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

Month: December 2019 Page 1 of 2

Opus Boutique Hotel & La Pentola Restaurant

During 2019‘s “Dr. Peter Passions” fundraising event (in keeping with tradition), my girl friend and I bid on a auction item. This year we went on a smaller scale and won our silent bid for a night out. A night out in Vancouver that included a ballet show and a stay at Yaletown’s boutique hotel, “Opus”. So this weekend it was time to cash in the ticket for our hotel stay. Our package was for an executive suite, but we decided to upgrade our one night stay to one of their two penthouse suites. All for what we are calling “BFF Christmas”, a staycation for two, before the end of the year.

Located right by Yaletown’s skytrain station it is easiest to take transit down. Although if you are like us, equipped with a fair bit of luggage, it might but easier to drive. But be warned there isn’t parking out back, and you aren’t able to help yourself into any lot either. Your only option is to either park at one of the meters on the street, or request the hotel’s valet service. We opted for the latter and handed over our keys in exchange for a call tag.

After checking in, we helped ourselves to one of their luggage carts, and found our way up to the 7th floor. Speaking with the clerk behind the desk, “Opus” is known for their themes: coloured rooms and suites that are monochromatic in red, green, or teal (to name a few hues). Our penthouse was fuchsia and black, with cheetah print and velvet accents. The scheme felt posh with a fashionable flair, and definitely more geared towards a feminine aesthetic. Right when you enter, a framed photo of thick red lips hangs above the living area’s black suede couch. It is accented with gold and fuchsia throw pillows and a matching lounger. The leopard spotted chair in the corner plays off the heavily patterned, black and white velvet wallpaper on the feature wall. And instead of a coffee table, three wooden blocks are assembled together, to act as a flat surface in front of the television.

But for something more solid, the desk in the corner with its own telephone and iPod charging on a stand is a better solution. This and the living room are separated from the bed room by a mirrored wall. Although they shared the same fire place, thanks to its dual sided glass panes. And in both rooms, above it, hangs a flat screen television. Although the one in the living room is notably larger.

Our suite also boasted two washrooms. The first, by the study/desk was narrow. It only had enough room for a sink and a toilet. But with the same richly patterned, velvet wallpaper as before, it exuded a sense of regality.

The master bathroom had marble tiles that heated underfoot. A toilet, a sink, a Dyson branded hair dryer, and a large shower stall. The latter comes with a rainfall shower head, and apothecary by the pump from “Malin + Goetz”.

But the highlight, and one of the reasons why we choose this suite, was the tub. The master bath was built around this large soaking tub. It had enough girth to fit two comfortably. It was set up against the window, over looking the city below. And here, the suite’s third television screen was mounted, for further indulgence.

For modesty, you could push a button and lower a set of blinds that shielded the large glass window and the view it provided. But honestly I wanted people to see me enjoying this level of extravagance, and soaking in my pulsating jet tub. If I am going to pay for such a suite I am going to make sure I enjoy it and that everyone else knows I did. Although, truth be told we did do the above in swim suits.

Equally impressive was the four post, king sized bed that we shared. There is just something so regal about the extra glossy metal bars that surround you as you sleep. It felt like a cage, but with more accessibility. You slept in this protective bubble, with faux corners and walls. Resting on fresh and crisp, white hotel sheets. A setting that was accented with pillows and a bolster, that matched the same gold and fuchsia floral pattern in the living room.

Here, you had access to the patio, or rather exterior ledge with railings. It was a little too cold to enjoy the limited space that wrapped around our suite. Although we did venture out in our hotel robes, to take in the city’s lights at night. The patio is a little too narrow to linger on. There isn’t much room to pull out a chair, and very little views if you aren’t standing and leaning off the railing.

Once we settled in and freshened up, we decided to head back down to the lobby to take in their bar/lounge. Not to mention our check-in included a welcome glass of sparkling wine. We would retrieve a couple of glasses from the front desk and enjoy it at their cozy bar.

Normally there would be live music playing on a weekend, but the space was reserved for a private function this night. So we were ushered into their hotel restaurant, “La Pentola” for a few more drinks, instead.

My girl friend kept it light with white wine. Whereas I turned my attention to hard liquor with a couple of cocktails.

The “questi giorni” came recommended for its great balance. My own taste test concurred this to be true, noting the smooth citrus finish especially. Lemongrass infused seventh heaven gin, cocchi americano, liquore strega, lemon, cucumber, and rosewater.

The “Hugo” was tanqueray rangpur gin, st germain elderflower, liquore strega, Prosecco, mint, lime, and celery. The green cocktail was savoury, it had that salty food nuance to it. Which is what I like about Caesars; but here, it comes with much more cucumber and celery flavour.

From there we retreated back to our penthouse for more drinking and some room service. If your suite is this nice, you obviously want to spend time enjoying it. So with two bottles in hand and room service called twice we were living the “suite life”.

The in-suite dining menu differs from that of the hotel restaurant’s, although both are prepared out of the same kitchen. Our dinner from “La Pentola” was delivered, served on cloistered plates.

The cheese platter was pretty rudimentary. Three types of hard cheese, one softer blue, some green apple slices, a couple of raspberries, and two types of crostini to eat it all with. The crispy cracker and salty cheese did pair well with our red wine.

The “orecchiette” had lamb ragu, olives, mint, and pecorino. Gooey cup pasta with plenty of good chew. Topped with filling bits of lamb, and hints of mint, this was a satisfying plate. It was also my guest’s favourite of all that we had, and it came with great authenticity.

Another fulsome dish was the “Steak frites”. A 10oz PEI rib eye steak in a red wine jus, served with a side of crispy and salty French fries. The steak was cooked well to medium rare. Fatty and easy to slice in to.

But it was the “Grilled cheese” sandwich that we tacked on to our order as an afterthought, that really stole the show for me. It was exactly as you’d hope it would be. Golden brown toasted white bread, made extra indulgent with plenty of butter on both slices. Even when it cooled down it still crunched on impact. Dare I say, the best grilled cheese I have had to date? My only critique here is the lack of condiments. Given the amount of fries you get, they don’t give you enough ketchup to enjoy with it. A sauce dish filled 1/3 full, we ended up ordering two more to have enough.

And there our night continued, snacking, drinking, and watching TV on demand.

Next morning we headed downstairs for brunch at “La Pentola”. To continue from the night before, my guest had the “Ciao Bella!” A glass of red wine, spiked with soho lychee, peach nectar, fresh orange juice, and lime. It was not unlike a sangria, but with more punch-like notes. A sweet and tangy, easy to drink juice. I personally would have liked more peach and soho to make it stand out more.

For food, I was drawn to the “Breakfast risotto” for name alone. Basically a regular savoury risotto with peas and Parmesan. Made breakfast-like with the addition of smoked bacon, scallions, and a poached egg. Great on the first bite, but it grew bland by the third. One strip of bacon was not enough to endure the whole serving, so I looked to table salt.

I don’t often need salt, or like using it (I fully believe that dishes at restaurants are served as their chefs intended), but here I was sprinkling 3 pinches of coarse salt over the lot. Overall, the risotto would have been better served as a side. Thanks to the fresh peas, it made for a decent palette cleanser in between more dense bites. The egg on the other hand really didn’t add anything to the mix, I would have been just as happy without it.

I would instead recommend the “Shortrib Benedict” with potato rosti, poached eggs, peas, mushrooms, shallots, and hollandaise. The gooey egg yolk and the rich hollandaise engulfed the Benny in a thick creaminess. The fried onion added a nice crunch over the fattier pieces of beef. But instead of English muffins, here they used crispy hash browns as a base to mount the perfectly poached egg. My only critique would be that this came to us closer to room temperature, where it would have been much better hot.

And as a sweet treat to end on, we had an order of “Zeppole”. These are airy, yet cakey Italian doughnuts, sitting in a bourbon apple butter sauce. This was a mild dessert, not sweet, just on the sweeter side. You could make out the egginess of the dough, and the powdered sugar that dusted it. I did wish that the apple purée was sweeter, to give things a kick when you needed more from it.

After breakfast it was back upstairs to pack and drag our feet in checking out. But first, we ended our adventures at “Opus” with a bang; having fully utilized our coveted tub. We drew a bath with a bounty of bubbles, that only doubled when we switched on the pulsating jets for a back massage.

For a more detailed and whimsical account of our time at “Opus”, check out my latest drinking Vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

 

OPUS VANCOUVER
322 Davie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5Z6
(604) 642-6787
opushotel.com

SweetHoney Dessert

“Sweet Honey Desserts” is a cafe serving traditional Taiwanese desserts. This summer they have garnered much attention from their hyper realistic dog cakes. And now with two locations, you can visit them in either Burnaby or Richmond.

I have dined with them once before in Richmond, but after trying two desserts with little excitement I decided not to return. That was until I saw that they have new Christmas treats for the winter season. Riding the wave of success with their dog theme, they now have two more dawning Santa hats. And for me it is like collecting “Pokémon” in the augmented reality game, “Pokémon Go”. It is essentially the same chocolate dog, but now that it comes with a hat, I wanted it all over again.

So here I was, now at their Burnaby location getting a better second impression of this chain. A more favourable visit with some desserts I will return for. Located on Grimmer street, the area is quickly expanding with many like dessert and drink cafes. The shoppe is easy to spot with their entire menu pictured as decals splashed across the exterior. A collection of well groomed fluffy pancakes, rice balls, and fruit beverages.

The interior is fairly modern. Geometric shapes adhered on to a mirrored surface on one side of the room, and red and white striped wallpaper on the other. The dining area is spacious with plenty of room to move between lacquered table tops and cushy chairs. We were given our choice of seats and handed a stack of menus to peruse through.

The main menu was handsomely bounded, arranged by specific items, featuring plenty of glossy photos. A page for “durian lovers”, and two for those who like mango, grass jelly, and ice cream. For more traditional Chinese desserts look to their “tofu pudding series”, “rice ball series”, or “sago”. There was a lot or options, and a lot of overlap within each category. Though the photos definitely helped in the ordering process. For noting is that everything we had was exactly as pictured in the the photo.

We started with their Christmas specials. And what I thought was their ice cream dog cake with Santa hats, like below, was actual a solid chocolate puppy with a fondant hat. Not as realistic as the cake, but just as cute and as memorable. Plus they make for great stocking stuffers. They line the top of their refrigerated glass case in easy to take out plastic boxes with handles. But be warned the hat isn’t secured all that well to the top of the dog, and the dog isn’t stable on the cardboard base either.

As for the original dog dessert, the cake only comes in chocolate. A bull dog on his belly with pudgy arms and meaty legs outstretched, and a nub of a tail at his end. It comes right out of the freezer and has the white ice crystals to prove it. Said crystals highlights the detail in the dog’s coat well. I advise waiting for them to thaw and for the cake to start sweat a little, in order to be able to cut into it with ease. Honestly that is half the fun of this treat, to be able to slice into the dog and ruin the illusion as such. As for taste it is like a melty chocolate mousse. Not very rich, not very chocolatey. But if it had both of those characteristics, it would have been better for it. Great to have once for the novelty of saying that you have. But as for taste, you are better off with chocolate ice cream by the scoop.

Next was their soufflé pancake, holiday edition. They are the latest restaurant to offer this jiggly treat. The lightest pancake you will ever have, in a rendition that is especially eggy. This gave it a more savoury feel; one that I preferred, and was best highlighted by the salted cheese foam it cams in. The foam is very similar to the topping you can get crowning a bubble tea. Tasty. But sadly, the only thing festive about this was the fondant red and white Santa hat. The very same one used for the dogs above. The fruit on the side felt out of place and out of season. I would have liked green and red sprinkles instead. Although the papaya, mango, watermelon, and blueberries did offer a nice freshness, complimenting the salted foam and helping to balance the dessert as a whole. Except, I could make out the taste of durian in each of them. I guess they were all stored together, and that the very distinct and fragrant flavour of durian bleeds. And as for the Santa hat, it was horribly sweet with a tougher chew. Maybe not for eating. Its sugariness was overwhelming, but it did what I wanted it to visually.

As cute as these ideas were, I much rather their regular menu items. Desserts with great textures, that aren’t too sweet.

As a fan of durian, who is also too lazy to crack open the fruit herself, whenever I see it featured on the menu, I have to take advantage. I went for the “Durian Mochi”. There were three perfectly gummy rounds, well filled with durian fruit from Thailand. And rolled in shredded coconut. Deliciously done, but out of personal preference I would have been happier without the coconut, to be able to best enjoy the smooth texture of the mocchi and its hidden fruit centre. As a whole it was deliciously sweet yet mild enough for those who don’t necessarily like the flavour of durian. Plus we didn’t get any of the smell if you aren’t a fan of it either.

If you are looking for a great sticky chew, you have to try their rice balls. These are “Glutinous rice balls” sitting in a pool of syrup. The sweet liquid adds sweetness, and also helps in adhering the mix of crushed peanuts, sesame, and coconut flakes to your ball; when you dip into it at the centre of the bowl. But be sure to eat these first, the crushed nuts do get soggy quick; and as a result, you don’t get that great contrast in texture between gooey rice ball and crunchy peanuts.

But if you are looking for something more decadent, you can get your balls stuffed with black sesame, and served in a pool of split sesame and walnut soup. I loved the simple and clean presentation. Biting into a ball, it was an unexpected and delicious surprise to have a pool of liquid pour out in to your mouth. I just wish there were more rice balls, especially given how much sauce you get with an order; and it isn’t as great without something to dip into it. There was more than half of the blended colour soup left when we were done with it.

And during the last visit to their Richmond location, I also tried the “mango pomelo sago”. I expected something more like mango pudding in taste and texture. But this was thin and bland. There was enough mango flavour in the soup, and you wanted something more substantial to dip into and/or eat with it. Maybe more rice balls? Or larger tapioca pearls. Overall, I likened this to a watered down smoothie bowl.

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.
I highly recommend their rice ball series, and don’t know another restaurant that offers such an extensive array of it and durian themed desserts. And now with a location in Burnaby, I can visit them more often, and at my convenience. Don’t deny your cravings.

SWEETHONEY DESSERT
5358 Grimmer St, Burnaby, BC V5H 2H2
(604) 559-8599
weethoneydessert.com

What to eat at Aurora Winter Festival 2019

It has been a month since my original visit to the Aurora winter festival, now at its new home on the fair grounds of PNE/Playland. And since then, there has been several new food trucks that have parked themselves by the erected tents of their outdoor food pavilion. So today I was bearing the sprinkling rain to check out what is new and worth trying, with a focus on exclusive items you can only get at Aurora.

To skip the reading, check out my latest taste test vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

In the order of what we tried, we started our tour at the “Cannoli King”, a PNE staple with their commissary located nearby. Pipping crispy chips on the spot, they are serving up a few of their most popular flavours, and a trio of seasonal offerings.

The “cranberry, orange, and pecan” cannoli was fragrant and sweet. Tangy and refreshing, easy to finish from first bite to last. I can see this being the most widely well-received.

The gingerbread was a lot more heavier, but not overwhelmingly so. A lighter hint of gingerbread for those who are not fan of the zestier, more memorable spices used in this classic.

I am a fan of egg nog, so was happy to have this rendition taste exactly as I expected it to. Given how creamy the filling is, I was surprised by how it all stayed within the airy shell. An easy to eat treat, if you take it all in one bite, although it does get messy otherwise.

Next, we visited the food truck of one of the most popular doughnut shops in Vancouver. They have brought all their best selling cake doughnuts to Aurora, including their vegan and gluten-free options. Apple fritter, earl grey, vanilla bean, and double chocolate.

And with them they have two Aurora exclusives. The “haskap berry shortbread” doughnut and the “dulce honeycomb”. “Haskap” is a tart and juicy berry only available in BC, it is most commonly known as Japanese honeysuckle, here it was sweetened, and reminded me of a raspberry/blueberry combo. The shortbread in the name comes from the crushed cookie dust sprinkled over the glaze. Good, but I would have liked more shortbread in the actual doughnut ring. Although/otherwise, this was a lovely doughnut to pair with tea.

But between the two, the “Dulce Honeycomb” was my favourite. Visually it was stunning, fully loaded with plenty of crispy and airy honeycomb pieces to crunch through. The doughnut and glaze were the perfect base; not too sweet to overwhelm, just great doughy breading to balance out the sweetness.

We then moved on to a some hot beverages to help keep us warm, gravitating to the “Drink Coffee” sign of “Green Coast Coffee”. Here, they are proud that their teas, coffee, and holiday beverages all made with natural ingredients.

More than just black coffee they have a “cookie butter latte” and “winter spiced fog”. And for hot chocolates they have stepped it up a notch with the likes of a macadamia nut hot chocolate and a hazelnut dark chocolate. The former made with fresh macadamia nut mylk and white chocolate. The latter is fresh hazelnut mylk and dark chocolate. Each, dessert in a glass, with the nut mylk made right on their cart. Rich and chocolatey they warmed you as you drank.

For something a little lighter, and a bit more seasonal, I highly suggest their scratch made apple cider, featuring a blend of five different apples. A full bodied, warm apple juice, flavoured with a healthy dusting of cinnamon.

For something more substantial look to “Reel Mac & Cheese”, another PNE staple representing for the winter season. They are known of gooey cheddar cheese macaroni, topped with a variety of ingredients; with each combination given a name after a movie, celebrity, or pop culture reference. The “Godzilla” came with Japanese mayo and seaweed, “Snoop Dogg” has hot dogs slices and a panko Parmesan crunch; and “Kevin Bacon” naturally had bacon, and lots of it.

But today it was all about their Aurora feature, named with a Christmas twist. These are sample sizes, so rest assured you will get more in your full order. The “Grinch” was their classic gourmet cheese macaroni topped with crunchy broccoli florets and crispy onion. The vegetables were a healthy twist. Good, but not all that much different from a regular Mac and cheese in flavour.

I preferred the “Bad Santa”. The same mac and cheese base as above, but now topped with cubes of glazed ham and pineapple. If you like Hawaiian pizza, you would like this. Salty and sweet, I wouldn’t mind a scoop of marinara sauce to have it come around full circle.

And I was excited to finally try the “Shameless Buns”, the popular Filipino-inspired food truck built from an actual jeepney. I have been hearing much about them, so was exited to get into their menu and try some of their buns, but will have to come back another day to do so. They have their entire regular menu available here, including their popular spam fries and various adobos. As well as an entire, secondary Christmas menu, only available during their time at Aurora. Sausage, lumpia, and French toast with pandan and condense milk.

But today we only got a taste of their “Adobo fries”, a popular, regular menu item. Long and thin fries topped with braised chicken adobo, adobo gravy, garlic calamansi aioli, garlic chips, tomato, and green onion. It reminded me of nachos with the diced tomato, but with pulled chicken. It didn’t have the richness I expected from an adobo. And it was hard to eat with all the chopped up ingredients, and no vehicle to scoop them up with. I wanted more sauce. Luckily they had their banana ketchup at the ready. Made with real tropical bananas, it had the tang of ketchup and a unique sweetness. Different and interesting, nothing like I have had before. It was what made the fries memorable for me.

Looking for a more savoury meals? “Meat & Bread”, another popular Vancouver cafe has also moved in to Aurora. Their black truck with their origami-esque logo is eye catching, their brand easily recognizable. Here, their most popular sandwich options are named after its main protein. Porchetta, ham hock, and their “vego” vegetarian option is available.

But the one to get, and the one that is exclusive to their time at Aurora is the “Hot Turkey”. Like dinner between crusty bread. This was shredded turkey meat, a brown butter yam purée, their homemade cranberry spread; and a “winter slaw” with purple cabbage, carrot, red and green peppers, and kale. Be warned, this gets messy, with jus running down your hands. Delicious and filling. But for my personal tastes, I would have liked it more salty, maybe even with a side of gravy to dip into.

And last but not least, we finished our food tour with another Christmas market staple: the chimney cake. Specifically the ones from “The Praguery” who roll, bake, spread, and sprinkle each on location. Covered in cinnamon, coconut, or crushed almond; you can choose your topping and what filling you want smeared within, if any. Nutella or lemon available for extra.

The combination of the shredded coconut and lemon was both refreshing and tropical. The lemon filling was especially strong, like what you would get in a lemon meringue pie, but without the sweetness of the meringue to balance out the tartness. I also didn’t like the texture of the jagged, dried coconut contrasting the chewy dough. I prefer the chimney cake as is: warm dough baked golden brown.

Although, I couldn’t say no to getting the Aurora exclusive version. Their cinnamon and sugar coated chimney cake, dipped topped first into melted white chocolate and made more festive with a generous dusting of red and green sprinkles. Thankfully you only get a quarter of it in chocolate, as it was fairly sweet for my tastes.

There are many more food trucks to explore at Aurora, these were just the handful that had exclusive menu items worth bringing your attention too. I highly suggest making a night of it. Coming early for dinner, followed by enjoying the glowing lights as the sun sets early, then looping back for a drink to warm up to, or a sweet treat to go.

I didn’t spend too much time exploring the grounds, but did notice a few changes advertised on their social media page like face painting and new vendors to shop with. And today, their popular rainbow light tunnel was transformed into a different interactive experience. Now in shades of blue with a smoke machine, the lights dance and strobe to the beat of the music playing overhead. But still just as much of a photo op. So for those who have already visited once, they are keeping it fresh with new reasons to stop by again. And keep in mind, they are only around for two more weeks, shuttering down for the season on January 5th, 2020.

For what else you can expect from this winter wonderland extravaganza, checkout my recap of all the performances and photos ops during my first time around.

Aurora Winter Festival at the PNE

AURORA
2901 E Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V5K 5J1
(604) 253-2311

Aurora Winter Festival

2020 Range Rover Evoque review

A Regular Girl’s Guide to Cars~

I am not a self proclaimed car enthusiast. For the longest time I have only considered them the means to get from point A to point B. However, with the influence of my partner, this has changed.

He is the motor-head in the family. He eats, breathes, and dreams about cars in their most exotic forms. His favourite apparel features car brands and tire manufacturers. His desktop wallpaper is the Porsche 991 GT3 RSR, and he has spent this last few years starting his own business that manufactures carbon fibre car parts, inspired by race cars.

This enthusiasm has rubbed off on me, as I can proudly announce that I have attended a live drifting competition, spent an entire day on the track at Rolex 24hours, I have witnessed a Formula 1 race in Quebec, and even travelled to Japan for their Tokyo Salon. In conclusion, I have experienced a lot more car related events and outings than your average driver. This by no means makes me an expert in the field, but with enough exposure, I do know a thing or two.

And with this lens I will be reviewing 2020’s new models and vehicles in laments terms. These reviews are not for consumers wanting to know the range, horse power, or any other specs or stats that you can easily pull from any car manufacturer’s website. Instead, these are car reviews, written from a normal women’s perspective. Welcome to “regular girl reviews”.

And we are starting this series off with a bang, introducing the 2020 Ranger Rover Evoque.

Upon first impression, I didn’t find it the most attractive looking vehicle. I am not partial to boxy cars. I did however like the attention I garnered from behind the wheel of a Range Rover. And the feeling I got climbing into its elevated cockpit. Powerful, big.

The compact SUV comes alive with a push of your key fob. Its door handles release, and thrusts out. Then a spot light broadcasts at the threshold of the driver’s side door. Its visibility much like the bat signal on a dark night, but with a profile of the car instead. Talk about rolling out the red carpet.

Climbing in, the cabin feels tight, not that I need much more space. But all together in such a close proximity, all the screens, knobs, and dials feel like a lot coming at you. And with the addition of the speed display projected on to the windshield, via reflection. I find it a distraction all together. Looking out the front, you felt monitored by the speed limit. It shows as how it would appear on a road sign (white sign with black trim). You also get how fast you are going, with it including the outline of lanes that narrow at the far end. And in poorly lit areas, this appears even brighter, which makes it a further distraction.

Overall, is a lot to have to ignore. Especially considering only a few inches down on the dash, there is plenty to toggle via the wheel, and even more to scroll through on the adjacent screens. I especially found the display navigation cluster on the wheel a little finicky. Whenever I wanted to change the channel on the satellite radio, if I didn’t push the arrow button down just so, it kept giving me the option to change the entire display. Here, it would have been nice just to have one dedicated button for shuffling, especially for those like me, who enjoy channel surfing. The buttons themselves also don’t feel responsive. Not much push back from them to say that you have succeeded in activating what you had intended. But I did really like the feel of the circular dials. One for the driver and one for the front passenger, used to change the temperature and control the strength in which you either wanted the heat in your heated seat or the strength in your massage chair (more on that later).

As for the infotainment system. This too had a lot to acquaint yourself to. However, the large buttons and the easy to identify symbols on the touch screen made navigation friendly and accessible; even when driving with hands on ten and two. Although sometimes I find too many options, too much. Much like ordering from a 10 page restaurant menu, you feel overwhelmed. Almost like there were options simply for the sake of having variety. Like the ability to set the back splash as either white or black, with the option to choose its brightness, and even tilt the screen it was on for easier viewing.

It took me a couple of days, but I did eventually find all the settings I liked. Although learned that I had to set them up each time I got into the car to drive it. Before the start of every trip I opted to not have the engine come to a halt, whenever I braked to a full stop. And I wanted to save on fuel consumption and money at the pumps, so went with the eco mode. But at least my seat and mirror setting remained untouched. They stayed at the setting of the last driver, without the need to push one of its three saved memory options.

As for the way the Range Rover Evoque drives, it felt over sensitive and clumsy. I found myself over searing during turns, and pumping to best engage the breaks. Slight turns felt sharp, and braking caused you body to jerking motion. Several larger turns of the wheel felt like an exaggerated experience, one that you don’t always feel like you have control over. Though the lane assist function does help prevent body rolling, here. A push of a button on the steer wheel helps you stay within the lines, unless otherwise specified by a left or right turn signal. This was a function that I especially found helpful when I was a drowsy behind the wheel. Not only does it course corrects, but the car physically turns the wheel and directs itself back into the proper lane, for you. A strong motion that in itself would wake you up. Although if you are wide awake, this jerky motion is unnerving.

Very minor, but I also didn’t like the sound of the left and right turn signals. It literally ticks and tocks, and does so loudly. Though after day four with “Evoque”, I hardly noticed it. I am also not a fan of the gear shift. With a trigger that you hold like a joy stick, the motion felt cumbersome. A push of a button and forward puts the car in reverse. And a push of the trigger and a pull to wards you, sets it into drive. I would shift, then feel the need to look down to ensure I wasn’t stuck in neutral.

But once in reverse mode, the “Range Rover Evoque” was easy to reverse stall park into, even in the tightest of spots. My underground parking spot at home has me gingerly reversing in between two pillars, and this smaller compact SUV did great. With every technological advantage at the ready to help you park, the process was anxiety free. 360 degree view of the car from above, side mirrors that automatically tilted down to give you a view of the ground. And flashing lights and sounding alarms on all sides to alert you if you are too close. There is also a reverse camera, to make everything all the more crystal clear, despite the smaller rear view windshield, and the several blind spots.

I liked the overhead cabin lights. When turning on them on and off I felt like Vana White. A mere touch lights them up; and another, brings back the darkness.

Everything I nit-picked aside, I would still love to own the Range Rover Evoque for the massaging seats alone. Both of the front row seats had this function. And considering I didn’t find the seats themselves all that comfortable, the massage function on them had me enjoying them so much more. With 5 different setting and the ability to have it concentrated on a specific area, I fully utilized this feature every day that I had the car. Every ride was a rub down, especially enjoyable during rush hour traffic. It made my already long commute home, tolerable. And quite possibly the solution to road rage.

Although you do need to watch it, after a few minutes or so it the massage function does turn off by itself. An annoying downsideq that had me pushing the massage chair button on at least 5-7 times during my commute. When was the last time you were satisfied with a back rub at anything less than 60 minutes? And considering not many vehicles comes with a massage chair function, you best believe I was milking it for all it was worth.

And the heated steering wheel was also a nice little treat. During colder mornings, it did its part to help heat the car up. It warms up fairly quickly, and after a while you find yourself turning it off due to over heating.

In conclusion:

Pro: the luxury and prestige associated with the brand. Nice interior, Massage seats, “Vana White” cabin lights.

Con: overly sensitive steering and breaks.

 

RANGE ROVER
#rangeroverevoque
https://www.landrover.ca

LUZIA, Cirque du Soleil 2019

I cannot believe I have yet to watch a “Cirque du Soleil” performance. I mean, I have been to Vegas a handful of times, where several hotels host nightly Cirque shows. And every year their white tents get erected by Main Street skytrain station. But I guess the thought of a steep ticket price has kept me away until now. But honestly it is fairly affordable as a little indulgence. You only need to purchase your ticket on the right day, for the right day. We choose a slower night and took advantage of their Black Friday sale, to only have to pay $89 per second row seat tickets. And in actuality you want to sit further from the stage to be able to take in more, and that lowers the price.

Tickets don’t come with any instructions, and for first timers, we did spend some time trying to find the entrance. Not to mention we were late, unsure whether the time listed was the start time, or the time which the doors opened for seating.We made our way past security and their commercial trailers, and wandered into the largest tent. Two entrances funnelled traffic left or right based on your purchased seats.

Inside, the foyer has several booths offering food and drink, and of course souvenir merchandise for purchase. The lot of it themed in Mexican patterns and motifs with rainbow paper garlands, cartoon luchadors, and photographs of lush greenery. All of which spoke to the theme of “LUZIA”.

As taken from their website, “LUZIA takes you to an imaginary Mexico, like in a waking dream, where light quenches the spirit and rain soothes the soul”. Inspired by Mexico, the show combines high flying and death-defying acrobatics with the vibrant culture of Mexico. For those interested, I highly recommend taking in the show before they take down the tents on December 29th. And right now for the holidays they are offering 25% off tickets, on select days.

We did arrive late, so had to wait for the first set to finish before being guided to our seats by the usher. With targeted flashlights he lit the walkway and ensured we were safe and sound in our centre, second row seats. And the help was necessary, the aisle in between each row is narrow. You cannot get in or out without those around you getting up and out of their seats. This was reason one for me not wanting to drink during the performance, having to leave mid way for the toilet. Reason two was the actual lengthy lines for said toilets. The washrooms weren’t porto-potties, but they were located out doors in the rain and cold. And for those who had to go, they spent the entire intermission in queue waiting their turn. I can see why the intermission was 30 minutes. And all this will be the reason why I would look into the VIP package next year. Those premium tickets come with access to a VIP lounge, and I assume an express toilet.

Now back to our seats. We thought we would have the best in the house, being unobstructed by a sea of heads. But in actuality you want a seat further away from the stage, to avoid having to crank your head back and up. I suggest the ones in section 200, row H. These offer the largest amount of leg room, as it is an actual walk way in front of you. Plus you are able to take in the entire expanse of the stage, to not have to keep looking left or right, in order to not miss anything in your peripheral. Whereas our front row seats were so tightly packed side by side, that there was no place to store our over sized jackets and purses. And my guest had her neighbour practically sitting on her lap.

As for the actual show. I will be briefly recap the scenes, but not to worry my words won’t spoil anything for you. There is nothing like seeing the following live. And without the ability to use my phone to capture it in photo or video, I was fully able to immerse myself in the performance.

The first act was a lively showcase of acrobats dressed as birds. They ran and flapped their feathers on moving conveyor belts, built in to the stage floor. Their set had them flying through the air, and leaping through varying sizes of hoops.

Next, we were introduced to the entire “LUZIA” assembly as they gathered on stage. Live singing, musical instruments, and prancing commenced. They all wore colourful costumes that looked as though they came from a time period once upon ago, far far away. Suspenders and bowler hats, Mary janes and apron dresses; dapper in linen and silk. A few were dressed as animals with shells and tails, fur and scales. All very elaborate.

Following this, everyone left the stage and a dancer was propelled into the air by her three 3 dance partners. They made tossing her, swinging her like jump rope, and passing her between one another look fluid.

After, two women came to the stage and did things with large metal hula hoops that I didn’t think was possible. All while an acrobat was lowered from the ceiling, twirling while balancing on a bar. Mid set rain fell from the ceiling (a motif that would reappear a few more times). The performers continue to spin and dance, embarrassing the falling water like you would a warm rainfall. Be warned, the front row does get a little sprinkling.

In between sets the water was cleared with mops and what looked like a decorative lawn mower being pushed over puddles. And instead of hiding the clean up, an entertainer was brought out to distract the audience from it. Like the rest of the show, no words were spoken. Communication was done using a whistle and hand gestures. And with an inflatable ball and crowd participation, he brought the tent to laughter.

The tight rope walker charmed on his slack rope. The premise was he was trying to impress a a girl, as he balanced on a wooden board and tube, stood on his hands, and flipped and flopped around with ease.

The soccer ball tricks were playfully done. Bouncing, balancing, and even breakdancing. One of the athletes was pregnant, and doing a fine job keeping up with her male counter part. Here, the water returned and the whole team took to it with joyous excitement.

To which, our humorous, whistle blowing entertainer came back with a comedy routine. It was based around him trying to capture water in his flask. Although he found himself unable to keep up with the playful stream of liquid.

Then our songstress came back. She sang a deeply moving melody in Spanish. And as she bellowed, the steady stream of falling water she stood beside, began falling in patterns. You were able to make our images of stars, hearts, birds, and fish. A visual treat for the eyes and the ears. Then to close out the first act, the entire cast came back out to help finish the song with gusto.

We spent the performance not drinking, so were able to use our 30 minutes exploring their souvenir shop. Butterfly wings, soccer balls, light up wands, and themed tees and hoodies. Most memorable was the bedazzled skull purse for over $300.

When time, we reassembled by the stage and were welcomed back to act 2 by 3 costumed cacti posing like tourists with flash photography. They led the way for a collection of DescriptionPapier-mâché trees that rotated around the stage. Their lack of green and wispy branches set up the dessert theme. Poles were next to join the scene with acrobats that climbed and twirled down them, jumping from one to another.

I was on the edge of my seat watching the masked luchador swinging at terrifying heights. He stood tall and flipped over the bar without flinching.

After, the show slowed down with a sensual performance utilizing a pool of water. The acrobat here was lowered from the ceiling on bungees. He utilized droplets of water in his performance by way of flicking himself and them though the air. A dynamic performance joined by three actors controlling a mechanical looking cheetah. Fully committed with the mannerisms you’d expect from a giant feline.

Next, we were serenaded with more live singing and percussion instruments, as a juggler took to the stage. He built our excitement up by juggling batons in ascending order. Starting with 3, he worked his way up to 7. I was impressed, having never seen more than 4 attempted at a time. And here he was doing 6 while running.

He amped the crowd up, only for the show to be slowed back down by the jaw dropping contortionist. This man spun and twisted his body in ways that made the audience gasp, yet stare in awe.

He was followed by more acrobats on swings. Their apparatus rotated on the stage swinging back and forth. Then one after another they all took a leap and spin of faith, landing two feet flat on the other side.

And then it ended just as it started, with everyone on stage, singing, making music, and dancing. Followed by each feature performer taking a bow.

Overall this was a great show, one I would recommend. Theatrics, edge of your seat entertainment, and a mix of stunts and humour all rolled into one fast paced show. There was plenty here, yet it left me wanting more; enough to make me want to watch all the other “Cirque” shows that will come to town, years after. Recapping it in words it sounds like a lot, but watching it in the moment it felt like it ended all too fast. My girl friend and I will definitely be making this an annual thing.

LUZIA
Plaza of Nations Marina – Lot #499
811 Carrall St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2R6
https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/canada/vancouver/luzia/buy-tickets

CAVU Kitchen Bar

When you think Richmond you think Chinese food; you conjure up images of noodles, dumplings, and stir fry. But what if you don’t want any of the above, should you have to travel out of the island city in order to get a decent burger or a grilled steak? Well “Cavu” doesn’t think so. And they are helping those with that very dilemma, by offering them Pacific West Coast fare across their new winter menu. Hot off the heels of their “Le burger week” win, this menu includes two new burgers worth traveling for, as well as a collection of tasty shareables and delicious desserts.

Located in the hotel’s lobby, parking is easily accessible and free for diners. Once within, the restaurant ushers you close with an open entry way. It feels like your average hotel lobby restaurant with dark furnishings and floors, television screens for entertainment, and plants for visual interest. Nothing stand out, apart from the random words splashed across specific walls, foiled in gold. “Unlimited”, “visibility”, and the cut out ceiling labelled as such.

Our group grabbed the large high top, share table that divided the casual bar with the more formal dining area (minus the tv screens). Christmas was in the air and on the tables with buckets of candy canes, glass jars of baubles, and ever green trees set a glow. But I was most enamoured by the fact that our table had outlets built into it. I was able to charge my phone with no more than a cable.

We began our meal by snacking on thinly sliced, gently salted potato chips. Their light airy texture so addictive that our group found ourselves finishing it all, as we waited for our first course to arrive.

With it I had the “Berry coconut margarita” a feature cocktail for the season. Made with 1800 coconut infused silver tequila and chambord, with a beet root rim. This was a nice enough drink, fruity and easy to finish. Although it wasn’t one that spoke to the holiday, its popular flavours, or its warm and smokey tones. With the coconut and candy sugar rim, this drank tropical, more like punch that you gulp, then something to be slowly sipped and savoured for warmth.

My favourite dish of the night, and the one I would order again, had us starting the night on a high note. The “Mediterranean labneh” is a soft cheese spread served with arbequina XV olive oil, dukkah, figs, olives, and rosemary. With so many elements to sort though, its taste was dependant on how you smeared and topped your chewy pita bread. Worth nothing is that you are given more cheese than bread to spread. So either lay it on thick, or double your order of pita as a precaution. They make the labneh in house, from scratch. And even though it is made from mostly yogurt, its telltale tartness doesn’t move forward. You only get a pleasant tang to it. The cheese was easy to spread, thick like cream cheese, with extra sumptuousness from the olive oil. I especially liked a slice of fig to finish it off. This side would have been great with wine.

Next, we had the “Cavu fried chicken basket”. Extra points for the presentation of this one. Available in spicy or medium, the colouring of both looked the same: orangey-brown. For more heat, dunk your jagged-battered chicken nugget in to the iconic flavour of Frank’s Red Hot.

Although I preferred the spicy version as is, already well flavoured. But I did find that both versions had a little too much breading, causing it to feel dry and almost over cooked.

The burger that won them “Le Burger Week” was their “Le Big Mac N Cheese Burger”. An 8oz beef patty topped with melted cheddar, bacon, and ketchup. All sandwich between two Mac and cheese croquettes, repurposed into burger buns. Crispy on the outside, elbow macaroni packed on the inside. This is the type of comfort food I crave for after heavy drinking. But sober, I wanted more gooey raclette cheese to moisten things up with. There was also not enough stringy cheese with in the Mac and cheese patties for my tastes. And the beef burger was a little over cooked, a pinker centre would have been nice. But here, we discovered their kimchi ketchup, just came in handy. Not typically paired with this dish, but it should be. In fact, the condiment should be bottled up and enjoyed with everything. It has what you like about ketchup, but with additional sweetness and a kick from the preserved cabbage. They also have a garlic aioli that would have helped pull this together as a burger. But instead, I happily ate it deconstructed like pasta with ketchup.

Just as impressive is their “baller burger”. You want it for the name alone. Another 8oz patty, but this one is topped with sautéed lobster claws, asparagus, arugula, dijonaise, and a Béarnaise sauce. All set between a toasted brioche bun. This was basically a surf and turf made more practical to eat, as a handheld burger. Although things did get messy with all the oils and juices running down your hands. It made the vegetable soggy, and left you wanting a slice of tomato or sweet pickle to brighten things up, which was available on the side.

I was not a fan of the calamari. “Crispy chilli fried squid and prawn” with sesame puffs; seasoned in togarashi spice, shishito pepper, green onion, yuzu aioli, and chilli. The flavour was interesting: peppery, salty, and savoury. But the texture of the breading came across as ashy and chalky. Here, a creamy aioli would have helped course correct things, and add some cooling balance that the dish needed.

If you are looking for something light and lean, the “pan seared Lois lake steelhead” is a good option. Tender, flaky fish sitting on top of a rösti potato (a Swiss dish of grated potatoes formed into a small flat cake and fried.) and braised leeks; all in a pool of saffron butter sauce. The potato ate like pasta in its starchiness, but was overwhelmed by the butter sauce. Out of personal preference, I would have like a red tomato sauce with tang for the salmon, much like the one below.

The “Cioppino” (fisherman’s stew) was a collection of seafood in a spiced tomato broth. Rockfish, mussels, squid, prawns, onions, and bell peppers. A beautifully coloured bowl of neon red with sprigs of green leaves and herbs, and the pink of the watermelon radish peeking through. Thought was put into this presentation. The squid rings were my favourite part, they were beautifully prepared with a great chew. Although I preferred this whole, more as a soup; slurping up liquid and dunking toasted focaccia slices into it like a sponge.

The “stout braised beef short rib” was a generous serving. The meat was tender and easy to pull part. However I found it too salty and its flavour flat. The vegetables and jus on the side helped, but there was not enough to have some steak mushrooms, peas, or carrots with each bite. I would have also preferred the potatoes mashed and whipped smooth for a similar texture that that of the meat, one that would have had the vegetables pop more.

For dessert we had “Molten chocolate cake”. It didn’t really have a melty ganache centre, as we had thought it would (based on the name and description). It would have been nice to have the cake served warmer, fresh out of the oven. And utilizing the scoop of custard ice cream that topped it as a cooling agent; and then later, a sauce, when it melted over the chewy chocolate cake, with hazelnut notes.

Altogether I preferred the “spiced rum and raisin pudding”. I am more partial to a vanilla base dessert, and definitely I got it here. Bourbon vanilla ice cream, candied pecan, salted caramel, and toasted marshmallow. It looked and tasted like cookie dough with a nice burnt caramel finish.

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? – Yes.
I wouldn’t necessarily travel the distance for a meal, but for more show stopping burgers like the baller one up above, I can see myself returning for another go of the place. They are best for the hearty, “stick to your ribs” kind of stuff. There were some hits and some misses, but over all it was better than I expected. Quality food and some creative dishes for fall/winter. Don’t deny your cravings.

CAVU
Hilton Vancouver Airport Hotel
5911 Minoru Blvd, Richmond, BC V6X 4C7
(604) 232-5001
cavukitchenbar.com

Torafuku, lunch service

For those who didn’t know, “Torafuku” is the sister restaurant to the popular Asian fusion food truck, “Le Tigre”. However the truck has since broken down, and the owners have decided not to repair it until the new year. A decision made with the want to focus on the quality of food coming out of “Torafuku’s” kitchen, instead. So for those missing their “crack salad”, and servings of rice described as “awesomeness in a bowl”; you can now get both and more, at “Torafuku” for lunch.

I was invited down to their restaurant to reminisce over the more popular food truck offerings. Plus, try a handful of new sides and appetizers. So continue reading to see what you can expect from their lunch service, which is available throughout the week. It is a menu that includes seasonal items and rotating dishes, with the likes of fresh made dumplings in the new year.

For those who have never been, the restaurant is conveniently accessible by way of Main Street skytrain. Easy to spot with its painted brown exterior, and glass front. Inside, it feels sterile and cold with plenty of concrete and an ample aisle way. A wide birth between a row of low back, leather and suede booths; and lengthy share style tables opposite it.

Lunch is available Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30am to 2:30pm. It boasts a fulsome list that includes the ability to make any entree a combo, with your choice of side and soft drink for $4.50 more. Or you go for gold, and grab a beer or wine with your afternoon delight.

They have an impressive cocktail program, so I choose to explore that a little better with “Dr. Sun’s Pencilin”. Ciroc Vodka, Johnny Walker 12 years Black Scotch Whisky, Chinese baijiu, lime, honey ginger, wintermelon tea, cinnamon, and Bittered Sling Clingstone Peach bitters. I couldn’t make out any one ingredient; instead, this was a bevy of ingredients coming together for a smokey, cinnamon-y concoction that paired well with all our rich and savoury mains to come.

The highlight of their Taiwanese themed lunch menu is definitely their take on “Beef noodle soup”, a classic so good that it sells out every day. And the reason that they don’t simply make more is that the chefs don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity, so they keep the amount of perfect bowls limited. After all it does take 72 hours to make the broth alone, and honestly you can tell the difference. Not overly seasoned, not lacking on any flavour, just delicious. Thus, making it my new favourite place for beef noodle soup. I highly recommend coming down for one of these comforting bowls.

Good as is, but for those who want a little more decadence to their beef noodle, they have a jar of beef fat to mix into your soup like a condiment. It is not readily available, but for those who make a special request for it. They also make their own sauerkraut and have extra on hand by special request, as well.

And for those who are familiar with “Le Tigre”, their rice bowls are as they describe it, “awesomeness in a bowl”. They were what I always gravitated towards when I visited the truck. Each bowl features their accurately named “kick-ass rice”, cooked in sake, butter and dashi; with pickled cabbage and mixed herbs, and topped with a perfectly poached egg. When you mix the latter in with its runny yolk, it is pure gooey deliciousness. Enjoy it as is, or have it even more sumptuous by adding fried chicken or pork belly to it. And for the vegetarians, you can add on a helping of their “crack salad” over the rice. (more on that below).

Between the two meat options I prefer the fried chicken, for its crispy crunchy texture. Made creamy and spicy with a chilli mayo, just like with the “kakuni style pork belly” had. The pork belly is tender and chewy, but a little too rich for my tastes. With either one the rice is so flavourful that you don’t need any of the meat that tops it. Case in point is me taking what was left in both rice bowls home and having it for dinner. happily on the same day.

And despite not liking salad, and never wanting to order any at a restaurant, I would make the exception for their “crack salad”. Once again the name hits the nail on the head. So good that you can’t stop at one bite. And when paired with the rice, it offers the carbs a nice break in freshness. And with crispy leaves and a cheesy Parmesan forward flavour lightened with lemon, this makes a great way for you to get your daily dose of greens in. Kale, purple cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts galore.

Similarly, I highly recommend making any of the aforementioned a combo for the above mentioned price. The following are all of their available sides. You can also get them 3 for $10 or all 5 for $16. Each tasty, each unique on to itself.

The tomato side offered a whole new flavour combination. Sweet cherry tomato and zesty raw red onion is amplified with the generous drizzle of their yuzu and plum marinade. It is then accented with the one of a kind herbal flavour of shiso. It had a dessert-like quality to it with its creaminess and sugary finish. A great option to balance out greasier dishes.

The king mushroom tempura was so meaty, that I took a bite not knowing what it was, and thinking it was battered cubes of beef. It reminded me of the deep fried popcorn chicken bites; the kind that you get from bubble tea house. Five spice forward and salty, not necessarily a bad thing.

The chilled, miso braised lotus root was the table’s favourite. The expected starchiness of lotus root, uniquely paired with a miso seasoned cheese spread and fresh green onion. You used the chunky root as a “chip” to scoop up ample amounts of the cheese hidden at the bottom. Another one where I have never had anything like it, and one you have to try for yourself.

The chilled eggplant was marinaded Szechwan style with peanut oil. Mushy eggplant in a tangy sauce with a crunch from the puffed rice it was topped with.

The cucumber side was very familiar with its pickled tang. Crunchy and briny cucumber served with gelatinous agar agar, and woodear mushroom for some chew; all drenched in “Kuan Mama’s” vinaigrette.

Not typical, but as an extra special treat, we got to try some Taiwanese style pineapple cake made by neighbouring bakery “Buttermere”, who rents out “Torafuku’s” kitchen from time to time. The small cube was a tease. Plenty of buttery and crumbly crust, hiding a centre of sweet and fibrous pineapple. Good, but it would have been better larger, for a more even pineapple to crust ratio.

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, I highly recommend visiting “Torafuku” for lunch. Good food, fast, at affordable prices. Just writing about it now I want more of everything. Don’t deny your cravings.

TORAFUKU
958 Main Street, Vancouver BC
778-903-2006
torafuku.ca

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/

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