Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Birthday dinner at CopaCabana Brazilian Steakhouse

 I haven't gotten to experience it much -- only twice on work trips in my last career to San Francisco and Las Vegas -- but I'm a big fan of Brazilian-style steak, aka rodizio.

Basically, it's a fixed price (excluding drinks) for all of the meat and other sides (to tempt you away from the meat) and the highlight being they bring around the meat on giant swords and carve off what you want at your table.

Rodizio requires careful strategy. First of all, come hungry. Skip lunch for sure. Also, don't be tempted by the cheap, empty sides like bread -- these are just designed to fill you up with cheap carbs and keep you away from the pricy, delicious, expensive meat. The first round through I try a little bit of all the meats. After that I get selective, only opting for my favourites until I'm full.

I'd never gotten to try it in Canada before, but the stars aligned last February when I was in Toronto for my birthday and I secured a reservation at CopaCabana Brazilian Steakhouse, on Eglinton just East of Yonge Street. 

It was a Saturday night and it was busy, but as mentioned I did have a reservation. That still meant a 30 minute wait standing in a crowded restaurant after our reserved time. It was rather stressful, not what you want on your birthday, as there was no lighty thing or text when your table was ready. They would call you but it was impossible to hear. When parties of the same size who arrived after be began to be seated, I inquired again and was seated immediately in an unspoken sheepish admission they had forgotten me.

We were seated, reminded of the time limit, and sat. And sat. And sat. Swords of meat being served all around us but consciously bypassing our table. After about 20 minutes of increasing frustration, we were asked if we wanted some sides and sauces. 

They had a variety of interesting sides. from salads to roasted vegetables to sauces like chimichurri. However, what we ordered and what we actually got seemed to be hit or miss -- many orders just never materialized.


Finally, we were added as a meat sword stop and we could begin with the mains. Some of my favourites were the prime rib with cheddar, parmesan filet mignon, and garlic sirloin steal. The roasted pineapple was also a nice pallet cleanser.

Also throughout the evening there would be entertainment with singers and fire dancers. For a Saturday night dinner, the total before taxes, tip and drinks was $85/person. 


How does that compare to simply going out to a steakhouse for dinner? Well, you get more variety and a show. But it was also crowded and hectic, and a much more stressful experience than a typical classy steakhouse. It felt like people were hovering over you all night waiting for table. I still like the rodizio experience I had in the US, but next birthday in Canada I think I will go traditional steakhouse. Or at least not back to Copa.

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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Thali in Ottawa

 Meeting a friend in Ottawa for dinner back in February some Hill-adjacent Indian food seemed just the thing to warm the insides on a cool winter's day. And just a short block away at O'Connor and Laurier is Thali, the downtown restaurant of the same folks behind the famed Coconut Lagoon.

It's not a huge restaurant -- especially without the added space of the seasonal patio -- but we were seated quickly and I was able to order quickly thanks to my usual pre-scout of the menu. I had my eyes on one dish in particular -- the Lobster Masala. 

The menu describes it as "Lobster cooked in a mild Ginger Coconut sauce spiked with Cardamom" and the only thing giving me pause was the cardamom. I had bought some recently when making kebab from the Gaza Kitchen cookbook I brought back from my trip to Palestine and I was decidedly not a fan of this particular spice.

After assurance from our waiter that they could make me the Lobster Masala without the "cardamom spike" I was confident and placed my order.


The portion was generous (also fair, given the price) with a generous portion of lobster meat. But more than that, the sauce was so rich and flavourful and layered and delicious. Truly the best of Indian cuisine.


I was asked if I wanted rice or naan with my meal and gave the obvious response: could I have both? I could, and along with a not quite pictured mango lassi it was an excellent and hearty meal to help me brace for a cold Ottawa winter's night. Delish.

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Friday, May 10, 2024

Eating on the road: The Barrington Steakhouse in Halifax

 My first trip to Halifax was in 2018 for a Liberal Party convention and after a day of conventioneering I enjoyed a great steak dinner at The Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar. So a return trip was definitely in order for my trip to Canada's second best coast in late 2023.

I made a reservation for a Saturday night and did some walking to ensure I was hungry for a great steakhouse experience. While the service was great and most of the food did not disappoint unfortunately what should have been the centrepiece -- the steak -- wasn't great.

 The ambience was nice as befits a fancy steakhouse but it was dark, so apologies for the photos. I began with the house salad which was good. It was also huge, I took half of it back to my hotel for later so I didn't completely spoil myself for the main event. And I may not have completely worked off the chowder from lunch.


You don't win friends with salad; on to the main event. With a glass of a nice malbec, it was tasty. So was the lobster risotto. Tasty, creamy, and big chunks of lobster. An excellent, decedent side. And the chimichurri sauce was a delicious complement to the steak.


But the steak, I'm sad to say, disappointed. It was lukewarm at best, and cold by the time I finished. I don't know if they rested it too long or what. It seemed to be a systemic problem, at least that night, as I overheard similar complaints in the dining room.

When they came to check on me I had eaten almost half already. They offered to make me a fresh one but I knew I didn't have the stomach space. They also offered a free desert but again I had nowhere to put it. If I was in my hometown I would have taken them up on it, but I was in a hotel and flying out the next day so it didn't really work.

I appreciated that they offered some fixes, but sadly they just didn't work for me and it left a sour note it what was supposed to be one of the highlights of my visit -- and what was certainly my priciest meal of the trip.

Speaking of which, fine if you want to charge me for still water but maybe tell me before you bring it.

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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Eating on the road: Sea Smoke Restaurant and Bar in Halifax

For lunch I walked over to another spot on my recommended list, on the Halifax waterfront at Bishop's Landing a stone's throw from The Bicycle Thief: Sea Smoke Restaurant and Bar.

Unlike my late night dinner at The Bicycle Thief, it was daylight and I was shown to a cozy table with a view out onto the boardwalk and of the harbour. This place felt slightly more touristy but it was quiet at this time of day. There's a patio that I bet would be a lot of fun in the summer, but not so much in December.

I had pre-scouted the menu of course and this place was on my seafood chowder list. But hearing the specials and it being a cool December day on the waterfront (though not inside, thankfully) when hearing the specials I called an audible and also ordered a boozy hot chocolate.

Flavour was there but it failed to live up to its name: this hot chocolate was not hot. Lukewarm at best, trending cool. In retrospect I should have sent it back but I'm loathe to be that person. Taste was there, but needless to say it did not warm my insides like I had anticipated.

They had some interesting appies that were all Asian-inspired. I opted for the crispy wontons, described as Cremini Mushrooms, buttercup squash, ponzu glaze, gochugaru aioli. 


They were plated beautifully and were a tasty nosh. Not much to say, they were as described and I liked them.

As I said though, chowder was the reason for my visit. So for my main, and intending to have dinner later so not wanting something heavy, I ordered the seafood and corn chowder. Described on the menu as: Fresh lobster, haddock, cod, salmon, sweet corn.

 


Bougie fancy bowl, grilled bread on the side. I would rank this as my second favourite chowder of my Halifax trip, just behind their neighbour Bicycle Thief and significantly ahead of Evan's. Rich, creamy and flavourful, meaty and chunky. Very tasty and, thankfully, served properly hot.

Left me fortified to go back out and face the chill.

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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Eating on the road: Evan's Fresh Seafoods in Dartmouth

 My visit to Halifax in December was planned as a culinary visit, and before I left I consulted friends who were or had been local residents to get their tips on where to get the best bites -- especially those that come from the sea. A clear recommendation was that I take the ferry across the harbour to Dartmouth to a spot you wouldn't find on most tourist guides: Evan's Fresh Seafoods. 

Located conveniently in the same building as the ferry terminal, at Alderney Landing, they also sell fresh and frozen fish and seafood and offer hot fare in what is basically a small mall food court. I liked the local feel, and I like transit boats (think an East Coast sea bus) so I actually went twice.

My first visit was for lunch on my first full day in Halifax. It was raising so I took an Uber to the Halifax side of the ferry terminal, and when I told him where I was going and why he offered a hearty endorsement. So that was a good sign.

Not to divert into a transit review, but while they had a ticket booth I couldn't buy a fare there. They made me download an app, link my credit card and buy my fare there to show the agent. Kind of a pain, though seamless for future transit this trip once done. And now I have the Halifax transit app on my phone. Guess that's better than my growing collecting of reloadable physical transit cards.

Anyways, after the crossing it was easy enough to find Evan's and I was able to quickly order because, of course I had pre-scouted the menu. Are you new here?

I was here for the lobster roll. Recommendations were sought and given on that basis, and I was told this is where locals go for a lobster roll. Not cheap at $26, but the lobster lobby has done a very good job at elevating this once overlooked sea creature to gourmand status. You could add a side fries but I'm not here for empty carbs. Caesar salad for me. They had a special to add some breaded side scallops at a discount, and I was all for that.


Definitely worth the boat cruise. The bun was fresh and buttery, and the lobster tasty, creamy and plentiful. The salad was a salad. The scallops fresh and delicious, and I really liked the lemon wedge for a splash of acid. Hearty and filling, and just the seafood fix I was looking for.

A few days later, on the last day of my visit, I would take the ferry over to Dartmouth again, suitcase in tow for one more seafood lunch before a taxi to the airport. This was a Sunday and, while it was quiet on my last Friday midday visit, today Alderney Landing was hopping with locals as their was some kind of bazar happening in the mall-like area and some sort of live music in the food court.

I was here for the fish, not the music, which wasn't really my vibe. But I managed to find a seat free at one of the shared tables. For today's lunch I went in a different direction, wanting to sample some of their other offerings.

First was a bowl of seafood chowder, with haddock, potatoes, scallops and lobster, to which I added some mussels for a small upcharge.


I would put the chowder as third of the three I had this trip. The broth was watery and flavour undeveloped. On the positive, it was packed with fish and lobster chunks quite generously and no potato filler. The mussels were a cheap add on.

I also ordered the two piece haddock, but with onion rings instead of the chips. It's not often I waste my carbs on fries.


The onion rings were ok. Onion rings are hard to screw up though, believe me, some places manage it. The haddock was good but I think I just don't care for their batter. I prefer a more wet batter while this seemed more like a meal. But it was still tasty and filling.

All in all, I enjoyed my first visit to Evan's more. The lobster roll was outstanding and the scallops were simple and enjoyable. Next visit I'll go elsewhere for my fish and chipless.

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