The Charles Bar

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It’s not often that I get an opportunity to indulge in happy hour. Taking advantage of the lower prices means working earlier, having a later lunch or an earlier dinner. In fact today we were an hour too early and opted to wait for our 3-6pm window to indulge in $4 beers or $4 glasses of wine, and tapas specials at $6. The place was ultimately chosen based on what came up when I googled “happy hour” as well as its proximity to us. Working downtown you are in the hub of happy hour and have your pick of more than a few dressed up bars, each offering what I deem as crafty pub fare. My guest was sold on “Charles Bar” after hearing they had deep fried pickles and deep fried risotto balls.

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The rush hour crowd was driving away from the city, thus making parking decent with meters up front and around each corner. The restaurant itself was large. Inside, the room was anchored by their island bar, right in the middle of the open space. On either ends of it was additional seating in areas flanked out. Benches, booths, and high tops in corners offered both individual and large group settings.

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Hard wood floors underfoot, wood plank beams overhead, and varnished repurposed wood tables under arm. My guest of the afternoon described them as being “earthy”. They well matched the simple theme, along with the concrete pillars and florescent light bulbs squared off in cages.

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The menu offers your pub classics: chicken wings, gourmet burgers and fries, calamari, nachos, pizza, and weekly specials at 1 to 2 dollar discounts. The happy hour menu offered only a smattering of the above, but in my opinion, the most interesting of them all. A pizza with cheese and figs, a braised and grilled pork belly sandwich, and of course all the deep fried, one biters.

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“Beer pickles”. Beer battered pickle spears with a lemon dill yogurt for dipping. They were fresh from the fryer, each spear had a smoky hotness, the kind that burns your tongue if you go recklessly biting into it. Each pickle quarter possessed the perfect melding of a crispy crunchy texture and a juicy crunchy texture. Each bite practically snapped off. My guest found there to be too much breading, whereas I hoped for more to help cut into the naturally saltiness of the briny pickles. The tartar-like sauce was the best part, it had a refreshing tang and was what really made the appetizer. Hot and cold, hard and creamy.

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“Pork croquettes” made with shredded 5 spice pork and potato graufrettes, served with a sriracha ketchup for dipping. Dip liberally, the promise of Sriracha branded hotness in the sauce sticks. I opted to enjoy each croquette without the sauce, not that any additional flavouring was needed. I was most curious about the composition of each circle. How did they fill a hollowed out potato dumpling with so many strings of pull pork? And how did they get these juicy bites so round in the first place. Potato, pork, and barbecue sauce, in one handheld bite, what’s not to love? The meat was tender and the middle toasty. The evolution of bar snacks that came on a bed of house made potato crisps. The faux chips were sliced in a criss cross pattern and used to prop up the pork croquettes at the bottom of the ornamental fry basket. They were a wonderful surprise to find mid way through the basket. I could see both these and the croquettes easily being enjoyed with ketchup. I found the former without taste, and could have use some salt.

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“Fig & Boursin Pizzetta”. The pizza was topped with date paste, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella, Boursin, mission figs, and truffled arugula. This made for a nice break from all the deep fried foods in both its light texture, fresh fragrance, and sweet taste. I failed to notice any of the truffle’s essence. But the candied figs certainly made it memorable. The figs had a sweet honey-like flavour that ran parallel with the sweetness in the caramelized onions. Both paired well with the salty cheese. And when mixed with the freshness of the arugula it’s a winning flavour combination that works well. The softened cheese had a thick and chunkier texture to it, it made each bite creamy, almost dessert like, especially keeping in mind the dates of earlier. Overall my guest said it tasted “Italian”.

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“Arancini”, the Italian name for fried risotto balls. Something new I learned today. These were made with lemon zest, fresh basil, san marzano sauce, arugula oil, and shaved Parmesan. The arancini were the perfect combination of crispy and soft. Crispy from the perfectly fried batter and soft the creamy and well done risotto. Like the spicy sauce before it, this sauce too was one to singe the tongue.

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“Chinatown shredded pork sliders”. Take shredded pork that has been cooked for eight hours, season it with a 5 spice BBQ sauce, and serve it with a cilantro sesame slaw, on brioche slider buns. The sweet and salty flavouring found in the meat was very similar to most Asian style sauces. The tender pull pork and the crispy cabbage slaw balanced each other, chewy and crunchy, sweet and tangy. Though I could have used even more mayo in the slaw or more sauce in the BBQ as the vegetable and bread were a touch on the dry side. And with out a patty the meat was lacking in juices that would have moisten the buns. Though the bottom brioche was soaked enough, it was the top that tasted hard and over toasted. This was an interesting twist on regular beef patty slider, definitely a more dressed up a slider.

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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.
The bill came out to be less than $25 per person, after taxes, but before tips. This total included five different tapas sized plates, and three modestly priced and decently poured glasses of wine. At prices like these I could afford more meals in between lunch and dinner. The food was a large step above just regular bar cuisine, effort was put into crafting this menu. It had features unique to them and favourable twists that made eating familiar. It was like listening to good remix of a song you were once loved. It brought you in familiarity while giving you the excitement of trying something new. Fun. Don’t deny your cravings.

THE CHARLES BAR
136 West Cordova Street, Vancouver BC, V6B4K2
604-568-8040
The Charles Bar on Urbanspoon

Globe@YVR, The Fairmont Vancouver Airport

Groupons, if done right they give guests a reason to visit a restaurant they might otherwise not consider. Saving money often changes your mind on a place, today was such an occasion. I would normally never imagine driving all the way to the YVR airport and incurring ridiculous parking fees just to enjoy a meal here. Especially such a meal that I can technically find similar else where.

The drive was as expected, a lengthy one that had me getting lost along the way. We knew our groupon included complimentary parking so that was a relief. A cost that would have otherwise been $20 for 2 hours. We reversed into a stall and proceeded to enter the airport by foot. International departures.

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Tucked away in the corner, the restaurant was a trek past check in kiosks and uniform personnel. It is surreal being at the airport without luggage and without a far flying destination to head off to. Definitely a first for me. An escalator ascends towards an arch with the hotel’s name adhered in block type font, it signified that we were on the right path. The escalators were motion activated. They constantly moved at a slow pace, but as soon as feet stood on mental stairs it sped up to take you to your intended destination quicker. I didn’t know such technology existed. 

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A walk down an elevated walkway had you staring up at the lovely crystal fixture. Individually stung up crystals reflected light and danced with rainbows. Shaped like drops they seem to be dripping from the wires they were suspended by.

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Just past the hallway is the hotel’s foyer. A large open space with its own corridors splitting off into different directions. The ladies behind the concierge booth were more than helpful in directing us to our intended destination. It was at the hostess’ bar that our parking was validated. We are given a card to be used as payment when the meter prompted it. The hostess lead us past the lounge with recliners surrounding a stand alone fire place. And past the island bar serving both premium liquors and fine espressos.

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Our journey ended at a room looking out on to the airport’s runway. Planes docked and lined up at their appropriate gates and more planes flying off into the horizon. All the seats by the windows were already taken so we helped ourselves to a four top in the centre of the room. We preferred it over the booths at the opposite side . As a whole the restaurant was simple and impressive, all very hotel typical. Each black table was uniformly arranged and set. With the table’s top made out of glass, the textured cloth in simmering champagne under it was viable. A clever and low maintenance way to dress it up. Set with tea cups and saucers, side plates and reusable napkins; each table was ready to start a service, a setting for each of its chrome coloured chairs.

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The slender vase and single sprig of miniature orchids certainly dressed up the space. The blue in the flower’s hue matched their choice in glassware for water, and the two lighting features above. Each chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling, a cluster of individually suspended blue bulbs that pointed at its tip. Being the only bold colour in the room, they certainly stood out.

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After seating us, our hostess asked if we have joined then before. After hearing “no” she set about explaining how their tea service worked and what their menu had to offer. She then directed us to our server for the afternoon. One of two women working the room, each dawning a uniform. They wore grey vests over their white shirts, tucked into their black pants, tied off with white aprons around their hips. Without our groupon the menu is set at $42. Still a very decent price for high tea. I have gone to many that asked for $50 or more. However for children under 12 their “Junior Tea” for $20 is available. It comes with more child friendly flavours like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate cupcakes, and Pringles chips. Without being able to choose what you are having, the menu is more or less present to tell you what you will be having.

Your only choice is in which tea you would like to accompany your meal, pretty standard. We were most impressed by the French press each tea was served in. Different from your traditional teapot. Modern, like what you would expect from a hotel. Though the pots were not created to keep their heat. There was no covering, no insulation, not even a small candled heat source to keep the batch warm. I am sure if we would have asked, we would have been given more hot water. Though considering both of us failed to finish enough tea to warrant more hot water, we didn’t bother raising our hand or voice. Tea isn’t all that great at room temperature. Looking around at the other half full pots in the room I believe others agreed.

I was intrigued by their “Jetsetter” signature tea. It is a low caffeine blend specifically designed to aid in the recovery of jetlag. Made sense as we were at the airport and I am sure majority of their guests were coming off of planes. The tea is furthered described as being a rich, flavourful cup that tends to be lightly astringent with a malty character. When accompanied with honey it has a finish reminiscent of buttery toast, like a mild English breakfast.

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Though I was ultimately sold by our server’s recommendation of the “Maple black tea”, their special of the day. When in Canada… I imagine this popular with tourists. It had a very subtle maple flavour. The scent of maple was stronger than its taste. I enjoyed mine with the addition of the cream and sugar pre-set at the table.

My guest went with the “Lung Ching-Ceremonial Dragonwell Yixing”. This was described as a luxurious tea, hand massaged in a large wok over a low heat source in the Zhejiang province. The leaves are said to deliver a hint of sweetness amidst an enchanting green tea taste, which is then shadowed by aromatic flowery notes. If allowed to steep enough it became a very strong and bitter tea. Luckily my guest was willing to have milk and sugar with it, which I found odd.

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I always walk into high tea thinking there isn’t enough food. With one look at a tower I think, “small one bite snacks”. Though in reality I find a high tea service to be one of the most filling meals. Between a whole pot of tea, and taking your time with many bites you are left full and content. The pace allows your body to digest and signals your brain that it is full. Our orders were separated to accommodate my guest. Her savouries without onions and green onions had to be separated, less there be confusion, otherwise both servings would have been presented on the same tiered rack. They found it no problem to accommodate her by removing items and adding duplicate of others in its place.

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I enjoy having the menu beside me during high tea. I enjoy reading it and finding out what it is that I will be having before I take a bite. It’s like having a guide for your meal. And as the menu suggested we started with the still warm scones. “Orange and cranberry scones with clotted cream from Devon and strawberry jam”. Having our orders separated meant we each had our own portion of jam and cream. I was excited about being able to put as much of either as I wanted, and not needed to worry about double dipping. The scones had that fresh out of the oven quality to them. Steam escaped as you pulled flaky pieces apart. Crisp on the outside and moist in the middle, no where near as dense as they looked or felt. The scones themselves were also well flavoured, very little of either spreads were actually needed. You could see whole pieces of dried orange and cranberry embedded inside.

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Four sandwiches:
“Smoked BC Salmon” with dill cream cheese, grated horseradish, and cucumber carpaccio on dark rye. I found the salmon distracting, it easily overwhelmed the other ingredients. Altogether the filling was moist, on the side of soggy. Though the dryness of the bread did much to balance this texture out. This was an easy spin on the traditional cucumber finger sandwich, a nice light start to our sandwich round.

“Curried egg salad” with chopped scallions on a mini croissant. The croissant was buttery, but on the dense side. It made a nice platform for the mild curry spice and custard-like egg paste.

“Smoked turkey” with cheddar, candied pecans, and cranberry filone. Each bite was creamy and tangy from the whipped light mayo, sweet from the cranberry sauce, and crunchy with the toasted pecans. This is definitely a nice way to dress up an old ham and cheese sandwich.

“Rare roasted Striploin” with arugula, caramelized onions, and grainy mustard on a pretzel loaf. The meat was cooked the perfect medium rare, it made the sheets of evenly sliced beef melted against your teeth. I wished I had a more favourable meat to bread ratio though. The loaf was delicious, salty, buttery, and savoury just like a pretzel.

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At this point we were too full for desserts, but how can you say no to these works of art when they are right before your eyes? I had to at least take a taste.

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Desserts:
“Opera Slice”, almond cake with coffee cream. The cake was fluffy and generously creamed, with just a little crisp in its centre. And the pronounced notes of espresso was enjoyable paired with the dark chocolate.

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“Fresh Peach Clafoutis”, hazelnut, cinnamon, and vanilla. The peaches were fresh and juicy. Though the tender fruit didn’t fair well against the grainy texture of the pastry. The graininess along with the use of cinnamon reminded me of pumpkin pie. Not for me.

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“Matcha Cheesecake” made with white chocolate, and topped with a black sesame shard. It had a dense cakey texture with a bold matcha flavour. The taste of the smokey matcha is one grows on you. You appreciate it more with continual tastes and its slightly bitter after notes.

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“Raspberry Chocolate Mousse Tart” made with raspberry jelly and dark chocolate. The chocolate was heavy and velvety, but sadly I am not a big fan of the stuff. I would have preferred to have it filled with real raspberries instead. Those would have paired nicely with the buttery crust.

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.
I had heard and have read negatives on this place, but at $25 per person, this groupon deal was well worth the drive out. Even without it, $42 is on the cheaper side of high tea. It is a shame I allowed others opinions on the place keep me away from it and this deal for this long. I did enjoy my stay and would like to return, but realistically the drive out is not the least bit convenient. Though if you are planning on taking the skytrain to for a faux start of your stay-cation this would be a fine choice. Don’t deny your cravings.

GLOBE@YVR
3111 Grant McConachie Way, Richmond BC, V7B1M8
604-248-3281
fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond/dining/globeyvr
Globe@YVR on Urbanspoon

Bella Gelataria Yaletown

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I am already a fan of their original location, so when the Yaletown one opened late summer I made a point to go. Award winning gelato, with some of the most exciting flavours and the creamiest of textures (in my opinion). They are my favourite when it comes to gourmet ice cream, best known for their in house made operations and their lines that usually extend out the door. I got most excited to learn they offered ice cream in cocktails and ice cream in macarons. What I didn’t expect pulling up was how elaborate the decor would be. This was a very dressed up setting for ice cream by the scoop and cone. Though given the area and their expanded offerings, the theme did flow well.

With their establishment facing the water, I could see their popularity skyrocket during the peak of summer. Heck on this cold fall night the place was packed and lines of ice cream lovers grew well after 10pm, good thing they close at 11pm. The patio was left unseated, too dark and too cold of a night. But with heat lamps that looked like metal towers spewing flames the entrance was kept fairly toasty. In this dark of night you also can’t make out the letters on the unlit awning, but peering in it was clear that we were at the right place.

None of us left we was dressed appropriately for the place, they were fancy. Severs at an ice cream parlour? Servers in button ups and aprons around their waists, distilled water poured from long neck bottles, red and white wine stack in pyramid on shelves, and reusable napkins folded for each seat. We felt underdressed by the decor, yet like VIPs by the level of service.

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The space was well lit with several spheres constructed of tiny individual bulbs. A light source made only brighter against stark white walls, white cushioned high tops, and a pillar tiled in white and black squares. Here winter was in full swing with festive floral arrangements in bloom on tables, and merry details of red and green by the entrance.

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Waking in you are greeted by a lengthy refrigerated unit. Behind the well polished glass were plated and decorated desserts. Fine confectionaries tempted a taste and full cakes beckoned to be purchased for any occasion. Apple pie with a scoop of ice cream and a smear of caramel, baked cookies sandwiching various perfectly piped ice creams, and triple chocolate fudge brownies complimented by vanilla ice cream. Each 16″-18″ inch cake was well decorated. Precision allowed intricate piping and delicate patterns, I liked the owl in chocolate the most.

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If you can get pass this attention grabbing showcase another one greets you at the cash desk. This one had two rows of plates, each with desserts, too featuring their in house made gelato. Four flavours of fist-sized macarons on wooden planks and four varieties of chewy cookies, both centred by velvety gelato. “Snickerdoodle cookies with scotch and black sesame”, “gingerbread with amarena cherry gelato”, and “rosemary chocolate cookies with earl grey gelato”. We got the macarons so will be describing them later dove this post.

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For more options the menu is posted above and behind, though its hard to want anything else when you have already visually chosen from the showcase above. As I mentioned I went for gold and got one of each of the macarons. But for those interested croissants, brioche, and scones are available too. It felt too late to ask, but I can only conclude the brick pizza oven that greeted you facing the door, was indeed in use. If not for pizza, flatbreads and other doughy savouries for lunch. And of course gelato was also offered as is by the cup or cone, in one scoop or by the multiples. Each flavour was stored in bins beneath the counter. Rows and rows of flavours offered signified by their metal lids. Nearby by for easy use were stack of sugar cones and columns of colourful plastic bowls.

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I failed to ask but was highly interested in the running tap of both white and milk chocolate. Smooth lines of wine and brown, in steady streams they ran into a drain. I suspect these are used to cost your ice cream in chocolate.

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We claimed a table towards the back. Set against a black wall with white words in script, “Noi lo facciano davanti a tutti…” Translated from Italian it reads, “We do it in front of everyone…” A confusing quote without context, but it refers to their operations being out in the open. As proof by the glass room adjacent. Clearly visible were metal mixing vats, shined stainless surfaces, and bowls of fruit ready to be incorporated into the next batch.

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A server approached after we sat ourselves. We were offered the drinks menu and given time to read through it. Impressively, it was a bound book, and not just an laminated sheet. Looking things over, I had to get one of their “gelatinis”, when else do you get to try an alcoholic beverage featuring gelato? But which to choose? Their specialty cocktails list had descriptive paragraphs that enticed me to try each.

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“Texas Grind”. Made with their pecan, vanilla, and sour cherry gelato; Vodka, Grand Marnier, a pinch of fine coffee grounds, and a little mildly spicy ground urfa chilli. Then topped with real Tahitian vanilla bean. Reading that their pecan, vanilla, and sour cherry gelato won the 2014 North American Gelato World Tour Championship, it peaked my interest enough to try it for $14. This was definitely the strongest of the two gelatinis we ordered. And the ice cream did little to sweeten the cocktail into one that can be considered a dessert. The vanilla was as fragrant as it tasted, partnered with the coffee grounds they made a nice pairing.

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“Matcha Smash”. Matcha powder, stone ground from tea; combined with vodka and a touch of herbal Chartreuse. The description artful spoke of how this Matcha Green Tea Gelatini will transport you straight to the forests of Japan. I didn’t get that, but it was the preferred cocktail of the two. An earthy flavour from the matcha powder and creamy from the gelato. A must try for those fans of green tea. Though I suggest sharing these. I found mine too rich, too boozy, and surprisingly very strong. I rather have both the ice cream and the shot of liquior separate from one another. In fact I only ate the ice cream and left the liquid pooled around it behind. Good, but I don’t need to try another, more for novelty then craving.

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“Orange soda”, this a non alcoholic gelato beverage. This is a orange float for grown ups. From the black specks floating atop of the glass you could tell real vanilla beans were used in its making. The addition of real milk and rich cream in the gelato gave the drink a condensed milk quality and taste. It was easy to drink with an enjoyably sweet lingering after taste.

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Ice cream filled macarons, another “how often do you see this must try”. Award winning “Bella Gelateria” gelato meets classic “Soirette” macarons in four flavours: Rose & Yuzu, Chai & old fashion chocolate, Matcha & black sesame, and Lavender & earl grey tea. I had to try all four, the server seemed surprised. The gelato was kept firm, so waiting for it to soften before digging in is advised. But pausing not so much so that you are dipping your macaron shells into puddles of cream.

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A Rose macaron with Yuzu gelato. The dried petals on top were a nice delicate touch. It looked as light and pretty and it tasted. It was like eating flowers, too much perfume, too much rose water. Potpourri. I could not make out any of the citrus notes promised in the Japanese yuzu fruit. We finished it, but it didn’t taste like dessert, I will skip this the next time around.

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A chai macaron with old fashion chocolate gelato. The bold, unsweetened chocolate flavour met up well with the distinct spice of cinnamon. A nutty chewy bite with a unique flavour, ideal with black coffee. Though I personally would have preferred it sweeter. Instead made with more of a milk chocolate sugary-ness and less of a its current cinnamony kick.

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A matcha green tea macaron filled with black sesame gelato. My favourite of the four, especially as I am a fan if both these flavours. Classic and complimentary, no surprises here.

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A lavender macaron with earl grey tea gelato. A mild tea flavour, subtle, aromatic. Another one best paired with a beverage. Given the notes of bitter tea leaves present I recommend a black tea, specifically earl grey tea to be matchy matchy.

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? – Yes.
Who can say no to ice cream? Any time of day, during any weather occurrence ice cream is always enjoyable. And with their variations on the popular dessert you can have ice cream in any of your cravings. Ice cream in your espresso, a portion with your cake or pastry, a dollop on your pie, and a scoop with cookies instead of milk.
This location is little out of the way for me, but with its fantastic surroundings and its stunning scenery, it is definitely worth the trip out on a nice day. I have never had such service and such a classy experience at any other ice cream places or cafes. Though you can’t really considered them just the purveyors of ice cream when they offer so much more. They were fancy with bottled water and reusable napkins; and professional with at the table service and bound menus. Their effort in the little details went noticed and was certainly appreciated. I seriously considered moving into the area just to be able to enjoy such treats more. Though truthfully I will be sticking to good old fashion gelato as is. Buko pandan is still my favourite. Come for the view and stay for the gelato. With over 40 flavours across seasonal selections, their variations on chocolate, and their sugar free sorbettos how can you ever get bored? Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BELLA GELATARIA YALETOWN
1089 Marinaside Crescent, Vancouver BC, V6Z2Z4
778-737-7890
bellagelateria.com
Bella Gelateria Yaletown on Urbanspoon

Shirakawa

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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?

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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