Sunday, September 07, 2014

Seaside Fish and Chips on Vacation!

I usually try and focus on Vancouver restaurants and foodie finds, but a lot of Vancouverites (and visitors to Vancouver) do make it out to the Gulf Islands for small trips.  Each of the islands has its own character, and it does feel like really getting away when you visit.  Even when an island has only a few restaurant options, sometimes they can be surprisingly good.  This fish and chips may have been the best I've ever had, and it was at The Cafe at Hope Bay on Pender Island (apologies for the photo quality - was too excited and ate some of it before the photo too).  The chips and the fish batter were so light and crispy.  The coleslaw was tasty and interesting, with a touch of cumin.  I wanted to lick the little cup that the tartar sauce came in.  And I got to enjoy a magnificent view of the water while eating it.  

How do I know it was really that good, and not just a product of context (vacation happy)?  Because I can contrast it with a terrible experience at The Oystercatcher on Salt Spring Island, a restaurant in Ganges right onthe water.  I had oysters and chips, and the heavily breaded, squashed flat oysters did not taste fresh (even though they also serve oysters on the half shell), and hello, oysters are part of the name.  Even if they were actually fresh, they just did not taste good.  I couldn't finish the last one (that's how bad they were).  The chips were limp and not crispy (though they had the right colour, so it wasn't about it being underdone as much as it was about technique.  I doubt that they double fry).  And the tartar sauce was bland mayonnaise (not even tasty mayonnaise).  I thought maybe they had mixed up my order and put down mayonnaise instead of tartar sauce, but upon searching carefully, saw some tiny bits in it, and figured that was just what they did for tartar sauce.  The tiny lump of coleslaw was also very bland, but at least edible.  Zero for four!  Or really, zero for five because they had already messed up with a service issue earlier.  I had ordered their "Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts" starter, and had asked if they were deep fried.  She confirmed and said it was really good.  I've had both deep fried and love that.  And the bitterness of the brussel sprouts would be great balanced by the sweetness of the cauliflower, plus you get the variety of the two veggies (much needed when ordering oysters and chips).  Well, the dish came, and I had to flag down someone to show them that there was only brussel sprouts with no cauliflower.  Both servers didn't know what was going on.  No one mentioned to me that there would only be brussel sprouts (surely the kitchen would have noticed when they made it with only one and they could have passed it along at the very least as it was being presented to me, and much preferably before they made it for me without half of the TWO ingredients).  No one really seemed to want to rectify this in any way, and I pretty much had to ask for discount, and then in the end she still only cut 20% and never apologized!  I had left my phone at the B&B that morning and couldn't google the restaurant as I would normally have beforehand.  I actually had plans to visit one of two others, and got tired and just went to this one as it was close, and looked like a nice place to sit (and am used to having such good experiences at all restaurants on the islands, I wasn't worried about it).  Well, apparently, Salt Spring is now populated enough to have their own crappy restaurant with bad service.  

Funny thing is that I had just had an oyster burger the day before on Pender Island at "The Stand" - a converted Winnebago that sits at the Pender Island Otter Bay Ferry Terminal, and it was fricken' delicious (again, apologies for the half-mauled food photo).  The fries were awesome there too. 

Now before it sounds like Pender Island has all the good food, and Salt Spring doesn't, there were amazing tastes at the Saturday market (including a blackberry blue cheese from Moonstruck Cheeses, yummy Salt Spring preserves, wonderful vinegars, etc.), and I absolutely loved going to visit Salt Spring Cheese Company site, and tasting all the goodies in their shop.  And received amazing service from the lovely women there.  I had the toffee goats' milk gelato (not very goat-y but delicious) and tried a variety of goat cheeses, olives, and spreads.  Decided to buy their truffle, fresh herb and garlic, and the chili goat cheeses and a jar of Salt Spring spicy tomato jam.  I also had really outstanding breakfasts at Armand Heights B&B!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Café Phin and Pho, on Denman

Oops, sometimes I get excited and start eating before I remember to take a photo.  Normally, I try to spare the public and the restaurant from pictures of my half decimated food.  In this case though, I really wanted to give a shout out to this great little Vietnamese place on Denman Street, at Nelson, called Café Phin and Pho. Their food is really fresh, the flavours are balanced and interesting, and the service is really friendly - they always make me feel welcome.  It is a little counter service place , and is fairly new.  Portions are big, too.  I find it a good sign that their reading material has food magazines.  I've been here several times.  I am so happy to have such a good pho place downtown.   I can even snag free parking out front sometimes if I have my car and am stopping by after 6 pm.  I've had the special beef pho, spring rolls, salad rolls, and the pork belly on vermicelli (served with papaya salad!), and it's all been good.  

Monday, June 09, 2014

Dinner and a Movie Downtown: Kamei Baru, next to ScotiaBank Theatre

Kamei Baru is a great place to grab a bite and drinks before or after a movie at the ScotiaBank Theatre on Burrard St. at .  It has a huge menu of Japanese pub food, with both classic and "fusion" dishes, loads of cocktails, and other drinks.  So many dishes sounded good, I had trouble deciding.  That's one sign of a great menu for me - I actually want to come back to try other things on it.  Even the classic agedashi tofu ($5.50) got a bit of a modern spin, with super thin beet and squash chips on top as a garnish (although I was missing a more aggressive green onion flavour, I appreciated the beauty of the topping, and the generous portion size, as well as the bed of grated daikon, which was not lacking, as it can sometimes be in some cheap sushi places).  The waitress also poured the dashi sauce table side, which I very much appreciated, as I'm always wanting to make sure that the fried batter does not get too soggy in my agedashi tofu.  Prices were quite reasonable in general but I can imagine it adding up quickly if drinking and eating a lot here, depending on what you are ordering.

Another thing that I like about this place is that it is authentically Japanese.  I had oyster motoyaki (delicious and very rich, served in an escargot dish, with a couple slices of baguette), negitoro roll (very nicely done), agedashi tofu, and their special "30 spice" wine curry with pork cutlet, served with rice and shredded cabbage.  I also had their lychee margarita, a blended drink and want to try their signature Earl Grey gin drinks next time.  I even got to sit outside on a nice warm night (they have two two-tops on the sidewalk) but this was a bit marred by being downwind of the occasional smoker outside of the theatre.  Their sandwich board listed Japan's dates for the World Cup and there were many TV screens for sports inside.  Service was pretty good, especially considering that they had to step outside to take care of me.  I hope this restaurant sticks around.  It's at a great convenient spot, and pretty close to Robson St. if you are looking for a place to recharge when shopping too.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Happy 15th, Bistro Pastis!

Bistro Pastis (West 4th Ave. between Arbutus and Yew St. 604-731-5020) is one of my favourite "nicer" restaurants in town.  They consider themselves more casual and cosy than fine dining (having gone from the fine dining version, Pastis to the present day, Bistro Pastis), but the service and food quality stands up to any in town, in my experience.  They are definitely not pretentious, as I have dropped in as a single diner looking for food while on 4th and had outstanding service.  Their meals in my past visits has been both comforting and interesting at the same time, and always delicious.  To celebrate their 15th anniversary and to thank their customers, they are offering 25% off food and house wines from May 15 - June 15.  This is such a great deal, I had to share it with you.  The original press release mentions the deal going to June 8th, but the restaurant sent out an email with June 15th as the end date, so if the discount is important to you, you may want to ask about it when you call for reservations.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Missing My Almond Croissant Ritual: La Baguette et L'Echalote Bakery on Granville Island

Getting an almond croissant from the stand alone bakery on Granville Island, then heading over to buy a coffee in the market (JJ Bean), and then heading back outside towards the water to find a sunny spot with a view to relax and observe the scene has been one of my favourite Granville Island rituals for well over a decade.  In fact, I've turned other friends onto this ritual who have now moved away to other cities, and they were so hooked, they continued to go to Granville Island to get their almond croissant and coffee whenever they are in town.  Almond croissants sold out early in the day.  I hadn't been to Granville Island in quite a while, so only just discovered that another bakery has replaced it.  I was visiting at the end of the day, and their almond croissants had also sold out, so I will try to report back later when I've given one a try.

Here is the story told by the owners of La Baguette et L'Echalote Bakery themselves, and although I'm sad that they had to leave Granville Island due to a fire, I was super pleased to find out that at least their products are still available, baked fresh daily and delivered to a number of locations including the Whole Foods a few blocks away from my place. Look for the complete list from the link above.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Foodie Resource:

Merry Christmas, Nancylanders!  Wishing you a new year filled to the brim with amazing food adventures.  Of course, one of my resolutions is to post more frequently!  In the meantime, I just stumbled upon a very handy site - the ChefDB.  I'm a big fan of film and IMDB, so it's great to learn of this resource where you can trace the careers and restaurants of chefs around the world:

I was just trying to confirm that Andrey Durbach was the chef responsible for a beloved restaurant in my memory - Parkside, and the exact dates popped up on chefdb along with all his other past and present restaurants.  I was thinking about this because I was reading about The Sardine Can and planning on trying this little tapas restaurant of his and his long time business partner.  It's in Gastown and sounds great to me - I mean, I felt like I should have been born Spanish when I visited Spain.  Feliz Navidad!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nancy's Quick Pick #9: Salt Tasting Room, Second Location in Kits

I loved Salt since it first opened, but I hadn't been visiting it lately, and part of it was just not being in that part of town as much.  The empire is spreading out, reaching out past Gastown into Kitsilano.  This is perfect for me, as I pass through Kits all the time, on my way home from work.  Salt is very simply a meat, cheese, and wine bar, but the beauty of this concept is the idea of these salty delicious things becoming more spectacular in their pairings with wine and vice versa.  They accompany everything with great sides, such as the cherry compote, mixed marinated olives and the house made Piccadilly relish (yum!).  The bread basket with a variety of crisps and bread is complimentary (or comes with the trios).  There is lots to choose from, or you can get their help with the decision making as well.  It's not going to be cheap, but there is so much flavour, the tasting nature of the experience is well worth it, and I'm always full anyway at the end.  The tasting plate that gives you a choice of three meats of cheeses (I picked out two meats and one cheese) along with your choice of three sides was $16.  I left the wine flight choices up to them to pair and surprise me and that was $15.  Everything was delicious alone.  My favourite pairing was the stone fruity Riesling with the soft cheese and cherry compote.  Also delicious was the meritage specifically with the Piccadilly relish (without the roast pork).

I delight in the heightened sensory nature and intellectuality of this sort of experience.  I just finished a short continuing studies course on food and wine pairing, so I was pleased to practice my careful tasting skills.  With the tastings you get at Salt, there is the opportunity for many different stages of tasting if you enjoy this sort of thing.  Think about all the potential combinations:

  • looking at the wine by itself 
  • smelling the wine by itself
  • tasting the wine by itself 
  • tasting the meats and cheeses by themselves
  • tasting the meats and cheeses with their respective side dish pairings
  • tasting the wine with its meat or cheese pair (are both or either better than tasting them alone?  Is the wine better with the food pairing?)
  • tasting the wine with the meat or cheese pair and the side and the bread
  • now which bread is the best with each combination?
  • tasting everything with all the other elements that it hasn't been paired with to see if the pairing is the best choice.
  • do your dining companions taste the same things you do?
  • and it goes on...until you run out of food and wine.
I ended up with a Tiramisu (cute in its mason jar, as shown), which was quite nice.  It looks like they will serve Stumptown coffee, but they didn't have it the night I went.  The room has almost a more casual airier feel compared to its counterpart in Blood Alley, and I think it's fitting in the Kits neighbourhood.  It should do quite well.  Staff are knowledgeable, helpful and not pretentious.  The only thing that I imagine would help them do better is if they made the portions of the meat and cheese slightly bigger, but I do think they are priced fairly.  

Nancy's Quick Pick #8: Acme Cafe

It looks like my quick picks are going to need to get even quicker for me to blog regularly.  So just trust me on this one, Acme Cafe on E. Hastings St. (near Army and Navy) has it going on.  The photo shows a delicious meatloaf sandwich on a pretzel bun, with a side of a delicious macaroni and cheese (for about a $2 add on cost).  I had this meal on two occasions and on the first finished it with pie, which was the real reason I sought this place out (on Pi day, March 14).

Do I really need to say more?  Actually, I do, because the first time I went there, I ordered three very personally risky items.  I have only had pretzel buns that I have found too hard and chewy to be really practical as a sandwich bun.  I have lately been having horrible luck with mac and cheese.   How can you screw up mac and cheese, you say?  That's what I thought!  No time for those horror stories.  Suffice it to say, Acme's mac and cheese is creamy, tastes like cheese, and is a good texture.  The third risky item was a coconut cream pie.  I love pie.  I love cream pies.  I am weird with coconut.  It's something about the stringy chewy bits ruining a smooth creamy filling, I think.  But it was really close to closing and there were only a few choices left.  Compared to earlier that day when they had 18 (I know! 18!) pies to choose from.  Anyhow, the coconut cream pie was delish, and all three things impressed me that much more given my wariness from bad prior experiences.

On my second visit I also had a B52 shake.  That meal was a great treat at the end of a busy week.  I do wish this place was right in my neighbourhood.  Maybe one day, since I've been dreaming lately of Gastown lofts with huge roof patios.

Staff are friendly, the place is cute and all retro diner-y, and prices are very reasonable.


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