Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vegan Cupcakes from Edible Flours

If you're the type to balk at $3.00 cupcakes and look at how you could get four for the same price at Safeway, you should stop reading now. Talking about $4 cupcakes will be meaningless to you. If you are willing to pay for that extra notch of quality, however, then you should definitely consider Edible Flours.

As far as specialty cupcakes go, $3 to $4 for a single cupcake from Edible Flours (2280 West Broadway, between Vine & Yew) is par for the course, if you compare Edible Flours with, say, that pink cupcake franchise, Cupcakes. What Edible Flours have over Cupcakes is that you get the option of Soy Free, Wheat Free, Gluten Free, and/or Sugar Free, all on top of natural ingredients and vegan baking. If you're vegan, beggars can't be choosers.

As cupcakes go, there are plusses and minuses here, but mostly plusses. The cakes are moist and overall very well made. The icing is very generous, more so than what you get from machine-made stuff in the supermarket (though for those who are used to watching waistlines, this can actually be daunting). Most importantly, they are tasty. These are the basics and they've got it covered. Plus they look beautiful: No lop-sided machine-splatted icing here.

The minuses: In-store selection can be small, but that probably depends on what time of the day you swing by. A more severe drawback is that the icing sometimes has a clear flour-like taste that commands more attention that the actual flavour, but of the three cupcakes I bought, only two of the three had this problem.

The cupcakes are also less spongy than most, and the density is closer to a muffin, so it's actually quite filling compared to your regular cupcake. One could possibly do you for breakfast. Whether you like this trait or not is up to you.

Dessert at Indigo Food High Tea

Indigo Food Cafe on Urbanspoon

2011-Sept Indigo Food high tea
This past sunny Saturday I dropped by Indigo Food (2589 West 16th Avenue), a raw food cafe run by Lovena B. Galyide, a pleasant Ukraine lady who had only just opened it after two years of teaching raw food preparation out of her home. Her home-based business had grown to a size unmanageable to be home-based, so it was time to expand into an actual store.

I'm omnivorous, so checking out raw vegan fare is more of a novelty for me. And since I'm comparing my experience against my own unrestricted diet, if you're vegetarian, vegan, or raw vegan, you'll have to take this into consideration.

I had a so-so experience at Gorilla Food and a better one at Organic Lives restricting myself to their desserts, so when I found out about the High Tea at Indigo Food, I jumped on that.

I had basically what's in the picture on their website, though I can't say I remember the strawberries. The chocolate on the top tray is in fact made in-house. The list of items is supposed to be:
  • Lemon-Goji Truffles
  • Chocolate Hearts
  • Mini Chocolate Ganache
  • Mini Berries Cheese Cake
  • Coconut Cream Pie
  • Pineapple candy spears dipped in Chocolate
  • Stuffed mushroom
  • Berry Romanoff with coconut yogurt and raw sprouted granola
  • Coconut Cheese With Crackers
  • Collard Roll Enchilada
  • Kale chips

Mostly it's dessert that looks like dessert instead of something that screams "raw", and I give top marks for taste and presentation here. Nothing strange about them and the flavours were good. Whether as an omnivore I'd pay extra to get them on their own raw or vegan is a different story, precisely because they didn't taste particularly better for being raw. Why pay extra for the same taste? Vegan and raw stuff is still catching up price-wise in Vancouver (and probably everywhere else, for that matter).

The non-dessert food items scored less on my omnivore's palate, not because meat was missing, but because the flavour just wasn't quite there. The collard roll (not pictured) was a bit bland for my taste. The other roll (in the yellow, on the bottom tray in the picture) fell apart from whatever juice was inside as it pasted the thin wrap to the glass plate. It had a stronger taste, but mostly from the curry used.

That said, the kale chips were surprisingly good: Very green, still crispy, and the fake cheese on it added nice flavour.

If you opt for the high tea, I would go on a cooler day as the chocolate hearts were very much softened by the heat and had to be picked up gently lest you smoosh them; and the cheese cake and cream pie more or less completely fell apart.

Overall, the dessert-heavy mix on this high tea makes it palatable even to omnivores, unless you're not the type who likes dessert. If you're looking for something more conservative (but it won't be vegan or raw), try the tea services from Urban Tea Merchant. Price is slightly less, flavours are more conservative, the weighting isn't as much toward desserts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another conspiracy theory movie?

Here's the latest mainstream challenge against "the establishment" -- and from the trailer it looks less hysterical than various Michael Moore offerings. Probably closer to the sober The Corporation, if you can get past the mention of UFOs.

Yup, there's brief mention of UFOs. If you can't buy that, just blank it out from your mind and keep watching the trailer. The rest isn't so "far out".

Thrive will air November 11th, 2011 (yup, that's 11.11.11).

Copycat Story? - Mother leaves touching text message for the child she died shielding during an earthquake

You may have seen this floating about your Facebook wall, Shared by your friends:

This is a true story of Mother’s Sacrifice during the Japan Earthquake.
After the Earthquake had subsided, when the rescuers reached the ruins of a young woman’s house, they saw her dead body through the cracks. But her pose was somehow strange that she knelt on her knees like a person was worshiping; her body was leaning forward, and her two hands were supporting by an object. The collapsed house had crashed her back and her head.

With so many difficulties, the leader of the rescuer team put his hand through a narrow gap on the wall to reach the woman’s body. He was hoping that this woman could be still alive. However, the cold and stiff body told him that she had passed away for sure.
He and the rest of the team left this house and were going to search the next collapsed building. For some reasons, the team leader was driven by a compelling force to go back to the ruin house of the dead woman. Again, he knelt down and used his had through the narrow cracks to search the little space under the dead body. Suddenly, he screamed with excitement,” A child! There is a child! “
The whole team worked together; carefully they removed the piles of ruined objects around the dead woman. There was a 3 months old little boy wrapped in a flowery blanket under his mother’s dead body. Obviously, the woman had made an ultimate sacrifice for saving her son. When her house was falling, she used her body to make a cover to protect her son. The little boy was still sleeping peacefully when the team leader picked him up.
The medical doctor came quickly to exam the little boy. After he opened the blanket, he saw a cell phone inside the blanket. There was a text message on the screen. It said,” If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” This cell phone was passing around from one hand to another. Every body that read the message wept. ” If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” Such is the mother’s love for her child!!

Well, according to Snopes.com, it may be a copycat story from another (unverified?) story from the May 2008 earthquake in China (go to page 2 of the article, which is in English). Here is an excerpt from the article Snopes.com mentions:

Watching the real-time report from the epicenter every day, I experienced feelings of shock, fear, anger, sadness and fragility. As the rescue work goes on day by day and true stories are brought to us from the epicenter, I also feel more than ever the feelings of hope, love and encouragement. Humans may be extremely fragile physically, but human spirit and love transcends any powerful natural forces. It transcends boundaries, races, space and time. I want to share with you the following true stories reported by the rescue workers from the epicenter. There were countless stories like this. These stories are symbolic of human spirit and love for each other. It is exactly this spirit and love that empowered the human race to overcome every disaster that happened since the beginning of time, to get us to where we are now, and to get us to a better place tomorrow. (The first story was translated by others.)?
"My loving baby, if you can survive, remember I will always love you." When the rescuers found her, she was already dead, crushed by the collapsed house. Through all the debris, people can see her posture: both knees down, upper body forward with hands holding her body, like praying to heaven. The rescuer pushed his hand in through the crevices to confirm her death. He again shouted and knocked the loose bricks with his tool; no response from inside. The rescue team moved on to the next collapsed building. The team leader felt strange about the posture of the dead lady. Despite the aftershock that had just started to attack the site, he went back, checked again and shouted to his team: "Come back, there is a baby alive under her body!" After a hard try, they carefully cleared the debris around the dead woman. Under her body was her well-wrapped baby, about 3 months old. Because of his mother's protection, he was not hurt at all. He was still sleeping when he was taken out. His quiet sleeping face calmed people nearby. The doctor came over to perform the routine check and found a cell phone tucked under the baby's blanket. On the screen of the cell phone was a message "My loving baby, if you can survive, please remember I always love you." Even the doctor, who is used to seeing life and death, cried.

I suppose there's the possibility that both stories are true. There's a saying that all writing is re-writing. Surely two people miles and years apart could have the same idea in the midst of a similar crisis.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This weekend - The Vancouver Egyptian Film Festival

This weekend is the Vancouver Egyptian Film Festival, featuring five short movies and a gala event Saturday night with Egyptian food (before the feature movie for the festival, Cry of an Ant). You can watch little trailers on the official website and sign on with Meetup to see who else is going.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Terracotta Modern Chinese Restaurant

Terracotta Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

I dropped by Terracotta Modern Chinese Restaurant last Friday as part of the WonTon-sponsored 604 Social's mingler. Only about half of the ~70 people who RSVP'ed attended, which was a good thing because we'd otherwise have been over-full.

Terracotta is a pretty small space, but with an upstairs and a downstairs. The mirror on one side makes it look bigger than it really is -- I suppose that's why they have those mirrors there.

The online menu doesn't make any distinctions between small plates and actual meals, and you can't really tell by the price -- so you might want to ask first in case you get overwhelmed by what you order. For example, some people ordered the tasty Terracotta Short Rib Sliders that come in slightly sweet and chewy buns (Three Braised Beef Short Rib and Green Onion Sliders served in Golden Mantou Buns 10.00). This was really appy-sized, and you may feel it's a bit pricey for $10. They also ordered fried rice (I wasn't sure what kind) but it was a huge bowlful for approximately the same price.

I was grazing that night instead of having a full sit-down meal, and wanted to try the Terracotta Spring Rolls (Rare Tuna, Mango, & Red Peppers (Made in house) 7.50) and the Chicken Knees.

Yes, Chicken KNEES. It's not on the online menu but shows up in the in-restaurant menu. Something about deep fried chicken knees. Somehow, the order came back as Crispy Chicken Wings (Garlic and Green Chili Marinated Crispy Chicken Wings 8.50). Normally I'd send it back, but it was just the one run-ragged server tending to all ~35 of us all night, so I let it go and said I'd accept it.

The Spring Rolls were really quite disappointing. On the inside, the mango and tuna were quite separated, and in any case the whole thing was quite tasteless. Neither tuna nor mango came through for me. If it had any flavour it was because I dipped it in the sweet sauce.

The Chicken Wings came hot and very crispy. Salty enough to not need any sauce. A bit steep at 8.50 because I'm pretty sure there were less than 8 wings (I shared the plate and sort of lost count).

I got to try one of the Short Rib sliders, and it was pretty decent if you ate it hot and fresh from the kitchen. The brown bun is a bit chewy and sweet, which went well with the fairly thick chunk of meat you got. The "mantou buns" isn't exactly traditional. It had the right shape (squarish) but looked like your typical baked bun instead of white and steamed.
Except the Spring Rolls, I'd have to say the food was tasty and well prepared. A bit on the steep side, but that is perhaps not unexpected for Gastown. I'll have to go back for the Chicken Knees -- will report back on this blog if it is still available.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sutra Modern Indian in Yaletown

Sutra Modern Indian on Urbanspoon

There is a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado called "Bombay Bistro", which has had the distinction of being the #1 restaurant there at a time when there were close to 100 more restaurants in the area. Internet reviews being the shifting tides as they are, at the time of writing this review, they were third, behind Tangier Moroccan Cuisine and Brasserie Ten Ten.

Bombay Bistro is a family affair, run by Paul and Pari, a husband-and-wife team who had the good fortune of building the restaurant just the way they liked it, from an empty plot of land. They were from India, and from a family of maybe 50 that has between them 10 Indian restaurants. This husband-wife team, however, does things differently from the rest of the family, and their newest restaurant in Yaletown, Sutra Modern Indian (862 Richards) -- just 3 weeks old when I had dinner there -- is different from probably any other Indian restaurant you've been to.

Unlike most Indian restaurants, there isn't the ubiquitous dinner buffet. The cozy lounge-like ambiance inside is entirely from their inspiration and experience. It is open only for dinner and closed Mondays, in part because they want quality time with their 3-year old. On Mondays they shut their mind to everything restaurant related and take a well-deserved break from it. Six other days a week, they work hard at getting this restaurant off the ground.
Interestingly, the owner says in a few years the space they are currently in will get mowed down into a public park.

Sutra Modern Indian (also on Facebook) feels like a lounge but is a sit-down restaurant. There are two rows of seating in a small building that doesn't feel crammed at all. Red walls, many pillows. Our dinner was at 5.30pm and it was very quiet in there, with just one other couple. Things picked up a bit slowly, but it's all residential across the street, construction on the street itself. The overall location is far away from the main Yaletown restaurant frenzy where you have maybe a score of establishments all competing with each other near Hamilton and Davie -- and where no Indian restaurant that immediately jumps to mind. It's a quieter neighbourhood, and it's a quiet space inside even with road construction all along that stretch of Richards Street.

At 3 weeks old, the owners are on the floor, training staff at the tables and in the kitchen. They are very attentive and treat you like good friends they are anxious to impress. The owners are still training the staff both in the kitchen and at the tables, so we were actually waited on by the owner/chef himself, and he went into the kitchen to oversee the cooking.

The menu is food on the front, interesting alcoholic concoctions on the the back (but you can ask for a simple mango lassi), no desserts listed so remember to make room for it and ask.

The gluten-free appy-while-you-wait was a long plate of several onion bhaji's (instead of, say, a basket of naan and , made by the the owner/chef's mother. Savoury to the point of being a bit too salty, but very delicious. Instead of larger patties of onion mix, these were smaller, spikier, crispier. The dipping sauce seemed watery, but had the spiciness without any real heat to it -- a fair compromise for North American palates generally not used to any real heat at all. You weren't therefore accidentally stuck with too much, but generally still had the option of soaking your fritter to get more.

There is a "duck paratha" (duck confit, red curry, corn roti) on the appetizers menu ("partake" on the menu) that was basically on the way out. Apparently, once diners found out that it was duck fried in its own fat, they got all health conscious and skipped it. Since it was almost gone, I ordered it immediately. I was told that they might actually not have the duck for it anymore, and if not, it would be substituted with a chicken-and-prawn filling -- which was what ended up coming to the table. There was a very generous portion of filling for the small round rotis about four inches in diameter. Not over-sauced so that I could taste both chicken and prawn.

The corn roti makes the dish (and almost everything on the menu) gluten free. It is harder to make and not readily available in Vancouver, and therefore an interesting choice that makes this restaurant stand apart. As rotis go (and not being gluten-intolerant, happily), I must admit I didn't like it. It was a harder roti, tougher to roll. On the up side, it is firm enough to scoop stuff or have stuff piled onto it.

My dining companion ordered paneer and saag, which came with about a bowl's worth of yellow rice and two corn rotis. The paneer was a single slab that looked and tasted very much like tofu. I can't really say much about this dish as I'm basically biased against spinach and paneer. The portion makes for a medium dinner, and there was approximately 50% more saag and paneer as there was rice, plus a small amount of yogurt. Which was curious because there wasn't anything hot/spicy at all.

We also ordered spicy masala wings (tandoori chicken wings, fenugreek tomato, garlic wings) which came out to approximately $1 per wing; and the intriguing sounding red wine sausage samosas.

There were three fairly big samosas, each slightly bigger than a tennis ball. The sausage was disassembled from whatever sausage skin it had once been stuffed into, and was basically ground beef. It was tasty enough, but there wasn't any clear red wine flavour.

For dessert, I had a beautiful plate of chocolate deep fried in samosa skins, with a thick, sweet, berry sauce. Yup, you don't get that at just any Indian restaurant and I jumped on it as soon as I heard it. There was a very generous amount of sauce for approximately five pieces of dessert.

The bill came out to $50.98 after tax -- no alcohol, just the mango lassi for my dining companion.

Overall, considering the restaurant is just 3 weeks old, it seems off to a good start with Indian food presented in a not-your-typical-indian-restaurant way. If you're not afraid of a possibly inexperienced kitchen and still-in-training waitstaff, now is definitely the time to go as you can very likely get to meet the very friendly owners. Sutra Modern Indian is a posh restaurant in a quiet neighbourhood, serving elegant plates with warm and inviting service.

Other interesting items I'd like to go back to try would be star scallops anise and coconut & ginger crusted mahi.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Amber Alert at skytrain stations -- Could we have a picture with that?

In case you've been living under a rock, there's a massive search going on for a recently possibly-abducted child, Kienan Hebert. Just about everyone's splashed this "Amber Alert" to get the word out. You'll definitely see it on the televisions at the Skytrain stations.

That's great. But could we have pictures with that? One day of front-page newspaper coverage with pics isn't the same as mugshots to remind you of what they look like and for you to compare. They could be squashed against you on a busy skytrain and you wouldn't know it -- especially in Vancouver where people do seem to mind their own business, not make eye contact, or just stare into whatever Facebook/text messaging doo-dad they have.
2011-09-07 Amber Alert for Kienan Hebert

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nine Course Tasting Menu at C for Half Price

C Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Late last week, Groupon offered a half-off coupon (maximum 3) for C Restaurant, specifically for a 9-course tasting menu. I still hadn't gotten myself around to going to C, so this looked like a great opportunity. Found two friends to go and we were all set.

The restaurant was buzzing but not so busy that there was a lineup. Our reservation was for 7pm, and we were pleased to be able to patiently nibble our way through the nine courses without being rushed out the door. In fact, given the slow slow-down during the night, we ended up spending 3-1/2 hours chatting and savouring the exquisite food.

C is one of those restaurants where you have attentive male waiters -- Like Joe Fortes or Lumiere. No tight-shirted buxom servers here. The other diners that night were a mix of age ranges, though, sad to say, many of the under-40's looked like they spent half their time hunched over their iPhones.

The tasting menu was...

  • Wild- and cultivated-mushroom velouté with garlic confit and croutons
  • Charred octopus salad with frisée, bacon vinaigrette, and soft boiled egg
  • Seared scallop with crushed minted peas, veigi sauce, panchetta, and lemonade foam
  • House-smoked salmon with corn risotto and green onion relish
  • Seared albacore tuna with lyonnaise potato, zucchini ribbons, and parmesan soubise
  • Farmhouse chevre with poached pears, artisan honey, and spiced walnuts
  • Cucumber sorbet with pickled ginger and crisp basil
  • Chocolate brownie with berry chantilly and lemon curd
  • Petits fours
You get fairly small portions of each item, but the overall result was that you'd be full, though not to excess. Each item was like an appetizer, and extremely flavourful. Even the palate cleanser/sorbet was special: Cucumber, with a bit of that pink picked ginger you find in sushi restaurants at the bottom. I would have to say the highlight for me was the smoked salmon infused risotto -- but from first course till the sorbet, everything was superb.
My only quibble would probably be that we could have used a spoon for the charred octopus salad because of the soft boiled egg, which, once you burst it, turned the dish into the consistency of a stew and you just can scoop up all the leftover egg with a fork. We had bread to start and I could have use that, but with several more items to go, it seemed more prudent to go slow at the start.

Speaking of the bread... It came with soft butter with a stripe of what initially looked like ash from a cigarrette. That black stuff on it was actually a black volcanic ash salt. (Huh? Yup.)

Dessert was a bit more of a chancy affair. There was a cheese plate with a tablespoon of very pungent goat cheese that may turn many people off even if you tried to soften it with the poached pear, candied walnut, or crispy baguette thin. If you are desperate to avoid goat cheese as my dining companions were, you could try asking for a substitution (which they were able to manage that Saturday night).

The final dessert items were a small piece of brownie (which wasn't overly sweet) and "petit fours" -- actually round chocolates, probably hand-made, with gooey cherry-infused chocolate cream inside. A bit sweet for my taste as it left a slight burn in the throat. Still, after a fabulous five seafood courses before, I wouldn't dissuade anyone from trying this tasting menu simply because dessert wasn't as much of a highlight.

The regular price is $94, so if you got the Groupon, it's more than a fair deal. The wine list is extensive and depending on what you ordered you could see another $50 on the bill per bottle. Our bill was $400 for three persons before the Groupons. Yoicks.

Thursday, September 1, 2011