VieAMaggi.com

Real, raw, & relatable me. Enthusiastic food & lifestyle blogger living in Vancouver, BC!

Category: Downtown Vancouver Page 1 of 23

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

Honolulu Coffee, beer garden

I don’t naturally gravitate towards coffee so it is nice to have a different reason to visit “Honolulu Coffee”. They have just opened a beer garden within their cafe, and I was here to get the full Hawaiian experience from them. Although fun fact, Vancouver is the only “Honolulu Coffee” franchise to host their own beer garden. There isn’t even one in Hawaii.

I cannot believe it took me this long to step into their space. It is so much fun. Their Hawaiian theme is evident in every part of their business. You feel transported as you step through the threshold with the change in light and the faint scent of coconut and macadamia nuts in the background. Bleach wood, rattan furniture, patterned cushions, and walls papered with palm trees to further the setting.

To take a little piece of this and them home, they even have a gift shop of sorts. Shelves with their branded coffee mug and tumblers, bold coloured tees and canvas tote bags, bags of their own coffee beans, and tins of their tea.

Like with any cafe they offer speciality coffees and hosts a showcase of baked goods and pastries. From dessert cakes to brownies. We would get a taste of both before the night’s end.

Their cafe feels separate from their beer garden, despite the latter only covering a little corner of their elongated space. But in my opinion, this is the best corner. All centred around a colourful mural of sand and water framed by palm trees, advertising their “Brewed with Aloha” beers. With a custom painted surf board to anchor it all. With this, all the right props, and all their tropically inspired beers, you are somewhere warm and tropical.

Their limited menu is listed on the back of their bar. Local beers on tap and Hawaiian beers by the can, and the perfect inspired snacks to enjoy them with.

We started with two cans of the Island brewed “Maui Brewing Co.” beers. Their cans feature Maori traditional prints on the outside and tropical fruit flavours on the inside. Both gave you the promised fruit essence with a nice easy drinking beer. Pineapple mana wheat and Coconut hiwa porter.

With it we enjoyed a serving of their mixed bar nuts, its smokey flavour complimentary to the beers.

My guest and I were fully impressed by the “Edamame coconut hummus”, and the creativity in the idea. It gave you the sensation and texture of hummus, but with a whole new flavour. It was churned smooth, and ideal with the pillowy soft pita bread it was served with. Garlicky and coconuty both at the same time, here is nothing else like it. Worth trying.

The “Lilikoi pineapple meatball” was a nice one to easily pop into your mouth, as a bar snack. A solid ball of meat with plenty of cilantro, coupled with hints of passion fruit; but tasted more like pineapple.

It was later explained that it is typical for Hawaiian cuisine to feature plenty of onion and cilantro. Like there was in our “Teri burger sliders”, along with a creamy mayo and crispy shredded slaw. All on a thin burger patty and plain bun. You eat it more for its condiments than the sweet buttery bun, gaining very little taste from the patty. It is also more sweet than salty, and I expected some teriyaki flavour in this (because of its name), and didn’t get it.

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. Although you smell more of it, than you do taste it, this was still a great indulgence.

And I couldn’t pass up a slice of their guava bread. It is like banana bread, but sweeter and pink from the colour of the fruit. It was cut thick and offered you a beautiful chew. I would go out of my way for more. Another must try.

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.
Seriously, glad I could check this one out. And now I am happy to be able to recommend it. Next time that I want a drink or a snack I will actively look for a “Honolulu cafe”. Great polite service, stand out food, and a one of a kind setting to enjoy both in. Don’t deny your cravings.

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

Liu Yi Shou Hot Pot Restaurant

Despite the seasons, Chinese-style hot pot tends to be a consistently popular destination for those wanting a little more involvement in their meal. You cook up your own dinner, customizing it from which broth base you use to what ingredients you put in. And at “Liu Yi Shou” they offer a few more options to make your experience even more interactive and personalized.

For the tutorial on how to maximize your hot pot experience, check out my latest vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

First “Liu Yi Shou” has happy hour, plenty of wine and beer on special. I suggest sharing a pitcher with your friends. With all the spicy and flavourful ingredients, beer makes for a great in between sipper. They also have plenty of can sodas and fruit pops available, and even coconut water you drink right out of the fruit. So start with this as you explore their very extensive menu.

And while you work out your order, or wait for it to come and boil, you can start nibbling on their “Cheese fondue”. This is a new menu item, and one that you don’t often see at a hot pot restaurant. Not just melted cheese, but their fondue is mozzarella flavoured with tomato. It is served with a board of hot dogs, celery, and chicken wings for dipping into. I really liked the flavour of the cheese dip, it had a comforting, gooey tomato soup feel to it. But despite the lit tea light under the individual fondue bowl, it does cool quick. Although it doesn’t congeal, so you can come back to what you don’t finish in between your hot pot, as a flavour changer.

You can also order their popular marinade appetizer dish. This is an assorted platter of quail eggs, bean curd, pig’s ear, and pork hoc marinated in a soy sauce blend. It is enjoyed cold or at room temperature. This you eat more for its textures of squishy, spongy, chewy, and rubbery.

Today I was dining with hot pot experts and they made sure to order the most unique of all the option, plenty of which are exclusive to “Liu Yi Shou”, starting with their tri-soup pot. You can enjoy 3 different flavours of broth, altogether in one pot. Ideal for those who get tired of a one flavour boil; or for those who can’t take their food spicy, dining with those who only like it spicy.

We had the chicken with coconut soup base, the wild mushroom soup base with Chinese herbs, and the spicy and numbing hot pot. The latter was extra special, it came with a block of tallow shaped like their cow mascot. “Tallow” is saturated beef fat, it is higher in calories than butter, but healthier and better tasting! The hotter it got, the quicker he melted, and soon he was face first in a pool of chilli and peppercorns. Not only does this make the soup more indulgent, it also help to cut into some of that hot, hot heat. And if you order the chicken and coconut soup base, you get a plate of raw chicken complimentary, to cook within it.

In an effort to save table space, our platter of finely sliced lamb and beef is served on a wooden ring, that fits perfectly around our hot pot. From here it is easy to pick up a slice and dunk it into any broth. Both cook up relatively quick, and after 5 dunks you are ready to eat it.

But as waited for all the soup broths to boil, we made our way to the back of the restaurant, to their help yourself sauce bar. At some hot pot places I find I get bored of the taste, that everything is boiled up the same, and has only the one flavour throughout. Here, you can customize your own sauces and curate the flavour, so that anything you don’t like is on you. Mix and match from sauces and oils like spiced vinegar, oyster sauce, sesame oil, satay sauce, mushroom paste, and bean curd paste, etc. Toss in some minced and chopped dry ingredients like sugar, green onion, toasted soy bean, mashed garlic, preserved turnip and peanuts; for texture and chew.

And while we were busy mixing and creating to our heart’s content all our ordered ingredients began arriving one platter after another. The beautifully plated, raw food comes out quick here.

A wooden box of leafy greens and various mushrooms.

Fish paste moulded into two hearts. This you scoop and drop into the broth for it to boil up and harden into a solid ball.

A platter of shrimp, cuttlefish, pork and beef, pre-formed balls.

An interesting one were these tubes of bean curd that you dip into the pot for 3 seconds. They act like sponges, soaking in the broth and offering a distinct ribbed chew.

For the adventurous you can order a platter of intestines and organ meats, for a more traditional hot pot experience. Pig’s blood, beef tripe, ox aorta, and goose intestine. I would also consider this, one that you order more for its textures, each with its own unique chew or gelatin-like consistency. The aorta had the same chew as squid rings, the tripe was so tender and easy to bite into, the intestine required more jaw work; and the savoury pigs blood had the texture of pudding and jello combined.

But the highlight and feature of our meal was definitely “meat Barbie”. A Barbie doll repurposed. She was dressed in strips of angus beef that you peel of her torso or cabbage base and add into your soup. At her feet is a garden of raw seafood. Shrimp in shell, fish puff, mussels, fish, and sticks of imitation crab. A visual treat, as well as a tasty one.

And for those who actually still have room for more, “Liu Yi Shou” does have dessert, offering something sweet to end on. Like their red rice cakes that you dip into condense milk or a sweet syrup. I did try one, but after all the food above, I felt ending on anything rice related or starchy a little much.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I like their creativity and the broad offering of their menu. They aren’t just a place for hot pot, but serve as a stop for happy hour as well. Cold drinks and small snacks or dessert. They offer regulars and occasional customers reasons to return with plenty of variety to try and taste. And as the first hot pot place to have franchises all over the world, there are many locations for you to get your fix at. Don’t deny your cravings.

LIUYISHOU HOTPOT
1542 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1C2
778-379-3977

Najia Restaurant

Today we were in Coal Harbour looking for dinner. One of my guests was excited to see “Najia” nearby and insisted we visit. She is a fan of the Szechwan boiled fish dish and not many places offer it.

The harbour view was great, but this was an odd place for a Chinese restaurant. And because of its traditional architectural elements, it stood out more, adjacent to the modern marina side. Particularly their second floor annex with its pagoda-style curves and pointed roof. Inside, things got a lot more authentic. Stone lion statues, carved archways, and woven tapestries. Its intricacies made the experience all the more encompassing.

We had plenty of time to soak it all in at the threshold. Where we were left lingering, looking around as staff briskly waked past our group of three. No one stopped to acknowledge us. We eventually hailed one of the managers, she sat us at the table marked “15”. It was one of the tables that shared the lengthy booth, that ran down two walls of the dining area. It was a comfortable seat with embroidered silk pillows shaped like green and yellow clouds to prop yourself against.

There, we took our time looking through their menu, which was bound-like and read-like a novel. Each page a high resolution photo with the name of the dish and its price in small print. You ordered with your eyes, and the way it was presented there had you acknowledging the steeper price point. You were paying more for a more luxurious meal.

Our server asked if we wanted tea or water, without the warning that the former would cost you. And that each subsequent “refilled” pot would cost $2.50 more. A fact we only became aware of when we saw our bill and decided to drink the rest of what we had left in pot number 3. I am guessing that they use fresh leaves each time.

We ordered the dish we came in for and our server suggested an add on, directing us to their “Noble shrimp”, one of their house specialties. A great move considering we agreed to it at $29.88 for 9 large shrimp. We were amazed by the presentation. It was served on a plate elevated by a wooden platform, it matched the pattern of the dish ware, tea cup, and chopstick rest before our individual setting. A traditional Chinese pattern with a modern twist in a yellow-ish gold.

These were the largest shrimp I have had to date. Lightly fried, with a crispy shell you can chew down and swallow with ease. They were the only part that were seasoned. None of the sweet sticky sauce penetrated the actual prawn, so the initial bite was flavourful, and you got nothing on subsequent chews. The whole lychees and chilli peppers didn’t help, I didn’t think the lychee matched the flavour of the prawn. It wasn’t sweet but salty, then bitter at the end.

As for the boiled fish in chilli oil, my guest ordered our $29.88 serving with extra numbing peppercorn, which is her favourite part of the traditional dish. With it we each had a bowl of white rice at $3 a bowl. It helped to round things out as a more fulsome meal. Thankfully the fish actually wasn’t as spicy as it looked with all the dried, chopped up chillies. It was a refined heat that flavoured the oil and fish. But my favourite part was the crisp bed of bean sprouts at the bottom of the platter.

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.
Normally I don’t review a restaurant if I only try less than 3 dishes. However in this case I don’t think I will be returning for price alone, so thought to cover what little I have. This was little too indulgent of a cost for everyday dining. And the reality is when looking for Chinese food I won’t travel out of my way to Coal Harbour for it. Though I do acknowledge that this was very good for Chinese food downtown, with a very unique decor in a very special location. Although if this was in Richmond, it would be a different story. Don’t deny your cravings.

NAJIA
1018 Beach Avenue, Vancouver BC, V6E 1T7
778-379-3787
najia-restaurant.com

Railtown Cafe, Tailgate BBQ series

This summer “Railtown Cafe” is bringing back their tailgate barbecue series. Their original location is hosting all day cookouts, one Sunday a month. June 23, July 14, August 18, and September 22 from 11am to 8pm. It is a ticketed event, so best to purchase them before hand to secure your plate. Although walks ins are accepted. With two down, there are only two more chances to try all their barbecue and sides. The meat platter is $27, and the vegetarian option $17. All tickets purchased online includes a complimentary drink voucher, where you save up to $6 for a cup.

Your bbq journey starts inside their cafe. Payment or ticket redemption gets you a paper plate. You take it down the counter to have it loaded with sides.

First comes their Jalapeño Corn Bread. Spicy meets sweet in this crumbly slice.

Next you have a choice of two sides between their “Carolina Coleslaw”, “Creamy Potato Salad”, “Classic Caesar Salad”, or “Farmers’ Market Field Greens”. I had the first two, my friend the Caesar and the potato salad. Each of the salads offered some freshness, and some greenery to help balance out all the density of the meat. I especially liked their potato salad. Thick chunks of potato coated in mayonnaise and flavoured with plenty of dill.

You head outside to where everything is prepared on their custom-built, 12-foot barbecue barrel grill. There, all your mains are kept warm, pre-made for easy dispensing. We enjoyed the meat lover’s option, a fulsome assembly of the below, guaranteed to have you leaving full.

The Tailgate Barbecue menu includes their 35-hour Texas-style Beef Brisket, Applewood-smoked Pork Shoulder, Beer-brined Maple Hill Farms Chicken, D’Original Sausage Haus Brats, and Corn on the Cob. You got a piece of each, though I am sure if you wanted to trade one for the other or make an edit they would obliged.

Everything was super tender, I especially enjoyed the dark meat piece of chicken. The brisket I got was a little fattier than I would have liked. The pulled pork shoulder was a little dry, but easily remedied with a generous scoop of their sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. That sauce was even good on their half cob of corn.

And naturally, with all this salted meat you’d want an ice cold beverage. And you are in luck, “Strange Fellows Brewing” and “Good Company Lager” is partnering with “Railtown” this year and their beers are on top. If you want something a little more sweet, cocktails like their “Lynchburg Lemonade” and/or their “Railtown Ruby Sangria” are available. I opted for the former for a full summer feel. But regular lemonade is also available. And for those coming with the entire family, there is plenty of other non-alcoholic beverages like flavoured iced-teas and other soft drinks available as well.

Once fully loaded, you gather up your heavy plate and chilled plastic cup and pick where you park. A pop up seating area is set up right out front, taking a tiny slice of the street. Folding tables clothed in white and red gingham offered a picnic vibe. But for those who rather stay out of the sun, there is plenty of indoor seating in the restaurant itself. Similarly, if you are looking to round out your meal with a hot beverage or dessert. They offer plenty of coffee options, and fresh made savoury and sweet pastries behind glass.

For more information on the next bbq tailgate and how you can get your own tickets, check out the link below.

Railtown Tailgate Barbecues are BACK!

RAILTOWN CAFE
397 Railway Street, Vancouver BC, V6A 1A4
604-428-0800
railtowncafe.ca

Page 1 of 23

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén