Monday, January 28, 2013

Gross Dessert at The Reef (Dine Out Vancouver 2013)

The Reef on UrbanspoonThis year, for Dine Out Vancouver, I was determined to look for $18 options. I'd been eating out a lot in Yaletown and all sorts of high-end-ish places that I'd started to forget about value for money. Sure, I appreciate artistry and decor and location, but I wanted to focus on the food for a change.

The Reef is a Caribbean restaurant decorated almost like a stereotyped Caribbean vacation spot. It's busy. And when the DJ is on, the music is very loud. The food is okay. Value for price is quite good -- would be better if the food were tastier, I think.

While we were waiting for our third dining companion before making our dinner order, I asked for the Tasting Platter for two. What came was a huge plate that had us daunted about being able to finish dinner! For $16, you got about a half dozen wings, two fat prawns, a large bowl's worth of chickpea stew, and a lot of plantain chips. It's a big meal all on its own, and a light meal for two persons. For $16.

For $18, you could have instead gotten a small bowl of complex and tasty pasta at Secret Location. I don't want to say that one is better than another, but if you're looking for tasty enough + filling + good price, then places like The Reef and Fray are good choices. Once you start looking for interesting + gourmet, you're looking at smaller portions and a certain amount of hit-or-miss. What The Reef offers is a sort of comfort food that has a wider general appeal.

As far as Caribbean offerings go, their $18 Dine Out Vancouver menu is... weird. Pulled beef brisket sliders? Really?
Appetizer
Plantain chips with Jerk Mayo
OR
Curried Pear & ginger soup
Main
Jerk chicken or tofu with rice n' peas & colelsaw
OR
Pulled beef brisket sliders with crisp fried onions , yam fries & jerk mayo
OR
Pan Seared snapper with Sauce Chien on coconut rice with seasonal vegetables
Dessert
Warm chocolate, coconut rice pudding
OR
Fried bananas with mango ice cream & rum caramel
Here's how dinner turned out:

Tasting Platter (for 2 persons; $16; not part of the $18 Dine Out Vancouver menu) - Chana (warm garam masala curried chickpea salad with organic greens, roti & dahi), plantain chips, jerk wings and coco prawns (rolled in toasted coconut and served with a minted avocado yogurt)
  • "Organic greeens" is a token salad, no dressing (or hardly any).
  • The chickpea "salad" is more like chickpeas in a sort of stew or paste. Get a spoon. What is it with restaurants and not handing out spoons?
  • The roti is quite thick, about 3 millimeters. Not very useful for scooping up the chickpeas. I recommend you just take bites or tears off it and ask for a spoon for the chickpeas.
  • Curried chickpeas tasted more South Asian than anything.
  • About a dozen wings. Fall-off-the-bone tender meat. Not spicy-hot at all.
  • Two fat prawns. Not smallish in-between-a-shrimp-and-a-prawn sized prawns, but respectably sized crustaceans.
  • Overall, a sort of "meh" plate. But good portions and easy to share. Makes a light appy for 4 persons, but you'd have to fight over the two prawns.
Curried Pear & ginger soup (vegan, dairy free, gluten free)
  • Barely any bite of ginger. Pervasive sweetness from the pear. Really tasty and interesting. Probably the best item from the entire Dine Out menu, and vegan too!
  • Sadly, you cannot get this off the menu or separately. It is apparently just for Dine Out Vancouver.
Pulled Beef Brisket Sliders - Braised Dominica beef brisket with Salsa Verde & crisp fried onion on Brioche mini buns. Served with thin cut yam fries & jerk mayo
  • This item is presently on their January feature menu.
  • Pretty basic and tasty but nothing too special.
  • Moist beef. Not a huge amount of it, but enough.
  • Generous amount of yam fries. Crispy on the outside, very creamy texture on the inside.
Pan Seared snapper with Sauce Chien on coconut rice with seasonal vegetables
  • This seemed rather boring to me. Tasted like fish with a lime zing to it (from the "dog sauce", which you may or may not be pleased to hear contains no parts of any dog).
  • The coconut rice was fragrant and tasty.
Fried bananas with mango ice cream & rum caramel
  • This looked soooo gross. The single fried banana looked vaguely like:
    • A turd.
    • A giant dead worm.
    • Some sort of rotted organ ripped out of some...creature.
  • Not a lot of rum flavour coming through here from anything. Maybe I needed to get more of the sauce onto each spoonful.
  • Mango ice cream could have used more mango flavour.
Warm chocolate, coconut rice pudding
  • Coconut rice pudding with chocolate mixed in. Strangely not a exciting as it sounds, even with the chocolate, which is typically a safe dessert choice.
Overall, I thought it was a pretty boring entry for Dine Out Vancouver. The one interesting thing was the soup, but sadly it's not separately available so you have to drag along a friend to eat the rest of the Dine Out menu for you.

The Reef uses RewardLoop, if you are into scanning codes with your cellphone to get rewards.

Interesting things to see at Secret Location

Secret Location on Urbanspoon There are some places that are so different that you really ought to check it out, just for the experience. One such place is Secret Location.
The concept of Secret Location is apparently not so alien in Europe as it is in Gastown, but over here it's a very different experience. There are two rooms to Secret Location: A store and a restaurant/bar.

The store has all sort of oddities, from the actual items sold (like the intriguing Necono Digital Camera) to the actual furnishings, like the wall shelf where a section looks like a paint spill. Many, if not all, of the items were selected with the intent that you probably couldn't find it anywhere else (anywhere else locally, anyway).

The large restaurant area has a beautiful long lit-table bar, and a variety of seating styles, with small tables, larger ones, low tables, even sofa seating. If there's a clear theme, it's the colour white. Look around carefully and you might spot intriguing things such as an umbrella chandelier or a blue ceramic bow tie. The room itself looks like the sort of posh mingling room where you can expect to see dress-to-impress gents and hotties. Some nights are slow, though, (January being a slow period for restaurants) so you can also expect peace and privacy. Try not to sit too close to the window for the latter, unless you like being people-watched by curious passers-by.

Secret Location just missed the deadline for Dine Out Vancouver 2013, but they are offering a prix fixe "unofficial Dine Out menu". They are also participating in the Hot Chocolate Festival.

Daily Selection of Canapés $12 - An ever-changing variety of artfully prepared hors d'oeuvres
  • For four items each less than the size of a ping pong ball, this was $12. Which works out to $3 a bite. For $3 a bite, I rather demand something exquisite. I got just interesting and not necessarily very tasty besides.
  • Since it's what's available that day, you could be the guinea pigs for kitchen experiments. In any case, this is clearly a hit-or-miss order. You can ask your server what's available that day, but really you won't know if you'll like it until you see it in front of you and put it in your mouth.
Sunchoke Ravioli $18 - Honey roasted butternut squash, mustard greens, pine nuts, roasted black garlic, saffron cream
  • A disappointingly small portion, but really very tasty. A very strong offering for the vegetarian crowd, and compared to the quail and arctic char that my dining companions got, I think my order was the best and most interesting of the three.
  • Curiously, the roasted black garlic did NOT taste like chunks of burnt garlic despite how it looks.
L'hiver Noir $12 - Hazelnut mousse, flourless chocolate cake, Valrhona Andoa Noir, amarena cherry, praline streusel, smoked cinnamon ice cream
  • This is a very tiny portion of cake topped with cream on an artistically arranged plate. There is an assortment of textures and tastes here so that you are unlikely to be bored working your way through this. Unlike, say, getting a large slab of chocolate cake that's more or less the same from start to finish.
The food, overall, is good to very good. The price is Yaletown for smallish portions. A part of what you are paying for is interestingness and food artistry. My guess is you will feel you should be paying a third less. If you can't stand to pay for anything that doesn't go into your mouth, then just browse the store and peer into the restaurant -- the latter all too easy to do with floor-to-ceiling style furniture shop windows.

Secret Location's entries for the Hot Chocolate Festival are definitely worth checking out, for their sheer interestingness:
"BLOND MYSTIQUE"
Roasted white chocolate, candy cap, and cognac hot chocolate.
Served with a brown butter Caramelia financier.
(Candy cap is a unique small mushroom, that when dried, has the aroma and flavour of earthy maple syrup.) 
"APHRODITE"
Nyangbo and parsnip hot chocolate,
topped with whipped chocolate ganache and parsnip milk jam.
Served with English Breakfast gelato.
(Nyangbo is a Valrhona chocolate from Ghana, and the parsnip milk jam is caramelized, much like a dulce de leche. In Roman times, parsnip was considered to be an aphrodisiac.) 
"LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS"
Smoked cinnamon mocha with chocolate marshmallows and caramel powder.
Served with Manjari chocolate brownie.
We tried the latter two, and weren't disappointed. My Aphrodite was $4.50, and a fair price for what you get: An interesting hot chocolate with an understated chocolatey-ness so that the special flavour can come through, but not in an overpowering way.
The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels comes with a "brownie", which was more like a cookie in toughness. Dip it for a looong time in your hot chocolate before taking a bite. That makes a big difference.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Small Portions at Nuba

Nuba on UrbanspoonI'd been curious about Nuba for a long time, and finally made my way down there on Friday with a few foodie friends. The menu is mostly vegan, but that's if you go by the online menu. We went to the Gastown location, and the menu really is much bigger and features quite a lot of non-vegan items.

The Gastown location is an interesting underground space. If you walk along the perimeter you can glimpse the kitchen prepping food (if you're into that sort of thing). Inside, it is a clean space (and a nice change from the dilapidated Gastown look in that area), with mostly tables but also a bit of bar seating as well. Try to get a reservation because it is perpetually busy. If you are sharing food but need separate bills (because of individual drinks, for example), they are able to split items into fractions if necessary.

We were a party of six and we ordered a bunch of things to share. I'll only comment on what I remember of what we ate. Overall, it seemed that the food was tasty enough, without having to be salty. Some people might therefore think that it needs salt, but I think it was just fine without me really missing the saltiness. If you're on a low-sodium sort of diet, Nuba is a safe choice.

Le Grand Feast (2-person portion; $52)
  • This is La Feast plus chicken, lamb, and prawns.
  • La Feast includes
    • Plate 1 (picture)
      • baba ganooj (creamy roasted eggplant puree with citrus and tahini)
      • hummus (organic chickpeas belnded with garlic, lemon, and tahini)
      • taboulleh (hand chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions, and burghul in a lemon-mint dressing)
      • homemade pickle (some shredded red thing that wasn't sour or salty at all).
      • whole wheat (?) pita bread wedges.
    • Plate 2 (picture)
      • five tiger prawns in some sort of red paste/dip
      • two chicken breast skewers; about 2 burger patties worth of meat
      • two lamb "lollipops" - lamb on the bone; about 1.5 burger patties worth of meat
    • One small bowl of Najib's Special (crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt, served with tahini)
      • This is grilled cauliflower, lightly browned on the outside to give a nice aroma and interesting taste. Very interesting to try, and I recommend it if you've never had it.
      • Manami tried a "brussels sprouts fries" that has a similar concept, but is just too bitter overall. This is much better.
    • Bowl 2
  • Overall, I felt the portion was a medium meal for one person. At $52, this felt sort of pricey.
Lamb Hushwie ($9)
  • Sauteed minced lamb with onions, pine nuts, and spices.
  • Served with hummus and slices of avocado, and whole wheat pita bread wedges.
  • Appetizer sized portion.
Duck ($22)
  • Large appetizer-sized portion of duck. I think the six of us got basically a medallion of duck, about the same volume as a ping pong ball. The price was divided evenly, so my portion was $3.67 before tax and tip.
Lamb Shank ($25)
  • Lamb on the bone. Total amount of meat after discounting the bone was maybe the volume of a tennis ball, if that much.
  • Stew was soaked up by a good portion of couscous where the grain was the size of salmon roe. Pretty tasty stew, not very salty.
Garden Falafel ($7.50 per plate; "Victor's secret falafel recipe with avocado and hummus") (picture)
  • If I remember correctly, each plate had 5 falafels. Green on the inside (avocado?).
Quinoa Chocolate Cake ($8) (picture)
  • Two small wedges of toasty chocolate cake that reminded me of the style of chocolate cake you get with a lava cake.
  • Total portion was less than one slice of cake, or maybe a rather thin slice of cake.
  • A bit more crumbly than a "normal" chocolate cake.
  • Some of us thought they'd made a mistake and given us a half portion or something. For the price, I'd normally get 3-4 times as much in a single large slice. Yes, even in Yaletown.
Mascarpone Mousse ($9) (picture)
  • The description of this sounded rather interesting, but the taste was disgusting to me. Which probably means it's one of those love-it-or-hate-it chancy things, especially when our server had to warn us that they might be sold out. Be careful and bring a friend, so if you're turned off, maybe they can finish it for you.
White Coffee ($1)
  • The cup is very, very small. A ping pong ball wouldn't fit into it. The portion is probably less than half a shooter glass.
  • It looks like water, but it's flower-flavour-infused or something. The idea is similar to rosewater, and if you find that strong and off-putting, don't get this. If you do like rosewater, maybe give it a go as something similar, yet different.
  • Bitter flavour, strong flowery aroma. Interesting to try, but even with the small amount, I didn't want to finish it. I'm not good with rosewater, but I just had to try it just to taste what it was all about.
Overall, the dip type stuff (hummus, baba ghanooj, etcetera) was nicely done, but nothing to make it feel outstanding (but how much can you do to these traditional recipes, anyway?). The rest was fine, but felt grossly overpriced.

Superb Dine Out Vancouver Value at Fray on Fraser

Fray on Fraser on Urbanspoon This year for Dine Out Vancouver 2013, I was determined to do only $18 menus because, frankly, in previous years, the higher-priced menus didn't always equate to better value or more interesting food.
I was super-pleased with Fray on Fraser's $18 offering.
INCREDIBLE VALUE.

Am I allowed to say that again?

INCREDIBLE VALUE. Full sized portions at almost 50% off.

Maybe I've been eating downtown too often, but I felt like I was ripping them off paying only $18 for their Dine Out Vancouver menu.

Fray on Fraser is a bit out-of-the-way at Fraser/24th, but very transit accessible being close to a major intersection and two useful bus routes, one of which connects to Brentwood Skytrain Station.
On the inside, it looks like a diner, and has kid-friendly written all over it, with colour pencils and a sheet of connect-the-dots game on the table. Stacks of board games everywhere. Interesting posters on the wall. The game stuff isn't up everyone's alley, I'm sure, and you don't have to participate, either, but watch out for event nights (nothing on at the moment, but in November they had card game night, karaoke night, trivia game night, and music trivia night).

On to the food! Their Dine Out Vancouver offering this year is:

Appetizer
  • Portobello fries (A Jenga stack of lightly fried and breaded portobello mushroom strips with sun-dried tomato aioli)
  • Steak and mushroom bites (Marinated chunks of AAA beef, sautéed in red wine with quartered mushrooms and chipotle lime aioli dipping sauce)
  • Superfood salad (Organic quinoa with kale, crispy chickpeas, kidney beans, beets, celery, herbs and seasonal super foods with a raspberry vinaigrette)
Entree
  • Pan-Seared Salmon (Wild pacific salmon with a creamy lemon dill sauce, spinach, roasted B.C. Nugget potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a white balsamic reduction)
  • Maple Bacon Jam Burger (7oz beef patty with sautéed mushrooms, Monterey Jack cheese, on a bed of our chefs secret maple bacon jam)
  • Pulled Pork Sandwich (A serving of slow cooked, candied pulled pork with tangy coleslaw and a sweet apple glaze)
Dessert
  • New York style cheese cake
  • 5 layer mile high chocolate cake (with chocolate ganache filling and mixed berry compote)
I was catching up with a friend who'd just come back from rural India, so there were just two of us instead of my usual gang of dine-out buddies. Between us, we tried just about everything. I was also curious about their vegetarian quinoa burger, but luckily I didn't order it up front because we were both stuffed. I had to take about a third of the chocolate cake home. She gave up on the bun of her pulled pork sandwich and barely managed to finish her cheesecake.

Portobello Fries (normally $9.95)
  • Simple idea, and delicious. Crunchy crust on the outside combined with the very juicy portobello mushroom strip on the inside, and a nice dip makes this a winner.
  • At basically $10 it's a Yaletown price for the portion you get, but there's no denying this is tasty. Trust me, you want this.
Steak and Mushroom Bites (normally $8.95)
  • It's like a big bowl of beef stew, but with slightly chewy cubes (it's steak!) and mushrooms.
  • Comes with two small wedges of garlic toast which you really should save for last to get at the tasty peppery soup that's left.
  • There's some bite to this stew from the pepper. And it's savoury without being too-salty, which stews can sometimes be.
  • Comes with a dipping sauce with you should use because it really does enhance the flavour, although honestly, it's good enough without.
  • The portion you get could make a light meal all on it's own. If you'd gotten this outside of Dine Out Vancouver at the regular price of basically $9, it's still a good deal.
Maple Bacon Jam Burger (normally $14.95, served with house salad, crisps, or fries)
  • This is really "just a burger", except for the delicious maple bacon jam at the very bottom. It doesn't look like a super-generous amount, but the flavour makes itself clearly known in every bite (if you can fit this tall burger in your mouth!).
  • I opted for potato crisps, and there was a generous of what was basically made-in-house fried potato chips. Not greasy except for the odd oil-infused chip. If you can't handle deep-fried, go for salad. This ain't the healthy baked stuff.
  • As burgers go, this is basic, big, and served freshly made. The maple bacon jam elevates it from basically good to something great.
  • If you scrape some of the maple bacon jam off to sample it on its own, you'll find it quite smoky-sweet, and with actual bacon bits in it. This isn't just "bacon flavor". It's got bacon. Too bad they don't sell this stuff in take-home jars.
  • Considering you get salad, crisps, or chips, at regular price the burger basically weighs in at about $10 on its own, which is still a fair price.
Pulled Pork Sandwich (normally $11.95, or +$5 to add pulled pork to any burger or sandwich)
  • Pulled pork mixed with a bit of coleslaw. Nothing special here except it's "candied pulled pork", so there's a clear sweetness to this.
  • I found this a bit on the dry side, but many pulled pork sandwiches can be. I think also that if they'd put in more jus, it might have come out too sweet.
New York Style Cheesecake (normally about $7)
  • This wasn't as tall as a regular New York Style cheesecake, and maybe it was just that particular cake, but there was a funny flavour to it that we couldn't quite identify.
  • Regular sized slice of cheesecake. Nothing special here.
5 Layer Mile High Chocolate Cake (normally about $7)
  • A big slice of cake. Twice the size of my friend's slice of cheesecake. After a large stew and big burger plus side of potato chips, I couldn't finish this.
  • As chocolate cakes go, this didn't score top marks, but it's still a delicious chocolate cake. Deep chocolatey flavour and moist. Good amount of chocolate cream on it too, and the berry sauce on the bottom helped with the relentless amount of chocolate cake you had to work through.
A pot of tea was $2.

Go to Fray. They will feed you properly and very well for your money.

If your budget is tight despite the regular reasonable prices, grab the Takeout Menu. As of 2013-Jan-19 when I was there, they still had coupons on the back: Free Dessert with Meal, and Burger and Beer for $10. I uploaded scans of this to Urbanspoon.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Casting Call - "Come Dine With Me Canada"


I'm part of the Vancouver Food Bloggers Meetup, and recently got this interesting offer to be on television, on Come Dine With Me Canada!
If you feel you qualify, feel free to apply and good luck!

* * *

My name's Helen Manley and I’m a Casting Producer for the television show “Come Dine With Me”, W Networks number one dinner party competition. The show is a huge success and FINALLY we're on the search for creative foodies in Vancouver!

For the show, 5 strangers will spend 5 days wining, dining and judging each others meals in the hopes of being designated "Host With The Most". Participants are given the chance to make a fantastic meal for their guests with a $300 budget.

As a food enthusiast you probably know a lot of people who would be fantastic competitors. I'm hoping you yourself might be interested or you could help communication this opportunity to other great candidates.

Below I've attached a casting call that can be easily forwarded on and a twitter blub. To chat about the show or to apply you can call me at 416.598.2500 x 303 or email comedinewithme@propertelevision.com.

I hope I've piqued your interest. To reach fabulous foodies in Vancouver it really is assistance from people like yourself that makes all the difference. So thank you so much for your time.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Helen

Helen Manley
Casting Producer
Come Dine With Me Canada
Proper Television
helen@propertelevision.com


“Come Dine With Me Canada” is casting food enthusiasts and creative cooks for it’s 4th fun filled season. W Networks smash hit series is looking for anyone who thinks they’ve got what it takes to out-wine and out-dine the competition!

5 strangers, will spend a week wining, dining and judging each others dinner parties. Participants are given a $300 budget to create a menu and host a dinner party in their home. The winner walks away with $1000 cash prize and the title of “Host with the Most”.

To apply please email comedinewithme@propertelevision.com

Twitter:
Hey Vancouver, R U a foodie & the host with the most? Come Dine With Me Canada casting now. Email: comedinewithme@propertelevision.com

Monday, January 14, 2013

Interesting tastes at Forage

Forage on Urbanspoon You can enter Forage from the street, but I recommend you go the long way around from the Listel Hotel lobby. Along what at first looks like a desolate utility corridor you will find some kooky artwork as well as the location of the clean and comfortable-feeling washrooms (saves you from asking the server later).

When I was there last Friday for a 7pm dinner, the restaurant was very busy and buzzing with conversation, but the good spacing between tables helped with hearing my fellow diners.

Our server suggested that for a group of 6+ persons (we were 7), the sharing-plate concept at Forage was best done by placing two orders of each type of dish to share. So for six persons, you would have maybe two plates each of three types of items. In addition to that, each person would then order their own main. Dessert to be figured out later.
Normally I would have ordered something to share, but I had come to Forage specifically for three items I spotted on the menu and I wasn't sure if everyone was going to be into them. Besides, they didn't seem like sharing sort of things, despite what the server had said.

Pacific Provider salmon, Pemberton potatoes, "bread n butter" sea asparagus, pickled huckleberries $16
  • This came in a small, deep, cast-iron pan. Two chunks of salmon totaling maybe 2 cups in volume, plus the other stuff.\
  • The "bread n butter" refers to something being so good that all you really need to savour it is plain bread and butter.
  • The portion was a fair amount, but still pricey at $16. However, if you factor in tastiness, it could be forgiven, I think.
  • Normally I'm not keen on salmon because it tends to be drier, denser, firmer meat and a steak of it can have a monotonous feel. Here, the salty sea asparagus and the sweet berries combine with the taste of the salmon to give you a play of flavours rather than focussing strictly on the monotonous salmon. If you're sharing this, be sure to get some of the berries, and a bit of the sea asparagus (there isn't much of that).
roast bison bone marrow, parsley salad, crisp sunchokes $14 (picture)
  • I'd had bone marrow at The Greedy Pig and Pourhouse, both of which give you a baked stump of bone and you scoop out the oily marrow. At Forage, a long bone is cut open lengthwise and you get one half. It's a shallow quantity of meat, but if you put the length of it together, you're not getting any less than with the bone stumps served elsewhere.
  • Comes with coarse salt, of course, to help with the fattiness. But no pickles here; instead, a parsely "salad" (lightly dressed clump of parsely). Strangely, the parsely goes very nicely with the marrow, and seemed to have the effect of softening the fatty taste/feeling.
  • Ever since trying bone marrow at Pourhouse, I'd been curious about how it is prepared, and so far this roasted version at Pourhouse is the best, probably because it's the least oily.
  • You'd have to be a fan of bone marrow to get this here (or anywhere), especially at $14. Not recommended unless you're looking for it specifically. Not recommend if you're just casually curious. But if you had to have some, this is better than the oily roasted stump version unless you actually want a raw-looking soft jelly.
apple pie - black pepper short crust, honey streusel, quince jelly $8 (picture)
  • A really decent apple pie. What I was curious about was the pepper crust. It's not overdone with the pepper, and has a nice, interesting taste. Not really worth it just to try the crust, but if you like apple pie, it's a nice touch.
  • The crust was almost hard as thick potato chips or thin biscuits. Which made it hard to cut since it's the size of a burger. I suppose you could have picked it up in your hand since it's an entire smal pie instead of a slice, but there'd have been crumbs all over.
  • Came on a wooden board that was barely wider than the pie. Huge mess to cut it here. Especially if you're sharing, ask for a steak knife if one hasn't been provided, and as for it to be plated on a large plate to give you more room to cut without everything spilling onto the table.
  • Cut it by piercing the crust with the knife tip first then sawing your way out from the centre. If you just press down, you'll smush the pie. Maybe ask the kitchen to cut it neatly for you if you're sharing.
  • The quince jelly is a sharply sweet and tiny portion of jely in a small jar, topped with an airy foam of something. Nice to break up the monotony of the larg-ish pie (works out to slightly more than a regulation slice), but not particularly necessary if you're going to split the pie into 4-6 pieces for sharing.
Overall, there are some very interesting flavours and tasty combinations here. I'm definitely going to have to try the remaining desserts and order something more "normal" from the menu.

Large portions at Ap Gu Jung

Ap Gu Jung Korean on Urbanspoon Like many places on Robson Street, the storefront is deceptive compared to the actual amount of seating inside. Ap Gu Jung has two levels, and they need it because they are really quite a busy place. Table access is a bit of a squeeze between seats and tables, however.

If you are upstairs, you may have a bit of difficulty getting the attention of a server, so you may have to actually wave your hand at one. Try to ask for individual bills early. Also, you pay downstairs at the bar. If you are stuck with a group bill, you can pay individually by citing your seat and/or order number (it's listed on the bill). They can reprint one on the spot. Then, just tell them how much you are putting toward the bill.

Service is probably fine if you're Korean, but if you're not, it can be tricky. Our trainee server (it said "trainee" on his name tag) was polite and patient, but there was clearly a language issue. This is not to say that it's their fault, since most of their clientele was Korean, so we were the aliens there. Just be aware and speak more slowly and clearly than you normally do. When using the menu,  give them the number, and if possible, point to it since the menu also lists the item in Korean.

I was here a few years ago and had a cold noodle dish that was sweet, super-spicy, and had sea snails (which were sort of tough, actually). I couldn't find that on the menu this time, but there's still plenty of interesting animal body parts if you're looking for it.
  • Pan fried chicken gizzards and vegetables with sesame oil ($10.95)
    • There's an oily sauce of some kind that's salty. It does go well with the item.
    • The "vegetables" are almost entirely large wedges of onion, and it can look like most of the dish is onion, but there's actually a good amount of meat here.
    • The small pieces of grey meat is the chicken gizzard. A long time ago, when I was still a lil' one, my parents discovered marinated chicken gizzard in a can and they just kept buying it because we found it so tasty, if a bit hard. This dish, unfortunately, didn't bring back that nice nostalgia. The pieces are rubbery crunchy tough.
    • Overall, give this a pass. It works out to onion plus tough bits of meat.
    • It's listed as a "share plate as a starter" and the portion is main course sized.
  • Homemade steamed pork & vegetable dumplings ($10.95, or $12.95 with prawns)
    • This is four tennis-ball sized round dumplings. The white dough skin is a bit mushy, but there's so much meat that's all you taste anyway. There's also actually quite a bit of vegetables mixed into the meat. Otherwise, it's like an oversized serving of something you might get in a dim sum place.
    • Tastes OK. Nothing special here except for the startlingly large portion size. One order of this would make a somewhat monotonous but definitely filling meal.
  • BBQ Chicken Heart Skewers ($7.95)
    • I ordered this, but it sort-of never came. Apparently it did come to the table, but it was announced as "chicken skewers". Someone had ordered BBQ Chicken Skewers (#12), so they took it. Later his order of Chicken Skewers came, and only then did we realize that the earlier order was chicken heart skewers.
    • It was a disappointing error since our server seemed to carefully write down our orders, but apparently just put them together assuming we were going to share. Every item that came to the table had to be announced, so clearly they didn't know or remember who had ordered what.
Overall, the large potions you commonly get here makes this place better for small groups so you can all order and share stuff.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Still Serving Large Portions at Establishment Lounge

Establishment Lounge on Urbanspoon It'd been a while since I was at Establishment Lounge, and the menu hasn't changed much, so I wouldn't normally have gone again having tried just about everything now, but I was seeing a friend who was going to be away for a year or so to study medicine in Australia, and Establishment was a safe choice of a great restaurant. She was only back in town for a short time, so I wanted to see her off with a great food experience. For excellent, interesting, tasty food I've found you really can't go wrong with Establishment. On top of that, for many items such as the soups, you can expect good quantity for your dollar.
  • Chef Bonbo's Lobster Bisque ($10) creamy, rich lobster bisque infused with brandy, drizzled with lobster remoulade & orange vanilla crème fraîche
    • This delicious soup comes with chunks of lobster big enough to be prawns.
    • If you're not looking for a large meal but want to try more than just the soup, you can ask for it to be split into two bowls.You still get a very good portion -- two bowls of maybe 3 cups of soup, both bowls individually garnished on top.
    • The lobster probably forces the price here to be higher than the peanut soup, but Chef Bongo's Famous African Chicken Peanut Soup is still my top pick at Establishment.
    • There's so much soup here that an inexperienced server will possibly bring out the rest of your order before you are done. You might want to ask to delay your other courses until you have finished the soup, otherwise everything else might get cold, especially for the tapas plates.
  • Bison Short Rib Pappardelle Pasta ($19) slow-braised short ribs, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes & spinach, tossed in a creamy Madeira demi-sauce
    • The Madeira demi-sauce uses pepper so there's a bit of kick to this.
    • The portion is huge, and it's not just filler pasta. There is so much pulled rib here that every bite will probably have some meat stuck to it because of the sticky sauce.
    • I also very much liked that this wasn't very salty despite the generous amount of sauce and meat.
    • If you have both a full bowl of their soup plus this item from their "large plates" you are definitely at risk of not being able to fit in dessert. I gave away half my soup and maybe a quarter to a third of my pasta and I still gave a pass on dessert.
All in all it was another happy evening at Establishment Lounge. At 6pm on Thursday we were one of the few diners there, so it looks like Establishment is still in a sort of black hole of restaurants. Definitely a hidden gem, a bit hard to find with so many restaurants in the neighbourhood.

    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    Quiet evening at Heirloom Vegetarian on New Years Day

    Heirloom Vegetarian on UrbanspoonMy vegetarian friend from the US had just the one day to run around with me in Vancouver, and somehow it ended up being New Years Day. The day when everyone's waking up late from hangovers and darn near everything is closed. Fortunately, not Heirloom so we actually had someone to go for dinner. They were open 10.30am to 3.30pm for brunch, and 5pm to 10pm for dinner. When we walked in at around 6pm, it was pretty quiet, but gradually the table side (on the right; bar seating spillover side on the left) filled up by around 6.15pm.
    Last time I went to Heirloom, it was pretty full so we ended up at the smaller tall tables with the tall bar stools. Not my favourite type of seating, I'd have to say, so I was happy I got a proper sit-down table this time.

    The menu had changed since the last time I was there, but a few items survived, such as the "Dips", although the "sangak chips" weren't so salty this time. My dining companion agonized over the menu choices and almost settled on the tempeh, but finally went with the safer Dips as I had had them before and it was quite good.
    There's coarse salt and pepper at the table. USE IT. Especially the salt. Yes, it feels like cheating or that the kitchen didn't compose things properly.

    • Flatbread ($16)
      • The orange-coloured pancake like "flatbread" really wasn't a winner with me, especially with how dry it seemed. If you let this sit for a while, it can soak up a bit of the moisture from the toppings, but still it was a grind to get through. I was honestly tempted to just scrape off the top.
      • The topping had apple, flakes of cheese, and other stuff. Mostly I tasted the apple. Somehow the cheese flavour got lost even though you could clearly see the large flakes of cheese. I hit this with the salt but it wasn't a great combo, or maybe I used just a bit too much.
      • Sorry to say, but I think this one is interesting for the use of apple, but interesting doesn't always translate to tasty. And at $16, you're better off looking for a proper vegetarian pizza.
    • Pappardelle Pasta ($17)
      • Basically this is a sort of spaghetti dish, except much less savoury, to the point of being bland. Sad to say, another "pass". Go to an Italian restaurant for your tomato-sauce-based pasta.
      • Price seemed steep for a mound of pasta that was basically about one large bowl's worth.
    • Dips (beetroot tapenade, lentil homous, sangak chips; $14)
      • I had this before and it's still good value at $14. And of the three things we tried, it was the most flavourful and it didn't need salt or pepper.
      • Chips weren't as salty this time, which was okay since it's supposed to go with the dips anyway.
      • Something odd happens when you have both dips together at the same time. The sweetness of the beetroot cancels the curry-like cumin in the homous for an entirely different taste experience. Try it!
      • Quite a good amount of carrot on the plate as well, adding to the overall mass here. It's a full meal all on its own if you count pounds per dollar.
      • There are thin slices of pear and apple. I would pace these out throughout your experience of the dips to break up the monotony of taste. You can alternate dips, but there's still so much of it (especially for one person), that it'll be nicer to have intervals of fresh fruit.
    • Jasmine Green Dragon Tea (small pot; $3.75)
      • Nothing really special here. It's green tea, and cheaper than getting it at Starbucks.

    Three plates and the two of us were so full we didn't finish the dips. Needless to say, no room for dessert, sadly.
    Bill came out to $50.75, almost $70 after tax and tip.

    Big breakfast at Two Parrots Perch & Grill

    Two Parrots Perch & Grill on Urbanspoon There aren't a lot of places open on New Year's Day for breakfast. Not a 10am brunch, but early morning breakfast. Like 8:30 am early. The open-early-close-late Two Parrots Perch & Grill was one of the few places open.

    It was actually nice to walk down a basically deserted Granville Street, and sit anywhere you like in a large pub. The only other patrons were a couple of people who seemed mostly interested in the soccer game on the televisions in Two Parrots Perch & Grill, and a handful of police officers. Everyone seemed to be regulars and knew the lone morning server by name. Whatever you may think of the seedy side of Granville Street, it's probably a pretty safe place to eat if it's frequented by cops!
    The decor inside has an understated rainforest theme that you will probably miss if you're not really looking around. What mostly jumps out at you is pub and sports bar. The menu is pretty plain, with lots of basically safe choices.

    For breakfast, I went with the "El Muchacho", a large wrap that comes with a side of hash browns. There are two wraps available for breakfast, and basically they are just filled with eggs, enough cheese to make itself known, and a sprinkle of other stuff you won't make out unless you're paying attention. There's the Senorita, and for 50 cents more you get chorizo and banana peppers. I recommend you skip this because the egg and cheese pretty much smothers everything else. The tangy heat of the banana peppers hits you once in a while, but you can get more or less the same effect for free by asking for hot sauce. Because the egg content makes this somewhat bland, get the hot sauce.

    The hash browns are shredded potato and not mushy. About half of it is seared to a nice browness, the rest is cooked but still white. You get about a cup and a half worth of potato there.

    Overall, my El Muchacho wasn't anything I'd particularly recommend as a must-eat, but whatever you want to say about boring breakfasts (hey, at least it wasn't just eggs and toast!), you can't argue with the portion size here. The hash browns combined with a big wrap that's the size of a medium to large burger (but with more filling than a burger) you've got yourself a hefty working man's breakfast at $9.75 (almost $11 after 12% tax). It's really more brunch sized than breakfast and it kept me going all day from 8:30am till dinner at around 6pm. I skipped lunch and even at 6pm I wasn't really feeling very hungry.