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H Tasting Lounge, Winter High Tea

There are a handful of cafes and tea salons offering a Christmas themed high tea this season. But “H Tasting Lounge” is setting itself apart with their Ferris wheel display, the ability to have mulled wine with your finger sandwiches, and to enjoy live music with it all.

Their festive tea is only available on weekends, from November 30th to December 29th, from 11:30am to 4:30pm. The cost is $55 per person. After reading the press release, I ventured down to be the first person to try it, on what should have been its release date. However, due to complications with the menu, it was delayed for the following week. So I ended up dining with them the first day, tasting from their new winter menu instead; and then returning a week later to try the official winter tea service. This post will be an accumulation of the two visits.

I am a huge fan of “H Tasting Lounge’s” modern space. It speaks to luxury with velvet furniture in soft pastels, metallic throw pillows, and gold panel detailing with a 20’s flair. The latter, a remnant of the aviation themed bar they originally launched as. We grabbed my favourite seat, within the open space. One of the two c-shaped booths in the corner, by the patio entrance. A crushed blue velvet backdrop in your very own booth. It hugs you and your guests, whilst offering just the right amount of intimacy for two.

High tea starts with a box of loose leaf teas to sort and sniff through. You un-lid each vial and make your choice based on smell, much like a sensory menu.

Given that I was the very first person, during the very first service of this, they were still working out the kinks. Meaning we weren’t given the option for either of their two seasonal teas; which we would have ordered. The “Tealeaves Nutcracker Black Tea Blend” and/or the “Tealeaves Organic Herbal Sugar Plum Fairy”. So in the this case, I went for their “organic vanilla rooibos” instead.

Teas is served in a modern white and gold gilded tea pot that matches with your cup and saucer. It comes with milk and sugar, should you need it.

Although, I am more partial to their alcoholic drink options, and highly recommend either their “Mulled Wine” or “Miracle on Bayshore Dr.” cocktail. The latter a mix of rye, brandy, gingerbread syrup, milk, whole egg, and marshmallows. But today I went with the mulled wine, because where else can you get mulled wine (not at an outdoor market)? Here it is made with red wine, holiday spices, brandy, and peach schnapps. The wine is steeped with sugar plum tea leaves, and infused with clove cinnamon and star anise. After one sip, I concluded that I much rather a glass of mulled wine indoors, with each sip furthering my warmth.

Looking for another hot beverage to get tipsy on? They also have a lovely “Rye chai”, served warm in a tea pot. Made with rye, mezcal, apricot, falernum, lemon, and chai. It was a strong sipper, but I didn’t get much of the chai flavour I anticipated. Good hot or cold with the natural burn of the alcohol fuelling things.

For something just as festive, but packed with ice, their “Cranberry cobbler” offers dessert in a glass. Gin, cranberry, all spice dram, and lemon. This was refreshing and effervescent, with the cranberry offering its unique blend of sweetness and tartness.

As for the actual food portion of the tea service, it is a combination of savoury and sweet bites swinging back and forth on their precarious Ferris wheel. Take it from first hand experience, it is best to remove all the elements from the tower before you start eating. Emptying one glass plate throws off the balance of the entire apparatus, and spinning it has plates catching on to one another. Worst case scenario, everything falls and you have mashed cake on the table.

The follow is what we had, in the order in which we ate it. From lightest to heaviest, savoury to sweet, starting with the soup. Served in a shot glass, the “Squash Soup” with an herb and cheese crisp was a sumptuous start. A thick and creamy soup, so rich that it could function as a sauce, especially when dipping the crispy flaky cheese twist into it. I wanted a larger bowl of this, to enjoy alongside the sandwich I liked below.

This was a savoury bite reminiscent of the season: “Confit Turkey Sandwich” with apple butter and cranberries. It reminded me of a classic turkey dinner all in one easy to eat handheld. Juicy, pulled, white turkey meat, sage and thyme seasonings, and pops of sweet cranberry. The only thing that was missing was a cup of gravy to smother it all in, thanksgiving turkey style.

My favourite feature of the set was the “Tourtière”. A savoury ground meat pie with a golden brown buttery crust, topped with a crispy fragrant sage leaf. This was just beautifully done. I have had my fair share of this Québécois classic, and to date this is my favourite.

Not winter specific, but familiar to any high tea tower is the “Smoked Salmon & Cucumber sandwich”. The “H Tasting” version is served on rye bread. This is a classic that tasted exactly as you expect it to.

Similarly, there were scones included, scones being another staple to any good tea tower. Each was a perfectly crafted raisin scone: crispy, flaky, and crumbly all in one. It was just as shame that they didn’t make them with the cranberries and thyme that was used to decorate the plate. This would have spoken better to the holiday theme. Though it didn’t stop me from taking a bite of the scone and popping thyme and cranberry into my mouth after it. The scones also come with a jar of orange fruit spread and clotted cream, though the former wasn’t necessary given how much dried fruit there is already on the plate and within the scones themselves.

The menu described this as the “Festive Cotton Candy Bonsai Tree”. I understand the “tree” part, with the mental object being the “trunk” that the round of green and pink cotton candy sat on. However, I was still missing the “festive” portion of it. It could have been flavoured like peppermint, or given a sprinkle of powdered sugar for snow. It didn’t speak to Christmas, but instead spring. Nonetheless it was fun to eat, we enjoyed pulling tuffs from this impressively spun cloud of sugar.

Next we moved on to the dessert portion of our high tea service. Here, we learned that all the restaurant’s pastries are outsourced by “Faubourg Bakery”. They were okay, but I wasn’t expecting this from a hotel property of this caliber. And maybe if it was all made in house, I might have liked them more.

The “Yule Log” was the visual show stopper, it immediately spoke to the holiday with almond jaconde, praline, and ganache. It had a nice chocolatey hazelnut flavour, but a little too sweet for my taste. My guest on the other hand was not only enamoured by this visual, but liked its taste as well.

I couldn’t taste the gingerbread mousse or cranberry compote from the “Festive Profiterole”. The shell was a little soggy and the spices lacking. This wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped.

I preferred the mild flavour of the “Frangipane Cake” with spiced pear and almond. A dense cake that is a little on the dry side. Though the pear in its syrupy coating helped to moisten the two bite treat, flavouring it with hints of cinnamon and apple.

I also didn’t get any gingerbread in the “Gingerbread Cake”. The sponge was chewy with a burnt caramel flavour, and the black currant mousse tasted more like raspberry with its tartness and colour. Sadly, it was bolder in hue than taste.

Overall, I preferred the savoury options to the sweet. None of the desserts, outside of the Yule log, felt or look all that seasonal. Much like the restaurant’s decor, there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas flare. A tree or two outside the restaurant and the ability to cozy up with one of their fur blankets if you get cold. I wanted peppermint, more gingerbread, and/or eggnog. More embellishments and more red and green as the holiday is known for. The Ferris wheel wasn’t even decorated in tinsel. It could have been hung with metallic balls. And the cotton candy bonzai, could have easily been reinvented into a cotton candy Christmas pine with coloured sprinkles and a candied star topper. I am still glad I got to try it, and can’t hold the pastries against them, considering it wasn’t prepared by “H Tasting” go begin with.

But if you are looking for something more heartier, they do have their new winter food menu out as well. The following is what we tried from it.

Their new persimmon dish is the fruit sliced thin like carpaccio and topped with kohlrabi and a sesame praline, then drizzled in a mint and orange blossom vinaigrette. I was surprised by how satisfying this was, and how much it ate like a fulsome dish. Everything came together for a complimentary collection of flavours and textures, with the candied granola being the standout. Tangy and sweet, crunchy and refreshing, and altogether one worth trying, during your next visit.

Something just as light and refreshing, yet satisfying is the new “Burrata” dish. Fresh Burrata from California, topped with Northern Divine caviar; sitting on top of a creamy pea purée, with a fresh pea shoot salad. You eat the cheese like a spread, smeared on top of crispy crostini. The greens add some pepperiness, the purée some sweetness, and the caviar a certain level of elevation that I expect from the setting. Wonderfully simple, yet indulgent.

We also ordered their seafood platter. It is available in three sizes. Small, medium, large; each incrementally giving you more food, although not more variety. So I advise ordering the small version, like we did; and supplementing it with appetizers like we had above. The result, a beautifully fresh collection of kusshi oysters, poached prawns; and halibut carpaccio with a house made carrot kimchi. All served with fresno oil, mignonette, and a cocktail sauce flavoured with gin for dipping. I wouldn’t recommend pairing the kimchi with the gentle white fish, the former was overpowering, and you want to taste the natural flavour of the halibut. In fact, I am not m sure why one is put over the other. I did like the substitution of carrots for cabbage in this spicy fermented mix. This change gave a dish I tend to avoid, a new texture profile I actually like. (I am not a fan of the texture of wilted greens).

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I honestly wish that the property was closer to a skytrain station, so I could and would frequent it more often. And with continuous updates to their menu like so, they are giving me multiple reasons to take the commute. Highly recommended for a good time. Don’t deny your cravings.

H TASTING LOUNGE
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4
604-682-3377
htastinglounge.com

Koyuki Ramen, Japanese Tapas

Today I was invited down to “Koyuki” to check out their Japanese fusion tapas menu. Located just off robson on Jervis street, this hole in the wall specialized in Sapporo style ramen.

The restaurant utilizes chalk boards to walk you through the history and heritage of their authentic Sapporo style ramen. Like how they use three types of miso to flavour their soups: red, white, and “mix”. And how it authentic, hailing from Sapporo city, which is also referred to as “ramen kingdom”.

Given this testimony in chalk, we had to order one of their bowls. Their “Tonkotsu ramen” had a pork based broth with Chau-shu, green onion, garlic chips, half a soft boiled egg, and your choice of noodle thickness between thin or thick. We got the latter in this nice simple broth. Which was mild in flavour, compared to all the other dishes below. My guest liked how you were actually able to make out the smokiness of the seared pork within the creamy broth itself, but found the meat dry.

As for their smaller share plates, there were so many creative things to try on their fusion menu. Familiar items I liked, combined together to form something new. Like their specialty, the “Curry poutine”. The curry was a deliciously rich, Japanese style sweet curry, it almost had the consistency of gravy, (like there would normally be in a poutine), and included melted bits of cheese. I could have done without the addition of the pork chunks. They were hard and dry, and really didn’t offer much to the dish. The fries were also quick to go soggy for a mealy potato texture. Although I still enjoyed the dish, and now want their curry over other potatoes like a baked potato, or some that are mashed.

The “Pizza tempura” was another two becomes one for some fun. Frozen pizza (I am only guessing because it tastes like some that I have had from a grocery store), deep fried in tempura batter and served with ranch dressing as a dip. I liked the idea and the extra crunch the tempura gave, but I found it too oily. It would have been nice to find a way to blot some of the greasy off, or to choose a lighter pizza to tempura. Maybe a simple cheese, instead of the deluxe toppings, paired with the classic tempura sauce to dip into for a cleaner dish. Although after a few drinks in, having this as is on the menu, sounds like it would hit several spots.

Similarly, the chicken wings were also oily. From four different flavours I choose the Japanese bbq with melted cheese and mayo. The addition of cheese and sauce over wings were a novel idea, but the cheese was greasy, and its oils pooled on the plate. The weight of the cheese took away from an otherwise crispy wing. I would have liked the melted cheese and mayo as a dip instead.

Their “Japanese pancakes” is one that is highted as being “popular” on the menu. Good enough, but it wasn’t my favourite rendition of this Japanese street snack. It was overly salty with too much sauce. Whereas, I wished it was doughier, with a more satisfying chew.

And my favourite dish of the night was the “Tonpei”. A fluffy egg omelette wrapped around slices of pork and shredded cabbage. It was messy, hard to cut into, and harder to share, on its small plate. But once you were able to dig in, it was a tasty dish offering a variety of flavours and textures to comb through. The pork was chewy, the egg spongy, and the lettuce refreshing with a nice crunch. And it was the sauces brought all together with a tangy creaminess.

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 fun spot for some great eats. Creative tapas to try and share, best enjoyed with a beer; because it does get salty and greasy at points. But that is just my own doing in ordering. Don’t deny your cravings.

KOYUKI
795 Jervis St, Vancouver, BC V6E 2B1
(604) 695-9177
koyuki.ca

Liu Yi Shou Hot Pot Restaurant

Despite the seasons, Chinese-style hot pot tends to be a consistently popular destination for those wanting a little more involvement in their meal. You cook up your own dinner, customizing it from which broth base you use to what ingredients you put in. And at “Liu Yi Shou” they offer a few more options to make your experience even more interactive and personalized.

For the tutorial on how to maximize your hot pot experience, check out my latest vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.

First “Liu Yi Shou” has happy hour, plenty of wine and beer on special. I suggest sharing a pitcher with your friends. With all the spicy and flavourful ingredients, beer makes for a great in between sipper. They also have plenty of can sodas and fruit pops available, and even coconut water you drink right out of the fruit. So start with this as you explore their very extensive menu.

And while you work out your order, or wait for it to come and boil, you can start nibbling on their “Cheese fondue”. This is a new menu item, and one that you don’t often see at a hot pot restaurant. Not just melted cheese, but their fondue is mozzarella flavoured with tomato. It is served with a board of hot dogs, celery, and chicken wings for dipping into. I really liked the flavour of the cheese dip, it had a comforting, gooey tomato soup feel to it. But despite the lit tea light under the individual fondue bowl, it does cool quick. Although it doesn’t congeal, so you can come back to what you don’t finish in between your hot pot, as a flavour changer.

You can also order their popular marinade appetizer dish. This is an assorted platter of quail eggs, bean curd, pig’s ear, and pork hoc marinated in a soy sauce blend. It is enjoyed cold or at room temperature. This you eat more for its textures of squishy, spongy, chewy, and rubbery.

Today I was dining with hot pot experts and they made sure to order the most unique of all the option, plenty of which are exclusive to “Liu Yi Shou”, starting with their tri-soup pot. You can enjoy 3 different flavours of broth, altogether in one pot. Ideal for those who get tired of a one flavour boil; or for those who can’t take their food spicy, dining with those who only like it spicy.

We had the chicken with coconut soup base, the wild mushroom soup base with Chinese herbs, and the spicy and numbing hot pot. The latter was extra special, it came with a block of tallow shaped like their cow mascot. “Tallow” is saturated beef fat, it is higher in calories than butter, but healthier and better tasting! The hotter it got, the quicker he melted, and soon he was face first in a pool of chilli and peppercorns. Not only does this make the soup more indulgent, it also help to cut into some of that hot, hot heat. And if you order the chicken and coconut soup base, you get a plate of raw chicken complimentary, to cook within it.

In an effort to save table space, our platter of finely sliced lamb and beef is served on a wooden ring, that fits perfectly around our hot pot. From here it is easy to pick up a slice and dunk it into any broth. Both cook up relatively quick, and after 5 dunks you are ready to eat it.

But as waited for all the soup broths to boil, we made our way to the back of the restaurant, to their help yourself sauce bar. At some hot pot places I find I get bored of the taste, that everything is boiled up the same, and has only the one flavour throughout. Here, you can customize your own sauces and curate the flavour, so that anything you don’t like is on you. Mix and match from sauces and oils like spiced vinegar, oyster sauce, sesame oil, satay sauce, mushroom paste, and bean curd paste, etc. Toss in some minced and chopped dry ingredients like sugar, green onion, toasted soy bean, mashed garlic, preserved turnip and peanuts; for texture and chew.

And while we were busy mixing and creating to our heart’s content all our ordered ingredients began arriving one platter after another. The beautifully plated, raw food comes out quick here.

A wooden box of leafy greens and various mushrooms.

Fish paste moulded into two hearts. This you scoop and drop into the broth for it to boil up and harden into a solid ball.

A platter of shrimp, cuttlefish, pork and beef, pre-formed balls.

An interesting one were these tubes of bean curd that you dip into the pot for 3 seconds. They act like sponges, soaking in the broth and offering a distinct ribbed chew.

For the adventurous you can order a platter of intestines and organ meats, for a more traditional hot pot experience. Pig’s blood, beef tripe, ox aorta, and goose intestine. I would also consider this, one that you order more for its textures, each with its own unique chew or gelatin-like consistency. The aorta had the same chew as squid rings, the tripe was so tender and easy to bite into, the intestine required more jaw work; and the savoury pigs blood had the texture of pudding and jello combined.

But the highlight and feature of our meal was definitely “meat Barbie”. A Barbie doll repurposed. She was dressed in strips of angus beef that you peel of her torso or cabbage base and add into your soup. At her feet is a garden of raw seafood. Shrimp in shell, fish puff, mussels, fish, and sticks of imitation crab. A visual treat, as well as a tasty one.

And for those who actually still have room for more, “Liu Yi Shou” does have dessert, offering something sweet to end on. Like their red rice cakes that you dip into condense milk or a sweet syrup. I did try one, but after all the food above, I felt ending on anything rice related or starchy a little much.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I like their creativity and the broad offering of their menu. They aren’t just a place for hot pot, but serve as a stop for happy hour as well. Cold drinks and small snacks or dessert. They offer regulars and occasional customers reasons to return with plenty of variety to try and taste. And as the first hot pot place to have franchises all over the world, there are many locations for you to get your fix at. Don’t deny your cravings.

LIUYISHOU HOTPOT
1542 Robson Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1C2
778-379-3977

Mumbai Local, #ChickenWingsChallengeYVR

Today I was getting to know a little more about “Mumbai Local” through the Vancouver Foodster “Chicken Wing Challenge”. This year I am one of 3 judges, and my duties brought me down to try their wing creation. They are 1 of 5 restaurant/ competing for the title of “best wings”. A competition based on originality, taste, and presentation. It is worth noting that they are the only restaurant who created a new dish specifically for the competition.

But first, finding them. “Mumbai Local” was hard to spot. We walked passed their all black facade a couple of times. Without a colourful awning or a stand out sandwich board you wouldn’t bother looking at their direction. But inside, it is a different story. Extending the length of the space is a beautifully done, eye catching mural in black, white, and yellow; depicting every day life in Mumbai. A woman with a bucket of fish on her head, a man loaded with multiple Indian kaftan lunch boxes on either shoulder. I would love to see a similar portrait splashed across their exterior. One, to attract attention; and two for a great selfie moment, to encourage fans to stop by for a photo, if not to eat. That being said, the mural is a nice surprise for those who do make it in.

To start I ordered their “Monsoon” cocktail with Olmeca tequila, Cointreau, guava, grapefruit juice, and chilli salt. I made sure ask if I would actually be able to taste the guava juice, and I was not disappointed here. The guava was pronounced, topped with a lingering spice from the chilli. This was a nice cocktail to compliment our meal ahead, unlike the drink below.

My guest ordered the “Turmeric milk”, a steamed milk yellow with turmeric and saffron, served in an adorable little jug. It was a nice way to end the meal, not accompany it.

We took the Chef’s suggestion and started with their “Chaat Sampler”, local street food popular on the streets of Mumbai. Four different one biters with a combination of salty, sweet, sour, or bitter paired with either a crunchy, crispy, or spongy texture. A beautifully put together platter and an adventure in dining.

The “Bhel puri” was served in the dish. Puffed rice, fried dal, crackers, onion, and a tamarind and chilli chutney. It was like bbq flavoured Rice Krispies cereal, and whipped potato, but made soggy with the sweet sauce. This was my least favourite of the four, given it felt like you were eating a spoonful of crumbs.

The “Shev puri” had flat crackers, potato, onion, and the dams tamarind and date chutney. Stacked like a mini tostada, it was easy to eat with one bite. And it is advised that you enjoy this one as soon as you get it to avoid sogginess.

The “Pani puri” is a hollow cracker filled with chickpea purée, enjoyed with a small jug of sweet tamarind water and a spicy mint and chilli water. With a steady hand you fill each globe with as much of each water as you like. This gives it a fun interactive element, a sensation similar to eating a soup dumpling. Refreshing as you bite down and the liquid flushes into your mouth.

The “Dahi puri” was a more filled and filling hollow cracker. This time stuffed with yogurt, chickpea, and their tamarind and date chutney. This one had all the flavours and all the textures of the top three rolled into one, literally. Best defined as an orb filled with cream, and spiced with a heat that lingers

Next we enjoyed their limited edition, Vancouver Foodster Challenge wings, inspired by chicken kabob. “Hariyali Chicken Wings” marinated in mint, cilantro, and yogurt; cooked over charcoal, and served with a cabbage slaw and mint chutney. A striking plate with the opposite, yet complimentary colours of forest green and burgundy. It looked like it came out a Dr. Seuss book, and would go well with green eggs and ham. The meat was velvety and the mint acted like a pesto with it herbaceous-ness. Plenty of mint flavour, citrusy masala notes, and the crispness of a char from the charcoal.

The “Vada pav” was carb overload for me. Fried potato patty in a toasted bun, this was too much starch. It did taste good, but it sat heavy and was dense. It needed a sweet and tangy note to brighten it up. In the end are them separately, patty out of bun. The potato patty was tasty enough to stand on its, own and the dough of the buttery bun absorbed plenty of sauce to give it its own character.

I really enjoyed their “Kombadi vade curry” and would come back for more. Chicken breast, caramelized onion and coconut; served with steam rice and vade, a traditional bread.

“Vade” is a dough made from lentil flour, seasoned in cinnamon and corridander. Rolled and stamped with banana leafs, then fried. It was chewy like a hard tortilla, not great on its own, but made for a nice base to dip into the curry with.

As another alternative bread, we also added a chapati to our order. this was a whole wheat roti, grainy and hard.

As of the actual curry, it was thick and creamy, and drank like a bisque. It reminded me of a spicy lentil soup and smelled like carrots. Delicious, but it was the chicken that stole the show. Brined for 24 hours, and sous vide for 1 hour, shocked in a pan and seared for a crispy skin. This was perfectly prepared and super tender chicken.

And for dessert we fully enjoyed the “Shrikhand”, a kitchen favourite. Although simple looking, it does take a day of preparation. They make their own yogurt in house and it needs to hang. The pineapple is compressed with cinnamon simple syrup. The cardamon and saffron are imported from directly from India. And it is finished with dehydrated beet power and a pistachio crumble. This was a light dessert that was fully satisfying. I liked being able to to mix and match all the elements and curate my bite. The cream portion had a similar consistency to ice cream, but much lighter. The tang of the acidic pineapple was nicely paired with the rich nuttiness of the cinnamon. I would like to have this one again too.

We chatted quickly with two tourists who raved about their meal as well. They searched for dinner options in the neighbourhood and found “Mumbai Local’s menu enticing. I agreed, but I might not have if the chef didn’t go through the menu with us, and explain the thought behind each dish we order. It would be nice if all their staff could sell their menu as well as this, and to help personalize each diner’s meal. Their menu is chic, but hard to order off of. A photographic one would be nice, and make it more approachable. However, it would take away from their boutique vibe and trendy look.

 

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.
As Vancouver’s only restaurant featuring Mumbai cuisine, they are the authority and go to. Everything is made in house, like their masala, proudly from a family recipe. All their meat is local from “Three Rivers meat” and their seafood Oceanwise. Recipes recreated from family members, friends, and experiences. For example, the chef just came back for a trip to India, and with him he brought back kebabs, their new menu feature. Overall they were a great modern take on traditional Indian street food. Authentic flavours and modern styled plating, made for a unique dining experience. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

MUMBAI LOCAL
1148 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, V6E 1N1
604-423-3281
mumbailocal.ca

Guu Davie, #ChickenWingsChallengeYVR

Today I was at “Guu’s” newest location on Davie street. A great space with plenty of seating, but one that is hard to find. It has been 4 months since they have opened and I am only realizing now that the former “Speakeasy” bar that held the space is a thing of the past.

The glass covered walk way does little to draw you in. The sandwich boards advertising their izakaya and their $1 oyster deal is lost. You miss both, unless you rotate your head 90 degrees. And when you find the entrance, you question if it is the right one. Walking in feels like a journey, as you travel half the length of the restaurant just to be able to hear the hostess at the very end.

Past this corridor the restaurant does open up with seats by their sushi or liquor bar. And a second floor with additional tables by the patio. They currently have artificial turf on their patio, but this space remains empty.

My guest and I choose seats on one of their Japanese style tables. The ones that simulate eating on the floor, and requires you to remove your footwear. In bare feet or socks you walk over, and climb on to your cushioned seat. And for the sake of convenience, if you need to move around or use the washroom, they have communal sandals you can slip on easily for the duration of your stay.

I like they style of their menus, with Japanese kanji in bold and the English descriptions and pricing printed neatly under it. We started off with some drinks. I was immediately drawn to their “Wasabi Caesar” for $8.80. I don’t normally list the price of dishes, but am doing so here, as I really found their small plates to be at reasonable prices, allowing you to try more.

This was a Smirnoff caesar mixed with soy sauce and wasabi; and garnished with sun dried octopus, kelp, and a boiled egg. From looks alone you have never had a caesar like this before. They really sold me with the toppings. The egg was perfectly soft boiled, the seaweed nice and chewy. But the octopus tentacles were hard as a rock and impossible to chew off. Thought my guest was content with nibbling at its suction cups. As for the drink itself, it had a great, warming heat thanks to the wasabi, but other than that, the caesar lacked spice and seasoning, and there was no spice rim to help.

By comparison, the drink to get is the virgin “Hanayori Dango” for $7.80. This was basically a dessert for sipping. Matcha ice cream, warabi mochi, black sugar sauce, milk, fresh strawberry, and whipped cream was listed on the menu. Although I did not see any black sugar sauce or whipped cream. I could only and barely taste strawberry in the soda used, so it wasn’t fresh. And there was definitely no chewy mocchi. None-the-less, this served as a great summer refresher.

Seeing as we were between 3-6pm and in time for Happy Hour, we took advantage of our timing by ordering the “ebi mayo with chilli mayo” at a discount. 3 pieces for $5. I liked the size of the prawn, but other than that this was pretty standard. A fluffy, deep fried batter coating, hiding a mushy prawn, sitting in a flat, and slightly spicy mayonnaise. We took one each and didn’t even bother with the third.

We much more preferred the “Dessert style oden”. “Oden” is a traditional Japanese dish made by simmering various ingredients together in a single pot. Together, they slowly simmer becoming soft and flavourful. Their Warabi mochi version went for $4.80. It lacked a flavour enhanced broth, but it did nail the soft texture part, with the deep fried battered oden tofu. It was topped with vanilla ice cream, black sugar sauce, and roasted soy bean power. The folded tofu had an interesting texture, similar to a thin mocchi: chewy with a doughy-like quality.

The “Shlokara” we ordered out of curiosity, and even though we hated it, at $4.80 a dish, no real tears were loss. This was an acquired taste, one that lingers and that we couldn’t get rid of. This was raw squid cut into string-like noodles, which is the marinated in salt and squid guts. It was incredibly salty, with a gamey quality to it. A lip puckering sensation with a raw egg yolk-like texture. It didn’t have a great mouth feel, and its flavour comes back up to haunt you. Thankfully they offer mouth wash in their washrooms to help in this regard. More on their washroom later.

When we brought up how much we hated the raw squid to the server, she was quick to mention that not many people like it. Here, it would have been great to get this tidbit prior to ordering it.

And lastly we had their “Gyoza wings”. Deep fried chicken wings stuffed with gyoza ground pork. 3 pieces at $7.80. They were completing in this year’s Vancouver Foodster’s “Chicken Wing Challenge”. Ans I was one of the judges, here to try their contribution, and to eventually crown 1 out of the 5 contestants winner; based on originality, taste, and presentation.
It was an interesting take on stuffed wings, but it was more gyoza meat than chicken. You only got bits of chicken skin with the wing tip. Like they grafted a half eaten wing together with a gyoza, but left out the best part: the wrapper. It tasted good, but was a little salty. Though the pickled vegetable and the crunchy chip were most helpful in balancing out the dish.

I like izakaya washrooms for their fully stocked counters. Here they had wet wipes, cotton swabs, tooth picks, and mouthwash to keep you well groomed and your breath minty fresh. And best of all they have Japanese toilets in each of their stalls. The ones that have heated seats and a bidet function. I enjoyed the former, but passed on the latter. I don’t like something being so intimate to me in public washroom.

 

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.
At the end of the day I am always glad to have tried something new, and in this blog I will always order the weird stuff, so you don’t have to. But at “Guu”, I can do both without a hefty price tag. Our meal may have been hit and miss, but that’s half the fun of trying something new. So round up your most adventurous friends, and why not try raw squid guts for yourself? “Guu” has already proven themselves successful with a hand full of busy locations, and now you have a new one to consider when you are craving their traditional style izakaya. Don’t deny your cravings

 

GUU
1239 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, V6E 1N4
604-687-8890
guu-izakaya.com

H Tasting Lounge, new patio

The start of the recent heat wave perfectly coincided with the opening of “H Tasting Lounge’s” new patio. A classy way to eat and drink outdoors, with all the qualities and comforts of a luxury hotel. I have frequented the spot more as a drinking hole, so was exited to be able to get a taste of the cuisine today.

The patio was sleek with a dark wood laminate floor, made more stylish with the white heat lamps that looked like actual lamps with their shade and pedestal base. Adjacent, tiered umbrellas offered the grey and blue loungers and couches some reprieve from the sun and the heat. All with a view of the water in the distance and the cityscape reaching for the sky behind it.

Today, guests were invited to wander in and out of “H”. The tables were pushed aside and the restaurant turned in to a dance floor. Here, food and drink stations were set up for self serve, self indulgence. The kitchen was offering scaled up versions of food and drink off of their regular menu. Giving attendees a great way to sample the menu for future visits.

Inside the restaurant, were 3 tables worth of cheese and meats; pushed together to form one of the longest charcuterie boards I have ever seen.

The “European cheese plate” with a seasonal marmalade, pickled grapes, and seed crackers.

The “Local charcuterie” board including whole grain mustard, pickled grapes, and baguette slices.

And the “Quiche Lorraine” that was a new one for me. Two rounds of pancetta, goat cheese, and zucchini eaten like a spread.

As for drinks, there was plenty to taste and many more to inspire your next sip by the seaside. Drinks included a welcome glass of sparkling and Moët on ice.

At the bar, cocktails were shaken and stirred to order. Here I had the “Thinner walls”, ordering off a menu that included photos (a smart move, catering to the likes of me, those who love a visual cocktail. Naturally, I gravitated towards the green drink with a pea shoot for garnish. It was a wonderful visual and tasted like a spiked green juice with tequila, snow peas, suze, lemon, and soda. The first healthy drink that I got my buzz on to.

I liked the tea station where premixed tea based cocktails were poured and garnish to order. The “Late blossom smiles tea” is normally served in a tea pot, so to paid homage to this, they were served in Japanese style tea cups today. Vodka, st. germain, lillet blanc, nutcracker tea, honey, lime, and soda; completed with a bobbling flower. I liked how you could taste both the black tea and the spirits equally, they were well balanced.

Similarly in balance was the “Rye Chai”, chai tea meets rye, mezcal, apricot liqueur, falernum, and lemon. A beautiful cocktail that I fully enjoyed, it reminded me more a sweet southern tea with a kick.

On the patio, keeping cool over ice was a collection of sashimi and selfish. You could see it across the room thanks to the two giant “H” ice sculptures marking these ice baths. One was a collection of oysters, being shucked adjacent and slurped up fresh.

The second ice station had two bite servings of crudo and carpaccio.

“Kanpachi crudo” with blood orange, pickled butternut, shiso, and sumac kiwi. A refreshing snack that spoke to the quality of their seafood.

The “Halibut crudo” was seasoned in a yuzu vinaigrette with anjou pear, thyme, and micro kale. Sadly my serving was so very salted, that it made my lips pucker.

The “Tuna carpaccio” was my favourite of the three given some pizzaz with pickled watermelon, fresno chili, and mint.

And as we ate, servers toured the patio offering up for more appetizers on trays. Bites like the “Beef tartare” with egg yolk, shallot, caper, chive, and horseradish. A delicious morsel that you easily popped into your mouth.

The “Salmon tartare” with tarragon, cucumber, lemon, labneh, and hibiscus was a refreshing starter, served on an endive leaf.

The “Lump crab cake” was tasty, a crispy baked shell hiding a creamy, flaky crab filled centre; sauced up with their Old bay aioli.

I liked the “Morel mushroom tartine” made with ricotta, black garlic mustard, watermelon radish, and micro kale. Earthy and saucy, one of the more filling, roving appetizers.

And I fully enjoyed the mini West Coast lobster rolls with much gusto. Sweet shellfish, creamy mayo, and a hint of dill for freshness.

For dessert they had “Uno Gelato & Sorbet” doling out their ice cream on site. A cute cart attached to a bicycle, where you could get scoops of either salted caramel, mango, or their vegan “Midnight chocolate” in small cups. I had the former and found it too sweet for my taste.

 

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 truth I have actually have never had a full meal here, my visits typically start and end at the bar, so this was a nice teaser of them and their new patio. And one lavish enough to have me wanting to return for the full experience. I would love to revisit on a separate occasion, to more accurately account for what’s it like to dine-in and drink out on their patio. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

The Westin Bayshore
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4
604-682-3377
htastinglounge.com

Robba Da Matti, West End

Yaletown’s home spun Italian restaurant now has a second location, and tonight we traveled down to the West End, to check it out. Like the original spot, this spin off too has that hidden gem feel. Its discrete locale creates the intimacy you want in a quieter dinner. It isn’t on a Main Street, nor are there loud signs highlighting it. In fact, you wouldn’t know it was here, unless you were staying at the hotel adjacent. But unlike their Yaletown location, this one has plenty of room and a nicer patio to take advantage of.

Given the beautiful weather we took a seat on their out door terrace. Wood table tops and black whicker chairs, set to the confines of a gated in and covered lot. Our table was at the outermost perimeter, against a well trimmed hedge; under the shadow of a tree that would shed leaves and tendrils, reminding us of its presence. This was the perfect setting for our girls night out, minus those playing in the basket ball court with their boisterous commentary.

Since there were two of us, we ordered their “Date Night” option, basically its two of everything, plus a bottle of wine for $122. Two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. There are slight restrictions, but you are definitely saving, considering a bottle wine is around $40 to start with.

Our meal began with a complimentary dish of olives. Eaten with tooth picks and their pits spat out into a pinch bowl.

Our chosen wine came shortly after. You are basically choosing either red or white. We went with the Tolloy Pinot Grigio, kept cool in an ice bucket, at our table. With it, our server was quick to keep our glasses full. When we sat down she greeted us promptly, welcoming us in full. She was gentle and poised with a wonderfully sing song voice.

For appetizers we shared the carpaccio and fritters. “Beef tenderloin carpaccio”. Thinly sliced AAA Alberta beef tenderloin, drizzled with grainy mustard and white alba truffle oil. Topped with mixed greens and slices of Parmesan cheese. And accented with fresh ground pepper at the table. Delicate and delicious with the mustard as a nice zing. But I felt it need more substance, so we paired it with the “Mozzarella di bufala fritta” below.

Breaded and deep fried mozzarella di bufala bocconcini. Crispy and chewy, where I wanted crispy and gooey. The cheese was quick to firm and the nuggets concaved into themselves. Here, I expected to bite into balls of cheese. Still tasty, they reminded me of gussied up pub fare. It is served with a pesto sauce, but dipping into it really didn’t add anything to the overall dish.

For entrees I had pasta and my guest risotto.
The “Pesto and burrata” pasta, is exactly as it is named. The pesto is a blend of pistachio, pine nut, basil, and arugula. It had a bold, yet nuanced flavour that kept you going back for more. That and the pasta was amazing: the texture perfection. The burrata was best stirred in, to give the dish some creaminess.

The “Risotto alla Pescatora” (seafood risotto) did not disappoint. It was a bounty of tiger prawns, calamari, mussels, clams, and scallop. More seafood that rice to enjoy them with. The flavours were full with a warming dull spice. It was hearty and comforting, yet refined. This is one I would order next time.

For dessert I had the “Lavender creme brûlée”, it was a lumpy cream with a botanical flavour. I didn’t like the medicinal nature of the lavender all that much, but did fully enjoy the toasted sugar crust that topped it.

Similarly I didn’t enjoy the panna cotta either. You have your choice of topping between chocolate and raspberry syrup, and I think we made the wrong choice with chocolate. The featured dessert was light with the faint taste of cream, by comparison the chocolate (and the amount of it) overwhelmed. Its flavour was so pronounced that you couldn’t appreciate the simplicity and lightness of the panna cotta.

We enjoyed our time and their space so much that we ended up stayed longer, and sharing a second bottle of wine. This was a add on to the “Date Night”, and one I recommend if all things are going well on your date night.

 

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I am already a fan of the beautiful plates and fresh pastas that “Robba Da Matti” is known for, but with this new space it elevates your dining experience with them. Plenty of seating, with room in between tables, you aren’t crammed in, like at their Yaletown spot. Come in during a blue sky day and enjoy the full extent of their patio. Truly a wonderful space to have a delicious meal. They deliver on their slogan: “fresh pasta, fine wine & a good time. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

ROBBA DA MATTI
1906 Haro Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1H7
604-423-3553
robbadamatti.com

Le Crocodile, revisited

My girl friend has never been to this popular French restaurant, located in downtown Vancouver before; so when looking for a spot to celebrate at, we made this our destination.

This classic has been the go to for many date nights. Where fine dining is done classy with white table cloths and napkins; servers in button ups and vests, with towels over their forearms; and an in house sommelier ready to assist you with your wine ordering, table side.

But before we continue, for my first visit account and a more romantic scenario; including more details on the decor and ambience, check out the link below.
http://vieamaggi.com/le-crocodile/

We started by getting a bottle of Pinot Gris to share. It was kept on ice in a near by pedestal ice bucket. It was just in reach to keep our glasses topped off regularly. We ordered the most affordable bottle: a Gentil white blend. Alsace, FR. $50 for the bottle.

Our meal began with a complimentary amuse bouche. A braised endive with goat cheese and pear tart. It had the texture of soup on a buttery crust. It was cheesy, almost gelatine-like, and reminded me somewhat of a can of mushroom soup before you add in the water. Getting something for free is always a nice start to your meal. You feel special and walk away thinking you got more than what you paid for. And this feeling “Le Crocodile” cultivated for us continued on. with a complimentary basket of bread below and two desserts to close out the meal at the end.

White and rye slices of baguette with squares of firm butter.

For entrees I enjoyed the “Duo of foie-gras tasting”, wanting something completely French to take advantage of the locale.

The foie-gras terrine was meaty, thick and rich. I found the toast it was served with too hard, so helped myself to all the softened bread above. The ice wine gelee on the side was a nice balance, a dry texture and something bubbly to chew through with the heavier spread.

By comparison the foie-gras burlee was creamy and light. It had the airiness of its namesake dessert, furthered by its trademark burnt sugar, torched top. A very creative spin. But two together was too rich. This was an appetizer best shared.

My guest had the “One and one half pound Atlantic lobster” steamed and shelled, sauté with market vegetables in a saffron butter sauce. This was as decadent as it sounded, the cream sauce was all consuming and luscious, full of that tell-a-tale sweet lobster flavour. A little too rich on its own, best with some rice or the shoe string potatoes they fried, as a side.

We didn’t finish either of our meals, both were too decadent as is, and even more so shared together. In the future I would consider and recommend their set dinner instead. Allowing the expert restaurant staff to curate your perfect meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert; with all the other small bites in between.

And in between courses our table was tasteful cleaned by our server. A concave metal tool was used to scraped crumbs of our dishes prior, before new dish ware and cutlery was set.

Even though we passed on ordering dessert, we still got something sweet to end our meal on. A complimentary scoop of “Cantaloupe sorbet with Porto”. It was refreshing and light with the full flavour of the fruit shining through. Tangy to start and sweeter to finish, making it a great palette refresher.

And as per their tradition, every meal here ends with their “Le Crocodile” chocolates in milk and dark. One for each person at the table.

 

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.
Not for every day dining, but a great indulgence when you are looking to celebrate. Rich food with prices that match the richness of the experience. They are a Vancouver institution for a reason. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

LE CROCODILE
909 Burrard Street, Vancouver BC, V6E 4T4
604-669-4298
lecrocodilerestaurant.com

Bayside Lounge, new cocktail menu

Today I was invited to “Bayside Lounge” to check out a few of their new house cocktails. They are one of the restaurants where if you are a member of the “Vancouver Gourmet Club” your membership earns you 15% off your entire meal, upon any and every visit. And yes, this includes drinks as well.

To learn how you can get discounts on your favourite places to eat with the “Vancouver Gourmet Club” visit the link below and sign up.
https://www.vangourmetclub.com/

They are best known for their view at the corner of Denman and Davie. A second floor scenery that gives you the blue of English Bay in the distance. If you can get past the smell of aged fabric, the space is actually quite delightful. Once you enter it divides between the bar and the lounge. However the former is where you want to be, with a view that curves and a bar that parallels it.

In all honestly, my original visit wasn’t all that glowing, but this was a great redemption meal to rectify that. Starting with the following cocktails that had only launched two weeks prior to when we visited.

I tried a “Hidden dragon” on my first visit, but it wasn’t anything like this 2.0 version. The current rendition is made with Absolut citron vodka, chambord, muddled dragon fruit, lemon lime juice, grapefruit bitters, and a rose lemonade float. The rosy pink hue and the black speckling from the dragon fruit sets this glass apart. It is not a fruity as it looks, it has a sweetness that couples well with the sharp punch of the liquor.

The “Rubics cube” is an interesting one and one I would recommend and order again upon a future visit. Ungava premium Canadian gin, lemon liqueur, muddle celery, lemon lime juice, rhubarb bitters, and a splash of cassis. It was savoury like a Caesar, and it too drank like a meal. It had some spice to it, like what you would use to season meat. The taste of the celery salt is what shone through most for me, with the burn of alcohol to finish off the sip.

The last was “Le caci”, named after the two bartender’s who created it. Beefeater London dry gin, dubon-net, pimms no. 1, burnt chartreuse, orgeat syrup, lemon juice, blackberries, and ginger beer float. It was easy to drink with the ginger beer, and a lot lighter despite its dark and murky colouring.

As for food, we made a point to order items you wouldn’t normally think to, and was pleasantly surprised by both. Normally when you are apprehensive about your meal you order something “safe” like pasta or a burger, so I wanted to test some of the more dressier dishes. I was very impressed by their “Open face steak sandwich” for only $16. This was a great price for a great quality steak, perfectly prepared in medium rare. I enjoyed the crumbs of blue cheese topping it and the crunch from the fried onions. And they paired well with the sweet red pepper, and sautéed mushrooms.

And the “Duck confit salad” was just as good. We got a large piece, plenty of meat to ration amongst all of the salad. Saltier duck, tart greens, and a tangy vinaigrette to coat them all. It was tasty enough to have me eating my leaves, with the pickled ginger and burnt tomato elevating each spoon full.

 

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 menu was updated this January and if everything was just as vibrant and delicious as what we had, I will need to return to try more. And the best part, you wouldn’t expect this quality for the price and the place (with paper St. Patrick’s Day decorations and staff dressed in flannel). So now for food and cocktails I can recommend this long established spot with a view. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

BAYSIDE LOUNGE
Best Western Sands Hotel
1755 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, V6G 1W5
604-682-1831
baysidelounge.ca

Koika Davie

Tonight I was invited down to the original location of “Koika” to check out their latest ramen concepts. Understanding that the Vancouver ramen scene is pretty saturated and that they need to stay competitive, “Koika” continues to lead the way in ramen with a twist. They have done so in the past with the city’s first big bowl ramen challenge, their super spicy ramen challenge, and the beef rib ramen.

But today we would trying their new curry ramen and a ramen with a basil pesto broth, as well as visit a handful of their most popular bowls.

The “Curry ramen” comes with your choice of either a chicken or pork based broth. Then to it they add shredded pork, onion, carrot, mushroom, and cabbage. You can also choose your level of heat, though mild still had a hint of spice to me. Whereas I was more expecting a sweeter curry, much like Japanese curry. The soup was thick like curry, and the collection of pulled and thinly sliced ingredients offered some interesting texture to munch on.

The “Basil ramen” had a striking green chicken broth base. The basil and spinach paste giving this bowl its neon hue was made in house. It comes with cha shu, parsley, and for $2 more a scoop of Parmesan cheese. Considering it is like Japanese noodle with an Italian pasta sauce, you might as well go the whole nine yards and get it with the salty powered cheese. This was an interesting interpretation and tasty too. But I still prefer the classic ramen pairings below.

Especially the “Triple black garlic ramen” with cha shu, spinach, seasoned egg, bamboo shoot, roasted seaweed, green onion, garlic chips, and their triple black garlic oil. It is served thin noodles, and is also available in a veggie broth with tofu instead of pork. This was packed full of flavour and punch, ideal for those who love a garlicky mouth.

The “Mayu miso ramen” also comes with some triple black garlic oil, along with cha shu, and green onion. The difference is that there are bean sprouts and corn in the mix as well. It is served with regular noodles, and is sweet with the corn, and smokey from the garlic oil.

And if you like it hot you can also get it spicy with a bold red coloured broth.

The “Sapporo miso ramen” was different in its feature of fried ground pork, along with the usual bean sprouts, green onion, and corn. This broth is creamier than the mayu, and a whole lot meatier and saltier with the ground beef. This too is available in a spicier version, which we didn’t try.

“Kimchi ramen” is another fun fusion twist. Shredded pork, kimchi, mushroom, onions cabbage, green onion, and chicken broth. You could smell the sour tang and spicy heat from the broth. A heated bowl with plenty of vegetables to chew through.

The “Chicken tamago ramen” was a lighter ramen option. Thin noodles, garlic chips, bamboo shoots, and green onion, all in a chicken broth with two seasoned eggs on the side. For those who love the flavour of chicken this one is the one to get. And tonight it really stood out amongst all the heavier pork broths that we enjoyed.

And my favourite of the night was the “Kyoka tsukemen”. This is ramen where the noodles and broth come separate, and you dip one into the other. Great for those who want ramen on a hot day or for those who are weary of a soggy noodle. Dipping noodles with shredded pork, green onion, roasted seaweed, bamboo shoot, and a half seasoned egg. Here, the broth is more concentrated, you get more flavour even with a quick dunk. I especially liked how much meat there was and how bold its seasoning was.

We also broke our meal up with some appetizers. Like the “Puri puri ebi”. Four deep fried panko breaded jumbo shrimp, dressed with tar tar sauce, sesame seeds, and parsley. Each prawn was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The sauce was what made you go back for another stick.

The “Takoyaki ball” helped to change the taste with its thick sweet and salty sauce. Deep fried flour ball with a chunk of octopus hiding within. Sticky dough that melted under pressure and a chewy centre that surprised you.

 

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.
If they keep their unique ramen options coming, they will keep seeing me through their doors. Currently they have 16 bowls and counting, and each one is as different and as unique as those who come in to enjoy them. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

KOIKA
1231 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, V6E 1N4
604-336-2779
ramenkoika.com

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