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

Month: March 2015 Page 2 of 3

Milestones Grill and Bar

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The last time I was here was years ago. We came when they just rolled out their girls night package. You and three friends enjoy a night of drinks and appetizers at a set cost. Bellinis topped with decorative little red heels and your choice of two appetizers for sharing. I recall it during the time of one of my break up, so we ended the night indulging in their break up pint. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate and cookie chunks packaged in a black, white, and pink striped tub. It was a good night. And tonight we were hoping for a repeat with a happier reason for meeting up.

Plenty of parking was available underground in a shared lot. The signs were very specific to state that “Milestones do not validate parking”. So it was $6 for anytime more than an hour and a half. Inside the restaurant the layout and set up was no different than any casual chain. A large space divided between bar and dining room. Secluded nooks, sectioned off crannies, and booths separated by a barrier to create privacy. Our group found ourselves divided between two booths a four seater and one that sat eight with a squeeze. The only option on a Saturday night with a last minute addition to the dinner.

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“Watermelon and strawberry mojito” by the pitcher. A light and refreshing beverage for those who want to drink, but want to avoid the burn. So good that you would want more than one glass, so why not save yourself the time and cost by ordering a pitcher to share. Drink fast though, as once the ice melts the drink dilutes.

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“Tropical mimosa.” Take a regular mimosa with sparkling wine and chilled orange juice, then add peach and melon liquor, with a splash of pineapple juice. This one is a double. As above, this too was an easy to down drink.

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The “Ultimate Bellini” was a regular Bellini, accompanied by an extra flavoured shot of vodka. A frozen blend of premium white rum, peach liqueur, and sparkling white wine topped with Boone’s sangria. What I didn’t realize was the extra shot came separate, outside of the actual drink. I was recommended the white grape vodka shot, and glad I took it for it very accurate and very flavourful grape flavour. So good that I wished I had asked the brand so that I could have purchased a bottle for myself. It was suggested that I take a sip of this shot then follow it with one of frozen slush. I ended up enjoying both separate. I don’t see the need to have a regular Bellini and this version when the only difference is the latter is a drink with a side drink.

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“Calamari strips” with tartar and marinara sauce. Your standard deep fried and heavily battered chewy pieces of squid, perfect for sharing. They were peppery and played well with either of the two sauces provided. I preferred the white tartar as the more traditional pairing. Though it was nice to have two dipping sauces, to keep the palate interested.

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“Ahi tuna tacos” made with seared pepper crusted ahi tuna, cilantro lime slaw, avocado cream, and crispy avocado. This was the most decorated plate of the night. All the necessary ingredients needed to craft your perfect two bite hand held. These tacos were meant to be light and refreshing. Not the usual ones coated heavily in sauce and dripping with oil. The plate offered different tastes and textures between the fresh herbed tuna, the zesty slaw, the whipped avocado, and its fried crisp counter part. The only down side was its portion size. It was listed as entree, but given the ability to only craft two full tacos from two small flour tortillas, it left you hungry looking for more food.

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I appreciate a restaurant’s ability to split an order and their foresight to do so between two plates, if they know you will be sharing. They did just that with our “portobello mushroom chicken” prepared with basil, roasted garlic cream sauce, vermicelli noodles, and seasonal vegetables. Despite its bland colouring it was actually very flavourful. The noodles were a perfect el dente, offering a great base to be take with the herbaceous chicken and smokey roasted Vegetables.

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The “Stacked burger” was just that, a mouthful with meats piled one on top of another. Prime rib, Montreal smoked meat, double smoked bacon, mushrooms, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and horseradish cream. The burger was a juicy mess. Bite after bite lead to juices dropping off your chin and sauces in between fingers, in a good way. The first bite is aways the best, when the bun is still toasty, the lettuce is still crisp, and you can still still make out the quality of beef being used. Towards the centre of the burger the meat became drier and each oily bite harder to get past.

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The order comes with fries that I substituted for the soup of the day, a red pepper bisque. What arrived was a murky green pool topped with sliced tortilla chips and soften cheese. The taste was decent, but I didn’t like the texture much, between the soup’s graininess and the soggy chips, it had me regretting the need to pay extra for something I didn’t like.

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“For the love of chocolate cake” was a aptly named dessert. I am not a big fan of chocolate, but this one won be over. It me going back for luxurious bite after glorious bite. Four layers of opulent chocolate cake divided by decadent chocolate fudge icing, drizzled with salted caramel and topped with a scoop of chocolate crunch ice cream. The cake’s layers were spongy and evenly coated with thick fudge. Together with the creamy ice cream and the sticky caramel you had a perfect spoonful. I was surprised that this was as not sweet as it looked, instead it was simply chocolatey. Dare I say the best chocolate cake I have ever had. Though the number of ones I have tried isn’t too large. Definitely worth the wait we endured, over 20 minutes for a pre-made dessert with only some assembly required. Even the kitchen noticed the time they were taking, they sent the manager to deliver it and the following explanation. Apparently they weren’t able to type the order into computer and therefore it held up the preparation process. I question why they couldn’t just deliver the order first and place the purchase in the system after the fact. And what was meant to be any apology turned into an uncomfortable come on, as my guest was being cheeky and the manager was being pushy. Long story short the cake was compensated and the manager even put in the effort to check back with us before he left for the evening.

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“Peanut butter & jelly cheesecake with toasted marshmallow ice cream”. For those who like peanut better this one is a must try. The nostalgic flavours of peanut butter and grape jelly in a decadent cheesecake with a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. Sadly it wasn’t as large of a portion as the chocolate cake, but very rich and satisfying in its compact portion none the less. The crunchy peanut butter cookie chunks and smooth jelly syrup went well with the creamy cheesecake and its buttery graham cracker crust. The ice cream didn’t quite taste like its promise of marshmallow toasted on a flame, or otherwise. However it was still very good and just as inventive as the dessert it was set to compete against. It was a delicious blend of sweetness enrobed in velvety cream. I could finish a pint of it as is.

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.
Out of all of the modern casual chains, “Milestones” is one I like the most. Perhaps with fewer locations I still find newness in their fresh sheets, and creativity in their menu. Either way it is a solid destination for a larger group gathering with a minimal wait. Don’t deny your cravings.

MILESTONES
2425 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V5Z4M5
604-678-8488
milestonesrestaurants.com
Milestones Grill and Bar on Urbanspoon

Certo! Pizzeria & Bar

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Pizza in Japan

Day ten and we were craving a taste of home. I wanted Pizza Hut, but that wasn’t really an option. We had seen a Dominos a few days back, but that was further away and there would be no guarantee that it would taste like what is offered at the locations in Vancouver. So we settled on our neighbourhood’s Italian joint.

We had considered visiting a few days back. The menu in both english and Japanese, and the plastic examples of the dishes served were enough to instil confidence in the place. I was just hoping for authentic Italian style cuisine. No Japanese twists, no sweet flavours where it should be salty. And thankfully they did not disappoint. The Italian flags on each of their uniforms and western hip hop playing over head further proved that they were going for a more western experience. I was most amused by Eminem rapping about his mom’d spaghetti during our stay.

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A walk down a set of stairs opened up to a beautiful and cozy setting. I was not expecting something this dressy. Light coloured walls, bubbled low hanging light fixtures, hardwood floors, and a tiled bar meant to mimic brick. Large spacious tables paired with couches offered comfort for larger groups. A few even had cubicle-like walls providing additional privacy. They were designed for drinking and the celebration of festivities. Anticipating extended stays, there were even metal bars installed behind each booth-like seating arrangement. It allowed for coats to be hung on the hangers provided. No taking up extra room with bulky winter jackets. They were definitely looking out for the guest’s experience. Each matte table was pre-set with metal baskets of metal cutlery and a stack of side plates. Perfect for sharing.

Behind the elevated kitchen you could actually see the two chefs preparing your meal from scratch. One was on pizza duty near the oven, the other over a stove top cooking pasta. Each wore a black apron over their white smocks, with a tall chef’s hat on their head to complete the look. They knew they were on display, especially for those seated around their bar, and certainly dressed for the extra attention. Similarly servers wore white shirts with black aprons around their hips.

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The lunch menu was an abbreviated offering of pizza and pasta. Just the basics displayed on laminated cards, collected together by a ring. No pepperoni pizzas or Hawaiian; no meat on any pizza let alone a “meat lovers”, in fact it was an all vegetarian offering. Slight variations on tomato, cheese, and basil.

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For it being made to order food, it came surprisingly fast. Though the portions were much smaller than those served in Canada, lunch time or not. As a result we cleaned our plates and were still left hungry, even with the addition of a complimentary side salad to start. Though with their flavours I really couldn’t see myself enjoying anymore as a large order of either pasta or pizza. Off to find something else to satisfy this craving for western food on.

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An individual sized “Pizza Margherita” went for 815yen, about $8.50 Canadian. There was lots of olive oil drizzled on top of both the pizza and pasta. Was this suppose to be a light drizzle? It didn’t take away from the food under, but did make the presence of wet wipes necessary. Though the olive oil on the bread-like pizza crust was nice. Other than that this was a pretty standard tomato and cheese pizza.

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Spaghetti and fried eggplant in a mozzarella tomato sauce for 723yen, $7.60 Canadian. After his first bite, my partner announced that it almost tasted Italian. The spaghetti was good, but no where near the realm. of authentic Italian cuisine. The noodles were over cooked and the sauce a lot watery. I would have liked some fresh Parmesan and grated pepper over it, for added flavour and salt. The eggplant was the best part, cooked well but not deep fried.

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.
It was nothing special when I flashbacked to the Italian restaurants I have enjoyed in Vancouver. But when you consider this is Japan, and Italian must be scarce here, this was a decent rendition. The perfect restaurant for a transition to Italian cuisine. Light pizzas and pastas with seafood. Familiar, friendly. And with boxes available you can even take their pizzas to go. Don’t deny your cravings.

Shining Garden Restaurant 麥田餐廳

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It was refreshing to not be directed to the Chinese restaurant my extended family always goes to for our late Chinese New Year dinner, but instead to the one beside it. My family knows what they like and likes only what they know. This was a much smaller restaurant, but at the same time a much newer one. In Chinese its name refers to wheat fields. The chosen English name, “shining garden” is more catchy.

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The restaurant was a tight squeeze. It was hard to maneuver around seats and harder to spot your party. Everything was packed in tight to capitalize on space and seat as many as possible during any given service. Without isle room or a clear walk way I was curious about its compliance to fire regulations. I can only picture the chaos that would ensure from a fire alarm. The main room was open, stocked with the usual live fish tanks with lobsters and crabs, hand written signs advertising the special in Chinese characters, and pendants of red and gold wishing for luck and prosperity. We stood at the foyer, glancing from face to face, to spot one that would be familiar. With not one staff member to approach us and not one person to direct us. With enough head twisting we soon discovered there were serval smaller rooms diverging from several corners. These sub rooms gave peace from the sea of chattering voices and the ability to host a larger party more intimately in their own nook. In hind sight, given the reputation of Chinese restaurants, it was no surprise that we were not greeted at the door by staff or helped to navigate the sea of heads. Instead our party found us and waved us to a small room to our right.

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I brought my partner with me. Raised in a small rural town in Quebec the extent of his experience in Chinese cuisine is very limited. That, and his particular dietary preferences/restrictions keep him from exploring the full extent of the cuisine. I bring him along for posterity and with the hopes some flavours would grow on him. He never liked seafood and the tank of live sea crustaceans always put him off. He deems Chinese restaurants dirty, a reasonable assumption given the age of most and the fact that upkeep and aesthetics are not a high priority. That and the cramped confines give the illusion of clutter and chaos. It also doesn’t help that they stored extra tables tops and chairs by the entrance in a most inconvenient way for those waiting for one to clear. He immediately questioned why there were apples on the floor. A sight hard to miss as it is the first thing you see walking through the door. I explained the concept of a shrine and the belief in offering something to a higher being out of respect and for wanting of good things in return. Until then I never realize how much of a culture shock this is to him. Though it is Vancouver and the blending of Chinese culture and Chinese families with Caucasian ones are in an abundance.

Back to the food: Most of the time my partner picks at what he knows and only tries what looks good to him. His dining at such places are not without a battery of questions. Today was a little different. Humourously, in a most accommodating of ways my extended family not only requested a fork and knife with a set of chopsticks for him, but also gave him the ability to choose a dish he would like. As most of you may know, Chinese meal are typically family style. Set menus where the one paying has the ability to choose what everyone else will be sharing. Large plates where everyone eats from, by way of utilizing the ability to rotate it around on a lazy Susan. The same happens dish after dish, one after another in several courses.

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My partner selected the very safe beef and broccoli with a bowl of rice. Tender chewy strips of beef with crisp broccoli florets. Flavourful and saucy, its preparation was nothing different from food court restaurant to Chinese restaurant.

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The soy chicken was one of the best I have had, and my favourite of the night. It came wonderfully arranged and with a nice golden hue. Normally such chicken dishes come red at the joints or with the occasional stay hair or skin tag. This was delicious with none of the above. Cooked thoroughly while maintaining a moist and tender texture. Well flavoured without the need for additional seasoning. It was just a shame that the bowls of rice to accompany it, took its time to arrive.

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Unlike it is usually, the shared soup dish was not the one to start the meal. It came two dishes later, but arrived just as good. My family’s favourite and usual order is the fish maw soup. It is presented in a large bowl and divided into smaller individual servings at the table. The soup was a thick broth with a syrup like consistency, and a jello-like texture from the ingredients used. It is best highlighted by a dash of red vinegar for a contrast in taste.

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You got to love the straight forward English names for all these dishes: there kinds of seafood with vegetable. Scallop, prawn, and squid over celery, snow peas, onion, ginger, and the occasional decoratively cut carrot slice. The sauce was a thick gel that coated each ingredient. It was a nice contrast to the crisp peas, crunchy celery, rubbery squid, soften scallop, and chewy prawn.

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The half order of salt and pepper crab came with more legs than expected. But without a nutcracker or finger bowl served in company we held off digging in right away. Not that I enjoyed any once it came. I don’t like getting my hands dirty when I eat. Especially if using them only earns me mediocre dividends. By the time you crack into a crab leg or are able to slurp out some meat at its joint, what you get is not worth the effort you are required to put in. The sauce was flavourful, but most of it squandered, slathered on shells. Though some do enjoy sucking on shells.

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The black bean halibut was a surprise hit. I have never had fish this good. I didn’t even know fish could be this good. Lightly battered and deep fried chunks of tender fish blocks. They were spongy on the outside and flaky in the centre. There were bones embedded, but they were large enough and easy enough to avoid. Surprisingly the leftovers of this were just as good the next day, and if possible more flavourful in lieu of some of the crunch they lost after a stint in the fridge and a spin in the microwave.

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Abalone mushroom on bok choy. The mushroom is a close imitation of the expensive abalone in look, taste, and texture. Both are soft, with a rubbery gel like quality. And when seasoned with a rich seafood broth its taste is a decent substitution. Though together with soggy bok soy I found the dish too soft for my taste. I like a bit more crunch and more texture to work your teeth around, and more flavours and spice to wrap your tongue around.

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The sweet and sour pork chop went best with the fried rice below. Large pieces of pork like this tends to be tough, especially when cut and served in a variety of shapes and sizes. However each of the four pieces I had were just as tender from one to the other. An easy glide with a serrated blade made cutting off bite size portions easy. This isn’t your food court or westernized version of sweet and sour pork, it was ten times better. Image that flavour but more grown up. Less use of sugar and pineapple and more of sauces a layer of flavours. My second favourite dish of the night. So good that I helped myself to its leftovers.

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The meal ended with a mound of shrimp and BBQ fried rice. Most Chinese family share style meals end in a carb heavy dish. Noodles, or in this case rice, allows those still peckish to leave the restaurant with a happy and full belly. The rice was very classic in preparation and flavour. It was oily yet light, dry and crispy, and packed full of flavour. The larger chunks of BBQ pork meant you didn’t need a meat dish to accompany your bowl of rice. Though I found it went well with a bite of pork chop and a scoop of its sauce.

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For dessert we each had our own bowl of back rice with tapioca dessert. This was a new one for me. It looked like the more common red bean dessert, and had its same sandy and gritty in texture. But it tasted lighter and had the tapioca pearls to give each bite some interest. Better than red bean, but not enjoyable enough to have me finish a whole bowl, or even take in more after a sip.

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.
If you have read any of my previous posts on Chinese restaurants you know that I find them hard to write about. I find the decor similar from shop to shop and the food consistent from kitchen to kitchen. It is like they all follow the same set of instructions. A check list of how to run a Chinese seafood restaurant, what is required, what should be served, and how to prepare it. A restaurant void of art, but makes up for it in available seats. A menu 20 pages long, listing every dish and all its variations. Though having said that I don’t often read the menu or even vary from what I know. The benefits of a family dinner, the older generations take care of such planning and organizing, on top of the bill. Staff that are abrupt, and a smile is not necessary so long as they have speed on their side. You leave full with styrofoam boxes filled with meals for the next few days, and the sent of fried Chinese food lingering on your clothes and hair. Don’t deny your cravings.

SHINING GARDEN
2461 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver BC, V5N5E5
604-258-9018
Shining Garden Restaurant 麥田餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Taiyaki (鯛焼き)

Taiyaki means “baked sea bream”. It is used to refer to a Japanese fish-shaped cake. A fluffy snack made using regular pancake or waffle batter. The batter is poured into a fish-shaped mould and a filling is added in, before it’s snapped shut. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened azuki beans. Other fillings include custard, chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato. However the version I am documenting on is a twist on the original. They named themselves “Croissant Taiyaki”, it refers to the flaky texture of their baked fish, as apposed to the traditional spongy cake ones.

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Croissant Taiyaki, Shibuya

Seeing this snack food stamped in a swimming fish pattern, I thought I knew what I would be getting with this one. Spoiler, I was wrong.

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The little kiosk was just outside an indoor mall specializing in music and instruments. I went close to inspect their wood racks set with rows of fish. Four flavours in sweet and savoury, labelled in both English and Japanese. Custard cream, red bean their best seller, chocolate their seasonal flavour; and tuna, mayonnaise, and corn their only savoury option. The chocolate was clear with its darken colour. And I was amused by the thought of a fish being stuffed into a pastry shaped like a fish.

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Having tried a similar fish shaped dessert at our Richmond night market, I opted for their red bean version. Paying 210yen for my treat. I handled my parcel only to feel its hard exterior and realize this wasn’t what I thought it was. This wasn’t what I was familiar with, it was better. They claim this is an original French sweet. Though one I have never heard of, or seen offered at any French patisserie. I digress.

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It was a crispy strudel coated on one side with beads of sugar, and stuffed with your choice of filling. The crust void of filling was actually my favourite part. I wished for the option to have it unfilled. Though in hind sight, given its flakey buttery texture and the crunch of the sugar crystals, custard would have been a better filling choice. I can’t even imagine how the tuna and corn would have tasted. Though corn is often used in Japanese desserts as it is sweet. Or maybe they just omit the sugar all together for this one.

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By the mall entrance, indoors, there were a few seats available. Each labelled for use by their customers only. And you could tell they were used just for that. Each orange table had a scattering of crumbs, like confetti. Eating, biting, tearing into each fish shaped snack was a messy affair. I grabbed a seat that gave me a direct look into their kitchen’s operations. Four cast iron presses were set up right in front of the window. And a chef in white was manning all four. Arranged in a row, they were similar in design and use to the ones used to make Takoyaki and the Hello Kitty snack cakes, both which I have written about on previous posts. But instead these moulds were of fish, tails swishing to the side. The dough and the needed filling is pressed between the heavy sheets of metal. Any excess dough that overflowed was left and allowed to continue to bake, giving the fish its boarder, and an extra helping of crunchy pastry.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This was a cute and unique snack. One I would love to go back for more of. They were made fresh and many leagues tastier than the strudels offered at local grocery stores in Vancouver. Don’t deny your cravings.

Soft Peaks Ice Cream

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I couldn’t believe how many people recommended this one to me. Not to mention all the photos of swirled cream in cups that flooded my social media pages. I was most excited by the photos taken of their organic milk soft serve with premium toppings, like Fraser Valley honey comb and pure maple syrup. I even got an email invitation from the owners themselves. Apparently owners and brothers Dan and Ken Kim have spent years perfecting their homemade recipe and today have a large following to show for it. So it was about time I tried this one for myself. I would be going in with high expectation, as I often do when the city gives something its seal of approval and hype.

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Located in Gastown, a great area, but not one I would expect to find an ice cream shop at. Nor one I would make a trip out just for. Neighbour to a lounge I didn’t naturally correlate the organic milk ice cream with alcoholic shots and the sweat of a night club. But because of their increased launch popularity, they were doing more than fine for themselves. Instead of it being location, location, location; it was more if you build it, they shall come. And I knew we were at the right place, seeing groups of girls with cups of cream in one hand and a their phone on camera mode in the other.

Returning from Japan recently, I was very familiar with the flavour of milk ice cream. Like milk, the ice cream version isn’t sweet, it is quenching without a pronounced note. It balances out other flavours and is best used as a base for any acid. But unlike milk it doesn’t really have that dairy taste: 2%, 1%, or otherwise. It is as light as milk and as refreshing, but with a cream-like flavour hinted with a very mild vanilla. It is from the toppings chosen that it gets its flavouring. And with its smooth whipped texture it is cross between soft serve and a frozen malt.

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The flavour choices were spelled out across the back mirror, each selection given its own individual honey comb shaped outline. Each with its own fun name and unique pairing of topping and syrup; or if you didn’t see anything you liked, you can mix and match to create your own masterpiece. The “green forest” was a mix of premium green matcha powder, sweet red bean and condense milk. The “mudslide” used Tim Tam crumbs (A brand of chocolate biscuit made by the Australian food company Arnott’s) and chocolate syrup. The “Salty Himalayan” was a telling name as it spoke to the use of pink Himalayan salt with your choice of syrup. As interesting as they and the other flavour combinations were I couldn’t help but want Oreo crumbs or smarties to be in the list of offerings. Though as an Asian sprung concept I could see their desire to keep it authentic. We had trouble choosing. The clerk explained it the best. He suggested we choose our toppings based on what we enjoy most with milk. That made sense and made it easier to choose. Green tea and milk would be like a green tea latte, and cookies and milk and chocolate and milk are always winners. Though luckily, if you don’t like the flavour you have chosen, it is not a commitment. Only the top and the bottom are mixed with cereal and syrups, making it easy enough to scoop out.

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I came in wanting the “honeycomb peak”, the thought of having a whole local honey comb in my ice cream was a novelty I just couldn’t pass up. Though sadly I made the mistake of not eating the honey comb right away, as the ingredient that topped the cup. Instead I choose to save it as my last bite, and as a result was faced with a frozen and solid block of honey from the chill of the iced cream. Had I enjoyed it right away I would have strands of honey intertwining curls of cream. But here I was sucking on a rock of sweetness. Needless to say, I did not finish it. Though the honey that I did enjoy was stringy like toffee, sticky like caramel, and just as sweet as honey should be. The honey gave both taste and a textural contrast to the milky cream. The best part of the parfait was at the bottom of the cup where the still crunchy cereal lay. Truly if this ice cream was to be the equivalent of milk, it did the job well. It perfectly partnered with what resembled corn flakes. Who doesn’t eat cereal with milk? And as it was towards the end of the cup it made for a nice change of pace from licking to chewing.

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My guest choose the “Sunrise in California” wanting to try yuzu for the first time. Yuzu is a popular Japanese citrus originating in East Asia. It is believed to be a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda. It is similar to lemon with comparisons to an orange, and in this case was use to make a decent marmalade. The yuzu marmalade was very fresh, it had embedded in its jelly, large candied citrus rinds that you had to bite into and chew through. At first, what was an intrusive flavour, eventually grows on you. I found the sharpness of the tang was balanced by the neutral cream. My guest on the other regretted her choice, and now knows she does not prefer the taste of yuzu. Instead she would have liked a sweeter blood orange or a more distinctive grapefruit with just a little bit of lemon. I agreed that this would be an interesting switch up, but also acknowledge their theme of Asian ingredients and their use of popular Asian flavours.

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Walking in, the place just opened up across two floors. But due to the line to order and to pay our entry was restrained to the foyer, waiting patiently amongst others for our turn. There were a few tables on the first floor, but more upstairs on their upper deck. It required a climb up straight stairs, past a wall papered with outlines of ice cream cones and milk bottles, to a floor with seats against the railing and chairs at a table meant for sharing.

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We claimed two stools overlooking the counter below. We enjoyed our treat as we were reminded of their guarantee scrawled across the wall next to us. “Handmade, home made, organic, no preservatives, all natural, and gluten free”. All the things a health conscious Vancouverite looks for when trying to keep up with food trends. The setting was decent, but the music that set the tone jarring. The loud dance beats playing over head threw off my pace. When you eat ice cream you tend to do it slowly, savouring each spoonful, using your tongue to lick each scoop clean. Here the music made me eat faster with the feeling like I was on a ticking clock. From a business stand point it was smart, not only to set an upbeat vibe, but to help rotate seats in chairs. A slower mix has you staying longer, taking longer. Here you were to eat then go, as we found it hard to talk while being heard. As a note, I would have liked to see a sink available for use or at least a hand sanitizing station. Given the sticky nature of ice cream and syrup it would have been considerate and well used.

In the further future I can see themselves unveiling more flavour possibilities and offering more ingredient combinations. The necessity of all businesses to evolve, to continue to surprise and delight their customers with their growing tastes and changing palettes. To please the mainstream I can imagine a menu with mashed chocolate bars and crushed cookies. And to entice customers wanting healthier choices: fruits, nuts, chia seeds, and any other topping that would fit into the Vancouver heath focused lifestyle would be offered. I think to the path that frozen yogurt has taken with their do it yourself topping bars. However as my guest pointed out this isn’t the season for fruits and they can’t use anything that would go against their organic mantra. I guess I am too focus on North Americanized pallets. I can’t help but want it more closer to what I am familiar with, more like dessert, and less like a health conscious alternative. Unfortunately more into something that it is not.

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.
It was good, but I believe most of its popularity has to do with its hype. I would definitely come back, but am not ready to declare it my favourite ice cream place in the city, or even what the city is missing. As a very specific dessert it has both its pros and cons. It isn’t necessarily something I would crave again, but would be something I could see myself dipping a spoon into again, should the occasion present itself. My guest on the other hand didn’t find it all that outstanding enough. She wanted the flavour to be in the actual soft serve not just from the toppings. I guess she wanted ice cream or gelato. I will definitely be back to try the other flavours, but know I will like the milk ice cream plain, as is, the best. Don’t deny your cravings.

SOFT PEAKS
25 Alexander Street, Vancouver BC, 
604-559-2071
Soft Peaks Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Ramen (ラーメン)

Ramen is a term blanketing Japanese wheat noodles served in a thick broth. Something that has become very popular in Vancouver as of late, but is prepared very differently in every different region of Japan. Each removing or adding different ingredients, in order to make it their own. Some places give you the option of having your broth made with either meat or fish, and others a choice of a soy sauce or miso flavoring for the soup. Ramen is typically topped with “chashu”, thinly sliced cuts of fatty pork; “negi”, a vegetable similar to scallions or leeks; and “nori”, sheets of dried edible seaweed.

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My first bowl of ramen in Japan was at a food court in DiverCity, Odaiba. I choose this bowl of ramen based on what I have had and found familiar, from previous experiences in Vancouver. In this case it was the murky beige of sandy broth, the bold orange of a soft boiled egg yolk, and the spiral of a pink and white patterned fish cake slice. Though as it is often the case, what appears in photo, isn’t always what you get in person.

This style of ramen was served with the soup and noodle separate. Presentation was not taken into account. The pre-boiled egg was dumped whole into the bowl, the two slices of pork sank to the very bottom, and the sheet of black nori was the only colour added to the mound of thick yellow noodle. But at least it tasted good. You grip a few strands of noodles and dip them into your bowl of soup. You allow them to soak up some of the sauce before you slurp them up. Overall better than most I have had in Vancouver. But not as good as my second ramen experience. See below.

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I was in Shibuya to try a more authentic bowl of ramen. At this point I am very familiar with the machines used to order. Push button vending machines that provide quicker service than a waitress taking orders, and offer a more fluid meal preparation during busier dining hours. You insert your money and make your selection with a push of a button. Any change is returned with the push of another button.

Truth be told, I actually came in because the clerk opened the door and invited me in. Originally I was coming in close just to check out prices and compare dishes offered, still deciding where I wanted to dine. But after she took the time to open the door and went through the trouble of inviting me through the threshold, I felt too bad to just walk away.

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I was directed to one of the available bar seats facing the kitchen. Here I gained a telling look into the preparation of ramen. Noodles are made to order, and added to broth that is prepared ahead of time. Similarly all the ingredients are every at the ready, stored in individual tins, until they are needed for assembly. Each tin looked like recycled bulk Heinz ketchup containers.

Once again I selected my ramen based on the prospect of enjoying it with an soft boiled and by the colours most familiar to me. Squinting at all the small images on the machine. Sadly, not really considering what the area’s national type of ramen was.

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Either way the chef’s wardrobe choice, a tee with the wording “no noodles, no life” across the back, gave me confidence in his skill. Watching, it seemed like he moved from muscle memory. The noodles were cooked in a special contraption. A stainless steel vat of boiling water, with a sheet of metal over it. The sheet had holes cut out and was left to rest over the basin. These holes were the perfectly sized circles, made to fit a deep basket in each. The baskets would hold a single serving of noodles and cook them in a contained area, thus making it easy to scoop out when el dente.

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When assembling the bowl, first goes in the noodles. A few hard shakes of the basket ensure excess moisture is dredged. Next three large scoops of pre made broth is poured to fully coat all the stands. A good broth takes hours to make, doing so the day before is standard. This allows all the flavour of the pork bone and pork fat to be slowly incorporated into the soup. And finally with hand in several tins, the chef dresses the ramen with the appropriate ingredients.

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As mentioned, this version of ramen has its noodles already submerged in broth. My bowl had two fatty chunks of pork, a halved soft boiled egg, a few bean spouts, shredded raw cabbage, green onions; and three types of seaweed: a shredded brown, a leafy green, and a sheet of nori added in last to complete the bowl. Each element had its own spot, and everything was highlighted in harmony. Taste wise, the fat of the pork was perfect, it melted in your mouth, any more would have made you nauseated. The noodles themselves were surprisingly light. I was able to almost finish the whole lot. Good thing as there was a lot of them for a smaller serving, and a certain lightness was needed to balance out the richness of broth and pork.

It was very hot shop, and made even more so when having to ingesting hot ramen. It had me sweating and wondering how was it possible that the other patrons were able to continue eating in their down filled jackets? And here I was stripping down to my tee. Sadly, I forgot that Japan etiquette requires I slurp my noodles and bring the bowl directly to lips for sipping soup. Thus showing appreciation to the chef. I hope my empty bowl was as clear of a sign that I enjoyed what I had.

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The staff were constantly moving. Two, the server and the chef. When it slowed in the restaurant, and the server had assured those of us dining in were well taken care of, she proceeded outside to usher more customers in. But when one of her patrons left she immediately came back to bus their table and handle the used dishes that were left behind. Similarly, as soon as a new guest would enter, she would follow them in. Then ensuring that they were greeted appropriately and welcomed thoroughly. And when all the above was comfortably achieved she would begin primping each setting. Checking that all the containers were filled, and that all the jars were full, essentially finding work to keep herself busy. She almost seemed relieved when someone came in or someone left. Something to do to keep the day rolling I guess. 10 hour days, doing the same repetitive action are norms here. The chef would keep him self busy in a similar fashion. Preparing noodles and washing dishes, anything to prep and keep his hands moving. All the while two hardly spoke. Only to call and confirm the understanding of orders going into and coming out of the kitchen. A very different retail environment than in Canada for sure.

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 am not particular about my ramen, I don’t know enough about it to be. But what I do know is, I liked what I had, and would not hesitating coming back here for more. Though realistically from store to store, the ramen I saw through windows and the bowls of ramen that were printed on menus looked fairly consistent. But the great thing about such places is that it is not out of the norm to eat alone. It was nice to be able to enjoy a space, with the company of others, and yet not feel the need to make small talk with them. You come in to simply enjoy the food and the space. Don’t deny your cravings.

Renfrew Cafe

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This cafe is fairly new to the Hasting-Sunrise area. They deal in handmade pies and specialty coffees, a first for the neighbourhood. Who doesn’t love a good pie? The idea of warm ingredients wrapped lovingly in a flaky blanket is most appealing, and here the pies come in both in the savoury and sweet varieties. So you can have pie for dinner and another for dessert.

The cafe’s exterior isn’t very exciting, its orange awning sign is bright enough and the red stools along the front are bold enough to catch in the corner of your eye, but as a whole it is nothing to have you taking a second look or stopping your car by. And then there was the name, I wished they choose a moniker that better represented their cafe. Something more unique to reflected the specialities that lay inside. Something that would create a buzz in the online community; that would stay planted in minds and ever flowing out of mouths. Reading the sign I would assume they were just another coffee and tea shoppe with mediocre day old pastries at the ready. A cafe more of the sake of having one in the area, instead of the gem that they are. “Pocket pies” would have been my first choice for them. It is not only reflective of their offerings, but rolls off the tongue with alliteration. Anything but the generic “Renfrew Cafe” that only speaks to a their location, on a street that runs far.

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As mentioned we almost missed it in this slower neighbourhood. Though parking was as easy as pulling up to the curb. Walking in, despite two of their six tables being seated it was just as slow inside as it was on the other side of the door. Given the quite of the room and the pace of the area I found it the perfect location for studying students and chatty neighbours to congregate at. Exactly who was in today. The wordless melodies playing in the background set an easy breezy tone. Its peacefulness ensured that those working could do so with some quiet, and those wishing to chat could do so without much interference. This perfectly matched the demeanour of the staff/owners. A family run operation with a man and woman at the helm today. Both were soft spoken and gentle in their nature and actions. Communication was left at a minimum, you were allowed to enjoy the space at your own pace. The young man directed the cash desk, connecting with patrons and making suggestions when asked. The woman ran the kitchen with her apron over her head.

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The decor was simple, they seemed to be going for a minimalist approach with industrial features. It was simple wood tables on a matte wood floor. Most interesting was the use of lengths of red yarn. They hung off the ceiling, and wrapped around the beams that supported the lights. The lights, a single bulb suspended by a cord. I am sure the installation had a greater significance other than just decoration. I just don’t understand art. Also worth mentioning is their collection of children’s story books and box of old toys. Its purpose was to keep children busy, and its presence lead me to believe this was also a good, or one day would become a popular destination for families and mothers, or even nannies lunching together to meet up in the neighbourhood.

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The extent of the menu was showcased on a sheet of chalkboard paper adhered behind the counter. Printed in coloured chalk were their available savoury pies in detail and the going cost of their dessert pies. The dessert ones were pre-made and stored behind a glass showcase at room temperature. They were heated and plated as needed. Given the time it took, I believe the savoury ones were made ahead of time too. However these were not on display, instead they were brought out as ordered, and plated with a side of coleslaw.

Already seeing the sweet ones behind the glass I knew what was to come. Each pie came on its own plate, differing between sweet and savoury. Though it was easy enough to tell one from the other. The savoury ones each seemed to smile with a couple of eyes and a crescent mouth, slits made in the dough to let steam out. The sweet ones came without faces, but were dusted in sugars or powders instead. Sadly the pies were not what either of us expected them to be, not what we thought of when we heard the word “pie”. We expected a filled circular pastry. These were half circles, a round sheet of dough folded in half sealing all the ingredients within. We both wanted full pies with 360 degree crusts, not these pockets folded in half. It’s like those who prefer their pizza in a round versus those who like them as a calzone. Though putting looks aside these were some tasty snacks.

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The ham and cheese pie was made with 100% natural local ham, mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce, and organic pineapple. Speaking of pizza pockets, this was like a Hawaiian one, though instead of chewy dough they used a buttery, flaky pastry crust; making it the adult version of a Hawaiian pizza pocket. The ingredients tasted fresh, the seasonings were layered with flavour, and you just didn’t feel guilty about inhaling one.

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The mushroom and spinach pie was their vegetarian option; made with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, mozzarella cheese and homemade tomato sauce. Agreeably this was not as preferred as the classic ham and cheese above. The earthy quality of the mushrooms was dominating, and when partnered with the spinach it was a soft rubbery texture paired with a wilted one. The pie crust was the only equalizer and there just wasn’t enough of it. I think their third option, the kimchi beef would have been great and made for a one of a kind flavour combination. Sadly we did not try it.

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When asked, the classic apple pie made with stewed Granny Smith apples, was recommended to me as the most popular of their choices. Upon first bite I could see why. It used the same crust as the savoury pies, but fared better as a vessel for sweeter ingredients. The apple flavour was a great improvement on the ready to go apple snack pies from McDonalds, with larger chunks of tart apple and fresher grounds of cinnamon. It was a strong flavour that my guest actually found too tart. I on the other hand liked the sharpness and the apple, and enjoyed the chunks that still had so crispness to them. The larger pieces of non mushed up apple slices were enjoyable, but I would have liked them cut up a touch smaller, in easy to bite chunks and more to go around per inch of pastry. And although I realize they use the same dough base for their dessert and savoury pies, it would have been nice to add some cinnamon and sugar to the pie dough too, and if not maybe as a generous glaze on top?

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The “Matcha mochi anko” pie was truly something something special. This was the first time I have seen the use if mocchi in a pie. Who knew it would taste so good and work so well as a filling? Its chewy texture was an opposite of the flaky crust, therefore making it and its red bean companion stand out all the more. Though red bean, green tea, and mocchi are a winning combination in their own right. Overall it wasn’t too sweet, and naturally would be good with a cup of tea. I just wished there was a stronger green tea presence. And like with the apple pie, I wished for some of the matcha powder in the actual pie pastry. It would have been a nice twist, giving the exterior a nice green tone too.

I have great respect with such start ups like this, a one of a kind shoppe with a great idea. If their business ever expands, I would like to see more offerings at the ready. A line of folded pastries in salty and sweet, with international flavours and vast seasoning offerings. As one who admittedly eats with her eyes I would also like to see each pie stand out more visually. Each with its own marker or embellishment, something to have the food photographers swarm and their business thrive. A stamp of a banana for their “moca banana pie” and the crust dyed blue for their blueberry. More than just the awkward smiles that each of their savoury pies dawned. Anyone can make a pie, but what will have “Renfrew Cafe” standing out is the risks they take and twists they make. What more interesting ingredient pairs can the come up with? What else can they offer to shock the food world. Hamburger pie? Poutine pie? Cheesecake pie? The possibilities and creations are endless. I can see them going far with their concept.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I liked everything but wouldn’t necessary make a trip out to this part of town just for a pie pocket. It was good, but the savoury flavours were nothing new, nothing unique that would have me craving them again. And the three other dinner and dessert pies not tried would also not be enough to compel a return visit. However I wouldn’t miss having one at my own connivence. If I passed by the cafe I would not hesitate to step in. Or better yet, if they were offered off a food truck downtown I would grab several. Don’t deny your cravings.

RENFREW CAFE
826 Renfrew Street, Vancouver BC, V5K4B6
604-563-8523
renfrewcafe.ca
Renfrew Café on Urbanspoon

Kare Raisu (カレーライス)

This is Japanese style curry with rice. If you hear curry and you think nostril singing heat and fragrant spices, you are thinking of Indian style curry. Japanese curry is different. Introduced from Indian, but adopted and adapted as their own. So widely is it consumed that some would argue that it is one of Japan’s national dishes. A wide variety of vegetables and meats are used to make Japanese curry. Though the basic ingredients are onions, carrots, and potatoes. For the meat: beef, pork, and chicken are the most popular. Below I will be writing about Katsu-karēc a breaded deep-fried pork cutlet served with curry sauce.

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Nakau, Shinjuku

Like most of their guests, I slowly wandered in. Using the coloured photos outside to help ensure my decision of stopping here for lunch. This was the first time I would be using one of the ordering machines on my own. With a little English included I was able to get as far choosing to dine in over dining out. Where I got stumped was during payment. The machine did not take 10000 bills, the equivalent of a $100 Canadian. Luckily a fellow diner saw my distress and helped me hail a server to guide me through my first solo machine ordering experience.

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I prefer human interaction during this process. The use of machines removed the personal element, but was probably very useful during busier times. It freed up a server to deliver orders and bus tables. With the machine you push buttons, make your selection, feed it a bill, then receive your change and a ticket. After you clam in your seat, the server comes to claim a portion of said ticket. This confirms your order and payment, its wording is then broadcasted to the kitchen through a quick shout, and concludes with them beginning to prepare your meal. The above process is as quick as the arrival of your food. At such places speeds is key. You have limited time, you want a quick and hot meal and cannot afford to wait, as seen by the fury in which patrons devour their meals. They were shovelling it in, and here I was taking my time, writing, enjoying, actually chewing.

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I choose a seat at the bar, closest to the door. It seemed like the place to be for those, like myself, who were here on their own. Although group style seating was available for multiples. I appreciate the fact that eating alone is common place and expected at certain places. Where in North America majority of dining out is reserved for an event and with others.

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Each station comes with the necessary assortment of eating implements, and any seasonings one may need. Though this was the first I have seen a help button. A red push was all that was needed to hail for help.

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Trying to hit up all the major Japanese cuisine types I choose the Curry chicken tonkatsu don. Crossing curry and katsu off my list. Though they serve a lot of the other major cuisine types too: udon, katsudon, and the sukiyaki-style beef bowl; all with a wide variety of sides. The curry was a sweet sauce coating carrots, lotus root, potato, and finely shredded chicken. Flavourful as is with just the rice. But as I mentioned above I wanted the most out of this experience and added on a piece of breaded pork. A popular pairing, but one that was not necessary. They were each great on their own, and could each be an entree. The pork was tender and its flavour paired well with the sweeten curry. I did appreciate it for its texture, giving crunch to an otherwise soft dish. Moistened semi sticky rice, smooth curry sauce, melted root vegetable, and starchy lotus root. The plate, also came with Japanese pickles, which seem to be a very common thing on most plates. With the option to scoop more on from a self serve jar at each eating station. Though the former was brown, the later the more common pink. I guess it was a good way to break up the taste and to change things up. But it over powered and really didn’t compliment my meal well. Towards the end I wished for more rice, this was a lot of curry and there was too much flavour, if possible. Or I just needed a better rice to curry ratio. I ended up fishing out ingredients, saturated heavy in curry sauce. Though the chilled cups of green tea and cold water provided did help with the above. I was left satisfied and very full with all the starches I ingested.

The washroom was a cramped space. A unisex stall that allowed one patron to relieve themselves while those just wanting to wash up, could in the sink situated outside. It was a larger more convenient sink with hand soap available.

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 nothing really special about this one. Just a convenient meal at a more than convenient price. Everything on the machine was under 1000 yen, with one of the least inexpensive being 300yen. About $10 and $3 Canadian respectively. Don’t deny your cravings.

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar Burnaby

I am always apprehensive about entering a restaurant an hour to closing time. My concern is that if you attempt to dine at a restaurant moments before last call you won’t get the service and quality you expect. With the clock ticking down, the staff are tired and attempts are made to clean up early to be able to head home early. And if I am paying for a steak I want to be able to sit and enjoy it to its full capacity.

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After an appointment ran long we were under the gun to find a place still open and willing to seat us late Tuesday night. We both craved a good steak and we both agreed that “The Keg” is a decent place to get one any time of day. We called ahead and the lady at the other end confirmed that the doors would be locked at 11:30pm, but they would remain open to allow us to finish our meal. We arrived at 11pm and left an hour later. Our stay was inviting and we were not treated any differently despite the time, the dimming of the lights, and the exiting of kitchen staff.

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We sat ourselves in the lounge with the rest of the dwindling customers. We spotted the largest booth, highlighted by a single spot light, and bee lined towards it for the best seat in the house. It needed a good wipe down first. We waited and showed ourselves to its cushiony seat before it even dried. Time was of the essence at this point.

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Our server was still chipper given the time. Something we thanked her profusely for, to which she made us blush by admitting she enjoyed our patronage as pleasant customers. When I asked for her recommendation in drinks she immediately pulled out her favourite. A blackberry martini first introduced last year, that is no longer on the menu. It was a thoughtful recommendation, one that she herself loves and recommends when given the chance. Her description of it being unreal was no exaggeration. As was her, “it is everything I wanted that I didn’t know what I wanted”. It was just the right balance between being sweet with that tell tale vodka kick. Sadly with the kitchen closed and the liquor cut off we could only have the one. Until next time I guess.

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I was not shy to request for and use my hands to break into the square of complimentary bread. A loaf of crusty and chewy warm goodness. Served with a generous side of real butter. It was a good start and one that built my hunger up for the entree to come.

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When at “The Keg” it’s almost obligatory to order steak. And when ordering you are giving a plethora of cuts, seasonings, and preparations. For those who are unfamiliar, you are given a choice of how thoroughly your meat will be cooked. A guide on each menu makes this process even easier. Each cut is available in a range from well to rare. Except for their baseball sirloin which is so thick that they can only prepare it on the rarer side. However I am one of those diners who believe it is medium to rare or not even at all. I went with the menu’s suggestion and ordered their “Top sirloin”, considered their most flavourful steak. This was also the only cut with size options. I went for the largest at 12oz over the 6oz or 8oz. The steak was a leaner cut with a nice rub. It was prepared the perfect pink, with a nice char. Tender and juicy, I have no complaints. I came in and got just what I wanted.

Each steak also comes with your choice of sides. The usual suspects were available: mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, twice baked potatoes, fries, mixed vegetables, and rice. We both had the garlic mashed potatoes made with red potatoes and their skins. The garlic was definitely the feature flavour. I like the skins mixed in as they give an other wise whipped smooth bite some interesting texture, but I know it is not for everyone.

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I ordered an additional side of vegetables and was disappointed. Our server warned me that my entree would come with a few string beans, but I wanted more. I figured a side of vegetables would have more panache than a few strung beans. The latter turned out to be better than the beans present in the vegetable mix. They could have at least been served seasoned and cooked crisp. Instead what I got was a sad looking plate of limp and bland vegetables. It was not what I had expected and I was sad to have to pay extra for it. Though given the time was not about to bring it to anyone’s attention. Ar least their colouring was still bright and they still had their intended healthy taste.

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My guest ambitiously ordered her usual cut, the “Rib steak”, a hearty bone-in rib steak served with sautéed field mushrooms. It was a whopping 20oz and it delivered in look and in taste. This was a much fattier cut than mine above. The pockets of fat made the meat surrounding them even more tender. Though not many folks can get past the texture of gristle. And like my steak it too came with perfect scorch marks from a grill and a smokiness for its charring. Needless to say she packed more than half of it to go.

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.
“The Keg” is a staple so I foresee a return in my future. Its a chain where you can get a good steak at a good price. There are no other steak house in the area, and not many restaurants nearby offering steak as good. Don’t deny your cravings.

THE KEG
4510 Still Creek Avenue, Burnaby BC, V5C0B5
604-294-4626
kegsteakhouse.com
The Keg Steakhouse + Bar on Urbanspoon

Yakitori (やきとり)

Yakitori, is best referred to as chicken grilled and served on sticks. A popular type of food to accompany drinking and dining with friends. The word has grown to include anything grilled and pierced with a skewer; which includes vegetables, as well as other types of meat and seafood.

Toritetsu, Nanako

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This would be another authentic Japanese dinner thanks to friends living in the city of Nanako. This restaurant was in a tower on the third floor, one of those places you need to know where you going, to know to look up.

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On this cold night, the warmth of the place was inviting. The humidifier sounded, the smell of cigarette smoke filled your nostrils, and the laughter of the room set the tone. As in most places, the employees welcome you in with a roar. We were directed to a room divided by a permeable bamboo drape. It housed two tables of four. The wooden divide created space, despite the table’s close proximity and encased room. Each table was set with all that you would need: ash trays, tooth picks, soy sauce, napkins, salt, Japanese all spice, and a small slender vase to store all your used skewers in.

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We watched the employees, indicated by their shirts with the restaurant’s name stencilled on their backs, scurry back and forth. They looked frantic from our view of the kitchen. It explained why it was so hard to get a hold of one each time we needed another beer. We began our meal, like most with a hot towel. This seems a commonplace practice for sit down restaurants, serving dishes that would required you to use your hands to eat. Tonight I found these hot towels a blessing to hold with cold hands.

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We left the ordering to our host’s discretion, as such, I cannot be sure of all that we had and their proper names. What is listed by my best guess from taste and appearance.

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A bamboo woven dish of warm tofu was served as a complimentary start. There wasn’t much flavour, it was just regular tofu. I assume this is the equivalent of Canadian bread and butter to start?

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Boiled Quail’s egg. Each egg is boiled in shell, in a seasoned sauce to obtain its brown hue and salty flavour.

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Creamy avocado. Ripen avocado dressed in a sweet brown sauce and sweet Japanese mayo. It was soft like pudding and easy to eat, but every bite felt like it was missing something. A base, a crunch, something to actually smear the avocado on.

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Raw chicken on salt block. This was a new one for me. I didn’t even know you could eat chicken raw. What about salmonella? If you can get past the look of its gummy texture, the texture is tolerable. The meat is unseasoned, you rub each piece on the block of salt that it is displayed on before bringing it to your mouth.

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For additional seasoning horseradish, yuzu pepper, and daikon slivers are available. I chose the least raw looking slice out of the two varieties, and could only finish it. It was a mental thing. 

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Yakitori platter, in no particular order: peppers, mushroom, various dark chicken meat, chicken parts mashed into a hamburger-like consistency, chicken stomach, liver, chicken skin, and a fatty piece of cartilage. You basically choose a stick and commit to eating all that is on it. We played it safe with the meaty portions and left the organs and the unknown to our host. Smokey, with a nice char flavoured, but not very filling.

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The steak is served rare and was still a little bloody. The decorative greens at the bottom helped to soak some of the red up. It looked better and tasted better than its texture. It was a vert chewy and fatty piece of beef.

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Chicken cooked on a cast iron hot plate. Served with lettuce leaves and soy and chilli sauce for dipping. The presentation was impressive as it continued to sizzle our table. The pieces of chicken were tender and the portions that got additional time to cook were extra crispy.

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Four types of wings, served i four portions of three. Each plate was seasoned thoroughly in Japanese all spice and barbecue flavourings. The first bite was best, as you broke through crispy skin and had clear juices running down your chin. Inside it appeared that each wing was stuffed. Our host explained that they remove the meat, mash it into a paste with green onion, and then stuff everything back in for these thick looking wings.

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Deep fried soft shell crab. In my opinion, this was the best dish of the night. A great finger food, enjoyed with chopsticks. Some thing you can easily pop into your mouth between conversations. Each little crab was crispy like a chip and tasted like shrimp. When we were done, what was left was a bowl of lost limbs, legs fallen off from fragile bodies.

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And as is the case with many tapas/izakayas, a type of Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany drinks; the washrooms were well equipped for your after meal needs. They went all out with oil blotting sheets, gauze sheets, cotton swabs, tooth picks, and individual pots of mouth wash.

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.
I liked the setting, this is definitely a great place to unwind at after work. But as is the case with most of these authentic establishments, if you are not a local, it is hard to enjoy without a guide hosting. Aa you can see some of what we had was pretty out there for Canadian standards, and most were things we wouldn’t even think of trying, let alone actual order. Don’t deny your cravings.

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