Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Best Thing I've Eaten in Weeks - Irashai's sushi

I had this delicious sushi roll at Irashai Grill on Pender St., just off of Broughton St. (1368 West Pender, 604-688-8697) in the Coal Harbour area. It was called the Black Eel Roll ($11.95), and had mango, avocado and cucumber in the middle, with a magical tempura eel (unagi) on top. The tempura was perfectly crispy, with a super thin batter, still hot, with all the other ingredients complimenting rather than confusing matters.

Irashai is laid back, stylish, and has killer cocktails, along with their amazing sushi and hot dishes. The simple things are done very well too, like the perfect texture of their noodles in the beef yaki udon ($7.25) that I had. Their vinagrettes tend to be a bit on the subtle side for me and are more French-inspired, than Japanese (I like a bit more acid), but still tasty - served on the side for their sashimi salad (about $12).

It's tucked away in Coal Harbour, and does feel a bit like a neighbourhood locals hangout, which in this neighbourhood means it's not cheap and everything feels very "VIP" as they say on their website, but I think the prices are fair and worth it based on the food quality alone. It's easy for me to get carried away, but they have some really nice set dinners for about $17 too.

But it's comfy too. There are swanky red suede-like upholstered semi-circle booths, but several flatscreens around the room too, so it manages to look expensive without being formal. It looks like a good date restaurant if you're looking for something classy that will impress your date yet still has interesting food. They've managed to combine that lux North American casual fine dining comfort (big cushy chairs, big everything) with good quality Japanese cuisine.

Friday, July 02, 2010


Just a short note to say that I approve of Chau Kitchen and Bar (604-682-8020, 1500 Robson St. at Nicola St.), a Vietnamese Restaurant on Robson that's gotten some good press. Fitting for its location, it's a little pricier than what I'm used to for a typical pho spot, and the decor is a lot prettier. They are going for a modern take on the Vietnmese Restaurant, and now you can have your pho in trendy surroundings with ambient electronica in the background, a cute flower on your table, and friendly service. On a quiet late afternoon for lunch, I had my choice of the "brick side or the pink side." I ate a decent rice noodle bowl with lemon grass chicken, and a nice deep fried taro roll (with the crisp texture of those roll dips that I like so much). I also had a salad roll with prawns, and they put a little crunch in the middle and have a subtler sour sauce, rather than a sweet gooey peanut sauce to dip it in. I appreciated the difference, but I have to admit that I like those thick gooey peanut sauces. I ended up with a Vietnamese coffee. I would definitely go back. All the veggies were fresh and crunchy, and everything was beautiful, and if you get a window seat or a spot on the patio, it's great for people watching. A part of me wishes I could have one those dirt cheap places nearby too as an option in the West End, but if dirt cheap means that the place feels a bit dirty, then Chau is a welcome and refreshing move away from that.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Spot Prawn Tip

So fresh, live spot prawns have popped up on everyone's menu, which is great. My suggestion would be to get to a Mui Garden before the season is over, and order yourself (at least) a couple of pounds. There are four locations, and the ones fried and then tossed in soy sauce were so good last year at the Burnaby location on North Road that it was my Dad's Father's Day choice this year. I'm looking forward to it, and will verify after Sunday night whether they are still as good as we remember. Oh, and feel relatively good about eating them too - local, lived a wild life (except for the brief period they are kept alive in the tanks at the Chinese restaurants before cooking), and are sustainably caught.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cinnamon Buns

I love a good cinnamon bun. It's one of my favourite baked goods. I think I've liked them since I was a kid, but really got addicted to them while I was a student at UBC. Sadly, as far as I can tell, the food services there these days doesn't have the same amazing, warm, pillowy, mass of sticky bread-y goodness that I remember from my student days. Or perhaps they are just more difficult to find now. I can go two ways with the buns. I like them as puffy and light as possible (like the old UBC recipe, or I like pastry dough versions that are nice and flaky and light. That leaves out the more common denser version. The photo above is from a nice weekday morning at Uprising Breads (1697 Venables just west of Commercial St., 604-254-5635. I love cinnamon buns both with and without icing. This nice fluffy one had lots of icing and raisins, and was huge. I had a great cup of coffee there, sitting at one of the tables, watching a steady stream of cheery people stopping in for their morning coffee to go and baked goods. The place had a great energy, and lots of goodies to choose from.

I've also had a decent cinnamon bun from Mom 'N Pop's Bake Shoppe in Kerrisdale (2068 W. 41st Avenue at East Boulevard, 604-261-2338).

So, I'm always in search of a good cinnamon bun. Let me know if you've found a source.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Red-legged Millipede Cake

When I see a chocolate bundt cake with dark chocolate glaze, I see a red-legged millipede waiting to be released.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's A Small World: Flavour-Seeking Culture Sponges Descend Upon Vancouver's Ethnic Restaurants

Mutton Rolls at JR's Taste of Ceylon

Can you differentiate the subtleties of Sri Lankan food from other South Indian cuisines? Or perhaps you simply want to meet other people who care about such things? A new dinner club on, the popular social networking website, provides an opportunity for local food lovers to gather together and learn about cuisines of the world. was founded in 2001 and now boasts over 5.7 million members world-wide, and over sixty-six thousand groups meeting in person in their local communities to explore common interests. The Flavour-Seeking Culture Sponges is one of the many groups dedicated to food topics, and takes full advantage of the cultural diversity in Vancouver Restaurants.

Exploring the fantastic array of ethnic restaurants in Vancouver is like eating your way around the world, but without the jet lag and the neck pillow. In a city where many diners already like to think of themselves as culturally saavy and knowledgeable about ethnic food, this dinner club seems to be discovering new foods and tasting its way around the city without any danger of running out of adventures. They are finding small, authentic, and off-the beaten path establishments. Shame on you if you live in this mecca of international flavours and find yourself going to the same casual fine dining chain over and over.

Marty, the cordial host and founder of this group, has a wealth of knowledge to share, and points to his belly for proof, saying "No, I'm not pregnant. I just know about food." He is the self-appointed tour guide on this trip, and he started this group on January 29th, 2010. The beauty of the internet as a networking tool is how quickly it works. Although it's been less than two months, there have been seven events so far, and to date, 152 members have joined. The group is made up of people of various age groups and backgrounds, and yet their common enthusiasm for food spills out in typical dinner conversation topics such as cross-border cheese shopping. They have gastronomically explored Vietnam, Bosnia, and Ethiopia. They have also surveyed a variety of Indian cuisines, noting the variations between Pakistani, Punjabi, Tamil (South Indian) and Sri Lankan food.

For a recent meetup, thirty-four people came out to fill up the small family-run restaurant J.R.'s Taste of Ceylon (3929 Knight St. just off Kingsway, relocated from their previous Fraser St. restaurant, 604-708-3008). The Sponges feasted on a specially-prepared meal that introduced the group to Sri Lankan cuisine with milder spicing and plenty of friendly explanation to ensure the meal was approachable for newbies. The group was told that the food of Sri Lanka is normally extremely spicy, more so than other Indian regions, and many seem to be thankful for the restaurant's mercy. Although the restaurant has South Indian, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes on its menu as well, distinctive Sri Lankan dishes were the focus of the evening. Hot, crunchy finger foods called "short eats" started the meal as the forty participants of this event trickled in and introduced themselves to one another. These snacks included mutton rolls, tasty little deep-fried packages filled with spiced mutton and potato. For main dishes, several Sri Lankan style curries were served, including those made of beets, chickpeas and coconut milk, eggplant, and cabbage along with the chicken dish. Brown and white Sri Lankan rices and a labour-intensive multi-step ground rice dish accompanied the curries. The staff presented with pride their Sri Lankan specialties such as the delicate bowl-shaped "hoppers" made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and palm wine. Dessert included a steamed pudding made with the sap of the Kitul palm tree. The owner described it as Sri Lanka's version of maple syrup.

In a world where technology and urbanization threaten to further isolate us from our neighbours, this group is a delightful example of the internet contributing to a sense of local community and being used to actually bring people together, in real life. The Flavour-Seeking Culture Sponges seem to have some momentum going, and you might spot them breaking bread together in your favourite ethnic restaurant soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yummy-a-Day: Pourhouse Cocktail

Ginger Beer Man and I popped into Pourhouse in Gastown for drinks at the bar last night. A truly delightful barkeep took care of us, and he was clearly passionate about the craft. He made a delicious "white" cocktail ($12) for me from their simplified Olympics menu, which honours the Canadian flag colours. It had gin, Lillet Blanc, white chocolate, and lemon. I love the twenties style and vibe there. They also had the intriguing Fentimen's Ginger Beer, an old-fashioned botanical brew that uses juniper and yarrow extracts.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oops, Pho Pas!*

Okay, I feel a bit duped. I should have known better. I could tell something was up. I saw some subtle signs that made my foodie senses tingle. Of course, I didn't pay enough attention to them. Little details about the appearance seemed a bit out of place. The sign out front was gone. The prices had gone up. Some of the tackiest neon decorations were missing and I think the tables changed their cloths like they were trying to impress a different person. I was suspicious and confronted the server about it - I came right out and asked if there was someone owners maybe, or new manager... but he didn't understand my question, and so I didn't really get an answer. Miscommunication. Maybe we can still make this work, I thought to myself. Maybe I'm being paranoid. I should give this a chance. I went ahead and sat down in the completely empty Vinada Vietnamese Restaurant (1260 Robson St, between Bute and Jervis) and hoped for the best. I've spent many a happy quick meal here before...maybe their management is different, but it still might be good, I thought. But things have changed. This is not my "beautiful" pho shop. Okay, the shop was never that beautiful, I have to admit, but the food was. Unfortunately, it's the food that has really changed, and the shop looks more or less the same.

Though, once you've sat down, there's really no turning back, is there? I had an uneasy feeling about it, but I kept talking each of the red flags down to size. None of the old servers were anything to pine over (it always seemed to be someone's kid who didn't really know how to interact with people), so maybe they just changed staff, I thought optimistically. That's not a bad thing. And the guy that was there there actually seemed like a slight improvement. I saw that they are still using the same extensive menu (same choices, same photos), just with the prices bumped up. After all, it IS Robson Street, tourist central right in the middle of the Olympic hooplah, so paying a bit more than your typical pho shop isn't really that surprising. It's still going to be cheaper than the average meal in the area. I'll pay ten bucks for my vermicelli combo with those fluffy-crisp roll dips that I get the urge for once in a while.

Hell, if I've dragged my friend, Chicken Curry Man all over Burnaby on a desperate 3 am quest for one, an extra buck is not really that much trouble. I'm sure you can picture it: we're driving out to the 'burbs to satisfy a very specific craving, and found ourselves on a wacky adventure, facing all manner of obstacles (well, except for running into Neil Patrick Harris...that would have been cool) and those other spring rolls would just not do. I need the thick ones with the bubbly crispy wrapper and stuffed with vermicelli. Yes, it could have been a fantastically fresh road trip movie with the rare Chinese and Southeast Asian representation: "Dumpling Girl and Chicken Curry Man Go To Pho House"...nahhh, a movie like that would never work, eh?

Anyhow, back on track. Normally, I try to focus on reviews of restaurants that I have enjoyed and generally recommend. I’m not really sadistic, and I know that the Vancouver restaurant business is tough enough without every yahoo online nitpicking every minor detail of every restaurant experience. But today, I feel like I actually need to warn people about this place...think of it as a friendly neighbourhood public service announcement from me to you. I don't want anyone else who might have gone to the previous place to feel cheated or misled. I've been there many a time in the past, but not for quite a few months, and went in expecting a nice, solid Vietnamese vermicelli combo. I mean, it's not rocket science, is it? Even all the mall food court Vietnamese stands make something I like to eat, though not quite as large, fresh, and tasty as a bowl made to order at this place before the change.

I still got free tea. But the bowl came out with the greasiest spring rolls that I have ever had in a restaurant, even though they are still using the old menu that pictures the roll dip. No fresh crunch bean sprouts were there. The lettuce and veggies were okay, but it seemed like it the cucumber was pickled instead of crisp and fresh. The worst part was the grilled pork. It had the look and dried out consistency of something that had been left out from the night before and re-microwaved, rather than the succulent treat that freshly grilled pork should be. The rice noodles were fine, and maybe it was me, but they felt a bit old too. They did include two large prawns with the meal which were okay. And there was plenty of everything. And, yes, I ate it. But it is NOT in the same league as the place before, and I would rather have food from a food court. I actually felt badly for being visible in the window as various tourists passed by the place contemplating it for dinner. I wanted to have a sign to wave around saying, "No! I am not recommending this place, I was duped! This is not representative of the quality of ethnic cuisine in town."

Anyhow, I can't see it lasting the way it is now. I imagine they'll still get lots of walk-by traffic from unsuspecting tourists (which I think is sad, because you can hardly walk a block downtown without bumping into something worthwhile to eat). The least I can do is warn my dear Nancylanders, and hope the restaurant people either figure things out (like how to get the oil in their deep fryer to the right temperature so that the spring rolls don't come out greasy), or that someone else takes a shot at that location.

In contrast, change of management does not have to be a bad thing. On a happier note, I have just come out of La Crepe Bretagne just a couple of blocks away on Jervis St., off Robson (another old favourite that I haven’t been to in a while), and while there’s new management there, you can still get the same yummy crepes that were there before.

*Just a note to say that the correct pronunciation of pho (with a short “uh” sound) wrecks the intended French pun (there are plenty of French influences in Vietnamese food because of the country's French colonial history), unlike the much better and just as appropriate “What the Pho?” but I didn’t want to steal the line from the Seattle establishment that Bleuet told me about. Bottom line, Vinada is all pho’d up now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yummy-a-Day: Chirashi Don at Oysi Oysi

I just had a fantastic chirashi don (about $15) at Oysi Oysi (1136 Alberni St. @Thurlowe St., 604-682-0011) and I was very surprised at what a great experience it all was. I haven't gone to Oysi Oysi in years, and remembered it as being mediocre food. I feel like it's a completely different place now. The service was extremely attentive for this price range, and the chirashi don was very tasty and reasonably priced. My tea was thoughtfully refilled throughout the evening. The sashimi fish tasted fresh and cut properly. The rice is flavoured with shredded seaweed, mushroom bits and pickle bits. They even gave me a nice little complimentary ice cream afterwards. I stopped by after swimming tonight, and felt completely cosy there - the room is fairly quiet and relaxed, the food network (with close captioning) was on the tv, I got hot tea right away, and there were plenty of things to choose from in the brightly photographed menu. In fact, they even have some Chinese dishes there, making it a great place to graze on lots of small dishes and I can even supplement my meal with an order of garlic gai-lan! I find I tend to miss getting enough greens when dining in Japanese restaurants, so I am all for the non-Japanese dishes being on the menu. If you haven't been to Oysi Oysi for a while, I think it's definitely worth checking out again.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Little Bandidas Tacqueria is Growing Up!

Bandidas Tacqueria (2781 Commercial Drive at 12th Ave., 604-568-8224) celebrated their one year anniversary with a great little party, with cheap drinks, free tacos, and a fantastic band called The Creaking Planks (gotta love their accordian rich, jug band covers like Beastie Boys' Fight for Your Right to Party, Talking Heads' Psycho Killer and NIN's Closer and their real washtub base). Bandidas is a vegetarian restaurant that does delicious modern takes on Mexican and Mexi-cali food (like nachos and burritos). They use tasty things like roasted pineapple, and spiced breaded walnuts, which make the food fun and satisfying even for a someone with my carnivorous habits. It's run by an eco-conscious group, and has a nice casual vibe making it pleasant to hang out for a while and drink their cheap sangria ($8 for a half litre, $15 litre) amongst the mis-matched furniture, bicycles, and vintage lamps. They're open for brunch and dinner, have super friendly staff, and great veggie and vegan friendly food at great prices.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


In an effort to get myself back on the blogging wagon, I am going to try posting even when I don't have time to do a full review or article. I'll try to make little quick notes in the evenings about one notably yummy food or drink item that I've consumed during the day.

Today's yummy-a-day is "The Sunriser" breakfast at Kyle's Cafe (2627 Commercial Drive at 10th Avenue, 604-872-5885) one of my favourite regular breakfast haunts. Nice quiet spot where you can get Chinese and "Canadian" cuisine, both of good quality. The Sunriser has two eggs, two bacon, two sausage, hash browns, toast, and two pancakes! It's a huge breakfast for a nice start to a day off, and with bottomless coffee plus tax and tip, I've filled up for the whole day for about $10 (it's more of a brunch for me than just breakfast). They have a breakfast special for $2.95 without the pancakes which is also fantastic value (I think the Sunriser is about $5.95).

A lot of people express a great love for the breakfast special at nearby Bon's Off Broadway. For the same price at Kyle's, you can get a better tasting coffee, that is actually served and refilled for you by the server; you never have to line up for a table (this is huge for me - lining up for my first coffee and food of the morning is just not my style); you never really have to wait for service, and you get a fairly quiet, mellow room with sunny yellow walls and natural light coming in. Sure, you don't get the eclectic atmosphere of Bon's, but I'm sure there's some student that you know living in a messy, dark basement suite with movie posters on the wall that you can visit if you really need your fix. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Bon's, but most days, I'd rather hit Kyle's Cafe. Oh, and I like their house special chow mein too.