VieAMaggi.com

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

Category: African

A Taste of Africa Dinner, hosted by Nederburg Wines

This newer Moroccan restaurant has seen much acclaim with their traditional cuisine, served in their authentically dressed setting. But today we were getting a different experience, “A taste of Africa” to pair with a series of “Nederburg Wines” from South Africa. 5 courses from cold and hot appetizers to dessert, each paired with a wine and a lesson in what we were drinking. Wine connoisseurs and wine lovers alike gathered together. I fall into the latter category, as I drink everything and don’t really discriminate or have a preference; although I am always down to learn more about what it is I am drinking, and tonight I would get just that.

“Moltaqa” is translated to mean “a place where people meet, gather and talk” which was certainly the sentiment of the evening. We were gathered around one of their long tables, a shared space where each setting included multiple glasses.

But our feasting and drinking started as soon as we entered the door, when we were given our first taste of “Nederburg”; and a choice between the “Wine Masters Sauvignon Blanc” or the “Wine Masters Cabernet Sauvignon”. I started out with the red, knowing the white would later be paired with our first course. 

This was an easy drinking wine, one that followed well with our two vegan appetizers:  endives and chickpeas and black olives. The former was a refreshing start, full of punchy flavours. And the black olives had the texture of prunes and in part their taste. Really tangy, with an all encompassing salt that hits the back of your throat. Definitely one you want to chase with red.

Before every course and before each sip of wine, we were given a prelude: what it is we were having and what it offers. First, was “Nederburg Wine Masters Sauvignon Blanc”, one of South Africa’s most awarded wines. Produced from their Wine Master’s ranch, where they own 40% of their own grapes, and have contracts with other vineyards to procure the other 60% of specific grapes that they need. Each bottle of “Nederburg” is crafted knowing exactly what grapes are required. For example, grapes grown in cooler climates tend to have more of a peppery note. And wines with grapes grown in a warmer climate tend to have more tropical ones, like that of melons and goose berry. As for how it tasted, the Sauvignon Blanc had a lovely fullness, followed by a lingering after taste. This was described to us as a “True South African Sauvignon Blanc”.

The crisp tartness of the wine went well with the crisp apple and the tart dressing that our salad start had. “Apple Arugula Salad” with Granny Smith apples and a pomegranate dressing.

Our second course proceeded with the “Heritage Heroes “Motorcycle Marvel” Rhone-Style Blend”. This bottle was named after the gentleman who looked after the vineyards, riding around on a motorcycle, keeping order. This is considered one of “Nederburg’s” super premium tier wines, it has layers of bite and a lot more spice than my first easy drinking red at the door. It is sweetened with red berry fruit, which balances out its oaky finish. This was done intentionally to ensure the woody-ness doesn’t dominate and the flavour of the grapes are able to shine.

Here, this deeper red paralleled the zestiness of our second course, the “Chicken Merguez Shakshouka”. A hand-made, hormone-free chicken sausages, cooked in a casserole without the use of oil or butter. Delicious by itself, but would be better as the feature in a rice or grain based dish.

Our third course began with the “Heritage Heroes “The Anchorman” Chenin Blanc”. An intentionally crisp and clean white, with grapes taken from different areas, made using 4 different fermentation techniques. It is named after the man who established “Nederburg” wines in 1979. This was a fuller white with some creaminess to it. Notes of apricot, peach, and white pear; a great palette refresher in between the bites of sweet meets savoury of our third course.

“Traditional Moroccan Vegetable Pastilla”, an in house made, hand rolled, flaky pastry, filled with shredded and julienne roasted vegetables.  What was most memorable was that it was served, topped in a generous dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar, which had my mind and mouth at odds. The eyes expected one sensation and the tongue got another. And then it happened again when I bit into some sliced green olives, hidden within the filling. The olive’s pronounced flavour added another element into this confusing mix. In the end I found myself forgoing the filling altogether and being satisfied with the buttery, flaky sheets as is. I would have also loved them wrapped around figs, dates and/or nuts for more of a dessert feel.

The fourth course was everyone’s favourite. It came with a fire show and a giant pot for sharing. “Mechoui Lamb Flambé”, a whole leg of lamb braised for five hours, seasoned and flambe’d table side with cognac and grand marnier. It  was accompanied by figs and sesame seeds on a bed of couscous, confit yams and roasted vegetables. It tasted as good as it looked. Tender lamb, tasty veg, and grains to leave you feeling full.

With it we enjoyed the “Heritage Heroes “The Brew Master” Bordeaux Blend”. A dark, juicy fruit wine made to age for 10-15 years. This was a done as a tribute to the one who has pave the way for “Nederburg”.

Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the fifth course, a dessert of “Chocolate Ganache Cake with Preserved Figs”; paired with an “Amarula Pick Me Up Cocktail, High Moroccan Mint Tea, and Turkish Coffee. Shame, as figs were what I was craving above, and I am a fan of their mint tea.

In between courses, we were also treated to a show of belly dancing. A common occurrence at “Moltaqa”, a performance of beauty and grace that brings their guests deeper into the cuisine and setting. Our entertainer dawned on butterfly wings, balanced a scimitar on her head and abdomen, and invited her audience to dance with her.

In summary, this was a lovely evening, surrounding a decadent fest; offering us a unique way to discover exotic wines, that we can get, close to home. The first two wines: the Nederburg Winemasters Cabernet Sauvignon and the Nederburg Winemasters Sauvignon Blanc are both are available at any BC Liquor Stores for $13.29 a bottle! And if you purchase the red within this month of June, it on sale for $2 off at $11.29. And in August the white (Sauvignon Blanc) will then be $2 off.

As for the other wines that we got to try throughout the evening, they will be harder to find. They are “SPEC” products, which means they aren’t available in BC Liquor Stores and have to be ordered by the case. So if you are lucky, your local privately own liquor store or restaurant may have it available. For more on Nederburg wines visit the link below. https://nederburg.com/

 

MOLTAQA
51 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1G4
604-696-4055
moltaqarestaurant.com

Gojo Ethiopian Cafe

We were taking a break from the BC Beer Awards, hosted at the Croatian Cultural centre, with some dinner. They had hot dogs and food trucks available for a quick bite, but we wanted something a tad more substantial with a sit down vibe. There wasn’t much available in the area, as we wanted to keep our travel time to a minimum. All these factors led us to “Gojo” for some traditional Ethiopian cuisine. I am admittedly not too familiar with Ethiopian food, so took a step back, allowing my guests to order, and tell me what is what. This review is written in that perspective.

The restaurant was a little slower on this Saturday night, allowing you take in the decor. It was quaint with a thatched roof bar at the back and African antiquities adding patterns and colour all around. Photos, prints, and textiles leading you through the restaurant.

As for the menu: when you order Ethiopian food you are choosing the meat and vegetable dishes you want to enjoy with injera. “Injera” is a sourdough-risen flatbread, which is more like sour and spongy pancake textural. It is the national dish of Ethiopia and every meal is based around it. A typical serving consists of a Wat, a stew that is also similar to curry or a more watery stew, poured over some injera.

In our case, this pancake is stretched out over a large plate, and any side is served over it like an edible dish. But first you eat any of the stew or veggies with the basket of rolled up injera on the side. You eat with your hands, using the injera like a scoop. It keeps your hands clean until you begin peeling from the round of it that is also used as a plate.

We had the following three dishes. “Lamb wat”, chunks of lamb seasoned in rosemary, garlic, and ginger; with sautéed bell peppers and a side of clarified butter cabbage. The lamb was a little tough, tough I liked its sauce and the tart peppers that gave it some freshness.

The “Beef wat” was the same as the above, but with heartier chunks of beef instead. It was spicy and salty, and more like a rich stew. I wish this had some vegetable mixed in too, in order to break flavours apart.

“Kitfo” was the steak tartar that centred our serving. It was freshly minced, extra lean beef seasoned with mitmita (spicy Ethiopian chilli powder) and herbed clarified butter. Served with spinach on the side. Although we were given a warning that the meat was raw, you couldn’t tell by tasting it. It was less seasoned than the two dishes before, so for more kick, it was suggested that we dip it into the chilli power for more spice.

To balance all the protein above, we had some vegetables in the form of the “GOJO vegetarian combination”. Miser wat, cabbage, green beans and carrot, and spinach. It gave the serving a different texture and some tang. It also gave us a great break in between all the heavier meats.

Overall my table mates agreed that this was most satisfying. And I will take their word for it, given their combined familiarity with the cuisine. One of which even unconsciously “mmmm-ed” after each bite he took. For me, I was left feeling very full from all the doughy injera that I ate. I enjoyed it and its bubbly texture the most.

 

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 wouldn’t be apposed to coming back, but this wouldn’t my first choice, given my unfamiliarity with the cuisine. And having had this full serving, I can conclude that the flavours aren’t something I would naturally gravitate towards in the future. I would however, recommend it to those who want to try something new or are already familiar with Ethiopian cuisine as a great destination for some. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

GOJO
2838 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4C6
604-708-5394
gojocafe.com
Gojo Little Africa Ethiopian Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nando’s Richmond Garden City

IMG_3337IMG_3342

As a business major and a food blogger that reviews setting and service, on top of the meal had; I enjoy any media event that allows me to learn more about a business first hand. My blog isn’t a research piece on what I read about online. It is a review and the recall of what I have saw and learned first hand. So, to interact with a business owner and discover another reason to visit a restaurant, outside of just good chicken, is worth my time and candor. And today, being being able to meet and see the enthusiasm on the face of the Nando’s CEO’s, and to hear him speak the mantra of his company with such passion was inspiring. I left, not only with my belly fed, but my heart filled with all the good work this chicken chain does for the community in South Africa, that they grew up in.

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

Truth be told, this is my first taste of “Nando’s” chicken, the popular Portagese style chicken chain. My partner frequents them, but I have never found myself dining in or grabbing lunch from any of their food court presences. I guess with all the one of a kind options and all the other more dressed up dine in chains, this never came up as an option. I don’t immediately look to them as the date night choice, or a girl’s night out venue. They are more, one of those places you need to try and end up going back to, because you develop a craving for.

So not only was today the opportunity to try them for the first time, but it was a chance to visit their newest dine-in location, now open in North Richmond. They are one of the draws slowly expanding the area, along with other big box stores like Walmart, Bed & Bath, and DSW.

Only ever seeing their food court kiosk, I was immensely impressed by the decor of this flagship location. This large corner restaurant beckoned you forth with their promise of their “peri peri chicken” right in the exterior’s tag line. And tonight their chicken mascot made them all the more welcoming. I love a mascot, but am always too shy to take advantage of the photo op or to give it the hug I want to deep down inside.

IMG_3344IMG_3343

Every “Nando” restaurant is designed differently. They are a chain that doesn’t want to feel like a chain. And this location certainly sets them apart, you get the South African feel with the warm colour pallet. Green and red upholstered cushions, pale blue and white tiles, and geometric shapes painted in green. Twine and coloured string wove its way around a wooden framework, encompassing one of their many seating areas. The vaulted ceilings were hung with wicker and linen lampshades, clam shell lights with metal structures soften by threads. A contrast of soft with hard, the common with something unique.

We would later learn that the above, and majority of their distinct decor pieces are hand made by local African artists, a similar story with the chillies used in their trademark peri peri sauce.

Their African bird’s eye chilli is the product of farmers in Africa and an essential ingredient in the “Nando’s Peri Peri sauce”. The story behind these distinct chillies is that they are grown to keep elephants away from farm land and from eating crops. Apparently the mammals stave away from the heat of these spicy red peppers. So the farmers keep their crop and “Nando’s” pays them for growing it at the boarders of their fields. The grilled chicken company is conscious of the community they grew up in and want to give back to it.

IMG_3340IMG_3427

Those who attended the event, and I were given a corner with a lengthy family style table. A piece of furniture important to note, as the “Nando’s” meal centre around the family and their goal is to bring everyone together over good food. Keeping on this trend, they ensure that none of their restaurants have television sets to distract from dialog. And most of their newer location have the necessity of sinks outside of the washroom. This for ease of hand washing and cleaning, because take it from me, eating chicken wings can get messy, and cleaning meat from bone is a two handed job. The sink provides an easy solution.

IMG_3360IMG_3410

Continuing to consider the ease of the customer, there are a few perks dining-in allows you to take advantage of. They have plenty of bottled sauces for you to take to use at your tables. There is a high tech soda machine, giving you the option to choose your drink or to mix it all together with a touch of the screen. Over 10 choices more than your regular line up at any fast food joint. And this includes the regular and sugar free versions of your favourite pop and carbonated fruit juices. There is also a soft serve machine. It dispensed a strawberry cream that we ended up gingerly piping into glasses for a DIY ice cream float. This is probably not a standard offering, but one you should adventure if given the ability.

We were offered an assembly of shareable appetizers and large family style serving plates to pick off of.

IMG_3349

The “mixed olives” is a mix of green and black olives dresses up with garlic, pepper, and chilli.

IMG_3347

The “peri-peri nuts” was almonds, cashew, and macadamias seasoned in their trademark flavours.

IMG_3354

The “Roasted red pepper dip” was flavourful with spices and spicy with the use of chillies. It had a tang flavour that was slightly sweet.

IMG_3363

The “Hummus with pita” was your regular chunky chickpea dip, but served with a “Nando” only twist. It comes with a tiny bottle of peri peri drizzle, that you pour over for just your right amount of peppery goodness. With both dips I wished for a fluffier pita bread, something more substantial than the dry limp one we made due with here.

IMG_3402IMG_3403

The difference between “Portuguese garlic bread” and regular garlic bread is the type of bun used. These are baked Portuguese buns coated in a garlic and herb spread.

IMG_3398IMG_3400

All their “flame-grilled wings” are served whole, with the drum and tip included. They are seasoned in the same flavours as their chicken parts. We tried the lemon herb in mild and a hot with their peri peri sauce. Each lean wing had a nice smokey flavour. But I prefer a fattier piece with juicy flavour and a sticky sauce. Overall I rather their dark meat chicken parts, and recommend going for some instead of the wings.

IMG_3413IMG_3414

Our large group shared a hefty portion of chicken legs and thighs. Once again, available to us in a mild lemon herb, and this time medium and hot peri peri sauce. On an interesting note, the pieces often appear squished because they flatten the chicken used and season it using less marinade.

I am partial to dark meat because it is juicy and tender and this delivered. But it was very telling how many used the bottles sauces on the side to pick up the flavour of the chicken, even though there was sauce already poured over it.

IMG_3421IMG_3424

To make your meal more well rounded they offer a few sides to accompany it. Pick and choose from list that includes garlic mashed potatoes, macho peas, salad, sweet potatoes; or fries, potato wedges, and vegetables seasoned in their peri peri spices.

IMG_3419IMG_3417

I liked the spiced rice and coleslaw for my sides the best.

IMG_3434IMG_3436

To end the meal we are given a “Portuguese egg tart”. It was a creamy custard surrounded by a smokey flaky pastry. I was blown away by how good it was. Dare I say, the best I have had? I would go back just for a dozen of these. That and to try their “wing roulette”. A fun game where you pick a wing and hope that it’s not the extra hot one that you end up with. I love being offered a different way to experience my food.

IMG_3365IMG_3378

As an extra little bonus, we were treated to a make your own peri peri sauce workshop, we were given a demo and the opportunity to see how our mix faired against their trademark blend. In ended in a mini competition, judged by their CEO. Sadly I did not win, as my batch was made with an excess of oil.

 

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.
This was quite the introduction to the Nando’s brand. And like I said, theirs isn’t the restaurant you would think of when looking for a date night option, or a place to hang out with friends at. But they are definitely a good casual space to gather your extended family within. Because once you had your first taste, its one of a kind flavour is one that you will want to revisit. And with food court presences and several locations around two it is easy to not deny that craving. This location is a little far for me, but with its amazing setting and its own soft serve ice cream machine, it is the one I would recommend.

 

NANDO’S
Richmond Garden City
Unit 1005, Building F, 4711 McClelland Road, Richmond BC
604-244-8004
nandos.ca
Nando's Garden City Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jambo Grill

IMG_0866IMG_0868

I am always looking for an opportunity to expand my culinary horizons, so today one of my more adventurous guests and myself found ourselves out for African cuisine.

The restaurant is easy to spot from the street with its bold yellow sign, its many food-o-graphy wallpapering the glass window out front, and with the mural of a tiger setting the tone to come.

IMG_0867IMG_0871

Inside the space was huge. There was plenty of room to host the large gatherings and office parties that they advertised. They even made mention on this year’s Christmas party on their website. But on a regular day, I wondered how busy they got and if they utilized all this space. The same orangey red pallet that decorated the exterior, was also used on their internal wall’s murals. To your left the sun was setting against the savannah’s diverse animal landscape. And on your right, the same sun too bathe a dessert landscape in red and oranges. Complimentary artifacts added visual contrast to the pieces: carved masks of giraffes, clay sculpted elephant busts, carved statues, and etched metal work. Both murals ran down the length of the restaurant, a visual representation of the merging of their specialized cuisine: African and Indian. The music did a similar thing with a playlist that went from bhangra beats to mellow Marley.

We were the only ones seated a good hour when they first open. We had our choice of placement and went with a table against the booth wall. One of many brown tables and brown upholstered chairs. They must be expecting a full crowd later, as each one of these tabled was pre-set with a napkin bundling cutlery and another napkin curled up in an empty drinking glass.

The menu was fairly inviting from a graphic design stand point, it too matched the restaurant’s colour scheme and theme. It was divided by “out of Africa” and “out of India”. The former was then further divided by “from the jungle”, “from the lake”, and “from the farm”. And like everything else, the staff too played part of their authenticity. Each member of their team was dressed in traditional African garments, with plenty of bold patterns.

IMG_0872IMG_0894

I appreciated the functionality of the artist-palette-like plates we were given to eat off of. Indents on the porcelain finish allowed a trough for general food items, and three circles made the ideal holding for more watery mixes. It was perfect for all our ordered dishes below.

IMG_0877IMG_0880

The first thing you notice walking in is the smell of spicy food. The further in you went, the more the scent developed into a full bodied curry. It was delicious enough to have us ordering a serving for ourselves.

The curry is available in beef, chicken, lamb, and goat. We had the goat as it was promised to be “packed with flavour in a thick aromatic sauce”. Plus not often are you offered goat meat. It came with your choice of naan or rice. We went with the former as it was the more complicated of the two, something you don’t have as often or could make yourself. Though we were caught off guard when we were given options for our naan. This was a first. Naan with butter, without butter, and/or with herbs. We asked for our server’s recommendation. She strongly suggested the buttered naan otherwise it “would get hard”. With a reason like that, why would there be any choice but the butter version? Who would want a hard naan? If you are gonna commit to the bread, you might as well enjoy it to the fullest: moist and fluffy.

IMG_0881

And with our buttery choice, it was. The naan made a great “chip” to dip into the curry with. Though I would have liked the curry a little thicker, and therefore more hardier. Not to surprising, the goat meat was a little dry, the waterier curry made that point more clearer in contrast. Though it tasted good, a back of your throat spicy burn in both meat and sauce.

IMG_0884IMG_0886

The “Tandoor kebabs” were available in lamb, chicken, or beef. We went with the beef and it ended up tasting like over cooked hamburger. I didn’t imagine that the ground up meat mixed with herbs and spices would be prepared like hot dogs. It was impressive how symmetrical they were to one another; especially considering that they are described as being “hand crafted on a skewer”, before being deep in their tandoor oven. Each kebab order comes with with two sides. You choose from masala potato, fries, pili pili corn, or salad. We went with the masala potatoes and the fries. The potatoes had a nice starchy whipped texture to them, like a well boiled squashed.

We ungraded and paid more for the mogo as our side, instead of just regular fries. “Mogo” is the root plant, cassava chopped into strips and deep fried. It had a grittier chew than potato, and therefore a less appealing texture. Chewy and mashed, I would have liked it crisper from a longer hot oil bath.

Though the mogo may have been better with the ambli, the sauce that the appetizer is intended to be served with. “Ambil” is a sweet tamarind chutney. Instead we got a spicy green hot sauce. Each element was spicy enough on its own, and it didn’t really need more heat. What this platter needed was a sauce to give things a contrast and to help cool. A cooling chutney like ambli, or a smooth cream with a mayonnaise-like consistency. Something with a refreshing herb would have also been nice.

IMG_0883IMG_0896

“Mandazi bharazi” is a serving of four African donuts, served with pigeon peas cooked in a thick coconut sauce. Everything about this sounded interesting. I didn’t know that there was an African equivalent of doughnuts. Or that there are doughnuts you dip into stew with. And what were pigeon peas? Why were they called that? By ordering them to try, I had most of my questions answered. This was more aptly a fried bread that was slightly sweetened. The dip was like a sweet curry sauce. A little chalky from the peas, with texture and chunks like cream corn. Even despite my description, this was our favourite of the night. It was also the only savoury thing not spicy.

IMG_0899IMG_0897

The photo of the “Faluda” on the menu reminded me of southeast Asian shaved ice dessert, so I wanted to see if it was anything like that. It wasn’t. I at least thought it would be sweet given the neon red strawberry looking syrup pooling at the bottom and its description. It wasn’t. It is described as a rose sherbet “romanced” with vermicelli and basil seeds, then topped with ice cream.

Our server offered to split the dessert in to two different glasses for my guest and I to share. I was hesitant as I wanted to full order as it was intended, keeping my photo in mind. But we took her offer after she insisted that both would look the same, but as miniatures. They didn’t. And if you have read my work, you know I order for novelty and the promise of an aesthetically pleasing dish or drink. This didn’t deliver. The photo promised layers of colour, ours was just a translucent red and an opaque white cream. And vermicelli was two strands buoyant on top. Though maybe it’s because the portion was split, unlike how it was intended. Either way, it was just as well, as we both took a sip and called it quits. You scoop things with shovel bottomed slurpee straw. This was less a dessert and more a breath mint. It wasn’t sweet, but more fragrant, even with the ice cream. It was so strong, like drinking perfume with potpourri sprinkles.

IMG_0914IMG_0900

We also couldn’t get past the initial taste of the “Good morning paan”. This was another “dessert”, better classified as a dinner ender. But I wanted to try it because it was such a popular menu item that it made its way to their sub title, and therefore must surely worth a try. “Jambo Grill, tandoori and paan house”.

Our server gave us the option of having it fresh or frozen. When she said that fresh ones were better and that the frozen are cold, as they are made earlier in the day, and that they are not any better; it became another one of those “why give me a choice then?” situations. Why would I choose to have it the subpar way when I can have it the best as intended?

IMG_0901IMG_0904

“Paan” is a betal leaf saturated in rose syrup, and packed with sweets and spices like fennel seeds, daal, and coconut. There was also the possibility to have it with or without sweet supari, a betel nut. So we had one of each at $2.50 each

They are made assembly line style. Leaf, pre mixed spread, and shredded coconut. It is folded and presented to you wrapped in tin foil. The Rose syrup seeps out and your hands get plenty sticky. And once again, like the parfait above we didn’t last past the first bite. I wasn’t even sure if I should swallow. Like the “Faluda” you don’t expect the flavour, and could never expect it. The raw, unprocessed leaf was an odd texture to chew through. And the filling tasted like a less floral, but just as pungent perfume and potpourri combo. This was an edible mouthwash, potent enough to cleanse your mouth from all the spice and your breath from all the food.

IMG_0891

Looking back I am sure we ate this meal wrong. I wished we asked for more suggestions and that our server was able to guide us on this journey better. Maybe checking to see if it was your first time, and if so, having a first timers introduction combo available to ease you in. I have never had anything like most of this today. I didn’t have any expectations, nor did I possess any comparison points. Though as a whole I wished we had something that was more fresh and crispier with our entrees. Some green beans and/or a fried fish. Both would have been a welcomed contrast to the thick sauces, chewy breads, and hot spices. There was too much flavour, and a lot of it was overwhelming in how similar they were to one another. I also wished that we both ordered a glass of “lassi” (a yogurt based drink mixed with water and spices). A glass would have been more of a dessert, as well as a helpful way to cool our heated tongues. They are available in mango, mint, or just salty and sweet.

 

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.
I would like to try this again more informed. There was so much on the menu to try and I don’t think I can make a fair assessment with what we had. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

JAMBO GRILL
3219 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5K3
604-433-5060
jambogrill.ca
Jambo Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Salchica

IMG_1879IMG_1891

I have never tried, or do I have much experience with Northern African or Middle Eastern cuisine. So today I was excited to have the opportunity to explore both a little more through a media event, host by local food blogger, “Foodgressing”.

This was a well run event where local food lovers who not only eat, but photograph and write about their meal came together to catalogue a shared meal, in support of a newer restaurant.

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

Sadly the restaurant was dim and set with yellow bulbs, so excuse the quality and tone of my photos. They not only washed the food out, but didn’t do the plate justice. But as always, I try to bring my readers the most authentic look in to each of my experiences. This is so that you know what you will be getting from a restaurant in food, setting, and service. I do not edit any of the photos on this blog, and like it is with me, what you see is what you get. Media tasting or not. However there were a few bloggers who do put in the extra work to give you, their readers and followers, a more beautiful photo. Even going so far as to bring each plate served outside, for a natural lighting photo shoot, I suggest visiting them for some more delicious looking plates.

Located on the Granville entertainment strip, the restaurant doesn’t immediately stand out. A white awning with its red bull logo framing the name. A couple of chairs and a sandwich board out front. Nothing that would stop me in my tracks, and usher me in.

IMG_1880IMG_1889

Inside, a miniature bar in red fronts the place. The narrow room has tables and chairs on either ends. On the right is a unique high top-counter installation. It is a table with piping for legs, supported by another pipe attached to the wall. You sit on shelves with and back cushions glued to the wall. I appreciated its creative assembly. But as a larger group we were seated at a long table made out of all the smaller two tops pushed together.

Despite where you sit, everyone earns a view of the kitchen’s operations towards the back. A stainless steel counter fronting a ceiling to floor brick wall. This handsome wall is branded with their name. With a ding of a bell and a window pass, dishes move from kitchen to service within seconds.

IMG_1883IMG_1885

The room was decorated in pickling preserves. Mason jars and reused pickle jugs on the counter and on the shelves along the wall. Carrot shards, whole nugget potatoes, and cauliflower florets, out of the ones I could identify within the murky waters. The vibe as a whole was more casual and mellow, despite the dance music with poppy beats.

The menu was an easy to read and a well explained listing of appetizers, salads, dips, pickles, and entrees. They even made their own healthy shakes from vegetables and fruit. Knowing that many may not be familiar with their cuisine, they took the time to describe each dish with detailed sentences, which I appreciated. I like knowing what I put in my mouth and fully enjoying all the ingredients they make mention to. Not having a list, denies me of that oral pleasure.

IMG_1901IMG_1894

We started off with their popular dips with and bread. The serving allows you to choose three dips from their traditional dip menu, which comes with a side of toasted focaccia bread. As it is typically with such dishes, there was not enough bread for all the dip provided. The bread gave each bite most of its flavour, with the dip being more of an accent point.

The red coloured “Harrisa” is a spicy traditional Moroccan paste made with dried red pepper, garlic, chilli, and paprika. Given its ingredient make up and bold hue, there is no surprise that this was prick your tongue spicy.

The green coloured “Sahuog” was another spicy and traditional dip, but this time its origin is yemenite. It is a sauce made of green pepper, cilantro, and garlic.

The off white “Garlic mayo herb” dip was helpful in pulling the other two together, and decreasing the tinge of burning they left me. It is made with Italian parsley, cilantro, spinach, and garlic aioli.

We ordered more of their focaccia bread and had it with the four salads below. Especially when I consider two of them as more dips than salad.

IMG_1898IMG_1899

“Baba ghanoush” is roasted mashed eggplant in a tahini lemon garlic seasoning. It was the perfect paste-like texture to scoop up with bread. It was served cold and creamy with mild chunks.

The “Hummus” is made in house. It is a roasted chickpea dip topped with garbanzo beans and extra virgin olive oil. It tasted exactly as you expected it would. It too is paste-like and chalky thick.

IMG_1897IMG_1900

The “Tabbouleh” salad was made with bulgar (a kind of dried cracked wheat), finely chopped tomatoes, cilantro, Italian parsley, and mint. Then seasoned in olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. It was a sharp salad full of refreshing mint and herby bites. A great side when needing a break from something to spicy or rich with meat.

The shredded carrot and lettuce coleslaw was not mentioned on menu. It too made a great side, something to give you a break in between more flavourful bites, shame it was served as a starter instead. And alone I found it too creamy with overwhelming mayo and too tangy with excessive vinegar.

IMG_1906IMG_1908

The “Chicken skewers” were marinated and grilled chicken breast, served with their in house made garlic chipotle mayo. The chicken was a little over charred and had an acrid taste. However the creamy mayo highlight was more than enough to have you forgetting all about that. The dip had a nice light flavour that also complimented the vegetable served as garnished. Together with the chicken, it made for a more comprehensive bite with creamy, fresh, salty and meaty; all rolled into one.

IMG_1910IMG_1912

The “Antipasti” is oven roasted vegetables topped with extra virgin olive oil. The assortment included eggplant, bell pepper, yam, carrot, and zucchini. They made eating vegetables fun with this one. Nicely grilled with a smokey flavour, but it could have been served warmer. The sweetness and the starch of the yam made them my favourite.

IMG_1913IMG_1915

The “Sweet liver pate” was not the most appealing dish. Not only because it looked like mud, or worst smeared on to a plate; but because you don’t typically use the descriptor “sweet” for ground up organ meat. This was stir fried liver and onions made into a pâté, flavoured with cinnamon and a bay leaf. And served with toasted focaccia bread and a homemade cherry tomato jam. I couldn’t wrap my head around this one. You tried it and went back for more to decide whether you liked it or not. The liver was pronounced, the sugar used was only so effective in hiding its distinct flavour. The one isn’t for me.

IMG_1921IMG_1917

The “Beef kebabs” were wrapped around a cinnamon stick and grilled. They were served over their baked potato cream purée, with a side of roasted tomatoes and shallot onions. Then all of it was topped with a sweet reduced balsamic sauce. This extra sauce was unnecessary, as it was an already pretty tasty version of meat and potatoes. Similarly the cinnamon added nothing but aesthetics to the meat. The beef was cooked to a nice pink, but was left on the drier side. I would have liked a nice gravy or jus to moisten things up with.

IMG_1925IMG_1927

The “Cherry salad” was a nice refresher. Made with three colours of tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, mint and feta cheese shavings. It reminded me of a sweet Greek salad, but with the refreshing twist of mint. And more importantly it was well dressed, every element was glistening from the vinaigrette, with plenty more to dip into at the bottom.

IMG_1929IMG_1932

“Couscous maraguez”. “Couscous” is small steamed balls of semolina, usually served with a stew on top. Today that stew included traditional Moroccan spicy sausage made with fresh Alberta lamb, and a reduced harrisa sauce. “Harrisa”, is the dip from above made with dried red pepper, garlic, chilli, and paprika. It being reduced meant it was less spicy, and the couscous also helped to mellow out the heat. The stew was compared to a ragu, especially with the soften vegetables. The sausage had a great flavour, but I wished it wasn’t so tough. It was dry and gritty to bite through. When I think sausage, I crave the kind that leave juices dripping down my chin (there is no way I can describe the feeling, without sounding dirty, this is my third edit). And sadly the same sausage, with the same dryness made an appearance in the dish below.

IMG_1939IMG_1938

“Shakshouka maraguez” was the same spicy maraguez sausages surrounded by slow cooked spicy tomato sauce and poached eggs, on a sizzling plate. It was served with more focaccia bread and a tahini sauce, that wasn’t necessary and that we didn’t use. Once the sizzling subsided we stirred the eggs in, the yolk offering some moisture to aid in the dryness of the sausage, but both it and the stewed tomato could only go so far.

IMG_1946IMG_1948

The “Spring chicken” was my favourite. Moroccan seasoning, marinaded chicken strips grilled with fresh rosemary leaves, served with carrot rice and drizzled with date molasses. The chicken was so tender and juicy that compared to it, the rice was too dry and hard. But not enough for me to stop eating it. The zesty chicken went really well with the flavour of the rice. The sticky syrup helped to add some moisture to it and give things a hint of sweetness.

IMG_1955IMG_1958

Our meal ended with the only dessert they offer, “Malabi”. “Malabi” is a traditional Arabic dessert of corn flour and milk, soaking in rose water and maple syrup, topped coconut shavings and crushed peanuts and almonds. It looks like custard, with a slightly firmer texture, but is like nothing I have had. The rose water was strong and distinct, it definitely was the front facing flavour. I would have preferred a light cream instead, and less sweet maple syrup. One guest was allergic to almonds, and they were kind enough to prepare a whole new serving for her without it.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great place to grab a quick bite at, and expand your cultural horizons within. Many of the flavours and plates I have never had and have never tasted, definitely worth taking a second look at. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SALCHICHA
1065 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z 1L4
604-620-0306
salchicha.ca
Salchicha Meat Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant

IMG_1447Have you ever been to a place you didn’t like anything about? But at the same time were glad you went, as it made for a great story? Well this is my story of such a place. The night started off rocky when finding “Abyssinia” was a trial in itself. A dimly lit awning and a hardly noticeable open sign, sandwiched between two dark and closed stores. How are customers driving by suppose to know you are open for dinner in the dark? This wasn’t hiding, it was camouflage.

We walked in and were allowed to sit anywhere we wanted in the empty restaurant. Which remained empty for the duration of our hour long stay. The older woman sitting behind the counter was the only one working tonight. Despite us being her only customers she seemed uninterested in our presence.

IMG_1448

The walls were a calming tone of orange and the hardwood floors looked to be in great shape. But other than that there was nothing I liked about the decor. Going to washroom to wash your hands was worrisome. Tiles covered in grime, cracks filled with grout, and fixtures coated in dust. 

Each table top was a glass pane over a dirty white table cloth. Different pictures of African citizens were cut from magazines were used as decoration under it. This was only a little less appealing to look at than the print out declaring “Abyssinia” the winner of the 2013 award for one of the best Canadian restaurants, as published by Urbanspoon. I became more and more disappointed by this award as the night wore on. The last thing I want to see when I look past my plate is a face staring back at me and an award reminding me that I should enjoy it. Every other table, and ours came with a tooth pick container; a half used, unlit tea light; and a salt dispenser that was partially empty. Looking around each large container of salt was less that 1/5 full, and the salt in it was rock hard. Eventually we would learn that the food would be far from needing it. So in that case, why have something you don’t need on the table? I can’t imagine a reason to keep it if you aren’t going to use it. And the most unappealing element on the table was the frothed up napkin in each drinking glass. This is not the kind of restaurant you would do that sort of table setting technique in. Nor is it ever done with a disposable napkin in a glass meant for water or juice.

My guest and I sat for a while in silence, settled and waiting for a greeting or a menu. Not a word from the only woman running the restaurant could be heard, but there was movement as she went to the back. She did eventually approach our table with menus. When pouring water from a pitcher, some spilled onto the table, she wiped it away with her palm. An ice cube belly flopped into the second glass, causing numerous water slashes, these spills were smaller and therefore allowed to remain on the table. Despite this we still thanked her for the service. To that she replied with a “hmm” in a high pitched hum.

The menu was difficult to navigate without pictures or description as to what sauce was what, and which tasted like what. We played it safe, I avoided the beef tartare-like raw dish that I was actually contemplating on ordering. When asking for recommendations the woman suggested a vegetarian sampling with little piles of different veggies and nuts. I wasn’t keen remembering how it was like at the last African restaurant I visited . We ended up choosing lamb and chicken, feeling confident these should be easy enough dishes.

After taking our order the woman disappeared from the back, not to be seen until our food came. During our wait we heard the beeping of a microwave from the kitchen. Pretty sure it was used to reheat all the food we were about to have. Disappointing, but made sense as it seems she was the only one working both the front and back of house tonight.

The whole night was weird episode after weird episode. The lights went out, but we were too timid to say anything. So sat in the complete dark as the woman worked in the kitchen. We didn’t know why and even contemplated if this was her way of kicking us out. She later came back to dim the lights without an apology

The music was a mix of authentic African vocals and radio ads. The worse was the 4 minute long one on weight loss and help from a life of obesity. This was the worst thing to have on when trying to create an ambience for eating. It went on making you feel guilty to eat, as it offered a blended formula as a solution for a tighter tummy. A solution argued to be better than a gastric bypass.

One other customer came in and left, during the whole the hour plus we were there. He was a tiny man in his 50’s wearing a suit from the 40’s. He looked like the aging father of mob boss. No one was in the front to greet him, even though the door chimed when you pass through it. And you could not avoid hearing the squeak in his shoes every step he took, shuffling to the cash desk. There he stood, silently waiting. Nothing happened and no one came. He eventually squeaked himself back out.

When asking if there was a washroom, most people’s reaction is to say “yes” and to point that person in the right direction of it. This was not the case, a “yes” was given before she walked to the kitchen. Leaving us confused.

IMG_1455

Our food came fast, but then again speed in reheating is what a microwave is known for.
“Doro Wot”. A healthy spicy stew made from fresh chicken and sautéed red onions, seasoned with chilli pepper and flavour with garlic, ginger and various Ethiopian herbs. Comes with one hard boiled egg in it. The menu claimed that this was the “Signature of Ethiopia”. Portion alone I was utterly disappointed. I got one tiny chicken drumlet and one egg amongst all the chunky onion stew. This was absolutely not worth the $11.99 I had to pay for. It was far too salty to be eaten without the bread provided. The sponge like bread came as one on the plate and as a plate for us to share on the side. I only took one from the extra plate, so can see them salvaging what they can for the next order. The food was unappealing in taste and in presentation. Eventually the one note flavour became so redundant and I couldn’t get past its overwhelming saltiness, so I gave up eating all together. In no way was I full, and yet I could not bring myself to finish.

IMG_1454

“Abyssinia Yebeg tibis”. The menu deemed this as “one of the wonders of Abyssini”. It is lamb marinated in a special blend of spices and herbs. I don’t know why the menu also called this, “A surprise meal”. Maybe surprise as in you can’t believe this could be worth this much. The lamb was better than the chicken, but also not worth the $12.99 we had to pay for it. My guest said he honestly liked the spice, when asked. Though was made to feel nervous about giving the “wrong” answer to the woman.

IMG_1457

The woman would check on us regularly, each time her leers and eavesdropping made us feel uncomfortable. You felt the need to have to eat a piece each time she came around. She did make attempts at being friendly, teaching us how to enjoy the food with our hands by dipping. And recommending we scoop the stew out in order to have the bread absorb as much of if as possible. But then she made it much more uncomfortable by coming out from behind her counter to take a seat at a table across the room from ours. She repositioned the chair so that it directly faced us at a 90 degree angle. It was already awkward enough to be the only patrons in the restaurant. We didn’t need the third degree as well. From the corner of our eyes we could see that she was watching us eat and listening to us talk. This was also the case as she waited for us to do the math and settle our bill.

I went in to grab my usual business card souvenir, only to realize they had a 5 place business card rack by their cash register, stocked with other business cards. Odd.

IMG_1456

Would I come back? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Between the food and service I didn’t know what was worse. Both didn’t mean to be, but the level of customer service and expectations at a restaurant have risen over the years. And not trying to keep up with it only makes it look like you are giving bad service. The only thing I liked about the night was the woman’s traditional African sarong that she wore.

To end this, I shake my head at the Urbanspoon ranking of 91% that “Abyssinia” has earned and the award that accompanied such a number. (Well, after my vote, 90% now) I question how is it that they are out ranking places that focus so much more on the quality of their food and the level of their service? The only reason I was here tonight was because my guest wanted me to try good African food. So you would think anyplace with 51 voters saying thumbs up would be a safe bet. So I don’t understand what it was that we experienced? If those guests who voted liked the food that’s great. But eating out is just as much the service and the experience as it is the food. All these factors need to be accounted for before casting your vote. 

ABYSSINIA ETHIOPIA
7546 Edmonds St, Burnaby BC, V3N 1B4
778-397-1121
Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén