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Category: Pacific Northwest Page 1 of 7

Water St. Café, take out

With the need to distance yourself socially, given the viral landscape we are currently living in, local restaurants are doing what they can to stay a float during these uncertain times. Many of them, such as “Water St. Cafe” are offering customers promotional pricing and deals. Like if you purchase a $50 “Water St. Cafe” gift card you get a second one at $15. It doesn’t need to be gifted. If you are planning on purchasing take out from them, you might as well buy a gift card to use as payment. The two together covers a full meal including appetizer, entree, and desert.

You can’t dine in, but you can still have the perfect romantic date night date by setting the mood for yourself, at home. And I can speak from experience, their food taste just as good out of biodegradable, cardboard take out boxes as it does from off of their dish ware served on their white clothed tables. Albeit, you don’t get their stunning view of the Gastown clock, but as a whole it can be whatever you make out of it.

Their full menu is available for take out or delivery via “Skip The Dishes” and “Uber Eats”. The following is what we ordered to celebrate the first day of spring. It is all about the little things right now, simple joys and any reason to be jovial. I suggest taking them all. Plus, indulging like this also supports local businesses like “Water St.” who have been serving Gastown for the last 32 years.

The “Water St. Salad” is a popular appetizer to share. A dressed bowl of Tuscan greens topped with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, half an avocado, pumpkin seeds, and cucumber; all coated in a honey lemon olive oil vinaigrette. A light start, better served as a side to accompany all the food before us.

The “West Coast crab cakes” are declared a “Water Street Cafe tradition” by the menu. A battered and deep fried round that includes Pacific rock crab and baby shrimp, served with preserve citrus, fennel, arugula, and a saffron aioli. Another light plate to wet the appetite with. A little bland as is, but ideal with the aioli that helps to brighten the serving up; along with a side of fennel for some crunch.

The “Short rib pappardelle” is one that never disappoints. It features 72 hour braised short rib raguet, confit garlic, fresh basil, and Asiago cheese. A comforting serving that fully satisfies with its sheets of thick el dente noodles, evenly coated in the sweeter tomato sauce and tender pulled meat. This is one I recommend.

The “Grilled wild bc salmon” was a great one to kick off spring with. Made with balsamic and honey pickled blueberries, and served with pan roasted potatoes. A flavourful main that I would have liked best if the salmon was left a little more raw, for a more silken texture. Something with a lot more moisture to offer in contrast to the soften potatoes, crisp veggies, and juicy berries.

The “Braised beef short rib” was a stunning plate. Two generous pieces of sous vide Prince Edward Island beef topped one over the other, on a bed of herb crushed potato, crispy onions, and a pool of hoisin jus. Another comfortable main that gave you the flair of fine dining with the familiarity of a causal, non pretentious plate. Tender meat and fresh vegetables, tried and true.

And for dessert we had the “Lemon tart” with housemade lemon crude, apricot glaze, and berry coulis. This, my guest raved about.

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.
For delicious, classic staples that are dressy yet comfortable and familiar, look to “Water St. Cafe” for a meal that doesn’t disappoint. And doing so now with their spend $50 get $15 back giftcard promo adds great value to your take out. Don’t deny your cravings.

Water St. Café
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
http://www.waterstreetcafe.ca/menus/

Hawksworth, brunch

My girl friend and I decided to do brunch this Saturday. We wanted a nicer venue and meal, and were willing to pay for it; so decided on “Hawksworth” at Hotel Georgia. It wasn’t very busy, we walked in and were able to get a lovely table by the window. And here, with the natural light I was able make out the interior of the restaurant clearly, having only visited during the dark of the evening, previously. The white of the upholstered chairs and booths brightened up the space with some freshness, while the shards of crystal from the oblong chandelier glinted in the sun. Light, that found its way in past the drapes and on to my shoulders. All in all it was a very lovely scene.

And since the setting was so delightful, we decided to linger in it for longer with the “BC mimosa kit”. A full bottle of sparkling served with three different juices that you can use to mix your own table side mimosa. “Blue Mountain Brut” with either blueberry, peach, or cherry juice. The bottle was kept on ice by the kitchen, yet our glasses remained dutifully full, thanks to the eagle eye sommelier. I tasted lavender in the blueberry juice, rose along side the cherry, and a bit of citrus with the peach juice. I found this a nice way to change up the flavour from drink to drink.

For food I originally wanted the “crab and prawn toast”, only to learn that for $27 you simply get the listed ingredients on a small piece of bread. Not enough to fill me, let alone pair with all the sparkling wine we committed to.

So instead, I opted for the omelette filled with brie, apples and walnut, served along side their “Parmesan new potatoes”. The omelette had a beautiful texture, a smooth blanket of egg that was not too sweet, and reminded me a lot like angel food cake in its mild flavour. I like the flavour combination, I just didn’t get enough of it. I specially wanted more salty brie. The potatoes looked like they had a good bake, but they could have been more crispy around the edges, as a nicer contrast to their soft centres. As for taste, the were seasoned enough that I didn’t ask for ketchup to squeeze over it.

My guest got the “Eggs royale”. An eggs Benedict where a toasted English muffin is topped with smoked salmon, and Hollandaise; and also served with the same Parmesan new potatoes as above. The salmon was not as expected. You read smoked salmon and imagine thin sheets of sashimi-like fish. But what we got was flaky chunks, a little nicer than what you get out of a can.

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.
Nothing was bad per se, it just didn’t measure up to the level that I associate with “Hawksworth”. Minus the mimosas, I felt like I could get this almost anywhere. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAWKSWORTH
801 West Georgia St, Vancouver BC
Rosewood Hotel Georgia
604-673-7000
hawksworthrestaurant.com

Visa Infinite Dining Series: Wildebeest

Today I was invited to my very first “Visa Infinite Dinner” featuring the collaborative efforts of “Wildebeest”, Vancouver and “Le Vin Papillon” in Montreal. Both of which helmed respectively by chefs Ian McHale and Jesse Grasso, friends and colleagues in this Montreal inspired meal to come. (As taken from the press release) Chef Grasso is “the third sibling in the Joe Beef clan and currently No.13 on Canada’s Top 100 list”. He will bringing his celebration of vegetables and cheeses to “Wildebeest’s” table of butchery, charcuterie, and game. A five course feast with canapés to start, and perfectly selected wine pairings every step of the way. Said wine was chosen by “Wildebeest’s” wine director, Christina Hartigan”. She is an impressive wine expert and enthusiast, with the title of BC’s second best sommelier.

“Wildebeest’s” cozy restaurant made the perfect setting for this private event. The narrow space had guests surrounded by red brick walls, wood panel separators, leather booths, and bulbs suspended by pulleys. Its rustic, yet homey feel played off their scratch-made, nose to tail, Pacific Northwest cuisine, well. We were seated towards the back, under the plume of a multitude of dried bouquets. Each seat was set with a name card and a menu listing the courses to come.

The night began with all the guests mingling in a mixed setting. Christina was at the back pouring glasses of “Jean Bourdy Crémant de Jura”. This was an easy drinking, 100% Chardonnay made in champagne-style. She mentioned that this was the perfect bottle to pair with likes of the light snacks that were also being passed around at this time.

The “Pomme Anna with kamouraska smoked eel” were tasty potatoes bites fried in waygu fat, and then topped with the eel and a dollop of sweeter mayonnaise. It was sumptuously rich and fatty in all the right ways. Definitely a great one to have with beer, or better yet: the sparkling above.

Next to be passed out was the “Waygu tartare with Chilliwack Horseradish”. It was served in a porcelain spoon for easy eating. It had a peppery tang that ended fairly garlicky. I liked the flavour, but am not a fan of the texture of tartare in general. Whereas, I prefer my raw beef in sheets, rather than minced.

I really liked the “Chicken liver and foie gras parfait with preserved wild berries on brioche”. I could have eaten a half dozen of these. Deliciously luscious pâté, smeared on thick. The sweetness of the berry played off the meaty paste well, and the crunchy brioche added some needed texture to the bite.

And I think this is first time trying whelks. They are much like their land cousins, and even seasoned similarly, here. These sea snails were prepared in plenty of butter with fragrant herb and garlic to finish. The seasonings masked anything musky you might not have wanted. I did like the firm chew of the whelks, it was a texture more like squid than escargot, which I prefer.

The “little neck clam with mirepoix bolognese” was served in shell. A scoop with flavours that ate like a meal, but I didn’t get much clam coming through.

When time, we were all directed to our assigned seats to start our meal. But first, a quick introduction to the program before us and acknowledgment of our traveling guest chef. Then our sommelier Christiana guided us through her wine choices, featuring many natural wines to speak to “Le Vin Papillon”.

The sit down portion of our night began with the “Mai & Kenji Hodgson Les Aussigouins 2016 Chenin Blanc; from Anjou, France. This is wine with a Vancouver connection. It is made by a former Vancouver wine writer that moved to France to make wine. His vintage was a lovely, medium bodied white with no oakiness, a fresh sipper that would pair well with the saltiness of the ham and starchiness of celeriac to come.

“Little burgundy ham, Avonlea cheddar, and brown butter”. This was one of the best ham and cheese platters I have ever had to date; and that says a lot, as this was just one of each kind being offered. But perfection together, with the savoury sweetness of the brown butter sauce coming through. I couldn’t stop picking at it. The creamy texture from the mildly smoked ham was memorable, especially how it played off the sharp and chalky cheese.

“Slow roasted celeriac, pickled chantrelles, and smoked walnuts”. Much like the dish above, this too was a light start that focused on delicious textures. Each element came together for a well balanced bite. Smooth celeriac, meaty mushrooms, and crunchy walnuts; best with a smear of oil from the pool at the bottom of the plate.

Our next wine tasting was the “Hajszan Neumann Nussberg 2018 Grüner Veltliner” from Vienna, Austria. Our in house sommelier declared that this is a wine that doesn’t get enough attention, so she would bring light to it here. It pairs well with any green vegetable, like the leeks in our fish course below. Its dairy nods went well with the green sauce and its savoury notes.

The “Lois Lake Steelhead, with Salt Spring Island mussels, leek velouté, Chilliwack lemongrass, and shore greens” would be my favourite dish of the night. And this is surprising considering I don’t often gravitate towards fish, or would I choose it over a heavy red meat main or a decadent pasta. But this buttery fish that ate like sashimi had it all, and I would order it again in a heartbeat. The freshness of the puréed leeks, the zested lemon in the sauce brightening things up, and the perfectly pedestal-ed mussels creating both visual and textural interest.

Next for wine we had the only red of the night, ideal for the red meat to follow. “La Stoppa Macchiano 2011 Barbera, Bonarda. This was a limited release from Central Northern Italy, pulled out from a cellar. It is a blend of two grapes at 50/50, all picked from a single vineyard. Made using traditional wooden vats that are unfiltered and triple decanted. The result, a smokier red with fine tobacco notes.

The red’s tartness helped to balance out the saltiness from the “Pastrami Pithivier served with sauerkraut, foie gras, house mustard, and bordelaise”. This was basically the merging of two Classic Montreal foodstuffs. A tourtiere filled with shredded Montreal smoked meat. But sadly I am not a fan of smoke meat, even with the delicious mustard plates. But I did appreciate the artistry and butteriness of the flaky pie crust and the gravy that I picked up with it.

Next, was the “Quebec cheese course”, another simple serving that I was caught off guard by how much I liked. There was pageantry in the plating of the Jersey royal cheese, topped with real honey comb, and served along side butterfly shortbread cookies and Quebec lingonberry. The latter most was even cultivated by monks in Quebec. This was a clean presentation that ate that way too. You spread chunky cheese over not all that sweet cookie, and topped it off with tangy berries in syrup. It was as fun to eat as it was to craft.

To pair with it we enjoyed an unique Quebec cider that you can’t normally find in BC. This is a bottle of fermented, 100% russet. Apples and cheese are a natural pairing and together the sweetness of the cider mellows out cheese above. But with an oakiness to it from the fermentation process. Dry and effervescent, it helped wash everything down.

And to close out the night, dessert was a “Grand Fir: Black locust, Chantilly, and cannoli pastry”. The pastry had an amazing crunch to it, like a solid strip of corn flake with ground sugar. And the black locus gel was set with vinegar, making it not too sweet. But I am not a fan of the texture of whipped creams in general, so it was a little much for me here. Although, I did enjoy the fresh lemon zest I got from it.

As its paring and our last glass, we had the “LaStella Moscato d’Osoyoos 2018 Muscat”. It is from Osoyoos in BC, but done in an Italian style; making it not as sweet as other Moscatos. A light sparkle coupled with floral and peachy notes.

In conclusion I was floored by the quality and caliber of this dinner, nothing disappointed. It delivered as advertised and I would be clamouring to attend any such Visa Infinite dinners in the future. And if you ever get the chance I suggest you do too. Simply fantastic.

Get tickets to exclusive Visa Infinite Dining Series events featuring unique chef collaborations, multi-course meals and wine pairings all in a private setting at Canada’s top restaurants.
https://www.visainfinite.ca/infinite/en/home.html?category=foodWineLink

Wildebeest
120 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1G8
(604) 687-6880
wildebeest.ca

H Tasting Lounge, Winter High Tea

There are a handful of cafes and tea salons offering a Christmas themed high tea this season. But “H Tasting Lounge” is setting itself apart with their Ferris wheel display, the ability to have mulled wine with your finger sandwiches, and to enjoy live music with it all.

Their festive tea is only available on weekends, from November 30th to December 29th, from 11:30am to 4:30pm. The cost is $55 per person. After reading the press release, I ventured down to be the first person to try it, on what should have been its release date. However, due to complications with the menu, it was delayed for the following week. So I ended up dining with them the first day, tasting from their new winter menu instead; and then returning a week later to try the official winter tea service. This post will be an accumulation of the two visits.

I am a huge fan of “H Tasting Lounge’s” modern space. It speaks to luxury with velvet furniture in soft pastels, metallic throw pillows, and gold panel detailing with a 20’s flair. The latter, a remnant of the aviation themed bar they originally launched as. We grabbed my favourite seat, within the open space. One of the two c-shaped booths in the corner, by the patio entrance. A crushed blue velvet backdrop in your very own booth. It hugs you and your guests, whilst offering just the right amount of intimacy for two.

High tea starts with a box of loose leaf teas to sort and sniff through. You un-lid each vial and make your choice based on smell, much like a sensory menu.

Given that I was the very first person, during the very first service of this, they were still working out the kinks. Meaning we weren’t given the option for either of their two seasonal teas; which we would have ordered. The “Tealeaves Nutcracker Black Tea Blend” and/or the “Tealeaves Organic Herbal Sugar Plum Fairy”. So in the this case, I went for their “organic vanilla rooibos” instead.

Teas is served in a modern white and gold gilded tea pot that matches with your cup and saucer. It comes with milk and sugar, should you need it.

Although, I am more partial to their alcoholic drink options, and highly recommend either their “Mulled Wine” or “Miracle on Bayshore Dr.” cocktail. The latter a mix of rye, brandy, gingerbread syrup, milk, whole egg, and marshmallows. But today I went with the mulled wine, because where else can you get mulled wine (not at an outdoor market)? Here it is made with red wine, holiday spices, brandy, and peach schnapps. The wine is steeped with sugar plum tea leaves, and infused with clove cinnamon and star anise. After one sip, I concluded that I much rather a glass of mulled wine indoors, with each sip furthering my warmth.

Looking for another hot beverage to get tipsy on? They also have a lovely “Rye chai”, served warm in a tea pot. Made with rye, mezcal, apricot, falernum, lemon, and chai. It was a strong sipper, but I didn’t get much of the chai flavour I anticipated. Good hot or cold with the natural burn of the alcohol fuelling things.

For something just as festive, but packed with ice, their “Cranberry cobbler” offers dessert in a glass. Gin, cranberry, all spice dram, and lemon. This was refreshing and effervescent, with the cranberry offering its unique blend of sweetness and tartness.

As for the actual food portion of the tea service, it is a combination of savoury and sweet bites swinging back and forth on their precarious Ferris wheel. Take it from first hand experience, it is best to remove all the elements from the tower before you start eating. Emptying one glass plate throws off the balance of the entire apparatus, and spinning it has plates catching on to one another. Worst case scenario, everything falls and you have mashed cake on the table.

The follow is what we had, in the order in which we ate it. From lightest to heaviest, savoury to sweet, starting with the soup. Served in a shot glass, the “Squash Soup” with an herb and cheese crisp was a sumptuous start. A thick and creamy soup, so rich that it could function as a sauce, especially when dipping the crispy flaky cheese twist into it. I wanted a larger bowl of this, to enjoy alongside the sandwich I liked below.

This was a savoury bite reminiscent of the season: “Confit Turkey Sandwich” with apple butter and cranberries. It reminded me of a classic turkey dinner all in one easy to eat handheld. Juicy, pulled, white turkey meat, sage and thyme seasonings, and pops of sweet cranberry. The only thing that was missing was a cup of gravy to smother it all in, thanksgiving turkey style.

My favourite feature of the set was the “Tourtière”. A savoury ground meat pie with a golden brown buttery crust, topped with a crispy fragrant sage leaf. This was just beautifully done. I have had my fair share of this Québécois classic, and to date this is my favourite.

Not winter specific, but familiar to any high tea tower is the “Smoked Salmon & Cucumber sandwich”. The “H Tasting” version is served on rye bread. This is a classic that tasted exactly as you expect it to.

Similarly, there were scones included, scones being another staple to any good tea tower. Each was a perfectly crafted raisin scone: crispy, flaky, and crumbly all in one. It was just as shame that they didn’t make them with the cranberries and thyme that was used to decorate the plate. This would have spoken better to the holiday theme. Though it didn’t stop me from taking a bite of the scone and popping thyme and cranberry into my mouth after it. The scones also come with a jar of orange fruit spread and clotted cream, though the former wasn’t necessary given how much dried fruit there is already on the plate and within the scones themselves.

The menu described this as the “Festive Cotton Candy Bonsai Tree”. I understand the “tree” part, with the mental object being the “trunk” that the round of green and pink cotton candy sat on. However, I was still missing the “festive” portion of it. It could have been flavoured like peppermint, or given a sprinkle of powdered sugar for snow. It didn’t speak to Christmas, but instead spring. Nonetheless it was fun to eat, we enjoyed pulling tuffs from this impressively spun cloud of sugar.

Next we moved on to the dessert portion of our high tea service. Here, we learned that all the restaurant’s pastries are outsourced by “Faubourg Bakery”. They were okay, but I wasn’t expecting this from a hotel property of this caliber. And maybe if it was all made in house, I might have liked them more.

The “Yule Log” was the visual show stopper, it immediately spoke to the holiday with almond jaconde, praline, and ganache. It had a nice chocolatey hazelnut flavour, but a little too sweet for my taste. My guest on the other hand was not only enamoured by this visual, but liked its taste as well.

I couldn’t taste the gingerbread mousse or cranberry compote from the “Festive Profiterole”. The shell was a little soggy and the spices lacking. This wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped.

I preferred the mild flavour of the “Frangipane Cake” with spiced pear and almond. A dense cake that is a little on the dry side. Though the pear in its syrupy coating helped to moisten the two bite treat, flavouring it with hints of cinnamon and apple.

I also didn’t get any gingerbread in the “Gingerbread Cake”. The sponge was chewy with a burnt caramel flavour, and the black currant mousse tasted more like raspberry with its tartness and colour. Sadly, it was bolder in hue than taste.

Overall, I preferred the savoury options to the sweet. None of the desserts, outside of the Yule log, felt or look all that seasonal. Much like the restaurant’s decor, there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas flare. A tree or two outside the restaurant and the ability to cozy up with one of their fur blankets if you get cold. I wanted peppermint, more gingerbread, and/or eggnog. More embellishments and more red and green as the holiday is known for. The Ferris wheel wasn’t even decorated in tinsel. It could have been hung with metallic balls. And the cotton candy bonzai, could have easily been reinvented into a cotton candy Christmas pine with coloured sprinkles and a candied star topper. I am still glad I got to try it, and can’t hold the pastries against them, considering it wasn’t prepared by “H Tasting” go begin with.

But if you are looking for something more heartier, they do have their new winter food menu out as well. The following is what we tried from it.

Their new persimmon dish is the fruit sliced thin like carpaccio and topped with kohlrabi and a sesame praline, then drizzled in a mint and orange blossom vinaigrette. I was surprised by how satisfying this was, and how much it ate like a fulsome dish. Everything came together for a complimentary collection of flavours and textures, with the candied granola being the standout. Tangy and sweet, crunchy and refreshing, and altogether one worth trying, during your next visit.

Something just as light and refreshing, yet satisfying is the new “Burrata” dish. Fresh Burrata from California, topped with Northern Divine caviar; sitting on top of a creamy pea purée, with a fresh pea shoot salad. You eat the cheese like a spread, smeared on top of crispy crostini. The greens add some pepperiness, the purée some sweetness, and the caviar a certain level of elevation that I expect from the setting. Wonderfully simple, yet indulgent.

We also ordered their seafood platter. It is available in three sizes. Small, medium, large; each incrementally giving you more food, although not more variety. So I advise ordering the small version, like we did; and supplementing it with appetizers like we had above. The result, a beautifully fresh collection of kusshi oysters, poached prawns; and halibut carpaccio with a house made carrot kimchi. All served with fresno oil, mignonette, and a cocktail sauce flavoured with gin for dipping. I wouldn’t recommend pairing the kimchi with the gentle white fish, the former was overpowering, and you want to taste the natural flavour of the halibut. In fact, I am not m sure why one is put over the other. I did like the substitution of carrots for cabbage in this spicy fermented mix. This change gave a dish I tend to avoid, a new texture profile I actually like. (I am not a fan of the texture of wilted greens).

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 honestly wish that the property was closer to a skytrain station, so I could and would frequent it more often. And with continuous updates to their menu like so, they are giving me multiple reasons to take the commute. Highly recommended for a good time. Don’t deny your cravings.

H TASTING LOUNGE
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4
604-682-3377
htastinglounge.com

Tacofino Commissary on Hastings

Although I live in the area, I have yet to visit this location of “Tacofino”, until today. I like their Vancouver based offerings enough, and how each menu varies from location to location. But my first taste of “Tacofino” was in Tofino, and there is just something about them there that can’t be compared or duplicated. None-the-less, my partner was craving quick tacos and here we were.

Their small location was fully packed this Sunday evening. The roar of the patrons could be heard from the side walk, walking into their all white facade. There are a few individual tables if you are lucky, but majority of the seating is communal across three long ones. We hopped on the bar hoping for quicker service, only to realize how busy the lone bartender was; making margaritas non stop.

We ordered a beer to change things up, and to sip on as we waited. “Pacifico” imported from Mexico topped with a lime. The bartender thanked us for our patience, as we came during their busy bout.

The restaurant is dark, minimal light shines through the maze of orbs, strung up across the ceiling. A tangle of copper wire and ceramic pots, with artificial succulent and leafy plants. It certainly draws your attention upward.

Their menu is fulsome with burrito and taco options, as well as several appetizers and a few desserts for before and after. We would snack on their name sake.

Tuna with soy, sesame, salsa fresca, wakame, ginger, and wasabi mayo. There was a wait for the seaweed salad to thaw and our server asked if I cared or wanted it on the taco. I did, so waited, and thankfully so, as it pulled the flavours together. Tuna and seaweed with pickled ginger, and sweet mayo is a classic combination; this was exactly as I imagined it. And I was thrilled over how generous their slab of barely seared tuna was, you definitely get your value here.

Similarly, the grilled wagyu steak offered plenty of perfectly pink meat slathered with black garlic mayo cream; made fresh and fun with pickled vegetables and jalapeño. All together everything had plenty of chew and crunch, it reminded me of a banh mi with the carrot and daikon. Delicious.

The chicken taco was my partner’s favourite. It certainly had the most going on. Chicken that is nacho-crusted and topped with braised red cabbage, LP mayo, pickled apple, pepper greens, and turmeric popcorn. You can defiantly taste and feel the crunch of the nacho crust, the popcorn was a fun visual, and the cabbage offered up freshness. I just would have liked more apple for its sweetness, and to better balance out the pepperiness of the greens.

The pork starred in this taco, with its tasty caramelization. The fattiness and the sauciness of it was balanced by the cabbage, fried shallot, pineapple, and sriracha toppings. Every ingredient sang in unison, this was a well conceived taco.

Given how great everything was today I grabbed one of their signature “Diablo chocolate cookies” to go. And just feeling it in its paper bag I knew this was gonna be good. Soft and chewy, with three perfectly formed chocolates finishing it off. It gave you the perfect marriage of spicy and sweet with chilli and dark chocolate.

 

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.
Based on previous, inconsistent experiences I came in apprehensively, but left raving. I liked all the tacos we tried and will be looking forward to having the others on our next visit. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

TACOFINO
2327 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5L 1V6
604-253-8226
tacofino.com

Showcase Restaurant, #ChickenWingsChallengeYVR

Tonight I was at “Showcase”, here to try another “Vancouver Foodster Chicken Wing Challenge” contestant. I am 1 of 3 judges looking for the best wings in the city.

Admittedly I have been to “Showcase” a handful for times, but never to sit down and eat, so I was excited to get the full experience today.

We choose to sit in the lounge, adjacent to the bar for ambience sake. Although the menus between their bar and their dining area do differ, and if you want a certain item, you need to be seated accordingly. However, the chef and staff obliged, and an exception was made where we were able to taste from both menus at our table; seated by the all glass exterior. An exterior shared with the the “Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel”.

We took all our chef’s suggestions and were not disappointed. We also got to learn a little more about Chef Westley. He had his apprenticeship at “Showcase” many years ago, then left to work at the “Vancouver Club” for a year, following that he started his own catering company, and shortly after landing himself a desk job as the product developer for “Joey’s” the chain. However, not being able to cook as much as he wanted to, he found his way back to “Showcase” all these years laters, now as the “Chef de Cuisine”, helming the kitchen and launching their new dinner menu.

In fact the very wings I would be judging today were from Chef Westley, added on to the regular menu before he left, and kept on due to popular demand. Our server even made a point to mention to us that they were her favourite menu item, and she had pushed back when the kitchen announced that they were going to update them. So here they are, just as they were 4 years ago.

“Soy marinated chicken wing”. They are breaded and fried, then tossed with a soy ginger glaze and topped with spicy aioli. They are only available on their bar and happy hour menu, but the restaurant has been known to serve them wherever their fans want them. They were hearty and meaty wings, with plenty of crunch from the thick and lumpy coating. It had that lick your fingers quality to them. A tad on the salty side, making them the ideal pairing with beers at the bar.

From off of the dinner menu we enjoyed some seafood. “Grilled pacific humbolt squid” with romesco sauce, watercress, fennel, charred lemon vinaigrette, and pine nuts. This was a beautifully elevated dish befitting of a classy hotel lobby restaurant. The flavours in this were bold and tangy with dull spice, and the greens and fennel added freshness to the smokey char of the squid.

Next, we enjoyed “Seared Ocean Wise scallops”, I love a good scallop and found there aren’t enough of them on menus; so to be able to try them here, so well done, was a treat. Prepared with Ajo Blanco, caramelized cauliflower, and calabrian chilli. This was my favourite dish with the night, and I would order a bowl of the cauliflower as is.

To drink I tried one of their new cocktails, created by their new cocktail consultant from “Odd Society”. The “Hibiscus cosmo” with vodka, fresh lime, orange liqueur, and salted hibiscus syrup. This was a modern, less sweet take on the cosmo. It was very refreshing with citrus, but I kept looking for more floral notes from the hibiscus.

And for dessert I couldn’t stay no to trying their “Japanese cotton cheesecake”. I am not a fan of rich desserts, so a light and fluffy cake with the texture of angel food cake but more custard-like, was a nice way to end the meal. Dressed with pink grapefruit, yogurt cremeux, and white chocolate puffed rice. I liked the burst of freshness from the fruit, the extra decadence from the cream, and the crunch of the puffed rice.

 

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.
Now that I know the food is this good, I will be back. They have the menu of a great waterfront restaurant, but sadly without the view or setting, shame. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SHOWCASE
1122 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6E 4J6
604-639-4040
showcaserestaurant.com

H Tasting Lounge, new patio

The start of the recent heat wave perfectly coincided with the opening of “H Tasting Lounge’s” new patio. A classy way to eat and drink outdoors, with all the qualities and comforts of a luxury hotel. I have frequented the spot more as a drinking hole, so was exited to be able to get a taste of the cuisine today.

The patio was sleek with a dark wood laminate floor, made more stylish with the white heat lamps that looked like actual lamps with their shade and pedestal base. Adjacent, tiered umbrellas offered the grey and blue loungers and couches some reprieve from the sun and the heat. All with a view of the water in the distance and the cityscape reaching for the sky behind it.

Today, guests were invited to wander in and out of “H”. The tables were pushed aside and the restaurant turned in to a dance floor. Here, food and drink stations were set up for self serve, self indulgence. The kitchen was offering scaled up versions of food and drink off of their regular menu. Giving attendees a great way to sample the menu for future visits.

Inside the restaurant, were 3 tables worth of cheese and meats; pushed together to form one of the longest charcuterie boards I have ever seen.

The “European cheese plate” with a seasonal marmalade, pickled grapes, and seed crackers.

The “Local charcuterie” board including whole grain mustard, pickled grapes, and baguette slices.

And the “Quiche Lorraine” that was a new one for me. Two rounds of pancetta, goat cheese, and zucchini eaten like a spread.

As for drinks, there was plenty to taste and many more to inspire your next sip by the seaside. Drinks included a welcome glass of sparkling and Moët on ice.

At the bar, cocktails were shaken and stirred to order. Here I had the “Thinner walls”, ordering off a menu that included photos (a smart move, catering to the likes of me, those who love a visual cocktail. Naturally, I gravitated towards the green drink with a pea shoot for garnish. It was a wonderful visual and tasted like a spiked green juice with tequila, snow peas, suze, lemon, and soda. The first healthy drink that I got my buzz on to.

I liked the tea station where premixed tea based cocktails were poured and garnish to order. The “Late blossom smiles tea” is normally served in a tea pot, so to paid homage to this, they were served in Japanese style tea cups today. Vodka, st. germain, lillet blanc, nutcracker tea, honey, lime, and soda; completed with a bobbling flower. I liked how you could taste both the black tea and the spirits equally, they were well balanced.

Similarly in balance was the “Rye Chai”, chai tea meets rye, mezcal, apricot liqueur, falernum, and lemon. A beautiful cocktail that I fully enjoyed, it reminded me more a sweet southern tea with a kick.

On the patio, keeping cool over ice was a collection of sashimi and selfish. You could see it across the room thanks to the two giant “H” ice sculptures marking these ice baths. One was a collection of oysters, being shucked adjacent and slurped up fresh.

The second ice station had two bite servings of crudo and carpaccio.

“Kanpachi crudo” with blood orange, pickled butternut, shiso, and sumac kiwi. A refreshing snack that spoke to the quality of their seafood.

The “Halibut crudo” was seasoned in a yuzu vinaigrette with anjou pear, thyme, and micro kale. Sadly my serving was so very salted, that it made my lips pucker.

The “Tuna carpaccio” was my favourite of the three given some pizzaz with pickled watermelon, fresno chili, and mint.

And as we ate, servers toured the patio offering up for more appetizers on trays. Bites like the “Beef tartare” with egg yolk, shallot, caper, chive, and horseradish. A delicious morsel that you easily popped into your mouth.

The “Salmon tartare” with tarragon, cucumber, lemon, labneh, and hibiscus was a refreshing starter, served on an endive leaf.

The “Lump crab cake” was tasty, a crispy baked shell hiding a creamy, flaky crab filled centre; sauced up with their Old bay aioli.

I liked the “Morel mushroom tartine” made with ricotta, black garlic mustard, watermelon radish, and micro kale. Earthy and saucy, one of the more filling, roving appetizers.

And I fully enjoyed the mini West Coast lobster rolls with much gusto. Sweet shellfish, creamy mayo, and a hint of dill for freshness.

For dessert they had “Uno Gelato & Sorbet” doling out their ice cream on site. A cute cart attached to a bicycle, where you could get scoops of either salted caramel, mango, or their vegan “Midnight chocolate” in small cups. I had the former and found it too sweet for my taste.

 

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. In truth I have actually have never had a full meal here, my visits typically start and end at the bar, so this was a nice teaser of them and their new patio. And one lavish enough to have me wanting to return for the full experience. I would love to revisit on a separate occasion, to more accurately account for what’s it like to dine-in and drink out on their patio. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

The Westin Bayshore
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4
604-682-3377
htastinglounge.com

Alta Bistro

Declared the best restaurant in Whistler, at the Van Magazine awards, I found myself at the threshold of “Alta”, as part of a tourism of Whistler organized trip. Truthfully, majority of our group has never heard of this place and I frequent Whistler enough to know all of its drinking holes, or so I thought. Either way, I would get a chance to experience the buzz tonight.

“Alta” hosts an intimate setting, kept romantic in dim lighting. You walk into a lengthy bar that opens up into a more spacious dining area. There, we sat around a long wooden table, under a set of paintings showcasing Whistler’s snow capped mountains.

But what caught my attention was the shelf of jarred perseveres. Mason jars of lemons, beets, carrot, and peas, etc.

We started off with some drinks. I was tempted by all the wine stacked on racks and the wall of bottles separating the bar from the dining room. And more so after learning about their special machine that serves wine, fresh every time. Poured from the bottle, with every glass as good as the first. This specialized machine ensures no air gets in the bottle, resulting in the freshness of it for up to 3 weeks. Many of the others went the wine route, ordering half pours to be able to try more. What a great idea in place of a flight.

I however, wanted to try their cocktails. Like their food, many of their drinks too feature ingredients locally sourced and foraged in their backyard.

I was intrigued by the “Garden party” with its use of spring pea pods, along with Sheringham aquavit, yuzu puree, homegrown mint, and fresh lemon. I got the citrus, but none of the pea. Overall, this was refreshing drink, similar to that of a mojito.

The “Rhubarbarita” was tequila forward and only rhubarb in colouring. Olmeca Altos reposado, Cointreau, spring rhubarb, and fresh lime; served on the rocks with a smear of sweet lime sea salt. I wish I got more of the vegetable that would have been highlighted by the sea salt.

The “Rainforest daiquiri” is a mix of Havana Club 3 years anejo, lillet blanc, Douglas fir and green tea liqueur, fresh lime and a hint of green chartreuse. It was refreshing and you got the piney notes from the Douglas fir sprig.

The “equinox” was today’s special and a pretty cocktail. Bombay gin, flower and luxardo cordial.

As for food, I took advantage of their $29 three course meal. Here, you choose two appetizers and an entree from a list of choices. First course was between soup or oysters, so I went for the latter. Two fresh oysters with horseradish, lemon, apple, and ortega granite. They were of the East Coast PEI variety, but on the smaller side.

 

For my second course, I went for the most unique sounding of four options. This was the “Venison tartare and chicken liver parfait” with a rye and chocolate cracker, egg yolk, thyme, parsley, picked shallot, and malted black barely. This was a very inventive dish, plenty of flavours paired together that I have never had prior. I didn’t get any of the chocolate on the crackers, but plenty from the crust that surrounded the meat. This was a nutty spread that I wish was more salty and meaty, like a pate. A little too rich to finish, but interesting to try.

And for my third course I went for the “Pork shoulder cassoulet” with slow cooked white bean, a soft poached egg, rich pork jus, bacon, frisse salad, and crackling. A stew full of textures and warming flavours. The pork meat was tender, the bacon crunchy, the beans gritty, the greens crispy, and the runny egg bound it all together with its creaminess. I liked the idea and the flavour of the pork rinds, just not how thick and hard they were. It was hard to bite down to size, and therefore hard to enjoy together with the rest of the cassoulet.

Our table also shared a side of “Seasonal veggies”, maple roasted carrots and freshly picked sea asparagus. Some light and refreshing bites to balance out the richness and the gravy soaked flavours above.

As for desserts, the chocolate mousse cake caught my eye, with its candied lichen (Moss) edible decoration. The candied lichen didn’t really taste like much, but it was such a unique way to showcase something else hand picked from Whistler’s back yard.

 

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 different way to experience all that Whistler has to offer through its edible nature. This favourite spot of local, is soon to be a popular destination, so be sure to stop by during your next drive up. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ALTA
104-4319 Main Street, Whistler BC, V0N 1B4
604-932-2582
altabistro.com

Dockside: new chef, new menu

Warmer weather in Vancouver marks patio season, and a great one to soak up the sun at is Granville Island’s “Dockside Restaurant”. I have visited a handful of times, but today’s trip down was also in celebration of their new head Chef: Zach Steele. I would get to meet him in person, and learn a lot more about him through his food. Steele is born and raised in Vancouver, and comes with a very special connection to the property. For over 29 year his mother has had her Christmas staff parties at “Dockside”, and for majority of them, Zach was present. So when an opportunity came to helm the long standing kitchen, the nostalgic draw was enough to have him sighing a contract. Not to mention, he himself feels that “Dockside” boasts the best patio in the city.

I would agree with his sentiment as I made myself across several of their available seats. On the lounger, under the cabana with a view of yachts in tow. Under the covered dining area with a wood table at proper dining height. And finally setting on a cluster of comfy seats with small side tables, and the possibility for conversation and mingling with friends.

As for food, every thing and every process has been overhauled, which is largest change to ever come out of the restaurant. The new chef has redone the entire menu program, including how everything is prepared, prepped, and stored. Even their distributors are all new. Everything it absolutely fresh and Ocean Wise, nothing is kept under chill in the fridge. Even sauces are prepared from scratch now. And speaking from experience of before and after, you can taste the difference. Their food has always been okay, you go in fearing a miss, but being surprised by a hit now and again. However, everything we had tonight was good and a lot I would order again on subsequent visits.

We started with an elevated twist on the corn dog, but here, these battered and fried meat on sticks featured duck. They are served with 3 dips for your tasting pleasure: a sweet and grainy mustard, one with beer and maple, and a spicy dip with horse radish. The corn dog itself was rich in curry spices from the batter and stuffed full with a nugget of duck meat. This was a grown up taste, only available on their happy hour menu.

The “Wagyu beef carpaccio” was amazingly succulent, for a tissue-thin piece of meat. Dressed with Dijonnaise, crispy capers, arugula, and Parmesan; this was a collection of toppings that worked well together, while still allowing you to taste the quality of the Alberta wagyu.

The “Seared Scallops” were beautifully plated. The squid ink aioli they sat in not only offered a contrast to the golden brown scallops and the collection of fresh greens and pickled fennel tops with bacon; but it gave the dish a wonderfully deep umami sensation.

As a vegan option for one of the guests was served a wonderfully sophisticated heirloom carrot dish with baba ganoush and fennel. I have never seen such dressed up plates from “Dockside”, so already you can see the elevation the new head chef was bringing. I actually didn’t get a taste of this, but will admit I wanted too from its look alone.

But I was also more than happy to get my vegetable intake from the roasted cauliflower dish. Cauliflower florets, cauliflower purée, and pickled golden raisins, in a lemon caper vinaigrette. It was a familiar and comforting dish available at many such restaurants, but done with small variations to make it their own. Firm cauliflower dipped into a saucy version of itself. I didn’t notice the raisin all to much though, but it is still the one I would order again.

The “Steak-crese” also had me eating my vegetables. Flat iron steak, tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto mayo, arugula, avocado, and dried currants; all in a sherry vinaigrette. The steak was perfection, and the star of the dish. And the collection of vegetables under it ate more like a well conceived assembly than a quick salad. Everything was fresh and fragrant, coming up to the level of the medium rare steak dressed in a tasty pesto. And it is worth nothing that this pesto is different from that of the pasta below. I appreciate it when dishes vary from one another. Chances are you will order a few to share with your table mates, and it is unfortunate when your choices are similar to one another, and you find flavour profiles repeating themselves.

I fully enjoyed the “Orecchiette pesto”. Prepared with a broccoli-basil pesto with pistachios, broccoli florets, and Asiago cheese. I was surprised by how much flavour they got into this with cream and broccoli. The pasta was cooked perfectly and each round coated fully. For those who want to go gluten free with this, you can substitute the orecchiette with zucchini noodles instead.

For a completely different dish I really enjoyed the broth of the “Cioppino”. Mussels, clams, salmon, halibut, and prawns bobbing about in a saffron and fennel tomato broth. A classic in San Francisco, this is “Dockside’s” take on a West Coast version. Tangy, vinegary, and sharp; whilst allowing you to take in the bevy of seafood and their various tastes. And the best part, it comes with a thick piece of bread to allow you fo dip in and soak up all that soupy goodness.

The fennel and lemon stuffed whole trout was another great looking plate. Though it does come with dining instructions as this fish naturally has more bones. If you gingerly scrape the meat you can avoid said share spines. This was a light, local, and in season fish paired with a celeriac purée, lemon, and kale.

And for dessert we enjoyed the Gluten-free coconut cheese cake over a Florentine base with seeds and nuts, and a passion fruit syrup topping. This was creamy and tropical over a buttery, crumbly crust. A very nice note to end, something rich, yet refreshing.

 

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.
“Dockside Restaurant” just gave me a better reason to return than their patio. Not just a place with a view on Granville Island, but now a destination to travel to for the food. I will be keeping an eye on all to come out of this kitchen, and will be back often if it is of the same caliber as what I fully enjoyed above. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

DOCKSIDE
1253 Johnston Street, Vancouver BC, V6H 3R9
604-685-7070
docksidevancouver.com

75 West Coast Grill, Halibut Festival

Tonight I was invited down to “75 West Coast Grill”, the restaurant attached to the “Marriott” in Richmond. It was once “American Grille”, but has since reestablished themselves as a modern restaurant featuring Pacific Northwest cuisine. They are dedicated to using fresh and local ingredients, and tonight I was here to taste this change first hand.

Parking is within the hotel, you check in at the restaurant to validate. Located right at the lobby, it is a stone’s throw from the concierge’s desk. Past the bar, you follow the curve of the hall, all the way to the dining area. We grabbed a table by the window to enjoy the hub of the busy street as our scenery.

Given that my visit coincided with their “Halibut Festival”, it was only proper that I ordered a plate of the white fish in season. That and both the hostess and our server raved about it. They spoke to how people have been flocking in to the restaurant for it, and how all the staff have been enjoying it daily. The price isn’t listed, you get to choose how the fish is prepared, which starchy side it comes with, and what sauce covers it all. The combination you choose dictates the price you pay. You can either have your fish pan seared, flame grilled, or blackened. For sides, each plate includes a healthy serving of seasonal vegetables, so to it you can pick between roasted fingerling potatoes, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, or jasmine rice. And for sauce a citrus beurre blanc; a mango salsa with pineapple, red pepper and cilantro; or a Thai curry sauce. Seeing as our server was so keen on this special, I took her advice on how to have it: pan seared with roasted fingerling potatoes, in the citrus beurre blanc. She did not steer me wrong. I am typically not a fan of cooked fish, but with halibut like this I could see myself enjoying it more regularly. This was a well balanced and fulsome serving. The vegetables were perfectly cooked to a firm crisp, similar to the texture and taste of the potatoes. But what made this plate was the sauce. I could drink a cup of it.

By comparison, I wasn’t so hot on their “10 oz AAA Rib Eye”. I acknowledge that rib eye steak is typically a fattier cut, but this thin piece had more gristle than meat. It at least had a good char to it. But sadly we were left with more roasted wild mushrooms , baby tomatoes, and roasted garlic mash side; all sitting in a red wine jus. I also found the sauce a little basic, I wanted more depth from it; like what I got from the beurre blanc.

On the other had, I got all the flavour I was looking for in the “Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese”. The shared serving is pictured above, and I would recommend getting it as a side. It is best enjoyed in between bites, given its one tone flavour profile. Served in a skillet these chewy and gooey spirals were heavily coated in an aged cheddar, mozzarella, and gruyere cheese mix. All topped with a roasted jalapeño fondue and a herb panko crust. This would be great anytime, but especially as a hangover cure, a late night snack, and as leftovers; like how I enjoyed mine. It was creamy, buttery, and fishy with the lobster. Although I didn’t find that the lobster added anything to the pasta. There was plenty of it, but several chunks I happened on were on the drier side.

The “Seafood Crab Cakes” were also nice, crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside, with a good amount of shredded seafood in each round. It was best with the romesco aioli, but the radish and pea shoot salad that topped it, absorbed most of it.

It is also worth noting that if you get seated in one of their booths, it is outfitted with an outlet and the ability to charge any device, with USB ports.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A nice reimagining of the “Marriott” Richmond’s restaurant/bar. Classic food in a friendly setting. A solid option for the travel and the cautious diner; wanting a taste of BC, outside of Asian food in Richmond. Don’t deny your cravings.

75 WEST COAST GRILL
7571 Westminster Hwy, Richmond BC, V6X 1A3
604-232-2804
75west.ca

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