The Keefer Bar

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Bar hopping had us visiting the “Keefer Bar” unplanned and unannounced. We came in unexpectedly only to be delighted by an event night, with plenty of room for two more. This Friday evening’s festivities were hosted by “Disarono”, the fruity amaretto, with a characteristic bittersweet almond taste. This was the liquor that had me buzzing in my earlier twenties. They were here sponsoring a night of complimentary drinks and free appetizers. To promote their brand they was a large background banner set up outside for guests to use as a photo op, black and white balloons with the “Disarono” bottle logo printed on for decoration, “Disarono” embossed pillows in the lounge area for extra comfort, and “Disarono” stamped napkins that also served as coasters.

Be warned my photos are not of the highest quality, and no where near my best. In order to capture the night in pictures, without taking from the chill ambience of those around me, I kept my flash off. And like most late night bars this one too was kept dark. Too dark to capture colour, too dark for detail, and too dark for the perfect selfie. Though that didn’t stop me from taking what I could with my lowly iPhone 5.

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There was just enough visibility to make out faces and shapes thanks to the light from decorative test tubes. These lamps were created by bundling several glass tubes together and suspending them from the ceiling at various heights. With them they each carried the same dim low voltage. This feature perfectly matched the rest of their traditional Chinese herbal practices meets western modern medicine theme. The room was a narrow corridor that stretched deep into the back. The front centred around the bar, with a long row of high stools fronting it. Behind worked two bartenders on either ends. They feverishly shook shakers, stirred mixes, squeezed fruit, and set beverages a blaze to keep up with the drinking demand.

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Along with the multiple bottles of spirits, the shelves behind the bar were stocked ornamentally. Labelled glass apothecary jars stood on display. I couldn’t make out the contents of each, but figured pressed herbs and dried marine life was a good bet. The most unique of items that you can find commonly from any of the Chinese herbalist operating within the area. The bar’s back drop was also decorated with detailed drawings showcased on a light box. Fascinating sketches of the human anatomy. A look at the veins and arteries within a human hand, what the human skull looks like behind its skin, and the composition of a human male told through bone and muscle. Once again they well reflected the medicinal theme. Then slightly out of place was a paper fan adorned in Chinese paint brush strokes. Around the room were other doctor and hospital paraphernalia. In a corner on its metal stand hung an IV and catheter bag. And backlit X-rays helped shed some light in the shared washroom. Drinks were even mixed in science class beakers. They were certainly thorough with this unique theme. I have yet to see anything similar offered anywhere else in Vancouver. Though what would have sealed the deal would be staff in costume, though I am sure none of them would be too thrilled about that. Maybe bartenders in white lab coats with stethoscopes around their necks, and servers dressed as candy stripers with red and white aprons and smocks. I sure this is being done somewhere in Asia.

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To left of the bar was a make shift stage. And tonight a local musician was performing his renditions of North American top 40′s. He used a guitar, a saxophone, and his mouth to strum, hum, and beatbox his own mash up and remixes. We soon discovered the game of guessing which song he was performing by closely listening to the background beats. The live music certainly added to the buzz of the room, but prevented any descent conversation between friends.

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Seeing as this was our second stop of the night, we were no longer looking to eat, but here just to enjoy their craft cocktails. Shame as read amazingly. Though we were not too ashamed to take advantage of the complementary appetizers being offered. Deep fried shrimp spring roll, self dipped into a sweet and sour plum sauce. These were definitely made fresh, judging from the heated filling well stuffed into each roll, and the view of the kitchen from our barstool-ed seat. From where we sat we had an unobstructed show of the lone chef, who was in uniform, in his cubicle of a kitchen prepping. I wish we were looking to eat as the food listing was Chinese small plates meets shareable tapas fare. The perfect after dinner snacks to pair with your drinks. Meat skewers, dim sum, and dumplings. Vegetable fritters, duck sliders, and miso mushroom tacos. I definitely saw east meeting west.

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The drinks menu was almost four times as large as the food one. With list after list of cocktails printed in tiny font it was hard to read and hard to choose. Though sipping on our complimentary “Disarono Sours” bought us some time. Who says no to free alcohol? Made with Disarono, fresh lime juice, sugar, and lime slices. Sweet and refreshing with a kickback of that distinct almond amaretto flavour.

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Their drinks were referred to as a “list of remedies and curies” and the specials called “prescriptions”. And there were plenty under each category. Enough to have me looking at the two bartenders in awe. How were they able to retain all these drink recipes? How were they mixing in this in legible reading environment? How were their arms not tired of shaking and mixing drink after drink? We were lucky to score a seat right in front of one of the bartenders. He like the rest of the staff was looking dapper in a vest and tie over his patterned Oxford shirt. This view point allowed me unlimited photo taking opportunities as he prepared their specialty cocktails right before my eyes. Fruit peels were twirled, herbal leaves wree muddied, and drinks were set a blaze with sprints from a refillable travel perfume container. I suspect the latter was absinthe, as listed in a few cocktails.

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We ordered a “Suzukake” with beefeater gin, nigori sake, lemon, simple syrup, kaffir lime tincture, absinthe, and shiso. It was only a spray of absinthe for taste and not for colour. A rich drink with multiple layers thanks to its abundant ingredients. The leaf was a nice touch as it added flavour and visual interest. And the “Hei Cha Pimms” with Pimms, shochu, lemon, Hei Cha kombucha, cucumber mint. Refreshing and light. Tasted on the sweeter side thanks to the shochu. I really appreciated the distinction in unique glass wear. It is the details and the doubles that make these drinks worth their $12 and $14 price tag.

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.
I appreciate a good theme, and there was effort put into this one. Plenty of careful thought and consistent propping gave the decor its unique flare. All together it had something to set it apart, something that had my head turning to take it all in. Whether at the bar watching the bartenders put on a show or in the lounge resting on seats lined with pillows, I could see myself having a good time here. Reading the food menu, their fusion take on bar favourites is right up my alley. Small bits and delicious bites worth revisiting when hungry. Then add in a roster of drinks that could having you trying something new for months this was a fine place to be. Not to mention they apparently have burlesque performances everything Thursday. And given the cramped quarters the dancers end up strutting on top of tables and gliding across the bar. Don’t deny your cravings.

KEEFER BAR
135 Keefer Street, Vancouver BC, V6A1X3
604-688-1961
thekeeferbar.com
The Keefer Bar on Urbanspoon

Ask for Luigi

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We heard good things, and based on the line up we thought good things.

Calling ahead, we learned that they don’t take reservations past 6pm. You leave your name and number in person and get a call when a table is paying their bill. And today we weren’t the only ones waiting. Our wait time was estimated at 1hour. I don’t normally wait for any seat at any restaurant, as I find not many worth the time or live up to the buzz, however today my guest chose the place, we were already here, I had found a parking spot, and another friend was running late anyways. So everything aligned. Despite the adjacency of the lot and the lack of signs posted, the gravel lot to the right of the restaurant was not for guest use. If lucky, like myself you can find free parking street side.

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If memory servers this was the former home of “Two Chefs and a Table”. The restaurant that was forced to close its doors after allegations of their head chef installing video cameras in the women’s washroom proved true. I recall visiting and I recall using the washroom… But now it has been renovated and reopened as “Ask for Luigi”, a modern Italian restaurant boosting their own in house made noodles. The name was meant to instil a sense of homeyness and comfort. According to their website the belief is that an experience is often improved when it’s with someone we know or has been referred by someone we know. That sense of trust and reassurance passed on because we know “Luigi”. We know him enough to “Ask for Luigi”.

Looking in to the restaurant it seemed like a tight space, there was no room to wait by the door, there wasn’t even a place for the host to stand. No desk and no podium to stand behind. His wait list was clipped to a board and hung on the wall, his phone a cordless that sat on a ledge, and he took my name and number down using his leg as a hard surface to write on. Like us, other waiting guests were forced to stand outside by the entrance. Luckily the weather was warm, the sky dry, and the company pleasant. We ended up touring the area and returning almost an hour later as promised. We were given a call.

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The dining room was set up casual. Checkered floors done classic in black and white. Tables kept close to maximum space. And a simple wood on wood theme that patterned the room. The kitchen was separated by a wooden installation, cupboards and counters that simultaneously served a practical use. On them were potted plants and cook books on Italian cuisine and how to prepare pasta, a scene common to the kitchen of any home cook. The only art was a series of black and white photos spread out and hung up across the right wall. The photos were of hands and some of their popular motions: pointing, thumbs up, clasping, and bending.

For drinks they offered no cocktails and no beers, just wine by the bottle and combination of sparking water and sparkling wine mixed by the glass. We were in the mood for neither.

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When asked our server recommend the “Fried cauliflower & aioli” as their most popular “antipasti”, appetizer. We definitely judged a book by its cover without reading for this one. Not as appealing on paper, this was actually delicious and hands down the best thing we had this night. Despite its crispier texture the cauliflower still crumbled in your mouth. Tiny florets separating from its stalk. The similarly deep fried chickpeas gave this dish some crunch. The cheese flavoured it with salt and the mint lighted it with a zing. It tasted good and more importantly you were made to feel good while eating your vegetables.

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The promise of hand made pasta and uniquely flavoured noodles was an exciting one. “Seaweed”, tagliatelle with zucchini, shrimp, and bottarga. Our server described “bottarga” as fish roe shredded over the pasta to give it more salt. An ingredient I would soon regret having. I immediately loved the deep green colour the noodles were dyed. Though this pasta was better to look at than to eat, the noodles tasted like they were cooked in ocean water. Thick, rubbery, and over salted they definitely reminded me of the seaweed they were made of, raw, bitter, and unprocessed. I expected a smokey roasted seaweed flavour, the kind in sushi and that you get dried in sheets to eat as is. Instead this tasted as salty and as fishy as a glass of ocean water. The zucchini and shrimp did what they could to balance the dish, especially the sweetness found in the shrimp. And cream based sauce would have made all the difference instead of the oil base one used.

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“Spaghetti nero” with octopus and jalapeño. It certainly looked interesting. We confirmed that the black ink was for colour and not for taste and that the octopus would have its tentacles chopped small into rounds. The octopus was as tender as the spaghetti-like pasta. The noodles were tangy from the use of fresh tomato in the oil base sauce. But overall the flavour was one you grew tired of quick. There weren’t enough elements to create texture and not enough tastes to keep the pallet excited. Octopus cut small and lost in sea of noodles; and a pop of spice from the jalapeño, but not enough to take note of.

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The “pappardelle and duck ragu” was the best out of the three pastas ordered. The wide sheet noodles were enjoyable to eat. Chewy, they were easy to pierce through with teeth. The flavour, more traditional in a light tomato sauce. Like the pasta before this could have used more protein, more juicy duck and freshly grated cheese to add flavour and cut into the bland offering.

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The washroom was a single stalled tight squeeze. With no separate room, no designated space, and only a door to separate it from the dining room; the bodies lined up to use it lingered around seated tables. Of note is their charming mirror. On it a floating moustache similar to the one iconically drawn on Dr. Seuss’ the “Lorax”. With precision moving and you selfie skill on high you could capture quite a humourous photo of yourself.

When we called the server, who also played this evening’s host, over to ask for our bill he was surprised to see more than half of our plates still full of pasta. He was even more surprised to hear that we didn’t want to pack any of it to go. He took the time to ask what was wrong. We were honest. We were apologetic. We apologized for the trouble and made excuses for our not finishing. Without a word spoken we were not charged for the three plates of pasta that we did not finish. This is the ideal service you hear about as rumours and read about in training manuals. The reality is, it is a server’s role to seek out satisfaction for the diner. To navigate their guest’s stay and to draw out the best experience possible. All with one desired outcome: to have a first time diner return for subsequent visits as a continuing customer, and to bring their friends. This move of generosity shocked us and simultaneously impressed us. You don’t see care like this too often.

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 will not return for the food, but would definitely recommend this place for its service. Casual dining fare and prices with fine dining standards and professionalism. The servers knew their menu, shame we didn’t take the suggestion of ours more seriously. They took the time to engage and check in on their tables regularly, no glass was left half full. And the same gentlemen who helped us with the bill, also came around to fold reusable napkins neatly when a member of our table left her seat. Overall the food could have had more pop, more definition, and more flavour. It was a chore to eat, with its completion feeling obligatory. It is when this emotion dawned on us that we decided to stop. To stop eating for the sake of eating, and to stop because we didn’t want any more. That and one of my guests who had the ink pasta felt ill to her stomach. None-the-less done deny your cravings.

ASK FOR LUIGI
305 Alexander Street, Vancouver BC, V6A1C4
604-428-2544
askforluigi.com
Ask for Luigi on Urbanspoon

Bambudda

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My first visit was by chance, a quick cocktail as we waited for a table at another restaurant. With one look at the menu and one sip my drink I had to come back the next day for dinner.

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Their sandwich board stopped you in your tracks with the promise of modern Chinese cuisine and craft cocktails. The draw was an open entrance. The bar lined the sidewalk, it offered no barrier between those sitting on high stools and those passing by. A full row of bodies and backs towards the street, reassurance of the establishment and advertising of the restaurant. Above them were red paper lanterns pulled out like accordions, red paper balls in large and small, and a grouping of round lights illuminating the entire bar. To the left, behind the counter was a ceiling tall wall of bottles. Set against mirrors they were an impressive sight, everything was doubled.

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Despite the opening we walked through the enterance, pulling the ironically closed door open. Waiting at the booth for our host who would eventually lead us in. Today we were here to eat so were given a seat in the dining room. Pass the bar and a walk up a couple of steps. What looked like only room for eight opened up around the corner. Another row of seats in a narrow corridor stretched deeper into the restaurant. The main dining area was wallpapered with palm leaves in two shades of green; they over lapped one other filling the white of the space around the room.

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What appeared to be traditional art work decorated the room. A quadruple panel piece created from shells and other varnished materials depicted a scene of birds and flowers. A similar story of flora and fauna was created in Chinese paint brush and framed in gold. And a row of vases in white and blue, kept dried plants safe, while being illuminated by light. Though with only the dim lighting from protruding lamps the room was set dark, creating a lounge-like ambience. And the place smelled like preserved dates and spices, almost Chinese-like if possible. With indie rock playing an a audible volume that allowed for conversation without yelling.

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The list of drinks included seasonal offerings to help quell a hot hot summer. Presented on a miniature clip board, pages bound together with wooden chopsticks and twine. Your drink sat on top of a custom white coaster, printed with a Chinese character at its centre. My Chinese is rusty and I am not too familiar with simplified characters, but I believe the one word read, “che” – “eat”. This like every other detailed help offer authenticity.

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“Bubble Tea” a drink I ordered for novelty and name alone. This is what had me coming back the next night. Its menu description invited you to float away with this light sipper made with Gin, Blue Curacao, lemon, rhubarb bitters, green tea liquere, and hibiscus bubbles. The bubbles were taken from a bowl of continuously frothing syrup. A table top display that had me and all their other guest staring and asking questions. They reminded me of blowing bubbles in milk with a straw, and made the “bubble” in bubble tea literal. It was these thick bubbles that sweetened the slightly tropical mix. Though when drinking it was impossible to avoid getting a wet moustache on your upper lip. This was truly a unique cocktail in colour and by taste.

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“Bam-Barita”, this cocktail suggested that since it was hot outside you should come in and cool down with it. Made with tequila, calamansi, triple sec, yan-jing, and five spice. Our bartenders certainly put on a show, high pours, above the shoulder shakes, and spins around one another to take bottle in hand. There seemed to be no drinks made without a series of steps. The unique ridges of this glass allowed strands of syrup to sit in the groves and add some visual interest to an otherwise off white slush. The drinking of this was slowed by the inevitable brain freeze that comes from heavy siping of a slush through straw.

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“Gwei-Lo 2.0″. A drink so popular they brought it back, so the menu told. Once again a cocktail I ordered for its name alone. Made with rye, lime, sugar, cardamom, and choc-mint. The presentation alone was appealing. The sprig of purple flowers and green leaves dusted with powered sugar was a nice touch. I don’t know if they added any flavour, but it sure had my glass standing out. The drink was tangy and frosty with crushed ice. Sadly I was unable to make out any taste of chocolate or mint.

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“Chinatown sour”, “Big trouble in little Chinatown”. Gin, house citrus and clove liqueur, lemon, Campari vinegar, and egg whites. Similar to a whiskey sour in look and taste. The merguine-like egg foam gave this cocktail it’s sweetness. It was enjoyable to watch my guest spin her drink around trying to get a hint foam in every sip.

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The small plates were almost as ornate as all their house created cocktails. “Beef Tartare” made with tenderloin, asian pear, and crispy rice noodles. It had a gentle flavour, a mix of ingredients that brought together salty and sweet, with garlic and onion being the dominate tastes. The chunks of pear and fried noodles gave an otherwise mushy texture some pop. Though we would have preferred some bread instead. A crostini to smear the meat over, to give the dish more substance and make it more filling.

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“BBQ duck buns”, pulled duck meat braised in a Chinese bbq sauce, stuffed into seared white buns, and served with pickled whole cherries in a hibiscus sweet syrup. The dish originally comes with three buns, we were offered to have a fourth added for easier share-ability. The duck was certainly the star of the dish. Its meat was tender and juicy; each bite had drips of sauce spilling out, though most was soaked up by the sponginess of the doughy buns. The cherries and syrup added another layer to each bite, playing off the popular sweet and sour pairing in Chinese cuisine.

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“Mushroom Dumplings”, braised lamb, zucchini, and xo sauce. There was a long gap between our smaller plates before and this supposed entree quantity one to arrive. With the pause I imagined hand rolled dumplings filled to the brim with meat and sealed just before being boiled. So when a plate of pasta arrived in its place I was disappointed. The menu, nor our server mentioned this would be deconstructed, the chef’s take on a dumpling. Though it didn’t even look like or taste like dumpling filling. I felt like I was a judge on “Cutthroat Kitchen”, the show where chefs sabotage one another and what should be a cut and paste dish gets transformed into an interpretation because of lack of order ingredients or circumstance. Well here the chef was clearly sabotaged with no dough and had to make dumplings with gnocchi. The gnocchi was definitely scratch made, soft rounds of potatoes charred for a woody quality. Normally I am a fan of gnocchi and would be one of these in a cream sauce, but I wanted dumplings today. There were no mushrooms. The lamb came as cubes, cut small they were a little tough and a lot more spicy compared to its dish mates. Together with sliced tomatoes and zucchini, over a bed of lentils and edamame beans this plate ate more like a stew or even a gumbo than a dumpling. Being as hungry as we were we did finish the plate clean, leaving the giant rings of raw onions alone in the bowl. I was still hungry, but this last order disappointed me enough to not have me risk ordering more and leaving it to chance.

We were checked in on often both by our server and who I guess was the manager, as he floated around the room, helping where help was needed. Each conversation with either men came with small talk as they ask to confirm that we like what we had. I have never had such attentive service in a bar.

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The washroom was a trek down stairs, past corners, and behind a few twists. At least the abandoned halls left unused were painted, and the actual washrooms were decorated like the main floor. Bold teal walls, Chinese themed art work, and wooden stall doors. It is a pet peeve of mine to not have enough room in a stall. That getting in or out requires you to flatten yourself and side between the bulky toilet paper dispenser and the door placed too close. All this while trying to avoid touching any part of you to the very publicly used toilet. And actually going has your face, dependant on your nose, a few inches away from the door. All this while there is plenty of room between stall door and single sink.

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 enjoyed the decor, loved the setting, and was enamoured by each of their cocktails. I would like to eventually make my way through their entire rotating list, one at a time. Though with their smaller food menu (less than triple the size of the drink menu) of “snacks”, “small plates”, and “not so small plates” (that were actually appetizer portioned) this would not be my recommended destination for dinner, and especially if you are hungry. This would be my pick for a pre dinner, post dinner, or even second dinner go to. A place to sip drinks at, to pick off plates from, to see and be seen. Don’t deny your cravings.

BAMBUDDA
99 Powell Street, Vancouver BC, V6A1E9
604-428-0301
bambudda.ca
Bambudda on Urbanspoon

Flying Pig

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After a previous brunch visit, a bad experience, and a letter written to management with no resolution I was not prepared to return. However looking for good food, late, on a Saturday, in Yaletown proved to be a challenge. With many kitchens closing and most places only serving an abbreviated menu, choices were slim. Though with their full menu still available at 11:30pm and a kitchen closing at 12am “Flying Pig” was our best bet.

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Majority of the restaurant was empty. The wooden tables, the booths that lined the walls and a bar that centred the room was left unseated this time of night. I remembered the industrial feeling of the place. Red brick walls, visible ventilation hanging from the ceiling, hard wood floors underfoot, shelves lined with darkened wine bottles, and worn barrels used as side tables.

Tonight our host also played the role of the manager, wearing multiple hats for the little time that evening service was left. He sat us, checked in on us, served us, and bussed used tables around us. We were lead to the back of the restaurant and given the option to occupy their most spacious booth. Room for eight for a party of three. It was luxurious. The menu was as it was before, a single sheet strapped on to a wooden board by two thick rubber bands.

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“T.F.P. Bacon bourbon Caesar”, it had me at bourbon, and continued to pull me in with its candied bacon rim. This was a Caesar heartier than most, thick, it drank like a savoury meal. The lengthy celery stalk was exaggerated and offered more show than taste. And the olives gave more salt than needed. Overall I could have used more spice in this.

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“The clover pig”, despite its name this beverage had no trace of bacon or pork. Made fruity with a mix of blueberry and cranberry, then blended together with gin and simple syrup. Our server delivered this with an “oink oink”. It was a sweet and refreshing full glass. As light and as floral as you would assume from its pinky hue.

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Our meal started with a complimentary basket of baguette slices and olive oil with balsamic.

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“Crispy Brussels sprouts” seasoned with lemon, Parmesan, and capers.
A must order for me when I come or when I see it. There is something so novel about deep frying vegetables and making them delicious where they are normally not as appetizing.
One if those things you feel good about eating despite it being deep fried and coated on oil and cheese. Crispy on the outside from leaf to leaf, and almost rubber-like and chewy at its core. The seasoning is really what stood out and made this a dish I could eat as a meal.

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“Andrew’s pulled pork poutine”, described as organic and made with Pemberton Valley potatoes. My guests were craving this one, but it isn’t the kind of greasy poutine you crave when you’ve been drinking. The fries, cheese, and gravy were baked in a ramekin. The result, a watery brown sauce that dredged the fries making them soggy. The pulled pork was well seasoned and extremely tender, though I would have preferred them on their own as a separate side. They two weighed what should be crispy fries down. I found the cheese the best part and it wasn’t even the authentic cheese curd kind. Overall I found the dish salty and this one of the worst poutines I have ever had. Though its unappealing looking and off putting taste didn’t have us stopping the motion from fork to lip.

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“Bone marrow cheezy bread” Described as “OMG” in the menu and we felt worth a try because of that endorsement. However the bill came before we saw it arrive. Apparently our order got missed when another table requested the same dish. In the end only one was made and it went to them. Our server admitted he dropped the ball and gave us a new bill without it being charged to us. On top of that we were still given our bread. Just as well as this bread and cheese was not worth its price tag. Its name promised bone marrow as its main ingredient, we saw none nor tasted any. With bone marrow’s oily texture and its rich flavour, it is hard to miss. This was just melted mozzarella cheese over a toasted crispy baguette. Good but not what we wanted or expected. I could make this at home.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The hospitable service, the attentive staff, and the employees who didn’t allow a count down to shift’s end to affect their attitudes and work ethic have helped me lighten my feelings towards the place. However the food remains average, with the Brussels sprouts being my only reason to return. I now have slightly amended my previous post, taken back some negative access-ments, and now listed this place as one I would could come back to on the odd occasion. Everything was good, but nothing managed to wow me to deem it great. Don’t don’t your cravings.

FLYING PIG
1168 Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2S2
604-568-1344
theflyingpigvan.com
The Flying Pig on Urbanspoon

Kamei Baru

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Looking for some small plates and some interesting cocktails on a Saturday night, we ventured downtown to make “Kamei Baru” our destination. I was sold on its comparison to Guu and other like Japanese tapas by my guests. I have never heard of the place or been past it, so was surprised to read that its conception was in 1972. A fact proudly displayed on their red back lit sign that was also highlighted their name. By the entrance stood a table, on it a copy of the menu fanned out. It gave pedestrians passing by the option to see before they taste, look before they buy.

The restaurant’s windowed walls were opened along the side walk. It allowed in some much needed fresh air, as well as giving those sitting by it the feeling of being outdoors on a covered patio. Walking inside it was surprising how much the room opened up. Two floors in one open space. Vaulted ceilings and make shift rooms separated by blinds. There were plenty of corners for seclusion and nooks for private parties. Though despite the ample breathing room, the actual room was stuffy. The multiple spinning ceiling fans did not help, they simply pushed the hot air around. Luckily for them when its hot you want to drink more.

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Their chandeliers were eye catching, a mass of snarling branches gathered together and hung over tables. The limbs of each reaching out in several directions, and from a few hung glass balls and paper charms. Truly unique. But the well stocked bar is the first thing you actually notice. Its backdrop a watery theme against hard wood. An orange life saver, a sealed porthole, a wooden paddle, a rusted propeller, a crab basket, and a jumble of fishing nets. They certainly made for a rousing game of I spy.

We were immediately given a table without the need for reservations or to wait. We were walked to one free, tucked away in corner. Though found it odd that out of all the empty seats we were directed to the one closest to a couple on a date. We felt too close for comfort and hidden away. Though in this area the wall was lined with faux leather booths that partnered with tall backed chairs. Both sat across from one another sandwiching a darker wood finished table. And with this arrangement there was no negotiating, no argument on who would call dibs on a booth seat first. I won by claiming the comfortable leather chair, and felt relaxed in it all through dinner and all during drinks. Each table was set with one time use chopsticks wrapped in paper, a wad of napkins in a tin, and a tiny jug of soya sauce so that you could help yourselves.

Both female and male servers were dressed in traditional kimonos. The women in bright colours and bold patterns that ran down to the top of their feet. The men, darker shades and more simple patterns that went no further then their hip. That and their accents certainly added to the authenticity of the Japanese restaurant. Though I couldn’t imagine the heat they endured from being bundled up so tightly, in a room without air conditioning. And how the woman were able to move so quickly with their movements so restricted in their tightly bound tightly belted garments.

Like the sign posted outside mentioned, our server clarified that they would not be serving oysters tonight because of out break of red tide. Just as well, in this heat raw oysters were the last thing I was craving. Their menu was an easy to navigate reading of Japanese tapas and traditional and fusion sushi rolls. Each offering was described and paired with coloured photos. As a visual eater this allowed me to make my choices base on what dishes would look the best for my food photography. Also very helpful was their drink menu. Each sake available had its flavour described followed by suggested food pairings to bring out its natural essence. The menu also mentioned their two hour maximum seating because of a busier weekend.

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“Chi chi” made by mixing vodka, pineapple juice, coconut syrup and milk; then lightly blending everything together with ice. It was sweet and refreshing, very tropical.

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We shared the “Baru sangria”. A smaller pitcher for $20. The steep price didn’t seem fair given its portion size and its unusual taste. It helped that the glasses provided too were on the smaller side. Though the slice of orange on the rim was a nice touch. I believe the mix was made using box wine and canned pineapple chunks with the can syrup the fruit sat preserved in. The lack of fresh ingredients translated to a sour drink, it was also probably what gave it its murky complexion.

Mid way through our meal we were handed the happy hour menu with food and drink specials specifically meant to encourage patrons in after 9pm. We would have been disappointed if this new menu listed what we had already ordered and agreed to pay full price for, was now offering it for less. Luckily that was not the case. Though for everyone else it would have been nice to be told that happy hour starts at 9pm. Especially for those like us, who were seated after 8:30pm.

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“Calamari Agedashi tofu”, combining two popular dishes into one. Deep fried tofu and calamari in an Agedashi tempura breading and traditional tempura sauce. Best eaten right when served to ensure the most crispy of textures. The sauce was slightly spicy, without it there was no flavour and the dish was bland. Hidden under the mound of deep fried goodness the brown sauce was hard to get to. The fried vegetable chips that surrounded the portion in decoration were a nice touch. They were slightly sweet and like everything else fried, got soggy real quick.

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With all their specialty sushi rolls you can either order a half or full order. The difference is between four and eight pieces. A good option for those who want to try multiple combinations. Though I found the price of half orders steep, they were the same price for full portions else where. “Samurai power roll” a crab meat and avocado roll wrapped with BBQ unagi and topped with red and black tobiko. Served with an unagi and wasabi cream sauce. We ordered a full order, but a mistake was made and we had two sets of four instead. The sauces were so flavour filled that they eliminated the need for soya sauce. Each bite was creamy and on the sweeter side.

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I am already a fan of aburi sushi so with the possibility of enjoying the searing process at my table, this was an easy sell. I felt compelled to take advantage of a show with my dinner. “Saba inferno”. Either cured mackerel saba or toro, box pressed with sesame and sushi rice; I chose the former wanting a fattier fish as appose to a saltier one. This was definitely more for the show then the taste. A one note flavour that tasted underwhelming compared to the other dishes above.

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“Ice cream sundae”. We choose green tea ice cream over the possible black sesame or vanilla. A well dressed dessert, though practically speaking it was
hard to get a comprehensive bite of. You wanted to enjoy the toasted granola, mixed berries and grapes all together, in one bite with your ice cream; but negotiating small spoon deep into glass mug was a challenge. The caramel feature on top was visually a nice touch, though I found it did nothing to compliment the lightness of the sundae. Over all this was nothing special and nothing you couldn’t replicated at home for less.

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“White wine jelly”. The name alone was appealing. Wine flavoured jello? We didn’t taste any wine from any of the cubes, but texturally it was still a very enjoyable dessert. Jiggly jello and creamy vanilla ice cream is a good mix.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
There was so much more I wanted to try off the menu, shame I came in full not expecting to indulge. Lobster motoyaki baked in their house made mayonnaise. Their seafood paella with shrimp, squid, and mussels; you don’t often see a Spanish dish on a Japanese menu. Their $28 signature sushi course: five courses, eight different tastes. “Artistically designed” traditional sashimi prepared by their “master chef”. Rainbow carpaccio, bonsai beef carpaccio, and garlic pepper tuna tataki. Just to name a few. These were some of the many delicious sounding and looking dishes at very reasonable prices. They are also known as an oyster bar, so it would be nice to come back to try them when available again. Oysters offered steamed, baked, panko fried, and fresh. I like the food more than the environment. It was a lounge-like setting, dark and casual, a busy spot to sit and enjoy at whist being in the middle of that rowdy the weekend vibe. And if you want to celebrate a birth here they do it big. They turn off the regular music and play a prerecorded happy birthday for everyone to hear. This accompanies the presentation of your cake. The whole restaurant stops, everyone looks to your party and claps in celebration of you. Don’t deny your cravings.

KAMEI BARU
990 Smithe Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z0A4
604-559-8588
kameibaru990.com
Kamei Baru on Urbanspoon

Terrace Restaurant, Mission Hill Family Estate

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The restaurant affiliated with one of the most well known and most popular wineries in the Okanagan. The family own and operated “Mission Hill”. A must visit for most who are in the area for the first time. With multiple vineyards, growing multiple varieties of grapes, in multiple regions of the Okanagan Valley, they are highly celebrated for their diverse wines with unique bouquets.

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During a previous failed attempt at lunch we knew better to come back with reservations this time around. I had requested a table with a view but we were instead given one facing the open court yard.

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The restaurant was a hall, built on a cliff for an overlooking view of green valley and blue waters. It was essentially a shaded space with no windows and no doors. Lots of openings to take in a gorgeous view made available from any angle. The winery’s spacious court yard, it’s distinct architecture, and its historic buildings was to our west. The Okanagan lake, the neighbouring valleys, the towering mountain range, and the Mission Hill vineyard to the east. Both scenes intermingled with tourists posing for photos and other enjoying the space.

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The dining hall was given shade from the heat, kept covered by a roof made from wood planks and blinds of mesh. I was surprised how little was needed to keep diners from over heating. To be able to sit and enjoy a warm meal, despite the over 36 degree temperature surrounding us. Our sever revealed their additional measure used to keep everyone cool. A fine misting of water from their machines installed overhead. Whatever they did it was working for me. During colder months, heat lamps already in place made it possible to host in winter without sealed windows and closed doors. Our background noise was the sounds of jovial conversation and the laughter of tourists taking photos. The bell tower to the north chimed every 15 and 45 past the hour. I barely made out the classical music over head.

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The prep kitchen was a box at the entrance. Located to the right of the hostess booth or in this case, barrel. It was a hut designated to push out plate after plate of fine cuisine. I overheard a member of the kitchen team explain to a curious tourist that there was a whole kitchen cooking downstairs and they were only in their box to plate each element.

We found service lacking during the beginning of our lunch. This despite tallying over ten servers in uniform and two managers in full suits designated to cover the 26 tables seated. White collared shirts, a black logo-ed vest and gold coloured tie. Every one was scurrying about, jumping from one guest to another. Running around in an open space without air conditioning, I wondered how they were able to avoid breaking a sweat. Despite the lack of attention and the need to wait to find out which was our server, I did make note that each staff who passed by us wore a smile, putting their most courteous foot forward. At one point one of the managers did stop to check on us after we managed to made eye contact.

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We saw a table clear by the “window” and immediately jumped at the chance to move seats. A chance to gain some distance closer to the water and nearer the acres of grapes. From there it was a rush to track down a server and make claim on the newly freed prime real estate. All the others were full with a visible wait list by the entrance. As one of the biggest and most well known wineries I imagine their popularity soars during peak season, along with a seat with a view. We got our table with the view, only to have to time share the seat that faced it. Musical chairs.

With our table hopping we missed our original server. Kayla was detailed in her descriptions: going into great essays over the ingredients in each dish, describing textures and tastes of the desserts, and calling attention to what she found most tasty and most visually appealing. A conversation that sprung from my need to better understand the desserts offered. With an obscure name and a list of three tastes, what you would be getting is hard to guess. The rest of the menu was a list that changed from week to week. A reading of dishes and the wines they would pair best with.

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Our meal began with complimentary bread. Fennel and celery seed focaccia partnered with a rye baguette. A slice of each was taken from a basket. We looked longingly in, hoping for more, preferably the whole basket. Our bread was served with a green fennel butter. The focaccia was spongy and herbaceous. The rye crunchy with a whole wheat flavourful.

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I enjoyed the pasta of the day. Described as a homemade fresh puttanesca pasta topped with seared sushi grade albacore tuna. Based on the smiles of our neighbours with the same dish before them, I knew I would be in for a treat. The dish was spicy with a zesty tomato sauce. Thicken with a mix of black olives, yellow and green beans, and fresh arugula. The flat beans were cut large, kept crispy with an enjoyable to chew through waxy texture. The sauce was mild enough to pair well with the gentle fish. The seared tuna was from Newfoundland. As good as it looked I would have preferred the fish with a little less time on the heat. I wanted things more moist and more rare, especially as I got a more dryer end piece.

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“Hunter spring chicken breast with crispy polenta, beets, and roasted mushrooms”. The chicken was a larger portion, severed juicy and surprisingly moist for white meat. Lightly seasoned, allowing its natural juices to sing, yet so well prepared that the flavour permeated to the centre of the thickest portion. The buttery crust was a little salty for those who like some kick, with plenty of brown gravy for those who want more boldness in their protein. The tender and fluffy polenta was the perfect compliment, a good base. The mushroom medley with three different fungus gave the dish an earthy quality. They tasted fresh like they were hand picked this morning.

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We added a side of “hand cut frites with garden herbs”. Seasoned with dill they were a level above your regular salted and fried sticks of potato. Presented like a Jenga style stack it was hard to eat. If you removed the wrong piece the whole mound fell. We lost a few good fries to the table.

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.
There is just something so novel about enjoying good food and good wine in such a fine place. The history, the view, the prestige; all these come together to add to the experience. And it only gets better with professional staff, eye catching plates, and delicious dishes. Don’t deny your cravings.

TERRACE
Mission Hill Winery
1730 Mission Hill Rd, Okanagan Valley BC, V4T2E4
250-768-6467
missionhillwinery.com
Terrace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Barking Parrot

With a very fitting half parrot half bulldog mascot.

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Having visited twice before, during two separate years, on two separate trips to the Okanagan; we walked in knowing the service would be lacking and the standards slacking. But this was a Penticton tradition for us. Always our first stop after a four hour ride into the hub of the city. A pub in a resort that had the Okanagan lake as its stunning backdrop. The view alone was worth the visit. This particular weekend was especially busy with the community celebrating Peach Fest. An outdoor concert and festival that celebrates the land and its bounty.

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At the “Barking Parrot” you seat yourself, no ID is asked for, nor is any checked when you enter or order a cocktail. We bee-lined it to the patio, wanting the best seat in the house, along with everyone else. Naturally it was busy and many tables were already taken by individuals holding tight their prime real estate. Most wanted to enjoy the space and scenery while nursing a melted cocktail. We choose the next best thing, a table by the window to too enjoy the view. There were still an abundance of seats deeper in to the bar. Either long share tables or cushioned booths. Being attached to a hotel and resort, and being open during their busy summer season they prepared themselves for a busy service. A legion of staff members moved swiftly about. Their male servers wore checkered short sleeves button ups, running shoes, and cargo-ed shorts. The former branded with their restaurants name in neon script. While female servers were in either purple or turquoise tank tops, they too had their restaurant’s name fairly prominent on their apparel. Their bottoms were black shorts or skirts paired with a comfy pair of flip flops. All their clothing was sponsored by “Bumwrap”, a local clothing brand well established in town for a more active lifestyle. Swim, surf, and fashion. Both genders wore the most appropriate of attires given the location of this water side sports pub.

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The pub had a stage for performances, today it was left unused to make way for the live music on the patio. The schedule on each table advertised all performances during their peak season, which they called “Hot Summer”. Live entertainment on their patio from 5:30-8pm. Today’s folk style renditions dominated the pub. It almost drowned out the sounds of constant talking and the plastic “pok” of an air hockey paddle hitting an air hockey puck. In keeping with the sports bar theme there were several flat screen televisions mounted on to every odd pillar. They broadcasted sporting events in silence, allowing several games and matches to be followed without volumed commentary. Truthfully you were here for the scenic view, to appreciate a landscape you might not get at your regular city of residence. Hence all decor indoors lacking visual interest. Every empty space was maximized with all focus being directed to the view on the other side of their glass windows and opened glass doors. Smart, as I am sure the view was the reason why so many gathered here tonight.

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Everything was wet or sticky from the tables to the menus and even the dishes our food came in. Not surprising as the servers seemed to be in a rush. They moved like they had no time to check in their tables and certainly no time for small talk. They didn’t even converse with one another. Items were dropped off at an arms length and plates landed without confirmation. Speed was key here, to keep up with the regular rotation of tables and guests coming and going. I am certain most tables went un-bussed as a new patron would be hovering over a soon to be empty seats. Some even waited table side, pressuring others to leave the patio.

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“Bellini in a man glass”, for the man who likes a sweet drink and doesn’t want to feel girly about it. And yes my guest did order it just like that. This was not a Bellini that we were familiar with. Yes it was a mix of an peach flavoured ice churned into a slush, with the typical red of a wine for added colour. Though the consistency of the cocktail had it drinking like a watery smoothie, with a grainy texture.

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A “Chai martini” made with Bailey’s, Kahlua, butter ripple schnapps, organic chai and milk. I was drawn in by its original ingredients, as well as our server’s reassurance. This I received when I asked which she preferred this or their “Rootbeer Popsicle”. This boozy glass took longer to arrive, we suspect it was in part due to the signature nature of the drink. A 2oz special martini that probably only one bartender knew how to make. By looks alone it wasn’t too appealing. Watered down milk speckled with white dots. Though luckily it tasted better than it looked. Creamy like chai, comforting like tea, and cooling like a cocktail.

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“Lil Nacho”. At $5.50 less, this was a smaller version of their regular nachos platter. A mountain constructed by combining corn tortilla chips, nacho cheese, jalapeños, fresh diced tomatoes, peppers, and black olives. All served with a side of salsa and sour cream. We also went ahead and added guacamole for $2.50 more. Despite its heaping portion this was disappointing. The mound of diced vegetables piled on top made it difficult to consume. They didn’t make it into the oven with the chips and cheese, but instead carefully balanced on top raw. The didn’t adhere to the chips nor were they dispersed evenly between the layers. There was no thought and no care put into how we would be able to enjoy this. For starters we wished the plate was larger, as many of our chips and vegetables got left behind as they fell onto the table. It was hard to pull out a chip without causing the mountain to erode. Like the veggies we could have used more cheese evenly dispersed. When you did get any of the cheese it was in large chunks. A lump of a piece that never fully got a chance to melt down and caress the curves of any chip. The chips were also made soggy from the density of the veggies, the ones that were not broken shards hidden in the middle. Decent, but not the best nachos, and definitely not worth the $11.50 we were asked to pay for them. This even despite how good the salsa and guacamole were, and I don’t believe either were house made.

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“Garlic button ribs”. Pork bites tossed in rock salt, cracked black pepper, garlic butter and lemon juice. Declared a house favourite by the menu. They were very tasty and delivered on their promise of garlic. The meat itself was dry and chewy, with much effort required to remove meat from bone. A pull of the hand and a snarling of teeth.

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A pound of honey garlic chicken wings serve with celery sticks and ranch dipping sauce. The wings were only okay. There were disappointingly small in size, the tiniest wing was buried at the bottom of the pile and looked about only the width of a human finger. The flavour profile was as garlicky as promised and tasted as sweet and sticky as we had hoped.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Sadly, I am not about to break a tradition over mediocre food and unattentive service. I come for the view and only stay to eat because I am hungry. And this hunger does help to skew the food in a more favourable light. Overall the high score is reflective of my easy going vacation mindset. As a place I come once a year for, that help give rise to fond memories. Of note my on target review certainly differs from the glowing one written and published by the Penticton Lakeside Casino and Resort for their promotional brochure. In it they rate service excellent and the food mouthwatering. As promotional information this is a little skewed and a lot biased. Though truth is they are correct in printing that the drinks are refreshing and the view is breathtaking. Hence it always being our first stop when we arrive in Penticton for the last three years. If you haven’t been, enjoy it once. Then it’s up to you if its worth coming back to relive. Don’t deny your cravings.

BARKING PARROT
21 Lakeshore Dr W Penticton BC, V2A7M5
250-493-9753
barkingparrot.com
The Barking Parrot on Urbanspoon

The Vanilla Pod Restaurant

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Located on one of the many slopes of Penticton’s wine country, at “Middle Bench”. Conveniently a bluff above where we were residing for the weekend is “Vanilla Pod Restaurant”. It is a finer dining restaurant affiliated with “Poplar Grove” winery. We were here based on a recommendation from a friend living in Kelowna. Coincidently we ran into him having dinner here while we were attempting to hike up the bluffs, on the other side of the fence. His assessment that the food was good, but a little pricy was on the nose.

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To enter you drive through their open gates, pass the parking stalls outlined on pavement, pass a windowed look into their winery and their stainless steel vats, and right through their tasting hall. The main building was functional and beautiful, with half of its walls constructed as tall windows. A wise decision to better allow you to take in the view. You got a clear view overlooking their vineyard row on row with rolling hills; and further back, a view of the water and the city to its left. The tasting room showcased bottles for sale and allowed guests to sample before buying. Up to three pairs or three groups could enjoy a guided tour at a time. A taste and description of the different blends and varieties of red and white, at one of the three booths set up specifically for that purpose.

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Beyond this hall of windows is the restaurant. With causal seating indoors and a patio just out through the glass ones. My guest questioned, “why would anyone choose to sit indoors, when they can have a view like this?” I guessed, if you make the trip out and couldn’t get a popular patio seat what little choice did you have? That and not everyone is able to tolerate an up to 36 degrees sun blaring down on them. Where as we specifically came to vacation in the Okanagan to capitalize on their hot hot heat, wanting to soak it all in every chance we got. After all there is no patio like an Okanagan patio. The view would trump anything we would have at home.

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The atmosphere outdoors is light and breezy, a casual cool dictated by flowy sun dresses and the whisper of a wind from the horizon. The ground was laid with stone and the property fenced up to keep wildlife out and away from their harvest. Such a precaution was needed as seen by a doe making her way down the hill during our stay. The same hill and the same side of the fence we were on when we discovered the place and our friend from Kelowna.

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Seating was on formal looking picnic tables, made from varnished wood planks and brushed metal. They were paired with benches or chairs that matched. For those wanting shade, seating under a tarp was available. A blue sheet was pulled across several posts creating cover from the sun. And when the sun set behind the mountains it created a shield from the gentle gusts of wind.

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The restaurant was not expecting us, but we still managed to grab a table outdoors. With 1.5 hours left until end of service at 9pm, we were given one of the larger group tables to use for two. On it we were able to sit sprawled out in comfort, with the extra room allowing us to both sit facing the scenery before us, side by side. We stared off into the layered valley filled with lush greenery and natural beauty as soft jazz played in the background. And when the sun set and the twinkle of strung up lightbulbs flickered on, things got more romantic. A setting and scene only improved by the possibility of local wines. The crisp napkins and clean white plates definitely
elevated the feeling of fine dining. I didn’t think I would be doing any in the more casual Okanagan Valley.

“Poplar Grove” and “Monster Vineyard” are sister wineries, located kitty corner from one another. They share a common owner bringing them together. As such both their lines of wines were offered with dinner. Each serving came in a glass etched with their “Poplar Grove’s” logo. What looked like a cluster of wines in a round like a wreath. And for those who ordered a bottle, they had their libation aerated a carafe that too was etched with the winery’s logo.

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Poplar Grove’s 2013 Munson Pinot Gris and Monster Vineyard’s 2013 Rose.

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We found the heat stunted our desire to eat so kept our meals often but light. Though now with the sun set and the air a little cooler we dared to order their “Daily soup and baguette”. Though the name was a little misleading. When we read baguette we envisioned and expected a substantial portion of bread. Instead we were given just two thin slices toasted in their stone oven and drizzled over with olive oil. The soup of the day slightly made up for it, despite it too not meeting our original expectations. It was described as a cream based vegetable soup by our server. With that detail we expected a red based soup with actual chunks of vegetable. So when our portion of creamy squash in a bold yellow hue came up we were caught off guard, though immensely delighted after a taste. It was thoroughly heated, so when I boldly dove in with my spoon I burnt my tongue. The trick is to skim and take in only the top layer of soup, this surface has been given a chance to cool. The freshness of the soup lead me to believe it was made to order, which correlates with the time in took to come to our table and its even heating within the bowl. Where as I enjoyed it as is, my guest could have used a touch more salt.

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There was another lengthly wait after our appetizer for our entree. Though the first bite my guest declared it worth the wait. Ribeye with pommes frites, summer squash, and a butter roasted tomato sauce. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the meat wasn’t given a chance to properly sweat, its juices pooled at the bottom of the curved plate. It made the squash soggy and the shoestring thin potatoes limp. The same grill flavour of the steak was also present in the squash, though the sliced yellow segments were very bitter and dominated each bite that they were in. They were made worse when they absorbed the juice from the steak and became mush in my mouth. The potatoes were coated generously in butter, salted liberally, and fried to a light crisp. They were delicious, though we could have done without the green onions that took way the natural flavours of the potatoes. The tomato butter was like a Rose pasta sauce, I found it paired well with each element on the plate and made me crave pasta.

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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.
There is something so classic about dining at a winery. The sophistication of fine wine and fine food, while admiring a blazing orange sun setting over a stunning green landscape. There is good reason why the Okanagan was recently named second-best wine region to visit in the world. And at “Vanilla Pod” all of the above hits their mark. The perfect location to enjoy a light meal in a space meant to be shared and enjoyed. A space you originally come to for the food, but stay at because of the view. A space I wish I saw more of in my backyard. Don’t deny your cravings.

VANILLA POD
Poplar Grove Winery
425 Middle Bench Rd, Penticton BC, V2A8S5
250-493-9463
thevanillapod.ca
The Vanilla Pod on Urbanspoon

FreshSlice Pizza

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Although “French Slice” is considered a chain restaurant, each location should be treated individually and reviewed as such. Each is one member of the franchise, each own and operated by a different person. A owner that sets their own standards and often creates their own promotions. Today we were in New Westminster walking in to their empty restaurant for a quick and cheap lunch.

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The exterior was dressed in brick with their trademark red, white and green store sign and window trim. They invited you in with company uniform posters. Posters printed large, dressed with details, and eye catching in bold colours. They advertised their wide variety of pizzas by the slice. 3 XL slices from the warmer for $5 and $10.99 for any large pizza.

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Inside the restaurant was decorated with framed photographs of their other offerings: crispy fries, a baked omelette, a creamy Cesar salad, lightly tossed pasta, cheesy lasagna, and plump wings. These were the same images that were used in the visual menus above the cash desk. A series of four flat screen televisions that constantly broadcasted channels suggesting their feast pizzas or any you pie you can customize, their regular combos of multiple slices paired with soft drinks, and their many deals. Though if pizza is not what you are aching for, (never mind asking why you came to a pizza joint then), you can remedy the situation by ordering any of their other sides and entrees. Choose from pastas, wings, Caesar salads, crazy baguettes, fries, cheesy bread, cinnamon sticks, and yes even omelettes. With both the pastas and the omelettes you can create your own and customize it to your liking. Choose your noodle, the sauce, and toppings for the pasta; and select your desired filling and topping for your omelette.

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The eating area was small, a handful of brushed steel tables and wooden chairs carved with a five pointed star. The purpose is to have a place sit while you eat, you finish your business then leave when done. This isn’t the ideal place to linger at or the best to host a large gathering within. With price points so low I didn’t expect much, but could have done without the gathering of read through and haphazardly folded newspapers left discarded from guests before, a caution wet floor sign leaning against the wall irrelevantly, and the damped used rag clumped at the ready by the fountain machine. Tables and counters weren’t even wiped down after diners left. It’s the little things that form an impression, and all these were telling me that the staff and the manager didn’t care for the space or its cleanliness. So I can only image how my food was being handled. The argument here is that the employees are minimum wage workers so we shouldn’t expect somuch from them, but honestly that shouldn’t be the case. An hourly wage should not define the reason why the place seemed unkept. Their employees have been given a job and are getting paid for work that is required of them. Work that has been outlined and explained before they signed their employment contract, engaging them in an employe-manager relationship. So, so long as they hold their position they need to complete the work to the standards set and the levels expected. Be it busing tables, sweeping floors, doling out orders, baking pizzas, or waiting for customers to enter be able to do any of the above. But in between serving our lone employee was visibly seated behind the counter, playing on his laptop. Time that would have been better spent organizing the space and setting up the best first impression for new guests. New customers that would enter to take advantage of their amazing deals.

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Their take out menu was location specific. It made guarantees on satisfaction, that if you aren’t pleased they will re-make it right. It advertised “Festive Tuesdays”, with any slice at $1.25 and eight for $9.99 instead of the usual $10.99. And it mentioned that if you join their fan club, every member gets a free meal on their birthday and 10% off any future order. There was even a ballot to win free pizza for a year, at one pie per month.

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Today’s “this location” only deal was strapped onto a sapling out front. It boasted a pizza and fountain drink for $1 between 2-4pm, to encourage “happy hour” patrons. Shaving the usual 79 cents extra for each slice and throwing in a drink for free. A deal not worth passing up when looking to save and wanting to eat. A deal school aged children can easily indulge in, such as today. About eight loud mouthed youths attempted to make a decision lord of the flies style. Chaos and swears filled the once quiet restaurant. How many slices of pizza did they each want? What flavour should they get? And would there be enough change for some to have drinks after? I took my preverbal hat off to the clerk that was manning the counter. He wasn’t on his A-game slouched across the counter top with Bluetooth in ear, but boy was he patient. Standing at the ready, repeating prices, and explaining how to get most for the children’s money. All while these youths told each other to “shut up” and addressed him in a less than polite manner.

We too went for the happy hour deal and got to choose from the eleven flavours of pizza kept warm in their showcase. A selection specific to today, and at this moment. Previous sales made and popular flavours were easily identified by the gaps in each circular trays. Displayed as two flavours per pan, with the two vegetarian options partnered together. With no labels and no posted signage you made your choice visually. Cheese, pesto, BBQ chicken, pesto chicken, meat lovers, pepperoni, Hawaiian, etc;.

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Our lunch came out to $2.80 total. A dollar each for our two large slices. We picked up a slurpee earlier so passed on the two fountain drinks that would have come with it. And we paid an extra 67 cents for the dipping sauce. North American pizza places have spoiled me, I can’t enjoy a slice without a creamy sauce to dunk into, or one to coat the top of my pizza with. A sauce usually so strong that it masks the actual flavour of the pizza. The dipping sauces here came prepackage by Hellmann’s. We made our choice from ancho chipotle, cheesy jalapeño, creamy ranch, marinara, and roasted garlic. Helping ourselves from a rack by the register. It just dawned on me that these must contain a lot of preservatives to be able to live out of the fridge. Surviving in room temperature within the heat of warmer weather and the humidity of a non air conditioned building.

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If you choose multiple slices they go in the traditional pizza for easy storage, a whole pie with potentially 8 different slices. Our two was placed onto a disposable paper plate and fit into paper bag. “BBQ chicken feast”. Creamy white garlic sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, lots of cooked chicken, onions, and BBQ sauce. I didn’t get the taste of creamy garlic sauce from the pizza alone, but got plenty of it from our roasted garlic dip. The chicken was chewy and the pizza over sweetened with the store bought bottle BBQ sauce drizzled overtop.

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“Garlic lovers feast”. Creamy white garlic sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, and tomatoes. Once again I didn’t get much garlic from this pizza, and once again the sauce did its part in providing me with more than enough garlicky goodness. The pizza was salty and the crust dry. Better than the first, but nothing special.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Not the best pizza I have ever had, not even the best pre-made and ready to go pizza I have ever had. Limp slices and hard crusts, made with salty ingredients. Though “all pizza are made with healthy, multigrain dough”. And I appreciated their attempts at being different, with not just your regular Hawaiian, Deluxe, or Pepperoni toppings. More than just marinara, they used BBQ, garlic and pesto sauces. And I also found them more generous with topping, specifically the protein. Not the best, but these were definitely the most inexpensive slices I have ever encountered. I couldn’t even get a slice for a $1 during my elementary school’s pizza day, over a decade ago. Here these truly are prices elementary aged school kids can afford, with merely the change in their pockets. Perfect pizza for the small community of New Westminster. You come in for the connivence and the prices they offer. Don’t deny your cravings.

FRESH SLICE
Columbia & Sherbrooke
417 East Columbia Street, New Westminster BC, V3L 3X3
778-397-1397
freshslice.com
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Chad Thai

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Don’t let its little cafe look fool you. Not just a whole in the wall, this seemed to be the community’s go to for authentic Thai cuisine. The place was certainly busy. Pretty unspectacular on the exterior, a black awning with its name in yellow script; it almost blended into the background of a street lined with tiny shops and other one of cafes and diners such as this one.

Inside the restaurant was longer than it was wide. Right by the door way sat a lone chair available for anyone to sit should they require a wait. Beside it a shelf of complimentary newspapers and free magazines. A stretch of two top tables reached all the way to the back of the room. And on this Tuesday evening each was seated. The room was filled with a unison hum of constant conversation and cutlery hitting share plates. Intermingled was the chime of the phone ringing and the sounds of folks coming in and going out with take out orders. I could hardly hear the spa-like calming melody playing in the background or the words coming out of my guest’s mouth, spoken in her regular tone. Their customers were patrons of all ages and folks from all walks of life. The community seemed to come in making this their destination. And to think I only choose this place based on what yielded from my search of “Thai restaurants in North Burnaby”. Their’s was the first link that popped up.

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The concrete walls were painted in a dull yellow, separated in half by a panel adding contrast and interest. Below the floors were a newly set hard wood veneer that sounded with each step you took. Large posters hung representing Thailand, they spoke to the restaurant’s food and their unique culture. Perfectly composed and coloured photographs looked like they could be used in a travel ad for tourism Thailand. We were given a seat right by the window. Our table one of the three that was visible from the outside. They were tiled in squares of soft blue and off white, with matching white chairs. A contrast from the varnished wood finish and dark colours of all the others.

The menus were a lime green, labeled as “Menu’”. I wasn’t sure what the extra apostrophe meant. All the bounded pages were protected in plastic sheets. A list of traditional Thai items arranged by appetizers, grill, soup, salad, curries, Thai wok fried, seafood, fried rice, and variety of Thai noodles. Each numbered and labeled in its traditional Thai phonetics, with a healthy description in English underneath. A legend listed a green “V” to mean it was vegetarian or can be prepared vegetarian, and a red “S” indicated your ability to request your own spiciness level: mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. The more popular items included images.

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There is nothing like Thai ice tea. Tea and cream, bitter and sweet. The bold orange of the brew intertwined with ribbons of white cream. A taste I can’t describe, but feel would make an amazing ice cream flavour. Has that been done already?

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“Mussamun Curry”. Choose from chicken, beef, or pork as your main protein. We went with chicken. Made with a mild mussamun curry paste, the aromatic paste is cooked with coconut milk, tamarind juice, pineapple, potatoes and peanuts. Looking at it I don’t know if I want to eat it. It certainly could use more colour. Maybe some more vegetables to neutralize all the yellow from the potato, pineapple, and peanuts. Though despite its washed out complexion and bland first impression, it was pretty tasty. Tender chicken and grainy potato, in a milky broth. The sauce was best part, it was where all its flavour came from. Not too spicy for a curry, or rather no spice. We did ask for mild, though ended up taking our server’s suggestion for allowing a little heat.

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“Pad Thai Goong”. We went with tiger prawns over chicken or tofu. As one of the most common Thai dishes this made for a good judge of their cuisine overall. Stir fried thin rice noodles in a tamarind sauce with tofu, salted radish, egg, chives, bean sprouts and ground peanuts. The noodles were overcooked, sticky they were bonded together in chunks as apposed to being separate strands. Their solid nature made it hard to incorporate the raw bean spouts on the side, or the six pieces of prawn with tails attached sitting on top. Overall we were disappointed by the dish. The sauce was too sweet, and here we preferred more heat.

The staff working the front looked like a mother and daughter team, or aunt and niece. Dressed in regular clothes with patterned aprons in Thai prints over them. They gave you the feeling of being served as a guest in their own home. Polite and soft spoken they assisted with patience and a sincere want to help. Several times we were approached with pitchers offering refills on water. Even the chef came out of the kitchen to serve us our dishes in his baseball cap. The bill came to us with the offer for us to have some tamarind candy. A similar sweet flavour as the tamarind rolls they sold in plastic containers at the counter. Odd note, the washroom was a unisex single stall. Clean for its age with some of the softest toilet paper I have ever had.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food was decent, but nothing I needed to access further during a follow up visit, or wanted to revisit again as leftovers. Not my first choice for Thai, but nothing I would avoid if in the neighbouring area. Don’t deny your cravings.

CHAD THAI
4010 E Hastings Street, Burnaby BC, V5C2J3
chadthai.ca
604-677-1489
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