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.