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Category: Commercial Drive Page 1 of 5

Marcello’s Pizza Roulette

Today we were here as a group, visiting the Commercial Drive staple, “Marcellos Ristorante”, better known for their pizza oven that resembles a stone face. A cozy space with dim lighting, a lively atmosphere, and a light fixture made from reused liquor bottles.

We were here for their newest pizza feature, “Pizza Roulette. For the entire month of November diners have the ability to order a pizza that eats more like a game. It is served on a spinning platter, and one by one your dinner party spins the wheel and which ever slice it lands on, you have to eat it. The goal is to avoid the super spicy slice that has a ghost pepper hidden on it. A pepper so spicy that your order comes with liabilities waivers and a glass of milk for the after math.

The roulette pizza is typically the “capriccio” pizza, but one of our table mates couldn’t have pork meat. So we decided to make our challenge vegetarian, thus allowing everyone to participate. We each got our slice and to everyone’s dismay, no one got any ghost pepper. A few of us felt a tingle of heat from some chilli oil, but other than that there were no tears, and no pain.

We were disappointed by the outcome, although the “vegetariana pizza” was delicious, so it wasn’t a total waste. There was plenty of flavour and textures with their thick tomato sauce, gooey globs of uneven melted mozzarella, chunks of artichokes, strips of green pepper, and plenty of mushrooms, and onion to go around.

Since we were here, we then decided to enjoy a full meal with our “Roulette Pizza”. We ordered the “Meal share pizza” to support those in need. For every medium “Marcellos” pizza ordered the restaurant will donate a simple and healthy meal to a youth in need. And since you are here anyways, why not order a pizza that passes it on, and does good for someone else?

It starts with the same light pizza base with airy and chewy crust that all their pizzas do. And to it they add their herbed tomato sauce, a healthy amount of mozzarella cheese, topped with anchovies, black olives, capers, and onion. Each bite was different thanks to the inconsistent chunks of whole olives mashed, and the haphazard scattering of the salty fish and punchy capers. Interesting, but my favourite flavour profile.

I much rather their gnocchi. Their handmade traditional potato and egg dumplings are available in 4 different sauces, our table got 3 of them. The “Al basilico e pancetta” has their hand made gnocchi sautéed in a basil sauce, and topped with crispy bacon. The first bite was the best, but the one toned flavour did grow tiresome. It is best to share this one, instead of dedicating yourself to the whole bowl. The bacon did help to change the taste, but it also added saltiness and greasiness to the dish. The latter was visible in the puddle of yellow oil that pooled at the bottom of the plate. I would have liked gently blistered cherry tomatoes here, something fresh and bright to lighten up the serving.

Out of all their gnocchi we tried, I preferred the “Pasticciati Gnocchi”. Here, their in house made gnocchi is sautéed in a cream and meat sauce. The result, a classic pasta flavour that comforts with familiar flavours. The only thing I would have liked was some crispy garlic bread to rejuvenate the plate in between bites; which also serves as a base to sop up and smear on all that delicious tangy and slightly sweet pasta sauce.

The “Ai quattro formaggi” gnocchi was the most visually appealing. Double cooked, these hand made gnocchi, was coated thick in a 4 cheese blend, then broiled to perfection for a crispy crust and a stringy cheese sensation. I expected something similar to Mac and cheese in taste, but with a gooier chew that melts under the pressure of your tongue. What we got was a very distinct cheese blend, that was blue cheese forward.

Everything was heavy so far, so the “Caesar salad” with its fresh romaine lettuce was a nice side. And at this size, it was more than enough to share between our table, family style. Although truth be told, with the generous amount of Caesar dressing that coated each leaf, this was far from refreshing.

But the best in helping to clean our palate was the tzatziki sauce that came as a dip to our calamari. “Calamari alla griglia”, grilled squid with peppers and kalamata black olive. What we thought was an appetizer sized side was once again large enough to share amongst the table. Perfectly crispy rings with a great chew.

I also liked the “Tagliatelle frutti di mare” which was homemade noodle and a mix of seafood in a light creamy tomato sauce. Clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid; all covered in a tangy sauce with a pronounced fishy flavour.

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.
Despite the disappointment of the Pizza Roulette, “Marcello’s” is still a great to go to for pizza and pasta. They are a staple in the area for a reason. Don’t deny your cravings.

MARCELLOS
1404 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X9
(604) 215-7760
marcellopizzeria.com

Havana Vancouver

We had just completed an improv class in their theatre, so went to the restaurant after to celebrate. “Havana’s” facelift has been completed for a while now, however this was my first time experiencing it.

The first half of the restaurant is as I remembered it: dark with scrawled on brick. The gallery that I once visited is now a secondary dining area. A pink wall between two pastel green ones, surrounding a mustard yellow bench. Wicker baskets are refurbished into lamp shades. And hanging greenery and a lone cati help to create a more tropical island feel. Not to mention the oil painting portrait of a man smoking a large cigar.

Our celebration began with pitchers of their “Classic mojito” and “Red Sangria”. The former was a refreshing citrus cooler, the latter a punch with both apple and orange juice.

The rest, were appetizers and small plates that we shared family style. The “Cheesy poblano + corn dip” was my favourite. A skillet of cotija cheese and pickled Fresno chillies melted, and made gooey for a stretchy cheese pull. A dunk into dip that you can either make with fried tostones, fresh tortilla chips, and/or Cuban fry bread. Out of the three I preferred the crunch of the chips for this lumpy yet smooth, sweet, yet salty dip.

The “Avocado tostones” were twice fried plantain, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo. The base had the texture of thick mashed potato, made further lumpy by the mound of chunky avocado and juicy tomato. Texture-wise, I was missing some crunch. Flavour wise I was missing some seasoning. Although this may be an inadvertent comparison between this and the dish before.

“Tostones” twice fried plantain chips served with a tasty avocado and lime dip. I enjoyed the thickness of the chips and how they are cut length wise for a more fulsome feeling. Great texture to crunch through, the perfect starchy base for the tangy sauce.

The “midnight snack croquette” is one I would order again. Mojo pork (a Cuban sauce made with garlic and olive oil or pork lard), Swiss cheese, pickles, cohiba aioli, pickled onions, and crackling. This is everything in one ball. Crunchy breading, gooey cheese, crispy bites, and chewy bits. Nothing to dislike.

They were kind enough to prepare a gluten free dish for one of our guests, by way of roasted cauliflower. The same kind and flavour that was featured in the “vegetarian flatbread” below.

House cashew cheese, charred corn, squash, roasted cauliflower, cohiba sauce, and mojo vinaigrette. A tasty collection of vegetable over toasted bread that could use a little dressing, something to give it a vinegary tang.

I preferred the “creole prawn flatbread” with grilled prawns, pickled onions, provolone cheese, avocado mousse, and shoestring potatoes. It was a great collection of ingredients that came together and brightened up one another.

Worth mentioning is their bathroom decor. A fun patterned and papered wall worthy of a selfie.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great spot for chill vibes and great shareable snacks. Photogenic for those who want to up their selfie game. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAVANA
1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X4
(604) 253-9119
havanavancouver.com

Grounds for Coffee, Commercial Drive

The city’s most popular spot for cinnamon buns now has a second location. Their second cafe finds them in the heart of Commercial Drive with a lot more space, and a lot more convenient of a space.

They offer their same delicious buns and various baked goods, accompanied by the same tasty drinks, served by the same good natured folks that their original location on Alma is known for; but now with a lot more sprawling room.

With vaulted ceilings, warm wood elements, and splashes of polished white, this place is chic. It gives a more upscale and trendy vibe than that of their worn-in, hole in the wall humble beginnings. This cafe serves as a great spot for quick meet ups or that first date, and even better as a destination to study and get some work done in. There is plenty of room to sit and soak it all in.

Naturally, I had to indulge in one of their cinnamon.buns. Chewy and warm with melty icing. I roll the dough out and save the centre for last, as the best bite.

To drink I doubled down on my cinnamon and sugar quota and got one of their cinnamon bun frappes. Not actually made with blended up chunks of cinnamon buns, but just a great milk based drink flavoured like their trademark treat.

I was especially excited to help myself to one of their biodegradable straws. I agree with the less plastic, ban straws movement; but have not been impressed with the paper straw solution. They typically melt before I finish my beverage, and I end up tasting it more than the drink itself. But at “Grounds for Coffee” they are equipped with sugar cane straws. Firm and sturdy these lasted from first sip to the watery, melted cream last. No taste, nothing to affect the enjoyment of my cold treat; and a great step in the right direction for the environment.

 

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.
Although their cinnamon buns are available at various cafes around town, it is nice to get it at source. And with this location now on my way home from work, they will be seeing a lot more of me. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

GROUNDS FOR COFFEE
088 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4A9
604-254-3939
groundsforcoffee.ca

Sopra Sotto, #pizzachallengeyvr

Today I was at the original location of “Sopra Sotto”, to visit yet another Vancouver Foodster Pizza Challenge contestant. With this one you have your choice of location between their two. You are invited to both, to try their entry and vote of your favourite in the “People’s Choice” category.

“Sopra’s” original location is on Commercial Drive, it features their fully stocked bar. Their second and newest location is in Burnaby, and this past week it celebrated its first year anniversary. This is a smaller restaurant, but other than square feet, it offers pretty much the same experience; even down to their eye catching wallpaper littered with colourful birds. Except the Burnaby location has a deep fryer and they take advantage of it, with a handful of variations to their menu. Deep fried street food like a battered calamari. I liked that this gave you reason to visit both locales.

But today I choose Commercial Drive location as our destination, as my guest has yet to visit either of the two; and I wanted her to have the original, flagship location experience.

Our dinner started with their appetizer special of the day. A burrata board with the fresh and creamy cheese dressed in olive oil and smoked balsamic. Served with lusciously thin prosciutto, and in house made herbed focaccia. This was a build your own ham and cheese sandwich, all grown up and delicious. This was an assembly of great ingredients that foreshadowed the quality of the food to follow.

The “Tagliatelle e Tartufo” came highly recommended. This is long and flat pasta made fresh in-house, served in a truffle sauce, featuring a variety of mushrooms and parmigiano. Oyster, protobello and shiitake; I appreciated the textures and distinct flavours of each mushroom in the mix. You also got the flavour of the promised truffle intermingled in the saucy cream. All together this made for a very elevated dish, one that paired well with the specialty pizza below.

And this was the main reason why I was here. Here, to try the “Contadina”. A fresh pizza with plenty of toppings to sift through. Taleggio cheese, smoked pancetta, cherry tomatoes, mixed mushrooms and green onions. Fire baked with a even blackening around the crust. You smelled the bake and all the charing of the toppings as it approached you. Salty with the pancetta, juicy with the tomatoes, and fresh with the spring onions. The latter was a first for me: the first time having green onion on a pizza. But it was the dough that I enjoyed the most, it made all the difference. I especially liked being able to cut the pizza down to size at our table. Each snip of these kitchen sheers heightened the already hands on experience.

 

To learn more about the Vancouver Foodster Pizza Challenge, visit the link. And then try all the competitors to vote for your favourite.

Pizza Challenge

 

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 beautiful setting with fresh plates and attentive staff that matches it modern feel. However, my next visit to “Sopra” will be at their Burnaby location for some deep fried goodness. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SOPRA SOTTO
1510 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 2Y7
604-251-7586
soprasottovancouver.co

Elephant Garden Creamery

There has been much buzz surrounding Vancouver’s latest ice cream parlour, especially seeing as they have had a quieter opening this winter season. But once you try their small batch scoops, you’ll see why. Dare I say, this is my new favourite ice cream place. I really enjoy their Asian flavour offerings, and don’t find their ice cream too sweet. The setting is simple and their location is easy to get to, with enough parking in the area.

The following post is written across two visits within 2 weeks, in the cold of winter, with snow fall warnings. That’s how much I liked my first taste.

Here, is when I first entered their minimalistic shop. White walls, light coloured wooden planks, and the occasional elephant ceramic. The latter and their elephant-head-shaped-scoop-on-a-cone logo emphasized their name. I also liked their use of several overturn cones as lamp shades, a unique lighting feature leading you from the entrance their cash desk and counter.

There, is where you can sample any of their rotating flavours. This changes monthly, thus encouraging customers to return to try their new favourite flavour, and having additional servings before any one is retired.

I did a double scoop of the “HK milk tea” and the “Vietnamese coffee” ice cream. The milk tea was accurate in flavour, you get the essence of the black tea and the creaminess of the would be milk. I just wanted the flavour of the pearls in it too, or at least their chewiness.
The “Vietnamese coffee” was more punchy. You got the strong flavour of coffee, married with the sweetness of condense milk.

On my second visit I came with a friend and between our double scoop waffle cones I got to write about four more of their flavours.

I had a scoop of the “hojicha cheese tea”, after liking the sample of it I got during my last visit. It was salty with the cheese, and nice against the neutral flavour of the tea. And it tasted just like how hojicha tea with a salted cheese foam top would taste. It paired well with my “cookies n’ cream monster”, giving me a wonderful salty and sweet combo, enjoyed in this lickable, dessert format. The ice cream was dyed blue with butterfly pea flower. It was less creamy, and a lot more sweet with the crunchy biscuit bits.

My lactose allergic friend went for a scoop each of their two vegan flavours. She tasted both and liked both. She agreed that the “Mango sticky rice” was a new no dairy ice cream solution. I was amazed how it actually gave you the flavour of the sticky rice, along with the bits of mango. Very unique and very fun. Next she had the “horchata”, which she commented that you don’t see a traditional milk based drink made vegan like this often, or at all. This too tasted us promised, and not too sweet.

 

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.
As I mentioned, this is my new favourite ice cream place, for taste, price, and accessibility. But of note, I am partial to their Asian flavours, finding them new to Vancouver’s ice cream scene, or at least they are the first to have as much variety as they do. Worth trying the next time you are on “The Drive”. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ELEPHANT GARDEN CREAMERY
2080 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4B2
604-251-6832
elephantgarden.ca
Elephant Garden Creamery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sopra Sotto revisit

I have visited “Sopra Sotto” before, when they first open last summer. Therefore looked to them tonight when my partner wanted flatbread pizza from somewhere new.

He liked the interior as I did. Modern with a mix of tile and wood, and a splash of whimsy from the colourful fowl themed wallpaper. The open dining area meets bar had a dull roar to it, a steady murmur of voices in gentle conversation. It wasn’t until the room started to cleared, that you began to hear the beat of the mellow melody playing overhead. It gave the restaurant a casual hip vibe, like the foyer of a resort hotel or at a jazz club on a Sunday.

Please note: I apologize for the lack of photos, but I only decided to write a revisit post because of the great service we received and seeing as the restaurant was as good as I remembered.

We were seated by the pizza bar, with an unobstructed view of pizzas continuously being made to order. Rounds of dough shaped and flatten, then sauced and topped for a trip into their dome shaped pizza oven.

Just watching the process made us want to take advantage of its availability. We ordered our usual “Margherita pizza”. This one came with san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, grana cheese, and basil. The crust was was thin, its main flavour: the char of the grill. It well contrasted the slight sweetness to the marinara sauce, causing both to stand out. Together with globs of fresh and chewy mozzarella and fresh basil this was a pleasant light start.

We wanted some pasta to pair with our pizza, however they were sold out of our first choice, so we got the “Square spaghetti made in house in an authentic bolognese sauce” instead. I really liked the firm texture of the thicker noodles, whereas my partner did not. The entree wasn’t saucy, more juicy with the grounds of seasoned beef. All together it tasted more like a hearty beef stew than the red sauce spaghettis that I am more use too. Overall a flat taste, and a dish I wouldn’t want to have on its own. Best shared for bites to take in between other bites.

My partner felt daring enough to order what sounded like a meaty appetizer to start (he is notoriously a cautious diner). However, we didn’t get it until after all the above came to our table first. Here, we were a little disappointed, as we wanted to elongate our meal with several courses. Luckily, who I believe is the manager, noticed my disappointment when I inquired about our appetizer as he dropped off our pizza and pasta; and he offered to have both entrees remade so that we could enjoy our meal as intended, in the order we wanted. But we declined, it just seems excessive and a waste of food. So he told us he will have the cost of our appetizer below removed from the bill, for the mistake. That was very generous of him, and we really appreciated the gesture. It spoke to their customer centricity.

Our appetizer quickly came after, however we ran out of table space. We were given such a narrow eating surface and three large dishes to have to fit within it; along with individual plates and cutlery, a water carafe with glasses, and my glass of wine. It would have been best as our introductory course.

The Porchetta platter with savoury and moist pork roast, fresh focaccia, and local grilled vegetables. Eggplant, cucumber, broccolini, and potato. It wasn’t what either of us expected. I imagined a take on bruschetta when the menu described the meat and veg being on the focaccia toast. Instead, what we got was a great collection of ingredients to pick and choose, and nibble on in any order or combination that we pleased. My partner didn’t like how grey the meat looked and even less how little flavour it had. I used it as a base of the fully olive oil and rosemary seasoned vegetables. But my favourite part was the focaccia, it was chewy and airy with the quality of naan. My partner found it salty, I deemed it a great bite to enjoy as is, instead of using the meat and vegetable as toppings for it.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My partner deemed their pizza some of the better thin crust style he has had, and that he can see himself craving another slice in the near future. In fact I only had one piece, whereas he had 2 at the restaurant and declared the other 2 would be his lunch tomorrow, before I could reach for another. If that isn’t a good review, I don’t know what is. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SOPRA SOTTO
1550 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 2Y7
604-251-7586
soprasottovancouver.com

Downlow Chicken Shack

There isn’t much that my partner and I agree on food wise. Whereas I am an adventurous diner, he is more cautious when it comes to what goes into his mouth. Although when it comes to fried chicken, it is something we can both enjoy. Therefore we have been meaning to check out this new deep fried chicken place for a while now.

When “Down Low” originally opened they kept irregular hours, testing the waters of the Vancouver food scene. They stayed open until they sold out of their chicken, meaning we would park and walk to the front only to be turned away. Almost half a year later, here we were entertaining a late lunch. It took a Friday afternoon between lunch and dinner to get a bite with them. And they were still as popular and as busy as ever, and based on the chicken we enjoyed, I can see why. By 3:30pm there were plenty of bodies dining in and even more taking out. With two working the floors, three behind the counter and two more fronting the deep fryer. Each employee dawned a black tee with their logo bold on the back.

This was a chicken giving you the side eye, a cheeky stare, knowing full well what he was offering you how he would have you hooked. The same chicken graced the restaurant’s front window with a yellow beak and red crown. If you are enamoured by his grin you can take him and it home on some of the restaurant’s merchandise in the form of tee shirts and ball caps.

They are available at the back, the same place where you ordered and pay. You engage with the clerk seated at the very end of the restaurant. Today, she was nursing a sprained foot and resting it high on milk crates. She did a great job, giving you all the options and ensuring you got exactly what you wanted. Then shouting it out to those working behind the open kitchen. Like her, everyone else I spoke to was friendly, cordial, and as chill as the setting. All set to a nice mix of hip hop: loud and full of base thumping beats.

You pay and then pick your seat, where your food is quickly brought out to you. Benches outside on their patio, or high tops inside, against all the open windows.

We ordered the half chicken as I like dark meat and my partner likes white. This cost us $17 instead of $19 together. I didn’t take note of the heat level on the menu up front, so ordered the chicken “mild” only to realize this gave things “just a dusting of heat”, whereas I wanted the classic: dredged and fried without chilli. And sadly it was this, the seasoning, on the thick breading that had me liking it less. I am positive that if I had the “classic” I would have liked it much more. At least the meat at the centre was juicy and the breading crunchy, despite my mini photo shoot and allowing it to cool before we took our first bites. My partner however, really enjoyed the chicken here, and more so in his burger below. He declared that when it comes to flavour and size nothing else comes close to this in the city.

My partner loves a good chicken sandwich, so wanted to try their chicken “on a bun”, as well This is their “Hot chicken sandwich” made with white meat chicken breast, their DL sauce, sweet n sour slaw, and house pickles. Given the use of a whole slab of chicken breast, it was  a little hard to get a full bite around, but I preferred it and its ratio of breading to meat than the serving above. It was also nice to see and have more meat than bread, whereas many such burgers has it the other way around. The slaw offered a nice balancing and creamy crunch, and the pickles a refreshing tang to lighten up the meal. I appreciated the clump above and more of them on the side here.

My partner ordered some fries as a side. He didn’t find them all that great, likening the crinkle cut potato sticks to the frozen McCain version. Although at “Down Low” they managed to give them new vitality with a dusting of the “mild” spices and a generous squeeze from their bottle of house mayo. As tasty as the sweet and tangy mayo was, it was just as heavy as everything else, so much so that I was craving some ketchup for freshness.

I like a good corn bread so was excited to try their version listed as being made with “honey and butter”. However it was a dry brick of cheese and jalapeño. Another spicy element to this meal, whereas I could have really used some sweetness from this, as a break from all the bold flavours. And sadly the texture was crumbly, the dough dry from elongated exposure under a heat lamp. There, each square proceeded to cook, wrapped in wax paper oozing with grease that saturated the sheet. Needless to say, we each took a bite and didn’t bother to finish it.

In hind sight, instead of the fries or the cornbread, we should have gotten the creamy and cooling macaroni salad or the crunchy and juicy coleslaw. Either would have acted as a nice cleanser in between bites, helping to balance everything and increase my longevity for the meal before me. Without either, I found myself drinking cups and cups of water from their self serve water station. Overall I did find things on the saltier side.

After we ate our fill, I wanted to get a new box and amalgamate all that we couldn’t finish into it. However an extra box would have been $1 more. So instead, we got a brown paper bag to take our current greasy boxes home in. Despite my disappointment, I did appreciated how one of the managers took the time to explain the reasoning for the cost, with his apologies. He explained that these compostable boxes are the restaurant’s most expensive cost. And they are currently looking for a more reasonable distributor and cost, so that he doesn’t have to seem like he is “cheap”, when customers (like my self) ask for another box; one that he can give to them freely.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Fried chicken is one of those dishes that almost everyone likes, and great fried chicken is on everyone’s list. Therefore this, with its original flavour, one that I have never tasted before, is worth sharing with others. I would skip the sides, but definitely declare that the chicken as is and in between a bun is definitely worth trying. And best late at night after some drinking, whereas it was hard having it for our breakfast this morning. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

DL CHICKEN SHACK
905 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 3W8
604-283-1385
dlchickenshack.ca

Ugly Dumpling

On this night we learned that there aren’t many restaurants in Vancouver or Burnaby, out side of downtown, that are open past 10pm on a Friday night. And after a few closed doors and a few minutes of being too late after closing time, we finally stumbled on “Ugly Dumpling”. Both my guests have read about this new dumpling shop so were keen on trying it for themselves. I was just glad that I didn’t have to drive downtown, and simply liked how fun the name was.

It is a corner shop, residing at the old home of “Merchant’s oyster shop”. And walking in there is no missing where you were. A black outlined drawing by the door spells it out clear. “The Ugly Dumpling”. There is a bowl of ramen surrounded by sketches of garlic, a bean sprouts, star anise, ginger root, and a single dumpling. But ironically they didn’t actually offer ramen on either of their menus.

The restaurant has a bistro vibe, with the bar housing bottles of wine and sake, as well as preservatives in mason jars. Similar jars kept crayons in packs at the hostess booth. They were given out to tables in conjunction with their menus. Their paper menus doubled as a colouring book featuring their dumpling mascot in every scene. It was depicted enjoying fine wine and better spirits. I made sure to colour it and his adventures in full Crayola vision.

Coming one hour to the closing of their kitchen had us missing out on their dumplings of the day, and apparently these were the only ones available throughout the day: a pork and dried shittake. Immediately this caught me as strange, seeing as their name promised “dumplings”, and to only make available just the one variety on any given day seemed odd. Odd enough for me to propose this very concern to our server. My disbelief had me questioning her answer twice, that indeed there were no other dumplings in the house for me to partake in. I was disappointed and forced to order something else begrudging. I did this only to be later told by another server that they actually have a vegetarian dumpling available. So naturally, despite already finishing our meal, we had to tack on a serving of their vegetable dumplings as “dessert”.

These steamed vegetable dumplings were stuffed with bamboo shoots, ginger, cabbage, mushroom, noodle and egg. I liked the originality and the variety of filling, but I didn’t like the grainier texture with the ingredients all minced together. As for the flavour it was “pungent with the bamboo” according to my guest. I found it pretty standard with a good dip into the sauce on the side.

 

For my main I wasn’t really hungry, but given that majority of their offerings were side plates like pickles and salads in the double digit price range, I opted to just order something more substantial to get my most out of my money.

The “Manila clams in kimchi soup” were more clam in a spicy sauce than actual soup. Whereas reading its name, I wanted more soup to slurp on than clams to pick through. Even so, what little broth I was able to scoop with my spoon was a little too salty to enjoy as is. Under the mound of shells was a garden of stewed vegetables: Brussel sprouts, carrot, onion, leek, green onion, and tofu. Overall it was good, but really not what I expected for $17.

Similarly, what my guests both ordered was good, but it didn’t feel like it measured up to the $17 price tag. This was the “staff meal”, like the dumplings, a daily special that rotates from day to day. This is actually what the staff working enjoy for their meal break, prepared in bulk, with enough servings for customers to have a taste. In actuality, this was the only full entree sized serving, with everything else, a snack sized side to be shared.

“Chicken rice with coconut milk, cabbage, roast chicken, and cilantro”. Made homestyle and comforting. The coconut milk rice really sets it apart with its creamy sweetness, highlighting the savoury and salty, tender chicken you enjoyed in conjunction. The buttery lettuce rounded out the dish with some freshness, giving bites a nice crisp to end on.

 

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? – No.
Sadly, I was disappointed by this first impression. There wasn’t much to choose from off their regular menu, and the daily specials gave you very little variety as well. Ironically, I coloured more dumplings than I ate, and enjoyed the activity of it a lot more. The portions were small for the price, whereas I just was expecting more given the buzz, having been covered in so many popular online publications. But seeing as the restaurant is still fairly new, I would like to see how they grow and evolve themselves before making any big declarations. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

UGLY DUMPLING
1590 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 3Y2
604-258-0005
uglydumpling.ca

Sopra Sotto

Today I was invited down to the newest pizza and Italian joint to call Commercial Drive home: “Sopra Sotto”. I walked up to the location thinking what it could bring to a strip fondly referred to as “Little Italy”. What could they offer customers that the other italian restaurants haven’t? What could set them apart from the so many that offer authentic Italian pizza and pasta?

I got my answer right at the threshold. I instantly fell in love with the place, making it reason enough to visit. The layout is so modern and chic, it makes you forget the cafe that was once here before. Every design element flowed: hexagonal tiles meet wood grain by the bar. A modern bar that looks like it belongs in an IKEA catalogue. And most memorable, the wall paper of colourful feathered birds against charcoal grey.

The bird wallpaper was so wonderful that I was compelled to take a photo in front of it, and even ordered a drink whose colour would compliment it. The “Kid Gavilan” is prepared with white rum, green apple liquor, lime, mint, and vanilla syrup. It was fantastic, a great any time of day, anywhere sort of drink. Just a great refresher to sip on.

When it came time to ordering food, we mostly took our server’s suggestion trying an appetizer, a pasta dish, and a pizza. This way we got a good look at how “Sopra” was “bringing fresh, local and approachable Italian fare to the neighbourhood”. Their cuisine focuses on inspiration from Northern Italy, “Nonna’s cooking, and the slow food movement”.

And a great way to start is through their “antipasto misto” for two, an easy way to check out a few of their appetizers, all on one board. This is the chef’s selection of meat, cheese, and other appetizers served with fresh in-house made focaccia bread. It was a great platter to nibble on with capicola, spicy fennel salami, carponata (eggplant cooked in a tomato sauce with capers, olives, onions, and red peppers), fresh Parmesan cheese over pears with balsamic vinegar, artichokes, sweet peppers stuffed with cheese, and anchovies with salsa verde. All together a nice variety of textures covering flavours from salty to sweet. Fun to eat with your hands, taking nibbles, and mixing spicy with tangy elements. The only item I didn’t like was the overwhelming saltines of the fish in stuffed pepper. It caused my mouth to pucker and over powered everything else.

The bread was also not unlike the dough of their pizzas. Therefore we got plenty of it when we followed this appetizer up with pizza. It was just seasoned differently, where they could have made the focaccia bread above fluffier, instead of light and crisp like their pizza crust. Although, I can see this just being extra work for the kitchen. And my suggestion is only on the assumption that people ordering this platter will get pizza as their main. And this is based on the restaurant featuring their pizza oven, visible from the dining room.

After having an appetizer to share, I strongly suggest doing the same for your entrées.

Our Mac and cheese came to the table still sizzling in its skillet. It was amazing, just too rich to have on its own. “Maccheroni al Forno”, baked macaroni in a creamy mushroom and cabbage sauce, with grana and alps cheese, and fried up speck at an additional cost. The cabbage wasn’t intrusive, each noodle was coated with a gummy chew, the mushroom added texture, and the fried crispy speck some saltiness and much needed crunch. I wish I could reach for a bowl of this every time I was craving some munches or needed a comforting meal. Writing about this now, I want to return for a bowl to-go.

The pizza on the other hand was bland by comparison. Arugula, mozzarella, shaved grana cheese, cherry tomatoes, and prosciutto. It was just crispy dough baked up from their wood fire pizza, topped with raw ingredients. Like the flat bread in our appetizer, you piece it together: cheese and meat with bread. In fact the same cured meat, salted cheese, and herb bread from our appetizer make an appearance here too. Each ingredient individually great, but all together as a pizza, it felt incomplete. Luckily our server was so in-tuned to our needs that she came with a bottle of chilli oil. This was helpful, a heavy drizzle added some spice and developed some depth to our flat bread pizza. Sadly we just made the wrong pizza choice. Instead we could have, and should have gone with the one featuring porchetta, home made sausages, or the calzone stuffed with meat and cheeses.

For dessert we were treated with a ricotta and candied orange cake that has yet to make an appearance on their menu. It had a custard-like sponge, that was creamy. It started light and airy, but ended with a back of your throat sweetness. The orange flower essence was very prominent, the prefect treat to pair with a warm tea.

Overall a great visit and you know everything is spot on, when all you have left is to nitpick. With such a sophisticated and tidy spot, along with its higher price point you expect perfection. Like crisp menus and straight flatware (our menu was already coloured on a tattered and our knives bent). Especially more so considering they are but a 4-5 month old restaurant. Everything else was so polished and perfect that these stood out in contrast.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great spot for a lunch or dinner on The Drive. Another Italian and pizza place with a decor that has you coming for their pie and staying for a drink. Though sadly their cocktail program can’t keep up. Their drink menu only has 6 cocktail options, and one is a mocktail (sans alcohol). Hopefully this is something that they look into as they have quite the bar to be posted up at. “Sopra” definitely offers some refinement in an eclectic neighbourhood. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SOPRA SOTTO
1550 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5L 2Y7
604-251-7586
soprasottovancouver.com
Sopra Sotto Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sushi Ville

A friend had returned from a trip abroad, and she wanted to meet up over sushi. Having travelled Spain and indulged in copious amounts of fine wine, cured meats, salted cheese, and briny olives; she came home to Vancouver craving sushi. The freshness of fish available in our city, and the lightness a roll would provide with it.

So we met up at “Sushi Ville” on Commercial Drive. Here I was thinking she choose this place out of connivence, but the reality was, she had been before and wanted me to experience their decorative presentations.

Walking up to the restaurant, I couldn’t have imagined the plates that waited for us. The photos of the sushi rolls on their sandwich board didn’t speak to this, nor did any of the photos hanging on the walls, inside. The only thing that might have given it away was the laser cut silhouette of a cat and several fishes on their restaurant sign. It spoke to the playful nature of their embellished plates. Regardless of how large or small your roll was, each order got a full “painting”.

With the warm day, the exterior of the restaurant was fully open. We grabbed a seat by the open patio’s high top bar; getting glints of sunlight, along with a gentle breeze as we ate.

The interior of the restaurant is set uniformly with even rows of tables and chairs. Each setting included soy sauce and the dishes to pour them in to. Round paper lanterns hung from the ceiling and a fake cherry blossom tree “sprouted” with flailing branches towards the back.

A dutiful clerk presents you with their 12 page novel of a menu. It was a tough read to get through, so many options to sort through, that it overwhelmed. Each speciality dish and roll had a photo to help you decide or entice you into ordering it. Great if you are indecisive like me, or order based on looks alone, like me.

Although I should have ordered their classic rolls or some clean and simple sashimi to get a true view on the place. But instead I found myself gravitating towards the fusion rolls and the mounds of ingredients that topped them. Toppings on sushi is a smart way to get more in your roll, but still keeps it small enough to fit into your mouth with one bite. They were so wonderfully excessive, but with all those extras and all their sauces, you really don’t eat to taste any of the fresh seafood that should be featured within. Good thing that each roll typically has imitation crab meat or at most shrimp. For all their speciality rolls, it starts with a California Roll as a base, sometimes cucumber or cream cheese is added as a slight variation.

Sadly I ended up ordering two such, which I thought was different, only for me to find them tasting the same; and as result, me not being motivated to finish either.

My first was their “Rocky Mountain Roll” with cucumber, avocado, imitation crab, and sweet potato. Clearly, I ordered them for look,s given that I have yet to see a sushi roll presented as such: turned on its back and topped with a balled up scoop of sweet potato, fried crispy. The latter made it hard to eat, as it was prone to rolling off. The dual creamy and sweet sauces made a dip in soya unnecessary. Although I later did, just to change the taste, with the ginger to cleanse bites in between.

As for its presentation, the cup of liquid nitrogen in the natural wind provided ribbons of smoke swirling around the rounded tips of the sushi “mountains”. The over turned umbrella furthered the illusion of a windy day. The perfect imagery for this “Rocky Mountain” roll.

My second roll was the “Pizza Roll”. A California Roll with cream cheese, avocado, imitation crab, and cucumber. Topped with sweet chilli sauce and diced up #pizza toppings like ham, pineapple, and mozzarella cheese. It was a clever adaptation, that I did not regret ordering for novelty alone. It was an interesting assembly of ingredients. You got the flavour of the ham and savoured the classic sweet chilli sauce and cream cheese pairing, yet you keep waiting for the tangy tomato sauce to chime in, and therefore are left looking for some tang in your bite.

Along with the roll the plate was decorated in edible sauces. If the pizza roll was a tree trunk, this was the edible branch, sprouted with cherry blossoms that grew from it. Under this, whimsically scribbled were words that read “Coming on time”. Looking back I wish I tried what they tasted like. But they were just too pretty to ruin. So I simply left it on the plate, along with the rolls that I didn’t wish to finish.

Instead, of these two dense rolls that came with their own sauces, I should have done what my guest did and ordered a speciality roll and a single cone. The negitoro cone made for a great cleanser, a nice break while still eating. You enjoyed the simple rice and fish combination with the salty soya sauce, which was a nice contrast to your other sweet roll.

Her’s was the “sweet potato roll” featuring flowers and the word “someday” drawn in edible sauces. I really liked the detail they put into each drawing, and here especially the bold blue hue in the petals. As for the sushi, this too was basically a California Roll topped with crispy fried sweet potato shreds. The strings of potato gave each bite a nice crunch, making the once small roll feel much more substantial.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Overall, they did well with their creations. Each roll had a good flavour and a good mix of textures. Each speciality roll stood apart on its own, thus making they themselves stand out in a heavily saturated sushi landscape. “Sushi Ville’ is worth checking out for the pageantry alone. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SUSHI VILLE
2068 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 4B2
604-559-4611
Sushi Ville Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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