Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dine Out Vancouver and Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 - Diva at the Met

Diva at the Met on Urbanspoon
Last time I was here was in the final days of Hamid Salimian's tenure and they put out a super-inventive limited-time Middle Eastern set menu. I was mostly looking for vegetarian and gluten-free $18 Dine Out Vancouver options so Diva at the Met wasn't even on my radar, but there was interest in it from our dining group so I ended up going. No regrets -- happily surprised even!

Hot chocolate was also really decent -- and yes, you can order their Hot Chocolate Festival offerings at 9:30 PM to go with dessert during a late seating dinner.

Dine Out Vancouver 2015
$38
Wine Pairing is flat $15 for pairing with all three courses.

Appetizer

Roasted Parsnip Vanilla Bean Soup
Apple Compote | Raisin Croutons | Crispy Pork Belly

or


Caramelized Beets & Goat Cheese Salad
Candied Hazelnuts | Pomegranate and Guava Dressing

or


Angus Beef Carpaccio
Hand Cut AAA Beef Tenderloin | Braised Cipollini | Capers | Shaved Grana Padano Cheese | Baby Arugula and Truffle Vinaigrette

Entree

Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut
Tomato| Lemon | Caper | Relish and Ricotta Gnocci | Basil Oil

or


Grilled Cornish Game Hen
Spiced rubbed | Red Rice | Pearl Barley | Larissa Honey Glazed Heirloom Carrots | Blood Orange Reduction

or


Wild Mushrooms and Ricotta Cannelloni
Mushroom Consommé

Dessert

Tiramisu
Star Anise Anglaise

or


Stilton Cheesecake
Rhubarb Compote | Port Sauce

Hot Chocolate Festival 2015

#21 - "SIZZLING SPICE"

Your taste buds and olfactory senses come alive when you drink this spice and herbal blend of chili pepper, star anise, cardamon, orange zest, cloves, cinnammon, hibiscus and rose hips - all brewed slowly to form an herbal tea, then mixed with Barry Callebaut cocoa and Valrhona chocolate. It is then topped with crushed rose hips to bring out some texture, resulting in a mildly spicy, herbal hot chocolate infusion. 
Served with a Raspberry Tea Cake.

Available: January 17 - February 14.

#22 - "ADULTS ONLY"

A rich, but not too sweet mixture of Barry Callebaut cocoa and Valrhona chocolate is mixed, heated, and placed in its serving vessel. Atop the vessel, is placed a flat chocolate lid, complete with a chocolate Bailey's ball. After about 30 seconds, the lid melts and the entire lid falls into the hot chocolate. Guests stir the mixture together to enjoy an 'Adults Only' hot chocolate.
Served with a Matcha Green Tea Cake.

Available: January 17 - February 14

Once again I went with a late seating for Dine Out Vancouver. They were pretty packed at 7:45 PM when I arrived for our 8:00 PM reservation, but things just quieted down nicely after that as the first seating left and there's basically no one after the second seating. Kitchen started wrapping up around 10 PM.
Trust me, time and time again a later dinner has proven to be much nicer for Dine Out Vancouver's more popular venues.

Angus Beef Carpaccio
  • Separate out the capers or the sour taste will wipe everything else out.
  • What looks like just arugula sprinkled on top is magically transformed by the vinaigrette into a tasty mini-salad. But of course you're not ordering this for salad so my vote is still on the soup being the best choice.
Roasted Parsnip Vanilla Bean Soup
  • I just got a taste of this as I was ordering what no one else ordered (the carpaccio). Totally missed out. You want this appetizer!
  • Really thick "soup" that looks and feels like apple sauce.
  • The slight sweetness from vanilla really adds an interesting, playful, tasty element to the parsnip soup.
Caramelized Beets & Goat Cheese Salad
I passed on trying it because you can't get a proper sample of salad without all its ingredients, but it looked pretty decent. If soup isn't for you, the safer choice is this salad, unless you need meat in every dish.

Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut
  • Fish isn't my first choice, especially denser-meat fish which tends to be on the drier side. Nevertheless, this halibut was quite tender, flaked easily, and very moist. Very nicely done if you like fish.
Wild Mushrooms and Ricotta Cannelloni
  • The cannelloni had dried-pasta-dirty-yellow colour but it was actually fine. Don't be freaked out.
  • This was rich and tasty. Vegetarians aren't left behind in this menu.
  • Three spring-roll sized cannelloni, easy to share if you are of mind to.
  • The sauce is on the watery side (mushroom consommé), so you might want to stash a piece of bread from the complimentary bread basket to soak some of it up.
Tiramisu
  • Inventive tiramisu dusted in chocolate and sitting on a thin film of chocolate.
  • Super tender, very tasty.
  • The lighter choice to end your meal. Smallish size -- about half the usual cube of tiramisu.
Stilton Cheesecake
  • Looks like they used the white Stilton cheese, which doesn't have the mould veins.
  • Crumbly cheese with rich flavour and slight sharpness to it, so it's not quite as heavy feeling as a "regular" rich cheesecake. Flavour was sort of like goat cheese.
  • Size is small - less than half the size of a regular slice of cheesecake (of course, what a "regular" slice is depends on where you go and I swear they are shrinking slightly all the time).
  • Crème brûlée style burnt-golden sugar top.
"Sizzling Spice" Hot Chocolate ($8)
  • The "Adults Only" hot chocolate uses Bailey's, a liquor, but they offered to do it with whipped cream instead. Nevertheless I gave that a pass and went with the more complex Sizzling Spice.
  • The "herbal tea" comes in its own little vial which is poured into the hot chocolate after they bring it to your table and your server explains what is what.
  • This is a slightly bitter drinking chocolate -- feels like slightly watered down melted chocolate instead of a "typical" hot chocolate drink.
  • Despite the complex blend of ingredients, what I mainly tasted was chocolate with a touch of star anise. I'm normally turned off by too strong a star anise flavour but this was tempered by the chocolate and acceptable.
  • As for the other ingredients -- didn't register with my feeble senses, unfortunately. You might have a better experience if you have a more discerning palate. In the worst case, you get a strong shot of drinking chocolate.
  • The tea cake is a bite-sized round slightly smaller than a macaron but really flavourful.
Overall dinner was delicious and service excellent.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dine Out Vancouver 2015 FOUR-Course at La Buca

La Buca on Urbanspoon
Dine Out Vancouver FOUR-Course at La Buca

La Buca ("the hole") is a tiny restaurant in sort of the middle of nowhere (unless you love The Patty Shop and go there all the time). It's so small you have to go through the kitchen to get to the single (but clean and nicely appointed) bathroom.

They do the best they can with the small space, but the space between tables is a bit tight and more or less ends up having a long-table community-dining feel. You can't look left or right without looking all the way down and accidentally staring at someone. If you are a misanthrope who must not have any eyes on your person, then consider a later 8 PM seating for Dine Out Vancouver when things will be quieter, and there'll be a chance of more isolated seating (there are two rows of seats and everyone got nudged into the row that didn't have a straight sight-line into the kitchen), plus there won't be a third seating spilling out from the cubicle sized coat check area just in the door. Speaking of which: If at all possible, sit away from the door: Despite the heavy "curtain", you get a cold blast of air every time someone goes in or out.

We were there 8 PM to past 10 PM and had a very nicely unrushed dinner. For Dine Out Vancouver with really popular restaurants, I highly recommend a later seating. Everything is just more relaxed.

La Buca offers four menu sections for Dine Out Vancouver. You can choose from three for $38 or from all four for $48. They said they were flexible about it, but I don't know about choosing dessert four times. Desserts do have a good portion size, however.

DINE OUT
Dine Out Vancouver 2015
$38 three courses
$48 four courses
January 16 - February 1

Section 1
  • Insalata of endive, radicchio, whipped gorgonzola, pear, pistachios, honey-lemon dressing
  • Mussels soup, tomato, saffron, fennel, fregola
  • Porchetta, asparagus, duck egg, salsa verde
Section 2
  • Potato and taleggio cappelletti with bacon, onions, sage, walnuts
  • Spaghetti, spicy eggplant, San marzano tomato sauce, pecorino
  • Strozzapreti with lamb ragu, peas, mint, ricotta
Section 3
  • Veal scallopine saltimbocca, Smoked speck ham, White wine sauce
  • Spicy shrimp "Fra Diavolo", braised greens, white corn polenta
  • Crisp roast chicken, lemon, herbs, olive oil mashed potato
  • Fiorentina Steak for two ($10 per person supplement)
Section 4
  • Pannacotta with basil and passionfruit
  • Chocolate nemesis, raspberry puree, pistachio praline
Items and prices on this menu are subject to change without notice.

Insalata of endive, radicchio, whipped gorgonzola, pear, pistachios, honey-lemon dressing

  • I keep forgetting that endive is bitter especially when raw and I hate that. Other than the endive, this was actually a very nice salad. The occasional sweetness you get from the pear really helps with any bitterness, so pair those up if you can, otherwise give this a pass if you can't stand bitter veggies.
Porchetta, asparagus, duck egg, salsa verde
  • The porchetta portion looked like duck meat inside a generously thick roll of skin-on fat. Nicely cripsy fat layer on the outside.
  • The fat was on the salty side (and porchetta is usually heavily salted) and there's a LOT of it. If that's not your thing, you can certainly go sparingly with it and just have the meat if the waste won't guilt you.
  • Poached egg.
Potato and taleggio cappelletti with bacon, onions, sage, walnuts
  • This was really tasty though you get only three largish ravioli-like cappelletti if part of a 4-course. If you're not into salty, then this is a good option for you on this Dine Out menu.
  • Good combination of flavour and textures.
  • Generous amount of bacon and walnuts but I would recommend you don't overload your bite when it comes to the cappelletti in order to taste the filling.
Strozzapreti with lamb ragu, peas, mint, ricotta
  • I had a little of this to try and strangely it tasted like corned beef -- lamb making it slightly gamey. Pretty decent based on the sample I had.
Crisp roast chicken, lemon, herbs, olive oil mashed potato
  • Really nicely tender chicken.
  • Wow was this salty! Separate the meat from the crispy skin if you don't want too much saltiness. Not as fatty as the porchetta, thankfully. If you're into the forbidden pleasures of tasty fat in current diet-conscious times, then this is for you.
Veal scallopine saltimbocca, smoked speck ham, white wine sauce
  • Short strips of bacon sandwiched between to cuts of veal each slightly bigger than a deck of playing cards.
  • A tad on the salty side.
  • Nothing too special here if you are looking for interesting, but nothing wrong with this dish either.
Panna cotta with basil and passion fruit
  • A glass with pannacotta topped with a yellow layer of really tart passion fruit goop. REALLY tart. Like unsweetened-juice-from-a-lemon tart.
  • Not sure how to eat this because the passionfruit wipes out any other flavour and might do so even if mixed into the creamy white beneath. If you did isolate the pannacotta, however, you can taste the subtler flavours there.
Chocolate nemesis, raspberry puree, pistachio praline
  • Warm dessert.
  • Chocolate is delicious so there's not much to say here except that the portion size is pretty decent -- about 1 measuring cup worth of chocolate cake.
Summary: Great dinner in an unfortunately small space and a bit of an out-of-the-way location that is however great for free parking (certainly when compared to downtown Vancouver). Try the late seating, or just go after Dine Out.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Special Dale Mackay / Jesse Zuber 5-Course from Fable

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon Got an e-mail just yesterday from fan-favourited Fable Kitchen, announcing a special 5-Course Dinner by Dale Mackay, Jesse Zuber, and Fable Kitchen.

Chef Dale Mackay joins Fable

Friday January 30th Dale Mackay and his head chef Jesse Zuber will be executing a special 5 course dinner with Chef Trevor Bird and the Fable team.  Dale currently owns critically acclaimed Ayden Kitchen in his hometown of Saskatoon but we Vancouverites know him best from his win on the first season of Top Chef Canada and Ensemble restaurant that opened shortly after.  

We wanted to be sure our past Fable diners were aware of this event since a some seats still remain available.

Menu

  • BC Dungeness Crab with lobster gelee, kaffir lime and lemongrass
  • Steelcut Oats, mushroom and coffee
  • Saskatchewan Dieffenbaker Trout with cauliflower, ras el hanout, red wine jus
  • Duck Three Ways with sunchoke pave, quince, duck skin granola
  • Apple Pie and aged Canadian cheddar


Tickets are $125 which includes all tax & gratuity for the 5 course meal.  Contact us directly by phone at Fable

604-732-1322

to purchase your tickets and arrange seating time.  Each table is booked for a 2 hour dining experience and of course Chef Mackay will be front and center on our open kitchen executing his courses and visiting with our guests.  Please say hi and let him know you are a fan!

Assuming 5% GST + 15% gratuity which are included in the $125 ticket, this five-course is priced at just about $105.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Milestones (Robson)

Milestones Grill and Bar on UrbanspoonIt has a polished, modern, dimly lit feel like a Cactus Club. Except it's not Cactus Club because the dress code for the waitresses isn't as strictly homogenous and they haven't rigorously hired only under-25 9's and 10's. There's a casual and more open-feeling bar downstairs and the main dining room upstairs. Something that felt off -- and I don't often notice enough to comment on this -- is how the entrances are positioned in comparison to the interior. Huh? Okay, let me try to explain:

First, the "bar" area downstairs. The doors look pretty much straight ahead into the bar area and some of the dining space. It's not so bad with the bar and a lot of places will actually have that, but I felt it'd be nicer if there were something to shield you from the direct sight-line.
As for the upstairs area, the reception desk felt like it was too directly up the stairs. So all the way up (or down) you're watching the hostesses or they're watching you and in between there's an awkward silence.
Anyway, maybe it was because I was there quite early and the place wasn't so busy that I noticed these things.

Seats are comfortable, spacing is generous for groups -- no trying to sardine your birthday party. Bellinis come with a funny plastic animal. Which is fun, I guess, but just seems like a waste of plastic. (Surely they don't wash 'em and re-use them.) Not many veggie options and even fewer gluten-free options.

Miami Ice ($4) Fresh muddled mint, mango puree, iced tea
  • Nice to see at least a small section of non-alcoholic drinks. Usually you have to ask the server and if you don't want water you get some kind of juice-from-a-bottle.
  • Not too minty but otherwise a pretty decent drink.
Butternut Squash Ravioli ($18) Roma tomato sauce, goat cheese, spinach, grape tomatoes, spicy glazed pecans
  • $17.50 on the online menu but $18 on my bill.
  • It didn't look like such a big mound of food, but it was definitely filling. If you want dessert at all, maybe share this.
  • Ravioli was humungous, each almost as big as a business card. Filling was flattish, but that's not unexpected.
  • Tomato sauce was way too salty and it flattened every other flavour. Spicy glazed pecans? Yup, they were there, but can't taste 'em cause of the sauce!
    • I recommend scraping off most of the sauce and having just the ravioli on it own, or maybe with a tiny bit of the powerful sauce.
  • Comes with a token slice of toasted baguette (brushed with olive oil?) that you can use on some of the sauce. But really, just let the rest go to limit your daily sodium intake.
  • Once I scraped off the sauce, this was a mediocre item. Best part of this is the quantity you get, although for $18 you'd better be getting a good quantity.

Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 - Mink - Don't Bug Me

Mink Chocolates on Urbanspoon From the same cafe that brought you the "Paula Dean White Trash Train Wreck" last year comes another novel Hot Chocolate Festival entry this year: "Don't Bug Me". Coconut milk 38% milk hot chocolate garnished with free-range dried crickets. Served with a 72% mini dark chocolate square. Available: January 17 - February 14.

Like last year's entry, this is not so much a hot chocolate with an interesting flavour as it is a hot chocolate topped with something odd. In this case, some kind of grey whipped cream (?) on which are sprinkled a few dried crickets. And you'll appreciate having something sweet to go along with the crickets because they are really horribly bland with a wheat-like flavour.

At $8.50 + GST = $8.93, it's pretty steep if your objective is just to try some dried cricket, but definitely good for the novelty and a story to tell.
It's also supposed to come with a square of dark chocolate. They forgot to give it to me, so be alert!

J of Vanbrosia also tried the cricket hot chocolate as well as the Baileys-infused Flu Shot (which, being an alcoholic beverage because of the Baileys, I declined to try).

The Hot Chocolate Festival runs January-17 to February-14. Plenty of time to get out there and try something interesting.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dine Out Vancouver 2015 - Atithi Indian Cuisine

Atithi on UrbanspoonIt's a small restaurant with even smaller washrooms, but clean and unpretentious so you know you're not paying for renovations to make it look modern and swanky.

Dine Out Vancouver 2015 menu ($18)
Gluten-Free option available.

APPETIZER
Beet roots cutlet with fresh coconut chunks.
or
Jackfruit biriyani kathi roll.
or
Spicy Chicken and yam in cone.

ENTREE
Our famous lentil cakes in cashew curry.
or
Railway station Goat curry with cumin potato.
or
Fish in Bengali mustard curry.

DESSERT
Date palm sugar rice pudding
or
[Vermicelli] with raisins and cashew nuts.

I totally forgot to do the gluten-free option. Probably wouldn't have gotten to try the kathi rolls if I did.

Jackfruit Biriyani Kathi Roll
  • I'm always surprised when a restaurant has items on Dine Out Vancouver which are not on their regular menu.
    • What if you like something a lot and go back for it, to find out it's not available? In this case, it wouldn't be quite the same thing, but you could order their regular jackfruit curry, mix it up thoroughly with the rice, and then wrap it in a separate order of naan.
    • For something similar (indian food in a wrap) you could try Soho Road Naan Kebabs.
  • If you're curious about the use of jackfruit, it's the younger unripened jackfruit that is used.
    • If you're hoping for an interesting sweet-fruit-in-a-curried-rice, look elsewhere.
    • Sort of bland and potato-like in taste. Sometimes the texture makes it comparable to chicken when used cubed in a curry like this.
  • As far as taste goes, this was OK. Not spicy at all.
    • You get two short rolls, so if you're dining with a friend they could get an order of something else. Like maybe beet with coconut.
Lentil Cakes in Cashew Curry
  • Very mildly spicy. Curry was decent.
  • Lentil cakes were boring: Lentils ground into a smooth mix, probably steamed, then cut into slices. More there to make this vegetarian curry "meaty" and filling than to give it flavour. Pretty much tasteless, but still better than tofu. Generous chunks of it in the bowl of curry.
    • This said, if you are someone who loves tofu, you may very well love this item.
  • Had some sticks of sweet potato. Looked like sweet potato fries tossed in. Not much to go around (which would have dominated the dish too much I think) but it's interested to get a sweet bite of this along with the curry every now and then. If the lentil cakes are too boring for you, pair it up with a bit of sweet potato.
  • Added with the rice and the paratha (looks like the same stuff used for the kathi roll, and not the thicker and airy naan), and this is a pretty filling meal.
Date Palm Sugar Rice Pudding
  • For Dine Out Vancouver, this is the dessert you want because you don't want the other one.
  • Not overly sweet. As desserts go, this is simple and tasty.
  • Horrible straight-from-the-fridge still-in-a-plastic container presentation.
Vermicelli with Raisins and Cashew Nut
  • Looked like they used the white rice vermicelli, not the yellow spaghetti-like wheat stuff. (Gluten free version of dudh shemai?)
  • Cashew nuts might be hard to see because they sort of blend in colour-wise.
  • Horrible straight-from-the-fridge still-in-a-plastic container presentation. Except here, the noodles on top have a dried-out-from-being-in-the-fridge look.
  • Only one (1) raisin successfully located. Lousy luck of the draw?
  • Taste wasn't bad -- again, not overly sweet -- but vermicelli absorbs liquid so this was a drier dessert and the feel in the mouth wasn't as smooth as the rice pudding.
In summary, for $18 during Dine Out Vancouver, vegetarians can get a filling portion of somewhat lacklustre food. Maybe the goat curry or fish curry would have wow'ed. And maybe the beet-with-coconut might have been more interesting.

Overall I think this is one of those restaurants you should probably try when it's NOT Dine Out Vancouver or a Groupon deal or what not. Just how dessert turned out suggests to me that they have turned their kitchen over to that, and whenever you get mass produced food, quality can suffer.

As for Groupons, restaurants have to think really carefully about it. Consumers don't typically look behind the scenes, but a 50% Groupon deal for you is like a 75% hit for the restaurant. For example, a $20 deal may be sold to you at $10, but the restaurant then pays $5 to Groupon. If you suddenly have a lot of people who aren't procrastinators and don't let their Groupons expire, suddenly cutting corners (like less raisins per bowl of vermicelli dessert) starts to look awfully tempting.
Groupons are said to be toughest to have a net positive outcome for restaurants.




Monday, January 12, 2015

Lunch at The Change Dining & Bar

The Change on Urbanspoon
Back to The Change Dining and Bar for lunch! I was there last December for a special set menu and was curious enough to go back a second time.
It's almost time for Dine Out Vancouver, but if you go with a small group of maybe 4-6 persons, it might be better to just order a few things from the menu. Our bill came out to about $136 for 4 persons (or $34 each) after tax but before tip. We got to try lots of stuff, were stuffed, and had a bit left over for takeout. We had NO orders of rice. We dined at Noon and I didn't bother having dinner because I just wasn't hungry that night.

The Change is very special for Chinese-food lovers who are coeliac because about 70% of their menu is gluten free. In a "typical" Chinese restaurant, wheat-intolerant persons can't even have items that use soy sauce because your "normal" soy sauce has wheat or trace amounts of gluten. The Change uses gluten-free soy sauce, so you don't have to compromise on how the dish is prepared.
Also, they have separate kitchen utensils for gluten-free cooking to prevent cross-contamination. Those who are extremely sensitive to wheat can certainly feel much safer there.

If you have been there before, menu items might be slightly different each time. Looks like they are still tweaking their menu a bit. The iPad Touch menus (with photos for every item) are basically correct, however.

TIPS:
  • The online menu is incomplete. Way more dishes available with the on-site menu. Gluten-free items are marked.
  • Make sure you ask for serving forks and spoons right away if they don't come with your entree.
  • Entrees can run into $30+ dollars but portions are pretty big here. If you dine alone you will probably only be able to try one item plus maybe fit in one dessert. Best to go with a small group.
Complimentary Deep Fried Bread
  • As great as before. And still really interesting to play with the inside, which appeared to be naturally segmented. Pillowy soft and it's easy to tear out the inside if you don't want the deep fried exterior.
  • Initially served with soft butter but later they brought out the condensed milk. It's way better with condensed milk.
Deep Fried Spicy Tofu
  • Had this last time and still a winner. Cheap, tasty appy. Watch out for the chilies because if you get a couple extra it can be fire in your mouth all of a sudden.
Dragon Fruit Scallops
  • This was sort of like two items in one. The bulk of the dish looks like a slightly blander/less savory version of a stir fry you could get somewhere else. To this, they added a dragon fruit and avocado.
  • The combo works quite well, with the not-overly-sweet choice of dragon fruit paired with the not-too-salty/savory stir fry. Neither flavour covers up the other by not being too strong.
  • This is pretty good, especially if you are watching your salt/sodium.
  • Recipe for Dragon Fruit Scallops is available here.
Green Bean something
  • Drat -- couldn't find this again on the online menu.
  • Found this tasty but the sauce was on the too-salty side.
Peking Duck (two ways)
  • Looks like maybe half a duck in total.
  • The meat is separated and mixed with veggies and stuff into filling for a wrap. You are provided lettuce leaves for that. Already quite sweet and very savory -- maybe a bit too savory -- so go easy on the hoisin sauce, if you use it at all.
  • The skin is already cut from the duck. Crispy, tasty, and paper-thin. Wrapped around a bit of rice containing a slice of cucumber and a touch of wasabi. Six pieces of what The Province food writer aptly describes as "crispy duck sushi".
    • The picture in the menu shows a bit of hoisin sauce on top, but it's not really necessary and can cover up the flavour of the duck, so I would recommend you have that on the side and decide for yourself.
Shredded Pork in Chili, Garlic and Spinach
  • Very strong flavours here. Interesting mix of medium-strong chili heat plus a sweetness in the sauce.
  • Big portion. Very tasty. Highly recommended.
Squirrel Fish
  • This was really decent last time, but they changed it up a bit probably due to customer feedback.
  • Way more sauce. Swimming in sauce. But don't use too much of the really sweet sauce or you won't taste anything else at all.
  • Look for the shrimps in the sauce!
  • Felt like the fish was a bit heavily battered. Crispy for sure, though.
  • Make sure you get a serving knife, fork, and spoon right away. You're going to need them.
Truffle Chocolate XiaoLongBao
  • Not sure how I misread this, but it's a chocolate powder dusted chocolate truffle in a xiaolongbao wrap. For some reason I was expecting chocolate with a hint of truffle.
  • They use the same wrap as the xiaolongbao, but had to add a second inner wrap. Otherwise the chocolate just explodes out when steaming.
  • Basically this is melted chocolate in a steamed bun. Works out to about $1 a piece. Nothing special here. Recommend you pass and just save room for all the tasty appetizers and entrees.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

McKim Wonton Mein Saga (Kingsway)

McKim Wonton Mein Saga 雲吞麵世家 on Urbanspoon CASH only.

Went there for late night (9.30pm+) snack. There were 9 of us. Staff can speak English -- and not struggle-to-understand-each-other-using-hand-gestures ESL, either.

Other than overly crispy chinese donuts (and at 9.30pm you can hardly expect everything to be totally fresh, especially bread items), menu item were fine. Basically $7.50 snacks on their late night menu. Portion size is OK, considering you are not paying for any fillers like noodles or rice with each "appetizer" portion.

If you go with a few people and order a few things you can get a light dinner inclusive of one or two orders of congee or noodles for $10 including tax and tip. If you go alone, you will probably spend closer to $15 and have a more boring experience of just one or two items. If you go alone and get ONLY snacks with no filler like plain congee (rice porridge) then two plates of their snacks might not see you full at all after $15-$20. Definitely a go-with-friends place.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sweet and Mild at Banana Leaf (820 Broadway)

Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon 5:30PM on a Saturday night and the place was already about half full and with reservations on the way. I was solo, but they had some two-seat arrangements so I got a seat right away.
It can look really busy and full from the outside probably because they seat people closer to the windows first, but it is a pretty big and deep restaurant, so take a chance and walk in if you don't have reservations.

Roti Canai ($7 for "2 pieces") Flaky layered bread served with coconut curry sauce.
  • Came piping hot, so probably freshly prepared.
  • Pre-chopped up, so it's a bit odd to see it listed on my bill as "2 pcs". But there is a decent amount of it on your plate at least. Unless you go really easy on the curry, you will probably not have enough for all your roti. Since both are sweet, you can get away with using a token amount of curry with each dip.
    • If you are also ordering a curry, you can instead save some of the roti to go with your separate curry order.
  • The weirdest roti canai I have ever had. I grew up in Singapore with roti prata that didn't have sweetened dough. I have had roti canai with sweet dough, but nothing as sweet as this. You can eat this on its own as dessert except it comes steaming hot.
  • The curry was quite thick (easy to dip, therefore) and also very sweet. I think this really killed it for me -- a curry that was more sweet than curry flavoured, and with basically no spicy heat to it. Taste was coconutty, and maybe in an effort to make it vegetarian they took out the meat broth, which double-killed it for me--there is a curry specific to roti prata when ordered on its own, and this wasn't it.
  • Maybe they have carefully adjusted this menu item based on years of customer feedback, but I will never order it again from Banana Leaf: It is just too alien compared to the roti prata I remember fondly from my childhood and which is replicated more closely as "roti canai" at other places like Spoon Kitchen and Bo Laksa King's Bubbles and Bits (now just "Laksa King").
Malaysia Laksa Curry Mee ($13) Curry soup with egg and rice noodles, bean sprouts, tofu, egg, chicken, fish cakes, squid, and shrimp. Topped with mint.
  • Didn't see any mint. Some cilantro, though.
  • Exactly three small prawns (shrimp), two smallish curls of squid, about one tablespoon of pulled chicken, maybe five slices of sweet fish cake, and about half a small chicken egg. Seemed like a lot of bean sprouts already mixed in with the noodles.
    • Nice touch with pre-slicing the egg so you can tackle it more easily with your chopsticks.
  • The total quantity of the "toppings" is maybe 1 cup's worth. You can decide whether that is fair value for your money. When they separate it in the bowl so you can itemize that everything is there, it looks a lot more disappointing -- you might think "What? Only three shrimp?"
  • There is a chili symbol next to the menu item but it is really quite mild, unless you really are not used to anything spicy at all. For someone who grew up in Singapore and likes their curry, the level of spiciness was disappointing. Other than that, the broth was quite tasty.
  • Filling portion for $13, and with all that soup, you really want to think twice about ordering a drink.
Young Coconut ($6)
  • Bring a bag with handles for this one. They don't have bags, only large paper bags. With no handles.
  • It's a whole coconut, cut open at the top, and with a spoon so you can dig out the meat. But it's really awkward to handle the meat through the small hatch at the top, so I recommend you drink it at the restaurant then take home the coconut to crack it open.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Curry Garden Burger at Biercraft Bistro

BierCraft Bistro on UrbanspoonSpacious restaurant, tons of beer, not too busy on a Sunday afternoon. I don't drink beer, so someone else can review that. The house-made patty was what caught my eye and being veggie-curious and starting to be meat-guilty, I gave it a go.
    Garden Burger ($13 +$1 mushrooms +$2 soup of the day) House-made nut & veggie patty, citrus aioli, onions, lettuce and tomato
    • As burgers go, the height and size of this one is on the larger side. Tall enough that you will probably not be able to fit it in your mouth.
    • Often veggie patties are fake-meat soy or some bean thing, so this one sounded promising with the use of nuts. A bit thin, but texture was good with the grilled crust. Sadly, the patty (and everything, including my mushroom add-on) was overpowered by the curry used. Which makes it more like a curry vegetarian burger. It's still a reasonably tasty burger overall, but don't count on nuts or veggies from your patty to make any contribution.
    • Nicely grilled bun complete with black grill marks but not overdone.
    • Tiny amount of mushrooms for $1. I had to open up my burger and look for it. Not worth it.
    • Medium bowl of soup for +$2 as a substitution for either fries or salad which are normally served with their sandwiches (normally soup alone is $6). On the Sunday I went it was a very thick and hearty stew-like curry lentil soup -- definitely helps to make this single purchase a filling meal.
    At $14, this burger is sort of good and bad. If you like curry, then the curry flavour might make this a nice burger. If you were hoping for a more gourmet experience with flavours of nut, veggies, tomato and citrus aioli, then pass. Curry is strong stuff even if you don't glob on so much as to make everything bitter.

    Aside from burger quality, $13-$15 gets you a decent amount of food, not just in the burger but with the +$2 soup addon. You can probably pass on the soup and go for the fries for a just-as-filling meal.

    Friendly, prompt service.