Monday, March 30, 2015

Cheap eats at Green Lemongrass Vietnamese Cuisine

Green Lemongrass Vietnamese Cuisine 香茅屋越南餐廳 on Urbanspoon The Asian decor clashes with the not-very-Asian looking counter and wall of wooden planks, and feels like it used to be something else, but has since become a Vietnamese restaurant. It is otherwise pretty simple and brightly lit. The outside makes it look newer and more modern than it is on the inside.

Service is okay, and more or less on par with the rest of the East Vancouver neighborhood of cheap eats and Chinese restaurants.

A1 Chả Giò ($5) spring rolls - Crispy rolls filled with pork, carrot, taro, mushroom, and onions. Served with nước mâm.
  • Oily spring rolls with some sort of thin sauce (fish sauce?).
  • Too oily to recommend. Flavour sort of weak and not helped by the dipping sauce at all.
  • In the unfortunate case where you've ended up with this, try the sriracha sauce or the small pot of (hot) chili sauce on the table.

T23 Hư Tiêu Đó Biển Chua Cay ($8 small bowl or $9 large bowl) seafood, tomato, and pineapple in a spicy tamarind soup
  • Even the "small" bowl is pretty decently sized that you might not need to get a large bowl, especially if you are having an appetizer.
  • "Spicy", but not very hot-spicy. To get more heat, add some of the chili sauce in the small pot on the table. But watch out as that is very hot.
  • There's an interesting sweetness here, probably boiled out of the pineapple chunks, which are therefore much less flavourful than fresh chunks of pineapple.
  • There isn't much of each type of seafood, but there's definitely a variety, including squid and prawns. Good sized prawns used.
  • Overall, a nice moderately filling meal and really tasty, though some of the filling feeling does come from the quantity of soup.
If you know what to order (or at least avoid any oily deep fried stuff), this is a clean place for cheap eats.



Dim Sum at Dynasty Seafood Restaurant

Dynasty Seafood Restaurant 皇朝海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon Dynasty Seafood Restaurant features free parking (if you let them know you parked downstairs) and 15% off their dim sum menu if you are out by 11.30 AM. Since they open at 10 AM, you have to be organized and eat eat eat to be gone from the table by that time. Still, on top of dim sum being sort of cheap to begin with when dining in groups, 15% is welcome.

Like most Chinese restaurants, service is shoddy compared to always-smiling-flirty-girl-check-on-your-meal downtown-Vancouver service. Congee initially came without bowls, for instance. Also, items typically come in fours and the person with the scissors (which she wouldn't leave at the table) lagged behind so our party of 5 had to do some messy cutting of our own with chopsticks. On the other hand, they seemed responsive if you do flag someone down to ask for something. Also, I don't recall that we were kept waiting long for pots of (strong) tea, which isn't always the case at many Chinese restaurants.

Dim Sum here is not the mark-on-a-form style and apparently they won't make a fuss if you try to order more items, unlike some places where they might freak out if you try to extend your order.

Food is overall good and we tried quite a few items. That said, because of the wide variety of dishes for dim sum, if you are experimenting, you can't really fault the duds or what you didn't know you wouldn't like. Where a restaurant legitimately fails in dim sum is when they do poorly on what items you normally like in dim sum.
Here are just some notes about a few items in our dim sum brunch:
  • Something I liked about Dynasty was when shrimps were used, they had nice fat ones and you can see chunks of shrimp/prawn instead of them being ground up and possibly mixed with filler. Also, I dissected a Steamed Shrimp Dumpling, and it looked like pretty much all firm and not over-/under-done shrimp, held together by just a bit of egg.
  • Congee was served with a minimal amount of chinese donut -- just a few thin slices of a donut. Moreover, these seemed overly cripsy and oily. Fortunately the congee we had was flavourful and didn't really need any accompaniment.
  • Siu Mai was fine but had a strong fishy aroma due to the bit of orange fish roe on top. If that bugs you, just scrape it off. It hardly shows up in flavour.
  • Sauteed Black Cod with Green Onion and Ginger was a dud as it was rather fishy (might have been a fluke). Could have used some chili sauce at the table to make this palatable. In any case, eat this fast while it is hot.
  • Peking Duck ($30, from the non-dim sum lunch menu) looked rather pale and the skin under-roasted. Also, when they sliced the skin off, each section came with a lot of fat and some meat. I liked the papery thin, dark skin at The Change much better, though there was a lot less skin there -- definitely not a whole duck's worth.
  • Honeycomb Cake: Get this! It looks like honeycomb in structure, is chewy fun to eat, and which had a surprising citrusy note.
I was hoping to get some of the interesting items seen in pictures on Urbanspoon (like the pumpkin dessert and goldfish pastries) but didn't spot them on the menu.

We had about 10 items and considering we also had Peking Duck with the meat made into one dish of sweet-and-sour duck, we got off not too badly with a $27 bill after tax and tip. Some of us paid by VISA at the counter and they made absolutely no fuss about it at all.

Overall, a nice pick by Vanbrosia, who suggested the place and did all the ordering for us. Check out Vanbrosia's blog post on this Dynasty dim sum for her take on the food and her great pics of the food and menu.


90% gluten free at Linh Café

Linh Café - French Cooking on Urbanspoon I can't remember what initially attracted me to try Linh Café, but I was definitely sold on it when they replied that 90% of their dishes are gluten-free (but of the desserts, apparently only the chocolate mousse cake is gluten-free).

It's a smallish place, so if you do not have reservations, expect their earlier dinner seating to have a small lineup on busier days like Fridays evenings. You are probably safe to do a walk-in later, maybe around 8pm. Larger groups and chatty diners should probably go later so that you don't feel pressured to eat and get out because of the lineup at the door.

Decor is okay, with some interesting things to spot such as a row of painted pig heads. Also be sure to check out the potential desserts in the counter before you get started with dinner. I am normally careful to save room for dessert, but the dinner service at Linh Café surprised us and only two of us had any room for more than a couple of bites -- on top of doggy bagging some of our dinner.
The "problem" is you get bread. And french fries (or possibly mashed potato, as some people have previously reported). In our party of five, not everyone ordered a main and we still ended up with doggy bags and no room for dessert.

Dinner mains are over $20 here, which is sort of steep. But if you are feeling budget conscious, know that you can just order one main (and if you are dining alone, definitely don't order more than that unless you eat like a hungry hockey player) and expect to waddle out of there as well-fed as if you had just been to grandma's -- thanks to the free carbs mentioned above.

Like an old school restaurant, the bread is on the hot side of warm and probably only recently out of the oven. Fries weren't the best and not always perfectly long like McDonalds, but hey, they were decent and free so shaddup. If you don't want the carbs, better tell them first or they'll just bring it out--and they aren't stingy with the portions.
Unless you are faint with hunger, do NOT immediately eat up all the bread and french fries. People do that all the time at steakhouses and then they run out of room to finish their steak, much less fit in dessert. Besides, you want to save some bread for all the tasty sauce going around.

Banh Mi Cay Hai Phong - Spicy Baguette Sticks ($6.95 for three or $12 for six) Chicken & pork liver pâté, hot sauce, fried shallot
  • The "baguette sticks" are about the size of fat sausages -- maybe an inch thick and six inches long. They are pretty crusty on the outside and somewhat dry on the inside, so when you bite it, they break cleanly off. Don't expect a bread-like chewy experience.
  • The amount of pâté looks skimpy, but the flavour is powerful.
  • I recommend asking for the hot sauce on the side to make sure you get it on the side. It is really spicy, but mostly bitter. Since the liver is already somewhat bitter, it's not really stamping out any flavour, but I still recommend you try it out separately to determine how much you want in your baguette stick.
Poutine ($12.95) Peppercorn gravy, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, hand cut fries
  • The star here is the tasty peppercorn gravy. Despite the cosy sit-down atmosphere, you may or may not still feel it is worth an extra $3 over, say, Mean Poutine.
    • Save some of the bread to mop up the tasty gravy!
  • Had poached egg on it.
  • Jazzing it up will cost you extra: Made-in-house sausage ($4.50) or half butter-poached lobster ($21!)
  • Our waiter recommended a touch of freshly ground pepper, which was probably not necessary due to the peppery gravy, but it certainly didn't hurt any.
Lyonnaise Salad ($12.95) Poached egg, frisee, lettuce, shaved fennel, bacon
  • I was working on poutine, duck, chicken, and still trying to have room for dessert, so I passed on trying this. But the person who had it said her greens didn't have any dressing. Could be a fluke, could be the chef's particular style.
Vegetarian Roll ($10.50) Marinated Tofu, vermicelli, lettuce, fresh herbs
  • One of the few vegetarian choices and totally a dud.
  • Rice paper (?) wrap around the lettuce that holds the filling together. This was slightly sticky so the whole thing was tricky to even get off the plate.
  • Needed to slather this with sauce to be passably tasty. Vegetarians should just give Linh Café a pass.
Chicken Fricassee ($22.95) Chicken legs, tomato confit, preserved lemon
  • Wow was this salty! So off-puttingly salty that's all I could think about, sadly. You can try to ask the kitchen to watch the salt and season it yourself after if it really turns out bland.
  • Something else you can do is order a side of couscous ($2.50) to mix into the soup/sauce here. That, and save some of the bread. The complimentary fries won't help as much here since those are lightly salted.
Duck Roti ($23.95) Roasted duck, glazed grapes & apples, duck sauce
  • When I saw "roti" I immediately thought of some sort of flatbread to go with it. I am a sucker for rotis and naan bread and such so of course I immediately ordered this. Turns out, it's duck rôti -- i.e., roast duck. Duh. I should have realized you are unlikely to get roti out of French cooking.
  • For your money you get a sizable chunk of duck -- basically the rear one-quarter of duck. (No fatty tail, though). The price may seem daunting but combined with the complimentary bread, it's a full meal.
  • One quarter of a duck is, in my opinion, a bit too much duck for one person. Plus it looks like it is swimming in oil. You are liable to get meat/fat fatigue eating this, in the same way you could get your enthusiasm dulled while eating a slab of steak.
    • For this reason, I recommend you bring a buddy to share this item.
    • Fortunately the sauce has grapes and apples, which give a sweetness to offset any heaviness from eating tasty fatty duck. Spread them out and occasionally pair your bites with them.
  • Overall, nicely prepared duck with tender meat, but not my first choice of a main if I were eating alone.
  • Takes a bit longer to prepare than other mains. Just roasting the duck takes about 25 minutes.
Apple Chausson ($4.50)
  • Apple in puff pastry. Basically an apple turnover.
  • Something about this was just so good and tasty. It starts with the aroma -- so buttery! But the taste isn't too-buttery-rich.
  • Lovely flaky pastry. This was delightful to eat.
  • Sadly, because we were already having trouble finishing our order, this was the only dessert we got to try.
Cold Vietnamese Coffee ($4)
  • At our table was one Vietnamese person, and one person who'd been to Vietnam extensively. They assured me that the slow-drip Vietnamese coffee with its use of condensed milk was good stuff. But was it good enough to be worth $4?
  • Tall skinny glass with maybe 1/4 ice.
  • Bitter coffee -- where's my condensed milk?
  • I've wasted less money at Starbucks.
When the food was good, it was very good in a very-well-prepared sort of way. Service was friendly, and very attentive during the later dinner seating we had.

TIP: Don't go alone. One appy + one main can probably easily be shared between two persons. If you do go alone and want any chance of having more than just a nibble of dessert, put your meal together with appetizers.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

LUVO launches in Canada

As a LUVO investor, I have waited a long time for their product to be available in Canada. It's really ironic that it took so long because the founder Stephen Sidwell (co-founder of Gardein) is local to Greater Vancouver. With any luck, their sister venture LYFE Kitchen won't be far behind.
They are on Twitter with #LuvoEH.

Here's the announcement blurb:
We're excited to announce that Luvo will be making its Canadian debut, with the first selection of meals hitting the shelves on the west coast.
Product will begin to arrive in IGA Marketplace locations across British Columbia in the coming weeks.
Visit luvoinc.com for updates.
Read how Luvo CEO Christine Day wants to reinvent frozen food in Canadian Business Magazine.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Asian fusion brunch at The Union

The Union on Urbanspoon

I'm always interested in curious foods, so it's no surprise the Asian fusion menu at The Union caught my eye--especially what seemed to be a creative fusion brunch (i.e., more than just omelettes and eggs benedict).

The location is in a sketchy part of town, but on the Sunday morning we showed up for brunch right at 10 AM when they opened, the street was very quiet with most of the action just one street over with their busy grocery markets.
There's a bit of street parking for cars as well as a bike lane. The neighboring stores are all revitalized and new-ish looking, compared to the rest of the Chinatown neighbourhood.

Long communal tables and a mix of short benches and single-seater stools make up the dining space in The Union. This being Vancouver, don't count on the seating arrangement to necessarily encourage conversation with neighbours you don't know.
Oddities include soy sauce in what look like cough syrup bottles, and a sign that boasts "premium cigarettes available".

Pandesal French Toast ($11) five spice toffee sauce, sautéed Asian pears, whipped cream, rum toasted coconut
  • The quantity of toast you get roughly adds up to two and a half or three average slices of bread.
  • Clearly a lot of coconut involved and even seared directly onto to the toast.
  • The pears didn't taste like anything at all. Probably a fluke kitchen accident or something.
  • There's rum in this?
  • Despite the list of ingredients, this basically tastes like toast soaked in toffee sauce, with a large dollop of whipped cream.
Filipino Pankaplog ($14) two eggs (choice of fried or scrambled), sinangag, pickled papaya, pandesal, curry spiced hashbrowns, choice of sausage or bacon
  • Pankaplog is a slang term for breakfast that mainly consists of pande sal (bread), kape (coffee), and itlog (egg). Coffee is not included in your order.
  • It adds up to a decent meal but the neat piles of each item on your plate makes your order look small.
  • The quantity of sinangag (garlic fried rice) you get looks small, but it is flavourful, tasty, and has a richness which may be off-putting in too larger a quantity.
Lapu Lapu ($5) cucumber juice, coconut water, ginger, calamansi, pandan syrup
  • A strange cocktail that has a chaotic flavour in your mouth, with the various ingredients competing with each other.
  • Maybe because of the pandan leaf decorating the glass, there was a grassy flavour to the drink as well.
  • About 40% (?) ice cubes.
The items I tried feel overpriced by a couple of dollars for what you get, though arguably you are paying for exotic ingredients, which may or may not be worth a couple of extra dollars to you, especially as you could instead just go to an ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurant--often quite a cheap alternative.

The Union (and their other Cascade Company sister restaurants) is a Mealshare charity partner.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Walden Farms Whipped Peanut Spread

From the label:
Great Taste, Calorie Free.How do we do it?Smooth and creamy Walden Farms Whipped Peanut Spread is made with natural fresh roasted peanut flavor. Delicious on crackers or toast.Calorie Free. No Sugar added. Fat Free. Gluten Free.
As a peanut butter substitute, the main question is whether it tastes like peanut butter. And the answer is sort-of no. There is some roasted peanut flavour as advertised, but there is also a strong saltiness along with some sweetness -- sodium is rated at 105mg / 4% per 15 grams (1 tablespoon). I have a strong suspicion that the saltiness is there to distract you from the rest of the flavour.

Beggars can't be choosers, so if you are picking up a fake peanut butter for whatever reason, then you either learn how to like it or go without peanut butter. If you can have the real thing, this will taste sort of gross. It's like smooth peanut butter, except it's wetter and the saltiness is quite off-putting.

If you don't want to throw it out, you can use a very little bit of it each time alongside something else, like cream cheese. I haven't used it as a substitute in a recipe that calls for peanut butter as an ingredient, but that's also worth a try.





Parfaits at Chicco Coffee and Dessert Bar

CASH ONLY.

Chicco on Urbanspoon Chicco Coffee and Dessert Bar has a website that suggests way more French elegance than it actually has. It's a tiny, tiny place. There's barely any seating so expect to just do take-out. Their parfaits appear to be their signature item, so that's what we tried.

Honestly, I don't know how people eat this Japanese parfait stuff. Unlike a pretty much all-cream parfait, Chicco (and D'oro Gelato & Caffè further up Robson Street) offer a different sort of parfait, with a base of cake and cornflakes, a layer of jelly cut into cubes, then mainly whipped cream, ice cream, a macaron, and a pastry stick. There's some other stuff too depending on which one you choose but it's sort of token compared to the overall price of $7.75.

Like a honey toast box, you need strategy to properly eat this. Otherwise you end up with junk at the end.
  • You can eat this very slowly, thus letting the whipped cream and ice cream melt down into the bottom layers, which honestly are too hard to get to initially, especially with the flimsy plastic spoons they give you. If you dig and twist too hard to get at the cake and corn flakes initially, you are liable to break your spoon. That would be bad. Therefore, if you eat it slowly, by the time you get to the bottom, there should be enough ice cream to mix with the dry ingredients and for a somewhat tasty if ugly paste.
  • Or you can tactically remove the obstacles such as the pasty stick and macaron, then start mixing and eating your way down. If you are not disciplined, you will eat too much ice cream and have too little left for the cake at the bottom. Since this requires more thinking, its is not the preferred strategy.
My personal opinion -- and I'm sure I'll be lynched by ESL students for this -- is that these parfaits are a waste of money. The value you are getting for $7.75 is mainly a scoop of ice cream at the top and a macaron. What you are mostly paying for is a dessert that looks pretty initially.

Since it's so popular, I'm sure there's something about these parfaits that I'm overlooking. However, a this point I would have to recommend that if you want a parfait, go for the "real thing" rather than one stuffed with cornflakes and cake at the bottom.

Wow looking makizushi at Sushiholic

Sushiholic on Denman on Urbanspoon Sushiholic on Denman is a smallish place if you look from the doorway, but there's a side room with larger tables for larger groups. We went for a slightly later Friday dinner (7 pm) and the restaurant was quite quiet.

I'm no sushi expert, so as long as it doesn't taste stale or fishy, and I don't need soy sauce, it's all good to me. Sushiholic on Denman satisfies these conditions. Where Sushiholic distinguishes itself are its Special Maki Rolls, which have ace presentation and "wow" factor.
Strangely, their taste is not too special, and some rolls are "spicy" (meaning they liberally use some sort of mild chili sauce), which also covers up other flavours. Some of the rolls are deep fried, which sounds like it should have deep-fried flavour and crunchy fun, but sadly I found that lacking, which was disappointing (they also weren't oily, though, which is a plus).
Of the special maki rolls, some noteworthy ones are:
  • Awesome Roll ($7.95 for 8 pieces)
    • Great fun with the generous heaping of shredded-into-vermicelli yam "fries" on top.
  • Ever Green Roll ($8.95 for 12 pieces)
    • This is sort of a budget option and the vegetarian alternative, but for omnivores I found this bland.
    • The use of mango might have been interesting if it stood out more.
  • Fire Dragon Roll ($11.95 for 8 pieces) prawn tempura, mayo, cucumber, avocado, crispy bits and spicy tuna on top
    • This really looks like a Chinese dragon! Plus there's a nice touch with the sauce "flames". Absolutely worth a look.
  • Volcano Roll ($14.95 for 8 pieces) deep fried roll with asparagus, spicy tuna, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, half spicy tuna sashimi (normally $10.95)
    • Aside from what you get in sushi, this is a pretty good deal because there's tuna sashimi inside the "volcano" cone made from the sushi slices.
    • However, everything inside the "volcano" is swimming in chili sauce. Even the tuna, which is smaller bites mixed with small cubes of cucumber. Because of the chili, you can barely taste any tuna, honestly.
I suspect that if you are a sushi snob and comparing the subtlety of flavours and composition of the sushi by its ingredients, it might rank below Honjin Sushi or Bistro Sakana. But if you want your food to look fun, Sushiholic is the place to go.

We also tried the Tempura Ice Cream.
  • Total waste of time.
  • It's the size of a tennis ball.
  • The deep fried yet comes-out-chewy bread-like shell is almost a centimeter thick, so the actual amount of melted ice cream inside is about one scoop.
  • Served with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
  • Dig into this immediately because it all melts into a scary-looking goop pretty much immediately.
Tea is complimentary and promptly topped up. Bussing is good.
All plates come with a generous heap of ginger and wasabi, which you might not use at all.
What you could do is tell them not to add it to any of the plates, and instead give it to your table on the side on a separate platter, if you really need it. That could save a lot of waste if you go in as a group and start ordering 10+ rolls.

I initially tried to make a reservation using their online contact form and never got a reply, so it's possible that no one's checking that. For reservations, it's best to call.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Buy1Give1" at Medina Cafe on International Waffle Day

Café Medina on Urbanspoon


Mealshare is teaming up with restaurant partner Café Medina to celebrate International Waffle Day: On March 25th, for every waffle sold, another waffle will be provided to someone in need at Mealshare's local charity partner, Mission Possible.
Share your waffle pic that day (using the hashtag #WaffleShare) and be entered to win breakfast for two at Café Medina.

For more information post, click here to read the announcement on the Café Medina blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Starbucks Happy Mondays

If you haven't already, you may want to sign up for My Starbucks Rewards to take advantage of their new "Happy Mondays" 2 PM to 5 PM special rewards.
Normally their points program is a pretty long slog toward getting free stuff by buying a lot of stuff (to get "stars") quickly. With Happy Mondays, you can get more instant rewards just for being in My Starbucks Rewards. You still have to buy stuff, but sometimes you can get freebies. See below for the 2015-March schedule.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How much candy can you bring to America

I have a friend in the US who used to live in Canada -- so she's noticed that some things taste differently. Such as Twizzlers. And she likes Canadian Twizzlers better.

So I inquired with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as to how much I could bring:
I am visiting a friend in San Francisco later this year.
She wants Twizzlers -- she says the same product in the US tastes differently from those in Canada.
How much am I allowed to bring into the US for her? I don't go to the US regularly and she doesn't come to Canada regularly, so I was thinking of getting her more than just a couple of bags.
Here is their initial reply:
You can bring the candy to the US, and there is no set limit on the amount. All you have to do is declare the food to a CBP officer at the border or airport.
Mark
Answer Title: Food- Bring personal use food into the U.S. from CanadaAnswer Link: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1273
Answer Title: Travelers bringing food into the U.S. for personal useAnswer Link: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/82
Thank you for contacting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) INFO Center.
"Not set limit" = unlimited? Wow! But apparently not. Here's what I wrote back:
Thank you for the clarification.I did see the articles on the website, but as I was planning to bring as much as I could stuff into my bag, I was a bit worried about quantity, and I did not see the article clearly state that amounts are unlimited.
And their cautious response (emphasis mine):
You are allowed to have a reasonable amount of food for personal use or gifts. Usually that is up to 22 kg/50 pounds.
If I become a Youtube sensation for trying to smuggle too many bags of Twizzlers to San Fran, you'll know what happened...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Reservations absolutely necessary at Audrey Moment

Audrey's Moment High Tea on UrbanspoonI saw an article in Klip magazine Feb-2015 on [Audrey's] Moment and decided to give Audrey's Moment High Tea a try after a long hiatus on "high teas" / afternoon teas. At $28, the "Luxury [Hightea] set" weighs in price-wise on par with their Vancouver counterparts like The Secret Garden. I had heard that gluten-free versions were available, but when I called I was told that too much of the menu was bread-based so that option was out.

Honestly I didn't know what to really expect from a high tea / afternoon tea place in Burnaby. I mean, it's Burnaby, and near Metrotown. It just feels so out of place there -- but I guess that's also why the location is brilliant. It's about time we got a nice high tea place.

They've only been open since October, so it's too soon to tell how the menu and operations will stabilize, but at the moment, they are trying to keep costs down by limiting unnecessary waste. Which is why if you want to do any of their tea sets, reservations are ABSOLUTELY necessary.
Unless they happen to have extra on hand (because this is the Vancouver suburbs and people often no-show on restaurants), you WILL be turned away. I know because I saw it happen on the Saturday I was there. It was just before 2 PM and the place was empty. Two girls tried to do a walk-in for the tea service without reservations and they were turned away.
This is an unfortunate situation because their menu of items you can order at any time is very small. But if the items we had today are any indication, that menu is probably also worth checking out.

So make reservations 24-hours beforehand if you want the tea service and try not to cancel on them. Our party had one person no-show, but they were kind enough not to charge us for it. Still, that's not a nice thing to do to a restaurant, especially a new one.

As high tea places go, the décor and ambiance is ace and reminded me of my experience at Pâtisserie Für Elise: Bright, lots of white, and elegantly beautiful. Definitely take a good look around if you can. Things to look for include a picture of Audrey Hepburn, a vintage-looking phone, a large portrait in the back room above the couch, and a silver horse head.
Yeah -- a horse. And Audrey Hepburn: For some reason I thought it was named after the chef, but nope. It's some sort of Audrey Hepburn influence. No sign of Tiffany blue in the restaurant, though.
What the décor does have is a feel of luxury. Comfortable seats, wide tables for four persons, and ample spacing. Some afternoon tea houses are perhaps too popular and to try to seat everyone they end up with stingy spacing, which for me detracts from the atmosphere. For the moment, Audrey Moment is in its early days and you might as well go and savour the legroom and unrushed service. On top of this are beautiful full sets of painted bone china and cutesy teddy-bear-hilted cutlery.

Our server on Saturday was the super-sweet and adorable Alex--Whom the restaurant just throws to the wolves because the menu says one thing but the kitchen throws out another. Looks like they didn't tweak the printed menu because a couple of items were different, or at least looked different from the February feature article in Klip magazine. SakuraSweets and U Magazine  have pictures of the menu items as they appeared in February. Expect the menu to continue to evolve as the months go by and they adjust to customer feedback. Wish they'd reprint the menus, though, or at least update them online.

Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta
  • Looks like this, or a version of it, is still available.
  • White panna cotta topped with a layer of tamely flavoured grapefruit jelly, and a piece of orange.
  • Not sharp or bitter as you  might expect grapefruit to be. Others at our table thought it was "refreshing", but I would have personally liked a stronger, sharper flavour to qualify as such. Still, probably the best item with which to end your Luxury High Tea experience.
Chocolate Peanut Tart
  • Gone! But we got two mousse cakes.
House Special Mousse Cake
  • Two types: Strawberry and chocolate.
  • Very tough to pick up with your fingers because it is so soft. You might want to get a fork under it to help stabilize it when transferring it to your plate. They are one-bite sized, so you could also just transfer it straight to your mouth (is that gauche?).
Fresh Strawberry Napoleon Cake
  • Very delicate "sandwich" of puff pastry, topped with almonds.
"Macaron of your choice"
  • Poor Alex had to fast talk her way out of this one. Just the one rose-flavoured macaron to "choose" from. Everyone got the same thing.
  • As macarons go, they were decent. Nothing wrong with them at all.
Blackcurrant Scone served with Mascarpone Cheese and Rose Jam
  • To be honest it looked like raisins. Maybe it was raisin scones today.
  • Not crumbly and not too firm -- always plusses.
  • Not overly buttery, which falls into the middle ground of still tasty but maybe not rich enough.
  • Looked like two rounds pasted together before being baked. They came out stacked unevenly which looked odd -- until you easily and cleanly pull them apart for butter and jam. At that point you recognize the convenience of it all. Interesting choice.
  • The Mascarpone Cheese was so firm that I honestly thought it was butter. And it tasted like butter. Was it butter?
Bacon & Spinach Quiche
  • The ping-pong ball sized quiche we got is not the same as in the pictures I've seen. But its composition looked like what is described in the article: "combination of spinach, bacon, and mashed potato" except possibly diced potato instead of mashed. Also maybe topped with a bit of caramelized shallots? That or it was over-baked.
Smoked Wild Sockeye Salmon Ciabatta
  • I would have personally preferred a softer bread here. The bread was definitely on the firm and dry side, and that didn't help especially as I'm not keen on salmon to begin with. Needless to say I'm starting out biased here, so take this with a grain of salt.
Potato Salad and Tiger Prawn Sandwich
  • There's potato salad here? Secret sauce for sure, though.
Seafood Basket
  • Instead of a mini ice-cream cup we got mini cones in a green wrapper (no, don't eat the paper wrapper).
  • Salty-savoury creamy seafood-y filling.
  • They probably changed the recipe from using curry powder, and I think that's a good choice since curry is powerful stuff and can take away from the other flavours.
Salami Croissant
  • There's salami in here?
Proscuitto Sandwich
  • Same with the salmon item -- bread could be softer, especially when the topping is so light.
  • Strangely not very salty or flavourful.
Tea
  • Interesting variety of scented teas available including a "Creme Caramel Green Tea".
  • You pick your tea for the "Luxury Tea Set" from the tea menu. There's the left hand side, and the slightly pricier right hand side. If you choose from the right hand side, you pay the difference, which could be as little as 25 cents.
  • Comes with your choice of honey, rock salt, and regular salt. Yup, all three are brought to the table.
Overall, the presentation is good and there's a feeling that the items were individually carefully and properly prepared, but the food was strangely not very memorable. Only the Seafood Basket and the Rose Jam had a strong flavour that really stood out. The scone was also nicely done unless you demand buttery richness. And maybe if you prefer more delicate flavour, then the menu will find more favour with you. There are two ways you can read this:
  • "It's not very tasty", OR
  • According to the article (see picture below, purple section at the bottom), "to maintain the health of each customer, they choose their ingredients with utmost care, and you will find that everything is not too sweet nor too salty".

And I think the latter is probably the more correct interpretation. We are used to demanding sensory pleasure and already conditioned by packaged food to demand saltiness or sweetness, and excessively so. When health-conscious food appears, it's often "lacking" even though we are told again and again to cut back on sugar and sodium. So before you judge the high tea set at Audrey's Moment, give this a thought.

At $28, price is on par with many other places. The total amount of food you get isn't as filling as some tea places that use more bread (here, on the savoury tray, except the croissant you get open-faced sandwiches), but a filling meal / lunch substitute isn't necessarily the proper judge of what a high tea service is supposed to be.
Combined with a beautiful space and especially the roomy surroundings and un-rushed service, high tea at Audrey's Moment is a good deal if you also also count ambiance in the price.

*

I also tried the intriguing looking "Puff Pastry Soup" ($8). This is basically a medium bowl of soup topped with a slab of puff pastry capping it in lieu of getting bread or crackers to go with your soup. The bowl isn't filled to the brim probably because that would destroy the puff pastry while it was baked on.

I chose the Dungeness Crab Bisque because, according to our server, it was one of the rarely ordered items.
  • Clear crab flavour.
  • Being a bisque, you are getting a soup, not a stew, so don't expect to see large chunks of anything. If you want something thicker and heavier, go for the chowder.
  • There was also a richness to this soup which made it very tasty. All things considered, $8 was a good price for this order.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tea takes a while at Basho Cafe

Basho Cafe on Urbanspoon Next time I go to a Japanese restaurant, I'll have to remember to ask the staff what the name means. "Basho" can apparently mean different things depending on the kanji. Although "location" is a good guess, it may refer to the haiku poet Matsuo Bashō.

Anyway, I finally got down to Basho Cafe to have a peek. For a smallish place, it's really nice that they didn't try to cram the floor with as much seating as possible. Instead, there's a respectable amount of legroom and privacy between the tables (though for roominess in cafes, Lost + Found still can't be beat).

I ducked in late afternoon for a meeting, so I just got a peppermint tea and a mini-muffin.

Kabocha Muffin ($1)
  • I was sort of hoping that they'd mispelled kombucha, but no, it was kabocha--Japanese pumpkin.
  • $1 for a ping-pong ball sized muffin that'd been sitting in the counter for god-knows-how-long since it was around 2.30 pm. Why did I buy it? No idea.
  • Well whaddya know? Didn't feel like it was out too long. Moist, with even moister places where there'd probably been a lil' chunk o' pumpkin. Flavourful. Not oily/buttery/fatty. This was actually a really decent muffin.
  • Also worth a plus: When I tore it in half with my fingers, it didn't leave any crumbly mess. Nice!
  • If you put three together they'd add up to a largish muffin, but if the quality were all good, the price would have been maybe only a tad above average, so pound for price is actually also decent.
Looseleaf Tea (for stay; $2.85)
  • $2.85 for tea? Really? Yeah, I bought this anyway maybe more out of curiosity.
  • It took a while to get to me -- long enough that I went to the counter to gently inquire what was going on. I didn't want to start my mini-muffin before my tea. Turns out they were prepping it in a little teapot--complete with a tea cozy!
    • Hell, only *some* afternoon tea places have tea cozies. I really wasn't expecting this from a cafe in a slightly sketchy looking part of town. Nice!
    • They also apparently held/prepped the tea until it was ready to drink. They didn't just throw the leaves into a pot, top it up with hot water, and serve it to you. That's why it took longer than tea at Starbucks.
  • So $2.85 actually gets you a POT of tea--not just one mug--so keep that in mind. And they didn't do the cheesy thing and charge me extra when I asked for an extra cup to share my tea. Bonus points!
Service feels warm and pleasant. Like some kindly neighbour old enough to remember old school courtesy, combined a sense of conscientiousness in what they do that results in a quality-controlled product. You can't necessarily get that nowadays at just any Japanese restaurant, though if the owners and floor staff are imported from Japan, you just might.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Edible Canada Bistro a handy gluten-free choice

Edible Canada at the Market on Urbanspoon

Walked in for a Friday night 8 PM reservation and it was still busy! Things quieted down closer to 10 PM, but considering there's no shortage of restaurants on Granville Island, Edible Canada deserves a closer look no matter what their online ratings.
This said, because of their sheer busy-ness, if you intend to linger for dinner conversation I recommend a later seating, maybe 8pm when the dinner rush is basically over and people are on their way out. No shortage of tables after that--which means no anxiety on the part of servers to move you along and out the door.

The floor space is mostly restaurant and they do their best with decor, but the architecture doesn't really support that well. At the back is a small grocery store, and beyond that, the pleasantly clean washrooms.
Seating isn't too tight in the open and airy feeling dining area, but if your seat is against a wall, it could be a tad squashy. Also, the broad round base of the tables means you are liable to step on it, so watch out that you don't upset the whole table and tip a drink.

Menus change pretty much monthly, and farm-to-table means they are a bit restricted in what they can compose. Vegetarians should consult the online menu first and vegans could be basically out of luck. Coeliacs (gluten-intolerant), however, can have a great time there as very many items are gluten free.
Edible Canada is also apparently a place of fear and loathing for ducks this month as the menu seems to sport of a lot of duck fat frites.

Duck Fat Frites ($5 as side dish, but an equal portion is paired with many menu items)
  • For some reason, when I read "duck fat frites" on the menu, I thought they would be crispy sticks of thoroughly fried duck fat -- maybe like chicharrón (fried pork rinds), but tastier somehow. But nope, it's just french fries done in duck fat.
  • Really decent fries, very crispy on the outside. They do smell slightly different from fries done in "normal" oil (whatever that is). But they don't smell ducky or fatty.
  • If you are bored or just curious, save the "newspaper" that the frites come in. The articles on it may very well be real articles -- we didn't check all of them, but you can definitely find online the Cape George Fish Chowder recipe at Our Favourite Family Recipes.
    • See the bottom of this article for a copy of the "newspaper".
Nova Scotia Hodgepodge ($16) pearl onion, root vegetables, squash, truffled pomme frites
  • Their current Mealshare item -- through the Mealshare charity, Edible Canada will donate a meal for every Hodgepodge ordered.
  • The soup plate doesn't look very big but it's deep. Still, it's sort of a pricey stew for what you get.
  • Interesting sweetness to this stew that might be a bit too strange if you were hoping for good ol' comfort food stew.
  • Matchstick fries on top, supposedly truffled (and possibly hence the $$$) but it didn't do anything for me, certainly not to justify any extra $.
Chocolate Eggplant Brownie ($8) preserved fruit, hazelnut brittle
  • "Preserved fruit" turned out to be one drunken cherry.
  • Hazelnut brittle can escape you if you're not paying attention: Apparently it's the crushed bits. At least I *think* it's the crushed bits... That, or they forgot it.
  • Some sort of white cream on top so probably not vegan.
  • About two-thirds the size of a deck of cards -- meaning it is horrifically small for an $8 dessert.
  • Grainy feel in the mouth, which can come with the territory of a gluten-free baked item.
  • Good chocolatey flavour. Maybe not sweet enough if you are hoping for a more classic-tasting fudgy-style brownie.
Food is good but not really wow, and for that reason can add up to overpriced. Dinner was over $30, and that smallish brownie was really painful on the wallet.

Service was friendly and prompt, and they also did very well plating all our orders hot -- one of our party arrived a bit later, shortly after everyone ordered. Still, they brought all our dishes out at the same time not too long after.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Experimental Chocolate - BETA5 Chocolate Union



If you are into interesting chocolates, BETA5 offers monthly chocolate experiments. See below for their 2015-February offering. Pricing is about $60 for a one-time purchase; discounts available for memberships. You can sign up for their mailing list in-store or online.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tennis ball Cream Puffs at BETA5

BETA5 Chocolates on Urbanspoon It's in an industrial zone because BETA5 Chocolates was initially a chocolatier for hotels and such. Only later did they open a chocolate shop. I think they also added another oven to keep up with the ridiculous cream puff demand.
Despite the location, the exterior is clean and in the interior is a bit spartan and hospital-warehouse-chic but also clean and reassuring. And you can watch the oompa-loompas do their thing through the glass window. Keep an eye out for the curious spray-station.

Can you go to a renowned chocolatier and not buy any chocolate? Apparently you can. Or at least I did--The closest I got to getting chocolate was a small free sample of chocolate with pop rocks in them. Yup, it's fireworks in your mouth. Neat, but, er, didn't make me desperately want to buy them. Maybe because I don't have bratty kids to shut up.
Anyway, I went yesterday and just got some cream puffs.

Which, from looking at the pictures and from I-don't-know-where-it-comes-from estimates I thought would be the size of ping-pong balls.
Turns out they are more like TENNIS BALLS. So when I opened the box of four, I was like, "Holy Shit!"
And at $16 for four (i.e., bulk pricing of $4 a piece), it is a ridiculously good deal for these artistic delicacies.
Sure, they're mass produced, but they still look gorgeous.

Each cream puff has the same hollow crispy shell that seems to stay admirably crispy for quite a while. And because the shell it quite thin, you can get away with carefully cutting them in half (but you will probably need to take off the cap) to share. Most have cream, but if you are going to cut-and-share, be wary that some items have gooey fillings that can pour out.

My friend and I tried...
Maybe because I'm partial to citrusy stuff, I liked the Blueberry Yuzu the best. Second was the Banana Cream Puff. I liked the Walnut + Apricot one the least because the titular flavours didn't come out so strongly for me, especially after the thin dark chocolate pieces topping this one (it seemed natural only to remove them and eat them first and separately because they stuck out).

What they all have in common is a creaminess that does not convey that fatiguing heavy feeling you can get when having something rich in cream, dairy, fat, or butter. This means the cream puffs are dangerously easy to consume one after the other. Their size, however, makes it more sensible to share, although cutting them requires a bit of patience and a lighter touch.
Cutting them also gets you a more manageable portion that is less likely to squirt cream out in an inconvenient direction. Plus you can lick at whatever cream flavour interests you to isolate.

Mid-week days are best if you want to try a walk-in to try the cream puff flavours. We were there on a Wednesday at maybe 2pm and all flavours were still available!



Stick to the basics at To Dine For Eatery

To Dine For Eatery on Urbanspoon So I finally got around to trying To Dine For Eatery after hearing about their Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger forever. Since my Korean friend was curious about their "Hot Spicy" Korean Kimchi Burger, I got a bite of that as well.

The location looks like a dead-end industrial black hole, but the building it is located in has a good population including an ESL school, so if you try to walk in at noon you'll likely face a packed room. On Wednesday we did a 1 PM walk-in after the lunch hour and it was barely a third full. The kitchen was still pretty busy -- too busy for the chef to cut our burgers in half, apparently, so we did it ourselves -- but service was still pretty fast.

Burgers come with your choice of fries, salad, or (+$1) soup-of-the-day. My friend attempted to get half fries, half salad and was told that would be a $2 surcharge! Apparently their busy kitchen is pretty ruthless about protecting its time and takes no prisoners.

Kimchi Burger ($13.95)
  • Nice bun. Not WonderBread.
  • Tall burger thanks to the fluffy lettuce on top.
  • Lettuce, red onion, and a bit of sweet pickle makes the top half of the burger. What appeared to be a house-made patty sits on the bottom.
    • Patty was moist and tender without being crumbly.
    • Just this would have made a really decent burger.
  • Kimchi portion was so-so.
    • Not hot or spicy.
    • Not so fermented as to be stinky, so don't worry. Basically this is just preserved veggie.
    • Flavour overshadowed by the pickle. TIP: Immediately open up your burger and remove the pickles. Otherwise this burger won't be worth the +$2 cost over their basic burger.
Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger ($12.95)
  • Basically the same burger as the Kimchi Burger, except instead of Kimchi, you get peanut butter and bacon bits.
  • As with the Kimchi Burger, immediately remove the pickles! Otherwise they'll dominate over the flavour of the peanut butter and bacon.
  • Peanut butter seemed watery, but it might be because of contact with hot bacon and burger patty.
  • Flavours do go together nicely. But I'm not convinced this experience is worth $12.95.
  • Previous reviews mentioned full bacon strips but my burger yesterday looked like it had crumbled bacon. Looked crispy, though.
Fries
  • Had an aroma suggestive of deep-frying oil that needed to be changed out with new oil. Otherwise it was a really decent fry -- crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Probably an end-of-lunch-rush oversight.
  • Crispy on the outside for a good while after it was gold.
Soup (+$1 with your burger)
  • Soup of the day was a filled-to-the-brim turkey-veggie soup.
  • This is really soup, not the stew/chowder you sometimes get. Ask first if you are hoping for the soup to help fill up your plus-sized appetite.
$12 nowadays will get you a gourmet burger with no side, such as at Romer's Burger Bar. For this reason, To Dine For Eatery's prices may reflect their sort-of captive audience, because the nearest alternatives are a block away or food trucks down the street. If you demand interesting or gourmet burgers, go elsewhere.