Friday, January 31, 2014

Hot Chocolate Festival 2014 - Mink - Paula Dean White Trash TrainWreck

Mink Chocolates on UrbanspoonJanuary 31st (today!) is the last day to try Mink's first Hot Chocolate 2014 entry, "Paula Dean White Trash TrainWreck": 70% dark chocolate ganache with condensed milk, salted kettle chips, and vanilla whipped cream. Served with a 72% dark chocolate wafer.

Don't fret if you miss it, however. The concoction is basically Mink's drinking chocolate on the bottom, a pile of potato chips (which weren't quite salty enough, I thought), and whipped cream on top.

The separate layers contrasts it from many other Hot Chocolate Festival entries where you get a novel mixture of ingredients (which sometimes flies and sometimes flops). It is also a tall enough composition that you will likely make a huge mess if you try to stir it all together without eating some chips and whipped cream first. Sadly, none of the combinations of whipped cream, chips, and drinking chocolate were particularly interesting.

The saltiness of the chips may have been meant to bring out more flavour from the chocolate somehow -- salt is known to enhance flavour in various ways. A "trick" a friend of mine taught me was to add a tiny pinch of salt to coffee. It didn't really work for me, though. If you try this, let me know.

If this one passes you by, just go on a regular day and ask for their heady drinking chocolate.If anything deserves the name "hot chocolate", this is it. It really is like literally drinking chocolate. Not quite so thick that you need to spoon it up like a yoghurt, but definitely thick and rich. Every other hot chocolate you get just about everywhere else will taste unfairly watered down.
Here are some tips:
  • Ask for a full glass of water. Preferably on the hot side of warm. The richness (not so much the sweetness) of the drinking chocolate can actually ruin your experience with being too rich. The adage of too much of a good thing can, in fact, apply to chocolate.
    • You can try sharing it. That is a better idea given the richness-to-portion ratio, but this can be tricky. See if you can get a fat straw from Mink, or just bring your own.
  • Ask for a spoon. To help with the chips floating around. If you can't get one, go to the counter of coffee supplies and get one or two of the wooden stirring sticks. Either snap one in half, or use two. Hold them together so you have a makeshift fork. No, don't stab the chips. Scoop them out.
  • Watch your top. A drip of chocolate on a light-coloured shirt or dress can tattoo you for the rest of the day.
$8 + GST = $8.40.
Drinking chocolate is worth a try if you haven't had drinking chocolate before. Might as well do it now during the Hot Chocolate Festival.


Daiya Jack Style Wedge

Previously I had tried the Daiya Cheddar Style Wedge. I was astounded to discover that the Daiya Jack Style Wedge was very similar in taste. In fact, if I didn't have them side-by-side, I might think them identical in taste. In other cheese-like qualities, my observations on the Cheddar all apply here.

A quick look at the ingredient list shows one additional ingredient in the Cheddar Style Wedge: annatto, used in colouring cheddar cheese.

Jack Style:
Filtered water, tapioca flour, palm fruit oil, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and/or safflower oil, pea protein, coconut oil, inactive yeast, salt, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, vegan natural flavours, gum arabic, lactic acid (vegan, for flavor),titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral), natural smoke flavour, vegan enzyme.

Cheddar Style:
Filtered water, tapioca flour, palm fruit oil, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and/or pressed safflower oil, pea protein, coconut oil, salt, inactive yeast, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, vegan natural flavours, gum arabic, lactic acid (vegan, for flavor), annatto, titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral), natural smoke flavour, vegan enzyme.

Free Afternoon Tea at Xi Shi Lounge

Xi Shi Lounge on Urbanspoon
FREE AFTERNOON TEA at Xi Shi Lounge! Value $38! January-31,2014 to February-28, 2014

Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver ushers in the Year of the Horse with a traditional Lion Dance and special Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea in Xi Shi Lounge. Adding to the festivities, any guest born in a Year of the Horse will receive complimentary afternoon tea.

Offer is valid for one guest per table, with a minimum party of two. Guests must show proof of age; offer is non-transferable and non-refundable. Offer ends 28 February 2014.

Those born in the years 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990 and 2002 are Year of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dine Out Vancouver 2014 - East is East Chai Lounge

East Is East Chai Lounge on UrbanspoonUnlike many places, East is East will still offer their full regular menu in addition to their Dine Out Vancouver menu. In competition with their Dine Out Vancouver $28 menu will therefore be their regular all-you-can-eat Chai Feast for $27.

For dinner, the kitchen opens at 5.30pm, but even by 5pm there will be patrons and by 5.30pm the place will probably be full, if the Saturday evening our party was there is any indication.
Since the restaurant is already busy when the kitchen opens, you can expect your plates to come out somewhat slowly.
Dine Out Vancouver 2014 Menu ($28)

Appetizer

Mango Prawns - Tiger prawns sauteed in a spicy mango, lime leaf and star anise curry on basmati rice. (Gluten free) picture

or

Tibetan Mantu - Dumplings stuffed with green onions, chives and herbs topped with dehydrated yogurt and lentils. (vegan)

or

Boulani - Traditional Afghan whole wheat roti stuffed with potato, green onion, yam and herbs. (Gluten free option) (vegan)

Entree
Choice of TWO (2), served with token Persian salad (picture), rice with raisins (picture), small dhaal soup (picture), and a bit of garlic pickle (sample plate)

Lamb Kebab - Perfectly spiced and charbroiled chunks of lamb served with a savory yogurt and black cardamom curry, baby potatoes, yam and grilled kale. (Dairy) (gluten free) picture

or

South Indian fish curry - Seasonal fish in an exotic South Indian coconut curry. (Gluten free) picture

or

Afghan eggplant - Baked eggplant sauteed with herbs, sundried tomato, onion and garlic. (Gluten free) (vegan option)

or

Vegetable Kebab - fire grilled cauliflower, kale, baby potato, yam, squash in a creamy green cardamom, tomato curry. (Dairy)

or
Spinach Paneer - whipped spinach and paneer (Indian cheese) with mushrooms. (Gluten free) (vegan option)

or

Mango Butternut Squash - Butternut squash and mango cooked with coconut milk, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and curry leaves (vegan) not listed on Dine Out Vancouver website

Dessert

Khir - rice pudding with cardamom and pistachio. (Gluten free)

or

Chocolate pudding - Vegan chocolate pudding with organic sour cherries and fruit preserve. (Gluten free)

or

Gulab Jamun - traditional Indian cakes topped with pistachio and rosewater (picture)
If you want even more variety, you should consider their Chai Feast. Because of the quantity of rice in both their Chai Feast and their Dine Out Vancouver menu, you may very well end up eating about the same amount of food, unless you are a champion at eating and a terror at smorgasbords, in which case go with the Chai Feast.
I opted for the Dine Out menu, as well as to go vegan.

Boulani
  • Waste of time. There is only a thin smear of filling inside, which taste only weakly registers and is completely overpowered by any of the three sauces provided. You also get two pieces with the rice that accompanies your entrees anyway.
  • No one at our table tried the mantu so I can't say how that would go. If you are not vegan, go for the prawns instead.
Entree Accompaniments
  • There is a tiny bit of spicy-hot and really-quite-sour garlic pickle, in a small dish in the middle of your tray. (sample dine out vancouver tray) It didn't really go with anything I chose. You could take a little bit of it to start to really whet your appetite, though.
  • Rice is half plain white, half spiced-and-with-raisins. Comes with two wedges of boulani. (picture)
  • Dhaal soup has "three different kinds of lentils, cauliflower, spinach, herbs and spices". (picture) Just pour this into your rice.
Afghan Eggplant
  • Flavourful but otherwise nothing too special here.
Mango Butternut Squash
  • NOT listed on the Dine Out Vancouver website.
  • Highly recommended! Fruity and not-too-sweet.
Gulab Jamun
  • Two small pieces adding up to maybe a ping pong ball in volume.
Chocolate Pudding
  • A goodly amount, equal to a regular order (which comes in a funny steel martini glass).
  • Strong chocolatey flavour but being vegan, lacks any dairy, so whatever they substituted for cream had a grainy texture. That didn't detract too much from the experience, though.
Rangoon Rain Yoghurt Lassi - peach, lychee, pineapple, banana, coconut ($6.50 - large)
  • This would probably have been much better if the banana didn't overpower everything.
Service is excellent. While you are waiting, you can expect to be offered a shooter-sized cup of chai. Servers float around with a sort of mindful-calm, and are gently patient. Which is really quite a different and less-intrusive experience from servers who can sometimes be chatty and befriending.
They are also hot. In a girl-next-door-who-does-yoga-and-is-spiritual type of way. If you're lucky, your server will also have an alluring exotic name like "Shahana" or something despite looking thoroughly North American.

The interesting decor and ambiance alone are worth a look -- as soon as you step inside, you are transported to another country and culture.

Live entertainment from about 8pm onwards. Gratuity is automatically included for parties of 6+.

Gorgeous pictures are from Q's Quarter, who suggested this excellent restaurant for our Saturday outing.

Dine Out Vancouver 2014 - The Parker

The Parker on UrbanspoonThe Parker was very busy on the Friday night I dropped in for Dine Out Vancouver. They were basically fully booked all night, but walk-ins can try sitting at the bar. For the lone diner (like myself), this worked out just fine. "Larger" parties of 2-4 with no reservation could expect a wait of a half-hour or more. It's a very small place!

The bar seats, however, have no back to them so you definitely don't want to be too relaxed here and accidentally lean back. Handy purse/jacket hooks are all over the place -- just look under the table.
No stickers on the door (they just don't like pasting stickers there) but they do take credit cards. Better ask about American Express, though.
Dine Out Vancouver 2014 Menu ($28)
Appetizer
Chaat - Gluten Free & Vegan
Roasted Yam, Red Potato, Black Chickpea, Chili Strings, Pomegranate Molasses & Mint ChutneyBC VQA Wine Pairing: Joie '12 Muscat
or
Cauliflower - Gluten Free & Vegan
Roasted Parsnips, Mizuna, Pea Shoots, Vadouvan Granola, Confit Garlic-Cashew Creme
BC VQA Wine Pairing: Liquidity '12 White Blend
or
House-made Tofu Quenelles - Gluten Free & Can be made Vegan
Braised Beans, Pea Shoots, Cantonese Black Bean Sauce
Entree
Panisse - Gluten Free & Can be made Vegan
Winter Sofrito, Roasted Roots, Pistachio, Raisins, Spinach Emulsion
or
Pastina - Can be made Vegan
Seared Broccolini, Beluga Lentils, Chive, Chervil, Pinenut-Arugula Pesto, Grana Podano
BC VQA Wine Pairing: Noble Ridge '10 Pinot Noir
or
Cannelloni - Gluten Free & Vegan
Butternut Squash, Duxelles, Barley Risotto, Celery Root Purée
Dessert
Tapioca Rice Pudding - Gluten Free & Vegan
Candied Quince, Coriander Pineapple, Lychee Sorbet
or
Almond Panna Cotta - Gluten Free & Can be made Vegan
Juniper & Vanilla Poached Pears, Crushed Almonds, Toasted Milk Mascarpone or Pear Sorbet
For Dine Out Vancouver, they have lots of gluten-free and vegan choices. They also have a "chef's choice" option, where, instead of picking the menu items, you let the chef choose your appetizer, entree, and dessert. I stipulated gluten-free AND vegan, and I got the Cauliflower, Panisse, and Tapioca Rice Pudding. The amuse bouche was a single piece of salt-roasted sunchoke.

The amuse bouche looked like a cube of roasted potato. For something that sounded really simple, it was actually very tasty and appetite-whetting!

For a vegan place, the food was happily not salad-looking. Presentation was an interesting chaotic-looking composition. Flavours were good, with a variety of textures on each plate. Many interesting ingredients and components to each plate. The tapioca rice pudding as a dessert worked very nicely to give a light and refreshing end to the meal.

Portions looked medium and the somewhat understated addition of the panisse helped make it adequately filling without being too much food.

Overall, flavour, texture, presentation -- all ace. If their Dine Out menu is at all indicative of what they normally do, then The Parker easily rises to the top as my go-to place for vegan fare.

I asked around for a fresh-squeezed juice, but it wasn't available. The bartender had a variety of bottled options and offered too many suggestions for me to remember them all. In the end I asked for the "most interesting" and he suggested a pear-and-vanilla cocktail.
I could taste both, but it felt a little "watered-down". At that point he offered to put more vanilla flavour into it, but I passed. I would have liked a stronger pear flavour but that didn't seem possible. $5.

Hot Chocolate Festival - Soirette - Granville Island Grocery List

Soirette Macarons & Tea on Urbanspoon #51 - "GRANVILLE ISLAND GROCERY LIST"
Inspired by the flavours of Granville Island, this is a beet and saffron hot chocolate.
Served with a Gjetost macaron.
Available: January 24 - 26, February 5 - 7

So last Friday I finally got around to going to my first Hot Chocolate Festival venue. I walked from the skytrain station, so I give the horrible traffic jam down West Pender a complete miss -- yay!

At 5.45 pm, the store was devoid of any customers, though a little later a few people wandered in. End of the day is a horrible time to go if you are hoping for a wider selection of fresh macarons. For the hot chocolate festival, however, it's fine.

The Granville Island Grocery List was a beautiful white chocolate drink with a red swirl on top. Quite sweet as expected, but I found the flavours a bit off-putting and had a "sickly sweet" feeling.

Q's Quarter had a completely different take on it, however. He really liked it, and found "layers of flavour" as he drank it. Maybe because I stirred it, I missed out on this experience.

Also, my hot chocolate came almost lukewarm. Q's Quarter also reported that it wasn't very hot. If you like your hot chocolate actually hot, I recommend you mention this to Soirette before they start making it, to see what they can do.

The Gjetost macaron was rather interesting. Gjetost is a type of sweet cheese, and makes for an interesting macaron filling. Savour this slowly alongside your hot chocolate.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cheap lunch at Nuba

Nuba on Urbanspoon
The last time I was at Nuba -- the same one, in Gastown, incidentally -- I was soundly disappointed by the dinner portions, especially for dessert. When I went back Tuesday afternoon for lunch with a friend (her pick of where to eat), I tried to reset my expectations to zero and give them another chance.

I got there at 11.30 AM, and it wasn't open yet. The metal gates at street-level were closed, and there wasn't any sign of a line-up. I was seated at around 11.45 AM to wait for my friend, and there was a steady stream of people. Shortly after noon, the place was basically packed. No line-up yet, but any busier and there would have been one.

Mjadra ($7.50 as mezze/appetizer) Organic green lentils and rice with onions and jalapeño, served with avocado and caramelized onions. Served with pita and pickles.
  • Vegan and Gluten-Free.
  • I picked this in part because of the caramelized onions. It's not pan-fried softened onions, but crispy-fried shallots. In Teochew, we call it "jiang jiu la". It can often be oily, and if you're not careful you will over-do the frying part and it comes out burnt and on the bitter side. Nuba does a decent version, though I would have liked it to be crispier. But that is a pretty minor point. If you've never had it, the flavour is wonderful in moderation, and it goes well with very many things.
  • Avocado was a slice on the side. I didn't really see the point of it. You could try mushing it up and stirring it in.
  • Appeared to be mostly lentils, not too much rice. Not a lot of heat from the jalapeño, so there's little point in asking for "mild" or "medium". Don't worry too much about it.
  • Overall, this was a nicely put-together dish, and the portion for price was reasonable -- especially considering that this appetizer portion can work as a light to medium lunch all on its own.
  • There is nowhere enough pita to eat this solely as a dip. Just remember to save a couple of slices to scoop up / wipe down the last of it from the bowl.
Veggie Fraiche Pita ($7.50) Rolled pita bread with organic greens, tomato, homemade pickle, all served with tahini and hot sauce (optional). Veggie fraiche filling is baba ganooj, taboulleh, red peppers, organic carrots, green onions, cucumber and avocado.
  • Vegan. Pita is also vegan.
  • For $7.50, my friend got a pretty big pita that weighed in at between 1 to 1.5 burgers! This makes it a rather cheap lunch. No sides, but you won't really need it.
Juice ($4 for 10 oz)
  • Not Tropicana anything but real juice! I asked for something involving ginger, and our lovely server suggested her favorite mix of carrot, orange, and ginger. All three flavours came through well, and although there is an initial ginger burn at the back of your throat, it passes quickly and it's not quite so strong afterwards.
Baklava ($1.50 per piece)
  • Does Nuba have something against dessert? For $1.50 you got a pretty tiny piece of vegan baklava. Although to be fair, pistachio isn't exactly a cheap ingredient.
  • We asked for two pieces, and we got two different types of baklava. There was a roll that was about 0.5" in diameter and maybe 1.25" in length. It looked mostly like wrapper but there was a decent amount of filling inside.
  • The other piece was approximately a cubic inch obviously cut from a large tray. One clove stabbed into the top. If, like me, you hate cloves, you'll have to pay attention and pull it out. I almost missed it, thinking it was just a slightly more-brown-than-the-rest part of the crust on top.
  • Not too sweet, and not pungent with rosewater. Probably one of the better versions of baklava I've had.
A nice touch here is the two sets of doors at the bottom of the stairs before you enter the restaurant proper. This helps keep out any winter cold, so if you end up seated near the door, it's fine. At just about any other restaurant, you'd be treated to a blast of cold air every few minutes, if a steady draft from the doorway didn't annoy you first.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Freebies at Red Robin make it worthwhile

Red Robin on Urbanspoon No reservations on weekends at the Vancouver/Thurlow Red Robin location, and for good reason: Even at 6 PM on a Saturday night, you can expect the place to be quite full and a slowly-extending lineup all the way outside the front door. Not the most pleasant experience during the chilly winter time, either for yourself or the poor hostess who has to stand at reception in just the regulation T-shirt.
But it's popular for a reason, right?

Some of the black T-shirts proudly proclaim "You are in the Presence of Burger Greatness". The burgers aren't exactly the greatest, and hovering at $12 they are sort-of competing with gourmet burger joints that in the last few years have popped up in Vancouver.
Gourmet burger places have a more relaxed atmosphere, and classier ad copy. But are they that much better?
At Red Robin, you can count on a full-sized burger tall enough that it is inconvenient to bite all the layers at once. Choice of bun. Gluten free bun option. And fairly extensive customization options -- nothing too funky, but if you want something like pineapple or fried egg, you can get it. Other than that, they aren't "special" -- in the sense that gourmet burger places have special-sounding ingredients. Whether you can taste and appreciate the difference will determine where you find more value.

With your $12, you also get unlimited steak fries. This sounds like a good deal, but you'd really have to be a hockey player or something to really take advantage of this. If your burger and initial two-cups worth of fries hasn't filled you up, you can just get more fries.
At a gourmet burger place, your $12 burger will probably not even come with any sides at all.

Also, Red Robin offers various "bottomless" non-alcoholic drinks. They look heavily watered down and there's a lot of ice in your glass, and the drinks sort-of taste like sugared water, but bottomless is bottomless and they don't make you feel bad about getting more. In fact, they just refill it without asking. All for just $4.29.

Towering Onion Rings 13 onion rings. Sweet Spanish yellows seasoned, breaded & fresh fried. Served with campfire mayo and ranch dressing.
  • Sweet onions have more sugar content and don't taste as hot, and make a good choice for a non-pungent onion dish like onion rings.
  • These are actually really nicely done onion rings!
  • An interesting thing about this order is that the onion rings on top are smaller than the ones on the bottom, so if you're quick on the draw you'll get one, but if you're passed the tower last, you can get the biggest one! Hmm...
  • The "campfire mayo" is really quite nice, with a bacon-y flavour to it. If you have some of it left, hang on to the tower so you can dip your bottomless fries in it.
5 Alarm Burger Pepper-Jack cheese, jalapeños, fresh tangy salsa layered on a juicy beef burger and topped with crisp lettuce, tomatoes and chipotle mayo
  • Total waste of time. Not really hot at all. The main source of heat comes from the jalapeño slices that line the bottom of your bun, neatly arranged to go all the way to the edge.
  • There aren't many ways to add heat to your burger. None of the extra toppings will do it, and for sauces they have Frank's Hot Sauce and Tabasco sauce. These can add a distracting sourness or bitterness to the mild heat they provide, and that can overpower your burger if you put enough to get some real heat going.
For a packed place, staff are patient and tireless, and for our table of 13, the burgers came out quite quickly for everyone.

Things to watch for:
  • On the website, don't trust the interactive menu. Look at the "printable menu" (lower left corner of the menu window) to look at the PDF, which is more complete. For example, it lists the various bottomless specialty drinks.
  • If you get any burger with a fried egg, or ask for that add-on, check your egg! I asked for the add-on, but the kitchen forgot it. Someone else at our table got a burger that comes with a fried egg, but they overdid it instead of leaving it over easy so there was no fun gooey yolk to go around. I'm not really sure how much you can salvage a "wrong egg" but I suppose the kitchen could try to rush you one to slap on your burger before everything gets cold.
  • Their eClub free-burger-on-your-birthday apparently does NOT work at the Thurlow Street location, and if you try it through the Red Robin Royalty program, the website says the Thurlow location doesn't participate (huh?). My friend had her birthday there on the weekend, and they said no. She's going to double-check, and if you want your birthday burger, I advise you double-check too.
  • Birthday song at your table is available, but they do check if you are "easily embarrassed". The birthday song is fast, upbeat, and short -- which is a good thing in case you end up totally embarrassed. You also get a free basic sundae-like dessert. Very basic. But hey, it's free!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fruity Dine Out Vancouver 2014 at West

West Restaurant + Bar on Urbanspoon As mentioned in my Dine Out Vancouver 2014 tips post, some restaurants are offering a cheaper lunch menu, and West is one of them. The lunch menu is more limited than the dinner menu, but if you are vegetarian, that won't be a problem because the full dinner menu more or less just offers fish.
DINE OUT VANCOUVER 2014 MENU
Neighborhood:  South GranvilleCuisine Type:  West CoastDinner Menu Price:  $38Lunch Menu Price: $28
Gluten-Free Menu Option:  Yes
APPETIZER
LEEK ASH CRUSTED ALBACORE TUNA, SHAVED FENNEL AND RADISH, SAKE MISO EMULSION (dinner menu only)
or
GOLDEN BEET AND ORANGE SOUP, BACON PANKO, TARRAGON CREME FRAICHE
or
BABY CARROT AND WATERCRESS SALAD, AGASSIZ HAZELNUTS, PRESERVED STONE FRUIT VINAIGRETTE
ENTREE
PACIFIC PROVIDER WILD PINK SALMON, YUKON GOLD POTATO BLINI, SUNCHOKE PUREE, BLACK TRUFFLE AND PARSLEY MARMALADE (dinner menu only)
or
BRAISED VEAL BREAST, ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, PEARL COUSCOUS, THYME JUS
or
HANDMADE CARAMELIZED PARSNIP AGNOLOTTI, BRAISED KALE, BROWN BUTTER APPLE VINAIGRETTE
DESSERT
ROASTED PINEAPPLE, COCONUT WAFERS, CREAM CHEESE MOUSSE, TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD (dinner menu only)
or
CITRUS TART, SPICED WHOLE WHEAT CRUST, VANILLA RASPBERRY SWIRL ICE CREAM
or
MALTED CHOCOLATE CAKE, CARAMELIZED BANANA, SESAME SNAPS
I went with a "fruity" theme, and was pleasantly surprised by what they put together! Not excessively fruity so that you won't mistake your appetizer and main for dessert. But it's definitely fruity there.

Golden Beet and Orange Soup, Bacon Panko, Tarragon Crème Fraîche
  • Comes with lightly seared orange slices that are beautiful to look at. If you're taking pictures, try to snap one before they pour on the soup.
  • Orangey tasting, but not strongly citrusy-sour.
  • Totally missed the "bacon panko" part and thought I was getting a vegetarian option. Oops.
Handmade Caramelized Parsnip Agnolotti, Braised Kale, Brown Butter Apple Vinaigrette
  • For once, kale that is NOT bitter. Don't know what they did to it, but this turned out okay for a kale-hater like me.
  • Agnolotti not particularly tasty, so make sure to pair it with the creamy blobs of brown butter apple goodness.
Citrus Tart, Spiced Whole Wheat Crust, Vanilla Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream
  • Came out tasting more like a cheese cake than anything else.
Overall, I would have to say it was good, but more interesting than "wow". For $28, it's definitely worth checking out if you are curious.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Daiya Cheddar Style Wedge

For various reasons it is actually quite pointless to review Daiya Cheddar Style Wedge vegan cheese: There aren't many options out there, and for vegans there is really no comparison to real cheese because they don't have that dietary option.
For the vegan-curious, however, here's what you're getting yourself into:

Tastes like cheese?
  • Not even close. You can tell that they are trying to simulate various attributes of cheddar, however. There's a creaminess in texture and a saltiness to simulate sharper, older, cheddar.
Melts like cheese?
  • It can melt, but generally you want it to touch other hot surfaces. For example, if you are putting it on pizza, it's nicer if it is sandwiched by crust and ingredients.
  • When exposed to heat, it can form a film that holds the melted cheese inside, so you get blobs that don't spread. If you've tried putting cheese slices (like Kraft Singles processed cheese slices) in the oven, you'll see the same behavior.
  • It doesn't sear and dry like cheddar.
  • It doesn't have any fun rubbery stringiness you can get with cheddar if you just soften it rather than heat it till it liquefies.
Good Points:
  • It doesn't sweat a lot of oil when melted, which regular cheddar can do.
  • It cuts more easily than real cheese. There is less sticking-to-knives. Generally cheddar is already good in this way, unless you go for really thin slices.
  • The tear-away cover has a sticky edge so you can air-tight seal it back onto the plastic box. Even after you finish the cheese, this can be useful for storing other things.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pizza-making party at Rocky Mountain Flatbread

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. on Urbanspoon FROM THE WEBSITE:
We know how to throw the perfect pizza making parties! Prepare to get floured as you roll up sleeves & your pizza making host guides you through creating the perfect artisan pizza! Afterwards, enjoy your flatbread with the perfect pairing of one of our local craft beers or B.C. wines.
WHAT’S INCLUDED:
Party Nibbles: Our famous flatbread with house made dips & organic salads.
Pizza Making: Your personal pizza making host will guide you in rolling out your dough, spreading our house made organic tomato sauce, sprinkling scrumptious Canadian cheeses & adding your favourite gourmet toppings
To Finish: Platters of warm double chocolate brownies served with heaps of creamy vanilla ice cream.
All for just $25 p.p. plus tax & 18% gratuity.
I'd never been to Rocky Mountain Flatbread before, so maybe their pizza-making party isn't the best way to experience them. Anyway, in this review, I will try to talk about only the party, rather than the pizza -- because, well, we made the pizza ourselves, so we're responsible for the quality of the composition (or lack thereof).

After trying the pizza-making party, I would have to say that it's really best for kids. It's listed as an "Adult Birthday Party", but I think it's a bit too simple for that. Here's how it plays out:

Booking
  • It is available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, before 5.30 pm or after 7.30 pm. If you want to take things slow and have a more social time with your friends, give yourself a lot of leeway by booking it to start well before 5.30pm, or take the 7.30pm option and start ON TIME.
  • They can accommodate gluten-free persons, but make sure you tell them.
Party Nibbles
  • They start you out with a modest amount of flatbread and salad.
    • The flatbread is basically pizza with one basic topping, like cheese or pesto, and with a generous amount of dip.
      • If you have gluten-free members, look for the heavier-looking grey crust. That's their gluten-free pizza crust.
    • Two types of salad. Ours had one with mushrooms and another with chopped fruit.
    • Works out to about 1 flatbread and two salads per ~6 persons, I think. I'm sure this part isn't an exact science.
  • You get maybe a half-hour before they suggest you go to the kitchen for the pizza-making. Take your drink along or finish it before.
Pizza Making
  • This is more like "pizza assembly".
  • It is NOT a cooking class. You will not learn the secrets of a gluten-free crust. You will not watch them magically roll out perfectly round pizzas or toss them like in the old commercials.
  • The pizza dough is prepared. If it is gluten free, they will have already rolled it out for you because it is apparently harder to handle.
  • If you insist on a perfectly round pizza, do a mix of rolling pin and hand-stretching.
  • The pizzas work out to a single 10" pizza per person.
  • A variety of toppings are make available to you.
  • Our host was friendly and patient with us and tried to keep things from getting boring by, for example, playing catch with us when giving us the slices of pepperoni.
  • After you are done, the pizzas get fired in their special oven, similar to the type for making Neapolitan pizzas, but probably not VPN certified. It actually comes out quite quickly.
Dessert
  • Once it looks like you are almost done with the appetizers and your pizzas, they roll out the desserts. Everyone gets one brownie with one scoop of ice cream and some whipped cream. The gluten-free option is a wedge of cheese cake.
$25 + mandatory 18% gratuity + tax = $30.98, plus whatever beverage or extras you ordered.

Is it worth it? Overall, I came out with the impression that it was not, for various reasons, not all of them related to the restaurant.
  • You didn't learn anything. Basically you just throw ingredients on your pizza. For your time and money, it would have been better to get a professionally assembled pizza. Or do it at home with pizza crust you buy and any funny ingredients you have at home.
    • A small pizza at Rocky Mountain Flatbread is about $10, +$3 if you want a gluten-free crust.
  • The people in our dining group didn't know each other prior to going, but we were a friendly bunch, so we were having a great time all on our own without having to have a pizza party.
    • However, it's a nice event to bond over especially if you share your pizzas after.

Chimney Cake at Transylvanian Traditions

Transylvanian Traditions on UrbanspoonKürtőskalács (chimney cake) is a fun twisty bread that you can just twist off from a spiral. You can get it at Transylvanian Traditions ($5.50 + tax = $5.78), but try to get it hot and fresh, or not at all. There's really no point in getting this in the evening because cold bread isn't that appetizing.

The ones at Transylvanian Traditions have a slight citrus (lemony) flavour to them.
If you do warm it up at home, try not to over-bake and make it toasty/crumbly.

Other items at this bakery are sort of mediocre, although the price for portion size is quite good, usually around $4 for a largish slice.


Dine Out Vancouver 2014 TIPS

It's time for Dine Out Vancouver again! Here are some tips...
  • DON'T use the Vegetarian checkbox to limit your search.
    • This picks up only those restaurants the fill out the special "Vegetarian Menu" tab.
    • Many restaurants (such as East is East) have at least one, if not more, vegetarian or vegan choices in their Dine Out menus.
    • This issue probably won't get corrected until 2015, but really, if the restaurants weren't so lazy, they could have filled out the vegetarian menu as well and the Vegetarian menu checkbox would actually be meaningful.
  • Check out the Lunch menus as well.
  • Hot Chocolate Festival

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The previous times I went to Gurkha, the appetizers were the best choices, and my latest outing confirms this is still the case. Mains are filling because they come with rice and a token salad (which, by the way, really needs helps in composition and presentation), but for tasty bang for your buck, stick with appetizers.
If you want mains, go instead to an Indian restaurant and ask for "mild" spiciness.

One big advantage for Gurkha is, for vegans and especially for those who need a gluten-free diet, there is no shortage of stuff to order.

Tibetan Tea ($3)
This is butter tea, but so weak on the butter it's basically a chai. The now-closed Vancouver Tibet Kitchen used to serve a buttery-strong version of this, but it is definitely an acquired taste and icky to most anyway.

Kothey Momo ($10)
  • Works out to $1 per momo. I went for the Dalai Lama / Vegetable momo. The "kothey" option means you get it deep fried.
  • The Dalai Lama momo has potato, cabbage, spinach and tofu. If you tear it open to have a look, it's white filling with green bits of spinach. Overall, rather bland from the tofu/cabbage/potato mix. If you're not vegetarian, go for the chicken-based Tenzing momo.
Tenzing Momo
  • Pretty tasty and lots of meat here. Each is about the size of a ping pong ball, so a full plate can make for a nice, light meal at a fairly good price.
  • Steamed version has sort-of rubbery skin, but it just holds the meat inside so you don't get "just a meatball".
Dudhbari ($4) picture
  • Sweet milky lumps in a soup of rose water and cardamom. Token pistachio.
  • Heavy on the rosewater, so watch out if you don't like that stuff. I don't, so this was tough to finish. If it doesn't bug you, then this comes across like a sweet, soupy Indian rice pudding.
Chai Creme Brulee ($8) picture
  • This uses the wide creme brulee dish, so there's a good quantity of dessert here for $8.
  • They are not skimpy with the chai part, so that flavour is strong and clear. You're not just gettting "chai infused" or a bit of chai flavour here.
  • If they get it out of the kitchen fast enough, there will still be blue flames burning the sugar on top when it hits your table.
Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen participates in the MealShare charity, and they regularly rotate their qualifying dishes and have 2-3 Mealshare items at any one time.

Also at our outing was Isabelle Guns and Q's Quarter, who took the pictures linked above.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

KuchenMeister Amaretto Liqueur Cake


I got a loaf of KuchenMeister Amaretto Liqueur Cake for Christmas and it was surprisingly good! The loaf comes in a foil bag, and is a bit crumbly on the outside, but nice and moist nearer the centre, where the marzipan flavour is strongest.

Even a thin slice has intense almond-y flavour, so this is great as a light accompaniment for coffee/tea when entertaining guests.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Big Brunches at Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop

Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop on Urbanspoon

Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop does not take reservations for brunch, but if, like us, you drop by on a Saturday morning before noon, chances are a small group of four can be seated quickly if not right away.

The brunch menu, including fresh sheets, is pretty extensive. Prices look steep but portions are substantial for their brunch plates. Pie prices are also steep if you're used to picking up whole Farmer's Market pies at Superstore. What gets you a whole pie at Superstore gets you just a slice here.

At about $7 per slice, Aphrodite's is more or less on par with other hand-made-pie places such as The Pie Shoppe (also an organic-conscious, special flour, and small-waste-footprint operation).
Pie slices are actually pretty wide, maybe 1/6th of a pie. Vegan and gluten free versions are $2 more per slice (ouch, right?).
Plates of pies are decorated with cute cinnamon dust (?) hearts. Aww...

Goddess Bowl ($17, gluten free) warm orange scented quinoa tossed with blueberries and coconut, served with house-made almond granola, chilled yogurt OR whipped silken tofu,
coconut cardamom raisin chia pudding, fresh fruit, mint and raspberry coulis (picture)
  • My friend's order. I got a nibble at the quinoa and chia, though.
    One of the more interesting brunch items available, and quite a large plate of stuff for $17. If you are hoping to fit in a slice of pie, you might plan to share this with a friend.
  • "Fresh fruit" was apple slices on the Saturday we visited.
  • The quinoa didn't smell very orang-y but there definitely was a hint of orange flavour.
  • The chia pudding was basically done up like an Indian rice pudding. Interesting but not that tasty sadly. I think it could have used more coconut.
  • Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop participates in Mealshare.ca -- at no extra cost to patrons, if a menu item marked as "Mealshare" is purchased, the restaurant will provide a meal to someone in need through a registered charity. The Goddess Bowl was marked as the Mealshare item.
Wheat and Gluten Free and Vegan Apple Pie ($9.25 for 1 slice) with vegan Coconut Ice Cream ($2 for one scoop)
  • Possibly because of the gluten-free nature of the crust, the pie crust was kind of crumbly and basically disintegrates in the mouth.
  • Sadly, nothing really "wow" here. I had rather hoped for an exceptional experience at $9.25. Or maybe my expectations were nudged up by the perennial rave reviews for Aphrodite's.
  • Good strong flavour with the coconut ice cream. Probably made in-house. But $2 for one scoop? Ouch.
Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Almond Ganache Torte ($9.25) (picture)
  • Despite the words "chocolate" and ganache, and a block of deep chocolatey colour, the taste isn't deeply chocolatey. Maybe it's more almond than chocolate in there.
  • Flavour not helped by the strong, tart berry sauce. Don't get too much of the red sauce on it before you try the torte on its own.
My pie, torte, (I was sharing, I swear!) and one big cup of specialty tea ($3.50) came to $24.00 before tax and tip.

UPDATE: J of Vanbrosia has some gorgeous food pictures from our outing!

Friday, January 3, 2014

So big it looks empty at Lost + Found Cafe

Lost + Found Cafe on UrbanspoonLost + Found Cafe has high ceilings and a long room, which makes it look cavernous when most of the seating is way at the back. (Closer to the front there is some bar and window seating, but not much.) The rest of the space is taken up by some artwork on and along the walls, but the rest is blank space. Room to move and mingle if you're a  large group descending on them unannounced -- in fact, the website reads, "We can accommodate small or large groups with no reservations necessary and offer catering services".

For a quick lunch there on Thursday, I opted for a lemon ginger tea (for $3 you get a whole pot of it), and two of the savoury buns at the counter. Just ahead of me was a young lady agonizing over her choice of what to get. Are they really that good? They weigh in at about $3, and are between a baseball and a softball in size. Comes with an unidentified dip which may have been salad dressing.
Vegan options are basically limited to their salads.

Mumbai Mash Bun ($3.75)
  • Looks like a cinnamon bun and is about the same size, except with potato curry. Uneven with the heat -- you might get weakly mild heat throughout, only to bite into a hot spot suddenly.
  • Overall it could use more curry-ness, or maybe just more even spicy-heat.
Pesto, Sun-dried Tomato, Artichoke ($3)
  • Quite a very big bun. Soft and fluffy on the inside, but also rather moist. Easy to just tear it into chunks for dipping or enjoying with soup.
  • Where's my pesto and tomato and artichoke? There's something baked into the top, but it's contribution was severely lacking.
$10 can get you a reasonably filling meal here. Quality (of the buns, anyway) is lacking, but the portion is good and the items are interesting (or at least the stated ingredients are interesting).
The wide, clean space also makes for a peaceful oasis in what is otherwise a somewhat scuzzy part of Gastown. The emptiness makes it seem more inviting, especially if you're not into crowds and line-ups, but if you look closely, the cafe is actually quite busy around lunch time, with all the seats at the back taken.

Diner style order-at-the-counter with self-serve water, but there is basic table service (tip a bit at your table to appreciate your server) so you don't have to loiter near the counter waiting for them to finish assembling your order.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cheap eats at The Patty Shop

The Patty Shop on Urbanspoon
The Patty Shop has a storefront, but there are no seats inside. It's really just a take-out counter. No coffee either. Just milk, apparently.
Fortunately, there's decent coffee next door at the BakeShop, which has counter seating and apparently they don't mind if you bring patties in from next door (maybe so long as you get coffee or tea).

For $2 you can get a Jamaican Patty, which is sort of like a Pizza Pop, but with fillings that are a lot less messy, and a crust that is thinner and flaky.

I ordered the three most expensive ones: Vegetable, Spinach, and Chicken. Completely unimpressed. Taste was mediocre and nothing to write home about. Don't order those three (well, maybe the veggie or spinach one if you are vegetarian and dragged in there by you friends). Maybe something from their $2 line-up will be better. No bulk discount either, sadly.

What the Patty Shop is good for is quick, cheap, eats. Three patties stack up to a burger in volume at about half the price.

But don't drive all the way there just to get it. If you want to drive anyway, go to La Tacqueria instead: Less wrapping, more filling, and bulk discount if you get 4 tacos.