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Month: December 2015 Page 1 of 2

Los Sombreros

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We decided to drive to Whistler in search of snow on this Christmas Day. It was a surprisingly smooth journey. A normal drive ascending to mountains topped with white snow and clear ice. Our journey was done on dry asphalt with every speck of snow plowed to either sides of the road. Although there weren’t any street lights, high beams and moon beams were more than enough to help visibility. The moon was out and full, it illuminated everything under its rays, reflecting off the untouched white mounds of fluffy snow. I don’t like seeing and having snow in Vancouver as it means snow tires, accidents, and the careless driving of others. But I can definitely see myself braving the commute to enjoy this scene before me again. Snow on my terms. Snow only when I want it.

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Within Whistler Village, the snow on the roads were less maintained. The white was compacted, but easy enough to drive over. It appeared to be kept for aesthetics, a way to maintain a seamless winter wonderland theme. After all, this is what the area and the city is known for. Ski slopes and snow board lifts, and visitors staying in wooden chateaus.

After we parked, we were surprised to see that pretty much everything was opened today, at 6pm on Christmas Day; including a furniture store. In general, there was a lot more people and things to do then when we last visited, during Halloween. The walkways were lined with coloured lights, festive music could be heard from inside the warm restaurants, and bundled up bodied were capturing it all in photos.

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With the right wardrobe the cold is only a pinch in the cheeks, but still brisk for those unfamiliar with it. So we ended our exploration by the centre of the village, where the commemorative Olympics rings sat. We knew we were going to be eating in Whistler, but didn’t think much would be opened besides KFC or MCD. So to our delight we had the choice of every restaurant and bar within the Olympic Village to choose from.

Understanding the irony in having Mexican for Christmas we still ended our travel at “Los Sombrero”; having visited the area recently and only just seeing this restaurant now.

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As with most of the other restaurants, peering in, it didn’t look all that busy. But the music paying and host that welcomed us, reassured the restaurant’s authenticity. They played festive and upbeat Spanish music with plenty of Pitbull sprinkled in. The music had the Mexican host and server singing along like they were all classic chart topping hits. However the gentleman that served us was a blonde Australian, which is a typical sight in Whistler. They travel to ski and work to stay. Despite the lackadaisical mood of Christmas evening, he was energetic and on the ball with his service. He was friendly and tried to engage us, even though we might not have reciprocated well. He checked in often and at any gesture was right by our table. I’d like to believe it was not just because we were the only one of four tables sat. Although he was a little eager in asking if we were done and wanting to bring the bill. Though after he deliver it, did encourage us to linger and maybe enjoy a sit on the recliners by the fire place.

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The restaurant wasn’t dressed for Christmas, but the fireplace in the corner and the snow on the other side of the windows was festive enough for me. Our seats even gave us an un obstructive view of the Olympic Rings, when kids weren’t climbing over it and couples were talking a selfie in front of it. Outside, the rest was a scene of illuminated bulbs, red bowed wreaths and the light of the full moon causing the snow to sparking and gleem.

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Inside was less ornate. Concrete floors paired with wooden furniture and leather couches in the corner. The ceiling was strung with bulbs that dripped, hanging loose from cords. They were the only source of lighting as the miniature iron lanterns at each table were left unlit. Just like the bronze hurricanes on the bar that were filled with rocks. I liked the teal blue and orange cooper coloured lamps hanging above the bar the most, but they didn’t really provide a very Mexican theme. The only Mexican artifacts that matched the menu were the colourful wool blankets prominently woven in fushia and navy. They hung folded on wooden crates suspended on the walls.

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The menu was a simple list of tacos, nachos, enchiladas, and all the typical accompanying dips. A printed page secured on a wooden board. For dessert there were sweet nachos and Churros available. With plenty of wine and beers, and Mexican margaritas. It was too cold for iced drinks, but some chilled coronas were perfect and just the right beverage for our meal ahead. Plus it warmed us inside out.

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Nachos are always safe bet, but I passed on the familiar for their “big nacho” instead. This wasn’t your regular several tortilla chips with cheese; but instead one deep fried handmade corn “gordita” filled with beans, garnished with lettuce, sour cream, feta cheese, and your choice of feature filling. A “gordita” is essentially a deep fried thick tortilla round. The flavours available to fill it included pork, chicken, and/or lots of cheese. We had the “tinga”, which was a filling of pulled chicken with spreadable beans and sour cream.

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The hard gordita shell was difficult to cut through with the butter knife provided. More so the bottom layer which only broke after a few repetitive saws back and forth. As a result, this dish didn’t stay as appetizing for long. The chicken was dry and the filling even drier with the mashed refried beans. Given its texture you could tell it was made ahead of time, heated and stuffed to fill. The easy solution to its lack of moisture and taste was some sauce or better yet salsa. Luckily my partner’s plate below, had plenty to spare and share.

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He had the “Enchiladas”. These three small corn tortillas were rolled with chicken then topped with a tomatillo-chipotle sauce, sour cream, and feta cheese. It was more tastier than the dish above, but could have done without the big chunks of onion hidden between meat and sauce; especially as my partner cannot take them and the menu didn’t mention them. Both dishes tasted similar, just differing in texture and sauce. And both became bland towards the end. Given this realization after my first bite of each, I should have gotten the pulled pork in the “big nacho” instead. They were good, but given the $10.99 price tag, you also expected more on the plate: a side of rice and beans, and maybe some sauce in a dish. But then again this was Whistler, a tourist destination, they could charge anything they wanted for food that you can’t find easily elsewhere in the city.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
There aren’t many options when in search of Mexican in Whistler, but I would pass on this one again. It was good, but I prefer the other one I have been too. Our plates lacked flavour and a memorable taste. Though the view is one of a kind. Where as can you drink coronas beside the Olympic Rings? Once again, I don’t like snow in our city, but wouldn’t mind driving up here to enjoy this scene more often. Luckily Whistler is only 1-2 hours away. Providing snow for Vancouverites, on our terms. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

LOS SOMBREROS
127-4338 Main Street, Whistler BC, V0N 1B4
604-962-4750
Los Sombreros Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Joey on Broadway

Arranging a Christmas party is a hard thing. Choosing the place to host everyone’s tastes is even harder. Where would you make your reservation knowing you have a large group to cater to? Knowing it is a large group with eclectic tastes to meet? Ironically none of us wanted to pick the place or had any suggestions to offer, but as soon as one was selected everyone was quick to ask why and complain how come.

I am not a fan of visiting such contemporary chains, but when trying to fulfill the above, such a location is often the best bet. And when choosing one for food, I prefer Joey’s menu to that of its competition: Cactus Club, Earls, or Milestones. I find their offerings more unique and more worth trying. Where as with the others I tend to gravitate towards the same things I always get.

I have written about this location before and it’s one that most have gone to before. But how often do you gather this large of a group and are able to capture this many plates at any one restaurant? I did not try them all, but can at least catalogue them all here.

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My vegetarian guest came in fretting about the inability to find something to suit her tastes, claiming to prefer the other chains as oppose to this one. However I was able to recommend my favourite dish to her approval: the “Sashimi tuna” salad. This bowl of greens came featuring seared red ahi tuna, mango, peanuts, avocado, and crispy noodles; all drizzled in a cilantro ginger dressing. It was a work of art. The red of the tuna and the green of the dressing and avocado, like petals and leaves of a flower in bloom. I am not a fan of salads, as I often dislike the texture of leafy greens, but I make the exception for this one. This is my favourite salad in the city.

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So seeing as my usual dish was taken, I got my “Ahi tuna” in their sandwich instead. This one is just as good, and even better if you are craving something more hearty and greasy. The burger features a grilled rare ahi tuna steak, crispy bacon, sweet pepper relish, and a battered onion ring. I wolfed this down. It had all the textures and all the flavours I was craving. A crunch from the bacon, crispness from the battered rings, moist tenderness from the fish, and even stickiness from the relish. For flavour it covered salty with the bacon, zesty from the onion, savoury from the fish; and sweet, spicy and tangy with the multi-leveled relish.

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The “Steak and sushi” combo was an interesting mix and order at a restaurant like this. I personally would never order sushi at a casual chain or a steak that was accompanied by it. But I understood their concept of “Japanese surf and turf tataki style” with a light searing on the fish.

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The turf was one of their “CAB prime” steaks prepared in a ponzu sauce, topped with sprouts, and served in a cast iron pan. Served together on a wooden board with the sushi it had a nice presentation.

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The turf was a “Rainbow roll”. This was sushi made with ahi tuna, salmon, crab, and avocado; then cut and drizzled in a sriracha aioli. The roll is also available by itself on the menu, along with other westernized sushi rolls.

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They had several steak options on the menu. Majority of them differed in sauce or seasoning, rather than cut. The “CAB® Prime Sirloin”, is considered to be the most flavourful of their cuts. As with all the other steak and protein dishes, this was served with sides, not mentioned on the menu. Today the seasonal vegetables was a mix of grilled cucumber, tomato, and red onions. Their mashed potatoes are iconically rolled and deep fried in a spring roll wrapper, then severed stacked one on top of another. You eat these potatoes with knife and fork. This was the highlight of the dish for me, an element that truly set the dish and the restaurant apart.

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The “Steak and mushroom jus” was a sirloin steak served with a side dish of mushroom gravy. The gravy was made from and had bits of shimeji and button mushrooms bobbing in it.”Shimeji” is a grouping of edible mushrooms clustered together in chunks. They are native to East Asia, but also found in northern Europe.

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“Hourly Roasted Rotisserie Chicken” was served with mashed potatoes, sun-dried tomato gravy, and a mix of vegetables. Basically the same sides as the steaks above but the addition of a sauce for dipping. The chicken had a wonderful golden brown colouring to it.

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“Herb Crust Salmon” was a grilled Skuna Bay salmon with beurre blanc. It too was to come with two of their crispy mashed potato spring rolls, but we got extra of today’s vegetables instead. A mix of grilled cucumber, tomato, and red onion.

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“Lobster & Prawn Ravioli” with grilled prawns and fresh dill in a lobster cream sauce. I like the dish, but never order it as I feel it would never be enough food. Four or five raviolis are not enough to quench my hunger.

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I think the guest who ordered it felt the same way, she also got a side order of garlic toast to have with the pasta. It was a “wedge” liked the menu promised.

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The “Spanish Paella” was a beautiful orange one pot dish made with lobster saffron broth, shrimp, smoked chorizo, chicken, and rice. I enjoyed its cast iron pan presentation here more than with the Japanese surf and turf.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Large groups with different tastes are hard to accommodate at many restaurants. It is hard to cater to everyone when they all their specific dietary restrictions or preferences. It crosses many cuisines off the list. No seafood? Vegan or vegetarian? Gluten free or nut free? Whereas large chain restaurants such as “Joey’s”, with their spacious dining rooms and extensive menus are often your best bet. They more likely able to make substitutions and have already thought of accommodating your large party and their specific needs. This would be why I would return to such a restaurant time and time again. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

JOEY’S
1424 West Broadway, Vancouver BC, V6H 1H4
604-732-5639
joeyrestaurants.com/Broadway
JOEY Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fatty Cow Seafood Hot Pot

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During this dinner I learned that is is sometimes better to not make a reservation or come in earlier for it. They opened at 5pm, we walked through at 5:45pm. We were directed to an awkward table arrangement: one chair sandwiching a four top with a booth against the wall. As it is my preferred form of seating, I asked for a booth on the opposite side of the room instead. However was inform that the booths were reserved for four people parties. Facing that direction I was able to monitor their status during my meal; and what I concluded was that the servers had fed us a lie. I watched a table of three get seated in one booth, as they were no other awkwardly arranged three person tables left, and just a couple of two got sat at the one beside it. All because they came in literally minutes after us. We actually made a reservation, they simply walked in.

The service after the initial interaction wasn’t much better either. Our tea and water cups were left unfilled, and we were never checked in on for any signs of satisfaction. When we did manage to attract their attention for a refill, only the person asking had their cup was replenished. You would think they would do everyone else’s instinctively? At least to save some time and their own trouble?

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And it only got worse and worse towards the end of the meal, when they prematurely bussed our table. My two guests were still eating, it’s all you can eat, they were doing the challenge justice. Taking their time, enjoying our stay. However the male server removes our sauces that were still in use. The sauces that basically gave everything it’s taste. The sauces that you only get one serving of and have to ration and share between your group members. We purposely scrounged what little we had to not have to pay $2-3 more for an additional serving. So naturally we were pretty devastated when we had it taken away in a huff. And when we I called it to his attention he literally rolled his eyes at us in judgment, almost to cut us off and say that we had enough. Where in reality we only ordered one round, we were no where near the maximum two hour stay, and I was the only one to tap out. No apology was given, I didn’t think he was even going to do anything about it, he was in such disbelief. Luckily one of the female servers overheard us and was quick to apologize on his behalf, simultaneously whacking the man on the arm for his careless mistake. He still didn’t seem to care much. She was the one to rushed a fresh full bowl of soya sauce back to us.

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Upon reflection the man above was no better in serving us either. His explanation of their hot pot process was confusing. He said we had the ability to select the quantity in what we ordered, but wouldn’t actually have our request honoured. He suggested that we just ticked what we wanted and they would tell us how much we could have. Basically bringing things out and disregarding the sheet that asks you how much you want of each item. As confusing as this sounded, and given how little we actually ended up finishing, the reasoning did make sense. Though I would have preferred that they communicate better instead. That they just read our selection and mention to us that we have ordered too much, and that they suggest less. Doing that instead of leaving us feeling like we are missing things when we got three pieces instead of the ten we distinctively wrote down in pencil.

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It’s $22 per person for all you can. A list of meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and noodles gives you over 70 raw items to boil up in your hot pot. You are required to pay for your soup base and have the option to add more extras in at an extra cost. It all seemed a little money hungry to me. You can’t have hot pot without the starting broth. And at $7.50, it seems steep for stock: meaty water that will be flavoured by the items we checked off and refilled with water when it boiled down. And the extras you had to pay for included some ingredients that were part of the all you can eat experience else where. And worst of all, as I mentioned earlier, additional sauces and a refill of what we were originally given came at an additional cost. The soy, garlic, and peanut sauce we didn’t have enough of and had to ration between three people. I wouldn’t be apposed to paying the fee, if I didn’t know other places offered sauces at no extra charge and allowed you to get as much or as little as you needed with no restrictions or hidden fees. These sauces were the only things really giving the food some seasoning, the broth cooked, but didn’t have enough in it to flavour.

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So we splurged on a 50 cents dish of minced garlic to rectify this. And as a result were able to stave off paying more for sauce. Sauce that other places offer as self serve, all you can have, on a bar cart. Upon seeing us scrape garlic into the broth, our server made an attempt to stop us in our “mistake”. I believe the intention was to have the garlic like a side, an additional sauce. But my Ukrainian guest loves her garlic and he couldn’t stop her quick enough.

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We also splurged by paying for two different flavours of broth. The Thai style “Tom yum Kong soup” and the “spare ribs broth”. There were four soups that came recommend with a thumbs up on the menu, and many more to choose from. Like a congee base, cilantro and preserved egg, peppercorn and pork stomach, and home style with a peanut sauce. Each cost the same $7.50. It was nice that both broths we ordered came with additional ingredients bobbling within its stock, though they were ingredients we could have ordered from the list of all we could eat anyways. In hind sight it didn’t makes much sense ordering two soup broths given that their flavouring doesn’t make much of a difference in the taste of each item boiled. Both the spicy and sour varieties of broth required flavour aides from the sauces. The two different soup bases get served in a split walled pot. This concept is great if you want to dine with someone who has dietary restrictions or doesn’t like to share their food or germs. Like someone who doesn’t eat seafood and therefore wants their own broth to fish from. But better yet just bring someone who eats meat and seafood, and doesn’t have any allergies. It is easier, as the service is communal and things do get mixed up.

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The meal began with us checking off our first and only round. You wait for the broth to boil before adding in ingredients, and again before fishing them out. I am not quite sure how they arranged raw ingredients to plate. But a few came on their own separate plastic dishes, and others as a piece on a platter. From left to right, top to bottom: beef cubes, fresh oyster, vermicelli knots, tofu puff, and fish tofu. With the dace fish paste you scooped lumps in and they boiled up like meat balls. The baby cuttlefish came with head and tentacle on a dish shared with shrimps. They too came with their heads and antennae still attached on shell. Though were not worth having and having to peel, it was just too much work. The squid tentacles had to be eaten in one mouthful, as they were too hard to chew through and to take in two parts. Beef omasum was its stomach. We just wanted enough to try, yet they choose this to give us more of. The enoki mushrooms cost us $3.80 a plate. They are delicious and part of the all you can eat menu at other places.

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All the vegetables came together: tomato, daikon, lotus root, bean curd stick, winter melon, and pumpkin. The bean vermicelli was separate.

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Each of the meat option came thinly sliced, in it’s own dish, stacked one on top of another. My only concern was for hygiene, an interest in how clean the bottom of each plate was. But I guess any bacteria would be cooked in the boiling soup. Beef ribeye, beef sirloin, pork jowl, lamb slices, and fatty pork slices.

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We ran out of room on our table so were set up with a side table to have the rest of our dishes sit on. All the balls came together: beef, pork, cuttlefish, squid, and fish. They looked smaller, half the size of ones at other places. The marinated beef was in sloppy chunks on its own plate.

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The wonton, shui-Kau, and chive dumplings were on the same platter. “Wontons” are most commonly filled with ground pork and shrimp with a small amount of flour added as a binder. Sui Kau” is a dumpling filled with pork, shrimps and bamboo shoots wrapped in a pastry. And the chive dumplings included a mix of beef and pork. The plate also had on it mussels, corn cob segments, chikuwa; and more fish tofu, more tofu puffs, and more vermicelli knots. “Chikuwa” is fish paste formed into cylinders and left hollow in the middle. They looked like giant beads to be treaded and had a gummy texture that was enjoyable to chew through. The chicken slices, squid hanamaki, and basa fillet came all together in chunks on a plate.

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We poured ingredients into broth at our discretion, cooking what we wanted, when and how much of it we wanted. One of the perks of having hot pot, is the control. Once cooked through we then, each used our own netted scoop to fish out what we wanted. Once again at our discretion, taking only what wanted and how much we wanted of it. When the liquid boiled down too low they simply added more water and you were able to continue. Like us, most people eat so much that they are left being too full to enjoy the broth. The soup is a mix of all that they had before, a rich stew of amalgamated flavours to sip on. I wonder if anyone has ever asked to take the leftover broth home? Cause technically you should be able to, you paid $7.50 for it and they will only pour it down the drain anyways.

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During our stay I pitied my guest who was forced to claim the single chair on the non-booth side of the table. And more to see his attempt at avoiding the smoke from the boiling pot that fumed around him. It was a struggle he lost as he had his glasses steam up and the action of it feel like steam during a facial. But to prevent the fumes from penetrating his clothes and jacket too much a seat cover was placed over his chair and his jacket draped over it. This chair hood was to prevent the smell of all the cooking from absorbing into his and other’s clothes. It was a nice gesture, but he wished they would have asked his permission before doing it. They were abrupt and without warning, a pull at his back, and a surprising un-consented touch.

Like the clearing of the sauces, we once again felt like the staff prematurely cut us off. Ending our night early by bringing over desserts and the bill before we were all done. It felt like they were stopping a drunk after too many at a bar. She brought over a complimentary desert for each of us, with the bill; and without asking, she shut off our burner while she was at it. Then she and her colleagues began bussing the table around us, while we timidly nibble. Still clearly seen bringing food to mouth, and with back hunched, lurching over our bowls.

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The square block of coconut pudding for dessert was at least refreshing. It was a nice, light way to end a heavy meal.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Colder weather brings about a craving for warmer food, and there is nothing more warming than sharing a hot pot with a friend or two. I just don’t recommend coming here for it. The food was only okay, made worse by the poor service and the lies we were told. Though it was the lack of sauces that took away from the experience and is the reason that I will not be coming back. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

FATTY COW
5108 Victoria Drive, Vancouver BC, V5P 3V2
604-568-6630
Fatty Cow Seafood Hot Pot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beta5

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This is me finally venturing to the middle of nowhere to try the highly acclaimed treats of “Beta 5”. They are known for their cream puffs and chocolate, but these aren’t your ordinary pastry filled with cream or chocolate filled with nuts. They provided award winning sweets and gourmet pastry worthy of any occasion.

The shop was one of many in a warehouse. A door in an peachy orange building. It had its own allocated parking stalls, but the shop was busy and these were often full. Their patrons resorted to parking in neighbour’s spots or illegally to the side. They would be quick anyways. The store is just a table with chocolate bars, a shelf with chocolate bags, and a counter with chocolate boxes. You put your order in with one of two clerks and off you go.

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On the table were evenly stacked chocolate bars. Wrap chocolate made with pop rocks, 46% milk chocolate, 66% dark chocolate, and cocoa nibs. I liked the precision in the descriptions that was listed on the covering of each bar. It included the percentage of chocolate used to help to distinguish the flavours. You can either purchase them one bar at a time, or stock up with a pack of 12.

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I am not a big fan of chocolate, but was tempted by their “queen of hearts bar”. It is freeze dried raspberries and candied earl grey tea in 35% white chocolate. It was pretty in pink with a unique look. Like the other bars, it is a slim rectangle made from a geometric mould. They called this their “polygon bars”, its unique design was inspired by the mountains they see from their workshop in Vancouver. This flavour was a great alternative to chocolate, more like candy in colour and flavour. This is definitely the kind of chocolate bar to nibble on and savour, instead of eating in one sitting. This wasn’t a nestle crunch or kit kat. This was gourmet, it was one of a kind, and it was delicious.

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Against the wall was a very empty rack of chocolates in bags they called “pebbles”. “Pebbles” were a collection of chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, “combining the finest nuts and dried fruits with their house milk and dark chocolates”. The list of flavours included sun-dried Okanagan cherries, hazelnut praline, caramelized pistachios, and almonds in their their signature 66% dark or 46% milk chocolate mix.

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At the counter they kept their boxes of chocolate. There was an open box of each to show what you were getting under the simplified white paper wrap with neat black print. Each of the polygon bars, their salted caramels, and of signature chocolate boxes. The latter even included a fold out guide describing each flavour.

Their fall chocolate collection was cleverly titled “hibernation preparation” it included flavours like pear gingerbread, salted milk chocolate, roasted beet and ginger, porcini mushroom, sage, and spiced pumpkin. They were all dusted in the colours of fallen leaves: green to reds, orange, yellow, and then brown.

Though the “Holiday 2015 Chocolate Collection: Precious Metals” was definitely the highlighted set. It featured “rich textures, luxurious finishes, and a collection of flavours that celebrate the season”. These flavours included their “award-winning Sparkling Praline, Carrot Cake, and Absinthe, along with Apple Crumble, Peppermint Tea, and Egg Nog”. A few of them shone with a glossy polished finish. The precious metals collection was also available in a box of six with only one of each flavour.

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I was tempted by both line ups, but decided if I was only going to get one box at $30 each, it should be their “Award-Winning Signature Chocolates”. This should be my first taste of their chocolates. It’s lineup included Fisherman’s Friend, the Whole Cherry, Bay Leaf, Tropical Crunch and Imperial Stout. And some of their house favourites like Jasmine Tea and Caramelized Banana. 12 flavours in total, best consumed 2 weeks of purchase. I appreciated the variety and the ability to try all these unique flavours in one box. Also, seeing them behind the glass shield at the counter, I liked all the colours this box came with more, and I often order based on beauty than would be taste.

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Opening the box was like ripping wrapping from a gift. It felt so fragile and special with layers of folded tissue and a detailed menu. Looking at the bold colours and lustrous tones then trying them, seemed worth the steep price you had to pay. The set even came with extra chocolate in the from of a plate speckled with nibs, all the bons bons sat on; hidden at the bottom of the box. What a great bonus surprise. They looked too pretty to eat, but after excessive photo taking, I nibbled on the corner of each. I did so to taste and to write, but also because I love saving the best for last, so had to try them all to find out which order I would consume them in.

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In the order they appeared in the box:

The awarding winning “imperial stout” had a filling made by blending “Green Flash Brewing Co’s” double stout with their 45% milk chocolate. It’s whimsical blue gradient shell wasn’t very telling of the bitter ganache that hid inside. I would pair this with beer, obviously a darker stout.
The “earl grey” gave you that premium Russian earl grey tea flavour upon the first bite. This chocolate was kept on the bitter side with the tea and use of 67% dark chocolate. The shell’s milky strokes were more reflective of tea than the above to beer. Best taken with a milky earl grey brew.

The “tropical crunch” delivered in name and flavour. A light frosted white round made with house made macadamia praline, stuffed with caramelized coconut, and topped with passion fruit caramel. This was my favourite. The sweetest of the box, but still not too sweet. You ate this more for the flavour than its sugar content. This would have been nice with a side of citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and/or pineapples.

The “Mokaya” red striped square was a single plantation chocolate from the Chiapas region of Mexico. The chocolate balances cocoa flavour with notes of banana, coffee, and liquorice. I only got the chocolate.

The “banana” had an award winning filling of caramelized white chocolate blended with fresh banana, Venezuelan rum, and vanilla bean. It was produced with real banana flavour, not that artificial antibiotic flavour. I liked this the second most with it’s fun fuzzy shell and luscious caramel-like centre. I would have this as is, because I wanted a treat.

The “crispy praline” with its spot within a spot shell, was a blend of 45% milk chocolate with caramelized hazelnut, and a cocoa nib praline. It was crispy and light with a distinctive deep, almost peppery finish. This would have been good with a sip of coffee or espresso.

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The “salted caramel” was so popular that you could buy them in a box of six or twelve, all on their own. After one bite I could see why. This was soft creamy milk chocolate caramel, enrobed in dark chocolate and finished with a touch of flaked sea salt. Honestly the best salted caramel square I have ever had. It’s luscious caramel just melted on your tongue instead of sticking to your teeth.

The “whole cherry” was aptly named. A cherry and balsamic jelly paired with a cherry pit ganache, blending 45% milk with 72% dark chocolate. This multi layers of cherry was an award winner and I could see why. A refunded dessert with a sexy red wash, perfect with red wine and a hot date.

The “jasmine tea” was pretty in pink and equally soft in floral notes. It is “Chun Feng” jasmine tea infused into 45% milk chocolate ganache. I would recommend this with a cup or two of jasmine tea for an elevated flowery experience.

I recommend having the “fisherman’s friend” as the one to end on. This creative award winner was sharp, but still a toned down version of this famed cough drop. Included with the cough candy is 67% dark chocolate. I didn’t really see this as one for everyday eating, perhaps a mint to end a meal on or a treat to heal whatever ails you?

The “pear and praline” with its marble brown and white exterior was more crispy milk praline than sweet pear. The latter was hidden under milk chocolate ganache.

The “bay leaf” looked like a tennis ball with its round shape, fuzzy green finish, and decorate white line. Thankfully it tasted nothing like sporting equipment, but instead the grey herbaceous leaf it promised to be. It reminded me of Vietnamese soup noodles with its refreshing basil notes. I would have this one as finisher for such a meal.

I am not a fan of chocolates, but would certainly go back and pay $30 more dollars to try their other flavours, or this upcoming season’s flavours. This would be the chocolate brand that turns non chocolate lovers to one that appreciates the edible art. They aren’t two sweet, the perfect taste for adults and those with a more refined palette. Not surprising as they are voted as “one of North America’s top 10 chocolatiers”.

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On the wall were posters spelling all of this out. It included the ability to craft your own chocolate bar with over 18 different ingredients and the possibility of arranging a gift box of chocolate drops, polygon bars, and pebbles.

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But what really catches your eye is the visual menu listing their signature cream puff collection and their fall cream puff collection on poster board. I ended up ordering all but two of their flavours, and each one looked exactly like its photo promised. The cream puffs are made on site and arranged to order by pastry chefs in the back. You get a glimpse of them through the window separating front of store from industrial kitchen. And then again when one of them comes out to deliver your boxed goods. The gentleman who helped me was nice enough to obliged me with a photo before he closed the lid and taped them up for travel. Their boxes and bags wee a generic white, branded with their sticker. For the season it was a festive snowflake declaring “let it snow!” They traveled relatively well, but the journey could have been better with those little plastic tables in old school pizza boxes holding things in place and preventing the lid from squishing down on them.

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In order from top to the bottom and left to right: raspberry earl grey, apple pie, variations of chocolate, Vietnamese coffee, Douglas fir, spiced pumpkin, blueberry yuzu, carrot cake, and pear gingerbread. The vanilla was kept separate in a single store box. I ordered one of each minus the “salted caramel” and “smoked almond” (seasonal, fall 2015) I passed on the two because of how plain they looked in comparison to the others. I was surprised that they didn’t have a cream puff flavoured in rum and egg nog or candy cane, the more popular and typical winter flavours.

Each cream puff had the same base, a cookie-like crust coating fluffy dough. Each was a presentation on its own. I don’t advise mixing and matching like I did, but to instead enjoy eating each one, one at a time. To fully savour each element: cream, custard filling, and base.

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The “vanilla” was filled with a speckled vanilla bean custard and topped with a vanilla bean whipped cream. I liked the cubes of sugar topping it like sprinkles. It’s flavour was gentle, but there was still too much cream to puff ratio. I am a fan of vanilla, as you can never go wrong with it, this was my favourite for taste.

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For looks the seasonal “Douglas fir” was my favourite. It reminded me of a woodland forest with its dirt coloured cream, and edible green moss and bold red mushroom cap. Though it’s name did nothing to describe its taste. It wasn’t piney or woodsy like I imagined. Instead, this was like eating chocolate truffles with velvety smooth creme and a collapsible chocolate shell.

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It was not all that unlike the “variation of chocolate” cream puff. But this pile of chocolatey goodness had more of a brownie texture to it. It was dense and rich, ideal for those PMS-ing, according to a friend.

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The “Vietnamese coffee” is one of their more popular puffs. Though with all the hype my first taste was a let down. I expected a sweet and creamy condense milk taste with a sticky texture from the filling. Instead both it and the fluffy cream had a more bitter coffee taste to it. I liked its appearance with the purple accent lined with silver foil, more than its taste.

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The “pear gingerbread” (seasonal, fall 2015) didn’t smell or taste like it, it was also the most plainly decorated of what I order. There was no iconic flavour of pear. It tasted more like a gingersnap cookie with some peppery spices.

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The “Apple pie” (seasonal, fall 2015) cream puff included a miniature pie crust on top. It was baked flakey to an even golden brown, and crusted with caramelized sugar. Just like you would find on a whole apple pie. Though the filling was more cream cheesecake than apple pie. I would have liked some apple flavour in the cream, and maybe even some caramelized apple chunks in the centre, for that apple pie texture as well.

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The “raspberry earl grey” was rich with tart raspberry and mild with creamy earl grey. Topped with tea infused frosting and a sprinkling of freeze dried raspberries. It was simply delicious, the one I would recommend during a high tea service or for a mid day snack.

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The “carrot cake” (seasonal, fall 2015) was my second favourite. It had a cream cheese frosting topped with candied ginger and an orange square to symbolize the carrots used. The filling had actual shreds of carrots and was flavoured heavily with cinnamon.

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The “Blueberry yuzu” was the most refreshing puff with lemon citrus and sweet blueberry.

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The “Spiced pumpkin” (seasonal, fall 2015) was your typical pumpkin spice anything with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon intertwined in its cream. I liked the finishing touches of toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top over the mound of spaghetti-like piped cream.

For the winter season they also had other exclusive flavours in all that they offered. Like peppermint patties, a peppermint crunch polygon bar, spiced praline pecan pebbles, candied orange peel, a creme puff wreath with alternating puffs filled with eggnog custard and spiced pecan whipped ganache, and a candy cane ice cream sandwich. There was so much that I wanted to try, so much worth trying. I will be eagerly anticipating their spring section in the new year. They take two weeks off of sales to perfect and prepare their highly anticipated offerings.

 

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Each of their chocolates and cream puffs made for a great show. They certain impressed in look and taste. I enjoyed all that I had, but cannot see myself coming back just to snack. Though I would definitely be back for the right occasion. A gift worthy box of chocolates or a impromptu birthday cake, like for today. Think, individual portioned desserts that don’t need slicing, that isn’t the played out cupcake. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BETA5
413 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-669-3336
shop.beta5chocolates.com
BETA5 Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Helen’s Grill & Restaurant

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This is the definition of a greasy spoon: a quiet diner with a causal setting and friendly staff.

 

Located on the corner of Main and King Ed, “Helen’s Grill” is easy to spot, and the only one of its kind in the area. On their building sign they advertised their all day breakfast, char-broiled steak; and Greek classics like souvlaki, pita, and pasta. Other than that, the exterior wasn’t much to look at, with its dingy rocks and graffiti sprayed stains.

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Walking in, it felt like you entered the late 80’s. With black and red checkered floors, vintage Art Deco lamp covers in amber, rounded leather booths, and a cafe counter to dine off of. Each booth even had its own mini jukebox that controlled what music that restaurant listened to. A scrolling list of classic rock and pop from the era of teased hair and neon. Though I wasn’t sure if it actually worked, or if the fixture was more for show. Though I can’t imagine may folks willing to pay the quarter to list to “la bamba” by Ritchie Valens, in order to find out. For the record I did know this song. Instead you can listen to the soft rock playing from the boom box in the kitchen, the rips of orders taken off a notepad, the clacking of freshly washed dishes being stacked, and the friendly batter between patrons and employees.

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Coming in just for breakfast, we were content with looking no further than the first page of the menu. It greeted us with a “good morning”. Just reading its description, they were right in calling this the “Giant breakfast”. The platter comes with your choice of six sausage segment, six strips of bacon, or two pieces of ham. We asked and got half and half sausage and bacon. (I have never taken to eating ham just as a cut like that, for breakfast like this.) The order also comes with three eggs made your way, hash browned potatoes, and two pieces of toast. Truthfully I could have, and should have had one of these all on my own. Sharing only had us half full and wanting more.

The service is often the best part of places like these. Our particular server was a little older, and as such she spoke with mom-like care. I asked for jam with my breakfast and she reassured me with an “of course”, followed by an almost instinctive suggestion of some peanut butter. She finished with an approving chuckle when my face lit up and she knew she had been right. Truly this moment had all the makings of what you craved for as a child. A warming home cooked breakfast served in a loving environment.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Good, however I cannot see myself returning for anything more than this. There are other places I would go to first for steak, and better places for authentic Greek. But for a classic breakfast service as you expected it, they are the bee’s knees. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

HELEN’S GRILL
4102 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V 3P6
604-874-4413
helensgrill.ca
Helen's Grill & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Urban Nail Spa

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I don’t typically pay to get my nails done, as I enjoy doing the work myself and think I do a decent job of it, especially without the formal training. I use the hour or two I take as a way to unwind in front of the relevant. But if gifted a certificate for a free mani and pedi, I will not turn it down. As was the case today. The place came recommend by the giftee, and a friend who had previously been.

This week I tragically broke one of my sharpened claws. So when the friend invited me to use my gift certificate with her, I took the opportunity. Christmas was also around the corner, I was busy with work and parties, and tired with the dark and cold weather. So this seemed as good a time as any to get my nails done professionally.

Though having had some bad experiences at other salons, I was now a little gun shy towards the service that I would be receiving today. In the past I have had my skin filed to a cut, my cuticles snip to bleed, and even left the appointment with my nails throbbing with hurting. And in all those instances I clearly remembered the clerks’ face unmoving, un-remorseful . As if what they had done was a service hazard to be expected. I have never done the above to myself.

It was not until the morning of did I search up the location, only to realize that it would be in a mall. Mall spas often have the stigma of being less prestigious. This thinking is, because it is a mall, and malls are known for convenience and fast food; they may not employ the most skilled of technicians. So my weariness of what was to come continued to grow. Although having the friend who had been once, want to go back with me now was comforting. Luckily none of the above would repeat itself today. They were fairly gentle here, and were most definitely well trained. I actually had two senior staff members tend to me.

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My companion made our appointments first thing in the morning. Good thing as the mall’s parking was already fairly busy, minutes before the shops within even opened. During the winter shopping season, parking is often hard sought. Though I only had to do one round before I found a spot. However finding the actual salon within Metrotown mall was a lot more challenging. I found myself using a map like a tourist. And even then I still found it difficult to find the place. But when I finally turned into the right corner dead end corner with the fear of being late, I saw that they were only just setting up their signs outside and I was only the second one though the threshold. The rest of the mall didn’t open until 10am, the same time as my appointment. So I walked in undisrupted. It is nice to not have to wait and to have all the attention lavished on you. This was a good reason to wake up early: in order to get the best service. This way the staff are still fresh, you are getting them at their best. Though most of them entered one at a time after me, with morning still in their eyes.

The clerk I approached behind the counter checked my name and immediately started my appointment. This was surprising as she only just put her bag down a minute ago. That’s dedication.

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A pool of water was drawn in the sink attached to each pedicure chair. I was invited to take a seat in one of these massaging recliners. I removed my shoes and my feet were allowed to soaked in luke warm water. I sloshed around in the bubbles she added, as she prepared herself. I wished the water was a lot warmer, as I enjoy my baths hot. The aesthetician organized a caddy of tools beside the seat she took in front of me and my feet.

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I begun playing with the chair’s attached remote control. Its settings targeted specific areas on your back and neck, allowing you to choose how much and how quick you wanted the selected pressure. Between kneads, flaps, knocks and taps. You could also push a button to fully recline the chair. I enjoyed this peek, though the setting I had selected also included an intrusive derriere massage. The motion felt like a fist thrusting out of the seat cushion to push you square in the centre of your sphincter. Obtrusive, yet I found myself content on keeping the setting.

All the while my nail tech began by removing my current polish and filing the bottoms of my feet. I have given up trying to wear heels to work, but am on my feet so often the work was was there. But after a few scrubs on each sole and she was sufficiently done. The filing was completed with what looked like a handheld cheese grater and smaller files in varying sizes. It left the sole and heels of my feet sufficiently smooth. She did things step by step, one foot at a time: right then left.

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The second step was to trim and file the edges of my nails, taking time to scrape and cut down the cuticle of each toe. This was done with what looked like pliers. After, my nails already looked better than anything I could have done myself. It was here that I truly saw the value of the service they provided. I also never file the bottoms of my feet, they don’t usually feel as great as they did now. I rubbed bottom of left foot to right calf to check and appreciate the work. After the cleaning, my feet got a massage. With her surgical gloves still on the tech used ample cream to rub each piggy all the way to the knee. One leg after the other. I cleverly wore a skirt to take advantage of this service, as it’s almost standard. She rubbed and pulsed her hands along my calf, and watched my expressions to judge whether I liked what was being done to me or not. I wish I was more animated, maybe if I was the notion would have lasted longer. After, the water was drained and my feet were treated to a hot towel and a rub down to dry them off.

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Now dry, she went back to trimming cuticle and extra skin before outfitting me with toe separators. Then the painting began. Base coat and the polish I choose, followed by a glossy top finish. The massage chair was shut off before the polish went on. This was to avoid shakes and possible mis-painting. It was a good idea, but I immediately missed the sensation of the chair. Interestingly the glitter polish I choose was dabbed on instead of being painted in top to bottom strokes.

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It was smart to do the feet first, to give time for the nail polish to set before shoes went on. Though I did bring a pair of flip flops incase things weren’t dry, by the time I wanted to leave. I wasn’t about to spend unnecessary money on cheap sandals, just to protect my investment. She ended up asking if I had flip flops and then helping my now glittery, but still separated toes in to them. It was quite the gingerly done operation.

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In choosing my colour, I sorted through a basket of polish swatches across several acrylic wheels. They were loyal to OPI and Chyna Glaze polishes, as is the case at most nail salons. Though I myself have a lot of polish, so very little caught my eye. What can they do that I can’t, or do better, within the gift certificate’s allotment? I thought about adding $6 more for a French manicure, but was warned that I was just doing regular polish so the design wouldn’t last. This warning and the intended action of saving my money was appreciated. It showed care and that I just wasn’t another dollar sign walking through the door. My gift certificate was for a mani and pedi at around $47 including tax.

You can pay $15 extra for shellac, but I didn’t want to bother with that. “Shellac”, is a nailpolish treatment, also known as a gel manicure. With UV lights curing the polish it typical lasts as long as a month without chips, breaks or the need for extra coats. It means your nails stay shiny for longer. But with its specific application there is an equally specific removal process. One that involves tinfoil and is difficult to do at home yourself, this puts you at the mercy of the salon to remove it. Another trip back and another cost to have it taken off, cause while you are here you might as well get your nails done again. It isn’t worth the extra effort if you ask me. Especially when I am capable painting them myself, and often find myself changing their colour once a week, as I get bored.

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Mid way through the process with my feet another aesthetician started on my hands. The same process, but done so at a smaller scale, with more delicate care. I was grateful to have her removing the colour staining my nails, as it was a tough scrub apparently. She then evened out my nails with an emery board, asking what style I wanted. Given their shorter length, a nice even square was most stylish. My hands were then soaked in a special serum diluted water, stored in a specifically designed dish. This dish had a dome that kept my palms rested and my nails dangling within the liquid.

Then like the toes, the cuticles were pushed down and trimmed on each digit. A mini squirt bottle dispensing cuticle remover and a scalloped stainless steel tool were set to work. The tool was curved and made to fit the size of the average nail. Done so to easily push cuticle down into the nail bed. Then out came the pliers again to trim excess skin.

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And now that my toes were done, my flip flops were on, and I was able to travel; I was moved to the other side of the room. I was asked to sit at the work station of the second tech that was working on my hands. Her station was the first in a row of similar desks. Each surface was pink freckled stone with a built in grate. An individual lamp attached to light the hands set before her. Each station also had the same tools to do acrylic nails, shellac nails, or regular polish on regular nails.

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I now noticed how the aesthetician that was helping me wore a surgical face mask. It was useful in protecting herself from the dust from my nails. Especially as she used the mandrill to even out the surface of each nail. After, more cuticle cream and cutting. Before oil and moisturizer was applied for a hand massage. This was a similar rubbing as above, done mid way to the elbow. I was then asked to give my hands a good washing before she took to painting.

She suggested using a similar coloured polish first to make the glitter pop. A common practice that works. Next she did two coats of glitter on my request. She was happy with the sparse one layer that did not match the glitter overload on my toes, I was not. Though she was firm against the third coat I wanted, for fear of it being too thick. Though I care more about how they look, not necessarily how heavy they feel. Either way it was a gift certificate, I wasn’t paying (just tipping), so relented. Though I remembered reflecting, “I will have to do something with it at home”. I didn’t like how the colour didn’t meet the edges of my fingers and the glitter was noticeably splotchy towards the cuticle line. I think she feared having to clean up any stray paint if she went out if the lines, but did have to clean some of it with a corner of paper towel and some remover.

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After the sealing top coat, the last step was letting my digits dry. A process helped along with a movement activated, plug in heated fan. I sat with fingers extended, feeling hot air blow on them. After five minutes, I did the nail check and when they weren’t gummy I was good to go.

Admiring my nails, I liked how clean they looked. Although, as I mentioned above, the nail polishing was streaky and there were noticeable gaps close to nail bed. Only I could see them, but I paint my nails for myself anyways. I was also left with fraying pieces of skin where they cut and trim my cuticles. I had to go over each with nail clippers myself.

But clearly their regular clients loved getting their nails done, they liked doing it often, and they liked how they did it here. They had a report with their usual technicians, requesting them by name and catching up with then whenever they came. This morning, a rotation of loyal clients even stopped by with presents for their favourite girl; and their husbands or boyfriends came in for gift certificates to gift away.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I don’t often have a reason to visit a nail spa as I have quite the steady hand and am able to do most nail designs myself. In fact I feel I am quite acclaimed, so this service isn’t necessarily for me. It is one I don’t mind indulging in, but one I can’t see myself paying regularly for. Though I would be interested in seeing what they charge for just the maintenance portion of a mani and pedi. They clean and prep my nails and I get to do the fun part of painting and decorating them myself. Though there is also something enjoyable about having someone pampering you. Holding your hand, sculpting your nails, and painting each one for a picture perfect look. One person tending to your feet, another working your hands, all as you sat in a reclined massage chair.

 

URBAN NAIL
4700 Kingsway, Burnaby BC, V5H 4N2
604-437-1778
metropolisatmetrotown.com/stores/urban-nail-spa

Jam Jar

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A recommended destination when those who don’t eat meat dine with those that do, with enough gluten free and vegan friendly options to satisfy all preferences. This restaurant is definitely one I would suggest if trying to accommodate the vegetarian of the group, giving them more than just the option of salad or soup. With plenty of meat dishes to keep omnivores happy as well. There aren’t many vegetarian heavy restaurants I would venture to if given the choice, so this one is definitely worth writing about.

 

The exterior looked chic with its wood framed glass with polished windows. Although not very telling of what they offered and what they specialized in. The menu taped to the glass helped in this: folk Lebanese cuisine.

You walk in through a narrow corridor, up a ramp with rail, framed by wood panelled walls. You take a pause at their hostess booth, which is a repurposed bar cart with wheels. There was plenty of seating, but in order to plan and accommodate their guests to come, we were asked to wait for a table of two to be cleared and bussed for our group of three. As we waited I helped myself to one of their complimentary chalky lollipops as I took in the theme of the room.

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The “folk” extended in style and substance. From the twang of the music genre, to the functional but worn furniture, and the overall simplicity of the homespun food. The rusted folding chairs that we sat on as we waited, built on to this. And the scuffed wood floors, the scratched up decorative mirror, and the stained booth cushions all added to this immersive theme.

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I liked the rustic bar the most, even despite the tiled pillar separating the station in two halves, blocked my full view of it. The tiling on this pillar was isolated here and on the base of the bar. It had a very European subway look and feel to it. White tile with dark grout under a brushed metal counter top. Though it was the gathering of wooden crates on the wall above that drew the eye. Various sizes and dimensions of crates attached by it bottom to wall. A clustered set of these supported spirit bottles and their jiggers; the other adjacent, housed glasses for use. It included the very folky mason jar, used to take home their homemade hummus. The line of bulbs above the bar highlighted it perfectly, with small bulbs close to the ceiling and larger ones suspended from cables.

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As I mentioned earlier, we were seated at a two top that easily converted into one for three. It was by a lengthy section of couch with two rusted fold out chairs, all framing a wooden round of a small side table. Just as well, the whole premise of the place is to share your plate and your food. So we really didn’t need any additional space.

It is worth noting that their speciality group table is located in the corner by the front windows. It’s seats were attached to the actual table and easily extended out for use, then swung back in to conserve space when not in use. I also imagined it fairly easy to sweep under with this set up.

The menu delivered on their promise of “… East Mediterranean flavours that utilize fresh vegetables, olive oil, & lemon juice as a base for dishes that are crafted with aromatic spices”. Their intention is to bring you meals you normally would only find in Lebanese homes, paired with freshly baked flat bread. And from what I can tell they do it fairly well. The menu was a long list to read through. Ingredients I was familiar with, but most I have never had together. Chickpeas were plentiful, and I saw a lot of eggplant and yogurt. Cumin, red pepper, and five spice were common seasonings. It was a warming array even with the divide between hot and cold appetizers.

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Given their focus and the popularity of their hummus, we figured the “Hummus trio with seasonal flavours” was worth giving a try to. This month’s rotating flavours were thyme and sage, butternut squash and honey, and their original. I can never commit to finishing a whole tub of hummus from the grocery store, so it is nice to have the option of sampling serving sized portions here, as you liked it. “Amazing” was the word my guest used to describe this platter. Each dip was served cold for dipping, drizzled over with a healthy coating of olive, oil and served with a side of room temperature pita. Though it would have been nicer to have the pita folds baked warm, to give it a nice and steamy contrast to the chilled spreads. We ended with more dip then bread so were forced to order a section batch to finish the hummus with. They were rolled up and placed in a tin bucket,like a vase of flowers.

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The thyme was distinctive, with plenty of flavour. The exact tone you would imagine when thinking of Lebanese food, but it had a freshness of spices to it. This gave it a balanced mix of sweet and spicy.

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The one with squash had the heaviest and creamiest texture. With it also being sweet and nutty, it bordered on dessert with its caramelized finish.

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The original was most familiar. Earthy and creamy with the most pronounced chickpea essence and grainy texture of the three.

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For an entree we choose the “Falafel”, it is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas. This was their rendition of the popular vegetarian alternative. We made this hot mezze (appetizer) a full plate for only dollars more. The $3 additional gave us batata harra, brown rice or both; and our choice of salad and cold mezze. Each lunch time main such as this, is available as a mezze, wrap, or platter; depending on your hunger needs.

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In the platter it was either the “falafel” or the cauliflower. We exercised the third option and had a bit of both, with no regrets. The cauliflower was amazing, the best cauliflower I have ever had and know I would want more of. It was salty and zesty with a crisp coating and a tender, slightly soggy centre. Similarly the falafel had a hardened crispy shell with a moist whipped centre.

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We also got the both the cubed potatoes and brown rice when given the chance. Well roasted, the potatoes were a nice base, starchy, much like the rice.

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For our salad we had the “chickpea lentil salad” with green lentils, cilantro, cumin, and tomatoes. Everything glistened with a thorough coating of olive oil. It gave the lot a nice flavour peaked by the spices used. The salad was the refreshing element on the platter, a quick and easy break in all the fragrant and rich sides.

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For our cold mezze choice there was some confusion. We had the “Muttabel”, a roasted eggplant dip, but could have sworn we ordered their “spinach dip” with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. The eggplant dip had a similar look to the hummus above, but was completed with a much chunkier texture. It also had the gummy property of eggplant embedded. Easy to scoop up with the whole round of pita included with it. The pita also went well with the dish of dip centring all the elements. Which in turn complimented everything else. Using it was an easy way to rejuvenate the plate.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As a whole, I really liked the place: It’s a good one to start a conversation within, a great one to bring a date to, one to take a pause for a snack at; and best of all, a restaurant to enjoy good food for an even better deal. I only regretting not taking some hummus back home with me. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

JAM JAR
2280 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4B5
604-252-3957
jamjaronthedrive.com
Jamjar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant

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This is dim sum for beginners, what I would order for non Asians trying the food for the first time.
As a food blogger, I enjoy sharing my love of food and all its varieties with others. I especially enjoying being the culinary tour guide to anyone new to any given cuisine. Even more so if the cuisine is one that I am most familiar with, and can actually take the ordering process by the reins. Such was the case with today’s brunch. I would be having dim sum with Caucasians who would be trying Chinese small plates for the first time.

For me it was an eye opening experience, noting what they took in and cringed at, that which I found familiar. I liked how they related everything to things that they knew. Deep fried rounds were “tater tots” and black sesame became “wet cement”. They were most comfortable and excited over foods that they found familiar, even still when the word “Chinese” was added in front of it. Their comments and comparisons made them feel more safe and more at ease in all this newness; and at the same time it gave me a different perspective on the cuisine I grew up on.

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Though try as I might I wasn’t able to get all of them to try seafood. Every Chinese restaurant is essentially a seafood restaurant, so why did I not know their disdain of anything from the ocean coming into this? This discussion was only brought up when we walked in to the restaurant and were greeted by the live seafood tanks in their lobby. This feature is a staple at most Chinese seafood restaurant’s. A watery prison of blue, two parallel rows of tanks separating lobster from crab and fish from geoduck. Admittedly, seeing your food like this before you eat it might put most folks off. The enlarged paper mâché prickly king crab framing the tanks didn’t help much either. He looked quite menacing scaling the walls. Although, I must point out that these tanks were a lot cleaner and a lot better maintained than at other establishments. The seafood actually looked alive and there wasn’t a smudge of mildew in sight. So now realizing that half the dim sum menu would be off limits, I faced the fact that I would not be getting them to try chicken feet, intestines, or anything all that specific to Chinese cuisine. Sad, as that would have been an interesting post to write/read.

Out of all the Chinese seafood restaurants offering dim sum for brunch we selected this one. One, we were already in Richmond, two there was plenty of parking (I dislike fighting for parking in Richmond, and really, just driving in Richmond), and three we had heard they served their food off carts. I would later regret my “logical” decision.

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Walking into their crowded lobby was like sifting through a sea of people. Their chatter was loud like waves crashing onto the shore, their pushing and shoving like currents battling back and forth. Given that this was my guests’ first experience at such a show they undoubtedly were confused. We were trying to navigate a miniature mob with no appreciation for personal space. The hostess literally had to yell out names to be heard, elbows jabbed us in the gut without an apology; and little children would pointing and stare at their differences. There was nothing comfortable about this. In hindsight, I guess I should have known better than to bring them on a peak day, at a peak time, to a peak area for their first dim sum experience. Dim sum on Sunday, in Richmond, an hour before service ended? Whereas I would have easily gotten a table, without reservation at a Chinese seafood restaurant in Vancouver. Lesson learned. I am surprised this alone didn’t scare them out the door, it all wasn’t very inviting and we were left waiting unnecessarily.

Thirty minutes after our reservation we finally got seated. I suspect they didn’t actually follow their own reservation list, but instead sat whoever was in and whomever was ready. Most Chinese restaurants focus on speed and efficiency, they want you in and out quick so that the next party can take your place and do just the same. I had to battle my way to the hostess booth to confirm that we were not forgotten and that we would be seated as soon as possible. A shouting match to maintain the integrity of our 1pm appointment.

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We were finally seated all the way in the back of the restaurant, right in front of the giant floor to ceiling television screen. Our table was next to the only other Caucasian couple in the entire 50 plus seat restaurant. We (my guests) felt it was specifically done as some sort of ironic “foreigner” section. The large screen projector was inches from our faces and extremely annoying; the constant flashing in the corner of our eyes distracted our peripheral vision. Eventually we moved our table up and our chairs so that our back was towards it. That helped until they turned the darn thing off.

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This was your standard large banquet room of any Chinese restaurant. A pattern of dark swirl for carpeting underfoot, white table cloths over convertible tables, and traditional Chinese art work of animals and scenery on the walls. What was new to me were the mirrored panels on the ceiling; they allowed you to spy on your neighbouring tables and easily order, “what they are having”. There were plenty of servers, yet you were always left with your hand up and head bobbing back and forth looking for one. They were easy to spot in their professional attire. Servers wore white shirts under their black vests with matching tie and pants. Managers wore full suits, but could be seen doing the exact same work: refilling empty tea pots, bussing empty dishes off tables, and collecting payment for a meal completed.

As I mentioned earlier, my guests were hoping for dim sum carts so were disappointed to not see them. However using carts for dim sum is not a common practice at most Chinese restaurants anymore, as doing so creates a lot of wasted food, as opposed to making things to order. Sadly this was a pre-requisite and a desired novelty for one of my guest, that she never got to experience. The concept certainly makes for a more inviting and easier dim sum experience for those who can’t navigate the menu with it’s weak translation and lack of description. A fact worsened when the servers barely speak English, and therefore are unable to spell any of it out of you. With carts, you see what you think looks good, and with a point can have it for yourself. No miscommunication to complain about, you knew what you were getting, you saw how it looked like, and still wanted it anyways. Better yet we needed small plates rotating from table to table on a heated conveyor belt. There is a franchise idea for you, a way to make dim sum more comforting to the North American appetite, they would certainly increase their demographic with this idea.

Another guest was sad to not have a lazy Susan on our table. The disappointment continued even after I explained that we only get one if our party and necessary table were large enough to warrant it. Our table of four did not, though we essentially ordered enough food for six. We were easily able to reach and grab or pass things around without getting up. The lazy Susan is for parties that are unable to do that, the spinning of a wheel is a quick way to pass a dish around.

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I took hold of the ordering process. The menu was a check box list, you read what you wanted and made a tick to have it. Each dish was classified as small, medium, large, special, or deluxe; which dictated its pricing. And after 10:30am you were able to check off any one of their full portioned, more to share, dishes off the “local delicious” portion of the menu. Even with an English print side on the back of the Chinese character side, I couldn’t be 100% sure of what I was ordering. I was ordering from memory and usually when I go to dim sum my parents are the ones to order. I wanted to keep with what I knew and only of things I liked, in case I ended up having to eat it all myself. I also ordered what I thought was the most non ethnic and “safe” for their westernized palettes.

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Reading “Chinese donut + soya milk (sweet)” in their limited time offer box, it was a must have for one of my guest. Who doesn’t like a doughnut she reasoned? I had to explain it wasn’t your typical ring of fluffy dough, but a deep fried stick of bread. She was still keen and ended up liking it for what it was, although did comment that there was a need for some powered sugar. Typically Chinese doughnuts are served more savoury than they are sweet, they get dunked into hot congee or rolled up in rice flour with hoisin sauce. This version came with the milk for dipping, it soften the bread and sweeten the bite, making it more dessert than main.

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The “baked BBQ pork pastry” was a good one to ease them on, they all liked it. It is a flaky pastry filled with sweet yet savoury pork meat. The pastry flaked off, melting with a chalk-like finish on your tongue.

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With a similar experience was the “steamed BBQ pork buns”. The same sweet and savoury pork filling, but this time tucked in the centre of fluffy white bread-like dinner rolls. The dough had flavour all of its own, it gave salt and texture without taking away from the BBQ pork.

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The only seafood dish I dared to order was the “hao gao”, prawn dumplings. For most this is a dim sum staple and a casual incline to Chinese seafood. Clumps of baby prawn are melded together to form a ball, it is then steamed to cook in a bundle of chewy dough. It was liken to a dumpling or gyoza, as in meat wrapped in dough. The one that ate seafood liked It, but felt it could have used some sort of dipping sauce to perk up the flavour. I would agree as I found the filling on the bland side.

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“Steamed spareribs in black bean sauce”. This is one of my favourite dim sum dishes and a must have whenever I attend a service. Surprisingly this wasn’t as popular as I thought it would be, given that it is fall off the bone pork meat. I guess the tangy and almost congealed sauce threw their taste and texture buds off. The chunks of orange squash were also a concern.

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They thought the “steamed BBQ pork rice roll” looked weird, but was delicious. Like soggy, slippery burritos coated in a light soya sauce. They had six different rice roll options, all with different fillings; this was one of the only non seafood ones.

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The “mini sticky rice purses” were a hit. The bundles of a rice were kept moist by the bamboo leaves that covered them. Half the fun was unwrapping them. Everything folded inside was coated in a sweet brown sauce.

Another part of the dim sum service unfamiliar to them was the flow of food. There was no order and things came as they were being prepared. There was a gap between some dishes and others came all at once. We also got most of our desserts earlier on and were forced to leave them sitting on the table as we wanted them to end on a sweet note with. In hindsight I could have easily ordered them as a second round, but given the difficulty in tracking personnel down, I didn’t want to take the gamble on being missed so ordered everything we wanted all at once.

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“Chilled cinnamon gelatine and black sesame”. I best described this as Asian Jello; they saw it as “cement”. The black sesame half was too opaque for the likes of jello, it had a creamier texture to go with it denser colouring as well. The cinnamon half was almost tasteless in comparison, in this you got the wiggle of jello. Though they were not trilled about the chunks embedded and their inability to gasp it with chopsticks. A simple one stick stabbing motion was implemented to take care of this, but they all didn’t get past the first corner nibble. I found it visually interesting, and a nice neutral palette cleanser in between dishes; not quite sweet and not exactly savoury.

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The baker in our group had issues with the “mini egg tarts”, even after I likened them to Portuguese tarts. She had them before and remembered not liking them then, but was willing to give them a try now. She still didn’t like them. The pastry was too powdery and too dry, the centre too soft and too jelly-like for any kind of baking she was accustomed too. Her dislike of them was boiled down to texture.

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The “steamed Shanghai style pork dumplings” became better known as “soup bombs”. They were tiny parcels of meat and soup in leak proof dough baggies. You put the whole thing in your mouth and then bite down to unleash a gush of savoury stock. The burst was pleasant and an interesting new sensation for them.

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“Mango pudding”, this was the first time I have ever seen it topped with the contrast of strawberry jam. A sweet meats tangy tropical twist that worked, but just couldn’t shine a candle to the more traditional partnership of mango pudding and evaporated milk. The milk would have also helped give the pudding some much needed moisture.  After all, molded like this was more jello than pudding in the traditional whipped smooth and lickable off your spoon sense. And the crisp almond wafer on the side was more a garnish. We believed the intention may have been to use it to scoop the pudding up and to eat both elements together. However the almond and mango were both better by themselves, kept separate and taken in separate bites.

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“Steamed multi-layer cake with egg yolk”. The name was misleading, the filling resembled egg yolk in its bold yellow colour and runny texture, but was actually more a custard. Though you did get some of the sandy texture in it that you would also get from a boiled or preserved egg yolk, it also made things slightly savoury. Surrounding it was some of the fluffiest and lightest sponge I have ever had. As a whole I found this was a nice mildly sweet cake to accompany tea with, or to end your meal on. They would have liked it with some ice cream.

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“Sautéed daikon cake in XO sauce”. They likened this to a spicy hash brown or tater tots because of their cubed presentation and their crispy texture from an even stir fry. I found it pretty salty and the bed of bean sprouts they laid on helpful in cutting away some of this salt. But the others felt like it needed a thick sauce to dip into, something to moisten each nugget and to rejuvenate the taste when it grew tiresome.

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There was a gap in dishes coming and we had all but forgotten that we ordered this one. When it finally came a couple of us had already moved on to dessert and didn’t have the stomach to move back into the realm of savoury. In hind sight, I could have checked the receipt print out delivered at the beginning of our meal to see if we had any dishes withstanding. This was a list of everything we had ordered, and as each item was delivered, the server would cross it off with pen.

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“Steamed beef with enoki mushroom roll”. The only other dish I let them order turned out to be the most westernized one, figures. My guest ordered it because she likes enoki mushrooms, as they are the only variety of mushrooms she actually eats. Their long stems, small heads, and white colour reminded her of sperm. I have never seen a dish like this during dim sum, or even asparagus used in Asian cuisine. Given that this was listed as a “special” plate I am certain this was a fusion creation designed to appeal to a larger audience. It certainly worked with them.

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Mid way through picking off each plate, mixing flavours and nibbling here and there; they each needed to take a break from eating. We had ordered much in our hunger and not all of it was complimentary to one another. I also didn’t factor in that it might be difficult for them to digest Chinese food. I grew up on all these bold flavours and excessive seasoning, but to those new to the cuisine, it certainly could have been overkill. They did wish for some thoughtfulness in the staff to change our plates mid way. As sauces and flavours mix, they often change the intended flavour of a dish. Though I did teach them to empty bones and that which they didn’t wish to finish onto empty plates that would be promptly taken away by any server or manager passing by.

We packed up what we wanted and left what we didn’t. A service typically done by the staff at other places, but self serve here after they hand you a foam container and a plastic bag.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
They liked every thing okay enough, though I don’t know how telling it is given that they don’t have a point of reference for comparison. They enjoyed the small plates concept and the ability to try and discard what they didn’t like. Great for those who have a hard time committing to one thing, this was a nice way to get to try it all. For the most part, my “safe” choices had good flavours. They especially liked the amount of food that continued flowing our way. Though they all found the experience intimidating and one they don’t believe they could come back to navigate on their own. They needed someone to explain each menu choice and even go so far as to translate the English descriptions. Dim sum here is definitively not catered to their demographic. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SUN SUI WAH
4920 Number 3 Road, Richmond BC
604-273-8208
Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Powell Street Craft Brewery

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Another one on the brewery run. This was a challenging go in the night, hard to find, in an industrial area with buildings already darken for the day. Their lit lamp post and bright white sandwich board did help to draw your eye and direct you to their brewery store front.

There wasn’t much information on their business inside, so I went online to find out what made them different than the other Vancouver based breweries. They are a small independent microbrewery, owned and operated by a husband and wife team. They won “Beer of the Year” in Canada, from the Canadian Brewing Awards for their “Old Jalopy Pale Ale”. This award set their success in motion. It allowed them to secure this, their new and larger space that we were now in. Online they state that they pride themselves on “brewing high quality, full flavoured, handcrafted beers using all natural, and preferably, local ingredients…”

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Once again the interior of the actual tasting lounge spoke to none of this. Instead, on the walls were various collections of work done by various artists. A set of four canvases was of woodland critters nestled amongst wildflowers. A fox in ferns and owls within leaves. The other pieces were done in greyscale: trees without their leaves in winter and a woman clenching her chest, dressed in nothing but red bikini bottoms. I didn’t take note of their sign explaining their gallery wall, but I assumed any local with talent could get their work some exposure here. It was a nice nod to the community, but I would have preferred photos with a history lesson of their business, as is more common with such establishments.

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The door in leads to their bar. There, eight of their beers were on tap. You choose how you would like them: in pints, as one of four in a flight, or to-go in a growler. You can also help yourself to whatever flavour you wanted in one of their tall boy bottles or cans, kept cool in their adjacent mini fridge. And you can carry multiple of each out in their wooden reusable caddies for sale. Stain and seared wood to carry your six pack around in style. And if you like snacking while you drink, they have you covered with pepperoni sticks and Japanese style rice cracker snacks in jars on the counter. The little table top menu also offered jalapeño cornbread.

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As the men managing the bar filled your order, you claim your seat. A couch with coffee table up front, or one of many four person high tops. We choose the latter, wanting on be close to the window overlooking into their back of house operations. I expected to see more past the Santa Claus jelly gems stuck on the window to celebrate the season. Though realistically I don’t know what I was expecting to see in this room: the beer wasn’t currently being produced, and all the employees back there were done for the day. What I could make out was that everything was sparking clean, a big contrast compared to some of the other breweries on this run. The large beer vats looked polished and the barrels sandpapered smooth. Everything had a space and it was all in its right place.

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Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I wouldn’t make the effort to come down all the way for this, now that I have tried it. Not that their beers are bad, it’s more the travel time is far. But their beers are definitely tasty and worth trying at your local liquor store. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

POWELL STREET BREWERY
1357 Powell Street, Vancouver BC
604558-2537
powellbeer.com
Powell Street Craft Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hawksworth

The saga of finishing a 24oz steak.

 

It was our five year anniversary, it was my turn to pick the place and activity this year. I wanted to impress my partner for this landmark occasion so goggled “best restaurants in Vancouver”. The prestigious “Hawksworth” was the number one yield in this search.

They are unofficially known as one of the fanciest fine dining restaurants in the city. Located in the historical Georgia Hotel, it has all the glamour you’d expect from such a locale. Low lighting, glossy finishes, and flickering flames from glass fireplaces. It was luxury, a place you wear sequins to. Though I actually think, the more affluent you are the more casual you dress at such a place.

Luckily I placed a reservation as they were to capacity at 9pm on a Friday; and here we were thinking a later dinner would help us avoid the crowds and earn us some additional intimacy. However the only space we got was from our server. We felt over looked and forever forgotten. When we were finally seated, we got water but not much else. We kept swivelling our heads and waving our hands for attention. We might not have spent the most money or were the most influential in the room; but an outing like this means more to people like us. Everyday folks that save up enough to indulge like this. A meal and an occasion we may not repeat again for years to come.

We came in wanting their “Steak for two to share”: a 24oz aged Alberta prime beef striploin with sides for $129. However we were warned that the wait for this would be a 45 minute one. So we adjusted our two glasses of sparkling to a bottle and prepared ourselves for said wait. Our sparkling wine was brought over by their sommelier. She showcased the bottle and its label before pouring me a taster, “Proseco from nua”. I wonder if anyone has actually declined the rest, after a taste of what they willingly ordered? Our glasses were kept full as the sommelier kept on her toes. She kept her eye on our glasses and of those around us. All our bottles sat together, some were kept chilled on ice. She often topped our glasses up just to keep the sparkling in ours on the cooler side.

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Our wine was accompanied with some bread to tie us over. Little did we know, the bread offered to us was not actually complimentary. It later showed up on our bill unannounced at $4. Though really, it was a great deal for what we got. A basket of freshly baked breads: spongy baguette, crunchy sourdough, olive loaf with whole black olives, and crispy sesame crackers. It came with their speciality butter that was boiled and double churned with milk and a dish of oil. A formal meal just doesn’t seem complete without bread. Though given the food to come, we should have passed on it all together.

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The 24oz aged Alberta prime beef striploin made an entrance, carried by two men with both of their hands full. The vegetable sides came sectioned into two separate portions, each as perfectly staged as the other. An olive oil pomme purée with rainbow coloured roasted north arm farm carrots, topped with dukkah. “Dukkah” is an Egyptian condiment made by mixing herbs, nuts, and spices together. It is typically used as a dip with bread or over fresh vegetables for an hors d’œuvre. Here it gave the vegetables a very fragrant flavour. It tasted Moroccan, sweet yet deep with hints of curry. The flavour was very pronounced, it certainly kicked you in the taste buds with the first few bites, but grew tired fast. Though, luckily the side sauces helped to change the taste and rejuvenate the plate: chimichurri and bordelaise. “Chimichurri” is a green sauce used for grilled meat, made of finely-chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, and white vinegar. It gave things a cooling and tangy quality. The “bordelaise” on the other hand was much more decadent with an oily finish. This was a sauce made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, and shallots. I don’t know what the chunks of yellow that were bobbing in the tiny vase were, but they were nice and chewy, and certainly helped to change the taste and texture when the dish needed some.

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The beef was highlighted on its own wooden board. I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t come as a giant slab, but instead as two separate pieces for easy sharing. They were stacked at 12oz each and still impressive. A glistening red centre with a nice browned exterior. A heavy cut, intimidating even to half. There was plenty of meat, enough to share between three to four hungry patrons. The table beside us did just that, four hulking men sharing a meal we were attempting to do with two, with a few appetizers to start. It was a pretty clever and economical plan. Other steakhouses charge around $55 for a steak, and $10-15 extra for each sides. Here, this was $65 for the steaks and its sides, with the bonus of sauces. Between four it would only be $32 each for a 6oz steak.

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Each slab was tender, it was easy to cut into sections and slice off from piece to mouth. It looked more rare and bloody than it actually was, though the texture was on the raw meat side. But as good as it tasted, as well as it was prepared, we just couldn’t finish it. And it took us too long to try, the meat got cold, and as it did it got harder and harder to gnaw through. I felt bad to have the 4-5oz we left uneaten go to waste. But knowing we would be drinking later, I couldn’t will myself to finish. My sheath dress buckled. I was thankful to have worn thigh high stockings instead of pantyhose, as my stomach couldn’t bear the extra restraint. I was most satisfied.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Once again, our meal was well worth the $129 price tag. It was truly a good deal, a magical meal, and something worth writing about. All in a place to impress. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

HAWKSWORTH
801 West Georgia St, Vancouver BC
Rosewood Hotel Georgia
604-673-7000
hawksworthrestaurant.com
Hawksworth Restaurant - Rosewood Hotel Georgia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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