Tapas 23

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I have lived in this city long enough to see restaurants come and go; buildings torn down and others built up. This was one of those times, where I have been to a location now reinvented. Given my less than stellar rating of the original, we were eager to see how its latest reincarnation would fare. Once home to “Crave” is has now been rebranded as a tapas restaurant.

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Located on Main Street, parking is tricky depending on time of day. We were aiming for mid afternoon so had our pick of the lot: side streets, metered parking, or lane ways with nothing signed. We came right at 3pm and caught the server still in mid prep. We let ourselves in anyways, as she confirmed the time. We were led to the very back of the restaurant. Pass the small bar upfront with seats facing out the window. Pass the shelf by the hostess podium, showcasing wine by the bottle. Our table was the closest to door leading to their patio out back; like the one out front, it was now close for the season. Though I could imagine both being quite the destination on a hot summer’s day. On weekends sangrias were on special for $5, an ideal drink in July, under the shade that their backyard patio provided. The patio out front was divided from the interior by a glass paned garage door. With a push of a bottom or a pull of crank this door would roll up and the space would open up. Instant fresh air. Though all these luxuries would have to wait until the days grew longer and the weather became less wet.

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The layout was as I remembered, it was the decor and menu that had been redesigned. The walls were papered in print and hung with Spanish posters. Each poster of various size was framed with various frames. They created visual interest. I couldn’t read what each read, but found them whimsical none-the-less. Especially the one with the mime dressed like a clown holding a bottled beverage in each hand. He wore a full black oversized onsie with ruffled collar; a masquerade mask covering half his face; and a top his head, a pointed cone for a hat. From afar the wallpaper resembled smudged ink blots in grey on a sheet white, but with a closer inspection they actually likened to a faux marble finish.

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Despite the large windows looking out at street level and the lighter coloured walls, the place was kept dark. Little was done to add brightness to the place. The lights were dimmed and the furniture was dark. Combined with narrow isles and the unique smell it felt like we were dining in a basement.

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The restaurant had a smell to it. An overwhelming punctuation that reminded me of rust and cobwebs. The kind of musky perfume suited to a great aunt or a duchess living in a dusty old mansion. Almost floral, but more befitting of an antique store, not a clean, well kept establishment serving food. As scent is attached to taste this concerned me. One of my guests insisted it was mould that we were breathing in. Either way it was outdated and unpleasant, but not enough for us to leave. The smell was eventually drowned out with familiarity and the sweeter scents of our dishes arriving.

What better for a meal in between meals than tapas, meant to be shared amongst friends. The website led me to believe we would be experiencing authentic Spanish tapas, in actuality the small plates had more of a Mediterranean influence, as listed by the menu.

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The menu was a one pager with specials printed in chalk. Conveniently the latter was listed on a blackboard strung up to our right. We only needed to look up and point to order. We were in time for their happy hour between 3-6pm. There were no separate menus to order off of, instead our server mentioned what would now be $5 instead of its regular price. Disappointingly this selection consisted of only three items and Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3 a can. We would later discover there were actually six $5 specials offered during happy hour, but only three were made available to us. A titbit we gathered from a takeaway insert included with our bill. How could they run out given we were the first customers in at 3pm and the first ones to order?

Vegetarian dishes indicated with a lower case “v” and “*” meant nuts. There were plenty for our vegetarian guest to partake in and plates delicious enough for us to share in. Plate after plate came and I appreciated how they all matched in colour and size. Visual consistency is a thing of beauty.

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“Charcuterie and cheese” the perfect pairing to wine and a good way to start our meal. It was an interactive display with lots of flavours and textures to discover alone or partner together. Cured meats and smoked cheeses, briny olives, fresh fruit, marinated mushrooms, pickled veggies, and crisp crackers and toasted bread to eat it all with. Our server had difficulty remembering all their formal names, I don’t blame her. I can’t even recall what she did manage to remember. This by far is one of the most elaborate charcuterie and cheese boards I have ever had. Not just the usual meat and cheeses with bread. But seasoned and pickled vegetables: button mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, and carrots; were an impressive ensemble. And the condiments and spreads included were an added bonus: a grainy mustard, a sweet and spicy chilli jam, and a citrus jelly compote.

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I have never seen so much blue cheese offered in any menu. We, three women, decided to indulge in the stuff as our partners prefer not to. They are unable to get past the cheese’s pungent smell to taste its bitter and buttery goodness. Unfortunately the two dishes they were supposed in had us playing hide and seek with its flavour.
We ordered the “Empanadas” on special for $5. Regularly it goes for $12, at that price I assume you at least get one more. Two empanadas filled with beef brisket and blue cheese, served with a Chimichirra sauce. When we cracked into each empanada it was piping hot with the steam that escaped. With its flaky pastry and thoroughly heated filling you could tell this was made to order. As mentioned I couldn’t make out any blue cheese promised on the menu, and I was looking and tasting hard for it. The beef was tender and pulled to a stringy consistency, having it baked in a crispy shell kept it moist. Though after the first bite I grew bored of its one note taste. Luckily the mild Chimichirra sauce help to add acidity and freshness to the dish, and to perk it up with a little spice.

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“Patatas Bravas”, their in house specialty. Baked and fried potato cubes served under a creamy garlic, chilli, tomato sauce. This varies from traditional Spanish cuisine, as most Spanish food isn’t meant to be spicy. Whereas this dish was almost too spicy. “Bravas” in the title is used to refer to the use of many spices in the dish, not that it is spicy hot. Without warning of the heat I took in a large mouthful with lots of thick sauce, thinking it would be similar to a homemade ketchup. Instead I set my mouth on fire, though it doesn’t help that I don’t have much of a tolerance for spicy hot foods in the first place. Once my tongue cooled, I only dared to pick at the un-sauced potatoes existing at the corners of the plate. The potatoes had a grainy, cakey consistency to them, like they weren’t cooked through. Whereas I expected a crispy bite given their golden brown exterior. They were bland, relying too heavily on the sauce for its flavour. They could have benefited with some more salt and a lot more seasonings.

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“Bruselas”, their signature dish that came highly recommended by our server. Sautéed and grilled Brussels sprouts served in a balsamic reduction, sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and slivered almonds. It doesn’t look too appetizing, but this was my favourite dish of the night. I enjoy a good deep fried sprout, but unfortunately didn’t get it here. The intended crispiness was lost due to the pool of sauce that each bulb was forced to sit in. The reduction had a sweater flavour that was most complimentary to the bitter vegetable and the salty cheese. The dish needed it to pop, but I suggest serving the balsamic on the side for self dipping instead. Thus allowing each Brussels sprout to remain crispy and giving the diner control of how much or how little sauce they wanted.

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The “Manchego stuffed dates wrapped in bacon” were on the board of specials. At $5 we didn’t need happy hour prices to enjoy them. Three one bite morsels of sweet and salty, chewy and gooey. Crisp bacon and melted cheese is a winning combination. Though the skewers could have done with some freshness. Maybe a sheet of pancetta for wrapping, instead of the overwhelmingly salty taste of bacon and the oily texture of bacon fat. For added sweetness and spice smear into the drizzle of balsamic and chilli mayo decorating the bottom of the plate.

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“El Tomate”, oven roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce. This took the longest to come, and what we eventually got was not what we had expected. We imagined a whole round and red heirloom tomato; baked in the oven until charred, then seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Surprisingly the tomatoes was yellow and there were two smaller ones still on the vine, instead of one large. It was a strikely well composed plate visually. Given that the quantity per order is not listed, it would have been nice of our server to offer to bump the order up, to charge more so that each of us could have our own tomato. This instead of attempting to split the last half three ways. The blue cheese was more pronounced here, a sharp and smokey after taste that paired well with the syrup-like balsamic drizzle. With the pointed slices of baguette we likened the dish to a do-it-yourself Italian bruschetta. The tomatoes themselves were a soggy pulpy bite, a texture that reminded me of baby food. I have had good roasted tomato in the past, and on each occasion it was done keeping some of its original firmness in tact. Whereas here, the fruit/vegetable caved in with just one cut. The thicker, lumper sauce did little to improve the enjoyment of eating the tomato mash; but the bread and it’s toasted crunch did help to add a solid texture.

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? – No.
Given what little of the menu we tried I wouldn’t be against a return trip. Solely based on its vegetarian offerings I deem them decent. But maybe dining with a omnivore, like myself, I will find more enjoyment in ordering off the full menu. Returning with someone who can appreciate anchovy toast, sautéed prawns in garlic cream, mussels in a white wine butter sauce, clams with chorizo and goat cheese, squid saut éed with capers, and braised short ribs. Or someone who would prefer more deep frying in their happy hour meal. Greasy sides to partner with cheap beer. “Cobello Fritos” spanish onion rings, homemade fries served with a roasted red pepper aioli, or potato crusted chicken wings. Overall the experience was decent: our server was very informal, the setting was comfortable enough, and the food average at best. There was just nothing that stood out for all the right reasons. An overall rating that may have be higher if not for the smell of the place. Don’t deny your cravings.

TAPAS 23
3941 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3P5
604-620-8300
tapas23.com
Tapas 23 on Urbanspoon

ABC HK Cafe

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Located in Aberdeen Mall, I hoped it would be worth the drive out from my home in Burnaby. Though I often find that you just can’t get the same quality for price in Chinese food outside of Richmond. Besides, this was my guest’s latest choice, and so far he has yet to steer us wrong. We made a point of calling ahead to ensure our destination would be open later. The mall closed at 7pm, but the clerk said they would end service at 9:30pm, well after the regular mall hours.

Being familiar with the mall my guest knew exactly where to go. Me less so, as I got confused finding it. The restaurant wasn’t easily visible. With no directory I walked a full lap around the second floor, yielding no results. Without going closer, there was no way to tell our destination would be hidden well behind two other restaurants. Past “Dinesty” and further behind “Guu”, “ABC HK Cafe” eventually became visible. The mall is shaped like a horseshoe, with windows for walls I eventually saw my destination through one window looking into another.

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Outside of the neon lights the restaurant’s front face was pretty unspectacular. The glass doors were prompted up, showcasing coloured copies of their menu, sheet by sheet. If you weren’t yet interested in giving them a try, their photos might help sway you. And for more information you could refer to the side table to your left, and the various takeout menus situated on top.

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Pass the threshold an old timey jukebox greeted you. I deemed it more for show than for function. A fact concluded from their choice in music playing over head: instrumental jazz. These weren’t the smooth stylings typical from a coin operated jukebox. Not sure if this fixture was an attempt at a theme, but they also had a gramophone sitting idle to match. Other than those two, the decor consisted of unusual lighting and Chinese style art.

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Balls of lights lowered at various heights, floated over their island drink bar. This round counter was home base for coffees, slushies, and bubble teas. Over each of the booths and tables were equally low handing lamps. These were slender cylindrical shades, coloured in a splotchy black to red then orange-amber gradient. Their reddish hue matched the upholstered seats of all their chairs.

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The empty walls behind the booths were occupied by Chinese glamour posters. These painting were in water colour depicting Chinese models. Women delicately posed like flowers: with pale complexions, slender waists and limbs, and their hair pinned back to show off their round features. They each wore their own tightly fitted traditional Chinese dresses patterned in flowers. Some of these women were depicted as mothers, others were musicians in mid performance, and most were advertising drinks and food with their calming smiles. I didn’t take the time to notice each one more, but it was not like they were hard to miss. They also made an appearance by the foyer and on the cover of the main menu.

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Speaking of menu, I could write a whole post just on the topic. There were six separate pages printed front and back to go through. And an actual spiral bound and laminated book with twelve pages all its own. How was I suppose to go through this? Especially given the pressure from a prompt server wanting us to make our selection in a timely manner. The actual menu had an item per page. A full sized colour photo of a main and it’s add ons, side plates, and desserts. Some had options to customize your own combo. but all ended with a set meal of two to three dishes. The final pages were dedicated to two just of desserts with photo, and of drinks without. We organized ourselves. We put aside the pages advertising the buffet style servings and various set meals. We passed on their Christmas themed set menu; printed all in Chinese characters, I was unsure what the $38.88 cost included. And we couldn’t bother to ask or to read the rest. It was all too much, too overwhelming. We ended up making it easy on ourselves, sticking with the one pager that highlighted their Wednesday special: 20% off their “Chinese style lobster set” menu. Today was Wednesday, we both liked lobster, it was meant to be.

This special allowed us to choose additional dishes on top of our lobster centric one. We went in the middle and choose three additional dishes for $88, at 20% off. Instead of two or four additional ones. Our options for three were made with much difficulty, out of a list of over 20. I often find that Chinese style restaurants over complicate things by attempting to offer everything for everyone. 20 items to choose from, and this was just one of the six menu pages. I am not especially familiar with Hong Kong style Chinese food. Their names offer no clarity, and their description no insight. So I usually stick with what I know, with what I like, and with what I have had before. And lucky for me, my guest knows this cuisine all too well. We decided to cover all the meat groups, and forgo any vegetables: seafood check, poultry check, beef and pork double check.

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We started by choosing how we liked out lobster. The various cooking styles included little description, so we played it safe and took the advice of the menu. We choose the “lobster on sticky rice” over “Cantonese style with rice”, “Garlic and ginger with noodles”, and “creamy with noodles”. Admiring things as it was being presented to us: it was as impressive as its photo suggested. Stunning presentation aside, these were two whole lobsters baked in a giant bamboo steamer. Pretty extravagant. Red shells and white meat, over a bed of warm and sticky rice. Surprisingly the dish did not include handheld metal nut crackers, a commonplace utensil, useful when tackling lobster in shell. Though I would soon learn it would not be needed. Both the lobster were chopped up strategically, making the flesh accessible with forks and a little prying. In the white rice was a mix of red lobster roe, yellow corn kernels, and green onions. As a whole rice was on the sweeter side, a flavour due in part to the natural sweetness of corn and lobster meat. Both were then balanced by the use of the more savoury garlic and the freshness of spring onions. Together, the lobster and rice were a delicious and complete pairing. So complimentary that we ordered two additional bowls of plain white steamed rice, as to not have to waste any of the lobster rice on our other dishes to come. With all this food it took us a while to work through, and unfortunately this dish is best enjoyed warm and is no where nearly as good in room temperature.

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We went for duck over chicken, finding the former less common in daily dining. And we chose the “BBQ Half duck” over the “marinated Chao Zhou style”. We both didn’t know what the latter referred to, nor did we want to ask. The portion looked generous, precisely plated and even garnished. Each piece of duck was lean with a darken crispy skin. A little tough, with more bone than meat. The sauce was not the usual tangy plum that commonly accompanies an order of duck. In the container was a thicker, more jelly-like spread. It was sweeter like jam, with notes of citrus and maybe apricot; and thicker like molasses, spreading like butter. Together with the duck it proved to be an interesting sweet and savoury paring unlike any other BBQ duck combos I have ever had.

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“Honey garlic spareribs”. Hands down one of my favourite Chinese dishes, therefore I deemed it as delicious as I expected. Stickily sweet with plenty of drippy sauce to go around. Though the texture of each riblet was challenging. Each nugget was coated with a roof of your mouth scrapping crunchy skin, with very little meat surrounding hard bone or tough cartilage. You needed to chew your way through many pieces in order to get a substantial morsel.

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“Curry beef tendon and beef brisket in hot pot”. Including this curry, all our dishes were unintentionally on the sweeter side. This was the mildest curry I have ever had, it would have faired better as the filling in a cocktail bun. The type of bun with sugar in the dough and a honey glaze over top. The curry lacked a searing heat from chilli peppers, and some much needed fragrant spices. It was one dimensional and very bland. Curry is traditionally a mix of cayenne, turmeric, chilli, and curry powder; I missed all of the above. As a silver lining, the beef however was cooked wonderfully. Each bite size cut was tender. The brisket had a soft pull pork-like consistency, and the tendon offered a nice softened jello-like texture. This softness contrasted well with the crispness of the coloured peppers. Though I could have done without all the giant segments of onion.

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Half coffee half tea. This is a Hong Kong style specialty beverage. A must have for him when he is at any Hong Kong style cafe. He informed me that such a drink originated from  cafés much like this, and is a very popular treat on the streets of Hong Kong. There are just not enough curly bendy straws in the world.

I was surprised by the service. The staff was fairly observant. Refills on our complimentary cups of hot tea came often, and the bussing of empty plates was frequent. Each scenario was enacted in silence, but appreciated for its promptness.

Inconveniently the washrooms were located out of the restaurant. Out in the mall it was a walk down a bare corridor that lead to secluded stalls. I found it pretty scary going after the mall had closed.

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Our dinner bill was presented with one of their business cards. On the back of it was a track for the collection stamps. We accumulated 10 stamps without knowing this rewards program existed. It was not explained to us now, nor was it noted when we began to order. The purpose of such reward programs is to encourage larger orders and return visits. And the former is hard to achieve without the restaurant’s servers acknowledging it exists and educating their customers. Shame, as they were certainly committed to this program. Committed enough to have a special stamp created. None-the-less I was able to read that for every $7 spent we would receive a stamp. And with enough stamps we could redeem them in for complimentary dishes. However two of the available options were blackened out with sharpie. What remained was with 10 stars, you could have a “Sze Chuan spicy chicken” or “deep fried chicken wings” appetizer. At this point we had enough for this. With five more stars we could upgrade to a whole entree, either “baked pork chop on rice” or a “baked meat sauce sphagetti”. And the big prize for 20 stamps was the “Half Chao Zhou style marinated duck”.

Another delightful surprise was our ability to settle our bill with the use of a credit card. This is not often the case. I find majority of the Chinese restaurants in Richmond prefer the practice of “cash only” as there are less fees for the business. But with this practice it put their guests at a loss. It is the guest and their experience that suffers without the convenience of accepting multiple tenders.

Despite being told earlier they would close at 9:30pm, as soon as the second last table motioned to leave we were told to vacate ourselves. It came a matter of factly as the server began piling dishes and wiping down our table with a rag.

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.
Well I guess we will have to come back, as to not allow our rewarded points to go to waste. Or at least return to take advantage of a free snack, if not another full four course meal. We enjoyed what we had, realizing this isn’t your typical Hong Kong cafe fare. Our plates were full and each well presented, much like the others being chauffeured to neighbouring tables. Everything listed and enjoyed was not something you would think would be available within a mall, let alone something you would come here specifically for. At the end all these full sized entree plates, with enough for three meals worth of leftovers at $75 is a good deal to me. Don’t deny your cravings.

ABC HK CAFE
4151 Hazelbridge Way, Richmond BC, V6X4J7
604-295-6777
ABC HK Cafe 愛彼茜餐室 on Urbanspoon

Shiro Japanese Restaurant

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My punctilious editor chose this restaurant as our destination for the evening. He has heard good things, and based on some serious research, deemed this as one of the better quality sushi restaurants in Vancouver. He came in to see if the fish was as good as he was led to believe.

Driving to, I was pretty proud of my street side parking job, reversing into a spot only a few feet away from the actual restaurant. I was very happy to find this on only my first lap. This self smugness lingered, only to walk up to the entrance and see a parking lot right by the door. “Shiro” shared the parking lot with other businesses in this outdoor complex, with several reserved spots for their patrons alone.

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As the awning suggests, this Japanese restaurant offers a sushi bar and specializes in tempura. Judging it by its exterior, it didn’t seem like much. Peering in at the empty space with only two tables seated, it didn’t look like much. And one of those tables was occupied by my party. Seated by the doors we tolerated the cold chill that blew in each time they opened, and each time more guests came in. Very shortly, all but the bar was seated, and we were left shivering. There was not much decor to take in. White walls, faux light marble tables, and dark chairs with red cushions. I did appreciate the low hanging lamps, that allowed for ideal, no flash photography.

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The room centered around the island sushi bar. Despite the slower traffic, three chefs found it necessary to squeeze into the tight space. A box surrounded by counter space and a showcase of fresh and frozen ingredients on ice. They were equally heavy on the floor staffing as well. Dressed in either navy or white logo-ed tees, there were more than enough staff members to ensure we were well taken care of. Majority of the time one was actually serving, while the other four stood idle. We were attended to with a mere rise of the hand. Though all this attention soon became intimidating as it is intimidating to have a dish pulled out from right under you. As soon as the last dumpling was gone, the plate was gone too. Worse was the constant roving of eyes, aimed to spot those in need, it made you feel like you were under the scrutiny of a spotlight. Though towards the end of our meal we were given our space and allowed to linger long after all the plates were cleared, the tea ran dry, and the bill settled.

It was a simple to navigate menu, that was spread across loose pages, a bound book, and specials on a dry erase board. They each had straightforward names, with barely enough to tell you what you’d be getting. That and with the lack of photos, left a lot to mystery. The legend included ensured you choose best for your dietary needs and eating preference. The firetruck emblem indicated spicy dishes. The green tractor stood for vegetarian options. And the restaurant’s own logo meant the item was a in house selection. Interestingly, they had a section of the menu that listed sushi and sushi combos that did not allow for any substitutions. Yet with names like “assorted sushi” and descriptions like “7pcs sushi & tuna roll” you couldn’t be sure you even wanted any of it, let alone want to have any of it substituted. The “special assorted sushi” with “8pcs sushi & 6pcs California roll” was no better a description either.

Our service began with our green teas being topped up regularly, enough to eventually earn our own thermal insulated tea kettle right at our table. This was to be shared and pour as needed.

Unintentionally we began our meal with vegetarians appetizers, sashimi, and cooked meats. When still hungry we ordered more, sushi rolls, in hopes of filling us up.

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Two orders of gyoza. A Japanese tapas usual, made pretty standard here. Based on the freshness of the filling and its temperature, you could tell they were made in house and pan fried to order. The skin was chewy and the sauce complimentary to the pork within. Overall this was as expected and left nothing to complain about.

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“Cheese isobe age”. This was a wild card pick that turned out to be the surprise favourite of the night. This is something you don’t often see at Japanese restaurants; there aren’t a lot of cheese dishes in Japanese cuisine. That alone made this dish pretty unique. Cheese wrapped with seaweed, breaded in tempura batter, then deep fried. First bite in was crunchy from the batter. It complimented the crisp seaweed and the stringy mozzarella under it. The gooey and salty cheese paired well with the bitterness of seaweed. It was good as is, but would have been better with something to dip it in to; a salty tempura sauce or some spicy mayo. It was fun to eat, like a Japanese jalapeño popper. We had originally ordered it for the novelty, but I guess you can’t go wrong with deep fried cheese.

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“Agedashi tofu”. Another Japanese tapas standard. A soft tofu breaded in batter and deep fried in high heat. Best taken when freshly made; when the breading is still crispy and the sauce just soaks through. This batch was fairly sweet, I would have preferred a more savoury sauce and a smaller cut of tofu. Average at best.

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“Chirashi Don”. Without a list of ingredients, the fresh seafood that was to be included was a gamble. As his go-to order, my editor went ahead and requested it anyways. Unfortunately he was disappointed, finding that most of it didn’t stand out. He deemed the fatty mackerel to be the best out of all the sashimi in the bowl. But was disappointed at the exclusion of yellowtail. The texture of the squid was inconsistent; some parts too soft, others too hard. And compared to other places, there was just not enough variety of seafood present.

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“Hamachi nigri”. A leaner fish on soften rice. Simple, fresh, tasty.

“Special scallop”. Scallop mixed with mayo, tobiko and masago. This was nothing outstanding. For what it was it wasn’t worth the price. We won’t be ordering this again.

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One of “Today’s special” was the “Wagyu Aburi Sushi”. At one piece for $6.95, it was a pricy order asking for three. One that we knew would not be filling, and one where we could have had more for less instead. But I have yet to try wagyu and decided to make tonight the night to do so. This was suppose to be a buttery brand of Japanese beef. Having nothing to compare it too, I deemed it delicious, but not necessarily top quality wagyu. The meat tasted fully cooked with a sweet and garlicky flavour. In my haste to try wagyu for the first time I inhaled it one bite, only noting the flavour and not the texture. Excuse to try more I guess? As mentioned, the sauce was flavourful, but nothing melted in our mouths. I was told real wagyu beef would, though I could still taste that this was a quality cut. However I do not feel it was amazing enough to be worth the steep price tag charged.

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Another of today’s specials was the “Tsubugai sashimi”, local whelk clam. It had a unique texture that isn’t for everyone. I found it most similar to cartilage, chewy and rubbery, but easier to break into with teeth. Not silky rubbery like squid but gritty rubbery, a texture all its own. One I have never had until today. Overall I found this dish just ok, not something I need to try again. You have to be in the right mood for this adventure.

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“Uni sashimi”, yet another daily special. Four pieces of rich and fragrant uni, pairs stacked one on top of another. We could tell this batch was fresh because of its very fishy flavour. This is only my second try of the ingredient, and I learned that they were the reproductive glands of sea urchins. Unfertilized eggs. For those who have yet to try, it has a distinct flavour hard to describe. One like no other, a taste that grows on you. Runny like eggs, with a strong woodsy note, almost slightly sweet. It tasted best chill, and better as is. This is something I encourage anyone to try for themselves and judge for themselves, a delicacy not for everyone.

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“Aburi battera”. Barbecue mackerel pressed sushi. Another of their daily specials. Apparently only four orders a day are made available, at least according to menu’s fine print. What are the odds that we were able to grab one of the only four portions today? You could taste the fattiness in the fish, it had a smooth almost velvet-like texture. The salty smokiness of the charred fish paired well with the sweeten rice below it. With their brick-like shape I found then easy to grip between chopsticks and easier to enjoy bite by bite.

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Two orders of “BBQ short rib”. We were less than impressed by the small pieces presented to us. It was an average cut of beef with more fat than meat. Mostly just greasy and gritty, it was less than enjoyable to eat. And the daikon used in the sauce gave it an unpleasant grainy texture.

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“Spicy negitoro roll”. Chopped tuna belly, green onion, cucumber, radish sprouts, mayo, spicy sauce, and furikake. Over sauced, it was best taken in one bite, lest the creamy mess spill out. Almost too much mayonnaise and chilli, it hid the flavour of the tuna behind a mash of textures and loud flavours.

After my last fusion sushi roll experience I have sworn off intricate house rolls that once intrigued me. I stay away from rolls promising ingredients on the inside and on top, and any roll with more than five flavours fighting for supremacy. Luckily there weren’t many of these “special rolls” here and even then most sounded pretty normal. The “Alaska roll” with salmon and crab, the “Philadelphia roll” with smoked salmon and cream cheese, the “Spider roll” featuring deep fried soft shell crab, and for those who are not a fan of seafood: teriyaki beef and teriyaki chicken rolls. Anything excessive was listed in brackets to be a “big size roll”. Beside it, I appreciated the mention of how many pieces would be in that one roll. But even the “big size rolls”, had pretty common ingredients. The “Kazu roll” was a “big roll” at six pieces. It was made with tuna, salmon, scallop, boiled prawn, masago, mayo, and lettuce. After having had kiwi and strawberries in sushi this was all pretty tame.

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So we went ahead and shared the “Shiro Special Maki”. This was a “8 piece big size roll” with tuna, salmon, yellow tail, mackerel, squid, octopus, masago, lettuce, radish sprouts, and mayo. They were huge, they came looking like tires. Definitely not a one bite portion. With a greater rice to filling ratio it was no surprise that things held together well. Stuffed with slivers of fresh seafood, you couldn’t distinguish any part of it. Nothing was highlighted, no subtle notes were mentioned. This was just an onslaught of food. Eleven ingredients listed on the menu and not one jumped out. One of my guests even joked that this roll could be all the things one might find inside a shark. Overall decent, a good value at $12 considering the variety of fish. Shame I couldn’t taste any of it.

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“Black sesame ice cream” with peanut powder and “Tiramisu ice cream” with green tea powder. Two of the best ice creams I have ever had. Homemade in house, I would come back just to have more. The black sesame was heavy, a cakey ice cream that played off nicely with the crunchy peanut crumb. The tiramisu was silken like its namesake cake. Light, with an almost fluffy white cake-like sponginess. I was amazed they were able to achieve such a texture from an ice cream. The green tea powder was just the right amount of bitterness to cut the edge off an otherwise particularly sweet dessert.

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Even with dessert, our meal ended with a complimentary pack of chocolate “Pocky” snack sticks to share. A sealed pack without its cardboard box was presented with the bill.

The washroom was unspectacular, however the Japanese style toilet in it is worth mentioning. A short bowl with a built in control panel on its side. Not wanting to get too close; I only took the time to notice the bidet function, the need to use the drying button after it, and the possibility of a warming seat while in prolonged use. I dared not to enjoy all it had to offer here, but would definitely love to try it in the comfort of my own home one day.

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? – No.
We enjoyed most of what we had, but felt much of it could be found at other Japanese restaurants and other sushi shops. Done better and perhaps offered cheaper? I wouldn’t avoid a return visit, but wouldn’t go out of the way for a full meal. The only things worth revisiting was their deep fried cheese and their specialty ice creams. Though good ice cream is worth traveling far for. Don’t deny your cravings.

SHIRO
3096 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V5Z2V9
604-874-0027
shiro-vancouver.com
Shiro on Urbanspoon

Suika

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We came here on whim, looking for an after dinner spot. This, a last minute call to a friend of a friend’s birthday party. Coming from a less satisfying meal we were game. First we were still hungry, and second I am always in the mood for Japanese tapas.

It’s been a while since my last visit. And as stated before, I would return, so it is no surprise to see me back. Reassessing the restaurant, they seemed to have settled well in the neighbourhood. A new hot spot out of the downtown core. A lively restaurant with a rambunctious crowd, a stylish setting, and even their own personalized napkins printed with their name and watermelon logo.

As before the venue was packed, even more so with this Saturday night crowd. Four birthdays were announced during our limited stay. Each time the lights dimmed and the staff sang, offering a cake and candles along with their loudest birthday wishes. We were such one. The cake came from the party celebrating, but it was presented by the restaurant with vigour.

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We became part of an existing meal, the others already mid dining. Already seated we found our way to the middle of the restaurant to join them. We were at a large table against a rich background. Ashen walls dabbed with paint, below a tapestry of fabric. One half, a wood wall painted in black and heavily embellished with cast iron knobs and hinges. The other a woven rainbow. Lines and patterns column by column, arranged with a leaning towards pink. We were seated by their limited sushi bar, with a look into their refrigerated windows and a peak at the chef’s making rolls behind them. Our view also included the cages used to separate large parties towards the back and sight of their trademark chandelier. A lighting fixture composed of used sake bottles in a variety of colours with a variety of labels, hung.

The server was quick to notice us and quicker to pass us some menus. She a petite woman who dragged us additional chairs, made attempts to engage us in conversation, and apologize profusely for anything she deemed incorrect. From her we ordered several plates to share between three. And got them in a fairly decent amount of time. It all came quicker than expected given the number in the room.

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“Tako wasabi”. Wasabi marinated raw octopus severed with dried seaweed. I have had this on several occasions and found this portion consistent with all the others. A smooth yet rubbery texture, with a tangy taste and a nostril steaming heat. The type of heat that has a tickle and a pinch gravitating to the tip of your nose. The seaweed helped, acting like a base to stabilize the intensity of the mix.

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“Chinese poutine”. Interesting concept, why not? French fries topped with a spicy ground pork sauce, mozzarella, chilli oil, sansho, and minced cilantro. It even had the cheese component I expected from a poutine, but just not enough of it. They at least delivered on the name. The greasy slop of meat didn’t suit the fries. With its grainy and grittier texture it would have been better suited over smooth noodles or sticky rice dish. Dishes that it’s already typically found in. The meat sauce over chewy fries of a similar texture, didn’t offer much of a dynamic eating experience. I found it off, as I often eat for texture as a pose to taste.

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“Kakuni Bibimbap”. Stewed pork belly, sweet dried shrimp, and scallions on rice served in a hot stone bowl. I found it charming how the menu warned it was “Hot, hot, hot!” I was actually able to snap a shot of a bowl, before the at your table mixing process. Most happy that our friendly server obliged in my photo taking. After her practiced mixing with two spoons, skillfully scraping stone and tediously fluffing rice; we allowed the rice to sit. When squished up against the surface of the stone bowl for longer the rice cooks further, thus ensuring it would be crispier. To eat, the mix was rigorously chewy. Small sticky bits dug into the nooks and crannies of your teeth. Annoying. As a whole the rice was fairly tasty, a one tone salty meatiness. Decent as is, it would have been better with larger pieces of the stewed pork belly.

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“Aburi toro battera”. Lightly seared and gently pressed fatty tuna sushi. Made with avacado, shiso, and sesame seeds; then topped with a homemade soy dressing and sesame sauce. The rice was as soft as the fish. It fell apart as the tuna melted. Well sauced, there was no need for the addition of soy or wasabi so none was included. Real ginger was, and its acidic tanginess went well with the heavy roll.

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“Corn kakaige”. Organic corn niblets fried with cilantro batter, soy sauce, and butter. It looked as good as we had imagined it off the menu. It was simple but surprisingly delicious. The sweetness of the corn really came through. Sweet and salty, crispy and chewy; as fun to eat as it is to look at. Pulling nib by nib off the mass of bulbs.

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We got a bottle of sake for the birthday boy to share. Sake, Honjozo, Yoshinogawa, Niigata. The bottle went for $110.

I fondly recalled the inclusion of mouthwash and tiny cups in the washroom. Something I appreciate after a meal full of flavours, and the fear of garlic and ginger lingering on my breath. I did not hesitate to help myself to a minty after dinner palette cleanse.

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.
A little on the pricy side, when comparing how much you get for what you pay. The flavours are amazing and a few of the plates creative, but for how much you are charge and how hungry you still feel, I don’t recommend them for everyday dining. Though with staff willing to play along and the space to accommodate, I deem this a great venue to host a party at or to gather multiples within. Invite many and share all the dishes to lessen the bill. Don’t deny your cravings.

SUIKA
1626 W Broadway, Vancouver BC, V6J1X6
604-730-1678
suika-snackbar.com
Suika on Urbanspoon

Notturno

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This seemed like a newer venue, one that none of us had heard of before, that was reason enough to give it a try. Its narrow space called for a narrow entrance; with space guiding stanchions, and a sandwich board leading the way. Against the restaurant’s red brick facade, their multiple black signs with simple white was striking. The name, written in a slight script, alluring.

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Inside, the restaurant was as dimly lit as the lamp posts along the cobbled streets of Gastown. And as lively as the pedestrians traveling along those streets. Moving in deeper the walls seem to narrow. To our right mirrors in various sizes, framed in various white frames. Each artfully arranged, hanging on stark white walls. Their staggering resembled a hall in a home; more so with its decorative moulding and hardwood floors. The remaining wall space was recreated to give the menu a larger surface area. A coat of chalkboard paint made the room a large canvas in black and white. Wine by the glass and wine by the bottle listed along the wall to our left, and beers on tap and cheeses on chill were featured on the load bearing column in the centre of the room.

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A smaller venue such as this meant limited seating. We grabbed the remaining few along the bar. Sitting on high chairs facing a mirrored backdrop, we admired their boutique bar. In the amber light of hanging bulbs above us, each bottle glittered in its own reflection. With this many bottles of liquor and this many bottles of bitters, the possibilities for cocktail concocting was endless. They surely took their craft seriously.

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To drink, “Notturno” offers a rotating menu of share-style plates, an ever-changing craft cocktail program, BC-brewed craft beers, and an array of wines to tempt. Their cuisine promises to deliver the rich flavours of Italy in sizes designed for trying a little bit of everything. Doing so with the use of modern recipes and traditional Italian elements.

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“Old fashion” a classic cocktail made by muddling sugar and bitters with whiskey. I was amused by the large round of ice used in the glass, it chilled the beverage without diluting it. Given its size they must have had to make several before hand.

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The “Vancity Cosmo” made with lemon and cinnamon infused vodka, lime juice, Cointreau, and fresh cranberry juice; with just a dash of sugar. The cinnamon flavour was the most pronounced. It was a lingering spiciness strong enough to over shadow the zing of the citrus in the lemon and lime.

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“The Witch and the Rose”, quite the name. It was the sole reason for our interest in the cocktail in the first place. Though shame they hadn’t the sherry needed to make it, so we ended up switching our order to a “bourbon sour” instead. “Bourbon sour”, made with bourbon, egg white, lemon juice, and a rich simple syrup. Shaking vigorously produces the sweetened white foam atop the glass. Like the “old fashion” this was a classic we’d knew we’d enjoy.

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“Beef carpaccio, brushed with porcini mushroom and chestnut purée, cited lemon, and crispy shallots”. This was an artistically presented plate. Served with slices of bread there wasn’t enough meat to go around. The beef, was sliced paper thin, it tore like tissue and melted like butter on the tongue. The fragrant onions and earthy purée hid the taste and texture of the carpaccio behind the crunch of deep frying and the smokey flavours of the mushrooms. Enjoyable, but the beef would have been better as the star of the dish.

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“Burrata and Nduja sausage”, it wasn’t as we had expected. The sausage was not encased, but offered more as a paste. It smeared on like a spread, with equal parts salty to spicy. Its smooth chalk-like texture married well with the creaminess of the burrata cheese. The bread offered the perfect vehicle for this do-it-yourself style crostini appetizer. It all reminded of an adult play on ham and cheese sandwiches.

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Fearing we would be left hungry we did as the menu suggested and asked our server for details regarding their “Feature pasta”. Tonight it was spaghetti in a tomato meat sauce with fresh ground Parmesan. The dish came piping hot, proof of its made to order readiness. Though sadly it tasted as simple as it looked, a run of the mill red sauce with tender noodles. I would liked to have had more kick in a thicker sauce, more stewed tomatoes, and more seasonings to evenly coat all the pasta left undressed.

It was kind of our bartender to pause our ordering when he deemed we had asked for too much food. It was well heeded as our party didn’t really enjoy what had, and would have hated to pay more for more of it. I unfortunately did not feel the food was worth the cost. I am sure the ingredients were only the best, and only the finest of techniques were used in its conception and creation. Though neither of us were wowed by any if it. We however were enamoured with the drinks in their perfectly paired glasses, but left hungry and wanting more we choose to depart. Based on the dishes thus far we thought it best to venture else where for a fuller meal.

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 drinks were well crafted and the ambience to have many of then in was fun. However given the type of food served, the types of plates presented, and the fee required; I do not recommend this as your dinner destination. But instead, try it as an after meal drink spot or a happy hour go to. Where fine spirits deserve fine ingredients and lighter eats are interesting, they leave you wanting more. Don’t deny your cravings.

NOTTURNO
280 Carrall Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2J2
604-720-3145
notturnogastown.ca
Notturno on Urbanspoon

Beefy Beefy Noodle House

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Cold weather deserves hot soup. A last minute change in venue saw that I would have what I craved this cold and rainy night. At a little to 6pm, the restaurant was still fairly empty and I was able to grab a parking spot right out front. An empty stall in the lot of the very same complex that the restaurant was in.

Given the name and the location I suspected the room would fill soon, I was right, four parties immediately sat after I claimed my seat. And by the time I left half the restaurant was full. The ample space was certainly needed. We saw one server on floor become four to provide adequate and speedy service. This is Taiwanese fast food at its best. And majority of those looking to take advantage of this fact tonight came in to dine solo. At first we were all directed to one half of the room. The original lone server sought to fill all the tables against the wall. These tables were partnered with hard bench-like seats jutting out from the wall. Their choice in seating alone decided this would not be an extended stay. Without groves or dimples in the wood, sitting for an extended period of time would become uncomfortable quick. As the idea of bubble tea places are often ones where you are able to sit and loiter long after your meal, a bit more comfort would have been a nice consideration. A pillow, a cushion, or even a cloth covering. We did end up staying over an hour after our bowls were cleaned, and my posterior did suffer. Our dishes were bussed and we left to our conversation. It was surprising and appreciated how all the servers continued to check in on us. Each time offering us a top up on our complimentary cups of tea. I must have had over eight refills over the course of our stay.

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The restaurant was simple in decor. Practical elements to add pops of colour. A back lit feature of reddish orange with spots in white to my left. And a wall sized chalkboard listing food and drink specials in coloured chalk to my right. On the chalkboard, tiny print in both Chinese characters and English script. It spoke to what was new, what were today’s specials, what were the restaurant’s top eight dishes, and the six drinks special unique to their establishment. However it was a shame that none of these offerings were reprinted on the menu or presented as an insert to the menu. When seated I did not get a clear view of this list and half the restaurant had a pillar blocking it from their line of sight. What if the large group in the corner wanted to take advantage of the free appetizer when you purchase four beer special? Or what if the couple in the centre of the room wanted to try what “real milk tea” taste like. Both would miss this opportunity as the waitresses offered no specials and made no recommendations.

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Luckily both my guest and I came in knowing exactly what we wanted: our usuals. I am not willing to chance a bad meal, by trying something new. Not when places like these aren’t known for their guaranteed good eats, but rather known for their cheap and simple meal solutions. So beef noodle it is and always will be.

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“Beef noodle soup with beef brisket”. I cringed when I saw our server at the kitchen pass, wipe the rim of my bowl with a rag. A rag that was left on the counter and used intermittently. None-the-less I sucked it up and accepted my order. Thankfully the dish looked delicious and it smelled even better. I was however disappointed in the lack of beef in my beef noodle. It’s in the title, I expect it to be one of the two dominant ingredients. There were just four trimmed down cubes of beef. At least each block was tender and well cooked. I found myself nibbling them down, rationing enough for there to be a bite with soup and noodle. Even then there was too much noodle still in the bowl. Overall the dish was average at best, no where near the best, but with a solid soup base, it wasn’t the worst.

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“Sliced lamb in satay sauce with rice”. Nothing outstanding, your standard Chinese homecook-like meal. The lamb meat was fatty. Overcooked it was chewy. And with the satay sauce the texture became grainy. The chillies present helped to gave it some spice and a more dynamic flavour. With such a strong flavour present in the lamb it was best taken with rice and the side of stewed vegetable. They added a descent base and some easy freshness.

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? – No.
Beef noodle always hits the spot. Though this isn’t my number one pick for the stuff, more just a choice made out of convenience. I won’t hesitate to visit again, but I rather try other one-of Taiwanese style tea cafés first. Though if you do visit, be warned its cash only. Don’t deny your cravings.

BEEFY BEEF NOODLE
4063 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V5C8
604-568-6821
jynoodle.com/index1.html
Beefy Beef Noodle House 京園牛肉麵 on Urbanspoon

Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar

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Wet wet rain, cold cold night, what better than hearty meal of pasta partnered with some fine wine? We braved the deluge to drive out to “Frankie’s Italian Kitchen”. The restaurant has been open since 2011, though with a rotating look around you couldn’t tell. The space was kept clean and fixtures in pristine condition. Once “Beatty Bar & Grill”, a generic sports bar. And before that the home of the historic “William Tell” restaurant, at its time, one of the only fine dining establishments in downtown Vancouver. But now it is “Frankie’s” and they are doing what they can to live up to the location and its significance. Most recently they have brought in a new head chef. His goal is to elevate the food by rejuvenating the menu and bringing consistency to every plate. Judging by tonight’s meal he seems to be successful in this endeavour.

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Interestingly, they face a difficult challenge with their location. Given their surroundings, there is a need and an attempt to be everything for a few diverse groups. First, their neighbour, the “Hampton Inns and Suites” requires them to have an upscale feel, fine dining for their traveling clientele. And in doing so they would be a welcome change for the other hotels in this more affluent area. Second, their adjacency to “Rogers Arena” and “BC Place” means factoring in the potential business from concert goers, sports enthusiasts, and beer drinkers. And not just hometown hockey and football fans, but this weekend, Grey Cup fans as well. And the fans of musicians and singers are just as diverse as the performers themselves. From Sting, and Fleetwood Mac to Usher and Sam Smith, (to be timely with my examples). For them the setting and menu needs to be something that would bring a dressed down and rowdy crowd in. Third of all, the expectations of downtown Vancouver diners requires “Frankie’s” to serve artful and delicious dishes at affordable prices. And finally the vision of the owner his head chef means bringing you authentic Italian plates like that your grandmother use to make, like what they do best. Which is something completely feasible when the owner is Italian and he possess his grandmother’s actual recipes, passed down from generation to generation. It certainly gives you that little bit of authenticity doesn’t it? As you can see there is a lot of expectations to live up to and this is how they are going to do it.

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At “Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar” their promise is to offer the finest of all that make up a complete Italian meal. Offering up family recipes, flavours of southern Italy, as well as newly inspired Italian dishes year round. Their vision is in the use of fresh ingredients, proven recipes, exceptional value, and true service. I certainly received all four during my stay.

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Their space is one that will make you feel relaxed and welcomed in, in any dress and in any state. Their separate but attached bar allows comfort to those in jeans and a tee, wanting to claim a seat at the bar. A seat primed in front of a television screen, tuned to the latest sporting match. While the dining room with its lit candles and romantic darkness, gave those looking for a sumptuous meal in a more regal setting the opportunity for peace and refinement. Finished off with set tables of reusable napkins and polished cutlery; they were only lacking the white table cloth. Though this omission was done purposefully to bridge the gap better. Classy yet casual. Barstools and television sets paired with framed artwork and cloth napkins. Quite the melding of demographics. This divide was most helpful for and best seen though us. I was in my more dressed up attire and my guest in his chosen oversized hoodie and worn sweat pants. No judgement was made in his choice of wardrobe, nor was there any sneering that he drank sparking and fine wines from delicate stemware. Whether its sitting at the bar sampling menu items and watching television, relaxing in the lounge while sipping on wine, or enjoying dinner in the formal dining room; their goal is to give you a settings where its all about family, food, and friends.

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As a regular diner, it is always a treat to meet the owner of a place you like and the chef making a dish you love. And here I got to do just that. Both men were as friendly as their courteous staff. You could see the pride in what they have brought together here. Pride through the smiles in their eyes as they described the cuisine, and the pause in their words as they reflected on a pleasant memory. Our chef made a point to explain each dish and his inspiration for it. While the owner aligned it with his happy childhood. Its one thing to eat good food, it’s another to dine on delicious dishes with as rich of a history as ingredients on the plate. You could tell us being here meant just as much to them as it did to us having a nice night out. It is when a business values their customers that you know you will have a great experience. After all as a consumer you have a choice of where to spend your money and what on. A smart business knows that service is the key for larger bills and continued visits. And after a night of feeling like VIPs (in toques and sweatpants no less) there is no doubt I will be returning for this very service. My glass was never half full, top ups on wine and water were ever constant. Empty dishes were bussed in a quick and neat fashion. And we were checked in on a regular based. Our plates were used as a gauge on what we liked and what we could use less of. We were made to feel welcomed in all aspects. Truly a wonderful and satisfying experience.

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They boast a full, but simple to navigate wine list. Nothing intimidating or pretentious about their by the glass or by the bottle offerings. Like their cooking it’s approachable and comforting. There are over thousands of great wines available, with a focus on British Columbia VQA wines and imported Italian wines.

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“Beef sliders”made with sirloin, cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise between toasted slider buns. These big mouth bites were simple but delicious. A juicy patty with the perfect hint of pink hidden at its centre. The emphasis was on the quality of the fresh ground beef chuck used, not any filler ingredients to create visual interest, or excessive condiment use to overwhelm flavours. Its meaty inclusion on the menu spoke to the head chef’s background in butchery.

“Margherita pizza” made with bocconcini, San marzano tomato, grana padano, and basil. Despite its simple appearance this was a well flavoured and thoroughly tasty pizza. The crust was crisp, the dough was light, and the basil and tomato were clearly fresh. It wasn’t a filling course, which allowed for the consuming of multiple slices without guilt.

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“Frankie’s pizza”. Like the previous pizza, this signature one too came with a light crust that was easy to eat. Made with capicollo ham, fresh herbs, roasted olives, and mozzarella; this was definitely a more complex version of the one above. The array of ingredients added different layers to each bite. Savoury, herbaceous, salty, and smokey. A bounty of complimentary flavour, for those who are fans of olives, like myself.

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“Risotto Funghi” made with mikuni field and wild mushrooms, truffle oil, grana padano; and vegetable stock. It is the use of vegetable stock that makes this dish vegetarian. This was their seasonal risotto, featuring Pacific Northwest and Vancouver island mushrooms. The very same kinds of mushrooms our Chef hand picked as a young child. The risotto got most of its flavour from their in house made olive tapenade. A salty brine that well complimented the earthiness of the wild mushrooms. It had the perfect rich and creamy, porridge-like texture. And the smaller portion we were provided with was the perfect serving, any more in one setting would be too rich.

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“Sunday gnocchi”, hand rolled gnocchi made twice a week, simmered with their “Sunday gravy”. A luscious gravy of lamb, beef, Italian sausage, and tomato. I love a good melt under your tongue gnocchi. Each bulb was tender and warm to its centre. The perfect platform to highlight the meaty sauce that thoroughly coated each one.

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“Lobster ravioli”. These little pockets were stuffed full, each square bursting with fresh shredded lobster meat. The soft pasta coating outside partnered well with the moist flaky meat inside. Each possessed a prominent lobster flavour without being too fishy. The Rose sauce and whole cherry tomatoes offered a burst of juice and a citrus like acidity to the plate. Flavourful, but mild enough to keep all highlighting on the star of the dish, the lobster.

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“Frankie meatballs”. This is a family recipe of beef, veal, and pork. Each perfectly round ball was hand formed and left to slowly simmer in an organic tomato sauce. Cooked through it was moist, holding its shape with each bite. As good as it was I found they needed a platform: a slice of warm bread, a crunchy crostini; or better yet, a bed of spaghetti, like below.

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“Caprese salad”. Windset farms vine ripened tomato, bocconcini, baby arugula, basil, and balsamic glaze.

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“Grilled Louis lake steelhead”. Grilled wild steelhead salmon, citrus vinaigrette, seasonal vegetables, and organic roasted potato. A lavish serving of salmon steak in the perfect salmon pink. Over the freshest looking leafs of green.

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“Seafood linguini”. Half lobster, clams, mussels, fresh fish, jumbo prawns, and organic tomato sauce. That half lobster was an dramatic sight atop the pasta. The King of seafood with his brethren surrounding him.

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“New York Striploin”. Canadian AAA grilled 10oz Striploin marinated in their signature herb butter sauce. Here, severed alongside sautéed broccolini and a spool of red sauce spaghetti. Quite the sizeable portion of beef.

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“Marsala Chicken”. Rossdown farm chicken breast, Marsala wine, mushroom sauce, and seasonal vegetables. Not as stunning in presentation as the others with its murky grey sauce; but the red and yellow peppers, the green zucchini slices, and golden potatoes wedges did help to perk up the colour pallet.

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“Spaghetti and Frankie’s Meatballs” Their own family recipe of hand rolled beef, veal, and pork meatballs; in a roasted and simmered organic tomato sauce, over a mound of twirled spaghetti. The pasta was clearly plated for photography, with none of its ends visible.

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“Rigatoni Salsiccia” made with Italian sausage, tomato sauce, red wine, and concerto tomatoes. The pasta was cooked to a firm el dente. A chewy starchy bite accompanied with the perfect amount of tangy tomato sauce and tiny chunks of well seasoned ground beef.

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“Antipasto platter”. Cured meats, select cheeses, house made misto olives, and caramelized onions, served with segmented pita slices.

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Our meal ended with a traditional Italian dessert, “Tiramisu”. Their’s is made in house where they hand dip their own lady fingers and whip up their own mascarpone. Topped with cocoa powder and garnished with fresh strawberries, the cake was quite the sight after such a heavy dinner. Light and creamy it balanced the rich denseness before it. Fluffy layers of supple cake floated between layers of luxurious cream. A mouthful of lusciousness in every spoon.

As per most restaurants attached to hotels the facilities are located in the hotel’s lobby. A trek out of the dining room, but one on polished floors and past a glamorized setting.

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.
It is often hard to find good food after 9pm. For those night owls like myself, restaurants like “Frankie’s”, attached to hotels, provide a great option. Often open late and ready to accommodate they make a decent stop at all hours. And at “Frankie’s” with their full breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night bar menu; they have you covered at all times of day. A variety from “chicken and waffles”, to eggs Benedicts with a bevy of toppings, and “roasted vegetable frittatas” for breakfast. Various pizzas, scratch made sauces, a multitude of pastas, “arancini” (Silcilian risotto balls), and “classic stracciatella soup” (chicken stock, egg, and spinach) for those looking for an Italian retreat. To AAA steaks, saucy chicken wings, and deep fried calamari for late night and after the big game eats. There is something for everyone with an expectation that you will find something to like. Each menu is hand picked to fit their diverse demographic. Sports fans and concert goers, traveling tourists, and downtown enthusiasts. All under the idea of simple, but true Italian cuisine. The food speaks, and there was nothing we didn’t like listening to. Don’t deny your cravings.

FRANKIE’S ITALIAN KITCHEN
Georgian Court Hotel
765 Beatty Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2M4
604-688-6368
Frankie's Italian Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

CRAFT Beer Market, brunch

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We were already in the area so after finding free street side parking right out back, we made this our stop. How often do you find parking this easy in Olympic Village? I should have taken a photo, the parking was that good.

In a previous post I wrote I would return and here I was. “Craft” is definitely one of my favourite big bars, the area surrounding it is just so scenic. It’s not often that I am up and out on a weekend to take advantage of a Saturday or Sunday brunch. But at 1:30pm we were seated in time to take try their “Over Easy” brunch from 10am to 2pm. It is during this time that they invite families in, by offering kids specific menus and “half pints” specials for those 12 and younger. A clever idea to take advantage of the residentials living in the area.

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Since my original visit over a year a ago they have really settled well into their space. The room was bustling, but with all their ample seating, across multiple rooms and floors, they need not turn hungry patrons away. Their slogan, “Where everything is on top”, is stamped across their glass entrance. It’s meaning is reflected in the space and their service promise. Looking up at the valued ceiling you see pipes. These lead lines lead from their multiple craft beer filled kegs right to the taps of their double sided island bar. It’s impressive in its architecture. I also believe the slogan refers to how they treat their guests. I have only ever gotten friendly and attentive service across all my visits. With frequent check ins and even the managers striking up conversation by your table, you are certainly made to feel like one of those things that they put on top.

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Because of brunch the vibe of the room was different, not your usual rowdy bar crowd. But more so we felt like we’ve been seated in the family section. Sandwiched by large families with multiple high chairs and crying babies. We had to keep our conversation PG, less someone overheard and took offense. And since the bar invited the neighbourhood we could not hide behind “you don’t bring kids to a bar if you don’t want the to hear things they shouldn’t”. However enroute to the washroom, further towards the back and closer to the water side view sat the regulars. Large and loud parties and mature patrons on their day off, each with beer stein in hand and mouths open wide in mid speak. We came too late to be seated here. And the restaurant was not busy enough to open their mezzanine for service. It was not the rambunctious bar vibe we had hoped, but we survived whispering our secrets back and forth across the narrow table.

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Sticking to the limited time brunch menu I had their “Beersar”, when beer meets Caesar. Mixing Salt Co’s house lager, Motts Clamato juice, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce together. Then finishing the glass with a salted rim and a garnish of speared pepper. I wanted to try what a beer would taste like in a drink I already enjoy. Sadly not for me. Its appeal wore off quick and I preferred not to finish my portion. Thick, heavy, and hearty, with salted spice. It certainly had a fiery kick from the tabasco and pickled pepper. Though I found the drink overly bubbly from the fizz of the beer, with its flavour being the most pronounced. Whereas when I order a Caesar I expect a savoury beverage with tomato notes that drinks like a meal. A flavour that olives better compliment. Salty olives don’t mix well with bitter beer. Overall I found it didn’t blend well for my liking.

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When you see it on the menu you have to do it! “Chicken and Waffles”, this would be my guest’s first try of this iconic dish. Rossdown Farms chicken, fried American style and served with house made waffles, maple syrup, and their CRAFT signature hot sauce. The skewer fruit was a nice touch, its colour picked up an otherwise dull brown plate and its fragrance would add some freshness to a greaser meal. It looked better than it tasted. If done right the crispiness of the breaded chicken skin would run parallel with the crispiness on the edges of the waffle. Both on the saltier side until flavoured with real, light and sweet maple syrup. Unfortunately this was not the case, as my guest could not get past eating a savoury meat item with a piece of sweet breakfast dough. I thought she wasted the experience, but to each their own. I expected a crispy skin that sealed in the juices in the chicken. The reality was that the chicken was overcooked, the breading was chewy and the breast was dry. As a whole the dish lacked flavour and we didn’t find the hot sauce and maple syrup very complimentary to enjoy together. I personally would have preferred a sweet barbecue sauce over both, to use on both. The waffles tasted a little burnt, but despite their charred exterior they got soggy quick. Once again disappointing but decent.

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The “Red Racer IPA Taquito Skillet” made with Rossdown Farms chicken stuffed taquitos, topped with pico de gallo and cheese. The addition of bacon and two poached BC farm fresh eggs made this plate officially “breakfast”. The presentation was sure something. The skillet was hot to the touch, with no warning from our server I shocked my hand on the cast iron. It was a filling dish, and the perfect representation of brunch. Breakfast familiars with a larger savoury portion to transition seamlessly into lunch. I found the hot sauce too spicy, it overpowered an already flavourful dish, so has pushed it aside. With red peppers, black beans, yellow corn, and scratch match guacamole this was a tex-mex lover’s dream. They went well as added flavour for each of the four taquitos below. The taquitos were made to order, stuffed full with tender chicken and melted cheese. The wrapping around each was served crisp from a good even deep fry. Though this would not last as the toppings made things soggy quick. So I ate fast.

As I mentioned earlier the manager made his rounds. Personally stopping at each table. He inquired about our dishes and pointed to my empty plates with tissues piled on top. It was great he cared to know my opinion, but it would have been nice if he bussed the table while he was conveniently here.

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.
As my guest’s first visit she found the place run of the mill, serving just regular pub food. However she did acknowledge that brunch may not be the best time to gauge a pub. The setting is different, the vibe of the room is different, the food and beverages taken are different. She agreed to come back to try more and get a better sense of the place during an evening service. I stand by my original assessment. I deem “Craft” a great place for a large gathering of people you want to impress. With a full menu of burgers, entrees, and appetizers and full lists of beers and wines, they have everyone covered. Don’t deny your cravings.

CRAFT
85 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver BC, V5Y3K8
604-709-2337
vancouver.craftbeermarket.ca
CRAFT Beer Market on Urbanspoon

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