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Cheap Eats in Cairns

I'm headed up to Cairns for the weekend with some friends and was wondering if anyone knows of any good restaurants for some travelers on a budget. Ideally it would be something in the $20-30 range for mains - or less if possible. Pub grub is OK by us for this trip, so ideas for anything worth checking out would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Jun 17, 2013
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

US Expat in Sydney; hard time finding US foods in markets!

You have hit on several things that I have found to be most difficult to get in Sydney. I make gumbo and jambalaya occasionally and have always substituted smoked chorizo and kransky sausage for andouille since I've never seen it here. One of these days I might get around to trying to make it myself.

I've heard stories that US cheeses, including jack cheese, can be found at Costco, but I haven't made it out there myself yet to see for sure. You might have to make do with Cracker Barrel from the supermarkets until you can check it out. Cotija cheese is probably going to be hard to come by - I can't remember seeing it. Maybe try calling Agave restaurant on Crown St Surry Hills and see if they know where to source it - I haven't been in a while, but I remember them having some authentic ingredients on their dishes.

Jalapenos are usually available at Woolworths - at least they are at the Surry Hills and CBD (George St) ones. Serranos and Poblanos are more of a problem. Harris Farm Markets (locations all over) often has something like bullhorn chilies or banana chilies, which might be a good enough substitute. For dried chilies and spices, Fiji Market in Newtown is a great place to look. They definitely have canned, and I think also dried, chipotles as well as a good selection of other dried chilies and canned Goya products. I've seen them selling plantains there too. Thomas Dux usually has canned chipotles, too (and canned black beans, I believe).

Fireworks Foods also has lots of Mexican ingredients. I think they're mostly an online business, but I believe they have a warehouse that you can actually go to to pick stuff up. USA Foods is another good website if you decide that going that route is worth it. I've seen gumbo file available there as well as some Paul Prudhomme seasonings.

Harris Farm will probably also have okra - I don't think that's too hard to find, but it's generally not carried at the big supermarkets.

Good luck finding catfish - I don't think I've ever seen it around. You could ask some of the places at the fish market in Pyrmont and see if they ever get it in. That would be the most likely place to find it, but I don't think it's that common. Barramundi would probably make a passable substitute for a local twist on southern classics.

Hope that helps a bit. Good luck!

Mar 17, 2013
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Meat Pies?

Bourke St Bakery on (wait for it) Bourke St in Surry Hills has some great pies. The same people also own Central Baking Depot in the CBD, so I imagine the pies are good there as well. Bourke St Bakery also has some incredible sausage rolls.

I had a good pie from Dinky Di pies on Elizabeth St in Surry Hills headed towards Waterloo last weekend. I got the chicken and leek, so haven't had the meat pie, but I was pretty impressed as chicken pies can often be a letdown. This had big chunks of chicken and a good sauce with nice leek flavor.

For novelty if nothing else, a tiger at Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo (or Chinatown if you can't make it to Wooloomooloo) is definitely worth a try. It's a pie topped with mushy peas, mash potato and gravy. A big feed and the pie is pretty decent as a bonus. If you want to get the same thing from the source of the pies, go to Hannah's Pies in Ultimo right by the Powerhouse Museum (just on the other side of Darling Harbour). Not much for atmosphere, but a good pie.

Jul 06, 2012
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Late Night and Solo Dining in Canberra

I will be visiting Canberra this coming weekend and will have one night by myself and one night where my wife will be getting in late, so I'm looking for good but cheap (no more than $25 mains and hopefully cheaper than that) options for both nights. On my solo night, I'll be staying by ANU, but would be willing to travel if there's somewhere worth going around town. For the second night, we'll be staying in Forrest and probably looking to sit down to eat around 10 pm. I'm coming from Sydney, so I'd rather not go for Thai. African, especially Ethiopian food would be great. Any help would be appreciated as I know nothing about Canberra.

Feb 14, 2012
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Pizza dough in Sydney

That's really funny - I had the exact same experience when I tried to get pizza dough at a Sydney pizza shop 10 years ago the way I always could in Connecticut. Luckily they made their own dough and I managed to convince them to sell me some, but I got some strange looks and there was much discussion about what to charge. For what it's worth, it was the pizza shop at Five Ways Paddington, which is still there in one form or another.

That said, I agree with fergal that your best bet is to make your own. I think a lot of pizza places around Sydney use premade pizza bases or presize their bases, so they don't have dough balls ready for sale even if they are willing to sell you some. I have used this no-knead recipe from NYC's Jim Leahy and it has always come out great with not a lot of work: http://nymag.com/restaurants/cheapeat....

Jan 16, 2012
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Visiting Sydney from New York City

PhilD - there's no question that you have an excellent knowledge of Sydney's food scene and are a great supporter of the increasingly terrific restaurants we have here. My take on the OP's question was to approach it from the perspectives of where I would generally tell someone to eat with a limited time in Sydney and what might help the decision making process if choosing between several options, which we are lucky to have here.

Because I knew a lot of restaurants in New York and continue to follow the food scene there, I was trying to recommend places that are something a little more unique and experiences that are not as easy to find in New York. For example, New York's Italian scene has grown far beyond the red sauce joints in Little Italy and the list of restaurants I named are as authentic as anything I have had in Italy or Sydney. For that reason, if the OP is choosing between going to, say, Spice I Am (or, say, Longrain) or A Tavola, I would say go for Thai, either or both of them or even more, because it is something that is much more difficult to get in NYC. Or go to both Mamak and Malaya. Same thinking goes for Japanese - if there is someplace using good local fish and serving up great sushi, then of course it is worth trying. But New York has some world class sushi and is going through something of a ramen boom at the moment, so maybe it's not worth prioritizing. In my opinion, it is not. I would prioritize someplace serving good Australian lamb, which is not always available in America. NYC also does not have a large Vietnamese population, so Cabramatta may be worth a trip for the overall experience as much as for the food.

As for my opinion on pizza, the hyperbole was meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but I stand by my opinion that Sydney pizza is not very good, no matter how "authentic" it is and seeking out pizza here would be a waste of time even if New York didn't have good to excellent pizza in every square inch of the city, but it does. Personally, I wouldn't go to New York and have barramundi unless someone told me that someone was doing something particularly interesting with it. Since I don't think there is any reason to go out of the way for Italian or pizza here when coming from New York, I steered the OP away from those choices. With that stated, I of course respect your right to disagree and to defend your recommendations and opinions.

Nov 03, 2011
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Visiting Sydney from New York City

No disrespect to yvettem, who has made some great general suggestions, but I wouldn't recommend you go to most of the places she recommends. For example, I love (LOVE) A Tavola, but don't waste your time with Italian food unless you're really craving it. Considering how spoiled for choice you are for Italian food in NYC, I wouldn't fly 10,000 miles and go out of my way for it. It's there if you want it and it can be damn good, but there's a lot of stuff out there that's not as accessible in New York, so you might as well wait until you get back and go to Babbo, Lupa, Al di La, Scarpetta, Locanda Verde, and on ad in finitum. Ditto with Japanese, unless you're going to Tetsuya's, of course. Also, do not under any circumstances get pizza. The pizza is almost always ultra-thin crust, small, expensive and, in my opinion, not worth the money, time or trouble. If you're into that kind of thing, go for it, but I have yet to find anything that didn't come out of my oven that comes even close to being as satisfying as the most mediocre slice of New York pizza.

In addition to the suggestions above, Sydney is undergoing a major pub grub revolution at the moment. There are many that I still haven't tried, but the Four in Hand is high on my list for nose-to-tail eats in a pub setting. I'm also interested in trying the Carrington, which has started doing a tapas-style menu. You may also want to check out the neighborhood Waterloo, which has sprouted up some good, casual places. Danks St. Depot seems perennially popular, but I recently had a very good meal at Orto, especially their entrees and desserts.

If you want to go further afield, Cabramatta is worth a train ride. It's the main Vietnamese hub west of Sydney and great for cheap eats and a stroll around the produce markets.

Nov 02, 2011
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Visiting Sydney from New York City

I lived in New York before moving to Sydney, so I've done a lot of reflecting on things you can get here that are better than what is available in New York (or at least worth trying for the sake of comparison). One thing that is indisputably better here is Thai food. My favorites are Spice I Am and House, both in Surry Hills right across the street from each other. Definitely not fancy - no reservations, bare bones decor, casual service, but great food and an amazing value. Spice I Am has more common Thai dishes, but will make them very spicy, and House does northeastern Thai street food, also spicy and something different.

If you don't get out to Flushing for Chinese, there are also many good regional Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Spicy Sichuan is good for Sichuan (obviously), Superbowl for a down and dirty congee experience, Din Tai Fung for dumplings, Marigold for dim sum (or yum cha as it is here).

There is also good Malaysian around the city, which is something I was never able to find in New York. Mamak is great for Malaysian style rotis and curries, as well as delicious fried chicken. Another very casual but very good spot is the Malay/Chinese Restaurant on Hunter Street in the CBD, which has probably the best laksa in Sydney.

I would also recommend going to Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo for a tiger pie (pie, mushy peas, mash and gravy). It's kind of daggy, but a Sydney institution and does a good pie. Don't bother with the hot dogs, though, unless you're desperate for the novelty of a Hot Dog de Wheels - the hot dogs are definitely better in New York. Also well worth trying are the pies and sausage rolls at Bourke St Bakery if you're in or around Surry Hills (I think they also have an outpost under a different name in the CBD).

Another new favorite of mine is Pink Peppercorn on Oxford St Darlinghurst. Very friendly service and an interesting menu of Laotian and Burmese dishes. I had a Groupon type voucher when I went, which made it a good deal, but I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the food.

Hope that helps get you started.

Oct 10, 2011
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Paris Int'l Cooking School Sydney

Thanks! I might check it out.

Jun 30, 2009
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Paris Int'l Cooking School Sydney

What did you think of the knife skills course? I'd be interested in taking that as well.

Jun 29, 2009
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Paris Int'l Cooking School Sydney

Does anyone know anything about the classes and workshops at the Paris International Cooking School in Sydney? Their classes look good, but they require students to supply ingredients. Has anybody taken any of the classes at the school? How much is each student required to bring each week and how much do the ingredients cost, on average? Thanks in advance.

Jun 22, 2009
jdmetz in Australia/New Zealand

Mozzarella Class at M&S on 5th Ave

Sounds like fun to me!

Jan 28, 2009
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Parents Dinner near the Met for pre-opera dinner

I would send them to La Boite en Bois. It won't give them a view, as it the dining room is below ground, but the food, service and coziness of the room more than make up for it. They have a very reasonable prix fixe menu, which gets you three excellently prepared courses. They also cater to a pre-opera crowd, so they'll ask what time your curtain is either when you make a reservation or when you sit down and make sure that you are out on time. Of all the places I have been for pre-opera meals (which includes Picholine, although to be fair, it was before their renovations), Boite en Bois is definitely my favorite.

Dec 24, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Primo Atto(ex-Cocotte): Open? Any early opinions?

Prices are fair: about $8-15 for appetizers (with the most expensive being the imported mozzerella); $12-15 or so for pastas; and $15-25 for entrees. Very generous portions on everything (the fritto misto which had big pieces of calamari, shrimp and zucchini all well fried and tasty with a good marinara sauce was very large). There is no wine list yet, as they just received their liquor license, but the owner/manager said they were putting it together and he seemed pretty excited about it. You'll have to decide for yourself if it is different enough to be worth going to, but I thought they had some different dishes that stood out from most of the generic and red sauce oriented places up and down the street: artichoke alla Giudia, a really fresh, well made, zesty pesto on fresh cavatelli, an ostrich entree, a tiramisu that doesn't taste defrosted. And, as in my earlier post, the ingredients all seem very fresh and everything is carefully prepared.

Nov 11, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Primo Atto(ex-Cocotte): Open? Any early opinions?

It is definitely open and it is definitely worth trying. I live on the block, so I've been twice and I have liked everything I've tried both times. Everything is house-made, with the exception of some imported cheeses like buffala mozzarella (which has been great both times I have had it). The pastas, sauces and desserts have all tasted very fresh and last night I had a braciola, which I enjoyed a lot. Food is generally pretty rustic, but well presented. They are still working out some of the kinks in the service, but the general manager, who is in the dining room all the time, seems very dedicated to making everything better and has asked several times if we had any suggestions on ways to improve. The owners clearly want to stand out with fresh ingredients and solid cooking than anything really new or innovative, but I have been impressed with what they're doing and I thought it was good value. Check it out.

Nov 10, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Brunch in Park Slope-help narrow down list!

Applewood has a great brunch, but it can be very crowded and very loud with lots of small children around. The food, however, is great. If you want to avoid the crowds, going late morning/early afternoon is probably better. Stone Park has great food as well and is usually more relaxed and laid back.

Oct 27, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Atlantic Antic '08 Today!

I had it yesterday - very disappointing. Way too much tomato and not enough sausage, chicken, shrimp or anything else. Just tasted like rice in tomato sauce with some bits of tomato skin. Had a few bites and chucked the rest. Did pretty much the same with their popcorn shrimp - I liked the breading, but there was too much of it so I couldn't taste the shrimp. They'd be better off using the breading for hush puppies and putting the shrimp in the jambalaya.

Oct 06, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Vegetarian spots in Park Slope

I am a big meat eater, but also a (surprisingly) big fan of Earth Tonez on 5th Ave. btw. 4th & 5th St. Their five spice burger is really good and I have liked all of their fake meat dishes too, enough so that I really haven't missed the meat. The chicken parm hogie that they have as a special pretty often was shockingly good. They had a tofu burger that I expected to hate, but really ended up liking. It's off the menu for now, but they're supposedly bringing some version of it back soon. I really like the desserts they have too, but they don't make those themselves. All the people that work there are nice too, which always helps. I have been reluctant to try S'Nice since I like Earth Tonez so much and I feel like they could use the support.

May 29, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Is there any good Brazilian in this town?

I have had some good meals at Casa on Bedford St. I also liked Delicia on 11th St. in the Village a lot, but the service there is very relaxed, so only go if you don't have to be anyplace afterwards.

May 19, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Best Lunch Deal

Anthos has a great lunch prix fixe deal and always has outstanding food (including an always reliable lamb burger). I have also heard that mia dona has a similar lunch deal.

May 08, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Goat, not cheese, not curried

If you're willing to go to Brooklyn (and you should be), Applewood in Park Slope has had roasted, sliced goat that it gets from a farm in VT on it's menu that was delicious when I had it. Probably worth calling them to see if they have it first as their menu changes frequently.

May 07, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Spaetzle?

Big second for the Silver Swan - best spaetzle I've had in NYC. Hallo Berlin's and Rolf's are both OK. Lederhosen, much as I like everything else there, has awful, embarassing spaetzle.

May 01, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Best desert in Manhattan?

Especially if you're going to be at Stanton Social, but worth a trip anyway, is to do the dessert tasting at WD-50. Really creative desserts that you can't get too many places. Other great desserts are the olive oil gelato at Otto, the pine nut crostada (if they have it) at Babbo and the brioche bread pudding at Dovetail. Wow.

Mar 24, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Babbo, GT, Freemans, Dovetail, What to order?

Babbo: Lamb's tongue, goose liver ravioli, pine nut crostada if they happen to have it

Dovetail: Pork Belly (wow), Venison, BREAD PUDDING (seriously, you have to get this)

Feb 27, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Alta vs.Tia Pol for birthday dinner

The food is Tia Pol is great. Everything I had there was really flavorful and tasty. If you can reserve the back room, it would be a good option, but I woudn't want to go for a b-day dinner and have to wait for a table. That stated, I really like Alta and agree that the atmosphere is really fun. They also have more of a variety of dishes since there are lots of different styles of foods to choose from and Tia Pol has much more of a focus on Spanish tapas.

Feb 20, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan

Tempo: Was I there on a bad night?

Service really wasn't an issue last night and they definitely didn't seem understaffed. The pasta definitely was oversalted and nothing seemed like it was worth paying over $100 for three mediocre courses and two glasses of wine.

Feb 19, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Tempo: Was I there on a bad night?

I remember liking Tempo the first time I tried it about 8 months ago, but having been back last night, I have to agree with the OP and what seems to be the general sentiment on this board - not worth it. We tried to get a table at Al Di La, but had come just after the first rush and were told it would be an hour and a half for either the restaurant or the wine bar. Not feeling like committing to that kind of wait, we decided ot try Tempo again. First thing we noticed was that the prix fixe had been jacked up from $25 to $29. Next, all the red wines by the glass were $12+, which seems a little steep. My chopped salad was pretty good and fresh, but it was a simple salad. My gf's bruschetta, however, was pretty bland and came on the same bread they give you to dip in the also bland olive oil.

I completely agree that the pasta is way, way too salty. I had the fazzoletti with chicken ragu, and while the ragu was very tasty, the pasta tasted like it had gone through the rollers with a salt lick. The bucatini we got was very salty as well. Desserts were pretty blah as well, and my butterscotch creme brulee tasted more like key lime and had obviously come right out of the fridge to be quickly bruleed since it was freezing cold, not to mention runny from having sat around after it set up.

If the price was lower or you could order a la carte and not commit to three courses, I might consider going back and not getting pasta. As it is, I think I'll wait for Al Di La from now on and give Tempo a big miss.

Feb 19, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Cocotte...CLOSED?

According to eater, it is true and they have the picture of the sign on the door to prove it. It is a real shame. I was just there Friday night as it is on my block and was always a reliable, if not always consistent, casual, spur of the moment dinner option. I thought the food had been getting consistently better lately and Friday was one of the best dinners I have had there. Everything we had was being prepared with more care than it had been for a little while. Cocotte was always good for a satisfying, easy brunch too. I am sorry to see it go and hope that it can be replaced with a place as welcoming and friendly that also has good, comforting food.

Feb 19, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Amy Ruth's

Does anyone know if the downtown Brooklyn outpost opened last night like it was supposed to? Did anyone go? If yes, how does it compare with the Harlem original? I'm pretty excited to be able to get chicken and waffles without having to go all the way to upper Manhattan.

Feb 15, 2008
jdmetz in Outer Boroughs

Visitors from Chicago looking for fun,trendy, unique to NY place for Friday!

Try 'ino in the West Village. Best to show up early since it can get crowded, but the food (Italian small plates) is great. If for some reason that is too packed, you can also go down the street to Snack Taverna and have some really good Greek plates.

Feb 06, 2008
jdmetz in Manhattan