Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Döner Kebab on 4th is Falafelly Good!

I love the falafel wrap here.  I love it so much that it's one of the few places where I'll gladly eat a vegetarian meal without even being tempted by meat.  They scoop the mix right into the deep fryer after you order, so the falafel balls are hot and crispy.  Then they put ample toppings into the pocket.  However, they do have some seriously good meat dishes too.  Go to a fancier place, like places a few doors down, and how much would you pay for a succulent braised lamb shank dish?  Here, you get a beautiful falling off the bone lamb shank on top of rice, and it's going to be cheap and flavourful.  They also have a simiar braised chicken leg dish that is very good.  I have also tried some of their salads and the homous, and it was all good, so you may prefer a platter rather than a wrap. The people there are nice, and the man that I think is the owner really seems to care about the food.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

House Special Chow Mein

New Town Bakery makes my favourite house special chow mein ($16) in Vancouver.  Everything that you'd normally want is on there including squid, chicken, barbecue pork, bok choy, prawns, onions, plus extra goodies like fish balls (halved), liver, pigs ear, and Chinese mushrooms (in other words, they don't cheap out with button mushrooms).  Everything is perfectly cooked and extremely tender.  The prawns are plump, too.  They ask if you prefer the noodles soft or crispy, so you will get lots of nice crispy edges if you are like me, and like the noodles pan-fried.  I always pick up some Chinese buns/pastries while I'm there and some of them are half price at the end of the day.  Also, servers are friendly to everyone and will speak English with you without judgement.  There are plenty of other choices on the menu, and they are open for breakfast too (with Chinese style and Hong Kong Western style breakfast menus).  But I think it's hard to find a good house special chow mein right in Vancouver, and they do a great job with this dish.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fatty Papa!

I've been wanting to try this newish okonimiyaki place on Robson with a great name.  I'm enjoying my original style okonomiyaki ($8.50, chicken, bacon, and seafood versions are also available) plus an add-on of soba noodles.  I combo'd up with a fresh watermelon milk slush for $3.50 more.  The slush was delicious but watermelon is seasonal so it might not be available much longer this season.  The okonomiyaki was good.  It was not Hiroshima style so the soba was not crisped up on the grill and incorporated in it, but was still a great addition sitting on top.  The restaurant also has other homey dishes like omurice (fluffy rice filled omelette), curries, noodles in soup, and gyoza.  Casual bright room with simple and clean decor, so it may not look it, but it does have full service.  Hope it's here to stay.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Neverland Tea Salon

I don't really need to say too much about this place.  It's fantastic.  Most importantly, the food and tea was top notch.  Both the savoury little sandwiches and the baked goods are ridiculously good at Neverland Tea Salon (on Broadway between Balaclava and Carnarvon).  You can see the menu for the high tea pictured.  All of the pastries and finger sandwiches are creative, flavourful, and unexpectedly pleasing, and include multiple textures and flavour components to go that extra mile - like the little bit of delightful crunch under the malted chocolate mousse cake.  I've been there a couple of times now, and they change the items up a bit, but it's all been delicious.  They even let you choose different teas when you finish a pot, and I had their Earl Grey, and their signature Take Me To Neverland chocolate and peppermint scented black tea blend.  I love the Neverland theme, and while this may attract clientele with children, everyone seemed well behaved when I visited.  The tea cups and flatware are great.

I think service can be somewhat improved, depending on which server you get.  Also, they seem to freak out a bit when you arrive an hour before closing which was plenty of time for me personally in that instance, but they basically close the kitchen then, so be prepared for them to sound a bit on edge if you come in just before that time.  I also had the servers ignore me for quite a few minutes after I walked in, so it would have really been disappointing had they not let me have afternoon tea.  This is where they could do with some improvement, by the way.  Some servers are really not that friendly and welcoming (luckily for the first visit, I had a remarkably competent young man with excellent customer service skills that left me with a very positive impression, which led me to wanting to come back).  They do stay open quite late for an afternoon tea place, which is quite nice - on weekends, they "close at 7 pm," but really, keep in mind that this means 6 pm.  They also have cocktails, which I haven't tried yet.

My favourite high tea place in the past has been The Secret Garden Tea Co. off W. 41st, with warm and friendly service everytime, a prettier and daintier room (less shabby chic) and delicious food and tea, and prettier pastries, but only 3 types of sandwiches.  Neverland is a strong contender.  You get more variety with five types of finger sandwiches, plus a mega scone.  You get more opportunity to have a variety of teas at Neverland too.  Pricing is the same for high tea.  And perhaps it's due to my foggy memory, but I feel like the flavours are more exciting at Neverland, but I do remember that everything was absolutely delicious at The Secret Garden as well.  Anyhow, try both.  They're both good.  And it's fun to go to different settings.

I've also enjoyed the afternoon tea at Bacchus Restaurant and Lounge at the Wedgewood Hotel, which is only available Saturday and Sunday between 2 - 4 pm.  But it did have less creative flavours, and was more expensive, but it came with amazing service and is set in a beautiful richly decorated room filled with cushy velvet covered chairs and dark wood.  I only went once, and was very impressed by our very kind, very dignified butler-like server.  But I have received much colder service for drinks in the early evening (perhaps because everyone else was in their lawyer suits from the courthouse, and I was dressed very casually) so I can't be sure that the service is consistent for afternoon tea.

For me, high tea makes me feel civilized, pampered, and indulgently girly, and is the perfect antidote to a grubby, "go-go-go" week of work.  It's like the meal version of a long meandering stroll versus what sometimes feels like sprinting through a muddy obstacle course.  Just a note though, that while high tea can be very girly (I have organized a big bridal shower high tea, for example), men have definitely enjoyed the experience with me too, so it doesn't have to be for just the girls.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


Great Meatloaf Burger Special

Timber is the more casual, straight forward, sporty, younger sister to Forage! and right next door.   It's a comfortable gastropub or bar and grill with great windows to watch some of the Robson pedestrian traffic (on the quieter west end of Robson) and high food standards that match the good quality at big sis' (Chef Chris Whittaker at the helm for this one too).   It's still easy to spend a lot of money on her though, as with similar bar and grill type places.  The menu choices feel a bit limited to me, but what I had was very good.  
Good Caesar
Bad (But Fun) Caesar
The Caesar salad, though small in size, was so tasty.  Best thing I had there.  I was wishing I had twice the amount for $12, but it had style - herring dressing, jowl bacon, fried garlic, bannock croutons, and nice big flakes of parmesan.  The meatloaf burger wrapped in bacon pictured above was really delicious ($16, served with house-made potato chips that I wasn't crazy about, but the server let me choose fries as the side dish, and I accidentally in the end received both which was nice of them).  I think it should be a regular menu item.  Even the pretzel style bun was soft and enjoyable.  The fries were fine.  and was served with what I'm guessing was a house made "ketchup" - it was tangy with a fresh tomato (rather than cooked tomato) flavour.  It was fun to have something different, but I would enjoy regular bottled ketchup just as much.  Interestingly, it went much better with their potato chips than their fries.  

I wasn't so much a fan of the Caesar cocktail though.  They have some fun Caesar's and I tried one with their (I think house made) pepperoni and a great, dramatic chicharron (best part).  Very smokey flavour and made with tequila (I love tequila) and honestly didn't like the drink that much but I'm not a really huge fan of Caesar's but enjoy them when I'm in the mood.  It was just too much - too smokey, too intense, too spicy (not in terms of heat) and just didn't feel balanced to me, but people who order Caesar's regularly might enjoy it.  But I had a really nice glass of zinfandel (Joel Gott) there which made up for it.  

They also have a whiskey flight and for $19, it was worth trying once, and I was in the mood for sipping scotch.  I enjoyed the Balvenie Doublewood the most, which had a powerful and pleasant nose.  Didn't like the harshness of the Canadian Lot 40 Single Copper Pot Still, but added a few drops of water to mellow it out a bit.  The Lavagulin was a good for contrast, with its intense smokey peaty characters, but not necessarily something that I would make a point of ordering on its own.  Their cocktails and wines are around the $8 or more range, so this was a good deal but in the end I only really liked the middle one.

I like this place - it's not too crowded, and has a relaxed feel, the servers are really friendly and know what they're doing (another benefit of being run by the same people as the more upscale restaurant next door).  And it's Canadiana themed which makes a lot of sense for the hotel and the tourist traffic in the area (but not a problem for a resident of the neighbourhood like me).  For example, I really like the seating upholstered in Canada Post bags - who knew those bags were so comfy to sit on?  Well, the interior designer of the space, I guess!   The mascots of the place are a taxidermied beaver and Canada goose.  There are TV screens everywhere for sports if you are looking for a place to watch the game, and they have Supper and Cask events.  It's not the regular neighbourhood hang out place I was hoping for (cost, menu choices) but I really enjoyed it the two times I visited.  It's a good addition to the area, and I think it will attract more walk-in customers than Forage! simply because of the windows and open look, even though Forage also has a similar casual aesthetic and style (but with more of an obvious theme of locally sourced sustainable products.  Timber benefits from those sources, but is just themed more on Canadiana).

Just a note that it's spelled Timber, not to be confused with Timbre on Commercial Drive, which I have not tried.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Little Almond Croissant Joy at Faubourg on Hornby

This almond croissant was delicious - light, flaky and with a beautiful, refined almond filling.  Somehow I never really paid attention to the Faubourg on Hornby St. (between Robson and Georgia) until recently even though it opened in August 2013.  I had visited the one on 4th ages ago, and loved it, but just never found myself in the area needing coffee and pastries very often.  I'm so glad to have "rediscovered" the downtown location now for many reasons.

1.  I love almond croissants and I still miss the old version of the stand alone bakery at Granville Island (La Baguette et l'echalote) where their almond croissant used to be the centre of Granville Island...for me, at least.  It was maybe not the actual geographical centre, but what everything else at Granville Island revolved around.  You had to get them before they ran out, often by early afternoon).

2.  The drip coffee that I bought with this croissant was fantastic!  So smooth, and very sweet and rich.

3.  I seem to find myself wanting a nice coffee and or snack in that area often.  Plus, I sometimes take classes at UBC Robson Square and it's great to be able to get a coffee to make sure I stay lively during class.

4.  I have been trying to avoid the Caffe Artigiano next door.  Not because of their coffee, which I quite like, but because the service that I've experienced there has been rude and weird on multiple occasions, which is saying a lot considering an interaction is typically only a few minutes long at the counter.  Most people need to work pretty hard to annoy a customer within the span of a few minutes.  May sound like I'm being picky, but I will point out that another local coffee chain, JJ Bean, in whatever they are doing in their hiring/training/management of their staff seem to be able to deliver a pretty consistently friendly (and generally efficient) style of service across several locations in just as busy times and neighbourhoods).  And they finally got on board with the free wifi thing after resisting the idea for a long time to try to nurture a different culture at their cafés.  But JJ Bean does a twice baked almond croissant (which is a way to take "stale" croissants and re-purpose them).  And I can't remember whether Artigianno has almond croissants, but if they do, they certainly wouldn't be as good the Faubourg's.

5.  Service at Faubourg (granted it was only one visit) was both very friendly and efficient.

6.  They have an enticing array of other baked goods, including bread, macarons, and beautiful fancy dessert pastries.  I just noticed on their website that they even do a little assorted box of pastries which I think could be a delightful treat if you're having some guests over for tea (small box has 8 pastries for $16).  They also have sandwiches, soups, salads, and quiche!

7.  The place looks really nice as a place to sit and have your treats there and chit chat.  I didn't in my case, but I will in the future.  I would even say it might be a nice choice for a coffee date, since it was not too loud/hectic, seems to have a good amount of seating, easy to get to and find, looks pretty and sophisticated (like you're making an effort and have taste if you suggest this one versus a Starbucks), and has great coffee/food.  And as suggested on their website, you can pretend it's a little escape to a Paris Café without leaving town.

8.  There's outdoor seating!

Hopefully they are consistent.  I will need to investigate further, hehe.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sure As Shuruku

I was taking a course at Robson Square and visited Shuruku on Granville Street just off Robson twice, a week apart for my hour long lunch breaks and they got me out of there quickly in time including walking time.  I had great service (some servers nicer than others but everyone very efficient), and I was well fed for the afternoon hours with a great lunch box set.  The one pictured above included pork back ribs which were not super tender, but very tasty and served on a layer of bean sprouts.  They were not glazed like the pictures of their dinner time signature pick ribs.  The next time, I chose the same type of box but with beef short ribs - a bit awkward to gnaw on for me, but tasty.  The tempera was really nice and light and it was a lot of food.  I like the green beans in the gomaae.  I've been to this restaurant several times for dinner and even to a sake tasting event too (they bring in stuff from Japan that you wouldn't be able to buy in the BC liquor stores) but it's nice to know that they can do a good week day lunch.  Not cheap (around $15.95), but good.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Buffet Confessions

Adorable breakfast pastry islands at Oru (at the Fairmont Pacific Rim)

As always, the siren song of "AYCE" is much more enticing than the reality of the meal.  As much as I know this, I still answer the call and enjoy myself at buffets.  I confess to going to the little buffet in the Grand Villa Casino in Burnaby.  As casino buffets go, this one is tiny both in square footage and in number of selections, but it is also a bit cheaper.  Dinner is $19, and if you get a loyalty card for 10% off, it's $17.10 plus tip (seniors have a bigger discount).  Things can be a bit hit and miss, but I think it's still a pretty good deal - I can enjoy a reasonable roast beef dinner with any combination of salad, soup, a couple of Chinese dishes, a few other meat and pasta dishes, bottomless pop (they have one of those 100 flavours machines), bottomless tea/coffee, and dessert.  I've been a few times now, and service has always been excellent, with very prompt dish clearing to keep things feeling clean and dignified.  Online criticisms include a limited dessert selection, so know that there are usually only a few choices there, but they do have a soft serve machine and fruit salad.  By the time I get to dessert, just a few options is plenty for me.  And in general, for me, there gets to be a point where having more options just means more things that I can't try because I don't have any room.  I prefer this little one to the larger, more expensive buffet at the River Rock Casino in Richmond.

I have another confession to make.  I am a hotel breakfast buffet fiend.  When I travel, I love staying at a hotel with a buffet where I can leisurely wake up with coffee and hot breakfast items.  I will even splurge ocassionally and visit them here in town for no particular reason.  While it's a bit of a monetary and caloric splurge, it makes for a nice lazy weekend treat.  Plus I usually skip lunch afterwards.  My favourites in downtown Vancouver are Currents at the Westin Bayshore (in Coal Harbour) and Oru at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.   I prefer the Westin Bayshore, with its relaxing atmosphere, ample newspapers, giant windows making the space light and airy, and great selection of items in their "super foods" buffet.  Everything that I've had there has been tasty.  It is $28 including coffee and juice, and they usually have little smoothies out in shot glasses too. You can order from your server made to order eggs/omelette/waffles/pancake whereas at Oru there's an omelette station where I've had to wait in a bit of a line on a busy holiday weekend (but I probably could have asked the server now that I'm thinking of it).  The food quality is very high at Oru, but it is more expensive.  Breakfast on weekdays is $36 and "brunch" on weekends is $38.  Both places have exceptional service.  I would rate both higher than the buffets at the Hotel Vancouver and Hyatt, but bear in mind that Oru is more expensive than both of these.  There's a new Cora opening on Robson Street, so it may be a while before I check out any other breakfast buffets.

I have always been too scared to go to Uncle Willy's near Metrotown, but I have been told that I should try it because of the fried chicken.  I know I won't be proud of that one either, but I might as well give it a go one of these days (and confess afterwards, of course).

Monday, July 27, 2015

You'd Never Guess How Good This Place Is...Teriyaki Bowl Japanese Restaurant

I could pass this place a hundred times without suspecting that it was anything more than the dozen or so mediocre and inauthentic Japanese places in the area, but this one is really authentic.    Teriyaki Bowl Japanese Restaurant is on Broadway St., between Alma and Dunbar St.

It's simple and comforting, like visiting a sweet aunt and uncle that want to feed you - that is, if your aunt and uncle were great Japanese cooks.

It's not much to look at inside, with just a few tables, and you order at the counter, but it's cheap and delicious. You can eat in, and they'll serve the food on pretty Japanese dishes.  Many people seem to take out.  I've been there twice, and both times did not take photos of the food unfortunately.  Everything looked beautiful though (unlike many of the mediocre places at the same price point who mangle their sushi rolls).  I had a chicken udon and inari sushi combo from the specials board (came with three inari nigiri), and it was really wonderful, and very reasonable (I think only $8.75, but can't remember exactly).  The chicken udon had lots of tender chicken pieces, slices of the pink swirl fish cake, a bit of broccoli and carrot, and a delightful clear and clean, yet flavourful broth.  I also had their negitoro roll which was very good.  I liked their pickled ginger too.  Their agedashi tofu is not deep fried like other places, but the sauce is richly flavoured and deeply satisfying (I was basically drinking some of the sauce afterwards with a spoon - that's how much I liked it) .  I've had their katsudon in the past and enjoyed it very much as well. On a chilly day, the chicken udon or the rice bowls are ideal warming comfort meals.  It's only open until 8 pm though.  Take-out containers are nice round cardboard ones, so kudos to them for not using styrofoam or plastic.  Not a fancy pick, but just unexpectedly well-executed food and authenticity in a neighbourhood (Kitsilano) that doesn't particularly foster these qualities.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Spicy 6 Indian Restaurant: Redefining Buffet Food Quality in the City

 The hot buffet cart (the cold cart not pictured here).  Please excuse the quality - I was too shy about taking photos to get a good shot.  Food looked great. 

I've only visited once for buffet lunch (and frankly don't know how I've missed this place for the last year and a bit it's been open on Robson St. in the former Thai House upstairs space, between Thurlowe and Bute in downtown Vancouver), but I'm ready to go out on a limb and give a hearty recommendation to this restaurant for the buffet at lunch or for any other time.  I'm happy to see that they also have delivery and their own online ordering system on their website.  My reasoning for this is that often the buffet is where things are more lacklustre in order to be able to offer unlimited quantities, but here, the buffet had tremendously flavourful dishes, a nice selection, and fresh tasting food.  The buffet was well presented and fully refreshed.

The naan, which is best made to order, was brought to the table hot and fresh, with great texture, and was just fantastic.  There was not any item that disappointed, and several were stand outs.  I particularly enjoyed the tasty spicing on their tandoori chicken (which is a specialty of theirs), and the meat was tender and not dry.  I was really impressed with the paneer saag (paneer cheese with pureed spinach) as it was bright in both colour and flavour and very different from the pukey green versions I've seen at other places that I avoid and  that I feel are a disservice to spinach.  I enjoyed the mixed vegetable dish which allowed the individual vegetables to still come through.  I also noticed the lovely texture of the gulab jamun and flavour of the syrup (dessert, fried dough balls in a warm syrup) and think it's exceptional.  I liked the potato dish too (but unfortunately can't remember the name of the dish, though everything was nicely labelled).  There was a nice selection of items and I enjoyed it all, including the lamb curry, aloo gobi, chickpea curry, butter chicken (yes, a little on the sweet side, but the chicken is not overcooked and dried out like other places, so quite nice), vegetable pakoras, a few salads, rice, raita, chutneys, rice pudding, and another fried vegetable patty.  I had a chai today, which was fine.   When I come back, I'd like to try their samosas which weren't in the buffet today.

It should be noted that the lunch buffet ($13.99) is now offered only Monday to Friday (and I think that this might have actually been added to the sandwich board while I was dining today, because I was thinking how great it was that they were offering buffet on the weekend) but like I said, I would expect this high quality of food to be there for their regular a la carte menu also.  The service was also excellent and friendly - very attentive, ice water glass refilled always, and very nice.  The room is comfortable and bright with tall ceilings and skylights.  I hope that the second floor location doesn't put people off too much.  I was enamoured with two wooden carved camels that were on a shelf.  It's a nice looking place but not fancy.  When I asked about the restaurant, the server mentioned that they have experience with opening 22 other restaurants.  I am hoping this place does well and stays around for a long time (which is difficult on this street).  It was fairly quiet today, but there were other tables.  Their Yelp reviews are great and their sandwich board on the sidewalk is eye-catching (I certainly would have given it a shot just passing by, as a place to replenish and recover from shopping).  I got a bit excited today and came away pretty stuffed even though I was trying to be very careful by eating small bites very slowly.  But I was in surveying mode, and wanted to try everything. For me, it would be worth coming back even just for the tandoori.  Save room for a little gulab jamun if you like that sort of thing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Overrated Donut: Cartems

Okay, to be fair, I only tried one donut and may have picked the very worst donut on offer, but here's where I'm coming from - when was the last time you ate a purchased donut from anywhere and didn't enjoy it?  It's like that line that goes something like "even bad ____ is good!"   Fill in the blank yourself.  What I'm saying is that I shouldn't be able to pick out a bad donut if a donuterie knows what it is doing.  So I picked out this yeast dough donut with a rhubarb compote.  

Things looked promising as the donut was attractive.  Also, points for an original flavour, and actually the compote tasted pretty good and not very sweet which is novel for a donut.  However the texture seemed too mushy to feel appropriate in the middle of this donut (was starting to eat around the filling to avoid that soggy zone of contact with the dough).  

The dough itself was nothing to write home about, quite heavy for a yeast dough and to be perfectly honest, kind of greasy like they didn't get the temperature right.  The taste of the oil seemed fine though - sort of old fashioned tasting or vaguely something like a Chinese donut (peanut oil maybe? Not sure).  

After I talked about enjoying very much the donuts at the W. 4th Forty-ninth Parallel, someone told me that Cartems was better, so I came in with high hopes. Though disappointed, I'll say that this shop on Pender St at Seymour is an absolutely lovely place to sit - bright, modern, clean, roomy, quiet, relaxed, and comfortable with friendly service.  The drip coffee is from Elysian, so nice high quality coffee (but the particular bean that I had was too acidic and fruity for my personal taste).  Both my drip coffee and donut were $3 each, and pour over coffee and cold brew coffee was available, but interestingly no espresso drinks.  

I was raving about Lucky's Donuts and 49th Parallel before so I'll end with that recommendation.  I've had and been impressed with several of their donut flavours and I'd much rather be there with a great donut and whatever coffee I wanted.  I'll try another Cartems' at some point probably when I next find myself looking for a coffee shop on this block and will update if it changes my impression significantly.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

New Deacon's Corner in Kits

A promising first stop at the new Deacon's Corner.  I ordered the atypical special of the day, pesto and chicken macaroni with garlic toast and salad.  Enjoyed it but I think regular menu items would have been better.  I liked the generous portion, good value, friendly service, comfortable atmosphere, and the fact that it was licensed.  Patio was under some final construction,  but looked like it'll be great.  Will be back.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gobble, Gobble at Burnaby's Hart House Restaurant

I love turkey dinner.  This year, family Thanksgiving dinner dropped down to only two of us - my Dad and I.  It's the second year without my Mom and I think she would have loved this quiet fine dining version of Thanksgiving that we did.  Also, my brother recently split up with his partner, which actually takes away three from our usual Thanksgiving table as her kids have been joining us in previous years too.  My Dad was not up to cooking this year (though he makes a mean turkey dinner), which I suspected might be the case (and I wasn't up to it either), so I found a Burnaby restaurant close to him that could do turkey and managed to get him out of the house (though not my brother, who doesn't really like turkey anyway).  I was hoping for a hotel or casino buffet but couldn't find one that would be really good and serve turkey for sure.  So we went for something a little fancier.  I've always wanted to try Hart House Restaurant, and it's a bit silly that I've never dined there because it is really close to where I mostly grew up.  And as I found out, is quite a nice restaurant with a chef with serious skills.  Overall the experience was great, but I wouldn't say that everything in this meal was completely to my taste, but I would definitely come back and would only change very minor things.  

The Tudor style house is 102 years old, and was lived in right up to 1979 when the Municipality of Burnaby purchased it.  It's in Deer Lake Park, close to the Burnaby Art Gallery, Heritage Village, and the Shadbolt Centre.  Some of the tables have a beautiful view of the park.  We parked (free parking) and walked in from the drizzle to the warmth of a roaring fire in a beautiful massive fireplace original to the building in the lobby area.  Coats were taken and my little note that we were coming for turkey dinner from my online reservation was acknowledged when the host showed us the menus.  To me, this little thing is an indicator that the front of house was well organized.  According to their website, they regularly offer a $36 three-course prix fixe which changes weekly and I had a very quick response on facebook when I inquired about turkey for Thanksgiving too.  

I ordered a glass of cava ($8, Codornui, from Spain), figuring a sparkling would go with everything we were eating, and it was very nice and quite sweet which suited me.

The amuse bouche was a spoon with a fine salmon tartare, tiny shaved fennel and a tiny blini.  My Dad liked that they used a Chinese spoon - I've been so used to this trend, I had forgotten that a Chinese spoon here is out of its usual context.  The amuse bouche was tasty and very interesting with its different components (and my Dad actually ate raw fish without any protest, which is a big thing.  It's possible he might not have known...).  We were given a nice basket of very warm sliced baguette and some cold butter also, which was nice, as I always appreciate it when the bread is warm. 

The prix fixe had two options for each course, and between the two of us, we tasted everything except for the salmon main - coho salmon cioppino, mussels, prawns, fennel, saffron tomato broth (also offered a la carte for $28).

Dad had the soup, a butternut squash and coconut velouté which had a luxuriously smooth texture, and a definite nutmeg note (I think), which I personally am not a big fan of, but it was a great soup.  Dad liked it.  

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Curry Oil, Pickled Squash

I started with a pickled beet and burrata salad with orange segments, watercress, pine nuts, and sherry vinaigrette, but when the food came, I honestly forgot that there was supposted to be burrata in it (from the facebook menu) which I was looking forward to trying as I've seen it on shows and from people talking about it or eating it next to me, but it's not a cheese that I know very well first hand.  Anyhow, I remember the slices of what I thought were Grana Padano or Parmesan or a similar firm cheese, but I do not remember any burrata (nor do I see any in the photo, unless it's underneath which would not make sense) and anyway, I think I would have noticed it if it was there.  It might have been changed on the actual menu that we read in the restaurant.  The salad was quite nice.  I liked those tiny orange segments, and the variety of beets and treatments of the beets.  The dressing didn't sing to me, but was fine.  I think a soft cheese would have been great here though. 

Orange Segments, Watercress, Pine Nuts, Sherry Vinaigrette

The real star of this menu was the turkey breast!  I'm always a little leary of white meat on turkey as it's so often dry, but I still enjoy the taste of white meat.  I prefer the flavourful dark meat of turkey, but knew that I would still get some in this dish in the stuffing.  What I wasn't expecting was how tender and moist the turkey breast would be.  Honestly, it might be the most tender turkey breast I've ever had, and again because I didn't pay enough attention to the menu, I found myself wondering if they had a waterbath back there and cooked this sous vide without saying so on the menu.  What they actually did was poach the meat in buttermilk.  This is the way to cook turkey breast.  It was really good.  Then the chunk of stuffing had delicious dark meat with mushrooms and bread.  The jus (gravy) was fabulous, though I would have liked a bit more.  The baby brussel sprouts were excellent, but again, I would have liked more.  In fact, I would have liked a lot more vegetables.  Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed that the regular menu included a side of vegetables for $5 (and wouldn't have anticipated needing that with a set three course dinner, but wished I had noticed it in the menu so that I could have thought of it when I was eating the dish and thinking I wanted more veg).  The facebook menu mentioned pommes mousseline, and some sort of mashed potato would have been very welcome, but was missing from the dish.  However, the turkey portion was very generous and the whole thing much more filling than it appears (plus my Dad was giving me parts of his dishes that he couldn't finish).  I used the cranberry compote as I'm a big fan of cranberry with turkey, but I didn't really enjoy the dried cranberry texture and would have preferred more of a sauce or jelly instead.

Dark Meat & Mushroom Stuffing, Pommes Mousseline?, Brussels Sprouts, Cranberry Compote, Turkey Jus

For dessert, Dad wanted the pumpkin cheesecake, and I had the apple cinnamon parfait.  I'm always one to gravitate to any cake type desserts, so I was looking forward to the cake layered with creamy custard.  The pumpkin cheesecake was very pumpkin-y and low on the cheesy-ness.  The chantilly cream and the caramel sauce were very nice (I didn't taste an almond), and it was a nice solid dessert and very nicely presented.

 PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE (a la carte 10)
Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Chantilly, Toasted Almonds

My parfait was okay.  I liked the chantilly cream on top, and the cream underneath, but I think it wasn't custardy enough (like a trifle).  It needed to be richer, I think.  The apples cubes were very firm - but again, that's a subjective thing, and I would have gone quite a bit softer, but they had a good flavour.  It was nicely spiced.  The cake was somewhat hard and a bit dry, like a day-old cake (which  was probably made fresh, but with a very dry style).  It really needed to be soaked in sherry, brandy or jelly like a trifle would be (or like how tiramisu is soaked in coffee/coffee liqueur).  The menu says "berries" so maybe if there had been a berry sauce or berry compote layered in there, or even whole berries, it might have worked (and maybe that was the intention?).  It would have also been prettier with another layer of colour.  I'm pretty sure that the only berry in mine was the nice little raspberry on top.  Also, perhaps because I'm shorter, I found the goblet a bit awkwardly tall, and would have preferred a lower dish, though I recognize that the stem does make it look more like a little trifle.  I think I would have been happier with these four components (chantilly, custard cream, poached apples, spiced sponge) just set on a plate without the cake crumbled, with a berry sauce or several more berries.   I ate all of the chantilly on top though, which was very nice.  We had coffee, but Dad wanted decaf so I joined him with that and regretted not getting regular.  It wasn't good, but wasn't terrible.

Spice Sponge, Poached Apple, Custard Cream, Chantilly Cream, Berries

Now that I've thought the meal through, almost all of my minor criticisms with the meal look like they were simply execution omissions that would have been solved if they stuck to their original menu.  It was the last night of this Thanksgiving week prix fixe.  Could they have just run out of certain ingredients?  There is obviously a lot of skill and classic French technique demonstrated in the food here at Hart House, as well as a very well-thought out menu, and I wonder if it might just be the execution this night.  Burrata here, potato mousseline there, and berry layer here would have filled the gaps that I instinctively found unbalanced about the meal.  Plus a few other small vegetable pieces on the turkey plate (say a baby carrot and a couple of haricot verts?) would have been great.  The dressing for the salad also might have just been a simple execution issue - a tiny bit more of "brightness" would have changed that whole experience.  

Service was excellent, and the room felt warm, inviting, and not too stuffy.  You can dress up for dinner if you like and it can be a nice special occasion restaurant, but you wouldn't feel too out of place if you didn't want to get really dressed up.  It certainly feels out of the way, so could be a fun special date outing as it feels like a bit of a destination, since you wouldn't normally be out in the area at night otherwise.  You could walk around Deer Lake Park first, and then head in for dinner on a dry evening.  We were there with the extremely early crowd on Sunday on Thanksgiving weekend, and it's a very traditional place, so there were mainly seniors and families.  It was nice and quiet, but started to fill up more as we were leaving.  I would love to go again on another day of the week and try another prix fixe menu.  And don't forget, poach your turkey breast in buttermilk!  Just brilliant.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pampered and Pleased at Italian Garden on Broadway

I love it when I unexpectedly stumble upon a great restaurant.  Mind you, it doesn't happen that often, but last week after work, I found one that I think is stellar.  I've only been once so far, and they mentioned that they were planning on changing their entire menu the next day, so I plan to return and I'll add comments to this post if I find that they took some wrong turns.  This restaurant is Italian Garden just a few blocks west of W. Broadway and Macdonald St., between Trutch and Balaclava.  As far as I can tell, it's only been open for about four months (could be wrong about this), and they have a nice little patio out front, but I think I've been initially put off by their sign and the name, that is remniscent of Olive Garden.  These two things mean that I would never have guessed that this was a fine dining establishment with this caliber of service and chef (and bartender apparently - I will have to try some drinks another time...I think the drinks menu even invited ingredients brought in so that something special could be mixed up).  My guess is that the new menu will be aimed at a lower price point for the casual Kits clientele.  However, on the day I went, the sandwich board proclaimed simply "Ribeye $12" (and a drink special) to get people in.  Didn't seem like it could be true.  Ribeye is my favourite, and the menu listed a ribeye main for around $24-28 (can't remember exactly).  The waiter (possibly owner) managed my expectations by telling it was a small piece, served with mashed potato and a little salad (love that both servers had Italian accents).

I also wanted to order many other dishes, like a pasta or pizza, but knew I couldn't fit it in.  I started with a glass of red wine that I thought could stand up to a ribeye but still satisfied my mid-week frugality, a primitivo that was great.  The server even let me have a little taste first, a hint of the lovely service details that dotted the entire meal.  Also came a complimentary bread stick - which I was quite happy receiving as the only complimentary bread, and was pleasantly surprised by a dish of two types - a light focaccia and a denser crusty bread, along with a delightful olive oil.  I preferred the focaccia, but both were good.

Another good sign of the service is that when I walked in, and asked for a spot for one, the server just said anywhere you like, and indicated the entire empty restaurant.  I chose the patio, and realized most of the tables were best for drinks, and spotted a nice big table in the corner, which could have sat 3 or 4, and he had no problem with me taking that perfect spot.  On one of the last warm, sunny evenings in Vancouver before the wet and cold fall and winter, it was the best table in the house.  Lately, as I've been dining solo at various casual Korean and  Japanese spots, I've been directed away from larger tables that I would have prefered, so this was quite refreshing.

Okay, then my steak came out, and the dish was much bigger than I expected (granted, it was a particularly generous portion and they probably didn't serve this much to everyone).  They did tell me that they had the steak on special because they were changing up the whole menu the next day (hope they don't take ribeye entirely off).  It was perfectly done (I like mine medium rare), and the inside was wonderfully soft and tender with the outside having those delicious crispy bits on the edges, and the fatty bits inside were delicious.  The small salad was nicely dressed, and the potatoes were delicious.  I saw the two servers and the busser coming outside to check on me probably 10 - 15 times during the meal (I was the only one outside for quite a while), sometimes asking and sometimes just taking a look without requiring me to speak, which was absolutely perfect.  I needed a tiny bit of salt after my first bite of steak and had someone to ask right away, and he even asked me if I preferred big or small salt (and wound up getting me both).  And I'd much rather it be slightly undersalted for my taste than over salted.  I ate every bit of the dish.  And I ordered dessert as well.

The tiramisu was delicioius, and the way I prefer it - with a generous amount of coffee flavour.  And after that, I still wanted a little something, but knew that coffee would keep me up too late (and I couldn't drink any more alcohol), so I ordered a cup of tea.  Now this place was authentically Italian, so I should have known that was a mistake, but did not think about it.  I asked if they had Earl Grey and they did not, which was fine (tea wasn't even on the drink menu, so I was just glad to get some tea).  Well, what came out was really lovely.  They had the tea brewing properly in a separate teapot, and then they had included several things for me to choose from - a bunch of large mint leaves, several lemon slices, sugar and even a bowl of ice should I want to ice it.  The server (possibly owner) came out later to check on me, and noticed that I used the mint and said that he thought I would like it!  Authentically charming.  I used the mint and the lemon and didn't miss my Earl Grey at all, of course.

I also never felt rushed, and was offered more water at the end as well (and by this time the restaurant was quite busy).

The younger server mentioned that on Wednesdays they have 50% off bottles of wine.  I don't know if this will still be true since they are switching menus, and I was unable to find their website (perhaps they are working on it), but I want to check this out.  Their wine list was very nicely done too - they laid out all sorts of tasting notes for all the wines.  It looks like many people have found this place before me, but the restaurant was probably just finding their footing in their first few months of opening.  From my standpoint, I think they are striding along very well now, and wish them much success.