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Category: Asian fusion Page 1 of 3

The Rise, Dine Out Menu 2021

Dine Out Vancouver, the popular food fuelled event that encourages diners to get out and back into restaurants, after an expensive holiday season is back. Running from February 5th to March 7th, with some changes in lieu of the times. The restaurant industry still needs to fill tables and place orders, but the motivation greater. Therefore it is not surprising that a handful of restaurants are taking a different approach to their menus, not just a choose your own adventure of three course at set prices; but they are weighing their options and approaching their menus differently to serve the times and the people.

Take the modern Asian French fusion restaurant The Rise, on South Granville for example. This year they are serving up a shared menu for you and your bubble buddies. At $42 per person, you share your courses with a minimum seating of 2. And if you aren’t comfortable dining in, take out is available as well.

The menu for a party of two includes the an amuse bouche each to start, and your combined choice of 1 out of the 4 small shared plate options, 2 out of 3 large shared plate possibilities, and 1 out of the 3 dessert choices. I have listed all the options for your reference, but naturally will only go into detail of what we actually had between two.

But before we start, worth noting is that they also have a full drink menu, put together to highlight the dishes available. We tried the two available cocktails, over the mocktails, and wine and beer options.

The G & Tea cocktail was a mix of their green tea infused gin, mint, lemon grass, and tonic. It was described as holistic and botanical, an easy sipper, it drank like any other tea would to help cleanse in between bites.

The Holliwood North was a fun one. Bench 1775 Sauvignon blanc, lychee liqueur, elderflower soda, and a cranberry and orange mango popsicle. The drink changed as the popsicle melted. Adding sweetness and flavour to the other wise white wine forward beverage.

As for food, our meal began strong. Our favourite dish and the most memorable was the amuse bouche with its standout flavour profile. A grilled rice crisp with slow roasted tomato jam and sour plum powder. This was such a clever idea. The sour plum kicked up an already unique take on chips and salsa. The chips in this case being deep fried rice roll wrap, which we thought was very creative.

For appetizer we went for the “Chicken Seoul Good”, as it sounded a lot more substantial than the rice battered brussel sprouts, miso braised cauliflower, or the rice pilaf. This was Korean style fried chicken in a wild mushroom cream with truffle oil, grated parmesan. It had all the best things that you want topping your crispy chicken. There is no hiding the truffle essence, it was fully highlighted by the creamy mushroom sauce. The serving is definitely meant for 2, so rich that I couldn’t indulge in more than 2 pieces, which meant tasty leftovers.

For entrees we originally choose the uni pasta and coconut rib adobo, but our engaging server convinced us that the the pho flavoured sizzling hot plate was the way to go. It was the newest addition to the menu and created specifically for Dine Out.

“Sizzling Pho Sure ” – Sautéed andouille sausage, shrimps, chicken, okra, corn, lobster broth, and crispy pho noodles. It was good, but didn’t meet my expectations. It was more stir fry than the noodle dish I envisioned when I read “pho”. Although I did get pho from the gravy you pour over the sizzling cast iron. It tasted just like the pho broth. It was uncanny and I couldn’t wrap my head around how they did it, and at the same time wanted it over a poutine with bean sprouts and thin cuts of beef. As for the ingredients, individually they were tasty, but all together I didn’t find them cohesive. This was especially the case for the very zesty andouille. I ended up taking the leftovers and rolling into a wrap for an amazing snack later in the day.

The entree I came in wanting and enjoy the most was the “Uni-Versal Pasta XO Edition”. A striking squid ink pasta fully coated in sea urchin cream, topped with an free run egg yolk, their house X.O. sauce, sautéed prawns, flying fish roe, and toasted seaweed. You are given the option of adding on fresh local sea urchin for $7.50, dependent on availability; and I highly suggest you indulge in this. You get two pieces because you are sharing and it certainly elevates the flavour. If you have the uni early on, it umami flavour lingers and carries forward throughout the rest of the dish. As a whole, all the ingredients worked well together. The tender noodles popped with the fish roe, the sauce offered a cheesy and milky quality, different from any other pasta dish. This was a good amount of richness between two, although we ordered three entrees so was treated to leftovers the next day. And like all pastas, this is better when given a chance to let all the flavour soak in.

Having made adobo for the first time recently, I was intrigued by the “A Rib Tickler”. This was described as coconut adobo braised short beef ribs with a sweet potato pomme purée, sous vide egg, grilled kale, and savoury orange & pecan praline. We unfortunately didn’t notice that the dish was set down with a gravy to self sauce. The original result: what we thought was a bland dish in comparison to everything else. Having dressed it accordingly, things certainly got more flavour. Although no where near rich and fatty like we know adobe to be, and we certainly didn’t get any coconut. The dish as a whole was more refined, a delicate plate you would get from a fine dining establishment, more Westernized.

And for dessert we choose between the hard choice of either a matcha cheese tart, ice cream mochi, or a bubble tea cake. We were encouraged to get the latter from our server, and would later learn that this is one of The Rise’s crown jewel. A dessert that took them plenty of time to perfect, and boy did they. The “Boba Coma” is tea tres leches, brown sugar tapioca boba pearls, crème anglaise, crema, brown butter crumble, and warm caramel. Cutting into the cream topped, soft sponge was a cave of caramelized boba pearls. My only critique here was there was not enough pearls to pair with tea flavoured cake. So sort of how it is like when you drink actual bubble tea, I guess.

In short, this is one Dine Out menu I would recommend. Follow in my food steps, or try something different for appetizers, but be sure not to miss out on the uni pasta and bubble tea cake for dessert. Available now until March 7th for $42 per person!

The Rise
3135 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6H 3K1
604-559-8280
theriseeatery.com

Seiza Japanese Cuisine

Looking for a grown up, night out on Main Street, my guest and I found ourselves at Seiza for some sushi and sake. The space has a modern vibe, befitting of a lounge, leading you to drink, and that we did.

Social distancing is cleverly enforced by the use of plastic bears painted to look like pop culture icons and concepts, including Pennywise from IT and Homer from the Simpsons. (I believe this is considered couture art.)I wanted a closer look, but sadly, where they sat you weren’t allowed to share their table. Though I did enjoy admiring them from afar. And in the spirit of cohesion, their smaller framed brethren hung on the wall as decor, as well.

Seiza’s menu is dense and chic, a hefty listing that spans pages and categories. Although with little descriptions and even less photos it is hard to order without asking a barrage of questions to your server first. Though with his help, we stuck to many of their house specialities, as a first time try.

Like the “Zombie brain”, named for its perceived look, this was a whole avocado split into quarters and stuffed with crab meat, then battered and deep fried, before getting a generous drizzle of spicy mayo. It was messy and mushy, yet satisfying in its crunchy meets squishy texture. (The name suddenly makes sense here.) As for taste it was delicious, great with beer, or after when you need to sober up from all the beer.

Speaking of beer, as we were in a Japanese restaurant, we decided to go for Japanese libations. A combination of hot sake and cold Sapporo to set the tone. The sake getting chased down by the refreshing, light beer on special for $1 off. Apparently this type of pairing is commonplace, but new to me, and I cherished the experience.

But back to the food: There was a sheet of specials to order off of. When I hear and read specials I think discounted food the restaurant wants you to try. However after being enticed, we learned that not all of them were on discount. An obvious point when we compared the regular menu with this abbreviated listing. Nonetheless we went for the uni cream udon at full price. I feel that ordering uni at any Japanese restaurant speaks to its caliber, in quality of ingredients used. And unfortunately the one normal looking piece of uni was hiding 2 grey and discoloured pieces, and this action spoke volumes. And at over $20 for this serving I expected better, considering the portion size was on the smaller size with 3.5 pieces of shrimp and 2 florets of broccoli. The flavour was at least there and the cream sauce tasty without actual uni flavour. I enjoyed the noodles the most. However the udon shouldn’t be my favourite part when it’s only the third word in the dish’s name: “uni cream udon”.

The rolls fared better in our opinion, however they were no different or standout from any crazily dressed and additionally topped rolls you can get anywhere. Due to my guest’s shellfish allergies and fish preferences we kept it salmon all the way, trying three different methods of salmon sushi preparation.

The first is the “Sexy salmon roll”, I am guessing for the way it looks, and then the way it makes you feel: no carbs in this so a slimmer you it insinuates. Here they used crab meat instead of rice. Although a clever no carb substitute, I found its sweetness overpowering, hiding the freshness of the salmon, which should have been the star of this offering.

The “Salmon oshizushi” gave you cooked salmon, which I don’t think was the intention. It was a lot more torched than I wanted, but at least I got the salmon flavour I was looking for here. This was the best out of the three, but I have had much better else where.

The “Ironman roll” hid everything under Japanese mayo and spicy washed tobiko. The menu listed Sockeye salmon, chicken, avocado, and tobiko as its ingredient make up. However I didn’t see or taste avocado, and the chicken was only filler. This sweet and tangy roll did pair well with our beers though.

And just for something to balance out all the punchy flavours, we got a regular Spicy yam tempura roll that wasn’t so spicy.

Overall this isn’t necessarily a destination or a stop if you are craving Japanese food or sushi. But decent as a pub, offering fusion fare with flare.

Seiza Japanese Cuisine
3068 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3G5
(604) 428-5700
seiza.ca

Torafuku, new dinner sets for two

With the see-sawing of restrictions surrounding Covid, it has most definitely been a trial for the restaurant industry. For the ones who have diversified long ago, tapping into their ability to stay atop of trends and cater to an ever changing market, their flexibility has helped them remain open during these uncertain times. And one of the restaurants that has done this fairly well is Torafuku. One of my favourite spots to dine out and recommend with their take home menus, cook yourself set dinners, and family feasts. In totality, they have been serving up more than just their once “regular” offerings. And now with restaurants reopening and the desire for patrons to once again venture out to dine in and experience a quieter night life, Torafuku is introducing new menu items designed for two. And tonight I was down to enjoy one such menu, but first some drinks, cause it was a Friday night.

Torafuku should also be known for their drinks, if they aren’t already. With a healthy listing of classic cocktails and concoctions all their own, their drink menu is worth exploring. Majority of which features a twist or specific ingredient that speaks to their Asian fusion theme and cuisine.

Round one was ordered based on drink names. The “Green Lambo” features a cardamom infused calzadore blanco tequila, Cointreau, basil syrup, white pepper syrup, lime juice, and a salted plum powder rimmed. The latter is what takes this otherwise neon green margarita to the next level.

“Dr. Sun’s Penicillin” is named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and the Chinatown garden that has taken his name. It contains Ciroc Vodka, Johnny Walker 12 years Black Scotch Whisky, Chinese baijiu, lime, honey ginger, wintermelon tea, cinnamon, and Bittered Sling Clingstone Peach bitters. This cocktail has an added level of pageantry, thanks to the smoking piece of wood that tops it. You breathe in deep before you drinking. The woodsy smoke adding to the rich syrupy flavour of this cocktail made with the sweet and popular winter melon juice.

Round two of drinks featured more salted plum. These were visual cocktails as recommended by our server. “Catch Twenty Two” with Gosling rum, Punt e Mes, grapefruit, plum powder, quince, and lime juice. This was a refreshing cocktail that was heavier on the citrus, where I was searching for more sweet and salty plum.

The “Fuji Sunrise” is one I seem to always order when I visit. A white coloured cocktail with a red plum peaking past the murkiness of the martini. This makes for a nice homage to the Japanese flag, made with Japanese Suntory Haka vodka, daikon, yuzu, shisho, simple syrup, dry vermouth, and salted dry plum.

Round three of drinks saw us leaning towards dessert. The “Oriental Beauty” drank like a spiked green juice, it certainly looked like it. Refreshing and peppery, almost seasoned in spice-like flavours. It is a mix of Oriental Beauty tea infused with No. 3 London Dry Gin, sweet osmanthus, green chartreuse, and grape fruit juice.

And the “Matcha Madness” drank like milk tea with its matcha pocky finisher. Not as sweet or creamy as I had originally imagined, but a fun twist nonetheless. Brown butter washed gin, white chocolate syrup, cream, Creme De Violette, and green matcha tea.

Now finally on to the food. As I mentioned earlier, Torafuku has two new entrees and has created a set menu of four courses, around each. Between the roasted lamb or the roasted duck for two, we gravitated towards the latter; simply based on the protein being more often associated with Asian cuisine. Both sets comes with the same starter and ends with the same dessert. Where they differ is the Brussels sprouts with the lamb and you get calamari with the duck.

The first course was their “ Apple & Beets” salad, available on the a la carte menu. A lovely sweet and refreshing beginning to your meal. It wets your appetite literally with juicy honey crisp apple, soften pickled beets, a sweet house made ricotta, crunchy walnut bite, and a tangy peach vinegar coating it all. I would happily eat this everyday and feel good about myself in doing so.

Things got heavier with the strength of the five spice over the squid; even despite how the calamari almost melted in your mouth, as it was so tender. The same could be said for the sliced up king oyster mushroom that mingled with it. Both were served with tartar sauce, lime, thai basil, and cilantro. Both I found the saltier side. But the break from squid with mushroom helped to keep bites even, similarly a drink in between went a long way to dilute this otherwise salty dish.

The main was a show stopper, an interactive build your own bao station at your table. You grab a fluffy steamed bun from its bamboo steamer, and dress it with a smear from the decadently delicious foie gras parfait, then a thick slice of perfectly prepared Brome Lake duck breast, finished off with a topping with of watercress dressed in caramelized peanuts. Simply put, this was splendid. And I was sure to take the parfait home, to later add into regular rice; it was just so good.

For dessert it was the “Basque Cheesecake”, a two person round served in the parchment it was baked in. With its blackened top this cheesecake is easily recognizable. Creamy and rich, I was missing the graham cracker crumb you typical get from a similarly mixed New York cheesecake, but the yuzu compote was a nice refreshing twist that had me going back for more.

Out of curiosity we also ordered their grilled mackerel rice bowls. Being on a fishing kick as of late, the desire to try new and learn more about various types of fish has been strong. And this perfectly prepared crispy mackerel would later inspire a similar take on it at home, in a future meal. Of note, all their rice bowls are served with their “kickass rice” – cooked with sake, butter and dashi, finished off with a perfectly poached egg, mixed herbs and pickled cabbage that you stir up altogether. I found the fish a little mild for the richness of the rice below it. Therefore, I would actually recommend the fried chicken or pork belly as the protein instead.

In conclusion if you are looking for some great comfort Chinese cuisine in dressed up setting and space, look to Torafuku to hit the spot.

Torafuku
958 Main St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2W1
(778) 903-2006
torafuku.ca

Ancora Downtown, First Table 1 year anniversary in Vancouver

Time as been flying by, it was only a year ago since “First Table” launched their early bird dining website in Vancouver, the premise dine early at select restaurants and save money. I don’t know about you, but this idea just makes sense. First of all, who else gets hungry right after work? Why snack when you can eat fully and enjoy plenty. Two, studies show it is better to stop eating before 7pm, to allow your body to fully use/process the fuel you earn from the food you eat. So eating earlier than later just makes sense. And if you are like me, you work early and start your day earlier, why wait to eat dinner with everyone else who sleeps in and works late?

So in celebration of the app’s one year anniversary, and with the desire to dine out at a nicer restaurant, I sought out my bubble buddy, and we had a classy dinner at Ancora’s downtown, water front location.

Despite the earlier sun sets and the blanketing darkness that renders their all window restaurant front moot, the interior opulent setting is view enough. Vaulted ceilings, sparkling tiled floors and a glitzy chandelier cascading over head. A lovely setting as you eat, separated by plexiglass from the adjacent table.

Today we would begin our dinner with a bottle of champagne and a platter of caviar. A special pairing every Wednesday for $200, for two. There is no better way to set up date night right than this sumptuous bounty, guaranteed to impress. Chilled bubbles and all the fixings you need to enjoy your salted fish egg delicacy. A round of dough, egg whites, egg yolks, minced onion, chives, and a creamy spead; topped as you like it.

Next, came their complimentary array of focaccia and breads, served with a spiced hummus. I found this a lovely way to showcase the array of flavours to come.

For our meal we tried a few dishes from Ancora’s winter menu. Starting with a trio of smoked prawns over golden potato, crispy quinoa, guacamole, and a panca emulsion. The flavour of the smoke came through on the prawns. A char that was accentuated by the creaminess of the pillow of mashed potato. As a whole this dish spoke well to the Japanese-Peruvian concept of the kitchen.

Next we had a beef tartare made with tenderloin, topping a slice of sourdough, finished with sunny side up egg and cured egg yolk shreds. The colours of the raw beef and the boldness of the egg yolk was appealing. But be warned, things do get messy if you bite into the runny yolk. It’s oozing centre lends itself to the moistened tartar, adding additional to the contrast of the crispy toasted bread.

The steelhead trout with braised daikon, broccolini, shimeji, and Nikkei grains spoke to the current fishing season. This pink fleshed trout was deliciously refined with the gentle vegetables and the simple and clean pour over dashi. The umami-ness of the broth warmed me to my core. I found this perfect for the chill of fall, going back for spoon after spoon of the savoury, clear liquid. I ate this more like soup than entree, drinking the bowl clean.

But the most memorable dish of the night had to be the scallops with, ajo blanco, huacatay sorbet, black pudding, and drunk apples. If scallops were made into a dessert, this would be it. The sweetness of the marinated apple came through in the foam mixed with pisco and simple syrup. The addition of apple chunks elevated the flavour, and the chew of the heavy blood pudding offered a contrast that made bolder everything else on the plate.

I would highly recommend saving room for dessert as their guava creme burlee is one of a kind, and worth indulging in. The flavour of the exotic fruit was not hidden behind custard or cream. I liked the visual appeal of the chocolate, Christmas themed garnish; however found its slightly bitter flavour overpowering. Instead, I preferred the grapefruit and its citrus to add some freshness and pop to the dessert.

Admittedly I came into dinner apprehensively. I have had dinner previous to this and it fell short on expectations, based on my perception of the name and the setting I took in. So, tonight I am happy to report that with a new chef at the helm, Ancora downtown feels like a new space, and one that is living up to its opulent persona.

Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio – False Creek
1600 Howe St #2, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2L9
(604) 681-1164
ancoradining.com

Street Auntie, set menus

Reading the press release, I was really excited for the eventual opening of this new Asian fusion restaurant. However given their creative branding and concept, I was surprised to learn that they were situated downtown, along the Granville Entertainment district. Instead, I envision them in a more eclectic neighbour, one more befitting of their flare. Though at the same time, they are ones worth travelling to.

The name catches your attention and their pin up model mascot (inspired by the owner herself: tattoos, sex appeal and all) kept your attention. I was sold by this and the traditional Asian flourishes throughout the restaurant. For example, the decorative pantry right as you entered, the menu that included Chinese paper patterns, and the bamboo utensil holders at each place setting. We grabbed a seat by the plexi-separated bar to see all the action of the kitchen and bar unfold.

Street Auntie currently does not have their liquor license, but are making due with an interesting and well developed drink menu, nonetheless. A listing that they cleverly refer to as “The Sobering Menu”, which can just as easily have a shot or two added into each concoction, to give it a little “spirit” (when they have the proper documentation to do so).

The following is all 3 of their available drinks, which can be ordered as a pairing with the set menu below. The drink add-on runs for $19 per person.

The “Teatonic” features Yunnan sparkling tea. It is a refreshing beverage with a hint of tanginess that reminded me of tamarind. Here, the cooling flavour of the tea definitely helped with the spiciness of our first course below.

The “Golden triangle aromas” included lemongrass, ginger, mint, and lime. It was a great drink to help cleanse the palate in between bites; while offering some freshness for the deep fried foods it was paired with, also learn more below.

In a similar sense, but with more creaminess was the “Jasmine Babe”. It is essentially a floral milk tea. Its familiarity and comfort mellowed out some of the more potent dishes. This would be the one I would take togo in a plastic cup, I was just missing some pearls.

As for food, Street Auntie is open Wednesdays through Mondays for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Their unique concept allows diners to enjoy as many dishes as they want from the weekly rotating menu, during a pre-booked one-hour time slot. This run for $38 per person for lunch or $58 for dinner, respectively. Basically you have to get the only set available. They currently have a collection of 4 different menus on their website. Each with 8 different items, available during specific weeks, with some overlap from set to set. The following is the “Ocean Auntie” menu, which we enjoyed, and is currently available from November 25th until December 2nd.

The “Yunnan Ghost Chicken” was a starter salad made with mango, pickled young papaya, sawtooth herb, lemongrass, chilli, and golden triangle lime. The chicken that resembled Hainanese chicken, really stood out in this. The sneaking heat of the vinaigrette was mellowed out by the crisp julienned vegetables and fruit. A crisp texture furthered along by the crunchy deep fried tofu shreds. I found the salad’s chilled tang helped to jump start the appetite. I liked this as the first course, and finished my portion clean. Whereas others found it too large for such a refined tasting.

The second course with its upscale take on dim sum was one of the most memorable for me. Street Auntie took familiar favourites and gave it a boujee twist. Like the morel mushroom finish on a juicy siu-mai pork dumpling. Or the unseen addition of avocado to the classic shrimp dumpling, har-gau. And most decadent of all was the stuffing of sea urchin into what looked like a gyoza skin. The latter offering a most out standing flavour. I would recommend Street Auntie for this trio “basket” alone, thankfully all the menus to come includes it.

I am a fan of salted egg yolk fish skin, I buy the imported packages from Asian grocery stores, so it was a treat to get it fried fresh with a heavy duck egg-yolk coating at Street Auntie. This is another dish I would recommend, however it is only available on the “Ocean Auntie” set.

Similar in bold flavour and crunch was the spicy, garlic fried, soft shell crab. There was plenty of peppery garlic flavour on the crispy crab, and as excess “sprinkles” , that I later shovelled into my mouth.

And what is a Chinese meal that does not end in a starch like rice or noodles? With the “Ocean Auntie” set, that starch is the “Street Auntie fried rice” severed with their house made “XOXO” sauce. They doubled up on the “XO” in the name because all the ingredients are doubled. This help yourself serving of sauce on the side is what flavours the otherwise bland rice. Therefore, it would have actually been nice to have the rice served and eaten in conjunction with the crab above, more like a side than a main dish (as it was served).

As tasty as all the dishes were above, dessert was my favourite course for its presentation alone! Served on a tray with some cleansing tea or energizing coffee, diners get a one bite of “mango and pomelo sago explosion”. Like its name suggests, things can get messy if you are not careful. Eat this in one bite and be surprised by the amount of tasty, sweet, and citrusy flavour that floods your mouth when literally “burst the bubble”.

I really liked the “Beijing Hulu” that looked like sticky lollipops, but are actually a hard sugar coating juicy grapes. I could have eaten a handful like candy.

However, the showstopper of the night was the giant fortune cookie cake you share with your dining companion. And the best part, it comes with an actual fortune you can eat. Printed on rice paper, it doesn’t add a taste or texture to the dessert, but is definitely plus 100 in pageantry. I would order it for visual alone. Eating wise, this was a soft sponge cake filled with a slightly bitter jasmine tea and strawberry gel filling. A mild cake that would perfectly accompany the tea above, severed in delicate and traditionally printed porcelain.

And for good measure, we even got regular fortune cookies, but dipped in frosting and decked with sprinkles for that extra panache.

Not on any of the menus, but made upon special request was their tongue and cheek “East Van Special” a mint chocolate and fudgey chocolate cannabis leaf served over a chocolate cookie crumble, with edible rice paper “plated” printed with the east van cross pattern. I thought this was such a fun idea and great homage to the city.

At this point they are still working out the logistics and menu, so I want to reassure you that my feedback was passed on and taken with a grain of salt. I cannot wait to go back to try a completely different menu and maybe by then, some tasty alcoholic drink pairings to go with it all!

Street Auntie Aperitivo House
1039 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L4
streetauntie.com

Ventura Room

My guest and I were attending a show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, so decided to get in the mood with some food and drink at the neighbouring and new “Ventura Room”.

This was described as as a California-inspired bar, celebrating cocktails and live music. There was none of the latter this Sunday night at 5pm, when they first opened. But we would partake in the former, at least. To be honest I don’t know what “California-inspired” means, but the energy was laid-back, set to the tunes of hip hop and jazz.

There was plenty of space in the chic lounge. A wheel chair lift provided accessibility for the handicappable, a lengthy backlit bar spoke to the depth of their cocktail program, and there was plenty of seating to choose from: from high tops to booths. Set dark, you can just make out the golden geometric pattern that adhered to a mirrored backsplash, the tile trim that was set against a concrete wall, and a series of black and white photos that spoke to the history they wanted to put on display. The latter-most included suits and skirts toting cigarettes, attractive mug shots, and playboy bunnies in full costume. We would grab a seat under these, to set the tone.

The food menu was limited with the real focus being on wine and spirits. Small bites like pork jerky, nuts & olives, and wings. Along with a whole page dedicated to fusion sushi rolls. We would grab one of the latter, a trio of tacos, and a sushi-taco combo.

Our choice of their street tacos included baja fish, pulled pork, and a vegetarian cauliflower. We would get the “chipotle chicken” with lime crema, cilantro verde, feta, pickled red onion, and cilantro. They came in a trio, and our server was kind enough to offer us the option to pay for, and add on one more so we could have two each. We declined knowing we would order more tacos below. The “Chipotle chicken” was good, but nothing to write home about. It came to us cold, overflowing with filling for a messy meal. The squirt of lime helped to add zest when I was craving more seasoning and flavour.

I preferred the “ahi tuna tacos” a lot more. It had much more character and flavour thanks to the chili ginger seasoned tuna, yuzu aioli, avocado, daikon sprouts, and sushi rice. It was basically sushi deconstructed and re-housed into a batter and fried wonton-like shell. I liked the spicy kick and crispy crunch, but found each bite too creamy. So much so that you don’t get the taste of the tuna and the filling fell mushy.

We did try one of their sushi rolls. Given the bar setting and the rest of the menu, we played it safe with a fairly flavourful sounding fusion roll. The “crispy coconut shrimp roll” with panko shrimp, avocado, green onion, thai peanut sauce, and toasted sesame. I liked this the most out of all that we had. It was the definition of fusion sushi. Fresh with the scallions, hearty with the room temperature rice. I didn’t make out much of the shrimp or coconut, and found it very much so needed a dip in soy sauce for salt and flavour. Average at best.

As for drinks we had to get one of their share drinks, listed as “keys in the bowl” on the menu. There are only two options, both served in a gilded gold pineapple tumbler. We were immediately drawn to the “NSFW” (not suitable for work) for its name, but convinced to spend $3 more for the “Smokey the pear” given our server’s description of it. Hearing that it came with incense peaked our interest. But in reality, its scent doesn’t really add anything to the flavour of the drink, it simply gives it a certain mystique. As for the cocktail itself, it was smoky as the name promised, with a complex and juicy flavour thanks to absolut elyx, calvados, pear juice, lapsang, souchong tea, and lemon. But I wanted more smoke, and a stronger punch. Given that it was fairly easy to drink, I don’t know why it was recommended as a shared beverage. There was far too much ice, giving you the illusion of having more for less. And the pineapple is a fun novelty, but not one I haven’t experienced elsewhere.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I would come back out of ease, if looking for a destination before a show at Queen E. What we had today was not enough to have me declaring them a destination. I would describe what we had as “drunk food:” average in quality, but best when tipsy, and if you aren’t honing in on the nuances of it. Don’t deny your cravings.

VENTURA
695 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 0K9
(604) 620-5547
venturaroom.com

Koyuki Ramen, Japanese Tapas

Today I was invited down to “Koyuki” to check out their Japanese fusion tapas menu. Located just off robson on Jervis street, this hole in the wall specialized in Sapporo style ramen.

The restaurant utilizes chalk boards to walk you through the history and heritage of their authentic Sapporo style ramen. Like how they use three types of miso to flavour their soups: red, white, and “mix”. And how it authentic, hailing from Sapporo city, which is also referred to as “ramen kingdom”.

Given this testimony in chalk, we had to order one of their bowls. Their “Tonkotsu ramen” had a pork based broth with Chau-shu, green onion, garlic chips, half a soft boiled egg, and your choice of noodle thickness between thin or thick. We got the latter in this nice simple broth. Which was mild in flavour, compared to all the other dishes below. My guest liked how you were actually able to make out the smokiness of the seared pork within the creamy broth itself, but found the meat dry.

As for their smaller share plates, there were so many creative things to try on their fusion menu. Familiar items I liked, combined together to form something new. Like their specialty, the “Curry poutine”. The curry was a deliciously rich, Japanese style sweet curry, it almost had the consistency of gravy, (like there would normally be in a poutine), and included melted bits of cheese. I could have done without the addition of the pork chunks. They were hard and dry, and really didn’t offer much to the dish. The fries were also quick to go soggy for a mealy potato texture. Although I still enjoyed the dish, and now want their curry over other potatoes like a baked potato, or some that are mashed.

The “Pizza tempura” was another two becomes one for some fun. Frozen pizza (I am only guessing because it tastes like some that I have had from a grocery store), deep fried in tempura batter and served with ranch dressing as a dip. I liked the idea and the extra crunch the tempura gave, but I found it too oily. It would have been nice to find a way to blot some of the greasy off, or to choose a lighter pizza to tempura. Maybe a simple cheese, instead of the deluxe toppings, paired with the classic tempura sauce to dip into for a cleaner dish. Although after a few drinks in, having this as is on the menu, sounds like it would hit several spots.

Similarly, the chicken wings were also oily. From four different flavours I choose the Japanese bbq with melted cheese and mayo. The addition of cheese and sauce over wings were a novel idea, but the cheese was greasy, and its oils pooled on the plate. The weight of the cheese took away from an otherwise crispy wing. I would have liked the melted cheese and mayo as a dip instead.

Their “Japanese pancakes” is one that is highted as being “popular” on the menu. Good enough, but it wasn’t my favourite rendition of this Japanese street snack. It was overly salty with too much sauce. Whereas, I wished it was doughier, with a more satisfying chew.

And my favourite dish of the night was the “Tonpei”. A fluffy egg omelette wrapped around slices of pork and shredded cabbage. It was messy, hard to cut into, and harder to share, on its small plate. But once you were able to dig in, it was a tasty dish offering a variety of flavours and textures to comb through. The pork was chewy, the egg spongy, and the lettuce refreshing with a nice crunch. And it was the sauces brought all together with a tangy creaminess.

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 fun spot for some great eats. Creative tapas to try and share, best enjoyed with a beer; because it does get salty and greasy at points. But that is just my own doing in ordering. Don’t deny your cravings.

KOYUKI
795 Jervis St, Vancouver, BC V6E 2B1
(604) 695-9177
koyuki.ca

Black Rice Izakaya, summer menu 2019

Summer is in full swing, it is hot, you are sweating, and “Black Rice” is here to help. They are offering up another creative menu for this summer season, a few heat reducing dishes, served with Rosé.

The Rosé was great with our meal, but we had some soju to get us there. “Kashidaru” is Japanese soju aged in a whiskey barrel, exclusive to “Black Rice”. It is from one of Japan’s oldest sake breweries and comes with an interesting story. Their President passed away and they discovered this batch in his personal barrel room. And without any records they had to do some sleuthing to discover its vintage. This soju was aged for minimum of 13-15 years old. And after “Black Rice’s” four cases are done, and the other 10 left are gone, there won’t be any more, ever. And for $11 for 2oz or $120 for a bottle, I can see that happening soon.

As promised the menu served up temperature appropriate dishes, like chilled soup and cold fish to cool you down. And I can attest that this it did just that. I came in to the restaurant from under the sweaty sun, and left cool inside and out.

The “Spicy cold sashimi soup” is a common dish in Korea, and a nice way to start our meal. Cold spicy broth, seabass sashimi with salad. The lovely white fish was a nice compliment to the zing of the hot spice. There were perfect together, without overpowering one another. It would have been nice to have a bowl of rice or a handful of noodles to enjoy the rest of the broth with though, after all the fish is gone.

“Miso ceviche” in a miso broth with truffle oil, onion, peppers, and seabass. Served with taro chips that make for good scoops. It didn’t taste much like miso, but I appreciated the twist with the use of yuzu citrus instead of lemon or lime. I also made out the strong flavour of shiso leaves, which I didn’t prefer. This was another refreshing summer offering, but you were left with so much ceviche, and not enough chips to eat them with; and especially not enough fish roe to top each bite with. Without the chip it was just soggy fish salad.

“Teishoku D” is their cold noodle box option. Plain soda noodles, 3 assorted tempura, 2 pieces inari sushi, a side of tempura crumb, agedashi tofu, assorted oshinko, and green salad. You dip the noodles into the sweet sauce and slurp as you like. With a variety of sides, this makes for a fulsome lunch box.

Their “Pad Thai Yaki Soba” was another creative fusion dish. You take the idea and flavours of a shrimp pad Thai, including the tamarind; but instead of flat rice noodles you use buckwheat soba noodles. And the result is an extra tasty dish that has a great heavy starch chew from the noodles, and an extra kick from the korean bbq sauce, gochujang. Delicious, but a little watery.

The “Ika feast” was one squid two ways. Squid tubes sous-vide in butter and finished on grill, and its tentacles battered and fried in tempura. We were given a choice between two presentations and we all agreed that although the grill was a nice visual, the one without it would be more practical when serving. The hay set on fire in the grill creates smoke and a distinct fragrance that could effect everything else you eat to follow it.

As for the squid, I preferred it grilled, especially with the creamy and tangy sauce you dip it into to. The fried version was more like Greek-style calamari, especially with the cooling tzaziki it was served with. The sauces were definitely the highlight and what gave everything its flavour.

The “Soy chicken karaage” was classic Korean style street food, double fried. Juicy dark meat karaage, battered, powdered, deep fried, and then glazed in their house soy sauce. It had a medium level of spice to it, with the ability to adjust it more or less to your taste. A great tapas option, best enjoyed with one of their many specialty beers.

And since we were already there, we had to try some of our and their customer favourites. Like the “Unagi” roll, which always makes for a great show. A prawn tempura and cucumber black rice roll topped with eel, and drizzled with a sweet brown sauce. It is torched table side for some extra caramelization.

Their “Lollipops” are a great way to enjoy sushi, gluten-free with no rice. Thinly slices of radish are wrapped around sockeye salmon, bell pepper, tamago, oshinko, cucumber, asparagus, avocado, and spinach. I liked the novelty of holding it by the stick, but would have liked to dunk it into something. Some sauce to flavour, before I took a bite that had it crumbling. As is it was bland, yet was too much like a salad roll to dip into soy and enjoy.

My favourite and the must have, anytime you are here is either of their “Aburi platters”. 6 piece aburi salmon hako, 8 piece black mentaiko roll, and 4 piece chef’s choice aburi nigiri. You are asked to allow them 20 mins to prepare it all, and I can tell you it is worth the wait.

Their “Aburi Hakozushi platter” was a complete set of their 4 signature aburi rolls. Aburi salmon, aburi saba, aburi negitoro, and aburi scallop. A great one for sharing. A collection of textures and flavours for any sushi lover who likes their raw fish a little cooked, and their sauces creamy and warm.

 

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.
“Black Rice” continues to be one of my go-to’s for creative Asian fusion. They are so very thoughtful in their food offerings. Trying new things and catering to the season and their explorative clientele. If they keep this up, I will most definitely be back time and time again. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

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

M8 Restaurant

I found myself here with a handful of my fellow food bloggers, if it hadn’t been for the invite, I don’t think I would know to visit this newly opened restaurant. Lucky, many of them cover what’s new and happening in the food world, so I get to stay on the pulse when in their company.

Located by the water, in a less trafficked area, you wouldn’t find “M8” unless you knew where it look. As a result the restaurants that have held this space before, have come and gone in rotation. “M8” will have a challenge before them in keeping their tables full, outside of summer. During the warmer months (like it was the case today) the patio was seated with those looking for a cool glass by the marina waters. But those in the dining area were here to try their Asian fusion share plates.

The restaurant’s decor was certainly a draw in. A white marble bar with a green leafy awning serves house made cocktails and recreates the classics. Solid wooden tables offer seating for larger groups. And booths around the corner gave diners more intimacy. They were upholstered in a teal crushed velvet, set before a mirrored backslash that mimicked a city’s skyline with peaks and dips.

Our group sat under the most interesting art piece. Under the painting of a noble from ancient China, seated in a throne with overflowing robes. A radish covering his face and a celery stalk gripped in his hand like a sceptre.

Given the mixed reviews we read going into this, we played it safe, ordering a handful of dishes to see if we liked it before adding on a few more, when we decided we wanted to more fully assess their offerings. But first trying to order. The menu was aesthetically faded. Parts missing print for an intentional aged look. However we still managed to order off of it, selecting dishes that were more unique and distinct to them. A bridging of Asian flavours with French techniques.

Our group was the most excited for the “Crispy chicken skin”, that also ended up being our favourite of the night. But it set up the evening so strong, that everything after it was almost disappointed by comparison. That to come wasn’t as strong in their fusion flare. This was deep fried chicken skin seasoned in chilli oil, salty egg yolk, mustard seeds, and a balsamic glaze. The chicken skin was done right, crunchy with a snap that was like a thick cut chip. Each piece delicious and decadent with the yolk, but the whole order would be a lot for one person. And at $9 a plate this would be worth revisiting. I will be listing the rest of the prices as well, given the value in their appetizers, especially compared to the entrees. More on that later.

The Shimeiji mushroom tempura was a new way to enjoy the airy and crispy batter of tempura. A great presentation and a fun way to share. The mushrooms peeled off into sections and you were able to share it as such. Enjoyed with a burnt lemon aioli for dipping, a warm kale salad, and wakame. For $8 this is another one I would recommend.

We weren’t unanimously agreed on the “Crispy pork belly” with taro root, and pork jus. But at $7 a plate for two decent sized chunks we really couldn’t complain. The meat was slightly dry, furthered by the dry taro paste. Whereas with pork belly you want the gummy fat and a thick and sticky jus to coat it.

The “Beef cheeks” went for $11, ad one of the premium priced appetizers, comparatively. Served with aged blacked vinegar, Sichuan peanut, and lotus root. It had a very dark and and deep rich tone to it, followed by the tingling numbness from the Sichuan pepper corn.

The “Lamb belly” was the other $11 appetizer. Smoked lamb belly, mint salsa verde, and fennel carrot. This one was brighter, and rich in spice and zest. The meat was also better prepared.

“Beef and broccoli” is a Chinese classic, and “M8” elevated it with their take. 8oz ribeye steak, sautéed broccoli, fingerling potato, and beef jus. This was actually our second take on the plate. Where we asked for medium rare, the server took down “medium well”. The result, dry, overcooked steak. When corrected, the kitchen happily made us a better serving with pink centres. But you would think they would question the server and us as diners on our request for over cooked steak? Either way our second go was tender, but no better off given how salty it was. It was also flat in flavour with one note throughout. The broccoli was better prepared, but it too had too much soy. And at $38 a plate, you expect this closer to perfect.

The “Tagliatelle bolognese” was an interesting read off the menu. Asian fusion giving us something Italian in origin. Beef and pork ragu, shiitake mushroom, with a trio soy sauce. It ate like a great pasta dish, with the familiar salty and sweet pairing found in Chinese cuisine. The sweetness of the mushroom also offered a twist to the classic tomato based bolognese. But as a whole, I found the serving needed more seasoning.

I liked one half of the “Crispy duck” offering. Aged duck breast, confit duck leg, soybean, and preserved mustard greens. The duck breast was lean and juicy, not perfect but not bad compared to the dry confit, made ashy with the side of gritty beans. The Sichuan pepper made a sneak peak here too, but its mild numbing effect didn’t add anything to the mix.

The “Tiger prawn bucatini” was bland. I didn’t taste any of the pesto, and the corn only added marginal sweetness. The prawns were the best part with the most flavour, but there weren’t enough of them to go around when sharing.

We considered dessert, but after hearing it was either a slice of green tea ice cream cake or regular creme brûlée, we deemed both not exciting enough and passed. It would have been nice to have had their fusion approach to the dessert menu as well. Although their website does claims they are not fusion. I feel they should embrace it, to help market their food and make it more approachable.

Worth noting is their individual washrooms. A different tropical theme for both plastered in paper. Cheetahs on the prowl and banana leafs in full fan formation.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I wouldn’t necessarily make the effort to come back, given the overall average meal. But for a different patio idea, and a creative appetizer menu with good value, they are worth checking out. Fine dining details and dressing puts a twist on Taiwanese street food. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

M8
1010 Beach Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6E 1T7
604-620-9586
m8yvr.com

Ton Ton Sushi

Today I was on the South Cambie restaurant strip, checking out a new sushi addition. There really isn’t anything any visual that has this place standing out, inside and out. My decision to visit was based on an invitation.

They have been open since January of this year, and there really hasn’t been much of a buzz surrounding their opening. Although the restaurant was steady with locals on a Tuesday. They were cleverly catering to the neighbourhood, offering approachable Japanese tapas and sushi with North American twists.

The menu was a novel, 10 pages of small plates, combos, and drinks. With so many possibilities to siphon through, having high resolution photos were helpful. In my case, I allowed my guest to do the ordering.

We started with their raw oysters, which unlike at other places, come dressed. At $1 each during happy hour we did a dozen. Twelve Fanny Bay oysters of various sizes, half dressed in soy, the other six in sweet Korean chilli. The flavours were good, but they fully hid the oyster, so I can’t actually review the quality of them.

Similarly, the quality of the fish used in the “Italian seasoned tuna tataki” was hidden behind the heavy handed Italian spices. This was an interesting interpretation, one not need repeating. It overpowered the fragrant tuna with the flavour of salt, tangy, and capers.

However, I finally got to appreciate the quality of their seafood with the “Ituna and ikura”. A lean fish with a creamy finish, topped with roe that popped in your mouth.

Similarly, there was nothing to hide behind with the sea urchin. Served as a two bite nigiri with seaweed. Serving smaller pieces, they combined three to create enough for one. Once again another quality product. Slightly sweet, completely creamy, melt in your mouth uni.

The “Sushi pizza” was another fusion offering, a concept that had been done, but this the “Ton Ton” way. Just looking at it you can’t tell it was meant to be presented as a pizza. The very thick slabs of tuna and salmon covered the crispy and chewy brown rice patty base. And there was much more of it, where for pizza the crust typically is the platform. The flavour was good with the creamy and spicy dressing, but I wanted the pizza easier to eat. The fish chopped up into cubes, and slices you can hold and take nibbles from.

The crispy wings were a spicy pub-style wings. Tasty enough, but really not what I would recommend ordering from a sushi place, given all the fresh seafood they have to offer.

 

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.
They offer quality for those looking for raw and fresh fish. And familiar flavours for those who need some fusion to edge them in. Not a destination, but a good option if you are in the area. And with everything at reasonable prices, I can see why the neighbourhood came out for dinner tonight. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

TON TON SUSHI
4018 Cambie Street, Vancouver BC, V5Y 2H5
604-428-2742
sushitonton.com

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