Saturday, July 28, 2007

Travels in the Land of Giants

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

"Now THERE'S a marshmallow!"

A field full of marshmallows ready for harvest time.

The marshmallow farmer carefully moving the freshly picked marshmallow.

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

Friday, July 13, 2007

Speed Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Do Chefs Have Groupies?

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

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Our Curry is PROBABLY the Best in the World

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

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