Monday, June 16, 2014

Unpolished Afternoon Tea at The Roof

The Roof on UrbanspoonAs you know, The Roof at the Hotel Vancouver actually isn't  on a roof. But it does have a bright, classy, elegance that is so appropriate for afternoon tea service. At $49, it's at the higher end of tea services in Vancouver, so food quality and location ambiance will both have to measure up. For the most part it does, but depending on your server, it may fall a bit short.

Maybe because it is afternoon tea and I have preconceptions of an elegant, calming time, when someone places a sausage roll upside down on your plate it feels like a travesty. And could they not at least flip it over?
Anyway, despite that, afternoon tea at The Hotel Vancouver turned out quite nicely. No missteps with the food. Bread at afternoon tea services can sometimes be cold and dry, but not here. For $49, you get...
  • Creamed Asparagus Tartlet
    • Put the whole thing in your mouth: The green goop filling is soupy and you'll just make a mess otherwise.
  • Chicken & Apple Sausage Roll
    • Rather firm sausage with some sweetness to it, so maybe the apple was mixed into the meat.
    • Except the over-firm sausage, this was quite decent.
  • Yogurt Panna Cotta, Macerated Fruits
    • Looks like real vanilla bean seeds in it!
  • Warm Butter Scone and Orange & Apricot Scone, house-made Fruit Preserves and Devonshire Clotted Cream
    • Enough butteryness for a slight aroma. Not enough to get people up in arms about fat. Very nicely done and served properly warm.
  • Cold Smoked Wild Salmon, Organic Egg Salad, Russian Rye, Caviar
    • Argh! Somebody stole mine!
    • Yes there's caviar. Just a token, decorative amount though.
  • Curried Free Range Chicken, Branston Pickle, Caraway Roll
    • Surprisingly nicely done. Tender bun, generous almost-spilling-out amount of chicken.
  • Maple Glazed Ham & Gouda, Dijonnaise, Cracked Wheat Bread
  • English Cucumber & Upland Peppercress, Buttermilk Loaf
  • Lemon Curd & Charred Meringue
    • Looked like a mini version of their lemon tart from the dessert menu, minus the gold flakes.
  • Chocolate Vienetta
    • An extremely soft and creamy chocolate cake. Well, actually, it felt more like layers of cream.
    • NOT a slice of ice cream viennetta.
  • Fruit Tartlet
    • Tiny gold flakes sprinkled on the raspberries that topped this.
  • Signature Tea Truffle
    • Interesting, with a strong peppery-ness to the flavour.
  • Cassis Macaron
    • Intense flavour. A very nicely done macaron.
Three tiers, and they strangely put the sweet stuff on the very bottom, scones on top, sandwiches in the middle. Hmm.

For my choice of tea, I chose bubblegum. It's listed on the "Children's Bubblegum Tea" ($19) menu. It tastes like some kind of fruity tea. It does not evoke any similarity to any bubblegum I have ever tasted.

The metal teapots were extremely annoying. Something about the shape of the spout causes the tea to dribble down the outside. Rest the tip of the spout on the edge of your cup when pouring, so that the dribbling goes into your cup. Make sure your napkin is positioned in case of a spill, and you might as well use it to wipe the spout if an excessive amount of tea comes out.

Nervous service at The Roof

The Roof on UrbanspoonMy friend actually walked out on our dinner because "The Roof" wasn't actually on a roof. It's more like the penthouse suite and it's definitely not open air.
And honestly, not much of a view, either. You get to see old office buildings and (at the moment, anyway) half-built skyscrapers that will eventually block off what view of the water remains. Not the view of the water was all that great to begin with.
Want a view? Try an actual waterfront restaurant.
As for my friend, I guess she was spoiled by the actual rooftop "Roof" lounge/bar/restaurant atop Black + Blue. Which has even less of any view of anything plus a seating arrangement that isn't particularly geared toward looking outward.

The lobby and room are nice, though. It's bright and spacious and high-ceilinged. Even the table spacing is generous. There are different zones for different types of patrons, from sit-down dining to sports bar. Also a needs-tuning piano and jazz musicians on the night we dropped by for dinner.

Our dinner reservation was for 7.30pm on Friday. The place was busy but not packed. Staff had a mix of ESL and nervous/unseasoned persons. Overall, I felt service was sincere, but not as smooth/polished as it could be. Various allowances can be made here -- for example, as a hotel with an undoubtedly international clientele, a mix of available languages among the staff might take a higher priority than having the most seasoned hostesses and servers.

For larger reservations (8+), call ahead and get all the details. Larger tables (over 8?) use a more limited set menu. If you want the full menu (and you really do), you could maybe be sneaky and split your party into two tables, assuming you don't mind seating apart and being served at different times.
Vegetarians should also definitely look at the menus online for The Roof because the choices are frankly pathetic. Vegans might as well just give up and go somewhere else.
That said, there weren't any missteps with the food. Composition, taste, presentation -- all excellent, if conservative. This is safe food (nothing fancy or adventurously fusion), and expertly put together.

Bread rolls and butter (free)
  • A very nice old-school touch. You hardly see this anymore.
  • Another very nice old-school touch: Before the mains come out, they comb your table of crumbs. I don't remember seeing that since The William Tell.
Honey Truffle Roasted Baby Turnips ($12) golden beets & Brussels sprouts
  • I'd gone with the Georgia Straight article recommendation on this one and it turned out just OK.
  • The use of honey to sweeten the veggies here was quite nice. Just remember to scoop the rather watery sauce onto each bite, especially after you've cut the whole beet / turnip.
  • If you're normally turned off Brussels sprouts because they are bitter, the honey here really tempers that, making them "safe" to eat.
  • As sharing plates go, this one is good for two to three persons as an appy.
Boston Bibb Wedge ($12) farmhouse blue cheese, crisp lomo ham, preserved tomato, blue cheese ranch
  • A small head of lettuce cut into quarters and drizzled with the items listed. With so much of it being lettuce, this is a fairly safe choice for weight watchers. As the dietician at our table informed, lettuce is basically water.
  • I normally don't like blue cheese but thought I'd give this a go anyway. Turned out not too badly -- There wasn't so much blue cheese that I got turned off.
  • The thin slices of ham (looked like prosciutto) could have been shredded for convenience, but maybe they wanted you to eat them separately.
  • Overall pretty decent for a salad and not bad for $12.
Canadian Lobster ($19) baby artichoke & parmesan gratin
  • I wanted to order this, but our server actually warned me against it. It is apparently meant very specifically as a sharing item. He went so far as to ask another patron to give me her impressions of it, as she had ordered it for herself and her dining partner.
  • The intelligence I gathered was that most of this is very rich and creamy and thick sauce, similar to a spinach and artichoke dip, emphasis on the heavy richness which could overwhelm someone having it as their meal. As far as the quantity of lobster went, it was apparently "not that much", shredded and sprinkled through.
  • I ended up not ordering it, but if your server doesn't give you the heads up, it's probably best to have a couple of friends ready to help you out, just in case.
Meyer Lemon Tart ($10) with charred meringue, raspberry fluid gel
  • Very nicely done lemon tart. A bit steep at $10, but a very nice way to end your meal.
  • There's some tang from the lemon, but not so much sourness to make you cringe. And sweet, but not overly so.
  • If you're taking pictures, make sure the gold flakes show up.

Monday, June 9, 2014

KFC, but crispier, at Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar

Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar - Coal Harbour on Urbanspoon It's an oyster place, but people talk about the fried chicken -- and with good reason! It's tasty.

Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar has a Kitsilano location, but they later took over what used to be Miku in the Guiness Building downtown. We went to that one. There's Happy Hour from 3pm to 6pm, which includes "buck a shuck" oysters.

At 3pm, it's pretty dead in there. Servers too. Not many servers, and those who are there are changing shifts. You may end up like our party, served by the bartender and mid-way that person went off shift and someone else took over. We ended up with confused billing, but that was understandable.
I'm not saying it's really their fault, but to just watch out for confusion during a shift change, and maybe to be more proactive about catching their attention if you need something.

"Cheese Chuts" ($10 for 4)
  • This was on the fresh sheet, so you might not see it all the time.
  • Four golf-ball sized balls of deep fried macaroni and cheese.
  • Rather bland. Not cheesy tasting. The Roof at Black + Blue does it better simply because they have truffle sauce.
  • Fun to eat but I recommend giving it a pass. Unless they someone kick it up in cheesiness.
New Orleans Style Gumbo YaYa ($18) Smoked chicken, fried chicken and Andouille sausage, okra, trinity, steamed rice
  • Overall this would have been better if not for the bitter stew. Maybe it's just done this way in New Orleans (we had a similar experience with bitter stews at Ouisi Bistro) but I can't say I'm a fan of it. As you may know from previous reviews, I'm not big on authenticity, but on tastiness.
Southern Fried Chicken ($18) Buttermilk mashed potatoes, greens, chicken gravy, honey butter
  • Winner. You must have this.
  • Drumstick and some sort of fillet, probably a strip of breast meat.
  • Tender and moist. Drumstick was underdone closer to the bone, though.
  • The crust was reminiscent of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but darker, crispier, and somehow less greasy.
  • There was honey butter? Anyway, the chicken was great all on its own. Eat some first before deciding if you need condiments.
1lb Louisiana Pork spare Ribs ($22) Slow smoked rack of pork ribs, Chewies KC style Barbeque sauce, Cajun fries, Southern slaw
  • I got to try one rib and it was pretty decent. Not exactly fall-off-the-bone tender, but tender enough and with a delicious sauce. Might be overdone with the amount of sauce, but you can just give it a shake. Next time I'm there I'll have to order this to share.
Peaches and Cream Cheesecake ($8)
  • As on the fresh sheet.
  • I was going to say it was slightly smallish for $8, but I think inflation has sort of caught up with everyone, so $8 is probably on par with what you can expect everywhere downtown.
  • This was actually really decent. A lighter cheesecake. Not super-sweet. Fresh, flavourful way to end a meal.

Don't look inside at Aussie Pie Guy

Aussie Pie Guy on UrbanspoonThe pies are basically $8 each at the Aussie Pie Guy food truck. Which either sounds okay or expensive depending on what you compare it to. It's pricey compared to a special at A&W, but a few bucks less than a typical burger at a sit-down restaurant.

Whatever you do, though, don't open up your pie to peek inside. I did that. Big mistake. Chances are, you will be disappointed. I took the top off a Shane's Pie and there was an off-centre dollop of what looked like BBQ sauce but which was probably the advertised apricot hoisin sauce. So now I'm biased against what looks like lazily put together assembly line pies with not enough of certain ingredients.
Same with the Sweetie Pie my friend got. We were like, "where's the custard"?

Shane's Pie ($8) A signature pie created by our friend Shane. Tender free range BC beef short rib and vegetables with a red wine au-jus and apricot hoisin sauce over mashed potatoes.
  • As mentioned above, there was apparently just a single splat of hoisin sauce which covered maybe a fifth of the cross section.
  • There's actually a lot of potato here, so this is not really a "meat" pie. Meat isn't the main filling here.
  • This was between okay and disappointing. I recommend going for a "single filling" pie.
Kanga Pie ($8)
  • One of their rotating specials. Looked like a single type of filling. Braised (?) pulled kangaroo meat.
  • If you're expecting exotic tasting meat from kangaroo, then pass. The meat tastes like the tasty sauce / gravy / jus whatever it is coated in. Could have been pork or chicken and you wouldn't know the difference.
  • This was really quite tasty! Nothing too complicated on the inside: Just a straight shot of tender, deliciously marinated meat.
Sweetie Pie ($4?) Apple pie the Aussie way. BC apples and cinnamon with a layer of creamy vanilla custard made with real vanilla bean.

 Available in a smaller party pie size.
  • My friend got the smaller party pie size, which may have contributed to the mostly-pie-crust feeling.
  • As apple pies go, you are better off getting a full 8-inch Farmer's Market pie from Superstore.
  • Where's the custard? We took the top off and it looked like whatever custard either melted in and disappeared, got soaked into the cap and also disappeared, or was just a token amount. Didn't come through in taste.
Best part of the pies was that they weren't oily on the outside. You can basically hold them in your hand and eat them like a burger, but with no messy spills. Great as street food.

At the Pender at Burrard location, the lunch rush looked well over by 12.30pm. But they aren't open for very long each day, so you really don't want to get there too late in case they've sold out of the best items.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bitter and Undercooked at Ouisi Bistro

Ouisi Bistro on Urbanspoon When busy restaurants DON'T have a maƮtre d', you'll know the difference. Many restaurants have a layout where you can't can't take in the whole room from where you've entered the restaurant. In such cases, you really need to have someone at the front or otherwise handling diners. In part it is because some people will loiter there expecting to be seated instead of just blithely helping themselves. Also, if they are looking for someone or if they have reservations, they will know where to go.

I had reservations for our dining club last Friday at Ouisi Bistro and not having a hostess at the front was... different. People just sort of drift in toward the reservation time (non-Vancouverites being the ones on time and Vancouverites being either late or no-shows -- but that's another article), and it's awkward wandering around looking for your party, especially in a busy restaurant.
And Ouisi Bistro was busy! I was in by around 7:30pm for an 8:00pm reservation (but I sneakily told everyone to meet at 7:45pm so the latecomers would have 15 minutes grace and we could start on time for the restaurant). The restaurant was basically full and buzzing and apparently short staffed because empty tables sat uncleared for quite a while.
Closer to 8pm, the initial dinner rush was over and the restaurant quieted down a LOT afterwards. If you want an unrushed time, go to Ouisi Bistro a bit later. Like 8pm. They'll still be somewhat busy, but the action's apparently at the patio out the back. So if you see the room empty, that can be deceptive.

It's always tricky writing about short-staffed service. Did someone call in sick? Is the restaurant always short-staffed? Or is it the unlikely but shocking case where the staff are "not well coordinated"?
Anyway, the initial service seemed slow. The table designated for our party was vacated for a while but it seemed like they just didn't have the staff to clear it with everything else going on. We were seated with menus but no napkins and no cutlery. Which was sort of okay until the appetizer arrived. Anyway, things went more smoothly after that until it was time to pay the bill. They were apparently pretty busy in the back dining area because it was pretty hard to flag someone down so we could hand them our money.

Our party got to try a bunch of things! Hard to say if how some of it came out was just the way it's supposed to be prepared or if the kitchen was also feeling rushed and had several missteps. I got a decent bite of various items:

Erdinger Alkoholfrei (picture)
  • I'm not a drinker, so as I invariably do, I asked for a funny non-alcoholic drink. It tends to be a question that stumps servers and bartenders, so I don't take points off no matter what they suggest and I certainly don't blame them for it. This time, our server suggested an alcohol free beer and I was game to try it.
  • DON'T BUY THIS if you never understood why people drink that bitter swill that is beer. This is less bitter, and tastes like a very flat and weak root beer desperately in need of sugar. However, it does pour like a beer, foamy head and all.
Gator Bites - genuine Louisiana alligator, served spicy & hot with a dollop of Cajun tartar sauce
  • Don't be put off by "spicy & hot". Nothing of the sort unless you can't even handle "mild spicy".
  • Lots of gravy here. Ask for a bit of non-toasted bread to sop it all up afterwards. Or maybe a soup spoon.
  • Smallish amount of alligator meat that was tough like overcooked shredded pork or shredded chicken. Total waste of time if you are expecting "exotic" alligator meat to somehow taste "exotic".
Side Dish: Sweet Potato-Pecan Hash
  • Mains come with a slice of house-made cornbread and two sides. You can choose the same side twice. I went with the interesting sounding Sweet Potato-Pecan Hash.
  • This felt undercooked because the sweet potato had crunch to them. Flavour was mild -- not even sweet. And where's my pecan? Maybe it was in there but the taste wasn't showing up.
Side Dish: Espresso Picked Beets
  • This was pretty disappointing too. Espresso what? Not sure what part of the side dish had espresso or pickled anything in it. Beets were on the bland side, but I suppose if they were going to pickle them, they wouldn't have used sweet beets.
Bistro Prawns - a dozen sauteed Gulf of Mexico prawns in a roasted jalapeno-citrus Bbq sauce (picture)
  • The prawns here were passable in size. Not exactly tiger prawns, but not shrimps either. Firm enough to be on the overdone side.
  • Not sure if there were a kitchen error here of if "roasted jalapeno-citrus BBQ sauce" is supposed to have a deeply bitter after-taste that builds in your mouth several seconds after you have it. It was so off-putting for my friend who ordered this that she gave half her prawns away and tried not to touch the generous amount of thick sauce.
Seafood Gumbo - Gulf prawns, scallops, mussels and baby shrimp in our traditional New Orleans dark roux stew (picture)
  • Another off-putting stew. The person who ordered it figured there was a goof in the quantity of spices added, leading to a bitter taste. I thought it was more likely the prawn heads had been left in to melt out the brains and other goop. Sucking prawn heads isn't for everyone, so if you don't like doing that, you probably won't like that flavour addition to this stew.
Southern Fried Catfish (with Cajun Tartar, Chow Chow Relish, with Orange-Chipotle Cream Sauce)
  • I had catfish before at Memphis Blues and it was sort of boring. The one here was actually pretty decent, with sweet and tender meat.
  • Didn't pay any attention to the sauce -- the catfish was great all on its own.
  • Initially I thought it was so juicy and tender. But as I got closer to the middle of the fillet, there was something chewy there, so they may have in fact undercooked it. Or mostly cooked it and didn't want to overdo the edges but in doing so left the middle slightly undercooked. I didn't die of food poisoning over the weekend, so I guess this was okay.
The Voodoo Ribs - pork ribs oven baked in our Diablo sauce with jicama-chayote slaw and roasted new potatoes
  • Even though it says "Diablo sauce", this was only slightly spicy. A bit of buzz but nothing serious.
  • Probably the best of what we ordered. Fall-off-the-bone tender meat.
There was also a chicken dinner with beans and rice. I can't remember which one was ordered, but it seemed to have decent results. The rice made for a filling plate and the chicken was nicely done, tender and juicy.

Big Daddy Fry's Bread Pudding
  • Bread pudding with candied nuts and a big dollop of whipped cream. Pretty decent. Portion for price a tad low, though. Initially we thought they had split our order into two small plates for easier sharing, but it turned out they were being super nice and gave us an extra order on the house.
Portion for price might initially look on the low side but they do pad your plate with veggies and a slice of cornbread, and mains come with two sides that are not on your plate. Put it all together and the portion for price starts to look more reasonable. The quantity of main ingredient (prawns, fish, rib, whatever) probably won't wow you though.

If you have the Entertainment Book (now on sale for $5 -- FIVE DOLLARS) you can have a coupon for up to $19 off a Ouisi Bistro AND use a web coupon for up to $18.50 off.