I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
This matters to some, not to others; and well, it matters to me. Presentation is vital with a dish. It shouldn’t look too extravagant as to confuse the patron but there is no harm is creating something to generate a double take—that feeling one gets where they stand before a work of art and simply take it in. For a moment, you don’t even want to touch the plate. Damn those that judge others for taking photos of their plates. Between North 54 and White Goose Bistro, the Goose takes the lead. It’s not just the presentation but the creative use of ingredients which win the day. The dishes are functional and perfectly edible. There is nothing on the plate that’s for show. Eating at White Goose or North 54 and not taking a moment to admire the plate’s presentation is like walking into a gallery to visit the bathroom.
U & Me
White Goose Bistro
This was difficult, probably the most challenging of all of them, involving both service and the general attitude of the floor manager. It was really close, really close. In the end, I had to go with the with North 54. Service is consistently high with a maitre de of a Michelin-star caliber. However, I must point out how close second is. Whenever I talk about Shiraz, I never fail to mention how classy the manager is—another refined example of showmanship and the only one I have seen in town that will actually open your menu and clarify the language of a beautiful menu. And further, I must praise the other honories. With U&Me, the owners truly make you feel welcome and with White Goose, Fallon is probably the only floor manager I would want to sit down with me WHILE I ate.
I think it’s due.
The time has come.
I have been holding back this pivotal moment, but truthfully to postpone it any longer would be a disservice to all those that read this blog.
Yes, I shall be giving out awards.
Nothing made of gold or gilded silver. I won’t be printing a 16-bit unicorn off a Roland-800 24-pin dot-matrix printer with a boilerplate header and felt-written title. I’ll be utilizing some artwork I have access to. Something like this:
Now all I need are awards.
BEST FRONT OF HOUSE
This basically encompasses the overall management of the floor. Service may vary between servers, but front-of-house ensures consistency. This is not about décor. That’s another award.
This involves the creative displays of dishes. The best food may not be the best looking. This is a guilty pleasure award for me, and one many people won’t care about.
Yes, with so many restaurants, Chinese cuisine gets its own award. And of all of them, this will be the one people will want to read. I am separating Chinese from other ethnic restaurants simply because they are more American than Chinese.
This includes everything not covered by the other categories, so it includes Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Persian. I predict this one will be the most difficult.
And apparently I have to separate this one as well.
What does this mean? Basically, it involves all non-ethnic restaurants. For the purposes of this award, I am including French, Italian, and British Cuisine along with all American variations. Basically if it’s not ethnic, it’s this. If PG had enough French or Italian restaurants, I would separate them, but I can’t.
This encompasses all cafes and restaurants with a fast-in/fast-out dedicated lunch menu. Basically this involves places that either put an effort into a lunch service or one where that’s basically all they do.
Since I don’t drink, this one will be especially tricky. Actually it won’t, given my low opinion of Pubs.
The best looking restaurant. Which one simply looks the best, ignoring how much it cost. If the décor works against the function of a restaurant, that will count against you.
The coveted best overall will have finalists and one grand poobah.
One thing you will not see however are worst restaurant awards. These are not awards to be proud of so despite my negative reviews of some, I will not single out the worst of town. I have never enjoyed worst-of lists and I won’t be picking up the habit now. They only serve to annoy people.
…I shall start this week.
Smokey and the Briquette
Chicken fajita night. Slice chicken breast, orange pepper, red onion. Add cumin, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and some like zest. Let set for about 10 minutes. For the salsa put tomatoes, green pepper, a jalapeño pepper, red onion, salt, pepper and olive oil in the food processor.
Cook the chicken until done and serve with whatever you like. Hardly traditional fajitas but good when it’s freezing and blowing snow and you can’t use the grill.
That’s right folks.
It’s in preparation for a international food party I’m running called a Samsara Carousal, inspired by the film. This was my first attempt and one of two or three dishes I plan on serving. It was awesome.
What is it, a lime flavored beverage? A Japanese pop-rock band? A shade of wall paint by Glidden? No, Cool Jade is a Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh, the last restaurant I would review during my vacation, and the best Chinese restaurant I’ve ever visited there or anywhere. The range of choices, the quality of delivered dishes and the overall décor cannot be praised enough. In less than two hours we enjoyed a range of Asian dishes I’d never seen in the many Westernized Chinese restaurants I’ve visited in my home town (and I’ve been to them all). Unfortunately, without an online menu or even a website, it’s difficult for me to detail the specific dishes ordered at Cool Jade, so I’ll have to go on memory and photos.
The décor is classy, presented as a top-notch bistro rather than a brunch-buffet location where casual eaters shovel chow mein and chop suey via forks and ladle-sized spoons into their distended stomachs…
…yeah, I admit having a tendency to offend those that support and promote westernized Chinese restaurants because I’ve been to China and tasted authenticity first hand. I get asked often to recommend Chinese buffets, but for me it’s like requesting a favored Arby’s location—they are all the same and the quality can be graded on the same scale as your next bowel movement, which in this case arrives fast and definitely furious. Cool Jade is exactly what I have been wishing for since my trip to China so many years ago (so many—okay, it was six).
The initial plate was a collection of appetizers including crispy seaweed, sesame cakes, spare ribs, egg rolls, and deep fried dumplings, all resting on a warming plate. After that we were served up shredded duck with pancakes, spicy beef, and noodles. There was no real entrée for each sitter, just a collection of plates the both of us shared from, as it should be and how it actually is in many cultures across the world. The meal was fun and satisfying but it was the more authentic touches I appreciated like the plastic-wrapped towelette or the fact that the chopsticks were plastic. I hate plastic chopsticks but it’s one thing I clearly remembered from China. Wooden sticks are a luxury of the west given our amount of timber. Or how about the carrot carved into the shape of a pagoda temple or the other one in the shape of a flower.
Yeah, a pagoda temple, that level of detail. This attention is not often seen in Westernized Chinese.
I had been teased about Cool Jade for weeks—about how good it was, superior to other restaurants like it. Having experience in this field I know why, because they don’t compromise. They don’t pander to the tasteless, cultureless masses. Westernized Chinese food is for people without culinary curiosity—who think that eating Chinese is them upsetting the normal order of hamburgers, steaks, and potato chips, the staple daily diet. Cool Jade is not selling to those people. This is for people who when they leave their homes and eat out, they want something special, an event worth remembering. It’s what I want. It’s what I got: a fantastic experience on my last day in Edinburgh.
Of course, the meal still had to end with fortune cookies. Some things never change.
Did I mention there was a carrot carved into the shape of a pagoda?
OVERALL: 9 out of 10
Edinburgh Zoo has its ups and its downs.
See what I did there? Little play on words. The whole damn zoo is built into a hill. Right out of the gate, you’re ascending. The habitats are generously spaced with certain areas obviously better developed than others. It’s an unfortunate criticism but a logical realization of all zoos—the more popular animals live in better built habitats encouraging more flow traffic. So the nearly arrived Pandas and the ever-popular penguins get top-billing while Zebras and Giant Anteaters are atop the very long and steep climb at the opposite end of the grounds. All the shops, cafes, and the majority of bathrooms are all huddled by the Education center—which is across, you guessed it, the penguin exhibit. It’s a damn shame because the bird sanctuary was awesome once I finally discovered it (I had to be showed). Defenders and those far more educated in zoo design will correctly correct me in saying that zebras (which I now pronounce “zebra” instead of “zeebra” thanks to my girlfriend) require considerable square footage and thus must always be segregated from the smaller habitats. That’s a valid point but…okay, that is a valid point. I really have nothing to counter that with. The penguins were cute, that’s certainly a thing I can’t deny.
Do I have favorite animals? I prefer ones where I can get close, not requiring physical contact, just where I can feel like the animal knows I exist. Perhaps we are divided by glass or not, makes no difference, so large animals, though obviously breathtaking, are not as interesting as the small ones I can get close to. So despite a lot of people placing the pandas atop the list of best habitats, I’d have to go with the penguins (huh, I guess it works). I mean at one point, the crowds formed a path for the penguins to walk through. They only do so a few times a day and its worth participating in. I enjoyed the flamingos, because who doesn’t, and everyone loves the squirrel and capuchin monkeys. In all the experience was pleasant, worth the admission and an afternoon of your time. I visited in November, which resulted in a slightly overcast and melancholy landscape, but I imagine in the spring and summer, this place truly rocks.
I don’t know what astounds me more, the fact that Nepalese cuisine is an option for the culinarily curious or that there are so many of them that they fight over the same name. I tried to research my review for The Gurkha, a restaurant in Edinburgh, not to be confused with the Gurkha café. And not the Gurkha Brigade, which is…really, three Nepalese restaurants with the name “Gurkha” in the title all in the same city? Is that a condition for being a Nepalese restaurant? I would be happy to just have a Nepalese restaurant in my home town. The closest I could find was in Vancouver, and its name is…huh…Gurkha.
I shouldn’t be surprised about that.
By the way, the Gurkha I’m at claims itself the first and “original” Nepalese restaurant in Scotland. I can read between the lines and that’s effectively a giant middle finger to the other like-named restaurants. Oh and if you click the website link on TripAdvisor, it takes you to the WRONG Gurkha. That must sting.
The Gurkha is an adorable sky blue-painted restaurant slotted between an acupuncturist and a Chinese take-out place, all three occupying less sidewalk space than a McDonalds and located on Morningside road (not to be confused with Morningside place or Morningside park—oh for the love of GOD, Edinburgh; you’re not that big of a city!). Gurkha is considered large in that it occupies two storefronts, one door blocked off, yet it only takes about five seconds to cross on foot. What I’m saying is that the businesses in Morningside are tiny; it’s like an economy of Lilliputians.
The interior was a modest collection of white-draped tables, red shod chairs, and walls painted in an ill-advised choice of yellow promoted as amber but coming off as “corn via protein spill”. The décor was simple, with few fixtures hanging from the walls. The staff was stone-faced but welcoming, wrapped in ties and vests, very posh considering the time of day. The effort was appreciated. I entered at lunch and noted the massive menu and listings with a very pronounced Indian inspiration. Biryani. Masala. Poppadom. Of course, there would be some carry-over—I’ve mentioned in other reviews that country lines mean effectively nothing and that true cuisine can only be graded by tribes and ethnicity, and even then one must acknowledge the sharing of trends between neighbors. I say all that to educate some and prevent my lynching from others.
What distinguishes Nepalese from Indian (apparently) is the reduction in spice and the increase of sweeter ingredients like ginger. This was confirmed with the dishes I ordered. I say dishes for lunch because the Gurkha offered a lunch special, three courses for 6.95. The first was a trio of fried breads with huge buckets (BUCKETS) of various dips and curries, after…I’m sorry, did I lose you? You seem to be stuck on that price. That’s right, it wasn’t a numerical error. 6.95. Pounds or dollars, despite conversion, that’s really cheap. The menu prices were a little higher on average, perhaps dauntingly so if you only wanted to stop in for a quick bite, but 6.95? That’s the price for a starter in any other restaurant and here it’s for three courses! I felt like I was robbing them. The courses were fixed but that’s the brilliance. It’s one thing to have a daily special a few dollars less but to have a three course combination meal, it becomes a given. Who would think of ordering off the main menu with a three course option for 6.95? And you still get to choose if you want chicken, lamb, beef, or pork. You still get a colossal slab of naan so large you can’t see the plate it’s served on. After that you still get dessert. This is beyond a good value. And thankfully the food was fantastic.
It was my last day in Edinburgh and the Gurkha reminds me dramatically of one of the many things I will miss about this city. The value and possibilities cannot be quantified in the number of words remaining in this review. The Gurkha may be one of several Gurkha-named restaurants in Edinburgh, but it would be difficult for the others to measure up. There are many places to eat in Morningside and if you happen to be wandering along the road and come across Gurkha, THIS Gurkha, it’s worth your time.
I kind of wish every day was like this day. There was no castle, not historical location to exploit for a handful of photos. I ate out for lunch, but it was a small bistro, and supper was made by yours truly. I won’t recount that—despite it being awesome—because I had covered Claridges Chicken Pie before (or have I?) and because it was a gift to a family that had shown me incredible generosity. The morning was spent drifting down both lanes of Morningside—kind of a permanent fair in Edinburgh. Shops are barely larger than a lorry van (yesss, I said lorry van), and none of them—and I mean none of them—are franchises.
I speak of Morningside. You know, Morningside. Morningside, Edinburgh. No, not Morningside Place. Morningside Park? Are you not paying attention? Morningside Road—a huge stretch, miles long, of small shops. Cafes. Restaurants. Flower shops. Lots of hairdressers for some reason. Craft stores. Art stores. You could walk for hours and stop a hundred times…alas, you can only eat so many times, so I had to be choosy, taking photos of potential restaurants along the way. Intermixed are churches, schools, and parks. As you might have expected, being November in Scotland, it didn’t rain…like I said often, rain occurs in those moments when I don’t look in order to keep the landscape moist. I bought an umbrella but never opened it.
Although eventually I would have to end my journey at a grocery store, I did need to slot in a lunch. There were too many choices. Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Nepalese, Japanese, Pub Fo—what…Nepalese? Sold.
NOTE: Yes, I understand that there MUST be at least one or two franchises on Morningside, but I was so distracted, I couldn’t find them.