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Richmond Night Market

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I made the mistake of choosing a long weekend, and only the second weekend the Richmond night market opened for the season, to visit.

Just driving to the lot, we literally spent 45 minutes waiting in the car. 45 minutes just to move half a block. There was congestion along busy intersections and, as my guest and passenger put it, I nearly “range quit” with the total standstill. The traffic attendants tried their best, but there was utter chaos as drivers couldn’t take simple instruction from a glowing baton.

But eventually we got to our destination and parked in the secondary lot. Stopping here required a trek over rock and gravel; but as rough as it was on the soles of our shoes, it was still a better option and quicker by foot, than trying to lap looking for an empty spot closer to the market.

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At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that we will be paying $20 for their zoom pass. It was already 10pm and I didn’t want to do anymore waiting. Little did I know, it would be all that we would be doing tonight.

The zoom pass allowed you to bypass the lengthy line, and those in wait to pay $2 for admission. The pass cost 10 times more, but on top of shortening your wait, it is also a pre-purchase of 6 additional visits, that were transferable. I deem my time more valuable and therefore am willing to pay $20 to save it. An attendant was selling them by the “non waiting” entry way. This little coloured card allowed 7 entries into the market in total. Each entry was claimed by punching a hole into a dinosaur stamp on the back.

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This year’s theme was “Magical Dino Park”. It included robotic dinosaurs moving their horned heads and spiky tails from side to side, and letting out the occasional “roar”. All while surrounded by lush greenery and perfectly placed spot lights. The voice broadcasted over the sound system advertised the existence of these dinosaurs, and the idea that they would make an ideal backdrop for a selfie.

The voice also suggested a visit to their food pavilion. That since their dinosaurs had such large appetites, they have increased the number of food vendors to over 100 stalls. We complied with his suggestion. Wasting no time, we sped off to their food area to get in as much as we could. We hustled from one stand to another exploring all the options and picking what we wanted. However all this planning and travel, only to run out of time and have to leave unsatisfied, as they start packing up for a 12am close.

This was only my guest’s second visit to this market. He had takoyaki, meat on sticks, and squid, on his list of snacks that he wanted tonight. And apparently everyone else had the same appetite, as we were kept waiting in lines for all thee.

We made the mistake of stopping at the first takoyaki vendor, proving location is ever so important in a business. There were a few others selling seafood in dough, and even one that did the classic Japanese treat in a jumbo version. And I love food that is bigger than it normally is, or smaller than you except it to be. But sadly we stopped at the first stall we saw and had to be content with that.

At this and every other line, you queue up to order and pay, and wait even longer to claim your food. As I waited in these lines I had plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to realize that they have a good thing going on here. This tented food fair was an example of build it and they shall come. They served over priced snacks, that didn’t taste all that great. Average snacks you could easily get from the nearby Aberdeen mall (just to name one place), with no entry fee and less of a struggle to drive to and park. The same style of food for cheaper and at better quality. And there, there wouldn’t be a rush job to accommodate customers, instead they would churn out the best of whatever it was. From hurricane potatoes to curry fish balls, and they offer it all year round during full mall hours.

Yet here we were, one of the many consumers willing to travel all the way to the market and wait in lengthy lines. I guess it was the ambience, that you were paying for. The novelty of being able to walk along stalls and explore. And like drinks at a club, you know you can get a few bottles at the same price as a couple of shots here, but you are here for the atmosphere, and it made all the difference.

It is a convenient walk with all the selection side by side. That is when you aren’t pushing through crowds with your elbows pointed. This also may the closest that some get to explore a more authentic Asian food scene. And then there is the visual feast. You are treated to the show of seeing food grilled, baked, and fried before your very eyes.

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The takoyaki was such an example. Massed produced on cast iron moulds, it is a step by step process that is spelled out behind plexiglass. From pouring the dough to dropping in pieces of octopus, shrimp, scallop, or cheese for the vegetarians.

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These were made to order with the option to mix and match the fillings. We got two of the octopus, two of the scallop, and two of the shrimp. Everything except the cheese as we felt we wouldn’t get our money’s worth with it. They were basically $1 per ball. Although reality was we couldn’t taste the difference from one to the other. The taste was especially hidden as we had more mayo that usual. The squeeze bottle spilled open over our portion, and the clerk asked if we were ok with the amount that came out. It was a benefit to us, more mayo is always a good thing; so we were happy to accept what we were handed as is. Aside from the mayo it was a mushy ball that tasted like pickled vegetables. A hot and gooey mess that was best taken in one gaping mouthful.

At a few of the following stalls there weren’t many, or any lines to order, so you think there wouldn’t be much of a wait. It isn’t until you look down and realize they are calling number “45” and you have “20”, that you realize you are in for a long haul. And often the food does measure up to the time you have spent idle. Especially when you are staring at a cup of shrivelled and skewered mystery meats.

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The “Super BBQ meat” stall had its own corner with two different booths focused on barbecue on a grill. One specialized in meat, the other seafood. We thought we were clever by dividing and conquering, queuing to get something from each of the neighbouring stalls. However both took about the same time, and had us stationed there for over 30 minutes in wait.

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We started at the meat vendor, paying $10 for four skewers, of our choosing. So like the balls above we got to try one of each, and like the balls above, they all basically had the same taste. AAA steak beef, lamb, honey garlic chicken, and prawn. They were all seasoned in the same zesty Indian spice, it came with a grainy and mustardy pungent-ness.

They also had jumbo skewers, and as I mentioned above, I love it when food is bigger or smaller than necessary; but thankfully we skipped this option, as we didn’t need more than the four shrivelled up chunks we got per stick. This was disappointing at $2.25 per skewer, and what felt like a 10 minute wait for each.

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Our order of squid was just as disappointing. They seemed to be dredging and deep frying tentacles in mass quantities, yet it was being seasoned and served cool. But people seemed happy with what they were having, and as a result they ran out of the full deep fried squid on a stick and tentacles skewered.

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We went for the sweet chilli version of deep fried squid, and the sticky mess got everywhere, from my clothes to my hair. I would later wash and a chilli flake would fall out from between damp strands of hair. But it was the sauce that was the only thing to give the chewy, throughly batter bites any real flavour. They were over fried and oily, and after a few I was done with the taste.

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I needed to cleanse the accumulation of grease in my mouth, so stopped at the jerky stall. “BKH Jerky”. I have driven past their store front before and been curious, but what cinched it for me now, was their banner advertising the fact that they have been on “Dragon’s Den” (a reality show where entrepreneurs invest in local Canadian business for both parties to make millions).

They were flipping sheets of reddish meat as you approach the stall. They had regular, curry, or spicy flavoured pork or beef jerky, and the choice of jerky short ribs. I went for the regular beef for the first taste.

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It was a steep price at $7 a slice. I agreed with the customer in front of me in line, but not enough to voice it like he did. The prices were listed on the tent and you know what you are going to get by coming here, so you can’t really be surprised or complain.

The jerky was cut into manageable sized chunks with scissors, for easy on the go eating. It had a nice chewy texture with a sweet sticky glaze. A hearty snack that I would have preferred to rip tiny bites off of on whole sheet of meat. I would definitely considering buying a pack to graze on at home. And it would probably be at a more reasonable in price.

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My guest on the other hand was thirsty. He went for a bubble tea at “Bubble Gallo”, after I convinced him to, over a can of coke. When in Rome… Taro with pearls. It was your standard powdered beverage with milk and tapioca.

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My last food stop was at the “lil fella’s” mini doughnuts truck, to take some desserts home. This was the quickest line I was in, and I got the doughnuts right away. Though they weren’t very busy to begin with and they were closing the market for the night. Also this wouldn’t be what you come to the market for. If you are like me, you look for the unique, the more uncommon the better. You can find mini doughnuts at every fair and the on occasion sporting match.

None the less I was pleased with the speed of delivery. Warm doughnuts meets paper bag and my hand, all at the regular pricing. They were fluffy and crunchy with cinnamon sugar, I got exactly what I expected.

After this we were left with 30 minutes to take in as any of the sales booths as we could. We did this rushed with the announcer reminding us the market would be closing in 30 minutes, every two minutes. We were able to take in the cell phone stands, the anime memorabilia stalls, I stopped to admire jewellery and hum and haa over nail art supplies, and we also found the nut and fruit booth we were in search of.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
We have our zoom pass, good for 5 more visits, and it is as good enough of a reason as any to come back. If anything, we would visit just to get your money’s worth. We decided it was best to return in summer, to let the season’s beginning die down and the novelty wear thin. Then there will be less people, less lines, less shoving, less waiting; more eating, more shopping, and maybe even a game at their carnival portion. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET
8351 River Road, Richmond BC
604-244-8448
richmondnightmarket.com
Richmond Night Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Panda Night Market

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The first weekend open of the summer night market and we were here to take part. This was the original Richmond market located by Home Depot and Ikea at Bridgeport. But since the opening of the second night market in Richmond, this one has been since been referred to as the “Panda night market”. I suspect it is to do with the two giant inflatable pandas that stand in front of the back stage.

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For the first weekend open there weren’t many vendor set up yet. Empty stalls were left vacant. But still represented were the cell phone tents, the ones selling socks, a tent for mops and one for swords. But we avoided all this by b-lining it to the food area instead. A single alley way of stalls and another just for seats. The covered tables were a nice change of pace, the ability to purchase and eat in comfort. As apposed to the typical custom of standing and eating in place, surrounded by bodies pushing and shoving their way through. But considering it was still the beginning of the night market season it wasn’t too busy today. There was enough room to visit a few stalls, to share the treats that we ordered, and to take photos of our food filled conquests.

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Our first stop was at “Sea Monster” a booth that specialized in deep fried squid. There were others that did the same, but this one offered the novelty of a whole squid wrapped up in a bouquet. And who doesn’t want a bouquet of squid tentacles?

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We waited, ogling the sample versions tact up to the stand itself. From our position in line we had full view of their operation. The dredging of the squid in egg and floor, the sizzle it created when it hit scalding oil, and the chopping of a clever when anyone ordered just half the squid.

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This was definitely a novelty. It wasn’t easy or fun to eat, or all that tasty. There was an option for a dipping sauce add on at $1. In hind sight we should have grabbed a few containers full. But considering how complicated eating already was with the need of two hands, I couldn’t imagine factoring in a dipping sauce step.

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It was heavy, the two skewers holding the whole squid in place barely helped to support it upright. The breading flaked off even before we could sink our teeth in. Each chomp required the gritting of teeth and the pull and tug of lips. I found it easier to sink my claws into each chewy pieces and pull. But eventually gave up all together. Eating shouldn’t be this much work.

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Our first choice caused quite a thirst, so our next stop was at the lemonade stand. “Happy Lemon” freshly squeezed lemonade. Though they also offered strawberry, lime, passion fruit, and cherry flavoured-ade as well. They were sold out of the raspberry. Though at 7pm it was more that they probably forgot to stock up on the mix.

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We stuck with the classic lemonade and it did the trick. It provided a powerful punch and made for a great palette cleanser for round two.

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Takoyaki is one of those iconic night market musts. Available at a few stalls we went for the one that specialized in just it, with plenty of variety between seafood filling and creamy dressing. The stall’s name: “Takoyaki”.

Behind their sneeze proof glass you could see these round breaded balls being made in mass quantity. They weren’t made to order, but made to be sold. The ones you pay for were already stacked neatly into a cardboard tray, and dressed to order. It was efficient as they have many customers, and this way none needed to wait. But what you got was some luke warm takoyaki.

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“Takoyaki” is a flour and egg based snack mixed with green onion, pickled ginger, and a tempura crumb. It’s filling was your choice between octopus, squid, shrimp, or vegetable. Similarly its topping was your choice too. They did a negi ponzu, negi mayo, and corn.

We went traditional with the classic octopus takoyaki. Topped with teriyaki sauce, mayo, bonito flakes, and dried seaweed. As expected more spongy bread than chewy octopus tentacle, but the taste was spot on. A creamy, tangy, and slightly sour finish.

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What I enjoyed the most was being able to watch them make each round. The flour and egg batter gets poured into each cast iron mould. To it the above mentioned ingredients get sprinkled in, surprisingly it is not mixed in before hand and just allowed to meld together in the baking process. Next goes in the desired sea food chunk. It ends with one side baking golden brown, and the chef flipping it over to do the same for the other side.

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For dessert we couldn’t find the durian that we wanted, and settled for mango instead. Mango from the “MangoHolic” vendor. An orange coloured booth, to the point, and matching their namesake fruit.

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I went for their mango shaved ice that was carved from a block, topped with freshly cut cubes of mango, and drizzled over with condense milk. It was a refreshing taste with the milky ice.

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My guest got the fresh mango slush that had a similar taste. The mangos were just as sweet, but here they were blended with the ice and melted enough to drink through a straw.

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The time in between our snacks and searching for others had us filling up. So having eaten our fill, we explored the different vendors, took in some of the street art performers and weeded our way through the carnival grounds. But there is only so much you could do after eating and we left shortly after.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
This night market is still free to enter, parking is a challenge, but if you are lucky there are some free spots available curb side. The wares don’t do much to tempt, but the food will certainly have me coming back. A one of a kind dining experience worthy of exploring again before the summer’s end, when it picks up more steam and have a lot more to offer. I can only imagine the grandiose nature of the ones in Hong Kong. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

PANDA NIGHT MARKET
12631 Vulcan Way, Richmond BC, V6V 1J7
604-278-8000
pandamarket.ca

Bearfoot Bistro

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The journey began with the goal to visit the Whistler vodka ice room, but ended up with me re-accessing cost for value and falling back on option two.
I have always wanted to visit the ice room for the novelty of drinking vodka perfectly chilled in a room of ice, something you can’t do just anywhere. A bar of ice, shelves of ice, the nip of the cold kissing your cheek. I hate the cold and being cold, but this experience is one I would love to check off my bucket list. And this new year’s weekend I thought it as good enough of a reason as any to do so. Located in the luxurious barefoot bistro, this experience comes at a cost.

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The “Ketel One Ice Room” is one where you can experience a flight of sub-zero vodkas. The room is set at -32C (-25F), it is the world’s coldest vodka tasting room, and the only permanent sub-zero vodka room in Canada. Within this bar is more than 50 different vodkas gathered from around the world. With fine examples distilled from just about everything from rye, wheat and soya to hemp seeds. With only four tastes per visit, how are you to decide on just four?

They equip you with one of their parkas to keep warm before entry. Wrapped in Canada Goose, Arctic-ready parkas, you feel warm enough to stand still and pay attention as their vodka expert explains how the intricacies of distillation and filtration affect the flavour profile of the finished product.

However my guest had been before, and I trusted her judgement when she said the event was lack lustre. That she didn’t feel it worth the cost. Not only did they rushed her along and only allowed her to take photos on their terms: only after their speech and by their hand. I was also informed that the amount of each taste of vodka you get was not a full shot, but half a tiny cup. For the $50 plus fee after taxes my partner argued we could get a decent bottle at the liquor store to share. My guest seem adamant against spending our time and money here as well. Therefore, for the cost of something I considered extravagant, I decide not to try this experience but instead better funnel the money on the actual restaurant buying food and having drinks.

So instead I looked longly in and contented myself with a photo of the bar that I would never likely visit. It was nice that I could at least get a look at it through either one of their glass entrances. It was wall to wall ice, with blocks of it carved and shaped to form the boxed shelves that the various bottles vodkas sat in, and the counter the various vodkas would be poured at. Though I imagined it larger, this was a walk in closet, or better yet freezer. From our seats I was able to witness group after group taking their turn. Majority of them waited at the bar for their time, warming themselves up with a drink for the cold room before them. We were even approached by the event coordinator if we wanted to attend the tasting. We declined, after already working the above out.

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Besides, given their website description of their champagne bar, this itself was a good experience to try. We took advantage of their Après ski specials, which is essentially happy hour on the slopes. Instead of a hard day’s work, it’s a sweaty and tiring ski session you are recuperating from. And doing so with a bounty of drinks and snack size dishes at a discounted cost.

Entering during their après ski time we were told we wouldn’t be able to get a table, however the bar was open at first come first serve service. We hastily grabbed a stool, thinking that they were so busy that all their reservations were full at 5pm. It later dawned on us that we were in between meal services and they just didn’t seat the dining room then, hence why no tables were available. I wish they told us this, instead of letting us wonder why they couldn’t seat us when literally every table was empty, over 25 of them left unsat.

The stools at the bar were created to look like a patch of animal hide, flattened and tanned for use in the seat’s cushion and its back. It was suspend onto the chairs supportive frame by thick cuts of fabric weaving in and out between metal join and leather hide. It was smooth to sit on and surprisingly supportive.

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Their pewter bar was set with a rail of ice, which was its claim to fame. It’s sole purpose is to keep your glass of Champagne perfectly chilled. Sadly the cost of such an extravagance was one I could not indulge in, but instead would settle for photos of the white powdered troth of ice crystals before us. Besides, no one else was using it, others, like us enjoyed in the more affordable cocktails. Moscow Mules seemed the most popular today.

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My guest got her favourite, the mojito. It was off the menu, but the bartender attending to us was confident he could mix one up for us, it is a classic cocktail after all. However it came to us unbearably sour from the amount of lime juice used and the amount of squeezed rinds still in the cup. Even after a good stir it tasted the same. Given that they taste each cocktail with a lick of a straw, I wonder how this could be so far off. We brought it to his attention by asking for some soda water or syrup to sweeten this very tart beverage. His solution was to shovel out the top chunks of ice, adding more soda and vodka before stirring it all together. Given the reputation of the restaurant I was surprised he didn’t immediately offer to make us a new one and to take the cost of it off the bill. Instead, after his second attempt was declared still too sour, he starter again from scratch. The third one was the charm. He offered us the original with it, we declined.

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I, the one who always has to have something unique went for a more seasonally named and flavoured cocktail: “winter’s white”. Lemon hart Demerara rum, in house made pumpkin liquor, fresh citrus, chai, cream, grated nutmeg, chocolate bitters, cinnamon, and cognac cherry; with a vanilla cayenne sugar rim. Given all the ingredients used I did feel it worth the $16. Though after my guest’s drink I was skeptical of how mine should have tasted versus how it actually came out. After all it did seem like all the bartenders were being trained tonight. It tasted like a fizzy yogurt drink, spiked with alcohol. Homey and warm like eggnog with the use of cinnamon and nutmeg. I was looking for the telltale pumpkin flavour, but missed it along with the chocolate from the bitters. Overall, a great original beverage, best taken on its own by a fire.

When attempting to order of their bar menu, we were bombarded by what felt like a barrage of question. We were undecided and instead of letting us think, one of the bartenders kept asking us questions. And his facial reaction to each of our answers read like he expected more. I felt like I had to defend only getting one dish, then tacked on another out of pressure from him. If that is his sales tactic, it certainly works.

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They are also known for their raw oyster bar with a dedicated oyster shucker on hand, so we wanted to give that a try. They were advertised at half off for après ski. Still pricy due to their proximity to the water, but yet a deal at 50% off. We stuck with a half dozen served on the half shell with fresh horseradish and mignonette. They were fresh and light, a wonderful accompaniment to our more decadent side below.

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A side of “Truffle fries” served with a creamy mayo-like dip. They were your average crispy fry slightly glazed in truffle oil and sprinkled over with some chives. The first few bites were the best, then the closer to the bottom we got, the more tiresome the taste became.

I thought about ordering more food given that everything was 50% off, except the fondue. But given our success rate so far, I didn’t want to chance it, even at the reasonable prices. Though there was many things to be tempted by. Buttermilk chicken and waffles, a braised short rib poutine, and duck confit.

We were most tempted by their “Nitro Ice Cream” coming in. But their website listed it at “$20/person, min. two people” it was $18 less per person than what the restaurant’s bar menu was asking for. $38 per person with a minimum of two people. I couldn’t justify $78 for a sundae we had to share. Though it was scary that we both would have gotten it if the other wanted. It is hard to find someone else so committed to food and the experience of it, so we vowed to come back in summer to enjoy it more, in a more ice cream friendly season, together. Maybe the cost would go down the with supply of people wanting it. I suspect the steep price had to do with the cost of the liquid nitrogen and the price of keeping it in stock during off cold dessert season. For those curious, it would have been bourbon vanilla bean ice cream prepared table side with liquid nitrogen for fast freezing of the cream. Served with your choice of sundae toppings. This is another one on my bucket list, to try here or abroad.

Our experience got frustrating when it came time to pay the bill. I had asked to have it split between two, my partner didn’t eat and only had a beer to drink. However they split the bill in three, sharing my guest’s mojito between us two. A confusing three receipts were produced and left for us to decode. The easy remedy would be to reprint them. However one of the bartenders insisted on getting the manager to explain it to me, instead of trying to figure it out herself. During the wait to meet this manager, only to be told minutes after that she will be here soon, I ended up figuring things out and paying. I would be paying 2/3 instead of 1/2; and the après ski discount was taken off as dollars at the bottom of the list, which was also divided between the receipts in thirds. A jumbled mess.

Overall I was disappointed by my experience here, especially as it is classified as finer dining. I still like the idea and novelty of the ice room, but do not feel the cost satisfies what you are actually getting for it. Though it is clear that the restaurant relied on it for majority of their business. They put more effort into it, even having an employee work the dining area asking diners if they were interested in visiting said room. It felt like they were so occupied with the traffic of the ice room that their service lacked. My guest said it best, “you shouldn’t have happy hour if you can’t make your customers happy”.

Similarly we were disappointed in their washrooms. It was outside of the restaurant in the adjoining hotel’s lobby. Given the decor and the embellishments of the restaurant, you would expect to see this same care transition into their facilities. But these public stall washrooms were nothing to write more about.

 

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 don’t think I would make a trip out to try any of this again: champagne bar or vodka room. After talking it out, I just can’t allow myself to spend that much to get a memory lasting only mere minutes. Where a plate of food could keep me full for hours or a top would keep me warm for months. The exception would be if they reduced the price of their nitrogen ice cream to $20 for a minimum of two. Or if I make it big and have enough excess money to try their champagne sabring in their basement wine cellar. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BAREFOOT BISTRO
4121 Village Green, Whistler BC, V0N 1B4
604-932-3433
bearfootbistro.com.Bearfoot Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Richmond Night Market, part 1

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This would be my first visit to the Richmond night market this year. The summer season is in full swing, operating from May 12 to October 15. Open Fridays and Saturdays  from 7pm-12am and Sundays and stat Mondays 7pm-11pm.

After several years it is still a popular weekend destination that only seems to get bigger every year after. One thing you consider when attempting a trip down to the market is the parking. As the event gets bigger, the same could be said for the parking congestion. Although it is a free lot, the cost on your time is a hefty fine. It is a slow attempt to move in, and is just the same trying to get out, angry drivers and carefree pedestrian blocking roads. Luckily they have hired traffic guards to help move things along. We however played it clever and opted to walk blocks, instead of queuing in the car.

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Similarly, we paid $20 to get their zoom pass, in order to by pass the admissions line. A obvious option when considering having to stand for a 30 minute plus wait. I don’t know why people even bother to line up, when the $20 cost includes seven additional visits and the option to save time. So this is especially worth while if you know you are going to come back again. And we would. The math is less than $3 per entry. A savings when you consider that the regular fee is $4. Previously the going admission rate was $2. Though this increase in price was not stopping anyone for coming. Similarly, this year $20 pass card only gets you 7 entries, where in previous years you got more than 10. Economics.

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This year’s theme was a pirate one. Their rubber duck mascot, “magical lolliduck” dawned an eye patch, a black over coat, and a captain’s hat with a skull and cross bones for the occasion. Pictured in fixtures and on signs, they were consistent on their messaging. A gumdrop and lollipop themed pirate ship was even docked for the occasion. It lack sails, but made up for it with confetti dotted cannons. Lolliduck was on the flags, his likeness was mounted on the side of the ship, and there was also a big bust of him fronting the vessel. It isn’t practical for sailing, nor are you actually able to board it, but it does make a great photo op. The market had many such planted photographic moments.

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The market is more than just food and shopping. A stage by the entrance hosts  nightly live entertainment. It is line with an international collection of plastic “rubber ducks”. The Canadian duck was dressed like a Mountie, the Dutch one wore clogs, and the one from France was dressed in a striped shirt and a beret; it was all very cliché. They all said “welcome” in English. They are reused every year, along with the spiral lollipops and swirling gumdrops from last year’s candy land displays.

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We started our journey through the maze with the food stands. Agreeing to stop when anyone signal their attention to the group. We would stick together, it is easy to get lost in the sea. If you are claustrophobic or hate being touched, you might want to skip this event all together. Both are unavoidable when there are this many people confined to travelling in parallel isles.

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I am the kind of person who wants to make a loop before deciding on what I want. I want to make the best in formed decision, especially as I am most interested in the unique. We started with savoury and worked our way sweet. Although the prices of most  items are steep, you actually eat less and therefore spend less. The time it takes to travel and wait in line allows your stomach to tell your brain that it is full.

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The “Buddy Kushikatsu” stall prided itself as being from Osaka and the first of its kind in Vancouver. Kushikatsu is a Japanese dish of seasoned, skewered, and grilled meat. It can be made with chicken, pork, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. These are skewered on bamboo; dipped in egg, flour, and coated with a panko crumb. And then finally deep-fried in vegetable oil. They are served drizzled in a tonkatsu sauce, a type of thick Worcestershire sauce.

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I appreciated the cooked demos on display. It definitely helps the ordering process and gets you tempted as you walk by. The market is a visual place.

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Made to order, we got 7 for $10 to be able try one of each with doubles on what we wanted more of, otherwise it is $5 for 3. Scallop, chicken, quail egg, cheese filled beef, and cheese filled chikuwa (fish cake). The scallop and beef were a little dry. The soft boiled mini egg just melts in you mouth. And the fish was nice because of the melted cheese dropping from its centre.

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At “Big G’s large fried chicken” booth the name says it all. Though they also offered deep fried fish cake and mushrooms for those who did not partake in meat. We stopped here because the photo on the booth promised chicken as large as our faces. And sometimes food needs a good gimmick. The booth delivered and the staff working it suggested that we take a photo of said chicken beside our faces to compare the size. We did.

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The slab of chicken went bag deep. Given the presence of bones, I feel they pounded half a chicken flat, breaded it, then deep fried it to a crisp. It tasted just like the salt and pepper chicken nuggets you get at Taiwanese bubble places. The dark meat portions were juicy and the chicken overall was well cooked. Though because it was so salty, more oily than expected, and had a one dimensional flavour; we were unable to finish it between three people. It also did not travel well as leftovers. In retrospect we would have been better off ordering the chicken strips for $7. The same chicken, but cut up and easier to share. It was also a more reasonable amount. Though for $2 more, who wouldn’t want to cross off eating something that is larger than their faces off their check list.

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“Mango Tango”, don’t let its name fool you, they don’t just do mango. For all its mango centred desserts they also had a durian substitute available. Mango or durian sticky rice, grass jelly, mousse, or tofu. The stall was most cute with a cartoon green mango and a pointy durian mascots. And as is the case with most vendors, the pictures provided on the awning helped to attract attention and pull in customers. It certainly worked on me.

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Having seen durian offered as a pancake I just had to order one for nostalgia. Durian is an acquired taste. Growing up enjoying it, I do find myself with occasional cravings. In Southeast Asia durian is considered the “king of fruits”. It is most known for its distinctive odour and its formidable spiky shell. If you can hack your way past the spines, soft fruit surrounding large pits are waiting for you. For those unfamiliar with the fruit, it’s scent is often likened to smelly gym socks. Not the best image when eating, especially as scent is tied to taste.

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The durian pancake was more whipped cream than durian, it made sense given its price tag. You get two folds, I offered one to a girl who was interested in my dessert and asked where I got it from. I wanted a taste and didn’t need two. Plus my companions complained of the smell. It barely had any fruit, yet one breeze and one of my guests couldn’t take it anymore. Though at the same time, I managed to get one to try it for the first time. It is definitely not for everyone, but for me it tasted like childhood.

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At the “Icy bar” we had the “mango tapioca icy”. It is best described as a dressed up snow cone with condense milk for sweetness.

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It also comes in strawberry, mochi, grass jelly, and various combinations of the three.

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You get a coupon book with your zoom card purchase. Although there is a required hunt to located the stand in which it is passed out. The book offered over 50 pages of food and item discounts. Though standing still and going through over in a sea of people was a little tricky. Luckily vendors participating did advertise their inclusion by using signs on their booths to alert customers. We only ended up using one of the coupons on bubble tea. The deal is buy one get one at 50% off. Given all the similar stands, the coupon definitely swayed us in their direction.

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“Bubble Tea Mosters”. Did they spell “monsters” wrong? Though you almost miss this potential type-o because their banner was so cute. Food with cute faces and large eyes, as is the custom for many other stalls. They know their demographic. At “Bubble Tea Mosters” they cleverly market that their pearls or jelly for their tea is free. Though in reality, is its already included as part of the price.

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Papaya milk tea and strawberry slush. After various salty snacks this was a much needed thirst quencher. Though other than that it was your run of the mill powdered milk tea mix and frozen fruit blend.

Of note, not covered in this first visit post is the games area where you can win large plushes; and all the vendor stands selling everything from cell phone cases and socks, to colour contacts and samurai weapons. I guess it gives me another reason to return.

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Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
For me, this is one of those things I do every year. And with so much to eat and see, I end up visiting multiple times. The atmosphere is fun with bright lights and photo ops galore. Eat your food under pink led bulbs, imitating a lit up cherry blossom trees. Or purchase some “hurricane potatoes” to be able to sit in their “throne of rotato” for d one of s kind photo. (As a rift on the “Game of Thrones” throne.) Both features are very unique to the night market. My only gripe, besides the parking and the crowds: I find their regular announcements over the PA annoying. A repeating track invites guests to come to the night market. But seeing as you are already here, it seems redundant, as no convincing is actually needed. As always, don’t deny your cravings.

 

RICHMOND NIGHT MARKET
8351 River Road, Richmond BC
richmondnightmarket.com

Belgard Kitchen

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We had a work function and I was tasked with choosing the would be destination for dinner. A task I don’t take lightly, and one I definitely considered a tall order. What I choose would determine the outcome of the evening. A bad restaurant and it is my fault that everyone had a bad time. And as a food blogger I took the search for the perfect place very seriously. I wanted to go with a place I had already been to, and hopefully one that everyone else hadn’t. Located in the still expanding area of Railtown, I deduced “Belgard Kitchen” was my best bet. I consider this a hidden gem, only available for those in the know. The required drive to it and the lack of transit in the area gives it this exclusivity. “Belgard” not only had great small share plates to bond over, but a great setting to linger within.

The restaurant is located within the Settlement building. It still reminded me of a church with its tall white walls, large framed windows, and double heavy doors. You almost expect to look up and see a steeple and cross. Portion of the building is dedicated to their in house brewery and winery. Postmark Brewery and Vancouver Urban Winery lives here. I would like to look into the possibility of them doing guided tours in such a unique space. 

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Within the foyer they had a new feature to your left. A counter run by an employee advertising “Grower’s craft beer”, she was assisting two patrons in their sampling of said beer. We were late for our reservation otherwise I would have stop to inquire about to go cups? Or does the beer get bottled from one of their taps even ordered.

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The room opened up with vaulted ceilings, you feel small in such a space. I was still in awe, even with it being my second time here. With the natural day light illuminating the room I was able to make out a lot more details that I missed hidden in shadow of candles the first time around. The decor, as before, was eye catching in its simplicity. They made industrial, chic. Calligraphy was the font of choice on the chalkboard menu that hug above the silver bar taps, waxed wine barrels arranged on a wire rack functioned as a makeshift room separator; and everything else was matte wood. All the walls, the ceilings, the support beams, the hard floors, and majority of the eating and seating furniture was made from wood. It is amazing what they have done to make this factory new again. To make it restaurant comfortable using raw material and hard pieces. There was a crane hook hanging in the centre of the room, and it still seemed to be in good working condition. I am glad they left that up as a conversation started and as a memory of the building that it was once was. 

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It was cozy and warm when I first visited last fall, but now it was stuffy and humid in late spring. Almost unbearably so. I found myself using my reusable white and blue gingham napkin to pat myself dry on occasion, doing so, instead of its intended purpose. All the windows were opened and all the doors propped, I prayed for a cool breeze, but none came. We later deduced that the group table we were given in this alcove lack ventilated air. So it was just us sweating, and the rest of the building actually remained temperate. If you have never experienced it, it is awful to eat when you are so heated. Eating causes chemical reactions, it occurs when your body breaks down your meal. These reactions create heat as a byproduct. You are now being cooked inside and out with heat. It truly takes away from your dining experience. Only plus side, you eat less, because your appetite decreases in such conditions. You eat until you are full and do feel the need to have more. Sadly, no one thought to ask the waitstaff for any relief.

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But I guess, what better a temperature than this to enjoy refreshing cold beers in? And what better a way to enjoy beers than as flights on a paddle. The best way for un-committal people to sample beer. Try a little, finish what you like, then order more. Obviously the lighter the shade, the easier it goes down. 

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For starters we had all three of their spreads. The “mushroom and bacon pate” was made with pickled mushrooms and smoked bacon, served over assorted cuts bread. The spread’s taste and its creamy texture reminded me of Campbell’s mushroom soup, but as a condiment. Taken chilled, it was nice to be able to cool down with it.

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The “Ruby red beet dip” in contrast was intense. Made with goat cheese and topped with toasted almonds, its taste was as bold as its neon colour. Served alongside fresh veggies and warm flat bread the dip was certainly the star of each bite. It was a whipped smooth spread that complimented all of the above. This too was served chilled, and therefore came to the table fast. 

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“Burrata with egg caponata” served with grilled sourdough, toasted almonds, and a goat cheese coulis. Made with tomatoes, it was like salsa in look, texture, and taste. The burrata was a creamy and the binding between spread and its toast. 

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“Shrimp spaghetti Nero”. Postmark IPA seasoned chorizo, jalapeño pesto, squid ink noodles, and herbed bread crumbs. The squid ink’s black was just for show. Instead the dish’s flavour came from the zesty chorizo, the spicy pesto, and the juicy shrimp. It had a numbing heat that only made the temperature in the room worse. 

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“Yam gnocchi with lamb ragu in brown sage butter”. Tender pieces of lamb intermingling with soften bundles of potato dough. I love gnocchi, but always feel like there is not enough dumplings per plate. I am always left hungry wanting a whole second portion. 

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“Belgard meatballs”. Quality beef served with fresh mozzarella in a San marzano tomato sauce. This was the heartiest plate. When all assembled over toasts, it was like a deconstructed meatball sub. 

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The “scallop and shrimp risotto” was served with spring peas, and their sky harvest pea shoot salad, dressed with Meyer lemon. Given the heat, maybe not the best dish, but it was just so darn good. Creamy and smooth, it was like porridge but with enough texture to have you chewing. 

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“Flank steak with chimichurri”. The steak was season in an Argentinian spice rub, served with pickled beets and a Malbec molasses. Each slice of beef was tender with a pink centre, and rub on each was very tasty, it had been developed with layers of flavour. This spice paired well with the sweet molasses and the herbaceous sauce drizzled over and speared on the side. 

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For dessert we tried one of each of what they had. They all sounded interesting and each came well presented. “Chocolate and espresso budino” made with creme fraiche, flavoured with kosher salt, and topped with sponge toffee. Like a fancy chocolate mousse. The sponge toffee and the milk chocolate had me thinking of “Crunchie” bar. 

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“Baked pistachio yogurt with a pomegranate ginger syrup, chocolate, a pistachio crumb, and preserved lemon”. Its texture was like a cross between cheesecake and mousse, cakey yet creamy. Overall it was a very refreshing dessert with a deep warmth for the stronger ginger note. 

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“Strawberry rhubarb crumble”, amaretto semi freddo, oats, a brown sugar crumble, and salted caramel. It was light and sweet with lemon, and the crumble gave it a nice toasty texture. Each dessert was amazing, each different from the others, and all worth a second serving of.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The fact that the location is out of the way was one of its many charms. Not located in, but it had that Gastown/Yaletown vibe everyone is feeling as of late. A restaurant like no other in an area that not many gets chance to visit. Come for the ambience and stay for the great food and awesome drinks. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BELGARD KITCHEN
55 Dunlevy Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-699-1989
belgardkitchen.com
Click to add a blog post for The Belgard Kitchen on Zomato

Bistro 101, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

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Molson Canadian Cider launch in BC

Tonight I was at the Pacific Culinary Institute, in celebration of the Molson Canadian cider launch. The cider is already available for the market out East, but this was its first time on select selves in Western Canada.

The venue is home to a very special restaurant, “Bistro 101”, where students enrolled are able to hone their skills, with patrons paying to taste the outcome. Think “Hell’s Kitchen”, but without the yelling. Though similar to the television show you have a charismatic head chef/instructor, and are able to enjoy your dinner within full view of all the cooking action. Soundless you are able to watch young chefs in white smocks with Royal blue detail shuffle around their kitchen. Mixing, stirring, and chopping. A unique dinner with an even more rare show.

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Our table for the evening was elaborately detailed. An apple theme to match the Okanagan apples in the cider. Miniature trees with apples glued on; wooden chargers branded with the “Molson Canadian” logo; and everyone had their own apple place holder, personalized with their names in white. It was a light hearted and equally stunning setting. At the back of each chair an apron was tied. We would later be pulling them over our shoulders to cook our own meal.

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As we waited for all the guests to arrive we were given reign of the bar and dining area, and encouraged to mingle. As we took photos and got refills of our cider, lovely canapés were being offered on trays. These and everything else we had tonight were well conceived, to pair elegantly with our feature beverage of the night.

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Interestingly we were told that the cider we were enjoying included not only the apple juice, but the skin and the pulp of the apples as well. All its flavour comes from only apples. Types of food that would match such a cider are pork tenderloin, sausage, cedar plank salmon, and grilled cheese. Essentially anything that would go well with apple.

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A cucumber slice topped with a goat cheese cream and a cherry tomato half.

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Cheese and mushroom stuffed tortellinis dressed in a tomato sauce, and topped with basil. It was easy to take and slurp from the spoon, but finding the proper place to discard the used spoon proved to be more of a challenge.

 

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Pakoras with a creamy dipping sauce. “Pakoras” are fried fritters originating from India.

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Smoked salmon bruschetta with cucumber and dill. The delicate presentation was like a garden in bloom.

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Our first lesson began with spot prawns. We were lucky to be able to have some a day before the start of the actual spot prawn season. Our chef had is ways. Julian Bond was our Chef instructor for the evening. As mentioned he was very charismatic, he used humour to keep the room engaged. We learned that the best way to prepare spot prawns is simply with a good searing in hot broth. In this case, boiled cider. And that you don’t need to de-vein your prawn when they come from clear waters and only feed on natural vegetation. And these prawns were so fresh that a couple of them made attempts to free themselves of their bowl-ed prison.

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The finished product was cider poached BC spot prawn over an micro kale and apple salad, with a citrus caviar. We learned how to make easy vinaigrette. And that the stem of a leaf is its butt, and you should never have the butt stick out when considering presentation.  After we each had our own appetizers were tied on our aprons and in to the kitchen we filed.

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Though we filled up on some bread first.

 

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We were split into two kitchens, where we were further divided into pairs to tackle our own projects.

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My partner and I were on pasta patrol. After a tutorial we rolled the dough and made our noodles from scratch, using a pasta machine. I have always wanted to try this.

 

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The seasoning and sautéing of the halibut cheeks.

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The sautéing of the halibut cheeks.

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The stirring and boiling down of the cider reduction.

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The apple fritter mixing.

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The apple fritter deep frying.

Sadly our lack of cooking ability had our dinner delayed. With only a little of everything being completed by all of us. At the end it was the culinary students who fixed and finished off our plates. We only had ourselves to blame if we didn’t like what we made. Everything was amazing.

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Sautéed halibut cheeks over tagliatelle in a cider reduction, with a side of ancho chilli and sweet pea. The fish was flaky and moist. The chewy noodles were cut thick, they made an excellent platform. The peas added freshness and sweetness; and its shoots gave the plate some flavour symmetry.

 

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Rhubarb and apple fritter injected with cider and vanilla custard, served with a lemon creme. The self injection using an eye dropper made the dish interactive and dynamic. Deep fried it was crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside. With double the cream stuffed into the fritter’s centre and more smeared on the plate, it guaranteed you had some in every doughy bite.

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And to end our meal on a high note, we shared a platter of chocolate truffles, fruit jellies, and dried fruit and nut nougat. This was made by the real chefs.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Understandably, my next visit would not include dawning an apron and making my own dinner, though I think the experience would be just as memorable. And if the recipes prepared to compliment cider, made by tipsy amateurs was this good, I can only imagine how delicious their regular menu is. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BISTRO 101
Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
1505 W 2nd Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6J1H2
604-734-0101
picachef.com/bistro-101-restaurant
Bistro 101 on Urbanspoon

Diva at the Met

There is no “I” in team, but there are five in individual brilliance.

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A work meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel resulted with dinner in their board room. Servers were called and we had everything we needed carted up to us, even a punch bowl full of alcoholic beverages. The menu’s offerings were the same as what is available in the lobby restaurant, “Diva at the Met”. The setting is what was unique to us, a chance to enjoy good food in a private setting, just for us. A great way to make any work meeting more enjoyable.

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As if we were dining in the restaurant, we were offered several baskets of olive and whole grain bread to start. Bread and butter served at room temperature.

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“Angus beef carpaccio”, hand cut AAA beef tenderloin, braised cipollini, capers, shaved grana padano cheese, baby arugula and a truffle vinaigrette. The delicately arranged and thinly sliced cuts of meat were wonderfully done. It was a good starter, but not filling as just one appetizer. Truthfully I prefer my angus beef cooked over a grill.

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“Pear, fig, and goat cheese salad” with arugula, artisan lettuce, candied pecan nuts, and a sherry Dijon vinaigrette. A fresh salad sweetened by the complimentary flavours of fig and pear, heightened by a salty goat cheese, and some crunchy pecans.

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“Mozzarella Balloon”. Mozzarella foam, heirloom tomato, artichoke confit, basil essence, and 25 year old aged balsamic. “Balloon was right”, the mozzarella was swollen, but instead of being filled with air it was dense with solid mozzarella all the way through. The texture was unfortunately rubbery like a balloon as well. Given the accompanying ingredients and the imagery created when using the word “balloon”, you expected something lighter, at least something more enjoyable to eat. My colleague found it not only bland, but this was a dish she couldn’t bother finishing. Luckily there was bread left over and it could be use as a decent base for the ball of cheese. I couldn’t imagine eating it all as is. The cheese was watery with a taste and texture similar to chunky milk, and the vinaigrette used offered no more help.

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“Crispy duck breast”, confit fennel, garlic purée, cassoulet duck jus, and toasted pine nuts. The duck arrived unsauced, the promised jus was poured before our eyes from a porcelain gravy boat. The plate looked stunning, and the duck tasted amazing. The duck was baked with a buttery flavour, its fatty skin gave it a tender moist quality. Though steak knives would have been helpful with having to sawing through the thicker slices of meat. As for the sides, the amount of lentils present were over bearing, they offered a sandy texture that I am not particularly fond of. I would have instead preferred more root vegetables. They complimented the duck breast more in taste and texture and offered a nice colour to the plate.

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“Local free-range chicken breast” wrapped in prosciutto di Parma, and stuffed with ricotta, chorizo and spinach. Served with sautéed wild mushroom pan jus and horseradish foam, with a side of Yukon gold mashed potatoes. As with the dish before, the gravy too was poured at the table. The chicken was reported to be delicious. Its tender texture and lighter flavour were well balanced with the saltier prosciutto.

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Their “Tiramisu with a star anise anglaise” was voted the best updated classic recipe at the 2013 Italian chocolate championships. It was good, but seeing as I am not a fan of tiramisu I cannot be a better judge of the dessert. But visually it hit all the markers.

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“Dark chocolate praline bar with a caramelized milk semi freddo and a hazelnut crumble”. The presentation was stunning and the dessert had everything. A sweetness from the caramel, balanced by the bitter use of dark chocolate. And a softness from the praline that paralleled the crunch of the hazelnut. A very well composed dessert.

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“Raspberry lemon tart, merguine, biscuit tuile, raspberry sorbet, mint gel.” This was a work of art first, a delicious dessert second. All the different components made it enjoyable to eat. You mix and match pieces and parts to find your ideal bite. It was refreshing with the lemon and reminded me of lemon merguine pie. A tartness that was balanced by the topping of sugar crystals on top.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The meal was a pricy one. As good as it is, for the price asked and the amount given, this is not a restaurant for everyday dining. Given the elaborate nature of the restaurant I deem this one to come to and impress your date at. Don’t deny your cravings.

DIVA AT THE MET
645 Howe Street, Vancouver BC, V6C2Y9
604-602-7788
metropolitan.com/diva
Diva at the Met on Urbanspoon

Eat! Chicken Wraps

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I have passed by this stationary food cart on several occasions, but nothing really stood out to have me lining up for a wrap. I guess compared to all the other adorned and flashy trucks with their fusion menus and catchy names this one just didn’t stand out. Though not that it’s any worse, in fact after one taste I went back for more throughout the week. To nitpick, the logo is a little off putting. A live chicken red cap, yellow beak and all; looking scared as it’s folded in to a tortilla with cooked strips of chicken, lettuce, and tomatoes. In hind sight, this maybe one of the reasons I haven’t made this a must go until now.

It has been doing well as a fixture on the corner of Howe and Robson. A busy intersection at Robson Square. Standing alone, it competes against other food trucks and its immediate wrap competitor: “Chipotle”. For those who can’t wait or don’t want to wait in the “Chipotle” line that goes out the door, “Eat!” is a solid second choice and only a few feet away. Most impressively they also accept debit and credit, often a rarity on the food cart scene.

The cart is tethered and pulled to its permanent location everyday. I have yet to figure out their schedule. Though working for yourself that should be a perk: dictating when you start, how early you close up, or if you even come at all. Though for regulars this may be irritating. I work near by and have been trying to write a review on them over the last week of the holiday season. I have been encountering difficulties with timing my meal breaks to their hours of operation and arriving only to be greeted by an absent cart. 

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My first visit late at night had me waiting in a three person queue only to be delivered the sad news that they are out of chicken. No chicken on a chicken food truck is a little ironic. Substitutions were offered, but the thought of tofu instead of chicken just didn’t stack up. “Beef” was the other option, I was considering it, only to learn it would just be chopped up pieces of hot dog meat. I wasn’t willing to have my first taste be with any of those substitutions, so made a point to try again next. Even though it was sad to see them sell out of their main ingredient, it was nice to have them open later to catch the evening shopping crowd. Seeing as these customers were spending so much on gifts for other, it was helpful to offer them a way to save on themselves. A filling meal at under $10.

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The cart is painted in yellow and red and adorned in lights for the season. The lights also allow them to stay visible during the evenings where the sun now sets sooner. As I described earlier the chicken logo was a brazen sight. It spread across the back of the cart, repeating again on the side. The screaming fowl encouraging customers to essentially “Eat!” their chicken wraps with the promise of each being made with only fresh chicken. The below is a compilation of several menu items over several visits. On each occasion something varied. For example, during the latest stop a thermos offered free tea to beat the brisk chill in the air. And complimentary peanuts in shell were offered as a grab and go side, or as a snack to tide you over as you waited for your order. 

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A couple operates out the front window. A young woman mans the front taking orders and dispensing her brand of pleasant customer service. And the man prepares the food with speed and accuracy, in silence. The menu is a chalkboard list on the right. Five variations on the simple premise of chicken meat wrapped in dough, often accompanied by lettuce. Each bundle is made unique with very different and distinct flavour profiles. The Mexican flavours of “el pastor” and “Caesar” in a wrap, the Chinese influence in the “hoisin chicken roll”, and the popular North American flavour of buffalo chicken rolled into a handheld. There is even a wrap-less chicken wrap, presented on ice berg lettuce with your choice of how the chicken is prepared. Great for those who are diet conscious or gluten free. There are also options to turn your single wrap in to two smaller tacos for the same price. They made for easier sharing.

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A stand up blackboard on the ground promotes their special: not a wrap, not a taco, but a rice bowl. Essentially similar ingredients in their other wraps hodge podged together with crispy deep fried onions and a fried sunny side egg. As a lover of a good runny yolk lubricating moist rice, this was a must try for me, and I was not disappointed. A fellow customer declared it was good choice as I paid and he acknowledge the cart owner and operator by name. “Rice Box:” grilled chicken, fried egg, crispy onion, lettuce, and pickled radish, in a hoisin and creamy garlic sauce. Topped with sesame seeds and cilantro. When offered to me, I was excited with all that I saw going on. An explosion of colour, smells, and visible texture. The standard sweet and salty Chinese flavours were pronounced with the use of hoisin sauce. And with the option to use chilli sauce you added a sweet heated spice that is also distinctively Chinese. The crispy fried onion slices and the raw shredded slaw gave the box some crunch. The creamy sauce and runny yolk over rice gave you that enjoyable chewiness, like what you are having has some substance to it. Surprisingly the crispy and moist chicken was not the main ingredient in this assembly. Instead it played an equal part with its co-ingredients to bring this cornucopia to life. Also, I could have sworn I tasted some pork in the mix; the fattiness, the saltiness and the crackle of a piece of pork skin. Eat it fast, the travel time in the cold had me enjoying it at room temperature. Though I am sure it would have been even better heated.

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“Hoisin Chicken Roll”. Crispy Chinese pancake, five spice seasoned grilled chicken, Asian style salad, pickled radish, green onion, and hoisin sauce. The pancake is reason enough to try this. Flavourful on its own and so much more when filled. The firmness of the pancake doesn’t allow for flexibility, so the use of “roll” in the title instead of “wrap” makes sense. Because of this it was a struggle to eat and hard to keep all contents within the pancake bundle. I ended up enjoying it over a garbage can as to not make a mess. The roll was offered in a wax bag, wrapped with napkin, and handed to me with a sealed wet nap. There was a commitment made to eat this. A commit to be constantly yielding this in one hand, because soon as you allow it to rest the whole package would loosen and fall apart. This was a bounty of flavours and textures. Sweet from the hoisin sauce and crispy from pancake; you got a freshness from the greens and the pickled cucumber lightened the whole lot with a pleasing sour tang. The chicken was juicy and as a whole the wrap was as good as I had hoped it to be when I read the title.

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“Chicken Cesar wrap”. Crispy chicken cutlets, romaine hearts, tomatoes, onions, Caesar dressing, fresh lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and honey mustard. This was a classic flavour prepared to travel. The breaded chicken breast is folded into a soft flour tortilla, with crispy lettuce, juicy tomato, and a creamy dressing. Heavily coated there was no skimping on the sauce.

As I mentioned earlier these wraps are not meant to be taken on the road. There was full on concentration needed for strategic bites. Luckily there were public benches along the sidewalk and a park adjacent to sit and enjoy your meal in.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A quick meal at a good price, in a pinch. A cart run by local entrepreneurs who provide great customer service and who remember their regulars. Not to mention the ease of accepting debit and credit as payment. These wraps are as hearty as the wraps at “Chipotle”, but without the wait and any of the decision making; instead on their carefully pre-crafted menu items. Each comes with its own unique flavours and interesting use of ingredients. And as food on the go there isn’t often a long wait, the perfect snack and work break meal. Don’t deny your cravings.

EAT! CHICKEN WRAPS food cart
800 Howe Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z1A1
604-727-0573
eat-chickenwraps.com
Eat Chicken Wraps on Urbanspoon

Belgard Kitchen

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I often search for new restaurants online in hopes of discovering something worth sharing. It is a gamble worth taking if it means possibly finding that which is different, that which is off the beaten path. And today the restaurant literally couldn’t be more off that path. The website didn’t say much, but its simplistic cover page was enough to lure me in. Clicking the menu I grew more excited. After a week in Mexico I was craving certain cuisines: Italian was one. Italian paired with good wine and craft beer, all three of which I failed to find at my all exclusive resort. And two of those cravings brought me here to the “Settlement Building” on the outer skirts of Gastown. It was a far drive out, one with rocky roads and dark corners. We lucked out on a free spot right out front, though there were plenty of curb side parking to be found within the area.

On the outside, the Settlement building it looked somewhat like a church. White walls, large framed windows running down the length of the structure, and a large wooden doors you enter through. Tonight it was too dark and top rainy to make out what was past the barred windows, if weren’t for the well lit sign we wouldn’t know we had arrived. The Belgard Kitchen, Postmark Brewery, Vancouver Urban Winery. Three places in one: restaurant, brewery, and winery.

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Past the first tall and heavy set of wooden doors was another; the second, more embellished, accented in metal, with brass handles. Entering through one entrance after the other gave you the feeling of grandeur. The weight and solidness of each meant silence and reprieve from the outside world. The foyer between the two was inviting with a crisp and clean cedar smell, woodsy and raw. It matched well the rest of the restaurant to come.

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You can’t help but look up as your eyes are drawn towards a vaulted ceiling planked with wood, a fast spinning multi bladed fan circulated, and a circle of lighted bulbs created ambience. In all its industrial simplicity, a combined regality was created. You knew you were somewhere special. My guest and I couldn’t help but rotate our heads and declare how impressed we were at everything. This only got us more enamoured for our meal to come. And the food did not disappoint, we found it to be of the same caliber as the decor.

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The atmosphere was kept romantic. Along with the hostess at her booth, a row of candles in mason jars, enclosed behind wired cages greeted us at the door. We were led to the enclosed dining area. Despite it being a Monday the room was full and each table was seated. High chairs by the bar, a cluster of tables and chairs in an alcove for grouped privacy, and tables paired with dimpled booths set in a matted leather varnish.

We took a remaining seat by the fireplace, opting for the lounge over the bar. The robust soft brown leather couch acted as a booth, partnered with little stools and a side table it made for a more casual dining experience. Both were nice to sit and chat on, but not necessarily the most comfortable to dine from. With a smaller table situated at waist height when seated, I found myself often hunching over my food or supporting my plate inches under my chin. Not surprising, this was their designated lounge area after all. Luckily the food was tapas and the plate were small, it made eating easier.

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On one side, standing tall and proud was a rack of wine barrels. Row after row they were stacked close to the ceiling. An impressive sight to look up to, as they spoke well to the business. On the other side a white washed fireplace made the large room cozy, it centred the space with its hearth. The mantel was dressed with lit candle sticks, candle holders, tea lights, and candelabras. The light and warmth of 15 flames was enough to leave the fireplace off.

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Despite the room’s simple elements and their combined rustic charm, the restaurant was able to convey a certain formality. This was not a sports bar or an after dinner lounge. This was the type of place to impress a date at, the kind of place to dressed up and bring your girls to, a place to celebrate an occasion within. All of which were represented here tonight. And yet, most surprisingly the room was still kept at a gentle hum. Conversations spoken and not shouted. Something I prefer when I dine with a guest I hope to speak with. The music overhead was a blend of pop and indie, uplifting enough to keep the energy going and muted enough to tune out if needed.

To represent their three venture under one roof were three different menus: wine, beer, and food. Each a sheet clipped length wise to a wooden board. After checking that it was our first time here the hostess took a seat with us and walked us through the menu. It was a nice welcoming touch, one that you don’t see too often. She didn’t just hand us off, but instead really steered our journey in the right positive direction. On other occasions with other hostesses, they usually just sit you and leave. Here she went over selections, advocated their beer special of the day, suggested flights for tasting, and recommended her favourite dish to start. We took all of her suggestions.

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Beer tasting flight of four, four of our choosing. Their house made pilsner. Their seasonal butternut brown fall ale. Their new American pale ale, a centennial pilsner amber in colour with a more hoppier finish. And their IPA. It was hard to remember it all without a written note or a descriptive card, I relied on my memory as our server spoke.

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An amazing recommendation from the hostess. We soon saw why this was her favourite dish. “Burrata + Eggplant Caponata” served with grilled sourdough crostinis and goat cheese coulis. A very contemporary Mediterranean dish. Each toasted piece of bread was lightly spread with cream cheese. I was surprised how this combination went so well with eggplant. The crunch of the bread partnered well with the mushy vegetable mix, and the goat cheese added the perfect sour tang. Half the enjoyment was bringing the three elements together in one bite.

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Though as is common with such appetizers we soon ran out of bread well before the toppings. We asked for an additional portion and were given a miniature cast iron pot filled with grilled triangles.

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“Yam Gnocchi with brown sage butter”. We requested it without the lamb sausage ragu to accommodate my vegetarian guest. The yam purée used in this variation made for an ideal texture. It paired well with the softness indicative of a well made gnocchi. The sweetness of the yam found a common ally in the sweet pea. The roundness of both made it enjoyable to eat.

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“Foraged Mushroom Risotto” made with seasonal mushrooms, micro greens, and grana padano. This one took a little longer to arrive, we assumed it was because it was made to order. When compared to the above the risotto was a lot more dense and a lot more richer. Its strong flavours were hard to take in, in one sitting, packing leftovers was a necessity. The sharp cheese was offset by the earthy mushroom, and both fought for flavour supremacy. The freshness of the sparse greens did little to lighten the plate, though it did help to add colour and interest visually.

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During the use of the washrooms we were delighted to discover portraits of celebrities painted as army generals, hanging in each stall. This was something I have seen online. Robert Downy Jr., Tom Selleck, and Leonardo Dicaprio watched you pee. I wonder which ones were in the men’s washroom.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
We were just as impressed with the food as we were the decor. Proof that setting and service can win a dinner over even before ordering. And this place has more than your usual dining hot spot: restaurant, brewery, and winery. Dining on a cozy couch by a fireplace bathed in candlelight, taking a beer tour for a closer view of their mountain-sized brewing vats, and tasting wine stored in wooden barrels and sold in bottles. The cuisine was crisp, fresh, and light. Profiles and flavours carefully curated to well reflect their in house brewed beers and wines. A unique dining experience, and one worth sharing. Don’t deny your cravings.

The Settlement Building
55 dunlevy avenue, Vancouver BC, V6A3A3
604-699-1989
belgardkitchen.com
Belgard Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Afterglow Lounge

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The name suited the place and our purpose. We were here for drinks after an event. Walking in it felt like we were coming in from the back, empty and dark with no one to greet us. We moved towards the light, a corridor betwixt us and a busy dining room. Doing so to hail a server and to acknowledge that we will be staying.

One side, our side was “Afterglow”, on the other “Glowbal”. One location, one menu, two names, two restaurants. Cleverly designed with one entrance on Hamilton Street and the other on Mainland. You almost get double the customers from this unique set up. Two restaurants for the location of one.

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We were clearly on the lounge end of things, the lights were dimmed, the curtains were drawn, and candles were lit to create a more romantic ambience. The room was walled with cushions it made for a comfortable seating arrangement. The sort of seating that allowed for closeness and an extended stay. Sitting side by side was necessary as the music was on the louder side and shouting to be heard was inevitable. The music was a blend of jazz and techno, upbeat melodies that set the stage for a more grown up evening. This wasn’t your top 40 in a club sort of music. Despite our distance from the other tables and no staff members currently assigned to work the area were in, we were still well taken cafe of. A rotation of staff stopped by to ensure that we were enjoying our meal and had everything we wanted. And their help was always ready at hand.

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Espresso with a biscotti bite.

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They specialize in “satay”, a term derived from Southeast Asia that refers to seasoned, skewered and grilled meat, traditionally served with a peanut sauce. Here they used the word to encompass anything on a stick. The choices not only included meat, but seafood, vegetables and pasta shaped into balls as well. Not everything was grilled, some items were baked, others fried. And the sauces varied depending on the ingredients on the stick. The albacore tuna came with a cilantro ponzu sauce, the lamb sausage with mustard, the meatball with marinara, the chicken with lemon grass, and the short rib with a truffled aioli. All very westernized to better suit the demographic. Each dish crafted with the consideration of pairing food with cocktails and beers.

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We tried the “Mushroom tempura” for my vegetarian guest. Served with coleslaw and a ginger white soy sauce. This was the only option offering a spicy peanut sauce. Visually the plate wasn’t very appealing. Large irregular shaped rounds with a thick batter coating. The mushrooms were of the button variety, not common in Asian cuisine, which proves my statement of it being westernized. It was good, but really needed the sauce and the coleslaw in each bite to add more flavour. There was also not enough peanut sauce for my liking.

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“Beet… Salad” prepared with crushed pistachios, arugula, and goat cheese in a sherry vinaigrette. It was more beets than anything else. I wanted more of the nuts, more of the greens, and much more cheese to accent the root vegetable. The nuts gave an earthy crunch, the cheese a salty smoothness, and the greens a pop of freshness, all wrapped up in the tang of the vinaigrette. As a result when the toppings ran out we stopped eating, leaving little less than half the serving of beets untouched.

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“Creme brûlée trio”. We were enticed my the thought of triple the number of creme brûlées. If one was good three should be amazing. Hazelnut, white chocolate, and vanilla. The one topped with a single blueberry was the vanilla and the white chocolate one had the raspberry. Each of the creme brûlées tasted pre-made, not fresh. Overly sweeten the texture was off as well. It wasn’t soft and loose like traditional creme brûlée. Instead it was dense like custard, whereas we were expecting to bite into a fluffy-like mousse. On top of the above each flavour was too strong, it overwhelmed the intended lightness of the dessert. The white chocolate was the worst of the lot, whereas the vanilla the most pleasing in its mildness. When asked I told our server what we really thought of the creme brûlée. I am often truth first without thinking. After mid explanation I tried to withdraw my statement, changing my answer to “never mind, it was fine”. None-the-less our server took it upon himself to surprise and delight. He presented the bill without the dessert being charged to us. He declared that he knew he didn’t have to, but wanted to. What a way to guarantee happy guests. I was impressed.

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I was enamoured by the washroom floors, they were done in a leopard print pattern using multiple little squared tiles. Just thinking of the work and planning put into this was impressive. It sure was eye catching. You don’t need decorations when the floor looks like this.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I appreciated the solitude that the slow night gave us. The settling was comfortable and the music was pleasing, it is one I wouldn’t mind enjoying again. The staff were accommodating and seem to genuinely care. I felt welcomed and want to return from the check ins to the gesture with our unsatisfactory dessert. My opinion of the restaurant being only okay changed to amazing just because of the service. My next visit will be to the “Glowbal” side, to sample the full extent of their diverse menu. Flat breads, pastas, meats, and fish; including share style platters that allow you to try a little bit of everything. Don’t deny your cravings.

AFTERGLOW
1082 Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC
604-602-0835
glowbalgroup.com/glowbalgrill
Afterglow Lounge on Urbanspoon

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