Monday, August 26, 2013

Stick to Oysters at Oyster Express

Oyster Express on Urbanspoon
It's kind of tough to find particularly interesting eats at the Chinatown Night Market when your entire party is Asian (Chinese), so we had to go with the backup plan last Friday -- Oyster Express. I would normally never go to it because I'm really not into oysters. I just don't have a particular appreciation for the various types and slurping it down with Tabasco or what not. So, of our party of four, only one person had the oysters. He's big on oysters, and was happy enough to make a second order of a half-dozen, so that's a good sign.

New England Fish Chowder ($9) (picture)
  • This was okay tasting and for your dollar you do get a reasonable amount. Combined with the slices of baguette, it works out to a reasonably filling meal, but not so much that you didn't have room for an appetizer before or dessert after. At $9, the price feels between okay and slightly pricey.
Shrimp Cocktail ($13) (picture)
  • If I remember correctly, this was six "shrimp". Eight fat-ass prawn-sized shrimp. It's $13 for basically an appy. Ouch.
Grilled Cheez Sandwich ($8) (picture)
  • Whole wheat bread. Generous (but not oozing-mess overly generous) amount of cheese, plus tomato and mushrooms. Tasty enough. But $8 is ouch.
Chocolate Brownie Cake ($5) (picture)
  • It's a fair portion for $5. More like a chunk fudge-like brownie than "cake". Comes with whipped cream, which can temper the sweetness in your mouth. A bit overly sweet for my taste, but no complaints from anyone else.
Homemade Pomegranate Tea ($4) (picture)
  • This sounded interesting on paper. You can actually see the pomegranate seeds in the cup. Unfortunately, it ended up tasting like water with sugar.

Monday, August 19, 2013

50% off at Don Francesco Ristorante

Don Francesco on Urbanspoon
If you've avoided Don Francesco Ristorante / Francesco Ristorante Italia because of the price, now is a great time to use the 50th anniversary half-price-off coupon to try it (look in the Georgia Straight or Metro -- the offer is for the summer and will probably end soon). It works only for the items listed under "The Art of Pasta", but 50% off is a big deal. Sunday dinner only.

It's actually a pretty big restaurant, so while a packed patio might make it look full, chances are they will be able to squeeze you in somehow. There is lots of seating, and generous room to move around as well. Inside there are garishly coloured abstract paintings and lots of flowers.
The lovely hostess is an opera singer and there's a chance you'll get a opera-ish Happy Birthday sung at your table if you book a birthday event there.

Service is professional and reserved. The male waiters do their thing and then disappear, leaving your party alone. No getting-to-know-you chit-chat, which is probably more old school than being unfriendly. Basically, they leave your party alone rather than make themselves part of your dinner party. If you're used to chattier waiters (and there are some that are too chatty sometimes), this will be a different experience.
I did, however, get a vibe that this is an upscale place that expects upscale clientele, so if you show up casual dress or with a coupon, I don't think they'll take you quite as seriously.
When I asked for recommendations on what was the most interesting item, I was told that everything was good. Only reluctantly did they recommend anything, and when they did, it was the lobster lasagne, which maybe was only incidentally the most expensive item on the menu. No real reason provided.

They still adhere to the tradition of fresh bread (buns) at the table after you have placed your order. The buns are very warm, and they aren't stingy about the number of buns they give you, either. You might need them, though...

Escargots-Italian Style ($19) puff pastry, white wine, capers, herbs, porcini mushrooms, olive oil, garlic
  • Not sure what the puff pastry is all about here since they just give you a generous amount of the medly of snails, mushrooms, and other stuff. The single piece of puff pastry in the middle (about the size of half a dinner roll) is reduced to mush by the sauce anyway.
  • Salty! Good thing there are extra buns at the table.
  • Not clear how much is snail and how much is mushroom, but the saltiness pretty much flattens all the flavours anyway.
Lobster Lasagna ($29) emmenthal cheese, shallots, dry white vermouth, light cream, seasonings, lobster meat (picture)
  • This is a SMALL portion. The actual amount of lasagne is about the size of two decks of playing cards. Save some of those free warm pre-dinner buns for this order.
  • Every little bite is packed with strong lobster flavour and lobster meat. You also get the meat from one half lobster claw on top of it.
  • Tasty? Yes. Pricey? Yes. You can decide whether the price matches maybe two lobster claws or one lobster tail.
  • On the online menu, this doesn't show up for lunch. You need to click the link for the dinner menu, which looks so much like the lunch menu that you might be inclined to think they were the same.
Veal Canneloni - spinach, riccota cheese, parmesan, covered in rich tomato sauce with meatballs (picture)
  • This was my friend's order and she gave me a nibble of it. There is a LOT of tomato sauce here. Go easy on it or you won't taste anything else.
  • Came with meatballs that were rather strongly spiced, enough that the meat isn't the main thing you taste.
  • Overall, nothing too special here.
Pan Di Spagna ($12) (picture)
  • On the separate dessert menu, this is translated as "orange cake". It looks like a sponge cake with layers of cream. There is clear orange flavour but it is not overpowering. Dusted with roasted coconut.
  • The portion is what you might expect from a cake sliced into 8. The price, though, is up there. At $12, I expect either a generous sharing portion or an exquisite dessert. It's a fairly tasty cake, but pricey for what you get.
Tiramisu (picture)
  • My other friend's other. I just had a nibble and one nibble is enough for a non-drinker. Whatever liquor they used, they weren't stingy with it. There was so much it came out bitter. Good if you like your tiramisu to be soaked in alcohol, I guess.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Goat Cheese Burger at Colony

Colony Bar Kits on Urbanspoon
I was just at Colony this past Friday for an after-work get-together. We were in at around 5.30pm and by 6.30pm the bar was still rather quiet. TVs on the walls showing soccer, but without any volume to disturb patrons who might be disinterested.

As is my wont, I probed them for freshly squeeze juice. Nope, not available (I didn't think it would be, but I'm ever hopeful). Of the fruit drinks they had, I chose a tall glass of pineapple ($4.50).

The online menu shows their $10 lunch specials, but there is a small link at the bottom where you can download the dinner menu ("Food Menu"). I tried the Organic Quinoa Vegetable Burger (house made quinoa and goat cheese patty, pickled red onion, lettuce, tomato, tartar sauce, brioche bun).

Our lovely waitress Sam said that she didn't like it herself because of the goat cheese. This is good information to know, since the online lunch menu does not mention goat cheese. And it's good to have it pointed out because goat cheese can be sort of stinky and an acquired taste. I declined to add mushrooms cheese, bacon, or onion rings.

There was the option to upgrade to the "fry bar" for +$2.50, which meant that instead of fries or salad, you could get specialty fries from their "fry bar" menu selection, which includes poutine, yam fries, and an interesting "beer battered lemon pepper fries". This latter I choose.

The burger itself was alright for the price ($12.40). For $12 I'm normally hoping for a more gourmet and interesting burger, but this comes with sides, so the burger itself is probably closer to $10, and it sort of weighs in at "priced just right".
The goat cheese was definitely the main flavour here, and it rose above everything else, but not in a too-pungent way. So even if you didn't like goat cheese too much, the quinoa and everything else tempered it.

The Beer Battered Lemon Pepper Fries were rather good and our waitress's recommendation as well. Crispy, of course, and the lemon component really gave it tang and zing, which is good when slogging through any monotonous dinner, like a big burger. A bit on the salty side. Not necessary to dip it into any tomato sauce.

Pear Tree Restaurant not afraid to be salty

Pear Tree on Urbanspoon
I finally made it down to the Pear Tree Restaurant in Burnaby after having it on my list for the longest time. They were closed for part of the summer and had just starting up operations again. Fully booked for both dinner seatings (6pm and 8pm), which for a restaurant of their small size is easy to do.
It also has no windows! We were not too far from the front door (which has glass and admits light), so on the sunny Saturday evening we were at the proper angle to get actual daylight. The rest of the restaurant was moderately lit -- certainly not the romantic darkness that some other places maintain.

The Pear Tree has a few quirks that first timers should be aware of:
  • First, the chef prefers that you concentrate on the food. So we were all rather surprised when they started collecting menus when my initial order of the scallop appetizer came. My idea was to have something to snack on while the rest of our party arrived and we browsed the menus. They didn't really push it too hard, but it's a dining concept I hadn't seen elsewhere.
  • Also, the kitchen is not afraid to use salt. Both of my appetizers were salty. Even the slices of brioche (picture) they brought to the table before dinner had a salty crust. Hmm!
  • Which is not to say it wasn't tasty, but if you're keen on watching your sodium, you might want to call ahead first.
  • Finally, there is a vegetarian menu (on the menu it reads, "vegetarian and vegan options available") but not really a vegan menu. For vegans, they trim the vegetarian menu of the non-vegan items (e.g., they take out the cream in the Classic Flamed Gin and 'Cascade' Tomato Soup with Chive Whipped Cream); and for dessert they can prepare fruit sorbets.
Orange Caramelized Scallops ($16) with Double Smoked Bacon Risotto (picture)
  • Salty risotto, but overall this was really tasty and probably the best item on the table. The fragrant scallops could be whiffed over a foot away.
  • The appetizer portion was four scallops.
"Local Prawn Cappuccino" ($15) Prawn Bisque Foam with Dashi Custard and BC Prawns (picture)
  • Very salty. Reminded me of marmite, actually -- Yes, it was that salty. 
  • Interesting to try, but the prawn flavour combined with the saltiness probably makes this a hit or miss for most people. For me, the sheer saltiness was off-putting.
  • It's one of their signature items, so someone in your party should definitely get one. Stir it up or dig deep to get the prawn and custard bits on the bottom.
Slow Roasted Portobello Mushroom ($28) served with mushrooms, radishes, caviar lentils, and stilton polenta (picture)
  • This was from the vegetarian menu, and when I asked for "most interesting", the one that was recommended. It was colourful, beautifully composed on the plate, and tasty without being unduly salty.
  • Although the sliced portobello mushroom on top was arranged like a medallion of meat, I recommend against isolating that. Instead, eat it with a spoonful of the other stuff on the plate to avoid monotony.
Slow Poached ‘Maple Hills’ Chicken Breast with braised Leg, Potato Rosti, fresh Mushrooms and a Blanquette Sauce (picture)
  • This was my friend's order that I got to try a bit of. The chicken breast was stunning -- so soft and moist. If you're used to getting dry, wooden chunks of chicken breast, get this to experience the opposite.
  • Two long slabs of chicken like long sticks of biscotti.
  • Served with waffles topped with an interesting sweet mix. Also comes with extra (salty) gravy that was remarkably like the prawn cappucino, minus the prawn-niness.
Chocolate Ganache ($12) With a crisp nut base; Salted Caramel and Orange Chocolate sorbet (picture)
  • Even in Yaletown you'd probably not find a dessert of this size priced at $12. Maybe $8 tops. Not as interesting as I hoped. The decorations on top were lovely, however, including one intriguing tiny white strawberry (?) that looked like a pineapple.
  • I recommend flipping back and forth between the chocolate and the refreshingly sour sorbet. Despite the "salted caramel" indicated, this didn't strike me as salty.
Complimentary macarons come with your bill. (picture)

Staff is friendly and professional, and quickly makes you feel at ease.