Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Beef Dip Beef

I fell in love with a sandwich, but then one day it just wasn't the same. As much as I tend to avoid the big chain restaurants when I can, I couldn't help but love Milestones' Prime Rib Beef Dip when I first had it. The first couple of times that I had this dish, at two different locations (Burnaby and Coquitlam, I think), it knocked my socks off. The beef dip was huge, with a perfectly crisp/not too crusty toasted baguette, thinly-sliced deep-fried onion slices piled onto nice tender, shaved beef, and a wonderful thick and tasty gravy to dip rather than just a jus. Plus, it was served with a wonderful mound of great curly fries, all on a ridiculously large platter. But this infatuation abruptly ended recently, when I had the sandwich again at Park Royal in West Van. Somebody in the kitchen must have been a bit off that day, because the gravy was not beefy (undersalted, and not very flavourful), the beef was quite dry, and even crispy at the edges (probably from sitting under the heat lamp), the fries were overdone so that they were dry and hollow inside and too crunchy on the outside, and the sandwich was so big, and stuffed with so many of the fried onions, it was too awkward to eat, and there was a smaller pile of fries than normal. I'm thinking that one of the reasons the sandwich was so good the first couple of times is that the beef was medium rare to medium well, which would make a huge difference in taste and texture. I can't remember exactly, but it sure wasn't dry and well-done like it was this time. I didn't bother to complain, though had our waitress done a quality check (and asked how the food was), I would have been honest. It wasn't really worth bringing up, because everything was all edible, and I did eat the meal, and I only knew how good it could be because I had had the sandwich a couple of times before. Maybe I should have said something to the staff, but I didn't, and I was fine with that. But the problem now is that my affection for the sandwich has been irrevocably damaged. I know that I won't go plunging into ordering it again the next time. I'll just be a tad wary. But on the bright side, it does make me appreciate the importance of the cook's skills, even in chain restaurants, and how easy it is to make a completely different meal with exactly the same procedure and ingredients. I also now have a better appreciation of how difficult it must be to maintain consistancy day in and day out across several locations. Here's hoping the substandard sandwich was just a flukey one-time event, and that my next Milestones' beef dip is just like my very first time.

Oh, alright, I'll 'fess up - the real motivation for posting this story was the opportunity to use the palindrome title. I mean, how often is that going to happen? There's a challenge for you all. Can you think of any other palindromes phrases that would appear as a title in a food blog?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

To Roast or Not To Roast? A Poll on Restaurant Reviews

Dear Nancylanders,

As a new year of blogging approaches, and Nancyland turns one year old (January 30th, 2006), it's time for a little reflection and some redefining of the focus of this site. Specifically, I've been pondering the sticky bits of restaurant reviewing - the negative reviews. As the audience for Nancyland grows from my circle of friends to the rest of the human race (world domination, here we come, mwahahahahaha...oops, heh, excuse me...), I must admit I've been feeling the slight pangs of guilt for potentially affecting the business of local restaurants with my beloved little food journal. I do bear in mind that my reviews could neither break nor make any place though. I also endeavor to be very specific with what displeases me so that readers can make up their own minds about what aspects are important to them in their dining choices. And plenty of people seem to go ahead and want to try a place even when they hear a negative review, just to see for themselves. which is all part of the fun of following food writing. Occassionally, I've not bothered to post about a restaurant if my experience was bad and just didn't feel interesting enough to be post-worthy, or I just didn't feel like slamming a place. So here's a simple poll to try and gauge the interest of my dear readership. Please, as always, feel free to elaborate on your position about negative reviews by adding a comment to this post.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Goodies

Canuck Place Gingerbread House, by Goldilocks Bakery Posted by Picasa

What's Christmastime without gingerbread? The Hyatt Hotel on Burrard St. Downtown (right off the skytrain station), has been hosting a gingerbread lane each year in their lobby, with wonderful gingerbread houses from Secondary School Home Ec classes, bakeries, and corporations, as well as the World's Largest Gingerbread Man. The Canuck Place house by Goldilocks Bakery is my favourite this year. A single photo doesn't really do it justice though, because part of the charm comes from all the cute little details inside the rooms. Gingerbread houses are perfect for me. I love miniaturized things, and on top of that, it's food! You can vote for your favourite gingerbread display there, with donations going to Canucks Fund for Kids and Canucks Place.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Slickety Jim's Chat and Chew

Slickety Jim's Chat and Chew (2513 Main St., at Broadway) is a fun breakfast hang-out. Kitschy, eclectic, offbeat...I'm not even going to try writing this post without using those words that hover around this place like flies. They have a menu that's an entertaining read, and you'll just have to go eat there to see it, because it's not posted on the web (as far as I can see). The service is patient and welcoming, so you actually feel like you have time to read through those grandiose descriptions. One thing that gets reported over and over (not to mention their very appealing name implies it too) is that you are never rushed here. Having heard this, I had high expectations going in, and Slickety Jim's definitely didn't the point where our waitress was still offering refills on our coffees after we had settled up the bill. I like that, and it's the kind of thing that brings me back to a place. Oh, and get this, she asked me if I wanted my poached eggs in my benny to be cooked soft or medium. It's hard not to get impressed with a place that's ambitious enough to promise that level of poached egg precision. I chose the Fun Gus Benediction (ohhhhh, it had mushrooms! Hee hee, I just got the name), from a nice list of benny choices, and my dining companion had a breakfast dish with eggs and salsa. The food quality was high, and there were lots of enticing choices on the menu. They also have lunch dishes like salads and sandwiches. It really IS a great place to go for a good daytime chat and chew. They're open from 8 am - 5 pm weekdays, and 9 - 5 on weekends. Be warned though - apparently there are often waits, but when I went on a Tuesday morning about 11 am, we were able to get a table right away.

I can't resist one last rant: why can't every server in town be as friendly as this one? And what is it about breakfast joints that leads to consistantly friendly waitresses? Elbow Room excluded, of course (which I have not visited, and don't really want to. I can find plenty of sassy attitude for free, thank you very much. But I guess for some people this might be a novelty). I swear I often get better and more hospitable service at breakfast joints than some fine dining or mid-range restaurants, despite the fact that the servers in the fine dining/mid-range restaurants are getting considerably bigger tips. Someone once said that every man must fall in love with his breakfast waitress at some point. Remember As Good As It Gets? What we need to do is get some sort of snooty waiter/waitress detector, scan the city's restaurants with it, suck up all the dudes with 'tude, and replace them with breakfast waitresses (no offense to competant and friendly male breakfast servers, by the way. I just don't run into as many breakfast waiters). Or alternatively, every dinner server could just try to exude a little more "breakfast" to all of their customers - that little extra bit of hospitable, friendly, and on-the-ball cheeriness could do wonders for everyone involved. By the way, I tend to be friendly to everyone, a generous tipper with good service, and order full meals and drinks, but I find it offensive to think that a server would justify being nicer or colder, or giving better or worse service to any particular customer based on what they are ordering, or what they expect that customer to tip based on appearance. I mean really, were you raised by wolves? I hate to even wonder this, but has my being Chinese been part of the attitude I've's probably best that we don't even go there. Restauranteurs of Vancouver, if you have this type of server on your staff, they are doing your business more harm than you may realize. I'd give a restaurant a second chance with a slip up in the food, but never with a rude, unwelcoming server. Hmm, I'm leaning towards the 'tude detector/sucking machine. Okay, enough ranting. In other words, those folks at Slickety Jim's - they're nice people. Go if you like that sort of thing!

Incidentally there are plenty of nice dinner restaurants filled with great servers around. It's just disappointing to encounter otherwise. For example, the last mid-range or fine dining place that I've had brilliant service? Nu. In fact, I got that breakfast waitress effect, and wanted to take that waiter home with me. Outrageously enthusiastic, knowledgable, and attentive, he sounded like he sincerely loved the food there, made recommendations, and showed wonderful hospitality on a busy night. Also, there were no slip-ups despite a meal with many components (cocktails, small bites, appies, mains, desserts and coffees), and all this in only the second month of operation for the restaurant. Things weren't quite as flawless with the hostesses/reservations (as part of my party arriving before I did was enough to confuse her), but I'm sure that will all get ironed out if it hasn't already.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pre-Trendy Tapas: Name That Vancouver Restaurant!

By request, here's another round of everyone's favourite game, Name That Vancouver Restaurant! There's been a lot of talk in the last few years about the big "tapas" trend in the Vancouver food scene, but there's one restaurant that's been doing the real tapas thing since 1971! How long will it take for Nancylanders to Name That Restaurant!?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Afghan Horsemen

One of two Afghan Rooms, with low tables and pillows to sit on the floor

I mentioned some flower pots, and sitting on the floor in my teaser and when people talk about the Afghan Horsemen Restaurant (445 W. Broadway, at Cambie St.), they generally concentrate on the ambience, and the romantic set-up of pillows on the floor and low tables, and draped fabrics on the ceiling, creating a very cosy and unique dining experience. However, I discovered on my first visit to this restaurant, that the food is fantastic too, and in my opinion, worth the visit alone. All together, it does make for a very nice second, third, or beyond date restaurant, or a fun place to bring a group. This restaurant has been around for an amazing 31 years! It's a definite keeper, and no doubt will be around for many more years. We reserved a spot at the pillows, and the restaurant was quite busy on a Monday night, including a large party and various couples that all shared the room with us.

I dined with Bac'n Girl and Definitely Not Bacon Boy, and we all started off with their drink special of the Mighty Horseman, either for two or for one. This big vat of several types of alcohol and fruit juice, served with two outrageously long straws (where do they get these?) to share was definitely good for a giggle or two.

The Mighty Horseman, for two Posted by Picasa

Not to feel left out of the sillyness, my single serving Mighty Horseman was also served in a ceramic plant pot, in the shape of three puppies in a basket no less! You can just see a bit of the white pot in the photo below.

Appetizer Plate that comes with the Horsemen's Special Platter: Humus & Sabzi Mast, Salata with Feta Cheese, and Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I shared the Horsemen's Platter for two ($43.95) with Bac'n Girl, which started with a delicious appetizer platter. While the dishes resemble typical Greek restaurant offerings, the flavours are a little different in the Afghan rendering, making the meal seem very fresh and interesting. Even the feta salad seemed tastier than I've ever had. The dressing really appealed to me. The sabzi mast is a tasty spinach and yoghurt dip. Definitely Not Bacon Boy ordered the three dip starter, and the chicken shish kebab, and enjoyed his meal too. Incidentally, I think this place would be a great choice to take a vegetarian, and the Vegetarian's Platter ($35.95) even looks tempting to me. They can even make it vegan on request.

Three Dip Combo: Humus, Sabzi Mast & Khayar Mast with Pita (on right)

Horsemen's Special Platter

Chicken Shish Kebab

I enjoyed everything on the main platter too. The meats - boneless chicken shish kebab, lamb shish kebab, lamb shoulder - were all tender. There was also tasty baked rice, baked eggplant, dolmah (cabbage roll), crispy Pakawra (batter fried potatoes), and Chaka (sour cream & yogurt dip). It was a generous portion for two hungry girls, and by the end, we were all stuffed and wanting to stretch out and nap in our little pillow corner, particularly since we were enjoying the effects of our plant pots of booze. So we're sitting there, over-stuffed like three Christmas turkeys ready for the oven, thinking we can't eat another bite. We even tell the friendly server that we don't have room for anything else. As soon as we send him away, somehow we all think simultaneously, "I wonder what they have here for dessert?" Two nice rice puddings, some cardomom tea, and turkish coffee later, we're sitting on those pillows, contemplating how we fit all that food into us. We also noted that choosing the pillow room rather than sitting at the regular tables was fun and more comfortable than expected, but makes it just a tad more difficult to get up after stuffing ourselves.

Service was excellent, and we never felt rushed. When I arrived for our reservation, our table candle was lit, ice waters already poured, and everyone was friendly. You remove your shoes for the Afghan rooms, and settle in to the cushions. These two elements by themselves makes it feel like you're being invited into someone's home who wants to show you the cuisine of their homeland. We spent about $128 before tip for the three of us, but I think it's very reasonably priced. I wish I had known about this place for my birthday, and I will keep this one at the top of my list for a group gathering or a nice, special yet casual, romantic evening.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What Does Costa Rica Taste Like?

When travelling, one of the most enjoyable parts about discovering another culture is diving into the food. It also seems to be one of the best ways to really get a good feel for someone's culture. I haven't had as much time to blog lately, so I thought I would post a link to something in the meantime. Here are some recipes for classic Costa Rican dishes, including the ubiquitous Pinto Gallo, beans and rice. If schedules or budgets don't allow for an actual trip, why not take a culinary trip in your own kitchen to wherever you want to go? Explore a region. Having the internet around these days makes it all that much easier to find recipes. With a little digging and cross-referencing, you can usually find authentic recipes - things that people have decided to write down, after watching their grandmother, that sort of thing. Where do you want to go?

Monday, November 14, 2005

We Ate On the Floor, and Drank Out of Flower Pots...But We Loved It All...Name That Restaurant!

Who will be the first to name the fabulous Vancouver restaurant where we were able to do that? Full review coming soon to a blog near you...But first, have a guess!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Kingston Taphouse and Grill, Downtown

The Kingston Taphouse and Grill (755 Richards, between Georgia and Robson) is a straightforward bar and grill, complete with pool tables and darts in the basement for that bar hang-out feel, but here's why it appeals to me - the place actually has decent food, and the space feels nice and clean. It's an obvious choice for a casual group get-together. Here's a place that could appeal to those "manly" men who like a pub atmosphere, but also someone like me who has some reasonably high standards for food and cleanliness. It's at a great location - just a couple blocks from Granville skytrain station, and has lots of space, including a patio. The upstairs seemed to have a high energy, and is loud and busy, especially during hockey games, which they project on a huge screen. The patio is heated, and looks nice from what I could see, with lots of greenery.

The best thing I've had there is the onion rings, served stacked up in a tower on their own onion ring holder. They were crunchy, breaded, not greasy, and the onion actually stayed inside the coating nicely when I bit down on them. Oh, how I hate it when a limp, slimy onion slice slides out of its batter. Rest easy, that doesn't happen here. I had the half sandwich and soup ($8.99) for a lunch. The daily soup was butternut squash soup with half shrimp club (with bacon). Neither of these two items were exceptional, but the soup was good, and it was a nice solid lunch. I probably won't order the sandwich again, because I wasn't too fond of the ciabatta type bun, but there are plenty of other things on the menu to try. The ice tea and soda kept flowing, and we had great, friendly service. In fact, everyone I encountered there on my two visits was friendly, and warm, which is maybe the best reason to go back. Burgers ($9.99) are served with both sea-salted fries (just a few) and a little Caesar salad. I've had their flat iron steak sandwich ($12.99). The meat was very tender and coated in a very sweet glaze, and topped with deep-fried onions, both of which I liked, but the gorgonzola flavour promised in or on the bread was barely there. It was a nice sandwich though. They had one of their cocktails on special that night, a great deal and yummy too.

The open kitchen is fun to watch. They seemed to have everything under control, since the staff were amusing each other in between orders coming in. I can't get the image of one of them out of my head - entertaining the rest with his adorable crab imitation (that's crab imitation, not imitation crab): kitchen tongs in both hands up in the air, clacking like castanets, and frenetically scuttling from side to side. Everything's charmingly on display in an open kitchen. The Kingston is owned by the Spectra Group, which also runs other casual dining restaurants such as the Boathouses and the Macaroni Grill. It makes sense that they would have the service and the large group atmosphere thing downpat. Yes, it feels a bit like being Mike Teevee, shrunken down and stuck into a television beer commercial bar, but sometimes you might be looking for just that. Or you're with a group who's looking for that white-boy-beer-commercial-feel, and when that happens, there's no reason to starve.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tanpopo, The Restaurant, Not The Movie

To be perfectly honest, I have always avoided Tanpopo (1122 Denman) because of some vague idea that the quality of the food at this upstairs Japanese restaurant near English Bay would be dismally disappointing, even if it almost shares its name with one of the all time great food films (Tampopo, 1985). Perhaps it was word of mouth, or some negative review, or some online rant, the general lack of raves, my wariness of all-you-can-eat sushi, or some combination of all that. Well, the one great thing about starting with low expectations is that one can get the pleasant sensation of having your expectations exceeded.

One afternoon, while searching for a nice place to sit and eat leisurely along Denman Street during that dead time at 4 pm when many restaurants close in between their lunch and dinner service, I found myself climbing the stairs up to Tanpopo for the first time. Many pleasant surprises ensued. To start off, the room is bright, cosy, and much more attractive than I ever thought it would be. It's quite a large room, and I was quite fond of the cream-coloured stone slab tables, and I had a nice seat by the window overlooking Denman Street. I could see that their big patio would be great in the summertime.

Tanpopo is generally an all-you-can-eat place, but I was there in their happy hour time of 3 - 5 pm. You can choose 4 items off their happy hour menu for $7.95. You can do this from 10 pm - midnight also. Lunch is all you can eat from a larger menu from 11:30 - 3 pm (Monday to Friday, $11.95, weekends and holidays $12.95). The dinner all-you-can-eat, from an even larger menu, is $21.95, from 5 pm - midnight, with no sashimi restrictions.

Now, I hadn't eaten all day, and I was so pleased with the first four, I was easily tempted to try more so that I could give a worthwhile report. So I wound up eating eight items total. Service was great, but again, it was the quiet time in the restaurant, so I can't say what it would be like during a normal dinner or lunch. I told my waitress that it was my first time here, and asked for her recommendations, and she was great. I started to order the tuna sashimi and she steered me to the salmon because they use wild sockeye salmon there. She was absolutely right, because I tried the tuna in my second round out of curiousity, and it wasn't very good and I didn't like the consistency. The 5 thick chunks of salmon were quite good though. She also recommended choosing the chopped scallop roll and the unagi nigiri (2 pieces), all of which were quite acceptable. Unagi happens to be my favourite, and having that and the salmon sashimi on the happy hour menu makes going back again for happy hour worthwhile all by themselves. I also had the karube (barbecued short ribs), hotate katsu (a big pile of breaded, deep-fried little scallops, served with tonkatsu sauce), and the chicken karaage (deep fried wings), all of which were good, and didn't feel too greasy.

One thing that everyone should remember about restaurant experiences is how fluid the whole thing can be. While the goal of any good restaurant is to deliver consistency, the reality of life is that everything can change from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, year to year, and so on. Even if you have the very best experience in a restaurant one night, it can turn into a wreck the next night. The converse is true too. For a long-lived restaurant it can be all hills and valleys. As far as I can tell, Tanpopo was at the top of its game years ago, and then fell out of favour because of a slip in food quality and service. Perhaps they're rising up again? It's too early for me to tell. But my experience certainly wasn't that bad, as I had been led to believe it would be. This is one of a few reasons that I enjoy the blog format so much, incidentally. Each comment that is made about any restaurant experience is dated (even timed). If you're reading a review of a restaurant without a date on it, disregard it - a review has an expiry date of say, six months max. After that, toss it away, like a bad jar of mayo. I'm glad I took a chance on Tanpopo. This isn't a rave, but it was a nice choice for a 4 pm snack on a Thursday. I, personally, probably won't try the $21.95 dinner, but I could definitely imagine going back for lunch. The food was acceptable, given that you make the right choices, and the decor, service, and atmosphere were very nice.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fun With Puff Pastry

Brie, Pear and Onion Strudel Posted by Picasa

I've been going out to restaurants a bit less lately, so I thought I would post a little morsel from my cooking at home. Don't worry, there are tasty things from the outside world to come. For the strudel, I used a recipe from John Bishop's Cooking at My House, and this sweet and savory appetizer strudel turned out to be quite tasty, and pretty to boot. It's a nice example of an easy recipe, with a simple combination of ingredients yielding something surprisingly interesting in taste.

This is my first experience with buying frozen puff pastry, and I really like it. It defrosted over only two hours at room temperature (so I didn't have to pre-plan it the night before like filo, but if I had, I could have defrosted in the fridge overnight), and was very easy to work with. I'm also going to try using it to top a bowl of soup or stew, just like the ones at A La Mode, in the Granville Island Public Market. I love cold weather dishes like chicken pot pie.

Seafood Chowder with Puff Pastry Top at A La Mode, Granville Island Public Market Posted by Picasa

I like playing with frozen filo pastry too, but that takes a little more effort, with brushing on melted butter between each sheet. It's fun and definitely worth the trouble though, if you have a little time to make something like spanokopita. I've heard about shredded frozen filo but I've never seen it sold anywhere. Has anyone seen it? If you don't have the patience to brush and layer your own, you could head on down to Denman Street, down near Fatburger, Delaney's Coffee, and The Raincity Grill. I just noticed a new specialty shop (name to come, I've forgotten, but I think it was Mediterranean) with just a few tables and chairs selling all filo covered goodies. Haven't tried it yet, but I love how they refer to themselves as a "fillo bar" on their sandwich board sign. Would a fillo bartender give me advice on my love life, and tell me when I've had enough fillo?

Friday, November 04, 2005


I finally had a kolachy from the Kolachy Shop (888 Beatty, at Smithe) near Yaletown. I had the Rueben [sic], since I'm a big corned beef fan, and it did not disappoint. The meat was all juicy and tender and tasty. Oh, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself...some of you might be asking: "What's a kolachy?" (Most of you, however, will have heard some hype, I think. This little place is really popular). It's a mild, sweet bread, filled with various fillings from bacon and egg for breakfast to chicken club or bbq beef for lunch to poppy seed filling for dessert. It's baked and mine was served nice and warm. Such a nice little self-contained food package. I have wanted to try one in the past, having walked past the place several times, but I've managed to walk past only at night. They are mainly a weekday, daytime spot, but I believe they have recently expanded their hours to staying open until 7 pm, and also open on Saturdays. I was able to get mine at 5:40 on a Thursday. Anyhow, I liked it a lot. A very friendly fellow sold it to me. And it hit the spot. Can't ask for much more than that, and they're only about $2.75. Plus, it's ever so much fun to say the word "kolachy." Oh, their soups are supposed to be great too, but I couldn't try one this time since I had to save room for dinner.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mythbusters, Nancyland Style: Battle French Press vs. Drip Coffeemaker

I might get some flack from the coffee geeks reading this post, but bear in mind, I AM a scientist by nature, so I like to think I know a thing or two about designing a fair and solid experiment. So everyone knows that a French press produces a better cup of coffee than most drip coffeemakers on the market simply because you can get your water hot enough (just off the boil) to extract more out of your coffee, right? Well, I'm not one to blindly accept these things without testing, and besides that, I've gotten pretty good results from my beloved little drip coffeemaker. It's actually a little freebie machine that I received from the Gevalia coffee company in the mail, and it produces up to 4 cups of coffee, and as little as 2 cups of coffee quite respectably (which can't be done in a full-sized coffeemaker successfully, generally speaking). It's a Melitta machine with a cone-shaped filter. I use a metal mesh reusable filter to save trees. Incidentally, the little Melitta cone-shaped filter that you can place over a mug and pour boiling water into is approved of by the JJ Bean website as an acceptable home brewing option. So I decided to do the side by side comparison, very open to having the results change my morning coffee routine. I measured equal amounts (4 level tablespoons) of JJ Bean's Ethiopian Harar, finely ground into each machine. I measured exactly 2 cups of cold, tap water for each machine as well. I was expecting the process of brewing the coffee in the coffeemaker to take less time than the French press (including boiling time using my electric kettle), but actually, they were both ready to drink in the same amount of time. After pouring in the rolling boiling water, I stirred the grounds vigorously in the French press as directed, and gave it 3.5 minutes brewing time, with lid on, and plunger raised. The ratio of coffee to water wound up being a little high for my taste, but I wanted to make sure that I followed the generally accepted recommendation to not skimp on the coffee. After tasting each product a few times using a spoon, both Martini Man (tasting "blindly") and myself (not tasting "blindly") decided that the coffeemaker coffee was smoother, less bitter, and preferable. So, at least for this particular coffee blend, and for my morning quantity of 2 cups of coffee, the coffeemaker coffee wins out on:
1. taste - smoother
2. ease of preparation - I can stick the coffee in and ignore it while I shower, as opposed to having to stir and time the brewing for the French press).
3. no unwanted sludgy dregs at the bottom of the cup.

So far, it's only a sample size of one, and I can and should repeat this experiment. Another consideration is that it's quite likely that the final amount of water used was slightly less in the French press due to more water loss through evaporation by bringing the water to a rolling boil. This would obviously have a huge effect on the smoothness or bitterness in taste. However, I really think that the water difference here is negligible since the coffeemaker water is heated throughout the five minutes of brewing time, and has water evaporating throughout this period of time, while for the French press, evaporation happens mainly over only two minutes, during the time it takes to boil the water. Remember also, these results are specific to my own personal coffee needs, with my admittedly unsophisticated coffee palate, and with the equipment available to me at this time. Hell, yah, I know an espresso maker would be even better. But for now, my verdict is MYTH BUSTED!

Friday, October 21, 2005


The foodiesphere grows fatter each day...not unlike many of its contributers (a hazard of the hobby). You may have noticed that occassionally my "Fun Links" section grows, but it's an attempt at a very edited list relevant to foodies of Vancouver (but for a more comprehensive food blog and resource list, check out KIPlog's list). I'm fairly selective, and usually a site has gotten me quite excited in order for me to add them. These are spaces that I tend to check in on regularly myself, so I tend to pick sites that update regularly or provide a great reference. For example, I just found a nifty little guide for what wine to pair with your food, or what food to pair with your wine, on the Wine and Dine, B.C. News site. There's also a nice little calendar of local food events there. For example, on November 18th, Lumiere restaurant celebrates its 10th anniversary with "The Inspiration Dinner," where Rob Feenie will cook with Charlie Trotter of Chicago. Twelve courses will be served, but a menu has not been released. Tickets are $1000 (wine, tax, tip, and signed cookbooks included) per person, according to eGullet. Six of those seats will be given to young, up and coming chefs. I can't wait to hear the buzz about it afterwards...assuming that at least one person of the lucky few that attends this dinner connects to the foodiesphere in some way. Almost all of the food writing in print form in Vancouver makes its way onto the web. Will the dinner live up to expectations? And will some lucky food writer get sent over by their publication? Mmmm, media pass dreams... Anyhow, if anyone reading this does go, please give Nancyland an exclusive report!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Top Five Fried Chicken in Vancouver

Do you love fried chicken like I love fried chicken? Here's my top five list of fried chicken dishes found in the city.

5. KFC's Original Recipe chicken (many locations) - It's just a classic. If only they would serve buttermilk biscuits and gravy, corn on the cob, and wedge fries with them like they do in the southern U.S. KFC's.

4. Nu's Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Wings, espelette chili gastrique (under the Granville St. Bridge)- frenching drummettes, stuffing them with goat cheese, and deep frying them...what a good idea!

3. Hon's Deep Fried Chicken Wings with Spicy Salt (Robson at Broughton) - A big plate of wings deep fried without a batter, then tossed in the wok with sliced fresh chilies, garlic and five spice salt. Spicy, salty goodness, Cantonese style.

2. House of Dosas' Chicken 65 (Kingsway at Knight St.)- South Indian, spicy, little juicy chunks of chicken, served with a great dipping sauce.

1. Yuji's Wasabi Tempura Chicken (West 4th at Maple) - delicate, crispy tempura batter surrounds tasty, juicy dark meat with a nice hit of wasabi embedded in the chicken. Served simply with a wedge of lemon. This dish easily takes the number one spot.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Five Cookbook Meme - Tag, You're It!

Linda, of Kayaksoup tagged me with this blogosphere version of a "chain letter" ages ago, and I've been meaning to get to it all this time. I was browsing around the net, and I found someone who actually researched, tracked and documented the history of this particular meme out of interest, just to see where it has been (and she wasn't even the one who started this meme)! If Ana of Pumpkin Pie Bungalow can do all that, then I can certainly just answer the 5 questions! Here are my long-awaited answers:

1. Total number of cookbooks owned: 34

2. Last cookbook I bought: John Bishop's Cooking at My House. A bargain found at a Book Warehouse. It's filled with recipes that look simple enough, and appealing enough for me to want to try, plus with nice little background notes on each, and photos for many. I love cookbooks with lots of photos of the food.

3. Last cookbook I read: Lately, I've been playing around with my Charlie Trotter's Desserts, trying to find a great dessert for an upcoming party. Great food porn, with beautiful photos of plated desserts with multiple components. I wasn't too happy with the tarts I made from recipes in the book so far, but I'll keep trying.

4. Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:

- Larousse Gastronomique. More of an encyclopedia type reference book than a cookbook, but it is actually filled with lots of classic recipes. I just love being able to look up any cooking or food term that I might run across. On top of that, there's a lot of satisfaction in having found it in a bargain book store for a great price years ago.

- Salsas That Cook, by Rick Bayless. Sentimental reasons - given to me as a gift by someone who was thinking of me while in Chicago at Rick Bayless' restaurant and had the chef autograph it to me personally. Plus it's actually quite a fun cookbook, besides being a sweet gift. I know the question only asks for five, but I'll sneak another one in here too, Lumiere Light, by Rob Feenie is another cookbook gift I received from friends, adding to my cookbook collection.

- Goodhousekeeping Illustrated Cookbook - I keep coming back to this one, because it has all the basics, and the many recipes I've cooked from this book have been winners. Great step-by-step and finished product colour photos.

- Joy of Cooking - a classic with great information about ingredients, and how to deal with them. It was my first cookbook, as it has been for many, many people (including Linda who tagged me in the first place).

- Grand Finales, The Art of the Plated Dessert by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty, with photos by John Uher, and Grand Finales, A Modernist View of Plated Desserts - Beautiful photos of amazing dessert art. I just love browsing through these two.

5. Which 5 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog?
Okay, here are some Vancouver foodies. Consider yourself all tagged. For all of you, please feel free to ignore the "tag" or participate as you wish. Have fun if you do!

- Roland and Barb at VanEats
- SaabKen (who needs a food blog of his own, but has a Saab enthusiast site)
- Martin at liminalSpace
- Jack and Jill at Jack and Jill Dine Out
- Andrew at Waiterblog, and the Westender

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Best Almond Croissant in Town posting

For those who check the top of the page for new posts, take a look at August 10, 2005 for an addition to the Granville Island overview. Just don't buy up all the almond croissants when I'm going to Granville Island!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

La Piazza Dario Ristorante Italiano

How many times have I driven past this restaurant and thought "Ooo, I want to try this restaurant!"? La Piazza Dario Ristorante Italiano (3075 Slocan St. at Grandview Highway) is at the Italian Cultural Centre, so I already had high expectations that the food would be authentic before we even stepped in. When Bac'n Girl, Definitely Not Bacon Boy, and I did walk in, we all remarked on what a warm and inviting room it was. It has a bit of an 80's look to it (like Bonsor Pool), but after all, the restaurant has been around since the 80's. With it's tablecloths and traditional decor, it is nice enough to feel right for a special occassion, while being comfortably relaxed with its rich, amber glow. In fact, Bac'n girl and I both had the thought that this would be a great third date restaurant. Well, actually I'd be just fine if someone brought me here on a first date, but that's just me. It also felt quite right for other celebrations, like the quiet birthday dinner for Bac'n Girl that we were there for that evening. In fact, I almost wish that I had known about this place when I was trying to plan a dinner for my birthday, as their website has set menus all laid out on their website for large groups. A nice bonus for large groups is that it also has plenty of parking, and is near 29th Avenue skytrain station.

While all the elements were there, food is usually the most important one to me, and this meal definitely surpassed my expectations. Every item that we had was delicious. We shared the house antipasto ($11.95) which included some really tasty cold seafood bits like incredibly tender and flavourful baby shrimp, and some nice squid pieces. Not to mention a crazy giant green olive that Bac'n girl assures me is now illegal in Canada, and difficult to come by. Too bad, because I really liked it. The insalada capresse ($8.50) was good but I guess it's just not the right time of year for tomatoes. The tortellini in brodo was a really tasty soup of veal tortellini in clear broth. The server listed many specials that all sounded good. I chose the gnocchi (which we misunderstood to be an appetizer when he was listing the dishes, and it wound up being an almost overly generous main dish sized portion). It was covered in the best tasting tomato cream sauce I have ever had. I'm glad the server suggested that sauce when I asked. The gnocchi itself was on the soft side, but I loved it this way. Bac'n Girl's veal parmesan (a daily special) was really tasty, without feeling greasy at all. I was hugely impressed by how adeptly the chef cooked the chicken for Definitely Not Bacon Boy's chicken breast in gorgonzola sauce ($18.95). I'm not usually one to enjoy white meat (not willing to take the risk of overcooked, dry, stringy flesh), but the chicken breast here was tender and juicy, with really tasty seared bits on the outside surface. By the way, we had a bottle of red wine with dinner, so I was eating under the influence, and I admit this probably makes everything just a little bit tastier to me. It doesn't really matter though, because I will always feel like having a little wine with an Italian dinner, so I will get the same effect whenever I come back.

Service was hospitable and attentive, and they did what too few restaurants do these days - they encouraged us to take our time throughout, and did not bring our bill until we asked, while still remaining easily accessible by a little eye contact across the room. We were absolutely stuffed by this time, but none of us could resist the idea of dessert, so we each ordered one. We had the tiramisu, the torta della casa (garnished with a profiterole), and the chocolate mousse cake. They were all good, but my favourite was the chocolate mousse cake, a fluffy, yet deeply chocolately version. La Piazza has been around for a very long time, and it shows in all the best ways. I can't wait to have a chance to go again. It also looks like a nice place to have a meal outdoors on the patio during the summer.

Tiramisu Posted by Picasa

Torta di Cioccolata, Chocolate mousse cake

Torta della Casa (St. Honore Cake)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Second Visit to Yuji's - Habit Forming!

Normally, I would just put notes on a second visit to a restaurant in the comments section of the first visit post (in this case, August 2nd, 2005), but this meal was so good, I think it warrants another quick post. Especially since Yuji's (W. 4th, at Maple) seems to be so far under the radar, from what I can tell. As far as I'm concerned, everyone should be talking about this place. I've decided this one is definitely going on my list of restaurants to give out-of-towners a real taste of Vancouver, and show them what our restaurant scene can put out. I love how we can get such creative, beautiful, and yummy food at this price level (the menu below totalled only about $42 before tip). Sushi is such a great perk of living in Vancouver and I still don't take for granted that we can get this incredibly fresh sushi here so affordably.

Just listen to the great stuff we had (and I wish I had pics since everything was incredibly pretty):

1. Tuna and salmon wasabi tempura - lightly battered tuna maki and salmon maki with a forthright dose of wasabi right in the roll. Served on wasabi mayo and a thick soy sauce based sauce. I love how the nori tastes when it's deep-fried. Magnificent plating here, with thin radish slices for garnish and beautiful, tasty sauces.

2. Mango roll - mango, tuna, salmon, lettuce, avocado, and mayo. I loved this roll, since each component was top quality. The mango was sweet, ripe and flavourful enough to be the focal point of the bite.

3. Negitoro roll - a classic, and one of my standard favourites. They executed it wonderfully. The fish quality in everything has impressed me both visits.

4. Uni on warm Camembert cheese, with shiso leaves, served on slices of steamed bread - our server let us know that they had very fresh uni that they received today. What a wild combination. Guess what! It worked! I've only very recently acquired my taste for sea urchin gonads, and I'm thinking maybe I never had a fresh one first time. Nothing to be scared of, folks. (daily specials sheet)

5. Chicken breast wrapped around fresh fig, served with tomato banana sauce - Stunning presentation, like a chicken planet. It's a sphere cut in half, exposing the beautiful fig "core," with a white chicken meat "mantle," and deep fried batter "crust." And who's ever heard of a banana tomato sauce before? Just a beautiful sauce which tasted wonderfully fresh and sweet, and worked so well.
(daily specials sheet)

6. Wild boar, steamed, served with baby greens and pickled red onion (I think) - you just know this is going to be good...and it was! Even the greens were really nice! (daily specials sheet)

Dining here is a little foodie adventure in itself, because of the fun menu, and the tasting and sharing nature of the plates. You can just taste little dish after little dish. There's still plenty of menu for me to work through. Lots of things I want to try. Service was so hospitable, and I particularly liked that our waiter was excited about the fresh uni. Yuji himself seemed to be quite interested in how the Camembert and uni special went over with us. The jazz playing softly in the background was great too. There is something so quietly comfortable about the room. It's the whole package, and it's nice to have a restaurant exceed my expections again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hawker's Delight, Main St.

Lamb Curry Posted by Picasa

Bee Hoon, Pork Satays, Tofu Goreng (clockswise from top)

The phrase hole-in-the-wall comes screaming out at you, and it's definitely not an undiscovered one either. Hawker's Delight (4127 Main St, just past King Edward) is packed with trendy Main Streeters looking for cheap, good food. They've found it, and they don't seem to be bothered by the less than pretty surroundings. Which is appropriate, because the Hawker in the name refers to hawker stalls that sell food in the street in Malaysia. There are all kinds of goodies to try, just like being in a hawker centre. Did I mention the word cheap? We had lamb curry for $5.25, and satays for 80 cents each (minimum of 5). We also had tofu goreng (boiled tofu covered in peanut sauce), and bee hoon which is a bowl of thin rice noodles in a coconut milk rich broth, with various veggies, pickles, and boiled egg in it. Both were under $5, I think. I liked the satays and the tofu goreng a lot and it was all good value. I won't order the bee hoon again - too rich, and I'm not a big fan of the mushy veggies, and I even felt a bit sick, but that might be because it was the last thing I ate, and I was stuffing myself at that point. To be honest, this meal didn't agree with my stomach, and I felt sick later that evening, but I'm willing to give this place another try. My dining companion, Martini Man, didn't get ill at all, and he ate everything that I ate, so please don't think of this place as a health hazard. Try it out for a quick and easy little taste of Malaysia, especially if you like hole-in-the-wall places. For myself, I like them sometimes, but I tend to really enjoy restaurants that have the whole package of food in pleasant surroundings. However, the atmosphere is authentic as far as I know, since it's supposed to be just like a hawker stand. This place would be great for take-out, or quick bite to eat when you're in the area alone and hungry.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Truffles Night Bistro (Cornwall Ave.)

Take the quintessential university student's apartment, turn it into a restaurant, and you've got Truffles Night Bistro on Cornwall (1943 Cornwall Ave., in that grouping of restaurants just off the Burrard St. bridge). This place brought me back to my university days instantly, and in fact, I think the last time I was there was when I was a UBC student, quite a few years back. Nothing has changed there, as far as I can tell. It's still a great, relaxed space to enjoy drinks and nibbles, or desserts, especially if you like the idea of reliving your student days.

Let me set the scene...I wandered into this place on a whim, on an early autumn night, to escape the cold. The weather was just turning chilly, signalling the end of summer, and reminding me of back to school times. I ordered a drink, and it wound up being the perfect student apartment drink, vessel and all - my sangria was actually served in one of those clear glass mugs with raised flowers that everyone seemed to have in their place when they were students, acquired either from mom, or from the last students who rented the house, or the local thrift store. Each table had a white tapered candle sitting in a mound of wax dribbles, exactly like my university boyfriend would light up in his apartment when he wanted to be romantic. Which, of course, was always - hey, we were young and in love and corny as hell. So corny in fact, I remember that he went to great lengths to find drippy candles in the first place to get that wax mound effect. Come to think of it, Truffles must have to do the same, as most taper candles are dripless these days. The place is adorned with art posters, musical instruments, an Einstein photo, vinyl record covers, and dusty bundles of dried flowers hanging upside-down. Did everyone dry flowers like this when they were this age? Or was it just me and my bunch of my female friends? Also, there were the requisite bohemian prints on schlumpy pillows and weathered tablecloths and a hodge podge of mis-matched furniture just like all my friends' places when I was a grad student. I remember having great fun acquiring furniture from anyone moving away, and finding treasures in flea markets and garage sales. Even a jumble of twinkling Christmas lights hangs outside Truffles. It all felt as if it was a carefully constructed movie set of a students' house. I mean, even the server was looking like your typical housemate for the evening - a swarthy arts grad student, with his hair pulled back in a tight, dark ponytail.

To add to this chance student nostalgia experience, on this particular evening, I happened to have with me a book I had recently purchased on the very topic I obsessed about in university (animal behavioural ecology and sexual selection), making it feel all the more like a time warp. I also had with me a Feynman book essentially about the joy of scientific discovery, written by the famous physicist. I couldn't have chosen two more perfect books to complete the scene.

I ordered the French platter ($12.99, $17.50 if sharing), one of their three platters that include various deli type tidbits to nibble away at. This included brie, blue cheese, pissaladiere (onion tart), pepper paté, olives, roasted red pepper, marinated artichokes, marinated eggplant, organic baby greens, two slices of garlic oregano focaccia, a very tasty dilled potato slad, and tomato pesto. Most of these items are common to the Italian Platter and the Turkish Platter, just nice yummy little things that a student might pull out of their fridge to feed their friends who have come over to gab and drink. The menu also has other student-ish dinners like lasagne and quesadillas, as well as desserts (like the namesake truffles), and lots of drinks.

This place, for me, is all about atmosphere. A familiar-feeling place to thrash about your crunchy, late-night philosophical arguments with friends, or spoon out your thick, gooey, young dreams to your lover, or soak up your delicious book in warm, comfortable solitude...a place to languish in youth, or in my case, sweet memories of youth. I wouldn't change a thing...and neither, apparently, would the owner.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nu In Town

Every reviewer in town is nearly wetting themselves with excitement about Harry Kambolis' new Nu in False Creek. So the buzz, along with a funky website, a beautiful location, a whimsical menu, and affordable prices prompted me to investigate this place as a potential birthday restaurant for a nice dinner for a group of friends. Warning: rant ahead, proceed cautiously. Now, I honestly have been trying to ease up on the negativity here on my blog, but I do need to rant a bit. Here's the situation. I phoned Sept 13th to ask if I could tentatively book for 6 people for my birthday, and then phone back when more people RSVP'd and add onto that number. The woman taking my reservation was quite polite and let me know that they have a maximum of 8 people, and after that, I could discuss a set meal with ...(I'm not sure who she said). She said that they could push tables together to form a table of 12 at most, and people above that would be at separate tables. This was all okay with me, so I asked her if she could get someone to email me an example of a menu for a set meal in the next little while. She told me that she would get someone to email me within two days. I was calling at 5 pm or so, not a particularly busy time of day, but I figured they would still need some time to think about what they would want do for a set menu since it sounded like it hadn't been decided upon really, and I was fine with them just getting back to me later. She took both my phone number and email. A week passed, and no email, no phone. I tried calling them, to politely let them know the situation, and maybe attempt to talk to someone directly . Their line was busy (no voicemail that picks up when it's busy, just a busy tone), tried again a few times, gave up. I tried a couple of times a few days later, busy signal again. I've still heard nothing, and haven't been able to get in touch with them, and it's been 11 days. I even thought maybe they have an email address, and I could email them, and then they could just reply, but their slick website only has the dreaded busy tone phone number. I know that the general manager is active on eGullet (so they have computer access), and it's almost worthwhile for me to get my upgrade on my membership there so that I can bloody well get in touch with him. Bear in mind that if I were to come to this restaurant for my birthday with my group, we'd be introducing all these foodie people to their brand new restaurant, we'd be eating and drinking up a storm (in birthday celebratory mood), and (though they don't know this), they'd probably get even more buzz, because of my blogging. I know that they are hot, hot, hot, and must be busy, and are probably going to do just fine without my business, but I'm still surprised by all this. Even if they don't want my group to come, they should at least phone me back. Well I guess they won't have to worry about it, I've made other plans. The unfortunate thing is that I was genuinely quite excited about this new restaurant, but now it'll probably be a very long time before I'm tempted to try it after this experience. Anyhow, it's 11 days and ticking...anyone want to wager on when/if they'll get back to me?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dim Sum - International Chinese Restaurant

Some time ago, I was asked if I had any dim sum recommendations in Vancouver, and I could only vaguely say that my parents had brought me to a good place on Hastings St. I just had them take me there again, and it's called International Chinese Restaurant (2163 E. Hastings St., at Templeton St., just east of the Dairy Queen). The room is filled with Chinese people, and packed even on a Monday morning. The food is rolled around on the carts, which I much prefer to ordering off a menu. And there was quite a variety of items, and lots to choose from at any one time. Food quality seems to be higher than another Hastings dim sum restaurant. Some highlights from brunch today include a variation of the lacy deep fried taro dumplings that are usually shaped like a football. These ones still had the lacy deep-fried outside, and the soft taro, but were little cylinders, topped off with a couple of scallop slices and filled with a blob of curry mixture in the centre too. Also, they have my favourite dim sum dessert item - that rich, yellow tapioca pudding, topped with a crust, and filled with a sweet lotus paste. I also enjoyed the shrimp-stuffed eggplant dish. The basic dishes are all there too. My parents tell me that the pricing is mid-range as dim sum places go. I think the three of us ate for $30. It's not fancy, but it's not a dive either, and the food is great.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Taste of the City Event Coming Up

I haven't been to this event the past two years, but will try to make it out to this year's CityTV's Taste of the City on Saturday, September 17th. See the link for a full list of the restaurants that will be offering bites (for $0.50 - $3.00). The event goes on from noon - 9 pm. Admission is free! Just purchase your food tickets, and wander. I thought I would note it ahead of time in case anyone who hasn't heard of the event can plan to go. I just found out today that I missed this year's Feast of Fields event in Langley. Oh well.

Birthday Restaurants

Okay, the search is on for a great restaurant for a festive group. Now, my crowd isn't dancing-on-the-tables type festive, but we probably shouldn't take a group of 8 - 25 to a hushed-voices-and-romantic-couples-gazing-at-each-other-all-googly-eyed type restaurant. We're relatively quiet though, and I'm looking for something relaxed, yet still feeling like a nice special night out (don't tell me to go to Denny's so I can get my meal for free). Here's the wrench to throw in to the works - my birthday falls on a Monday! I'm also looking for something not terribly pricey (or at least allows the option of not spending too much). I thought that Yuji's on 4th Ave. would be perfect, but they're closed on Mondays, and I'd still really like to have this dinner on my actual birthday. I mean, I still have to eat on that day. So please comment away with your suggestions. Another thought was Chambar, as I have yet to try it, and reports of the food have all been positive. Another thought was Parkside, as I would love to introduce this restaurant to people who don't already know it. Mistral is also a new one to try. I enjoyed L'Emotion in West Vancouver immensely the one time I went, so I expect good things from this new one on Broadway from Minna and Yves Bennoit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Richmond Night Market

Only three weekends left! I went to the Richmond Night Market for the first time on Friday night, and then again on Monday night (open for Labour Day)and it was a blast sampling all the street food, and browsing all the craptastic merchandise. Since Bac'n Girl and I were sharing everything, we were able to sample SO much. I think we each spent about twenty bucks on food, with each item being $2 - 5. We started with a trio of skewers - bacon and potato, chicken, and pork. We had grilled squid balls on a skewer which were quite tasty, and they were very carefully dressed with Japanese condiments by the man at the stall. In fact, there were all kinds of fish and squid balls in various booths. We also had takoyaki, round balls of batter with a chunk of octopus in the middle, later (at the booth that make the big ones, with all sorts of bits like cabbage inside), dressed with similar condiments (that plum sauce, Japanese mayo, those dancing bonito flakes). Takoyaki is one of my favourite street foods ever, and this one was one of the highlights of the evening. I also had half a barbequed quail ($2!), my favourite poultry. We had six lumpia (like mini spring rolls) and an empanada from a booth. We had Malaysian roti canai, served with curry sauce to dip into, and that was fantastic. We had this really wonderful coconut and mango drink, with jelly, from the Fruit Stop stand. Next to this stand, there was real sugar cane being crushed to extract the juice. Dragon Beard Candy was another discovery. I had never seen or heard of this before, but it's like hand-pulled candy floss, wrapped around minced nut mixture, in small lumps. The coarse threads of sugar are kind of chewy. I also tried a great thai dessert of little coconut custards, fried crispy on one side and topped which came in a serving of ten little custards with a trio of toppings - either corn, taro or green onion on each. It was just lovely because of the crispiness on the outside combined with the warm, gooey, smooth, creamy custard. Some of them were too hot and some were too cold, but when I ate one at just the right temperature, it was wonderful.

On my other visit, Cheeseboy and I also tried periwinkle meat served in a curry-like sauce (tasty and has a great chewy/crunchy texture, reminiscent of pigs ear to me), pineapple fried rice served right in the pineapple half, curry fish balls, thai meatballs (so-so), barbecued tofu (served with a weird, yucky sauce from one booth that was sour), strawberry drink with jelly, "bubble" waffle (great as finger food, because the "bubbles" of the waffle can be pulled apart and eaten individually. They are not filled, incidentally), and chocolate dipped banana on a stick. Most things were served with or on skewers, and it was great fun walking and nibbling away, finding new things to try. I didn't get to try the cute little fish shaped dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste or savory fillings, so I might even go again. The night market is open from 7 pm - midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 7 pm - 11 pm on Sunday until September 25th. We used the $2 parking by the furniture stores, and walked a few minutes from the parking to the market. The market is behind the Home Depot across from Ikea.

Squid Balls Posted by Picasa

Takoyaki - Octopus Balls Being Grilled Posted by Picasa

Takoyaki - Octopus Balls Posted by Picasa

Thai Meatballs

Thai Coconut Custards with three toppings (Taro, Corn and Green Onion)

Sugar Cane Crushing Machine Posted by Picasa

Dragon Beard Candy Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Another Beach Picnic - Raincity Grill Takeout

Raincity Grill Take Out

Just a quick note about a very nice sandwich and salad from the Raincity Grill on Denman St. The summer is winding down, so it's nice to take advantage of the weather while we still can and eat outdoors. While looking for something to eat on the beach at English Bay, I noticed the Raincity Grill's takeout. My ham and cheese, with Caesar salad was $9.95 (or $10.95 with a Jones Soda or Limonata) and was freshly made in front of me while I waited at the takeout window. A nice treat. The other sandwich choices were wild smoked salmon and fromage frais with pickled shallots and arugula on country loaf and raclette cheese tortilla with smoked paprika and tomato braised beans, bell peppers, onions. The other salad choice is green salad with a pickled plum vinaigrette. Alternatively, I could have had a burger from Vera's next door.

Oyama Candy Ham and Gruyere Cheese Filled Baguette with Caesar Salad

The View - English Bay

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Worth the Price of Admission - Those Little Donuts at the PNE

Mini Donut Close-up Posted by Picasa

Oooo, just look at those beautiful little blobs! "Those Little Donuts" (formerly Tom Thumb Mini Donuts) at the PNE every year are by far my favourite doughnuts ever (second place is taken by Bin 942's hot little doughnuts they make to order that comes with their chocolate fondue. Third place is hot Krispy Kremes straight off the conveyer belt. Incidentally, don't even bother with KK's if they're cold. Wait for the "Hot Now" sign to light up). Nothing comes close to Those Little Donuts though, not even those various other mini-doughnut stands, such as the Playland stand, and the mini doughnut stand that's found at the Celebration of Light fireworks festival. The taste and texture of the originals are just perfect. What makes them all the more desirable is the fact that I can only get those donuts for a fleeting 2 weeks at the end of August/early September during the Pacific National Exhibition fair. And I tend to only visit once each year. So here is a food item that is, for me, the very top of its class, and yet I only have access to it once a year. A fleeting 15 minutes of pleasure (or less) each year! It's come down to me paying to get into the PNE just so that I can have those doughnuts. I even dragged my friend to the PNE with me this year so that I could get at those doughnuts. So really, to me, those doughnuts are worth the price of two admissions, plus the five bucks for the two bags of doughnuts themselves. In essence, this year, I paid $25 for a small bag of doughnuts that I inhaled in a matter of minutes - you're kind of forced to eat them quickly, otherwise they get cold. And okay, yes, I did other stuff at the PNE too, but if I'm really up front about it, it's all about the doughnuts.

PNE Mini Donuts - moving through the frying machine Posted by Picasa

Part of what I love about the doughnuts is the cute little frying machines where the dough plops out of the squirty part, and then the little guys happily swim and bob, going around and around in a swirl in the oil, slowly turning perfectly golden brown. Then they get their little coating of cinnamon sugar. Cute food, cooking in a cute food maker! I'm so enraptured, I'm driven to bad haiku:

Little donut swim,
Spiral, sizzle, bob to me
I'm waiting for you

Heh, I hope I haven't frightened my readership away. I'll stay away from the poetry, I promise!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mmmm...A Sweet Italian

Nope, not talking about my love life. I'm talking about probably the best "hot dog" I've ever had. Go to Falconetti's Sausage Company (1812 Commercial Drive, near 1st Ave.) and have one (or more?) of their substantial sausages, served in a perfectly form-fitting curved roll, topped with sauteed onions and peppers, and a great sauce (different sauces for different sausages, according to CityFood). Bac'n Girl and I set out for a summer evening stroll down Commercial (from the skytrain station down to Venables and back up the other side of the street) to graze for our dinner. Falconetti's sweet Italian sausage, and Polish sausage were the highlights of our evening. We both preferred the sweet Italian, with it's yummy fennel-flavoured, meaty goodness, but the Polish was definitely tasty too. There are several other sausages to choose from, and it doesn't hurt that they were served to us by an adorably friendly fellow - a happy co-owner, proudly serving his product on the day they received their liquor license. I have a good excuse to go back soon - I didn't get a close-up photo of the sausage, so I'll have to go back and get another dog. See what I endure for you, dear blog readers? Maybe I'll try the hot Italian next. Speaking of dogs, what kind of dog-owner ties up their poor pooch in front of a sausage restaurant, where the intoxicating smell of sizzling sausage emanates constantly from the big open window over their huge grill? I was tempted to order a sausage just for the doggy.

Another highlight of our walk was the poutine at Frenchies. Really good fries there, served up in a very cute 50's diner, with a staggering collection of vintage art glass displayed on the rafters. Their specialty is the "pink and juicy" - Montreal smoked meat sandwich - which we didn't try that evening. The poutine was great though. They had sugar pie on the menu too! I developed a fondness for the pie when I lived in Ottawa, and haven't had it since. Unfortunately, we didn't have room for it. I had a classic chocolate shake instead. Heh, we wound up overdoing things a bit that night, waddling out of Frenchies all bloated, so I recommend learning from our mistake and making separate trips to try Falconetti's and Frenchies. Not to mention Memphis Blues, and at least a dozen other places we could have stopped in for a bite. So many grease (and sweet, and coffee, and gelato, and ethnic food, and...) options, mmmm. We had been planning to top our evening off with a dessert of the ever elusive deep-fried Mars bar, which can be found on the menu of Belgian Fries, but we just couldn't do it. Bac'n Girl and I have been wanting to try a deep-fried chocolate bar for years, but whenever we get close to an opportunity, we never seem to have the capacity for it. It's the holy grail of fried foods for us now. One day... Anyhow, I love Commercial Drive on a summer night (even if one of my fav's is gone - Santos Tapas). So, anyone up for a hot dog?

Frenchie's Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts at Granville Island

For those of you who check the top of the page for recent posts (and who don't get this blog atom or rss fed to you), please find the PICA review down below as an addition to my Granville Island Overview post of Wednesday, August 10th, 2005. Additional reviews will be added to that post in the future.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Aurora Bistro (Main at Broadway)

First things first - I just want to move into this space! I love the blond wood interior, with it's modern curves around the bar, the uplighting, and the beautiful bathroom. I even love the charming girly, blue bike in the window with the baguette in its wicker basket. Yes, I'd move in, and I'd bike around on that bike. And then I would want to go shopping along Main St. with the wine guy with the warm smile. The menu holders match the walls. The puffy flower stem on each table is wonderful. I even like the fabric on the bench seating, and the glasswork in the divider that hides the bathroom.

My dining companion (a real foodie with much more wine knowledge than I) and I have been trying to get to Aurora Bistro all summer on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to try their summer prix fixe menu series with wine pairings. A great deal at $40 (in the beginning of the summer) for three courses and BC wine pairings, and now at $45, still very worthwhile. A new menu each week. All courses are savory, with a fourth course of dessert and wine pairing available for an additional $10. With enough alcohol in us after the three courses, we opted to order desserts from their regular dessert menu ($8 each), accompanied by very good, very strong coffees (yes, I even loved their cream and sugar set. They have such pretty things). The bread was served with a very pretty pink butter, dotted with various unidentified bits in it. Actually, I wish our waitress had mentioned that it was just bread and butter though (and told us what flavoured the butter), because I thought it was an amuse bouche of some sort of paté, so I wound up getting a mouthful of butter on my bread. Yuck.

We started with organic tomato and cucumber gazpacho with horseradish chantilly. Incidentally, I started out in the beginning of the meal trying to take pictures discreetly with my super cool secret camera, but as the good food and good wine progressed, I became more and more conspicuous (flash! flash! flash!). We were expecting the gazpacho to be chunky, but this one was smooth, yet very flavourful. Quite a pleasing and refreshing starter. I enjoyed the horseradish cream served on top too. Gazpacho was definitely an acquired taste for me. I'm pretty convinced now, though. Cheeseboy has been a fan of the dish for longer. The really fun part of all this was the wine pairing, though! I wasn't really into the Red Rooster 2004 Pinot Gris that much when I tasted it alone, but with the food, it tasted like an entirely different wine, and I really enjoyed the combination. It was really quite a dramatic difference to me, a wine rookie, so I found the experience enlightening.

Blurry Spycam Picture of Gazpacho Posted by Picasa

Next we had local tuna gravlax with goat cheese mousse and house pickles. The wine guy told us he felt this was the best pairing of the menu, and Cheeseboy noted that the Township 7 2004 Sauvignon Blanc successfully cut into the saltiness of the gravlax. Again, it tasted like an entirely different wine to me when taken with the food. I found it to be quite an interesting wine on its own. I liked the pickles in the dish, and it was all very beautiful.

Local Tuna Gravlax with Goat Cheese Mousse and House Pickles Posted by Picasa

The third dish was Dungeness crab and Red Haven peach risotto. A tasty dish. I enjoyed this one. I didn't bother taking a photo of it. It wasn't that photogenic, as dishes go, but I certainly enjoyed the flavours (not the texture as much), and the Sumac Ridge 2003 White Meritage that accompanied. I gobbled it all up though. The crab and peach combination was very tasty.

Their tasting menu this week offered a blackberry galette with vanilla bean ice cream and a mini Okanagan Kir Royale (Sumac Ridge Brut/Elephant Island Cassis) for $10. We chose instead their ice cream sandwich, with Valrhona chocolate chip and (I think) dried tropical fruit, and their pannacotta. I can safely say it is one of the best ice cream sandwiches I've ever had.

Ice Cream Sandwich Posted by Picasa

I think their "chocolate salad" terminology, while cute, heightens expectations unnecessarily, as it's really just a few chocolate shavings on top, but that's a minor quibble. The pannacotta had a beautiful texture, and the pistachio cream on the plate was yummy. Both the decaf coffee and regular coffee were unusually strong and rich (made with Origins Coffee). I liked it, and I wonder if the CoffeeGeek would approve, as one of his recent podcasts (CG Podcast 011) touched on what a shame it is for great, fine dining restaurants to serve mediocre coffee at the end of the meal.

Vanilla Bean Pannacotta with Pistachio Cream and Chocolate Salad Posted by Picasa

A delightful meal. I would love to try the rest of their regular menus. But I did notice something on there that irks me a bit. They list a roasted half cornish game hen under their "large" section (the menu is broken up into "small," "medium," and "large). Call me a glutton, but how can HALF a cornish game hen be considered large? When I had Fiction's summer prix fixe menu, we also were served a half cornish game hen there. Is this a trend? Just serve the whole bird, people! Or both halves on the plate. The poor little thing looks so sad on the plate. Two-bite poultry! Like those two-bite brownies that you can get in the supermarket, but people generally wind up eating about 3 or 4 of those things, before something in their head clicks and says "maybe I should stop.." Well, I don't want to end this review on a sour note. I truly enjoyed my meal at Aurora. A fine experience. Beautiful room and china, great food, a very nice casual atmosphere, a trendy but not too trendy feel, good service (a little room for slight improvement here - our waitress never slipped up, and we always received what we needed, but I did feel a bit of a chill, that perhaps wouldn't be there if we had been in another server's section. I felt her lose her glimmer before I started taking photos, and after we both ordered the summer menu), and an all BC wine list. Having fun with the pairings definitely made the dining experience complete.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Miko Sushi on Robson

Just had a special chirashi sushi ($19), and an agedashi tofu ($4.50) there, and while the agedashi was very nicely done, the chirashi was okay, but not spectacular, at least to my taste. It included those big orange fish eggs, which were quite lovely, but not bits of seaweed in the rice which can be a nice touch. I ate the amaebi, so it must have been very fresh, because I don't usually like that one. Very pretty, and it was good (and I suspect that they cut the pieces of fish small, specifically for my small female mouth, as I was sitting at the bar, and they could see me. So maybe the chirashi would come out different for a man). But I was somehow expecting greatness. So, if you're a big fan of Miko, let me know. Maybe I'm not getting it? Or maybe it can be better? I often use chirashi as my sushi restaurant indicator dish. It's great, because it allows the chef to show off his/her best stuff, and since it's so open-ended, it provides a nice canvas to display skill, creativity, and style. (Ha gow tends to be a common dim sum indicator dish for people, where the quality of the restaurant can be judged by how good their shrimp-filled dumplings are). Maybe I should choose other items on Miko's menu? Service was a bit on the slow side too, and my agedashi came out a few minutes AFTER my chirashi was served, so I had to leave eating that to eat the deep fried dish before it got cold. Anyhow, pipe up if you think I should give them another shot.

Capones - Yaletown Attitude

While it's not generally in my nature to want to disparage a restaurant here (I've mentioned before I feel much better about touting the good ones), I've been feeling lately that readers might appreciate a bit of warning about places to avoid. I went to Capones during the jazz festival this summer so that I could listen to some jazz. The food was certainly edible. Dessert, in fact, was fabulous - a velvety smooth creme brulee. The rest of the meal, to me, felt overpriced, and we definitely got some attitude from the host who showed me to the table, and some from the waitress (and yes, we were drinking alcohol this time), which basically ruins the experience whether there is tasty food or not. We had one of their little pizzas. "The Alcatraz" ($19) has pesto sauce, scallops, prosciutto, spinach, mushrooms, topped with mozzarella & asiago cheese. Scallops on a pizza are really good, I discovered. Tasty toppings on a thin crust, but unfortunately with lots and lots of oil dripping everywhere, to the point of soggifying some of what should have been a crispy crust. We ordered a lamb chop appetizer (two chops, $14), served with a black olive tapenade. The lamb was fine - I mean really, how can one not like a juicy lamb chop. But I'm not sure that the tapenade added that much to it. At least it didn't detract from it. Maybe the prices aren't that unfair, (and I'm not one to spend a lot of time in Yaletown) but I came out this place, having had only a very light meal of just a little pizza, a little lamb chop, drinks and dessert, and downright snobby service, with a $100 bill (including tax, tip, and cover charges which incidentally, was not advertised in any way, and unexpected considering we had both food and drinks, and it was just a one-man show), definitely wishing I could have spent it elsewhere (like across the street at Amarcord, for example). I know this is a somewhat unfair comparison, but just for fun, imagine what kind of meal (for two people) you could get at Guu with Garlic for a hundred bucks! Don't worry about me though. I had a great time, as usual, because of the company I was with, and the experience of trying something new. But consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Beware of Sandbar - A Granville Island Overview

Ahhh, a leisurely trip to Granville Island - what a wonderful thing for a couple of foodies to do. Because I was thoroughly enjoying the Vancouver International Jazz Festival back in July, and also went down to see Shear Madness one night, I've had a few great visits to Granville Island this summer. When you go down there for an event in the evening, there's the question of what to have for dinner. The choices are few, and now, for me, they are quite clear.

In short, my top pick is The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, if you have the foresight to make a reservation early. I liked it so much, I tried to go again the next week (be sure to reserve early!). Also a great spot to pick up lunch or dessert to go, and enjoy outside. Next pick is the bistro (downstairs) part of Bridges, where Cheeseboy and I were able to get one of the nicest spots of the restaurant just walking in (even during the festival). I was truly impressed with the entire dining experience (food execution, presentation, interior design, view, menu, server), far exceeding my expectations. Though part of that is recently having had my expectations lowered by a snarky waiter experience at Sandbar, a stone's throw away. Like the names of the restaurants, Bridges (bistro level) towers above Sandbar in so many ways. Another choice is the market, now open until 7 pm, so one could graze there for an early evening. I have yet to try Go Fish! at Fisherman's Wharf, despite being in the area and wanting to try this restaurant several times. We always seem to think of this place on a Monday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), or we're not hungry early enough, as this place closes fairly early. One day! Other restaurants that I haven't tried on the Island include Sammy J Peppers, The Keg, Tony's Fish Cafe (a fish and chips place at the mouth of the Island that we would have happily tried if they had had the good sense to stay open later during the Canada Day Jazz Festival Event), Dockside, and the Tap Room at the Granville Island Brewery. Other restaurants that I have tried and will absolutely avoid are Sandbar, mainly due to horrible server attitude, an uncomfortable setting, and lacklustre menu and food, and The Cat's Meow, which I went once to years ago, and can only remember the crab cakes being inedible. Details of my restaurant experiences will be posted below, as well as a list of my favourite Granville Island foodie hot spots, including one of the best almond croissants you'll find in the city.

To be continued...

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

I wish I knew some "starving" student who really wants to treat a date to a special dinner, but can't normally afford it. The Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Restaurant would be absolutely perfect. You can get a full-on fine dining experience for not $80 per person, not $60, not even $40! But for $17 per person! Er, sorry...had a mild infomercial attack there. The deal is that a three course dinner at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Restaurant is a mere $34 per person, since it's an instructional restaurant. And then on Mondays and Tuesdays, it's 2 for 1 on top of that! You can imagine they get pretty busy, and I've now had two unsuccessful attempts to dine there on a Monday night (one walk-in attempt, which is how I found out about 2 for 1 night, and one phone call on the night before. Monday was booked out, but Tuesday was still open), but it's worth making the effort to call ahead. The night I did get a reservation, I called on Saturday night, and they returned my call Sunday, so a call two nights before got us in. Well, enough about the bargain aspect, because it's only a real bargain if they can actually deliver in terms of food, atmosphere, and service. And they impressed me on all counts.

The kitchen is staffed by students that are enrolled in the institute's six month Culinary Arts or Baking and Pastry Arts programs. The front of the room is also staffed by these students. Don't let this scare you off. Actually, if anything, I found that everyone seems to put in MORE effort into the experience than you might get elsewhere, and with the guidance of experienced professionals (the instructors), they've got everything down. I don't think I've ever received better service at a restaurant (and this was despite my dinner companions coming in 20 minutes late for the reservation on 2 for 1 night, when the restaurant usually completely books out in advance). Here's a couple of examples of their well-oiled machine type service. A call was made to the restaurant earlier that day to modify the reservation because one person couldn't make it, and they were all set with the correct table for four when I arrived. They had also communicated to my server that we were going to need to get out in time for an 8 pm show, even though the only time I had mentioned this was when I made the initial reservation with the office, and had asked if she thought it was enough time for dinner. Not only did my server know, but he kept it in mind all evening. He was personable, efficient, charming, happy to answer menu and culinary term questions, and showed absolutely no sign of irritation at the late start. At one point, he came over to break the news to one of us that the dessert she ordered was not available, and he did this with the tenderness and solemnity of say, a veterinarian who's come to tell us that our beloved puppy didn't make it through the surgery. (Yah, whatever, bring us that other dessert. I think we'll live!). This is all the more impressive when you realize that (as the little card on the table informs us) the servers don't actually get the tip. They add a 15% gratuity charge, which is given to the school, and ask us not to tip the server. One more note about reservations - they do take a credit card number and would charge $10 per person on a no show. Fair enough, given how often they have to turn people away when they book up.

Onto the food...we photodocumented all the choices made by Bleuet Girl, Instant Noodle Girl, Wine Geek and myself, but I'll comment on the dishes I ate. All were plated beautifully, so I'm happy that I have photos to share (many thanks to Bleuet Girl). Things were off to a great start with a beautiful basket of breads of various shapes and flavours. Really good bread. There was a spicy cheesy one, and the one I ate was shaped as four little spheres stuck together. We were then onto the appetizers. Our choices are below in the captions under the photos. An additional choice on our menu was a zucchini apple soup, blue cheese crumble, and sour cream coulis.

Gourmand Salad with Baked Brie, Cranberry Relish, & Orange Vinegrette.

Roasted Beet Salad, Sauteed Tiger Prawns, Coconut Ginger Curry Cream Sauce, photo by Bleuet Girl.

I chose the Roasted beet, tomato and tiger prawn salad. I quite liked it. I wasn't entirely convinced about the combination with the curry sauce, but it was all very nice.

Tuna Carpaccio Filled With Smoked Salmon, Spicey Papaya Coulis & Mixed Greens, photo by Bleuet Girl

The choices for mains included a grilled marinated garlic chicken breast, tomato polenta, Mediterranean vegetable medley, sundried tomato and red wine sauce; a feuilleté of tilapia, prawns, mussels, and salmon in a ginger and orange cream sauce with julienne vegetables; a pan-seared basa; and meuniare with carmelized butternut squash and ratatouille.

Pistachio Crusted Baked Salmon with a Red Pepper Veloute, Puree Carrots, Grilled Zucchini & Herb-infused Rice Pilaf, photo by Bleuet Girl

Roast Pork Loin, Stuffed with Wine Chorizo, Balsamic Mashed Potaos, Snowpeas & Oyster Mushroom Sauce, photo by Bleuet Girl

I had the roast pork loin for my main. Look at the generous portion of two big slices of pork loin. It's been a while since I've been served this much meat at a fine dining type place. I ate and enjoyed my heavily balsamic mashed potatoes, but I probably would have been happier with plain. Though it definitely makes for a more fun menu description to add that element into it. I must say I just loved their menu. There were so many items that sounded like they would be tasty and interesting to try. Part of that is the complexity of the dishes. For example, I loved the idea that they went to the extra trouble of injecting the sausage into the loin (...I just need to leave this one alone, don't I?), rather than just having a standard slice of pork loin. And just look at all those layers in the Opera cake. It was tasty too, with its layers of chocolate, pastry cream, and meringue, garnished with a chocolate truffle, and served with an orange zest sauce.

Springtime Opera Cake, photo by Bleuet Girl

Strawberry and Sacher Mousse Cake, Strawberry Concasse, photo by Bleuet Girl

Creme Caramel, Fresh Strawberry, photo by Bleuet Girl

The dessert that became unavailable (I imagined some student in the back screwing up, and then freaking out, but who knows what happened) was a lemon orange tart with italian meringue.

Dinner was fun and interesting and tasty, and the room is formal, yet bright, calming, and cheery because of the big picture windows looking out onto a Granville Island boat marina. We enjoyed our desserts with a quick coffee, and then we were on our way to the play at the Arts Club, making it there well in time.

Here's just a final note about their bakery and counter, just outside of the entrance to the restaurant. You can pick up all sorts of lunch goodies to go and beautiful pastries and bread during the daytime. I had their seafood salad, and was completely impressed by the quality of it all, and a steal for about six bucks. Also had a respectable hazelnut torte from the bakery too. The restaurant would be quite a nice lunch spot if you're looking for something a little fancier than the market. They do a seafood buffet for lunch on Fridays that sounds like fun too. Closed Sundays and holidays. This one's definitely a keeper. I just hope that blogging it hasn't made it more difficult to get a table!