Real, raw, & relatable me. Enthusiastic food & lifestyle blogger living in Vancouver, BC!

Month: April 2014 Page 1 of 2

Joe Forte’s Seafood & Chop House


A downtown staple with a rich history and its own ornamental taxi cab parked out from. This three dimensional billboard in yellow told you to eat at “Joe Fortes”, with letters stencilled on its sides and a custom “forte” license plate.


It never dawned on me why after all my years living in Vancouver I have yet to set foot inside. So when my guest chose this as our girl’s night out I was eager to see what the buzz was about. And given the reputation and the glowing reviews from other food bloggers, I was expecting to be wowed. I was expecting great service coupled with better food. Though instead I was disappointed with the night’s service right at the door. Not something I would not expect from a finer dining establishment. I have been to a few others deemed high end, and at each have been assisted opening the often heavy front door. Not that I expect the service and believe that all doors should be opened for me; but on a day where I am balancing bags on each arm and struggling to lift hand to handle, the additional help would have been appreciated. This was especially the case looking past the glass and meeting eyes with the four members of staff looking right back. They stood in pairs on either side of the entry isle, with arms grasped in front, unmoving. At least they were willing to pause their conversation and show an eagerness to greet me when I finally managed to get in. I had to free my hands by putting bags on the ground, keep the door propped open with my hip, and regather my possessions with an awkward struggle.


Three hostesses in black dresses and a valet in windbreaker. I directed all attention to the hostess behind the booth. Luckily my guest made reservations, this was the hub of Robson on a Saturday night. The place was alive with noise and stirring with movement. A great sophisticated setting for a fancy cocktail and some light conversation. Getting in early and having our table still in use from the party before, I was given an electronic buzzer and took a seat at the bar. After me bodies flowed in, chairs got taken and others were left waiting in the foyer. I saw even more walking out after hearing the wait time to dine. Given the cramped quarters I wish there was the offer or possibility of a coat check. I had enough I needed to carry let alone my purse and jacket. And the room could have used the breathing space that they took up.


After a walk through the atrium and past another set of doors, you are greeted by the three storey dining area. I was in immediate awe. If not for the column framed with awards and achievements, but by the sheer spectacle of the place. The live lobster tank beside the column was pretty eye catching as well.


The air changed, the lighting shifted, and the sounds of life filled the arena. Three layers of laugher, food, and fun; with a live pianist playing. His beat kept the room light, it added context to sound and broke up the noise of chatter. The piano stood enroute to the washrooms, a claimed space on the actual spiralling staircase. It and its performer played between the second and third floors; on one of two staircases of brass, banister, and carpet. I imagine what would be an awkward walk pass when a musician is performing. When his set was done a song of clashing plates, clinking glasses, low humming voices, and cackling laughs began. It filled the entire room in an overpowering force. Made even more obvious with lack of overhead music, or music at so low level it went unnoticed. It hampered the night and made conversing on either ends of a table difficult. Chairs tucked in, bodies leaned forward, and ears to mouth. I don’t particularly enjoy dining in loud settings. Especially if the fare is at a price worthy of entitled expectations. This was the case tonight, multiplied by three, for each of the there floors.


The entire open space of the restaurant was made tight with large bulky fixtures and an onslaught of stuff. Vaulted ceilings, thick load bearing columns, spinning ceiling fans, polished mirrors, golden bulb-ed chandeliers, large oil canvases, framed vintage posters, and mahogany on everything. It was an assault on the senses. Yet it all retained a certain level of cohesiveness, the feeling of a similar time and parallel warmth.


My night started in the bar. A cramped seat around a U shaped stage, with additional narrow ledges and seats a few feet away. Here three bartenders were on constant mix. Dress in white button ups under their tailored black vests. They poured for the bar and supplied libations non stop for those parties at tables as well. With no coat check or offer to take mine, a bar hook under would have helped. A way to tuck bags and jackets away and off the floor, and to free oneself for a more comfortable stay. Instead my belongs became a pile by my high stool, steps away from where rushed servers came for drinks with wet trays.


Closer to our reserved time of 8pm one server forced a bill fold my way. She demanded I pay before sitting. Her abrupt nature and immediate departure left me without a chance to ask questions. Luckily our buzzer lit up and it vibrated to acknowledge the readiness of our table, freed. When the hostess came I was able to have the drink ordered added to the table and save myself the hassle of purchasing twice. The buzzer system itself felt unorganized. How do they know where you are? Do you come? Do they go? After we got our bearings straight and got up to go, other couples that stood by lingering pounced on the now freed seats.


Moving to our actual dining table became a obstacle course. With already full hands, we now needed to bring our own drinks and napkins to our newly designated seats. Once again, not that I expect such treatment in my everyday life, but I feel this is one of those services I pay more to get and tip more when experienced. No help with parcels, it was too crowded, too loud, and too much. Staff seemed frazzled and it came across as them being rude. At the prices I was willing to pay, I was not impressed long before I looked to order.

The front of house staff were an assortment of bodies in different dress to establish rank. Those in white coats were head servers, they took orders, and communicated with both the kitchen and their patrons. A few were designated to sections to stand at ready, so should anyone require assistance. This meant help with out hesitation, from the shadow looking over your shoulder. Others wore white shirts and solid ties and others still blue button ups and a patterned tie. The amount of servers guaranteed no glass went empty and no wait for help was more than five minutes. You can stop anyone to ask for anything and not be faced with, “I’ll go find your server”. Although at one point by the bar, I did feel that there were one too many members on staff. Crowds grew, gathering hands out reached, waiting for their table’s order to come to pass. Overall each member on payroll was relatively lively. One particular in blue shirted clearly enjoyed his job. He beamed with pride mentioning last week they saw Harrison Ford visiting twice. I liked his natural conversation and enthusiastic smile. He loved his position and being here, and it showed.

Interestingly, for a fine dining establishment, I was surprised that the table was laid with a sheet of white parchment over table cloth. Was its purposely for an easy clean up on a busy day? A place for small bones and bulky shells to sit on once nibbled clean?


The menu was a tall list of fresh seafood. Shucked oysters served at their own oyster bar; appetizers separated by hot and cold; soup and salads; classics like fish and chips, halibut cheeks, and seafood linguine; and steaks and chops rounded off the protein. Along with this offering was the menu of the day. A professionally made, colour copied insert, dated to convey its timeliness. On it was a detailed list of the catch of the day. Freshly caught fish and crab, and lobster from the tank out front. Though on order to get the most out of our meal we decided to go for what they were well known for and that which they serve regularly: steak and seafood, as their subtitle suggested.


“Joe’s Signature Caesar”, absolute vodka, Clamato juice, Sambal Oelek, fresh horse radish, and a jumbo prawn. Waiting by the bar, hungry, but don’t wanting to be too tipsy; this was the best choice. I ate the prawn and the hearty juice staved off additional pangs of hunger.


Complimentary warm bread with lobster oil and balsamic vinegar. The lobster oil featured was the same bottles they packaged themselves and advertised for take home-ability on the menu. The bread was gently warmed, spongy in the middle with a crisp crust. The flavour of the oil and vinegar had me going back for more. With each revisit I sought to sop up more and more of the oils, using bread as sponge. The taste was hard to describe, a savoury and garlicky bite.


“Peppercorn ahi tuna”. Grilled rare and served in a brandied peppercorn sauce, with potato rosti and market vegetables. The fish didn’t look like much upon delivery. Though with a self made incision I got that trademark ahi tuna red flesh. I wished they had sliced into the portion before hand to give that wow factor in presentation. Based on the picture alone I would guess this to be just pan cooked tuna. Tender and light, they allowed the fish to speak for itself. A mild flavour that eventually needed dips in peppercorn to rejuvenate its taste. The hash browns out shined the fish. These were the best has browns I have had to date. I could have eaten an entree sized potion of just them. No need for cheese or ketchup, well seasoned and refined as they go. I don’t like my asparagus in such large stalks. I find the flesh tough and the fibre chewy, more trees than vegetable. The carrots were undercooked. Hard roots that required a firm bite or rigorous saw through to half.


“Bone in rib steak”, 18oz, medium rare. My guest was looking for the “fattiest” cut, and this came as the recommendation of our server. At 18oz. this was the largest cut offered and the most costly at over $55. With fatty edges and hidden nerves it gave the cut its well marbled look. The flavour was fine, the meat itself a little chewy. Given the price I expected a melt in your mouth succulent slab of meat. I have had better for less and therefore was disappointed here. The included side was bacon and horseradish mashed potatoes and market vegetable. With my guest’s dietary restrictions, our plan to share, we got our potato sans the bacon. Whipped smooth, and always the perfect pairing to red meat. We were ambitious and failed to finish a third of the steak.

Working in the service industry I appreciated the fact that our server offered us dessert menus without a beat missed. He assumed we would want something sweet or at least browse through the selections. The truth is after all that meat and vegetables we were ready to take our leftovers to go. The remainder of our meal was packaged in a box and sealed with their own branded sticker. I carried it out in a custom “Joe Forte” paper bag, made for such an occasion.


The washroom requires a bit of a trek to the third floor, but the climb on the suspended staircase gives you a wonderful overview of the place. I took the opportunity to take some real great pictures of the layout.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As one of Vancouver’s most iconic restaurants this is a must try. If not at least once when you are living in the city, then at minimum when you travel from out of town. As my first visit, I came in expecting great things. With high expectations I expected all that a fine dining establishment is known to offer: a decant setting, courteous and attentive staff, and food as delicious as it is visually satisfying. So given my actual experience and the buzz surrounding the place I was somewhat let down. Maybe it’s my mistake for expecting this much on a busy Saturday evening. Though for a $125 plus bill I should not leave wanting more. I found the service rushed, the speed in which the staff ran had them coming across as being uninventive and rude. The atmosphere was loud and chaotic, requiring over the table leaning and aggressive shouting to be heard. I didn’t feel the food was worth its absorbent price tag; I have had better else where on all counts of taste, presentation, and cost. My guests insists she has been thoroughly impressed during their lunch services, with a lighter menu to match. I may one day decide to give that a try. But for a dinner of seafood and/or steak, I have other options I rather entertain first. Don’t deny your cravings.

777 Thurlow Street, Vancouver BC, V6E3V5
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House on Urbanspoon

Sushi Mania


Living in Vancouver your sushi choices are a dime a dozen. Though when it comes to choosing the best from the worst, I always trust my Japanese friend. There is something satisfying about eating with an “expert”, and being able to tap into their experiences and preferences and translating it through to my writing. So when he today’s destination this as our sushi stop, I was filled with great hope. An excitement that died all to soon with higher expectations set forth from our last outing together. He had heard good things and has seen great ratings on “Sushi Mania”; not to mention his father, a particularly fussy diner who know what “real” sushi should taste like, liked the place.

The restaurant is located on Main Street, a small shoppe that doesn’t take reservations. On this Thursday, later in the evening, a wait was required. It wasn’t much, but at least a bench by the door offered a sound resting point. Cramped conditions and close quarters offered an opportunity to eavesdrop and a chance to fog up the front windows.


The decor is fairly simple. A few choice pieces of artwork sprinkled unevenly across the room. The theme seemed to be grouping them in threes. Three painted geishas dressed in elaborate kimonos against black. Three budding blossom branches, literally glowing with tiny bulbs. Three salmon swimming along the wall, surrounded by a wired silhouette, and suspended from wooden poles. And Japanese expressions stamped on to planks of wood, display in a row as two bundles of threes. Though there was only one textured lamp made from the criss crossing of wires shaped like an orb.

The booth seats were heated. An added touch, perfect on a cold Vancouver night. Though a fun novelty that wore off quickly. With hot soup and chilli sauce on rolls things got too heated too fast. With sweat on his forehead, one guest needed to air out his bottom on several occasions.


Upon entry you are greeted with a barrage of sounds. The usually unison Japanese greeting was done here in multiple waves, a drawn out hum of noise. Though it might be poignant here to note that the restaurant is run by Koreans. Something we self discovered through hearing them communicate with one another, with the Korean pop music playing over head, and their specialty sushi rolls named after Korean pop groups: “Bigbang”, “H.O.T roll”, “miss A roll”. And as a causal observation from my Japanese guest, when there are neon signs outside, the restaurants tend not be authentically Japanese inside. He also pointed out the rarity of a female sushi chef behind the bar, like the one we had today. The superstition is that because of their body temperature, women can’t make sushi. It requires just the right elements, and apparently the temperature of their hands don’t coincide with the needed setting of the rice and fish. None of the above affected the quality of food.


The menu was a listing of common appetizers and well known rolls. So familiar that they needed no description. Though a few were given the option of being rolled from brown rice. A great option for those looking to be more health conscious in their day to day eating. I myself would never entertain such a choice. Growing up I was raised on brown rice, I remember its chewy texture and dry kernels. Cooked incorrectly brown rice could cause the disruption of texture when compared to soft, thinly sliced raw fish. Overall I was disappointed in the given menu selection. I am a diner who would go out of my way to find something different, often asking, “what is the most unique thing on your menu?”. The speciality rolls satisfied me just enough. Though with majority of their bases being California rolls and only having their toppings on rotation, I was left further disappointed. As most of the dishes ordered were pretty standard, tasting like they should, and tasting like what we expected; I will only be going into detail of those varying or unique to this restaurant.


“Chirashi Don”, assorted raw fish on rice. Given the variety plated and the decent fish to rice ratio, this was a good deal. Though serving it and eating it at room temperature did the dish a disservice. One of my guests questioned whether it was his fault. Did he wait too long to eat? A thought that had him finishing the bowl instead of requesting a new one. Being this warm the flavours weren’t as distinguished and they didn’t taste as fresh as one would expect. Shame, at least the presentation of it was on point.


“Beef udon”. Pieces of beef cooked together with thick noodles in a light broth. Having the carrots as slivers meant they were fully boiled, unlike the almost raw broccoli floret. A pretty standard offering served with a jar of spices should you require additional flavouring.


“Negitoro roll”, combination of raw fatty tuna and spring onion.


“Sockeye salmon nigri” and “Toro Nigri”, typically the belly of bluefin tuna, the most fattiest of parts.


“Agedashi tofu”.


As I mentioned earlier, most of their original rolls start off with a California Roll base, then vary with what ingredients and sauces are layered on top. “Mania roll”. Crab meat, avocado, and cucumber; topped with seared chopped scallop. The sauce really gave this roll it’s unique taste.


“Love Holic roll”, crab meat, avocado, and cucumber; topped with smoke salmon and capers. I was intrigued, never considering the union of capers and sushi before. It tasted like bagel and lox without the bagel or cream cheese. Though the later could have been added for an additional zing and some needed creaminess.


“Black dragon roll”, crab meat avocado, and cucumber; topped with seared unagi. I just like the taste of gently seared fish/seafood on my sushi. It gives things a great smokey flavour. A flavour that really stands out amongst the more gentle essence of cooked rice and raw fish.


“Crunchy Munchy roll”. Spicy tuna and cucumber, topped with yam tempura bits. This one was recommended by our server, the most popular of their specialty rolls. The deep fried yam strings were the best part. The amount piled high was clearly for dramatics, and it certainly got my eyes opening wide with delight. By taste you could tell they were seasoned before their dip in hot oil. They held up their crunchiness long after the rolls hidden underneath were gone. Not oily with plenty to share, it gave an exciting crunch to an otherwise soft roll.



Dinner special 1. Their dinner special was the best deal. It included 3 items and miso soup for $11.95. Though as exciting of a sale this was, the list of items you could choose from were all “regular” ones. No fancy rolls or unique dishes, just your run of the mill offerings found at every sushi establishment. Though two of my guests did end up choosing this option.


“Miso soup”, one per combo.


“California roll”.


“Tuna sushi”.


With the “Salmon sushi” she was given the option to upgrade from wild salmon as apposed to pond salmon. She agreed to the 25 cent per piece fee.

Dinner special 2.


“Yam tempura roll”. The battered tempura was still crispy inside the rolled up rice surrounding it. It’s maintained warm texture led us to believe the piece was fried to order. Something surprising, where most tempura rolls are soggy from using a pre made batch of tempura.


“Spicy tuna”, the spiciness came from the use of chilli sauce on top, and not actually from any additional seasoning of the tuna. So essentially this was just a tuna roll with chilli sauce.


“Chicken teriyaki”, the smaller portion was disappointing, but it made sense given the price. The presentation reminded us of that which would be served at a cafeteria. A simple portion for a young child.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I found the shop all in all pretty generic. Nothing memorable and not worth a trip out of your way to. The food was good enough to satisfy the need for a quick sushi run, from someone living near by. Although given the number of all the sushi places in Vancouver there are bound to be a fist full that are just so-so. They fill a gap and are the answer to a need in the community. I deem “Sushi Mania” as such a one. After all, like Starbucks, we apparently need a sushi restaurant within every other city block. Don’t deny your cravings.

3851 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3N9
Sushi Mania on Urbanspoon

Mag’s 99 Fried Chicken and Mexican Cantina


My guest had this place recommend to him, it was deemed the perfect stop on a sea to sky highway cruise. So on this sunny Vancouver day we saw the opportunity to drive and suss things out for ourselves. Hours later with stops at the usual view points: Horse Shoe Bay, Deep Cove, and Shannon Falls; we were in Squamish. Driving on the highway with a clear the view of the “Chief”, a mountain range I feel barely resembles a face.


Our final destination held the winning combination of Mexican cuisine and fried chicken. Outside its sign and name attracted drivers passing by to stop. The sign mentioned their 99 problems but tacos not being one. The “99” also referring to the stretch of highway it stood adjacent to. The use of it in their name and tying it to well known rap lyrics was a clever. Their mascot was a predictable yellow chicken in a sombrero, with an extended wing he invited you in. On a weekend such as this, with a snowboarding competition held in Whistler, the restaurant saw an increase in traffic. Lines grew, booths filled, and the serving of food came to a stand still.

The restaurant was set up like a fast food chain without the drive through portion. I believe this was the shell of a repurposed Taco Bell. So the room’s foundation was set relatively the same, but with Mexican and Spanish elements peppered in.


You line up to order at the front, right upon entry. Leaning against the waist height bars that snake around the foyer. The menu hangs above and behind the cashier as back lit signs. You stand aside and allowing others to pass as you shift through your choices. Poutine, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, burgers without beef patties, and even a kids meals. But unlike other speedy and efficient fast food places, here orders are taken on paper and passed to the kitchen by hand. This in place of an automatic computer punch in system, saw much confusion. Without documentation or a standard practice many questions were asked, clarification was needed, and several orders missed. Though realistically, given the location, business may not always be this busy. And given that only three young individuals were running the shop everything ran relatively smooth.


Dishes are prepared as ordered and everyone seemed to be coming in hungry, ordering multiple dishes; this caused the wait to be fairly substantial. Understandably with only only two workers in the back, the speed of procession was delayed. I don’t believe they anticipated the crowd trickling in from a day at Whistler. The youthful server facing the front line did the best she could for her age and experience. She was patience and able to correct as needed. All this and she still had the time to pop out from behind the counter to bus tables.


Your meal is served on plastic trays, it allows you to carry your entire serving to the table of your choice. Sauces sat on the counter for general use. Bottled ketchup and hot sauce to be poured into little disposable cups. And you helped yourself to a drink of choice from the fountain machine at the corner. With the rowdy crowd in today, the restaurant’s system of shouting out orders to declare counter pick up seemed unproductive. It was a bad system. Not taking down names meant multiple customers approached the bench hoping it was their meal that was ready. Confusion erupted. We were fooled twice.


The decor was authenticity making an attempt to relate to the new age. Traditional Mexican elements and Spanish flares set the room up with colourful interest. Colourful tissue paper cutouts hung from the ceiling’s ledge, a rainbow of rectangular snow flakes. Spanish cloth tapestries were strung up on the walls, sewn together images depicting scenes from the popular day of the dead. A collection of skulls and wrestling masks were used for art; represented in paintings, showcased in pictures, and present as artifacts on display. Mexican woven dolls dawning sun hats and dresses striped in tiers stood in greeting. A reward posting for a wanted “Francisco (pancho) Villa” was printed and pined in paper. Aloe plants kept warm wrapped in traditional patterned blankets. And chilli pepper plants kept a few of the red tables company. They sat facing the window, looking out at the highway and the “chief” just ahead. Seating came as singles by a bar top, doubles for groups, and booths in the centre for parties greater that four.


Even the washroom was ornately decorated. The men’s hosted three wrestlers, fierce in masks and spandex. I only dared to click a quick picture a few feet from the door way. In the women’s, another masked face cloaked in blue with a devilish grin as she clasped hands in prayer. Quite the piece. Although the walls of the washroom were painted well with much attention and detail, the actual toilets could have used a good scrub down.


“3 tacos fries and a drink” combo. We choose two in taco beef and one in Mexi rotisserie chicken. These over the other possible options of slow cooked red chilli beef, sweet ancho pork, veggie Mexican falafel, and roasted peppers with refried beans. We paid 99 cents for the added guacamole sauce for all three tacos. Even then it wasn’t tasty enough, though nothing some hot sauce couldn’t rectify. We found the flour tortillas hard, they could have used some addition baking in the oven. We split the generous filling between the two stack tortillas at its bottom. With this technique we had six tacos in reality. We were especially impressed with quantity of pulled chicken. Though found the beef the more flavourful of the two. The chicken tasted like it was grilled on the BBQ. The natural juices from the chicken and beef helped to lubricate the dry shells. And the coleslaw added freshness and crunch. Be prepared to get in there with your hands and to get messy with drippings. My guest claims a good burrito or taco drips with juices like ours did today. I concurred.


“Chicken snack packs”. Two pieces of chicken with fries and a drink. The chicken was delicious with its crispy skin. The dark meat juicy and moist with each bite. Not oily, but well seasoned to the bone. This despite the bottom of the wax paper lined basket glistening with grease. Hands down my preferred brand of fried chicken, my newly declared favourite to date. Never mind the colonel or any from churches. The fries were an enjoyable longer than usual length. Each basket filled with fries fried from different batches. They were disappointingly only room temperature when we got them. And their uneven cooking varied from piece by piece and order to order.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This is my ideal location for munchies. Shame it’s this far away. The restaurant was busy with all walks of people coming in and out. What seemed like an inconvenient destination all the way out here was the perfect pitstop between Vancouver and Whistler. Chicken and Mexican, take two things people love, combine them together and it’s fool proof. The food was fun, it’s taste fresh, and it’s offerings familiar. Take away the distance and you have the perfect go to for a good meal on a fair budget. Don’t deny your cravings.

MAG’S 99
1584 Hwy 99, Squamish BC
Mag's 99 Fried Chicken and Mexican Cantina on Urbanspoon

Uncle Willy’s Buffet


My guest wanted burger, fries, meat, and pies. So after driving around and not being able to pin down anything specific, we found ourselves in the most generic of places with the biggest of appetites. Though ironically, even though “Uncle Willy’s” is classified as American cuisine, it is owned and operated by a Chinese family; and their offering includes familiar Chinese dishes like spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice. Though truthfully it is done in the heavily westernized food court versions.

Ask anyone and the response seems to be, “it’s been about 10 years since I have been here”. There doesn’t seem to be a large all you can eat scene in Vancouver so the Uncle seems to be your only choice. The challenge here was to eat all you could. Dinner over lunch offered a wider selection with an accompanying steeper price. At $13 per person I still viewed this cost with substantial savings over any entree at any popular casual chain.


You are greeted at the hostess booth where the expectation is to pay first. A wise process seeing as parties move about regularly and cheque skipping would be easy enough with the lack of interaction needed between staff and patrons. Though the one way in and one way out path set up by a walled partition does help in regulating things. A tip jar sat sadly empty by the register. Considering we were the last party in and the dinner rush had come and gone this was a sad showing.


We were handed a proof of purchase in the form of a receipt and green slip. On it was a series of rules and regulations, as well as standards kept. Clean plates and utensils used at each round. Managers have the ability to restrict service of certain items or unusually large sized portions. The necessity of supervising your own children. And maximum occupation of table is at 1 1/2 hours. We chose our table out of the many free and used our slip to claim its seats. Placed face up means your dinner is on going and faced down declares your completion of it.


The room was all pretty functional. No art, no distraction. Neatly arranged tables that faced the buffet line. The buffet began with tools needed. Grab a tray, equip yourself with utensils and napkins and walk down the line. Soups, salads, hot appetizers, stews, meats, and sides. No real flow or rhythm. The end is flanked by a station for meat cut off the slab. Here a staff member hovers, ready so should you want a carving. A secondary buffet table sits kitty corner. On it Chinese sides and American classics co mingle. Nothing really different from the main line. The restaurant is shaped like a “L”, comprised of two rooms. Two rooms meant maximum seating, one only in use during peak hours. The other space kept dark and empty when seating in the main dining room is sufficient. It is here that desserts are kept. Sweet squares and chilled slices come from closed off and cooled down showcases. You lift lids and open latches to pull out your desired treat. A portion already precut and redivided into smaller bowls. Soft serve ice cream and warm desserts were to its side. Spiced apples and tapioca pudding today, both left to burn and harden, unattended in the far corner. The soft serve ice cream is everyone’s favourite, from a machine you use yourself. You pull down the handle and gather as much of the cream you like. Pumps of chocolate and caramel are available for add ons. Or you can make any of the brownies, pies, or jello a la mode.


We grabbed our own set of cutlery and dish wear and heading down the line, savoury first. We were iffy about the cleaned plates and bowls still beading with water and streaked with condensation from steam. They were stacked high and placed face down on the spring loaded platform. Clearly a time reducing action, though one with the potential to do harm. Harm in the form of cultivating mold cultures, from the combination of moisture and humidity. This became more evident when the unidentified manager declared, “no pictures of the food miss”. I took his blanket statement to only refer to the buffet line. This stern declaration came from a man in sweatpants and a sweater. He wore no identification and made no mention of who he was. Though every now and then he would get up from his plate and his table, stop eating, and take a once over look at the hot table. He patrolled the trays and mixed the mounds as he felt needed it. The movement did help to remove any signs of congealed solids or tacky liquids.


The disabling of photography had me thinking. What were they hiding? In a day and age where social media is so prevalent. Each picture has the potential to translate into free advertisement, and spring board a business in a matter of seconds. Nothing spreads like word of month so hindering it, could only mean there was something they didn’t want seen. Maybe it was meant to hide their corner cutting practices and subpar food handling policies? Actions that they preferred to continue go unnoticed. I understand that certain processes need to be shortened in order to keep prices low, but at what cost? I have seen other buffets go the same way. It only takes one food poisoning incident and one claim of indigestion to shut a place down. It’s been a while since I have completed my food safe training, but I do recall some practices that were missed here. Dishes, bowls, spoons, and forks cleaned and left to air dry in tight stacks and covered bundles. Staff tending to the trays of food without hair nets. And slicing meat without gloves, only after bussing tables minutes before. I bore no witness to proper hand washing techniques. More trays than the radiating warmth of heat lamps could cover. Food left out in the open, uncovered and without a sneeze guards. Though those with said guards had them barely protecting the dishes below. Most unappealing was the wilted salad fixings sitting in half melted ice chips and pools of stagnant water, and worse still were the large servings of oxidized fruit sliced, next to it. Though I guess no one cares about salad or fruit when you can have fried chicken and ice cream.

The great thing about dining at all you can eat places is that your expectations are so low that when something is actually alright you think its pretty good; you get excited, and you get seconds. The following review will be a quick blurb on pros and cons. There is too much to cover and truthfully the quality of food does not deserve more time.


My strategy for getting the most out of a buffet is to go with what you like and don’t waste room on any fillers. Stay away from bread, rice, or pasta. Focus on that which would normally cost you more else where. And when reaching your peak, dip into lighter foods like corn or jello to rejuvenate your palette and help catch a second wind. More of appetite to eat more. Every buffet plate you scoop needs such a pallet refresher.

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the food, but I got away with taking ones of my piled high plates.


Vegetable beef soup with frozen vegetables and pasta shells.


Perogies, cabbage roll, sliced sausage, French fries, spring rolls, salmon, and meat balls.


Cold macaroni salad in tomato shells, corn kernels, spaghetti and meat balls in marinara sauce, beef stew, vegetable curry over white rice, and perogies.


Green beans and mushroom, chicken thigh, fried chicken drum, fried rice, cheese gratin, cold orzo salad, and mashed potatoes with gravy.


Coleslaw, chilli, corn bread, fried chicken, salmon, and roasted potato.


Fried vegetable noodles, corn kernels, slices of beef, and a slice of ham.


Green jello laced with cabbage, apple pie self made a la mode, diabetic friendly vanilla pudding, spiced apple cobbler, cream puff, and chocolate and caramel topped soft serve ice cream.

Pros: Salmon surprisingly good, well seasoned and easily flaked. The spiced chicken was moist, and skin flavourful despite its burnt look. The fried chicken was tender, like the colonel done gone fried it himself. Flavourful spaghetti sauce and firm meat balls. Soft serve ice cream the best I have ever had. Desserts divided in pieces small enough to allow for multiple samples. Though as soon as we started to feel bad for being so surprised, we found enough cons to bring us back to reality.

The Cons: The sausages were the cheap processed kind sliced diagonally; it tasted like it. Soggy cabbage rolls with wilted wrappings. Spring rolls that you could only taste the grease they had been sitting in. The beef vegetable soup reminded me of servings from my primary school thanksgiving assemblies. Salad greens wilted in bowl and apples oxidized in heaps. Coleslaw drenched in mayonnaise. Corn kernels tasted like the can they came in. And carrot blocks left hard and uncooked, tasting of age and refrigeration. The fries had been left out and old, if it was McDonalds we would have waited for a fresh batch. The cuts of meat that were sliced upon request, were as dry as they looked. They sat as a stump on their individually stained cutting board. A heat lamp on each, only a couple of inches away. Majority of desserts were cold and tasteless. Those kept warm were overcooked and tasted burnt from their trays. There used to be sprinkles offered at the make your own sundae bar.


Yes I understand we came in later, expecting full dinner service an hour before they called “last call” on the buffet. Though had they given us such a warning on closing time when we entered, if hours of operations was posted on the door, and if someone came by so we could ask; maybe I wouldn’t be so harsh. But as a guest I feel that since I am paying the same fee at 8pm as the person dining at 6pm, should I not get the same quality of food regardless of time?


The staff are alert enough to notice your approach. They get in to positions speedily, and disperse when not needed. A server to claim your payment, others to man the buffet line, and more still to clean tables and cut meat. Though when needed none were found. No one was around to ask any questions, no one came to bus our table, and no one came to check in on how we were. Heck the staff that did pass by couldn’t even muster eye contact. Extroverted youths who were here for a paycheque. Seeing others leave and hearing last call on the buffet line we wanted to ask when they would be closing. I even contemplated dialing them from my seat to ask. Luckily the dessert bar was still available and I was content with just that. When we got up to go no one said a word. We were clearly the last ones still here, with our table the only one without its chairs upside down on it. Yet despite catching faces no one bothered to look up to say good bye or thank you. A cold and silent exit for us. Just as well, I decided not to tip on the service I did not receive nor on the welcome I did not feel. As I briefly mentioned earlier, if they were upset with us leaving later why not say something? Tell us when we came in that last call would be in an hour, 9pm on a Thursday. Have it posted by the entrance. Have staff bus our table and gently mention it in passing. If no effort was made and we did not know, how can they be mad at us for out staying our welcome? I guess as long as they had our money they were happy.

As a side note, not that I think this would be a vegetarian’s first choice, be warned nothing in trays are labeled with names, descriptions, or ingredients. Only mention is a showcase of diabetic desserts, warned only for those with the need. So those with allergies and dietary restrictions need stay away.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I am good on “Uncle Willy’s” for a long time to come. It’s like cheap Chinese takeout , you get that craving once a season and after a few mouthfuls remember why you don’t eat it more often. When it comes to consuming anything, my body is pretty tolerant, it handles weird combinations and cuisine that would leave others in an upset position. Though I think it is here that I need drawn the line. This muddled mix isn’t meant to be eaten on a regular bases, and the food offers not much in terms of nutritional value. It’s most popular clients are seniors looking for additional deals, teenagers on dates, and young families looking for a quick and easy dinner solution. It’s cheap and plentiful, satisfying all those who are famished on a budget. Coming in looking for more would leave you very disappointed. Set your standards very low to be pleasantly surprised. Don’t deny your cravings.

6411 Nelson Avenue, Burnaby BC, V5H4J9
Uncle Willy's Buffet on Urbanspoon

Orrange kitchen + bar


I took quite the drive to get to Port Coquitlam, so I came in expecting great things from “Orrange”. My guest lives and works in the neighbourhood so vouched for her choice in lunching venue. It is located in a shopping complex of one of boutiques and services. The exterior was fairly muted, wood accents behind a clearly defined name and logo. The title was certainly catchy. I wonder what the extra “r” in “orrange” stood for?

Inside, the layout was familiar to that of a generic casual chain. Sharp angles to create separate and more intimate seating corners. A spacious dining room fronted by a distinctive bar. Numerous flat screens broadcasting the game of the day. And a scattered gathering of all sorts of people.


Of note was the unique display of refrigerator doors. They were painted in retro pale greens and washed out yellows, with metal handles included. On them lived a splash of Polaroids, a collection of people in photos stuck on haphazardly. I thought this a clever feature, one worthy of immortalizing with photography.


The hostess greeted me at the front, holding back the heavy double wood doors. With a smile she lead me to a seat, a sea of options given the date and time of my visit. Being a weekday and coming in post lunch rush, the room held party to only four couples and some solos by the bar. Enroute we passed by the bar, a stage set intimately darker. It was designed as a large circle, which allowed for more hightop at bar seating. The 360 degree surface area meant more to cover, and the challenge one bartender needed to meet with an easily rotatable neck. No shelves and no walls behind the bar saw that everything needed for cocktails, all the beers, and the wines on tap were tucked under the counter. A difficult to work in setting for staff, but a lovely to lounge in setting for clients. Above the scene hung three chandeliers, feathered in ovals. They added visual interest and a boutique feel. The chairs here and all high tops in the dining room were done as 50’s styled stools, with reclined backs and cupped bottoms. Upholstered in an avocado green they matched the colour scheme present in the refrigerator doors.


The dining room opened up with ample space. The kitchen to the left and staged seating to the right. The right saw a step up on to a platform and a walk into a sectioned off space. This was the perfect area for accommodating larger parties. In the dining room the lowered ceilings painted in white and the restaurant’s wide windows allowed for a better lit section. The windows gave a look out at the yet to open patio. Chained up chairs and cemented tables unused, not ready in a still cold and still rainy season. We chose a table by it with an obscured view of the kitchen. A beaded curtain stencilled with their logo separated public space from an employees only area. The restaurant’s logo is of two crowned lions standing on hind legs. Both stood profiled with a fork, knife, and corkscrew in paw. I thought very regal for a bar, though befitting of any sports team; and therefore the perfect symbol for this fancy sports bar. To the side, hidden behind a row of closely spaced banisters worked two chefs in white. I could make out their figures and not their faces head down. For those wanting to appreciate these men in today there was an option on the menu for a $3 “beer for the chef”. I am sure the chefs didn’t actually accept beers when on the clock. And this was just a way to ensure all money tipped went straight to the ones who prepared the food that you enjoyed.


Another unique option on the menu, and another that I didn’t entertain was the “Bubbles and dog”. 4 Chicago dogs and a bottle of champagne. At $135 you could be sure this was a real deal bottle of champagne. I don’t see this being commonly ordered, but maybe enjoyed rarely as a fun way to celebrate. Imagine coming here after a big game and announcing your victory with a soul satisfying meat and bun combo and a well deserved celebratory bottle of bubbly. What a delightful oxymoron of food.

The menu was a one pager pinned to a giant wooden clipboard. It came with a bonus short list of lunch specials. As their slogan promised there were “killer cocktails, kick ass eats, and nothing but love”. I easily spotted classic bar favourites and unique variations of dishes all their own. Poutine, nachos, fries, and burgers. “Roadside tacos”, mini dogs, and “Chinese take out”. I believe you need a balance of both for a successful menu. Safety in familiarity for those wanting the norm, and excitement in difference for those feeling more adventurous. I dine as the latter.


Ceasar with pickled bean and spiced rim. Pretty run of the mill: spicy and overpowering in tomato taste to hide the sting of vodka. I failed to finish my beverage before the ice melted, which resulted in a heavily watered down cocktail.


“Pineapple wok squid”. Our server pointed to this as being the most unique thing on the menu and therefore it beckoned my trying. There was a thick coating of batter over every segment of evenly chopped squid. With it I hardly got any of the expected seafood taste. And the smaller chunks almost had me missing the usual rubber like chew of squid. Any taste came from the sweet and savoury charred pineapple segments and the spicy yogurt dipping sauce. The flavours paired with spicy chilli, roasted garlic, and fresh cilantro was very reminiscent of Thai cuisine. Sweet and spicy over all, the cooling sauce brought together and balanced all the flavours.


“The Leigh Brandt vegetable burger”. I am sure there is a story behind this one and its name, shame I failed to ask for it. A red patty made from red quinoa, kidney beans, and ancient grains. A burger filled with roasted veggies, pea shoots, pesto sauce, tomato slices, and mozzarella cheese.


My guest is a vegetarian and has been one for over 18 years. She has lived with the struggle of finding a good vegetarian burger, and today declared this the best she has ever had. “A-game”. The extra effort and ingredients showed through when trying to create a deeper flavour profile. More layers is needed from vegetables to replicate the heartiness of an all beef patty. And the line up above between a herbed filled ciabatta bun certainly added the extra zing needed. I was most impressed with the patty. So light and crumbly it tasted and looked in house made. The liquid retained from each grain kernel meant it was never frozen and no piece had that hard chunk you had to avoid. This was a vibrant burger that didn’t rely on its sole sauce, but instead leveraged all its ingredients to create dimension and distinction. She paired this with a side of yam fries, chosen over soup, salad, or regular fries.


I also took our server recommendation of the “Fried chicken sandwich”. She said this was the best and the vegetarian burger her second favourite. Though she was biased having never tried any of the two beef options. Immediately it looked disappointing compared to my guests’ entree. The burger itself was plain and it’s filling was sagging. Though a bite in had me changing my tune. The plain bun was to not overshadow the more flavourful elements that it was sandwiching. Bacon marmalade, jack cheese, and spicy mayo. This was an adult BLT, well balanced with an even filling to bun ratio. The use of a larger chicken fillet, shredded lettuce, and multiple thinly sliced tomato insured each bite until the edge saw meat, veggies, and sauce. I was most happy to get the taste of bacon coming through, it had its usual salty chew, but in addition to a zesty orange sweetness from its marmalade base. Although I did find things too creamy with excessive mayo. It made the lettuce soggy and overpowered the cheese completely.


I chose the soup of the day as my side, “Asparagus”. It was lumpy with actual segments of asparagus stalk and unblended chunks. It was a bite of fresh asparagus layered with butter and cream. A pure, crisp, one note taste that was “absolutely asparagus”, to quote my guest. Simple and clean. If I could make one adjustment it would be to purée the soup smooth and used freshly toasted bread as croutons for a textural component. To me the soup felt grainy and I didn’t like the chew.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The setting won me over with its causal luxury. Ample screens to watch any play by play from any angle, and cozy seats for extended stays. With free parking in the shared lot out front this is a great place to check out a game in or grab a drink with friends at. The staff were attentive and approachable. They helped one another and us regardless of which section patrons were seated in. Our server checked in often, much more than the one per plate visit that other establishments institute. We were given the billfold before it was requested, but were never nudged out. We sat in our given space and were allowed to linger, taking our time the whole way through. Even to the point of not being ready to order after three check ins. And yet no complaints from our server and no sneers from other staff. The food satisfied my need for familiarity with my want for different. Bar fare made grown up. Exciting twists and fun names kept me entertained. If it wasn’t for the distance I could see myself frequenting this spot as a solid go to for larger groups and an easy choice for picky eaters. Don’t deny your cravings.

111-1125 Nicola Avenue, Port Coquitlam BC, V3B8B2
Orrange Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Gyoza King

IMG_0912IMG_0913There is not much open and available on a weekday after 11pm. After a go and give up on 24 hour restaurants, my guest and I discovered the 1am last call of “Gyoza King”. This was the warm and inexpensive food that we were looking for. Located downtown the travel to was easy. A drive at this time of night yielded no traffic and with ease we found parking on the street. Bonus, eating this late means all parking meters run for free.


The restaurant was still fairly busy. Guests tying up meals and other coming in for drinks. The nuances of the decor seemed authentic in Japanese styling. The sandwich board outside advertised specials with bubble letters and drew interest using animated food with faces. The pumpkin looked innocent and the squid seemed confused. Inside staffed greeted you with a unison chime of Japanese warmth, same was the case when you left. Communication between staff was in Japanese, with only a few members being able to reciprocate to you in English. Finding the “right” person to accept a debit card payment was a bit of a challenge. Not much to be seen or that could be seen with dimly lit, orange walled, panelled bulbs. I could only meekly make out professional printed posters of their food offerings and signs written by hand mentioning weekly specials. Behind the bar shelves were left unorganized, jammed pack with dish ware and equipment. The decor was certainly themed as being more functional than aesthetics driven.


For seating we were given the option between the tradition table and chair set up, or offered something more authentic and closer to a traditional Japanese dining experience. To the left of the entrance stood a staged platform painted in black. It came with the required removal of shoes and a lunging step up. Here you sat on its “floor” and ate with more freedom of self. It’s width offered to put you at the same height as those seated a few feet away, without the extra furniture. We choose it and claimed two positions, marked by flattened cushions, in front of the bar. I could not miss out on a different way to dine, and have only seen such a novelty at sushi restaurants in individual rooms. Though the removal of footwear left me feeling self conscious over the potential odour permeating from bare feet.


The menu was a helpful guide. Everything on it was proceeded with a photo. A little washed out in yellow lighting, but you got the gist. This made the ordering process enjoyable and a discovery for plates. I often order based on how a dish looks and how I may capture it in film. This allowed me that joy without consequence. A feature menu was also present, with weekly more seasonal offerings. Hand written and photocopied in black and white. The food sounded good, but without the same attention to photography that was on the regular menu, I was not compelled to chose my meal from it.


“Agedashi tofu”, deep fried tofu sitting in a pool of sauce, topped with bonito flakes and shredded seaweed. The variation on their version compared to everywhere else is the presence of additional toppings. Ingredients other than tofu and soy used for visual interest and tasting difference. I found the sauce was the best part. We used the tofu blocks like sponges soaking up all its savoury salty moisture. Our only complaint was that there was not as much tofu as expected for the cost involved, though the pieces we did get were quite substantial.


“Gyo-kin fried chicken”. A six piece chicken wing set served seasoned with garlic chilli pepper. These wings were hot out of the fryer as notable by their piping temperature and crispy texture. The rub dusted on top smelled of smokey barbecue, warming flavours of Cajun heat. I just wished I tasted it more than I could smell it. None of it was hardly incorporated in either the marinade or batter, more like a garnish, a point of interest. An only okay wing made above decent with its winning crunch into chewy skin. There was definitely a need for a dipping sauce.


You don’t dine at a place without ordering its name sake dish. With a name like “Gyoza King”, the restaurant subconsciously promised me one of the best Gyozas I have ever had. Luckily they did not disappoint. Described as a Japanese ravioli, they listed several filling options on its own “Gyoza” page. Various meat and vegetable fills and some with a combination of both. We ordered the “pork and vegetable Gyoza”. These were homemade savoury pastries panfried and served with their special sauce. They were immaculate, professional in each ridge fold and even in filling distribution. The pan frying gave each dumpling an added char taste. This was exactly what we craved for and expected in the best way possible. Though I don’t know if having the meat only version would have made a a difference, I couldn’t taste any vegetables in the mix.


“Miso ramen”. My guest aptly described this as, “a pool of happiness on a cold day”. This was the savoury and soupy portion we were looking for. The meat came in generous cuts of tender proportions. The bean sprouts lent its crunch for a needed crispness. And the shredded seaweed topping added a textural and flavourful component, and the addition of more as a sheet offered the ability to enjoy it further. The noodles and broth was plentiful, a good ratio between it and the other ingredients. We got enough meat, bean, and noodles to have each component in each spoonful with broth.


Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
There were lots of “Mnmms” coming from muffled bites. This meal hit that late night spot. If someone asked for late night cheap eats that isn’t your typical burgers joint or all night pho, I would send them to “Gyoza King”. We expected that the quality of food would be diminished this time of night. Though with adequate well trained staff, and highly skilled chefs, we were pleasantly surprised otherwise; and everything held up. When it came time to pay we were surprised that the total bill total to under $30. Though I am sure we were charged happy hour pricing that we were not made aware of. So happy with everything that I took a gamble and pushed the “Auto tip” function when paying with card. Don’t deny your cravings.

1508 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1C3
Gyoza King on Urbanspoon

Candy Meister Foodtruck


I have made a few attempts to catch this food truck when outside of my work place. And on each occasion I have just missed it. So today when I saw it parked by the road during a casual stroll down commercial drive I had to stop. My long last excitement rubbed off on “Miss Vancouver Piggy”, fellow food enthusiast and blogger, as we approached the truck with smiles. We have all heard of and seen trucks offering snacks and meals on the go, though this is the first I have seen offering candy. And not just your regular grocery store variety bulk candy, but the all natural gourmet kind.

The truck is predominantly blue and white with stripes of yellow, red, and green. It’s name is the real draw, who doesn’t want to get a closer look at what a candy truck can offer. And when was the last time your solution to quelling your sweet tooth came to you?


Already heading in its general direction, we were drawn even closer with the offering of free samples by the clerk in the truck. She generously doled out full sized candies using plastic tongs. She got us interested using the safe lure of assorted fruit candies. These I suspect are the most popular in classic lemon wedges, sweet raspberry, cherry drops, and green apple. She was insistent in offering us others to try despite the first hard candy was still being in play in moth. I couldn’t refuse her persistence after the third plea. And thus was forced to double cheek, a candy per cheek, I found it hard to judge one from the other. But was pleasantly surprised at how well they married together.


Hard candies given an attempt at being healthy. These natural candies are home made in Germany. They use either use honey, fruits, or herbs as their main ingredient. And as a result come as vegan friendly, gluten free, dairy free, and corn free options. A handy visual chart easily explained this with photos and fine print for better clarification. Some more interesting combinations included Bavarian malt, mulled wine, fennel sticks, and anise as ingredients.


I simply do as I usual do and asked for the recommendation of the most unique. This was “green woodruff leaves” fruit candy. I don’t know exactly what green woodruff is, other than it being a German herb, but was sure it tasted good. A mild flavour that wasn’t over bearing, it offered itself as a gentle after meal mouth cleanser.


The more cautious and ever careful, “Miss Vancouver Piggy” played it safe with “honey bees” and “fizzy candy”. They were as their name suggested, candy that tasted of honey and candy that gives off a fizzing sensation. The bees were more honey taste than honey sweetness. And the fizzes were assorted fruit flavours that bubbled when sucked.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I like my candy chewy or chocolatey, the kind that rots teeth and is bad for you. Though novel, the idea of satisfying my sweet tooth with healthy and hard candies isn’t the image that immediately comes to mind. They were good and I did enjoy all that I tried, but these aren’t the kinds of taste I would long for again. When present I will park take, but nothing I would go out of my way for. I almost prefer a candy truck stylized like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Unique treats and nostalgic sweets. The candy that requires you to play with your food and remise of a childhood once had. Bubble tapes and bubble jugs, pop rocks, and gobstoppers, colour changing gum balls, and flavour intensifying chewables. Don’t deny your cravings.

To read “Miss Vancouver Piggy’s” review of “Candy Meister” from our blogger’s date click HERE.

Candy Meister on Urbanspoon

Cartems Donuterie


My guest deemed this as the “next it” doughnut place. Such a declaration was enough to have me eager to go. Seeing as fellow food blogger, and self proclaimed daily diner, “Miss Vancouver Piggy” and I were in the neighbourhood and looking for something sweet; we ventured two blocks away from our original destination to “Cartems Doughnuterie”. Here we paused for an after lunch dessert. And here I would like to mention that this blog post is written with her insights as well as my own.


Conveniently located by a busy bus line, they see traffic from those getting off and more from those grabbing a desert ring to go before their ride arrived. Walking in, the space surprisingly opens up like a breath of fresh air. Here a path is instantly formed between glossy wooden seating on either sides. Benches and high tops, round tables and stumps for stools, and bar tops by the door. The bar stooled ones offered hooks for coats and bags under the tables. And the ones by the front of shop windows offered people watching capabilities. I almost thought they could have maximize the free space a little better. Not that more seating was necessary, nor was there any needed to showcase all the doughnuts behind glass. It’s just that real estate isn’t cheap and therefore a waste if not best maximized. Though “Miss Vancouver Piggy” asked me to consider the space needed should a line arrive.


The Doughnuterie was set up very industrial-like. Raw with worn brick walls, smooth with buffed wood features, roughed with hardwood floors, and unique with a row of light bulbs in beams. Together with the presence of fluffy doughnuts and their cartoonish logo it was a pleasant balance of cute and edgy. The logo, a thought bubble with a smile.


With all the doughnuts premade and many more cooling on trays stacked on a rolling rack in the back. There was only the need for one employee running the place. She was patient with our indecisive nature and gave us all the time needed to snap multiple photos. I was most pleasantly surprised by her willingness to give just fresher doughnuts from off the racks. Usually you serve the older ones first, meaning those at the counter.


The doughnuts are lined up in columns and kept safe behind windowed glass. Here flavours are separated into two groupings. There doesn’t seem to be a difference between the set to the right or the double level on the left. Each flavour is presented with their name, a select few include a description as well. The type of sign was an easy way to differentiate between the regular offerings and those on special rotation. The pre printed signs offered consistency and the ones written on black cardboard offered variance.


This is no “Tim Hortons”. If you are in looking for a traditional boston cream or a honey curler you won’t find it here. Here they experiment with the fun and offer you the different. Majority have names that serve as obvious clarification, and other are presented clear enough to offer visual understanding. Maple walnut, pink lemonade, raised salted caramel, blood orange, vanilla bean, chocolate glaze, Mexican mole, triple chocolate, salted caramel, earl grey, whiskey bacon, chocolate toffee, cinnamon burlee, citrus dust, coconut cream, regular and blueberry yuzu fritters, and the classic doughnut.

IMG_0792IMG_0793 The “sweet snow” looked like a chocolate doughnut with chocolate glaze, sprinkled with sweetened coconut shreds. “Stuffies”, referred to the doughnuts piped full of cream or jellies. Today there was a cranberry jelly, an apple pie filled, and the London fog. The “Fig-get about it” was a clever play on words. A doughnut I assumed like the “stuffies”, filled with a sweetened fig puréed.


“The kitty” came in pink with an iconic Hello Kitty bow on its sign. This was a nod to the famous cat without infringing on copyright. I assumed “cinnamon sugar” would taste like the sweetness left at the bottom of a milky bowl of “cinnamon toast crunch”. The best part in my opinion.


There was a lot I wanted to try, but between “Miss Vancouver Piggy” and I we tried limiting ourselves to sharing just three. We wanted the different and refrained from the familiar. She, a fan of tea flavours and not actually drinking it, chose the two tea related ones. “London fog stuffie”, filled with vanilla bean whipped cream, glazed with earl grey icing and drizzled with a white chocolate ganache. Despite the generous oozing of filling and the sticky nature of the doughnut this was surprisingly not as sweet as it looked. The vanilla bean was an appreciated gentle additional to the whipped smooth homemade cream. The glaze offered the slighted hint of tea, accented with the sweeter sauce of white chocolate. A decant doughnut I could not eat all in one sitting. Through it may be prudent to know here, I am not too keen on such sweets.


The “Earl grey” doughnut was eye catching in beauty. The scattered petal sprinkles highlighted this ring over all the others. Though the connection between the doughnut’s flavour to these edible flowers was lost on me. Earl Grey tea’s main ingredient is Bergamot orange, a fragrant fruit similar in size to an orange, and similar in colour to a lemon. Its flowers are white. These petals looked to be from roses without any smell of them. At least its presence didn’t hinder on the over all taste. None the less this was a pretty doughnut and I felt girly bringing it to my lips. And surprised this was not as dry as it looked. A soft spongy centre perfectly sweetened with the evenly spread icing atop. The ideal doughnut to enjoy with its name sake tea.


And of course we had to go with the one topped with bacon sprinkles. “Whiskey bacon”. This was more moist than it looked. I always forget that when you use alcohol in cooking it looses its buzz worthy edge and trades its bitterness for sugar undertones. Here the whisky added a smoked burnt taste to the mix, burnt in a good way. We didn’t make out much of the bacon, and could have used some of its grease or fried up pieces inside the actual doughnut dough, and not just as a topping. As a whole it almost tasted like a pecan maple doughnut. “Cartems” is a popular stop for those working in the neighbourhood, so it is of no surprise that I ran into a friend here. She came in to pick up some treats for her and her coworkers after their shift. Already making this one of her guilty pleasures. And I was not shy to request the taking of pictures of her doughnut order. She proudly announced her frequenting of the place and her fixation on their classic flavours, deeming our collection out of her scope.


“The dark night” was clearly named after “Batman” with the bat symbol on its sign. A chocolate doughnut with chocolate butter cream, topped with chocolate brownie pieces, chocolate chips and walnut bits. This looked as decadent as it read.


“Cinnamon burlee”. A glossy doughnut with its sugar topping burnt by a torch, for that crisp creme burlee topping feel.


There were two types of salted caramel. One with a chocolatey base and the other with a more traditional spongy white dough. She got the latter, the “raised salted caramel”. And deemed it her go to, and her favourite.


For those with dietary restrictions a reusable clipboard and an alter-able sign sits on top of the counter. Here on Velcro are names of vegan and gluten free doughnuts, and those that fall under both categories. As always Vancouver business owners consider all its customers and the growth in the vegan lifestyle.


And if you are looking for more than just sweet snacks, visit Monday to Friday between 11:30-2:30pm to capitalize on their limited lunch specials. Today a Japanese bun and a deep fried fritto were on the menu. Their write up and demonstrative servings sat on the counter. I wonder how popular these are and how often are they ordered. When is the last time you went to a dessert shoppe and demanded something savoury that ate like an entree? Though it must be noted that their offerings are a clever way of utilizing their equipment and techniques for something other than doughnuts. Would I come back? – No. Would I line up for it? – No. Would I recommend it? – Yes. Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes. Each ring that we enjoyed was better than it looked, and that says a lot as they were each delicately crafted. The doughnuts were good and their presentation certainly memorable. I have never heard of, or even thought possible majority of their creative flavour profiles. Though personally I am plenty happy with any run of the mill, procession made, chain available doughnut. So at “Cartems” being $3 each and $15 for half a dozen, it is a little much for me. Though the price certainly reflects their quality and the fact that these are gourmet doughnuts. They have brought something new to the doughnut game. And although I enjoyed the union of flavours, none of this would be something I crave for again. More as a novelty and less as the stop for my doughnut addiction. You crave a powered jam doughnut or a Krispy Kreme. Though if I was just judging a doughnut by its toppings, this place would take the cake. Don’t deny your cravings.

To read “Miss Vancouver Piggy’s” review of “Cartems” on our blogger’s date click HERE.

534 West Pender Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1V3
Cartems Donuterie on Urbanspoon

Eagles Buffet


My guest and I have been trying to dine here for over a year now. A few complications, including having the time off and the energy for a drive down to states, were a few of the road blocks we faced. This coupled with previously failed attempts, made today’s final visit all the more sweeter. Today the buffet wasn’t closed and the line to enter wasn’t a couple of hours long. After all the food was descent, but certainly not worth a two hour wait to eat it, in under one. The timing and our hunger finally lined up.

When you know you are about to indulge in a large meal, where eating all you can is the challenge, you set yourself up for success. This was done by grazing early to get our metabolisms going and then starving yourself hours before. So we were prepared to truly eat all we could.

The buffet is in the “Tulalip” casino attached to the “Tulalip” hotel. Easily identified by its killer whale mascot. Walking in and judging solely by the bodies in front of the spinning slot machines, this was a popular destination. Dim lights, bright colours, and the happy noises of bells and chimes. I made the mistake of trying to take a picture of my surroundings and was asked to immediately stop.


The actual buffet is tucked away in its own little corner, right on the casino floor. A convenient way for those needing to take a break from their gambling to refuel with a large variety of foods. Now after 2pm there were no bodies lining up against the velvet stanchions. We were able to walk right up to one of the two cashiers barring the entrance.


Here they ask you to pay before you enter, and give you the option to tip while you are at it. I truly believe tipping is a show of appreciation for service, and therefore should not be collected nor asked for until after your stay. So certainly not today, not now, not before we were even seated. Yes, I realize majority of restauranteurs view tips as part of wage and under pay their servers. (This I have learned first hand working a few years in the food and hospitality industry, for a few fairly large casual chains.) But that doesn’t make the expectation of a tip any better. Tipping regardless is the norm now, good or bad. Though how much given still lays in the hands of the diners. I give 5-10% for poor service and food, 15% as the norm, and 20-30% for an experience that knocked my socks off. (And yes this is after taxes.) We gave accordingly, to who we were appreciating, when we concluded our time. As a regular diner, I feel that without the use of tipping to reward behaviour, how are you going to guarantee you get good service during your stay? With an entitled generation entering the work force and their minds set on the thinking that an entry level role is an easy thing to replace, my hopes for elevation in the service industry seem bleak. It is a sad thought knowing you have to pay someone to be cordial when engaging in their jobs, and to treat you with a general level of respect while they are at it. This isn’t the case all the time, but I find when I don’t enjoy my stay at any establishment this is the main reason why. The expectation of reward regardless of behaviour. The expectation that 15% is customary and the feeling of entitlement when it isn’t present. I will garner arguments here, but keep in mind that this is humbly my opinion, and I am entitled to it.

Finally the total came to $43.29 after taxes, for two. At $20 per head this was a generous deal. We were directed to our seats and instructed to wait for our server before venturing out to serve ourselves. She took our libation order and reassured us that any juices or soft drinks were included with our meal. This, when we originally settled for water.


The dining area is a sea of free standing tables and sagging bottomed booths. I am told, majority of which are filled regardless of time or day. As the hotel’s main restaurant, it is seated by those staying in their accommodations as well as tourists visiting the area. Hearing of the value in an all you can eat, who can stay away? If not want an initial try. The ceiling was painted to mimic a baby blue sky with white powdered clouds. It was awe setting, but unimpressive when compared to the ceiling-ed sky of the Paris Hotel in Vegas. I suspect this is where they took influence from. The sprinkling of lights against this backdrop looked like stars hanging in daylight. The carpet was a swirl of colour against maroon. Red, yellow, and green mixed together like a ribbon of tye dye. What I found an eye sore against everything else a little more lavish, offered an easy way to hide debris or food fallen throughout the day.


The buffet is arranged by sections and themed by cuisine type. The “Asian section” included covered dumplings, freshly fried spring rolls, saucy noodles and dry rice, sweet and sour pork, Kung pao beef, and even wrapped fortune cookies for good measure. I found this food the best. Chinese food remains relatively the same, even when sitting under a heat lamp for extended periods of time. All the sauces and seasonings do wonders in hiding potential lack of freshness.

The pasta bar featured the option to have a single serve portion prepared for you at custom. Here two chefs stood idle and waiting. Shame they didn’t actively approach guests perusing the metal trays before them. As during leisure not many of us bother to read signs, and as a result miss out on great opportunities. And truthfully it is the role of the servers to be that reminder for their guests. Surely the made to order pasta would prove an improvement over the batch left to sit and mushify. Choose your pasta, a few ingredients, and what sauce you want to coat it all. Marinara, Alfredo, Rose, and pesto. Though for those not wanting to wait, as I eluded to earlier, you can help yourself to a troth full of premade noodles. Cheese stuffed shells or others coated in a salmon flavoured cream sauce, with chilled pasta salad available at the build your own salad bar.


Speaking of salad, before today I have always wondered the need for salads at an all you can eat place. I see the mix of greens as only a filler and rather get more bang for my buck, in the form of pricer items. My thinking is, you want helpings of things a little more intricate than diced vegetables coated in a simple vinaigrette. Though after a few servings of deep fried, and all yellow and brown, I could have definitely use the freshness a spring salad offered.


At the Mexican themed bar you helped yourself to a heated corn tortilla and filled it with either mixed vegetables, sautéed meats, or seasoned rice. Side offers to this included chicken taquitos, onion rings, chicken wings, fried chicken, and other dishes more common to pubs fare.


At the meat station a chef stood behind the counter with several cuts before him, this is rotated regularly. His offerings included a whole prime rib and large beef brisket, he slices off sections for you on spot. This guarantees a certain succulence and a moistness in the meat. Like at the pasta station, it was your responsibility to engage the staff employed and draw their attention to helping you. Although I felt bad “bothering” the chef with fork and knife ready, I found the service he provided made a world of difference. And as a result this was indeed one of the better things I tried during this meal. I just wished he was friendlier and the cuts he gave me weren’t the ones sawed off as scrap. Sections laced with fat and tendons and ends hard from over cooking. I suppose I could have asked for better, though he already didn’t seem happy serving me. He stood unmoving, having me reach my plate under his sneeze guard glass and right under the potion he was willing to dole out.


In hind sight, I wished I by passed the above grief and just grabbed a slice of pizza. This didn’t look in house made, but more believable as the frozen kind from the large “Walmart” a few doors down.


The stir fry section saw two chefs sizzling up portions of raw foods on their circular grill. You choose what you wanted out of a selection of precut and uncooked vegetables, meat, and noodles. The concept is identical to the “Mongolie Grill” or any food-court wok services. Except here your portion is not weighed and you have the freedom to pile on as much as you like; with no metal dish as base weight. This too was left unadvertised, worked by two men more concerned with talking to one another than addressing guests. Though truth is, I guess it doesn’t matter if such services are known. From the perspective of the employees it is all you can eat, and their extra labour comes at no additional cost to us, and benefit to them. Either way they get paid.



Desserts took up the most real estate. Refrigerated showcases of sliced pies, coolers of ice cream served by the scoop, and waffles pressed on sight. There was even a section for those needing sugar free options. The cakes, pies, and squares included what looked like: apple pie, lemon meringue, nanimo bars, fruity granola bars, brownies, chocolate cake, angel food cake; and many others I couldn’t identify, as they all were left unlabelled. You definitely pointed and choose with your eyes. Cupcakes and cookies were ready without the need for assistance, left out in the open. And the ice cream selection came with a build your own sundae bar. Pumps of syrups and scoops of ground up cookie, chocolate, and nuts. There was even a whipped cream machine doling out fresh strands of the white stuff.


Round one is sussing things out and trying a little of what catches your eye. Here you get more than you can finish and take bites of what you want, leaving the rest on your plate. The hope is that this plate will be bussed by the time you come back with a clean one filled. This potion included prime rib, turkey and cranberry stuffing, mashed potato with self labelled beef gravy, ricotta cheese stuffed jumbo shells, smoked salmon pasta, Mexican corn, pork pot stickers, fried chicken thigh, and a beef taquito.


Round two is now knowing what you like and going back for more, while willing to try what you consider the second best of everything. Beef brisket with barbecue sauce, mashed potato with turkey gravy, onion rings, buffalo wings, and fried rice.


Round three is giving up on the idea of renewing flavours and is the refusal to waste precious stomach room by trying new things. Here you stick with what you have tried and consume only what you like. More fried chicken, potato, beef brisket, onion rings, and a sweet and sour chicken nugget.


Round four is your smallest portion. Here you are trying to fit more food in, but not so much that you can’t enjoy a healthy dessert. A plate more for show, it reassures yourself that you are eating all you can and that you are really pushing yourself to your bodily limits. The Asian theme, what I found most enjoyable. Potstickers, teriyaki noodles, fried rice, sweet and sour pork, Kung pao beef, and stir fried mixed vegetable.


Desert started with what I liked the most: an ice cream sundae in a waffle bowl, with a side of buttermilk waffle and fresh machined whipped cream. I spotted a bucket of waffle bowls behind the counter and wasn’t shy to declare my want in one. Luckily the gentleman working the ice cream station was delightfully friendly (even more so when compared to his peers at the entree stations). He added humour to our interaction and asked me to come back when I was done with number one. With full intention to deck this ice cream sundae out with every topping available, I carefully selected vanilla as my double scoop. Bypassing the familiar chocolate, green tea, mocha, and triple berry; and the more exciting “raspberry velvet cake”, “killer whale”, “Mukilteo Mud”, and “cherry almond fudge ripple”. On my sundae I had strawberry syrup, chocolate sauce, Oreo crumbs, crushed peanuts, and rainbow sprinkles. As excited as I was for this, it was the most disappointing ice cream I have ever had. It tasted watered down, more foamy milk than rich creamy vanilla. And the additional toppings offered no help. The waffles were cut into quarters and left to stay warm in a heated basin. I was too sheepish to ask for one fresh based on the service I have been getting. Though with both waffle presses free, it would have been a possibility.


A chocolate cheese cake rectangle and a chocolate brownie square. This was overkill. I wanted to nibble, and couldn’t afford the stomach space to devour. At the place I was, this was too decadent and offered no eating value. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this too was purchased premade else where.

There was just too much. I ate too much. Too much to have to describe each element in the vigorous detail I usually get into. Instead I will best describe things as a lump sum score: food 4/10 and overall 7/10. My guest ranked the former higher at a 7 and the later at a 7.5. The turkey was dry, the beef brisket barely seasoned, the taquitos burnt; and I am sure the onion rings, potstickers, spring rolls, and pizza were all the store bought frozen kind. Though keeping the price in mind and knowing the genre before hand, you get all that you expect. How else do you get to try this much with no consequence for this little? You get what you pay for so no complaints here. After all nothing was bad enough to spit out. It was all okay.

I was surprised to see smoking in the restaurant, as the gentleman at the table next lit up an after meal smoke. Taking Canadian law for granted and the inability to smoke in restaurants as a fixed thing. The same scene was replicated in the casino washrooms.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Everything was good, nothing overtly bad; but none of which I need to try again. I took what I wanted from that experience. All the greasy starchy-ness I could handle. I left full with the longing for something fresh, but feeling too bloated to satisfy this urge. Though I wonder how anyone is capable of making ice cream less enjoyable, or would want to
Though once again, for the price of the lot, I can’t complain. I certainly got what I paid for. Food that fills and goes through you. Don’t deny your cravings.

10200 Quil Ceda Blvd, Tulalip WA 98271
Eagles Buffet on Urbanspoon

Finch’s Tea & Coffee House


I recall my first and previously only visit here over four years ago. Then it was 2010 and I was working my way through “Vancouver Magazine’s 101 tastes to try”. So when fellow Vancouverite, food blogger, and daily diner, “Miss Vancouver Piggy” chose this as our lunching destination I was more than happy to oblige for nostalgia sake. Therefore this blog post is written with her insights as well as my own. And this is what happens when two indecisive people try picking a restaurant; we came together for our love of food, after considering 10 other restaurants before it.


The shop was as I remembered homey and full of warmth. Between the rickety nature of the tables and chairs, and the squeak in every floor board you could tell things were well lived in. Faded and stained with wear, tear, and age; the place felt like it possessed a lot of history and could tell you a tale or two. Vintage decor pieces set the stage, scattered for a visual feast. A washed out mint green cabinet housed missed matched porcelain tea sets, to be looked at and not used. A couple of space heaters painted once over in burgundy kept the place warm, not that today’s weather needed it. A gold leaf mirror and a miniature shelf of nature’s collectables hung on a peeling wall. Both were sewn with vines and wild green growth, they decorated an otherwise empty space. And worn books and texts sat on display with fallen spines and loose pages. The low hum of folk songs playing over head matched the casual vibe of the place.


The large floor to ceiling windows out front, and the carefully staged seating allowed us to fully maximize the sun’s heat. We played a little musical chairs, moving from table to table until the one we desired became free. Here, seated on top of a narrow step up stage we were on display in the cafe’s window. Seated to enjoy and serve as an in motion ad. This was the case with two other strategically set seats. I deemed them the best seats in the house with an eagle eye view.


With fresh carnations on each table top and help yourself jugs of flavoured water this made for a nice setting to linger at. Lemon wedges and cucumber slices swimming in chilled waters. A cultivated friendly and forgiving environment with help gathered from genuine staff. They didn’t pressure the speed in which you ate, they didn’t insist on bussing a table still being used, and they brought your orders right to you. The waxy parchment that each baguette sat on was used as a placemat. It allowed for easy cleanup and kept tables relatively crumb free. Just as well, seeing that as soon as a table freed up a new party came to claim it. This was done without a once over with a damp rag in between. Though with the rotation of patrons ever moving, today’s majority seemed to be taking their baguettes bundled up and tied up with butcher’s twine, to go. So lining up for a seat went without a challenge. Thought snacking midday on a Monday isn’t exactly peak time.


After claiming our choice table with jackets on seats, we headed to the front cash to order. Here the menu is presented in script written on black boards with white chalk. Everything was conveyed between a series of rectangular and squared gold frames. Distinguishing between breakfast options; baguettes, their fillings, and add ons; salads; cheese plates; and drinks. With many opportunities to customize and build your perfect sandwich or salad. Salads being similar to the baguettes, but with more greens and the bread on the side.

You leave your name and wait for your sandwich to be crafted. This is done quickly with nibble hands. A wonder how, considering the need of four women squeezing all into the one slim space. This cramped kitchen workspace was visible just past the counter. Here herb filled jars lined a shelf; a cappuccino machine stood on point; and where possible, kitchen equipment hung in reach but just out of the way. All the bread used came from a basket of what looked like fresh loaves, and the tomatoes from a bundle still on vine. After tasting things it all seemed as fresh as their imagine portrayed them to be.


Seeing as tea was in their title I choose one from their sign of “new teas”. “Cherry blossom green tea”. Though in hind sight, with the direct sun shining on us, and the sweating of my brow, a hot tea might not have been ideal. This tea was more scent than taste. With hints of floral wafting to my nostrils before I gingerly took a sip.

Usually I enjoy a soup with my sandwich and today’s “Tomato basil soup” on the side would have been my number one pick. But as was the case with the tea, it was just too hot out for soup.


As I did four years ago, I went with their most popular selection and the one mentioned on “Vancouver Magazine’s 101 tastes”: “Pear, blue Brie, prosciutto, walnuts, oil and vinegar”. This was one of the pricer options and given its unique composition, well worth it. Hearty with coarsely chopped walnuts, a little sweet from the balsamic and refreshing pair, and rich with Brie speckled in blue. I could have used a little caramelization and toasting in the walnuts. And didn’t get any of that distinctive blue cheese pungent-ness, although it was very present visually. This is the type of sandwich best served as it was, assembled fresh and eaten at room temperature.


We chose to try our second choice last, fearing that its bolder ingredients and heightened seasonings would outshine the milder baguette before it. This was by recommendation of the clerk, who was more than happy to oblige us with her option. She spoke with a sparkle and described this as her favourite, and a complete contrast to our order before. It was convincing enough to have me agreeing. “Gypsy salami, lettuce, tomato, and pesto mayo”. With the addition of applewood smoked cheddar. This was a more traditional sandwich. Salty with folds of cured meat, rich and smokey from the chewy cheddar, and fresh from the generous greens. I picked on the absence of promised pesto in my mayo, and the fact the mayo was positioned on the bread next to the lettuce. This made the vegetable soggy and would have been better paired with the meat instead.

Being very environmental friendly they ask you to not use take out cups and sleeves unless necessary. And being a small business, ask you via sign to consider paying in cash as appose to debit. A way to help them with the high fees attached to carded forms of payment. I appreciated their honesty and was obliged to help.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Out of all the sandwiches places I prefer “Finch’s”. They offer unique blends and successful balances of sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy. A grown up artisan sandwich shoppe. My fellow foodblogger and I left satisfied and agree this would be a positive review. However as memorable as this visit was, I would shy away from visiting during peak times. With limited meter parking and the potential of a line through the door I would approach Friday lunch or weekday brunch with much hesitation. Don’t deny your cravings.

To read “Miss Vancouver Piggy’s” review of “Finch’s” on our blogger’s date click HERE.

353 W Pender Street, Vancouver BC
Finch's Tea & Coffee House on Urbanspoon

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