Sushi &

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The name left a lot to be wondered. You know they offer sushi, but what else, what does the “&” refer to? So after months of driving past and not knowing I made a point to visit today. Located in an outdoor restaurant and service complex between Burnaby and Coquitlam, parking was ample with numerous free stalls located right in front of the restaurant.

The exterior was blackened with fully drawn shutters, things felt a little ominous walking in. What would we be getting ourselves in to? Though on this warm of a day with no air circulating and no air conditioning running, I could see the need for shade with this shield from the sun. The shades were drawn all the way to the floor to keep the space cool. The lack of natural light also darkened the space and gave things a mellow feel. Dimly lit and deeply coloured, walls painted in a rich beige and a deep maroon. The dining area was set three rows deep with four top tables partnered with white coloured chairs, it made for a very crisp decor. The sides of this order was flanked with additional tables and additional chairs in a different colour. There was not much going on in terms of art work. On the empty walls hung nothing, but one oil painting. Warm tones on a large canvas. Nothing else to distract from their large logo carved out of metal above their sushi bar. And under it a lone chef set about making rolls from the ingredient sealed in his stacks of Tupperware.

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“&’s roll”, this was their house special roll and therefore worth a try. Described as being made with cucumber, avocado, and crabmeat; with unagi and wild salmon on top. Its description didn’t do this roll justice. Uniquely presented with a bonus of seaweed salad and two different sauces drizzled over. The seaweed made the flavours pop and the sauces eliminated the need for soy sauce.

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“Las Vegas roll”, cucumber, cream cheese, spicy salmon, and fish roe. This was a deep fried roll covered with bonito flakes. It came as large and flashy as you’d imagine anything from Las Vegas would. Huge slices that needed multiple bites to get through, though majority of it was rice. The cooked then fried rice gave things a chewy texture. The bonito flakes reminded me of “Takoyaki” in both look and taste. Though it was the batter that had the most prominent taste, with it there was a struggle to find the salmon hidden in the mix. I wasn’t able to get past two pieces in one sitting, eating it became so daunting.

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“Spicy salmon combo” with a serving of spicy salmon sashimi, a kappa cucumber roll, and a spicy salmon roll. The highlight was the sashimi. Fresh cuts of fish hidden under a neon red sweet and spicy coating. The crisp cucumber gave a contrast of texture from the soft fish and was used to cool the dish down. The same sashimi was also in the spicy salmon roll. For sushi purist this might not be the one for them, but I enjoyed it for its sauce.

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“Tobiko with quail egg”. This one is really all about texture. The silkiness of the raw egg and the literal pop of flavour from the red fish eggs. My guest found this a good deal, declaring she has gotten less for more at other places.
Similar in texture, taste, and price for value was the “Ikura salmon roe nigri”. The bed of rice and seaweed was stuffed to the brim with these larger fish eggs. They too gave you a pop of liquid when punctured with teeth, one that was more pronounced with its larger size.

When asked, we were told they were no longer offering the “Uni, sea urchin nigri”. But instead of offering an explanation and suggesting an adequate substitute, our server stood steady waiting for us to simply continue our order with out it. I would have preferred him to make a recommendation and retain the sale.

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 whole experience felt like a race, almost rushed. I have never had sushi served to me so quick from just one chef. In fact with the prompting from the front of house staff this is the fastest meal I have ever had. Everything other than the deep fried roll came speedily, and those around us ate so quickly. The point seemed to be to come in hungry, eat, and leave. No pleasant chatter, so warming environment. The restaurant was quiet, and their guests followed the cue. We were given multiple check in to see if we were going to finish our plates, with the quick removal of dishes after. Were we not allowed to sit and digest the meal that we would soon pay for. Because as soon as my chopsticks rested I was asked if I wanted the rest of my food to be packed up to go. I felt unwanted. Though in terms of food, this was decent in quality. Fast food sushi at agreeable prices served at break neck speeds. Don’t deny your cravings.

SUSHI &
#204-403 North Road, Coquitlam BC, V3K3V9
604-917-0260
sushin.ca
Sushi & on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Playa Tropical

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We have heard some pretty good things about this Mexican place in New Westminster. So when trying to satisfy a craving, we made this our lunching destination. On this hot of a day we were sweating outside and even more so indoors with the lack of air conditioning. We immediately recognized the challenges of having to eat this spicy of a cuisine in this hot of a heat. A challenge that was made more difficult with us having to sit and wait for water without any acknowledgement or service in the first 8 minutes of our visit.

The room was divided into two sections separated by a wide archway and the ability to have alcohol only in one. The walls were painted green, white, and red; true to their Mexican theme and flag. A theme that continued on in the music sounding and the media playing. Spanish pop songs blared overhead, majority of it sounded upbeat and angry. And videos of artist Pitbull performing live on all four of the televisions that surrounded the room.

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The art work from room to room differed. The main room with green walls had foiled metal art work, scenes of villages paths and water ways. The art in the secondary red room was done in oil, framed in wood. Colourful fruits and wild flowers, beside rich scenery brightly done to convey joyful emotions.

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The bar had a faux thatched roof giving it a very tropical vibe. With its select bottles and a smaller cooler it’s main offerings were limited.

There was no greeting when we entered, no hellos and no eye contact. This despite there being two staff members behind the bar, a few more chatting in the kitchen, and one on the phone. After we seated ourselves one server did eventually make her way to us with menus, a bowl of corn chips, and bottled dips in hand.

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The chips were decent. Served room temperature with two sauces, but with no dish to squeeze either in to. Both the red and green were on the spicier side, a spice hard to scale down when you have to squeeze the salsa directly onto the chip.

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“Enchiladas”, four soft corn tortillas rolled and filled with shredded chicken breast, covered in salsa verde, topped with melted cheese and sour cream, and served with a side of rice and beans. Each bite was soft and squishy thanks to the absorption of the liquid ingredients by the dough of the tortillas. A soggy bite that could have used some crunch. Maybe a deep fried component in the rolled enchiladas? A sprinkling of something hard on top? Though despite this the sauce was very flavourful, even with its one note taste it was good enough to finish.

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“Fajitas”, strips of steak sautéed with onions, green, yellow, and red bell peppers and topped with mozzarella cheese. Served with a side of rice as base and three corn tortillas for filling. As usual I wish for more guacamole then presented. The rice had a nice slightly crispy texture to it, but was left overcooked and dry in some chunks. Something I found out the hard way when I bit into a stale cluster. I felt there was an overwhelming amount of onion compared to the peppers and beef. Though the strips of steak I did get were all cooked well, and not to the point of becoming dry and crumbly. As a whole this was bland compared to the enchiladas, I needed the sauces that came with the chips for some kick.

It was nice that the chef came out to deliver the dishes he had prepared. Though this was after several dings of the order up bell being rung and going unheard. Overall I was unimpressed by the lack of service. Neither of the three that rotating their time between us and others checked back in after the initial contact. Several times we were left waiting. We repeatedly asked for napkins and put our hands up for refills of water. And even when we did get a hold of someone our requests went forgotten. Yes we didn’t approach our original server, but at this point we weren’t sure who was assigned to help us and whether we would even see them again. After all the girl who originally dropped off our menus ended the rest of our time there as the bartender shaking up cocktails. And no it wasn’t that busy that we would have been accidentally forgotten in the shuffle. It seems they all rather bus tables and speak with one other, then to tend to their patrons in need. They needed two employees to figure out how to rig a high chair, and another to run out for slurpees. I know people need help, breaks happen and rest is required, but it shouldn’t be so visible in front of their guests. The front of house servers often congregated in the second half of the restaurant, by the open kitchen, to converse with those running the back of house. With no visibility they missed customers walking in and were unavailable to assist those already seated. I unfortunately had a prime view of the above, and was able to watch in irritation as they sipped their slurpees while I waited for my bill.

As I eluded to, when it came time to pay there was a need to hunt for help. Were we suppose to find them? In the end we had to follow a staff member, stop them, and bring them to the counter, just have them ring our bill through so that we could leave. We originally asked who we believed was a kitchen member for help. Only because he passed by and heard my, “excuse me” call for assistance. Although it may not be his “job” he could have relayed the message to someone whose job it was, instead of saying “ok” and doing nothing. In the end I refused to chase anyone else down and have any more of my request for help go unheard. My guest was the one force to follow one of the waitress to the bar, to have her fill out the bill before him, and to have him bring it back to our table. Though even figuring out what we owed was a hassle. She had charged us $33 before taxes on two dishes that were listed as being $11 and $12. Maybe if she checked in on us more she would haven known what we had. I thought to myself, “How am I suppose to tip on service like this?” Luckily it was taken out of my hands as my guest paid for us both.

When a wave of new customers came in all at once I did notice the staff perking up and the level of their service improve. Other staff members became more visible, patrons looked better assisted. People were greeted and help was not asked for. Though dressed causally without any unifying accessory, a formal name tag, or an introduction you couldn’t be sure who was a server and what role did they play.

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.
My scoring is based more on the lack service than the average food and the standard setting. I truly believe the experience that the staff provide is just as important as the food prepared when dining out. We were left waiting, we felt ignored, and we were left struggling to get what we needed to leave. I have never seen such lackadaisical staff. The chime that sounded when the doors opened did help to drag staff away from their conversations with one another. But guests were still left waiting to be offered a seat. With no signs and no greetings customers stood idle, hoping someone working looked up long enough to make eye contact. And not that it was needed but there was a waiting list located at the opposite corner of the entrance, barely noticeable. With pen and clipboard it asked you to leave your name to see would get the next free table.
As for the food it was only made decent because of the circumstances surrounding it. We found our dishes not as rich in flavour as we have had at other places. Though quite authentic when comparing it to our last trip down to Mexico. For the portion and price we left happy. Don’t deny your cravings.

TAQUERIA PLAYA TROPICAL
334-6th Street, New Westminster BC, V3L3B1
604-544-5006
Taqueria Playa Tropical on Urbanspoon

Rain or Shine Ice Cream

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There has been much buzz circulating this ice cream shoppe. After calling ahead to confirm they closed at 10pm we sped towards West 4th. Our destination to be delayed by an inaccurate GPS and the unexpected event of the Khatsahlano Street Party. A block party that had the area blocked off, the traffic ridden to a crawl, and parking spots in high demand. Nonetheless we reached our goal 30 minutes to close and waited in line for 20.

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Not being able to find it immediately we saw a large grouping and then people gathering, so followed the trail of those with cones in hand and smiles on lips. We ended up joining a line that reached out the door, and wound past neighbouring stores. A line that everyone deemed worth the wait, and were unsatisfied to leave for the scoops sold from their travel ready ice cream cart out front. I contemplated this short cut, but didn’t want to give up my chance to try samples of their unique flavours, only available inside. Where only chocolate, cracked mint, and waffle maple berry were offered here. So back in line we waited. It was well past their reported 10pm closure by the time we had gotten our treat. We had come and gone and the staff were still rounding out scoops in cones and cups.

When we finally got to the door way we could smell the scent of freshly baked waffle cones. That warming buttery aroma reminded us what we were willing to wait for. Though for those wanting to skip the line, a sign on the counter suggested customers grab a bucket of prepackaged ice cream to go. The flavours were all labeled and arranged in the smaller glass freezer behind the counter.

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Their trademark logo is a white scoop of ice cream on top of a bright yellow cone. It was painted on their ice cream cart, hanging from their awning, stamped on the back of their business cards, and dropped upside down on the forehead of a cow. The extra point made their cow bust look like an ice cream unicorn. Like the awning, their ice cream cart, and their sandwich boards the cow too was purple.

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Inside the space is small. A simple decor of yellow milk jugs and wooden pegs protruding from the wall. They proudly advertised their local suppliers on a chalk board and boasted the fresh, natural, and sustainable nature of their in house made ice cream by way of 3D sign. Towards the end of the shop, pass the glass window you get a gander at the back of house process. Their stainless steel equipment and paper buckets waiting to be filled.

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Limited seating suggests the destination was more pay and go. A few swiveling stools crafted with yellow bicycle seats stood facing out the front window; a few chairs paired around two top tables; and three lowered stools placed awkwardly by the cash desk, their proximity and lack of space meant they went unseated. Like us, the majority of their guests choose to take the treat on the road. With ice cream in hand we took a stroll on this warm evening. Had we been able to grab a table and stay I would have grabbed one of their ice cream flights. The opportunity to try four flavours in four cups, presented on an ice cream cone shaped wooden paddle. Very clever. They also have a Tuesday special where their homemade waffle cones are shaped into tacos then filled with scoops of ice cream and sprinkled with your choice of toppings.

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The menu was an extensive hand written list that spanned the length of their counter. Depending on where you stood your view was obstructed and you needed to be up front to have anything legible. So no way of deciding before you reach the counter. Though with the line snaking around there was plenty of time to change your mind before you ordered. The “Keepers” were their all year round flavours: chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel, coffee toffee, London fog, honey lavender, blueberry balsamic, peanut butter, coconut chocolate, and cracked mint. The “Seasonal flings” came and went with the availability of ingredients: strawberry cheesecake, waffle maple berry, raspberry coconut (vegan friendly), dry hopped (citra), and brassneck English brown ale. I chose to sample the brown ale and found it surprisingly good. The taste of an ale with what I want my ice cream to be.

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They also used their scratch made ice cream to create sundaes, shakes, and specials. Using toppings like a red wine reduction, toffee brittle, a seasonal berry compote, warm caramel sauce, hot fudge sauce, buckwheat honey, candied hazelnuts, eureka lemon olive oil, and a fig balsamic. Their whole offering was very grown up. Ice cream crafted and created for a mature palette that remains a child at heart.

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Four members of staff worked behind the bar, each with a store grabbed or ice cream logo-ed purple or white apron; one such suggested, “get(ting) your lick on”. This band doled out samples and dug out ice creams by the scoops. A single with one flavour, a single with two, or just two scoops of two different flavours. With cone in hand you proceed to pay at the register towards the other end. Here there are cleverly created and conveniently placed blocks to rest your ice cream in. A stump with four circular holes allowing your cone and three others to sit upright on their own accord. This is in case you haven’t any friends with you and are in need of both hands to pay.

IMG_6888Blueberry balsamic and vanilla.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it again? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Who really has anything bad to say about ice cream? And who can really hate a place that supports local businesses and is one themselves? Their flavours are fun: enough tried and tested classics and inventive seasonals to keep everyone coming back for more. Their catering to a more adult palette sets them apart. Grown up ice cream flavours like balsamic, coffee, and tea served as a flight with even more mature toppings like buckwheat, wine, and olive oil. The above doesn’t even sound like something a child would want to consider trying. And as the only ice cream parlour in the area, offering vegan and gluten free options they are doing pretty well for themselves. Now they just need to make a lactose free alternative to have this be the destination of anyone with any dietary restrictions wanting ice cream. Maybe even a low calorie, fat free version? 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

Broken Rice

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We were here on the recommendation of one of my guests, having had the food once before, he deemed it worth a second round. The name “Broken Rice” was pretty catchy. I believe it spoke to the texture and type of rice served; I guess we would soon find out.

The decor was unlike any other Vietnamese restaurant I have been too. The restaurant was dressed modern and kept very tidy. From the exterior stone veneer and outdoor seating, to the crisp white table cloths paired with their gloss black chairs. Wooden chairs so hard that we left our meal with flattened bottoms and aching backs.

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The French influences on the Vietnamese culture was evident here through the table linens and oil painted art work. A Parisian night in the city, framed in gold and hanging gingerly against an otherwise stark white wall.

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The nods to the Vietnamese culture came from traditional artifacts and specific design elements. A row of teapots lined the top of an antique looking curio. The former used ornamentally and the latter used practically. The robust cabinet was home to extra dish ware and spare utensils. Towards the back, in an alcove above was a gathering of goods: what looked like a strum-able musical instrument and a heavy cast iron kettle. Beneath it a powered off flat screen television. And to its right was a stone chisel statue that looked to be standing on guard. Behind a draped curtain that gathered on the ground was their single stalled washrooms for men and women.

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A thatched roof crafted of straw and bamboo stood right at the door way. You walked under and past this gazebo in order to enter. Similarly there was a wood tiled roof above the bar hidden at the back. It distinguished both areas as something separate from the dining room. Just to sidetrack: It just dawned on me that the majority of North American influenced establishments lead with their bar as a place to dine and drink. An optimal place to see and be seen. Whereas others have it tucked away at the back, as a place to prepare alcoholic beverages and an option for the single and lonely.

Overall the restaurant was an enjoyable place to dine in in our group of six. Our three small tables butted together gave us ample elbow room, we were comfortably able to pass and share appetizers. Though on this hot day we wished for a dial up on the air conditioning. Given the meal of hot broth and steaming noodles to come we found the heat hard to eat through. In temperatures too temperate I find my appetite decreased and I am less likely to order more or even finish my request of a smaller portion.

Their menu was as fusion as their decor felt. Written in English it was clear where their variations on the traditional Vietnamese cuisine lay. Arranged by small plates, noodle bowls, salads, and mains. The familiar pho noodle soup, vermicelli, lemon grass, and fish sauce were all present. Though partnered with the less common frog legs, salmon ceviche, shank stewed in Cabernet, and turmeric and rice flour crepes. Together this was my kind of food.

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“Cassava fries”, crispy cassava wedges seasoned with paprika and served with a jalapeño garlic mayo. As a potato alternative you cannot bite in expecting the same texture. These were thick cuts of starch. I found their gritty and chalk texture made them less enjoyable to eat. An acquired texture for sure. Something that could have been helped with thinner strips, a deeper fry, and a lot more sauce to coat each stick.

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“Duck confit sliders”. Listed as a “Broken Rice” favourite, and what my guest had to come back for. This was a steamed white flour bun filled with duck confit, pickled carrots, daikon, cucumber, onions, and cilantro; dressed in hoisin sauce. The sauce was dominating, its salty nature overwhelming; there wasn’t enough dough to balance out the flavour. And I found the pickled vegetables and the pulled duck lost under a spicy heat.

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“Phnom Penh roll”. A salad roll filled with Chinese sausage, egg, carrot, Jicama, basil, lettuce, and peanuts; wrapped in rice paper and served along side a sweet peanut sauce. These were rolled carefully to display its full range of ingredients, a real visual treat. The surprise of the fried onions was enjoyed the most, along with the crisp lettuce it gave things a nice crunchy texture. Though as fresh as each bite was, it was a tasteless assembly without the sauce. I find you never get all the sauce that you need; I prefer double the amount of sauce that’s usually given. So by me taking the last portion it meant I got to go to town with whatever that was left. A greedy scoop that didn’t have me considering the others I was dining with. Perfection.

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“Spring rolls”. A combination of minced pork, carrot, taro root, mushroom, and onions hand wrapped in rice paper and deep fried; served with a fish sauce for dipping. It looked and tasted average, not too oily. And as is the case with most fried dishes it wasn’t very good when cooled down.

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“Spicy hue lemongrass noodle soup”, round rice noodles with Vietnamese ham and beef in a spicy lemon grass broth. Surprisingly there were more ingredients than noodles in the bowl, a rarity at other noodle places that use the noodle as an inexpensive filler. The freshness of the ingredients added to the rich broth. It tasted authentic, just the right blend of sour and spicy.

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“Pork three ways on rice”. Pork chops, shredded pork, and minced pork loaf on rice; served with a side salad. My guest found this nothing special, nothing that couldn’t be made at home. The loaf was most interesting, a spring roll filling reconstructed to this cake-like patty.

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“Reconstructed pho”. Highly recommend by our server, his voice became enthusiastic as he wrote the order down. It was beef carpaccio laid over sautéed rice noodles in a ginger pho reduction, topped with deep fried crispy rice noodles, sawtooth herbs, pickled onions, and a hoisin drizzle. The obvious difference: this was dry pho, no broth, but the noodles tasted like they have been soaking in it. Of all the dishes this was definitely the most unique and the best presented.

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“Lemongrass chicken and egg on rice”. Grill lemon grass marinated chicken and a fried egg on broken rice, served with a side of greens. Tender skewered pieces of chicken grilled with a good char. The egg broke releasing runny yolk to coat and soften the grains of chunky rice underneath. A standard, but well done entree.

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I played it safe with what I knew I would like: the “House vermicelli”. Vermicelli with grilled chicken, pork brochette, and a spring roll. All elements were presented on a bed of greens and served with a decent portion of fish sauce. The chicken was not cooked consistently; there were more pieces that were dry and over cooked than there were tender and juicy.

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“Beef stew noodles”. Slowly simmered beef noodle stewed with carrots, onions, and cilantro. The meat was similar to the taste and texture of beef brisket, chewy bites as hearty and as savoury as the broth it sat in.

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 really enjoy this type of cuisine. Traditional dishes I know and love made all the better with special twists and unique variations. Good food in a clean and inviting environment. Located conveniently in my neighbourhood with ample meter and free parking if you look long enough, there is no reason why I wouldn’t return. Don’t deny your cravings.

BROKEN RICE
4088 E Hastings Street, Burnaby BC, V5C2J3
604-558-3838
brokenrice.ca
Broken Rice on Urbanspoon

American Girl Bistro

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For those of you who don’t already know the sensation that is “American Girl”, let me explain. The company started off as a publisher. A way to get little girls interested in history through their line of historical dolls and books that told an accurate but fictitious story of those long long ago and far far away. From there the brand has sprung boarded. Growing their name with dolls that look like you and stories of girls that went through life’s issues just like you. Lessons on bullying, a developing body, and saying no to drugs. Life made easy with manuals that read like a story. Mothers and daughters agree the dolls are a hit, a girl’s best friend personified.

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After visiting the American Girl Boutique at Chapters Robson and wanting to learn more about this experience and phonemon, it was time for a field trip to the states. Our destination, the American Girl store in Lynnwood. We went as a group of doll enthusiast ready to have eyes wide open and jaws dropped. Here we would reflect on our childhood and the absence of these wonderful dolls in them.

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The cafe is located with in their store, another service along side the hair salon, the ability to pierce your doll’s ears and to craft her her own tee shirt to match yours.

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The cafe is a barrage of cute and pink, swirled together in varying shades to become every little girl’s dream room, her favourite place to host high tea. Pink walls, pink tops, pink flowers in a miniature watering cans on each pink table, and pink menus divided into desserts and entrees. Each seat was set with napkins folded and tied off with a pink bow. A hair tie you then get to take home to use in your own hair or that of your doll’s The booths were striped in pink, brown and green; and the chairs done with brown backs and a polka dotted cushion.

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Most impressive was the ceiling feature, designed to look like a giant flower blooming from above. It’s centre a swirl of lights, wires, and bulbs. And surrounding it, more lighting in the form of orbs made of intertwined wire.

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Seeing as we didn’t have any dolls of our own we were able to enjoy our snack with dolls that the bistro loaned out. Dolls sitting on shelves waiting to dine with you right at your table, and best part you can choose which one you wanted. Each doll came dressed in her trademark pink top, grey skirt, and brown boots. With them we were given a special pink seat. The miniature chair easily slid into place between the table’s edge. Positioned beside you on the kitty corner, your doll and her seat didn’t take up any extra space. Our group of three each choose a doll with hair and eyes that best matched our own. I named mine Ivy for the day. This concept is such a smart event. What little girl doesn’t enjoy eating with her doll? If she brings her’s to the dinner table at home imagine the joy of bringing her to an actual restaurant? And if any girl comes without her doll or with a friend who doesn’t have a doll, they don’t have to miss out on the experience by dining with the dolls on loan.

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The servers wore pink aprons over their black and white dress code. Like the rest of the staff they were all female and all well trained to speak to younger girls and their older accompanying associates. After all this was all about letting these girls be girls in a safe space. Our server greeted us like a long lost friend. Inviting and friendly, she wore it on her face as a smile and spoke it through her kind words. As this was our first time she went through the adventure with us, setting down a little pink box when she was done. These were table top conversation starters. Random questions to propose to your group and stir some friendly comparisons or gentle debate.

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When in Rome… Apparently the thing to get here is their “pink lemonade”. A neon drink that best represents the pink of the place in liquid form. And as we were given our glasses each of our dolls got her own cup and saucer too. Little extras that we would be able to take home, as another great souvenir of today’s events.

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We were here focusing on their menu of desserts. Broken up between “frozen treats” and “one of a kind creations”, we passed on the every day milk shakes, smoothies, and sundaes; opting instead for that which we couldn’t find else where.

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“Chocolate mousse flowerpot”. Light and fluffy chocolate mousse topped with crumbled cookies, and served with a mini cookie on the side. Each serving arrives in their signature green flowerpot with a cheerful daisy planted in. What a cute idea, a visual feast before you actually feasted. The cookies were moist, clearly baked on the day. The mousse was whipped until smooth and best paired with the crunch of the ground up cookie crumb “dirt”.

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A “Trio of mini ice cream cones” in vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. Each ball of ice cream is dipped in colourful candy sprinkles. They tasted like your standard Neapolitan flavours in your regular cones made of butter, flour, and sugar. It is more about the novelty of having three ice creams instead of one, and having three flavours instead of committing to one.

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“Biggest brownie sundae ever”. The suggested sharing was between 4-6 people. Our group of three women was up to the challenge. Eight alternating scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, smothered with rich brownie crumbles and topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, and bright red cherries. At $21 this would be the most I have ever spent on ice cream. But wow you get a lot. Assembled for the most impact on a long dish, you can’t help but to to stare with awe in your eyes while grinning with delight on your lips. The ice cream and toppings were out of your childhood dreams. Though the cookie crumbs were hard and almost stale; I wanted more chewiness from them like what we had with our heart shaped brownie pieces at each end.

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This whole experience is replicated for every little girl that enters on any day of the week. Be it a Sunday high tea service with an actual three layered tray and tea pot, an everyday lunch of sandwiches or pasta, or a once a year birthday party with all her closest friends. The back is equipped with a full kitchen and a band of talented chefs. Their goal to put out the perfect plates to keep these little faces smiling. With advance notice the staff are also able prepare a special room to host any party. But for a birthday each girl and doll get their own crowns to wear in celebration of the occasion. And to take home a goodie bag with birthday themed tee and red American Girl balloon for each doll.

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.
Maybe not the first place in mind for a meal with your grown up friends, but truly one of the best places for a little girl and her doll. I only wish I had this growing up and can share this now with all the little girls I know. A restaurant that is not only about the food, but has equal emphasis put into the setting and the service, then the experience of everything all together. For an hour I was allowed to be a kid again, to play make believe and order whatever I wanted without thought of consequence. For me this is a memory I will cherish, as I know, no doubt the other girls in the cafe would too. Don’t deny your cravings.

AMERICAN GIRL BISTRO
3000 184th Street, Southwest Lynnwood WA, 9803
877-247-5223
American Girl on Urbanspoon

Sushi Mori

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We came on a recommendation from one of my guests. Decor alone he knew this would be a restaurant that I would enjoy writing about if not sitting in. On the exterior the restaurant looks pretty unspectacular, its name like any other. Though it came with high hopes promising us a “taste of true Japan” on the awning.

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The first steps inside was the real treat. Walking in was like walking out. The feeling of being outdoors, with artificial cherry trees erected and their branches stretching out across the ceiling. The foliage covered the full length of the dining room.

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And on this late afternoon with the setting sun peaking just right through the half drawn windows. Beams of sun streaked in to highlight branches and cause petals to shine. A scene almost reminiscent of that which you could find in nature, well replicated for an indoor visual display. Artificial cherry blossoms deserving of all the photos I took, well crafted plastic and fabric duplicated. There was even a giant gnarled truck mounted firm on the hard wood floor. Standing tall amongst the seating benches and the other more slender tree trunks. You can’t help but freeze in the foyer, doing a double take, breathing in the amazement of such a clever idea. Whether the food was good or bad I felt I had already won with such an experience, and I was neither greeted at the door way or had yet been given a menu to flip through.

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After you take in the visual of the trees you need only to look down to be furthered amazed. A showcase of pre-prepared dishes, plated perfectly then sealed under tightly stretched Saran Wrap. A sample of wonderfully presented plates, an example of potential dishes to come. And judging by the gaps, an interactive display you were also available to shop from as take out. Though I question its freshness, sitting out unrefrigerated; especially a seafood based portion in this summer heat. Their “Volcano roll” made with salmon, tuna, and mayonnaise; “ebi mayo” with quick to become soggy battered tempura sitting on a bed of wilted green; and the “Super crispy tempura roll” which wouldn’t be too crispy sitting for longer than five minutes under plastic.

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We were directed to a cabana like room made up of three walls, one of the many others that outlined the restaurant. Each helped to separate gatherings from other groups with a barrier of wood and plastic in between. The cubicle was decorated with a tarp, on it charcoal sketches of pointed shells and steaming tea. It overlooked our shiny lacquered wood table and our benches for seats. Without pillows it was a hard sit I couldn’t imagine you would want to do for long. The room gave us ample elbow room and some needed privacy, though I was a little disappointed to not be dining under the trees tonight. But our private room did give us a great view to look out at it from.

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Our complimentary tea came in a very traditional looking cast iron teapot. Its metal helped to keep the tea warmer for longer, and its weight helped make things feel more official. The menu, its pages, and all the side plates and dish ware matched the decor: cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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The menu was an expansive page turner. Groupings of common Japanese restaurant fare found anywhere and some dynamic rolls and appetizers all their own. They had two pages just dedicated to their home spun specialty rolls. With intriguing names like, “Oceans 11″, “Tarantula”, “Barbie Doll”, “Crazy Boy”, and “Hula-Hula”, they really didn’t speak to the ingredients inside or on top, but they did their job to peak my interest and have me reading the fine print. But with a menu this size how can one be sure that they get the best the restaurant has to offer? We didn’t have the time to read it all, there was no list of specials or symbols to show what most popular to make it easy on us. And when we asked our server for her suggestion, she wasn’t much help, she instead offered a menu with photos. At least she was passionately friendly, providing us with common courtesies and polite answers to our other many questions that she was able to answer. There was just so much to go through on the menu and much more to inquire about. And despite the dinner-ing hour our food came relatively quick.

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“Killer tuna taco”, four crunchy taco shells filled with seared tuna and fresh vegetable. These weren’t your traditional yellow corn flour tortilla shells. Airy and light they better accentuated the simplicity of Japanese cuisine. They also helped to give this otherwise soft dish its needed crunch factor. The tuna was perfectly seared, though with such a beautiful red colour it should have it centred on the plate. The focal image instead of the pile of loose leafy vegetables it was covered by. The ponzu sauce was the best part, giving the dish it’s distinct taste, similar to a light soya sauce but fairly mild and gently sweeten. Though don’t let the tacos sit in it for too long. The bottoms of ours soaked up the liquid of the sauce causing it to get soggy and the bottom fell out. I don’t know how authentic tacos are in Japanese cuisine, but this was creative and definitely all their own.

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“Pork Gyoza”, well seasoned meat stuffed in pockets of rubbery dough. Pretty standard, these tasted as good as I expected with a sauce served to enhance its already solid flavours.

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“Assorted tempura: 3 pieces of prawn and 3 of vegetable”. Despite requesting for and being charged for the smaller assorted tempura, I am pretty sure we were accidentally given the “Deluxe Assorted tempura”, a fact we clued into only after having difficultly finishing our requested portion. Piled high these lightly battered seafood and root vegetables came piping hot from the fryer. Thanks to their blotting nothing came overly oily.

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“Fried California roll”. Just as it sounds, served hot and fresh out of the deep fryer. This too was well blotted and came to us crisp without any excess oil. So excited by this, I had to do the thing where you pop a whole piece into your mouth, only to find out the hard way that it is too hot. So you then proceed to try to blow in and have it cool down while still whole, balancing on your tongue, in your gaping mouth. This event transpired even after we were given a warning of its higher temperature by our server. Worth it. Soft mayonnaise crab and crispy tempura batter make for a complimentary combination.

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“Crunch spicy tuna roll”, a tuna roll made crunchy through the use of tempura batter fried into flakes. A messy dish with loose crumbs, it was easier to pick up each piece with your hands, that eat you ensured nothing fell off. The spice level was primary with an equal amount of sweet to heat.

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I always have to get the weirdest thing on the menu, despite it being logical or not. As a food blogger I feel the need to try it and document that which might turn others off. In this case it was a cheesy dish. Cheese at a Japanese restaurant and it isn’t over a baked oyster? Cheese with BBQ skewers? – Why not. The “Kingdom skewer”
is two large skewers pierced through an assortment of vegetables and meat. Deep fried tuna, prawn, scallop, AAA beef, chicken, mushroom, broccoli, red pepper, and onion. Each rod sits on top of a bed of mozzarella cheese made melty and oily from the heat of the meat. Then generously covered in crunchy tempura flakes. With all that was already going on on the skewers the extras were over kill, excessive. The meat was already well seasoned by the teriyaki sauce and the char from the barbecue. Though other than the flakes and some of the seasonings use none of this was Japanese. My biggest gripe about this order was the inconsistency from skewer to skewer and protein to protein. Over cooked salmon, chewy beef, raw peppers. They would have been better off cooking each element separately and as needed before stringing them all together.

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“Green dragon”, prawn, cream cheese, and cucumber, topped with avocado and green tobiko. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t come looking like a dragon, but did appreciate and notice the attempt made at making the roll curve like a serpent. Creamy and sweet it was more avocado in flavour than anything else.

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“Bliss roll”, crab meat, avocado, cucumber, spicy tuna, prawn, ebi, tuna, tobiko, and green onion. This was a mouthful. It tasted as all the ingredients rolled up in it. Although good, the fish dish it came it was most memorable. It is almost a novelty now to have as many rolls as possible with the most ingredients possible. A slight variation from one to a other deserves a new name. Are we out of new ideas yet? And all this is a far walk away from the traditional fresh fish on white rice sushi of true Japanese cuisine.

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The washrooms were consistent with their theme. A branch of cherry blossoms over the vanity and painted fish swimming along the four walls. A very thoughtful tray of toiletries were provided by the sink. Perfume and mouthwash for general use, for those feeling less than fresh after their meal.

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.
After the meal I still stand by the fact that the decor was the best part of our experience. The food was good and priced fairly of its value. Not everything was necessarily authentic, as the sign outside suggest, but with this much going on you are bound to find something you like. Our meal came quick and we left happy and full so we have nothing to complain about. We even had complimentary candies with our bill of $25 per person. Don’t deny your cravings.

SUSHI MORI
2565 Barnet Hwy, Coquitlam BC
604-468-7253
Sushi Mori on Urbanspoon

P.F. Chang’s Chinese Bistro

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When travelling to the states and craving Chinese food, what is one to do? We found ourselves at “P.F. Chang’s” for quintessential Chinese-American fast food. Holding a prime location within Lynnwood Mall, its exterior and sign were visible from the street driving up. Though if you manage to miss it the bridled and saddled horse made a statue in white is hard to ignore.

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Inside, the restaurant was dressed very modern with touches of traditional Chinese. Set in amber tones with splashes of red, it felt very warm and inviting. Mosaic tiled columns and artificial stone fixtures. Lengthly space filling mirrors above the booths that lined the far right wall. Large circles of light covering the ceilings, speckling it like polkadots. Half drawn shades in yellow over frosted glass of orange.

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An iron-esque statue of a Chinese warrior clad in armour. Asian lanterns hung over the bar, crafted from wood and paper with tassels dangling. And of course a lucky cat with its paw up ushering good fortune. Most striking was their full length wall mural. Posted above the kitchen it depicted traditional life in China through watercolour and pastel paints. A picnic in the woods. Packaged dishes, a minstrel strumming, and cloaked citizens gathered in conversation and play.

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A wall of curiosities stood on the left. Various ornamental vases some painted blue, others topped with lids; iron kettles and porcelain pots, stone towers and wooden trays, and a heron statute standing proud on one leg. Given the spacing, it was almost like the stone veneer was crafted just to house these pieces. All in all enough enough Asian artifacts to give it some authenticity. I appreciated being able to read their mission statement and their values, having it reassure my experience to come. There transparency was comforting, as it was framed on the wall for too see.

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The expansive kitchen could be seen spanning almost half the length of the restaurant. Its glass windows gave you a look at their large scale operations, a peak at the dishes coming up to the counter. I could even make out a row of rice cookers from my seat. Everything was definitely made to order, no mass produced dishes cooling in troths and nothing sweating under heat lamp.

The servers in black tops and blue jeans moved just as quick as those in white in the kitchen. The former were all friendly, our server in particular even took the time to ask if we have been to a “P.F. Chang’s” before. Then taking the time to point out their larger portion sizes, suggesting lunch servings if we weren’t planning on sharing.

I recognized majority of what was on menu. A few Chinese classics broken down with North American familiarities, and Japanese tapas’ offered with less than traditional ingredients. Asian favourites watered down for beginners to stomach, yet with enough originality to keep those familiar interested. The pineapple and avocado pairing on the cover was an appropriate example of this. Surprisingly there was a lack of chopsticks, instead we got two forks and a knife. One fork was specifically for salad, when was the last time you had salad at a Chinese restaurant?

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“Tuna tataki”, sliced sushi grade ahi tuna seared rare, topped with garlic chips, daikon sprouts, jalapeño and coated in ponzu sauce. Served with a chilled seaweed salad. Why did I order Japanese at an Chinese fast food chain? It was most unsatisfactory. The tuna was cooked the appropriate rare, but what should be a light sear was overcooked and cracked edges. Hard and dry the crust was difficult to swallow, in hind sight I should have discarded them and instead focus on the soft middle. They definitely looked better than they tasted. The potency of the jalapeño overpowered the mild tuna taste. This was the first time that my tuna tataki was chilli pepper spicy. The distinctive seaweed salad helped to balance everything. Overall the dish was over salted and a side of rice was needed.

Each lunch time combo came with either brown or white rice, the fried variety was available for an extra $1. Your order also comes with a choice between soup or side salad. Definitely the perfect lunch size for one, you left fully satisfied.

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“Hot and sour soup”. A soup this layered and this intricate, I am sure was prepared as a batch at the start of service. Delivered piping hot there was the need to wait for it to cool. Thick with a syrup like consistency, the bits and pieces added some good chew to the mix. Carrot shreds, tofu chunks, and black fungus. It had some good spice, a burn that sits on on your tongue tingling. As a whole it came across more sweet than anything else.

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The “Green salad” was pretty unspectacular. Your standard grocery bag salad, a bowl of shredded lettuce and no other vegetables. Dressed lightly with a lemon based vinaigrette it was pretty bland. Definitely just a filler.

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“Ginger chicken with broccoli”. Sliced chicken breast tossed with ginger, green onions and fresh broccoli. The chicken was overcooked and lacked flavour. Though the zesty sauce made up for some of it. They certainly weren’t stingy with it, plenty to fully coat the undressed rice.

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“Beef with broccoli”. Sliced flank steal seared with fresh ginger, green onions and garlic. The beef was better prepared compared to the chicken, done with a highly gingery note. Unlike the fried rice that was beyond bland. I think the rice was literally just fried. Regular white rice fried for texture and not necessarily taste. Strange, as usually a fried rice comes with more ingredients tossed in. This was definitely not worth $1 more.

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“Chang’s Kung pao with chicken”, spicy Sichuan chili sauce, peanuts, celery, scallions, and red chilli peppers. There was lots of spice in this, you absolutely got the “pao” in the “Kung pao”. Though like the other dishes before the portion was uneven, more rice than meat and veggies.

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Sadly our server forgot to give us our end of meal fortune cookies, honestly they are the best part of the meal. We were left eying the basket that just happened to be by our booth. We did eventually ask, after pondering whether or not we should just help ourselves.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The restaurant was not a bistro as advertised. When you read “bistro” you imagine a smaller space set up more intimately. This was banquet sized hall with additional seating at the bar or outdoor on the patio. Large enough to host a wedding and spacious enough for a family reunion. Though I don’t recommend doing either here. As for the cuisine I am probably biased, I grew up eating Chinese food and visiting Chinese restaurants on special occasions. So I don’t find this kind of food especially appealing, I guess that is the reason why I had trouble ordering and went with a Japanese option for lunch. The food is average at best and overly salty at worst. There was a need to chug glasses of water that couldn’t be refilled fast enough, just to get the salt off your palette. Overall this isn’t the best representation of American style Chinese food, but it is definitely a step up from the food court variety, and that of its main competition, “Panda Express”. Here, although salty, the ingredients are fresher and the meat is of a higher quality. Not for me, but I can see value in it for those less adventurous when it comes to dining. Don’t deny your cravings.

P.F. CHANG’S
3000 184th Street, SW Lynnwood WA, 98037
425-921-2100
pfchangs.com
P.F. Chang's China Bistro on Urbanspoon

All Star Wings and Ribs

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Ever since I heard their grand opening broadcasted on our local radio channel, I bookmarked this one as one to visit. Right in the hub of Robson Street, with convenient and inexpensive parking underground and an elevator ride that brings you right to the door way. Located where causal dining chain “Moxie’s” once hosted, it has been a while since this arena was open and made public for dinner.

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The sports bar theme was prevalent from the moment you step into the doorway. The floor, painted and waxed to look like centre ice. Tripled up television flat screens and red cushioned benches made the need to wait tolerable. Though with ample seating available, across three defined spaces, waiting long for a table shouldn’t be an issue. That and judging by the traffic on a Friday night, the restaurant really hasn’t picked up much momentum yet.

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The bar is made sportier with framed memorabilia and signed collector’s items. Jerseys pressed, equipment used, and photos captured in history making moments. Most notable was their own Winter Olympic 2010 torch enclosed and protected behind glass. A television visible from every seat and built in to each booth in the lounge ensured you got as much live action sports as you needed. We grabbed such a spacious booth, one of eight. Each divided with high backed cushions and a plexiglass lit with black light. It allowed for some unique and easily edited effects. Quotes, occasions, and cheers looked three dimensional as if they were glowing.

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The waitresses were just as sporty, dawning their own uniforms. Capped sleeved baseball-like jerseys for the hostess and tight logo-ed tanks for the waitresses. Each with the restaurant’s name in blue and white. I didn’t see any male staff members on shift tonight, a point I feel was maybe intentional given the direction of their bar? Clearly they were catering to a specific clientele.

The menu deemed that they were “The King Of The Wing”, promising “excellence, quality, and service”, to us, their values guests. With a page dedicated to listing their 200 wing flavours and their two rib options on another shared page. Why the focus on wings and lack there of on ribs? Yet both are equally named in their title. Though they don’t just serve either, they are also well stocked on all your other classic bar favourites. Familiar appetizers like onion rings, in five varieties and five flavours; chicken tenders, nachos, calamari, garlic bread, fish and chips, and sliders. The potato choices are labelled, “Way to go Idaho”. Fries done French, tex-mexed, russets left in skins, and dressed from tzatziki to tomato, with gravy to pulled pork. This trend continued to other common bar entrees like salads, sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs; all just as decorated as their potatoes, similar flavours repeated on different platforms. The new one to the bar scene is their selection of “gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches”, made with artisan sourdough bread and served with a side of fries. Like the others, this too falls under the comfort food category. Your cheese and bread partnered with combinations like bacon and pineapple, guacamole and cherry tomatoes; or filled with crushed tortillas, amongst other things. I was most intrigued by the Brie cheese, cranberries, pecans, and maple syrup combo. Though with a description like that, it isn’t anything I can’t duplicate for myself, at home. I can go on and on on what they had, what I didn’t try, but there is a lot more to cover and a lot more I would have liked to try, and I haven’t even covered the 200 wings.

In theory is great to have so many flavours, it certainly is its own attraction. But realistically you get pretty overwhelmed with it all. 200 flavours of wings and no description for any. You really had to rely on your server for guidance and be prepared to ask for details if not samples. Is “choc full of bees” with honey and/or with chocolate? Is the “Alfredo the crazy Italian” an Italian herbed wing covered in Alfredo sauce? Does “Caesar does Jamaica” have a greater Greek influence than it is jerked? “Bloody caesar”, marinated in a Bloody Caesar cocktail? “Col. Mustard’s honey”, mustard and honey right? Well that was an easy one. Pineapple curry, plum, ranch, creole BBQ; a few were givens. Though more were left unknown, ones I couldn’t even begin to guess at. “Where’s the beef”, weren’t these all suppose to be chicken? “Mild”, mild what? “Montizuma’s revenge”, isn’t that slang for diarrhea? Why would I want that? “Homocide”, now we are getting scary. “Raptor”, “the buds”, You pucker”, “M-Che-D”, “midnight express”, “tsunami”, “oceano”, “dragon kiss” “ocean spray”, and “Kelly man”? I could go on and on… each told me nothing. The more I read, the more I wondered, the more I wondered, the more I wanted the decision making to stop.

They boasted the use of 100% pure canola oil, making their wings trans fat and cholesterol free. I knew the traditional honey garlic would be a must have and something proven good on any occasion, but was forced to rely on our server’s discretion for my second choice. I couldn’t make much sense of the page, even if the wings were arranged with a legend that indicated level of spiciness using easy to decider baseball analogies and clear visuals. For example the pacifier, was for those like myself, ones who can’t take the heat. One baseball for the “tame” minor leagues, two balls for the “medium” juniors, three fireballs for the “hot” farm team, then major leagues, and hard hitters after it. The fireballs become five bombs to symbolize their 5 alarm heat. And the “A-Bombs” and the “H-bombs” signal that you are getting into excruciating pain territory. With “E.L.E”, “extinction level event” warning you that it’s the hottest available, requiring your signature on a waiver before you can order it. All wings also come with a choice of having them “dry”, without their usual breading, also known as “Lord of the wing”. And your choice of sauce in either dill, blue cheese, or ranch. Their “King of the wing” option was having your wings grilled on their own in house BBQ with olive oil and lemon. Prices are based on amount of wings and how many flavours in each order. Each order of wings comes with a large metal bucket for the bones.

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“Honey garlic” wings. A staple, good and true. The thick breading made for meatier bites. Sticky and sweet, as l expected and the best dish of the night.

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“Cleopatra”, our server’s recommendation for the most popular wing. Like the wing before, and as I requested this was a saucy wing. A wing fully dressed in a garlic and Parmesan sauce. I always say you know it’s good when it messes up your breath. Creamy and salty the first two were the best. Though I soon grew weary of the taste, I found it needed another layer to its one dimensional profile. A taste I couldn’t remedy with a dip in dressing, or else it would have been too dressed too creamy. Honey would have been ideal. Towards the bottom of the basket I was attempting to wipe excess sauce off on to the wax paper. It was here that I was thankful for our sides. A way to cleanse the palette in between decadent bites. Over all interesting, a taste that grows on you. But not as a full order.

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1/2 order of “true baby back”, described as “mouth watering and triple glazed”. We choose this one over the only other rib option, the “Bronto beef ribs. Odd that there are only two varieties of ribs at a wings and ribs place. The meat was fall off the bone tender, but the seasonings could have used more work. More spice, more flavour, a little more kick for such juicy pieces. The easiest solution would be to provide a tangy barbecue sauce to dip in to. We choose a side of mashed potatoes and coleslaw instead of fries or their loaded baked potato. I enjoyed the semi mashed potatoes with chunks of peel and loads of butter.

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This is the first restaurant I have seen with sponsors. I suppose it falls in line with their sports analogy. After all what is a franchise without sponsors and advertisements? Coca Cola supplied them with red plastic branded drinking cups. LG helped with all the mounted flat screens. And Molson Canadian and McCain offered their beverage on the menu.

During my walk to the washroom I passed by the second seating area. A space with less booths and more free standing tables. It included a private room surrounded by glass, its windows etched with generic athletes playing the sports they love. A secluded room, ideal for large groups and rowdier gatherings. I was intimated to take any pictures as this empty section was where all the waitresses gathered in their leisure. They stood around chatting with one another in between bussing orders and checking in on their guests. I understood the need to pause, but saw it a little unprofessional. Especially as there was a group seated a few feet away. Five women leaning on fixtures, looking at those passing by, and discussing the events of their day.

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.
Already a bustling franchise several locations strong, based out Toronto; I can see this restaurant’s migration West being a success. A new wings centred bar for Vancouverites, and a new sports focused destination for a eager hockey fans. With its only direct competition being “Wings”, it’s all about location, location, location; and they had a good one. In a highly visible street corner, with a strong theme and a solid menu, this is a no brainer. I liked everything they were offering and would definitely go back for more. I just won’t return hungry, we were kept waiting 30 minutes for our meal. Don’t deny your cravings.

ALLSTAR WINGS & RIBS
808 Bute Street, 2nd Floor
Vancouver BC, V6E 1Y4
604-563-4477
allstarwingsandribs.com
Allstar Wings & Ribs on Urbanspoon

Forty Ninth Parallel Café & Lucky’s Doughnuts

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If the Food Network’s “Donut Showdown” is any sign of trends, doughnuts are definitely coming up in a big way. Just look at the list of new doughnut shoppes that have opened and others that have gain traction. “Parallel 49″ is one such cafe with their gourmet fried rings of dough. With two locations we were at the one on Main and 13th. I was lucky enough to pull into one of four metered parking spots, just beside their outdoor patio.

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With its popularity I was not surprised to walk in and face a line. The cafe has a modern warehouse feel to it. With red brick walls, planked rafters, mental low hanging lamps, and waxed wood everything else.

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The room is staggered with various seating arrangements. Large high tops and counters by windows make the perfect shareable surface. They save space with communal sitting, and make an ideal solution for students and writers to come in and have a space to work from. There was a handful of those in today. Two tops and four seaters gave families and friends the possibility to sit and chat together. There is even a lounging area with couches by a brick fire place. The lighting here was more romantic: a lit up sign quality “49″; and dim bulbs dripping from cords.

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And on a hot day like today you can enjoy the direct sun above your head on their side walk patio, just as we did.

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With their popularity growing “Parallel 49″ offers their own line of coffee and coffee accessories for sale. Gathered for show across the right wall, it makes for a fairly handsome display. For those who love it so much that they want to take it home, you can even buy one of their t-shirts. Various fair trade coffee beans, their signature teal coloured cup and saucer in regular and miniature espresso sizes, metal creamers, and glass cups.

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Your choice of doughnuts are displayed elegantly behind glass. Laid out in specially designed drawers, crafted with built in cooling racks for bottoms. With no menu you rely on ordering based on looks alone. Through each type of doughnut was given its own name card to help. Arranged in no particular order, though the feature doughnut stood out, being extra colourful and up front and first.

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The “Blueberry cake” would be the first that your eyes gazed at. “Cake”, being the correct description for this treat. Dense, thick, and decadent it was a more vigorous chew. Striking with its deep plum coloured icing drizzled across and its bold blue coloured middle. With a caramelized cinnamon and sugar topping that gave it a crispy outer shell, and whole blueberry bits folded right into the dough, giving it pops of juice. Though despite its vibrant colour, it was no reflection on taste. I was hardly able to make out any of the promised blueberry flavour.

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“Long john”, a classic redone with vanilla bean infused custard cream. Cream filled end to end to ensure every bite in came filling oozing out. The chocolatey layer on top was semi sweet, so despite its looks it really wasn’t so sweet that it would overwhelm everything else. I enjoyed most the consideration taken to create the decorative uniform pattern on top. They certainly took this doughnut staple to the next level.

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“Peanut butter and jelly”, had I know it was this good I would have ordered more. Peanut butter on top, filled with jam inside. Raspberry jam pipped at two points for more even distribution. This creation brings together the best of PB&J into one portable bite. Its crunchy and chunky honey-like butter and its sticky sweet jam accent. I prefer a 3:1 ratio when it comes to peanut butter and jam and this was pretty close. With fluffy baked batter this was better than any peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A more grown up taste for the kid in you.

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“Strawberry rhubarb”. Powdered jelly doughnuts are usually my favourite so I had to try this one. Looking at the cross section, visually this was not a lot of jelly. Once again filling each doughnut at two points allowed for a bolder jelly presence; but this picture is fairly accurate. With such a large doughnut 1/4 of it failed to see jam, and as a result was discarded. I willingly allowed the thick dough go to waste, there wasn’t much taste without the filling.

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The “Lemon Bismarck” was similar to the above, but with a more fair jelly to dough ratio. The lemon was tart, sweeten by the sprinkling of sugar on top. Similar to a lemon meringue pie, but it could have used some meringue. Though this granulated sugar coating was preferred over a drippy glaze.

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“Apple maple bacon fritter”. Once a rarity, bacon and maple are no longer strangers to the dessert or sweet snack scene. Though no longer the edgy mash up that it was there years ago, now you almost expect a successful doughnut place to feature a bacon anything one time or another. With this one you immediately get the distinctive char quality from the salty bacon shards sprinkled on top. A nice texture against the spongy dough, crispy ends and chewy edges. The bacon’s salty nature is balanced out by the sticky syrup glaze and the sweetened apple chunks. Opposites that definitely attracted in this savoury and salty mix up. Such a generous coating of all the above has the ingredients tasting like they were braided within the dough itself.

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“Chocolate croissant”. A light croissant baked golden brown with chunks of chocolate embedded within its layers. This was best slightly heated so that the pockets of chocolate melted and creeped into each pore of flaky pastry.

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The “Beignets” were by request only, only good served hot and fresh they needed 10 minutes to prepare. And with the work involved from skilled chefs they were only available between 11-7pm. These were traditional New Orleans style doughnuts dusted with icing sugar and served with creme anglais, chocolate caramel, and a sour cherry compote. This were air light pillows of dough. Spongy and fluffy on the inside, but nice and crispy on the outside. Though compared to the treats before these seemed to lack a flavour all their own, a generous scooping of the sauces was an easy remedy, though strangely we were given two spoons for the three sauces.

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“Espresso milkshake”, a double shot blended with vanilla ice cream. Although I am not a big fan of strong coffee, I do enjoy its essence when partnered with ice cream. And this was made better with the sprinkling of espresso chips on top.

I eat my doughnuts with a fork and knife, something I grew up watching my dad do and have kept doing as I appreciate having my hands clean and syrup free. Yet with no place, for those like me, to grab cutlery you need ask the clerks behind the counter. Something that much be common as eating with your hands then typing on laptops and texting on hand held devices must be a nuisance.

When it was time to leave, with no signs visible and no trays in sight I brought our used dishes to the back of the counter. I was hoping to help the staff in cleaning up my own mess. My aid was received with annoyance, how dare I interrupt the personal conversation of three men in between doling out orders for paying customers. The food was good, but yet again I regret tipping the average 15% for no services rendered. The taking of my money, the boxing of my doughnuts, the word I was given for assuming that the wooded numbered block the cashier gave me meant my drink and our beignets would be brought to our table.

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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.
The doughnuts are pretty original, I prefer their soft melty textures over other more dense gourmet doughnuts I have had elsewhere. With an ever rotating line up, chances are you will always find something new to try. Though as your standard coffee shop setting, I prefer taking my order out to enjoy elsewhere. Though they aren’t cheap, be prepared to pay the price of opulence for decadence. Don’t deny your cravings.

PARALLEL 49
2902 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5T3G3
604-872-4901
luckysdoughnuts.com
Forty Ninth Parallel Café & Lucky's Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Acme Cafe

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Hearing that their cakes and pies are amazing, Miss Vancouver Piggy and I came in for an eventful dessert.

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Painted matte black on its exterior, a contrast to the bright white inside. With vaulted ceilings and whirling fans, the space opened up like a breath of fresh air.

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Yet its structure created nooks and crannies, adding options for privacy. Booths secluded in corners, counter top dining in front of windows, and a rounded bar facing the open kitchen. For decoration a few photos hung in groupings, scattered around the room. Stretches of highways and aerials of rural buildings.

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A sign right at the door asks that you wait to be seated. This gives you time to gander at their selection of freshly baked desserts and snacks, prepared fresh daily. Behind the sneeze guarded glass was a gathering of cakes, pies, cookies, bars, and pastries. With no official dessert menu this was the best way to order done sweets. We bee lined here and choose what wanted by pointing through the window. Butter tarts, a melted looking strawberry and peach Danish, Sailor Jerry’s individual sized pecan pie, red velvet cake, and mis-shapened loafs, just to name a few.

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As soon as I head it I knew I wanted the “Orange creamsicle pie”. Described as the orange equivalent of a lemon mergine or key lime pie. The creamy orange filling was very sweet, it could have used more of the traditional orange citrus tang. The crust soggy from the weight of the heavy cream, had me craving for a crunchy component to this dish.

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My more indecisive dining companion had a harder time committing to just one choice. Sensing her indecision the clerk gave her samples to aid in the process. A scoop of their bread pudding made fluffy and flaky with croissants. Raspberry and rhubarb pie that was sharp and tangy. And the saucy blueberry pie she eventually settled on. This slice was oozing after its trip to the microwave. Though over heated, cooking the blueberry syrup more and burning the crust of the pie. The house made whip cream help to balance the bury taste and chewy texture.

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With our dessert we had another dessert to drink. Having shared a vanilla milkshake at our destination before, we yet again opted to do the same. Served in the classic milkshake glass and topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. This portion came with an refill in the metal cup it was mixed in. Comparing it to the shake before, this was more bland. A watered down ice cream, or more milk than cream? Either way it wasn’t as enjoyable as the other drink.

During our stay a distressed gentleman, seeing us from the window, walked in and proceeded to take what was left of my orange pie. Stunned, I stood by as he grabbed it off my plate with his bare hands, cream and all. Almost immediately the “Acme” staff jumped into action. They excused the man, standing between he and I, protecting me. They apologized for his actions and expressed the need for him to exit. Before he was successfully escorted out he dropped the pie on the floor, wiped his hands with napkins and dropped them too to the ground. As his finks last stand he complained and shouted profanities at the staff. I only bring this up because I was immensely impressed by the staff’s reaction. Not only did they make me feel safe at all times, but they managed to act professional and stay calm in what would be a stressful situation. They assured us this doesn’t happen often. Then invited us to return again, giving us two chocolate chip cookies to take away, just to seal the deal. It worked. That little gesture had us leaving on a high note.

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 area is heritage, congregated by an interesting mixed crowd. Easy enough to get to and convenient enough to park at. Not having a full meal here I cannot speak to the food and experience as a whole, but from what we did have and what we did see, I say the place definitely deserves a return visit to get a better assessment. The desserts are definitely a highlight, classics done fun. Pastel smarties in bars and rainbow sprinkles on cookies. Don’t deny your cravings.

ACME CAFE
51 W Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6B1G4
604-569-1022
acmecafe.ca
Acme Cafe on Urbanspoon