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Category: Latin American

Salsa By Marcela at Cacao

Today I was invited down to “Cacao”, a Latin American restaurant in Kits. We were here to get a first hand look at their new salsa line through an interactive cooking demonstration. I have never been to the restaurant, so thought this would also serve as a great introduction to it.

Here, we would meet Marcela one of the house chefs, who serves her traditional Mexican cuisine every Thursday night. Her credentials include her own cooking show, radio show, and books in Mexico. In Vancouver she is a mother of 4, launching her own salsa line with her daughters. It was her recipes and they took care of the packaging and marketing. Marcela found a need for her product given the abundance of tex mex in Vancouver. She simply wanted to offer real, traditional, Mexican salsa. And today, I would learn to tell the difference between it and Americanized Mexican cuisine.

Marcela was a sunny person, happy and welcoming in her deep purple and fuchsia chef’s coat, with colourful embroidery. She was patience in explaining to us what we were having, spelling out their proper Mexican names for this blog. She took the time to teach us about a few of her traditional Mexican kitchen utensils, including the carved wooden chocolate milk muddler pictured above. We also learned about chilli, how to buy them and how their name varies based on it being green on the plant, or dried and red.

Our night began with some “Tepache”, a traditional Mexican drink made from fermenting pineapple skin in water and sugar. It is comparable to kombucha in taste. Great for hot weather and best mixed with sparkling, like how we enjoyed it was today.

To snack on we had “totopo”, the Mexican word for chips. These are made by deep frying tortillas. They don’t make there own tortilla here, but do cut up, fry up, and season what they get from local “Chancho Tortilla”. Marcela declared theirs the best and most authentic tortilla that a Vancouverite can get. And true enough, these tortilla chips were amazing. This snack had the whole room going back for chip after chip. Their thick crunch and salty coating, the perfect vessel to scoop up fresh made guacamole salsa. Salsa prepared using one of Marcela’s bottled ones below. Together this was so good that I inquired about purchasing a bag of “totopo” to take home. However, they don’t offer them by the bag, making them a good reason to return.

Next we had some “Gorditas”, doughy circles that were cut down the middle and stuffed with a creamy avocado spread. The table loved these too. I liked the texture that sprung back after you took a bite, but I found it was lacking in flavour, especially compared to the “totopos” above. It reminded me of a mild corn, but made into dough and baked.

When the demo began we were invited around Marcela’s makeshift cooking station. She had her three bottles of salsa on display and all the fresh and dried ingredients she would need to prepare a full meal with them. She began by explaining to us that salsa isn’t just for dipping. And that when you purchase one of her salsas you get a snack and a meal helper all in one. Each is all natural and keeps for two months in the fridge, once opened.

She would show us 4 quick and easy recipes that you could prepare at home, yourself. But first prefaced the demonstration, explaining that in her cooking and for her recipes nothing is exact, it depends on the day, time, and mood.

First was an oven baked fish. BC red snapper prepared with lemon, salt, and her “Papa Carlos’ salsa”. Each of her three salsas are named after the family member who taught her the recipe. This was her grandfather’s recipe that her family used as an emergency mealtime solution. This pickled salsa is great with any seafood. You top your first with it generously, wrapping it all up in tinfoil, then allowing it time to bake in the oven. The result, a juicy fish made spicy with the vegetable mix. I could have used more salsa to enjoy with each bite of fish. But be warned, it is on the spicier side.

Next was a Mexican fried rice prepared with her green “Tio Emilio” salsa. She added oil to a hot pan and to it fried onions and poblano chilli. Next went in garlic, corn kernels and her uncle’s sauce, jalapeño, garlic, water, salt, oil, and fresh cilantro. When simmering you add in half a cup of salsa and half a cup of water, with one cup of rice. Stir, add salt, and reduce heat. I really enjoyed the rice and thought it was a clever way to use salsa that I could myself copying in the future.

All “Salsas by Marcela” can be utilized hot or cold. The green sauce was also great as a salad dressing. It was tasty with mixed greens, sunflower seeds, and tomato.

Next Marcela showed us how to make her favourite enchiladas using the red “Mama Luchita” salsa. You start with oil in your pan and to it add in her mother’s smokey sauce. With a bit of water, allow it to boil, before submerging a tortilla. Once fully coated, plate said tortilla, fill with feta, fold over, and top with more sauce from the pan. Once again these tortillas came from “Chancho Tortilla”. When trying it, you definitely got the two types of chilli smoked and cooked in oil that went into the bottled salsa.

Our meal ended with a dessert that embodied “Cacao“ and the Latin American food prepared traditionally, with original flavours, in an European style that they specialize in. These are “Borrachitos”, Mexican sweets known as “men drunk”. Sweet jelly candies made with corn starch, sprinkled with sugar and filled with alcohol; hence the name. They are normally either red, yellow, or green. But tonight’s rendition was dyed purple by the violet flowers they used. You don’t taste the flower, more the punchy tequila that hides with. I really liked them and wished we had more. One to try, and the second to really enjoy and taste.

If you want to try Marcela’s authentic Mexican cuisine for yourself, and not just bring a bit of her into your kitchen, visit “Cacao” on Thursday evenings to enjoy a five course meal that includes dessert. Marcela herself, made sure to note that you will get to try many different types of Mexican food, that it isn’t just tacos. And every two weeks they change up the entire menu, but mole (a chocolate based sauce) is always included.

“Salsa by Marcela” is currently only available at local health food store, “Fresh is Best”. Grab and jar and get more recipe inspiration from their Instagram @SalsaByMarcela.

Given my teaser of “Cacao”, I would love to come back and try more of their menu. I don’t recall the last time I had traditional Latin American cuisine. Don’t deny your cravings.

El Pulgarcito

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My partner is always on the search for new small, family run Mexican places for us to try. First he loves Mexican food, and second he finds these the most authentic and worthy of his money and support. We drove past this one in the morning and kept our word to come back at night.

A smaller restaurant themed in yellow and blue: yellow walls, blue columns and blue counters. Hanging on these walls were paintings of birds on canvas, 3D sculptured front of homes, and a gilded piece depicting a court yard in Chrome.

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Towards the back of the room was their register and a shelf of imported products. The wrap around cubicle-like walls were decorated with sombreros, woven baskets, and a colourful garlands of ornaments. It was as authentic as the hip shaking beat playing over head. The shelves beside them were stocked with groceries included cans and bottles of preserved vegetables, sauces, and spices for you to take home and flavour your food with.

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There weren’t many tables, and they all got sat fairly quickly after us. Surprisingly lots of patrons stopped by for dinner. We weren’t sure if they were just passing by and stopped in by chance, or if they were happy and returning customers. But the traffic was encouraging and we were happy for their success. Each wooden table was clothed in picnic style red and white gingham. And set with a caddy of napkins, hot sauce and salt.

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The menu without photos was hard to decipher. Luckily they had a banner on the wall illustrating their offerings. Photos of dishes with names and numbers, corresponding to the menu. I went back and forth between the two, undecided. The menu offered more description and the photos showed how they would be presented. It seemed like each dish came with tortilla, but how each differed was the way it was presented. Wrapped around the ingredients or stacked on the side of them.

I heard the microwave beep, but given the size of their operation and the traffic they get in, it is probably a necessary for them to use such an appliance. The father gave us our menus and the daughter took our order. A good call as he was not the most welcoming or the most friendliest front of house face. Although he did thank us for our business after we paid. The daughter on the other hand answered our questions and took our requests, before receding to the back to help prepare the plates in the kitchen. I assume her mother was the one running said kitchen and these were her Salvadorian and Mexican recipes. There was a hefty wait and confusion when it was time to serve a few entrees. Plates were brought to the wrong table, then removed and given second hand to their rightful orderer. We were the first to be seated, coming in before the four other parties that walked in after us, but were the second to be served. But seeing as it was a small family run operation, I was a lot more understanding.

This was one of the most extensive Mexican menus I have ever seen. 33 different options with variations in beef, chicken, pork, or vegetable. Some even had the option of baby shrimp or egg for protein. They had an all day breakfast selection with plenty of eggs and avocado options. And did sides like chips and nachos with yucca fries and even taquitos. For lunch there were several soups with vegetable or meat, and even entrees with cow’s feet, tripe, and gut. The rest were the familiar American-Mexican staples of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and wraps. And even the above, all deconstructed on dinner plates with El Salvadorian influences.

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They had horchata in two different varieties. Our server explained that the Salvadorian version was made with seeds, and the Mexican one was with rice. After confirming that both were sweet, I went with the former as I have never had Salvadorian horchata before. It looked grainy and the texture matched, like powered chocolate milk mix. Chalky and less sweet than the Mexican version. But you still got the cinnamon and sugar cereal milk flavour that you wanted.

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My partner got his usual “Enchilada” in beef. Three stuffed corn tortillas with sauce, melted cheese, and then topped with sour cream. This was the large size, the regular came with one less wrapped tortilla. It was also not a lot of food for what was considered a large plate. One more wrap than the regular for $2.25 more. They were severed with a side of lettuce salad, rice, and beans; with your choice of red, mole, green, or spicy sauce. My partner just asked for it to not be spicy, and it came bland in their red sauce. The entree was homey and filling, a good cheesy mix. But pretty standard in terms of expectation.

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I wanted more rice and meat so got the “Fajitas” in chicken with beans, rice, salad, and three tortillas. It was a build your own fajita affair with the tortillas separate, in a container kept warm by a cloth cozy. The chicken was cooked in a tomato sauce with cheese, onion, and peppers. It was hard and slightly over cooked, but served luke warm. The flavour was similar to Mexican, but different. I cannot place it, but it was almost sweeter?

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My regret is not taking advantage of more of their Salvadorian dishes, as I am unfamiliar with the cuisine. Like the “pupusas” which were declared their house specialities. “Pupusa” is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of cheese, seasoned pork meat ground to a paste, refried beans; and queso, Central American cheese. They are reason enough to return and try something new. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

EL PULGARCITO
2522 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5K 1Z2
604-568-8591
El Pulgarcito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Camino’s

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Our first choice was a bust, so we were looking for anything else in the neighbourhood. We eventually found ourselves at the most lively spot on the block. Ironic, as I originally wanted to come here for happy hour at 3pm only to discover they didn’t open until 5pm. Either way this turn of events had me back now for dinner at 7 pm. There was no line and no wait, it seemed good enough.

The place was busy on a weekday, and I was lucky enough to grab the last table for two. I beat the crowd that was now forced to fill the bar or wait for seats by the front. I did as I read, and waited at the door to be seated. It was the bartender who eventually greeted me, seeing as all the servers were otherwise engaged. She ended up passing me two large paper menus and suggesting that I grab a seat anywhere.

The restaurant served Latin cuisine, the lingering scent of spice helped to convey this. The room was a capsule of darkness and noise. It was kept dim for that lounge-like feel, and made loud with boisterous music, to regulate the pace. I can only recall one specific song, it played without words to the background of a whip cracking. The chorus simply had it hitting five times in a row. Not that anyone but me noticed, chatting patrons of all ages and all walks of life were enjoying their company and their drinks.

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Walking in you can’t miss the spray painted sentence across the concrete stone block wall. The words were in Spanish, I made a note to google it. “Nada como una revolucion para curar la sed y el…” From my iffy translation app, I believe it reads, “nothing like revolution to cure thirst”. Given the vibe, I concur with its appropriateness. Each of the other walls were as unique. The wooden one towards the back was made up of small square blocks of wood. They protruded at various lengths, creating contrast with the aid of shadow and candle. I thought, how very industrial, how very Vancouver of them. And on the wall that squared off the booths hung large canvases in bold orange colours. They depicted characters and cars in black and white, with Spanish words written across each. They looked like artful movie posters.

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Concrete floors, wood features, leather seats, the restaurant was as busy as its decor. And every bit of space was utilized in this tight setting. A wooden roof above the booths dually functioned as a storage space. It held boxes of light bulbs and extra drinking glasses. And the tables were set mere inches apart to maximize the much needed seating capacity.

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We sat facing the well lit and well stocked bar. All the bottles were arranged by height and by brand. I recognized a bottle of authentic Mexican tequila from my last trip to Mexico. Someone definitely took the time to organize this. The chalk boards adjacent spoke of specials, but looking and pointing to what you wanted worked too. In the corner of the bar was a retro fridge, with rounded corners, off-white paint, and metal handles. I kept watching to see what they kept inside it, it never opened; instead a pull of the door handle had beer flowing into steins.

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Before I even sat down a server dropped off a wooden bowl of heavily buttered and evenly salted popcorn. The intense seasoning made up for the lack of freshness in the kernels. I don’t like room temperature popcorn, so it stayed right beside their in house branded hot sauce that centred the table.

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The menu was a thick sheet of crinkled paper, it sounded each time you held it. I drove so couldn’t take advantage of their weekly drink features. Today was “tequila Thursdays” where a shot of tequila and pints of red truck lager went for $8. Just as well, not much of a special price I thought. Looking at the non alcoholic drinks, they definitely seem to promote their Latin authenticity. They went so far as to offer Mexican pop and drinks in their original bottle, they even imported in “Mexican fanta”.

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Given the cuisine, I had a “Margarita from Mexico” made with El Jimandor Blanco, Cointreau, and hand pressed lime juice. Shaken on the rocks. My guest had a “Mojito from Cuba” made with Havana Club 3year, fresh mint, muddled limes and cane sugar. Hers was over crushed ice with a dash soda. The drinks were light and refreshing against our spicy dishes to come. And the best part, they were doubles without us having to ask.

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“Carne Asada Tacos” made with soft white corn tortilla. Two taco with grilled flat iron steak, Monty Jack cheese, horseradish and guasacaca. Despite its simple appearance the steak stood out. It was really well done, the perfect medium rare, in three hearty pieces. Each was prepared with lots of flavour and just enough spice. But for more heat for your meat, hot sauces were available at each table. Having the steak as the best part the taco, the guacamole actually took away from it. I rather each element on its own, and the fresh and creamy guacamole as a side with chips.

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“Arepas” are a South American street snack. They are white corn pockets, stuffed and grilled until crispy. Like with the taco, there were a variety of flavours available. We choose the “Queso”, as it is the classic flavour made with feta cheese. The pocket is like a cross between an English muffin and a taco, in both its salty taste and gritty, yet bubbly texture. The mix of cheeses and the accompanying ingredients gave things an interesting flavour to match this interesting texture. There was a freshness from the salsa paired with a herby boldness from the cilantro. The cheese was the star of the dish, a salty spread that was thick and creamy like cream cheese, but without any of the flavour.

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“Bocadillos”, Mexican style sandwiches. Out of all the varieties listed we found the prospect of fried chicken between toasted bread most appealing. “Fried pollo”, fried chicken tossed with their smoky “anillo de fuego” hot sauce, chimichurri aioli, lettuce, pickled red onions, and pico de gallo. The bread was toasted as crispy as the chicken, and there was an even chicken to bread ratio. Juicy white meat coated in a thick breading, partnered with crisp lettuce and luscious pico de gallo. They weren’t lying about the hot sauce, it was very spicy. Luckily the chewy bread, the briny pickles, and the creamy coleslaw were helpful in dulling the heat.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
On the right night, with the right amount of alcohol the scene would be fun. Casual and easy going, perfect for a rowdy night of drinking lots and talking loudly. However given our desire to converse and the difficultly in leaning across the table to do so, we weren’t a fan of the ambience. And then there was the food. For the price we were paying we expected larger portions. We left hungry, not wanting to order more here, but willing to go else where to fill our bellies. I hate to say I almost prefer fast food tex-mex. Though I can say that price aside, what we had was flavourful and you could definitely taste the quality in the ingredients used. Don’t deny your cravings.

EL CAMINO’S
3250 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3M6
604-875-6246
elcaminos.ca
El Camino's on Urbanspoon

Guanaco FoodTruck

IMG_3305Pupusas & Antojitos. Another food truck rolls up, which means an impromptu lunch for me. I don’t think I have ever tried Salvadorian cuisine, so sampling the most popular from a travelling food truck seemed like the best solution to rectify this. It’s tomato red, pearl white, and lime green colour scheme is a little hard to miss. And the palm tree painted on the side with the authentic music playing from the back, gives you a come hither hint of the exotic. The music was catchy and definitely as colourful as the truck. All together, this was definitely hard to avoid looking at when you walked by. 

IMG_3304I am always too eager when I see a new foodtruck. They say 11am and I show up 5 minutes to, only to have to wait 30 minutes after. Though today the staff member was nice enough and my patience was appreciated. When the side panel lifted, what appeared was a mother and son team working out of the truck. (At least I think they were mother and son). He ran the front and conveyed the order to her. Given the chance he also helped to prep the food. I wasn’t the only customer to order and when her food came up it was hard to hear past the trumpets and maracas found in each song. 

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The menu was easy to navigate with a coloured diagram showing what a “pupusa”, their main speciality was. This included a picture and placement of each ingredient in its maize tortilla. Each “pupusa” is filled with cheese, seasoned pork, and savory refried beans. And comes with a side of mild tomato sauce and “curtido”, a pickled slaw. They can also be made vegetarian, by being filled with vegetables and beans. Between chicken and pork, I got the “Chicharron (pork) pupusa” platter, which comes with a side of “yucca frita”. The shell was soft like naan bread, made mushy with the black beans tucked inside. There were more beans then pork, and they overpowered the whole thing. Each bite needed a bit of slaw to give it that juicy crunch that was missing without it. A pop of colour and spritz of freshness was also missing, more than what the salsa and slaw could supply alone. The fries were thick cut, deep fried cassava root. The texture is crispy because it isn’t battered. It is done so well that you get that battered taste and texture without the transfat. But fries without dip is a shame, they could have really used a creamy sauce to soften each stick. Even just mayo would have help. 

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“Pasteles”, crisp fried mini sized pockets, stuffed with beef or chicken and diced vegetables. I ordered one of each. Looking at them I was skeptical if they would be stuffed sufficiently, as is often the case when you order dumplings. So was delighted when I cut in and everything oozed out. The chicken was packed full of cheese, there was no skimping here. Each bite was like a creamy Alfredo morsel. Soft and melty inside, crispy from the deep frying outside. The beef “pastele” was more flavourful. And when the addition of vegetables, it reminded me of shepard’s pie, without the potato. These were great handheld snacks, sort of like a fancy pizza pocket. 

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“Horchata”, a traditional beverage made with morro seeds, ground cocoa, cinnamon, sesame seeds, and vanilla. It is a sweet milky drink that reminded me of what is left over after you finish your bowl of cinnamon toast crunch cereal. The food was made on the spot so a wait was required. But the drink came fast, as it premade and churning in a container before it was poured to my cup. 

Would I come back? – No. I found the food just ok, not something I personally would crave for. Despite its flavours and its appearance, it is not to be confused with Mexican cuisine. Where I find Mexican food bold, fresh and flavourful; this lacked the same spicy and overall kick. It all seemed a little bland and continue to taste like it was missing something. An original twist or spin to make it stand out? 
Would I recommend it? – Yes. For those like me, who have yet to try Salvadorian food this is a great place to start. You need not commit to larges portions, and the prices are decent in case you find it not your type of food. They also deliver as noted by the “don’t cook just eat . ca” tag. How convenient will your first Salvadorian experience be? Don’t deny your craving. 

GUANACO
604-442-2374
Guanaco Truck on Urbanspoon

Boca

IMG_2933Boca  Latin inspired food to go.  A new small shop opened up near work, so naturally I was obliged to check it out. To my delight, today was their grand opening. There is something about being the first to try a place and gathering intel for others. Though it didn’t seem that long ago since the Greek place before it was still serving tzatziki filled wraps. In fact it was only a little over two months since I wrote about it. But here today stood the new Boca. Like the Greek place, it fed those in the area looking for a quick bite during early lunch or dinner. Given the limitations on space there was not much else they could do. Everything was made fresh daily, but packaged to be able to be grabbed and go-ed with ease. A very useful point for those wishing to dip in for a quick bite, between busses at the nearby stop.  IMG_2935 As a consumer, with a career in retail management I am a stickler for great customer service. I will always spend more if I am given great service. At time it has even been able to make up for poor food. And today the overly friendly staff had me buying four sandwiches and a soup. Yes, all for myself. (Which no I didn’t finish. After a bite of each I gave the rest to my colleagues, it pays to eat with me when I am blogging.) IMG_2934One employee was at the door passing out samples. A few pieces of sandwiches managed to get satisfied “yums”, and others a return visit for lunch. And once inside the samples didn’t stop there. The shop was fairly simple, no fuss or muss. Nothing to take away from their already cramped quarters. A wall painted in a sharp teal. Their logo, largely stamped on the opposite side. A refrigerated unit for their pre-made dishes. And their menu printed on a large board behind the counter. Majority of their customers take out, but for those dining in, five stools are available for perching. Three of which are situated at their window bar, facing the street.  Today was a big day for this little shop, and there were four members working behind the counter to accommodate it. Two women worked the front and the other two pressed and packaged sandwiches. Each tasted panini was slid into wax a paper bag. sealed with a logo-ed sticker. There were four sandwich options at $9 each, I ordered one of each. All the sandwiches were made with crispy bread and a variety of ingredients that gave each one a unique depth of its own. They do warn that in order to maintain the integrity of their food, they are regretfully unable to make any substitutions to their food. Given that everything is pre-made it is quite understandable.  IMG_2947 “Mermen spiced pollo”, Chilean braised chicken. I was given the option to have my chicken panini served with their either their “Chimi Verde”, a green chimichurri sauce served cold; or their “Chimi Rojo”, a red chimichurri sauce served hot. I took the recommendation and got the green, which was promised to be a more unique flavour. A cold creamy sauce, which would make an excellent contrast to a warm toasted bun. She wasn’t lying. This ended up being my favourite bite. The chicken was seasoned well and grilled beautifully. The addition of cilantro and cucumber made everything taste fresh. Even the creaminess of the thick sauce did not weight this burger down.  IMG_2948 “Puerco en Chicha”, Salvadorian roast pork. The pork was pulled to a light tenderness. It was the traditional moist pulled pork with a Latin twist. The crunchy cabbage slaw added texture, and the pickles gave it a kick. It was reminiscent of a taco, but made hardier with the thick bread.  IMG_2949 “Pastel de carne”, Columbian meatloaf. Truthfully out of all of them, this sounded the least appetizing. It looked like pate with the texture of spam. The taste was okay, but I think I made up my mind solely on looks alone. Compared to the ones before it, this was a little dry and the texture more crumbly. My least favourite out of the four.  IMG_2950 “Verduras de la temporada”. Roasted vegetables, guacamole, frijoles, queso fresco. The vegetables were fresh, you could taste the grill and see the char. This reminded me of a gourmet veggie pizza, all wrapped up in a handheld sandwich form. The avocado gave it a creaminess that would be cheese if on a veggie pizza. It tasted healthy and a little Greek with the addition of feta.  IMG_2951 As I waited for the individual pressing of each panini, one of the women asked if she would be able to tell me about their soup of the fail and house special bean dip. She spoke with such excitement that I couldn’t bare to stop her speech. With her arms waving, I ended up adding a bowl of soup to my already large order. Today’s soup special was the “Chicken tortilla soup”. With actual pieces of tortilla chips stirred in. They used paneer cheese in the soup, an out of the box idea that gave it a unique twist. The soup was hearty, earthy, and brothy. A subtle taste, instead of the common overpowering one of a tomato base. Despite its colour this was not too tangy. All the flavours assimilated well. But together, too much to pair with any of the sandwiches above.  The “Frijole mole” was their house special bean dip, made with a dark rich chocolate. They loved saying their name as much as they loved promoting it. I wasn’t keen to buy, but willing to try. It was rich and chalky. An interesting taste, but not my kind of dip. I was a little jealous that the two other customers after me got their dip samples served with chips, fresh from an just opened bag.  If that doesn’t sound like enough food, tack on a side. Choose from their “Peruvian potato salad”, their quinoa salad, or a salsa fresca. Each portion colourful and scooped into a plastic disposable container to travel.  Hearing the staff speak, you could tell that they were definitely proud of their products. They spoke with delicious adjectives that could make your mouth water. They were not selling, they were educating you on their products.  Would I come back? – No. Truthfully this is not my type of food. It was great to try, but not something I would immediately steer too when hungry. However their service wowed me enough that I would recommend it to those wanting the simplicity of a sandwich with the complexity of a full meal. Easy to eat and satisfyingly filled with a unique list of ingredients. Don’t deny your cravings. 

 

BOCA 
1513 West Broadway, Vancouver BC
604-620-1262
boca2go.ca
Boca on Urbanspoon

Las Margaritas

One of the most well known and regularly heard of Mexican restaurant in Vancouver. It is a restaurant that fills quickly, with a side patio that is buzzing on hot summer evenings, like today. We cleverly came in early for dinner, to avoid a lengthy wait without reservations. At 5:30pm we found free parking two blocks away and had our choice of a table inside or out.


The restaurant’s decor is the main ingredient to its fun atmosphere. Colours and patterns. Unique light fixtures and pictures on every wall. It is detail after detail that comes to together to set this place apart. 
The restaurant is separated from the dining room and bar by a wall with shuttered windows. On the back wall is their name and logo. While the others are covered with black and white framed photos of Mexican life, as depicted by its people. An abundance of moustaches and sombreros. Our wooden table was tiled in the centre. A pattern of royal blue, yellow, and white. 
Our server looked to be authentic and Mexican. I would not be surprised to find out that some of the photos on the wall were of his family. He and them only added to the authenticity and the excitement of our meal to come. 

We brought in an entertainment book coupon and were pleased to be able to use our “buy one entree coupon and get the second one free” for an appetizer and entree. 
Complimentary house made chips and salsa to start the meal and get the appetite going, are always welcomed. Crispy and not to greasy, the perfect partner to a rich and thick, easy to scoop salsa.

“Fiesta Platter”. A shareable plate for 3, a sampling of their customer’s favourite appetizers. I found the guacamole misleading. What should be an overflowing amount of guacamole in the ramekin turned out to be the a container with its bottom stuffed with lettuce. As a result I over indulged and left my guests with none. The Jalapeño poppers were evenly breaded and not too spicy in their round bites. The chicken wings were skinny and could have used more sauce and less time in the pan. Each bite dry and bland. The cheese quesadillas ended up being the best thing on the plate. They were the most simple and easiest to make.The chicken taquitos were crispy to a singe. They were much improved with the aid of either of the coloured dipping sauces. The mini chimis were deliciously stuffed with a smooth bean paste. Each bite full of contained flavour.

“Vegetarian burrito.” Stuffed generously with refried beans, mild New Mexico chilies, green peppers, pico de gallo salsa, olives, and three types of cheeses. Then baked and covered with a mild red sauce. Finished with a dollop of sour cream. All this was accompanied by Mexican rice and black beans, in case you were still hungry. Just looking at it, it didn’t look appetizing or vegetarian. When you think vegetarian you imagine leaves, and greens. Shredded lettuce on the bottom or cilantro on the side would have done wonders to perk up the bland looking plate. Flavour however was the complete opposite. Well seasoned with a mix of zesty ingredients. Though with its larger size, eventually it became to daunting to eat. One note, one taste. It was left half eaten. 

I was impressed that for the fajitas you could choose your protein as a combination. The options were grilled chicken breast, sirloin steak, or prawns. Our chicken and prawn fajitas came as a do it yourself presentation. The cast iron skillet was still sizzling with our chosen meat and seafood along side multicoloured peppers and onions. You grab a warm floor tortilla shell from the covered basket and fill each accordingly with sides like lettuce, refried beans, pico de gallo salsa, and guacamole. The meat was so well seasoned, that the cheese we didn’t bother to add on, would have done nothing for this. Great presentation, a dish perfect for sharing. 

After seeing it in a friend’s Facebook I finally got to try a “Bulldog” for myself. It’s an extra large margarita with a Corona turned upside downed in the centre. Two tastes that you wouldn’t think pair well does. And you essentially have two drinks for the escalated price of one. More a fun novelty than delicious drink. We ended the night with the murkiest red wine sangria we all have ever had and seen. It tasted better than it looked, and it was no different than it normal would be with a brighter colour. I suspect the tone is in the wine. 

Would I come back? – Yes. The atmosphere is fun, which makes it a great place for a girl’s night or a group gathering. The location is out of downtown and offers both metered and free parking, provided your willingness to take a walk. The food is always solid, I have never tried a plate I didn’t like. Though at those prices I can get more for less at a handful of other Mexican themed restaurants. 
Would I recommend it? Yes. For a fun night, at a place that takes reservations and accommodates for larger parties, this is a great choice. A four page menu insures each person gets their lettuce, tomato, beans, and meat just the way they like it. Wrapped up in what they like and coated with what they like. Don’t deny your cravings. 

LAS MARGARITAS
1999 W 4th Ave, Vancouver BC, V6J1M7
604-734-7117
lasmargaritas.com
Las Margaritas Mexican on Urbanspoon

Baru Latino

On my latest dinner out, my guest choose “Baru Latino” as our destination. She made her selection based on a strong recommendation from a coworker, and because I have yet to write about it for this blog. (Sort of a requirement when eating out with me) 


Heading down Broadway, if you should miss it, a neon red sign above the video shop on Alma hints that you are on the right track. And then the “Red Truck Beer” sandwich board outside that declares, “Yes we do.” And that you are at your destination. 
Walking in, the first thing you notice is the great ambience. It is cultivated through dim lighting and jazzy music. Warmth resinates through the rust painted walls, the amber-yellow lights, and the red lamp shades. We were seated by the natural stone wall, adjacent to where a full sized canoe hung on suspended hooks. It, like the menus were fashioned from a faux leather hide. It didn’t have that leather smell, but it came close with the touch. Behind us was an impressively large bottle filled to the brim with wine corks. It was to the point where any new corks added pooled at the bottom. Quite the statement and conversation piece. 
I didn’t drink tonight, but I did take notice that they had some impressive cocktails, including ones made with guava juice and its purée. All cocktails were automatically made double with premium alcohol. I appreciated the mention and the intuition. 

It wasn’t all that busy on a Monday, and just the way I like it. It gives the staff time to really connect with their customers and add joy to their dining experience. And this was exactly the case tonight. There was one server working the room and he did so, skillfully. He cleverly mixed humour with his natural customer service personability. He knew he could joke around with us, and how and when to do it, in order to make our night memorable. After we asked for additional time with the menu, he wanted more before he took our order. When I opted not to have drink he commented, “you use to be fun”. He gave us a great back and forth that we really responded to. You don’t get this from many restaurants. And clearly he was doing their business card justice; on it a quote: “without “u” we’re just a bar”. 

Tonight it was a two man show behind the open kitchen, next to the open bar. The executive chef was in and the food was amazing. 

“Octopus tiradito”. Thinly sliced octopus with fresh lemon and lime juice topped with a black and green olive tapenade. The octopus came in less than 5 minute of ordering it. I know it was prepared to be raw, but it still amazed me how quickly we saw this plate; despite the labour intensiveness required in its plating. The cold and mild taste of the octopus went well with warm pita and salty olives. Though after the third bite we found it got too salty. I love olives so this is the first time I am say ing that less olives is more. Additional pitas would have been welcomed to cut away the saltiness of this dish. I ended up scraping the rest of the olives off each slice of octopus and out right avoiding them on my last bites. 

“Pacific Scallops”. Seared scallops in a sweet corn saffron cream sauce with jalapeño potato pave. Our order was disappointing with three inconsistently sized scallops; and two small segments of potato hidden underneath. Tapas plates are meant for sharing, but with so little and in an uneven number, this wasn’t very convenient for splitting between two. Though portions aside, this dish was amazing. So well flavoured. And cutting into a scallop was as smooth going as doing so with butter. Each element was so well cooked and so distinguishable. You could tell there were lots of spices and flavouring used to cultivate such a complex flavour. This was definitely my favourite dish of the night. 

“Chili Prawns”. Tossed in their house made hot sauce. I was once again disappointed in the quantity: four medium sized prawns. Thankfully they used a smaller plate to make the order at least look larger; and made me feel better about having ordering it. Though given the flavours extracted, I felt it perfectly reflected the price I was paying for it. Each bite into a prawn was juicy and refreshing. It wasn’t too spicy that it hid the flavour of the seafood. It is hard to describe the exact taste, given that there was so much going in to each spoonful. My guest and I both agreed this would have been better made into an entree served with basmati rice; with plenty more of that creamy sauce coating everything. 

For dessert, as a food blogger I feel I have to always go for the unique; and order things others wouldn’t, just so they can eat vicariously through me. In this case my choice was clear, ignore the creme brûlée and the chocolate cake. Instead get the 
“Guava Quesadilla”, despite my server’s hesitation. This is a baked tortilla with guava and cheese topped with berry coulis. Yup, cheddar cheese and syrupy fruit. It tasted like like what it literally was: a cheese quesadilla with fruit on top. I did like the guava purée that was tucked it to this hot mess. It was similar to jam with its sweetness and similar to marmalade with its citrus notes. Though I would have much more preferred it on toast, instead of a quesadilla. I wasn’t going to let it go to waste, but it did get too sweet to finish. No regrets, I was able to try a dessert I knew nothing about, to see what it was all about. 

And to complete our already fantastic night, our jovial server presented our bill with two shots of passion fruit guava mojito. I immediately regretted not ordering this with dinner, as reading its name earlier helped make it on to my list of “things to try”. It was fruity with that great alcohol kick. Each sip was finished off with that traditional mojito mint as an aftertaste. A great surprise treat and a better way to end your meal than having a peppermint. As we left it finally dawned on me what the sandwich board out front meant by “Yes we do.” They did everything we had asked and gave more than expected.

Would I come back? – Yes. The atmosphere was fun, our server delightful, and the food on point. With such a unique list of dishes and drinks to accompany them with, there is a guarantee you will order more than you need and a want to try more than you can. Thus forcing a return trip in the near future. Also, where else can you get anything with guava? And here at “Baru” you have a variety of ways to enjoy it. 
Would I recommend it? – Yes. Overall the food was a little pricy given the portions it came in. Though luckily we had time in between each dish and it allowed us to feel full as we waited. But given the flavours and the time it took to create them and recreate them every night, it is well worth the price. I have never had dishes so complex. With so many notes and hints, I can only imagine how many ingredients are used in each. We scrapped our plates clean not only because there was so little on them, but because they were so good as well. 


BARU LATINO
2535 Alma St, Vancouver BC, V6R 3R8
604-222-9171
barulatino.co

Baru Latino on Urbanspoon

Cuchillo

I have never had Latin cuisine before, so thought this was as good as a time as any. Another dark and rustic modern restaurant in the recently very controversial area of downtown Vancouver. Another higher end restaurant being picketed by protestors. Today we got a first hand look at all this as we were talked down to coming in, and shouted at each time the restaurant’s heavy glass door was opened. We were seated closest to the door and it was opening a lot. This was a popular restaurants with long lines and bodies lingering well into 9pm. Luckily we had made a reservation, and I suggest you do the same if you plan on coming down. If you miss the place, a purple neon skull lights the way. 
This is the kind of restaurants I like. An older building that kept its brick walls, hardwood floors, metal pipes, and open insulated ceilings. With a paint job and some choice accessories the place was made modern and edgy. The orange glow from barley lit bulbs in glass bobbles, kept the place dark. Not that there was much to see with no art, no decorations. And not that the restaurant needed it, it was already pretty handsome without it. Though the foyer wall that lead to the hostess booth was plastered with a multitude of posters of Mexican wrestlers and ads for upcoming events. This was the only real indication that this restaurant served Latin-Mexican cuisine. The open bar and kitchen allowed you to watch as your bartenders and chefs prepared beautifully constructed cocktails and plates. We were given a warning about the wobble in our 6 top table. Its long stem with heavy wood top looked good, but made for an annoying seat. We were even warned not to bang into it. It was annoying to sit at, eat at, and attempt to get comfortable on. The sawing of meat saw that everyone else felt it, and no one was able to cross their legs. 

This was our first time navigating a Latin menu, and they didn’t make it easy on us. Nothing was self explanatory, with titles and ingredients spelt out in Spanish. Half of what we ordered, we didn’t know what it was. We did ask our waitress for clarification over a few items, and even she couldn’t pronounce a few of the words. It ended up being a matter of pointing to our selection. I would suggest a glossary if they didn’t want to spell it out, for those unfamiliar with the cuisine. 

A page each was enough for the food and drinks listing. The drinks were tequila centric. Cocktails with rosemary, egg whites, and sugar cane. With the most intriguing being their “Tequila Flights”, three tequila samples bundled together for sampling. Think a beer taster paddle, but tequila in each of the glasses instead. The food was simple. Fresh ingredients prepared with skill, and allowed to shine with minimal seasonings. Each of the entrees came grouped as threes. Our waitress gave us the option to add one of two more servings in order to give everyone their own. This was a nice touch that most places don’t offer. Entrees are not typically meant for sharing. By meal’s end we agreed that we were all full from sharing; and that it was better to have shared everything, because it was all so rich.

“Mixto Traditionale. Octopus tiradito, side stripe prawn, rockfish mussel y clams, sweet potato purée.” This was very light and refreshing, a good start to our heavier meal to come. Each of the various seafood elements were lightly seasoned, with their individual flavours allowed the shine through. The sunflower seeds in the mix was needed for texture, as they gave the salad its only crunch. Oddly they were the strongest taste on the plate. 

“Pulled Duck Y Cracklin’ tacos. With roasted garlic, and blackberry habanero jam”. I expected more oomph and pizazz from this one. It was not as fancy as I had envisioned, nor was it any different from all the other cooked ducks that I have tried. The “Crackin'” in the name refers to the crispy duck skin. It was tasty, but there was not enough for a bit in every bite. Tacos also came in rockfish, pulled pork, lamb, and wild mushroom. 

“Pork Belly Confit. Maple and chipotle y tamarind glaze chicharon, patacones, minced onion y jalapeño.” We were warned that this would be a heavy one, and we would have to be in the mood to enjoy it. But we being all Asian, were very familiar with pork belly. We have had it in many bowls of noodles, numerous plates of rice, and in multiple steamed buns. The meat was soft and the fat melted in your mouth. We unanimously felt that you didn’t have to be in the mood to enjoy this. The maple syrup glaze was the best accompaniment. The natural saltiness of the pork boded well with the sweet in the syrup. 

“Croquetas De Carne. Beef neck, Monterrey jack y cotija, with house guacamole.” The thickly battered and deep fried beef patties were very crunchy, without a hint of oil in the taste. We were all impressed by the generosity with the bright green guacamole, with it each bite was given a savory and tangy taste. 

“Char grilled flat iron steak. Tijuana style baby Caesar, chorizo buttermilk Kennebec mash.” A classic all American steak and potatoes combo with a ceasar salad on the side. Except here it was plated cleverly and cooked perfectly. Our group was in agreement over the quality in the beef. The meat was moist and flavorful with its own juices. This was cooked to perfection. 

“Bison Ribeye Broil. Walnut manchego tostadas green apple chimichurri valdeon cauliflower smash.” A few of us found the texture and the taste of bison foreign; and was therefore unable to finish eating what they felt was very rich meat. I on the other hand enjoyed the deep rustic flavours and tore into the chewier shards of meat with gusto. The onions sprinkled on top added pops of freshness to the mix. 

“Wild Mexican Sea Prawns. Pipian verde, butter browned corn arepas. Fresh coarse salsa.” These were some of the largest and best cooked prawns that I have had the pleasure of inserting into my mouth. The coarsely chopped salsa gave them a freshness and pop of tartness. The usual bitterness found in kale was well hidden, and a great pairing with the sweet corn patty this all sat atop of. 

It was a busy night, we were a large group; our interaction with the staff was minimal. The only real isolated incident was with the ice cream cake we brought in for a birthday. Asking to have it stored until after dinner was a hassle. The host originally suggested that it wasn’t possible because the freezer was full, and asked us if we wanted it in the fridge instead. This was not an option. Doesn’t ice cream melt in the fridge? He then asked if we wanted them to take some meat out of the freezer to be able to squeeze the cake in there. What would we do with this meat? We just wanted our cake not to melt for hour before we ate it. Either way, in the end they got it into the freezer and the ice cream cake came to the table in tack, with candles lit. 


Would I come back? – Yes and no. In a larger group it was fun to share bites and try a portion of everything. But if you are to come and order just one entree for yourself, the flavours are so rich it may prove to be difficult to finish alone. Having tried more than half the menu I can state that the food is solid, yet I am not compelled to come back to order any of what I had again. For tacos I know more authentic places. For steak I have tried better. For seafood the options are endless. And for everything else, it available somewhere. The most unique thing is the tequila flights, if I were a fan of the drink, this would be a place to try. And for that reason I would recommend it. 


CUCHILLO
261 Powell St, Vancouver BC, V6A 1G3
604-559-7585
cuchillo.ca

Cuchillo on Urbanspoon

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