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Granville Room, Dine Out 2020

Dine Out Vancouver is back for its 17th year. Great deals on new and favourite restaurants, serving up specialty menus. Typically 3 courses set at either $15, $25, $35, or $45 price points. For most you get to select an appetizer, have your choice of entree, and a dessert from a couple of catered selections. Not only does it encourage you to get out and about when the weather makes you want to stay in, but it also helps the hospitality industry and those working in it.

With so many possibilities it is hard to choose which restaurant and when. My strategy is picking ones that I haven’t been to and going for the best deal. This allows you to try something new and even if you don’t like it, it isn’t a big loss to you or your wallet.

Tonight, I was one of the Donnelly Group properties to do just that. And if you visit the “Granville Room” or any of their other Public Houses, I highly suggest taking the savings and applying them to some drinks. At any of their establishments, each Dine Out course has a recommend BC wine or cocktail pairing that goes with it. And I can fully attest, that the food is made with pairing drinks in mind, and that both are made better with the other. And bonus, this bar is located on the Granville entertainment strip downtown, meaning it is easy to get to by transit.

The room is moody and dark, the later it gets the greater it fills. It has your typical bar vibe, playing music with a lot of base, offset by the roar of jovial conversation at neighbouring tables. You seat yourself at either the wooden bar or any of their booths or four top rounds. I recommend the former with its healthy back splash of bottles. Above the bar terrariums hang in decoration. Each equipped with its only spiky air plants laying on some rocks, they compliment the forest of vines and leaves that creep down from above the door way. The botanical elements gives the space a lushness and a literal breath of fresh air.

 

The Dine Out Dinner menu is three courses for $25, and if you go with a friend and share, you get to try 2 out of the 3 options for both the appetizers and entrees.

Starting with the appetizers we had “Jor’s Flautas”. You have a choice between the braised chicken or sweet potato filling, along with a topping of cilantro, sour cream, and salsa. Having had the chicken, I think I would have liked the sweet potato better. Its pasty texture would have offered a nice contrast to the crispy roll, as well as its natural sweetness. The chicken on the other hand was shredded and ashy, I wanted another texture that didn’t parallel the flour tortilla shell quite so well. It would have also been nice to have a cream based sauce to coat the chicken in, before wrapping it. I kept wanting something on the sweeter side from this, like a honey based sauce that would have been nice here. The appetizer as a whole reminded us of taquitos, and were just as zesty. Each roll had a nice spice to it that perfectly paired with the recommend BC VQA “Volcanic Hills” Pinot Gris. The slight burn was balanced out by the cool, crisp, and tart flavours of the Pinot, really elevating both.

Out of the three appetizers I highly recommend the “Prawn Lettuce Wraps”. The curry sauce it sat in was amazing. A fragrant coconut curry with ginger and sriracha. However, I wanted it with rice or some bread, to better soak up all that sauce. Especially given the generous ratio of prawn to lettuce. Instead, most of the curry dripped off the vein of lettuce it was served with, as the intended scoop/base. The cucumber and mint garnish added a nice touch of freshness, to each self-curated bite. The flavourful-ness of this was also well accented by the “Volcanic Hills” Pinot Gris, it toned and defined.

The third appetizer option that we skipped was the “Dirty Fries” with queso dip, sea salt, and parmesan. And I suggest you do too, if you plan on getting either the steak or the chicken below, as both come with a generous helping of fries as sides. Chewy, thick cut fries with a nice potatoey centre.

The “1/4 Rotisserie Chicken” featured quality white meat that was tender and moist. Although I was left wanting more of its natural juices to come through for added moisture. I could have dipped it into the side of gravy, but found it far too salty, with not enough meat flavour. Instead, I opted for ketchup, but would have been happier with a sweet honey maple barbecue. You also get a kale slaw on the side with the fries, but I was not a fan. The slaw was dry and bitter, with the texture of leafy greens, which I have never liked. Besides when there is fries why would you go for the vegetable option?

But the one to get is the “Steak Sandwich” with horseradish mayo, arugula, and tomato if you want something heartier. Or the always comforting “Mac & Cheese rigatoni” with truffled parmesan, bacon, and greens. We had the former and was not disappointed by the quality of the steak. Perfectly prepared to a medium rare, juicy and tender with a savoury spice. This was given a pop with the zesty horseradish spread. There was a little too much of it at some points, and overall it made the bread soggier. I would have enjoyed this better deconstructed. Steak as the main, buttered bread, and the salad on top as a side. Trying to eat this open face sandwich got messy, and trying to cut through the bread only made things worse. The fries were the same as above, the gravy was just as salty, but more like a jus you get with a beef dip. Nevertheless I didn’t use any of it, as the steak was already well seasoned.

The recommend BC VQA Wine/Beverage Pairing for all the entrees is a “Gehringer Cabernet merlot”. This is a mellow, easy drinking wine that acted as the perfect “meaty” palette cleanser between all the richer flavours. It also aided in balancing out the salt.

You didn’t get an option for dessert. Being primarily a bar, they weren’t as invested in flushing out a sweet menu. Instead, they completed this set menu with a “Drumstick”. The brand of frozen ice cream cone with a chocolate fudge centre and a coating of chocolate and peanuts, over vanilla ice cream, all on a sugar cone. I was a little disappointed in realizing it wasn’t made in house, but after one bite nostalgia kicked in and I was a-okay. Especially seeing in presented in a mason jar of jelly beans. Double the childhood feels.

And even this too had a beverage pairing. A Lot 40 Old Fashioned. And I must say I was both surprised and impressed at how well they went together. The chocolate in the ice cream almost caramelized the drink. It was weird, but it just made sense. I highly recommend trying it and/or dipping one into the other. Childhood indulgence and adulthood vice meeting and having mouth babies.

The food is definitely made to be paired with drinks, considering “Granville Room” is a night spot, with a bar front and centre. You come for the drinks, and if you are hungry there is an amazing set meal you can indulge in, for cheap. The way things are priced these days, the above for one is about the same price as a fast food combo with drink, fries, and frozen soft serve. Here, you get better quality food, and it feels like you are getting a deal. All in a setting that is much nicer that any place with florescent lights and a swivel chair. In conclusion, this was a great deal at $25 per person, plus drinks. The food was solid and we left with leftovers.

GRANVILLE ROOM
957 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L3
(604) 633-0056
donnellygroup.ca/granville-room

Noodle Arts

On a cold, but more tolerable snowy night, we were in search of some noodles to help warm us up. Our journey brought us to “Noodle Art” on Robson Street. Where 2 out of 3 of us had never been before, and the 3rd frequents, always ordering to same menu item.

On this slower night we had the full attention of the floor staff, which included the lone server in pink and purple uniform, and the owner of the restaurant herself.

This was a treat, as she gave us a quick background spiel. Her family actually owns 68 similar restaurants in China, with this being their first venture in Vancouver, with its own name. They specialize in traditional Lanzhou cuisine, flavour from the “ Silk Road”, North West of China. As she spoke you could tell how passionate she was about her family’s legacy and the pride she had for her shop, here.

The restaurant is brightly lit. Wood strips line the right wall and a blue and red mural of people and horse covers the one on the left. But the highlight of the space has to be the partially open kitchen and the ability to watch your choice of noodles be rolled, cut, or pulled to order, then boiled up in a wok of hot water. The entire mesmerizing experience was carried out by two chefs in full uniform. Unsmiling and utterly focused on the work before them. Their hands work feverishly and the food came out quickly there after.

We were seated on the right and given a two sided menu that when folded and not laminated also served as their take out menu. Names of items were fairly descriptive, with a few choice photo to help in your decision making. However, we had the owner by our table, helping us to decide. Originally we were all going to get their “traditional Lanzhou beef noodle”, (the very order my one guests all the time and got again tonight). Although through her recommendations we were each able to find and try a different dishes, each with its own strong points. When you order any of their noodle dishes you get to choose the type of noodles you want from it. A choice made from a list of eight different options that includes an extra thin strand at 1mm and a thick flat noodle at 5mm. Worth mentioning is that they also offer rice, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes, or their noodles dry. But we came in with a craving and one bowl of soup noodle is plenty of food for one.

As expected, the one guest got his usual: the traditional Lanzhou beef noodle, making it a combo. “Combo A” gave you a cold side, additional beef slices, and a marinaded egg with your large bowl of noodles. But if it was me I would have gotten “Combo B”, so that I could have a dessert with the set. He customized his bowl with their thickest noodle at 20mm and ask for extra spicy oil to be added in. However, the noodles weren’t all that thick and the oil wasn’t even spicy. (Though now looking at the photos, I think they must have us the wrong noodles). The noodles were nice and chewy, an ideal cut for those who order such dishes for the noodles and enjoys chewing through them. You can also get a container of the spicy oil for the table, to be able to scoop as much or as little as you like, on to whatever you want. It offers a nice peppery flavour, but despite its neon red hue, I would classify this as mild at best. As for the broth, given the amount of oil used, I can’t be sure of how it tastes normally. I guess I would just have to come back to find out. As for the sides, they were a nice break in between bites, great alone or even together within the noodle bowl. The cold seaweed offered a firmer chew, and the extra meat and egg some heartiness.

I had the “Braised ribs noodle soup”. This came recommend my our owner-host. They had originally run out of the meat in the morning, so this evening I would be partaking from a fresh batch. Hearing that was enough to have me confirming the recommendation. I had it with “triangle” noodles, that weren’t actually triangular. They are just not as flat as most of the other noodles. Thicker strands, but with a less width. They were chubby and chewy and only got more so, the longer they soaked in the broth. They do absorb liquid quick, so I suggest eating this one first and fast to get firm noodles and plenty of broth to slurp up. As for how it tasted, I couldn’t help but to compare this dish to Taiwanese beef noodle. Therefore I wanted a richer broth, with more pepper, and more heat in spice and in temperature. Similarly the meat was bland. Pieces were inconsistent with some being tender and others dry. All the flavour could have washed into the soup, but I found they fell flat. Though luckily I was able to reach for the chilli oil jar and rejuvenate my serving with a whole new flavour to work through.

My other guest got their “soup” special, a new menu item only introduced a day ago (from when I visited). They are competing in Vancouver Foodster’s Best Soup Challenge, and this is their entry. It isn’t on their regular menu, but is featured on stand up signs at each table, along with a card informing you on how you can vote for your favourite (after trying all the competitors) at the Vancouver Foodster website. Something they want to promote, so that they can potentially be crowned the best in the city, for the best soup.

This wasn’t a new dish they created, but one that is well known and well received, especially by my guest who ordered it and knew exactly what she was getting. This was their “Lamb noodle soup”, a light broth that was full of rich flavour from boiled lamb bones. It was peppery with plenty of thin slices of lamb meat. It came with vermicelli and her choice of “Blade carving noodles”. The latter made by using a knife to roughly cut out chunks of dough, straight into boiling water. The result, a thicker, shorter noodle with an inconsistent chew. It did paired very well with the thin slippery glass noodle. But she too found herself reaching for the chilli oil to help change the taste mid way.

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.
I liked what I had, but wouldn’t go out of my way for their noodles, nor would I classify them as a destination. I can find other options with more flavour, closure to my home. However, they definitely make a great stop for those living in the neighbourhood. This is especially the case with their stamp card program, and the ability to collect them for an eventual free bowl. Don’t deny your cravings.

NOODLE ARTS
1739 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C9
(604) 673-5688
noodlearts.com

Banter Room

My girl friend and I heard about a Yaletown bar/lounge with a champagne vending machine and immediately made plans to visit it, (the next time we were in the area). The first of such vending machines in Vancouver is located at “Prohibition” within “Hotel Georgia”. Both it and the one at “Banter Room” function and cost exactly the same, but now we can say that we have had a bottle from both.

There is just something so novel about ordering what is considered a luxury item, from something that is so accessible and every day, like a vending machine. We joked that the small bottles of Möet offered were “juice boxes”. The machine is sponsored by Möet so only offers its bottles. And you don’t actually pay out of pocket. Instead, you order it like you would any drink from your sever. You get a token from them, which you then insert into the actual machine, and then make your selection. Although once again, it doesn’t matter which combination of letters and numbers you push, the exchange is exactly the same: a small 200ml bottle of Möet for $30.

But first getting there, the actual restaurant was hard to find. With surrounding businesses boarded up, we had to back track and ask for directions. Not to mention the exterior isn’t very prominent. The covered patio is darken for the season, and only their discrete logo in green marks the spot.

Inside, the lounge is just as dark. There is plenty of sprawling room with stools by the bar, single tables, and rounds for groups of four. Larger parties are accommodated by pushing together tables against the brick wall at the back, the one decorated with diamond shaped mirrors. Yellow glowing spot lights, back lit tile, flatscreen television screens, and tea lights offer a little brightness. But this is one of those places that you need to shine your phone light over your menu in order to read it.

Our server was bright and bubbly. She greeted us at the door with her light blue crop top and black bottoms. This must have been the dress code considering the only other front of house employee was dressed in a similar fashion, with the same colours and her midriff showing as well.

We were strategically seated by the vending machine. When it came time to order, we picked a few items off of their laminated, single sheet menu; and had our server either confirm our choices or direct us towards something better. She ixnay-ed the “Zucchini Noodle Pescatore”, announcing that she has most steer clear of it considering how easy it is to make at home. And instead suggested a salad, if we wanted something light. But I don’t order salads, given it too is something you can easily make at home. It is just assembly, and when I go out to eat I want to have something that I cannot and will not make on my own.

Instead, we would have the same shrimp in it, with the “crispy tiger prawns” appetizer instead. A thick sweet chilli glaze evenly coated the large, juicy shrimp. They were a little tough, but still delicious, especially when paired with the bed of cool and creamy coleslaw it sat on. This made for a great palette changer for our two more cheese focused dishes below.

The “Mac and cheese” served in a skillet caught our eye immediately, and we were reassured in a our choice, after we were given a generous nod of approval from our server. This isn’t your regular children’s version of Mac and cheese. Prepared with a three cheese blend of sharp and salty cheeses, this isn’t the mozzarella or cheddar that most are familiar with. It and the gummy gooey texture would be ideal with beers or heavy drinks, and then the leftovers would serve to help you sober up with later. Ideal drunk food.

In comparison, the “oven baked brie” was bland, even with its topping of caramelized apples, brown sugar, and walnuts. I wanted more cinnamon and toasted sugar flavour. And the walnuts to be also baked, but with a coating of honey for some sticky sweetness. This felt flat, and the hard and undressed whole wheat crostini did nothing to help. A sweet chilli sauce like with the prawn above would have been much better as a dressing for the melted miniature wheel of brie.

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 food was only average, so I don’t think I will be returning to try their whole roasted chicken for $85 or their tomahawk steak for $185. I can see myself sharing one of their “colossal cocktails” for $75. But I would need to bring 3 others along with me in order to be able to order the 12 oz bucket of booze with mix. This would be ideally done during spring or summer, when I can have on their patio. A bold patio which includes a great photo op in the form of a stationary circle swing, set to a tropical backdrop. Although we did get to enjoy it tonight in the cold darkness. Don’t deny your cravings.

BANTER ROOM
1039 Mainland St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5P9
(604) 565-1039
banterroom.com

Billy Button, revisit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Upon my second taste, I conclude that I like their desserts far more for their visuals, then to actually eat any of it. I don’t have a sweet tooth but found that it wasn’t even sweet enough for me. It felt like appetizers, warm up plates building up to the decadent finish that never came. Best shared with bites from each, not something I would like from start to finish, all to myself. Don’t deny your cravings.

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

Mangia Cucina & Bar

Our regular food blogger meet-up brought us to “Mangia”, which came highly recommended by David of @pickydiner fame. He had recently met the owner at an event, and found himself impressed with his pedigree from Sicily. So we assembled for what we hoped would be an authentic Italian meal.

I have actually been to this refurbished house turned restaurant once before. But only briefly, as part of a Vancouver Foodster tasting tour. I was impressed enough to want to come back, and today was as good of a day as any. Especially with 4 other food enthusiasts in tow.

You walk up the front steps and enter through the door on the porch. Inside, the restaurant is warm literally and figuratively. The bar faces the entrance, and the dining area follows it, wrapping around the corner. Brick walls painted white, framed family photos, and as many narrow tables as the single floor allowed.

Our boisterous group (mostly because of me) were seated intimately at the very back. Where, our night began with a welcome glass of bubbles, which myself and David followed with two more cocktails.

 

The “Sicilian mocha” was a lovely spiked coffee, which would have also served as a nice aperitif. Vodka, averna, espresso, and chocolate. Light on the coffee, for those who like the flavour, but not its bitterness or caffeine.

The “Gin botanico” in contrast was a delicate cocktail with lemon and floral notes. A mix of pomegranate tea infused gin, tonic, and spices.

As for food, we ran through the menu as a group, ordering an item from each of the categories. Antipasti, L’Insalata, La Pasta, Il Risotto, and La Pizza.

Today’s starter special was a burrata salad made with arugula, prosciutto, Parmesan crusted croutons, and a whole round of burrata cheese; all drizzled in vinaigrette of aged balsamic reduction. This was a fresh start, simple and clean with the salty meat, creamy cheese, and crunchy croutons. It was exactly as expected.

The “Carpaccio di polpo” was declared as a “must try” on the menu. This was thinly sliced, slow cooked octopus, with salad leaves and an lemon oil vinaigrette. It ate more like a salad with the oiled up greens, fresh tomatoes, and briny olives. The highlight was the baby octopus, deep fried as a whole. I would have liked more of it with the salad, instead of the carpaccio. Nothing was wrong with it, it was just not memorable, nor did I get much octopus flavour from it.

Seeing it arrived at the table next to ours, we too wanted and ordered the “Arancina bomba”. A giant, twice cooked saffron risotto ball filled with mozzarella and topped with a pistachio pesto. This was quite the presentation. Easy to cut into and divide between 5. But the centre was mushy from the melted cheese, whereas you wanted a more firm risotto to parallel with its crispy shell. Texture aside, it served as a decent base, I just wanted something meatier and heartier to enjoy with it.

It is advised that you eat the “Spaghetti carbonara” right away; less it congeals and you lose the firmness of the noodle and the creaminess of its sauce. Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and locally cured guanciale in egg. Tasty, but I just wanted more of the pork meat for taste and salt.

The “Frutti di mare” delivered a bounty of seafood. Arborio rice with clams, mussels, prawns, and squid; cooked in white wine and a fish stock reduction. It is very fishy thanks to the stock, where as I would have liked it more garlicky. A milder risotto flavour, to be able to make out the individual mollusks.

The “Diavola” was a tomato sauce base pizza, topped with mozzarella, spicy Italian salami, and black olives. It was a decent pie, but not outstanding. The dough was moist, whereas I expected more crispiness from a thin crust, along with some blistering. It was also a little too salty for my taste, thanks to the cured meat and briny olives. I could have drizzled on some olive oil to help neutralize, but found it already plenty oily with pools of it on the pizza’s surface.

For dessert, we shared one of each of the options, minus the scoop of gelato available. Their “Tiramisu” was a single serving round, made more fun with a shot of amaretto on the side. You could drink it as is, but the intention is to pour it over the cake. The cake soaked it up like a sponge, and what was left over you could lap up like sauce. The 2oz gave the dessert a kick, but increased the dessert’s naturally soggy texture. The rest was traditionally done with mascarpone cheese, espresso, ladyfingers, and cocoa.

I am not a fan of soggy textures, so preferred the “Sicilian cannolo al pistachio” for its crunch instead. A house made pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta mousse, then topped with pistachio cream and a pistachio crumble. It tasted fresh made, and wasn’t too sweet. This would have been great with tea.

We were all in awe cutting into the “Torta di limoncello”, not knowing what to expect. It wasn’t the “Fluffy cake” the menu described, but more a firm sponge filled with limoncello cream, and covered with white chocolate and almonds. The lemon was beautifully fragranced. Tart and refreshing, this made for a great palette refresher to end our meal on.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Off the beaten path, the setting and the serving of this cozy restaurant makes it a great spot for authentic Sicilian. I definitely recommend this one as a unique date spot worth checking out. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANGIA
2211 Manitoba St, Vancouver, BC V5Y 1K1
(604) 620-5445
mangiacucina.com

Little Bird, dim sum + craft beer

When you are craving dim sum in the lower mainland, like most: you probably contemplate whether the drive to Richmond is worth it, if there is anything good in East Van or maybe along Victoria Drive? But now you might have to consider Kitsilano, where “Little Bird” is serving up all day dim sum and craft beer. But not just your cut and paste pastries and dumplings. Here, they are taking traditional dim sum and making it vegan and gluten-free.

The restaurant space has had its fair share of make overs from “Living Bistro”, to “Yak and Yeti”, then “Trying Tiger”. So this isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant footprint. With a minimalistic approach and plenty of lights, the space felt more suited to brunch at a coffee shop. Simple and sterile with the white bulbs; it sort of felt like day within, instead of the early evening that it was. But I am not complaining, even though they did take away from a more romantic or laid back ambiance; these were great conditions for taking the following photos.

The textured wooden table we were seated at matched the wood counter tops, and decorative wood elements that lined the bar. The restaurant name found its way on to the latter, as well as painted on to a wall that directed you to either of their single stall washrooms. Other than that, only a few framed black and white stencil art offered up visual interest in terms of decor. A graffiti-like style with either bird or dumpling references added to it, after the fact. It spoke to the modern interpretation of the food and the restaurant.

We were seated with our table lining the wall. Here, each place is set with chopsticks and a laminated single sheet menu. The owner came around to highlight best sellers and pride points, making suggestions on what to order and what was worth trying. @goodlifevan, who assembled us all here to day suggested that the restaurant use a check off sheet to order, thus making the process easier. But our host declined the suggestion. One of his goals is to focus on service and the communication you don’t get at other traditional Chinese restaurants. With them it is how fast and efficient you can do something, even if it is at the cost of the client. Here, he wants his staff to connect. His team is multicultural and able to hold a conversation, that includes eye contact. And each server is well trained on the menu and how it tastes, to be able to suggest and curate a perfect meal for their table.

The restaurant owner comes from a long line of Chefs and restauranteurs, working in the business for over 40 years combined. His father owned and operate the two long standing “Flamingo Chinese Restaurant” since 1974. So you can say dim sum runs in his family. And today, I was excited to have dim sum for dinner here, along side three other notable food fans. This is our meal, as these are our notes.

I wanted a drink to start, I liked the idea of pairing dim sum with an alcoholic beverage. Typically I have dim sum in the morning for breakfast or brunch, so a glass of wine or a pint of beer is frown upon at 11am. But at “Little Bird” it is encouraged. Their drink options are limited 4 types of wine or 4 types of beer, both from four different labels; with no mention of cocktails. I went with the “Four Winds saison”, since “craft beer” came after “dim sum” on the menu, as their title. I found that the saison’s easy drinking nature paired well with the richer small bites. Much like how greasy and salty bar foods do.

For something less alcoholic and more caffeinated, you can also order one of their loose leaf teas, served in a miniature tea pot for one. You don’t get a lot of tea, but water refills are welcomed.

The menu is user friendly. Written completely in English with descriptions and a legend. Menu items with a heart symbol, means they have been highlighted as a must try. But be warned, you can and should have the kitchen add on an additional pieces for anything coming you way, so that everyone gets one in full. For example most of the items below come with 2-3 pieces per servings, so with four diners we had an additional dumpling added on here and there, so that everyone could have one. Something I wish our server could have suggested as an easy add-on.

As I mentioned earlier, for those who like dim sum, but cannot have it because they are vegan and the kitchen cannot ensure a meat-free preparation, here is your solution. “Little Bird” works hard to ensure that equipment and utensils are are sanitized and there is not cross contamination. As none of my dinner mates where vegetarian or vegan we didn’t try the full extent of their 7 “garden” dishes. But I did make a note that they weren’t just tofu or mushroom everything. And if you were to order all 7, you would get a variety of tastes and flavours to pick through. This variety included the likes of different mushrooms types, water chestnuts, bamboo, and the new trendy beyond meat alternative.

The “Baked bbq tofu bun” had me going, I can’t believe it’s not pork! Pressed tofu in their sweet and salty bbq sauce, stuffed into a soft dough bun; then topped with a vegan butter and sugar mix, for a little crunch and a lot of sweetness. I liked the taster, but don’t know if I could commit to one whole, regular-sized bun myself. Best cut in half and shared, or bundled into smaller sized bites.

And what is dim sum with out “siu mai”? But there is no pork or shrimp in these meaty looking dumplings. Beyond meat, water chestnut, shiitake mushroom, and black truffle. A rendition made in honour of the owner’s sister-in-law, and her search for delicious meat alternatives. From this, you got the flavour of truffle from the mash of purée that topped it. The “beyond meat” gives you the texture of meat, but it was a little over salted. And I found myself reaching for more flavour from within one of our dishes of side sauces. Chilli oil, chilli sauce, soy sauce, and mustard. This is a great solution for those who lead a vegan lifestyle, but I much prefer the regular version below at $3 less, for a dish of 3.

The regular “Siu mai” had pork, shrimp, shiitake mushroom, and goji berries. It was more tender and juicy than its vegetable counter part. And the wrapper gave you a great chew. A wonderful staple that spoke to the quality of the ingredients used and the skill of the kitchen.

The “Spring roll” was filled full of pork, shiitake and black mushrooms, dried shrimp, and bamboo. Crispy skin, chewy julienne vegetables, and a complexity of flavours with an earthiness from the mushroom and bamboo. I didn’t taste any pork and could have easily done without it. The only thing I wanted was a nice sweet and sour sauce for dipping, something to help brighten this up.

The “Stuffed eggplant” was a softened slice of eggplant topped with a shrimp pate. The latter tasted like the filling of a “ha gao” in both taste and lumpy texture. The sweet and spicy sauce that paired with it would have also went well with our spring rolls above.

I didn’t recognize the “Sweet rice puff” from name alone. A deep fried egg shaped dumpling filled with pork, shiitake mushroom, and dried shrimp. This had a crispy coating with thick gummy walls that stuck to your teeth. Its sweetness paired well with the nice meaty taste and it’s ground texture.

The “Chive and shrimp dumpling” delivered with a similar shrimp filling than the eggplant dish above, and elevated with plenty of fresh and fragrant chives. This too offered a great chew with its wrapper.

The “Scallop taro puff” looked like a cupcake topped with half of a scallop round. Inside, it is hiding a core of shiitake mushroom and minced pork filling, coated in a sweet and mild curry sauce. This rendition offered crispiness from the fry, a nice smooth taro paste in contrast, and a surprise of curry to give it depth. I typically stray away from this one on any dim sum menu, but would be drawn to this version again.

But my favourite of all the dishes we had, had to be the “Curry squid”. Perfectly tender chunks of squid that was enjoyable to gnaw through. The curry was similar to the one use above, mild and sweet, with a slow burn. It did not over power the flavour of the squid.

And unlike other seafood dim sum restaurants, you can order the sweeter plates and have them come towards the end of your meal, as dessert. We finished off with their deep fried “Green tea sesame balls”. An order of two made green with matcha and flavoured with double black sesame. Black sesame seeds speckled the exterior and a pool of melted soup sat at its centre. Be warned, it is messy, and the filling is hot, flowing out like a lava cake. But delicious to end on if you allow them too cool down first, and have the server cut each ball in half.

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.
An approachable dim sum and restaurant created for all, and not just Chinese speakers. But unless you are a vegan, you wouldn’t think to drive all the way down to Kits for dim sum. Though in terms of the neighbourhood, they serve it well as the only option of its kind. A great choice for a fancier night out; made unique with the option for beer and wine. Deliciously done, classic dim sum dressed up and refined. Don’t deny your cravings.

LITTLE BIRD
#dimsumallday
2958 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1R4
(604) 325-8132
littlebirddimsum.com

HiFive Chicken 24hrs

I have passed by this 24 hour fast food, chicken restaurant several times before, and have never thought to go in. That was until it became my responsibility to do so, as one of Vancouver Foodster’s judges for his chicken wing challenge.

“Hi Five” has a couple of locations, but this one on Marine Drive is their busiest. During our visit there was a steady stream of delivery people coming and going, and a handful of individuals coming in and taking out. Despite the moving traffic, there is plenty of tables and counter space for dinung in. Although with its fluorescent lights, quick turn over, and tables that don’t get bussed in between; this isn’t the sort of place you make yourself comfortable at.

I was here to try their classic fried chicken, but made a point to sample their baked version as well; especially considering they made mention of it on their awning.

We had a drum and a thigh in both their classic and spicy breading. Between our two servings the sizes of each piece was inconsistent, one of which was half the size of my face. And as exciting as that was, it made the other pieces look small by comparison.

We were told the chicken came to us fresh from the fryer, despite our clear view of the tray of stacked parts, under a heat lamp. Although our chicken’s crispiness did speak to it. Extra crunchy with its thick breading, it gave you an audible confirmation, when you sunk your teeth in. No doubt it had a fresh fry, but the stagnant oil used gave things an acrid tinge. Luckily it came seasoned with more than just salt and pepper, and the additional spices helped to mask the above. As for the spicy version, it didn’t look any different. You were only able to tell it from the regular thanks to its slow to grow, creeping heat.

We also liked their baked chicken just as much. This was comfort eating, juicy chicken with a nice char and some good fat. All that was missing was a starchy base it enjoy it with, like some seasoned Mexican-style rice.

Instead, they have their own homemade slaw as a side. Creamy and tangy, it offered a nice break from the grease of the deep fry. My guest liked it so much that he had two servings of it.

The potato wedges were pretty standard. I wanted a crispier fry and a more firm centre. Altogether, a texture that better paralleled the slaw and the chicken.

Similarly, the gravy wasn’t memorable. We both thought it tasted like a packet mix, despite the manager stating that everything is house made from scratch.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My guest liked both versions of their a lot, claiming that “Hi Five” was like “Churches Chicken”, but better. I wasn’t as enamoured, but do consider it a great option for after drinking eats. Who doesn’t like fried chicken in all its forms? Don’t deny your cravings.

HI FIVE
203 SE Marine Drive, Vancouver BC
604-327-4898
hifive24.com

J&G Fried Chicken

My original visit to this fried chicken joint came with my responsibilities as one of the judges for “Vancouver Foodster’s” chicken wing challenge. I was tasting my way through the competitors, and this was one of them. I may have originally came for just their chicken wings, but found myself staying for their fizzy fruit drinks, yam fries, fried dessert, and popcorn chicken.

With two available locations, I visited their stand alone shop downtown. It, as opposed to their food court presence within Crystal Mall, in Burnaby. Located at the tail end of Robson Street, they are easy to spot with their well lit sign. Past it is their all glass facade, with a oversized chicken statue by the door. Walking in, there is an invitation in neon to try their “Fun 2 Eat”, Taiwanese style fried chicken.

The restaurant has a small square foot presence with kitchen and counter up front, and a handful of smaller tables that run down the length of the shoppe. We would order at said counter and then grab a couple of high top stools by the window, looking out on to the sidewalk.

The menu is a single page back and forth. Well used with scuff marks and 1/4 of the menu options blocked off by paper. More tempting to order from is the television screen broadcasting informative slides and high resolution photos.

We would start with their chicken wing entry and work our way through their regular offerings. The former was a combo that came with three pieces of chicken: 2 drums and 1 thigh, served with hand cut yam fries and deep fried mini buns.

The chicken was fired to order, with the grease stains to prove it. Piping hot and incredibly juicy, be warned, you want to allow your meal to cool before biting down. This was fresh chicken marinated in five spice, sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce. The chicken’s thin and crispy coating was the product of their special formulated wet batter dip. For added flavour you can get the chicken spicy in varying degrees. Overall, it had a very unique essence, and one I haven’t had until here and now. Deep with a layered umami flavour, and a tad on the salty side. To help change the taste I would have liked a dipping sauce, maybe a sweet and sour or a zesty mustard?

I highly recommend ordering it and any of their chicken with a couple of their refreshing drinks, to cleanse your palette in between bites. I was immediately drawn to the colour and whimsy of their gradient ones. The purple to orange blend was flavoured in peach, and the white to black: a strawberry with hints of pink. I suggest stirring the drink up before taking a sip. This helps to dilute the sweeten syrup at the bottom of the cup. Each fruit flavour was beautifully effervescent with tiny bubbles that popped on the tip of your tongue.

“J&G’s” take on yam fries was a sweet one. With a sugar and sour plum coating it ate like a hearty, starchy dessert. You didn’t quite know what to make of it, so found yourself going back for more. Soft yet firm, and completely interesting.

The fried buns was a nice, neutral sweetness to end on. Best hot and crispy with a generous smattering of condensed milk. I just wish there was a lot more of it, as it was what gave the dessert its flavour and flair.

We also had to try their popcorn chicken. It is one of their staples and their best selling item. I found it much more palatable that the chicken above. Soften white breast meat that pulls a part. It too had a 5 spice, herbal blend seasoning, but more mild. They were similar in taste to the chicken bites that you get at bubble tea cafés, making them a great anytime snack. I just wish they were served in smaller chunks. As is, these required multiple bites to finish, and were clumsy to eat with using the skewer they provided.

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.
It was delicious, but indulgent, not something you could have two days in a row, but a flavour you would find yourself craving. We definitely walked away feeling full with our meal sitting heavy. Don’t deny your cravings.

J&G Fried Chicken
1706 Robson St, Vancouver BC
604-423-2870
jgfcwest.ca

Torafuku, lunch service

For those who didn’t know, “Torafuku” is the sister restaurant to the popular Asian fusion food truck, “Le Tigre”. However the truck has since broken down, and the owners have decided not to repair it until the new year. A decision made with the want to focus on the quality of food coming out of “Torafuku’s” kitchen, instead. So for those missing their “crack salad”, and servings of rice described as “awesomeness in a bowl”; you can now get both and more, at “Torafuku” for lunch.

I was invited down to their restaurant to reminisce over the more popular food truck offerings. Plus, try a handful of new sides and appetizers. So continue reading to see what you can expect from their lunch service, which is available throughout the week. It is a menu that includes seasonal items and rotating dishes, with the likes of fresh made dumplings in the new year.

For those who have never been, the restaurant is conveniently accessible by way of Main Street skytrain. Easy to spot with its painted brown exterior, and glass front. Inside, it feels sterile and cold with plenty of concrete and an ample aisle way. A wide birth between a row of low back, leather and suede booths; and lengthy share style tables opposite it.

Lunch is available Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30am to 2:30pm. It boasts a fulsome list that includes the ability to make any entree a combo, with your choice of side and soft drink for $4.50 more. Or you go for gold, and grab a beer or wine with your afternoon delight.

They have an impressive cocktail program, so I choose to explore that a little better with “Dr. Sun’s Pencilin”. Ciroc Vodka, Johnny Walker 12 years Black Scotch Whisky, Chinese baijiu, lime, honey ginger, wintermelon tea, cinnamon, and Bittered Sling Clingstone Peach bitters. I couldn’t make out any one ingredient; instead, this was a bevy of ingredients coming together for a smokey, cinnamon-y concoction that paired well with all our rich and savoury mains to come.

The highlight of their Taiwanese themed lunch menu is definitely their take on “Beef noodle soup”, a classic so good that it sells out every day. And the reason that they don’t simply make more is that the chefs don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity, so they keep the amount of perfect bowls limited. After all it does take 72 hours to make the broth alone, and honestly you can tell the difference. Not overly seasoned, not lacking on any flavour, just delicious. Thus, making it my new favourite place for beef noodle soup. I highly recommend coming down for one of these comforting bowls.

Good as is, but for those who want a little more decadence to their beef noodle, they have a jar of beef fat to mix into your soup like a condiment. It is not readily available, but for those who make a special request for it. They also make their own sauerkraut and have extra on hand by special request, as well.

And for those who are familiar with “Le Tigre”, their rice bowls are as they describe it, “awesomeness in a bowl”. They were what I always gravitated towards when I visited the truck. Each bowl features their accurately named “kick-ass rice”, cooked in sake, butter and dashi; with pickled cabbage and mixed herbs, and topped with a perfectly poached egg. When you mix the latter in with its runny yolk, it is pure gooey deliciousness. Enjoy it as is, or have it even more sumptuous by adding fried chicken or pork belly to it. And for the vegetarians, you can add on a helping of their “crack salad” over the rice. (more on that below).

Between the two meat options I prefer the fried chicken, for its crispy crunchy texture. Made creamy and spicy with a chilli mayo, just like with the “kakuni style pork belly” had. The pork belly is tender and chewy, but a little too rich for my tastes. With either one the rice is so flavourful that you don’t need any of the meat that tops it. Case in point is me taking what was left in both rice bowls home and having it for dinner. happily on the same day.

And despite not liking salad, and never wanting to order any at a restaurant, I would make the exception for their “crack salad”. Once again the name hits the nail on the head. So good that you can’t stop at one bite. And when paired with the rice, it offers the carbs a nice break in freshness. And with crispy leaves and a cheesy Parmesan forward flavour lightened with lemon, this makes a great way for you to get your daily dose of greens in. Kale, purple cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts galore.

Similarly, I highly recommend making any of the aforementioned a combo for the above mentioned price. The following are all of their available sides. You can also get them 3 for $10 or all 5 for $16. Each tasty, each unique on to itself.

The tomato side offered a whole new flavour combination. Sweet cherry tomato and zesty raw red onion is amplified with the generous drizzle of their yuzu and plum marinade. It is then accented with the one of a kind herbal flavour of shiso. It had a dessert-like quality to it with its creaminess and sugary finish. A great option to balance out greasier dishes.

The king mushroom tempura was so meaty, that I took a bite not knowing what it was, and thinking it was battered cubes of beef. It reminded me of the deep fried popcorn chicken bites; the kind that you get from bubble tea house. Five spice forward and salty, not necessarily a bad thing.

The chilled, miso braised lotus root was the table’s favourite. The expected starchiness of lotus root, uniquely paired with a miso seasoned cheese spread and fresh green onion. You used the chunky root as a “chip” to scoop up ample amounts of the cheese hidden at the bottom. Another one where I have never had anything like it, and one you have to try for yourself.

The chilled eggplant was marinaded Szechwan style with peanut oil. Mushy eggplant in a tangy sauce with a crunch from the puffed rice it was topped with.

The cucumber side was very familiar with its pickled tang. Crunchy and briny cucumber served with gelatinous agar agar, and woodear mushroom for some chew; all drenched in “Kuan Mama’s” vinaigrette.

Not typical, but as an extra special treat, we got to try some Taiwanese style pineapple cake made by neighbouring bakery “Buttermere”, who rents out “Torafuku’s” kitchen from time to time. The small cube was a tease. Plenty of buttery and crumbly crust, hiding a centre of sweet and fibrous pineapple. Good, but it would have been better larger, for a more even pineapple to crust ratio.

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.
In short, I highly recommend visiting “Torafuku” for lunch. Good food, fast, at affordable prices. Just writing about it now I want more of everything. Don’t deny your cravings.

TORAFUKU
958 Main Street, Vancouver BC
778-903-2006
torafuku.ca

Water St. Café

Admittedly I have frequented “Water St. Cafe” a handful of times, but on each visit it was for an event and during such an occasion the experience is much different. A full house with standing room only, and nibbles to graze on, as you sip on glasses of bubbles and wine. So tonight my guest and I were excited to join them for a simple dinner for two, in Gastown.

The restaurant is better known for their fine dining vibe, a modern upscale spot with dim lights, flickering candles, and white table cloths. The best seat in the house is definitely the corner table on the first floor. It over looks the cross section of Cambie and Water Street, with a clear view of the iconic steam clock. Not to mention all the folks taking photos of it, as it bongs and releases plumes of smoke into the night sky.

We were given a table upstairs, to be able to take in the live music they were promoting on this Monday night. That, and the restaurant was fairly business on what others deem a “slow night”. The server led us through a maze of large parties, past their marble counter bar, ascending up the carpeted staircase that spiral. On the second floor there are individual rooms for group events, as well as some pocketed seating that gave you seclusion for your party.

We were seated at a table for two with a view overlooking Gastown’s streets, right in front of the lit “stage”. A curtain of LED string lights set the stage literally. We arrived just as our local and live entertainment were setting up for their set. Across the evening they would perform melodic covers and their own music played across a guitar, base, and drums. I found the live music element a wonderful surprise, and was delighted to be able to take this in. It definitely elevated our evening and experience. That, and the food to come.

We enjoyed wine with our five dishes below, including the amuse bouche that came first. Instead of it being something the chef whipped up with left over ingredients, our amuse bouche was actually available for ordering off the regular menu, but in a more compact size for sampling. Instead of the “Smoked BC salmon plate, this was a bite each of smoked BC salmon served over a crostini with dill cream cheese spread. This was a great treat, a crowd pleaser elevated with the inclusion of red onions, crispy capers, and a sweet balsamic vinegar drizzle. All together a classic flavour that doesn’t disappoint. The balsamic lent sweetness to the assembly, the capers a sharp tanginess, and the radish some crunch.

Next we had the “Bison carpaccio” for our appetizer. Pink pepper corn crusted canadian bison, sliced thin as tracing paper, topped with shaved parmesan, truffle aioli, and crispy capers. This was a dish that had you choosing your own perfect bite. The truffle elevated it, and the freshness of the raw onion and the pepperiness in the greens came together, offering layered depth. Everything was wonderfully paired. Except I wanted a base with it, something to make this a heartier bite. Although at the same time, I didn’t want to dilute such an interesting flavour combination with a starch. In short, I wanted a meatier bite to the wafer thin bison I was enjoying so much.

For our vegetable course we had “Lamb lollipops and kale”. The perfectly prepared lamb made this salad a lot more approachable. Rosemary marinated, grilled lamb chops with charred radicchio, baby kale, and salsa verde. The lamb was good on its own, but the leaves it sat on offered freshness and a nice citrusy seasoning for the savoury meat. Alone, the kale salad had points of bitterness, and hints of mint.

The “West coast crab cakes” were declared a “Café tradition!”, so we had to give it a try. A blend of pacific rock crab, baby shrimp, and preserved citrus with fennel, arugula, and a saffron aioli. It was fragrant with the diced peppers, a notable taste paired with the sweet crab meat. As for the sauce you smear your crispy crab puck in to, it was mild enough that it doesn’t over power, but rather accented the lot with notes of marmalade on the tongue and in the nose.

And for our entree we had the “16oz Ribeye steak and frites.” A grilled 16oz bone in AAA canadian ribeye, prepared medium rare. Smothered in a three peppercorn mushroom sauce and served with cajun seasoned frites on the side. We well received this classic. The perfect amount of fat to lean beef, with a pink centre. Easy to slice through with a peppery sauce that perks it and the fries up. Fully satisfied with this one. No complaints.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
In conclusion this was an amazing night. Everything was on point from the one or a kind view, to the cozy interior decorated with Christmas flourishes, to the live music surprising and delighting. And most importantly the food that was amazing, a classic menu prepared well and as expected on what typically isn’t a peak night. “Water St.” did not disappoint! Don’t deny your cravings.

WATER ST. Cafe
300 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B6
(604) 689-2832
waterstreetcafe.ca

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