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Category: Downtown Vancouver Page 1 of 23

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

1931 Gallery Bistro, happy hour

Today, we were killing some time at the art gallery, checking out their latest exhibit on its last legs. Cindy Sherman’s collection of self portraits in costume, over the decades of her career. An exhibition well timed for International Women’s Day.

Our leisurely stroll through the echo-y art gallery halls found us at the threshold of their redone restaurant. Once simply the “Gallery Bistro”, now renamed and rebranded as “1931 Gallery Bistro”. Spotted tiles, new furnishings, a different configuration, and a fresh coat of paint left the space feeling renewed. Though pretty facade aside, the food was as I remembered it to be.

We began with a couple of drinks, my girl friend especially liking the idea of being able to drink at the gallery. She was in disbelief that she didn’t know that she could have done so sooner. A light rose for her, and the “Triumphs of caesar for me. 1oz nutrl vodka, Clamato, Worcestershire, tobacco, and steak spice. It felted watered down and flat, something uninspired that you would get from a food court kiosk. I didn’t taste much more than tomato juice, hot sauce, and ground pepper. It was a basic as far as caesars go, especially as it didn’t have a garnish. I should have stuck with the $4.95 house red or white, from off of the happy hour menu.

The food was not that much different. Where as the previous concept had pre-made plates at the ready, displayed in refrigerated units for the customer to take and pay for, and then to be microwaved at the back. They were now more than just a salad and sandwiches cafe. Now they totted restaurant quality appetizers and small bites, baked up relatively quick in the kitchen.

I was intrigued by the small list of $3.95 to $7.95 happy hour small plates. Beans, tortilla, and bruschetta; their descriptions all sounded lovely enough, making ordering challenging.

The “Miso-sake cauliflower bites” was probably the best out of the three plates we shared. Cauliflower florets marinated in a white miso and sake glaze. It was salty, but had no depth from either miso or sake. It wasn’t bad, but I would have liked the vegetable crispier and the flavour not so monotone.

The “Potato croquettes” were best on its first bite. Pressed with duck fat and served with a dollop of truffle and garlic mayo each, it was a little much by the last block. Crispy cubes with a hot smashed potatoey centre. There was no missing the musky characteristic of the duck fat, or the saltiness of the truffle. But I needed something tangy, and was looking for some ketchup to help with that.

I was the most disappointed by the “Pineapple tuna poke”, it was bland and therefore the first poke I had that I didn’t like. Ocean wise ahi tuna, soy, sesame, pineapple salsa, edamame, and rye crisps. There was no seasoning or marinade on the fish, you barely got any pineapple despite the title. And the hearty cracker added nothing to the taste, leaving me wanting a lighter crisp for crunch. Disappointing and small for $8

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If you like the novel ideal of drinking at the gallery, I suggest coming down for a glass of wine. The view isn’t bad and the setting is relaxing. I just can’t recommend the food in good faith. Don’t deny your cravings.

1931 Gallery Bistro
Inside the Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7
1931gallerybistro.com

Hawksworth, brunch

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

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

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

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

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

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Nothing was bad per se, it just didn’t measure up to the level that I associate with “Hawksworth”. Minus the mimosas, I felt like I could get this almost anywhere. Don’t deny your cravings.

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

Le Doux Ciel, Chinese New Year High Tea

I have seen photos of this newer cafe floating around, but what got me through the door finally was their limited edition, Chinese New Year themed high tea set. It is only available for a month starting January 15th and running to February 15th, 2020

In order to indulge you must make a reservation and that comes with a commitment. The cost is $59 per person. You leave your credit card information and are billed “50% or more” if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice. Therefore, we made sure we got there early to avoid complications. Parking is easy enough, if you seek a spot in the underground lot of the “Praq Casino” adjacent. This is within walking distance of “Le Doux Ciel”.

The cafe is a wonderfully curated space. A touch of elegance with soft pastels, velvet upholstery, marble counters, honeycomb tiles, and flourishes of gold. On the ceiling dangled oversized balloons in whites, teal, and gold. They bounced around adding whimsy, and adding to the celebratory mood. It all definitely got us more excited for what’s more to come.

Your journey begins with a choice of tea, two pages to skim through, all served in a bird themed set. Individual tea pots that resembled bird houses, tea cups that had a tiny bird perched on its handle, and a saucer shaped like a gilded cage.

We would take our server’s suggestion and order their two most popular teas. The “milky blue”, isn’t actually blue in colour (we checked before ordering it). It had a naturally milky essence to it, without the need to add any actual milk product. And enough sweetness from candied chestnuts to enjoy without any honey or sugar. Its creaminess matched the indulgence of the set well.

The second most popular brew was the “blanc and rose” white tea. You got plenty of gentle rose notes in this cup. More light and floral than the blue tea above.

The actual full food set comes out fast. Many of the elements are pre-made and simply assembled on these speciality, miniature shelves. They typically house small figurines and leave quite the oriental impression. But there were so many pieces to this set that they had to spread it across two fixtures. The second one was a platform, and like the shelf, it was topped with waxy paper to protect the wood from oils and sugars from the snack-sized feast before us. We worked our way through everything, looking to the menu as a guide of the order in which to do so. It was in doing this that we realized that we were missing one of the listed items: the traditional new year cake. But alas the chef had already retired for the day so we were unable to try it. However, the clerk offered us our choice of any of the treats in the showcase, but more on that below.

Once again, in the order that we nibbled and savoured: We started with the “Vegetable spread mix”. It looked half thought out. A slice of cucumber topped with sautéed vegetables. A mix of red peppers, eggplant, and mushroom. It ate like a vegan chip and salsa, but needed more. It was missing seasoning and a pinch of salt. And perhaps a final topping to complete the concept. My suggestion would be a sprinkling of fried onion. It tasted healthy and was light, giving you a similar feeling that you would get from a cucumber finger sandwich, in other high tea sets.

I really liked the “Smoked bacon on steam buns”. A nice thick cut of bacon with a maple syrup finish, its sweetness went well with the sweet onion paste smeared within the doughy bun. All that was missing was more vegetables, something pickled like you’d get in banh mi, for a nice tang.

By comparison, the “Sesame brioche buns with roasted pork belly” was similar in sweetness and tangy sauce. But here, the thick and crunchy skin was hard to bite through, and just as dry as the bun. Overall great flavours, I just wanted the dish to be better curated, and once again with more veggies to balance out the heavy juices.

The “Exotic mushroom veggie spring roll” came served with a sweet chilli sauce on the side for dipping. It was crunchy with plenty of mushroom filling. I don’t know about the “exotic” part though. It was pretty standard all in all.

Next, we transitioned from savoury to sweet with the “Bird’s nest soup with red dates”. It had a jelly-like texture that drank like slurping down minced jello. It was refreshing and only mildly sweet, with the flavour of the dates coming through.

The “Fermented rice cake” was interesting. Three desserts in one, including the decorative white chocolate piece crowning it. There were a few more scattered across the set, similarly decorated it Chinese characters and/or symbols to really round out the theme. At the centre was a tiny glutenous rice ball with sesame seed paste at its centre. I have never had one so mild, it contrasted well the tangy fermented jelly surrounding it. But overall this had a medicinal quality to it.

The “puff pastry” is one that I am familiar with. Shaped like a lotus flower, with a flaky shell, surrounding dense date paste. Given how dry and ashy it is, it is best paired with tea or coffee and nibbled on.

I was most excited by the sugar coated hawthorn fruits. Visually, it was juicy looking strawberries coated in syrup and wrapped in edible, translucent paper (like what you get with white rabbit candy.) I would later learn that this called “bing tanghulu”, a popular Beijing snack. It tasted like “haw flakes” and was fun to eat off the stick. This was all kinds of sweet, across different textures.

Once again, the menu also listed a “special Chinese traditional cake”, but it was missing on our tower, and by the time we realized this, the chef was already gone for the day. Therefore to round out our meal, our server (the lone employee left to hold down the cafe), offered us the following.

A couple of their Chinese New Year themed macarons like red bean and osmanthus. The former actually tasted like red bean, whereas the latter was just sweet. I was waiting, but I never got the floral notes I expected from the blossom. It simply tasted artificial, and a little like mango?

And in keeping of our asian theme, we choose the “Black sesame cake”. One of their single serve, individual sized desserts, pre-made and waiting behind glass. It was mostly mousse with a thin layer of sponge. I found the texture sandy, whereas if I was going to have this much mousse I wanted it rich and creamy. At the centre was a mildly tart blueberry gel core. It helped to brighten up the dessert, but as a whole, this one isn’t for me.

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.
Honest this it is one of the better high tea sets I have had. Everything is made in house, and I definitely tasted the value across each course. Complex and creative, this is one to try! Don’t deny your cravings.

LE DOUX CIEL
65 Smithe St, Vancouver, BC V6B 0R3
(236) 520-2888
ledouxciel.ca

Gyoza Bar, Dine Out Brunch 2020

This morning we were at “Gyoza Bar”, here to try their Dine Out Vancouver brunch menu. $15 got you a 4 piece set with plenty of value to take advantage of, before February 3rd, 2020.

It opens at 12pm on a Saturday and the crowds flooded in soon after. A large space with plenty of seating. A lounge feel with a bar backed by bricks, that transitions into an open stainless steel kitchen. We grabbed a small narrow table by the door, with plenty of light and enough space for our two square set trays below.

Since it was the weekend we started with a couple of their new drinks. The “Blue Hawaiian” is the classic tropical cocktail with blue curaçao, pineapple, lime, and vodka. Fairly sweet, leaving you with a back of your throat soreness. I much preferred the “Chu-Hai” with pink grapefruit, lemon, orange bitters, soda, and gin. The citrus flavour was pronounced, and the drink refreshing as a whole with the spritzy soda. But with both you don’t get enough alcohol to actually taste it.

The $15 Dine Out brunch menu is this spicy tuna rice bowl teishoku set.

It comes with their daily miso soup. And today it included cut up woodear mushroom and seaweed.

The salad is a mix of greens, red onion, pickled cabbage, and cherry tomatoes, all coated in a sesame and citrus vinaigrette. Then finished off with a mashed tofu paste. I didn’t know what I was looking at, I never had tofu like this before. It added some heartiness and texture to the side, making it a more fulsome start.

Our server recommend that we enjoy the soft boiled, lightly soy sauced egg mixed into the rice dish below.

The main is like a poké with a spicy tuna mash and avocado purée over sweet citrus rice. It is topped with red onion and sliced cucumber which offer the only variation in crunch. The flavours were there, but the textures lacking. It was all the same soften gumminess, so that you grew bored of chewing. You got the flavour of the spicy tuna loud and clear, but wanted it more solid. Tuna sashimi, or perhaps some deep fried onion sprinkled over top for crunch?

And because it was my first time and called the “Gyoza Bar”, we made sure to try an order of their “pork teppan gyoza”. I liked the grilled skin of these pork and chive dumplings, but wanted more pizzazz and flavour from the filling. Though I guess that is what the side of spicy miso and umami soy is for.

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.
Based on this limited experience, I would like to come back for a more filling meal. To be able to try more dishes in order to get a better feel of their regular service. But at this point, all I can say is that this set is a deal. Don’t deny your cravings.

GYOZA BAR
622 W Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1V8
(604) 336-5563
gyozabar.ca

Granville Room, Dine Out 2020

Dine Out Vancouver is back for its 17th year. Great deals on new and favourite restaurants, serving up specialty menus. Typically 3 courses set at either $15, $25, $35, or $45 price points. For most you get to select an appetizer, have your choice of entree, and a dessert from a couple of catered selections. Not only does it encourage you to get out and about when the weather makes you want to stay in, but it also helps the hospitality industry and those working in it.

With so many possibilities it is hard to choose which restaurant and when. My strategy is picking ones that I haven’t been to and going for the best deal. This allows you to try something new and even if you don’t like it, it isn’t a big loss to you or your wallet.

Tonight, I was one of the Donnelly Group properties to do just that. And if you visit the “Granville Room” or any of their other Public Houses, I highly suggest taking the savings and applying them to some drinks. At any of their establishments, each Dine Out course has a recommend BC wine or cocktail pairing that goes with it. And I can fully attest, that the food is made with pairing drinks in mind, and that both are made better with the other. And bonus, this bar is located on the Granville entertainment strip downtown, meaning it is easy to get to by transit.

The room is moody and dark, the later it gets the greater it fills. It has your typical bar vibe, playing music with a lot of base, offset by the roar of jovial conversation at neighbouring tables. You seat yourself at either the wooden bar or any of their booths or four top rounds. I recommend the former with its healthy back splash of bottles. Above the bar terrariums hang in decoration. Each equipped with its only spiky air plants laying on some rocks, they compliment the forest of vines and leaves that creep down from above the door way. The botanical elements gives the space a lushness and a literal breath of fresh air.

 

The Dine Out Dinner menu is three courses for $25, and if you go with a friend and share, you get to try 2 out of the 3 options for both the appetizers and entrees.

Starting with the appetizers we had “Jor’s Flautas”. You have a choice between the braised chicken or sweet potato filling, along with a topping of cilantro, sour cream, and salsa. Having had the chicken, I think I would have liked the sweet potato better. Its pasty texture would have offered a nice contrast to the crispy roll, as well as its natural sweetness. The chicken on the other hand was shredded and ashy, I wanted another texture that didn’t parallel the flour tortilla shell quite so well. It would have also been nice to have a cream based sauce to coat the chicken in, before wrapping it. I kept wanting something on the sweeter side from this, like a honey based sauce that would have been nice here. The appetizer as a whole reminded us of taquitos, and were just as zesty. Each roll had a nice spice to it that perfectly paired with the recommend BC VQA “Volcanic Hills” Pinot Gris. The slight burn was balanced out by the cool, crisp, and tart flavours of the Pinot, really elevating both.

Out of the three appetizers I highly recommend the “Prawn Lettuce Wraps”. The curry sauce it sat in was amazing. A fragrant coconut curry with ginger and sriracha. However, I wanted it with rice or some bread, to better soak up all that sauce. Especially given the generous ratio of prawn to lettuce. Instead, most of the curry dripped off the vein of lettuce it was served with, as the intended scoop/base. The cucumber and mint garnish added a nice touch of freshness, to each self-curated bite. The flavourful-ness of this was also well accented by the “Volcanic Hills” Pinot Gris, it toned and defined.

The third appetizer option that we skipped was the “Dirty Fries” with queso dip, sea salt, and parmesan. And I suggest you do too, if you plan on getting either the steak or the chicken below, as both come with a generous helping of fries as sides. Chewy, thick cut fries with a nice potatoey centre.

The “1/4 Rotisserie Chicken” featured quality white meat that was tender and moist. Although I was left wanting more of its natural juices to come through for added moisture. I could have dipped it into the side of gravy, but found it far too salty, with not enough meat flavour. Instead, I opted for ketchup, but would have been happier with a sweet honey maple barbecue. You also get a kale slaw on the side with the fries, but I was not a fan. The slaw was dry and bitter, with the texture of leafy greens, which I have never liked. Besides when there is fries why would you go for the vegetable option?

But the one to get is the “Steak Sandwich” with horseradish mayo, arugula, and tomato if you want something heartier. Or the always comforting “Mac & Cheese rigatoni” with truffled parmesan, bacon, and greens. We had the former and was not disappointed by the quality of the steak. Perfectly prepared to a medium rare, juicy and tender with a savoury spice. This was given a pop with the zesty horseradish spread. There was a little too much of it at some points, and overall it made the bread soggier. I would have enjoyed this better deconstructed. Steak as the main, buttered bread, and the salad on top as a side. Trying to eat this open face sandwich got messy, and trying to cut through the bread only made things worse. The fries were the same as above, the gravy was just as salty, but more like a jus you get with a beef dip. Nevertheless I didn’t use any of it, as the steak was already well seasoned.

The recommend BC VQA Wine/Beverage Pairing for all the entrees is a “Gehringer Cabernet merlot”. This is a mellow, easy drinking wine that acted as the perfect “meaty” palette cleanser between all the richer flavours. It also aided in balancing out the salt.

You didn’t get an option for dessert. Being primarily a bar, they weren’t as invested in flushing out a sweet menu. Instead, they completed this set menu with a “Drumstick”. The brand of frozen ice cream cone with a chocolate fudge centre and a coating of chocolate and peanuts, over vanilla ice cream, all on a sugar cone. I was a little disappointed in realizing it wasn’t made in house, but after one bite nostalgia kicked in and I was a-okay. Especially seeing in presented in a mason jar of jelly beans. Double the childhood feels.

And even this too had a beverage pairing. A Lot 40 Old Fashioned. And I must say I was both surprised and impressed at how well they went together. The chocolate in the ice cream almost caramelized the drink. It was weird, but it just made sense. I highly recommend trying it and/or dipping one into the other. Childhood indulgence and adulthood vice meeting and having mouth babies.

The food is definitely made to be paired with drinks, considering “Granville Room” is a night spot, with a bar front and centre. You come for the drinks, and if you are hungry there is an amazing set meal you can indulge in, for cheap. The way things are priced these days, the above for one is about the same price as a fast food combo with drink, fries, and frozen soft serve. Here, you get better quality food, and it feels like you are getting a deal. All in a setting that is much nicer that any place with florescent lights and a swivel chair. In conclusion, this was a great deal at $25 per person, plus drinks. The food was solid and we left with leftovers.

GRANVILLE ROOM
957 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L3
(604) 633-0056
donnellygroup.ca/granville-room

Cinema Public House, Happy Hour

Today I was invited down to check out “Cinema’s” facelift. And the Donnelly group has recently closed down a few of their outlying public houses, so I was also interested in getting a look into this decision, through this reintroduction meal.

Donnelly group has been looking at its spaces and the neighbourhoods that they have been occupying. And the decision has been made to better align themselves to their demographic, which includes a more friendlier space and dynamic menu. “Cinema’s” focus is on the after work, downtown crowd, due to its corner street location. Lunch for a quick, inexpensive, and delicious meal. And then when after the dinner rush is over, the space opens up and the DJ spins the wheels until 3pm, catering to a completely different crowd. They do this considering the event that is letting out in the area, and those who have chosen to visit on any given night. The kitchen is open until 1pm on week days and 2pm on weekends, which is fantastic. I can not tell you how many times I wanted a late night meal, but there aren’t many kitchen open past 10pm.

Once a dark corner that only looked to host a more lively, after dinner crowd. Now an open space hoping to bring in the happy hour and hungry dining crowd. “Cinema” has recently torn down the wall that separated the bar from the booths, and expanded the patio to face Granville Street. And I can honestly attest to the fact that it does make a difference. The setting is looking more inviting. And because of it, the bar was busy at 5pm, a full house of rotating tables here for happy hour, like we were.

The menu gives you a deal on drinks with $5 beers and $6 wines from 3-6pm daily, and again Sunday to Thursday 9-1am. They don’t have food specials, but with $6-8 snacks, $10 sandwiches, and $12 pizzas and mains on their regular menu; you are saving each time you visit anyways.

We started with a couple of their signature cocktails. Like the “Shogun” featuring suntory toki Japanese whiskey, st. Germain elderflower liqueur, strawberry syrup, lemon, mint, and candied ginger. A nice warming beverage because of the ginger, yet cooling with the sweet fruit and citrus notes.

The “Funny Pages” was a great afternoon pick me up. Lot 40, cold brew, Jägermeister, and a golden graham milk syrup, it drank like a spiked coffee, sweetened with milk, sugary from breakfast cereal.

They also serve cocktails that they have borrowed from off other menus. Like “Naked and famous” from “Death & Co.” in New York. Sombra mezcal, aperol, yellow chartreuse, and lime juice.

And the “Sherry colada” from “Waydown Ace Hotel” in Chicago. Havana Club 7yr rum, amontillado, sherry, coconut syrup, fresh pineapple, and orange zest.

To eat, we shared a handful of dishes from their $6 snack menu, and had plenty for everyone. The “mozzarella sticks” were herb crusted and served with a marinara sauce for dipping. What’s there not to love? String cheese under a crispy, well seasoned shell, enjoyed as is or with a palate cleansing tangy dip into tomato.

My favourite was the house made “queso dip” with crispy corn tortilla chips. I would drink it like soup, but it is best coating doughy bread, like with the pretzel below.

The “Pretzel” was actually served with its own queso dip, but I would have preferred it with a spicy mustard option instead, or maybe both for a nice contrast. The dough was a little oily and the heavy handed coating of sesame seeds was either a hit or miss amongst our table. I personally liked the additional texture for its mouth feel.

The mini “Perogies” were a unanimous favourite. They were filled with cheddar cheese and topped generously with sautéed onions, sour cream, and green onions. It tasted exactly as how you’d expect it to.

The “Blistered snap peas” was an interesting menu item, or appetizer to be offered at a bar. But they were tasty, and spoke to the kitchen’s new direction: offering healthy options and vegetable friendly solutions, for a snacking, after work crowd. They were so simple, yet so good. Fresh snap peas seasoned with a Spanish chilli, lemon, and ricotta salata.

Similarly, the “shishito peppers” were a healthy, all vegetable option, that you didn’t regret eating. Seasoned in a red wine vinegar and lime. They weren’t spicy, but had more of a grill smoke to them.

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.
Great food at good prices, in a newly renovated space. I liked everything I tasted, and it looks like they have something good on their hands, so expect such a menu will be rolled out to all their other properties in the near future. Don’t deny your cravings.

CINEMA
901 Granville St, Vancouver BC, V6B 2C9
604-694-0202
donnellygroup.ca/locations/pubs/cinema/

Honolulu Coffee, Happy Hour

Other restaurants have Happy Hour, “Honolulu Coffee” has “Pa’u Hana”. Starting on Friday October 4th, the “Honolulu Coffee” on Nelson will host live music with drink and food specials, every Friday from 3-7pm. It may be fall and it maybe cold, but here they are on island time; and the tropical vibes certainly does help to warm you up.

To celebrate the occasion they hosted a luau and I was the first one to arrive for all the festivities. To set the mood, there was live music. Pop songs done on the ukulele.

And “Leis de buds” was on location with handcrafted real rose and real orchid leis. Guests were invited to dawn one around their necks, learning that the proper way to do so is with equal parts of the lei and its florals dangling in front and at the back. This is so that others will be able to enjoy its aesthetics from either side.

And when the pre-made ones were all handed out, the floral specialist began making more on the spot, as a demonstration. Utilizing a specially imported lei needle to thread blossoms together by way of string. The result, wearable art, and a keepsake to take home and dry.

The event spilled out the entrance of the cafe. And right at the entry way was a baby pig roasting on a spit. It definitely attracted the desired attention. Slow cooking since first thing in the morning, it was now ready for carving up and serving.

Its pulled pork meat would be the feature of their kalua pork burgers, along side pineapple and a tomato salsa. The pork was terrific, you can taste the difference cooking it over hot coals made. As for the burger as a whole I would have liked the pineapple grilled, the salsa less watery, and a sweeter mayonnaise to pull it all together.

Inside, a table was set up with help yourself small bites. A collection of their bar menu snacks and cafe favourites for everyone to sample.

In the Teri burger, I got the tangy mayo that I was looking for above. It paired well with the crispy shredded slaw and all the onion and cilantro, piled over a thin beef burger patty.

For something to crunch on and pair with their Hawaiian brewed beers by the can, I recommend their smoked “mixed bar nuts” with a sticky glaze.

I fully enjoyed the “Edamame coconut hummus”. A whipped spread served with pita. It gives you the sensation and texture of hummus, but with a whole new flavour profile to explore. Garlicky and coconut-y, I have had nothing else like it.

The “Lilikoi pineapple meatball” was a nice small plate to share. Served with tooth picks, they are easy to pop into your mouth. A bite-sized round of meat with plenty of cilantro, and hints of passion fruit.

The bacon cheddar scones are from their cafe side, a perk of having a bar within a cafe, you get to pick and choose from either menu that shares the same seating area.

The matcha brownie cubes were decadent, moist bites of chocolate.

But my favourite of all their cafe snacks is their guava bread. I ate cube after cube, recommending others to do the same. A moist cake with the flavour of the pink tropical fruit.

At the build your own açai bowl bar, guests helped themselves to scoops of frozen açai; and topped with as much or as little fresh fruit and dried ingredients as you wanted. Slices of strawberry and banana, whole blueberries, coconut flakes, and house made granola. Tart and refreshing, this made for a healthy dessert alternative.

At their bar they were serving cans of “Maui Brewing Co.” beers in Pineapple mana wheat or Coconut hiwa porter.

And for something sweeter and frostier, you can enjoy their “Hauoli Colada”, similar to a pina colada with tropical fruit juices blended with ice and rum. It was an easy drinking cocktail, made more enjoyable when served in one of their brightly coloured, novelty tiki mugs or pineapple-shaped cup.

We finished our meal off with a cup of their “Hawaiian latte”, exclusive to them and one of a kind with their specialty beans. It uses coconut milk and macadamia nut syrup to further their theme. And although you smelled more of it, than you do taste it, this was still a great indulgence.

They also have two new hot beverages for their fall offerings. The first is a “horchata latte” with cold brew coffee, soy milk, and cinnamon. The second, a “baked maple pumpkin latte” with real pumpkin, maple syrup, cinnamon, espresso, and milk; topped with grated nutmeg. They didn’t quite taste like what I expected. Not concentrated in horchata or pumpkin flavour, but a different interpretation altogether. I would have liked the horchata sweeter, and the pumpkin latte spicier. The latter was interesting with the addition of maple syrup. Maple, being a strong flavour that battled with the pumpkin as lead in the drink.

For more coffee, guests were invited to sample “Honolulu Coffee’s” newest roast, the “Peaberry”. This is one of the world’s rarest coffees, a lighter bodied brew with subtle sweetness and hints of mixed berry. One that you can take home as beans in a bag. It was recommend that we drink it as is, without milk or sugar. It was a delightful brew, and I can see why it has earned its accolades.

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.
In short, “Honolulu Coffee” will continue to be a cafe I recommend. Not just a regular coffee house, but one that features tropical flavours and transports you to a place much warmer and much further away. And now with happy hour and their own beer garden, there is even more reason to visit them soon. Don’t deny your cravings.

HONOLULU COFFEE
888 Nelson St g1, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H1
(778) 379-6607
honolulucoffee.com

 

Hydra Cafe & Bar

The reviews have been only so-so for this place, but the decor alone is worth visiting for. They are the newer dining option attached to the “Exchange Hotel”, in downtown Vancouver. This space was design specifically for their Mediterranean restaurant.

You are in awe walking in and climbing their spiralling staircase, up to the main dining area. They do have a secondary bar/lounge space downstairs, but the second floor with vaulted ceiling is the place to be.

I had arrived early and my girl friend was running late, so I was more than happy to spend the additional time waiting for her, by their bar. A handsome arch framed their tiered assortment, well stocked and well presented before a back splash of half circles, layered like scales. This spoke well to their aquatic theme. A chandelier of plastic fish floated over a table, large paintings of wild waves in varying degrees of blue drew your eyes to the wall, and a television screen broadcasting picturesque scenes of the Mediterranean furthered the mood. Turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and not a cloud in the sky. The music, upbeat and lively, like at a tropical resort night club. All this made them a great place for a drink, or to begin a bar crawl at.

On the way to the single stalled washrooms, be sure to take in their raw bar. Back lit mirrors hang over a trough of ice. In it whole fish peak through, speaking to the freshness of their seafood assortment. We were sure to sample from this with their “chill platter”, but more on that below.

By the hotel entrance to the restaurant is a living wall, greens crawling around the name of the restaurant in white LED. Under it a Möet branded tub and life persevere, that I had to take advantage of as a photo op.

Back at the bar, I order my first cocktail of the night. The name spoke well to the drink: “holiday”. Made with summer fruits and bright flavours, this play on the margarita featured fresh watermelon purée, cazadores reposado, martini bitters, ginger, and fresh lime. It was finished with a coconut sugar, and a maldon rim.

My next cocktail was at our reserved table, the “Fig” was a strong drink, that delivered on its name. A smokey sipper with fig at its core, and an extra bite as garnish. Dewar’s white label scotch, fig syrup, angostura bitters, citrus oil, and fig garnish.

The cocktail after that was “Tart”. And unlike the “Fig”, this was a name that did not perfectly describe what you were getting in a drink. Like its colour, it tasted like lavender and flowers. Bombay sapphire, cassis, kefir, fresh lemon and lime, honey, egg whites, and black toasted sesame.

We then decided to try a Greek wine, for drinks 4 and 5. We reasoned out that it would be more economical to get a bottle to share, as opposed to ordering it by the glass. This was “Monograph” from Peloponnese, Greece; it is an Assyrtiko. This was what was suggested when we asked for something similar to pinot gris.

And although it is ill advised, we ordered a “Chill Platter” to accompany all our drinks. Normally you’d want some carbs or something more solid to balance yourself with. But my girl friend and I have an on going thing where we aim to try all the seafood towers in the city. This one comes with prawns, oysters, ceviche sashimi, pickled octopus, tartare, and accoutrements for $105. For those who need even more, you can add on a pound of crab for $45.

The prawns were large and juicy, but plain. They needed a dip, and we found it in the sauces for the oysters, on the top tier.

These were Kushi and Royal miyagi oysters. And normally I can barley tell the difference between types of oysters. But the Royal miyagi oysters were deliciously sweet, the sweetest I have ever had. I chased it with a very clean and crisp tasting kushi oyster.

The ceviche sashimi was very dill forward, it over powered the herbed paprika, salmon and celery for crunch. This is the type of seasoning I would expect in a potato salad.

I liked the tanginess of the pickled octopus, I just wish it wasn’t served cold. Its already chewy texture would be butterier if warmer.

The tartare was bland by comparison, especially when eating it with the cucumber. The caper gave it some salt, but it felt lost amongst the others.

The crab was very water logged, shredded and soaking in olive oil with tomato and parsley. It was also too acidic and vinegary for me to enjoy the natural sweetness of the crab.

The broad beans were a nice little palette cleanser. Served chill with feta for a sandy texture. It was best enjoyed with the hard pita points, made harder with its time in the ice.

Overall, there was quite a bit of food on these two tiers. Plenty to keep you causally nibbling for an hour plus. And when anything got too dull, the sauces and minuet served with the oysters, as mentioned earlier, was enough to do the trick.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Given how much we spent on a seafood tower, I felt it should have lived up to the cost. And for that I wouldn’t necessarily clamour to visit again, but can safely recommend them for an amazing hotel bar to see and be seen at. Don’t deny your cravings.

HYDRA
475 Howe St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2B3
(604) 416-0880
hydracafe.com

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