Monday, March 26, 2012

Should have tried the Tomatoes at Gotham Steakhouse

Gotham Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar on Urbanspoon
At Gotham Steakhouse, your steak comes with no sides.
I'd heard all sorts of stories about Gotham, from how they had the audacity to charge you an arm and a leg for sides that normally show up on your plate alongside your steak; to how small the cuts were for your dollar. Not being huge on beef I only finally went last Saturday with the Greater Vancouver Fine Dining Meetup.

It's dark in there! The high ceiling and single candlelights at each table make for a somewhat dimly lit room in the evening. If you are a larger group (6+) and at one of their larger round tables, across-the-table conversation may be tricky as it can be quite busy, contributing to ambient conversation noise. Not much artwork to be seen in the main dining room to the left of the hostess's station when you enter, but there's a very large and colourful piece at the lounge on the right.
It's also one of those older style restaurants where you might be greeted by a female hostess, but all the bussers and servers are career male waiters. Not too many of them around, but strangely, the "better" restaurants (like Bishop's, Joe Fortes, and once upon a time, The William Tell) have this trait.

Dinner starts with bread. The round loaves are prepared off site but baked on site, and I was pleased to find what seemed to be a fairly freshly baked loaf brought to our table. On the hot side of warm, very soft on the inside. For our table of four, we received a full loaf (about 9" in diameter and about 4" at its highest), cut in half. Cutting it ourselves resulted in mashed bread because it was so tender on the inside (you can try to lessen the squishing by turning it onto its side and cutting down from the edge, instead of cutting it down from the down). Butter was boring butter, sadly.

At this point, with a generous amount of freshly baked bread right in front of you, you might well take advantage of it before it gets cold. DON'T. If you're not sharing your steak, you'll want to pace yourself or eat strategically here. Just your steak may fill you up, and you might not finish everything if you also order a side. And that's on top of taking up more room with drinks and bread. Go easy on the bread, save most for later in the meal. It's the least interesting food item anyway.

Our table only saw two appetizers: New England Clam Chowder ($9.95) and the Beefsteak Tomato and Red Onion Salad (with crumbled blue cheese, vinaigrette dressing; $11.95). The salad was quite good, but I thought the flavours came at you one at a time rather than altogether. First was the sharp dressing, then the softer flavours of onion and tomato. Most of this salad was the large tomatoes arranged in a row and topped with the other ingredients, and it also had an interesting carrot-like look because of springs of green at the one end. If you do order this, watch for the cheese because it easily falls off each forkful unnoticed.

For steaks, I ended up with a medium rare New York Strip ($46.95). I had by this time previewed the dessert menu and settled on the chocolate cake, so I was being cautious about portions. The portion size for the steaks aren't mentioned on the menu, and they are apparently not rigorously measured. But the larger steaks at the top of the menu were apparently about 24 oz., while the smaller ones, such as the New York Strip recommended to me because of the reduced size, was about 16 oz.

Tasty steaks typically have some fat "marbled" into the meat, because, honestly, fat is tasty. I couldn't see any of that in my steak, but after cooking it probably melted off. In any case, there was also a very thin layer of fat on one side, about 2 mm thick. If I had worked on it, I could probably have just peeled it off for less fat, but since there was so little, I left it on for flavour.
One end of the steak had a LOT of fat, almost half of each bite. That initially had me worried I'd gotten a 50% fat steak. Still, it was a chance to taste just how tasty all that fat was. So if you do indulge in a "proper" steak, don't go super-lean and strip off all the fat.
The meat itself seemed a bit chewy to cut because it was medium rare, but it didn't require a lot of work at all in the mouth. It was tender and juicy. I'm not a steak connoisseur so I can neither rant nor rave about it, but overall this steak was more tender and better prepared than any other medium rare steak I've had elsewhere.
There wasn't any extra jus here, and for my medium-rare it wasn't necessary. However, it does make the steak look really lonely, lost in the white space of the large plate. Presentation wise, Gotham isn't doing itself any favours here by making it look so small and lonely.
Whether you feel $46.95 is too much to spend on a steak, I leave up to you. My guess would be that you'd really need to be a steak connoisseur to justify the cost. If "steak is steak" to you and you don't care enough, it might be a case of pearls before swine.

Now, on to the sides!
Especially if you're already daunted by the steak prices, you might be thinking of skipping any side orders. After working through my steak, I have to say that a side order really does enhance the meal because it gives you a break from the monotony of the steak itself. This sounds strange, but when there's a whole slab of steak to go, you may at some point think, "Yoicks! Still half a steak left?" But what to order?

Prior to coming, I had spoken to a friend about Gotham and strangely, she was going on and on about the "Grilled Beefsteak Tomatoes". Beefsteak Tomatoes are the largest variety of cultivated tomato. But surely that's not what makes them special, grilling or not. They are $10.95 on the menu. For that kind of money, I would want them to be something special. I e-mailed Gotham about them, and here's the reply: "The tomatoes are good, we sit soak them in herbs and balsamic vinegar before grilling then cover them in the same mix, it’s simple, as all our food is, but delicious."

Once at the restaurant, I asked about the other sides and initially got what seemed like a flustered response, as if they didn't normally get asked this and didn't have a ready answer. The server did later point out specific items and how they were prepared, but initially the question was downplayed -- something about how they wanted the steaks to take center-stage, so they don't put much information about the sides on the menu, and in any case, they were prepared simply.
I got sold on the description of the cauliflower gratin ($10.95) and forgot to get the tomatoes. Oops. Other sides ordered at our table were the asparagus ($10.95), baked potato ($6.95), and Lyonnaise Potatoes ($8.95).
You can expect that each portion is slightly smaller than your steak, so one side order is pretty good for two persons.
  • For the prices Gotham charges, I'd try to choose something interesting. So having seen the asparagus, I'd have to say that's out. On the plus side, the stalks of asparagus were some of the longest and thickest I've seen served at any restaurant: You're getting a lot of (hopefully premium) asparagus for your money. But for $10.95? Asparagus sauteed in butter isn't $10.95. Sorry.
  • The baked potato comes with your choice of toppings, but it's really still just a baked potato. And of the sides, it's probably the "heaviest" -- If you will be stuffed by your steak, you won't finish your potato, and it'll just go to waste. Be careful with this one, or have your appetite ready when you go. (Did you eat a quarter loaf of bread at the start? Tsk tsk.)
  • The cauliflower gratin was quite good. If you're sharing, try to leave some of the cheese on top for your fellow diners. It was on the watery side of creamy, but not so much cream that it was soupy as there was a lot of cauliflower in it. If you find your well-done steak on the dry side, then this could be a nice accompaniment.
  • The Lyonnaise Potatoes were probably the best of the side dishes. These were pan-fried-to-golden potatoes, jazzed up with some onion and herbs. Unlike the baked potato, you're not committed to so much potato, and you could just nibble at it one slice of potato at a time.
For dessert, two of our party were defeated by their steaks (plus the bread, appetizer, and/or sides they ordered) but myself and one other were looking forward to Belgian Chocolate Bourbon Cake ($10). Standard sized wedge with a bit of gummy looking cream on the side. Not sure what it was, but it had the look of thick cream that had sat around a bit to become gummy, and I avoided it. The cake itself was a deep chocolate colour and had quite a rich taste. Sweet, but not so sweet that it burned the back of your throat. Light, almost fluffy, which may have contributed to the feeling of flour in the mouth. Very warm, but strangely slightly hot as we worked our way to the middle of the cake, suggesting that it may have been pre-plated and sitting somewhere to be warmed (?). Couldn't find my bourbon in the taste, though. Not the best chocolate cake, but still a solid choice for a tasty chocolate cake as dessert.

One New York Strip, cauliflower gratin, chocolate cake, and peppermint tea (Higgins & Burke; $1.95) -- no alcoholic beverages -- came out to $69.85, and close to $100 after tax and tip.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pricey Portions at Lupo Restaurant and Vinoteca

Lupo on Urbanspoon
Lupo restaurant sits somewhere in between the Vancouver Public Library main downtown branch and Yaletown's Mainland / Hamilton Street dining hubs. It looks like a quiet house on the outside, but if you poke your head in, you'll probably find it pretty busy on the inside.

It used to be Villa Del Lupo once upon a time. Ownership changed hands, and apparently the restaurant flopped. Then it was bought back by the original owners, redesigned on the inside, and had its name shortened to the trendier-sounding "Lupo" (though on your bill you will see "Lupo Restaurant and Vinoteca"). Sadly I'd passed by many a time but never did wander in until last Saturday, when I went with the Vancouver Fine Dining Meetup.

The common spaces of the restaurant are a bit claustrophobic, starting with the very small waiting area. However, the table arrangements and space in between aren't cramped at all. The stairs can make it a bit tricky if you're in a wheelchair or otherwise have difficulty managing stairs, so definitely call ahead about arrangements.

We had an 8.30pm reservation, and our group of initially eight had a very spacious four-table setup upstairs. This upstairs room had the look of a private dining/meeting room, including a very large flatscreen TV (which was not on at the time), and some interesting paintings on the walls.
The reservation was adjusted down to six later, and we moved to a large round table set up for six. A bit tight on space, I thought (when there's practically no room to put the menus, that's a bit tight), but not unexpected, and not too far off from ten-to-a-table at some dim sum places.

Instead of bread to start, we received mixed olives. Which was okay, but I think it's a tricky choice because it's not as neutral as bread. If only some people nibble on some olives, that's a lot of waste. Our table of six had two small plates totalling maybe 20 olives.
By the way, try to remember where you put your pit on your plate. I almost crunched into one later on when I scooped it up with some beans. If you're not careful it can either be just a fun surprise or a cracked tooth.

As you may know, Italian menus are divided into five sections because "that's how Italians eat" -- five course meals consisting of an appy (antipasto), a pasta (primo), a meat/fish (secondo), a salad (contorno; generally a salad to share, but restaurant choices vary here), and a dessert (dolce).
What can happen in a not-strictly-five-course culture is if only some people order both a primo and secondo, but others order only one of these, then there will be a phase in the dinner where some diners get their first of two orders, followed by everyone getting either their order (if they ordered only one) or their second order (if they ordered two).
You're not automatically informed of this, and it could be a tad awkward if only one person ordered two courses. Anyway, figure it out amongst yourselves. (^_^)

We had all sorts of orders at our table, so I'll just touch on the ones that I ordered or that really made an impression.
  • Pizzetta (Margheritta) - tomato + basil
    • We attempted to order the "Lupo Focaccia Bread", but sadly it was not available -- apparently it is so special that they were sold out at that late hour. Instead, they offered us a complimentary pizza to share.
    • "Pizzetta" translates to "small pizza", so this was an approximately 6-inch diameter pizza, in traditional Italian style. It's normally on the menu at $12, which would get you something like an 11-inch at a VPN certified pizza place such as Bibo, Campagnolo, or Nicli Antica.
      • This should set up your expectations in terms of price -- Lupo is not a place you go to if you're looking at price per pound! And you can't really expect something like a traditional-recipe pizza to have twice the quality for twice the price.
    • In any case, do NOT order any traditional Italian pizza here (or really, anywhere else) if your fellow diners stand on ceremony when it comes to sharing. Like all Italian pizza, it gets cold quickly and then it gets funny. Here, the cheese started to harden and become stringy almost immediately, which necessitated cutting again unless you didn't mind a neighboring slice clinging onto all your mozza. With this sort of pizza, eat it immediately.
  • Meat Balls - tomato, Gorgonzola + polenta - $14 for 4 meatballs
    • When I asked about the specialty of the house, this was one of the items suggested. It has a dreadfully pedestrian name and description, but believe your server when they tell you it is super-tender.
    • Each ball is about the size of a ping pong ball, and a regular order is four meatballs. They sit in a bit of polenta mush (which looked and tasted almost like mashed potatoes) and tomato sauce. Don't waste that.
  • Octopus Carpaccio - barlotti beans + limoncello vinaigrette - $15
    • Raw octopus, sliced very thinly, arranged on a wide plate with slight overlap to each slide. And sprinkled on top with boring beans that looked steamed but not over-steamed to the point of being soft and mushy.
    • Did someone forget the vinaigrette on this? It was very bland on my initial taste. Maybe the vinaigrette just wasn't well distributed. In any case, there was a wedge of lemon provided, and it was way better with the lemon. Still, I'd have to say that unless you're dying to have raw octopus, pass on this.
  • Pumpkin Tortelloni - amaretti + sage butter - $15/$20
    • This was on the "primi" section. If you're not Italian, you may not know that even though "primi" comes after "antipasti" (what we would identify as "appetizers"), it's not a "main course" per se. Look for that under "secondi", where you're fed with a good sized portion. Compounding the confusion for hapless non-Italians is that Lupo offers an "appy" sized portion for their primi choices -- hence the two prices.
    • The "appy pumpkin" version of this order was three flattish dumplings, about 3" long and 2-1/2" wide. They sit in a big plate that just exacerbates how small the order looks. Not sure if it would help if they actually curled up the dumplings into the tortelloni shape, or if that would have just made it look even smaller.
    • There's a dusting of something crunchy and salty/savory on top. Be sure to have this with every bite, or you're not getting the full experience. Also, swirl it around the plate a bit for the melted butter. Price aside, this was interesting and very tasty.
  • Our group of six ordered six desserts to share.
    • The dessert menu isn't on the website (why? WHY?), so you might want to ask for the dessert menu early to inquire about each item. I can't remember all the names exactly, sadly.
    • $10 each. You are set up with a fork and a spoon with a notch on one side (to prevent the tasty dessert from running away when you're cutting it with your spoon).
    • Bonet Piedmontese
      • This was described to me as a crème brûlée without the burnt sugar on top. I can't say this was a useful description, although in size it was approximately that of a round deep-dish crème brûlée. It's got a strong coffee flavour that definitely trumps whatever chocolate and anything else it contains. It's very soft and light, if you prefer your chocolate desserts that way.
    • Tortino
      • That's all I remember from the name and that's what showed up on the bill. This was initially described to me as "a chocolate bar without the chocolate", which turned out to be quite accurate, but until you see the dessert, it was more confusing than anything.
      • This was a crunchy-hard bar, about the size of a chocolate bar. Imagine an Oh Henry! bar, just not coated with chocolate. The tortino wasn't as chewy -- way more nuts, and hard to cut if you're sharing. Either pick it up like a chocolate bar, or if you're bent on sharing, ask for it to be cut.
      • There's a scoop of ice cream on the side. Definitely have it with some ice cream at the same time, which has a softening effect on the dessert in your mouth.
      • There was a sort of nutty torte on the dessert menu as well. Tasted almost the same, but chewier. Ice cream on the side.
    • Some kind of lemon tart was also on the menu. I like to finish dinners on a lighter, refreshing note, and this lemon tart definitely did that with a strong but not too sour lemon taste. Definitely the best of the six, given my bias.
    • Tiramisu
      • After the generous Tiramisu portions at Cosca and Nicli Antica Pizzeria, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the look of this. 25% less dessert for 25% more cost? Yoicks.
      • I'm not sure if it was because it's the end of the night and the dessert has sat in the fridge for a while, but this was by far the softest and creamiest Tiramisu I've ever had. You could clearly see the ladyfingers embedded in it, but I couldn't feel it in my mouth. It felt like it was all very light cream.
      • Taste wise, it's not the best Tiramisu compared to the two mentioned before, but it's not a bad dessert either.
  • Tea - $3.25
    • I had a pot of peppermint tea to go with my dessert, which was definitely helpful with so much cream and chocolate and gelato on the various plates. $3.25 for a satchel of two leaves and a bud Tea Company tea. Organic, caffeine free. Biodegradable tea sachet and sleeve.
    When it came to the bill, it turned out that the restaurant could handle fractions of a plate to figure out sharing plates -- such as "1/6 Octopus Carpaccio, $2.50". Pretty handy!

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Lunch at Shizen Ya

    Shizen Ya on Urbanspoon
    Last Friday I went back to the brown-rice-sushi and organic-everything Shizen Ya on Broadway to try more of their menu, this time with a friend who had said she was very impressed by them and their brown rice sushi. She was vegetarian and I wanted to order stuff to share, so most of the the Shizen Ya menu was out because of meat or seafood.

    I went with two appys and dessert, but sadly neither the Tofu Cookies nor the Tofu Cheese Mousse was not available that day (and since we were in shortly after Noon, it really surprised me). The waitress explained that the cookies were very popular and quick to be sold out. As for the Mousse, it was hard to keep the ingredients fresh, and without that quality assurance, they weren't willing to offer it to patrons. In fact, she said it would probably be dropped from the menu (and at the time I am writing this, it's gone on their online menu from under Green Tea Creme Brulee). Anyway, I was disappointed, but my dining companion was non-plussed ("There's no chocolate in the dessert").

    I started with the Hijiki and Lotus Root Kimpira, and browsed the menu for something else interesting. My companion ordered the Organic Tofu Steak Combo lunch special (way down on the bottom of the menu; there's a lighter version of this order midway on the menu, which does not have salad or gomaae).
    I have a Japanese friend who one explained to me that Japanese food tends to be on the subtle side, instead of the stronger flavours that Westerners expect--Which would clash with the idea of appetizers being small but flavourful pre-meal bites. I was curious to see how it would turn out with my appy orders. (I did order Natto before, which is listed as an "appetizer", and while that has a type of strong flavour, it was also disgusting).

    • Hijiki ($2.95; braised sea vegetable, chickpea, carrot)
      • The "sea vegetable here" is black and looks like pine needles. Combined with the orange carrot and yellow chickpeas, this dish has an interesting look to it.
      • For $2.95, you get approximately 1 cup. 
      • It's served cold and is slightly on the sweet side. There's some sauce/dressing on it which does pool to the bottom eventually.
      • Overall it's interesting to try at $2.95. Get some spoons, especially if you're sharing.
    • Lotus Root Kimpira ($2.95; braised lotus root and organic carrot)
      • Another appy served cold. You get approximately 1 cup of this as well.
      • If you haven't had lotus root before, it is mild in flavour and has the texture and crunch of apple.
      • To me this dish was similar to the Hijiki, except the lotus root has a clearer flavour than the "sea vegetable".
    • Tofu Steak Combo ($7.45; sukiyaki style organic tofu with organic vegetable teriyaki sauce, with brown rice, spinach gomaae, vegetable salad)
      • My veggie friend loved this. Since I'm allowed to eat all sorts of things, I thought it was numbingly boring: It's tofu, rice, and spinach. Duh.
      • You get a large slab of tofu, approximately one typical square of it. It's pretty plain on its own, so the sweet teriyaki sauce definitely helps that go down if you're forced to eat it and tofu is very bleah to you.
      • The brown rice was plain brown rice. If you need to jazz this up, maybe mix in some of the teriyaki sauce if you can spare it from the tofu. Or order one of the appys, like the Hijiki, and mix it in. Or ask for more sauce. Making this a porridge would definitely help me put down each blob of tofu.
      • The leafy spinach gomaae was a small portion, maybe a half cup worth. This tasted to me like spinach with some nut content to make it palatable (if you're not the I-like-my-spinach-plain type). It doesn't say on the menu what the nut was, and my friend thought it was peanut, but for the spinach gomaae on the appetizer menu, it reads "boiled spinach with home-roasted sesame sauce".
      • From my biased omnivore's perspective, I'd have to say the tofu steak is probably the bleakest choice on the menu. If I had to pick a veggie main course, I think I'd go for the all-veggie rolls instead. That way at least I'd have a bit more flavour.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Xoxolat Chocolate - WestCoast Breakfast with Chili

    Yesterday I wrote a bit about my drop-in on XOXOLAT Chocolaterie, and I mentioned a chocolate with bacon in it. I finally unwrapped it today, and shared a chunk with my mom, who's notoriously difficult to impress with food.
    My mom secretly likes chocolate (even though she always complains I spend too much money buying it for her). But will she like funky chocolate? We'll see how much of it "disappears" over the next week, but initial impressions weren't promising. Neither was she impressed by the chocolate--versus-candy angle.

    XOXOLAT WestCoast Breakfast with Chili

    The chili flavour is thoroughly mixed in with the chocolate, and appears as a surprisingly hot aftertaste. Not so hot that you're reaching for cold water or yogurt to put out a fire in your mouth, but there's definitely enough heat to give your tongue a good tingle. Any bitter spiciness from chili is offset by the chocolate.

    Can't say I detected the influence of expresso. Or maybe my attention was too focussed on the chili.

    The bacon appears embedded into the chocolate, in small, tough, chewy bits of varying size. The two I isolate so far suggests they are the size of bacon bits, but as I eat up more of the bar, I'll know for sure. Not much maple flavour here either -- or, again, everything may have been smothered by the pervasive chili flavour. It's also a bit of an annoying experience to suddenly come across a chewy chunk of bacon when I'm having chocolate.

    Overall, for $4 + tax, I'd skip this. If you really want chili with your chocolate, there's bound to be another bar, without the intrusive texture of bacon.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Find Real Chocolate at Xoxolat

    You walk into Superstore and there's a huge candy bar for less than a dollar. Maybe Nestle or Hershey or whatever. Then you wander into a "boutique" chocolate shop like XOXOLAT Chocolaterie on Burrard and a half-sized bar costs maybe 4 times as much! You might think, "WTF?"

    Is it because they're obscurely-named imports? That some are organic, or fair trade, or even raw? It turns out the main difference is apparently whether you're buying candy or chocolate.

    What you get as "Chocolate" in chocolate bars is mostly sugar. It has chocolate flavour, or a chocolate coating, or even just a chocolate flavoured coating. But the actual amount of real chocolate may be very small. There was even an international trade war over the use of the word "chocolate" when some manufacturers wanted to use cheap vegetable oil instead of pricey cocoa butter -- which they ultimately did to varying degrees.

    There's nothing really wrong with wanting candy. There's even nothing wrong with not wanting "real chocolate" and preferring the sugary tastiness of candy. But if you want "real chocolate" -- chocolate that isn't merely token amounts of chocolate or just chocolate-flavoured -- then be prepared to pay. Like $4 for a small bar.

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    And at XOXOLAT Chocolaterie, which has their own line of chocolate, the key criteria for what brands they import and sell in-store is that the company doesn't cheat by swapping out cocoa butter with filler, such as vegetable oil. Although at this point I must say it strikes me as ironic that almost half the selection involves creatively flavoured chocolate -- such as the bacon flavoured bar I picked up. Does this mean taste (or maybe interesting taste) trumps purity, after insisting on "true chocolate"?

    Chocolate content aside, what probably catches your eye first as you walk by or enter the store are the shoes. Chocolate shoes. (All left foot shoes though.) They start at ~$32 and can go up to maybe $60. Despite what looks like a sizable inventory, Xoxolat "Chocolate Creationist" Samantha Newton says they sell fast and the stock I saw on this past rainy Saturday evening was only about a week old. The lower sugar content compared to candy bars also reduces the shelf life, so they keep for maybe year.
    And who buys them? Sometimes as gifts or even wedding gifts, sometimes as a container for assorted chocolates and truffles. And it's unusual enough to qualify as a gift for "that person who has everything".

    Other curious items in store are books about chocolate and a chocolate-and-wine tasting kit that provides an assortment of chocolates and a list of types of red wine they would go well with. If you go in during a quieter time, say on a rainy late afternoon, you might be (as I happily was) treated to a private grand tour of the store and its offerings, which truly does help with highlighting what's available and introducing you to what might pique your interest.

    I walked out with a Xoxolat "breakfast" bar that has, among other things, chili and the flavour of bacon. I'll report on that when I get around to trying it.

    Authentic Italian Dessert Pizza at The BiBo

    The BiBo on Urbanspoon
    Somebody smack me upside the head if I go for authentic Italian-style pizza one more time. After The BiBo, I really am done. Really. I give up.

    So why'd I go? Two things. "Authentic Italian sandwich dessert" pizza, and the the fact that they won't cut it for you. That's "will not" -- according to their website:

    The BiBo offers a true Italian experience to please all ages... enjoy watching the master pizza maker, Salvatore create the pizzas in the wood burning oven. He insists the pizzas be served as they are in Italy – he will NOT cut your pizza to keep the flavours intact right to your table.

    The whole thing about "keep the flavours intact" puzzled me, and I quizzed our server about it. I got in just at 5pm literally right after they opened their doors for dinner. The person who handled my reservation for the Food Bloggers Meetup was stumped and passed me on to their lone female waitress, Ailana. I got the feeling that she fluffed it off as difficult to explain to hapless English-speaking Vancouverites because she initially said the owners were Italian, so translations may be funny on the website. But she didn't explain what it actually meant. In the end, she changed the conversation to focus on pizza cutting, and assured me that they could in fact cut our pizzas for us. One supposes that they'll do this only if the owners aren't looking. In any case, she didn't ask about cutting and we received our pizzas whole. Everyone struggled with the steak knives.

    Anyway... Could someone ask what the name "BiBo" means next time they go? I'm pretty sure it's not a reference to the discontinued fruit punch from Coca-Cola. 'Cause I'm probably not going back any time soon.

    NOT because it's bad. It's just that I'm over-done with Italian Pizza. One place is more or less the same as another--You'd have to have a very refined sense for Italian pizza to choose one over the other. That said, The BiBo was recommended to me as "most authentic" by someone who was actually born and raised in Italy.

    Price-wise The BiBo is on par with such places as Nicli Antica Pizzeria and Campagnolo, with your basic Margherita coming in at $12 for an approximately 11" pizza.

    Prosciutto e funghi (mozzarella, mushrooms, and very thinly sliced cooked ham) was $18. Compared to Nicli Antica Pizzeria, I think this one was more generous with mushrooms, although there was a band of 1" to 1-1/2" of ham of the outside that was conspicuously bare of mushrooms.

    Also tried at our table was the curious Siciliana (mozzarella, eggplant; $16). I think you have to really like eggplant to enjoy this because I found it rather boring.

    I went straight for Sweet Pizzicotto ($14.90) under the dessert section: "An authentic Italian sandwich dessert made with two layers of baked pizza dough and filled with a creamy yellow custard." What came to the table really took us by surprise.

    You got a full-size plate garnished with chocolate sauce and cocoa powder on one side, and what was probably strawberry or raspberry sauce on the other. In the middle was what looked like a stack of pancakes (and approximately of that width). Under all the "custard" was I think two pizza doughs, and it was capped with one more on top, and some strawberry halves and a lopsided splat of strawberry sauce. The whole thing was maybe 2 inches tall.

    It's a dinner entree-sized portion for $14.90. Needless to say, save room for dessert if you're not going to just have this for dinner. Better yet, bring three friends to help you. The cream is cold/cool, but the pizza dough used is fresh from the oven, so from the time they put it together, there's the whole melting-goop factor -- So you probably don't want to try this for take-out, and in any case they probably don't have a pizza take-out box tall enough.

    There are some desserts that really need to come with instruction manuals, and this is one of them. If you've ever watched people try to cut through an Italian pizza with steak knives, you'll know it can be a chore because of the chewiness of the crust. And by the time they're done, if it isn't already a mess, they've probably spilled enough to make the already thinner-crust centre soggy.
    No different here in terms of difficulty cutting, except if you try to tackle this like a stack of pancakes, you'll just end up smushing it down and squeezing all the cream out. Even if you stabbed it with your steak knife to start and sort-of-vertically sawed through it, that doesn't help. I wanted to just slice out a quarter to try and share the rest with everyone else, but after a couple of minutes of slicing, the cream was spread all over. The dessert was completely mangled and unappetizing.

    The "creamy yellow custard" looked slightly pinkish to me (did they use the same utensil for the red sauce?), and the mild taste was like yogurt. At this point you can try to get some of the chocolate or fruity sauce to go with it, but there are problems with doing that. Your piece of pizza, dripping with "creamy custard" isn't the sort of thing you can just stab with your fork and wipe on the sauce or chocolate. A spoon would have helped a bit, but the plate was flat. And it wouldn't have helped with the chocolate, which stubbornly stuck to the plate. Overall, I think this dessert definitely needs re-engineering.

    My fellow diners only tried a half forkful of the cream if they tried it at all. No one wanted seconds. I don't know if it was because it was ugly after I cut it, or they just didn't feel like dessert after tackling their pizzas. I thought it was an okay idea if it were a more easily eat-able dessert, but nothing special taste-wise.

    TIP: If you do order it, either ask them to cut it for you (ha!); ask them to pre-cut the pizza before slathering on the sauce (probably a better idea); or just take layers off it, one layer per person. And ask for a few spoons, not just to pick at the sauce and chocolate, but to clear your plate of the custardy mess afterwards so that it doesn't all go to waste.


    The BiBo is a busy place that starts to get going around 6pm, so if you have a larger group, get in by 5.30pm tops if for no other reason than to let the restaurant set up your table -- unlike some of these popular Italian pizza places, The BiBo *does* accept reservations, which you can make through OpenTable.
    It's a airy-feeling restaurant because of the high ceiling, but the tables are quite tight together. There's also some couches and low tables for more relaxed sharing groups, and of course space at the bar and takeout boxes.

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    365 Days of Dining -- NOT looking for a typical "food blogger"

    I only heard about it tonight, but it's probably all over the blogosphere already: The city of Richmond is going to hire a full-time food blogger with their 365 Days of Dining promotion.

    Every food blogger's dream, right? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how much time you want to devote to this, because it's an overtime every-day job. Let's look at the job description and break it down:

    ... We are not looking for a food critic; rather, we are
    seeking someone who can share Richmond s story through its eateries —someone who
    understands that cuisine is an integral part of a community and a visitor s travel experience. ...

    Responsibilities in this role include, but are not limited to:
    • at least one dining experience per day at one of Richmond s 800+ restaurants
    • one blog post per day using photos and/or videos to support the messaging
    • aggregation of content across personal social media channels (Facebook, Twitter,
    • Pinterest, etc.)
    • community management across social media channels—having conversations with the
    • audience as opposed to talking to them
    • a willingness to explore all that Richmond has to offer outside of its food scene and to
    • share this information in an engaging way
    The successful applicant will:
    • have an established blog, preferably with a focus on food and/or travel
    • have a highly engaged following in social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter
    • have a proven ability to communicate online in a natural and authentic voice that is
    • engaging and transparent
    • have an open mind and a willingness to try new things
    • be willing to live in and explore Richmond, BC, for a period of one year
    The chosen applicant will receive the following from Tourism Richmond:
    • annual contract salary of $50,000
    • daily stipend for restaurant meals
    • apartment and living costs compensation for a period of one year (negotiable upon final
    • selection)
    • 1 year gym membership at the Richmond Olympic Oval
    Let's look at the salary first. $50,000 is deceptively small since it includes maybe $30/day for food, plus probably a minimum of $24,000 for the apartment and "living expenses". The gym membership I consider token as many apartment buildings will have some sort of gym anyway. So this is closer to a $85,000 job, if not pushing $100,000. Let's round it up to $100,000 as the City of Richmond's commitment to this marketing program.
    And it is marketing -- make no mistake. They'll be naive not to have some sort of metric to see if they're getting their money's worth, and it'll be compared to their other marketing efforts.

    But that's their problem. What's your end of the deal once you've inked the contract?
    One blog post a day is easy if you're going to do a food porn blog where you throw up pictures of steamy hot food. And since some food bloggers do that and can get a following, let's say in the most desperate case you do that to keep up. Doing food porn as opposed to any actual critique is also the safest course as you don't open your mouth to give your opinion, so you can't accidentally say anything bad.
    Remember that this is marketing for the City of Richmond. Will they really want to see you talk about a restaurant in any way that is even boring? In fact, you don't even have to say anything about the food. On the first page of the job description, it reads, "We are not looking for a food critic; rather, we are seeking someone who can share Richmond s story through its eateries --someone who understands that cuisine is an integral part of a community and a visitor s travel experience."

    So they're really not looking for a food blogger per se, but a journalist/travel writer. Someone who can make going out to experience Richmond restaurants an interesting experience. Someone who can make Richmond an engaging and interesting experience. And probably someone who can make international travellers pause in Richmond on their beeline to Vancouver, rather than use it just as a motel while waiting for the plane.

    And so here is the "real" job description. And it's NOT "food blogger". It's closer to "journalist". Maybe even "copywriter".

    This is why aggregating data from Urbanspoon or Tripadvisor wasn't going to cut it. They could have very easily put together a site of Richmond eatery food blogs using a mechanic similar to the Zagat Fork and Tell program, where food bloggers can tag a post with a particular keyword, and only those posts with that keyword are picked up by Zagat. (Eat With Jenny is a sample Zagat Fork and Tell food blog).
    Doing that would get them a lot of food blogs virtually free (except for website development time) and on an ongoing basis, a ton of food porn pictures, and (supposedly) honest reviews. But it wouldn't necessarily get them the Richmond engagement they are looking for.

    I think this possibly $100,000 project is going to be a money sinkhole for Richmond because they haven't put in their job description what they are looking for clearly.
    For one thing, they're asking for a well-connected social media figure. But who's that person's audience? People in Richmond who already know? People in Vancouver who can't be bothered to go there? Or an international audience that is likely NOT already connected to a *local* food blog?

    Someone will get this job for sure.
    But will Richmond get their money's worth?

    (See what they're saying on Twitter about 365 Days of Dining).