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Pink Pearl presents 4 Decades of Dim Sum

Today I was invited to a Chinese Bites event meant to celebrate “Pink Pearl” restaurant’s 5th reopening anniversary. I was one of 50 other food bloggers and social media influencers invited to take a journey through the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s and 2010’s, via dim sum.

As always, 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.

“Pink Pearl” is one of the longest lasting Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, they have proven their staying power over the years by surviving a fire that threatened to shut them down. They are best known as one of the only places in the city that still serves dim sum with traditional push carts. Something that requires plenty of space and planning on their part, as well as more work for little gains. To consider the necessary distance between tables, in order to pivot carts, means less seating is made available, and therefore the decrease of profits. Then there is the need for preparations proper planning to ensure you make enough food and the right kinds of food to be picked up from your cart, while it is still hot.

Before we began there were a few welcoming speeches, including mention of their fundraising initiative. The restaurant is looking to support the food bank by offering a multi course dinner, where the money for the tickets will go to fund the food bank’s need for non perishables. The theme behind this would be “Four decades of Chinese dinners”, at Pink Pearl. Tickets are sold by the table. $568 for a table of 10-12, and the price includes taxes and gratuity. This was a nice touch and something that echoed this morning’s “4 decades of dim sum” event.

All the dishes that would be coming to us today were laid out on an informative card. Although they weren’t in order of the card’s listing, or even by decade. Which I think would have been a nice idea, along with a little speech regarding the history of each dim sum item, to educate us diners. The following is the order in which all the food arrived.

But to watch the evolution of dim sum in order of decades and on video, visit the link below.

 

From the 2000’s we had the ever popular dim sum classic of “steamed shrimp dumplings”. A solid, rounded, chunk of sweet shrimp within a shell of chewy starch.

We then jumped further back in time with the 1990’s “lotus wrapped stuffed sticky rice”. This was a bundle of sticky rice for everyone to share, served and made fragrant in its leafy wrapper. The filling was the most I have had in such a dish. Full pieces of chicken on bone, chunks of Chinese sausage, and a golden yolk.

Taking another decade back, before going forward again we had the “1980’s Duck-web wrap”. This is actually my first time having duck feet, the webbing throws me off visually. But wrapped with toes covered like this made things a lot easier to swallow, figuratively and literally. Each foot is wrapped up in a tofu sheet with taro, ham, and mushroom. It was all flavoured in the same sweet and starchy light gravy. I could have done with out the vegetable and ham, as I ended up unwrapping everything and eating it all piece by piece anyways.

Back in the 2000’s we had their “steamed sticky rice roll”. This one was new to me. They combined two dim sum favourites into one. Chewy sticky rice with bits of Chinese sausage and ground pork, stuffed into soft white buns. It was a blending of two textures I like with its taste coming from the seasoning of the rice. The rice was not un-similar to the one served in the bundles of lotus leaves above.

The “1990’s mini steamed pork bun” was another one I am very familiar with. Sweet honey glazed barbecue pork in a perfectly spongy white bun dough. This had a good ratio of meat to bao.

The 1980’s had “shrimp toast”, as another dim sum classic that I have never had. It was a whole shrimp embedded into a triangle of toast. Interesting in presentation and delicious in theory, however I found it far too oily to consume more than a bite of. There was too much butter and oil, causing everything else to be lost and drowning in it.

2010’s had “hand-made steamed shrimp rice rolls”. They were served undressed, but the dish of soy it came with was a necessity for flavour and kick. The rolls tasted absolutely fresh and the table at the plates clean.

So far everyone was thrown off by all the dishes from the 1980’s, and the feeling was furthered by this interpretation of the popular pork dumpling: siu mai; named “liver and pork dumplings”. It wasn’t the most visually attractive, sitting in a pool of glistening grease, and without the yellow wonton wrapper that many use as a visual cue for the traditional dish. And then there was the cut of liver that topped it, not many folks like the iron-y taste and sandy texture of liver. But for me and a handful of others, it represents childhood and being forced to eat such organ meats by your parents, who insisted that it is good for you. Having been socialized to it, I actually like liver prepared liked this and found it delicious. Cooked tender and not so overpowering in taste as to hide the flavour of the pork ball it balanced on.

But the next 1980’s dish I wasn’t as such a fan of. This was yet another dim sum item that was new to me. We each received a “pan fried half moon dumpling” served with a scoop of soup. The former is a two bite, fried pastry with a chalky shell. You can’t make out, let alone taste the specks of filling within it. Overall it was fairly dry and didn’t have much taste as is, so we figured it was meant to be dipped. The tangy light broth helped to balance out its oily texture. And it gave the dumpling a herbal yet citrusy flavour, not that it necessary matched one to the other.

We then jump back up two decades with the 2010’s “wok fried lotus root and fresh mushrooms”. This dish was served family style with celery, carrot, black fungus, and goji berries (which I will talk more about down below). The lotus root was served frimer than what I am use two, it had a starchy finish to it and required some back of teeth chewing to gnaw through. It matched well with the other crisp vegetables in this sticky, mild gravy. A good side, but felt incomplete as is.

 

The 2010’s “hand-made steamed beef rice rolls” were not unlike the shrimp ones we had earlier. Except here the filling was ground up beef seasoned herbaceously with ginger, spring onion, and I believe cilantro. This too required the sweet light soy sauce to make it pop.

We then transition to dessert for our last two dishes, although it is common to get the dim sum sweet served before or along side the dim sum savoury. This is because desserts are often prepared ahead of time, and are typically ready for serving before any other dishes are wok fried or steamed to order.

The 1990’s had this “black and white sweet sesame roll”. Diana from Foodology described its look best by calling them “film canisters”. A layer of black and white glutinous rice flour fused together and rolled up. The flavour of the sesame in the dessert was mild. The seeds sprinkled above it offered more of sesame essence, although I would have preferred them toasted for a nice smokey flavour.

And lastly we finished at our current decade with this 2010’s “gojoy gojiberries gelle”. It was a nice, light berry finish made with the goji berries in mind. The berries added a nice textural chew and gave pops of juice to the otherwise dry jello.

Today’s event was also sponsored by two local goji berry farmers from “Gojoy”. “Gojoy” is one of the first to farm goji berries here in Canada. Starting every June to the end of summer, on their acreage, you have the ability to visit them for “you pick”. This is where you get to pick your own fruit from their actual orchid and get charged for how much you pick. They attended this event today to showcase their goji berry smoothie mix before the event, along with bags of frozen berries you can take home and thaw out to use as needed. They also spoke to the application of goji berries in cooking as seen in the savoury lotus dish above and now this jello-like dessert. The berries are easy to tie in to Chinese cuisine, as it is already noted in Chinese culture for its medicinal properties. They are now scientifically proven to be beneficial for the eyes, liver, and kidney.

 

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.
I haven’t been back to “Pink Pearl” in years, until today. This was one of my parent’s favourite places for Chinese seafood dinners and dim sum, growing up. But I think we actually stopped coming in, after they burnt down and took half a year to rebuild. So to see them get back on their feet and continue to try and do new things, to bring in a larger, more diverse crowd is inspiring. This was a great event, offering a very unique way to showcase the familiarity of dim sum. Hopefully they do this and more of it, more often; offering a variation of today’s event to the paying public. It will not only bring in fans of Chinese cuisine, but even those unfamiliar and willing to learn through ingesting. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

PINK PEARL
1132 East Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6A 1S2
604-253-4316
pinkpearlrestaurant.ca
Pink Pearl Chinese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Upstairs At Campagnolo

How a $50 burger the size of my fist was worth every penny that I spent on it.

 

Both Diana of “Foodology” and myself read the same article by Ken Tsui for “Scout Magazine”. In it he speaks of the best burger in town being Robert Belcham’s famous Dirty Burger from Campagnolo. That was enough of an endorsement for us to visit, and for me to film our experience with the one of the “best cheap eats in all of Vancouver”, as ranked by the readers of “Scout”.

To skip the reading, watch the video of our encounter with the “Gang bang burger” here.

This attic bar is part of Campagnolo, literally named “Upstairs at Campagnolo” and physically up a flight of stairs to the right of its entrance. The room is dark with mystery and interesting with artifacts. Most iconic is the red and yellow neon dragon lighting your way as you ascend up the stairs.

The room centres around the bar, which we chose to be seated at, due to its preferred lighting. Behind it, the room’s bartender and sever stood at the ready. Here, you go to him o order and pay, an understanding their patrons had, along with the fact that the “dirty burger” was the one to get. Without the possibility of reservations, others like us came early, right at 6pm when they opened their doors, to ensure our desired meal. They often run out of their burgers early. They service and serve until late, but the burgers sell out well before, typically by 8:30pm. And this evening, with 10 people being served, and each ordering a dirty burger, some with multiple patties (like mine), they were already half way through their stock tonight, and it was only 7pm, an hour into service.

Their food menu didn’t list any of the ingredients for any of their limited menu. So the list below is taken off of Ken Tsui’s well written article.

Foodology ordered the the classic “ Dirty Burger”. “The Dirty Burger” is a 4oz, 40-day dry-aged beef patty topped with fresh tomato, lettuce, house-made pickles, a slice of American cheese, and their signature secret sauce. All inside a Scotch bap bun baked downstairs. I can see why it is so popular. It is all in the well seasoned and well pressed burger patty, the butter lettuce and equally buttery bun helped as well.

From here there are customizable options for your burger. An ingredient or two added on for more, and a more elaborate burger. According to some, in order to get these customizable options, you need to know their codes names. But in reality, although fun, it is unnecessary.

Our third, Mr Foodology had the “In the Sun”. The same “dirty burger”, but with the addition of a perfectly yolky sunny side up egg. I grew up with a South East Asian diet, so often find sandwiches lacking when they don’t feature a fried egg. Here, it not only gave the burger flavour, but that distinct runny gooey-ness I love as well.

Asking for a “Foghorn, Leghorn” got you a layer of fried chicken skin within your burger. An addition so delicious sounding, that we decided to get an appetizer plate of just chicken skins to share. It is served with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce that really helps it to pop, along with the fresh chopped chives. The sheet of skin was like a chicken chip in texture, and delicious taste. It was great served warm, yet still stood up after a day in the fridge. I would go back just for more of this.

“The Protester” added a 80g of rich, pan-seared foie gras to the dirty burger base. But being the greedy person that I am, I went ahead and got the whole bang, with the “Gangbang”. This was all the add ons and double the patty count. Two of their perfected beef patties, a sunny side egg, crispy chicken skin, pimento cheese, and 80g of foie gras.

In reality my burger was delivered to Mr. Foodology. I guess the assumption was a girl wouldn’t order such a decadent and calorie ridden burger, for a price tag of $50. I was such a woman. And not only did I want it, I finished it, and had no regrets with my meal. It isn’t an every day expenditure, but I truly enjoyed it, and still think back to it fondly. Though I think the dirty burger with one party, pimento cheese, and egg with a side of chicken skin would be the ideal order for me.

The burger was stacked tall and hard to take an initial bite into. More of it landed on my plate, joining the quickly growing pool of oil and grease that was collecting. It didn’t deter me as I even ended up licking the plate with oily mouth and sticky hands. The cheese was noticeable for its salty flavour, the foie gras missed, and the chicken skin an improvement for its crunch giving texture.

And a tidbit from the “Foodologys” is that this is only place that they know of that serves Mexican coke. Apparently their Coca Cola is sweetened with plain cane sugar, meaning you don’t get that high fructose corn syrup taste as you do with regular coke. Nothing I have noticed before, but am now aware of is an issue. I would like to return to try this as well.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I have already expressed intentions of bringing my partner here. They offer a really good burger worth having an early bird dinner for. One for the purists who love an clean build, and options for the adventurous who want a little more meat between the buns. A little small in my books, but it does satisfy with a thicker patty. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

CAMP UPSTAIRS
1020 Main Street, Vancouver BC
604-484-6018
campagnolorestaurant.ca
Upstairs At Campagnolo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beta5 turns 5

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Beta5 turns 5 Birthday

 

“Beta 5” is one of those places that I constantly keep an eye on. They have mastered the art of “keep them coming back for more”. They do this with a strong rotation of seasonal offerings, desserts created to celebrate occasions, and different weekend-only specials. There is always a reason to keep them in mind.

And today’s reason was their birthday celebration. 2016 is their 5th year open and operating, and they promised to celebrate with festivities and giveaways for us, their loyal customers. They had prepared a birthday themed sundae, cream puff, and chocolates to commemorate to occasion.

They are located in an industrial area, and for those who have never been, the trip may get tricky. Their shop is one of many that rent out a garage unit. Here “Beta 5” has its shop up front, and their kitchen in the back. Behind the cash desk you get a look at their back of house assembly and operations through a window.

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Recently they have refurbished the table that once held all their pre packages chocolates for sale. Instead of being a display table, it now offers customers a place to perch up against, and enjoy their treat on. On either ends of it sits a bouquet of seasonal flowers, and a stack of tissues held in place by a jar holstering some plastic cutlery. Located by the open garage door, with natural light streaming in, the table also makes the ideal spot to indulge in some food photography. However, on his busy day, they found it best to once again use this table as a display unit, to help to not encourage loitering and congestion in an already tight space.

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We made sure to be there first thing when they opened at 10am, as the first 25 customers were rewarded for their time and patience with loot bags. We wanted to be one of those and were successful in our mission. However, arriving at 8:30am we weren’t the first. By the time we got out of our car at 9am there were already 7 people standing in front of us. And by the time 10am hit there were over 40 individuals in line. My guest and I have never waited for anything free before, but this seemed worth our effort. Worth it, even with us not knowing what would be waiting for us within these bags.

Our prize contained a six piece box of their birthday bons bons and one of their dark chocolate polygon bars.

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The birthday chocolates were speckled in rainbow, filled with luscious hazelnut chocolate ganache, and had the surprise crisp and pop of pop rock candy.

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I am not a fan of dark chocolate, but the quality was evident in their 66% polygon bar. It was only slightly bitter, and not as sweet for those who like a more mild dessert.
The unique surface of the bar speaks to the mountainous landscape they see as they look out the window while at work.

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Similar in design were their two limited edition polygon bars released for this occasion. A chocolate with pretzel and peanut brittle and a dark chocolate with freeze dried raspberry, pop rocks, and caramelized coconut. We each got one of the latter and tried our luck. They have a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” like contest going on, where if you find one of their special gold ticket bars, you win a prize. Ten of these bars sold this weekend would be flaked with gold leaf. Prizes for them range from a four piece box of cream puffs to a signature chocolate gift box. We sadly didn’t win. But were able to put our names in a draw, that we also didn’t win.

The actual bar was dotted in pink and white. Despite its candy coloured look, it actually turned out more bitter than the dark chocolate bar above. It was tart from both the freeze dried raspberries and the dark chocolate itself, but at the same time lovely with the lightness of pop rocks. Though I still would have preferred the bar to be sweeter, with more raspberry flavouring.

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We were also able to claimone of their limited edition birthday cake flavoured “party puffs” before they were sold out of them. Vanilla custard, whipped vanilla ganache, confetti cupcake, and a chocolate balloon. It was like any of their signature cream puffs. Completely fresh, made in house, and assembled in the back by a legion of chefs. Outside the puff was light and moist. Inside the creamy centre was a luscious cakey vanilla. It tasted like a cupcake, but without the strength of an overly sweet frosting, or the texture of a light and fluffy sponge. The balloon was the touch of whimsy, that most of their puffs are known for.

We would not stay for the 12pm hand out of free mini cream puffs, having already paid for the full version and not regretting it. However we would return for their birthday sundae, only being served from 1-5pm.

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The “birthday bash sundae” is one scoop chocolate straciatella ice cream, one scoop fior de latte ice cream, chocolate cake crumble, chocolate sauce, an edible Tahitian vanilla birthday cake candle, and vanilla Chantilly cream. It was a solid sundae with complimentary flavours. Mild vanilla ice cream meets a double chocolate ice cream with shards of chocolate and a bourbon-like kick. The cookie crumble on the side offered a nice crunch. The “candle” was soft and chewy in the centre like a cake pop, but in stick format. From it you definitely enjoyed the essence of vanilla. With this there were so many tastes and textures to explore. Each spoonful different, with seven different elements to sort though, and that is the whole point of a sundae.

And seeing as we were already here, we decided to explore more of the regular offerings for the season. They currently have their summer selection of cream puffs and eclairs for sale at $5 and $6 each.

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I was entranced by the piña colada, an all black cream puff. The juxtapose of white coconut severed black as ash. It was a wonderfully unique colour for a dessert. You couldn’t help but to stain your lips with it, as you greedily bit in. Within the puff was a nice yellow cream that gave you more of the coconut essence.

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The “Neapolitan eclair” was cute with its mini ice cream cone balancing on top. It was strawberry, vanilla and chocolate cremeux, with Neapolitan mousse and a caramelized white chocolate crunch. It tasted like Pocky strawberry with creamy vanilla, delicious.

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The “Ants on a log eclair” was just as cute and so original. It was milk chocolate and peanut whipped ganache, celery whipped ganache, and a white chocolate celery stick. The peanut butter flavour was fairly pronounced in this.

I loved it all, but just wished that they had boxes that better supported and transported these treats. A quick turn in my car had my treats tipping over, thus making them less impressive when the diner finally bit in.

In week’s past, I was also able to head down and take advantage for their last ice cream social weekend. To mark the last day, they featured a Harry Potter theme sundae with the music from the Harry Potter movie soundtrack playing overhead.

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This is the “Butterbeer sundae”. It is made with a scoop of chocolate stout ice cream and one of butterscotch ripple. It is topped with a chocolate wand casting a cotton candy spell, chocolate feathers of an owl, a chocolate wizard’s hat, and chocolate cake pieces with vanilla Chantilly cream. It was delicious, but it was truly the extra chocolate embellishments that set it apart.

 

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.
If they continue to keep things fresh and relevant, and continue to churn stunning and delicious desserts, they will continue to see me returning season after season. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BETA 5
413 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-669-3336
shop.beta5chocolates.com
BETA5 Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

BETA5 Chocolates

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A couple of weeks left before Beta 5 switched their menu to summer 2016, and I had yet to try one of their more photo worthy cream puffs, of their Spring 2016, in Bloom collection.

With so many seasonal items to try we made our choices count. One of each of the three new cream puffs. And one of their ice cream sundaes, only available during the hotter weather.

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You had a choice of their in house made ice cream as is, as part of sundae, or in between two slices for an ice cream sandwich. This would be my first time having one of their ice cream treats, only trying the bakery as whole, for the first time last winter. My interest in them only grew when I visited Toronto, and the owner of a local bakery mentioned his appreciation of “Beta 5”. This was after I mentioned that I was from Vancouver.

Every Saturday they hold their weekly event called the “ice cream social”. Attending this was the only way you could indulge in their seasonal ice cream. We were here on a Friday, but were more than content with selecting something from their regular ice cream menu. The flavours were a 66% dark chocolate, raspberry ripple, raspberry sorbet, and a cherry straciatella.

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We got the latter as a sundae. I excepted each sundae to be topped differently based on the ice cream that was its base. Instead you choose your flavour and wished it matched their chocolate on chocolate toppings. Each sundae includes chocolate sauce, cocoa nib chantilly, milk and dark chocolate aerated rocks, milk and dark chocolate almonds, and chunks of fresh brownie. Although considering that the cherry straciatella included shards of chocolate, along with whole cherries; this may have been overboard on the chocolate. The most complimentary of the toppings was the peanuts, that flowed with our cherries. The aerated rock was the most interesting. It’s bubbly texture looked like coral and tasted like Aero chocolate bars. And the brownie pieces were perfect little bites of gooey and chewy. In hind sight we should gave taken the clerk’s suggestion of ordering a double scoop to share. At the end there was more topping than ice cream to enjoy it with. The ice cream was okay and I am glad to have tried it, but this wouldn’t be my first stop for ice cream again. I will stick to their chocolates or puffs.

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Each cream puff was work of art. Skillfully piped and delicately assembled, so that no two flavour are alike. Each was a spongy puff hiding a luscious cream filling and topped with flavoured whipped.

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The “almond lavender” cream puff was a stunner. It embodies spring and new life with a nest, flowers, and a robin’s egg. Filled with almond mousse and honey lavender. Topped with a whipped ganache, kataifi nest, and almond butter chocolate egg. “Kataifi” is a special type of pastry that resembles angel hair pasta. It made the perfect texture for a light nest. The filling was delicate and pretty, neither lavender or almond, but a different flavour created by bringing the two together. The egg on top was similar to one of those candy coated chocolate eggs you guy at the grocery store during Easter, but better. You could taste the quality that went into making it.

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The “milk chocolate praline” was not as overpowering as it looked. With a line up that included a milk chocolate and hazelnut praline mousse, chocolate financier, and a milk chocolate and hazelnut whipped ganache; it surprisingly wasn’t too sweet. A “financier” is light and moist cake, similar to sponge. The mousse was rich with a hint of bitterness from the chocolate.

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The “strawberry and rhubarb” cream puff was strawberry mousse, rhubarb compote, vanilla whipped ganache, and a miniature strawberry-rhubarb pie crust. Each looked like a mini pie with its sugar topped an oven baked pastry topper. They even gave the cap a crust and a cut out with a bit of red showing through to add to the accuracy. With the inclusion of fruit, this was the most fresh of all three and the sweetest. That is why having it a day after took away from its intended flavour.

I wish we had more room and more funds to explore the rest of the spring menu. Not only the mint ice cream sandwich, but the chocolates, eclairs, and the candies too.

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The Spring 2016 Chocolate Collection had new and award-winning flavours that promised to remind you of spring. “With fresh flavours and colours to bring on the happiness of the season in bloom”. I mostly appreciated the paint job of the rainbow coloured chocolate domes done with paintbrush strokes. Shame they weren’t going to be around for pride. Though “Beta 5” does a great job of being that seasonal stop. They typically offer limited edition treats to celebrate such occasions.

The flavours included a “strawberry and olive oil” in white chocolate. The “Sparkling Praline” was filled with hazelnut and almond, then enrobed in chocolate with pop rocks. The “dark chocolate and mint” was a familiar flavour, best when sharp. The “Carrot Cake”‘was a roasted carrot caramel paired with spiced walnut. “Almond and Lavender came with local honey and fresh lavender. And the “Rhubarb Oatmeal” was a tart rhubarb jelly paired with a toasted oatmeal. If you liked the flavours in the cream puffs, you could easily take them to go as these one bite pieces of chocolate.

The eclair had the same base and filling of the cream puffs, but in a different presentation. Their version is more like lady fingers, with their slender widths. Available in strawberry and olive oil, dark chocolate and mint, and lemon poppyseed. A little bit more embellishment at $1 more than the larger sized cream puffs.

 

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.
This is definitely one to visit when stopping in or living in Vancouver. If not to bring home some tasty souvenirs, but to marvel at their showmanship season after season. And given how they were able to build up their brand and the excitement that follows the launch of each new collection, I will most definitely be back. I tend to wait until the buzz subsides before visiting myself, but always make sure I get to see and try each of their buzz worthy flavours myself. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BETA 5
413 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-669-3336
shop.beta5chocolates.com
BETA5 Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pie Hole

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I was gifted a box of pies, nothing says love and care like a box of pies. I personally would prefer a box of pies over a box of chocolates any day. And why have one big pie when you can have four mini pies? Especially when they offer so many unique flavours to try them in.

The “Pie Hole”, pie company currently doesn’t have their own retail space. You can only get their pies through certain restaurants and/or cafes in which they sell to. You can also order a pie through their website by clicking on drop downs and customizing crust and size. And with 48 hours notice you get a fresh pie to pick up. Although you need to keep in mind that their bakery/kitchen has certain available pick up times, and that they aren’t open on weekends. Luckily pies keep well in the refrigerator, and last longer than you usual cake or doughnut.

Online they offer plenty of pies to choose from in both sweet and savoury varieties. Classic fruit pies like cherry, apple, raspberry, and lemon meringue. And more unique ones, that are exclusive to them like the “raw avocado key lime pie” for vegans, a “maple French toast bacon pie” for those who want to eat their breakfast for dessert, and a bourbon pumpkin pie for those who like some kick with their butter and sugar. For savoury options they had ones featuring beef, chicken, pork, turkey, salmon, and vegetable. “Steak and stout”, “bacon cheeseburger”, “Thai chicken”, “salmon chowder”, “bangers and mash”, and a “Mac and cheese” pie; just to name a few. And if you are looking for even more, they aren’t just pies. They also do ice cream sandwiches with cheese, butter tarts made with Bailey’s; and their own take on the cake pop, but with a golden brown pie at the end of a stick.

The pies I would be trying below were from a pop up shop. I kept them chilled, but they are best warmed up and eaten with ice cream. I sampled a little bit of each because I feel food is best, when you get to taste and compare flavours to see what you like from one to the other.

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I went with the “Apple pear caramel praline” first, as a base comparison, we all know what an apple pie should taste like. But despite all the ingredients in its name, it just tasted like a regular apple pie. I didn’t get any pear chunks, nor could I detect a crunch from the pralines. Although it was still good as it was. This was a classic apple pie with tender chunks of cinnamon and sugar apple slices, a flaky buttery crust, and an extra pop of sugar baked in on top.

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Continuing with least to most adventurous, I then set my attention to the “Blackberry rhubarb” pie. What I confused for shredded coconut, was actually a sprinkling of grated and toasted rhubarb on top of the pie. With this you got both fruit and vegetable flavours in equal balance. You tasted the blackberry with its sweetness. It transition into a tang, complementary to the rhubarb. But you mostly notice the rhubarb for its fibrous chew, it’s crispiness added another textural element, between the squishy berries and the crumbly crust.

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The “Blueberry goat cheese basil pie” was the most original, I wonder how they came up with such a unique combination for ingredients. It was a one of a kind flavour profile that had you going back for more. You can’t figure this one out with one bite. You weren’t sure if you liked it, but were willing to finish the whole pie in order to find out. You got the herbaceous-ness of fragrant basil, the salty tang of rich goat cheese, and the sweetness of juicy blueberries to blanket it all under. The crust also varied a little from that of the apple’s, it was more crumbly like a powdered cookie. Overall this isn’t a taste you would crave, but a great flavour combination you don’t mind trying and finishing; then getting others to try and finish themselves. Although I think the filling would be best in between some sourdough for an artisan sandwich. It was more savoury that sweet for a desert pie. I would recommend this for those who don’t like their desserts sweet, but don’t want to feel left out in the world of after dinner pies.

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I finished on the “Chocolate pecan”, assuming it was the most rich. I was right. It had the same flaky pastry as the apple and blueberry pies, holding a chewy mix of nuts and chocolate. It wasn’t too sweet, a butter tart paste made with chocolate and pecan. It had a good flavour to pair with tea and coffee. Although I would have preferred the filling over a cookie-like crust, for a bar-like dessert. With the current pastry’s crust the dessert was too crumbly in your mouth, and felt chalky against the inside of your cheeks.

 

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.
I look forward to them having their own store front, but it might be a while considering they have already found success selling through others since 2011. I would like to try their more exotic flavours, and with their miniature pies you feel the pride and accomplishment of eating a whole pie without having to endure its calories. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

PIE HOLE
401 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver BC
778-838-8954
vancouverpiehole.com
Pie Hole Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bodega on Main

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This one was on “Vancity Buzz’s” best new restaurants of 2015 list. And I choose it for today, as when dining with a group, I prefer tapas so that I get to try many dishes and eat only what I like from them.

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One of my guests has been to its predecessor downtown, so knew what to expect with this one. She knew the food would be good, declaring that we would be spending a lot of money and trying many things. However, the decor was better than anything she expected. After we set our jackets down, she even took the time to tour the restaurant herself. They didn’t have happy hour (yet), but opened at 4pm and we were only the second ones in.

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The Spanish influenced wasn’t only in the name or cuisine, but it continued to the ambience and decor as well. The space was rich with warm tones: Browns, reds, and gold. Brown in the tables and booths, red in the checkered napkins at each setting, and gold in the rim of the crystal goblet used as a tea light on each table. There were patterned tiles under our feet, each different but altogether complimentary in design. Cast iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, suspended from chains and glowing with an orange hue. One wall was plastered in Spanish posters and adverts like a collage. Another hung with greyscale canvas art and black and white photographs surrounding it. All this was accentuated by the bluesy beat of the music playing over head, it even had my Cuban guest swaying to it and clapping to the tempo. Authentic and engulfing, are the best word to describe the scene.

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The staff were just as authentic. Our server was attentive in a friendly sort of way; like a cousin who doesn’t know you so well, but cares for you just the same, and wants you to have a good time. She took several opportunities to engage my other guest’s baby girl, even getting her manager to help make room for their stroller. Apparently in Spanish culture, the family comes first, kids are welcomed everywhere including the bar, or in our case a nice restaurant. The large family that sat in the corner opposite us had their toddler exploring the isle between the tables. Where ours held us a table and a half worth of space. The guests that eventually sat next to us, would not be happy over it.

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When looking for libations, my tapas experienced guest was insistent that we had to have Spanish wine with tapas. The wine list, like the fold out paper food menu was spelled out in Spanish. Luckily this sake guess double as our translator, she knew the cuisine well and spearheaded our entire ordering process. Though each Spanish name did come with an English description underneath.

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“Jamon iberico de bellota”. This was described as the “finest ham in the world”, so good that the vegetarian even had to nibble. You could feel the quality as you pulled a gummy sheet of meat from the plate. And taste the quality as soon as it melted on your tongue. It had a unique chew with melted fat, to match its unique salty tang. It’s hard to describe, but you can taste that what you were having was something special. I have never had anything like it. This plate, like a few others to come also came with a pile of mixed olives. Both it and the ham were easier to eat with fingers.

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“Membrillo y queso”, aged manchego cheese and quince jelly. It went well as a pairing with the ham above. Glad they came together. Like an adult ham and cheese combo with the bonus of jam to seal the salty with some sweet. The cheese was deep and rich. A starchy, dry and dense match with the fruity syrupy jam. And because of of the sweeter jelly this option was also mentioned as part of the dessert menu. It can go both ways depending on what you pair it with.

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We ended up asking for some bread to complete our ham and cheese sandwich feel. The white and multigrain slices made a great accompaniment. It came with a dish of olive oil for dipping. Like everything else, you could taste the difference in their Spanish olive oil. The flavour was so deep, like all the olive oils I have had before it was diluted in comparison.

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“Tortilla espanola”, the traditional potato omelette. This was thin slices of potato adhered together with egg, hence the omelette description. However it was more like cake in texture and appearance. Fluffy, with chunks of starchy potato. According to the Cuban it was done perfectly, exactly like how she recalled it from memory. It was served at the perfect temperature, where the potatoes were neither too soft or too hard. It was served with a nice garlic mayonnaise to change the taste, not that it needed anymore flavour. So good that we ordered a second serving and it came out just the same.

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“Champinones”. Sautéed mixed mushrooms flavoured with garlic, sherry, and finely grated aged manchego. There was the option to add a fried egg for extra on top, I regret not doing so as it could have used another element to create some depth. It was the same flavour in each cap. It was a juicy pop in your mouth, accented by sharp cheese. It needed a starch with it. Some bread, a little pasta; or in my case the omelette above was helpful.

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“Gamas al ajillo”. Sautéed prawns in garlic and chillies with sherry. It was a little spicy, although should not have been, as Spanish cuisine isn’t spicy at all. The prawns were good, and it’s oil based sauce made a great dip for the basket of bread.

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“Pimientos de pardon”. The blistered peppers with maldon salt was a fun one. When delivered, we were warned that some may be on the spicy side. So essentially this was the pepper eating version of Russian roulette. It was the luck of the draw whether your pepper was spicy or not. I was 1:3 for getting a non spicy one, though even then the heat creeped up close to the stem. I enjoyed the game, holding you breath, as you watched one another bite down. When it wasn’t making me tear up, the waxy pepper had a nice flavour brought out by the crunchy salt sprinkled over it.

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“Lengua estofada”. We dared the beef tongue made with tomato, onion, and capers. I actually think it’s weird to break down a tongue with your tongue. Though it’s great that they were using every part of the animal. It would have been better if they didn’t slice the tongue as a whole, that they didn’t preserve its natural shape. However covering it in the pasty tomato sauce helped. It actually it tasted no different than if it were from any other part of the cow, it was even a little fatty. And if no one mentioned it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that this was tongue meat.

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“Crema catalana”. This was not the usual Creme brûlées that I am partial to. It had the same crisp sugar burnt crust, but under it, the texture was more like whipped yams. Where I prefer the almost pudding and a little bit jello-like texture that I have had in the past.

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“Churros” served with hot dipping chocolate and vanilla mascarpone. This is actually my first taste of a churro, which is essentially a Spanish doughnut. This textured straw was fried, making it look and taste similar to a Chinese donut; but less greasy and sweeter with the sugar and cinnamon coating. The chocolate sauce was a little tart, probably from the use of good quality dark chocolate. But best smeared with the thick milky cream of mascarpone.

 

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 had a winning combination: clean and simple food in a dark and rich environment. Mix in staffing that care and a comfortable ambience, and you have the makings of a great night. I would be bringing many guests back to this one. A great place to sit and catch up at, or the one for a casual dinner date. My new favourite spot for tapas. Make sure you visit with the attention to pair your food with Spanish wine. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BODEGA
1014 Main Street, Vancouver BC, V6A 2W1
604-565-8815
bodegaonmain.ca
Bodega on Main Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beta5

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This is me finally venturing to the middle of nowhere to try the highly acclaimed treats of “Beta 5”. They are known for their cream puffs and chocolate, but these aren’t your ordinary pastry filled with cream or chocolate filled with nuts. They provided award winning sweets and gourmet pastry worthy of any occasion.

The shop was one of many in a warehouse. A door in an peachy orange building. It had its own allocated parking stalls, but the shop was busy and these were often full. Their patrons resorted to parking in neighbour’s spots or illegally to the side. They would be quick anyways. The store is just a table with chocolate bars, a shelf with chocolate bags, and a counter with chocolate boxes. You put your order in with one of two clerks and off you go.

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On the table were evenly stacked chocolate bars. Wrap chocolate made with pop rocks, 46% milk chocolate, 66% dark chocolate, and cocoa nibs. I liked the precision in the descriptions that was listed on the covering of each bar. It included the percentage of chocolate used to help to distinguish the flavours. You can either purchase them one bar at a time, or stock up with a pack of 12.

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I am not a big fan of chocolate, but was tempted by their “queen of hearts bar”. It is freeze dried raspberries and candied earl grey tea in 35% white chocolate. It was pretty in pink with a unique look. Like the other bars, it is a slim rectangle made from a geometric mould. They called this their “polygon bars”, its unique design was inspired by the mountains they see from their workshop in Vancouver. This flavour was a great alternative to chocolate, more like candy in colour and flavour. This is definitely the kind of chocolate bar to nibble on and savour, instead of eating in one sitting. This wasn’t a nestle crunch or kit kat. This was gourmet, it was one of a kind, and it was delicious.

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Against the wall was a very empty rack of chocolates in bags they called “pebbles”. “Pebbles” were a collection of chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, “combining the finest nuts and dried fruits with their house milk and dark chocolates”. The list of flavours included sun-dried Okanagan cherries, hazelnut praline, caramelized pistachios, and almonds in their their signature 66% dark or 46% milk chocolate mix.

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At the counter they kept their boxes of chocolate. There was an open box of each to show what you were getting under the simplified white paper wrap with neat black print. Each of the polygon bars, their salted caramels, and of signature chocolate boxes. The latter even included a fold out guide describing each flavour.

Their fall chocolate collection was cleverly titled “hibernation preparation” it included flavours like pear gingerbread, salted milk chocolate, roasted beet and ginger, porcini mushroom, sage, and spiced pumpkin. They were all dusted in the colours of fallen leaves: green to reds, orange, yellow, and then brown.

Though the “Holiday 2015 Chocolate Collection: Precious Metals” was definitely the highlighted set. It featured “rich textures, luxurious finishes, and a collection of flavours that celebrate the season”. These flavours included their “award-winning Sparkling Praline, Carrot Cake, and Absinthe, along with Apple Crumble, Peppermint Tea, and Egg Nog”. A few of them shone with a glossy polished finish. The precious metals collection was also available in a box of six with only one of each flavour.

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I was tempted by both line ups, but decided if I was only going to get one box at $30 each, it should be their “Award-Winning Signature Chocolates”. This should be my first taste of their chocolates. It’s lineup included Fisherman’s Friend, the Whole Cherry, Bay Leaf, Tropical Crunch and Imperial Stout. And some of their house favourites like Jasmine Tea and Caramelized Banana. 12 flavours in total, best consumed 2 weeks of purchase. I appreciated the variety and the ability to try all these unique flavours in one box. Also, seeing them behind the glass shield at the counter, I liked all the colours this box came with more, and I often order based on beauty than would be taste.

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Opening the box was like ripping wrapping from a gift. It felt so fragile and special with layers of folded tissue and a detailed menu. Looking at the bold colours and lustrous tones then trying them, seemed worth the steep price you had to pay. The set even came with extra chocolate in the from of a plate speckled with nibs, all the bons bons sat on; hidden at the bottom of the box. What a great bonus surprise. They looked too pretty to eat, but after excessive photo taking, I nibbled on the corner of each. I did so to taste and to write, but also because I love saving the best for last, so had to try them all to find out which order I would consume them in.

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In the order they appeared in the box:

The awarding winning “imperial stout” had a filling made by blending “Green Flash Brewing Co’s” double stout with their 45% milk chocolate. It’s whimsical blue gradient shell wasn’t very telling of the bitter ganache that hid inside. I would pair this with beer, obviously a darker stout.
The “earl grey” gave you that premium Russian earl grey tea flavour upon the first bite. This chocolate was kept on the bitter side with the tea and use of 67% dark chocolate. The shell’s milky strokes were more reflective of tea than the above to beer. Best taken with a milky earl grey brew.

The “tropical crunch” delivered in name and flavour. A light frosted white round made with house made macadamia praline, stuffed with caramelized coconut, and topped with passion fruit caramel. This was my favourite. The sweetest of the box, but still not too sweet. You ate this more for the flavour than its sugar content. This would have been nice with a side of citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and/or pineapples.

The “Mokaya” red striped square was a single plantation chocolate from the Chiapas region of Mexico. The chocolate balances cocoa flavour with notes of banana, coffee, and liquorice. I only got the chocolate.

The “banana” had an award winning filling of caramelized white chocolate blended with fresh banana, Venezuelan rum, and vanilla bean. It was produced with real banana flavour, not that artificial antibiotic flavour. I liked this the second most with it’s fun fuzzy shell and luscious caramel-like centre. I would have this as is, because I wanted a treat.

The “crispy praline” with its spot within a spot shell, was a blend of 45% milk chocolate with caramelized hazelnut, and a cocoa nib praline. It was crispy and light with a distinctive deep, almost peppery finish. This would have been good with a sip of coffee or espresso.

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The “salted caramel” was so popular that you could buy them in a box of six or twelve, all on their own. After one bite I could see why. This was soft creamy milk chocolate caramel, enrobed in dark chocolate and finished with a touch of flaked sea salt. Honestly the best salted caramel square I have ever had. It’s luscious caramel just melted on your tongue instead of sticking to your teeth.

The “whole cherry” was aptly named. A cherry and balsamic jelly paired with a cherry pit ganache, blending 45% milk with 72% dark chocolate. This multi layers of cherry was an award winner and I could see why. A refunded dessert with a sexy red wash, perfect with red wine and a hot date.

The “jasmine tea” was pretty in pink and equally soft in floral notes. It is “Chun Feng” jasmine tea infused into 45% milk chocolate ganache. I would recommend this with a cup or two of jasmine tea for an elevated flowery experience.

I recommend having the “fisherman’s friend” as the one to end on. This creative award winner was sharp, but still a toned down version of this famed cough drop. Included with the cough candy is 67% dark chocolate. I didn’t really see this as one for everyday eating, perhaps a mint to end a meal on or a treat to heal whatever ails you?

The “pear and praline” with its marble brown and white exterior was more crispy milk praline than sweet pear. The latter was hidden under milk chocolate ganache.

The “bay leaf” looked like a tennis ball with its round shape, fuzzy green finish, and decorate white line. Thankfully it tasted nothing like sporting equipment, but instead the grey herbaceous leaf it promised to be. It reminded me of Vietnamese soup noodles with its refreshing basil notes. I would have this one as finisher for such a meal.

I am not a fan of chocolates, but would certainly go back and pay $30 more dollars to try their other flavours, or this upcoming season’s flavours. This would be the chocolate brand that turns non chocolate lovers to one that appreciates the edible art. They aren’t two sweet, the perfect taste for adults and those with a more refined palette. Not surprising as they are voted as “one of North America’s top 10 chocolatiers”.

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On the wall were posters spelling all of this out. It included the ability to craft your own chocolate bar with over 18 different ingredients and the possibility of arranging a gift box of chocolate drops, polygon bars, and pebbles.

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But what really catches your eye is the visual menu listing their signature cream puff collection and their fall cream puff collection on poster board. I ended up ordering all but two of their flavours, and each one looked exactly like its photo promised. The cream puffs are made on site and arranged to order by pastry chefs in the back. You get a glimpse of them through the window separating front of store from industrial kitchen. And then again when one of them comes out to deliver your boxed goods. The gentleman who helped me was nice enough to obliged me with a photo before he closed the lid and taped them up for travel. Their boxes and bags wee a generic white, branded with their sticker. For the season it was a festive snowflake declaring “let it snow!” They traveled relatively well, but the journey could have been better with those little plastic tables in old school pizza boxes holding things in place and preventing the lid from squishing down on them.

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In order from top to the bottom and left to right: raspberry earl grey, apple pie, variations of chocolate, Vietnamese coffee, Douglas fir, spiced pumpkin, blueberry yuzu, carrot cake, and pear gingerbread. The vanilla was kept separate in a single store box. I ordered one of each minus the “salted caramel” and “smoked almond” (seasonal, fall 2015) I passed on the two because of how plain they looked in comparison to the others. I was surprised that they didn’t have a cream puff flavoured in rum and egg nog or candy cane, the more popular and typical winter flavours.

Each cream puff had the same base, a cookie-like crust coating fluffy dough. Each was a presentation on its own. I don’t advise mixing and matching like I did, but to instead enjoy eating each one, one at a time. To fully savour each element: cream, custard filling, and base.

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The “vanilla” was filled with a speckled vanilla bean custard and topped with a vanilla bean whipped cream. I liked the cubes of sugar topping it like sprinkles. It’s flavour was gentle, but there was still too much cream to puff ratio. I am a fan of vanilla, as you can never go wrong with it, this was my favourite for taste.

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For looks the seasonal “Douglas fir” was my favourite. It reminded me of a woodland forest with its dirt coloured cream, and edible green moss and bold red mushroom cap. Though it’s name did nothing to describe its taste. It wasn’t piney or woodsy like I imagined. Instead, this was like eating chocolate truffles with velvety smooth creme and a collapsible chocolate shell.

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It was not all that unlike the “variation of chocolate” cream puff. But this pile of chocolatey goodness had more of a brownie texture to it. It was dense and rich, ideal for those PMS-ing, according to a friend.

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The “Vietnamese coffee” is one of their more popular puffs. Though with all the hype my first taste was a let down. I expected a sweet and creamy condense milk taste with a sticky texture from the filling. Instead both it and the fluffy cream had a more bitter coffee taste to it. I liked its appearance with the purple accent lined with silver foil, more than its taste.

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The “pear gingerbread” (seasonal, fall 2015) didn’t smell or taste like it, it was also the most plainly decorated of what I order. There was no iconic flavour of pear. It tasted more like a gingersnap cookie with some peppery spices.

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The “Apple pie” (seasonal, fall 2015) cream puff included a miniature pie crust on top. It was baked flakey to an even golden brown, and crusted with caramelized sugar. Just like you would find on a whole apple pie. Though the filling was more cream cheesecake than apple pie. I would have liked some apple flavour in the cream, and maybe even some caramelized apple chunks in the centre, for that apple pie texture as well.

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The “raspberry earl grey” was rich with tart raspberry and mild with creamy earl grey. Topped with tea infused frosting and a sprinkling of freeze dried raspberries. It was simply delicious, the one I would recommend during a high tea service or for a mid day snack.

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The “carrot cake” (seasonal, fall 2015) was my second favourite. It had a cream cheese frosting topped with candied ginger and an orange square to symbolize the carrots used. The filling had actual shreds of carrots and was flavoured heavily with cinnamon.

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The “Blueberry yuzu” was the most refreshing puff with lemon citrus and sweet blueberry.

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The “Spiced pumpkin” (seasonal, fall 2015) was your typical pumpkin spice anything with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon intertwined in its cream. I liked the finishing touches of toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top over the mound of spaghetti-like piped cream.

For the winter season they also had other exclusive flavours in all that they offered. Like peppermint patties, a peppermint crunch polygon bar, spiced praline pecan pebbles, candied orange peel, a creme puff wreath with alternating puffs filled with eggnog custard and spiced pecan whipped ganache, and a candy cane ice cream sandwich. There was so much that I wanted to try, so much worth trying. I will be eagerly anticipating their spring section in the new year. They take two weeks off of sales to perfect and prepare their highly anticipated offerings.

 

 

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.
Each of their chocolates and cream puffs made for a great show. They certain impressed in look and taste. I enjoyed all that I had, but cannot see myself coming back just to snack. Though I would definitely be back for the right occasion. A gift worthy box of chocolates or a impromptu birthday cake, like for today. Think, individual portioned desserts that don’t need slicing, that isn’t the played out cupcake. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BETA5
413 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-669-3336
shop.beta5chocolates.com
BETA5 Chocolates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Torafuku

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When food becomes art and you are not allowed to make substitutions.
Owned and operated by the same individuals who have made the popular fusion Asian food truck “Le Tigre” a success. And if everything on this menu is as good as they serve out the side of a moving kitchen I would be in for a treat.

It’s location speaks to its cuisine. “Torafuku” lives on the border of historic Chinatown and offers their modern interpretations of pan Asian flavours. They pride themselves on “contemporary dishes crafted with local ingredients sourced from local farms complemented by carefully selected wines, local craft beers, and a fashionable cocktail list”. All of which I think they showcased well during our stay.

Opened at 5:30pm we were the first ones through the door. In early enough to take witness of their staff meeting before the service. The owner gathered the staff reminding them of the sustainable ingredients they use and what was oceanwise on the menu. It was a pretty casual conversation, as was the general structure and vibe of the place. Not only did the front of house dress code speak to this, but what the staff did in between helping guests did as well. Our server was dressed in an oversized green sweatshirt with a cartoon image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse on its front. Not exactly the business casual most work places request from their staff. And when they had idle time, the floor staff gathered behind the counter, standing adjacent to the open kitchen, chatting with the chefs and one another in light jest. Not that I found it obstructive, I just found it unprofessional as a diner posted up, across from the kitchens and within eyesight and earshot of all of this. Though with the surge of patrons an hour later this became less and less the case as they got busier and busier. So much so that we weren’t checked in on and our water glasses were left empty. Luckily we had a carafe of room temperature water at our table to serve ourselves with. And with the food as salty as it is was, I found myself taking a hold of it often.

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With the open space layout everything and everyone was visible. Simple like their store front, straight lines and clean walls. You enter and pass through an isle created by a lengthy family style share table on one side and a row of backless booths on the other. Each seat was set with chopsticks, a napkin, and a stone plate that resembled a curved roof tile. It was a lovely piece that matched their minimalistic theme, a contrast to the food and drink we were about to partake in. However beautiful it was, it wasn’t very practical. A dish better suited to serving than eating off of, as majority of what I took over it ended on the table around it.

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We were led to a section of two top tables across from the kitchen right towards the back. This is where the bar lived as well. It was a simple bar with a less is more attitude. It was tended by their award winning talent. And as such, the drink menu was an impressive list. Cocktails imagined from a creative mind, with signature drinks exclusive to “Torafuku”, crafted with ingredients made strictly in house. Cocktails with unique ingredients like Turmeric Cocoa Nib Syrup, Strawberry butter infused Beefeater 24, and Cream of Earl Grey infused Amaro Montenegro. There was a cocktail to share between a minimum of two and even one served hot. But if you just can’t decide, you can simply ask the bartender to mix together something based on what you are feeling for $12. I could see myself and others just coming in just to drink at their counter bar. The perfect place for a one of a kind nightcap to impress.

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I had to try one of their more unique and award winning cocktails: the “Comfort High” that was served warm. It contains ron zacapa, cloudy apple juice, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This is the type of drink I would like to start all my mornings with and end all my nights on. More cider than cocktail, it would also be ideal in a cozy outdoor setting this winter. Sleigh rides, caroling, and Christmas markets. It was festive with winter friendly flavours: the throaty apple, the warming spices, and the sweet caramel under tone. Though as good as it was, it wasn’t good taken with our meal. The flavours clashed and I should have simply asked our server for her suggestion. Though I thoroughly do not regret trying this one, and saving it for the dessert at my meal’s end. The flavours still stood up, but would have been better warmed.

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The menu looked like a crafty note book, beautifully bound with patterned card stock and wood, an art project done right. They matched their business cards in colours of red, blue, and yellow. I enjoyed the whimsical names of each dish and drink off the menu. It didn’t always speak to the ingredients in each, but sure made them more memorable with delightful puns. The “snap crackle pop” was a vegetarian dish made with rice cakes. The “dirty birdy fried rice” included chicken liver and chicken hearts in brown rice. And “Dr. Octopus vs Mr. Tuna” squared off albacore tuna carpaccio with a torched octopus salad.

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The “Rye so messy chicken wings” was another award winner. This was crowned 2015’s “chicken fight best dish”, as mentioned on the menu. In my eyes, any award winning dish is worth trying. Made with rye and “gochujang” marinade, mango glaze, ramen crumble and KFC sauce. “Gochujang” is a savory, spicy, and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. This was a dish very telling of their style: east meets west where Korean sauces and tropical fruit takes on a North American staple: the fried chicken wing. Based on what was presented before us, the “KFC” sauce had nothing to do with the colonel’s special recipe. Each wing was large, evenly breaded with plenty of meat on bone, an even number of wing to drumlet. Each piece was crispy with batter, but got soggy quick with the amount of sauces coating it. They were all well seasoned, with no skimping on the dressing; to the point that after the second wing the flavours became overwhelming. We both felt the various sauces would be better as sides that you can pick your own flavour to and decide how much you actually wanted on it. The wings would have also stayed crisper for longer as well. Like how they had it was pretty for the picture, but not user friendly.

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The “kickass rice 2.0” was a twist on one of their popular food truck menu items, from “Le Tigre”. It is available in limited quantity, daily, but we were plenty early to take advantage. What came looked more like sushi than a bowl of rice. A perfectly crafted one bite with aburi style torched pork belly nestled on top and herbs embedded within the rice. It was herbaceous with the Shiso leaves giving things a vinegar tang and a minty finish. Sadly it overpowered the more favourable flavour of the char from the tender pork. But when you did get a bite of its crispy pork skin it delicious. I liked the food truck’s 1.0 version better, and used the overly seasoned chicken above to cut into some of the rice’s gingery-ness, masking its intended taste.

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The “Lucky tiger ramen” had “kakuni” style pork belly, leeks, pea shoots, seasonal vegetables, and a fried egg; all in a tonkotsu broth. When we ordered, my guest wanted it without leeks and green onions, but her request became a hard one to accommodate. After the initial acceptance of her ask, the server later came back over to inform us that the restaurant accepted no substitutions unless it was due to an allergy. So naturally my guest changed her statement of not preferring leeks and green onions to saying she would vomit if any of it was consumed. Basically its raw texture would cause her to have a gag reaction. To have to go through all of that to have one or two topping ingredients not added seems a little much. And then our server came back a third time to acknowledge the onions in the broth. We both understood the artistic integrity of a dish, and the chef wanting to maintain his art as he intended it, but what about the guest’s preference and their experience? I know the attitude is that you are suppose to enjoy it the way it is made, but what if you aren’t enjoying it? Shouldn’t you have the right to do something about it? Or to ask for something to change it? This was exactly the case with our neighbours. They ordered the “Get in my belly” made with Negitoro, seasonal veggies, homemade kimchee, steamed butter rice, togo mayo, soft egg, and jinhua ham. “Negitoro” is tuna belly served with green onion, an ingredient typically seasoned with soy sauce. So when he found the whole of the dish a little bland he asked for just this condiment. As with our request, he too got well demeanour-ed pushback. They didn’t have soy sauce and were willing to leave it at that, if he didn’t ask another server the same thing. The second staff member he approached probed a little deeper and she found out that they just wanted some additional seasoning, some more salt to taste. She offered solutions like chilli sauce and an additional ingredients, my guest offered the men her condolences. Once again, the logic is you don’t tell an artist to use your paint brushes. But on the same token the art of cooking is meant for the one who consumes it, so should it not be catered to their tastes?

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Back to the “Lucky tiger ramen” using “kakuni” style pork belly, leeks, pea shoots, seasonal vegetables, and a fried egg; all in a tonkotsu broth. It was a beautiful serving in a unique funnel shaped bowl, everything was carefully put into place to have it on display, semi submerged in the milky broth. Its flavour was mild in comparison to the other appetizers above, and also the lightest ramen I have ever had, not like the heavy and fattier ones served else where. It was especially sweet with all the corn kernels bobbing about, a sweetness that we grew tired of mid way. Similarly all the other side ingredients also left their mark in the dish. Like the starchy lotus root slice, the melted boiled daikon section, the fresh springs of green vegetable, the rubbery enoki mushrooms, and the tender and fatty lined cuts of pork that were just amazing.

We were advised that the food would come as soon as it was prepared. This meant that we waited a long while for the scratch made feature of the day and were too full to enjoy it. I symbolically spoke to this by pushing my dining plate along with my utensils to the side for bussing. But as soon as they were removed, they were replaced with a clean set of both. Our last dish came shortly after.

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The “pork and cabbage gyoza” with carrot and pea purée was the feature of the day, it wasn’t mentioned on the menu but suggested verbally by the servers. I liked the pageantry of the dish, whereas my guest found the empty space on a plate in excess. The time it took definitely spoke to it being scratch made. It was just a shame that we were already so full that we could only stomach one each, leaving three to waste. My guest found the gyozas average, where as I really appreciated them for their freshness. Each dumpling was a bundle of chewy dough hiding a tender ball of pork. It didn’t need sauce, but some acid would have been nice. The crisp vegetables on the side, not only rounded out the dish, but made the plate more filling like a entire. Plus it made things pretty with colour.

 

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.
You know the food is good when neighbouring tables covet your plates and order off what you have already tried. Or was it just the design that they wanted to see and have for themselves. Because the truth is I enjoyed the beauty of the plates more than their taste. The plating came out a little pretentious, almost over shadowing the fact that the meal was as unique and as delicious as it was. Definitely plates that any foodie or food blogger would enjoy. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

TORAFUKU
958 Main Street, Vancouver BC
778-903-2006
torafuku.ca
Torafuku Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pink Pearl Chinese Restaurant

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When I eat at a Chinese restaurant like this it is always with family, I find myself never craving such foods when on an outing with friends. “Pink Pearl” has been a familiar destination since I was a child, back then I remembered it being more busy. More cars in the lot, more bodies in the chairs; then again the fact that tonight was Monday could have skewed either results.
The exterior was pretty unspectacular. A creamy yellow building with red awning and signs. With blinds drawn and cars parked in front, a peek into the restaurant was near impossible. Even at the front entrance you needed to cross another set of doors and the bar before being able to gather a glimpse of the restaurant as a whole. By then you have committed and are now seated whether you like the place or not.
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There was a lot going on in their foyer. Between the posters for local Chinese performances, the rack of complimentary flyers and newspapers, and the rows of awards once won; there was a lot of lot literature bombarding your senses. So much clutter that it was easier to tune out than to focus in. In retrospect I wish I took the time to recognize which was their latest award, if any. As I mentioned earlier this was a neighbourhood staple for Chinese seafood. Long standing, I wondered if their former fame lives on today.

I often find Chinese restaurants similar to that of a Chinese home (using my parent’s home and that of my extended families as reference), a lot going on, but never cohesively. Beautiful touches and wonderful pieces. Alone they were worth mentioning, but feathered together it looked like they were having a garage sale. A free standing blue and white Ming-like vase. Red and gold lanterns hanging from the ceiling with tassels. Framed Chinese paint brush murals of mountain ranges and running water. Baskets and pots of plants, green life practically around every corner and claiming permanent residency on the  bar’s counter. And all this was just enroute to the dining room.

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The dining room was staged for banquet hall seating. Numerous tables with a clearly defined front, perfect for celebrations and weddings when the whole restaurant would be rented out. Off beige walls and orange lights cast a dim shadow over the place. It didn’t help with my food photography. Smaller tables needed not a lazy Susan, but the larger ones had theirs centered in glass. Round tables covered with white cloths. Wooden chairs upholstered with fabric seats. The wood matched the colour of the drawn blinds.
The feature wall towards the back was set in velvet with a declaration of joy in gold. “Double happiness” in Chinese characters. The words flanked on either side by a phoenix and a dragon. Both in gold, both mildly coloured, and both traditional Chinese symbols. They represent Chinese ancestors: Dragons for men and the Phoenix for women. A common sight at many if not all Chinese seafood restaurants in the city. The traditional symbols continued and lucky my parents were here to give me the run down on each. To the left porcelain statues of gods, each his own character and each presenting his own symbol: longevity, wealth, and prosperity. To the right a porcelain peach tree with ample red and white coloured fruit, and plenty of green leaves on its many brown branches. The peach tree represents health, you eat one for longevity. Beside it a gold nugget, traditionally shaped like “boat”. This symbolizes payment and money, often given as a gift or as an offering to those no longer of the world. I am seeing a pattern here. The conclusion is that the foundation of Chinese culture and what we hold important can be summarized to wealth and longevity. We care most about being rich and living long enough to enjoy it. Now knowing this  I feel more actions make more sense.
A function in the second half of the restaurant was being held. A sign read “lily’s dance party” in English. We were not a part of the festivities, but certainly couldn’t avoid the sounds of their Chinese karaoke. Amateur singing could be heard throughout the restaurant. According to my parents they were older Chinese classics, even beyond their time. (It is here that they insisted they are not that old).
Servers wore patterned vests in gold over their white button up shirts and black pressed pants. Their managers served tables and dispensed customer service right along side them in full suits. As is common, the service was abrupt with actions that focused on speed over accuracy. Liquids poured with drips, full plates dispensed with spills. The table was a battle field of grease spots and rice grains. Thankfully the cloth was washable and they probably had a machine to do it on site. The staff was attentive, we were continuously checked in on; something not that common at most other Chinese restaurants. Though it was all done with no personal boundary in mind. Hands would approach at regular speeds and plates would be brought down in between you and your neighbour without warning; you had to watch your head.
Given the Chinese character centered menu, the long list of dishes I knew nothing about, and the fact my father was paying, he ordered. As I stated in previous posts, it is hard for me to describe Chinese food. Growing up with this cuisine it was always just food. So I depended highly on my parents’ insight to craft this review today.
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“Fish maw and crab meat soup”. Served like all our dishes to come, in a large vessel for the entire party to share. Once presented, a server ladles out portions before you, right at your table. A bowl-ed unit for each guest. It was a slow and gentle start to our meal, a good way to get the appetite going. The soup was thick with a syrup like consistency, and chewy with rubber-like chunks. While mild in taste, you add flavour by way of red vinegar. This changes its colour and its taste profile.

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I was late to dinner so missed out on some prime photo taking. I was told when you order any lobster dish, they bring it live to you on a tray. After your inspection and confirmation of purchase he takes a last trip to the kitchen. Our 2.5 lbs. lobster was served in a butter and cream sauce with noodles. The size of a lobster is not an indicator of his quality, a hard lesson to learn. We once went for more bang for our buck and ended up with an older and larger lobster with tough and dry meat. The smaller and younger one today was perfectly cooked. It’s flesh tender, well coated in butter to highlight its natural sweetness. The noodles tasted overcooked and soggy, more as a filler to have your lobster.
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Each dish comes with its own set of spoon and fork. They are usual for communal scooping, a well thought out way to maintain hygienic sharing. “Sautéed salted fish fried rice”. Cooked with pungent persevered fish, the dish’s strong stench is noticeable when walking it to the table. Its fragrant nature marries well with its equally distinctive flavour. The rice includes chicken, egg, and cabbage; all of which are bland and really add nothing to the salty fishiness of the rice. Decent overall, we aren’t too fussy when it comes to fried rice.
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Hot pot beef with ginger served in the cast iron container it was cooked in. It arrived at our table fully cooked and cooled to the touch. The beef was on the chewier side, tolerable and preferred over adding baking soda to soften the meat. The onions and leaks gave the dish it’s taste. Though we would have preferred the ginger julienned into smaller pieces and fried longer to avoid that off putting bite into fibrous spice. The dish as a whole could have used a base, some plain white rice maybe?
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Crispy skin squab, also known as pigeon. I wouldn’t think of eating a bird that some refer to as “sky rat”; but right here, like this, it isn’t so bad. Often the head is included as proof that you are given whole bird. My brother asked if the salt served on the side was MSG and a debate broke at the table. Our server was knowledgeable enough with a fair grasp of English to clarify. The accompaniments were Worcestershire sauce and salt with ground up star anise. The bird was gamey like duck with a dark taste that lingered after you swallowed. The skin was fried to a crisp and seasoned heavily with salt so that we didn’t end up using any of the additional condiments. It was awkward eating the small pigeon drum between my thumb and forefinger, I felt like a giant.
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The desserts were of your typical Chinese restaurant variety. More salty and savoury than your usual cakes and chocolates. Red bean soup with orange peels for added zest. A hearty and filling dessert best when served hot and sweet. I personally don’t like the grainy texture so avoid it all together. Thus I usually miss dessert at such places as it is often the only option.
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Sago pudding made with coconut milk, egg custard, and butter. The texture is like flan, smooth. The top similar to that of Chinese coconut cocktail buns, a baked sweet and crumbly custard like cookie. With the contrasting elements it was like two desserts in one. Though it was the top layer that gave most of this dish its sugar.
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.
The restaurant is unimaginative design wise. The meal very salty overall, thank goodness for unlimited pots of tea and hot water. Truthfully I find most Chinese seafood restaurants cut from the same cloth. The same dishes cooked with the same recipes, served the same way. Though here the staff were more sociable and a lot more customer focused. The manager attending to us was really the highlight, he was friendly and even humoured all my photo taking. As the only one in its immediate area “Pink Pearl” satisfies a need in the community for seafood, Chinese, and dim sum. Don’t deny your cravings.

PINK PEARL
1132 E Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6A1S2
604-253-4316
pinkpearl.com
Pink Pearl Chinese Restaurant 珠城大酒樓 on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo

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Casual Italian dining on Terminal.

I was invited here tonight to celebrate the birth of a friend. Walking in, I was not expecting the restaurant to be as sophisticated as it was, being in the area that it was. For the most part the decor was very simple, a plain setting. Walls of concrete block accented with wooden planks. Tiled floors that heard the scrap and shuffle of plastic patio chairs, seated around several wooden tables. The chairs with their hard bottoms and unsupportive backs did no one any favours; nor did they seem to jibe with the rest of the present furniture. The lighting was most memorable. A dim glow from a bundle of bulbs bound together in different volts and sizes. Red, yellow, white, long, round, and wide. They hung from cords, lined up and suspended in between beams off the ceiling. We were seated right up front, but when time, had to pay with debit from the bar in the back. This required a trek through the dining room and down a narrow hall lined with unisex single stalled washrooms. The bar was secluded, blocked from having any view of the rest of the restaurant. It offered intimate seating in a smaller section, and several stools up by their lite up bar top. Plenty of drinking was done here and all around, yet no party was especially loud and the ambience remained relatively peaceful.

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The menu was a page done in a tiny typewriter font. All options were categorized under “antipasti, salumi, primi, pizza, secondi, and contorni”. Appetizers, charcuterie, pasta, pizza, main course, and side dishes. None of it immediately jumped out at me, but between our large group we were able to get a good variety of the dishes available.

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“Roasted beet salad” with ricotta, hazelnuts, and honey. It was a simple dish. Not bad, but we just expected more from this casual Italian salad.

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“Grilled Octopus terrine” with new potato, caramelized fennel, and greens. I don’t understand what was so “new” about the “new potato”, but they were certainly well seasoned and well prepared; and definitely more noticeable than the slices of octopus stacked up behind the leafy greens.

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“Nonna’s Meatballs” with aioli, winter herbs, and capers. This picture is actually short one ball. These hearty bites were a mouthful of meat tad on the dry side. Though the sauce was helpful in alleviating this with its creamy texture. I avoided the greens completely, them with their soggy look and probable soggy texture.

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“Risotto Rosso” with hearty greens, red wine, and fresh parmigiano reggiano. As is the perfect risotto, each spoonful of this was creamy and rich. A portion like this is plenty, we were unable to finish it due to its overwhelmingly rich flavouring, a blend of cheesy meets salty. The bitterness in the greens helped to break through the thickness of the rice. The first bite was the best, the rest blurred together.

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“Rigatoni” with bone marrow, caramelized onions, and grana padano frico. You immediately get a waft of the pungent cheese available in this pasta dish. Things were a little oily and a lot gamey because of the marrow used. As a whole, each noodle was as decadent as its feature ingredient, if not boarder line over indulgent. I liked the idea of a bone marrow pasta, but didn’t enjoy its application in a sauce; as a posed to being left its original bone to be scraped off on to a crostini.

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“Spaghetti al pomodoro”. Tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil, and basil. This dish was nice and simple, exactly as you would expected it to be, and exactly as you hoped it to be. The pasta was cooked to a perfect el dente, done with a warm firm bite. Each strand easily sopped up sauce with a nice eggy flavour of its own.

I arrived late and as a result had to watch plates arrive before I even got a chance to look at their offerings. I made my entry noticed and asked for a menu immediately. I was hungry and 30 minutes late. My guess, our server got caught up in the busyness of Saturday night, as I attempted to chase her down. So here I was, being warned that my pizza would take longer and be last to arrive. Each pizza came with the possibility of modifications and add ons, like adding anchovies or eggs for extra.

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The “Vongole” pizza with clams, creamed spinach, peppadew, stressa, and fior de latte. I have never heard of half these ingredients, so that alone was a draw; not to mention clam on a pizza! This would be my first seafood pizza, how very West Coast Canada of me. The crust had a nice light crisp, a dough-like quality that balanced the strength found in all the other ingredients. It made a great foundation. The toppings were tad on the salty side, thanks to the calm juice and cheesy mix; and a lot on the fishy side thanks to the clams. Six calms were left in their shells and baked until dried. I don’t believe I got to try any of it, not being able to scrape anything of substance from any of the shells. The cheese was enjoyable in its thick and stringy nature. This was seen as you pulled it apart from your bite. I found the dollops of tomato the best part, a burst of sweet freshness amongst the sea of savoury. After a slice, I found it was missing something. An absent flavour component that a request for balsamic vinegar was able to rectify; a far cry away from the ranch dressing I would have used, if I was home.

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“Bianca” pizza with coopa (a meat similar to sausage), ubc farm potatoes, and taleggio cheese”. This was a heavier and denser pizza. My first potato pizza and a fellow guests’ best. The meat was nice and tender, and paralleled well to the garlicky nature of everything else. As a friend use to say, “it is delicious if it messes up your breath”.

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“Funghi” pizza with mushroom, red onion, scamorza cheese, and rosemary. A guest opted to add arugula for $2. The addition of arugula was a smart move, and a greatly need one. It helped to create a fresh note that combatted well against the soggy pizza. And it was able to cut into a lot of the oil and overwhelming mushroom bites.

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Overall this was a very filing meal with all the pasta, pizza dough, and bottles of red wine consumed. Our server could have checked in more, but other servers were able to jump in to help. One such server was helping our table, despite it not being her section. She easily topped up our glasses of wine on occasion. And according to our dinner’s host, the restaurant’s hostess was very accommodating, even with the multiple changes made with our reservations.
However the experience soured with the mention of a birthday cake. We had brought a cake only to find out there would be a charge to cut it. We didn’t bother checking the price and agreed to do it ourself to wave the fee. Though I feel an important consideration when choosing a restaurant is if they are able to accommodate your large party, the very large party that is willing to pay an automatic 15% gratuity fee. Yet here they were trying to ask for more to cut a cake? I expect better guest services for a birthday party, especially not addressing any of this to the birthday girl directly. So much for having the surprise of a lit birthday cake walked to your table and your guests singing in your honour. I was unimpressed and unwilling to pay more than I had to. Luckily our server pointed out she already charged us for the suggested gratuity, and we were able to ignore a request for more if we wanted. I did and I didn’t.

Would I come back? – No. I found the distant a little far and parking too much of a hassle. All the food I found average, having had better for less else where. Things were creative, but certainly nothing you would need to satisfy a craving of. These were tastes you try just to say you have, that one time.
Would I recommend it? – No. I thought everything was only okay. Nothing had me excited about going back for more. Not bad, not great, nothing much to report. Don’t deny your cravings.

CAMPAGNOLO
1020 Main Street, Vancouver BC
604-484-6018
campagnolorestaurant.ca
Campagnolo on Urbanspoon

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