After a big hearty breakfast at Keys Restaurant, we weren’t hungry at all through most of the rest of the day. So, we took some time to explore a little bit of Saint Paul instead and found ourselves walking around the Mall of America for a couple of hours in the afternoon. In the early evening, we met up with my husband’s sister and her husband and decided to go out and catch a bite to eat. Earlier in the day, my sister-in-law told her brother that it was our choice where we would go for dinner, so after some searching online, my husband suggested to me a Thai restaurant in the neighborhood that got pretty good reviews. The minute he mentioned the name of the restaurant, I instantly recognized it as it’s a place I’ve heard my sister-in-law talk about and I know that she and her husband enjoy, so we decided that Thai food was what was on the menu for dinner.
Supatra’s Thai is a local Saint Paul restaurant owned by chef Supatra Johnson who is also the author of a Thai cook book in addition to teaching Thai cooking classes out of the restaurant’s kitchen. When we arrived on a Thursday night, the place was busy and almost every table was filled, not to mention the fact that the restaurant obviously did a good take out business. This was a good sign and my husband and I were really looking forward to this meal. The inside was light and bright and the walls were adorned with tasteful Thai artwork and design.
There’s no way my husband and I can go to a Thai restaurant and not order Thai iced coffee to drink. I know most people go to Thai restaurants and the drink of choice is Thai iced tea, but neither my husband nor I are a fan of Thai iced tea, but put a glass of Thai iced coffee in front of us, and neither of us would turn it down. The wonderful sweet, and strong flavor of Thai iced coffee is just so refreshing. The ultra strong brewed coffee mixed with half & half gives it that lighter, sweeter taste that is just so addictive.
We decided to start off by ordering a variety of different appetizers for the table. I really wanted to try the tofu puffs, and though I think my brother-in-law thought it was kind of weird, he actually gave one a try as well when it came to the table. Tofu puffs are made from firm tofu cubes that deep-fried and served with a sweet peanut sauce. As my husband as learned over the years, tofu on its own is pretty tasteless. It has texture, but doesn’t really have a flavor of its own, therefore, it’s the perfect item to infuse flavor in, for example, by putting it in soup where it can soak up the flavor of the broth. Or, deep frying tofu also gives it this incredibly light and airy texture, and in this case, the sweet peanut sauce is what gives the tofu puffs the flavor. The flavor of the sweet peanut sauce is really all you taste and the tofu is really just a vessel for serving the sauce. The tofu puffs were actually pretty good, and the crunch and crispiness of deep-frying the tofu adds to the texture and flavor of the overall dish.
Coconut shrimp was also another dish we ordered. The shrimp is rolled in a sweet coconut tempura batter and deep-fried until golden brown. The coconut shrimp are then served with a sweet and sour sauce mixed with sriracha chili sauce to give it a bit of added heat and a little kick. The shrimp were a really nice size and so tasty and juicy. I really liked the coconut shrimp dish. The coconut tempura batter was delicious and crunchy without being too sweet from the coconut. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and tasted amazing. My husband and his sister and her husband really enjoyed the sweet and sour sauce with the sriracha chili sauce. For them, the dipping sauce had amazing flavor with just that little added heat to it. In fact, the sauce was so good they used it as the dipping sauce for some of the items in our next appetizer as well.
Finally, we also ordered Supatra’s appetizer combo plate. The combo plate comes with 1 Supatra’s egg roll, 1 fresh spring roll, 3 chicken satay skewers and 3 cream cheese wontons and each item had its own accompanying dipping sauce as well. The chicken satay skewers came with a peanut dipping sauce as well as a cucumber salad accompaniment. The peanut sauce was well done and had great flavor. The chicken skewers had a light charcoal flavor to them which was perfect and the cucumber salad was slightly sweet and slightly sour, just as it’s meant to be. I liked that there were both egg rolls and fresh spring rolls. The deep fried egg rolls came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. The fresh spring rolls came with a chopped peanut chili sauce which was both sweet with a slight touch of heat. This was my favorite dipping sauce. The fresh spring rolls were perfectly prepared and filled with tons of fresh herbs and greens as well as a nice sweet shrimp. The egg rolls were nice and crispy and crunchy and perfectly deep fried. The cream cheese wonton is certainly a nod to east-west fusion as cream cheese is something that would never be found in Thailand. But wontons were perfectly fried to a nice crispy texture mixed with the creamy, soft cream cheese, which makes for a perfect juxtaposition.
My husband wanted to order one of his favorite Thai dishes, tom yum soup. According to the menu, this is described as a famous Thai soup featuring lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves in a sour, spicy and sweet broth. Traditionally, tom yum soup is served with prawns or shrimp, but I’ve also seen it served with chicken before. But, my husband likes the shrimp version, and that’s what Supatra’s served as well, so he asked for a whole big bowl of the soup. The flavors were perfect, or at least the way we like it. At Supatra’s you can specify the level of spiciness that you want the dishes to be. In this case, since my husband knows that I don’t like spicy food at all, he asked for this to be mild. The soup itself is generally made to be quite spicy, so mild spice should be ok for me. It’s because the soup also has hints of sweetness and sourness that balance out the spice and make this soup as incredible as it is. It was so packed full of button mushrooms, which my husband likes. They are so flavorful because all of the flavors of the broth are soaked up into the mushrooms. The soup also had a good number of large prawns which were juicy and sweet. This was such a comforting soup dish on a cool evening.
After looking through the menu, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law decided on two dishes that they’d share with one another. The first dish was called holy basil supreme. This was Supatra’s version of a very popular Thai dish which is a stir-fry with Thai holy basil, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, serve with your choice of protein, for which they chose shrimp. Normally, in Thailand, this dish is made with ground chicken, most commonly, and generally doesn’t have the onions and bell peppers. But what makes the dish is the Thai basil, which this version at Supatra’s featured. It’s the Thai basil that gives this dish its distinct flavor. Again, the dish was packed full of prawns and bell peppers and was well more than one person could finish on their own. A little bit of steamed white rice to go with the dish, and again, a warm and flavorful Thai dish.
One of the dishes that Supatra’s is well known for, and the name of the chef and owner’s cook book is her crying tiger dish. Crying tiger is a popular and classic northeast Thai dish made with tender beef sliced thin and grilled. At Supatra’s it’s served with wok-fried lettuce and Supatra’s special dipping sauce with a side of sticky rice. Like most Thai cooking the dipping sauce combines the flavors of sweet, sour and spicy so that every taste gives you a bit of all of the flavors rolled into one. The tender grilled beef dipped in the dipping sauce full of spice and sweet and a hint of sour eaten in combination with sticky rice is exactly what northeast Thai cuisine is all about, simple ingredients packed full of flavors that are as simple in their presentation and preparation as they are to enjoy. Sticky rice, in fact, is meant to be eaten with your fingers, it’s as much of a textural experience as it is a food experience for your tastebuds. The slight sweetness of the marinade on the tender beef is only heightened when the beef is grilled to perfection. The fresh lettuce salad and cilantro and other greens and herbs are there to add the cooling effect to the slightly spicy sauce and added crunch and freshness to a beef-rich dish.
For my dish, I decided to order the goy see mee, which was described as Supatra’s Thai style chow mien featuring thin egg noodles that are cooked two ways; half are stir fried with vegetables and sauce and the rest are deep-fried to give a crunchy texture to this delightful unique dish with shrimp. Something about crispy, crunchy noodles just sounded so appealing. It’s very similar to a dish my parents used to make at home using glass noodles instead of egg noodles, but deep-frying noodles and then pouring over a stir fry with gravy over the noodles just creates such a comforting creation of crispy noodles contrasted with delicious and flavorful vegetables and sauce. In this case, the vegetables included baby corn, snow peas, julienned carrots, green onions and celery. Combine the vegetables with the wonderful shrimp and gravy sauce and it was out of this world. Using this sauce over egg noodles that are stir fried are incredible as the noodles soak up all the delicious gravy, but pouring them over deep-fried egg noodles are even better as it the crispy noodles are just amazing, they add flavor, but more importantly texture. And because they are deep-fried they are able to stand up to the gravy and don’t become soggy immediately upon having the stir-fried vegetables poured atop them. This was just fantastic. It’s such an easy dish to make at home, and yet so delicious and comforting.
I’m so glad my husband suggesting dining at Supatra’s Thai for dinner, and I’m glad that my sister-in-law agreed to it. Dinner was a great time for the four of us to just catch up and do so while dining on delicious, filling food. Everything we ordered at Supatra’s Thai was flavorful and all of us enjoyed it, it was so easy to see why the restaurant was not only busy, but so highly rated as well. This is the type of restaurant that my husband and I could see ourselves becoming regulars at, if only the restaurant was located near us in Southern California.
I think I’ve mentioned before that my husband is originally from Minnesota and while he’s left home, the majority of his family still remains in Minnesota. We try and see see his family once a year, whether that be his family coming out to California to visit us, or us going to Minnesota to visit them. In 2016, my husband decided it was time for us to fly to Minnesota to visit his family. This was going to be a quick, long weekend stop to the Land of 10,000 Lakes where we’d catch up with my husband’s parents, his sister and her husband, and even his aunt, uncle and cousins. After flying in from LA and arriving in the early morning hours of the day Central time, we had just enough time to lay our heads down in a hotel room for a couple of hours before being picked up for breakfast the next day. My husband’s aunt and uncle were preparing to head out of town on the day we arrived into town and we figured that the only possible way we’d be able to meet up with them would be if we could catch up over a hearty breakfast.
My husband’s aunt, who was born and raised in Saint Paul, and still lives in the suburbs, decided to take us out for breakfast at a classic Saint Paul institution nearby the University of Minnesota campus. This particular restaurant was chosen as it’s one that my husband’s aunt, who grew up in Saint Paul remembers going to while she was in her college years. Keys Restaurant opened its doors in this particular location in Saint Paul back in 1973 by Barbara Hunn who owned, operated and perfected the restaurant’s famous made-from-scratch recipes for breakfast, lunch dinner, and of course dessert. Ten years later, the second Keys Cafe & Bakery opened and has now expanded to included 9 different restaurants and cafes through Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The interior decor was like walking into an old mom & pop cafe. There was an old fashioned cash register right at the front of the restaurant, there was a bar seating along one side of the restaurant, much as you’d find in an old diner set up, and then the rest of the dining room opened up to large scarred wooden tables, almost all of which were filled with groups of people there to enjoy a nice hearty morning breakfast.
My husband surprised me and ordered the Key’s complete veggie scrambler served with a side of toast and homemade jam. Now, neither my husband and I are vegetarians and we both enjoy our meat, so I was surprised that my husband chose an all-vegetable dish. The veggie scrambler comes with eggs scrambled in mixed vegetables and topped with hash browns and cheese. It’s like a complete breakfast, minus the meat, all rolled into one dish. The veggies included mushrooms, broccoli, and red and green peppers. First off, the plate was huge! This literally could have been breakfast for 4 people rather than for 1 person. But the dish was tasty and hearty. My husband really enjoyed the scrambler, even minus the meat. All the veggies were well cooked and had great flavor and the addition of the hash browns and the cheese topping it all off were the key to making the meal incredibly hearty, a stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast. Surprisingly, regardless of the fact that the plate was huge, my husband actually finished his meal! What more could you want out of breakfast?
I needed some meat with my breakfast so I decided to do the create your own omelet, which said it came with two eggs. In reality, it seemed more like it was about 10 eggs rather than two. I chose as a filling for my omelets cheese, ham, onion, bacon and potatoes. Again, talk about hearty. This omelet was about the size of my head, and the filling was literally that, filling. The eggs were cooked, and then more like French omelet style, the filling was put into the middle of the egg and the eggs were wrapped around it. And when they said bacon, they literally meant there were strips of bacon in the omelet, these weren’t bacon bits or pieces that were chopped up and mixed in with the eggs, no, they were full on strips of bacon. And potatoes? It wasn’t just diced potatoes put into the omelet, the hash browns that my husband had piled on top of his scrambler? Well, I had those same hash browns stuffed inside my omelet. Then there was still the cheese and the ham, big huge pieces of diced ham, and then finally the onions. The omelet was delicious and very well done, just the way I like it. But the filling was overflowing and was more than a meal on its own that there was going to be no way that I was ever going to finish this omelet. Though, I too must have been quite hungry, as I finished over half of it, which was at least 25% more than I thought I would.
The great thing about having a filling breakfast to start the day was that my husband and I weren’t hungry for lunch at all. Instead, we were still quite full from our amazing breakfast from Keys Restaurant. It was so great to spend some time with my husband’s aunt and uncle and just catch up with them over a great meal. And at the same time, we got to experience a little Saint Paul food history. After all, for a restaurant to still be around more than 40 years after it opened its doors, well it must be doing something right that people keep coming back over and over again. I’ll just remember that if I ever find myself at a Keys Restaurant or Cafe again that I should share a meal rather than try to finish a meal on my own as their portion sizes are out of this world.
A couple of years ago when my husband and I took a Christmas trip to Portland, Oregon, we knew that one of the places we needed to dine was Pok Pok Portland. After having heard so much about how amazing and authentic the Thai food was at Pok Pok, when we returned to Los Angeles, I knew I had to take my dad to dine at the new Pok Pok LA. This is the kind of food and atmosphere that is right up his alley and something he would appreciate, so we made plans one weekend for lunch to meet my parents down in Chinatown where Pok Pok LA opened up shop.
Opened just over a year ago, Pok Pok LA is famed James Beard award-winning chef Andy Ricker’s foray into the Los Angeles market. The Pok Pok brand that has made him famous in Portland and New York now has its own spot in Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown neighborhood away from the competition of all the other Thai restaurants in Los Angeles’ Thai Town neighborhood.
Only serving lunch on the weekends means that the menu is a little bit more limited than the evening menu, which was a bit of a disappointment. I would have loved to have taken my parents to dine here when we had the option of the full complement of menu items and a more lively, more happening atmosphere. Pok Pok LA’s design pays homage to a little bit of Chinese and Thai heritage. Some of the architecture and look and feel of the interior is Chinese, but the seating and the table cloths are reminiscent of Pok Pok Portland and certain all Thai style. The restaurant features ample seating in an open area and a full bar at one end of the dining room.
Everyone has their little quirks and sometimes none of us like change, that’s why when we dined at Pok Pok LA, my husband and I ordered the same exact drinks that we did when we dined at Pok Pok Portland. My husband ordered the naam manao, which literally translates to lemon water in English. In actuality, it’s fresh squeezed limeade made Thai-style so that it’s fizzy, sour and sweet. My husband has always been a lemon, lime acidic citrus fan, so this drink was right up his alley, a homemade limeade with just a bit of fizz and carbonation. For me, I can’t go to a Thai restaurant without ordering a classic Thai iced coffee. At Pok Pok, I ordered the kafae boraan yen, which literally translates to old school cold coffee. This is iced coffee made the ancient Thai way where coffee, in this case Stumptown coffee, is brewed in a sock and then combined with condensed milk and sugar. The iced coffee is rich, and slightly thicker from the condensed milk and sweet from the sugar. But most of all, it’s strong from the brewing technique and you really get the real coffee taste that shines through, and I love it.
To start, we had to order the Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings to share at the table. My husband and I loved them in Portland and they are one of Pok Pok’s signature dishes. I wanted my parents to give it a try and experience the flavors for themselves. Half a dozed whole natural chicken wings are marinated in fish sauce and sugar and then deep fried and tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with a side of Vietnamese table salad. The result is slightly sweet, slightly salty, crispy and sticky Vietnamese-style chicken wings. Using Phu Quoc fish sauce is interesting as that’s the preferred fish sauce used in Thai cooking as well, or at least that’s what my parents tell me as that’s the brand of fish sauce we use at home as well. It creates a somewhat sweet, somewhat salty flavor that isn’t overpowering and certainly doesn’t have a fishy smell like its name would infer. The chicken wings are fried to perfection with the outside skin nice and crispy, while the inside meat was tender and juicy and delicious. The flavor of the sticky fish sauce and garlic mixture just gives the chicken wings a different and unexpected taste that’s just really delicious.
For entrees, we decided to order three different dishes to share family style between each other. The first dish was neau naam tok, or literally translated to beef waterfall. The menu describes the dish as a spicy Isaan charcoal grilled flank steak “salad” with fish sauce, lime and chili powder dressing, shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro and toasted rice powder. I liked that this dish was flavorful and yet not too spicy. One signature of Northern Thai cuisine, which is what Pok Pok focuses on is the fact that it ratchets up the heat level, and since I’m not a lover of spicy food, it sometimes makes it tricky for me to find something on a menu that I can actually enjoy. With this steak salad, because they used chili powder as opposed to actual Thai chilies there was some level of heat, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. The steak was tender and flavorful, combine that with the fish sauce, lime, shallots, lemongrass, mint and cilantro as a “dressing” for the salad, and you have your combination of sweet, spicy and sour, the signature of any good Thai dish. The toasted rice powder added a bit of crunch and texture as did the thin-sliced shallots. While this dish is billed as a steak “salad” it is definitely more steak and very little salad other than the fact that the “dressing” is a sauce for the steak to soak up. This is one dish I would definitely order again.
We wanted a dish that was a little lighter to balance out the beef-heavy dish we just ordered, so we went with a dish called yum khai dao and added ground pork and prawns. Yum khai dao means a stir fry of sunny side up eggs or as the menu describes it a crispy fried farm egg salad with lettuce, Chinese celery, carrots, onion, garlic, Thai chilies and cilantro with a lime, fish sauce and palm sugar dressing. Of our three dishes, this one was my favorite. The Thai chilies added heat to the dish, and they were chopped up kind of fine, so I needed to be careful to pick around them and not to actually ingest one. The crispy fried egg really made the entire dish, it added body and texture to the dish and the palm sugar dressing was amazing. The sweetness of the palm sugar balanced out the tang of the lime and fish sauce perfectly. The “salad” itself was quite refreshing. This was actually the last dish we had agreed upon, and I’m glad we got it. Now, I just need to figure out how to make this palm sugar dressing at home myself and I’d be setting. Add some egg, lettuce, shallots for a bit of bite, julienned carrots for texture and ground pork for a bit of protein as well as some sweetness and you’re all set.
Finally, we all agreed on ordering the kung op wun sen. Wun sen is the Thai word for cellophane or glass noodles, and kung op means baked shrimp. This is a popular Thai dish, especially in cities where fresh seafood is abundant. The large prawns are baked in a traditional clay pot heated over charcoal. The prawns are combined with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles. The dish is then served with naam jiim (sauce) seafood to dip the prawns in. The entire clay pot is then served straight from the charcoal flame right to the table. The size of the prawns in the pot were impressive, and Pok Pok sure didn’t skimp on the amount of prawns they provided. This was probably the least spicy dish we ordered as the only source of heat in the dish was from the black pepper. But boy was there lots of black pepper, but I lack the flavor of black pepper, so that worked for me. The flavor of the baked prawns was amazing, there was some sweetness from the soy and the ginger, and a little bite from the black pepper, but the prawns were sweet and juicy and delicious. My mom appreciated the seafood sauce provided as it provided the heat and the bite she was looking for. The glass noodles were a perfect accompaniment as they had soaked up all of the flavors of the pork belly and the prawns as well as the sauce that baked the prawns in the pot. Therefore the noodles were soaked in all these flavors, and yet the noodles were limp and tender and absolutely perfect.
With only 3 dishes and an appetizer to share between the 4 of us, we still couldn’t quite finish all the food. No worries, left overs keep very well and are just as tasty when heated up the next day. After years of watching Andy Ricker on TV and hearing of our adventures at Pok Pok Portland, my parents finally got to experience the genius behind Andy Ricker for themselves when my husband and I took them to Pok Pok LA. I knew that of the two of them, my mom would be a tough customer. First off, she’s old school and for her, good, authentic Thai food comes from a Thai person with recipes handed down for generations. Seeing that Andy Ricker is a self-taught chef who traveled to Thailand as a youngster and fell in love and stayed for a period of time while he learned the food and the traditions and brought them back to the United States was not enough to convince her that Pok Pok LA was a homerun. While there were certain dishes that she liked and flavors that she could appreciate, she was still a tough sell. My dad on the other hand thought that the hype lived up to the billing, the restaurant and the food was, in ways, more authentic than some restaurants that you find in Thai Town and for someone who isn’t Thai to bring this level and quality of authentic Thai dishes to the masses was impressive. I guess you can’t win them all and sometimes change just takes some getting used to, much as Andy Ricker himself has alluded to in an interview he did with Eater LA last month where he discusses the struggles that some of his restaurant concepts have run into in Portland, New York and Los Angeles.
After this whirlwind trip through Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney, we wanted to end our trip with a bit of relaxation. My husband came up with the idea to travel to Fiji. Only a couple of hours plane ride from Sydney, it was easy to get to, and probably the only time we’d have the opportunity to visit this tropical island nation. How could a girl say no to ending this incredible trip at a beach resort on a small island? We had one night booked for our 24 hour stay in Fiji at the Westin Denarau. Denarau is a small private island occupied mainly by a private golf club and a couple of private beach resort hotels and spas. One of the other hotels on the island, a sister property to the Westin Denarau is the Sheraton Fiji, where we chose to have dinner on our only night on the island.
The Flying Fish Fiji is a restaurant by renowned Sydney chef Peter Kuruvita. Chef Kuruvita is a well-known and award-winning Australian chef who has appeared on numerous television shows, is an author in his own right, and rose through the ranks of the kitchen by being the head chef and owner at the iconic Flying Fish Restaurant & Bar in Sydney, which he opened in 2004. In 2008 he partnered with the Starwood Hotel Group to open the Fijian version of his highly acclaimed restaurant on the island of Denarau. Specializing in Pacific cuisine, most especially seafood, the Flying Fish blends flavors found throughout the world with the fresh seafood that Fiji is known for into world class cuisine.
The restaurant takes full advantage of its location on a private island to have a beach front setting. The pacific Ocean laps at one side of this open air restaurant while a lagoon pool from the hotel meanders its way through the heart of the restaurant. The restaurant features a completely glass enclosed kitchen on all four sides so that guests can watch the chefs in action preparing their amazing food. Most of the seating in this open air restaurant features tables set right into the sand, with the carpet of sand as the flooring for the restaurant. It’s a mix of fine dining in a very low key and casual setting. My husband and I immediately loved it.
For drinks, my husband and I basically ordered two different versions of the same drink. My husband got what was called a Denarau sunset made with mango juice, coconut syrup, fresh pawpaw, banana and cream. Personally, I had no idea what a pawpaw was, and I came to learn that although many people use pawpaw interchangeably with papaya, as they are similar, they are in fact, two entirely different fruits. A pawpaw tends to be a smaller fruit and is more mellow in taste, similar to that of a banana. This drink, essentially was a tropical fruit smoothie. The cream added richness and the banana added thickness, where the coconut syrup and mango juice added the sweetness. Combined together, all these tropical fruits made for a smooth, creamy and fruity drink that was quite refreshing to enjoy while sitting at a table in the sound listening to the waves crash upon the sand.
My drink was called a Midnight Oil and made with passion fruit, orange juice, coke, banana and cream. I was interested to see how this would turn out having both coke and cream. I don’t normally associate a highly carbonated drink such as coke going well with a thick cream and banana mixture, after all, it’s not like the Coca-Cola company has ever developed a banana coke product before. It appeared that the coke was poured into the glass first and then topped with the passion fruit, orange juice, banana and cream mixture that had been blended into a smoothie. The combination actually worked. Once I swirled everything together, the coke added the sweetness to the drink and the bubbly carbonation, which I enjoyed. The orange juice added the tang in combination with the passion fruit which was both tangy and sweet. The banana and cream added thickness and a creamy texture to the drink which made it rich and filling. Although the drink sounded a bit weird and looked a bit interesting, it actually worked for me and I enjoyed it.
The chef sent out a complimentary amuse bouche to the table which consisted of a one bite wonder of fish marinated in coconut cream, lime, vinegar, spring onions and tomatoes. The spoonful is meant to be enjoyed in one fell swoop so that all of the flavors can explode in your mouth. And wow, this spoonful packed a punch that my husband and I both enjoyed. The coconut cream made the spoonful of fish taste luxurious and rich. The lime and vinegar together packed a zing that was refreshing to awake the taste buds. The marinated fish was tender and flavorful and the spring onions and tomato added acidity in their own right to balance out the strong sting of the vinegar. My husband and I were only sorry that this was a one-bite wonder and not an appetizer dish that we could have more of.
For our meal, my husband and I decided to take two different approaches to what we wanted to dine on. My husband chose to partake in the chef’s special 6 course tasting menu. For me, I decided I wanted less courses and more freedom in wanting to choose my own dishes.
As part of my husband’s tasting menu, his first course, the entree, was the vodka – beetroot cured NZ king salmon with citrus segments, pomegranate and dill mayo. One bite of the salmon and the first words out of my husband’s mouth was, “wow!” The vodka and beetroot cured salmon was so tender and the flavors of the citrus, the pomegranate and the dill mayo combined with the amazing salmon blew my husband away that he said he just didn’t have words to describe how delicious the dish was. The salmon absolutely melted in your mouth like a stick of butter. The creaminess of the dill may really worked with the tang of the citrus segments and the pomegranate and the thin-sliced radish add its own punch and a tender crunch texture to the salmon. My husband’s biggest regret with this dish was that there were only two pieces of salmon, he could have eaten this up as his main course and wished that there was more of it.
I wanted a starter myself, so I decided to order the grilled chermoula prawns served with a green tea chimichurri sauce. First off, the prawns were huge and absolutely amazing. I wasn’t expecting prawns this big and they were so perfectly grilled with the shell on. The prawns were slightly sweet, juicy and absolutely full of flavor, a little char from the grill and the natural sweetness of the crustacean and it was perfect. The green tea chimichurri sauce was a beautiful contrast to the grilled prawns and added another layer of flavor to the dish. Using green tea to make the chimichurri was definitely a different and creative twist. Surprisingly, I could actually taste a hint of green tea flavor in the chimichurri which was different, yet delicious.
My husband’s second course, the starter, was the seared yellow fin tuna, ruby grapefruit, with pork crackle & black pepper sauce. This dish had some bold flavors that combined well with the tender tuna. Without knowing this was raw fish, my husband said that with so many flavors and textures going on, you couldn’t tell at all that it was raw fish. The black pepper sauce was both sweet to start off with, but it had a finishing bite to it that screamed black pepper. For my husband, that was a great thing, two different flavors from one ingredient. The pork crackle added a crunchy textural element to the fish and the ruby grapefruit added an acidic element with a slight tang to the dish as well that helped to balance out the bold flavors of the black pepper sauce. The tuna itself was tender and flavorful and was a great vessel for highlighting the bold flavor of the black pepper sauce.
The good food just kept coming to the table. The third course of my husband’s tasting menu was a seared scallop served with cauliflower puree, chorizo, burnt leek and truffle oil. Again, as before, this dish was well prepared and well presented. Each dish that we were presented with was not only delicious but was so artfully presented to the plate to build appeal visually before you even took a bite of food. The scallops were perfectly cooked so as to be crispy on the outside but nice and tender and juicy on the inside. The cauliflower puree was different, and other than the fact that the flavor was a bit muted, my husband would never have guessed that it was cauliflower. The chorizo and the chorizo oil was a great bold flavor contrast to the sweet scallops and the leeks were a nice touch to added a bit of subtle flavor to balance out the chorizo. My husband loved the contrast of textures on the dish and the flavors really worked well with one another. Again, another well prepared and delicious dish.
It was finally time for the main courses to come out. For me, I chose the Fiji fresh fish selection in a classic presentation. The fresh fish of the day is dusted in hazelnuts and served with crushed potatoes, summer greens and served with a caper butter sauce. I also ordered a side Nadi salad to go with my fish main dish. For me, my fish was definitely a meaty and hearty filet. The hazelnut crust was delicious and stuck well to the dish, which was fantastic. The subtle nutty flavor and texture of the hazelnuts paired well with the flaky white fish which had subtle flavors to it as well. Nothing was too bold, it was just a very simple, classic preparation of a very fresh, and delicious fish. The potatoes were chunky which added to the heartiness of the dish, and the wilted and sautéed spinach really was a nice touch to tie everything together. This Nadi side salad was simple with sliced radish, mixed greens, cucumber slices, shredded carrots and picked red onions with a light olive oil or vinaigrette salad. However, the fish was so hearty and filling that ultimately, the side salad wasn’t necessary at all.
As part of my husband’s degustation menu, he had the choice between a fish dish or a lamb dish, he chose the fish dish. The dish was confit salmon served over a nicoise salad with lemon vinaigrette. As a dish on its own, the salmon was good, but my husband was ultimately slightly disappointed by it. It was the second salmon dish of the evening and as much as the first salmon dish blew my husband away, this one was slightly disappointing by how simple it was. The deconstructed nicoise salad was a nice touch, but again, a bit unnecessary and ultimately, untouched by my husband. The overall feel of this main dish just seemed to lack some of the creativity and imagination of the other previous dishes that my husband had been presented with, and this dish seemed aimed more towards being a filling dish rather than focusing on the flavors and the creativity.
Before dinner came out, we were again presented with a little sweet treat surprise and palette cleanser in the form of a spoonful of mango sorbet. This sorbet actually was a terrific palette cleanser because while it was presented as mango sorbet, this was actually much creamier than I expected out of a sorbet, almost like a gelato rather than a sorbet. It was also quite rich and minty rather than sweet. The mint really helped to clean the palette and awaken the senses.
Dessert for my husband was a two-part sweet treat. The first part of dessert was an all spice panna cotta served with caramel ice cream, caramelized white chocolate and a popcorn praline. This dessert was full of various flavors and textures. the all spice flavoring in the panna cotta was different, and meant that the panna cotta wouldn’t be overly sweet, which made my husband happy. The caramel ice cream created a bit of a contrast in textures but added the sweetness that the dish needed. The caramel combined with the all spice created a warm and comforting treat. The white chocolate bark created yet more hints of sweetness, but also again added a different texture to the dessert. But the most surprising part of the entire dessert was the popcorn praline. The popcorn added chewiness and texture, but also crunch to the desert. For my husband, the popcorn was the key ingredient in the dessert and it’s really want made the dessert as good as it was. My husband said he’d never considered putting popcorn in a dessert with ice cream before and never thought it would work, but in this case, the flavors and the combination of the textures really worked and he really enjoyed the dessert.
As soon as I saw the desert menu, I knew exactly what I wanted. I ordered what was called the “chocolate delice” which was made with chocolate mousse, chocolate soil, caramelized banana, tempered chocolate, and banana ice cream. Ok, all the desert needs to say is that it has bananas in it and I’m all over it. In this case, this was cute, creative and delicious. The caramelized banana with the banana ice cream completely stole the show. I loved the use of chocolate soil made from crumbled chocolate cookies, it added some crunch and texture to the dessert. And of course, chocolate and bananas go together so perfectly. The tempered chocolate candy sitting on top was another level of flavor and texture to the dessert. This dessert was beautiful and rich, but not too sweet, which is just the right combination of chocolatey and fruity, a great ending note for a terrific meal.
But for my husband, his meal wasn’t quite done yet. The last part of his tasting menu included s’mores, or at least the Fijian version of s’mores to finish it all off. Out to the table came a homemade marshmallow skewered on a metal fork. A small bowl was filled with some alcohol and lit and the idea was for my husband to torch the marshmallow over the open flame. When the marshmallow was nice and melty, it was transferred over to a plate where the waiter then poured hot chocolate sauce all over the toasted, melted marshmallow. And there you have it, toasted marshmallow with sweet chocolate sauce, the Fijian version of homemade s’mores. My husband loved the interactiveness of creating his own dessert and loved roasting the marshmallow over the open flame. The marshmallow was quite large and the chocolate sauce was sweet and perfect. This was a fun, and delicious sweet treat at the end of a filling and tasty tasting menu.
What a trip we had, starting with a whirlwind stop in Tokyo, a quick stopover in Singapore, a fun and enjoyable time in Sydney and now a one night jaunt in Fiji. A little bit of culture, a little bit of fun and a lot of adventure. Four countries in just over a week. What fun my husband and I had together exploring, learning and just having fun. And what better way to end our incredible trip than a meal out on the beach with our toes in the sand, listening to the waves lap against the shore and being served one dish after of another of delicious, fresh, inventive seafood dishes from a well known, award-winning chef. The Flying Fish was a perfect way to end an amazing trip, I couldn’t have asked for a better meal, a better setting, or better company.
On the last night of our time in Sydney we didn’t have any specific plans for dinner, but knew we needed to eat something. This was the most laid back day of our vacation, which turned out to be a good thing since this was the only rainy day we experienced during our trip as well. We wandered around the neighborhood and did a little shopping at a historic mall a few blocks from our hotel. Other than that, we spent time in the club lounge at our hotel enjoying the view and just relaxing. But, when it was time for dinner, we needed to decide what to do. We made the decision to keep dinner low key and walk across the street to a Westfield mall to check out their food court.
We were delighted to find a Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar! Almost 2 years ago, I wrote about our experience at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in California and how much my husband and I absolutely fell in love with it. After all, how can you not love xiao long bao (soup dumplings). I guess, since Din Tai Fung is a well known Taiwanese chain, we shouldn’t be so surprised to find it in Australia. Heck, if they’ve expanded to the United States, why wouldn’t they be in Australia? What we loved was that this was an express dumpling bar, in a food court at a mall. The portions were smaller here than at the restaurant, but it was made quick and easy and in no time you were sitting down and enjoy the same food you could get at their restaurants. This was exactly what we were looking for to dine on this night. And just like the Din Tai Fung restaurants, they even had a glass window where you could stand and watch the cooks making the xia long bao right in front of your eyes!
I was delighted to discover that even though this was essentially a fast food eatery, they still offered a few of the great Asian-flavored drinks we found at the restaurant. When we dined at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, they offered a number of different smoothies and slushes, and here at the Dumpling Bar, I discovered they had a slush they called the Mango Tango. I can’t reasonably be expected to pass up a slushy drink made with mangos, could I? My favorite fruit in the world made into a slush, this was going to be good. Since this was a fast food establishment, the drink was served in a plastic cup with a sealed top so that you could take the drink to go, which was nice. The mango tango was nice and refreshing with a few chunks of actual fruit in the drink, which was a nice touch. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and the icy slushy goodness was terrific.
My husband ordered the lychee mint freeze. Though admittedly, the drink was more mint than lychee, just look at the color of the drink. This was a sweetened mint slush with just a hint of lychee flavor. It was the lychee that adds the sweetness to the tangy mint drink. Luckily, my husband is a fan of mint-flavored things, so this was right up his alley. However, this lychee mint freeze also contained a whole lychee fruit at the bottom of the cup that was revealed once you drank the freeze itself. Kind of like a little surprise to finish off the drink.
Since this was a dumpling bar and not the restaurant, the portions were a lot smaller than you’d expect at the restaurant, but that’s good, because it made it easier for the two of us to share a couple of dishes. We started with some fried shrimp & pork wontons served with a dipping sauce. My husband and I aren’t big on sauces, so we never really discovered what the dipping sauce was as we never even opened up the package to taste test it. The fried shrimp & pork wontons were fantastic and absolutely stuffed with shrimp and pork. The wonton wrappers were thin and perfectly crunchy and crispy once it was deep fried. The stuffing was all meat with no fillers, a little savory and a little sweet from the shrimp. This was a great appetizer.
But this was Din Tai Fung after all, and they are known for their xiao long bao, so we weren’t leaving without ordering some of the pork xiao long bao. Again, since these were smaller portions, each order of pork xiao long bao only came with 4 pieces, so to satisfy our craving for amazing soup dumplings, we ordered 3 orders, or a total of 12 pork xiao long bao. We figured that meant we would each get 6, and we could certainly finish 6 each. If I’m being honest, we probably could have ordered one more order and we would have been able to finish that as well. The pork xiao long bao are amazingly tasty and delicious. It’s still mind boggling how they make these amazing xiao long bao. Each dumpling is meant to be a one-bite wonder. The xiao long bao is served piping hot right off the steam basket. Pop a dumpling in your mouth and it just explodes as the pork broth is set free in your mouth. The dumpling dough itself is perfect as it isn’t too thick and doughy, but just thick enough to hold in the broth and provide a bit of body to the dumpling along with the ground pork that’s inside the dumpling. My husband and I just love the xiao long bao and can’t resist.
For a something a little more substantial and filling to go with our meal, we decided to split and order of egg fried rice with black pepper beef. The egg fried rice was exactly how I like fried rice, made with rice, eggs and scallions. There is soy sauce flavoring, and nothing else. No peas and carrots or any other additives that take away from the fried rice. When I make fried rice at home, this is the kind of fried rice I enjoy. The black pepper beef was peppery and flavorful. Tender beef was sautéed with onions and green and red bell peppers. The sauce for the beef was amazingly peppery, with each bite providing a very peppery flavor. Together, the tender, juicy beef with the egg fried rice created the perfect combination. For me, it reminded me of home and the kinds of dishes my mom would make for me for dinner. These are the kinds of dishes I like and enjoy, and it’s comfort food. To find a little slice of home in Sydney was unexpected but very much appreciated.
On the last night of our stay in Sydney, my husband and I wandered over to the mall across the street and decided to try to find dinner at the food court. We had no idea what we would find and didn’t know what we were looking for other than the fact that we needed to eat dinner. When we saw the Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar, we knew we’d be eating dinner there. The food was as spectacular and superb as we remembered it to be. The pork xiao long bao was exquisite, and just like at the restaurants, you can see the cooks making the dumplings right in front of your eyes. The fried shrimp and pork wonton was a crunchy and crispy, delicious starter and the egg fried rice and black pepper beef was filling and incredibly tasty. The food at Din Tai Fung was exactly what my husband and I needed. It was filling, rich and delicious. Had we know this dumpling bar existed from the first day we were in Sydney, we may have come back to visit more than once.
While we really enjoyed having more breakfast buffets at The Feast restaurant while we were staying at the Sheraton on the Park hotel in Sydney, we also had the option of having breakfast, drinks and desserts and evening hors d’oeuvres at the Sheraton’s Club Lounge.
Located on the top floor of the hotel, the Club Lounge was a very expansive and private place to just go and hang out, read, do a little bit of work or just to relax. Decorated in a very modern way with a mix of colors, this warm space was filled with plush sofas and pillows and deep and comfortable chairs with small intimate table settings. There was also an indoor fire pit that could be lit at night to provide some heat and, of course, some ambience.
The lounge also had a couple of outdoor balconies with amazing, unfettered views out towards Hyde Park, over into Sydney Harbour, and all the way out in the direction of Bondi Beach. Depending on the time of year and the time of day, this would be the perfect place to enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, or just a nice drink out on the balcony at the end of a long day to just relax and unwind.
The space was set up with a main central area where that day’s food offerings and drinks could be found. There was a coffee machine for gourmet coffee drinks, there was a long counter where breakfast offerings were set out in the morning, or cakes and goodies set out during the day, and a few hot food offerings set out during evening hors d’oeuvres. At almost any time of day, you could walk into the lounge and find some sort of treat or goody set out for you to grab and go, or take a seat in the lounge area to just relax and enjoy the day.
During the breakfast hour, there were displays of numerous bread and pastry options to choose from. Croissants are always a popular option for any breakfast – add some butter or some jam and you’re good to go. Lemon-filled or berry-filled Danishes are always quite popular, crusty and flaky with a tangy, sweet filling, these can be quite filling. Sticky buns, bread rolls and chocolate muffins were also offered.
There was another counter that was just with different sorts of fruit offerings for a lighter, healthier breakfast. You could get fresh sliced honeydew, pineapple and cantaloupe. There was apricots, plums and lychees. I loved seeing the lychees, such a popular Asian fruit offering.
Continuing on the healthy theme, there was smoked salmon, cheese, and cold cuts. There were also accompaniments such as dried fruit and grapes for a cheese plate, or lemon wedges, capers, red onions and cream cheese for a smoked salmon bagel. Or you could throw together your own morning salad with a choice of spinach or baby arugula, shredded carrots and a couple of different options for salad dressing. There was also oatmeal offered and various kinds of yogurt.
Then you had your hot food options. This was obviously quite popular, the eggs Benedict. Not to despair though, within a few minutes, they did bring out more eggs Benedict from the kitchen.
The chocolate chip pancakes were my favorite. Smaller, silver dollar sized thick pancakes laden with semi sweet, melty chocolate chips. Add some butter if you want, and pour on the maple syrup and these bad boys were good to go.
And again, sticking with a healthier theme, there was also broiled salmon filet in a soy sauce with sauteed bok choy. This looked so good and I really wanted to have some, but I didn’t think that boy choy and salmon went really well with chocolate chip pancakes. Just not a winning combination, so I held myself back and didn’t have any salmon, but it looked amazing.
I asked the waiter working the gourmet coffee machine for a latte and a few minutes later, a piping hot, beautiful latte with a steamed milk leaf was poured and delivered to my table. That’ll wake you up in the morning.
One afternoon, when it was cold, and drizzly outside my husband and I decided to head up to the Club Lounge and we were greeted with this welcome sight of afternoon treats. Scones with berry jam and clotted cream. Little tea cakes of pistachio, passion fruit and raspberry. A coconut cake, biscotti and some candies were also offered. Certainly a nice afternoon pick-me-up to be treated to.
Ultimately, my husband and I enjoyed having breakfast in the morning down at Feast Restaurant rather than the Sheraton Club Lounge, just because there was a wider selection of food options available. However, having the Club Lounge was a nice perk of this hotel though. We did enjoy going up to the lounge during the afternoons to just sit and relax with a cup of coffee or a soda and some tea cakes. Or just to go up there and check out the view over Hyde Park and beyond out to the Harbour. It was a nice getaway, relaxing space without being cooped up in your room all day. And of course, it’s always nice just to have options.
During the middle of our time in Sydney we decided to take a day and travel to Canberra, the capital of Australia. Getting to Canberra from Sydney requires a 4-hour train ride, so that means in order to have any time in the city to see the sights, we needed to get up before sunrise and get on the first train of the day out to Canberra. However, sometimes the best laid plans get waylaid. A day or two before we were supposed to travel to Canberra, we received an email from the train company that due to work being done on the track, the train trip that we had already booked would be switched to a motor coach trip instead since we obviously couldn’t get on the train. There was nothing to be done about it but make the best of the situation. So we left Sydney at 7 am on a 4-hour motor coach trip to Canberra. Once in Australia’s capital, our first stop was to the Australian War Memorial. Out of all the museums I’ve been to around the world, I’ve never been to a more interesting war. The museum focuses on Australia’s involvement in various world conflicts, but with a special emphasis on World War I, which I’ve not seen at other museums.
After a couple of hours walking around the Australian War Museum, my husband and I decided to stop into the museum’s cafe, appropriately called the Landing Place, to grab some lunch. It was a cold and rainy day, and we were looking for some hot and filling food to give us energy through the rest of our long day in Canberra. Since we left the hotel so early to make our motor coach, neither of us had breakfast at the hotel, so by the time we found ourselves at The Landing Place, we were both starving. The Landing Place had pre-made sandwiches and salads and desserts displayed in a refrigerated case that you could just choose from. Or, they also had a limited menu from which you could order for the kitchen to make and have delivered to your table. As my husband and I were looking for hot food, we both decided to order off the menu.
I ordered a Peri-Peri chicken schnitzel burger with fries. The peri-peri chicken schnitzel burger was absolutely delicious. With only a brioche bun, tomato slices and lettuce, the star was the chicken schnitzel. The schnitzel was very well made with tender chicken which was pounded thin, and a terrific batter that was deep-fried to a crunchy texture. The batter stayed on the chicken very well and didn’t fall apart as I ate the burger. The flavors were simple, but delicious and everything came together really well. The brioche bun was perfect for the burger, and the sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes played off of the tenderness of the chicken. This was just a well made burger. The fries were terrific as well, hot and crunchy on the outside, but fluffy and tender on the inside. I am a huge fan of these big steak fries because you just get the terrific contrast of crunchy and a lot of potato body. All around, this meal was really filling and very tasty.
My husband decided to order the special of the day which was battered fish and chips. Served with a side salad, tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon, this was a full meal. Squeeze of lemon over the battered fish, and the fish was terrific. The batter was light yet crunchy and held up well with the fish, which was flaky and light in flavor. This was what battered fish should taste like. The chips were, again, crunchy on the outside and fluffy and hot on the inside. The salad, my husband gave that to me, and I enjoyed it, with a light and tangy dressing, the salad was made with mixed greens, tomatoes, red onion and crunchy cucumbers. My husband was super happy with his order of battered fish and chips. These meals really just hit the spot.
Being that it was rainy and cold outside, and The Landing Place had a nice coffee machine and a barista who knew what they were doing, I couldn’t leave without ordering a latte. A little milk art later and the latte was delivered to the table with a milk leaf atop the steaming hot combination of espresso and steamed milk. This was an amazingly delicious latte with a terrific balance of steamed milk that the drink was foamy and luxurious. After a morning of walking around the beautiful Australian War Memorial, sitting down to an amazing cup of coffee was just icing on the cake, so to speak.
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is an absolutely fantastic, educational and emotional place to visit. After riding a motor coach for 4 hours, traveling through the rainy city to get to the War Memorial and walking around for a couple of hours looking at the various exhibits, my husband and I were hungry. Since the Landing Cafe was right there at the Australian War Memorial, we decided to sit down and enjoy a much needed lunch break. What we got was an incredibly tasty and filling meal that provided us with the energy to keep going for the rest of the day. All the food we ordered hit the spot, and the warm place to sit and rest our feet for a little bit was a welcome respite as well. If you ever find yourself in Canberra, you must visit the Australian War Memorial, and poke your head into the Landing Place, if even only for a hot cup of coffee.