International Food Adventures - Orlando & DC, USA

Finally got around to putting a recap of my food adventures in the USA! I'll be posting a separate NYC post having spent a whole week there, so this one will just be on a couple of highlights from Orlando and DC.

SOS Cafe, South Yarra

Located in the South Yarra Square on Toorak Rd, SOS Cafe is a trendy and popular brunch place that's a short walk from South Yarra Station and tram 8. The cafe prides itself on organic and local produce, with an extensive menu to suit everyone's dining choices.

The open terrace style of the cafe, together with the large fountain out the front, gives an Italian feel to the place, and you almost feel like you're in a plaza in the streets of Rome. It makes for a lively and cheerful atmosphere, and on sunny days like the day we visited, makes you very excited for the warm weather that's just around the corner (hopefully!). The staff were friendly and attentive and the service was good, however our food did take quite a while to arrive, despite it not being very busy when we went.

The menu has a good range of breakfast and lunch options, and caters to a lot of requirements such as gluten free, vegetarian/vegan, dairy free and no garlic/onion. We all went with breakfast options, and ordered the Haloumi and Zucchini Fritters ($20), the Mushroom Baked Eggs ($21) and the House Baked Napoli Beans ($16). One of my friends also ordered the house spiced golden latte ($5.50) and I got an OJ ($6). The golden latte differs from a normal latte with the addition of spices and herbs in it, but still having a lovely milky flavour and the OJ was refreshing though a bit more sour than what I'm used to.

The zucchini fritters came with poached eggs, crispy prosciutto, carrot kasundi (a type of sauce), wilted spinach, kale and a sticky beetroot reduction, with sweet potato crisps on the side. Overall the dish was very light, with great flavour and texture combinations from all the different elements of the dish. The fritters were perfectly cooked and not dry at all, and the sweet potato crisps added a nice crunchiness to the dish. My friend chose to have this dish without the eggs which did mean it wasn't as filling as it could've been, but was still enjoyable all the same.

The mushroom baked eggs consisted of runny eggs in a pan of wild mushrooms with bacon, goats cheese, organic greens and toasted pineuts, served on sourdough. The menu does indicate that this dish will take longer to cook, and it was absolutely worth the extra waiting time. The dish was different to most baked egg dishes I've had in that in wasn't a tomato base one, instead having generous portions of mushrooms and greens, making it lighter than usual though not missing any of the heartiness. The saltiness of the bacon gave the dish an extra flavour, and the toasted pinenuts and deep fried enoki mushrooms added crunch to the dish.

The baked beans was served on crispy polenta, with poached eggs and shaved parmesean cheese. You could tell that the beans were house made, and the polenta was just as the menu said; crispy on the outside, and soft and delicious on the inside. The dish overall however, lacked flavour despite having the napoli sauce and shaved parmesean, and my friend found that she had to add salt to the dish continuously so that it wasn't too bland.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience at SOS Cafe, and I'd definitely visit again to try some of their other dishes. Great little cafe for the warmer weather in the South Yarra area, and worth a visit!

Ambience: 8.5/10
Service: 7.5/10
Food: 8/10
Price: $$

The Penny Drop, Box Hill

The Penny Drop is a relatively new cafe that has opened up on the ground floor of the ATO building in Box Hill, a short walk from the main shopping centres. It's right near the 109 tram stop and also accessible by the Belgrave/Lilydale trains. The restaurant prides itself on modern Australian cuisine with an Asian twist, and is opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The interior of The Penny Drop is very modern and simple, with wooden aesthetics contrasting with the white walls and minimalistic design for a comfortable dining experience. Upbeat music plays in the background, and together with the chatter from all the customers makes for a lively atmosphere that isn't too noisy or overcrowded. The staff were friendly and attentive, asking how our dishes were and refilling our water.

Aura Cafe, Templestowe

Aura Cafe is located in Templestowe, in a little cluster of restaurants on the intersection of High St and Manningham Rd. A couple of buses go past the area, and there's also plenty of parking in the nearby area. The cafe prides itself on providing exceptional customer service and outstanding food, and offers catering services as well as dining.

The cafe is spacious and open, though quite noisy because of all the people. The cafe almost seems to have two separate sections; a modern, cosy section with plenty of natural light, contrasting with a wide, open area that has a more homey, comfortable feel to it. The staff were friendly and attentive, though our food did take at least 25 minutes to arrive.

Studley Park Boathouse, Kew

Studley Park Boathouse Cafe is as the name suggests, located in the Studley Park area and overlooking the Yarra River. A great place for a weekend brunch or afternoon tea session, particularly when the weather starts to warm up again.

There's seating both inside and out at the cafe, and the outside area is sectioned off into two; a shaded deck area for warmth with heaters around, and the patio style seating outside with large umbrellas. We chose to sit in the heated outside section which gave us a really great view of the park, but ensured we didn't freeze in the chilly weather! The use of pink and green pastel colours made for a very homey, holiday style decor, and together with the scenic view made for a really relaxing atmosphere. The staff were extremely friendly and attentive, with good service and not too long of a wait for food.

Scarvelli Cafe, Balwyn

Scarvelli Cafe is a small cafe in Balwyn, easily accessible by tram 109. It prides itself on the use of locally sourced produce, in particular from the Swan Bay farm that is owned by the same people. The cafe have actually release their own recipe book; I was lucky enough to have a quick flip through it when I visited, and it felt like very informative with the details on ingredients and the background on the cafe and farm. You could tell a lot of heart had been put into the recipe book, and the effort taken to not only provide recipes ideas for people, but also to inform and educate.

The darker wooden decor contrasts with the white walls and bright lights, and the atmosphere feels cosy and warm, with chatter from the customers mixed with the sounds from the kitchen as well as coffee being made in the front area. Service was pretty good, with our food coming out quite quick, and friendly, attentive staff.

Smith and Daughters, Fitzroy

Smith and Daughters is a vegan restaurant in Fitzroy on Brunswick St, easily accessible by tram 11 and close to a number of other popular eateries. It's opened by the same people who own the also vegan Smith and Deli (also in Fitzroy), which is best known for their sandwiches and of course, range of deli produces.

The interior of Smith and Daughters is quite spacious, with large windows allowing plenty of natural light to enter. There's a rustic feel with the stone and brick walls, and the back wall is adorned with a range of framed artwork that gives the place an edgy vibe. Although there are a lot of tables, the open space doesn't make you feel cramped at all, and there wasn't any need to raise our voices particularly when talking, even with the music and chatter in the background. The staff were attentive and there wasn't too long of a wait for our food when we went on a Sunday afternoon. As we didn't book a table, we had the option of sitting at the bar or the communal table, so if you're after your own space, it's best to call in advance.

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