients as in the huge starter of Fruits de Mer, exceptional cooking, creative pairing of ingredients as in the Avocado Sauce and Smoked Eggplant with the Steak, well-seasoned components as in the  heavenly Potatoes cooked in stock with my Sole Murniere and the Basque Red Pepper Sauce with the Red Mullet, the eye-opening variety in the menu with the incredible array of Desserts and Cheeses, and the incredible value for this to-die-for meal at this high fine dining level (31 Euros and 39 Euros).  The décor was impeccable yet not intimidating, service was efficient and a bit cheeky at times, and the ambience conducive to truly enjoying the experience and savoring the delectable dishes without being pressured or rushed – we took 3 hours (aren’t we supposed to, anyway?).  All the diners at my table were constantly effusive about their own selections with the exception of a couple who found some of the cheeses way too strong in smell and flavor to be palatable.  I enjoyed every crumble of strong cheese that I would not get to taste in the US due to pasteurization laws, and the dried fig and apricot were the perfect foil and palate relief to the assertive dairy.

Calais, FranceHaving lunch at Le Channel was truly a highlight for me and I am thankful to my cousin for organizing this wonderful gastronomic trip.  Interestingly, we all walked away from the table well-sated on my levels, yet we were not waddling out of there despite the quantity of food we had ingested.  I tagged along my cousin to the local Hypermarket where she stocked up on all the local produce to bring back to her home in London.  Walking around, I couldn’t help but marvel at the quality and variety of ingredients that inspire the French to appreciate good cooking and make food an integral part of their culture.  A simple meal on the trip back of French Baquette, Mushroom-scented Brie, and French Ham was a good end to this marvelous trip that is well-imbedded in this reviewer’s mind, and it will be replayed over and over again until the grove is worn down.

San Francisco

After a chilling winter in the East Coast (it snowed in DC on the second day of my SF trip) and a two-year hiatus, I decided to spend my Spring Break holiday in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco.  It is definitely a big change of locale for me as its energy is totally different and refreshing from the East Coast vibe, who tends to get suffocating after a while. Besides the nicer weather and change of scenery, one thing I enjoy and look forward to is a wide variety of restaurants that can be attributed to the cosmopolitan feel of the city and the different culinary influences stemming from the various immigration groups that have landed in the Bay Area.  Without much further ado, here is a quick run down of places that I visited in one week.


Since I was visiting my college buddy dating back to the first day of Graduate school in Maryland 24 years ago, he chose our first meal to celebrate his birthday at Cha Cha Cha in the Haight neighborhood.  This local chain has a few branches in the area and it serves up a menu that represents various Latino culinary traditions, or Pan Latino.  Our opener was the popular pickled seafood, Ceviche, that was brimming with small shrimp, bay scallops (the smaller ones), and squid.  The seafood morsels were sweet and tender, well pickled by the lime juice, and fragrant with some jalapeño pepper and cilantro.  A side of sweet plantains were as good as they get, accompanied by a smooth paste of refried black beans.  The seafood paella was rather decent with pieces of shrimp, tender pieces of fish and some mussels, embedded in some aromatic rice made yellow sans the pricey saffron threads.  However the Jerk Chicken was not close to any authentic version that I have savored – it was tasty but the name was a total misnomer.  Despite the last dish, this meal was a pretty good start to my gastronomic week.


For his birthday dinner, my buddy chose Cafe Ethiopia in the Mission District.   Our orders arrived on a large enameled platter covered with the sourdough injera bread, topped by the various protein and vegetables.  I was quite impressed by the dishes since each was very tasty and held its distinctive flavor and character while setting themselves apart from each other.  The orders that impressed me most were the collard greens, the lentils, and the salmon dish that had moist chunks of the seafood covered by a tasty but not overpowering sauce.  An order of goat was a bit unfortunate as a bit more cooking would have made them less tough.  The extra pieces of injera bread were the perfect vehicle to scoop up the food and the accompanying sauces.  One of the guests exclaimed that this was the best Ethiopian food he has tasted in the Bay Area. and I must agree that it was as good as the ones found in the DC area replete with restaurants of this East African cuisine.


Staying at the Haight district, I stumbled across this little dive serving Thai food – The Best of Thai Noodle.  I must say that such name tends to conjure up some suspicion, but I decided to give them a try for lunch.  I ordered the Combination Of Sliced Rare Beef, Beef Stew, And Beef Meatballs Noodle Soup since I was in the mood for such a noodle soup dish on a cool day.  The bowl arrived with strands of wide rice noodles swimming in a very rich fragrant soup filled with pieces of stewed beef pieces and beef meatballs.  With my first bite, I recognized the dish that I have had recently – Boat Market Noodle Soup.  Upon enquiring, the waitress confirmed my observation.  This bowl was as good as the one I had a few months back in Thai Square with the heady cassia and star-anise laced soup, the tender pieces of beef and meatballs, and the fresh noodles.  Looking at the menu, this small joint offers an amazing array of authentic dishes from this Southeast Asian tradition.  This establishment is definitely worth checking out despite its rather dingy appearance.

The Slanted Door

The Slanted DoorFor lunch the next day, I decided to go Vietnamese, and I stopped by the most reputed Vietnamese restaurant in the area located in the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal – The Slanted Door.  I had eaten at this establishment a few years back and I was looking forward to it again after the absence.  For the starter, I ordered some Chilled Wild Louisiana Gulf Shrimp.  Large pieces of shrimp came with sides of chili spiced cocktail sauce and a Thai basil aioli.  The shellfish were perfectly cooked and their sweetness in each bite was indicative of the freshness and quality, complemented by the irresistible sauces.  For the main course, I ordered the Grilled Pork Belly and Meatball Rice Vermicelli Noodles.  Basically this is the supped up version of the Bun Noodle Salad enhanced by large pieces of moist savory grilled meatballs, tender pieces of tasty pork belly, and pieces of the house Imperial Roll made with chunks of shrimp and ground pork- this was a hearty, satisfactory and flavor-packed bowl.

The Slanted DoorFor dessert, I couldn’t help but hone in on something whimsical listed on the menu despite feeling rather full after the above dishes – Lemongrass Cotton Candy.  A big cloud of this spun sugar arrived at my table that left me bug-eyed by the unexpected size – I guess I have not been to the local fair in a number of years.  When the dessert arrived, I slowly tore pieces away from it, with a bigger amount each time.  It is basically your typical cotton candy with a citrusy and slightly grassy lemongrass flavor that made this childhood favorite as irresistible to the now adult.  I literally had to stop myself from finishing the whole mass and I got the rest packed for home.  The meal at this Modern Vietnamese restaurant was worth every dollar spent with the high level of cooking, the artful presentation, and the authentic flavors that left me satisfied and dreaming of this gastronomic experience.  Btw, don’t forget the Lychee Ice Tea that made the perfect thirst quencher with the above dishes – exotic and refreshing at the same time.

Spicy Eggplant and Mushrooms.Golden Era Lemongrass "Chicken"

No where is better to try Vegan/Vegetarian cuisine than in the West Coast, and I returned to my and BFF’s favorite establishment- Golden Era Vegan Restaurant.  A vegetable dish that we have enjoyed and always ordered is Spicy Eggplant Mushroom.  Pieces of purple skinned Asian eggplant are paired with fresh button mushrooms, crunchy carrots, slivers of onion, and large pieces of green onions, all coated in a slightly sweet spicy sauce that brings all the different elements together harmoniously.  A must order is the house’s most popular dish, and rightfully so – Lemongrass Deluxe.  Pieces of mock chicken have been spiced up by a heady amount of shaved lemongrass and a dry spicy sauce, ringed by crispy bright green broccoli florets that make the perfect mild foil to the herbacious spicy “chicken” bits.  The platter comes with a generous amount of the protein, and this dish always delivers.  I have spent days dreaming before coming to the West to savor this vegan delight.  Word of warning: it is located in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood but walking distance from downtown, hence the importance of having a dining companion with you for the walk.


Suzu Japanese Noodle HouseWith a large population of Japanese descent, it would be amiss to not savor authentic Japanese cuisine in Japantown, located in the Fillmore neighborhood.  That is where I headed to for lunch one day to savor some Japanese Ramen noodles in Suzu Japanese Noodle House recommended by my college buddy.  Agedashi was the first order, consisting of tofu chunks that have been fried in a light batter, sitting on a pool of dashi sauce and topped with a piece of eggplant tempura, grated daikon and fresh ginger, and slivers of bonito flakes and dried seaweed.  This was a bowl of clean pure flavors that just left a serene contentment within.  For the main course, I ordered Spicy Pork and Egg in Spicy Broth Ramen. The bowl came with a mound of al dente egg Ramen noodles topped by a single sliver of roast pork (meat as a garnish, not main course), half a boiled egg, pieces of bamboo shoot pickle, raw spinach leaves, and topped by a mound of white leek strips.  The soup was a fairly rich meat stock spiced up by some slightly smoky chili paste.  The bamboo spoon to help slurp the soup added a level of authenticity in addition to the small diner that whisked me away to a cramped eatery in the Far East.  Be prepared to be patient for a table in this small establishment, but it is worth the wait.


_6002278.jpgOne of my favorite parts of the city is North Beach where many Italian eateries can be found.  Caffe Greco is a spacious deli that serves Paninis, and my order made with Prosciutto ham, Mozzarella cheese, and Red Pepper was the perfect afternoon bite with the salty meat, mild and slightly creamy cheese, and the pickled red pepper slivers that added the acid touch and herbal oregano flavors to the airy pieces of pressed Foccacia bread that held the fillings together.  My companion’s sandwich made with turkey and large ribbons of zucchini was equally successful, albeit milder in flavor.  The accompanying side salad was well-made with the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette coating the healthy mix of a variety of lettuces, making the lunch complete. To chase the bites down, we ordered the house special, Grecco Sunrise.  A tall glass of Orangina is spiked with a shot of cherry syrup which turned it orangey red at the lower half, hence its name.  It was the perfect sip with our sandwiches in this part of town that evokes the Mediterranean.


_6002353.jpgFor dinner, my college mate invited me for some raw seafood at Sushi Time in the Castro area.  Located in a small mall, this cramped space has only a few tables along with the sushi bar, and when we got there, a line was waiting for a table.  An opener of a Seaweed Salad and a Cooked Spinach Salad were simple but tasty appetizers.  The Avocado Tuna Tartar was delectable with pieces of spicy tune paired with creamy avocado punctuated by pieces of fresh asparagus.  The pieces of sushi tasted clean and fresh, as good as most good sushi joints, and there was a good variety for the diner.  What stood out for us was a serving of Butterfish sashimi which exuded clean yet a rich unctuous texture and flavor.  The set menus are reasonable and priced competitively. Like the ramen eatery, it is worth the wait and the cramp space has that Japanese urban feel.


I was the honored guest of a brunch hosted by a Facebook social group that I am a member of, and we met at Catch in the Castro neighborhood.  This spacious space serves American fare with a heavy emphasis on seafood.  What caught my attention was the Salmon BLT which came with an option of a simple salad, Ceaser salad, or french fries – where else can you find a seafood BLT but in Cali!  My sandwich came with perfect sautéed salmon fillets with a crispy exterior but moist inside, topped by crispy bacon and spicy arugula leaves, moistened by a citrus aioli, enclosed by pieces of crispy french baguette.  I really enjoyed this sandwich with the well cooked and well matched ingredients.  The side Caesar salad was creamy with the rich tangy dressing and shards of Parmesan cheese.  Everyone in the group seemed to enjoy their pasta or seafood dishes.  If only I could have tasted someone’s seafood soup that looked very temptingly rich and brimming with pieces of the sea.


For my last meal before heading to the airport, we walked up to Cole Valley to La Boulange (not Le Boulanger).  This is a local chain that has branches in many parts of town, serving up French pastries, meals, and drinks. My mini sandwich of Smoked Salmon was excellent with the quality fish paired with a slathering of cream cheese and bits of red onion and green chives sandwiched by the well-made roll.  An order of Almond Croissant hit the right spot with the short flakiness of its dough (not stretchy elastic) sweetened by the rich almond paste filling and accentuated by a plethora of toasted almond slivers on top – it is one of the best almond croissants I have tasted in a long time.  My friend’s French Toast was decadent, consisting of a round sponge cake dipped in an eggy custard (real eggs) and cooked gently to produce a light ethereal version of this breakfast staple, washed down by a decent “bol” of roasted Cafe au Lait.  For my flight home, I took out a Walnut Baguette with Prosciutto and Figs, which was an interesting tasty combination.  A dessert of Lemon Custard Turnover was the perfect flaky pastry with the rich sweet lemony filling that made me wish I had another order – it definitely sweetened the long-haul home.  Now, I see why reviewers give this chain an overwhelming thumbs-up, and deserving so.

Ah, San Francisco – The city of Beauty and Great Eats! Here is my photo essay of the city: San Francisco

Bistro D’oc

Bistro D'ocOn New Year’s Day, while walking down 10th St. NW near the heart of the financial district, I came across a quaint looking building, beaming like a sore thumb amidst an ocean of modern glass and steel structures.  When I noticed the large “Bistro” sign in the window, it thrilled me to know that there was a French eatery in the heart of town.  After having reviewed other French establishments in the MD suburbs (See K Town Bistro) and in the VA neighborhood of Alexandria (See Yves Bistro), I was eager to add a downtown locale to the list of restaurants of one of my favorite cuisines.

Located across the street from the infamous Ford’s Theater in which President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Bistro D’oc sits in a wooden and brick structure dating back to the 1830’s.  Walking through its doors you are immediately assaulted by the rich orange walls and deep ocean blue trimmings that evoke the colors of the Mediterranean.  This establishment celebrates the traditions and regional cuisine of Languedoc, hence the restaurant’s name, serving dishes commonly found in that southwest French province that borders Spain and the Mediterranean.  In addition to the bright color scheme, you are immediately transported to a different ambience that is a prelude of what to expect from a dining experience enhanced by the surrounding wooden structure, the old wall sconces, and the side furniture that evoke a yesteryear.


DSC_1720.jpgOn my first visit, I invited my BFF to join me for dinner to celebrate my birthday.  From the moment of taking a seat, the attention to details are noticeable by the diner.  A complementary serving of bread and butter sets itself apart from the usual humdrum.  Here we have a large slab of fresh butter that is a far cry from the chintzy prepackaged little aluminium foil squares.  The French bread is truly veritable in quality with the hard outer crust covering an airy yet hearty flavorful inside.  On another visit, the glass of Burgundy that came as part of the $25 Pre/Post-Theater dinner was decent for a house wine that was low in tannin and rather full in body.  It is the attention to these minor details that sets the right mood for the rest of the meal.




DSC_1305.jpgFor the appetizer on this occasion, I honed in on a vegetarian dish listed as a special, Eggplant Paté.  It arrived in a beautiful Le Creuset mini pot (I looked at its bottom) along with a few home-made croutons.  Digging into the pot, I was incredulous at the dish that consisted of  just roasted eggplant due to the rich flavors that permeated each mouthful.  Smooth bits of roasted eggplant are held in suspension by a rich puree that has been scented by some woodsy-minty thyme that added the note of interest.  Bits of cooked tomato contributed some slight sweetness to the whole dish.  The croutons were thin enough yet crusty to support a mound of this deliciousness but they quickly ran out before I reached the bottom of the pot – thank goodness for the slices of that tasty baguette.  This was truly a wonderfully delicious vegetarian paté, if there were one.




Since my BFF was on his drastic diet for his upcoming Caribbean cruise, he opted for the Salad Languedoc.  The plate arrived with a mound of mixed greens piled on, topped with confit chicken gizzard, surrounded by a couple of paper-thin slices of Bayonne ham, with a truffle of peppered chicken liver pate, and finished with a light dressing of a decent tangy vinaigrette.  BFF and I were amazed at the tender bits of gizzard whose flavor was intensified by the confit (cooked in fat), the liver paté truffle smooth, rich, and pungent from the pepper, and the paper-thin ham tasted aged and musty from the barn that it was cured in, which is a good thing in this instance.  Here, we see in this dish the roots of Modern French cuisine stemming from country fare that are well done and sensitive to quality ingredients – hearty yet sublime.


DSC_1319.jpgFor my main course (let’s not confuse it with the American misuse of the word entrée) I decided to order something that I rarely come across in the menu of most French establishments – Cassoulet Languedoc.  This hearty stew consists of French white haricot beans that have been stewed in a rich sauce and enriched by healthy chunks of duck confit (cooked in duck fat), lamb, pork, and Toulouse sausage.  This is a hearty gut-sticking food that speaks of the humble origins of this unfussy dish.  The beans were cooked just right, being not too soft and maintaining its integrity without being chalky firm, while the sauce it swam in was flavored by some aromatics and a good dose of woodsy thyme.  The various pieces of meat lent their own distinctive flavors to this dish from the rich duck confit, to the slightly gamey lamb, the pieces of porcine delight, and the flavorful and slightly fatty sausage.  The earthen bowl that the dish was served in added to the character of the dish that took this diner to a remote French farm where this stew would often be cooked.   In addition to my fawning over the unctousness of this bean dish, I admired the restaurant’s offering this time-consuming dish that many places would avoid serving.  This is classic Languedoc fare from the Southwest France, and with this dish this restaurant delivers.

DSC_1321.jpgAs a treat for my birthday on my first visit, I decided to indulge in the dessert special for that day.  It was offering an array of macaroons, and my order consisted of a couple made from coffee.  These were two perfectly round crispy yet crumbly discs made from merengue flavored with some coffee essence, stuffed with a creamy filling again flavored with the same heady coffee essence and with some nutty crushed hazelnut bits mixed in.  They were the perfect sweet bites to end the meal after having sated myself with the above rich dishes.  Small, sweet, and satisfying.







As part of the Pre/Post-theater $25 three-course deal, I decided to start my meal with a Duck Rillette Paté.  A small bowl of this rich meat paste came served with a couple of the house-made croutons.  Pieces of shredded duck confit meat have been congealed with duck fat and heavily seasoned with black pepper.  The pate was smooth and quite meaty with a good dose of pepper bite in each bite.  The croutons were not enough to cover the amount of paté but the day was saved by the French bread slices.  However, I got a bit bored by the rich dish as the amount was rather generous, and the addition of some herbs or the heady truffle would have made it more interesting to my palate.  But I appreciated the rusticity in this version of pate which is the hallmark of this regional French cuisine.


For my second course, I order Salmon in a Butter Red Pepper Sauce.  The moderate-size piece of salmon arrived napéd with a butter sauce studded with bits of sweet red and green peppers.  The piece of fish was moist, flaky, and perfectly cooked from having some time in the oven, complemented by a surprisingly light buerre blanc that added a richness to the salmon.  The chiffonade of fresh basil added a surprising anise flavor to the sauce and interesting touch to the dish.  The accompanying white basmati rice was well cooked with a tinge of salt to elevate it beyond pure starch.  A few capers thrown in to the sauce would have made the flavors perfect, but I was very satisfied with this dish and its skilful preparation.


To round off this set of trio, I chose the Rasberry Mousse Bavaroise as my last course.  A glass arrived filled with the egg-cream-gelatine mixture at the bottom topped by a fairly thick layer of rasberry-blueberry compote.   The creamy bottom was filled with the raspberry flavor while its airy lightness somehow managed to defy the richness of the custard.   The topping was packed with soft chunks of cooked fruit providing the sweet fruitiness that paired perfectly with its bottom counterpart.  This was the perfect finale to the three-act meal that was satisfying with the flavors, made with moderate sized portions, and they were a demonstration of the kitchen’s knowledgeable skilful cooking.   This $25 deal is worth driving early to the city or visiting after a night out for a play.


Bistro D’oc is a downtown location that offers unfussy, tasty, and skillfully cooked food that pays tribute to the Southwest region of France, the region from which the owner’s patriarch claims his roots in his homeland.  The dishes possess a level of humble earthiness while exuding a level of sophistication that is expected from French cuisine, a fare that can rarely be found in other places like the hearty Cassoulet, the rich Duck Rillette Paté, and the gizzard studded Salad Languedoc.  This place is replete with a warm and welcoming ambience that makes the diner most welcome without feeling the stuffiness that can be found in some establishments.  With their interesting and enticing offerings,the dinner specials, and the $25 deal, Bistro D’oc will see this diner popping in through their doors quite frequently in the future to savor this delicious French fare that speaks to the soul.

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K Town Bistro

During my youthful college days as a Spanish major, I was seriously contemplating running off to Cuba or Nicaragua to spend time perfecting my Spanish and realizing some kind of Socialist mission that filled my sense of idealism.  Knowing that my parents would balk and send an intervention team (aka my siblings), I toned this thought down and ended up in Spain.  In my mid-teens and as a boarder in a British high school, my classmates and I would go on field trips to London to visit the British Museum and the Tate Gallery, and invariably I would end up giving mini tours to my mates explaining the elusive messages hidden within the Modern Masters, albeit off the mark most of the time – again, my sense of reaching to the masses and breaking down the barriers between high art and the common man is evident here.  As an adult, I bring this same sensibility in my approach and search for French cuisine, which I find can be quite inaccessible both gastronomically and financially.

DSC_7486.jpgEver since my discovery of a quaint and irresistible French bistro, Yves’ Bistro (see blog), in the Alexandria, Va area, I have been keeping my eyes, and most surely my appetite, ready and wide open in finding another establishment that is worth visiting and writing about, accessible to the average person on many levels.   Recently, another online offer popped up which urged me to stop in at a new restaurant in the suburb of Kensington, MD.

K Town Bistro is located along the local commuter train tracks, nestled among a bunch of antique shops that appear to have aged nearly as much as the merchandise displayed in the storefront windows.   It is rather easy to bypass it without noticing its presence due to its understated facade and the lack of foot traffic in this quiet part of historic Kensington.  Such quietude only adds to the charm of the area, thus setting up a proper mind frame for a more relaxed and refined meal, as if one were to be transported to a small quaint town on the Continent where time and activity have slowed down by quite a few notches.  A bubbling brook instead of the railroad tracks would have framed the mood and ambience for this gastronomic experience as purely idyllic.


The restaurant has been opened for just over a year and on my first visit, it was rather busy on a Thursday evening, which was a good sign for what was going to come.  According to the website, the owner had worked for around 20 years at the famed Watergate Hotel, and the chefs had done their stints at high-end restaurants in the area before leaving for further training in France.  With this information in mind and looking at the filled tables, a sense of anticipation started to creep in me, along with a fairly ravenous appetite and a stomach that was speaking its noisy familiar language.


To start the meal off, I chose the Lobster Bisque, a classic soup which is a good indicator of the kitchen’s skill level.  The soup here is made with sherry and cream, and it arrived in a bowl that was dainty and elegant enough to showcase its luxuriousness.   The broth was packed with the rich crustacean stock, not overly rich by the cream, a slight boozy note from the sherry, and it had some depth from the use of aromatics, the slightly bitter tamale (head matter), and some proper cooking.  It arrived piping hot, as how I like my soups, with some garlic croutons that provided the flavor and textural contrast.  I could not get enough of this satisfactory slurp, and pieces of french bread were used to wipe up every drop in the bowl – it was bowl licking good! On the second visit, a companion’s order of the day’s special, Lentil Soup, was equally delectable.  The soup was rich and creamy, even without the use of diary, as a result of the use of aromatics that added rich flavor and body to these simple legumes.  Instead of a chunky version, it came in a pureed form which further added to the rich silkiness.  With these couple of bowls, we already notice the kitchen’s knowledge and skill in their set of first offerings.


A couple of salads were the next course.  On one visit, I ordered the House Salad.  It was quite peppery from a combination of field greens and a hefty amount of arugula leaves, balanced by perfectly ripened rich bits of avocado, sweet pungent red onions, slightly tart creamy chevre cheese, sweet and tart tomatoes, all disparate elements perfectly dressed by a slightly sweet and light coating of a proper vinaigrette.  Simple but sumptuous.  A Beet Salad was the order on another visit.  Cubes of sweet yellow beets are paired with equally sweet but more mineral-tasting red beets, topped with slightly sweet fried parsnip shavings coupling up with candied pecans to provide the textural and flavor contrast to the soft beet cubes.   The tangy vinaigrette and nuggets of chevre cheese added some level of acidity to the dish thus avoiding any cloying sweet effect.  This was truly a vegetable delight worth calling a respectable vegetarian entrée.


On my first visit, an offering of Cod and Crab Cake was my main course.  The piece of cod was amazingly fresh with no hint of ammonia, which cod tends to accumulate quickly.  It was cooked perfectly judging by the moist large flakes of flesh and the slightly golden exterior with the hint of buttery richness.  Perching on top of the fillet is a small crab cake that was decent with large lump meat barely held together by a binder.  The seafood was accompanied by a wonderful Bernaise sauce perfumed by tarragon that added the slight anise flavor thus lightening the butter base sauce – despite its richness, I was lapping up every drop of it.  The sides of mashed potato and greens were quite good but perfunctory in comparison to the staring ingredients.


The restaurant offers a Prix-Fixe Lunch Menu which consists of 2 courses for $16.  On one visit, my companion ordered Salmon Cakes.  The fish rounds were made with fresh salmon flakes and studded with red and green pepper bits.  As in French cuisine, equal emphasis is placed on the sauce, and the Red Pepper Coulis was the perfect slightly sweet partner to the mild salty cakes.  The side of Spinach Fondue was decent, but the Roasted Potato wedges were quite heavenly with the golden crispy exterior and the fluffy inside, making this starch bites very irresistible.  This was a fulfilling and well-balanced lunch course.


For my lunch order, I decided to go out on a whim and order something not favored by many – Calf Liver.  The pieces of organ meat were still tender from the proper cooking and not too bitter for being young of age.  Nothing can remove the strong flavors of liver, but the shallot red wine sauce helped to make the liver more palatable and even quite tasty for this reviewer.  The side of vegetables tasted fresh and well-balanced with pieces of sweet carrots, crispy haricot vert (French green beans), and sweet parsnips.  The mash potato was decent but I prefer mine with lots of butter and cream, which this version could have done with more.   However, this was indeed tasty and quite refined for a liver dish.


A French meal is not complete without savoring the dessert offering.  For dinner, I forced my stuffed and sated stomach to make room for a couple of spoonfuls of the classic Creme Brulée.  The custard was rich, thick, packed with real vanilla flavor (judging by the seeds), and the burnt sugar topping was perfectly executed.  The dessert was doing a number on me at this stage but I had to pull in the reins and hold the horses as the custard came in a decent portion – the following day’s tasting of the leftovers was equally satisfying and I devoured it in a couple of minutes.  For my second visit, the owner was kind enough to offer us a complementary trio of desserts – K Town Bistro Trio.  It consists of the fore mentioned burnt custard, “banana split”, and dark chocolate mousse.  Banana slices have been caramelized and they sit on a pool of rich and irresistible creme anglaise and berry sauce.  The mousse was very rich with a slight bitter-sour aftertaste from the use of good dark chocolate.  Verdict on this trio – C’est tres magnifique!  Despite being stuffed from the savory dishes, we were diving into these sweet offerings like teenagers looking for a sugar high, and we were marvelling with each spoonful.  When you visit, make sure to leave some room for this must-order.

K Town Bistro is a gem of French cuisine due to the skilful kitchen that offers wonderful classic dishes at a moderate price, which fulfils my criteria for good accessible French food.  The charm of its location and the attentive wait staff add to the comfortable and satisfying dining experience.   I see myself becoming a regular at this inviting restaurant, returning back for their delectable courses.  I suspect you will do the same once you have paid it your first visit.

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Yves Bistro

After nearly 12 hours on a Spanish train with not one common language spoken among all four fellow passengers cooped up in my couchette cabin, and having just finished a six-month study stint in Madrid, I arrived in Paris in the late 80’s to get re-acquainted with a long-time French friend I met a few years back in college.  Great anticipation was running though me as I was eager to venture into a major city touted for its artistic and architectural beauty and for its renowned cuisine.  To my mild surprise, the trip was both a revelation and a disappointment.  My experiences were marred by an over-priced can of coke ($12) at the Notre Dame (naive tourist like me), an unsatisfying Haute Cuisine salad ($20) that barely sated my appetite (Haute is not that hot!), and mediocre bistro food at the Latin Quarter that catered to poor students (moi included).  The upside of the trip, besides Paris’ sheer beauty, was the discovery of Boulangeries (Delis) in which I would purchase baguette sandwiches filled with tasty cold cuts, patés, and a generous dollop of good grain mustard.  Biting into the crusty sandwiches made me wonder if there was French food that was accessible, reasonably priced, and delectable at the same time.

Upon returning to Washington DC, I visited the long-time Bistro Francais in Georgetown where I was rewarded a few decent meals, especially 3-course Early Bird Specials that came with a glass of wine for less than $20 ($25 now).  I had heard of another local haunt, Au Pied Du Cochon, which was a late nighter in the same area that I never had the chance to visit before its much-publicized demise.  Visits to a few high-end area French restaurants only confirmed to me that they can be stuffy, overpriced, and underwhelming.

Around a year ago, a regular dining companion of mine told me of a French bistro that opened up in the Alexandria, VA neighborhood near the Eisenhower metro station.  He was exclaiming how he enjoyed a simple Mesclun salad with a wonderful Quiche, all for a reasonable price.  Such words from a fellow gourmand propelled me to discover it, and many visits have I paid it.

Soup du Poisson

From the first visit, Yves Bistro has won my heart and appreciation for good French cuisine.  The kitchen’s expertise is evident in their first offering of appetizers.  The French Onion Soup is onion-filled, slightly woodsy from the obligatory use of thyme, and topped with a slice of baguette and gratinéed cheese.  The Fish Soup (Soup de Poisson) is a light fish tomato broth scented with rosemary and dotted with small chunks of moist fish, topped with a slice of baguette drizzled with a rich Rouille sauce.  A menu special of Carrot Soup once proofed to be not too successful as it was rather bland and lacking the root sweetness.  But the kitchen seems to have the menu standards down pat.

Paté de Foie de Canard

The Smoked Salmon, Clams Casino, Mussel stew, and Escargot dishes are fairly good and worth an order.  But the true appetizer stars are the Duck Liver Mousse Paté  and the Duck Leg Confit.  The Paté is rich and fresh, quite heady from generous bits of black truffle studded through it, and complemented by a couple of cornichons and nicoise olives that provide the palate the necessary briny relief from the richness.  The lovely presentation on beautiful Lenox chinaware augments the sense of its lusciousness.

Duck Leg Confit

Although it is listed as an appetizer, I prefer to order the Duck Leg Confit as my main course after not having refrained from the above soups and appetizers.  The slightly salty, crispy yet moist duck leg comes perched on some sautéed spinach sitting on a bed of perfectly cooked Puys lentils.  This is truly a hearty and satisfying dish with tender pieces of succulent duck well complemented by the vibrant greens and the tender legumes.

Yves Salad
Sometimes the simplest dish is a good indicator of a light hand and knowledgeable kitchen, as in the case of the Yves Salad.  It comprises of baby spinach, arugula, friezé, and red leaf lettuce, that are lightly coated with a good french vinagrette, topped with tasty garlic croutons and roasted walnuts.  Simple, tasty, and satisfying – need I say more.

Broiled Lobster

There are some shining stars among the main courses, that is if you haven’t stuffed yourself with appetizers yet.  The classic Trout Almondine is well handled here with a slight butteriness present on the moist fish and flakey almond slivers.  Accompanying it are a veritable Ratatouille and some Alsacian-like sweet sour red cabbage.  Another seafood fare that is quiet popular and a favorite of mine is the broiled whole Maine lobster that is cooked succulent, topped with a simple slaw, and served with a pile of to-die-for Frites (sans le ketchup to make it fit for any adult).  Where can you find large sweet lobsters for around $16?  Definitely not in France! The Italian Seafood Stew aka Cioppino is offered regularly and it is over-filling with fresh chunks of mussels, fish, and scallops, swimming in an herbal tomato broth that is worth dunking the accompanying toast in.  A lighter fare of different Quiches (Spinach, Mushroom, or Lorraine) is offered with a side of salad.  The Sirloin Steak seems popular here (for $18!) and it is high on the next visit list.  The combination of Beef Bourguignon on pasta was an awkward pairing for me but it was quite tasty.

Apple Raisin Strudel

On most visits, guilt starts to creep in at this point for having sated ourselves with such wonderful, inexpensive, and obviously rather rich food.  So, most times, desserts have been totally out of the question.  However, on my last visit, we were celebrating a friend’s 35th birthday (his internet age!), and he had a craving for something decadent.  We were advised by our charming manager to get the Apple Raisin Strudel.  The flakey Phylo top was slightly buttery, and the bottom of the ramekin replete with soft apples, bits of walnut, and slightly tart raisins – a dollop of vanilla ice cream helped to seal the deal.  The usual French dessert fare of Poached Pears and Creme Brulée are not amiss here.

The atmosphere of the place can be described as charming, relaxed, and warm.  Near the kitchen are photos of Yves, the former owner of the now defunct Au Pied Du Cochon, who still makes his rounds from table to table without the gallop of yesteryear but still with his witty charm.  Our Mongolian-born manager regales us with her smile, her attentiveness, and an occasional sip of Calvados.  And the Syrian-born chef spoils us with his knowledgeable, passionate and skillful cooking that keeps us coming back to revel in what French food is truly about.   My dining companions and I wish that this place could remain a hidden secret, but a delightful place like Yves Bistro will soon be a favorite of many French food lovers.

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