GyuDonYa

IMG_6768IMG_6641

I had some time before work so decided to indulge on a lunch out. I don’t often dine alone as I find the whole experience awkward, and almost a waste of money to eat out if not in the company of another.

I have been eyeing this place for a while, so found the need for a cheap lunch reason enough to visit. Its been an a long time fixture downtown. Located on a visible corner with its worn red awning and comical cow logo it certainly is eye catching.

IMG_6616IMG_6637

It was cold outside, but we were kept toasty inside. Even with me sitting close to the door, and it opening and closing I was warm and even able to remove my coat. Surprisingly, radio pop tunes were playing over head. It didn’t really add to their authenticity considering their attempt at showcasing Japanese cuisine and culture. They greeted you in unison when you entered and sang your farewell when you left. A black and white mural lined the entrance, photos of Japanese life. It depicted women in traditional kimonos with their hair pinned up, a market scene with fresh produce for sale, and a group of men dressed to preform with banners and bandanas.

IMG_6627IMG_6628

I was most impressed with their bar set up. A tiled bench facing the street that allowed couples to sit side by side and singles, like me to enjoy my meal in peace. In the small gap between the window and table was paper scene. Cut outs of birds, flowers, and a water’s edge. Back lit, they were very prominent, and their reflections against the shiny counter offered some nice decoration.

IMG_6634

The rest or the seating available was in the form of share-style group tables. Rows, one after another ending with a high top version at the far end. This layout was labeled, creating space and unison.

I think they were hiring. A sign in the window printed in only Japanese and Korean meant they were specifically looking from either of those ethnic groups. I only caught on being able to read the word, “server” in brackets.

IMG_6617IMG_6629

Upon entry you are asked if your visit is to dine in or take out. Given the former you are assigned a seat of your choosing. As mentioned I helped myself to a stool at the bar, by the door. A server approaches with a laminated menu. The same coloured menu with photos and descriptions for each dish is reproduced as two large boards. One by the register out front for easy take out. And one above the kitchen pass for those who like to look up rather than read down. Although each version of the menu is similar, using the same photos, but presented a little different. Each equally appealing.

As a modest menu of nine similar items, and nothing over $10; it leads me to believe this could be categorized as fast food. Your choice of entree came in beef, short rib, grilled chicken, grilled pork, seared salmon, spicy tofu, assorted vegetable with beef, or grilled vegetable. Each of the above would top a bowl of steamed white rice with some sort of vegetable; be it peppers, lettuce, or green onion. With each choice you had to further decide if you wanted it in their regular or large size, for about a dollar plus difference in cost. Examples of the sizes were by the front desk, along with their limited selection of bottled imported beer.

I was tempted to choose their ninth menu option: a “miso flavoured gyu men”. But considering they were a place specializing in Japanese rice bowls, I decided to go with rice instead of noodles. Reason to come back I guess. Given the speed in which the food was prepared from when I conveyed my wish to the server, I doubt it was made to order. Although the sides and the rice I am sure was prepped ahead of time.

IMG_6621

Grilled beef short rib “galbi bowl” combo with miso soup and Japanese pickles. For $1.95 more you can make your rice bowl a combo with your choice of two sides. I choose the soup option over the poached egg. And from the salad and pickles choice, the colourful Japanese pickles over kimchi or their salad of the day.

IMG_6626IMG_6624

The miso soup was pretty average. Salty and milky with chunks of tofu, cuts of seaweed, and chopped green onion. The pickles were a beautiful hue. Great to look at, but too salty to eat. Not that my main needed any more salt or flavour. I didn’t touch any more of the pickles after the one taste that I was forced to spit out.

IMG_6622IMG_6623

I choose beef short rib, as it is one of my favourite cuts of beef, and I am only able to enjoy it when at either a Japanese or Korean restaurant. The meat was as chewy and as fatty as I expected. Without bones, the larger pieces were easy enough to bite down into smaller portions. They certainly weren’t stingy on the sauce that generous dressed the meat and dripped down to coat the rice below. The chopped cabbage on top of the rice acted as a good secondary texture, giving the bowl some freshness. Overall my combo was over salted but filling. Salty beef, salted miso soup, and briny salty pickles.

I was offered a spoon, that in hind sight I regret not accepting it. Being too proud as an Asian I guess. Rice is hard to consume with chopsticks, and I am no where near as skilled as I think I am. I was presented with a disposable set, but could have helped myself to some in the caddy stationed at each table, that was also staggered at certain lengths of the bar bench. This along with soya sauce, a mixed spice, chili sauce, and sweet Japanese mayo in a squeeze bottle.

IMG_6638IMG_6639

When done, you motion for attention and are ask to pay at the register. Past this is their single stalled washroom. A dark room with dark walls and dark furniture. Amongst all this was a beautifully decorated elevated sink. Painted in red patterned in white cherry blossoms.

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 usually require more than one dish before I make up my mind on a place. A second taste of a second item to ensure I truly get the range of a restaurant. However given their simple premise and the similarity between bowls I can safely conclude the following. I wouldn’t mind coming back when I want that home cook feel for cheap, done fast. And the noodles would be something I would like to try. Though as a sit down dining experience to celebrate an occasion, or to impress a guest, this wouldn’t be the one I’d recommend. Don’t deny your cravings.

GYUDONYA
500 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z2H7
604-569-0259
Gyudon Ya on Urbanspoon

Rogue on Broadway

IMG_7122IMG_7123

Seeing as I have been to “Rogue wetbar” before and have written on their menu a few times, this particular review will be primary on their Broadway location and its difference from the original one at Waterfront skytrain station. This would be my first time here.

Looking for that generic, contemporary, casual restaurant this is as good as any of the usual suspects: “Cactus Club”, “Earls”, “Milestones”. They have the same sort of staff and clients, serving the same sort of comfort and bar favourites. North American style cuisine with twists, from dishes and drinks to burger to beers. Though I personally find “Rogue” the best of the lot. I deem their menus the most eventful, with the most to peak my interest, offering much I would like to try. Where at other such places I know what I like and stick with the same thing; often wishing for more rotation and a larger and more creative seasonal offering. Here at” Rogue” they had “Lobster Mac N’ Cheese”, a “Maple blackberry wild BC salmon”, a yellow curry with shredded coconut, their “Brewhouse burger” made with IPA soaked onions and a bourbon-bacon jam, and the newest addition: “black cherry baby back ribs”. And that delicious list is just to name a few.

IMG_7124IMG_7147

Outside, their name was prominent in bright lights and red and white paint. A sight hard to miss on its very visible corner, especially given the four chances to read its name Enroute to the front entrance. Inside, when it came to decor it was all in the details. Details meant to draw the eye. Details that when taken individually, each stood out. And details that as a whole had nothing matching, yet it all some how went together. An assault of funky and fun.

IMG_7128IMG_7139

We were offered either the dining room or the lounge. Despite the Canucks game playing, it was slow on this Thursday evening. No lines, no need to wait. Given our mood, and after peering into both sides, the choice was clear. The lounge was definitely more decorative and free flowing, whereas the dining room was more classic and muted. The latter was clearly meant to seat more formal occasions. A dressed up room able to pull in those coming from work in suit and tie, or those wanting a fancier date night out. Wood was the main element used. Visible as planks in the ceiling and feature walls, and again in the waist high gate separating it from the lounge. Both rooms had television screens built into a decorative wall with sections highlighted in different colours and arranged with different textures. It was lovely to take in, but definitely took away from your television viewing pleasure. The most memorable thing in the dining room was the acrylic chandeliers. Sheets of plastic arranged to construct a four pronged light fixture. They were lit with blue LED tubes, bathing those below it with a glowing translucent light.

IMG_7125IMG_7146

We were steered right into the lounge, to what almost looked like a completely different restaurant from the one above. There were so many details to take in. A green wall with holes cut out, a poster of beer labels and logos blown up like a poster, and a cluster of light bulbs shielded by and over sized shade. The couches and high backed booth seats were blended with patterns. A black, grey, and gold stripe on beige transitioned into a regally looking spiral brocade. Both ended with faux patent plastic cushions. They didn’t really matched the black and white splotched cow print seat tops that sat across. Each table included a mosaic tiled votive done in an amber and brown tone. A few narrow tables mimicked the bar, back lit in stripes or swirls that offered decoration and a mood setting splash of light. 

IMG_7135IMG_7138

I echo-ed my guest and ordered a “Frozen Bellini”, made with white rum, peach schnapps, champagne, peach flavoured slush, and a splash of red wine sangria; giving it its red on orange colouring. Little did I know this would come as the most impressive Bellini I have ever had. It was served as a large portion in very heavy goblet. The sour peach candy on top was a nice little touch, and a nice way to end the drink. This cocktail definitely meant business, if you are going to do a Bellini you ought to do it right like this. And if you aren’t normally one for sweet, icy cocktails or you aren’t a Bellini fancier, this one will be the one to convince you.

IMG_7141IMG_7142

“Wok Squid”, a play on calamari with pronounced Asian flavours. Pineapple cut squid, jalapeño, pineapple chunks, ginger, and garlic. Served with a cilantro aioli dipping sauce. As mentioned this was a fusion twist on a classic appetizer. It was neither any better nor did it do worse than the original. It was just different, and if you didn’t compare it to any calamari dish, it was pretty good. It smelled just as good as it tasted. Though the colour of the sauce in its dull green under yellow lights didn’t help to make it any more appealing. Plus the taste of cilantro isn’t for everyone and this dip was cilantro filled. Whipped smooth and left thick, it offered some acid, and the cream help to dull the spicy jalapeño. The squid was cut into larger chunks, which made its chewy and tender texture all the more enjoyable to eat. Each morsel was breaded heavily in a herb filled batter, so much flavour that the sauce wasn’t necessary, just a way to keep the bites interesting to the end. It also gave the squid some crunch.
When presenting the plate the server didn’t consider that my on Asian guest couldn’t use chopsticks. My guest ended up stabbing her food until we were able to track down a fork. Our server later brought up the interesting fact that this being Vancouver, it is often an acceptable norm to offer chopsticks without question or substitutions.

I originally wanted the “Chocolate peanut butter explosion” for dessert, but this being our second meal, and having finishing the largest Bellini I have ever had, dessert seemed like a distant dream. However this just gives me a reason to try their layers of espresso chocolate cake, peanut butter mousse, chocolate peanut butter ganache, and peanut praline.

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.
When comparing both locations in Vancouver, this one seems more upscale. Here patrons aren’t coming just to do some serious drinking, then partying downtown. Whereas being located right by the skytrain, the waterfront location is the ideal place to get your drink and party on. The Broadway location on the other hand is well lit for a contemporary casual dining chain. It’s thoughtful decor and address out of downtown attracts a different clientele and in turn creates a different vibe. Here it’s more chill. This is a great venue to come to and have dinner at, to watch the game in, and have drinks at. And they give you plenty of reasons to dine with then. Weekly drink specials, $3 happy hour specials between 3-6, and they even suggest preordering for a group gathering to earn yourself a free meal. Don’t deny your cravings.

ROGUE
602 W. Broadway, Vancouver BC
604-568-9400
roguewetbar.com
Rogue Kitchen & WetBar on Urbanspoon

Spaghetei

IMG_6890IMG_6893

My Italian friend has been looking forward to decoding this Japanese interpretation of his heritage cuisine. The concept was interesting. Japanese flavours and Italian sauces over el dente pasta. We were curious to see how this idea would pan out, I mean it must be promising if they were proud enough to declare their existence since 1995, on their awning. Although upon reflection I can only wonder were this was. Where was it that they were still standing after ten years.

The name was displayed in a unique font. Like its cuisine, a fusion; this of Times New Roman with an Asian flare and pronunciation to match. Its exterior looked like a cage with white bars across the front. In between gaps of window you got a look inside. We came at 5pm, the beginning of the evening shift and were the first for it. We pulled open the heavy door by its unique door handle: a large fork. Though it more resembled a pitch fork, painted black.

IMG_6896IMG_6902

You pass through the tiled corridor lined with little squares of amber and orange glass, then pause in order to be seated by a server. You don’t see a lot of orange in most restaurants, and it isn’t the traditional colour choice of most Japanese establishments. My guest declared its pops of colour very Italian in nature and the white walls and wood accents very Japanese. Earthy and warm and simple and clean; yet another fusion, another example of the two cultures coming together. Similar were the orange streaky paintings on square canvases and the large kanji character written in thick black brush stokes. Together, but opposing on opposite walls. Overall the setting was modern with traditional touches, like the 25 cent machine half filled with plastic capsules. Little toys for young girls and boys. It was a enough pleasant setting to be in, one that was kept very clean. You couldn’t tell the age of the place, other than the worn table corners. No seats ripped and no floor tiles scuffed. Pleasant.

IMG_6901

The kitchen was visible with a gap between its wood counter below and the hanging concealing curtain above. Behind it you could make out a lone chef dressed in white. He was head down, prepping his station in full concentration. Surrounding him was a tall stack of large noodle bowls and dinosaur figures on display. Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and a Japanese figurine to end the shelf.

As mentioned we were the first ones in for dinner. All the tables were left undressed, but we were given a slender basket filled with communal use paper napkins and metal cutlery. My guests mentioned wanting a little more panache. A centre piece, a candle, something more to dress the table up with. I was fine with the simple setting, it meant for better photos, clean of all background noise. Together with the lighting and the table’s dark surface, our position was ideal for “foodtography”. The bright lights above just hit the food nicely below.

The menu was a coloured affair. Each of the 13 items offered had its own glossy photo in bold hues, and its name and description in both English and Japanese. Not knowing what to expect we ordered by looking and pointing.

IMG_6911IMG_6916

“Pork chilli oil bread appetizer”. We wished for a larger emphasis on the “oil”, to give us a fair warning of what we would be getting. The mix wasn’t visually appealing, seeing all that oil and all the meat forced to soak in it. Therefore it was no surprise that the meat was tender and chewy, and overly oiled to a slick from this bath. Though all that moisture did help to soften the tough, dry bread when scooped atop. A pain point here and at other places was the serving. We were presented with five slices of toasted bread to be shared between three people. Could they not have added one more slice? Could they not have asked if we wanted an equal number of baguette slices so we could each have two tastes? Could they not have been as generous with the bread as and they were with the meat and oil? A better ratio? There was plenty of it to heap on as excess topping. As for the flavour it was hard to notice any past the unique texture of whipped meat saturated in heated oil. But it did have just the right about of heat, and a pleasant lingering spice that lasted well after your swallowed.

Each pasta came with the option of enjoying it as a small, regular, or large, at about a dollar difference. Given our skeptical nature and the want to try more, we stuck with three regulars to be divided by three hungry people.

IMG_6920IMG_6921

We passed on the “Neapolitan” pasta because the menu described it starting with a ketchup base. We didn’t want to dine out and not have our meal be made from scratch. So we moved on to another red sauce pasta, only to catch the scent of ketchup from its “tomato cream”. Ironically this one was the closest to Italian-like pasta, but it was still far from achieving the simple freshness that is the pinnacle of Italian cuisine. The menu described it as a creamy tomato sauce with chicken and various vegetables over spaghetti noodles. You could almost immediately smell the ketchup in this, which would have been made more pleasant had there been chunks of fresh tomato mixed in. My guest likened it to the processed sauce found in cans of “Chef Boyardee” pastas. Sweet and tangy. One, which I may add, that I actually like. We eventually found the bacon at the bottom of the plate and were mixed on its presence. 2/3’s of us found it didn’t add any value to the plate as its flavour was hidden and its texture lost under a chunky sauce. The remaining 1/3 liked the bacon and declared that you can’t do wrong with bacon, especially one as chewy as this. What was surprising was what the menu considered “vegetable”, a fungus and two leafs of spinach.

IMG_6924IMG_6926

“Mentaiko and shrimp”. What others deemed as their best dish, we found an interesting assembly. One we could not finish and one I did not need to try again after two bites. Mentaiko, shrimp, and assorted mushrooms, topped with fried seaweed. Mentaiko is the marinated roe of pollock and cod, it is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and popular atop many pieces of sushi. These little balls of juice added an interesting texture yo the starchy pasta. Natto and shiso leaves were possible add ons to this already very Japanese flavoured dish. Their inclusion would be an additional 80 cents or $1.30. Though given all the ingredients we were already unfamiliar with, we didn’t need to add any more of it to the mix.
It was nice to have the few pieces of shrimp without their tails, though no surprise there wasn’t enough to go around. Delightfully the seaweed was complimentary and added a pleasant spice. But over all we found the noodle too fishy, and the eggs unavoidable. As mentioned, its texture added an interesting pop of juice to an otherwise dry noodle, but was something I rather do without. We wished for a sauce to pull the dish together, or better yet a broth, though with the latter it wouldn’t be much of a pasta dish. Clearly we liked this the least, finding it too out there to the point of being off putting.

IMG_6922IMG_6923

“Double meat sauce”. This was their signature meat sauce with sliced beef, topped with diced boiled egg. The “double” in the name came from the beef prepared two ways. Similarly they had “Meat sauce with shrimp”. This too was the same signature meat sauce, but instead of the slow cooked beef mentioned above, it was topped with shrimp and vegetable. We took the menu’s recommendation, putting weight into its statement of, “a must try for meat lovers”. Good advice, as this was the best of the three. For once, here was a dish that actually looked better in person than what was shown on the menu. Though what mattered most was the taste. It wasn’t great, but sadly good as it was the best of the three that we had. I considered this more of a meat stew than a pasta dish. The meat was the star of the dish, and the noodle the filler in which to eat it with. It tasted like a Chinese noodle dish with strong Asian flavours, but using a thiner type of spaghetti. The meat itself was stringy like it has been beaten tenderized too long.

IMG_6908IMG_6910

All their spaghettis were served with a piece of garlic bread. We didn’t question it being pictured green on the menu. When delivered it was announced as a spinach flavoured garlic bread. Though spinach only in colour, and not in flavour. It tasted like regular garlic bread.

Two Parmesan shakers were presented at the start. Two for three people meant there would be minimal wait to use either. Though realistically Parmesan cheese would have only been complimentary over the pastas with a tomato sauce base. So one out of our three plates.

We had lots to take home. Three grown adults couldn’t finish three regular portions of pasta. Though in our defence it was 90% carbs. We had lots of take out, and everything was packed up for us. Everything in individual containers, all stacked in one bag; but presented with two extra bags in case we wanted to each take one container home.

Our server was attentive, she never really checked in, but at the same time never left our cups half empty. Attentive without ever being in our faces. And when it was time for dessert, she brought us the menu without asking. Even pointing to the options Vanna White style. Sadly we were too full to entertain the thought.

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.
Nothing tasted like you expected it to. This was like nothing we expected, and yet I wanted it to be something else. Maybe if we didn’t go in expecting pasta we would have nothing to comparable it to, and maybe we would have enjoyed what we had more. But with a name like theirs, there was no way to avoid such a comparison. In conclusion this is a very original concept that I commend them for, a unique blending of cultures. Even though this one wasn’t for me, I definitely recommend trying it for yourselves. Don’t deny your cravings and the opportunity to see if this is for you. In existence since 1995 has to mean something.

SPAGHETEI
1741 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6G1E1
604-428-1014
spaghetei.com
Spaghetei すぱげっ亭 on Urbanspoon

ManCakes Bakery

IMG_6737 IMG_6766

I have finally tried the unique offerings of “mancakes” bakery, a cupcake store for him. No pinks, no frills, no ooey gooey cuteness. Just grown up cupcakes, with a sophisticated flavour that grown men can appreciate. In a shoppe that is geared to the male gender, but either sex can come in to indulge.

IMG_6739IMG_6742

The tiny shop is sandwiched by other small one-of lunch and dessert places. It stands out with its red, white, and black theme. Their original logo is represented on the awning and as scrawlings on their sandwich boards. A stick figure man, standing upright in the centre of a cream topped cupcake outline. If you like rebuses this one was cake. Decorating the front windows is a scattered list of their unique cupcake flavours with appropriate names. “King Kong”. “Pink Peppercorn”. “Breakfast”. “Tequila pineapple”. Some of the names were explanatory, other had posters describing their make up inside.

IMG_6738IMG_6741

Inside the colours where predominately red and black. A fire engine red, bold on the counters and tables. A charcoal black, dark on furniture, couches, shelves, and painted on one wall. The dish ware too was coloured black. The room purposely had a very masculine feel, it well matched their overall garage theme. Though this was the cleanest and most enjoyable garage I have ever seen and been in. A mental garage door was the background to the cash desk. On it was their logo and a good coat of wax. Shiny. Hand held red tool boxes decorated the top of a shelf and a free standing large box was used as a coffee caddy. It was home to creams and sugars for coffee and teas. Their choice of music was a nostalgic 60’s mix, only the chart toppers. This list featured the B-52’s and Tom Jones. Bonus points for those who can name their biggest hits.

IMG_6746IMG_6744

Not only have “Mancakes ” stepped up the cupcake game with sweet and savoury cupcakes, cupcakes featuring alcohol, and cupcakes with original ingredients; but they also fill their cupcakes too. That’s right, frosting on the top and cream in the centre. So three parts of each “mancake” combine to give each cupcake a truly original flavour profile. Base, filling, and cream.
The “chocolate red wine” boasted a chocolate base with a marscapone mousse filling, and port cherry red wine buttercream topping. And it was finished off with a a dark chocolate disk and a red wine gelée. The “Buffalo wing” had a spice base filled with tangy blue cheese cheesecake mousse, a hot sauce buttercream frosting, and a crispy chicken crumble topping. We over heard the owner tell other customers that the “Chicago” cupcake was his favourite. This was a vanilla base filled with caramel and topped with cheddar cheese infused buttercream and caramel popcorn. They also offer seasonal and timely flavours. According to their website the “Hunger Games’ #MockingJay” cupcake was a partnership in time for the launch of the third instalment of the franchise. Reading its description I was highly interested in trying it. Though when I was in shop it was not available, and there was no sign advertising its existence. I think I would have noticed a cupcake with gold mocking bird print stencilled on to it. This would have been a chocolate cake filled with a passionfruit and lychee pearl mousse, and topped with a chocolate ganach. Then decorated with a champagne infused marshmallow, gold mockingjay print and pearl sprinkles. The website even went so far as to recommend lighting it on fire. Now that would be one impressive cupcake. The current feature flavour was a wintery seasonal “Spicebox Christmas”. A chocolate base cake with a eggnog creme brûlée filling, topped with a Spicebox whiskey chocolate ganache and crushed candy cane. But as much as I wanted to try them all and as amazing as the above sounded, we went for the “Mancakes Combo”, two cupcakes and a coffee for $7.95. Though being able to switch out coffee for a tea.

IMG_6740IMG_6748

Hearing the word “mancake” I assumed larger and heftier cupcakes, what I got was your standard size cake. Even their website had them looking like the jumbo variety. After all that went in to each, you want more to appreciate its flavours more. Though standard sizing would give you a good reason to get more and try their other flavours, especially as each is quite filling. My only real critique is the amount of filling inside each. Each of the two flavours I tried was delicious, but a dollop was all that was afforded. This one bite of jelly or cream lived at the top of the cupcake, only penetrating the base mid way. Not only was the bottom void of frosting, but now avoid of filling too.

IMG_6756IMG_6753

“Apple Brie”. A spice based cupcake filled with a sweet apple cider jelly, topped with a brie cheese icing and a crushed pretzel brittle. This cupcake delivered on its name sake flavours, the notes of Brie being the most obvious. It gave you a light, but distinct sourness in the icing. Together with the base and filling, it sang in harmony. This was a taste and combination common in cheese and charcuterie platters, in one handy dandy, hand held snack. A well tempered, spiced filled cupcake that gave you a little bit of everything. Spice from the base that tasted like carrot cake, minus the traditional carrot slivers. Sweetness from the apple jelly, that was so good, I wish there was more of it. And just the right hint of salty from the course salt embedded into the pretzel brittle shards. This was a good one fall, the perfect treat if you can’t decide on sweet or savoury. Have both.

IMG_6755IMG_6754

“Whiskey Lime”, a spice based cupcakes filled with whiskey infused chocolate ganache, white chocolate lime icing, with a sugar and lime zest topping. This was amazing, the most exciting cupcake I have ever had, with nothing comparable. It was hard to describe. Smokey and sweet, with a kick of tang. Everything you would expect in a well aged whiskey, but brought together to be chewed.

IMG_6760IMG_6763

At around 3pm, after a handful of patrons came in to ponder, but not to buy; a new sign went up. In order to lure additional bodies in they would be offering free samples. Already seated, but being within eye line of this sign, my guest unabashedly asked if we could have a sample too. What was brought over was a taste of their “Deathly chocolate covered bacon”. I have had chocolate covered bacon before, but found this to be one of the better renditions. The bacon was baked chewy, and the chocolate draped over it in a solid slab. It made for a chewy and crunchy one bite. It was as enjoyable to eat as it was tasty. A classic sweet and salty pairing. I wasn’t sure if they would soon become sides to a “mancakes” like a side of fries with your cupcake, or if they would soon grace the top of a “bacon chilli chocolate” cupcake.

The clerk, who may also be the owner was friendly. He was knowledge, speaking of the product with passion and high regard. Like ourselves, all those we entered after had a lot of question. And even though majority of them walked away empty handed, each couple got the same great service that we did for ordering. To start, he inquired if this was their first visit. If that was the case it would be followed by a description of what it is that they do, and how it sets them apart. It certainly had me interested and wanting to try his favourites and his recommendations. Shame the others didn’t feel that way. Although, just because they are not buying customers today, doesn’t mean they couldn’t be paying ones tomorrow.

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.
“Mancakes” is original, it’s fun, it’s fresh. It is my kind of dessert. Why have a normal vanilla cupcake, when you can have a vanilla cupcake made with refreshing grapefruit and spicy yet floral pink peppercorns. After all the former would just be a boring vanilla cupcake iced with overly sweet vanilla frosting. A regular cupcake that you can get anywhere else, including your local budget grocery store. Why go for the ordinary when you can partake in the extraordinary.

“Mancakes” bakery also exist as an option for men who have a sweet tooth and who love cupcakes, but may not feel as comfortable entering a shoppe that is 90% pink. This is a place where they can get funky and fresh cupcakes that are frosted high and cream filled deep. Then enjoy it in a casual, comfortable, and mostly gender neutral setting.

IMG_6745

I mostly enjoyed the fact that they were not sweet on sweet, in sweet. Each combination was thoughtfully tempered to give you a harmonious bite. Cupcakes acceptable for dessert or snack. Cupcakes perfect for if you are craving savory or if you are craving sweet. And with your choice from over ten tried and tested flavours on rotation, including seasonal options; you are sure to find a favourite in their line up. And if you can’t decide on just one, they have taster packs available. Twelve assorted, one bite miniature cupcakes packaged in what they call their “tool box”. Either way they will have your cravings covered here, so don’t deny them.

MANCAKES
288 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6B6A1
778-886-5323
mancakesbakery.com
ManCakes Bakery on Urbanspoon

Frites

IMG_6705IMG_6730

I was here by way of a social shopper coupon. It promised me two of their deluxe poutines, so I invited a friend along to share in the bounty.

“Frites” is one of the newer poutine places to call the entertainment district of downtown Granville Street, home. This location is a wise one, I can only imagine the lift in traffic from after hours businesses and the serge of additional customers during the weekend nights. After all fries, cheese, and gravy sound pretty amazing when you are drunk, tired, and hungry. It sobers you up and warms you through.

As the new kid on the block it also probably didn’t hurt them to move into an area already known for hosting other successful poutine shops. The healthy competition draws people looking for this very Canadian food item in. And as a result “Frites” probably picks up new customers and additional patrons only now discovering their location. Some willing to compare how they stacked up to their neighbours, others wanting to try something new, those unwilling to wait in the longer lines of their more established competitors, and even maybe those who recognize this chain from its original locations in Toronto. Either way this area probably earned them residual sales. After all it’s about location, location, location; an if you build it they shall come sort of thing.

Its black awning and matching black sandwich board weren’t too striking. It was actually their slogan that drew me in first: “fries with benefits”, it referenced their unique “double-layered poutine”. A poutine that had a more even gravy and cheese ratio to fry, made using authentic Belgium fries.

IMG_6713

Inside their shop was where they choose to advertise their offerings with large poster-sized images. Coloured close ups of their waffle sandwiches and burgers, along with their various topped poutines. All a little pointless in my opinion. In order for potential customers to see them they need to enter the shoppe first. And once in the shop it is almost a guarantee that they will buy something. I guess it was more artwork and decoration than anything. Though all they did aid in your decision making process, allowing your eyes to do the ordering.

IMG_6712IMG_6729

Seating was very limited, signifying that this was the type of place meant as a quick meal, and not one to linger at. Black cushioned stools were paired with red bar/table surfaces. Majority faced out the window, with a table for two against the left wall. At the centre of each setting is a diamond shaped cut out. Its intended purposes was to hold a cone tipped serving of fries. We didn’t need this, but it told me their most requested item was their Belgium fries as is; as there was a need for this specific table modification.

The process starts when you head to the cash register at the counter. A cashier greets you and takes your order. Behind him is the kitchen. A cut out wall allowed for the viewing of orders being made by another employee stationed in the back. Visible from front door, there was no mystery to their processes.

IMG_6711

Like food court style service you look up to a posted menu in order to make your selection. Anything off one of the three television sets broadcasting the expanse of the menu in a fun and engaging way. Your options were fries, poutines, or sandwiches made with waffles instead of bread. Each of the above also came in variations, for a have it your way sort of deal. There were five options for poutine, together covering all the major meat groups: chicken, pork, and beef. Having regular fries opened you to the option of it being served with one of their 22 different gourmet sauces. “Suicide”, “peppercorn ranch”, “Madras curry”, “Jamaican jerk”, “sriracha”, and “Go Ju Jang” their Korean style sauce; just to name a few. They were certainly not exclusively Belgium in style, more a multiculturally influenced smorgasbord. The waffle sandwich gave you the most customizable options. Choose your meat, your sauce, and even the bun; it didn’t even need to be a waffle. Though without the waffle it kind of defeated the relevance found in the name.

Because of the coupon, our choice was limited to either pulled pork, beef chilli, or bacon mushroom. Just as well, as I wouldn’t want my first taste of their food to be with anything, but one of their layered poutines.

After your order is processed, a handful of fries take a dip into oil. This is made to order, done in order. Once crispy, a ladling of pre-made gravy is then generously drizzled over a portion. And finally topped accordingly. Each helping of poutine is served in to go containers with foldable lids and stickers of their banner.

IMG_6969

As with most poutines there is a need to eat this one quick as well. A need to shovel in multiple sticks of fries before the gravy gets absorbed and the potatoes get soggy. The gravy used had a light and runny texture. Greasy, with a consistency similar to that of a meaty vinaigrette, or a runny real maple syrup. The dollops of cheese were the size of nuggets. I was most impressed by the amount and freshness of each curd. They were slightly melted by the warm gravy, and become stringy as we pulled them from the box towards our mouths. As promised there was a double layer. There was plenty of cheese and the bottom of the box as well as the tip, not just undressed soften fries.

IMG_6722IMG_6721

The “pulled pork” poutine was sweetened by the honey barbecue sauce. We felt it needed some additional spice, a kick to make it stand out. Maybe even some onions or fresh herbs to counter act the dominating sweetness.

IMG_6723IMG_6724

We agreed that the “Bacon mushroom” was our preferred poutine. The latter were thick slices of cooked button mushrooms, and the former fried and tossed bacon bits. The bits had a texture of stale crumbs. Overall it had a savoury salty flavour, one I found more enjoyable than the sweet poutine above. As a result it also married better with the salty cheese. I still could have used more bacon though, maybe some in chewy chunks as well and the tough sprinkle.

IMG_6728

Poutines are generally salty, I needed a drink mid way through. My guest was keen enough to point out the poster she read by the mini fridge. It advertised a free bottle of water or pop if I liked them on Facebook and checked in my location today. That sounded easy enough for free, and here I was about to just pay for a drink. Clearly this was an advertising strategy meant to leverage my social media following. One I was okay to help in for something free. After the clerk confirmed the above on my phone I was allowed to help myself to a free bottle of water.

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 am not a big fan of fries, but as a late night, easy to eat and sober up to snack it fairs pretty well. Especially as there is so many ways to make it your own. Overall I found the food good, but the portions associated, on the smaller side. A convenient cuisine, at convenient prices, in an convenient area. An easy win, on a tested dish. Not the best, but one that could definitely hit the spot in a pinch. Don’t deny your cravings.

FRITES
1011 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z1L5
60-559-0550
frieswithbenefits.com
Frites Granville on Urbanspoon

Hawksworth Cocktail Bar

IMG_7074IMG_7073

I have been to “Hawksworth” Restaurant before and have enjoyed “Bel Cafe” too. But today we just wanted drinks and desserts in a nicer setting, so deferred to their cocktail bar instead. Conveniently located between the two.

IMG_7032IMG_7033

You enter through the lobby of “Rosewood Hotel Georgia”, though the enjoyable novelty of rotating doors. As you exit the pod you are greeted by their hostess. She checks your coat, so should you choose to relinquish it. And in exchange gives you a tag. Given our choice of bar over dining room we were directed to our left and allowed to choose our own seats. A hard choice given the overall appeal of the room. An appealing decision between high top, sofas, and individual couches. After a back and forth we allowed the two freestanding fireplace to sway our vote. Side by side they were multi functional, heating the room, giving the space an elegant depth, as well as acting as a barrier separating bar from dining room.

IMG_7035IMG_7041

It wasn’t until we had a third join our party of two did we relocate to the couch by the door. It had roomy seating for larger groups. A beige chesterfield outfitted with perfectly propped and chopped pillows, and two side tables to rest drinks and small plates on. Above it hung a large frame, underneath its glass an image of a large sparkly heart filled with various butterflies. They flew wings a flutter in all sorts of colours. All together a comfy setting that allowed for lingering and almost encouraged drinking in a lounge-like state.

IMG_7038IMG_7040

We had some sparking wine, and our third a sparkling cocktail.

IMG_7069IMG_7068

“Death in the Afternoon”, the name alone was reason enough to order it. Along with all the other cocktails this had its origin date listed. Created in 1935 this was made with Pernod absinthe and bubbles, then garnished with the zest of a lemon swirled.

IMG_7067IMG_7043

The regality of the place was in the details. Fine accents that for the most part were left unnoticed. But for those who took the time to take it all in and to enjoy their experience, you could see the purpose in the using. You could see the effort, you valued the worth. We were such diners.
Tuliped glasses with the perfect weight for our wine, it gave drinking a dainty and feminine feel. A rounded bottom and a fluted lip on our drinking glass, gave each a solid hold and an comfortable bend for the lips. Even the spoons for our desserts had a unique feature. A dimple on its side aided in the breaking off of and the scooping up of soft pies or cakes.

IMG_7049IMG_7046

We requested the dessert menu and ordered the “Cassis Almond Tart with pear sorbet and tonka beans”. We were not disappointed in the anticipation of this dessert. It was delivered, a beautiful work of art, and a well thought out dessert. It gave you the option to pull textures and flavours together to create your perfect bite. The tart itself was freshly made. A fragrant almond paste folded atop a golden brown crust, and sprinkled over with a crisp crumble topping. It played off the floral pear sorbet nicely, with its cold clean flavour. And ran paralleled with the luscious cream, the honeyed almonds, and the tart berries. I wasn’t sure what the red shard was that topped this masterpiece, but it was a sweet finish to a pretty sweet dessert. Hot and cold, smooth and crunchy, sweet and tart. This one had everything.

IMG_7053IMG_7036

Our bartender and server was nothing but courteous. He was polite, giving everything he touched and everyone he spoke to the respect it and they deserved. This included us. You were happy to wait for his services, as he ran the whole room by himself. He was comforting with a smooth coaxing. He reassured us of our choices, and checked in often to ensure we had everything we needed to feel well taken care of. Even after I broke a glass with my flamboyant hand talking, he still kept his calm composure. Insisting we not help with the clean up lest we cut ourselves.

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.
Hands down this is one of the nicest restaurants in the city. And even though just for drinks, this was still one of the nicest dining experiences I have had to date, cocktail bar or not. I may not be able to afford their plates from day to day, but a fancy drink and a decadent dessert at $10-13 is completely manageable. I recommend coming here for a taste of the good life without having to pay for the full price. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAWKAWORTH COCKTAIL BAR
Rosewood Hotel Georgia
801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver BC, V6C1P7
604-673-7000
hawksworthrestaurant.com
Hawksworth Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Rain or Shine Ice Cream

IMG_6468IMG_6469

My guest wanted “Earnest” ice cream, but it was a Tuesday. I wanted to give her an equally satisfying ice cream experience so drove us to “Rain of Shine”. I find both comparable, but today was taco Tuesday!

On a cold day like tonight it was no surprise to see that behind the fogged glass door and windows the place was empty. They however wisely turned the heat up to encourage guests in to enjoy cold ice cream in a hot room, the best way in my opinion. It worked, the place slowly filled after we came through the door.

IMG_6471IMG_6473

The decor was as I remembered it the last time I visited, not too long ago in summer. A narrow space with only enough seating for several small gatherings. Beyond the seating area was a lengthly counter from where all their ice cream is served. And further still is a windowed look into their operation. Behind the wall was where their own branded ice cream was being massed produced. Enough servings to be offered by the scoop and as a take home tub.

IMG_6484

By the entrance still hung their purple and white splotched cow bust. He still looked as happy to have a yellow ice cream cone, turned upside down on his forehead. Surrounding him were laminated and coloured print outs of ice creams in pointed sugar cones. They were arranged to form star-like patterns. Past that the wall featured odd cuts of wood jutting out in various heights, widths, and distances. Both filled up space well enough.

IMG_6470IMG_6485

We naturally went for their Taco Tuesday special at $6. A waffle cone made and shaped in house to the fold of a taco. In its centre your choice of two different ice cream flavours, whipped cream, and a topping of your choosing. You have to take advantage of this once a week offering. Essentially this was just an ice cream cone, but presentation and marketing mean something.

IMG_6488IMG_6481

It being her first time my guest stuck to ice cream from “the keepers” list. She paired “salted caramel” with “coffee-toffee”, saying no to the whipped cream, but yes to the toffee brittle topping. She liked everything about her sweet treat, except for having to eating out of a box.

IMG_6486IMG_6487

I went for very seasonal flavours from the “Seasonal Flings” list of six. Although I sampled both the “egg nog” and “brown butter Snickerdoodle” and liked them, I decided to bring wine and beer together, to pair sorbet and ice cream. The result: “Brassneck multiweizen beer ice cream” and “mulled wine sorbet”. Topped with candied hazelnut and whipped cream. I always get anything limited edition or that which is only around for the season. I want to try and not miss out on a good thing, especially because of a little cold weather. It tasted like Christmas with the beer and candied nuts. The wine however went in a different direction, away from sweet and creamy and instead was juicy and floral. A contrast with everything else including the waffle taco and hazelnuts.

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 said and I would be back, and because I have I will again. Though for this the timing has to be just right. Obviously a Tuesday for “Taco Tuesdays”. I never have anything negative to say about ice cream and even if it is, there is not much that can have me not finishing it. Don’t deny your cravings.

RAIN OR SHINE
1926 W 4th Ave #102, Vancouver BC, V6J1M6
604-428-7246
rainorshineicecream.com
Rain or Shine Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Float Free, sensory deprivation

IMG_6770IMG_6771

I have been curious about the popularity of sensory deprivation chambers. This is another trend that health conscious Vancouverites are turning to, with the belief that it will help them relax and improve their overall well being. It’s not only about being physically active, it is just as important to be mentally fit as well. And this a trend I get to blog about thanks to the generosity of my friends who bestowed a groupon for this service onto me.

However after a friend told me of the origins of this secluded water device I was weary. She stated that its original use was as a torture mechanism to extract truth from spies. Where a prisoner would be trapped inside for days on end, to the point they weren’t sure if they were dead or alive. At the point of delusion they were more than willing to reveal their secrets. However researching online revealed the reality. The idea was first introduced by Neuro-psychiatrist John C. Lilly in 1954. A sensory deprivation chamber is an enclosure deprived of light and sound. Where the inhabiter is semi submerged in body temperature salt water and meant to float at the surface. In this pod you are unable to see or hear anything, with the feeling that it just all fades away.

The coupon’s print out asked you to make an appointment over the phone. I was curious about what I would need or how I should prepare for such an event. But the receptionist was primed and more than helpful with my questions. All I needed was my coupon. My float would be for an hour, in my own private room. I would be allotted 15 minutes after to shower and clean myself; with shampoo, conditioner, soap, and towels provided. She essentially answered all my questions before I even had a chance to ask them.

Free parking was available in the area. The building easy to spot with its fogged up glass doors and window decals explaining the service for those who have never heard of such a thing. The only employee working engaged you by asking if this was your first float. The answer “yes” required the reading and signing of a health waiver. I cleared.

IMG_6797

If I didn’t have the groupon, introductory floats go for $35 and $60 for each one after it. Package deals were also available, they allowed for savings over time. A sign stuck on to the base of the counter illustrated this by way of chart.

IMG_6799IMG_6798

It’s advised that you arrive 15 minutes early to be given the run down. This allows the full hour for floating. The extremely friendly clerk walked me through the process, offering her own insights and suggestions to improve my float. Reassuring me there was no wrong and right and that it’s as I liked. She recommend using a pool noodle to elevate my head if I was having difficulties and to raise my arms over my shoulders for a more relaxing stance. But at the end reminded me that this was my float.

You are given five minutes to settle in before the sounds of the filtration system are terminated and you are ready to enjoy the silent peace. The water is circulated and reused for the day. The filter ensures a sanitary float. Though I was still a little sheepish about bathing in waters once used. It is for that very reason that I avoid swimming in pools and taking baths. Though the need to change out and chemicalize the water after each use would get very costly. A cost that would fall on the customer to pay. A sign adhered to the wall also warns not to float if you are experiencing diarrhea, to not blow your nose, urinate, defecate or lose any other bodily fluids in this shared water space.

IMG_6796IMG_6795

The pod is like an egg in look and colour. A sterilized white. An egg with a lid like something from a sci-fi movie. With a push the lever it lifts to reveal an inside glowing with light. These lights slowly strobe in berry tones from blues to purples and back again.

Before entering and after stripping down you are asked to rinse yourself off. The incorrectly labelled handle had me blasting the cold water and shocking my system. Hot was cold and cold was hot.

When ready you turn off the room’s lights to ensure complete darkness inside the pod. Otherwise its cracks allow slivers of light in, defeating the purpose of sensory deprivation. With the light’s off you climb in gingerly. Using the pod’s handle you it shut the world around you. Once comfortable you turn off the lights in the pod using the button available to you inside. To begin with I was weary of being left in the dark in this limited space, ironically the purpose of this float. I thought, I am terrified of the dark so this was not going to happen. It was my float after all. My guest later revealed she had the same fear and left the lights on for the full hour. I eventually did gather the courage to embrace the full dark and soundless experience.

IMG_6773

I have no probablem floating on my own. But I know some who have difficulties with bouancy so this might be a challenge for them. The water is shallow and you play a slow game of solo bumper cars, as you make contact with the surrounding smooth white walls. Though from tip of toes to outstretched fingers extended over head, I didn’t hit either ends of the pod when positioned length wise. But one size does not fit all. I am on the shorter side and found my experience disrupted each time I grazed anything with any part of me. Once again there is a longer side, but as you float around in the dark you forget about it or are even aware of where you are. There is no way to float still. The handle makes for a good indication of orientation. And it was harder to locate the light button once pushed.

IMG_6783IMG_6793

I wished the temperature was warmer. Although set at body temperature, the top parts of me, exposed out of the water were cold. My stomach and chest left unsubmerged. My solution was was scoop water over these parts whenever I felt a chill. This needed movement and thoughtful action, it too disrupted my float. This, along with the smell of the chlorine filled water and its texture distracted me. The smell was hard to look past. The scent similar to the tip a fresh black sharpie. Chemical. Artificial.
The water felt oily against my skin. Slippery. Greasy. When out of water and allowed to dry, a film coated on parts where the water once and was. It dried on like white dusty chalk, creasing to stiffen my skin. The same layer of film stained everything else in the room with its white residue. Most concerning was the stinging this water caused. A slight burn that my privates had to adjust to. I was worried it was just me, but my guest confessed she felt this way too. The slight stinging sensation never really went away, I just got use to it.

One hour is a long time when you are doing nothing. I grew restless and bored quick, often thinking of my phone, what I had to do next, or what I should write in this post. It was to the point where I had to pause and take notes, thinking if I cleared my mind of this it would help me let go and truly relax. With a tap the top opened. It was here that I did a quick wipe job, taking note of the above mentioned residue. It was worse as it dripped on my face. I could only imagine the sight. With the pod open I could hear the sounds of the foyer. Coughs, the beats of music, and steps taken against hard floor. I guess the pod was soundproof. It certainly did a great job of drowning out the living world. I know I had every right to pause as this was my float, but I couldn’t help but be worried that I would be heard taking breaks. Doing nothing is hard for someone as twitchy as me.

When I resettled in the water with one less thing to worry about, my mind attempted to keep busy. It specifically challenged me to remember all 101 of the original “Pokemon” (an anime following a young boy’s quest to capture all the pocket monsters with powers in his fictional world) in order. To cease my restless mind I concentrated on my breathing. Drawing long breaths: in hale, exhale. Allowing my limbs to land as the may, concentrating on sensation of senselessness. I found arms above my head and legs shoulder width apart the most natural. Eventually I got the hang of it. A certain simple content-ness. A feeling I fought for, one that felt like it was constantly fleeting. It was interrupted by the cold chill of open air on my person and the feeling of the pod’s wall graze my finger tips and toe bottoms. I guess this is how a baby feels in the womb. A comfortable, safe, still ness; but I had more mobility. The possibility to stretch out and the ability to end the whole thing on a whim.

Yoga-like mystical music broke the silence. I heard vibrations with my ears submerged. As indicated to me prior, they play this to warn you of the impending ending of your float. I had five minutes. It was a gentle way to rock you up. To prod you back to the world forgotten, if you managed to get to the ideal state where you were just there, just drifting.

IMG_6775

You step out and make your way to the shower catching your steps on the pre laid towels meant to soak up any liquid. Along with the shower and its push dispenser of shampoo, conditioner, and soap was a caddy of toiletries and towel. This cart included hair ties, ear plugs, and cotton swabs. Two of which I wished I had used. The swabs did little to clear my water logged ears. Remembering how the water becomes a starchy film when dried I was worried. The earplugs would have prevented this. Days later I still could not rid myself of the feeling of water clogged ears. It left my companion and I looking up ear candling as my next experience and service to try. Though mild discomfort and nagging irritation at most.

Like my ears I now had to deal with my equally annoying, extremely tangled knot of long hair. I should have used the hair tie to maintain and manage this mane. I was pulling hard to untangle it with lots of conditioner that made no difference. Even the clerk later admitted it was a poor quality conditioner. This was a shower that took time and effort, it had me worrying about the 5 minute time they restrict the shower to. I didn’t make it. I didn’t get in trouble.

Judging by the trash and the used tissue papers inside, I was not the first to use the room today and I would not be the last.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
This one is not for me. I get twitchy when told to stay still, a part of me aways has to be moving when I am not sleeping. Plus I found the experience hard to settle into as I pogoeded myself from wall to wall. I found it hard to disconnect, despite the loss of sight and sound to help.

Having said that I could see the value in this. A way to disconnect. To remove all worries and all anxieties. To wash it away and allow to be. To exist without expectation. A truly freeing experience. To be cloistered away, to unplug and forced to look away from a screen. Something harder and harder to do in our day and age.

I am sure that once a got use to its sensations that I would immensely enjoy it. It seems like something you really have to settle into and believe in the values of.

The question is now would you get into one? These session have been known to provide rest for stress related ailments. Helping with such ailments as anxiety, stress, depression and fibromyalgia. (According to the article from VancouverBuzz on the subject.) don’t knock it till you try it. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity.

FLOAT FREE
3764 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC
604-320-0212
floatfree.ca

Sal Y Limon

IMG_6420IMG_6422

I have only heard good things about the place. Hearing friends call it a place for truly authentic Mexican cuisine. So I was excited about the trip, only to find out the guest I would be dining with has been before and was less that pleased with their lack lustre quesadilla. However she was willing to give the other menu options a try for my same.

Parking was a challenge. Despite a lot right out front, all the stalls were taken and the incoming traffic hoping to find one free created a jam. Eventually I was able to do a loop and find a spot free in the neighbouring residential area.

IMG_6443IMG_6433

Entering the restaurant, I could see the traffic in the parking lot was here for this. For them. And after an attempt at seeking out a table I could see the need for their renovation plans, to expand their real-estate and start renovating their neighbouring shop. Given its popularity the restaurant was short on space. There was a moving line to the door and a rotation of guests sitting, eating, then leaving; and us just one clog in this moving assembly.

The menu is a laminated sheet front and back. Given the ever growing line there was a need to be quick. As a first timer I felt the pressure, so did as the menu suggested and asked the cashier for her recommendation. I couldn’t decide between two tacos, and was up sold in to getting three tacos and make it a combo with drink and side. I was happy that I could order and try three different tacos, as a pose to committing to three. Something I probably could have read for myself, had I be given more than just graze time. My guest followed suit with three different tacos herself. You place your order, pay, then claim your seat; lest the one you’ve be eying is taken. When your number is called, you approach the counter to claim your purchase.

IMG_6445IMG_6456

We both added cheese on our tacos for a $1extra, but were unable to taste the difference. The protein was really made the star for each taco. Each selection was served with two flour tortillas stabled under a mound of meat and a topping of coarsely chopped greens. My guest really liked the flavour of the tortillas, a homey home cooked flavour with a grainy texture. They were a muted base for the slightly more seasoned meat. Luckily here were sauces available for those, like myself, who needed a strong kick of flavour.

IMG_6454IMG_6442

Towards the front window was a counter and a bar set up for salsa. Six labelled squeeze bottles full. Grouped into threes they were arrange from mild to hot. “Chunky”, “avocado”, and “peanut”. “Arbol”, “chef”, and “jalapeño”. “Chipotle”, “sweet diabla”, and “diabla”. Each their own colour and texture. Given their level of use “peanut” was most popular.

IMG_6448

“Al pastor”. Marinated pork with pineapple. The pork meat was dry, and the pineapple sparse. However the salsa bar was most helpful in rejuvenating some moisture and more flavour into this one.

IMG_6447

“Pierna”. Slow roasted pulled pork. The best out of the three I had ordered. The meat was cooked tender with the texture of soft pull apart strands. Its flavour was fulsome, with plenty of kick from a thick and sweet barbecue sauce.

IMG_6446

“Cordero al cilantro”. Lamb marinated in cilantro. The lamb meat was surprisingly tender given its darken colour, but with its crumbly texture it was less enjoyable to chew into. The cilantro gave the taco a citrusy kind of freshness. This too required the aid of salsa to liven up.

IMG_6457

“Pollo pibil”. Slow roasted chicken breast. Like the pulled pork this too was tender with a enjoyable stringy texture. Mild in flavour.

IMG_6460

“Shrimp taco”. The shrimp was moulded into a miniature patty, then battered and deep fried. Despite its golden brown colouring it wasn’t anywhere near the expected crunchiness. Its slightly greasy texture married well with the fresh crisp of the slaw. And the zesty thousand island dressing tied it all together.

IMG_6459

“Fish taco”. The fish fared a little better than the shrimp. It came without any slaw, but could have used some for crunch and freshness too. And at no surprise was the pairing of a healthy slathering of tartar sauce.

IMG_6449IMG_6452

The choice of sides were between chips or soup. The soup special of the day was their “beef soup”. I was skeptical of a Mexican soup, especially one that would adequately partner with tacos. But given the cold chill in the room and the need to warm up we requested a portion. I imagined a dark brown, stew like liquid. Instead it was a clear broth filled with onions, herbs, and beef flank. This mix reminded me of pho, and tasted close to it too. It was good, but as I thought it didn’t necessarily compliment our tacos. This was more the kind of soup that would prerequisite a Chinese dinner.

IMG_6450

For the chips our choice was between a potato version or one made of corn. I choose the former as they were described as homemade, and I was not disappointed. Though the corn sounded tasty and would have been more complimentary with our tacos. They were served room temperature, or quickly cooled because of the ever opening and closing of the front door. It kept the room brisk, as well as everyone’s stay. They tasted like a starchy potato chip and were enjoyable to bite into.

IMG_6451

Our combos also came with our choice of drink. My guest got a lemonade over juice or soda. I selected their house made “Horchata”, a milky beverage that tastes like the bottom of cereal bowl. Sweet and cinnamony. It didn’t necessarily match the meal, but was perfect as an after dinner dessert drink. And a drink that also cleansed the palette and cooled the tongue if I encountered too much chilli pepper spice.

And for those who didn’t get the combo and didn’t want to pay for a beverage, there was a pitcher of cucumber water on the counter. With a twist of the knob you were given the possibility to help yourself. Though with the tight corners and lack of wiggle room, you might not be willing to take up the challenge necessary to enjoy a refreshing glass.

IMG_6501IMG_6502

My guest also got a “Pierna”, pull pork filled burrito with seasoned rice and cheese to go. This was as hefty a burrito as it appeared to be, packed heavy and full of spicy flavour.

IMG_6455IMG_6462

Despite the line and the crowd, the operation went fast thanks to a troupe of workers. There was one taking orders at the till. Two to three folding tacos and wrapping burritos at the counter behind her. And from what I could see, one body in the kitchen pan frying meats that would travel on the assembly line to the taco bar. As soon as a table cleared an employee hurried out to bus it. And often, even before she could start. people had already occupied the seat, claiming it as their own.

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.
I wouldn’t mind coming back, but this wouldn’t be my first choice. I found it over hyped, having nothing meet my higher expectations. The food was average, though the coldness of the actual restaurant didn’t help things taste any better. With our appetites lost we requested take out boxes and salvage what we could from what we had picked over. Three taco flavours per person l, with two tortillas per flavour, the portions was large and the value was there. $2.25 a taco. All the staff members were friendly and courteous, even taking the time to apologize for our necessary wait. I mean they must be doing something well to be able to buy out the place next door and expand. Hopefully with the doubling of space they will be able to transform the restaurant and offer a sit down service as appose to the current fast food style. The ability to look over the menu and make an informed choice. And more room to easily move about, to actually be able to access the water jug and their impressive salsa collection.
Don’t deny your cravings.

SAl Y LIMON
Unit #5 – 701 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5T2R7
604-677-4247
salylimon.ca
Sal Y Limon on Urbanspoon

Miraj Hammam Spa

image-1 image-2My colleague has been wanting to try this Middle Eastern spa for quite sometime now, and seeing as I am always up for a new adventure I agreed to go with her. I went in not knowing what I would be in for, but excited after reading online that they have a golden sauna.

This isn’t you typical North American spa. This Middle Eastern spa offers similar treatments, but the way they go about those treatments is how they differ. Both offer services like massages and facials, with the principle idea that that you come for relaxation and the hope of curing what ails you. Sometimes not even knowing you had an ailment to begin with. The “Hammam” is considered a place of cleansing and healing, for both body and soul. A carefully crafted exotic oasis where you can indulge in traditional Middle Eastern treatments, unlike any western notions I have ever heard of or any I have ever experienced. They promise to introduce old world traditions into this new world that we live. I believe them to be successful.

Their main service is “Hammam & Gommage”, which is their a steam and exfoliation treatment. A treatment done in the authentic traditions
 of the Middle East. After this you are given the option to layer on more complimentary services at accompanying prices. Various massages at varying lengths, aromatherapy to rejuvenate the senses, or toning body masques; just to name a few.

IMG_4305IMG_4306

The exterior is quite flashy, its golden yellow paint sets it apart from the rows of white and grey buildings. Without closely examining the sign you could confuse it for one of the neighbouring art galleries. Entering the threshold is like being transported into a whole new world. A world where “exotic” is the best word to describe the scene. Set in a darken tone with windows clothed and lights dim your journey is begins. The sights, the scents, the sounds. The floor tiles were patterned in warm tones and eye catching geometric designs. Several sturdy scalloped columns and ornate cast iron gating enclosed the room in safety. And as you approach the receptionist’s desk at the far back, you are first greeted by a water fountain. What other foyer has a stone water fountain? Its gently running water was soothing, and the calming trickle set you up for the relaxation to come. The sound partnered well with the hypnotic melody playing above. And the scent of lavender and other floral notes tied it all together. Their choice of furniture gave the place authenticity. Wicker stools, and antique side tables, hand carved benches with printed cushions, polished metal tea sets, and a shelf offering you the ability to purchase their products to use at home.

The receptionist was a friendly older women. Her voice oozed like honey, it immediately calmed and wrapped you in warmth. I could listen to her speak all day. She greeted us warmly and assured us our time would be well spent here. We were traded our shoes for their reusable sandals and directed to hang up our coats.

IMG_4309IMG_4315

We were then lead into the changing room by our trained aesthetician dressed in a sarong. She gave us each a key attached to a cord worn around the wrist. After changing into a gown she provided we were directed to store all our belongs into our designated locker. The gown was similar to our aesthetician’s sarong, with only a difference in colour and pattern. Her’s more blue, purple and red; and ours more green and yellow with hints red. A sarong is a sheet of printed fabric wrapped around the body like a dress. Its purpose here is for easy removal and dressing as needed. The way dress it is by your own discretion. Around the chest like a tube dress is easiest. I opted for a more fancy around the neck halter dress instead. Pretty proud that I came up with it on the fly. Sadly, having to leave my phone in my locker I was unable to snap any further photos.

My guest and I were lead to the Hammam, a full ceiling to floor tiled steam chamber. The room was dark and the steam was thick, I couldn’t verify that these tiles were indeed the Jerusalem gold marble their website emphasized. The space was split between the shower and the steam room. We were lead into the latter first. Through two set of glass doors into humid and wet conditions. We were instructed on how to restart the steam so should it turn off, as our aesthetician added more water. Despite the darkness and the normalcy of being nude in such a setting I could not get past baring all in front of someone I work with. Despite her strong urging, my sarong remained over my body. Which was uncomfortable as it began absorbing sweat and condensation. We were allowed to enjoy the steam for about 15 minutes, though it was hard to find a comfortable position with only hard marble counters meant for sitting available. With no pillows or any sort of softness it made laying down ridged and impossible on the head and neck. The best way was to sit up right while leading against the equally hard marble walls.

We were taken to the “Gommage” part of our treatment one by one. I volunteered first, only to realize I would be getting the short end of the stick. The Hammam not only cleanses your body in low mist and high intensity steam, but it gets your temperature up and your pores fully open for the following treatment. Without the full allotted time in the steam room I was cold. A less than enjoyable condition when wet, nude, and left spread out in the open. Luckily the aesthetician was observant enough to notice and offered a hot water rinse and the escape of steam for the Hammam to warm the rest of the chamber.

The process began with me very humbly removing my tightly wound sarong. Odd that I was more comfortable laying it all out there in front of this girl I didn’t know, then my friend. The fabric was spread across a marble counter and I was asked to follow. Here I was bathed. The only other person to bathe me this intimately was my mother over 25 years ago. Its a very sensual feeling having someone else’s hands run all over you. She gently prodded when she needed access to a nook or wanted me to expose a cranny. Everything was done delicately like I was made of silk. My arms lifted and each laid back to rest. The neck cupped and the shoulders scrubbed. Front washed then flipped over for the back. Surprisingly what was most enjoyable was having my breasts washed. The whole experience was an invigorating, full body scrub down. Everything exfoliated using black Moroccan soap, leaving your skin feeling soft and supple. Everything minus the lower privates and the head. Shame that they don’t also wash the hair and scrub the scalp as part of the treatment. I didn’t want any of it to end. It might be worth noting that the services offered in these walls were available to women only provided by women only. No men are allowed entry.

As per our package, after our steam and scrub down we were lead to individual rooms to individual masseuses. We discarded our soaking sarongs in exchange for warm and dry, heavy terry cloth robes. And as another note worth mentioning, none of their masseuses employed here are registered massage therapists. Therefore you come at your own risk and are unable to claim anything back if you have a health plan. Though they are definitely worth the gamble and cost. We chosen the “Hammam & Gommage with Orientale Massage & Aromatherapy Facial” package for $195.00. The Orientale massage was advertised as being for only 15 minutes, but I am certain it was more than that. Every limb and part of my body was taken care of, front and back. From chin to chest, butt to boob. It was a pampering like no other. And when I thought it was over she moved on to my face for the “Nettoyage de Peau”, a 15 Minute Cleansing Mini-Facial. Honestly this was the most thorough facial I have ever had. A tiny scrub maneuvered by skilled hands saw that every patch of skin was sanded down to reveal smoothness never before seen.

IMG_4321

After our full experience we retreated to their “Sultana Lounge” to continue our relaxation there. Here, we reclined on one of their two velvet day beds outfitted with silk cushions in deep jewel tones. With feet up we were then offered a silver tray of traditional Middle Eastern tea and sweet cakes. We were allowed to take our time enjoying the space and savouring each mouthful. This allowed the caffeine and sugar to wake us up before we were sent back out I to the cold and rain. I didn’t want to leave.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Not that spas are every day affairs, but this one is even more so for special occasions and extraordinary days only. After all there is a danger that one could get use to this sort of decadence. Being bathed is one of those things I highly recommend trying at least once. You don’t know true relaxation and pampering until you have had one of the most basic of things done for you. But be warned the most basic of packages start at $115. Don’t deny yourself. 

MIRAJ HAMMAM SPA
1495 West 6th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6H4GI
604-733-5151
mirajhammam.com