Thursday, June 30, 2011

El Loco, Surry Hills

Following on from my foray into Dude Food at The Dip a few weeks ago it seemed only natural to make tracks over to El Loco in Surry Hills to try their hybrid Mexican-Dude-Food-esque offerings.

In his bid to take over the world, of wining and dining at least, Justin Hemmes of Merivale fame has acquired the old Excelsior Hotel in Surry Hills. A revamp of the hotel to bring it up to Merivale's hip and trendy standards is imminent, but in the meantime a rustic Mexican inspired cantina has opened at the back of the pub.  Dan Hong, the chef behind Ms G's and Lotus, is also behind the food here at El Loco - giving it a fun, modern yet casual edge.

Although I'm visiting on a school night with Laura, Marty and The Chefette I decide it's early enough in the evening for a cocktail (I'm a one pot screamer so need to pace myself on school nights - sad I know). Turns out my teetotaling ways are a smart move as this is one lethal, but tasty, Classic Margarita ($13.50).

To start we order a side of Corn Chips with guacamole and salsa ($5.00). The corn chips are lovely, crisp and salty. The guacamole is lush and creamy, and the salsa fresh and zesty, if a just a little bit too watery. Lucky for me the chips and dip were sat right in front of me so I spent the night happily picking away at them.

There are five tacos on offer at El Loco and at $5.00 each it is tempting to want to try them all.  As I'm also eyeing off  Hot Dog I decide I need to pace myself - which must be a first for me. In the end I decide to go for the Al Pastor (spit roasted pork with pineapple salsa - on the right below) and the Queso de Soya (chilli marinated tofu with pico de gallo). Tofu seems like an odd ingredient for a taco, but it works really well - crunchy tofu is a nice contrast to the soft taco shell, and the pico de gallo (aka Salsa) is light and fresh tasting.

After I've finished my dinner though I'm still feeling a bit peckish, so opt for just one more taco.  El Loco has a "Mystery Taco" on offer each night and after the chef assures me it's not tongue, innards or any other squishy bits I decide to be brave and order one. I'm rewarded with a crunchy, spicy Fish Taco - which I don't photograph so get to experience the joy of eating hot food for a change. Amazing!

And last but not least the El Hot Dog ($12.00).  The pork frankfurt is a monster squeezed into a fresh bun accompanied by pickled jalapenos, mayonnaise, pico ge gallo and a mound of cheese.  In an attempt to save my arteries from self combustion I push most of the cheese to the side and tuck in...and the hot dog slides right out of the bun, through my hands, bounces on the table and ends up back on it's plate. What a mess, but once the dog is returned to its rightful place in the bun it is very tasty. The jalapenos give the hot dog a kick, but it is not overpoweringly spicy - the heat is quite manageable.

I have to say though...the Hot Dawg at The Dip is still in first place as my favourite Hot Dog of all time.  Sorry El Loco - but I'll be back to try more Tacos. Promise!

El Loco is at 64 Foveaux St, Surry Hills. It's just up from Central Station before Foveaux Street becomes too steep for most humans to climb.

El Loco on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Golden Fang, Broadway

You'd be forgiven for thinking the only thing Miss Chicken and I do when we get together is eat...because it pretty much is. Although we also talk...about eating. And where we are eating. And think...about where we are going to eat next!

Today we meet up at Golden Fang for a quick lunch time feast.  Golden Fang is a cheap and cheerful Chinese Malaysian restaurant that serves up huge meals for very little coin.  It's situated on an uber-busy, noisy and grimy stretch of City Road and if you didn't know what joy lies within you'd probably pass right by on your way to Broadway Shopping Center.  And that would be a mistake.

I'm hell bent on finally getting my fill of Minced Pork with Green Beans ($12.00) after so many near misses in recent weeks.  Green Beans with Pork Mince seem to be hard to find and I'm always stumbling the version that comes with Kidney Beans, which are lovely, but not what I've been craving for over the last few months.

This meal is HUGE and goes a good way to satisfying my cravings. The plate is peppered with bits of pork mince and the beans have a slight charred flavour and glisten with oil. Lovely. But you know what?  I think I actually prefer my green beans with kidney beans and not pork mince. Hard to please, I know.

Miss Chicken orders Shredded Duck with Pickled Vegetables Fried Noodles ($10.50).  This huge plate of noodles is delicious. The duck is tasty and succulent and the pickled vegetables help cut through the fattiness of the duck. The pickled vegetables remind me a little of seaweed dishes you'd find in Japanese restaurants, slightly sour, but lovely.

This monstrous plate of fried noodles makes us regret also ordering dumplings.  Our eyes are definitely bigger than our stomachs on this lunchtime adventure, but when I see dumplings on a menu I just can't pass them by.

A plate of fourteen Steamed Pork Dumplings will only set you back $8.00.  If I'm eating alone at Golden Fang for lunch this is often what I order for myself.  The dumplings are plump with pork filing, and the skin is not too thick...and not too thin.  Miss Chicken and I polish these off and head off back to work with doggy bags of our other lunchtime leftovers.

Our meal finishes with a complimentary plate of orange slices - thanks Golden Fang!  A nice, fresh way to finish up our lunch that leaves a sweet taste in our mouth.

Golden Fang on Urbanspoon

Gold Fang is at 10 City Road, Broadway/Chippendale.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Circa Cafe, Parramatta

I first heard about Circa Cafe when the Good Living included it in an article they wrote on great eateries and grocers in the Parramatta area.  Then whenever anyone asked me for good places to eat in Parramatta I'd suggest Circa Cafe, even though I'd not actually been there myself. I just had a sixth sense that this place would be something special...and when I finally made there myself I was glad to see that I was right.

Circa Cafe is a fairly new cafe full of inner-city quirkiness.  Located in a former driveway squished between two buildings this narrow cafe is filled to the brim with eclectic bric-a-brac.  It looks like the sort of cafe that you would be more likely to find in the up and coming areas of Redfern or South Surry Hills, not the CBD of Parramatta. I'm beyond happy to find this little piece of inner-city cool transported and happily doing a roaring trade in ye olde West.

My first visit is for brunch on a Friday and as I sit and soak up the atmosphere I watch a steady steam of office workers come in for toast, coffee or a sweet snack. I decide to have a coffee ($3.00) to get me going for the day as well as a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Mayo Sandwich ($5.00).  The sandwich is HUGE, with lovely triple smoked ham and is so flavoursome. I'm impressed by how cheap the food is without any compromise on flavour, quality or quantity. 

The very next day I drag The Boy back for breakfast - a cafe this good is worth sharing. As is the brunch routine of most people we start with coffee and a flick through the morning papers.

The Boy ordered Scrambled Eggs on Toast ($5.00) with a side of Portobello Mushrooms ($3.00). In a crime against his food blogging Wife, The Boy scoffs his brunch before I can even get a picture. Quelle Horreur!

I was eying off a tasty sounding sandwich of Portobello Mushrooms, Basil Pesto, Danish Feta and Caramelized Onions ($8.00).  Even though this sandwich is only available at lunch the lovely boys who own the cafe make me one anyway - which means preparing ingredients they weren't using this day...truly great customer service. And if that isn't enough, they felt it was taking too long for my sandwich to be prepared so brought me a little snack of Portobello Mushrooms on Toast with Danish Feta. I mean seriously - how nice is that?  And to top it all off they only charged me $5.00 for both sandwiches. 

Both of my brunches were outstanding - the mushrooms were thick and meaty, and the creamy feta added just the right balance of saltiness. I loved the sweet tasting caramelized onion on my sandwich.  And best of all The Boy had massive food envy - which is something I normally suffer from.

Circa Cafe is at 21 Wentworth Street, Parramatta.  They are only open for brunch on Saturday's til 1pm so don't sleep in and miss out!

Circa on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

I ate my way through Cabramatta - Food Tour

After our failed attempt to check out Cabramatta one night a few months ago I was very keen to come back during daylight hours to explore this Vietnamese-enclave in South West Sydney for myself.

The Boy and I had embarked on a wonderful food tour during our honeymoon in Hawaii in January, so I was keen to let someone lead me by the hand through Cabramatta.  Food tours are a great way to get an insight to a particular city, suburb or cuisine by the people who know the area best, and I for one love them!

Our "I ate my way through Cabramatta" tour was led by fellow food bloggers Jennifer and Betty.  Betty is a Cabramatta local and knows the suburb like the back of her hand and Jennifer is the brainchild behind the "I ate my way through ..." tours.

The tour begins by weaving our way through one of the many arcades in Cabramatta. We're shown some of the fruit markets offering Mangostein, Jackfruit, Longans and more - much more exciting than our local Coles that's for sure. The ever controversial Durian is pointed out to us - this is the fruit that people either love or hate. I've heard it described as smelling like off meat, stinky feet, vomit and rotten cheese!  Mmmm...enticing. I did try it once in gelato form and have to admit the flavour didn't appeal to me.

Next we wander through another arcade that houses one of the best BBQ meat shops and bread shops in the suburb. The arcade is narrow and crowded and we can see why.  A shop window stands before us with a mouth watering selection of BBQ meats including roast duck, BBQ pork, a whole pigs head, intestines and piggy tails - the later few items are not quite so enticing to my Aussie bogan tastebuds.

We emerge from the arcade onto bustling John Street - Cabramatta's main street.  This road is home to more fruit and vegetable shops as well as Asian grocery stores, restaurants, bargain clothing shops and a group of old Vietnamese aunties selling their wares on the footpath.

Although enterprising, these ladies are technically not suppose to sell on the street so they often get chased away by the police, which seems a shame as they add real character to the main drag. We buy a tub of chopped Lemongrass from them to use in a Vietnamese noodle salad we've been making; and also grab a Sugarcane juice from a shop as all of this food touring is thirsty work.

Our next stop is Tan Viet, the home of the most awesome crispy skin chicken - possibly on the entire planet! This is the restaurant we tried to go to on our last visit to Cabramatta but they shut early so we were left to wander up and down John Street chicken-less and hungry. On this visit Betty has gone ahead to secure a table for our group, so we get to jump the long queue snaking out the door. The chicken is as good as I had hoped, juicy meat and uber-crispy skin.  This mini-feast set us back just $5.00 each.

Next stop is Bau Truong, a restaurant that is well know for its epically long menu (and where we ended up eating after we couldn't get in to Tan Viet last visit).

I had no idea what to order from the nearly 200 items on offer, so leave it to the experts.  They come up with an amazing feast that costs us only $15 each and leaves me feeling sated and happy. The fresh taste of all the dishes, and the flavoursome grilled meats, are what impressed me most, thought I have to say the DIY Rice Paper Rolls were a little beyond my abilities!

After our feast we have a little wander around the shops and stop for something sweet. We try a Taro Fritter which is sweet and has a similar texture to a sweet potato.  I'm keen to try something more...adventurous and Jennifer helps me order a dessert/drink for YUMMI Sweets that is filled to the brim with loads of interesting ingredients...Jack Fruit, Pearl Barley, green wiggly things, coconut milk and more things that I've totally forgotten about. The drink is sweet and filling, a meal in itself and I struggle to finish it.

It may seem a bit odd to some people doing a food tour in the city where you live, but I have to say that with a suburb as diverse and interesting as Cabramatta it was the perfect introduction to this Little Vietnam that is right on our door step. We're already planning a trip back to do more eating and to buy some ingredients to make a Vietnamese Salad.

Tan Viet is at 100 John Street, Cabramatta. They shut by 7pm so go early to avoid missing out.

Tan Viet Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Bau Truong is at 70 John Street, Cabramatta.

Bau Truong on Urbanspoon

For more information on the I Ate My Way Through tours can you visit their website.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tony Roma's, Sydney CBD

For weeks and weeks and weeks The Boy and I had been TOTALLY psyched by our upcoming dinner to Tony Roma's.  I'd nabbed another meal deal voucher, this time for all you can eat ribs...for just $14.95 per person. That's half price folks.

So needless to say that when I started to feel queasy on our drive into the city I was totally devastated. Beyond devastated.  I couldn't understand how my stomach could betray me at an all-you-can-eat-rib-moment like the one I was about to embark on. I blame my upset tummy on the handfuls of cold and flu tablets I'd be downing all down in an effort to actually feel rid of my cold for our all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza. Talk about an epic backfire.

There seems to quite a few regulations around Tony Roma's all-you-can-eat Ribs.  Each diner starts with three pork "riblets" and chooses a side of either chips or rice.  Once you have eaten ALL the ribs on your plate you can ask for another riblet...just one mind you. Once you've finish your second riblet you can ask for one more...and so on, and so forth. At least at Tony Roma's you don't get sent to you room with no dessert if you don't eat all your riblets (but they will charge you $2.50 for unfinished riblets when you've chosen their regular $29.90 all-you-can-eat deal).

The Boy opts for a side of chips with his ribs, which leaves me to try the rice. The rice is pretty underwhelming - it came out rather cold (and in such a small dish) so I ask them to re-heat it for me, but the chips were great. Pipping hot and well seasoned.  I had chip envy.

I made a very good attempt at tackling my first plate of ribs, despite my squiffy tummy.  It took me a while, but in the end I finished everything on my plate, thus I avoided being sent to my room. The ribs were great, marinated in a smokey BBQ sauce and the meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender and falling off the bone. The riblets for the all-you-can-eat deal seem to be from the end of the rack, thus they had lots of crispy, charred bits of meat, and smaller rib pieces than your standard "middle of the rack" variety. Very nice.  

The Boy was on a mission to eat Tony Roma's out of ribs that night and demolished three extra plates of riblets.  I'm pretty sure he was aiming for a fourth plate, but his stomach simple gave up. 

I couldn't stomach the thought of any more meat, but was quite taken by the lush cobs of corn I saw on other tables.  Normally corn is a side-dish option, but tonight it cost me $5.50.  It was worth it though - hot, juicy and totally moreish once I slathered it in butter and salt. I wouldn't mind an all-you-can-eat corn dinner if I'm honest with you - it's one of my all time favourite vegetables.

Tony Roma's is at 3/121-123 Sussex Street,  Sydney. Phone (02) 9299 8500.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Dip, Sydney City

The Dip is one of the latest Dude Food joints to hit Sydney and word about their tasty Hot Dawgs (that's Hot Dog for any baby boomers and Gen X-ers reading the post) and Pulled Pork Sandwich's has been the talk of the foodie town for weeks.

What's Dude Food I hear my fleet of (one or two) baby-booming readers ask?  Simply put it is American style junk/fast food cooked by cool and hip young chefs.  The food usually has an Asian or Mexican spin to it, and pork as well as tooth achingly sweet desserts are a must.  This article pretty much covers if it you're keen to know more...or not.

I quickly gathered up a group of food-blogging Dudettes (aka chicks who like to eat Dude Food cooked by cool and hip young chefs) to come and try this place out with me one Friday night.  It's a darkly lit place, but with the help of iPhone torches and the help of fellow bloggers I think we all managed to get some semi-decent photos of the food - the food is 100 times better than it me!

As is the case with the food-blogger catch ups I've been too the scene is generally chaos.  The Baking Lady From Work, who has come along with me, is reeling at our inability to focus long enough on the menu to actually order. Thankfully for us she quickly takes charge and orders a pile of Starters n Sides for us to try, organises our main meal options, collects our money and heads up to the bar to order for us.  If it wasn't for her I wonder if we'd still be sitting in our Flintstones inspired booth, unfed and happily chatting away and sharing camera tips.

For starters I push heavily for the Grilled Corn ($8.00) as corn is one of my all time favourite vegetables.  Seasoned with lime and mayo and chipotle salt this dish is a winner for me. The Snow Peas ($8.00) are still on the right side of crunchy and the dressing of coriander and vinaigrette takes them to a whole new level making them zesty and fresh tasting.  Adding apple and cabbage together in the Slaw ($6.00) is a stroke of genius - the tart flavour of the green apple sings in my mouth. And of course Salsa Fries ($6.00) are amazing - uber fat, crunchy fries liberally topped with fresh tomato salsa and cheese - heaven!

We also decide to share a plate of the Pulled Pork Nachos ($15.00) as these have become legendary despite The Dip only being opened for a few weeks. Now I have to say the Pulled Pork tastes really similar to the Kalua Pork The Boy made at home a few weeks ago and he is beyond chuffed when I tell him this.  The slow cooked pork has a lovely smokey flavour, and is topped with pinto beans, salsa, BBQ sauce, lime cream and cheese.

Wendy and I are both keen to try the Lev's Dawg ($12.00) and the Southern Smoke Sandwich ($12.00) so we go halvies which gives us a chance to try both.  The Lev's Dawg hit it out of the ball park for me...I have no idea what's in a Kosher Hot Dog, but oh my it sure is tasty!  A soft bread bun houses a smokey hot dog and is topped with salsa, chipolte mayo, yellow peppers and American mustard.  It is so delicious that I then share another half with The Baking Lady From Work.  Hey, we're here for a good time, not a long time. Right?

The Southern Smoke is pretty tasty, but oh so messy to eat.  I end up with pulled pork, BBQ bean, slaw and BBQ sauce landing everywhere but in my mouth. You can't take me anywhere!  I love the addition of the apple slaw - I "might" even try making this at home one day.

And what meal would be complete with our dessert. As I'd studied the menu before arriving for our dinner I already knew that the Cookies N Cream ($10.00) was going to be a must have. The salted caramel ice-cream is AH-MAZING and dotted with pieces of honeycomb and salty/sweet caramel. The chocolate molasses cookies with hot fudge defies description. All I can say is get yourself to The Dip and try for yourself.

The Dip is at 5 Liverpool Street, Sydney and can be found downstairs at The Goodgod Small Bar.

Dip @ Goodgod Small Club on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mars Hill Cafe, Parramatta

A moment of sunshine in amongst Sydney's wet, miserable weather gives The Boy and I a chance to hurtle up to Parramatta's "Eat Street" (aka know as Church Street by taxi drivers and Google Maps alike) for Sunday brunch.

I'd ducked in Mars Hill Cafe the day before to grab a take-away coffee and was taken by the cafe's lovely relaxed atmosphere and cosy loungeroom-esque decor.  This is the type of cafe I remember in North Newtown before Gloria Jeans and Max Brenners set up shop there.  The owners have positioned the cafe as a place to hang-out with like minded, creative souls. Live bands often play in the upstairs area, there are art exhibitions and poetry readings are not unheard of.

But The Boy and I at are Mars Hill for a caffeine hit and some brunch - bands and poetry will have to wait til another time as we're HUNGRY! The brunch menu is small, but covers all the bases. Sadly for those who work in Parramatta during the week Mars Hill isn't open for breakfast or lunch on school days...just dinner.

I'd already checked out the breakfast menu the day before I knew I was going to have the Breakfast Burrito ($10.00). I was a huge fan of the breakfast burritos that I'd tried whilst travelling in the USA a few years ago so I was hoping Mars Hill could pull off a decent replica...and they do! 

My inner-Piggy is thrilled that I receive not one, but two breakfast burritos, that are topped with crumbled hash brown.  The burritos are lightly pan-fried so have a crispy outer that surrounds a jumble of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes.  This is topped with salsa, shallots and a creamy mayonnaise...oh, and a deadly looking chilli that I avoid like the plague.

If The Boy isn't having a Big Breakfast then chances are he's having pancakes.  He opts for Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup ($12.00) and they don't disappoint. Two large, fluffy pancakes are topped with short cut bacon and drizzled with maple syrup. Just in case you've got extra sweet tooth an extra maple syrup is provided on the side. It doesn't stay "on the side" for long I can tell you!

And let's not forget about the coffee. I love that the coffee comes in cup, mug and bucket size!  The Boy must've had a hard night as he opts for the bucket of coffee, whilst I'm satisfied with a mug.

Mars Hill Cafe is at 331 Church Street, Parramatta (just before you head across the river to the Riverside Theatre).

Mars Hill Cafe on Urbanspoon

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