Friday, July 29, 2005

Light Dinner at Lupo Bar Caffe (Georgia at Burrard)

This little place is at quite a convenient location for me, as I use the Burrard skytrain station often, so I was very pleased to see it staying open later lately. I made a very favourable post about lunch there a few months back, and now I've stopped in for their new dinner menu. They received some nice coverage in the Summer edition of CityFood (incidentally, a very worthwhile free foodie periodical - I've found it at places like the market at Granville Island, Cookworks, and Fiction Restaurant) too, which revealed ownership has changed recently - Julio Gonzales-Perini has left the business, but Christopher Riley has decided to remain. I managed to get the scoop on an ownership change afoot before I read this article, through, of all places, hairstylist gossip. So I've been watching this place carefully to see if their food quality and presentation would slip as a result of the change. I go in for coffee and muffin quite often. I'm happy to report that everything seems to be fine, and the changes that have been made are for the better. They are now open to at least 8 pm, and will probably remain open even later in the future. My light dinner from their new dinner menu was quite pleasant. A nice, relaxed place to drop by and have a nibble and a chat after work.

Their dinner menu is a selection of small plates (yes, I believe they do use the "T" word - tapas). I had a glass of red wine, and the chicken drummettes served with a tasty pile of sauteed wild mushrooms. The bones were frenched, making the dish quite pretty. A more sophisticated and interesting treatment of chicken wings, compared to the standard appy of deep frying them. Really good (especially after I added salt). I also had their smoked scallop ceviche, which was nice and somewhat original as well. It involved bits of grapefruit. It was more of a subtle, understated ceviche. Maybe a little too subtle for me, as I think I would enjoy a little more acid in it. Dishes are very reasonably priced too. I love the room (red walls), the location, the very friendly staff, and the combination of a very casual space (due to the take-out counter, the television, and the fact that they are a cafe) with interesting and beautifully presented food. The flavours of the two dishes were good, but I'm not raving about least not yet. But my interest is definitely peaked, and I'm sure I'm going to go back to poke around the rest of their menu. I'm trying to figure out why I like this place so much, and I think much of it has to do with how nice the staff have been to me on every visit. Truly snob-free. Is this due to Italian hospitality? Or is it that these folks have been in the high-end restaurant business long enough to know what they're doing, and that they have a fine appreciation for food and drink? Probably all of that. Oh, and I like their coffee too.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Federico's Supper Club, Commercial Drive

Federico's Supper Club - I love this logo! Posted by Picasa

If you're looking for an old-fashioned, all inclusive evening on the town with your sweetie, I've got the place for you. Especially if retro for you means going further back than MC Hammer. Spend an evening dining and dancing the night away at Federico's (Commercial, near 1st Ave), a re-creation of the supper clubs popular in the 1930's. Stepping into the darkened restaurant through the big, gorgeous, art deco logo doors was like a time warp, with the clientele all whirling around gracefully on the dance floor, Federico himself crooning away at the mike on stage, and appropriately bow-tied waiters whizzing about. The oh-so-debonair pinstripe-suited customer whirling around with his lady just completed the look. A fabulous room - it's kind of like dining in Disney, where the restaurants are themed attractions in themselves. Almost expected some actors with fedoras and machine guns to break in and stage a mafia cafuffle.

Dinner is quite competently executed Italian food. I very much enjoyed the house antipasto platter. We just ordered the antipasto for one ($9.95), and it was quite a generous selection of the usual antipasto suspects. There were these tiny olives that were just too adorable. Our waiter brought over a mountain of nice, soft bread, which we had to restrain ourselves from somewhat so that we didn't stuff ourselves before our mains arrived. I chose the Risotto con Frutti di Mare ($17.95), and was expecting a creamy, gooey type risotto, but this dish is different. The grains of rice were left fairly firm but it was sitting in the (tomato based?) sauce. It had an abundance of various seafood though. I preferred Potato Salad Boy's choice - the pasta special of the night, spaghetti with mushrooms and chicken in a cream sauce. We were both stuffed, without being able to finish our meals, so no dessert for us. Instead we hit the dance floor a bit.

Just so you understand where I'm coming from, I love cheesiness. I love lounge singers, and I love seeing people who know what they're doing ballroom dance. I was informed by my dining companion that "Asian people...they love that ballroom dancing." Ohh, that explains why I love it. Federico's father was playing the mandolin for some songs, and it was so intense, it sounded like a train was coming towards us. He strolled amongst the tables, kind of like when violinists would stroll around romantic restaurants on TV in 80's sitcoms . Wonderfully cheesy. As P.S. Boy remarked, "cheesier than the parmesan they put on our pasta." I was absolutely loving the whole scene. And just when I thought it couldn't get any cheesier, there Federico was, singing Phantom of the Opera to a synthetic dance beat while wearing a white half mask. Absolutely brilliant. Frederico even did some pop songs. I kid you not, he sung a medley that started with an ABBA tune! And the crowd loved it. He did a couple of happy birthdays to people in the restaurant, and then went back to a cha-cha after that. Hope I didn't spoil the Phantom bit for anyone out there. Go, have a good time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Foundation, Main at 7th Ave.

I stopped by The Foundation on a Thursday night - my first time there. It's a vegetarian joint, which is not normally my thing, and it was filled with South Main hipsters, all looking fairly retro while sitting in the 50's style chrome and vinyl dining sets. Again, not normally my scene lately. But I was surprisingly quite satisfied by the food there. We had the smaller sized "Utopian Natchos" [sic] and their dish of black bean, mango, and rice, sprinkled with coconut. The nachos were HUGE, and pretty good. I'd be scared to order the large size. They were covered in cheddar, black beans, and corn kernals, and came with a small bowl of sour cream, and another of a nice salsa. We added on guacamole. The chips were a little thicker and heartier than I like, and we got a lot of small broken bits. I prefer thin and crisp chips. That black bean and mango dish was awesome! I was really surprised how such a simple combination could be so very satisfying. It was served with a bit of sweet red salsa. They have very tasty iced tea too. On another night, with additional dining companions, I might order a pitcher of sangria. Given that we only had a few items, and yet TWO of those items exceeded my expectations (mango,beans and rice, and iced tea), and also because the server was efficient and friendly (in a full room), I'm going to recommend this place. If I was vegetarian, I could see myself enjoying this place regularly. Since I'm a shameless "meat-atarian," I could see myself dropping by again if I was in the area, and in the mood for that noisy, funky, busy vibe, and a plateful of something relatively healthy feeling. More incentive for a vegetarian meal? Here's Pamela Anderson speaking seriously about chicken processing.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Flambé For the Home! (For Those Who Want Their Home Flambéd)

This flambé footage kills me - I love it! I found it on Sauté Wednesday, and it's entitled "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" Cooking with friends is so much fun, especially when things are experimental! I fondly remember a first-time home flambé attempt with friends at Bac'n Girl's parents' home (when we were much, much younger). That's the mark of a great friend - one who would put her parents' house in jeopardy to get that Cherries Jubilee aflame for my birthday. We actually had the opposite problem where we weren't getting enough flame. But eventually we got fire (just like going camping). Anyone else remember the first time you flambéd? Maybe the people in the video should have read one of the cookbooks I have: The Pyromaniacs Cookbook, The Best in Flaming Food and Drink, by John J. Poister. The restaurant formerly known as Crepe Bretonne used to have flambéd dessert crepes. I wish there were more restaurants flaming their food at the table. I love drama.

Best Nachos in Town?

This is a poll. Who serves the best nachos in town (we're talking restaurants here, because I'm sure each and every one of us makes the all time very best nachos in town at home, right)? Post a comment if you have a vote, and try to explain what distinguishes your winner from the rest. I'll start us off:

My pick is Andales Mexican Restaurant (1175 Davie. I usually go there, but I believe the dish at the Broadway location is just as good). The Andales Nachos with chicken is smothered in things like diced tomato, black olives, nice guacomole (in a very generous plop on top, next to sour cream), whole black beans, and some incredibly tender and moist pieces of chicken (they must braise the chicken slowly). Plus lots of cheese that is well-distributed throughout. The chicken is really good, and I think this is the big difference between the dish here, and virtually everywhere else. Dry, overcooked chicken should be considered a crime.

Recently, someone told me The Foundation on Main at 7th has the best, but I'll encourage her to post it as a comment so that we can hear why. I know someone else who might say the Wolf and Hound on Broadway, near Alma. Again, I'm encouraging everyone to post their own favourite, with some details to back it up.

Hey, imagine a progressive large group dinner where we go from restaurant to restaurant sampling nachos? Anyone up for a vertical tasting of nachos? It would have to be one HUGE group for us to be able to just have a couple of nibbles at each place, so that no one makes themselves sick. Okay, maybe this isn't the best idea. But I'm really interested in organizing some sort of progressive dinner in the future. Maybe on skytrain even.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Tapas Term Rant

Just a quick rant, and then I'll be on my way. Well, I just saw another instance of an Izakaya type restaurant (Japanese place to go and have drinks plus small dishes of food) referred to as a "Japanese take on tapas." The Spanish did not invent this concept! Small dishes are a natural part of Japanese cuisine. Even in the Japanese home, it is typical to serve a meal as lots and lots of small dishes. I personally think the popularity of the "tapas" phenomenon, or sharing many small plates, in Vancouver is partly due to the high Asian population here anyway. Being Chinese myself, I am used to enjoying Chinese meals that involve small bites of a variety of dishes (served communally), and therefore tire somewhat more easily of a huge entree involving many bites of the same item in a row. So the small plates style of dining definitely appeals to me, and I'm quite happy with the trend. However, I recently visited Ichibankan on Thurlowe off Robson, which used to be a charming little underground (I mean that mostly literally) Japanese restaurant with a full menu. Very homey. The type of place that would have about nine (!) dancing santas wiggling away all over their restaurant at Christmastime, and also the type of place where you find tables and tables full of Japanese students. Now it has become a "Sake and Jazz Bar" and they have modernized the room, and the menu. It does look great, with deep red walls and sleek, black furniture, and equally sleek, black (clothed) servers. But it's such an abbreviated little menu now, and just reeks of trying to keep up with a trend, and trying to be more downtown. It's kind of like seeing people buying ponchos for half price at Army and Navy, and thinking they're in fashion. Or like noticing how the South Granville MacDonald's interior has to look nicer, and more understated compared to other MacDonald's to blend in. Anyway, we did have some tasty food at Ichibankan (teriyaki chicken, tuna roll, agedashi tofu, and chicken karaage. There are more interesting things on the menu, including wild game meats, but we just didn't order them), some nice hot sake, and service was excellent. But it's no Guu, and has a bit of a wannabe air to it. Nice room though. At least they didn't use the word tapas anywhere. But I'm likely to try and strangle the next reviewer that does call it a tapas bar.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Taco del Mar, Granville near Pender

TDM is a pretty tasty fast food option if you're near the Granville Skytrain Station. This U.S. chain originating from Seattle specializes in fish tacos. I had one of their soft tacos, $2.59. I'm hooked! They deep fry Alaskan cod and top it with shredded cabbage, sauce, cheese and salsa in either a soft or hard shell. It's across from the Book Warehouse on Granville, where you can find cookbooks at good prices. (Speaking of cookbooks, I visited the new Barbara Jo's in Net Loft on Graville Island recently. A nice addition to a foodie's visit to Granville Island).

It's been noted that Tex Mex fast food hasn't had much of a presence in Vancouver (possibly in part due to a rumoured deal made by MacDonald's with Taco Bell during EXPO '86 to ensure their total domination, but that's unconfirmed and speculative, from an unreliable source). Tex Mex used to be a staple of my diet when I lived in Athens, Georgia (where a local chain called Taco Stand fills up many, many hungry, poor students day and night. The quintessential student meal when you don't even have the time or energy to make KD). Anyway, Taco del Mar is pretty decent for fast food, and they even serve alcohol. How thoroughly American!