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Havana Vancouver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tacofino Commissary on Hastings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Based on previous, inconsistent experiences I came in apprehensively, but left raving. I liked all the tacos we tried and will be looking forward to having the others on our next visit. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

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

Mordimi Bite of Italy, #pizzachallengeyvr

I was once again trying out a new pizzeria, thanks to Vancouver Foodster, and me being one of the three judges for this year’s #pizzachallengeyvr. This one was only two months old. But as I would soon learn, owned and operated by a highly experienced and passionate husband and wife team. They are not new the pizza game, having ran a pizzeria for over two years before, and a coffee shop prior to that.

They currently call Hastings street their home. A little shop with a handful of seats and the operations out in the open, behind them. A counter with baked good for point and purchase, their stainless steel work space, and a chalkboard scrawling declaring that the “guy making your pizza is a pizzaiolo”.

The restaurant boasted an ever changing menu. Every Sunday they offer up a different brunch items like paninis, sandwiches, and frittatas. Pastas are available for lunch and included the likes of angle hair with ox tail and a carbonara with egg and pork cheek. Every Thursday the pasta of choice is gnocchi, every Friday it is a stuffed ravioli. All the chosen filling and ingredients are based on what our chef found fresh at the market that week, or what he himself felt like eating on the day. Similarly, the desserts get changed up daily, each, also hand made in house.

We made sure to reserve the ones we wanted first, lest they be purchased by the time we finished our meal. We were eyeing the doughnuts, or rather “bigné”, as the Italian way they were called. A tidbit we learned from our chef/host who informed us that “donuts” are the North American copy of the original Italian version (or debatably French version). Here, these doughy rounds are made from puff pastry.

The “bigné with yuzu cream” offered up a good change of taste with its fresh citrus flavour. It was filled full with cream and had a similarly flavoured topping crowning with blueberry and meringue bits.

The “Caramel cream bigné with almonds and peanuts” was my favourite. It was soft under your bite with the toasted nuts giving you crunch. It wasn’t too sweet, but the saltines of the peanut gave you that perfect balance of salty and sweet with the whipped caramel cream filling.

The “Pistachio cream and raspberry bigné” was a different experience. This was definitely a one biter, a little squeeze and all the cream came oozing out the sides. And at the middle of it, a nice sharp tang of fresh raspberry jelly. Given how great each of the above was, I can confidently recommend “Mordimi” as a spot worth travelling to, just for these desserts.

They also offer their take on a mille feuille with custard, a tiramisu cup, and a lemon meringue parfait.

As for savoury we first tried the “best pizza challenge” contender: “Boscaiola”, or “A walk in the Italian forest”. It was prepared in the traditional Italian fashion with organic flour. Yeast is not used to raise the dough, instead, it is allowed to rise naturally across 4 days. All the ingredients used are fresh and never frozen. All these practices make this pizza the healthiest in the competition, and as it is known in Italy: a healthy meal solution. Italian black truffle, potatoes, mushrooms, asiago cheese, and fior di latte. It was very light, you were able to make out the flavours of each ingredient, with the rosemary being most prominent. The potatoes weren’t heavy, but offered a good starch. Although out of preference, I did find it a little bland, having me look out for an oil drizzle or some chilli to give it a little life.

We also tried their “Mordimi Calzone”. It used the same pizza dough as above, just folded over and baked chewier. Here, the pizza dough was more like bread. A pocket of dough sealing chicken pesto, parmigiano, sun dried tomatoes, yellow tomato sauce, and fior di latte inside. I appreciated the large chunks of chicken breast meat. It was fully marinated in the tasty pesto sauce. The tomatoes offered bursts of freshness, and the light cheese an agent to bind them all.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If you are looking for authentic Italian pizza from a discerning chef. A chef who cares about the quality of ingredients, and the tradition of pizza being one of the most healthiest foods available: come here and be sure to save room for dessert. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

MORDIMI
2638 E Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5K 1Z6
604-253-0765
mordimi.ca
To learn more about the Vancouver Foodster Pizza Challenge, visit the link. And then try all the competitors to vote for your favourite. http://vancouverfoodster.com/pizza-challenge/

Sopra Sotto, #pizzachallengeyvr

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pizza Challenge

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A beautiful setting with fresh plates and attentive staff that matches it modern feel. However, my next visit to “Sopra” will be at their Burnaby location for some deep fried goodness. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

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

Elephant Garden Creamery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As I mentioned, this is my new favourite ice cream place, for taste, price, and accessibility. But of note, I am partial to their Asian flavours, finding them new to Vancouver’s ice cream scene, or at least they are the first to have as much variety as they do. Worth trying the next time you are on “The Drive”. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

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

Sopra Sotto revisit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Mr. Red Cafe

“Mr. Red Cafe” is a well known Vietnamese restaurant that specializes in North Vietnamese cuisine. They have been a long standing staple, therefore it is surprising that I am only just now visiting them. And lucky me, I was here with the best tour guide, acclaimed foodie and blogger extraordinaire “@foodologyca”.

She took the helm when it came to ordering, as I took in the decor. This cafe was transformed into a tropical rain forest with plenty of live greenery. Against a red brick wall a straw thatched roof was erected with wooden masks and straw lanterns hanging above. Whicker, wood, and bamboo really helped to complete the island vibe. They matched the straw and banana leaves that a few of our dishes were served on.

Like the “Vong village’s deep fry young rice cake with ground shrimp and pork”. They were essentially irregular, hand shaped meat patties. They had a gummy quality to them, similar to that of dim sum; but with the classic Vietnamese tangy fish sauce to dip them into.

The “Grilled beef wrapped in la lot leaves” was a handsome platter served with vermicelli noodle, fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, and fried shallots. Accompanied by the same light fish sauce again. I liked the meatiness of the sausage filling, but not the bitterness of the leaves that engulfed them. To help balance it out, I sought out more fish sauce and citrus, with the peanut for crunch. I would have also liked some vegetable and/or pickle within the leaves to give depth to the one toned meat log.

The “Mr. Red cafe spicy beef noodle soup” was inspired by hue style noodle soups, serve with assorted beef and pork ham slices, topped with green onion, cilantro, basil, and bean spouts. It wasn’t too spicy, a hearty and deep broth that warmed you to the core. No complaints.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
With an extensive menu filled with so much more to try, I would love to return when craving Vietnamese cuisine. A collection of platters, set meals, sandwiches, omelettes, soups, and wraps to keep you coming back for more. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

MR RED CAFE
2131 E Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V5L 1V2
604-710-9515
mrredcafe.ca
Mr. Red Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vietnamese Tea House

Today I was at yet another restaurant competing in the Vancouver Foodster iced tea challenge. This is a newer Vietnamese restaurant on Hastings Street, on a strip already saturated with numerous restaurants offering Vietnamese food. So what sets them apart? An owner hailing from Southern Vietnam, bringing with her authentic Southern Vietnamese cuisine, and slight differences we would learn through eating.

Previous to them moving in this was a sushi restaurant. The change of management brought about a renovation that included pink walls and purple painted detailing. They were a contrast to the homey red tables and matching cushioned chairs. And all the mismatched potted plants offering their green leaves as colouring. This all pointed to a family run business, something that was later confirmed by the owner herself. She spoke to the toils of having to lay the laminate underfoot themselves and the uneven paint job of non-professionals, all done while she was pregnant with her second child.

Other than that it was a nice setting, it was an open space, one that was comfortable to sit in, where many such restaurants try to maximize their dining area with one to many, tightly crammed together tables. Here things were evenly spaced allowing you breathing room and the ability to hold a more private conversation from the table to your right. Everything was also kept very clean.

Their ice tea entry was a pandan flavoured milk tea made with ground and steeped pandan leaves. These leaves were also used to flavoured the cups of water they served, although very mildly, and I wouldn’t have even notice, if this wasn’t pointed out to me. I won’t be going into the actual flavour of the drink here, as the competition is still running. Instead, I will invite you to check back on my blog after the competition has ended, to read my thoughts on each of the drinks competing.

Instead, I will move on to all the food we enjoyed. The “Green papaya salad with beef jerky” was a fresh start to our meal. Thin shreds of carrot and daikon with lettuce, cilantro, beef jerky, fried shallots, and peanuts. It was spiciest at the bottom, where the sauce pooled. Therefore to best enjoy it, you stir up, mixing everything together. Note, it is easier to scoop what you want, then pour the sauce over it. And you will go back for several scoops, as this made for a lovely palette cleanser with a nice cooling crunch. I didn’t notice any of the beef jerky though.

The “Pork spring rolls” were light, crispy, and pretty standard. We got exactly what we expected from this, and was able to dunk each third into plenty of fish sauce.

The “Garlic butter chicken wing” was delicious on first bite. You immediately got the promise of its buttery flavour, peppered full with garlicky goodness, that evenly coated each crispy wing. This was the most memorable dish that we had, and one what I would come back for.

“Lemongrass chicken on rice” is my guest’s go to for Vietnamese food. Whenever she is at any new Vietnamese restaurant, this is the dish she orders, which she then uses as a gauge of food flavour and quality. She liked “Vietnamese Tea House’s” version plenty, but I found the meat a little dry and the amount of ginger textured lemongrass off putting. More so when I was surprised biting into a piece of chicken decorated with it.

The “Chicken curry” was most memorable to my guest. This is the first time she has had a sweeter curry like this, She enjoyed the creaminess of it thanks to its coconut base. Milder curries like these are my preferred type of curry. This one was rich and creamy, with a hint of spicy heat. It is made with tender pieces of dark meat chicken, mashed tomato, and softened potato cooked in a blend of coconut and homogenized milk. You had the option of enjoying it with either rice or bread, we choose the later given that we had rice in the dish before. All this only to learn that the bread that would accompany our soup-sized serving of curry would be the same type of baguette used in their banh mi after. Here we would pinch off bits and use it to sop up liquid curry like a sponge. The bread is the only thing they don’t make from scratch here.

The “Chicken sub” not only used the same bread as above, but the same type of tender and juicy dark meat chicken above as well.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A great destination for Vietnamese food. Everything was consistently prepared and I have no complaints, especially after learning that they focus on using only fresh ingredients and prepare everything themselves in house from the sauces and spreads, to all the pickled products. Not necessarily worth driving all the way for, but worth choosing before its neighbours. Don’t deny your cravings.

VIETNAMESE TEA HOUSE
2526 E Hastings, Vancouver BC, V5K 1Z3
604-620-5922

Sopra Sotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

East Van Brewing Co.

Looking for a place to take a spill at, my guest and I ventured into “East Van Brewing” on Venables, just off Commercial Drive. I love Vancouver’s ever growing beer scene and your ability to walk in off the street, to try any beer that a brewery such as this, makes. Often this also includes a peak at their barrel room behind glass.

Their space has the comfortable nature of a basement hang out, with dim lights, a popcorn maker on wheels, and an AC/DC pinball machine. The rest of the bar is wood and concrete: simple and purposeful. To order you talk to the gentlemen behind the bar. Your options are listed behind him in chalk.

When visiting a tap room like this I always opt for a beer flight, in order to be able to taste a handful. Chances are this bar and this beer is new to you, so what better away to know what you are in for? Why commit to a pint, when you can try a few different beers in 4oz glasses. A flight of four will cost you $6. And if you like what you taste, you can have a glass here, and then a growler home for more later.

Between two people, we were happy to be offered their “Cross”, giving us a flight of 6, 4oz glasses for $10. This is definitely something unique to them, beers served on a wooden cross; a homage to the neon “EastVan” sign used to mark the neighbourhood and their name sake. We had the following tasters. Working our way from lighter ale to a more hoppy IPA. Community lager 4.5%, Huck sesh amber ale 4.5%, Nordic saison 5.2%, The jive house ale 5.7%, Wheel bite ipa 6.5%, and Double venom dipa 7.9%.

And if you are also looking to eat, they don’t have a kitchen to serve food from, but they do have briny pickles, cured sausages, roasted nuts, and salted pretzels to graze on.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great spot for some local beer, from my childhood neighbourhood. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

EAST VAN BREWING
1675 Venables Street, Vancouver BC, V5L 2H1
604-558-3822
eastvanbrewing.com
 

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