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Month: July 2013 Page 1 of 3

Zabu Chicken

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 My guest tonight is a fussy eater, no vegetables, no seafood, and nothing weird was the directions I was given. They were to be used in guiding me to choose a place. My choices are limited. I knew he liked chicken, but I wasn’t feeling churches or the Kentucky variety. A google search led us down Robson to try Korea’s take on fried chicken, “Zabu Chicken”. What sets their chicken apart is its buttermilk batter, its soy base, and its sticky sweet honey garlic flavour. This is the base flavour for each of your chicken choices, but by adding specific spices they mix it up and create more options to order from. Spicy hot sauce makes it the “Zabu Hot”. Puffed crisp rice gives you the signature “soy sal-sal chicken”. Citrus juices makes it “lemon chicken”. And a hint if cinnamon gives you the “yang nyum chicken”. 

We played it safe and got the regular soy based chicken, the whole order. The suggested amount for two people. You can get a whole rotisserie chicken for under $8. So for over $20 we were expecting a lot more than they delivered. 
They also offer other selections at other prices, for different sizes and for different amounts. Where it gets fuzzy is there is no consistency in their classification of a portion. How are they determining the sizing? What is the difference between a medium or larger portion compared to 6, 12, or 18 pieces or 5 and 10? Asking the service staff did nothing for clarification. With all their hand gestures and the consultations with one another, nothing was made clearer. 


You are able to choose from a drum or wing, or a mix of both. No other fried chicken place allows the picking of parts at no extra cost. I liked how they called their all drum plates “Zabu sticks”. Initially I thought they were bread sticks, by name alone. But it is sides you want, you have slim pickings. Your choices: pickles, steamed rice, a chicken or garden salad, and coleslaw. Clearly you come in for the fried chicken. 

As for the restaurant’s environment, if you want authenticity you have it. Korean pop music playing over head, and Korean boy bands dancing on television screens, and Korean customers sitting and conversing in their native tongue. The servers communicate right back in the same fashion too. 

As for the chicken itself, I found nothing special in our bowl of mixed leg parts. The skin was crispy as promised, but the combinations of seasonings was nothing I haven’t tried. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that I feel I did not come near to close to getting my money’s worth. 
In fact we didn’t leave any more satisfied or any less hungry. Though we did walk away with indigestion. And for those reasons I would neither come back or recommend this restaurant. 


ZABU 
1635 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 602-0021

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Gelato Express

Another great Vancouver day meant another trip to Deep Cove. And when there, there is nothing better than walking or sitting by the water with ice cream! 

With not many choices I was drawn to “Gelato Express”, by way of their giant 3 scoop ice cream cone statue. In this monster sized cone a child sat on top eating out from between his legs. My first thought, is his bottom not cold? Ridiculous, yet I wished that was me sitting on a mound of strawberry, chocolate and “yellow” ice cream. Next thought, what ice cream flavour is yellow? 

As with the other destination ice cream places is it all about location, location, location. And here, by the water, after a hike or after some kayaking, ice cream is the perfect climax to a day well spent. 

For a small shop, in a slower paced town I was impressed with their selection and the overall look of the quality in their creams. The amount in each vat indicated their popularity. A blue cotton candy was guarded by a blue smurf. The pink bubble gum had wrapped gum balls stuck in. And a few flavours had thick chocolate drizzled over them. Their gelatos included classics like cookies and cream. Favorites like strawberry cheesecake. And sweet fruits like coconut and mango. More fruits fell into the sorbeto showcase, those included green apple, watermelon, and raspberry. They even had a dark chocolate sorbeto. That would be worth sampling. If not to get, just to try. 

The decor of this ice cream shop was fun. Colourful signs indicated menu choices. The signs were as colourful as the ice cream that sat frozen behind the glass, and before you. On top of ice cream they also do frozen yogurt and shakes. If you didn’t read it, you could have told by the jars of colourful straws and cups lined up in pastels. Looking up, tiny hot air balloons hung from the ceiling, and barely grazed your head. I really thought the plastic bucket that was filled with layers of coloured spoons, then made into a lighting fixture was clever and a real nod to their theme and offerings. And if you want your ice cream by more than a scoop, you are welcomed to take your frozen treat to go. Available are three sizes of styrofoam take out boxes to store them in. 

I was most impressed by their business card, a great design and a solid card for a hole in the wall. I judge only on looks, but they must do well with the warmer weather and longer days. But without anything else to offer I wonder how well they fair during our fast approaching colder months?

Pricing was determined by scoops and cones. You read them off chalkboards written in neon chalk. You can get up to 3 scoops and they can be held in cones or by plastic bowls. The ice cream cones come in a regular, sugar, or waffle variety. And for those who want more of everything, they carry waffle bowls too. Today miscommunication resulted in a scoop of mint chocolate chip in a, a lot to spacious waffle bowl. Just as well, the bowl is the best part. Ice cream can never be bad, and this was not an exception. The waffle, however was the best that I have had. Crispy and fresh this was not sitting out to allow the air to lessen its crunch. Then of course for extra nonsense-ical indulgence, I topped the whole lot off with a scoop of rainbow sprinkles for an additional cost. I enjoy the colours and like the texture they provide. 




And as I suggested earlier, I had my bowl as I sat on a bench and looked out into the still waters and setting sun of Deep Cove. I will be coming back to Deep Cove, and except an ice cream the next time as well. And as this is pretty much the only spot for ice cream, it looks like I will be back here too. 
Don’t deny your cravings. 


Gelato Express
4379 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, V7G 1L1
604-929-0996




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Jitlada Thai Restaurant

At the old home of “Cru” now resides “Jitlada”, a modern Thai restaurant, with traditional flavours. I called in a take out order, so was surprised how great the place looked when I came in to pick it up. It was empty now at a quarter past 5pm, the start of their dinner service. When full, I am certain the guests like where they are sitting. With a plain undecorated doorway and unsigned windows you may miss this place; except that you trip over the white sandwich board, printed on with black narrow font. Shame if you did, as once you get past the wall of a partition you can truly see how nice “Jitlada” looks. A view not visible from the door way, which may be a reason for less customers dining in. If can see in, how do you know you want to come in?

The first thing that greets you is the most beautiful gold jeweled pedestal. On it sits a clear glass bowl. And in that floats a delicate, hand crafted purple lotus flower. It shines as it is back lit by a green spot light. 

Everything is uncomplicated here; simple with clean lines and neutral colours. Automatically the restaurant’s decor gives off an air of refinement. The only other real embellishments are the neatly framed art work of Thai girls on one wall and a statute of a golden deity strumming a sitar. The golden figure sits on the bar’s counter, and before her is a peach coloured shot she has yet to drink. The wall of mirrors on the opposite wall opens up the space with the illusion that it is wider than it really is. 


The bar is fashioned from birch wood and is separated in boxes and by shelves. Each bottle gets its own space to properly showcase its availability. This feature too is clean. And like the decor the owner,(the only front of store employee at this time) is as put together. A business professional and a Thai woman who is as fluent in her English as she is in her native tongue. I observed this when she chirped on the phone, as I waited for her to complete packing my order. Though she did have trouble earlier understanding my attempts at ordering items by their Thai names over the phone; and spelling them out only made things worse. She wore a tight sheath dress and looked fashionable with her chunky golden collar necklace. I was her first dinner customer and she was chipper while multitasking; getting my meal plastic boxed, paper bagged, and ready to go. It left me with a great impression when she said, “I hope you enjoy my food”. Wow, what a way to make a personal connection. And it definitely did help me to enjoy my meal more. 




“Yum Pla-Muk”. Slices of cooked squid in a mixture of lime juice, tomato, onion, spices, and fresh mint leaves. This was the first time I have had this, and my only regret was not daring to try it sooner. What an original taste. Not something you could eat everyday or finish a large portion of in one seating, but still worth trying multiple times. Not only did it look amazing with its colours and perfectly sliced up squid, but it was not like anything I have ever tried. It was as refreshing as it was hard to describe. 
Wonderfully fresh, the vinaigrette tasted just like apple, which accentuated the mint leaves perfectly. I concluded this was in part due to the the stringy crunchy bits, of what I assume was apple flesh shredded into a string like consistency. The squid absorbed all this great flavour and added a great chew with its rubbery texture. The owner mentioned throwing in extra tomatoes, which was great as I passed on the hard cabbage leaves. 

“Pad Thai”. Pan fried Thai rice noodles in a tamarind sauce with prawns, egg, tofu, bean sprouts, green onion, and topped with peanuts. The most well known dish in Thai cuisine, and the best measuring stick to judge the quality of a Thai restaurant; as everyone on them serves this classic. I cannot describe it better than to say that this was honestly the best pad Thai I have had. It was light in flavour and light in texture. A meal you would eat and not feel full or guilty as it sat in your stomach. The freshness of the ingredients was apparent. Juicy well seasoned prawns that never once overwhelmed the noodles. Bean sprouts that snapped with crispiness as you bit into them. Delicious. 


Would I come back? – Yes. 
Would I recommend it? – Yes. 
At an convenient to get to location with enough surrounding parking, it is at a good location. And seeing as it is still new and doesn’t attract too much attention on the block, chances are you don’t need a reservation or to wait for a table. The prices aren’t cheap, but they definitely justify the taste of the food. Delicious seasonings, fresh ingredients, this was high end Thai. I hope they stick with their chef and continue with their ingredient direction. If they do I have no doubt “Jitlada” will be earning themselves accolades soon. That is if they can drum up enough business to be given the chance. 



JITLADA 
1459 West Broadway, Vancouver BC, V6H 1H6
604-738-9888

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Wings Restaurant & Pub

It’s been a while since I have been to “Wings”. Today it was a convenience stop for, you guessed it: wings. You can go any where for wings: any chain restaurant or any pub or bar. It is a North American staple. It makes for a great quick snack and a satisfying side to a pint. And this is exactly what “Wings” delivers on. Being named after this menu item suggests they know what’s what in the world of wings. And if the last page of the menu is any indication, they can help you with any wing related craving. 


Their wings menu is a listing of 23 different flavour combinations partnered with geographic names and multicultural spices. We travel the world from Bombay to Italy. Stop in Greece, and pass through Korea and Mexico. Only to continue on towards, Jakarta and Chili. And end our journey closer to home in Louisiana, Chicago, and Texas. Their glossary explains what is new, what is spicy, and which of their sauces is the juiciest. 


Like most people we got the classic honey garlic wings. A safe bet and a guaranteed to satisfy option. We got it as part of their “Hat Trick” combo, under the “team shareable” section of the menu. This multi item platter came with a pound of wings, garlic cheese bread, and yam fries with a roasted red pepper aioli. The wings were the real highlight, sweet and juicy with generous flavours and tender meat. The yam fries were ok, as your standard fry. And the bread, a disappointing shredding of cheese on not so toasty toast. 

Feeling patriotic we dared something different with the “Canadian Maple Bourbon Wing”. As the name reveals it is a pound of wings coated in maple syrup and bourbon. My guest tonight was French Canadian so he was immediately sold on sharing this. They delivered on this wing. You can smell the maple syrup as soon as the plate hits the table. The skin was crispy and the meat inside juicy. But I was unable to make out any of that bourbon that was mentioned earlier. I would improve each piece with by brushing an extra coating of maple syrup before serving. This way the wing keeps its crunch, and you get a deeper maple syrup taste. Or offer a container of it on the side. It would guarantee to please all the French Canadians out there. 

3 pounds of wings from a previous visit, in Cajun BBQ, honey garlic and salt rub


And if you ironically came in not wanting wings, there is enough other options to ensure you would find something you’d like. Choose all your bar classics like pastas, burger, sandwiches, and steaks. Or go for different with “spicy wok squid” and chicken curry bowls. 

“Wings” is a sports bar that may not have all the prettiest servers or the nicest of decors. But what they do deliver on is a great casual spot to watch your favourite sporting events at. During Canucks games or MMA fights this place is swamped. People are willing to stand, just to get in, to watch a match in the atmosphere that “Wings” provides. I have been present for hockey trivia nights and contests to win prizes like free drinks. The staff get into it, bells are rung, lips are whistling, fans are cheering, and the customers are loving it. 

This is just a great sports bar built with guys in mind. Simple, easy, uncomplicated. Dark marble like table tops, faux leather booths, posters of upcoming MMA fights, pennants from hockey teams; and a television at every turn, and on them every sporting event from X games to Sportsnet recaps. This place was built to seat men. As for service, I don’t expect much from a bar. The food is as causal as the staff. But as long as my food comes quickly and I can get my bill when I want it, I am happy. 



Would I come back? – Yes. 
Would I recommend it? – Yes. 
“Wings” is a pretty good bet when wanting drinks and wings in a bar setting. And with several locations chances are you will find one close to you. I have found my trip to each location pretty consistent. Come early during a big game night and enjoy the rowdiness of a crowd enamored over their home team.


WINGS
greatwings.ca

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Goldilocks Bakeshop

I decided to try Filipino cuisine, at a restaurant for the first time. I have had authentic Filipino dishes before, prepared by Filipino families, but I never knew what I was eating; so was now worried about having to order by myself, for myself. But my 50% off any restaurant food order entertainment book coupon persuaded me to try anyways. 

The front window displays an example of their cake baking abilities. A four tiered wedding cake with roses and smooth pipping; surrounded by smaller and just as creamy looking one and two layered cakes. The same window display also showcases their clothing and accessory line. A series of tee shirts and totes that ask if you have had popular Filipino food items. “Got Adobo?” The staff are walking advertisements for these. Each one of the Filipinos employed here boasted a “Goldilocks” tee shirt on their backs. There was a friendly group of ladies working the front, all different in ages. None look to be are related, but based on body language and speech, they were all family. 

The restaurant is half bakery and half fast food chain. On one side you have your cakes, breads, and pastries. Refrigerated showcases of delicate flowered cupcakes, pastel frosted cookies in pink and purple, and cakes blank and ready to be pipped on with a celebratory greetings. 


The restaurant side was labelled overhead with an “Asian Cuisine” sign. Under it is a heated glass counter. In it, pre prepared dishes. Premade meats with rice or fried noodles boxed up and ready to go. But if you choose to dine in the exact same dishes are available plated and warm, ready for eating. 

Not being able to make heads or tails out of the chalk board menu and not knowing how anything tasted I relied heavily on the young Filipino girl who serviced me from behind the counter. I took her suggestions and she took the time to give them.

My multi item order was assembled at the counter, then placed on a fast food tray. On the tray was an image of their logo with their “Goldilocks” mascot printed on. I took this to any table to eat in peace. Utensils were self serve by the cash desk, and a tank of water with glasses was available to the side, for those who wanted it to help themselves. If you can’t finish your meal ask for to go boxes to pack it all up. I actually thought it was cool that their styrofoam boxes came in black instead of the more commonly seen white varieties. 


“Pancit palabok”, rice noodles with shrimp flavoured garlic-annato sauce, topped with sautéed ground pork, tofu, chicharon, smoked fish flakes, sliced boiled egg, green onions, and fried garlic. I was not expecting much, seeing it pulled out as is, from behind the glass and just placed on a plastic branded tray. The flavours were muted and they offered no excitement in any of the bites. It was just noodles meant to fill you up. The only thing I did like was the presentation. Still hot they place the noodles into one of their take out containers to give it this structure, when cooled they up side down it on to a plate for serving. 

I upgraded my crispy pork and rice to a “Rice Medley”, after seeing it come up to the counter for another customer. This plate came with the same pork and rice, but with the addition of raw tomatoes, un ripened mangos, and a semi cooked egg. I was later informed to mix all the components together and have the egg coat the rice and cook down further, with the existing warmth of the other ingredients. The pork was tasty, and the mango had a nice added hard texture, with its own distinct taste. But over all this was another bland pre made, nothing special dish. It needed a lot of salt and pepper to rejuvenate it. In their defensive the girl offered me hot sauce, and I only took a dollop of it, when I apparently needed a cup. I ended up eating only the pork and mango, and discarding over 3/4 of the dish. Luckily the prices were inexpensive and I didn’t have to struggle with too great of a buyer’s remorse. 


“Halo halo”, is the Filipino version of a sweet iced bean drink that is available in many south East Asian countries. It is a refreshing dessert drink, that is as filling as it is thirst quenching. The sweet milky texture comes from crushed ice, coconut milk, and condensed milk. The chunks are yellow and purple yams, red jelly, red and yellow beans, shredded coconut meat, chick peas, and what I think is chestnuts. It is a meal in a plastic to go cup, sipped through a thick bubble tea straw. This is an acquired taste with the coconut milk and smorgasbord of lentils and dried nuts and fruits. After all the liquid is gone I usually sieve through the elements I want to eat, then discard the rest. 


I remember loving “polvoron” when I first had it years ago. So now I wanted to once again have this Filipino version of a shortbread cookie for dessert. They came in four different flavours, wrapped up by color, inside a showcase. Where as I only wanted one of each, the deal was to buy six and save on the tax, so I went ahead and got her to add another two, the most popular two flavours. The “polvoron” were made in Canada, exclusively for “Goldilocks”. Each one started with flour, milk, sugar, shortening, and vanilla extract. Then depending on the wanted flavoring, selected ingredients were added to the mix. They are known for their melt in your mouth, crumbly texture. The yellow “polvoron” was original. The red ones were “pinipig” flavoured, made with crisped rice. You really got a great texture each bite in. Both the yellow and red were the most popular ones. Red was personally my favourite. The “Ube Polvoron” was wrapped in clear cellophane to highlight its purple colour from the taro yams used in its production. I really didn’t get that flavour, but appreciated the fun colour, while I allowed a bite to melt on my tongue. The blue cellophane ones identified the cookies and cream flavour. A North American taste twisted into a Filipino classic. As with the ube, I got no distinctive taste from this one. 

Seeing a half loaf of “Rainbow bread” sitting on a rack, I had to take it to go. It is just regular white bread tied dyed in some groovy colours. I bought it for the look and the added interest it would bring to my food pictures. It tasted like white bread, at half the loaf, and not quite half the price. 


My entire interaction was lengthy and complicated. Between me changing my order, the girl not knowing how to ring through my entertainment book coupon, the woman who helped her to do so doing it incorrectly, and the another girl just coming to take my money, it was a long process. As a result with all the goings on my first quoted price was $58. It was later amended after much consultation. In the end my total barely broke $25. 

Would I come back? – No. I am not a fan of Filipino cuisine, it shares a very similar spice pallet with other Asian cuisines that I prefer and can get else where. The food was made ahead of time and kept in a heated counter, and it showed. Had the food been made to order, my answer would have been different. But from what I understand, the cooking process of Filipino food is lengthy. In order to have their food fast, this is the only way they could accommodate their customers. 

Would I recommend it? – If you are Filipino this is the place for you, though I am sure they all already know this. Authentic Filipino dishes made like how they would be done in the Philippines, prepared and served to you by Filipinos who speak the language and know the culture. In fact I was the only non Filipino guest during my Friday lunch time visit. 
But for the non Filipinos, not familiar with the cuisine, this is a good place to start. Like me if you don’t know what to get, you can ask and be given great suggestions by staff knowledgable, with first hand information. Everything I had came to under $25, so if you get something and don’t like it, it wouldn’t put too big of a strain on your wallet. You can’t say you don’t like it if you don’t try it. 


GOLDILOCKS 
goldilocks.ca



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Banana Leaf, Malaysian Restaurant


It has been a while since I last visited “Banana Leaf”. I remembered not being impressed over dinner, however today’s lunch turned that all around. 
You can’t miss the place driving down West Broadway, a bold green building with bright yellow text. Inside, the restaurant is jammed packed with authenticity. From wooden statutes that faintly resemble humans and giant fanned out fans, to neatly stacked spice racks and etched on voluptuous urns. I liked the Thai paper puppets and the symbols of prosperity that hung off walls. Mix all this with framed art work, tropical music, and servers wearing traditional patterned aprons; you got yourselves quite the theme here. 
It was busy on a Thursday for lunch. We came at a little past 12pm, and avoided waiting with the other hungry guests. Those who had to stand in the foyer without reservations, that came after us. 


Already enjoying the atmosphere I was now ready to enjoy the food. I was overwhelmed with options that I knew I would like. If you have read any of my former Malay cuisine posts you know that this is the food I was raised on in Brunei, and that I will have to order the laksa. 
There were lunch time sizes of the classics. Smaller plates at a couple of dollars less than that of dinner. A flip album containing coloured pictures of customer’s favourite sat on each table. They allowed you to see the top 10 menu items before you order it. There were also seasonal entrees like a wild halibut and lychee curry or pineapple duck. I fought my urge to try these and decided to instead focus on a sure thing.

I appreciated that the menu not only detailed what was in each dish, but also divulged facts pertaining to its origin or popularity. I was informed that the appetizer platter was perfect for two, the red curry was made authentic with Malaysian curry spice, and that what I wanted to order was a great choice. One dish was one of the greatest culinary contributions that India has provided to Malaysia, the other a signature Malaysian dish, and another a Malaysian classic. Looks like I only like the “grilled cheese” of the Malaysian cuisine world. I only like what is the most common, and have never taken the time to discover any other. I wish they had share platters so I could try more without the commitment of having to finish a full portion. 



“Roti Canai”, you can never go wrong with this delicious appetizer. It is a flakey layered bread served with a coconut curry sauce. Anyone who likes curry is sure to like this sweeter version, served with with bread for easy dipping. They are the perfect pairing. Unseen before is the generous ness of the portion of roti. I actually had enough bread for the amount of sauce provided. This is one if the greatest culinary contributions that India has provided to Malaysia. 

“Satay skewers” are another popular appetizer, and an Malaysian signature dish. Available in marinated lamb, chicken, beef, or pork. We had the chicken, with a minimum order of four for $7. The price is a little high for meat on a stick. However it is $1.75 per stick and $2.50 is the standard night market price. I mostly wanted this for their spicy homemade peanut dip. The chicken was tender and the sauce silky sans the crushed peanuts. The sauce is sweet and spicy, creamy and crunchy, and everything I want in a meat dipping condiment. It was another successful taste pairing since roti and curry. 

“Mee Goreng”, fried egg noodles with beef, shrimp, tomato, egg, bean sprouts, choy sum, and tofu. It was most spicy on first bite, and had a warming after burn down your throat. A lot spicer that pad Thai, but with double the flavour. I liked the tomato based sauce that provided some sweetness to an otherwise spicy plate. This is an Malaysian classic. 

It was hot outside, but boy howdy I was going to have my “Singapore Laksa”. Coconut soup with rice noodles, seasoned with dried shrimp, chili, garlic, lemon grass, and turmeric. And served with bean sprouts, cilantro, egg, chicken, shrimp, fish cake, and squid. With a burning hot soup and spicy hot seasonings, I was thankful for the chilling power of their air conditioner. As I knew it would be, it was delicious, I never had a laksa I didn’t like. This version was a lot more creamer with an increased use of coconut milk. You could tell by the pale orange broth the rice noodles were absorbing. It tasted a bit like the sauce for cream lobster you get a Chinese restaurant, but with more of a spicy kick. I am use to just getting chicken with my Laska. So with the addition of all the other seafood I was ecstatic. But was missing the raw tomato slices and cucumber chunks that I am use to getting, they provided the only crunch in an otherwise soft dish. Even though I was full I was attempting to not let any of it go to waste. Laksa doesn’t fare well as leftovers, as the noodles and vegetables become soggy from soup and you don’t get that great broth to slurp. 

“Kuih Talam”, a traditional two layered Malay coconut tray cake. Made with coconut milk, rice flour, green bean flour, and pandan leaf. I have not often seen his not so sweet dessert available on a menu. So ordered it for nostalgia. In our family we refer to it as “guai” (I don’t actually know how to spell it). It is chewy and jiggly, like a more structured jello. Other varieties have rainbow layers that you can peel off by colour. This version came with sweetened sticky rice that was further soften from sitting in a pool of coconut milk. Each bite was exactly as how I had remembered. Pandan is an acquired taste that I cannot describe. I suggest trying this dessert at least once to quell any curiosity. Most trying it for the first time find it neither good nor bad, just there. 

Our server was attentive but had difficulty offering suggestions and giving me her take on the food. She spoke with hesitation and seemed to want validation in her responses. 


Would I go back? – Yes. After my last visit over 7 months ago, my answer would have been a no. But today my mind has come around. The food was delicious and served by attentive staff in a well lit and well received setting. I would love to come back to try their cocktails, like their lychee mojito. North American drinks with south East Asian ingredients. Yum. 
Would I recommend it? – Yes, but I am a little biased, I love all Malaysian food. But as far as Malaysian restaurants goes this is the best that I have been to for selection. With a 5 page menu they cover all meats, seafoods, noodles, rices, drinks and desserts. Dishes I have not seen anywhere out of Malaysia are on this menu, so I can safely conclude that they have authenticity on their side too. Don’t deny your cravings. 



BANANA LEAF
bananaleaf-vancouver.com


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Stefano Lounge & Restaurant

Taking a recommendation from a friend of a friend, we found ourselves at one of the two Greek restaurants, facing each other on Columbia Street. We had missed our chance to complete a diagonal reverse stall parking in front, so were forced to lap around the block. Good thing too as it led us to free parking in the back, with an entrance that didn’t require walking upstairs to enter the dining area. 

It was slow on a Wednesday at 8pm. The GM, Stefan (probably who the restaurant was named after) was working the floor and kitchen along with one server and two kitchen hands. We saw him seating tables in the begin of our dinner, and hosing down the restaurant’s exterior when we left. 
The space was huge with vaulted ceilings and enough room for a stage amongst all the dining tables. On the stage were musical instruments and a large novelty treble clef. The entire place was made alive with abundant greenery. Potted plants balancing on ledges and a forest of leaves and branches assemble in the rafters. This, along with the mismatched knick knacks, multiple shelves carrying house wares, and the toy plane and wooden wheel suspended in mid air gave “Stefano” a messy look. It felt crowded despite having only 5 of the 40 plus table being occupied. I did not get the slightest impression of a lounge vibe from any of these things. Maybe I have to come back on Friday or Saturday for their dining and dancing, and actually see the instruments put to use. 
We had our choice so grabbed a seat by the window. Our view, an empty street. We sat to look over a very impressive menu. The decor may have put me off, but the menu brought me back on. With so many choices the pickiest of eaters is sure to find something. 


Once I saw them I had to order them. I am a big fan of platters. I love ordering something, and being able to get more than just one variety. I feel they are the best deals, and you get to try more things. At “Stefano’s” they had platters organized between appetizers and entrees, then by price point. The more pricier dishes there are in your mix, the more you are looking to pay. Appetizers platters went from $26-36. And a dinner platter for two was either $50 or 55. And once again for how many different components you get it is worth it. You are essentially getting five smaller sized dishes for the price of 2 regular ones. You are paying for the hassle it is to make 5 different dishes at once and bring them all together. 
But if you don’t want all that food, and instead have a specific something else jump out; you can choose from the remainder of the menu. It includes everything Greek and then some dishes not so Greek. Maybe they thought, we still have room on the menu let’s fill it with other popular flavours from around the world. There is a “chicken cordon bleu” with French influences, a “halibut teriyaki” with Japanese flavourings, and a “chicken schnitzel” reminiscent of German cuisine. After a while of filtered reading, I concluded there were too many things on the menu, with no solid focus on either. It gives the impression that everything was just cooked to pass, not to impress. The chef in the kitchen looked East Indian, if this was the case, I am surprised at her skillful ability to orchestrate authentic Greek. 



Appetizer platter for two $26 with kalamari, spanakopita, meatballs, dolmades, fried zucchini, homous, tzatziki, and pita bread. 
Kalamari, young squid lightly floured and deep fried. This we found the best out of the entire platter. Yet it was no different than all the other fried kalamari available anywhere. It was and mild and chewy, with a great tasting breading. They are made even better, as is the case with everything else, when you coat each morsel in heavy tzatziki sauce. Both the sauces were a little bland. Tzatziki, yogurt and chopped cucumber mixed with fresh garlic, dill, and olive oil. Homous, chickpeas puréed with garlic, olive oil, and a touch of lemon. The tzatziki could have been more tangy. And the homous could have done with more spices. But the pita was a perfect accompaniment to the two, soft and lighty buttered, it enhanced the flavours of both. 
Spanakopita, tender spinach leaves with feta cheese, herbs and spices; rolled into pilo pastry and then baked. It was delicious and flakey, you are able to ignore the inevitable oiliness because it tasted so good. It was at its best at its hottest, so I suggest tackle this one first. 
Souzoukaia, Greek style meatballs topped with tomato sauce and feta, then baked in the oven. They were only slightly on the drier side, but had a great mix of herbs embedded into each bite Yet it did not feel natural to eat them as they were, they felt like they needed pasta between them or a sub sandwich beneath them. The flavour profile just felt incomplete. 
The deep fried zucchini sticks were piled on the bottom, and we didn’t get to them until they were soggy with condensation. It would have been nice to bite into them without having the breading fall a part And to get a great snap from a crunchy zucchini stick. 
Dolmades, ground beef and rice wrapped in grape leaves, then topped with a lemon dill sauce. I didn’t like the texture, look, or taste of the leaves; so after a bite I picked the insides out. That is the great part of platters, you get to try new things without committing to a whole plate of them, and having it possibly go to waste. If you don’t like something, chances are you will only get a little of it anyways. 
I really enjoyed the share platter for two. It offered variety and gave us a chance to try Greek appetizers we otherwise wouldn’t dare to. Plus I feel it is the best value for my dollar. My only criticism is the presentation. Everything was piled up high, flavours crossed, and things got soggy. I suggest a larger plate and taking the time to separate each component to properly highlight them. That would have made this ok platter into an amazing one. We eat with our eyes before we do with our mouths. 


Since we were in the sharing and trying new things mood we ordered the mixed souvlaki entree. Also, I usually judge a Greek place by the caliber of its souvlaki. With this plate that was a mixing of chicken, beef, and lamb; I was able to properly assess each one. The souvlaki came with your usual Greek accompaniments of salad, rice and potatoes. There was an option to choose a ceasar salad over the Greek. But when in Greece… The salad was room temperature, just the way I like it. The edges weren’t wilted and the flesh of each cucumber and tomato was crisp. I could tell these were made as ordered and not just chopped up and frozen. 
The potatoes were soft and tender, they broke down easily with the slightest pressure from a fork. The rice they sat on was a tomato based rice pilaf. A welcomed twist to the usual yellow garlic version seen on other souvlaki plates. 
The meats were marinaded, skewered and grilled. Each one was well seasoned and not the least but dry, it had good flavoring and coloring from the grilling process. Surprising, as you often find chicken souvlaki over cooked, where as at “Stefano”, they got it just right and rightly tender. 

With only one server and a limited kitchen staff our food did take longer to come and it was a bit of a challenge to hail our waitress, the only waitress. It is understandable as she didn’t even have enough time to check in on what we thought of the food, after our first bites. 



Would I come back? – Yes and No. New Westminster is a little far for me to go to for a plate of meat and potatoes with rice. But if I was to come here with a large group to try their other share platters, that would be a completely different story. 
Would I recommend it? – Yes. It is easy to get to with ample free parking in the back and a lot more pay for metered ones in the front. The area is quieter and the restaurant large, so chances are no reservations are needed and you have a higher probability of being seated upon entry. The food is good and the six share platter options ensure that you can find what you like, and try something you didn’t think you would. Don’t deny your cravings. 


STEFANO’S 
315 Columbia Street, New Westminister BC, V3L 1A7
604-520-9911
stephanos.ca




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Deep Cove Bubble Tea


We rushed down to Deep Cove after work, to capture as much daylight as possible. In our hurry we ignored our hunger, thinking we could grab dinner there. Arriving at 7pm we were disappointed to discover not much is open past 5pm. We didn’t want to go back to “Arm’s Length” (http://www.vieamaggi.com/2013/04/at-arms-length.html) having been disappointed once before and “Honey’s Doughnuts” (http://www.vieamaggi.com/2013/04/best-doughnuts-in-town.html) was long closed. So our options were limited to ice cream, pizza, and everything else at “Express Bubble Tea”. We chose the latter, for both price and selection.

Waking towards “Express Bubble Tea”, the patio is your lead in. Surrounding it and the front of store, are pictures and signs advertising the variety in their menu options. It almost feels like they are trying to please everyone by having a little bit of everything. Bar stools in doors for seating and plastic patio chairs outside. Tonight ppl were in for ice cream and bubble tea. 



Drinks offered are coffees, teas, slushies, smoothies, pops, and bubble teas. Food is either hotdogs, gyros, onigiri, chips, and other fast food related snacks. But their selection of drinks is what keeps the people coming. Two chalk boards are dedicated to describing their fruit juices in kiwi, watermelon, mango, and all the mixed varieties in between. Given the fact that bubble tea is in their title, it is no surprise that this speciality drink is well invested it. They make their drinks with both fresh fruits and powered mixes. Your selection of “bubbles” come in the traditional black balls of tapioca, clear jelly cubes of coconut, and rainbow jelly with colours that remind me of a fruit cocktail. And if this is all bubble tea talk is foreign to you, they even have a poster to explain what this drink you chew is all about. They must be doing well enough to have a heavily used and very successful loyalty card program. Every tenth drink earns you a free one. And you don’t even have to carry anything around. All their customer’s stamp cards are stored in little individual envelopes taped to the wall. Running out of space, they have now migrated to the cabinet door as well.

Seeing it only in pictures, I had to try the “Onigiri” in person. It means “portable rice”. It is a Japanese speciality. Seasoned rice packed into a triangular shape for presentation and easy traveling ability. A piece of nori (seaweed) is used to wrap the bottom, and gives you a place to hold your snack upright. Nothing really special about this. It tasted like salty rice, and I was torn over finishing it and all incurring all the carbs. I think the Japanese eating this is equivalent to North Americans eating fries. Except without the great taste at a similar calorie count.

The Mega hot dog combo. You can’t go wrong with pop, chips, and a hotdog. It reminded me of every elementary school sports day, and days spent at carnivals. Pretty standard, with ketchup over the steamed dog in a cold bun. 


Would I come back? – Yes. There isn’t much I want to eat at Deep Cove; but I do plan on coming back here a few more times this summer, to enjoy the warm weather, breath in the fresh air, hiking the roughed trails, and maybe do a little kayaking. And chances are before or after these activities I may get peckish, and at their prices it is good enough food to satisfy enough. Plus the owner was the most friendliest Japanese woman I have ever met. She was cute with her accent and ever smiling face. And was grateful for every visitor, calling her regulars by name. She brought a really warm and welcoming energy to her tiny shop, even if you could hardly see her past the elevated counter.

Would I recommend it? – No. This is a place you come out of convince, not want. But the next time you come to Deep Cove and are craving bubble tea, this really is your only option. And it is made authentic with fresh fruits, sort of a rarity in smaller shops.

EXPRESS BUBBLE TEA
4377 Gallant Avenue
North Vancouver District, BC V7G1L2
604-988-5276

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Central Cafe at the Vancouver School Board

On the days I have to start work at 5am I don’t get a chance to pack breakfast. So am always relying on places like”Tim Horton’s”, for their 24 hour hours. But they grow redundant fast. First thing in the morning I don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s grumpy, I-just-woke-up attitude. That is why I am so thankful that the Vancouver School Board recently opened up their cafeteria to the public. For them it is a great way to use existing resources to produce some extra income. 

I came promptly when they opened at 7:30am, but the main doors were not unlocked until 7:47am; when a staff members unlocks it, along with the rest of the building. Peering in at other bodies inside, I figured there must be another way in and walked through the main school’s doors. 

The cafeteria is exactly like any other lunch you remember having in community colleague or high school. Humming stainless steal equipment. Dull flurence lights. A sea of maroon and wooded tables with burgundy chairs. The service counter has buffet style trays and hot plates. But as this was morning only half of them were filled with muffins, biscuits and scones. 

I ordered their breakfast special. A plate of bacon, eggs, and hash browns with toast. Adding ketchup and piling them up this became a breakfast sandwich. The special is your most expensive option, but at $7.50 with your choice of tea or coffee, I say this beats a doughnut any day. 





Thinking it wouldn’t be enough I also got their vegetable omelette. I was disappointed that it was just tomato, and cheddar cheese in your egg. I would call this a tomato omelet to not confuse your diner. This also came with two slices of toast. 

The food was nothing special, but it being available at 7:30am when nothing else is, made all the difference. “Central Cafe” gives you a taste of home cooking, that you didn’t get a chance to create for yourself in the morning. 
Both dishes took time as a lone older woman was the only one working at this time. She was friendly and great at making early AM small talk. She was the one making my dishes from scratch. Home cooking in an industrial setting. 


They also have a list of daily lunch specials updated weekly. Every Friday they come up with the one for the following week. Each day a different soup, salad, sandwich, and entree to choose from. I was half tempted to come back for lunch, but if their lunch flavours are as everyday mundane as their breakfast, I wasn’t interested. 
This week’s list had some pretty delicious sounding home cooked classics though. Comfort foods like garlic butter shrimp on rice with steam vegetables and French onion soup. Exotic flavours like Thai chicken curry and chipotle chicken taco salad. And all American artery cloggers like cheese burger and fries or an old fashion potato salad with plenty of mayo. The menu did its best to accommodate a wide variety of tastes and preference. And it is able to keep it fresh for the VSB staff, that enjoy their meals here daily. 


Would I come back? – Yes. But you don’t come here for the cuisine. You are here for the convenience. There is nothing great or different about the food. It is cafeteria food. You think microwave cooking and mass production with little training. 
Would I recommend it? – No. No one ever eats at a cafeteria by choice. Either you are in school, a detention centre, or a hospital. So cafeterias get a bad rap. But the warm lone food service worker was here making things a bit more pleasant. Still nothing within these walls were really worth talking about. Saying its cafeteria food should paint a clear enough picture of the quality and taste of what is coming out of the kitchen. And they inconveniently only accept cash. 


CENTRAL CAFE
School District #39 1580 WestBroadway Vancouver BC, V6J 5K8
604-713-5000



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PiDGiN, east/west/eat/drink


My friends have been waiting half a year to celebrate my birthday at “Pidgin”. Me being a food blogger means it is always hard for them to find a restaurant that I like and won’t rip to shreds. “Pidgin” was their choice, and frankly they couldn’t have done a better job. The name is a nod to their location and the proximity to the neighboring pigeon park. 

Heading in I was skeptical of this place. Finding a parking spot consisted of double block laps to avoid one way streets, and stopping a block a way for meter parking. 
I actually missed the restaurant my first lap around. It is a plain black building with the word “Pidgin” done in a shade of medium blue. It is also has its name tiled onto the threshold’s floor. 

Upon entry I was in awe. The environment inside is serene in off white walls, light coloured furniture, and tiny blossoms vased in their voluptuous holders. 

The smaller kitchen was partially visible from behind a half frosted crop top window. The top portion of the glass was scrawled on with magic marker. And behind and under it were two sets of busy hands. We could see them cutting, stuffing, and fussing. They finessed the ingredients on the chopping board, and canoodled over the elements on a plate. 


The bar is a wooden counter top that matches its high top seats. Behind it is a row of unmarked beer taps; each one topped with a golden talon. The counters are lined with bottles of liquor. Japanese makes from sake to whiskey, and all the North American favorites in between. Their cocktail list was as stunning to read as it was see and drink one. 

I confused the bartender when I asked for the “best looking cocktail” so I could take a picture of it. I didn’t mind the strange look, he was handsome and patient and prepared for me a fantastically unique cocktail called “Sazer-quak”. It was duck infused brandy, smoked plum syrup, a Grand Mather rinse, and an orange twist. It was severed in a hollowed out egg shell, balancing in a cocktail glass topped with crushed ice. With it was a pickled cherry stuffed with frois gras. I highly doubt this is available anywhere else. I ordered it to try what duck infused brandy would taste like. This drink was sharp, and with some lip licking you could faintly make out the salty essence of duck meat. I really didn’t get the connection between the cherry and the fois gras. They were ok as a taste, but did nothing for me as a bite to be taken in with a sip. After a few sucks through the metal straw, I concluded I much rather prefer my cocktails sweet. I asked our server to see if the bartender could remix it, to make it more tongue friendly. He added more plum syrup and some lemon juice. That was enough to make a world of difference. As my guests noted after a taste, this was now a “dangerous” drink. A drink so smooth that you can’t taste the alcohol and are more likely to order more. 


“One eyes samurai”. Watermelon infused tequila, sake, lemon juice, and orange blossom water. You stir in the watermelon granite for sweetness. A tropical drink with a tropical look to match. 

“Mary Ellen smith”. Gin, carbonated sake, cucumber, and lime juice. This combination of fluids created a very refreshing and light tasting cocktail. It reminded me of flavoured water, spiked. 

“Geisha girl”. A zero proof cocktail, made with tea syrup, lime juice, pineapple, and egg whites. The eggs are what gives this drink its for light foam on top. 



We were seated at the only semi circled booth in the back. Behind it and as a space all around the others, there was a division between wall and booth that allowed the storage of extra bowls. A welcomed way to start the next course without the taste of the ones before it lingering. There was also a magnetic bar right above the storage space. It allowed the menus to adhere the wall and off the tables, for more dish ware allocation. On the wall above us was half a wing mounted. It, like all the other design elements was chic and rustic; with just enough elaborate to align with the rest of the simple. We pretty much had our pick of the place on a Tuesday night, with only four tables and half the bar seated. Although all us customers varied from seat to seat, we all had a good time in common. 
The frosted windows facing the front were etched with their logos. A series of pictures that were designed as a nod to their fusion cuisine. A cross between animals and cooking implements. A buffalo and a clever. A ship’s steering wheel and a fish. A mushroom and a pig. And a bottle opener and a chicken. 
The menu was a one pager of Japanese-Asian fusion cuisine. Each dish is meant to be shared family style, without a courtesy utensil. We picked up what we wanted with the same chopsticks that we used to put it in to our mouth. If you are over whelmed with the options you can select one of two prix fixes. At $45 or $55 you are paying more for more expensive dishes. As a group we choose to go for the $55 prix fix, 10 dishes including dessert. Preset and predetermined. The minimum order for this was 2 people. I was delighted and surprised that they allowed the four of us to just order a few more dishes and share a two person prix fix. Usually if one person wants to select from a set menu or enjoy the all you can eat option, his or her entire table has to as well. 




Shishito peppers. Spicy peppers seasoned and coated with grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. We were warned that not all of them are spicy, but if you are “lucky” enough to get the spicy one, it will be hot. This was one of our host’s favourite dishes at “Pidgin”. And I was surprised how much I actually liked it too. I don’t like spicy foods, but this wasn’t. Chewy pepper partnered with grainy cheese and crunchy nuts gave this dish the perfect texture. The cheese was really the highlighter of the dish. And after we got our serving they were officially sold out of this at 8pm. A must try. 

Oyster shot. A fresh oyster in a shot glass taken with an apple puree and horseradish. It all comes in layers and you are advised to stir it all together before taking down the big slurp. I suggest you do this thoroughly or else you get a hit of eye tearing wasabi in the back of your throat. I did not get to taste the apple as the spice really took away from it and the flavour and texture of the mild oyster. 

Daily pickles. Pickled onions, beets, and cucumber. Not your usual appetizers. And not as tart or vinegary as your grocery store purchased bottle of “Bicks”. Each piece and each vegetable was gentle and light. They all came with a crunch that was punctuated with. moistness.

Our host was truly disappointed that they were no longer serving the scallop and polenta. She inquired about it, and we found out we were not the only table to be upset over its disappearance in the last two days. Since the menu was updated. Our server took the time to explain the why. They were unable to maintain the quality of the dish. The scallops in season that they were getting, were not being delivered consistent in size. And once you cook it down and it shrinks you want them to still look uniform. 
Instead, we got the raw scallops dish. It was seasoned with pomegranate red curry oil, shredded daikon, and green apples. The flavours were really subtle. It was a shame that the pickled vegetables were a lead in to this. The sharpness in the dish before took away the subtle enjoyment in this one. The texture really comes through. And by having the raw apple and daikon you get that contrast of soft and crunchy. 




“Dan Dan”. A Kohlrabi noodle salad with tofu and almonds. This was a vegetarian dish that didn’t look or taste like it. It was impressive how thin and lengthy they were able to get their pieces of kohlrabi. It truly had the texture of noodles. And if you were served this without a description you would think you were eating noodles. The sauce was savory and full of flavour. The tofu simulated meat; and for a carnivore like myself, it fooled me into thinking that this was not a vegetarian dish. An exciting and delightful taste journey. I wouldn’t order it again, but suggest that others try it before they decide the same for themselves. 

Mushrooms with sugar snap peas. The peas were served whole and as a puree. It came with a soft boiled egg, and a soy yuzu brown butter sauce. We were advised to dab the vegetables into the runny yolk, like a dip. This was another vegetarian dish that was surprisingly delicious. Good thing we ordered another portion, on top of the one we got as part of the prix fix. 




Ling cod, clams, corn purée, sea beans, and bacon dashi velouté. The fish was flaky with a crispy skin. The calms were velvety and gave the broth a delicious thickness. I was the most excited to try the salty sea beans, having seen them featured in a “mystery basket” on “Chopped”. All these ingredients were only brought together to me ok. It just fell short compared to the rest of our dishes. This was deemed the most “normal” 

Market vegetables. Beets, onions and kale in a spicy Hollandaise sauce. We found the kale tough and all in all a pretty lack lustre dish. The vegetables felt bottom of the barrel. And the dull colours made it look less appealing. 

Braised beef, with fennel two ways, in a soy lime syrup. The beef was tender and it came a part in threads of meat. The fennel gave the dish an airy crisp that the savory meat could not on its own. 

Half duck done three ways. It came as one, crispy fried skin; two, succulent breast meat; and three, in a rich confit. The fried pieces of duck skin could have been crispier. Instead they resembled a fluffy chip that was both juicy and oily. This was all prepared with a carrot cake purée, orange jelly, and spices. The carrot cake reminded me of stuffing at Christmas dinner, especially with the use of iconic cinnamon and nutmeg. The duck breast was dipped into the orange jelly with orange rind. Its taste reminded us of Peking duck. A great citrus crisp with your meaty morsel. 

The prix fix menu comes with the meringue for dessert, but we were able to swap it for the “Ovaltine” mousse cake instead. This was a smooth slice of cake paired with an orange blossom yogurt. The hardness came from the milk chocolate and toffee honey comb pieces jutting out at all corners. Our host knew the pastry chef, who not only created all the desserts, made in house, in a kitchen with very limited spacing . She was able to pre pipe this special birthday message for me tonight. From looks alone I knew this was going to be a delicious dessert. I enjoyed the pieces of chocolate and candy. They helped to create angles in the smooth, and give a crunch in the soft. 

You can always judge a restaurant by its washroom. If they can’t keep a washroom clean, how can you expect them to keep their kitchen sanitized. As with the rest of the restaurant, the restrooms were impeccable. They were white on white: walls, sink, and hanging rock art. They felt sterilized and had the same amount of attention poured into them a the entire dining room. 


Would I go back? – Absolutely. This is officially my new favourite restaurant of 2013. One of those places that is still on the cusp of being a hidden gem and a Vancouver hot spot. I will not be surprised to see “Pidgin” listed with awards and earning accolades in the months to come. 

Would I recommend it? – Yes, and I already have. This place is a delight. Beautiful decor, Stunning food, and Great service. In an area that is out of the way, and in a place that is not well known. This helps with no wait lines, no tightly squeezed in tables, and no rowdy dining neighbours. Just a great unique meal in a unique setting. And let us not forget the amazing cocktails. You eat with your eyes as much as you do with your mouth. And here you were delivered on both fronts, for food and drink. The night was a success with great company. I was wished a happy birthday by three different members of staff, and we were all made to feel extremely welcomed throughout our entire night. I left this night wanting another right after. 


PIDGIN
350 Carrall Street, Vancouver BC
604-620-9400
pidginyvr.com



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