Tastebuds

A food blog from everywhere!

Lyon: Café Comptoir Abel

25, rue Guynemer, Lyon
Tél.: 04 78 37 46 18

I’ve only been in Lyon for just over a day, but already the city’s food scene lives up to its hype and renown. Tonight I had dinner at Café Comptoir Abel, a small restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise fare, otherwise known as a “bouchon.” It was recommended to me by several sources so I went in with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Even before arriving I’d already settled on trying their highly praised quenelles. Quenelle is a Lyonnaise specialty consisting of cone-shaped poached fish dumplings served w/ a sauce. I ordered mine with a side of ratatouille to get some vegetables in.

When the dishes came, I was taken-aback by their sizes! Chez Abel serves up hearty portions: the quenelle was as long as a medium banana and twice as wide, and the ratatouille came in a medium-sized casserole. After a small gulp & a few photos, I dug in.

Quenelle w/ mushroom cream sauce

At the very first bite of the quenelle, I realized that I wouldn’t have been too surprised should I end up finishing the dish. The chef somehow managed to adroitly manipulate the simple flavours of the ingredients into a beautiful combination. I could taste the savoury fish base in the quenelles along w/ a nice, creamy eggyness. The mushroom cream sauce blanketing the quenelle wasn’t crucial to the flavours but did add a further richness and cut back the saltiness in the quenelle. The melted cheese, on the other hand, I could not taste at all and was probably unnecessary.

While its flavours were amazing, but I think one drawback of quenelles is their lack of textural contrast. Not that its soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture (semblant of soft scrambled eggs with more substance) isn’t wonderful, but it gets dull after a while. The mushrooms in the sauce helped a little at the beginning but I quickly polished those off. Despite this little complaint, though, I still managed to finish about 2/3s of the dish.

Lackluster ratatouille, but no matter!

The ratatouille, on the other hand, stood little chance next to the star dish. It seemed like they dumped all the vegetables together at the same time in making it, because the zucchinis were all gloopy due to overcooking. The better ratatouilles I’ve tried also boost a nice olive-oil burst which Chez Abel’s version lacked. Oh well, no matter, cause the amazing quenelle was enough to salvage any meal.

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July 3, 2011 Posted by | French, Lyon, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Still Alive, and Back in France!

So…after a long hiatus from the blogging world, I’ve decided it’s high time to get back on the game. After all, I do enjoy writing about my food encounters and I am back in one of the foodie paradises of the world: France! This time I’m in the Savoie region, near the city Annecy, doing an academic summer program while having the privilege of staying with a wonderful host family.

Firstly, the scenery here is worth a mention, because it’s absolutely STUNNING.

View out towards Lac d’Annecy from Talloires

The locals are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. The feel here definitely differs  from Paris; people are more ready to smile and life goes on at a slower pace. I’ve been here for five weeks now, and although I sometimes do miss the city-life I really can’t complain, having such beautiful views right out the door.

Anyways, on to the food: Coming into this region I fully had in mind to sample the local cuisine, and two of the beacons of the Haute-Savoie culinary scene are tartiflette and raclette. Both are substantial dishes consisting of potatoes, cheese, and some form of meat, often eaten in the winter as they are very heavy. One night my host brothers took me to a small restaurant in the mountains nearby to sample the two local specialties.

View from the mountains near the restaurant

I forget (or rather didn’t fully pay attention to) the name of the restaurant, which was small and quaint but bright and cozy. Because my host family was familiar with the owner, we chatted for a long time at the bar over some olives and drinks before sitting down and ordering. It was nice listening to the French and peeping up here and there.

Olives

An aside about the French language: I do hope that my French has improved at least a little during my time here, but I really cannot tell. I’ve been studying French for so long in school that my skills really do not match up with the years of French classes. I often ascribe it to the ineffectively of elementary/middle school French, but even discounting that I’ve taken at least 5 years worth of high school level + French courses and still I have trouble fully embracing the language. I feel that I have the most difficulty with comprehension. When others speak to me I can usually fully understand and can respond readily, but listening to others speak is a completely different story. I find it so difficult to follow conversations where I’m not involved for the sounds jumble together and I lose the ability to decipher anything. It is so difficult to join in the conversations at dinner as my host family speaks with a very rapid tongue! The same goes with films; I usually cannot figure out the plot without untranslated subtitles. I guess it’s all just a matter of exposure and practice, but it’s hard to practice when nothing comes through in the first place.

Anyways, I’ll return to the food: so around 9pm we started eating. Below is the tartiflette, which my host brothers both ordered.

Tartiflette!

It came in a medium sized ceramic dish with potatoes coddled in a thick sauce of reblochon cheese (a famous washed-rind cheese from the area) and cream and speckled with lardons, or cubed bacon. You can see a whole reblochon half on the top! I had a taste and thought it was rich but mild, for reblochon isn’t a very strong cheese. The lardons added a little bit of chewiness and texture but not much. This is definitely a comfort food and not exactly something to dine finely on.

I chose a raclette from the menu, and was very surprised when they presented me with two large plates, one w/ three boiled potatoes and a salad and the other w/ sliced cured meats and rectangles of raclette cheese. Plus a small bowl of cornichons, it was definitely a lot of food!

Salad and boiled potatoes

Mixed cured meats, cornichons, and raclette cheese (natural and smoked)

Raclette is actually a type of cheese from this region. It’s name comes from the way that it’s usually eaten: the insides of a half-wheel is slightly melted under lamp-like apparatus and a wooden utensil is used to scrape, or racler, the melted cheese onto potatoes and other accompaniments. I feel it’s a wonderfully creative and fun way to eat!

Apparatus for raclette melting

The apparatus that we used, however, was differently from the bulkier traditional method. It was basically a small stove and pan on which we melted the pieces of raclette, one at a time. Once melted, we poured the cheese onto the potatoes and ate them with the sliced meats and cornichons. I have to say, potatoes + cheese + cornichons or salami work magic together. Rich and salty and sharp from the cornichons…it was a great combination. Adding some pieces of salad to it was good too as that added some freshness and crunch. I preferred the natural raclette to the smoked variety just because the creaminess came out more in the former.

After the meal, we were all pretty stuffed. Apparently, though, diners usually consume a strong alcohol to help digest, so my host brothers ordered genepi and chartreuse, two types of local liquers, to sum up the meal. I had a little sip of the chartreuse and my goodness it was VERY strong. Stingy strong. I didn’t try anymore after that and my poor younger host brother had to finish my glass too. Lol.

It was a very fun meal, and we finally headed down the mountain and got back home at 11pm. Quite the Savoyard experience!

June 26, 2011 Posted by | French, Lake Annecy, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris Big Names

Big name products that we had during our visit to Paris!

Berthillon Ice Cream:

I loved their vanilla flavour, but I was disappointed by the three others that we tried (figs, caramel au fleur de sel, and something else that I forget). Although the flavours were intense, they were all so cloggingly sweet. And the hefty prices (9.90 euros for three tiny scoops from the cafe where we went to) didn’t help either.

Brie de Meaux from Laurent Dubois Fromagerie:

Maybe it’s just me, but do all Brie de Meaux taste stinky?

Patrick Roger‘s Caramels au Fleur de Sel:
Even though Patrick Roger is most famous for his chocolates, these salted butter caramels that I found in his shop were absolutely amazing as well. They were soft and sticky, but not exactly chewy, and you can taste all the ingredients so clearly. The butter, the sugar, the salty hints; they’re all there.

PatrickRoger1
Look at that window display!

Poilane:

The poilane loaf that I tried had a nice sourdough taste, but I found the texture of the interior too crumbly and dry. And the outside crust was too hard. Maybe I just went on the wrong day. However, their punitions (little butter cookies) are to die for indeed, and the brioche was awesomely buttery; would be great for making French toasts.

Jean-Paul Hevin‘s Turin:

This elipse-shaped cake consisted of a sugar crust at the bottom filled with meringue and some blueberry jam-like thing and topped with a thin layer of chocolate. I didn’t find it mesmerizing but it was definitely good; not too sweet and the meringue was light and soft.
A separate post featuring macarons coming up!

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Bakery, Desserts, French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris: Brasserie Balzar

49 Rue des Ecoles, Paris

We had our last meal in Paris at Brasserie Balzar, a restaurant near our apartment at St. Michel. After a week of trekking around Paris our feets were too sore to venture too far just for a meal but I was determined to try steak tartare before leaving. So Brasserie Balzar fitted the bill for being nearby and for having steak tartare on the menu!

Bread: Those small sourdough rolls were amazing! They had a great sourdough flavour.

BrasserieBalzar_Bread

Os moelle au gratin (ox bone marrow): A bit oily, but the marrow tasted great on grilled poilane. Too bad one of the bones had no marrow…

 BrasserieBalzar_Os2

Pork feet: Fall off the bone meat, but a bit too salty.

BrasserieBalzar_PorkFeet1

Steak Tartare: My first time trying steak tartare and I found it all right. Nothing off-putting nor super-redeeming about this specimen of steak tartare. I did think, though, that there was a bit too much mustard mixed in there, making me sneezy after a few bites.

BrasserieBalzar_Tartare
BrasserieBalzar_Frites
Fries…

Endives braisses from Brasserie Balzar: Tasted a bit bitter.

BrasserieBalzar_Endives

Very decent, traditional French meal, no doubt about it.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris: Dinner at Arpege, The Most Expensive Meal of My Life

84,rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France.
Tel: 01 45 51 47 33

On February 16th, 2010, I had the most expensive meal that I have ever, and probably will ever, consume. We had made our reservation for three at Arpege weeks in advance, although we really had no difficulty obtaining it. I like that Arpege, unlike many of its 3-starred siblings, has a book-by-email obtion on its website, sparing me from costly international phone calls and time difference calculation headaches. In fact, even though it’s pretty un-foodie, Arpege’s long-distance accessibility was one of the main reasons that we chose it for our splurge.

Arpege_Squash
Weird-shaped squash displayed on each table of the restaurant

Compared to other three-starred Michelin restaurants in Paris, Arpege is one of the pricier ones. Its evening tasting menu equals a 350 euro wallet-drain, while at Astrance it’s only 150 euros. Also nothing the fact that Arpege specializes in vegetables (which it ferries daily from some organic homestead 100+ km away), this is definitely not a place to exercise typical Asian stingy-ness. Too bad I didn’t warn my parents beforehand…opps.

Well, but since we were there, may as well enjoy it. My parents ordered a la carte in the vain hopes of minimizing wallet damage while I squarely dashed their efforts by getting the 10 course tasting menu.

Arpege_AmusesBouches
Amuses Bouches (sorry for the blurry photo)

Oh, right, but before we ordered, the very nice bilingual waiters served us amuses bouches, although now I can’t recall at all what they were…

But while on the subject of waiters, I must say that the service at Arpege was impeccable. My dad noted that there must have been at least 0.5 waiters to each table, and not every table was filled. Although of course, this is what one would expect forking over so much.

Arpege_Poilane
Awesome bread

There was very good Poilane bread as well, served one slice at a time on a little bread plate next to each diner. The butter was also great, as is often the case in France.

Arpege_CelerySpaghetti
Celery/Celeriac Spaghetti with Truffle Shavings

I’ll go through the a la carte dishes first. The appetizers include the celery (or was it celeriac?) spaghetti, which was definitely one of the most interesting foods that I’ve ever tasted. The spaghetti looked just like normal pasta except for its crunchy texture; apparently, it was made from celery or some other similar vegetable. The dish was served in a creamy sauce with shaved truffles on top (oh, and btw, I think I ate more truffles in this one meal than I’ve ever had in my lifetime).

Arpege_Ravioli
Ravioli

The other a la carte appetizer was the ravioli. It was served in soup, and there were several different fillings. Hmm other than that, I can’t remember much else…

Arpege_GrilledScallops
Grilled Scallops
Arpege_Lobster1
Grilled Lobster with (more) Truffle Shavings

Next up, a la carte entrees. My mom had the seared scallops (it was the cheapest entree), which were fresh and plump, and my dad had the grilled lobster, again with the truffles on top. The vegetables served at the side of each main were of note because, well, they were really really good. You know how veggie sides often seem to get thrown in only as a side note, as a buffer to lessen the guilt of consuming whatever less healthy option was on the plate? Well, the vegetables served at Arpege reside on a completely different echelon from their common kindred. These buttery, shining baby potatoes, asparagus, and whatever other model denizens of the plant kingdom that had the fortune to be beautified on Alain Passard’s chopping board stood loud and proud on our dinner plates that night. Indeed chef Passard does have a way with vegetables…

Right, now my 10 course tasting menu. Since it’s been soo long since the actual event, the details are foggy. I didn’t save the menu from that night, so I can’t even correctly recall the precise order of the dishes. So I’ll just give it my best shot:

Arpege_GratinAuxOignons
Gratin aux Oignons

Course 1: Gratin aux Oignons (Onion Gratin)
Nice and cheesy. It was a pretty thin layer.

Arpege_Veggies
Veggies

Course 2: Vegetables? I think…

Arpege_Egg

Arpege_Egg1
Very Cool Egg and its insides

Course 3: Very Cool Egg
Of course the actual name of the dish was something more sophisticated, but this was one very cool egg. Basically it was very creamy & smooth egg custard with expensive stuff served inside an egg shell. One of the highlights of the meal.

Arpege_Scallops
Raw scallops

Course 4: Scallop Carpaccio
The scallops were sliced really thinly and served with some crunchy vegetable, creating a very nice texture contrast.

Arpege_Crayfish
Frilled Crayfish

Course 5: Crayfish (I think…)
Like my dad’s lobster.

Arpege_FoieGras
Foie Gras w/ a Mejool Date

Course 6: Foie Gras w/ something underneath it and a date

Arpege_Poultry
Quail and stuff

Course 7: Poultry
There was quail and other previously-feathered creatures on the plate.

Arpege_Cheese
Cheese with (evermore) Truffle Shavings

Course 8: Cheese w/ Truffle Shavings
They brought out a huge wheel of some cheese and shaved some onto a small plate before throwing some more truffles on top. The cheese was sweet with a slight nutty flavour. I don’t usually like hard cheeses but this one was pretty good.

Arpege_Macaron
Chocolate Macaron

Course 9: Macaron
It was a pretty big macaron.

Arpege_MilleFeuille
Life-changing Millefeuille…

Course 10: Millefeuille
The BEST millefeuille that I’ve ever had; it was awesomely buttery and the fork had no trouble AT ALL slicing through the layers intact. AMAZING; no millefeuille that I have had or will ever have will be as good, I think.

Arpege_PetitsFours1
Petit fours!

Lastly, at the culmination of the meal, they brought out a plate of interesting petit-fours. Nothing too memorable here, although those macarons did have strange vegetable flavours (broccoli macaron, anyone?). The flavours worked, though.

And that ends our meal, which lasted a total of three hours. The bill came to 799 euros, much to the chagrin of my mother (although, funnily enough, the next day at the Galeries Lafayettes she had no reservations on forking over 800 euros for a LV bag). But well, despite the cost, which I know is pretty atrocious, three-star dinning is just one of those things that you can’t expect to walk out of feeling financially unscathed. All in all, the food was amazing, the service was great, and if nothing else, at least I’ve crossed out one more item on my list of to-dos-before-I-die.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris: Au Pied de Cochon

Address: 6 Rue Coquillière, Paris
Telephone: 01 42 36 02 84
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry, but this post will have no photos because the lighting at the table where we were sitting was very bad. Everything had an overly red tint to it due to the glowing heater outside the window…

Ok, this entry is going to be short and to the point since there are no photos. Au Pied de Cochon is one of those pretty famous brasseries in Paris, and I can tell a lot of tourists frequent this place. Below was what we ordered:

Charcuterie:
Nice combination plate of pork terrines and hams. I found the hams a bit too sweet but the two types of terrine that we had were nice. Even though they had big fatty-looking chunks in their composition, they didn’t taste overly-fatty at all. It was great with the baguette provided. Oh! And there was this side dish of gherkins and toasted baguette and butter which came with the charcuterie. The gherkins were very refreshing and not overly salty as they sometimes are, and the butter was AMAZING. Salty and creamy and awesome…

Andouillette:
Certainly this was one of the more unusual and unique foods that I have eaten during my lifetime. The outside layer of the sausage was very crispily panfried while the insides contained soft pig innards. One could actually see the shapes of the intestines and stuff, which were tube-like and white-ish in colour. Maybe it’s because I’m not that new to eating offals, but I found that the andouillette didn’t really smell that strongly. And it tasted pretty decent, too. It had that distinctive taste of pig stomach, well-known to any traditional Chinese person who frequents dim sum places. The crispy outter layer combined with the soft innards provided a nice texture contrast as well. My only big complaint is that it was a bit too salty, but otherwise, it was totally worth the try.

Pinot Noir:
One of the few times that I’ve tried wine, and it tasted like something synthetic. Bleh.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | 1 Comment

Paris: Cafe Constant

Address: 139 Rue Saint-Dominique, Paris
Telephone: 09 75 82 08 07
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On the day that we visited the Eiffel Tower we had lunch at Cafe Constant, which is located on the eatery-lined Rue Saint-Dominique nearby. The ambiance in the brasserie was somewhere in between relaxed and dynamic. Err…actually that didn’t make any sense. Well, let’s just say the volume was moderate and and customers were mostly locals and not attention-drawing in any way. And the seating, like all Parisian brasseries, was squishy.

The food:

Duck Confit:

Super moist, fall off the bone, flavourful meat. Definitely awesome.

Quail:

Stuffed with some foie gras in the middle. Quite hearty and tasty.

Shrimps:

Didn’t try this.

Profiteroles au chocolat:

Pretty simple and elegant dessert consisting of two choux pastry puffs filled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle and topped with hot chocolate sauce. The mild sweetness of the ice cream balanced out the super sweetness of the chocolate sauce very well.

Ile Flottante:

Meringue and creme anglaise, I think. It was too sweet for my tastes.

The food was good, and the service was pretty friendly. If you’re ever hungry around the Eiffel Tower, definitely give this place a try.

February 26, 2010 Posted by | French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris: Chez Janou

Address: 2 Rue Roger Verlomme, Paris
Telephone: 01 42 72 28 41
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We had lunch during our second day in Paris at Chez Janou in the Bastille area. When we arrived at noon, when it opened, we were the only ones there, but the place quickly filled up during our meal.

The first thing that we noticed about this place, as is the case with many Parisian restaurants, was how crammed together the tables were. There was so little elbow space that you literally have to be careful to not stick your elbow into your neighbour’s food!

But that being said, I guess cramped restaurant seating is an integral part of the Parisian experience. Anyways, onto the food:

ChezJanou_Olives

Firstly, before we ordered, we snacked on the little tubs of olives placed on each table. They were all right.

Calf Liver (Foie de veau):

ChezJanou_FoieDeVeau

Good, hearty liver. Nothing too special but it was still delicious, especially with the gravy.

Duck Breast (Magret de canard):

ChezJanou_MagretDuCanard

Perfect doneness, and the wine sauce was a nice accompaniment too.

Sangier (Wild Boar) Stew:

ChezJanou_Sanglier

Even though it was stewed, I found the chunks of meat too dry and the flavour a bit too bland. The game meat itself, though, did have a distinctive taste…sort of like a cross between pork and…lamb? It’s been a while, so maybe I’m just making things up…

Creme Brulee:

ChezJanou_CremeBruleeChezJanou_CremeBrulee1

This dish had both hits and misses. The good: real vanilla beans were used (one can see a layer of the black bits at the bottom), the top layer was nice and hard, the custard was creamy and not too sweet. The bad: I don’t know if it was intended for temperature contrast or something, but the bottom of the custard was cold while the caramelized layer was hot.

So overall, Chez Janou was a nice experience, with decent & hearty brasserie food. The waiters and waitresses were pretty nice too. Even though it is tucked into a rather non-descript little road, it is worth the trip if you happen to be in the area.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

Paris: Le Saint Severin

Le Saint Severin
Address: 3 place Saint Michel, 5th arr. Paris
Telephone: 01 43 54 49 31
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After arriving in Paris, we had our first meal at a Saint Severin, a cafe near where we were staying at St. Michel. This was obviously a pretty touristy spot since the waiters automatically spoke to us in English.


Specials of the day!

Below is the stuff that we ordered:

Croque Monsieur

A bit burnt at the sides, but standard stuff. The salad was simple but nice and refreshing.

Steak and Frites

Also a bit burnt at the sides, but still pretty nice if you cut off those over-carbonated bits.

Pink steak…

Salmon with coconut rice

Didn’t try this.

Moelleux au chocolat:

The gooey innards were nice and warm, though a little grainy. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be like that. Tasted heavenly topped with the Berthillon vanilla ice cream, which wasn’t too sweet like Berthillon’s other flavours.

It was a pleasing first real meal in Paris. Afterwards, we went back to the apartment and fell asleep till the next day =P

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Cafes, French, Paris, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment

La Seine

La Seine
Address: G/F, Xinghai Concert Hall, 33 Qingbo Rd, Ersha Island
Tel: 8735 2222 ext 888, 8735 2531

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last night we took a visit to La Seine, the French restaurant behind XingHai Concert Hall on Er Sha Island.

I have pretty fond memories of this place…it’s sort of like the place where I grew up. Ah, just being on Er Sha brings back so many memories…=)

Anyways, back to the restaurant. La Seine is really one of those high-class Western cuisine places in Guangzhou. The ambience is sort of darkish, as one would find in many higher-class Western restaurants, and their food is definitely pretty decent and authentic. I even heard that some time back they had a French pastry chef working there, though last night I only saw Chinese cooks in the open kitchen.

After we placed our orders they brought us the bread basket. There was a nice variety inside, including baguette (THANK GOODNESS the crust wasn’t soft!), walnut bread (crispy crust and a decent amount of walnuts; my favourite of the night), a wheat roll (super dry, not good), and sesame flatbreads.

The bread was served warm with butter. However, we took it a step further by ordering the cheese platter and slattering the cheeses on the rolls! La Seine has a very decent selection of cheeses. Unfortunately I was too lazy to ask for the names of each of them but from what I can glean there was brie (AWESOMELY creamy), blue cheese (all right, though I’ve never been a great fan of the strong taste), some log-shaped cheese that was nice and gooey and had a peppery kick to it, and then four other types of cheese that I have no clue about. This platter costed 126RMB, and I think it was worth every jiao!

Oh yeah, and they have this neat looking cheese cart in the middle of the room.

Next, my Lyonnaise Onion Soup came along. Now, I know that French onion soup is supposed to be served with a slice of baguette and melted cheese on top, but is the bread supposed to be completely soaked and soggy??? I’d always thought that the bread should be so stale so as to be able to hold its shape even in the liquid…Anyways, I guess I have an adversion to eating soggy bread so this item didn’t really add up for me. The flavour of the soup was pretty good (you can tell that it’s been boiled for a long time) but the soggy bread was just sort of weird…

For my main I had actually ordered a Tuna Tartare but apparently they made a mistake and instead gave me a Tuna Steak. Gr…I guess not many people order Tuna Tartare around here. Oh wells, I guess I have to come back another time to try the tartare.

Oh, but on a side note, when we brought the mistake to the attention of a waitress, we asked her to bring us a menu and show us which dish was served to us. So she walked off but then instead went off to attend another table and totally forgot about us! Tsk tsk.

The Tuna Steak was nonetheless pretty good. Apart from being severely over-cooked (50%??! Goodness!), it was nicely seasoned and the cream sauce added a subtle richness to it. The tuna came with a small side of rice and beans but I didn’t really touch those as I was too focused on cheese and bread =P

So overall, it was a wonderful meal at La Seine. The portions may be somewhat small but they’re tasty and totally worth the cost.

OH! ANd on another side note, I’m now pre-editing all my photos before I post them up so their quality should be better now!

October 29, 2009 Posted by | French, Guangzhou, Restaurants | Leave a comment