Friday, April 18, 2014

Where To? City Breaks in South America

With another semester of school coming to an end, I've spent the last few weeks debating if I should go on a trip! I've got my heart set on Mexico and am leaving next week, but I think it would be absolutely amazing to visit South America! Brazil has always been on my travel list... hopefully I'll get to cross it off one of these days!

Photo thanks to National Geographic

South America is a diverse and exciting continent, famed for its vibrant cultures, love of music, incredible food and rich history. It’s also home to some of the world’s biggest and most interesting cities. With increasing air travel to the continent driving down prices, it’s now possible to take city breaks and long weekends in some of the continent’s biggest urban areas.

With flights widely available from Canada, reasonably-priced tickets and american express widely accepted across the continent, financing and paying for your break has never been easier. All you have to do now is choose your destination.

Situated high up in the Andes, the colonial city of Cuzco was built upon an old Inca capital. The main cathedral still sits upon centuries old Incan foundations, with the massive Twelve Cornered stone remaining as a testament to pre-Columbian ingenuity and building techniques. From Cuzco you can also access Machu Pichu, a lost Incan city rediscovered in the early 20th century. It truly is one of the wonders of the world and must-visit destination. You have to try the Alpaca while you’re here and for those feeling very brave, you’ll find guinea pig on the menu too.

Rio de Janerio
This sprawling Brazilian megalopolis is always associated with the golden sands of the Copacabana, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer towering over the city. Aside from these globally recognisable landmarks, Rio is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities on the planet. Streets resonate to the sound of Samba and bars seem to throng with constant parties and celebration. Don’t miss the world famous carnival, the world’s biggest street party, and a truly unique event. Brazilians are also famous for their meat, with barbecue being the preferred way of cooking.

Buenos Aires
A stunning mix of Old and New world, the capital of Argentina has a European feel to it but retains its South American charm. It’s also home to the Tango and a grandeur that oozes romance.

The capital of Chile is a classically beautiful and cultured city that is located less than an hour from the coast, just two hours from the ski slopes and half an hour from the countries famous vineyards. All of which means there is plenty to see and do. Try the traditional dish of ceviche, shrimp cooked in lemon juice – a dish currently taking the world by storm but never better than in Chile.

Book early and get great prices on flights. Be flexible with dates and times and you can get a better deal. While South America generally offers cheaper accommodation and food than Canada, prices are going up so be prepared to pay more for some of the higher-end facilities and attractions.'

*Disclosure: this is a sponsored post 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Goodbye Winter: Leather Accents & Boyfriend Jeans

Noul Blouse | Old Navy Boyfriend Jeans | Coach Harlee Heels
Coach Clutch | H&M Necklace | Coach Stackable Rings

As I type this, snowflakes are falling from the sky and the road outside my house is covered in snow. COVERED. It's the middle of April! Guess I should've known. You know that saying, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me"? Yeah, that's me every year. *Ashamed*

Last week when I thought winter was gone for good, I did a little shopping and picked up this lovely blouse from Noul (formerly Loft 82). I adore the simplicity of it with the high low hem, flowy fabric, and leather accents. Add some slouchy boyfriend jeans and my new favourite pair of heels, and I'm out the door ready to go. Now if only the snow would melt so I could repeat the process again...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Manicure Monday: Chillin' Like a Villain

Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend full of sunny Spring weather! Edmonton weather is still on the chilly side, but nothing makes me happier than seeing the sun shine brightly throughout the day! No more gray skies for us :)

In accordance with the weather, I've got a nail polish this week to welcome the Spring weather! From the 2014 OPI Muppets Most Wanted collection, I'm wearing Chillin' Like a Villain. And because this is a collaboration the perfect way to describe this shade is... Miss Piggy's skin. This peach-toned nude shade had a creamy jelly finish to it, and I think it would suit any skin tone. The formula is quite sheer and requires three thin coats to reach full opacity (as shown), but lasts a full 5 days before chipping. I can see myself reaching for this softer shade quite often this season, and would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a shade suitable for Spring!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Seasonal & Fresh: Downtownfood

A few months back I had a couple hours to spend in Calgary. What better is there to do than eat?! Well, many of you could argue with me on that one, but my agenda in Calgary is always food, food, food. I was long overdue to catch up with my friend Carmen, and we hit up a restaurant that has been on my list for a while.

Downtownfood - 628 8th Avenue SW - Calgary AB

Downtownfood is located in the heart of the city and they've made huge waves in the Calgary food scene with their innovative ideas. With Chef Darren MacLean to lead the team, Downtownfood stands out amongst other restaurants with their rooftop garden and beehives. 40 different varieties of plants grow on the roof and they harvest their own honey for use in the restaurant. Can you say amazing? With a commitment to local foods and making everything in house, it's almost like there's nothing this restaurant can't do.

The meal started off with some housemade bread and organic butter with rock salt. The bread was pillowy soft with a chewy crust and the butter was the perfect consistency to spread.

We had decided to order a variety of dishes to share and try out. We started our meal with the Qualicum Bay Scallop "Ceviche" ($16) served with Albacore tuna, stripe prawn, coconut milk, aji amarillo, pickled celery and tandoori popcorn. The fish, shrimp, and scallop were very fresh, and I loved that you could taste the flavours of all the ingredients. The spiciness of the dish was toned down with the coconut milk broth, and all around this was a wonderful starter.

Next was the Crispy Eggplant Wonton Tempura ($13): sake and mirin glaze, edamame purée, braised Japanese eggplant tapenade. I've never been a huge fan of eggplant, but I quite enjoyed it in tempura form (heck, if you tempura anything, I'll probably eat it!). The wonton skin was nice and crisp while the eggplant itself maintained a firmer texture.

Our next plate was the Compressed Pear and House Cured Bacon Salad ($14) featuring Poplar Groves Tiger blue cheese, candied walnuts, green apples, arugula, honey, and lemon. A deconstructed salad arrived at the table and I really liked how all the ingredients were laid out across the plate in equal proportions. I believe Korean pears were used in this salad, and they were sweet and juicy against the contrasting tartness of the apples. The chunks of bacon were salty and smoky, which was the highlight of the dish for me. I'm not the biggest fan of blue cheese and found the Tiger blue cheese to be quite pungent, but little bits here and there added another dimension to the salad.

Next up was the dish I was looking forward to most - the Brandt Lake Wagyu Tenderloin Tataki ($15). First off, I LOVE beef tataki. And if you're going to make it with Brandt Lake Wagyu, it's bound to be amazing. The dish featured the beautifully marbled beef slices sitting atop a bed of lacto-fermented pears, daikon, scallions, ponzu, and housemade wasabi zuke salsa. The beef was incredibly tender, as expected, and I loved the use of the crisp, juicy daikon. The ponzu was perfectly made and gave the dish the umami factor. I loved this dish and would definitely have it again!

Our last starter dish for the evening (we ate a lot!) was the Watermelon Salad ($12). This salad was beautiful and featured watermelon done three ways: fresh, pickled and jellied, and further paired with cucumber, feta, mint oil, and black pepper. It was such a refreshing dish with the fresh, juicy watermelon acting almost as a palate cleanser. The feta imparted the perfect savoury contrast, while my favourite of the three watermelons was the pickled rind... so good!

While we waited for our main course, the kitchen sent out a lobster cream broth for us to sample. Served with a lobster, shrimp, and scallop croquette, this broth was packed with flavour and tasted like 5 lobsters were crammed in there. Bits of celery and onion were present in the broth to add a little bit of texture, but the flavour was top notch.

For our entree we chose to order one and share it. We both had our eyes set on the Wild Boar Chop ($26) which was cooked sous vide with Chinese char siu jus and served with parsnip puree, smoked king oyster mushrooms, kale, and a scallion & ginger salsa. The meat was tender and moist, and the Asian sweet and salty flavours worked really well for this boar chop.

To cap off our night of indulgence we ordered the Strawberries & Cream. Each freshly made beignet was soft and fluffy and paired well with the strawberries and whipped cream. This was the perfect dessert as it wasn't too sweet.

And to our surprise the kitchen sent out an extra sweet treat for us to have: a s'more bite for each of us, with every component made in house. The cracker had a nice bite, while the bruleed marshmallow had hints of honey and vanilla in it. We were totally spoiled that night!

When two people with eyes hungrier than their stomachs get together, the table ends up feeling way too small. But somehow we managed to finish everything that night and rolled ourselves home! Downtownfood is a wonderful restaurant that greatly exceeded my expectations. I was surprised to see such an Asian-inspired menu, but I enjoyed every dish of our meal that evening. Their commitment to working with small, local producers is admirable, and I think it's fantastic that they're able to utilize their roof space to cultivate plants and harvest honey! Their prices are on the expensive side so this isn't going to be your go-to restaurant, but if you're willing to support local and pay for good quality food, then it's worthwhile. I'm actually hoping to find myself in Calgary on a Monday night in the future, as Downtownfood features a weekly industry collaborative with Eats of Asia.
The menu looks awesome, so check it out if you have a chance!

downtownfood on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Maki in the South: Sushi Sugoi

Sushi places are popping up all over the city! It's almost like the restaurant gods heard my complaints and sent an influx of them into the Edmonton food scene. One of the latest places to open is Sushi Sugoi, and rumour has it that it is owned by an ex-Mikado employee. Oooh. Ok, no gossip.

Sushi Sugoi - 2874 Calgary Trail - Edmonton AB

From the outside it is quite evident that this restaurant has taken over a previous Outback Steakhouse location, as evidenced by the white siding and green roofing. But when you step inside there are no traces of evidence that a steakhouse used to occupy the building. Extensive renovations have been made to give it a modern, upscale feel. A double-sided fireplace sits in the middle of the restaurant and a brightly lit commercial Urban Cultivator sits behind the sushi bar.

On a Wednesday night I found some time for a long-overdue dinner with friends. It didn't take much convincing to get them to agree to sushi dinner, but we found ourselves having a hard time deciding what to eat. The dinner menu at Sushi Sugoi is quite extensive, but I think that just means that there's something for everyone. We started off our dinner with the Beef Tataki ($10), which is always a must-have for me when I eat Japanese. The version here is garnished with green onion, seaweed, grated radish and red onions. The ponzu wasn't overly salty and gave the tender beef slices nice flavour. My only concern was with the small portion size, as there were 8 thin slices on the plate.

In an attempt to have some vegetables with dinner we ordered the Smoked Duck Salad ($10): smoked duck breast glazed with orange teriyaki dressing. A bed of iceberg lettuce set the base and was topped with arugula, onions, radish and alfalfa sprouts. A few thin slices (5) of duck breast made it into the dish alongside fresh orange wedges. While the duck breast had a nice smoky flavour, I was disappointed by the small amount and felt there should have been more since it was the selling point of the salad. The lettuce at the bottom also imparted a strange flavour to the dish, making it almost off-putting. On the upside? At least the orange slices were sweet.

We were all feeling sushi rolls that night and ordered a couple to try out. The Dynamite Roll ($13) is always a classic, and Sushi Sugoi's is a combination of shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber, chop chop, tobiko, hot sauce, and spicy mayo. There typically isn't scallop in a dynamite roll, and I liked that it comprised a quarter of the ingredients rolled inside of the rice.

Next up was one of Sugoi's specialty rolls - the White Snow Mountain Roll ($15): lettuce, crab meat, avocado, crunch, chopped scallop, tobiko, cream cheese sauce. The plating for the roll was nice but I really wish they would have put it on a different coloured plate to make it pop! This roll for me was pretty disappointing. Based on the description I had anticipated for there to be crab, but it ended up being imitation crab meat! There was little sauce and only a tiny chunk of scallop atop the roll so it really lacked flavour, which is pretty unfortunate given that it's one of their special rolls.

Our last order was the Hardcore Roll ($16), aptly named given the presentation. Spicy tuna, spicy seasoned salmon, cucumber, tobiko, Thai chili, hot sauce, and sichimi were rolled with a soy bean wrapper. There was so much detail in the presentation, and this was my favourite dish of the night for both looks and taste. Each piece packed lots of heat (thanks to the Bird’s Eye Chili!), but I found that the cucumber helped to tone it down. The salmon was cooked while the tuna remained raw, and there were lots of different textures in the roll.

With another Japanese restaurant on the map for southern Edmonton, Sushi Sugoi is a nice addition. Most of the items on the menu are standard for Japanese restaurants so there isn't anything that stands out for me aside from some of their specialty fish and maki rolls. If anything, I would return to try out their Sugoi Ocean Platter, which looks beautiful, or the truffle infused sashimi, but the maki wasn't memorable for me. All the ingredients used are fresh and the prices are on par or a tad more expensive than other Japanese establishments around the city. It's nice to have another option for Japanese, but I still prefer some of the other restaurants here in Edmonton.

Sushi Sugoi on Urbanspoon