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.