Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking a Bite out of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards

This was my first year watching the Academy Awards with a group of people. We all filled out ballots, making our picks for winners in all categories and everyone brought a mandatory “Oscar nominated” themed dish. We all agreed this year's ceremony was in a word "awkward" especially the hosts. James Franco's stoned indifference (which I found pretty funny), matched with Anne Hathaway's paegant-like effort, a complete lack of chemistry and weird timing, made moments of the ceremony hard to watch.

On to the food..... 
In honour of “The Social Network,” Bianca and Tim grilled up a batch of cleverly named “Zucker-burgers” These mini bison sliders with cheddar and dijon mustard were a hit…some might say everybody “Like”-d them. Terrible joke.
The Leggy Redhead brought spring rolls with an nominated twist thanks to some regal presentation. Crown shaped cucumber and the way the spring rolls were cut made this dish “King’s Speech Spring Rolls”. They were crisp and delicious with an awesome sweet chili dip...
Jobin’s dish was “Biutiful Guacamole”- a Javier Bardem inspired creamy avocado dip. Awesome texture and very lime-y flavour with a mystery ingredient I couldn't get out of him.
Ashley admitted that her dish was coming straight from the aisles of Safeway…..she brought “Winter’s Bone Pumpkin Pie and Cool Whip.” Her concept was to bring a dessert that is only available in the winter. A stretch….? Yes, but she owned it and it was tasty. I actually plan on whipping up a homemade pumpkin-pie ice cream sundae in the next couple of days with the leftovers.
The sous-chef brought over some Oscar-shaped chocolates (a few minis and one large statuette) from Charlie’s Chocolate Factory in Burnaby (famous for their novelty chocolates). These would serve as prizes for those with the most correct predictions for Oscar wins.
I made “True Grits,” an homage to the Coen Brother’s multi-award nominated re-make of the John Wayne classic western film. This dish was really easy to make and I added a southwestern vegan twist- I threw vegetable stock and cornmeal in a pot for about 15 minutes until it reaching a thick, creamy consistency, then I added some soy ground round, diced jalapenos , and chipotle peppers.

I also made an Indian twist on my caramel nut popcorn recipe with curry powder, garam masala, cashews, chilli powder, salt and pepper and called it “Slumdog Millionaire” popcorn. It was sweet, spicy, and pretty addictive.

The sous-chef ended up with the most accurate predicted wins of the night and was the winner of the high stakes $2 per head cash pot and the large chocolate oscar (although he didn't make an acceptance speech, we all know he'd be thanking a certain bookie with an inside track on Oscar odds with a name like "sneaky pete.")
All in all, a delicious and extrememly filling evening despite a pretty boring and awkward awards ceremony.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Holy Pozole at Don Guacamole's

My favourite Mexican place is Vancouver is Dona Cata. When I tell people this, a common response, is “Have you tried Don Guacamole's?” Jobin and I had been trying to pick a place to go for a belated birthday lunch, I threw out a bunch of suggestions, on being Don Guacamole’s. Jobin’s Mexican assistant had just been telling him about the amazing Pozole and beef tongue tacos there…needless to say, our lunch destination was decided!
This restaurant is on Robson and Jervis, close to the west end. The interior is pretty simple and uninspired, basic black with large windows letting in a lot of sunlight, a wall of tequila bottles, high tables and barstools, basic bistro set up, a small patio (although it was way too cold today) and soccer playing on the large screen TV’s.
After ordering, the server brought us complimentary started tortilla chips and salsa (a smoky chipotle, salsa verde *the best, a basic pico de gallo, and lime wedges*kicked up the flavour on everything.) The presentation was clean and quite slick and we really enjoyed all three salsas, they were fresh and tasty.
When eating Mexican food, I trust recommendations from Mexican’s. Jobin’s assistant recommended the Pozole and the beef tongue tacos. He ordered both and I too, ordered Pozole.
His Lengua taco (beef tongue seasoned with herbs) was served on two corn tortillas diced onions and cilantro ($3.50). The assistant did not steer him wrong….the meat was flavourful and juicy and he commented that with every bite, it tasted better.
Next up, we hit our bowls of Pozole ($10). I’ve had the Tom Douglas brunch version of this dish in Seattle at Etta’s. It was a brunch version with two poached eggs and a bit more gourmet and high-end….drooling just thinking about it….so it was hard to not compare the two. The Etta’s version was better, but maybe not as authentic?
POZOLE is basically the ultimate bowl of Mexican comfort food: a slow-cooked, tomato and pepper -based broth with hominy (mexican corn), braised meat, lettuce, onions, oregano and chile. We had the option of shredded chicken or braised pork in our Pozole, we both went for the pork and I’m pretty confident with that decision. The bowl was loaded down with chunks of slow-roasted pork shoulder that was tender, juicy and falling apart.
The shredded iceberg lettuce wasn’t that great- fresh veg is necessary to balance out the hearti-ness of the dish but I would’ve preferred fresh cilantro/spinach/cabbage....something a bit more vibrant. It was also served with two crisp tortillas to either crumble in the soup, or to top with spoonfuls of the juicy meat and broth. All in all, a filling delicious meal that I would come back for…..but I couldn’t help missing the awesome vibe of Dona Cata…pink walls, salsa station. It’s the best but I still need to try Le Taqueria on Hastings.
Don Guacamole's
1333 Robson St
Vancouver, BC
Don Guacamole's on Urbanspoon

Peaceful Restaurant: Awesome Mandarin Cuisine and Hand-Made Noodles

I’ve been wanting to hit Peaceful for some time now. I’d read some positive buzz about cheap and delicious food and hand-made noodles, and finally, with a scheduled lunch with Asian superdirector and Jewish superproducer, it was time to make it happen.
Nestled in the busy Cambie/Broadway corridor, Peaceful features mandarin-influenced dishes and handcraft noodles made in-house, and authentic specialties (from dim sum to tapas to hot pots) from Northern China. The signage isn’t huge and it kinds of blends in with all the coffee shops, pho places, flower and book shops…you could miss it easily if you were driving by. It stands out more if approaching from the sidewalk with except a wooden chef-lady cut out beckoning you to come on in for some grub.
Peaceful Restaurant is small, pleasant, and clean. It was packed (usually a good sign) with a mixed crowd of people eating a variety of delicious looking dishes. After a short 5 minute wait, we were seated and got down to the business of ordering. The superdirector and I take our ordering very serious, so after some deep discussion, we were ready and order.
Since I’m a nerd, I’d done some research, and asked our smily server about their spicy cucumber salad. Turns out its only on their dinner menu but she said we could order it. YES!
The Szechuan cucumbers (6.95) is chopped fresh cucumbers tossed in spicy szechuan dressing and garlic. Simple, fresh, extremely flavourful and delicious. An awesome start to a meal and an amazing way to wake up your tastebuds and prep them for a savoury meal.
Next up, the Xiao-Long Bao Steamed Buns/Dumplings (8 pieces for 6.50) filled with minced portk, ginger and savoury sauce. I thought this was pretty good but not amazing. Superdirector is more of a expert in the matters of Xiao-Long Bao and thought the skin was too thick.
The Peaceful Beef Rolls (6.50) Five-spiced beef rolled in crispy green onion flatbread with sweet hoisin sauce were a huge hit at the table. The crispy flatbread was quite crispy and flaky with a bit of crunch and the hoisin taste was strong but not over-powering. I loaded this with chili sauce and was pretty impressed. Going into this meal, we had all been discussing how delicious the Beefy Beef Noodle Beef Green Onion Pancake Roll was…but Peaceful’s version is now my dining companion’s new favourite. I’m going to stick with the BBN as my #1- but I think I just prefer its doughy, softer texture.
We couldn’t NOT order a noodle dish at this place. They have an open/glass-walled kitchen where you can actually see workers pulling, throwing, cutting these noodles from dough. It’s a nice bit of side entertainment with your meal. We ordered the Peaceful House Noodles (9.95) an assortment of seafood, meat, and vegetables with a touch of chili-garlic sauce. This was kick-ass. These noodles tasted like fresh, hand-made goodness…..warm, chewy, thick, but not too thick and perfectly complimented by the meat, veg, and chili-garlic sauce. They have sooo many delicious sounding noodles- I can’t wait to slowly work through that menu one noodle dish at a time.
6 thumbs up for this lunch! Simple, tasty, extremely flavourful food at a fair price in a clean and basic setting with friendly service.
#110-532 W. Broadway (at Cambie)
Vancouver, BC
604 879 9878

Thursday, February 24, 2011

East Side Mario's: At least everyone enjoyed the unlimited salad and garlic loaf...

How did I end up at East Side Mario’s?  Well, our CIBC Run For the Cure Team (TEAM BON BURGUNDY) were the top family and friends fundraising team and our big prize was a sizable gift certificate for ESM. First and foremost, ESM deserves a pat on the back for giving back to the community and getting involved with such a great cause and fantastic event. A free/extremely discounted meal for our large group was a great excuse for us all to get together, reminisce and start planning ways to raise even more money for this year’s event.
This family dining chain was definitely not on my must-try list, and is typically the type of place I would try to avoid. As such, I went in with extremely low expectations and ended up having a surprisingly pleasant meal and overall experience.
Tucked  in and away on the second floor of Lonsdale Quay, ESM has an amazing view overlooking the Straight of Georgia and is packed with kitchsy Italian décor (red-checked table cloths, elaborate/over-the-top chandeliers, plastic covered furniture, giant tins of canned tomatoes, etc). It has a very Old Spagetti Factory-like atmosphere. It was a pretty busy night and the place was packed with families taking advantage of all the kid’s meal offerings, the many value bundle dining options, and the unlimited garlic bread and salad that comes with every order.
Our server was very young, attentive, and remarkably enthusiastic. He offered to explain the menu (I didn’t really think it needed an explanation…) and then went into it, taking us page-by-page, going over the deal bundles, the different categories, the most popular orders, in extreme detail.
We had a few drinks while the rest of our party trickled in, orders were taken, and the unlimited garlic house loaf and salad were brought to the table.
The Garlic House Loaf was actually quite yummy- chewy, light, with a slight crunch on the exterior. Also, it was definitely baked in house and was warm with a nice melted garlic butter on top.

The salads were pretty standard: iceberg greens with a few skimpy mix-ins (olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, croutons) but there was a stand-out with the addition of a couple of pickled, slightly spicy peppers.
When the mains came- the general consensus was a shrugging"’s okay- I guess."
This is pretty much what I was expecting with a large, Italian-style chain trying to please the general palate and kids, so cranking out pretty bland food and not really taking any flavour risks.
Group dinner highlights:
*My meal actually had a pretty nice flavour! Hell’s Kitchen Chicken: Spicy seasoned chicken with mushrooms, tomatoes, chilli peppers and arrabbiata tomato sauce. Served with freshseasonal vegetables and spaghettini with primavera sauce. 18.99
I think this was a case of good ordering- after reading the description, getting a thumbs up from the server as one of his favourite dishes- it had a "spice indicator" adjacent to the description and I know these chains generally serve up food that is super bland, so I figured this would be a fairly flavourful, healthier (re: lots of veggies and mainly tomato based sauce). I chose well, and this dish did deliver some nice flavour with a rich spice. The chicken itself was pretty rubbery (probably just using standard jumbo-pack of frozen chicken), but the veggies and pasta were cooked quite nicely. The price for this dish is pretty high, even though my meal came with unlimited salad and bread- it is BANANAs that ordering a main at a hip, beautiful, inventive restaurant (Les Faux Bourgeois, Maenam, Glowbal) would make less of a dent on my wallet.
The only other dish that got any kind of thumbs up was one-year old baby Jasper’s chicken strips and fries. His mom, Christine, said they were actually really awesome: great texture, flavour, and size. ESM Chicken Strips come with 5 pieces, fries, and plum sauce for 13.99.
Everyone else felt pretty BLAH about their pasta dishes- even ones that were hyped up as the most popular like the

Seafood Linguine:Shrimps, mussels and sea scallops simmered in tomato-herb sauce with fresh basil (16.99)Scallop Carbonara:Three bacon-wrapped scallop skewers atop linguine with even more scallops, bacon, green onions and Alfredo sauce(17.99).

Those who ordered pizza weren’t fans, even the delicious-looking Roasted Chicken & Bacon Pizza:
Pesto-Alfredo sauce topped with spit-roasted chicken, bacon, green onions, roasted red peppers-just not very tasty.

This is a franchise with a massive menu offering food that is average tasting at best but judging by the fact the restaurant was pretty busy all night:
their kid-friendly atmosphere, kid’s meals (they get mini ice-cream cones!), family-style dining, unlimited bread/salad, and nice view have obvious made East Side Mario’s the "go-to"dinner spot for many families on the North Shore.

East Side Mario’s
217 - 123 Carrie Cates Court
North Vancouver, BC

East Side Mario's (North Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cypress Snowshoe Tour...cookies and hot chocolate

I think sometimes things taste better depending on where you eat them.....

A perfect example was a snowshoe tour I went on this weekend up on Cypress mountain. It was a spectacularly gorgeous sunny day with a little layer of fresh-ish snow. I was with a fantastic group of girlfriends and we had a tonne of fun stumbling (and falling) around the Cypress Meadow trails.

As part of the tour, we stopped at a lodge and were given a complimentary hot chocolate and cookie. There was nothing particularly special about this snack (it was probably a cheap powder mix hot chocolate made in large batches and the cookies were your standard grocery store bakery specials- i had the white chocolate macademia) but this cheap, simple, not-so-healthy treat tasted amazing because of the awesome setting and the great experience.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feeding a Soccer Team....Mostly Thumbs up for Pub Fare at "The Wicklow"

Last week, it was my job to organize a farewell dinner for a member and captain of my soccer team. Not too tricky of a job- but it's always hard to please everyone in a big group. I was given the guidelines that we needed a fairly central vancouver location with a extensive menu where we could watch the Canucks game.
After calling a few of the large chain restaurants and not being able to successfully make a large group reservation (approx 12-14) with surrounding TV's to watch the game, I remembered The Wicklow, a pub on the false creek seawall, near Monk McQueens, where I've had a few yummy lunches and one of the best burgers I can remember in 2010.
I called to inquire and staff were amazing over the phone and booked us into a private room with large TVs and a pool table without hesitation.
The Canucks lost, the game was actually pretty boring, but it was great to hang out with all the girls and our coaches off the field.
With a big group, we covered a lot of The Wicklow's menu which is pretty massive- classic pub appies (some with an ethnic flavour or creative twist), salads, burgers and sandwiches, british pub classics, pasta bowls and curries, and meaty entrees.
On the table and the team member/coaches review:

yam fries (7)lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, chinese five spice and fennel. served with chipotle aioli.
*awesome- up there with the best yam fries I’ve ever had, tasty dip too!
crab and artichoke dip (11)rock crab, spinach and artichokes blended with cream cheese, topped with cheddar and jack. baked golden and served with corn tortilla chips.

*didn't like was burnt and too cheesy. The constistency was too thick and chunky.
lamb sausage and wild mushroom salad  (14)sautéed seasonal wild mushrooms and grilled spicy lamb sausage served on fresh mixed greens and topped with bocconcini and mint aioli.  
*a good salad. the sausage was really nice but all in all, it was a bit too rich with the lamb and boccocini cheese

sante fe chicken burger (12)
grilled cajun chicken breast topped with cheddar and served on a fresh kaiser with chipotle aioli, guacamole, lettuce, tomato and red onion.
*really tasty and fresh- awesome toppings....LOVED the guacamole and cheddar

jalapeño burger (14)grilled chopped steak burger topped with peppered jack cheese, fried jalapeños and fried onions. served on a fresh kaiser with mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion.
*was disappointed because he was expecting a lot of spice and strong flavour from the jalapenos…it didn’t deliver and the flavour was pretty average....

<!!!!!!!!I can't believe I forgot to take a photo of my own meal!!!!!!>
grilled lamb burger (13)grilled lamb burger topped with feta and sautéed mushrooms served on a fresh kaiser with roasted garlic and rosemary aioli, lettuce, tomato and red onion. 
*This was my meal and I loved every juicy, mouth-watering bite. I've had this burger before, and couldn't really think about ordering anything else.
* An awesome burger: really amazing lamb, mushrooms were rich and juicy, ordered the feta on the side because I wanted to only add a little (didn't want to overpower the burger patty), and got a little side of hot sauce for an added kick.
*Bun was nice and light, didn't take away from everything going on inside
*they do 1/2 salad, 1/2 fries on the that

veggie cheese burger (12)grilled garden patty topped with jack cheese and served on a fresh kaiser with peppercorn chive aioli, lettuce, tomato and red onion.
*slight curry flavour was nice on the patty
*yummy fries!

tiger prawn gnocchi (15)sautéed tiger prawns, shallots, artichoke hearts and roasted garlic finished with sundried tomato cream sauce and topped with parmesan.
*Nice sauce, yummy toppings, definitely not stingy with the prawns

rock crab sandwich (12)golden fried rock crab cake on a fresh kaiser dressed with tartar sauce, homemade coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, red onion and havarti.  
*really didn’t like this…thought it tasted like nail polish remover

chipotle chicken club (12)grilled chicken breast, crisp bacon and cheddar served on toasted sourdough with lettuce, tomato and chipotle aioli. 
*was pretty average, but loved the chipotle aioli!
*didn’t like her side soup (a tomato vegetable), found it too stewy with over-cooked veggies
bbq baby back ribs (20)a full rack of braised pork ribs grilled and basted with guinness bbq sauce and served falling off the bone.
*polished this off and loved every bit of falling of the bone goodness
*served with a side of snap peas and parmesan spaghetti squash
kentucky bourbon brownie (7)warm chocolate brownie served with kentucky bourbon caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.  
*Amazing texture- a light crispy exterior with a warm gooey inside
*Mint garnish was a nice touch and tasted great with the ice cream

We had an awesome, extremely attentive server who was prompt and efficient and kept our glasses full all night with constant re-fills. Even though not every dish was a hit with those in our group, I would still give this pub a thumbs up for grub, service, and accomodating large groups.

The Wicklow Pub
610 Stamps Landing
The Wicklow on Urbanspoon

A smelly Valentine's Day Feast

This Valentine's Day, I cooked a special middle-eastern dinner for the "Sous-Chef" and I.
I got swept away in the excitement of cooking new foods and following new recipes to create a menu inspired by one of my favourite restaurants Nuba that I didn't seem to notice that pretty much every dish was loaded with onion and garlic. Of course, I also put quite a bit of spice in the food too because, well.... I gotta be me!
As a result, we ended up with a pretty delicious dinner that had us reeking of onions and garlic and a little bit sweaty from the high spice level. Pretty romantic!
The menu was based around the idea of making my own falafel.
I worked off a pretty basic falafel recipe from one of my favourite recipe blogs Budget Bytes.
Pretty basic stuff. Chickpeas, fresh herbs, garlic, red onion...thicken with baking powder and flour. I've pretty much given up on my magic bullet for food processing needs and started using an electric hand-mixer/blender. I whipped up the dough around lunch time, let it sit in the fridge for the afternoon and it was ready for pan-frying in the evening.

I also made pita toasts with chili/olive oil/sea salt, lemon and garlic crispy oven roasted cauliflower, and tabouleh (which has mint in it but doesn't even begin to cancel out all of the onion going on).
**The sous-chef gets credit for the heart shaped napkins......what a romantic! For dessert....we had a lot of mints and gum!!!!