Shirakawa

IMG_3671IMG_3672

A new Japanese fusion tapas place, a first in the area. Located the hub of Gastown, this was formerly home to “Boneta”. How quick things change in this city. “Shirakawa” prides themselves on offering a true and complete Japanese dining experience. They are focused on serving the highest quality proteins and organic produce without sacraficing traditional Japanese culinary methods. They do so by utilizing local purveyors and products to specialize in Japanese kappo, sushi, and teppan grill. Even going so far as to import high-end Kuroge Wagyu Beef from Japan.

 

IMG_3704IMG_3727

I really like the location and the space, clean and simple. The room was dark with black walls and black tables and chairs. The lighting made the darkness romantic. Paper lanterns hovered close to the ceiling, they hung above you like orbs of gold. And delicate votives housing lit tea lights, with their creases they looked like paper cups made out of ceramic. Each seat was set with a dressing that included wooden chopsticks resting on its own matching stand; and a usable napkin, neatly folded with crisp lines like in origami.

IMG_3678IMG_3675

Most impressive was their kitchen. Surrounding its window was a mural. It almost looked undone, a sketch and outline painted in silver. Fluffy clouds and a sky of streaks. Two characters popped in black and either red or green. Friendly faced creatures with a smile and a cheeky grin. With the window open, it allowed for a full view of their operation: stainless steel and a wooden counter. And four chefs in white smocks. With their heads down and their arms moving, they dedicated to dressing each plate like a work of art. Though as I sat facing this scene, alone, waiting for my guests, to arrive, I found it intimidating. It was a them versus me feel. But as soon as my table was full and I was allowed to peer past my guests, I found the ability to watch plates come to pass a real treat.

Our server was friendly and bubbly. Attentively, she was talkative, only speaking highly of her place of work. I could not sing her praises more, her energy was infectious and it had me as excited as herself after each encounter. This was truly some of the best service I have had. She offered us a spiel because it was our first time here. The restaurant is well known for their teppan grill work. With this shift in focus there isn’t much sushi on the menu. Our server also explaining that this was because their head chef preferred not the style, and he just didn’t enjoy preparing regular sushi in roll form. She explained how they served tapas style small plates, and suggested that two dishes per person to share would be a good amount of food. She went over each of their daily cocktail and food specials, selling us on each one. We were appreciative of her including the price of each without asking, something not often done or considered. Each option was spoken with much energy and her full enthusiasm, they sounded delicious, she made us want it. Even stewed beef tongue and soften daikon sounded amazing coming from her. Most impressive was how she enunciated her Japanese, listing each menu item by its traditional name before explaining its modern recipe.

IMG_3679

As expected the menu was filled with creative twists and unique add-on, it created a very distinctive fusion offering starting from cocktails. Cocktails with ume shu and egg whites, a spiked jasmine tea, and even one that uses Thai chilies and wasabi. For the dishes: a panko-breaded pork cutlet with harvarti cheese and black miso, sakura chip smoked black cod with sundried tomato, and a chicken seasoned with a maple syrup infused “New Style teriyaki”. The whole saltwater eel was interesting, but not enough for me to try, I couldn’t commit to a whole eel; just thinking of its slithering shape creeps me out.

IMG_3687IMG_3691

The cocktail special of the night was “Tea 4 two”. This was a grown up tea party. A cocktail served like tea with peach tea, gin, and peach schnapps. Described as being similar to a whiskey sour with its egg white foam on top. I was sold on the mention of its presentation, the tea pot and its matching cups and sauces, all served on a silver platter. Their bartender delivered it to us at our table. He explained the set up, pointing out the bonus serving of the grenadine infused foam he included. It was to be used for an added sweetness of our own choosing. The pot held exactly enough tea for two. With a little spoon to dole out the foam that remained on the bottom of the pot. Because of the tea set up you expect the first sip to be warm. None-the-less the beverage was delicious, easy to drink I could have finished the severing for two on my one.

IMG_3684IMG_3682

“Cal-pine” made with vodka, calpico, with either pineapple or orange. Your choice of fruit determined the name “cal-pine” for pineapple or “cal-ore” for orange. Light and refreshing it was more like pop and fizzy soda.

IMG_3719IMG_3720

“The White River Fishbowl” made with gin, peach schnapps, falernum, lime, and a lit grapefruit. I found out from my guests that legally you cannot have a fishbowl to yourself, with the amount of alcohol in one serving you must confirm your intention to share it. Shame you can’t tell, but the ice inside is shaped like koi fish. Two fish swimming, it explains the name. Tropical in look and taste. I wished I had asked what a “lit grapefruit” was, my guess is the grapefruit juice included was from a charred or burnt grapefruit for an added smokey flavour.

IMG_3693IMG_3695

“Ebi Abo”. Not what we expected. Blanched prawns, avocado, creamy wasabi and tobiko. The menu didn’t mentioned that our prawns would be blanched so we were surprised that they weren’t fried, and even disappointed until we tasted it. It was extra creamy with tender pieces of shrimp, plenty of mayo drizzled heavily in a criss cross pattern, and cubes of ripen avocado. They kindly portioned it out for two full prawns per our three persons.

IMG_3699IMG_3702

“Kani cream croquette”, cream croquette filled with crab and béchamel. Fried to a nice browned crisp, the texture was a wonderful combination of crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. It reminded me of deep fried milk, but savoury. (Its a thing, if you haven’t tried it, do so at the Richmond night market next year.) Though the crab cakes needed more flavour, the soy and cabbage they sat on gave not enough salt. A sauce for dipping would have been nice, luckily we had extra mayo leftover from the dish above and were content with using that.

IMG_3711IMG_3712

“Gindara”, sakura chip smoked black cod, sautéed mushrooms and sundried tomato. As hard as I tried I could not make out the flavour of the sakura wood in the fish. Though I imagine it would be more for its scent, as smell affects taste. The fish was prepared light and delicate. Very moist and thoroughly tender, it easily flaked apart. As per our server’s suggestion we ate it with the vegetables, and they were very complimentary. The tomatoes and mushrooms added additional flavour profiles and additional textures. And I enjoyed the variety of mushrooms included. Overall a good dish, but no where near a filling one.

IMG_3709IMG_3705

One of their specials of the night, a pork chop. A 16oz bone in, cut up and plated for easy sharing and consuming. Served with a side of gai lan and a smear of apple sauce. This is the kind of dish that makes me crave more pork after eating it, fully knowing any that I have after would not be as good. Succulent pieces marinated in a sweet and salty jus. Definitely the best dish of the night. Like all the others, there was not enough of it.

IMG_3714IMG_3716

“Buta Rice”, pork belly fried rice. So flavourful. Oily, but the good kind. A good meal ender to ensure we left fuller, in fact we had ordered it for that very reason.

The washrooms were three unisex rooms. Smaller fixtures gave each more space. Comically the lock inside the room had a sticker above it that read, “use me please”. My guest learned first hand the importance of this. In her attempt to choose a facility she opened the door on a man already engaged in bodily movements.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The food was amazing, but because of the portion and the price it’s one of those places you eat first before going to or make plans for a second meal after. I definitely left wanting more food and wishing I could afford to double up on all that we had. I would definitely come back for and recommended this place for a drink or two. The cocktails are fun and inventive, the space is comfortable and relaxing, and none of the staff hurried us out. Don’t deny your cravings.

SHIRAKAWA
115-12 Water Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1A5
604-336-6918
shirakawagastown.com
Shirakawa on Urbanspoon

Jam’s Cafe

IMG_1220 IMG_3387

Not every meal eaten out is done with only enjoyment in mind, sometimes it’s just about being fed. My latest convenience dining brought me here. Hungry and lazy, in the middle of no where. An industrial area of New Westminster, one of several businesses calling 30 Capilano Way its home. They cleverly moved into the most visible unit, facing the main road, behind a fence and gate often left open during the day.

IMG_2004

Strictly breakfast and lunch the cafe caters to those working in the area. 6am to time unlisted. I feel these are one of places that closes shop up early as the traffic slows. The main demographic are those who work in the area. Drivers of big rigs and those up at the crack of dawn. This is where they come for their coffee and sustenance. In at wee hours of the morning then back for break mid day. I suppose the proximity of “Jam’s” allows them to make the most of a limited timed break, it beats a bag of chips from a vending machine and gives a pause from fast food “drive thrus”.

IMG_2002IMG_1992

The cafe is not much to look at: a mustard tiled exterior, their name in block, a weather worn lawn chair, a sun faded sandwich board, and a planter to add some greenery. But once again it wasn’t about the decor or the experience, but instead the practicality of the food served. A fact repeated yet again when you walk through the door. Off white walls, closer to a pale yellow palette. Tables either clothed in burgundy or cloaked with vinyl sheets. Sheets with a printed pattern of vegetation and vegetables. Similarly the chairs didn’t match, they either had a wood or metal frame.

IMG_1221IMG_1991

Each table setting was marked with a placemat. A waxy paper littered with ads, this too catered to their patrons. Advertisements on motor oil, transmissions, and trailers; just to name a few. Were these their sponsors I wondered. The Halloween decorations were still up, pulled cotton transformed into webs, with actual fuzzy fake spiders calling it their home. The effort made was commendable given the clientele.

IMG_1990IMG_1989

Their menu spans across three large boards behind the counter. Traditional egg and bacon breakfast platters, omelettes, cold and hot sandwiches, burgers, and Italian paninis. This is of course paired with the usual coffee, tea, and soda beverage offerings. Under all this was their work area, where food was made to order and served at the counter.

The owner/employer was pleasant enough. You eat in quiet with others who are also quiet. It was slow enough with enough tables to have your own four seater. The only sounds: the clearing of throats, the rustle of newspapers being flipped, and the sounds of gentle chewing.

IMG_2001IMG_1222

I had a breakfast of two eggs, bacon, hash, toast, and chocolate milk. It was pretty standard, and as I expected.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
It fills a need in the area and gave me what I needed to start the day. Not a destination, but it sure beats chip and pop at a gas station or heat lamp bites at the nearby 7-eleven. As its decor suggested this was a low key eatery, in its simplicity it offered a seat and a hearty meal. Don’t deny your cravings.

JAM’S
6 – 30 Capilano Way, New Westminster BC, V3L5H2
604-522-2705
Jam's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant

IMG_3507IMG_3508

Dim sum is something I don’t often get to partake in. Mostly because I choose not to wake early enough to take advantage of the brunching hour. So on my day off I took my parents up on their offer for dim sum. Dim sum is the Chinese equivalent to tapas, small share style plates meant to give diners a taste of everything. Because there is just something so wonderful about being surrounded by a bounty of food, and being able to pick out only that which you want to eat.

We chose this destination out of convenience. A Chinese restaurant in the middle of our two homes. Its easy destination and ample free parking was as good enough of a reason to dine here. The parking lot in front was shared with a neighbouring small car garage. Its stock seemed to spill over in the form of abandoned empty husks of vehicles. This took up some crucial room right in front of the building, creating an eyesore and taking up space better used for customer vehicles. As a result of insufficient stalls patrons opted for more creative solutions. Cars in disarray: some blocked others in and any free corner had a car adjacent, but most had to park road side forcing guests to trekked in.

It was busy this Remembrance Day, even at 11am the place was already packed, luckily we had made a reservation and had a table waiting. We by passed all the other guests standing by the front. This gathering blocked the entrance, created unsightly clutter, and invaded the personal bubble of those seated at the tables adjacent. The room was packed with Chinese and Chinese blended families.

The host sat us without a word. He along with the servers were dressed in uniform. Suit and ties for the managers and white tops with black pants and a patterned vest for the wait staff. Everyone was working at their top speed. So quick that their movements were abrupt. Tables got bussed quickly, with the goal to improve turn around time. More empty tables meant less guests waiting to eat. Servers stopped if you managed to grab their attention with a wave of a limb, but no one would speak until spoken too. No small talk. No explanation of the dishes that came.

IMG_3511IMG_3512

The room was decorated like most other Chinese restaurants. A jumble of traditional Chinese art and functional pieces with no consideration of interior design. Chinese paint brush scenes hung on walls. Chinese characters etched on plaques. Vases painted with country scenes and statues staged in motion. An ancestor shrine above the bar with real fruit offerings. Shimmering chandeliers pieced together crystal by crystal. And the quintessential red velvet wall at the back of the room. This was the room’s focal point with a golden Phoenix and raging dragon framing words of luck and prosperity. Yellow table cloths partnered with brown suade chair covers, set against a navy and amber patterned carpet. I have yet to see a traditional Chinese restaurant with a decor that isn’t an eye sore.

IMG_3509IMG_3510

A form waits for you at the table. You check off the box next to the dishes you want, it’s descriptions are listed in Chinese and English. You hand this completed form off to the closest body you see. It gets inputted into their system, then the sheet is brought back to the table to be checked off as your requests get delivered. I was curious about the “Seating tea charge”.

When my family eats dim sum we begin with empty plates and a few styrofoam take out containers. We eat then pack up what we don’t finish as we go along. Its quite efficient, but doesn’t really allow you to enjoy eating. It’s more meant to help clear the table.

IMG_3514IMG_3516

Hungrily we said “yes” to the first dish offered. “Green tea and black sesame balls”. Each ball was nestled in a cupcake liner, this little gesture greatly helped to dress up the plate. With its fragrant green tea scent, its crunchy exterior shell and its runny black sesame paste inside, this was quite a treat to eat. Though not ideal to start with on an empty stomach, better as a dessert with its too sweet filling. I don’t advise cutting these in half or sharing with anyone, they need to be consumed with the idea of careful eating in mind. One tear and the best part comes spilling out. These tasted fresh out of the deep fry. Each round was oily to hold and even oilier to bite into. Crispy on outside, sticky and chewy on inside. Each bite stuck to the bottom of my teeth.

IMG_3518IMG_3519

We jumped at these BBQ pork rolls, the second dish that was offered at our table. Sweetened pork chunks surrounded by layers of flaky pastry and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. As before, the doily dressed up the plate. When passing the plate on, the server used large scissors to split each portion in half for smaller bites and more sharing. Once again another deep fried and oily plate, it enforces my belief that dim sum food is meant to taste good, but not necessarily be good for you. Here the dish wasn’t as fresh, the pastry wasn’t crispy, and each bite was dense. With the sweetness of the filling this too felt more like a dessert. A meaty dessert.

IMG_3529IMG_3532

“Rice rolls with Chinese donut”. Steamed rice roll stuffed with Chinese donut, topped with green onions, pork frost, and soy sauce. Then served with a hoisin and peanut butter dipping sauce. The Chinese doughnut is long instead of round, more like a Mexican churro, it has no holes and is more savory then sweet. But like a North American donut it is also deep fried and chewy. Its oiliness was well hidden under the layer of white dough and the thin film of soy sauce. Together with the sauces each bite had a chewy and mushy texture. Pork frost is an interesting thing, it is dried and preserved pork pulled apart for a light texture. Its fluffy, chewy, and often sweet.

IMG_3541IMG_3542

“Steamed shrimp dumplings”. I have been only once before, but remembered that their larger than usual shrimp dumplings were something I had to get. Balls of shrimp paste, mashed and moulded to mimic whole shrimp. I eat the filling first, saving the doughy starchy outer layer to eat as is, it is my favourite part.

IMG_3549IMG_3550

“Fish maw with shrimp purée”. Chewy and soft globs in a thick syrup-like sauce. Eaten more for its interesting texture, I found it tasted a lot like the shrimp dumplings above.

IMG_3539IMG_3540

“Steam buns with taro”. It amazes me how the filling remained this runny. It tasted like egg custard, it was smooth and silky, and had just the perfect amount of sweetness to it. Though I could have used more taro taste as it’s in the name of the dish, maybe to flavour the bun?

IMG_3551IMG_3552

“Steamed pork intestine with spicy sauce” The sauce was really good, it helped to hide the fact you were eat intestines. There was a lot of chewing needed to break a piece break down. I failed at my second go of the plate and ended up chewing the piece dry before spitting it out. Not for me. Though I did use the sauce to flavour my bowl or congee, see below.

IMG_3553IMG_3554

“Chicken feet in black bean sauce”. This is the first time I have seen coloured peppers served with chicken feet. This is an acquired taste and distinctively Chinese delicacy. It’s pretty good if you can get over the texture of chicken skin and tiny feet bones, though this batch was over salted. Growing up eating this I don’t mind it, but now I find the process too tedious. I am just too lazy, and believe you should never have to work so hard to eat something already cooked.

IMG_3543IMG_3545

“Steamed wrapped mini sticky rice”. Savoury sticky rice steamed in bamboo leaves. The leaves gave the rice an earthy flavour. Warm rice hiding bits of ground meat, dried shrimp, and egg yolks. Unwrapping it is half the fun.

IMG_3537IMG_3538

“Spareribs in black bean sauce”. Meat and bones you pop into your mouth. The pork is tender, but not exactly fall of the bone. If you can get past the grinding chew, the joints came be eaten too. Overall the dish was too salty, but the sandy textured pumpkin cubes and coloured pepper slices did help to temper this and add a pop of colour.

IMG_3523IMG_3526

“Sea cucumber and mussel congee”. When having all these small flavourful plates it is nice to have a base to eat them with. As it is brunch, congee comes instead of rice. As expected it was mild in flavour and plain considering the other dishes. I stayed away from the lumpy bits, not wanting to bruise my jaw further with an extended chew, and being wary of sea cucumber. The bowl was best flavoured with sauces from the dishes above.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A pretty descent Chinese seafood and dim sum place, but nothing to write home to mom about. Standard in decor, service, and food. But having said that we left happy and full at a decent price, so I can’t ask for much more. Though given the steady line out the door and the extra traffic from a statutory holiday our meal felt rush. The sweet spot was between 10-11:30am to avoid lines and to be seated without a reservation. We were offered our food quick and our dishes were bussed as soon as we chopstick-ed up the last dumpling. It was clear that their goal was a quick turn around, to be able to seat and serve more patrons. I deem them successful in this, which also explains the lack of small talk from servers and managers, and the need to move quickly and abruptly from all the staff. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAPPY VALLEY
3432 Lougheed Hwy, Vancouver BC, V5M2A4
604-216-0100
Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant 名閣海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant

IMG_3408IMG_3447

 

A 29th birthday is not an everyday affair, so when choosing a destination my guest wanted only the best for her landmark celebration. She chose a restaurant with a history and a one of a kind view. You sit and dine as the building provides a rotating view of the city before you. Here there is no need to request a certain seat, because within a few minutes you will get to see it all, slowly.

IMG_3411IMG_3412

Located in Harbour centre the entrance is in the building and up an elevator. As a tourist attraction with an observation deck, two attendees were stationed behind a booth by the elevator shaft. They direct guests to the restaurant and sell visitors an elevator ride with a view. The ride up was a long one, you watched the lights grow smaller and the expanse of city open up in the distance. My ears pops from the pressure at 550 feet up. the photos above were taken traveling up the elevator.

IMG_3413IMG_3416IMG_3428IMG_3434

At the restaurant the doors opened up to a stationary hostess booth. In this domed bubble high above the city, only a portion of the space rotates. Just the outer rim spun. If you think about it, only a sheet of squeaky clean glass separated your table from the possibility of plunging down a 550 feet. This unique dining room slowly rotates around the still bar and unmoving kitchen. If timed right you need not even travel far to use the facilities. The washroom will eventually come right to you on its 360 degree spin. The view and the stationary part of the restaurant revolved around us. It felt surreal to have both sides of you continuously move. Each time you look away then back it is different, kept the room interesting. When asked, we were told the room spins faster with less people weighting its down. It is approximately 45 minutes per rotation.

IMG_3433IMG_3449

Looking around the room tonight this seemed to be a most popular destination with Asian tourists, like me they were busy snapping photos of the scenery in between using flash on their food. After all, what better way is there to see the city in comfort? Tonight this was also the destination to celebrate once in a year or once in a lifetime affairs. Anniversaries, promotion, goodbyes, or like us here to celebrate our friend’s last year in her 20’s. With their ten thousand dollar view and food prices just as steep, I wouldn’t deem this an any day dining destination.

IMG_3479IMG_3462

The wooden bar and tiled dance floor gave away the age of the place. Even though the space was no longer being used for its intended purpose, the original coloured lights above were kept lit in bars of purple, red, and green. It was just missing the disco ball. Over the well waxed hardwood floors were additional tables. It became a spot for those who got nauseous as the floor spun beneath them. A table by the bar to drink and watch others “ring around the Rosie”.

IMG_3477IMG_3490

I felt the revolving restaurant took influences from a fine French establishment. Servers were dressed in formal apparel: ties, vests, pleated pants, and crisp ironed shirts. They looked dapper serving fine wines in ice buckets, and pouring glasses by the bottles. Crisp white table cloths and red reusable napkins folded like pointed burgundy towers waited for you at every table. Flickering tea lights and a freshly picked flower centred each arrangement. Things were dressed to be more on the romantic side.

The nods of French influences were also pronounced in the menu: duck confit in a dish with duck breast and duck risotto, escargot in a heavy garlic butter sauce, a Pacific Smoked Salmon and a chocolate dessert Terrine, Baked French Brie, and a strawberry Napoleon. There were also set menu meals, 3-4 courses varying in price with your choice of entrees. Though the selection was no different than a salad, entree, and dessert from the regular menu; it was offered at a discount when you bundled all three. Overall the menu felt bored and tired. It had nothing stand out, nothing to set it apart. There were no seasonal offerings and I could see no updates from my last visit. This was a menu that you could find similar, served else were. It would have been nice if the cuisine married well the level of venue. Elaborate dishes that raise the bar on dinner as the view raised the bar on Vancouver’s dining experience.

Our server was very friendly, with a confident voice he easily up sold. He never faltered to offer a beverage, an appetizer, suggest possible sides, and recommend dessert. He suggested we agreed, adding an appetizer and paying a little more for a better bottle of wine. He even cautioned that we had some complimentary bread and butter coming our way, so were to consider our options with that in mind. He did amazingly from a business and service standpoint. Not only did he make appealing offers, but he recommended add ons with vivid detail and delicious descriptions. He spoke with excitement and it definitely rubbed off on us and our decision to get more and pay for more.

IMG_3430IMG_3431

We were up sold to the “Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris”, as it came highly recommend by our server. Wine from one of the top five wineries in Canada, and this one was one of their best sellers. He pointed out that its few dollars more in price was well worth it for its taste. It was as good as he said: crisp, light, and refreshing. Though at $60 a bottle you are better off buying a couple at that price at your local liquor store. I guess it’s more about the ambience and where you get to enjoy your wine. Shame conversation meant distraction from the view we were clearly paying more for. Though I was really impressed when we got four clean glasses for the second bottle we ordered.

IMG_3438IMG_3439

Complimentary basket of buns and butter. There is something so comforting about fresh oven baked bread. Bread warm to the touch, you pierce the crust and steam escapes from its pockets. Warm and chewy, the butter melts on impact.

IMG_3442IMG_3443

Considering this was a fine French restaurant, and most are known for smaller portions it was surprising how large our plates were. The “Calamari” was served with tzatziki and salsa for dipping. The latter was a new twist on classic, and still complimentary with the more familiar former. Both gave a bland bite some kick. The batter on the squid could have been more crispy. It was light and unseasoned, which only made the squid taste more chewy and fishy.

IMG_3444IMG_3446

The “Stuffed Mushroom Caps” were also recommended by our server. These were stuffed with shrimp, crab meat, cream cheese, and garlic; and presented in a dish originally meant for escargot. A dish with round dimples designed to house a single snail shell in each groove. The mushrooms were served piping hot, swimming in oil. It had a good flavour if you could get past the oil slick. The greasy liquid had the filling of each spilling out, not the most composed dish. Watery lumps of cheese were what remained in the dimples.

IMG_3468IMG_3469

“Linguine Di Mare”. Linguine with lobster, prawns, baby scallops, and mussels in spicy rose sauce. There were more noodles than seafood. A mound of barely seasoned noodles that craved more red sauce. Unfortunately most of it pooled at the bottom of the bowl, but what actually kept on the noodles was good. And it wasn’t spicy like the menu made it out to be and the seafood lacked seasoning.

IMG_3470IMG_3471

Having been once long before and now recalling the quality to value, I played it safe ordering something that would give me the most bang for my buck. Something that would be filling at a reasonable cost. However this cautious route would not be beneficial. More filling noodles for less. “Penne Pollo Primavera”, marinated chicken and vegetables in a creamy alfredo sauce. My plan backfired, this was a pretty boring sounding dish with a pretty boring taste to match. The sauce was not thick enough, I wished for more of it in globs. And the Alfredo was the wateriest I have ever had. The highlights were the even ratio of chicken and vegetable to pasta. And the chicken itself was lean and tender. I was impressed by the selection of vegetables: peppers in green, red and orange; peas, onions, eggplant, and mushrooms. The pasta cooler quickly, and I realized it was not just as good cold or even at room temperature.

IMG_3464IMG_3473

“Baked Whole Lobster” served with a smoked cheese Mornay sauce. The birthday girl confirmed the lobster would be pre-cracked and served open. No need to roll up your sleeves and grab a nutcracker in your formal wear, “it’s unladylike after all”. Left in the shell, the lobster meat was heavily dressed with cream and cheese. The heavy garlic flavour unfortunately hid the the freshness of the sweet lobster meat. The bonus was having a complimentary side with the lobster, one not mentioned on the menu. This was a small serving of rice pilaff; made with celery, corn kernels, carrot, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. A simple side that tasted like the vegetables and olive oil, an ideal side for a creamy lobster main.

IMG_3466IMG_3467

My other guest asked the server for the largest portion on a plate. What he recommended wasn’t on the menu. Today’s steak feature was a 16oz ribeye served with a Gorgonzola butter. The ribeye was described as being fattier than a New York steak. Juicer morsels made tender from the pockets of fat in the meat as they cook down. My guest couldn’t be happier, a large slab the size of her face, served at a perfect medium rare.

IMG_3485IMG_3487

Upon hearing we were here for a birthday, our server surprised the birthday girl with a complimentary slice of cake. He presented it with a lit candle and four forks for sharing. The “Top of Vancouver Mango Cheesecake”. Unbaked cream cheese, marscapone, and a touch of brandy. Served with strawberry coulis and creme anglaise. A rich and creamy cheese cake, but as light as angel food cake. The layer of mango was a refreshing twist in flavour, a sharp kick without overwhelming the fluffy marscapone.

IMG_3417

Disappointingly the washrooms were not well kept. It was already clear that the building was old, but this room screamed the need for a renovation. It needed an update, to expel the grim and bring forth it to this time. For the price of the food and the expectation of the place I expected more. These were just dirty washrooms. No one bothered to keep the space clean, let alone restock the empty toilet paper rolls. My guest went in, only to come out, deciding it was better to save it for the after party. This was definitely not in line with the rest of the restaurant. Like the bowl of after diner mints on the hostess booth, the washroom was sticky and stale.

Curious was our server’s inability to split plates. We wanted the help to identify who was to pay what. But because they lacked the technology to divide by three, we took over ten minutes with the math. Imagine heads down and phone calculator apps open.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I will not be back on my own volition, only returning for celebration or a big event. My first time so many years ago was in celebration of my uncle and aunt’s first time visiting Canada. And as I eluded to, I remembered the same calamari and the same escargot on the menu, amongst other things. I find the cost too high for a meal eaten for the sake of being hungry. This is a classic fine dining spot, where the focus is not on the decor or the food, but more what you could only get at this elevation: a view that won’t quit. The restaurant is best as a destination on a romantic night or a tourist stop for those visiting. And at 550 feet above the city this is a must see at least once. Though truth be told, after one visit, a few pictures, and a taste of the food I can’t see myself needing a return trip anytime soon. And not just because the menu seems stagnant, without seasonal offering. Don’t deny your cravings

TOP OF VANCOUVER
555 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6B1M1
604-669-2220
topofvancouver.com
Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bellaggio Cafe

IMG_3332 IMG_3333

When you work irregular hours it is sometimes hard to find a nice sit down restaurant open during the time between lunch and dinner. Today we found such a place. This wasn’t our first choice, but wanting to bypass the lines of its neighbours we directed our attention here. Good thing, as I think that what we had for how much we paid was better than the coffee and pastry we were originally aiming for.

We approached the hostess booth manned by two young women, one of which assumed the role of our server. We confirmed that lunch would be a speedy affair and sought a seat by the window, giving us the patio and sidewalk as our view. Great location, but it’s out of the way proximity meant we struggled to get service. Waving hands for refills and attempting uninterrupted eye contact to get the bill.

IMG_3334IMG_3299

The days were getting colder and the handsome patio out front was left unseated. Chairs with light wooden limbs and black faux leather cushions looked as comfy as anything available to us indoors. The large red umbrellas with their logo kept sun or rain out of the way, though the latter was more prevalent these days. The umbrellas were the only things that differentiated this patio from the other adjacent two.

IMG_3310IMG_3300

Inside, the room was cozy and warm. The accumulation of curiosities gave the space character. And the every day wear of fixtures gave aways its age. An antique globe on a weathered cabinet, a book shelf of tattered encyclopedia volumes by the washroom, and a bust in stone smirking proudly on the counter. The restaurant was ready for winter with a trimmed pine tree, a lit garland, and hanging sequinned ornaments. They helped to make the rest of the room festive and more homey.

IMG_3329IMG_3328

There was ample seating during the 1:30pm lull. Still in time for a late breakfast, and not yet time for happy hour. In the corner was their bar. A space set up to serve both gourmet coffees and specialty cocktails. Milk steamers and jiggers side by side. Shelves dedicated to teas leaves and coffee beans came together with bottles for wine and spirits. Each glass table top table was partnered with a bergère, an enclosed upholstered French armchair. It added an nice den-like feel to the room.

IMG_3326IMG_3331

Being an expert in art, my guest immediately pointed out what she felt was “strange”. While the cuisine was Italian the decor took its influences from the Spanish. Spanish colonial architecture in the tiled roof fixtures and iron railings. And Spanish influences in the mezzanine, the second level in a room with one floor. This was a balcony more for show than any given purpose.

IMG_3335IMG_3330

The menu was divided between meal types. Breakfast was a page that included the traditional eggs, bacon, and pancake platters; along with bagels, oatmeal, omelettes, and eggs Benedict. There were even frittatas: an open faced, deep dished, three egg omelette. Happy hour went from 2:30-6:00pm with 50% off all appetizers. Bar classics like chicken wings, calamari, onion rings, and various fries. And Italian inspired small plates like “gamberi fritti”, beer battered prawns with a lemon dill aioli. “Bruschetta pomodoro”, prosciutto, tomato, garlic, and basil in a balsamic reduction. And “truffle Parmesan fries”. For lunch or dinner salads, pasta, and large entrees were available. Again, Italian influences were prevalent: a “meat lasagne”, a “vegetarian cannelloni”, their daily risotto, and “veal parmigiana”.

IMG_3323IMG_3312

There was a lot I considered ordering, but we went with what lured us in the first place, the lunch special. Titled the “Bellaggio sandwich combo special”, this was the “chef’s creation” rotating from day to day, but stagnant at $12.50 each day. We lucked out on having it be vegetarian today, this accommodate my guest’a dietary preferences. The sandwich combo with our choice of soup, salad, or fries.

IMG_3313IMG_3319

My guest had her mushroom pesto sandwich with fries, and I had mine with New England style clam chowder. The marbled rye sandwich was filled with a large portobello mushroom cap, grilled red and yellow peppers, Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, and their in house made pesto spread. Each sandwich was accompanied by a side of spicy mayo, a handful of fried onion strings and a mound of fresh greens. I found the sandwich’s filling uneven, one large mushroom was used as the patty centring the sandwich, this meant not every bite came with mushroom. And worse, bites at each end came without fillings or sauces. Though when you get the right mouthful things were good. This is the type of sandwich you crave again.

IMG_3317IMG_3325

The soup was a New England style clam chowder. With an unexpected tomato base I was surprised to see a red light broth, as apposed to the more familiar thick white creamy one. The soup was filled with chunks of calm and diced vegetables. A soup that ate more like a meal, one that well complimented the vegetable sandwich. I preferred the sound of this over the vegetable barley.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If a simple sandwich special was this good, I can only imagine how delicious their pastas entrees were. I would like to try more in order to given a more concise review. So for now its a “like” and will return. Don’t deny your cravings.

BELLAGGIO CAFE
773 Hornby Street, Vancouver BC, V6C3G1
604-408-1281
bellaggiocafe.com
Bellaggio Cafe on Urbanspoon

Belgard Kitchen

IMG_3208IMG_3210

I often search for new restaurants online in hopes of discovering something worth sharing. It is a gamble worth taking if it means possibly finding that which is different, that which is off the beaten path. And today the restaurant literally couldn’t be more off that path. The website didn’t say much, but its simplistic cover page was enough to lure me in. Clicking the menu I grew more excited. After a week in Mexico I was craving certain cuisines: Italian was one. Italian paired with good wine and craft beer, all three of which I failed to find at my all exclusive resort. And two of those cravings brought me here to the “Settlement Building” on the outer skirts of Gastown. It was a far drive out, one with rocky roads and dark corners. We lucked out on a free spot right out front, though there were plenty of curb side parking to be found within the area.

On the outside, the Settlement building it looked somewhat like a church. White walls, large framed windows running down the length of the structure, and a large wooden doors you enter through. Tonight it was too dark and top rainy to make out what was past the barred windows, if weren’t for the well lit sign we wouldn’t know we had arrived. The Belgard Kitchen, Postmark Brewery, Vancouver Urban Winery. Three places in one: restaurant, brewery, and winery.

IMG_3213IMG_3235

Past the first tall and heavy set of wooden doors was another; the second, more embellished, accented in metal, with brass handles. Entering through one entrance after the other gave you the feeling of grandeur. The weight and solidness of each meant silence and reprieve from the outside world. The foyer between the two was inviting with a crisp and clean cedar smell, woodsy and raw. It matched well the rest of the restaurant to come.

IMG_3241IMG_3215

You can’t help but look up as your eyes are drawn towards a vaulted ceiling planked with wood, a fast spinning multi bladed fan circulated, and a circle of lighted bulbs created ambience. In all its industrial simplicity, a combined regality was created. You knew you were somewhere special. My guest and I couldn’t help but rotate our heads and declare how impressed we were at everything. This only got us more enamoured for our meal to come. And the food did not disappoint, we found it to be of the same caliber as the decor.

IMG_3214IMG_3252

The atmosphere was kept romantic. Along with the hostess at her booth, a row of candles in mason jars, enclosed behind wired cages greeted us at the door. We were led to the enclosed dining area. Despite it being a Monday the room was full and each table was seated. High chairs by the bar, a cluster of tables and chairs in an alcove for grouped privacy, and tables paired with dimpled booths set in a matted leather varnish.

We took a remaining seat by the fireplace, opting for the lounge over the bar. The robust soft brown leather couch acted as a booth, partnered with little stools and a side table it made for a more casual dining experience. Both were nice to sit and chat on, but not necessarily the most comfortable to dine from. With a smaller table situated at waist height when seated, I found myself often hunching over my food or supporting my plate inches under my chin. Not surprising, this was their designated lounge area after all. Luckily the food was tapas and the plate were small, it made eating easier.

IMG_3217IMG_3218

On one side, standing tall and proud was a rack of wine barrels. Row after row they were stacked close to the ceiling. An impressive sight to look up to, as they spoke well to the business. On the other side a white washed fireplace made the large room cozy, it centred the space with its hearth. The mantel was dressed with lit candle sticks, candle holders, tea lights, and candelabras. The light and warmth of 15 flames was enough to leave the fireplace off.

IMG_3236

Despite the room’s simple elements and their combined rustic charm, the restaurant was able to convey a certain formality. This was not a sports bar or an after dinner lounge. This was the type of place to impress a date at, the kind of place to dressed up and bring your girls to, a place to celebrate an occasion within. All of which were represented here tonight. And yet, most surprisingly the room was still kept at a gentle hum. Conversations spoken and not shouted. Something I prefer when I dine with a guest I hope to speak with. The music overhead was a blend of pop and indie, uplifting enough to keep the energy going and muted enough to tune out if needed.

To represent their three venture under one roof were three different menus: wine, beer, and food. Each a sheet clipped length wise to a wooden board. After checking that it was our first time here the hostess took a seat with us and walked us through the menu. It was a nice welcoming touch, one that you don’t see too often. She didn’t just hand us off, but instead really steered our journey in the right positive direction. On other occasions with other hostesses, they usually just sit you and leave. Here she went over selections, advocated their beer special of the day, suggested flights for tasting, and recommended her favourite dish to start. We took all of her suggestions.

IMG_3222IMG_3223

Beer tasting flight of four, four of our choosing. Their house made pilsner. Their seasonal butternut brown fall ale. Their new American pale ale, a centennial pilsner amber in colour with a more hoppier finish. And their IPA. It was hard to remember it all without a written note or a descriptive card, I relied on my memory as our server spoke.

IMG_3224IMG_3228

An amazing recommendation from the hostess. We soon saw why this was her favourite dish. “Burrata + Eggplant Caponata” served with grilled sourdough crostinis and goat cheese coulis. A very contemporary Mediterranean dish. Each toasted piece of bread was lightly spread with cream cheese. I was surprised how this combination went so well with eggplant. The crunch of the bread partnered well with the mushy vegetable mix, and the goat cheese added the perfect sour tang. Half the enjoyment was bringing the three elements together in one bite.

IMG_3239

Though as is common with such appetizers we soon ran out of bread well before the toppings. We asked for an additional portion and were given a miniature cast iron pot filled with grilled triangles.

IMG_3232IMG_3230

“Yam Gnocchi with brown sage butter”. We requested it without the lamb sausage ragu to accommodate my vegetarian guest. The yam purée used in this variation made for an ideal texture. It paired well with the softness indicative of a well made gnocchi. The sweetness of the yam found a common ally in the sweet pea. The roundness of both made it enjoyable to eat.

IMG_3244

“Foraged Mushroom Risotto” made with seasonal mushrooms, micro greens, and grana padano. This one took a little longer to arrive, we assumed it was because it was made to order. When compared to the above the risotto was a lot more dense and a lot more richer. Its strong flavours were hard to take in, in one sitting, packing leftovers was a necessity. The sharp cheese was offset by the earthy mushroom, and both fought for flavour supremacy. The freshness of the sparse greens did little to lighten the plate, though it did help to add colour and interest visually.

IMG_3247IMG_3248IMG_3249

During the use of the washrooms we were delighted to discover portraits of celebrities painted as army generals, hanging in each stall. This was something I have seen online. Robert Downy Jr., Tom Selleck, and Leonardo Dicaprio watched you pee. I wonder which ones were in the men’s washroom.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
We were just as impressed with the food as we were the decor. Proof that setting and service can win a dinner over even before ordering. And this place has more than your usual dining hot spot: restaurant, brewery, and winery. Dining on a cozy couch by a fireplace bathed in candlelight, taking a beer tour for a closer view of their mountain-sized brewing vats, and tasting wine stored in wooden barrels and sold in bottles. The cuisine was crisp, fresh, and light. Profiles and flavours carefully curated to well reflect their in house brewed beers and wines. A unique dining experience, and one worth sharing. Don’t deny your cravings.

The Settlement Building
55 dunlevy avenue, Vancouver BC, V6A3A3
604-699-1989
belgardkitchen.com
Belgard Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Red Burrito

IMG_1951IMG_1954

I have heard my coworker rave about the food here for a while now, specifically their burrito in a bowl. So when out of dining options I decided to finally take her recommendation.

IMG_1955IMG_1956

The restaurant is a small shoppe, one of two locations in Vancouver. The bright yellow lights against the red awning is certainly eye catching. The windowed front gives you an unrestricted look in. On vibrant red and pale yellow wall hung Spanish movie posters and souvenirs from Mexico. One wall featured the latter intermingled with squared and circular mirrors in assorted sizes. Suns and moons, lizards and butterflies. It was art for the sake of covering space. Seating was a casual cluster of wooden two top tables and chairs or high tops against the walls and windows.

IMG_1953IMG_1957

The menu is cafeteria style. A straightforward sign above and behind the cash desk. You start with either a burrito or a taco and choose you fillings working layer by layer. The proteins and mains chosen affects the price: grilled chicken, spicy beef, baja shrimp, or the vegetarian option made with vegetables. The salsas are classified by their degree of spiciness: the mild fresh tomato, the medium roasted corn or green chilli, or the hot spicy red. Add ons include cheese, guacamole, sour cream, or an extra portion of any the above. Though realistically I cannot fully enjoy North American Mexican without cheese or guacamole. To me that is more a necessity than as add on or side.

IMG_1961IMG_1962

“Burrito in a bowl”. The taste of a burrito without the hassle of having to hold it upright. Made with rice in exchange of the tortilla shell. The rice goes in first, with your choice between white or brown. Next a healthy layer of panfried onions and green peppers. Too much onion, I picked out two table spoon’s worth. I passed on the refried beans as I feel they are better in a burrito than on rice. So went straight to the protein. Spicy beef came heavily recommended. Carved from the spits it was served hot and tender, but a little fattier than I would have liked in this healthier meal. It was spicer than I expected too, but the flavour certainly brought everything else together nicely. And as I mentioned above I was okay to pay more for guacamole and cheese. While I was at it I also sprung for a side container of sour cream. Though I didn’t touch it, this wasn’t the fluffy kind from grocery stores that I expected , but more of a runny white liquid.

I liked the concept of the “burrito in a bowl”, but felt it could have been better executed. Maybe served in a larger bowl, one that allowed for the mixing and the tossing of ingredients for an even bite. Or at least a clear bowl that allowed you to enjoy the colourful layers made your way. It certainly would have made for a better picture than the one I tried to stage above. It needed more rice, without a wrap the starch needed to bind all the loose ingredients together left like it was missing. I wanted some on the side to specifically enjoy with the beef. And once again there was far too much onion, it was a waste of space in the bowl, space that could be better utilized with another ingredient.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The location was convenient, the staff were friendly, and the service speedy. A quick and easy lunch spot, from order to prep it was under five minutes without a line. A good solution for those not wanting to line up for “Chipotle” a block a way. Though as a destination, and for someone who loves to fuss over their meal like me, it had nothing that stood out. Nothing that would warrant a second visit, and nothing else that needed trying. Don’t deny your cravings.

RED BURRITO
606 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2B9
604-676-0097
Red Burrito on Urbanspoon

Hiro Sushi

IMG_1873IMG_1875

Twice a week I pass by this restaurant, enroute to my physiotherapy appointments. It was only a few months ago, I still remember the Chinese fast food restaurant that came before it. Its new signs now attract my eyes. They tell how the restaurant specializes in the usual Japanese fast food style cuisine: sushi rolls, bento boxes, sashimi, tempura, teriyaki, and udon. Having missed breakfast and lunch today I decided to stop by and get two meals worth of food to go.

It was clear what they were selling from the exterior. The awning spelled it out in words and the windows plastered with poster sized photos showed it. No surprise was made of what they offered. Peering in on occasion, traffic already looked to be on a upswing when compared to the Chinese restaurant that existed before. Given there were no other like Japanese restaurants near by, and that people coming out of the neighbouring gym would more likely make something clean and fresh like sushi their choice, this seemed like a good location.

IMG_1874IMG_1876

The interior was as I remembered it to be, but with a few new furnishings. The less than inviting bars still covered each window, looking out to a covered walk way. There was no point of having a window seat with no view to appreciate. The large hand painted murals on opposing walls that depicted rural life remained. A scene with blue skies, rolling hills, and mountain cliffs. A reminder of how the original restaurant use to be. With vaulted ceiling and a trim painted with clouds, it certainly was different than any other Japanese restaurants I have seen. The ethnicity of the cuisine was only seen in the details. Draped along the awning of the sushi bar were traditional flags, red lanterns hug lit from pegs, and curtains with Japanese patterns partially blocked the entrance to closets. The carpet, booths, chairs, and tables were all new. Without a stain, a scrape, or a rip they were an investment well spent.

When I entered there was no greeting, no person to take me in, no sign, no direction, just silence. I walked up to the bar, making eye contact with the two employees standing behind it. I would have to initiate the conversation. This was not the usual Japanese establishment, where all employees paused to announce your arrival with a unison greeting. This is a Chinese run sushi shop. Evident through how the employees spoke to one another in their native tongue, and the practice of staff gathering together in the dining room to share in a meal from the kitchen. Today, noodles and rice eaten out of mixing bowls. I also was forced to hear what I assume is the owner shouting in Cantonese to a deliver person dropping off heavy boxes. I couldn’t understand what either said, but guessing by the tone, the owner was left unimpressed. As a diner I don’t need to see or hear that. And just because I was only one of two tables in at the time does not mean they can slide on such service. The start was already rocky so it was no surprise to find my meal to go would go the same way.

The menu was a beast to go through. I was overwhelmed with fine print and nothing jumped out as being special or worth trying. They were trying to offer everything for everyone, similar to that of a Chinese restaurant. And when asked for help the server really didn’t have any thing to offer in her monotone, one word answers and limp points.

As always, when I try such places for the first time I gravitate towards their house special rolls. Sushi rolls that you supposedly cannot get anywhere else. Though if you sit down and really read the descriptions there is a lot of over lap. Over 20 different rolls often equates to 5 rolls with unique bases and the rest, slight variations on them. If you replace crab with scallop that’s a new roll in need of a new name. After all you can only use so many ingredients and there are only so many fish in the sea. I am aware that it is not “real” sushi, but I do not come to such places with the expectation of fresh fish fast. If I want the quality I am willing to go somewhere that specializes in it and will charge me appropriately for it. Not a sushi place run by a Chinese family, or one that has a menu offering what most other like places do. I deem this is one of those every area needs a sushi place kind of restaurants. It fills a need in the neighbourhood and will do well because of that need alone.

IMG_1878IMG_1877

“Hiro house roll” the only roll with five pieces instead of six or eight. It was nice to have how much you are expecting listed on the menu, it helped me my ordering process. The roll was filled with tuna, salmon, scallop, prawn, crab cake, cucumber, and lettuce; then topped with smoke salmon. The “crab cake” was disappointingly just imitation crab in the form of pollack. Even more sad as it was the main reason why I ordered this one. The filling was good, but I could have done without the overpowering smoke salmon. Overall there was nothing really special about this roll, just an accumulation of random ingredients all rolled up with seaweed and rice.

IMG_1881IMG_1880

“Taichi roll” a six piece deep fried roll filled with tobiko and spicy tuna. This was the best one of the lot, but even then it just tasted like seasoned sticky rice. The deep frying added another texture and another flavour profile. And the order came with a bonus of two extra pieces. It was more than the six promised, but were no more than deep fried blobs of rice.

IMG_1883IMG_1882

The “Scorpion roll” at $9.25 was one of their most expensive rolls, at $2-3 more. Though it did come in eight pieces, where most only had six. Filled with deep fried prawn, spicy tuna, salmon, cucumber; and topped with soft shell crab and masago. As expected the roll was cumbersome, it fell apart at the mere reach with a set of chopsticks. If not then, it would have fallen apart when you tried to take a bite, there is no way you can get all this down in one bite, in comfort at least. The soft shell crab could have been crispier, it was quite the sight having them top the roll legs and all. Other than that the roll didn’t taste much different from the first. Having this much crammed into a roll, you don’t get to truly enjoy it. I think I have a new appreciation for the simplicity of sashimi now.

IMG_1885IMG_1884

The “Honeymoon roll” didn’t make the car ride. The first time I have seen a sushi roll classified as “dessert” in brackets. I was curious enough to throw away $6.25 to try. It was a weird combination. A deep fried banana surrounded by the regular seaweed and lightly salted rice. It was topped with slices of avocado, kiwi, and mango; meant to add flavour and aesthetics. Though after a bumpy car ride it was hard to do. The menu promised strawberry in this too, another reason why I wanted to order it. I wanted to see how the colours and ingredients would come together, but no hints of strawberry would be found. I had to pick through the rumble of this roll to discover that it was missing. It would have been nice to be told of this by the young man rolling the sushi. Had I discovered this omission while still in the restaurant I would have set it back. I guess I need to start checking my orders before I take them to go. I will never know if this roll is as good looking as I imagined, as I will never order it again. It was just so weird. And your window to possibly enjoy this is limited, it sure didn’t last the take out trip home. The breading on the fried bananas soften, the avocado and the banana turned dark from oxidization, and the mangos wilted. By the time I got to it the sushi less than 10 minutes later it was reduced to mush. I found myself just fishing out the fruit. It did offer a descent palate cleanser, but as a dessert I think not. What was even worse was the cube of wasabi and the slices of ginger also included in the box. Was I suppose to eat this with soy sauce?

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I wouldn’t be apposed to coming back, but out of all the generic Japanese style eateries this wouldn’t be my first or tenth choice. The staff showed no excitement for my business, and there was lack of communication and help during the ordering process. The restaurant simply fills the need for such a place in the community. Convenient and quick with combos and set menus it makes for an easy meal. Though after this order and this visit I think I have been put off speciality rolls for a long while. These cost me more and they weren’t any better. Truly disappointed. I cannot be sure if this is in part due to the nature of take out verses eating in, and I will not be returning to try. Don’t deny your cravings.

HIRO SUSHI
3701 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC, V5C2H6
604-877-1949
Hiro Sushi on Urbanspoon

Crackle Creme

IMG_2052IMG_2051

This the first of its kind and maybe not just for Vancouver. Who doesn’t like a good creme burlee? Crème brûlée is also known as burnt cream, crema catalana, or Trinity cream. It is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. It is normally served at room temperature. All according to Wikipedia.

Like most desserts this classic one can be revamped and redone by adding in a new flavour component to its traditional base. This cafe has been on both MissVancouverPiggy and my list, so when we were yet again unable to find a dessert destination in our immediate vicinity, or decide on what we both wanted; we drove downtown to see what all the buzz was about.

I am surprised by its location. In business, as is the case with real estate; it is all about location, location, location. You build the right shoppe in the right neighbourhood and they will come. Located in the cusp between Chinatown and downtown this was an anomie. Customers were coming, but from what I saw today they were not from the immediate area. This was a destination. Such a dessert shoppe with its Asian friendly variations on the French custard would be more popular in Richmond. Richmond, where matcha, waffles, and pretty plates are always in high demand. All his clients today were young Asian girls. But as I said this was an exception, people were coming in for what he was selling. But I couldn’t help wonder how much better this would fair on Robson street, commercial drive, or Main Street.

IMG_2059IMG_2057

The area is slowly being revitalized with a very off the beaten path, Main Street feel. Having considered the above, the owner was most definitely considering his surrounding demographic. On top of his exotic Asian flavours and fruit like black sesame, coconut, pandan, and durian; he had more familiar flavours like Ferrero Rocher and maple walnut. Trendier flavours included spiced pumpkin pie for the season, honey lavender, lemon basil, Bailey’s, and bourbon butterscotch. He also used tastes made most popular in many of the local gourmet ice creams shoppes: salted caramel, chai tea, and earl grey tea. He was covering all the bases. Though I am surprised he also didn’t offer just the regular creme burlee.

The cafe was a small one room affair. Given the lack of work space and the amount needed, the number of chairs offered suffered. A bench with high top chairs faced the window, and another row of counters and chairs stood outside. As a result the need to offer washrooms was null. Shame as I had to go. I ended up walking half a block with the need, to buy a coffee at a neighbouring cafe before being able to do so, just to return here minutes later.

IMG_2053IMG_2054

The theme of the place was very modern, very minimalistic. Slow versions of newer pop songs played overhead, tranquil. A painting of a bicycle and inspirational words on a canvas covered excess grey wall easily. The menu was colourfully written on a black board by the door. Creme burlee, waffles, coffees and tea. The type of waffles was limited to the original liege variety today. Though they have been known to do matcha as well. With two different kinds of toppings and three different types of ice cream, you mix and match to your preference. The full list of creme burlees was spelled out on glass by the register. It was a tad hard to read. The cremes of the day: Bailey, Madagascar vanilla bean, cream of earl grey, salted caramel, black sesame, pandan coconut, and durian. On regular rotation: spiced pumpkin pie, matcha green tea, Ferrero Rocher, honey lavender, lemon basil, maple topped with walnuts, bourbon butterscotch, and chai tea. The vegan option was the black sesame coconut. And their trial special was the “Guinness espresso”, created for the “hawkers” food festival. A fun twist was the ability to “S’more it”. For 50 cents more you had the ability to add graham cracker and marshmallow to the top of any creme burlee. Though realistically the distinct flavour of marshmallow only works with select flavours. Marshmallow and fruit?

IMG_2056IMG_2058

I wanted to try it all, so many flavours and so many possible combinations. Shame the ability to sample wasn’t available. Can you imagine the fun? I went for the Southeast Asian flavours I always gravitate towards because of nostalgia, and their limited availability in mainstream cuisine. And when trying to order more, the owner was kind enough to voice his reservations, suggesting that I stick to just two portion. It was nice to see he cared and it wasn’t just about the sale. If eating in the burlees are presented in a ramekin, if looking to take out they are available to go in tins of foil. Your flavours are fetched from the fridge, then burleed with sugar and blow torch right before your eyes. For those like MissVancouverPiggy, if you like stamp cards they have you covered. Offering a free item after several visits is a good way to encourage repeat business, the multitude of flavours to try helps in this too.

IMG_2072

Water and utensils are all a help yourself affair. As well as clearing your space after you are done. The owner was the only one working today and he never once stepped out from behind the safety of his counter. I was highly impressed by the mint infused jug of water. Mint is such a great addition to desserts and a hint of it in the water is a nice way to enjoy the flavour.

IMG_2060IMG_2062

I haven’t had durian or durian anything in a long while so was excited for this one. It did not disappoint. The durian fruit’s flavour transitioned well in this. The creme burlee had the same creaminess that you would get when eating a piece of the ripened fruit itself.

IMG_2063

“Pandan coconut”. When asked the owner described pandan as “the Asian vanilla bean”, a light and versatile ingredient that flavours desserts well. It was as creamy and fluffy here as in the version above. The combination of coconut and pandan is a complimentary one.

IMG_2068IMG_2069

“Liege waffle with earl grey ice cream”. The waffle was pressed fresh to order, a ball of dough sandwiched between the cast iron sheets of a waffle maker. Though even with such great promise this was still one of the worse waffles I have ever had. How could something made to order come out like this? Whereas other waffle places make their waffles ahead of time and let them stand for longer periods end up turning out so much better. I prefer the store bought frozen ones over this. It was very dense and far too dry. The ends were not crisp and the middle was not chewy. More doughy and salty than I have ever had. Where were the sugar crystals? It truly needed the flavour of something else to give it character and depth. The spiced plum compote or the Nutella fudge drizzle. The ice cream helped, but I found its flavour uncomplimentary with the salted waffle. The earl grey ice cream has a very floral flavour, best enjoyed with tea or on its own. The vanilla bean would have been ideal given adding more salt from the salted caramel ice cream would have been overkill. Only after we started eating did we notice the waffle special in tiny print. It was two scoops of salted caramel ice cream with a waffle for slightly more than what we paid for our waffle and one scoop. The owner didn’t mention it, it would have been nice to have it recommend, we most definitely would have liked to take advance of such an offer.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This is the kind of place you want to sit and enjoy your dessert at. Though with lack of seating and no washrooms the cafe does not speak to that. More of a late afternoon snack than an after dinner dessert place. Maybe in the future, if they expand this could be the newest late night dessert place. If you are a creme burlee fan this is worth trying. Though not so much if you are a creme burlee purist. There are over 15 flavours to choose from, be prepared to face a hard decision. My strategy was to go for the ones no other places would offer: Southeast Asian ingredients in a French origin dessert. Don’t deny your cravings.

CRACKLE CREME
245 Union Street, Vancouver BC, V6A3A1
778-847-8533
cracklecreme.com
Crackle Crème on Urbanspoon

The Fish Counter

IMG_2007IMG_2006

I don’t get to eat seafood often, so knowing MissVancouverPiggy tries almost anything I made this our first destination of three. She was keen on the choice as she has heard good things.

This all black building is home to both “Fish Counter” the restaurant and “Fish Counter” the store with an actual counter of fish for sale. One name, one building, two entry points. With the two doors we were made to feel uncertain of which to take. We settled on the one leading towards the restaurant side, as told when we peered it and saw seats and a kitchen. We chose wisely only to be barred entry by cupboarded doors left open. Gingerly opening the door we were acknowledged, but not greeted by their hostess/cashier. No hello, no direction, she similar shut the cupboard and walked back to her post. We were left to wander. Luckily the menu to our right was so eye catching. It certainly matched the decor. Painted on parchment it was made to look like it weathered a storm on the high seas. Each new feature was a new page stitched onto the original tapestry. Fish and chips in your choice of five different fishes, including the newest addition: sturgeon. Soup, sandwiches, and tacos. Everything featured their Oceanwise, locally sourced and sustainable seafood.

IMG_2008IMG_2009

After deciphering the menu you place your order at the register perched in between the two fish related businesses. Because it served both the store and the restaurant there was no tip function when using debit. The host places your order with the chef adjacent. When ready your name is called and you claim your dish at the counter.

IMG_2016IMG_2019

We sat ourselves at the only table in the seating area. What was left was either sitting room behind a bench without a table, or standing by a counter without a seat. Being the first of five parties to arrive we definitely snagged the best. Our little corner gave us an unrestricted look into the kitchen. A view that the counter up front blocked. A chef in white, deep frying potato sticks and breading fish. After our first order came to pass and I got up to pick it up, the chef identified our position and was able to then serve us directly from his kitchen. This instead of calling out my name and having my meal be interrupted. It was a thoughtful gesture.

IMG_2010

With their limited space and minimal seating they were not obligated to provide a washroom. Although water was available for self serving, so pace your drinking. You tapped it from a jug into small mason jars.

IMG_2023

We of course had to try their fish and chips. Each order comes with fresh cut fries, homemade coleslaw, and creamy tartar sauce. We added a piece of salmon to our order of halibut. The fresh potato fries could have been crispers, chewier, more potato-y, if possible. These were not the usual sort of chips you get with fish. Although I did find that their generous portion made up for this. I have never had so much fries as a side. The coleslaw did well to add freshness to the dish. It helped break up bite after bite of the deep fried goodness. It was also different to see leaves of kale mixed in with the mayonnaise and cabbage.

IMG_2033IMG_2032

I preferred the battered halibut over the salmon. I find the taste of the latter just so district and too strong, where I want the star of the dish to be the tartar sauce. It’s the reason why I have fish and chips in the first place, tartar. The piece was irregular, but the portion size almost doubled. I appreciate size and getting more than I expect. Though at close to $12 a piece I would say the price seems about right. According to MissVancouverPiggy the halibut was not over cooked, but not moist. She has a better palette than me. Though once again my focus was on the sauce and the pickles within it.

IMG_2035IMG_2036

The flaky salmon was moist in its perfect pink. Oiler than the halibut, with the same more crunchy than crispy breading. I was pleasantly surprised that each wasn’t the least bit soggy, even over time as the fish was allowed to cool.

And those dealing with Gluten dietary restrictions, gluten free breading on your fish and chips is an advertised possibility.

IMG_2026IMG_2038

“BC bouillabaisse” made with a selection of fish and bi-values simmered in a rich garlic broth. From what I could identify: salmon, cod, halibut, clams, and oysters were used. It was a rainy day, coming out of the wind I wanted something warm for my first bite and meal of the day and this was it. I originally wanted the clam chowder, though as MissVancouverPiggy pointed out, it was made without milk and milk products. We were sure this would not taste like a chowder we would expect, and therefore be disappointed in it. Why risk it? With the bouillabaisse I knew what to expect. A soup similar to the broth I have had at the bottom of several steam mussel dishes. It was not far off. The soup certainly did as intended, it warmed me up inside from throat to navel. It had a sour tang that grew on you. A healthy and light stew, fully loaded with healthy chunks of vegetable and sizeable cuts of fish, it ate like a meal. No other soup required this much chewing. Most delightful were the two mussels and two clams hidden at the bottom, shell and all. I don’t know if it was intended, but it certainly made sharing it between two girls much easier. Although this was flavourful without being too fishy, I still longed for a creamier soup.

IMG_2042IMG_2040

MissVancouverPiggy had the clever idea of requesting our sandwich to be made 10 minutes after the other dishes. This was to ensure it would still be crispy by the time we got to it. “Oyster Po’ Boy” with fried oysters, arugula, spicy cabbage and tartar sauce. I have never had oysters cooked, let alone deep fried, so this was as good of a time as any to try it. MissVancouverPiggy suggested I try an oyster as is, out of the sandwich, to get a true sense of it. I did not like it. She insisted it was because I took a bite from the end with all its guts and intestines. It made sense, but didn’t really get me excited about giving it another go. Though it did account for all the chalky grit I worked through and the pungent after taste that lingered. I was convinced to take two more goes at it, she was effectively insistent. One as part of the sandwich, the other with a lot more tartar sauce in play. I can fully conclude that I do not like deep fried oysters. I will stick to enjoying my oysters raw thank you very much. It is just such a distinct and strong taste, either you like it or you don’t. I was overwhelmed, plus I didn’t find any of the other ingredients in the sandwich complimentary to it. First of all we were not expecting kimchi when the menu said “spicy cabbage”, though in hindsight its description did make sense. It’s slightly soggy texture mixed with the almost creaminess of the oyster was off putting. The arugula did the best it could to freshen up the sandwich, but there was just not enough of it. It could have benefited from a sweet element: a compote, a savoury jelly, or maybe some caramelized onions to build it up. We both felt this combination just didn’t work, a failed attempt at fusion. We were offered more tartar sauce earlier, so took the chef up on his generosity now. It did wonders in helping us get through this.

In retrospect we could have just ordered deep fried oysters on their own to try. Each fried oyster is sold at $2 each. We could have ordered just the one and gotten the same experience. Though for value, in the $8 sandwich you are getting three, so are paying $2 more for coleslaw, and all of the sandwich’s other ingredients.

IMG_2017

When time to leave you are expected, without encouragement to bus your table and clean up after yourself. No direction and no communication, but the signed trays right before the exit way were pretty obvious. Any food left uneaten is discarded into the adjacent garbage can. Used dishes are sorted into tubs. Each tub with its own overhanging sign, labelling meant for better organization.

IMG_2011IMG_2012

On the other side of the restaurant was their market. It kept its promise of offering fresh fish. A windowed showcase showed off fresh fish fillets laid on planks, and a scene of fresh molluscs left in shell; both firmly surrounded in ground ice. And a large tank divided live crabs from the live lobsters.

IMG_2014IMG_2013

A shelf kept all the gourmet sauces and fine seasonings you would need to properly prepare such fresh seafood, organized for sale. On either sides of it a cooler kept drinks cold and another kept premade food chilled. I wish some of the already prepared food were made available to be eaten in. Though I can’t see why you could order and pay and dig right in on one of their benches. Dishes eaten as is and enjoyed cold: the seafood cocktail, ahi tuna, raw oysters; and salads featuring beets, grains, and quinoa. Though most were best when reheated: crab cakes, fish cakes, fish nuggets, candied salmon, and fish pie. A few were also used in their sandwiches and tacos like the kimchi, the coleslaw, and their seafood salsa.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
All their seafood is undisputedly good. Fresh cuts and proper preparation make all the difference. I am not big on seafood, I had a craving for fish and chips and was able to quelled it here. Therefore this will not be in regular rotation for me, but for those looking for a quick bite while they shop this is a good option. Don’t deny your cravings.

THE FISH COUNTER
3825 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3P2
604-876-3474
thefishcounter.com
The Fish Counter on Urbanspoon