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Category: Mediterranean Page 1 of 2

Happy Hour at The Greek by Anatoli

Today I would be the plus one to Jacquline of “Pork Ninjas”, Instagram and blog fame. We were at “The Greek by Anatoli”, attending a media event, highlighting their new happy hour menu. This would be a new feature that the restaurant would host daily from 2-5pm. And today we would get a sneak peak of things to come.

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

The restaurant was closed for the event and we, along with a group of others were able to enjoy the space fully. I have visited “The Greek” before and then was unable to immerse myself in their wonderful seating area. They had tables available on the patio and upper deck, but it was the ones at the very back of the restaurant, surrounding by black and white photos and under strung up lights, that was the place to be. Today I would get to be surrounded by it all, across from their island bar.

Alexi the owner of “The Greek”, showed us warming hospitality, and shared tidbits of the restaurant and himself during our stay. He greeted us all and gave us some background information on his restaurant, speaking with passion for his business, which is always a good attribute to have as a business owner.

The back wall was plastered over with a black and white mural of old Greece. The wall to the right was hung with actual family photos. They offered a glimpse into his childhood and his heritage. His family’s first restaurant opened its doors in 1984, this venture in Yaletown was his alone, and the second to have the name. They are also working on acquiring a three location in the near future.

As the sun peaked out, the patio with its picnic tables were offered as a viable space for us to dine in. However I was too enamoured by the ambiance we had indoors. The strung together lights and the hanging bulbs bathed the room in a golden luminescent glow. It offers a great vibe for a romantic dinner or a girls night out, helped along by a playlist of smooth vocals and up beats.

The food was described as being simple and clean, strong flavours like how grandmother does it. All within a more upbeat spot. They successfully combined traditional food with modern aesthetics.

The happy hour menu is an assembly of popular Greek appetizers, smaller servings perfect for sharing, so you can order them all and try a little bit of each. All the food is $6 per plate normally, but between March 27 to the 31st what is listed will only be $2 a plate. Our servings below may be a little different than what you would typically get. I have tried my best to ask questions and list those differences here, so that when you come and try them for yourself you know what you will be getting, and won’t be disappointed if it differs from what you see here. And at $2 a plate, I know you will make ever effort to come by during that week. You can’t even buy a loaf of bread for $2.

When asked about the decision to host happy hour, Alexis was honest. He acknowledge that he would not be making a profit during this time slot, but for him it was about bringing people in, and having them stay in the area after work. Where you see a lot of that in downtown, you don’t have the same gusto for happy hour in Yaletown. So this was his rally cry, his attempt to fill seats and gather the community.

We started with “Keftedes”, traditional pan fried meatballs served in a tomato sauce. Although I would classify the sauce as more of the juice to a tomato salsa. Watery, but a great accompaniment of chunks and liquid, to the hearty and thoroughly seasoned meatballs. Which were tasty, but did border on being a little too salty for my tastes.

I am not a fan of Dolmathes in general. “Dolmathes” are grape vine leaves stuffed with beef and rice, and these are cooked in avgolemeno broth. I don’t like the texture of the wilted and soggy leaves, even though they were prepared very tender here. Their pickled flavour isn’t appealing to me either. But the filling was nice. The beef was prepared like the meatball above, having a similar flavour, and show of the same quality.

I much preferred the “Spanakopita”, although like above, it’s wilted greens are a turn off to me visually and textural. I just don’t like way wilted and cooked greens feel on my tongue. But if I had to eat a serving of it, this would be the batch to force myself through. Fresh spinach, feta and herbs, wrapped in filo and baked. It was baked crispy and stuffed full. I really liked the flavour of the sharp cheese. So tasty, that it didn’t really need the tzaziki sauce that came with it on the size. When you order it, you will normally get two pies, just like the other two portion sizes above.

The “Calamari” was your standard battered and fried pieces of squid. It was your classic flavour served crispy with tzatziki for tang.

The “True Greek pork” souvlaki was the most memorable. Its name is due in part of the fact that pork is the true meat of Greece and traditional souvlaki is only prepared using pork. Here cubes of meat are skewered and grilled for a blackened char, then served kalamaki style on a pita with tzatziki on the side. Once again, when ordering this, you will only get enough for two tastes. The meat was a little tough, but well seasoned, it paired perfectly with the fluffy pita and the dill in the tzatziki. Definitely a good deal considering it’s $11 normally and here it is either $6, or $2 for that week.

During happy hour and their launch week the “Homous” with chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley is set at $4. It is served with with a warm buttery pita for dipping into. This was my favourite dish. The homous was really delicious. A little chunky, and a lot delicious. It wasn’t so aggressive that it masked the taste of the butter on the pita. I think I ate two whole pita and certainly licked cleaned the homous dish.

And happy hour isn’t the same without drinks, so their menu also includes two $4 drink options and $6 glasses of red or white.

However, today we were able to try a few of their regular cocktails. Like the classic brunch ceasar with a grilled shrimp and pickled bean. The shrimp had a great grill, but the drink itself could have used more spices and a whole lot more tomato.

The juicy watermelon mojito as a visual delight with an actual watermelon slice for garnish. It was very mint forward with the refreshing quality of real watermelon juice.

Not on the happy hour menu, but offered regularly, we were treated to the most beautiful serving of salad that I have ever had. “Greek salad” with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, red onions, goat feta from Greece, capers, and olives. All the ingredients were chopped small and sliced thin for a more reasonable bites. It easily allowed you to get a little bit of everything on your fork. Including the addition of fried kale chips and micro greens, for an even greater aesthetic touch. Though be warned, this was done special for us, and not typically seen when you order it for yourself.

 

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.
I have said it after my first visit and I will say it again after this one. I like the place for dressier style Greek food in an equally dressed up setting. And now with happy hour specials, there is another reason to visit. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

THE GREEK
1043 Mainland Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 5P9
604-979-0700
thegreekbyanatoli.com
The Greek by Anatoli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Greek by Anatoli

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This is one of those restaurants you want to walk in hungry for. You can smell the grilling of fragrant spices as soon as you approach the threshold. This scent was a promise of delicious meal to come, and they delivered.

We put in the effort, made a reservation early on, but were given probably the worst table in the house. It was close to the open door entrance, a step up on a platform, overlooking the rest of the restaurant. The half we were forced to stare longingly at was definitely the more appealing of the two sides. Set under parallel lines of light bulbs, against a painted white brick wall, decorated with black and white framed photography, with overlooking shelves dedicated to large bottles of grey goose. And here we were on our cramped two top, in the awkward middle of the terrace with all other tables sandwiching us; lusting to be near the back wall with its panorama of a Greek cityscape. When I asked to be seated there, on the empty tables instead, I was told that they were for those with reservations, we had a reservation.

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We disliked our given seat enough to brave the colder weather, grabbing a seat outside on their covered patio instead. Though with heat lamps and woollen blankets we were kept plenty warm. It was all share style tables, with couples claiming the ends of each for more intimacy. We were one such.

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I started with the “Aphrodite signature cocktail”. I thought it most fitting for this Greek restaurant, in name and with its assembly of ingredients. Sour cherry, white rum, a dash of Greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. I could smell the warmth of cinnamon as it was placed before me, and taste the tart tang of the yogurt upon my first sip. I found this unique concoction another new one to add to my collection of flavour combinations, whereas my guest likened it to medicine. Although, based on the bubble gum colouring, I did expect it to be a sweeter drink. But it was more like the yogurt beverage, calpis. Once again, one to try, but not really complimentary to anything we ate below.

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My guest had the “Kreatopita” during her last visit and wanted me to try it today. It was a uniquely shaped meat filled pie. A coil of pastry surrounding minced meat and saganaki cheese. It is baked to a crisp and then topped with sesame seeds. You eat it by pulling segments off, one part at a time. The filling had the texture of a crumbly sausage, it matched well with the flaky pastry, but together it was quite rich. The pool of watered down tzaziki was most helpful in breaking up the one tone taste, as well as adding some freshness. But at the end of the day, this was a heavy start, and a dish better left as a side to a entree.

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The “Octopotothi” was nice, but like its co-appetizer it was on the heavier. This was grilled octopus seasoned with olive oil and a lemon caper dressing. I wished the chunks were cut down to a more manageable bite. They were too chewy for my liking, and lacked any flavour besides salt. The side of crispy potatoes, red peppers, and whole olives helped in the flavour department. But the menu mentioned that it would also be served with pita, however none never came. The pita would have been most helpful as a base to dull some of the saltiness.

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The country lamb is a feast for two, despite its intended serving of one. It was came with the feeling of home cooking, served in its handsome metal tray. But it was the lemon wrapped in a semi permeable cloth that stole the show for me. It make the dish more elegant, dressing it up. The lamb shoulder was described as being “braised until it melted off the bone”, and that it did. It flaked off and had a good amount of tenderizing fat. It was best taken with spoonfuls of the flavourful rice that sat beneath it, and tender roasted vegetables that surrounded it. Broccoli florets, carrots, potato wedges, onion, turnip chunks, cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob. Everything was fully seasoned, with plenty of herbs in the rub of the meat and mixed in with everything else.

And best of all, there was plenty leftovers for another meal and a half. I just didn’t like how they decided to pack what we couldn’t finish up. They put the meat pie and lamb together in one box. And sadly, the former was made soggy by the latter.

Our meal ended with a liquorice mint, and an apology from our server when we asked for our bill to be split. She was just as polite throughout our whole meal. She read our cues on when to check in and when to not engage. And made sure that my glass was never left empty. She made our spacious patio seats the most inviting in the house.

The washrooms were located in the hallway of the space that the restaurant shared. You got in with a four digit lock code. The number was pasted on the door leading out of the restaurant.

 

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.
The food, ambience, and service were all on point. One of the places I will recommend for a date night, craving Greek. There is much more on the menu that I wanted to try, so will need to return a few more times in order to do so. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

THE GREEK
1043 Mainland Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 5P9
604-979-0700
thegreekbyanatoli.com

Salchica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Donair Town

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My partner was looking for convenience eating, a quick bite to tie him over in between meals. He often finds donairs a good solution, so we found ourselves stopping here. “Donair Town”, with its orange and blue awning and and its name in red between matching flames.

This was fast food made to order with a few small tables for those who didn’t enjoy eating upright and on the go. The sun allowed for outdoor seating, in front of their all glass exterior; and their mezzanine inside allowed for a more private setting upstairs, by the television. Both available if you didn’t like the table directly across the service counter, with the view of butts waiting in line, obstructing your meal.

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The shop was set up very functionally.
Faux stone floors and matching counters, made for uneven surfaces to walk on and lead against. The only elements of decoration was the painted mural of the Mediterranean, buildings of stark white against blue skies and bluer waters. And a storage closet painted in a similar blue and white hue with a thatched roof upstairs.

They fit the cuisine well consider donairs are Greek or Turkish in origin, known as “doners” and “gyros”. The donairs that we know today and would be enjoying now, were an adaptation from them and of the “Halifax” donair. “Halifax donairs” are characterized by having a very sweet sauce. This sauce is made from condensed milk, sugar, garlic, and vinegar. This concept was brought over to Canada by a Turkish immigrant.

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The counter where they made their wrapped meals was right by the door. Behind it, the typical hunks of meat spinning on a rod, waiting to be craved and served up. They were available in chicken, beef, and lamb. The process begins with a pita, it is filled with one of the three meats above. To it they add a bevy of fresh vegetables and hearty sauces. The pre-cut ingredients are kept cool in metal bins for an easy grab and add add method. You can craft each to your liking with lettuce, onions, cucumber, pickles tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, tzatziki sauce, tabouli, hot sauce, and a garlic sauce.

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But they also had unique combinations with equally unique names for those who didn’t feel like being creative. Like the “Halifax” with only onion, tomato, and that sweet sauce that I mentioned above. The “Lebanese” came with tabouli and hummus. The “Hawaiian” offered pineapples that their sweet sauce. The “Caribbean” came with jalapeños. And the “Greek” with olives and feta cheese. For vegetarians they had a “mushrooms” donair with onions. They even had a donair poutine, their ingredients and sauces over fries.

Once tightly packed and rolled within the pita, the pound of food gets some time on the grill. This warms it all up and melds it all together. This is one of the only places that did this, and my partner liked them for it.

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He went for a chicken donair and to it he added the “regular fixings” and a request for the sweet sauce. The “regular” ingredients were listed as lettuce, onions, cucumber, and tomatoes, with your choice of sauce. So he was very disappointed to bite in and discover red and yellow peppers in the mix. He does not like peppers, and didn’t know to specify “no peppers”, they were not mentioned any where. The result was, after one bite it became my donair.

It was a heavy bundle with plenty of sauce, a messy affair needing lots of napkins. Stuffed full with charred chicken, lettuce, and red and yellow peppers. The sweetness of the sauce played off the sweetness of the grilled peppers well for a harmonious sweet and tangy flavour profile. I took just the one bite, and it left a lingering taste to come. I was an interesting mix with the sweetness, one that I didn’t mind trying and could continue to finish. But it isn’t one that I would order again. I prefer my donairs with the tang of sour cream or ranch dressing.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
It was a quick stop, the food came fast, it was eaten fast. The service was efficient and the place clean enough. Your standard donair place with no complaints. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

DONAIR TOWN
1793 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1C9
604-569-1124
Donair Town Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tibisti Grill aka Lebanese Cuisine

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I admittedly am ignorant when it comes to geography, a fact that was pointed out by my partner, and one that I am trying to improve on though travel and trying new things. Which brings me to “Lebanese Cuisine” the Lebanese restaurant serving Lebanese cuisine, in case you have missed that. The name on the awning is “Lebanese Cuisine”, but online they are referred to as “Tibisti Grill”. I have limited experience in this cuisine type. This would be only my third time trying Lebanese food, and only the second Lebanese specialty restaurant I have visited.

According to Wikipedia, “Lebanese cuisine includes an abundance of starches, whole grain, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood… Fats are consumed sparingly and poultry is eaten more often than red meat. When red meat is eaten it is usually as lamb or goat’s meat. Cooking is done with copious amounts of garlic and olive oil, with lemon juice as a popular seasoning. Olive oil, herbs, garlic and lemon are typical flavours found in the Lebanese diet. It is similar to the diets of most Mediterranean countries”. It sounded delicious and I figured a buffet would be the best way to dabble in all of the above. Though they also offer an a la carte menu as well.

I found the name of the restaurant direct and to the point, much like the exterior and interior of the building. On the outside coloured posters depicted dishes served and listed their names in red. Maui ribs and roast lamb meals, souvlaki in beef or chicken, NY steak; wraps in chicken, beef, or lamb; and sides like baba ganoush, garlic sauce, hummus, tabbouleh, and baked potatoes.
“Baba ghanoush” is a dish of cooked eggplant mixed with onions, tomatoes, olive oil and various seasonings. “Tabbouleh” is a Arabian vegetarian dish traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur and onion. It is seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.

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Inside the restaurant it was just a seating area and a buffet line. There were no decorations, no need for art or for objects to fill up the space. They gave you only what you needed to enjoy a quick meal with. A clean restaurant, with sturdy furniture, and an assortment of pre-made dishes to help yourself to. The only thing I can say, is that with so much of its space left empty and un-used, it seems like the restaurant was designed and chosen with the possibility of expansion in mind. The back of the restaurant was cleverly hidden behind cubicle-like barriers; a freestanding wall separating seat from sight. They hid the unused space. Empty refrigeration units, empty racks, and permits to operate in sheet protectors. It wasn’t the most appealing view, but we only had to see it when we paid, and by that time it was too late to change our mind about staying for dinner.

Smaller buffets get a bad rep. The thinking is that less business means more food left over and more food going to waste. So to cut costs and to reduce waste they may either reuse leftovers or prepare smaller portions, meaning you are skeptical of how fresh things actually are. And then there is the understanding that buffet food will always be a little over cooked, as it is steeping in the heated dish. Though not every one is so particular about eating over cooked food. You really have to consider, what you are getting for the price you are paying. We were here for their lunch buffet, which gave less variety at $3 less per person, when compared to the dinner buffet. $11.95 for lunch, $14.99 per person for dinner.

All that some need is a cheap and easy lunch or dinner. Food available right away, a hassle free system; and good selection of meat, veggies, and carbs. So the question is do you tip? And how much do you tip for a buffet where you are literally doing some of the service leg work for yourself. I will let you all simmer on that one.

We went in with open minds, and the reassurance that if we didn’t like what we saw, we could easily walk out. Though once we were through the door, we were immediately greeted by the owner. He was most helpful and most convincing in why we should stay for lunch. We ended up taking a seat upon his suggestion. After hearing our want to check things out before committing, he took the time to give us a walking tour of the buffet. The owner was very friendly, and to him everything was “amazing”. There were no names to any of the trays, no list of ingredients under each tub, no way to ensure dietary restrictions would be met. But he did point to each one and list their main ingredients for us verbally. Luckily neither of us had any dietary restrictions to consider and can actually enjoy the assembly a buffet provides.

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The buffet line was divided between cold and hot foods, appetizers and entrees. The former includes salads and spreads to start. A green salad, a Greek salad, dolmades, hummus, tzatziki, and a garlic butter to go with room temperature pitas.

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The latter buffet trays were all yellow, orange, or brown. Roasted potatoes stewing in butter and herbs, yellow rice seasoned heavily in spices, meatballs in a tomato paste, sausages in a tomato sauce, chicken legs done two ways, and roasted lamb.

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On their secondary line was a serving of fried chicken wings and mixed stewed vegetables. The rest of the trays were empty in anticipation of the larger dinner service line up. The vegetables were actually brought out after our first go at the line. I appreciated that despite it being late lunch, early afternoon, nothing looked too sold down. I mean they even put in the effort into preparing and offering up a new dish. And that it wasn’t just a top up.

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As our plates were varied and was composed of a little of everything, I will be simply listing notes of the dishes tried.

The garlic butter was good, but would have been better on something crispy, instead of the available room temperature pita bread. I wish there was a way to warm the pitas up, they were hard and chewy, almost stale. Actually I wish they made the pitas from scratch, you could tell this was store bought. Although I still found them one of the better items when paired with tzatziki and hummus. Though the hummus was a little on the bland side. It was easily perked up by stirring in a scoop of the garlic butter adjacent.

I am not a big fans of Dolmades, the peppery leaves are not to my liking. And even if I unwrap them from the little bundles, the soggy paste-like filling isn’t any better. It was too tart and too acidic for me. “Dolmades” are delicate parcels made from grape leaves stuffed with long-grain rice, toasted pine nuts, fresh herbs and seasonings.

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There were two different types of chicken, both dark meat and both only leg pieces. One was a spicy chilli, the other more like a mild bbq. You could tell them apart by the colour of the sauce and the presence of red flakes. I liked both for their juicy meat, that soaked up all the flavouring of the broth they sat in.

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The lamb was hit or miss. A few pieces were fall off the bone tender like the owner promised. Others got too much heat, and as a result dried out. Luckily with a buffet, you don’t have to finish what you don’t like and get to go back for what you do. I passed on the dry pieces and fished around for the ones that were more tender.

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The meat balls were actually more flattened meat patties. And like the sausage they were both just meat in tomato stew. They tasted as you expected them to: ground beef and spicy pork sausage.

Similarly, the Greek and garden vegetable salad was nothing special. Greek salad seasoned in olive oil and feta and garden salad dressed in a salty tangy vinaigrette

 

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? – No.
Overall the food was nothing unique, it tasted good, but nothing very memorable. The flavours were similar to Greek cuisine. We tried a little of everything and went back for seconds, so I will deem the price for the food worth what we paid. However I am not a fan of most buffets in general. I don’t like the presentation or the selection. I don’t like the service model and miss the excitement of seeing a dish set before me. Though here, at $14.99 for the the price of one entree, you are better off paying that price for the buffet, and to be able to try more for less. Also this buffet was missing a dessert component, where most do consider something sweet to end the meal on. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

TIBISTI GRILL
6990 VICTORIA DRIVE, VANCOUVER B
604-737-1000
Tibisti Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Donair Stop

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This is the most franchise-able donair place I have ever seen. Located on the prominent corner of Granville and Smithe, it was eye catching, well lit, and brightly painted. Their logo, a white trimmed red stop sign with “DS” in its centre, was enough to have me stopping in my tracks. Here this Eastern Mediterranean specialty is repackaged in an North American style, for our Canadian palette. Ethnic fast food food with flare. A catchy name and a simple logo, that even had the Rudolph drawing in the window smiling. There was nothing ethnic specific about the place. Other donair shoppes use traditional names and authentic props to play up their exotic nature. No hookas and no tribal-like music, just a simple shop serving wraps and donairs, with the ever popular North American side of fries. There is even the possibility of making each donair a combo for $2.95 more. This includes a canned drink with your choice of either lentil soup or a bag of chips.

For those who don’t know, the “donair” is a Turkish dish made with meat cooked vertically on a rotisserie-like grill. The meat is often carved by knife into thin layers, right on the spit. They are also widely known by their Arabic name “shawarma”, or as the Greek “gyros”.

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With the restaurant’s doors opened wide it looked inviting. The small line visible from across the intersection was enough of a reassurance that the place was good, but not long enough to deter those unwilling to wait. And if that and the delicious smells didn’t attract you in, the sandwich boards advertising free fries and the possibility of making your wrap or donair gluten free certainly had you taking a second look. The latter a relief for those with the specific dietary restrictions, as well as for those with growing health concerns.

The shop is small. Right by the door is a tiny seating area. A corner table by the window, and another two able to seat a larger group if pushed together. Given the practical cafeteria like seating: picnic tables with benches, this isn’t meant to be a sit and linger type of restaurant. You eat in and go or take out and go. I imagine their cuisine most popular amongst teens on a budget, and those out late after hard drinking and heavy dancing. This evening’s tables were filled with resting shoppers. Those who sat with their large bags and big purchases, seeking to save a little during dinner.

To the left, the wall is papered in red advertising their “authentic gourmet food”. Against it a cooler for canned soft drinks, a rice cooker, and shelves housing boxes and styrofoam for take out.

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Right at the entrance you are greeted by the counter, you approach it to order. The menu is a list three panels wide. It requires the arching of your neck and a look up to take it all in. Donairs, wraps, rice plates, or salads and sides. Each offering includes your choice of protein or vegetarian substitute, and their suggested variations. All the meats are advertised as being organic. The donair is titled as being “Halifax style”. Researching on the term, I discovered that the donair scene is pretty big in Halifax, with many fans making it their own. I would soon see this here, with their line up of possible ingredients to accompany the traditional meat and bread dish. Donair flavours are either beef, chicken; or “falafel”, their vegetarian option. Wraps were mostly made with chicken, with the possibility of substituting in beef for the “buffalo chicken” flavour. The chicken wraps came in Caesar, tropical, chipotle, Thai chilli (spelled “chilly”, a purposeful type-o?) and buffalo. Rice plates offered the same meats as above or falafel instead. “Falafel” is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Your choice protein is served with rice, salad, pita, and your choice of sauce: tzatziki or hummus. Salad are available in Caesar, Greek, and Tabouli. “Tabouli” is a vegetarian salsa traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion. Then seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. 

Either of the it two men working side by side take your order. They prepare wraps one after another, alternating between guests. Efficient as one builds the wrap, the other chargers their customer. Past them you can see the traditional donair set up. Slabs of meat rotating on a spit backed by stainless steel. Here either chicken or beef is kept warm as they spin round and round. Using a knife the meat is carved as needed right into a pocket of dough. After committing to a donair you look down behind the glass. Down at the multiple metal trays filled to the brim with colourful and fresh ingredients. Most are on the healthier side, like the variety of raw and pickled vegetables.

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I choose the beef donair over the chicken. I often find most fast food chicken is prepared too dry. And I also prefer dark meat, but more often get the commonly used and mostly preferred white breast meat. So I have learned not to gamble and stick with beef over chicken, beef that I know will be tasty. However I was given chicken by accident. A fact I didn’t clue into seeing the darker and heavily seasoned scraps of meat. A fact that was announced only when the donair was done and being extended to me. The server caught his mistake and was more than prepared to make me another. However I decided to accept it as is to not cause trouble and to not have to wait for another. Plus a lot of work goes into crafting one. To compensate for the mistake his coworker winked that he would give me extra fries instead. Completely unnecessary, but a nice touch none-the-less.

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The assembly begins with a pita being split into two width wise, to form a pocket. The seasoned and shredded near goes in first. Everything else that follows is up to you. Think “Subway” but with a wrap. I took everything but the hot colourful jalapeño peppers. A grilled chicken donair with hummus, shredded lettuce, carrots and beets; red onion, tabouli, tomato wedges, cucumber slices, pineapple triangles, pickles, and tzatziki sauce. For sauces you choice is between regular mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, an herbed vinaigrette, chipotle mayo, garlic mayo, and hot sauce. I went with my usual favourite: Chipotle mayo. Cheese is unnecessary and extra for $1. Another very North American influence, like the condiments before. Either a shredded mozzarella and cheddar blend or feta. Feta was recommended and that’s what I went with. Once assembled the bundle is wrapped and pressed to keep its shape and toasted to give it warmth. It reminds me of a calzone or pizza pocket, but less stable. 

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This was one of the largest hand helds I have had for under $9. Packaged like a box, I lifted the top to see a well arranged and well stacked slew of ingredients. Colourful, fresh, and full of exciting flavours. As with most similar bread wrapped fresh fixings, there is a need to eat quickly. Taking your time results in the bread getting soggy and everything falling out the bottom. Mine started with purple beet dyed juice drippings, that was pretty for what it was. Then less than mid way through my donair broke in the middle. Half the meat fell out, and I found myself eating the rest with a spoon. Luckily I didn’t attempt to eat and walk, but waited to take out and sit down. Things got messy as I got in there with hands creamy and mouth gaping. Not one bite was boring as you got a different seasoning, another sauce, a new vegetable’s texture at each go. What I found most surprisingly enjoyable was the sweetness of the pineapple. It was a nice twist, a surprise pop of juice and sugar. I would have liked the onions chopped finer though. At one point I bit into a slice the size of a baby’s fist. That wasn’t a great bite. Overall no complaints. Delicious and filling I couldn’t take it all in one sitting, nor would I have been able to salvage any of it as leftovers. I finished belly full and hands lingering with the smell of donair. I needed a breath mint to cleanse my palate of the pickles, onion, cilantro, and tzatziki fighting for supremacy. 

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Any purchase of a wrap or donair earns you a free side of thick cut fries. It was a familiar plus, and as I mentioned earlier I got more than usual. The fries are deep fried to order, and if eaten in, served along side the wrap in a plastic basket. If taken out bagged in brown paper. These were proper English style chips according to my British colleague. They were toasty on the outside with a crispness to the skin; and melty and soft in the middle, almost like mashed potatoes. Good and salty, as they should be. I preferred them without ketchup.

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.
What I had was good, it is not something I would want often, but instead one of those specific cravings that could only be quelled with the perfect donair. As a believer of more the better and most is best, I was trilled to have over fourteen different ingredients available to me in this one meal. With all these options you can have your way, or be like me and get more bang for your buck by having it all. And for regular diners all the possible combinations would give you endless flavour pairings. I would line up for this because I know the wait wouldn’t be long. Donairs are a fast food option healthy and heartier than any chain, at the same cost. Don’t deny your cravings.

DONAIR STOP
898 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2C9
604-910-5925
Donair Stop on Urbanspoon

Kefi Greek Kouzina

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We have been here once before, and on that first occasion, our visit was less than pleasant. On that day, nearly a year ago, the hostesses didn’t make us feel welcomed and the chefs and servers kept us waiting over an hour for our food. Time we spent waiting meant we were late for the movie we were planning to watch afterwards. However today we recalled the food as being pretty memorable, so were willing to gamble on a second visit. A gamble indeed as this drop in was without reservations, as a last minute Saturday night plan.

The restaurant is located in Schoolhouse Square, an outdoor shopping plaza with a large lot, adjacent to the Coquitlam Cinaplex. We drove to the far left corner for “Kefi”, with plenty of parking around. The restaurant stands out with its name in neon blue lights. The equally large sign to its left advertised $8 lunch specials. It had me wishing we had come seven hours earlier to take advantage of such a deal. Despite the lack of blue and white stripes and lush greenery, with its white painted columns against its rust stucco exterior the architecture certainly looked Greek to me.

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Coming in on a Saturday night we were pretty skeptical of being seated right away. Especially seeing as this wasn’t our first choice for that very reason. We asked the hostess if it was busy and she confirmed that it was, but sheepishly admitted to having room for us. The restaurant was dressed moderately festive with sparse garlands and dimly lit wreaths to reflect the holiday. But even with all the multitude of bulbs and twinkling glitter, the room maintained it dark and romantic ambience. This did well to illuminate their featured ceiling panels. Lean back and look up at back lit images of Grecian urns. Photos and pictures of historical works of art: pots with handles and vases shaped like trophies; and beige on black carvings showing everyday life in Greece through two dimensional sketches.

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Other than that there wasn’t much in terms of decor. The bar sat at the back with tall stools and flat screen televisions. The dining room before it, divided into two sections at varying heights. A platformed step up and a wooden bannister created the illusion of more room than there necessarily was in this little restaurant. Rust coloured walls, small framed posters, blue LED lights trimming the ceiling, and wooden floors that matched the wooden tables and chairs. Simple and homey. The type of restaurant ideal for a casual gathering, the type of place where no one would judge if you came dressed in sweat pants or a track suit (true story). Though the attractive female servers in their form fitting black dresses and glossy long hair certainly picked up fanciness of the place.

The menu was listed with titles in their traditional Greek names and their descriptions in English. Each plate was classified as either starters, salads, soups, comfortable food, grilled and fried, and accompaniments. As is the case when we have Greek, my partner choose the chicken souvlaki and I the roasted lamb. When I think Greek I think fall of the bone meat, savory rice, and soft roasted potatoes; and that’s just what we had.

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Our dinner began with two portions of Greek salad served as a shared one. Pre-chopped cubes of cucumber, tomato, green peppers, red onion, and a black olive each. It is prepared ahead of time, left to chill, and served as needed. The heirloom tomatoes could have been allowed to ripen more and I would have preferred the batch at room temperature instead of a teeth aching cold. But at least the salad was generously drizzled with olive oil and heavily dusted with herbs, and abundantly sprinkled with feta. Overall pretty standard, a side of fresh vegetables to balanced the savouriness of the carbohydrate loaded rice, pita, and potatoes to come.

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A mistaken word on our end had the server bringing me the lamb chops instead of the roasted rack of lamb. I was not disappointed. Had I gotten my usual I would have missed out on the “Rack of lamb paidakia”. New Zealand rack of lamb chops grilled with garlic, lemon, and oregano. Served with patates, spanakoritzo, and tzatziki. This was one of the nicest plates I have had presented at a Greek restaurant. Plating was certainly considered when stacking each chop, one after another. The lamb was grilled with a crusted rub that gave the meat a bit of a crunch. Eaten like lollipops the lamb was a little tough to tear into, but overall well prepared and packed full of salty flavour. A strong flavour that competed with the seasoned rice and roasted potatoes. So much flavour that I wished I saved some of the starting salad to eat between these bites.

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“Chicken souvlaki”. Skewered fresh chicken breast grilled with garlic, lemon, and oregano. Like the lamb this too was served with a side of patates, spanakoritzo, and tzatziki. Thick chunks of white chicken breast, grilled tender and served as one of the longest skewers of meat I have ever had. The charred flavour was as prominent as the seared grill marks on the chicken. Though as meaty as each bite was, it could have been more juicy and dialled down in its overwhelming lemon flavour. Luckily the lemon’s sour tang played well with the zesty rice and herbaceous whole potato. They did well to balance each other out.

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Each of our entrees came with a pita, served in a wire rack, slightly buttered and warmly toasted. A standard part of a Greek entree, best taken with the creamy and tangy tzatziki dip on the side. There was much effort put into creating flavours, even this pita was heavily seasoned. Something not necessarily good, as this was soon identified as our only palate cleanser of the meal.

The washrooms were ironically labelled for “gods” and “goddess”. Though it couldn’t be further from a space befitting a mystical deity. A continuous loud buzzing from harsh florescent lights. Stall doors so low that when standing you can see straight to your reflection on the mirror before you. And a reusable hand towel machine that requires a turn of a knob, and the allowing of sopping wet fabric to dry and be used by multiple sets of hands before being cleaned. The facilities were clearly outdated, there were lots that revealed the age of the place. A friend in the food industry once told me, a restaurant’s washroom often reflects its kitchen.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The setting was nothing memorable, a descent spot for a casual dinner. Not my first choice to celebrate an occasion at or spend a fancy dinner within. Though half the room seated for work functions, romantic dinners, and group birthday parties would disagree with me. Despite all the staff scheduled each one did little more than taking your order and bringing you your plates. As before we didn’t get friendly the welcoming service, often typical from family run Greek establishments. We were not made to feel as if our business was appreciated or even needed, just another table on a moderately busy Saturday night. Our food was good, as mentioned there was clear effort put into coaxing the most flavour out of everything. Though as a result all the spices and all the pungent garlic ended up fighting for supremacy in your mouth. There was not enough freshness to balance any of it out, no dedicated palate cleanser. Served as the appetizer, the salad was long gone, and the pita taken with tzatziki was no slouch in flavour as well. Each element was good on its own, but as a whole it doesn’t always compliment one another. Though at the end of the meal it is still better than any bland dish in need of self salting. Plated with design and purpose in mind, servings are not as large as at other Greek restaurants, but both run at similar prices for similar dishes. The menu spoke of how everything was made from scratch, even the broths and sauces and they make their own desserts. They even go as far as to butcher their own meat, ensuring nothing is prepackaged or processed. So I could see the higher cost on average as money being well spent. Even then the prices were still reasonable. Don’t deny your cravings.

KEFI
102-100 Schoolhouse Street, Coquitlam BC, V3K6V9
604-529-1776
kefi.ca
Kefi Greek Kouzina on Urbanspoon

Tapas 23

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I have lived in this city long enough to see restaurants come and go; buildings torn down and others built up. This was one of those times, where I have been to a location now reinvented. Given my less than stellar rating of the original, we were eager to see how its latest reincarnation would fare. Once home to “Crave” is has now been rebranded as a tapas restaurant.

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Located on Main Street, parking is tricky depending on time of day. We were aiming for mid afternoon so had our pick of the lot: side streets, metered parking, or lane ways with nothing signed. We came right at 3pm and caught the server still in mid prep. We let ourselves in anyways, as she confirmed the time. We were led to the very back of the restaurant. Pass the small bar upfront with seats facing out the window. Pass the shelf by the hostess podium, showcasing wine by the bottle. Our table was the closest to door leading to their patio out back; like the one out front, it was now close for the season. Though I could imagine both being quite the destination on a hot summer’s day. On weekends sangrias were on special for $5, an ideal drink in July, under the shade that their backyard patio provided. The patio out front was divided from the interior by a glass paned garage door. With a push of a bottom or a pull of crank this door would roll up and the space would open up. Instant fresh air. Though all these luxuries would have to wait until the days grew longer and the weather became less wet.

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The layout was as I remembered, it was the decor and menu that had been redesigned. The walls were papered in print and hung with Spanish posters. Each poster of various size was framed with various frames. They created visual interest. I couldn’t read what each read, but found them whimsical none-the-less. Especially the one with the mime dressed like a clown holding a bottled beverage in each hand. He wore a full black oversized onsie with ruffled collar; a masquerade mask covering half his face; and a top his head, a pointed cone for a hat. From afar the wallpaper resembled smudged ink blots in grey on a sheet white, but with a closer inspection they actually likened to a faux marble finish.

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Despite the large windows looking out at street level and the lighter coloured walls, the place was kept dark. Little was done to add brightness to the place. The lights were dimmed and the furniture was dark. Combined with narrow isles and the unique smell it felt like we were dining in a basement.

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The restaurant had a smell to it. An overwhelming punctuation that reminded me of rust and cobwebs. The kind of musky perfume suited to a great aunt or a duchess living in a dusty old mansion. Almost floral, but more befitting of an antique store, not a clean, well kept establishment serving food. As scent is attached to taste this concerned me. One of my guests insisted it was mould that we were breathing in. Either way it was outdated and unpleasant, but not enough for us to leave. The smell was eventually drowned out with familiarity and the sweeter scents of our dishes arriving.

What better for a meal in between meals than tapas, meant to be shared amongst friends. The website led me to believe we would be experiencing authentic Spanish tapas, in actuality the small plates had more of a Mediterranean influence, as listed by the menu.

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The menu was a one pager with specials printed in chalk. Conveniently the latter was listed on a blackboard strung up to our right. We only needed to look up and point to order. We were in time for their happy hour between 3-6pm. There were no separate menus to order off of, instead our server mentioned what would now be $5 instead of its regular price. Disappointingly this selection consisted of only three items and Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3 a can. We would later discover there were actually six $5 specials offered during happy hour, but only three were made available to us. A titbit we gathered from a takeaway insert included with our bill. How could they run out given we were the first customers in at 3pm and the first ones to order?

Vegetarian dishes indicated with a lower case “v” and “*” meant nuts. There were plenty for our vegetarian guest to partake in and plates delicious enough for us to share in. Plate after plate came and I appreciated how they all matched in colour and size. Visual consistency is a thing of beauty.

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“Charcuterie and cheese” the perfect pairing to wine and a good way to start our meal. It was an interactive display with lots of flavours and textures to discover alone or partner together. Cured meats and smoked cheeses, briny olives, fresh fruit, marinated mushrooms, pickled veggies, and crisp crackers and toasted bread to eat it all with. Our server had difficulty remembering all their formal names, I don’t blame her. I can’t even recall what she did manage to remember. This by far is one of the most elaborate charcuterie and cheese boards I have ever had. Not just the usual meat and cheeses with bread. But seasoned and pickled vegetables: button mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumber, and carrots; were an impressive ensemble. And the condiments and spreads included were an added bonus: a grainy mustard, a sweet and spicy chilli jam, and a citrus jelly compote.

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I have never seen so much blue cheese offered in any menu. We, three women, decided to indulge in the stuff as our partners prefer not to. They are unable to get past the cheese’s pungent smell to taste its bitter and buttery goodness. Unfortunately the two dishes they were supposed in had us playing hide and seek with its flavour.
We ordered the “Empanadas” on special for $5. Regularly it goes for $12, at that price I assume you at least get one more. Two empanadas filled with beef brisket and blue cheese, served with a Chimichirra sauce. When we cracked into each empanada it was piping hot with the steam that escaped. With its flaky pastry and thoroughly heated filling you could tell this was made to order. As mentioned I couldn’t make out any blue cheese promised on the menu, and I was looking and tasting hard for it. The beef was tender and pulled to a stringy consistency, having it baked in a crispy shell kept it moist. Though after the first bite I grew bored of its one note taste. Luckily the mild Chimichirra sauce help to add acidity and freshness to the dish, and to perk it up with a little spice.

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“Patatas Bravas”, their in house specialty. Baked and fried potato cubes served under a creamy garlic, chilli, tomato sauce. This varies from traditional Spanish cuisine, as most Spanish food isn’t meant to be spicy. Whereas this dish was almost too spicy. “Bravas” in the title is used to refer to the use of many spices in the dish, not that it is spicy hot. Without warning of the heat I took in a large mouthful with lots of thick sauce, thinking it would be similar to a homemade ketchup. Instead I set my mouth on fire, though it doesn’t help that I don’t have much of a tolerance for spicy hot foods in the first place. Once my tongue cooled, I only dared to pick at the un-sauced potatoes existing at the corners of the plate. The potatoes had a grainy, cakey consistency to them, like they weren’t cooked through. Whereas I expected a crispy bite given their golden brown exterior. They were bland, relying too heavily on the sauce for its flavour. They could have benefited with some more salt and a lot more seasonings.

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“Bruselas”, their signature dish that came highly recommended by our server. Sautéed and grilled Brussels sprouts served in a balsamic reduction, sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and slivered almonds. It doesn’t look too appetizing, but this was my favourite dish of the night. I enjoy a good deep fried sprout, but unfortunately didn’t get it here. The intended crispiness was lost due to the pool of sauce that each bulb was forced to sit in. The reduction had a sweater flavour that was most complimentary to the bitter vegetable and the salty cheese. The dish needed it to pop, but I suggest serving the balsamic on the side for self dipping instead. Thus allowing each Brussels sprout to remain crispy and giving the diner control of how much or how little sauce they wanted.

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The “Manchego stuffed dates wrapped in bacon” were on the board of specials. At $5 we didn’t need happy hour prices to enjoy them. Three one bite morsels of sweet and salty, chewy and gooey. Crisp bacon and melted cheese is a winning combination. Though the skewers could have done with some freshness. Maybe a sheet of pancetta for wrapping, instead of the overwhelmingly salty taste of bacon and the oily texture of bacon fat. For added sweetness and spice smear into the drizzle of balsamic and chilli mayo decorating the bottom of the plate.

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“El Tomate”, oven roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce. This took the longest to come, and what we eventually got was not what we had expected. We imagined a whole round and red heirloom tomato; baked in the oven until charred, then seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Surprisingly the tomatoes was yellow and there were two smaller ones still on the vine, instead of one large. It was a strikely well composed plate visually. Given that the quantity per order is not listed, it would have been nice of our server to offer to bump the order up, to charge more so that each of us could have our own tomato. This instead of attempting to split the last half three ways. The blue cheese was more pronounced here, a sharp and smokey after taste that paired well with the syrup-like balsamic drizzle. With the pointed slices of baguette we likened the dish to a do-it-yourself Italian bruschetta. The tomatoes themselves were a soggy pulpy bite, a texture that reminded me of baby food. I have had good roasted tomato in the past, and on each occasion it was done keeping some of its original firmness in tact. Whereas here, the fruit/vegetable caved in with just one cut. The thicker, lumper sauce did little to improve the enjoyment of eating the tomato mash; but the bread and it’s toasted crunch did help to add a solid texture.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Given what little of the menu we tried I wouldn’t be against a return trip. Solely based on its vegetarian offerings I deem them decent. But maybe dining with a omnivore, like myself, I will find more enjoyment in ordering off the full menu. Returning with someone who can appreciate anchovy toast, sautéed prawns in garlic cream, mussels in a white wine butter sauce, clams with chorizo and goat cheese, squid saut éed with capers, and braised short ribs. Or someone who would prefer more deep frying in their happy hour meal. Greasy sides to partner with cheap beer. “Cobello Fritos” spanish onion rings, homemade fries served with a roasted red pepper aioli, or potato crusted chicken wings. Overall the experience was decent: our server was very informal, the setting was comfortable enough, and the food average at best. There was just nothing that stood out for all the right reasons. An overall rating that may have be higher if not for the smell of the place. Don’t deny your cravings.

TAPAS 23
3941 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V5V3P5
604-620-8300
tapas23.com
Tapas 23 on Urbanspoon

Bellaggio Cafe

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When you work irregular hours it is sometimes hard to find a nice sit down restaurant open during the time between lunch and dinner. Today we found such a place. This wasn’t our first choice, but wanting to bypass the lines of its neighbours we directed our attention here. Good thing, as I think that what we had for how much we paid was better than the coffee and pastry we were originally aiming for.

We approached the hostess booth manned by two young women, one of which assumed the role of our server. We confirmed that lunch would be a speedy affair and sought a seat by the window, giving us the patio and sidewalk as our view. Great location, but it’s out of the way proximity meant we struggled to get service. Waving hands for refills and attempting uninterrupted eye contact to get the bill.

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The days were getting colder and the handsome patio out front was left unseated. Chairs with light wooden limbs and black faux leather cushions looked as comfy as anything available to us indoors. The large red umbrellas with their logo kept sun or rain out of the way, though the latter was more prevalent these days. The umbrellas were the only things that differentiated this patio from the other adjacent two.

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Inside, the room was cozy and warm. The accumulation of curiosities gave the space character. And the every day wear of fixtures gave aways its age. An antique globe on a weathered cabinet, a book shelf of tattered encyclopedia volumes by the washroom, and a bust in stone smirking proudly on the counter. The restaurant was ready for winter with a trimmed pine tree, a lit garland, and hanging sequinned ornaments. They helped to make the rest of the room festive and more homey.

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There was ample seating during the 1:30pm lull. Still in time for a late breakfast, and not yet time for happy hour. In the corner was their bar. A space set up to serve both gourmet coffees and specialty cocktails. Milk steamers and jiggers side by side. Shelves dedicated to teas leaves and coffee beans came together with bottles for wine and spirits. Each glass table top table was partnered with a bergère, an enclosed upholstered French armchair. It added an nice den-like feel to the room.

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Being an expert in art, my guest immediately pointed out what she felt was “strange”. While the cuisine was Italian the decor took its influences from the Spanish. Spanish colonial architecture in the tiled roof fixtures and iron railings. And Spanish influences in the mezzanine, the second level in a room with one floor. This was a balcony more for show than any given purpose.

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The menu was divided between meal types. Breakfast was a page that included the traditional eggs, bacon, and pancake platters; along with bagels, oatmeal, omelettes, and eggs Benedict. There were even frittatas: an open faced, deep dished, three egg omelette. Happy hour went from 2:30-6:00pm with 50% off all appetizers. Bar classics like chicken wings, calamari, onion rings, and various fries. And Italian inspired small plates like “gamberi fritti”, beer battered prawns with a lemon dill aioli. “Bruschetta pomodoro”, prosciutto, tomato, garlic, and basil in a balsamic reduction. And “truffle Parmesan fries”. For lunch or dinner salads, pasta, and large entrees were available. Again, Italian influences were prevalent: a “meat lasagne”, a “vegetarian cannelloni”, their daily risotto, and “veal parmigiana”.

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There was a lot I considered ordering, but we went with what lured us in the first place, the lunch special. Titled the “Bellaggio sandwich combo special”, this was the “chef’s creation” rotating from day to day, but stagnant at $12.50 each day. We lucked out on having it be vegetarian today, this accommodate my guest’a dietary preferences. The sandwich combo with our choice of soup, salad, or fries.

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My guest had her mushroom pesto sandwich with fries, and I had mine with New England style clam chowder. The marbled rye sandwich was filled with a large portobello mushroom cap, grilled red and yellow peppers, Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, and their in house made pesto spread. Each sandwich was accompanied by a side of spicy mayo, a handful of fried onion strings and a mound of fresh greens. I found the sandwich’s filling uneven, one large mushroom was used as the patty centring the sandwich, this meant not every bite came with mushroom. And worse, bites at each end came without fillings or sauces. Though when you get the right mouthful things were good. This is the type of sandwich you crave again.

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The soup was a New England style clam chowder. With an unexpected tomato base I was surprised to see a red light broth, as apposed to the more familiar thick white creamy one. The soup was filled with chunks of calm and diced vegetables. A soup that ate more like a meal, one that well complimented the vegetable sandwich. I preferred the sound of this over the vegetable barley.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If a simple sandwich special was this good, I can only imagine how delicious their pastas entrees were. I would like to try more in order to given a more concise review. So for now its a “like” and will return. Don’t deny your cravings.

BELLAGGIO CAFE
773 Hornby Street, Vancouver BC, V6C3G1
604-408-1281
bellaggiocafe.com
Bellaggio Cafe on Urbanspoon

Uncle Kebab

IMG_1765 Another food truck parked by my work place meant an early lunch and an opportunity to try something new. I love it when my food comes to me. 
I have to admit “Uncle Kebab” doesn’t took too appealing compared to the other more flashier and newer looking food trucks out there. By image alone this may not be your first choice. A white truck with yellow accents and a picture of a wrap blown up on the side. Sort of unspectacular. The menu is a chalk board wrapped in plastic saran wrap, to the side of the serving window. Like the truck it may not be the most appealing. But their slogan of “always fresh”, printed across the front of the truck is promising for those considering a meal here. The menu was basically two choices that came in either chicken, beef or vegetable. I had one of each with meat. 

IMG_1766I approached the window. The young woman that worked the front got up from her seat to greet me. She sat to the side, away from the direct view of the window, but with enough visibility to jump into action. I have mentioned this before, but as a food truck vendor I believe you need to attract pedestrians to approach your truck to try something new. Not just wait for one to approach you. You are not stationary and therefore need to adopt the practice of going to your customers in driving, and approaching your customers in selling. I have watched enough episodes of “FoodTruck Wars” to know what great food truck customer service can look like. 

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The food took a while to make, but considering it was “always fresh”, this was something worth waiting for. “Beef wrap with hummus and salad”. This was the longest wrap I have ever seen. That alone impressed me. The beef was very well seasoned. The meat firm, yet not over cooked. 
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“Extra large box in chicken”. This too came with hummus and salad, but on the side, instead of being all wrapped up. The chicken was moist with a great texture. Together it and the rice reminded my guest and I of Indian biryani. Biryani is essentially the Indian version of fried rice. It was seasoned with the very familiar curry spices. The same spices that were also used in a curry dry rub for the chicken. The side salad was extremely oniony. This salad is one that I would not advise you to have if you wish to have a conversation after its consumption. 
Essentially both items were the same dish, but in different formats. In both the hummus was distinctly fresh, with a good amount of tahini. Tahini is what give hummus its zip, otherwise it is just mashed up chick peas. All the ingredients together had an interesting flavour. Familiar yet different. No matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t make out the theme of the food. It tasted Greek with the olive oil salad and tahini hummus. Yet Indian with its bold curry and zesty spices. Thankfully both were complimentary to the another. Your mouth felt as if it was traveling the world. 

Today “Uncle Kebab” was conveniently parked in front of a public bench and garbage bin along south Granville. It provided the seating you don’t always get when eating at food trucks, and a place to discard your containers when you were done. Though the truck also provided their own garbage bin, something that I wish all food trucks did. 

Would I come back? – Yes. This is a case of not judging a book by its cover. The food held up on its own. I just wish that they put more of an effort into luring customers to try their food for the first time; because given the chance, after a taste you would come back for more.
Would I recommend it? – Not especially. The food was good, but not the best that I have had in its genre. But at $17.95 for both of the items above, it certainly warrants trying. Don’t deny your cravings. 

 

UNCLE KEBAB
604-375-4727
Uncle Kebab on Urbanspoon

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