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Month: January 2020 Page 1 of 2

Noodle Arts

On a cold, but more tolerable snowy night, we were in search of some noodles to help warm us up. Our journey brought us to “Noodle Art” on Robson Street. Where 2 out of 3 of us had never been before, and the 3rd frequents, always ordering to same menu item.

On this slower night we had the full attention of the floor staff, which included the lone server in pink and purple uniform, and the owner of the restaurant herself.

This was a treat, as she gave us a quick background spiel. Her family actually owns 68 similar restaurants in China, with this being their first venture in Vancouver, with its own name. They specialize in traditional Lanzhou cuisine, flavour from the “ Silk Road”, North West of China. As she spoke you could tell how passionate she was about her family’s legacy and the pride she had for her shop, here.

The restaurant is brightly lit. Wood strips line the right wall and a blue and red mural of people and horse covers the one on the left. But the highlight of the space has to be the partially open kitchen and the ability to watch your choice of noodles be rolled, cut, or pulled to order, then boiled up in a wok of hot water. The entire mesmerizing experience was carried out by two chefs in full uniform. Unsmiling and utterly focused on the work before them. Their hands work feverishly and the food came out quickly there after.

We were seated on the right and given a two sided menu that when folded and not laminated also served as their take out menu. Names of items were fairly descriptive, with a few choice photo to help in your decision making. However, we had the owner by our table, helping us to decide. Originally we were all going to get their “traditional Lanzhou beef noodle”, (the very order my one guests all the time and got again tonight). Although through her recommendations we were each able to find and try a different dishes, each with its own strong points. When you order any of their noodle dishes you get to choose the type of noodles you want from it. A choice made from a list of eight different options that includes an extra thin strand at 1mm and a thick flat noodle at 5mm. Worth mentioning is that they also offer rice, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes, or their noodles dry. But we came in with a craving and one bowl of soup noodle is plenty of food for one.

As expected, the one guest got his usual: the traditional Lanzhou beef noodle, making it a combo. “Combo A” gave you a cold side, additional beef slices, and a marinaded egg with your large bowl of noodles. But if it was me I would have gotten “Combo B”, so that I could have a dessert with the set. He customized his bowl with their thickest noodle at 20mm and ask for extra spicy oil to be added in. However, the noodles weren’t all that thick and the oil wasn’t even spicy. (Though now looking at the photos, I think they must have us the wrong noodles). The noodles were nice and chewy, an ideal cut for those who order such dishes for the noodles and enjoys chewing through them. You can also get a container of the spicy oil for the table, to be able to scoop as much or as little as you like, on to whatever you want. It offers a nice peppery flavour, but despite its neon red hue, I would classify this as mild at best. As for the broth, given the amount of oil used, I can’t be sure of how it tastes normally. I guess I would just have to come back to find out. As for the sides, they were a nice break in between bites, great alone or even together within the noodle bowl. The cold seaweed offered a firmer chew, and the extra meat and egg some heartiness.

I had the “Braised ribs noodle soup”. This came recommend my our owner-host. They had originally run out of the meat in the morning, so this evening I would be partaking from a fresh batch. Hearing that was enough to have me confirming the recommendation. I had it with “triangle” noodles, that weren’t actually triangular. They are just not as flat as most of the other noodles. Thicker strands, but with a less width. They were chubby and chewy and only got more so, the longer they soaked in the broth. They do absorb liquid quick, so I suggest eating this one first and fast to get firm noodles and plenty of broth to slurp up. As for how it tasted, I couldn’t help but to compare this dish to Taiwanese beef noodle. Therefore I wanted a richer broth, with more pepper, and more heat in spice and in temperature. Similarly the meat was bland. Pieces were inconsistent with some being tender and others dry. All the flavour could have washed into the soup, but I found they fell flat. Though luckily I was able to reach for the chilli oil jar and rejuvenate my serving with a whole new flavour to work through.

My other guest got their “soup” special, a new menu item only introduced a day ago (from when I visited). They are competing in Vancouver Foodster’s Best Soup Challenge, and this is their entry. It isn’t on their regular menu, but is featured on stand up signs at each table, along with a card informing you on how you can vote for your favourite (after trying all the competitors) at the Vancouver Foodster website. Something they want to promote, so that they can potentially be crowned the best in the city, for the best soup.

This wasn’t a new dish they created, but one that is well known and well received, especially by my guest who ordered it and knew exactly what she was getting. This was their “Lamb noodle soup”, a light broth that was full of rich flavour from boiled lamb bones. It was peppery with plenty of thin slices of lamb meat. It came with vermicelli and her choice of “Blade carving noodles”. The latter made by using a knife to roughly cut out chunks of dough, straight into boiling water. The result, a thicker, shorter noodle with an inconsistent chew. It did paired very well with the thin slippery glass noodle. But she too found herself reaching for the chilli oil to help change the taste mid way.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I liked what I had, but wouldn’t go out of my way for their noodles, nor would I classify them as a destination. I can find other options with more flavour, closure to my home. However, they definitely make a great stop for those living in the neighbourhood. This is especially the case with their stamp card program, and the ability to collect them for an eventual free bowl. Don’t deny your cravings.

NOODLE ARTS
1739 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C9
(604) 673-5688
noodlearts.com

Banter Room

My girl friend and I heard about a Yaletown bar/lounge with a champagne vending machine and immediately made plans to visit it, (the next time we were in the area). The first of such vending machines in Vancouver is located at “Prohibition” within “Hotel Georgia”. Both it and the one at “Banter Room” function and cost exactly the same, but now we can say that we have had a bottle from both.

There is just something so novel about ordering what is considered a luxury item, from something that is so accessible and every day, like a vending machine. We joked that the small bottles of Möet offered were “juice boxes”. The machine is sponsored by Möet so only offers its bottles. And you don’t actually pay out of pocket. Instead, you order it like you would any drink from your sever. You get a token from them, which you then insert into the actual machine, and then make your selection. Although once again, it doesn’t matter which combination of letters and numbers you push, the exchange is exactly the same: a small 200ml bottle of Möet for $30.

But first getting there, the actual restaurant was hard to find. With surrounding businesses boarded up, we had to back track and ask for directions. Not to mention the exterior isn’t very prominent. The covered patio is darken for the season, and only their discrete logo in green marks the spot.

Inside, the lounge is just as dark. There is plenty of sprawling room with stools by the bar, single tables, and rounds for groups of four. Larger parties are accommodated by pushing together tables against the brick wall at the back, the one decorated with diamond shaped mirrors. Yellow glowing spot lights, back lit tile, flatscreen television screens, and tea lights offer a little brightness. But this is one of those places that you need to shine your phone light over your menu in order to read it.

Our server was bright and bubbly. She greeted us at the door with her light blue crop top and black bottoms. This must have been the dress code considering the only other front of house employee was dressed in a similar fashion, with the same colours and her midriff showing as well.

We were strategically seated by the vending machine. When it came time to order, we picked a few items off of their laminated, single sheet menu; and had our server either confirm our choices or direct us towards something better. She ixnay-ed the “Zucchini Noodle Pescatore”, announcing that she has most steer clear of it considering how easy it is to make at home. And instead suggested a salad, if we wanted something light. But I don’t order salads, given it too is something you can easily make at home. It is just assembly, and when I go out to eat I want to have something that I cannot and will not make on my own.

Instead, we would have the same shrimp in it, with the “crispy tiger prawns” appetizer instead. A thick sweet chilli glaze evenly coated the large, juicy shrimp. They were a little tough, but still delicious, especially when paired with the bed of cool and creamy coleslaw it sat on. This made for a great palette changer for our two more cheese focused dishes below.

The “Mac and cheese” served in a skillet caught our eye immediately, and we were reassured in a our choice, after we were given a generous nod of approval from our server. This isn’t your regular children’s version of Mac and cheese. Prepared with a three cheese blend of sharp and salty cheeses, this isn’t the mozzarella or cheddar that most are familiar with. It and the gummy gooey texture would be ideal with beers or heavy drinks, and then the leftovers would serve to help you sober up with later. Ideal drunk food.

In comparison, the “oven baked brie” was bland, even with its topping of caramelized apples, brown sugar, and walnuts. I wanted more cinnamon and toasted sugar flavour. And the walnuts to be also baked, but with a coating of honey for some sticky sweetness. This felt flat, and the hard and undressed whole wheat crostini did nothing to help. A sweet chilli sauce like with the prawn above would have been much better as a dressing for the melted miniature wheel of brie.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The food was only average, so I don’t think I will be returning to try their whole roasted chicken for $85 or their tomahawk steak for $185. I can see myself sharing one of their “colossal cocktails” for $75. But I would need to bring 3 others along with me in order to be able to order the 12 oz bucket of booze with mix. This would be ideally done during spring or summer, when I can have on their patio. A bold patio which includes a great photo op in the form of a stationary circle swing, set to a tropical backdrop. Although we did get to enjoy it tonight in the cold darkness. Don’t deny your cravings.

BANTER ROOM
1039 Mainland St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5P9
(604) 565-1039
banterroom.com

Vancouver International Wine Festival Taste

This Monday night, I braved the cold and snow for a taste of what’s to come at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival. Held between February 22nd and March 1st, 2020 the festival brings wine writers, industry professionals, and drink enthusiasts from all around the world to Vancouver’s doorstep. And tonight at “The Loft at Earls Yaletown” we would learn what the show runners have in store for the occasion’s 42nd year.

The event not only offers the ability to discover new wines and to connect with wine makers through tastings. But you have the opportunity to sign up for seminars, dinners, lunches, and soirées as well. After all wine is a social beverage.

For today’s tasting it was a self serve affair. 13 different countries were represented across 34 different bottles, each tagged with twine and a label. The label listed the name of the bottle, which events it will be featured at, its principal, and all of the accompanying social media tags.

This year’s feature is on French wines, so there were two tables dedicated to those bottles, with a spotlight on rosé. The wines here all represent a variety of grapes and regions. But unfortunately, I won’t be going through them all, as truth be told, I wasn’t able to try the lot of them. And plus, I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for anyone planning on attending a tasting or two themselves. For me, half the fun is trying everything for myself, unclouded by descriptions and opinions. Not to mention everyone’s palette is different, so just because I taste coffee and tobacco, it doesn’t mean you can’t identify red berries and roses. The following are a few of the bottles offered tonight in pictures. Organized by the country they hail from.

   

And to nibble on as we sip, “Earls” served up a cheese and fruit charcuterie, mini quiches, and macarons for dessert.

But for more visuals, check out my latest drinking Vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

At the peak of the event we heard from the president of the International Wine Festival. He spoke to what we could expect, and the excitement of what’s to come with such enthusiasm that it elevated the room. As in previous years, the proceeds of the event will go to help fund the popular recreational performances of “Bard on the Beach”. And the chair of that board was even here to night, to show his support.

The actual International Wine Festival will house over 42,000 bottles from over 162 wineries to both taste and buy. There will be 700 wines in the grand tasting room alone. With the feature being on French wines, the keynote speaker will hail from the South of France. And popular wine journalist, Andrew Jefford will also be in attendance for his first year, experiencing BC wines at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

As in year’s past, if you decide to purchase any bottles or cases, you can have it shipped to your nearest liquor store. So you can basically have it sent to anywhere in BC. So you can shop to your heart’s delight, and not have to worry about how you will be getting it all home. After all, with all the wine about, you probably aren’t planning on driving. Another solution to avoid driving is to stay at any of the hotels downtown. And if you book a night through http://vancouverhotels.com during the event, you get a complimentary ticket to the show.

For more on this week long celebration, and how to get your own passes to Canada’s premier wine show, February 22-March 1, visit the link below. A number of events are already sold out, but there are many more still available, like the one featuring chilled red wines!

“The wine world will be here”, will you be too?
https://vanwinefest.ca/

Surviving the Vancouver Snowmageddon in the 2020 Mazda CX-3

For 2020 I have decided to take a new approach to my car reviews. Here, I will not be spouting jargon or spewing quotes from car manufacturers. You don’t need another blog reviewing specs you may know nothing about, nor know what they mean anyways.

Instead, I will use my experience in critical writing to give you the ins and outs for the latest models and everyday rides (with a few luxury labels sprinkled in between). Details on the the look, feel, and drivability during my every day, hour long commute. A daily drive that takes me across bridges, over bumpy terrain, on the highway, then back again.

And what better way to review my latest weekly ride than during 2020’s “Snowmageddon”. 10 days in January where the white stuff dumped, and as per history past, the Lower Mainland knew not what to do with itself. Roads weren’t salted in preparation, despite the weather warnings, and the lack of plows in local areas meant side streets became treacherous. And then there were the drivers without snow tires and the know-how to transverse in snow. They created unnecessary accidents: an abundance of collisions, impeding traffic that was already slowed to a halt.

But I digress, all that can be a post all on its own. This week I had the 2020 Mazda CX-3, and what better time to put it through its paces, and write a thorough review of the experience, than today. A morning where I found myself parked on the highway, inching ever so slowly along the chalky streets, stuck in gridlock. And given all my time sitting and idling, I made plenty of observations, and have plenty of insight to give.

But let’s rewind a little, and start with first impressions. This is a really compact car, waking up to it, it looked a little on the small side; like a baby sedan. There isn’t a lot of room in the back for passengers. Seat belts for three, but only enough room for two small adults. In fact, I would suggest using the back seat to transport groceries and goods, rather than any one with legs. I do push my seat up fairly close to the wheel, but for those who don’t, and need the leg room up front; those in the back will definitely suffer. Stepping in, the front cabin was just as tight. I had to adjust the driver seat, as they felt very sunken into the floor, giving me less visibility out the front window.

And speaking of windshields, the one at the back is very limited. When the back seat passenger head rests are lifted up and the single blade wiper is going, you lose a lot of your visibility. You get a similar experience while left shoulder checking, (at least the way I am seated, I did). The panel that separates the front and rear side windows obstructs your view, so a body twerk is necessary to get it back.

But at least with the Mazda CX-3 being a hatchback, you know where it ends, and you don’t have a lot to worry about bumpers that jut out while reversing. A fact, further helped along with its back up camera. This comes standard for most modern vehicles, but with this week’s extra challenging drive, any little convenience helped. Just like how I really appreciated having heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Both helped to warm me up quickly. And because the cabin is so small, the entire vehicle heats up relatively quick as well. Meaning everything I cranked up, I soon turned down and off, and the temperature remained. I imagine that this is also the case with warmer weather and air-conditioning as well. (But today, summer and the sun feels so far away).

But back to the heated steering wheel, it actually encourages proper hand to wheel placement. You find yourself holding steady at 10 and 2, as the sensors only heat the side of the wheel. Helpful for learners, but not great for drivers like me: those who hold their wheel lower, with their hand resting on their lap.

As a whole, I would classify the Mazda CX-3 as a more simple car. It isn’t too busy visually, there isn’t more than what is necessary in terms of buttons and their functions. A single cluster, a display for your mode, speed gage, temperature reading, and fuel consumption metre. Even the pulldown mirror from the back of the sun shade doesn’t have a light to it. This does make your face check harder in the dark. Although the cabin lights work just fine, albeit harsh.

But despite the simplicity of the vehicle, it does still come with many modern conveniences. Little perks like lumbar support, lane assist tracking, jacks for multiple USB cables, satellite radio, and a touchscreen infotainment system. There is even a small clear screen that pops up when you turn on the car. It broadcasts your speed limit and the speed in which you are traveling, discretely. It does not obstruct your peripheral, you only need to look down slightly to notice it. Therefore it is just as easy to ignore, should you choose to.

As for the way the Mazda CX-3 drove.. because of its narrower framework, it didn’t give me the same fear I usually get when travelling across narrow bridges and lanes. And I imagine in better weather conditions, when the roads aren’t icy, it would be fun to zip around. It is agile and nimble, given its size and lack of weight to maneuver. Similarly, it is extremely easy to park, even for those who fear the dreaded parallel. Although I did have to use quite a bit of a muscle in order to accelerate as fast as I wanted it to go, and even at a faster speed it did not feel like I had any power beneath my feet.

Although as a whole, the Mazda CX-3 has the smooth driving and easy feel that I know Mazda vehicles for. Great as a daily driver, when you want no fuss or muss, getting from “A” to “B”. Especially nice in rush hour and snow driven gridlock. When you find yourself starting and stopping regularly, the last thing you want is the additional movement of a clutch or anything remotely intricate. Today, I was literally moving half a car’s length forward every minute; pushing the shifter up to park, then down when I had drive an inch more. And thankfully this was a hassle free motion in the CX-3. (I wasn’t keen on keeping my foot down on the brake for two hours.)

Given the size and lack of space in the cabin, I wouldn’t recommend it for a road trip. There isn’t a lot of sprawling room; and you can feel quite claustrophobic, if stuck in the car for 4+ hours. I mean on this snowy day I found myself, alone, trapped in it for 5 and felt like I need to stretch after 2. I am not very big, but even I found myself cramped in terms of elbow placement. I had to make myself more narrow, in order to fit both elbows between the door handle and the middle console.

Not to mention, the car is so low to the ground and intentionally light, that you hear and feel everything from the road. There is little insolation blocking out the noise of the world around you. You hear everything: like all the debris that gets caught up in the under carriage. Every speck of sand or gravel gives off a little rustling noise. Un-nerving in general, but made much worse on snow laden streets. The clumps of gathered ice scraped the bottom, like the car was lowered and you were going over a speed bump. However, if you turn your music up loud enough, you can tune out most of it.

But when the roads were relatively clear the CX-3 drove steady. I had no issues skidding with the all season tires. There was no swerving, it just felt like normal driving, but in snow. Thus, making it a great vehicle for learners or novice drivers, (during dry weather conditions). There are less features, less buttons, less dials, and less options to get distracted with. And the inability to speed up quick means that they are safer behind the wheel.

In short, I felt much closer to the Mazda CX-3 after today. It kept me warm, comfortable, and safe during my 5 hour commute. A commute that had me making it half way to work, only to have to turn back when a jack knifed semi prevented me from going any further. I felt in control behind the wheel and proud of the little car that could. Although I would love to get a redo on spring or summer when I can fully appreciate it for what it was built for, and when. Thank you Mazda Canada for this week’s wheels!

#MazdaCX3
https://www.mazda.ca

Scroll down for some photo highlights of today’s 10-15cm snow drive. Including a lone plow, halted traffic, accidents, and bridges.

 

Billy Button, revisit

Looking for desserts in the area, we found ourselves at “Billy Button” for some of their most photogenic treats. Our group of 5 foodies came in, just in time for last call. We decided to make it worth the while of the cafe, by ordering one of each of their remaining desserts. Whatever was available 45 minutes to closing.

We almost missed our destination, but having been once before I knew to look for a nondescript entrance, beside the tanning salon. From exterior to interior, the restaurant is themed in black. Black walls, black matte menus, and dim lights barely illuminating the darkness. It gave the restaurant a very calm energy, and a romantic feel for an after dinner destination. And by contrast, all the colourful plates they served really stood out.

You are seated up front and a sever takes your order, this is despite the showcase of goodies at the back. It features specials of the day, that aren’t on the regular menu. So it is best to take a gander before committing to your choices. And as I mentioned, we got one of each of these.

I was the most enamoured with the “Orange”. An accurately decorated, white chocolate shell hides a filling of whipped white chocolate ganache, and a core of marmalade gel. It was so realistic looking with all its dents and dimples, and is even finished off with a real leaf, that crowns it. Like all their other desserts, this one wasn’t very sweet. It reminded me of an orange creamcicle, but much more mild in fruit flavour and sugar content. Great with tea, and for those who don’t like most desserts.

By comparison the “strawberry” disappointed in its presentation. This too played homage to its namesake fruit. Made with a similar white chocolate shell and ganache, but filled with a house made sorbet jam at its centre, instead. The strawberry lacked details and without its trademark black seeds, it looked more like a glossy beet. They tried to add some authenticity to it by using an actual strawberry stem, but it was disproportionately small, and only made the cake look cartoonish. Given its vibrancy, I expected it sweeter and with more character. Instead, it was bland for a dessert. And the jam centre nice, a familiar flavour, commonly found as spread with scones and cream, at high tea.

The “Blueberry tart” would be my favourite of the three, from the showcase. This tasted more like a proper dessert in its richness and sugar. Blueberry jam and pasty cream, all on a bed of almond sponge cake. Fresh and vibrant with the ripe fruit, I just wanted the crust a little more buttery and a lot more firm. Both to better contrast the silken cream and glazed fruit.

From off the regular menu we had the following. The “Matcha green tea tart” was matcha on matcha, with a side of matcha. And surprisingly none of it was overwhelming, only all together was it slightly bitter. An airy matcha soufflé sitting atop of a butter-based crust. Served with a side matcha ice cream, a tuff of matcha sponge cake, and a shard of meringue. The cake was warming and rich, similar to a lava cake in the way it oozed, when you cut into it. Ideal for matcha lovers who complain that they don’t get enough matcha flavour.

The “Salted caramel brioche” was the most dessert-like with its salted caramel sauce, brown sugar crumble, vanilla chanillty cream, and dark chocolate. It was fluffy and satisfying. The burnt caramel flavour was amazing, although it did overpower the brioche. But aside from its presentation, this would be a premade muffin or loaf, that you would expect to find at the counter of your local coffee shoppe.

The following three desserts, I have had before, during my first visit. And it was exactly as I remembered it. Stunningly beautiful, and subtle in flavour. Great for those who don’t like too much sweetness, but lacking for those that do.

The name, “The garden” spoke to the freshness of cucumber featured, and the farm to table quality it gave the plate. Cucumber, yogurt mousse, yuzu cremeux, raspberry powder, and house made crostini. The cucumber had a savoury nuance to it. It reminded me of a finger sandwich, but tzaziki to my table mates. It would have been nice to have the fruit flavours more produced, to better balance out the above.

The “Osmanthus udon” is fragile strands of “udon” noodles. It is shaped from osmanthus panna cotta, and topped in a berry sauce, and crumble. It has a fun texture, but is easy to break. I wanted more flavour from the “noodles”, but it just didn’t absorb enough of the berry soup it pooled in. It would have also been nice to have more crunch in the mix.

“The autumn” is a red wine poached pear on an chocolate cake, sitting in a red wine sauce, with shards of sugar and sticks of chocolate. You finish off the dessert with a little jug of cream that you pour over it. The chocolate doesn’t over power the fruit, and everything melds together well in one bite. It is heavier than it looks with it being wine forward. This would be my least favourite overall, but for taste it would be “the garden” and the “udon”.

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.
Upon my second taste, I conclude that I like their desserts far more for their visuals, then to actually eat any of it. I don’t have a sweet tooth but found that it wasn’t even sweet enough for me. It felt like appetizers, warm up plates building up to the decadent finish that never came. Best shared with bites from each, not something I would like from start to finish, all to myself. Don’t deny your cravings.

BILLY BUTTON
44 E Broadway, Vancouver BC, V5T 1V9
604-423-3344
billybuttondessertbar.com

Mangia Cucina & Bar

Our regular food blogger meet-up brought us to “Mangia”, which came highly recommended by David of @pickydiner fame. He had recently met the owner at an event, and found himself impressed with his pedigree from Sicily. So we assembled for what we hoped would be an authentic Italian meal.

I have actually been to this refurbished house turned restaurant once before. But only briefly, as part of a Vancouver Foodster tasting tour. I was impressed enough to want to come back, and today was as good of a day as any. Especially with 4 other food enthusiasts in tow.

You walk up the front steps and enter through the door on the porch. Inside, the restaurant is warm literally and figuratively. The bar faces the entrance, and the dining area follows it, wrapping around the corner. Brick walls painted white, framed family photos, and as many narrow tables as the single floor allowed.

Our boisterous group (mostly because of me) were seated intimately at the very back. Where, our night began with a welcome glass of bubbles, which myself and David followed with two more cocktails.

 

The “Sicilian mocha” was a lovely spiked coffee, which would have also served as a nice aperitif. Vodka, averna, espresso, and chocolate. Light on the coffee, for those who like the flavour, but not its bitterness or caffeine.

The “Gin botanico” in contrast was a delicate cocktail with lemon and floral notes. A mix of pomegranate tea infused gin, tonic, and spices.

As for food, we ran through the menu as a group, ordering an item from each of the categories. Antipasti, L’Insalata, La Pasta, Il Risotto, and La Pizza.

Today’s starter special was a burrata salad made with arugula, prosciutto, Parmesan crusted croutons, and a whole round of burrata cheese; all drizzled in vinaigrette of aged balsamic reduction. This was a fresh start, simple and clean with the salty meat, creamy cheese, and crunchy croutons. It was exactly as expected.

The “Carpaccio di polpo” was declared as a “must try” on the menu. This was thinly sliced, slow cooked octopus, with salad leaves and an lemon oil vinaigrette. It ate more like a salad with the oiled up greens, fresh tomatoes, and briny olives. The highlight was the baby octopus, deep fried as a whole. I would have liked more of it with the salad, instead of the carpaccio. Nothing was wrong with it, it was just not memorable, nor did I get much octopus flavour from it.

Seeing it arrived at the table next to ours, we too wanted and ordered the “Arancina bomba”. A giant, twice cooked saffron risotto ball filled with mozzarella and topped with a pistachio pesto. This was quite the presentation. Easy to cut into and divide between 5. But the centre was mushy from the melted cheese, whereas you wanted a more firm risotto to parallel with its crispy shell. Texture aside, it served as a decent base, I just wanted something meatier and heartier to enjoy with it.

It is advised that you eat the “Spaghetti carbonara” right away; less it congeals and you lose the firmness of the noodle and the creaminess of its sauce. Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and locally cured guanciale in egg. Tasty, but I just wanted more of the pork meat for taste and salt.

The “Frutti di mare” delivered a bounty of seafood. Arborio rice with clams, mussels, prawns, and squid; cooked in white wine and a fish stock reduction. It is very fishy thanks to the stock, where as I would have liked it more garlicky. A milder risotto flavour, to be able to make out the individual mollusks.

The “Diavola” was a tomato sauce base pizza, topped with mozzarella, spicy Italian salami, and black olives. It was a decent pie, but not outstanding. The dough was moist, whereas I expected more crispiness from a thin crust, along with some blistering. It was also a little too salty for my taste, thanks to the cured meat and briny olives. I could have drizzled on some olive oil to help neutralize, but found it already plenty oily with pools of it on the pizza’s surface.

For dessert, we shared one of each of the options, minus the scoop of gelato available. Their “Tiramisu” was a single serving round, made more fun with a shot of amaretto on the side. You could drink it as is, but the intention is to pour it over the cake. The cake soaked it up like a sponge, and what was left over you could lap up like sauce. The 2oz gave the dessert a kick, but increased the dessert’s naturally soggy texture. The rest was traditionally done with mascarpone cheese, espresso, ladyfingers, and cocoa.

I am not a fan of soggy textures, so preferred the “Sicilian cannolo al pistachio” for its crunch instead. A house made pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta mousse, then topped with pistachio cream and a pistachio crumble. It tasted fresh made, and wasn’t too sweet. This would have been great with tea.

We were all in awe cutting into the “Torta di limoncello”, not knowing what to expect. It wasn’t the “Fluffy cake” the menu described, but more a firm sponge filled with limoncello cream, and covered with white chocolate and almonds. The lemon was beautifully fragranced. Tart and refreshing, this made for a great palette refresher to end our meal on.

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.
Off the beaten path, the setting and the serving of this cozy restaurant makes it a great spot for authentic Sicilian. I definitely recommend this one as a unique date spot worth checking out. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANGIA
2211 Manitoba St, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1K1
(604) 620-5445
mangiacucina.com

Little Bird, dim sum + craft beer

When you are craving dim sum in the lower mainland, like most: you probably contemplate whether the drive to Richmond is worth it, if there is anything good in East Van or maybe along Victoria Drive? But now you might have to consider Kitsilano, where “Little Bird” is serving up all day dim sum and craft beer. But not just your cut and paste pastries and dumplings. Here, they are taking traditional dim sum and making it vegan and gluten-free.

The restaurant space has had its fair share of make overs from “Living Bistro”, to “Yak and Yeti”, then “Trying Tiger”. So this isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant footprint. With a minimalistic approach and plenty of lights, the space felt more suited to brunch at a coffee shop. Simple and sterile with the white bulbs; it sort of felt like day within, instead of the early evening that it was. But I am not complaining, even though they did take away from a more romantic or laid back ambiance; these were great conditions for taking the following photos.

The textured wooden table we were seated at matched the wood counter tops, and decorative wood elements that lined the bar. The restaurant name found its way on to the latter, as well as painted on to a wall that directed you to either of their single stall washrooms. Other than that, only a few framed black and white stencil art offered up visual interest in terms of decor. A graffiti-like style with either bird or dumpling references added to it, after the fact. It spoke to the modern interpretation of the food and the restaurant.

We were seated with our table lining the wall. Here, each place is set with chopsticks and a laminated single sheet menu. The owner came around to highlight best sellers and pride points, making suggestions on what to order and what was worth trying. @goodlifevan, who assembled us all here to day suggested that the restaurant use a check off sheet to order, thus making the process easier. But our host declined the suggestion. One of his goals is to focus on service and the communication you don’t get at other traditional Chinese restaurants. With them it is how fast and efficient you can do something, even if it is at the cost of the client. Here, he wants his staff to connect. His team is multicultural and able to hold a conversation, that includes eye contact. And each server is well trained on the menu and how it tastes, to be able to suggest and curate a perfect meal for their table.

The restaurant owner comes from a long line of Chefs and restauranteurs, working in the business for over 40 years combined. His father owned and operate the two long standing “Flamingo Chinese Restaurant” since 1974. So you can say dim sum runs in his family. And today, I was excited to have dim sum for dinner here, along side three other notable food fans. This is our meal, as these are our notes.

I wanted a drink to start, I liked the idea of pairing dim sum with an alcoholic beverage. Typically I have dim sum in the morning for breakfast or brunch, so a glass of wine or a pint of beer is frown upon at 11am. But at “Little Bird” it is encouraged. Their drink options are limited 4 types of wine or 4 types of beer, both from four different labels; with no mention of cocktails. I went with the “Four Winds saison”, since “craft beer” came after “dim sum” on the menu, as their title. I found that the saison’s easy drinking nature paired well with the richer small bites. Much like how greasy and salty bar foods do.

For something less alcoholic and more caffeinated, you can also order one of their loose leaf teas, served in a miniature tea pot for one. You don’t get a lot of tea, but water refills are welcomed.

The menu is user friendly. Written completely in English with descriptions and a legend. Menu items with a heart symbol, means they have been highlighted as a must try. But be warned, you can and should have the kitchen add on an additional pieces for anything coming you way, so that everyone gets one in full. For example most of the items below come with 2-3 pieces per servings, so with four diners we had an additional dumpling added on here and there, so that everyone could have one. Something I wish our server could have suggested as an easy add-on.

As I mentioned earlier, for those who like dim sum, but cannot have it because they are vegan and the kitchen cannot ensure a meat-free preparation, here is your solution. “Little Bird” works hard to ensure that equipment and utensils are are sanitized and there is not cross contamination. As none of my dinner mates where vegetarian or vegan we didn’t try the full extent of their 7 “garden” dishes. But I did make a note that they weren’t just tofu or mushroom everything. And if you were to order all 7, you would get a variety of tastes and flavours to pick through. This variety included the likes of different mushrooms types, water chestnuts, bamboo, and the new trendy beyond meat alternative.

The “Baked bbq tofu bun” had me going, I can’t believe it’s not pork! Pressed tofu in their sweet and salty bbq sauce, stuffed into a soft dough bun; then topped with a vegan butter and sugar mix, for a little crunch and a lot of sweetness. I liked the taster, but don’t know if I could commit to one whole, regular-sized bun myself. Best cut in half and shared, or bundled into smaller sized bites.

And what is dim sum with out “siu mai”? But there is no pork or shrimp in these meaty looking dumplings. Beyond meat, water chestnut, shiitake mushroom, and black truffle. A rendition made in honour of the owner’s sister-in-law, and her search for delicious meat alternatives. From this, you got the flavour of truffle from the mash of purée that topped it. The “beyond meat” gives you the texture of meat, but it was a little over salted. And I found myself reaching for more flavour from within one of our dishes of side sauces. Chilli oil, chilli sauce, soy sauce, and mustard. This is a great solution for those who lead a vegan lifestyle, but I much prefer the regular version below at $3 less, for a dish of 3.

The regular “Siu mai” had pork, shrimp, shiitake mushroom, and goji berries. It was more tender and juicy than its vegetable counter part. And the wrapper gave you a great chew. A wonderful staple that spoke to the quality of the ingredients used and the skill of the kitchen.

The “Spring roll” was filled full of pork, shiitake and black mushrooms, dried shrimp, and bamboo. Crispy skin, chewy julienne vegetables, and a complexity of flavours with an earthiness from the mushroom and bamboo. I didn’t taste any pork and could have easily done without it. The only thing I wanted was a nice sweet and sour sauce for dipping, something to help brighten this up.

The “Stuffed eggplant” was a softened slice of eggplant topped with a shrimp pate. The latter tasted like the filling of a “ha gao” in both taste and lumpy texture. The sweet and spicy sauce that paired with it would have also went well with our spring rolls above.

I didn’t recognize the “Sweet rice puff” from name alone. A deep fried egg shaped dumpling filled with pork, shiitake mushroom, and dried shrimp. This had a crispy coating with thick gummy walls that stuck to your teeth. Its sweetness paired well with the nice meaty taste and it’s ground texture.

The “Chive and shrimp dumpling” delivered with a similar shrimp filling than the eggplant dish above, and elevated with plenty of fresh and fragrant chives. This too offered a great chew with its wrapper.

The “Scallop taro puff” looked like a cupcake topped with half of a scallop round. Inside, it is hiding a core of shiitake mushroom and minced pork filling, coated in a sweet and mild curry sauce. This rendition offered crispiness from the fry, a nice smooth taro paste in contrast, and a surprise of curry to give it depth. I typically stray away from this one on any dim sum menu, but would be drawn to this version again.

But my favourite of all the dishes we had, had to be the “Curry squid”. Perfectly tender chunks of squid that was enjoyable to gnaw through. The curry was similar to the one use above, mild and sweet, with a slow burn. It did not over power the flavour of the squid.

And unlike other seafood dim sum restaurants, you can order the sweeter plates and have them come towards the end of your meal, as dessert. We finished off with their deep fried “Green tea sesame balls”. An order of two made green with matcha and flavoured with double black sesame. Black sesame seeds speckled the exterior and a pool of melted soup sat at its centre. Be warned, it is messy, and the filling is hot, flowing out like a lava cake. But delicious to end on if you allow them too cool down first, and have the server cut each ball in half.

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.
An approachable dim sum and restaurant created for all, and not just Chinese speakers. But unless you are a vegan, you wouldn’t think to drive all the way down to Kits for dim sum. Though in terms of the neighbourhood, they serve it well as the only option of its kind. A great choice for a fancier night out; made unique with the option for beer and wine. Deliciously done, classic dim sum dressed up and refined. Don’t deny your cravings.

LITTLE BIRD
#dimsumallday
2958 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1R4
(604) 325-8132
littlebirddimsum.com

Chicko Chicken

It was a cold and rainy night, and I wanted something more indulgent in the New Westminster area. My partner had driven past this new chicken joint on occasion, and suggested we get some tonight. I am not one to turn down crispy breading and juicy meat, so here we were.

A well lit, all glass front catches your attention as you drive by at night. And although the empty tables and ample space might turn you away, they actually do more take out and delivery business than dine in. And tonight, the revolving door of Korean speaking locals, indirectly spoke to their authenticity.

With such a well kept and clean dining area furnished with white ikea tables and chairs, I can see them at capacity during warmer months. Although they don’t have any washrooms and the food is packed to go regardless of take out or dine in. The packaging was nice from the cardboard box my chicken came in, the little plastic dish with attached lid that housed the pickles, and the matte finish plastic bag that held everything secure. For our dine in service we got styrofoam side plates, plastic forks, and individually wrapped wet wipes to eat with. Ketchup for the fries is not a given, so you’ll have to ask to receive a few packets.

Today it was incredibly cold indoors. And having to wait for our chicken in the chill was uncomfortable. The sign at the counter does warn that they start cooking the chicken after you order it, so there will be at least a 20 minute wait. Therefore knowing that now, you might want to call in ahead of time.

You order at the counter and pay, then grab a seat anywhere you like. The menu is televised across three screens with photos to point to. It starts with you choosing your cut of chicken. Boneless, bone-in, or wings. But today they only had boneless, my least favourite considering I like dark meat. However, it came out surprisingly tender and juicy.

At the large counter you get a clear view into their kitchen operation. It is as well kept and as clean as everything else. Here, you can visibly see your chicken being fried to order, and you can actually hear the crackle of its bath in oil, from the dining area.

They offer six different flavours of chicken, and the option to split an order and get two flavours for one. For majority of them you can get a half order at $12, or the full at $22. This was the case for all their chicken flavours, except for the original recipe at $1 less for the half order, and $2 less for the full; the cheese snow that cost $1-2 more; and their sweet and tangy soy-mustard wings with green onion that was only available as a full order. At $25 this was also the priciest thing on their menu. With it there are also a limited number of sides to choose from.

We tried their regular fried chicken as part of a combo. The “Chicko special” is 6 pieces of chicken (only available in boneless), fries, and a drink for $7. All packed up in one easy to-go travel bowl with lid. You can taste the quality of the chicken used, making the wait worth it. However, it got bland quick, and you wanted something to dip it in to, for interest and moisture. But ironically, I found the one below actually served dressed in sauce, too much. The solution, you can easily order the original chicken, and inject more flavour mid way, by adding on an order of any of their sauces to dip into. Of note, the price for the $1 sauce pretty much adds up to the same cost as getting them coated in it for you. But this way you get to choose how little or a lot you use.

I also wanted to try something distinctively more Korean, so ordered the “Yangyeom”: their deep fried chicken with a sweet and spicy coating. What I got was a lot for the half order. It had plenty of flavour, but a little too much breading and thick glopping sauce for my tastes. It overpowered and was spicer than I expected, for something with only one chilli pepper symbol (beside its name on the menu). But I was easily able to separate meat from breading and enjoy it much more like that.

Their chicken would be best with a beer to help cool and cleanse in-between bites. But without a liquor licence, I had to settle for a small side of their pickled radish, that helped in a similar fashion. For every half order of chicken you get a small dish of them, and a full serving earns you more pickles and a drink.

I added on the “shake shake fries”, which was a small order of fries like above, but with a self-dusting of cheese seasoning they call, “cheese snow”. You customize the serving with as much or as little, then shake. The result: evenly coating each fry with film of sticky cheese flavour. It had an enjoyable chalky to starchy texture to gnaw on, providing a nice contrast to the jagged crunch of the chicken above. It is a taste that grows on you, as the first bite caught me off guard, and is a little on the sweeter side.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A tasty chicken, when craving something salty. I suggest calling ahead and taking it out to be able to enjoy it best with some cold beers. Bar food and drunk food in a pinch. Don’t deny your cravings.

CHICKO CHICKEN
1194 Lansdowne Dr #303, Coquitlam, BC V3E 1J7
(778) 730-0274

HiFive Chicken 24hrs

I have passed by this 24 hour fast food, chicken restaurant several times before, and have never thought to go in. That was until it became my responsibility to do so, as one of Vancouver Foodster’s judges for his chicken wing challenge.

“Hi Five” has a couple of locations, but this one on Marine Drive is their busiest. During our visit there was a steady stream of delivery people coming and going, and a handful of individuals coming in and taking out. Despite the moving traffic, there is plenty of tables and counter space for dinung in. Although with its fluorescent lights, quick turn over, and tables that don’t get bussed in between; this isn’t the sort of place you make yourself comfortable at.

I was here to try their classic fried chicken, but made a point to sample their baked version as well; especially considering they made mention of it on their awning.

We had a drum and a thigh in both their classic and spicy breading. Between our two servings the sizes of each piece was inconsistent, one of which was half the size of my face. And as exciting as that was, it made the other pieces look small by comparison.

We were told the chicken came to us fresh from the fryer, despite our clear view of the tray of stacked parts, under a heat lamp. Although our chicken’s crispiness did speak to it. Extra crunchy with its thick breading, it gave you an audible confirmation, when you sunk your teeth in. No doubt it had a fresh fry, but the stagnant oil used gave things an acrid tinge. Luckily it came seasoned with more than just salt and pepper, and the additional spices helped to mask the above. As for the spicy version, it didn’t look any different. You were only able to tell it from the regular thanks to its slow to grow, creeping heat.

We also liked their baked chicken just as much. This was comfort eating, juicy chicken with a nice char and some good fat. All that was missing was a starchy base it enjoy it with, like some seasoned Mexican-style rice.

Instead, they have their own homemade slaw as a side. Creamy and tangy, it offered a nice break from the grease of the deep fry. My guest liked it so much that he had two servings of it.

The potato wedges were pretty standard. I wanted a crispier fry and a more firm centre. Altogether, a texture that better paralleled the slaw and the chicken.

Similarly, the gravy wasn’t memorable. We both thought it tasted like a packet mix, despite the manager stating that everything is house made from scratch.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My guest liked both versions of their a lot, claiming that “Hi Five” was like “Churches Chicken”, but better. I wasn’t as enamoured, but do consider it a great option for after drinking eats. Who doesn’t like fried chicken in all its forms? Don’t deny your cravings.

HI FIVE
203 SE Marine Drive, Vancouver BC
604-327-4898
hifive24.com

J&G Fried Chicken

My original visit to this fried chicken joint came with my responsibilities as one of the judges for “Vancouver Foodster’s” chicken wing challenge. I was tasting my way through the competitors, and this was one of them. I may have originally came for just their chicken wings, but found myself staying for their fizzy fruit drinks, yam fries, fried dessert, and popcorn chicken.

With two available locations, I visited their stand alone shop downtown. It, as opposed to their food court presence within Crystal Mall, in Burnaby. Located at the tail end of Robson Street, they are easy to spot with their well lit sign. Past it is their all glass facade, with a oversized chicken statue by the door. Walking in, there is an invitation in neon to try their “Fun 2 Eat”, Taiwanese style fried chicken.

The restaurant has a small square foot presence with kitchen and counter up front, and a handful of smaller tables that run down the length of the shoppe. We would order at said counter and then grab a couple of high top stools by the window, looking out on to the sidewalk.

The menu is a single page back and forth. Well used with scuff marks and 1/4 of the menu options blocked off by paper. More tempting to order from is the television screen broadcasting informative slides and high resolution photos.

We would start with their chicken wing entry and work our way through their regular offerings. The former was a combo that came with three pieces of chicken: 2 drums and 1 thigh, served with hand cut yam fries and deep fried mini buns.

The chicken was fired to order, with the grease stains to prove it. Piping hot and incredibly juicy, be warned, you want to allow your meal to cool before biting down. This was fresh chicken marinated in five spice, sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce. The chicken’s thin and crispy coating was the product of their special formulated wet batter dip. For added flavour you can get the chicken spicy in varying degrees. Overall, it had a very unique essence, and one I haven’t had until here and now. Deep with a layered umami flavour, and a tad on the salty side. To help change the taste I would have liked a dipping sauce, maybe a sweet and sour or a zesty mustard?

I highly recommend ordering it and any of their chicken with a couple of their refreshing drinks, to cleanse your palette in between bites. I was immediately drawn to the colour and whimsy of their gradient ones. The purple to orange blend was flavoured in peach, and the white to black: a strawberry with hints of pink. I suggest stirring the drink up before taking a sip. This helps to dilute the sweeten syrup at the bottom of the cup. Each fruit flavour was beautifully effervescent with tiny bubbles that popped on the tip of your tongue.

“J&G’s” take on yam fries was a sweet one. With a sugar and sour plum coating it ate like a hearty, starchy dessert. You didn’t quite know what to make of it, so found yourself going back for more. Soft yet firm, and completely interesting.

The fried buns was a nice, neutral sweetness to end on. Best hot and crispy with a generous smattering of condensed milk. I just wish there was a lot more of it, as it was what gave the dessert its flavour and flair.

We also had to try their popcorn chicken. It is one of their staples and their best selling item. I found it much more palatable that the chicken above. Soften white breast meat that pulls a part. It too had a 5 spice, herbal blend seasoning, but more mild. They were similar in taste to the chicken bites that you get at bubble tea cafés, making them a great anytime snack. I just wish they were served in smaller chunks. As is, these required multiple bites to finish, and were clumsy to eat with using the skewer they provided.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
It was delicious, but indulgent, not something you could have two days in a row, but a flavour you would find yourself craving. We definitely walked away feeling full with our meal sitting heavy. Don’t deny your cravings.

J&G Fried Chicken
1706 Robson St, Vancouver BC
604-423-2870
jgfcwest.ca

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