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

Month: December 2019

Night Dreamer at Blue Light Studios

I didn’t know East Vancouver had its own recording studio!

The intimate space of “Blue Light Studio” serves as a place where local talent can come together to work on their projects, and get tips and insights from their fellow musicians and music makers. They are a professional, full-service recording studio with services that include Recording, Mixing, Mastering, Production, Arranging, Voice Overs, ADR, and Video Production. And all of “Blue Light’s” Producer, Engineers, and even Interns are musicians and avid music lovers. They started the studio with the desire to create an environment where artists can be comfortable, and thus are able to freely create their best music. They do this in part by upholding the highest sonic quality possible. Given that “Blue Light Studio” is co-owned by one of the owners of “Water St. Cafe”, I could see the caliber of the restaurant in several facets of this studio.

In fact they even have a bar out back, serving beer and cider by the can. This outdoor space constructed with shipping containers, and kept dry and warm for the season with plastic tarps strung up overhead, heat lamps cranked high, and a fire pit roaring with blue glass. On a warm summer’s day I can imagine this locale being popular spot. A destination to hang out at, and grab a beer with your round of darts or foosball.

But tonight with the wind chill and pattering rain, we would grab our drinks and descend back in doors. Because on this Monday we were invited down for a private performance of “Night Dreamer”. The new collaborative duo of “The Smashing Pumpkins” guitarist Jeff Schroeder and “Wam Dingis” member Mindy Song. The pair has recently released their debut EP, “Treasure”, on October 11th of this year. And have been touring in the US: Chicago, New York, and LA; and most recently Seoul, Korea promoting it. This is their first Canadian performance, and the acoustics of “Blue Light Studio” was the perfect venue to showcase their debut.

The space is a tighter fit, not meant to host large groups, but serves as an intimate venue for breakout performers to showcase their talent, and a way for music lovers to literally get up close and personal with the creators. The “main stage” is lit in blues and pinks, hues that blend in to their cut out wall with wooden features. The hardwood floor underfoot is softened with patterned carpets and worn furniture. Here, instruments and equipment sit at the ready.

We, the audience crowded around the makeshift stage in a free for all. It was tight knit as we stood shoulder to shoulder. Our position and proximity added to the experience. It felt real, raw, authentic. Nothing between us and the talent. The crowd so small and so tightly packed, that those up front were able to reach out and touch Jeff’s neon salmon coloured guitar. Furthered by the great acoustics of the studio space, the two man band sounded like six.

I am not a music critic, but I know what I liked, and I liked this. Our artists were both dressed modesty in black. Their dress code spoke to the “night” in their collective name and their message. Simplicity was the key, they didn’t need gimmicks or costumes when their music and sound resonated, vibrating to your core. Their music was melody forward with great beats. Naturally there were impressive guitar rifts and solo from Jeff. They paired well with transitional vocals of Mindy, you could hear it in her voice: she was really putting in work at being acknowledged. The blend of guitar and vocals lends to a dabbling in the electronica, rock and pop genres. A smooth sound as they are blended into one. I would listen to this while studying, reading, or during a peaceful car ride cross country. This was easy listening, yet if you cranked it up loud enough, you were able to bop to it. They definitely had the small, intimate crowd bobbing their heads and twitching hips. Tonight we heard music that has yet to be recorded, and songs that were produced in Canada

In between said songs Mindy engaged the audience with stories of their travels, reception, and inspiration behind a few of their songs. Like “24” and “Heatwave”. They ended their set with “Taste”, with her reminding the crowd to check out their video when it drops on December 10t, 2019 on YouTube. It was filmed in an abandon airplane hanger. Once their performance ended to a warm reception, the audience then had time to engage with “Night Dreamer”, asking questions in a Q & A”.

We were also given a once over of the closed door studio, and had the opportunity to sit behind the big chair. There was a joke made about each studio needing a lava lamp. It holds up. In short, I highly recommend stopping by the studio for their next break out talent/performer. This was such a unique experience and I fully enjoy supporting local. For more on show dates and times, and how to get tickets, visit the link below.

BLUE LIGHT STUDIO
1839 Franklin Street, Vancouver BC
(778) 227-3414
https://bluelightstudio.ca/

Water St. Café

Admittedly I have frequented “Water St. Cafe” a handful of times, but on each visit it was for an event and during such an occasion the experience is much different. A full house with standing room only, and nibbles to graze on, as you sip on glasses of bubbles and wine. So tonight my guest and I were excited to join them for a simple dinner for two, in Gastown.

The restaurant is better known for their fine dining vibe, a modern upscale spot with dim lights, flickering candles, and white table cloths. The best seat in the house is definitely the corner table on the first floor. It over looks the cross section of Cambie and Water Street, with a clear view of the iconic steam clock. Not to mention all the folks taking photos of it, as it bongs and releases plumes of smoke into the night sky.

We were given a table upstairs, to be able to take in the live music they were promoting on this Monday night. That, and the restaurant was fairly business on what others deem a “slow night”. The server led us through a maze of large parties, past their marble counter bar, ascending up the carpeted staircase that spiral. On the second floor there are individual rooms for group events, as well as some pocketed seating that gave you seclusion for your party.

We were seated at a table for two with a view overlooking Gastown’s streets, right in front of the lit “stage”. A curtain of LED string lights set the stage literally. We arrived just as our local and live entertainment were setting up for their set. Across the evening they would perform melodic covers and their own music played across a guitar, base, and drums. I found the live music element a wonderful surprise, and was delighted to be able to take this in. It definitely elevated our evening and experience. That, and the food to come.

We enjoyed wine with our five dishes below, including the amuse bouche that came first. Instead of it being something the chef whipped up with left over ingredients, our amuse bouche was actually available for ordering off the regular menu, but in a more compact size for sampling. Instead of the “Smoked BC salmon plate, this was a bite each of smoked BC salmon served over a crostini with dill cream cheese spread. This was a great treat, a crowd pleaser elevated with the inclusion of red onions, crispy capers, and a sweet balsamic vinegar drizzle. All together a classic flavour that doesn’t disappoint. The balsamic lent sweetness to the assembly, the capers a sharp tanginess, and the radish some crunch.

Next we had the “Bison carpaccio” for our appetizer. Pink pepper corn crusted canadian bison, sliced thin as tracing paper, topped with shaved parmesan, truffle aioli, and crispy capers. This was a dish that had you choosing your own perfect bite. The truffle elevated it, and the freshness of the raw onion and the pepperiness in the greens came together, offering layered depth. Everything was wonderfully paired. Except I wanted a base with it, something to make this a heartier bite. Although at the same time, I didn’t want to dilute such an interesting flavour combination with a starch. In short, I wanted a meatier bite to the wafer thin bison I was enjoying so much.

For our vegetable course we had “Lamb lollipops and kale”. The perfectly prepared lamb made this salad a lot more approachable. Rosemary marinated, grilled lamb chops with charred radicchio, baby kale, and salsa verde. The lamb was good on its own, but the leaves it sat on offered freshness and a nice citrusy seasoning for the savoury meat. Alone, the kale salad had points of bitterness, and hints of mint.

The “West coast crab cakes” were declared a “Café tradition!”, so we had to give it a try. A blend of pacific rock crab, baby shrimp, and preserved citrus with fennel, arugula, and a saffron aioli. It was fragrant with the diced peppers, a notable taste paired with the sweet crab meat. As for the sauce you smear your crispy crab puck in to, it was mild enough that it doesn’t over power, but rather accented the lot with notes of marmalade on the tongue and in the nose.

And for our entree we had the “16oz Ribeye steak and frites.” A grilled 16oz bone in AAA canadian ribeye, prepared medium rare. Smothered in a three peppercorn mushroom sauce and served with cajun seasoned frites on the side. We well received this classic. The perfect amount of fat to lean beef, with a pink centre. Easy to slice through with a peppery sauce that perks it and the fries up. Fully satisfied with this one. No complaints.

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.
In conclusion this was an amazing night. Everything was on point from the one or a kind view, to the cozy interior decorated with Christmas flourishes, to the live music surprising and delighting. And most importantly the food that was amazing, a classic menu prepared well and as expected on what typically isn’t a peak night. “Water St.” did not disappoint! Don’t deny your cravings.

WATER ST. Cafe
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
waterstreetcafe.ca

Uno Gelato, gelato making class

I have always wondered how ice cream parlours stay afloat during their off season. How do they attract bodies in, and customers by, to enjoy their cold treats when the weather doesn’t drive the craving? This one local ice cream parlour is diversifying, in a clever way. They are offering gelato making classes to supplement their sales. Not only does this get customers through the door, but for all who attend the class, they walk away with a new found appreciation for their product, and a willingness to come back for more in the future. This was also my first time visiting the newer ice cream shoppe, and what a great first introduction this was to it.

Located on West Broadway the shop is marked with their very own, branded, portal ice cream caddy. I have experienced their gelato when this popped up at a handful of events I attended. Past it is their all glass store front. The space is brightly lit, simple in only their use of their logo to decorate the white walls. Our class was held on the table upfront. Behind it is their gelato counter. You look up for their current menu, 12 flavours on rotation. 12 that we would later try as part of the class. I especially liked the saying that was splashed across the back of their open kitchen, it spoke to their gelato being, “simply divine”. They pride themselves on serving a “Cow to cone” product, working with local farmers and suppliers when they can, a fact that sets them apart. For example, the lemon in their lemon sorbet can’t be grown in BC, so these they import.

The class takes places every Thursday, and will run through to February 2020. And if it is popular enough, it might run through into spring. The cost is $50 per person and the class is kept as an intimate 8, the smaller class size allows for a more hands on experience. As much as possible student participation is encouraged. You help measure, pour, stir, and churn. Playing a hand in making next day’s batch. Tonight we would get a behind the scenes look at the making of their yuzu sorbet and a chocolate brownie with burnt caramel sauce. For the full run down of the class, check out my vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei. Or continue reading for the highlight reel.

After a few introductions to our seasoned chefs with over 10 years of gelato-making experience, our group of 8 was led to the recesses of their kitchen to learn a little more about what goes into their gelato. We got to look at and to try some of the premium ingredients that went into their gelato. We sampled various sugars, syrups, and even their homemade burnt caramel sauce. They use organic and local as much as possible, in order to guarantee that you can taste the freshness. For example, the hazelnuts for their hazelnut gelato comes from a local farmer who roasts each himself, and then send the nuts to “Uno Gelato” the very next day.

As a unit of helping hands we began by measuring the necessary ingredients, with accuracy using an electric scale. They all went into a large plastic bucket to be blended together with an electric drill-like apparatus. 60 litres per batch is made, which are considered “Micro batches”.

This liquid then gets poured into a mixer that not only churns the “batter”, but freezes it into the gelato we know. It looked like magic as the liquid turned to solid, and it built up on the sides of the stainless steel vat. And then when it was at the desired consistency we helped our chefs scoop it up with a giant spatula. Here they are either kept cool, or finished off with additional ribbons of caramel, and/or chunks of chocolate stirred in.

And while we waited we were treated to a gelato tasting, a scooped sample of each of their offerings in cups over a special placemat; much like you would see at a wine tasting.

• There was the tart “Passion fruit” sorbet with fruit from Columbia.
• The “Very cherry” was slightly sour with its namesake fruit and almost bitter with 70% chocolate from Italy.
• “Akbar Mashti” is a popular flavour amongst the Persian community, who have given the feed back that “Uno’s” rendition of this Persian dessert is exactly as they remember it to be. Complex with flavours of rose water, saffron, and pistachio.
• The “Mint chocolate chip” is made with real mint leaves. The ones that are bright green uses artificial flavouring. I liked the way the
Stracciatella chocolate melts so nicely into the gelato and the freshness of the mint balances out the sweetness.
• The “Salted caramel” was their most popular flavour. Having tasted our way through what goes into a batch of it, I can see why.
• The “Pumpkin pecan cheese cake with crumble” was their seasonal flavour, next month’s will be a tahitian vanilla with pistachio. The pumpkins used for this pecan cheesecake are from the Fraser Valley, and the crumble within it is made from scratch.
• “White coffee” is the one I liked the most, enough to take a pint home with me. I don’t drink coffee, but love its flavour in ice cream. They have partnered with “Milan coffee” to use their local roasted beans, which are infused for 24 hours to extract their flavour. And despite a stronger coffee nuance, there is very little caffeine in this. Overall this was a more mild coffee ice cream with the addition of milk to dilute it, much like what creamer does to a black cup of coffee.
• The “Chocolate banana” was made with organic banana from Ecuador and Dutch chocolate shavings. It tasted spot on.
• The “New fashion chocolate” is made with Dutch cocoa powder. It tasted like a fudgesicle, and gave me flashbacks of my childhood.
• The “Midnight chocolate sorbet” is vegan friendly. It is made with water, but is so creamy that you think it could be made with milk and cream. It contains 4 kinds of chocolate for extra richness.

When our ice cream was ready we were then taught how to hand curl cones to go within it. The premade batter gets pressed in a waffle maker, the resulting sheet of waffle gets curled into a cone using a twist handle tool. Their cones are available in original, a black charcoal, and a brown sugar cone. The class ends with everyone having one each, and enjoying a scoop of their choosing with it.

In short, this is a fun event for any gelato enthusiast and a different activity to take part in, if you are looking for something to do on a Thursday night. For additional details on how you can sign up for the next class, visit “Uno Gelato’s” link below.

UNO GELATO
2579 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6K 3T3
(604) 733-5884
https://www.unogelato.com/

H Tasting Lounge, Winter High Tea

There are a handful of cafes and tea salons offering a Christmas themed high tea this season. But “H Tasting Lounge” is setting itself apart with their Ferris wheel display, the ability to have mulled wine with your finger sandwiches, and to enjoy live music with it all.

Their festive tea is only available on weekends, from November 30th to December 29th, from 11:30am to 4:30pm. The cost is $55 per person. After reading the press release, I ventured down to be the first person to try it, on what should have been its release date. However, due to complications with the menu, it was delayed for the following week. So I ended up dining with them the first day, tasting from their new winter menu instead; and then returning a week later to try the official winter tea service. This post will be an accumulation of the two visits.

I am a huge fan of “H Tasting Lounge’s” modern space. It speaks to luxury with velvet furniture in soft pastels, metallic throw pillows, and gold panel detailing with a 20’s flair. The latter, a remnant of the aviation themed bar they originally launched as. We grabbed my favourite seat, within the open space. One of the two c-shaped booths in the corner, by the patio entrance. A crushed blue velvet backdrop in your very own booth. It hugs you and your guests, whilst offering just the right amount of intimacy for two.

High tea starts with a box of loose leaf teas to sort and sniff through. You un-lid each vial and make your choice based on smell, much like a sensory menu.

Given that I was the very first person, during the very first service of this, they were still working out the kinks. Meaning we weren’t given the option for either of their two seasonal teas; which we would have ordered. The “Tealeaves Nutcracker Black Tea Blend” and/or the “Tealeaves Organic Herbal Sugar Plum Fairy”. So in the this case, I went for their “organic vanilla rooibos” instead.

Teas is served in a modern white and gold gilded tea pot that matches with your cup and saucer. It comes with milk and sugar, should you need it.

Although, I am more partial to their alcoholic drink options, and highly recommend either their “Mulled Wine” or “Miracle on Bayshore Dr.” cocktail. The latter a mix of rye, brandy, gingerbread syrup, milk, whole egg, and marshmallows. But today I went with the mulled wine, because where else can you get mulled wine (not at an outdoor market)? Here it is made with red wine, holiday spices, brandy, and peach schnapps. The wine is steeped with sugar plum tea leaves, and infused with clove cinnamon and star anise. After one sip, I concluded that I much rather a glass of mulled wine indoors, with each sip furthering my warmth.

Looking for another hot beverage to get tipsy on? They also have a lovely “Rye chai”, served warm in a tea pot. Made with rye, mezcal, apricot, falernum, lemon, and chai. It was a strong sipper, but I didn’t get much of the chai flavour I anticipated. Good hot or cold with the natural burn of the alcohol fuelling things.

For something just as festive, but packed with ice, their “Cranberry cobbler” offers dessert in a glass. Gin, cranberry, all spice dram, and lemon. This was refreshing and effervescent, with the cranberry offering its unique blend of sweetness and tartness.

As for the actual food portion of the tea service, it is a combination of savoury and sweet bites swinging back and forth on their precarious Ferris wheel. Take it from first hand experience, it is best to remove all the elements from the tower before you start eating. Emptying one glass plate throws off the balance of the entire apparatus, and spinning it has plates catching on to one another. Worst case scenario, everything falls and you have mashed cake on the table.

The follow is what we had, in the order in which we ate it. From lightest to heaviest, savoury to sweet, starting with the soup. Served in a shot glass, the “Squash Soup” with an herb and cheese crisp was a sumptuous start. A thick and creamy soup, so rich that it could function as a sauce, especially when dipping the crispy flaky cheese twist into it. I wanted a larger bowl of this, to enjoy alongside the sandwich I liked below.

This was a savoury bite reminiscent of the season: “Confit Turkey Sandwich” with apple butter and cranberries. It reminded me of a classic turkey dinner all in one easy to eat handheld. Juicy, pulled, white turkey meat, sage and thyme seasonings, and pops of sweet cranberry. The only thing that was missing was a cup of gravy to smother it all in, thanksgiving turkey style.

My favourite feature of the set was the “Tourtière”. A savoury ground meat pie with a golden brown buttery crust, topped with a crispy fragrant sage leaf. This was just beautifully done. I have had my fair share of this Québécois classic, and to date this is my favourite.

Not winter specific, but familiar to any high tea tower is the “Smoked Salmon & Cucumber sandwich”. The “H Tasting” version is served on rye bread. This is a classic that tasted exactly as you expect it to.

Similarly, there were scones included, scones being another staple to any good tea tower. Each was a perfectly crafted raisin scone: crispy, flaky, and crumbly all in one. It was just as shame that they didn’t make them with the cranberries and thyme that was used to decorate the plate. This would have spoken better to the holiday theme. Though it didn’t stop me from taking a bite of the scone and popping thyme and cranberry into my mouth after it. The scones also come with a jar of orange fruit spread and clotted cream, though the former wasn’t necessary given how much dried fruit there is already on the plate and within the scones themselves.

The menu described this as the “Festive Cotton Candy Bonsai Tree”. I understand the “tree” part, with the mental object being the “trunk” that the round of green and pink cotton candy sat on. However, I was still missing the “festive” portion of it. It could have been flavoured like peppermint, or given a sprinkle of powdered sugar for snow. It didn’t speak to Christmas, but instead spring. Nonetheless it was fun to eat, we enjoyed pulling tuffs from this impressively spun cloud of sugar.

Next we moved on to the dessert portion of our high tea service. Here, we learned that all the restaurant’s pastries are outsourced by “Faubourg Bakery”. They were okay, but I wasn’t expecting this from a hotel property of this caliber. And maybe if it was all made in house, I might have liked them more.

The “Yule Log” was the visual show stopper, it immediately spoke to the holiday with almond jaconde, praline, and ganache. It had a nice chocolatey hazelnut flavour, but a little too sweet for my taste. My guest on the other hand was not only enamoured by this visual, but liked its taste as well.

I couldn’t taste the gingerbread mousse or cranberry compote from the “Festive Profiterole”. The shell was a little soggy and the spices lacking. This wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped.

I preferred the mild flavour of the “Frangipane Cake” with spiced pear and almond. A dense cake that is a little on the dry side. Though the pear in its syrupy coating helped to moisten the two bite treat, flavouring it with hints of cinnamon and apple.

I also didn’t get any gingerbread in the “Gingerbread Cake”. The sponge was chewy with a burnt caramel flavour, and the black currant mousse tasted more like raspberry with its tartness and colour. Sadly, it was bolder in hue than taste.

Overall, I preferred the savoury options to the sweet. None of the desserts, outside of the Yule log, felt or look all that seasonal. Much like the restaurant’s decor, there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas flare. A tree or two outside the restaurant and the ability to cozy up with one of their fur blankets if you get cold. I wanted peppermint, more gingerbread, and/or eggnog. More embellishments and more red and green as the holiday is known for. The Ferris wheel wasn’t even decorated in tinsel. It could have been hung with metallic balls. And the cotton candy bonzai, could have easily been reinvented into a cotton candy Christmas pine with coloured sprinkles and a candied star topper. I am still glad I got to try it, and can’t hold the pastries against them, considering it wasn’t prepared by “H Tasting” go begin with.

But if you are looking for something more heartier, they do have their new winter food menu out as well. The following is what we tried from it.

Their new persimmon dish is the fruit sliced thin like carpaccio and topped with kohlrabi and a sesame praline, then drizzled in a mint and orange blossom vinaigrette. I was surprised by how satisfying this was, and how much it ate like a fulsome dish. Everything came together for a complimentary collection of flavours and textures, with the candied granola being the standout. Tangy and sweet, crunchy and refreshing, and altogether one worth trying, during your next visit.

Something just as light and refreshing, yet satisfying is the new “Burrata” dish. Fresh Burrata from California, topped with Northern Divine caviar; sitting on top of a creamy pea purée, with a fresh pea shoot salad. You eat the cheese like a spread, smeared on top of crispy crostini. The greens add some pepperiness, the purée some sweetness, and the caviar a certain level of elevation that I expect from the setting. Wonderfully simple, yet indulgent.

We also ordered their seafood platter. It is available in three sizes. Small, medium, large; each incrementally giving you more food, although not more variety. So I advise ordering the small version, like we did; and supplementing it with appetizers like we had above. The result, a beautifully fresh collection of kusshi oysters, poached prawns; and halibut carpaccio with a house made carrot kimchi. All served with fresno oil, mignonette, and a cocktail sauce flavoured with gin for dipping. I wouldn’t recommend pairing the kimchi with the gentle white fish, the former was overpowering, and you want to taste the natural flavour of the halibut. In fact, I am not m sure why one is put over the other. I did like the substitution of carrots for cabbage in this spicy fermented mix. This change gave a dish I tend to avoid, a new texture profile I actually like. (I am not a fan of the texture of wilted greens).

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.
I honestly wish that the property was closer to a skytrain station, so I could and would frequent it more often. And with continuous updates to their menu like so, they are giving me multiple reasons to take the commute. Highly recommended for a good time. Don’t deny your cravings.

H TASTING LOUNGE
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4
604-682-3377
htastinglounge.com

Tojo’s Restaurant, Cocktail Hour

Admittedly, this is my first visit to the Vancouver institution that is “Tojo’s”. The restaurant has garnered much attention and many accolades thanks to the local celebrity chef with the same name. Tojo-san is better known as the creator of the widely popular “California roll”. And his restaurant on West Broadway has seen sushi trends come and go, but it still remains one of thee spots for authentic Japanese cuisine.

Most recently they have opened their sake bar, and with it a focus on cocktail hour drink specials. Normally, their two hours of discount food and drink is available from Thursday to Saturday from 4-6pm. However, for the winter season, they are attracting more diners by extending the promotion across Monday to Saturday 4-6pm. Ideal for those in search of a warm perch and a cold drink.

For many, their sake bar serves as a great transition into dinner. For most, it is an approachable and cost effective way to enjoy the quality and prestige of “Tojo’s”, at prices one can afford day to day.

The restaurant is a beautiful space, modern and open with plenty of seats. If given the choice, I would opt for the sushi bar. They are the best seats in the house, especially when Tojo-san is behind the bar, and you catch a glimpse of him rolling his career defining sushi. And speaking from experience, he is very accustomed to having his photo taken, posed or not.

Although today we were gathered in the lounge, with vaulted ceiling and a well stocked bar. The locale only seemed fitting given our intended tasting of their entire cocktail hour menu. This was a brighter space thanks to the full window-ed exterior; although with the onset of earlier nights, this was fleeting. Here, bouquets of fully bloomed lilies crowned tables, green leaves and vines added freshness with bamboo accents, and the ceiling is hung with lanterns and a traditional Japanese sun umbrella.

We were all lined up at the bar, to be able to watch the quick hands of their bar manager, Akira; craft “Tojo” exclusive cocktails, created by Jeff Savage of “Fairmont Pacific Rim” fame.

Akira started everyone off light with one of their highballs. The “Japanese” one features Suntory Toki with a Bittered Sling Lem-Marrakech Bitters, and Soda. It was easy to drink. It didn’t mask the refined flavour of the smokey whiskey with sugar or syrups, and there no burn to follow. This was the epitome of a simple and clean cocktail, one that even a non drinker can appreciate. Similarly, they had two additional country-themed highballs. The “Canadian” features Lot 40, and the “Scottish” one, Johnnie Walker Black.

Next we had the “Tokaido 53”, which was described as a riff on a martini. It was inspired by “journeys on the ancient road connecting Kyoto and Edo”. It was made featuring Bison Grass Vodka, Kazuki Gin, and an Herb and Citrus Oil. This is for those who like a stiffer cocktail. Strong in botanicals and fragrant florals, with a flavour that transitions as it goes from sip to swallow.

The “Salaryman” was as easy to drink as an iced tea, but with substantial citrus punches. The menu suggested this as a “stern cocktail”, that is best way to end your work day. A Japanese Whisky Blend, with notes of Matcha and Black Sesame. Although I wish I could actually taste more of the latter two, and/or see it as a dusting on top of the actual cocktail.

My favourite drink of the night was “Tojo’s Milk Punch”. Eastern flavours prepared with Western techniques, for something new and different. Bank’s 5 Island Rum, Shiso, Sencha, Mint, Lime, and Clarified Milk. This too I found easy to drink; and great of you don’t like the taste or burn of liquor. My dinner mates described this one as being “dangerous” because it tastes too much like punch with a creamy, milky, sweeter finish.

And lastly we had the “Kitsune Gimlet”, a cocktail that was tart and tangy. A punchy sour that wakes you up, and is made with Kazuki Gin, Yuzu, Honey.

Given that “Tojo’s restaurant” is better known for their luxury experience, you can also indulge in some premium sake. One of the bottles above is $2000 and the other runs for $6k. They are both exclusive go “Tojo’s” with the latter being the last of its kind.

As for food, we got a first hand look at their upcoming yakitori option. Only available during cocktail hour and made before your eyes, the station is a hot griddle with “Chef Drago behind it, at the ready. After a good oiling the heated surface is used to cook sticks of marinaded meat and tofu. And half the fun is watching the colour of either transition to a delicious gold brown, whilst hearing the snap and crackle of a hot oil and juices sizzle.

The chicken was incredibly tender and juicy, seasoned in a simple salt and pepper dusting.

The tofu could have used more dressing in my opinion, but considering what it is, it did offer a nice break between the meat sticks. Firm tofu with a garlicky sauce brushed over generously.

But my favourite yakitori was the beef, flavoured in an orange juice and brown sugar marinade. The milder citrus helped to enhance the natural flavour and juices of the beef.

Much like the tofu, I judged the next plate on my list before seeing it or trying it; and was pleasantly surprised as a result. The vegetarian “Miso mustard lotus root” are cube of taro sitting in a pool of tango miso. They are crunchy in texture and slightly spicy with a chilli mayo. Each block rich and satisfying.

Next, we got tofu a different way with the “Tofu Ankake”. This is describes as an agedashi tofu with eggplant, both sitting in a thick broth. It was a beautiful dish, the vegetable offered some textural interest to pair with the silken tofu. Here, I would have liked some additional broth, to be able to enjoy the whole more like soup instead.

For actual soup we had “Tojo’s chowder”, it looked like a classic chowder, but was much lighter and less chunky. And it still ate creamy, but with Japanese nuances. Mussels, salmon, carrots, and plenty of onions.

The “dashimaki + caviar” was a crowd pleaser: Japanese egg omelette topped with ikura & tobiko. Everyone appreciated the work that went into crafting the thin layers of egg omelette, that folded into one another, seamlessly. I especially liked the mix of textures it brought to my mouth. The fluffy egg, the pops of roe, and the mashed radish.

But my favourite dish for taste was “Tojo’s tuna”. This is one of his signature dishes made with wild albacore tuna in a wasabi and sesame sauce. The delicate fish didn’t need any additional seasonings, but the pool of sauce at the bottle of the bowl was there if you thought otherwise. I also liked the added crunch the crushed peanuts provided, offering up a completely new sensation.

The “Royal Chicken” was deep fried white meat chicken stuffed with asparagus. Beautifully done and presented, but a little dry for my tastes. I wanted more of a saucy gravy to dip it into, instead of the salty plum paste served on the side. Although the plum did pair well with the shisho leaves, embedded somewhere within the roll.

The chicken in the “Citrus and sea salted wings” on the other hand, was right up my alley. Crispy organic chicken, prepared “Tojo-style”, which means mess-free. In fact they take the time to push all the meat to the tip of the drumlet for a more aesthetically pleasing look. There was plenty of crunch to this simplified wing: juicy, salty, meaty, and just well done. And the side of tempura sweet potatoes were well chosen, they added balance and starch to the serving.

The “Bbq scallop” was a show stopper, served in shell with tomato, snap pea, carrots, and enoki mushrooms; all soaked in a bright dashi broth. Delicious.

The “Wagyu sukiyaki” was comforting. Thinly sliced piece meat, fried rapidly with vegetables and a light teriyaki-like sauce. All of which are piled high over chewy glass noodles. I would love a full serving of this for any meal.

And you can’t visit “Tojo’s” without having his “Tojo maki”. As “The Pioneer of the modern California Roll” this one speaks volumes; showcasing local Dungeness crab. It was lovely. A classic and I have no complaints.

We rounded out the night by bringing back the hot grill and “Chef Dragon” got back behind it. With dual flippers in hand, he made everyone their own individual size seafood okonomiyaki. “Okonomiyaki” is a savoy Japanese pancake. This one has shrimp, scallop, and plenty of shredded cabbage; held together with a wheat-flour-based batter. Worth noting is that this rendition had very little batter, allowing the crispiness of the shredded and stringy cabbage to take centre stage. If we weren’t full from all the above, we were now.

And as a amazingly cute gesture, “Tojo” presented each of us a hand picked bag of small Fuji apples, as we said our goodbyes for the night. This gesture is not the norm, but fully appreciated, nonetheless.

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.
In short, and to repeat myself. “Tojo’s” new cocktail hour menu is worth checking out. A taste and teaser of this famous restaurant at great prices, paired with amazingly crafted cocktails; what’s not to love? Don’t deny your cravings.

TOJO’S
1133 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G1
(604) 872-8050
tojos.com

Harvest Community Foods

We were looking for food in the area, and after weighing our options along Union street, we came back to “Harvest Community Foods”. One, it had the most diners within for lunch, and two they had a nice table right outdoors to take in this sunnier winter’s day. And then there is the noodles, I am always down for noodles and there is nothing like a warm bowl on a cold day. But sadly, the latter was not as expected.

The restaurant is more like corner store with shelves of preserves, grains, and organic cleaners. And at the counter, healthy snack bars and fresh fruit to grab and go.

The menu was ink on bleach wood. You squinted at it from across the room, shielding your eyes from the streams of sunlight hindering your vision. The daily specials are a little easier to read, dry erase marker on a white board, at the till. Each, with the option to add in some house made kimchi or change your regular noodles out for the zucchini variety.

We decided to keep it safe, and asked the clerk what she recommend. She was fairly unfriendly, and seemed annoyed with our indecisiveness. This attitude would stay pretty consistent with all subsequent interactions; to the point of us bussing our own table before we sat down, then again after we had finished eating; handing in our dish ware to her, as she stool behind the counter.

As for the food itself, it came out fast. I had their vegetarian “ramen” with a squash and miso broth, nori, scallion, radish, and sesame. I liked the flavour and the consistency of the broth thanks to the purée squash, although when I read “ramen” I expected a better noodle, something of the buckwheat variety. But what was before me was neon yellow and from a pack of instant. Here, quality noodles would have made a difference, and added some much needed flavour to this serving. The daikon and greens gave you little to maw on. I would have liked more toppings to help change the tone, more to customize each bite with. For example, some tofu, mushroom, or egg would have done wonders. Instead, I felt like this was lacking.

My guest got the vegan “rice noodle”. These were saucy noodles coated in an almond, hazelnut, and charred chilli mix, all sitting over braising greens. It was dry and sticky, an unusual texture, having to chew through the coating of nuts. Although it was very light and with the greens it acted more like a spicy salad.

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 are a solid opinion for those who are vegan or vegetarian, just not for me. If I want noodles I will go for something in a fatty pork broth. Don’t deny your cravings.

HARVEST
243 Union St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2Z7
(604) 682-8851
harvestunion.ca

Adelicia’s Mexican Restaurante

We were out in Langley and my partner was craving Mexican for dinner. So after a quick google search we discovered a handful of options along the same street. We ended up driving past them all, settling on “Adelicia’s Mexican Restaurante”, based on its exterior.

The use of the Mexican flag and colours on their awning had us thinking it looked and felt more authentic than its competitors. And neon lights and the strung up palm trees grabbed our attention in the first place. Not to mention, the upbeat music audible from the sidewalk, had us expecting a similar vibe.

Inside, the restaurant was well themed. It took you to the tropics with the ceiling painted in a sky blue, and the orange walls mimicking the shade of sand on the beaches of Mexico. One wall was painted with palm trees and high cliffs looking out in to the ocean. Another, had fishing boats and a marlin splashing out over the waves. Colourful paper garlands lined the walls, piñatas dangled from the ceiling, inflatable pool toys hung in hammocks, and traditional Mexican apparel was repurposed as wall decor. All together, Mexican traditions and heritage spelled out in art and every day objects.

It wasn’t busy this Tuesday, despite the crowd of families gathered at the karate dojo in the same plaza. Especially surprising, given that it was “taco Tuesday” and at “Adelicia’s” it was $2 tacos all day, saving you 50 cents per taco. Naturally we would have to take advantage of this deal, only later to be charged regular price for them. When we brought it to the attention of the clerk, we only got back 50 cents in change (for one), but not the other. And we didn’t want to go back a second time to ask for a refund of 50 more cents.

Our dinner started with some complimentary chips and salsa. They were extra crunchy, hard corn chips paired with a tangy and slightly spiced, chilled tomato juice. My partner likes his salsa runny, whereas I prefer mine chunky, for an even chip to dip ratio.

We ordered the “Enchiladas”. These were corn tortillas filled with our choice of either chicken or beef, then cooked in our choice of either red chilli sauce or a green tomatillo sauce; all served with Mexican rice and beans. We went for chicken and the less spicy tomatillo sauce to go over it. What came before us felt like home cooking. A plate that was comforting with porridge-like rice, soften meats and a saucy chicken.

As for the tacos, you can get them as a combo with chips and salsa, plus a can of pop for $7.50. But you get the chips and salsa complimentary anyways, so we simply grabbed 4 $2 tacos. And for each soft corn tortilla we had our choice of filling. The following is what we decided on.

The “Carnitas”, slow braised chicken had a great sauce to it, but I found the meat over cooked.

The “Al pastor”, was grilled achiote marinated pork with grilled onion and pineapple. It was dry, the meat tasted grainy like it was reheated (plausible, considering how quickly these came out of the kitchen). The saving grace was the pop of sweetness from the caramelized onion and pineapple.

The “Fish” taco was listed as “grilled, sustainable, OceanWise caught rock fish with pico de gallo and avocado”. I didn’t get any grill flavour in this. No Smokey char that would have given this taco the kick it needed. This too felt warmed up, the breading was warmer and softer than the white fish under it. It was also missing the avocado that the menu mentioned, but I didn’t notice that until I finished not enjoying it.

The “Chicharron” was new for me and it sounded promising. Fried pork rind in a jalapeño and green tomatillo sauce. But the rind was soggy, soaked in sauce, further weighed down by the extra oils from the fryer. A few kernels were hard with impossible to chew through edges. Overall, this was a taco that was overwhelming tangy, with an awful wet sponge mouth-feel.

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.
A little out of the way for a specific visit. I would end up spending more on gas, than I would be saving on the taco special. Not to mention I wasn’t satisfied with any of them, but at $2 each (and even being short changed 50 cents), I didn’t find it worth my time to complain. A bit of a miss for me, but my partner wished it was located closer to his work place so he could frequent it. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ADELICIA’S
20505 Fraser Hwy, Langley City, BC V3A 4G3
(604) 510-4404
adeliciasmexican.ca

Green Leaf Café

I enjoyed my visit to the Broadway location so much, that when looking for a place for dinner in Burnaby, I was more than happy to visit their original location. It is a larger space with a larger menu. Although, with so much on their menu worth exploring, I had to take in their restaurant twice, before writing this review.

The Burnaby location is definitely the largest property of the two. A restaurant that greets you with its bar, well lit in the form of their logo. Available seating spills over on either ends. I can best describe the whole as a cabin, with wood planked walls, wooden floor boards, and worn wood tables and chairs that match. Wooden clocks hang on the wall, wooden ornaments hang from light fixtures, and wood crates are repurposed as shelves. The latter of which is used to showcase a collection of rustic antiques, glass bottles, and faux plants as decor. They even serve you the bill in a wooden water bucket.

The menu is pretty straightforward. A list of omelette rices, fritters, meat on grills, “big fresh greens”, “rice house”, stuff from their raw bar, fresh oshi, aburi oshi, pasta + udon, “gimbal” (Korean style rolls), and “social sharing” platters. Self explanatory, but I still could have used a lot more photos, if any. Considering they are a fusion restaurant, it would make the ordering process easier. You also might order more, when being able to see what you will be getting before hand.

They are well known for their omelette rice, and not coincidentally I tried all they had to offer under this category. The “Tornado omelette rice” is available in a sweet and savoury demiglace or in a creamy jalapeño sauce. We got the former, taking in to consideration our server’s recommendation. It is a marvel how they are able to whip eggs this smooth, then churn it like spun fabric. The result, a unique texture that is both chewy and airy. Comforting with the familiar gravy and tender rice.

Similar in taste, but with a varying texture in it eggs is the “House omelette rice”. This too is served in a sweet and savoury demiglace, but with fried garlic flakes, tomato, and chilli. The flavour is similar to a sweet pasta sauce with the inclusion of stewed tomatoes embedded into the rice. Overall good, but I would have liked all it with a sweet Japanese curry sauce instead. Here, the eggs are beaten in to sponge-like consistency, it ate like tofu in the way it melted. But the highlight of the dish, was the crispy garlic chips that added a crunch and some depth of flavour.

The “Soufflé mushroom risotto”, applied a different technique to preparing its eggs. Foamy and light, it was well described as a “Cloud egg omelette”. With jalapeño, it sits over a creamy mushroom risotto. The cloud separated like meringue. It created a nice break, something light and refreshing to balance out the richness of the earthy mushrooms. Together, this made for another comforting dish to curl up with.

In a completely different direction, we had the punchy “Spicy crunch prawn”, under the “tempura” section of the menu. Five pieces of battered and deep fried tiger prawns, coated heavily in a spicy mayo and tangy brown sauce. It all sits on a bed of greens that functions like a mixed green salad. It tasted like the filling of a sushi roll that I have had before, and I wanted it like that again, with its slower burn. With all this flavour, it needed a base to even things out. It needed rice.

“Green Leaf” is also known for their “oshi”, Osaka style pressed sushi. The obvious choice is their flame-kissed aburi oshi in salmon. And although I am sure I would have enjoyed it, I had to order the most interesting of my options, which was the “Basil ebi tiger prawn oshi”. Tiger prawn, basil pesto oshi sauce, black olive, and Parmesan cheese. Not surprising, it tasted like a pasta dish, minus the black olive slice that over powered, and felt out of place. The whole bite left me wanting wanting garlic bread and a red wine, thanks to the pesto and parm combo. Overall, fun for novelty, but not one I would order again. It is probably best along side other oshi, and used as a break in between bites.

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.
Good food, familiar and comforting flavours, and a menu with plenty more worth exploring. Where else can you get eggs like this? Don’t deny your cravings.

GREEN LEAF
9604 Cameron St, Burnaby, BC V3J 1M2
(604) 444-9802
greenleafcafebc.ca

Evalina Beauty Launch

I am a big proponent of supporting local business, and even more so when their product or service comes with a great message. And that is definitely what “Evalina” is bringing to the Vancouver beauty and wellness scene.

Based out of Vancouver, BC, Samantha Legge created “Evaline Beauty” with the goal “ To celebrate and uplift women for who they are, as they are”. And tonight we were invited down to the “Vancouver Club” to learn more about her and her new cosmetics line. We mixed and mingle in the lavish space, and became brand fans through a very honest meet and greet with sparkling wine, Rose, and pink canapés.

In Hebrew, “Evalina” means “life”, and “I want this cosmetics company to positively impact women’s lives”, says Legge. Her intention is that her company does good. On top of providing the community with a quality makeup line, her and her team also want to champion women, and anyone who identifies as a woman; to help them feel better about themselves through self-acceptance. “Our goal isn’t to create makeup that transforms you. We want to highlight your natural beauty—not hide it.” (As taken from the press release).

Designed and developed in Vancouver, Canada, “Evalina Beauty” boasts a luxurious line of lip glosses, face creams, and shadows. Each product is paraben-free, cruelty-free, and designed to feel lightweight. Everything is “tested by a team of influencers and makeup artists to ensure it is long-lasting, high-quality and, most importantly, something we love and use every day”. “It’s not about covering up, it’s all about bringing out natural beauty and is designed to let the wearer’s own unique features and colouring shine through”.

Between all her uplifting messages of self acceptance and love for one another, Legge revealed where her strength and determination towards “Evalina” came from. In a raw and emotional account she revealed her own hardships in escaping a destructive marriage. And while she acknowledged her means, support, and ability to remove herself from the situation; she recognized that not everyone can. So to support those mothers and children needing to escaping their current living situation, and needing help to become financially stable to do so. “Evalina Beauty” has dedicated a portion of all their sales to be donated to charities that support women and children in need, to help provide them safe transition housing. Out of the hundreds of makeup companies and brands trying to make a name for themselves, this message of giving to some of the most vulnerable, is what makes “Evalina” different, and ones to watch out for.

As for the review of the actual makeup: For the most part their product is quick and easy to apply. Ideal for someone like myself, who doesn’t like putting on too much makeup, or having it take up too much of my time. Their approachable cosmetics means you don’t need the skills of a makeup artist to use “Evalina Beauty’s products”. The “Dew BB Cream” goes on like any moisturizer that you spread and rub in. Their “Precision Liquid Eyeliner” is smudge-proof and as easy to apply as drawing a line. And their “Shimmer Eyeshadow Sticks” gives you a little sparkle with a smear and a smudge of your fingers.

For a more revealing look at the current line, check out my first beauty vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei. Disclaimer: I have no professional experience in make up application, and don’t put on much in my day to day life. So take this for what its is: an amateur trying to review a terrific make up line, like she would anything else.

For those interested in purchasing, the current “Evalina” collection (with additional lines to launch in the near future), is only available online. (With plans for store front representation in the future). But for now you can make your online purchase with confidence knowing that they believe in and back up their cosmetics with a 100% money-back guarantee. They can do this, having worked with some of the world’s top cosmetics manufacturers in Italy, Germany, and Canada.

“Women have altered themselves forever, in whatever role we’re in,” says Legge. “I want to encourage women to be their true, authentic selves, and feel better about who the are, not change who they are—because they’re already amazing and have an intrinsic beauty.”

EVALINA
https://www.evalinabeauty.com/

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