Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canada Day at Kitanoya Guu Garden

Click to add a blog post for Guu Garden on Zomato It can be a frustrating experience to go to a restaurant that's basically slammed and find they are short-staffed. Like the last time I went to Jamjar. Can it be that management genuinely did not expect it to be so busy?

Just home from Guu Garden this evening. Got there shortly after 7.30 pm and there was a slowly increasing lineup. Even after 9pm, new patrons were trickling in.
The staff were non-stop scurrying around. Our poor sweetheart server Seiko (?) was nevertheless unfailingly polite and patient. Not once did she look impatient or fail to give us service with a smile. I felt bad that all I could offer her was a few kind words slipped in whenever she came by, and a decent tip at the end.
There's a note on the faux wood menus that reads, "It is not rude to yell out 'sumimasen!' [excuse me] calling your server at Izakaya", but we didn't try it.

Also, despite the restaurant being so busy, none of our dishes looked like rush jobs or that any corners had been cut. This is the sort of service I really like about the better Japanese restaurants -- it's perfect or they don't give it to you.

So, kudos to the servers and boo to management that let them get yelled at by impatient patrons. To give management the benefit of the doubt, I am going to assume that they just couldn't hire enough people for Canada Day.
With so many patrons, service was understandably slow. We eventually flagged down a server to take our order, which trickled in tapas style. Fortunately most of us were in a here-have-a-bite-of-this sharing mood. The "fine print" on the menu (at least the online one) does say, "Food will be served when cooked, in traditional izakaya style".

Anyway, the restaurant has a lovely "rooftop" feel. We were seated outside, which turned out fine as the day was cooling already.

TIP: You can order bowls of rice ($1.50?).
So, while the portions can vary from smallish to moderate, you can "supersize" it into a filling meal by simply ordering a bowl of rice.
That said, a lot of the menu is under $10 and you could put together an okay meal with a couple of orders.

Bang Bang G ($6.80) chicken breast, onion, cucumber, and jellyfish salad with sesame dressing
  • With a name like that, of course I ordered it. I was told that it was a Korean dish. That was the explanation that came back when I asked the male server who brought the cash machine around to us.
  • Medium-light sized salad, which is good for the price, especially considering the mix of ingredients. Portion for price is good.
  • This was actually fresh and quite tasty. I think the jelly fish could have been even better if colder, like when served as a cold appetizer in a Chinese restaurant.
Lemon-marinated tuna with Honey Dew ($10.50)
  • Decent portion for price. Everything on the plate looked fresh.
  • This was one of the daily specials, so you might not see it again. Interesting for also using slices of honeydew for the contrast of sour lemon dressing with sweet melon, and to also give it a refreshing taste.
Gin Kama ($7 small, $12 large) grilled ginger-soy marinated black cod cheek
  • Slightly fishy tasting. Otherwise, fantastic.
  • Sweet sauce seared right on.
  • Fish cheek -- the most tender meat.
Gyu Karubi ($9 small, $16 large) grilled beef short ribs with house garlic sweet soy sauce, green onion, and garlic chips on top
  • If you consider only the grilling of the short ribs, I think Kibo Sushi gives you a slightly superior taste through their grilling. But they difference isn't enough to top the superior overall value for your money you get here at Guu Garden.
  • Is this tasty? Yes it is. A very safe choice if you don't know what to order.
Ton Toro ($8 small, $14 large) sea salt grilled pork cheek with yuzu ponzu
  • If you don't already know, each slice is mostly fat with a token amount of meat.
  • Fairly tasty all on its own. Probably even better with the sauce which I forgot to try when my friend let me sample her dish.
Fresh Orange Juice ($3)
  • Had a lot of pulp in it -- definitely came from a real orange crushed on site. Did not look like Tropicana.
  • Glass seemed to have a lot of ice in it, but at $3, it is already cheaper than just about every restaurant that is giving you what is probably Tropicana or Oasis.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Redeeming features to BG Urban Cafe (Metrotown)

Click to add a blog post for BG Urban Cafe on Zomato Some places have an awful location but are great (e.g., BETA5 and Audrey's Moment). Some places have a great location but are awful.

OK, BG Urban Cafe at Metrotown isn't exactly awful. But it's not ace. It does, however, have good things going for it.

Good:
  • It's big. You can fit a lot of people in there (which you can't say for just about every other chain cafe that comes to mind, right?), or easily find seating. Plus it's long so there's a long patio-ish sidewalk seating.
  • It's got parking. Tons of mall parking just around the corner.
  • Price is OK now that we have been thoroughly conditioned by Starbucks.
  • Free wifi. And since there aren't tons of people, you'll probably get a great connection.
Questionable:
  • Their "large" Dixie Cup drink size is wider than Starbucks but not by much. So it looks small because it looks short, but probably you are getting a Grande sized portion.
  • Inconsistent. I ordered their current promo, a cold red tea rooibos with five times the antioxidants of green tea. (Yay!)
    • Lemon: Lots of ice. But lemony. OK.
    • Mango: Chilled, but hardly any ice (so I guess I got more tea!). But where's my mango? Not OK. And even without ice, it tasted watered down. Hmm...
Not so okay:
  • It looks like staff went AWOL. I've been there twice and each time it looks like there's just one person. In this huge store. Working in the back. Once I had to lean over the counter to catch a glimpse of her and wave frantically (no, I did not want to holler  and draw too much attention).
If you are a foodie and are looking for a dining experience... what are you even doing in a chain cafe? If you are looking for a quiet place to relax, study, or work; moderately priced drinks and snacks while you are passing the hours; easy parking; free wifi... Give this place a try.

Some things surprisingly good at Notch8

Click to add a blog post for Notch8 Restaurant & Bar - The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on Zomato
Beautiful space with OK lighting until maybe 10 PM when they dim it down to romantic lounge lighting. The dimness and restaurant colours has the strange effect of giving the otherwise brightly lit renovated hotel a "black hole" right in the middle.
When you are inside, however, there's definitely an elevated dining ambiance. Seating is not tight so it is still possible to have a sense of privacy. Chairs are comfortable. Staff are seasoned.

NOTCH8 Signature Bread ($7) stout, comte cheese, mustard seed
  • How can bread possibly be worth $7? I ordered this as a joke to get the answer to that (just like I ordered Soffee Café's ham and cheese french toast at $11.75 to see what it's like).
  • Surprisingly good, BUT you have to eat it right away. If it gets cool or cold, it hardens very quickly and then it's just horrible.
    • That also means you can't really save it to mop up any tasty jus from your dinner.
  • You basically get a small loaf, so it's worth about a light dinner all on its own.
  • Strangely fun to tear apart -- it is lumps of bread pasted together with some mustard seed in the seams, and while very warm it is easy to tear discrete chunks off.
  • I would have liked this to hit the table even warmer than it was, but I can see issues with people burning their fingers and yelping about it (pun intended).
Asparagus Salad ($16) sugar peas, burrata, red endive
  • Hiding underneath the greens is the burrata cheese, so make sure you get some if you are sharing.
  • A decent portion. If you are a light eater, you might get away with this as a very light meal with room for dessert. I recommend this as a shared-by-three-persons appetizer.
  • Sharp and refreshing vinaigrette. Maybe a bit too sharp for me, but there's a nice refreshing quality.
  • Aroma is also awesome and you can get whiffs from it from a foot away.
  • Surprisingly good, maybe one of the best orders at our table.
Rotisserie Chicken ($33) heirloom carrots, fingerlings, bourbon molasses mustard
  • Half a chicken.
  • Really tender meat. Not super-juicy, but tender.
  • Really thin skin. You get the tasty roasted skin without the fatty layer.
Fire Roasted Daily Rotisserie Feature ($35) charred shallot mash, beans, roasting juices
  • On Tuesday, this is sirloin.
  • Four (?) slices of sirloin, about a quarter-inch thick. Maybe adds up to 12 oz?
  • Sorry -- this was hideously boring compared to ordering just about any other main. For your money you get slices of meat, mashed potato, and beans. I thought I was at the Hotel Vancouver, not The Keg.
  • Otherwise nothing wrong. If you are dining alone maybe it'll be fine but if you look at what everyone else is having, your plate may feel embarrassing.
  • If you want to go low-carb, ask for your mashed potatoes to be swapped, maybe with a very small salad (and check how much that is).
Grand Marnier Souffle ($15) crème anglaise; allow 20 minutes for preparation
  • At the time of writing this blog post, the Notch8 Dessert menu link returned an error, but you can still see the dessert menu by going to the Bar-Lounge menu.
  • Portion looks atrociously small for $15 -- approximately 3/4 cup in a tiny copper pot.
  • I think everyone at our table really loved this except me. I am probably being some sort of barbarian to say I thought it was just sort of eggy tasting and that dominated my experience.
Open Liquor ($7) non-alcoholic cocktail
  • I was looking through the mocktail list and asked which one was the weirdest. Our server said she was also a bartender and offered to custom-create something weird for me. I told her to keep it a mystery and just bring it out with extra straws for everyone to try.
  • Strangely there was a 10% "PLT - Alcohol" on the $7 cost even though it was non-alcoholic.
  • She put together a "Green Goddess", made with basil, cucumber, lime, some kind of herb (not cilantro, apparently), and a mysterious syrup from pre-Prohibition Days.
  • Nice palate-cleansing refreshing taste. Worked like a lemonade but with more character.
We were five so I wasn't surprised the kitchen felt a bit slow. Our server was confident, friendly, and engaging.
Prior to arriving I let the restaurant know a few days ahead that we had a birthday in our party. I thought they might just acknowledge her with a happy birthday and maybe a birthday song and pay special attention to her. But they also gave her a little ganache cake (about 3"x3"x2"!) and two chocolate macarons! Magically, that did not appear on my bill. This was definitely way more than I expected.