Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Breakfast at Hawksworth

Hawksworth Restaurant on Urbanspoon A dear friend of mine was having a lavish staycation in downtown Vancouver, and invited me to join her for a posh breakfast at Hawksworth, in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. I normally don't go for breakfasts and brunches because more often than not, restaurants pump out the same boring fare -- pancakes, eggs benny, blah blah blah. But this was Hawksworth. Surely they could jazz things up a bit, right? One hopes so for a place that charges you $3 for toast (your choice of three types of bread, though).

Coffee ($5)
  • A carafe of coffee, which works out to maybe 10 cups. Brown sugar at the table. Your choice of cream or milk. If you aim to quaff the full carafe (probably between two persons), you'll probably need extra sugar and cream/milk.
  • For $5, this is probably the cheapest coffee you can get in a posh restaurant anywhere. (At the Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby Lounge, coffee weighs in at $6.50 for a single mug, though it comes with a funny stirring spoon crusted with a fat crystal of sugar.)
“The English” ($22) the traditional English breakfast
  • A light version of the traditional English breakfast. All the elements were there, except in lite quantities, IF The English Breakfast Society is to be trusted:
    • Only two slices of perfectly done not-mostly-fat bacon
    • Only one sausage
    • One small slice of rather burnt-looking black pudding
    • A small wedge of tomato
    • A tiny amount of mushrooms.
    • On the plus side, there were two slices of whole wheat toast, and they weren't too skimpy on the marmalade and jam.
    • Baked beans properly in a small metal pot of its own, thankfully, but making a poor appearance as the quantity was shallow in the pot.
  • There is just no way this can be worth $22 except that you are eating in the hallowed ambiance of one of downtown Vancouver's finest hotels. Considering what it is and what you could probably assemble at a breakfast buffet, you are better off ordering something else here.
Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes ($17) pear, walnut, caramelized honey yogurt, maple syrup
  • This was my order. It jumped out at me from the menu because of the "caramelized honey yogurt", which turned out sadly to be more like "just yogurt", and in smallish blobs.
  • The slices of pear were strangely not as flavourful as I expected.
  • Overall, the composition of this pancake was nicely done with a variety of flavours and textures. Steep for $17, but it is definitely a jazzed up way to get three pancakes. Good, but not superb.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fat Cheezy Quesadilla at La Taqueria

La Taqueria on Urbanspoon I went back to La Taqueria last week to meet a friend for lunch. Instead of tacos, I gave their quesadillas a shot. I haven't seen or heard of anyone else ordering them, so hey, why not?!

The basic quesadilla has cheese inside. A LOT of grilled cheese. It's pretty thick with it, and on it's own, the $6 quesadilla is actually quite filling and good bang for your buck as cheap eats go.

If you are thinking of thin, grilled-to-crunchy quesadillas you might get at a pub, this is far from it. At the fold, it is maybe just over a centimeter thick from the sheer amount of cheese inside. If you peel it open, you can see that they have seared the cheese to a flavourful brown.

For +$2.50 or +$3.50 you can add a vegetarian or meat (respectively) filling, selected from the full list of taco toppings. This brings the total to around $9 -- the same as four meat tacos, and it's approximately the same amount of food.

If you're thinking of heading to La Taqueria, remember to check out their Monthly Specials and Word of the Day free-5th-taco promotions.

MISTO Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer

Recently I purchased a Big Boss Oil-less Fryer and I've been fooling around with it. I thought that the sprayer provided was the main problem because it spat out a jet of oil instead of a wider-area mist. To coat food with oil therefore results in too many pumps of the spray, and too much olive oil sitting on the food.

After some looking around, I found a misting oil sprayer at the Gourmet Warehouse near The Waldorf Hotel. The reason why the MISTO Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer works well to produce a mist-like spray, the sort you get from aerosol cans, is the pump action that pressurizes the air inside the container.

Despite the product name, the manual indicates that it "can be used with any oil, vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice".

I tested it today on the Big Boss Oil-less Fryer, using some McCain Super Spirals and a piece of chicken thigh. The curly fries came out over-cooked and cracker-like, so I'll have to watch more carefully next time for a visual cue as to when they are ready. The chicken came out tender and juicy on the inside, but really pale on the outside.
I'll try some tempura next, but so far, the Oil-less Fryer is looking like a dud, at least for producing food that even vaguely looks and tastes deep fried.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Big Boss Oil-Less Fryer - first impressions

For Christmas this year, I got our family a Big Boss Oil-less Fryer (model 8605), which was recently on sale at London Drugs.
I hadn't read too closely about the product except that it was about frying with less or no oil. That was good enough for me to want to try it.

After some initial experiments, it appears that the product is essentially a convection oven. A light generates heat and a fan blows it around. There are even baking recipes in the recipe book -- essentially, you are buying an oven. Food gets cooked eventually, but you won't necessarily get the same "deep fried" effect.

"Frying" is accomplished by spraying food with oil, and according to the recipes, generally olive oil is recommended. By coating the food with even a light mist of oil, the heat can then fry the affected surface.
When you normally deep fry food, it gets surrounded in enough hot oil to cook. Here, you don't need that much oil because what oil is on the food is heated by the lamp and hot air.

For various reasons, results have been less than satisfying and far from "fried" so far.

One of the reasons is that the sprayer provided doesn't generally spray a mist as it does spit a jet of oil. A jet of oil splats a small area and isn't very useful. You can end up squirting a lot of oil trying to get just a little bit on the food.
For best results, I have found that if you press quickly and firmly, you get more of a spray, but there is still only a very small radius and a big blob of oil in the centre.

The design of the sprayer is also very annoying. The nozzle has a tendency to turn, which results in the jet squirting into the unnecessary high "collars" around the nozzle and then dripping down into a really tight well that is hard to clean. Did they actually focus test this garbage design?

Even if you do get oil to mist nicely and evenly onto the food, only the top part gets sprayed. You really need to turn all your pieces upside down to mist the other side. A heck of a chore for french fries, especially when you also need to put them in a single layer on the trays. Heaping them (as in the picture) results in some fries protected by others and becoming soggy.

Cooking time is also longer than frying. You may want to look into deep frying with olive oil, which is a less-unhealthy option than deep frying with vegetable oil.

Meanwhile, my experiments will continue...

ADDENDUM (2013-Dec-23): Try the MISTO Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer.

Yves Veggie Cuisine - Italian Veggie Ground Round

Yves Veggie Cuisine Italian Veggie Ground Round

I had previously tried Yves Veggie Cuisine Original Veggie Ground Round and hadn't been particularly impressed by it. A friend of mine read my review and suggested I try the pre-flavoured ground rounds, so I picked up a couple from Whole Foods.

For the Italian Veggie Ground Round, I threw it in my super non-stick titanium frying pan with some chopped up garlic and diced tomato, then made some wraps with it. It was on the dry side, so I added a bit of water.

Unlike the Original Veggie Ground Round, the Italian Veggie Ground Round did not suddenly massively inflate in volume. Overall it tasted almost the same, except for whatever spices were added to make an "Italian" flavour. The flavouring was quite weak, especially in comparison with the Mexican Veggie Ground Round, but overall the soy after-taste and slimy after-effect that characterized my experience with the Original Ground Round was very much reduced.

I feel this was a disappointing product as I had expected more "Italian" flavouring, whatever Yves would have liked to assemble such. From the picture, I had expected something akin to a meaty spaghetti sauce.

Since the flavour isn't particularly strong, if you are going to make a spaghetti sauce with it (for example), just go with the regular unflavoured ground round if it is cheaper, and make sure the base sauce is extremely flavourful.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fine Dining Chinese Food at Bambudda

Bambudda on Urbanspoon To me, Bambudda is like Bao Bei in concept: Chinese food re-marketed for a non-Asian market. It's a sort of a niche asian food restaurant. You have "Chinese restaurants" filled with servers who can barely speak English serving people who can't speak Chinese to save their lives. You have bubble tea places serving Taiwanese street food to asian teeny boppers; with servers who may or may not be helpful to English speakers. Then you have places like Bao Bei and Bambudda with English menus and fluent-in-English servers. It's just so much more accessible and convenient for English-speaking North America. Plus the plating is comfortingly upscale, so you are unlikely to think "cheap crap" or "MSG".

Which is not to say it's cheap. Looking at the price versus the portion you get, it's definitely not on the cheap side despite being closer to the sleazy part of Gastown. What you do get is Chinese food that is "more expertly prepared", if you like. Whether you can taste the difference, care about that difference, and/or are willing to pay for that extra-something-special is what will probably make or break your experience at Bambudda.

Further adding to the convenience / ambiance / difference-from-a-regular-Chinese-restaurant is a full, spacious, bar; and a full separate vegetarian menu. Unlike many asian restaurants, vegetarians need not feel like second-class citizens scavenging for something they can order. On the vegetarian menu are a mere two items that are vegan, but at least there's something.
They also have made-in-house lemonade with the option of various infusions ($4.50).

Lighting is rather dark. Decor is interesting with enough Chinese influences to feel Chinese but not in an overpowering way. The washrooms are a winding way down stairs into the bowels of the place (apparently the same situation for all stores in that block). Slightly creepy and definitely not wheelchair friendly. Call ahead if you have mobility issues.

When I was there last Sunday, we tried a bunch of things, but as is often the case with group dining, attention was on fellow diners rather than closely sampling the food. There were a couple of items that stood out for me, however.

Skins ($4) oven roasted chicken crackling, salt pepper lime dip
  • The "salt pepper lime dip" was two slices of lime crusted with salt and pepper, which you could squeeze over the thin but wide sheets of chicken skin roasted to a crunchy, dry, and not-oily crisp.
  • If you are hoping for tasty chicken fat flavour, this won't be it. It won't be an artery-clogging experience, either.
  • More of a novelty, worth $4 only if you haven't had it before an find it fun/curious/interesting.
BBQ Pork Buns ($9) pulled pork in Chinese bbq sauce, seared buns and pickles (photo from EAT Visuals)
  • Came with a few chunks of poached pear. When would you get poached pear to accompany your buns in a regular Chinese restaurant?
  • The basic order is three (3) rather flat sliders. They aren't round like tennis balls and definitely nothing like char siu pao, which the name might suggest.
  • The amount of pulled pork is actually quite good. Rather sweet, and very tender meat.
  • Clear flavour of liver in there. An odd but interesting flavour choice.
  • Unless you will gag at liver, definitely try this.
Other items we tried: crispy pork belly ($15; Hong Kong bbq style, maple hoisin, pickled hot mustard), Chinese hangar ($19; hanger steak, black peppercorn demi, spinach).

Service was not just friendly and attentive, but cheerful and ready to help.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Everything but Fish at The Fish Shack

The Fish Shack on Urbanspoon Continuing our happy hour tour, myself and and few friends went Glowbal Group's Fish Shack on Thursday. Since the happy hour half-price offer is limited to the Appetizer menu, it is actually quite limited and we ended up ordering many non-fish items -- not even their fish and chips (which I'd tried over a year ago).

Popcorn Shrimp ($10.50) cocktail sauce
  • Nothing too special here. Use a fork to put the cocktail sauce on as dipping the shrimp in the sauce seemed to just push the sauce around everywhere but onto the popcorn shrimp.
Fish Bites ($8.50) chipotle tartar sauce
  • This time around the fish bites weren't as likely to flake as the last time, but they were also firmer and drier.
  • Nothing spicy-hot from the chipotle from the tartar sauce.
Fried Oysters ($9.50) chipotle tartar sauce
  • Fried oysters is fried oysters. Nothing too special here. However, if you are unlucky, the odd oyster here might still have some of its algae feed (no, it's not "oyster poop") still in it. Typically this stuff gets washed out, but sometimes it can get missed. Then you get a yucky algae / sea water taste. This, however, is a fluke occurrence and generally a risk anywhere you get fried oysters.
Prawn Cocktail ($10.95) house-made cocktail sauce
  • Typically a prawn cocktail might be a bunch of prawns and cocktail sauce. Here it sits on coleslaw. Presentation is definitely more interesting, and you get some slaw to go with your otherwise boring prawns. At $10.95, the price looked steep, though. Get it during happy hour.
Tuna Confit ($8.95) olives, roasted red peppers, herbs, toasted baguette
  • This was not bad.
  • It looked oily but didn't taste oily. It tasted like a lot of tuna mixed with a bit of tapenade, but mostly it tasted like tuna. Definitely use the lemon.
  • Be generous when heaping the tuna onto the baguette slices or you'll run out of baguette first.
Caesar Salad ($7.50) signature dressing, sour dough croutons, parmesan cheese
  • Strangely, this came without croutons. Kitchen error, probably. That, or they were out of bread for croutons.
Manhattan Clam Chowder ($7.95) tomato based
  • I could locate a few flecks of chewy clam. The rest tasted basically like vegetable soup, similar to Campbell's Vegetable Soup, but less sweet and more tomato-ey. Rather disappointing for the price.
Brussels Sprouts ($6.50; side dish) chilli flakes, parmesan
  • I thought this was the most interesting item of the entire meal.
  • This looked like burnt brussels sprouts, the sort you can get at Minami. However, they use smaller sprouts, and there wasn't the pervasive bitterness from either the sprouts or the burning/searing on the outside.
  • Looked soggy, but the taste overall was quite good. Comes with a wedge of lemon, but try it without the lemon first.
  • A fairly good amount for the price.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yves Veggie Cuisine - Mexican Veggie Ground Round

Yves Veggie Cuisine Mexican Veggie Ground Round

I had previously tried Yves Veggie Cuisine Original Veggie Ground Round and hadn't been particularly impressed by it. A friend of mine read my review and suggested I try the pre-flavoured ground rounds, so I picked up a couple from Whole Foods.

For the Mexican Veggie Ground Round, I decided to go with the picture and make tacos. I fried up some onion and green pepper and threw in half the pack of ground round.

Unlike the Original Veggie Ground Round, the Mexican Veggie Ground Round did not suddenly massively inflate in volume. Taste and texture were just as good and nothing about the product made me stop to realize that this wasn't meat. There was no overt soy flavour and no slimy feeling in the mouth. These features make this actually the best fake meat I've had so far.

What was disappointing, however, was the flavouring. Their version of "Mexican" cam across more like a curry in flavour and aroma, and on the bitter side. To combat this, you could try adding tomato paste or even some tomato sauce.

There wasn't anything really spicy-hot about it, which is understandable as a one-size-fits-all product, so if you want some heat, add your own chili.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fake Meat Dim Sum at 3G Vegetarian Restaurant

3G Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon When my pescetarianism friend wanted to try dim sum, going to a regular dim sum place didn't seem like such a good idea since so many items have some sort of meat. I had never heard of 3G Vegetarian Restaurant before, but the awards and reviews had me convinced that this would be a really decent place to try dim sum.

3G uses simulated meats. Even phoney prawns. For omnivores like myself, this makes 3G a tricky place to evaluate. You can either talk about the fake meats, or (harder) try to turn that part of your brain off and concentrate on whether the dish tasted good or not. The latter is much easier to do if you simply don't look at the meat too closely.

Before I get too far ahead, I should probably say that all the simulated meats I've tried have generally not been very good fakes. Some, like Yves Original Ground Round, do a really decent job in many ways, but overall there is still something "off" about it when compared to the real thing, especially in flavour if the appearance hasn't already biased you. This is obviously obvious. So really simulated meat is for people who have no choice -- vegetarians, for example. Beggars can't be choosers, so when you have limited options, you will likely think better of them. I'm not limited in that way. So be aware of this when you read about the food.

You will also notice that I will put down that many items are "nothing special". This should not be construed as "not good". If something isn't good, I generally try to write down why. "Nothing special" is closer to "mediocre" -- decently done but nothing to write home about and therefore not specifically recommended.
When I go to a restaurant, I only order whatever sounds interesting on the menu. When it comes to Chinese food, I grew up eating the stuff at home, so it's hard to top mom's cooking, especially when mom cooked really well. If Chinese food is a novelty for you, 3G will probably be a treat, especially if you are vegetarian.

The regular menu is available during dim sum hours, but (and this seemed surprising to me) some items may not be available, even if you are the first one in when they open the restaurant for the day. If there is something you absolutely must have, call ahead to make sure.

Vegetarian Chicken Drumstick ($8.99) fried with pepper and salt
  • 6 pieces of basically simulated meat on a stick, shaped roughly like a drumstick.
  • The "meat" is very meat-like in texture and tastes like some sort of meat. One of the best meat simulations I've seen.
  • Not so much like a chicken drumstick, however. More like pulled chicken or pulled pork.
  • Taste-wise this is okay. Like real meat items, it's about seasoning/sauce.
Crispy Baked Baby Pig ($11.95) veggie baby pig in sweet soybean sauce
  • The taste and texture of this simulated meat was for me closer to white chicken meat than the drumsticks. Overall, sort of tasteless.
  • They do try to crisp the "skin", but I think the process made everything sort of dry.
  • Very vaguely pig-shaped. Vaguely.
  • Smallish portion.
Steamed Veggie Pork Shu Mai ($3.50) picture
  • Four pieces.
  • Small bits of pink simulated meat with hardly any flavour contribution. Mostly this tasted sweet and had a crunchiness from the white vegetable used. Flavour-wise this isn't anywhere as richly flavoured as "real" shu mai with pork and prawns.
  • If I remember correctly, this tasted a lot like the Steamed Veggie Shrimp Dumpling ($3.50), except the dumplings were fully-sealed whereas the shu mai are little baskets.
Pan Fried Veggie Gyoza ($3.50) four bok choy filled dumplings
  • Decently done gyozas. Nothing special, but nothing wrong either.
Fried Plain Bun ($3.50) picture
  • Basically deep fried mantou. Quite firm and a fun sort of chewy. Served with condensed milk as a dipping sauce. Simple and tasty.
  • You can tear or cut it open and drizzle the condensed milk inside where the dough can absorb some of it. This alleviates both double dipping as well as losing too much milk from the milk sliding off the slick exterior.
Veggie Rice Roll with Veggie XO Sauce ($3.50)
  • I felt there wasn't quite enough sauce. Rice noodles are really kind of flavourless, and are there for texture and to fill you up -- like spaghetti.
  • Nothing really special here.
Deep-Fried Tofu with Spicy Sauce & Salt ($5.50) picture
  • Tender on the inside, really crispy on the outside. They did a really good job here frying this and making it fun to eat with the crispiness.
  • "Spicy" sauce really wasn't spicy. Despite "salt" being in the title, it wasn't very salty either.
  • Thinner cuts of tofu means a good ratio of tasteless tofu on the inside to crunchy skin and sauce on the outside. I'm not a fan of tofu, and thick slabs is one of the reason tofu is often a struggle to eat.
  • Overall, a really good choice to feed tofu to tofu-haters.
  • More sauce couldn't hurt.
Veggie Seafood Congee ($5.50)
  • Comes with fake slices of fish cake and fake prawns.
  • The fake prawns are actually pretty decent fakes. They are white with orange-red flecks (food colouring?). The "meat" has good firmness and crunch, and a slight sweetness, just like prawns.
  • Other than the portion size, nothing special here.
Crispy Taro Roll ($7.50) picture
  • Taro wrapped in bean curd roll, cut into sushi-sized pieces, and deep fried to crispiness.
  • Fun if you like deep-fried crispiness without oiliness. Otherwise just okay.
Fresh Lily Bulbs, Asparagus and Yam Rhizome ($12.95) also bok choi
  • I ordered this to check out the lily bulbs and yam rhizome.
  • The white lily bulb slices had a crunchiness to them but seemed to have a slimy after-effect in the mouth.
  • Smallish portion for price.
The restaurant is quite small but they do have a round table at the back for larger groups, of maybe 10 or so. On the Saturday morning our group dined, we were the first ones in right when the restaurant opened and it was fairly quiet until we left, with just a couple of other parties drifting in.
No huge dim-sum rush also means a more relaxed dining experience. At a "regular Chinese restaurant", you can expect staff buzzing around and the kitchen insanely busy cooking to order. At such places, they can get outright pissy if you try to order more than once because billing becomes confusing for them. Nothing like that will happen to you at 3G. There are dim sum checklists and regular menus, and you can order as you go, just like at any restaurant dinner service. On top of that, 3G doesn't charge you for tea and they seemed really good about keeping the teapot filled.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Happy Hour at Black + Blue

Black + Blue on UrbanspoonIt's really strange that Black + Blue can bring out mediocre food -- the space/ambiance is really nice and it just feels so promising. Adding insult to injury is the high-end downtown eatery price, with appetizers approaching $20. But there is just something going on in there that is off because on the Thursday when my happy hour friend and I went for basically an early dinner, it was basically deserted -- whereas Italian Kitchen (also a Glowbal Group restaurant) across the street had been going non-stop busy since Noon and was slowly picking up as we approached dinnertime.

If you're curious about Black + Blue, something to take a bit of the sting out of your inevitably daunting bill is Glowbal's Monday gift card promotion -- Buy a $100 gift card and you will receive a time-limited $20 bonus good only for 90 days. Both go straight into your e-mail inbox right away. (And by the way, $100 gets swallowed up at Black + Blue really quickly...).
Try to pair that with going to Glowbal's half-price Happy Hour. For Black + Blue, this is the six-item lunch appetizer menu. You can, however, ask for the dinner menu instead, which has an expanded appetizer menu. Also, right now they have a $5 festive happy hour drink promotion.

Since The Roof is basically upstairs (literally the roof of the building, with a cover and heat lamps), you can get The Roof menu items as well, but without the Happy Hour discount.

Fresh OJ ($5)
  • I often ask for fresh-squeezed juice, and surprise! For once it was available. The bartender offered to make an orange juice from real oranges (not a Tropicana tetra pack) and I got approximately a tumbler of it.
  • Obviously not a heck of a lot of it for $5, but I'm in Black + Blue, so what can you expect, right?
Mac & Cheese Sticks ($9) truffled cheese sauce
  • From The Roof dinner appetizer menu. We did NOT get the happy hour half-off for this.
  • Way better than the mac & cheese balls at Society. One order is four thick "sticks". Put two sticks together and it's about the size of a pack of cigarettes or a deck of playing cards.
  • Lukewarm on the inside, but beautifully crispy on the outside. It is actually pretty mediocre. What makes the difference is the truffled sauce you get with it. Be generous with the sauce.
  • At $9, this is $2.25 a piece, which is steep, truffle sauce or not. It's a different and more fun way to eat mac & cheese, however.
  • Because of the length of the stick, double-dipping is inevitable if you insist on only using your fingers. You might instead want to nibble off the top and use your knife to dab some sauce onto it. Two to three bites will finish off one stick.
Bacon-Wrapped Scallops ($18) mango compote
  • Very strangely not flavourful. Especially the chopped up mango on the bottom. How is it possible that the mango flavour didn't come through?
  • The four scallops seemed a good size, roughly about ping-pong ball sized. Very tender but possibly undercooked.
Steak House Nachos ($14) house spiced potato chips, bacon cheddar cheese, b+b steak chili
  • The "nachos" were very large, thinly cut potato chips, coated with cheese. The several chips each about 1x to 2x the size of business cards, were on a generous amount of very red but not spicy-hot chili.
  • My friend really liked this (for the chili, I think) but I had trouble appreciating it. To me, this was potato chips with sauce. And not a lot of chips for $14. On top of not being cheesy-tasting. Was there something in that OJ I ordered that killed the flavour of everything I ate?
Stuffed Yorkshire Pudding ($15) shaved beef, au jus, horseradish cream
  • Four large puddings with a good amount of shaved beef.
  • We ended up putting some salt on it as it was a bit on the bland side.
  • The Yorkshire Pudding was very dark and basically burnt on the top. All of them turned out like that. I'm guessing they baked to order and the batch was burnt -- or it was intentionally done that way to crisp the top.
  • The was a decent amount of shaved beef, and it was happily not dry. If you eat this, however, you may want to cut it in half first (and get a steak knife for it if you do) since it might take two to three bites, but your first bite might drag all the beef out.
  • The horseradish cream really helped. Could have been a bit hotter for my taste.
  • Overall, a good-sized appetizer.
Tuna Screamer ($15) ahi tuna, serrano chillies, daikon, tobiko, ponzu
  • This looks like tuna slabs on noodles, and the shaved daikon "noodles" do work more or less like noodles. I don't think they are as good as real noodles, but it's a fun way to eat daikon.
  • Overall pretty decent.
Black+Blue Butter Cake ($12) crème chantilly, caramel sauce
  • This was really decent -- Good buttery aroma and flavour. Plus the portion is actually rather good.
  • Because it was good, even at $12 (no happy hour discount) it's actually OK. Still steep, but so is the rest of the menu.
  • The outer crust is quite hard, but inside it's fairly tender. Closer to the middle is the caramel sauce hidden under the cream, so make sure you get some of that.
Since it was just across the street, we nipped over to Italian Kitchen right after for another dessert.

Zeppole di Cioccolato ($8.95) italian style doughnuts, chocolate ganache, crème anglaise
  • The regular order is 5 donuts, but we were a couple and the kind bartender, entirely on his own initiative, offered to ask the chef to throw in an extra donut for an even number -- thanks!
  • Each "donut" is actually a Timbit, just slightly bigger. Size varies somewhat, but basically they are a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.
  • There isn't any "deep fried goodness" going on here. It is dusted on the outside and the dough felt a bit too wet on the inside. If you are looking for a deep fried donut experience, this won't be it.
  • Be generous with the sauce provided.
  • Try to eat each donut in a single bite. If you don't, then bite SLOWLY and make sure a plate is right underneath you. If you are not careful, the chocolate can literally come squirting out. As it is, a slow bite will still see it ooze and drip out.
  • This dessert seemed rather boring to me at over a dollar per TimBit. It's basically donut + chocolate sauce + dipping cream.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby Lounge

Lobby Lounge at Fairmont Pacific Rim on UrbanspoonThe Lobby Lounge and Terrance at the Fairmont Pacific Rim serves an interesting and very fresh-tasting afternoon tea involving nigiri sushi, sandwiches, pastries, and desserts. So far it is one of the best afternoon tea services I've had, considering both the quality of the items you get, and the coolly professional servers.

Not being an afternoon tea destination on weekdays, your chances of walking in and asking for it are really rather good -- Reservations are "preferred but not required". Just this Monday at around 2 PM, we were just one of two couples who were there for afternoon tea. The few other patrons were there for drinks and sushi.
You can sit anywhere in the lobby, including the extension separated by sliding doors. There are three types of seating:
  • For dinner-table style sit-down seating, you'll probably have to go into the extension. Sometimes there are larger groups there, so ambient noise may be an issue.
  • In the rest of the lounge, the most common seating involves low tables and unwieldy chairs. If you sit too close to the table, you'll probably whack your knee. This is annoying, but not as bad as it might initially seem for afternoon tea, since you're picking up the single bites of items from the tray.
  • There is also bar-height seating on sometimes slightly wobbly tables. The downside to this is bar-height seating, smaller tables, and proximity to the piano. Starting in the later afternoon, there is live entertainment and live instruments can be very loud if you are close to it, especially when it is projected throughout the entire lobby.
For $35, you get all of the following:

amuse bouche with your tea selection, probably a tiny cake

warm scones served with seasonal fruit preserves
devonshire cream & fresh strawberries

Sushi
miso tofu – sweet miso paste, tofu
tuna tataki – pineapple, rice, lightly seared tuna
crab & cucumber – tobiko, crab mayo mix, cucumber

Sandwiches
farm raised truffled egg salad – pickled cucumber & pea tendrils
chilled tiger prawn & avocado – citrus crème cheese
tandoor roasted chicken – laccha mango salad, mint chutney butter

lemon fruit tart
matcha layer cake with lychee
chocolate ganache jewel

You may feel that the use of sushi makes this some sort of mutant afternoon tea that is half sushi platter, half tea service. Or, you may feel it is wonderfully creatively. Whatever the case, what you get is very good.
Overall, the afternoon tea selection was characterized by a freshness, a sense that everything was very freshly made -- not just the sushi pieces, but the sandwich fillings.
  • Of the teas, the one with pear was probably one of the most interesting, with a clear pear aroma (but no actual pear flavour to the tea, sadly).
  • The scone was wonderfully buttery in aroma and taste. You can generally just tear it open and it will separate along one of the layers.
  • The sushi bites had small amounts of rice, but enough to make the afternoon tea more filling than it initially looked. The smaller amount of rice also helped to highlight the topping/other ingredients.
  • Although all the sandwiches were nicely done, the one stand-out among them was the chilled tiger-prawn and avocado, which gave a sudden burst of moistness and citrus. I was lucky enough to eat this last after the sushi and sandwiches, and I recommend you do the same.
  • The matcha layer cake was probably the trickiest to tackle. It has a thin film of some sort of jelly or maybe sauce, which easily smeared off. Also, the very bottom layer is a thin film of white chocolate which can peel off when you cut the rest of the triangular slice.
    • Especially because it is wet to handle, what you can do is transfer it to your saucer first. Bring up your saucer to the tea tower. Then slide your fork under the cake -- you don't have to slide it all the way under, just enough to anchor the cake so that you can pull the cake onto the saucer. Since you didn't skewer the cake, you are also now free to release your fork to cut the cake.
    • If you just stab the cake, the layers may separate while you are transferring the cake.
  • The macaron had a delicate, hollow shell with nevertheless did not disintegrate into a crumbly mess. The flavour of the filling was intense.
Deficiencies in the tea service include not having separate plates for the many utensils (butter knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks). Once you clear the bottom tray of sushi, you can put your utensils there.
If you need a plate for your sushi or sandwiches, use the saucer on which your teacup arrived.

Something neat to watch out for is when one of the many (hot) servers walks to the sliding doors separating the lobby and the extended area. There is some sort of windy draft there that can cause their hair to flare/billow in a dramatic fashion-magazine way.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Vegan Burger at Back Forty Saloon

Back Forty on UrbanspoonBack Forty Saloon is a dimly lit sports bar. The televisions are not as obtuse as at Jimmy's Taphouse, which makes it an inferior sports bar, but more balanced as a place to hang out with your friends if you are not into what sports are on TV.
Bar-height tables against the walls were uncomfortably arranged, being pushed right against the seat. Getting in or out was horribly awkward, so if your party is assigned such a section try to sit on the outside on barstools. Better yet, try not to get stuck with them and get proper sit-down tables and chairs.

Salads are pretty big here, so do ask your server about the portion size before committing to an order.
When I was there last Friday I gave the vegan burger a try.

Back Forty Vegan Burger ($12.40) Quinoa, cashews, oats, roasted garlic, B40 relish, avocado mousse, lettuce, beef steak tomato, toasted Kaiser. Comes with fries, salad, or slaw.

  • The patty on this burger is actually quite good, with a bit of sweetness (that, or the relish contaminated the piece of patty I was isolating to taste-test).
  • The rest of the burger was dead boring. There is some relish on top, and a minimally thin spread of avocado on the bottom (tasteless after everything else). I ended up slathering hot sauce on it to try to bring more flavour to life.
  • Even so, value at $12.40 is OK considering you get fries, and the patty is actually pretty decent. Just make sure you get condiments, as it's not at every table.
Smallish mug of iced tea was $3.