Monday, February 25, 2013

Tableside Service at the Old Surrey Restaurant

Old Surrey Restaurant on Urbanspoon It's a house built in 1918 and has that old-fashioned look to it, as well as a certain dilapidated look that is contrary to the well-maintained interior, and totally unexpected compared to the bright and modern Bistro 72 sub-level.

One of the things that drew me to try the Old Surrey Restaurant was the various tableside service items. It's professional and old-school, and fun to watch. The calm confidence with which our waiter prepared everything, and the engagement he had with our table, was also an interesting contrast in tone/feel with the rather businesslike and somewhat rushed-feeling service at Black + Blue. While he did not make himself a part of our conversation, he was also clearly ready to engage with us however much or little we engaged with him.

This, I think, is part of the larger unrushed dinner feeling I got at the Old Surrey Restaurant. It was a Saturday night, and the restaurant didn't seem like it was ever even half full. The clientele was generally older, with the seniors dropping in shortly before 6pm. Seating felt a bit tight, but still with some privacy, and cushioned, wider-than-standard, chairs. This is the sort of place you go to when you want a slow, intimate dinner with good friends over good conversation that could last for hours. Our reservation was for 5pm, guests arrived by 5.30 pm, and we were done by around 9pm.

Soft Baguette
  • The increasingly rare tradition of bread at the table before your meal is maintained here. And with soft, warm bread! Not room-temperature rolls. Soft butter is already on the table, as part of every table setting.
Amuse Bouche - A short chunk of lamb sausage with mint (?) jelly
  • This was surprisingly tender and juicy, and not gamey, which is a common complaint about lamb.
Fresh Vancouver Island Qualicum Bay scallops flambeed with Sambuca & shallots, finished with creme fraiche - $12
  • Served in a big scallop shaped dish.
  • Lots of leftover sauce. Good thing we had bread at the table to sop it up.
  • Eat it right away when it's hot.
  • Lovely presentation, and pretty tasty. Four scallops for our table of four.
Chateaubriand bouquetiere, filet mignon with a burgundy sauce, carved and flamed at your table for two or more - $37.50 per person
  • Its basically cooked in the kitchen, and the final touches are done at the table.
  • Each portion of meat was maybe 4 ounces (?).
  • Each plate also had asparagus, a half tomato, and a couple of potato croquettes.
  • We all ordered this, and opted for medium rare, which was done perfectly. Generous amount of jus.
  • Very tasty, and so tender you could pull tear chunks of meat off with your fork. For medium rare, there was nothing chewy about this at all.
Crème brûlée - $7
  • Your basic crème brûlée, done perfectly.
  • The dish size is also much larger than what is often seen now, which is either a small but deep dish about 2 inches wide, or the wider but shallow dish. This this the wide dish, but about 50% deeper.
Cherries Jubilee - $18 for two persons - Cherries flambéed with cherry brandy, cherry kirsh & lathered over vanilla ice cream
  • I don't recall (or wasn't paying enough attention) that it was a from-scratch preparation that includes melting sugar in the pan. Instead, the tableside show was basically flaming the cherries and pouring them over ice cream in stemware glasses.
  • At $9 per cup, it's a pretty pricey portion for what you get.

Generally good value at Saffron Indian Cuisine

Saffron Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon It's hard to find an Indian restaurant in the Lower Mainland that screws up North Indian curry dishes (but not impossible) so it's quite hard for any Indian restaurant to come out as "the best". But if there's no real competition locally then you can easily come out tops. And Saffron Indian Cuisine is in the perfect location for exactly that. There's Sai Tanvi not too far away across the street, but their speciality is South Indian cuisine.

Prices here felt expensive for the appetizers, but good value for the curry mains, which were rich and thick with ingredients rather than soupy with just sauce.

For value, I recommend skipping the appetizers and going straight for curries to share. And if you want to fit in more curry rather than look to be stuffed silly, ask for naan instead of rice as that is less filling. You can, however, get leftovers to go.
Since the curries are generally a safe and delicious choice and there wasn't anything either outstanding or surprisingly bad, I'll mention some of the other items at our table:

Papri Chaat ($6.50) Crisp flour wafers topped with potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt with tamarind & mint chutney
  • Looked like the only cold appetizer at our table. The last time I had a cold Indian appy was at Bombay Beat.
  • Nothing spicy here, just a cool, crunchy, chunky appetizer. For $6.50, this was a pretty big bowl that could have made a light to medium meal all on its own.
  • Fairly tasty, and interesting to try. Not enough chutney to really make itself known, however.
Channa Bhatura ($6.95) Leavened deep fired bread served with curried chickpeas, mixed pickles and onions
  • Turned out pretty boring. Curried chickpeas were nothing special. Mixed pickles and onions were somewhat sour but also very salty.
  • The bread was two thin flatbreads, big but also very light.
Panner Pakoras ($8.50) Indian style paneer coated in a crispy seasoned batter
  • A rather small amount for $8.50.
  • Rather bland tasting. There was some green stuff in between the two slices of cheese but whatever it was, there wasn't enough of it to contribute any flavour.
  • You may have seen deep fried or pan fried cheese dishes elsewhere that come out gooey or outright melted. This isn't like that. The paneer is still firm like a heavy tofu.
Spinach & Paneer Naan ($3.50)
  • Basically a naan with a generous amount of paneer and spinach embedded in it.
  • Strangely bland and not worth it for the extra $2 compared to their regular naan ($1.50).
Saffron Thali ($18.95) Butter Chicken, Lamb Curry, Chicken Tikka, Maharani Daal, Rice, Raita with Naan & Gulab Jamun or Kheer

  • Strangely, the couple of thalis that were ordered at our table turned out somewhat badly, with reports of watery curry and not a lot of meat to them, apparently. Maybe if you went for the buffet you can expect limited meat/veggies and more soup, but when you order off the regular menu, and when the thalis are significantly pricier than one of their mains, I think the expectations are higher.
There is a lunch buffet every day, but dinner buffets only on Sunday to Thursday, and 5.30pm to 9pm only.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cheap Desserts at Boteco Brasil

Boteco Brasil on Urbanspoon A Brazilian restaurant full of Brazilians (or at least Latin Americans) is a pretty promising sign that what they serve is authentic or at least close enough.

People talk about authentic cultural cuisine like it is some sort of prized experience if you are not in the correct country (like Brazilian food in Canada, for example), but I've long since given up on looking for authenticity. I just want tasty. So I'm not going to review Boteco Brasil based on votes of confidence in their authenticity. Instead, I'll just talk about my experience there and of what I ate.

If authentic Brazilian fare is important to you, I'm sure there's no shortage of patrons at Boteco Brasil who can give you an expert opinion (er, well, maybe if you chat them up outside the restaurant -- who would be so rude as to diss the food right inside the restaurant?). A lot of them look like they are teen ESL students, and there's no shortage of cute girls too.

The restaurant is sort of tight, and looks rather dilapidated on the inside. At 6.45pm it was still pretty quiet inside, but all the tables were reserved and not too long after, the restaurant was full, with a couple of people squeezing in near the bar and I think a few turned away for lack of seating. Around that time, they also turned on the music and so loudly that we were having a hard time hearing each other across the table. No live music that night but I understand that it is even louder.

The online menu does not reflect some of the items now no longer available due to a lack of popularity, such as the vegetarian lasagne, and in any case it isn't the final menu that you will see in the restaurant. Most of the items are available, but if there's something you absolutely want (especially if it is vegetarian), you might want to call first. You can also expect the price to be about $0 to $2 more than the sample online menu.

Pao de Queijo ($5)
  • Cheese "bread" balls. Very chewy on the inside and looks like it was undercooked, but it seems that is how this stuff turns out because it uses tapioca flour.
  • 3 balls, each slightly larger than a ping pong ball -- at $5, this works out to over $1 per ball!
  • Salty, possibly because of the cheese. Served with salted butter. Not overly salty, but enough to whet your appetite.
  • Tasty and fun to eat if you like salty snacks and chewy stuff, but the price is a bit steep.
  • They will sell it to you uncooked and oven-ready if you like. Same price.
Strogonoff de Frango ($12) - Chicken Stroganoff
  • Recommended by a friend who'd been here before. Basically chicken chunks in bright yellow sauce, served with rice, token salad, and crunchy deep-fried shredded onion.
  • This tasted okay to me, but nothing to write home about. Though one of my dining companions said she really liked it.
  • The portion is actually quite filling as you get basically a small bowl of rice plus maybe the same amount or slightly more chicken. It just looks smaller than it is because of the plating. At $12 it's okay, but I think there are probably more interesting and tastier things you can get for $12.
Feijoada Brasileira ($14?) black bean stew
  • Had just a bite of this from my friend's order.
  • Served with a bowl of rice and token salad.
  • You get a biggish bowl of stew. It's watery as stews go, but dense with beans so it's not like a soup. Overall, this is a very filling meal.
  • The stew itself was really quite tasty. The predominant smell and flavour here was beef, so it's like a beefy bean stew. More interesting and flavourful than my chicken strogonoff.
Boplo Prestigio ($4) chocolate cake with a coconut and milk cream filling, covered with brigadeiro
  • On the menu it's described as a rich chocolate cake, Brasilian-style. Can't argue with cultural norms, but compared to other chocolate cakes I've had, this one is pretty tame in the richness of its chocolatey-ness.
  • At $4, it's probably the cheapest slab of chocolate cake I've had in a restaurant. Not the largest, but not a stingy skinny wedge either. This is a decently sized slice, and quite tall.
  • The style of cake and the cream outside is very different for what you normally get around these parts, so it's worth a bite if you're curious.
Brigadeiro ($1 per ball) chocolate fudge
  • Each ball is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball.
  • Chewy, sort of like toffee, but less tough and not so sticky that it persistently and irritatingly sticks to your molars.
  • Really very tasty, and at just $1 there's no harm in trying it. Fairly easy to cut a chunk off it to share.
Beijinho ($1 per ball) chewy condensed milk candy
  • Similar in idea to the brigadeiro, but tasted of coconut and condensed milk. No chocolate here. Same chewiness.
  • Pretty tasty, but I still prefer the chocolate one better (maybe because there's chocolate!).
  • Don't remember any clove stuck into it. I don't think people would have eaten the clove anyway, to be honest.
Pudim Leite Moca ($4) condensed milk crème caramel (flan)
  • Seemed a bit firmer as flans go, but basically a sweet and tasty dessert. Nothing too special here.
  • Good-sized portion for just $4.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Not just ice cream and cakes in Silvestre Deli & Bistro

Silvestre Deli & Bistro on UrbanspoonI've walked by Silvestre in Gastown so many times and never really noticed that it advertised Peruvian food. Looking in, it seemed to be just another coffee shop, except it also had gelato. Turns out, the menu is all Peruvian food.
It's run by a Peruvian family with some Chinese in their ancestry, so at first, you might think they were a Chinese couple. But they assure me they are Peruvian.

I tried only a couple of things on my visit (and too small bites of my fellow diners' dishes to really comment about them). Portion size was generally good for the price, and as mains were served with a bowlful of rice, it can actually be quite a filling portion as well.

Chicha Morada ($2.50 per glass; non-alcoholic)
  • This interesting drink tastes sort of like a Coca-Cola, but not as super-sweet and not carbonated. Plus, it's purple! Interesting to try.
  • For $2.50 you get a tall glass of this, sort of like a Grande Starbucks cup.
Causa Rellena de Atun ($10)
  • Basically a "burger" where a filling is sandwiched between rounds of mashed potato. There are various options: shrimp (camarones), tuna (atun), and vegetables (vegetales). I opted for the tuna.
  • At $10 this is a moderately sized item made filling by the potatoes, but rather boring. It's basically mashed potatoes plus tuna, arranged in a pretty shape. Tastes like mashed potato and tuna. Duh. Nothing special here except that it looks neat.
Aji de Gallina ($12) - Pulled chicken in a creamy sauce with chili hot pepper, walnuts, parmesan cheese sauce and peruvian spices, served with steam white rice and potato.
  • The interesting sauce has a slight bit of heat to it, but mainly it's creamy and delicious. The overall feel is strangely like a mild or medium-spicy curry.
  • Really tasty, and a good price for the portion you get.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Butter Tea at Vancouver Tibet Kitchen

Vancouver Tibet Kitchen on Urbanspoon I'd had Tibetan food at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen, and rather liked the appetizers but found some of the mains "meh". Vancouver Tibet Kitchen has an even smaller menu (although it used to be somewhat bigger), and the appetizers are basically just three types of momos (potsticker-like dumplings, typically steamed).

As of my visit just this Thursday, the Tibetan menu ends at item #16. The rest is essentially Chinese food. Even the soups and mains on the Tibetan menu are Chinese-like, yet not quite. It's very hard to turn off the instinct to compare it with Chinese food, and if you try it with that mindset, you're bound to rate it lower than you might otherwise. Overall, the food is really decent, though nothing really stellar. Only one thing stood out for me, a spicy beef dish.

Watch out for the chili provided at the table. It can enhance your meal a lot, but try a bit first. On its own it has a bitter bite to it, but this is subdued when paired with food.

The mains typically come with a tingmo or a bowl of rice. Rice is rice, so go for the tingmo, unless you're aiming for a fuller meal.
A tingmo is a big bun that's curled like a cinnamon bun and about the same size. The dough is very much like the white dough of a Chinese pau, but fluffier. You can also get it deep fried, in which case it develops a crispy outer shell and the middle is even softer. Both are very different experiences and I recommend you try them both. The un-fried regular version is more versatile, however, and can be used to mop up a lot of the tasty sauces left from each dish.

Another item that's hard to find elsewhere is butter tea. Just because you like butter doesn't mean you'll like this, however. Looks like a chai, and has a hint of chai flavour, but mostly it's like drinking salty butter. You may like it, or you may find it really gross. Some people prefer it with a bit of sugar, but you'll have to ask for that. It's better hot, but only marginally.
Worth a try just for the experience, but you might want to order just one cup at first and pass it around your dining companions.

Service was sincere but harried. Just the one pleasant girl running around and perpetually two steps behind things that need to be done, like clearing plates. Nevertheless our water was no less than half full, which you can't say for every restaurant.

Vancouver Tibet Kitchen closes its doors on February 15th. It's in a black hole of a restaurant spot and the space has seen many restaurant tenants over the years. Beyond it, toward 50th Avenue, is residential, and maybe being at the edge of the commercial district puts it just outside everyone's radar. In any case, if you want your tingmos and butter tea, get it now before it's gone.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Marshmellows Not Fluffy at Tap & Barrel

Tap & Barrel on Urbanspoon
Tap & Barrel has a lot of plusses going for it despite being away from the main dining zones in Vancouver. For one thing, it's more or less the only game in town in/near the Olympic Village. It's classed as a restaurant, so it officially closes at midnight although private parties may linger a bit after. Though it looks very much like a sports bar on the inside, what with so many televisions on the go, it is not a pub and cannot serve alcohol without food. It's also got a gorgeous view of the water, day or night. There is a heated patio upstairs, and overall a huge amount of floorspace.

For my final Dine Out Vancouver 2013 outing this year, I had wanted to try Tap & Barrel because it had, among other things, a "Cheesecake parfait - bacon, [carmel] sauce and pretzels". When I looked further at their regular menu, however, I became intrigued by various items involving peanut butter and bacon that I ended up just ordering a few things from the regular menu. I have to say that although I was disappointed by my order, I didn't try the "normal stuff" like steak or burgers, and they probably do those very decently. We did have one order of steak frites, and that came out very nicely.

jumbo wood stone oven baked pretzel ($8) with rock salt, house mustard; plus chipotle peanut butter & bacon dip (+$2)
  • The last time I had a pretzel was at the 1927 Lounge at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, and that was just a small loaf of pretzel-style bread and didn't even have a pretzel shape. Here, you get a nice pretzel shape. It came out fresh and hot, and the rock salt didn't fall off so easily here. On its own, this was a pretty tasty pretzel.
  • The house mustard for dipping works just fine, but I was curious about the chipotle peanut butter & bacon dip. This was a very soft peanut butter, and had small bits of bacon in it. As dips go, it was actually pretty hard to scoop it out with a chunk of pretzel. Instead, it seemed to melt aside and elude attempts to be spooned out, so use a knife or fork to get it onto your pretzel chunk. There's a goodly amount of dip provided, so be generous.
  • Although our lovely and pleasant server Alyssa assured us that there indeed was chipotle in it, I honestly thought they'd forgotten it. No hint of heat or any visible chipotle. For that matter, although there were clearly chunks of bacon, that flavour didn't make itself known. For $2 extra -- bringing this order to a total of $10! -- I basically got peanut butter to spread on my pretzel. Overpriced, sorry.
  • If you feel paying $8 for a pretzel that's about the volume of maybe 2 to 3 dinner rolls is fair, this is a pretty decent appy. There is also a beer and cheddar dip (also for $2 extra) which we didn't try.
infamous sticky yam fries ($8) with burnt marshmallow fluff
  • This turned out to be a large plate of decent yam fries with marshmellow melted on them. Nothing fluffy here. Just marshmellow goop adding excessive sweetness to sweet potato fries and probably an extra $2 to the price, bringing it up to $8.
peanut butter pie ($7) chocolate sauce, roasted peanuts
  • One more or less regulation sized slice of pie. Clear peanut buttery flavour without being too much like peanut butter. 
  • Tasty, but just a bite or two and you're probably done unless you absolutely love it for some reason. The thing is, although this was a decently tasty dessert, it has a pretty heavy feel to it. Imagine eating a spoonful of peanut butter with nothing else: How fun is that? If you order this, get a couple of friends to help you, and/or get some sort of tangy drink to go with it.
steak frites ($21) 7oz certified angus flatiron, horseradish chimichurri, sea salt fries
  • Not my order but I did get to try a bite of this.
  • Nicely done steak, really decent fries.
  • The horseradish chimichurri sauce was a real winner and really helped with eating the steak and fries. Tiny bit of heat combined with an interesting spiced flavour.
JJ Leaf spiced camomile tea ($3?) A warming blend of chamomile, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, licorice and hops. Floral and sweet with a light spicy finish.
  • Camomile is normally (for me) a very weak tea, so I figured whatever they spiced it with would make it interesting. Wrong. Still a weak tea. Whatever they spiced it with didn't come through at all. And I'm sure our server didn't make a mistake and put in the wrong tea bag because the label on it said "spiced camomile".

Friday, February 1, 2013

Some Old Some New on Bistro Sakana's DOV 2013 Menu

Bistro Sakana on Urbanspoon
Although I was determined to only choose $18 menus for Dine Out Vancouver 2013, I still ended up accepting an invitation to Bistro Sakana. They'd had impressive and tasty offerings previously, and I figured this year wouldn't be any different. I was just there this past October for the Taste of Yaletown, in fact.

If you went to the Taste of Yaletown, last year, more than half the Signature Sample Platter will be familiar (how many signature dishes can a restaurant have, after all). The ones that stood the test of time are clearly among their tastiest offerings, and still consistently delicious when prepared by the chefs. Moreover, the samples on the Dine Out Vancouver menu continue their tradition of a wide variety of tastes and textures, making Bistro Sakana still one of the best choices for sheer food experience.

That said, because so many items are the same as before, if you still clearly remember the Taste of Yaletown offerings and want to try something different, you might consider skipping the Dine Out prix fixe menu and just getting the few items that are different by ordering a la carte.

Bistro Sakana Dine Out Vancouver 2013 Menu

$38.00 per person (beverages, tax, and gratuity are extra)

Appetizer
Entrée

A Signature Sample Platter including all of the following: (picture)
  • Wild Sockeye Jalapeño Aburi "Hakozushi" (2 pieces) - sockeye salmon layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with jalapeño slices
  • Toro Red Chili Aburi "Hakozushi" (2 pieces) - albacore toro marinated in Junmai sake & miso, layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with red chili and key lime slivers
  • Teppan Roll (3 pieces) - fresh tomato, Hotate scallop sashimi, fresh bocconcini mozzarella & home-made shiso-basil pesto, rolled up with rice, lightly sauteed and plated with a rim of aged balsamic reduction and unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
  • Tuna & Avocado Crepe: Diced albacore tuna sashimi blended with fresh avocado & our spicy wasabi mayo sauce, wrapped in a delicate freshly made savory crepe, and drizzled with our spicy teriyaki sauce
  • Triple "A" beef Tenderloin Tataki: Slices of tender beef tenderloin, seared on the edges and served with thin slices of crisp fuji apple, baby arugula, garlic chips, freshly shaved parmesan, and a unique yuzu kosho vinaigrette
Dessert
  • Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies - rich dark chocolate brownies served warm with dark chocolate sauce & vanilla bean gelato
The hakozushi and teppan roll I'd had before, and still haven't tired of them. Nice light spicy buzz on the sushi; and the light searing on the teppan roll (without making the rice go all super-chewy) gives it an interesting flavour in addition to the ingredients. The soup-like chowder and the brownies were also on the Taste of Yaletown menu last year, and still solid choices for a delicious meal. Overall, for the best item on the platter, I'd still have to go with the Teppan Roll.

Tuna & Avocado Crepe
  • This was basically too soft to pick up with your chopsticks, so I recommend using the knife and fork provided to cut it into more manageable chunks. There's a bit of spicy sauce on the side. Not too spicy, unless you can't handle anything more than mild. Just watch out for it if you want to go easy on the heat.
  • Overall it was an interesting taste and had a creamy texture on the inside. Definitely worth a try no matter what.
Triple "A" beef Tenderloin Tataki
  • The recommendation is to eat the beef with a little bit of everything included. It's a bit tricky to do that with chopsticks, so you might want to try the fork here, and maybe chopstick the various bits on to assemble a full bite. Maybe because I didn't quite get enough of everything into every bite, this had a variety of tastes but was strangely uninteresting to me. If you do try it, maybe work more carefully at assembling each portion to get a little of everything each time.
Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies (picture)
  • I seem to remember this being much warmer last time I had it, and it was so much better for it. It's probably the case that the mass-preparation for Dine Out Vancouver left this detail overlooked. That, or our extra orders of stuff threw off their timing.
    • When it's warmer, however, you have the drawback of the ice cream melting into yuck much more quickly, so there's definitely a tradeoff there.
  • Still composed of large cubes of their extremely delicious brownies. Available on the regular menu if you just want to go for the brownies.
Crunchy Filo Prawn ($12; not part of the Dine Out Vancouver menu; picture)
  • We also tried a curious crunchy filo prawn item. This was three large prawns covered in what looked like a dense coat of very fine/thin noodles. It came with a lightly sweet dipping sauce and a small side of crunchy red beet (?) cubes.
  • Everyone else seemed to like this very much, but for some reason I thought prawns were prawns. And at $12 for 3 prawns, this seemed a bit steep, though I'm sure there was quite a bit of work involved in assembling it, since it's more than just dipping the prawns in batter to make the ubiquitous ebi mayo.
Yuzu Black Sesame Encrusted Tuna Tataki (not part of the Dine Out Vancouver menu; picture)
  • I remembered this interesting item from two years ago, when a couple of slices were on the Taste of Yaletown platter. Our table had a regular order of this, which was about six (?) slices, topped with a mess of interesting fried and crunchy extremely fine wires of something red that tasted like yam fries. Definitely get some of that on each bite.
  • Overall I found this to be best shared. Just a couple of slices are all you need. More and you might get a bit bored with it -- which is probably the same that could be said of whole rolls of sushi. It's really best if you share it and try a few types.