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.