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Month: April 2015 Page 1 of 3

Shaolin Noodle House

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When you are sick, but still want to go out to eat, what cuisine do you choose? Noodles at a Chinese restaurant are my usual go-to. Though sadly, this time it just didn’t cut it. Maybe it was my sickly taste buds, or maybe it was that we choose the wrong dishes, but this meal was a disappointment given the restaurant’s reputation. However all its good works and its accolades that I knew of were from what I have read at the restaurant. Praise from the advertisements outside and honour from the articles they themselves posted up inside.

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The restaurant is your standard Chinese set up. The decor is more practical than decorative, and ambience is of little consequence. The room is a sea of brown and white. Brown painted door and window frames, brown in the wall trim, and brown tables and chairs. There is plenty of seating across tables in rounds, squares, and as booths. Serval Chinese artifacts for luck and prosperity graced the room. Red and gold signs hung upside down, a few detailed wood carvings shone with light, and a ancestor statue smoking jovially painted in gold. As for the walls photocopied flyers and hand written signs on neon poster board littered them. They advertised specials and recommend what to have in Chinese characters, though I never find such signs helpful. Normally the Chinese speaking crowd knows what to get and disregards their presence. It is the not native clientele the signs need to be catered to, yet they are unable to read them. A few posters did go the extra mile and had colour photos along with descriptions. These did help us make a choice in ordering, as the menu offers little detail and no imagery.

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Of note was the booth by the front door. An enclosed and visible portion of the kitchen allowed diners to watch as chefs skillfully prepare the noodles served. A point that has this restaurant standing out, and giving it its claim to fame. Here they prepare their own homemade noodles by hand. Dragging noodles, pushing noodles, round noodles, and cutting noodles. The menu had little drawings explaining how each was done through picture. The dragging process involved whipping dough through the air and allowing the motion to drag out the strands. The pushing process used a rolling pin and a floured surface to roll out the noodles to the desired shape and size. The round noodles were made using a specially designed contraption, and the cutting noodles done by taking knife to dough and cutting it right into boiling water. In theory all the types of noodles tasted the same, it was the texture that changed by what was selected. It is also the first step in choosing your desired noodle dish. What noodles would you like? Then picking the type of meat and/or vegetables you want in a sauce that is either wet or dry. When choosing wet your noodles come stewed, in a soupy broth.

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We began our meal with their “Xiao long bao”, steak buns appetizers. Eight meat stuffed buns in a bamboo steamer. The presentation was certainly exciting, served in the enclosed steamer that they were cooked in. When time to serve, our server brought it over and removed the steamer’s lid before our eyes. We watched the steam rise from the container and the sweat bead from its sides. From its deflated look you could tell there was not enough soup in the middle of each bun. A sad point as their claim to fame is the soup pooled in each. The ability to bite in and have that burst of liquid spill forth was missing. At least the meat was well seasoned, though I was weary by its pink colour. Although being reminded that the filling was beef, I was able to continuing eating without incident. This, with all its shortcomings was sadly still the second best item of the night.

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The simple “Sliced roll fried” was the best dish of the night. A sad thought considering it was just deep fried bread dipped into condense milk. There is never enough condense milk provided, and without it the bread just doesn’t have much taste. The bread’s crisp outer coating and the segmented centre were nice texturally though.

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“Dan-Dan noodles” in a spicy peanut sauce with minced pork and vegetable. The scissors provided were a great asset in cutting the noodles down to size and doling out portions between my guest and I. They were not kidding about the spiciness in this one. The heat of the noodle over shadowed the crisp bean sprouts and the rich peanut flavour. Not being able to tolerate spicy food, my mouth was on fire. However I kept eating, as this was the tastier of the two noodle dishes. The bread above did help to cool things down in between bites though. I don’t think I would have liked it any more if it wasn’t as spicy. Unsatisfying.

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We made the mistake of having both our dishes prepared with the dragging noodles. A mistake that cost us the ability to try two different types of noodles. The portion before did not have it listed and we did not think to ask. “Dragging noodles with beef and bean sprouts in soup. I was hoping this would be similar to the Taiwanese style beef noodle soup. Instead it was extremely bland with a watery broth. Though at least the sheets of beef provided were very tender. In hind sight we should have finished this dish first, before moving to the one above, however the beef noodle came to the table last.

The staff were pretty hands off. The only conversation we had was initiated by us. We were asking to change our noodle type once we learned both dishes would be served with the dragging noodles, the answer was no. Other than that, there were no check ins and no refilling of drinks. When needed we helped ourselves to clean bowls and additional napkins from the already set tables nearby. It was much easier than trying to track our server down to make our request. Besides, they never seem too happy to accommodate such asks anyways. So we were not surprised when the server appeared, and without a word interrupted our conversation. She slid a tray with the bill right between us and then simply walked away. No explanation that they would be closing at 10pm and the time was now 9:45pm. No reassurance that we could take our time because we were still eating. The whole scene was just rude. The bill was faced up and left as my guest was lifting a dumpling to her lips.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I was not impressed by the lack of hospitality. Considering that they have other handmade noodle shops nearby to compete with it, it would be nice to feel as if our patronage was appreciated. I left like a hassle to them and what’s worse the food couldn’t make up for it. I wasn’t expecting much for the average prices, but certainly not to have the cheapest and most simple of the four dishes be the best. Don’t deny your cravings.

SHAOLIN
656 West Broadway, Vancouver BC, V5Z1G1
604-873-1816
shalinnoodlehouse.com
Shaolin Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Mannie Casse-Croûte

IMG_2893IMG_2911It is day six and I am finally having poutine. It seems blasphemous to have held off for so long, especially in the birth place of poutine. The place where fries, cheese, and gravy were combined for the very first time. Apparently there is a feud between two families claiming its creation.

Today we were visiting the neighbourhood diner where poutine, among other items were offered. The term for such a place is translated to “breaking crust”, or a place to dine and break bread at. Such places usually start off as an old house or office that has been converted to a restaurant. There are a bunch of these little shacks around town, this just happened to be the closest to my partner’s childhood home, only a block away. Driving up to it, I wasn’t able to tell it was a restaurant. I guess those in the neighbourhood just knew. It was a large building painted green, it looked like a barn with a laundry mat at the back. It was the ideal set up wheee those doing their whites and darks could wait with a hot coffee and a warm snack. The diner was owned and operated by two women. When we drove up to the building they were taking a smoke break outside. They entered before we did to continue their conversation behind the counter. They both worked out of the opening kitchen.

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Given the look of the room it was definitely refurbished from a old home. Counter tops across their stainless steel kitchen and an average size seating area. The booths were some of the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in. Hard and stiff they were early not designed for extended stays. Though they and the rest of the dining room was very well maintained. The paint on walls were crisp, the furnishings were new, and the room as a whole was well organized. Not a lot of clutter aging the space. A few IKEA style, restaurant themed paintings hung on the walls, a white and black board showcased specials by the kitchen and each setting was set with a white and blue paper placemat welcoming diners.

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The menu was pretty standard to everything else I have seen or had: sandwiches, poutines, burgers, and fries. There was also a steak entree available, but we discussed the risk in ordering it and hoping for quality at a place like this. This was your mother’s kitchen, the cooking was self taught, and the food homemade. It’s done with love, but not with the quality that you expected for what you had to pay for.

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I couldn’t believe it possible, but the common fast food fare offered almost everywhere else, just got faster here. With a few spins of the microwave I was cautious of our meal to come. They used it two times after we placed our order. Given the low traffic it is easy to assume that the food would not be made from scratch, but instead assembled to order. There would be no prep done, just things made to keep with the possibility of reheating. Though given the prices expected, I was a little surprised. A fairly large order of poutine for $7 and a sandwich for $5.50. Those aren’t too far from prices asked for at fast food restaurants like “Subway”, but there the chain is able to guarantee things will be always fresh and made your way. Either way in was walking in knowing what to expect. I was able to accurately judge this book by its cover so ate preparedly. With lowered expectations I, for the most part, enjoyed what I had. And good thing too, as one of the owners came around to ask what we thought of the food. When my partner said, “good” she said, “thank you”. She had clearly taken it personally. I would hate to see what the conclusion would be if we said only “okay”.

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Their medium poutine was our large in Vancouver. The sticks of potato were deep fried to a crisp, leaving a few plated with a darker hue. They were a nice mixed texture of chewy and crunchy. Good on its own, but a second fiddle to the cheese. They did not skimp on the squeaky cheese, with kitchens producing their own batches daily, and bags offered at every shop, there was no reason to have to. The cheese was not only sprinkled on top, but was added to the middle of the French fry mound as well. Enough cheese to finish all the fries with. Enough gravy to flavour each fry without drowning it. The perfect ratio of the three. There were even dry fries at the bottom of the plate that weren’t soggy. A very important point as poutine is best with crisp fries, squeaky cheese, and luscious gravy.

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My partner ordered the “Italian sandwich” to my dismay. At a place like this you stick to the basics. What I would imagine would be a sandwich filled with meatballs, mozzarella, and marinara; was a salami sub with pickle slices, tomato wedges, leafy lettuce, melted mozzarella, green peppers, and diced onions. It was a salty mix, made tolerable when I removed the two slices of salami. It wasn’t anything special. Just crispy bread and regular ingredients. There wasn’t even a lot of any one thing. To not waste it I finished half, mostly enjoying the bread. Though it find use for the sandwich as a break in between bites of heavy poutine.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The shop is best as an easy stop to grab a bag of fries at. Sold in brown paper bags, by how many it will feed, they were convenient diner for young teens and busy families. I would not dare to try anything else, but can definitely recommend the poutine. Poutine does not get anymore authentic then at a place like this. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANNIE
253 rue 4e, Thetford Mines QC, G6G5A3
418-338-0222
Mannie Casse-croûte on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo Roma

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This week’s date night brought us to “Roma”. It wasn’t planned, but we were glad to have stumble upon this gem. With a “hangry” (when hunger makes you angry) partner and the inability to find our intended location, a chance visit turned into a delicious dinner.

However judging the restaurant by its plain exterior and limited menu I wasn’t expecting too much. Like the music, the vibe of the place was very mellow. Slow beats and a calm pace, with soft spoken staff to match. Though with their white cloth napkins and their heavy set cutlery it did give the restaurant an air of formality.

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Originally a few of the staff were not too keen on us claiming a four top table for two right before their dinner rush. Though they soon relented when my partner mentioned wanting to be close to me, and we agreed to move so should the restaurant get busy, and the extra seating was needed. Though we eat quick and it never came to that. We sat with a view of the kitchen before us. Each time the oven door open so did my mouth. Pizza after pizza rounded with a thick bubbly crust. I was similarly impressed by the sight of the chefs picking basil leaves of stems. I knew what we would be getting.

We were seated just in time for the afternoon special. Any pizza and beer for $17, though it required us ordering it in the next two minutes. And given that we were in chartered waters, neither having had heard of the place prior to, we agreed to stick to the basics. Besides the deal was only best when choosing an more elaborate pizza. Like the priciest: the “diavola” with sausage, tomato, chili, green olives, oregano, and provolone. This would have given you the most bang for your buck. Whereas with what we wanted, ordering the basic pizza with a pint of beer separately would have cost us less than the combo special.

As I mentioned earlier, the regular menu was limited, however it was quite adventurous with its use of unsure ingredients. Octopus sausage, smoked salmon, mascarpone, and cured pork belly on pasta. And the option to add egg, peppadew peppers or anchovy on top of any pizza. There were also lots of vegetarian and gluten free options to accommodates those with dietary preferences and requirements. And if you come with a group of four or more there is a family style sharing menu available at $35 per person.

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Once again, we went with the simplest options, classic Italian flavours prepared fresh and light. The “Spaghetti carbonara” had a rich sauce over its dense pasta. The sauce had a tinge of spice, that went well over the chewy noodle. The only thing missing was a side of garlic bread, something to sop up extra sauce and to break up the flavour now an again.

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All pizzas are made from scratch. After you order, the dough is shaped and the pie is topped accordingly.bWe had the “Margherita pizza” made with fior di latte mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. The crust had a nice crisp texture with a woodsy char. The cheese was stringy, lengths were pulled from slice to mouth. The sauce was a luscious tomato, more paste than sauce. It had a similar taste to the pasta, both must have used similar spices.

I was impressed by our intuitive server, she instinctively offered us a take out box and the dessert menu. Even though unannounced to her, we already had our heart set on the dessert special of the day. Though the coconut panna cotta and the dark chocolate brownie with cherries were tempting.

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The dessert special of the day was a “cherry vanilla soft serve ice cream”. Its presentation was not the least bit expected, but it was one that I found novel. A very cozy look, reminiscent of childhood. Paper cups and wooden scoops. The taste of wood with my smooth ice cream was a fond childhood memory for me. I made for the perfect to go cup. The ice cream itself was made in house, and it tasted like a fresh batch. It was easy to scoop and even easier to go down. Like a subdued cherry cheese cake, not quite vanilla and not quite cherry.

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.
Looking around and eavesdropping, this seemed like the neighbourhood’s favourite place to go. We over heard conversations and repeat customers raving over the food. A few many more came through the revolving doors for take out. The service was standard, the setting was comfortable, and the food good enough for a return trip. I wouldn’t mind having more of what we had today or something more adventurous. Don’t deny your cravings.

ROMA
2297 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5L1V2
604-569-0456
campagnoloroma.com
Campagnolo Roma on Urbanspoon

L’Gros Luxe

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“The very fancy” is located in the “English part” of Montreal, I was finally about to be included in a dinner. This week has felt so long, not being able to communicate with anyone other than my partner. I was dependant on him and required him to speak on my behalf. So when I saw that the menus had some English on it and majority of the staff and patrons spoke both languages, I was thrilled. I would be able to choose what I ate and order for myself.

The restaurant was large, good thing as there were plenty of people looking to dine here tonight. Inside was surprisingly loud. The thud of the base kept the beat and tempo of the conversations uplifting. A ongoing roar of chatter and the clacking of tongues. Shouting to be heard was a norm and a requirement if you wanted to be heard. The lighting was set dim for ambience, it matched well the antique feel of the place.

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The smaller room that we were situated in created some intimacy, allowing for a quieter setting. It was papered in a black and white pattern. A collection of flora and cherubs, animals in play, birds in flight, and ladies lounging in leisure. Over this detailed wallpaper hung pictures and antiques that matched its time period. Coloured drawings of Victorian women, a wooden and brass clock that chimed, and a cast iron chandelier that centred it all. The table our group of eight was seated around was worn and heavy in wood. It added character and matched well the upholstered couch half of us sat on. In contrast was the flat screen television broadcasting the habs versus the red wings game, and the security camera in the corner.

The menu was modern casual. Soups, and salads mingled with share plates, and hand held entrees. Everything that would compliment a glass of foamy beer. Good thing too as many beers were needed to cool down. The server recommended their tacos in either pork, fish, or tofu; and said that their house poutine with tater tots and green onions was good. However most of us were sold on their burger special.

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The burger special was not listed on the menu. At $10 it was only $1 more than the mushroom burger, and came with so much more. Between its toasted buns were three onion rings, enoki mushrooms, arugula, tomato, mozzarella, fried onions, and a pickle; over an all beef patty. I got it with a side of fries instead of soup. It was too hot for soup, and beer doesn’t go well with a creamy soup. The tomato was refreshing and the arugula a nice change of pace instead of lettuce. I liked the enoki mushrooms as the wild card the best. I liked their stringy texture and found them enjoying to eat. The burger as a whole was heavy, a two handed job that became messy with the juice of a moist patty. One of the guests found the burger too sweet from the BBQ sauce. And none of us three that ordered it finished it.

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“Fried pickles served with sriracha mayo”. Their heavily herbed breading took this classic to a next level. You didn’t really need the mayo for dipping as the pickle was already so tasty, but it did make a good creamy addition to its crunchy and crisp texture. Spicy and tangy, juicy and warm; not for those who don’t like the sour tang of a hot pickle.

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The “Flatbread pizza” with caramelized onions, grape tomatoes, basil, pesto, goat cheese, wild arugula, and a balsamic glaze was my favourite taste of the night. Served on naan bread it was light while being full of depth. It had layers of ingredients and layers of flavours that all complimented one another. They didn’t miss anything. Sweet from the balsamic glaze, salty from the goat cheese, refreshing from the tomato, and peppery from the arugula.

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“Fish N’ Chip Poutine” made with beer battered cod, fries, cheese curds, and gravy. A classic poutine with the addition of fried fish. As a whole it was too heavy, and seasoned with too much salt. The fish was flaky and served crisp, but without a side of tartar sauce to cut through the frying most was left uneaten.

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The “Beef burger” was your standard burger made with a homemade patty, aioli, tomato, lettuce, and pickle on a toasted bun. With an option to add cheese, bacon, pulled pork, mushroom, fried egg, cheese, Brie, and even a second patty; you can make this your own. The single beef patty was the highlight, and as a whole the burger was pretty uninspiring compared to the other dishes.

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The “Pulled pork sandwich” had an interesting twist. Made with BBQ pulled pork, roasted squash, pickled vegetables, and arugula on a ciabatta bun. Served with fries or a salad, with the option to upgrade to a poutine, soup, or onion rings. My partner got the latter, you can’t turn down a good onion ring and these were good. The sandwich was on the drier side. There was not enough sauce, a heavier coating of BBQ over the pork, or maybe some honey could have helped. Even a dish of generic gravy on the side would have been an improvement. The pickled vegetables were a similar mix to coleslaw, but without the creamy mayo. It offered a nice crunch, but only dried up the sandwich even more. The squash was the interesting twist and a great addition. Good in the sandwich, but better on its own. It was sweetened with honey or maple syrup and melted in your mouth. I could eat a portion as a side. This was the healthiest tasting of all that was ordered.

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Poutine grilled cheese made with thick cut fries, cheese curds, a three cheese mix, and veggie gravy; all packed in between two pieces of sourdough bread. If the above was the healthiest, this was the greasiest. This order too could have its side customized, but one of our guests went with the standard French fry side. Which in my opinion was overkill, fries in your sandwich, with an additional side of more fries? I personally would have looked for a tomato based soup. The sandwich itself was decadent, with the first bite being the best. Satisfying with gooey cheese, and crisp fries. I recommend this for the cheese lovers out there who are not afraid of getting a little extra grease on their fingers.

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.
This was the restaurant most like something I would visit in Vancouver. I would be surprised to spot something similar in Gastown. A unique decor with a casual dining menu, a modern theme with delicious dishes. I can see this doing well back home, especially with their custom cocktails and decked out Caesars. Caesars topped with mini burgers, sandwiches, spring rolls, and onion rings. Don’t deny your cravings.

L’Gros Luxe
3807 St-Andre, Montreal Quebec, H2L3V9
514-447-2227
lgrosluxe.com
L'Gros Luxe on Urbanspoon

Bread Papa’s cream puffs

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I remembered long ago when this franchise first opened in Vancouver. Cream puffs soon became all the trend. Now generations of trendy desserts later I am finally trying their home made cream puffs. Though given their size and weight they were more cream balls than puffs.

Their trademark yellow was eye catching. The colour draped their awning and was represented in their small shop. Their mascot too wore the same sunshine yellow. He, an elderly gentleman with a broad smile and white beard dressed in yellow waiters. I believe his beard and his age was what their dessert shoppe was named after. Though I found the connection a reach.

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On the door was a listing of the cream puff flavours in stock today. Vanilla, Green tea, and Caramel. A different day, a different flavour on rotation. Though given the presence of vanilla and green tea every day I suspect these were their core offerings and their best sellers. Strawberry, chocolate, and mango were also on rotation. Though I wished they offered more than just three flavours at a time, had they, I would have gotten one of each today. Diners like me want variety and want to try all the flavours of something they liked. Though having them on rotation means repeat visits throughout the week. I would still like to see more flavours in general and maybe even a flavour of the month. Perhaps something timely, something tethered to the season. The options for fillings are endless after all. Any fruit, sweets, or nut flavours could and would work. Given the beginning of spring and the cherry blossoms being in bloom, a cherry blossom cream flavoured puff would have been fun. It certainly would have gotten more bodies through the door. Though as a franchise it might be difficult to launch and to keep consistent across their many stalls.

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To my surprise they didn’t only offer cream puffs, but a few other French desserts as well. Cream filled eclairs, eclairs topped with chocolate and almond slivers, and something new called a “Paris Brest”. A “Paris–Brest” is a French dessert, made with choux pastry and a praline flavoured cream, shaped like a donut, but crispy instead of spongy. Essentially anything made with baked dough and in need of their cream injector. They also did rifts on their cream puffs. Mini puffs to be take in one bite and cookie puffs that had a crunchy topping.

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This was a one person job. The lone employee working was mid prep when I came in. She was not only responsible for making the cream puffs from scratch, but was to serve customers and filled them as needed too. Each puff starts out empty and is filled according to order. An injection to its core then a dusting of powdered sugar. These bad boys were the size of a smaller fist. They were filled with so much cream that eating them was a challenge. 70% luscious cream to 30% soft airy dough. Most of the cream trickled out the sides, but it was too good to leave behind, so I ended up licking the excesses off my fingers. The actual puff by comparison lacked freshness. It was soft and chewy but just didn’t have the same oomph to compete with its filling. Maybe if kept at a chilled temperature instead of at room, this would have improved its texture.

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Vanilla cream puff dusted in icing sugar.

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Green tea cream puff, topped with with matcha powder to match.

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.
Cream puffs make a good light snack and a less decadent dessert. They travel real well and don’t require utensils to enjoy. And being lightly sweetened means that those who don’t like too much sugar in their dessert can enjoy it for its taste and texture. After all men and woman alike were in purchasing puffs today. Don’t deny your cravings.

BEARD PAPA
548 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6B1A6
604-568-0058
beardpapascanada.com
Beard Papa's on Urbanspoon

Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie

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We were in Montreal for the day, visiting my partner’s sister with his family. She lives in the south side of Montreal, in an area known as Plateau Mont-Royal. Truthfully it is an older and less glamorous part of town. Walking around, there wasn’t much to see in terms of boutique shopping or finer dining restaurants. The blocks were punctuated with weather worn double story housing and colourful street art representing pop culture. On busier corners were churches with high steeps and parks when leaf barren trees. The rain and the cold of the season didn’t make for a visually appealing tour of the city. I was quickly learning that the age of the city was accurately reflected in its appearance. Most of the buildings were older than 100 years. And the residents have been walking these streets for double that time.

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The age of it all and the wear and year also also transitioned to the restaurant that we would be lunching at today. After multiple walks around the blocks we settled here. Opened since 1957 it looked and smelled like it; historic, like everything else. The staff seemed to have aged with the place and were just as weary. Or maybe we were getting subpar service because we were tourists. Our grumpy server greeted another table with so much enthusiasm that it appeared she favoured them.

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Like everywhere else we have been thus far, this restaurant too served classic North American comfort food: burgers, fries, pizza, and pasta. With Quebec classics like Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, of course.

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Poutine, the basic: fries, gravy, and cheese. Traditionally it only comes one way, although there are 20 different options available here. A way to give their patrons options and to keep things interesting. But we got the basic, because there is only one way to make poutine, and you don’t mess with a good thing. But sadly they did not represent well with this “famous” version. The fries were soggy from the start, the gravy one dimensional. The cheese was more like mozzarella, sad given the abundance of cheese curds round.

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Their all dressed pizza is what we refer to as the deluxe. Green peppers, pepperoni, and mushrooms, all on the Quebec style thick and bubbly bread-like crust. The pizza was salty and bland. The sauce needed more herbs and the ingredients didn’t add anything to the mix. The crust, which normally is the best part, wasn’t that warm spongy kind of bread that went well with a smearing of butter. However we still ate it with butter.

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Between 11am to 9pm certain dishes included coffee, soup and a dessert. What we though was great combo was a disappointment. The soup was a tomato vegetable with orzo rice. It was watery and simple. It reminded me of the soup our elementary school use to make during thanksgiving, a basic water broth with boiled vegetables. As a silver lining I found the noodles tender and enjoyable to eat, and the vegetables just melted in your mouth. The salted soda crackers were a nice touch, but the bowl didn’t need any more salt, so they were left untouched.

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I kept in the Quebec tradition and ordered a hot chicken sandwich. Two slices of white bread filled with large cuts of chicken breast. The chicken was dry, but the heavy dousing of gravy not only made the bread soggy, but helped to moisten the chicken as well. The peas were a nice touch in taste and texture. They burst like little bombs and offered a fresh component, but sadly there were not enough of them to go around. Served with a side of fries and coleslaw this was a large order. The fries were nothing special, and the coleslaw served as no more than an easy palate cleanser. Not to waste food, I just finished the chicken and peas.

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My partner ordered the baked lasagna with melted cheese. It was regular at best. Soggy noodles and a very peppery sauce. The two slices of garlic bread included was the best part.

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Dessert was either rice pudding or jello, a fact we were told after our entrees. We chose one of each, but were not excited about either. You can’t screw up jello, or so we thought. The strawberry jello was stiff, if possible. It could have use a little cream for interest and moisture. The rice pudding was like eating cooked rice with the texture of oatmeal. The cinnamon helped but not by much, it added to the dessert feel, but also made it closer to breakfast. In short is not my sort of texture, but my partner’s dad loves the stuff and was happy to have what I didn’t want.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The menu is so big that it is impossible to have everything good, or in our case anything good. They can’t afford to specialize with over 60 items offered. I can only imagine how their Chinese interpretations would be? The menu advertised a smoked meat fried rice and Chinese spaghetti with beef and vegetables. Given what we had, I imagine this horrible. Overall the food below average, nothing worth remembering. Everyone left disappointed for the price we had to pay. I was especially disappointed considering it was all basics and all what other diners and cafés offered. Maybe pass this one, but don’t deny your cravings.

FAMEUX
4500, rue Saint-Denis, coin Mont Royal Quebec
514-845-8732
Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie on Urbanspoon

Trattoria Italian Kitchen

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I have never been here during the day. So have never been able to make out the details of this well dressed dining room. Dinner service has the lights down low, the tables packed, and the whole experience a blog. However being here for lunch this afternoon, meant we were treated to a more enjoyable ambience.

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Now with natural light streaming in from the large windows I was able to appreciate the details. The woven wicker of the chairs, the etching on the marble-like tables, the dimples in the faux leather booths, and the animal hides stretch across couches. The restaurant certainly owned its name and exuded an Italian spirit.

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With the modern interpretation of Botticelli paintings and the style of seating partnered with the red and white checkered napkins, my guest commented that we could easily be in Italy. With an education and passion heavily tethered in art she was able to identify that it was “Michaleango’s David” and the “Birth of Venus” that hug on the wall across from one another. Each image as a whole was separated into four individual rounds that hug inches from the next. It was definitely a dynamic showing.

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We started with the “Bruschetta sampler trio” imagining that it would be a couple pieces of bread topped accordingly. Instead we were treated to a loaf fit for an entree, apposed to the appetizer it was classified as. Three flavours featured across four pieces each: Tomato and basil, wild mushroom, and cannellini bean, chickpeas and lemon. Together each topping of the flatbread covered numerous flavour profiles. It was all so good that I would come back just for this.

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The Mint and chickpea hummus topped with toasted chickpeas was my favourite. The spread was heavy and filling. It was thick and only the tiniest bit grainy. A sandiness you easily get over because of the great depth of flavour and the crispy fried peas that rolled off.

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The tomato and basil with olive oil was a classic. The tomatoes were fresh, making each bite juicy with a hint of sweetness. It was a good contrast the garlicky bread it sat on. As the lightest of the three flavours, it made for a good break in between the two, making its position in the middle sensible.

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The wild mushroom, eggplant, pesto sauce, cannellini bean, red onion, and padano cheese mix was easily the most elevated. The cold mushroom slices with their rubbery texture and earthy nature was a nice pairing to the herbaceous pesto. They ran parallel with the the other heavier vegetables and beans. I advise eating this one first as the oil from the pesto quickly gets absorbed by the bread, making it soggy.

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The ravioli of the day was listed at market price, today it came to a little over $19. Stuffed with spinach, artichoke, and fennel; and coated in a pesto cream sauce with an accent of roasted cherry tomatoes. It sounded light and as a vegetarian option you expected it to be. However it was not the case. The chewy pockets of dough were filled with a smooth filling whipped luscious. The cherry tomatoes offered tang and a burst of juice and the pint nuts offered some much need crunch to an otherwise mushy plate. Together with the pesto sauce it had a deep flavour with multiple layers. Herbs and oil with loads of garlicky goodness. However each el dente square was overpowering. It was heavy and hard to eat from the first bite. The sauce heavily coated each in such a rich coating that you almost wanted to wash each piece of pasta off before you took another bite. We ended up taking the lot of it home to temper with a 1/2 a cup of cooked and unseasoned pasta. As leftovers the pesto thickened into chunks and the oil pooled. It is not an exaggeration to say that the ravioli swam in it and my apartment smelled of oil for a day.

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I stuck with gnocchi, my favourite pasta, and something I often order as I cannot make it as good in my own kitchen. The potato gnocchi was prepared in a tomato cream sauce with vodka, roasted garlic, and fennel sausage. The flavour was surprisingly similar to that of curry, they must use similar spices in their mix. The sausage was spicy with a crumbly texture. A contrast from the soggy and wilted greens I painstaking set to pull out strand after strand. The fresher sprigs on top weren’t as bad, their zest offered another layer of peppery spice. This dish was almost as rich as the ravioli before it, and this too could have used more pasta to water down the strength of the cream sauce.

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 pasta wasn’t all that good, but our server, who turned out to be the general manager, was. She was bright and cherry, she knew when to turn on the charm and when to dial up the wit; she checked in often and made us feel like the only customers in tonight, and not just because we were for the first half of our stay. She turned an okay meal to an amazing lunch. I would definitely return for more appetizers and the possibility to explore the dessert menu when not as stuffed. Carbs are even more filling when paired with such decadent and large portions. Don’t deny your cravings.

TRATTORIA
1850 W 4th Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J1M3
604-732-1441
glowbalgroup.com/trattoria
Trattoria Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sugar Shack

The Maple Syrup Harvest

My interpretation of the maple syrup harvest was drilling into trees and allowing its sweet, thick maple goodness to seep out. I believed that I could just put my lips to any maple trunk and suck hard enough to siphon out syrup. So when I saw the tapping of my first tree and tasted what came out I was curious to learn how maple syrup is actually made. And lucky me, typically the harvest is between March and April so we were in time for the season.

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Frenchy’s family owns two maple trees on their property. Two trees that required many years to grow to this size. Today the weather was nice enough and the trees large enough that his father began the harvesting process. He tapped the tree to find the ideal point to puncture. A handheld drill broke through the tree’s bark and a “tap” was inserted in this gap. Typically the tap is a specially created metal piece, but as you can see a finger’s length of plastic tubing works just as well. Gravity helps you gather the sap towards the bottom of the tree and the tube directs it all into your bucket hanging below. This clear liquid dripping drop after drop is essentially sweetened water. Tasting it, there isn’t much to it, as this is just the first step to achieving actual maple syrup. The sap will eventually be boiled down to evaporate its water content, and what is left is the sugar we know as maple syrup. This whole bucket full of sap will only result in a tablespoon’s worth of actual maple syrup. A lengthly and worth while process we would get to see at an actual sugar shack.

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Frenchy’s father brought us to his friend’s property. He is one of many farmers privately harvesting maple syrup. Their finished products get sold to a federation of producers and distributed to various brands of maple syrup to use as their own. His property is located in the Quebec country side. Where large acres of farm land are still frozen and large sheets of snow still blanketed the ground. It was a bumpy ride over cracked pavement that eventually turned into muddy roads. Luckily we came in a pickup and ATV. The latter with its loose suspension allowed us to enjoy the scenic view whist crusting at a top speed of 100kmh.

The weather is still brisk so the proper outerwear is required. I was dressed to the nines of warmth with a set of down over alls and matching jacket. It is as heavy as it looks and as awkward as you imagine it to be because of the bulk. Proper boots are waterproof and fleeced lined, making them ideal for both snow and mud. And as we were traveling by ATV, and as it is required by law, a helmet finished off my outdoorsy look. I was ready for the cold and the dirt that country life would throw at me.

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Driving out I realized that every realistic painting depicting Quebec in winter was true. White as far as the eye can see, punctuated with mountain tops and slender pole-like trees. Dirt roads, and still clearings, and every now and again a wood cabin. After a rough and messy ride we found ourselves at this privately own sugar shack for an exclusive showing of how their day to day operations during maple syrup season. We were going to get a guided tour that not many could enjoy.

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Our tour began the pumping station. A separate shack where all the sap from all the maple trees converge. The farmer own over 3000 maple trees just on this property. He had another piece of land with even more trees a little further out. Each tree is connected with blue tubing. A maze of trees and plastic often indicates the presence of a sugar shack nearby. The tubes are how the sap travels. A vacuum system sucks the sap to this shack. This is the modern maple tapping system. Gone are the single taps on a single trees and the individual buckets under them. Although traditional and great for show, it isn’t the most economical way to harvest sap. Therefore you may still see buckets and taps present at sugar shacks for aesthetics.

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The pumping station is centred around this blue machine. It has seven cords vacuuming sap from over thousands of maple trees. Each cord takes in sap from 250 trees at a time. The liquid pools from section to section and eventually gets dumped into the large tub below. Once enough sap gathers at the bottom of the tub it is then suctioned to the main sugar shack, where it gets filtered for the first time. The pumping machine requires a daily cleaning as sap has sugar, and when sugar crystallizes it can jam up the machinery. Despite the process being automated it still requires overseeing. To ensure all the mechanics are in working order and the flow is being maintain, a farmer can spend up to 14-16 hours a day tending to his maple syrup production. Therefore during the few months of the maple syrup harvest a farmer is here everyday. A small price to pay for a pretty decent reward.

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The sugar shack was what I imagined it to be, a cozy cabin in the woods. In the beginning it was probably someone’s summer home, a comfy place to bring the kids to, to enjoy fresh air at and have the ability to stretch their legs within. A home passed down from generation to generation, surviving all the elements Mother Nature threw at it. You could definitely tell the age of the place. This wasn’t the Ritz. A row of rocking chairs by the vats and a separate warm room upfront spoke of the time dedicated to the place, comfortable seating and a warm kitchen to cook out of were necessities. I immediately noticed a few hallmarks of Canadian life present: snowshoes, shovels, and logs for burning in real fires. It was everything I envision a cabin out in the Canadian woods would be.

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In the same room was also where the rest of the equipment needed to finish the maple syrup process was. Now that the fresh sap has been pumped to the main sugar shack it passes a filtering system before pooling into a second vat. Here the liquid drips through a semi permeable bag. Any loose debris is captured in this cloth and the sap is what gathers at the bottom. Not that the sap was very dirty to begin with. I have drank sap straight from a tree and it is as refreshing as water and as sweet tomatoes. From here the filtered sap is pumped into a separator where majority of the water content is removed. This process leaves the sap 30% sweeter. This sweeter and now smaller pool of liquid is then funnelled into a boiler. A multi walled maze that heats the sap. The water travels weaving around heated barriers, getting hotter and hotter. More than half of the syrup’s water content evaporates on its journey through.

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After, it flows slowly through a channel connecting the boiler with a final vat. The goal here is to achieve a 66% syrup consistency. A process that starts with 3 gallons of sap now ends here with a single gallon of maple syrup. We were privileged enough to get a taste of the sap through each of the above processes. How it gets sweeter and thicker, until it is fit to be called maple syrup. Having tried the real deal maple syrup straight from the farm, I can now see why my partner puts such a large emphasis on real maple syrup. Why he only wants real maple syrup from Quebec. It just tastes better. The depth of flavour is one you can’t find in ordinary grocery stores and one you can’t buy from Aunt Jemima. Yes it costs more but the price is certainly worth it. You are definitely getting what you paid for here.

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Although the conclusion of maple syrup is official, its story does not end here. At this point the syrup is so thick and so sticky that in order to bottle it, it needs to be pressed in. This device does just that. Though unfortunately without any syrup ready for this stage we were just walked through the process and told to use our imagination.

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This has been quite the experience, one that I don’t think most people get to enjoy, nor is it one I will get to duplicate. I come out of this with a new found appreciation for maple syrup producers. The time it takes to perfect the batch and the difference time and quality adds to the taste. Go buy real maple syrup! Make sure its says made in Quebec!

Earls Kitchen + Bar

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I have written about this one before so won’t be going into details on the decor. Nothing has changed since my last visit several months ago. Located in Burnaby you get that Friday night, busy casual chain feel without having to trek all the way downtown. The choice between lounging and dining room was broken down to noise level. We choose the later to be able to converse in the quieter section. Here the large space had some unique features. It was a dim setting with some choice lighting, and a wall of wine to anchor it all together.

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We shared the appetizer sized “Margherita pizza” with fresh mozzarella and house tomato sauce. It was pretty standard at best, not enough pop to it. Nothing to have us ordering it again. I felt there was a lack of seasonings that could have been rectify with the use of additional fresh herbs. Though this pizza is meant to be on their lighter side. And despite its look, the crust could have been crispier.

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“Chicken, Brie + fig sandwich” with toasted apples, spinach, and garlic aioli on fresh ciabatta bun. Chicken and fruit is a winning combination when you are looking for salty and sweet in your meal. The fig compote and the cinnamon apple slices really made this one unique. Its flavour with the herbed chicken just sang. Though it was also the reason why the sandwich was soggy upon arrival, and was what made it hard to eat as a hand held. The piece of bread where the fig was spread on, broke apart after my first bite. The sandwich fell into pieces and I was left with messy fingers, finishing the rest with knife and fork. The filling was on point but the vessel used to sandwich it all was a poor choice. It would have been better a deconstructed plate. A build it yourself bite with crackers and crostini or even over flat bread with a sprinkling of crushed pecans.
The sandwich gave me a choice of sides from salad to truffle fries or yam fries. The yam fries were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. The luscious garlic dipping sauce it came with was the best part. I am not a huge fan of fries but they made me want to eat more.

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Their “Fettuccini Alfredo” is my partner’s favourite pasta sauce, prepared in a classic cream sauce with grana padano Parmesan. He added chicken at a cost, choosing it over the possibility of prawn. This dish was previously on the menu as a penne Alfredo, swimming in the exact same sauce. When they discontinued it he mourned. But now it’s back as fettuccine and he claimed that it tasted just as good. His trick handling long strands of noodles is to haphazardly cut into each every which way. What is left is smaller segments of noodles easy to puncture with fork. The end result remind me of the noodles from a package of lipton’s sidekicks, instant pasta sides. The sauce started off very watery, with the flavour all there; but soon it congealed and thicken around each noodle, and as a result,
tasted even better. Overall the dish looked very plain with its white on white in white, however where it lacked in colour it definitely made up for it in flavour. The chicken was prepared tender, and shards of hard cheese that laid on top offered a pop of sharp salt.

Good thing my partner wasn’t able to wear the checkered shirt he intended to. A stain prevented him from adhering to the blue and white checkered dress shirt and jeans look worn by all the male servers.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As an easy dinner solution I would be back again. Not my first choice for restaurant or for casual chains, but not something I need to avoid. Don’t deny your cravings.

EARLS
3850 Lougheed Hwy, Burnaby BC
604-205-5025
earls.ca
Earls Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Le Rougue Poisson

IMG_2616 IMG_2615 My partner insisted that I try the sushi available in his home town of Thetford Mines. One of the only two places in town to get sushi at, not including the fast food kind at I.G.A. He was convinced it was good because his cousin recommended it, and has given it her highest endorsement. I raised my eyebrow in response and skepticism. I had to remind him that there are no Japanese residents in this town, no one travelled to Japan to learn the art of sushi crafting to bring their talents back here. That what the people living here described as good is only good them. Good because they haven’t had any better. Good because it is made to their taste. I continued to remind him of all the sushi options we have in Vancouver. How seafood is available fresh to us. How there is at least one small shop offering rolls around every corner. And how Vancouver is more multicultural and there for the quality of our sushi would be more on par with what is offered in Japan. And to conclude my argument, I recalled how we have just come back from Japan, less than two months ago. Japan, where sushi originated from and Japan, where I had the opportunity to try real authentic sushi. So needless to say I was wary of how good this “sushi” would be. I made my mind to go in not comparing it to anything. But instead to enjoy it as the gathering of ingredients that it was. The shop’s name was in French after all and their “red fish” was a clown fish with red and black stripes. They were definitely not going for authenticity so why should I expect it.  IMG_2618IMG_2619 The restaurant was a renovated house. You walk through two doors to enter the foyer. Double doors are common here, the extra barrier traps in hot air and keeps our cold. Plus it allows extra mats and carpet to catch the drips from slushy boots in winter. Given its older exterior and the overall look of the town I was surprised at how modern the interior or restaurant was. My partner spoke of how he went to school with the owner. A young man who left Theford to travel out West. There he learned of sushi and was able to bring back his learning in an interpretation that catered to his beloved community.  IMG_2617

We took our order to go, but I was able to enjoy the red, black, and green theme setting as we waited. Cushy chairs, chandeliers, and abstract art. It was a lot posher than I anticipated. It certainly earned the “lounge” in its title. I can definitely imagine something like this in Vancouver, though not serving sushi. The theme didn’t really match the cuisine. Maybe as a wine bar?

IMG_2632 Interestingly the rolls came in a cardboard box, the kind you would store cakes or pastries in. There was an attempt at displaying them in a decorative fashion, but overall it seemed clumsy in its packaging. They were true to tradition using sesame seeds, including soy sauce as a accompaniment, and providing chopsticks as the tools to eat them with. But that is were the similarities ended. There was no wasabi anywhere, there was no raw fish used, and there was no artistry in its composition. Overall the ingredients threw me off, but in a surprisingly good way. Once again, I opened my mind up to this, I didn’t not consider it sushi, but a new and convenient way to eat a rice dish. With a menu listed solely in French I relied on my partner to do the ordering. He choose a combo with three unique rolls. We got the chef special, the “celebrity”. A set that included 15 pieces of what they categorized as “Futomaki”. Given the actual definition of “Futomaki” this was a fitting title, minus the non traditional presence of seaweed on the inside. “Futomaki” are thick and large cylindrical pieces of sushi with nori on the outside. Typical five to six centimetres in diameter, they are often made with two, three, or more fillings that are chosen for their complementary tastes and colours.  IMG_2633IMG_2636 The first roll was the “Dragon”. In it had salmon, ginger, green onion, avocado, and tempura. Its deep fried coating naturally went well with the side of orange coloured mayo provided. Dipping fried and crispy foods into luscious cream is always a win. Think fish and chips with tartar sauce, and yam fries dipped into garlic aioli. Given an option I choose the sweet mayo over a spicy one. I was not surprised to see cooked salmon in its centre, as apposed to raw salmon. My partner and his father are not a fans of fish let alone raw fish. Eating meat raw is not common in a town like this, and the practice may even seem savage. The flakey, drier texture of the pink fish went well with the creamy ripened avocado chunks and the pickled tangy ginger slices. The same pickled ginger that is often used as a palette cleanser in between different pieces of sushi, was a star ingredient here. However, it tasted like it belong. IMG_2634IMG_2637 The “Kazam” roll had lobster, shrimp, apple, tempura, avocado, cucumber, and Sriracha and honey. The roll had visual interest, with the sprinkling of black sesame. It was filled with more cooked seafood, seasoned heavily with spices and dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Its spicier nature paired well with the cooling tartness of chopped up Granny Smith apple slivers. This roll went well dipped in both the creamy sweet mayo and the light soy sauce.  IMG_2635IMG_2638 The “Honeymoon” roll has salmon tartar, mango, honey, tempura, and cucumber. Dressed in regular golden sesame seeds this the most interesting roll. It was filled with a slushy mixture of salmon and fresh fruit that resembled the taste and texture of salsa. I wondered how it all held in place with its juiciness. The fried puffs of tempura added some much need crunch and an interesting textural component. The roll was surprisingly good when dipped into soy sauce. Like sprinkling salt on to fruits, the saltiness of the soy only made the filling taste sweeter. Their menu included many more interesting Japanese adaptations and sushi variations. The “strawberry” roll had shrimp, strawberry, cream cheese, tempura, and panko. The “sweet and salty” roll had smoked salmon, wonton, pear, avocado, and green onion; all coated in wafu sauce. The wonton and the wafu sauce definitely came from Chinese influences instead of Japanese. Similarly was the the”yin yang” roll made with shrimp, smoked salmon tartar, salsa, and tempura; coated in a sweet chilli sauce. You don’t often did chilli sauce in sushi, let alone it paired with salsa. The “Peddington” roll had salmon tartar, apple, mango, cream cheese, tempura, and coco nibs. Would chocolate in sushi make it a dessert roll? Maybe without the salmon it could be considered as such. And of outse they had to represent Quebec with a “seafood poutine”. It was prepared with fries, baby spinach, crab, green onion, lobster, and shrimp. The lot of it was coated in a sweet and spicy sauce instead of the traditional gravy. 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? – Yes. This is the Caucasian interpretation of sushi, specifically the French Canadian understanding of sushi. They took the principal of rolling ingredients between seaweed and rice, and used to the word “sushi” as more the technique applied and less the concept of fish on rice. I have had creative rolls in Vancouver, rolls created to meet the North American palette, but none that was this creative, none this good. A merger of ingredients I have never seen before or tasted until today that just went. Don’t deny your cravings.

LE ROUGE POISSON
236 Notre-Dame Est, Thetford Mines Quebec, G6G2S2
418-755-0886
rougepoisson.com
Le Rougue Poisson on Urbanspoon

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