Monday, June 25, 2012

Screened at the Door at The Irish Heather

Irish Heather on Urbanspoon It was 8:30pm Friday night. Rainy out and Gastown's very busy. From the outside, The Irish Heather looks dark and packed. It's a smaller space than where it used to be, narrow and deep (and without haunted bathrooms). There's a fellow outside with a clipboard and he asks if I have a reservation. When I tell him I'm part of a party meeting here for drinks, he checks his clipboard, then admits me.

I'm not usually out clubbing and pubbing so I can't admit to having seen a bouncer for the Irish Heather before. I chatted with him briefly and he says he's there to keep out the riff-raff. It's a busy enough place that he can diplomatically turn people away by saying it's full and reservations-only. He also says the Irish Heather is not a pub-crawl destination, and that's something he keeps an eye out for.

The Irish Heather's menu is more drinks than food, and everything's got a name, so it's the sort of place to go when you know what you like and what you're drinking. They have stainless steel martini glasses, but there's no guarantee they'll know how to mix more than what's on the cocktail menu: When one of our party tried to order a Cuban Cigar, the waitress looked apprehensive -- but happily they did produce one and the verdict was thumbs up.

The food smells like pretty standard pub fare, which is not exactly boring diner food, but it didn't excite anyone either. Our table saw Heather Fries, Beef Burgers, and Arugula Salad. The only thing that really piqued my curiosity was the Potted Salmon: "Our riff on the English potted shrimp. Poached & smoked wild salmon preserved under a layer of salted butter. Served with sliced [baquette] - $9"

Potted Salmon at the Irish Heather comes in one of those very small glass canning jars. The quantity of salmon you get is about 1-1/2 ping pong balls in volume, and it's tightly packed under about a half centimeter of "butter". There's a clump of bitter arugula on top (if you order the similar pork rillette, you get cornichons instead). It is served chilled and with not quite enough slices of (not toasted) baguette, unless

The butter is whiteish and has buttery flavour, but barely. It's also has a grainy texture. There's hardly any taste here whether you mix it in with anything or not, so I recommend just cracking open that top and discarding it.
The salmon is flaked, and moist and tender. It's marinated in a bit of herbs and veggies, and tastes quite good. Although it is preserved in butter, there isn't any buttery fattiness to it at all.

At $9, the Potted Salmon seems quite steep for what you get. If you got a can of flaked salmon and threw in some seasoning and mixed it up, you'd do reasonably well on your own taste-wise and you'd get a lot more salmon, all for probably a lot less than $9.

A pot of peppermint tea was $3.05. (Prices are before tax and tip).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fat Meat at Dunn's Famous

Dunn's Famous on Urbanspoon I've heard from several people how Dunn's Famous downtown has authentic Montreal smoked meat. If you're hankering for exactly that, then you should definitely try it. I'm not going to give points for authenticity, however. I tried the 8 oz. "Giant Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich" and will be basing this review as if I'm basically new to smoked meat and don't care about some eastern province's tradition.

There is a take out menu, and on Thursday, that's all I had time for. If that's all you're looking for at lunch, the waitress will wave you in and point you to the bar where the bartender will take your order. It was just a single sandwich, so it came quite quickly.

I wasn't asked about a choice of bread, so there's just the "light sourdough rye" (as indicated in the menu) available. The three cuts -- lean, medium, or fat -- basically asks just how much fat marbling you want in your meat. That'll determine from where the meat is cut. My dining buddy said she'd tried lean and it turned out to be on the dry side. The bartender recommended medium being a happy medium, but also said more fat = more flavourful.
Remembering the time I went to Gotham and got a fat-marbled steak, I went with "fat".

Dunn's Famous Montreal smoked meat "is a whole double A beef brisket brined for seven days, dry smoked for 12 hours and steamed three hours to tender just before serving. Always hand sliced to order -- lean, medium or fat."

The sandwich comes automatically cut in half, which helps manage the heap of meat inside. There is a light amount of mustard brushed onto the bread, and additional mustard at the table. It also comes with a single pickle.
The steaming and hand slicing really helps with the final tender product -- meat so soft that it just flakes apart, which means this can be a pretty messy item to eat. It was also extremely moist, and that plus the warm meat caused the bread to become almost soggy by the time I opened up the take-out container -- Therefore, try not to do take out!

Taste-wise, the fat dominated my experience more so than any beef or meat flavour. I expected the fat to enhance the flavour, but all it did was give me a tired feeling. More mustard didn't help so much as the straight shot of sour from the pickle.

Overall, I wouldn't order a "fat" cut again, and I'm not sure I'd go with the smoked meat either, since this particular one turned out quite bland. The sheer tenderness of the meat is the only thing going for this sandwich. If you do try it, I recommend going for medium fattiness.

Dunn's Famous take out menu 1 of 4

Dunn's Famous take out menu 2 of 4

Dunn's Famous take out menu 3 of 4

Dunn's Famous take out menu 4 of 4

Green Chicken at Soho Road Naan Kebabs

Soho Road Naan Kebab on UrbanspoonIt looks like yummy green martian meat, but the Hariyali chicken at Soho Road Naan Kebab is just tandoor oven baked chicken with a mint and cilantro marinade.

A full naan wrap (using an approximately 6" naan) is $10 (exactly, tax included, so it's actually more like $8.92). It's pricey compared to, say, a donair. However, as street food goes, it's probably par as you can expect food carts to be pricier than sit-down restaurants.
In comparison, it's about the size of two moderately sized burgers, but with somewhat more meat involved. A half order is $6.

Value-added features of eating at Soho Road Naan Kebab is that their oven is inside the food cart. The day begins early with cooking the meat inside the cart. Naans are continuously made, and you can expect a hot, fresh, naan with a decent amount of charring for flavour (but not overdone to bitterness) to be used to make your wrap.
Also, if you watch them make the wrap, you will notice that it is folded tightly, so while it looks small, there's a decent amount of meat there, maybe just over 1 burger patty worth.

The meat is theoretically hot, fresh from the oven, but after they apply various condiments during assembly, you can't expect steaming hot meat in your naan.

It's also NOT spicy-hot. Which is understandable when you have to cater to the lower common denominator as a street food cart, but it's also disappointing that it didn't have more kick to it.
Depending on how quickly you eat it, it can also end up lacking in sauce. They can't put too much sauce because it would soggy up your naan and could also make a mess while you're eating it. But if you wait too long, because the wraps are not closed at one end (which would in turn mean they couldn't fit in the same amount of meat), the sauce starts to slowly trickle down anyway. They carefully double-wrap it, so it won't drip all over you, but do eat it quickly not just to have it while it's hot, but also while it's still soaked in the flavourful sauce.

On Thursday I tried the Hariyali Chicken, and the Butter Chicken.

  • Hariyali Chicken
    • This clearly has a mintiness, but not enough to give you any sort of buzz in your mouth or take over the flavour of everything. It's different and worth a try, but if you're looking for a richer experience, just go with the Butter Chicken.
  • Butter Chicken
    • A safe and delicious choice. Compared to having butter chicken curry in a sit-down restaurant, you're missing out on rich sauce. If that's all you're really after, then you're looking in the wrong place. At Soho Road Naan Kebab, it's about the marinated chicken meat, and they make sure that stands out clearly in flavour.
The rush hour is around Noon, and if you get there even just 20 minutes earlier, you can probably beat the crowd. If you are there super-early and the meat isn't quite ready yet, they do accept pre-orders.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Downstairs at Calabash

Calabash Bistro on UrbanspoonMy friend doesn't come in from Chilliwack often, so I'm always nervous choosing restaurants for us to go. Fortunately, Calabash Bistro turned out to be a great choice -- with caveats.

Let's get the big negative out of the way: The neighbourhood. Within a few blocks of its Gastown location are some notable dining spots like The Irish Heather and Cartems Donuterie (now open till 6pm!). But just on that walk up Carrall are also some really seedy places with equally seedy people. No folks, despite all the construction and new businesses hanging out their shingles, Gastown isn't gentrified.
I considered Calabash for a get-together earlier this year when it was dark in the early evening, but nixed it. It just wasn't an appropriate choice to bring a lady. But she was intrigued by the place and its casual vibe, music, and small bites, so we did eventually try it just this past weekend on Saturday. It was bright out at 6.45 pm when I got there, and still bright when we left after a lazily paced dinner. That, I felt better with.

It's a tiny-looking place if you peek in the window, but there's a downstairs that's got more floorspace than the upstairs. It's no less noisy, and in fact more so if you're sitting near the DJ and the decommissioned old elevator car (the building used to be a hotel once upon a time). However, on hotter days that's also a fairly good place to be because they've got a medium sized but powerful floor fan, important for a basement with no windows.

The music goes all night and is quite loud over the din of conversation, making Calabash not a particularly friendly place for largish groups if you don't just want to talk to the people adjacent to you. However, it can accommodate quite a big group downstairs with their easily mutable table arrangements.

After the cramped-feeling please-wait-to-be-seated upstairs, the next thing you'll probably notice is the pro-active service. Someone tries to greet you right away. Staff going by but presently unable to attend make sure to acknowledge you with a "someone will be with you shortly". This must've happened to me about three times while I was waiting to be led to the table reserved for us.

It's a bit dimly lit (and busy most times) but if you get the chance, the decor is worth a bit of wandering. Quite a few pieces are apparently purchased from patrons and there's a mish-mash of stuff that still somehow all works together to create an ambiance that is chaotic looking but not off-putting. Downstairs also features a small collection of vintage vinyl.

The menu features weekly specials and many dishes typically feature an interesting sweet-and-savory taste combination not too often found (unless you count Hawaiian Pizza). On Saturday, we went with Jerk Pork & Dumplings, Jerk Sablefish, Fresh Seafood Curry, and Brie & Guava Stuffed Coconut Dumplings. For a beverage, I went with Ting.

If you're not familiar with Caribbean cuisine, you may not know about Johnny Cakes -- what are called "dumplings" at Calabash. Many cultures have their version of Johnny Cakes, but what you will typically get in a Caribbean restaurant is a ball of deep-fried dough that is very much like a cake donut, only denser/heavier. They look small, but they're quite filling all on their own, so be wary if you're not looking to be accidentally stuffed to the gills.

A small pot of chili is brought to the table before your meal, and you can use the zip from it kick up your meal a notch. It builds up heat quite slowly, and leaves a buzz in your mouth without any heat. Somewhere in there, however, there's quite a hot-and-bitter kick to it. Be careful. It's quite different from other chili sauces, so if you've never had it before, I recommend just a taste to see how it works out for you.
  • (June 15-21 weekly menu special) Jerk Pork & Dumplings - Marinated pork smothered in jerk sauce. Served with fried coconut dumplings and fresh cucumber. $10.
    • This was really decent. The pork was quite tender, and the sauce was delicious. The sauce goes well with the sweet dumplings if you cut them open and let them soak it up a bit.
    • The dumplings were about ping-pong ball sized and deep fried to a dark brown. The coconut was mixed right in, and they were quite sweet.
    • A good sized portion for just an appy. For smaller appetites, this could've been a light meal all on its own, if you had to finish off all the dumplings (I think there were four) on your own.
  • (June 15-21 weekly menu special) Jerk Sablefish - Seared and oven roasted sablefish finished with jerk sauce. Served on curried ground provisions with sauteed green beans. $26.
    • Can't go wrong with sablefish. Juicy, smooth, flake-apart tender. It was, however, a smallish portion of fish that only looked big because it sat on top of the "ground provisions".
    • The "ground provisions" turned out to be curried yam and plantain, with cracked pepper mixed in the sauce. After you get over the unexpected crunch (from the pepper), you'll settle into really enjoying this tasty sauce that contrasts very well with the sweet yam and plantain.
    • For $26 and with no rice or roti, I thought this was a bit of a small portion overall, but it's hard to complain when it was so tasty.
  • Fresh Seafood Curry - Fresh snapper, scallops and shrimp, marinated in a house-blended curry and cooked to order. Served with rice & peas and salad; or in a roti, with salad. $15.
    • I went with the roti option because I'm a sucker for roti. The roti was quite pale and didn't look seared enough, but it tasted fine. The server explained that the Guyanese chef made their roti in the layered Guyanese style so that it could be crisped on the outside layer while still tender (chewy) on the inside, which in turn meant you could wrap stuff in it and expect it not to break apart even though it had been toasted nicely outside.
    • I asked for it to be cut into three portions (we were a party of three) and it worked out quite well, without the stuffing immediately bursting all over the place. Not a lot of sauce in there, so it wasn't a mess.
    • The scallops were mini, like those tiny marshmellows you can buy. There seemed to be just one sizable prawn. The rest of the shrimps were really shrimps, and very small (definitely smaller than a regular small prawn) -- six to eight added together might have been as much mass as your thumb. They were so small that they were I think accidentally undercooked in the curry, and there wasn't much flavour to them, sadly.
    • Overall the seafood curry was quite tasty, but I got one of the end pieces of the cut-into-three-pieces roti, and there was a lot of roti to contend with. This isn't a fault per se, but just the reality of a roti that needs to be sealed at the ends. You get about triple the amount because of the folded-over flaps and not enough curry to go around. I ended up isolating the excess and applying the chili sauce on it. More curry sauce would have been better, but then you couldn't pick it up and eat it as it might make a messy spill.
    • For $15, this was, I think on the pricey side considering the roti was itself probably only slightly bigger than a Long John donut. On the plus side, the roti was thin so most of it was seafood; and the filling didn't have a lot of sauce, so it was stuffed with the "meaty" part of the curry.
  • Brie & Guava Stuffed Coconut Dumplings - Three warm, sweet and savory stuffed dumplings. $6.
    • Came with thin slices of slightly sour mango, which were a nice contrast to the overall sweet taste.
    • Sadly disappointing. The coconut was of course mixed into the sweet dumpling, and there was clearly guava jam, but we could barely make out any brie. There was just a small visible portion on one out of three dumplings, which mildly presented its flavour. The other two dumplings were out of luck -- there was brie, but it had apparently vanished (along with its flavour contribution) into the dumpling.
    • You'll get enough dumplings (though without any guava jam) in other dishes, so pass on this and choose another dessert.
  • Ting - Carbonated grapefruit drink. $3.50.
    • I haven't had pop drinks in a long time, so this probably hit me as being more refreshing than it ought to have been. My friend tried some and said it tasted like 7-Up. So $3.50 for an imported 7-Up is pretty darned pricey.
    • For a grapefruit drink, it doesn't have any bitterness to it. It is a refreshing citrusy drink, no doubt about it. But there isn't any novel taste or experience here to justify $3.50.

Overall the food scores at "good" or better (with the odd dud, such as the brie & guava stuffed coconut dumplings). Price seems a tad high. However, it is a musical venue, so some of the cost goes into the DJ and occasional live music, if you're into that.

Jackie Connelly Food Photography Workshop - June 30th

Got this in my inbox on the weekend from the Food Bloggers of Canada...

Hello to our BC Members!

While we try to keep the email noise to a minimum, we wanted to make sure that all of you were aware that we are hosting a food photography workshop on June 30th in Vancouver. The number one thing we hear from all our members is that they wish they could improve their photography so we wanted to give you an opportunity to do so with a fabulous instructor.

We are hosting two sessions with professional food photographer Jackie Connelly at Sugar Studios in Vancouver:

The first will focus on hands on food photography with one on one instruction from Jackie. She’ll be showing you how to get the most out of your camera – be it point and shoot or a DSLR, how to cope with poor lighting and how to work with different types of foods.

The second will focus on the business side of food photography, including how to find clients (restaurants, magazines, stock imagery, on-line), prepare for a shoot, prepare estimates and invoicing and any other questions you may have.

You are welcome to attend either session or both sessions. For all the details, including times, ticket prices and what you need to bring, check out our website:

We will also be giving away gift baskets from Sharwood foods featuring some of their delicious curries and chutneys to two lucky attendees to the first workshop.

We would love to see you there and get to meet some of you!

Melissa Hartfiel
twitter: @foodbloggersCA
twitter: @mhchipmunk

Monday, June 11, 2012

Refreshing Crispy Choux at the Bel Cafe

Bel Cafe on Urbanspoon I haven't been to the Bel Cafe since December, so I happily went along when Posh Pudding suggested we drop by to see what they had after a lacklustre dinner on Friday at Taza. Although she is enamoured of their little lemon tart, we spotted the lonely Crispy Choux left on the plate and snapped it up.
It's the last one left, so it had to be good, right?

Happily, it turned out that it was really good! The Crispy Choux is about the size of a tennis ball. It looks crusty and crispy on the outside, but it's not (or maybe because it was the end-of-the-day pastry and the shell had softened?). It's not exactly leathery or even chewy, however. Overall it's very much like a cream puff, just with a bark-like appearance on the outside.

The chocolatey cream is shot in from underside, and there's a nice full amount of it. I've had problems with finishing something that's too much (or basically made out of) cream (such as some of the offerings at Giovane), bit it wasn't the case here. The strong orange flavour and something about the light cream made this dessert come in just on the refreshing side instead of the chocolatey side. And finishing a meal on a refreshing note has always been my bias.
Also, mixed into the cream are little crunchy beads and make this dessert quite fun to eat.

If you're looking for both cream and refreshing fruity taste without being too citrusy/sour, then the Crispy Choux is definitely worth a try. At $6.20, the portion is large enough to share with two or three persons.

Taza on Seymour Street

Taza on Urbanspoon It was around 5pm on Friday that Posh Pudding and I were wandering downtown Vancouver, keeping out eyes open for an interesting food cart. She nixed the idea of Japadog, which was one of the very few that were still open. Somehow we ended going up Seymour when I spotted Taza. Something about the fresh, clean look of the exterior compared to its neighbours suggested this was possibly a new tenant in the building and maybe a new restaurant. We decided to give it a go.

I immediately spotted a couple of breakfast items (not listed in the brochure below), but it was too late in the day and apparently they weren't available anymore. That dulled my enthusiasm right there, but Posh Pudding persisted and tried to order a Veggie Lovers Plate. Oops -- out of spinach pie. So she went with the Chicken Shawarma Plate.

Maybe it was end-of-the-day chicken, but the shaved chicken shawarma cam across as a tad dry. And curiously, there was a clear taste of rosewater, probably from somewhere else. Otherwise the $8.95 Chicken Shawarma Plate was okay value as a dinner plate as you get a fully loaded regulation sized plate with hummus, rice, a bit of salad, plus two small pitas on the side.

Service wasn't unfriendly per se, but seemed apprehensive somehow. I expect this will shape up quickly, assuming Taza is as new as I think it is. Food selection was a bit disappointing at 5pm so I expect that they had intended to close up for the day and/or that area didn't see much dinnertime action.
They are open around 8am and the breakfast menu had items around $5, so if you're looking for an alternative to North American-y pancakes or eggs and toast, it's worth a try. As it is diner-style order-at-the-counter service, tipping isn't required.

Taza restaurant brochure front

Taza restaurant brochure back

Popped Chips -- Contains Milk?

If you were at the City of Bhangra on the weekend, you may have wandered into the small and boring food area at the Vancouver Art Gallery venue. It was tiny. Maybe two food stalls selling food prepared from frozen food products (I know -- "Huh?"). But you may also have notice PopChips, especially as they were giving away free sample bags of their potato chips, which are "popped" instead of fried or baked. And apparently this version of potato chips is not only healthier, but has won quite a few "awards".
PopChips has been in the US for about five years now, but is apparently only just invading Canada (hence the massive giveaway on Saturday).

Notable about Popchips is...
  • They don't use capital letters except in the "Nutrition Facts" section. I'm not sure if this is some sort of reflection on contemporary schooling.
  • The blurb at the back says "we start with wholesome potatoes, add a little heat and pressure, and pop! it's a chip". But if you read the ingredients, it doesn't say just "potato", but "potato ingredients (potato flakes, potato starch, safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, seasoning).
  • It has milk. Yes -- milk. It even says so on a separate like under the listing of ingredients: "CONTAINS: MILK".

Pop Chips (sour cream) front

Pop Chips (sour cream) back

Surprisingly Good Pizza at Urban Fare Shangri-La

Urban Fare on Urbanspoon With so many Neapolitan Pizza places popping up in Vancouver, I decided to go back to "normal" pizza and arranged a Meetup with Food Bloggers to try Urban Fare. Although it's "thin crust pizza made fresh in store", Neapolitan pizza purists will probably gag. But if you're not anal about getting your pizza flash-burned in a traditional wood-fired oven, it's surprisingly good!

At the moment, only the Shangri-La location has pizza, probably because they're the only ones equipped with a nice pizza oven in the luxuriously large store that has several counters and cafe seating all around the windowed perimeter. The pricey MARKET restaurant is upstairs, so you may be worried that Urban Fare will serve up similarly sized (read: "small") pizzas -- $16-$19 for an 8" specialty Neapolitan-styled crust pizza. Fortunately, that is not so. Even better, in the generally-considered-pricey grocery store that is Urban Fare, you get a reasonably good quantity of pizza for your peso!

First off, it's not what I would really consider "thin crust". Maybe it was just the particular batch we got, but I felt the crust was pretty standard. The edge was thin (compared to, say, Pizza Factory or Pizza Hut), however, which is important here because they serve up rectangular pizza.

A full size pizza is about 3 feet long and six inches wide (and yes, they do takeout in long rectangular boxes). That approximates to a 16" round pizza (which you'd be hard pressed to find -- although Godfather's Pizza has the 18" Jumbo) or two medium (12") round pizzas.

A whole pizza is about $19. By weight it's $2.19 per 100grams. Depending on the pizza and toppings, in practice this works out to be about 30% more than buying a whole pizza. Like pizza joints everywhere, they can mix pizza toppings on large pizzas. Our group got six slices of Primo Pesto, and a whole pizza divided into Mount Sicilian, Hawaiian Heatwave, and the WestEnder.

Except for the very different Primo Pesto, the pizza we got wasn't particularly out of the ordinary, but maybe because of the slightly jazzed up ingredients, tasted just a notch better than your average pizza joint. Considering the size and price, Urban Fare Shangri-La offers competitive value (two medium gourmet pizzas from Pizza Factory is about $20).

If you do go to Urban Fare for pizza, definitely give the Primo Pesto a go. It's different in many ways, not the least is the absence of tomato sauce as a base. Also, the sweet caramelized onions gives this pizza a different theme from your typical savory/salty pizza, which can start to all blend together flavour-wise.

Friday, June 8, 2012

COBS Bread - 6 Complimentary Buns

The Courier just dropped off a stack of their weekly newspaper outside the Condo in which I work. Along with this week's news was a short stack of brown paper bags from COBS:

2012-Jun-08 COBS - complimentary buns

Bring in this bag to receive 6 complimentary buns
with purchase of any large loaf.

Be sure to read the fine print about the buns:

  • Valid at COBS Main Street (2994 Main Street; 604.708.4935)
  • Bring in bag to receive offer.
  • Buns include: White, Whole Wheat, and Country Grain
  • Valid until June 27th, 2012
  • One offer per customer.

Flip over to the back for a bit of additional info on COBS:

We promise to bring you the freshest, highest quality baked goods every day. Each morning our dedicated bakers are up early making bread from scratch for you to enjoy. At the end of the day, all of our leftover bread is given to local charities.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

You can opt out of Pay-Wave / RFID

Fraudulently using your RFID-enabled credit card without having to even touch it is more than theory. In January of this year, a hacker demonstrated it in front of a live audience. I have friends with RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) cards, and they buy special sleeves to protect the cards while they are in their purses. But what happens when you have to pull it out to make a purchase?

 It turns out that even though new credit cards are issued with the RFID or "Pay-Wave" feature, you can opt out. I called CIBC today about my credit card, and after the operator made some inquiries, she confirmed that she could put in a request for my card to not have it.

Even so, there was some sell of the feature: The operator emphasized that the Pay-Wave was for my convenience. It was faster, transactions would be limited to $50 or less (depending on the merchant), and in any case I could opt out of using the Pay Wave at all and demand to enter a PIN.

If you are concerned about the RFID feature, call me paranoid but I would recommend you opt out until the technology is not so new and vulnerable anymore. Of course, cybercriminals can still fraudulently use your credit card in the various ways they currently do -- but why give them a new method?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Press Release - July Arts and Culture at Sun Peaks

The latest Sun Peaks Resort Press Release announces July festivals, including several foodie events. And, believe it or not, Kevin Costner (yes, *that* Kevin Costner, the famous movie star) will sing with his band "Modern West" in a free outdoor concert.

If you are planning a longer stay at Sun Peaks, you may wish to consider Delta Residences at Sun Peaks. Even the one-bedroom suites include the conveniences of home such as an en-suite washer/dryer. Coinciding with the July festivals is the weekly Sunday Farmer's Market so you can prepare your meals in each suite's fully equipped kitchen with Stainless Steel appliances.


Sun Peaks, BC - July will be the perfect time to soak in Sun Peaks’ outdoor ambiance at two festivals dedicated to fine fare and culture. The well established Wine & Culture Festival (July 6 to 8) will be joined by the new Liquid Gold: Beer & Whisky Festival (July 27 to 28), continuing to grow Canada’s Alpine Village as a summer destination for those looking to enjoy the finer things in life.

“The arts and culture scene is growing every year at Sun Peaks,” says Christopher Nicolson, president of Tourism Sun Peaks. "The Wine & Culture Festival, the new Liquid Gold Festival and Art Zone Workshops make Sun Peaks appeal to more than just sports enthusiasts."

B.C. wines, fine local ingredients and gifted regional musicians and artists will once again combine in perfect harmony for The 5th Annual Wine & Culture Festival. In its fifth year, the event continues to grow as a signature weekend getaway for wine and culture lovers from across the local region, the Lower Mainland and Washington. Organizers are preparing to ascend last year’s success which saw several sold out events.

In addition to classic favourites such as the Symphony of Flavours wine tasting and tapas and the Sunburst BBQ & Mid-Mountain Trio Serenade, local artist Debbie Milner will be hosting a new art workshop. Guests will learn how to enhance their own painting style while working with the natural elements surrounding them.

“This weekend has come into its own as a signature Sun Peaks event,” says Nicolson. "Obviously, we are every excited Kevin Costner will be performing on the same weekend, but it means people must book in advance."

The new Liquid Gold: Beer & Whisky Festival spans two days and features the finest in high quality liquor and premium beer. Participants will attend a beer seminar hosted by one of Kamloops’ favourite restaurants, The Noble Pig, and a whisky seminar. Sun Peaks restaurants will also be offering different specials and events around the intimate, pedestrian village. And for those who can't wait that long, our Mountain of Beer & Chili Cook-Off is happening during our Summer Kick-Off Weekend (June 30 to July 1).

Art Zone workshops will also be available throughout the summer. Guests will have the opportunity to learn from local artists on a variety of mediums.

Sun Peaks Resort is proud to be adding these unique events to its summer calendar.

“We are excited to be offering these new events,” says Nicolson. “It expands the resort's appeal to a wider audience and reflects the growing diversity at Sun Peaks.”

To purchase event tickets, please contact the Sun Peaks Adventure & Information Centre at 250-578-5542 or


Monday, June 4, 2012

Exquisite Afternoon Tea at ShakTea

Shaktea on Urbanspoon Instead of EAT! Vancouver and a free entree at a new French restaurant, I cleared my schedule this weekend to go Eat with Jenny and have a civilized afternoon tea at ShakTea.

I'd been to ShakTea and still had a fond memory of the quality of the food there. The vast selection of tea, however, I must admit is lost on me. I haven't developed any refined tea palate yet, and there's a bleak possibility that I might never get any better appreciation of the stuff. So when we were off to ShakTea, I was really just focussed on the food.

Afternoon Tea Culinary elegance - Main Street style!
Reservations required. $24.95 per person.
Come and join us for an afternoon of indulgence! Afternoon Tea at Shaktea goes beyond English tradition to present a number of thematic fusion menus, inspired by the culinary treasures of various tea-producing countries of the world, created by owner, Maria Ma.
Our current Afternoon Tea menu includes:

  • Tea Service for One (Select from over 75 loose leaf teas from all over the world. Each tea is prepared according to its specific requirements)
  • Miniature Tofu Cucumber Wrap - Finely-sliced carrot, cucumber, and tofu, wrapped in a Peking-duck-style wrap.
  • Tea Egg Sandwich - Open-faced, sliced free-range egg with our house made, Asian-inspired tea dressing.
  • Tsai Lo Mei - Diced Hong-Kong-style vegetarian pork and chicken nestled in a crisp leaf of endive.
  • Freshly baked scone – with Devonshire Cream and our French Earl Grey Fruit Preserves
  • Maple Pecan French Pastry - Flaky and sweet.
  • Macaron
  • Shaktea Tea Truffle - Our handmade truffle made with single-estate chocolate and our Jasmine with Flowers Green Tea.
  • Petit Four

The two three-level trays brought to our table were identical except for the macarons. And for $24.95, they also looked awfully skimpy. Unlike a more typical English afternoon tea service (such as at The Urban Tea Merchant), there aren't any full-size scones or sandwiches, and it looks like there's a lot of free space on the plates. It does end up feeling less filling, but the taste and quality of each piece on the ShakTea ensemble is exquisite.
The plates are arranged with savories on top, baked goods in the middle, and desserts on the bottom.

  • Tea
    • No idea what I wanted and I didn't want to just go with my usual peppermint tea. So I asked for "something weird" and told our server not to tell me what it was, just to surprise me.
    • Asking for a tea recommendation was like pulling teeth, but I could see it from their point of view: If it turned out badly, would I blame them? Finally she got into it and came out with a green tea which she mysteriously declined to identify until after I tasted it. Did it have something icky like bugs? It smelled a bit fruity, but not exactly. Turned out it was Oriental Nights ("Feel the ancient silk road routes with this mesmerizing blend of Chinese green tea, Sencha, Lung Ching, Yi Zhu, cassia bark, lemongrass, pineapple granulate, carrot strips, jatoba, and mullein flowers.") It definitely was different from other green teas I'd had. Not super-special for my uneducated palate, but I had wanted something different, and there it was.
    • Tea at ShakTea comes in a pot with a tea cosy. Something that is different at ShakTea is that they prepare the tea before putting it into your teapot. That means there's no tea bag or loose leaf tea inside the pot that comes to your table. It is "perfectly prepared", neither too weak nor too strong. But that also means you can't just ask for hot water to top it up for seconds. One pot is what you get for your money. No refills, apparently.
  • Miniature Tofu Cucumber Wrap
    • A flat wrap cut into two halves. Of the three savories, this had probably the most sauce. I thought it was slightly over-sauced, leaning on the salty side and covering up any other taste.
  • Tea Egg Sandwich
    • This looked awfully boring -- thin boiled egg slices on baguette -- until you bite it and realize there's a lovely sweet-savory sauce beneath. I'm sure the sauce did have some tea in it, but darned if I could make it out.
    • For boiled eggs, the two thin egg slices (about 2mm thick) looked very neatly cut. No scarred whites (which can sometimes happen when peeling the shell off), no ripped yolks. Only perfect slices end up on your plate.
  • Tsai Lo Mei
    • A one-bite appy that, like the other savories, basically gives you a delightful, savory flavour-burst.
  • Scone, Devonshire Cream, Fruit Preserve
    • You get a somewhat small scone, about twice the size of a ping pong ball.
    • There's a definite buttery aroma and taste to this. Yum!
    • No knife was provided, which may have been an oversight, but I could gently tear the scone apart as they had layers -- more so than many scones, which, when you cut them open, show just a solid mass.
    • The deep red raspberry fruit preserve was so concentrated in flavour that a little went a long way, so the small amount in the small tumbler and the very, very, small spoon (probably the smallest one I've seen ever, that wasn't a toy) was just fine. I even had some left over.
  • Maple Pecan French Pastry
    • The nuts on top kept falling off! Otherwise a good, if thin-ish pastry. Had a lovely sweet (maple?) jam on the inside.
  • Macaron
    • Jenny got the chocolate macaron while I got the strawberry (?) one. I find macarons typically on the very-sweet side, so I offered her mine without so much as a nibble.
  • Tea Truffle
    • We both got a bitter/dark chocolate with a thin shell and creamly dark chocolate on the inside. It was topped by a lovely giant ladybird of possibly white chocolate (I forgot to check -- I just popped the whole thing in my mouth). It was about half the size of the small macaron.
  • Petit Four
    • This was a tiny bowl of possibly milk chocolate, very thin-shelled to maximize the sharp and strongly lemony taste of the lemon cream inside. It was about half the size of the macaron.

Overall, I found each bite of the afternoon tea tray items to be surprisingly flavourful. Not too filling here (if the scone didn't do it for you, you're kinda outta luck) so if you're anticipating a light lunch or to share a single order of afternoon tea (which you sometimes can, depending on how it's composed), afternoon tea at ShakTea is not the way to go.

At $24.95 per person, plus tax and tip, the bill came to $64.27! As afternoon teas / high teas go, this is a moderate price, and the tastiness of every item you get more than makes up in quality where it might look short on quantity.

Special thanks to Jenny who made time in her busy schedule juggling five graphics design contracts to come out on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon. She's been a bit busy with that recently, but will hopefully blog about her own experience at ShakTea soon, as well as post the lovely pictures she took of everything.

Easily overlooked cafe at Plöger Delikatessen

Plöger Delikatessen on Urbanspoon I bought a Groupon for Plöger Delikatessen ($8 for 2 hot drinks and 2 apple strudels) last year, but didn't get around to finally going until this past Saturday evening -- yes, instead of going to EAT! Vancouver, I decided to hear all about my friend's recent trip to Peru, where she had Montezuma's Revenge and trekked up to Machu Picchu.

When my friend and I were at Plöger Delikatessen on the sunny, sleepy Saturday afternoon, there was just one of the owners tending the store. It was past 4pm, and clearly things were winding down. We browsed a bit at the various imports and non-imports (including locally made, raw, vegan, organic, fair trade Zimt Artisan Chocolate; both the bars and the newer 1-bite singles), and then settled on a square of Linzer Cake to try in addition to our strudels.

For hot beverages, we were allowed to choose from the list posted to the left of the counter -- basically coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. I went with a black tea (normally $2.40), the "Yorkshire Harrogate". The owner said it was from an English spa, and recommended as one of the best black teas around. I can't say I'd heard of it, and my tea palate isn't sensitive enough to really appreciate any difference, so I'll have to leave it up to someone else to review.

It's pay-upfront counter service here, but there is some actual table service. The owner checked in on us while we nibbled and chatted, brought us napkins, and dropped by to clear empty dishes. Before we left, we went back to the counter to put a bit of a tip into the tip jar/cup there.

Price-wise, Plöger Delikatessen is okay, especially considering the food is made in-house instead of shipped in from a factory somewhere, and (according to their Youtube "interview" on the website) they use organic flour.

Sometimes coupons can be a bit hit and miss when you redeem them. I still remember years ago there was a get-a-free-taco coupon in the newspaper for a new taco chain that was opening in Vancouver. When I went to the store downtown, the manager overseeing service at the counter had a dirty look on her face, and instructed the staff to give me the cheapest one and without a lot of fillings. Huh. So much for showcasing your product!
The strudel at Plöger Delikatessen is cut from a long whole loaf right in front of you, and the lady at the counter cut out inch-thick slices, which is more or less regulation thickness. No skimping here simply because we had a coupon! The strudel itself was okay. It looked a bit on the pale side and was somewhat bland, but that may have been because it was made the traditional German way and not especially sweetened for North American palates. Plöger is an ethnic store with German imports, and you can expect things to be done how they do it "back home".

The Linzer cake (not part of the Groupon) was $3.80 before tax for a square about 4" to a side and almost 1" thick. It was crumbly, which is how Linzer cakes are. It's firm and dry (even with the jam inside), and more biscuit-like than cake-like. The fruitiness reminded us of Rumba Cake, but the fruity flavour wasn't as strong. Can't say I'd recommend this (but it's not Plöger Delikatessen's fault either -- that's just how Linzer cake is). If you do get it, definitely get some kind of (preferably hot) beverage to go with it as it really is quite dry.

If you find other coffee shops a bit too busy or tight on space, then this little deli in its quieter location may afford you more peace and quiet. As supermarkets and coffee shops go, Plöger Delikatessen feels remarkably spacious, especially in the seating area between the counter and the door. And there's a lot of space outside the store as well for sunny days (although only two tables were set outside at the time we were there). The furniture looks horrid, sad to say, but the seats are comfortable enough.

Although the website indicates a closing time of 7pm, the store signs now show 6pm, probably because it really was quite quiet at that early evening hour. We were caught off guard (as we'd gone with the website hours) and somewhat in limbo because my friend had arranged to meet her dinner date there at 7pm. The owner was very helpful and kind to leave a couple of seats outside for us to wait (she was still working inside, in the back, and locked the door so no one could wander in).

Friday, June 1, 2012

Less Chocolate Sauce at The Wallflower Modern Diner

Wallflower Modern Diner on Urbanspoon The Wallflower Modern Diner still makes the best chocolate cake ever -- rich, dense, moist, and you get a large portion for your money. But what happened to the chocolate sauce?!

I'd been to the Wallflower a few times over the last couple of years, and even dragged some of my friends there. Good eats other than their wonderful vegan chocolate cake included hummus melt, blackened halibut. Just this Thursday morning I went for a late breakfast with a friend.

The Wallflower opens at 9am, and by 9.30 am it was still completely empty when I walked in. Things got busy shortly after that, though, and closer to 10am, the restaurant was at least half full, with the buzz of conversation competing with the loud music.

Although it was breakfast, I wanted to save room for the chocolate cake, so I went with just an appy -- $11 Crab and Apple Cakes (crab, curry, onion, apple, peach, cumin mayo). This came as three cakes, each about 2/3rds the size of a hockey puck. It was topped with slices of grilled apple and peach, and there was a token salad on the side.
The cumin mayo tasted remarkably like peanut sauce used for satay, but without any crushed peanuts and not as spicy. The curry in the crab cakes I felt competed too successfully with the crab meat and the fruit, so much so that I could only just get a hint of crab and no sign of fruitiness. The cakes were also remarkably dry and I had an awful feeling they'd been overcooked to dryness.

The cake part of the chocolate cake was still a solid, yummy, rich, cake. The shape has changed somewhat since I was last there -- it's taller than I remembered, but the portion isn't as long. There was also only a drizzle of chocolate sauce compared to the generous pour that used to be on it. Maybe there was too much waste from before, but I definitely missed the decadence.

$11 crab cakes, $6 chocolate cake, and $3 mint tea from Mighty Leaf made for a pricey $20 (before tax and tip) breakfast/brunch. Sadly my dining partner, who ordered the meatloaf benny (a slice of meatloaf in lieu of crumpets), was too full to have more than a bite of chocolate cake, which I had dearly wanted her to try.