Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Parea Taverna Restaurant

Food: Greek, Mediterranean.
Wine: Not long, but some fairly interesting choices.
Service: Average. I don't expect more than in the average Johannesburg restaurant but get good surprises at times.
Ambiance: Relaxed and homey.
In a Nutshell: Good food done right, average wine list and service. Excellent and fresh ingredients with variety of unpretentious choices. Budget is average, but can result quite costly if you go for some of the more fancy items on the Menu. Our neighborhood favorite! Don't miss: Grilled Halloumi, Grilled Whole Fish, Break a Plate!
Where: 3 Corlett Drive, Illovo. Johannesburg, South Africa.
Tel: 011 788 8777

The first time I visited Parea I wasn't impressed by its exteriors, but figured it would probably be the food that would impress me, and it turned out to be exactly the case.

I really came to experience Greek food in South Africa and I think I have really embraced the sharing principle around it, so when in a Greek Restaurant I rarely order a main and prefer to go for the Mezze, so I can try a bit of everything. There are many dishes that I can recall from my first time there, although there are mainly three that really stroke me on my first visit: the Calamari, the Halloumi and the Grilled Whole Fish!

My husband is allergic to the Calamari legs, so I don't usually order these, but the other two are a no brainer for us, and every time we get a feel for that taste and can make a escape, we run for the door, cross the street and land up at Alex' door, craving his straightforward, unpretentious, yet incredible meals where it's all about the ingredients!

I can't really give you a single narration about my Parea Experience with head and toes, and it's not because my memory has started to fail, but rather because we have spent so many special and indulging moments at Parea, that it is all in my mind as one big pot of tasty, relaxed and enjoyable memories.

Service is usually good but can lack at times, specially when busy, yet the waitresses (yes they're all girls) are usually friendly and their smiles, together with the owners' attentions, will most likely make up for any mishaps.

On Fridays and Saturdays there's live entertainment including greek dancing with fire on the floor, plate-breaking and belly dancing. This part of it is also quite amusing as many of us end up making our way to the "dance corner" to show-off our moves (not at all impressing after the very challenging precedent of a belly dancer!).

As with everything, restaurant preference is a matter of personal taste, but I have a feeling that if you're reading this, then you probably share my taste for good food, and you'll be sure to find it there. As much as I feel the bad experiences should be shared, so people can be warned on the kind of experience they may expect, I also think it is only fair to give places and people the recognition they deserve, so this is not about praise. As a matter of fact, I did complain once when I found my portion of Halloumi looking much smaller than usual and somewhat cold, nevertheless the matter was attended to spot on and before I could blink I had right in front of me the exact Halloumi I came in the door expecting. Speak up and often you shall be heard!

Note: I never have this problem as I live literally within walking distance of Parea, but parking seems to be a common issue for this neighborhood restaurants, so please book for the first sitting or be prepared to be patient.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Tastemaker

The Tastemaker - Check out this article from Time Magazine on Nathan Myhrvold's sensational book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. What do you think? would you buy this book? Why? Why not? I'm really pondering asking for it for my Birthday + Anniversary+ Christmas gift!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hotel Chocolat

I just thought this might be of interest to some of my fellow Chocolate fans! I don't know this place, nor do I know if it's as tantalizing as it sounds, but it certainly seems a place worth exploring!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thomas Maxwell Bistro - 18Mar2011

Food: Contemporary, french.
Extensive. Menu not easy to browse.
Service: Good. Still room for improvement.
Ambiance: Smart Casual, relaxed and warm.
In a Nutshell: Good food,  good wine and good service. Budget required is a bit above the average dinner out,  but fits int with other fine-dining establishments and the tastes and experience are worth it. They just need a bit more planning for awkward and unexpected situations as it all becomes part of the experience (i.e. Do not recommend a wine that you know may refuse to be opened right before the food arrives). Bookings are necessary and corkage is allowed for a fee.
City: Johannesburg, South Africa
Address: 140 11th St, Parkmore (behind Benmore Gardens Mall)
Tel: 011-7841575

So, the very expected evening when I would come back to Thomas Maxwell with my favorite company in the world: my husband, finally came. I booked the very morning of the day we were meant to go out as the reasons for celebration came very suddenly. We were fortunate to get a table right next to the kitchen (Perhaps unlike other people, I don't have a problem with that because it allows me to peak on the dishes coming out and to dwell on the tempting aromas).

With such a nice variety to choose from between the Menu and Specials, It was difficult to make up our minds as to what we would order. Our hosts came around though, offering a word of advice that we welcomed warmly. We finally decided for one of the dishes I had previously tried and that had stayed in my culinary memory since: Mussels Napolitano, for starter. We would then indulge in Duck & Porcini Mushrooms Phyllo Pastries and Rabbit Rissotto.

The taste of those Napolitano Mussels is something unlike anything I've ever experienced elsewhere, and I guess one must taste that napolitano sauce to understand. I could feel the garlic, the sweetness of some italian peeled tomatoes, some onion, a bit of sugar and perhaps some parsley and oregano. However, it was making out the secret in this sauce that I couldn't get around and it is just gloriously fresh too! At this point we were keen on opening the Rose Methode Cap Classique that we brought, but it was still warm so we asked for the wine list and proceeded to order something to go with our next meal.

The Wine List is very extensive with most wines priced above the R200 line. We asked for advice and one of our hosts in a Chef jacket -I'm assuming his name might have been Tom- suggested the Slaley Shiraz. We ordered it and one a waiter came promptly with the wine ordered, while he was on the process of opening it, our main meals arrived but he was still giving the cork his best try. A couple of minutes passed, our meals getting colder as we waited for the wine to be poured and another Chef jacketed host appeared to try his luck at the difficult cork. His explanation of the matter was that this bottle, being 2003, had problems with the humidity of the cork, getting so dry at times that the cork would break in one out of every 3 attempts at opening one of these bottles. We had already started our meals without the wine and experimented great flavors, complex and rich flavors though and therefore we where in need of the wine more than before. Now, attempting to open another bottle, our kind host was faced with same issue and our patience was simmering into a boil, we then suggested that he gave us some wine by the glass so we could try to continue with our meal, but when this came and we tried to dig in, the food was already cold. I must confess that they did go out of their way to try and make up for the whole mishap with the bottle that refused to be opened, they took our meals to the kitchen and heated them some more while re-arranging them on the plate for us, it was a nice gesture and I guess it showed their inclination to act quickly when presented with an unexpected situation. Those are the times, I find, when you can really gauge the quality of service, when everything does not go according to plan.

Once the wine was opened, we realized that it certainly was worth the wait and the pairing was just flawless, at least to our palate, now taking in all the flavors with intensity. The rabbit was full of flavors, with red peppers coming through and cream notably involved, very good and tasty although quite consistently rich. My husband's meal was even better in its complexity of taste with the earthy and smoky taste of a porcini mushroom and truffle sauce surrounding delicate pieces of Duck. 3 Phyllo pastry bags filled with this marvelous concoction really took the tasting experience to another level, as I find is usually the case when the Truffle Oil is put to good use.

The whole experience with the bottle that wouldn't open and our meals going cold almost ruined the meal, but I guess our patience, enthusiasm and the fact that the wine turned out to be really good, allowed us to keep the experience positive. Full, but with some appetite for something sweet we ordered a Creme Brulee, probably the smallest one I've ever seen, and not very good either (the caramel layer on top wasn't fully caramelized).

It is a good restaurant, very warm and welcoming service as well as good and not-so-common meals but make sure you order your older wines from the beginning!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beef and Beetroot Carpaccio with Wasabi Guacamole dip

Signature Dish by iSa
Type: Mexic-asian
Prep Time: 30 min
Cooking Time: None
Servings: 4
  • 400 gr Beef fillet cut in very thin slices 
  • 1/2 avocado 
  • 2 lemons 
  • Wasabi paste
  • Soy Sauce (sushi quality)
  • Cooked Beetroot sliced thinly or cut in thin julienne or thick squares
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper and olive oil to taste
  • Onion Sprouts and Coriander leaves to garnish and compliment flavors
 Yes, this is not your typical carpaccio, and I have indeed never paired the raw meat slices with the typical seasonings, but the dairing mix came out of rare dishes experienced and a need to propose something unique for a special dinner party. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

 The most important thing in this dish is the meat, so make sure you get the best one you can get your hands on, specially from a source that you consider clean and reliable, as you'll be eating it raw. So go to the finest butcher and ask for Beef Fillet cut in thin slices for carpaccio (if he's really a fine butcher, he'll know for sure what you're talking about). What you're aiming for is a very clean piece of fillet (very nicely trimmed of all fat), cut very thinly (yet thick enough so you can still handle the meat without it falling apart in your hands while plating). Please request that they place plastic or wax paper in between each slice, otherwise the pieces will be difficult to separate and you'll end up deeming more than half of it not suitable for carpaccio use. As I was saying, this is the most important part and from there the rest just becomes a piece of cake.

Before serving put the plates you're going to use in the freezer to keep the meat fresh and cool for as long as possible. Prepare everything before you actually start plating:
  1. Wasabi Guacamole: 50% guacamole + 50% wasabi. Guacamole = Ripe avocado crashed with fork and mixed with lemon juice + Salt.
  2. Beetroot: If you're and Ace with the knife you can probably try and cut it thinly, otherwise, don't make a fool of yourself and cut it in nice chunky squares or in thin stripes (julienne), like I did.
  3. Onion Sprouts & Coriander: Should come clean and ready for use, if they're not, make sure they're clean and keep them at hand for use.
OK, So it's time to plate! Bring out the plates from the freezer, place some nice slices of raw beef fillet onto the plate avoiding the edges (at least 1 cm), but trying to cover the rest of the area (no white spaces in between). Use your creativity to position the beetroot on top of the meat as best you can and then sprinkle the whole thing with Olive Oil and Freshly ground pepper. Use your favorite container to place some of the wasabi Guacamole and the soy sauce on top (for dipping) and garnish as you wish with the Onion Sprouts and Coriander leaves. Bear in mind everything is eatable! so try to keep an ideal balance between the garnishes and the main attraction: the meat.

To eat, grab a bit of everything with a fork or chopsticks and dip into the soy sauce and then the Wasabi Guacamole. Pour down with a nice Shiraz or Pinot Noir and Enjoy!!!!!!! :)

Same exact recipe can apply to Salmon, haven't tried it, but if you do, please let me know how it went!

Love, iSa