Aikawa – Best Sushi Lunch on the West Island

Ok – that’s my view, and if you disagree – let me know where else I should be going! No joking on that. I’m willing and able to try anything, but as of right now – today – I’m going out on a limb and saying Aikawa is tops.

First off – the lunch is just $15 for the ‘initiation’ – a plate of 15 maki’s – all different, all yummy. Included is soup and salad and tea. So to my mind – perfect. Well, ok – I’d rather it was less $$ – but still – it’s a pretty good deal.

The service at Aikawa is always excellent. Most of the staff has been there forever, and they know both their jobs, and their sushi. So they can answer questions, get your meal to you promptly, and disappear quickly when you look to be talking business.

And the tables are nicely spaced – you can’t hear the people at the table next to you – a delightful change from the bistro mode that is sweeping so many of the restaurants these days. The Aikawa harkens back to the old days of deep carpets and glass barriers between tables. Nice for those of us more interested in our dining companions than the people at the nearby tables.

And the maki are quite good. With 15 different tasting nibbles, you can forgive a miss here and there – because the next one is perfect for your taste. Completely works.

Complaints? I wish they’d put at least one of the really up scale maki on the lunch special – Tuna Flower say. And at my latest lunch, all the maki were wrapped in Soy wrappers not Seaweed. I liked it – nay – I loved it, but I can image some purists thinking that old school is better.

Other lunch options – none of which I’ve ever tried – include platters of sushi and sushi maki mixtures. And of course the traditional menu is always available, you don’t have to do the lunch special!

Bottom line – I like it. An easy A for effort, for food, and for surroundings.

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Aikawa on Foodio54

Shrek vs Young Frankenstein – a Tale of 2 Summer Stock Musicals

What possess people to take a movie – even a hit movie – and transform it into a Musical? Imagine the conversation – “Well, we made millions on the movie – surely people will pay big bucks to see the same story with some dumb music added, right?” Aren’t they a bit embarrassed? Particularly if the ‘Musical’ flops?

I’m guessing that the lure of more money is simply irresistable and drowns out the voice of common sense.

Of course – I paid to see the both musicals. So what does that make me? Dumb and Dumber?

But having promised honest reviews – here goes.

The 2 ‘Musicals’ in question were Young Frankenstein – The ‘Musical’, and Shrek – The ‘Musical’. Both movies should be pretty familiar to all my readers – but if you don’t know the stories – or haven’t seen either lately – I suggest watching them again before reading further. They are both outstanding movies – fast paced and extremely funny. ‘Walk This Way’, ‘Roll in the Hay’, and ‘Put the Candle Back’ – even without the accents – always make me smile. And I can’t think of Donkey without getting a giggle started.

So I was pretty up to see these performances. Young Frank was put on at the Ogunquit Playhouse, a professional summer theatre house in Maine that takes it’s self very seriously, even while doing musicals like ‘Guys and Dolls’ or ‘The Music Man’. They hire professional actors, the sets are well-built, the performers properly miked for sound, the hall is air-conditioned, and the price is high without being silly – it is ‘Summer Stock’ after all.

Shrek on the other hand was produced by the Arundel Barn Playhouse – also ‘professional’, but on the – first job – level. The sets were simpler than those at the Ogunquit Playhouse, but still complex – the Dragon was a seriously top-notch piece of stage craft, but the performers weren’t miked, the theatre isn’t air-conditioned, and the seats appear to be recycled from a theatre in the 1930s – hard and a bit uncomfortable. But they weren’t afraid to charge – Tickets for adults were $40 each – pricy for basically university graduates.

So for comfort, production values, and performer quality – the Ogunquit is the clear winner.

Unfortunately – Young Frank is the decidedly poorer musical. What Mel Brooks did was to take the movie – leave in all the gags, including Frau Blucher – cue horses, and add very forgettable music. The highlight was easily ‘Putting on the Ritz’ – which they seriously expanded into a complete performance number which including having the Monster climb out of a cake. Another musical number, this one at least written for the musical and not too bad – was the rather adorable piece called ‘Join the Family Business’ which featured multiple doctors and nurses trying to convince Young Frankenstein to – well – join the family business. It ends with him crying ‘Destiny, Destiny’ of course. But all in all – the music is completely forgettable, you won’t remember a single tune after you leave, and there’s quite a bit of over-the-top sexually specific slapstick that I found frankly embarrassing. I didn’t poll my seat mates, but listening in to conversations as we left make me think that my family wasn’t alone in thinking that we’d been hood-winked into paying a lot of money to see a movie that we could get cheap on net flicks.

Shrek – The Musical was very different. In this case – a lot of effort had gone into making the story more interesting through the use of the musical numbers. ‘I know it’s Today’ tells the history of Princess Fiona – growing up unloved in her castle tower, while ‘Freak Flag’ encourages Sherk to be proud of who and what he is. My personal favorite was ‘What’s Up Duloc?’, which starts with the song from the movie – and segways into a marvelous explanation of just how bad a ruler Lord Farquaad has turned out to be. Another charmer is the contest song between Sherk and Fiona – both determined that their lives have been the hardest – and summarized for the audience in ‘I think I Got You Beat’. And having Lord Farquaad placed by a very tall and thin young man on his knees, but wearing short ‘legs’ was a delightful visual treat.

But Shrek, for all the lovely music, had issues too, mostly related to the production. By far the worst problem could have been solved by giving Shrek a mike. He was impossible to hear – and hard to understand if you could hear him. And we were in the third row. He was not alone in the ‘I can’t hear you’ department either. The gal that sang the Dragon had to stand at the back of the stage because of her ‘costume’ – and her voice seemed to go up into the fly – not out into the audience. Bummer that – from what we could hear, she had a fabulous set of pipes. Arundel Playhouse – invest in mikes for the performers. Please?

So – two should have been good but weren’t – theatre performances. I’ll go back to the Oqunquit Playhouse next summer – hoping for a better pick of productions – but I’m not keen to try the Arundel Barn Playhouse again. Uncomfortable seats and inaudible performers just ruins even the best musical.

Oh well – if you never go, you never know!

Merriland Farm Cafe – so good, we went back 2 days later! Now that’s good.

Breakfast is always a bit tricky as a ‘eating out’ meal. We all know that its fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive to just make your own coffee, cereal, maybe a bit of fruit, some yogurt. So why eat out. It’s just going to be expensive.

I must at this point admit that I find the proliferation of coffee shops (here – and in Korea) a bit puzzling. As noted – making coffee at home isn’t that hard. And for $100 you can get a foamer that works perfectly every time – so its not about the latte. I think it must be related to convenience. Run it – drop a few bucks – get coffee. Tis a puzzlement.

But moving on to ‘eating out’. A serious breakfast place has to offer something special I think. It’s not good enough to just have 5 different kinds of omelets – discriminating guests demand extras. And on that score – the Merriland Farm delivers – in spades.

First location. It’s not really that well located. Its off the main drag (on the beach in Maine – that’s Route 1). And not towards the ocean either. It’s up in the hills – right before you are on the wrong side of 95. So as far as location goes – it has it’s work cut out for itself. To make up for that – it’s on a berry farm – fresh blueberries and raspberries. And it’s on a 9 hole golf course. So the surroundings – while not ocean – are rather spectacular.

You can choose to eat out side, or inside. The main building dates from 1800 – but it’s been modernized and sophisticated. Hardwood floors, beamed ceilings, great paint job. It’s very nice. The A/C is a bit on the weak side – and the rooms can get a bit warm – but they are lovely. And not so noisy that you can’t hear yourself think.

The breakfast menu is long, detailed, and mouth-watering. The ‘tea bread’ starter is outstanding, too bad it’s not free. Order it – and you get a fresh loaf of blueberry laced bread with a delicious crumble on top. Yum. There are omelets, a selection of ‘Benedicts’ – including a lobster Benedict. There are waffles served with their farm made blueberry/raspberry mixture that are the best I’ve ever had. All the various dishes are served with your choice of sides – sweet potato fries (oh yum), or the absolute best thing – a 3 potato medley. Purple, Sweet, and Plain potatoes roasted to potato perfection.

On the table – Maine maple syrup – as if things aren’t sweet enough. The savory options include heart stopping options like Sausages and Pancakes. Even the Bacon is sweet – but delicious.

The one ‘oh well’ for us was the corn beef hash – my husband still thinks that the one he makes at home is better – but otherwise – outstanding.

How outstanding? We went back again for breakfast just 2 days later!

It’s an A. Oh, yes – definitely an A.

PS: quick note – they do dinner – which based on the quality of breakfast – we had to try. Not the same quality unfortunately. So definitely do breakfast – steer clear of dinner unless the chef gets a serious change of heart! (well – and menu!)

Merriland Farm Cafe on Urbanspoon

Angelinas – Expensive Loser in Ogunquit

I’m not totally sure why I so frequently get disappointed at restaurants in Ogunquit. Ok – I’m not keen on restaurants that charge over $300 for 7 people – that’s a lot of money for dinner with 2 kids. And I’m even less of a fan of restaurants that work to evoke fame – pictured of the Chef with Gorden Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen – cool or Kitch?

But I do know that Angelina’s isn’t the first restaurant in Ogunquit to seriously disappoint me. Although from the crowds – I’m guessing I’m alone out there. We were 7 – and ordered 4 different appetizers, and 6 main courses. We even ordered 2 desserts. So you can’t say we didn’t try a fair sampling. Of the 12 offerings – only one – the Eggplant tower, was impressive. And it was great. The eggplant was lightly fried to perfection, the cheese fresh and definitely yummy. Very good. The salmon was also good – but hardly a Maine tradition.

I guess my main complaint was really the Lasagna that I ordered to share with Sophie. At Varenos – we’d shared a Lasagna large enough to have half left to take home for lunch. For more money, we got about 1/2 the Lasagna at Angelinos. It was yummy – but still. 1/2 the size, more money – not thrilling.

Truly disappointing was the steak we ordered. It was easily the most tasteless piece of meat I’ve ever had. My grand-daughter the ‘steak-aholic’ couldn’t even finish the tiny piece they gave her. More risotto then steak – but given how tasteless the steak was – I guess the portion was acceptable.

Dessert – one winner, one loser. The winner was the carrot cake. Rich and creamy – quite yummy. But the loser was a commercial frozen lemon sorbet. Hey – if you are expensive, and ‘chef owned and operated’ – don’t opt for a commercial frozen dessert. We do know what they look like. And it made me wonder about the carrot cake. Was that also commercial.

Anyway – bottom line – a C. Too much money for the quality of food we got served. But I will give them points for a very pleasant restaurant, and the service was quite acceptable.

Angelina's Ristorante & Wine on Urbanspoon

Angelina's Ristorante & Wine Bar Inc on Foodio54

Easily the best Lobstah in all of Maine – Trust me!

Want the Best Lobstah in Maine? I’ve so got you covered

Nope – I’m not joking. I know the best place to get Lobstah – and Clam Chowder in Maine. And I’ll even share that information – but only after you get the entire picture.

My idea of the perfect holiday day starts with coffee, cereal, fresh fruit, and a sea breeze. The sound and sight of the ocean never ceases to bemuse and relax me – even when it’s cold and rainy – or hot and sunny – it’s not ‘Maine’ that I love – it’s the ocean. The fact that going to Maine makes it easier to get to the ocean is of course critical for vacation planning purposes – but without the ocean, Maine would just be another state.

So – breakfast listening to the ocean, a day spent with my feet in the sand, maybe jumping the occasional wave if the water is anything other than frigid – lunch of left-overs or fruit, and then dinner.

Ah, dinner. Maine doesn’t lack for restaurants – from the fab to the touristy, from the fried fish to mock italian, even Chinese and Thai. You want it – you can get it in Maine. But what I want is Lobstah and Clam Chowder.

We have rented what can best be described as a shack near the beach for at least the last 15 years. It’s small, it’s cozy, it’s across from a great walking and surfboarding beach – and it has a kitchen. Because there’s a kitchen, we can eat in. And that brings me right around to that best lobstah in Maine claim.

It’s the Wells Beach Lobstah Pound. The offerings are stunningly simple. Lobstah – you can get it raw – but for free they will cook it for you – and trust me, they know how to cook Lobstah. You just choose your size – tiny little ones, the 1.5 lb ‘normal’ size, up to 3 and 4 lbs monsters if you order ahead. They toss your choice into the cooker – and 15 minutes later – hand you a bag to ‘take-home’. Butter costs 60 cents extra – but you don’t need more than one to be honest. The Clam Chowder comes in pints and quarts – we always get a quart – and rarely have any left for the next day.

It’s perfect.

Oh yes – they also sell fresh off the boat fish – the quantity of which depends on the luck of the fishermen that day – generally there’s haddock and scallops for sure. And they will do the work for you and just give you the lobster meat – an option that I really don’t understand. If you don’t want to mess with the Lobstah – don’t eat it!

Can you do better? Maybe. I’m sure other people have their favorite pounds – but for me – this is the best. Lobstah is best eaten within the sound and the smell of the ocean, and the Wells Beach Lobster Pound is perfect. Just perfect.

Wells Beach Lobster Pound on Urbanspoon

Italian on the Beach in Maine? Why Not?

I admit it – I love pasta. And lasagna. Particularly lasagna. It’s probably one of my favorite foods. So despite the fresh fish, amazing lobstah, and of course the clams – I need my pasta fix.

And my go to option at Wells Beach in Maine is Varano’s. We started going there when nobody else went. It was a brand new restaurant – oddly located in a timeshare resort – but it advertised fresh pasta – and it was well located for us. We tried, we enjoyed, it became a family tradition.

We quickly learned not to go on a weekend night. An hour wait for even a great lasagna is not right. So we go on Tuesday or Wednesday – when the crowds are low, and we can relax and actually enjoy our dinner.

And so we did. Service wasn’t wonderful unfortunately. Our waiter tried – and somethings got done right – like the lid on the water for my 6-year-old grand-daughter, but some things were just – well – wrong. When we asked what the vegetables of the day were – the right answer is either “I don’t know”, or the names of the veggies. The wrong answer is “What ever the chef decides to throw on the plate”. Nope – I don’t think so.

We ordered 2 lasagna’s for 3 people – which was enough lasagna for us all to feel stuffed – and to leave 1/2 of each portion to take home for a super filling lunch the next day. That’s what I call extreme portion size! My daughter opted for Clams in the style of Scampi – that’s with white wine, olive oil and garlic. Again – no control on portion size – there was enough spaghetti on the plate to feed 2. More take-home.

But the food was delicious. The lasagna is one of the best I’ve ever had – fresh pasta, fresh ricotta cheese – and a delicious if too small portion of marinara sauce. We had to ask for more – which the waiter did bring.

For dessert, we all shared a single cannelloni – made with chocolate chips and way to rich for my taste. Which didn’t stop my grand-daughter from licking the plate. It was that good.

All in all – if you stay away from the crowded nights – Varano’s in a winner. Particularly good is the lasagna – but I think I said that already!

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Varano's Italian Restaurant on Foodio54

Sahib – calling it ‘fine’ is a stretch – but for the West Island – it works

The Sahib Restaurant is not the only restaurant convenient to my office – but it is the only Indian alternative – and as such gets my business about 8 times a year or so.

Given that frequency – I’d expect them to at least recognize me – but no – every time we walk in, it’s as if they’ve never seen us before. A shame really – a better ‘host’ experience would do wonders for their popularity – because they do a lot of other things quite well.

They do quite good Onion Bhajia – a fact I had driven home when I ate them elsewhere and discovered that while the ones at Sahib are fully of onions – other people skimp! So one up there. Their tandoori Chicken is decent – the flesh not as juicy as some versions I’ve had – but still pretty decent.

Their killer dishes are the butter chicken – the rice – and the Chaat Papri. What strange is that this dish isn’t on the menu. It’s considered so authentic – that ‘tourists’ won’t enjoy it. But it is easily our favorite dish at Sahib. Made with chickpeas and fried ‘chips’ – it’s a very yummy appetizer. To try it out if you try the Sahib.

It’s not a great restaurant – but it’s a sure bet for a decent meal. I give it a B. It would do a lot better if they just made an attempt to remember their ‘frequent’ guests.

Sahib on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Sahib on Foodio54

Tratoria La Festa – Consistency Counts – and Yummy matters even more!

Eating at the Trattoria is like eating at home – except you get better food, and you don’t have to do the dishes.

We eat at Trattoria La Festa almost every time we go to Stowe, Vermont – the consistency is so amazingly – well – consistent. You know you will have a great meal, you know the service will be pleasant, you know you will be greeted like old friends, and you know the price range will be acceptable. Given all that – you know why we go so often!

This time was no exception. We arrived and were greeted by all three of the owners – Patty, Johnny and Tony. The restaurant was nicely filled, but not packed. Which reminds of one of the things I so adore about the Trattoria – it’s not noisy! For some reason, the current in thing is to create a ‘bistro’ feel with hard walls, hard ceilings, hard tables – and the result is a very noisy restaurant. But not at the Trattoria – the rough wooden floors absorb sound – not reflect it – and even packed – you can easily have a conversation with your table-mates. Such a refreshing change.

But it’s about the food and the service, too! And as always – it was great, with one tiny exception. I had two orders of the Mussel appetizer – one as my appetizer, one as my main course. The best part was the delicious sauce – I needed a bread refill to enjoy it all.

My dining partner enjoyed the Luchame (Escargo in french) with sambuca – oh my they were divine. If you go – definitely order them! I passionately enjoy their speggitti carbonara – it’s the best I’ve ever had – and that’s including many trips to Italy, but it’s not really on my diet – so this time I skipped that pleasure. My husband generally gets Vittello a la Lemon, the Duck, or the Bistecca Pavaroti, but this time he tried something new – the veal chop. Itm looked great – but the taste just wasn’t blow you away. That’s the problem with the Tratoria – you get spoiled! So not perfect is disappointing.

Patty makes the desserts – and they range from delicious – to fabulous. And this time we hit fabulous – a lemon blueberry Zuppa Englese (Triffle). Oh my was it yummy. Just the right cross between acidic and sweet. Cool and refreshing.

We gladly paid the bill – full but not stuffed – and strolled out into the night. We’ll be back. You can count on it.

Trattoria La Festa on Urbanspoon

Trattoria La Festa on Foodio54

Bob’s on the Bay – Eat at your own risk!

Oh dear – I blew it. Had I read the reviews – I would have known that Bob’s on the Bay in Brockville was a bad choice – but I got busy, forgot to check – and ended up there with no other options but to make the best of a bad idea.

Does admitting it make it better? Probably not. But at least I can join the masses in not recommending Bobs.

Or maybe I should just quip – Bob’s should swim in the Bay!

We opted for Bob’s for the reasons most other people would – the ‘On the Bay’ part of the name. It sounded lovely. And we drove up – I thought it was going to be perfect – lots of people enjoying a moment of sunshine on the High terrace. But the problem is – they are not on the Bay. There’s a huge – multi-store apartment building between them and the Bay – and to the west – another one. So yes you can see the water to the East – but on the Bay it’s not.

But it’s supposed to be about the food right. So how was the food?

If I’m not terribly hungry – I’ll order an appetizer for dinner – and at Bob’s – that was clearly the smart choice. I definitely enjoyed my Quesadilla, it was well made and yummy. But my husband thought his French Dip was downright terrible, and my grand-daughter ate her garlic mashed potatoes – and none of her salmon. Moral – if you are in a bar – order bar food, for which Quesadilla works, and salmon is a loser.

Oh well – at least the view to the east was nice and the service was fine.

My quick summary – when visiting Brockville – pick a different place!

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Pickering, Ontario – More than just a Nuclear Power Plant

Don’t knock Pickering – sure it’s got a Nuclear Power Plant – but it also has the “I love Roti”. Even better – right near by is a Cold Stone Creamery. It’s a win-win for hungry travelers.

I’ve actually ate at the “I Love Roti” before – many years ago when a conference required me to drive from Montreal to Toronto – and I ended up hungry about mid-way. This time was no different –

“I Love Roti” is hardly your white-table cloth restaurant. Located in a mall that offers little else besides a Tim Horton and a Cold Stone Creamery, it’s long, thin, and basic. The menu consists of just a few very traditional foods – chicken with or without bones, in Roti or on rice; beef without bones, and a chicken curry. But what they do – they do right. I got the chicken with bones wrapped in a Roti and served with a delicious home-made curry sauce – and it completely and totally hit the spot. Such a nice option if you don’t feel like American Fast-Food.

After lunch – we strolled over to the Cold Stone Creamery for Ice Cream. Oh my – that was delicious. For those of you who don’t know what Cold Stone is about (and I admit – I didn’t) – the idea is simple. You pick your ice cream flavor, pick your size, and then – this is the cool part – you pick your garnish. There were at least 2 dozen options – from Reese’s Pieces to Toasted Almonds. They put your ice cream on the cold stone (hence the name), and then they chop and dice it to mix up it up for you. It’s delicious.

And a perfect way to break up a long drive.

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