Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sono Japanese Restaurant Portside

Sono Japanese Restaurant Portside

Last week was a significant milestone for me. I have officially been working full-time for over a year now! What better way to mark this anniversary than to take my family out for food? We decided on Sunday lunch and I booked Sono via Mochi's recommendations. With its flash location next to the water in Hamilton, I figured it'd be a nice day time dining spot.

The restaurant is located upstairs near the cinema. There's an expansive dining space with conventional table, sunken seats (to pretend that you're sitting on the floor) and some private rooms as well.

I was given free reign to order whatever I wanted to. I decided on a few starters and mains to share.

Large sashimi combination platter

The large sashimi platter arrived first. Everything was fresh, which is crucial for sashimi. There was a variety of fish but we (being n00bs) still preferred the salmon best.


I chose 2 types of oysters: the ponzu sauce with grated white radish and the lime sauce with Canadian salmon roe.

Close-up of oyster with ponzu, grated white radish with chili, shredded shallot

The oysters themselves were large, juicy and sweet but the toppings weren't distinct enough for me to have a preference. Both were good.

Gyoza - pan-fried Japanese pork dumplings served with dipping sauce

Next came the gyoza. These were crunchy on the outside and the filling was good but they weren't a standout dish. Gyoza is streetfood to me and there was nothing about this Sono version that pushed them to the next level.

Gyu tataki - traditional seared striploin beef, thinly sliced and served with citrus soy sauce

The beef tataki was very well received. It is rare beef, lightly seered on the exterior and thinly sliced. I thought it was delicious and so very tender. My dad in particular enjoyed this dish.

Chicken teriyaki - sauteed chicken maryland with teriyaki sauce, served with seasonal vegetables

Our mains soon followed. The chicken teriyaki was something that Mochi insisted I try. Sure, chicken teriyaki is very pedestrian but I'm glad I ordered this because it shows how awesome simple food can be when executed well. The flavors (sweet and savory soy) were perfectly composed and the chicken was tender and juicy... no dry bits at all.

Black cod saikyo yaki - grilled New Zealand black cod, pre-marinated for 48 hours in a traditional saikyo miso sauce

The black cod saikyo yaki sounded great on the menu (quote 'a very tasty and traditional dish') but let us down in terms of taste. Mum didn't mind it but the rest of us thought this dish to be the least impressive. The flesh was thick and there was nothing special about the taste. Maybe my tastebuds are too hyperevolved and traditional doesn't cut it anymore :(.

Duck teriyaki orange - sauteed NSW Pepe’s duck breast with teriyaki and orange sauce, served with seeded mustard

Duck teriyaki orange was something else I was really looking forward to, just cos I love duck. It was quite good. The duck wasn't fatty at all and had a nice, subtle orange flavor that went well with the wholegrain mustard. I've had more outstanding duck dishes elsewhere though.

Tempura moriawase - large Queensland king prawns, whiting, calamari and assorted seasonal vegetables deep-fried in tempura batter; served with green tea salt, shiso herb salt, sea salt and traditional dipping sauce

The tempura plate was next. There was an assortment of tempura items gracefully arranged on a plate, served with miscellaneous salts. The tempura was done just as so - light and airy and crisp. My grandma loves making tempura at home and marveled at how they can achieve this exterior consistency without over/under-cooking the inside. The tempura at Sono was good but honestly, tempura at most Japanese restaurants out ist at least passable so it wasn't anything to give a medal over.

Nasu dengaku - grilled eggplant with white and brown miso

Contrastingly, the eggplant dish really was a standout. It was grilled to perfection with a soft, giving texture. My dad was so into this he started raving poetically about how 'ying and yang' the white and brown miso pastes were, giving the dish perfect harmony. I'm not sure if the skin was even supposed to be eaten but by the time my family were done, there wasn't a licking of sauce left on the plate.

The service at Sono was impeccable, as is expected from a Japanese restaurant. That and the comtemporary, open-spaced dining environment contributed to a casual yet sophisticated lunchtime experience. It helped that the food was consistently fresh, light and tasty. I am grateful for Mochi's recommendation to try Sono and would gladly go back to try more of their menu.
Sono Japanese Restaurant Portside on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Carolina Kitchen

Carolina Kitchen
38 Macaulay St, Coorparoo

Last Friday night, I did something that should speak volumes about the dining selection in Toowoomba. We drove all the way to Brisbane to have dinner, before driving all the way back (about 3hr return journey). It's not just that there aren't many restaurants around here to begin with, the quality/price is just not competitive compared with what Brisbane has to offer. Not only that, I just haven't been to anywhere new and exciting in so long (evident by my lack of new posts) that I HAD to.

I chose Carolina Kitchen because I'd heard so much about it. It carries a lot of hype in the food blogging world. I've seen mentions on Twitter and posts on Urbanspoon. Southern American food is something I don't have great exposure to but completely appeals to me (hearty soul food... how could it not?) Mochi went with her friends a while back and claimed it was good.

She had warned me that the restaurant was located randomly in a very residential part of Coorparoo. She wasn't wrong there.

When we walked up to the restaurant, I was very taken aback. For one thing, calling it a 'restaurant' is stretching it. It's basically a takeaway store and a small one at that. There are a few tables inside but they were very competitive when we first got there. I think it's a miracle we got a table at all (in fact, we ordered takeaway, assuming we'd have to eat in the car, but another diner vacated just in time).

I had expected a real Southern-style diner (kinda like Sylvias that was featured on Australian MasterChef) but instead, it's a takeaway shop that sells some food items that could be considered Southern.

Being very hungry and curious, we ordered a smattering of everything: ribs, wings, fries and a chili dog.

NY Fries

The fries arrived first. They are crisp shoestring fries with a bit of sour cream, cheese and chili sauce. Byron hated these because he thought they were over-cooked and too thin. I love thin fries and especially love crispy ones so I thought these were perfect.

Buffalo wings with a blue cheese dipping sauce

Next came the wings. The wings had an alright flavor - nothing stand out. They weren't super juicy but then again, they weren't dry either. I did like the cheese sauce and ended up using that to dip my fries.

Chili dog

The chili dog came next. The appearance underwhelmed me and indeed, this was something that Byron wanted to try but I didn't care much for. It ended up being the tastiest order!

Chili dog interior

It was a very simple hot dog with a soft bun, mustard and a squishy chili sauce but it tasted sooo good.

Aunt Lilly Mae's BBQ ribs

Finally, our ribs arrived. This was the part I was looking forward to the most but unfortunately it was a let down for me. I mean, they weren't terrible but my expectations were quite high and they weren't even close to meeting them. The sauce was just like plain BBQ to me, and too sweet for my palate. The ribs themselves... it seemed like the flavor hadn't penetrated into the meat and was just sitting on the outside? They weren't very tender/melty either. I've definitely had better ribs out (The Smoke beats this hands down). Heck, I know I've made better myself!

I wouldn't recommend Carolina Kitchen except maybe for their hotdogs. In my opinion, its the perfect example of somewhere that's been brutally overhyped. If I had zero expectations of this place, I might've thought 'yeh... it's alright' but as it was, I felt like I wasted my trip. Sorry guys!
Carolina Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pump @ 123

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Pump @ 123
123 Russel St, Toowoomba

Yes, it's been a long dry spell of not-blogging. I can't help it! It's a busy time of the year. For some, that might mean plenty of opportunities to dine out at new restaurants. For me, it means I'm running around all over the place organizings with barely any time to eat/cook.

I know that a Toowoomba cafe entry is not exactly the most exciting bounce back into writing posts but in my defence, this cafe is actually quite good. Also, I want to get it out of the way because I have LOTS of exciting restaurants coming up this weekend and over the next few weeks (in a few locations across Australia).

Alrighty... so, Pump @ 123 is a drive through cafe located sorta close to where I live. Up until I Googled the place for my blog, I always referred to it as 'the drive through cafe'.

It's a surprising cafe, like a few others in Toowoomba, because from the outside you don't think much of it and when you step in, you get a whiff of what I can only call 'exceeds expectations for Toowoomba'.

This place is a combined gift shop/gourmet food shop/cafe. I've eaten there a couple of times, at different times of the day. I've also gotten takeaway from there.

Service has been overall good although the time I ordered takeaway, I got the odd grouchy lady... but I suppose that can't be helped.

They're quite flexible and on 2 occasions, we've ordered items that weren't strictly on their menu. Once, they made a chicken wrap up for me on request and another time, we asked if they had soup left and was lucky enough to get some pumpkin soup.

Chicken salad wrap

The chicken wrap was very... full. It wasn't amazing or unique in terms of filling and flavor but it was the kind of thing I like having for lunch: healthy and fresh.

Pumpkin soup

Byron had the soup and he didn't like it because it wasn't creamy enough but I actually thought it was quite good for the same reasons as above. I'd sacrifice a bit of creaminess in everday food for the lack of guilty conscience any day!

Iced chocolate

He also ordered an iced chocolate on this occasion. It was the usual non-frappe variety with syrup and ice-cream. He devoured it quite quickly so it must've been quite good.


I've had coffee at Pump a few times and would grade their coffee as 'good'.

What's really cute is they always give you a mini treat with your coffee. It's been different the couple of times I've been there, and I just think it's a nice detail that keeps regulars excited.

Toasted chicken Turkish

On another occasion, I went to Pump with my friend Cupcake. She ordered a toasted Turkish bread sammie with chicken. She said it was good.


Cupcake also picked up a frappe (can't remember the flavor).

Ham wrap

That day, I had a ham wrap (aren't I boring with the wraps; ps I eat wraps at home too), which I really liked... as much as you can 'really like' something as mundane as ham wrap.

Eggplant salad

I also picked up a side of eggplant salad. This was too oily for me and didn't have much flavor.

I'd still like to go back to Pump for some cakes because their dessert cabinet looks quite good! Overall, I think I've found a pretty good local lunch/coffee spot.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rosa Mexicano

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Rosa Mexicano

Last weekend, part of my mad dash around Brisbane involved a stop-over at Rosalie for Mexican food. I met up with my buddy Josh after parking in a rediculous spot on a hill and melting in the walk down to Nash Street (yep, I can feel it's Summer now). I actually convinced him to walk back to my car with me and move it to a better location. Have I mentioned I'm terrible at parking?

We decided to sit indoors for air-conditioning. It was just after 1pm on Sunday and the restaurant was rather quiet. We were both starving and couldn't wait to start eating.

The menu contained some usual Mexican offerings as well as a couple of unusual fusion dishes.

Coyote balls - crumbed chorizo meatballs filled with cheese, served with ranch sauce

For entrees, Josh requested the coyote balls. I think it was the combination of 'meat', 'cheese' and 'ranch sauce' that did it for him. Well, I'm glad he chose these because they were radical! This is my idea of party finger food. It was everything as described. Nothing posh or refined but they sure went down a treat.

Beef burrito, chicken enchilada and chili con queso dip

In a fit of smart thinking, Josh and I decided to share a combination plate. I let him choose (I wasn't feeling very decisive that day) and he selected one with a beef burrito, chicken enchilada and a cheese dip.

Burrito and enchilada close-up

We discussed briefly the difference between burrito and enchilada (I think I worked out it was the wrap that distinguished the 2). They were both very tasty and much less processed/artificial than say, Montezumas.

I wasn't a huge fan of the cheese dip though. Firstly, the idea of it makes me feel queasy and secondly, the consistency was of molten cheese (der) which doesn't grip onto cornchips that well! Josh seemed to like it though. Well, he finished it. I don't know if that's the same thing :).

I can not believe I was even considering ordering the combination plate for myself, solo. That would've been rather ambitious! As it was, I found myself marvelling at Josh's ability to polish that giant plate of food off.

We liked the environment in Rosa Mexicano. It was kinda... nice, like 'calming and festive' instead of all out festive. Imagine siesta by the water. Only, there weren't many people there. For certain kinds of food, that is actually a good thing but for Mexican, it's nice to be in a small crowd. That's my point of view anyway.
Rosa Mexicano on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gillian's Garden Cafe for Breakfast and Lunch

Gillian's Garden Cafe

I originally found out about Gillian's Garden Cafe through information about her awesomely famous sandcrab lasana. I've actually attempted it myself and to this date, it was one of the best things I've cooked with my two hands. It wasn't without effort though so I was very excited about the idea of trying someone else's.

I dragged mum out with me for lunch one day (before we drove on to have an indulgent 3hr massage... woohoo, life is good). Gillian's is located on Stanley Street near the Gabba. It's strange because bang in the middle of an inner city road, there's a small nursery slash gift shop slash cafe. It's a bit unexpected.

The cafe seating area really makes you feel like you're at a large nursery in suburbia. When we went for lunch, we sat in the 'outdoor' area. We perused the menu and mum decided on the oysters, which was a special of the day. There were many tempting options on the lunch menu but I HAD to get the sandcrab lasagna.

Coffin Bay oysters - with lemongrass and cucumber granita

The oysters came first. They looked gorgeous! The oysters were as delicious as they looked - juicy and fresh. I've never tried oysters with something like granita before and I must say it worked wonderfully.

Oyster close-up

The lemongrass granita perfectly complimented the oysters and it was cool and refreshing. All over, a great Summer dish.

Sandcrab lasagne - with abalone cream sauce and seasonal salad

The lasagna came next. It was a real hefty slab of lasagna and packed full of real crab meat. The flavors were rich and beautiful, albeit perhaps lacking a tiny bit of salt (easily ammended).

Cut shot of lasagna

My only complaint is that it wasn't saucy enough. The one I made had a creamy, tomato sauce to accompany the lasagna. Here, there was a sort of creamy sauce (supposed to be abalone cream) that wasn't tangy and there just wasn't enough of it. The light side salad was quite good though.

The next time I went to Gillian's was only yesterday. I was meeting up with an old highschool friend (we'll call her Flinn) for breakie and chose this place because I liked lunch there and the fact that it's inner city but also tranquil (and also relatively easy to find a park).

This time, I was lead to the 'inside' portion of the cafe. It's a quaint area that ressembles a dining room with chandeliers and mirrors and things.


I was undecided on food for a long time but knew I needed a coffee (2 hrs of sleep the night before will do that to you) so I got my usual latte. It will probably take 0-1 hrs of sleep for me to ask for an espresso or long black or any of those without-milk caffine shots.

The coffee was decidedly good. It was intense (but not burnt or bitter) and creamy with a great foam consistency.

Poached free range - with herbed hollandaise and brioche soldiers

I ended up choosing a simple breakfast of poached eggs with brioche soldiers. The eggs were poached perfectly and it was an example of how free range eggs are a league above the regular sort. The yolks were a deep orange colour and huge and delicious. I thought the hollandaise was excellent too but what let me down was the brioche. Don't get me wrong, the brioche itself was fine but to me, it was too sweet to go with the savory nature of this dish. Brioche french toast is awesome. Brioche with egg is... a bit weird.

Potato and leek hash - with smoked salmon, poached egg and asparagus

Flinn ordered the potato and leek hash with smoked salmon. The sauce on it was like my hollandaise. She said it was tasty and fresh but the serving was small, considering the price.

I personally liked my lunch experience at Gillian's better than the breakfast. It could be down to what we ordered but overall, I am still impressed by their food. The environment is inviting and the staff are nice. I noticed a cake cabinet too so I'll probably head back for sweets sometime.
Gillian's Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon