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Month: December 2017 Page 1 of 2

JINYA Ramen Bar

This is my first time at “Jinya”. After trying one for their more unique ramens, I can see why they are so acclaimed, and how the lines ran around the block when they first opened. Well fast forward almost a year, and I am finally giving them a try.

Immediately I noticed how eye catching and awe evoking their all black exterior is. It had a posh look to it, like they know they are the nicest ramen spot in the city. With the doors open wide, you get a direct view of their bar only a few steps in. Its empty stools make for quite an inviting scene. Enough for me to make one of them my perch. Hanging above are shelves lined with oversized bottles of sake and their plastic noodle bowls stacked in fives.

The rest of the restaurant is rustic with red brick walls, dark wood furniture, and amber light bulbs in iron cages. Despite the restaurant being modern in music choice, employee dress code, and overall aesthetic; you still have the staff shouting in unison to greet you when you walk through the door. Most of them aren’t looking at you, but you appreciate their vocal chorus for the effort.

Similarly, I appreciated all the branding and presentation details that they took into consideration. How tea is poured in to porcelain mugs with their name printed in black. How they serve their fried foods and some of their snacks in wooden sake “cups” (boxes). This same box that is also used to later present your receipt in.

The menu was fairly engaging, a fold out with plenty to keep you interested in and reading from line to line. Coloured photos, highlighted specials, and an intriguing list of edits and remakes of what you expected from any other ramen restaurant. Caramelized cauliflower with crispy mint leaves, yam fries with a honey mayo, and a steamed white bun stuffed with braised pork; to name a few.

I had been craving for ramen and knew I would be eating again, shortly after, otherwise I would have ordered some appetizers to start and some desserts to finish, or at least more of their happy hour offerings. Arriving between 3-5pm you have the ability to take advantage of their discounted food and drink menu. Like Sapporo on draft, their mini tacos with either salmon poke or their pork with kimchee; even their panna cotta dessert ran at a couple of dollars less during this time.

Instead, I ordered just the one bowl of ramen and finished it. This is the “Sprouting up ramen”. Pork and chicken broth with chashu, kilurage, spicy bean sprouts, green onion half seasoned egg, crispy Brussels sprouts, black pepper, and ginger. Served with thick noodles. I made sure to eat the sprouts first while they were still crispy. They are definitely what sets this bowl apart, I have never had Brussel sprouts in ramen anywhere else before. The ones on the bottom soaked up the wonderful flavour of the broth, but as expected, was quick to become water logged. They would be just as good as an appetizer and because of how good they were, I now want to try their sprouts tempura.

Ever since my first encounter above, I have been finding excuses to return, so after a night of drinking I found myself back at “Jinya” with a friend. This time we sat behind the bar, shoving our faces full of deliciously rich ramen. Sadly, in my state then, I won’t be able to give details of how it tasted now. All I remember is eating all I could, then doggy bagging what I had leftover and what my guest couldn’t finish, into a single container. This mash up would later become my lunch, having mixed very well together.

The “Spicy Umami Miso Ramen” is prepared with pork broth, ground pork soboro, bean sprouts, green onion, bok choy, and chili oil. It is served with thick noodles and not spicy in my opinion.

The “Toyko Tonkotsu Ramen” is the chef’s special. Pork broth, pork chashu, kikurage, green onion, nori dried seaweed, seasoned egg, and fish powder. Served with thin noodles. I really enjoyed the texture of the thinner noodles, along with the minced garlic and fried onion.

 

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.
So far this seems to be the place for ramen that I continue to gravitate towards, so it is safe to say that this is currently one of my favourites. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

JINYA
541 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 2B7
jinya-ramenbar.com
JINYA Ramen Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Second Floor Eatery + Bar

In my Vancouver lifetime I have seen this restaurant location home to two others. And this was its third reincarnation that I have visited. Judging by its name, it seems like they ran out of clever titles, and was just going for the obvious description. This is the “Second Floor eatery + bar”, located in the second floor of a building on the corner of Robson and Bute.

Inside, this is your regular sports bar with over 82 television screens across their bar, dining area, and private rooms (I asked our server for the number). I had a good view of 30 from where I was seated. There was no way you could miss any of the action, yet the space isn’t advertised as it being as such. The name didn’t elude to the wall to wall television coverage, nor did their menu speak to the sport enthusiast’s appetite.

It would have been nice to know that each booth had their own flat screen coming in, though it was a nice surprise to walk up to. Your own private screen really helps to make things feel private for your party. Or in our case, it gave us a crackling fire for ambience and a more romantic dinner.

Looking over the menu, there was nothing that really jumped out at me. There was nothing creative about their offerings, nothing on it that I couldn’t find at their competitors across the street. And when I struggle to find something to order, it is never a good sign of the food to come. So I kept it cheap and ordered an appetizer just to test the waters.

I went with the $7 “Persian chicken pockets” appetizer. Pieces of flat bread folded over and filled with a shallot spread, charred tomato, and saffron chicken. The chicken was charred, it had a smokey flavour that bordered on burnt, with an acrid taste coming from majority of the pieces. Overall the pockets were pretty uninventive. The sauce added nothing but a cooling temperature and some creamy texture. Sour cream and salsa would have done much more here. And I would have preferred tacos to come out on this zig zag stand. Rather than these small two bite folds, that only looked smaller presented on it. It wasn’t memorable, yet its flavour was an improvement from that of my my partner’s plate.

It was a Tuesday so my partner took advantage of the $2 off all pasta Tuesday special. So his $17 “Meatballs and pasta” were now $15. Linguini noodles, tomato sauce, and Parmesan, served with garlic toast. The pasta was basic, the noodles heavy and over cooked to a soggy-soften texture. As for its taste, it was flavourful but flat. You grew bored eating it, with its lack of levels and mixed textures. The smashed cherry tomatoes added some freshness, but it did nothing for the soggy mass. Where the meatballs were hard to bite through and dry. It felt like a plate you eat your way through because you are hungry, but not because you are actually enjoying it. At least they were generous with the garlic bread

I was also planning on having some dessert, but the only one that sounded interesting enough to order, they couldn’t make. They were out of the Guinness Mousse that topped the “drunken sweetie”, a chocolate coffee ice cream that also included a chocolate sauce and pretzel oats. One of the servers sold me on it with his description, so after finding out they couldn’t make it for me, he brought out a substitute dessert instead.

He was nice enough to bring us out one of their “Ultimate cookies”. A giant chocolate chip cookie baked in the same skillet it is served in. Then topped with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream, some chocolate drizzle, and cookie dough crumbles. My partner was sold, it was definitely the best thing we had during this visit. Though the cookie could have been more moist, and I found it a little too sweet with the chocolate chips and chocolate drizzle combination.

 

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.
The service was great, with the staff incredibly attentive and friendly. I just wished the food delivered on the same level. I could see why this large restaurant was left predominantly vacant this evening. Though I am sure I can’t say the same during game nights. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SECOND FLOOR
808 Bute Street, Vancouver BC, V6E 1Y4
604-428-5131
secondflooreatery.com
Second Floor Eatery + Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Belle Patate: all you can eat poutine

One of the city’s authentic Quebec style poutine spots: “La Belle Patate” is changing the fries with gravy and cheese game! They are doing this by being the first in the city to offer all you can eat poutine. And we Vancouverites say, it’s about time!

For $19.99 you get unlimited, regular sized servings of this Canadian classic. Fresh to order fries coated in their scratch made, rich and meaty brown gravy; and then topped with plenty of squeaky cheese curds.

And best of all you can choose from the traditional three ingredient assembly or one of eight options with various toppings. Heck, if you have the stomach for it, you can eat your way through the list.

1. Traditional poutine
2. Smoked meat poutine
3. Chicken poutine
4. Galvaude (chicken and peas) poutine
5. BBQ sauce poutine
6. BBQ chicken poutine
7. BBQ smoked meat poutine
8. BBQ Galvaude

So what better of an occasion, to take advantage of this offer, than after a night of drinking. My friend and I strolled in thinking we would eat our weight in fries, although was disappointed to learn that our bodies impose a limit on this tasty treat.

To watch the vlog of how it all went down, visit my YouTube channel: MaggiMei. And hopefully it inspires you to eat all you can at “La Belle Patate”.

 

To learn more about this French Canadian restaurant, read my first visit post by clicking on the link below.

La Belle Patate

LA BELLE PATATE
1215 Davie Street, Vancouver BC
604-569-1215
westcoastpoutine.wix.com/labellepatate
La Belle Patate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Atlas Steak + Fish

Today I was invited as the plus one to a media dinner at “Atlas”. “Atlas Steak + Fish”, the new restaurant within the “Grand Villa Casino”, in Burnaby. I have been to the casino and visited the restaurant’s location on many occasions, prior. But back then it was branded as “Ebo” with a very different feel and menu.

And thanks to this faithful visit, it is now one of the restaurants I like recommending for a dressy night out in Burnaby. In fact, this post will cover two visits: the aforementioned media event in celebration of its opening; and my 2017 Christmas Eve dinner with my partner.

Before we get into it: when it comes to a media tasting, plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.

The entrance of the restaurant is within the casino. You enter through the main doors, then climb the staircase up. A turn to your left leads you to the casino floor; one to the right, your destination marked with an electronic billboard across from the hostess’ podium.

Being able to recall the restaurant that it once was, I immediately felt the space rejuvenated. New orange, blue, green, and grey carpet underfoot. New cream coloured couches and blue upholstered seats. And a couple of ceiling to floor wine walls with bottles balancing on pegs. Things were also a whole lot brighter with hanging bulbs in glass, focused spot lights, and copper piping that resembles the string of constellations in their logo. Other features including live music playing from a piano at the entrance; and the kitchen being open wide, with a full view of its operations from the dining room.

Their electronic and interactive menu lets you scroll through all their food and drink menus. Although, for those who prefer it analog, they offer the traditional fold out cardboard and paper as well. Though the latter doesn’t help you pair food with recommended drinks.

 

Like the “Agua de Valencia”, a cool and refreshing cocktail prepared with a dry English gin, fine orange liqueur, and a touch of orange. I reminded us of a salted mimosa. It was made for sipping.

I preferred the “Anejo old fashioned” more, enough to have another during this dinner and then come back for an additional glass on a later date. It was the sweetest and smoothest tequila based drink I have ever had. It featured a whisky charred tequila with dark aromatics, a touch of sweet agave, and is then finished off with flamed warm orange zest. I also appreciated the ice ball each glass came with, and your ability to swivel it menacingly.

The “Imperial pear” is great for those who like a lighter, fruitier beverage. Pear, sake, vodka, and a little fizz from soda water.

Their complimentary serving of bread to start is now one of my favourites. Fluffy buns served in the same cast iron pan it was baked in. And only a dedicate spread to pair with such a tasty roll will do. So they are presented with a blue cheese infused butter. It was salty with a strong cheesy flavour, and right up my alley.

For appetizers we shared the “Prawn cocktail”. And to our delight, the plump poached jumbo prawns were served hanging off a glass smoking from the use of liquid nitrogen. They were juicy and delicious, dipped in the gin infused cocktail sauce.

The “Salt spring island mussels and Manila clams” were prepared in a soupy sauce of fennel and smoked tomato. It was sweet and tangy with sausage slices added in for zing.

Their “Seasonal oysters” are a rotating selection, fresh and served on ice.

The “Steak tartar” is hand minced tenderloin with miso mustard, pickled daikon, a quail’s egg, and gnocco fritto. I liked the tartar alright, but could have done with a different type of base, instead of the hard fried bread puffs. I didn’t like the oil I tasted on them and how they contrasted with the clean finish of the tartar.

There are a few dishes prepared for you table side. An extra show with your meal, and a nod to the traditions that once existed. Once such was the “Caesar salad” at $13 per person. Everything is made from scratch, with the dressing hand whipped and the salad toss into it once mixed. Heart of romaine, parmegiano-reggiano, and the scratch made traditional Caesar dressing. If you don’t like the calories of a Caesar salad, they also have a “baby kale and spinach salad” for the same cost per person, served with a warm bacon and mustard vinaigrette with shiitake mushroom.

Their steak feature definitely has to be the “Double R Ranch tomahawk steak” served on bone. It will run you $120 with more than enough steak for two. The price also includes sides to go with it. The steak comes from family owned, “Double R Ranch”. Since 1968, “Snake River Farms” and “Double R Ranch” have been sourcing cattle from Nicola Valley in British Columbia. They hand-sort the best product so that “Atlas” can turn around and provide their guests with exceptional ranch-to-table beef. Trying this 48oz slab made me a believer. It was juicy with marbled fat. Great with the potatoes it comes with, but better with the add-on of truffled French fries.

The “Beef tenderloin” is available in a 6, 9, or 12oz portion. Our group of four planned on sharing so went big with the 12oz. We then took it to another level by requesting or steak with the “Oscar topping”. This is the addition of Dungeness crab, grilled asparagus, and a béarnaise sauce for an extra level of decadence. It added a creaminess and gave the stab of meat a new texture and taste to prolong our enjoyment of it.

The “Chilli rubbed cowboy steak” came in a 16oz. Its spicy rub draws out the juiciness of the USDA prime cut. And apparently it is all grilled in a special oven to gain the specific and desired char.

The “Tomahawk pork chop” also comes from “Snake River Farms”. A kurobuta pork chop, smoked pork belly, and an apple relish; served with a side of warm potato salad. It is a juicy piece of pork with an enjoyable sweetness, thanks to the apple and the caramelizing of the belly fat. The meat had a marbling similar wagyu and as a result was some of the juiciest I have ever had. I typically stay away from ordering pork for the fear of it being dry, this wasn’t a problem with this medium aged pork chop from Montreal.

The “Brome lake duck breast” is prepared with five spice, and served with pan roasted sweet potato, and an apple slaw. The sides too gave this a nice sweetness. I have no complaints for such a juicy and rich piece of meat.

With it all we ordered some seafood sides, to make our meal a little more “surf and turf”. Each “accompaniment” came out on their own, separate cast iron pans.

The “Grilled Atlantic lobster tail” included a dish of butter melted in a special apparatus, kept warm and melted by a flickering tea light. The tail was juicy, made richer by a good dunk in liquid butter.

The “Garlic jumbo prawns” were no different from the chilled appetizer version in quality and girth. Just seasoned with a nice garlicky flavour instead.

The “Pan seared sea scallops” were huge. Juicy rounds with nice crispy edges.

And the “Alaskan king crab legs” were easy to pry flesh from shell.

I liked the texture of the crispy “Tempura softshell crab”. Although it was a little too salty for my taste.

Their feature dessert, and the one to order is the “Baked Alaska”, which is flambéd for you table-side. This is a ball of raspberry coconut ice cream, lemon sorbet, orange vanilla cake, and Italian meringue. It is lightly spritz over with alcohol, which is then lit on fire. The blue flame that engulfs it after is quite the showcase. It doesn’t last, but gives the meringue a nice char. As for flavour, I found it a little too sweet and too tangy from the tart raspberry sorbet. A great dessert to try, but the next is one I would come back for.

The “Apple galette” was served baked warm, topped with a bourbon maple caramel sauce and candied pecans. This delicious flakey crust and sticky syrup combination is a winner. But it was the savoury rosemary ice cream that tied it all together and made it memorable for me.

I also found the “Vietnamese coffee parfait” too sweet and a bit too rich to finish on my own. I liked its concept and the assembly of espresso chocolate mousse, dark chocolate brownie, coffee jelly, condensed milk ice cream, coconut biscotti, cocoa nibs, and Bailey Irish cream together. There were a few spoonfuls where there was an overwhelming flavour of spice. But it was helped along by the biscotti-like short bread, to balance flavours out.

The “Salted caramel creme brûlée” was so good that I recommended it to my partner the next time I returned to “Atlas” with him. This was his first try of the classic cream dessert, but knowing his love of salted caramel, this was a guarantee win. It is baked sous-vide and served with a chocolate dipped biscotti, for those who like a little crunch with their pudding-like desserts. He enjoyed it as much as I did my first time.

As I mentioned, I liked the place enough to recommend it to my partner, when we were looking for last minute, Christmas Eve dinner locations. During this latest visit I was able to reaffirm my original assessment as a regular diner, as well as taste their limited time only “Festive season feature menu”.

The feature entree was the “Turkey duo”, a fun interpretation of a traditional turkey dinner with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Josper smoked breast and sous-vide thigh roll with a brioche chorizo and apricot stuffing, jus gras, and cranberries. The portion was generous though I wished for a 1:1 ratio of meat round to stuffing disc. Instead you had three slices of turkey meat and two pucks of packed stuffing. The turkey roll was juicy and very flavourful, the stuffing cakey with a sweet and fluffy texture. The cranberry a nice pop of acid, lending its sweetness to round out the plate.

Keeping with the fowl theme, my partner had the “Josper smoked chicken breast”. Free run chicken breast, shiitake peppercorn sauce, and roasted potatoes. He was leaning towards one of the steaks originally, but eventually made his decision based on the sides that this juicy white meat chicken would come with. The rub on it tasted like bacon, giving it a nice crispy skin. Though I found the chicken to be on the drier side. I liked my turkey a lot more. Although my partner declared his chicken the better of the two.

For dessert I throughly enjoyed the “Buche de noel”, though sadly I will not get another taste of it, due to its seasonal availability. It felt like you were eating Christmas on a plate. It didn’t looking like a lot, but this was just the right amount of food to leave you satisfied, yet wanting more. Gingerbread cake, marscarpone cream, dark chocolate, and candy cane ice cream. Juicy and tart toasted goose berry, crispy toffee to bite into, a spongy roll to melt on your tongue, and the perfect creamy and minty ice cream to cleanse your palette with, in between bites.

During this visit, our entrees were taking longer than expected to arrive. So one of our two dedicated servers came by to offer us a side salad to tide us over. I rejected his offer, as we both don’t like salads, and despite being able to enjoy the show, the food would have gone to waste. So during his second time around he offered and we accepted some wine that they would buy us. I had a 9oz glass of white and my partner some in the sparkling variety. This was a generous offer and a show of their level of service and standards. That and the fact that we had two servers attend to us and the manager and hostess clearing our empty plates and checking in on our meal throughout our stay. That and being situated right next to the piano with their pianist playing winter carols, made us feel quite like VIPs.

 

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.
A great place for a night out in Burnaby. And with the casino adjacent, you have your next date night destination all under one roof. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ATLAS
4331 Dominion Street, Burnaby BC, V5G 1C7
604-453-0776
atlassteakandfish.com
Atlas Steak + Fish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Spade

By day “Spade” is your every day gourmet coffee shop, by night they transition into an Italian bistro that serves so much more. And tonight we were here to discover first hand exactly what that was.

As a result, the space was designed with versatility in mind. The white tile back splash of the counter was home to both wine glasses and bourbon bottles, an espresso machine and spade branded coffee bags and mugs. The large wooden tables easily transition from day time study surfaces to family share style seating in the evening. I especially liked how their signature shape found its way on to their wall as a living greenery.

This is Sammi Piccolo’s newest passion project. He is better known as the man behind the popular “Prado Cafe”. “Spade” is his interpretation of an Italian coffee bar. And like his previous project, they also serve 49th parallel roast here, with the specialty coffee retailer offering a blend of coffee beans exclusively for them.

Tonight we were introduced to Kathleen, “Spade’s” head chef and General Manager. All the dishes to come were from her and her strong background in coffee. But first, when it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.

Our meal began with some pickled vegetables. Some briny tang to get the appetite going. I personally found it an overpowering start, whereas I would have liked the pickles as a side to refresh the palette in between bites.

To drink they offered a “Prosecco margarita” prepared with lime, hornitos, aperol, and prosecco. It tasted as you would imagined it to, a blend of sweet and salty; ideal for sipping with tapas plates.

But as a pairing with the meal to come, I much preferred glasses of their white or red instead. The “Canaletto Pinot grigio delle venezie” was an Italian import. An elegant dry wine with floral notes and crisp finish.

The “Valpolicella Ripasso” was also an Italian import. It had an intense ruby-colour with a complex bouquet. It was reminiscent of cherries, raspberries and red currants.

Our first course was the “Insalata di Halloumi” prepared with berries, pesto, walnuts, endive, and halloumi. This was the start I was looking for: a clean and dry bite. Prepared with more textures in mind than taste. I liked it just fine, though thought it could have used a dip for those who like a bit more punch.

The “Nachos Italian” was a fun twist on a bar favourite, and a great share plate. With the addition of eggplant conserva, arugula, roasted red pepper, pickled red onion, and olives it felt a lot heartier. A list I would expect to see topping a slice of pizza instead, as it was a little clumsy over loose nacho chips like this. And the salsa verde was more like a dressing, less of a scoop up dip, and more of a drunk and soak. It had an almost minty note to it. Truly unique and something interesting I would recommend to those who like nachos, like myself.

The second course started with a vegetable dish. Roasted cauliflower with ricotta, salsa verde, and seeds. It was best when you got all the ingredients in one bite. The firm vegetable and the crumby cheese made for nice opposites. Similarly, the hot and cold temperatures, and the salty and sweet flavours gave your mouth some interest. Although it was just a little oily where the dressing pooled.

The “Gnocchi with squid ink” was my favourite. Served with black garlic, cream, and lemon there was so much visual interest to this plate. Each house made gnocchi had a great chew, making it some of the freshest that I have ever had. I suggest smearing on the ink sauce liberally, as I found it fairly salty. It is best enjoyed with the fresh grated cheese and the refreshing greens for some lightness. This is the one I would come back for.

Our third course began with the “Octopus conserva” with artichoke soubise, potato, dill, and the same pickled vegetable from before. The acidity of the dish was refreshing. A cold tang with the chilled temperatures and tangy pickles. Though the potatoes were a little grainy and the dill alot overpowering. And I would have preferred the octopus served warm for a slightly more rubbery texture.

I found the meat in the “Papardelle with lamb shoulder ragu” a little too salty, but the noodles were delicious with a chewy texture.

For our fourth course we had Burrata with fennel, citrus, Serrano jamon, basil, and bread crumbs. This was refreshing and light, though I could have used some bread as a base for it all. This was great with some wine like a wet meat and cheese plate.

The “Meatballs” were prepared with rosemary garlic cream, mushroom, braised endive, Gorgonzola, and walnuts. They were hearty, a good comfort eat, reminiscent of home style meatballs with can mushroom soup; but a lot more refined.

Our finale was two desserts: a “Chocolate cake” and a “cafe latte panna cotta”. I don’t actually like chocolate but the one in this cake is the exception. The cake was so amazingly moist. Not too sweet, just satisfying from the first bite to the last.

Though I still preferred the panna cotta. Light and delicious, with a texture that is a cross between pudding and jello.

And for an after dinner drink, they have a wonderful “Espresso martini” for the coffee lover who likes a little kick in their cup.

Or just regular coffee drinks.

 

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.
A great spot for some coffee and snacks by day, and a better place to drink and nibble at, by night. A unique spot with a sophisticated menu and a cool setting, that well represents Vancouver’s causal vibe. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SPADE
1858 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4A5
604-428-4092
spadecoffee.ca
Spade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Cantina

We came to “La Cantina” for late night tacos. Truth be told, we were enroute to another taco place around the corner. But this newer shop and its bold colours drew us in like a moth to a flame. Plus its sandwich board spoke to its pricing, and $3 for a taco seemed standard, and a fair price to pay.

Stepping in, I was immediately enamoured with the decor. Their lucha libre theme engulfed you. It was consistent with the vibrant colours in the murals, lively with the up beat Spanish music playing over head, and even present in the fluorescent lights that added to the jovial vibe.

Realistically painted, meaty men watched you eat. Some looking fierce with glowing eyes, others determined with fist in hand, one proud with a sharp blazer over his shiny trunks, and even one smiling with kind eyes. Their masks also made their way on to each and every glossy stool top that you sat on.

You order at the counter, a bee line from the front door. Step one has you choosing your style. How you want your Mexican? – tacos, burritos or a bowl, as a quesadilla, or maybe a wrap? Next you choose your meat or vegetable filling. Each protein has two styles of preparation, with the shrimp plus chorizo as is, and the fish flash fried. It was hard to order off the over hanging menu at the counter. It was to the point, but didn’t list any of the ingredients. As a result, we watched the line creep as each patron had to ask what “pasilla beef” or “cochinita pork” was. So I suggest utilizing one of their take out menus on the side, to fill in the blanks.

It is $3 for a taco, $8.90 for a cantina bowl or burrito, $8 for a quesadilla, and $8.90 for a wrap. The price and parceling also reflects the quantity of food you get. They also offer sides likes soup, guac and chips, as well as plenty of sauces to load up on.

We got four tacos on a plate. The “Mole verde chicken” was shredded white meat chicken prepared with a chile pumpkin seed sauce. It was overall mild, with back of the throat burn, and a slight herbal note. This one my partner liked.

The “pasilla beef” was shredded beef seasoned in a chile almond sauce. To be blunt it didn’t look all that appealing, yet it was definitely the most flavourful of our quartet. It was savoury with chocolate under tones.

The “Shrimp chorizo” had a more self explanatory name. It was prepared “Mexican” style with pork meat. It was not as salty as I thought it would be. I liked the potatoes included, as they made things a lot more filling. And I missed any hint of the shrimp, as it was grounded and mixed into the pile of brown. All together I found the assembly just needed something more refreshing. Something raw and juicy, that isn’t the heap of cilantro that I scraped off, because I couldn’t stand its flavour.

The “Pacific rock fish” option is only available as a taco. It is crusted fish, fried and topped with pico de gallo and chilli mayo. I really wished the chunk of white fish was crispier, but the salsa kept things refreshing at least. It was the lightest of the four taco: tasty, but for my tastes, I would have liked it more with a sauce similar to a tangy tartar.

We also shared one of their “La Cantina” burritos. It was reminiscent of a chimichanga with its pool of drippy sauce poured overtop and the addition of toppings sprinkled over it all. A flour tortilla filled with Mexican rice, refried beans, lettuce, and your choice of meat or veggies. Topped with their homemade salsa, sour cream, and feta cheese. It wasn’t bland per say, but it had an interesting flavour that I haven’t had else where. It would have been much better without the quick to soggy shredded lettuce filler, as I found its wilted flavour dominating.

Fast forward: almost a month later we came back for another whack at the burrito and found it not as good as what we had above. We forgot how little we liked the lettuce and how over whelming it actually was. There was too much of it and not enough meat spread evenly. Once again the burrito was flavourful, but still missing; something zesty, to keep me coming back bite after bite.

 

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.
Sadly, I liked their decor more than their food. I think that during my next visit I may have to splurge on some extra sauces to keep things interesting. Overall, neither good or bad, just another option for quick and easy Mexican, at a good price. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

LA CANTINA
722 Nelson Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z 2A8
604-620-8981
La Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Big Star Sandwich Co.

My partner works in New Westminster, so is steadily exploring the area. When looking for a quick and inexpensive lunch option around his work place, when happened on “Big Star Sandwiches”, on Columbia Street. He liked what he had enough to bring me to their Burnaby location. They brand themselves as an authentic deli, and given the quality of the sliced meat within their sandwiches, they take this slogan seriously.

The Burnaby location is not ideal for walk-in traffic. However, it sits amongst other quick eateries; and a “Subway” franchise three doors down, for direct competition. But despite my preconceived notion, their notoriety earned them several patrons during our stay. A handful of cars took the drive to get to them for takeout. We saw four individuals come through the door after 6:30pm, an hour and a half to their closing. For me, this reaffirmed our meal to come.

The room was dressed pretty simple: concrete walls and floors with wooden tables and cherry red stools. Plenty of space for patrons. Functional, but not comfortable, ideal for a quick eat and go affair. Though the music made you want to stay. Their soundtrack is a good mix of uplifting indie and hip hop beats, echoing against their vaulted ceiling.

I also liked the consistency of their branding. Their logo appeared emblazon on their counter, and again taking centre stage on their mural. A mural that was as informative, as it was meant to be decorative. The logo then appeared once more splashed across the parchment that each 6 to 10 inch sandwich was wrapped in.

Down the length of the deli, their flat screen television played a rotating video. A catalogue of athletes moving and jumping, and generally breaking a sweat to their “always hearty” tag line. Their parkour and hot air balloon rides were inspirational, the athleticism spoke to the restaurants mission of providing their customers with cleaner eating options. However, it made me feel bad, given that I had ordered a sandwich with hickory sticks in it.

You order at the counter. Their televised menu scrolls, so using a take out menu to go down your list of options, is the way to go. I was suckered in by the lure of a feature sandwich, as listed on the blackboard by the register. The clerk mentioned it has been their best seller thus far. “The Neeson” with roast beef, bacon, habanero jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, hickory sticks, and barbecue and chipotle mayo. Judging by its name, I believe this is the one named after Liam Neeson. The sandwich that got Neeson into their New Westminster location last summer, when he was filming it town. They offered him a taste of his namesake for free and he took them up on their offer over social media.

It was stacked high and cut in half for an easier grip. The baguette used was chewy and fresh, and they were off to a good start. I believe that a good sandwich needs to begin with the right bread, and the one they use for all their sandwiches is a standout. Personally, I am not a fan of large stacks of meat in my sandwiches, so I could have done with less ribbons of thinly sliced beef. However there were delicious, and despite removing them from in between the buns, I still finished each slice, as you could taste their quality and didn’t want it to go to waste. I also would have liked more hickory sticks in my sandwich. And if not in the sandwich, a handful of them on the side would have helped. Some extra sticks so that I could actually taste them. I enjoyed their crunch, but the sweet barbecue sauce was the dominate flavour. Similarly, the raw vegetables added a freshness and another different texture to wrap your tongue around; but offered very little to flavour.

My partner had his regular: the slow roasted beef sandwich with bacon, cheddar, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo. It was a lighter sandwich compared to mine. Laughter in flavour and literally in how little it weight. It was a simple assembly, allowing the beef to be the star.

Both subs were a small six inch, and it was plenty. Enough to fill, given its chock-a-bloc of ingredients. And this is huge, coming from a gal with a furious appetite; one who orders the 12 inch from Quiznos, because that is not enough food.

With our sandwiches we ordered two of their sides. Both paled in comparison and were horribly lack lustre. There were only two soups available for the day. I went with the “cream of broccoli” over the “Canadian split pea”, wanting a thicker soup to dip my bread into. Instead, this was the most watery soup I have ever had with the work “cream” in its name. The soup tastes too healthy to be indulgent, with the hard bits of broccoli left uncooked. Disappointingly hard and served only luke warm. But at $3.50 for the cup, I didn’t bother to bring it to the attention of the clerk.

That and she was just so wonderful that she made up for the disappointment. She was also the most memorable note of our visit. She was approachable, yet easy going. After we paid she brought our tray of food to our chosen table. She then came back to check in on us a few more times. This was more table check ins and service than I was expecting from a sandwich deli; and more than what I have gotten from other sit down restaurants.

We also tried their potato salad. It was better than the soup, but just as bland. The pictured small container set us back $1.50, so I can’t really complain. I would have have liked more tang to it, some relish or gherkin pickles would have been ideal. Although the potato salad is available in a sirachra or horseradish version as well. But I would suggest skipping it and just splurging on a back of chips instead. Chips would have been the best side with these sandwiches. They would offer crunch and a pop of flavour, should your chosen sandwich need it.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A decent sandwich stop, better than Subway and most grocery or corner store alternatives. Although, it won’t be my go to. Good sliced meats, but no much else worth revisiting. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BIG STAR
3736 Canada Way, Burnaby BC, V5G 1G4
604-431-0373
bigstarsandwich.com
Big Star Sandwich Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dundas: #sixophochallenge

Thanks to “Dundas Pho”, Vancouver finally has a big bowl pho challenge to call its own. Back when I first began eating gross amounts of food for leisure, it was the large bowl of pho from Seattle that inspired me. So to have such a challenge in the city that I love, and to be one of the first few individuals to give it a try, I was ecstatic.

Admittedly I haven’t heard of “Dundas Pho” until today, nor would I have gone out of my way to visit them. However this competition is the sort of thing to put them on the map. A reason for you to travel far and wide to them. And a lure to have you coming in to see what it and they are all about.

As we waited for our large servings of meat and noodles to arrive, it gave me an opportunity to check out their menu. They covered bar-style tapas like nachos and wings, and Vietnamese favourites like banh mi and spring rolls, across a handful of coloured pages. The vivid photography certainly had me planning a return trip, in order to try what else they offered; in more reasonable portions, of course.

The #sixophochallenge will only be running from December 18th to the 31st of 2017, so be sure to take advantage and visit them within this time frame. However there will be limited quantities of the largest bowl of pho in the city, prepared per day. They don’t take reservations so it is a first come first served affair. So come early and come hungry, between 5-10pm, daily.

What it is, is 5lbs of meat and noodles with an additional 3lbs of chicken and beef broth submerging it. However, the contest rules state that you need only finish the three different types of beef and the vermicelli noodles to be deemed successful. You can leave the soup behind, but be warned eat fast or else the noodles do soak up the broth, adding to their volume.

You are given 30 minutes to finish, and each successful contest gets their meal for free. With the fastest three completion times, within the two week long challenge, earning additional prizes. First place with the fastest diner earns a $100 cash prize and their name on a trophy. Second and third place winners receive a $25 gift card to the restaurant. Winners will be announced on January 2nd of the new year.

And if at first you don’t succeed, you are more than welcome to try again. And even if you were successful, you can do so again in hopes of earning a better time. However, if you are unsuccessful it will cost you $34.95 to play. But at least you are able to take what you can’t finish home, not that it will be as appetizing then.

Instead of describing to you the nuances of the challenge, and the emotions that those who attempted it went through; Instead, I suggest you check out my video recap of the night. In my latest video, myself and four other gluttonous food lovers take on this uphill battle.

 

And after watching it, if you still dare, or feel up to the challenge, I suggest you head down to “Dundas Pho” soon to test your might. Otherwise you are more than welcome to order the 5lb pho in its large bowl, and share it and the cost between your family or a group of friends. After all it is a delicious serving of pho. Quality ingredients made fresh to order, with no MSG.

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.
The challenge got me through the door, their friendly staff and glossy menu will have me coming back. This visit was enough to peak my curiosity, to see what they are normally all about. Don’t deny your cravings.

DUNDAS PHO
2077 Dundas Street, Vancouver BC, V5L 1J5
604-420-1200
eatdundas.com
Dundas Eat + Drink Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vancouver Lantern Festival Grand Opening

Today was the grand opening of the Vancouver Lantern Festival. A celebration of the Chinese culture through light and storytelling. This would be the first time such a grand spectacle came to Canadian soil. And the multicultural nature of Vancouver made it the ideal city to host, with the PNE as the perfect location.

Tonight I was back on Fair ground as media for the event’s reception and ribbon cutting ceremony. We gathered at the Hasting’s house for some light refreshments and entertainment.

At the centre of the room was a buffet line that was set to look like a wavy dragon. It began with a decorative head starting the line and a fiery red tail to end it. On its back you were able to help yourself to snacks prepared with Chinese flavours. Above the white cloth and under the heat lambs were plates of “pear slaw” with a ginger lime dressing.

The tempura green beans were offered up with a soy dipping sauce. And honey sesame chicken was made handheld in between slider buns with a rainbow slaw.

Servers circled the room offering pineapple sparking cocktails and wine in red and white.

There were hoisin sauce meat balls, pork belly on baguette with pickled vegetables, and deep fried shrimp dumplings wrapped up like parcels.

Check-in included a run down of the night to follow and a commemorative keepsake. Each attendee received a Chinese Christmas ornament of sorts. A sachet of traditional herbs sewn into a bag made from Chinese textiles. It was also accompanied by a character key chain. The latter was hand made by the artists flown in from China, the same artists that built all the lanterns to come.

We were regaled with traditional Chinese entertainment. Mystical melodies performed on the Er-Hu, a two-stringed fiddle. And the art of “face changing”, an over 3000 year old tradition, and a highly prized art form. It involves the use of slight of hand, to literally change the performer’s face. It is described as a level two national secret that is passed down from generation to generation. Such a showcase would be included during each and every night, that lantern festival ran. But on a grander scale with a variety of art forms, for those who want to return to see something new/different.

We heard the president of the PNE, the organizers of the lantern festival, and the city’s MP present. Everyone was ecstatic to see their months of planning and work come alive. An early Christmas present for the East Vancouver community, extending to the entire Lower Mainland. Their wish for all of us, was to go on to share and recommend this unique experience with our friends and family. Which I can safely say that I will and have.

 

When time, we all trickled out in to the fast approaching night, for the ribbon cutting ceremony at the “welcome entrance”, a honourific arch.

Then, we were given free run of the place. Allowing us to take in each display at our leisure. I highly recommend visiting earlier in the evening, as we did. The festival opens at 5pm every night and that is the best time to take in the sights and get in your shots, with as little obstruction as possible.

As for food, given that this is on fair grounds there is plenty to nibble from, across a handful of stands and food carts. Popular fair snacks like mini doughnuts, foot longs wrapped in bacon, poutine, and beaver tails make an appearance. Along with more hearty meals like Mac and cheese, chicken wings, and of-course noodles and dumplings from “Dim Sum Express”.

I highly suggest treating yourself to a round on the ferris wheel. You get a view of the entire park from this elevated perspective! It was a great ride, and made a great recap of all that we saw up close.

The following are some of my favourites lanterns and exhibitions. They say a photo is worth a thousand words so I will leave it at that. I suggest you explore the grounds in leisure, to fully appreciate the workmanship, and to read their descriptions for more context.

For a little bit more detail of the festival and to see it in “action”, please check out my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

 

The Vancouver Chinese Lantern Festival runs from December 15, 2017 to January 21, 2018; for five weeks. Open Sunday to Thursday from 5-10pm, and until 11pm on Fridays and Saturday. Tickets are available online or in person, with a two to three dollar difference depending on age group.

VANCOUVER LANTERN FESTIVAL
http://vancouverlanternfestival.ca/

 

Black Rice Izakaya, winter menu

My first visit to “Black Rice” was earlier this year. Then, the Japanese Izakaya was offering their spring seasonal menu. Light flavours, sushi on fire, and the cooking for various meats on heated rocks.

For the original visit, first impressions and what they offered the beginning of this year, visit the link below.

Black Rice Izakaya

 

But today, I was invited to check out their seasonal winter offerings. The chef promised that it would not be anything crazy or fancy, jus t good food, done right. And I agree. I liked it all and came away with two favourite dishes that I will have to go back for. This menu will be available as of this Wednesday, December 13th, 2017.

But first: When it comes to a media tasting, plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.

We started off the afternoon with some refreshments. Like every great izakaya, “Black Rice” makes of a great hang out spot. The room has a lively energy to it, and an extensive bar to help you get there quicker. This would be an afternoon of interactive plates and notable drinks with good friends.

They offer your popular Japanese beers on tap, perfect to order in pitchers and share.

 

As well as a healthy selection of sake. Their collection is hand chosen by our chef/owner. He takes a pilgrimage to Japan to source out what he deems the best of the sakes currently in the market. He takes into consideration quality and flavours that marry well with his food. And makes note of limited releases and rare finds. The “Pink Lady” was the one we tasted, an exclusive bottle only offered at “Black Rice”, made with black rice. It has a beautiful rosé hue, and a crispy and clean taste. You almost make out some floral notes its colour assumes.

After trying it at the “Sake Fest”, that I attended this fall, and remembering then and seeing it now; I had to have some pear sake. This is the one I recommend for sake fanciers and non-drinks alike. It is made with 50% fruit juice and it tastes like it. An easy to sip drink and a great one that compliments food as well.

Our tasting menu meal started with the “Goma Tuna”. A lightly seasoned tuna salad with sesame, seaweed, and shiso; served along side uni in a cucumber made shot glass. It was a strong flavoured uni and not easy to share. So given the modest serving I suggest getting your own of these to start.

“(Hamaguri) Dobin Mushi”, clams, water, salt, pepper and yuzu peel. It mostly tasted like spicy pepper to me, clean and zesty. A nice clean start to wash the palette. I made the mistake of having the Korean hot pot before this, and as a result didn’t get a true tell of the soup. Although the others acknowledged how good it was. How deeply flavoured the broth was, having full extracted its flavour from the clams.

The “Kimchi Nabe” was one of my favourites. The chef’s goal was to break the mould with this Japanese style hot pot starring the popular Korean pickled vegetable. It was warming, but not spicy. The great flavours of kimchi I like, but not with its heat or the texture of the wilted and soggy vegetables. The broth was great to drink as is, but best as a sauce of sorts for all the ingredients that bobbed within it. Tender strips of meat, seaweed knots, tofu cubes, zucchini slices, dried bean curds, beef balls; and kimchi of course.

The “Kimchi Scallop Motoyaki” was a visual threat served on a half shell. It too was only slightly spicy, depending on the kimchi for its flavour and not so much its heat. Here crispy chunks of bell pepper, pickled kimchi vegetable, butter, and cheese found its way on top of the delicious scallop. However, as good as this tasted, I was missing a starchy base to round out the bite. Some crispy bread or some crackers to scoop the seafood mix on to would have been ideal.

I love me a comforting carbohydrate heavy dish and this one checked off all the boxes. The “Napolitan Spaghetti” used Soba noodle, adding to it tomato sauce and ketchup for a sweeter dish. The bacon gave it some saltiness and the sausage some kick, the egg and the colourful peppers some sweetness. And having it served over an egg omelette cooked in a cast iron raclette pan, put it over the top. Overall this was a great, creative, and tasty way of combining Italian pasta with sweet Asian flavours and their love of using egg for its texture in a dish.

The “Teriyaki Wagyu Steak” was another show stopper, served in a similar raclette tray, here it was use to keep a mixture of melted Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheese with mashed potato in a more liquid-like state. This was the dip to the the teriyaki glazed, US produced, Wagyu beef slices that sat above it. Each slice was cooked to the perfect medium rare, with pinks at each of their centres. The flavours melded well together like a play on steak and potatoes, I just could have used some stronger cheeses in the mix. It was also a little runny and harder to scoop up. I actually preferred the cheese slightly congealed so you got more of it per slice of wagyu.

Not on their winter seasonal menu, but still worth trying are their unique rolls. They stand out in appearance and ingredient make up. The “Aburi scallop hako” melts in your mouth with chewy rice, creamy mayo, and tender chunks of scallop. Best taken all in one block bite.

The “Black mentaiko” roll uses black rice for their avocado, cream cheese, and tuna tataki roll. On the top of it they balance a piece of breaded and deep fried black cod with a tangy mayo sauce coating. This was a variety of textures and flavours and it worked. Crispy breading, velvety sauce, creamy avocado, chewy rice, and soften pieces of fish.

 

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.
With rotating menus like these, “Black Rice” is giving you plenty of reasons to return to them. So head down and don’t deny your cravings.

 

BLACK RICE
782 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 2R5
7781379-0416
blackrice.ca

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