Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Half Price at Griffins until Nov 30th, 2011

Griffins on Urbanspoon

Dropped by Griffins (in the Hotel Vancouver, 900 West Georgia) on Tuesday evening with the Food Bloggers Meetup for their 50% off food special (only until November 30th).

Special Dining Offers
To celebrate Vancouver's 125th anniversary and 123 years since the opening of the original Hotel Vancouver on May 16th, 1888 - 900 West & Griffin's have some special features, including:

  • $18.88 Lunch feature available in 900 West Lounge from 11:30 - 2:00pm - Menu changes daily
  • Griffins $23 Three Course Dinner Menu*, based on seasonally available ingredients
  • 50%* off food in Griffins - Sunday through Wednesday 4:30 - 6:00pm 
* These offers are available until November 30th, 2011. Special menu price can not be combined with any other offers.

As everything on the evening menu includes their gorgeous dessert buffet, this is actually a pretty fantastic deal. Even without this offer, considering you get access to the all-you-can-eat made-in-house dessert buffet, Griffins is a great deal. If tonight's dinner was any indication, quality has gone down since I was last there for brunch, but dessert quality is still high. Also, bring at least one friend, if not three, so that you can all split each dessert portion -- more on this later.

The 50% off deal is basically everything on the menu handed to you EXCEPT what's in "the box" -- the menu inside a box, which is the $23 three-course mentioned above. That's already a special deal so you don't get half-off on top of that. When I went on Tuesday night, that menu included an 8 oz Prime Rib as one of the entrée choices. Like everything else it comes with the dessert buffet. This special offer is definitely worth a close look.

Our table of 10 were divided into entrée peeps and seafood buffet peeps. Mostly the seafood buffet peeps I got the better deal, I think, as most chowed down on a lot of crab -- although they didn't look far enough ahead to dessert and missed out on trying a lot of the wonderful cakes and small bites there.

The entrées arrived quite late and (I being one of them) dipped into the dessert buffet early instead of eating too much of the complimentary bread -- mostly a simple foccacia with blackened sun-dried tomato in olive oil (?) as a dip/spread instead of butter; but also a few small, round, chewy brown buns slightly bigger than ping pong balls. If you get those on your table, grab it! The sweetness is a nice contrast against the sun-dried tomatoes. Scoop out chunks of tomato -- don't just use the generous amount of oil.

There were orders of lamb, two orders of sirloin (one rare, one medium), one order of sirloin burger. I got the crab cakes and had a nibble of the medium-done Slow Roasted Alberta Prime Rib (classic jus, Yorkshire pudding, market vegetables; choice of baked or garlic mashed potato) which was very tender but otherwise okay.

The Prime Rib Burger (Canadian cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard-mayo chutney; ciabatta bun, onion rings & spiced fries), weighing in at $21 (normal price, $10.50 with promotion), is a pretty massive plate. There's a good sized burger with rather typical looking toppings, a vast amount of fries, and huge onion rings. The chef among us who ordered it rated it at 6/10, and I think it was probably fair. At $21 -- considering you also get the dessert buffet -- it's definitely under-priced for what you get, and even more so during this half-price promotion.

As they had done so well with the tenderness of their Slow Roasted Alberta Prime Rib, I thought it would have been nicer if they had just cut a thinner slab of that, maybe at even 3-4 ounces, and stuffed it into the bun instead of using a patty. Typically if you try that and the meat isn't tender enough to tear through with your teeth, you end up with a one-bite burger where the first bite drags out the entire slab of meat.

My Dungeness Crab Cakes (market vegetables, basmati rice, roasted red pepper aioli) were $31 ($15.50 after the half-price promotion) and came in three small cakes each slightly bigger than a ping pong ball. They were on the salty side, mixed with herbs, and looked quite solidly minced crab meat (although larger chunks of crab would have shown this better). I asked to hold the rice and was offered either more vegetables, fries, or some mashed potato. I opted for the mashed potato.

Here's the major disappointment of the night: The sides. The mashed potato had what seemed to be an odd texture. It was starchy/gummy, something I had never encountered in mashed potato, and that disturbed me enough that I didn't finish it. Subsequent light research online revealed this from Wikipedia: "If a food processor or similar is used for mashing, it will mechanically break the starch grains, releasing amylose and giving an unpleasant gluey consistency."
The vegetables were token: Just a couple sprigs of broccoli, one half leek bulb, and a couple short lengths of carrot -- the latter which were extremely bitter for some reason, so I passed on the other piece. I had the strong suspicion that the carrot had gone bad.
I probably shouldn't have, but as the potato and carrots were just the token sides and the crab cakes seemed fine, I let it go without comment.

The dessert spread (awesome pictures of them at Eat With Jenny) wasn't as extensive as at Cafe Pacifica but that is due to the shortage of space. Because of this, you won't find vast quantities of each item. Once something is gone, you may well not see it again that same night, so start nibbling early, or at least checking out the items throughout your dinner. It's hard to review here because the selection changes, but here are some notes:

  • The only big minus for me was the massive slabs of banana cake. They weren't particularly flavourful and one thick slice could easily be it for dessert. Make sure you go with friends who can help you with the portion. It appeared later in the evening and everyone was tired out from dessert, so I still had half the slab left with no one wanting to force any down.
  • There were some large brownies which could easily have been served at half size. They had thick chocolate-like brownie on top and cake-like brownie on the bottom. An excellent shot of chocolate, but a heavy portion at about four square inches and about an inch thick. Cut this into four if it shows up that big.
  • Later in the evening was a chocolate cream or chocolate ganache cake. Quite light, smooth, creamy, and a good bitterness to it. Two thumbs up for this. I normally like heavier, thicker ganache, but when you're already comatose with trying various desserts, a lighter-feeling chocolate dessert is nicer to avoid that heavy feeling from, say, an excellent brownie.
  • There were small squares of cheese cake which were also very good, topped with one dried raisin and one dried cranberry.
  • For a lighter finish, look for something with fruit, preferably with some tang, like lemon. There was a nice lemony pie (and thankfully all the pies were sliced thin, about half the usual width of a wedge) with jellied fruit on top that would have made for a great finish.
  • Extra spoons are available at the edges of each buffet section. Grab extras if you're going to be doing a lot of sharing.
Warning: Tea is by the cup, not the order/pot.
I closed the evening with a peppermint tea. Two tea bags in a steel pot ($5, no discount). I offered one of my dining companions some, and so asked for an extra cup and saucer. We both showed a $5 tea on our bills. By then it was too late to put it all on my bill (I offered to share and hadn't meant for her to pay any), and the server said she'd have to redo our bills entirely. As it was going to be a hassle, I just gave my companion a five-dollar bill.

All in all, the entrées were mediocre. If you find those portions a bit big, you can doggie bag them and just start on desserts. In such a case, try not to ask for fries since those won't survive a trip home and still taste even halfway decent; that, or finish your fries at Griffins and bag the rest. Since the dessert is a buffet, don't expect to be able to sneak any home with your takeout bag.

2011-Dec-9 UPDATE: See some beautiful photographs and close-ups of the food and desserts at Eat With Jenny.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Image Expert Joyce Lau gives tips on SHOES

Like shoes? Register here.

The strangest things land in my e-mail inbox. This one actually sounds interesting -- if you're a girl, I guess.

* * *

Join Charisma Matters and Fashionista Bootcamp for an exclusive workshop with an image expert on your shoes and what it says about you! Let’s get together with Joyce Lau, the image expert. She is offering a workshop on shoes & what they say about you. And what is the best place to talk about shoes, and apply our knowledge? – A shoe store! It's called Town Shoes, and located in Pacific centre in downtown Vancouver. This is a private event that will be held after hours. I will try to find directions to the shoe store and will post it later.

Men: You think it's about the size of your feet, but it's actually about the style of your shoe. What is yours saying about you?

Women: Flats, stilettos, wedges and open-toes. What you wear is who you're going to attract.

Men: You think it's about the size of your feet, but it's actually about the style of your shoe. What is yours saying about you?
Women: Flats, stilettos, wedges and open-toes. What you wear is who you're going to attract.
People you meet only remember 3% of what you say. 55% is dependent on how you look. Learn the power of your visual message and influence others by what you wear.
During this special presentation Joyce will give specific examples on what to wear and why. We will get recommendations and exclusive discounted shoe shopping with an expert.

All the guests will receive:
- $25 off your 2nd item over $70
- Calvin Klein, Schwarzkopf, Jergens, Bioré and Pop Chips sponsored gift bag with purchase
- Draws for prizes (TBD by store)
- Treats/appies are provided.
The first 20 guests will receive swag bag (worth $50).

Joyce Lau is the founder of Fashionista Bootcamp and Yummy Mummy Makeovers. A personal branding expert for both social and career success; Joyce's work has been recognized on CityTV Breakfast Television, Vancouver Sun, Shaw TV and the North Shore News.

Signature Dish 2011 - Fortune House Seafood Restaurant

Fortune House Seafood 福聯海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon
For the last day of the Chinese Restaurant dine-out event happening in November (1st to 18th), I went to Fortune House Seafood Restaurant for their party-of-10 $300 set menu.

Fortune House is pretty snazzy looking from the outside and seems quite popular every time I walk past it inside Metropolis at Metrotown. Inside, it's spacious but sort of typical-looking. Same as with just about every Chinese restaurant, expect to see staff of all levels pitching in everywhere. And don't expect fawning politeness from service staff -- no, not even the hostess who seats you.

And honestly, if you don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese, get a warm body who does to help you. Most of the time you can get by with something simple, but if it's anything more complicated than you showing up and asking for a table for two, you might have a scary time with the language barrier.

For example, I had set up my dine-out night weeks in advance, and as interested parties signed up, I expanded the reservation to two tables. The day after we had snow in Burnaby, attendees dropped to 9 so I had to cancel one table. Half the time it sounded like they were trying to confirm that I was dropping both tables.
Then when I got to the restaurant, it sounded like the manager was trying to confirm I had ordered two sets of the dinner-for-10. I tried to tell him we were only 9, and he said it was okay. I really wasn't sure if he meant he'd tweak the portions to nine and charge us $270 or just give us the full portions for ten and charge us $300.
Further complicating things were two unexpected attendees (our bad, I admit), bringing our total to 11. At that point, happily, a mandarin speaking attendee took over for me. She said the restaurant agreed to tweak the portions and give us the menu for 10 and charge us $300 even though we were 11. When the bill finally came, it was $300 plus $30 "open food" -- i.e., still $30 per head. Sigh. Whatever.

Dinner Menu Set For Ten...
$30 per person

  1. Deep Fried Crab Claw Stuffed with Minced Shrimp & Salad
  2. Stir-fried B.C. Geoduck with XO Sauce & Foie Gras Sauce
  3. Pan-fried Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Walnuts in Taro Basket
  4. Winter Melon Soup with Crab Meat and Dried Scallop
  5. Sautéed B.C. Dungeness Crabs with Amoy Premium Soy Sauce (Two Crabs)
  6. Braised Alberta Spare Ribs in Black Vinegar Sauce with Vegetables
  7. Roasted Crispy Chicken with Garlic Flakes (Whole)
  8. Salmon and Assorted Seafood Fried Rice
  9. Chinese Petits Fours
  10. Dessert of the Day

Sadly, mostly a lukewarm reaction from me in terms of quality and interestingness in this menu although the non-Chinese persons seemed quite impressed. I'm going to have to chalk it up to my Chinese upbringing and snobby standards here as I'm comparing it to mom's cooking.

The Deep Fried Crab Claw "stuffed with minced shrimp" was basically the front joint of the crab claw. Very little actual crab meat. There's no stuffing per se: It's surrounded by basically a ball of shrimp meat that's quite thick, and crusted with something so that once it comes out deep fried it's golden and crispy on the outside. Too little sauce to go around for 10 persons, but most of us didn't notice there was sauce in the first place till it was too late. The "salad" was cold cubes of melon in what tasted like salad dressing, resulting in a strange but quite nice sweet-and-sour mix.

The Stir-Fried Geoduck with XO Sauce and Foie Gras Sauce was thinly sliced geoduck and a heck of a lot of asparagus. Some of the geoduck was wrapped about the sticks of asparagus (1 stuck per person), the rest just sauteed in. Not sure I could make out any foie gras per se. If some of the brownish-grey slivers were foie gras, I couldn't make out the difference. This was very disappointing as I was very curious about this dish and the use of foie gras.

Pan-fried Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Walnuts in Taro Basket ended up being the safest, tastiest choice, if not imaginative.

The Winter Melon Soup with Crab Meat and Dried Scallop actually came twice. The first time around was a bland mix that was livened up with a bit of optional reddish vinegar (?). I think they realized they messed it up because they came around and collected the bowls and promised to replace it (although by then all but one of us had finished the soup). Second time round it was much better and actually flavourful. I definitely give them extra points for doing this!

Sautéed B.C. Dungeness Crabs (2) with Amoy Premium Soy Sauce were chopped up crab claws that looked lightly dipped in flour and then fried. It was basically like eating steamed crab because the meat inside the claws didn't really hit the soy sauce anyway. I also remembered to scrape the inside of the crab shell to get at the fried innards -- which really aren't for everyone because it tastes so fatty. Honestly, the whole thing looked quickly deep fried rather than sautéed.

Braised Alberta Spare Ribs in Black Vinegar Sauce with Vegetables was quite strange for me. If I remember it correctly, it was reddish pink. (No, I don't take photos because that just draws unnecessary attention to me). It looked like the ribs had been marinated in char siu but someone forgot to grill it afterwards. The star anise taste was also pretty strong, and I'm generally biased against that -- just my personal distaste for star anise showing. On the up side, the meat was tender and just fell off the bone.

The Roasted Crispy Chicken with Garlic Flakes was so scrawny meat-wise it looked like duck. The skin here is the best part. The salty garlic flakes plus crispy skin makes this a nice dish. Watch out for bone splinters!

Salmon and Assorted Seafood Fried Rice was more novelty than special. Typically there's a bowl of fried rice for everyone in a Chinese restaurant. This one just adds chunks of salmon. Ho hum.

"Chinese Petit Fours" was a sweet cookie. Looked like peanut cookie. "Dessert of the Day" was red bean soup. An extremely disappointing finish to what was already a somewhat boring dinner -- especially when the set menu for 4 had Chilled Mango Pudding and the set menu for 6 had Five Flavour Rainbow Puddings.

By dinner's end we had mostly finished up everything. Some of us had slowed down and passed on the red bean soup, although this may have been because they had the sweeter cookie first, which made the soup seem bland.

Overall, after someone volunteered to calculate the tip and divvy it up, it was calculated to be $38 per head. Not worth it. If you didn't grow  up on this stuff though, you might rate some of the items a bit higher.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2-for-1 holiday drinks at Starbucks!

Hi Everyone!

Look what landed in my e-mail box today: 2-for-1 holiday drinks at Starbucks from November 17th to 20th, 2pm to 5pm!

2011-Nov-17 to 20 - 2-for-1 at Starbucks

Share holiday joy with a friend at a participating Starbucks store. November 17-20 from 2-5 p.m., when you buy one holiday drink, you'll get another one of equal or lesser value for free. Our most-beloved holiday beverages are here, including Peppermint Mocha, new Skinny Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brulée Latte, Eggnog Latte and Gingerbread Latte.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cibo Trattoria

Cibo Trattoria & Uva Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
Came back tonight from Cibo Trattoria in the Moda Hotel. Another overpriced meal. Excellent food mostly and deserving of the various awards it's garnered since opening in 2009, but the price tag was frightening.

Here's the damage:
$5 Sicilian Pannelle (3 triangles)
$8 Crispy Pig's Trotters (3 pieces plus token coleslaw-like salad)
$5 Fried Egg and Tuna Bottarga Bruschetta
$55 Truffle Quail (quail with some potato and, apparently, enough truffle to price it at $55)
$24 Two glasses of white wine
$8 Chocolate Nemesis "River Cafe"

After tax it was $119.84 !

The Pannelle was delicate and interesting to try if you've never had it before. Fresh from the fryer, it was very cripsy on the outside and spiced enough to be salty and tasty all on its own. The inside was hot and creamy with some rosemary (?). Overall, definitely finger food and not for the ham-fisted as you'd just destroy it. Pick it up not too close to the end or the crust will just snap off. When you bite, you can quite gently tear off a chunk.
I would have to say this appy was the highlight of my night -- delicious, and with interesting, sharply contrasting, texture. At $5 for 3 wedges each about two square inches, it's the only item that I thought was priced fairly, or a bit underpriced considering how good it was.

The Pig's Trotters were fritters with chunks of reddish meat and other stuff inside. It definitely tasted like pork, but also had a fatty taste to it. Not too special here. The salad that looks like coleslaw had capers in it, and helped to offset the fattiness with sharp sourness. I recommend giving this one a pass.

The Bruschetta plates are single-slices of french bread maybe 30% bigger than your credit card and cut about a centimeter thick. Averaging $5 each, that's steep. I was intrigued by the tuna bottarga and ordered it. The fried egg was very conveniently done, with a yolk that was soft, but not so soft that it dribbled all over the place if you cut it -- which we did so I could share it with my dining companion. The red and grated bottarga (preserved roe pouch) had a hint of tuna smell, but otherwise predominantly salty. They could have just dusted the egg with fancy sea salt and it wouldn't have been too much different. At $5? -- Give this a pass.

My companion ordered just the wine and quail for herself. The quail was so small I declined to have any of it, so I can't comment. Hopefully she appreciated the truffles as it weighed in at a frightening $55. It's not on the online menu, but rather on a separate menu of truffled items.

The "Chocolate Nemesis 'River Cafe'" was a thin wedge of flourless chocolate cake, accompanied by a tablespoon of stiff sour cream. It was creamy, more like a ganache. Not the best I've tasted, but decent enough. My dining companion raved about it, however. At $8 it's not bad value.

Surprisingly let down by Rangoli

Rangoli on Urbanspoon
Vij's and the more casual eatery next door, Rangoli, have always been places on my list, but the daunting lineups bugged me.
Just this past Friday night, I had a dinner booked with Nasha Indian Restaurant (through OpenTable) but discovered the restaurant was actually CLOSED that evening -- despite the OpenTable booking. So my dining companion and I walked down Granville and decided to give Vij's a try even though it was pushing 7pm. The wait was an estimated 2 hours. We nipped over to Rangoli and accepted a ~30 minute wait instead. It was also awfully nice of them to bring out cassava (?) fries dusted with some salty/spicy powder and roti for nibbling while you're waiting.

The menu at Rangoli is much smaller but adequate. The portions look small, but you'd be pleasantly surprised how filling they are -- just like in every Indian restaurant. Naan bread here is on the thicker side -- almost a quarter inch thick -- and can be more filling than you think. (You can substitute your rice for it as well, although rice has the advantage of absorbing curries better).

We went with Caramelized Onion and Ginger Lamb Curry ($14.50); Lamb, Beef, and Lentil Kebabs ($8.75); and the intriguing Meeti Roti (custard on chapati filled with demerara sugar & cashews; $5.50) for dessert. For drinks, the served-hot Ginger Lemon Drink ($4.50) turned out to be a nice palate cleanser and I recommend it for sipping throughout your meal. (Incidentally, lemon and ginger makes a gold remedy).

The Lamb Curry, served with a small salad, naan, and normally rice (which we substituted for naan, and ended up with a total of four wedges of naan on the plate) was rather disappointing to me. On the up side, the lamb was fairly tender. But the curry seemed thin, and neither the onion nor the ginger (which appeared in a matchstick like julienne cut) were strongly in evidence flavour-wise.

The kebabs look more like four small sausages the size of breakfast sausages rather than blobs of meat on a skewer. They also did not automatically come with the usual clear-your-tongue-of-heat emergency portion of raita. The server does warn you that it's on the spicy-hot side and that it's available, though. Take her seriously when she offers it.
There's no "mild - medium - hot" option here. I'm used to spicy-hot food, so it wasn't too much heat for me, but I can see how it can be a bit much. Also, it was hot enough to be bitter, and I always dock points for that because the bitterness seems to take over, often masking all other flavours. The grilling was excellent, however, and the dish smells wonderful.
It comes with a sweet date-tamarind chutney, and I recommend slathering that tasty sauce generously over the kebabs.

Dessert was more intriguing than excellent for me. The watery custard was basically a sweet dipping sauce for the flatbread that had some caramelized sugar on it. Slightly sweet on its own, better with the custard. The custard, however, could easily have been substituted with something simpler, like sweet condensed milk, and it wouldn't have been much different. What I would have liked to have seen was more mint. There was some shredded mint leaf on top that gave a pleasant freshness to it, but definitely not enough, or maybe just not distributed well enough because I made it out only on one wedge of the roti, and then only after my dining companion asked me what it was.

Overall less-than-wowed after having had expectations set up by countless recommendations. Maybe an actual sit-down at Vij's might yield better results, although I had been under the impression that the food was prepped at Vij's anyway.

By around 7.30pm the lineups were gone and there were a few empty tables here and there. If you're hoping to skip the lineups at Rangoli, try going after 7pm.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Signature Dish 2011 - Prince Chinese Seafood Restaurant

Prince Chinese Seafood 王子海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon
I'm not sure if you've read about it in the WestEnder or the Georgia Straight, but there's a Chinese Restaurant dine-out event happening in November (1st to 18th). It's like Dine Out Vancouver, only geared towards groups of 4, 6, or 10.

Last Friday I managed to pull together a few foodie buddies to go to Prince Chinese Seafood Restaurant (very handily close to Renfrew Skytrain Station. We were only a party of five, so we had to settle for this menu instead of the expanded menu for 10:

Dinner Menu Set For Four to Six... $25 per person
  1. Seafood Soup Served in Fresh Whole Coconut
  2. Stir-fried B.C. Dungeness Crab and Eggplant with Amoy Premium Soy Sauce
  3. Stir-fried Diced Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
  4. Prince’s Tea-smoked Chicken
  5. Poached Choy Sum with Dry Shrimps and Garlic
  6. Nutritious Five Grains Fried Rice (serving by person)
  7. Passion Fruit Crystal Pudding
Lots of plusses and minuses to the experience. If you've mostly done Dine Out Vancouver or Taste of Yaletown and are used to restaurants other than Chinese restaurants, then it can be quite a shock and a rude experience. Most Chinese restaurants do things fast and loose. Staff can be quite informal, and everyone pitches in to keep the place humming. It looks chaotic. And it's a rare Chinese restaurant where the wait staff will drop by to ask how you like the food -- which was the case at this restaurant.

I did of course have a reservation for the "dine out event" -- the codeword that the participating restaurants have trained their staff to acknowledge. Use anything else and you're liable to confuse them. However, when I got there, I was simply asked how many in my party. So if you have a reservation, make sure to go on time. And even then, be prepared for your reservation to be meaningless. Chinese restaurants are geared toward family dine-outs and celebration dinners and can typically seat a lot of people so they aren't as anal about reservations, but if you're going to have to remind them you had a reservation, at least make sure you're on time. It's less likely they'll let people wait while there are empty tables waiting for latecomers.

The night we were there, they had two large parties: A baby shower and a lady celebrating her 100th birthday with her extended family. Right there, 2/3rds of the restaurant were taken up. So even if it looks like drop-ins are the norm, call in your reservation so that they can advise if there's a big party and if they'll have room for your group, especially if it's going to be more than 2-4 persons.

When they found me a table, I noticed they had the regular menu and a menu listing combos. But no dine-out menu. That I had to ask for it before they brought it to me means you ought to ask for the dine-out menu if that is specifically what you are looking for.

For the Signature Dish Series, the menus are set for 4, 6, or 10 persons, so they initially balked at doing it for our table of five, but eventually it was okay'ed by the manager. In hindsight, we could have gone for the menu for four because we were all full and there was till 2/3rds of the (boring) vegetable dish, the Poached Choy Sum with Dry Shrimps and Garlic, left on the table, plus miscellaneous items. Remember: In Chinese restaurants, the portions are generally overkill. We laugh at the Americans for their super-sized portions, but really it's there with the Chinese too, except it's more hidden because each dish doesn't appear to be that much.
That said, some of the menu items are individual servings, so a menu tailored for 4 at a 5-person table would have awkward moments.

For this particular restaurant, if you are committed to the dine out menu, you should let them know ahead of time because the very first item -- seafood soup served in fresh coconuts -- takes a long time to prepare. Possibly because everyone gets their own coconut. Once it arrives, look for a metal spoon so you can more efficiently scrape the inside of the coconut and get at the meat; if they didn't bring one, you may want to ask for one. "Western" utensils like forks and spoons are typically not provided except as serving utensils for communal dishes.

Except dessert, the items on the menu will come one after the other, pretty much as quickly as the kitchen can prep and as soon as there's space on the table once earlier items are cleared. Flavour-wise the caucasians in our party seemed impressed. I'm Chinese and I grew up on this stuff, so I'm harder to impress. I'd have to say mom made it better.

The seafood soup in coconuts was an interesting idea, but I didn't think it came out particularly well. Very likely they used the coconut milk/water inside, but the flavour wasn't strong enough in the soup.

The dungeness crab was okay, but better if everyone concentrates on that first when it's hot. Later, when it's cold, the tastiness plummets -- which is not a reflection on this particular dish, however: It's just the way crab is. Remember to lift the crab shell to reveal the fried innards of the crab. It's a tad greasy tasting, but not too much. More likely (such as in our case) it'll have been somewhat burnt. It's interesting to taste, but definitely not for everyone.

The most stand-out tastiest dish for me was the stir-fried diced Alberta beef tenderloin. Not really anything special, just the tastiest of the bunch.

Tea-Smoked Chicken was okay-tasting. Interesting concept but I thought the end result wasn't so special.

As mentioned before, the huge plate of vegetables was boring and we barely paid attention to it.

The rice was surprising to see and the mixed grains gave it a slightly more interesting flavour than typical Chinese restaurant fried rice. Not super-special per se, but different in a neat way.

Dessert was okay. Not super-sweet, which I liked. We were also given a bonus bowl of red bean soup! Again, not as sweet as it is sometimes made, and almost on the bland side.

Overall, it was okay value for the money (after tax and tip, the price per person was $32). If you're more easily impressed by Chinese food than me, then you might find it above average, if the comments from my fellow diners were any indication.
If you find your table has a lot of leftovers, don't be shy about asking for a doggy bag.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Has a Skytrain attendant pulled a gun on you?

Someone actually asked me that on Monday.

I was on my way home on the Skytrain on Monday morning. A young woman got on and asked where the train was going. We talked a bit, and it turned out she really didn't know and didn't really have anywhere to go. She was apparently originally from Winnipeg. Admitted to physical and mental disability, although of what kind, I really didn't know at the time since some disabilities are not apparent, but still very real to the person.

From what I could gather, for the short term at least she didn't have anywhere to go, and had nowhere to stay for the night. It was hard to say what sort of resources she had in her small bag, but I didn't pry. She also had curious difficulty holding onto a few free newspapers. It was unclear why, but she kept dropping them.

Anyway, I suggested she find a payphone and call the Crisis Centre to get some local resources. I told her that she could just call the operator and be connected for free. She insisted I come with her, and honestly, she seemed so clueless that I facilitated.
So we got off at Joyce Station and quickly located a phone at the street level. She asked me to make the call. Can't even make a call to the operator, apparently. I call the operator and ask to be connected. The operator said she didn't have phone numbers and for us to call 411. WTF? Luckily I knew the number for the crisis centre. Away we go, finally.

Well, not quite. The call to the Crisis Centre was very short as she apparently rejected everything that was suggested. She asked me to speak with them. I briefed the Crisis Centre on what I knew and asked for an emergency housing/shelter resource near where we were. They suggested Yukon Shelter (at 2088 Yukon Street).

All she really insisted on was to not be in the DTES. Fair enough, except it would soon be apparent that whatever was suggested, as long as it was in Vancouver, she would immediately reject, saying she didn't want to have any part of the Downtown East Side. She didn't know the geography of Vancouver, or that we were already out of downtown Vancouver, but whatever was presented to her, she didn't want.
She wanted help but rejected everything.

I knew it was futile to point this out to her, but I did anyway, to give her a sort of ultimatum -- basically, "you want help or not?"

The Crisis Centre volunteer overheard the impasse and offered to speak with her. While they talked to her (and ultimately got her to take down the number), I waved a Skytrain attendant over. I briefed him on the situation and asked if he could call the police to come and take over helping her. He said he'd get a Skytrain attendant.
Huh? Wasn't he a Skytrain attendant?

Anyway, he walked across the street to the other side of the station, apparently briefly spoke to someone, and came back. He said there was a community policing station just up the street (Collingwood CPC), not a block away.

Great idea.

The woman was now off the phone. I suggested the community policing station idea -- she could ask to use their phone to call the shelter resource (I didn't know if she had any money to spare, and I didn't ask), and she could get additional help or resources there.

All I got was even more rejection, and bizarre ones: "The police will take us hostage." "Did he [the Skytrain attendant] pull a gun on you?"

I had enough. I gave her the ultimatum. This was the help that was available, and basically, take it or leave it. When she was ready to try it, she could walk up the street to the CPC. In the meantime, I had to get on with my day. Good luck.

Italian/Opera Buffet at Cafe Pacifica

Cafe Pacifica on Urbanspoon

Walked out of the Pan Pacific Vancouver on Saturday night with a $144.42 bill (before tip). Yoicks!
Was it worth it? Yes, but for inobvious reasons. Anyway, here's how the bill (before 12% Harmonized Sales Tax) broke down:

  • $9.50 one brandy alexander
  • $11 one glass of wine
  • $4.95 one peppermint tea
  • $5.50 one mocha latte
  • $98 two Italian Buffet

The Saturday-only reservations-definitely-required Italian buffet features almost more types of (made in-house) desserts than hot and cold buffet items. Nothing particularly imaginative on the menu here. Quality is good considering it's a buffet -- which means the hot food sits in buffet servers and cold items sit exposed for way too long. This situation can't be helped and is a common malady of any buffet anywhere, so you must expect a deterioration in quality if you go even one hour later. Happily, the dessert selection of mostly light cakes and is generally unaffected by this, although ham-fisted diners may butcher a cake into an unappealing roadkill.

The best solution is probably to go right at 6pm when they open, to get the freshest food. If you go later, you may want to think twice about picking up certain things, to avoid disappointment. For example, there was a plate of bruschetta with melted cheese. Sitting out in the open obviously means the cheese has solidified, and in any case, cold bruschetta isn't exactly the most appealing thing. If you are not dining alone, someone will have to take one for the team and report on its palatability.
Something else you should look carefully at is pasta, especially lasagne. The lasagne on Saturday night was thin/flat and little better than sauce smeared between lasagne layers. Maybe it was somehow better and tastier when it first came out, but closer to 9pm it looked like something an amateur chef slaps on your plate at a cheap diner.
Not all the hot food items are write-offs, however. There were still-tender medium-rare cuts of meat sitting in sauce that were still decent even at the late hour.

The desserts -- mostly light cakes -- are worth a very close look and as it is all-you-can-eat here too, it's easily worth the $49 on its own. It's made in-house, so there isn't that distinctive aroma (of preservatives?) that's common to most shipped-in desserts. And dessert being what it is, the excellent quality will hold steady throughout the night (except possibly the chilled cream-in-a-cup items).

Most people will have two heaping plates of dinner and regret not having room for dessert -- big mistake here! Also, sneak over to the main course tables and grab a large plate instead of the small tea cup plates to assemble your dessert so you get a good selection. It's best to have a buddy here to share so you can try more items. Careful about the cakes when you cut and move them over because they are delicate, and most fell apart on me.

If you are still around after 9pm there is a chance that a kind server will agree to give you a doggy bag for a modest amount of dessert if you haven't finished it -- which was our case when my dining companion asked. It all gets tossed anyway, according to food service rules, even if no human hand has touched it. Once it's served, it's either eaten or thrown out.

It'd be poor form if you asked for this earlier in the night with lots of diners around, however. A small amount isn't bad and not a big deal for a guest or two, but it's a bad precedent to set at a buffet as it could lead to everyone heaping their plates after they were full and asking for doggy bag. You might feel justified doing this at $49 per person for the buffet dinner, but it's really gauche.

There's a pianist and two opera singers -- it's not called an Opera Buffet for nothing. If you are thinking of front row seating, you should consider that carefully. If you've never heard live opera, you'd be surprised how far they can project their voices, and if you're front and center, you may end up trying to talk over them (which would be awkward) or do the polite thing and listen attentively until they are done before getting in snippets of conversation in between or during their intermissions.

If you're really just there for the opera selection (which, sadly, seems to be easily recognizable favourites, including a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, of course), you don't even have to be in the Cafe Pacific to enjoy it: You hear it just fine from the neighbouring bar, Cascades Lounge. Plus you'll have the freedom of comfortably chatting with your companions as you please.

In case you're wondering, you can't pay for the buffet and take it at the bar if the Cafe Pacifica is full. That's just the policy, although apparently some people have gotten away with it before. If you ask the bar staff they may initially assure you that you can be accommodated that way but they'll have to apologize and about-face if they hit the restaurant manager. Be kind to your server and don't put them in that awkward position.