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Portugal for Food and Wine Lovers

Portugal is a great place for food and wine lovers.  The food is simple, fresh and well-priced.  The wine’s spectacular.

One of our best days was spent visiting the Duoro wine region.  We hired a private guide from Tours By Locals, Richardo Oliveira.  He picked us up in Porto and drove us to Pinhao, the town at the junction of the Duoro and Pinhao river.  On the 2 hour drive Ricardo entertained us with a history of wine in Portugal.  Sure, Portugal is famous for Port wines but they have many great wines that we rarely get to try in North America.

200 year old vine at Foz
200 Year Old Vine Quinta da Foz

My favourite winery was Quinta da Foz, built at the end of the 18th century. Cristiano, the Director of Wine Tourism took us into the vineyards where the steeply terraced vineyards mean that the vines have to be tended by hand.  It looks like back breaking work.  In the winery there are beautiful tiles that tell the story of their production.  I was amazed to learn that foot stomping the grapes is still the norm in the Duoro.  We finished in the tasting room.  Every wine was delicious but the Grande Reserva, a field blend from 100+ year old vines was a knockout.  I have a couple of bottles in my cellar waiting for a cold winter night to bring some Portuguese sunshine into my life.

Tiles at Quinta da Foz
Wall tiles at Quinta da Foz
Foz tasting
Tasting Room Quinta da Foz

A visit to the Duoro wouldn’t be complete without spending some time on the river where you can really appreciate how steep the terraces are.  We enjoyed it immensely and our captain, Bruno served us a tasty treat of toasts with cheese and pumpkin, walnut jam from his mother’s farm.   The Portuguese are warm and welcoming and somehow keep things very local and personal.  I could definitely spend more time in this fascinating wine district.

Boat trip on Duoro
On the Duoro
Cheese and pumpkin walnut jam
Cheese with Pumkin & Walnut Jam

There are said to be over 1,000 bacalhau recipes in Portugal.  Bacalhau, or salt cod is near and dear to my Newfoundland heart.    I tried it 7 different ways in my first few days in Porto, each one a delight taking me back to childhood Friday fish dinners.

Bacalhau
Bacalau

We never had a bad meal but the fresh grilled fish and potatoes, with olive oil, bread and wine are reliably delicious and reasonable priced.

Volta & Meia
Volta & Meia

Our best meal was at Volta & Meia in Figueira da Foz http://voltaemeia.com/Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato combines clams, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, white wine and cilantro.  Without doubt, the best clams I’ve ever eaten and we loved the restaurant.  There were 7 of us for dinner and every dish was great.  They are part of the Happy Café Network supporting Action for Happiness, a movement creating and promoting happiness and wellbeing in their communities.  Great food, a great wine selection with atmosphere and service that makes you want to linger.  I give it a big 5 Yums Up.

Estrall de Serra
Flor da Serra

My final big food experience was the discovery of Serra da Estrela Cheese.  A cloth bound, sheep milk cheese, it has a soft gooey paste when young and it won our hearts.  We just couldn’t get enough of it.  We liked how it was served with a circle carved from the top to make a lid that could be used if you didn’t finish it, an unlikely occurrence.

11th Annual Okanagan Wine Tour

For our 11th annual Okanagan wine tour we decided to head north to Kelowna and Lake Country.

It was the worst weather we have ever had.

Our 1st stop was Fitzpatrick Vineyards at Greata Ranch to try the award-winning sparkling wines.  I bought all 3 and look forward to toasting life with them.  The winery is beautiful and they have a restaurant with a fantastic view of the lake.

At Quails’ Gate we did a tasting before lunch.  Their Pinot Noir is a star.  Lunch was a little uneven but the parmesan fries are still delicious, the mussels perfect and a grilled halloumi was outstanding.

The Hatch was our next stop.  It’s a happening place with lots of young people having a good time.

I didn’t like any of the wines, though I think they have some good ones not available to taste.

Our final stop of the day was at Beaumont Estate Winery.  One of our group rightly loves the rose.  We had such a good time there.  They have a set up with drums a stand-up base and a guitar.  The owner played guitar, I got my bongo mojo going and Shirley sang and danced.  A first for a wine tasting experience.  We had a great time.

Our final stop was our 3-bedroom cottage at Falcon Point, Predator Ridge and made dinner at home to enjoy with some of the great wines we had picked up.

Day 2 started at Mission Hills for a Reserve tour and tasting.  The tour and tasting were great and the winery and art collection are fantastic.  Great wines and the best gift shop I’ve ever seen in a winery.

We headed back across the lake and stopped at Tantalus.  Sadly they were sold out of almost everything.  I bought some reisling and pinot noir, both signature grapes.

We did a tasting and lunch at the newly renovated Cedar Creek.  It will be absolutely fantastic when completed.  The new restaurant Home Block had just opened the day before but it was flawless.  The French fries were fantastic and the calamari the best I’ve ever tasted.

Our final stop was Sperling Vineyards.  A nice simple tasting room with some exceptional reislings.

Day 3 we started in Lake Country at Ex Nihilo, pretty fine Pinot Noir, a bit young to be released, in my opinion but I think it will be delicious in a few years.

Next, Intrigue Wines.  Another fantastic gift shop and some of the best value wines in the Okanagan.  I’m drinking a glass of their Riesling right now.  It gulpable.

Then Gray Monk for tasting and lunch.  Terribly slow service at the Lookout Restaurant and OK food.

Final stop Arrowleaf Cellars, they keep winning awards but I’ve never been and still am not a fan.

After a break we took advantage of 50th Parallel’s complimentary shuttle from Predator.  What a beautiful winery and Block One restaurant.  Lots of great art, super tasting.  I didn’t love the pizza but they have a fabulous forno and the warm olives and broccolini, done gomae style was great.

And so another Okanagan wine tour ends.

Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding at The Fish Exchange

Fishernan's Platter
The Captain’s Seafood Feast

Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding on a seafood platter is the bomb.

I’ve seen so many group dinners go wrong that it’s a pleasant surprise when a restaurant pulls it off as well as they did recently at The Fish Exchange in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  Twelve of us sat in a private room and the staff did an excellent job.  Food and drinks all arrived promptly and were served with good cheer.

We shared some cod tongues to mixed reviews.  I loved them but they were maybe a little out of peoples comfort zone.  Salt cod fritters were better received.

I had the Captain’s Seafood Feast, a beautiful platter of shrimp, scallops, salmon, halibut, lobster and sale cod fishcake.  I was delighted to find some delicious pease pudding on my plate.  They only serve it with the seafood feast so I was the only one that had it.  Since everyone else wasn’t from Newfoundland and had never had pease pudding I asked if we could have a side order to share.  No problem, and they delivered a small dish for everyone to try.  The response, as expected was mixed.  I could have eaten every bit but I didn’t know everyone well enough.

I would recommend The Fish Exchange for groups for sure.

Best Scallops Ever at Merchant Tavern 4 Yums Up!

Scallops Merchant
Best Scallops Ever

As much as I loved Raymonds I preferred the more casual fun atmosphere at little sister restaurant The Merchant Tavern.  We sat at the large bar that fills the middle of the room and was full of happy people sharing food having fun.

Cod Napes Merchant
Cod Napes Delicious

All of the staff were wearing Tshirts with a diagram of a cod fish cuts.  Cod is God in Newfoundland and we like to eat all parts.  They Cod Napes as a feature appetizer. Napes is attached to the fin and is a delicious sweet and tasty treat.

We shared grilled scallops with a parsnip puree and they were without doubt the best scallops I have ever had.

Fennel Pasta Merchant
Fennel Tagliatelle

We both ordered pasta dishes.  I had Fennel Tagliatelle and I wouldn’t recommend it.  The pasta was too soft and the whole dish a bit too soupy.  Perhaps I wasn’t hungry enough.

Seafood pasta Merchant
Monterosso Linquini

David had the Monterosso Linquini with bay scallops, mussels, capelin, brocolli and chili flakes and I wasn’t too hungry to give him a little help with that.  The pasta was cooked and seasoned perfectly.

They have a great wine and beer list and we had a very good time.

I highly recommend The Merchant Tavern.  4 Yums Up!

Raymonds is the best restaurant in St. John’s, Newfoundland and that’s really saying something. 5 Yums Up!

We planned our restaurants in St. John’s as soon as we booked our tickets to Newfoundland and were lucky that Raymonds had moved to summer hours and was open on a Monday night.

Go hungry and don’t hold back, do all 7 courses if you can.  We jumped right in including  wine pairings when they easily adjusted to our pescatarian preference.  The famous lamb was tempting though, they have them raised on a small island off the coast and we’d seen them the day before and the setting was idyllic.

Each course was as delicious as you’d expect but there were a few stand outs.

 

Raymonds Scallops
Scallops with Fennel Powder & Fennel Dust

David thought the scallops with fennel, including a fennel powder was the #1 dish and it was as impressive as it looks.  The fennel powder was a delightful surprise.  

Pasta with snow crab
Pasta with Snow Crab

My favourite dish was the pasta with snow crab.  The little blackish pasta rolls were made with onion ash and had the perfect bite you want in handmade pasta.  The snow crab was so sweet and the texture so perfect, it is etched in my memory forever and i can just about taste it as I write this.

squid
Squid with Herbs

One of the meat courses was replaced with squid and herbs.
The squid was I’ve ever had.

Raymonds Cod

Crispy Skinned Cod

The crispy skin cod with onion puree, a mussel in an onion petal and crispy cod tongue was another winner.

I’m not sure what was the most exciting, each plate delivery or the wine pour and description that competed for our attention.  The sommelier realized how keen I was and for a couple of courses poured 2 wines to see which pairing we preferred.  And that leads me to the service.  It simply could not be better.  Everyone working there was fully engaged and keen so share everything they knew.  

Good to know, they have 3 seats at their beautiful bar that they don’t reserve and they serve a full menu there.  Also I would book in a table in the bar in future, it’s a smaller more intimate room.

Mallard Cottage lives up to it’s reputation and knocks it out of the park with cod cheeks. 5 Yums Up!

Mallard Cottage
The Mallard Cottage

I love landing in St. John’s, trying to spot my house or school from the air or checking to see the icebergs outside the harbour.  This time I had my eye on Quidi Vidi, the lovely fishing village just over the hill from St. John’s harbour.  We were staying at The Inn at Mallard Cottage and had reservations for dinner in the award-winning restaurant.  We settled into our wonderful room and headed to the bar for a drink before dinner.


Two musicians with a guitar and an accordion were playing and it was clear we were in for a lovely evening.

Mallard Menu
Sunday Night Menu June 9, 2019

We chose the Family menu to try as much as possible.  Starting with Blue Mussels with Onion and Tomato, that David declared the best he’d ever had and I couldn’t disagree.  The focaccia with carmelized onion butter was so delicious we somehow managed to eat a second order.  There must be a separate stomach for bread and butter.  The bartender had recommended the Salt Cod Tartare and it was a unique dish.  Cod is god in Newfoundland and it must have been one beautiful fish because these little morsels were absolutely perfect with shallot, buttermilk and house made potato chips.  Culinary genius.

Cod Tartare
Cod Tartare 

Lobster Thermidor with mustard cream was delightful and Skin on Cod with confit potatoes equally so.

Lobster thermidor
Lobster Thermidor

A gorgeous piece of Halibut was creatively matched up with Garam Masala Chick Peas.  Absolutely fabulous.

Mallard Halibut
Halibut

The family meal didn’t come with the Corn Crusted Cod Cheeks and we couldn’t possibly have eaten them anyway but made it back another night to try them.  We’re glad we did because so many people we talked to said they were a personal favourite.

Mallard Cottage and The Inn both exceeded my expectations.  I don’t want to stay anywhere else in St. John’s.

Tacos and butter rock my foodie world in Prince Edward County.

It’s always exciting to see what’s new to eat in Prince Edward County, Ontario.   Affectionately referred to by locals as “The County” the foodie scene there is continuously improving to keep pace with the wines.  My favourite this time was La Condesa in Wellington.  The Perch Tacos on hand pressed nixtamal tortillas are the best I’ve ever had.  The cocktails are 1st rate too.

La Condesa Fish Taco
Perch Taco at La Condesa

This winter David ate at the Bloomfield Public House and raved about the shellfish chowder so I was keen to go there and we had another good meal.  The highlight was the butter; browned and fermented we couldn’t get enough of it with the delicious bread.  That same bread is used in the really excellent shrimp toast.  Although I didn’t love my pasta I’ll definitely go back, I think they’ve got a good thing going. 3 Yums Up!

Shellfish Chowder Bloomfield Public House
Shellfish Chowder Bloomfield Public House

We had brunch at The Vic Café.  The loaded tots and cauliflower crunch bites are both good but the cappuccino is surely the best coffee in the area. 2 Yums Up!

We didn’t visit a single winery this time but did stop by Gillingham Brewery  in Hillier and loved the JM Porter, a big chocolate bomb of deliciousness.  3 Yums Up!

Japan gets a big 3 Yums up

The Japanese quest for harmony and perfection is a hard gig for them but makes for a great experience for visitors.  Everyone will tell you how clean and safe it is and the reality of that is simply great.

There are lots of little things to watch out for but no one will ever make you feel uncomfortable about them.

I have very few food pictures.  Having your camera out taking pictures of the food is frowned upon.  I’m sure they don’t want anyone touching their phones during a meal.  Remember the cleanliness thing.

When you sit down you are given a warm wet towel and after cleaning your hands, you should fold it neatly and place it beside your plate in case you need to wipe your fingers.

Restaurants have baskets for you to put beside or under your chair for your bags or purse, so you don’t have to leave anything on the floor.

Our love of Japanese food was a big motivator to visit Japan but the 1st day or so can be a bit overwhelming.  We stayed at the Hyatt Shinjuku so we had our 1st sushi meal there at Miyako.  With just 14 seats at the sushi counter we had a chef who was exclusively focused on making us happy.  His knife skills were something to see.  For the finale he used little bits of this and that and made us the most delicious roll.  I dared one picture.

Miyako Sushi Hyatt Tokyo
My lovely seat at Miyako, Haytt, Shinjuku

The next day we took a walk around the old fish market.  I took one picture of a beautifully displayed octopus. The vendors do not want tourists taking pictures and getting in the way of their business.   Being exceeding polite people, they may not say anything but they definitely don’t like it.

Tsujiki area
On a building in the Tsujiki area.  Fish everywhere.

 

Octopus in Tsujiki
Octopus in Fish Market

The department stores are amazing places and the whole top floor is often full of restaurants.  We tried the tempura restaurant in the Keio Department store.  That’s where I noticed how much the Japanese enjoy their food.  We sat at the bar again and were able to see the reactions of the people around us as they ate and expressed their great pleasure.  I didn’t know that eating tempura was complicated but they have us a guide to enjoying tempura.  I really liked all the different salts.  A giant tempered clam was absolutely amazing and I’m sure I’ll never have anything quite like it again.

David and Udon
David and his udon.

In Takamatsu we did an udon making class, then enjoyed the udon with a bento box lunch.  It was super fun and tasty.

Bento Box
Bento box of many treats.

 

By the time we got to Osaka we were pretty comfortable and had a great visit to the Kuromon Ichiba Market.

Kurumon Market
Kuromon Market Osaka is a must see.

You don’t eat on the streets and there are no garbage bins anywhere, so in the market when you buy something,  you should stand at the stall you buy from and eat so they can take care of your disposables.   They may have a couple of tables in the back and will invite you to use them.    We tried takoyaki, little balls of batter stuffed with octopus, cooked in a special molded pan and covered in yummy sauce.

takoyaki
Yummy Takoyaki

We loved okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with optional fillings.  Okonomi means “what you like” and yaki means “cooked”, so it can have almost anything in it.  I have a recipe and am looking forward to making one.

Okonomiyaki
My personal fave Okonomiyaki.

Another fun foodie thing to do in Osaka is to wander along the Dotonbori canal and the streets around it.  Lined with restaurants and full of people eating and having fun, you could spend several nights there and never run out of great things to try or see.  You won’t be bored.

When it’s time to leave Japan you can buy your souvenirs or treats to bring home at the airport and trust that the price will be the same as in the city.

I can’t wait to go back to Japan.

Another outstanding meal @Savio_Volpe.

Our latest meal at Osteria Savio Volpe was fantastic.  I had my heart set on the Bagna Cauda and was happy to see it still on the menu.  Bagna Cauda is a hot dip of anchovy, garlic and olive oil served with  bread and veggies like fingerling potatoes, radishes, and endive.  We mopped up every drop with some extra bread.

For wine we chose a Nebbiolo from Langhe and it was a perfect match.  The aromas of wild berries and fruity flavour complimented the deep umami of the bagna cauda.

Langhe Nebbiolo

We couldn’t resist the Faro Salad again.  Always different depending on what’s fresh, this time there was squash, chickpeas, pine nuts, dates and ricotta.  Absolutely delicious.

The daily pasta was a mezzaluna with salt cod and a light white wine and saffron sauce.  I simply can’t resist salt cod and the smooth sauce worked with the distinct taste of the cod.

From the fire we had Albacore Tuna with romanesco, capers, olives, lemon and a side of charred cabbage with tomato and olive vinaigrette.  Wow!  The tuna was perfect but I’d love a big bowl of the cabbage all to myself.

Finally we couldn’t resist the polenta cake with blood oranges and mascarpone.

Polenta Cake

A great meal made even greater with the super people working there, many who have been there since they opened 3 years ago.  That says a lot.