Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All Appys at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen on Urbanspoon After a tasty time with the appetizers at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen, I had wanted to bring a group back to try just the appetizers and momos. I worked out a 20% off deal for every appetizer and the two types of momos, and 4 plates for 10 people. After tax and 18% tip, it would have come to about $40 per person based on the price quoted. However, our dining group balked at the cost and the event never got off the ground. Last Thursday I did, however, go with one friend to try all the appys.

We went with a 1 plate per 2 persons deal from the restaurant, with a special pricing of $40 per person before tax and tip. This turned out to be a mistake. First, it was an overwhelming amount of food. We were stuffed, and had to take the last two plates to go. Second, the kitchen churned out the plates sort-of dim sum style, where everything comes as soon as it's ready. Unfortunately, we weren't keeping up, and some of the items were clearly better hot, such as the Lollypop Chicken.
There were so many items we tried that I really should have jumped on my blog post right away, but the Christmas season being what it is, things got busy and I started to forget some of how things went. My bad.

Overall, as appetizer plates go, most plates are about a half meal (or more, if you are a lighter eater) for one person. Two plates and you could feel satisfied; three plates and you could be feeling too stuffed for dessert.
For most of it, get a spoon. What is it with restaurants these days and the deprecation of spoons?
Here's how things turned out:
  • Bhatmaas Saandeko: Roasted soybean mixed with Himalayan herbs and mustard oil
    • Get a spoon for this right away if there aren't enough serving spoons. You really don't want to eat this with a fork.
    • This is a pretty tasty, but unless you're vegetarian with few other options, a half order is more than a good enough amount as an appetizer. As appetizer plate sizes go, it's a generous amount.
  • Aalu Achaar: Potato salad garnished with lemon juice, mustard oil and mixed with Himalayan herbs
    • Served cool, this was also quite tasty, and a nice savory/tangy way to eat boiled potatoes.
    • One full order of this appetizer for a single person can be half a meal already due to the potatoes.
  • Taas: Special Nepali snack prepared with grilled lean lamb meat, cucumber and spices. Served with puffed and beaten rice mix
    • This came at the very end (after I'd paid the bill, even!) and because it came after the momos, I guess the servers forgot all about it since most of the appetizers had come before.
    • We were too full then and had to take it to go, but I strongly recommend against this if you can help it because the puffed rice won't be any fun or appetizing once it's no longer crispy.
    • From my previous visit, I do remember this to be very tasty.
  • Choila: Diced chicken, marinated in Nepali spices and herbs. Char grilled/roasted and served with beaten rice (cheura)
    • I don't remember this to be particularly interesting.
  • Kathmandu Sekuwa: Tender pieces of boneless chicken marinated in yoghurt, fresh ginger and spices and grilled to perfection. A piquant fair in the foothills of the Himalayas
    • Large chunks of chicken on a skewer. Definitely eat this hot when it comes out.
    • If you have trouble trying to force a piece off the skewer with your fork, stab a piece with your fork and press it down. Seemed to come off more easily that way, and with no risk of suddenly flying chicken chunks.
    • Nicely tender for white meat, but otherwise I thought this was mostly just grilled chicken.
  • Lollypop Chicken: Deep-fried chicken drumsticks marinated overnight and dipped in ginger/garlic and minty vinaigrette sauce
    • We didn't eat this nearly fast enough and the deep fried part was missed because things just cool too quickly, especially when it's dipped in sauce after being fried.
    • The sauce makes a nice difference here, and I recommend you try it.
    • One order is 6 decent sized drumsticks, the size you can expect from a 75-cent wings place like Wings Tap and Grill.
  • Chatpate: Lip smacking, tongue-tickling spicy-sour chickpeas and potato mix
    • This was okay, I think. I can't remember being too interested in this, maybe because I'm not really big on chickpeas.
  • Piro Shrimp: Shrimp marinated in ginger-garlic and chilli paste. Spiced, grilled and garnished with fresh lemon juice
    • Shrimps the size of fat prawns. I don't remember anything being too special here.
  • Momos: Tibetan style steamed dumplings served with chutney
    • These came with two dips. A green watery thingie and an orange watery sauce. Neither of these really piqued my interest and I thought maybe a plain old chili sauce would have done better.
    • There are two types, and look very much like something you might get at a dim sum place
      • Dalai Lama Momo – Vegetable (potato, cabbage, spinach and tofu) based
      • Tenzing Momo – Meat (chicken) based
    • One order is 10 dumplings, which in turn is actually a goodly amount of food. We were served the steamed ones on this visit.
    • If you get them steamed, eat it while it is hot. Once it cools too much, something happens to the wrapping and it's clammy and cold and a real turn-off. No amount of sauce will rescue it.
    • Having tried the fried ones on my previous visit, I'd vote for the fried ones over the steamed ones any day.
    • Overall, if you've had potstickers or dumplings anywhere else, I'd say the steamed ones are okay, and not really a highlight. Stick to the much more interesting items under the appetizer section.
My recommendations for what to get from the appetizers would be the Bhatmaas Saandeko, Taas, and Lollypop Chicken.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pricey brunch at The Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe

Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe on Urbanspoon The idea of an authentic Dutch pancake place was intrigued me enough to give this place a try. The pannekoeks are bigger (about the size of a dinner plate), thinner, and a bit more porous than a regular North American pancake, reminiscent of Ethiopian injera. You get stuff on and/or in the pannekoek itself.
Other than pannekoeks, there are a few other Dutch things on the menu that might pique your interest, such as Indonesian fried rice (nasi goreng), an ethnic food that apparently the Dutch do like very much. Sort of like Brits loving their curries, I suppose. There are also rusks (which our server described to us noobs as a slice of bread that's like a "hard crouton"), and bitter balls (deep fried stew).

The idea of the bitter balls intrigued me enough to try it the one time, and it basically is a deep fried ball of salty/savory stew. The outer crust is very thin but crunchy, and the inside is almost liquid. It is served with a bit of mustard for dipping. After tax, a standard 6-ball order works out to about $1 per ball, each of which is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball. A bit pricey for what is essentially stew with no bits of meat or anything -- just the somewhat thick, soupy part of a stew.
You could try it for the novelty, but in terms of value for your money, I'd say it's not worth it.

For pannekoeks, I tried the #20, the Dutch Wooden Shoe. It's the pannekoek with spek (salted bacon) in the pannekoek itself, three thin round slices of ham on top, and a heck of a lot of sauerkraut. Too much sauerkraut for my palate, which ruined the whole thing for me.
Quantity wise it's a medium meal, but at around $13 I feel it's pricey without being especially good. There's tastier, cheaper stuff out there for more bang for your buck and time spent.
Including one order of bitter balls and one coffee (unlimited refills, but really do you want to drink that much?) my brunch was around $24 after tax, before tip.

Service was pleasant, but run ragged once the place filled up, and it did fill up closer to noon, with a rather long line-up.
Decor feels like diner with ethnic touches. While you're waiting for food or service, you can browse the pictures on the wall and maybe spot the odd celebrity (such as Vikram Vij!).

My epic order FAIL at Ki Modern Japanese & Bar

Ki Modern Japanese & Bar on Urbanspoon Ki Modern Japanese & Bar is a part of the larger building/complex that is the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver, and thus shares space with other posh dining experiences like MARKET by Jean-Georges. From the get-go, then, expectations are set high.

It's upstairs from the ground level, and actually encompasses quite a bit of square footage. There the lounge on one side, the restaurant on the other side, and in between in a courtyard that in warmer and less rainy days has seating, and for smokers on colder days there is a long fireplace so you don't have to shiver in the fall rain and snow.

Inside the restaurant, decor is clean and beautiful, dimly lit (in some alcoves a bit too dimly lit, such that some of our party had to use their cellphones as flashlights on the menu), lots of reds and blacks. Menus and even the folder for the bill followed a consistent black appearance of various sizes, and that uniformity added to the overall sense of everything being part of a larger design.
Another interesting item was the use of heavy black iron antique-looking tea pots.
Probably the most out-of-place thing here is at the very end of the menu, in the section called "fallbacks": If you really, really, don't like sushi and are stuck here for, say, a business meeting, you can order steak. I'm not kidding.

Service/hospitality from the front desk staff and our server were ace, top notch. Table presentation for our reservation also had nice touches such as square menus arranged in a circle in the middle of the table.
In the alcoves, you're best off trying for one of the cushioned wall seats. The large rounded chairs, while artsy looking, aren't exactly very functional. Once you sit in it, you'll find it's really quite deep. And there's no easy handhold for you to pull it closer to the table, so you really need your date to do it for you each time.

There was sadly no tasting menu or sampler plate, and here's where things went wrong for me. Instead of choosing from the regular menu, I asked if they could put together one for me. The server said yes. I should have thought it through more carefully because in hindsight, it was a very bad move in a restaurant that doesn't normally offer it, unlike sushi places such as Miku.
Anyway, to begin, I asked about what was special and different and unique. Two items came to the fore: their signature hamachi and jalapeño sushi roll ($13); and a "sushi pizza" ($18), from the bar on the other side, but not listed on the dinner menu.

Everyone else ordered off the menu. I went with the sushi pizza appy to share (6-slice mini pizza about 6" in diameter), and decided I'd see what the restaurant could put together for me. The server said the selection would be based on how "adventurous" I felt. I told her I was "super adventurous", that they were free to put eight pieces of anything for me, whether they were on the regular menu or still experimental. I am always curious about vegan options, so I asked for 2 pieces to be vegan, whatever the kitchen could come up with. The server later came back and said the options were limited, so I downgraded that to just 1 piece -- I was still curious, honestly.

The sushi pizza was super, and gave me really high hopes for what would come out on the put-it-together-for-me plate. It was basically sashimi on a round rice cake, including fish and crab meat; a sweet sauce; red slices of fish on each of the six wedges, a bit of roe and delicate seaweed in the middle. The end result was that it looked like a beautiful red flower. Taste was superb. If this sort of creativity and plating was possible at Ki, the bar was set very high to start.
Sadly, things went downhill from there. Some presentation were interesting, such as raw fish slices cooled on a thick round column of ice. Otherwise, nothing that really wow'ed us as the sushi pizza had done.

Our orders came out as they were prepped, with the result that at various times, someone had nothing in front of them. We were a party of 7, so I'm not sure how many marks to take off for that. They did forget one order of their specialty hamachi and jalapeño, and that was really startling. Happily, the person who ordered it was quite full already and she let it go.

Presentation of the sushi rolls was very basic, with basically a pretty roll on a long plate, and with a small mound of wasabi and ginger. I wasn't so sure about their giving you wasabi right off, or pouring everyone a small dish of soy sauce. It's like they expect you to use it with their sushi. I suppose this may be just my own expectations clashing with experiences elsewhere, where wasabi and soy sauce aren't standard issue except at cheap bulk sushi joints.
If you can, try a piece before you soak it in soy or green it with wasabi, to see if you really need it.

Finally my order came. And... WTF? A plate of mixed nigiri. I thought, "you're kidding, right?" This was my "super adventurous" order? Nigiri, unless they really get creative, is probably the most boring thing on the menu (well, for me, anyway). It's a lump of rice with something raw on top (unless you get tamago, which is a slab of omelette).
We were all shocked.

Then I started thinking what had gone wrong. I had tried to convey a sense of openness-to-experience and complete trust in the kitchen, and this is the result. Hmm...
Someone suggested that they could have at least thrown in a piece of their signature hamachi and jalapeño roll, but in hindsight, I think the restaurant would never have chosen anything from a sushi roll. Here's why: Each piece of sushi you see is part of a single roll, maybe cut into 8 pieces. If they were to assemble a plate of say 8 types of rolls, that's 8 rolls they have to make, and of each roll use only 1 piece. What would they do with the other 7 pieces? Ki does not have a sampler platter like, say, Miku. They wouldn't be able to move the other 7 pieces because it doesn't add up to a single typical order of sushi, and to ensure freshness they couldn't really keep it around.
So if I had thought about it more carefully at the time I put in my order, I would have realized that there would be no sushi forthcoming.

But what about the sushi pizza that had so wow'ed us? Was that really the limit of creative items on the menu? Guess so.

In any case, I was now in big trouble. I had a plate of 7 boring pieces of regular nigiri, and one piece of vegan nigiri (which I'll talk about later). Off the top of my head I don't recall ever sending anything back to the kitchen in any restaurant, but this one time I decided to try it since evidently there was a miscommunication. I tried to contritely explain that I had probably not conveyed my intentions clearly enough, and that the plate was pretty tame. Pretty awfully tame. I conceded that maybe it was more special than it looked, but at the moment, it was sooo tame looking and so far from what I had hoped.

Our server took it back. We continued to discuss it. How had it gone wrong?
Someone brought up the issue of what was on the plate at all, and said it was all cheap-ass nigiri. I wasn't sure about that, but she had apparently gone to enough sushi restaurants to identify everything and assured me it was a cheap, safe, plate. Supposing this were true, then maybe they were playing it very safe and not trusting me to be very adventurous?
Someone else suggested that my vegan order threw them off, that it conveyed to the kitchen that I really wasn't adventurous at all. After having gone to places like Acorn and Heirloom, I honestly disagreed with that. Even if you can't do anything with the ingredients, you can try jazzing it up with paste, sauce, ingredient combination, and/or presentation.

Eventually, the manager came over. Maybe the staff had eavesdropped on our conversation, but what he said was dead-on what we discussed: That the vegan request threw off the kitchen; and that one of the changes to the plate would be to take off the tamago sashimi.
Supposing (big assumption) that they did eavesdrop, I can't fault them for using the intel gained, but I'm not sure I like that they didn't have a policy of I-didn't-hear-anything-I-wasn't-meant-to-hear.

Anyway, I apologized for having evidently failed to convey to our server that 8 pieces of anything "really adventurous" really meant I was game for anything. I further tried to reassure the manager that I really was up for anything, and that when I go to a restaurant, I immediately look for and order whatever sounds weird, whether it tasted horrible or not.
He said he had some ideas on what to do, and to maintain the surprise wasn't going to tell me immediately. I told him I was fine with that.
Some time later, attempt number two came out. Still a plate of nigiri. I really didn't expect too much different now and I had decided in the meantime I wasn't going to send it back no matter what came out. I accepted that I probably had wrong expectations to begin with and an inadequate understanding of the restaurant's limitations, so I wasn't going to blame the restaurant. They were trying to make things right, and that counted too.
The two most different pieces were ikura nigiri (salmon roe) with a raw quail egg on top; and uni nigiri (gonad of sea urchin). Maybe they were uncommon ingredients and acquired tastes, I honestly didn't think this was anything special. But by this time I figured the restaurant's options were limited.

For the vegan piece, it was two sticks of asparagus topped with a brown paste that included sesame seeds and something that had a brief flash of hot spiciness in the mouth. Of the entire plate, I though that was pretty curious and would have made a decent vegan nigiri -- not the use of asparagus, per se, but the paste to add to your experience of taste. It was also the cheapest piece of nigiri at $2.50 and listed as "veggie" on my bill.

The final bill for the nigiri portion was:
  • amaebi nigiri $3.50 (sweet shrimp)
  • hotate nigiri $3.00 (sea scallop; they lemoned it and lightly seared the top)
  • ikura nigiri $6.00 (salmon roe), add quail egg $1.00
  • saba nigiri $6.00 (mackerel)
  • kani nigiri $6.00 (Alaskan kinig crab)
  • hamachi nigiri $4.50 (yellowtail)
  • uni nigiri $7.00 (sea urchin)
  • saba nigiri $3.00 (not sure why this showed up twice but after all the trouble I didn't bother asking about a measly $3 on my bill)
Anyway, if you do go to Ki, DO NOT DO WHAT I DID -- do not ask them to put together something for you. They can't. Just bring a few friends, order various rolls, and swap pieces.
Oh, and ask for the bar menu to have a peek at it. That sushi pizza really is a "must try", even at $18. It tops the Sashimi with Crispy Rice I had at MARKET in both taste and value for your dollar.

*

For desserts, I got the Almond Asian Pear Cake with coconut crème anglaise + blueberry mirin coulis ($10). It's basically a sponge cake topped with almond slices baked in. Chopped pear on the side. Large, tall slice of cake, and definitely had to be eaten with the pear or anything else wet on the plate, else it was too plain and dry. Could have used a spoon for the pear too (what is it with restaurants and not handing out more spoons?).
The wedge cake had a somewhat thick crust, and I was prepared to say this was how the restaurant is choosing to bake their cake. However, purists at the table were more convinced that they had overbaked the cake, and could have gotten the almond crust without baking the sides and bottom. You be the judge.

In any case, the Trio of Cheesecake (pineapple mint, mango, chocolate mascarpone; $10) someone else ordered was really so much better. Variety of flavours, no single piece too large and monotonous, and the intensity of the fruit flavours made this the clear winner in my opinion.

The Lemongrass Chamomile Infused Crème Brûlée served with sugar cookies ($10) was strangely very soft, almost liquid inside. Nothing wrong with the flavour per se however, just a bit odd/different.

*

Including one pot of tea ($5), my bill was a frightening $75.50 before tax and tip. Our server was really pleasant and patient with us, and overall service was tops, so in the end I put down just over $100.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What happens when you sneeze at Bishop's Restaurant

Bishop's on Urbanspoon Something ticked my nose at Bishop's Restaurant when I went this past Saturday, and I sneezed. Oops. But lo! A server brought a small plate, on which was a round napkin, and on top of that, a fresh packet of Kleenex, with the first tissue partially pulled out for my convenience. I am not kidding. Where else can you find such care, consideration, and the extra special touch of a napkin-on-a-platter? Bishop's is an extraordinary restaurant that's a safe bet if you want superb service.

My dining companion for the evening had for the longest time (20 years!) meant to go to Bishop's, but just never got around to it. Well, this past Saturday, she finally went, and I along with her. I'd been there a few times but never really paid much attention to the special note at the bottom of the menu, which states that vegetarian and vegan options are available. Some of the regular menu is vegetarian, like some soups, but if you want a no-meat-meal at Bishop's, you'll have to ask for it.

It's not a separate menu, nor can your server definitely state what you will get. Instead, the kitchen whips it up on the spot, taking into account whatever restrictions (such as allergies) you stipulate. Obviously the more picky you are, the harder things will be. My small-appetited friend opted for the vegetarian option, entree only. I went with a three course vegan appetizer-entree-dessert. I specifically asked for a not-soup-not-salad sharing appetizer, and a sharing-possible entree. For my vegan dessert, the server warned that it might have to be sorbet, so I asked that if that were the only thing available to please check back first.

Brought to our table shortly after the order was bread and a tiny amuse bouche of greens, thinly sliced radish, and tiny wedges of orange (?) in a sharp dressing. Cool, refreshing, and appetite whetting. A khaki coloured bread followed next. Lacklustre, but probably meant to be so to highlight the olive oil and black vinegar that accompanied it in a neat little jar that had the vinegar in an inner compartment shaped like a bunch of grapes.

For the appetizer, a salad-like mix of veggies and root vegetables that was dreadfully plain looking, but with a tantalizing dressing that really woke us up. Served cool but not cold, it was a refreshing start. Later I would think back to my stipulation of not-a-salad, but there was a mix of roots in there, so I suppose it was an alright compromise.

For my companion's entrée, she got a bit of spätzle in a delicious creamy sauce, and a mix of leafy veggies and roots, plus one interestingly delicious onion, roasted to a soft creaminess and with just enough browning for a touch of that that nice seared flavour. It certainly didn't look very special on the plate, but my friend insisted I try it, and I was glad I did. This is something I've noticed about Bishop's: It may not sound or look interesting, but eat everything on your plate, as there are surprises like this.

The vegan no-animal-products restriction is a tough one, and for my entrée the restaurant basically put together a mix of grains, leaves, and root vegetables. They tried to spruce up the plating my standing some of the root veggies straight up like columns for a more three-dimensional construction, but in the end, even with a tasty dressing on the grains, I really felt like my friend's vegetarian plate was way more delicious.
That said, I'm not actually vegan, so if you are, you may find they do very nicely. Because I'm omnivorous, my perspective on vegan fare is skewed by missing what dairy products can do (for example). Plus, we put the Bishop's kitchen on the spot that night by asking for a vegan meal, so although I do feel Acorn and Heirloom can plate a more interesting meal, Bishop's did admirably for a restaurant that doesn't specialize in such fare.

The vegan dessert was probably the toughest to put together on such short notice, and they turned out a presumably vegan chocolate cake (about the size of a cupcake), topped with a thick chocolate sauce. I found the cake to be a bit on the firm and dry side, unfortunately, and no comparison to other vegan cakes I've had at places such as Heirloom or The Wallflower Modern Diner.
Accompanying the cake was a delicious poached pear, as well as an intensely flavoured pear sorbet on thin slices of pear. I found the pear and sorbet to be much more interesting than the cake, and even my "I'm not a dessert person" companion had more than a few bites of sorbet and pear.

Dinner was priced at $14 for appetizer, $30 for each entree, $14 for dessert. My friend's glass of Sauvignon Blanc was $10.