Thai Son

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After all my rich Chinese dinners as of late, I was in search of a different taste, something more light, something healthier? So I gravitated towards the refreshing flavours of Vietnamese food, often prepared with with basil and lemon.

The destination we choose was one link in a chain of five. Given its location along a busy road, just before the bridge, on route to Richmond; this is one of those places you come to specifically. With residential homes surrounding the area, it isn’t really on the way to anything.

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It was brightly lit with its windows attracting just as much attention as its signed name. Given the fluorescent hum of the place it felt like a fast food restaurant. It was minimalistic with simple chairs and tables over a tiled floor. A caddy of utensils at each table offered less human interaction with the staff. Chopsticks, spoons, napkins, and sauces at your disposal. They did brighten up the place with a flower at each place setting and a vase full by the counter. All in all it felt like a place for a quick meal, especially given the speed of food delivery.

The menu was a list with photos spelled out in traditional Vietnamese phonetic and English description with ingredients list. It was easy enough to order off of.

Watching a glass of their “Special rainbow jello drink” with red bean and coconut milk” pass by our table, I found myself exploring the drinks menu for the same. However resisted the pull of familiarity for something more unique on paper.

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The “Egg yolk and condensed milk with soda in ice” was a practical title. I was curious how the egg yolk would fair in such a beverage; completely forgetting that various cocktails enlist the practice of blending a raw egg until foamy, then adding it to a drink. It appeared like a tall glass of milk. White and creamy, but with a refreshing and fizzy quality to it. Definitely more of a dessert drink, like a Vietnamese egg cream.

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When having Vietnamese food, it is almost obligatory to order pho. We went for the one that sounded the most exotic, with the most ingredients. A dish of raw bean sprouts, fresh basil, and lime wedges proceeded it, to add as we saw fit. “Rare beef, well done beef brisket, and tripe with rice noodles in soup”. We ordered a large serving to share. There was an equal ratio of meat to noodle. With large chunks of beef and tendon and not enough tripe.

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I typically eat half my portion of pho, before needing to add in any of the table side brown sauce to rejuvenate its flavour. However this was on the blander side, and several squeezes of the bottle was necessary even before I started eating. All an all I pretty average bowl, not bad, but nothing worth remembering.

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Similarly were the “Deep fried spring rolls” filed with ground pork, shrimp, and assorted vegetable. Crispy rolls, best dipped into the side servings fish sauce. This was a clear and soup-like, tangy and sour, vinegar based sauce.

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The presentation alone for this one set it apart, as the most impressive. Though I wished there was a version that included more items and various meats, like a sampler platter. Though this did leave me wanting to try the others. “Special steamed vermicelli, grilled skewered pork, and minced shrimp wrapped in sugar cane”. I was drawn in by the creativity of noodles. They were squares with each individual strand still visible, adhered together as a sheet. This construction made them easy to pick up and dip into the fish sauce. They also made a great base for the perfectly grilled pieces of pork. I liked the meat a little burnt on the edges, giving it a great char. The shrimp was spongy like fish balls, they didn’t gather much sweetness from the stick of sugar cane. However the sugar cane tasted like shrimp. You don’t swallow the fibrous bark of the sugar cane, but instead gnaw on it, drawing out all its sweeter juices. Or in this case savoury fishiness.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The restaurant was pretty basic. Fair prices, fast food, and a good meal. I wouldn’t drive all the way out for it, but wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it either. But be warned, unlike most fast food chain, this one only accepts cash. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

THAI SON
1450 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC
604-559-6436
thaison.ca
Thai Son Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ho Yuen Kee

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All the festivities surrounding Chinese New Year and all the food that accompanies it, had me wondering what is there for good Chinese in Vancouver? I have always just relied on my parents to choose a restaurant and tell me what’s good. But today I was with a friend. He would be giving me a different perspective on Chinese cuisine, and a different opinion on what he thought was good. Growing up in Asia he has a fair idea of what authentic should taste like, and by comparison, what is only passable.

Apparently the internet was raving over the lobster sticky rice at “Ho Yuen Kee”, on Fraser. This acclaimed dish was a whole lobster served in a large bamboo steamer full of rice. My host made reservations ensuring to request the lobster over the phone. In doing so, he had to pull out what he calls his “terrible Cantonese”. It was good enough to get us the table and the lobster today.

From the exterior the restaurant looked like any other Chinese restaurant. An lengthy building with red awning and characters written in Chinese script. I was a little wary walking in. I can barely speak Chinese, let alone able to read the language; and my guest already admitted he was no better. The restaurant’s name was only spelled out in pin yin (Chinese phonetic) and their red sandwich board outside was only in Chinese characters. How would we communicate or order? Luckily non Chinese speakers were well accommodated with bilingual staff and menus. Our server in particular was great in communication and honesty. We asked him for his opinion over some of the dishes, something most Chinese restaurants aren’t known to give, but he did willingly. He told us what he thought were good specials, and was not shy to admit when others were bad. He took the time to answer our questions, but didn’t have the time to wait for our reply. In our case, we appreciated the pause he gave us in deciding. We used it as a chance to catch up with one another. And when we took his suggestions he seemed proud to have helped.

Thanks to him, the service was a bit more attentive. But the primary focus was still speed and a quick turn around, even though the restaurant wasn’t very busy tonight. The want to be quick was proven when my guest was forced to eat above his plate. Our server wanted to change out our dining dishes mid course, a common occurrence in Chinese dining. A practice meant to minimize the mixing of flavours after having several courses. He did this by removing cutlery from off the dish and setting it aside. And then relocating what food was left from off the used plate and on to a new clean one. This action, although considerate, interrupted our flow of eating and conversation. However the skill in which our server negotiated this was impressive and necessary. As after a few pieces of lobster, our plates was more a shellfish graveyard than designated eating space. In short, the distribution of fresh plates mid meal was nice, though the way it was done was a little too abrasive. But over all, I can’t complain about the service, we got what we needed, and they were easy enough to wave over to our table.

As for the restaurant itself, there was not much in terms of decor. The space was older and the owners made no effort to hide it. The room was stuffy, the patterns on the booths were vintage in 70’s retro, and the table tops were scuffed and peeling. I know we were here to eat, but you can’t help but to judge a place by its setting and its association to cleanliness. It they can’t keep their front of house clean, where is the hope for their back of house operation? Luckily a windowed looked into the kitchen had everything checking out. A lone man behind a wok: straining, stirring, and serving. The set up looked tidy enough and the shelves well organized. At least from afar it looked better than their washroom situation. Not going to get into that.

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We came for the “lobster with sticky rice on the bottom”. They charged market price for it, and today we were warned that it was set higher at $32/lb. Our bill came to about $82, so it was about a 2.5lb. lobster. Under the whole lobster is a corn, green onion, and fish roe, mixed into the sticky rice.

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We were given a look at the live crustacean before he was served to us. The lobster was scooped up from the stone faced, double seafood tanks, in the corner of the room. Each tank was crammed full with either lobsters or crabs. We weren’t the only ones ordering this dish, so their quantity was justified. The lobster was presented table side, skittering it in a plastic container, with its claws bound shut, using thick rubber bands. I felt bad for it. I know the purpose of this formality is to prove quality and freshness, but it just gave me diner’s guilt. It was literally slaughtered so I could eat it. But sadly not guilty enough to not have any. Our neighbouring table also ordered lobster, and when they got their before view, they also brought over the fish they ordered as well. It was a little traumatic watching it flop frantically suffocating in a plastic tray on the ground. The tray the lobster came in was used to cover and still the movements of the fish in a sandwich-like hold.

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They don’t actually weigh the lobster before you, so there is no guarantee you are getting what you pay for per pound. But by sight alone, it looked like I was getting my value’s worth. The large bamboo steamer truly added to the marvel and presentation of this special. It was lined with lotus leaves that were steamed along with the rice, lending its fragrance to the entire dish. The rice was less sticky than I expected, but cooked tender to compliment the tender lobster. It was more like plain rice, or a slightly denser fried rice. And the additional ingredients within it felt like they were included for colour and show, more than to flavour. They didn’t necessary better the dish. The lobster was well poached. Buttery and juicy pieces that was easy to pry from shell. Though the sweetness of the lobster and the sweetness from the corn was a little much together. I would have liked some crunch and additional freshness from carrot nibs or green peas.

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It is common to order a vegetable dish to balance all the meat and seafood servings. Something fresh to break the richer flavours. “The Buddha’s feast” was recommend as a colourful assembly of fresh vegetables. The dish was listed under “tofu and vegetables”, but contained none of the former. However there was a great assortment of the latter. Baby corn, water chestnut, oyster mushroom, shiitake mushroom, bat ear fungus in white and black, and full stalks of Chinese broccoli.

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I was most impressed by the carrots slices that they took the time to shaped in to tiny Phoenixes. It was all coated in a oyster sauce thicken with corn starch. It gave everything a syrup-like coating and a rich gummy texture. It was a good mix of crunchy and chewy with the soggy green vegetable’s leaves. As a flavour overall, it is hard to describe; but what I can say is, it tasted as expected.

We were interested in the “seafood hot pot” that included fish maw and sea cucumber. Given our conversation and mastery in English I think they assumed we lacked the knowledge to know what it was that we were ordering. Our server interjected warning us that we wouldn’t like it. It was nice of him to consider this, especially as most Chinese places wouldn’t bother, and you’d be left having to work through and pay in full for a dish that you didn’t like. He took the time to explain what each of the exotic creatures were. We were both familiar, but humoured him in listening anyways. “Sea cucumbers” are marine animals, they look like sea slugs and have a rubbery texture similar to jellyfish or cartilage. Definitely a delicacy and not for everyone. “Fish maw” is the bladder of a larger fish like a croaker or sturgeon. It has has no fishy taste and absorbs the flavors of other ingredients. Another sea creature consumed for its unique chewy, sponge-like texture. In hindsight, after writing this and trying to describe it for those not familiar, I have kind repulsed myself and am glad they ran out of the fish maw and we passed on our initial order all together.

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Instead, we gambled on the “Braised duck with eight jewel”, after enlisting two different opinions. Another server not recommending it, and our original server strongly suggesting it. It was described by both as a whole bunch of meats mixed together. I read this as dish that gathered all the extra bits from other dishes and threw them into a pot to make something new, as to not have any of it go to waste. And it tasted like it. But in the moment it still had us curious enough to order it.

We were originally wanting duck so thought it clever to tack on additional ingredients and get more out of another dish. However despite it being central in the title, the duck didn’t seem like the star of the dish. It was at the very bottom, buried under the mound of everything else. I wish the menu actually listed everything, to give us a chance to imagine it all together and contemplate whether we still wanted it or not. Meat and seafood with mushrooms and baby bok choy florets surrounding it all. Braised duck, BBQ pork, chicken, scallop, prawn, and cuttlefish. The pairing of seafood and meat together like this was an unusual mix of protein, and by association taste and sauce. On its own, each element was great, all together, it just didn’t jibe. It was conceived better in our heads. And I think I would have been more impressed if it came as a stew in a clay pot.

As for the duck, it was utterly disappointing. The meat was dry and fatty. It tasted old and overcooked. And given it was hidden under all the other ingredients, it felt like they just added the duck to something else, trying to hide the fact that we were served a pile of stewing bones. This was the first time having duck paired with seafood and would be my last.

We were offered red bean soup for dessert. We turned it down, and our server was kind enough to stress that it was a “free”. I dismissed the free as I knew I wouldn’t finish it, and am not partial to the graininess of red bean.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The lobster rice was delicious, but a little pricy. I have had other versions for less. As the first full Chinese meal like this I have ever had to pay for myself, I don’t have a good scope of affordable and value versus cost. Though I did feel the prices a little steep given the assembly of some and the simplicity of others. I wouldn’t be a posed to returning, but wouldn’t make a trip out specifically for it. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

HO YUEN KEE
6236 Fraser Street, Vancouver BC, V5W 3A1
604-324-8855
Ho Yuen Kee Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cindy’s Palace

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Chinese New Year dinner in the eyes of my partner: Not eating seafood and thinking half the food is scary.

This was our family’s Chinese New Year dinner. My parents wanted to keep it safe with a place they have been before and one they have liked in the past. Knowing it would be busy, my mother made the reservation earlier on and for an earlier time: 5:30pm, the first seating, in order to avoid the need to wait. A clever strategy, as we later found ourselves being prodded to wrap our meal up, in order for the restaurant to seat the other families waiting at the door. I suspected that they took too many reservations and that the restaurant had over booked. Given the occasion and the day this Chinese New Year’s eve fell on, and the fact that it was also a statutory holiday the following day; the extra traffic made sense. Driving up to our destination we could see other like Chinese restaurants filling up quickly, their parking lots to capacity, and a slew of diners waiting outside.

My French Canadian partner was invited to partake in our dinner, knowing he doesn’t prefer the cuisine or would eat much of it, if any. He doesn’t like seafood and essentially all Chinese restaurants are seafood restaurants. He doesn’t take garlic and onion, and Chinese cuisine is flavoured heavily with both. He simply attended out of a sign of respect. So I put him to work pouring tea and taking photos, to occupy his time; as we ate and he looked away at some of the dishes in awe and fear. This is a common occurrence at such events, one both sides have grown to expect and often laugh about when we have Chinese food. We don’t force him to eat anything he doesn’t want to or feels uncomfortable to. And he doesn’t expect or want anyone to order or accommodate his particular preferences. He often eats before he attends, and so comes for the companionship and conversation, as an extended family member. But I give him props for trying three new dishes and coming out as a sign of respect towards my family and appreciate for their invitation.

So today, given my partner’s inexperience with the cuisine, I thought it interesting to enlist his opinions in describing the scene before us. And to then pepper my review with his raw and unfiltered assessment of food and culture. I have grown up with the food and have accepted our traditions and practices as norm. So wanted to see what someone on the other side of the fence thought.

Warning, I have asked for his honest thoughts. Some of it might seem harsh, some of it might even offend. But I take it as a revealing look at what we find “normal” might be bizzare to others. Leading to the larger question, is anything really “normal”? Is there another culture that sucks on the feet of chicken or chews through the joints of knees? There are some cultures that drink pig’s blood and munch on still born baby chicks, and others that eat the meat of elk and seal raw. Still beating hearts, squirming tentacles, sea snails, and puppy dog tails. If you think half this list is disgusting, then you are no different than my partner, adventuring in to the unknown of a culture foreign to him. It is refreshing to be able to be honest with oneself and one another, and to evoke such conversations on what is food and how far is one able to go outside their comfort zone to try some of it. Albeit, I don’t have as many reservations as he does, as I find the Asian culture is one of the most adventurous in this respect.

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When we walked up to the restaurant we saw the manager engage in tradition by paying respect to the gods. With three of everything I deduced that he was specifically praying to the three Chinese gods: “Fu Lu Shou”. Each deity personifies a different attribute, and praying to them invokes said attributes, earning you their favour. Good Fortune (Fu), Prosperity (Lu), and Longevity (Shou). On a table outside he neatly presented three bowls of rice, three saucers of soup, three cups of water, and three servings of sauce. And before that, a tray of four large dishes offered up as tribute. A slab of fried pork with crispy skin, a whole fried fish, a whole stewed chicken, and a dish of mixed vegetables.

Nearby stood a red can used for burning and the plastic wrapping that once held paper denominations. Paper fortunes are burnt and incense are lit as part of the ritual. I missed the spectacle, but would have loved to have watched the cultural practice.

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Tonight their yellow awning perfectly matched their Chinese New Year decorations. Red paper lanterns with tassels and gold script. Well wishes painted on the pots of plants. And string of paper fireworks flanking either sides of the front door. Everything was in the lucky colours of metallic gold against bold red, just as it was inside.

Inside, the foyer was blocked off by a sectional shelf showcasing various cauldrons behind glass. Covered soup pots in clay, porcelain, and brass. Some were ornate with patterns; the others plain, serving a more practical use.

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A table was situated right by the entrance, it was in an awkward position, right in front of the bar and in the way of the isle. Those seated there probably felt the eyes of those who waited for their own table. Luckily we had our reservation and secured a table in the centre of the room.

The bar was outfitted with monkeys. Several red furred monkeys wielding bananas or the traditional Chinese gold bouillon, shaped liked a boat. This year is the year of the monkey, 2016, so there were a few of them dangling above in clusters. And above them, a festive banner in celebration.

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The entire restaurant was in celebration. The ceiling was strung with lanterns and fish made out of red pockets. The walls were plastered with banners creeping down its side. It certainly made it feel like we were in here celebrating. A day to enjoy with a fury of colour. That is a good way to describe the Chinese culture as a whole: expressive. The colours are bold, the flavours are in your face, and the embellishments are a-plenty.

The only thing that stood in contrast to this was the television, set to Super Bowl 50. This was to accommodate those following the sporting match and the blended families who many not be as engaged in the dinner and conversation. My partner certainly found the television screen enticing.

We came in knowing the food would be subpar given the influx of business during celebration days. Often the dishes are prepared in mass to keep up with the increase in traffic. The limitations of the menus presented, also helped the kitchen keep up. It was limited to set dinners only. Courses determined based on number of members in your party. Our group of eight went for the “Alway good set dinner” over the “Smiles set dinner” because it had a chicken dish that my partner would actually try. It listed what we would have in Chinese and English, but the dishes came in a different order than what was printed. Here are the dishes as it came to our table.

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Traditionally, most Chinese meals start off with a soup course to warm up the stomach for the feast ahead. The “Soup of the day” ended up being chayote, a type of squash that looks like a bright green pear. The pealed melon was stewed with beef bone and served in a clay urn. The soup scooped before us into individual bowls at table side.

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The remainder is left for us to divide ourselves, as a table. But the meat and squash bits were separated out on to a plate for us to pick at. My partner commented that the meat looked old and that it probably wouldn’t have any flavour cause it was swimming in water. I explained how you would only use old meat and bones to make such a soup. This is done to not waste anything, which is a hallmark of the cuisine. As for the flavour of the meat, you typically enjoy it with soy sauce. He found the soup flavourful but watery, given his penchant for thick and creamy western style soups.

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He avoided the “Gai lan vegetable with seafood” because of the “white rubbery looking things”. He doesn’t partake in seafood so the squid curls and scallop rounds were off putting to him. And he refused to try the vegetable cause they were touching said seafood. But he noted that the green stalks looked great with their bright colour. He questioned if the dish was bland without a sauce. I explained that he dish was exactly as expected. Crisp vegetable with chewy seafood chunks. And that there was flavour in the clear sauce made with garlic and ginger.

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He took a photo of the “Lobster with ginger and onion over fried noodles” to send to his family back in Quebec. The dish looked alien to him with two boiled lobsters, their heads included, flanking the dish to prove it. He found it scary to have the faces of the animal you are eating presented before you. Whereas in Chinese culture it is done so to ensure the diner knows that they are getting everything. That no part of the animal is being wasted, unless you don’t eat it yourself, or take home to eat later. Not wasting food is important in Chinese culture. Though he did acknowledge that this was an impressive dish and probably an expensive one. I am not a fan of shellfish as I dislike working for my food. Once it is cooked, it shouldn’t be a struggle to eat. Having to pry back the shell with a nut cracker and gouge meat from nooks and crannies, while making a mess of yourself. I particularly don’t like getting my hands dirty while I dine. Though with such a plate, it almost seems inevitable. Luckily they provided a wet napkin at every place setting and exchanged plates after this round. They took your pile of bones and shells and gave you a new side plate to eat off of. The lobster was cooked well and the noodles delicious in its flavouring. I just wished there was more noodles to go around and that the lobster meat was already shelled on the plate. Though that defeats the presentation and the desire to see the seafood in its entirety before you.

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The “Dried oyster and pork tongue with vegetable” was the most visually unappealing dish. A mound of brown hiding wilted leaves of green. Once a few members of our table realized that the pork meat was tongue meat, it put them off to trying any of it. My partner declared that his mother never fed him tongue or organ meats growing up, as he contorted his face to one of disgust. I did have to remind him that he ate chunks of tongue in Japan. And that then it actually looked like tongue meat with the papillae visible. Here the pieces of tongue were cut thin enough and braised long enough that you couldn’t tell what part of the pig you were eating just by looking at it. It also just tasted like pork meat. As a whole, I did not like this dish based on the texture of the soggy leafy greens and the fried oysters. The oysters were dried and you could tell, coupled with the fact that they were over cooked, it made them hard chew. Soggy vegetables are just the worst texture to me, I avoid them at all cost.

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My partner was willing to try the “Pork chop with onion in a Peking sauce”. He is not a fan of gristle so was immediately put off when he bit into a particularly fatty piece of pork. Served in large slabs, many of the pieces were on the fattier side, even my standards. The ones I got felt like they didn’t even have meat on them, like I was chewing on gummy pockets of fat. I wished they were served in more manageable bite sized pieces with more consideration of leaner cuts. Especially since it was harder to grasp with chopsticks drenched in this too sweet and very sticky honey sauce.

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Typically the rice dish comes last, as a way to guarantee that everyone leaves full and content. However I was happy to have earlier, to be able to enjoy it with the pork chop above. The rice made a great base, helpful in toning down the over flavouring. “Cindy’s rice” was prepared with dried shrimp, dried scallop, Chinese sausage, and egg. It was light and fluffy, having been wok fried in oil on high heat.

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The “Steamed whole fish with soy sauce” was another whole and impressive presentation. The red snapper was served head to tail, and meant to be carved at the table. However in my need to take a photo, I sent the sever away before she was able to cut the fish, only for her to forget and never come back. So my father took over the carving, deboning the spine clumsily with communal fork and knife. The fish was light and extra tender drenched in the clear broth. It had a mild favour best enjoyed in small bites, as it. Everyone passed on the eyeballs and the cheeks, though both are known as delicacies.

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They forgot the chicken, and my family noticed. This was the whole reason we went with this set menu, and the only thing they were banking on my partner being able to have. We had to inquire about it with several staff members. One thought we wanted chicken to go. Another attempted to persuade us to have it packed to go, in order to free up our table. However we insisted on having it here and now. Despite the rest of us being full, up to this point my partner only tasted and didn’t really eat anything. This was described to him has fried chicken. So to see it arrive without golden brown batter confused him. This was a flash fried chicken, where the skin was the only thing to get the crispy brown treatment, rendering the meat beneath it white and juicy. The chicken’s feet and face was left out, so for him this was a most attractive looking plate of the night. A neatly assembled chopping of dark and white meat with some crispy starch chips on top for crunch. He ate two pieces of chicken, only to crave for some gravy with it. It lacked flavour and moisture that a bowl of gravy would have easily rectified.

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The unlisted dessert with the common “Red bean” soup. Most Chinese desserts aren’t sweet or overly sweet. The soup included orange zest. Orange is a popular flavour to end on as it cleanses the palette. I skimmed the top for the sugary soup, trying to avoid the beans due to their grainy texture. The soup wasn’t too sweet and the thicker syrup-like consistency was a nice one to sip on. But the true highlight of the dessert was the bonus of a glutinous rice ball filled with black sesame paste bobbing in the middle. It was the best part with its chewy texture and creamy centre.

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As a parting gift, along with the bill, we were given a full “Nian Gao”. This is a cake traditionally consumed during Chinese New Year, with the same intention and affection as a Christmas fruit cake. Its name literally translates to “year cake”. It is prepared from glutinous rice and considered good luck to eat during this time. “Nian gao” is a homonym for “higher year”, and as such, eating it symbolizes the raising of oneself in each coming year. Its texture is chewy and sticky and it really doesn’t have much taste. Traditionally my mother coats it in egg and pan fries it for some crunch and additional flavour. Truth be told is enjoyed more for its tradition and symbolism.

For his efforts my partner also enjoyed in the long practiced tradition of showing respect to your elders and wishing them a happy new year in exchange for red pockets. Red and gold foiled envelopes filled with money, given by parents and older relatives to the younger generation and those still unmarried.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I wouldn’t necessarily come back nor would I be a posed to coming back. I find most Chinese seafood restaurants the same, and at the end of the day, as I don’t pay for the meal, I don’t get a say in where we go. A good enough place to celebrate Chinese New Year at, although anywhere else would be just as suitable. Happy year of the monkey! Don’t deny your cravings.

 

CINDY’S PALACE
1796 Nanaimo St, Vancouver BC
604-253-6183
cindyspalace.ca
Cindys Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Midam

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I have visited once before for dessert, and having loved their sweet rice cakes, wanted to return for a full meal. This time around, I was most curious to explore their savoury rice cakes.

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I most iconically remember this as the Korean restaurant with a basketball theme. Restaurant with themes are common, I just didn’t see the connection between theirs and the cuisine. It was a very unique theme that didn’t exactly match the furniture or the Korean pop-love songs playing over head. It was like the owner had all this stuff and ran out of space in his own house so decided to “store” it here. It at least made for some great writing material and conversation notes. And they were at least consistent with it throughout the entire restaurant. Two full sized regular basketball nets, two full rows of ball caps with various team logos, collectable action figures in show cases, signed jerseys, and neon coloured high tops. They even paid homage to the departed Vancouver Grizzlies with a snazzy wall decal.

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It was great for fans of Kobe Bryant, as you were greeted by his life size cut out at the entrance, while waiting to be seated. He came with his own standing showcase of Lakers merchandise, including a mini shrine and head phones in purple and yellow.

But the owner must be a huge Michael Jordan fan. Number 23’s likeness and brand graced every wall. His face could be seen stimuli get in abstract paintings, serious in life-like portraits, and accurate in action figures. There was also plenty of signed memorabilia and unworn “Jordan’s” shoes.

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This love to “be like mike” even carried in to the washroom. The men’s stall was marked with “NBA” and the women’s “WNBA”. The former was a shrine to Michael Jordan with commemorative game ball mounted on to the toilet’s tank, posters of Jordan facing the can, and a Chicago Bulls light switch decal and logo sticker on the toilet’s seat cover.

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I didn’t realize there was a difference between the men and women’s single stall washroom and used the men’s by mistake. Only to later pass by the women’s and note the less enthusiastic decoration of the stall. No women basketball super star shrine, no WNBA team memorabilia. Just a basketball on top of the toilet tank and a blown up photo of a little girl holding a basketball, like wall paper.

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The lone young man serving the diners even dressed to match the theme. Working the room in his own ball cap and high top sneakers. He was incredibly attentive, checking in on us often, with or without us signalling our need for service and help. A few secluded tables included a red call button, like ours. Which was great considering that the restaurant was set up with cubicle walls. It created some privacy, but left us without a view of the rest for the restaurant.

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Chilled water was served in metal carafe dripping with condensation. The hot tea came in a thermos to keep warm and to pour yourself. It all matched the metal dishware with metal utensils we were given.

The menu came with plenty of photos making it easy to order off of, especially if you are unfamiliar with the cuisine. I steered towards the regular Korean classics, but redirected myself to their specialties that included ricecake.

They had some interesting drinks, including herbal bitter teas. Like the “Jujube and yungji mushroom tea” that has been boiled for hours. It is believed to cleanse impure elements in the body and helps to improve the constitution. When I inquired about it with our server, he was honest in telling me that it was bitter and that we won’t enjoy it. He said it was for “old people”.

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I turned my attention to the “Purple sweet potato latte”. When I asked about this one he was again honest. He has never tried it, but voched that others have and have liked it. I was disappointed by the colour and the lack of milk art. I wished it a deeper purple like the concentrated hue at the bottom of the cup. It was a smooth drink, despite the occasional fibre filtered between my teeth. You definitely got the yam flavour in a nice mild and milky tone.

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My guest came recently and recommend the “marinated beef rib patty wrapped in rice cake bento box”, that she had previously. She thought it was very unique considering it was a beef stuffed ricecake. That was the selling point for me too. It was an interesting combination that just worked. The salty garlic sauce just tied the meat, cabbage, rice cake, and purple rice together in a way I can’t explain. Even the chewy gummy texture of the rice cake and the gritty minced texture of the beef went together. It was just a little dry, but the sauce was helpful. The box was served with a green side salad, cucumbers in a light vinaigrette, spicy kimchi, purple rice, and a bowl of miso soup. Each side acted as a great break in between bites, to keep the meal interesting. The salad was lightly dressed for some taste. The miso was over salty. And the kimchi added some spice. All together it grew on you the more you ate from I.

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My guest went for the “Spicy rice cake soup”. A bright red broth with bean thread noodles, rope-like vegetable, egg, ricecake slices, seaweed, and green onion. It was as spicy as she wanted, but was still missing some vegetables or tofu to balance out all the starch and chew. Though mid way through the portion, it got so hot that my guest had to eat her spicy noodles with the bowl of rice it came with. I watched her exhaling heavily from the heat and being content with what she felt on her tongue. She said it was flavourful with a good amount of spice.

There were so many delicious rice cake desserts to choose from, luckily my guest’s dietary restrictions narrowed our choices down. They had rice cake over shaved ice, rice cake in an ice cream parfait, grilled rice cake, fried rice cake, and even rice cake in cinnamon and sugar mimicking a churro with a side of ice cream. We did order the latter, but they must have forgotten, because it took so long to come that we ended up cancelling it.

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Though we were more than satisfied sharing the green “Ricecake made from glutinous brown rice and mugwort”. “Mugwort” is a common name for several species of aromatic plants, it is used medicinally and to flavour food like an herb. The rice cake was deep fried and coated with red bean flour and maple syrup. It was a light flavour accented with the syrup and powder. I enjoyed it most for its gummy texture. It was as fun to eat and tasted good. A mish-mash of flavours that just worked. Sweet syrup, crispy eggy batter, and sticky cake. I passed on the mashed and grainy red bean on top. It added unnecessary sweetness, and clashed with the thin syrup.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My original review of the place holds true. I enjoyed my visit today as I did during my first. If anything, I was more excited for my next visit. I wanted to try more savoury and sweet ricecake dishes, as well as their take on classic Korean dishes. The desserts are unique and worth going through the list to try. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

MIDAM
4501 North Road, Burnaby BC, V3N 4R7
604-568-5357
Midam Cafe & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

West Restaurant + Bar

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With sister restaurants like Robson Street’s “CinCin” and Whistler’s “Araxi” I went in to this one excited. Finer dining on South Granville, but first you have to find it.

On a block with various boutiques and high end window displays, it is easy to walk by, and miss their simple frosted glass. They were a door-in-the-wall that could be mistaken for the door to an apartment complex or lobby. Although it is easier to located them in the dark, when their sign and awning glows white their name in light.

Stepping in, you are immediately greeted at the door and offered to have your coat, scarf, and umbrellas checked in. We were a group of 12 and had two attendants doing just that, as today’s weather required all three. In exchange you are given a coat check ticket.

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The hostess directed us towards our table. We passed by the bar on one side, and a row of glowing glass tubes on the other. The rods stood side by side at varying lengths. Round tipped bubbles of light encased in a gel coating. Like the rest of the art in the restaurant, it was unique, but you didn’t quite know what to make of it. The bar was more practical. It included a handsome shelf of wine bottles that ran the expanse of the entire serving counter; with additional bottles in a cooler, to be served at its optimal temperature. The lone bartender required a rolling library ladder to access the bottle over the height of your standard bar.

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They were able to accommodate our group of 12 with a lengthy table by the kitchen. It was craved and decorated etched marble. Our booth seats were backed by glass panels looking into their back of house. I peaked in, like a hungry child looking longingly into the window of a gingerbread house. A look that would have been better taken enroute to the washroom. This angle allowed you to grab a glance at their stainless steel and sparkling white operation in awe. Pass the window counter and the dangling heat lamps, noting all the chefs in full white. Our seats also allowed us to breath in the scent of their cooking. I most enjoyed the one of melted butter over hot heat.

The decor was a walk through of modern art. Reflective squiggles on the ceiling, twisted in curls like a maze. Velvet printed wallpaper in a murky green with specks of orange. And tactile paint splotches on a canvas, like a purposeful-random array of colour, greeting you at the door. All together I felt it took away from the elegance of the place. It made things busier than they needed it to be. Where simple plates are best paired with simple decor. Though in hindsight this was very telling of their cuisine. It spoke to their need to add excess when none was needed, only to muddy the intended subject in doing so.

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Given the bar, it was necessary to sample from it with some cocktails. A margarita with fresh lime juice on the rocks and an old fashion with cherry and carved orange peel.

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The menu mentioned the breads being baked fresh and served shortly after. It was a basket of small rounds in various grains and seeds. They were accompanied by a dish of light oil and some creamy artisanal butter. I was impressed that the complimentary basket of bread came with complimentary refills.

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We were further delighted with an amuse bouche presented in a shot glass. It reminded me of moss in a terrarium. This was a single bite hors d’oeuvre of salmon and roasted cauliflower in a truffle vinaigrette. It was surprising how much flavour was packed into this little morsel, the salmon being the most prominent note. I would have liked more of the promised truffle flavour.

The menu was quite extensive from appetizers being separated by “hot” and “cold”, and entrees between “land” and “sea”. If you couldn’t decide, they had a tasting menu of 7 courses, with its price dependent on your choice of “land”, “sea”, or “vegetarian”. Looking for less variety, a smaller tasting of 3 courses called “pre theatre” was available. And it is intended as its name suggested: the dinner before a movie or a show. Where you had the option of enjoying the dessert course before or after the performance, so long as you are seated before 6pm.

Between our group of 12 we tried 8 different entrees, and were only missing two of the ten options: the tarragon crusted sturgeon and the mushroom vegetarian dish.

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Three people ordered the salmon. This was a “Wild B.C. Salmon” in a black pepper glaze, with a creamy lemon spaetzle, radish, and a dill emulsion. “Spaetzle” is a kind of soft egg noodle, it looks like scrabbled eggs with a similar texture, but here more moist. Having three diners try the fish we deduced that it wasn’t consistent. The experience varies to the point that one of the three felt sick with stomach pains shortly after finish. The other two loved what they had. The fish’s skin was declared a revelation, and it’s sauce was even sopped clean off the plate using a piece of bread.

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Two ordered the “Haida gwaii sablefish” and were impressed with the fish, but were left scratching their heads when it came to the sides. The sablefish was seasoned with a three vinegar glaze, and served with daikon and marinaded mushroom; all in a dashi broth. The broth came separate in a carafe, and was poured right before those who ordered it. This was to ensure the large squares or nori kept crisp. The sheets umbrella-ing the fish gave it a salty tang and a smokey quality. The sablefish itself was delicious and flakey, but the sides that accompanied it were not dynamic enough to compete. They didn’t add to the dish’s texture or to the enjoyment of dining. The plate needed something crunchy, or at least a sturdier and starchier chew. More depth in a rich side or heavier sauce. The plate as a whole was too light and too cohesive in its one note texture.

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Similarly, the butter braised “Northern ling cod” left you wanting more in terms of texture. It was listed as being served with honey mussels and chorizo, in a champagne vinaigrette. So the mound of lentils was a surprise and not necessary. In fact it’s grainy texture took away from the buttery fish.

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Anything with an egg yolk is a win, even if it’s over fried, as was the case with the “Duo of Fraser valley pork”. This was braised pork cheek and crispy pork belly served with Swiss chard, in a bone broth. The egg was fried to a crisp, and the Swiss chard too tough to cut into and too fibrous to chew through, but in contrast the meat was perfect. Both selections were fattier cuts that almost melted, with the meat easily flaking apart.

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The “Smoked yarrow meadows duck breast” came with celeriac and Brussels sprouts, in a blood orange jus. The duck meat was the perfect blend of rich and fatty. Similarly, it’s sauce was a little of everything. Sweet, salt, and tart from the hint of plum.

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The 5oz “AAA Alberta flatiron steak” was just the perfect amount, any more and my guest that enjoyed it, would have been able to finish it. It was a perfectly round medallion served with confit potatoes, port shallots, and bone marrow butter. All the three other cuts of beef came with the same sides as well. The steak was cooked to a perfect pinky medium rare. Naturally juicy with a caramelized sauce that gave the plate some sweetness.

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The “Farmcrest organic chicken breast” was all meat. A thorough chunk of white chicken breast without any fat or sinew. Yet it was still tender, juicy, and surprisingly easy to cut in to. It was served with a flavourful porcini mushroom gnocchi, with wild mushrooms in a balsamic jus. There was even some potato chunks that surprised and delighted in a few bites.

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I often find myself ordering what others do not as it helps for more fulsome blog posts. It requires me ordering last, and maybe something I wouldn’t otherwise consider. Today my method had me trying lamb neck for the first time. I didn’t even know there was meat on the lamb’s neck to be eaten. So was surprised by this large chunk of meat before me, and then further surprised to see that it was without bones. According to one of my guests who has had interactions with a professional lamb breeder, the neck meat is apparently the most tender. After taking a cautious bite, then jumping in with knife and fork, I could see that. The meat was gamey and deep with its herbed crust. The braised neck came wilted kale, sunchokes slices, and purée, in a smoked carrot sauce. The vegetable made a great pair to the tender meat. It added some great chew in the kale leaves and starchy with the thin slices of sunchokes. I mistook the latter for potato, as it tasted like it and was just as good.

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We ordered a few side servings of their “Roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon”. It’s container was darling, brought over with its lid on and then removed at the table. I don’t know why, but even after reading the description I imagined the sprouts fried and seasoned with Parmesan cheese. Therefore these fell flat with their rubbery texture and lack of flavour. Where was the bacon?

I appreciated the formality of having all the utensils and drinks placed on and served from a small wooden tray, course by course. Like everything they strived for, it was in the details. The servers were pretty consistent. Empty plates were removed quick. And when our food came, three individuals brought all they could to the group all at once. The only moment marring the experience was when the front door opened and cold air and cigarette smoke filtered in to the restaurant, and our nostrils as we ate.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Everyone agreed and acknowledged the effort put into each dish and the vibrancy in construction of it. Yet we were split in half over flavour and satisfaction. Half of
us loving our plate, half of us able to point out what distracted from it. Though as a group, we all agreed it was priced a little steep for what it was. Given the tag we expected more from quality and conception. This is definitely great meal if you aren’t paying; though if you are, you may walk out with regret and an empty wallet. I wouldn’t be opposed to visiting their bar for a drink after work. Shame, they don’t have a Happy Hour menu to take advantage of. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

WEST
2881 Granville Street, Vancouver BC
604-738-8938
westrestaurant.com
West Restaurant + Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

St. Street Grill

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There is a certain pressure when a friend refers to you a restaurant that they love and then gift you a certificate to enjoy it. You almost feel obligated to love it by proxy, and enjoy it cause your meal is basically paid for. There is even more pressure when you are a blogger and know that they will be reading your work and what you write could affect your relationship in the future. Luckily I need not exaggerate or embellish, their love of this establishment was founded, and I enjoyed myself as much as they do each and every time they go. They visit at least once a month and by coincidence we found ourselves doing so together at the same time today.

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Judging it by its exterior, it might not be a restaurant I regularly gravitate towards. First of all the location is out of the way for me; and second of all, the interior is a little out there. Looking through the window, it was like we were staring at a darkroom. Red bulbs shining red light over decor that looked like theatre propping, or goods for sale at an antique store. Each window framing a rich scene of drapery, crystal, and bobbles. As a result we drove past it not realizing what we had missed it. Their name wasn’t in lights and their awning was dark, it didn’t look like a restaurant. But I guess the red lights can be plenty eye catching driving by.

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Not surprising it was slow on a Monday evening. We were the only other table of three seated during our stay. Not that we were complaining, it felt like we had the place to ourselves and we certainly had all the attention from the lone server. She only paused her time with us to receive my friends in and show them to “their” table. Regulars get treated like a visiting friend. A designated seat, a personalized greeting, and acknowledgment of conversations had in the past.

We were all served by one of the owners. A very friendly women who seemed genuinely happy to be doing what she was. She was welcoming when she received us and seemed to beam with pride when we asked her questions about her restaurant and took interest in her chef. She checked in often and was honest about her menu. She warned me when servings were small and suggested items that she thought I would like. She was attentive and caring. Truly I felt welcomed and comfortable in a larger, quieter, emptier restaurant because of her.

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The setting can be best described as eclectic-cabert. Wall to ceiling of stuff. Paintings and frames ajared above the rafters, mirrors embellished in gold, white stone busts, velvet cloth drapes, curtains hung on rods, beaded chandeliers, and various works of art. There was no space left uncovered, an assortment of worldly objects gathered through travel. And here you existed, small within it, surrounded by smooth jazz and whispered conversation.

The menu was surprising. It all sounded great, but I hate to say I was apprehensive to order much of it. This was given their location and the traffic today, I was skeptical. However, I should have taken my benefactor’s recommendation of the place to heart, and ordered to my own heart’s content. Their menu covered it all from fresh salads to hearty pastas, rich appetizers, filing entrees, and decadent desserts.

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A complimentary basket of white and brown baguette slices with butter. I am more partial to bread being served being warm and soft, so that the butter just melts when you spread it on.

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I have been carbo-loading as of late and my body was telling me that I needed some vegetables. And after reading the description of their “Smoked bocconcini salad”, it seemed like the one to get. This tower was constructed out of marinated beets, vine ripened tomato, basil, and smoked bocconcini mozzarella. Coated in basil scented olive oil. It delivered on flavour as well as visual display. It was a stunning plate full of fresh ingredients paired with a quality oil. The diced beets were a little salty in its pickling, a heavy contrast to the the sweetest tomato.

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Being more hungry, my partner went for the “New York (AAA)” and wasn’t disappointed. This was a herb rubbed and char grilled striploin, with a herb red wine demi. To our delight it came with a bevy of vegetables, all hidden under the slab of medium rare steak. They didn’t even asked us how we liked our steak prepared, it just came with the perfect centre of pink. The potatoes were artistically carved and well seasoned. There were beets chopped in half, baby carrots peeled, and broccolini in lengthy stems. This was a very satisfying well rounded plate.

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“Slow roasted pork shank” in a spiced caramel glaze. They were generous in their portions.

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“Prawn and Bay scallop” with angel hair pasta in a tomato and saffron sauce.

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Overall we felt the decor took away from the food at times, as everything wore a tint of red, it soured my dining experience a little as a visual diner. I eat with eyes before I taste with my tongue. Photos with and without light.

Also, given the cuisine, the food would have been better paired with a more modern setting. In a place like this I would expect coffee and teas, cocktails and small plates. Something funky and fun to match the walls. As a result, it took away from the food and the food distracted from the setting. I wanted them as two different restaurants, and they certainly could have done it, given the space they possessed. A laid back lounge and a fine dining restaurant.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I didn’t know what to expect walking in. But looks can be deceiving, and as a result this was certainly can be classified as a hidden gem. The decor gives diners lots to converse over and the food much to remember. It is as great of a place to eat, as it is one to lounge within. I don’t do much dining in the Port Moody Area, but if they are all like this, I should start. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ST. STREET GRILL
2510 St. John’s Street, Port Moody BC,
V3H 2B4
604-937-7477
Saint Street Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yew Bar

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Our first visit to “Yew” was only very recently. And it was so great that we had to come back again. But this time for “Dine Out”, with a menu that we couldn’t normally afford. This is the spot I would recommend for a little indulgence, and with their $40 menu, I got to do just that, with drinks.

The only reservation we could grab was at 8:30pm. So decided to go a little early and enjoy the handsome bar that we didn’t get to last time. However when we got there at 8pm they were able to seat us right away.

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Our table for two had us seated across from the kitchen. Overlooking its operations and the terminal in which all orders were punched in on. It was a heavy trafficked area, which meant service was only an arm wave away.

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We started our night with a bottle of wine. It earned us an ice bucket on a pedestal and our server refilling our glass on the regular.

The Dine Out menu was mostly meat and vegetable dishes, but for dollars more you could add shrimp, scallop, and lobster to your plate. This is the seafood their establishment is known for. However we skipped doing so in order to take advantage of their full Dine Out experience: a three course meal for just $40. We would later get our seafood fix another way.

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The “Warm sea salt baked beets” included pomegranate, pistachio, Macedonian feta, and charred black pepper. The beets were delicious and filling, tender and slightly sweet. The nuts added some crunch, and the cheese some salt. This was a great way to get your veggies in.

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“Creamy PEI mussel and clam chowder” with fennel pollen and maple syrup. The soup was sweet with the use of corn kernels along with the listed maple syrup. The chowder was creamy but light, not greasy, and easy to sip spoon after spoon. The pieces of cooked mussel and diced clam were nice to scoop up and chew through. I could have used some bread or crackers to add some crunch and texture. Luckily we had enough in the complimentary bread basket.

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It was nice to have this despite us ordering off the Dine Out Menu. A basket of Nori (seaweed) and lemon biscuits, served with a side butter. You get the saltiness of seaweed, but not its fishy flavour. Similarly the citrus of the lemon biscuits really came though.

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“Crispy paradise ranch pork belly” with a maple pecan and pear caramel, and winter squash. It looked great, but was very bland. It was like they passed on seasoning with salt. But that was easy to remedy with multiple pushes of salt from the table shaker. The meat was tender, and its fat luscious, it was a good contrast to the soften vegetables and the sour and crisp pickled squash. I eventually enjoyed my plate, finding the strip of bacon its saving grace. My guess on the other hand left hers half eaten.

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The “Golden miso braised short ribs” was also bland, but salt here was not enough to rejuvenate the plate. The hunk of meat came with a composition of mushrooms, some Parmesan jus, and a sesame seed crumble. None of it helped to add some much needed flavour. The meat was hearty, the mushrooms earthy. It was a heavy plate with nothing to make it exciting. It was literally boring to eat. It was a shame that our server didn’t make note of my guest leaving her plate practically untouched, and had no reaction when I told him it lacked flavour. She was still hungry, that we eventually had to order more food later.

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The “Lemon drop” was an orange almond cake with lemon curd and a Victorian gin jelly. It was the cake version of a lemon meringue pie in zesty flavour and fluffy topping. Not too sweet, it is great for those who prefer a more subtle dessert. It paired well with our cocktails below and would do just as well with a cup of tea.

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The “Candied grapefruit cake” was made with grapefruit, fennel, a vanilla butter cake, candied grapefruit, and mascarpone cream. It was a dense and dry cupcake. It too wasn’t very sweet, more spicy with a peppery note. I would also recommend this, for those who don’t like sweets. But in comparison to the last dessert, it just wasn’t appetizing.

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We spent a total of 4 hours at the restaurant and shut the place down. After 10pm their dining room was closed and we were moved into their lounge area. It was just passed the bar, tucked away in a corner up front. Here there were high top tables and spacious booths. We earned ourselves the largest booth supported by many pillows and throw cushions. Behind us was their wine cellar. You could see all the bottles of wine on shelves, through the glass windows.

Here we had an intermission from eating with some drinking, switching from wine to cocktails. Their drinks menu was as extensive as it was unique. A multi paged offering listing drink by title then description, before ingredients. A “built” drink or one that was “stirred”, there was a note if it had ice, and what it’s flavour notes were: refreshing, aromatic, tropical, or rich.

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They were especially great with improvisation. The bartender was able to take a flavour or description and run with it. Like “Tom’s Negroni”, which my guest took in suggestion of our server. It’s main alcohol is gin, vermouth, and Campari. I had the “Verona coffee” made with lemon hart spiced rum, maple and sarsaparilla, SOS cold brew coffee, sweet milk, Denman “Asian spiced” bitters, and plum and root beer bitters.

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My guest took another recommendation in the “Spicy lover”. I once again kept with the menu had had their Maui inspired “valley isle sour” made with citadelle, campari, green chartreuse, lillet, lime, red flowers, and clingstone peach bitters. I was disappointed that the cocktail didn’t actually include flowers.

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So for my next drink I literally ordered a “beautiful” one. What came was vodka based in a very unique stain glass martini glass. This was “Benji’s diamond”, named after their head bartender.

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Mid way through our after dinner drinks we grew hungry, so looked to order some more food. Our impulse order was their “lounge fries” prepared with Parmesan, and truffle oil. But at the literal last minute we cancelled our request for the promise of more food. When we called our server over he was willing to change our order, and ended up turning away the young lady that brought the fries we had originally asked for, shortly after. This was a true testament of their fine customer first service. Their willingness to put us as the guest first. We were not penalized for our impulsive order or made to feel bad for changing it. He was just happy to comply, doing so with an understanding smile.

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Instead we got the “tackle box”, a choose your own adventure of chilled seafood served with some crisp crackers. It was so good the first time we tried it that we wanted it again. The portions were healthy and its price fair. You choose between five or seven items from a list of eight. The only difference tonight from our visit before was the dish ware being used, and our choice of the clam salad over the steamed crab.

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We selected what we didn’t want, as it was easier. My guest doesn’t take raw shellfish so we passed on the mussels and oysters. We had the Manila and savoury clam salad, raw abalone tuna, poached selva prawns, steamed lobster, and the we wai kai scallops. It was just as good and just as fresh as we had remembered it. Best with the crispy crackers.

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And when we ran out, our server got us a basket more, even after we had paid and the kitchen was closed.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Their Dine Out menu was only okay. But it was their default seafood options coupled with exemplary service that had us singing their praises yet again. They wouldn’t be my first choice for red meat or desserts, but anytime for seafood. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

YEW BAR
791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC, V6C 2T4
604-692-4939 (4YEW)
yewseafood.com
YEW Bar - Four Seasons Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cactus Club Cafe Yaletown

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When looking to seat a party of 60, there is much to consider and lots of work to put in to the organization of it. Not many restaurants can host a gathering this size or would even consider taking on such an endeavour. So when we started looking through our options, we naturally gravitated towards larger chain restaurants that had the staff and experience behind them. “Cactus Club” was the obvious choice; homegrown and with locations in every major Vancouver area. And the “Cactus Club” in Yaletown accommodated all of our wants, with transit nearby, and a patio our group could claim as our own.

We were given a budget and as luck would have it, our gathering coincided with the last day of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival. Ordering from this shortened menu at $30 for three courses kept us within our budget, made sure everyone was full, and also allowed the kitchen to prepare accordingly to our needs. Each guest was able to choose from a condensed list of starters, entrees, and dessert. We were in continuous talks with their general manager, adding in diners and asking for substitutions for those with dietary restrictions, and through it all, he was patient and understanding. We managed to email him most of our orders ahead of time and the names of all those with allergies so that they could be better prepared for the night of.

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I had arrived early to scope out the area and take my uninterrupted setting photos. We were given the entire length of the patio and allowed to move tables as we saw fit. Two top and fours became six and eights. It was first come first serve and everyone filtering in sought out a chair. They were told to pick a spot and commit, as their bill would be attached to their seat. Our little bubble in plastic was kept warm with heat lamps, dry with a plastic tarp, and gave those passing by a zoo-like look at us from the cobblestone sidewalk. It would have been perfect if we just had some music playing overhead. But sadly a bylaw stated that they were not allowed music on the patio due to residential living.

During my wait for the others to arrive, I was impressed to see the general manger take the servers through a run down of the night. How we would have our own team to tend to us: a manager and three servers. How they planned to split up the patio into three manageable sections. How they were staggering the ordering process so the kitchen could keep up and keep the plates warm. And the entire organization they would implement to ensure us a great night. One they would deliver on and one they would go over and beyond to do.

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With over 60 people in attendance there was the ability to taste the entire menu and the substitutions some were able to make due to dietary restrictions: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and nut allergies.

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“Caesar salad” with crisp romaine, Parmesan and black pepper croutons, and grana padano; in a yogurt and herb dressing. Well dressed and creamy.

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“Organic Greens” with feta and almonds, in a lemon-thyme vinaigrette. Light and refreshing with the citrus.

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“Ravioli + prawn duo”. Butternut squash and mascarpone filled ravioli in a truffle butter sauce. Topped with jumbo prawns, pine nuts, and crispy sage. Creamy filling hidden within the pocket of a tender pasta square.

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A few of us wanted the ravioli but not the prawns; they were nice enough to give us the prawns on the side. Taking the time to even plate them as they would appear on top of the raviolis.

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“Hunter chicken” in a shiitake, portobello, button, and crimini mushroom demi-glacé. Paired with Yukon gold potatoes and green beans.

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“Soy-Dijon salmon”. Ocean wise Lois lake steelhead, whole grain barley, snap peas, shiitake mushroom, grape tomato, and cilantro; in a soy butter sauce.

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“Prawn spaghettini” in a slow roasted tomato sauce, with chilies and fresh herbs. Severed in two with butter and herb crostini. After the taste of ravioli I wanted more pasta and found satisfaction in this. Chewy noodles with a light tomato flavour, and more of their delicious prawns.

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The “Quinoa salad” was one of the vegetarian substitutions. It came with quinoa, arugula, feta, snap peas, raisins, capers, grape tomatoes, red peppers, and spicy pecans; all in a sherry vinaigrette. The spicy nuts were a surprise and hard to get past for those who didn’t like such heat in their salad.

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The “garden burger” was the other vegetarian option made available to us. It was a veggie patty with sautéed mushrooms, aged cheddar, red relish, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard; between two buns.

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A couple of the guests stepped out of Dine Out for just a casual plate of “Chicken tenders”; panko-breaded chicken and sea salted fries, with a honey mustard dip.

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The set dessert for the Dine Out menu was their “Peanut butter crunch bar”. It was prepared with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, and crunchy chocolate pearls. Chocolate and peanut butter are a winning combination. And when served with crispy bites and melty ice cream, it has everything you are looking for in a fulfilling dessert. However the soup spoons we were given to eat this with did make it less enjoyable. It is hard to lick a spoon clean if it barely fits in your mouth.

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The “Key lime pie” with freshly squeezed key limes, a graham cracker crust, and hand whipped cream was the substitution for those with peanut allergies. It was equally as amazing as the peanut-full bar above. Fluffy cream, luscious cheese, and a buttery crumble crust.

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For the vegan in our group, the restaurant was kind enough to go out and buy fresh fruits in anticipation of her and a vegan dessert course. And this wasn’t just a bowl of apple and orange chunks, but a wonderful assortment of berries and tropical fruits. Our vegan was touched by the attention and happy for the ability to enjoy dessert with the others.

The bill for food might not have surpassed $1500, but with all the cocktails, pints, and shots everyone had, we definitely spent enough to earn us our sectioned off space. Below is the collection of drinks I personally took in.

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The “Signature Caesar” made with Smirnoff vodka, their signature blend of spices, and clamato juice. It is finalized with a borettane onion, bocconcini, vermouth soaked olive and a peruvian pepper.

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“The Bellini” is a fan favourite, sweet and easy to drink in. Made with peach schnapps, champagne, Bacardi white rum, and sangria.

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The simple “gin and tonic”.

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The “Whiskey Sour” is a classic cocktail. This version is made with Jack Daniel’s honey, angostura bitters, fresh lemon and lime, and shaken with egg whites.

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The iconic “Moscow mule” is showy in its traditional copper cup. Made with Smirnoff vodka, freshly squeezed lime, and ginger beer. It is great as an after dinner drink with the ginger to settle the stomach.

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A feature I really like was in their washrooms. Each had what they called an “exotic” flush. It allowed you to step on a button on the ground to flush, instead of using your fingers to push a button or foot to flip a switch. It is not only convenient, but much more sanitary.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
When in search of a venue to accommodate a large group, with the ability to cater to all their dietary needs, the Cactus Club at Yaletown did not disappoint. It was a great setting with a great group of people, making for an amazing night. Everyone left happy with bellies full. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

CACTUS CLUB YALETOWN
357 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1R2
604-685-8070
cactusclubcafe.com
Cactus Club Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bistro Sakana

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After the success of my last “Dine Out” adventure. I decided to give the $40 menu at “Bistro Sakana” a try. They specialize in Japanese fusion on small plates. It has all been $30 menus up to now. The thinking is, I am paying more for better ingredients, so it should be a better meal, right? I at least hope it tasted as such. When reviewing their menu online I noted there was not much choice, but that their set entree sampled a few of their signature dishes and they sounded appealing. I had hoped this would give me a true taste of what a regular meal with them is like.

Located in Yaletown, parking was a challenge and costly, transit would be the recommended mode of transportation here. They were cleverly located across the street from the popular, “Minami”, which is also a Japanese fusion restaurant. In case you didn’t have a reservation and couldn’t wait for a table there, “Bistro Sakana” across the way served as a great second choice. Adjacent competition can sometimes be a great way for a restaurant to get some notoriety.

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Like many of the restaurants in the area, their patio was out front, covered and heated with lamps for the winter season. It allowed more seating, given their smaller interior. They saved additional space by sharing washrooms with their neighbouring Italian restaurant. A key tagged on to the end of a wooden spoon, awaited those who needed it. You grab it out from a woven bowl by the door and headed out into the cold. Out back into the main building. There, in the hall were single stalls for both restaurant customers to use.

We were seated indoors, but the patio looked lovely as well. With the back drop of the night and rain drops on plastic, it was like you were like encased in a bubble. A wood floor patio with matching wooden chairs and tables, made alive with bamboo stalks and leafy green foliage. The squared lamps hanging from chains gave you just a taste of Asian culture, just as their cuisine did.

Inside, the room was separated between the seating area and the sushi and drink bar, opposite it. The bar was well lit to highlight their various bottles of sake and Japanese whiskeys. A lone chef in a white coat and matching hat kept his head down, dutifully working for the duration of our stay. He was painstakingly taking the time to remove all the white off the grapefruit slices, the ones that were used in our appetizers. This was a good indication of where your money went during this meal. We got your money’s worth in the workmanship of everything we were to have.

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Given the cramped quarters in the dining area, it was smart to not take up additional real estate with unnecessarily bobbles or propping furniture. They simply occupied the white space by featuring Asian cinema via projection across the wall. We weren’t able to follow it with no subtitles or audio, it was merely to fill the otherwise blank space.

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Coming in knowing this would be small plates, one of my guests preemptively ordered an appetizer portion of “Chicken karaage”. It was a great introduction to the quality of plates to come. Truly some of the best fried anything we have ever had. The chicken was well cooked and tender, together with the breading it all tasted very fresh. You couldn’t tell that at one point, they sat drenched in oil. And if it weren’t for the crispy skin, you didn’t know that it was even fried. They must have used a fresh batch of oil just for this bowl. It was finalized with a nice sprinkle of salt and pepper, and you didn’t need anything more.

For the actual dine out meal you only had a choice between their two starters. Most of us went for the hamachi; it seemed like the better deal. The meal already read like it wouldn’t be enough to eat, so I personally went with what sounded like more food. Though I tend to do this just as a rule of “more bang for your buck”.

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“Ginger citrus hamachi”. Fresh yellowtail sashimi layered with juicy grapefruit sections, and drizzled with a zesty ginger balsamic vinaigrette. This was where the thinly sliced segments of only pink-orange grapefruit went. It perfectly accompanied the equally light fish, with its citrus note that most raw seafood went well with. The fish was no doubt the highlight of the plate. A beautifully light start to the flavours to come.

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The “Wild sockeye miso chowder” was a contrast with bold flavours and a much heavier taste. It was exactly what you expected the fusion of miso soup and clam chowder to be, but with the distinctive flavour of salmon. The soup was thick and creamy, with a generous portion of chopped vegetables and flaky fish. Slow cooked, they all easily melted under the weight of your tongue. My only issue was with the amount of oil that floated to the top. It left a film on your lips each time you took a sip.

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The entree was a non negotiable set, it sampled a few of their signature dishes. This was a beautifully curated plate, I am glad they assembled all the components together instead of bringing one element after another in procession. Just looking at it, you assumed it wouldn’t be very filling. But it was deceptively more than enough food. After the dessert a few of us were left swelling. I didn’t really feel the amount of food or what we had equated to the cost that we were asked to pay. But I am sure it related to the amount of ingredients used, the selection we had, and the work that went into it.

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Aburi, is a great example of traditional Japanese cuisine modified for North American palettes. It is raw fish slightly seared with fire from a torch, giving the fish a more palatable texture and the taste of familiarity.

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“Wild sockeye jalapeño aburi”. Wild sockeye salmon layering sushi rice that has been boxed pressed and flame torched, then topped with a fresh jalapeño slice. The salty and sour sauce is what dominated this brick of sushi. Other than that, there was not much going for it.

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“Toro Aburi”. Albacore tuna marinaded in junmai sake and white miso over sushi rice that is boxed pressed and flame torched, then topped with red chilli and fresh key lime slivers. This one we all liked better than the last. However, with it we couldn’t taste the intended charring as well. We could see the scorched marks, but not taste any of it. The fish was also hidden behind the zing of sour citrus.

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The “Caprese roll” was a bit of a mind blow. Made with fresh tomato, hotate scallop sashimi, fresh bocconcini mozzarella, and homemade shiso basil. It is all rolled up with sushi rice and nori, then lightly sautéed and plated with a rim of aged balsamic reduction and unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. This was an interesting twist: Italian flavours meets Japanese construction. It tasted like a tomato rice dish but in an easy to handle round. But this one as a whole was hard to assess. It was too rich to be sushi, completely hiding any notice of the scallop. Yet the spicy seaweed threw the fresh flavours of the tomato, herbs and cheese off. I will end it saying I finished it all, and would and could eat more.

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The “Crunchy filo scallop and prawn” was everyone’s favourite. Hotate scallop and tiger prawn wrapped in fine filo dough then deep fried. They really nailed the deep fried on this again, and earned recognition as being one of the better tempura-ed things we have had. It was all in their unique battering. The filo wounded both the scallop and prawn like a spider cocooning its prey in thin crispy strings. Both pieces were propped in a potato mash, that everyone was seen scraping clean off their plates. It came with a miso hollandaise dipping sauce and a shiso crisp.

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The “Black sesame encrusted tuna” was another interesting fusion twist. This was albacore tuna sashimi, encrusted with black sesame seeds, seared and drizzled over with a tangy yuzu sauce. We all weren’t sure if we liked it or not. The flavour was good but the texture is what confused us. The dressing was light and certainly highlighted the natural flavour of the fish. However the beaded seeds distracted from its would be light texture. It was work to chew and they got caught in between the cracks of your teeth.

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Similarly you didn’t get a choice in dessert. Just another guarantee in the “Hoji cha creme brûlée”. This was their Japanese take on a French classic. But this brûlée is flavoured with charcoal roasted green tea and as a result the bitterness of it had the dessert being not as sweet. But the layer of cracked sugar helped with that if you missed any sweetened. This was a nice lighter end to a similar themed dinner.

The only real way to appreciate this kind of food is to go in to each bite reminding yourself that this is fusion. It can’t fit in to any one cuisine type. It shouldn’t. It should challenge your taste buds and make you think about what your are consuming and consider if it works for you. It is food that makes you think, food that makes you work to enjoy it. You need to consider everything and how it comes together to appreciate such a cuisine; visually, texturally, and flavourfully.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I don’t think I would crave anything like this again, but I definitely don’t mind exploring more of it with a guest who’s ope to trying new things as myself. This was a work shop in gastronomy. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BISTRO SAKANA
1123 Mainland Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 5P2
604-633-1280
bistrosakana.com
Bistro Sakana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Yale Saloon

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Looking to cross one off the bucket list at downtown Vancouver’s newest country, rock, and BBQ destination.
I was privileged enough to attend their grand opening, and sly enough to come early to take photos. Doing so to avoid the soon to be crowded bar, seating areas, and dance floor.

Located within the Granville entertainment district, like all the other night clubs and attractions, their neon lights lit up the sky. It’s name in blue, derived from the hotel it was affiliated with; a saxophone to symbolize the regular blue performances within; an a pink pig branded with “BBQ”, for obvious reasons.

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This would be my first foot into a country bar/club, and minus the bales of hay, this is how I would expect a modern interpretation of one to be. Walking in, I was immediately impressed by the thoroughness of their theme. The servers were in dressed down “country” wear: a causal red flannel shirt and denim blue jeans. A few had bandanas, but not enough had cowboy boots and hats. They sold you on the “country” with details at the bar and the decorations on the dance floor. The main bar had longhorn bull horns presented in display. Several bottles of spirits and various bottles of wine were corralled behind wire. And rusted cans and tins, were lined up in a row above it all.

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Above the glowing red the dance floor were chandeliers shaped like wagon wheels. A texaco gas pump and a moose head stood near by. And surrounding it all l were booth seats, high top tables meant for leaning, a secondary bar, and benches to rest your tired feet. Feet tired from the line dancing, that often went on there.

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Tonight they had cheerleaders from the BC lions in. They were here to perform in celebration, and did so incorporating some line dancing moves into their regular pom pom full routine. It very appropriate given the venue. I was hoping we as the guests would be given the opportunity to fall in lines and try some group line dancing ourselves. It would have been another one to cross off on my bucket list. Guess I have a good reason to come back. Back to the only place that would offer such an opportunity.

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Their sit down dining area was located by the entrance. A step up, adjacent from the primary bar and the kitchen. From here you got a good look at their smoker. We would later get a behind the scenes look at it, as well as an exclusive tour of their kitchen. The above area was set dim, strung with small hanging bulbs of lights. Along with the television screen broadcasting old cowboy movies, it illuminated the section and made visible the cow patterned flooring underfoot. Splotches of black and white that the red leather upholstered booths and high top chairs stood on. Here, they spoke to their promise of blues music with a gallery of black and white photography. Framed photos of blues and country artists in performance against a handsome red brick wall.

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The celebration of the music continued by the dance floor, with a vinyl record collection pasted on the wooden panelled wall, like wallpaper.

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For their opening, there was a back drop with props to play out your cowboy fantasies. Dawn a straw woven cowboy hat, a red patterned bandana, and straddle a saddle propped on a stool, for a memorable photo. There were enough hats that many guests wore them to play cowboy and sheriff all night long.

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But out of everything, I was most enamoured with the mechanical bull. As soon as he and I locked eyes I knew I would mount him not once but twice tonight. And I was determined to not break a nail while I was bucking around. It was the body and head of a rotund bull, surrounded by an air filled barrier. Like a bouncy castle without the trampoline.
Monday through Wednesday they have live music. And during their weekends they turn the western on with country and rock tunes, and this mechanic saddle for some bull ridding. It is definitely a recommendation for a girls night out. There is an innuendo to the whole thing that have women turning 30 and brides celebrating stagettes flocking to such an attraction. I mean they did make it tempting to host your party here. A reserved table at no extra charge and no cover charge for all those invited, free line dancing lessons from their staff, and a free mechanical bull ride for your entire party. The birthday-bride also gets a complimentary cowboy hat in celebration. It had me contemplating when would be appropriate to have such a night out.

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Mechanical bull riding is glamourized in movies and on television, landing it on many people’s things to-do list. And the “Yale” is the only place downtown that lets you check it off. This would be my first time. A young man manned the station behind a pedestal of controls. You showed identification and signed a waver: if you get hurt, the bar is not liable. You go on at your own risk, fully aware that the whole point of the activity is to out last a jerky machine, programmed with the intention to whip you off and down by force. Hopping on is challenging if you aren’t very fit, or like me, lack upper body strength, with the ability to lift yourself up and on to the saddle. The “bull” operator was kind enough to give me a hand, or leg. On bended knee he allowed me to use his thigh as a stool. Though during the second time around, full of liquid courage and off the high of doing it once before, I was able to hop on myself. Before my first ride I enlisted his help, asking of for tips and tricks on how to out last the machine. You hold on with one hand, using both could potentially lead to you clock yourself in the face, so should the bull jerk that way. Then from there it is negotiating your balance and reacting the the machine. When you were swung one way, you have to tilt to the other, then rebalance yourself back at centre as soon as possible. This was the trickiest and not doing so soon enough is what resulted in you loosing your balance and tipping off. Extending your legs and asserting your bicep strength to hold on helped. The settings vary with a “sexy” mode for those scared to fall, but wanting a taste of the experience. “Sexy mode” is basically the machine swerving back and forth under you, like a women swaying her hips to the beat at a night club. The ride typically starts from here, then cascades to the point where it is obvious that the “bull” wants you off its back. The fall is inevitable, but just as fun as the ride itself. You are still holding on tight to the braided rope, so it is your bottom that lands on the mattress of air. Despite the exhaustion, the trembling after, or any rope burn and chafing, you immediately want to try again. To best your time, especially if it is your first. By the night’s end I had ridden it twice with a combined time of 50 seconds. I was proud, having won a prize the second time around. And proudly walking away with battle scars. Scars in the form of a bruise in my inner thigh from the thick braid putting pressure in between my legs, and the soreness I experienced the days after. Worth it, to say I have lived and done it.

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A country western bar isn’t the same without some good barbecue. And their entry into the game comes with one of the biggest smokers in Vancouver. This one was affectionately named “Gator”, by their executive chef, who shared his nickname with it. He was kind enough to give us a run down of his operation and a behind the scene look at what he loves to do day to day. He opened the stainless steel door of the smoker to reveal a slow rotating wheel of grill racks. From what I could make out, they were smoking full rack of ribs and others meats wrapped in tin foil. The smoker is stacked with logs of wood. The wood is not what cooks the meat, they are used to accent it with their scent and flavour. Hickory, cedar, cheery and pine from the Okanagan. Three hours the meat sits in brine, three hours more it sits and slow cooks in the smoker. The chef sprays the meet to keep its surface moist. This is how they make proper slow-smoked meats with their homemade rubs and sauces.

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Just past this is their kitchen. Line cooks were back here tonight prepping the appetizers that would soon be passed around to the guests. Slider buns being squirted with sauce and brisket being sliced under a heat lamp. We were gifted a taste of some of the most succulent meat I have ever had. This was quality melt in your mouth meat, made all the more tender with its pockets of fat. No sauce needed it was full of flavour. I could have eaten the whole mound with bare hands, if given the chance.

Their menu is a celebration of good meat just like the above. Barbecue platters of pulled pork, brisket, hot links, and side ribs. With all the traditional sides of course: coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and corn bread. They put their spin on this and other bar classics like soups and salad, wings, nachos, burger and sandwiches, and full entrees. A salad with corn nuts, a quinoa bowl with beans and their own smoked tomato vinaigrette, grilled cheese with BBQ chicken and caramelized onions, a chopped chicken burger with a buttermilk ranch sauce, and the ability to add smoked meat to practically anything.

Don’t mind the darkness of the food photos below. At such a setting I rather not turn on my flash and blind others. Plus it is a more accurate account of the experience. I eat the food in a darken setting and want you, the reader to experience what I do, as I do.

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“Jalapeño corn bread”. Moist nuggets, like spongy cake bites, but with the gentle sting of some spicy jalapeños to kick it up a notch.

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“Baked Mac n’ Cheese”. Elbow macaroni heavily coated in velveeta melted cheese, then breaded in cornflakes for the perfect crunch. Heaven on a stick and the perfect accompaniment to drinks. It was served with their homemade chunky ketchup-like dipping sauce, for those in need of tomato with their cheese.

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The “Pulled pork” sliders were made with slow cooked pork shoulder, crunchy slaw, and jalapeño mayo on a brioche bun. It was definitely a multiple napkin burger. They were generous with the moist maker sauce, I didn’t miss any of it when glops of it fell to the floor within my first bite. The spice was a slow burn balanced by the heaviness of the cream. The bun was good, but I would have liked less of it to better highlight the pork.

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“Side ribs”. They were easy to eat as the meat fell of the bone. Great as is and better with a thick and sweet barbecue sauce.

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And we had plenty of rye and ginger cocktails to wash it all down with. Because really, what else do you order at a country bar other than whiskey?

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I could definitely see myself back here for dinner with my partner and dancing with my girls. They are bringing something new to the area and people are eating it up. The bull riding and line dancing are ones to stop by and try, and the barbecue platter is one to lust over. For a low-key fun night, without the need to dress up, this is one that I would recommend for a good time. I have already promise my partner that I will take him back to try their barbecue, so expect a more comprehensive post on the food, soon. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

YALE SALOON
1300 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z 1M7
604-428-9253
yalesaloon.com
The Yale Saloon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato