Friday, November 07, 2008

Sentimental Favourites

I've written before about the effect of the context and company on the success of the food.  If you think back to your best meals, likely there were special people and special circumstances that amplified the efforts of the restaurant cooks, servers, dishwashers, designers, food producers and anyone else involved in putting together the dining experience.  Or just as likely, your best meals were put together lovingly in someone's home. Romance, for example, can make even the simplest snack of toasted bread into something memorable and ridiculously wonderful in your mind. Or maybe it's just me?  I know, I'm a sap.  And this post is all about being a sap about these things.  But there are times when being too sentimental about meals can be detrimental.  Do you have any strong associations of particular restaurants with particular people?  In the case where these people aren't still in your life, do you ever "save" these restaurants in your memory for these people?  I wrote about getting over that a while back, when returning to the restaurant of my very first date.  Not that I don't keep my sweet memories, but I'm not going to cross off a good restaurant (or lets face it, dozens of them, haha) because of who I had been there with.   I realized I can keep the memory safe and go back to the scene without jeopardizing the preciousness of it all.  

I've recently had a birthday, and I'm actually feeling just ever so slightly wiser.  I am enjoying the fact that I have had a lot of interesting experiences so far in my life.  I am a person who enjoys variety, and I've had a LOT of my restaurant experiences.   

I took Ginger Beer Man to the Afro Canadian Restaurant in Gastown (324 Cambie St. between Hasting and Cordova, 604-682-2646) which means that I've had a different date each time I've gone, with years in between each visit.  The restaurant remains the same comfy little haven of spicy goodness that it's been for 15 years.  I, on the other hand, feel like I've grown quite a bit in the last few years.  Emotionally, that is.  And while I'm not in contact with the other two previous dining companions anymore, I still hold some fond memories of them and the meals.  But that doesn't take away even one granule of enjoyment I had on the last visit (so my enjoyment is granular?  Yah, the grains of sand in an enjoyment hour glass, hahaha).  

Anyhow, this is just a reaffirmation for you Nancylanders who might already be familiar with the restaurant - Afro Canadian remains a simple yet sastifying gem in this gritty area, serving tasty stews like the jerk chicken, lamb, and beef dishes that we chose for our meat platter ($17 for enough food for two, three choices of meat dishes).  It was served along with salad and rice all on the nice flat spongy injera bread that sops up all those juices as well as serving as an eating utensil.  It's a place that was shared with me my first time, like a juicy little secret, and now I enjoy passing it along to others.  But only to those that are worthy.     

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Baking Therapy

Baking for me is relaxing and yet very rewarding and productive - a perfect therapeutic activity and cheaper than, say, "retail therapy," a phrase I actually first heard from a straight male acquaintence...a well-groomed one, as you might expect.  An added benefit of baking therapy is that it tends to make people around me happy too.  I once went through a short cheesecake experimentation period, and it was just the act of making them that I found comforting.  I wound up supplying cheesecake to everyone in my immediate vicinity.  I've even been known to share my "breakup buns" with the ex-boyfriend I broke up with.  

Some cooks who are uppity about their preference for making up a recipe as they go will scoff at baking as being too restrictive and just about following rote instructions precisely (when following rather than developing recipes), but I find that there tends to be plenty of opportunity for creativity and modification; there's adjustment to taste, technique improvement through experience, the enjoyment of learning new techniques and tips, and especially a great expression of artistic creativity in the aesthetic design of the product (think crazy gingerbread people or a fabulously decorated cake), and in serving presentation (garnishes, sauces, dustings, accompaniments).  Also, by integrating multiple elements to make a dessert, you can express your creativity in flavour combinations, just as you would when coming up with a main course that has several savoury components.  I often think fondly of the six-course dessert menu with wine pairings that I had at Espai Sucre, an all dessert restaurant in Barcelona, Spain that profoundly changed my perception of what dessert can be.  There really is no limit. 

But I also enjoy the simplest desserts.  Sometimes you just can't beat a homey favourite like an old-fashioned slice of pie and coffee.  My favourite pie has been banana cream pie for years (with warm blueberry double crust pie, served with vanilla ice cream, a close second), yet I've never made one until today.  I discovered that it's really an easy thing to make, and for guidance, I used the Five Roses, A Guide to Good Cooking cookbook (as well as my usual Googling cross referencing habit when tackling a new dish).  The Five Roses is a classic Canadian cookbook first published in 1967 and given to me as a gift by someone who bakes for a living.  A good pie is one of those things that seems a bit hard to come by (or at least something I seem to be particularly particular about), so I think mastering pies at home is a worthwhile project.  

My first banana cream pie wound up being a bit too sweet, but that can be easily corrected next time.  Part of the problem was that I went for a sweet graham cracker crust because I had a bunch of graham crackers that needed using up, but I would omit the sugar recommended in the book.  I also used the very sweet meringue topping suggested in the recipe, to use up the egg whites (as the custard requires egg yolks), but I think next time I would just go with whipped cream only next time, and use the egg whites up later in an egg drop soup or something.  The meringue does make for a very pretty topping though.  But it's not a pie that keeps well.  I'm quite pleased with how simple it is to make though.  It may just wind up getting on my roster of potluck contributions one of these days.  Uh oh, I see a pie phase coming.  Maybe I'll start with a Banana Cream Pie Period, and then, of course, move onto my Blue(berry pie) Period, hehehe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Vehicle of My Dreams

I was watching Daily Planet tonight, and they did a show on Burning Man 2008.  There were all sorts of amazing pieces shown on the show, but there's one I really crave:  a personal muffin car.  There's a group that built about a dozen muffin and cupcake cars, and have been going to Burning Man for years with them.   They even let Jay Ingram drive the blueberry muffin for the show segment.   I could just imagine riding around town in one of these, complete with little topping hat.  I hope the creators don't mind me posting this photo of their amazing vehicles.  I want to go to Burning Man one day.   Baby steps, I guess - I had a blast at the first Pemberton Festival in June this year, and now have a taste for traveling to festivals.  

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer's Almost Over? Check Out Some Great Patios While You Still Can

On this rainy late August day, I'm sure the thought that "summer is almost over" is creeping up on many minds in Vancouver.  But the rain reminds us to appreciate the sunny days while we have them, and I think we'll get some more beautiful warm days before it ends, so let's make the most of them.  There's nothing like a great patio meal on a summer's night in Vancouver. Here are a few of my more obscure and relaxed favourite patios.  Check them out when the rain clouds clear. 
1.  Afghan Horsemen Restaurant (#202 1833 Anderson Street, 2nd Floor, 604-873-5923) has a nice big patio at their new location upstairs, just before Granville Island.  You can see photos of the patio on their website, and when Bac'n Girl and I went, we had the patio to ourselves, well, except for one strange cell phone user who chose to stand right next to us to talk on the phone despite the expanse of patio space available to him. The patio is complete with a nice canopied area, plenty of greenery, and palm tree with fake coconuts.  Try their Horseman's Platter that can be made up for two (about $25 per person) or more people.  They still have their wacky drinks for two, and a nice pillowed area inside where you can sit on the floor.

2.  New India Buffet (805 West Broadway at Willow St., with free underground parking at night that you can access from Willow St., 604-874-5800) has a nice big array of choices and plenty of food, and good maintenance of the buffet.  It's a basic, casual place without a lot of service, but they have some dishes that stand-out sometimes.  I have noticed nice tender chicken in their butter chicken and really good galub jamun (syrup soaked doughnut-like balls).  This find was a tip from a regular Nancylander (thanks, SaabKen.  Please see his update on the place in the comments section) on patios last year and I've been there several times now.  There is plenty of room for groups here, even on the outdoor patio overlooking the city.   

3.  Guu with Garlic (1698 Robson Street at Bidwell Street, 604-865-8678) Get here early for a spot on this tiny patio, and people watch the Robson pedestrian traffic while enjoying tasty izakaya food.  So many izakayas, just like many other western pubs, are somewhat cave-like (dark colours, windowless enclosed spaces).  It's nice to be able to sit out on an open patio and watch the world go by.  

4.  The Do it Yourself Patio.  Summer is also beach weather, and when you can't quite find that perfect combination of water view, pleasant outdoor eating area and really worthwhile food, then take matters into your own hand, and bring take out to eat at the beach.  The last time I did this, I sat on the big rocks at Sunset Beach (next to English Bay), eating a lovely tostada from Casablanca Restaurant, (1102 Davie Street at Thurlow, 604-633-9950) a relatively new, tiny Mexican restaurant with charming staff.  

Sometimes you don't even need spectacular food, just something satifying.  Bac'n Girl and I went on a night time bunny count at Jericho Beach just armed with McDonald's hot fudge sundaes.  Incidentally, I've recently tried the banana cream pie flavoured Blizzard from Dairy Queen and was introduced to the concept of Drive-Thru Dairy Queens (uh oh).  

Another night, I enjoyed a satisfying green tea flavoured cream puff from the new Beard Papa next to English Bay (1184 Denman Street at Davie Street, 604-681-3163) the space used to be all Amy's Cake House). English Bay is a great beach to eat at because there are lots of logs to sit on there if you don't have a blanket.  It's a Japanese chain that makes big beautiful cream puffs with a crispy outer shell, and soft chewy insides, filled with a nice custardy cream.   Definitely go for the the vanilla flavoured cream puff rather than the green tea one (seasonal special flavour that was available the day I went), if you like a nice rich flavour.  The green tea cream was subtle and light, and pleasant though.  Check out the website cartoon cream puff story of Beard Papa.  They inject the cream into the puff after you order it and carefully sprinkle it with powdered sugar.  It may appear expensive when you first arrive ($2.75 for a cream puff?  A box of six costs nearly $10?) but they aren't tiny little cream puffs.  They're huge and satisfying and have good vanilla flavour.   They have other treats at the store too, that look interesting.

5.  And just a quick list of good drinking patios with great service (I tend to like a good cocktail list) that are not so obscure:  
  • Zin Restaurant on Robson Street between Jervis St. and Bute St. Great Robson St. people watching.  Unfortunately, they renovated, and toned down their formerly fabulous deep red cosy room and have made it feel more open, but the cocktails and the patio are still great.  The lounge side used to be one of my favourite rooms in the city (for restaurants).  I think they took the dividing curtain out between the lounge and the dining side, and toned down the red colour.  
  • Earl's on Top on Robson Street at Bute St.  Great service, and relaxed patio. 
  • Nu on the seawall, under the downtown side of the Granville St. bridge.  Great water view.  Desserts have taken a turn for the worse, and food can feel pricey for what you get, but it's a beautiful patio looking over to Granville Island and a marina.
  • Fiddlehead Joe's on the seawall at the Concord Pacific side of False Creek.  Great water view.  
  • Hudson's Landing Pub at the Coast Hotel (1041 S.W. Marine Drive at the Vancouver side of the Oak St. bridge).  They have a small patio hideout - very casual and relaxed.  Typical pub grub offerings, done at a decent quality level.  I enjoyed their smooth-style spinach and artichoke dip and dry ribs. 
  • O'Doul's Restaurant on Robson Street at Jervis Street I haven't gone in ages because both service and food have been slightly hit and miss for me and I have less tolerance for this at this high a price range, but I mention it because I do have great respect for the chef there (formerly of Zin) and I was very pleased to have discovered their little courtyard patio hidden in the middle of the restaurant.  The website has been nicely updated and it's probably worth checking out again sometime.  

Monday, August 18, 2008

Western Lake Chinese Restaurant

If you're looking for a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver with very good quality food, check out Western Lake Chinese Restaurant (4989 Victoria Drive between 33rd and 34th Ave, 604-321-6862).  I went there for a group family dinner a while back, and everything on the set group menu for six impressed me (you know, the one written only in Chinese.  If you don't read Chinese, just take a chance and order it.  Make sure they are not giving you a non-Chinese version though.  Not sure if they have that there, but some restaurants have a "western" or "gwai-lo" and a Chinese version of the set menus).  In particular, I remember that the texture of the fried rice was amazing, and may be the best I had ever had.  I realized I must be doing something wrong at home when I make it.  It's been a while since I went, but since finding a good Chinese restaurant can be somewhat less accessible to people, I wanted to make mention of this one.  Portions were generous and prices were good.  The place was absolutely packed with people, and there were lots of large groups.  If you have a large group meal coming up, consider making a reservation here.  They have daily dim sum here too, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet. 

Friday, August 08, 2008

What? Another Izakaya? Toratatsu is my new fav!

Saba (mackerel) Getting Torched, with Barley-fed Pork Salad in Foreground

Seriously Delicious Saba, Post-torching

Onigiri ($4)

Buta Shabu Salad - Barley-fed Pork Salad ($7.30)

Avocado Fries (I know!) and Negitoro

Cheesecake (made with Camembert) with Honey

Okay, so I'm walking along Denman, like I've done hundreds of times before, and I notice a little Japanese izakaya.  I go in, I am pleased by the fun menu, I order, I am blown away, and I ask, how long has this been here.  A year!  I could have been eating here for the last year!  I come back again another day and everything is tasty again.  I come back with friends (some Vancouver ex-"pats" that have moved to Calgary).  Everything is tasty again.  The name of this little gem is  Toratatsu Japanese Tapas Bistro (735 Denman St. at Alberni St.,  604-685-9344).  

The place is worth checking out for their negitoro dish ($7.80) alone.  I am a huge fan of tuna with green onion anywhere, but this place serves it as a dip for avocado fries!  Yes, you heard me.  They deep-fry avocado, and it's absolutely delicious. They coat it with panko (light and crispy Japanese bread crumbs), and it goes great with the negitoro dip that is chopped tuna and green onion dressed with rice wine vinegar, a little fish roe, mayo and other things that get all mixed up together.  I've never had deep-fried avocado before, and it seems a bit extravagent, but it's really good.  It almost doesn't need any sort of dip, but what the hell, if you're going that far anyway, you might as well top it with negitoro too.  I love their little tempura skewers (they will call it different things on the menu - kushiten or fritters, $7); they include a wonderful selection of bite-sized crispy coated veggies and fish cake, seafood or meat.  I really enjoyed their sablefish in particular too.  The have some nice starch dishes too, like their rice dish in a hot stone bowl (when I went, it was eel and cucumber) and their Tarako Kimchi Udon, a fried udon dish that was very tasty and satisfying.  

Another fun bit about the restaurant is that they have fresh fruit smashed drinks.  They list the fresh fruit available that day on the board, and you can have it with the liquor of your choice (vodka, sake, shochu...) (only $5.50).  They also serve sake in a freshly cut piece of bamboo, which I have not tried yet ($9) and have a few cocktails, like the Dark and Stormy rum and ginger beer drink that I enjoyed ($8).   They have quite a wine list too for a Japanese place.  Service has been quite good, and the cute young chefs pop out to bring you the food too.  Don't be surprised that these folks know what they are doing though.  This restaurant has only been open since June 2007, but the owner/chef is the youngest son of the same family that ran the now closed Yaletown restaurant Shiru-Bay Chopstick Café, which was the Lower Mainland extension of a successful chain of restaurants in Tokyo.  The chef trained at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and incorporates flavours and ideas from Europe on the menu.

It seems like the staff of all the izakayas in town are very connected to each other.  I wonder if that would make a good tv show setting?  This place is just a few blocks away from Kingyo, which is another fantastic izakaya (a bit bigger, with great service and excellent food too).  They are also close to the Japanese charcoal grill restaurant Zukkushi which is tasty, but I haven't been back for a while, feeling like it was a bit pricey when I went.  And now there is a new izakaya off Robson St. on Jervis (next to my favourite crepe place) called Kakurenbou Japanese dining.  I've only been once, during it's soft opening with a reduced menu, and the place looks sharp, and it has very traditional flavours such as a lot of sancho and fresh shiso leaf.  The name comes from the Japanese for hide and seek, and meant to refer to the space which is small and intimate, and like a little hideaway.  I will give it a try again now that they have their full menu before posting fully about it, but in general I am much more excited by Toratatsu, and generally get more of a cosy home-y feel from it.  I went to Toratatsu again recently, and they had their AC blowing, so it was quite comfy, and it was a hot summer day, so I received a nice refreshing cold towel upon arrival.  The first time I went, they had these little tablets that they poured water on, which magically expanded into a disposable wet towel, but they were quick to tell you that they were towels and not some sort of candy.  That was fun and cute, but it's nice to have the reuseable towels now.  They're open seven days a week, and take reservations.  

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Takoyaki at the Richmond Summer Night Market

I had a great time at the Richmond Summer Night Market, and the above photo is one of the things that make it worthwhile for me.  I fell in love with takoyaki as a young teenager visiting Japan on an exchange program.  It reminds me of experiencing the summer festivals there and of being fresh and naive, curious about the world, and joyfully sucking in Japan like a brand new sponge.  I love street food, and our city is definitely lacking.  I remember a time when bylaws made the environment hostile to even the hot dog stands.  Mind you, I appreciate that someone is looking out for hygiene and that health standards are high here for food safety and all that.  But I'm a five second rule type of gal (maybe even 15 seconds), and a bit of a risk taker.  Hey, my delicate sheltered belly survived Mexican taco stands and the deep fried goodies down there and I don't even live there.  So I am all for more street food here.  

Anyhow, I was glad to see that the Richmond market is alive and well, and I want to support it, since it did take some effort to save this event.  Sure, when I went there seemed to be fewer food stalls than the previous years, but I heard that more were coming later (there may already be more now).  And we had no problem stuffing ourselves silly with what was available there (even needing to strategize, as there were a couple of things I just couldn't fit in at the end).  

Our adventure at the night market started right when they opened, so it was relatively uncrowded, and I even snagged a parking spot right next to the market.  We had veggie-filled fish waffles, so many lamb skewers (Bac'n Girl came back with fistfuls of them for us...I love how happy she looks when she's got a bunch of meat), the takoyaki of course (toasted doughy balls with a chunk of octopus in the middle and lots of toppings), giant fried chicken breast, halibut taco, duck-filled pancake, sweet rice flour balls, super spicy curry fish balls (which weren't that spicy), korean potato noodles, stuffed peppers, and dragon beard candy and other sweets.  I enjoy the wandering about and getting excited about a food item.  It's different from just having a meal where people bring you all the food and take care of your every need.  There is an element of conquest to the market experience.  "Oh, we have to get some of that!"  "Okay, I'll go get this while you get that!"  It's somewhat dirty and messy, inconvenient, awkward to eat, and a hell of a lot of fun.  

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Prepare to Descend on the Richmond Summer Night Market on Sunday, July 6th, at 7 pm

This Sunday will be my first trip to the Summer Night Market in Richmond this year, and I'm inviting fellow foodies out to meet me. Meet me 7 pm in front of the food stalls. I am unsure of the exact layout of the site, but I am guessing that there will be one main entrance to the market, so proceed through that and continue until you find the cluster of food stalls (hopefully this will be obvious and in one location). I will hover there precisely at 7 pm, wearing a small official nancyland button, and will have buttons to give out. Look for a small group of drooling foodies looking like they are waiting for other foodies. We will gather there, and then pounce upon the food stalls so if you make it there later, look for us amongst the goodies. If you plan on coming to the market to look for us, leave me a comment at this post or an email and we'll look out for you. Bring cash in the form of loonies and toonies, an empty belly, and friends.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Like a Roving Colony of Ravenous Foodie Army Ants: new Nancyland Meet at the (Richmond) Summer Night Market!

I've been waiting and waiting for the Richmond Summer Night Market (12631 Vulcan Way, behind Home Depot on Sweden Way) to open. First, I was just waiting for the summer to come; then I heard about the original founder cancelling the event due to the lease running out; and then found out that Paul Cheung, Lions Communications, was a new organizer that had rushed in to save the day (yay!); and then I heard about legal problems, construction sabatoge, and finally (and the most heart-breaking) plumbing problems which delayed the food vendors for weeks after official opening. But the word on the virtual street is that the food vendors came back last weekend (June 21st), and things are in full swing!

So that means that I can finally make an outting to the market, and I'm inviting Nancylanders to join me in wandering the food stalls as a pack, devouring all the Asian street food that crosses our path like a ravenous colony of foodie army ants. I will announce a trip for next weekend, either July 4,5,or 6th.

Transit from Vancouver looks pretty easy. Get yourself to Metrotown station and take the 430 Richmond Exchange from Bay 8 and get off on Bridgeport Road, just west of Sweden Way or take the 98 Burrard Station B-Line to Bridgeport Road and then transfer to the 407 Gilbert that travels along Bridgeport, getting off just before Sweden Way. There are pay parking lots as part of the market too, details can be seen at the link to the summer market website.

Post a comment (or email me at if you are interested in attending and feel free to leave a preferred date. I am looking at starting early in the evening, at 7 pm when the market opens, so that we have empty bellies to start, and the grazing serves as dinner.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jonker Street Restaurant

Just one visit so far to the little Jonker Street Restaurant (1128 Pacific Blvd, at Cambie St. 604-688-8565), and I was thoroughly impressed with the Malaysian food there. It seemed very authentic, tasty, with fresh bright flavours and not too greasy. The room is bright, casual and clean, and the service is very personable. It seemed like the man serving us was the owner, and he was a great host. It has a very relaxed atmosphere.

I must have roti canai ($2.80), a flaky somewhat sweet bread served with a curry sauce, anytime I see it on a menu. So Bac'n girl and I started with sharing an order of that (next time I'll get my own order) and an order of gado-gado ($7.50), a mixed salad of tofu, bean sprouts, green beans, potato and boiled egg, and covered with a tasty peanut sauce. The Roti Canai was one of the nicest ones I've had, and the Gado-Gado was a perfectly crunchy and filling salad. Bac'n Girl had been advised by a Malaysian friend that would serve their KL Hokkien Me noodles ($9.50) with the traditional bits of deep fried pork fat that you might find if you ordered the dish in Malaysia (but omit it if you don't ask for it...I'm thinking they probably found that the typical Yaletowner would not be attracted to "deep-fried pieces of fat" on a menu). The bits of fat were delicious of course, and the thick yellow noodles with mixed seafood and vegetables braised in a special dark sauce were great. I ordered their Nasi Jambori ($13.90) with was a sampler of chicken curry, beef rendang and prawn sambal. It was served with boiled egg, side salad, pappadum and jasmine rice. Everything was very tasty, and I loved having such a variety of dishes. I was impressed with the quality and freshness of the little salad too, and it was all very filling. I remember enjoying their big plump prawns in the spicy sambal sauce. In fact, we both noticed that someone sitting beside us ate everything on their plate, except for two big prawns, and it seemed such a waste that we were tempted to say that we'll eat them. They have some Malaysian drinks too, and Bac'n Girl and I ordered a couple of those too, though I can only remember that mine was cold and sweet, and hers was a hot tea. And for dessert, the Sago Gula Melaka ($3.80), chilled sago (a root starch, like tapioca) pudding served with coconut milk and fragrant palm sugar was perfect.

I'll definitely go back, and it's a great addition to this area; geographically just outside of the hub of snobby trendoids that makes up much of Yaletown, but worlds away in terms of atmosphere and value. If you park in the Urban Fare underground parking lot, Jonker St. will reimburse you for the first hour.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kitsilano Farmer's Market and Greek Day on Broadway

I'm checking out the nibbles at two summer events today:

1. the Kitsilano Farmer's Market at West 10th Avenue and Larch St. runs Sundays 10:00 am - 2:00 pm throughout the summer.

2. Greek Day on Broadway between Blenheim and MacDonald Avenue is just on today, Sunday, June 22nd, from 11:00 am - 9:30 pm.

If you happen to spot me there today, ask for the first ever Nancyland collectable item. I will leave it as a surprise for now, but I can tell you it has Ha Gow, my little dumpling character on it. I'll be wearing one myself, and I'm wearing grey pants and a black top. And then there's the free jazz down in Gastown all day, with the last band going on at 6:30 pm.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I was pleasantly surprised by Century Restaurant and Bar (432 Richards St. between Pender and Hastings St., 604-633-2700). Even though I know enough to take the reviews on a particular post-your-own-restaurant-review type website with a grain (or a big pinch) of salt, I was still a bit wary having read the reviews after choosing the restaurant. Well, I wound up having a really satisfying meal there with great service, and left completely impressed. The restaurant has changed chefs a few times, so this restaurant has likely been different places at different times during its short life, possibly explaining the mixed reviews in its past. The building itself has certainly been different places during its long life, starting out as bank at the turn of the century. However, there's no dispute online or otherwise that the current decor is amazing, and I was looking forward to seeing it. The architectural details of the 1911 bank are all there, with the beautiful barrel vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and even the old bank vault. The restaurant design is also gorgeous with it's hip Latin cowboy feel, Che Guevara and cowboy murals in rich browns, and beautiful suede-covered curved booths. The seating was not only attractive but extremely functional and roomy. Sitting in the half circle bench feels very cosy, and the half circle tables can be put together for larger groups. The restaurant is actually a bit smaller than I imagined and very comfortable. It's a room that makes you want to live in it. Imagine it as the ultimate party loft with a big bar for all your swanky parties...even if you don't have swanky parties now, with a pad like that, you'd have to start.

But when we arrived at the beautiful refinished heritage building, we initially felt a bit of trepidation as there appeared to be only one customer - a man at the bar - and no staff in sight. In actuality, there was a table in the back around the corner, and the one server was just away getting something. Another large party did arrive later in the evening, but I do hope that people come to this restaurant and keep it alive.

I started with an "El Che" ($7.75) - one of several tasty sounding cocktails. I liked it so much, I even reproduced a version of it at home later. It's made with pomegranate vodka, apple juice, fresh cucumber, and fresh jalapeno. Spicy hot and refreshing at the same time. The server was sweet, genuine, down-to-earth and personable (which seems to be increasingly rare in the mid to fine dining scene). And she made a great "El Che" too.

The evening involved a bit of indulgence. First, this was simply because I was dining with Bac'n Girl. We seem to naturally enable each other's food splurging on any occassion. Secondly, we were talking about boy trouble, and that always seems to warrant a "what the hell, go for it" attitude with the ordering. I'll start worrying when I start instigating the boy trouble just to get the great post-break-up wallow-meal. Until then, it's merely a happy side effect.

Bac'n Girl has a thing for chicken tostadas apparently, so we had to order it. This one ($10) with its fried corn tortilla and chicken topping and mesclun, was nice and tasty, though I could have taken more spice and heat in the chicken filling personally.

We then had their queso relleno's ($10), which was on top of cheese crisps that tasted just like parmesan crisps (though the menu now says warm manchego) with a tasty chipotle potato filling on top.

We then went with a fairly safe choice by sharing a nice steak. We chose their Alberta ribeye ($22), and the fun thing about their mains is that you get to choose the sauce and two sides. Mix and match can be fun if there are some tasty sounding choices, and you are cocky like the two of us in our food matching skills. We decided easily on the green peppercorn port sauce, grilled veggies and barbecue frites. No regrets at all. The steak was properly cooked to our preference. In other words, we ordered a medium rare and received a medium rare, just the way it should be. It had tasty charred bits of fat on the outside and a rich flavour (ribeye is my preferred cut), and the accompaniments all had good flavour too. I remember the sauce being particularly tasty.

I like the Latin-inspired menu quite a bit, and there seems to be many things on there that I would like to order. There very easily could be some misses on that menu too, but we didn't order any that night.

The dessert menu was similarly tempting. I settled on the Century cheesecake ($7) - a continuation of the Latin themes, this was an avocado lime cheesecake, sour cream mint topping, praline crust, served with fried plantains, sesame candy, lemon sorbet, raspberry coulis, and strawberry garnish. The cheesecake was delicious. It was smooth and creamy and really tasted of avocados and limes. The crust was a perfect accompaniment (a bit of a sticking point for me, as I seem to be a bit particular about pie and cheesecake crusts in general). The fried plantain slice was fantastic with it too, and the contrasting texture and acidity of the lemon sorbet was also a great choice. With dessert, I had a nice satisfying post-meal coffee in one of the most comfortable mugs I've ever held (use it in your right hand).

Bac'n Girl had the Dark Chocolate Fortress ($7), a somewhat phallic mocha glazed, dark chocolate tunnel with a crème anglaise centre spilling out the end, served with French Vanilla ice cream and almond brittle. This was also very good.

I found out later that the old bank vault is actually a private dining room. That is SO cool - definitely worthy of my mental list of possible large dinner party venues. That tickles the same part of my brain that made me as a child vaguely yearn to have a birthday party in a McDonald's caboose whenever walking past one. Their upstairs lounge has a perfect name to reference the old bank building, "Heist." I'd like to check that out sometime too. I think this place might be suffering a bit from an awkward location, but it is not difficult to find. It just seems to have a bit of an "out of the way" feeling. Which makes it even more appealing to me, as I don't always like the hustle and bustle of the latest new thing. I like the idea of a secret little retreat. I think it's worth looking for. On this one visit, I saw reasonable prices, good flavours, an interesting menu, comfortable seating, great service and a great relaxed atmosphere (mid-week). I'll check it out again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Krazy for Kingyo

"Kingyo (871 Denman Street at Haro St., 604-608-1677) has style, charm, good taste, and a sense of fun." I wrote that sentence quite a while ago, after one of my first visits to what is now one of my favourite restaurants in the city after several visits. And looking at the sentence now, they sound like attributes I might look for in a date as well.

But what I realize is that there are even more important attributes that I like about Kingyo - an authenticity, a sense of family/teamwork, a spirit of generosity, a vitality, a positive energy, and a general gratitude that you are there, which are all things I really want in a date that I could be serious about. My point is that there is a lot of depth to this restaurant, which may not come across in peeking through the window because it is a very slick, dimly lit, stylish restaurant, which is usually packed with all sorts of happy, shiny people. But it is as much about the human warmth delivered by the staff (front of the house and kitchen act as one unit with it's open kitchen and with kitchen staff even popping out from behind the counter to greet regulars and joining in on some merriment), as it is about the amazing food and the fun atmosphere. It seems that all the Lower Mainland izakaya people are tied to each other in some way, and I think this place was started by some ex-Guu staff.

You can get a lot of information peaking through a window though, sometimes. I think the moment I really fell in love with this restaurant was shortly before last Christmas, when I happened to be walking by, and my eye caught a glimpse of the most adorable fuzzy reindeer costume. Then I realized that ALL the serving staff had on these ridiculousely cute reindeer costumes and were actually doing their entire shift in them. Here's the key though - they all looked happy doing that. That amazed me. I do have a thing for mascot costumes anyhow (and yes, I actually collect pictures of mascots, even though I'm in my thirties). I had to go in and have a meal. Damnit, now that I think about it, I should have gotten a photo with one of them to add to my collection (crossing my fingers for this Christmas). So I guess the sense of fun is way up there on my list for me.

The good-naturedness of the restaurant is infectious too. One visit I had the pleasure of meeting and really, in a sense, dining with, one of the regulars - a very drunken old Japanese man. He explained to me that he had lived here in Vancouver over 30 years but his English still wasn't very good. I was seated at the counter, and he was seated next to me, and one of the very first things he said to me, in a thick accent, slurred with the effects of his heavy drinking at another establishment, and with an apologetic yet unashamed giddiness was "I'm sorry, I'm very very drunk!" He clearly loved this restaurant, and insisted on ordering food for me, and explaining Japanese culture to me through the food. I resisted at first, but his drunkeness was cute and non-threatening, and he was pushy, and who am I to refuse the windfall of a chance hands-on class on Japanese food culture? Kingyo's positive energy was everywhere, and they happily welcomed this drunken old man like their own each night, pouring more red wine into his glass, as he set about to educate me about Japan. Although I've once lived in a Japanese home in Osaka for six weeks, and I've been enthralled with the cuisine since my first sushi experience at 12, I still managed to learn new things from this stranger this strange evening. It played out like my very own personal food version of the Karate Kid (except for some weird male-female dynamic that I was trying to avoid).

"Take the beef tongue off the hot rock now, Daniel-san...Beef tongue on, beef tongue off...Here are the three salts...This is sansho. Try it...No, you eat the prawn's head. It is only good part. You eat it. Yes, eat the eyeballs. All of it."

"Okay, Drunken Mr. Miyagi"

Eating the deep fried prawn head (only after insisting Drunken Mr. Miyagi eat one first), trying sansho mindfully, learning about the special rock needed for the hot rock dish, and really thinking about the pickled ginger cleansing my palate between different types of sushi and sashimi to be able to appreciate each sushi piece were all revelations for me that evening. He watched me intensely each time I tried something, which made me a bit nervous, and he even got on my nerves when he was telling me I needed a man, but in the end was just a harmless old divorced man who drowns out the loneliness four - five nights a week who told me how happy he was that night because he met me, and asked nothing from me, other than my company and the opportunity to share his culture. It was one of those cool little odd experiences that usually happen when you're travelling in a strange town, and this little restaurant is almost enough to make you feel like you've travelled to some far away place. It was also fun because I so rarely get to play the Daniel-san role in a restaurant, and most naturally revert to the Miyagi role of introducing other people to my finds, and they ask me food questions with the assumption that I am the wise one and I know the answers.

My last visit at this restaurant was a really delightful one, where I excitely introduced Captain Pickled Herring to the place. We sat at the communal table with the bamboo in between. It's a very functional design element - enough bamboo to feel not too exposed and have a sense of privacy, but because it is all one table, other diners tend to talk to you and recommend things to eat.

We had a stone bowl dish because I love that crusty effect when the rice sits for a while on the hot stone bowl. We had their delicious negitoro sushi ($6.80 for three pieces), some salmon sashimi, and a nice mixed shredded veggie tempura. The meal was full of the excitement of new experiences and possibilities. Seeing the place through new eyes made me appreciate the details more and reminded me how special certain touches are. I think I've been enjoying the hot towel custom any time it happens, but maybe I've started to take it for granted. And I've gotten too used to the whole crew yelling welcomes and thank yous upon entering and exiting.

There is never a shortage of items to order, and there is a full page of specials too. On my first visit, I was told they had some fresh tai (snapper) that they recommended. Tai isn't usually an item that gets me that excited, but it wasn't until that day that I realized how good it can actually be. It must have been the freshest tai I had ever had. It really blew my mind that I could still experience something new like that, considering the amount and quality of sushi I've had in my life. I also had their pretty sashimi trio, served on a half bamboo stalk, garnished with Japanese maple leaves ($14). The presentation of their food is amazing, and the cute little goldfish logo (Kingyo means goldfish, and is a recurring image in Japanese art) can pop up delightfully as a little carved carrot garnish. Their cocktails are fun, and they have a Japanese children's soda that comes in a special bottle, which is served with grown-up vodka. I like their fruits icecube sangria ($6.50) and their lychee cocktail. When Bac'n Girl and I went, we wanted to order everything on the menu. We managed to narrow it down to six dishes, and got out of there at a very reasonable $62 (after tax, before tip, including a cocktail and tea). The prices are quite good, really (despite what you might read from diners on another site). There is a bibimbap stone bowl dish ($7.20) in addition to the unagi rice one. Their chicken kara-age ($6.80) is the thinking diner's chicken kara-age, with its accompanying three types of salts to taste and discern. Pork cheek ($6.80) was delicious. And of course, we just couldn't resist ordering their "famous invicible and undefeated Tan-tan noodle" ($8.80). Don't worry about it being overhyped - theirs is a delicious rendering of the Shanghainese dish.

If you go and there's a wait, get on the list, leave your cell phone number if you have one, go on a little walk, and come back. Or practice catching flies with chopsticks. You don't run into a place like this every day. A restaurant like this is worth the wait.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Best Vancouver Restaurant Name Ever - Gastropod!

Anyone who knows me knows that not only am I obsessed with food, but I'm also obsessed with invertebrates (more commonly known as "bugs") and all things zoology related. Gastropod means stomach foot, and is the name of the wonderful group of animals that includes the beloved snails in the French dish, escargot. It's my favourite restaurant name ever, I think. However, escargot is not my favourite gastropod ever. That spot is taken (at least for the moment) by the stunningly awkward creature called the Dromedary Jumping-slug (Hemphillia dromedarius). Yes, to me, the key word here is "jumping." Imagine in the depths of the Vancouver Island forests, a very rare (rare enough to be considered BC species at risk) hump-backed brownish slug, that sort of flails about quite vigorously to evade predators (do check out the slow-motion action on the video clip). This animal is so marvelously weird, you'd think I'd have made it up. But no, they're out there. Anyhow, I digress. This blog is about Vancouver restaurants, and perhaps you might be more interested in Gastropod the restaurant (1938 W. 4th Avenue, between Maple and Cypress St., 604- 730-5579), rather than various writhing or non-writhing slimy beings.

Okay, so onto some photos taken in August 2007 when Bleuet came into town. A Bleuet visit means one thing in particular to me - some good eating is going to happen! This woman can out food/wine-geek me! And that is a lot of fun. So after this great group meal at Gastropod with really fabulous food from Chef Angus An, and great atmosphere, I figured I'd be going back soon, but it has yet to happen, so I'm posting my first visit photos now...and maybe some Nancylanders out there can pipe up about their more recent Gastropod experiences. So here's to eating with your eyes (and not many notes because it was just too long ago)...

I'm still a fan of foam, and this one was really tasty, covering yummy chanterelles.

A Foie Gras dish (ordered by some of the others)

The Scene, with my red wine flight in the middle

Pork Trio


How Hip People Eat Black Forest Cake

Molten Centre Cake Before

Molten Centre Cake After

Gelées for Everyone

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Latino Love

I've been on something of a Latino kick for the last half year or so; taking a Spanish language community centre course, falling in love with Spain, and going on a pilgrimage through central Mexico to see the overwintering Monarch butterflies have all contributed.

I used to eat flour tortillas once in a while before all this, but now I have a huge stack of yellow corn tortillas sitting in my fridge, and I'm discovering that practically everything tastes good with them. Last night it was merguez (spicy lamb) sausage from Oyama, with organic kale buds fresh from the farm, avocado bits, and rice, for example. This morning, it was fresh eggs picked up at a Langley farm where I could see the chickens walking about. Having seen them with my own eyes, free run might be overstating it...more like free milling, but at any rate, they were delicious eggs.

Of course, the tortillas here and whatever I stuff in them just doesn't compare to the experience of getting blue corn tortillas freshly made in front of me with a hand press at a little stand at the base of a Mexican mountain before a hike up to the huddle of fir trees "drenched" with masses of Monarchs who have had their own amazing journey across the continent. Those blue tortillas filled with just queso and flor de calabaza (cheese and squash blossoms), accompanied by the much needed cup of coffee, and combined with the clean, chilly fresh air of the early morning and the anticipation of the sight that we had travelled so far to see, it was the ultimate breakfast and the best meal I had on the trip.

Blue Corn Kernels

The Masa

So the tortillas have a lot to do with just reminding me of this great trip. And this has affected my restaurant choices lately too. I've gone to an unremarkable Mexican restaurant off Marine Drive (near Granville), that's not really good enough to mention (however there is one on Granville that isn't bad). I continue to enjoy the El Salvadorean fare from Rinconcito Salvadoreno (2062 Commercial Dr., between 4th and 5th Avenue, 604-879-2600).

And Baru (2535 Alma St., just south of Broadway, 604-222-9171) recently got bumped up on my list of restaurants to try. Just one visit so far, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, service, and the food. I went for drinks and appetizers with Wine-o, and the food was fine, but not spectacular (say, like Lolita's, though I don't really like going there because it's so slow). Shown in the photo below are the dishes we chose. We had their Baru Ceviche ($12) which had large, firm chunks of shrimp and halibut, with fresh lemon juice, avocado, tomatoes, onion and cilantro. I really enjoyed this. The Octopus Tiradito ($12), very thinly sliced octopus with fresh lemon juice, had a nice texture. Latin Chips were crispy, thin, fried cassava, yam and plantain chips served with three salsas. I thought the Latin Empanadas, three little corn turnovers filled with beef, were pretty tasty.

I also had an interesting drink from their cocktail list called the Pisco Sour ($9), made of pisco, blended with egg white & fresh lime, producing a white frothy drink. I'm a big fan of tequila, and a snifter of premium tequila served as dessert. Although it was a bit of a splurge, I was tempted because they had a brand I hadn't tried before and probably isn't available in the LCB. Even if it were available, I'm not likely to pay over $100 for a bottle of something I'm not even sure I like. The 4 copas ($18), was pleasantly sweet, full bodied, and fragrant, but a bit on the harsh side for me. I enjoyed the experience, but I'm still on the lookout for the perfect tequila.

There are a number of interesting main dishes ($18 - 20) on the menu, as well as other interesting sounding items. The room is cosy and modern, and the place was packed by the time we left, even though it was the middle of the week. I would go back. I might check out the live music on Tuesdays, and their main dishes.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Service Superstar

Generally, I take a lot of dining risks. I like to try new places all the time, and I understand how variable dining experiences can be for even the restaurant who has everything down. There are busy nights, being short-staffed, personal emergencies, overworked staff, and all sorts of things that can suddenly go wrong. So everyone deserves to be cut a little slack on occassion. But there are also times when I want to make sure that I am going to have great service. Maybe I'm treating myself after a rough week at work, and I'm just not in the mood to risk having my meal ruined by some snarky or oblivious waiter. Where do I turn for sure-fire great service? Hotel restaurants. Fine hotels are a shrine to good service - it's a core part of the product that they provide, from the moment you check in, to housekeeping, and right down to their dining establishments. It's definitely a priority, and on top of that they also need to be able to impress an international and very particular clientele. Therefore, you wind up having an establishment in town that meets the highest service standards in the world, rather than doing just enough to appease the laid-back locals. There is likely some sort of formal training program in place, and all the details of the craft of fine dining service are imparted to all the staff. Incidentally, hotels are also a great place to find a clean washroom, especially when you are sightseeing in a town and doing a lot of walking.

The other easy sure-fire good service option, besides hotel restaurants, is to find a good authentic Japanese restaurant, because you're just not likely to find a snarky server in a Japanese restaurant. It can be a less formal experience (for example, it doesn't involve bringing you all sorts of cutlery throughout the meal), but can be just as detail-oriented.

So who's my service superstar for this post? A gentleman at the downtown Hyatt's Mosaic Bar and Grill (655 Burrard Street at Georgia St., 604-639-4770). I didn't get his name, but he is an older Chinese gentleman with glasses who is a true professional server. I'm certain he takes pride in a job well done. The other benefit of hotel restaurants is that many tourists staying at the hotel come dressed in various outfits, so service is not dependent on what you wear, at least not at this hotel. The menu at Mosaic is also very interesting, with plenty of dishes that sound good to eat. I had their tasting menu, and in particular enjoyed their butter-poached lobster starter and the amuse bouche that evening - a hot, creamy potato-y soup served in a shot glass. The environment is quite soothing, with low lighting, comfy chairs and big windows overlooking the city street-scene of Burrard. There is also a more casual lounge side which would be a nice spot for a relaxing drink. I don't hear too many people speaking about this restaurant, but I think their menu is really nicely put together, and wish I could provide a link to it, but they don't have it posted on the website. They have a Sunday brunch buffet ($35) menu posted though, which sounds great. Obviously, fine dining in hotel restaurants can cost quite a bit, but if it's well done, I think it's well worth it. Drop in for a cocktail and an appy for a lower cost version of the treat.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Joy of All Day Breakfast

The Thorn Tree Cafe (3204 Dunbar St. at 16th Avenue, 604-737-2577) is one of those little restaurants that I wish was on my block, so I could wander down, bleary-eyed and be treated to a comforting breakfast and a copy of the newspaper any time I want. I stopped by for a great plate of breakfast at lunch time the other day. It's quaint and comfortable, with simple wood furniture, and a great breakfast menu complete with a few benny's for about $8-9. I had the standard two-egg breakfasts (about $5-6) and I really liked their chunky "hash browns." There's a Spanish influence here, and hot sauce is brought to the table with the ketchup. The coffee was good. The poached eggs were the type that are made in the mold, rather than in boiling water, but it was still tasty, so no biggie. It's a simple place - exactly what I want in a neighbourhood breakfast joint.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Restaurant Types at Risk - Cart-style Dim Sum

Restaurants are as susceptible to the whims of fashion as skirt lengths and those poor little Mexican dogs, and Vancouver sees its share of trends. Of course as trends come, they must go eventually, and I want to lament the demise of a couple of my favourite restaurant types. It seems that the dim sum cart is a dying breed, giving way to the presumably less labour-intensive dim sum method of marking off your choices on a printed list to order from a server, who brings your choices directly back to you. With this checklist method, you don't get the feisty dim sum cart waitresses yelling out their items as they santer around the room with their towers of steam baskets. You don't get to peruse the array of food before making your choices. Sometimes, to convince you which item to get, a waitress will lift up the top of the steam basket to show you the contents. You don't get to eyeball your favourite item winding its way around the crowded room until it gets to you. And you don't get to just point and point and point at whatever delights you. And you don't get to eat a little, chat a little, evaluate your hunger, eat a little more, and re-evaluate, and so on. With the ordering by checklist, it feels like you must plan out the whole meal ahead of time, which to me, is so not in the spirit of a leisurely dim sum experience.

But today, I visited Harbour Pacific Chinese Seafood Restaurant (4524 E. Hastings, at Willingdon, southeast corner, in Burnaby, 604-294-8059) and they were kickin' it old school with their dim sum. I was quite pleased with it overall, and a good variety of items came out, all on carts, at a nice rate, especially for a holiday Monday about noonish. They were nicely busy, but there wasn't a wait for a table. We didn't eat any ha gow or other similar dumplings, which tend to be a handy measuring stick with which to compare dim sum places. However, everything we had seemed to be of good quality on this one visit. We had deep fried tofu stuffed with shrimp and served with black bean sauce to dip (a nice touch, as opposed to just slopping it all over the crispy tofu, risking premature sogginess). They served some nice pieces of gai lan as garnish for their rice roll stuffed with beef. Their cha sui pastry and cha sui baked buns were great. The beef tendon and chicken feet were good. They had a steamed garlic fish dish that was quite nice, and a little unusual. And we had some nice coconut jelly. I think we got out of there for about $22 for three people. So this place basically fulfilled my dim sum wish list. The carts and food variety are important, as well as good execution of classics (I have to have rice rolls), and a few unusual or unique items. The place has baroque style chairs which are pleasingly slightly out of place, and the service is very friendly (at least with my parents around). The women pushing the carts were also pushing some of the food- i.e. making their recommendations, which I find charming and reminds me of old dim sum times. I'm sure there are more cart dim sum restaurants around, so let me know your favourites.

The other dying restaurant type that I'm sad to see go is the old Chinese Canadian flashback to the 70's diner. Usually it is a Chinese family who run a diner with all-day breakfasts, and typical diner fare like burgers and fish and chips, but who also put up Chinese dishes like chow mein and stir fries. Is it racist for me to say you can count on Chinese people to make a mean plate of fish and chips or fry an egg properly? And there's just something so comforting to me about eating a good plate of chow mein while sitting on duct-taped repaired vinyl booth seating. Don't ask me why. It just works for me.

Perhaps some sort of recovery program could be put started to ensure that we have these restaurant styles for generations to come. Can you imagine them disappearing from Vancouver for good?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Relaxed Fine Dining...No, I don't mean Earl's!

Hitting an atypical balance between full service, casual comfort, and serving food that is worth eating (even when you're watching your calorie count), Senova (1864 West 57th Avenue, just east of West Boulevard, about five blocks west of Granville, 604-266-8643) has become one of my favourite Vancouver restaurants. People from the neighbourhood come dressed in jeans (and some are dressed up), and sit nestled in the warm wood-covered surroundings, and get the sort of service you would find in any other stuffier fine dining establishment. And all the fine dining details are there - like a great bread basket served with butter. It's really nice bread, served generously. They even give you a delicious little plate of marinated olives too. It's very Vancouver to me - dressed down, with it's open kitchen and homey feel, but with fantastic flavours and perfect service. Service and decor are warm and inviting like a big spoonful of honey in a hot cup of tea.

They serve food from the Iberian peninsula - Spanish and Portugese. I've been there a few times, and I would have nearly everything again. Pillowy soft salt cod fritters ($9) with a thin crisp outside shell are served with a thin fiesty piri piri. I've had these twice, and the first time they were really dreamy. For those who can't handle the heat, don't worry, there are plenty of dishes for you. Sunday was prime rib day (though this may change), and it's a straight ahead dish with some nice veggies. I've had the caldo verde with chorizo ($8), a tasty potato and kale soup, and an excellent grilled squid dish smothered in capers and other yummy bits. If you see the squid dish, I highly recommend it. They also fillet their sardines, and those are great too, served with a tapenade and sweet peppers ($9). I had their pork and clams, and it was so tasty. Some of the pork cubes seemed dry and some were really succulent. They all looked pretty uniform in size, so I'm not too sure how this happens unless different cuts of pork get tossed in. But the whole combination was just so tasty, it's a minor quibble. It's a surprisingly generous portion for an appetizer, and I'm starting to give myself a craving just remembering the dish. I enjoyed their version of the classic tomato salad as well - goat cheese instead of bocconcini, with tomato, greens, and a balsamic vinagrette. I've had more appetizers than mains (in the spirit of tapas), but Bac'n girl enjoyed her duck breast and duck confit main. And I've enjoyed their prime rib. Main courses run about $25-32, I think, but you can choose from any of their dishes for a $35 three-course meal or $45 for a four-course meal (with a small upgrade for certain dishes). They'll do wine pairings too, but I always find myself driving to this restaurant. For dessert, I have had a fantastic warm chocolate bread pudding that they make with their cornbread, and Bac'n girl and I have had a dessert trio as well, which was fun to try, but I remember truly enjoying just one of the three. I think the favourite was a cheesecake, and the meringue was fine, and then there was a brulée. I would go for the bread pudding over any crème brulée dessert, as I'm a bit of a stickler for a super thin sugar crust. I happen to be a fan of bread pudding in general though, but theirs was memorable. The trio changes though, so it's worth asking about.

There are still dishes on the menu that I want to try. And apparently there's paella day and roasted suckling pig day too. They're also open for lunch most days of the week. I honestly think it's one of the most underrated restaurants around the city, but they seem to have always have a steady stream of people in there, probably from the surrounding neighbourhood, as their name (good neighbour, in Portugese) suggests. It would be a great stop on the way home with an out-of-town guest who has just flown in at YVR. I also think it's worth the trip if you just want to go for a nice dinner somewhere. At least there's free parking.

I first went to this restaurant after I came home from my first and only trip to Europe, which was mostly spent falling in love with Spanish food. I really think that we should have more Spanish restaurants in town, especially with the abundance of seafood available here. Senova is a good start though.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Junk Food Wars!

I have an idea for the ultimate potluck party: ultimate junk food inventions! Everyone should bring some ultimate junk food creation, with prizes for Creativity, and Best Taste. Maybe some random prize categories should be added, such as Most Complex, Best Food on a Stick, and Best Use of a Pork Product. I was inspired by a couple of posts I found on the internet. First, I saw a picture of the tornado potato, a whole potato, spiral cut, stuck on a stick, and deep fried...and dusted with cheesy powder, of course. This is apparently a fairly recent addition to the Korean street food scene, which is rife with all manner of junk food on a stick. I think it's brilliance on a stick; that's what I think! Then at the end of the article, it mentioned deep-fried Coca Cola! Apparently it was served at the Texas State Fair, and involves coke batter, deep-fried, topped with coke syrup drizzle, whipped cream, and a cherry. This is exactly the type of thing we need our best minds to be working on! What sort of junk food creativity has caught your eye recently?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Giving Me the Chicken Eye

Okay, this is just for any of you long time Nancylanders: The chicken's eye was closed. I'm sure you all needed to know that. No chicken eye this Chinese New Year's, yay! It's looking like a good year already, I guess! And it's my year too! That's right. Rat, and proud of it. Too bad I don't believe in astrology, because I quite like being both a rat and a scorpio.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Name That Vancouver Restaurant #8 - A New Favourite Restaurant

When I started this blog, I decided to list my current favourite restaurant in my profile section, and let myself change it whenever the whim struck me, and I was particularly pleased with a restaurant. I feel a whim coming on. So let's pull out everyone's favourite Nancyland Game (yes, it's the only Nancyland Game), Name That Vancouver Restaurant! This little "new (relatively) neighbourhood" restaurant serves food from the Iberian Peninsula. It's owned by someone known for his romantic French restaurant, but hales from Portugal himself. Let's see how long it takes for someone to "Name That Vancouver Restaurant!"

I'll also document my past blog favourites here, and when they randomly held the esteemed spot. They tend to be places I have a desire to go back to over and over again. The exception was Rare, as I never got the chance to go back to it (and changes have taken place since then, so I can only really talk about that one great time).

January 2005 - October 2005: Guu with Garlic (15 + visits)

October 2005 - November 2006: Yuji's Japanese Tapas (10 + visits)

November 2006 - January 2008: Rare (only based on one visit. Still a regular at Yuji's)

January 2008 - ?: *Today's Mystery Restaurant* (2 visits so far)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Southern Barbecue Roundup

Having spent a few years in the American Deep South, I have a deep affection for that regional style of barbecue, where the meat is slow cooked for hours from indirect heat. Actually, it probably didn't take years for the fondness to develop. It was more of a love at first bite thing. A group dinner at Migz (2884 West Broadway, just west of MacDonald St., 604-733-3002) prompted me to try this place, and I was certainly excited at the prospect of another place in Vancouver to get my beloved barbecue. Memphis Blues brought barbecue to Vancouver. I tried Dix barbecue in Yaletown once, was terribly disappointed with food, service and atmosphere, and continued to return to Memphis (both the Commercial and Broadway locations). Well, it's back to Memphis again for me. The dinner at Migz was organized to catch their Dine Out Vancouver menu. I'm not a big DOV fan, but I will give them credit and say they did a nice job of making their Dine Out menu a good bargain. Migz was in full sports bar mode that night, with a blaring hockey game that made it difficult to hear each other, and resulted in a hoarse voice for me at the end of the evening (though the waitress was kind of enough to turn down the sound in our corner for us when someone asked). There was heavy rock mixed in with the game at some points. I will give them credit though - we all felt like we got a good deal for our $15 (for Dine Out) including a small salad -mine was actually dressed really nicely with a sweet, fruity vinagrette, a plate of two side dishes and either pulled pork or a handful of ribs, and a small piece of pie. The pie was great. I chose the pecan pie, and it was served with a little whipped cream. (I don't think I've ever met a pecan pie I didn't like though). The ribs were fine (but not something to write home about) and the pulled pork was watery and not very flavourful. There wasn't any extra sauce on the tables (a standard down south), and they were kind of skimpy with it on our plates. I would not have pulled pork there again. The room was packed with the young, loud, beer-drinking sports bar crowd, which I might actually tolerate if the food were worth going back for. Not this time. For those looking for cheap drinks, their highball special of $3.95 was a good deal that night. Service was great. I'm sure the restaurant will do just fine. But it's hard to compete with a place like Memphis Blues and their beautiful Elvis platter. I won't be back to Migz.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Great Restaurant Bites the Dust

Waaaaa. My favourite neighbourhood sushi place will be closing down, after 25 years. I've mentioned Sakae, at the corner of Alberni and Thurlowe before. It's a little secret gem, tucked underground and out of sight that had sushi and authentic dishes with just a bit higher quality than the myriad of Japanese restaurants surrounding it, out in the open. They also had this amazing dinner set of $25 that included clam miso soup, big bowl of rice with topping (some chopped salmon bits), fantastic sashimi (or sushi or something else, depending on which set you choose), fancy cold appetizers, black cod (aka sablefish), soba noodles, pickles, some sort of seaweed dish, and chawanmushi. This place had great quality food that just went that extra bit. For example, they grated fresh horseradish into their wasabi, giving it a bright and fragrant quality. It looks like the couple that own it have just decided to retire, now that their lease is coming to an end. Their last day is January 31st, and it was closed on Sunday night when I found it was closing by the note posted on their door. I'm going to try visiting before the last day and I'll miss it a lot.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tomato Fresh Food Café in Kits

After travelling through Mexico for twelve days exploring the fascinating cuisine of that country while being careful to not get sick from contaminated water, I was all too ready for a restaurant with a vegetable (okay, fruit) in it's name, as well as the word "fresh." After all the spicey goodness, fried thingies, loads of meat and cheese and tortillas and sour cream, all I really wanted was a big salad. So, having been a bit out of it lately, I discovered that Tomato Fresh Food Café (2486 Bayswater Street, at Broadway, 604-874-6020) had moved to Kits, (incidentally, perfectly close to the Hollywood theatre which has great double features). I feel badly for all those Cambie Street businesses that have been suffering due to the construction, and I'm glad that Tomato is alive and well. I was also happy to visit after they've had a chance to adjust to the new location.

The new place is a big (really big!), open, comfy space with pleasant lighting and has at least one exceptional server. I'm not sure how the others were, but the one waiter we had was perfect. He was enthusiastic, prompt, refilled our water glasses, and was exceptionally polite. For example, my dining companion asked for the "cream brulée", and I watched as the server quickly stifled the urge to repeat "crème brulée" to avoid correcting him. I also saw that he was checking on us throughout the dinner, yet trying not to be obtrusive or interrupt conversation. He even automatically refilled our bread basket without asking if we needed more. (For those of you thinking this is a given, I once had a waiter at O'Doul's who had the audacity to ask me if I wanted more bread or do I want to skip the empty filler. He made some other comment later about restraint with dessert, I think too. If I wanted to be nagged about my weight or my eating habits, I'll just go to a nutritionist or a doctor. That's not what I pay for when I go to a restaurant!). To be honest, I would go back simply because the service was so good. I also talked to a very pleasant woman on the phone when I called ahead to see if I should make a reservation. However, I was greeted by one of the other servers, and I suspect that I was lucky and wound up getting the best server that evening.

I enjoyed my meal, including a Raspberry Ma Ma, one of their two cocktail specials for the night. It was something that I was expecting to be on the syrupy sweet side, but turned out to be quite the "grown-up" cocktail, and very nice. It was early, so quite quiet in the big restaurant, and perfect for conversation with my friend, Hamburglar.

I had this yummy starter dish of veggies: roasted tomatoes, long stem artichoke hearts, grilled asparagus with feta, hazelnut oil and grainy mustard dressing ($9).

Then I had more veggies: The Westcoaster is a dish of warmed Indian candy smoked salmon, sweet peppers, organic celebration greens and goat cheese, tossed in maple balsamic dressing ($15). I polished it all off and enjoyed it, but it is a dish of sweet upon sweet upon sweet, so it is probably not for all tastes. The maple balsamic glaze is a bit cloying, so I think I would have enjoyed a little bit of lightness or acidity to counter the sweetness of the salmon and sweet peppers, but I should have expected it with the description. I really liked the chewy Indian candy.

Hamburglar's cannelloni stuffed with ruby chard, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan baked in a savoury tomato sauce ($17, or $19 with chorizo). I had a taste of the sauce, and it seemed quite nice and bright with lots of fresh basil.

I had the warm, upside-down pineapple cake with vanilla gelato or sorbet. It was pleasing enough. The crème brulée was very nice.

Had I not been veggie-crazy that night, I certainly would have gone for their tuna special or their free-range chicken, or the bouillabaise or their antibiotic and hormone free beef tenderloin. My salmon dish had the Ocean Wise stamp, and it's nice to see a restaurant be mindful of these things, as well as supporting fresh local products and organic farmers. I've heard a couple of times what a good value this place is, but dinner prices don't seem that low to me, with the meat mains ranging from $23 - 28. However, I think they have a $28 three course special (possibly the tuna on the fresh sheet when I went - I didn't pay too much attention). Oh, and the bread basket to start you off was quite good. They also has a good-sized wine list. So while it has a casual feel, it has the details of a fancier place, so the prices definitely feel fair. But it's not cheap. It strikes me as a nice safe date restaurant for early on. I should note that my dining companion was sick later that night, but I was fine. This place is also open breakfast and lunch. I can definitely imagine it being a popular brunch spot.