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Month: May 2014 Page 1 of 2

Corner 23

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We were looking for a quiet after dinner spot to unwind and chat without interruption. Immediately a bubble tea shop stood out as an ideal location. Most are known for being opening later, and few allow guests to linger well after last call; so long as a beverage continues to be nursed. Today, this was my guest’s choice. A restaurant with an accurately descriptive name. Located on the corner of Cambie and 23rd. This late night bubble tea place was bustling with large groups and steady with single diners in for a later meal. Laughter and chatter could be heard over the faint sounds of Chinese and North American pop playing overhead.

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The space was light hearted with soft bulbs and heavy with floral elements. It all looked very pretty if you can get past the clutter of it all. Paper lanterns patterned with flowers in bloom, hung down from the indented ceiling. Pale white cherry blossoms with pink centres and lush green leaves lived as a pattern on the frosted glass, separating dining sections from left and right. And more pink petaled flowers continue on a backdrop of red wallpaper that accented a strip along the right wall. Though it was the live orchids, potted plants and watered spiralling bamboo, that gave the place a breath of real freshness. 

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The hard wood floors, dark tables with black and white chairs kept the place neat and uniform. Towards the back, landed their drink bar. A set up done more practically than for aesthetics. The counter was home to a rainbow of spirally straws and others wrapped in plastic, a dish of fresh fruits that would become juice, and jugs of water and hot tea used for refills. A clutter that sat before their back lit “Corner 23” sign in blue and white.

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There was the constant mummer of noise. The dinging of bells to symbolize food was up, the ratting of ice cubes in bubble teas being mixed in the electronic shaker, the crushing of ice, the clanging of change, the click clacking of chopsticks, and the conversations of over 20 tables trying to talk over one another. This was not the quite place for conversation as we had hoped. And no one else seemed to mind.

They accept cash only, as reminded at the front door, printed on the menu’s cover, and stuck up in paper around the restaurant.

The five employees working tonight were certainly necessary. They dressed all in black and wore collared shirts with their name and logo on the front breast pocket and across their upper backs. They kept busy taking orders, mixing drinks, serving plates, busing tables, and making change. Not one stood idle, with always something to prep, clean or tidy. They worked with furious determination and furrowed brows. Effective, efficient, fast, if not friendly.

The menu was a tad condensed compared to other Taiwanese style bubble tea places or Hong Kong style cafés. Arranged by the usual listing of snacks, noodles, fried rice, and set meals; it was still an overwhelming array to go through. I allowed my guest to choose what we’d share. It gave me a chance to venture from my usual order of fried popcorn chicken and beef noodle soup. Though in hind sight I had was good, but no where near the caliber of my favourites.

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“Mango coconut milk tea” with half pearls and half coconut jelly. Made with actual coconut milk, each sip was a drink of cream. Thick and rich it had the texture of a milkshake with the lightness of blended juice. Tropical sweetness with mango and fresh coconut-y chewiness with the addition of coconut jelly. Although a little on the sweeter side, I will be getting this again. “Vanilla coffee milk tea” with grass jelly. A more simple beverage, this one came with a strong coffee taste and a missing vanilla accent. As a non coffee drinker I could have used more syrup for an added dessert like sweetness. The grass jelly was definitely for texture rather than taste.

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We wondered what factors were considered when bubble tea places decided to serve their drinks in either reusable to-stay glasses, or in sealed plastic to-go cups. Despite our intention to sit and enjoy dinner we still had our beverages prepared for travel. Though our visit was during peak dinner time and bubble tea preparation became a seamless procession. Though towards 10pm we did see tall glasses filled to the brim come up to the counter, then served at tables.

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“Deep fried oyster”. I don’t know why I expected this to be fried in shell. Given the amount of oyster nuggets heaped on the plate, and the price we were asked to pay, I assume these were purchased frozen. Heavily battered they had a nice crunchy texture that hid the tough chew of the shellfish and the grittiness from the embedded bits of sand well. The sweet and spicy chilli dipping sauce on the side was what really gave it its pop of flavour.

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Each set meal came with rice and three sides: cream corn, steamed garlic broccoli, and chilled seaweed. It was nice to have the variety. They weren’t anything special and tasted as they look, but they offered a change when needed. “Deep fried chicken thigh”. Similar in spice and heavy peppering as the common Taiwanese popcorn chicken, I felt familiar with its flavour profile. The chicken was cooked to a juicy clear with a lightly battered, evenly crisped skin. Though as an entree to have with rice it lacked flavour. 

 

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“Eggplant and pork in a hot garlic sauce”. Firm pieces of eggplant that held its shape, and didn’t break down into a pile of mush; something common that usually has me deterring from it in the first place. Heavily seasoned with generous portions of ground pork I surprisingly found this my favourite dish of the two. 

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On another night, with the same guest, we came in just for bubble tea. Like my guest, many patrons come for the mixed teas and blended juice, and do not feel the need add in any tapioca bubbles. He ordered the “kiwi green tea”. Given its clear colour and smooth drink this was a pre-flavoured tea. A little tart. Other than its colour I tasted no connection to the kiwi fruit. Originally I requested a half portion of pearls and half of coconut jelly, only to be informed that they have had a busy night and no longer had any more tapioca pearls on site. So I got my “Papaya milk tea” with all coconut jelly. This over my only other option of pudding or grass jelly.


Interestingly, one of the two women’s washroom stall has a full length mirror on its wall, in the actual stall. An interesting design I thought, as I avoided eye contact with myself, whilst doing my business.

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.
As far as bubble tea places go, this one was pretty generic. The drinks were average. They tasted as expected and were like any that would could get else were. Though bonus points given for their own branded cup seals. The food was average at best. Satisfying, but nothing you needed to have again or would ever crave for in the future. The menu listed common Taiwanese fare and read only familiar beverages. Nothing jumped out as being any different or location specific. Another one of those cases where you appreciate it for being the only one in the area, as it simply fills a need. For that reason, its easy free parking nearby, and it’s lovely decor I will visit again. Don’t deny your cravings. 

 

CORNER 23
4008 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V5Y2H5
604-879-8815
Corner 23 萬巒豬腳 on Urbanspoon

Maji Taiwanese Stir Fry

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I came all the way from my residence in Burnaby looking for some good Taiwanese eats in Richmond. After a morning of sweets I was looking forward to an evening of savoury.

Located in a plaza with an inconvenient lot and pay for street side parking, the place proved a bit of a struggle to find. Not only was plaza parking enforced with attendance checking for the licence plates of patrons, but tow trucks were circling the area ever ready. Add in the careless driving and narrow streets with low visibility for j-walkers, this strip proved to be treacherous. My only option was luck and it allowed me to find a spot relatively in the area. The only hitch, the parking machine only took coins and nothing after 2012. If I came on time, all this running back and forth to get acceptable change and place a ticket on my dash, would result in a late sitting.

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Inside the actual restaurant the ambience was a lot more calm and organized. It was set casual with darken lights and a rugged decor. Wooden plank stacked dividers separated sections and created privacy between tables. Decorative concrete cinder blacks built up the bar’s counter. And the walls were purposefully left incomplete with brick and roughly spackled stucco. Any professional mason would roll their eyes, but it gave the place a roughness that complimented the sleeker dark varnished tables and even darker wooden chairs. On the walls hung framed old timey photographs in black and white, and water colour sketches in soft pastels; they too matched the restaurants whole industrial gritty meets lounge like glam.

Given the language spoke by staff and the one amongst customers, it was surprising that the music playing was a mix of top 40, mainstream hip hop, and even country. I enjoyed it. The playlist was from someone’s iPod on shuffle. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” sang four times during our less than two hour stay.

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The place smelled of the continuous stream of frying from the kitchen. A thick air of salty sauces and heat filled spices. You could hear the sizzle of raw ingredients meeting oil, passed the partition all the way in the dining room. A hot wok, spatula scrapes, chopstick clicks, and the hum of mandarin. I wonder how tedious clean up would be? Or how thorough they would work? Deep frying causes oil to splash and walls to be coated in grease. Hence some Asian homes are built with a smaller kitchen just for the purpose of deep frying. That aside, the smell and the work certainly had me optimistic of the food to follow.

I arrived early and ordered the obligatory alcoholic beverage to bide time. To not look bad holding up a table sipping on complimentary tea. A taped sign on their front window offered 10% off food with an alcoholic beverage purchased. Only provided that the time was after 9pm. Sadly it was 7pm.

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The menu was a fold out accordion, printed front and back. No pictures, but pretty detailed with its descriptions. Though I guess when it comes to Chinese cuisine the food is prepared as expected and piled high, so there really isn’t much in terms of presentation. Stir fries arranged by cold dishes, deep fried snacks, chicken, beef, pork, seafood, vegetables, panfries, soup, fried rice, and stir fried noodles. We ordered several, sharing the lot between four.

Honestly the more we ate, the more our dishes started melding together. Their taste a saltiness garnered from soy, hoisin, and oyster sauce. By the end I couldn’t tell them apart and texture was all that mattered. So I apologize for the lack of notes on flavour. Know that everything was good, and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

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“San-Pei Oyster Mushroom”. For our vegetarian. Oyster mushroom stir fried with San-Pei sauce, tossed with basil. The portion was mostly onion that filled the bottom of the clay pot. The mushrooms were cut into triangles and looked more like tofu than fungus. They were chewy with a tough texture similar to meat.

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“Cabbage with Soybean”. Another vegetarian dish. Boiled cabbage served with fried soybean crumbs. The cabbage made for a good base to highlight the taste of the garlic seasoned soybean sprinkled on top. Though the longer the cabbage sat the more soggy it got in its own liquid.

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“Pan-fried tofu”. Also vegetarian. Tofu pan fried with carrot slices. This too was swimming in slices of onion. The tofu was soft and sweet on the inside and chewy with a panfried skin on the outside. And the sauce was more runny which allowed the tofu to successfully absorb it like a sponge.

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“Spicy eggplant”. A vegetarian dish any meat eater can enjoy. It usually comes with ground pork, but for our version we asked to have it without.
Pan fried eggplant stir fried with chilli bean sauce, dried chilli, and soy sauce. The eggplant was cooked firm, a preferred textured over the soggy portions I have had break apart on my fork. The shredded carrot added some brightness in an otherwise dark pile.

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“Calamari Lip”. Deep fried squid lip seasoned with pepper and salt. I am unsure which part is the lip, but as the only dry dish, I found myself going back to it as a palate cleanser. A much needed break in between mouthfuls of sauce. I would have preferred the pieces larger as a few battered ball shaped bites where needed for a substantial spoonful. They were crispy with more batter than squid.

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“San-Pei Chicken”. Chicken leg stir fried with San-Pei sauce and tossed with basil. This was the most saltiest of all the dishes. The pieces of chicken were more bone than meat, and the dish was more gravy than chicken. The large chunks of ginger were mistaken for potato slices. But the whole garlic cloves added a complimentary flavour note. They were cooked as soft as what little meat we had.

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“Hakka style pork and squid”. Shredded pork belly stir fried with squid, bean curd, dried shrimps, and chilli. This was the lightest of the dishes, with a sweeter sauce. The celery offered its crisp freshness to the mix, with its crunchy stalk. Though I would have preferred peas over celery taste wise; they would have had a more complimentary flavour in the stew. The pork was overly chewy and a tad too dry. The squid was rubbery with small pieces of cut tentacles that left me wanting more. This was definitely an assembly of all textures.

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“Cod with soybean”. Steam cod sprinkled with fried soybean crumb”. Similar to the cabbage and soybean dish above; a mild soft base to highlight the crisp crunch of the garlic seasoned soy beans. It was a tedious to eat and the reason why I don’t usual order fish. The bones were small and sharp, with several assembled in each spoonful. I would have eaten more and enjoyed it more if the time was taken to debone the fish. Though the fish was cooked perfectly, the flesh smooth and the sauce a cooling light soy.

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Our group ordered a bucket of rice to accompany all the above with. In hind sight me avoiding more carbs and passing on any rice made the food seem more salty. Though my guests did agreed that things were too salty overall with or without rice.

The servers were constantly on the ball, as soon as the door open and daylight streamed in a body was scurrying to receive those customers walking in. You make eye contact and were asked if you need help. They may not have made small talk, but they certainly were attentive. The four of them dressed all in black were constantly on the move. They rotated around tables, filled cups as soon as the tea in the cooled or they became less full. Attentive. Their complimentary tea was a melding of oolong and jasmine. Unique to them with a taste I have never had, but one I would like to replicate. I oddly tasted like sweet plum. Though by the time our meal ended and I needed glasses and glasses of tea to quell the salty thirst I had, and the restaurant was packed; I could not find enough people to help me. Interestingly they the presence of outside drinks in their restaurant. The table next to ours came with half drank bubble tea take out cups and not a word was said.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The parking situation was irritating, though if I left that out of the equation the night was decent. The ambience was mellow, lounge-like setting, not often seen in Richmond. Each dish was packed with flavour, and as a whole they complimented one another. Dark sauces, thick consistencies, and a smorgasbord of spices and ingredients. Although as I have repeated throughout this post, towards the end it all tasted the same and I was only able to differentiate portions by their textures. The vegetable dishes balanced the saltiness better than the meat ones, which just soaked it up. Thank goodness for the limitless tea. I drank seven cups in an attempt to cleanse my palette, to quench a litre’s worth of salty thirst. Overall this isn’t the sort of cuisine or meal I would crave, I wouldn’t mind eating it, but I wouldn’t seek it out either. I felt things were good, but there was nothing I liked enough to return for, and nothing I was left curious about on the menu to want to try. Though a great place to enjoy lots for cheap. Don’t deny your cravings.

MAJI
1180 – 8391 Alexandra Road, Richmond BC, V6X1C3
604-270-3100
Maji Restaurant 麻吉台式熱炒 on Urbanspoon

Paradiso Gelato Bistro

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Because our meals together never end in just two, and because we were left unsatisfied with just frozen yogurt. MissVancouverPiggy and I found ourselves searching up neighbouring places for an after meal, after dessert, ice cream. We both agreed that the calorie count is pretty much the same between frozen yogurt and ice cream, so you are better off eating ice cream for its taste and texture. Not that we care for or even count our calories.

Our search yielded “Paradiso Gelato Bistro”, a tiny corner shoppe for ice cream, coffee/tea, and surprisingly Vietnamese “banh mi” sandwiches. Their banner advertising their home made Italian gelato was promising. And located adjacent to Kitsilano beach, I am sure they saw a lot of success.

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The statue of a polar bear holding on to a double scoop and cream sugar cone by the door was a cute novelty. Other than that it, the interior had no purposeful visual interest. With minimal seating indoors and a few plastic patio chairs lined out front, the point was to eat and go, or better yet grab a cone and take a stroll on sand, by water.

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The back half of the shop was lined with counters. Freezer units that held bins of gelato, separated by creamy dessert indulgences and fruity fresh sorbetos. And to its side a counter for making banh mi; with a blown up picture included, in case you were unfamiliar with the popular Vietnamese style sandwich. Covered trays kept pickled and processed meats and ingredients cold, sealed plastic bins kept the baguettes fresh. Had I visited on an empty stomach I would have loved to try one. When else and where else have you seen the combination of Italian gelato and Vietnamese sandwiches brought together? Based on this and the two ladies working today, I have confidently concluded that they are indeed Vietnamese and have familiarity with the above product. So ordering would have been a safe bet. Instead we stuck to the ice cream, also ignoring their chalkboard listing of gourmet coffees and all the hardware needed to make them.

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For gelato our choices today: matcha, hazelnut, chai, chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and Ferraro Roche. “Maple Walnut” went untouched, the bin for “rum and raisin” was left empty, and they were very low on the “Cookie Monster” and a red coloured “bubble gum”. Based on amounts left at 4pm on a sunny beach side afternoon I can safely conclude the later was most popular. Though bins could very well have been left from days prior, as they didn’t necessarily start each day with fresh or full tubs of ice cream. For the sorbetos: passionfruit, pomegranate, lemon, banana chocolate, cherry, strawberry kiwi, lychee, piña colada, mango, strawberry, mixed fruits, and mandarin orange were on the docket.

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As per most gelato places they allow sampling, and here they even encouraged you to try what they liked. As both MissVancouverPiggy and I feel bad for sampling more than two tiny scoops each, we indulged on what we were most curious about, sharing each portion on miniature spoon between us. The clerk even kindly offered to give us two scoops in a cup for us to share. The greedy girls that we are, we laughed at her suggestion, waving it off and got a double scoop each instead.

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When getting a double scoop you always have to carefully consider what flavour you want to end in. I had the “Cookie Monster” as my first scoop, ending with the mint chocolate chip in my regular cone. I wanted the freshness of mint to be that light taste that kept on my tongue. The “Cookie Monster” had ground up cookie crumbs folded in to its sweet cream. Having them sprinkled on top of the batch, instead of mixed in during preparation meant they stayed crunchy and visually appealing. As was the case with the chocolate chips in the mint ice cream. The cone was great, but with the sunny weather and our walk to the waterside, my treat quickly melted and became an unbearable sticky mess.

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Lychee and hazelnut ice cream in a waffle cone. The lychee had a light taste, neither overly sweet, or obnoxiously tart. It was a great starting scoop and a good transition into a more decadent flavour. MissVancouverPiggy was most smitten with her hazelnut ice cream, even despite the hair she found in it. A dark strand that she pulled from its centre. A fact she held on to and even brought up during her latest visit back, two days later. MissVancouverPiggy brought it to the owner’s attention only as a warning, wanting future batches to be hair free. Even after paying for another two scoops, the woman behind the counter was un flinched by the blogger’s warning. Where MissVancouverPiggy was doing her a service, the lady considered in inconsequential. Something I warned her would happen after our first go at the place. Most people shrug such occurrences off and chalk it up to a one of situation.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Although I found a few of their flavours unique and their prices fair, this would not be a destination visit for me. Given their proximity to the beach, I consider “Paradiso Gelato Bistro” more of a, “so long as I am here, I might as well have ice cream” stop. A place for convince rather than a must go. After all it is location, location, location. And they have a good one here. Don’t deny your cravings.

To read MissVancouverPiggy’s insight on our same experience, click HERE.

PARADISO GELATO
1520 Yew Street, Vancouver BC, V6K3E4
604-569-0600
Paradiso Italian Gelato on Urbanspoon

Scoop!

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Looking for an after lunch, sweet palette cleanser, MissVancouverPiggy and I, still on our blogger’s date; headed back to “Scoop!”, a small frozen yogurt shop we originally passed on our way to “Indian Gate”. I don’t know about you, but I always need to end my meal in sweetness. I find it provides a more pleasant after taste if you are unable to brush your teeth shortly after your meal, or worse, anytime soon.

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From the exterior it was eye catching with its pink bubble font and catchy name. Walking in felt like walking into a friend’s basement. Quaint, homey, with all the makings of a mom and pop operation. A point most notable by the assortment of random decor elements and mismatched furniture. A bouquet of fake sunflowers were pinned up on an empty wall, a lucky Hello Kitty cat stood by the register; and hung around the room were canvases of landscapes, flowers, and portraits. No two sets of tables and chairs matched one another. An assembly that looked like it was picked up at various garage sales or was donated by friends. But like a basement or a friend’s house the space was safe, the space was comfortable. No pretentious brands, no push out the door because a line extends out of it, just frozen yogurt like your mom would serve and like your grandma would decorate with indulgent toppings.

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The space was layered with a step further down into a room, this was the basement. It was a more private space that held larger parties and gave them the option to be rowdy without disturbing the experience of others. In the corner sat a shelf of boxed board games. Games that have out lived their pieces and their relevance. More impressive was the existence of a foos ball and air hockey table. The presence of all three meant they encouraged the lingering of guests. They wanted to and invited neighbourhood locals and kids to make this their after meal or after school destination. It sure was cozy enough for it. Though given our running parking meter and the empty quiet of the shoppe today we opted to shovel what we could in and be on our way.

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Just looking around I knew what I was in for. What they lacked in high tech machinery and a uniform setting they made up in heart and that personal touch. Instructions on how you begin your froyo journey were posted up in serval locations and the clerk was eager to explain it as well. Your choose you yogurt size and flavour, then scoop on as much or as little toppings as you like.

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Their frozen yogurt was blended on the spot and flavoured as you liked. And therefore samples were not an option. Shame as I thought about a few, but dared not to commit to a full portion without a little taste. The listing of frozen yogurt was like everything else, written in coloured chalk across a series of hung up and propped up chalkboards. Original, raspberry, mango, matcha green tea, salted caramel, chocolate hazelnut, and orange creamsicle. With in rotation, seasonal flavours like lavender, taro, and apple crisp; which was described as being apple pie-like

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Today everything was done by a lone employee, with just the one blender. What came from it was a mixed and whipped creamy yogurt with that tell tale frozen yogurt tartness. MissVancouverPiggy was most disappointed to not have the visually appealing swirl indicative of other froyo stops. A swirl that can only come from a machine. A swirl that was absent from the yogurt being blended in the same vessel that it would later be served to us in today. Either way, the toppings would cover the top I figured, so I paid no attention.

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The toppings were charged by weight, 95 cents for every 50 grams. It was a self serve bar, with half the fun being the self serve discovery. Tiny hand printed, pink highlighted, and individually stuck on labels told what each bottle, bowl, or jar held. The ones on rotation were labeled as “random toppings”.

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Your options extended around the counter. Starting with dry toppings like blended graham cracker cookie crumbs, shredded dried coconut, peanut m&m’s, regular chocolate m&m’s, whoppers, yogurt chips, chocolate chips, and candy nerds. All kept under glass lids, sealed in glass jars. Then moving on to metal bowls under a sneeze guard. Small portions of frozen diced fruit, wet ingredients in syrup, and additional chocolates and biscuits kept out in the open. Strawberries, mangos, kiwis, and pineapple. Animal crackers, chocolate almonds, plain almonds, brownie pieces, and jelly beans. And ingredients most commonly found in a Taiwanese bubble tea: red bean, tapioca pearls, coconut jelly, mango popping boba, strawberry popping boba, and in house made mocchi. I was most impressed by the later as we walked in on the clerk preparing another fresh batch. And lastly we ended in a display of squeeze bottle sauces. Passion fruit, blueberry, raspberry, white chocolate, dark chocolate, salted caramel, and condense milk. A few of which our server confirmed was also made in house. I must admit, the Asian influenced ingredients did give them a leg up on their competition in my book. This was original.

They also serve waffles with their froyo, but only as a catered requested. A fact reminded with the presence of fake waffle stuck up on the ceiling and adhering to walls. A replica good enough to have me poking and wonder if it was indeed fake.

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Green tea frozen yogurt. The flavour is from powder, which is blended on spot, right into the yogurt. The matcha was strong, partnered with the tart yogurt, this was not a sweet treat. I therefore relied on my toppings for the extra sugary rush I craved. Though I did make the mistake of being heavy handed with the coconut jelly and boba. Along with the pieces, I scooped up its syrup. An overwhelming sweetness engulfed my froyo, causing the bitter of the tea and the tartness of the yogurt to be further heighten. My other ingredients included the various fruit and yogurt chips. The fruit was frozen and added only texture and no taste. I would have preferred the mangos juicy and the kiwis lush. Instead both were hard and not quite ripe.

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MissVancouverPiggy too played it safe with her mango frozen yogurt. The mix had a light and simple mango taste. Though she insisted on their being a weird aftertaste towards the bottom of her cup, a the blender wasn’t cleaned in between uses kind of mixed taste. A taste I could not make out having had my stronger flavours before it. For her toppings she selected mango fruit pieces, yogurt chips, and mocchi. The mocchi was soft and chewy. It’s freshness was apparent. Today’s flavour was original with nothing to add to the froyo besides a great chewy component. I wished we were in time for their other flavours. Something I wouldn’t mind taking home for $2 per container, as advertised on yet another chalkboard.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I am not a big fan of frozen yogurt, so will be biased in my account and during this recap. My thinking is, if I am going to have a cold creamy dessert, I am going to go big and have real ice cream. Froyo is great for those who don’t like their desserts sweet or those who are watching their caloric intake. But after the syrups squeezed and the sprinkles shook, you walk away with a dessert. And being a dessert, it will be sweet, it will be hazardous for your waistline, but it will taste oh so good. And for those who argue in favour of just having the yogurt and skipping the self serve topping bar, what fun is that? So for that reason this isn’t the place for me and I won’t be back on my own accord. However if I was invited to return, I would find myself ordering something without a doubt. I just won’t make this my first stop. The yogurt is good, the flavours unique, and the toppings possibility generous. The availability of Asian toppings gives it a versatility and edge over its competition. Though you must keep in mind, this isn’t a franchise, this isn’t a chain, the standards you expect from both cannot be extended to this one of a kind shop. “Scoop!” makes for the perfect frozen yogurt destination when in the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood. Sometimes you don’t want the lines, you don’t want busy, you want that gem, you want that I am supporting my community feel; and you get that all right here. Don’t deny your cravings.

To review MissVancouverPiggy’s account of our froyo experience together, click HERE.

SCOOP!
2050 W 4th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J1M7
604-569-3338
scoopyogurt.com
Scoop! on Urbanspoon

Royal Seoul House

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One of my guests had a craving for Korean hot pot, disregarding the sunny and muggy day. So after a search on our phones we were on our way to the closest one. With complementary underground parking at the back, and ample meter spots to the front and side it was an easy drive. Getting in however was the challenging part.

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“Seoul House” is of the largest restaurants I have been to, let alone Korean cuisine specific. Walking around the block the first three doors we encountered were blocked off, neon “open” signs and directions told us to keep heading west. Three small businesses worth of window space was used as displays. Traditional Korean artifacts and furniture; and a glimpse into the restaurant past sliding screen doors. Nothing but the awning spoke of its food and its potential to satisfy. The fourth door finally led you in. Into a shared building with the restaurant’s entrance to the side.

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The restaurant was set up like an underground little town. Each of the private rooms that lined the walls resembled a house, with an actual tiled roof and a front door that slid shut. You could also slide the side walls open to make a booth for 6 into one for 12. At the centre of the restaurant were open tables separated by fence like backing. They were conveniently situated in front of the well lit bar. A bar with neon signs and cardboard cut outs of oversized alcoholic beverages.

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We eagerly choose a large booth for five by the window. Removing our shoes before we entered, we had to walk hunched over on the wooden seats to get around the stationary table in the centre. Once seated we then positioned flatten pillows to add a little comfort to our bottoms on hard wood. The room gave privacy and allowed us to talk at ease and laugh as loud as we wanted, without the fear of interrupting a neighbour. Not that it was particular busy at 5:30pm on a Wednesday. In fact after 6pm we were the only ones left in the restaurant. Though with all the space, their two floors, and a fully stocked bar, I am sure they do specially well with larger groups later at night.

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Each booth is set with its own BBQ coil built into the table, with a smoke exhaust and sprinkler nozzle overhead; so should you choose to do your own barbecuing at your own table. Though given the temperature outside and the lack of air conditioning or circulating air inside, we opted to not. Included in our room was a service buzzer. A button on the table’s corner allowing you to request service with a push. A convenient way to attract attention when your party is hidden behind plastic walls painted in grey and pink blossoms, reenforced by thin wooden planks. The plastic is appose to the traditional paper rooms, which I could see breaking very easy with a rowdy party or someone wishing to lean back.

You can tell we were at true Korean restaurant with their use of metal chopsticks. The water was semi self serve, brought to us in a reusable jug. My guest inexperience in Korean cuisine made the mistake of ordering a glass of wine with her meal. It was their house boxed white, and it was awful. The rest of us being more experienced, teased her, suggesting that her next beverage be soju. The menu was easy to navigate. Great with Korean names, English description, and pictures numbered for clarity. For those uncertain you could order based on picture.

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“Steam green beans”. Lightly salted and steamed green beans. I was disappointed to see that these were just “edamame”. I expected actual green beans.

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Below is a series of cold dishes, included with a few of our orders. This is very common practice at most Korean restaurants. They are served as not only a starter but useful as a healthy side as well. Each dish had a different texture and a different taste. They helped to give a break in flavours for some dishes and add flavours in others.

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Sweet cold potato & Spinach.

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Kimchi & Eggplant.

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Bean sprouts & Cabbage slaw.

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“Modum Jeon” (assorted mini pancakes). Described as pan-fried tofu, jalapeño and sweet pumpkin. Each component was washed in egg and fried to a gentle crisp. They were no where near what I imagined when I read “pancake” on the menu. If anything “tempura” or “battered” would be a better description, but without the use of tempura flakes or any actual batter. So I guess this is a mystery. The pumpkin was chewy with a sandy texture. The tofu was firm yet soft as it crumbled upon bite. The zucchini was refreshing, but bland. And for all three a savoury sauce for dipping into would have been helpful and much needed. The rings of onion stuffed with pork on the other hand were great. The meat was evenly cooked, holding moisture in and flavour throughout. They reminded me of meat loaf patties.

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“Sweet and sour deep fried dumpling”. Dumplings made with pork, vegetable, and tofu. Served coated a sweet and sour sauce. I would have preferred to have the sauce served on the side, to be able to dictate the amount needed on a personal level. For me the sauce was so overwhelming that I was unable to make out any of the dumpling’s filling. And scrapping excess off was out of the question and the flavour was already soaked up into the batter. Though it was a delicious sauce that I would love to have again and with other food, but just at a restrained amount.

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“Sun du bu jii gae” hot pot. A spicy seafood and soft tofu soup. Not as spicy as it looks, as the red and yellow colour suggests. With hardly any seafood this could have been a beef hot pot for as far as we knew. Though I did manage to fish out one fish tentacle. The complete bottom of the cast iron pot was a layer of tofu, so by the time you scooped and divided portions you didn’t actually have a lot of soup to dole out. Soups are traditionally eaten with the bowls of rice they are served with.

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“Chicken udon”. With shredded carrots, egg, green onion, and seaweed for garnish. Pretty mild compared to the broth before. The longer noodles made this dish hard to scoop and share. Rich in chicken, but oily on the lips. I found this usual, it tasted as I expected and as I would find anywhere else.

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As part of the “Premium BBQ dinner” we ordered the “Beef short ribs”. Nine pieces of meat and bone we had cooked in their kitchen, rather than by us at our own table. The decision was split on this. A few deemed it really good, but others had better. Each piece was well seasoned and not dry. A few were overcooked but it varied by piece. The fattier ones needed more chewing, but each involved the use of hands to pull meat from teeth.

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Under “Delicacies” on the menu is “Jap Chae”. Stir fried potato noodle with assorted vegetables and beef. Potato noodles are a must have for me when I eat Korean. The noodles are hearty on their own, and often the first part of the dish completed. This was a flavourful assortment of black fungus, carrot, zucchini, egg, onion, and cabbage.

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After dinner and before our bill we were given complimentary portions of a chilled ginger drink. Ginger boiled in water and sweetened with rock sugar. This not only made for a perfect palate cleanser, but ginger is great for digestion. Especially given the amount and variety of food we had all eaten. Though a few of my guests were even too full to take a sip.

The servers were Koreans, they spoke in their native tongue to other patrons who understood. For us their English was good, they were able to give us informed suggestions and offer unique recommendations. They quantified selections and reassured on decisions. Regardless of being called by buzzer or not they were attentive. They checked in often and made sure our water jug was never half empty.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I was smitten with their decor. We were taken on a trip and given a different experience in their unique booth rooms. Parking was easy, staff were friendly, food came fast, and dishes made delicious. Our meal ended with indigestion and protruding stomachs from eating so much. And what was most gratifying was having two guests who deemed the food not to their liking, declaring they could eat none of it, before even trying it; walking away happy with everything they had and raving about the new flavours they got to try. As a food blogger I find nothing more satisfying than spreading the joy of food and getting someone to try something new. You only live once so don’t deny your cravings and always be willing to sample all that is worth trying.

ROYAL SOEUL HOUSE
1215 W Broadway, Vancouver BC, V6H3X8
604-738-8285
Royal Seoul House皇家首爾館韓國餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Indian Oven

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Still undecided of where to eat, fellow food blogger, “MissVancouverPiggy” and I found ourselves on West 4th. Where a few laps in the car and a few blocks of walking had us at “Indian Oven”. We made this our destination wanting to take advantage of a good deal. For lunch: rice, salad, and naan is included with your choice of entree. Whereas other restaurants charge an additional fee for their sides. Indian food isn’t my usual go to, and I don’t often find that I have cravings for the cuisine; so am always happy to oblige when someone wants to entertain the thought. My theory is that my tongue can’t handle as much spiciness as their seasonings has to offer. And I certainly was not looking for the level of heat my guest was after. Though their advertised “Best butter chicken” signage had me excited.

The restaurant is located on the corner of 4th and Maple, just above “Maple Market”, a literal corner store. It is a walk up winding stairs, and therefore somewhat hidden. Though their burgundy awning, sandwich board, and pictures of dishes served does help to draw attention. Lunch at 2pm meant we had the place relatively to ourselves. We were greeted by one of the only two men working today. He with his Bluetooth in ear sat us, and took care of the front of house. The other gentleman was our chef and stayed in the kitchen. We walked to an empty table and chose our seat by the window. On a warm day like today their patio would be preferred. It had a view looking out and down onto the west 4th, from in between the branches of cherry trees planted by the sidewalk. And pub style umbrellas stood erect to block out most of the sun’s rays. Though realistically how many people enjoy eating spicy foods as they sweat it out in the sun? We were fine with our cooler indoor tables.

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The room was fairly large painted in a greyish blue. It was banquet size, with enough evenly spaced navy tables and matching chairs to entertain any celebratory occasion. Each table was set with a matching navy table cloth speckled with flowers under a sheet of glass. On top, the appropriate cutlery with an empty glass and rolled up reusable napkin there in. I am always anxious to get reusable napkins dirty. Especially white ones like these smudged with neon yellow and orange curry stains. The decor comprised of flat screen televisions mounted on either ends of the restaurant; traditional chandeliers hanging in pairs over hear; and oil paintings in a variety of styles, shades, and techniques.

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The bar stood tucked away in the corner just as you entered, adorned with traditional East Indian artifacts. They lined the top gilded in gold, representing both tradition and religion. Deities, plates carved with landscapes, ornate interpretations of the sun, and religious symbols. On the counter stood additional statues of a deities, they too were represented in gold. And for those needing an after meal mint, complimentary Indian sweets were available in a pedestal bowl. With a tiny spoon you could scoop as many sprinkle-like treats as you wanted into the palm of your hand.

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Each entree came in the same metal bowl, on the same metal tray; with the same amount of steamed rice piled full, with the same potion of naan cut into quarters, and with the same amount of vegetables cubed and dressed in oil and pepper. The basmati rice had its long grains cooked light fluffy. It was the perfect texture for the smooth sauces. You don’t usually eat curry without a base, and rice is ideal. The vegetables were a nice touch. They gave our meal some lightness, an easy way to break up the rich sauce and the heavy carbs. As well as serve as an effective way to cool a tongue singed with hot spices. They were cut to order and kept at room temperature, just the way I like it. I have sensitive teeth and the though of biting into cold fruits and vegetables scare them. Lightly dressed in olive oil, spices, and heavy on the pepper; they did not distract from the main dish. We were split on the naan. I though they were fine dense, thick, chewy, and unseasoned. Not the best I have had, but they served their purpose as the preferred vehicle for getting ample scoops of curry into our mouths. A firmer texture for all the soft foods, a reminder that I wasn’t eating spicy baby food. “MissVancouverPiggy” however wanted her naan lighter, fluffier, with blistered skin, and an easy to tear texture. She made it her mission to shred all our combined twelve pieces of naan looking for that ideal bite.

Despite the run down from our server, I couldn’t keep track of what was what by look alone. They all looked similar, meaty chunks in a thick, bright red to yellow mix. Given the speed of delivery I was doubtful if they were made to order. My thinking was with the complexity of flavours, it must take time to layer them all in. Though after a taste and a bite into either chicken or lamb I was doubtful of my original assessment. Each piece of meat was cooked to the centre, and piping hot. Still soft and tender they had to be made on the spot. Maybe the meat is cooked separately and added to a curry kept warm on simmer? Either way this was not a microwave job. “MissVancouverPiggy” was upset over the level of spiciness. She specifically requested that the food be spicy, describing previous tales of woe from restaurants past. “Actually spicy” was emphasized. Though I did interject, “not too spicy”. So when each bowl landed and not one gulp of mouth quenching water was need, she was less than pleased. I on the other hand had things to my liking.

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Our chef easy took our last minute change of “Chicken Masala” for “Curry Chicken”. We felt we should get one curry in when enjoying Indian cuisine. Described as a Northern style dish made with a traditional thin curry sauce and freshly pounded chicken. Either a spicy or a sweet curry. It had the flavouring without the kick. This was the least memorable of the three we have had.

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“Butter Chicken”. Described as the most popular Indian dish, it is made with boneless chicken, tomatoes, and fresh cream. It tasted more of tomato than curry or butter. The colour of the sauce reflected it well. It was not the best I have had, and didn’t have that rich buttery taste that I expected. Even though this was my favourite of the three dishes today, I still prefer fast food, food court style butter chicken. Though, like food court Chinese it is probably very westernized.

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“Lamb Vindaloo”, a classic South Indian dish cooked with a dash of vinegar. This was the richest of the three entrees and the spiciest. Like the chicken the lamb too was perfectly cooked and tender to the bite. The more you ate the spicer it got and the longer it lingers. Though once again not hot to the point of needing a break or sweating at the brow.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As a whole I am glad we came in for smaller portions at lunch. I feel I would not have been able to get through a dinner portion of just one curry. A one note taste that would have grown tried on the tongue, even with three sides. Here, lunch gave us a chance to try smaller servings and enjoy more flavours, all at the same cost. We ate more sauce than meat and left immensely full from all the unavoidable carbs. Curry just isn’t the same without a plain base. So I recommend this as the one to try if you are unfamiliar with East Indian cuisine. The prices are fair and the spices mild. A great beginner’s starting point. Don’t deny your cravings.

To view “MissVancouverPiggy’s” account of our lunch together click, HERE.

INDIAN OVEN
2006 W 4th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J1M7
604-730-5069
theindianoven.com
Indian Oven on Urbanspoon

Soho Tea Room

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Every dinner attempt made has been thwarted by lengthly waits. I guess being one of the only bubble tea places that serves alcohol with their fruit and tapioca makes them quite popular. So today when I found myself on south Cambie, looking for a snack in between lunch and dinner, it was an opportune time to visit.

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The decor was particularly chic for a bubble tea place. New enough to warrant me asking if they had recently under gone renovations. This was not the case, they have only been open for a year and a half. Though everything remained in tact. Counters still held their shiny waxed surfaces, the paint on the walls still looked fresh, and the furniture remained with pointed corners and smooth edges. As a whole the restaurant was an assortment mix of elements. A light wood planked wall on one end, beige wallpaper pattern in white on the other, an artificial stone wall towards the back, and two blackboards that held menu specials in coloured chalk. The counters were surfaced with granite, and a screen embedded in the front allowed servers to place orders through touch. There wasn’t much in decor pieces: empty white wired bird cages sat by the door, and terrariums with greenery hung down from the ledge of each front window. Each glass terrarium varied in size from its neighbour. Ovals, circular orbs, tear drops, and cylinders shaped like oversized pills.

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A sign asked us to wait be seated just behind the counter. Though the visibility there was limited and the flailing of my arms was required. We were given one of the wooden tables on either ends of the room. Such tables were separated by booths and a decorative partition, creating a tad more intimacy.

The regular menu was a definitely a page turner between hotpots, set meals, lunch specials, snacks, toast desserts, chef specials, mixed grills, east and west entrees, vegetarian options, set noodle soups, and D.Y.I. fish soup; there was a lot to go over. This isn’t even including the drinks: black tea, green tea, milk tea, flower tea, slushes, special blended drinks, Italian soda, smoothies, fresh tofu drinks, fresh milky drinks, special creations, drinks using fresh fruit, coffee, hong style tea, and iced dessert drinks. You couldn’t try it all if you wanted. Together food and beverages spanned across 17 pages of a multi coloured menu. I appreciated the options and their ability to execute them all a whim, but as a patron I was overwhelmed by flipping through them. There were hardly any pictures, no descriptions, no suggestions. How was I to weed through it all? There were so many specials to read through, so many add ons to consider, and so many substitutions to be had. So we didn’t. We didn’t bother, we stuck to the one page laminated lunch special list. I feel it is very typical of Asian places to try to be more for everyone. A strategy to earn more visits and as a consequence more profits? Though something can be said for less is more, and taking the time to perfect the few you want to invest most in. I can only imagine their cost to stock all the ingredients and the condition of their back of house to store it all.

The slower pace today came with a special add on menu, as mentioned above. Free beverages with certain appetizers and desserts between 2-5:30pm and from 9pm to close. Complimentary hot drinks, cold for 50 cents more, and make it a bubble tea for $2 more. I guess 50 cents is the cost of the ice cubes needed to chill your hot tea to cold. Either way the discount was still advantageous.

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Hong Kong style “Coffee tea” and “Milk tea”. What could have been complimentary with our meal cost us 50 cents more per plastic glass to have them cold. Coffee tea was just that, a blended mix of the two with cream.

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“Roti canai bread”, with two pieces. The roti was good but not authentic. Each breaded fold was greasy, but light and flaky. The curry was the sweeter South East Asian yellow variety. It only had the slightest tickle of spice.

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On the one page menu I appreciated the listing of the time it takes to prepare their various specialty desserts. All of ours did come quicker, but the warning was considerate. The 25 minute “Honey toast box”. We choose strawberry as our flavour of choice, over chocolate, caramel, or condense milk. This was certainly a feast for the eyes. The dessert was a hollowed out end of a white bread loaf. The inners were cut into even cubes, spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar, and rebuilt back into its original boxy form. The additional condiments meant every morsel had flavour. A good thing as the strawberry syrup and ice cream were only present on the immediate surface. The perfectly scooped vanilla balls on hot toast, melted into cream and set forth steam. We felt the extra toppings were only for show, they added no specific flavours, though the fruit loops cereal was over powering. The dessert as a whole was an overkill in sweetness. More show and fluff than a decadent dessert. We left this one incomplete. This dessert had more bread then most sandwich lunch combos.

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“Mini wooden bucket tofu soya dessert”. I had the option of having this hot or cold, but choose the later as I was informed it is the most common way to have it. I am not going to lie, I very much so ordered this for the bucket. Being intrigued by its picture and the vessel it would be served in. The tofu was firm and plentiful, existing all the way down the length of the bucket. It was light and creamy like a solid yogurt, with an enjoyable slurp-able texture. With the dessert you are given a much needed mini jug of simple syrup. It gives an otherwise plain dessert it’s only form of sweetness. Having it served separately allows you the ability to select your desired sugar levels.

When needed it was hard to get the notice from either of the two servers working front of house today. They weren’t bound to any one section and were willing to help anyone who caught their attention. But they weren’t check in on your meal, or asking if you are in need of anything else. On several occasions I was forced to remove myself from my meal and my guests to hunt down some help.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes/No. Would I recommend it? – Yes/No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes/No.
Although the food was average, there is just so much of it available for tasting that I cannot conclude judgement after only one visit. This one needs subsequent dinners, if I can get in without an hour plus wait on the sidewalk out front. We didn’t try any of their savoury dishes, no noodle soups, or fried popcorn chicken, none of their blended fruit drinks, or their even a sip of their speciality alcoholic bubble teas. My next try will have be on a weekday at the beginning of the week, for sweet cocktail with pearls and coconut jelly. What a twist. Don’t deny your cravings.

SOHO TEA ROOM
3466 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V5Y2B1
604-873-3686
sohotearoom.com
Soho Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Anny’s Dairy Bar

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This place was recommended by a French Canadian friend of mine. A stop that not only boasted poutine made with the popular “St. Hubert” Quebec style gravy, but also maple twist ice cream cones. Having a French Canadian partner I am always excited to try food specific to his region of birth. So undoubtedly I was thrilled to see that we were pulling up to this little less known shop in the heart of the New Westminster. Their awning gave delight in traditional Quebec style fare: poutine, smoke meat sandwiches, and maple desserts.

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The shop was wide open with its door propped and its sliding windows separate. An inviting scene, beckoning those wanting a sweet treat on a balmy summer-like evening, such as tonight. When we walked in the space it was empty, but soon after 8:30pm patrons piled in for dessert. Families with small children, pregnant parents, seniors, and friends on a stroll. People of all ages, and people of all walks of life wanting only one thing, a “Maple twist”.

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The restaurant has seen some wear and tear, and was run down with age. Chipping paint, stained velvet seats, peeling wooden chairs, hand written signs folded and dog ear-ed with creases, and faded newspaper clippings of former accolades. Tonight dining in meant a mismatched assembly of furniture. Round red high tops with blue stools, and square tables partnered with plastic patio chairs for outdoor seating. Though realistically, how long does it take to eat an ice cream cone, or realize you can be walking while eating it?

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More noteworthy was their murals on either wall. Two opposing scenes scanning the length of the restaurant. Painted landscapes depicting traditional Québécois life, cleverly designed to mimic a view from inside a wood cabin, including a titled roof to boot. With winter behind, and summer ahead. A white winter land with snow covered ground, sparse trees, and the famous “Cabane a sucre” (sugar shack). And a luscious green summer of rolling hills, flourishing livestock, blue skies, and even bluer water.

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You walk right to the front desk to order, staring up at their menu board from behind the counter. Two girls ran the shop. One in the back and the other responsible for the front, depending on the needs of their customers of course.

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There were cans of Quebec maple syrup and tins of Quebec branded gravy piled for sale. And a shared bottle of ketchup and canned drinks in mini fridge on counter. A cluttered

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We ordered my guest’s usual. Two steamies, one with just ketchup and mayo, the other all dressed. A “steamie” is a hotdog steamed to cook, and served in a plain bun. This was an excellent accompaniment to the more heavy poutine below.

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Large poutine. This was by far one of the best poutines I have ever had, and if a picky French man says its good you better believe it. Based on appearance and taste, the fries were homemade. Thick cut, not frozen, crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside sticks of potato. They were golden brown under just the right amount of gravy. Enough gravy to coat each corner, without drowning your meal. We were able to eat down to the bottom without encountering only soggy fries. The mozzarella cheese I was told was authentic. Soft and chewy, I have never had any this fresh. Though they didn’t squeak like traditional Quebec “squeaky cheese”. My guest’s only concern was that the use of canned gravy was sort of cheating, where as other places make their own signature gravy from scratch. But during a follow up visit, we did ask and did learn that they made their own in house gravy. The canned ones were just for sale.

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Everyone coming in walked out with a maple twist cone; so naturally, we had to as well. Soft serve ice cream, aka “soft cream” from direct French translation. With your choice of cone, waffle cone, or cup. They come in kid friendly small, small, medium, or large. Great for my picture, but I soon learned medium and large was two to four swirls too many, though we finished both right down to the bottom cone. The banner over the counter claimed them to be “unique in B.C”. Maple syrup is too strong to have as an ice cream flavour, so having it here just as an accent was the perfect touch. Ribbons of maple running down the sides, but a gentle vanilla true and true. Soft serve is my favourite ice cream texture and under $5 for a large this by far is better than any gourmet cream. The best part of eating an ice cream cone is biting into that buttery cone with sweet cream between its ridges.

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.
Closed later based on weather, it is a great destination on those long and hot summer nights. As far as authenticity goes, my partner gave “Anny’s” the green light. Though when asked if this was his new go to for the best poutine in the city, he wanted to reserve final judgement after our second visit. So for now it is deemed one of the best poutine places in our books. As a closer location to our home and out of the downtown core, I foresee many last minute meals and desserts here. Definitely worth the line to get one of their sky high, reasonably priced treats. During our stay 15 cones were spun in 30 minutes. Impressive for an ice creamery in New Westminster.

ANNY’S
722 Sixth Street, New Westminster BC, V3L3C6
604-515-1410
Anny's Dairy Bar on Urbanspoon

Calabash Bistro

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My guest chose our destination, and having never tried Caribbean cuisine I was intrigued by a night full of new flavours. Strongly scented spices wafted into my nostrils as I approached the threshold. It’s smell made me hungrier, and all the happy patrons seated inside had me hopeful. The chatter of folks enjoying themselves filled the room. The attentive staff were a varying bunch. Patient and soft spoken, they gave equal attention to all their guests. I stood by the door waiting for our reserved table to be cleared by the hostess and was approached three other times by three other employees. I immediately felt their inviting spirit. Though having the hostess booth right by the door with no room to stand and even less to wait, meant congestion at the entrance; I was constantly in the way of those passing by or wanting out. Yet with the bar and its accompanying stools only a few feet away, my options to move in were limited. Given their popularity, I see the need to condense and capture as much space as possible with actually seats, no room for a waiting area.

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There is a cultivated romantic ambience about the place. Rich red walls, candle lit tables, and smooth Latin music playing over head. The main floor was a tight space of single top tables and ones for four by the window. Additional seating was available in their basement, but tonight it was reserved for an event. We only realized later that the basement also served as their lounge. A night spot with its own schedule of ethnic music and unique events. Coconut Thursdays, Caribbean Brunch, and a rotation of live musical performances.

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The decor was rich in history. Maps, flags, and artifacts reflective of their Caribbean Cuisine, and self confessed Reggaecentric Environment. A cloth map of Antigua, a fish carved from wood, a piece of Caribbean life captured in paint, traditional tools that hung over door ways adorned with shells, native hand carved masks, curvy drinking gourds, and a picture of bob Marley. Towards the back of the restaurant, a large couch that stood the length of the wall. It’s frayed and peeling arm rests and saggy cushions told me this was a well lived on piece of furniture. Above it hung a splattered painting of a DJ and his turn tables. A show case towards the washroom held homemade beaded jewelry, knitted beanies, and organically made maracas. A display for show of culture and sale of product.

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The wooden tables, the solid wood carved chandelier, and the exotic plants in both potted variety and hanging from baskets; gave the place an earthy feel. And with each table setting lived a mason jar, in it rocks, water, and a living plant.

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The drink menu was a complete introduction to rum, the declared spirit of the Caribbean. They deal in all things rum related. They boast to have the largest collection available to the consumers in Canada. Given the various bottles lining their back bar shelf, I would agree. They have rum flights, the first of its kind I have ever seen. And once a month they even host rum tasting parties. Shame I drove and was not here to drink. Though that didn’t stop the bartender from graciously coming out from behind her station to suggest a beverage as I waited for my guest. I declined, though I was thoroughly happy to get all the check in from her and her fellow colleagues.

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My guest tonight has heard about their rum offerings and was eager to try the “Calabash Dark and Stormy”. This was on special tonight, on Thursdays it is $2 off. Their version of this Bermuda drink had ginger infused Goslings Black Seal with homemade ginger beer, Angostura bitters, and house made ginger syrup. Given the listing and deeper tone we expected a heavier drink; instead it had a light, fruity note. The dusting of cinnamon added a subtle sweetness alongside its aromatics. All together it had a tickle of spice, very complementary to our meal ahead.

The dinner menu started with a weekly list of specials in food and drinks. The “banana lassi” and “passion fruit guava mimosas” had me intrigued, but I refrained and we stuck with their core menu. This would be my first full fledge dive into Caribbean cuisine and I wanted to try what they were most known for. My mistake was going into this ordering things I thought I knew how they should taste. So the dishes we got didn’t quite turn out how we had expected. North American versus Caribbean crab cakes. East Indian roti verses Caribbean roti.

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“Fried Coconut Dumplings”. Served with your choice of mango honey or guava butter. We greedily paid the extra required for both spreads, having heard they were known for these dumplings. Delicious and sweet, we were surprised they were offered as a appetizer and not a dessert. Though there were notes of savoury in the dumpling. Each had that familiar light coconut taste without its usual grainy texture. They more closely resembled bread balls than dumplings. With a chewy dough-like texture and no real filling. The butters were the best part, they spread smooth like cream and were like nothing we have ever tasted. Both sweet and fragrant with their name sake fruit, we ended up using them on all our appetizers, deeming the mango our favourite.

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“Free-Range Jerk Chicken Skewers”. Grilled, jerk marinated free range chicken breast. The chicken was well cooked and tender. I don’t prefer white meat, but this cut was far from dry, and only a wee bit tough. This dish is an example where more sauce isn’t necessarily better. The peppery marinade was full of spice, and it completely overwhelmed the chicken. It was a lingering heat that stuck to our tongues and held fast in our mouths.

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“Roti & Dips”. Severed with your choice of jerk chicken, jerk vegetables, curry chicken, or a curry veggie sauce. The roti kept warm in its rolled up state. It was a thicker piece with many feathered layers. Flavourful on its own, but perfect for soaking up sauces. The curry dipping sauce was yellow and watery, it looked more like chicken broth than a curry. It wasn’t the thick and chunky version we had envisioned. Texture aside it was well seasoned and perfectly salted.

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“Crabcakes” made with seasoned crab meat, salt cod, and shrimp; coated with a crispy spiced cornmeal crust. Serve with cool dahi dip and a marinated green papaya salad. This was your usual light and fluffy crab cake. The thick crust had bites tasting heartier, and mouthfuls feeling grainier. It certainly wasn’t our favourite part of the cake. Inside, the patties were filled with generous flaky crab, seasoned with a stronger curry flavour than the dish before. We just finished it for the sake of finishing it. The sauce and accompanying papaya salad was able to create some lightness. The former remind me of taziki with its yogurt base.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As my first dive into Caribbean cuisine I would say this was a success. I have tried flavours I have never discovered, and tasted variations on dishes I thought I knew everything about. For those who just like salt and pepper, this is not the place for you. Their use of different seasoning and gentle mouth engulfing spices is exciting to an inexperienced palette. I would like to return to enjoy their lounge and emerge myself in artistic culture as I indulge in the unique food. A solid stop for something different, but would not a go-to staple for me. Don’t deny your cravings.

CALABASH
428 Carrall Street, Vancouver BC, V6A0A7
604-568-5882
calabashbistro.com
Calabash Bistro on Urbanspoon

Gold Train Express

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Another episode of late night eating had my guest and I at Kingsway and Joyce. Where surprisingly, numerous Asian themed restaurants were still open and running well after 12am, even on a Monday. With its neon lights, we were lured close like moths to a flame. It was also one of the more convenient stops with a parking lot adjacent and street stalls out front. Though if you make the former your first choice, there is a required walk around parked cars and path-blocking hedges in order to reach the restaurant’s entrance.

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The space is narrow, our travel snaked us to the very back, ending at a table a stone’s throw from the single stalled washrooms. We could hear flushes as we ate. Though on the bright side, to have a six seater table to share between two girls, we were happy where we were. Even though our luxurious table was just the joining of a four and two seater side by side. The restaurant was fairly busy, tables full, but without a wait. A sea of Asian youths, as couples and in groups. It led us to believe this was the neighbourhood hotspot.

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The decor was a hodge-podge of stuff. A few television sets faced no particular direction, though they all broadcasted the same sporting channel. Mirrors faced opposing windows. I imagined their reflection a nuisance to those drivers passing by. It also gave a distorted view into the restaurant. The rest was an assembly of decorations that have stood the test of time. Window painted Christmas decals, strung up lights, and a limp paper Canadian flag. This along side bundles of fake flora protruding from wall mounted urns gave the place a cluttered attic feel. It was all very peculiar. Though it was clear no one seated here tonight was in to enjoy the view.

The menu was your usual list of Vietnamese classics: pho noodle soup, rice dishes, vermicelli, and toasted baguettes. Curious enough, the appetizers were listed on last page with drinks and desserts, and the menu began with ooh choices. Given their listing of every variation possible to pho we asked for our server’s recommendations. He was a very friendly older gentleman. He did his best to bridge the language barrier. Wanting to find the ideal bowl of soup for us, he broke their most population choices down by race. Filipinos liked the seafood noodles, Chinese patrons preferred the basic beef pho noodles soup, and for beginners and my guest with a European background he suggested either the vegetable or chicken based noodles. Little did he know, she was as an adventurous of an eater as myself. Once again I found his service great, he was attentive, checking in on us often, always with a smile on face. The younger man working alongside him on the other hand seemed to move about with a chip on his shoulder. It was clear he was here just for a paycheque, and rathered not engage in his guests. Though unfortunately that seems to be the norm at most Asian places.

As I made mentioned earlier, the florescent track lights were attention holding, but a hinderance on my photos.

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Our drink order was couriered to us from the side corridor, as a posed to the window pass like all the other dishes. A woman approached us out of no where. And confusion ensured as she took minutes explaining her inability to prepare the kiwi milkshake my guest originally requested. In its place we got a sweetened avocado milkshake. If you hate avocado you defiantly wouldn’t like this, though realistically would you have ordered it if that was the case. The taste of the vegetable came right through, along with its creamy texture. Though there were still some chunks leftover that got in the way of using a straw. As a whole the drink was a little more challenging to finish, with the desire for less avocado and more cream. All the sugar ended up on bottom of the glass, so the last sips were the best.

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“Red bean with coconut milk and ice”. Served with both a straw and a spoon. A straw for sipping the melted ice and milk, and a lengthy spoon for digging out the beans and jelly. I was impressed by the actual chunks of coconut, and use to the grainy texture that accompanies most red bean desserts. This is a very traditional dessert. You either like it or you don’t. Growing up with these flavours they reminded me of my childhood.

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We were automatically given a fork to use with our share plates. This despite my guest being more fluent in chopstick use than most Mediterraneans, and even myself. She stuck with her chopsticks and I held firmly on to my fork.

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“Special Vietnamese sub”. The fresh bread was crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Along with the crunchy sticks of pickled vegetables and the smooth pate, this dish had a great contrast of textures. With oyster perfect mix of everything and its solid flavours we deemed this the best order of the night.

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“Vietnamese spring rolls”. Overcooked with blackened shell and charred taste, these were very disappointing. We were unable to make out the actual ingredients inside. Though at $2, were willing to eat through our grievances. They at least maintained their crunch and everything decent soaked in the dish fish sauce we asked for.

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“Grilled chicken and spring roll with vermicelli”. Like the spring roll appetizers, this roll was burnt and over cooked. Naturally, given that they were probably made all together in the same batch. I appreciated the extra attention to the raw cucumbers. They were sliced with a segregated edge. The detail reminded me of crinkle cut fries. There was no real flavour to them and this dish. The chicken was slightly dry and lacked seasoning. And two bowls of fish sauce were no help rectifying any of this. Though together the bowl was a healthy mix of ingredients, generous in chopped peanuts.

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Usually pho comes first, but today this was the last order to land on our table. This was disappointing as I like starting with hot food first, especially on an empty stomach. “Rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe and brisket pho”. We originally choose the large size over the x-large. Though after writing down our entire order our server suggested we go for the small instead, in order to fit all that we wanted in our bellies. The smaller portion meant we didn’t get to see enough of the meat variety listed above. Overall this was avery standard serving. A rich soup that we added eventually added the usual brown sauce to.

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.
There was really nothing about this place that set it apart from other Vietnamese restaurants. The decor was an eye sore, the menu was a sea of familiarity; and food was good, but average. Though judging by its location and the surrounding area, it was one of a kind. This was the only place in the neighbourhood for pho, this late at night. So given the time and place, I wouldn’t mind finding myself here again. Don’t deny your cravings.

GOLD TRAIN EXPRESS
3320 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R5L1
604-433-7577
Gold Train Express Vietnamese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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