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.