Pimp My Plate #36 – GIRDLERS, Dee Why, NSW

Breakfast, brunch, or lunch reviews where the main plate is $20 or less.

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You say heatwave? I say it’s another excuse for a beach café review…

As I sit opposite the bold blue sky meets ocean horizon of Dee Why beach, the words laid-back and lucky best describe the ambience of GIRDLERS cafe.

The mood is laid-back and no fuss – customers wear bikinis, shorts, or loose summery garments. Dee Why, located on Sydney’s northern beaches, is more a local hangout than a tourist spot like Manly or Bondi. There’s a community vibe and because it’s school summer holidays, lots of young tanned bodies are wearing as little as possible.

GIRDLERS sits on a prime corner location facing the beach, so you can watch the waves and visually crowd-surf a parade of beachgoers from your table.

Their vision is SIMPLE. HONEST. FOOD. Because it’s a heatwave outside of 38°C/100.4°F that is exactly the kind of food I feel like.

I read the menu and GIRDLERS’ vision: ‘There’s a spot at the South end of Dee Why we like to call our own. It’s a place where the people are real, where you can kick back and take your time, a place where you can always count on a great coffee, a clear view of the ocean and the smell of good things cooking.’

Every workplace should have this view – magic.

Tables are scrubbed-back distressed wood, enamelware plates, and the brick wall features a hippy-lace decal, and an interesting vintage photo I forgot to ask about. There’s an easy ambience, and a faded-summer-sun softness to the decor.

As I said it’s REALLY HOT. I claim the table directly under the furiously rotating ceiling fan because it IS THAT HOT.

I choose pancakes for lunch, but first I order a Sweet Cheeks ($9) – a mix of watermelon, apple, cucumber, lime and raspberry juice. It’s cold and super-refreshing. There’s also Kombucha on tap and Kombucha Spritz, fresh juices, super smoothies, and milkshakes.

My plate of gluten and dairy free Pancake Revolution ($19) arrives – coconut and banana pancakes with seasonal berries, homemade Goodtella (a Nutella substitute), vanilla coconut yoghurt, and a generous sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts. And organic maple syrup. Yum!

It’s incredibly filling and perfect for a not-too-heavy but satisfying lunch.

Another menu temptation is Goat On the Orchard ($16) – organic rye sourdough toast with Danish goat’s feta, fresh peaches, raspberries, and organic activated nut spread, drizzled with Hinterland Honey.

There are egg dishes, and Glow Bowls ($18) based around tofu or haloumi cheese, with kale, quinoa, roasted field mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and cauliflower sauce. Another reason to go back.

GIRDLERS is a space to kick-back and inhale beach air, smell the coffee, and ponder whether afterwards to sit in the shade of the pine trees with a book, take a long walk along the beach, swim, or wander down to the rock pools and explore. So many choices and all of them designed by Nature to kiss your spirits and extend that state of relaxation.

If you’re wondering about the name – GIRDLERS is so close to the word Grinders, isn’t it?  –  the café is named after local and ex-football player Ryan Girdler and his wife, Katja.

Once a run-down juice bar, husband and wife team Ryan and Katja and their friend Sebastian have created a café with a mindset committed to healthy deliciousness. Before or after the beach, this is the place to park your beach bum.

RATED: Pimped by pancakes!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   VENUE ATMOS: 100% Laid back
VIBE:  Beachside
GIRDLERS – 7-8 The Strand, Dee Why, NSW
7 days. M-S: 6.30am-5pm SUN: 7am-5pm

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Pimp My Plate #31 – BAR ITALIA, Leichhardt, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

This month I’ve been posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish – Spaghetti Bolognese.  See my previous September reviews: Bravo and No Name.

A traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This week I twirl my fork at an Italian restaurant in Leichhardt. This is the third and last restaurant I’ll be reviewing in my search for that old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese.

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Bar Italia Restaurant – Ristorante #3

BAR ITALIA opened its doors in 1952. With a sunny façade and its Italian tricolour awning, it sits midway down Norton Street, Sydney’s hub of Italian restaurants and stores.  Nearby is a cake store that features an elaborate and mesmerising cake in its window – designed to celebrate a First Holy Communion – a giant cannolo tied with a blue ribbon.

If you like your coffee Italian-style –strong and full of flavour – this is one of the few places in Sydney you’ll find it.

Ordering at the counter is simple – once you can decide! The blackboard menu is extensive, and inexpensive.

Spaghetti Bolognese is my choice and I don’t even have to check the menu to see if it’s on it.

My order of Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.50), Garlic Bread ($3.50), and a Flat White coffee ($3.50) makes a satisfying and filling meal for $23.00.

Aside from Schnitzels, every option on the blackboard menu meets my usual Pimp My Plate $19 budget. There’s Focaccia and Paninis ($8.50), Pasta, Lamb Shanks ($18.50), Veal ($18.50), Soups ($12.90), Corsica Pizza ($19.50), and Sirloin Steak ($18.50). And they do Vegetarian Lasagne ($15.50).

BAR ITALIA is divided into two sections – the restaurant area, and the gelataria, where you can order a gelato and a coffee and sit at a table to eat it.

You can sit inside the restaurant near the framed Godfather LP record, or outdoors, under a canopy of flowering pink bougainvillea. I sit outside with the breeze occasionally sprinkling my table with petals.

My coffee arrives first, in a traditional red and green Vittoria Coffee porcelain cup. It’s what I call ‘industrial strength’ and that’s just how I like my coffee. And it’s coffee without compromise! There’s no Skim Milk, no Light Milk, and no Soy Milk served here.

My side of garlic bread and bowl of spaghetti arrives and I spy the now familiar powdered parmesan cheese.

The spaghetti is al dente, and the Bolognese sauce is good, if basic. There’s no parsley, no carrot, no celery, but the other two restaurants didn’t include those ingredients in their sauce either.

The garlic bread, a Kaiser roll, is better than most. Even so, I can’t finish eating it. Likewise, the quantity of spaghetti is too generous to finish eating it either.

I feel the need to apologise to the waiter when she comes to clear my table. No one likes food wastage.

In the unlikely event I was to run a marathon, this would be the fuel I’d consume. Instead, I plan a long walk along Norton Street, with a food-for-thought stopover at Berkelouw’s bookstore in lieu of dessert.

BAR ITALIA is the type of Italian café-restaurant we all want and need – in every suburb. It’s nice that the staff speaks Italian; it’s nice that the vibe is so relaxed; and it’s nice that you can eat a meal or just sit and enjoy a scoop of gelato.

*    *    *

That brings my quest ‘to see how easy it would be to find Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu’ to an end – for now. I’ll leave it for you to decide which restaurant offers the best overall value.

None of the three restaurants cooked a traditional Bolognese sauce – containing carrots, celery, or bacon, and none offered the option of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

With than in mind, I’ll be posting my own recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese tomorrow, that you can cook yourself.

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RATED: Chillaxed and well-fed  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Authentic   VIBE:  Old skool Italian
BAR ITALIA – 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, NSW

(Note: cash only, no cards. There is a multi-bank ATM facility on site)

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

 

 

 

 

 

Pimp My Plate #30 – TRAMSHEDS, Forest Lodge, NSW

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Like so many other Sydneysiders, I ignored the inkblot sky and threat of rain to visit THE TRAMSHEDS – Sydney’s newest foodie space, housed inside the former Rozelle Tramway Depot, originally built in 1904. 

TRAMSHEDS is being touted as ‘A community of Food and Learning’ and today was their Opening Day – a palpable buzz of hungry shoppers, lots of cameras from phone size to full frame. Store vendors scrambled to keep up with demand while juggling brand new ordering and catering systems, as customers kept filling tables.

On offer is an array of artisan bread, pasta, organic produce, a butcher, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Providores share a large space full of natural light and industrial height ceilings. There are lots of hard surfaces but it’s not noisy.

My take-home bag of goodies to eat later included: a loaf of Sourdough bread ($4.95 which is unheard of in price) and several pastries from Supamart; and a jar of Tasmanian Pickled Octopus ($15) from Fish & Co.

My sit-down Lunch was a plate of Prawn Cakes from FISH & CO. ($21)

A fun day out with lots to eat.

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RATED: Urban edge  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Industrial chic  VIBE:  Eat, drink, and be merry – esp after finding parking!
TRAMSHEDS – 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney, NSW
Open 9am-10pm most days

Pimp My Plate #29 – NO NAME, Darlinghurst, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese, again!’

In this week’s quest to see if Spaghetti Bolognese has disappeared from Sydney menus, I twirl my fork in one of Darlinghurst’s oldest Italian restaurants.

As I mentioned last week, a traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This is the second of three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ll be reviewing.

No Name Restaurant – Ristorante #2

It seems like NO NAME restaurant has been in Darlinghurst for …. forever. Decades ago, when I worked in an advertising agency nearby NO NAMES (as we called it) was a regular hangout on Friday afternoons with the tribe.

I remember this restaurant from as far back as the mid-1970s. Even so, I’d have been shocked if Spaghetti Bolognese had disappeared from the menu.

My heart skips a beat …  Yes! It’s still on the menu. ‘Of course it is,’ I reprimand myself.

I order a ‘small’ Garden Salad ($4 – say whaaat?) to accompany my bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese ($10), and with that I get a complimentary side of bread, a glass of cordial, and a glass of water.

‘Parmesan cheese?’

‘Yes,’ I answer without any expectations of fresh Parmesan cheese.

When it first opened, NO NAME began a tradition of offering simple, no-fuss Italian food, with a rustic style.

Not much has changed since in the style of décor or the food, and that’s its charm. The fact that over so many years NO NAME continues to offer basic Italian meals at a price that seems oblivious to inflation is unique. Especially in a large city like Sydney, where change is a constant of this city’s restaurant scene.

If my memory is correct, the only thing missing on my table compared to ‘back then’ are the little glass salt-shaker bottles full of dried chilli flakes. Part of the Friday lunch ceremony was sprinkling copious amounts of chilli flakes over our bowls of spaghetti. In their place is a sea of bright yellow plastic squeeze bottles full of vinegar. What these are for, I’m not sure, and I don’t care to find out.

My bowl of spaghetti arrives and it looks good, and tastes good. There’s no garnish or carrot – no fuss – but I notice a pleasing ratio of sauce to pasta.

This is cheap and cheerful food. It offers flavour and fills you up, and does both at an incredibly good price. So my second experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is filling, no-frills, and enjoyable. And there’s enough sauce.

NO NAME’S blackboard menu features other dishes including, Schnitzels ($15-$24), Scaloppini w Mushrooms (another old favourite), and Osso Buco (both $12), Liver and Onions ($14), and Steak and Onions ($15).

About the name NO NAME – how did it begin?

According to urban legend, the original restaurant sign kept being knocked down by passing rubbish trucks. Faced with having to continually replace the restaurant sign, eventually the restaurant was left with no name – literally.

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After lunch, I head downstairs to Darlinghurst’s other long term resident, THE ARCH, for dessert: a great cup of coffee and a crunchy pistachio biscotti.

My next and final Spaghetti Bolognese encounter is next week.

RATED: No frills  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4.5/5   ATMOS: Minimalist   VIBE:  No-frills fun
NO NAME – 2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

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Pimp My Plate #28 – BRAVO, Crows Nest, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese!’

Spaghetti – do you swirl it, scoop it, or slurp it?

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne. Or other broad, flat pasta shapes like pappardelle or fettuccine. In Australia, however, the sauce is synonymous with spaghetti.

How do you feel about those two words: Spaghetti Bolognese? Can you remember the days when every Italian restaurant table in Australia wore a red checked tablecloth, and an empty wax-covered Chianti bottle sat on top of it? Or maybe you’ve parked that dish too far back in your memory?

Or maybe you’ve never even seen it on a menu?!

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is known as ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from, you guessed it, Bologna, in Italy.

A traditional version of the sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

Most Italian restaurants in Australia have now replaced red checked tablecloths with crisp white ones, or smooth wooden tabletops. Bottles of Chianti are stocked behind the bar unless you BYO – Australian vernacular for ‘Bring Your Own’.

In 2016 has Spaghetti Bolognese disappeared from menus altogether? My quest is to find out.

I’ll be reviewing three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese from three different restaurants, over three weeks. Each week I’ll post a review, and it’s up to you to choose which version you’d prefer to eat.

Let’s begin.

Bravo Trattoria – Ristorante #1

Over the years BRAVO has changed its menu, and its location. The ‘old’ BRAVO, situated in busy Falcon Street, opened in 1995. Its front counter was THE go-to for true Italian gelato, and people – including me – would travel distances to eat it.

The restaurant section featured a mural of Italian figures sitting, relaxing, playing guitar. Above them was a hand-painted list of the 101 different sauces you could order with your pasta.

Tragic circumstances closed the restaurant for several years, then BRAVO reopened ‘around the corner’ in 2013 in a newly fitted out space, offering an upmarket menu, and a new lease on life – ‘Bravo!’

Today is Saturday and the restaurant is full of diners eating lunch, but I only have to wait a few minutes. I take a seat and check the blackboard, scrolling past Risotto Calamari with peas and ricotta ($24.90), and Beef Ribs w cauliflower puree and cavolo nero ($34.90).

I spy Spaghetti Bolognese ($19.90) on the printed menu and order it, while my dining companion orders the risotto.

Also on the blackboard menu is BRAVO’s special dish, Spaghetti Amatriciana Guanciali ($24.90). My waitress explains that BRAVO is donating a percentage of the meal price to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Amatrice, Italy. Bravo! BRAVO.

I plunge my fork into my friend’s risotto for a taste, and it’s good. Now to focus on my spaghetti!

I pick up my fork and spoon – I’m a twirler. But first I tease the spaghetti, to distribute the Bolognese sauce through it.

The waitress places a small bottle of Parmesan cheese powder on the table, and I ask if they have any fresh Parmesan to grate over my plate. They don’t have it, I’m told. I’m a little stunned that any Italian restaurant would not have fresh Parmesan cheese on the premises, and I suddenly feel like I’ve been transported back to the 1970s. I can almost understand why a restaurant might prefer not to offer expensive cheese with a cheaper basic meal… Wait a minute, no I can’t! But to not have any in the restaurant AT ALL?

The spaghetti is al dente as you’d expect, or how I would describe it – springy, with an enjoyable bite and just how I like it. However the sauce disappeared into the nest of pasta almost immediately.

The amount of pasta is generous, but my eyes are asking for more sauce, or more ragu. There’s no evidence of carrot or celery in this sauce but it does have flavour. Are there onions? I can’t tell.

It’s a filling meal but I’m left wanting more ….  sauce. Several gratings of fresh cheese would have lifted this dish to another level  … of both taste, and passion.

So my first experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is a little disappointing.

Dessert however is a different story – ‘delizioso’!

The Sicilian Cannoli ($5.70 each piece) with pistachio nuts is rocking my taste buds. My cannolo is filled with a lemon-scented custard that is light, delicious, and not too sweet. A single piece of cannoli is called cannolo which means, ‘little tube’.

As a side note: my companion rated his Risotto Calamari 3.5 out of 5.

‘Grazie per il pasto.’

What will I discover next week?

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RATED: Fresh Parmesan cheese please!  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 3.5/5   VIBE:  Always friendly and consistent
BRAVO TRATTORIA  59 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest NSW

 

Pimp My Plate #27 – Cambridge, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes there’s no set budget in my search for flavour.

‘Soul food made with 100% love’

The Coast Cafe

I don’t have a bucket list as such. My plan is to munch my way around the world, leaving a stack of empty plates behind me.

Some of those plates would have been heaped with soul food – collard greens, wing tips, BBQ, cornbread…

And if you live in Australia like I do, it requires a passport to achieve this particular soul food goal.

I’m so dedicated to this concept that in 2013 I wrote a book about soul food, Soulicious, after eating my way through as many soul food restaurants in the USA as I could waddle into.

I remember my first taste of collard greens – my Collard Greens Initiation – at Brown Sugar in Oakland.  I remember munching my last plate of greens in 2015 so it’s been a long time between greens!

Before flying to Boston, I sat in wintery Sydney reading Korsha Wilson’s article about Tony Brooks’ COAST CAFÉ. For twelve years this iconic soul food café has been serving Southern dishes to hungry northerners from its tiny storefront in River Street.

In the article, Brooks explains that the recipes originally came from his mother, who grew up in Mississippi, and his father, who was from Connecticut. These days he adds his own tweaks to recipes.

I add THE COAST CAFÉ to my Boston ‘To Do’ List.

*  *  *

I finally arrive in Boston on a Sunday, after 27 hours travelling time.
THE COAST CAFÉ is only open Wednesday to Saturday so I’ll have to wait.

*  *  *

‘Taxi!’

As we drove across the Charles River, my taxi driver informed me that we were now in Cambridge, not ‘Boston’.

As we neared THE COAST CAFÉ signage and pulled over at 233 River Street, I was suddenly VERY HUNGRY.

Starters.
Sandwiches.
Sides.
Special side orders.
Combo plates.
Coffee.

After my collard greens drought, my choice of two sides is easy – collards, and mac’n’cheese.

BBQ Pork and Beef Ribs (USD$15.49) are on the blackboard menu but then I see CATFISH (USD$16.59).

Back home, Australians are big on BBQ but we don’t eat catfish. There’s catfish in some of our waterways, but it’s not on our menus.

Barramundi is our rock star fish as any tourist knows. It can live in freshwater or saltwater – in streams, rivers, lakes, billabongs, estuaries and coastal waters. We also eat a wide range of saltwater fish that includes snapper and bream, and river fish like rainbow trout.

Pretty much everything except catfish, so I seize the opportunity.

There’s a choice of BBQ Wings or Coast Wings (USD$10.59). When I ask the difference between the two I’m told the Coast Wings aren’t rolled in a layer of flour before frying, so I order them. There’s homemade BBQ or Jerk sauce for the wings – I order Jerk Sauce.

That covers the entrée, sides, and main. What’s missing? Dessert.
It’s been a long while since I last ate Banana Pudding

I take a seat and check my phone messages, IMs, emails, Facebook, and flight times.

A black box with plastic cutlery arrives with cornbread and coleslaw.
I flip it open and dive in…

It’s the best Catfish I’ve ever eaten – super fresh, perfectly crumbed and perfectly cooked.

And that first mouth full of collard greens is Oh-So-Good after oh so long!

There’s no satisfactory substitute for collard greens. Not mustard greens. Not spinach. Not turnip tops. Just …. no.

As soon as the Coast Wings arrive in their red striped box, I crack open the container of Jerk sauce and start dipping. Oh. My. Yes!

When the banana pudding arrives there’s no meringue topping  – ok I am disappointed – but the custard is studded with fresh banana slices and Nilla Wafer pieces.

We do have banana pudding in Australia, but we don’t have Nilla Wafer biscuits and we do it differently – no vanilla wafers.

No collards, no catfish, no Nilla Wafers – now do you understand why I mainline soul food at every opportunity?

Soul food is feel good food. And I feel good.

Looking around I notice a number of soulful messages pinned up on the walls of the café, and I’m sure there’s a backstory to each of them.

However, the owner, Tony Brooks, takes me by surprise by suddenly appearing from the kitchen to say hello! It’s really nice to meet the man on the t-shirt and have a chat. I tell him I’ve travelled all the way from Australia to eat at his café, and that’s no lie.

It’s also no secret that Tony has plans to expand to other locations soon. I suggest he opens a store in Australia as well, Sydney perhaps?

He seems to think it’s a good idea, but I better not hold my breath. But why not plant the seed, right?

Wherever they do open next I envy their customers because COAST CAFÉ serves some of the most mouth friendly soul food I’ve eaten. It’s not fancy, it’s simply delicious.

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RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4/5   VIBE:  Feel Good & Good eating
THE COAST CAFÉ – 233 River St, Cambridge, MA 02139

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Pimp My Plate #26 – Boston, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the east coast of the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes I’ve scrapped the usual budget in my search for flavour.

 

‘Ask yourself, what does food mean to you?’

Cuisine and Confessions

It’s Friday night in Boston, and as I take my seat, a muscular young man wearing an apron and clutching a notepad sweeps past me to ask the women near me what food they like to eat, and to enquire about their love life.

A bubbly blonde in denim shorts skips through the room, offering up a bowl of gummy bears. I’m hungry, so I take one.

Several metres away there’s a man throwing potatoes at people – what a circus!

I’m in a theatre, not a restaurant, and no, it’s not a theatre restaurant – although the audience is promised plates of food at the end of the performance.

Tonight I’ve bought tickets to the unique theatre production CUISINES & CONFESSIONS (USD$40 BosTix/half price).

For several days this week I walked by their promotional poster in Copley Plaza, that promises ‘a literal theatrical feast!’ How could I resist?

The theatrical production of CUISINES & CONFESSIONS was inspired by the book Young and Hungry by Suzanne Taylor, which is a cookbook in the form of a memoir, and originally published in Boston.

This production is performed by The 7 Fingers troupe and includes sound, smell, touch, and taste. The 7 Fingers are known for their innovative acrobatic and choreographic ‘prowess’.

It’s the last week of the American premiere at the Cutler Majestic Theater after playing in Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Montreal, and Moscow.

Now I’m seated inside the Cutler Majestic Theater I see the theatre lives up to its majestic name. Its interior glows with the elegance of its 1903 ‘Beaux Arts’ style and embellishment, designed by architect John Galen Howard.

Around me it’s a chatty crowd. The vibe is a mix of a creative chaos and anticipation as members of The 7 Fingers run down the aisles, pitch an occasional potato into the air as if it’s a baseball, and scribble down the answers to love life questions as the audience is quizzed by the man in the apron with the notepad.

I don’t know where to look, because I want to look everywhere – all at once.

There’s a large kitchen construction onstage, with a working stove. We’re invited to ‘Come for the circus, stay for the banana bread!’

As the lights dim and the audience becomes quiet, we watch a series of personal and universal food stories unfold.

For most of us, food is a marker of special moments, emotions, memories, or confession.

Tonight the stage becomes a page in a human recipe book, scribbled with words of love, humour, guilt, and even persecution.

The fluid choreography of the acrobatics, aerial sequences, dance, and the juggling underlining these stories, is as spellbinding as it is energetic.

In one dance sequence white flour is thrown into the air. It takes shape then dissipates, in much the same way human emotions can.

The onstage kitchen is a genius design of interconnecting wooden boxes and frames that create a variety of theatrical and acrobatic opportunities.

Table and chair formations become platforms to sit on, or dance on, and square wooden frames become aerobic hoops to dive through. Giant whisks are juggled, a girl dangles in mid-air from a rope of tea towels, a knife is throw at a blindfolded man, and a tall vertical pole provides a linear defiance of gravity.

Meanwhile, the vegetable pasta and the banana bread is cooking in the onstage oven.

This theatre production is an immersive journey for all our senses, as we sit in awe of the incredible timing, skill, and physical ability of the cast – and the spell cast by the aroma of food.

And at the end of that journey there was food!

We queued down the theatre aisles for a tasting plate of pasta with vegetables – tasty – and a piece of moist banana bread, still warm from the oven.

CUISINES & CONFESSIONS is a production that reminds you of the power and importance of the arts to share stories using a combination of physical skill, humour, and emotion. Some stories reflect our own, but the ones that add most value, in my opinion, are those that give us new understanding of the experiences of others.

Although the season has just ended in Boston I’m sure the production will keep touring, so if you have the chance to see it, don’t hesitate. You can also find some of the acrobatic feats of The 7 Fingers troupe on YouTube.

The creation and staging of Cuisine & Confessions is by Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila. The entire cast includes Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Camille Legris, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Anna Kachalova, Matias Plaul, William Underwood, and Pablo Pramparo.

RATED: Fabulous!  FOOD: 5/5
VALUE: 6/5 Yes!   ATMOS: 5/5   VIBE:  Passionate, exciting, inspiring, and unique 
‘CUISINES & CONFESSIONS’ – Cutler Majestic Theater 219 Tremont St, Boston, MA

*A special thank you to James Harriman for allowing me to use his photos

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Pimp My Plate #25 – Boston, MA

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This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the east coast of the USA to see if Boston could pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes I’ve scrapped the usual budget in my search for flavour.

‘Salty kisses from the sea…’

Saltie Girl Seafood Bar

Few words can stop me in my tracks like OYSTERS, as I walked down Dartmouth St in Boston in the middle of a heatwave. Seconds later I was up those stairs, pushing open the door, and gazing at unshucked oysters behind the counter.

I’d just eaten lunch, so my most pressing question was whether Saltie Girl was open for dinner that night. ‘We stay open, first in gets a table.’ Dinner sorted.

Oysters. There are lovers and haters. I’ve been a lover for most of my adult life. It was a hallelujah moment when I first realized that oysters were so much more than slimy, shapeless, greyish blobs … that they are in fact poetry. If you’re still lurking in the grey area of oyster appreciation, think of them as salty kisses from the sea, which they are. Each ocean fresh salty kiss has a transformative power to rewind your senses back to ocean swims and happy times you’ve spent at the beach.

And if oysters don’t excite you there is always lobster – for breakfast, entree, main, maybe even dessert.

Because when it comes to access to quality east coast seafood, Boston is surrounded by choice. From its home state of Massachusetts you can feast on produce from Cape Cod (SE of Boston), and from Martha’s Vineyard (south of Cape Cod).

Further north is the state of Maine, famous for its prized Maine Lobsters which are considered the most succulent in texture and flavour. Down south, seafood is sourced from the state of Connecticut, the waterways of Washington, and the fisheries of Long Island Sound, which stretches between Connecticut and Long Island.

To a seafood lover, the criss-cross of Boston streets can easily be reimagined as interlocking lines on a giant trawler net. Boston is brimming with a diverse choice of sea creatures, with a seafood restaurant on every block.

Back to Saltie Girl. It’s a niche bar-seafood-hideaway. There are several cosy booths or you can sit at the well-stocked bar beneath the gaze of two mermaids.

The wait staff are hipster cool and know their seafood. There’s a set menu of main meal options, and a cutesy tick the box with a pencil menu of fresh crustaceans.

We wanted to try as locavore as possible, so for oysters we ticked Martha’s Vineyard and for sentimental purposes, Long Island Sound. I’ve seen those long skinny Razor Clams at Sydney Fish Markets but never tried them so this was my opportunity. The oysters were ocean-fresh and didn’t need condiments. The Razor Clam was pre-cut and seasoned and I didn’t like the texture as much as my dinner partner did.

Maine Lobster. No way was I going to pass up the opportunity to try it.

I chose a  Gloucester Lobster Roll (USD$32 Market Price) the lobster meat originating from Gloucester, Mass. The next decision was whether to order it served either warm – broiled in butter – or cold.

As I spent precious seconds contemplating which option was the most delicious, our waiter quickly cut in, ‘Go cold!’ OK, then. Suspicions that this lobster roll would far exceed any I’d eaten in Sydney were instantly confirmed. The ‘roll’ was a toasted brioche bun, and it was chock-full of fresh lobster pieces with a subtle tasting aioli.

The savoury chips were a cross between potato slivers and crunchy water crackers.

Having written a soul food cookbook, and eaten various versions of chicken and waffles, there was also no way I could pass up the chance to try Fried Lobster and Waffles w sweet corn butter and spicy maple syrup (USD$32 Market Price). Verdict? Unbelievably good.

Before ordering, I asked about the waffles – were they sweet? I was told they were Belgian waffles, cooked on the premises, and not too sweet. They didn’t lie. There is something about this combination that defies logic, but with each bite, your taste buds concur that this dish is nothing less than an amazing concept. Crisp tender lobster, with springy soft waffles, with a trickle of corn butter, doused with maple syrup – it’s not incongruous, it’s a flavour sensation.

Take your dollars and your plastic as this is not a cheap dining destination, but it’s worth every bite.

RATED: Pimped and pumped!  FOOD: 5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4.5/5   VIBE:  Atlantis 
SALTIE GIRL SEAFOOD BAR– 281 Dartmouth St, Boston, MA 02116

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Pimp My Plate #24 – Naremburn, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘Maca my day’

Sprout Wholefood Café

Naremburn is a small mostly residential suburb, squeezed between Crows Nest and Artarmon. It’s a pretty suburb with a small, eclectic shopping strip.

SPROUT joins a community of shopfronts that includes a local government Member’s office, a small bar, a picture framing business, a bottleshop, and a pizza restaurant that opened in 1972 and still serves great pizza.

The café occupies the space that was previously tenanted by a privately-owned hardware store of the old style that sold boxes of galvanized nails, brass screws, and cut and drilled timber for you on the spot. They were trusted and their DIY expert advice was as solid as the layer of dust carpeting the shelves.

It is fitting then, that ‘new’ tenant SPROUT also provides holistic components, in this case wholefoods.

It was lunchtime and I was in a hurry, and hurried people need to eat good, wholesome food to keep them happy as they hurry.

I saw lots of healthful bowls on the menu, and that’s great, but I prefer to only eat soup, porridge, cereal, or dessert out of a bowl, and preferably with a spoon.

I scanned hungrily past those delicious-sounding-but-not-for-me bowls of Tabouli Bowl, and Green Goddess Bowl (both $17.95), or Miso Trout Bowl, and other Protein Bowls (each $21.95).

Yumm… Sprout Fritters ($17.95), made from a mixture of feta, kale, chilli, and mint caught my imagination.

I had the option to add avocado, grilled chicken, bacon, or poached egg, for an extra charge but I wanted to see how these fritters would stand up to a taste test by themselves.

They did so splendidly. The two large fritters on my plate were springy and light, and a joy to munch through. And they were gluten free, which prompted me to ask what type of flour held this fairy-light mixture together – Brown Rice Flour.

With a long haul international flight on my horizon, I chose the Anti-inflammatory Super Smoothie – banana, turmeric, cinnamon, maca, goji berries, and coconut milk.

Like me, you might be wondering what maca is? Maca is native to the Andes Mountains and is part of the broccoli, radish, and watercress family. It’s touted as a wonder food with a long list of benefits: an energy enhancer that aids stamina, athletic performance, and memory. Whether that’s true or not, its earthy flavour is a complementary addition to the smoothie I’m sipping.

I am happy to report that any of those potential health benefits come second to flavour. The smoothie has an earthy, refreshing taste, and the coconut milk flavour didn’t overpower the other flavours. In fact the flavour combination of banana, turmeric, and cinnamon made my tastebuds dance a tango.  Maybe this concoction could be renamed Flight Fit and made available pre-flight at every airport – just a thought.

Other drinks served at SPROUT include tonics, teas, lattes and macha, hot chocolate and coffees (with nut milk and coconut milk), super smoothies including a Gut Guardian (I so love that name), wellbeing juices, and the curious sounding Reishi Coffee ($5.50), which is ‘enriched with reishi mushrooms’. As a mushroom lover I wished I’d noticed it on the menu earlier. This certainly requires me to do a return visit for a taste-test.

SPROUT have a range of pretty vegan cakes on display if you’d like to reward your healthy eating with a sweet treat, to eat in, or take out.

Just a few doors down the street is specialty coffee store Forsyth Coffee House so if you prefer your coffee with dairy milk, head there for a coffee. They also serve specialty teas.

Before you do head out, be sure to check out SPROUT’s adjacent grocery section where you can buy organic fruit and vegetables, and a number of wholesome gourmet ingredients to create healthy meals in your own kitchen.

This is a feel good space to grab a quick, healthy bite, meet up with friends, or drop in for a cup of Mt Kenya-grown Gabriel brand coffee and a pretty cake.

RATED: Wholly pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 3/5   VIBE:  Busy, buzzy, healthy
SPROUT WHOLEFOOD CAFÉ & GROCER – 272-274 Willoughby Rd, Naremburn

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Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #23 – Wollstonecraft, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘Up the garden path…’

Botanica  Garden Café

It’s easy to drive straight past Botanica Garden Café without seeing it – its leafy green exterior acts like a camouflage. But you’re more likely to find on street parking further down Bay Road anyway.

Colourful empty birdcages hang from the tree canopy at the entrance, and silver teapots hang from the ceiling above your table. There is a menagerie of bird ornaments, and a delicious scattering of design whimsy surrounds you. A small sign announces that all items are recycled, used, or vintage – and all are weather-worn.

In a suburb as affluent as Wollstonecraft, a free-spirited café with plants sprouting out of rusting Campbell Soup cans is a delightfully incongruous and welcome find.

There is an easy, organic creativity to the décor and the menu.

Today’s Specials include a Spicy Pumpkin Soup ($12.50), various homemade sandwiches, and a great selection of desserts: Apple and Rhubarb Strudel; a Lemon Myrtle, Lime and Mint tart; a Salted Caramel Popcorn and Pretzel tart; and a gluten-free Orange and Berry Teacake. I’m avoiding sugar today, so I avoid making such a challenging decision.

I see a platter of Baits & Beets ($16) – whitebait, beetroot, and corn fritters, served with pickled leek, sundried tomatoes, cress salad, and tzatziki and beetroot relish – fly past my table, but I decide it is too big a meal for one person, but perfect for a share plate. It’s delivered to the four women at the next table, prompting murmurs of delight that punctuate their stories of travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Another temptation was the Roccan’ Chicken Pie made with olives, chickpeas, carrots, raisins and Moroccan spices, topped with a flaky pastry lid, and served with grilled corn ($17.50).

But when I read the menu description of El Barra Burger ($19) – a beer battered fillet of barramundi, served with fried jalapenos, corn salsa, pickled slaw, and Swiss cheese, and served with ‘hand cut chippies’ I was sold. Forget everything I’ve said previously about burgers on menus.

I have an ongoing gripe about knives – cutlery knives. The majority of Sydney cafes and restaurants don’t offer sharp knives. I don’t know if this is for customer safety, a homeland security initiative, whether their budget just doesn’t stretch that far, or, whether they’ve just never used their own cutlery to eat with. Trying to cut through steak or toasted sourdough with the blunt equivalent of a butter knife is a chore.

But not here!

When my burger arrived it was staked to its wooden platter with a steak knife – like a culinary dartboard. The tartar sauce in the burger made it a little messy to eat, but it was full of crunch and fresh flavours, and it really hit the spot. The ‘chippies’ however, under-delivered, but that’s not a biggie.

Coffee here is good, so good that I ordered a second one and moved up to the verandah area, now bathed in winter sunlight, for some serious ‘after-nooning’.

I nestled into one of the squashy sofas and sipped my caffè latte, while admiring the three large canine ‘rapper’ portraits attached to the back fence.

BOTANICA is one of the rare breed of cafes that make you feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s lounge room, rather than a food enterprise. And that’s a nice feeling. Staff is attentive and friendly, and the food is homemade and satisfying.

Another rarity is the background music, set to the perfect volume to create atmosphere, while allowing easy conversation with your friends.

BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ turns 4 years old this week, and I think they’ve created the type of space they set out to. ‘A place where you can escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy homemade food and a great cuppa in a garden oasis …. A place that induces happiness.’

Yes you have. Nicely done.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4.5/5   VIBE:  Eat, drink, and hear yourselves talk
BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ – 61A Bay Road, Wollstonecraft, Sydney

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Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen