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Month: June 2014 Page 1 of 2

Tapioca Cafe

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Located in a popular Richmond complex this was my long drive out for dinner tonight. My guest choose the place knowing I like themes and I suspect for the novelty of petite servers wearing school girl uniforms. From the groups of families seated and the coupling of girlfriends together I get the gist they were here more for the food than the show. The theme was a classroom. Tables complete with a desk compartment and pencil holders. Ours came with a red foam cup that read, “an apple a day will keep anyone away if you throw hard enough” and pencils chewed at the tip and worn at the eraser’s bit.

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The walls had black boards drawn on with coloured chalk. All in Chinese characters, but from the pictures I gathered it was a menu. The patrons spoke mandarin and the staff reciprocated. My mandarin is fuzzy and their English was better. Out of season was the string of sparkling snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. I always call out restaurants for being too lazy to take down Christmas or any other festive decorations long over due. To me it shows a lack of caring for your space. Like a family leaving their Christmas lights up all year round. Despite the sun and the heat, the cooling air conditioning kept the room at a brisk chill. It allowed us to order a piping hot bowl of noodles and soup and to sit in comfort during our stay. I could see this being a strong selling feature during the hotter summer months.

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The service was a little lax. The two waitresses in white short sleeve button ups, plaid skirts, and matching ties scurried around the room. When cold they pulled private school sweaters over to complete a more formal version of their look. It was pretty cute. Though the tables were kept waiting, with menus unserved and food uneaten. Even the owner stepped in to help bus dirty dishes and deliver hot plates. Thankfully he was not in the same uniform.

As the dinner-ing hour became late night loitering: the lights dimmed and the up beat music began. Though it all came abruptly with darkness and a loud boom. This is when I noticed the surveillance cameras aimed at the cash register, with three just in one corner. What might seem a little excessive could be necessary during late night service.

Confusing me was their name. On the exterior it was “Tapioca Cafe”, on the menu it was “Cafe 301”, like a classroom number to match the school theme? And if you google the address “Tea Spot Enterprises Ltd.” pops up. The menu was a laminated sheet double sided with drinks on one and food on the another. This was more English friendly with names that read like descriptions in both Chinese and English. A long list of familiar Taiwanese classics and variations on the above. The drinks divided into subsections with reoccurring flavours. Most unique was the “Dark brown sugar milk tea”, “Old fashion lemon jelly with basil seeds”, “Fresh milk and egg pudding”, and “Salted lemon tangerine drink”. Though we both kept it safe with the free drinks offered as part of a set meal.

We each ordered their “Cafe 301 noodle soup at your choice”. A one page check off list. Conveniently filled in with the pencils already sitting at each table. You begin by choosing your desired soup base, then your favourite noodle type, finishing it off with any two toppings. A drink is included, with an extra cost to upgrade. And as an added bonus, “special mini snacks” are available at $1.99 each, to make everything above a combo. A maximum of two per order. We ordered our two sides and upgraded our drinks.

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“Grass jelly milk tea” and “Green milk tea” as per combo, with the addition of agar, coconut jelly, pearls for an extra $2 on the latter. Agar is a Japanese red bean jelly, a fact we googled before committing.

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My guest got the peanut sauce and chilli soup, with Beijing thin ramen noodle, beef tripe and fish puffs. The broth was one of a kind made with actual peanut butter. A sweet and milky mix like I have never tried. The noodles came mushy, the beef tripe chewy, and the fish puffs soaked up soup like a sponge.

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I too had the build your own noodles combo. Choosing the Malay laksa soup base, with green bean vermicelli, cuttlefish balls and fish paste tofu. The broth was a close proximity to the traditional hot and spicy laksa I always crave. A murky red with a thickening coconut milk, and enoki mushrooms. The noodles were light, allowing me to eat more and feel less full. The balls were chewy and full of flavour, as I had hoped and as I like. The fish paste tofu on the other hand was an unusual mix. A chalky fishy filling in a soggy bag made of tofu.

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We planned to order four out of the six possible sides, skipping the choice of yam fries and fried tofu. They were unfortunately out of the “Japanese style pork chop”, a fact we were not privy to until after we placed our order and just before the cooking process. As a result we doubled up on the “Takoyaki”. These battered octopus balls are best eaten fresh, with a crispy exterior and a moist middle. As per usual the octopus was hidden, a tiny portion of a tentacle in the middle of all that dough and cabbage. The first triple piece order we received wasn’t fully dressed with all the condiments, an issue resolved in the next batch.

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“Pepper crispy chicken”. Pretty consistent, with the usual distinctive spice and its enjoyable crackling crunch.

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“Wings with peppers”. The “peppers” in the title was a little misleading, I imagined the vegetable, but instead had an enjoyable salted pepper seasoning. The meat had a good fry to it, not oily, perfectly crispy. Overall like the chicken dish before, this was nothing overly special, another standard and solid Taiwanese go to.

I enjoyed their printed out instructions on how to use their toilets. Details with everything short of how to pee, including directions to flush twice if necessary.

 

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When it came time, our bill was presented to us in a pencil case, very befitting of the theme.

 

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.
The school theme, or any theme, is novel, the first I have seen around town. Though the food itself was your typical Taiwanese cafe cuisine. Available were the certain things you can always count on from one bubble tea place to another. Speaking of the cuisine as a whole, it was consistent to expectation, like everything everywhere it seemed to be made with a set recipe. Don’t deny your cravings here or at any other bubble tea venues. But be warned, like most other such places in Richmond it is cash only, so bring money.

TAPIOCA CAFE
1438-8388 Capstan Way, Richmond BC, V6X 4A7
604-278-4998
Tapioca Cafe 三年一班 on Urbanspoon

Ceilis Modern Pub

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We were here tonight for a group get together over 30 members strong. A group with guests coming and going at all times, all to celebrate a friend leaving and wish her a farewell. I was one of the last to arrive, able to find free parking just half a block away. With two entrances you are able to walk right in and discover your party yourself.

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I was impressed at their ability to accommodate this gathering between three awkwardly spaced tables. We were given a corner all our own. Shaped in a “U” pattern, this gave the most surface area available for seating. Though even with armed chairs pushed up close and up against one another side by side it was still a tight fit. With the on going World Cup, the television reflected its action and the walls were draped with flags in its honour. The rest of the empty wall space was decorated with sports pictures, local team memorabilia, and the occasional Irish note. “Kilts optional, Craic required”. “Come back for the craic”. Makes sense, “Craic” is Irish speak for a good time. And what other group loves a good time in a pub more?

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For even more seclusion a specialty room could be reserved for a smaller group of ten or so, across two adjacent tables. This space more fancy, almost chic compared to the rest of this homey bar. The room was wallpapered in a patterned red with an equally ornate carpeting. Portraits in black and white photographed singers and musicians. I was only able to identify Bono from U2 with his trademark straw-like cowboy hat and wide lens sunglasses. The others I guessed performed as they held their tool of trade in hand, in picture. Today this room was reserved and signed for the “cougars”. Shame I left early and missed seeing this group.

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Most of the staff working were female servers dressed in uniforms. A black pub branded tee sponsored by Alexander Keith’s and a short green plaid mini skirt. As far as uniforms go this was pretty flattering and cute. Our server in particular was pretty great. Skilled enough to serve a group this size, and patient enough to not get frustrated by our constant seat hopping. She even went over and beyond, climbing on a bar stool to help us snap four perfect group photos. And when it came to the menu she was extremely knowledgeable. A self proclaimed picky eater she was not shy to admit it. She gave strong recommendations of her favourites. So genuine and so compelling I took her suggestion of a salad. A salad from the seasonal “summer BBQ features” portion of the menu. This she was currently addicted to and has been inhaling in for days on end. I was going out on a limb here. As a practice I don’t order salad, finding most just the bringing together of ingredients that I too could do myself. Whereas when I dine out I rather get what I cannot make myself. And not only did she get me to order a salad, but she got me to order a salad at a pub. Two of my usual no no’s. There are some things I don’t like ordering, some specifically dependent on where I am eating, this is such an item. I need to mention here that she did not disappoint, nor did her suggestion, and neither did the salad.

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“Seared Thai tuna salad”. Rare tuna seared with greens, cucumber, crispy noodles, cashews, and roasted red peppers dressed with a spicy soy lime dressing. Sweet, salty, tangy, crunchy, and zesty this salad had everything. So much flavour from its variety of dry and fresh ingredients, that depending on what mix you got with each stab of your fork, it changed with each bite. The tuna was perfectly cooked with enough slices to have an even fish to salad ratio, giving me fish in each mouthful. The crispy noodles gave things a good crunch, because I hate a soggy salad. The dressing with the red peppers created a nice light sweetness. I would definitely eat this again, but wouldn’t necessarily want to pay for it again.

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Thinking a caesar is always a safe bet I ended up ordering the worst I have ever had. Despite its barely there spiced rim it still lacked flavour. It was watery, tasting like the bottom of the glass when all the ice has melted and you are left with water and a sip’s worth of tomato juice.

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“Mac and Cheese sticks”. Made in house these pasta filled sticks are fried to a crisp. Evenly coated it meant each bite had batter that kept the noodles tender and the cheese they were held together with gooey. It’s true taste came from the spicy sriracha ketchup it was served with.

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“Honey Garlic wings”. Pretty standard pub fare. These were over cooked and their lack of meat on bone made them dry and hard. Luckily the order was honey garlic and the sticky sauce did wonders in coating each wing with some sort of moisture. The other choices for wings included hot, ghost pepper, honey hot, Jamaican jerk, fresh ground salt and pepper, barbecue, garlic Parmesan, hot Thai, and spicy peanut. A list larger than other pubs.

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“Crispy fish sandwich” made with two fillets of beer battered haddock, a Creole tartar sauce, a spicy pickle relish, raw red onions, and a mustard slaw; all in between a Portuguese bun. Accompanied by your choice of house salad, tomato basil soup or what my guest selected, hand cut Kennebec fries with ketchup. Just good, nothing more.

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“California Flatbread” made with both fresh and sundried tomatoes, amber ale cheddar cheese, fresh avocado slices and a very aromatic basil. Simply put this was like a Margarita pizza but with avocado. Light and fresh it made for a great snack, but pretty boring.

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.
The food was some of the better I have had at a bar. Not the best Irish bar, but certainly not the worst. Slightly above average, with the waitresses in school girl-like uniforms being the most memorable thing about them. And seeing as their downtown location is closing (or has closed, depending on when you read this), this is their next nearest location, in Kits. With a patio out front and ample parking nearby it already has its downtown sister location beat. Here they are able to accommodate a large party with enough seating and distance for smaller gatherings to be shielded from the noise and rowdy nature of a mob. And here we weren’t automatically charged a set gratuity penalty for having a party consisting of more than six. This was the first I have seen of its kind. As a solid place to grab a meal and a drink after work, or to socialize with friends in a sports friendly environment, don’t deny your cravings.

CEILIS
1774 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J4T3
604-732-0010
ceilis.com
Ceili's Modern Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Octopus Garden

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After having the place recommended to me, and seeing plenty of pictures online; I was tempted and knew I needed to make a trip out here myself.

The recommendation came highly from a Japanese friend (not the one dinning with us tonight). He declared the place as easily one of his favourite sushi places in Vancouver. This despite it being second only to “Tojo’s” in the “Upscale Sushi category” of “Vancouver magazine”. He finds them superior. He prefers “Octopus Garden” with its non traditional offerings along with the classics. As it is hard nowadays just to find authentic Japanese sushi and sashimi done simple and clean. I am such a person who prefers the fusion rolls and the hybrids of East meets West. Though he stands firm that here their sushi is as authentic as it gets. A possible reason why I didn’t enjoy my visit as much. He also threw in the bonus fact that this is Steven Segal’s favourite sushi place when in town. Concluding that no one can really argue with Steven Segal. Though given the quality, he was aware of and did warn that prices would not be cheap going in. With the glowing synopsis above, and long while to get here, I very was excited tonight.

Well known for their creative plating and fun interpretation of Japanese fare, while staying true to traditional practices; I was looking forward to some dishes that were both visually satisfying to the eyes and orally satisfying for my stomach.

Admittedly I shy away from the true sushi experience and often gravitate to their more western creations. I find the latter boring and am lured away by the glitz and sparkle of additional ingredients and fancy names. It is only now that I write this that it is clear I will not be a good judge of the quality of the sushi presented below. I like the bells and whistles, the add-ons and extras, that essentially go against the simple principle of Japanese sushi preparation. The perfection in freshness and the refined taste that good quality ingredients bring. With sushi the experience is tasting the fish in its raw and natural state. No dips or sauces, just appreciation for the gentle notes of a creature that was alive a mere minute ago. A little morbid. So now I can only go forward writing and documenting this experience truthfully from my perspective; as I do for all my restaurant reviews and blog posts. I write what I know and what I think to be true. This is my perception and perception is reality. Though luckily I attended this night with diners possessing more refined palettes. Sushi connoisseurs more a tuned to what good sashimi should be and how perfect nigri should taste. A well verse Japanese and a particularly finicky diner.

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I was pretty lucky with parking, able to pull up and into one of the three free curb side spots just outside. Their outdoor patio seating was creative. A complimentary mix of artful decor and functional furniture. Picnic like benches, swivel stools to perch on, and a tucked away corner giving you the open air feeling of being outdoors with the covered walled element of being inside. Shelves overhead held up bottles, on your left a lucky cat sat paw up, and a open window frame with no glass before you to look out into traffic.

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Despite is small and narrow front the restaurant was quite spacious inside, it opened up with a truly a unique set up. Pockets of space. Cubicle like walls and clever arranging maximized space, giving privacy in corners, and seclusion in rooms. An elevated platform led to seats by the sushi bar, and additional double tops on a boat-like setting. Structured like a boat with mast raised and hull polished. We luckily made a reservation for our party of five and were given a private room in the back for our efforts. Fully in-cased with decorative port holes, our space was themed like a submarine. One wall was a fish tank, it completed the underwater portion of the theme. A lone fish navigated these waters. Across from him was a framed replication of knots and above, a picture of their mascot. A glass box displaying typical nautical knots done in miniature. And a fire engine red octopus in black bandana, equipped with a fishing rod and two knives. He had already caught a fish and a crab in his other tentacles.

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“Octopus Garden” was consistent and true to their name and theme. Octopus everything was scattered around the restaurant. It would make for a great scavenger hunt or a page in an “I Spy” book. A porcelain octopus hung by the door in navy, green, and orange; a dried octopus carcass made for disturbing wall decor; tiny octopus figurines were used as the perfect stumps for our chopsticks at rest; an octopusy pattern speckled our sauce dishes, and octopus artwork framed on display. Majority of the latter was kept in shelves and taped on the walls adjacent to their single stalled washrooms. Plush octopus stuffies; octopus action figures; and octopus fan art. The more delicate memorabilia sat in enclosed glass cabinets along with photos and achievements for the chef and the restaurant. Like when someone met famous Japanese baseballer, Ichigo. A little cluttered and foreign in language, it was hard to sort through.

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The interior of the actual washroom was as decorative: more octopus patterned memorabilia and artwork depicting underwater life. Most curious was the interpretive piece in the woman’s washroom. Hundreds of women with black and yellow bee bodies preparing to sacrifice themselves in order to sting one man bent over with butt crack protruding. Was this a stab at men in general? Get it? Stab!?

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According to my Japanese guest the restaurant was as authentic as it gets, with Japanese specific mannerisms and common Japanese practices. The temperature was set to a chilled crisp. The sushi chefs were dressed in trademark uniforms and the servers in authentic kimonos. The latter with head gear on point: clothed bandanas and a rope with hood to keep their hair out of our food. The room even “smelled Japanese” according to him. A fragrance he couldn’t describe, yet knew of all too well.

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The menu was a short list, majority of which focused on nigri served in two piece sets. A true testament to its authentic accuracy. Less like your Americanized sushi parlours. Their listing included fresh “tamago”, an egg omelette tediously layered in house; “unagi” and “anago” eel found in fresh and salt waters, respectively; and Quebec “fois gras” served with mango. Though as I mentioned earlier I lean towards the adaptations on the traditional and prefer my sushi in rolls topped with the stranger the better.

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The tea wasn’t complimentary, ordered by cup or pot these were unique brews. “Pear green tea”, green tea naturally flavoured with pear. It smelled as delicious as the actual ripen fruit. Brewed perfectly it was a good mixture of pear and green tea. A more fruity tea.

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“Sada’s Own’ Nomu Uni Shooter”. A unique experience like this I was all over, but made the mistake of being greedy and ordering a jumbo shot at $12 while my guests were satisfied with the original serving at $7.50. I got double the sea urchin, mountain potato, quail egg, rice, and wasabi at less than double the price. This was not smooth like a shot. Calling it a shot leads you to thinking this could be taken in, in one gulp. Instead it was thick and bubbly like cold porridge. An interesting texture slimy with the raw yolk and grainy thanks to the rice, it would have been smoother if colder. Big in fishy sea urchin after taste I had to take a breather and come back to my jumbo helping. The regular would have been a good amount, satisfying, a complete taste. Filling for what it looked like, I eventually tried to go back but couldn’t. It instead went wasted.

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As an amateur food photographer I was disappointed by their lackluster presentation. A serving lacking interest and a roll mixed in clusters. Four pieces of one roll stacked beside four of another in a string. Two parallel arrangements sandwiching another roll.

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“BBQ wild sockeye salmon”, veggie and salmon as an inside out roll. The presentation wasn’t as expected. We were given the option of having it as a cone or in a roll “inside out”. We imagined vegetables wrapped in rice so was disappointed by the salmon and vegetables wrapped in white rice and seaweed, in that order. I understand the salmon is expensive but there was hardly any of it. More rice than anything, more cucumber and peppers than fish. At $9.50 a disappointing foreshadow of things to come. And with the barbecuing and saucing of the salmon you couldn’t really enjoy the freshness of the piece anyways.

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“House special wagyu beef” made with premium wagyu beef and oba leaf. Oba, similar to shiso, is a herbaceous Japanese mint. It’s strong flavour accented well with the spicy seasoning of the well marbled cut of beef. Raw, fresh, and tender this was my favourite roll, that most closely matched its $14 price tag.

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A specialty roll made with “Hand-peeled Dungeness crab”, tobiko, and mayo, then topped with avocado. The crab was light, creamy, and naturally sweet. You could clearly taste its refined definition compared to that of imitation crab meat. It is just a shame that it was hidden by the intense peppering of the fresh avocado. At $12 I wanted more out of this fancy California roll.

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“Yellow submarine”. Yellowtail, oba leaf, asparagus tobiko, and tempura bits, with mango on top. At $28 this is the most expensive roll I have ever had, sharing it between four others made the cost tolerable. Though was it worth the inflated price tag? Presentation wise the vessel matched what you expected a “submarine” roll to look like. The novelty that its name was a Beatles song along with “Octopus Garden” was not lost on us. The sushi was certainly different. Here the herby nature of the leaf distracted from the gentle nature of the fish. Similarly we found the mango too distracting, but at least it balanced out the herbs. It might have been worth it given the cost of premium ingredients used, but I didn’t think it amazing enough to ever want again. Honestly I prefer more common rolls for cheaper. Though there is something so novel about enjoying a submarine named roll in a faux submarine.

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“Spicy Tuna Z” made with spicy tuna, tempura bits, and mayo, with avocado on top. At $12 this was the most flavour packed roll. A deep spice that singes your tongue, coupled with the cooling effect of tobiko eggs popping upon impact in your mouth. If you like your spicy foods, this one gave you a lingering heat that lasts the duration of your meal.

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The sushi purists of our group had to sample some of their finer nigiri. Including some rarer seasonal offerings sold at market price.

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We were shocked to find out that the “Bluefin tuna o-toro’s” market price was $20. Lesson learned you always ask what the market price is before ordering. No shame in asking. At $10 per piece this was now the most expensive item to be had this evening. According to the two, needing to validate their purchase, the fish itself was worth the tag. It was as rich and as fatty as its cost. It went down easy with its smooth texture. Both would love to eat it again. Although it may not feel worthy of its price, it was certainly worth the try.

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“Waru, butterfish”. What is butterfish? Rumour has it that this fish has the ability to cause explosive bowel movements in its diner. Though neither of my guests reported such an incident. True to its nickname the fish was smooth like butter. Described as eating satin it was very comparable to the o toro before, but at $13 less.

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“Tako, octopus”, if you come to a place with octopus in its name you expect more octopus on the menu, so they felt compelled to try their only octopus offering. Compared to the others before this was nothing fancy. Chewy like rubber, with a hint of sweetness and barbecue smoke. At $6 for the set it fell into the category of second less inexpensive nigiri.

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We considered dessert and asked for the menu. None was to be had so our server removed the chalk board from its peg and brought the daily updated list right to our table. I appreciated the gesture and her willingness to go over and beyond. Although interesting, given the reception of our meal above we decided not to gamble on an unsure thing and moved dessert to a different destination.

Given the size of our party and our willingness to splurge I expected additional service. More check ins, if any. Cloistered away in a covered corner, hailing our server was a struggle. So when we ordered our add on of nigiri we also asked for the bill, not knowing when we would see her again. Initially the bill came as a whole, but after tedious attempts at splitting it, our server stepped in, offering to split it. Good thing because I wasn’t about to pay for $20 worth of market price fish I didn’t have. This became a running joke of the night and won’t soon be lived down.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Coming to and going in I was really excited. After seeing photos and hearing rave reviews my expectations were heightened. So I was disappointed in standard presentation and felt the taste of most did not marry up with price spent. Though it was nice that each roll ordered held up on its own. We barely needed soy sauce, so it was surprising to be given a whole bottle and so much accompaniments in ginger and wasabi to enhance an already pretty tasty roll. I enjoyed everything and wouldn’t mind eating it all again. I just didn’t feel like I got my money’s worth. So wouldn’t pay for any of it again. Though once again, I do stray away from the traditional and simple fish on rice. So when I pay $28 for a roll I expect more than what I can get from a fast food sushi chain. Whether it was worth the cost of ingredients or not, I left hungry and hardly satisfied. I feel I could have enjoyed others, elsewhere, for less. In short this isn’t the sushi place for me. But for purists and sticklers of quality this is a must try for you. True to the Japanese experience you can’t get anything closer than this in its price range. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

OCTOPUS GARDEN
1995 Cornwall Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J1C9
604-734-8971
octopusgardensada.com
Octopus' Garden on Urbanspoon

Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria

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Looking for Italian in our neighbouring hood, our travel brought us to “Cotto”. Previously “Anduccis'”, an Italian restaurant we too enjoyed. We had tried its latest reincarnation a while ago and were as optimistic then as we were walking in now.

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On this warm and rainy night we decided to enjoy their covered and heated patio out front. A walk to it lead us on an abbreviated tour through the restaurant. Past the open kitchen right by the entrance. From the window outside I was already impressed by their mosaic tiled pizza oven, standing tall at the height of a grown man.

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Through the dimly lit dining room we traveled, past the bar. A dining room of small tables and cushioned booths. A bar lined with high tops, standing solid in front of a handsome brick wall. Over it were pyramided shelved housing bottles of wine practically and decoratively. All designed to frame a large flat screen television set, well lit by oversized bulbs hanging low over the bar ‘a counter.

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We sat on their very modern patio behind sliding glass doors separating in and out. Towards one end, lounge like seating in front of the lit fire place. Wicker couches made comfortable with orange pillows and green cushions. I could imagine a large party being well hosted here. Table to snack off of, places for drinks to stand, and the ability to come together as a group in a circle; as appose to a party facing one another in two parallel lines.

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Our table was specifically chosen to be under the warmth of a heat lamp. With cement floors under foot, a wood table under arms, and plastic chairs under bum. The glamour of bright lights, flat screen televisions, and formal table settings here were made more rugged. Rough from the outdoorsy nature of thriving green fauna, giant soil planters, polished wood stump tables, and the woven rope fixtures hanging overhead. Rope wound tight, posed like spheres and strung up like chandeliers. Together this mix found class in a very earthly setting.

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Our shield area was two stories, a step down lead to a narrow path lined with two top tables. Well spaced from one another they made for optimum seating during date nights. Cars drove by with a splash, but with tonight’s rain beating gently and the plastic cover shielding us, the patio felt secluded in its own world. Swirled in the melody of suave music dancing with catchy beats.

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The menu was a trifold of classic Italian. Pastas, pizza, and sandwiches, almost everything you would expect from an Italian joint. Caesars are on special every Sunday, and lucky me today was Sunday. This was an average Caesar, hardly spiced with more tomato than Tabasco. The pickled olives and a hot jalapeño gave that extra pop of flavour I was looking for. In hind sight this might have been a Bloody Mary.

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Our meal began with the complimentary offering of toasted ciabatta bread with house made hummus. Dining with a French Canadian I instinctively knew to ask for a dish of butter to go with that bread. The bread was crusty on the outside and spongy on the inside. A perfect temperature. With one smear butter oozes into its bready pores, and with two spreads hummus melts into doughy nooks and crannies. The hummus rich, but flavoured light with olive oil. It felt healthier than the butter.

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Surprisingly lasagna wasn’t present on the menu. We instead dared to try their deep fried version of our favourite layered noodle casserole. “Lasagna fritta”, breaded lasagna made with ground beef, ricotta cheese, spinach, zucchini, and freshly grated Parmesan; all in a pomodoro sauce. Described best by our server as deep fried lasagna with a maragneria dipping sauce. The portion was beyond generous. This large and listed as an appetizer for $12? It ate for two and was the size of a large deep dish lasagna. Such a shame that the value didn’t match the taste. A bold look with bright colours, but lacking a bold flavour to match. The ingredients were no doubt fresh, mild tomato partnered with gently seasoned beef. It needed salt from the use of more cheese, and it could have used a little sweetness with more tomato sauce.

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“Polpette Pizza”, pomodoro, fior di latte, ricotta salata, grana romano, meatballs, spinach, basil. I wish we were given a warning that the ingredients in both our orders were very similar, and that the two would taste the same. Looking at their menu write up I couldn’t tell, but surely a server well informed of the menu knew. Surely ours could have made a different suggestion? As a result we grew weary of the mild tomato taste lacking in flavour and spice. Luckily we saved the butter and hummus from earlier using them as spreads and dipping sauces for the plain pizza crust. It was more bread than pizza, bread with a great baked texture. Sadly after the first few bites of each dish I was more excited to take leftovers home to remix both. To add sauces and make each my own, with more seasonings and increased salt.

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The following are pictures from my first and last visit to “Cotto” before today.

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Complimentary slices of bread with olive oil and hummus.

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“Cotto Polpette. House made meatballs, pomodoro sauce, pizza fritta”

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“Margherita. Pomodoro, fior di latte, basil”

 

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.
I like the setting in its less busy area in Burnaby. A good destination for a large group looking for space out of the downtown core. The food was authentic and the portions attractive. Although our food tonight was bland I am not prepared to judge this with definites, after one good visit and the most recent being less than ideal. “Cotto” has all the makings of a successful restaurant. A welcoming space, friendly staff, and authentic recipes meant to highlight the simplicity that is Italian cuisine. Don’t deny your cravings.

COTTO
6011 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC, V5B4A1
604-299-8002
cotto.ca
Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Havana Restaurant & Gallery

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We originally had chosen this as our destination for their patio, a well recommended choice when searching up “the best patio in the Vancouver”, and a Commercial Drive staple 18 years strong. Without reservations and their unwillingness to take any unless your party has six of more, we gambled on being first to come and first to be served. Though given the chill of the early night and the whisper of wind, we instead opted for indoor seating with no wait, compared to the 30 minute turnover for a patio seat.

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I have been once years before, but I usually shy away from places that require a lengthy wait, no guaranteed reservations, or are too noisy. I consider my time valuable and want not to wait for a seat to only have to wait for the food I am paying for. And dining out for me is as much about the food and the experience as it is the company I keep. I attend such outings with friends and therefore each visit requires the ability to communicate and the possibility to converse. And here both prove to be a difficult affair. The restaurant was bustling with life and yelling was required. I am sure music was playing but with all the chatting at each tightly spaced table, the clanging of knife to plate and fork to mouth, and the commotion of the open kitchen to our right and the heavy duty bar behind us; it proved an impossibility to take notice. With the tables this close, it reminded me of those awkward classroom moments. Like sitting in lowered desks you end up eye level with a servers bottom as they engage the table next to yours, and you get the short “end” of the stick. Excuse my pun.

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As busy as the floor was their walls. What was once a fresh coat of paint has now been reduced to scratches in wood, carving with tools, and the chipping of colour. Most find it gives the place character, speaking without words the nights it has seen and the years it has celebrated. A certain homey and natural charm. I could understand this view point, but I found it more like graffiti; with names carved and initials in hearts etched. The scrawlings crept up the wall giving it a look of age and decay. The crooked black and white photographs arranged in disarray did little to improve this scene.

Unfamiliar with Cuban and Latin cuisine the entire menu seemed more fusion to me. Unexpected and familiar ingredients like French fries, balsamic vinaigrette, and harvarti cheese mixed with the more traditional use of plantains, red chillies, salsa fresca, Cuban rice, and chimichurri. There was a lot worth venturing, but as a first taste in over 5 years I played it safe with what I know, tacos.

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“Chicken Taco”, freshly sautéed chicken breast in a coconut-jerk sauce. Served with lettuce, house made guacamole and pico de gallo salsa. I went with the entree size for more food; which was just the addition of wild long grain rice, beans, and more fresh guacamole. In hind sight I should have skipped the entree with its side of beans and rice. Although filling it wasn’t something I wanted to eat with a bite of taco. Separately it was decent, but nothing taste wise compared to the jerk chicken. It was just a bowl of carbs and proteins meant to fill. On the bright side this portion did include another dollop of guacamole. The best restaurant guacamole I have ever had. Creamy and luscious, so good I could have eaten it like yogurt, with utensil licking spoonfuls. The jerk chicken was juicy, dripping with sauce. It required quick eating to keep the flour tortilla of the taco chewy and in tact. Well flavoured with a hint of spice the chicken was perfectly cooked and absolutely the star of the dish. I tasted the heat from the jerk, but could have used more definition with the cooling effects of coconut. A whipped coconut milk cream on top maybe?

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“Beet Salad”, golden beets, goat’s cheese, spiced pecans, beet chips, fresh greens, and dried cranberries; all coated in an apple-mustard vinaigrette. The salad was equal parts light and fresh to hearty and filling. Full of bold flavours and a span of texture. The flavours complimented one another with salty cheese and naturally sweet cranberries, a spicy mustard and a tart apple. And the textures covered crunchy nuts to smooth greens, crumbly cheese to crisp beats. You enjoyed tasting as much as you did chewing. This was definitely a salad you can eat as an entree and be content with it.

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Tempted by their coconut creme caramel and fresh berry pavlova, we instead went for their special of the day, a “Chocolate brownie with espresso ice cream”. With each bite you were able to taste the premium ingredients. Many layers giving this dessert its many flavours. The richness in dark cocoa; the earthiness of toasted nuts; the sharpness of espresso mixed into cold cream; and the chewiness of perfectly baked, still moist, and still warm cakey brownie. The exact quote is, “I want to make babies with it!”

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.
If possible I think we ate things wrong. With all the variety such food is best taken when shared. Snacking portions with their famous sangrias by the pitcher in hand. Experiencing the fresh food and being submerged in the boisterous atmosphere everyone seemed to be having a good time. Often restaurants on Commercial Drive can be hit or a miss. Here you get the raw grittiness of the Drive, with just the tiniest bit of fancy; the makings for date night or a late night chill session. In fact if memory serves, they have a gallery of art located at the tail end of their restaurant for you to enjoy as well. A fact I had forgotten and one I failed to explore on this return trip. As one of the nicer places on the Drive this has become a common hot spot for many. A fact proven when I spotted three of my coworkers. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAVANA’S
1212 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L3X4
604-253-9119
havanarestaurant.ca
Havana Restaurant & Gallery on Urbanspoon

The Famous Warehouse

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Looking for cheap eats we came to the well known “Warehouse”, where everything to drink and anything to eat is $4.99, all the time and all day. Sister restaurant to “The Factory” and “The Dime”, they all set their prices low and even across the board. A fact making then as famous as their name suggests.

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Located on the busy Granville entertainment district. A patio on the sidewalk cloistered off by a brown picket fence, and a black awning shielding today’s sun. It is most noticeable to those passing with its mock of the familiar welcome to Vegas sign in red, white, and lights.

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Walking in at 12pm the restaurant was relatively empty. After we ordered the crowds began to pour in; the booths, bar stools, and high tops quickly filled with all walks of people. Upon entry R2D2 asked that we wait to be seated. Given a choice we choose a booth right up front. Getting the shade of being indoors, with the ability to enjoy the breeze and sunlight of the open front.

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The walls were made of brick on one side and planks of wood on the other. Decorated skateboard decks and neon bar signs lived off these walls. Skateboards painted in bold colours featuring vans and trucks: trailers, RVs, and vintage vehicles. Even spaced and precisely hung they made for a very colourful arrangement. Across the way lived signs advertising drinks: Steamwhistle, Red Bull, Sailor Jerry’s, and Budweiser. Probably free and obviously promotional. The rest of the space was littered with band and branded stickers, strung up Christmas lights, posters on cork boards; and oddities like skulls, vinyl records, album covers, and a sign offering the giveaway of free air guitars. What I was most impressed with was the continuation of their Star Wars theme in the presence of an original painting: storm trooper finds love, or at least storm trooper gets action.

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Starters, entrees, salads, burgers, or sweets it was all $4.99. Where things get pricy is when you want add ons. Like guacamole for $1.95 on your nachos, shredded cheddar on your fish tacos for $1.75, or braised beef in your Mac and cheese for $2.25. The menu was your classic bar fare: simple foods, better tasting when taken in conjunction with heavy drinking. Chicken wings, onion rings, and fries. Quesadillas, spaghetti, and green salads fully dressed. I am still wondering how they are able to keep costs low. With drinks at the same low price I guess it is supply and demand. They seat numerous covers a night thanks to their door crashing prices and in turn are able to buy bulk and save on costs.

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“Maple bacon potato skins”, Russet potato skins filled with cheddar and mozzarella cheese, crispy maple bacon, green onions, and sour cream. Tasteless, the sour cream did nothing, and the bacon went unnoticed. There was the need for heavy shaking of the salt shaker.

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“Warehouse poutine”, peppered fries, maple bacon, cheese curds, and gravy. Average at best. Soft fries, thick gravy, light on the cheese.

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“Baja Fish Tacos”, Cajun seared white fish, roasted red pepper, chipotle mayo, sweet roasted corn salsa, crisp shredded cabbage, and cilantro; all in soft flour tortillas. You could taste the freshness in the vegetables, but like the other dishes this too was on the bland side. A taste rejuvenated with the use of hot sauce. In hind sight the add ons of cheese and guacamole at a separate cost would have been worth it. Though I can’t remember the last time I paid $2 for a slice of cheese when the meal was just about double that.

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“The Work Burger”, Premium Alberta beef, maple bacon, cheddar, crispy onion strings, macho sauce, shredded lettuce, and tomato on a toasted brioche bun. The menu descriptions sounded delicious, the flavours in between the buns didn’t hold up. The patty was probably frozen, it was definitely overcooked to a blacken dryness. I couldn’t spot or taste any of the macho sauce, had I been able to maybe this burger would have tasted better. Nothing a lingering dip in ketchup couldn’t fix.

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“Smokey BBQ burger”, Premium Alberta beef, smokey BBQ sauce, jalapeño, cheddar, macho sauce, lettuce, and tomato on a toasted brioche bun. This burger was a little better. dripping in barbecue sauce. There was flavour here.

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“Pulled BBQ chicken sandwich”, chicken, BBQ sauce, cheddar, crispy onion strings, macho sauce and shredded lettuce on a toasted brioche bun. The chicken was more chunked instead of pulled and more oily than expected. Once again where was this macho sauce?

Although nome of us really enjoyed our food, at these prices we couldn’t be bothered to complain. I was able to grab two dishes and a beer at the same price of a McDonald’s combo. Though a McDonald’s burger and fries would have tasted better, but this was more food and it did come with beer!

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.
Verdict: this is just a place to get full at. The decor was more interesting than the food. Everything was tasteless, but if your only requirement for dinner is a good deal, then you can’t beat their prices. Though personally, cheap
or not I left like I wasted calories on greasy bar food that neither satisfied or tasted like it should. This is not how I dine. It was like they watered down each component to cut costs. Costs that they are able to pass onto us, the consumer. None-the-less don’t deny your cravings on cheap eats. Drink enough so it tastes great. Beer goggles on those taste buds.

THE WAREHOUSE
989 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2C9
604-677-8080
thefamouswarehouse.com
The Famous Warehouse on Urbanspoon

Secret Garden Tea Company

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In search of respite on a particularly hectic day, I brought my guest here for her first ever high tea experience. I choose “Secret Garden” as I haven’t been in in a while and I have yet to sample their high tea offerings. Seating occurs daily at 12pm, 2:15pm, and 4:30pm. Calling ahead, I made the reservations that were strongly suggested by their website. Though strolling in at 4:30pm there were plenty of empty tables and only three occupied by families and friends. I guess the calling ahead meant it gave the kitchen time to prepare our set menu. I did come mere minutes after our tea was steeped.

Located across the street from a school meant that mothers brought their children in for an after school snack and stayed as treat for themselves. As was this case today, it was a little rowdier than I expected, as their small children enjoyed running around the space.

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Designed like a cottage on the outside, it was as cozy inside. The exterior, a solid blue-ish grey coat of paint, gold foiled letters, and a teapot shaped sign advertising their business. Inside the room was set with displays units, cabinets, and shelves. Endless possibilities to display and store their tea and tea related accessories. Behind cabinet-ed glass as a look but don’t touch arrangement: tea cups and saucers in a variety of pastel colours and floral patterns lay.

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Deeper into the room past the hostess booth and tables set up were goods for sale. Everything you would need to host your very own tea party. A wall of loses leafs in bags and others in sealed canisters for you to take home. Tea bags, tea pots, tea tumblers, tea sets, tea towels, and larger than practical tea cups. Their teapot theme even transitioned into tea pot shaped handles on cupboards and knobs in the washroom. I applaud them on their consistency.

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Before the kitchen is their working counter. Where tea is steeped and coffee is brewed. Its background a shelf of pots, creamers, cups, and sugar bowls; again more for show than for use. The black board above advertised their long list of teas available in chalk. The server working behind the bar was kind enough to offer her own exit so that I got a good picture of their set up.

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Refrigerated behind glass on glass shelves were pastries, cookies, and cakes available for eating in or taking out. A batch pre made for the day in bite sized collections. Eclairs, carrot cake, nanaimo bars, strawberry shortcake, wildberry tarts, white chocolate oolong muffins, cheese scones, bon bons, chocolate cake, sugar cookies shaped and iced like dresses, and many other one of a kind treats.

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The restaurant is divided into two halves, one dressed as a salon and the other half a cafe. We sat in the former for a more formal tea-ing experience by the window. Here each table is clothed and set atop with glass. Ours a deep green speckled with a patterned of white winged insects. Each place setting was set with folded napkins, metal cutlery, and dish ware in a bright white rimmed with gold. Shame the cups on display weren’t the ones being used. Such a tea cup would have elevated our service and warranted gentle sips with pinkies up.

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Around the room are shelves positioned up high and out of reach. On them a collection of trinkets and bobbles. Rusted metal boxes, porcelain figurines, empty tins of tea, mantle clocks, and children’s play blocks. A few looked precious, others probably held memories. Memories belonging to faces in the black and white portraits framed and hanging. A mother and father, and children smiling. With the fireplace centring the room it could have all very well served as their living room.

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We indulged in their premiere high tea service. “A beautiful assortment of mini sandwiches, Secret Garden sweets, tea cakes and mini scones served with jam, Devon cream and one of their Secret Garden Teas.” All presented on their traditional three tiered tray for that extra wow factor. This they called their “ultimate tea experience” at $27.95 per person.
The meal being set we were offered no menu and given no options besides our choice of tea. Though were asked of dietary restrictions and they were able to accommodate with a shared service for a vegetarian and another of an omnivore.

High tea is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Meant as a break in the day it takes you away in little bites of perfection. A sandwich or cake is never more gratifying then when nibbled on in dainty portions. The smaller servings automatically has you taking smaller bites, and in turn savouring each one. You take a pause to chew and another to taste each fresh ingredient. You appreciate what you have more because there is so little if it, and as a result you also never grow tired of the taste. Such a course leaves you wanting more, and has you longing for the next time that you will be back. I have never been able to finish everything offered at any high tea service. Looking at the food you think it cannot be enough. But between sips of tea and chatting with your guest you somehow find yourself getting full and skipping right to dessert.

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We both choose rooibos teas. Rooibos is a caffeine free and naturally sweet herbal tea, similar to black tea. It is enjoyed for its high in antioxidant properties and flavonoids, along with its vitamins and minerals. “Provence”, a fruity and floral rooibos with a hint of lavender. And the “Secret Garden Rooibos”, a blend of their “creamy caramel” and “Queen of hearts” rooibos. Caramel, almond, and lemon are in this earthy mix. Each tea came it its own pot with their own branded tea cozy to keep things warm. Throughout our meal we were checked in on and more hot water was added to our pots as needed.

Given the brief run through of the savoury and sweet line up we were given, and it’s rotation on a day to day bases; I can only piece together what we had by what I tasted and what they have listed on their website menu. As promised and as expected the presentation on their three tiered rack was stunning. Who wouldn’t want to take a picture of something so pretty and so special. A feast of tiny things made to make anyone feel like a giant.

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The savouries came with a division between a veggie and meat friendly two bite sandwiches. Each flavour with two portions. Roasted vegetables on a croissant with zucchini, tomato, and kale. Grilled Brie and tomato on a croissant. Egg Salad on whole wheat bread, made with a blend of eggs, mayo, green onions and lettuce. Chicken Pesto on a cheese scone, made with fresh chicken breast, a basil pesto, mayo, and crisp lettuce. Roast beef and grainy Dijon mustard on a croissant with lettuce and mayo.

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The middle layer was a slow transition from salty to sweet. A mild cranberry loaf specked with juicy fruit and a sugar topped soft and chewy scone taken with their house made raspberry jam and Devon cream.

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And our three courses ended in desserts that were not too sweet, ones that did not take anything away our featured teas. A zesty and tart lemon tart, a tropical black sesame and luscious coconut cake, and a smooth and nutty berry and date slice, topped with a delicately frosted candied flower. They were all as delicious to our taste buds as they were to our eyes.

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I am a sucker for things shaped like other things, so I have to pick up a heart shaped cheese scone and a star shaped sweet apple scone to go. The cheese one has made it on to “Vancouver Magazine’s” 101 tastes to try for 2009. Each scone was light and crumbly they stayed fresh days after I took them home. So large I nibbled on them across a few snacking opportunities.

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The following pictures are from my last visit to “Secret Garden” over a year ago. It is good to see that they have remained consistent on their branding and continue to serve beautiful dishes crafted with care today.

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“Secret Garden Fresh tomato Soup”.
“Secret Garden Quiche, Every day we make little quiches just for you! Accompanied by a beautiful side salad”


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“Mini high tea, Enjoy three miniature sweets, one miniature scone, raspberry jam, devon cream and one of our Secret Garden Teas”. $12.95 Per Person. Sweets dependent on daily availability.

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.
Located in a lovely area with abundant parking, this is an easy destination for a get together with friends , or as an afternoon snack stop by yourself. They offer everything you imagine tea to be: a peaceful setting, based on the other patrons seated; a warm friendly environment cultivated by inviting and accommodating staff; and delectable nibbles, each deserving of its own feature. And if you think high tea will not enough food for you they also offer a heartier breakfast and a more fulsome lunch. From soups and salads, to stews and pot pies. Don’t deny your cravings.

SECRET TEA GARDEN
5559 West Boulevard, Vancouver BC
604-261-3070
secretgardentea.com
Secret Garden Tea Company on Urbanspoon

Malay Curry House

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On the constant search for the best laksa in the city, my goal lead me here with the promise of authenticity in the cuisine that I love. The restaurant wasn’t much in terms of decor or design. An uneventful exterior with barred windows and half drawn blinds. And inside the restaurant looked half done. Colourful in paint, but lacking in character. Two toned orange walls, a feature wall in grey with a red circle and another in yellow with thin red line. I didn’t understand the thought behind either. A tiny parrot painting hung on one wall, a fake sunflower on the corner of another. Not much to enjoy around the room, so what little in posters, hand written signs, and plant life looked out of place and almost sloppy. Luckily the food spoke volumes and made up for this. It was also a better view than anything else the restaurant could offer.

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The room was separated by their high countered bar. Behind it a bubble tea drink shaker, plastic cup sealer, and a slot for prepared dishes to come up to pass. A handful of seats on the left and a few more on the left divided, tables given breathing room with much distance in between. Simple and small faux marble table tops and sturdy yet plain black chairs. We grabbed a couple of seats by the window that gave us a view of busy Kingsway. The space kept cool by way of a portable air conditioner, the type you purchase for your apartment and have running out the window. As I mentioned earlier, all in all pretty unspectacular. It is like they almost didn’t want you to enjoy the space too much or stay too long.

We were kept waiting, waiting for a group who occupied the lone waitress with a number of detailed questions. I suspect this was in the need of clarification over their confusing menu and various combos. Not waiting our order to come after their six, I leapt from our table to solicit either of the two employees behind the bar. They were engaged in something, but as a guest I know not what. What I do know is that they could be helping me. A very common thought in the service industry. They required se time but one did follow suit shortly after. I suspect their jobs are divided and specialized. Only one takes orders, only one makes the bubble tea, and the last one only buses tables.

The menu was colourful enough with plenty of photos to engage your interest. Well composed plates and their images sewn creatively across each page. Such a well done and professional menu for a smaller restaurant. Though as I made reference to earlier, part of it was confusing. There were deals with stipulations and combos with requirements, all fine printed with the need to clarify. I suggest reading over it thoroughly to save a couple of dollars here and there. The server didn’t point any of them out for us, but was able to give details on each and what would be best for our needs when asked.

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Milk tea in a to go cup. This was a watery, sweeten, tasteless milk. Most disappointing, as milk tea is the beginner and staple drink of the bubble tea world. This should have been an easy win.

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“Malaysian roti with satay or curry sauce”. We got the curry to dip our flaky and fried dough into. Curry being the traditional sauce of choice. It was sweet and nutty, with only the slightest hint of spice. The roti itself was on the oiler side, though it was well made: light and easily peeled off in layers.

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Their website declared they were famous for their boneless Hananese chicken. Even leading the front page with its picture. So this had to be a must try for me. “Boneless Hananese Chicken combo” with 2 sauces of your choice, one soup, and either chicken oil rice or steamed rice. This was a smaller portion combo-ed for lunch, with the whole or half the bird available as well. The chicken soup was mild, not oily, but rich in flavour thanks to a long and low simmering. It complimented the dish without over whelming it in chicken grease. A great palette refresher and a better accompaniment to the chicken oil rice. A rice flavoured and cooked with the chicken’s essence instead of just water. It came flavourful with an only slightly oily texture. The sauce choice included: Green onion and ginger, Spicy garlic vinegar, Lemongrass lime, Sesame satay, Hot and spicy, Peanut satay, Thai chicken, and Garlic and black vinegar. I choose the first two, them being the traditional accompaniments to the classic salted chicken, and recommend by our server. The chicken itself was as good as their menu suggested. Tender cuts of dark meat salted with soya sauce and accented by all its surrounding add ons. One of the better I have had in the city.

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“Satay skewer chicken”. The minimum order is two. We got four. Two of which were add ons to our lunch special above. You have the ability to add two more skewers of either chicken, beef, or lamb for $2 when you order the “Boneless Hananese Chicken combo”. You end up saving $1 going this route. We then added another two skewers because the limit on the above was just the two and we wanted more. Confusing, I know. The chicken itself was hard and dry, more tendon than meat. And it’s dipping sauce was a disappointment. Usually a chunky mix that you scrape clean off the plate, this tasted only of peanut oil and sesame. Off putting in bland taste and flat texture.

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“Customize your own noodles”. As its name suggests you pick a soup base, select your noodle preference, choose your main toppings, and include any add ons desired. I had to have the “House special laksa”, with fish cakes and thick noodles. The price is dependant on the main ingredient that you chose. I just had the one so was delighted that my choice also came with tofu puffs, what would have been my second ingredient choice. The fish puffs are well flavoured, they stood alone in the strong laksa. And the tofu acted like little sponges soaking up soup for a saucy bite. The soup itself is addictively rich, thickened with coconut milk, slightly sweeten with yellow curry, and strongly spiced with chillies. The neon broth had my nose running with its heat. A new twist to my favourite dish was the shredded coconut on top for heightened coconut taste and an added coarse texture.

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My guest has the “Asam style soup” with fish fillet, an add on of tofu puff, and yellow noodles. On the menu add ons come with the pieces included and prices either at $1 or $2. Asam is the Malay word for tamarind; it is a sour, slightly spicy fish based soup. The soup was tomato full, a refreshingly saltiness with a sharp tang of sour. The deeply coloured broth looked heavier than it was, it well complimented the more sweeter, starchy noodles.

In what I felt was a tacky fashion, the bill came on a tray with a note attached. A piece of paper plastered down with multiple layers of tape. On it read, “thank you for tipping”. Although it is customary to and there is an assumption of; having a reminder to is off putting. An activity forced instead of one meant to show appreciation. And it this case the staff did the bare minimal required. Orders were taken and food delivered. No conversations, no check ins, and no interest in us other than to collect what we owe.

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.
Putting aside the lack lustre decor and barely there service, I may have just found my favourite place for Malaysian food in the city, so far. Overall everything tasted authentic and the were prices fair. Though be warned it is cash only, a fact not mentioned on their website, and there only there as a hand scrawled sign at the cash desk. Surprisingly in this day and age, as plastic is ever present, and debit machines are becoming more of a must. I guest for smaller shoppes the fees attached must do more harm than the options for guests to pay with them helps. As an opportunity, all the dish wear we were presented with came oily. This could have been prevented with a good wipe down before serving. As a success, when we asked for our leftover noodles to be soggy bagged, they took it upon themselves to separated the noodle from the broth so that they won’t get soggy. Very thoughtful and clever, this maintains their integrity by the time you get home and are ready to take a second crack at them. Don’t deny your cravings.

MALAY CURRY HOUSE
3608 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5M2
604-438-4288
malaycurryhouse.ca
Malay Curry House 馬拉星 on Urbanspoon

Joeys Burnaby

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Looking for the ambience and vibe of a downtown restaurant in the comfort of my surrounding area of Burnaby, we found ourselves at Joey’s on Rosser. Here we had the ability to drink as much as we liked without having to pay the taxi over $40 in fare.

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The restaurant replaces its “Shark’s Club” predecessor. A good start with dinner and the ability to take the party else where with a late night open liquor store on ground level. The area is a soon to be booming neighbourhood with high rises springing up. Entry is either through the mall, the underground parking, or via the Lougheed facing entrance.

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Without a reservation this Saturday night a minimal wait was required. Though the walk through the half empty dining room lead me to think differently. The restaurant was modernly done with a clean woodsy feel. A smoothed over stump stood as a featured piece in the lobby. Carved busts of horned animals lined the hall-ed entry: moose, deer, elk. And ironed stemmed chandeliers cupping bulbs at its end supplied the light.

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We were seated in the lounge, a walk pass the spacious multi booth dining room, the wall of wine bottles, and the kitchen spanning half the walk taken. The lounge was littered with high top tables and higher stools at the bar. Booths that required a step up and chairs that needed a climb on to. The wide windows gave a clear view of the parallel skytrain tracks, in between a set of tripled up television screens. Not much of a view, not that anyone drinking was seen admiring it.

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We started with a bottle of wine. Not being able to decide between two we were offered the ability to taste both and decide from there. The tasters and the bottled wine were served in Joey branded engraved wine glasses. Their trademark “J” that double as the curvature of a wine goblet. I was impressed by this little personalized touch, a monogram of sorts that extended to their napkins. Our friendly server was quick to boast that they taste over 600 wines a year blind to update their menu. The list that was categorized and described by its taste. Our choices were between the “Louis Martini”, a Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, from California. The menu described it best at, “Wonderfully fresh, a quintessential cab from an old school producer still doing it right”. And the “McWilliams”, a Cabernet Sauvignon, from Australia. This was described as, a “Great value with black berry characters and light toast”. We choose the later based on taste and was happy to have it be the less inexpensive of the two.

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“Steak & Sushi”, Japanese surf & turf tataki style. Made with CAB® PRIME steak in a Ponzu sauce, served with a rainbow sushi roll. Immediately I was disappointed by the portion compared to the price. Just looking at it I knew there would not be enough food. The heat from the cast iron pan kept cooking the meat, by the time I got to the pre cut ends, my last bites of what should be medium rare were well done. A thick chew that left my mouth dry.

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The sushi was good, the fish fresh, the rice soft, and the dressing a creamy delight. But it along with the steak left me hungry for more. Luckily my guest was unable to finish her portion and I was able to step in to clean her plate. What was I thinking ordering sushi from a casual chain? Craving or not.

 

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“Steak & Prawns”, grilled butterflied prawns with a “CAB® PRIME” sirloin. Both of the feature proteins on this plate was a let down, average at best. On the drier side with hardly any notes that stands out. The asparagus and better yet the mashed potatoes wrapped in deep fried spring roll pastry was the true star. What a unique take on a classic and definitely a signature all their own.

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? – No.
I don’t normally visit chain restaurants. With so much to offer in this city, why waste a meal spent eating what you know, when you can try something new? Though sometimes you want a guaranteed dinner. That place where you know the food would be solid and the setting would be nice. This was that place for us tonight. A safe bet that proved us right. Don’t deny your cravings.

JOEY’S
1899 Rosser Ave S, Burnaby BC, V5C6R5
604-564-563
joeyrestaurants.com
Joey Burnaby on Urbanspoon

Sura Korean BBQ Restaurant Richmond

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This is my first request post. I love it when someone invites me to visit their favourite restaurant, and I in turn am able to give an insightful review on it. I have not lighten my opinions, nor have I steered my writing in any way. Like myself this is written in utter honesty, the only way I know how to be and how to write.

We almost didn’t get past the congested underground parking of Aberdeen Mall. Tight corners, tighter stalls, intersections with no rules, and pedestrians who didn’t care where they walked. It has certainly lost my future business. I was stuck behind a stop sign waiting for the endless line of cars entering and exiting. Neither rows allowing a parked car to reverse from its stall. The term gong show came to mind.

When we finally stopped, a lengthly walk around the newer, still spacious mall was required in search for our lunching destination. We wished for a mall directories readily available between busy crossroad. The restaurant’s entrance was through the mall. A muted exterior with simple lines, its name in block font, and its showcased menu on display to peak your interest. With an open doorway leading to an open space, you were allowed a peer in before you made any commitment to eat. We were greeted upon entry. A unison hello in what I can only assume was Korean.

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The room was scattered with lowered tables and attached benches. A row against the wall to ceiling windows, and another paralleled a few feet away. Both rows were winding to match the curvature of the space. The tables were all joined together, a continuos bench with table tops built in intermittently. No barriers, no back support, a clear view of your neighbours an arm’s length away. This allowed for versatile seating. Couples and family or large parties of ten. For a bit more distance, choose the booths. They were staggered with patrons sitting back to back as apposed to side by side in the row before. And these were separated by a barrier too far to lead on, but far enough to create separation. Each dark wood bench was patterned with coloured cushions in an alternating pink, yellow, and blue. Cushions that had actual bulk, and actually gave bottom support from the solid hard wood beneath. I suspect this would not be for long through continuous use. In fact at the table next to ours they doubled up on pillow consumption for that added luxury. Each table arrangement had a covered cooking coil and a metal tap, to cook your food and put out any would be fires.

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The room as a whole was new, a clean space with a modern design. Void of artwork or contrast, it allowed the view from the windows and the vaulted ceilings to speak for themselves. We appreciated having a view, but not necessarily what it was off. The entrance to the mall, an empty space of tiled concrete and plant life creeping up from between the cracks. We wished for some panache. A plant, a bench, a water feature. Instead it was this, a sad nothingness, so we people watched those at the restaurant across the way.

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I was impressed by the utensils. The usual metal indicative of Korean cuisine, but painted in a dull brassy gold. It felt fancy, and consistent with all the dish ware that matched one another.

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The menu was easy to navigate, with lots of coloured photos, and clear defined sections, well designed for novices like ourselves. Though we did wish for were more details, what was in the dish? in English. We were in specifically for the barbecuing of Korean BBQ, only to be disappointed by the limited selection. Given “BBQ” is in the title we had hope for a feature, a lunch special, a nod to its name and respect to the promise it proposed. We came in wanting to barbecue, wanting to do it ourselves, wanting it at our table; all as part of our dining experience. In reality there were more kitchen cooked dishes than BBQ items available. And looking around of the room no one else was barbecuing. It almost seemed like the coils and taps built in were wasted. The five options that were available were pricer cuts of finer meats. At $28 for the least expensive portion we decided to split our ordering between hot food and BBQ.

The set courses peaked our interest and seemed like the best value. Two courses at either $15 or $20 per person. Having it required a minimum of two orders that may be subjected to change seasonally, and is only available until 3pm. It seemed like a lot of rules, with no substitutions allowed and nothing off this list could be ordered separately. A take it or leave it sort of deal. A new one, where other establishments are bending over backwards to make it your way. So instead we walked away from the obvious good deal to order less and share more.

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At first glance our $28 portion seemed small. This was not enough to feed two as our server mentioned. Though seeing the soup, sides, and rice that it came with; then trying a piece we began to see the value in what we were having. The coil was heated, a ring around the grill was put into place, and oil was brushed on. The heat source for cooking functioned doubly as a heat source for warming, given our sandwiching between it and the chill of the window pressed against us.

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“Royal Galbil”, beef short ribs. The meat came prescored, arranged delicately as a whole, with scissors accompanying to cut things down to size. We voted that the “farm girl” in our group would do the cooking, being most familiar with beef. Only to have our server walk by and settle in to help us do it “right”. She was concerned that the smaller portions we precut would burn quickly and that we weren’t getting the most for our money. As a result she stood by the end of our table and began cooking for us on the spot. We felt spoiled with our own at table chef. She stopped to flip our meat and stayed to supervised. Such personal service. She kept the meat whole, only cutting when it was time to divide it between three. She even went a step further, doling out portions on to each plates. We were surprised how quick the whole barbecue process was, so fast that you missed out on the action and could have easily burned your meat. The beef short ribs was really well seasoned, with a simple hint of salt. All its delicious flavour was from the premium meat.

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Our order came with a couple things. A few mushroom caps came on the original plate, and our chef bought us extra, allowing everyone to have two. We were informed that when the caps were done they would be filled with water. It was here that we wondered how we would survive without her supervision. How do other guests barbecue without written instructions, or without being given an explanation from their server prior to. We were just luckily that ours was attentive.

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Quail’s egg, cuts of beef, whole garlic cloves, seasonings, and slices of jalapeño in a dark sauce. All this in a small metal bowl was allowed to boil at the edge of our grill. Once cooked the ingredients were delicious as is and the drippings made for a good dip. We just wished that the sauce cooked quicker so that we could have used it with the meat. It would have also been nice to get additional vegetables on top of the mushroom caps, more to grill more to enjoy with the short ribs. Especially if this was or only order.

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Our BBQ selection also came with a full order of soup. As with the others we were pleasantly surprised by this bonus, as the menu didn’t mention that we would get more than just the beef. In this spicy red broth was tofu, beef, zucchini, onion, enoki mushrooms, daikon, and jalapeño for spice. One of my guest declared this to be his favourite. The spice had a good kick and it ate like a meal with all the chopped vegetables at the bottom. Well cooked the vegetables were no where near mushy, instead they absorbed all the broth and made for a tasty bite. Eaten with the bowl of rice included it at like a meal.

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As per all Korean meals, this too came with four sides, and a bonus two salads. We didn’t know what was included with which order, but we enjoyed it all just the same. Bean sprouts with red and green peppers, soften potato chunks, leeks in sauce, and kimchi. Each was bland, but made for a good add on to our entrees. A change of taste and a break from texture.

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A red spicy salad flavoured with kimchi. And a raw salad used to be eaten as is, like a side of rice.

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“Potato pancake”. This was a safe order. Crispy on the outside, chewy potato on the inside. Good, but it tasted like nothing more than a breakfast hash brown. I wanted ketchup. Our server suggested the seafood version the next time we would be in.

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“Seafood rice cake”. Rice cakes with vegetables, mussels, squid, and prawn. We choose the more adventurous seafood order over the possibility of beef. Our server was once again attentive, she checked our spicy tolerance. I don’t like spicy foods as I feel it hides the dish behind a numb tongue. Even with a bright redness and a heavy coating of sauce, this was just right. Though the thicken sauce did make it a challenge to remove the tails off the prawns and to pry the mussels from their shells. Especially given our use of the flat and heavy metal chopsticks. The gummy texture of rice cakes is not for everyone. It’s takes multiple chews to get through and almost resembles rubber. I am one of those who likes it for that very reason.

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“Stone bowl bibimbap”. I failed to snap a picture pre mixing, it bothered me. The rice was mixed on a cart in front of us. The mixing cooks the egg and the heat from the hot stone bowl fries the rice to a crisp. Although the rice was full of julienned vegetables, it was tasteless when eaten in conjunction with the other dishes before it. It unfortunately lost its taste in the mix, therefore I cannot give a fair assessment on this. It was hearty and impressively filled with numerous components.

Our server was really the highlight of our meal. She made the experience and made the meal memorable. She went that extra mile, giving us a run down on how to eat, with what utensils, and even off of which plates. She offered wooden chopsticks as an option in case the metal ones in their place proved to be impossible. And after keenly seeing us struggle with with grill and our meat cutting she stepped in to cook for us. This meant we got the best out of our barbecue, a lesson that would allow us to replicate the process in the future. And then when it was time to pay we appreciated how she didn’t bus the table when the bill was dropped off. She let us figure out our math, and cleaned up only after we left. Very professional, I wish I caught her name for proper recognition.

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.
The meal was without a doubt delicious, though the price debatable. Other than the set meal this would be an special occasion lunch or dinner. Not necessarily something you would indulge in on a day to day. We ate quickly going through everything, with a lot left over. It felt like we have tried everything and were perfectly content at the end. Though the spicy flavours had me wanting dessert, something sweet. Shame none was offered, no menu given out, or maybe there was none to be had? We ordered four dishes and had the number of dish ware tripled on us. Shame the occasion was soured by the having to park at the beginning and the needing to escape the lot at the end. Don’t deny your cravings.

SURA RICHMOND
4151 Hazelbridge Way Unit 1830, Richmond BC
surakoreancuisine.com
Sura Korean BBQ Restaurant Richmond 수라 水刺間 on Urbanspoon

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