Monday, April 29, 2013

Mountains of Crab Legs at the Grand Villa Casino

The Buffet at Grand Villa Casino on Urbanspoon The Grand Villa Casino now has a $25.95 seafood buffet (HALF price if you used the 2-for-1 coupons that were recently mailed out). Even at that price, it's pretty decent value as they keep bringing out the crab legs and you can have as much as you like. Look around and you'll see that's what everyone "in-the-know" goes there for.

That said, The Buffet does have other items, including (big) prawns, a beef carving station, and a good-enough selection of more mundane buffet items like salads, rice, and noodles. The food is so-so but at least looks freshly same-day prepared. Not gourmet eats, of course, but nothing that looks re-heated either. The mussels did turn out sort of dry, so try to get ones with more tasty sauce on them. The soup of the day (mushroom soup when I went) was very thick and creamy and with chunks of mushroom. Stir fried prawns were largish, not juvenile shrimps. Cocktail prawns were medium to big sized prawns.

If you are in very early, slow down as they will likely still be bringing out various things, including more desserts and critical cutlery such as scissors for the crab legs.

Crab legs are very plainly cooked, so you'd better like plain crab meat. Watch for leftover water/juices inside the crab legs -- and don't wear white. Also, ask for at least one extra napkin right away even though they are rather large napkins. I didn't see any stations with stacks of napkins you can help yourself to.

For desserts, the stand-out item was ping-pong ball sized cream puffs, with cool, soft, white cream inside. Save room for a few! There were also some bite-sized cupcakes with a generous amount of icing on top. The chocolate ones were deeply chocolatey.

*

The Buffet is INSIDE the casino, so minors won't even get past security.
For now it's still a small place that doesn't an excessively long buffet selection nor a lot of seating, so you really want to start lining up around 3 pm because the staggeringly long queue won't quit from 3.30 pm (when the "dinner" buffet starts) till late into the evening. There have been reports of 3 hour (!) line-ups just to get in for a dinner seating. Fortunately, the Casino features a lot of free parking.
Something I do like about the seating is that if you are more than half way into the curved seating area, you can't really see the long queue, so you're not under passive pressure to hurry up, nor are you being watched by anxious diners waiting to get in.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pineapple Rum Ganache at Leonidas

Leonidas on Urbanspoon You may remember I mentioned in another post that Leonidas was extending their Hot Chocolate Festival offerings by making it a permanent addition to their waterfront cafe, rounding out their various offerings as a café in addition to being Vancouver's flagship Leonidas chocolate store.

I got the chance to try their Boho Secret last time, and this afternoon went back for the even more intriguing Jamaican Kiss (they were out of the special ganache last time).
  • Boho Secret - Leonidas 72% São Tomé origin dark chocolate (Claudio Corallo?), peppermint, tumeric, pepper, honey.
  • Jamaican Kiss - Leonidas milk chocolate, coconut milk, pineapple rum ganache.
The Jamaican Kiss was $7. !!! -- I know. BUT, it comes with a Belgian waffle, slice of cheese cake, or one macaron (normally $2). The waffle is probably the safest choice if you don't want to complicate tasting your hot chocolate. I've tried a couple of their macarons so far, and they are quite sweet and have intense flavour.

The Jamaican Kiss is quite an interesting hot chocolate drink and I do recommend you try it for the experience. The flavours do not overshadow the chocolate, but there's definitely pineapple and rum teasing you from the background.

The Boho Secret that I tried last time was mostly minty. Any contribution from the tumeric, pepper, and honey escaped my crude palate, apparently.

Great Value at Urban Fare Shangri-La Grilled Cheese Bar

Urban Fare on Urbanspoon If you don't already know, pre-fab Grilled Cheese sandwiches are now available at Urban Fare Shangri-La. They do have a $6.99 build-your-own-sandwich bar, but now they have a selection of pre-made grilled-to-order sandwiches that have interesting ingredients like a vegetarian one with apples, and a "Carnivore" that has cubes of CROCODILE meat.

That said, can someone slap me upside the head the next time I order crocodile? I am such a sucker for strange meats, but it disappoints every time.
This is not to say that the Carnivore sandwich was bad. It's a nicely put-together sandwich at the high end of the sandwich offerings at $7.49. The thing is, if you're ordering it to check out what crocodile tastes like, you will be very disappointed. It tastes like chicken. It's white meat. Firm like chicken breast but the texture isn't quite the same. Just as bland, though. Do NOT buy this just to get exotic meat. Heck, don't buy it to get a lot of meat, because it's not exactly loaded with meat -- it's spaced out thick cubes and didn't look like ground-up meat (which is what you sometimes get when people sell you crocodile, such as in a burger). It tastes rather good because of the other ingredients, though.

If you do go, I recommend you check your sandwich BEFORE you leave the counter after they have grilled it for you. My sandwich looked fine and nicely browned and toasted on the outside, but it wasn't hot enough inside and the cheese was softened but not melted. It's possible that they can't heat it anymore in case the bun burns. Or that there is a regulation on how hot they can serve it. Whatever the case, check the meltiness of your cheese before you go and expect to be there 15 minutes minimum just to get your sandwich warmed up in their panini presses. This "fast food" isn't all that fast. (You can, however, get it to go.)

When I went in today, I also got a FREE small soup of choice, which comes with a free small pack of croutons. Free free free. Yay! It adds up to a nice, filling meal for less than $10.

There was a nice selection of soup, with irritating covers on the piping HOT soups. Once you flip the half-lid open, you really need to reach around and feel for the small handle again, unless you want to touch the lid, which may be not and also somewhat unsanitary for everyone else.
My recommendation is to grab a napkin before you head to the soup counter, so that if you don't want the hassle and just want to grab it by the edge of the lid, you can at least use the napkin to keep things sanitary and keep your fingers from possibly getting seared.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mooch Wi-Fi at True's Tea

The TRUE'STEA Restaurant 淳上生活小品 on Urbanspoon I was at True's Tea for a social this past weekend. I didn't choose the venue, so honestly, it's not like I deliberately went there just so I can write about what's bad about it. There are some plusses to the place (no, really!), and I will definitely mention them.

Even before you go in, the place looks dilapidated. The awning over the door was so crusted with grey dirt that it looked like an abandoned restaurant. It gets worse once you walk in.
  • I looked around the lobby and there were light fixtures in the ceiling that were held in place with red duct tape -- I'm not making this up!
  • One sprinkler head was so crusted with dust that it looked furry.
  • I also saw a silver panel that had some sort of stain on it from having been wiped with a too-wet cloth and allowed to dry. So obvious it stuck out. Why would anyone just leave that be?
Other than the obvious lack of housecleaning, the place does actually look pretty decent. It would help a bit if they also cleared out the last of the Halloween decorations.

Inside, it is bright and the seating isn't squashy. There's a lot of floor space, and various things like curtains or low walls to partition things off so it doesn't feel like one huge cafeteria. This is actually a good thing. Of what I saw, the space inside is actually pretty decent. Too bad about first impressions before you actually get in there.

There were also apparently only two staff members running the front of the restaurant, and that was clearly not enough. Maybe they are already overworked and underpaid and really can't be bothered to clean up the restaurant when they are run ragged trying to serve everyone who walks in. One person seemed shy / inexperienced. The other one was just surly and wearing some sort of breakfast cereal T-shirt. Yup, not even uniforms or a basic dress code to dignify the staff here. No wonder they are surly.
  • You're supposed to wait to be seated, and to ring a bell for service if the hostess isn't there. No hostess. I waited. No one came. I rang the bell. Nothing happened. I started a countdown -- 5 more minutes and I would turn around and walk out. Luckily one of the two servers noticed me and after finishing up whatever he was doing, he came to check on me. From the time I walked in, it was maybe 10 minutes in total.
  • There were already a few people at the social I was there to attend. I will assume they hadn't been there for very long. No one had a menu. We waited a while longer, chatted a bit... still no menus. I figure maybe a total of 30 minutes had passed from the time I stepped into the restaurant. And since I was directed by at least one server, clearly someone knew we were there.
  • Finally we flagged someone down to get some menus. (Like, yeah, we'd actually like to order something, okay?) For our party which was at that time 8 persons (closer to 15 later on), we got I think 6 menus, a mix of food and drink menus. They were just thrown onto the table -- no, really -- thrown at us. It gets better: After our orders were taken (and we had to flag someone down to put in orders too), the menus are taken away. When more people came to our table later... déjà vu. No menus again. Hmm...
  • Shortly after I sat at the table, a nearby table finished their meal and left. That table was not cleared in the hour or so that I was at the restaurant. Only two severs were running the show, from what I could see, so I wasn't entirely surprised.
Note to management: Don't just get better staff. How about getting more staff and shelling out for housecleaning now and then?

So are there plusses? You bet. For one thing, the menu is over 300 items. Bubble tea of course, but also a considerable food menu. I glossed over everything that looked mundane and as usual settled on the one thing that looked weird. Pig's Blood Soup. I settled for the "small" bowl at $8.95.
  • This came in what was for me a mildly spicy savoury broth. Other people might find it on the spicy side of "medium spicy".
  • The pig's blood component is in soft red cubes. Also in the soup are segments of intestine and preserved vegetable.
  • The soup was tasty enough. The "wow" factor here was the portion. Allowing that you are paying a buck or two extra for the novelty of eating pig's blood, for the price you get a big portion. We're talking meal-sized portion. A big bowl. Sure, lots of it was soup, but they weren't skimpy with the ingredients. Not so generous that it came out looking like a stew, but definitely not so little that you had to drink half the soup to find pieces of blood or intestine. I was relieved not to have asked for the large bowl ($12.95).
  • Stir the soup constantly as the chili / spices settle to the bottom and you might find the soup too spicy later on when there's less of it.
The bill came with a pre-added gratuity. Our table had over 6 persons, so it was 15%. At least it wasn't the 18% that seems to be more common nowadays. But still, considering that "service" was worse than amateurish, it seemed more like insult added to injury.

I'm sure different orders will have a different value-to-money ratio, but the Pig's Blood Soup turned out to be really decent value. Also at our table was a tall glass (approximately a Starbucks grande size) of mango slush ($4.95). The person who ordered it seemed very satisfied, remarking at how the mango tasted sweet and fresh.
Another order was Green Onion Crepe ($4.50 for what looked like a 6" pancake) that looked okay. At $4.50, you might be paying for the disproportionate amount of kitchen labour to make the one small pancake.
There were also a couple orders of Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets ($5.75) that looked like pretty big bowls. I didn't get a taste of the crepe or chicken nuggets so I can't say how they turned out.

Another plus of True's Tea is free wi-fi and easy access to electrical outlets for your laptop. And being ignored by staff makes True's Tea a great place to mooch their free wi-fi! Unlike smaller establishments, you will not stick out like the mooch you are when you camp there. True's Tea seats 193 (!) and some places are curtained off or behind walls. Plus it is likely there will be no hostess at the front door. So DON'T ring the bell for service. Just sneak in, plug in, and keep your head down. If someone actually approaches you, ask for the menu -- you can't know what to order without the menu, right? And it's not entirely your fault if they ignored you for the first hour or so.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fun Pork Rinds at The Oakwood Canadian Bistro

The Oakwood Canadian Bistro on UrbanspoonThis was my friend's pick for the Easter weekend, and boy was the place packed! I guess we'd gotten in right at dinner time because around 6:15pm it looked sort-of deserted. Closer to 7pm it was full.

From the get-go, we were told that it would be share plates (the waitress gives everyone the pep talk) and that not everyone would come out of the kitchen in the order that they were ordered. Presumably this meant the kitchen was collecting orders of various items and mass-producing them for efficiency.

Four of us teamed up to share plates, and it was basically one dish shared by four persons. Not a good ratio. We wanted to try many things and let everyone have a go at ordering what they wanted, so we accepted the portions that we ended up with. But mostly one plate per two or possibly three persons is probably closer to getting a really good taste.
Especially if you order anything that is a salad or that requires scooping, immediately ask for extra serving spoons.

$5 salt and pepper pork rinds, spiced tomato puree (picture)
  • I think I was the only one who found these fun. They aren't especially tasty, but interesting to look at and fun to fool around with. If you've got kids, let 'em have it.
  • Whatever they did to these pork rinds, they puffed up into huge proportions. But were really, really, crunchy-hard. Hard enough to be difficult to just crack apart for sharing. The square dish in which the (cold) tomato puree was served didn't help things either as it was hard to jam a piece of pork rind into it.
  • If you smother the pork rind in the puree -- I mean, really let it swim in there -- you can hear it crackling and it softens up nicely.
$6 maple glazed pepper brioche, brown butter emulsion (picture)
  • The bread was bread. Maple glazing and peppering didn't really do anything to make it stand out, and in any case even a bit of the flavourful butter covered any other flavour.
  • The butter was very soft and smooth, and tasted like bacon. Yup, bacon. There's a generous amount of butter, too.
  • I guess in lieu of starting you off with complimentary bread (a tradition you'll be lucky to find nowadays at old school restaurants), you can now pay $6 for it. Comes with tasty butter, though. Hmm...
$10 fried octopus, bacon aioli, pickled shallots, komatsuna (picture)
  • This came in a narrow "pipe" like dish. If there were just a small quantity, I think the plating really emphasized that fact, unfortunately.
  • Predominantly sweet flavour, probably from the sauce. You could have eaten it without realizing there's octopus in there.
$10 all canadian poutine, brisket, fries, curds, gravy
  • Came in a small cast iron frying pan.
  • It's just poutine. A few slices of beef brisket on top.
  • Basic and delicious (and salty!). Hard to go wrong with this comfort food.
$12 warm kale salad, cauliflower, sprouts, lemon parmesan dressing, buttermilk onions
  • For some reason, the predominant flavour for me here was fried onion and that covered everything else. If you order it, try tossing it thoroughly and being careful to not get too much onion in each spoonful.
  • Definitely have at least two spoons to help yourself serve this when sharing.
  • The cauliflower at the bottom looks seared/burnt, in the Nuba Najib's Special style.
$15 burger, smoked cheddar, relish, buttermilk onions, alfalfa sprouts (picture)
  • Nice big burger. No sides. So for $15, I'm expecting a super-tasty burger. I think this falls short of the $15, but that is not to say it's a mediocre burger. As burgers go, it's pretty moist and tasty..
  • Although the patty is ground-up meat, you will be asked how you want it, as if it were a steak. We went with medium-rare and overall the burger came out pretty juicy.
  • We did manage to cut it into quarters (the kitchen won't do any cutting for you, despite the menu being sharing plates -- huh?), but it's a fall-apart mess. Go with half if you're sharing.
$19 flat iron steak, sunchoke chips, chimmichurri, roast bone marrow (picture, medium-rare)
  • $19 for six (6) slices of meat. (Really? Yup.) To be fair, three stumps of bone marrow might cost you about $15 (at The Greedy Pig or Pourhouse, for example), so it's really closer to $14 for meat, but still over $2 per slice. Nicely done steak, but still...
  • The sunchoke chips plus bone marrow makes an interesting side. Bone marrow is basically fatty-tasting, though, so that might turn you off. Just don't eat it and nibble on the chips.
$15 trio of masons:
  • In half-height / short mason jar style jars. Works out to a rather smallish amount of dessert. The trio order is therefore a pretty good deal and a good amount.
  • There are three types of desserts:
    • (normally $6) apple crumble, roasted apples, oat crumble, vanilla bavarian
    • (normally $6) nanaimo bar custard, coconut pecan ganache, vanilla custard
    • (normally $6) maple lemon meringue Pie, meringue, maple lemon curd, madeleine pastry
  • Of the three, I thought the tastiest one was the warm apple crumble. Mix of strong fruity flavour and crunchy texture. The other two were sort of meh -- even the nanaimo bar custard one, which sounded really intriguing.
$4 for one can of Cocos Pure 100% Coconut Water
  • This was my drink order. Came in the original can, plus one straw. According to the can, it is coconut water and nothing added.
  • Strangely, even the official website sells it through Amazon.
I think what felt disappointing about the Oakwood was that for the price you pay, what comes to your table looks awfully skimpy. Fortunately, everything is pretty tasty. Not superbly tasty, but tasty enough to probably justify the cost. I guess this is what you could call something priced just right. You're not walking out of there feeling ripped off, but neither are you calling up all your friends telling them how cheap it was, either.

Secret Crabcakes at Eight-1/2 Restaurant Lounge

eight 1/2 Restaurant Lounge on UrbanspoonVANEATS "SalivEIGHT" $15 dining passes are still available for Eight ½ Restaurant Lounge, and include their for-this-promotion-only crab cakes, which are not on the regular menu. If you do go, you *can* separately order the crab cakes at $12.50.

Here's how the VANEATS coupon works out...
  • Flight of Stanley Park Brewery Belgian Style Beer,
    • 2 "Ambers", subtle toasted malt, lightly hopped, exceptionally clean finish
    • 2 "Bruns", distinctive dried fruit aromatics, complex chocolate, roasted nut and malt biscuit
  • Your Choice of Appie:
    • Tortilla Soup
    • Baked Brie
    • Dungeness Crab Cakes
  • Your Choice of Thin Crust Pizza:
    • 8th Avenue
    • Market Place
    • Wild Smoked Salmon
The beers are basically four half-height glasses, which works out to about two glasses of beer. You can order a "Craft Beer Flight" for $8.50, which gets you four different beers, so the flight of beers on the dining pass works out to about $8.50 in value; and the pass itself adds up to about half off your meal.

Half off sounds great, except that it's really just a very light, almost snack-like, portion of food for two persons. You are allowed only 1 pass per two persons, so you can expect to have to order something extra to round out a lunch or dinner. I went with two persons (to drink my beer since I'm not a drinker!) and we tried a bunch of stuff:

Baked Brie ($8.50) Filo wrapped brie, okanagan honey, sambal oelek, candied apple
  • One wedge about the length and width of a typical slice of cake. Not generous, but not skimpy either. At $8.50, might be a bit pricey.
  • Sounded interesting but really boring. It's just baked brie, with a bit of honey drizzled on the top and about a thimble's worth of sliced candied apple in a tiny mound on the side. The token chili (sambal oelek) sits on the bottom and basically had no contribution other than a splash of colour if you remembered to look for it (so look for it and try to get some on your cheese).
  • Eat this right away no matter when it comes to your table. Yes, with the pass it'll be competing for priority with your pizza, but you really don't want cold brie.
Dungeness Crab Cakes ($12.50) served with lemony yogurt and arugula
  • We chose this for the dining pass, and my friend liked it so much (she just loves crab cakes) that we asked if we could order it.
  • This is two cakes, each quite small. The two together might have added up to the volume of a tennis ball.
  • Clearly lots of crab meat, but I personally thought there was too much lemon, certainly enough to mask any crabby flavour.
"Wild Smoked Salmon" Thin-Crust Pizza (10", $12.50) BC smoked salmon, creamy dill, capers, red onion, craisins, mozzarella
  • Whole slices of salmon make it clear that there is salmon on this pizza.
  • Red onion baked right into the crust (or pressed so hard it penetrated the crust).
  • Very poorly distributed ingredients on our particular pizza: The salmon was arranged evenly, but the craisins and dill all ended up on one side of the pizza. It's sort of too late to fix once it reaches your table, since it's all pasted together with mozza. I guess it's okay if you're eating it alone, but if you're sharing, you'll just have to watch out and let everyone get a bit of something.
"Marketplace" Thin-Crust Pizza (10", $11.50) Roasted vegetables, goat cheese, torn basil, sundried tomato base, mozzarella, and Fresh Grated Parmesan (+$0.50)
  • This was our order separate from the dining pass. We decided to try the optional parmesan. It comes either "fresh grated" or as a house-made dip. I managed to get a sample of the latter and it looked like just grated parmesan in some sort of salad dressing.
  • The $0.50 worth of fresh grated parmesan was barely anything, maybe less than a tablespoon if I remember correctly.
  • This pizza turned out okay. Not very salty, so if you insist on having too much sodium in your diet you could ask for salt. Very mild goat cheese. For some reason it ended up tasting like egg to me (Huh? I know.)
Banana Bread Pudding ($6.50) Banana bread meets bread pudding, topped with warm Caramel
sauce, a homemade marshmallow, and vanilla bean ice cream
  • This was really decent. Strong banana flavour with the bread. You'll have to remember to pair it with the marshmellow and ice cream.
  • The homemade marshmellow is quite a bit different from a store-bought bagged marshmellow, but other than that it's really just a novelty with this dish. I think it could have been more interesting had it been melted on, but that might have over-sweetened the whole dessert.
The VANEATS coupon showed up on the bill as "VE 8TH AVE PIZZA" and charged at $1.80, which was pretty strange. However, since the Banana Bread Pudding was $6.50 on the bill whereas it was $7.50 on the menu, I didn't want to quibble over 80 cents.
After dining pass, tax, and tip (including the value of the items we ordered for the dining pass), it came to $60 for the three of us, or $20 per person. Without the dining pass, it would have been closer to $25 per person (again, that includes tax and tip).