Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Basil Garden Pho

Basil Garden Pho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Basil Garden Pho has been open just 4 months but the family has been in the restaurant business since the 90's. The unassuming exterior opens into a bright, clean, modern, newly renovated space close to Renfrew Skytrain Station just a couple blocks down the street.
Weekday lunch is usually so busy that they are not able to take reservations, although larger groups could try an 11.30am or 11.45am reservation. Evenings and weekends are calmer, presumably because the nearby college and commercial buildings are less populated.

DISCLOSURE: I was there for a complimentary tasting so. We got a chance to try some of their popular dishes, some "special menu" items, and some test kitchen items.

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

At the moment the "special menu" is basically available when the owner Philip is there to cook it but in maybe a month or less the menu will be updated and hopefully those items won't be do elusive.
They are also short on desserts at the moment and have experimented with various offerings but low demand for dessert has made it tricky to balance freshness with cost effectiveness. Looks like they'll settle on outsourced Japanese cheesecake in the near future.
Overall I found the food tasty and well-prepared. Fried chicken was juicy on the inside. Deep fried items were not oily-tasting. Even the baguette for dipping chicken curry was toasty warm, and that's after the three of us were done taking pictures.
There's an emphasis on preparing their own food such as beef broth from boiling bones for 18 hours, versus shortcutting with beef bouillon.

They have accommodated gluten-free dining before but it's best to call ahead as many things may be marinated and basically only the owner will handle special requests.

For our tasting menu when we had individual servings they were sampler-sized at about 1/2 to 1/3rd of a regular order, so pictures are not necessarily representative of what you would get.

Garlic Butter Chicken Wings ($12.50 for 9 wings)
  • Pretty crispy on the outside though not crunchy crispy. Has a lovely aroma of garlic bread and a bit of lime juice on them is recommended.
  • A normal order is 9 wings plus some fresh veggies on the side. If you will definitely not eat the greens, ask to hold them so they don't get thrown out later.
Basil Garden Pho - Garlic Butter Chicken Wings

Basil Garden Pho - Garlic Butter Chicken Wings

Lotus Stem Salad ($14 full order, $8 half order) Lotus stems, shredded cabbage, shredded chicken, prawns, herbs, pickled carrots and daikon, crushed peanuts, fried shallots and house vinaigrette.
  • Fish sauce vinaigrette served on the side. Recommend you try the salad without it first.
  • I found the salad overall sweet and refreshing and didn't need any dressing. Overall a very tasty dish.
Basil Garden Pho - Fresh Lotus Stem Salad

Basil Garden Pho - Fresh Lotus Stem Salad

Basil Garden Pho - Fresh Lotus Stem Salad

Lemongrass Dry Ribs (special menu)
  • Very nicely done with the meat not dry and tough.
  • Lemongrass flavour was pretty mild--intentional, apparently, through the use of fresh lemongrass. To have a stronger lemongrass flavour would have required a paste, which would have made the ribs not dry at all.
  • I thought it was very salty but was outvoted 2-1.
Basil Garden Pho - Lemongrass Dry Ribs

Basil Garden Pho - Lemongrass Dry Ribs

Basil Garden Chicken Curry with Toasted French Baguette ($9)

  • Curry has some spicy-heat to it but not too much.
  • Very strong lemongrass flavour. Curry looks smooth but it is actually quite grainy/coarse with bits of stuff. Also, potatoes are hiding at the bottom, so stir!
Basil Garden Pho - Basil Garden Chicken Curry (about 1/3rd order)

Satay Peanut & Beef Noodle Soup (special menu)
  • An interesting combination of satay sauce and pho. You can definitely smell the delicious, rich satay sauce though the taste is of course diluted once mixed into your noodles.
  • Unlike a regular soupy pho, a bowl of this feels a much heavier meal due to thicker soup-sauce. It be initially deceptive until you stir to mix it, whereupon you may, like I did, find a virtual cake of noodles hiding at the bottom.
  • Careful about the spicy heat of the satay sauce and ask about it if you're not good with hot.
Basil Garden Pho - Satay Peanut & Beef Noodle Soup

Basil Garden Pho - Satay Peanut & Beef Noodle Soup

Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice ($4.25)
  • Maybe 2/3rd ice? Hard to tell.
  • Tastes like freshly squeezed all right, which is good, but at $4.25 it's kinda painful to be honest. Try one of their other drinks to get more satisfaction for your money -- smoothies or signature drink.
  • Look out for the possibly upcoming Mango Smoothie. I didn't try it but the person in our party who did loved the use of orange in it. It'll probably weigh in at around $4 to $5, which is going to be way more satisfying than this their freshly squeezed orange juice.
2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho - freshly squeezed orange juice

Japanese Cheesecake (Mango or Green Tea)
  • Really decent and the wedges are quite small--probably a good thing since the very reasonable prices here for mains ($10 for any pho of large size) likely means you've had a filling meal already.
  • Pricing on the cheesecake was not yet available. Look for it on the updated menu coming soon or try asking for it. Not made in-house so they won't be scrambling to assemble one for you.
Basil Garden Pho - Green Tea Cheesecake, Mango Cheesecake

Tasty food well prepared. Mains generally at a budget price. Nice clean, bright, space lends a good ambiance. Friendly staff who approach you right away when you enter.

Basil Garden Pho - Crispy Spring Rolls

Basil Garden Pho - House Special Pho

Basil Garden Pho - Lemongrass Chicken and Grilled Pork Jowl on Rice

Basil Garden Pho - Lemongrass Chicken and Grilled Pork Jowl on Rice

Basil Garden Pho - Basil Garden Signature Drink

Basil Garden Pho - Basil Garden Signature Drink

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

2016-Sep-28 Basil Garden Pho

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Basil Pasta Bar cheap with good portions

Basil Pasta Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Basil Pasta Bar (on Davie) has a dingy, dilapidated feel to the small place. Window seat is still the best because people don't bother looking in, and hey, it's Yaletown -- chances of a really cute/hot girl walking by once every 2 minutes or so are pretty good.

Portion sizes are good so their ad copy is no lie. For under $10 (usually $8.95) you can have a filling lunch of pasta. However, taste is mediocre, probably because the sauce tasted thin. Lots of pasta, yes, but you miss the richness that comes from good sauce. After all, pasta really just moves the sauce from the plate to your mouth.

I got the "spicy" Penne Arrabiata (spicy tomato sauce with chorizo sausage, red peppers, and garlic; garnished with fresh parsley and goat cheese) and my friend tried the Spaghetti Carbonara.

Penne Arrabiata was barely spicy but there is a mild buzz in your mouth. Otherwise tasted okay - which is to say on par (maybe even inferior to) getting your own pasta sauce from the supermarket and pouring it into pasta you boiled at home. You'd probably be too lazy to get your own chorizo and goat cheese, though so Basil Pasta Bar would still be one step ahead of you.

2016-Sep-20 - Basil Pasta Bar (davie) - Penne Arrabiata

2016-Sep-20 - Basil Pasta Bar (davie) - Penne Arrabiata

2016-Sep-20 - Basil Pasta Bar (davie) - Spaghetti Carbonara

Friday, September 9, 2016

Meet in Gastown gift card

Meet in Gastown Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato A much better taste experience at Meet in Gastown! Last time I was at Meet in Gastown I had a Portobello Burger that didn't look very good and I mentioned it in my blog and on Yelp. Surprisingly, someone was actually reading and Meet offered me a gift card.

When a restaurant offers you a gift card through Yelp, obviously they are trying to get you to revise their rating. I asked the Yelp Community Manager about that, and she said it was legit as long as there was full disclosure. So based on that, I accepted the card. I mean, how much could it possibly be? $5? The cost of the burger?

Anyway, I found a friend curious about Meet and we finally went, months later and hopefully incognito. I was tempted to try the burger again to see if my experience before was a one-off, but even if it were, one bad menu item shouldn't damn a restaurant.
All of the picks on this visit were by my dining partner. We tried four things:

Sweet-Chili Cauliflower ($9.75) house beer-battered with our tamarind chili-ginger glaze; finished with scallions & sesame seeds
  • As good as before. My friend found it too sour, but it uses tamarind as advertised, so going in some of that is to be expected.
2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - cauliflower appy

Not-Cho' Average Cheese Nacho Fries ($10.75) crispy fries with house-made cheezy queso sauce,
pickled jalapeƱo peppers & authentic pico de gallo
  • Fries start out crispy but obviously due to the cheeze sauce they get soggy real quick. So eat faster.
  • Surprisingly big and deep bowl. At $10.75 this is a meal and for trendy-ish Gastown that's a good price for a meal.
  • Watch out for the jalapenos! They look pickled and sometimes the pickled ones are wimpy in spicy-heat. Not here. If the jalapenos were chopped up a bit more and more distributed I think that would definitely have helped jazz up each bite, but some people might want to avoid the heat from the jalapenos and their clear size and distribution on the sides make that easy to do.
  • If the fries had just the cheeze sauce they would be OK but monotonous, so I can see where they're going with the nacho toppings. However, don't expect the "nacho experience" where you can scoop up enough of the colourful veggie toppings with each bite. Just wasn't happening here, and it's hard to do because the fries are narrow. All in all I think I just couldn't quite get that going so mostly this dish turned out to be fries in cheeze sauce.
  • If you are an omnivore hoping for very-cheese-like taste, the cheeze sauce just isn't gonna cut it. But if you let go of that, the cheeze sauce is actually quite tasty. And because it's sauce you aren't racing against time before it cools and dries and clumps. Not too salty either, which regular cheese can do to a dish (like old cheddar?).
  • Overall, really good portion for price and interesting way to have your fries. Use a spoon to help you get at the toppings.
2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - nacho fries

2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - fries bowl depth

Mac 'n Cheese ($10.75, extra for optional toppings) pasta smothered in our vegan cashew cheez sauce, finished with scallions and a sprinkle of smoked salt (your choice of brown rice macaroni or wheat penne)
  • Portion looked surprisingly small, though maybe only because the fries came first and that was a mountain portion in the same type of bowl.
  • Really plain presentation and could possibly be monotonous but the star here is the cheese sauce. You'll either like it or not. I liked it enough to give this a pass. Taste is good, not too salty.
  • If you just want the sauce, go for something else that has the same sauce. We tried this dish at its most basic, but it's probably better if you throw in one of the add-ons.
2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - mac 'n cheeze

2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - bowl depth

Cronut ($7.75)
  • Ours had a coconutty sauce pumped in from beneath the cronut.
  • Nothing donut-like about this in taste or texture except maybe because they deep fried it at some point? Inside was still like a croissant.
  • I'm guessing it's deep fried at some point but if so the oiliness didn't stick out at all.
  • Absolutely crusted with sugar. No half-assed job here.
  • Be ready for the sugar. We shared the one cronut and I still had sugar fatigue from my half. I highly recommend ordering one to share and only get another if the other person suddenly doesn't want the plate moved any closer to you, or if you can't get enough of this, then get another. Sugar fatigue will ruin your experience of it.
  • If you are sharing, try to ask specifically for a real knife, like a steak knife. Otherwise they just hand you what looks like a safe butter knife and that's not going to do a good job. There's a somewhat chewy skin and inside just like a regular croissant, so a blunt knife will just mash it as well as cause the sugar coating to just flake off excessively and thereby be wasted.
2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - cronut

2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - cronut

2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown - cronut

Made a mess opening it up to see the inside, but the exterior was sort of chewy.
Casual friendly service during the pre-6pm dinner time. Patio was open for extended seating.

Below was the mystery-amount gift card I got. It came in a tiny brown envelope that was sealed and I didn't open that to keep the suspense.
Turned out to be a very generous $30. OMG. Almost paid for our meal for two (which had leftovers because of the portion size of the fries).

2016-Sep-8 Meet in Gastown

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Knorr Onion Soup

Found some Knorr Onion Soup on sale at Superstore and decided to try it. Based on the packaging I thought it was an onion dip mix, but it's actually primarily a soup, with alternative uses.

The flavour is a savoury onion flavour, and pretty good, EXCEPT it is salty salty salty.

Did I mention it is salty? Can I say it more than four times? Because it's crazy salty if you follow the recipes. I tried the "Juicy Burger" recipe and the "Onion Dip" recipe, and both came out really salty.
For the onion dip (sour creme + onion soup mix), the colour was also very, very, different from the picture on the package, which suggests a clean creamy white. It's actually more like brown (see pictures below).

Recommend you halve the quantities indicated in the recipes for Onion Dip and Juicy Burger, and cautiously add more if you are not satisfied with the saltiness or onion flavour.

Knorr Onion Soup - box (front) and onion dip

Knorr Onion Soup - box (back) and pouch

Knorr Onion Soup - Onion Dip

Sunday, September 4, 2016

TAKO (Taqueria Koreano) needs bulk pricing

TAKO (Taqueria Koreano) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Small clean place at the dingy foot of Stadium Skytrain Station (stadium exit). Things on the menu look reasonably priced to slightly expensive, except the tacos. Which are OK-sized but at almost $4 each, very pricey to put together a meal with, if you want any chance of actually having a filling meal. They said they were new and don't have bulk pricing yet.

Tacos are standard size but only one taco shell each instead of the usual two. Fillings are light -- lighter than almost every other taco place I've tried -- but fluffy-ish so it looks like a good quantity. My Jeju Taco didn't overflow or squish out or tear through the shell because the fillings were wet when I pinched the shells together, so you don't really need two shells.

Veggie options for tacos also really weak compared to many Mexican-ish taco places, so vegetarians should definitely look carefully at the online menu before going.

Jeju Taco ($3.45) Spicy pork belly
  • Tasted like nicely done shredded BBQ pork with a slight sweet glaze. Nothing spicy or spicy-hot here.
  • Overall tasty but small and pricey. Other than the novelty of having it in a taco, it's just nicely grilled meat.
2016-Sep-3 TAKO - jeju taco

2016-Sep-3 TAKO - gangnam (left), jeju (right)

Corn Chips ($2.95)
  • Sour cream for dipping was $1 extra (are you kidding me?).
  • Slightly darker shaded chips tasted bitter-burnt. Hard to tell which but too bitter to be tasty and random enough to ruin your enjoyment.
  • Sure could use a dusting of salt or something salty.
2016-Sep-3 TAKO

2016-Sep-3 TAKO

2016-Sep-3 TAKO