I have had the opportunity to attend a handful of “Vancover Foodster’s” tasting plates events to date, and they have yet to disappoint. He is the only one in the city, organizing self directed tours in specific neighbourhoods, or for specific food types. Breakfast on the west end, tacos around town, and today it was discovering the Burnaby Heights area. These events not only allow you to taste, try, and discover new places; but it also gives local businesses some recognition that they might not otherwise get.
This is a ticketed event. Prices are based on restaurant participation, with applicable early bird rates. Each theme runs for one night only, and there is a set duration for when it runs. You are able to leisurely travel between destinations and eat at your own pace. But first, everyone begins at the same check in point.
Today that was the “Caffe Artigiano” in Burnaby. There, we all checked in and traded our tickets for maps. Until this point we didn’t know how many restaurants there would be, which ones were participating, and what they each would be offering. I was most excited to see that out of all the listed places, I have only been to one. Admittedly, despite this being in my neighbourhood, I don’t frequent the Burnaby heights area all that often. And after tonight, I realized I should.
At “Caffe Artigiano” they were serving roasted halves of sandwiches with your choice of filling between the likes of shrimp and sprouts in a croissant and pastrami on grilled focaccia.
They also had flaky savoury pastries in Parmesan and leak, and roasted tomato and olive oil. These were my favourites for their flaky and buttery shell.
For dessert you had a choice between brownie bites, a section of a lemon square, or half a giant chewy cookie. I went for the lemon square as I appreciate tartness in an otherwise overly sweet dessert.
And of course, this being a coffee shop, we each walked away with a small cup of coffee in either caffe latte, cappuccino, or an Americano. And despite the crowd, every milked based coffee drink included some beautiful latte art done skillfully. I don’t actually really like or drink coffee, but I will when there is aesthetics involved.
After eating at your own set pace, you clean up and head out to the next stop. Tonight’s festivities was all along the same few blocks on Hastings, so it was easy enough to travel back and forth between each. So one after another you move on and on, until you have visited and tasted from all six participating restaurants/cafes.
We actually didn’t eat at “Artigiano” first. Naturally, after checking in, you’d think to grab what they are offering behind their counter first. But the line to check in and then to eat had us strategically travelling to the restaurant furthest North. Then doubling back to “Artigiano” as our second stop, considering that they would be closing at 8pm, despite the event ending at 10pm.
So instead we started at “Romana Restaurant” first. The restaurant at one end, separated from the cluster of the others at the other. Our disappointment in this, our first stop, made us appreciate the generosity and notable flavours in all the others to come.
Like many of the restaurants to come, I wouldn’t necessarily think to visit them, if not for this event. So it’s a shame that our first impression of them wasn’t a better lasting one.
Despite us being one of the first groups to arrive, we weren’t served until after 30 minutes of waiting. And then we were given plates along side all those who came in well after we did. It turns out there was only one chef in the kitchen, and he prepared only one of each of the dishes that they were offering at a time. Each cut up and divided into many small, one bite servings per person. I know this was a “tasting plates” event, but a sliver of pizza isn’t enough to get a proper taste. And looking around the room, at the faces of everyone else getting the same thing set before them, theirs read the same as ours did: disappointment.
We weren’t impressed, and as our first stop it didn’t exactly instill us with much optimism for the places and dishes to come. Thankfully we would be wrong in our blanketed assessment.
The menu listed Kalamari, Humus, Chicken souvlaki, Spanakopita, Pizza, Meat penne, and Pork schnitzel. But as I mentioned, it only sounds like a lot. In reality you only get a bite of each, and three penne noodles. With so little to try, I didn’t have enough to form an opinion on anything. It tasted alright, but none of the morsels were satisfying alone or altogether.
Our wait was improved thanks to our decision to share a pitcher of their beer on tap for $13.98, otherwise it’a $3.99 for a pint. However one of our companions was given a dirty glass, and without paying attention, he pressed his lips against the dirty part of this glass. He ended up drinking from the exact place that a pink lip print was stained on. Either he was given a dirty glass or their washing machine isn’t working properly. Pretty gross if you ask me. And when I brought it to the attention of one of their servers, she took the dirty glass and said, “okay” with no apology and no concern. I was taken aback, especially as the restaurant was still fairly empty at this point. This is enough to have me steering clear of the place, despite my curiosity to try a proper serving of their food, and to actually learn if I actually liked what I had today.
Our next stop is the reason why I like participating in these tours. The “Gray Olive” is an example of what this event is all about. This is one restaurant I can’t wait to come back for, for breakfast. A restaurant I would not have known about if not for this “Vancouver Foodster Tasting Plates”.
They are a dressy lunch spot with salads, sandwiches, and soup. Serving brunch with avocado toast and chicken with waffles. Tonight, they cleverly shut down their small space with limited seating, to their regular customers, in light of this event. Which meant, not only was the food good, but you had a comfortable place to enjoy it at. And their regular customers would not have their time here dampen by the crowd and noise that our tour group brought in.
Here, the tasting was like a full meal, miniaturized on a metal tray lined with parchment. A main, two sides, and a drink.
The “Roasted cauliflower salad” was most memorable. A collection of ingredients you wouldn’t think to assemble together, but it just worked. Curry roasted cauliflower with sweet potato, yam, red onion, raisin, apricot, and peas; all in a lime cilantro dressing. You don’t know what to expect going in and you can’t describe it, as you haven’t ever had anything like it. I would go back just for more of this.
The “G.O. potatoes” were crispy fried cubes of potato with soft melty centres. Lightly seasoned, they were best enjoyed with the creamy mayo-like side the smoked shallot aioli provided.
Most of us made “mmmm” noises when it came to the “Ruben sliders”. These three bite mini burgers came with the best corned beef I have had to date. “Corned beef” is a salt cured beef product. The end result of their house made version was a tender and salty slab of pinky meat. It paired nicely with sweetened caramelized onion, tangy sauerkraut, sharp Swiss cheese, and a zesty Russian dressing; that brought the slider all together with the addition of moisture.
And to complete the meal, you washed it all down with their refreshing and simple “iced lemon tea”.
Based on lines and wait times for other places, we headed for some dessert next. It helped to break up all the savoury flavours of the tasting plate before.
“Glenburn Soda Fountain” is a family run dessert destination. They specialize in classic 50’s style, in-house carbonated soda pops, bananas splits and hot fudge sundaes, and milky egg creams. They are always busy after the dinnering hour, no matter the day of the week. However, today even more so as they remained opened to the public during this event. Their four person work force (a father and his three daughters) were slammed weeding out their regular customers from those of us waiting with out tasting maps out.
Here, they generously offered three desserts to each diner, including a mini take out box filled with “assorted home style treats”. Carmelita bar (rolled oats and salted caramel), almond cornmeal bar, and butterscotch confetti bar (rainbow marshmallows). This was very thoughtful as many of us were getting full, and it was a nice option to be able to take these home to enjoy on an emptier stomach.
The two desserts to enjoy in house were the “lemon basil freezes” and “chocolate macaroon brownie sundaes”.
Lemon basil sorbet blended with lemon soda. It was a tart and refreshing slush, ideal for those who don’t like their meal to end on sweet. It starts fairly sour, but before you have time to comment on it as such, it hits you with a wave of sweetness right after.
A scoop of chocolate macaroon ice cream on top of a house made chocolate fudgey brownie, with toasted coconut and whipped cream. This one is for chocolate lovers with chocolate over chocolate. What sets it apart is the tropical flavour the toasted coconut in the ice cream and over the whipped cream bring.
Our last savoury stop was at “Broken Rice” for some fusion Vietnamese cuisine, and I wish we started off with this one as I really enjoyed the unique flavours we had, and it would have tasted so much better on an empty stomach.
It was a fulsome serving with a taste of a starter and two mains.
I liked the “prawn mango salad” the most, with its surprising pairing of tart and crisp julienne green mango, jicama, carrot, and daikon; with crunchy fried onions. The shrimp gave it more substance, but wasn’t essential. The salad and its citron vinaigrette and crushed peanuts held up on its own.
I could have used more duck in the “duck confit slider”. Otherwise it and the pickled carrots, daikon, carrot, cucumber, onion, cilantro, and ginger hoisin sauce tasted great. There was just more steamed bun than filling, to leave you wanting more flavour and more sauce.
I would also like to revisit their “can tho satay noodles”. Beef and rice noodle in a homemade satay soup with peanuts, coconut, lemon grass, and sesame. It was a uniting of ethnicities and their interpretations of soup noodles. Something special, with nothing else quite like it to compare to. Salty, sweet, savoury, spicy, and peanut forward. The meat was over cooked, whereas the noodles benefited from the extra soak in murky, neon orange broth.
And lastly we chose right in ending with “Fortuna Bakery” and their platter of sweets. Portuguese egg tart pastries, cake pops, mini New York cheesecake, and mini pastry puffs filled with either hazelnut, mocha, or vanilla custard. I appreciated each offer being the same, but with different little touches. Different slices of fruit on top of the cheesecake. And either a pink, blue, or purple fondant flower decorating the cake pop. They were delicious morsels to end the night on, fluffy and creamy without being too sweet.
And thus we closed out our night at this edition of Vanfoodster’s tasting plate. I recommend giving one of these events a try if you haven’t already. Do something different, and try some restaurants you might not otherwise think to.