Friday, March 28, 2014

Baby Cafe & Pizzeria

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Hey Baby. 

How you doing?

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Very spicy we were told as we enquired after the Salsiccia pizza with fior di latte, spiced italian sausage, friarielle and chilli. Their spiciest pizza even, were Brad and I sure we could handle it?

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We were eating at Baby Pizza on a spontaneous Sunday night, an unusual night for us to be out since Brad usually has futsal on, but a nice change to the usual. 

I breathed easy when we arrived to not see the infamous queues that it's sibling, Chin Chin, is well known for and we were quickly seated. 

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The restaurant was happily buzzing, the decor kept things very simple and clean, but also escalated noise levels quite quickly with lots of light wood and no soft furnishings. I found myself unintentionally yelling at Brad for much of the night…I'm not that mean usually...I swear!

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I thought it was quite cute, and rather convenient, that the cutlery was kept in the table, present, but not in the way. 

I had been wanting to try the pizza at Baby Pizza for a while, but I baulked at the price for a gluten free base. $5 on top of an average of $22 a pizza. It definitely pushed the boundaries, but after seeing that one of Shellie's friends say that it was the best gluten free base she had had in town…well one has to go check it out!

So, could we handle the spicy of the Salsiccia pizza? 

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Well yeah. It was really more white guy spicy (Brad, the white guy, said it first!), with some nice heat and a kick at the back, but not the blinding spiciness that the waitress seemed to imply. It was delicious though, with healthy dollops of cheese and lovely meaty sausage. I was immensely impressed with the base, and although the price is a bit steeper than the rest of the market, it is probably my favourite gluten free base now. Damn it!

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The serve of gnocchi alla zucca, hand made gnocchi with pumpkin and sage was pleasant, but nothing to write home about, as the sauce felt a bit heavy handed and thick. The gnocchi itself was quite nice, a nice manageable size that was light and pleasant. 

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But oh my, it's so nice to finish a meal on a glowing note and at Baby, that was from the creme caramello. It looked to be such a simple and modest at first, but once you pick up the spoon, it just slices through as if it was nothing. Happy sighs. I couldn't get over how smooth it was, as it just melted onto the tongue. A beautiful balance of vanilla and caramel goodness, I was busy licking the plate clean by the end of the night!

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Whilst Baby may not be my usual choice for a date night, as it can get quite hard to talk with the noise, there's a lovely lighthearted atmosphere and the food is pretty solid, albeit a little pricer than the rest of town, but tuck into a few carafes of house wine and finish up with that creme caramello and just about anything can be forgiven...

631-633 Church St
Richmond 3121

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Syracuse - Breakfast

Disclosure: I was invited to dine at Syracuse as a guest of the restaurant

Caryn and I broke a couple of breakfast rules last week, although really, are there any?

For example, we shared three breakfast dishes between the two of us, on a working morning (not a leisurely brunch) and we had whisky before it was even 9am…however it was in the form of ice-cream. And mixed with roasted apple. So I guess that makes it alright…I guess?

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We did these devious breakfast activities at Syracuse, which I had last visited a few years ago for a beautiful dinner with Brad, so was quite keen to see what they were turning out for breakfast when I was invited. 

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Stepping into Syracuse off the tiled walkway from Bank Place is a lovely experience, as you slip in through the relatively narrow entrance, that just opens up gloriously, as if easing into a comfortable leather armchair. 

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Majestically high ceilings, and a touch of old glamour, I'm happily tickled by the idea of eating breakfast with table cloth on the table. 

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For whatever reason I don't enquire after a soy chai, feeling a bit of sand in my eyes and needing a little extra boost in the morning and go for a tea instead. I do intend to swing by sometime to try their homemade chai next time though!

After a bit of the usual gas-bag, where Caryn and I contemplated a trip to Bruny Island together, Jordan, who was looking after us this particular morning, swept in and gave us some of his recommendations, which both happened to be sweeter options. However, eggs are always necessary in my opinion, and so we arrived at the decision of three dishes. 

Can't help but be a little greedy sometimes right?

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We started with some Yarra Valley berries, mango, young coconut and granola, laid out over some organic yoghurt. With a few edible flowers to top it all off, it was really almost too pretty to eat! The combination together was just lovely though, crunchy toasted granola, tart but juicy raspberries, sweet and mellow finely sliced mango and rather lush blueberries. My only nitpick was that I would have liked a little more yoghurt so I could thoroughly cover everything with it, but that's just a preference of mine.

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Our egg option was a French omelette, with heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, roast onion and goats cheese dolloped throughout. With great soft chunks of baby potatoes cut in half, the omelette seemed rather rustic to me. I absolutely swooned over the goats cheese, smooth and rich, and enjoyed the saltiness the roast onion introduced.

Simple in presentation, and I found myself enjoying it much more than I had initially expected.

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We finished our breakfast meal in a rather cheeky manner, with a serve of the Belgian waffles, with big juicy blueberries, pistachio praline and that decadent serve of roasted apple and whisky ice cream. 

Woah. Talk about shocking your taste buds in the morning! There's a definite alcoholic hit from the whisky, but it's quickly softened out with the sweetness of the apple and the dairy, also broken up with sweetness from the blueberries. It compliments the waffles nicely, which are quite short and almost crunchy around the outside, the way I like them, although Caryn commented she generally preferred her waffles a little more chewy. 

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The crunch from the pistachio praline was also a surprise, as it's just dusted over the top, it's hard to imagine it would provide a big texture hit, but it certainly makes itself known to you quite quickly!

Whilst whisky ice-cream may not be everyone's thing before breakfast, as it is a bit of a shock to the system (unless you're used to drinking to the early morning), it's definitely a treat and something I would easily revel in on brunch over the weekend. Hey, it would be kinda of perfect if you're hungover…right? 

Although Syracuse's settings imply a bit of fancy, the breakfast menu is actually quite inviting, with dishes that focus on good quality product, from the fresh generously sized berries, to the smooth and beautifully textured potatoes in the omelette, executed simply, but very well. 

23 Bank Place
Melbourne 3000

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Admiral Cheng Ho

Although all intentions are usually there to do good by the body and earth and strive to eat more vegetable based meals…I'm honestly not hard wired to crave vegetables. Whilst I certainly do love them, if I'm making food at home or when I'm out, I'm still gravitating towards a meaty protein and cooing over a nice little bit of lamb or a delightfully fatty nibble of pork. I blame the Asian in me. 

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So I'm kind of loving that more and more vegetarian places, and not just vegetarian places, but really tasty vegetarian places are opening up and making the decision to have veggies, not really a decision at all. 

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Marwin Shaw, the guy who brought us the much loved Monk Bodhi Dharma, finally opened up shop a little bit closer to town (and me), with Admiral Cheng-Ho. 

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Located in that awkward corner of Johnston Street in Abbotsford, which is still yet to find it's stride when it comes to food (although be ready, I'm sure it's just around the corner now), word gets around fast, and within two weeks of opening, the weekend crowd is pumping. 

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In summer the little cafe is hot. Hot, hot and hot! Sticky thighs and sweat moustaches ensued, especially with that many people in such a wee little space. With more wintery weather creeping up on us though, I will have to admit that I'm now very tempted when I see the light on as my bus goes by the cafe in the morning, to maybe show up at work a little later and treat myself. 

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With a mix of breakfast basics, and interesting twists (and a few fun names in there), the menu read simply but delightfully. 

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Whilst I was very keen on the house made organic hazelnut milk, the price tag made me think twice, $9 for a chai latte made with it! So instead I just opted for my usual soy chai which was beautifully spicy. I love the big mug you get as well, certainly lasts a little while! I will certainly be planning to pop by and try the hazelnut milk one of these days though, after all $9 isn't so bad... right?

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Whilst I was sorely tempted by the Banoffee Pie on the menu, I still cannot convince myself to go fully sweet in the morning, and so found myself with the namesake, 'The Admiral'. 

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An elegantly presented serve of zucchini fritters on sauteed kale with seasonal vegetables with tangy beetroot relish and basil cashew cream. So much goodness all in one plate, I was amazed they were still getting asparagus this big, this fresh and this green at this time of year! The fritters were a nice texture, and well seasoned and honestly, the vegans are seriously onto something with that cashew cream. So smooth and creamy, with a nice tang of sweetness from the beetroot. Yum!

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Brad got the umami mushrooms with slow roasted king oyster, shitake & swiss brown mushrooms on a house made pumpkin, spinach & sun dried tomato polenta bread with goats cheese, thyme and red chilli oil. Although they had run out of the polenta bread, so we just got some regular bread. 

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It looked to be a relatively modest serve, but it was quite rich in flavour, with the creamy chunks of goat cheese and a rich creamy sauce. It was a lovely umami kick indeed, although Brad left wishing it had an egg on it, just for a bit of protein and to make it a little more filling for him. But y'know boys.

I personally left feeling great, quite light and clean, happily skipping down the street as a cool breeze decided to blow through. 

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So although I may question the choice of footwear on the hipster staff (clear, sparkly jelly sandals…didn't those go out of style 20 years ago?), I don't question the goodness of the food. 

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And who knows, maybe the Admiral is leading the charge to bring a little more hip and cool to this sleepy corner of Johnston street…watch this space! 

Admiral Cheng Ho
325 Johnson Street
Abbotsford 3067

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Last days in New York - Katz's Deli, Big Gay Ice Cream, Smorgasburg

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I finally come to writing about the last few days of my trip to America last year. Our last two days in New York following July 4th were relaxed and pretty easy going in the steamy summer weather. 

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We did the stroll through Central Park, watched remote controlled boats in the ponds, chased squirrels (or maybe that was just me) and waited patiently for our turn to take pictures of the 'Imagine' mosaic (Brad got rather pissed at me when I started photo bombing his attempts). 

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Honestly, New York is so spoilt to have such luscious park in the middle of their little island. 

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From Central Park, we made our way to the Museum of Natural History, where I was surprised to see such a long queue, that moved relatively slowly…for what is supposed to be a free museum. However, they queue you up to strongly recommend you make a 'donation' of $25 per person. 

Note though, that Brad and were towards the end of our trip, and feeling the pinch, so between the two us 'donated' $10 to the museum to enter instead. You just have to ask them to donate a different amount. 

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Goodness, what a museum though! Animals, dinosaurs and the history of humans, covering the many cultures that exist now, there was so much more to the museum than I expected! 

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This display made me a bit sad to see, as this are black rhinos which were declared extinct in 2011. 

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My favourite part though was definitely checking out all the dinosaur fossils and bones, with one of the most comprehensive collections I have ever seen!

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An additional bonus with the Natural History Museum, is that there's a Shake Shack around the corner, where Brad and I indulged in a late lunch. I was once again disappointed by the fries, but loved the 'Shroom Burger with its thick and crispy portobello mushroom, and swooned over the peanut butter shake. Really, why don't we have anything like this at home?!

Although Brad and I get along well and generally like to do a lot of things together, one activity that we can't seem to do together…is shop. Mainly because I can dedicate a day to just looking, touching and trying on stuff (and often not buying anything if you can believe it!) and Brad…well, just doesn't care for it.

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So for the rest of the afternoon, I did a manic shopping session while Brad rested up in the hotel, before we met up again to hit up Katz's Deli in the Lower East Side for a late dinner. Again, I had somehow not visited on my last visit in 2010, so I was definitely well overdue! 

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If you haven't heard of Katz's Deli (and assumedly have some interest in food), you clearly must be living under a rock. Founded in 1888 it's well loved by both locals and tourists for it's range of sandwiches (the pastrami being one of the most well known), soups, hot dogs and range of other goods. 

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It's also famous for 'that' scene in 'When Harry Met Sally…', which they are clearly proud of, with a sign pointing to the exact table. 

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Katz's is delightfully old school, the servers are slightly gruff, the walls are unabashedly filled with memorabilia and the place clearly hasn't seen a face lift in more recent times, which just adds to the character.

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Upon arrival you're given a ticket, which you must hold on to, as that's how your bill is tracked and calculated when you leave. You then approach the appropriate counter for what you want. Don't worry, if you get mixed up the men behind the counter very promptly tell you where you need to be. They're maybe not the most smiley bunch I've come across, but they are efficient at what they do. 

Now, I'm not sure why, but Brad and I got two sandwiches. Bad move.

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Both the pastrami sandwich and the reuben are absolute beasts of sandwiches. Chock-a-block full with meat, easily 3 to 4 inches tall. 

It's pretty full on.

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Whilst I certainly enjoyed the pastrami, charred and juicy, with a nice smokiness to it and a healthy smear of mustard, I found that it was just a bit too much meat after a while, with not much variance in flavour. Which is why I enjoyed the reuben much more, with the tang of sauerkraut and delightfully sinful melt of cheese. Oh and that corned beef, mmhmm!

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Don't forget the pickles, they're simple to die for, and if you're having it with the pastrami, definitely make for a nice reprieve from all the meatiness. 

Brad somehow managed to finish one whole sandwich on his own, and half of another, but complained for the rest of the night that he felt like he had eaten a small cow. Hehe.

We then walked a few streets down to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, because who doesn't like rainbows and sweets together? 

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Even at 10 something at night there was a surprisingly long queue for the little ice-cream shop, but fortunately a fabulous door lady kept us company and in line, letting people in as people went out. 

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The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop is filled with unicorns, rainbows and a variety of delicious ice-cream treats with cheeky names such as 'Salty Pimp', 'Cococone', 'Mexican Affo'gay'to' and many more. What I love though, is the care that goes into these treats to make them a little more interesting than your average soft serve. 

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My 'Salty Pimp' has vanilla ice-cream laced with dulce de leche, a bit of sea salt and coated in a thin chocolate shell. Just delightful, with hints of caramel popping up here and there. 

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Brad got (or maybe I made him) the 'Monday Sundae', a nutella lined waffle cone filled with ice-cream, dulcet de leech, a bit of salt and topped with whipped cream. Wicked. Delicious. 

On our trip we were very fortunate that the Statue of Liberty reopened while we were there, as it had been closed prior for repairs after Hurricane Sandy hit earlier that year. So on our last day in New York, Brad had managed to reserve some tickets online before our trip to see Lady Liberty herself. 

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It's a lovely way to spend a morning, and as always with these things, make sure you get the earliest boat you can out, as it can get quite busy! 

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We also explored Wall Street, where Brad tried to stick it to the man, and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, which proved to be more work than expected in the heat!

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For lunch, we made our way to Smorgasburg, a weekly food market which is many a food lovers dream. With gorgeous views of Manhattan across the river, the only problem was…how do you decide what to eat?!

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While Brad camped out on the grass with an umbrella to shade us from the heat (it was THAT hot), I scoured the market and picked up a lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound, a mini halo halo from the Lumpia Shack (that could've had a bit more ube in it) and an adorable frozen lassi 'pop' that really hit the spot. 

Later on in the day, Brad once again retreated to our hotel room to rest up, as I ran around town doing some last minute shopping and regretting that I didn't buy a leather jacket when I really did want it. Ah sigh. 

Looking back at the length of our trip, we did so much, but yet so little, which is simply just a testament to the density and richness of New York. I didn't buy everything I wanted to, eat everything I wanted to and Brad and I didn't even hit up any bars while we were running around Manhattan and goodness, don't even talk to me about Brooklyn, our only exposure with it was Smorgasburg! But I guess next time we visit, maybe it'll be a little less tourist driven, and we can focus on just being and existing in New York and kicking it a little more like a local. Until next time...

366 Columbus Ave
Manhattan, NY

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

205 E Houston Street
Manhattan, NY

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

127 E 7th Street
Manhattan, NY

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop on Urbanspoon