Monday, April 30, 2012

Unlucky Day at Miura Waffle and Milk Bar

Miura Waffle Milk Bar on Urbanspoon Tons of great reviews can't be wrong, right? Well... I had a pretty lousy experience this past Saturday at Miura Waffle & Milk Bar, so my one time there might have to be chalked up to bad luck. You can read about it and decide...

The waffles here are quite big, and very thick. The waffle-maker used creates a single, large, 4-quadrant circular waffle, which is then folded in half to make a sando, and can easily be cut in half for sharing.
You are probably getting more than twice the amount of dough compared to, say, a regular burger. Just half a waffle sandwich is therefore about the same as a medium burger, except that two-thirds of your sandwich is composed of waffle. If you measure food by cubic inches per buck, then Miura Waffle & Milk Bar does pretty well compared to a burger joint.
Each waffle is made fresh, so there is some delay when you order your waffle "sando". There are weekday specials, which translates to $1 off some of their waffle sandwiches.

When I went this past Saturday with some of the Food Bloggers Meetup members, I teamed up with one of the members and we shared three sandos, which were cut in half for sharing; I also ordered the Miura Shake for everyone to try, as most of us seemed a bit ansy about the use of wasabi in the shake.
  • Teri-Vani Sando - $5.99 - house-made vanilla ice-cream waffle sando w/ teriyaki sauce & whipped cream
    • This was one of the Sweet Waffle Sandos, and despite being basically a dessert, it got to our table first, probably because it was the easiest to make.
    • It turned out to be a big waffle folded in half, holding a large scoop of ice cream and some whipped cream. Since the ice cream was basically concentrated in the middle, the edges of the semi-circular sando didn't have any filling at all. And since the ice cream isn't the super-soft gelato style, just pressing your waffle halves together didn't really cause the ice cream to squish over and even out inside the sandwich.
    • As for the teriyaki sauce, there was a light drizzle of it and no noticeable flavour over the taste of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and waffle. Mostly, this sando tasted like waffle since it encased the ice cream.
    • Summary: Basically, I paid $6 for a large scoop of vanilla ice cream (albeit house-made). That kind of money can probably get you a whole small tub of premium ice cream at the supermarket.
  • Bulgogi - $7.99 - beef, egg sauce, kimchi & bulgogi sauce
    • Food Persuasion and VanFoodies both liked this one on their separate visits. Can't say I understand why.
    • As mentioned, I was sharing the waffle sandos and they were cut neatly in half. The Bulgogi sando has its beef baked into the waffle, and for some reason, after the sando was cut in half, all the meat ended up on one half of the sando, while my half had no meat at all.
      • I suspect they basically folded the waffle the wrong way. Maybe the meat was baked into two adjacent quadrants (one half) of the waffle, and that half was supposed to be folded onto the other half of the waffle that had no meat. Somehow this got mixed up?
    • I did get some of the "egg sauce", which turned out to be quite finely chopped up boiled egg. Not clear what the sauce was there.
    • Mostly the taste on my half was the generously sized waffle. I could see some preserved vegetables (the kimchi), but the taste (and the supposed infamous smell of kimchi) just wasn't there for some reason. As the description includes "bulgogi sauce", presumably there was also some marinade juice/sauce in there as well, but I couldn't detect it.
      • Food Persuasion does say she liked the Bulgogi sando in part because of the "subtle kimchi", so maybe there's something to that. Your mileage may vary, I guess.
  • Hoisin - $6.99 - hoisin sausage pork, cilantro, pickled radish & carrot
    • This last waffle was the one that really made me think either I had three strikes of really bad luck, or the Saturday cook just wasn't paying attention.
    • This was the last add-on waffle, so we actually got this one cut into four instead of two. Like the Bulgogi, the meat is baked into the waffle, and this time at least it seemed everyone got a bit of meat.
    • My experience of Hoisin sauce is a thick, dark brown, and sweet sauce. What was in the Hoisin sando was not Hoisin sauce. It was a orange-red chili sauce. It was also not very well distributed, apparently, because one of our group got a big off-putting bite of chili and she gave up on the rest of her slice.
      • Did the cook reach for the wrong sauce here? Maybe got it confused with the Garlic Chicken waffle sandwich, which as "red miso" in it?
    • No sign of Hoisin sauce anywhere, not even in addition to the chili sauce (which is not listed in the ingredients). On the brochure menu, it lists "hoisin sausage pork", which may mean the pork sausage (?) was marinated in hoisin sauce, rather than the sando having a shot of sauce. Whether it was or not, there wasn't anything sweet about the meat either.
    • For myself and one other member who were looking forward to a sweet-and-savory sandwich, we were disappointed by the distinct lack of sweet sauce. For one other, who was happy with spicy food, she actually liked this sandwich! Hurray for happy accidents, I guess.
  • Miura Shake - $5.99 - wasabi, house-made vanilla ice-cream & chocolate sauce
    • The "chocolate sauce" portion of this shake is very thick chocolate sauce swirled around the inside of the tall glass, and not mixed in. You'd be hard pressed to mix it in, actually, since the cold drink appeared to have helped it solidify.
    • The wasabi taste was not so strong as to burn your sinus, but it was definitely the dominant flavour, so much so that the vanilla ice cream barely had any effect for me.
    • Can't say I liked it, but at least one person in our group sort-of liked it, so if you like wasabi or wasabi peas, you can get a dose of that here without that painful shoots-up-your-nose sensation.
Okay, so at this point, I'm thoroughly disappointed by the food. What Miura Waffle & Milk Bar does have going for it, though, is really friendly counter service. Good service doesn't cancel out bad food, but it does score them bonus points as a restaurant.
One instance of bad food (even if it is three out of three sandwiches) might just be the cook having an off day, so don't let me stop you from trying Miura Waffle & Milk Bar in case you have better luck.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lunch at Le Crocodile - Mains and Dessert

Le Crocodile on Urbanspoon In my previous post I talked about the Food Bloggers' lunch at Le Crocodile just this past Wednesday, and the appetizers we had. In this post, I'll finish up with my experience of the mains and desserts.
  • Black Truffle Omelet ($14) served with Butter Lettuce and Pomme Frites
    • This was my order. I've never been particularly impressed by truffles, which has always seemed to me a sort of easy ingredient to throw onto anything and immediately raise its classiness -- but that doesn't mean it's automatically better than the alternatives (such as truffle pizza versus beef carpaccio pizza at MARKET by Jean Georges). I thought I'd give black truffles one last try at a posh restaurant. I figure if it doesn't work out here, then I clearly don't understand what the big deal is about truffles.
    • The omelette here is a simple, goodly-sized omelette with black bits (truffles!) beaten in. Clear truffle flavour. Nothing special otherwise.
    • The lettuce was lettuce, with dressing carefully drizzled between layers instead of just a pile of lettuce leaves and dressing only on top.
    • The french fries were thin-cut, lightly fried.
      • According to our ex-Le Crocodile-staff host Lee Ann, they were double-cooked: Blanched, then fried. Probably because of this they were paler and less crispy-firm on the outside than triple-cooked/double-fried versions.
      • No dressing or dip here. I was actually fine with that, but I could see how someone might feel something were missing from their enjoyment of the fries.
      • Nothing special here, but nothing wrong either.
    • Overall, unless you are a sucker for truffled anything, pass on this boringly plain dish.
  • Seared Scallops with Black Linguini ($16.00), Lemon Sage Beurre Blanc
    • The black linguini was, of course "squid ink pasta", made using the black ink that squids eject to make a smoke screen to cover their escape. You can also find squid ink pasta at Cosca. In any case, although there is some taste to the squid ink, my impression of squid-ink pasta in general is that of it being more of a novelty.
    • There was about two cups worth of linguini. Which may look very little when bunched together on the plate, but if you've already had a nice appy, it's a fair portion that won't leave you overfull.
    • Scallops on top, plus a small pastry fish about the size of your finger, and with a plaintive black eye staring right back at you.
    • There was a generous amount of green sauce, clearly more than you need.
    • There was a richness to the sauce, which I found marred by a strangely metallic taste. Lee Ann suggested it might be because of the copper pots in the kitchen. It could also have been my particular spoon.
  • Veal Medallions with a Morel Mushroom Sauce ($29) and Swiss Potato Roesti
    • Lots of jus here. Tender veal. Overall very tasty.
    • The interesting and not-often-seen morel mushrooms have a sharp sour flavour that offsets the rich jus and veal.
    • Overall a very tasty choice for a main. Hope you saved some of that bread to get at any remaining jus.
  • Also at our table (but which I didn't try) were an arugula salad (fresh sheet; not on the regular menu), the Mixed Grill of Halibut, Prawns, and Wild Salmon; and a chicken something or other on their $20 "Menu Express" (one main plus soup or salad).
There was no written dessert menu, just what the waiter recited based on what was available. Le Crocodile does have an online dessert menu, but don't count on everything being available all the time. Lee Ann immediately recommended the chocolate mousse and was pleased I agreed to order it to share. She also remembered a "tart au citron" which was not mentioned. (Special Request #3) As the restaurant had thus far been so accommodating, after some nudging from me she inquired if it might be possible that they had one available. Yes they did!
After rather sizable appetizers combined with full mains, the dessert portions may seem small, but are actually a good size. About half of our party of 6 put off a part of their mains so they could sample dessert. Otherwise they'd have been too full.
  • Tartelette au Citron “Brulée” et Sorbet Fruits de la Passion  ($10.50) Sun Burnt Lemon Tart with Passion Fruit Sorbet
    • This strange dessert looks like a crème brûlée, but instead of being in a ceramic dish, is in a large tart.
    • The filling is bright yellow, very lemony tasting -- but also watery. Lee Ann tried to share this with us, but trying to cut it into six just caused all the filling to spill out, and made a mess of the pie crust and creme brulee style burnt sugar crust. Nothing to soak up the goodies afterwards, either.
    • It's hard to argue with an award winning restaurant, but I feel this item needs some sort of re-engineering to help diners cope with the watery interior.
  • Gateau au Chocolat Moelleux ($10.50) Warm Soft Chocolate Cake with an Orange Reduction & Nougatine Ice Cream
    • Nicely done, but nothing too special here. The cake itself was about one measuring cup in volume.
    • It doesn't say, but the cake had crushed nuts in it (possibly hazelnut). If you have nut allergies, be sure to ask about this and maybe hold the ice cream.
    • The presentation includes a large curl of chocolate on top.
  • Mousse au Chocolat Maison ($10.50) House-made Velvety Chocolate Mousse
    • A decent mousse with boring presentation, sadly.
    • Light, creamy and melts-in-your-mouth, but dryer than your usual chocolate cream/mousse in the cup.
    • Nothing too special here either, I'm afraid.
My portion of the bill came out to 14 (omelette) + 10.50 (chocolate mousse) + 3.40 (thin slice of Alsacian onion pie) + 2.60 (small cup of tomato and gin soup). No alcohol. Total 30.50 before tax and tip.

Creamy Lunch at Le Crocodile - Appetizers

Le Crocodile on Urbanspoon I met Powderate (Lee Ann Foster) at the very first Food Bloggers Meetup at Griffins. She'd mentioned having worked at Le Crocodile, and I was intrigued at the idea of going with her and having her insights into her experiences, the restaurant, and the food. Somehow things got put off until April, but finally we did go, with a few other members of the Food Bloggers Meetup.

If you've ever been to the Le Crocodile website, you'll see pictures of their trademark crocodile shaped into milk chocolate and dark chocolate. In case you're wondering -- YES, there are chocolate crocodiles there. They come after your meal, are FREE, and you get TWO per person -- one milk chocolate, one dark chocolate. Yum!

Le Crocodile is one of the "old school" type restaurants, like Bishops. No impressively cleavaged hotties waiting on you here: It's male waiters and attentive service, and particularly impressive was a willingness on the part of the waiter and the kitchen to accommodate special requests (more on this later).

We dropped by for lunch on Wednesday, right at Noon, but the restaurant was probably never more than half full. Admittedly not the best situation for a restaurant, but for diners who have time to savour their food, this was excellent. Le Crocodile is already a notch up from some newer restaurants where you are squashed elbow-to-elbow with your fellows and there's barely enough table real estate to fit everyone's orders. Here you have comfortable seating, elbow room, and un-rushed service, especially on a  quieter lunch shift. It's a pleasant slower pace.

The menu tends to read quite plainly, but once you take a bite, you'll realize just how understated it is. We were six and there was quite an array of orders, so I'll just go through the appetizers here, and in a separate post go through the mains and dessert.
  • Amuse Bouche
    • We were started off with a sort of small tart. Duck, I think. I honestly can't remember what the waiter said.
    • This had a softer, delicate crust which couldn't stand picking up: If you tried to pick it up without supporting the base, it would just break apart because of the generous filling.
    • Here was my first experience of a small, delicious, tart that was just so soft and creamy-feeling on the inside. That would prove to be something of a theme at lunch.
  • ‘le Crocodile Classic’ Tomato & Gin Soup ($5.50); and Classic Alsatian Onion Tart ($8.50) with a Curly Endive Salad.
    • Special request #2 (were we just the most high-maintenance crew or what?) -- Lee Ann desperately wanted us to try these two Le Crocodile classic appetizers. She still remembered them fondly from her time in Le Crocodile, and 26 years on the menu clearly means they are something extra-special. She asked if we could have them both, but in smaller portions instead of full orders. The kitchen charged us two orders of each, divided by the five persons who opted in. Given the goodly portion that came, it made me curious about just what a single full order would have looked like.
    • The Tomato and Gin Soup sounds simple, but the execution was superb.
      • Often with tomato soups, there is a strong sourness to it from the tomato. This was very tempered here to an almost mild presence, allowing the sweetness of the soup to come out as well.
      • The gin was definitely present, but not so strong as to dominate. I thought this was a very nice balance, as an overly strong alcoholic presence might have been off-putting for a non-drinker like myself.
      • The shared portion of soup here turned out to be about two measuring cups worth. Which in turn was, I felt, a very nice small-appetizer portion. In any case, it was more than just a tasting sample, which I think we were half-expecting after asking for smaller portions so everyone could have a taste.
    • The Alsatian Onion Tart looked like a quiche and one might expect an eggy flavour to it. Nothing of the sort here.
      • For a tasting portion, we each got a narrow slice that was nevertheless maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of a regular pie slice. Makes me wonder what portion a full order would be.
      • The filling had a substantial amount of thinly sliced strips of onion. Not so much that it didn't hold together, but definitely enough that you could clearly see you weren't getting more filling that ingredients.
      • Some lardons here and there. It looks to be too little, but they were strong in flavour, so that little bit was definitely enough.
      • The filling was very soft -- creamy soft. In a strange way, this was almost dessert-like, except of course that it was savory. Altogether, there is an attention not just to taste but to feel/texture, and somewhat to appearance. And it was, of course, delicious.
      • Not eggy at all. If I remember correctly, Lee Ann mentioned bechamel used. She also remembered the perfectionism that went into the preparation of even just the onions: "One of my jobs at Le Crocodile was to prepare the onions for this tart and it was a tense part of my work - the onions had to be paper thin, evenly cut and then braised without coloring..."
      • If I have a very minor criticism about this item, it would be the crust. It's thin (so each slice of pie is really mostly the tasty filling), beautifully done and despite being a lovely brown, is not so baked as to be crispy. There's nothing oily about it. But it doesn't cut quickly enough, and if you just press down with even a sharp knife, you'll probably smush the filling out. This needs a lighter touch on your part to not turn it into an unsightly mess on your plate.
  • Demi-Douzaine d’Huitres Kusshi Servies sur Glace avec Mignonette ($18.50) - Half-dozen Fresh Kusshi Oysters served on the shell with shallots, Tobiko Roe and Aged Red Wine Vinegar
    • Special request #1 - Our group was hosted by Lee Ann Foster who arranged the reservation and also asked if Kusshi Oysters might be made available (normally only on the dinner menu). Naturally, Le Crocodile said yes.
    • It was pearls before swine at our table as most of us passed due to a lack of interest or proper appreciation of oysters. Although Lee Ann generously offered them to me as well, after my experience at Bishops (which may also have Kusshi Oysters, though possibly not on the regular menu), I really felt they'd be wasted on me.
  • Seared Foie Gras (not on the regular lunch menu)
    • This was one of the full appetizer orders, and you can see from this picture it is quite substantial in size for a mere appetizer.
    • I felt it was gauche to ask if gavage (force-feeding) were involved in the production of the foie gras, but Lee Ann did ask about their source. We were told they came from Quebec, and from that answer Lee Ann estimated that very likely the liver would be from a force fed goose. For the French, they think nothing of gavage, having come up with the whole concept of foie gras in the first place. Modern sensibilities might object, however. There is foie gras that does not involve gavage, but you would invariably need to ask and hope the server is knowledgeable.
    • The foie gras has a clear liver taste, which is tempered somewhat by the tasty sauce. Comes with a bit of fried potato in the form of potato shreds arranged into a curl; and a seared scallop.
    • The foie gras initially came quite rare and creamy-tender on the inside. I had read this on an Urbanspoon review as well, so this may just be the way the restaurant prepares it by default. When the person who ordered it asked for it to be cooked a bit more, they came back in short order with a new plate and new piece of foie gras! Seared a bit more and cooked through, but still very tender on the inside and without a significant change in taste.
  • Bread
    • The complimentary bread came before our mains. Here, although I recognized that economics plays a part, it was profoundly disappointing.
    • You get pretty plain slices of sourdough or whole wheat. Not warm. Possibly not fresh.
    • The bread is not made in-house, but comes from a bakery. So depending on when they get it and when you sit down for lunch, quality can vary.
    • Butter was plain butter (softened for easy spreading, of course).
Next post: Mains and desserts!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Big Brunch at Little Nest

Little Nest on Urbanspoon Last Sunday I went to Little Nest just off Commercial Drive for 10 am brunch. It's a short walk off Commercial Drive into Charles Street, but that short distance makes all the difference if you're keen on leaving the busy Drive behind. Once inside, you're in a different sort of busy-ness, however, with chatty parents and noisy kids (not that parents-with-kids are the only patrons).
They are open at 9am, and by 10am the place was at capacity, though we only had a brief wait for a table. The tables outside were empty (and on a beautiful cloudy morning too) so we opted to sit there, away from the bustle inside.

 The brunch special of the day was chili-braised pulled pork with salad, eggs, and baguette. My dining companion chose a veggie plate with beans, which I passed on trying because beans give me gas so I'm usually choosy about my bean intake. She also got an Americano, myself a peppermint tea, and to share, an apple-ricotta-almond muffin bigger than a softball. At the counter were a wide variety of muffins and cakes, so I'm making a mental note to go by for tea some time.
Little Nest is order-at-the-counter and the food gets brought to your table when it's ready. The place was packed, so service was on the slow side.

That Sunday was one of those days where either the food was kind of bland or my taste buds were taking a day off. The muffin had clearly large chunks of apple and what looked like a layer of ricotta cheese. Slices of toasted almond were on top. Fans of muffin caps will appreciate the large cap on it. Overall it was moist but crumbly, probably because of the large chunks of apple and its moistness. Strangely bland, especially the cheese. I was also disappointed that the apple chunks didn't add a sweetness to it, but they were probably cut from fresh apples instead of the syrupy chunks you see in apple pies.

My brunch plate had a cool side of still-cool-from-the-fridge(?) chopped up veggies on some guacamole and enough pulled pork to make a decent sandwich. There was also remarkably deep-yellow scrambled eggs, which colour my companion attributed to their being organic.
The toasted baguette halves came pre-buttered. There were two choices: Whole wheat, and one with mixed fruits baked in it, including cranberry and something yellow. The fruit gave it a nice colour, but didn't really add much to the baguette (which was fine, since I wasn't charged extra for choosing it).
The pulled pork was okay. Tender enough, but a go-easy-on-Westerners style spiciness to the chili. Overall, I'd give this plate a passing grade, and bonus points for freshness and the colourful and appetizing presentation (which was also the case on my dining companion's veggie option beans platter).

For $13, this was a decent-sized portion for brunch/lunch. But considering 1/3rd of your plate was the pulled pork, 1/3rd was the baguette, and 1/3rd was the greens plus eggs, this is also on the pricey side. However, the ingredients are "fresh, local and organic wherever possible", so that adds to the cost, whether you seek out that distinction of better food or not. And these "invisible extras" are an in-built problem for restaurants that want to offer it. Says Elena Sarasom, raw food restaurant consultant and co-author of Rewild Your Life, "whenever you do go healthier, if you want to be as ethical as possible about the cleanliness of your ingredients (meaning 'biodynamic' as they label it, organic, ethically sourced, truly vegan - as in no animal broths or anything that is discreetly non-vegan, etc.) you may face ... some tighter profit margins because generally customers don't want to have to pay THAT much more for healthier food but you on the other hand do have to pay more for better quality ingredients."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tazo Shaken Iced Tea at Starbucks

Starbucks (Davie & Marinaside) on Urbanspoon After Loving Hut Express burgers on early Friday evening, it was still bright out and a beautiful evening. Posh Pudding and I wandered over to a nearby Starbucks for a drink, a chat, and some incidental people watching. I had had a Star Ruby Grapefruit GuS so I wasn't really up for a drink, but Posh Pudding felt bad about using my Starbucks card and prodded me until I got something.

Maybe it was because I'd already had a really long Friday, but for some reason my eyes landed on Tazo® Shaken Iced Tea. Iced tea is iced tea, but for reasons not clear to me, I was drawn to the word "shaken". Did that make it special somehow? Anyway, from the three flavours, I chose passion.

It's not too sweet (yay!), with a bit of tartness. Basically a fruit juice rather than a tea. It's got ice in it. But was it special because it was shaken? It suddenly dawned on me that I paid $1.95 for fruit juice with ice in it. Duh.

After some poking around, I found this page that "explains" Shaken Iced Tea at Starbucks:
Why are they called shaken? Well, because they are! All Starbucks iced teas are made in shakers with equal parts tea and water. Ice and sweetener are added, and the drink is shaken before it is served. Every part of this drink is able to be customized - for a stronger tea, ask for light or no water, and subsequently to make it weaker, feel free to add extra water and extra ice.
(Hmm! I had no idea I could ask for a stronger tea!)
It gives more information about the tea, but still not so much about the shaking. I then tried a bartender guide, and got possibly a bit more insight into shaking:
When a drink contains eggs, fruit juices or cream, it is necessary to shake the ingredients. Shaking is the method by which you use a cocktail shaker to mix ingredients together and chill them simultaneously. The object is to almost freeze the drink whilst breaking down and combining the ingredients. Normally this is done with ice cubes three-quarters of the way full. When you've poured in the ingredients, hold the shaker in both hands, with one hand on top and one supporting the base, and give a short, sharp, snappy shake. It's important not to rock your cocktail to sleep. When water has begun to condense on the surface of the shaker, the cocktail should be sufficiently chilled and ready to be strained.
Obviously the Shaken Iced Tea at Starbucks is no cocktail, so the relevant information here appears to be that shaking a drink with ice makes it colder faster.
From a bubble tea site came the idea of oxygenating tea through shaking to make it taste better:
The reason for shaking tea is simple: it tastes better. Shaking tea oxygenates it resulting in a cleaner, more expansive flavor. The idea of shaking tea evolved from the Asian tradition of 'pulling' tea, in which the teapot is rapidly lifted away from the cup as the tea is poured. The resulting stream of tea, sometimes stretching several feet or more, oxygenates the drink and enhances its flavor.
After all that... I don't know... It still looks like a fruit drink with ice in it. If you do order it, maybe watch them to see if they really shake it.

Mushroom Cheeseburger at Loving Hut Express

Loving Hut Express on UrbanspoonLoving Hut Express reopened in the latter half of last week after time out for renos and looking at new menu items. When I dropped by early last Friday evening for dinner with Posh Pudding, they were already sold out of various items, such as yam fries and onion rings (meaning no BBQ Onion Ring Cheeseburger!).

Some goodies that were being considered for the new menu were sushi and spring rolls. Sushi fans should tweet them first as they mentioned sushi would probably not make it into the new menu because there was a concern about freshness. Gluten-free Summer Rolls look to have made the cut, however.

I had previously tried the Crispy Chick'n Burger and the BBQ Onion Ring Cheeseburger (which apparently converted die-hard omnivore Food Persuasion to vegan goodness), and those may very well be the top burgers in their line-up. This time around I went for the new Grilled Mushroom Cheeseburger (beefless patty, grilled mushrooms, cheese sauce, mayo, mustard, tomato, red onion, lettuce). Strangely, I both like and don't like this burger.
  • There's a layer of mushrooms on the patty. Definitely enough mushrooms to give this burger a clear mushroom flavour. It's a mushroom burger, after all. Like mushrooms? You'll get it here.
  • It's a big burger for your buck. Chances are, you'll have to do a lot of jaw-yawning and burger-squishing to fit it into your mouth.
  • There's a good amount of veggies in there (about a third of the thickness), so you're getting fresh greens to balance your burger.
  • There's a thin-ish patty in there, but it does add to the overall filling feeling. The sauce and other flavours smothered whatever fake beef flavour is here, however.
  • Mixed with the sauce of the mushroom is the cheese sauce. I think here is where the problem lay. Vegans don't use dairy (because dairy = veal = BAD!), so it's not "real" cheese in this burger, but some sort of cheese substitute sauce. And if there's one thing converts-to-veganism miss, it's usually cheese. There are all sorts of substitutes, but it's just really hard to fake a good cheese. And I don't think fake cheese is good enough here. It's a tasty enough burger because of the mushrooms and the sauce, but for me I was missing real cheese. And being an omnivore, I'm allowed to miss it.
Posh Pudding went for the BBQ Onion Ring Cheeseburger, sans the Onion Rings. I thought she was crazy -- weren't the onion rings an integral component of this burger? But she was fine with it, and said the tasty sauce made all the difference in that burger.

Also tried were the yam fries. Normally not something I'd order -- fries are fries, right?
At the time, the staff thought they had enough, but later on it turned out there were two orders (ours and that of a nice vegan lady who was before us), and only half an order of yam fries available. The nice lady generously yielded to us (thanks!) and got some huge cookies from Loving Hut Express in exchange. We shared our yam fries with her, but she was too shy to take more than a few.

The yam fries look like yam fries anywhere, except they were thin cut, which I don't often see -- definitely less than 5mm, maybe 3mm thick. Crispy on the outside, and strangely almost creamy-soft on the inside. It's a really good version of yam fries to begin with, but wait -- there's more! It comes with a sweet chipotle sauce that's really tasty. Go easy on it so you don't smother the flavour of the yam fries themselves.

For drinks, I went with a Star Ruby Grapefruit juice from GuS ("Grown-up Soda"). I like trying brands I don't normally see (even though they started in 2003!), and I was specifically looking for something not too sweet. The GuS soda even has "not too sweet" written on it, and sure enough, it wasn't as sweet as your typical soda. For grapefruit, it wasn't bitter, either, which means you're getting grapefruit taste without the usual drawback.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buffalo Burger at Seb's Market Café

Seb's Market Café on Urbanspoon This past weekend was a busy three days of meeting friends -- and eating! Friday's late lunch was at Seb's Market Café because my dining companion was of the opinion that the words "vegan" and "burger" should never go together, so Loving Hut Express was out.

At around 2pm when we walked in, things were already winding down. It was two hours to close (they close at the early hour of 4pm) and whatever lunch rush was clearly over and the restaurant was basically deserted.

It'd been years since I'd gone to Seb's. Strangely, the menu looks the same -- I could have sworn I had their Cranberry Pecan Sourdough Sandwich way back when. This time around, I tried the [Moroccan] Spiced Buffalo Burger ($12; grilled sweet onion, roasted root vegetables) and a spinach-honeydew shake--the only one with a vegetable in it.

The shake is made with either milk or juice (I opted for juice) and has three choices for optional add-ons (75¢ each): spirulina, protein powder, and echinacea. I'd had drinks with algae in them from Organic Lives and wasn't keen to try yet another, so fortunately the server suggested protein powder. However, that may have dulled the taste of the shake itself, as the spinach showed up in the pleasant green colour but not really in taste. The honeydew gave the drink a mild sweetness only. Using juice instead of milk apparently didn't boost the flavour much.

The burger was simply composed, with a largish bun and a burger of regulation thickness but generous width. Everything else -- even the sauce -- was token in the burger. What dominated the taste was the tasty spiced burger itself (not spicy in the chili-hot way). You could probably drop the bun and still be satisfied with the taste and portion of the patty. For $12 you got a plate that had a side of large wedges of sweet potatoes. This was a really decent deal in both quality and portion size, especially in comparison with other burger places I'd been to quite recently.

Phone call from Vancouver Convention Centre

In late March I went to the MoneyShow at the Vancouver Convention Centre, and needed to make a phone call. I had nixed my cellphone because I used it so infrequently, and they wanted $100/year to maintain the balance on my Telus pay-as-you-go. So I used the phone booth. I didn't have change on me, so I used my credit card for a short local call. Here's how it finally showed up on my VISA bill...

WIMACTL*8884760881 - Calcary, AB - $2.24

 $2.24 for a phonecall that should have been 50 cents?! ARGH!

Late-season deal on winter boots

I'm not a skier / snowboarder / winter-baby myself, so I was surprised when a couple of my friends told me they wanted to squeeze in some skiing at Whistler this past weekend. Turns out there was still good snow up there! In April!

The Weather Network forecasts rain this week for Whistler, but a little bit of snow for Sun Peaks.

If you're getting out there late in the ski season, or thinking of stocking up for next season, you might want to consider a whopping 74% discount from Shoe Scandal. You can check out the shipping time and charges here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

GUESS Customer Appreciation Day -- TODAY

Got a GUESS flyer this morning as I was leaving Metrotown Skytrain Station:

Customer Appreciaton Day
Friday, April 20th


Shop With Us On Customer Appreciation Day and Enjoy 25% OFF Your Entire Purchase*

*Offer not valid on basic denim, Gc Timepieces or products with charity tie in.
Offer not valid on previously prchased merchandise or GUESS gift card purchases.
Valid at participating GUESS stores in Canada and online at GUESS.ca.
Discount valid Friday, April 20th, 2012.
Offer not valid at GUESS Factory stores or stores located in the United States.
GUESS?, Inc. reserves the right to extend, modify, or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

Oishii Sushi 4-course Groupon

Oishii Sushi on Urbanspoon Out of the blue, my dining buddy called me up Thursday morning to see if I'd like to go for sushi. She had a Groupon that was close to expiration (these Groupon things tend to do that: help you go broke saving money) and offered to treat. Would I come out with her for a four-course dinner for two? Hell, yeah! We were on for Ocean Wise Oishii Sushi on Denman at Robson. Google translates Oishii as おいしい, which means the restaurant name roughly translates to "Delicious Sushi".

The dilapidated laminated menu in the restaurant is somewhat outdated, but helpfully has an insert which lists the ingredients in each roll. It also features a lot of pictures, so everything on the Groupon Menu can more or less be deciphered without having to ask the server.

$24 for a Four-Course Sushi Dinner for Two at Oishii Sushi (Up to $53.65 Value)
Oishii Sushi 4 Course Groupon Menu


Sake Or Beer (Please Choose 1 per person)
Small Hot or Cold Sake or Small Japanese Beer


Sunomono/Salad/Soup (Please choose 1 per person)
Miso Soup
Seafood Soup
Sunomono (Shrimp, Ebi, Kani, Tako)
Gomae
Wakame


Appetizer (Please choose 1 Only)
Beef Sashimi
Kakisu (Fresh Oyster)
Spring Roll
Edamame
Age Dashi Tofu
Soft Shell Crab
Asari Garlic Butter
Chicken Karrage
Gyoza
Ebi Gyoza


5 Pc Sashimi (Please choose 1 Only)
Tuna
Spicy Tuna
****Tuna Tataki
Atlantic Salmon
Sockeye Salmon
Tai
Saba
Hokkigai
Ika
Tako
***Toro
***Hamachi


***available for additional charge


Special Roll (Please choose 1 only)
Oishii Roll
Hawaii Roll
Dragon Roll
Caterpillar Roll
Bayview Roll
Pacific Roll
Sunshine Roll
Diamond Roll
Canuck Roll
Excotic Roll
Tataki Roll
Victoria Roll

We were set for a 4:45 pm seating. It was probably not until around 5.30pm or 6pm that the "real" servers arrived and took over the floor. Prior to that, there was just the one person setting up tables, and who had really no table-side manner. No water or tea to start. My dining partner discovered something sticky under the table on her side and it got smeared onto her hand. She asked for a wet towel and immediately the answer was "no". When my friend explained what happened, the server came by with a cloth to wipe under the table, and my friend had to stop her so she could dab her fingers on the cloth before the server took it away.
Definitely go LATER in the evening -- don't walk in unless you see the real waitresses are tending the tables.

Here's our order, for the evening, including prices on the bill (which was of course adjusted because my friend had already paid for the Groupon):

  • "Foir Gras" (Monkfish Liver) - $10.95
    • NOT part of the Groupon 4-course.
    • This was on the specials menu, which indicated it was "monkfish liver". I was curious about it since foie gras is normally duck or goose liver (and if you got a particularly big and tasty foie gras portion, then sadly it is probably the result of force feeding).
    • It's khaki coloured slices with a creamy firmness that easily causes it to break if you squeeze it a bit too much with your chopsticks. Comes with a bit of soy sauce and some finely shredded carrot and white radish (?).
    • Overall it had a nice texture but just a fishy taste. More of a novelty than a tasty dish. Don't bother.
  • Hot Sake - $5.95 x 2 orders
    • The small ceramic (?) sake carafes were very hot to the touch, almost too hot to really pick up and slowly pour out the sake into the matching sake cups. We suspected that the whole thing was microwaved, hence the very hot bottles. Of course, we can't be sure of this.
  • Seafood Soup - $5.95 x 2 orders
    • Not much better than a boring miso soup. Two slices of different types of fish, one prawn, and what looked like small chunks of scallops, or maybe octopus.
    • There's not much to choose from in that category, so anything will do, I guess, if you have the Groupon. I wouldn't order it for $5.95 off the regular menu.
  • Soft Shell Crab - $8.95
    • One crab with a body about the size of a pack of playing cards. The sauce appeared to be soy sauce with spring onions.
    • Strangely flavourless crab. The predominant flavour here was slightly burnt batter, which might have just been bad luck on our part to get a slightly overdone crab. And which may have overshadowed whatever crab taste there was. A shame.
    • Felt like a rather small order for $8.95.
  • Sockeye Salmon (5 pc) - $7.95
    • Very red pieces of salmon, so there's a possibility these are farmed salmon (who are often given supplements in their diet that enhances the redness of their flesh).
    • Not very flavourful. Not fishy tasting, either, so wasabi isn't needed unless you just like the taste of wasabi.
  • Oishii Roll - $12.95
    • At $12.95 menu price it seems pricey for a premium roll, weighing in at about a dollar per piece of 1-inch-wide sushi.
    • This is a pretty tasty roll! Sauce on the place is slightly sweet. Clear flavour of the large chunk of prawn inside. This basically saved an otherwise less-than-passing-grade dinner.

The Groupon 4-course portion totalled 53.65 before tax, and that was the amount taken off by the Groupon.

Price-wise, Oishii Sushi is on par with that other pricey downtown sushi place, Miku Restaurant, which is also Ocean Wise, and has much better taste, ambiance, service, and presentation. It's hard to beat a basically half-price coupon (if you've got one) but if you have to pay full price and are prepared for pricey sushi, I would recommend Miku Restaurant instead. The "Select" samplers (such as the 12-piece "Premium Select") are a safe way to try several tastes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Confusing Tea Time at Truffles Fine Foods (VanDusen Botanical Garden)

Truffles Fine Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon
I've been to various afternoon tea services -- Shaktea, Urban Tea Merchant, Schokolade Artisan Chocolates -- and they've generally been pretty pricey because you get some pretty pricey labour-intensive goodies on your tiered tea tray. Truffles Fine Foods (at VanDusen Botanical Garden) has a very different take on tea service. Which led to quite a bit of confusion when the Food Bloggers Meetup tried it on Tuesday (hosted by food blogger Dumpling Girl).

I've had some time to reflect on it, and although initially it wasn't a good experience, I think it is fairer to say the whole fiasco came out of good intentions on the part of the restaurant. Certainly the staff were very calm and patient with us, and I give them points for that. (And check out the cute hottie at the till with the fantastic hairdo!).

Typically, afternoon tea service is a calm sit-down-restaurant service with a fixed menu for what items end up on your three-tiered tea tray. The only choice you need to make is what tea to have.
Truffles Fine Foods, however, is a cafeteria setup where you order what you want at the front, pay at the till, and take it back to your table. If it's a panini that needs to be prepped (for example), you get a number to put at your table. Afternoon tea lovers might find this a bit jarring to the whole experience. But if you can get past the initial ordering-and-paying part, you can then sit down and wait for the goodies to come to you. Different, but survivable.

The confusion arose today stemmed I think from the choices available, and the indecisiveness of polite people. There are three tea service orders available: Single for $20, tea for two for $28, and tea for four for $50. You choose one panini and one tea, or two paninis and two teas for the for-four service. The more people are involved in the decision (e.g., the for-four), the more crazy things get. It wouldn't be so bad if there were enough choices to go around, but two sandwiches and two pots of tea for four persons means sharing, and having to accommodate dietary requirements or preferences. Luckily we weren't stuck with, say, three firm sandwich preferences when we were allowed to choose only two.
So on the up side, the restaurant is trying to let us put together what we want. The downside is all the wrangling over it at the till, which holds up everyone else. And never mind four people separately paying the bill. Which also turned out to be a fiasco somehow because the tax wasn't included. (Huh? That was the story that came to me. To try to move things along, I just threw in $20 and told them to pay any outstanding amounts from the remainder of my portion of $12.50 plus tax).

I think what might have helped a lot would be for the restaurant to issue little cards where you tick off what you want and just submit the final order to the server. That would at least save some hold-up at the till. Look over what I wrote and you'll realize that all the problems were actually caused by us, the patrons. On the one hand, having more choices means the possibility of being more pleased with what comes to the table, but there's something to be said with a fixed menu and just trusting the restaurant to know what they are doing. For a more relaxed time (and not having any allergies, dietary restrictions, or dealbreaker ingredients), I think I much prefer to just choose a fixed-menu tea service and let my server recommend me a tea.

The other "feature" of afternoon tea at Truffles Fine Foods is the price. At $50 for 4 persons (or even $20 for one person), it comes in at the really low end of afternoon tea pricing, so you should be prepared for less than the most refined seeming fare. And it is. Here's the blurb (as of April 18th, 2012):

Our Afternoon Tea includes a three-tiered tray loaded with:
  • a choice of daily sandwich
  • a freshly made scone
  • a large croissant (divided into two portions)
  • coconut macaroons and shortbread cookies
  • French macarons and petit-fours
  • house-made strawberry jam
  • VanDusen’s own un-pasteurized, organic honey
Selections change on a daily basis and depend on what has been baked that day.

Tea selections include:

  • VanDusen’s own private label black tea (blended by Secret Garden Tea)
  • Different organic teas from MoTeas from Kelowna (Early Grey with Rose, Chocolate Mint Roiboos, Assam Breakfast, Masala Chai and classic Darjeeling…)
We had scheduled ourselves for tea at 1:30pm (although the cafeteria-style place meant reservations were not accepted). By then, the day's lamb panini was already sold out. There's the early lunch rush which ends around 2pm, and then a much quieter time for an unrushed afternoon tea, but it could mean being stuck with whatever sandwiches are left.

Other curious encounters that Tuesday afternoon:
  • They don't automatically bring you napkins. Go to the counter to grab a stack.
  • They don't automatically bring you small plates (! -- it would have definitely made for a much messier table afterwards), but you can ask for them.
  • One of our number tried to separately order a different tea. Somehow the result was that they couldn't give her a pot as she'd have to order a whole tea service for that. This was a bit odd, so in the end the lady at the till just relaxed their house rule and handed her a pot anyway.
Our tea service for 4 included:
  • two sandwiches: vegetarian and something else -- honestly, I can't remember since I let someone else in our team of four do the ordering
  • two large scones (one with bacon baked in, the other with pecans)
  • two croissants cut into halves
    • strawberry jam, honey, and whipped cream provided
  • two large coconut macaroons
  • two large shortbread cookies
  • your choice of a smallish macaron
  • an assortment of miniature cakes (petit fours)
Here's how things turned out:
  • Sandwiches
    • Start quickly with these as they come hot out of the panini press, and get cold quickly, meaning hardened cheese.
    • Although grilled nicely, presentation was, in my opinion, off as it appeared the grilling and cutting had caused some pieces to go askew, and on the inside, it appeared the ingredients weren't well distributed.
    • Flavour-wise I can't say I found them particularly good. Nothing wrong per se, just not more than a passing grade. Since the sandwich selection can change, you will probably have a different experience here.
    • This, plus the croissants, make the tea service quite filling as a light to medium lunch portion.
  • Scones
    • These are pretty big, each about the size of two decks of playing cards.
    • Cake-like (but heavier), rather than the really dense and crumbly style of scone.
    • Quite good, although the extra ingredients (bacon and cheddar in one, pecan in the other) didn't make a strong enough presence to make any real difference.
  • Croissants
    • These aren't the flaky style buttery croissants, but are more bread-like. Cold and a tad dry. Probably baked in the morning (if not outright shipped in) rather than fresh in the afternoon.
  • Coconut Macaroons
    • A tad crumbly when cut, despite being slightly sticky.
    • Good sweetness but not overdone. Overall really rather nice and one of the nicer items on the trays.
  • Shortbread
    • Nothing special here. Your basic tasty shortbread.
    • If you need to halve one to share, what helped was to score the top with a butterknife where you want the break, flip it over, and snap it. When I tried this, it broke cleanly where I had scored it.
  • Macarons
    • There were maybe four or five choices at the counter. Each was the diameter of a twonie and maybe 3/4" thick.
    • I opted for the green pistachio one, which had a clear pistachio flavour. No crumbling when I bit into it. Good for two slowly savoured bites as it is quite sweet and the flavours are strong.
  • Petit Four
    • Very interesting tiny cakes about a cubic inch each. I got a multi-layered one with green jelly on top and specks of what looked like green hotdog relish, but were actually pistachio bits.
      • Actually, I almost wished they were savory relish, as that would really be thinking outside the box for creative cake/dessert.
    • The multiple layers and strong flavours here made finishing with the petit four the best and most sense-awakening way to end afternoon tea.
  • Tea
    • For our pot we went with the house blend, a VanDusen garden tea.
    • I'm not a tea connoisseur, so only the strongest differences in flavour would have had any effect on me. For my unrefined palate therefore, there wasn't anything special here. Someone with a better nose for tea would probably be more insightful here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MAXimized at Max's Burgers

Max's Burgers on Urbanspoon
It was dead quiet right at their 11am open on Monday when I walked in. Perfect -- just before the 12pm-2pm lunch rush, which our lovely and friendly server Jenessa estimated was typical. Hockey nights of course were busier, and the bright and airy modified garage was proudly Vancouver Canucks. Although they have alcoholic beverages, daily burger specials, and a flat screen TV visible wherever you sit, it's not really pushing to be the neighbourhood sports bar.
Music that morning was '90's hip hop. TVs were on a sports channel but the volume was not on.

The $10 daily special for Monday is the British Columbian (normally $12.50), but I thought I'd go for a "Max"-everything theme. So it was the Big Max ($10; token side upgraded for $1.50 into onion rings) and $2 Big Max Sauce for the onion rings. There was no "Max's Shake", sadly, so I let my dining companion choose a shake to share (Strawberry). I was half-hoping she'd be adventurous enough to try the salted caramel, but in truth, I was a bit ansy about that as well. Too much salt and it would have ruined dessert; although I'd had sea-salted chocolate before, so it wasn't a new concept.

Max's Burgers uses a toasted-on-the-inside soft brioche hamburger bun, as does Romer's Burger Bar. Maybe because of its comparative airiness, the result is a softer bun that seems less intrusive on texture and taste than a regular hamburger bun. It just shields your hand from the gooey burger mess inside, and doesn't feel like it adds a lot of filling to your burger.

The Big Max is "5 oz. of Max's specially seasoned, secret recipe of fresh, never-frozen, griddled Alberta chuck, on our house-baked brioche bun, served with 'The Fixins' (shredded iceberg lettuce, vine-ripened tomato, pickles, red onion & Big Max Sauce). Ask for it "Max's Style" with fried red onions!"

The $10 price tag is on-par with what you get at Romer's Burger Bar. Except Romer's is typically a fancier burger with more interesting ingredients, but no sides. Here, you get either hand-cut kennebec fries, fennel slaw, or broccoli salad for free. You can upgrade to yam fries or onion rings for $2 (on the online menu; only $1.50 according to our server and on my bill).

The patty itself is firm yet moist and holds together quite well. The "fixins" are okay, but the overall product was very wet and sloppy. Because of the small basket, my patty wasn't centered, and it took a bit of delicate scooping to get the burger out of the basket without having everything slide out. Once I picked it up, it was really too messy to put down.
After being spoiled on it-stays-together cheap-ass McDonalds burgers, I do believe there is a science to compiling a burger that doesn't make a huge mess when you eat it. The Big Max is tasty, but can be tricky to eat. So, er, don't wear a white shirt.

It's not a "wow!" burger, but it's a good burger, and at $10 it's competitively priced.

The onion rings were really quite good. They aren't super-huge ones with big diameters, but they are wide-cut, about twice as wide as the often thin-sliced onion rings. The batter is very crunchy and stays that way for quite a while. The server immediately suggested Maple Mustard dip when I inquired about whether a dip came with the burger-upgrade-onion-rings. I probably should have gone with that, but I was going with my "Max" theme and went with the Big Max Sauce. Which turned out sort-of like Thousand Island Dressing, but not as sharp/sour.

My dining companion opted for the broccoli salad. It was lightly blanched or possibly raw broccoli, in some sauce. Kind of blah, bordering on yuck, actually. Go for either the slaw (which I haven't tried but can't possibly be worse than the broccoli) or the fries. Since the onion rings turned out really well, I would suspect Max's Burgers knows how to make really decent fries.
If you're not getting a full side and have just a small side that comes with your burger, I recommend against $2 for dip. You probably won't use half of it unless you insist on killing the taste of your fries or onion rings.

Our server helpfully offered to split our strawberry shakes to share, and they came in two small filled-to-the-brim glasses topped with a cherry each, plus the remainder in the tall metal mixing container. They were so thick I had trouble sucking it up the regulation-diameter straw. It was easier to mix it a bit with the draw and drink it down.
Here again, it's not "wow!", but that doesn't always have to be the standard, especially when they're not putting an excessive price on it. It was good, and the price seemed fair for $5.

My bill came out to $16 including half the milkshake (normally $5), and just under $18 after tax and tip. I think the bill would have been more acceptable had I dropped the Big Max Sauce, which turned out to be ho-hum and not really necessary on the crispy and tasty-enough onion ring batter.
That said, it's still a couple of bucks more than one of the really good burgers from Loving Hut Express, but only if you're not a beef burger connoisseur. If you rate burgers on meat content and quality, then Loving Hut doesn't even qualify since they are vegan. If you just rate on taste, Loving Hut Express has burgers that are a notch up from plain good.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just $5! -- President's Choice Puff Pastry hors d'oeuvre collection

My mom saw the President's Choice Puff Pastry hors d'oeuvre collection on sale at Superstore for about $5 yesterday (normally closer to $8) and ended up getting two boxes. Going on just price per pound, at 800 grams it is a pretty good deal, as some of the Superstore frozen pizza deals are about the same price.

President's Choice puff pastry hors d'oeuvre collection - front

When you open it up, the four bags of frozen puff pastries don't look like they add up to 800 grams, but they are small and dense in that frozen form.

My mom likes to semi-thaw stuff out first, despite the instructions to bake from frozen. This typically results in less-than-puffy results. From frozen, they can come out much puffier and seem less oily for some reason. Either way, they seem to end up sitting on the oils from the filling or the puff pastry, and that was somewhat off-putting on the initial tries. Baked from frozen, the ones with chicken filling (probably the least oily hors d'oeuvre) turned out okay without significant oiliness on the bottom.

There are four types:
  • Chicken sausage roll filling
    • The one with the "meatiest" and most filling feel.
    • This is very boring "sausage roll" type stuff, except with the puff pastry. Decent, but definitely not as flavourful when compared to the other three. Sort of a safe standard.
  • Swiss, grutère & ham filling
    • The taste combo here is quite good. The sprinkle of green herbs on the pastry makes this a nice colourful addition.
    • Strong tendency for the filling to ooze out during baking. Combined with how the filling turns out very soft and squishy, it can be a bit tricky plating this nicely.
  • Sweet potato & goat cheese filling
    • The goat cheese here, as goat cheese does anywhere, sort of overpowered things.
    • Slight tendency to ooze out.
  • Apple, smoked gouda & caramelized onion filling
    • Probably the most interesting taste. The caramelized onion taste didn't come through clearly for me, but the apple and the cheese both turned up, with the former softening the latter.
    • The addition of a (slightly) sweet pastry helps mix up the tastes and variety.

Overall, if you can get it at a sale price of $5, there's definitely good bang for your buck here. And if you can get it to turn out of the oven nicely, there's a nice look and colour to the combination (well, maybe not the boring chicken one) that makes it almost too easy to turn out an attractive hors d'oeuvre plate without a lot of work. Add to that the range of flavours, including the slightly sweet and clearly fruity apple and smoked gouda pastry, and this is actually a well-thought-out one-stop-shopping appy combo. The flavours are strong enough that there's not much call for condiments to go with this, except, again, maybe for the chicken sausage one.

President's Choice puff pastry hors d'oeuvre collection - back

Friday, April 13, 2012

Aussie Aboriginal Toilet Decor in Locus

Locus on Urbanspoon
The food at Locus Restaurant and Lounge is interesting, but less interesting than the restaurant itself. The decor has a sort-of-Gothic "underworld" looking vibe, from devilish backlit masks to naked, twisted, trees with occasional humanoid shapes in them. Less grim/hellish is the spacious washroom which has very different decor strongly evocative of Australian aboriginal rock art.
Strange as it sounds to actually recommend this, but if you go, make a point to go to the washroom. Also look around for other pieces of artwork that might be of interest. When I was there last Wednesday evening, the walls were lined with pieces from The Collected Paintings of Norman Leibovitch. Not exactly the cheeriest looking artwork, I must say.
Overall, Locus feels like it is more interested in being artsy than being a restaurant.

The restaurant is somewhat dimly lit, but if you are there earlier in the evening you can opt for a window seat, which definitely lets in more light but also exposes you to passers-by, especially from the bus stop right in front of the restaurant.
Seating is comfortably spacious yet the tree-like decor and the layout of the restaurant can still lend it a closed-in feel. There is a phoney log fireplace that wasn't giving out too much heat and our table was right in front of it -- right against it, in fact.

The online menu very helpfully includes beautiful shots of their food -- pictures which aren't on the paper in-house menu. So before you go, definitely check out the website (although your meal may not be EXACTLY as pictured...) Locus fare is organic and except for the desserts, are made in-house. Wild boar is on the menu in various dishes.

They also feature the newish "Sezmu Beef" ("says Moo", get it?) -- meat from cows that have been fed red wine. Supposedly this makes for a tenderer beef. I'm normally a sucker for strange meats, but as my appreciation of beef isn't really up to snuff (evidenced by my recent drop-in at Gotham Steakhouse), and as my dining companion was a vegetarian, I gave it a pass this time.
EDIT: 2012-Sep -- No longer available.

For dinner there was the obligatory basket of free bread, Mozzarella Beignets, Double-Smoked Cheddar Mac 'n Cheese, and Vegetarian Burger. After this we sadly had no room for dessert, so I had to pass on the vanilla mango cheesecake I had my eye on.
  • Bread
    • The very brown dough was tender, and cut into large squarish chunks. And it was cold! Urgh.
    • The softened (whipped?) butter was also brownish from the mix of spices in it, and jazzed up the bread nicely.
  • Mozzarella Beignets ($13) Sweet corn, prosciutto, and mozzarella beignets served on a nest of pea shoots with house-made ketchup.
    • This appy-sized order is four balls of deep-fried cheese. Each ball is about the size of a ping pong ball, so it works out to $3.25 a ball, which in turn works out to a pretty darned pricey appy.
    • A beignet is a donut-like deep-fried dough. There's no dough here so the similarily is in the deep-fried yumminess.
    • The deep fried cheese comes in a nice deep brown crunchy crust. Like most cheeses, it doesn't hold that lovely gooey melted state very long, so get cracking on it right away.
    • The description (sweet corn, prosciutto) makes it sound really much more interesting than it is. There's the corn, but mostly just patted on the outside of the cheese ball, so it didn't make any difference at all taste-wise to me. the prosciutto showed up as patches of red colour and had more of a flavour contribution than the corn, but still there wasn't enough to really be counted.
    • Basically, you're paying $13 for deep fried cheese. It's probably premium mozza, but I still can't justify the cost.
    • It's supposed to sit on a "nest of pea shoots" but I could have sworn my order sat on a lettuce leaf. Since I probably wouldn't have munched on the pea shoots anyway, I'll let this one go. I would have though the server might at least have mentioned it, though.
  • Double-Smoked Cheddar Mac 'n Cheese ($16) With broccoli florets, slow-roasted roma tomatoes, and crunchy bread crumb topping.
    • The smoked cheddar had a strangely bacon-ish smell to it. Overall I though this was okay, nothing to write home about, certainly not at $16.
    • Salad on the side.
  • Vegetarian Burger ($12 on the online menu, $13 on my bill) Roasted red pepper, mushroom and soy patty, lettuce, tomato, shaved red onion & asiago cheese, cilantro pesto mayo, on a homemade whole wheat kaiser bun.
    • Comes with a small salad on the side and a small mound of roasted potatoes.
    • The bun is smallish, about the size of a MacDonalds bun. So the generously sized veggie patty extended outward significantly, but even so, this burger looked strangely small. Probably an optical illusion from the prominent bun.
    • In the burger is also a thick slice of tomato and a thick slice of pickle. Maybe because of this thickness, the patty slid inside the burger when I picked it up to bite it. When that happened, I firmed my grip on the burger, which proved to be a mistake, because the patty broke apart into several chunks. My advice would be to deconstruct the burger into two open-faced burgers.
    • The pickle was strangely bland, with no bite to it at all. I probably got a freakish slice of pickle there.
    • The veggie patty was actually very delicious, with a mildly spicy flavour. If only the burger held together better... But just on its own like a "steak" was fine too.
    • Considering the cost of the other items, this was probably the best and most fairly-priced of the three items.
    • The online menu indicates +$2 for caramelized onions, which I think I would have gone for, except I didn't notice it on the printed menu and I wasn't asked. If you order this, you may want to consider it.
The bill, including one cocktail drink special for my dining companion ($7.25) was $49.25, just over $66 after tax and tip.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tax (slightly) Discounted at the Twisted Fork Bistro

Twisted Fork Bistro on Urbanspoon
Like Cafe Medina, the Twisted Fork Bistro is one of those places that is said to be perpetually busy. Still, there's no guarantee of this, and our server said it was really hard to predict when they'd be pressured with lineups, and when it'd be quieter. When I went out with the Vancouver Fine Dining Club last Saturday, we were the only ones there right at 5.30pm when it opened, and at around 7:40pm when I left, the restaurant was still at only about 3/4 capacity.

The room is long, narrow, and small. For a larger group, you could squeeze in around a single table right at the window, or go for one of two tables right at the back. The rest is basically booth seating. Whichever you choose, a single table for 6 persons is really tight on real estate for dishes. When we chose to sit in the back, we ended up joining the two tables, which the restaurant allowed, but warned that if things got too busy, they might have to take one table back.

I always try to order strange and interesting-sounding things, and this time was no exception. But somehow the snails and duck rillettes came out surprisingly boring. I also got a nibble of chicken and portobello mushroom mains, and they seemed boring too. For me, the only stand-outs were the fish cakes and the various desserts we tried.
  • Buns
    • The obligatory free bread came after my duck rillettes and snails, which I had ordered to share with everyone.
    • These were largish buns, slightly bigger than a tennis ball. Very chewy crust that made it hard to simply tear apart without some squishing. Tender and light on the inside, with a freshness than suggested these had been baked in-house not too long ago, though not so recently as to still be warm.
      • Since they are largish, go easy on them if you want to have dessert as well. The mains here are a fair size, even if half your plate is grains.
    • Plain butter.
  • Fernie Frites ($6.75) Yukon gold, parsnip and sweet potato with herb aioli.
    • Three types of fries. Strangely, the dipping sauce (herb aioli) reminded me of tartar sauce.
    • Sorry, I thought this was boring.
  • Duck Rillettes ($10.50) Duck rillettes with a hint of armagnac; with cornishions, pickled brussel sprouts, dijon mustard and baguette croutons.
    • Despite how it sounds on the menu, this was rather boring.
    • The "baguette croutons" were very crispy toasted baguette slices. Came with a small pile of greens as well.
    • Try to pace yourself so that you use up the garnishes with the duck. If you end up with no more duck, be very cautious with mixing the mustard into your remaining greens as it has a sharp flavour and you no longer have any duck to balance it.
  • Snails ($9) Tender garlic snails cooked with shallots, mushrooms, herbs and white wine served with tomato basil sauce, arrugula and crushed croutons.
    • This came out tasting like snails (pulled out of their shells) in tomato sauce. There were quite a few snails hiding under the small arugula salad.
    • I suppose you could order it for the novelty of eating snails, but snails don't have a particularly strong or pleasing flavour to begin with, so you might want to get it somewhere else, perhaps where they do it in a more traditional in-shell snails-in-garlic-butter way, with a stronger mix of herbs (although this also then typically features quite a bit of artery-unfriendly, if flavourful, butter).
    • The "crushed croutons" turned out to be the same sort of thin and very toasted baguette slices.
    • This also turned out quite boring in taste. As snails aren't super-flavourful to being with, there wasn't any point in taking your time eating one snail at a time. Also, in terms of sharing, only one other person wanted to try them. Everyone else was apparently too queasy about eating snails. Humph.
  • Haddock Fish Cakes ($9.50) A mixture of Oceanwise haddock, house pickled eggplant, herbs, spices and panko served with a roasted red pepper coulis and an arrugula cucumber salad.
    • Finally, something really tasty! The mix of herbs here was nice and strong, but not overpowering. I thought it was tasty enough all on its own, and didn't need any of the sauce at all.
    • The order is two fish cakes, each about 3 inches in diameter, and almost an inch thick.
  • Stuffed Portobello Mushroom ($19) Filled with arrugula, and pesto vinaigrette, topped with a cashew dill crust served with lentils, baby carrots and tomato basil sauce.
    • There was one mushroom, maybe 4" or 5" in diameter. I had just a small bite of this and thought the filling/crust here was okay, but I don't know if I'd want a while mushroom's worth.
    • More than half the plate is lentils and the carrots, which looked quite tedious to go through.
  • Free Range BC Chicken Supreme ($22) Stuffed with hazelnuts, goat cheese and spinach, served with wild rice, bussel sprout ratatouille and baby carrots finished with chicken jus.
    • The chicken came across as a bit small and slightly on the dry side, but that might have been because I got a chunk nearer the end.
    • Most of the plate was the wild rice. The actual amount of chicken was maybe half a breast and about the size of a cappucino cup (about 1 measuring cup worth?).
    • The filling, because it has goat cheese, had a slight pungent smell which dominated the other ingredients. I am biased against goat cheese, so this was off-putting for me.
  • Caramel Napolean ($8.50) Almond tuilles filled with caramel mousse and fresh raspberries served with house made maple ice cream and raspberry coulis.
    • The almond tuilles here don't look like what you might typically find online. They have a deeper brown colour, like melted brown sugar or the top of a crème brûlée. There are no almond slices, and they are very porous and therefore much more delicate.
    • The server's advice was to simply break/smash the flat disks instead of trying to cut them, as that would just result in the mousse sandwiched in between being smushed out.
    • This is a pretty-looking and rather tasty dessert doesn't need any ice cream or raspberry sauce to help it along.
  • Tarragon Crème Brûlée ($8.50) Tarragon scented creme brulee with biscotti and house canned chocolate conserve.
    • The chocolate conserve here has a chocolate flavour but, strangely, also a fruity texture and slight fruity taste.
    • This is a very creamy crème brûlée. Strangely, the person who ordered it gave a pass on the chocolate conserve and didn't try to put the two together, nor did she touch her biscotti.
    • The biscotti had good chunks of chocolate inside, though not particularly well distributed. I think it would have worked out quite nicely if either dipped in the crème brûlée, or if it had some of that chocolate conserve spread on it. Alas, this wasn't my dessert so I didn't get to experiment too much with it.
  • Maple Pear Tarte Tatin ($8.50) Fresh BC pears cooked in maple syrup and brown sugar cooked with puff pastry, served with sour cream ice cream and fresh raspberries.
    • The pear and the crust came out looking quite the same colour, so it was a bit hard to tell them apart until you put it in your mouth.
    • A sweet, but not burningly sweet dessert. A good choice for a slightly sweeter dessert than either the crème brûlée or the caramel napoleon.
    • The ice cream melts very quickly, so get to work on this right away. However, it is good enough without any ice cream or raspberry, although the ice cream lends it some pleasing coolness in the mouth.
Take a close look at your bill next time you're there. In red, it reads, "For your convenience prices on [receipt] include HST". However, the prices are all conveniently rounded into multiples of 5 cents. If you deconstruct it at 12% HST, it works out that you actually pay slightly less than the menu price. For example, Haddock Fish Cakes are $9.50 on the menu, which means $1.14 in 12% HST. On the bill it is $10.50, which is 14 cents less than what it should be. Hmm!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Devils on Horseback at Pourhouse

Pourhouse Restaurant on Urbanspoon
It was dead quiet at around 1 pm on Wednesday afternoon when I wandered into Pourhouse. The lunch rush was clearly over, so I got the full-meal-deal from the bartender about Pourhouse and the restaurant's pre-Prohibition concept, which is mostly reflected in the decor and wine. If you're interested in that, then I definitely recommend sitting at the bar on a late afternoon and quizzing the knowledgeable bartender. Food-wise, it's "simply made" home-cooking and bread made in-house.

I always look for strange things on the menu, so I ended up with Devils on Horseback, Pork Croquettes (okay, so this one isn't so strange), and Bone Marrow. Being a non-drinker, I asked for a peppermint tea. The closest thing they had was a chamomile-peppermint "Introspection" tea that came loose-leaf in a coffee press ($4!).

Devils on Horseback ($6)
  • This strange appy is prunes stuffed with Gruyère (cheese), and wrapped in bacon, giving you three contrasting flavours in one bite. There was also a generous splash of sweet-sour vinaigrette. An interesting combo and quite tasty.
  • The prunes here were sort of small, I thought. Six pieces, so this works out to a somewhat pricey $1 per piece, which makes justifying the cost rather difficult.
Pork Croquettes ($9)
  • Best of the three orders. Super juicy and tender pulled pork inside the deep-fried shell. Goes very well with the HP Sauce provided.
  • Each piece is slightly smaller than than a Tater Tot. For $9 you only get a small dish with maybe 10 pieces. At 90 cents per half-bite-sized piece, this is pretty darned pricey.
  • You're given quite a lot of HP Sauce, but since this has a strong, sharp, flavour, be careful how much you use on each croquette.
Bone Marrow ($14)
  • According to my server, this was a new item, added only about 1-1/2 weeks ago to the menu. It came on a cutting board with toast, a pile of pickled chopped onions and radishes, and a bit of sea salt on the side. The bone marrow itself was from one large bone cut into three stumps.
  • The bone and marrow looked to have been baked. The bone was very hot and remained hot for a long time, so be careful handling that and definitely do not try picking it up and sucking the marrow out.
  • The marrow inside has a soft jelly consistency and isn't quite as hot at the bone. It is also super-oily! You'll need the pickles and salt to help you force this down.
  • I tried various ways of getting at the marrow without too much oily fuss:
    • Scooping with the small spoon provided: This proved to be the least efficient way because you can only get a bit on the tiny spoon each time to put on your toast.
    • Loosening the marrow and pouring it out: What you can do is to use the spoon provided to scrape the sides and loosen the marrow from the bone; and to also chop up the marrow as well. Then tip the bone chunk to pour out the marrow right onto a piece of toast. This would have worked quite well if the bone weren't so hot (and oily) to handle.
    • Fork it out: This was probably the best solution. First, loosen the marrow from the bone, but be careful not to chop it up. Then, get in there with your fork. The marrow will essentially be one long (wormy?) lump of "meat" which you can try to skewer with your fork. Gently wiggle it out as whole as possible, then get at the remainder with the spoon.
  • Be generous with how much marrow you put on the toast. It doesn't look like there's a lot of bone marrow, but you'll dig out a surprising amount.
  • Probably the best thing you can do early on is to tip all the bones onto the side: Do your heart and arteries this favour and let as much of the tasteless oil out as possible. And get some strong tea. Peppermint worked nicely with a refreshing lift from the mint.
  • Unless you have some sort of craving for bone marrow, I would not order this, even for the novelty:  Way too oily, not enough flavour, and a slight stink to it. Also, some of the marrow was still pinkish, suggesting that it wasn't fully cooked through deep inside.
    • My mother used to boil bones with marrow with broth or soup she was making. This allowed the oil to come out first, and for the marrow to have a firmer consistency. It was then easy and fun to just suck out. There's no marrow sucking here, sadly, especially with the bone being so hot.
Bill came to $33.00, $44.00 after tax and tip.

Overall, the appys and small bites are pretty pricey. Heck, even the tea is pricey at $4! I might go back to try a proper main (maybe the house burger) and dessert at some point to see if those give you more value for your money.