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21 Days of 1/2 Priced Pasta at Water St. Café

With all that is happening concerning Covid, business closures, and the struggling hospitality industry; the world’s pandemic has been overpowering all the good that usually comes out of the season. The season of giving and the need to help those less fortunate isn’t front and centre, as it has been in the past. So in comes Water Street Cafe, Gastown’s long term staple, determined to do some good, and kick 2021 off on a positive note.

If you visit Water Street Cafe or their second floor dining room and music lounge: 2nd Floor Gastown; they are giving to those willing to give back. Visit between January 1st and the 21st, 2021 with a non-perishable food donation for the Vancouver Food Bank, and you get 50% off any of their pasta dishes. Or buy one get one free if you bring a friend and contribute 2 cans.

There are six pasta options to choose from, and this excludes their 4 gnocchis, unfortunately. However with some pastas around $10 after the discount, it is certainly worth visiting multiple times before the 21st. The following is our top 3 choices that we tried during this visit.

The Spaghetti Alle Vongole was a lightly dressed pasta tossed with a generous amount of manila clams; along side garlic, shallots, white wine, heirloom tomato, and fresh herbs. Be sure to mix up as the sauce does pool. The bare dressing allowed for much of the clam flavour to shine through. But I personally could have used more butteriness to it, and additional cherry tomatoes for their added freshness. At $13.50 half off, this is the time to try it, if you have been eyeing it.

The Pappardelle Bolognese was a classic with its beef, veal and pork sauce made with roma tomato and fresh herbs. When I think of pasta, I think sweet and tangy, so this one hit the mark for me. This was a clean dish that you can make out the quality of ingredients within. And at $9.88 after the promotion, you can’t loose, and might as well order another to go.

The Orecchiette Pesto was our server’s favourite and I can see why. This dish was well balanced with plenty of broccoli florets, alongside the broccoli-basil pesto, roasted garlic, pistachios, and asiago cheese. It wasn’t heavy or rich, but ate more like a pasta salad. It had great flavour and longevity for $10.25, after the donation deal. This one I would order again out of the three, after trying the other 3 available options, of course.

And if you are like me, you aren’t just going to come in to Water Street Cafe for pasta. With their stunning location and breezy, yet sophisticated dining room; you are probably going to want to make a night of it, and order drinks and appetizers to start. Here is what we had.

I ordered the Vancouver Martini made with Odd Society East Van vodka, dry vermouth, and olives. I definitely grew into martinis as my palette evolved and I discovered the art of holding spirits in specific parts of your tongue. Then chasing it with sharp flavours, like the olives, to leave the best lasting impression in your mouth. This cocktail is a winner in those regards.

My guest had the Earl Grey Old Fashion. A twist on the classic with Jim Beam bourbon, earl grey syrup, bitters, orange peel, and a cherry. It was a lovely spirit, but it kept me looking for the nuance of the black tea, and left me missing the smokiness of an Old Fashion completely.

We followed our cocktails with 9oz of the house red blend each. Red, to best pair with our pastas above. This was a red that grew on you, a medium body that ran well with the salty cheeses of our pasta specials above.

As for appetizers, before we even made our selection, the chef sent over a lovely amuse bouche, as a thoughtful gesture. A dollop of their Salmon Tartar over a cucumber slice, which so happened to be one of the starters we were considering. This was smoked and raw BC salmon, cucumber, dill, shallot, sesame, and avocado; in a ponzu reduction. The perfect fragrant bite to wet our appetites with, and allow us to try something else.

Like the Bison Carpaccio. This is the dish I like to order for those who have yet to visit Water Street Cafe. It is a sumptuous offering that really showcases the restaurant’s fine yet approachable style. It is Albertan Bison, pink peppercorn, shaved parmesan, truffle aioli, greens, and crispy capers. Despite the list of bold flavours, was a completely balanced dish with the cheesy cream sauce, hint of truffle, the tangy capers, and the peppery salad.

It is best paired with additional freshness from the Burrata Caprese. Heirloom and Roma tomatoes, basil, salsa verde, white balsamic glaze, sun dried tomato pesto, and himalayan pink salt. I love the delicate yet bold flavours of this starter, whereas my guest didn’t find it salty enough. I definitely suggest catering the perfect bite by layering all the above mentioned ingredients together for a harmonious mouthful.

In the heart of Gastown, with the best seat in the house, I definitely recommend a visit to Water Street Cafe if you haven’t been in, in while; or have never gotten a chance to. Where else can you better people watch and take in the hourly chimes and steam of Gastown’s favourite monument? Plus you have until January 21st, 2021 to do good and eat well for less. Half off pasta are worth travelling for.

Water St. Café
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
waterstreetcafe.ca

Yasma Syrian Lebanese Flavours

While most restaurants are shuttering with the onset of Covid 19 this year, the ones that have remained running have found ways to create additional revenue by other means. New ideas on how to utilize abandoned spaces, new pop up kitchens, and new ways to bring food to people. Take for example, Yasma the kitchen churning out cuisine that has yet to be seen in Vancouver’s culinary landscape out of the kitchen of Dark Table, the dining in the dark experience no longer in operation. The owners of the space have pivoted and are now focusing on introducing their native cuisine to metro Vancouver. As taken from their website, “Levant that draw(s) on the deep histories and celebrated cuisines of Syria and Lebanon”. I haven’t had much experience with Lebanese and Syrian food, let alone Levant, which I only learned of through discovering Yasma.

You place your order online and pick up at your selected time. We ordered what was the most interesting sounding from their online menu, and found a lot of familiar favourites done with slight variations. And out of all the take out I have been doing this past year, theirs is one of the nicest. Polished with their choice in containers and the colourful ingredients that show through the plastic coverings.

The Fatteh Hummus ate like a layered casserole with Chickpeas, Crispy pita, tahini, yogurt, ghee and nuts. So instead of dipping or smearing your hummus, you stick your spoon in and scoop up a mouthful. The hummus was also lighter than what I am use to, a mildness to not overpower the chickpeas I suspect.

But in terms of pairings to pita, the Muhammara dip is what I preferred and what I would recommend. A stunning orange paste of Pomegranate Molasses, Pepper, Walnuts, and bread crumbs. Familiar, yet different, and simply delicious. This was my favourite of all our dishes that we enjoyed.

For something refreshing and a great way to cut through all the bold flavours, we looked to the pickled vegetables. A handsome assembly which included a pickled cherry tomato that was an unexpected and tasty treat with its tang.

The Tabouleh Salad with its spicy and refreshing notes, also helped to balance out our feast. It is pretty much a parsley salad peppered with tomato, onion, cracked wheat, and lemon juice.

The Lamb Sausages were nice to nibble on. A string of linked up minced lamb, pine nuts, and pomegranate molasses. They were zesty with a hint of spice, a heat well balanced by the sweetness of the peppers and red onions.

The Fried Kibbeh came in threes. They are like fried empanadas stuffed with minced Lamb, bulgur, onions, and nuts. A pretty mild dumpling alone, so best with a dip in their tangy yogurt sauce for moisture and freshness.

The kabobs were the most encompassing entree. It came with a side of roasted vegetables and cold side salad. The roasted vegetables were an impressive collection of asparagus, nugget potatoes, coloured peppers, sun chokes, onions, and tomato. The salad, a mix of tomato, cucumber, onion, and parsley. As for the actually kabob.We had the Aleppo Kabab which was like a Minced lamb meat ball crusted in pistachios and peppers. It was nice and chewy skewers, but I wanted more depth from their flavour and a nice rice to enjoy with it, out of preference.

A similar set was the Salmon Kabab that came with a white cream sauce. Grilled Skewers marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil. A little on the dry side so helped along by the liquid cream.

And the best part, all the above makes for great leftovers, the flavours only heighten and the spices carry forward. Overall a cuisine worth trying for the experience alone.

Yasma
2611 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1P8
(604) 723-5782
yasma.ca

Liuyishou Hot Pot Bases at Home

What are you doing this Christmas? Like many others -nothing, or a simple dinner with your core bubble/family. Well, international hot pot chain Liuyishou has a solution to help wash away those winter blahs.

Liuyishou is officially the first hot pot restaurant to launch their very own line of hot pot soup bases. Packages of concentrated soup stock that you can grab and go, to replicate their hot pot experience in the safety and comfort of your own home. Simply add water and boil over a burner or electric stove; and viola, hot pot at home done easy.

This product comes at a time when people need more and more different activities to do at home, in their bubble. And/or they are aching for the restaurant experience but can’t necessarily go out to get it. So by picking up a sachet of one of their 5 different bases from any of the 100 supermarkets that they are now on the shelves of, you can bring their gourmet hotpot experience home in this easy dinner idea.

Available at T&T or H-Mart, pick from traditional, spicy, tomato, vegetarian, of chilli. Each stock is crafted from their traditional recipes, fusing natural ingredients with modern technology, all fully produced in Canada. The latter is a pride point that no other hot pot chain can claim.

In celebration of the release of their new soup bases at all H-Mart locations in Greater Vancouver, there is a limited time offer to get you shopping. If you purchase a package of Liuyishou’s Hotpot Soup Base marked with a sticker reading, “Surprise Inside” you will be gifted either a VIP card or a $10 voucher. Both the card and the voucher are accepted for dine in at any of the eight Liuyishou locations across Canada.

The Traditional Soup Base uses 100% Canadian beef tallow and over 20 natural spices and seasonings, including premium chili and sichuan peppercorn. The Spicy Soup Base is the same, but with more heat. The Tomato Soup Base is known as the only tomato hotpot base made from fresh tomatoes in the Canadian market. The Vegetarian Soup Base uses real vegetable oil, which helps to counterbalance the spiciness added in the soup. However, if you want the heat then go for the Chili Pot Seasoning which too is made with real vegetable oil, alongside and dozens of other natural ingredients.

And if you are looking to make your hotpot at home experience even easier, and even more fool proof, visit Liuyishou’s hot pot store within Burnaby’s Crystal Mall. There, you can buy any of their hotpot ingredients raw/uncooked and a la carte. Perfectly sectioned amounts of thinly sliced lamb and beef, tubs of paste to scoop and ball up; and organ meat favourites like blood and tripe. All of which packaged and ready to be displayed and dipped like they do at the restaurant.

But for those who are comfortable, and decide to venture out to an actual Liuyishou location you can indulge in a new Christmas tradition. From December 25, 26, 29, 30, and 31 if you spend over $120 at Liuyishou, you get a free 2lb lobster for dine-in or take-out.

Liyishou
liuyishouna.com

Origo, reopening & Table d’Hôte menu

There aren’t many fine dining options in Richmond, and with the closures of restaurants and the need to separate, that specific genre of the restaurant industry has seen better days. Lacking in the opportunity to dress to impress and enjoy small plates with fine wine, I was thrilled to learn that Richmond’s only French fine dining option was reopening and would be featuring a new winter menu that I would be able to try the bulk of.

And given the lack of patrons dining in and the need to separate, it definitely felt like we rented out the whole restaurant, which easily lent itself to the grandeur of our experience.

The new menu is set up like a pick your own adventure. Three course with multiple choices, I recommend dining with your bubble buddy to be able to try more. They call it their “Table d’Hôte” option. $65 gets you your choice of one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert. The following are a few options within each category.

Although first you are encouraged to start your experience by ordering some shareables to pair with wine. Origo Club is better known for their wine selection. French vintages from all the wine producing areas in France. A healthy collection that reaches from affordable to luxury; all thanks to the exuberant owner and well travelled wine connoisseur, Woody. Woody himself often tends to the restaurant’s customers. And this evening we had him pouring bottles himself, regaling us in stories of where he found the wine and what he likes about it. It and he definitely elevated the experience and fed my desire to be wined and dined. Naturally we started with a glass of sparkling to mark the celebration.

Warm focaccia is brought to the table to start. Where most figure it to be a starter to tide you over for the food to come. Bread at French restaurants is actually mention to sop up sauces, to be dipped into soups, and to be used as a base for certain dishes. It is replaced if you should finish a serving, with the intention that you should be frugal with your consumption of it.

We started off with the best oysters I have had to date, so clean and fresh. Kushi oysters served with a classic French style champagne mignonette, horseradish, and lemon. Deliciously sweet as is, and given some depth with the dressings above.

The charcuterie was a lovely gathering, fine cured meats and pickles to nibble on and wet the appetite with. You can see and taste the quality of the two types of spiced and thinly sliced meats, but it just didn’t have the same pageantry as the share plate above or below. So I would recommend this the least.

Our six snails served in lemon, garlic, and parsley butter was done authentically, and we were giving the proper accoutrement to best tackle them. A specialized pair of tongs to select and place each shell gingerly on your plate, and a tiny two pronged fork to make quick work of removing chewy morsel from shell. I am not typically a fan of snails due to their similarities with slugs. As a mental component I find it harder to swallow (purposeful pun). But with these well buttered and herbaceous snails, I had no issue eating my three with gusto. Here, the slightly sweetened focaccia proved instrumental in catching all that extra buttery goodness.

Next course is your small plates. Our first course was paired with a light white, a great choice given all the seafood present. You get a choice between four different options when going with the set menu priced at $65 for three courses. A roasted tomato and seafood soup with sole, prawns, and squid. Or a salad with poached prawns. We had the scallops and foie gras below, and I would recommend you do the same.

Pan fried scallops with cauliflower purée, pickled cauliflower and jalapeño, and green apple. The butteriness of the scallop was best highlighted by the contrast of the tart and tangy ingredients surrounding it. Here, less is more and two ideal in leaving you wanting more.

For something more decadent, look to the pan fried duck foie gras, with an Asian pear salad and cherry jus. Here, the fruit lifted the density of the fatty duck liver. I enjoyed it better over bread and as a spread.

You too have a choice between four for your entree. Here would indulge in all four, so I can safely recommend the steak with truffles and the pasta with truffles as my favourite two. Though all four are great with red. Naturally, for such a heavy course our host of the evening served us a fuller bodied red. One of the many he has scoured from France, scouring North to South for.

The cassoulet is a classic French dish. Duck leg confit over a bed of white beans and Toulouse and veal sausage, and carrots with celery in a tomato sauce. If you are looking to be stuffed, this is definitely the largest entree and the most filling. I personally am not a fan, given the beans. I am not a fan of beans given their texture, plus found the duck meat on the drier side, despite its good crisp, (as per its standard execution). This dish is simply just not for me.

Looking for something light for your main? Then lean towards to shoyu-glazed sablefish with maitake mushroom, and basil spinach in a shiitake broth. The white fish is so tender that you can practically drink it, much like the broth that sips like soup. Soothing and comforting this clean and straightforward classic best highlights the buttery fish with a good amount of saltines.

Dishes get heavier with the steak. Striploin steak with black truffle, accompanied by roasted king oyster mushroom, a basil spinach salad, and a cherry jus. I did find the steak on the tougher side, but the softer mushroom and thicker sauce did help to tenderize it. And the thin slices of truffle helped to gloss all the above over with its ability to heighten the umami flavour of the anything it touches.

But hands down, my favourite dish of the night and the one I would recommend most, and go back for is the truffle tagliatelle with morel mushroom, in a truffle cream sauce. As a new found fungi enthusiast, the ability to enjoy the hard sought after truffle and morel mushrooms fresh and hearty like this, in one serving was incredibly satisfying. Not to mention the instant lusciousness of the chewy noodles and heavy cream were spot on.

Last course is dessert with a choice between three options, including a fresh fruit sorbet that changes every day. We didn’t have any of that; but if we did, it would have been black currant for the day. Instead, we had their panna cotta and espresso brownie. The former was flavoured in vanilla with only a slight nuance of rum, and plenty of orange flavour. It is basically a cross between jello and pudding in texture, with the snap of the caramel-like flavoured tuile topping it for crunch.

For the chocolate lovers the chocolate and espresso brownie, made with their own house bean is the way to go. Not too sweet, the moist brownie is paired with a nice peppery earl grey and some candied nuts for contrast. I am not a big fan of chocolate myself, but found this dessert, with its sides, just splendid.

For those who like to drink their dessert, I highly recommend this sake. A yuzu forward batch that had me thinking of a beautiful lemon meringue pie. Much like their wine program, Origo’s owner, Woody is working on cultivating a just as impressive sake collection to match.

But you cannot leave without trying their coffee. Day or night, a cup made with their own cultivated and roasted beans is a must try. Origo has its own roastery in China. And the large latte I was enjoying right before bed was made using an award winning blend of three beans. It was so full bodied and flavourful with good crema, that I had to bring a bag of it home with me. And luckily me, our visit coincided with the delivery of a fresh batch.

In short, for those looking for a change of quarantine pace, or are looking to celebrate an occasion quietly and privately, I can safely recommend Origo for a good time.

Origo Club
6888 River Rd #110, Richmond, BC V7C 0B5
(604) 285-8889
origoclub.ca

Torafuku, new dinner sets for two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passione Gelato, holiday flavours

The holiday season is upon us, but it hardly feels like it with the lack of Christmas marketplaces and light exhibits to flock to. No mulled wine or spiked cider to sip as you stroll past booths to shop from. No groups of carollers or crowds gathered by extra festively lit homes. But fear not, if you are missing the flavours of winter, you can get plenty of them at Passione Gelato (by the still shuttered Parq casino).

Their delicious and creamy gelatos are worth travelling for normally, but especially with this season’s more adult focused ones. Nothing screams the holidays like the stiff drinks you need to get through them.

My visit allowed me to try all their eight new offerings, and from it grab a scoop to enjoy in its entirety.

The London Fog is a classic, a floral tea with milky notes made into a gelato just as lush.

The “white chocolate pistachio” isn’t too sweet. The chocolate comes off as more cream-like, to best pair with the more mild flavour of the pistachio. The nut offers a nice crunch to change up the texture in the mix.

Similarly, the “chocolate chestnut” offers the sweetness of chocolate, but not so much that it overpowers the semi-mashed chopped chestnut chunks within. They weren’t roasting by an open fire, but just as delicious cold here.

I am a fan of the Italian fruit cake pannetone, so was excited to try the cake turn gelato flavour here. Immediately I could taste how spot on this was. You don’t get chunks of the bread-like treat, but you do get chunks of the orange peel and raisin you would find in one normally.

The “matcha 4.0”, takes one of their most popular flavours and makes it four times more potent. The heavier bitterness of matcha comes off great in this dark green gelato. This is a terrific scoop for those who don’t like sweets and who adore matcha.

The “chocolate lavender” is a lighter milk chocolate, further softened with hints of florals. Great for little tongues.

The “orange grand marnier” gelato delivers on boozy cognac bourbon, and to it doubles down on the orange with liquor soaked candied orange peel. My guest made this her choice and ended up having to share it with her young daughter who liked it more than her cone.

But my favourite and the one I got as a full cup serving was the “cherry nikka”. The booziest gelato I have ever had, that still tastes good as ice cream; made with Japanese whiskey and whiskey soaked whole cherries. Great for those who don’t like sweet desserts like me and/or like strong spirits, like me.

In short Passione Gelato has some great new flavours in store, ones worth picking a pint up of. Just an extra treat to help put you in that Christmas “spirits”, acknowledging the pun here!

Passione Gelato
55 Smithe St, Vancouver, BC V6B 0R3
(604) 423-4099
parqvancouver.com/food-drink/passione

Rocky Mountain Flatbread, Frying Pan Pizza Kit

Can’t go out, or don’t want to go out for flatbread pizza that only Rocky Mountain Flatbread can provide? Well you are in luck, the team behind the sensation have created a way for you to be able to take their ingredients and make your own like pizza, in the comfort and safety of your own home. All with equipment you are sure to already own.

There are two kits, one a Margherita kit that makes two pies ($26). The other has enough doughs for two smaller cheese pizzas, ideal for tiny kid sized hands ($22), this one also comes with a brownie dessert. Both kits come with all the ingredients you need and easy to follow instructions with photos for those who prefer to following along with pictures than read out instructions.

You also get the option of add on ingredients like chorizo sausage, or the vegan beyond meat sausage for a couple of dollars more; which we opted in for. And speaking of add ons, for $26 more you can add on their cocktail kit to mix and shake up some refreshments for your pizza meal. This kit even includes garnish and glassware, on top of all the spirits and syrups.

I was excited to bring this set home for myself and test out if I would really be “blown away (by) how it tastes just like a pizza from (their) restaurant forno fired oven!“, as taken from their press release.

Delivered in compact, easy to travel boxes, they also serve well as gifts. Although the real sell is as a great activity to do with the family or yourself. And bonus you get a delicious meal at the end of it. It was easy to do and took under 20 minutes to complete. I won’t be giving you the step by step instruction here, cause you have to try it for yourself to see how fun and easy it is.

Instead, here are some photos to inspire you. You can get pretty creative with different pizza shapes and even add on ingredients you have in your fridge or pantry at home. Rocky Mountain helps you start it, the sky’s limit on how you want to finish it.

Rocky Mountain Flatbread
186 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V 3Y7
(604) 566-9779
rockymountainflatbread.ca

Olive Garden, cheap eats

I have never been to Olive Garden prior to today. My own knowledge of the North American chain is based on what I have heard from others. So when my friend suggested that we check out their only BC location, in Langley; and that she is willing to drive us there, I had no reason not to give them a try.

Walking in, they are your generic Italian themed restaurant, mocked up to look like a house and home with curtains over windows, a mock balcony railing, creep greenery, and wood accents.

Their menu is pretty hefty, with a selection that promises to offer at least one thing your most pickiest diner would like. But we didn’t look through any of it. We were here on a mission, here to take advantage of the unlimited soup and breadsticks combo.

Having been before, my guest knew what to inquire over, when she didn’t see the $7.99 offer for unlimited bowls of any of their four varieties of in house made soups, and baked to order breadsticks. Although sadly the server had not known and mistakenly said that only the $14.99 combo of unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks exist now. And that we were probably referencing a promotion that only exists in the States, where “everything is cheaper”. So not knowing any better I order a soup, the salad, and a basket of breadsticks to share to start. Only to not like the salad (or any leafy salad for that matter), to not finish it and then be charged for it. Whereas my dining companion knew that she does not like their salad, so refrained from ordering it and stuck to a bowl of soup and our shared breadsticks. And lucky her, because advertised or not, any bowl of soup is $7.99, it comes with as many refills as you like. Or you can try any of the other three varieties of soup instead. And all the breadsticks are complimentary. So to summarize, she basically got what she wanted, despite the restaurant cleverly not recommending or advertising it on the menu.

The above made me upset, I only ordered the salad because I thought only the $14.99 deal existed, and I figured that I might as well maximize my order. One, to try it for the very first time. Two, to review it for this blog. And three, to maximize my monies worth. Although after a forkful, I felt like I did not. Here is the math: If $7.99 gets you as much soup as you want, and breadsticks are free, it means you are paying $7.00 for all the salad you want. And without any other options, you are only getting a giant bowl of shredded lettuce with a couple of tomato slices, a lot more red onion segments, a few olives, and a small handful of crouton cubes. The saving grace was the unlimited amount of mozzarella cheese you can have your server shred over your salad or soup. Basically your own personal shame is the only thing stopping you from enjoying a whole brick of cheese over top your otherwise unremarkable salad. In summary, the salad isn’t worth it and just go for the soup instead.

From my least to most enjoyed soup. The “Zuppa Toscana” was good, but compared to the others, it ended up being the one I liked the least. However, this spicy Italian sausage, kale and potato in a cream broth was my guest’s favourites soup. Enough so that she had it customized with more and larger leaves of kale, and stuck with only it throughout our dinner. Ending in 2 bowls cleared.

Once again, the second soup I liked the least is only in comparison to the flavours of all the other soups. I found the “Minestrone” with fresh vegetable, beans, and pasta in a light tomato sauce on the blander side. It drank thin and watery whereas I wanted a more rich soup, ideal for dipping the chewy breadsticks in.

Richness was what I got from the “Chicken and Gnocchi”. This was a creamy soup made from roasted chicken, Italian dumplings and spinach. It ate somewhat like a meal with the starch and amount of meat present. This was a great one to dip the warm and toasty breadsticks into.

However, my favourite soup was the “Pasta e Fagioli”, ironically only after I removed all the red and white beans from my servicing. Ironic, because the word Fagioli means, “bean”. Only then did the soup eat more like a runnier lasagna with quality ground beef, tender pasta rounds, and plenty of cheese I added on top.

The total of this meal came to under $30. A great deal of savings if you are only looking to drink yourself full. And as a bonus you get a lovely mint chocolate to end on, and can pack up any of the soup or breadsticks before you, that you don’t finish.

Olive Garden Italian Restaurant
20080 Langley Bypass, Langley City, BC V3A 9J7
(604) 514-3499
olivegarden.com

Ancora Downtown, First Table 1 year anniversary in Vancouver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Auntie, set menus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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