Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Carlton Paragon Cafe - The Great Muesli Hunt II

On my way home last night, still disgruntled at my lack of muesli that morning, I stopped on a whim to look at the The Paragon's menu, and lo and behold, I saw "Muesli (toasted)". I was ectastic. In the year or so I've been living around the area, I've always meant to visit The Paragon. Somewhat of an institution on Rathdowne Street, it is always packed with people, even on weekday mornings when I walk past. The lure of toasted muesli was definitely enough to convince me it was time to visit.

The next morning, the steady drizzle of rain didn't even make me think twice about my morning breakfast trip. Despite the drab weather, the place was half filled with young families, couples and early-morning bikers. I found myself a table in the corner, first ordering a soy latte, then the muesli. I was quite impressed that the waitress took the initiative to ask if I wanted soy milk with my muesli - it was probably quite an obvious thing to ask, but I was still touched that she did. Good service is getting harder to find these days. Bet the waitress at The Element wouldn't have bothered to ask. I was also impressed with the waiter who, though wasn't even serving me, came over to drop off some honey for me without even asking. I think perhaps he was intrigued by the fact that I was the only customer dining alone. The service, and coffee, was quick, friendly and served with a smile - both factors that earnt thumbs up in my book.

However, determined as I was to enjoy my toasted muesli, something wasn't quite right from the moment I took the first spoonful. It was good enough muesli, sure, stuff I actually liked. The problem was that it tasted exactly like (and probably was) stuff you buy at the supermarket. Now I'm all for supermarket muesli, especially since you can actually get a massive range of choices these days. My housemates could tell you that I could get through an entire pack of Lowan Swiss Muesli in less than a week (which is why I don't buy it anymore, because if it's not in the house, I won't eat it. Good preventative measure.). Perhaps I had high expectations since I was paying money to have it served to me, or perhaps I (mistakenly) thought everywhere that served muesli for breakfast should have homemade stuff. Whatever. Point is, it was good, but it just didn't satisfy. There was no satisfying extra-crunch from the muesli being crisped to perfection after toasting. Nothing against The Paragon itself, which is a lovely, cosy little cafe, close and homey enough that I'd happily visit again. Although, on my next visit, I probably won't order the muesli..

The Carlton Paragon Cafe
651 Rathdowne Street
Carlton North

The Element - The Great Muesli Hunt I

This morning, I woke up with an intense craving. As I was heading to the library which opened at 11 anyway, I decided to find a way to satisfy this craving for a big bowl of homemade toasted muesli, preferably liberally doused in milk. MMmmm. It didn't help that I kept getting flashbacks to a particularly wonderful version I'd had several week's ago at Degraves Espresso Bar, which was absolutely divine. I had a mind to head into the city purely to satisfy this urge, but decided it would be too much out of my way, especially since I actually had work to do.

I headed for Big Harvest on Elgin Street, vetoing all the lovely cafes on Rathdowne Street which were inevitably packed with families, only to find that it was actually closed. Bugger. I called in at Thresherman's Bakehouse, but they only had natural muesli. I then wandered down Lygon Street and Grattan Street, all the way heading towards Melbourne Uni, getting increasingly desperate about my chances of finding the elusive muesli.

With no luck anywhere else, my last resort was The Element, conveniently located a few blocks parallel to my destination. The big plus was that it was empty and quiet, allowing me to read my paper and eat my breakfast in peace. After sitting down, however, I asked about the muesli on the menu ("Is it toasted or natural?") to which the waitress then replied "... what do you mean toasted or natural?". Now, this is not a hard question. I was especially irked purely because I had spent so long looking for this muesli and my patience was running thin. But after several minutes consultation with someone unseen in the kitchen, the answer came back that it was, in fact, natural muesli. The world is clearly against me this morning.

I did end up ordering a toasted basil pesto pide bread with olive oil, which came served on a wooden block (very impressive looking - simple, yet elegant) and was still hot from just coming out of the oven. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was still okay. Not fantastic, but okay. My 'Extreme C' juice, comprised of guava, apple and some sort of berry juice, was also tasty and was enough to keep me occupied until my pide bread came. At $7.40, it was okay. It seems highly unlikely, though, that I'll be back in the near future. Not until they figure out the difference between toasted and natural muesli.

The Element Bar Bistro
604 Swanston Street

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Enoteca Sileno - Foodies Dinner Fun

There is never any excuse other than love of food needed, in my opinion, for foodies to meet up to eat, talk, take photos and generally have a great time together. So when I heard from Thanh from I Eat Therefore I Am that Swee (of A Self-proclaimed Foodaholic fame) was going to be in Melbourne, I jumped at the chance to tag along. Being a newbie in the foodie world means I have to try everything, right? Right. And so it transpired last Saturday night that four Melbourne (and one Sydney) foodies met up at Enoteca Sileno in Carlton North for a night of fine foodie dining. My lovely dinner companions for the night were Thanh, Swee, Shirley, Yvonne.

Located on Lygon Street, it sits in the midst of a residential strip closer to the Brunswick end away from the city. Primarily a wine bar, it also has a restaurant serving various foods from all regions of Italy, as I read in The Age review. I've passed Enoteca a few times before on my way back and forth from Brunswick, and have also read several reviews from other bloggers. I loved the look of the restaurant itself, which presented itself as authetically Italian without going overboard. It also had a lovely food store attached that unfortunately closed before we finished our dinner, but really just provides me with an excuse to go back.

Now onto the food.
We spent quite a long perusing the menu, because, well, it all sounded amazing. In the end, we all ordered different things so we could share and try out everything. I'm sure it probably wasn't the 'done' thing, but hey, we're Asian - we eat family-style. Plus it was extremely amusing that the moment the food arrived, all 5 of us whipped out our cameras and pressed them up close to the food to take various pictures. We made sure not to cross-flash and in waiting for everyone to be satisfied with their photos, ended up waiting a good 10 minutes after the food arrived before we actually ate!

The menu, specifically the assaggini - Italian starts or entrees. The page-ful of choices were all enticing and seemed moderately well-priced but for the smaller than average portions. If you order a few to share between you, though, it works out fairly well if the purpose is just to try a little of each.

(Photo courtesy of Thahn)
We ordered the Involtini di prosciutto e carciofi alla Romana (Preserved, stemmed artichokes wrapped in Prosciutto), Carpaccio di pagello con pesto di ortaggi (Red Emperor Carpaccio) and Involtino di pesce spada (Baked swordfish involtino). I was set to enjoy the fish more, and I did quite like the baked swordfish, but I was most impressed by the artichokes wrapped in prosciutto. It also looked the most impressive, albeit, like Yvonne mentioned, rather like a heart.

Our mains, chosen after careful scrutiny of the menu, were varied and impressively all quite different. I chose the Risotto con pere e gorgonzola piccante (Risotto of pear and gorgonzola piccante), purely for the sake of curiosity and variation. As Thanh and Swee have both mentioned, we all found this 'interesting'. I wasn't quite sure in the beginning, but ended up quite enjoying it the more bites I took. The sweetness of the pear certainly made a nice contrast with the creamy and very cheesy rice. Refreshing in a heavy sort of way.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Swee's choice was Stracotto d'agnello al vino rosso e vincotto originale con farro mantecato allo stracchino erba cipollina e pinoli tostati (Lamb slow-braised with red wine, cloves, juniper berries and Vincotto Originale served on farro with chives, toasted pine nuts and stracchino cheese). The sauce, as Thanh pointed out numerous times, had the aroma and sweet taste of hot cross buns, probably due to the juniper berries and cloves. I quite enjoyed this, as the lamb was quite tender and I liked the sweet sauce on the lamb. We had trouble figuring out, when the dish arrived, what the farro was - we guessed either risotto or barley. Nonetheless, it worked quite well.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Shirley went with the Risotto con pure di porri e polpa di granchio (Risotto with leek puree and blue swimmer crab meat). I wasn't a big fan of this, given that I'm not highly partial to crab. It did have quite a clean flavour that fresh seafood often does. There was also quite a lot of crab meat within the risotto, which was impressive.

Thanh had the Coniglio ripieno con finocchio brasato (Saddle of rabbit with a thyme and onion stuffing, olive oil poached rabbit leg and braised fennel). I tried both some of the leg as well as the saddle, and although both cuts were very tenderly cooked, the saddle was complimented nicely by the flavours of the stuffing. Despite my childhood experiences with rabbit (another story for another day - heh), I really enjoyed this.

Yvonne's Risotto allo zafferano con garretto di vitello (Saffron risotto with slow-cooked veal shank) was my favourite dish of the night. The risotto was beautifully coloured and was also complimented nicely with the spicy tomato broth. It had somewhat of a cheesy flavour to it as well, which reminded Yvonne of macaroni and cheese. Whatever it was, it was nowhere as strong as the Pear and Gorgonzola risotto. Best of all, the veal shank was so very very tender. Mmmm.

When at a dinner like this, it seems almost blasphemous not to order dessert. Thanh immediately zoned onto the Tiramisu, which, judging from his blog, he seems to have a penchant for! It was quite heavy on the coffee, which I liked. Could be addictive.. if I wasn't so full.

I found the lightest thing on the menu, which was the Sorbet. It came in 3 scoops, all different flavoured - lemon, blood plum and (what we eventually figured out to be) watermelon. The lemon isn't as fresh and tangy as Il Dolce Freddo further back down Lygon Street, values I hold highly in my lemon sorbet. My favourite was the blood plum, very refreshing. The watermelon was interesting, but more 'fake' than the other two. It was garnished with candied orange and syrup.

(photo courtesy of Thanh)
Shirley decided on the Zambaglione with a toffee crust and berry sorbet. The Zambaglione itself was kind of like an overly-runny creme brulee (I didn't enjoy the runniness of it all that much), but when all parts were eaten together, it was really quite good. Not something I would personally order, but a surprising find.

I so enjoyed meeting up with Melbourne foodie bloggers, and I hope to do it again in the future! I quite liked Enoteca, although I can't say I was convinced enough to return in the future of my own accord. It was a lovely experience and the service and atmosphere were wonderful, but I personally think there are better restaurants out there. That being said, it's still making me hungry looking back over these pictures!

Enoteca Sileno Vino Bar
920 Lygon Street
Carlton North
Price: about $40 each, between 5 of us

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Perfect Moment

In the ever demanding world of reality, sometimes the deadlines, engagements, people, things threatens to overwhelm you and you can feel yourself bursting at the seams as the pressure mounts. And you know if you don't find release, any release, it can be difficult to go on like you did before.

My own personal release this afternoon was a stroll down beautiful Rathdowne Village on this gorgeously warm autumn day. After finding a few treasures at the library (among of which includes a copy of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion!), I wandered in search of solitude and something to sweeten my soul. After vetoing the Rathdowne Street Food Store for its overflow of people, I discovered the delightful Sweet Source.

Sweet Source is a rustic-ly lovely little cafe, small and homey enough to sit in a corner by one self, but groomed enough to be sophisticated and beautiful - 'high art' of the dessert world. Most of the tables were half filled by mothers and children after a library expedition, couples enjoying the beautiful afternoon and people at the end of a (very) late lunch break. The food itself comprises of a mix of both sweet and savoury, and the savoury looks substantial enough for a nice meal (baguette rolls, quiches, tarts, etc.). There is no question, however, that the sweets are the main event in this place. The beautiful tarts, pies, cakes, muffins had me drooling the moment I walked in.

I ordered an iced coffee, and the waitress was nice enough not to mind as I stood around for about 5 minutes trying to decide between all the lovely sweets on display. Ooh, maybe an almond and orange friand, but perhaps too cakey. The chocolate brownie with smarties looked deliciously satisfying, but perhaps too heavy. I was very nearly tempted by the gorgeous cupcakes on display (both full-sized and miniature - so cute!), but decided in the end on a piece of the apple and blueberry crumble pie.

Oh was this pie worth it. The beautifully stained apple slices and blueberries were tart and fresh paired with the sweet crumble topping, and even better with a whip of the homemade freshly whipped cream that came in a little dish. The base was not the crumbly biscuit base I imagined, but made of puff pastry instead. I don't particularly have a preference for either, but the fruit and crumble was enough to make me love this pie no matter what. I spent a lovely hour people watching and reading Oscar Wilde and it was exactly what was needed to invigorate me. All in all, a perfectly lovely afternoon.

Sweet Source
288 Rathdowne Street
North Carlton