Saturday, May 16, 2015

Don't get just chocolate at Soft Peaks Ice Cream

Soft Peaks Ice Cream on Urbanspoon
Nice clean hospital-white space with additional bar and communal seating upstairs. The space that is Soft Peaks Ice Cream in Gastown is functional and refreshingly simple.

For over $5 you get a Starbucks "tall" sized cup of soft ice cream with stuff in it. It's woven into your cup with the toppings, so theoretically every spoonful has some topping.

It's hard not to like soft serve ice cream + toppings, but whether you like Soft Peaks or not will depend on how much you value the toppings (and the "invisible" organic-Kosher-everything). So if you are mentally comparing it to a McDonalds McFlurry or a Dairy Queen Blizzard, you are in trouble already.

Whether you go willingly or not, do not just get an "Original Peak" (no toppings) or "Mudslide" (Tim Tam flakes and chocolate syrup) since you might as well go to the "golden arches" for that and probably get more pounds for your pennies. What McD's and DQ does NOT have are Yuzu marmalade and Himalayan pink salt and other fancy stuff, which may make you feel your soft peaks sundae is worth around $6.

(Yeah, yours truly got the Mudslide. And afterwards I thought, "Why didn't I just go to McDonalds?")

Ninja Pigs at Bao Down

Bao Down on Urbanspoon Bao Down is a small little place that has seating upstairs (and no table service -- so don't just go upstairs and wait forever for some to come up and take your order).
If it's your first time, definitely have a peek upstairs at the wall art of ninja pigs.

Yeah: Ninja. Pigs.

The concept of Bao Down is easier to explain with pictures. If you've seen that type of bun before, you'll know it immediately. If not, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Price is... pricey if you look at the steamed bao individually. Your experience will be better if you commit to a meal.
Huh? Okay, let me explain.
With each steamed bao you are getting basically half the amount of bread and a third the amount of filling of a burger, at about half the price of a gourmet burger. You could also compare it to tacos, in which case one of these bao is priced at about two to three times the price of a soft-shelled taco, with the same amount of filling but more carbs (bread / bun). Either way, price for what you get looks bleak when you consider the bun-to-filling ratio. The minimum order is two bao, so lunch / brunch will set you back $10+ for sure (or you could bring a friend).
But you'd have to be a light eater to be satisfied with just 1-2 steamed bao, so expect to actually spend $15-$20+ for a proper meal of 3-4 of them. When that happens however, you will feel better because you'll be stuffed from the bread (bao). Then tasty + interesting + FILLING = great pricing. It's magic!

If you actually want a lighter meal, there is the gluten-free option of swapping out your bao / bun with lettuce instead (like having your burger fillings in lettuce instead of a regular bread bun).
Either way, don't wait too long before eating your bao once it comes out of the kitchen -- the steamed bun tends to get sticky on the outside and stick to the paper dishes. And lettuce wraps tend to leak (just saying).

Bao Chicka Bao Bao ($6) Fried lemongrass and garlic marinated free range Fraser Valley chicken breast, crispy garlic, palm sugar & fish sauce glaze, fresh cilantro, garlic scape mayo, pickled carrots and scallions.
  • What I mostly tasted here was something sweet. Whatever nuances of lemongrass, garlic mayo, etcetera was mostly lost on me. Still, pretty tasty.
  • Nicely fried slab of chicken, but smallish looking. Size of one of those chicken wings you get at a chicken wings place, but obviously with no bone.
Jaws ($5) Coconut crusted Ocean Wise Vietnamese catfish, kimchi tartar sauce, Food Pedalers microgreens & cabbage in a Thai vinaigrette.
  • "Vietnamese catfish" is basa. It sounds sexier to say "Vietnamese catfish", though.
  • Overall this tasted better than the chicken one as I actually had the taste and experience of the catfish, which was very nicely fried and still juicy.
Kimchi Fries ($4.50 small, $8 large) House made double-fried kennebec potato fries, crispy pork belly, sweet soy, crispy garlic, bean sprouts, garlic scape mayo and scallions
  • We were there right when they opened, and the crispy pork belly here was... old? Meat was definitely drier and tougher than expected. Thin layer of crispy fat but hardly any soft fat.
  • There was definitely some spicy kimchi here, but I think everything else piled onto these fries (sweet soy?!) was overkill and kinda ruined it.
  • If you like interesting poutines, this is it.
Soup of the Day: Hainanese Chicken Soup ($5?)
  • Tasted like chicken soup with way too much stuff in it (tons of bean sprouts).
  • Obviously won't be just broth or broth with some chicken (which may have made people think "rip off"). But it also doesn't make you think Hainanese chicken.
Overall the steamed bao are nicely composed and tasty, but individually they are priced for tourists in Gastown. I can see how the pricing would be easier to handle if they were a food cart where prices are generally higher to begin with and eats are "to-go" casual.

Free water from coolers with either watermelon or pomegranate + lime. Go for watermelon unless they refresh their pomegranate + lime cooler.

Aside: A friend who was at Eat! Vancouver 2015 claims that they were about 25% bigger during Eat! Vancouver than what they are serving in store now. Can anyone else confirm?

Friday, May 15, 2015

KiBo Restaurant and Lounge revisit

KiBo Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon It's been over a year since I first tried KiBo Restaurant and Lounge. This time I went during a weekday happy hour when all the nearby Yaletown restaurants were basically dead -- which means you can expect dedicated service instead of harried servers rushing around a busy restaurants.
So, service at KiBo was ace -- even though we were also using a Groupon. Beautiful day out, not too hot, so we sat on the patio instead of the lounge-like interior which hadn't been dimmed and lit for after-sundown service since it was still broad daylight out.

Chicken Karaage ($7) Deep fried chicken wings
  • Ten wings for $4 during happy hour.
  • Reasonably sized wings (not the super-small ones you sometimes get at wing places).
  • Moderately thick and fun-crispy batter on the wings, but not really tasty on their own. If they were seasoned, it didn't stand out particularly.
  • We were offered hot sauce for the wings but declined. I think the wings needed something, though.
  • Came piping hot but I recommend against eating them right away when they are too hot, as you are focussing too much on the heat to really savour whatever flavour they have.
Ika Sugatayaki ($11) Whole BBQ marinated squid in our signature sauce
  • Still as good as I remembered it.
  • Citrusy dip provided is not really necessary since there is a lovely grilled flavour mingled with the seared-on sweet sauce.
  • Comes pre-sliced, but some slices not fully cut through, so picking up one could end up pulling the neighbouring two slices as well.
Oysters ($1 each during happy hour, minimum order of 3)

Japanese Short Ribs ($7) BBQ short ribs marinated in a signature sauce
  • Done in the same way as the squid and just as delicious.
  • Really thinly cut (about 3 mm thick?) ribs.
  • Really too cling-to-the-bone to get all of the meat unless you use your fingers.
Kibo Roll ($14) Avocado and cucumber topped with sliced seared tuna and salmon with Kibo sauce
Mango Roll ($13) Prawn, avocado, smoked salmon and basil with mango on top
Volcano Roll ($12) Deep fried roll with spicy tuna and avocado

Sushi was okay. Something about them felt strangely plain to me, and for that reason they also felt overpriced by about 50%.

Our order (plus one more makizushi roll I can't remember at the moment, but probably the California Dream) came out to $80.85 after tax and tip. After factoring in a $11-for-$30-value Groupon, it was still around $20 per person before tip, which is acceptable for dinner.

After taking into account the fact that you are in a swanky Yaletown location, KiBo prices are okay. Still, go during happy hour if you can for more reasonable pricing. If you are a heavier eater or especially hungry, go to somewhere like Sushiholic or Sushiville instead to get more sheer quantity for your money. Otherwise you may still walk away hungry.