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Ham and Eggman’s

Today I was having brunch with my foodie family. Our group of like-minded food lovers and food writers ascended on “Ham and Eggman’s” in East Vancouver. An area I am familiar with, having grown up in it. The breakfast restaurant turns 1 in March, but before it the space belonged to a sushi restaurant. The rock garden with still water and live greens by the entrance spoke to that history.

Given their location and offering they serve their community well for brunch. An elementary school is near by and two adjacent lots are being cited for high rises in years to come. That and the already heavy residential neighbourhood gives them lots of potential regulars to pull in. And with larger portion sizes and an more exciting menu than at other breakfast spots, they are well on their way. Not to mention they are unique to the area, where majority of the established restaurants are asian in cuisine, they stand out as the only breakfast spot and internationally driven with their egg focused menu. Two points of pride for the owner, whom we were able to chat up during our visit.

The space is pretty straight forward with painted black walls and white furnishing. Seating is across a series of tables that can be pushed together for larger parties at either ends of the restaurant. We nabbed the one closest to the window of the best lighting. It gets pretty dark the further in you go.

The menu is easy to navigate with familiar breakfast items and a healthy description of what each dish is so that there are no surprises. The following is what we ordered, exploring savoury and sweet options as well as everything that had an international flare to it.

The “Sweet oatmeal” was a surprising favourite of the table. You don’t often think of ordering oatmeal when it is something you can easily make at home. But their sweet rendition was a wonderful addition to our breakfast buffet. It offered a nice buffer in between the more salty plates. The oatmeal resembled small beads, a different texture than what I am use to. It had an interesting mouth feel, along with the harder crunch of chopped nuts and sweet dried fruit.

“Ham & Eggmans” do their best to make everything in house, but give the lack of kitchen space they are forced to out source their bread and waffle needs. As such, their waffles are procured from “Patisserie Lebeau”. So they were good, but not as fresh as I have had them. It could also be that we didn’t get to eating them right away due to our little photo session, so they were at room temperature when we did. But with enough Chantilly cream, fruit compote and, maple syrup it didn’t really make a difference. I did like the addition of the small portion of hash browns that came as a side on the plate. I don’t often order sweet breakfast dishes because I want to start with some savoury before moving on to sweet as a treat. So this way you get to do just that. Plus their hash browns are amazing.

The hash browns are another point of pride for the “Ham & Eggman’s” team. They have worked on them, getting them to the crispy delights that they are now. Plenty of flavour in a golden brown shell that stays crunchy throughout the entire meal. Our group unanimously enjoyed them.

We were able to snag the last “Chicken and waffles” order, to my delight. Whenever I see this on any menu, I have to have it. Who doesn’t like Buttermilk marinated, boneless fried chicken served with sweet Belgium waffles, Chantilly cream, bourbon maple syrup, and a fresh fruit salad for good measure. Here, the doughy waffles made the ideal base for the juicy dark meat chicken. The chicken’s saltiness playing off well against the sugar crystals in the waffle; with m the bourbon syrup bringing it all together. I would order this one again.

The “Pork belly hash” was also pretty memorable. Crispy pork belly, asian greens, cabbage, shiitake, and Kennebec hash browns tossed in a gochujang bbq sauce. Then make more breakfast-y with two poached eggs. Sweet and salty asian flavours make this hash one of a kind. You do get quite a bit of pork belly, which maybe hard to discern, given how similar they look to the potato chunks. But biting down there was no mistake. Mostly fatty they are better with the other ingredients as a base. I wouldn’t want to commit to the whole serving myself, but a nice side to share.

They have a few options for their “Scrambles”, each with three eggs served alongside their kennebec hash browns and toast. We went with the “Mexican” version prepared with house made chorizo, fajita peppers, onions, aged cheddar, and topped with salsa and sour cream. This didn’t read Mexican for me. Maybe with more beans, a punchier chorizo, and zestier seasoning it would have. I did like it for what it was, and would have liked it rolled up into a breakfast wrap, with more of that sour cream sauce for dipping into. But you did get two halves of toast in you choice of either multigrain or sourdough. We went with the latter.

Similarly, there were a few choices for “Eggs Benedict”, each served on a toasted English muffins with perfectly poached eggs, their house made hollandaise sauce and more tasty hash browns. Upon our server’s suggestion we went for the one with the mix of wild mushroom and green onion. A delicious plate with the creamy hollandaise smothering the tender mushrooms, made further decadent with luscious yolks we broke into. This is another one I would order again.

The “Lomo Saltado hash” had Peruvian style marinated steak, fajita peppers and onions, grape tomatoes, and fresh herbs; all topped with two poached eggs. Another dish I wanted to wrap in a carb. The heavier fajita flavours also had me craving a sour cream or something else to brighten it up, like an avocado mash maybe?

The “Shakshuka” is a Turkish style spiced tomato sauce served with poached eggs, feta cheese, and fresh herbs. It comes with two pieces of toast for dipping into. Which would have been nicer with a thicker stew to scoop up, instead of the watery tomato mash to sop up. It also lacked flavour compared to the other dishes above. Here I would have liked some beef to help make the dish heartier.

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.
Overall a really great option for breakfast in the community. And it is a treat to not have to drive all the way downtown for a modern breakfast platter. Fair prices for the portion sizes and the consistent quality. They definitely live up to their name with their perfect eggs. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAM & EGGMAN’s
3883 Rupert St, Vancouver, BC V5R 2G7
(604) 620-8942
hamandeggmans.com

Ragazzi Pizza Co., #LasagnaChallengeYVR

My duties as one of Vancouver Fooster’s Best Lasagna judges has brought me down to “Ragazzi” in East Vancouver. I am actually familiar with the corner pizza shop, having my parent’s house located in the area. But it has been forever since I have laid eyes on “Ragazzi”, so it was so great to catch up and watch how they have flourish over the years, during this visit.

They serve a community with the likes of a public library, community centre, fire hall, and retirement centre; all surrounding it. Many of the visitors today were kids coming in after school or after their extra curriculars. Parents, groups of teen, and single folk looking for an easy dinner solution, with leftovers to serve as another meal.

It was a smaller space with order by the slice options by the window, to take to-go or quickly dine in. As well as a full menu with pizza and pasta that is baked to order. We grabbed a booth seat at the back and casually conversed as we waited for our meal. The flat screen televisions provided something to look at.

Seeing it, I was immediately impressed by the size of the serving of the vegetarian lasagna. I found my mouth watering up, looking at the even layers of tender noodle, gooey cheese, and melty spinach. It smelled and tasted exactly like what I envisioned when I anticipated lasagna for dinner. A classically done casserole that hits all the comfort bites with its salty and tangy notes, without the need for any ground meat. This is one you would crave again.

I was here to judge their lasagna, but couldn’t walk away not trying their pizza. This is their classic margarita with a thick, yet airy crust, and a sweet tomato sauce. It is seasoned a little on the mild side between the mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. However, you can easily reach for any of their table top condiments. A squeeze bottle of hot sauce or ranch dressing and/or a shaker of chilli flakes or Parmesan cheese to customize each slice to your preference.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The whole neighbourhood can’t be wrong. A great spot to pick up a slice to snack on, but worth checking out for local hole in the wall charm. When you crave pizza and lasagna this is what hits that spot. Don’t deny your cravings.

RAGAZZI
2996 E 22nd Ave E, Vancouver, BC V5M 2Y4
(604) 433-2235
ragazzipizza.com

Sprezzatura Restaurant, #LasagnaChallengeYVR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great spot to host larger parties, I will definitely be suggesting this one to my family the next time they want to get together. Everything was familiar, yet different with slight twists and variations, to make the dining more interesting. I left full, but feeling healthier because everything was baked. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

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

Miss Korea BBQ

Walking up to the restaurant, we recollected that we have been to this location before; but as a different reincarnation. It then too was a do-it-yourself barbecue restaurant. But instead of a Japanese, this was now a lively and boppy Korean bbq hub. You could smell the smoke a block away, and hear the sizzle even past the jovial voices and the bubbly K-pop ballads belting.

Sadly, we were horribly late for our reservation, and as a result our table was given away. So we were left at the threshold, awkwardly standing, at the centre of a cluster of dining tables, separated by dark wood separators. There was no other option given that the small waiting area was already cramped, and it was too cold to enjoy standing outside. So here we were, waiting a minute for every one that we were originally late for.

It was packed house on Friday with plenty bodies waiting for a table after us, this did bolstered the restaurant’s imagine in my eyes. It had me thinking that it must be worth the wait, especially given how popular it was with the Korean population. The only hitch, all the waiting had my eyes drying from the unseen smoke and my nostrils trying to close in on themselves, to avoid breathing in the acrid smell of burning compounded, from every grill at every table. Be warned? This smell does follow you home, embedding itself in your hair and on your clothes.

But past this, the visit, the food, and especially the service were a delight. The young host was cheery and welcoming, we were ushered to our table as soon as one became available; and well look after each time we push the red button for service. A measure of convenience for the staff, but an action I could not get use to. Continuing to make eye contact and hail a person like I would a cab, like at everywhere else.

The menu was easy to navigate with plenty of coloured photos. If you want the full experience you get one of their predetermined barbecue sets, and to it add some sides. For more food, go for one of their full dishes like kimchi pancake, bibimbap, or japchae. There are also a number of smaller appetizers and share plates to consider.

But back to the barbecue sets: a collection of raw meats that you cook yourself on the grill, located at the centre of your table. They are a variety of sets to choose from, each with 4 sides, bowls of rice, soup and sauces. So you are basically choosing what types of meat you want. And then if you want the order as a medium which feeds 2 to spare, or large which can feed 3-4.

We went with the “Miss Combo A” which centred around rib eye steak, pork belly, special galbi, and chicken. And added on cheese as one of the grill sides for an extra $3.95. The price is steep for 60mls of shredded cheese melted and quick to burn, but amazingly delicious with the meat if you get it all gooey and stringy.

Meats are marinated and served all together on one platter for you to sort through. Larger cuts that you might want to trim down to size if you are sharing, and seeing as your meal doesn’t come with knives for slicing. You get two tongs and a pair of scissors. One of the tongs is for raw meat the other to serve the cooked cuts. You can either cut the meat down to size before or after it is cooked. We went with before and found the dull shears ineffective on any sinew.

We were advised to eat the chicken and pork first using a more closed off grill plate. And then when we move on to the beef, the grill plate would be changed to one that is more wire-y. This was nice, given that the grill isn’t oiled so it does get caked with burnt meat that sloughs off during the cooking process. So getting a new one mid way ensures you are tasting more of your meat, and less of the burning.

How the meat turns out depends on you, so be vigilant and visit with someone who actually enjoys tending to the grill. For me, not so much, I rather eat and enjoy my meal with minimum work. But this sort of dining is more for comradery and the ability to elongate a meal through slow preparation and gentle grazing anyways.

As for how it tasted, the seasoning was the same for all the meat, a mildly sweet and salty marinate. Good but not enough. I found myself dipping everything into the side of sweet soy, chilli, or course salt for more punch. Each cut had a different chew. I liked the special galbi the most for its perfect balance of fat and meat, the chicken was the most tender and naturally flavourful, the pork belly was mostly just fat, and the rib eye a little too aged and musky for my tastes. But the fun really comes from trying them all with a different combination of the egg, corn and cheese on the side.

The corn came shrivelled and remained dry. The egg bubbled up and kept warm like a fluffy omelette; and along side with the cheese and pork belly, you got flashbacks of breakfast. Be warned the cheese is very hot and it holds its heat, so be careful as it can burn your tongue.

You can also use the 4 vegetable sides as a way to inject a little flavour along with the meat and rice. Although majority of them are more tangy and refreshing in quality and serve better as a break in between, to change up the flavour with. Like the spicy cucumber and pickled julienned daikon. There is also the more common chilled boiled potato and spicy kimchi sides.

The soup comes to the table sizzling in its cast iron vessel. A light vegetable broth with hot spice. Mixed in are plenty of chopped cabbage and onion; with chucks on tofu, cannelloni beans, and zucchini. A great start to warm your stomach up for things to come. You can also enjoy the vegetables over your rice as they are well seasoned by the soup.

As good as all this was, and despite how much food we already had in front of us, I couldn’t walk away without ordering the “Seafood rice cake”. Rice cakes are one of my favourite, especially in this form. I enjoy the chew of the tubes, and here it was well highlighted by the mix of the seafood and their textures. Shrimp in tail, mussels in shell, sheets of fish cake, and squid curls; all smothered in a sweet chilli sauce. Spicy enough to give your tongue a run for its money, but not hot enough that you would stop eating. I am not ashamed to admit that I single handedly finished the whole bowl.

To drink we had soju, because when having Korean barbecue what else do you turn too? However I made the mistake of ordering a sweet one in green apple fruit. The result, the most un-complimentary food and drink pairing I have ever had. I outright admit soju was a bad idea. However, in my defence I typically am not the one who orders it, it is just shows up!

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A great place for good barbecue and a fun date night option. Just be prepared to come out smelling like burn bbq smoke. Don’t deny your cravings.

MISS KOREA BBQ
793 Jervis St, Vancouver, BC V6E 2B1
(604) 669-1225

King Size Bubble Tea & Games

My friend got invited down to “King Size Bubble Tea” on Main Street for a drink and some karaoke. The shoppe reached out to her after seeing her wacky personality come alive on social media. So she called me up for a fun afternoon of bbt and singing.

They have been a go-to for bubble tea in the Main Street area for 2 years now (previously known as “7 Lemon”), but only recently have they expanded their entertainment offerings to include karaoke, so were now excited to share. Their goal is to bring something different to the world of bbt cafés. As it is getting harder to compete with the international imports planting roots in Canada, with many more shops breaking soil thereafter. So here at “King Sized” they are focusing on the environment in which their drinks are being served. What more can their guests do, after buying a cup and nursing it for an hour or two.

The decor definitely speaks to the above. Walking in, it felt like someone’s bedroom, and it certainly took me back to mine growing up. There were multiple nods to gaming and anime with “One Piece” “wanted” posters on the wall, “Gundam” builds proudly displayed on the shelves, “Yu-Gi-Oh!” playing cards and their tins, and “Bleach” posters; from what I was familiar with.

For games they had the classic board games like Battle Ship, Guess Who, and Card Against Humanity. There was an electronic darts machine in the corner, and old fashion wooden chess set up at the ready, and a gaming station with Nintendo’s Game Cube and an Xbox 360 plugged in.

As for the karaoke, our visit was at 1pm, right when they opened on the weekend. And as long as you have the courage and are willing to grab the mike and belt out your favourite tune, you can sing any time of the day. The karaoke machine syncs up to your phone when you connect to one of their wifi networks. From there, you pick your song off of the YouTube app, choosing a lyric video so that you can read along. Although there are also actual karaoke song versions available, where you can only hear the melody, minus the vocals. And viola, easy karaoke with out the licence.

When it comes to drinks, their menu hosts all the familiar bubbletea flavours: slushes, steep teas with fruit, and milk based teas. Be warned if you have dairy restrictions, they only use real milk, therefore you will have to avoid the entire milk tea collection. I was fine, so got their classic milk tea, which ended up being too sweet. They gave me a choice in sweetness and ice, but I left it as “normal”, not knowing any better. I did like how their pearls were warm and extra squishy though.

My host however has a dairy allergy, so went with the recommended strawberry lemon tea made with real strawberry fruit. It was lemon forward, with the underlying flavour of rose, and very little tea. She declared that she liked it, despite not typically liking tea drinks.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
In short, a fun spot to hang out at, with drinks and games to play. Don’t deny your cravings.

KING SIZE BUBBLETEA
4385 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V 3R1
(778) 379-7060
kingsizebubbletea.com

El Camino’s brunch

My friend and I were meeting up on Main Street, and looking for a quick bite to eat. She suggested “El Camino’s”, and seeing as we both have never been, we made it our destination.

Named after the vintage car, they have used its likeness as their logo. A red Chevrolet in front of a orangey-yellow sunburst. The exterior isn’t much to look at with the patio covered by a waterproof tarp. A large contrast to the warm and photographic exterior that awaits within. As their sign out front advertised, they have cocktails and a very well furnished bar to craft almost anything. Its expanse greets you at the door, shelves featuring tequila reaching out towards either direction. To the right a more formal dining area, set to a backdrop of Spanish painted on to cement bricks. To the left, more of a bar feel with high top tables in front for a mural. Yellow eyes peering out from behind a wall of blood red roses. We would grab a seat in between, two high stools against a makeshift table top, balanced on an ornately painted barrel. The lot of it gave the room a certain western feel, befitting of their namesake.

The brunch menu included the usual famialr breakfast offerings of fruit bowls and fried eggs; but with Latin American-inspired sides and flourishes like salsa, tortilla chips, and black beans.

My guest got the “Tomatican hash”, a Chilean stew of tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn and potatoes; topped with braised short rib, a poached egg, hollandaise, and tortilla chips. It ate like chips and salsa but with stew for dipping into. Thanks to the side of potatoes and the tortilla, this ate like two different plates in its variety.

I had one of the three Benedicts. It was a plate of two poached egg, a smokey hollandaise, hash browns, pulled pork, and pickled jalapeño on cornbread. This was deliciously done and exactly as how I envisioned it when ordering. The sweetness of the cornbread played off the salty pork, and now and again you would get the heat from a rouge jalapeño. Not to mention both eggs were perfectly poached and creamy with the hollandaise. I would return just for this.

But if you needed a bit more zip to your plate, look to any of the three bottles of house made hot sauces and barbecue sauces, stationed at every table.

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.
Given how much we both liked our plates, I would want to come back to try more of their brunch menu and work my way through dinner and lunch as well. Don’t deny your cravings.

EL CAMINO’S
3250 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V 3M6
(604) 875-6246
elcaminos.ca

Hanoi Old Quarter

Over the past years our family has started a new tradition. Instead of visiting a Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year, we gather and dine at anything but. One year it was “White Spot”, last year Korean cuisine, and this year it was Vietnamese. I choose “Hanoi Old Quarter” wanting to try the newer restaurant myself; having dined at and liking their sister restaurant, the long standing “Mr. Red Cafe”.

“Hanoi” was similar to the original location with its tropical theme: a mix of live and plastic plants, over grown foliage, a thatched roof bar, and artifacts. The traditional music and warm lights added to the cozy feel of the place. As a smaller restaurant, it is highly recommended that you make reservations, they will need to push tables together to accommodate parties larger than 4. We were spread across three tables. Those sitting along the booth, against the wall, found ourselves balancing cheek between the cracks of the seats. Worse still was the fact that the benches were set at different heights.

When it came time to order, a few of our family members ordered their own dishes, but most of us shared everything, family style.

The “Green Papaya salad” was a nice start. Thin strands of fruit that ate like vegetables. It was refreshing and tangy with the familiar flavour of fish sauce. You also get a certain herbaceous-ness to it from the mint, and layered crispiness from the fried onions.

The “Prawn and pork spring rolls” were a little too oily for my liking. They had a flat flavour that was helped along with a thorough dunking into the fish sauce dip. In my opinion, fish sauce fixes everything.

Similar, but different was the “Crab meat spring roll”, though actually they were more like squares”. Similar in deep fry texture and grease, but different in format, thus making it much easier to identify between the two stuffed spring rolls. I didn’t get crab meat in this, there was too much oil masking its lighter flavour. But just as well, with a remedying dunk into the fish sauce, that is all I tasted anyways. If I didn’t know what it was in it, I would have thought this was another pork and shrimp roll.

The “Deep fried chicken wings” were heavy on the batter, but still bland for it. It needed every pinch of the salt that was piled neatly on the side. Another one I dipped excessively into fish sauce.

My brother ordered his usual, the “Lemon grass with rice”, a normally quite person he cleaned his plate without complaints. Sadly, he was not in the mood to share.

I don’t like ordering the same thing as anyone else, so had the similar, but different “Grilled pork chop with rice”. Similar to the chicken in its dome shaped rice side, hard and bland broccoli florets, the bed of lettuce that the protein sat on, and bowl of sauce that looked like soup. I learned of the latter the hard way, taking a gulp of salty fish sauce to quench my thirst. As for the pork chop itself, the meat was tender and tasty with just enough gristle, an even grill and easy to cut. I would definitely order this again for comfort eating.

The “Pork hock, deep fried tofu, and Vietnamese sausage” was an impressive looking set. A choose your own adventure platter. You curate the perfect bite between airy tofu puffs, an earthy sausage with a metallic quality to it, and a tasty smoke prawn paste to mask what you don’t like.

The “Grilled pork belly and patties” wasn’t what I expected. I bowl of chopped up meats, sitting in a pool of fish sauce. Although soggy they were at least tasty. This was best mixed into a noodle dish with the bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and vermicelli on the side.

The “Duck stew and green bananas in clay pot” looked like a hearty stew, but wasn’t as rich as I wanted it. The duck was dry and chalky, the flavour a little medicinal, and the bananas included the peel. Interesting and different overall, but this one isn’t for me.

The “Beef stew in clay pot” was more my speed. It read “stew” and it delivered. It even came with a whole banh mi baguette to help sop up stringy meat and plentiful gravy.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Not the mainstream Vietnamese flavours I have come to know and expect, but something completely different and worth trying nonetheless. New flavours and unique ingredients prepared with presentation and freshness in mind. Although saying that, if I was to return I would try their pho and/or order the lemon grass or grilled pork on rice again. Don’t deny your cravings.

Le Doux Ciel, Chinese New Year High Tea

I have seen photos of this newer cafe floating around, but what got me through the door finally was their limited edition, Chinese New Year themed high tea set. It is only available for a month starting January 15th and running to February 15th, 2020

In order to indulge you must make a reservation and that comes with a commitment. The cost is $59 per person. You leave your credit card information and are billed “50% or more” if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice. Therefore, we made sure we got there early to avoid complications. Parking is easy enough, if you seek a spot in the underground lot of the “Praq Casino” adjacent. This is within walking distance of “Le Doux Ciel”.

The cafe is a wonderfully curated space. A touch of elegance with soft pastels, velvet upholstery, marble counters, honeycomb tiles, and flourishes of gold. On the ceiling dangled oversized balloons in whites, teal, and gold. They bounced around adding whimsy, and adding to the celebratory mood. It all definitely got us more excited for what’s more to come.

Your journey begins with a choice of tea, two pages to skim through, all served in a bird themed set. Individual tea pots that resembled bird houses, tea cups that had a tiny bird perched on its handle, and a saucer shaped like a gilded cage.

We would take our server’s suggestion and order their two most popular teas. The “milky blue”, isn’t actually blue in colour (we checked before ordering it). It had a naturally milky essence to it, without the need to add any actual milk product. And enough sweetness from candied chestnuts to enjoy without any honey or sugar. Its creaminess matched the indulgence of the set well.

The second most popular brew was the “blanc and rose” white tea. You got plenty of gentle rose notes in this cup. More light and floral than the blue tea above.

The actual full food set comes out fast. Many of the elements are pre-made and simply assembled on these speciality, miniature shelves. They typically house small figurines and leave quite the oriental impression. But there were so many pieces to this set that they had to spread it across two fixtures. The second one was a platform, and like the shelf, it was topped with waxy paper to protect the wood from oils and sugars from the snack-sized feast before us. We worked our way through everything, looking to the menu as a guide of the order in which to do so. It was in doing this that we realized that we were missing one of the listed items: the traditional new year cake. But alas the chef had already retired for the day so we were unable to try it. However, the clerk offered us our choice of any of the treats in the showcase, but more on that below.

Once again, in the order that we nibbled and savoured: We started with the “Vegetable spread mix”. It looked half thought out. A slice of cucumber topped with sautéed vegetables. A mix of red peppers, eggplant, and mushroom. It ate like a vegan chip and salsa, but needed more. It was missing seasoning and a pinch of salt. And perhaps a final topping to complete the concept. My suggestion would be a sprinkling of fried onion. It tasted healthy and was light, giving you a similar feeling that you would get from a cucumber finger sandwich, in other high tea sets.

I really liked the “Smoked bacon on steam buns”. A nice thick cut of bacon with a maple syrup finish, its sweetness went well with the sweet onion paste smeared within the doughy bun. All that was missing was more vegetables, something pickled like you’d get in banh mi, for a nice tang.

By comparison, the “Sesame brioche buns with roasted pork belly” was similar in sweetness and tangy sauce. But here, the thick and crunchy skin was hard to bite through, and just as dry as the bun. Overall great flavours, I just wanted the dish to be better curated, and once again with more veggies to balance out the heavy juices.

The “Exotic mushroom veggie spring roll” came served with a sweet chilli sauce on the side for dipping. It was crunchy with plenty of mushroom filling. I don’t know about the “exotic” part though. It was pretty standard all in all.

Next, we transitioned from savoury to sweet with the “Bird’s nest soup with red dates”. It had a jelly-like texture that drank like slurping down minced jello. It was refreshing and only mildly sweet, with the flavour of the dates coming through.

The “Fermented rice cake” was interesting. Three desserts in one, including the decorative white chocolate piece crowning it. There were a few more scattered across the set, similarly decorated it Chinese characters and/or symbols to really round out the theme. At the centre was a tiny glutenous rice ball with sesame seed paste at its centre. I have never had one so mild, it contrasted well the tangy fermented jelly surrounding it. But overall this had a medicinal quality to it.

The “puff pastry” is one that I am familiar with. Shaped like a lotus flower, with a flaky shell, surrounding dense date paste. Given how dry and ashy it is, it is best paired with tea or coffee and nibbled on.

I was most excited by the sugar coated hawthorn fruits. Visually, it was juicy looking strawberries coated in syrup and wrapped in edible, translucent paper (like what you get with white rabbit candy.) I would later learn that this called “bing tanghulu”, a popular Beijing snack. It tasted like “haw flakes” and was fun to eat off the stick. This was all kinds of sweet, across different textures.

Once again, the menu also listed a “special Chinese traditional cake”, but it was missing on our tower, and by the time we realized this, the chef was already gone for the day. Therefore to round out our meal, our server (the lone employee left to hold down the cafe), offered us the following.

A couple of their Chinese New Year themed macarons like red bean and osmanthus. The former actually tasted like red bean, whereas the latter was just sweet. I was waiting, but I never got the floral notes I expected from the blossom. It simply tasted artificial, and a little like mango?

And in keeping of our asian theme, we choose the “Black sesame cake”. One of their single serve, individual sized desserts, pre-made and waiting behind glass. It was mostly mousse with a thin layer of sponge. I found the texture sandy, whereas if I was going to have this much mousse I wanted it rich and creamy. At the centre was a mildly tart blueberry gel core. It helped to brighten up the dessert, but as a whole, this one isn’t for me.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Honest this it is one of the better high tea sets I have had. Everything is made in house, and I definitely tasted the value across each course. Complex and creative, this is one to try! Don’t deny your cravings.

LE DOUX CIEL
65 Smithe St, Vancouver, BC V6B 0R3
(236) 520-2888
ledouxciel.ca

Campagnolo, Dine Out 2020

Looking for a place to eat, my guest and I walked Main Street in search of anything that stroked our fancy. And tonight that would be the Dine Out Vancouver sign advertising Campagnolo’s $35, 3 course meal.

We came in and the restaurant was just as I remembered it to be. A refined vibe, with a golden glow and simple furnishings. The only difference today was the new blue separator, built to mimicked glass windows on a cottage. We were seated at a booth across from it, so I was able to admire it all night.

Their Dine Out Vancouver menu doesn’t really feature anything out side of their regular menu. It simply has you ordering one or two more courses than you normally would, and saving some money on it.

To start with we shared the “Bitter Royal” cocktail with bourbon, mery melrose cognac, and 3 amari: sibilla, nonimo, nardini. It was as strong and as it looked, but still gave you some softness at the end.

For appetizers we had our choice between soup or two salads. We skipped on the “Crispy Ceci”, after taking our server’s suggestion. This was chickpeas seasoned with lemon, chili, mint, evoo, and scallion.

I am going to preemptively set the expectation of this meal and state that we came in drinking before so were searching for something more richer to coat our bellies with. A point I didn’t realize, until we got to dessert. As leftovers without the drunk appetite everything was fantastic. The flavours well paired with one another and satisfying in its’ distinctiveness.

In hindsight, with my drunk appetite, vinaigrette soaked greens weren’t as satisfying as the crispy chickpeas would have been. But the next day the “Winter Radicchio Salad” was a lively and bright mix, slightly bitter from tart greens, but with just the right amount of salt from the castelvetrano olives. The herbed croutons offered crunch, the meyer lemon’s zest helped to brighten up the dish, and the clothbound cheddar rounded out the textures with some chew. If you got everything on one spoon you are in for a treat. Good, but best as a side to some protein.

But in our state we both preferred the “Wild Mushroom Veloute” made with locally foraged mushrooms, and a sourdough crouton with rouille. I enjoyed the creamy soup with its thick cuts of chunky mushroom, but the cracker got soggy fast. A side of bread for dipping would have been nice, and helpful in sobering up.

For entrees you had a choice between two pastas or a risotto. Given my guest’s dietary restriction, we skipped on the “Strozzapreti Bolognese whole wheat pasta, pork & beef”. And instead had the “Spaghetti Pomodoro” with tomato sauce, garlic, evoo, and basil. It came with the option to add homemade meatballs for $8, but it didn’t need it, it was already plenty flavourful and rich. The sumptuous cheesiness of this, and its well sauced and chewy noodles were the comfort we wanted to end our night of drinking on. But when eating it normally, and at moments where you will find the spaghetti too overwhelming in one tone, I suggest switching to the risotto dish below for a nice contrast.

The “Red Wine Risotto” had raw local apples and root vegetables, with black garlic. This was a new take on the chewy rice dish, and I found it interesting. I got a sharpness from the wine, and a sweetness from the beets, and found freshness from the julienned apple. Once again not quite what my body wanted to sober up with, starch and comforting chew aside. But especially delicious warmed up the next day, and taken in conjunction with the sweeter pasta above.

For dessert, we got one of each of the available options. The “BC Blueberry & Polenta Cake vanilla crema” was vegan friendly. The cake had that micro grainy texture you get from the use of polenta; something I am more familiar with as corn bread, and so it added some savouriness to this cake. I liked the look the kernels of popcorn gave, but didn’t think they added anything to the flavour. And the sharp kernel skins gave an undesirable rough texture to the cake. The fruit brought it back to dessert territory with its natural sweetness that played off the light cream wonderfully.

The “Dark Chocolate Torte” was also vegan friendly and gluten free, and as a result this too had a crumbly texture, but here punctuated with crushed nuts. The flavours were nice, bitter chocolate and tart cherries with a little cream for a Black Forest Cake feel. Although I wanted a spongy cake base to enjoy it all with. Something soft and sumptuous to melt on to my tongue, and I didn’t get it with either desserts. Therefore we didn’t end up finishing either, nor did we pack it to go. It didn’t satisfy like any dessert, I was hoping for. But I recognize that they are absolutely a great solution for those with such dietary restrictions.

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.
Great as a normal meal, but not ideal as drunk food. And exciting as leftovers, when I could taste my way through the experience more alert and observant.
Don’t deny your cravings.

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

Gyoza Bar, Dine Out Brunch 2020

This morning we were at “Gyoza Bar”, here to try their Dine Out Vancouver brunch menu. $15 got you a 4 piece set with plenty of value to take advantage of, before February 3rd, 2020.

It opens at 12pm on a Saturday and the crowds flooded in soon after. A large space with plenty of seating. A lounge feel with a bar backed by bricks, that transitions into an open stainless steel kitchen. We grabbed a small narrow table by the door, with plenty of light and enough space for our two square set trays below.

Since it was the weekend we started with a couple of their new drinks. The “Blue Hawaiian” is the classic tropical cocktail with blue curaçao, pineapple, lime, and vodka. Fairly sweet, leaving you with a back of your throat soreness. I much preferred the “Chu-Hai” with pink grapefruit, lemon, orange bitters, soda, and gin. The citrus flavour was pronounced, and the drink refreshing as a whole with the spritzy soda. But with both you don’t get enough alcohol to actually taste it.

The $15 Dine Out brunch menu is this spicy tuna rice bowl teishoku set.

It comes with their daily miso soup. And today it included cut up woodear mushroom and seaweed.

The salad is a mix of greens, red onion, pickled cabbage, and cherry tomatoes, all coated in a sesame and citrus vinaigrette. Then finished off with a mashed tofu paste. I didn’t know what I was looking at, I never had tofu like this before. It added some heartiness and texture to the side, making it a more fulsome start.

Our server recommend that we enjoy the soft boiled, lightly soy sauced egg mixed into the rice dish below.

The main is like a poké with a spicy tuna mash and avocado purée over sweet citrus rice. It is topped with red onion and sliced cucumber which offer the only variation in crunch. The flavours were there, but the textures lacking. It was all the same soften gumminess, so that you grew bored of chewing. You got the flavour of the spicy tuna loud and clear, but wanted it more solid. Tuna sashimi, or perhaps some deep fried onion sprinkled over top for crunch?

And because it was my first time and called the “Gyoza Bar”, we made sure to try an order of their “pork teppan gyoza”. I liked the grilled skin of these pork and chive dumplings, but wanted more pizzazz and flavour from the filling. Though I guess that is what the side of spicy miso and umami soy is for.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Based on this limited experience, I would like to come back for a more filling meal. To be able to try more dishes in order to get a better feel of their regular service. But at this point, all I can say is that this set is a deal. Don’t deny your cravings.

GYOZA BAR
622 W Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1V8
(604) 336-5563
gyozabar.ca

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