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Vermouth Martini presents Como Taperia

Missing the small plate sharing, tapas scene I was happy to be able to cease the craving today with Como Taperia, a Spanish tapas restaurant I have been meaning to check out.

I was gifted 2 boxes for 2 to go. Each equipped with 2 self mixed cocktails, 6 small plates, and a dessert. The goal was to showcase Martini Vermouth, and how it pairs well as a digestive for traditional Italian food. Plus how easy it is to mix in a variety of simple cocktails, making it great on this casual weekday with its lower alcohol content.

Martini Vermouth has been made in Pessione, Torino, Italy; the original city of the Italian Aperitivo for over 150 years. Martini Vermouth’s secret recipe with over 500 botanical samples is created at the discretion of their master blender for quality & consistency year over year. (As taken from Martini’s press release).

I would take my boxed goodies over to my friend’s place and bring girl’s night out, in. Some assembly was required as two dishes needed a good pan fry, and they were best when done right before eating. When done, we re-plated and brought everything together on a handsome tapas board with our Martini Dry cocktails.

The first of the latter was the V&T, made with Martini Dry spirit, cucumber bitters, and Indian tonic. You basically mix everything together over ice and garnish with cucumber slices. This was a refreshing and easy to drink cocktail. It made for a great start as an aperitif, and paired well with all the dishes to follow.

The second cocktail was SL’s Negroni 4.0, made with Martini Bianco, Lumette N/A gin, Wood Ciaro Amaro, and orange. Another easy mixer, but with a more complex flavour. We got woodsy and floral notes that evolved the more we put lips to glass. This served as a great drink to cleanse the palette with, and to end our sumptuous meal on.

The Shishito Peppers required a toss in the pan before eating. Such blistered green peppers are a staple at most tapas bars in Spain. You add oil to hot pan, over medium heat, then cook the peppers until they start blistering. Finally finishing them off with quality sea salt. These were so simple, yet turned out to be my favourite items in the box. I will have to buy some of these peppers myself and repeat this again at home. Or I can always just get it done perfectly from Como. I guess that is one of many reasons to actually try their dine in service.

Similarly the Jamon croquettes needed some time frying in a pan, before eating. Each log was stuffed with jamon iberico and breaded, then bound in a rich sauce. To get each golden brown and crispy, we heated vegetable oil in a pan, searing each side until the desired colour; making sure to not leave them in the oil for too long, otherwise they would explode. To finish, you dry them on paper towel to blot oil and cool. This was my second favourite small plate. They served as the only carb, and a much needed element to round out our meal with. Whereas a loaf of crusty buttered bread to use as dip and a base for the following would have been ideal. Especially with the octopus below and all its seasonings and herbs.

As for the croquettes they were crispy on the outside and had the texture of whipped mashed potatoes on the inside, speckled with the salty ham. It ate deliciously as is, but I couldn’t help but want a tangy dip to coat it in. All the flavours of these breaded sticks melds together, giving you a nice full taste of the ham, and not just cheese that over powers.

The rest are served room temperature, like the Gordal olives. These big and juicy olives were imported from Spain. With plenty of juicy flesh, these weren’t too salty. They were great to nibble on, and served as a fine pairing with our first cocktail as a rejuvenating agent.

We got more olives with the Glida. The classic Gilda is a simple assembly of guindilla (a type of chilli pepper), anchovies and olives, topped with quality Spanish olive oil. You eat it all in one go and get a burst of flavour for our efforts. Salty and tangy, this one will be good with a full bodied red wine.

The Goats cheese stuffed peppers offered some much needed sweetness to the assembly (outside of the dessert). Peppadew peppers stuffed with citrus whipped goat cheese. The sweetness of pepper and salty rich cheese meld well together.

The Galician style octopus was slowly poached then grilled, served with yellow German potatoes, anchovy verde, olive oil, and pimenton. This too was served at room temperature. Saucy with the oil and flavourful with the seasonings, you fully made out the texture and flavour of the cephalopod; and went back for more bite after bite.

For dessert we had the Arron Con Leche. This ate like a fun oatmeal, topped with juicy peach slices. Mildly sweet with a nice porridge-like texture it served as a great way to cleanse our palettes and end our meal on a satisfying note.

All together the food was on point, and everything paired well with everything else, and the drinks. This teaser taste definitely deserves a second go with a dine-in at the actual restaurant. I got a look around when I picked up my order, and noted how cozy the space was, and how the decor cleverly incorporated marketplace goods for sale. All definitely deserving of a repeat, Martini Dry drinks and all.

#martiniwithfriends
@martini
@comotaperia

Como Taperia
201 E 7th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 0B4
(604) 879-3100
comotaperia.com

Seiza Japanese Cuisine

Looking for a grown up, night out on Main Street, my guest and I found ourselves at Seiza for some sushi and sake. The space has a modern vibe, befitting of a lounge, leading you to drink, and that we did.

Social distancing is cleverly enforced by the use of plastic bears painted to look like pop culture icons and concepts, including Pennywise from IT and Homer from the Simpsons. (I believe this is considered couture art.)I wanted a closer look, but sadly, where they sat you weren’t allowed to share their table. Though I did enjoy admiring them from afar. And in the spirit of cohesion, their smaller framed brethren hung on the wall as decor, as well.

Seiza’s menu is dense and chic, a hefty listing that spans pages and categories. Although with little descriptions and even less photos it is hard to order without asking a barrage of questions to your server first. Though with his help, we stuck to many of their house specialities, as a first time try.

Like the “Zombie brain”, named for its perceived look, this was a whole avocado split into quarters and stuffed with crab meat, then battered and deep fried, before getting a generous drizzle of spicy mayo. It was messy and mushy, yet satisfying in its crunchy meets squishy texture. (The name suddenly makes sense here.) As for taste it was delicious, great with beer, or after when you need to sober up from all the beer.

Speaking of beer, as we were in a Japanese restaurant, we decided to go for Japanese libations. A combination of hot sake and cold Sapporo to set the tone. The sake getting chased down by the refreshing, light beer on special for $1 off. Apparently this type of pairing is commonplace, but new to me, and I cherished the experience.

But back to the food: There was a sheet of specials to order off of. When I hear and read specials I think discounted food the restaurant wants you to try. However after being enticed, we learned that not all of them were on discount. An obvious point when we compared the regular menu with this abbreviated listing. Nonetheless we went for the uni cream udon at full price. I feel that ordering uni at any Japanese restaurant speaks to its caliber, in quality of ingredients used. And unfortunately the one normal looking piece of uni was hiding 2 grey and discoloured pieces, and this action spoke volumes. And at over $20 for this serving I expected better, considering the portion size was on the smaller size with 3.5 pieces of shrimp and 2 florets of broccoli. The flavour was at least there and the cream sauce tasty without actual uni flavour. I enjoyed the noodles the most. However the udon shouldn’t be my favourite part when it’s only the third word in the dish’s name: “uni cream udon”.

The rolls fared better in our opinion, however they were no different or standout from any crazily dressed and additionally topped rolls you can get anywhere. Due to my guest’s shellfish allergies and fish preferences we kept it salmon all the way, trying three different methods of salmon sushi preparation.

The first is the “Sexy salmon roll”, I am guessing for the way it looks, and then the way it makes you feel: no carbs in this so a slimmer you it insinuates. Here they used crab meat instead of rice. Although a clever no carb substitute, I found its sweetness overpowering, hiding the freshness of the salmon, which should have been the star of this offering.

The “Salmon oshizushi” gave you cooked salmon, which I don’t think was the intention. It was a lot more torched than I wanted, but at least I got the salmon flavour I was looking for here. This was the best out of the three, but I have had much better else where.

The “Ironman roll” hid everything under Japanese mayo and spicy washed tobiko. The menu listed Sockeye salmon, chicken, avocado, and tobiko as its ingredient make up. However I didn’t see or taste avocado, and the chicken was only filler. This sweet and tangy roll did pair well with our beers though.

And just for something to balance out all the punchy flavours, we got a regular Spicy yam tempura roll that wasn’t so spicy.

Overall this isn’t necessarily a destination or a stop if you are craving Japanese food or sushi. But decent as a pub, offering fusion fare with flare.

Seiza Japanese Cuisine
3068 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3G5
(604) 428-5700
seiza.ca

Sula, the second location on Main Street

Being a fan of the original Sula, Indian restaurant on Commercial Drive, I was excited to try their second and newest location on Main Street, one week after they had opened. And boy was I not disappointed by decor alone.

The space is warm and opulent in a time that requires us to be cold and distant. Glowing lights suspended by gold; they matched the copper of the table settings and the brown and oranges of the bar. Shame that their opening coincides with these times, because I can definitely see them as a place to linger and enjoy lively company within. They certainly have the drink list to keep you sipping long into the night. Including a healthy Gin and Tonic listing, much to my guest’s delight.

The “Kerala” is a mix of Tanqueray Rangpur, Kaffir Lime, Green Cardamom, and Mediterranean Tonic. It is an effervescent cocktail, sparklingly light, and finished off with a tangy punch.

“Vayu’s Calm” includes Hendricks Gin, Spanish White Vermouth,
Green Chartreuse, Cardamom, Mint, and Lime. This reminded me more of margarita, especially with how lime focused it was. I was just missing the salt.

Round two of cocktails had us trying the “Cosmic Dance” with Big Boss Cashew Fenny, Old Grand Dad Bourbon, Apple, Honey, Chili, and Spices. This one was more my speed. A heavy sipper with a dull heat that is slow to burn the back for your throat. This is the kind of cocktail I want to drink if I am under the weather.

The “Delhi Junction” included Fenugreek-infused Bombay Sapphire, Fino
Sherry, Dry Vermouth, and Aromatic Bitters. This was their take on a martini, but more subdued. It was a new flavour combination for me, one I can only best describe as being herbaceous in a juicy way.

Whereas the cocktails at the Commercial Drive location are sweet and tropical, these are more refined and for the spirit connoisseur. This bar is one you would make a bee-line to, just for a stiff drink or three. Therefore, it would have been nice to start off with a small bowl of mixed nuts or crackers, to really celebrate the bar list and align them more with a place you would frequent for their cocktails.

Instead we nibbled on a couple of appetizer’s whose serving served more as an entree. As good as they were, I would have liked 1/3 of each presented as a starter, in order to save room for all the entrees you can’t help but be curious to try later.

The Indian Street food and Chaats are dine in only, due to the nature of the dishes and the need to enjoy them fresh and crispy. Chaat is a category of Indian street food that hits every component of taste. It is a combination of sweet, sour, tangy, crunchy, umami, and spicy.

The “Papdi Chaat” is Indian canape wafers topped with potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and chutneys. It ate like a bowl of cereal or platter of nachos. Although as good as it was in texture and taste, less would have been more. This was enough for 6, but ordered for 2.

The “Mumbai Vada” is a dairy-free battered potato dumpling seasoned with green chilli, tempered cumin, and mustard. I expected a fully encased bundle, but was served my dumpling pre-cut up. From presentation sake, I would have liked this in smaller bites, left as a whole. Flavour and texture wise, it was much like a somosa, but without the traditional accompanying chutneys.

When it comes to Indian cuisine, it doesn’t matter where I go, or how much I try, I always gravitate towards butter chicken. I would not be satisfied without giving Sula on Main’s version a try, and sauce wise it held up. Rich and creamy with the flavour of their Tandoor broiled chicken in tomato, cream and butter sauce coming through. My only critique was that the pieces of chicken were dry, despite them being left in large bulky chunks. I Would have liked bite sized portion of chicken, cooked tendered instead.

And unique to the Main Street location is Sula’s seafood offerings. It showcased the regional cuisine of Mangalore, a coastal town in the southern part of India. Between lobster and crab, we gravitated towards crab due to our server’s suggestion, however based on what we had, I would suggest the lobster instead.

 

The “Jenji Gassi” is local Dungeness crab cooked in a coconut curry, highlighting flavours from byadigi chillies, poppy seeds, and cumin. The crab was cumbersome to crack in such an opulent setting. I appreciated its whole, shell and all in our presented serving. However, found the work it took to crack and peel not worth the little amount of meat that came out of it; especially as it was bland. The sauce on the other hand was a treasure. I sopped it all up with the naan below and greedily drizzled it over the rice as well.

 

The Main Street location of Sula also boasts a Tandoori oven, so we were sure to partake in a couple of dishes that required a longer baking. The following two came with a 30 minute warning, so order early and expect to wait with cocktails in hand.

The “Tangdi Kebabs” were described as “Iran’s culinary gift to India”. They are chicken drumsticks char-grilled in the tandoor. The result, an excellent grill flavour from the blacken char, with the smokiness adding levels to the chicken’s seasoning. And here I thought I liked it a lot, until I tried the lamb below.

The “Adraki Lamb Chops” are roasted with crushed cashew bits and seasoned with garam masala, cumin, and a coriander spiced marinade. You got the crunch of the cashew offering a nice contrast to the perfectly prepared, tender and juicy lamb meat. If, no when I return, I will definitely be ordering this again.

And no Indian meal is complete without the rice and naan necessary to soak up all the delicious sauces with. I would be just as happy with just the butter chicken or crab sauce and naan.

The “Tandoori Naan” is a classic as an extra pillowy tandoori Indian flat bread. For something a little different Sula also has stuffed naan. We tried the one sandwiching spinach and Indian cheese, paneer. The addition added an extra level of indulgence to something already so great. I have never see such an innovation else where, so credit Sula its creation.  And I can recommend it just as easily as an appetizer to start with.

For rice, I was disappointed by the coconut rice. Its broken texture did not lend itself to the already soften dishes, and the coconut flavour did not add anything to anything. Instead, I recommend the basmati rice for its fragrant taste and texture. A better mild companion to all the great flavours above.

And don’t forget to save room for dessert. A semi-sweet end to help cleanse the palate is the mango coconut rice pudding with cardamon and rosewater. It eats like a dessert oatmeal with a freshness that leaves you with a cleaner mouth feeling.

Like between two children from the same parents, I hate to pick favourites here, but the new Sula on Main with it sophisticated setting and specialty menu have won me over as my favourite between the two.

SULA MAIN STREET
4172 Main Street, Vancouver BC
604-874-5375
sulaindianrestaurant.com

Anthem Pizza, pizza with a purpose

With the second wave lockdown in effect, there is no better time to introduce a new pizza delivery company to the Lower Mainland: Anthem Pizza. Campy and fun, their packaging and motto sets them apart. That, and their charitable mission. Every slice you purchase has Anthem giving back to one of three worthy charities. One: BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. Two: Unison Benevolent Fund, which helps Canadian musicians in times of hardship, illness or economic difficulties by providing counselling and emergency relief. And in time for the tail end of November: Movember, where Anthem will be donating 10% of its proceeds from each pizza sold, to Movember. Movember is charity dedicated to addressing and advancing men’s health issues like mental health, suicide prevention, and prostate and/or testicular cancer.

“Pizza with a purpose” aside, if you need even more reasons to purchase their pies, look no further than to their packaging. Each pie comes in a pink and white stripped box with punk rock and pop culture references. Artsy and fun they serve just as much as a statement as they do cardboard container. But if you are like me, you may want to Google some of the faces you don’t recognize, to learn a thing or two. And if you like what you see, they have put it on a tee, for sale. Available for ordering from their online store.

And as for the pizza, I was delivered two, contact-free. The first was “The Ace of Spades”. A simple margherita pizza made with tomato sauce, basil, fior di latte, and extra virgin olive oil. Simple and clean over a more bread-like dough. Here, what you see is what you get, pulled together with a sweeter tomato sauce. Mild and gentle is the best way to describe it.

Similarly, the “Hot Honey” we tried used the same sweeter tomato sauce base, and to it added hot soppressata calabrese, black olives, shredded mozzarella, and Mike’s Famous Hot Honey. Sadly I was most excited for the latter, so found myself missing it when I didn’t get much sweetness of spice. It would have been nice to have a container of it on the side for self drizzle. Other than that this was another play no games pizza, delivering on its ingredient list; all over a chewy, more bready crust. So bread-like that I wanted a dip with it and found myself reaching of the bottle of ranch in the fridge.

And if you are interesting in giving them a try, now is the time. To celebrate its official launch, Anthem will be offering its Motörhead-inspired ‘Ace of Spades’ (a.k.a. Margherita) pizzas for only $10 (regular $18); from‪ Friday, November 20 through to Monday, November 30.‬ This exclusive offer is only available when you use the promo code ‘ANTHEM’ when ordering online via anthempizza.ca for pickup at The Five Point Restaurant & Pub (‪3124 Main Street‬) and Park Drive (1815 Commercial Drive). Quantities are limited to one pizza, per customer nightly, while supplies last.

Anthem Pizza
604-425-1129
anthempizza.ca

Mr. Japanese Curry

Ever since I had my first taste of curry in Japan, I have been obsessed. The mix of sweet and creamy with a little heat, is unlike any other of its kind. So when I learned of a new little spot in Vancouver offering Japanese curry, I wanted to not only try their offerings, but support this new restaurant venture as well. A restaurant trying to make a name for themselves in this unprecedented time. Opening just before the onset of Covid-19, in a shop that use to host donairs.

The name informs you of exactly what you will be getting. And if there is any doubt, you can smell what’s cooking a block away, or take a gander at the collection of detailed plastic curry on display, in the front window. During my visit their food was only available for take out. A soft opening and test run, accepting orders online, and opting for the delivery of them.

Mr. Japanese Curry is dedicated to providing authentic homemade curry in either beef, chicken, or vegan sauces. Each option also includes a bevy of toppings to choose from, to best customize each plate to your tastes. Every serving comes with their Super Premium Short Grain Koshihikari white rice and a sprinkle of fried onions. Having tried one in each category and being able to see and taste the difference between all three, I highly recommend doing the same. Trying all the different curry sauces to get the full experience, and finding the one you like the best is half the fun. Each is a recipe unique to the restaurant, learned from food technicians in Japan.

Ordering is easy off the overhead menu, with its coloured photos. And if and when dining in reopens, you are able to serve yourself at their cutlery and drink station.

The following is what we had, in the order they came up, starting with their vegan curry. They are proud to offer a tasty plant based curry, in collaboration with the popular and very local “Vegan Pudding Co.”. This was a rich and creamy curry despite the lack of milk products being used. Served wonderfully with fried mashed Japanese pumpkin patties. It was delicious, you couldn’t tell that this was made without cream or butter, nor did it have the overwhelming flavour of coconut milk. The sauce is so tasty that you need only to enjoy it with their perfectly prepared rice. And the fried onion sprinkle offers a nice little crunch in between. In actuality, you don’t want to fill up on rice, but it just goes so well with everything, that you don’t waste a single grain.

We continued to work our way up to heavier with a more flavourful curries with the “Tonkatsu Curry” next. This is their chicken based curry served with a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet, sliced up for easier consumption. This was a curry that was just as light as the vegan option above, but with very different savoury notes. In terms of flavour, this was my favourite of the three, the pork cutlet being the highlight. Each piece was tender and a little fatty for a juicer bite.

The heartiest of our three plates was their signature “Mr. Curry” platter. A beef curry that they referred to as “Stamina Curry”, served a piece of fried shrimp, thinly sliced pork belly in a homemade garlic sauce, a hard boiled egg, and melted cheese. There was plenty going on here to keep you interested. You could mix and match ingredients, curating the perfect bite. The crispy shrimp, the tender meat, the fragrant onions, and the creamy cheese sauce that pulled it all together. It has a stew-like quality to it: comforting and filling.

Overall, a great option for Japanese curry in a neighbourhood, offering something different in the area. Order all three because each is different and worth trying. Great as family food; or late night, drunk eating. This is a flavour I will crave again, and a hidden gem with nothing else like it in Vancouver.

Mr. Japanese Curry
446 W 8th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1N9
(604) 879-4400
mrjapanesecurry.com

Smith’s Bagelry

I have had Turkish bagels once before: during my last visit to Toronto. I was drawn in by their larger shape and their heavily sesame seed encrusted exterior. So when I passed by “Smith’s Bagelry” on a whim, I had to go in. I knew what to expect, having seen their goods featured on a few foodie’s feeds.

You walk into the now empty shop (with the inability to stay and linger), and simply order based on sight. A collection of golden brown baked goods from a showcase kept safe behind plexiglass. Savoury and sweet buns spread across various platforms and plates, well signed with prices and a brief description.

Naturally I had to try their signature sesame bagel. A large loop with an insane amount of sesame seeds that leave you wondering how they stuck them all on there. And best of all, majority of them stayed on as I ate, whereas other bagel brands would loose their seeds to the floor. You can enjoy your twisted bagels with your choice of filling at home, or having them craft it into a sandwich for you here. A feta, tomato, and cucumber option, one with Montreal smoke meat, one with hummus, and even a vegan option with Daiya cheese. I went for the classic choice: the “Aspendos”. Smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and red onion. All as fragrant and as fresh as the handmade bagel that they sat within.

Next, I went for one of their stuffed bagels. The same dough and sesame coating as the bagel above, but shaped like a stuffed football with your chosen filling. The options were olive and mozzarella, sausage and mozzarella, and Turkish sausage and mozzarella. I went for the familiarity of the former most. This was best when toasted for a crispy exterior and chewy centre. Although for the promise of being “stuffed”, it lacked filling in either of its pointed ends.

I had a better time with the blueberry stuffed soft bagel. A nice cakey dough with a dollop of blueberry at its centre. Just wish there was once agin more filling to enjoy with the dough edge to edge.

Overall a great treat. If you get the chance, it is one that I suggest you try. I definitely prefer their texture to that of any grocery store bagel brand.

Smith’s Bagelry
191 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1P4
(604) 423-3434

iDen & Quan Ju De Beijing Duck House

There is a buzz surrounding this newly opened, Beijing style, fine dining establishment, with a history that dates back to 1864. This is “Quan Je Du’s” first Canadian location, now opened on Cambie and 12th. During the time of my visit they have only been running for 3 months, and normally I don’t like visiting/reviewing a restaurant until after they have had some miles on them. Time to allow them the ability to hone their operations and service model. As such today’s experience wasn’t bad per se, it just could have been a lot smoother with more preparation and practice. Things felt disorganized and it was obvious they were still working processes out, like their drink and cocktail program that didn’t exist on paper. Thankfully our server’s skills and customer centricity made up for most of the unanswered questions and slight misses from the brand as a whole.

“Quan Je Du” is also better known as Canada’s first and (currently) only 5D experience restaurant. An option not available yet, but when it will be, it is for those who book their VIP room: i-Den. According to the staff this comes with a $1,500 pre-charge to your credit card. Here, guests will be able to choose their environment and with the use of technology, they “will be completely immersed in their chosen narrative, such as the hustle and bustle of Shanghai or the underwater world of a coral reef. There will be a soundscape, either music or ambient, visual projections on the walls and tables, interactive ingredients, with the food and taste rounding out the five dimensions.” (Taken from their website). By the sounds of it, I would liken the 5D experience to Vancouver’s other multi-dimensional experience: “FlyOver Canada” where all your senses are stimulated in an adventure.

As for decor, the restaurant exudes luxury. With an all glass facade you can easily take in the opulence of the lounge and dining area from the sidewalk. However their most iconic room is the foyer, only visible if you enter the threshold, where the host greets you at their podium. The podium stands in front of a lengthy glass pane fire place, surrounded by a series of blue shelves lit in LED. The latter are square cubbies that soothe with their alignment and symmetry. A few of them are used to house ornamental texts, many more the restaurant’s collection of stemware.

Just past this the restaurant opens up. The layout creates good spacing between tables with several booths sectioned off like office cubicles; but with gold embroidered throw pillows for panache. They matched the gold and blue theme that found itself on to the carpet and the lighting tone. I was in awe of the feature walls that were comprised of wood carvings, a traditional Chinese style painting of a solider on horse back, and the ones that mimicked the drawers of apothecary curios. For the latter, the drawers don’t actually open, they just simply added a level of authenticity. It all fit together seamlessly, very luxe. All, outside of the table’s centre piece: a gold dipped plastic rose, set under a cloche (beauty and the beast style). I felt it cheapened each table setting unnecessary.

And it is not surprising that the washroom is as elaborate. A bronze and gold gilded facility, set behind heavy doors with sealed individual stalls.

As for food, they are well known for their Chinese roasted style duck, so we had to indulge in the “Quan Ju De Signature Beijing Duck”. Be warned this dish does take 45 minutes to an hour to prepare, so be sure to order it even before you flip through the menu. This is a specialty item that you have to order before hand to confirm the quantity needed for the night. And at their China location they hand out a certificates indicating the number of your duck, a count made in consideration of all the ducks they sell globally. However, there is no such option here in Canada.

The whole duck is carved up table side by a professional chef in all white, with matching chef’s hat. He does this on the spot, hovering over a golden cart. You pay $96 for the service, show, and fowl. The perfectly sliced pieces are laid out like scales, served with a warm thin crepe, scallion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce. As for the rest of the duck, they pack the entire carcass for your to take home later.

The speciality dish was delicious. The duck skin is served with white sugar that you dip it into as per the suggestion of the chef. This delicacy is a little too fatty and sweet for my tastes, but an interesting combo nonetheless.

The slices of duck were cut so consistently, it was a testament to the silent chef carving it. With them, you craft your duck wraps yourself: dressing, stuffing, and rolling as you like. There was plenty of everything for 3 people to share, with the thin crepe wrap keeping warm by candlelight. But be warned the double decker steamer does have the bottom container getting over steamed and dry with an extended time over the flame. You take one wrap and fill it with slices of duck dipped into their house made black bean oyster and hoisin sauce. To it you add thin slices of cucumber and scallion, before folding the sides of the wrap together and the bottom up to create an edible pocket. And if you don’t know how it’s done, there is an option to watch your server demo it first.

The rest of our dishes were ordered in consideration of the cuisine type and what they might specialize in.

Since we were having duck, we figured why not truly have the whole duck with the “Quan Ju De Duck platter” which includes marinated tongue, gizzard, and liver. It came to the table smoking on a slate slab for extra flare.

The liver was a mild start, those familiar with the flavour will be a fan of this.

The tongue came bone-in so be careful, I didn’t even know there was a bone any tongue. It ate like cartilage and really isn’t bad if you like chicken feet.

As for the gizzard it needed to breathe more, in order to alleviate some of its muskiness. It didn’t really have a meaty texture to it, but one more like cellulose instead. It was best described by one of my guests as “foie gras eraser”.

We asked our server for her suggestion on what was the most visually appealing, this was her number one recommendation, and I can see why. “Smoked five spiced venison” with prawn stuffed morel mushroom, bell peppers, and scallions. The small dish is served smoked with hickory in a giant fish bowl with rocks and moss. The smoke is released table side, making for a great visual treat. As the smoke wafts around its scent becomes a part of the meal. Served with hard charcoal crisps, you eat it much like chips and salsa. Except, this was a tad overwhelming with the distinct flavour of five spice. I would have preferred it with rice instead, for familiarity sake.

I really like the “Tofu blossom soup”, but didn’t think I would based on the bland sounding name. It is a serving of thick and almost gelatinous broth, made with chunks of tofu, spinach, and Chinese prosciutto. The bits are sliver thin and they bob around in levels within your soup. It is simple and beautifully warming.

And to round out or meal with some starch we had the “Beijing style stir fried sliced pancake with shredded cabbage and garlic”. It is basically chewy dough cut up and wok fried like noodles. The dish had a vinegary tone to it: tangy, with the flavour of dried daikon coming through, and a needed crispiness with the shredded cabbage.

And your meal ends with a wet wipe that was thick like a facecloth. A nice little touch worth mentioning.

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.
I would definitely like to return to try more of the menu and their 5D experience before making a full assessment. But for tonight, it wasn’t as expensive as I thought and the extravagance of the dishes is what I like. I would have to save up for the $588 chef’s tasting menu though. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

QUAN JE DU
2808 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V5Z 2V5
(236) 477-7777

Sprezzatura Restaurant, #LasagnaChallengeYVR

Vancouver Foodster is back this month with another one of his food challenges. These challenges pit participating restaurants against one another, for best dish in a chosen category. This month it was lasagna, and as a lover of pasta and carbs in general, my skills and palette were called upon to be one of the three judges. The goal, visit all participating restaurants, try their entries, and declare a winner based on an accumulation of points between presentation, originality, and taste.

And for those not judging, you can get into the competition by visiting all participating restaurants yourself, trying each, and voting for your favourite online. The winner will be crowned the “people’s choice best lasagna”.

So today I was doing my duties, here at “Sprezzatura”, glad that I got a chance to visit for the first time. I don’t think I would have ever thought to come down otherwise, and would definitely be missing out as a result. Despite the size of the space, it is off the beaten path. Therefore you don’t often drive past it, opting to take the larger streets at either ends, instead.

It is a beautiful space in its industrial simplicity. There is plenty of breathing room between the vaulted ceilings and seating arrangement. Exposed ceilings overhead, concrete floors with checkered patterns underfoot, and glossy black and white tiles around. There was a collection of seating across the space. Like the more lounge-y area that also doubled as a cafe bar with high tops and a pantry-esque vibe.

In front of the open kitchen you can grab a seat with a view. Sit down on one of their marble table tops, paired with a metal and wooden chair that you would find at an outdoor cafe. Here, you can see their whole kitchen operation. Everything is made from scratch, in house, and cooked up within either of their two ovens. The first an individual cooker, the second a wood stone pizza oven. Therefore nothing on the menu is deep fried, grilled, or sautéed. And this lack of cooking options available doesn’t hinder them, but instead it gives them a very unique angle; furthering their brand of a local, unpretentious bistro.

We ended up grabbing a seat by the window with fun decals of pizza, cocktails, wine and cutlery. A nice nod to the food and whimsy that the space holds. It was in the corner, by yet another unique seating area. A nook with wooden benches and matching tables, soften with throw pillows. On the wall hung a collection of sketches and photos depicting historic sporting moments and wins. Here, I was able to chat with the general manager Gino, who described the setting as a “London gastro pub with an Italian summer menu”. He then walked us through the menu highlighting popular items and must tries from their 7 month old bistro. Which was helpful considering the menu doesn’t include photos or a way to underline the highlights.

Our visit coincided with their daily happy hour between 3-6pm, so we were sure to take advantage by ordering a couple of their specials. Like the meatballs at 50% off. They were also stressed as a must try by Gino. They were steamed with tomatoes, parmigiano, and basil. Bobbing in a cast iron pan with classic marinara sauce, the flavours were all familiar. A tasty bite, but I couldn’t help but long for the crispy edges that a cast iron would normally give.

During happy hour all pizzas are $5 off so we had to try one of those. They prepare traditional Neapolitan-style pizza that is commonly soft in middle with a nice chew all around. We were originally eyeing the roasted pork belly or sausage pizza. However Gino warned that it does get heavy with the meat, literally and figuratively, and what you actually want from a Neapolitan pizza is something that is light, not soft and soggy. So we ended up going for the mushroom pizza with Fior di latte, cremini, porcini, parmigiano, and truffle oil.

I watched the pizza come fresh out of the oven and get topped with cheese, and cut into slices with ease. It is served to you on a rack for space saving measures, or if you order multiple pies. The dough was beautifully blistered, light and chewy as promised with plenty of fragrant mushroom, but we didn’t get much truffle flavour come though. Either way deliciously done and just as tasty the day after as leftovers. Although during my return visit I would gravitate towards a more meatier pizza for more kick.

We thought about getting our pork belly fix as a roast, but we urged to get the roast chicken instead. That this boneless half chicken with only its wings attached, it is a favourite amongst the regulars and staff alike. It is cryovac-ed and marinated for 25 hours, before it is baked skin side down on a pan. The result, a unique display of balance of juicy chicken with extra crispy skin. It was good with the roasted herbed wedge potatoes on the side, as they added additional salt and zest to the dish. Tasty, but not as memorable as it was hyped up to be. Instead, it left me curious over how much more flavourful the pork belly or even their beer braised wagyu would be.

Walking in and smelling it in the air, I had to get an order of their vegetable side special of the day: the garlic and Parmesan Brussels sprouts. A side serving was the freshness we needed to balance everything out. But it wasn’t as crispy as I wanted them from the baking, and it only got wilted once it cooled down. So eat this first and fast. Ideal with the roasted chicken above. However, if you are looking for crispier vegetables, apparently the dressed twice arugula salad, with honey as the second coating is the one to get.

And now for their lasagna, and the reason why I was here in the first place. Given their cooking method, this Italian bistro is only able to offer two types of pasta dishes. A Mac and cheese casserole, or this, their “Porcini lasagna” with Fior di latte, cream, and rapini mushrooms. This isn’t your typical lasagna, it isn’t the type you think of when you consider layers of noodles in a pan with meat and cheese. I could deem this more of a gourmet rendition, built up for an adult palette. Not your typical tomato base, so you don’t get that tang. Instead it is a rich and earthy bite with decadent salty cheese. A lot on its own, you definitely want a side with it, to be able to change the taste in between bites. Very different. Not one you would crave, but one you would want to try.

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 to host larger parties, I will definitely be suggesting this one to my family the next time they want to get together. Everything was familiar, yet different with slight twists and variations, to make the dining more interesting. I left full, but feeling healthier because everything was baked. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

SPREZZATURA
265 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5T 3J5
(604) 876-6333
sprezzatura.ca

Chicha, Dine Out 2020

Not only does Dine out Vancouver serve as a great, less expensive way to enjoy a meal out; it also functions as a fantastic platform to introduce or re-introduce you to a restaurant you thought you once knew. A new experience with new flavours and new menu items, showcasing how creative the culinary team can be. (And keeping in mind that the savings you receive from a discounted meal has to come from somewhere.)

Tonight, I was outright surprised and impressed by how much I enjoyed the $35 Dine Out menu, from modern Peruvian restaurant: “Chicha”. Where other restaurants are offering 3 courses, they have 4. And as others only give you a choice between 2-3 dishes, you get 2 out of 8 possible entrees; half of which are vegetarian friendly. And tonight I was able to try them all, so that I can now steer you in the right direction.

Located on West Broadway the restaurant is fairly easy to get to, with a paid parking lot and meter parking wherever you can find it. Their smaller space is warm and cozy, kept dim for ambience and that date night energy. The menu is easy to read with vegetable only dishes colour coded, and divided from all the meat and fish.

For the first course it is either soup or salad. I wouldn’t typically have the salad, but the “Quinoa Ensalada” is definitely the one to get. A memorable gathering of quinoa, red onion, mango, avocado, huacatay (Peruvian mint and lime vinaigrette), and a rocoto chili aoli. There was so much fresh fruit flavour in this that it kept you going back for scoop after scoop. The sauce was citrusy and sweet, and the texture a great toss up to chew through. It was deliciously done, and if I had flavours like this every day, not only would I be healthier for it, but happier as well.

By comparison the “Aji Amarillo Seafood Chowder” was good, it just wasn’t as good. Locally caught, fresh assorted seafood like wild shrimp and sockeye salmon; along side red nugget potato, corn, and a peruvian aji amarillo chili. It was a fish based cream chowder, that was salmon forward and tangy. All I was just missing from this was some crusty bread or chewy sourdough to dip into the soup.

For your second course you get to choose 2 out of the 8 available options, and thankfully you get two choices because it is all worth trying, and it is hard to choose just 2. Of the 8, 4 of which are gluten free, 2 vegetarian friendly, and 1 full on vegan.

The “Chalaco Ceviche” was a mix of Pacific Ling Cod, Wild Sockeye Salmon, Prawns, fresh oranges, green leche de tigre marinade, and crispy calamari. A fresh and punchy seafood salad, served chilled and full of lime flavour. Tasty enough, but not as filling as I had wanted from an entree.

The “Mariscos Fettuccini” is surprisingly my pick, I don’t normally think pasta when I look to Peruvian cuisine, but this one I would order again. Pan seared Pacific Ling Cod, prawns, wilted greens, and seared cherry tomatoes over buttery noodles. All evenly coated in a mesquite seafood corn sauce. Simple and delicious.

The “Verduras Causa” was like a beet humus, that you scooped up with crispy Rocoto Chili dusted yam chips. A whipped potato with lima bean puree, pickled beets, and Peruvian black mint. It was refreshing with a vegetable centric salad quality to it. Once again a great dish, but better as a starter. Although with your choice of any 2, you can get it as an appetizer.

But the one to not miss, and my favourite of the lot is their “Cauliflower”. So good that you won’t want to share. Maple and Rocoto Chili glazed cauliflower, yam puree, and salsa criolla. Each cauliflower florets was moist and sweet, a firm texture to contrast the yam purée (with its own sweetness). And for a nice change of taste, the side salad offers some appreciated tang and freshness.

The “Adobe” was another one I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I don’t often gravitate towards a vegetable focused stew, but this is one I recommend for those that do. Braised smoked pancha chili eggplant, chickpea stew, crumbled feta, annatto oil, quinoa and honey bread crostini. Hearty, but not heavy, more like mild chilli. The rounds of firm chickpea was best eaten with the hard toast. I liked the hard crisp and the toast’s dried fruit, plus the sweetness it added to the stew.

“Papas Rellenas”, are like Shepard’s pie pockets. Deep fried crispy on the outside and stuffed with mashed potato, beef, onions, parsley, and black olives on the inside. Served with a side salad of greens and a rocoto chili aioli for sauce. This was a fun twist on a classic, and you get two of them. The Peruvian twist was the zesty aioli, but I wanted something more familiar in a meat gravy, instead.

The “Pollo Skewers” reminded me of souvlaki with its herbal seasoning, thorough grill, and its sour cream-like tang similar to tzaziki. You also got plenty of pickling from the bed of vegetables, not unlike the julienne strands or cucumber, carrot, and turnip that you can find in a traditional banh mi sandwiches. Chimmichurri chicken thighs, crumbled feta, lime cream, and crushed cancha corn. Bold and flavourful, with a lovely char on the meat. Great as is, but would better with some rice pilaf as a base.

The “Costillos de Cerdo” was a generous serving of ribs and potato salad, that flashed me back to summer. Aji panca chili and orange barbecue sauce glazed baby back ribs with a red nugget , green bean, and smoked bacon potato salad. The ribs were plenty saucy, having you licking your fingers clean once you easily rip meat from bone. It was the flavour I needed to breathe some punch into the salad. The potatoes were grainy, whereas the beans helped to offer some needed crunch. Overall, another one I would recommend.

For dessert you only get to to choose 1 out of the possible 3 options. Although if you can swing it, get the first two, as you will not regret it.

My favourite of the two would be the “Alfajores Peruvian Cookies”. Shortbread cookies made into a sandwich with a dulce leche filling. The shortbread crumbles in your mouth, filling it with the enjoyable sensation of powdered sugar. And the filling is the perfect amount of sweetness, a milky caramel that didn’t overshadow the butteriness of the cookies. So good that I wanted a box of them, to not share. The sauces and fruit on the side were great for presentation, but they did not add anything to the dish in terms of flavour, if only just lemon zest.

The “Picarones” were Peruvian donuts fried to order. Made with sweet potato and pumpkin, but it didn’t show. This was a cakey doughnut with the texture of a regular French crueler. Best with a heavy dip into the orange spiced honey and pisco raspberry sauce it sat atop of. Tart jam with the beads of the seeds to gum through, and a hint of cinnamon and sugar to end a bite on.

The last option was an assorted fresh fruit platter, but I feel that you can do that for yourself. Instead, I suggest ordering that which you can’t make at home.

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 a whole the menu did a real great job with the vegetables, I would come back and order all the vegetarian dishes, and not be mad. Each dish had its very own flavour profile, you never got too much of one, if you share between you and a friend. A great menu, and one worth visiting during this year’s Dine Out. Don’t deny your cravings.

CHICHA
136 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5T 1A1
(604) 620-3963
chicharestaurant.com

Billy Button, revisit

Looking for desserts in the area, we found ourselves at “Billy Button” for some of their most photogenic treats. Our group of 5 foodies came in, just in time for last call. We decided to make it worth the while of the cafe, by ordering one of each of their remaining desserts. Whatever was available 45 minutes to closing.

We almost missed our destination, but having been once before I knew to look for a nondescript entrance, beside the tanning salon. From exterior to interior, the restaurant is themed in black. Black walls, black matte menus, and dim lights barely illuminating the darkness. It gave the restaurant a very calm energy, and a romantic feel for an after dinner destination. And by contrast, all the colourful plates they served really stood out.

You are seated up front and a sever takes your order, this is despite the showcase of goodies at the back. It features specials of the day, that aren’t on the regular menu. So it is best to take a gander before committing to your choices. And as I mentioned, we got one of each of these.

I was the most enamoured with the “Orange”. An accurately decorated, white chocolate shell hides a filling of whipped white chocolate ganache, and a core of marmalade gel. It was so realistic looking with all its dents and dimples, and is even finished off with a real leaf, that crowns it. Like all their other desserts, this one wasn’t very sweet. It reminded me of an orange creamcicle, but much more mild in fruit flavour and sugar content. Great with tea, and for those who don’t like most desserts.

By comparison the “strawberry” disappointed in its presentation. This too played homage to its namesake fruit. Made with a similar white chocolate shell and ganache, but filled with a house made sorbet jam at its centre, instead. The strawberry lacked details and without its trademark black seeds, it looked more like a glossy beet. They tried to add some authenticity to it by using an actual strawberry stem, but it was disproportionately small, and only made the cake look cartoonish. Given its vibrancy, I expected it sweeter and with more character. Instead, it was bland for a dessert. And the jam centre nice, a familiar flavour, commonly found as spread with scones and cream, at high tea.

The “Blueberry tart” would be my favourite of the three, from the showcase. This tasted more like a proper dessert in its richness and sugar. Blueberry jam and pasty cream, all on a bed of almond sponge cake. Fresh and vibrant with the ripe fruit, I just wanted the crust a little more buttery and a lot more firm. Both to better contrast the silken cream and glazed fruit.

From off the regular menu we had the following. The “Matcha green tea tart” was matcha on matcha, with a side of matcha. And surprisingly none of it was overwhelming, only all together was it slightly bitter. An airy matcha soufflé sitting atop of a butter-based crust. Served with a side matcha ice cream, a tuff of matcha sponge cake, and a shard of meringue. The cake was warming and rich, similar to a lava cake in the way it oozed, when you cut into it. Ideal for matcha lovers who complain that they don’t get enough matcha flavour.

The “Salted caramel brioche” was the most dessert-like with its salted caramel sauce, brown sugar crumble, vanilla chanillty cream, and dark chocolate. It was fluffy and satisfying. The burnt caramel flavour was amazing, although it did overpower the brioche. But aside from its presentation, this would be a premade muffin or loaf, that you would expect to find at the counter of your local coffee shoppe.

The following three desserts, I have had before, during my first visit. And it was exactly as I remembered it. Stunningly beautiful, and subtle in flavour. Great for those who don’t like too much sweetness, but lacking for those that do.

The name, “The garden” spoke to the freshness of cucumber featured, and the farm to table quality it gave the plate. Cucumber, yogurt mousse, yuzu cremeux, raspberry powder, and house made crostini. The cucumber had a savoury nuance to it. It reminded me of a finger sandwich, but tzaziki to my table mates. It would have been nice to have the fruit flavours more produced, to better balance out the above.

The “Osmanthus udon” is fragile strands of “udon” noodles. It is shaped from osmanthus panna cotta, and topped in a berry sauce, and crumble. It has a fun texture, but is easy to break. I wanted more flavour from the “noodles”, but it just didn’t absorb enough of the berry soup it pooled in. It would have also been nice to have more crunch in the mix.

“The autumn” is a red wine poached pear on an chocolate cake, sitting in a red wine sauce, with shards of sugar and sticks of chocolate. You finish off the dessert with a little jug of cream that you pour over it. The chocolate doesn’t over power the fruit, and everything melds together well in one bite. It is heavier than it looks with it being wine forward. This would be my least favourite overall, but for taste it would be “the garden” and the “udon”.

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.
Upon my second taste, I conclude that I like their desserts far more for their visuals, then to actually eat any of it. I don’t have a sweet tooth but found that it wasn’t even sweet enough for me. It felt like appetizers, warm up plates building up to the decadent finish that never came. Best shared with bites from each, not something I would like from start to finish, all to myself. Don’t deny your cravings.

BILLY BUTTON
44 E Broadway, Vancouver BC, V5T 1V9
604-423-3344
billybuttondessertbar.com

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