VieAMaggi.com

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

Category: Renfrew-Collingwood Page 1 of 2

Pho 99 Broadway Tech Centre

My guest and I were looking for an easy lunch option by our homes. She recommended the newly open “Pho 99”, which turned out to be the nicest restaurant that I have ever visited for quick and inexpensive Vietnamese food.

The all glass exterior allowed in plenty of natural light, allowing you to clearly take in how new the place was. The walls were still a pristine white. All the bleach wood tables were still sharp, with pointed corners and a waxy finish that matched that of the chairs before them.

The menu was a book, coloured page after coloured page of Vietnamese soup, salads, and sandwiches. We got a few of our favourite dishes as a good gauge of their cooking.

This is their “Grilled chicken banh mi”, except we ordered it without cilantro and the meat pâté, to the preference of my guest. The sandwich was black pepper heavy. I would have liked it with more creamy mayo and for the vegetables to have more vinegar tang to them, the weren’t pickled or seasoned for that tell-a-tale flavour.

We added one “fried roll” to our order of the “Veggie marinated grilled lemon grass chicken”. My guest doesn’t like peanuts, green onions, and bean sprouts so we had this serving without all three. Sadly, I found it lacking without the additional toppings for their refreshing nature and crunch. The bowl tasted like a deconstructed salad roll or pho without the soup. The side of fish sauce did help to give it some flavour and life.

The “Combo roll” gave you a taste of three of their different appetizers. The salad roll with vermicelli, lettuce, and shrimp utilized the peanut based sauce for taste. Similarly, the peanut sauce gave the pork roll some depth of flavour. Although there was plenty of excess noodle and wrap, as we discarded the ends. The fried roll here was the same as above. It came out extra oily, and still hot from the fry throughout. The fish sauce was key here in balancing out the oil with some acid.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Overall, everything was standard. The food was as expected and the service delivered. It is your typical chain. If you are looking for deep cultural experience you won’t get it here. But they are a great addition for the community with the neighbouring school, businesses, and corporate offices. Making them a great lunch or after work/school destination. Especially as thy are located so close the Renfrew skytrain station. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

PHO 99
2915 Hebb Avenue, Vancouver BC, V5M 3M4
604-255-3135
Pho 99 Broadway Tech Centre Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

IcePik Shavery, new menu item

Starting on May 5th, up to the 7th; “IcePik Shavery”, your Joyce Street destination for shaved ice desserts, hits their second year anniversary. And to celebrate they are offering all their customers that come in, 30% off each and any of their snow ice flavours. And we were here as media, having a sneak peak, days before.

I have visited them a handful of times before, so the “IcePik” experience was not new to me. What was, was the launch of the new seasonal flavour: blueberry. As well as the ability to try a few of their more unique flavoured ices, that I have yet to. Flavours I normally wouldn’t go out of my way to order as a regular customer. And all the toppings I wouldn’t be able to try, because normally having each one would cost 60 cents per.

When it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.

But to rewind, and read the more detailed post of my first visit, please click on the link.

Icepik Shavery

And now fast forward to warmer weather with this seasonally fuelled blueberry flavoured snow ice. It tasted just like blueberry with the purply hue. I liked it best with fresh fruit and condense milk, but that’s the beauty of such a dessert, you can customize it anyway you like.

To watch ice being shaved and topped in this behind the scenes look, click on the video link to my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

 

Others had, and I got to try their strawberry snow ice. It tasted delicate with sweet berry and hints of floral. Some ordered the black sesame, which I have had before and liked then and again now.

But it was the earl grey snow ice that would surprisingly be the favourite for me. The flavour wasn’t heavy, but lightly done and well crafted to represent the promised flavour. You could lighten it up with fruit and jellies, or make it a lot more decadent with cookie bits and chocolatey chunks.

I went for the mint flavoured snow ice myself, and greedily thought to get every topping on it; cause I figured when else would I get such an opportunity? So on top of toothpaste flavoured pale mint snow went skor bits, chocolate chips, graham cracker crumb, crushed Oreo cookies, corn flavours, three flavours of mochi, four flavours of popping pearls, coconut and mango jelly, grass jelly, fresh fruits, and a whole lot more. It was an interesting cup, like much of what I order and like, a dish more for novelty than taste. Had I been choosing for flavour and what would go well with all the toppings, my choice would have been either the vanilla or coconut flavoured snow ice.

And although not all the toppings pair all that well with all the flavours of snow ice, you can always use as much of the squeeze bottles of chocolate sauce, caramel drizzle, strawberry syrup, and condense milk available, to compensate for this. This was what I did in my case. With enough condense milk, you can sweeten the whole lot.

 

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.
My original assessment still holds true. A great option for a lighter, cold treat. And at 30% off, worth checking out between May 5-7, 2017.

 

ICEPIK
1-3377 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5K6
778-379-3177
icepikshavery.com
Icepik Shavery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Prince Seafood Restaurant

IMG_4016IMG_4018

“The Prince” was the chosen destination for our family’s Chinese New Year day dinner. A restaurant that was in the neighbourhood I grew up in and a convenient stop for everyone invited.

Despite making our reservations 12 days ahead, we came in a couple of minutes late to discover management trying to give our table away. It was a busy night, understandably the stress was high and they overbooked trying to make as much as they could on the festive occasion. They felt justified in their decision as they tried calling us and was unable to reach anyone. The hostess had taken down our number wrong when placing the reservation, so when they tried to call us to come in earlier for our 6pm reservation, and couldn’t reach us, they saw this as reason enough to give the table away, assuming we wouldn’t show up. And when we were fighting to get our table back, instead of approaching the mix up apologetically, they blamed the error on us, that we had given the wrong number. When was the last time you gave out your number incorrectly, after reading it out twice, to the one taking in down?

What’s worst is they wanted to give our table to a family who decided to stroll in on one of the busiest Chinese dining out days, thinking they could get a table without the need to wait. And the restaurant’s manager was willing to reward this lack of planning. Sadly, for similar places, this is Chinese restaurant service in a nutshell. Here it is all about the dollar, sales and money is king. A point that was more so visible in the pricing compared to what we had below.

Sadly our time here did not get any better. The argument that began our service continued to sour the experience. Everyone was upset. We were high alert when it came the service, and it only got progressively worse.

IMG_4020IMG_4021

The restaurant’s full menu was not available this event night. Due to the higher traffic and the need to feed more faster, they had only few set menus that you could choose from. Having dined here previously, my parents were aware that the prices of all their regular dishes have been increased by $2-5 for the occasion. Considering the extra traffic and the additional staff needed to service them, the math made sense. However, what doesn’t is the fact that dishes were listed promising certain ingredients, but instead what showed up were cost cutting substitutions. For example, our delicacy of black chicken soup was no more than old short rib soup, yet we were not only paying the premium price for the promised premium ingredients, but were doing so at the elevated Chinese New Year price.

It is worth noting that my mandarin skills are weak and all these facts were given to me as second hand information, as translated by my father, (who is very proficient in both mandarin and English). It is a similar case with the name and descriptions of the dishes we had below.

The restaurant is deceivingly large. A pull out wall creates the illusion of privacy with smaller rooms holding several different tables within. We were given a table in the rowdy main room. But besides the additional bodies, you really couldn’t tell that everyone here was celebrating an occasion. The restaurant wasn’t decorated. They were lacking much of the traditional red and gold accents typically used to usher in a new year of luck and prosperity. Disappointing. It is like having dinner at a fancy restaurant during December without tinsel and a tree.

IMG_4017

When it came time to order my dad did it for the group, he choose one of the only 4 set menus available tonight. All 8 dishes that came with it was printed on a receipt and brought back to our table for the servers to cross off as they delivered them. This also gave us the opportunity to count off what we were still waiting for. Something that proved especially helpful, as we found we had to spot check the staff, to ensure everything we hand coming, actually came. A point we had to police a few times, when our server and the manger (you can always tell who they are by the full suits they wear) insisted dishes came when they didn’t. Instead of looking at our table at what dishes we did have, they immediately decided to argue that we were mistaken, and we thus had to argue are case. On both the occasions that this happened they were able to find our dishes, a point that was obvious given how they arrived at room temperature. No apology given, just our food cold. It was clear our meal was being rushed, they wanted us out to be able to seat and charge another family.

But sadly the culture at many such Chinese restaurants is to accept all the above as the norm, and to not defend your time and your money by bringing up any errors made. In this case, we ate our cold food in silence. Something that I thought silly considering how much more we had to pay just for being here on this day. But this is the ways, and who am I to attempt to start a movement?

IMG_4025IMG_4031

Our meal began with a cold appetizer platter (intentionally cold). A starter that buys the kitchen some time. This version came with fresh but rubbery calms, shrimp, beef shank that tasted more like ham, slightly warmer chewy fish paste wrapped in bean curd skin, and spicy jellyfish trimmed in shorter strips. The garlic chilli chilled prawns were my favourite, but they required a little more work than I could give to get into it.

IMG_4035IMG_4037

Next came the soup course. When the serving bowl arrived I read the receipt claiming it to be black chicken, but was corrected by the manager as being pork rib soup instead. Yet we were charged for the more expensive ingredients at the jacked up event price, without the actual conch or black chicken listed. This was just papaya and ribs in a clear broth. A sweeter soup, but nothing memorable.

IMG_4040IMG_4041

The clay pot with mushroom and sea cucumber was not for me. It was a bowl of rubbery pieces, flavoured with the strong taste of wilted lettuce in a thickened corn starch gravy that I do not like. I tried the large caps of mushroom and they surprisingly easy to chew through. As for the sea cucumber, it was once a delicacy I enjoyed as a child, but now in my adult years, a texture I avoid. It is like a more gelatinized version of cartilage. Not bad, but knowing how the actual marine creature looks like and likening it to a slug, really puts me off of them.

IMG_4042IMG_4043

Deep fried crispy whole chicken is a family favourite. However, this would be the worst rendition of it we have ever had. The chicken was dry and bland. The crackers that sat above it extremely oily, and instead of its expected light and crispy texture, biting into it was more like chewing through styrofoam. A fact we would have brought to the attention of the staff, had we thought it would make a difference. They did after all hear us complain as we bit in to a few, having to pull with clenched teeth.

IMG_4055IMG_4056

The preserved meat with cauliflower dish seemed like a cheap and easy filler. It was certainly the most modest, and the most lack lustre dish, given the special occasion. This is the type of dish you make at home when there is nothing else in your fridge to work with. It was more cauliflower than salty and fatty chunks of pork. But notable, as it was my first time trying Taiwanese wild cauliflower. It has the stem of broccoli with the florets of cauliflower, more green than white.

IMG_4023

For live seafood dishes, the freshness of your catch is proven by first bringing you your fish, crab, or lobster table side for you to inspect. This isn’t something my parents particularly enjoy, so we don’t put much stock into it. However both our fish and lobster were sharing a tub, turned upside, unmoving. At least they were fresh out of the tank. Though I almost feel better believing they were brought to us table side, already having died in the tank.

IMG_4044IMG_4049

The tilapia steamed in a soy sauce is trimmed table side. The spine is removed and the inside sauced by the server who delivers it. It is a gentle fish with a light seasoning. A typical staple at these set Chinese dinners.

IMG_4057IMG_4067

The lobster dish was the most impressive and instantly my favourite of the night (not that it had much competition. It was one dish I didn’t have any issue with, except for the price. Chinese New Year prices had us paying $29 per pound, and this was a 2-3lbs lobster.

It is served whole in a giant steamer, lined with lotus leaves, overtop some sticky rice. It was tasty buttery lobster and sweet corn rice. Luckily the lobster meat was relatively easy to remove flesh from shell, as we were only given our picks and cracking apparatuses after finishing half of the serving. We quickly gave up trying to call a staff member over, knowing they were avoiding eye contact.

IMG_4070IMG_4072

My second favourite dish was the braised eggplant with jumbo prawn, seasoned in a mild black bean flavour. The prawns were an impressive size, but a tad over cooked. This was a dish that would have been tastier had they served it to us right away, instead of insisting that we had it and quickly bringing us this cooled off portion almost immediately after.

IMG_4095IMG_4099

For dessert there were the usual bowls of red bean soup. Not a favourite of mine given its grainy texture.

IMG_4091IMG_4087

Luckily as a little extra perk for being here during Chinese New Year, we were given additional sweet snacks for dessert. Sesame seed cookie balls and coconut covered glutinous rice cake filled with custard. I preferred the latter with its soft and chewy texture, than the hard and dry texture of the former.

When we finally wanted to leave, it was hard to track anyone down. First for take out containers and after to pay for the bill. We had what remained of our fish dish taken in the back to be doggy bagged. This was with three dishes left to go. However our fish never returned. It wasn’t until we asked that they thought to track it down and bring it to us.

All this grief, all this heartache, the sourness of a would and should be festive occasion turned horrible experience. And worst still my father insisted on giving a full and good tip. I understand the need of servers to supplement their wages with tips, and that our society deems it an expectation. But I believe they should at least try to do a good job to earn some of it. There were no pleasantries exchanged, no care given tonight from servers and the manger’s alike. Our plates weren’t even bussed between dishes, so that by the end we were eating dessert on top of chicken and fish bones, and lobster and shrimp shells. My parents didn’t want to make a fuss, but if we don’t bring any of this to the restaurant’s attention, or fight for our right to the quality of food and experience that we pay for, nothing will ever change. And I will have to continue writing bitters blog posts like these.

 

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
This was not a good way to ring in the new year. I can make excuses for the restaurant and allow them to hide behind the fact that it was a busy service. But I don’t think it excuses the lack of quality in the food that we had, and the lack of care displayed towards us by the management. This was an all around bad dinner, made worse by the price we had no choice but to pay for it at. This experience was so scarring that my partners started a pack with our extended family then and there. Starting next year, we will not be visiting a Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year, we will dine at a western one and avoid another bad and expensive meal. Looking back “White Spot” would have yielded better results. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

PRINCE
2881 Grandview Highway, Vancouver BC, V5M 2E1
604-430-6808
Prince Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Happy Day Cafe

img_7260img_7262

A friend posted a photo of a Chinese pineapple bun turn into burger on his Facebook. I have yet to see one offered anywhere in Vancouver, and having remembered one such burger fondly during my last trip to Toronto, I wanted to taste it again in the city that I live in.

So we travelled to “Happy Day Cafe” to get my fix. Our destination was its newest location on Kingsway, its original operates out of Richmond. You could tell that its grand opening was pretty recent, given the number of congratulatory floral standees by the foyer, a colourful Chinese tradition.

img_7263img_7264

Besides them there wasn’t too much in terms of decorations. Not that anything was needed, I appreciated how spacious everything was, with a fair bit of distance between seats. The fabric on the faux leather booths were still taunt and the table tops were still untarnished. The red brick walls provided an interesting contrast to the metal light fixtures dangling from coloured, inset circles on the ceiling. A make shift wall split the restaurant in two, creating a counter for lone diners and some additional privacy for larger parties to gather by the kitchen. This separation also created shelf space, allowing the owners used to showcase their designer cola bottle collection. Coca Cola in a variety of patterns and colours, in various bottle shapes and sizes; some more special than others, kept behind glass.

We were able to grab the last seat before the dining area swelled up with full tables and additional lingering bodies by the door. They could have easily sat the large group table family style, in order to get two party patrons in and out, but no one considered the option. Instead all the staff were buzzing around the room delivering food and taking orders at break neck speed. It was about efficiency and not so much service. However, the manager stood out from the others and the trend. I assumed he was the manager given his lack of uniform and his choice to wear jeans and a striped sweater instead. He made our evening memorable.

img_7286img_7303

The pineapple bun wasn’t on the menu, but luckily the manager was able to accommodate my request for it during this dinner service. He brought us the lunch menu that it was normally listed on. And with it we were able to select our desired filling out of seven options. Including satay beef, luncheon meat, and pork chop. The one I had in Toronto didn’t give me options, but it tasted much better with its all beef burger patty. The savoury beef and the saltiness of its condiments played off the sweetness of the bun’s fall apart, baked custard topping. Where as here, with our choice of the “chicken fillet with lettuce” it didn’t flow as well. The chicken was marinaded with a sweeter sauce and together with the bun it was too sweet for a burger. The wilted shredded lettuce coated in a its sticky glaze didn’t help either. A regular beef patty with the pineapple bun would have been ideal, or even the one with spam egg and butter.

Similarly the manger was able to take our request for substitutions with a few of our dishes. Although only to the extent of the chef’s ability. For instance the chef wasn’t able to grant us a smaller portion of their “Shred snake soup”. We wanted it because it was confirmed as being prepared with real snake, and neither of us had ever had the reptile. But it was not meant to be, as we deemed $22.80 for a serving for four, too much to pay for something we only wanted to try. And they weren’t able to simply serve us a smaller bowl. Heck I would have paid $5 for a scoop, just to say that I have.

img_7278img_7281

Just as well, because our dinner began with a complimentary serving of “winter melon soup”. A large soup bowl with ladle that we could use to dispense the murky portions ourselves. There was enough broth for four. It was a soothing soup, something to warm your stomach up for the meal ahead. I just wished it came with more than two chunks of melon and was served much earlier on. It came with our entrees following shortly, and in comparison to them, we found the soup bland.

Had a regular server approached us first, I don’t think we would have even gotten the option of trying the burger above or even a trip to the kitchen to inquire about the soup. They would have simply stated that it was not on the menu and therefore not available at this time, and that no substitutions are to be had. They would made no attempt to compromise with me, their customer. Case in point, is the fried milk dish below.

img_7304img_7307

The “crispy milk with diced beef tenderloin in honey sauce” was recommend to us when we asked. The manager described it as solid block of milk, best when dipped into sugar. By that description I was sold. Apparently it is made by freezing milk custard and then flash frying it. The result is a crispy golden brown shell hiding a semi jelly-like texture. It is a nugget that grown on you. With the sugar dip, it reminded us of mini doughnuts. I would have liked them as a dessert option, served with sugar, maple syrup, or even a chocolate sauce. But instead it was offered here as a side to protein. I felt it a questionable pairing with the savoury beef, but better than a bite with the coloured peppers (also on the plate). The chunks of beef were tender and tasty, and the milk served as a bread to accompany it. But the former would have been best with a bowl of steamed rice, which we ordered to have with the beef as leftovers the next day. I also didn’t like how much oil there was at the bottom of the plate.

img_7309img_7310

But we almost didn’t get it to try the deep fried milk with sugar. The server who delivered our plate couldn’t comprehend our request for it. And when I explained the interaction with her manager above, I only confused her more. She couldn’t make the decision, and had to seek him out for approval, which he gave her.

img_7291img_7295

And lastly the manager took our request of trade rice for spaghetti noodles in the “baked pork chop and seafood” dish. This was two sauces over carbs. You can have either flavours separate, or mixed together for something new. As is the case when it is the Chinese interpretation of spaghetti, it was on the sweeter side. My guest of Italian heritage found it odd. For me, this was some of the most comforting food. The pork chop was tasty and cooked to the perfect chew, without being overly dry. Its crispy breading was a nice accident to the starchy noodles. The muscles and squid offered different textures as well as a change in flavour on the white cream sauce side.

img_7312img_7316

I don’t know if it was because of all that we ordered, or if it was what we ordered, but we also got a complimentary dessert to end our meal on. It would have been nice to advertise the free soup start and free dessert end somewhere on the menu. To tempt customers into ordering more to reach the needed criteria and not miss out on this opportunity. Although at the same time, it was a nice welcomed surprise for us. “Custard sago with tapioca” pearls. The regular version that is white with condense milk is one of my favourite Chinese desserts, so to get here and now, with a twist was very exciting for me. It was nice creamy end to change the taste in your mouth and finish with something slightly on the sweeter side.

The greatest feedback I could give, is the need for management to better train their personnel. Not just on how to take and place orders, but more on how to deliver service as he has done, for us, during our stay. To empower his staff to make decisions and accept substitutions to satisfy the customer’s need. Especially in cases of easy requests, such as ours. This would ensure that all future services would go as smoothly as ours did. I mean he even checked on us and asked us how the food was, as rarity at many traditional Chinese restaurants. I just hope it wasn’t only because of my guest’s Italian heritage.

Whereas we never got greeted or had eye contact from any of the other staff. And worst still was when we asked for the bill. Our tab was brought to us all on one receipt, and we kindly ask them to split it between us two. The server who heeded our request, did so by immediately stooped herself between us, over our table. She proceeded to do the math on the actual receipt, putting us in an awkward situation where we gave each other “WTF” eyes. And it was this last impression that sadly soured all the great moments before it. We had been spoiled by the manager thus far. For him to built up our experience, to only to have her actions be what we focused on after we left.

And in hindsight, her awkward math was all moot. They don’t accept debit or credit, and seeing as my guest had the cash, he ended up paying for us both. No where was there a mention of them being a cash only establishment. Considering the area, and the fact that they have several locations now, I was surprised by this and them not considering the guest’s experience and need for convenience when setting up their operations. Although I know this is so that they don’t have to pay credit and debit usage fees, or to pay for the equipment and maintenance to continue offering such a service.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As one of the first Chinese restaurant I have been to that allows customization with no major complaints, and a manager who considered the customer experience, I will definitely be back. The setting was comfortable and they saw all walks of people, thanks to a hefty menu that has plenty to keep you returning for more. Chinese seafood restaurant favourites at decent prices and in a setting that won’t intimidate, especially if you don’t speak or read the language, like us. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

HAPPY DAY CAFE
3312 Kingsway, Vancouver BC
604-307-6868
Happy Day Cafe 喜相逢餐廳 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jambo Grill

IMG_0866IMG_0868

I am always looking for an opportunity to expand my culinary horizons, so today one of my more adventurous guests and myself found ourselves out for African cuisine.

The restaurant is easy to spot from the street with its bold yellow sign, its many food-o-graphy wallpapering the glass window out front, and with the mural of a tiger setting the tone to come.

IMG_0867IMG_0871

Inside the space was huge. There was plenty of room to host the large gatherings and office parties that they advertised. They even made mention on this year’s Christmas party on their website. But on a regular day, I wondered how busy they got and if they utilized all this space. The same orangey red pallet that decorated the exterior, was also used on their internal wall’s murals. To your left the sun was setting against the savannah’s diverse animal landscape. And on your right, the same sun too bathe a dessert landscape in red and oranges. Complimentary artifacts added visual contrast to the pieces: carved masks of giraffes, clay sculpted elephant busts, carved statues, and etched metal work. Both murals ran down the length of the restaurant, a visual representation of the merging of their specialized cuisine: African and Indian. The music did a similar thing with a playlist that went from bhangra beats to mellow Marley.

We were the only ones seated a good hour when they first open. We had our choice of placement and went with a table against the booth wall. One of many brown tables and brown upholstered chairs. They must be expecting a full crowd later, as each one of these tabled was pre-set with a napkin bundling cutlery and another napkin curled up in an empty drinking glass.

The menu was fairly inviting from a graphic design stand point, it too matched the restaurant’s colour scheme and theme. It was divided by “out of Africa” and “out of India”. The former was then further divided by “from the jungle”, “from the lake”, and “from the farm”. And like everything else, the staff too played part of their authenticity. Each member of their team was dressed in traditional African garments, with plenty of bold patterns.

IMG_0872IMG_0894

I appreciated the functionality of the artist-palette-like plates we were given to eat off of. Indents on the porcelain finish allowed a trough for general food items, and three circles made the ideal holding for more watery mixes. It was perfect for all our ordered dishes below.

IMG_0877IMG_0880

The first thing you notice walking in is the smell of spicy food. The further in you went, the more the scent developed into a full bodied curry. It was delicious enough to have us ordering a serving for ourselves.

The curry is available in beef, chicken, lamb, and goat. We had the goat as it was promised to be “packed with flavour in a thick aromatic sauce”. Plus not often are you offered goat meat. It came with your choice of naan or rice. We went with the former as it was the more complicated of the two, something you don’t have as often or could make yourself. Though we were caught off guard when we were given options for our naan. This was a first. Naan with butter, without butter, and/or with herbs. We asked for our server’s recommendation. She strongly suggested the buttered naan otherwise it “would get hard”. With a reason like that, why would there be any choice but the butter version? Who would want a hard naan? If you are gonna commit to the bread, you might as well enjoy it to the fullest: moist and fluffy.

IMG_0881

And with our buttery choice, it was. The naan made a great “chip” to dip into the curry with. Though I would have liked the curry a little thicker, and therefore more hardier. Not to surprising, the goat meat was a little dry, the waterier curry made that point more clearer in contrast. Though it tasted good, a back of your throat spicy burn in both meat and sauce.

IMG_0884IMG_0886

The “Tandoor kebabs” were available in lamb, chicken, or beef. We went with the beef and it ended up tasting like over cooked hamburger. I didn’t imagine that the ground up meat mixed with herbs and spices would be prepared like hot dogs. It was impressive how symmetrical they were to one another; especially considering that they are described as being “hand crafted on a skewer”, before being deep in their tandoor oven. Each kebab order comes with with two sides. You choose from masala potato, fries, pili pili corn, or salad. We went with the masala potatoes and the fries. The potatoes had a nice starchy whipped texture to them, like a well boiled squashed.

We ungraded and paid more for the mogo as our side, instead of just regular fries. “Mogo” is the root plant, cassava chopped into strips and deep fried. It had a grittier chew than potato, and therefore a less appealing texture. Chewy and mashed, I would have liked it crisper from a longer hot oil bath.

Though the mogo may have been better with the ambli, the sauce that the appetizer is intended to be served with. “Ambil” is a sweet tamarind chutney. Instead we got a spicy green hot sauce. Each element was spicy enough on its own, and it didn’t really need more heat. What this platter needed was a sauce to give things a contrast and to help cool. A cooling chutney like ambli, or a smooth cream with a mayonnaise-like consistency. Something with a refreshing herb would have also been nice.

IMG_0883IMG_0896

“Mandazi bharazi” is a serving of four African donuts, served with pigeon peas cooked in a thick coconut sauce. Everything about this sounded interesting. I didn’t know that there was an African equivalent of doughnuts. Or that there are doughnuts you dip into stew with. And what were pigeon peas? Why were they called that? By ordering them to try, I had most of my questions answered. This was more aptly a fried bread that was slightly sweetened. The dip was like a sweet curry sauce. A little chalky from the peas, with texture and chunks like cream corn. Even despite my description, this was our favourite of the night. It was also the only savoury thing not spicy.

IMG_0899IMG_0897

The photo of the “Faluda” on the menu reminded me of southeast Asian shaved ice dessert, so I wanted to see if it was anything like that. It wasn’t. I at least thought it would be sweet given the neon red strawberry looking syrup pooling at the bottom and its description. It wasn’t. It is described as a rose sherbet “romanced” with vermicelli and basil seeds, then topped with ice cream.

Our server offered to split the dessert in to two different glasses for my guest and I to share. I was hesitant as I wanted to full order as it was intended, keeping my photo in mind. But we took her offer after she insisted that both would look the same, but as miniatures. They didn’t. And if you have read my work, you know I order for novelty and the promise of an aesthetically pleasing dish or drink. This didn’t deliver. The photo promised layers of colour, ours was just a translucent red and an opaque white cream. And vermicelli was two strands buoyant on top. Though maybe it’s because the portion was split, unlike how it was intended. Either way, it was just as well, as we both took a sip and called it quits. You scoop things with shovel bottomed slurpee straw. This was less a dessert and more a breath mint. It wasn’t sweet, but more fragrant, even with the ice cream. It was so strong, like drinking perfume with potpourri sprinkles.

IMG_0914IMG_0900

We also couldn’t get past the initial taste of the “Good morning paan”. This was another “dessert”, better classified as a dinner ender. But I wanted to try it because it was such a popular menu item that it made its way to their sub title, and therefore must surely worth a try. “Jambo Grill, tandoori and paan house”.

Our server gave us the option of having it fresh or frozen. When she said that fresh ones were better and that the frozen are cold, as they are made earlier in the day, and that they are not any better; it became another one of those “why give me a choice then?” situations. Why would I choose to have it the subpar way when I can have it the best as intended?

IMG_0901IMG_0904

“Paan” is a betal leaf saturated in rose syrup, and packed with sweets and spices like fennel seeds, daal, and coconut. There was also the possibility to have it with or without sweet supari, a betel nut. So we had one of each at $2.50 each

They are made assembly line style. Leaf, pre mixed spread, and shredded coconut. It is folded and presented to you wrapped in tin foil. The Rose syrup seeps out and your hands get plenty sticky. And once again, like the parfait above we didn’t last past the first bite. I wasn’t even sure if I should swallow. Like the “Faluda” you don’t expect the flavour, and could never expect it. The raw, unprocessed leaf was an odd texture to chew through. And the filling tasted like a less floral, but just as pungent perfume and potpourri combo. This was an edible mouthwash, potent enough to cleanse your mouth from all the spice and your breath from all the food.

IMG_0891

Looking back I am sure we ate this meal wrong. I wished we asked for more suggestions and that our server was able to guide us on this journey better. Maybe checking to see if it was your first time, and if so, having a first timers introduction combo available to ease you in. I have never had anything like most of this today. I didn’t have any expectations, nor did I possess any comparison points. Though as a whole I wished we had something that was more fresh and crispier with our entrees. Some green beans and/or a fried fish. Both would have been a welcomed contrast to the thick sauces, chewy breads, and hot spices. There was too much flavour, and a lot of it was overwhelming in how similar they were to one another. I also wished that we both ordered a glass of “lassi” (a yogurt based drink mixed with water and spices). A glass would have been more of a dessert, as well as a helpful way to cool our heated tongues. They are available in mango, mint, or just salty and sweet.

 

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.
I would like to try this again more informed. There was so much on the menu to try and I don’t think I can make a fair assessment with what we had. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

JAMBO GRILL
3219 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5K3
604-433-5060
jambogrill.ca
Jambo Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Icepik Shavery

IMG_9503IMG_9506

This is another one of those dessert spots that was so busy to visit when it first opened. So I have waited until now to try their flavoured ice. Desserts are best when you can enjoy and take your time with them. When you can sit down and take in nibbles, lapping cream off a spoon. Not when you are being wrangled like cattle in small confines, and rushed through your experience, cause someone wants the table after you.

Shaved ice and snow desserts have been all the rage lately. They are basically the Asian equivalent of a sno one with fruit and candy toppings, instead of just sweetened syrup pumped over. You get the chill of ice cream, without all its calories, and its a sweet way to stay hydrated during summer; after all, when it melts it is pretty much like water. Though what sets “Ice Pik” apart from all the others is that they aren’t just grinding up blocks of ice for its snow-like texture. Here they freeze flavoured liquid into creamy blocks, and then it is these blocks that are shaved into ribbons of ice. That is why they refer to their deserts as “snow cream”. So it is not just the toppings flavouring your dessert, the ice has a flavour all its own, as well.

IMG_9507IMG_9509

They don’t have your traditional flavours like chocolate or caramel, but more tropical ones like coconut, mango, and lychee. And more popular Asian flavours like taro, black sesame, earl grey, and green tea. They even had the unique choice of mint. After you decide on your base, you choose what you want to top it. It’s 60 cents for each, with topping categories divided into fruit, pearls (the kind most common in bubble tea), mochi, jelly, and everything else falling under “other”. With all the possible combinations there is plenty to please everyone, and much to keep you interested in returning. They offered fresh papaya, yogurt flavoured popping pearls, rice cakes, almond jelly, corn flakes cereal, and cheesecake bits; just to name a handful out of 25 different options.

IMG_9505IMG_0920

The ice is sheered using blocks taken from their cooler, and inserted into a specialized machine. The employee managing it equips themselves with gloves, and pushes the machine’s handle with one hand, while gripping the cup the ice goes into with the other. The snow that results gets packed in tight and forms a miniature mountain within a cup.

You have a size choice between regular or large, with the main difference being the latter is branded in their blue, with their mascot on it. Their mascot is a penguin wearing a blue scarf around its neck. His image also graced the window out front, as an eye catching decal. This logo on the cup was worth me wanting a regular, despite being hungry enough to desire the large. They should brand the large cup too, how many missed opportunities have they had to upgrade a customer who wants the visual with more food.

Next, the clerk directs the ice cup to fridge and tops it accordingly, as you have requested. It is then finishes it off with either a chocolate or strawberry wafer.

IMG_0918IMG_0919

You now have a choose your own adventure at their “sauce bar”. Four squeeze bottles of chocolate, strawberry, caramel, or condense milk to drizzle over your dessert. Here, you also get to choose your own spoons. They were thick plastic in six different colours. I of course insisted that they match our cups. As my guest put it, these are the kind of spoons you “take home and wash”.

IMG_9515IMG_9512

My first taste was with a more conservative diner, and in order to accommodate her more passive palette, we went for the safe mango ice with strawberries. I insisted on the condense milk drizzle, and lots of it for flavour. Good thing too as the strawberry chunks were tart. We were also lucky that we could go back for as much more of the condense milk as we wanted. At this point strawberries are only becoming in season, hence why the strawberry ice was listed as “coming soon”. The mango ice was sweeter, but not enough to mask the sour of the fruit, and it was also much more milder in flavour, despite its bold hue.

If you can’t decide what ice base to get and what would be complimentary to top it, choose from one of their five different combos.

I was tempted by the taro, mint, and black sesame flavoured ice with its unique toppings. Tempted enough to ask a stranger to take a photo of their’s. Well, actually she is a coworker and her friend who bought it for them to share, was the stranger. Nonetheless, I won’t forget the moment, as this was the first time I literally asked to take a photo of someone else’s food. I get asked if I do a lot, and now I finally have a reason to answer “yes”.

IMG_9521IMG_9520

They went with the “Emperor’s Pik”. Green tea snow cream with papaya chunks, grass jelly, mango jelly, and strawberry wafer. For those who have never had it, “grass jelly” is a brown jello like substance that doesn’t have too strong of a taste on its own, and therefore is commonly found in drinks and desserts, as a textural component. It is made by boiling the aged and slightly oxidized stalks and leaves of a specific plant, and mixing it with potassium carbonate and starch. It has a unique taste that is hard to describe. I personally enjoy it and have found nothing else like it.

So when I was in the neighbourhood again, and given the opportunity, I came back for more of the more exciting flavours, that I missed out on last time.

IMG_0924IMG_0923

This day, I went with the “Penguin Pik” combo. Black sesame snow cream with grass jelly, Oreo crumble, tapioca pearls, and a chocolate wafer. I choose it for the novelty of having all the dark colours in my cup. You could clearly make out the black sesame flavour, but not so much that you couldn’t enjoy the assembly of toppings with it. The Oreo added crispimess, and surprisingly went well with black sesame. The pearls and jelly were more neutral, so offered different textures, instead of a way to change the taste.

IMG_0928IMG_0927

My guest of today, picked and choose his treat from the list. The taro snow cream with red bean and skor bits. Although mid shave they ran out of taro ice to complete the order, so we were given the option to fill the cup with another flavour. I recommend the coconut to his, as a compliment. I liked it’s refreshing milky-ness, where my guest found it too distracting. But he claimed his original combo with taro was one that worked, despite the fact I could not imagine toffee skor candy pieces ever being with taro or red bean any way else. But I guess that is why the choose your own ice menu exists, for everyone to find their perfect combo.

IMG_9518IMG_0930

The cafe is a small space, with seats around the walls and a dance floor worth of space at the centre. Plenty of room to wait in queue, if need be. To match their theme the walls are painted in a baby blue, with one wall stencilled with white snow flakes. The opposing wall is left blank, other than the poster sized adverts publicizing a few of their dessert options.

IMG_0931IMG_0935

Without air conditioning, it especially hot and sticky indoors, luckily you have the option to sit outdoors. Two plastic chairs in front of their window for the first to claim it.

I have visited twice now and there only seems to be just one employee working the evening shift, not that any more was needed. During my first visit, on a weekday, after a 8pm it was so slow that there was no one waiting at the counter to serve. The one employee was working in the back, giving you the option to ding the bell at the desk for assistance. The second time around, it also wasn’t busy, and the crowd that was in was chill enough to not mind a pause. But as such the clerk can only do one order at a time, so you need wait for them to ring you through and take your money, before starting to make your dessert. And this is how they operated one guest after another. And those who cannot wait, won’t if they haven’t given their money first. So as a business, it is better to ring everyone through and have them wait, instead of gambling on the fact that they are willing to remain in queue, and not walk away due to their impatience-ness. For us, we made it all the way here and paid for parking, so weren’t going anywhere. Although there are a few decent bubble tea places nearby, that we could have turned our attention to.

And sadly, during both visits I was never once offered their loyalty punch card, and at this point I had three ices that I could have put towards a free cup. This card could have also brought me back for my fourth and fifth. A missed perk for me and a missed opportunity for sales for them.

 

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.
A really stand up, delightful treat. No complaints.

 

ICEPIK
1-3377 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5K6
778-379-3177
icepikshavery.com
Icepik Shavery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Off The Grid Waffles

IMG_9479IMG_9480

This is one of those places I initially avoided, waiting until the buzz died down, to avoid excessive lines and crowded confines. That, and its mid day hours were hard to coordinate a visit to. But finally I was here at “Off the grid waffles” to try their popular milkshakes with in house made waffle garnish.

Heading to it, you might miss your destination the first time around. They are called “off the grid” for a reason. Located on a quiet block on Kingsway, with no real other restaurants or dessert places in its close proximity. If you made an effort to come out of the way here, you were staying, line or not. But we came early to beat the rush, being the only other table seated mid day, and having our pick of the place.

The restaurant’s awning is planked wood with its name and logo in white. A scalloped circle with neat rows of small crosses at its centre. This was their nouveau way of illustrating that they were waffle joint.

IMG_9481IMG_9485

Stepping in, there was a change in temperature. They had no air conditioning, and the pressing of fresh waffles only made the air inside stickier. They did have two fan blowing at either ends of of the seating area. Their locations help in our seat choosing process. But as a result of the additional heat, everyone ordered a milkshake, and the restaurant boomed with a full crowd by 7pm. A few tables also came with jenga blocks, already stacked up. It gave you the impression that they wanted a lingering crowd.

The restaurant was a clean space. Wood floors and a white check out counter labelled “waffles!” The counter tops had the same wood finishing that the exterior’s awning did. This is where each waffle was pressed and topped as desired.

IMG_9482IMG_9502

Everything was made to order before your eyes. After the clerk takes your order, one of the two other staff members set about preparing it. They do this in the open Cafe, with only the height of the counter giving the process some illusion. But while paying you get a great view of their row of waffle presses and all the containers of ingredients necessary to craft their signature milkshakes.

They don’t just do sweets. They also had pizza waffles available. Any waffle topped with savoury ingredients fell under this category. There was one with grilled chicken breast and another with smoked meat. The classic pepperoni, cheese, and Hawaiian pizza flavours were also represented.

IMG_9499IMG_9501

We went for the “Spicy chicken with bacon pizza waffle”. This was a well done rendition of pizza, and a play on the popular pairing of chicken and waffles, but with bacon bits. A whole waffle worth of pizza was served in a black pan with handles, and topped with a flag of their logo. The fluffy waffle was layered with plenty of chicken, together it had both a great kick from the spicy mayo and a little bit of sweetness from the waffle.

They also had desserts built around and topping their liege style waffles as well. They had a tiramisu waffle, one with chocolate and peppermint, and a cheesecake waffle. And like the pizza ones, they had the classic dessert toppings like banana and Nutella, s’mores, and apple cinnamon. You can also have your waffle plain, or add a scoop of ice cream for extra. But we chose to drink our desserts.

To drink, they offered much of what other cafes did. Coffees, teas, and milk mixes of both. But chances are you were here for their most popular menu option: the milkshake. There were six different flavours available. Each was filled to the brim of a mason jar, topped with whipped cream, drizzled in syrups and sauces, and finished off with their trademark waffle wedge. The assortment and any extras depended on which flavour your ordered. Each version was served on a glass plate, as it was a messy affair of dripping cream, sticky syrup, and powered sugar. The beverages also came with a cookie straw to eat and drink from, and a plastic one in case you finished that one before your drink was done. I appreciated the pageantry of this the most.

IMG_9490IMG_9495

Though choosing which one you wanted was tough. I did so by basing it on what I found the most unique, as is often how I order when bombarded with so much I want to taste and try. I went for the “Maple Bacon” OFG shake. It ended up being more vanilla than maple, though the candied bacon came through in chewy bits. It was sweet and refreshingly creamy.

IMG_9488IMG_9487

My guest went for a more tried and true flavour, the most popular, “Oreo”. Not only did it come with a mound of whipped cream and a thick waffle wedge, like mine did above, but she also got the add on of a whole Oreo cookie. The extras gave the drink texture and made the eating of it more fun, with breaks in tastes and the mixing of complimentary flavours.

Although, as good as these milkshakes were, they are fairly easy to make. All one needs is a blender and the ability to push its buttons. In fact I often make my own milkshakes and decorated them more elaborate as these. And knowing what goes into each one, I would say I like mine just a bit more. However the waffle final touch is something I can’t do at home, and something I do praise them for here.

 

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.
They offer solid waffles in savoury or sweet varieties, but their milkshakes are what’s worth coming back for. Their shakes are a nice treat for when you don’t want the extra work of chewing your desserts. Come early to avoid the crowd, because you don’t get the same experience if you decide to take your milkshake on the road. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

OFF THE GRID
2665 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R 5H4
Off The Grid Waffles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hyoga Japanese Cuisine

IMG_4345IMG_4347

My food travels brought me to Kingsway for sushi. Recommend by my guests as an authentic Japanese restaurant. They were proud to advertise that they were Japanese owned and operated with a hand written sign, visible right on the door as you entered.

By looks alone, this wouldn’t be a typical restaurant I would choose at random, or would it even stop me as I walked by. It didn’t have some of the bell and whistles other Japanese and sushi restaurants in Vancouver did. There was nothing visually to set them apart. What they did have was a sign painted red and scraped for a distressed look. A traditional Japanese post that marked its location and lit the way at night. And a wooden sandwich board enticing you with colour photos of their specials and a full written description.

IMG_4346IMG_4375

Walking in, the place was equally simple in design. One wall was painted beige and sanded for a spiral textured pattern. The opposite wall was dark brown and streaked and matted with beige and rust orange paint. The same colour as the opposite wall and store’s sign out front.

There weren’t many tables seated: 4 for their 8. However the restaurant felt promising with tables occupied by Japanese speaking diners and a revolving door of all ethnicities picking up take out orders. It was just a shame that the dance pop music playing quietly in the kitchen broke the illusion of authenticity.

IMG_4363IMG_4365

The menu was a simple bounded listing. The first page tempted with a beautifully designed dragon roll. I had to get it. Although the photo differed slightly from what was delivered. Our shrimp tempura and cucumber filled dynamite roll, topped with avocado and grilled eel looked like a dragon, but was missing some of the detailing the photo showed. Instead of cute sprouts for the dragon’s antenna, ours had two fried noodle strands sticking out from its “head”. But at least it had the same tempura-ed shrimp tail sticking out like a tongue. The very animated looking roll had the avocado and eel placed across its “back” like scales on a snake and finished with dollops of mayo. Each piece was placed gingerly to make it look like it was snaking across the plate in movement. The rest of the empty space was filled with the Japanese character for “dragon” using a sticky soy based sauce. This sauce also functioned as a dipping element for each piece. Though throughout the meal, I did as my Japanese guest did and refrained from the use of soy sauce. For authentic experience, and because the rolls were plenty flavourful as they were.

The rest of the menu too offered a beautifully taken teaser photo for the section it introduced. Sashimi, nigri, rolls, etc. Not only did they specialize in the traditional, but they also incorporated the more modern takes on North American sushi like pressed box sushi and a deconstructed roll in a rice bowl.

IMG_4349IMG_4350

The “Hyoga sashimi carpaccio” was a unique twist on thinly sliced cuts of raw meat served in an acidic vinaigrette. But instead of beef they used salmon and yellowtail. And instead of lemon they introduced the Japanese citrus, yuzu. Yuzu juice was mixed into a creamy mayonnaise, giving the dish a oily and milky pool to sit in. A tuff of greens centred the dish. All together it tasted more like a spring seafood salad, but deconstructed. Especially with the vinaigrette that reminded me of a tangy thousand island dressing. This was defiantly a unique interpretation.

IMG_4353IMG_4358

Equally interesting is the very delicate flavours of the “Saba shiso ume roll”. It is mackerel and Japanese basil wrapped in rice and seaweed, and topped with a dollop of sour plum. Not only did it look beautiful in its simplicity, but it tasted like it to. Especially beautiful with the perfectly chosen vessel to display it on: this red wood pedestal bowl. And taken in with the use of lightweight wooden chopsticks: it made the meal all the more delicate.

As for the taste it was more fragrant than flavourful. The combination is nothing that I have had, not that I have had much exposure to Japanese basil and sour plum, let alone together in this contrasting pairing of strong flavours. You definitely didn’t want to dip this morsel into any wasabi or soy sauce. It was plenty sour and plenty herbaceous, it didn’t need the flavour of salt also battling it out. Nothing I would crave again, but a great palette cleaner in between more pungent tastes.

IMG_4360IMG_4361

The dish ware used to present the “Nasu dengaku” is what made it stand out. This was baked eggplant cooked in dark miso and spooned into a porcelain dish shaped like a lettuce leaf. You could tell they were made to order given the heat of each right through to its softened centre. Each chunk had a nice firm yet squishy texture, and was tasty with the sweetness of the miso sauce. I would have liked more of the sauce on the side for dipping, it was that good. The sauce would have been nice on anything from meat to sushi rolls.

IMG_4370IMG_4374

Their specialty were pressed rolls so we had to try one. The pressed hamachi (yellowtail) had tender fish over tender rice, both furthered soften by a creamy mayo. It had a nice smokey finish to it, thanks to the torched green onions.

IMG_4376IMG_4381

For dessert we had one of each of their in house churned ice creams. Red bean with actual chunks of bean. “Kinako” which is
roasted and ground soy bean powder, that reminded me of mild peanuts. And matcha with a bold flavour. They were delicious and complementary in their no so sweet flavour.

IMG_4388

And the meal finally ended with a hand written bill and a dish of jelly belly beans to share.

 

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.
Coming back from Toronto recently, with its over priced and not as nice sushi, I could taste the difference and appreciate our accessibility to fresh seafood at prices where you can afford to eat until you are full of fish on rice. And no better a representation of the accessibility of sushi then here. “Hyoga”, a hidden gem of sorts. Tucked away and here for those in the know. Recommended for fresh fish and authentic Japanese dishes served and made by Japanese chefs and Japanese servers. Enjoyed in a relaxed environment with attentive staff, your plate leaves empty and your cup stays full. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

HYOGA
2-3343 Kingsway, Vancouver BC, V5R5K6
604-438-0066
hyoga.ca
Hyoga Japanese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shining Garden Restaurant 麥田餐廳

IMG_0941

It was refreshing to not be directed to the Chinese restaurant my extended family always goes to for our late Chinese New Year dinner, but instead to the one beside it. My family knows what they like and likes only what they know. This was a much smaller restaurant, but at the same time a much newer one. In Chinese its name refers to wheat fields. The chosen English name, “shining garden” is more catchy.

IMG_0978IMG_0977

The restaurant was a tight squeeze. It was hard to maneuver around seats and harder to spot your party. Everything was packed in tight to capitalize on space and seat as many as possible during any given service. Without isle room or a clear walk way I was curious about its compliance to fire regulations. I can only picture the chaos that would ensure from a fire alarm. The main room was open, stocked with the usual live fish tanks with lobsters and crabs, hand written signs advertising the special in Chinese characters, and pendants of red and gold wishing for luck and prosperity. We stood at the foyer, glancing from face to face, to spot one that would be familiar. With not one staff member to approach us and not one person to direct us. With enough head twisting we soon discovered there were serval smaller rooms diverging from several corners. These sub rooms gave peace from the sea of chattering voices and the ability to host a larger party more intimately in their own nook. In hind sight, given the reputation of Chinese restaurants, it was no surprise that we were not greeted at the door by staff or helped to navigate the sea of heads. Instead our party found us and waved us to a small room to our right.

IMG_0979

I brought my partner with me. Raised in a small rural town in Quebec the extent of his experience in Chinese cuisine is very limited. That, and his particular dietary preferences/restrictions keep him from exploring the full extent of the cuisine. I bring him along for posterity and with the hopes some flavours would grow on him. He never liked seafood and the tank of live sea crustaceans always put him off. He deems Chinese restaurants dirty, a reasonable assumption given the age of most and the fact that upkeep and aesthetics are not a high priority. That and the cramped confines give the illusion of clutter and chaos. It also doesn’t help that they stored extra tables tops and chairs by the entrance in a most inconvenient way for those waiting for one to clear. He immediately questioned why there were apples on the floor. A sight hard to miss as it is the first thing you see walking through the door. I explained the concept of a shrine and the belief in offering something to a higher being out of respect and for wanting of good things in return. Until then I never realize how much of a culture shock this is to him. Though it is Vancouver and the blending of Chinese culture and Chinese families with Caucasian ones are in an abundance.

Back to the food: Most of the time my partner picks at what he knows and only tries what looks good to him. His dining at such places are not without a battery of questions. Today was a little different. Humourously, in a most accommodating of ways my extended family not only requested a fork and knife with a set of chopsticks for him, but also gave him the ability to choose a dish he would like. As most of you may know, Chinese meal are typically family style. Set menus where the one paying has the ability to choose what everyone else will be sharing. Large plates where everyone eats from, by way of utilizing the ability to rotate it around on a lazy Susan. The same happens dish after dish, one after another in several courses.

IMG_0945IMG_0946

My partner selected the very safe beef and broccoli with a bowl of rice. Tender chewy strips of beef with crisp broccoli florets. Flavourful and saucy, its preparation was nothing different from food court restaurant to Chinese restaurant.

IMG_0943IMG_0944

The soy chicken was one of the best I have had, and my favourite of the night. It came wonderfully arranged and with a nice golden hue. Normally such chicken dishes come red at the joints or with the occasional stay hair or skin tag. This was delicious with none of the above. Cooked thoroughly while maintaining a moist and tender texture. Well flavoured without the need for additional seasoning. It was just a shame that the bowls of rice to accompany it, took its time to arrive.

IMG_0949IMG_0947

Unlike it is usually, the shared soup dish was not the one to start the meal. It came two dishes later, but arrived just as good. My family’s favourite and usual order is the fish maw soup. It is presented in a large bowl and divided into smaller individual servings at the table. The soup was a thick broth with a syrup like consistency, and a jello-like texture from the ingredients used. It is best highlighted by a dash of red vinegar for a contrast in taste.

IMG_0951IMG_0952

You got to love the straight forward English names for all these dishes: there kinds of seafood with vegetable. Scallop, prawn, and squid over celery, snow peas, onion, ginger, and the occasional decoratively cut carrot slice. The sauce was a thick gel that coated each ingredient. It was a nice contrast to the crisp peas, crunchy celery, rubbery squid, soften scallop, and chewy prawn.

IMG_0954IMG_0957

The half order of salt and pepper crab came with more legs than expected. But without a nutcracker or finger bowl served in company we held off digging in right away. Not that I enjoyed any once it came. I don’t like getting my hands dirty when I eat. Especially if using them only earns me mediocre dividends. By the time you crack into a crab leg or are able to slurp out some meat at its joint, what you get is not worth the effort you are required to put in. The sauce was flavourful, but most of it squandered, slathered on shells. Though some do enjoy sucking on shells.

IMG_0960IMG_0961

The black bean halibut was a surprise hit. I have never had fish this good. I didn’t even know fish could be this good. Lightly battered and deep fried chunks of tender fish blocks. They were spongy on the outside and flaky in the centre. There were bones embedded, but they were large enough and easy enough to avoid. Surprisingly the leftovers of this were just as good the next day, and if possible more flavourful in lieu of some of the crunch they lost after a stint in the fridge and a spin in the microwave.

IMG_0965IMG_0964

Abalone mushroom on bok choy. The mushroom is a close imitation of the expensive abalone in look, taste, and texture. Both are soft, with a rubbery gel like quality. And when seasoned with a rich seafood broth its taste is a decent substitution. Though together with soggy bok soy I found the dish too soft for my taste. I like a bit more crunch and more texture to work your teeth around, and more flavours and spice to wrap your tongue around.

IMG_0967IMG_0968

The sweet and sour pork chop went best with the fried rice below. Large pieces of pork like this tends to be tough, especially when cut and served in a variety of shapes and sizes. However each of the four pieces I had were just as tender from one to the other. An easy glide with a serrated blade made cutting off bite size portions easy. This isn’t your food court or westernized version of sweet and sour pork, it was ten times better. Image that flavour but more grown up. Less use of sugar and pineapple and more of sauces a layer of flavours. My second favourite dish of the night. So good that I helped myself to its leftovers.

IMG_0969IMG_0970

The meal ended with a mound of shrimp and BBQ fried rice. Most Chinese family share style meals end in a carb heavy dish. Noodles, or in this case rice, allows those still peckish to leave the restaurant with a happy and full belly. The rice was very classic in preparation and flavour. It was oily yet light, dry and crispy, and packed full of flavour. The larger chunks of BBQ pork meant you didn’t need a meat dish to accompany your bowl of rice. Though I found it went well with a bite of pork chop and a scoop of its sauce.

IMG_0973IMG_0975

For dessert we each had our own bowl of back rice with tapioca dessert. This was a new one for me. It looked like the more common red bean dessert, and had its same sandy and gritty in texture. But it tasted lighter and had the tapioca pearls to give each bite some interest. Better than red bean, but not enjoyable enough to have me finish a whole bowl, or even take in more after a sip.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If you have read any of my previous posts on Chinese restaurants you know that I find them hard to write about. I find the decor similar from shop to shop and the food consistent from kitchen to kitchen. It is like they all follow the same set of instructions. A check list of how to run a Chinese seafood restaurant, what is required, what should be served, and how to prepare it. A restaurant void of art, but makes up for it in available seats. A menu 20 pages long, listing every dish and all its variations. Though having said that I don’t often read the menu or even vary from what I know. The benefits of a family dinner, the older generations take care of such planning and organizing, on top of the bill. Staff that are abrupt, and a smile is not necessary so long as they have speed on their side. You leave full with styrofoam boxes filled with meals for the next few days, and the sent of fried Chinese food lingering on your clothes and hair. Don’t deny your cravings.

SHINING GARDEN
2461 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver BC, V5N5E5
604-258-9018
Shining Garden Restaurant 麥田餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Kwan Luck Restaurant

What is open on a statutory holiday? You can always count on Chinese restaurants. We were here celebrating Christmas on Boxing Day and it was no surprise that the restaurant was not dressed for the occasion.

IMG_6200IMG_6201

Parking was a challenge. Limited spots in the limited lot out front meant taking laps around the block, and eventually parking across the street. Or in the case of a couple of vans: illegally parking in the middle of said lot, and blocking the possible exit of the other vehicles they choose to box in. This, their strategy instead of finding a less convenient spot a short walk away.

As for the restaurant my French Canadian partner didn’t even make it through the door. As a self proclaimed particular eater he was wary going in, but was ultimately scared away by what he saw through the barred windows. First it was the unappetizing sight of their washroom’s interior, made visible from the entrance. A single stalled room with dank tiles and a grungy sink. This was one of the last things you wanted to see before sitting down to eat. If this is how they keep their facilities, I can only imagine the state of their kitchen. My partner then grew more disgusted by the condition of their seafood tanks. So bothered that he refused to move any further in to the restaurant. In fact, he didn’t even make it past the threshold. 

IMG_6202

The tanks especially were a sight he was unfamiliar with, as he very seldomly visits such Chinese restaurants. It was a double decker set of tanks; the temporary home to fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. A blue background with pockets of filth and grime, it wasn’t meant to be an enjoyable stay. During busier nights I have seen such tanks filled to capacity. Shellfish with claws rubber banded together, attempting a break out by climbing over their tank mates. I have always felt bad about the living condition of the seafood forced to bid their time. Though on the same token, realize it is not for an extended stay. Just a practical way to serve fresh seafood I guess.

IMG_6206IMG_6207

The restaurant was pretty generic. The off yellow lights gave the setting an aged look. An worn-ness that was furthered by the faded peach coloured table cloths. Cloths used and reused, embroidered with a pattern of roses in bloom. A curtain detail hung over the plastic pull blinds. Their golden tassels hanging made an attempt at dressing up the place. They also matched the wood chairs with their gold and brown upholstery. This too helped to give the place a more formal tone, as it balanced the lack of effort made in the wall decor. Television sets mounted on opposing walls, had customers tuning in more for background noise than a foreground distraction. In fact the hand written menu options on coloured construction paper garnered more views. Chinese characters written in sharpie, similar to the writing on the small white board that hung on the wall adjacent. I found the writing on the wall did little to urge me to wanting what they were selling.

The room was packed. A heated, restaurant with no air circulation. Hot food eaten by warm blooded bodies, all in a confined space. It hardly made you feel like staying any longer than necessary to digest your meal. My famished family spent no longer than an hour there, and most of the time was spent waiting for our food.

The tables were to capacity, with lingering bodies by the door. I didn’t envy them. Two families sharing two spare chairs by the two washrooms. They were seated amongst storage items, forced to breathe in the scent of water tanks; while bearing with the sounds of continuous water running. I couldn’t be sure whether the crowd was here due to the season and the statutory holiday, or was this the restaurant’s regular busy traffic. The crowd was composed of all older asians and their younger families. The volume of the room was boisterous, you added to it each time you spoke. Though there was a need to shout to be heard. In actuality, the majority of this chatter was from the high pitch crying of various babies.

I always find Chinese menus intimidating to navigate, and it doesn’t help that I am not fluent in the script or speak. Such menus often have very few photos with very little English in its descriptions. I wouldn’t know what to have and couldn’t rely on the servers to give their recommendations. The language barrier alone was too much. They don’t describe any one dish specifically, and any slight variation from one ingredient to the other often changes the dish completely. Not to mention there is just so much pressure in selecting a dish that is to be shared family-style by a group. So for all those reasons I sat back and allowed my parents to order on my behalf. They generally know what’s best and I am not really a picky eater. In fact, according to my father, the way the food is prepared here is most similar to that of a traditional home cooked meal, in flavour and setting. The dining experience is meant to be more casual and mostly comfortable. Closer to something you would have at home then at any restaurant, ironically. I could see this being true with the quaintness of it all.

IMG_6203IMG_6205

There was a long wait to be seated, but with reservations it was nothing we had to worry about. We were instead faced with a longer wait, waiting for our food. As a result we were given a complimentary full serving of bean curd soup to tie us over. This is notable as it is the first time I have seen this sort of gesture at a Chinese restaurant. It was a clear stock soup made from stewed beef on bones, whole soy beans, and carrots cut into chunks. A full flavoured broth without much oil, it was a nice slow start for the heavy meal ahead.

IMG_6217IMG_6218

We also ordered our own soup, and really didn’t need two large servings of two different kinds of soups. Like the one before it, it was served share style in a large bowl. Presented with a ladle and individual bowls for you to self serve. Also something not common at most Chinese restaurant. Usually the server assists in doling out portions, often so quickly that they make a mess out of the tablecloth.

IMG_6219

“Crab meat with fish maws in soup”. We immediately noticed the unappealing grey smear of the soup. It looked lifeless, like what you’d imagined the hue of bland food would be. Looking at it, it didn’t exactly make you want any. Though the addition of red vinegar and salted pepper did help to pick things up in both colour and taste. But first you had to get over the unappetizing reusable plastic containers both came in. When were these last cleaned out and wiped down? This is the kind of soup that is best enjoyed hot, but got saltier the more you drank. The tender gel-like fish maw, dangerously hid tiny plastic-like bones. I spent a great deal of time pulling chunks of it off my tongue and out from between my lips.

IMG_6220IMG_6222

“Steamed pork toro slices with cauliflower”. The crispy wok fried vegetable was a nice contrast to the softer pieces of pork neck. The dish was cooked well and was clearly centred around the cauliflower. Filling, but unmemorable. 

IMG_6210IMG_6212

“Beef brisket and daikon hot pot”. A stew of tender beef that pulled apart, daikon cubes that melted in your mouth, and a gravy so rich it was more solid than liquid. Clearly this won my vote as the best dish of the night. It was taken as is, but would have been more enjoyable over a bowl of light and fluffy steamed white rice. But that would have been extra and we already ordered a noodle filler, below.

IMG_6223IMG_6226

“House special chow mien or fried rice”. You make your preferred selection between the two carbohydrates, we went with the former. The trick to achieving these crispy strands of noodles is to deep fry it before bathing in its savoury garlic sauce. It gave the noodles two distinctive textures and made them interesting to eat. Surrounding them were pieces of tender chicken, crunchy broccoli florets, rubbery mushrooms caps, and waxy cuttlefish segments and whole shrimp. It was a smorgasbord of textures and flavours, a dish that ate like a complete meal.


IMG_6213IMG_6215

Your choice of live seafood was between scallops, oysters, prawns, cod fish, lobster, crab, tilapia fish, sole fish, and king crab. Each one was made to your liking, with your choice of sauce. We choose the classic and ever popular cream crab. One choice out of a Chinese listing of over fifteen versions. What looked like only a half portion of this popular crustacean was actually a whole serving of a much smaller crab. The distinctive butter sauce masked any flavour of the crab. This was just as well, I enjoyed the easy to scoop sauce more compared to the flakes of crab. Crab meat that required getting your hands messy and putting in a lot of work for very little yield. As a whole the dish was on the saltier side and more work than its worth.

IMG_6227IMG_6231

Our meal ended with my parents urging us to finish our plates and the presentation of a complimentary desserts. We were asked to find a way to feed a few more bites into our bulging bellies. It was a request made with the intention of not having any of it go waste, and not wanting to pack most of it to go. Speaking of going, it was time to go, and our level of service went with it. There was no choice in desserts, the “tapioca pearls with egg dessert” was our only option and therefore presented to us without asking. I was happy, I rather it over a sweetened bowl of red bean soup. Five bowls for four people were offered on a large plastic serving tray. On this tray was a large spill, it was left un-sponged, pooling around the bases of individually portioned out bowls. The mess made the exterior and the handles of a few of the bowls and spoons sticky. Presented at room temperature, the dessert soup would have been nicer if heated. This was a pretty simple, but winning combination of tapioca mixed with coconut and condense milk.It was sweet, with a thick and refreshing quality; similar to a fusion of jello and porridge combined. I found it enjoyable to slurp up the pearls, to take in each little round through a small gap between my lips. Overall so good that I had the extra serving.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
There was nothing remarkable about this restaurant. Nothing that made it stand out against its competitors. Nothing that made it any different than the restaurant across the street. The food was decent, and the setting had nothing I would go out of may way to avoid. Though at the same time it offered me nothing to have me wanting a return trip. Just another generic Chinese restaurant offering more menu items than customers seated. Don’t deny your cravings.

KWAN LUCK
2516 Kingsway Street, Vancouver BC, V5R5H2
604-431-3890
Kwan Luck Restaurant 君悅海鮮中菜館 on Urbanspoon

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén