Monday, August 25, 2014

T&T Cooked Pork and Shrimp Dumplings

My mom had her eye on this T&T product line for a while, but being the frugal person that she is, she waited until it was on sale at Superstore this week and chose the "Cooked Pork & Shrimp Dumplings" to sample. These are basically siu mai. As usual it looks great in ad copy, but how good is it?

For a mere eight dumplings, it is quite over-packaged on the inside, with a plastic tray that looks like an ice cube tray for freezers. Each of the eight dumplings sits in its own cubicle, which separates them and prevents them from clumping if you choose to microwave them -- one of the recommended preparation methods.

My mom went with steaming. They came out extremely firm, almost rubbery -- basically similar to very firm fish balls. If we had read the label more carefully, we might have expected this -- it's COOKED Pork. This also explains why the meat is clay-grey in colour.

If you had ordered siu mai at dim sum, you could expect a much more tender product, and preferably with visible chunks of shrimp. There are the occasional shrimp bits here as well, but instead of ground pork, the processing turned the pork into a paste, hence the extremely rubbery-firm texture after cooking.

Taste wise, there is some shrimp flavour, so if you can block out the rubbery-ness, it's not too bad. However, you would do better getting shrimp balls to start with.

Overall, I would say that if you can handle a shorter "best before" date, look at the deli section for fresher versions in shrink wrap as you are more likely to get actual ground pork instead of paste. You probably couldn't microwave those and expect a good result, however, so be prepared for steaming, or possibly even deep frying if you are into that. Deep frying requires a bit of care to make sure the meat is cooked through, but it can preserve the tenderness of the meat, at least on the inside.

If you do want this frozen product, look carefully for the best before date or ask someone before purchasing. Once my mom got it home, we looked carefully for it, but the closest we could find was a partial stamp of "L014...".

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cheap All You Can Eat at Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon AYCE (All You Can Eat) is not available at every Pizza Hut, so you'll have to ask around. One location that has it is the 4775 East Hastings (at Gamma Avenue) Pizza Hut.

This smallish place has booth seating and a small stand for their Monday to Friday 11.30 am to 1.30 pm lunch buffet. Not on holidays. And only $6.99! This kind of cheap is practically a public service!

Not much service to be had here for an AYCE, but that's to be expected. You will probably have to ask for water, maybe a whole pitcher of it if you are a larger party. I think they forgot to turn the heat lamps on high because we got there shortly after Noon and any pizza not clearly fresh from the oven was basically lukewarm.

You may also have to ask for less popular pizzas like Hawaiian and Vegetarian. Service isn't exactly ace as they are probably geared toward take-out and delivery, but it isn't surly either. It's probably just a combination of inexperienced and tired of giving smiling service to people who don't care. I recommend being nice to them anyway, especially if you want to have a particular type of pizza and it's the last half hour before the afternoon buffet closes.

The pizzas are small size and cut into approximately 12 thinner slices. Since it's AYCE, this actually helps you moderate your intake so you don't have too much left over. Even so, there is a lot of evidence that people "cheat" by eating just the toppings off the crust. At a sushi AYCE you might end up being charged for these leftovers, but not here, which is awfully nice of them.

Also part of the AYCE lineup was pasta, chewy breadsticks that my dining partner identified as garlic bread despite it not giving off any aroma of garlic, a simple "salad" of basically chopped lettuce with caesar dressing available, and a dessert pizza which was basically pizza dough topped with sweet syrupy chopped up fruits.

By around 1 pm the place was basically deserted. Lunch rush over, I guess, and no more screaming kids. Lots of parking. One hour is more than enough to make up for missing breakfast earlier in the day and dinner afterwards.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Buitoni the saltiest frozen pizza so far

For years now, you can get very cheap full-sized frozen pizza for about $5 at Superstore. Smaller "gourmet" ones used to come in at around $8, but this week there are some for sale at around $3. I picked up a couple of Buitoni at $3.32 each (limit 2) and one McCain Ultra Thin Crust Roasted Mushroom and Garlic at $3.
I'm feeling veggie conscious so I picked only vegetarian pizzas.

The Buitoni Spinaci Fresca was the first ever Buitoni product I've tried and it was shocking. The Nutrition Facts (which I never read beforehand) confirmed it wasn't a factory fluke -- 500 mg Sodium per 90 gram (quarter pizza) serving.

The McCain Ultra Thin Crust Roasted Mushroom and Garlic wasn't significantly better at 310 mg Sodium per 86 gram (quarter pizza) serving, but the taste was what made the Buitoni pizza so surprising: It was as if someone had sprinkled extra salt on a pizza. It wasn't an experience of savoury-salty ingredients or sauce, but more like a direct taste of salt -- that's how salty it tasted. And it was so dominating that it almost covered up the flavours of the other ingredients.

Luvo isn't available in Canada yet, but they are known for healthy food and keeping sodium levels low. Their Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Flatbread has just 45 mg Sodum per 94 gram (half pizza) serving.


By the way, if you want freshly made pizza at a cheap price, AYCE (all you can eat) pizza deals can still be found if you look around. There's Pizza Hut, for example. Not all stores have the offer, but the one in Burnaby at 4775 Hastings (at Gamma) has it at $10 $6.99, Monday to Friday, 11.30 am to 1.30 pm, NOT on holidays. Included in the buffet is (sad) garlic bread, salad, and dessert pizza. You may have to ask for the type of pizza you want if all they've put out is deluxe and pepperoni.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bishop's still the ace choice

Bishop's on UrbanspoonMy relapsed-vegetarian friend who had already gone to all the veggie hotspots in town had her birthday recently, and all I could think of for a safe place to take her was Bishops. It has no vegetarian mains, but the kitchen had done very well previously with an impromptu vegetarian and vegan dinner.

As it turned out, my friend was back to a sort-of-omnivorous diet which allowed fish and poultry, so we did fine with the regular menu. Plating is beautiful, and the food isn't anything really fancy. It's just very well done, with some surprisingly good:

Virgin Cocktail ($5.50)
  • Even if you are non-drinker, look through the drink menu for the virgin drinks tucked in there. I didn't even think to do so, and was fortunately introduced to it by our server when I asked for any unusual non-alcoholic beverages. The intriguing item recommended to me had some sort of Vietnamese vinegar in it. It looked like water with ice and one ground-up chili (red skin and seeds and all). It was reminiscent of not-too-sweet lemonade with some gingery bite to it. Not much of a lingering after-taste. Try it, it's good.
Organic Tomato Appetizer ($16)
  • This was one of the specials of the day, limited by the tomatoes they had.
  • It looked like someone had just chopped up tomatoes and put it on a plate for me with a generous helping of basil leaves. But the vinaigrette on it made all the difference and magically transformed "just tomatoes" into a pretty darned tasty appetizer.
Other items we had were the beet appetizer ($15), arranged into a little forest with the trailing root standing straight up; duck ($37) served with odd scalpel-like steak knifes; wild salmon ($36); stone fruit dessert ($14), composed of fruits and candy similar to almond brittle; and a fresh ricotta cheese dessert ($14) that was a limited special of the day.
They still offer bread at the table and they don't push special sparkling water or whatever on you -- which has always struck me as a rather gauche way of embarrassing you into paying for water. And an amuse bouche of the day, of course.

Service is ace for a rather busy restaurant. Our reservation was for 8pm and the restaurant was still buzzing-busy when we left. We had a very unhurried time, with plenty of space to talk and enjoy our food. Staff was courteous and when we departed, staff were on hand to wish us well at the front desk, and someone was already holding the door open for us.

Cheap OK eats at Doolin's

Doolin's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon
I really don't blame Doolin's for being more than just an Irish pub specializing in only Irish food as that probably isn't going to cut it in fussy Vancouver. For your classic pub stuff, there is a "Pub Favourites" section of the menu. The rest is... the rest. Call it what you want, but it's basically a mishmash of everything comfortably familiar and safe to order.

Duck Bites ($8) Chipotle and ginger marinated duck bites topped with spicy pickled jalapenos, wrapped in bacon and topped with a sweet sesame soy glaze

  • You get about six of these, which are really bite-sized. The rest of your plate is salad.
  • There's spicy heat here, so if you're not used to spicy, watch out.
  • Whatever taste the duck had was covered up by the stronger flavour of bacon.

Short Rib Flatbread ($10) Red wine braised beef short rib with caramelized onions, dry roasted cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, topped with a house-made blue cheese aioli

  • The rectangular portion you get is about half the size of a medium pizza.
  • Any flavour the beef had was hidden under the sharp-sour flavour of the sauce.

The two particular items I had weren't that great, but price for portion was okay, and with most menu items hovering around $10 or less, it's a cheap place to snack while hanging out with friends.

Service was okay, all things considered.
We were in the rear section that is quite private from the rest of the pub. Headcount was about 30-ish, maybe. Apparently the service is divided into sections and waitresses are assigned to sections. We couldn't get more tables or chairs to extend the long table for our party, so we ended up being split up into some of the side bar seating. Which was okay, since we didn't give them an accurate headcount -- in turn because we under-booked due to the inevitable no-shows in any large booking.
With that many persons and seemingly just the one server running around, drink orders were bound to be slow. But things would get worse because we decided to order food more or less at the same time. Not sure how that came about, but I suspect it was the organizer announcing it was time to do that, just to get things moving along. With many people seated at the same table, there's often the issue of someone ordering too early or too late, and then you have people eating and others waiting.
Anyway, with just one server (but a few bussers), taking orders and delivering orders from the kitchen took quite a while. It was actually hard to catch anyone just to get cutlery and I ended up getting it myself for my second order.
And when it came time to leave, all our bills were processed all at once, which obviously took a long time not just printing it out but figuring out who had what, collecting cards for payment, and then giving out the processed bills for signing.

I don't want to blame the establishment for the slow service since we were also at fault, ordering all at the same time and getting our bills at the same time. I just wanted to mention it because some coordination or at least some understanding is required on the part of patrons as to why things turn out the way they do.
Also, it was awfully nice of Doolin's not to force a limited menu on us, which some restaurants do nowadays, to keep things streamlined in the kitchen and process larger orders quickly.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Anatoli Souvlaki a solid choice for Greek food

Anatoli Souvlaki on Urbanspoon

Continuing my tour of MealShare restaurants, last Friday I went with a couple of diners to Anatoli Souvlaki in North Vancouver. It is basically across the street from the very well attended Twilight Market at the Shipyards, and perhaps for that reason it was busy till past 9 PM. Despite the width of the store front, it is a large and deep restaurant, so chances are even on a seemingly busy night, while you might not get a patio seat, you will probably still get a seat somewhere.

Service is friendly and attentive: I was intercepted almost immediately by a server and led to a table for my reservation. Water is regularly topped up. It felt like there was a sincere desire for you to have a good experience, which helped to make up for some of the unfortunate shortfalls in the restaurant:

For example, our two square tables were wobbly. The apparent fix were old-looking pieces of cardboard shoved under one of the legs. While a older wobbly table could be said to add to the old-fashioned feel of the place, it was nevertheless annoying and it felt like a glaring oversight for a well-attended restaurant.
Food from the kitchen was also quite spotty. Pita, which is served with almost every appetizer, took forever to arrive -- well after our first couple of appetizer orders. Some orders took so long we gave up waiting and just decided to make sure they didn't appear on the bill. (They did, however, eventually show up).

One of our party was lost due to bad Translink directions and we feared she might not make it at all, so the rest of us just got started. Since Greek restaurants often have mains that are just appy + starch, we went with a bunch of appetizers for dinner. Pita bread came in a stack of cut-into-wedges rounds in their own round tin instead of individual portions for individual plates. Since these were appys, price will look pricey for portion, sometimes painfully so.

Niki's Meatballs ($13) 4 Greek meatballs and diced potatoes in tomato sauce topped with cheese and baked. Served with pita.
  • Yup -- over $3 per bite. Pretty big but nothing to write home about. Get at the generous amount of sauce with pita.
Chicken Livers ($11) Pan fried to crispy perfection. Served with pita.
  • Liver is liver. Don't know what they are talking about with the "crispy" part. It looked like it was breaded, and certainly some of the crumbs were crispy, but the while dish was basically swimming in oil in its hot metal dish.
  • Pricey for portion. Make sure you like liver before you order it.
Iani's Prawns ($16.50) 5 prawns served in a mushroom, tomato, feta ouzo sauce. Served with pita.
  • Inching toward $4 per prawn. Big enough to be more prawn than shrimp, but not particularly big. Pretty decent but nothing special. Skip it if you are going to complain about price.
Taramosalata ($6.50) Tangy caviar spread. Served with pita.
  • This came out very quickly. They probably had a good stock ready to go in the fridge (?).
  • The light pinkness and flavour and slight saltiness made me think if salmon. If you are bored with humous, go for this. Cheap, tasty, and filling with pita.

Saganaki ($12) Breaded pan fried mountain sheep cheese. Served with pita .
  • Comes in a hot hot hot dish. Definitely pay attention when the server tells you not to touch it.
  • Super salty!
  • A bit annoying to eat since if you don't eat it hot, it'll harden and toughen quite a bit. Plus it's swimming in oil.
  • Did I mention it was really salty? It's salty.
Country Lamb ($25) Shoulder of lamb braised until it melts off the bone. Served with rice, potatoes, Greek salad, tzatziki.
  • We were getting full when our lost-in-public-transit dining buddy showed up. She ended up ordering this but we were too full to try any especially as we were saving precious room for dessert.
  • Portion for price looked really decent as she got one heckuva chunk of lamb. Maybe the size of two tennis balls, and that is of course on top of the sides.
  • The classic Turkish dessert, but with an intriguing hint of orange flavour. Not nutty with pistachios and no clove. Sitting in a pool of watery honey.
  • Our server very kindly sent this to our table free of charge because my two dessert choices were sold out -- since we were just on what was probably the second seating at 7pm and were out shortly before 9pm, it seemed like more evidence of a super-busy day for them.
Overall I didn't feel the food was anything really special, but there wasn't anything wrong with it either--Everything seemed well done. The erratic way food came from the kitchen might be chalked up to a busy night, so you own experience will hopefully be better. They didn't even try to upsell us on pure alkaline water -- were they out or just scrambling around to keep on top of orders and service?

Food Cart Festival -- Go to the FREE one

The cost to enter the ring of over 20 food carts at the Vancouver food Cart Fest is $2 or a non-perishable donation, but free for Vancity or Car2Go Members. It is on every Sunday until the end of August. If you are cheap and don't want to pay $2 to browse 20+ food carts because you will likely only eat from one or two (unless you have a team of buy-and-share foodies), there is the free alternative on the North Shore every Friday: The Twilight Market.
FRIDAY Nights 5-10pm at The SHIPYARDS in lower Lonsdale, North Vancouver Over 80 vendors, over 30 Food Trucks, Great music, Local Artisans, BEER GARDEN! Activities for all ages!
Not only can you get in for free, but there are food and crafts vendors, beer, live music, and it runs till the end of September. And it's right at the waterfront district, so you don't even have to eat there necessarily, and instead choose from dozens of interesting eateries in a one block radius and beyond.

Double Dutch disappointing, sort of

Superstore is having a sale on various chips, including the Double Dutch line of thick chips from Old Dutch Foods, at $2.47 per pack (235 grams), maximum 4 packs at sale price. The product line has four flavours at this time: Buffalo Wing and Blue Cheese, Burstin' Onion, Bacon and Cheeseburger Sliders, Calamari and Tzatziki. I chose the latter two as I felt they would be the most complex and interesting flavours.

As chips go, if they had been marketed as tasty, savoury chips, I would probably not have been so disappointed. They have the basics of being savoury and slightly over-salty, which tends to inspire addictive overconsumption -- which is what bags of chips are meant to do. But these have very specific simulated flavours, and against that benchmark, they fail:
  • The Bacon and Cheeseburger Slider flavour didn't taste of bacon or meaty burger or cheese.
  • The Calamari and Tzatziki flavour had a tangy zing reminiscent of what you get with tzatziki sauce, but no fried calamari flavour.
If you just want tasty chips, they are pretty decent, and the thicker cut means they survive transportation mostly intact. You can also see the flavouring dusted thick on the chips. If you are hoping for a chip specifically with an unambiguous flavour of cheeseburger slider or calamari, then you are down to the sad adage of "beggars can't be choosers".