Thursday, February 26, 2015

Free Donut at New Tim Hortons

A new Tim Hortons is opening today at 490 Hornby Street (at Pender). If you can find one of these flyers you can score yourself a free donut with coffee purchase. Otherwise, just drop by today (Thursday, February 26th, 2015) to check out the "great prizes and giveaways all afternoon".

If you're keen on working for 'em, they are hiring, apparently.


Burnt our soup at Tian Shi Fu

Tian Shi Fu Restaurant 田師傅湘菜館 on Urbanspoon
It's always tricky to review Chinese restaurants because in North America we expect western restaurant standards -- to be fawned over like honored guests. And some few Chinese restaurants do that -- like The Change. But in most Chinese restaurants, you are treated more like rude children -- mostly ignored then herded out.

The Tian Shi Fu customer service experience is quite typical, or maybe a notch down. You can expect to wait at the hostess's table forever. Server will walk by and even if they make eye contact with you, do nothing. Even if they come to the reservations book, you may be completely ignored while they address someone else who came after you. You have to basically flag someone down.

They have fat menus with pictures of everything. Yes, everything. This is good.
They don't have enough menus to really go around -- maybe two per table. This is bad. Unless you don't mind just one or two persons ordering for everyone, or for ordering to take forever.
Their menus use a LOT of chili. Not sure if you can handle it? Better look carefully at the picture and ask.

They bring you a list of what you ordered. This, I was told by my Chinese friends, is so that you can check off what has arrived to make sure nothing is missed. This is stupid. IF something were missed, whose fault is it? Mine?

Our party of ten ordered nine items I think. Here are the ones that stood out for one reason or another.

"Beef Filet"-something.
  • Came sizzling hot on an iron plate.
  • Based on the pictures on the online menu, it looked like "Grilled Beef with Cumin" except it was sweet. And where's the cumin?
  • Pretty decent tender beef with sweet sauce.
Dry-Fried French Beans with Minced Pork and Preserved Vegetables ($14.99)
  • There was pork?
  • Quite salty, but not as salty as the Sauteed Pickled Beans we ordered.
Fried Lettuce Slices ($12.99)
  • Boring. I guess people order this to get their daily veggie intake.
  • Someone at our table insisted these were bamboo shoots. Maybe he ordered bamboo shoots, but this was green and didn't smell like bamboo.
    • So there's a chance they messed up our order. And since the order list was at our table, who's fault is that? Ours for not catching it or theirs for bringing the wrong order to the table?
    • Since (only) two people got to flip through the menu and order I'm guessing they both thought the other person had ordered it. The rest of us were happily oblivious. We also didn't eat that much of this boring item.
Fried Lamb with Cumin ($14.99)
  • This was really decent!
Sauteed Pickled Beans with Minced Pork ($12.99)
  • There was pork?
  • The person who ordered this  was under the impression that it would be kidney beans. Maybe he pointed to something else in the menu and the waitress took the wrong order. But how does that happen with a menu that has pictures of everything?
  • Really hot thanks to the chilies.
  • Salty for no particular reason. Really, really, salty.
Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce ($13.99)
  • Half a chicken. Including the head.
  • Pretty boring. Except for the head, which I dare you to eat.
Rice ($5.99)
  • Yup. They charge you for rice.
Tea (free?)
  • Looks like they didn't charge us for tea. Pretty strong tea too and they were pretty good about keeping it topped up with hot water.
Hot and Sour Soup ($10.99)
  • We ordered hot and sour soup and it came dead last and well after all nine other items had arrived. We had waited so long that we wanted to cancel the order but they assured us it was being prepared.
  • Then it finally came, in a huge bowl with a ladle -- we have no bowls. The neighboring table was not occupied so I asked the waitress if we could just grab the bowls there. She gave me a "why do you want to do that?" look. I pointed to the soup. She didn't help me transfer to bowls over to our table.
  • The soup smelled funny. And tasted funny. We figured they burnt the first batch in the pot and had to re-do it, which it why it took so long. And they used the same pot which is why the second batch smelled and tasted funny.
  • Worst hot and sour soup ever.
Anyway, nine items split among ten people came out to under $17 per person including tip. So good portions of fairly good food good at a cheap price are available here if you can stand the service and pay attention to whether the items you order match what comes to the table.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cheap lunch downtown at Anatolia Express

Anatolia Express Restaurant on UrbanspoonAnatolia Express is a small establishment easily overlooked from being overshadowed by the big restaurants around Canada Place. Squashy seating but big tables. On the Saturday afternoon I was there, it looked like it was a mom-and-son operation.
Price is quite good -- you can get a decent and interesting lunch for under $10, which is great for a prime downtown touristy location like Canada Place.
The website menu is outdated. Most of the offerings are sort of boring (fish and chips?) so I recommend going for just the Turkish fare. If you are looking for a wider selection of Turkish food, Anatolia's Gate is a better bet with comparable prices.

Kumru ($9.99)
  • Basically a hollow pita with sausage and cheese.
  • Supposedly has four types of Turkish salami.
  • Good amount of meat from the sausage, but that also makes this item on the salty side.
  • Slight heat from the bit of hot peppers.
  • At $9.99 this is a reasonable alternative to a hamburger if you want "meat-and-bread" with not too much bread.
Ayran ($3.25)
  • Sour drink of watered down yogurt with salt.
  • Could be an acquired taste -- if you haven't had this before, you might want to have a friend on standby you can share with or give it away to.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cheap bánh mì at Saigon Fare Cafe

Saigon Fare Cafe on Urbanspoon Saigon Fare Cafe is a surprisingly big diner. It is essentially clean and spacious, but some elements are dilapidated, like a cracked tabletop held together by tape. It looks like a cheap hole-in-the-wall and it basically is.
Staff are friendly and the short lady who runs the place and does the cooking feels like your aunt (the nice one).

Spicy Pork Bánh Mì ($3.95)
  • Approximately 9" long.
  • This was the special-of-the-day and not on the regular menu.
  • By "spicy" it means pork marinated in spice, in this case, soy and anise braised pork. She did offer to put some chili peppers in it if I wanted it hot-spicy, but I declined.
  • The sandwich was by no means overflowing with filling, but it still works out to about 2½ cheap hamburgers.
  • Slices of meat were quite thick, at maybe 4 millimeters or close to a quarter-inch.
  • This felt like a really cheap eat and just one sandwich was good enough to be a filling lunch meal.
Spring Rolls ($2.50 for one, $7.25 for three)
  • Under no circumstances should you order this.
  • Long, thin "spring roll" -- slightly thinner than an El Monterey Taquito.
  • The spring roll wrap apparently loves oil because this deep fried item was quite oily.
  • Barely any taste, made worse by what tasted like plum sauce, watered down with water and/or vinegar.
  • The filling was vermicelli, token other stuff that looked like carrot and red lettuce and peanut.
  • Considering that three of them won't add up to a single bánh mì, stick to the cheap Vietnamese baguettes here.
Rambutan Tropical Fruit Crusher ($4)
  • Canned rambutan plus shaved ice.
  • You can get exotic tropical fruit for under $3 per can at Superstore, and each can will probably contain three times as much fruit. So this works out to about a typical price for a made-in-store drink.
  • If you are feeling cheap, hike it to Superstore, which is not that far away, and get a drink there. This week, a tall can of T.A.S. coconut water was just 98 cents.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bel Café counter is for takeout only

Bel Cafe on Urbanspoon Interesting change to the Bel Café that the counter is for takeout only, or maybe at least during the busy lunch hour. I suppose it's only fair since the server does go around cleaning up after and offering you water -- and therefore is sort of owed a tip.

Went by a late-ish Friday (1.30pm) for their hot chocolate festival offering. If you didn't know, the annual Hot Chocolate Festival for 2015 ran approximately mid-Janaury till Valentine's Day, so it's over, sadly. But like previous years, I found a lot of the offerings to be hit and miss, though they were certainly creative.

Even at 1.30pm they were packed till closer to past-2pm. Lunch crowd plus waitlist, I suppose. And maybe that's another reason for the counter being takeout only since you might order something "for here" only to discover you haven't anywhere to sit. The sensible thing then is to get seated first, then order.

Prices here are inclusive of tax, which is really handy.

Hot Chocolate Festival - #05 - "RAINFOREST" ($8) 64% Valrhona Tainori chocolate. (Tainori is a dark chocolate of single origin from the Dominican Republic. On the palate, this chocolate gives notes of exotic yellow dried fruits.) Served with aerated mango, brazil and almond florentine. Available: February 1 - 14
  • Interesting for the aerated mango, but otherwise this tasted like a weak / slightly too watered hot chocolate.
  • The florentine is a florentine, meaning it will likely stick to your molars.
Raspberry & Vanilla Streusel Muffin ($2.80)
  • There's a richness / oiliness (?) to this muffin that makes it "filling" in a fatiguing sort of way. Probably compounded by having it with hot chocolate.
  • Crumbly. Felt weak on the raspberry-ness.
Macarons ($2 each)
  • Key Lime
    • Clear lime flavour but not strong enough to be sharp, if you are hoping for that.
  • Manjari & Raspberry
    • Both chocolate and raspberry flavours came through strong and clear right away.
  • PB & J (peanut butter and jam)
    • There are even crushed peanut bits on the macaron shells.
    • My friend who tried this with me insists there was jam in this, but I barely got any peanut butteryness to begin with. She insists there wan't much and I missed it.
Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart ($5.50)
  • The "salted" part is flakes of salt loose on top.
  • Looks beautiful, but tough to eat because of the liquid caramel inside. Get a spoon for sure to scoop it up. And unless you are pro, do not pick this up with your hands and bite it as the caramel is liable to be crushed out.
  • Part of the problem is the very firm and somewhat thick crust. It is almost biscuit-hard. The top chocolate plate is also quite firm and won't break cleanly when cut. Underneath is a creamy chocolate layer, then the tasty caramel goop.
  • This would be a tastier dessert if you weren't so focussed on not making a mess, especially not on your clothes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2015-Feb-13 - World's Largest #StarbucksDate

Found this in my e-mail today from Starbucks: February 13th, from 2 PM till close, "at participating stores", is the World's Largest #StarbucksDate -- obviously timed to be just ahead of Valentine's Day, when everyone will be too busy buying last-minute flowers or going to overpriced restaurant meals to drop by Starbucks for a coffee.

Once again, no special promotions for Singles Awareness Day. (>_<)

Monday, February 9, 2015

President's Choice Sushi Bites

President's Choice Sushi Bites come in 416 gram boxes of 12. Each box has two separate plastic bags of six pieces of sushi, each about the size of a ping pong ball; and a pouch of "wasabi" dipping sauce. There is a "panko-style" breading around the sushi, meaning it will have a crunchy exterior -- probably to deflect attention from the fact that once it comes out of the oven, you will be having hot sushi.

The product is basically as picture-perfect as on the packaging (!). That means there really is a chunk of shrimp or scallop in the middle. However, strangely enough, despite the fact that I could isolate a chunk of filling (about 1/3rd of a shrimp in volume), even when I dug it out and ate that filling on its own, I didn't get any clear shrimp or scallop flavour. The perils of freezing shellfish, I guess. Also, no seaweed flavour.

The "wasabi" sauce does have a light wasabi flavour -- nothing that will clear your sinus painfully, like a chunk of real wasabi -- but mostly it tasted like... lime? There's no lime in it, but there is white vinegar, which would probably account for the sharpness. This is a pleasantly coloured and harmless party tray sauce.

Overall, it's a great visual-presentation product for a house party, and tastes tamely enough plus it comes with a not-fried crunchy-fun exterior. The sushi on its own, minus the wasabi sauce, is pretty tasteless. Like eating rice.
Also, for what is more like a two-bite item, I don't like the seaweed, which can result in some chewiness between bites and possibly a mess, what with the panko crust crumbling and possibly some rice spilling out. And it's quite a mouthful to do in one bite.


Cheap and Filling at Anatolia's Gate

Anatolia's Gate on Urbanspoon I was previously at Anatolia's Gate over two years ago, and still remembered it had good eats for a good price. Dropped in with a friend last Friday and decided to try something different from the menu. She was in the mood for curry (in a Turkish place?) and I went for one of the wraps.

Beef Curry ($12.95)
  • About two cups's worth of curry, plus rice and token salad.
  • This is a sort of drier bitter-spicy curry. If you're hoping for a South Asian curry, don't order this. I think this will end up being more of an acquired taste.
Veggie Dürüm ($7.55) Roasted veggies Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini Mushroom wrapped in a freshly baked lavash bread with yogurt sauce
  • Basically a donair or wrap using a thicker bread similar to naan.
  • Price for portion is pretty good, considering you're getting about 2 burger's worth of filling.
  • Roasted veggies were of course hot, but it was mixed with cool yogurt sauce and "salad" shredded veggies (mostly lettuce), so that sadly cooled things off.
Turkish Tea ($1.95)
  • Is this just black tea? Nothing special here. Even more expensive than a pop ($1.45).
If you want safe and tasty, go with the mixed platter, which had portions good for two persons ($16.95).
We were there for dinner a bit later, around 7 PM, but the place was quite full, some people just getting takeout, and only a couple of overworked servers.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Nirvana Restaurant

Nirvana Restaurant on UrbanspoonAfter our hot chocolate crawl on Saturday, I was hoping to do an early walk-in at Chicha, but it turned out that they were fully booked and were expecting to be swarmed by their Dine Out Vancouver reservations by around 5.30pm, so they couldn't squeeze us in.

I honestly didn't expect that so after some flustered fumbling around we ended up at a non-DOV venue, Nirvana. We dined pretty early so it was empty inside except for a couple of small tables. Interesting decor, including a painting of Buddha sort of out-of-place with the other Indian artwork. Anyway, very Indian feeling.

Menu had reasonable prices and it would turn out the portions were very good. Some prices are slightly higher than on the online menu.

Papadum (free after you have place your order)

  • Like papadum everywhere - salty, slightly bitter.

Gluten Free Chilla ($2.95, a type of Indian pancake)
  • Chilla uses chickpea flour, so it is gluten free. Topped with assorted veggies.
  • I found this dense and dry, probably due to the chickpea flour. My South Asian friend really liked it though.
Alu Gobi ($11.95) curried cauliflower and potatoes
  • Curry + rice. Pretty basic.
Vegetarian Thali ($15.95) A traditional Indian vegetarian dinner served on a Thali (platter) with Mutter Paneer, Dal, Vegetables, Rice, Chutney, Roti, Raita, and Kheer
  • Obviously what to get when you can't decide on one thing or you like sampling lots. Which is totally me.
  • Looking from the top, the thali containers of stuff look quite small but they were quite deep. About a cup's worth each of three curries, plus raita, plus dessert (kheer). Comes with a not-overwhelming amount of fluffy rice as well as a roti. All this adds up to a pretty filling meal for the price.
  • If you ask for spicy, you get spicy! I totally like this. It's also real spicy without too much bitterness. Not wimpy North American white-man-spicy.
    • If you happen to order spicy and find it too much so, have a bit of 
Nothing special here except for curry that is well prepared and a nice portion for the price, even if a portion of your meal is rice.
Dinner for two came to $32.39 after tax and before tip. Less than Dine Out Vancouver for a very filling portion of a home-cooking style meal. So what is it that we expect from Dine Out Vancouver?


Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 - French Made Baking - Only Thyme Will Tell

French Made Baking on UrbanspoonOn Saturday I did a Hot Chocolate Crawl for Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 with a fellow Yelper and we hit three places. French Made Baking had the best hot chocolate of what I tried that day.

It's a tiny place but they've sort of opened up the back to have seating parallel to the kitchen area. You have to walk through to get to the one washroom shared by patrons and staff anyway.

HOT girls cooking away in the kitchen. Of course we're not talking hot-because-of-your-tight-black-Cactus-Club outfit type hot. More like sweet girl-next-door feminine hot. Not having hairnets help with that.

Each day a different hot chocolate will be featured, however some flavours may be available every day. As well,  the popular "Lord of the Hot Chocolate" - a festival favourite of previous years - will be on the menu every day. All drinks are made with Valrhona chocolate.

#25 - "ONLY THYME WILL TELL" 

Orange and Thyme infused Dark Chocolate (72% single origin, Venezuela).
Served with "orangette" candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate.
Available: January 19, 23, 27, 31 and Feb 4, 8, 12.

#26 - "SMOKIN' HOT ... CHOCOLATE"

Maple-smoked Caramelia Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt (Valrhona Caramelia).
Served with "caramel mou" soft, salted caramel bonbon.
Available: January 17, 21, 25, 29 and February 2, 6, 10, 14.

#27 - "CHAUDS LES MARRONS"

Dulcey Caramelized White Chocolate with Chestnut.
Served with "Le Pleyel" dark chocolate cake with almond and wheat flours.
Available: January 18, 22, 26, 30 and Feb 3, 7, 11. 

Back by popular demand:

#28 - "BEYOND THE MILKY WAY"

Pear-infused dark chocolate (72% single origin, Venezuela), with non-dairy milks (almond and coconut).
Served with "Marocaine" (almond flour ball flavoured with orange blossom water (dairy free). 
Available: January 20, 24, 28 and February 1, 5, 9, 13. 

Only Thyme Will Tell ($4, candied orange peel is extra)
  • The only place where the accompaniment to the hot chocolate was an optional extra cost. I gave it a pass since they wanted ~$2 for an orange peel. Really? Maybe I should have checked how big a peel first.
  • This hot chocolate, at $4 without the orange peel, was far and away the best one considering all the hot chocolate offerings I've had in the festival.
    • I really liked that the orange peel was optional. It's like you could get a hot chocolate at the Hot Chocolate Festival without having a possibly overpriced extra.
  • Only $4 for a hot chocolate, done properly, and with premium chocolate -- but approximately half the quantity, or maybe two-thirds of the usual mug you get elsewhere. For a rich drink, the quantity at least is a nice size.
  • I didn't get any of the orange flavour but yes to the thyme. And there was just something about it that was so reminiscent of yummy biscotti.
Rum and Vanilla Cake ($2.75)
  • This was advertised in the counter as being like nothing you have tasted before. Actually the rum in it made it taste like rum cake I got in Victoria.
  • Anyway, it was only slightly bigger than a ping pong ball.
  • Porous and chewy on the inside. Toasty on the outside but chewy thanks to having been soaked (?) in some sort of mixture that nevertheless did not make it heavily rum-like in aroma or taste. Fun chewiness, though, if you like that sort of thing.
  • $2.75? Really?

Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 - The Last Crumb Bakery - Triple Ginger Spiced Hot Chocolate

The Last Crumb Bakery & Cafe on UrbanspoonOn Saturday I did a Hot Chocolate Crawl for Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 with a fellow Yelper and we hit three places. The Last Crumb Bakery was the second stop.

It's actually a remarkably large place that feels a bit like a high school cafeteria. Spacious seating. Just one washroom and you need to ask for the key. Can I take points off for that?

(Please note that the bakery and cafe is closed on Mondays. See hours below.)
At The Last Crumb Bakery and Cafe they make their hot chocolate sauce in house from a rich, high quality Dutch Cocoa.

#39 - "TRIPLE GINGER SPICED HOT CHOCOLATE"

Triple ginger hot chocolate.
Served with handmade Ginger Apricot Sconscotti
(biscotti made from our delicious, handmade buttery scones.)
Available: January 17 - February 14

#40 - "CHOCOLATE CHERRY LUST"

Sour cherry hot chocolate.
Accompanied by a fluffy, handmade, vanilla speckled marshmallow. 
Available: January 17 - February 14

Triple Ginger Spiced Hot Chocolate ($6)
  • Not very gingery at all, definitely no chance of ginger burn. I didn't think to ask at the time but "triple ginger" might refer to having used three kinds of ginger, such as in this triple-ginger cookie recipe that uses ground, crystallized, and fresh ginger.
  • The sconscotti was rather token, maybe 5 inches long and a centimeter at its thickest. Chewy on the inside just like one of their scones -- it's basically a slice of their scone, baked again to have a crusty shell. Could see bits of apricot but with such a small sample it was neither gingery nor fruity. Waste of time. I hope I didn't pay too much extra for that to a hot chocolate that came in at $6 for the combo.
    • It seems like all the Hot Chocolate Festival offerings have some sort of accompaniment and I wonder if this was a Festival schtick, a way to add token value and increase the price, or genuinely something to enhance your experience of the hot chocolate.
Chocolate Cherry Lust ($6)
  • Strong sweet Maraschino cherry flavour that dominates over the hot chocolate. If you like that in your ice cream you might like this too. A bit off-putting for me actually but I'm biased because I'm not really partial to that much Maraschino cherry.
  • Rather big but flattish piece of marshmellow easily about the same as 3-4 regulation sized marshmellows.
Gluten-Free Browned Butter Brownie ($3.25)
  • Not as dense, heavy, or chocolatey as your typical fudge-type brownie.
  • Kind of flour-y tasting.

Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 - Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France - Lavande Classique

Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France on Urbanspoon On Saturday I did a Hot Chocolate Crawl for Hot Chocolate Festival 2015 with a fellow Yelper and we hit three places. Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France was the first stop. We got in shortly after they opened as there was concern they might sell out, as they did last year.

It's a tiny store that's basically slightly more than half kitchen and the rest is maybe a 20-seat area of mostly benches as well as some space outside. Has sort of a rustic feel and a decor that includes lots of chocolate molds. Strangely it felt quaint.

All drinks are prepared with milk or almond milk. A selection of flavours is also offered in bags to prepare at home. No drink service on Feb 14th, to accommodate their Valentine's Day lineup.

#17 - "Marocchino"

Classic Italian drink: half drinking chocolate, half espresso.
Served with a meringue of your choice. Our recommendation: cardamom, anise or vanilla.
Available: every day of the festival that the shop is open.

#18 - "Praliné Chocolat"

Liquid house made Nutella: drinking chocolate + hazelnut praline.
Served with a meringue of your choice. Our recommendation: maple, espresso or vanilla.
Available: every day of the festival that the shop is open.

#19 - "Lavande Classique"

Available only once a year, during the hot chocolate festival, the simple but classic lavender hot chocolate is back by popular demand. Served with a meringue of your choice. Our recommendation: rose, orange blossom or chocolate. 
Available: every day of the festival that the shop is open.

#20 - "Aztec Glacé"

Anne's favorite iced hot chocolate. Spicy, hot, cold, salty and sweet. Purely addictive. 
Served with a meringue of your choice. Our recommendation: espresso, chocolate or vanilla. 
Available: every day of the festival that the shop is open.

I asked for "weird" and was recommended the lavender because it's apparently not a common chocolate flavour (?). Anyway, $5 and comes with your choice of a meringue. I went with jasmine, my friend went with rose. Smaller-sized cups available for slightly less cost.

The Lavande Classique has a not-too-strong lavendar flavour. Otherwise nothing too special -- but nothing wrong. Which bring up the side point of "what are you expecting from the Hot Chocolate Festival"?

I typically go for whatever is strange and interesting and for that reason I tried the cricket hot chocolate, one of Mink's two entries into the Hot Chocolate Festival for 2015. It turned out to be just crickets sprinkled on hot chocolate. For over $8. Waste of time.
At Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France you get a nicely prepared hot chocolate with extra flavouring that will hopefully combine well with chocolate. It is up to you whether this is worth $5 and I am also assuming that the supposed time-limited-offer is factored into the cost.

As I proceeded on the hot chocolate crawl I thought more about the question of expectation, as well as what my expectations really were for Dine Out Vancouver. More later...

My friend's order, the Aztec Glacé was a medium-spicy hot chocolate poured over ice, making it a cold hot chocolate. Sort of like a frappucino, I guess. Supposed to be "spicy, hot, cold, salty, and sweet" but the latter two flavours didn't really come out for me when I sampled it. Might be a bit too adventurous for some.

The meringues both had good strong flavour. If you like marshmellow in your hot chocolate, drop the meringue in and it'll soften up right quick into a chewy marshmellow consistency.