Monday, September 29, 2014

Gluten Free at Kessel & March

Kessel & March on Urbanspoon

Despite having been warned away by someone who had tried one of their Wednesday Suppers and rated it "nothing to write home about", I still gave Kessel & March a go, and with a gluten-intolerant friend no less.

The location looks like a dilapidated industrial zone everything-closed-after-5pm neighborhood, but Kessel & March and other nearby eateries were doing surprisingly well, and were pretty packed after around 7.30pm last Friday when even the nearby coffee shop was closed.

It's a small looking space, but two-tiered. It would be pretty cozy except for the traffic noise outside. Go a little later on a weekday and that should die down after 7.30pm or so. Some interesting products are also available in the mini-market, including perfect rice and drinking balsamic vinegar.

As usual I asked hopefully for fresh-squeezed juice. No fruits ready to be juiced downstairs, but they do carry the locally produced Cyoni bottled juice and the grapefruit juice was fresh-tasting and intense. Nothing watered-down tasting here. So far the best bottled "fresh squeezed" juice I've had.

After some confusion with the menu, we got sorted out on what was gluten-free and what was not. On the regular menu posted online (as of 2014-September), the only items which were not gluten-free / did not have a gluten-free option were: the pasta items (Ricotta Gnocci and Macaroni & Cheese), the Lava Cake, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding -- Which totally ruined my plan to order all three desserts.
They have gluten-free bread available, so items indicating "toast" can still be gluten-free.

Sardines on Toast ($11) salad cream, celery & radish salad
  • This was one of the reasons I was so curious about Kessel & March. I mean, who has the audacity to charge $11 for sardines on toast?
  • Just ONE slice of toast. Sardines are fresh, not the firm tomato-ed ones from a can.
  • Basically fresh sardine with some salad on top. Tasty salad. Overall the flavour was on the bitter side.
  • Is it worth $11? I think it's kind of on the edge of that. For $12 you can get a burger in a restaurant, and with only a 50-50 chance it will come with a side of salad or fries.
Duck Leg Confit ($16) lentils du puy, sherry vinaigrette
  • Tender meat, crispy skin.
  • I didn't like this too much because I thought the duck was seasoned a bit too much on the salty side. Didn't care too much for the lentils either, but that's personal preference and it was stated on the menu that it came with lentils.
  • My dining companion did seem to like it rather well and did not feel it was so terribly salty.
Saffron Black Truffle Macaroni & Cheese ($16) gremolata, black truffle shavings, parmesan
  • This did not have the same cheesy richness as other macaroni and cheese dishes I've had. Which is not necessarily a bad thing since too much dairy richness can make for a tiresome meal. Overall I liked that this turned out to have a lighter feeling.
  • Lovely truffle flavour, standing out but not overdone. I'm not a big fan of too much truffle, so this was surprisingly good for me.
Pavlova ($7)
  • Light, not overly sweet, and topped with fresh fruit. Nice light dessert to finish a meal.
  • Size of a medium burger. Seemed like good price for portion.
Except the dessert, portion for price seemed a low, but the food was interesting and the macaroni and cheese definitely worth a try.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Max's Restaurant set menu C

Max's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The place was crazy busy this past Saturday evening when our little group went. Non-stop line-ups till probably 9pm or so and they were pretty full with reservations (which you can make online with OpenTable). When a place is that popular, it must surely be good, right? And a Filipino restaurant filled with Filipino patrons was another good sign.

Inside it looks sort of like a large McDonalds. Bright and spacious. Private rooms host larger groups and birthday parties. One of the plusses was that it looked clean and maintained. I also had a report that the handicap washroom was really ace, clean and even with music playing.

Our group was recommended the set menu options, and more or less at random we went with Option C plus a few extra dishes. A "Full Table" order of a set menu is 2 orders of each item listed and recommended for a party of 10. A "Half Table" is 1 order of each and recommended for a party of 5. We were seven persons so we went with a Half Table plus a few extra dishes.

Set Menu C: ($179.99 Full Table, $89.99 Half Table)
  • Max's Fried Chicken (regular price $14.99)
  • Soup of the Day
    • "Soup of the Day" that Saturday night was a thin mushroom soup that looked suspiciously like Campbell's Cream of Mushroom plus beef broth. And no, it wasn't thick and creamy -- definitely soupy.
  • Miki Bihon (regular price $8.99)
  • Lechon Kawali (regular price $13.99)
  • Kare-Kare (regular price $14.99)
  • Steamed Rice
    • "Steamed Rice" was 5 small bowl's worth for a Half Table.
  • Pop
    • Our "pop" was either Coca-Cola or Pepsi or some reasonable facsimile. Your glass can be as much as 33% ice, depending on luck of the draw when they filled it. Also, it was flat. Where's my fizz to make it a "pop"?
  • Caramel Bar
    • Your "Caramel Bar" dessert is as pictured on the right. It is 2 inches long, 1.25 inches wide, and 0.5 inches thick.
Under NO circumstances should you order this or any set menu. The main dishes total $52.96 out of $89.99, meaning soup + rice + pop + caramel bar = $37.03 or $7.41 per person.
Here's how the rest of the dishes turned out:

  • Max's Fried Chicken (half chicken $9.49, whole chicken $14.99) The original and classic fried chicken that made Max's a Filipino institution. Golden fried to perfection with a nique blend of special spices.
    • A rather small chicken, fried whole.
    • Dry meat! Overfried? Fluke kitchen error?
    • Nothing really special here. You can get tastier chicken from KFC original recipe, and probably a comparable amount of chicken (dark) meat for half the price. And if they fried it freshly for you, you can count on the meat to be moist as well.
  • Miki Bihon (Egg and Rice Noodles; $8.99) A blend of egg and rice noodles sautéed with vegetables, pork, chicken and shrimp.
    • This was passable for $8.99 and you get a Chinese restaurant sized portion for that price.
    • Nothing particularly tasty here. The primary attraction is portion-for-price.
  • Lechon Kawali (Pork Belly; $13.99) Pork belly deep fried until crisp and golden brown, yet soft and tender inside. Served with liver sauce on the side.
    • This was one of the tastier items. Not much meat for your dollar, more like a large appetizer portion.
    • Tender meat and with a nice layer of crispy skin.
    • Very fatty, which is to be expected for pork belly.
  • Kare-Kare (Beef Peanut Stew; $14.99 regular, $19.99 large) Beef shank and oxtail with vegetables simmered in thick peanut sauce, served with shrimp paste on the side. A native delicacy.
    • Orange-coloured stew stew!
    • Did not taste of peanut to me
    • Why was this lukewarm?
  • Crispy Pata (Crispy Pork Hock; $13.99 mid-size, $18.99 full-size) Premium pork hock simmered in a special marinade and deep fried to perfection. Served with soy vinegar dipping sauce.
    • Another pretty decent item just for the crispy pig skin.
    • Portion is like a large appetizer. Looks big on the plate, but there's a good chunk of bone there.
  • Filipino Bistek (Beef Steak; $11.99) Thinly sliced beef sirloin sautéed in onions, lemon juice, soy sauce and gravy. Topped with fresh onion rings.
    • OK, but not particularly tasty.
  • Leche Flan ($3.29) Custard made from egg yolk and milk, topped with caramel syrup.
    • Smallish portion, but you'd probably be charged $6 for it if you were dining in Yaletown.
    • OK as flans go, but quite firm.
  • Buko Pandan ($4.99) Young coconut mixed with pandan leaf (screwpine) gelatin and tapioca in a rich fluffly cream sauce, with macapuno (coconut) ice cream and rice flakes.
    • A rather tasty dessert, and at basically $5 you do get a decent portion for price.
    • The rice flakes give this an interesting texture along against the smooth creaminess.
Worth a try if you're there anyway is the Banana Sauce on the table. Tastes like sweeter and less-sour tomato ketchup. Pretty much no banana flavour, if you're worried about banana on your food.

Overall I think what Max's does best is crispy pig skin and the desserts. However, my experience could be a bias from not having grown up with this sort of food. Maybe Max's Restaurant is popular with the Filipino community because of the nostalgia?

If you're going, definitely make reservations. Even small group (2-4 person) drop-ins can experience a long wait on weekends. And there's no bar seating where singles can squeeze in for a quick meal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dessert Yogurts from Yoplait (on sale!)

This week, Superstore is having a sale on various yogurts, including cartons of 16 x 100g packs of Yoplait for $4.98. An intriguing choice here is the "dessert yogurts" pack, featuring flavours such as Strawberry Cheesecake.

I did not personally like it much because I felt that although I could taste the underlying dessert flavour, the sourness of the yogurt ruined it. However, you may like it and at $4.98 it's not pricey to try.
A safer choice would be the fruit yogurts, also available in 16 x 100g packs, at $4.98 as well -- at least this week, anyway.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Damso Modern Korean Cuisine

Damso Modern Korean Cuisine on Urbanspoon I was lured to try this place by talk of good Korean tacos, but Vanbrosia rated the tacos only an average 2/3, so we went with other stuff (but did try at least one taco).

This smallish restaurant *does* take reservations, but definitely please be on time because on the Friday night we were there, two really busy waitresses were scrambling to handle the constant stream of customers. If your party is just two persons, you may be able to squeeze in, but be prepared for a wait.

Of the items I got a proper taste of, only the one taco was really decent (and hopefully not a fluke). The rest were not badly done, but in between why-did-I-bother-to-order-this and mediocre. Anything that sounds spicy probably isn't very spicy. More like toned-down-for-North-Americans spicy.

DFC (Damso Fried Chicken drumsticks; $12.99)
  • Eight drumsticks, slathered with a bright red sauce that wasn't super-spicy, so don't worry too much.
  • For some reason, many drumsticks had broken bones, typically at the knee.
  • Bit of a waste of time to order this. Chicken is chicken here, with little to recommend here. No fun-deep-fried-crunch or anything.
Kimchi Beef Bulgogi Burger ($10.99, picked daikon, onion, yam fries with spicy mayo on the side)
  • My friend was dead certain that they used an inferior Wonderbread bun, which resulted in a soggy bottom half of bun and one that crumbled easily.
  • Rather very tender beef is the only thing to really recommend here.
  • Yam fries were nice and crispy and fresh, but glazed with a strange sauce which my Korean friend was certain was soy sauce plus some korean spice. In any case, it had a somewhat off-putting sickly sweetness. Definitely use the spicy mayo to drown that out if you don't like it.
  • As far as price for portion, $10.99 is actually pretty decent here as you get a goodly amount of beef plus yam fries. Elsewhere, a mediocre and boring beef patty burger might be $12.
  • They can cut it in half for you if you want to share, but this just smushes some of the filling out, making it a very fall-apart burger.
Korean Beef Taco ($1.99, hand-stretched tortilla, beef belly, chili sauce)
  • This was actually really good. Slight burnt-by-the-grill flavour really enhanced the tender beef.
  • Looks like they didn't over-toast the tortillas since Vanbrosia was there last, so no worry here of them breaking.
  • At $1.99, you are probably better off getting five of these rather than one Bulgogi Burger.
Yuja Snowman Sorbet ($5.99)
  • Fun and refreshing palate-cleansing way to end a meal. Price is not bad considering they have to compose it into a standing snowman for you.
  • As far as sorbets go, taste is intense but texture a bit too firm and ice-like.
In addition to being short-staffed, at full capacity they did not have enough menus to go around (!) and the kitchen couldn't really keep up. One person in our party of five got their Korean Miso Stew very early. No sign of rice till later, and then the other orders started to show up. But it was quite a long wait. And then there was the one person who didn't get her order till very late, and it looked like they forgot to light the flame under her not-at-all-spicy Spicy Pork Bulgogi. Plus they forgot my drink order, but at least didn't charge me for it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Test drive a car for a complimentary 3-course dinner?

I got an e-mail from the Hamilton Street Grill yesterday: "A Special Event you cannot miss!"
Hamilton Street Grill is collaborating with Lincoln Motor Company's #SavourTheCity to offer an unexpected culinary experience.
Please join us on September 16th to test-drive the first ever 2015 Lincoln MKC and receive a complimentary 3-course meal created by Executive Chef Neil Wyles.
Tuesday, September 16th 2014, 5 - 11pm.
For reservations call +1-604-331-1511. We will start taking reservations on September 4th. Space is limited so please call early.