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

Month: April 2014

La Belle Patate

IMG_9997IMG_9982Poutine with a French man.

It’s been a while since we’ve had poutine. Me three months, he three weeks. The benefits of living with a French Canadian is that when he has his weekly poutine craving, you are able to tag along for some of the cheesy and gravy good stuff. As I have previously written, having tried many a poutine; a variety of fries, a gallery of gravies, and a collection of cheeses; all from a multitude of restaurants and bars, this hands down is my favourite. Though a large influence on my declaration comes from the opinion of the “Frenchy” I was dining with and only come here with. This is his choice for the most authentic and the most true to the Québécois spirit.

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It was a modest setting, a mix of bar and community centre. Yellow to orange walls, accented in red. With what you would imagine as traditional and cliche Quebec memorabilia was present. A Canadianens flag, pendants, and signs. Signed and framed GSP pictures and merchandise. And Quebec flags and license plates. Souvenirs the owner brought with him of his old life on the East Coast? There was a lot scattered around in advertisements and signs. It made things feel a little cluttered and kept the place casual. But between a child’s coloured picture and the laminated notes, I am sure it all has meaning.

A few bar stool-ed seats stood before windows facing the side walk, and others sat across from the mirrors that made up a section of the wall. Above them were mounted flat screens showcasing the sports of the day. They were angled for the benefit of those sitting at one of the tall backed booth seats, lining the opposite wall. Having all those seats already taken, we sat ourselves at one of the black tables surrounded by brown chairs in the middle of the room.

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You walk in, if busy drop your stuff to claim a table, then stand a feet away from the counter reading what the chalkboard menu over head has to offer. Your choices are separated by “poutine”, “specialty poutine”, and “hot dogs”. A list of fast food done greasy and satisfying included hot chicken, grilled cheese and smoked meat sandwiches; and sides of onion rings and pogos. Here poutine varied by the addition of one or more ingredients. You can put anything in a poutine and it would taste good. Hamburger steak, bacon, peas, eggs, tomato, green peppers, coleslaw, pasta sauce, and even donair meat. Or take your basic gravy and cheese curd and add in whatever you want to have your own customized poutine.

With your poutine they also offer beer and wine. Though I have never had either here. Instead I grab a bottled soft drink out of the help your self style freezer, and use their wall bolted bottle opener to free the cap to take a chug. There are also cupcakes for sale from a local bakery, this would be your only choice for dessert or something sweet. This little glass pedestal and cloche sit just behind the help yourself bottles of ketchup and the jug of water and lemon ready for the self pouring.

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The employees working tonight were as casual they were dressed. The owner is who we often see, he is a friendly face who knows his regulars by appearance if not name. He is more attentive than the young man working the counter tonight. Today we had some part timers who just could not care less. The cashier kept us waiting to order as he had to finish something on his phone. We watched him text before he leaned on the register and addressed us with his profile. Not once did he look us in the face or meet our attention with his eyes. His bad attitude was evident and ever present from the time we ordered to the time he had to serve. When not engaged he waited for business, chin on palm, elbow on counter.

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“Onion rings”. We are on the eternal search for the best onion rings. To date these are closest to the ones that kindled this love affair on the beach Penticton. Golden brown, the perfect fry without that oily taste. Crispy and best eaten hot. A little too perfect in cut, that I suspect they were purchased frozen.

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“Grilled dog” with mayo and ketchup. I prefer a grilled dog over the steamed variety any day. The grill gives it an extra crisp skin and an additional char. They toast the bun to give things a cohesive warmth. Though as tasty as this was it is just a regular hot dog. No better than the street meat you get from carts on corners.

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After trying a number of their poutines: finding the “Italian” too tomatoey and the “galvaude” cold with frozen peas, I have vowed to stick to the original and one true version of the poutine. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I don’t find any one new ingredient added more beneficial to the winning base. To me you can’t improve on this already perfect late night craving, junk food loving mix. This is their classic: crisp fries, meaty gravy, and squeaky cheese. And when you are craving a poutine nothing satisfies like this one, and there is no heartier a size than the large severe in a tin foiled to go tray. But every time we come we ask for there to be less gravy in our portion, and each time there is still that race to finish things before the crisp fries get soggy and over saturated. What remains is a pool of brown deemed inedible.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As I have already stated this is my favourite spot for poutine. Though there are times in my cravings that make I want a thicker more potato-y fry or a different flavoured gravy all together. But I find that at the end of the day I always come back to “La Belle Patate” and they satisfy majority of my cravings. This is the most authentic Quebec style poutine in Vancouver. Take the word of a French Canadian who has gone out of his way to try it all. Don’t deny your cravings.

LA BELLE PATATE
1215 Davie Street, Vancouver BC
604-569-1215
westcoastpoutine.wix.com/labellepatate
La Belle Patate on Urbanspoon

Cassia Cupcakery

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On occasion I have passed by this cupcake bakery and thought of going in. So today when we were looking for a quick bite after dinner, this proved to be an easy solution.

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The shoppe is a narrow space. A strip of black and white checked floor stood sandwiched by the counter and a few small tables on opposite sides. On the wall hung framed photos of the different cakes. One they have baked over the years for birthdays, weddings, and special occasions; like a row of edible art. My favourite was the cake made to look like Ariel from “The Little Mermaid’s” dress.

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Judging by the rolling racks of baking trays scattered just before the kitchen, their treats are baked on site. Two employees dressed in Cassia logo-ed aprons worked the front and back respectively. We were here later in the day, a time after dinner and traditionally not busy on a Friday. So I was surprised that they were still open past 7pm, but happy to get the pick of the place. Despite the time to close fast approaching we were not rushed, but instead allowed to browse and chat amongst ourselves in decision making.

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A sheet of glass shielded cupcakes sitting out the open. Each flavour shared a coloured three tiered tower with another. A flag labelling them for what they were. Cookies and cream and peanut butter. Regular chocolate with its opposite, white. Coconut and cappuccino. Mint with lemon. The vegan peanut butter and chocolate stood together. And gluten frees and red velvets shared a lonely plate with themselves. The regular cupcakes come with a choice of large or mini. The former satisfies a craving and the latter allows for a taste of many. And still you are given the option to customize your treat by choosing the base of your cake and its cream, from a list of your basic cupcakes broken down and ready for mixing and matching.

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Mint, red velvet, coconut, white chocolate, cookies and cream, and lemon. As good as these looked and as good as they tasted, I felt they were nothing too special. They were no different from the one bite cupcakes that they sell trapped in plastic at grocery stores. They also weren’t that fresh, but even with time, they were able to retain their bold flavour. I suspect this late in the day. the cupcakes have been standing on display since morning.

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If cupcakes aren’t your thing and you don’t care about feeling foolish, coming into a cupcake shoppe looking for an alternative to their name sake? You can do as my guest did and have cookies bagged up. These came from glass jars that stood beside the till. Mini brownies, Peanut butter, and Cocoa swirl. As per all cookies, these would have been better and best fresh.

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We took ours out as I find cookies and cupcakes a portable to go snack, a walk and you talk edible, really un-needing of a sit down setting.

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.
These weren’t anything special and nothing I couldn’t make for myself. Yes visually they were stunning, but taste wise they were your run of the mill light and spongy cupcakes. I would say it closely resembles the “original” cupcakes. Traditional flavours with a simple look. Nothing different, nothing new. And at a small chain like this it is disappointing to not see a feature cupcake or a seasonal special. Though of note, their business cards are cut up pieces of paper taped to used casino playing cards. Very economical and inventive. Don’t deny your cravings.

CASSIA CUPCAKERY
1706 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC
604-568-6188
Cassia Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Curry King Cafe

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When a restaurant uses royalty or rank in their name I feel it sets you, as the diner, up with specific expectations. Would they measure up? Is this truly top notch? Though what are the odds of their 24 hour pho neighbours being the best in the city for Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine? A “fact” self proclaimed on signs. Was this all fluff? Well it worked in getting us in to visit “Curry King”. Without having ever seen the place or done any research on it, I expected one of the best curries, if not the best curry I have ever tried. My guest recommend the place, meeting my distance requirements and his finicky eating ones.

The exterior was pretty standard. Name in neon, with details printed on a banner underneath. “Thai curry and Chinese food restaurant”. You hardly got a look in from the sidewalk. The windowed front was blocked off by a shade and the door was plastered with posters and papers taped. It was too much clutter to sift between, though the free wi-fi logo and coloured take out menu, accordion style did stand out. The wifi message seemed a selling feature. It was important enough to further highlight with “free wifi” taped at every booth, and up in every direction one could face. Prudent, as the culture dictates its need for such a service, even when eating out.

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The restaurant was well light, the brightness gave way to the fact things were as cluttered indoors as they were represented out. In similar fashion, posters of varying colours and writing style were taped side by side. Most were handwritten in Chinese bubble font and coloured in using highlighters. Others were in neon on black chalkboards and back light led boards. All were advertising specials and menu options. Given the fact that majority of which were in Chinese script with very little English they are definitely catering to their demographic. And looking around this evening, I would be correct. Everyone replied in Cantonese as the women working initiated conversations in their native tongue. A new family enjoyed dinner with baby and a group of youths sat leisurely eating their meal. Both seated in one the the eight booths that flank each opposing wall. The booth seats seem newly refurbished, if not well kept. The perfect resting spot for elongated stays, it was a comfortable and roomy sit. Free standing tables were evenly spaced out in the centre of this dining area. They offered the possibility of being merged, in order to seat and host larger parties. Two flat screens were mounted above, both centring the room. They were tuned into what appeared to be a Chinese drama. Unique as most televisions in restaurants either broadcast sports or a music network for extra chatter. The walls were either dry walled in a rosy beige or set with imitation stone. On them hung unmemorable paintings and leaded framed photos.

Judging by the lack lustre greeting I was given upon entry, I knew this would one of those typical fast food Chinese places. The commonly seen model where service is nothing more than the basic requirements of hospitality. The passing of menus, the taking of orders, and the refilling of complimentary hot beverages without cue. I set my expectations low. The two severs on shift stood before the kitchen, forever looking out past the entrance. The sound of the door striking a bell set them into action. I was pointed to a booth, given three cups of tea by one girl, and given a deck of menus without eye contact by another. During our two hour stay one of the waitresses shouted her conversation with a fellow patron. I suspect they were friends, as the diner sat alone eating in her direction. And after three employees sat down to have dinner themselves. A few dishes for sharing and a bowl of rice each. A common sight and practice as employees don’t really get breaks, and there is the need to find time to eat when they can. Though realistically coming from the service industry I would never advise being seen eating or taking a break in front of your customers. It lacks professionalism, and as a diner I would avoid asking you for the service I need if I see you about to scoop a spoonful of rice into your mouth. With a lull and two servers working the front, it is easy to stagger breaks and allow everyone a spot to sit down at in the back. But I guess then they loose that family style eating and comradery that is looked forward too.

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The menu is a long list of common and simple Chinese style dishes. I made no effort in reading all the possibilities. As I suspect is the case with other diners, I stick with what I know and what like, and order it. The familiar jump out and its a matter of deciding whether I want rice or noodles, soup or sauce.

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“Hong Kong style tea” with milk. Easily identified by its almost orange colour.

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Considering its name we had to try a curry dish. This was labelled as being one of their “special curries”. “Curried beef brisket”. We chose rice over spaghetti as a base, knowing the grains would serve as the preferred vehicle in which to soak up maximum curry flavour. The presentation was lovely in a mini wok, and the dome shaped serving of rice dusted in green herbs was a nice touch. The portion was generous, large chunks of beef brisket and proportional cubes of soften potatoes. It was a hearty mix coated in a thicken sauce. The curry was on the sweeter side, sweet with a tinge of spice. Flavourfully seasoned it didn’t need to hide behind sweat inducing spice. The meat was chewy with a fall off the bone tender feel. Chewy to the right extent, thanks to the little fat left on the meat.

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“Deep fried tofu and fish hot pot”. Although the clay pot came to the table still bubbling, I would not consider this to be a “hot pot”. When you think hot pot you think soup and noodles. Here it was more literal. Without rice included, we requested a bowl at an additional cost. A cost that was expected, but went un-clarified. And considering that the bill was tallied numbers without words, a warning of the additional charge would have been nice. The tofu and fish acted like sponges soaking up all the meaty sauce. A stump of ginger, although appreciated for flavour was a rude surprise when bitten into by my guest. We were also caught off guard by the addition of shredded pork in the dish. Just reading its name on the menu, without a description, you would not expect the presence of red meat in the mix. Luckily neither of us were pescatarian and continued eating. This was even despite finding a strand of fine short hair adhering to a tofu cube. We removed it and continue to eat knowing they wouldn’t replace the dish or comped it if we brought it to their attention.

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When there is laksa on the menu I am always compelled to order it, it is one of my favourite dishes that I don’t often indulge in. And as of late all that I have had had been flops. Today was no different. Though in hind sight in may not be the strongest dish to order at a cafe specializing in Hong Kong style cuisine. With three options available I enlisted the help of our server. I wanted the bowl most similar to Singaporean style laksa”. I was reassured that the “Prawns laksa with rice spaghetti” would be the one. When the bowl finally came, by looks alone I knew this would not taste how I expected and satisfy how I needed. The colour of the soup had none of the red and orange typical in a broth boiled with chillies and heated spices. Instead this was a bland and watery neon yellow. Especially tasteless when compared to everything else we had before. The pieces of shrimp although unshelled and plentiful were left unseasoned, hard overcooked bites that tasted fishy. I prefer the dried shrimp used as garnish over it, at least they offered an element of salt and some harder texture. Being familiar with laksa and growing up with the dish, I found it strange to have it served with spaghetti pasta. I know I read it on the menu, but I guess a part of me thought it was the English translation for vermicelli, calling it “rice spaghetti”. So now I felt wronged to not have it made with traditional vermicelli, but with this popular Italian pasta noodle instead. After all the use of the pasta didn’t offer anything to the dish, aside from making it more filling. I recommend this dish for those who like their food plain and are unfamiliar with the breath of spices south East Asian cuisine as to offer. This would be the beginner’s introduction to laksa.

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.
Throughout our stay there was a rotation of customers coming in to dine and others in just for a pick up. They were fairly busy on a Wednesday evening, so I suspect the food to be promising to many others. I on the other hand just found things only ok. A dime a dozen. There was nothing that made them stand our amongst all the other Hong Kong style cafés. Nothing I could get here that isn’t available at any of the other like restaurants. Other than its convenient to get to location and the fact that there is ample road side meter parking and free ones available a few blocks away, there is nothing else worth mentioning. It hardly deserves its self appointed title of “King”. Don’t deny your cravings.

CURRY KING
4250 Kingsway, Burnaby BC, V5H 1Z5
604-437-3638
currykingcafe.com
Curry King Cafe 咖哩皇餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Aussie Pie Guy Foodtruck

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I have previously seen pictures of their delicious looking pies on Instagram, so was excited when the “Aussie Pie Guy” food truck rolled up by my work. A chance to have a taste for myself, instead of asking “how was it?” to others. Their truck was red and white, with a map of Australia on the back and their pie-ed logo all around.

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The menu was a sheet of neon coloured metal with each type of pie adhered to it by magnets. Scanning through the list I was slightly disappointed by the absence of any dessert pies. They offerings were all savoury meats or veggie full. Having this be my first exposure to Aussie pie, I guest this was to be expected.

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The truck was run by two true Australians, accents and all. They were a friendly pair, patient with my questions and friendly with service. They advertised through pictures and a pleading sign that their goal was to save enough money for an Aussie holiday. The photos were happy memories from their last trip to be used as reference.

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Your choices are eight regular pies and one on special. Each came with the option to pay a little more for a combo. The combo came with peas, mashed potatoes and gravy; or a sausage roll on the side. Majority of the pies were premade and kept warm within a glass case. I was luckily enough to get one fresh out of the oven. After my pies were bagged or boxed to go, I asked for cutlery, but other than the pie combo, was told none was needed. The expectation is that you eat the pie as a hand held. Guess this made sense coming from a food truck. But I don’t like having to eat it with my hands of possible.

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I wanted the true Australian experience so went with what I thought were the most outside the box pie fillings. The pie crusts were all the same. Buttery and flaky but held together well, it a non greasy way. It was flavourful enough to enjoy as is, but light enough to not distract from each of the fillings within.

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The “Steak & Guinness” because it was the special with limited supplies left by the time I got there. Chunks of steak in a Guinness gravy with chopped vegetables and softened potatoes. This I got topped with potatoes and peas. The filling was nice, but the most normal out of the other pies I tried. I was disappointed to not be able to make out any of that sharp Guinness taste. The potatoes and peas on top just added to the filling. The peas surprisingly were of the mushed up canned variety.

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“Kanga Pie”, ground kangaroo meat with mashed sweet potato in a peppery red wine sauce. To quote my guest, “Mmmm marsupial”. Kangaroo meat, this is a first for me, and something I can cross one of the food to try list. This was a hearty mouthful with a generous filling of the yam purée. Tangy and a little gamey in a good way, thanks to the exotic meat. It was reminiscent of some sort of meat that we quite couldn’t put our finger on. The yam was the perfect base to balanced it out. A set of complimenting flavours that were well spiced and uniquely flavoured. It definitely came with a very different taste and a different texture from that of your regular pies.

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The traditional “Aussie Pie” made with chunks of free range BC beef and organic onion in a peppery gravy made with “Howe Sound Rail ale”; from Squamish BC. This reminded a guest of her family’s Sunday roast. It was a meal in a pie crust. The really big chunks of meat became a mouth full, you either got too much in a bite or not enough. It was split between whether we liked the generous cuts of beef or not. I prefer to have them shredded and more evenly distributed. Other than it, the gravy and filling were pretty generic. Thick gravy, stewed vegetables. The pastry was certainly the best part.

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.
Who doesn’t love pie? And we love it better when it comes to us! The pies were good, but nothing too different than the frozen pot pie variety, which I almost prefer more. I like the filling of my savoury pies, thick and creamy, heavy with evenly chopped ingredients. Though nothing beats a freshly baked pie pastry, and this was certainly some of the best. I would like to go back for more of their “normal” flavours, the ones with cheese, bacon, and homemade sausage. Don’t deny your cravings.

AUSSIE PIE GUY
West Georgia St & Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC
778-991-7437
aussiepieguy.com
Aussie Pie Guy on Urbanspoon

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