Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Miss Summer!

Remember the days of sitting on a seaside patio sipping a crisp white wine, and eating seasonal local produce like heirloom tomatoes, while the sun leisurely sets itself down in a clear sky? I can't wait for those warm summer evenings! I love that the days keep getting longer. Here are some photos of a summer meal on the Nu (1661 Granville Street, just under the bridge on the Concord Pacific side of False Creek, 604-646-4668) patio to remind you what it was like. I had an heirloom tomato and longbeen salad with a little shaved fennel, a big bowl of mussels with a really nice glass of white wine I wish I could remember, and this lovely fresh cherry tart with black pepper sorbet. I remember stellar service, complete with competent wine recommendation, and a cosy little lap blanket to keep me warm as the sun set next to the Granville Island view.


Simple and Beautiful - Heirloom Tomato Salad


Cherry Tart with Black Pepper Sorbet


This dessert was delicious, though quite different from the brilliant mini desserts that were originally on the menu. I really enjoyed the black pepper sorbet with the rich cherry tart. And something that doesn't happen too often these days for me - I actually had a hard time choosing because several desserts on the menu piqued my interest. I really enjoy the little service details at Nu too, such as their regular coffee coming in a cute silver pot, giving you several cups of coffee. This was a spur of the moment quick meal that renewed my faith in Nu. Now if we could only get them to take that damn music off their website.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Expectations


I was thinking about expectations today, and I'm starting to think one way to have real success is to set up people to have relatively low expectations, and then surprise them by exceeding them. I've talked about this before in several posts, including my experience at the very casual (and now closed) Lucky Diner where the food quality and service really knocked my socks off because of how casual the restaurant was. The photo above is another example. It's the "portabello" brunch dish at Lift Restaurant in Coal Harbour. They highlight the portabello mushroom in the menu description, and make it the star of the dish. But then the dish comes, and you have this bounty of fresh seafood surrounding the single mushroom cap, and some nice little potato pancakes, and suddenly you're thinking "Wow, look at all the seafood!" It's quite a nice dish, and you can't beat the view on a sunny day, but be warned that the service was just so-so when I went on a weekend afternoon a few months ago. The hostess initially tried to stick me at the bar because I was alone, even though there were tables, and I had a hard time flagging down a server to even take my order, and managed to only flag down the other server two times when I needed one, rather than the one assigned to my table. Good service at the fine dining level usually means not having to "flag" someone down at all, and at the most, it should just take a bit of eye contact.
Expectations are also set by what you receive at other surrounding restaurants. I wasn't even consciously aware that I was getting used to a certain amount of underlying snobbiness in fine dining service until I walked into Senova for the first time, and was pleasantly and warmly greeted by the host, given my pick of tables, and checked on throughout the meal by the server and the host. That meal was a success because they exceeded my low expectations based on my recent experiences at other restaurants. I ate out constantly in Spain, Italy and France on my trip for a couple of weeks, and never ran into the service problems that I've had here...not even in the simplest places there, and they don't even work for tips there, plus they had to deal with a tourist that didn't even speak their mother tongue. I really think we could do better here.
I am aware that I am a person prone to having high expectations in a lot of areas of my life. Right now, I'm realizing that sometimes it's nice to have slightly lower expectations, and to just be mellow and enjoy things for what they are. But around the corner, there's usually a pleasant surprise waiting. Here's to getting your expectations exceeded.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Perfect Birthday Dinner at Le Crocodile


Although I've meant to go to Le Crocodile (100-909 Burrard St., on Smythe, downtown Vancouver, 604-669-4298) in the past, a shared birthday dinner in October was my first time at this established Vancouver restaurant. They've been there, tucked away just off Burrard street, for over 20 years, and let me tell you, the experience shows. In my mind, the service was absolutely perfect, and the food was a delight. The charming French waiter looked like he had been at the restaurant for much of that time. I was pleasantly surprised by how many choices there were on the menu, as well as several specials. I have to admit, my expectations were high, and I think they were actually exceeded. Below are pictures of some of the dishes we had. I don't have pictures of the appetizers that Bac'n Girl and I had. The escargot in tiny pastry cups dish that I ordered was probably the only thing I wouldn't recommend of the dishes we had that evening. I was impressed by how crisp the pastry shells stayed but the dish just involved too much butter for me (yah, I didn't know that was even possible for me). I think Bac'n Girl had the wild mushroom ravioli which was really delicious. And we shared a beautiful pan-fried goat cheese on curly endive salad. That was great too, and much larger than I expected.

This was Bac'n Girl's main dish of Chilean Sea Bass, which was one of the specials of the day. I didn't order this because I think this species is still being overfished, but damn, is it ever a tasty fish. Those piles are potato purée, and she got a cute little pastry fish garnish. I can't remember the sauce right now, but do remembered we both enjoyed it.

Pommes frites came with dinner, yay! And they were really crispy and perfect.

This was the main dish that I chose, off the specials of the day. It was a beautiful piece of halibut served with a lemon butter sauce. The dish also had lobster tempura and noodles. It was delicious.

We were given complimentary servings of their fantastic pear sorbet. Best I've ever had, with its deep pear flavour and texture. It was a sizeable scoop too, not just a little palate cleansing mouthful. Bac'n girl impressed me with her ability to "Name That Pear!" and identified it as a Bosc pear sorbet. Yum.

Then came the desserts.

This is Bac'n Girl's pear tart, which was delicious.

I was very happy with my choice though - a Grand Marnier soufflé, which the server gracefully served in the traditional manner of poking a hole into the top and pouring in the yummy crème Anglaise. Soufflés are one of those things that are absolutely worth the wait. Though to be honest, I don't remember this taking longer than other desserts (but then again, we were engrossed in the pear sorbets). I have had soufflés before, but the texture of this one really knocked my socks off. I loved the crispness of the outside of the poof. This is the way it should be done. Dessert was finished off with their adorable little light and dark crocodile chocolates. Yup, we polished those off too.

The room was warm and cosy feeling, with its golden walls, traditional decor, and the animated chatter of all the happy people around us, filling the room on a Wednesday night. This was definitely not a stuffy atmosphere. As much as I love modern decor, sometimes they can veer towards the austere. This was a lovely change. There is a nice little bar where I had a drink while I was waiting for my dinner companion. Again, service could not be better. Our waiter graciously made us feel comfortable to linger and talk after desserts, and saw us out the door, like a host saying goodbye to dinner guests at home. I left the restaurant kicking myself that I hadn't walked through those doors sooner. This is partly because I couldn't afford it in the past. But if you can, it's a fantastic place to treat yourself and your friends.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kitchen Nightmares



I was watching Kitchen Nightmares last night and I had the realization that the appeal of the show is exactly the same as the appeal of the classic show, The Littlest Hobo. Chef Ramsay is the grumpy, foul-mouthed chef version of that beloved German shepherd hero of Canadian television. Think about it. Ramsay wanders from town to town, he stops in and finds a restaurant in trouble, hangs around, barks a lot, solves their problems, and then happily trots off to the next restaurant in need once his work is done. In the episode I saw last night with Ramsay helping a restaurant in a small town called Paloma, they even did the classic shot of the hero wandering off into the distance at the end of the show (after everyone's teary-eyed thanks), and I got the exact same gooey, happy feeling at the end of the show that I used to get watching the ridiculously hokey, yet effective Littlest Hobo.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Top 20 in Vancouver

A co-worker mentioned Mia Stainsby's recent top 20 restaurants in Vancouver article and it's a lovely piece. She is one of those food writers that are very easy to agree with, which is not really all that common. Anyhow, I thought I would take a stab at a top 20 favourite restaurants in Vancouver. These would be the ones that I'd mention to a fellow foodie who is just about to visit Vancouver for the first time, has a big wad of cash, and really wants to explore the food here. I had great restaurant recommendations for Barcelona when I went, and I'd love to do the same for anyone visiting. Out-of-towner recommendations tend to be a bit on the safer side. You know they only have a limited amount of time, so you tend to recommend sure-fire hits, and leave the riskier ones to the locals. They tend to focus on things that are particular to city as well. In Vancouver's case, I would say that Cantonese dinner, dim sum, sushi, Japanese izakaya and West Coast seafood is where it's at. Also, like any restaurant list, the shelf life is very, very short. It's also just about what makes me tick these days. So for right this minute, here is my Must Eat Vancouver list. I've talked about many of these before, so there are only a few notes.

1. Amarcord

2. Bin 941 or 942 Be prepared for the tight squeeze and the wait for a table though. It's not for everyone.

3. Bishop's

4. C

5. Fleuri, at the Sutton Place. The chocolate buffet is a great idea. They also do a Sunday Jazz Buffet, but I've never been. Dinner is very nice too.

6. Gastropod

7. Guu with Garlic

8. International Chinese Restaurant for Dim Sum, or someplace in Richmond if you staying closer to there. Dim sum and sushi are definitely eating musts for Vancouver, and there are plenty of choices for each.

9. La Crepe Bretagne. I go for a quick breakfast/lunch all the time. Great crepes, and I love their soups and sandwiches too, but it's a great casual stop to have a flaming dessert too, after a hard bout of shopping

10. Le Crocodile. This classic French restaurant has a really large and appealing menu. It's surprisingly cosy for a "fancy restaurant" and they've been doing it so long, they know how to treat you right. By that, I mean that I received what I feel to be perfect service. I just went last week for the first time, andf feel like I've been missing out all these years. It was a perfect birthday dinner spot.

11. Le Gavroche. Please note that I have not been there in years. But I can't imagine it being different.

12. Lumiere. I must admit that I haven't been there in years, since it's heyday, but it's probably still worth the trip. It's really the only restaurant that still does exclusively tasting menus (at its tables, there is the tasting bar too), and I love tasting menus. It's like dinner and the theatre all in one.

12. Mistral. If the visitors are getting too much French food, then how about Memphis Blues (but only if they are not from the American South and can get barbecue anytime they want).

13. Nu's patio (if it's summer) - I thought this place had lost its spark, but had a really nice meal there this summer.

14. Parkside

15. Phnom Penh is a great, very "accessible" stop if you need a lunch in Chinatown after wandering around that area.

16. Senhor Rooster is a homey favourite of mine. Warmth and good value. It's not fine dining like much of the rest of the list, so it's not about expecting perfection or getting a mind-blowing culinary experience. It's more that I am confidant that people will have a good time and get well fed when they go there, and that's what it's all about for me.

17. Sweet Revenge (desserts only, but an adorable stop, which gives you a bit of that Main St. neighbourhood feel).

18. Tojo's (for the more budget minded, try Sakae in the downtown core instead)

19. Yuji's Japanese Tapas

20. Here's a tie for an afternoon tea pick: The Fish House if you're in Stanley Park or Secret Garden Tea Company if you can get up to Kerrisdale.

There are a handful of restaurants that I want to put on for some reasons, but just don't deliver the consistancy that makes it an all out recommendation without hesitation.

For example, I wish I could put Aurora Bistro on the list, as their whole concept is about showcasing local products, and they have a passion for BC wine, and I've been several times and had some really nice things to eat there. But I wouldn't want an out-of-towner to get my recommendation and get a cold server, and possibly a mediocre dish. Their experience on the whole will most likely be positive, but there is that bit of uncertainty. I think C can represent the local bounty with more assurance.


Raincity Grill is another great restaurant to represent that West Coast cuisine. It's good. Certainly one of the best in it's vicinity. It sits in a nice little spot in English Bay, which is a pretty convenient stop if you're site-seeing. I think sometimes that I'd rather go to Banana Leaf across the street. I find that more interesting, I guess. Staff are exceptionally warm though at Raincity, and I've only had great service there. And the tomato menu during tomato season is very special too.


West is conspicuously missing from the list, and that is somewhat a personal preference as well. I don't feel the staff are warm enough, which makes the food less fun to eat. Who wants to pay hundreds of dollars to interact with someone cold for a couple of hours? The last time I went, the warmest person that approached our table was one of the kitchen staff who ran a dish out to us. She was great. I wanted her to be my server. In the case of West though, I have a great deal of trust in their ability to deliver outstandingly well-prepared food though. And if wine is your main focus, perhaps it will appeal to you more. But it's not a place I get excited about or has a menu that particularly excites me. It'll be interesting to see how the new Hawksworth restaurant turns out when it opens in the renovated Georgia Hotel, and equally interesting to see how West changes with the head chef's move.


There are restaurants that I just can't put on because I don't know them well enough, or haven't been reacquainted with them lately, too. Then again, Le Crocodile won me over entirely right away, and I put it on the list, despite having only been there once. It was a recent visit though, so I am quite confident in them. Rare would be on my list, but I just haven't had a chance to go back. It was really spectacular the one time, but the Chef de Cuisine left, and the owners have opened up a new restaurant Metro (not my cup of tea when I visited in their first few months), so I'd really like to visit again to be sure.


Elixir might have made it onto my list, but I got horribly sick after my one visit, and felt that the manager dropped the ball in my communications with him afterwards. I might go to that restaurant again some day though as the actual meal was quite good.


Horizons, The Pear Tree, and The Cannery are all beautiful restaurants but are just a bit far, and I haven't had a chance to go recently. Diva at the Met was one of my favourites before, but have not had a recent visit. I enjoyed Vij's a couple of times long ago, but I just don't line up for restaurants, so it's not on my list.


There are several restaurants that I suspect might make my list, but I have not had a chance to try. Here's a few that I'd like to hit soon: Restaurant Connor Butler, Fuel, So.cial, Boneta, La Regalade (have had the chef prepare a meal in front of me as a cooking class, and that was fabulous), Blue Water, Cioppino's, Bacchus, Senova, and The Beachhouse at Dundarave Pier. Having recently fallen in love with Spanish cuisine on my trip to Europe, I am most excited about trying the tucked away Senova on 57th Ave.


Other fun foodie stops for the out-of-towner:

Capstone Teahouse for bubble tea (or someplace similar, because bubble tea is just fun, especially the first time).

Granville Island for picnic-y type grazing (typical trip - croissant from La Baguette et l'echalote and bread to go with charcuterie, coffee from JJ Bean, charcuterie, pates, and cheeses from Oyama Sausage Co., fresh fruit from various stands, maybe sake from the new sake store/brewery, maybe a tasting tour of the Granville Island brewery, and a stop at Barbara Jo's Books for Cooks)

Korean restaurants like Ap Kung Jung. I didn't put it in my top 20 because frankly, I don't know Korean restaurants well enough. Does anyone have a pick that is definitely going to impress, and not have service issues? They are all very similar to me, and can have good and bad days. But it's a great choice for a meal if someone is unfamiliar with the cuisine. And then there's always Korean barbecue at a place with a grill embedded right into the table, which is great fun and is tasty.

Lift for a drink at the bar at night.

Richmond Night Market (if it's a summertime weekend)

Salt for some nice wine and snacks and Shebeen Whisky House/Irish Heather for some whisky and atmosphere (new location across the street coming soon, while the original goes through seismic upgrades).

Sun Sui Wah or another Cantanese restaurant for dinner. Sun Sui Wah does belongs in the top 20, and is a great restaurant and my hesitation to include it comes from a desire to not overhype the one restaurant. There are just too many good Chinese restaurants and this one seems to garner all the English-speaking media attention. They do a particularly nice job with the service though, and the room is very attractive with its Bing Thom architectural details. Golden Ocean in Kerrisdale has great food too. And there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Richmond too. Victoria Restaurant in Royal Centre connected to the Burrard skytrain station is great as well, or at least seemed so when I was there for a wedding reception. It's a handy location too. Shanghai dumplings can be found in many places, but a very accessible choice is the modern Dinesty (yes, that's how they like to spell it) on No. 3 Road in Richmond. And if you're in Richmond, you might as well find a Chinese noodle house and have some Won Ton and chunks of roast pork with that wonderful crunchy skin, barbecued duck, and barbecued pork (cha sui).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Restaurants List

The current issue of Cityfood has put together a great resource for any Vancouver foodie: a nice list of the new restaurants of the last nine months - can you believe 99!? - as well as upcoming new restaurants that will open soon. It looks like they are still tweaking the electronic version to incorporate all updates, but I really like how you can sort the list by category, location, opening date or alphabet on the website. In skimming through the list, my thought was "wow, I must really eat out a lot". I've hit many of these restaurants, many of them quite randomly, with no pre-meditated thought. They're mostly drive-by decisions. With this list, now I can plan my attack in a more systematic way. I've had a few of the new restaurants on my list for a while now. I've also had some old-timers on my list for a very long while now, one of which I am finally hitting tomorrow - Le Crocodile! And then my birthday choices yesterday for lunch and dinner with my brother and my parents respectively? Nothing new and exciting at all - little non-descript dim sum place and a White Spot. Totally satisfying. See, I'm not always a fine dining diva! Happy eating, everyone!

Rekados on Main St.

There seems to have been quite an internet war raging over this young, little Filipino restaurant, but that doesn't interest me. I went; I don't know Filipino food; and I liked it quite a bit. I'd happily go back to Rekados Grill (4063 Main Street, between 24th Ave and King Edward Ave, 604-873-3133). This restaurant is going for a more refined experience, with it's modern decor, pretty bathroom, and more modern plating. From what I've read, the handful of other Filipino restaurants around town offer a more casual, hole-in-the-wall experience geared towards Filipino customers, while Rekados is totally accessible to the uninitiated (with all dishes well explained in the menus). I just visited Rekados the one time and it was great fun to experience a cuisine that is totally new to me (even if it is tweaked for Western palates) and I found the place cosy and friendly. Portions were generous, and quite well-priced in my opinion. The menu explains that Filipino cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, Chinese and Malay cuisine. I needed warming up that day, and had a pot of their honey orange tea. I also had a great big clay pot of a vegetable soup with a sour, spicy broth and hearty chunks of eggplant, bok choy and other veggies. It was well under $10 and would serve two generously. I followed that up with a nice grilled fish dish (tanigue, or kingfish) with a chunky fresh salsa-like topping piled high over it, which was about $10, I think. This really felt like good value. I personally like my fish a little underdone (and the time I went it was very thoroughly cooked), but it was still a tasty dish with the salsa. I ordered some rice too. I don't remember the Filipino names for the dishes unfortunately, but the menu is filled with all sorts of small plate choices, stirfried noodles, grilled meats and seafoods, simmered coconut dishes and hotpots, as well as desserts. I think I remember a martini or cocktail list too. They also serve lunch from Tuesday to Friday. The service was fairly attentive, but probably a bit on the slow side. This really didn't bother me at the time though, as I was happy to unwind in the relaxed warmth of the restaurant that day, and prefer that sometimes to being rushed out of a place (they even offered me another pot of tea with the bill). I was in the mood for an ungreasy, light meal that day and was able to get that quite easily with the light veggie soup and the grilled fish, but I think I would like to try the heavier stewed and fried dishes next time. I really like that sort of variety in the menu. Come with an open mind and compare this restaurant only with other restaurants in the same price range. It can be a really nice comfy-casual spot to fill you up and try something new. My visit was a few months ago. Let me know about your experience if you have visited.

Hotpots come out simmering over a flame at the table.

Nice Orange Honey Tea

Grilled Tanigue (Kingfish)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Iron Chef Junkie

I just got sucked into signing up for cable because of a promotion, and I've become an Iron Chef America junkie...only because that seems to be the only thing that the food network airs...but I'm loving it. I want to dine with Alton Brown - he is my food geek hero (or drizzle his body with the truffled olive oil I bought in Nice...one or the other). I want to sit front row in kitchen stadium. I want to be a judge. I have the urges, simultaenously, to both slap Bobby Flay for barking at his assistants and to savour the food he's arrogantly preparing. And most of all, I want to see the challengers beat the iron chefs. I clearly need a twelve-step program...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Awwww! Another One Bites the Dust!

Japone's Monthly Special in July




Okay, just a quick whine about another one of my fav restaurants disappearing (yup, I still haven't gotten over Lucky Diner): Japone on Oak St. at 67th was a fairly regular stop for me and now it's gone! A quiet and comfy restaurant with surprisingly special food in a little unassuming mini-mall island surrounded by a sea of South Vancouver residential neighbourhood. I went there for creative, flavourful and beautiful Japanese food that was clearly a cut above your average sushi joint. I kept meaning to "spill the edamame" on their new "monthly special" - $15 got you two generous slices of miso black cod (otherwise known as that buttery goodness called "sablefish"), a generous basket of the lightest crispy tempura ever (don't mind the photo...sometimes I get too excited and eat most of something before remembering to take the picture), fantastic tuna sashimi, rice, miso soup, and a really spectacular chawan mushi - silky smooth savoury egg custard with big chunks of seafood and chicken embedded inside. And it wasn't once a month...it was the special for the entire month! All of it was served on beautiful pottery, and the service got quite good at the end. Anyhow, it's been replaced with a more typical Japanese restaurant called Applause. Good quality sushi, friendly sushi chef/co-owner, but for goodness sakes, couldn't they have stolen the secret to Japone's tempura before chef/owner Hiroshi Kudo left? And did he take his charcoal grill with him? Even the unagi was carefully grilled by the chef, imparting that wonderful smoky charcoal flavour to it, back in the day of Japone. Now, mind you, Applause actually does what it does quite well, and of course the price point is quite a bit lower than the former restaurant, but Japone was a tough act to follow (especially after they started doing the monthly special and their weekly specials). I had quite a nice chirashi don there the other day, with a great scallop, really nice, deep red salmon, and a pleasant touch of minced ginger and green onion on the saba. The room has not been changed at all except for the sign on the outside and the addition of some lights, so the place still has the comfy cushion lined window seat-like corner in the front, and the lovely fabric dividers that give a sense of privacy and intimacy to the other tables. At least Japone wasn't replaced with something crappy. I can only hope that it turns up again somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Weird Food Combinations That Shouldn't Work, But Do!


I work with a bunch of similarly food obsessed people (I knew there was a reason I liked this office...) and we have a nice big round lunch table that we gather around and we are lucky enough to also have a full kitchen. So you can imagine, the treats abound, and one of the office vices is to have communal bags of chips in the centre of the table. Anyhow, one day sitting around the lunch table, one woman says some words of genius: "you know what they should come out with? Chocolate-covered chips." And I totally agree. Well. Guess what. We had some chocolate - and actually some pretty darn good quality stuff in disk form, leftover from s'more-making (like I said, I love this office). I headed straight to the microwave with a handful in a bowl. And we only had two choices with the chips. No plain chips, like we would have naturally gravitated towards though...just chili garlic and curry flavoured. We discussed briefly, and decided the chili and chocolate combination would work best because it would be like the classic Mexican chocolate flavours. The garlic part, we were less sure about. Wouldn't you know it, the whole combination was absolutely magical! The flavours came at you in layers - first the chocolate, then the garlic, and then chili heat came last. The experience was downright Willy-wonka-ish! One by one around the table, even the more apprehensive of the lot were won over by this concoction. If you get a chance, please try it! Of course, feel free to tell us we're a bunch of weirdos if you try it and find you don't like it. Maybe I shouldn't have blogged it publicly, and gone into the chocolate-covered chip business instead... Do you have any weird food combinations (that work well) to share? Incidentally, I gave the curry chip/chocolate combo a try just to make sure, and our instincts were right on that one!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Jules Bistro

I walked by this place a couple of times shortly after it opened in Gastown, and it was packed with the fashionable. Basically, it looked like one of those restaurants that the trendy "oh, there's a new restaurant!" crowd descends upon initially, and then moves on its way, like a ravaging hoard of well-dressed army ants eating up everything in its path. Same reaction I got when I happened to pass by Italian Kitchen during its VIP grand opening...ick. So I waited a bit for Jules (216 Abbott Street, just off Water St. and Trounce Alley, Gastown: 604-669-0033), but heard good things in the meantime - a bargain prix fixe, and general good value. Well, they were right. I tried this place out in August, on a relatively quiet night, with Potato Salad Boy, and we had lovely, down-to-earth service, genuinely tasty food, and were pleased with the value. They do indeed have a cheap prix fixe of steak frites ($21 for the salad starter, steak frites and a chocolate terrine dessert, that time), which is what I was in the mood for all week, but wound up opting for another steak dish they had because I'm not really a fan of thick, rich chocolate desserts (chocolate terrines, paté's, flourless cakes)...plus the sides on the dish I wound up getting sounded great. Filet de boeuf Poele a la Crème aux Morilles - beef tenderloin with a morel cream sauce, ratatouille and scallop potatoes ($22). It was yummy. Potato Salad Boy was very happy with his Filet de Thon mi-cuit a la Provencale - slow cooked rare ahi tuna "Provencale", eggplant caviar and roasted vine tomatoes ($17). Potato Salad Boy was also very pleased with his rice pudding and rhubarb compote dessert ($6) and I enjoyed my melty centred chocolate fondant ($6) but must admit the steamed mushy texture of the cake itself was not really to my liking, and prefer a slightly drier cakey texture. I wasn't able to figure out if this was how it always was or something went a little wrong, so I'd be willing to give it another go at some point. If we had been hungrier, there are a number of starters that sound good too. I'm sure I'll be back. They're closed Sunday and Mondays, but open for lunch and dinner Tues - Sat.

Beef tenderloin with a Morel Cream Sauce, Ratatouille and Scallop Potatoes

Slow Cooked Rare Ahi Tuna "Provencale", Eggplant Caviar and Roasted Vine Tomatoes



Rice Pudding and Rhubarb Compote


Melting Chocolate Cake, Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm Ba-ack!

Just a quick note to say that I've returned from Europe, and that I'm sorry for turning Nancyland into a ghost town this last while. I'm ready to eat and blog again, so thanks to any of you who are still hanging around! Well, it's not like I've ever stopped eating... And if you thought that Vancouver was a great foodie town, you all need to go to Barcelona, Spain and the surrounding area! It blew my mind. I will going off the topic of Vancouver food for bit and I'll be posting a few highlights from Spain in the future just because the food was so wonderful.

I was literally in tears (of joy) waiting at the train station in Girona for a ride back to Barcelona because of the surprise tasting meal that I had in El Celler de Can Roca, a highly acclaimed restaurant (11th on the Restaurant magazine's 50 Best Restaurants in the World list ain't too shabby, eh?) in a smaller city a couple of hours from Barcelona, run by three brothers, right next to their parent's traditional Catalan restaurant (which unfortunately, I did not have time to try). These brothers are third generation restaurant people; dividing the roles of cuisine, wine, and dessert among them, and together they produce a very exceptional experience. It was certainly one of the best meals I've ever had, and the best service I've ever encountered. This grand nine course (plus "snacks" and petit fours) lunch capped off a mind blowing five days worth of exploring Barcelona on my own, before meeting up with my family for the rest of the vacation, so of course, as always context has so much to do with making a meal a special experience. The tears at the train station were about the amazing meal, including experiencing the warmth and exceptional craftsmanship of all of the staff there, but also about how the travelling had touched me, and the melancholy of having the trip end. I soaked up every bit of Barcelona I could in the week that I was there, and I want more. Eating out is a huge part of the culture there. And I've read that for Catalans, it is more usual to meet up with friends out at a restaurant than to invite them to their homes, unless they know each other very well. Barcelona was the only city outside of France to be named the Gourmande city of Europe by Michelin. Design and architecture are also huge parts of the psyche of the city. And the people are generally very friendly. This all makes for a really fun restaurant town - the decor, atmosphere, food presentation, food taste, food innovation or alternatively respect for tradition, wine, service and attitude of the restaurants all come together in a package. My dream job right now would be to start up a gastronomic tour company in Barcelona. That's it, I'm taking more Spanish classes. Who wants to go to Barcelona with me? We'll go to one of the best markets in the world, and we'll dine at a restaurant where you can get a six course menu of dessert dishes, and I'll show you this great little tapas restaurant I know...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Little Food Porn to Tie You Over

Wow, that post title came out naughtier than I was expecting. Anyhow, just wanted to write a note to say that I have LOTS of good eating to report, and posts are in the works (including positive experiences at Mistral, Gastropod, and Jules Bistro. Also, I'll report on positive return visits to some older places: Kedah House and Nu). In the mean time, join me in my Spanish food fantasies, as I prepare for my Europe trip. Here is a beautiful little slide show from Restaurant Cinc Sentits, in Barcelona, Spain.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Travels in the Land of Giants

Hey, everyone's had mini-marshmallows at some time or another, but most people do not realize their enormous potential. Mini-marshmallows are actually just the tasty seeds used to grow larger marshmallows. For us humans, we like to harvest most marshmallows at their nice handy 1.5" long size (also known as "baby marshmallows"). But venture out into the land of giants around this time of year, and you will see the spectacular harvesting of giant marshmallows from the fields in which they grow. I caught one of the giants' little minions operating the specialized harvesting equipment, collecting the precious confections at their peak. Oh, imagine the s'mores you could make with these babies!

"Now THERE'S a marshmallow!"


A field full of marshmallows ready for harvest time.


The marshmallow farmer carefully moving the freshly picked marshmallow.


Loading up the truck, very gently. Note that some of the vines are still attached.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Speed Blogging

It's summertime, it's hot, and who wants to be in front of their computer all day? So here are some quick 30 second impressions from a slew of restaurants that I've visited in the past, but haven't fully blogged. Whether any or all of these are a match to your own tastes is up to you.

Lolita's South of the Border Cantina (1326 Davie St., 604-696-9996). Delicious, genuinely tasty and interesting food, with very long waits for said food. Hugely busy, cramped, and popular with the cool kids, which makes the wait often just not worth the trouble unless you catch it at a less busy time. Great big glasses of Sangria will help with the waiting. Pricey for Mexican food, but fair for the quality of food. Go there when you have very good company, a lot of time to kill, and when you're not starving.

The Secret Garden Tea Company (5559 West Boulevard, just North of 41st, 604-261-3070). Home of my favourite tea - Creamy Earl Grey. Wonderful little treats for high tea, in a setting perfect for when you have a hankering to feel girly. Demi High Tea (12.95) is also available. I always leave this place happy.

Tacos Mexico Rico (309 West Pender, at Hamilton St., 604-688-7426). Cheap, tasty, and what I can only guess to be authentic Mexican fare in a friendly little quiet hole in the wall.

Kingyo (871 Denman St., near Robson, 604-608-1677). Great izakaya food that will appeal to the foodies who enjoy things like detecting the differences between the three kinds of salt served with their chicken karaage. Take their fresh fish of the day recommendations. I had the best Tai (snapper) that I've ever had there when I visited, but this is the kind of thing that varies constantly. Service is eager, yet sadly inexperienced, and when I went, almost a bit overbearingly attentive, but again, that's something that can vary considerably too. Stunning presentation on some sashimi served in a half-pipe of bamboo and decorated with Japanese Maple leaves. Worth a try, but expect to spend money on it.

Hamilton Street Grill (Yaletown). My second visit there, and my second experience where I had another lovely dinner foodwise, but had some service issues. Can't tell if it's because they're doing the "I'm only putting effort into the service when the customers look like they're going to spend big" or if they are just a bit disorganized in assigning tables to servers. At any rate, it's a good restaurant, with a nice owner/chef, but could do with some front of the house tweaking.

Danny's Wun Tun Restaurant (11666 Steveston Hwy #3050, Richmond, 604-277-3317). If you ever find yourself hungry while at the Ironwood Plaza Shopping Centre in Richmond, this is a nice little wun tun house. The real reason they are noteworthy is because the owners are just totally charming hosts, making this place popular with the Asian and non-Asian crowd.

Milestones, White Rock (3085 152nd St. in the South Point Exchange Shopping Centre of Highway 99). Just a note of caution that not all Milestones are created equal, despite their efforts to standardize. The kitchen at this one just does not seem up to snuff. Recipes must be fairly strict, but I have had over-vinegared, and over-salted food there that is barely edible. I've had mushy vegetables. I've had their spinach dip served in a bowl with tonnes of crusted over spinach dip clinging to the outside of their bowl that makes you wonder if it was from the contents or from another day. I've had a dirty mug brought to the table for my tea. Yes, I'm sure you're about to berrade me for going there in the first place, but it's really the only sit-down restaurant (aside from the new Cactus Club around the corner) in that shopping area, and it just happens to be a convenient stopping point on one of my routes. I have stopped going there. I have not given up all Milestones though. I go to the one on Robson St. sometimes.

Orchid Delight Restaurant (2445 Burrard St., north of Broadway, 604-831-0221). Nice, attractive Malaysian restaurant that shows Vancouver that you don't have to dine in a dive to have good Malaysian food. Solid renditions of tofu goreng ($6), spicy sambal kang kong ($11, it's a green veggie), and roti prata ($4.95) were presented. Good service. Only glitch that night was that I got the spicy sambal, even though I ordered mild, and thought throughout the meal that the spicy must REALLY be killer, if I was having trouble with the mild. Found out from the bill that it was just a mix-up. I was fine though.

So, tally up. Would you like to have dinner with any of these? At the risk of sounding terribly bitter, it seems as if there is almost always some sort of trade-off; do you want beauty, brains, authenticity, "sex appeal," attentiveness, boldness, adventure, and a good heart all in one (restaurant) package, or are you willing to settle for some combination of these? For me, I seek different combinations for different moods, but secretly, I am always questing after the whole package.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Do Chefs Have Groupies?

Okay, just when I start really latching on to Zin (on Robson, near Bute), Chef Chris Whittaker decides to move across the street to O'Doul's at the Listel Hotel. On one hand, I'm thinking, will I still be able to get beautifully executed food at Zin, like the special of the night I had a couple of weeks ago - sablefish, big California scallop, and arctic char, served with a beurre blanc sauce, new potatoes, greens, and so many wonderful oyster mushrooms ($26). Absolutely delicious, and of course perfect service to match. On the other hand, I'm thinking O'Doul's would be such a nice spot if the food, menu and drinks were up to snuff. I had one terribly mediocre experience with pricey, unsatisfying food and somewhat odd service at the bar from the bartender (a menu item promised a trio of appetizers paired with a flight of wine, and the bartender just seemed unwilling make pairings, and made no effort to consult anyone else on the pairings either, and in fact seemed rather against the idea of pairing food and wine in general) one night at O'Doul's long ago, and I haven't been back. There is live jazz there, which could be a lot of fun. I'll check it out once the chef gets settled in.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Our Curry is PROBABLY the Best in the World


Right on! I hate those "Best Whatever in the World" signs, but this I can live with. I thought this sign was a hoot when I passed it, then I realized it was a new express version of the restaurant I was just about to post about anyway. I'm enjoying some leftover curry from Mui Garden, North Road location (4327 North Road, just South of Lougheed Highway, 604-421-8838), as I work on this post. This was my parents' pick for some recent casual family dinners. The best thing about these dinners was not their specialty - free range Hai Nam chicken, but these fantastic live prawns (kept alive in the tanks until just before cooking), deep fried and then tossed in soy sauce.


I must admit I really enjoyed their curry. When I first tasted it, my thought was "wow, this must be really bad for you in some way, because it is damn tasty!" I think it's pretty rich in coconut milk, which is quite fatty. We were having the curry beef brisket, which is a pretty fatty cut of beef too. And to top it off, we were having it with the "Hai Nam style rice" which is cooked in a lot of chicken fat rich stock, so it has an oily sheen and a wonderfully fatty taste. But it's not something to make a regular part of your diet, I suppose. We had their fresh oysters, cooked on the half shell too, at the North Road location, which were quite nice too, and I've had the satays at the Victoria Drive location, and they were good. If you go for the Hai Nam style chicken (steamed with the skin and bones on, cut into chunks), take note that the restaurant uses both free range and non-free range chicken, so be sure to request the free range. If you are used to non-free range chicken, this will be leaner. It's not really my favourite dish, but my parents seem to like it. The decor is very simple and casual. Go for the food, not the ambiance. Or get some take out on Robson, and head to the beach. They all take cash only. There are four restaurants total (Victoria Drive, Main Street, North Road in Burnaby, and Minoru Blvd. in Richmond) plus the new little one at the Robson Public Market (1610 Robson at Cardero, 604-683-7983).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Nancylander Meet and Greet - Ratatouille

"I can't help myself...I like good food, okay?"
- Remy, the Rat in Ratatouille

Is anyone else excited about this movie? What could be better than a Pixar animated story about a rat who has a dream to be a chef at the best restaurant in Paris, but must figure out a way to overcome the considerable challenge of being a rat in a restaurant kitchen. I want to see this movie on the first night that it is in the theatres, and I figure it might be a fun way to meet some Nancylanders. I will be trying to go to "7 something" show at Tinseltown Cinemark on Friday, June 29th. My search on the internet indicates there should be a 7:10 pm show that night. I'll try to get into the theatre by 6:55. If you would like to say hi, meet inside, seated in the theatre. I will wear or carry my blue plaid fedora hat to make myself easily recognized. Afterwards, if there is interest, we can walk to Salt for a glass of wine and nibbles. I'll try my best to post any changes to this plan on here. If you don't wind up finding me, at least you'll still see what should be a great movie. If you want me to look out for you, just type a comment here. I will try and linger near the front of the theatre right after the movie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Top Five Secret Patios (not Five Top Secret Patios)

Okay, to be honest, none of these are that much of a secret. Generally, keeping your restaurant a secret isn't really good for business anyhow. But for the most part, these do have a nice out-of- the-way feel to them, which is what I'm typically in the mood for these days. The cool kids can hang out at their hot spots and try very hard to look cool. I just want to lurk in the corner, and chill.

1. La Bretagne. (795 Jervis, off Robson. 604-688-5989). Yes, I've spoken about my favourite little neighbourhood crepe place before, but they just got new patio furniture in time for summer and their little patch of outdoors is looking even more inviting as a result. I've been there countless times and I enjoy their food everytime I go. I do enjoy the atmosphere a bit more when it's quiet than when they are in the midst of their weekend brunch rush. They have kir royale on their menu, and a nice slightly alcoholic apple cider, and their menu is surprisingly versatile for a little crepe shop - you really can have a very light meal perfect for summer or get pleasantly filled up with a nice, rich choice. You can have a very light crepe or have one of their very pleasant little salads (I like the one with the goat cheese toasts and tomatoes). Or you might be in the mood for french onion soup and a cheese covered baked crepe stuffed with seafood in wine sauce, and a flambeed dessert special crepe at the end. The bonus? They have great coffee, and they're great at keeping it flowing.


2. Zin (1277 Robson Street, between Bute and Jervis, 604-408-1700). I admit it, I've generally dismissed this restaurant in the past, thinking it all beauty with no substance, at least on the food front. That was due to a pleasant but bland visit back in 2001 when they first opened, and maybe the appearance of their goat cheese fondue at some event or other, which was pleasant enough but not a food epiphany to me like the servers seemed to imply with their praise for the dish. Things have changed apparently. Chef Chris Whittaker has been at the helm since 2003, and it appears he is the man to thank for the interesting globally inspired (yet not fusion) food, dessert, and cocktail menus, as well as the restaurants support of Friends for Life and A Loving Spoonful, and their use of sustainable products.

Since my original visit, I have at least fallen in love with the lounge and have many a time in the last year wished the lounge half didn't close down so early (it's been a while, but I've seen the place close the bar a couple of times before midnight). The plush red modern decor, cosy velvet couches, big arm chairs, fireplace, and small monitors showing not sports, but the food channel all hit my decorating soft spot. So basically, I've been considering Zin a great place to go for drinks, and nothing more.

But then one recent bright evening, I was looking for a patio in the area. Atmosphere was the priority, and I already knew that I loved their cocktail list, so I went for drinks and small plates. I was attracted by their bright little patio strip with shiny metal furniture right out in the prime people-watching property of Robson Street. Service was exceptional, as is often the case with hotel restaurants. But what surprised me was the food that I had. I was in the mood for a big bowl of mussels, but I also chose it because I know it's difficult to mess up. In retrospect, I don't think I needed to worry, but I was very happy with the choice anyway. Their mussels ($12) were quite tasty with white wine, double smoked bacon, garlic, shallots, tomato concasse, and pommes frites piled on top. At first sight, my thought was that I have had bigger pots of mussels before at other places, but theirs comes with those great fries, so it was pretty filling and a nice size for an appetizer. The server suggested some bread to sop up the juices in the bowl, which I love. However, I noticed a 75 cent charge for "extra bread" on the bill at the end, which I didn't expect as bread is so often complimentary (and also since I didn't really get any bread before dinner anyhow). It didnt' bother me much though, and if I had known about the charge, I would have gone ahead with it anyway. The little slices of brown and white baguettes came out nicely warmed and they were perfect for the mussels. I had a tasty, and beautifully garnished coriander gimlet ($5.95 for 1 oz). To start, I was given a nice little amuse bouche of tiny sablefish and arctic char flakes in a sweet marinade which was a very pleasant touch, and gives me some confidence that their fish main dishes are worth trying on another visit. I didn't have much room left in my tummy, and I thought about trying many of their other small plates. Ultimately, it was the chef-inspired cocktail list that lured me, and I had a drink that was much like a liquid dish. It was a masala caesar ($9) - not for the faint-hearted, the tomato drink was intense with the masala spices, but had a lovely refreshing big cucumber pickle spear sitting in it to balance it all out.

A quick look at the tempting dessert list told me it was time to move on. I had the rhubarb brulee which I enjoyed immensely with my Earl Grey. Spiced shortbread cookies, strawberry "chutney" on top, garnished with the prettiest sprinkling of fresh flower blossoms, and the big test? Yes, the sugar crust was thin and crispy and marvelous. The custard itself was thick, heavy, and rich, with little chunks of rhubarb, and quite luxurious in a way - not a classic light and creamy creme brulee texture, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.




It was during dessert that I finally figured out the subtle taste in their tap water. They put slices of cucumber in their water instead of lemon or lime. It's a nice detail, especially for the summer. It's enough to make me wish I had a yard so that I could throw a barbecue party and have pretty glass pitchers of ice water everywhere with slices of cucumber floating in them. I can definitely see myself heading back to Zin for food whether on the patio or indoors after the summer. But I think I better be careful, because it's an easy place to spend a lot of money on a meal. There are lots of intriguing items on their food menu and their cocktail menu, and it makes me want to make my way through their menu.


3. Shebeen Whisky House (9 Gaoler's Mews, Gastown, 604 915-7338). The ultimate historic Vancouver hidden patio. This bar offers 160 scotches, and is situated in one of Vancouver's oldest spots - across from the private courtyard of a 19th century coach house, Gaoler's Mews. We ate from the Shebeen/Irish Heather menu of hearty gastropub grub, out on a table in the courtyard. When we were a bit chilly, we went back inside the glass enclosed back room. The front of the house is of course, The Irish Heather. Pavlova Boy and I had a pint of prawns, a pot pie, meatloaf, a sherry trifle, and I had a Shanty - a sweet mix of a light coloured beer and lemonade.



4. Ap Kung Jung Korean Bar and Grill (1642 Robson, between Cardero and Bidwell, 604-681-8252). A tiny patio in front of the two level Korean restaurant on the quiet end of Robson Street, just before the bustle of Denman St. I had a pleasant little lunch with Bak'n girl there last year on the patio, including one huge plate of fried chicken legs, done in two styles - dry and drenched with a sweet red chili sauce. From our viewpoint, we could watch people relaxing on the Capers patio, enjoying their healthy, organic snacks while we ripped into the fried chicken. One woman looked particularly interested in us - perhaps she was jealous. We also had a nice plate of the translucent potato starch noodles, and enjoyed their selection of banchan, little condiment/side dishes. These pickled tidbits, along with chilled barley tea (I can't remember if they serve this by default or not, but some Korean places do when it's hot, and others give you ice water right away instead) are just perfect for summer. It's casual, cheap, and often bustling with energy, as are the other Korean restaurants in the immediate area. The patio that afternoon was nice and relaxing though. I can imagine it being a great shady dinner spot to get filled up on a particularly hot evening.


5. Senhor Rooster (850 Renfrew St. a few blocks south of Hastings, 604-434-1010). A secret because the patio vision I'm talking about doesn't even really exist yet. Chef Daniel let me have a peek at his latest project - a giant outdoor barbecue that he's busily welding together. I got excited when he said something like "I could put half a cow in here." It's been a few weeks since I had dinner there, so he may have rolled out the beautiful metal monster from it's underground incubation chamber by now. And on Friday and Saturday nights, you can have dinner and then dance; he's got live music -a jazzy trio with a female singer, and a dance floor. That, plus the taste of charcoal on barbecued meat? You've got yourself a party. Try his cornish game hen. His new source is certified organic, and it's really tasty. Service was excellent the last time I went, and I had a great time.



Friday, June 08, 2007

Cafe Carthage

I stumbled upon Cafe Carthage (1851 Commercial Dr at 2nd Ave, 604-215-0661) on the Drive and had a wonderfully satisfying meal. This is a Tunisian and French restaurant, and just the perfect "little something different" with a restful atmosphere that I was looking for to feed myself after running an errand in the area after a long week at work. A big plate of Couscous Carthage ($18.25), which had lamb sausage, a chicken leg and a lamb shank and autumn vegetables and tomato sauce, was hearty and flavourful. Unfortunately, I only had the patience to take the one blurry photo before setting my camera aside and excitedly digging into the mound of food.

It came with a sauce boat of harissa, the red Tunisian hot sauce made with chilis. I kept trying this sauce to see if I could like it. It was a pleasantly complex chili sauce with a big kick of heat, but I detected a distinct rose flavour, which I've never been fond of. I have looked the sauce up since (try the link) and apparently a well-known expensive version of the sauce does include rose petals. It was certainly fun to be introduced to a new condiment for me though.


In fact, much of the pleasure of this particular meal was in this feeling of being transported to another place. Maybe even another time. This doesn't feel like a typical Commercial Drive hole in the wall. Instead, it's quite an elegant little oasis. Dark wood everywhere, middle eastern tile work, wonderful lamps hanging from the ceiling, white and navy blue tablecloths and napkins, and female servers dressed up all in black, looking particularly proper and demure. In fact, one server's dress with black lace and heels was the perfect outfit to make me feel like I suddenly walked into a period film about French colonial Tunisia, or at least what I might imagine French colonial Tunisia to look like because I really have no knowledge of Tunisian history (maybe it's just what she likes to wear and really has no relation to the restaurant. Anyhow, I liked it). To add to this immersive experience, I had the Moroccan tea, sweetened, with lots of fresh mint and an appropriate small glass to drink from.



Having spotted other people's big dishes, I knew that I wouldn't have room to try an appetizer, but I managed to squeeze in some dessert. Their dessert menu is filled with French classics. I went with the creme brulee. This had a lovely custard, but the burnt sugar topping was too thick for my taste. I prefer just the thinnest little crisp sugar coat. I was certainly tempted by the chocolate ganache cake on the menu, but just didn't feel like something so heavy after my couscous gorge. I also had a Tunisian coffee with dessert, which is very strong and thick (with the grounds settling down to the bottom, like a Turkish coffee), served sweetened, in a metal flask, with an espresso cup and saucer to pour into. I quite liked that. Service was excellent, and the room had an overall relaxed and refined feel to it on this pleasant sunny summer evening. I really enjoyed this restaurant, and part of the charm was that it is so different from other restaurants on the Drive, and the frenetic energy that I associate with the neighbourhood in general. Check out their website, linked above, for a history lesson on Carthage. Check out their restaurant for a stimulating meal in a place where you can slow down and explore it.

Just one last note - I never did get to try the previous incarnation of the restaurant, Zanzibar, the Moroccan cafe. From Adam's list, I see that the owners were different, and the place was a much more casual affair, without credit card and alcohol. Cafe Carthage has both, and is more upscale.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Underrated?

Is there any dish, restaurant, or food-related item that you think is undeservedly flying under the radar? Do you want to put the spotlight on one of your favourites? Did something food-related make you feel like you got your money's worth and then some lately? Do you feel like you're the number one fan of some food? Is there some food item that the people around you just don't get? Tell me your underrated items. This is a much harder list to make than the overrated one, since internet foodies tend to be a very well-networked bunch; hidden treasures just don't stay hidden for long (even when you want them to). This is a difficult list for me too because I usually blab my finds right away in here. I'm not really keeping any secrets from you, dear Nancylanders. Well, there IS one secret I haven't shared - when no one's looking, I really like to eat Chef Boy R Dee Beef Ravioli. There. I said it. Do you still respect me? Oh well. I am what I am. Though I suppose if a can of beef ravioli gave me super-human strength my love of it might be more understandable. I feel like I just admitted I still sleep with a stuffed animal from my childhood. Same sort of thing, really. Anyhow, back to the underrated. Just a few to get started:
  • Thousand Year Old Eggs. One of those love 'em or hate 'em things, I guess. Well, love 'em, hate 'em, or fear 'em...
  • One of my current favourite cocktails actually resides in a mega-chain: the Mister Tea (vodka, Earl Grey tea, passionfruit liqueur, lemonade) at Earls (at least the one of Robson St. upstairs, particularly if you're sipping one while soaking up the sun and people watching from a perch on their patio. But just one problem - the straw is awkwardly too short for the pretty tall glass). Certainly the masses go to Earl's and I've always felt it's a particularly overrated chain in the past (in part due to a particular food reviewer who is a fan), so I don't mean that Earl's is underrated. It's just sort of a novelty for me to be a new-found fan of something on their menu, and for any foodie to be unabashadly touting something from one of the big casual fine dining chains. Well, I love Earl Grey tea. The fact that it's named after a beloved 80's icon doesn't hurt either. I pity the fool that makes fun of this post!
  • Korean food, in general. It took me a while to get it, and I think there's a lot of potential for plenty of other people in the city to get more familiar with it. Maybe Vancouver needs a Korean "Earl's" to make it more accessible to the masses.

Overrated?

Have you had a good rant lately? Here's your chance. Has some particular dish, restaurant, or vaguely food-related item disappointed you lately? Did something make you feel ripped off? Are you tired of hearing about something? Do you find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about after trying some food item that the rest of the world seems to rave about? Let's start an overrated list. I'll go first:

  • Godiva Chocolates ("Did I just pay almost $3 for a mediocre tasting, clumsy chocolate?" Yes, I do mean one chocolate.)
  • The quality of movie theatre popcorn in town (It seems like forever since I've had really good popcorn. I mean, even the stuff we used to make in the grimy little cart at the UBC Film Club was better, and we didn't ask anyone to sell their only child for a bucket of the stuff either)
  • West (No hate mail please. It's just not my cup of tea...)
  • Griffins brunch buffet and dessert buffet at the Vancouver Hotel
  • Rachael Ray
  • Turkey legs at Disney World It's certainly amusing to see everyone walking around gnawing on massive turkey legs, but really it's a bit sickening too.
  • and the master of the overrated: Starbucks. (and before any Starbucks fans write to tell me what I'm missing, do me a favour and go order an espresso drink from the Elysian Room on 5th Ave, off Burrard, then get back to me). And for goodness sakes, stop supporting the evil empire already. As much as world domination plots fascinate me, do you really want to see a Starbucks plopped next to, say, the ancient pyramids of Egypt?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

And The Winner of the Best New Restaurant of the Year is...

Nu! Though the news of this is certainly not new. Here are photos from the EnRoute Air Canada Magazine 2006 award ceremony/press release/cocktail party in that I was invited to way back in November that I have talked about in other posts. Vancouver was well represented by Nu, in first place, and Rare, placed at No. 5. I was a much bigger fan of Rare, personally, but now that patio season has rolled around again, I will probably find myself at Nu again. Though I do hope they have some time to mix things up a little and rework their menu. Their stuff is exciting and fun the first couple of times, but I want to see new (haha, sorry, I just can't stop) things from them. I have not had a chance to re-visit Rare, after their (sous?) chef Quang Dang left. The party was a great time though, and my first media event resulting from this blog, so this was all quite exciting for me. I was once frenetically invited to talk on CBC Radio, but wound up missing out on that opportunity unfortunately. The event organizers for the EnRoute Magazine event, in an attempt to be coy about who won, sent out the invite to the event with the address and yet not the name of the restaurant. Nu had an opportunity to show off their game at this event in the form of neverending cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, including one of their most talked about signature items - a little fried oyster impaled on beer-filled pipet. This is meant to squeeze the cold beer right into the hot little oyster as it goes into your mouth. I'm happy enough with a dry, crispy, salty battered oyster without the beer, myself, but it's certainly fun to try.


Crispy Oyster with Granville Island Lager Injection



Ginger Beer Cocktail - this is a really nice cocktail that I have ordered a few times at Nu. Lots of interesting things happening in it, with the spicy ginger beer and the muddled mint.



Beet Chip with Creme Fraiche



Tuna Tartare



Lobster Bisque. I think I enjoyed this little cup of soup the most out of the bunch of nibblies that came out. These were all labour intensive hors d'oeuvres incidentally. Almost all of them required the serving staff to come back and grab the serving vessel, utensil, or lab equipment it came with. I'm not too sure about this trend. The little cups or chinese spoons do make for beautiful presentation, and opens up a variety of foods that would not otherwise be able to be served in this format, and the staff were quickly swooping in to collect them, so you weren't left trying to find a place for the little things, but I quite enjoy the more old-fashioned idea of being creative with various edible carriers.



This is me getting on TV! And yes, a coworker confirmed for me the next day that he saw me on the news.



My Favourite Part of Nu's Decor - the Neon Chandelier



Harry Kambolis accepting Best New Restaurant in Canada for Nu



Tim of Rare which made No. 5 in the Top Ten New Restaurants in Canada. A very friendly guy and I hope all goes well for his new restaurant. I haven't heard anything about Metro since chatting with him about this at this event in November, but I'll look out for it. There is a slew of new restaurants I want to try these days, and it sounds like some of them have had enough time to get into their groove.



Nu's Kitchen



The Busy Bar (note the lovely cocktails ready to go, and Jamie Maw)



Duck Rillette with Cranberry Jelly, and a stubby pretzel to eat it with



Drunk and hungry for something more substantial, I tottered along the seawall until I found myself at Fiddlehead Joe's. I posted about my lovely experience there before, and I was truly pleasantly surprised by the place. Below are the photos from this again. For more details, see my Christmas post.



Beet Panna Cotta, Fiddlehead Joe's



Meringue in Chocolate Chili Sauce

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lucky Diner

This one even surprises me. I mean, I expected to like this place before I even got there, just because I knew that it is one of Sean Heather's establishments, and I can tell the man has taste in food, style (someone who really appreciates the Gastown neighbourhood) and lures quality staff just from having gone to Salt. But a diner in Yaletown? For a girl who loves going to old dingy Chinese-run "authentic" diners that still have 70's glassware hanging around and duct tape on their vinyl booths, isn't this place going to feel overpriced, ingenuine, and snooty? The answer? Not at all. I loved it. I loved it so much, I had to go back just to make sure it wasn't the Jim Beam bourbon milkshake (which I loved too) that was making me bourbon goggle the place. I ate at this place three times in the span of a week and a half (partly because I almost lost my new camera there). Something about the place makes you feel as if whatever you are eating is the best in its class. I found myself wondering "are these the best onion rings I've ever had?" and that's a hell of a lot of fun when you find yourself thinking that thought for just the garnish! There were a few lovely batter-covered onion rings stacked on top of the steak dinner I ordered on a return visit. They just go ahead and call their Reuben "The Best Dang Reuben Sandwich" which is what I ordered on my first visit. With a side dish, it was only $11, which I thought was really reasonable since the time I bought some of Mike Vitow's corned beef at Granville Island, the smallest chunk I could get was $10, which made about a sandwich and a half. So upon seeing the prices, I was pretty happy and feeling like I was going to get good value, which was a nice surprise in Yaletown. I wasn't even expecting the $11 to include a side dish. For my side dish, I chose the green salad since I figured ordering fries on top of ordering a fat reuben and a bourbon milkshake must break some sort of law of decency somewhere. I'm all for indulgence, but sometimes you've got to set some sort of limit. The dressing on the salad was nicely balanced - something that I think I must be a bit sensitive to these days, as a lot of times, I feel like dressings are too sour. And on top of that, have you ever received an "amuse bouche" in a diner? The charming and attractive waiter brought me a lovely bowl of their tomato cumin soup. Very yummy. Um, I mean the soup, of course...

Anyhow, this restaurant is really suited to my taste lately. High quality food in a completely casual and comfy environment. I wouldn't be able to find a speck of snootiness in that establishment if I had a magical snoot-detecting magnifying glass. Okay, that was an awkward phrase. Let me elaborate. That steak dinner I mentioned with the great onion ring garnish? It also had for its veggie sides: golden beets, braised fennel, and swiss chard! I've had this theory about the key to setting up a really successful restaurant is to set yourself up to exceed people's expectations, and this place is perfect for that. Make it a diner so that people are just expecting typical fare, and then blow their socks off with the ultimate versions of those classic comfort foods. The steak dinner also came with buttermilk smashed potatoes, and the meat was tender and not overcooked (which I'm also a bit sensitive about, having recently had a medium rare order come to me totally brown at a chain restaurant). So I got this great main dish that would hold its own in a finer dining establishment, yet I felt totally comfortable sitting in the room with my grungy work cargo pants. The perfect comfort food restaurant. The slogan? "Come sad, leave happy." The burger I had one night was really thick and beefy, on a great housemade roll, and it had a wonderfully agressively horseradishy sauce on it. (I think it takes some balls to put a sauce like that on a standard item like a burger, and have the confidence that people will like it). I had the fries with that one and found myself playing with the thought "are these the best fries I've ever had?"

And just now, as I'm typing this post (a redo of a post I worked on earlier but lost during my recent computer death), I just did a search for the link to their online menu again, and found the news on Urban Diner that the place is closing! Just when I found my perfect "neighbourhood" restaurant. They even get their coffee from the place I like getting my coffee from - JJ Bean. Oh well, all good things must come to an end I suppose. I just wished I had found it earlier. I really wanted to make my way through the entire menu. I especially wanted to try the mac and cheese, and potato salad. Looks like I'll be trying to make my way back before the place closes, if it hasn't already. Perhaps someone will take over, for a third time (it was originally Diner before Lucky Diner, and I didn't have any interest in visiting then). Anyhow, it may not have been appreciated by the masses, but I certainly was a fan.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Nancyland Game

I'm starting to think that I'm pretty predictable these days. Honestly, I don't think I'm that hard to please when it comes to restaurants. Mainly, I just want the staff to be nice to me, and I want tasty food at prices that make me feel like I've gotten good value for my money. This can happen at high-end or low-end restaurants of course. And unfortunately, so can the converse. Anyhow, here's my new game. I call it: "Did Nancy Like It?" The rules are simple. I'm going to name a restaurant that I just tried for the first time. Just guess whether I liked it or not, using the sum of your foodie knowledge from word-of-mouth reports, foodie reading, perhaps your own experiences at the restaurant, and your familiarity with my habits. I have one friend who rarely agrees on restaurants with me, to the point where I think he now checks out a restaurant if he sees a negative review from me. Does this bother me? Absolutely not. To each his own! To make this game really test your local foodie knowledge, I'm not going to bother giving you any background knowledge, or even a link to the restaurant website. There is, just like in any fun game, an element of chance too, because every good restaurant could have a bad day, and I guess a bad restaurant could have a good day. Since I'm only visiting once, anything could happen. So Nancylanders, let's see how you do...

Tonight I went to Lucky Diner, in Yaletown.

So, "did Nancy like it?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Birthday Nachos and Sashimi Salad

Okay, this is my kind of sports bar. Ebisu on Robson (604-689-8266, 827 Bute Street, website not up at time of posting, but should come soon), occupying the old Hooter's upstairs space at Robson and Bute, is a totally Vancouver joint. First of all, you can find both nachos (complete with ground beef and avocado for only $9 - beat that, any sports bar in town) AND Japanese tapas offerings like sashimi salad. When I was there, a group of what looked to be Japanese students were there for a birthday, and got the PA system Happy Birthday song, as well as candles in one of their nacho plates. Cute, eh?

As always, expectations have a great deal to do with how one receives a restaurant, and I've read some online comments that this place doesn't measure up to the creativity of Guu or Hapa Izakaya which are nearby, or Shiru-Bay in Yaletown. However, from what I can tell, they are going for something different anyway. The place has a huge screen, and smaller screens at the bar, showing the hockey game when I was there. That immediately gives you a more casual atmosphere than any of the other izakayas. They continue the sports bar theme by offering typical sports bar offerings like the nachos, and pitchers of beer at really reasonable prices, so you can come here to drink, watch sports and nibble very casually. Pitchers Sunday to Thursday are only $9.99, going up to $12.99 on weekends. Pitchers of white or red sangria are $12 for the small and $18 for the large. Wings are $4.99 for a half dozen, and can come salt and peppper (like I enjoyed), or with sports bar type sauces like spicy hot, teriyaki or barbecue. I had a sashimi salad ($9.55), while not mind-blowing, was very competent, with fresh sashimi, and a pleasant creamy dressing, mango and tomato concasse, and good mesclun. I also had their oyster motoyaki, which is three Royal Miyagi oysters with cheese, creamy sauce, spinach and mushrooms baked in the half shell for only $5. There are a wide range of fancy rolls in the menu that look good too in the $10 - 13 range.

I'm not really a sports bar person. I'm not that into beer, and tend to only drink it when there's some interesting microbrew or Belgium beer available, or if I'm just being social with a group. I'm not really into watching sports. And I'm a little bit picky about food, and rarely find pubs and sports bars to have a menu or level of food quality that appeals to me. I do, however, enjoy a nice casual atmosphere with cushy seating, a good plate of nachos or wings, and the freedom to drink and nibble rather than have a full meal. Ebisu seems to be the perfect sports bar for non-sports bar people. There is a huge variety of food to choose from, and it appears, from my three choices, to be good quality. There is a wide range of drinks at reasonable prices, including the hot sake I had for $7.95, beer, sangria, wine, shooters, "martinis," as well as premium sakes, champagne, and wine. The music is upbeat and "clubby" but I didn't mind it too much. The booths are big and comfy, and the high ceilings and room to stretch out make it a much different atmosphere from other izakayas in town.

The crowd on a Tuesday were all young, urban Asians gathering socially. No one was really watching the sports on screen. I went mid-week, and the atmosphere was low-key enough for me, and service was fine. Apparently it can get quite busy on weekends. Overall, from my one visit, I think this is a nice place to get drunk.