Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dine Out Vancouver 2010 - Maurya Indian Cuisine

Maurya Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Had a wonderful time at Maurya Indian Cuisine tonight with wonderful dining companions. Surprised that even closer to 7pm, this restaurant with excellent food and that had been honoured by Dine Out patrons two years running (they were Best Overall Menu and Best Appetizer in 2009) was less than half occupied.

The in-restaurant menu was different from the initial menu posted on the Dine Out website (and there were reports of website hiccups later on, which made the menu inaccessible):
  • Entree choices were trimmed, and the Goa Fish Curry is gone! But the helpful server asked the kitchen, and they made it available for me anyway.
  • Dessert choices were dropped from three to two, with the Kesar Phirni off.
  • Read the Gulab Jamun entry carefully as it differs from the typical offering (something about sitting on bread -- an oversight on my part meant I didn't catch that our party of four all ordered the ice cream, so we didn't get to see it at all).
Anyway, for appetizers, we very nearly all ordered the "Jewels of the Sea" (Samundri Ratan). I noticed this and sacrified my first choice for the Chicken Mumtaaz (chicken kebob). A fellow diner followed suit and got the mixed vegetables.
Mixed grilled vegetables was interesting in its mix of veggies and fruit (including jackfruit!).
Chicken was the firmer white breast meat, yet moist. Very nicely done, and large slabs to boot--not the usual cubes for kebob but four pieces each approximately a whole three cubic inches.
However, overall, I must say (and with the consensus of my fellow diners) that the "Jewels of the Sea" had to be the best appy. And though I hadn't ordered it, was gratified to have a bite at least. If you go to Maurya, order this! Two round cake/dumplings per plate, and of a good size (about 1-/2 inch in diameter). You can taste the seafood that went into it, and you can clearly see at least one whole shrimp on the inside.

For our entrees, the chicken seemed dreadfully popular at our table for some reason. I had, as mentioned, been set on the Goa Fish Curry, and fortunately the kitchen was willing to make it, though they weren't prepared, geared up as they were for their final dine out menu. The server's warning was that it would take about a half-hour, but with appetizers ahead and a lively party of four, I didn't notice a thing.
Our mean came with two servings of rice and one basket of excellent fresh naan! We did end up asking for more naan (about 6 more wedges came, I believe), and with nothing added to the bill. I would recommend going easy on the naan as you'll probably want to use it to get every last drop of delicious curry from the metal serving dishes.
Curry was either mild, medium, or spicy. I opted for spicy for the Fish Curry, and it was spicy enough, but not so much that I was weeping for yogurt to clear my palate of unbearable burning and bitterness. The "mild" chicken curry had a surprising sweetness that wasn't discernable (or I wasn't paying enough attention) in the medium versions. My fish curry had enough fishiness so that you were sure it was fish and not tasteless meat, yet not so fishy to be off-putting. Nothing too adventurous required to try it (and nothing extra on the bill, either).
Chicken was chicken, I thought, Stiff breast meat chunks. Very generous amount of curry overall, very good for an initial round of dipping while the naan is still on the hot side of warm. Whatever was added to the fluffy rice was overshadowed by the strong and delicious flavours of the curry.

For dessert, pink (strawberry) kulfi (ice cream). I think it's prepared in the back in very long rods and chopped up for each plate. That seemed to be the common shape, and with four plates coming to the same table, it was still useful enough to try different presentations. The actual quantity of ice cream in each plate may then very well vary by as much as two cubic inches, however. One to two mint leaves per plate -- and yes, you can eat it. (It's like a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint in your mouth, but with a grassy/leafy aftertaste.)
I'd never had "authentic" kulfi before, but it's supposed to melt less easily due to how it's prepared. What we had was in between an ice cream and a sorbet, and it melted just as quick as regular ice cream, so I'll leave it up to more knowledgeable foodies to comment on its authenticity.
Not sorry to have ordered it, however, as the fresh fruity flavour and coolness was a very nice way to offset the curry, that can leave you with a slightly heavy feel, sort of like how too much spaghetti and pasta sauce can make you feel a bit sluggish.

Wouldn't have done to chase the kulfi with a hot coffee or tea after, however, but I certainly could have done with a mint tea or strong chai afterward. We started at 5pm when the restaurant was just open, and by the time we were done, there was still a luxuriuos amount of room in the restaurant that we didn't feel pressured at all to leave and make room for others. Where's the Dine Out crowd? With not much time left on Dine Out (ends May 6th), they're missing out by not going to Maurya Indian Cuisine.

Dine Out Vancouver - Bistro Pastis

Bistro Pastis on Urbanspoon

Stepped out tonight for my first Dine Out Vancouver 2010 dinner. Bit of a dud, it turned out, but maybe that's just my palate not used to French food.
Anyway, it was Bistro Pastis (on West 4th, near Comic Land, which is participating in Free Comic Book Day on May 1st) tonight, with a dear foodie friend and very fine dining companion.

On their Dine Out Vancouver page, Bistro Pastis offers a $28 menu, but once you get there you'll discover they are also offering a $38 menu. (My guess is the Dine Out website's too rigid to accomodate a second menu.)
Same desserts on the $38 menu. Boo.

You can also order additional sides for ~$5, selecting from what's typically available off their regular menu, with the addition of "famous" macaroni and cheese. We were intrigued by this and did end up asking for the macaroni and cheese. I could have sworn it was $5 on the menu but came out $6 on the bill. But with the bill ~$70 for both of us (including two mint teas at $2.80 each; no wine), we didn't bother quibbling about it.

For the appetizers, we asked for the Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Fennel Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette; and the Calamare à la Provençale with Ratatouille, Salad Frisee, and Citrus Beurre Blanc.
At first glance, the two plates looked the same, because both had the same greens in the salad. I found my squid hiding underneath, and my dining companion and I both agreed they were very tender. The most flavourful part was the probably 2 tablespoons of ratatouille, with vegetables quite finely diced.
Her salad had the vinaigrette "on the side", in a pink ring.
Overall, salad is salad. Next.

Our mains were Coq au Vin, with Mushrooms and Bacon, Fettuccini, Red Wine Sauce; and Cod Normande with Shrimp, Mussels and Clams, Riz Pilaf.
Here's where I struggled with French food. The coq au vin was bland. The cod, which came as fillets tightly rolled, was a tad try, and also bland. I'm sure it was all properly done and all, just that French cooking is French cooking. :sigh:
On my coq au vin, the savoury yummy part was the mixture of mushrooms and bacon and I think small leeks.
Overall, I'd say if you're used to your mains being savory, give both these entrees a miss and either go for the flank steak or try the alternate $38 menu.

Mac and cheese was mac and cheese. We agreed that wasn't anything worthy of being titled "famous". There was the possibility of some blue cheese used in the preparation, but overall, for $6 (even for $5 as listed on the menu), I'd say give it a miss. If you're worried about the mains not being filling, instead ask for a bit more bread (I think we were given a total of six slices, if I remember correctly, plus an extraordinary amount of butter which, unfortunately, wasn't quite warmed enough yet to spread smoothly).

Our desserts were Tarte aux Pommes with Vanilla Ice Cream; and Crêpes Suzette au Grand Marnier, with Orange Sorbet.
No tableside service with the Crêpes Suzette, unfortunately, but tableside anything is rare nowadays, and in any case impractical for the tight table arrangement in Bistro Pastis. I was also disappointed that they didn't at least light the liqueur at the table for the usual caramalized finish, but my dining companion pointed out the possibility of regulations disallowing it as a fire hazard. Oh well.
In any case, the whole thing was so sweet that it left a slight burning in my throat, and I would recommend having some hot tea nearby to wash it down if you do order this.

The apple pie wasn't the usual North American affair with chunks of apple in it, but rather looked like this one, quite flat and with apple slices arranged on top for baking (no, I don't take pictures because it just draws too much attention). Tasty, but nothing exceptional. As they had the same desserts on both menus, I suspect that the desserts were token, to fulfill the appy-entree-dessert formula for Dine Out Vancouver.

Service was attentive, despite the busy restaurant, and our meals seemed to come out quite quickly.
Reservations recommended! We had a 5.30pm seating, and by 6pm (possibly because of a rather sizable party that arrived shortly after us) the restaurant was full and remained that way (with some diners at the bar, in fact).
The most interesting part of our experience was probably the dessert spoons. It had a notch on one side, and our server explained that it was meant to be a sort of combo spoon-knife. We played around with it, and in the end, the notch came in handy when my companion was working on the crust ring of her pie: If you were to use a regular spoon, it might slide about when you apply pressure to cut it. The notch on the special spoon helps to hold in place whatever you are cutting (especially if it were rounded) and you can then more confidently apply downward pressure without fear of it slipping away.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pizza Cold War hits all time low

Hi Everyone!

If you haven't been frozen-pizza-shopping at Superstore in the last few months, you may have completely missed out on what appeared to be a price war among frozen pizzas (or, Superstore struggling to clear out stock?).
It was only recently, however, that things got really good for the consumer when Kraft Delissio pizza was, briefly, offered at a low $4.98 (and over 800 grams), not advertised in the weekly flyer. I suppose since they flew off the shelves like, er, "hot cakes", SuperStore quickly increased the price to almost $7 now. Still, it was really tasty stuff (my mom especially liked the Bruschetta).

Things got even better this week when Save-On-Foods trumped them price-per-pound with Wild Mike's Ultimate Pizza. 15-inch, and $10 for two (2), weighing in at up to 1.05 kg, and working out to a supposed savings of almost $4 per pizza off the regular price.
I've tried the Pepperoni one so far, and although it looks horrid (meat ingredients poorly distributed and skimpy to boot), the sauce was really tasty with some spiciness for extra kick (though also not well distributed). But for a mere $5, how can you complain? If you divvy it up into 8 slices, that's lunch at about $1.25 per person (or $5 per hungry teen, I guess).

You gotta be quick with pizza offers -- my mom went the next day (she really LOVED Wild Mike's for some reason) and both Pepperoni and Hawaiian were all gone, leaving Four Cheese.