Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All Appys at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen on Urbanspoon After a tasty time with the appetizers at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen, I had wanted to bring a group back to try just the appetizers and momos. I worked out a 20% off deal for every appetizer and the two types of momos, and 4 plates for 10 people. After tax and 18% tip, it would have come to about $40 per person based on the price quoted. However, our dining group balked at the cost and the event never got off the ground. Last Thursday I did, however, go with one friend to try all the appys.

We went with a 1 plate per 2 persons deal from the restaurant, with a special pricing of $40 per person before tax and tip. This turned out to be a mistake. First, it was an overwhelming amount of food. We were stuffed, and had to take the last two plates to go. Second, the kitchen churned out the plates sort-of dim sum style, where everything comes as soon as it's ready. Unfortunately, we weren't keeping up, and some of the items were clearly better hot, such as the Lollypop Chicken.
There were so many items we tried that I really should have jumped on my blog post right away, but the Christmas season being what it is, things got busy and I started to forget some of how things went. My bad.

Overall, as appetizer plates go, most plates are about a half meal (or more, if you are a lighter eater) for one person. Two plates and you could feel satisfied; three plates and you could be feeling too stuffed for dessert.
For most of it, get a spoon. What is it with restaurants these days and the deprecation of spoons?
Here's how things turned out:
  • Bhatmaas Saandeko: Roasted soybean mixed with Himalayan herbs and mustard oil
    • Get a spoon for this right away if there aren't enough serving spoons. You really don't want to eat this with a fork.
    • This is a pretty tasty, but unless you're vegetarian with few other options, a half order is more than a good enough amount as an appetizer. As appetizer plate sizes go, it's a generous amount.
  • Aalu Achaar: Potato salad garnished with lemon juice, mustard oil and mixed with Himalayan herbs
    • Served cool, this was also quite tasty, and a nice savory/tangy way to eat boiled potatoes.
    • One full order of this appetizer for a single person can be half a meal already due to the potatoes.
  • Taas: Special Nepali snack prepared with grilled lean lamb meat, cucumber and spices. Served with puffed and beaten rice mix
    • This came at the very end (after I'd paid the bill, even!) and because it came after the momos, I guess the servers forgot all about it since most of the appetizers had come before.
    • We were too full then and had to take it to go, but I strongly recommend against this if you can help it because the puffed rice won't be any fun or appetizing once it's no longer crispy.
    • From my previous visit, I do remember this to be very tasty.
  • Choila: Diced chicken, marinated in Nepali spices and herbs. Char grilled/roasted and served with beaten rice (cheura)
    • I don't remember this to be particularly interesting.
  • Kathmandu Sekuwa: Tender pieces of boneless chicken marinated in yoghurt, fresh ginger and spices and grilled to perfection. A piquant fair in the foothills of the Himalayas
    • Large chunks of chicken on a skewer. Definitely eat this hot when it comes out.
    • If you have trouble trying to force a piece off the skewer with your fork, stab a piece with your fork and press it down. Seemed to come off more easily that way, and with no risk of suddenly flying chicken chunks.
    • Nicely tender for white meat, but otherwise I thought this was mostly just grilled chicken.
  • Lollypop Chicken: Deep-fried chicken drumsticks marinated overnight and dipped in ginger/garlic and minty vinaigrette sauce
    • We didn't eat this nearly fast enough and the deep fried part was missed because things just cool too quickly, especially when it's dipped in sauce after being fried.
    • The sauce makes a nice difference here, and I recommend you try it.
    • One order is 6 decent sized drumsticks, the size you can expect from a 75-cent wings place like Wings Tap and Grill.
  • Chatpate: Lip smacking, tongue-tickling spicy-sour chickpeas and potato mix
    • This was okay, I think. I can't remember being too interested in this, maybe because I'm not really big on chickpeas.
  • Piro Shrimp: Shrimp marinated in ginger-garlic and chilli paste. Spiced, grilled and garnished with fresh lemon juice
    • Shrimps the size of fat prawns. I don't remember anything being too special here.
  • Momos: Tibetan style steamed dumplings served with chutney
    • These came with two dips. A green watery thingie and an orange watery sauce. Neither of these really piqued my interest and I thought maybe a plain old chili sauce would have done better.
    • There are two types, and look very much like something you might get at a dim sum place
      • Dalai Lama Momo – Vegetable (potato, cabbage, spinach and tofu) based
      • Tenzing Momo – Meat (chicken) based
    • One order is 10 dumplings, which in turn is actually a goodly amount of food. We were served the steamed ones on this visit.
    • If you get them steamed, eat it while it is hot. Once it cools too much, something happens to the wrapping and it's clammy and cold and a real turn-off. No amount of sauce will rescue it.
    • Having tried the fried ones on my previous visit, I'd vote for the fried ones over the steamed ones any day.
    • Overall, if you've had potstickers or dumplings anywhere else, I'd say the steamed ones are okay, and not really a highlight. Stick to the much more interesting items under the appetizer section.
My recommendations for what to get from the appetizers would be the Bhatmaas Saandeko, Taas, and Lollypop Chicken.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pricey brunch at The Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe

Dutch Wooden Shoe Cafe on Urbanspoon The idea of an authentic Dutch pancake place was intrigued me enough to give this place a try. The pannekoeks are bigger (about the size of a dinner plate), thinner, and a bit more porous than a regular North American pancake, reminiscent of Ethiopian injera. You get stuff on and/or in the pannekoek itself.
Other than pannekoeks, there are a few other Dutch things on the menu that might pique your interest, such as Indonesian fried rice (nasi goreng), an ethnic food that apparently the Dutch do like very much. Sort of like Brits loving their curries, I suppose. There are also rusks (which our server described to us noobs as a slice of bread that's like a "hard crouton"), and bitter balls (deep fried stew).

The idea of the bitter balls intrigued me enough to try it the one time, and it basically is a deep fried ball of salty/savory stew. The outer crust is very thin but crunchy, and the inside is almost liquid. It is served with a bit of mustard for dipping. After tax, a standard 6-ball order works out to about $1 per ball, each of which is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball. A bit pricey for what is essentially stew with no bits of meat or anything -- just the somewhat thick, soupy part of a stew.
You could try it for the novelty, but in terms of value for your money, I'd say it's not worth it.

For pannekoeks, I tried the #20, the Dutch Wooden Shoe. It's the pannekoek with spek (salted bacon) in the pannekoek itself, three thin round slices of ham on top, and a heck of a lot of sauerkraut. Too much sauerkraut for my palate, which ruined the whole thing for me.
Quantity wise it's a medium meal, but at around $13 I feel it's pricey without being especially good. There's tastier, cheaper stuff out there for more bang for your buck and time spent.
Including one order of bitter balls and one coffee (unlimited refills, but really do you want to drink that much?) my brunch was around $24 after tax, before tip.

Service was pleasant, but run ragged once the place filled up, and it did fill up closer to noon, with a rather long line-up.
Decor feels like diner with ethnic touches. While you're waiting for food or service, you can browse the pictures on the wall and maybe spot the odd celebrity (such as Vikram Vij!).

My epic order FAIL at Ki Modern Japanese & Bar

Ki Modern Japanese & Bar on Urbanspoon Ki Modern Japanese & Bar is a part of the larger building/complex that is the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver, and thus shares space with other posh dining experiences like MARKET by Jean-Georges. From the get-go, then, expectations are set high.

It's upstairs from the ground level, and actually encompasses quite a bit of square footage. There the lounge on one side, the restaurant on the other side, and in between in a courtyard that in warmer and less rainy days has seating, and for smokers on colder days there is a long fireplace so you don't have to shiver in the fall rain and snow.

Inside the restaurant, decor is clean and beautiful, dimly lit (in some alcoves a bit too dimly lit, such that some of our party had to use their cellphones as flashlights on the menu), lots of reds and blacks. Menus and even the folder for the bill followed a consistent black appearance of various sizes, and that uniformity added to the overall sense of everything being part of a larger design.
Another interesting item was the use of heavy black iron antique-looking tea pots.
Probably the most out-of-place thing here is at the very end of the menu, in the section called "fallbacks": If you really, really, don't like sushi and are stuck here for, say, a business meeting, you can order steak. I'm not kidding.

Service/hospitality from the front desk staff and our server were ace, top notch. Table presentation for our reservation also had nice touches such as square menus arranged in a circle in the middle of the table.
In the alcoves, you're best off trying for one of the cushioned wall seats. The large rounded chairs, while artsy looking, aren't exactly very functional. Once you sit in it, you'll find it's really quite deep. And there's no easy handhold for you to pull it closer to the table, so you really need your date to do it for you each time.

There was sadly no tasting menu or sampler plate, and here's where things went wrong for me. Instead of choosing from the regular menu, I asked if they could put together one for me. The server said yes. I should have thought it through more carefully because in hindsight, it was a very bad move in a restaurant that doesn't normally offer it, unlike sushi places such as Miku.
Anyway, to begin, I asked about what was special and different and unique. Two items came to the fore: their signature hamachi and jalapeño sushi roll ($13); and a "sushi pizza" ($18), from the bar on the other side, but not listed on the dinner menu.

Everyone else ordered off the menu. I went with the sushi pizza appy to share (6-slice mini pizza about 6" in diameter), and decided I'd see what the restaurant could put together for me. The server said the selection would be based on how "adventurous" I felt. I told her I was "super adventurous", that they were free to put eight pieces of anything for me, whether they were on the regular menu or still experimental. I am always curious about vegan options, so I asked for 2 pieces to be vegan, whatever the kitchen could come up with. The server later came back and said the options were limited, so I downgraded that to just 1 piece -- I was still curious, honestly.

The sushi pizza was super, and gave me really high hopes for what would come out on the put-it-together-for-me plate. It was basically sashimi on a round rice cake, including fish and crab meat; a sweet sauce; red slices of fish on each of the six wedges, a bit of roe and delicate seaweed in the middle. The end result was that it looked like a beautiful red flower. Taste was superb. If this sort of creativity and plating was possible at Ki, the bar was set very high to start.
Sadly, things went downhill from there. Some presentation were interesting, such as raw fish slices cooled on a thick round column of ice. Otherwise, nothing that really wow'ed us as the sushi pizza had done.

Our orders came out as they were prepped, with the result that at various times, someone had nothing in front of them. We were a party of 7, so I'm not sure how many marks to take off for that. They did forget one order of their specialty hamachi and jalapeño, and that was really startling. Happily, the person who ordered it was quite full already and she let it go.

Presentation of the sushi rolls was very basic, with basically a pretty roll on a long plate, and with a small mound of wasabi and ginger. I wasn't so sure about their giving you wasabi right off, or pouring everyone a small dish of soy sauce. It's like they expect you to use it with their sushi. I suppose this may be just my own expectations clashing with experiences elsewhere, where wasabi and soy sauce aren't standard issue except at cheap bulk sushi joints.
If you can, try a piece before you soak it in soy or green it with wasabi, to see if you really need it.

Finally my order came. And... WTF? A plate of mixed nigiri. I thought, "you're kidding, right?" This was my "super adventurous" order? Nigiri, unless they really get creative, is probably the most boring thing on the menu (well, for me, anyway). It's a lump of rice with something raw on top (unless you get tamago, which is a slab of omelette).
We were all shocked.

Then I started thinking what had gone wrong. I had tried to convey a sense of openness-to-experience and complete trust in the kitchen, and this is the result. Hmm...
Someone suggested that they could have at least thrown in a piece of their signature hamachi and jalapeño roll, but in hindsight, I think the restaurant would never have chosen anything from a sushi roll. Here's why: Each piece of sushi you see is part of a single roll, maybe cut into 8 pieces. If they were to assemble a plate of say 8 types of rolls, that's 8 rolls they have to make, and of each roll use only 1 piece. What would they do with the other 7 pieces? Ki does not have a sampler platter like, say, Miku. They wouldn't be able to move the other 7 pieces because it doesn't add up to a single typical order of sushi, and to ensure freshness they couldn't really keep it around.
So if I had thought about it more carefully at the time I put in my order, I would have realized that there would be no sushi forthcoming.

But what about the sushi pizza that had so wow'ed us? Was that really the limit of creative items on the menu? Guess so.

In any case, I was now in big trouble. I had a plate of 7 boring pieces of regular nigiri, and one piece of vegan nigiri (which I'll talk about later). Off the top of my head I don't recall ever sending anything back to the kitchen in any restaurant, but this one time I decided to try it since evidently there was a miscommunication. I tried to contritely explain that I had probably not conveyed my intentions clearly enough, and that the plate was pretty tame. Pretty awfully tame. I conceded that maybe it was more special than it looked, but at the moment, it was sooo tame looking and so far from what I had hoped.

Our server took it back. We continued to discuss it. How had it gone wrong?
Someone brought up the issue of what was on the plate at all, and said it was all cheap-ass nigiri. I wasn't sure about that, but she had apparently gone to enough sushi restaurants to identify everything and assured me it was a cheap, safe, plate. Supposing this were true, then maybe they were playing it very safe and not trusting me to be very adventurous?
Someone else suggested that my vegan order threw them off, that it conveyed to the kitchen that I really wasn't adventurous at all. After having gone to places like Acorn and Heirloom, I honestly disagreed with that. Even if you can't do anything with the ingredients, you can try jazzing it up with paste, sauce, ingredient combination, and/or presentation.

Eventually, the manager came over. Maybe the staff had eavesdropped on our conversation, but what he said was dead-on what we discussed: That the vegan request threw off the kitchen; and that one of the changes to the plate would be to take off the tamago sashimi.
Supposing (big assumption) that they did eavesdrop, I can't fault them for using the intel gained, but I'm not sure I like that they didn't have a policy of I-didn't-hear-anything-I-wasn't-meant-to-hear.

Anyway, I apologized for having evidently failed to convey to our server that 8 pieces of anything "really adventurous" really meant I was game for anything. I further tried to reassure the manager that I really was up for anything, and that when I go to a restaurant, I immediately look for and order whatever sounds weird, whether it tasted horrible or not.
He said he had some ideas on what to do, and to maintain the surprise wasn't going to tell me immediately. I told him I was fine with that.
Some time later, attempt number two came out. Still a plate of nigiri. I really didn't expect too much different now and I had decided in the meantime I wasn't going to send it back no matter what came out. I accepted that I probably had wrong expectations to begin with and an inadequate understanding of the restaurant's limitations, so I wasn't going to blame the restaurant. They were trying to make things right, and that counted too.
The two most different pieces were ikura nigiri (salmon roe) with a raw quail egg on top; and uni nigiri (gonad of sea urchin). Maybe they were uncommon ingredients and acquired tastes, I honestly didn't think this was anything special. But by this time I figured the restaurant's options were limited.

For the vegan piece, it was two sticks of asparagus topped with a brown paste that included sesame seeds and something that had a brief flash of hot spiciness in the mouth. Of the entire plate, I though that was pretty curious and would have made a decent vegan nigiri -- not the use of asparagus, per se, but the paste to add to your experience of taste. It was also the cheapest piece of nigiri at $2.50 and listed as "veggie" on my bill.

The final bill for the nigiri portion was:
  • amaebi nigiri $3.50 (sweet shrimp)
  • hotate nigiri $3.00 (sea scallop; they lemoned it and lightly seared the top)
  • ikura nigiri $6.00 (salmon roe), add quail egg $1.00
  • saba nigiri $6.00 (mackerel)
  • kani nigiri $6.00 (Alaskan kinig crab)
  • hamachi nigiri $4.50 (yellowtail)
  • uni nigiri $7.00 (sea urchin)
  • saba nigiri $3.00 (not sure why this showed up twice but after all the trouble I didn't bother asking about a measly $3 on my bill)
Anyway, if you do go to Ki, DO NOT DO WHAT I DID -- do not ask them to put together something for you. They can't. Just bring a few friends, order various rolls, and swap pieces.
Oh, and ask for the bar menu to have a peek at it. That sushi pizza really is a "must try", even at $18. It tops the Sashimi with Crispy Rice I had at MARKET in both taste and value for your dollar.


For desserts, I got the Almond Asian Pear Cake with coconut crème anglaise + blueberry mirin coulis ($10). It's basically a sponge cake topped with almond slices baked in. Chopped pear on the side. Large, tall slice of cake, and definitely had to be eaten with the pear or anything else wet on the plate, else it was too plain and dry. Could have used a spoon for the pear too (what is it with restaurants and not handing out more spoons?).
The wedge cake had a somewhat thick crust, and I was prepared to say this was how the restaurant is choosing to bake their cake. However, purists at the table were more convinced that they had overbaked the cake, and could have gotten the almond crust without baking the sides and bottom. You be the judge.

In any case, the Trio of Cheesecake (pineapple mint, mango, chocolate mascarpone; $10) someone else ordered was really so much better. Variety of flavours, no single piece too large and monotonous, and the intensity of the fruit flavours made this the clear winner in my opinion.

The Lemongrass Chamomile Infused Crème Brûlée served with sugar cookies ($10) was strangely very soft, almost liquid inside. Nothing wrong with the flavour per se however, just a bit odd/different.


Including one pot of tea ($5), my bill was a frightening $75.50 before tax and tip. Our server was really pleasant and patient with us, and overall service was tops, so in the end I put down just over $100.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What happens when you sneeze at Bishop's Restaurant

Bishop's on Urbanspoon Something ticked my nose at Bishop's Restaurant when I went this past Saturday, and I sneezed. Oops. But lo! A server brought a small plate, on which was a round napkin, and on top of that, a fresh packet of Kleenex, with the first tissue partially pulled out for my convenience. I am not kidding. Where else can you find such care, consideration, and the extra special touch of a napkin-on-a-platter? Bishop's is an extraordinary restaurant that's a safe bet if you want superb service.

My dining companion for the evening had for the longest time (20 years!) meant to go to Bishop's, but just never got around to it. Well, this past Saturday, she finally went, and I along with her. I'd been there a few times but never really paid much attention to the special note at the bottom of the menu, which states that vegetarian and vegan options are available. Some of the regular menu is vegetarian, like some soups, but if you want a no-meat-meal at Bishop's, you'll have to ask for it.

It's not a separate menu, nor can your server definitely state what you will get. Instead, the kitchen whips it up on the spot, taking into account whatever restrictions (such as allergies) you stipulate. Obviously the more picky you are, the harder things will be. My small-appetited friend opted for the vegetarian option, entree only. I went with a three course vegan appetizer-entree-dessert. I specifically asked for a not-soup-not-salad sharing appetizer, and a sharing-possible entree. For my vegan dessert, the server warned that it might have to be sorbet, so I asked that if that were the only thing available to please check back first.

Brought to our table shortly after the order was bread and a tiny amuse bouche of greens, thinly sliced radish, and tiny wedges of orange (?) in a sharp dressing. Cool, refreshing, and appetite whetting. A khaki coloured bread followed next. Lacklustre, but probably meant to be so to highlight the olive oil and black vinegar that accompanied it in a neat little jar that had the vinegar in an inner compartment shaped like a bunch of grapes.

For the appetizer, a salad-like mix of veggies and root vegetables that was dreadfully plain looking, but with a tantalizing dressing that really woke us up. Served cool but not cold, it was a refreshing start. Later I would think back to my stipulation of not-a-salad, but there was a mix of roots in there, so I suppose it was an alright compromise.

For my companion's entrée, she got a bit of spätzle in a delicious creamy sauce, and a mix of leafy veggies and roots, plus one interestingly delicious onion, roasted to a soft creaminess and with just enough browning for a touch of that that nice seared flavour. It certainly didn't look very special on the plate, but my friend insisted I try it, and I was glad I did. This is something I've noticed about Bishop's: It may not sound or look interesting, but eat everything on your plate, as there are surprises like this.

The vegan no-animal-products restriction is a tough one, and for my entrée the restaurant basically put together a mix of grains, leaves, and root vegetables. They tried to spruce up the plating my standing some of the root veggies straight up like columns for a more three-dimensional construction, but in the end, even with a tasty dressing on the grains, I really felt like my friend's vegetarian plate was way more delicious.
That said, I'm not actually vegan, so if you are, you may find they do very nicely. Because I'm omnivorous, my perspective on vegan fare is skewed by missing what dairy products can do (for example). Plus, we put the Bishop's kitchen on the spot that night by asking for a vegan meal, so although I do feel Acorn and Heirloom can plate a more interesting meal, Bishop's did admirably for a restaurant that doesn't specialize in such fare.

The vegan dessert was probably the toughest to put together on such short notice, and they turned out a presumably vegan chocolate cake (about the size of a cupcake), topped with a thick chocolate sauce. I found the cake to be a bit on the firm and dry side, unfortunately, and no comparison to other vegan cakes I've had at places such as Heirloom or The Wallflower Modern Diner.
Accompanying the cake was a delicious poached pear, as well as an intensely flavoured pear sorbet on thin slices of pear. I found the pear and sorbet to be much more interesting than the cake, and even my "I'm not a dessert person" companion had more than a few bites of sorbet and pear.

Dinner was priced at $14 for appetizer, $30 for each entree, $14 for dessert. My friend's glass of Sauvignon Blanc was $10.

Friday, November 30, 2012

No mystery meat patties at Moderne Burger

Moderne Burger on UrbanspoonNo big foodie outing this weekend, sadly, as I'm saving up to catch up with a bunch of friends parachuting in during the holiday season. I did, however, get out for a casual dinner at Moderne Burger. Dinner was at 6pm, and already the place was pretty full. Shortly after, there was a horde waiting at the counter, though tonight's downpour may have had something to do with it. Things settled down a bit shortly after, but when we left close to 7pm, the diner was still nicely full.

The decor is very bright and has a light art deco feel plus a touch of tiki bar with their palm trees. Overall, a very nice change compared to so many restaurants that like to dim the lights so much so that some of my foodie friends have to pull out their cellphones for extra light to read the menu. There's a buzz of conversation that can, occasionally, make you have to lean in closer to your dining companion to make out what they're saying.

Moderne Burger's steak patty uses "real steak". It ground from loin from a steer (not cow), no filler, no "mystery meat" or "miscellaneous meat", no salt, and estimated at about 15% fat, compared to 25% fat in a typical patty (according to our server). A basic burger comes standard with "hand-leafed lettuce", tomato, onions, mayonnaise, and "house sauce". The emphasis here is clearly on hand-made quality.
For a first-timer like myself, our server recommended simple non-overpowering add-ons so that you can taste the steak patty difference. In the end, I went with her suggestion of cheddar and bacon, and sure enough, there was enough room in there to clearly taste the patty, than if it were smothered with sauce. There was supposed to be "house sauce" in there as well, but that didn't seem to jump out at me.

Potatoes are "farm fresh and hand cut minutes after your order is placed", so if you're looking for pre-soaked and double-fried crispy goodness, this isn't the place and you might want to skip the fries to make room for a float or shake.

Shakes are standard size, with one shake glass full plus about a half in a metal cup. We were warned against the chocolate tonight because they apparently ran out and were making a reasonable facsimile using vanilla and something else. It definitely is worth chatting up your server!

Price wise, things can quickly add up if you're not watching since my slice of bacon and square of cheddar were $1.25 a piece, added to a 10.95 burger platter (burger plus fries). You can shave off about $3 if you skip the fries. Plus a creamsicle float at $5.35, the bill was $18.80 before tax and tip.
Overall, I personally still prefer a less traditional but more interesting flavoured burger, such as the delicious BBQ onion ring from Loving Hut Express. For sheer volume of food per dollar spent, I would recommend Loving Hut Express or The American Cheesesteak Company over Moderne Burger, both of which can serve up pretty good meals. If you are specifically looking for the classic burger and diner experience, then Moderne Burger works nicely. There just aren't too many retro-look-and-feel places out there anymore.

Service is friendly on the floor as well as at the till where you pay your bill. It's a friendly, comfortable atmosphere, and combined with the daylight brightness of the place, makes for a nice place to wake up when it's dark outside.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three-piece fish and chips at The Fish Shack

The Fish Shack on UrbanspoonI'd been to The Fish Shack not long ago, but went again as part of the Food Bloggers dining group just this past Saturday because I actually did NOT get their regular fish and chips last time. (I know, right? Like, "What?!") Anyway, here's how our outing turned out...
  • New England Clam Chowder in mini sour dough bun ($0 - free amuse-bouche) (picture)
    • Oh my gawd this was so tasty. It's got a big spicy kick to it too, but nothing really lingering.
    • It's also the biggest amuse bouche I've ever been given, sized slightly bigger than a tennis ball! Amazing what you get for free nowadays.
  • Fish Bites ($8.50) - with chipotle tartar sauce (picture)
    • Mixed fish (not "mystery fish") bits from their fish and chips lineup. Each piece is about or slightly smaller than a tater tot.
    • For $8.50, it's sort of okay (comparing it with the price of everything else in The Fish Shack) since it sort of adds up to a single piece of fish in a fish and chips order. Just don't try to share this with too many people since you'll barely get a mouthful that way.
    • Use a fork. Yes, it looks like finger food, but the fish has a tendency to flake apart, leaving a chunk in the tartar sauce when you dip. You'll need the fork to fish it back out.
  • Fish and Chips (Halibut - $16.50 for 1 piece, $22.50 for 2 pieces, $29.50 for 3 pieces) (picture)
    • Whenever I asked anything about the fish and chips (Moist fish? Meat not dense like salmon? What do you recommend other than salmon?) the answer was invariably "Halibut". An answer I was suspicious of because the halibut was also the priciest item on the menu. I did eventually go for the halibut, and it turned out a good choice -- soft, moist, meat. I guess it really is the safe choice. Someone got lingcod, and it had that awful fishiness that a sushi restaurant would mask with soy sauce and wasabi. Might have just been bad luck, though.
    • Three of us wanted a light order (so we could fit in dessert), so we asked if we could do a three-piece fish and chips order of halibut. That way, there wouldn't be too much in the way of fries or slaw. Turns out you can, even though the menu offers only 1-piece or 2-piece. They rang in the third piece at $7 as "open food".
    • Slaw boring and didn't have a cool, refreshing taste, but we're not really here for excellent slaw.
    • Some people raved about the fish. I thought it was alright. It looked suspiciously oily on the outside, but didn't taste really oily. The batter is thin so almost the entire hunk on your plate really is a fillet o' fish.
  • Fish Tacos ($12.95) - soft tortilla, lettuce, tomato salsa, cajun fish, sour cream
    • The regular order is 3 tacos. The cajun style mystery fish (I forgot to ask) was really quite tasty on its own, so do NOT kill it by smothering too much (or any) of the provided tartar sauce into it and re-wrap your taco.
    • The tacos are not so full that you can't re-roll them into spring rolls. This isn't Bandidas Tacqueria portions, alas. But it's still a good enough portion inside despite the floppy look to them.
    • Comes with fries!
  • Fisherman's Catch (The Big Catch - $30 per person, minimum 2 persons) - lobster, dungeness crab, snow crab, mussels, prawns, calamari, crayfish, potatoes, corn, chorizo (picture)
    • From the menu, it looks like The Big Catch is basically The Small Catch ($20 per person), but with a lobster thrown in. That lobster is about 8 inches long and cut in half length-wise.
    • Our table had three persons sharing a two-order bag. It looks like the bags are preassembled before being very simply cooked (boiled, probably), and with a bit of hoopla it is cut open at your table. (Yeah, like, whoop.)
    • You are given tools to get into every nook and cranny of crustacean and pick out the meat, plus a cheesy throw-away plastic apron (picture) decorated with lobster pictures.
    • To add flavour to the otherwise extremely plain and boring "cooking" are shakers of red powder that have a bit of aftertaste bite to it.
    • Two orders split between three people really didn't work. One of the three persons, a somewhat petite lady, remarked that it really wasn't enough food, and not worth the price. Her share would have been $20 before tax and tip. Another person missed out on the lobster because they hadn't realized it would be a single lobster cut into two pieces, so you'd have to be alert to that in order to share it with the third person.
  • Corn on the Cob ($5) - with butter and salt
    • Strangely, the two persons who ordered this LOVED this. Said it was so good they wanted to know where the corn came from. (I didn't try it myself, though.)
  • New York Style Cheesecake ($8.50) - graham cracker crust, berry coulis (picture)
    • I didn't think this was bad, just different (although my first spoonful had really soft and almost crumbly cheese). But I kid you not, EVERYONE else hated it. I think they just didn't think it was a proper cheesecake. Cheesecake in a jar just isn't cheesecake, and perhaps adding insult to injury was labelling it "New York Style". If you order this, try not to imagine a regular cheesecake.
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding ($8.50) - candied pecans, toffee sauce, chantilly cream
    • This wasn't so much a "real" sticky toffee pudding as much as resembling a small cake over which some sort of sweet syrup was poured. Don't think pudding. Think cake with syrup.
    • Since it came across as cake with syrup, this was really quite disappointing, sad to say.
  • Apple & Berry Crumble ($8.50) - granny smith apples, mixed berries, oats, caramel (picture)
    • Really red (and hot -- fresh from the oven?) inside, and more berry than apple. Don't think apple crumble, think berry crumble. Apple wasn't the predominant experience for me here.
    • Again, no thumbs up from anyone for this dessert.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tasty momos at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen

Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen on Urbanspoon This past weekend's eats took us to the weird little restaurant, Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen on Friday night. If you're not looking for it, you may very well miss it because it doesn't have a storefront per se. Instead, it looks like a house next to a parking lot. At the porch, there are little prayer wheels. Inside, the decor bits are reminiscent of various cultures and curious to see.

I had asked for a set menu for our dining group, and basically left it up to the restaurant. They came back with a $27 dinner that was to include 3 types of appetizers, 2 meat dishes, 1 vegetarian dish, 1 "daal type item", a Nepalese style rice pudding for dessert, and chai tea. What we got was still $27, but very different. Somehow there was a communication breakdown and they weren't sure we were coming, and the servers had no clue about the set menu.
Eventually things got straightened out, but our meal was mostly appetizers, a thali with our "main course", and a white dessert that I'm pretty sure wasn't rice pudding since I didn't see anything rice-like in it. Appetizers came out quickly, but shortly after six pm the restaurant was swamped, with a short lineup an people sitting at the bar. The two servers were overwhelmed, and probably the kitchen too, because our thali took a very long time to appear. At the end of dinner, we were informed that, to ensure freshness, everything was cooked from scratch at the time of ordering, and pretty much the only prep work done before was marinating meat.
In any case, we were 10 people and there for three hours and peckishness was making some people politely hangry and when the thalis came we didn't really ask what each item was.

The appetizers were really ace and the best part of the meal. The one dessert we had was also very interesting. The thali we got, however, was something awful, although with that, because it looks so much like an Indian meal, the tendency is to compare it with what you might get at an Indian restaurant, even though this is supposed to be authentic Tibetan. My advice here is to skip the Indian-like curry-and-rice style dishes here and just go to an Indian restaurant for it. Instead, assemble your meal from the appetizers and the momos from the entrées.

Here's what we got to try:
  • Bhatmaas Saandeko: Roasted soybean mixed with Himalayan herbs and mustard oil
    • This reminded me of Crispy Ceci at Campagnolo. "Roasted soybean" doesn't sound particularly tasty, but it's the seasoning that makes the dish. These roasted soybeans were really quite good.
  • Aalu Achaar: Potato salad garnished with lemon juice, mustard oil and mixed with Himalayan herbs
  • Taas: Special Nepali snack prepared with grilled lean lamb meat, cucumber and spices. Served with puffed and beaten rice mix.
    • This seemed a bit oily. But other than that, it was quite tasty, with a bit of spicy kick from the seasoning.
  • Chatpate: Lip smacking, tongue-tickling spicy-sour chickpeas and potato mix
    • This was also tasty, but not so crazy-tasty as the description makes it out to be. I suppose you'll have to personally judge for yourself.
  • Dalai Lama Momo: Vegetable (potato, cabbage, spinach and tofu) based steamed dumpling.
    • We had the fried version cooked in a "special sauce". There was just a bit of crispiness left  in the seam where the dumpling was folded and sealed. Otherwise, the sauce made everything soggy.
    • Something about the sauce made this really very tasty.
  • Tenzing Momo: Steamed dumpling with chicken filling.
    • These dumplings were made into little bags slightly smaller than ping pong balls. Similar sauce, but not quite as delicious as the vegetable option.
  • Nepali Roti: Fresh baked whole wheat bread
    • This was more like soft tacos. Really dreadfully boring on its own, and you shouldn't order it on its own unless you are pairing it with something or have something to dip it in or wrap in it.
  • Aalu-Kaauli: Cauliflower, potatoes, green peas and tomatoes cooked with herbs and spices (Vegetarian)
    • We weren't briefed on the contents of the thali we got, but there was a token salad, rice, two small containers of some sort of sauce (for what??), and three items to go with the rice. Curried cauliflower was one of them. A bit blah, but that could be the whole thali feeling like a considerable downer after the interesting and tasty appetizers.
  • Jhaaneko Daal: Lentils soaked and cooked with Nepali spices and tempered with onion, cumin seeds and garlic (Vegetarian)
    • Another "meh" item in our thali.
  • Himali Chicken: Spice-marinated boneless chicken cooked and simmered in rich creamy tomato sauce
    • I think this was the curry chicken like item in our thali. Trust me: Stick with appys, go Indian for your curry.
  • Dudhbari: Popular Nepali dessert with sweetened milk spheres in pistachio-flavoured cream syrup.
    • Looks like something you might get in an Indian restaurant, but with no rosewater (to which I am not partial). Can't go wrong with this dessert served refreshingly cold.
Service was overwhelmed, but generally it looked like they were trying hard. Damned if you could catch anyone's eye to get a refill of water, though. If you are a very small party (say, 2 persons), sit at the bar since the waitstaff have to go behind the bar to access the kitchen and they can't escape being flagged down. Otherwise, if on a Friday, go before 6pm or after 9pm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A filling afternoon tea at The Secret Garden

Secret Garden Tea Company on Urbanspoon Somewhere along the way I got hooked on afternoon tea, and I suppose it's only natural I ended up at probably one of the most well-known afternoon tea venues, The Secret Garden.

On the Saturday afternoon for our 2:15pm seating, every seat was full. Definitely get a reservation. Ambiance is lacking, sadly, although in part it is because the place was buzzing not just with conversations of the other diners, but also the traffic jam at the counter in the back half of the room. The room is very bright, and decor feels like a too-airy rustic tea house. Not a calming, elegant, tea experience sadly (for that, try Pâtisserie Für Elise).

The items on the tea service change (they have recently switched to a December menu, as well as rolled out a Christmas menu), so the next time you go, what I mention here will probably not be anywhere to be seen. Individual pieces were generally good, and there is evidence of attention and care to presentation, such as with the white bread cream cheese rolls in the middle on the bottom tray, and the lovely desserts on the top tray. However, there were also no stand-out particularly good items, either. Overall my experience of The Secret Garden was that there wasn't anything really outstanding, but at the same time you are getting good quality, good quantity, and good value for $26.95 (a cheaper take-out option is available).

There is a vegetarian option, which basically involves the bottom tray of sandwiches. The regular option was tuna sandwiches and steak (ground up) sandwiches. The veggie option had egg or brie, and was terribly boring to my omnivorous sensibilities. But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose. At least they do have some sort of option for non-meat-eaters.

It is also a rather deceptively filling tea service. On the bottom tray, you get TWO mini croissants and TWO mini sandwiches, PLUS maybe three small cream cheese rolls in a large stack made from white bread and therefore camouflage themselves from your active perception until you realize you are starting to be full and there's still food on the trays. Elsewhere, typically you get one of each type of item.
On the middle tier, it's one small scone (that I thought could have been much tastier with a bolder use of butter) and two slices of cake. The top tray had several dessert pieces, and happily did not succumb to the current fad of macarons.

We also got a couple of items from the counter at a mere $1.95 a piece. Again, good but not excellent. And perhaps a mistake on our part because it really was quite a filling tea service.

For teas, myself and one other (out of our party of four) opted for "weird tea" -- we just let our server choose, with the emphasis on wanting something out of the ordinary. Well, we definitely got it. One tea had the aroma of toffee; the other had a smoky aroma strongly reminiscent of bacon. Neither tasted like how they smelled, for better or worse. But they were definitely interesting conversation pieces!

Burnt Brussels sprouts at Minami

Minami on Urbanspoon It is a sister restaurant to Miku and despite the storefront, actually contains a deep and expansive dining area. Plus there's a bar with two televisions, which allows it to double as a sports bar (well, sort of). According to my friend who drives, it is also much more affordable for drivers, as you can park more cheaply and conveniently along Pacific than around the Guiness Building. The menu idea is the same, however: Aburi sushi (i.e., blowtorched sushi).

Professionally all-black dressed servers here, with a mix of males and female. No mini-skirted hotties, if you were hoping for that sort of Yaletown establishment (try Chinois for eye candy instead).

  • Aburi Carpaccio ($16) organic 64° egg, asian pear, market greens, lotus root chips, jalapeño-garlic ponzu
    • Mush the egg over the beef.
    • This is an interesting item if you don't separate the items on the plate, but pair each bite. There are interesting flavours here: The jalapeño gives the beef a bit of bite, but not too much; the market greens have an almost surprisingly refreshing vinaigrette to it; the token lotus root chips add crunch; and the sweet asian pear pairs with anything on the plate to give both a different flavour experience and texture experience. Take your time eating this.
  • Brussels Sprouts Chips with Spiced Sea Salt ($5)
    • Our server really sold us on this intriguing item. Apparently it's served with their calamari appetizer, but enough people asked for it that they made it available as a separate side.
    • Tastes like burnt Brussels Sprouts. Honest. The wedge of lemon doesn't help. But it must be popular with enough people that it's a side of its own. If you are undecided, try to score a single sample before deciding. It could taste like burnt Brussels Sprouts to you too.
  • Wagyu Beef wrapped Pan Seared Scallops with Sous-Vide Wild Mushrooms ($17) balsamic marinated grilled radicchio, preserved meyer lemon, wasabi salsa verde, flavivs vinegar
    • Three large scallops.
    • The beef, combined with the salsa on top, completely overpowered the scallops and unless you scrape off the salsa, you'll be hard pressed to taste it. Even with the green goop off, the thin wrap of beef has a strong flavour that wins out unless you take it in two bites to expose the scallop inside.
    • It's a good idea, but if you are looking for tasty scallops, try something else: There's no point ordering this to deconstruct it for a sauteed scallop.
  • Ebi Fritters ($13) black tiger prawns, spiced couscous, sweet chili aioli, soy balsamic
    • Immediately ask for a spoon to help you eat the token couscous. It comes with a ceramic spoon, but if you are sharing, that's not going to help a lot since you will use that as your serving spoon.
    • Hint of curry in the thin but crispy batter. A slight bit of sauce drizzled on it, but that's all you really need.
    • Overall really decent and a safe choice. About 5 moderately sized prawns if I remember correctly.
  • Yaletown Roll ($16) sous-vide salmon, golden tobiko, cucumber, kanpachi, ikura, lemon zest, wasabi aiolo
    • I'm actually not a huge fan of salmon, so this was sort of boring for me and I shouldn't really rate it because of my bias. As sushi rolls go, it's decent. Plus there's a half-nigiri-sushi thing going on here with an outer layer of raw fish.
    • Obviously no wasabi or soy sauce in a fine sushi establishment like this. That said, I thought this could have used a jolt more flavour, but that's probably just my uneducated western palate not appreciating the more subtle tastes.
  • Chocolate Salted Caramel Walnut ($10) chocolate cream, praline wafer, caramel pâté, caramelized walnuts, coffee caramel glaze, cinnamon chantilly cream, fresh pear, coffee, vanilla & caramel sauces, coffee ice cream
    • A rather small looking square of caramel on chocolate and wafer, but it has a richness, plus there's a very nice and aromatic coffee ice cream scoop on the side. Overall, the portion was not tiresome to get through (as some too-large portions of chocolate dessert can actually be), and the quality of the goodies here makes $10 not a bad price.
    • If you dislike toffee's chewy stick-to-your-teeth quality, this you might want to try this as you get toffee flavour without the troublesomeness.
  • Pot of tea ($3).
    • It's not tea bag tea, but brewed loose-leaf.

Generous portions at Eddy's Pink Peppercorn

Pink Peppercorn Seafood House on Urbanspoon After the popular Cannery restaurant closed, it essentially resurfaced as (Eddy's) Pink Peppercorn Seafood House (pictures) in a less glamorous neighbourhood, bringing with it favourite menu items such as the Salmon Wellington, and also a touch of pink peppercorn to every plate. If you chance to meet the chef, Eddy, he may tell you the story behind it: It is in memory and honour of his culinary mentor who, sadly, is paralysed on one side.

Decor is fishing-boat trappings plus a few almost cheese items, such as a plastic swordfish and a strange boiled-orange half-prawn half-lobster as you walk in, which nevertheless can be a fun photo op.

Portions are generous: For example, the Salmon Wellington comes in two huge halves, and could easily weigh in as two whole entrees. Bring a friend and order cautiously, especially if you are interested in having an appetizer or dessert.
Plating is rather unimaginative, with many of the fish items being different slabs of fish on otherwise identical plates of mashed potatoes, vegetables, and a very delicious gravy strong with shellfish flavour.
The "Chef's Creation" is basically the fresh sheet. It's what fresh and available in the market, and when we went last Friday night, it was halibut or arctic char. You got a large slab of either, on their generally standard plate.

The food is pretty basic and basically well-prepared. It's hard to argue with properly and professionally prepped food, but if you are looking for ace plating and interesting food that could be hit or miss, and in artistically smaller portions, you are looking in the wrong place. This is almost comfort food in generous portions from people who basically see you fed with good bang for your buck. It's also old school in that they have male waiters and still bring bread to your table.

Desserts were lacklustre, so focus on the seafood when you come here. Stand outs include the thick and flavourful Lobster Bisque, and their signature Salmon Wellington. Pass on the "Seafood Platter" to share, as it is a bit too basic, and some of the items were in too few quantities to share; at $19.95 per person, your money is better spent elsewhere.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A filling Afternoon Tea at Soirette

Soirette Macarons & Tea on UrbanspoonSoirette is a very small store on West Pender, with very few seats (and a couple of outdoor tables) -- their popular "High Tea" can really only seat 8 persons around four tables inside. The counter features very few items, mostly a wide selection of macarons and a few creamy cakes.

The macarons themselves have a bit of extra effort to them with the addition of a bit of decoration on top, whereas many places simply just leave them monotone. The various creative uses of macarons in the store displays are also worth a look as well. (pictures)

In addition to macarons, they also have a selection of interesting teas if your palate is fine enough to appreciate the differences. Not the same huge selection as, for example, at Shaktea or The Urban Tea Merchant, but at least you do get a decent selection to go with the afternoon tea service.

2012-Nov-10 Soirette High Tea Menu

The afternoon tea seating is more or less 60 to 90 minutes, which can be very tight if your group is 6+ and you're all distracted with chatting (a very afternoon tea thing to do) instead of focussed on eating.

As far as afternoon tea services go, you do get quite a few types of items here, and the serving can seem deceptively small, but if you pay attention you'll see at least one small bun the size of a dinner roll on the bottom tier; a scone in the middle; and a bit of grilled cheese sandwich. These can add up, and we saw quite a lot of leftovers from the afternoon tea patrons who were on the seating ahead of us. All in all, the tea service could make for a light brunch or possibly a light lunch if you have a smaller appetite -- which makes $27 a really decent price for what you get.

The menu items are basically nicely done, though without a special touch to warrant top marks. However, for the price point it was a good deal. Some of the standouts in the menu were...

  • Tandoori chicken cucumber cup
    • Some people cut this is half to savour it more slowly, but I felt it was bite-sized enough and just popped the whole thing. The refreshing juiciness of the cucumber merged very nicely with the curry flavour to give an interesting sensation in your mouth.
  • Rose-Scented Butter
    • An awesome idea. Strong, clear rose aroma, but not as pungent as rosewater, which is typically a turnoff for me.
One of their macarons is an adventurous wasabi-pineapple which is definitely worth a try. Only a whiff of wasabi, so it's not going to clear your sinus.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sockeye City Grill

Sockeye City Grill on Urbanspoon I hardly ever get out to Steveston so I really didn't know any good places there. Our day trip group was guided by a local and we were ultimately steered to Sockeye City Grill on the waterfront. For some reason, no one mentioned Pajo's. Heck, even I forgot to look it up.

After "just fish and chips" at The Fish Shack the night before, I ended up choosing something other than fish and chips.

  • Dungeness Crab and Tiger Prawn Cannelloni ($19) fresh pasta filled with dungeness crab. ricotta cheese and spinach, savoury rose sauce. jumbo tiger prawns, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil. parmesan cheese and garlic toast
    • Lots of sauce, not a lot of actual cannelloni. However, the crab flavour came through past the ricotta cheese filling.
    • The "jumbo" part of the tiger prawns seemed to be missing. There was, however, an OK amount of prawn.
    • Pretty tasty sauce. Overall, this was a light lunch and quite tasty and a safe choice to order at this restaurant. Could definitely have used a tad more bread for the delicious sauce.
  • Chocolate Mousse ($6.75) rich dark chocolate mousse topped with shaved white chocolate and raspberry puree
    • One large tumbler worth of chocolate mousse.
    • Strangely disappointing. The pale chocolate just wasn't chocolatey enough for one. One bite and I was basically done and let the rest of our party of 7 finish it.
  • Pot of Tea ($2.50)
    • This is a small pot of hot water and a satchel of Stash tea. Not sure what to make of them not having put the teabag into the pot.
    • The pot has no lid, but a large hole in the top where you pour water and put in the tea. With such a large hole, you can of course expect the water to get cold quite quickly. I tried balancing the bottom edge of my cup in the hole, but if you're not aware of it, you could easily knock it off while reaching for something (like I did with the menu; fortunately the cup was empty at the time).

Reduce your expectations for Fish Shack

The Fish Shack on UrbanspoonThe Fish Shack is another restaurant by the Glowbal Collection, who have other lovely restaurants like Black + Blue and Italian Kitchen. It replaces the rather interesting menu of Sanafir with a lineup of fish and chips and shellfish, and I'm actually rather sad about that.

Also, with various other classy restaurants to its name, I really struggled with my expectations for The Fish Shack. Would it be jazzed up fish and chips? Is that even possible? Fortunately, I was dining with someone who gently reminded me that fish and chips is fish and chips, and location, ambiance, and decor all have a cost that trickles down to the customer. She also thought the prices quite reasonable/cheap, hence the late 20's / early 30's crowd. Our very light dinner for two including one glass of wine and one non-alcoholic beverage came to $33.99 after tip but before tax.

I can't say I really like the decor much. Using pallets for the walls... Hmm... Also, restaurants really, really, need to stop using mason jars as glasses. It's like someone couldn't find you a glass and dusted off an old jam jar instead.
The room was super-packed. Reservations ate up all the tables but bar seating was still first-come first-served, thankfully, so if you are a very small group of 1-4, you might be able to squeeze in there, and as a bonus (or, "bonus") you get to watch them steam clams and shuck oysters all night. Sort of like sitting at the bar in a sushi restaurant.
With so many people squashed in there, and music played loudly enough to be heard over all of them, The Fish Shack is a very noisy place and I walked out to discover my ears buzzing. As it was I had to lean in close to hear anything my dining companion said.
  • Amuse Bouche (complimentary, and it shows on the bill as $0)
    • We didn't get any! Oops. I think it was supposed to be chowder in a tiny sour dough bowl, and the two diners next to us at the bar got one each, but none for us! Boo.
    • In fact, the server did offer it to us initially, but we thought it was an order of clam chowder and since we didn't order it, we just told her it wasn't our order. I don't recall anyone telling us it was complimentary. I'll chalk this one up to it being a super busy night.
  • Sardines ($9.95)
    • When we went last Friday night, deep fried sardines with fries and red onion coleslaw was the special, as they happened to get some nice big sardines (about 7 inches). Don't expect to find this on the regular menu.
    • For $9.95, you get one (1) sardine. It is skinned and turned inside out. The spine is removed, and you basically are meant to eat the whole thing, though having done so, I recommend that you remove the head, because the oil can really get inside the exposed gills and what not, and it turned out feeling and tasting oily with no upside of any interesting flavour.
    • Tartar sauce, a moderate amount of chips, and a tiny side of coleslaw rounded off this plate. compared to their fish and chips, this comes is on par as their 1-piece fish and chips is mostly $10-$12 with tartar sauce, chips, and coleslaw. Price-wise I guess it's on par with other fish and chips places.
    • Fries were really decently done. Didn't taste like only-fried-once quickies.
    • Nothing too special here. Also, not super-battered like a regular order of fish and chips, so you get to clearly see you're having sardine.
  • Steamed Clams in Thai broth ($15/pound)
    • If they don't hand you a bowl or the shells, ask for something.
    • There are three types of soup your mollusks could be swimming in. The Thai one we chose was okay with our clams, but you really needed to drink it straight to appreciate its full flavour and bite from the chili. As soups go, it was quite delicious and if you order this I recommend you save room to drink it all up. Could definitely have used some bread to go with it, and if they can get you enough of it to decently soak up the soup, this would make a pretty filling meal.
    • As steamed clams go, this is just steamed clams.
  • New York Style Cheesecake ($8.50) graham cracker crust, berry coulis
    • We were assured all desserts were made "in-house" -- by which he meant they were made by dessert chefs who were part of the Glowbal Group. It's possible that with so many restaurants downtown, these were made elsewhere and carted over en masse.
    • This was in a short glass jar and the portion you get does work out to approximately 1 thin slice in volume.
    • As cheesecakes go, this was really quite nice. The cheese portion was maybe softer and creamier than a typical slice of cheesecake, and may not have worked out so well if it weren't all contained a little glass jar.
Overall the food is properly prepared and pretty basic. There's nothing special here about the food. If you walk in, you should expect nothing more than a decent fish and chips type restaurant with decent service. We were at the bar so I couldn't really evaluate the service of the regular waitstaff. The oyster expert right in front of us, Todd, was attentive to us and the nearby tables, however, instead of simply being absorbed in assembling oyster platters.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Taste of Yaletown 2012 - Chinois

Chinois on Urbanspoon
Chinois was a year old in the final week of the Taste of Yaletown. As it coincided with the weekend before Halloween, they also had Heaven & Hell Halloween night on Saturday, October 27th.

The restaurant opened to some buzz last year, although mainly what I heard was a lot of whining about the price. And as some of these tapas plates do come in at the $20-$30 range, that's not unjustified.

The room is rather dimly lit, but if you want a bit more light you can sit against the wall on the right side, which has lower-hanging lights.
Decor is interesting and how they do the Chinese theme is definitely worth a look. Far in the back is a cocktail lounge (Pierre's) where they completely drop the Chinese theme in favour of a curious classic-artwork-meets-irreverent-additions pieces of art on the wall. You'll understand what I mean when you see it.
Servers are all friendly hotties in tight black dresses. Our two servers, Jessica and Rebecca (Becky) were super, super nice and patient with us. Five stars for service (and separate five stars for being heart-stoppingly gorgeous).

Their Taste of Yaletown promotion was quite tame at a very modest price for this restaurant. In fact, the one appy we ordered (Jumbo Prawns) was $24 for a single sharing plate -- almost as much as the Taste of Yaletown three-course! I went with the FoodBloggers Meetup, so invariably someone pulled out the cellphone camera... which means pics, for a change!

Before I proceed with my review, I should say that I grew up eating Chinese food, so there's that mom-made-it-differently bias that can really skew things. For example, my non-Asian dining companions thought our meal at Fortune House was interesting and impressive, but I was rather bored with it.

2012 Taste of Yaletown Menu
$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)

Appetizer - ONE of
  • House Made Wonton Soup with Roast Duck Broth
  • Crispy Curry Potato Dumplings with Basil and Coriander Aioli
  • Wok Tossed Green Beans with Spicy Pork and Fresno Chilies

Entrée - ONE of
  • Wok Seared Beef with Gai Lan, Sui Chuy and Oyster Mushrooms; served with steamed white or brown rice
  • Vegetarian Crispy Noodles with Tofu, Peppers, Enoki Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
  • Sweet and Sour Fish with Ling Cod, Pineapple, Jalapeno, and Cold Cucumber Salad

Dessert - ONE of
  • Mango Swirl Ice Cream with Fresh Mango and Lychee
  • Coconut and Vanilla Rice Pudding with Condensed Milk Cream
No one ordered the soup, and I didn't get to try the Ling Cod, but had a bite of everything else. Here's how dinner turned out.
  • Jumbo Prawns with candied walnuts and creamy spicy sauce ($24! - not part of the Taste of Yaletown menu)
    • While we were poring over the menu, I ordered something outside of the Taste of Yaletown to nibble on. This was the server's suggestion, and she assured me that it was the customer as well as kitchen favourite, with chefs making "accidental" extras for themselves and the servers as well.
    • Totally, almost exquisitely, delicious. Large prawns, perfectly crunchy-firm. Interesting taste combined with the not-bitter walnuts, plus a bit of kick from the sauce. About six prawns or thereabouts.
    • Portion is that of a large appetizer or largish tapas plate. Cost is frightening and high enough to make you question whether something even that delicious should be priced at $24. We were foodies (and it was all on my bill) so everyone who tried it, loved it.
  • Crispy Curry Potato Dumplings with basil and coriander aioli (picture)
    • Hands down the winning appetizer and probably the second-best item that night.
    • Hot and very crispy and beautifully browned from the kitchen. The crunchy outside made the creamy potato insides an interesting surprise and change in texture.
    • Lightly curried, nowhere near spicy or bitter.
    • The Taste of Yaletown portion was 4 per plate. Didn't see it on the online menu.
  • Wok Tossed Green Beans with spicy pork and Fresno chillies (picture)
    • Barely any spiciness to this, but I'm used to hot curries like Rendang, so your experience may be different.
    • Could have used a spoon for the ground pork.
    • Rather boring, actually.
  • Wok Seared Beef with Gai Lan, Sui Chuy and Oyster Mushrooms; served with steamed white or brown rice (picture)
    • A surprisingly filling plate here, primarily because of the very full bowl of rice. Looked tiny, though.
    • Tasted a bit boring here, plus it waited a bit long in the kitchen while everything else was prepped, so it came lukewarm. The server offered to take it back to the kitchen to be re-tossed in the wok. Helped a lot, but some of us had concerns that it might toughen up the pork, and passed on that option.
  • Vegetarian Crispy Noodles with Tofu, Peppers, Enoki Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
    • We were seven at our table and no one ordered this, so I had to. The rectangular plate was slightly smaller than your 8-1/2" x 11" printer paper, and was filled almost to the edge with mostly the veggie component. Not the heaping amount of filler noodles that you typically get in every other Chinese restaurant. Quite a bit of sauce so you had to be careful or it would spill off the plate.
    • Overall this didn't taste particularly special if you've had a lot of chow mien.
  • Mango Swirl Ice Cream with Fresh Mango and Lychee
    • Pretty simple dessert. Nothing too special. A nicer, more refreshing dessert choice after an essentially comfort-food dinner.
  • Coconut and Vanilla Rice Pudding with Condensed Milk Cream (picture)
    • A simple and delicious rice pudding. Could be a bit heavy as a dessert especially if you had the rice bowl.
Overall I thought the Taste of Yaletown promotion was pretty sad (with the exception of the potato dumplings), and maybe they should have done a $35 and offered more interesting bites. If my order of Jumbo Prawns was any indication of what they can do and what the regular menu is like, then they definitely didn't show any of that potential through the Taste of Yaletown lineup. So I was glad I did try it (even at $24) just to know Chinois can really serve up some excellent plates.

Drinks were a bit tricky for a non-drinker like me. No fresh-squeezed fruit juice (but then, who does?). Mostly pop or very limited tea (nothing fancy here -- orange pekoe, green tea). Drinkers will have a better time with their interesting cocktails.

2012-Oct-26 Chinois coupon (front)

2012-Oct-26 Chinois coupon (back)

2012-Oct-27 Chinois Heaven and Hell Halloween night

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taste of Yaletown 2012 - Bistro Sakana

Bistro Sakana on Urbanspoon EDIT (2012-Oct-22) - Corrected various details in the post after hearing from the owner. Gosh, someone actually reads my posts?! O_O

 I went to Bistro Sakana last year for the Taste of Yaletown, and was very pleasantly surprised, so well ahead of time I made a reservation for this busy restaurant. Like Miku, they do the "aburi" style box-pressed and blow-torched. Here, they use a stick of charcoal (imported from Japan) to deflect the flame onto the sushi instead of using the direct flame jet, to reduce the chances of the sushi smelling/tasting like fuel.

There are three seating areas -- reservations go in the main dining room, walk-ins go to the covered and heated patio, or to the bar.

Our party was to dine at 6pm, but two dropped out at the last moment, two no-showed, and two were stuck behind traffic in Surrey after a wine tour. So there was just two of us and we decided to move to the bar. Which doesn't sound so great, unless you like watching the chefs roll and blowtorch sushi -- which we did, so it worked out nicely.
(Regarding reservations... Earlier this year I had tried to make a reservation for 8, but the restaurant policy for a party of 8 was a minimum spend of $500 before tax and tip! Parties of 6+ 8+ also have an automatic 18% gratuity figured into the bill.)

My dining partner hauled out her cellphone for pics and vids, so we have some footage this time!

$35.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)

  • Wild Sockeye Salmon Miso Chowder - a rich creamy salmon & miso chowder
A Signature Sample Platter including all of the following: (picture)
  • Wild Sockeye Jalapeño Aburi "Hakozushi" - sockeye salmon layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with jalapeño slices
  • Toro Red Chili Aburi "Hakozushi" - albacore toro marinated in Junmai sake & miso, layered with rice, box pressed, flame torched, and topped with red chili and key lime slivers
  • Teppan Roll - fresh tomato, Hotate scallop sashimi, fresh bocconcini mozzarella & home-made shiso-basil pesto, rolled up with rice, lightly sauteed and plated with a rim of aged balsamic reduction and unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
  • Nasu Dengaku - traditional baked Japanese eggplant with aka miso sauce, served on brown rice risotto
  • Ginger Citrus Hamachi - fresh yellowtail sashimi layered with pink grapefruit sections and drizzled with a soy-balsamic vinaigrette
  • Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies - rich dark chocolate brownies served warm with dark chocolate sauce & vanilla bean gelato
As was the case last year, the sushi had a touch of sweetness to it, which I do like as a nice change from "regular" cheap-ass sushi that comes with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping. Overall, the stronger tastes combined with the more subtle taste accompanying the rice pieces made the Taste of Yaletown menu a nice, light dinner of interesting flavours.
Sad to say, I rather prefer going only during their mixed platter fixed menu offerings during Taste of Yaletown because you're not committed to a full roll, but get a variety of interesting items. Each time they make a box-pressed sushi, there's enough for 8 pieces. And to maintain quality and freshness, they can't really sell two to four pieces and blindly hope that someone will make another half order in the very near future. Assembling a group of four would be the way to go, with each person getting two pieces of each order, but you still wouldn't have the chef making the selection for you in the sort of whole-meal way you get with the Taste of Yaletown everything-for-$35 three-course.

Here's how our dinner turned out (including extras not in the Taste of Yaletown menu that we ordered):
  • Yam Fries ($7.50) picture
  • Soft shell Crab Tempura ($13)
    • These came out a bit oily tasting. Otherwise pretty basic -- battered and deep fried crabs.
    • Go easy on the soy sauce ponzu sauce, otherwise you'll smother the crab flavour.
    • Came with a small amount of chili paste which was sadly worthless as far as adding heat and bite to this. Would have been nice, though. What looked like a small dab of chili paste was in fact "momiji oroshi", a mildly spicy dab of grated daikon.
    • For $13, I'd pass on this. It's hard to dispute the cost of crab/shellfish, but combined with the oiliness and the nothing-very-special quality of this item. Instead, get the Soft Shell Crab Karaage at Miku for $10.
  • Wild Sockeye Salmon Miso Chowder
    • Looked pretty basic, and basically delicious. Not much to say here.
  • Wild Sockeye Jalapeño Aburi "Hakozushi" picture
    • I don't recall getting much heat from the jalapeño here.
    • This one sort of passed me by in terms of being interesting, but my companion was so impressed she ordered an additional full roll ($11).
  • Toro Red Chili Aburi "Hakozushi"
    • "Toro" is a fatty part of a fish used in sushi.
    • The owner mentioned they had to get their own chili for any sort of heat here. Apparently, before they sourced their own chili and chopped it up themselves, the chili they used didn't have any bite to it at all.
    • There is a bit of chili heat which contrasts nicely with the lime slivers. Otherwise, this didn't really catch my attention.
  • Teppan Roll
    • The light burn from being sautéed, combined with the touch of sweetness from dipping in just a bit of balsamic reduction made this a winner with me. The few pieces of this sadly went all too quickly.
  • Nasu Dengaku
    • Eggplant on mushy rice. Uh... yup.
  • Ginger Citrus Hamachi
    • The lighting is sort of dim in the restaurant, so look carefully and try to pick up both fish and grapefruit in the same bite -- I think I screwed this part up and it should have been a tastier experience for me.
  • Oka San's Rich Chocolate Brownies picture
    • I've had some really nice chocolate cakes, such as at The Wallflower and Bandidas Tacqueria. The rich (but overpriced) chocolate cake at Heirloom (minus the goat cheese) is also a contender for top spot, but this cake-style brownie dessert is my new number 1 choice for bestest chocolate cake ever.
    • I think it could have done with less ice cream, or have that more separate, because the soft gelato melted very quickly and as often is the case with ice cream that melts quickly, you get an unappetizing goop.
    • The brownie here is deeply chocolately, very rich and moist.
    • The Taste of Yaletown portion is about one cup's worth (plus a scoop of ice cream). Not sure about the regular order, but on the dessert menu it is listed at $6.50.
  • Chestnut Panna Cotta ($6.50)
    • This was in the restaurant menu but not on the online menu at the time I am writing this blog post.
    • Light and refreshing, but a bit bland for my taste. Very soft and creamy.
    • I wasn't clearly experiencing the chestnuts here. If you're not up for a too-rich dessert, or if you're more sensitive to subtle flavours, then this could work. It's certainly one of the more interesting desserts on their regular menu.
Service was a bit uncoordinated. Everyone works the entire room, so if orders are a bit slow, sometimes you will end up being asked by multiple servers if you've ordered. One of the owners (Peter Needham) was on the floor that night and he chatted us up briefly -- possibly because our orders were still on the way. It was interesting to hear his take on the Taste of Yaletown, however: It was a chance to introduce diners to more interesting items on their menu, whereas quite often patrons ask for safer choices.
If you sit at the bar, the chef there can actually take or relay your order. For example, she prepared the Salmon Aburi and just handed it to us right after the finishing touches with the blowtorch.

Yuck chocolate cake at Heirloom

Heirloom Vegetarian on Urbanspoon Chocolate cake with stinky goat cheese! Yuck! But Heirloom Vegetarian does have inventive fare, if you're not just vegetarian-curious / committed-vegan / gluten-free-mandatory, but also an adventurous diner.

It hadn't been open long at where Primo's Mexican Grill used to be when my chicken-permissible-vegetarian friend and I walked in on Friday. (No reservations, but supposedly has a fast turnover; no lineup at 6pm, either, unlike the smaller roomed Acorn).
Inside, it's high ceilings, white walls, vintage farm decor, and noise noise noise from conversation. The left side has taller tables and bar seats, and is a bit quieter.

For reasons unclear to me, I settled on the raw cauliflower risotto, one of the two raw items on the dinner menu. I'm not hardcore raw vegan, so I really don't know why I did that. I think it was because I ran into my vegan friend Emma Smith (of Zimt fame) and she had mentioned she'd had it and it was good. Now that I've had it, I would caution non-raw-foodists that you might need help appreciating this. The best raw (and safest choice for the raw-curious) I've had would still probably be Indigo Food afternoon tea.
Compared to the other newish "modern vegetarian" Acorn, I would say Heirloom lacks the artistically beautiful plating and is much less salty, but definitely no less inventive. Price-wise a bit cheaper except for desserts.
  • Raw Cauliflower Risotto ($13, vegan, raw, gluten-free) pumpkin seed pesto, walnut cheese, watermelon radish
    • I don't truly regret ordering this, but I was glad we had something tamer at the table.
    • The "risotto" is the finely diced (food processed?) cauliflower, mixed with something that made the whole thing look more green that white.
    • Overall, really rather bland and boring. I was wishing for some crispy bacon to go with it, honestly. Or something savory, maybe some kind of yummy pan drippings. It just needed *something*.
    • Didn't come with a spoon. What is it with restaurants and their boycotting of spoons? Ask for a spoon right away. Otherwise it's like eating quinoa with a fork.
  • Dips ($14, vegan) beetroot sunflower seed tapanade, lentil pecan homous, vegetables, sangak chips
    • Very interesting here, with the sweet deep red beetroot dip contrasting in colour and flavour with the very thick lentil homous which leaned toward the savory side.
    • "Sangak chips" were nicely salty and deep fried even though lavash flatbread is generally just oven fired. Simple and tasty! -- These would have been great all on their own. A generous amount but you should still not be shy with the dips when spreading so you won't end up with dip and nothing to go with it. Came with a few baby veggies as well (radish, carrots).
  • Chocolate Semolina Cake ($12) cayenne, cane poached beets, chocolate ganache, sweet heart goat cheese
    • It said goat cheese but I still ordered it. I'm a sucker for a good chocolate cake, I guess.
    • The cake was really decent, but the two small rounds were barely more than a cupful... And for $12! Ouch -- especially as the goat cheese (which was probably the reason why it costs twice as much for a smaller portion than just about anywhere) rather ruined it.
    • Chocolate ganache was the brown chocolate in between the very dark and quite rich chocolate cake. Slight buzz from cayenne builds slowly, so wait for it. Okay, the cake itself was more than just decent. It really was a very nicely done chocolate cake. Not for $12, though. I want gold leaf for $12.
    • Beets were on the side. Pink lump of goat cheese on top. Have I mentioned that I hate goat cheese? Only Establishment has ever made it palatable to me. Here, on it own or paired with the chocolate cake, it was still gross. If you like goat cheese, you may have a very different take on this, though, so don't let me stop you from trying it. It's certainly an adventurous pairing, in my opinion.
  • Fentimans Dandelion & Burdock ($4)
    • One of two Fentimans choices. A bit of a small bottle for $4, but an interesting taste reminiscent of liquorice. Slight buzz in your mouth like ginger beer or grapefruit. Hardly any aftertaste, strangely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why isn't this news? CCIT to pass WITHOUT a vote

I got this shocking letter from Elizabeth May, the MP for the Saanich-Gulf Islands, after putting my name on an online petition against the CCIT (Canada-China Investment Treaty). It basically echoes what the petition was about, and confirms that http://www.greenparty.ca/stop-the-sellout weren't crazy.
What *is* crazy is that this treaty will go into effect without anyone really knowing about it. I have highlighted some key sections... Who the heck thought up this ludicrous treaty?

Sent:October-17-12 3:54:46 AM
Thank you for your interest in the Canada-China Investment Treaty. Although Stephen Harper prefers to keep Canadians in the dark about this Agreement’s grave implications for our sovereignty, security, and democracy, I am hopeful that we can force the issue into daylight. Your letter proves that you recognize the seriousness and urgency of what is about to take place behind our backs.

While the Canada-China Investment Treaty will likely be our most significant treaty since NAFTA, Stephen Harper plans to sign it into law as early as November 2nd, 2012, without any public consultation, any consultation with First Nations, any Parliamentary debate, or even a single vote in the House of Commons. I do not accept such blatant disrespect for either the will of Canadians or for our democratic institutions.

Sadly, in addition to the anti-democratic process to approve this Agreement, it is the actual content of this investment deal with which I am most concerned. For the first time in Canadian history, the Canada-China Investment Treaty will allow investors (including Chinese state-owned enterprises such as CNOOC or Sinopec), to claim damages against the Canadian government in secretfor decisions taken at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level that result in a reduction of their expectation of profits. Even decisions of Canadian courts can give rise to damages.

Realizing what the Conservatives were attempting to do, in secret and without debate, and realizing that we will be bound by this destructive Agreement for up to 31 years once it is ratified, on October 1st, 2012, I made a request in the House of Commons for an Emergency Debate to allow Canada’s democratically elected Members of Parliament to study the implications of the Canada-China Investment Treaty.

Although my request for an Emergency Debate was regrettably denied, we have not given up and are continuing to pursue all available options to stop the treaty’s approval. Given what is at stake, we hope that you will join us.

In addition to the tools found on our Canada-China Investment Treaty campaign site at http://www.greenparty.ca/stop-the-sellout, I urge you to push back against this sell-out of our sovereignty, security, and democracy, and help to educate Canadians by talking to your friends and neighbours, writing letters to the editor in local and national newspapers, calling in to talk radio shows, and filling up the comment boards of news website.

Crucially, this is not a partisan issue, and it is only by coming together to stand up for Canada that we will succeed in stopping this agreement.

Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.
Member of Parliament for Saanich–Gulf Islands
Leader of the Green Party of Canada