Crackle Creme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fish Counter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramen Jinya

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I wanted pho, but most places are closed early on a Sunday, so ramen was the next best and the most closest thing. Not looking for a long wait, and having had passed by this one on several occasions we were came to “Jinya”. Parking in the area is plentiful and convenient. A multitude of empty spots by rows of meters allowed you to pull up right in front of your chosen destination. The block was shoulder to shoulder, small, one of restaurants.

Walking up to the entrance and seeing the group of people loiter by it, I was discouraged to wait. Though having already paid for parking we left our names on their unmanned wait list. A clipboard on a table, by the door. Without a sign or any direction it was nice of the other guests waiting to mention the need to print your name and to list the number in your party. From here the wait went by pretty quick. The restaurant itself isn’t the kind you linger at. With cramped corners and share style tables the intention is to have you eat and go. When time, with empty tables the servers would come to call who would be next on this list. The line didn’t seem to thin by 8pm so given the crowd still gathering, one of the servers taped a scrawled sign reading they would close at 9pm tonight. If you wanted to avoid the line all together, grab one of the three free tables outside. On a warmer night like tonight it was a decent seat. No need to share and table and you get served right a way.

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The interior of the restaurant was visible from the side walk. With bright lights, a dark night sky, and an all windowed wall you couldn’t help but look longingly in. It being mid October the Halloween decorations were up: a black banner cut out in a spooky font, jack-o-laterns hanging from lamps, home made creatures crafted from garbage bags, and stickered glow-in-the-dark ghosts that clung onto the glass.

Because of the share style tables the restaurant felt like a cafeteria. You sat by your friend, joining a table of others with their own conversations. It felt awkward, we were seated too close to too many strangers to be able to hold our own private conversation. After being seated we tried to get the last actual table, but were told it was only for a party of 3-4. So essentially they were saving it for the potential of a larger party. However, a few minutes later the couple who printed their names after our slid into the comfortable booth seats. We were too passive to call them the staff on this. If only we let them go first.

The table we were forced to sit at was a high top. We a pair, with 4 others, 10 total including us. Elbow room was not a luxury. Utensils are self serve from either of the two metal buckets left free in the centre of the table. Branded disposable chopsticks and a bundle of napkins in each. With no coat hangers or bag hooks available we were forced to eat with our belongings on our laps. Not the most comfortable or enjoyable scenario. What was worse was the seat itself. Like the table it was wooden, but there was a hole in the middle of the actual seat. This missing support irritated my bottom, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get myself comfortable. How was I to enjoy this treat of eating out?

The menu told of the popularity of their ramen. Dog eared and warn from continuous use. One listed both their variations on pork and chicken ramen. The page divided into two to highlight each. The secondary menu offered appetizers and sides. The pork on rice and Gyozas was common at such places. The variations came with the offering of curry bowls, crispy fried chicken, and Takoyaki. And also included the ramen made from a chicken stock base. Although clearly defined between the pork and chicken broth the menu was fussy. Two of the options were no more than the same dish with the addition of an egg and seaweed, which you could have paid extra to add onto to any bowl of noodles. The rest was the usual divide between how the broth would be seasoned: miso, soy sauce, of just a pinch of salt.

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We both went with what was deemed the most popular by our server. The “JINYA Tonkotsu Black”. Ramen with their original pork broth, pork belly (char-siu), kikurage mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onions, flavoured soft boiled egg, seaweed, black garlic oil, and garlic chips. It was as loaded in taste as you would assume given the multitude of ingredients. They added texture: a chew, a crunch, and a creaminess to the otherwise soften noodles. The noodles themselves were not your regular ramen noodles. Thin and light I found them a nice break from the heavier broth. The pork meat was tender, but left uncarved were large portions of fat on each piece. I don’t mind biting into a fatty piece of meat, but seeing it float at the top of the broth is another thing. Globs of white surrounded in a pools of oil. Its presence definitely affect the overall taste of the ramen. I ate around it and consumed as much as I could, before calling it quits half way. Between the richness, the saltiness, and the fat it was far too rich. I also would have preferred the broth more hot in temperature. Usually it comes fog up your glasses and makes your nose run hot, here it was more luke warm.

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A side order of pork and green onion Gyozas. Now these were piping hot, a bite to pierce the dough burnt the tip of my tongue. I preferred these over the noodles, but still average at best. The Gyozas were well seasoned and tasted like they were made to order, impressive given the time of night.

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.
My guest convinced me of the need to come back and give them a second go. She argued that it was late at night, the broth was probably down to the bottom of the barrel and the chefs were probably fatigued. She was convinced me that during lunch or earlier in the day the ramen would match the hype bestowed upon it. I could see that, but believe the experience of the last customer of the night should be as good as the customer being served during peak time. Though the two Japanese males beside us now had double orders and looked to be enjoying themselves, clearly they knew what to get. I was finally convinced to come back only to have my guest come down with a sever stomach ache. She was sure it was due to the copious amount of fat present and having hoovered everything down pretty quick. I recommend this as a ramen solution to those in the area, as no other one is close by. Don’t deny your cravings.

JINYA RAMEN
270 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6B0E7
604-568-9711
jinya-ramenbar.com
Ramen Jinya 陣家 on Urbanspoon

Dirty Apron Cookbook Launch

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This isn’t exactly a restaurant review, but it does touch on the food affiliated with the “Dirty Apron” cooking school. So here is a blog post.

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My two guests and I were lucky enough to be given an opportunity to attend the exclusive book launch for the “Dirty Apron Cookbook” at their cooking school. It was an RSVP only event, the kind that needed your names to be crossed off at the door. Complimentary valet parking meant there wasn’t a struggle to search for a spot near by. We came early and were one of the few who entered first. Our timeliness was rewarded with the ability to enjoy the full expanse of the place in all its impressive glory, well before it became shoulder to shoulder with other food lovers and food aficionados.

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As a fun add on to the event they created a photo opportunity against a stack of their cookbooks. A trunk full of costumes and accessories allowed you to dress up and capture a pose on your handheld device. Chef hats and white coats, stick-on moustaches, and oversized glasses. Even tools of the trade were included: whisks, copper pots, iron pans, and wooden spoons. We struck a pose and immediately posted it on social media, in hopes of winning their contest for free cooking lessons for four.

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Welcome to cooking school! Clean and well kept surfaces, individual stoves, sinks in all the right places. This wasn’t your high school classroom set up. Situated in all four corners of the room were appetizer stations, small plates and tapas offered with an interactive element. Be it helping yourself to dips and olives, or watching a bite of ceviche being assembled by an actual cooking instructor enrolled at the school. Each dish offered was something taught in the cook book. The chefs before you worked and spoke, offering food crafted before your eyes while answering any questions you may have for them. A great opportunity for those looking in to signing up for one of their classes to learn at little more.

You explore the scene, mingle with like minds, and allow your mouth to be pampered by professional morsels. Cameras clicked every other minute, no one was averse to the flash, and everyone working the event expected the need to stop for a photo op. You a plate at any station and/or indulge in a skewer of chicken or a sip of soup as it is offered by servers. A team of them continued to usher food and clean up after guests.

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For those feeling more spirited, dressed up cocktails and wine by the glass was also offered. “Moroccan Mimosas”, all the usual ingredients that make up a mimosas but with ground sumac, star anise, saffron, and dried figs. The beverage was as hearty and as spicy as the ingredients suggest it to be. Pre-made, on the table were rows and rows of these, each ready to be grabbed and taken to go as you browsed the room.

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One station offered a help yourself buffet of “hummus”, “baba ganoush”, and olive salad. Taken with homemade “flatbread”. And as promised all elements were mentioned in the cookbook with their recipes.

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The flatbread was made before our eyes. Our chef instructor rolled out the dough, brushed it with olive oil, and cooked it on the grill until golden and lightly charred. Just as the cookbook instructed. It was the perfect starter to get our appetite to nibble going.

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In two sip cups were perfectly poured portions of “Porcini mushroom and chestnut soup”. They were passed around by the servers. In them onion, garlic, dried porcini mushrooms, russet potato, peeled chestnuts, homemade vegetable stock, whipping cream, olive oil, sherry vinegar, fresh thyme, and truffle oil to taste. A warm hearty soup, ideal for a cooler autumn and chillier nights. The creamy mushroom was deliciously pronounced. I could have enjoy a full sized portion of this. It filled your insides with warmth all the way down.

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The “Grapefruit lime scallop ceviche” was made with scallops, fresh corn kernels grilled on the cob, grape tomatoes, pink grapefruit, lime, cilantro, chives, and extra virgin olive oil. The chef made multiple plates in procession. Layer by layer, ingredient by ingredient. The ceviche was very fresh. The fragrant corn and zesty citrus made for a great medley with the raw thinly sliced scallop.

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The “Okonomiyaki” was served on wooden trays by waiters offering napkins. Traditionally this is a Japanese style pancake served pizza style in slices. I enjoyed this mini version made with eggs, flour, green onions, julienned white cabbage, grapeseed oil, baby shrimp, spot prawn, scallops, and asparagus. Each bitty round was garnished with Japanese sweet mayonnaise, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes. The dough was fluffy and cakey. With the seafood and vegetables it was the perfect mix of fresh and savoury all rolled into one compact bite.

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The “Southern fried chicken bites with jalapeño” were also offered by servers. The chicken was breaded with a mix of buttermilk, canola oil, all purpose flour, chilli powder, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika, with salt and pepper to taste. Perfectly fried, each skewered bite of chicken was crispy without the hint of oil. The chicken itself was juicy and moist white meat. And the jalapeño added just the right amount of heat to the already spicy nugget.

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“Porcini-rubbed pork tenderloin” with cipollini onions and salsa verde. The pork was seasoned with dried porcini mushrooms ground to a fine powder, brown sugar, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. The salsa was a blend of garlic, baby capers, parsley leaves, mint leaves, and olive oil. The meat was cooked ahead of time and allowed to rest. Each serving was prepared to order by the chef manning the section. A cut into a whole tenderloin, and the slice is plated and decorated with a sprig of watercress. I have never had pork this succulent, I always find it dry and like sandpaper to get through. One of the reasons why I steer away from the protein in the first place. Thought this one dish has proven to me that when prepared right, pork can be just as delicious as steak.

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On the retail side of the shop were tables set up for dessert sampling. Tables and chefs to man them amongst the shelves of goods. Sold were their items and that of other local gourmet brands. Rows and rows of bottles and jarred sauces, syrups, spreads, and seasonings.

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A refrigerated showcase of cured meats, sausage links, and blocks of wrapped cheeses. A freezer of “Earnest” ice cream, “Nice Pop” popsicles, and pre-made puff pastry.

 

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And on the counter a jar full of their homemade salted caramels, theses as some of the best caramels I have ever had. It was here that dessert was being offered, the sweet separated from the savoury. Most at help yourself stations with chefs at the ready to guide and field question, so should you need and have any.

 

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The first table to come to view was robust with large bowls of sorbets and miniature sugar cones. Each bowl of sorbet was kept cool on ice. Using the melon ballers provided you scoop a mini serving into one of the cones. I managed to get in a double scoop that quickly melted. All the cones were propped up on a specialty designed stand. The sorbets were not your traditional fruit flavoured sorbets, but ones created for those with refined adult palettes, but still kids at heart. Sangria and champagne, how fancy. I wanted to try them for their unique flavours alone.

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The sangria was true to its name, refreshing it had that tell tale red wine kick to it, it was made with a whole bottle of red after all; along with Grand Marnier. I just wished that the limonata, orange, lemon, and lime shone through a little bit more to balance the sharp alcoholic flavour. It certainly didn’t taste good scooped into the sweeter sugar cone.

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The champagne was a variation on the above made using granulated sugar, oranges, and vanilla bean, on top of a bottle of champagne. I preferred this one more. The milk allowed it to hold its ice cream-like nature for longer, giving it a silken and creamy texture. Something in the mix gave it a nutty quality, on the sweeter side, but more spicy.

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The fill your own donut bar was just as exciting as I had envisioned it to be. “The dirty doughnuts” were made with all purpose flour, instant yeast, milk, water, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, eggs, and room temperature butter.

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You start with a pre-made round of fried dough. Grabbing one of the piping bags filled with “yuzu curd” you squeeze the velvety smooth cream generously into the centre. The chef working the station directed you and held still the donut hole as you squeezed the bag with both hands. I was told I was a natural and did a good job as she dusted the round in its final step. The spongy doughnut wasn’t overly sweet, it was the cream that gave it its flavour. Luckily I squeezed hard to get in as much as I could, I am greedy like that.

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The “Lemon bars” were made with unsalted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, flour, eggs, and lemon zest and juice. They were like biting into a sweeten lemon on a buttery shortbread base. You get the lemon flavour without its sour attribute. Delicious, though I am biased as this is one of my all time favourite desserts.

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“The dirty twixter bars”. Three layers of wonderful make up this decadent dessert. A brown sugar shortbread base, a dulce de leche filling, and a salted caramel ganache to top it all off. And the fleur de sel sprinkled overtop accentuated all this chocolatey sweetness amazingly. The dessert with it all, you get your buttery cookie, your creamy caramel, and your luscious chocolate. I may have gone back for seconds and thirds.

They were kind to provide stations of self serve sparkling waters. Bottles and clean glass to pour as needed. This is only my second time having the stuff. I do not like it. I drank in deeply expecting water, the filtered kind. Instead what I got was salty and carbonated hitting the back of my throat. I don’t like my pops carbonated and don’t drink any unless in a float, surrounding vanilla ice cream.

Our host of the evening, owner Dave Robertson settled the room with a clang of a ladle against a miniature sauce pot. It worked. He took the silence to thank his staff, family, and supporters. Acknowledging all those who made this dream possible and what it is that makes them so good at what they do. Vikram Vij wrote the book’s forward and showed his support by being present this evening. He too took the time to give thanks and to acknowledge that hard work and dedication have brought “Dirty Apron” to where they are today.

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As a take away each guest was given a goodie bag. A branded bag full of gourmet edibles, to take home and remember your evening with a flavourful taste in your mouth. Their paper bag was filled with 6 items, each nearly packaged.
“Triple Play Popcorn”. Caramel corn, kettle corn, and cheddar popcorn. Packed in a clear bag to highlight the flavours and all natural colours. Then finished off with their logo of a pig in an apron.
Handcrafted “Noble” vanilla and chamomile infused maple syrup.
“Olio Reserva” organic Italian extra virgin olive oil.
“Dirty Apron Delicatessen olive tapenade”.
An unlabelled jar of coarse salt.
And a brownie wrapped in parchment taped up with “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”. By the time I got to it the oil was just starting to bleed through, therefore it must have been wrapped up hours before the event.

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.
I wish this was something I could enjoy on the regular. I never felt more pampered and have had more fun at any event. All the good food and the great company certainly helped to skew my rating. And after this evening I am considering taking some of their cooking classes, though it would be nice to win the free one. But for now I can practice by using the “The Dirty Apron Cookbook” that I picked up. Don’t deny your cravings.

THE DIRTY APRON
540 Beatty Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2N7
604-879-8588
dirtyapron.com

Accent Cruises

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Groupons and coupons for restaurant meals make the best gift for a food blogger. This one was a generous gesture from a good friend. A social shopper coupon valued at $149 entitled me to enjoy a 2.5 hour sun set dinner cruise for two in Vancouver harbour. The coupon would expire in late November, and because the sun was setting earlier and earlier with the approaching fall season, we decided on the closest available weekend and hoped for no rain.

There is a need to call and reserve a seat, while paying the 5% tax and 15% service fee ahead of time. Done either via credit card over the phone or in person at their offices. However a mix up had our reservations on another day. Luckily they were able to accommodate us last minute today.

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Our journey began at the Granville Island dock. We left our car parked and followed the signs to their registration building water side. Surprisingly there were a few cruises launching this evening, all at 6:30pm. After our check in we were directed to our boat, the “Burrard Queen”.

As a last minute inclusion we were able to pick through one of the last few unclaimed tables. All the ones adjacent to windows were already taken, but we managed to wrangle one close enough to get a partial view.

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The boat was older, and not as glamorous as I had envisioned walking in. It smelled like diesel outside and like an old wet basement inside. The ceiling was made from soffit, a material used to create overhangs and features without considering aesthetics. To soften the look white cloth was draped over it each panel. If you squinted hard enough and really used your imagination it gave the space the feeling of a tent or even a cabana. Almost airy. All four rows of tables were seated, each clothed in black over white. Each with a tea light for ambience sake, and some with a modest arrangement of flowers. All the accompanying chairs were covered in a white stretchy seat covering. There was effort put into to dressing the space up on a budget.

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At the bow (term from front of the ship) of the dining room was the bar. It had high top seats available to sit with the bartender and take back hard liquors. Beside it was a table set up to offer wine by the glass, at cost. Their bottled choices were lined up and presented with bottle cozies that obscured the labels. Both drink destinations were very unpopular with most guests. Like ourselves, no one was really using this opportunity to drink heavily or at all. It was a short trip and most of it was spent eating or taking in the sights. Though at 8pm the lights dimmed, and it was from here that the top 40 music staring plating. There was certainly an attempt at setting the mood for more drinking and a more of a party-like atmosphere.

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The boat left the dock and we headed to the upper deck to take advantage of what little daylight we had left. It was a sunset cruise after all. It is up here that the captain steered and navigated the vessel. An arrangement of numerous lime green seats and patio tables allowed for sitting and drinking in little comfort. Though with all the bodies taking photos and standing to get the best view, there was little hope of enjoying the view while seated. Not to mention the cold chill in the evening air was amplified by the ocean breeze. After capturing the colour of the sky, the pinks and the oranges as the sun hid behind clouds and slowly disappeared in the horizon, we retreated back into the warmth of the dining room. The ship moving further and farther from the city and its scape. Our view included the water, the mountains, the sky and its clouds, our city its lights, others boats, and all the cameras everywhere to capture it all.

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It was up here that we were taught how to use a life jackets and the emergency boats. Only those taking in the view were privy to this tutorial. Mostly due to the fact that all the emergency equipment was stored here. Our tutor asked for a volunteer and a good sport offered his services. It was hard to get the crowd’s attention, she would have been better off explaining all this before we left the harbour.

All drinks came at a cost, even water. They only offered bottled water at $2. You can start a tab with a credit card or pay as you go. They however had no issue with me walking in with a can of red bull in hand. It wasn’t until later did we realize that coffee and tea were part of the package and it was a help yourself set up. The whole dining experience was slightly confusing with lack of communication from the staff. I had to ask when dinner was, if we could move about the boat, and when we could help ourselves.

Dinner was set up buffet style, but very limited. For the sake of organization each table was called up one at a time to help themselves. I couldn’t figure out how they decided the order, as we were kept eagerly waiting.

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You serve yourself from appetizers of salad and bread. A mixed green salad with three dressing choices. I didn’t have any, but I am guessing a raspberry vinaigrette, thousand island, and ranch dressing by colour. Beside it a well sauced Cesar salad with Parmesan and croutons. The large portions were overwhelming, but absolutely needed given the full seating. Both were pretty generic salads, not worth a second try.

The entrees were dispensed by two
servers, one on meat, one on sides. You were given a choice out of the four or all four. There was no care put into how they doled out the meal. Both of our plates had food hanging off the sides.

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The chicken was extremely overcooked, dry and tough, in a beige colour to match. The only thing going for it was that it was warm. At first I couldn’t even tell it apart from the fish.

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The salmon was only better by comparison. At least it had moisture and more dimension.

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The side order of carrot was on the raw side. It just tasted like carrot, only carrot.

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The potatoes were slightly better, properly cooked and more flavourful. Though still bland. It was like the chef didn’t taste his food, he seasoned based on appearance. I never add salt or pepper to my food. Though I found myself repeatedly going for the salt and pepper shakers today.

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The bread was sadly the best thing. The large bowlful was filled with cut up pieces of baguette. Chewy and cold, it tasted better than anything else. I was not impressed with the the communal lump of butter with butter knives protruding from it. It looked sloppy and felt lazy. Not to mention it wasn’t very sanitary. Knives smearing butter on pieces of bread held in hand.

All the cups and mugs to be used for tea and coffee were dirty. I lifted several glasses in search for one that was smudge free and grease less. It is sad when you settle on using a cup because it is not as bad as the others. Meaning less sticky on the outside and with little to no residue on the inside. The thermos for coffee and the one used for hot water meant for tea were not labelled. I wanted water and ended with some coffee in my earl grey, not a bad taste actually. The milk was in a jug kept on ice to keep it cool. There was certainly not enough for the whole boat to have milk in their hot beverage.

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Everyone had the ability to go back for seconds, but honestly nothing was good enough to have again. After the first round and everyone was eating their entree, the troths were left unmanned. Each held a large scoop spoon to be able to help yourself with as much or as little as you like. One lady had a plate full or roasted potatoes.

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Chocolate cake by the slice for dessert. The servers come around and offered you a slice once it is clear that your meal is done. Each slice varied from the other by size. No two slices were even, so I took the larger. Each piece was dressed with white chocolate shavings and served with a dollap of real whipped cream. The cake was moist and sweet with the taste of milk chocolate. It was good enough to have me questioning if it was store bought. Overall generic, but amazing compared the rest of dinner, even the bread and butter.

Over all I was not the slightest impressed with assortment and presentation. My guest said he has has more bland and has had much worse. With little to no options, this dinner cruise really isn’t for vegetarians or anyone with any dietary restrictions. You take what they offered or you didn’t get to come.

The women’s washroom was a closet with two smaller closets, one for each of the two toilet bowls present. With the front door unlocked and so close to the stalls, and a flimsy hook to peg set up in the actual stall, using the washroom was an anxious feeling. For the men, their washrooms weren’t any better. Located in the basement, directly underneath the woman’s, it came with a low ceiling. My guest at just under 6 feet had to bend at the neck in order to travel about. He was even less impressed with the sign that gave users directions on how to flush. Both facilities were at least clean given the age of the place and the wear of the equipment.

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The sky soon turned black, the temperature dropped, and the windows got steamy with condensation. Although it was much colder outside the cabin inside was able to keep us warm. We only ventured out once again to capture more of the city on phone. The lights were dimmed and things got romantic. The tea lights were lit and faces were highlighted in the dim cabin. The lights of the city popped against the black of the night. As unique as this all was and as beautiful as Vancouver harbour was, I was ready to go back to land as soon as I finished eating. In fact I was eagerly waiting for 9pm to come and the cruise to be done. So much so that I got excited when we passed by the Granville Island Marketplace, our starting point, early. Only to watch us past and continue to explore the end of False Creek. We were surprised that the boat’s route wasn’t more close to land in the first place.

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The tail end of our adventure had us passing by the distinctive orb of Science World, lit in pink tonight; the iconic tracks of the Expo line skytrain; Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks; and BC Place where the lions roam.

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Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
If this wasn’t free for me I would have complained to have my money returned and my time reimbursed. To best put it, I am glad that didn’t waste money on ordering drinks here. It was only tolerable when I reminded myself that it’s not only about the food, but the experience and the adventure on open water. But even then the boat wasn’t all that impressive. I only recommend this for the novelty of being in a boat, and for those from out of town wanting a different way to explore the city a different. Though even so I strongly recommend that you skip the dinner portion, save yourself money and just enjoy the cruise. Don’t deny your cravings.

ACCENT CRUISES
100-1676 Duranleau Street, Vancouver BC, V6H3Y1
604-688-6625
accentcruises.ca
Accent Dinner Cruises on Urbanspoon

Malaysian Hut Restaurant

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Hailing from South East Asian and having been back on several occasions I find myself craving the cuisine I grew up on and the foods my parents indulged me in. So as a family we drove out to Surrey to try “Malaysian Hut”. This is our second go at the place, the first was on a Monday, only to find out they were closed. The website and the menu listed is really what had us wanting to go in the first place. The food looked authentic and the descriptions sounded delicious, triggering fond memories.

It is a small family run business open since 1998, specializing in East Malaysian style cooking. They go so far as to import most of their ingredients straight from their hometown of Miri, Sarawak. Their claim of offering traditional Malaysian dishes that you cannot find anywhere else in the city is accurate. Believe me, I have been on the constant search. No other places I have been to offer Pulut Pangang (sweet glutinous rice with shrimp paste wrapped in banana leaf), Rojak (traditional Malaysian salad), Loh Mee (egg noodles with a minced meat sauce), Kuching Curry Laksa (noodle in soup) and Kuih Dadar (crepe infused with pandan leaves and wrapped with finely shredded coconut and palm sugar).

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The restaurant was hard to see from the road. We missed it several times rounding the block in our car. The dark of the night and their unlit awning made the restaurant’s name impossible to read. And the small neon “open” sign wasn’t even visible. It also didn’t help that a row of thin pines fenced them and their parking lot away from the street. Because of this we suspect they do most of their business during lunch, when its bright out their restaurant is visible and the surrounding establishments are also open for business.

Looking in we were intimated by the empty restaurant before us. Though found it oddly comforting to have a couple come in as we were about to leave. We had called ahead so one table was prepared with cutlery. We walked in and were greeted warmly. Family members came and went during our stay. We assumed the mother was the one to welcomed us, and had just finished her shift. It was her daughter that was taking over, she would be the one to serve us. As is the case with many small family run restaurants it is cash only, a fact we were observant enough to read on the sign taped by the cash desk.

The restaurant was dressed like a home. A well themed living room with orange walls, wicker chairs, and curtains of beige and white. It was more quaint and cozy then other small restaurants offering similar cuisine. Decorations consisted of artwork and artifacts, a lot of which we couldn’t place. Framed medallions, panel carvings, straw hats, stone statues, and a wooden paddle. It was the country music that threw me off the most, it is not what I imagine hearing at a hole in the wall Malaysian restaurant. It really didn’t match the cuisine.

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We appreciated the design of the menu. A lengthly laminated sheet with pictures and descriptions for every item offered. Though it only looked longer than it actually was. There were a few items that were only slight variations on the same thing. For example both the flat rice noodles and the egg noodles started off with their intended noodles, bean sprouts, and eggs. What had them differing and earning their own title was the secondary ingredients used: barbecue pork, shredded chicken, or grilled shrimp, to name a few.

As the only ones dining our food was made to order and came in a speedy fashion. There is comfort in being able to hear your food being made in the kitchen. The scrape of the wok with metal spatula, and the sizzle of fresh ingredients hitting oil.

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“Roti Canai”, this one is a must order for my mother. Crispy pancakes with curry sauce. Despite what the menu suggested this wasn’t a traditional curry. The sauce had a flavour we couldn’t put our finger on. It was warm and spicy enough, but so heavy that it didn’t pair as well with the light and sweet roti. Each piece of pancake was light with an enjoyable elastic-like texture. Not at all greasy, it was best enjoyed with bare hands dipping dough into sauce.

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“Pulut Panggang”, sweet glutinous rice filled with spicy sun dried shrimp & shredded coconut. We choose this based on the photo advertised. In the menu it was shown as sticky rice packaged in a wrap of banana leaves. So we were undoubtedly disappointed to see the brick of yellow rice presented before us. The original intent was to have the rice grilled in the leaf, giving it a nice char. A smokey smell and a toasted taste. The rice was fragrant and neon yellow from the turmeric used. The pairing of the sweet rice and the spicy filling were a nice play. The side of shredded purple cabbage and carrot was a needed element to fresh up the plate.

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“Nonya Mee Hoon Goreng”. Vermicelli stir fried with sambal sauce, bean sprouts, sun dried shrimps, and prawns. According to my mother “Nonya” referred to an ethnicity of Chinese people mixed with the locals of Malaysia. Apparently they are known for their quality of food. If that is indeed the case, given the great flavours of this noodle dish, the name was aptly chosen. The pan fried noodles were some of the most tastiest I have ever had, flavoured with a strong shrimp paste. Layers of spices created evolving flavours that kept the whole dish interesting from start to finish. I was however disappointed that we were only given two grilled prawns for all the noodles. Carefully laid on top, the shrimp served as more of a decoration than a main ingredient.

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“Nasi Lemak”, coconut steam rice served with curry chicken, fried eggs, chilli seasoned anchovies, fresh cucumber, and salted peanuts. This was a complete meal with plenty of sides. Lots of elements kept the plate interesting, but it isn’t necessarily a combination for everyone. When was the last time you had a breaded and deep fried hard boiled egg, that was then covered in tiny salted fish? Not for everyone. The chicken curry was dominating in heat and spice. It easily overpowered everything, which the cucumber aided by offering a descent palette cleanser. The peanuts in this dish are usually fried, these were not. The frying process would have had them more fragrant, but as is they still added a nice crunchy texture.

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“Char Kway Teow”, the “regular” version of rice noodles with bean sprouts and BBQ pork. The taste was a little different than what I am familiar with, possibly some black bean sauce in the mix? I found it a little salty with not enough noodles to BBQ pork ratio. Overall average and a little disappointing.

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“Fish Ball Soup”. Hand rolled fish balls with vermicelli or glass noodles. We choose the latter, as it’s the noodle more commonly used. It tasted like something my aunt would and could make, feel good home cooking. The soup was seasoned with sesame oil and onion from the flakes of fried onion sprinkled on top. Served last, the soup was unfortunately bland when compared to everything else before. Though it is meant to be a lighter clear broth. The fish balls tasted fresh, you could tell they were mostly made from real fish paste. Each round was spongy and firm in texture, bursting with fishy goodness.

Only after we asked for the bill did we see the sign advertising their daily special of “low sue fen”. This is a special type of noodle named after it “mouse” like appearance. A noodle I love and a noodle I have yet to see offered at any restaurant. I wish we knew about this before we ordered. Had I known this would have been ordered instead of the “Char Kway Teow”. I was disappointed to have missed it. It would have been nice to be told of specials as we went through our menu.

The washroom showed the age of the building which the main dining room was able to hide with its yellow lights and distracting decorations. The one room unisex stall hummed from a blinking florescent light. Erie, it was a scene I could imagine from a horror movie gas station. The washroom itself was grungy. Decorated with dried and fake flowers and odd nick knacks. It looked like a collection of items that the family no longer wanted, but didn’t want to waste my throwing out, so put them on display here. A bouquet of rainbow dyed and now dried flowers? and decorative soaps festively shaped and protected in cellophane.

The bill came with some fruit candies, it was a nice touch and much needed given the about of spice we left with in our mouths. The tea helped but was not enough of a palette cleanser. Even the candy wasn’t enough. I looked forward to going home and brushing my teeth.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I only say no to returning because of the distance we had to travel. I cannot justify driving three cities over and spending almost an hour in the car just for Malaysian food, despite how good it is. We enjoyed what we had though found the cuisine to be more Chinese style Malaysian, than true authentic Malaysian. An therefore a few flavours we expected were lacking. I was also somewhat sadden that our meal wasn’t served on plastic plates like you would get from outdoor hawker stands in Southeast Asia, something I oddly miss. My mother found the food good, but the flavours over the top. Being familiar with the recipes and having made a handful of them herself she feel restaurant style cooking is exaggerated. She declared it was like they over compensate to ensure flavour. Smart, given food and opinion is subjective. Hedge your bets by jam packing dishes with spices and herbs, and wish for the best. Once again I enjoyed what we had, but cannot declare it the best or even the most authentic. Good, but I will not be back for more because of distance. Though if you are in the area or live in proximity I suggest stopping by for some rice and noodles. Where it’s cash only, the prices are decent, and the serving sizes are average. Don’t deny your cravings.

MALAYSIAN HUT RESTAURANT
14727 108 Ave Suite 108, Surrey BC, V3R1V8
604-588-1718
malaysianhutrestaurant.com
Malaysian Hut Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Afterglow Lounge

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The name suited the place and our purpose. We were here for drinks after an event. Walking in it felt like we were coming in from the back, empty and dark with no one to greet us. We moved towards the light, a corridor betwixt us and a busy dining room. Doing so to hail a server and to acknowledge that we will be staying.

One side, our side was “Afterglow”, on the other “Glowbal”. One location, one menu, two names, two restaurants. Cleverly designed with one entrance on Hamilton Street and the other on Mainland. You almost get double the customers from this unique set up. Two restaurants for the location of one.

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We were clearly on the lounge end of things, the lights were dimmed, the curtains were drawn, and candles were lit to create a more romantic ambience. The room was walled with cushions it made for a comfortable seating arrangement. The sort of seating that allowed for closeness and an extended stay. Sitting side by side was necessary as the music was on the louder side and shouting to be heard was inevitable. The music was a blend of jazz and techno, upbeat melodies that set the stage for a more grown up evening. This wasn’t your top 40 in a club sort of music. Despite our distance from the other tables and no staff members currently assigned to work the area were in, we were still well taken cafe of. A rotation of staff stopped by to ensure that we were enjoying our meal and had everything we wanted. And their help was always ready at hand.

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Espresso with a biscotti bite.

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They specialize in “satay”, a term derived from Southeast Asia that refers to seasoned, skewered and grilled meat, traditionally served with a peanut sauce. Here they used the word to encompass anything on a stick. The choices not only included meat, but seafood, vegetables and pasta shaped into balls as well. Not everything was grilled, some items were baked, others fried. And the sauces varied depending on the ingredients on the stick. The albacore tuna came with a cilantro ponzu sauce, the lamb sausage with mustard, the meatball with marinara, the chicken with lemon grass, and the short rib with a truffled aioli. All very westernized to better suit the demographic. Each dish crafted with the consideration of pairing food with cocktails and beers.

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We tried the “Mushroom tempura” for my vegetarian guest. Served with coleslaw and a ginger white soy sauce. This was the only option offering a spicy peanut sauce. Visually the plate wasn’t very appealing. Large irregular shaped rounds with a thick batter coating. The mushrooms were of the button variety, not common in Asian cuisine, which proves my statement of it being westernized. It was good, but really needed the sauce and the coleslaw in each bite to add more flavour. There was also not enough peanut sauce for my liking.

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“Beet… Salad” prepared with crushed pistachios, arugula, and goat cheese in a sherry vinaigrette. It was more beets than anything else. I wanted more of the nuts, more of the greens, and much more cheese to accent the root vegetable. The nuts gave an earthy crunch, the cheese a salty smoothness, and the greens a pop of freshness, all wrapped up in the tang of the vinaigrette. As a result when the toppings ran out we stopped eating, leaving little less than half the serving of beets untouched.

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“Creme brûlée trio”. We were enticed my the thought of triple the number of creme brûlées. If one was good three should be amazing. Hazelnut, white chocolate, and vanilla. The one topped with a single blueberry was the vanilla and the white chocolate one had the raspberry. Each of the creme brûlées tasted pre-made, not fresh. Overly sweeten the texture was off as well. It wasn’t soft and loose like traditional creme brûlée. Instead it was dense like custard, whereas we were expecting to bite into a fluffy-like mousse. On top of the above each flavour was too strong, it overwhelmed the intended lightness of the dessert. The white chocolate was the worst of the lot, whereas the vanilla the most pleasing in its mildness. When asked I told our server what we really thought of the creme brûlée. I am often truth first without thinking. After mid explanation I tried to withdraw my statement, changing my answer to “never mind, it was fine”. None-the-less our server took it upon himself to surprise and delight. He presented the bill without the dessert being charged to us. He declared that he knew he didn’t have to, but wanted to. What a way to guarantee happy guests. I was impressed.

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I was enamoured by the washroom floors, they were done in a leopard print pattern using multiple little squared tiles. Just thinking of the work and planning put into this was impressive. It sure was eye catching. You don’t need decorations when the floor looks like this.

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.
I appreciated the solitude that the slow night gave us. The settling was comfortable and the music was pleasing, it is one I wouldn’t mind enjoying again. The staff were accommodating and seem to genuinely care. I felt welcomed and want to return from the check ins to the gesture with our unsatisfactory dessert. My opinion of the restaurant being only okay changed to amazing just because of the service. My next visit will be to the “Glowbal” side, to sample the full extent of their diverse menu. Flat breads, pastas, meats, and fish; including share style platters that allow you to try a little bit of everything. Don’t deny your cravings.

AFTERGLOW
1082 Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC
604-602-0835
glowbalgroup.com/glowbalgrill
Afterglow Lounge on Urbanspoon

Hapa Izakaya

IMG_1415IMG_1416I I would argue that this is one of the most popular Japanese tapas destinations in Vancouver. With numerous locations in various popular entertainment areas around the city, it certainly has all the right things going for it. Best known for its simple exterior, it certainly stands out because of it. All black with clean lines; no signs, no decorations. Just a strip of light to brighten up the restaurant’s name in small block font.

I was here for a friend’s birthday. Given their ability to host large group gatherings it was certainly a good choice. You are definitely limited in your choices when you have to accommodate so many bodies. The group spanned four tables. Tucked in our own corner, it allowed bodies to stand and move about to mingle. Because of the size, we were definitely the ones most contributing to the loud noise level, though the rest of the restaurant was pretty rowdy this Friday night. The overall vibe was a causal one, a setting ideal for raising your voice along with your glass. One where you are allowed to linger long after dinner is done, and where the drinks keep coming.

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The menu included all the familiars: “ebi mayo”, “edamame”, “Agedashi tofu”, “yaki udon”, and “beef short ribs”. All dishes you expect from Japanese small plates, plus some creative variations: “Pork belly lettuce wraps”, “polenta fries”, minced pork Gyoza made into tempura, and tacos with tempura halibut and shoe string potatoes. Some real fun and well presented shareables. Having been here before, and having tried most of it, we stuck to the feature sheet. A menu scrawled on with sharpie and stamped in red to highlight their exclusive dishes.

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“Karaage”, deep fried boneless chicken with a soy ginger sauce. The picture is with the plate partially eaten from. The chicken nuggets were average, slightly dry, and tough at the ends. I have had better.

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“Tako wasabi”. A mix of seasoned octopus sashimi, wasabi, and cucumber. It is self served on roasted seaweed sheets. The gentle taste of octopus was hidden by the strong musk of wasabi, so strong it cleared my nasal passages. The octopus was more for the texture anyways. When paired with the seaweed it was an assembly of strong flavours coming together, that all worked together.

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When asked for recommendations our server suggested the “Cheese tofu”. Described as a light cheese appetizer with honey and strawberries. More dessert than appetizer, it tasted like a watered down cheesecake. Creamy, fluffy, light and sweet. I found it similar to Brie and honey. It was interesting and worth trying, thought I wished we were not given this as one of our dishes to start. I instead would have preferred to end with it like a cheese course.

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“Steak bites”, sautéed cubes of Alberta flank steak. Served with a scalloped potato quiche, fried lotus root chips, and a Japanese spicy pepper sauce for dipping. The beef could have been more rare. I understood that it was chopped to allow for easy eating and better sharing. But it would have been better if the steak was cooked whole then sliced to show pink. The lotus chips gave the plate a nice crunchy texture, though did little for its flavour. And the block of egg and potato did not taste as good as it looked. The texture of the potatoes were almost raw, and along with the egg binding, lacked seasoning. I wished for some melted cheddar and some rosemary to perk them up.

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“Mentaiko udon”, udon noodles seasoned in a spicy cod roe sauce. It was all very fishy thanks to the fish roe. The sauce was very grainy, I did not get the smoothness that I expected from a creamy udon. The sand like granules were very off putting, but luckily the noodles were thick, and only looked like this was a large plate. We were able to finish it in the name of not wasting food.

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“Torched salmon press” sushi made with chopped sockeye salmon and sliced avocado, then topped with a red miso mayonnaise. The roll was assembled, but brought to our table to be torched. Our server did it skillfully with a handheld blow torch; though you couldn’t really see the colouring of the torched fish hidden under the thick sauce. The colour of the sauce was nothing I have ever seen, it had a smokey tang to it that highlighted the salmon well. The side of tempura chips and chopped green onions offered texture and freshness. It had the sushi hitting all intended texture and flavour points, though as a whole it wasn’t without its flaws. The sushi was warmed by the flame, and as a result the rice no longer adhered to its intended boxy shape. It quickly broke apart between crossed chopsticks.

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“Spicy pork ishi-yaki”. We ordered this one last as an add on. Wanting more food and still feeling hungry we opted for a more filling rice bowl. Out of all the options, we went with our server’s suggestion for this. She declared the pork to be the most flavourful. A combination of rice, minced pork, garlic sprouts, egg, tomato, lettuce, and spicy miso. The rice and all its toppings were presented in a heated stone bowl, then mixed at our table. The residual heat from the bowl cooked the egg and crisped the rice to a fried rice-like texture. Our server’s rapid two spoon stirring then flattening, mixed the rice well and cooked it thoroughly. We allowed it to sit further to have the rice at its crispiest without being burnt.

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.
I deem this a good place for a rowdier get together with a large group of friends. Small bites and drink specials, all the beginnings of a fun night. But due to the higher volume of people and all the boisterous noise as a result, I would not recommend “Hapa” for date night. Not the best place for romance. The food is best in large quantities, ideal for snacking on with a few drinks anyway. And the waitresses were hired for their appeal and their embodiment of the night life and party atmosphere. Whatever your reason to visit, don’t deny your cravings.

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On a previous visit I enjoyed the “Tuna avocado salsa dip”. Made with chopped ahi tuna, avocado, and tomatoes; and served with crispy fried plantain chips as a dipping base. Refreshing and light with fresh vegetables. I enjoyed the twist in using plantains instead of tortilla chips, it added a whole new taste element, salty with a hint of sweet.

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“Ika”, grilled whole squid served with a sake soy garlic marinated. Visually this was impressive. The squid was as expected, chewy with a smokey char.

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A seasonal salmon pressed sushi with salmon and avocado. Like the one we had today, but without the miso sauce and the flare of a table side fire show.

HAPA IZAKAYA
1479 Robson Street, Vancouver BC
604-689-4272
hapaizakaya.com
Hapa Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Rajio Japanese Public House

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Its about four months since my original visit. I said I would be back and with the recent popularity of the place, it ended up being sooner than later. We missed out on horse meat sashimi last time so today marked it on the agenda. We built up the suspense only to learn it was a seasonal item, and it along with the season trotted out of our grasp.

To read my original visit post click here.

Arriving early I took the opportunity to park at a distance for no cost. It required a walk from a block away, instead of paying at one the multiple street meters just outside the restaurant. Despite the full restaurant only one car was parked in front. Did I miss a lot in the back? Walking in you are greeted in unison by the staff, done in a very typical Japanese fashion. A miscommunication of our 7pm reservations resulted in a delay before seating. We were eventually given a large table up front. It came dressed with additional plates and utensils, and had an add on table in order to turn this four top into a six. My only complaint, the cold. The days were chiller the sun settled sooner and the draft tickling my back meant I had to eat in my restraining jacket, and the uncovered tops of my feet would remain shivering. How a couple managed to dine outside on the patio is unknown to me. I guess it beats waiting for a table inside, and if you are accustomed to Vancouver weather it isn’t even an issue. However the heavy street traffic and the sounds of wheels sloshing through muddy puddles must not be ideal.

The room was still as I remembered it, dark with blackened walls. The colour choice did well to highlight the rows of masks. Masks of Japanese cartoon characters meant to be worn by children: Hello Kitty, Megaman, Doraemon, Pikachu, Mickey and Minnie, and the lesser known others. Each was illuminated with light bulbs, making them some of the most creative lamps I have ever seen. Japanese elements were also seen in the paper lanterns lining the awning outside, the tiles hanging over the bar, and print on the curtains leading to the washroom. It was all very culturally festive.

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I wondered about the grey scale photos of “DJ Katuya”. A gentleman with his image posterized and duplicated across the walls and doors of the restaurant. The flyer called him a “legend”. We didn’t ask, assumed he was a base ball player because of his ball cap, and that he also disc jockeyed based on his stage name. But after some sleuthing on the menu, we learned we were wrong. He was the head chief, Katuya. He had his own features on the daily menu, definitely making some creative interpretations. I guess he mixed dishes like a DJ mixes songs.

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“Rajio’s” popularity has grown since our last visit. The restaurant has now settled and since gained plenty of momentum. A fact seen by their branded napkins, professional matte coloured menus, and daily fresh sheets printed in colour. The menu was pretty descriptive, detailing ingredients and recalling flavours with the use of a thesaurus. It certainly painted a picture when the actual menu was void of any. The editor was quite flowery in their descriptions, adjectives used to lure your into ordering more. Overall they worked, but a few fell short in its biased account. You would get a “kick” out of their “raw Tako wasabi”. The white miso used in the “imaginative twist on an Italian classic” came from an “ancient imperial palace in Kyoto”. The balsamic vinegar in the “black sweet and sour pork rib” was said to add a “complex tangy sweetness to this classic crowd pleaser”. And the spice in their fried chicken was titled “heavenly”. How were we to choose through all these glowing recommendations? Luckily our host was Japanese, specifically from Osaka, where the restaurant takes most of their influences from. He led us on our journey, but made the mistake of assuming the staff were of Japanese descent too. So speaking to them in his native language didn’t last long. Four servers working the room, none dedicated to any table, each willing to help out as needed. As a result we were well taken care of, our glasses were kept full, our dining needs were met, and we felt appreciated as clients.

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Like last time, our meal began with a complimentary metal bowl of cabbage dressed in a salty daikon sauce to start. And like last time this was familiar to my Japanese host. He informed us that this is most commonly taken with beer. A less flavourful snack that marries well with the bitterness of beer.

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“Hibiscus Pink lemonade”, a sweet juice made with hibiscus flowers and sweet goji berries. Described as being “refreshing in lemon, steeped with “good for you stuff” for the best flavour”. The beverage was premade for the night and stored in a jug for easy serving.

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Green Tea. Goes well with salty and greasy foods.

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“Y’s Mommy’s assorted oden. So good the first time that we ordered it again tonight. Though it was not as exciting for me the second time around. Our host assured it was just as good this time and still tasted like something his mother would prepare for him. Ingredients long simmered in one pot to bring out their flavour in a rich broth. Assorted vegetables, meat, fish cakes, and a half boiled eggs in a kelp and clam based broth. The menu was more accurate in its description detailing the flavour as being “exquisite” as the ingredients slowly get absorbed to make for a good oden broth, a process taking many hours to achieve. Best enjoyed hot as a starter, thanks to its milder flavour when compared to the other dishes we enjoyed.

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“*Y* Ebimayo”, a Japanese classic. Their version, cilantro tempura battered tiger prawns served drizzled with a chilli mayo. Prepared with a side of deep fried prawn crackers for crunch. It was good, but not “revolutionary” like the menu suggested, more average. My guest choose this unashamedly for the mayo and his love of mayo. So much that we ordered a second side serving of mayo just for him. One of the servers was happy to comply.

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“Aburi toro avocado battera”. Lightly seared then pressed Canadian albacore tuna toro sushi, made with a thin layer of avocado, shiso herb, and their original black sauce. The sushi was a mess. The creamy avocado and mushy rice needed to be colder. As a result of its warmer temperature, they fell apart with each grab you made for them. However their taste still held up. The shiso accent in the sauce was delicious, it brought together well the fish and rice.

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“If you ain’t flying, you might as well be fried!” That is the actual name of their battered, super juicy pork tenderloin tempura with ponzu mayo sauce. This one was on October 8th’s fresh sheet. Like the dish itself, the name was quite a mouthful. The batter was well seasoned, and thoroughly breaded over the pork chop. I am not use to eating pork that isn’t bacon, but my guests assured me it wasn’t as dry as I thought it to be and that it was actually good for what it was.

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“Sea urchin and Ikura carbonara udon”. Like the menu said the “unique and creamy essence of sea urchin and Ikura make this ordinary udon special”. Then further persuaded you by asking and adding, “Love sea urchin? Salmon roe? Must try!” When is a creamy pasta too creamy? This was so rich from the heavy cream and sea urchin that we were glad to be sharing. Far too decadent to have a full portion yourself.

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“Bang! Bang! Chicken”, juicy tender steamed chicken with a “crunchy” jellyfish dressed in an “appetizing” Bang! Bang! Sesame sauce. This was more of a summer dish, kept chilled for the sake of the jellyfish, and eaten cool. Interestingly, picking through the pile we thought we spotted some fake shark fin in the mix. The dish was light, it felt like it was missing something; a starch, a heavier base, something to have this dish looking and feeling more substantial. Some bread, a cracker, a wrap, rice, a platform for what was essentially a shredded chicken salad. It would have also helped with the crunch needed from a harder texture.

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“Kushikatsu”, was the special of the restaurant. Homemade bite sized skewers featuring fresh ingredients. Each breaded with panko, then deep fried to a crisp. The menu mentioned it originating in the neighbourhood taverns of Osaka, and being enjoyed with their original secret dipping sauce and beers. Here you pay per skewer with no minimum order, or enjoy the pre-chosen, “premium skewer set” on the fresh sheet. With the latter you get skewers of bacon and asparagus, stuffed shiitake, prosciutto with broccoli, and tomato with basil. This compared to the everyday options of eggplant, onion, chicken, pork, beef, octopus, scallop, shrimp, etc.

With the trays of skewers lined in a row, came a tall jar of sauce for dipping and a container for storing used skewers. It was thoroughly emphasized that the sauce included a rule, a restriction to have only one dip per stick. A feature illustrated on the menu, a notion mentioned by each staff member, and a reminder repeated on the glass itself, “one dip, one life”. This they called the “friendly Osaka dipping style”. We hypothesized the need for this restriction: reusing the sauce. The only real need for high sanitation. My Japanese guest suggested that each dunk will also add layers of flavour into the sauce, dip after dip, ingredient after ingredient.

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As for the skewers themselves I found the pork overcooked and dry as a result. Grey in colour and saw dust in texture. The lack of moisture couldn’t easily be remedied by a mere dunk into a vat of sauce. The sauce itself was too saturated at the tip, with none to coat the last bite, closest to your hand. And because it is just one dip, you get what you get.

The panko breaded rice cake soaked up sauce like a sponge. Out of all the skewers, we deemed this the most enjoyable in taste and texture.

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I also enjoyed the lotus root, remembering how good it was the first time around, and wanting more now. However the fibrous nature of the plant threw the others off. I guess the chalk like stringiness of the root is an acquired taste that I grew up with.

The shiitake mushroom ones I liked the least. I don’t like the fungus normally, finding it too large and to chewy to get through. So found that everything about this tasted off, which made eating through it all the harder.

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The dessert menu was creatively written on a Japanese style hand held fan. Though we passed on any as none of the options seemed exciting enough. Cake, brulee, and tofu.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
My original assessment of the restaurant has not changed. The food is still good, I was just not as excited about it the second time around. It was no longer experiencing new flavours, just reliving ones tried previously. I will still come back and still recommend it because of its authenticity. I find them more traditional when compared to similar Japanese tapas places. The decor is just as cute and just as comfortable the second time around; though I now remember why I don’t come more often, the distance. Don’t deny your cravings.

RAJIO
3763 W. 10th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6R2G7
604-558-1679
rajiopublichouse.com
Rajio Japanese Public House on Urbanspoon

Pourhouse

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This is my third visit to date and it has yet to disappoint. Definitely one of my go to’s when in Gastown. Great food and large portions at decent prices. The dining trifecta. To read my original review first click here.

We came here for more food, having met with disappointment from our first stop. We couldn’t believe that we missed it our first time around. As I have pointed out in the past, the exterior isn’t very prominent, nor is it trying to be memorable. A muted glass entrance looking into a foyer of grey concrete, soften with a vase full of flowers and a wooden bench. As before the sandwich board at knee height did little to stop us, even with us actively looking for places to eat.

The restaurant was relatively empty at 4pm. We claimed a spacious booth, the only ones on the upper dining area, with a waitress all our own. A few bodies made themselves comfortable at the bar, being served by the very dapper looking bartender.

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After being seated we were inundated with menus, four menus to gaze over. Their regular “bill of fare” had a list of snacks, starters, mains, and sides. The leather covered drinks list include seasonal specials, classic cocktails, and a handsome collection of wines and spirits, as reflected by their expansive bar. We were in time to catch the tail end of lunch so were offered this menu as well. It highlighted their $14 deal: your choice of gourmet sandwiches with a side or either soup, salad, or fries. Then finished off with a craft beer. And lastly we were also eligible to order off their Happy Hour menu from 2-5pm. The “aperitivo hour” menu described the term, a pre dinner drink, a beverage meant to help open up your meal. It offered wine and cocktails on special together with thoughtfully paired snacks for cheap. For example, “Oyster rockafeller” for $4!

Looking for something savoury before our sweet, and considering we had already eaten before, we kept it light with vegetarian friendly options. This was also in considering the dietary choices for my vegetarian guest.

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Under the mains we choose the “Crispy chickpea croquette”, served with ratatouille and an herb salad. My Cuban guest declared that the best croquettes in the world are Spanish, and therefore when enjoying a croquettes it needs to be paired with a Spanish wine. This entree was beautifully presented. An evenly brown square sturdily balanced on of mound of soften vegetables. The colours and textures were soggy, but made cheerful with the lightness of frisée. The croquettes were crispy on the outside and silken soft like tofu on the inside. They surprised you with whole chickpeas embedded in its centre. Though as good as it was, we both would have preferred the large square as bites, four smaller pieces served on a long dish. One bite appetizer sized morsels, meant a more even breading to croquette ratio. As an entree it was a lot to go through and we quickly grew tired of the one note taste. Luckily the tangy ratatouille with cucumber, tomato, and eggplant helped to create some diversity in flavour. It was hearty like a stew, but on the drier side. Overall I would have preferred it better with a thicker broth. Another remedy to keep the flavour of the chickpea patty more engaging would be to have include with it a creamy dipping sauce. The croquette’s texture reminded me of fried fish, like cod deep fried as a part of fish and chips; so maybe a tartar-like sour cream sauce?

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The side of “Roasted beets”, was a larger portion than expected. As a starter sized plate this was more than enough for two. As a side it was meant to be taken with something else, good but the taste worn on and out quick. The hazelnuts and Swiss chard, in addition to the beets provided dining interest. The nuts offered a crunchy and earthy texture, and the greens gave the plate some needed freshness. The beets were almost caramelized, they had a sweeten tone to them. And their softer texture almost melted when pressed against teeth and tongue. When vegetarian dishes are done at their best, as a omnivore, you don’t miss the meat.

What made their dessert options so special was the listed drink pairings. Under each dessert option were suitable spirits and wines offered. A selection carefully chosen to accentuate your dessert. And in some cases it was as simple as a shot of milk to go with your “freshly baked chocolate chip cookies”. I didn’t try it, but the thought of fresh, right out of the oven baked cookies was tempting.

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Classics are classic for a reason. You can’t go wrong with a creamy “vanilla creme burlee”. My guest partnered this with a serving of “Angostura 1919 rum”, prepared neat. She was excited to learn it was a dark rum from Trinidad and Tobago. Having had the creme burlee before I knew it would be as good as the portion was generous. With a shallow dish there was more surface area for torched sugar. The first crack into the plane of sugar is always my favourite part of this dessert.

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Wanting something more fresh I choose the “Blueberry shortcake” for it fruit component. Smaller blueberries littered the cake, swimming in a sea of luscious cream. Although it looked decadent the dessert was not too sweet, it would have been great with a cup of earl grey that the menu suggested. The layers of cake hidden under smooth cream was dense. Heave and part like a scone, and just as dry. The moisture from the cream and the juice from the berries certainly helped to break each block of yellow cake apart. Delicious, but filing, I was unable to finish the portion

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.
My third time back and I don’t see why I wouldn’t return for a fourth. The area is convenient, the setting is sophisticated, the music is hip, and the decor is stylish. The servers are friendly, the drinks are festive, the cuisine is classic, and the food is consistently delicious. If I didn’t always need to try different places in order to have more material to blog about, I could see myself here several times a week. And given the number of menus, I am sure to find something I am in the mood for. Don’t deny your cravings.

POURHOUSE
162 Water Street, Vancouver BC, V6B1B2
604-568-7022
pourhousevancouver.com
Pourhouse Restaurant on Urbanspoon