Monday, July 28, 2014

McCain Superfries Savoury Xtracrispy Wedges

Are these the best fries ever?

My mom spotted McCain Superfries Savoury Xtracrispy Wedges on sale at SuperStore and decided to give them a try. Despite the preparation instructions, we were going to try them in our so-far-very-disappointing Big Boss Oil-less Fryer. They didn't turn out so well. They were better on the grill, but not very crispy. She complained that they also took quite a long time on the grill or in the oven (plus there's the annoying turning) so with the last portions she deep fried them. And wow did they turn out great.

The outer shell feels thin but crispy. Seasoning is noticeable but not too particularly strong. Inside, it was probably fluffy but the experience in my mouth was one of light creaminess.

Good taste, excellent texture. Sodium content is off-putting but not really surprising.

Tasty lamb ribs at Tuc Craft Kitchen

Tuc Craft Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The deceptively small store front hides a deep room with upstairs party seating as well. Still, definitely make reservations because it was busy when I got there for a 7 PM reservation an it was still packed around 9 PM when we left the restaurant last Friday.

Trust me, you want the lamb ribs--Unless you're vegetarian, in which case there really isn't much reason to go to Tuc Craft Kitchen, which sports just the one veggie starter and one veggie main.

albóndigas ($8) beef & pork meatballs, vodka roma sauce, sheep’s milk pecorino romano
  • Three fat meatballs, each slightly bigger than a ping pong ball or golf ball.
  • Tasty. Firm and moist. Good but not "wow" -- but that may be in comparison to the wonderful ribs we'd just had.
pork belly crackling ($8) gelderman farms, star anise red wine reduction, coarse salt
  • In some places "pork crackling" gets you just the super-crunchy fat. Here you get crunchy fat plus a bit of meat.
  • Pretty tasty, but seems like a very small amount for your $8 -- about a cupful.
orange glazed lamb ribs ($9) australian lamb, jalapeno pepper, candied orange glaze
  • So popular they ran out shortly after 7 pm, and the next batch wasn't going to be ready for about an hour.
  • Just three meaty, fall-off-the-bone ribs per serving. You will probably want two rib per person.
  • Make sure you have a spoon at the table. The ribs came without a spoon, which was ridiculous since the super-tasty glaze had melted down to the bottom of the deep-dish cast iron pan. You definitely want that glaze back on the meat.
  • Eat it while it's hot. And it comes so hot the honey-like glaze is still bubbling/simmering at the bottom of the pan. If you let it cool the meat gets tougher and drier.
chicken confit ($18) fraser valley free run chicken, wilted kale, basil pistou, biscuit, consommé
  • Fall-off-the-bone chicken as touted by our server, but strangely on the dry side and I think that really ruined the experience.
    • Could have been a one-off fluke, though, considering how well everything else had come out.
    • Could also be intentional as you are provided with consomme, which they recommend you use as you eat rather than drown the chicken right away.
  • Huge amount of kale. If you don't like three cups of kale on your plate, ask for a substitution early. Sure it's a superfood -- but there's a heckuva lot of it so I hope you love it.
farmer’s crop pot ($15) green lentils, butternut squash, spinach, garlic béchamel, potatoes au gratin, arugula
  • The one veggie main. Sounds more complex than the actual presentation, which was very similar to baked beans except using lentils. Tasted similar too.
  • Overall tasty but nothing to write home about except that maybe it was too similar to baked beans that $15 starts to look pricey.
  • Portion for price also seemed a bit low, but being heavy on the lentils it was quite filling.
caramel popcorn ice cream ($4) popcorn infused house-made ice cream, caramel sauce, popcorn
  • I always complain about restaurant ice cream being a couple of scoops that cost the same as a small tub at Superstore. No different here, except the price point is happily low when restaurant desserts generally run at $8 nowadays.
  • Intense caramel popcorn flavour as advertised. Go easy with the sauce provided as it can smother the flavour of the ice cream.
  • If you order the chocolate brownie napoleon ($7), the same ice cream is used there so you can taste both in the same order, but you don't get the caramel sauce.
You may also be lucky to be served by the one lovely server with the most unexpectedly sweetest voice ever.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Revel Room

Revel Room on Urbanspoon

Mealshare quite recently added a bunch of restaurants to their charity line-up, and I'm just starting on working my way through the new list -- beginning with the Revel Room.

The menu has New Orleans influences, which is more or less the best you can hope for in Vancouver unless you go to one of the few dedicated places like Ouisi Bistro. The mix of New Orleans, New Mexico, and less adventurous-sounding things like burgers. Vegans look like they may be out of luck, though.

Sinister Chili Fried Shrimp with Honey Lime Dip ($10)
  • Strangely bland, so our experience may have been a fluke kitchen error.
  • For some reason the five "shrimps" (which were fat enough to be proud prawns) had nice crunch and firmness but not a lot of prawny flavour.
  • Honey Lime Dip was also rather tame.
  • Otherwise a decently done tempura. Be sure to use some of the sriracha (?) chili sauce drizzled on the plate.
Duck, Pear & Brie Quesadilla with Red Onion Compote ($11)
  • A bit weak on the duck flavour, but otherwise as advertised. I found the combination too subtle for my preference.
  • Nice syrupy sweet compote that was pretty candy-tasty, but can easily overwhelm all the other tastes.
Revel's Famous Bayou Gumbo of Shrimp, Chicken, Sausage, & Herb Rice ($9)
  • Slightly bitter but otherwise a tasty stew.
  • "Shrimp" were more like thick prawns. Prawny flavour was evident here, so I wasn't sure what happened on those Sinister Chili Shrimp earlier.
  • This was a pretty big and deep bowl of filling comfort-food like stew. Best value out of the three appetizers I ordered and I didn't need to order anything else for dinner. Could probably make for a light dinner all on its own.
Lonsdale ($5) almond syrup, ginger beer, fresh lime, apple
  • This is one of the few non-alcoholic cocktails available on the menu. The ginger beer gives it some bite at the back of the throat, but not too much and it doesn't last very long. Overall, it's a syrup-ed ginger beer, and it is neither a very sweet drink or a very strong gingery one, but something in between. Good if you like ginger beer (not that easy to find in the first place) but don't like them too strong.
Service seemed distracted. The room wasn't very busy but it was strangely hard to catch someone's eye and flag them down for service. Servers were, however, friendly and patient and unobtrusive.

If you have nothing to do (e.g., an awkward silence during the conversation), you can read the blurbs about various curious artifacts in the room and try to spot them -- like a whole shelf of Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Liquid Gold at Living Cafe

Living Cafe on Urbanspoon

I was early for my Hog Shack reservation on Saturday and dropped into Living Cafe for a cool place to wait. It was such a hot day so I decided to go with a nice cold drink. I asked for the weirdest one they had and they suggested their Liquid Gold Organic Smoothie ($9): fresh almond milk, frozen bananas, dates, turmeric, maple syrup, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, vanilla.

First off, it wasn't as cold as I had hoped. Maybe I should have asked them to throw in some ice as well.
Second -- and this is just my own pet peeve -- it came in a mason jar. I wish restaurants would just stop it with the mason jars. It's like they ran out of proper cups and glasses and mugs and dusted off something from the cellar that was meant for canning fruit.

The use of turmeric reminded me of Golden Milk, to which I was introduced at Ethical Kitchen. I couldn't stomach it there, so I hesitated when they told me there was turmeric in Liquid Gold. But what the hey, let's give it a try. Sadly, it was kind of yuck for me.
The main flavours that came through for me were turmeric and banana. The former made it a turn-off for me, but you will have to decide for yourself. What made this drink okay in the end was the lack of a lingering after-taste. I was worried I would have to suffer a bitterness in my mouth for the duration of my drink and after, but the flavour cleared itself very shortly after each sip from the fat straw.

At $9, I can only recommend this drink if you have a buddy who would be willing to take over, or if you can handle turmeric in your smoothie.

Delicious BBQ at Hog Shack Cook House

Hog Shack Cook House on UrbanspoonThere are different BBQ styles in the US, so even if two BBQ houses look like they are serving the "same" thing, they may not be. Not exactly, anyway. For starters, Hog Shack should definitely not be compared to the not-slathered-in-bbq-sauce Carolina style served at Peckinpah. Their "Kansas-city style" is much closer to Memphis Blues, but I'm going to be cautious about making direct comparisons.

It looks pretty big on the outside, but Hog Shack is not that big on the inside. Reservations are recommended as they sometimes close earlier on slow days.

Online menus don't necessarily match the actual menus for the price of items, so if a couple dollars more upsets you, call first I guess, or swing by and have a look at the menu. Trying to make reservations online (e.g., through Facebook) can result in complications, so talking to a live person is preferred. I tried reservations online and even though I had two communications with them, my reservation did not appear in their reservations book on the night we had dinner. This turned out trickier than I thought because it was also a World Cup game night and they were packed around 7pm-ish.

We managed to pull together six gung-ho persons so we got Allan's Mammoth Platter. It supposedly feeds "4+". You could probably get away with clearing the platter plus the six sides if your four persons were hungry teens or hockey players. We were six and we just managed to clear it with barely enough room for two slices of pecan pie to share -- despite initial impressions of the plate not being very meaty, especially as ribs have a sizeable bone component to them. On the website it says $99 but it was $105 on the paper menu.

Baby back ribs, St. Louis Side Ribs, Dino Ribs
  • I only found two types of ribs -- a wide rack and a couple of shorter two-bone pieces -- so I'm not sure what happened there. Maybe the rest of the party was quicker on the draw and some of them disappeared.
  • Not much meat here (ribs are ribs, I guess) and compared to the rest of the meat, the toughest meat was here as well. Not chewy tough, but nothing impressive either. Some sawing was required with the provided steak knives, and the meat didn't come easily off the bone.
Chicken Quarters
  • We got two leg-and-thigh pieces. Pretty tender and flavourful dark meat. Otherwise nothing to write home about.
Smoked Brisket
  • Falling-apart tender slices. Probably the best item in the platter, followed by the pulled pork and sausages.
Pulled Pork
  • Rather wet/very moist. Not like the dryer needs-more-sauce stuff you might have encountered in food cart sandwiches.
Smoked sausages
  • A few half-in-thick sections, just over an inch in diameter. Maybe 8 pieces. Not sure this added up to a whole sausage. Tasty in a safe slightly salty way. Nothing bold in flavour here, and I think that made it disappointing for me.
6 sides (out of 8 possibilities): Coleslaw, Yam Fries, Baked Beans, Spanish Rice Pilaf,  Sauteed Vegetables, Potato Wedges, Hand-Cut Fries, Corn Bread.
  • We skipped the sauteed vegetables and hand-cut fries.
  • Baked Beans were strongly on the sweet side (maple syrup?). Not too sweet, but sweet enough that I would recommend you have it with the corn bread.
  • Rice Pilaf was surprisingly good. Could have used a spoon and a separate bowl so we didn't have to hunt around for it.
  • Sides very very varied in quantity. The weak amount of potato wedges were made up with a generous portion of yam fries.
Overall what I liked most about the meats at Hog Shack Cook House was that I never once reached for a condiment -- especially not extra barbecue sauce. In some places, your platters come with extra sauce on the side. But not here.
What I found weak about the platter was the individual quantities of items. It seemed weighted toward ribs, and there wasn't that much pulled pork or brisket to go around that you could really get a proper second helping when shared with 4-6 persons. Somehow it was very filling, however.

For dessert, we opted for the pecan pie ($7). Served with whipped cream and a drizzle of bitter chocolate sauce. I thought this was a smallish Yaletown-sized slice (a wedge maybe 5" long, 1.5" tall at the outer edge) for the price, but it was at least tasty in a solid pecan pie sort of way. Gooey and sweet, but again not so sweet that it burned the back of your throat. If you do find it too sweet, temper it with some whipped cream or contrast it with some of the chocolate sauce.

Other than having forgotten to record my reservation (and only fortunately finding room for us) -- which I trust was a fluke occurance, service was okay and water regularly topped up.

Our very filling dinner came out to $25 per person (including tax and tip).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Afternoon Tea at The Fish House in Stanley Park

Fish House in Stanley Park on UrbanspoonFrom May to September, The Fish House in Stanley Park is serving afternoon tea, with white chocolate cream for your scones! $38 per person.
  • Smoked Salmon, Fried Capers, Herb & Garlic Cream Cheese in Mini Bagel
  • Oregon Pink Shrimp, Pea Shoots & Dill Aioli in Mini Croissant
  • Grilled Chicken, Brie & Fig Compote in Challah Slider
  • Roasted Vegetables & Goat Cheese in Herb Focaccia
  • Chef's Homemade Scones (selection changes daily) served with Strawberry Jam & White Chocolate Cream
  • An Assortment Of Fine Patisseries
    • Cherry Macaron
    • Chocolate Cream Puff
  • Smallish selection of TWG tea (which is available locally through The Urban Tea Merchant)
As far as the food goes, quality is quite good. No sign of the bread being dry from having sat around somewhere too long. The bites that you get are really quite tasty. For the "patisseries", our tray included a flavourful cherry macaron and a small chocolate cream puff.
White chocolate cream was softened by mixing it with Devonshire Cream. Strawberry jam is not house-made (and would therefore presumably have no preservatives or funny chemicals) but comes in a jar (I forget which brand).

The scones were kinda weird, being rather flat. These were the flattest and most crumbly scones I've ever had. Might be a kitchen error, but I would be disappointed if The Fish House let anything other than quality controlled near-perfection out of the kitchen. Still, there was a lovely buttery aroma. Only one scone per person (often at tea services there are two?) meant more than enough jam and white chocolate cream to go around.
The macarons were also more flattish than normal, from having sat around a bit too long during the production process (?).

As far as afternoon tea services go, The Fish House falls short of more dedicated afternoon tea outfits by not having a tea set per se. You get regular dishes. Not even a tea pot of your own, but a single shared pot of hot water. Your tea comes in a satchel and you put it in your cup and pour on the hot water.
If you won't miss the princess presentation, then price for food quality and location is pretty decent.

Staff are attentive and friendly but not intrusive. Bussing is prompt, water kept topped up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

La Pentola Famiglia Supper Series

La Pentola della Quercia on Urbanspoon The last time I was at a "communal table" dinner was waaay back in 2009, at an Irish Heather Long Table Series. Back then, it was $12. They are still doing it, though at $18. I was recommended La Pentola della Quercia and managed to find a few friends to join me for their Famiglia Supper Series. The website blurb reads:
La Pentola’s Famiglia Supper Series is a multi-course event hosted the last Sunday of each month by Chef Lucais Syme.Join us at 6PM to dine family style at a communal table with your neighbours and friends as we serve 10 + courses featuring a different ingredient each month.
If you have been to the Long Table Series, or are expecting some sort of long communal table where you may be seated next to complete strangers, then (for better or worse), you might want to sneak a peek first at what the Famiglia Supper Series looks like. (And it's easy to peek in from the corner of Davie and Hamilton because of the way the street slopes up; it's equally a great place to watch the foot traffic go by, including a veritable parade of Yaletown hotties).
On the night we were there (just this past Sunday), there were two larger parties, seated separately at table arranged to accommodate them. Two smaller parties (ourselves) and I think one couple. The smaller parties were also arranged into their own dining tables, by moving about the large square tables in the dining room. The layout of the place doesn't really allow for a single very long table.
The good news here is flexible seating: If you are really looking for a venue to host a fairly large dinner party, you can just sign your group up for the Famiglia Supper Series and expect to get your own large table. If they are not too busy, you might even be able to get away with a table for just two.

You can also expect conversation to be tricky beyond the person adjacent or opposite you, in part because of the noise level, but also because the tables are generously wide (around 1 meter). Depending on the attendance level, you might have just two persons per table, which means a lot of elbow room but possibly also a lot more reaching for the food and futile attempts to talk to anyone who isn't your neighbour.
If you are dropping in for dinner or are hoping for a quieter time, you could possibly ask to be seated at/near the bar, which is a separate section from the dining area.

What's for dinner varies, but sometimes (as it was on Sunday), there is a theme to it:
This 10+ course dinner pays homage to Italian Summer grilling, and will feature a nose to tail boar dinner from the grill, alongside farm fresh vegetables, pasta, and grilled seafood.
So, really you should call ahead if you have allergies or particular preferences (e.g., if you really don't like pork and it happens that they will be putting things together from a boar). That said, there is apparently some flexibility here because the kitchen very helpfully arranged for one of our party to receive an individual plate of non-pig items whenever the course served had some part of the theme animal.

Dinner is scheduled for 6 PM, but the food doesn't roll out till much later (estimated 6:30 PM), so there is some leeway for being late, though the restaurant will doubtless be somewhat anxious if there are a lot of potential no-shows. There's a lot of mass cooking and plating going on, so time can drag between courses. In the end, we were there till almost 10 PM, if I remember correctly. And since you are at a "communal table", there's no rushing ahead if you are in a hurry. Everyone more or less gets out at the same time, depending on how quickly you finish your dessert.
Which also means if you wait too long, you might be stuck in a long queue for individual bills. You may want to ask for your bill ahead of time.

Food is plated "family style", meaning instead of individual plates, they brought out plates where 2-4 portions are arranged, or a single plate with a heap of stuff. There's a roll of bread for the table as well, but don't load up as soon as it comes out -- you might be too full to finish the dinner, and in any case you might want to use some of the bread to get at any tasty sauce or jus left on a plate.
At 10+ courses, each plate can look really stingy -- invariably your fair portion is gone in two or three bites. The features of each plate are portioned out for the number of persons at the table (e.g., 1 scallop per person), but the rest is up for grabs, and there's not a lot to go around. At 10+ courses, however, it all slowly adds up, so you really have to discipline yourself to share and to trust that the restaurant will feed you properly for the $55 per person they are asking for.

Our dinner had some mundane items (antipasti platter to start), some token items (pasta with "smoky" flavour), and some experimental items (bitter burnt cherries to go with a burnt lemon sorbet?). The rest of the dishes were very nicely put together and the worst you could possibly say was that the food was good, if not very good.
Price for value is also pretty decent at basically $5 per dish. It's like putting together dinner with a bunch of appetizers -- it will cost you more, but you get to try more items.

Service was friendly, patient, and pleasant. Bussing was efficient and you never wanted for water.

The announcement for the month's Famiglia Supper is typically announced online in the second week, along with something about the menu. However, you can call before then to get your name in early.