Friday, March 25, 2011

Simba's Grill....Dine Out for Life African Fusion Style

As mentioned in my previous post, this Thursday was Dine Out for Life, an annual event where participating restaurants donate 25% of their proceeds to A Loving Spoonful/Friends for Life, two agencies that help people living with HIV/Aids. I had a dinner date with an old friend that I hadn't seen in a long time planned for this week, so we booked it for Thursday and after perusing the list of participating restaurants, I called and made reservations at Simba's, an African fusion restaurant on Denman.
Things got off to a good start when the sous chef and I scored free street parking a block away- Boo Ya! It's definitely not always easy to get that in the busy West End.
I was pretty pumped walking into this restaurant- we were welcomed warmly by Kurshid Khan, the owner/manager of this family restaurant and shown to our table. It's a cozy restaurant and it was about half full when we arrived. The walls are covered in african masks and paintings of african animals, the menus are leather with the restaurant lion logo, and intense african drumming music was playing over the speakers. Food is served on plates with lions and elephants on it. I didn't quite feel like I was on the pridelands, but I love a them, and I was definitely digging it.

Khan is a one-man show, he's greeting people, making recommendations, explaining the cuisine, taking orders, and checking in. He's not super warm and fuzzy, but he is friendly and clearly he is passionate about his food and his restaurant, and wants you to be satisfied. He has a staff of female international students wearing dashiki's that bring out the food and do a fantastic job of keeping your water glass re-filled.

When Devon arrived to meet the sous chef and I, we poured over the menu and debated what to order. I knew I wanted to try Mufogo after seeing it featured on the food network, but wasn't really sure what else. I've eaten ethiopian food before- but this food was East African fusion and reading through the menu, things seemed to have an heavy Indian influence.

 Devon had never eaten any kind of african food before so she didn't really have a clue what was going on with the menu "this is waaaay out of my comfort zone- I can't even pronounce anything", I was a bit indecisive, and since the sous chef is a vegan- we consulted Khan for some guidance. We went with his vegetarian recommendation- not on the menu- a 6 mushroom King Bryani, Jungle Prawns, Mufogo and Naan.

Mufogo- deep fried cassava root (6.95)
We were starving and thankfully, this dish came out quite quickly.
I would call these African thick-cut fries. They are super starchy but nice and crispy. Mufogo doesn't have that much flavour except for the light dusting of chili powder. They are a wonderful vehicle however for the delicious assortment of complimentary chutneys and sauces that come along with every order.
Chutneys and Sauces (come with the meal)
Coconut chutney- amazing texture with shredded coconut, thick but not too rich and suprisingly not too sweet.
Mango chutney- spicy and full bodied, too hot for some, just right for me!
Yogurt chutney- really thick plain yogurt, good to cool down anything that people might find too spicy
Tamarind Juice- sweet and tangy, I didn't really use this other than mixing it with the yogurt to make a yummy mixed dip
6 Mushroom King Biryani (21.95)
Pretty pricey for a vegetarian main but this was a heaping plate of mushroom/rice goodness that we all shared. It came garnished with crispy fried onions and a hint of saffron. This was an awesome addition for texture and flavour. It was well- balanced, not particularly strong in terms of flavour in the rice, but the mushrooms were well-cooked, meaty-tasting and delicious.

Jungle Prawns (14.99)
This dish was really really good. The dish was 7-8 large prawns cooked in a thick, rich tomato curry. I pretty much loved this sauce and was licking the bowl when we were finished- the spice balanced perfectly with the tomato and I loved its thicker almost curry-paste texture. This doesn't come with rice- and as tasty as it was, I gotta say, I think it's priced too high.

Naan (1.99) for a piece cut into 4
Pretty decent Naan- quite buttery, a little garlicky, a bit thin and crispy- nothing to rave about, but another good vehicle for the sauces and chutneys.
All in all, a delicious meal and great dining experience (although price point is a bit steep)- I will be back.
A big shout out to Simba's and any other restaurant that partipated in Dine Out for Life...It provides an easy and delicious way to support an important cause.
Also, a big shout out to Devon for eating out of her comfort zone and really enjoying it, more people should take a page out of her book and try new things!!!
Simba's Grill (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dine Out For Life Vancouver 2011

If you go out to dine one day this week, make it this Thursday March 24 for Dine Out for Life, when over 230 participating restaurants from Whistler to White Rock and across the Fraser Valley will contribute 25% of their sales that day to help people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dining Out for Life is an annual fundraiser that benefits two local agencies who support people living with HIV/AIDS.
 A Loving Spoonful provides food for individuals and families who are living with HIV/AIDS, so that they don’t have to choose between food and medication. Friends for Life provides alternative therapies—for example yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture—for those living with terminal illnesses. Both create community for a group of people who are otherwise marginalized and isolated.

Dining Out For Life–Vancouver has raised over $3 million for HIV/AIDS support services over 16 years.

There are some fantastic restaurants that are participating.....check out the link below and start making meal plans for Thursday!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Falafel-y good weekend!

I had a weekend fling with Falafel. It started with dinner on Saturday that was so good, it had me coming back for more on Sunday. This is pretty out of character for me....when it comes to eating out, I like to get around, mix it up, try different things, experience variety- but this weekend was all about Falafel Town.

Saturday night, I went to Joe's Apartment on Granville street to check out a friend's cousins band. We had a couple of beers, but no dinner, and headed downtown. I like to make sure there is a proper meal in my belly when I'm heading in for an evening that is sure to involve more drinks (I'm way too responsible), so I mentioned to the sous chef that I had a hankering for Falafel, his favourite place happened to be on the way to the bar, and we tucked into Falafel Town (Granville and Nelson) so I could get a bite.
My first impression of Falafel town was glowing- it was clean and bright, with spotless tables, a fairly fresh coat of red paint, and an enthusiastic owner/operator ready to wrap me up a compact vegetarian lebanese meal.
For those who've never had it- Falafel is a ball or patty made from ground chickpeas. Falafel is usually served in a pita. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled veg, hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini and/or hummus. If you are eating falafel, bring your gum...because this is straight up garlicky goodness.

Some stand-outs at Falafel Town:
-great price point (6.50 - and it is filling!)
-standard practice here is to wrap up your falafel with 2 pitas so they can stuff it to full capacity with less chance of messiness and leaking
- extremely fresh toppings--- I LOVE the dill pickles, hot pepper rings, and purple pickled turnips
-their sauces are made in-house with the owner/operators secret recipes. The house hot sauce is unbelieveable- I got it in my pita and then was given a squeeze bottle so I could put more on for every bite. He wouldn't tell me what was in it but it was tomato-based with chili, parsley, and onions and it was so well-balanced and fresh tasting.
-after wrapping up your falafel, they grill it to seal things up (to make it less messy) and crisp everything up. It's a small thing that takes the whole meal up a notch.

Even with a hang-over, I ended up joining a bunch of friends and family the next day downtown for the Celtic Fest Parade. Some people grabbed burritos for lunch but all I could think about was my delicious dinner from the night before. Once I started talking about it, Dave and the sous chef started to have falafel cravings too, and we headed away from the Celtic crowd back to Falafel Town.
It was another awesome meal- this time I got mine with a single pita, a little messier but lower carb and still damn tasty. I chatted with the owner more about the falafel balls and how they are made and I watched him form and fry up a fresh batch- then he gave me a sample from the fresh batch. The sous chef and Dave were also extremely pleased with their lunch and were feeling the Falafel Town love.
I really have to give a shout out to the owner of Falafel Town- he is really passionate about his food and clearly takes pride in his product and makes providing above-and- beyond customer service look easy.
Falafel Town on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Banana Leaf on Broadway

A group of friends (fairly new friends to me from a New Year's surf trip to Ucluelet) all met up the other night for a group dinner since an out-of-town surf crew member was in town for the night before flying out on vacation. We all met up at Banana Leaf on Broadway (and Willow) between 6:30pm and 7pm and were seated at one of their large tables towards the back of the restaurant. I've eaten at Banana Leaf a few times. The first time, I was blown away and absolutely loved it. But, since I've developed more of a taste of Asian and Malaysian food, and tried the same dishes elsewhere in Vancouver, I keep being less impressed with every visit.
Small dishes of roasted peanuts were brought out for us to nosh on as the group trickled in and everyone figured out what to order. These were salty, oily, and damn tasty. A few of us ordered the special $5 Pilsner on tap. Sadly, this beer was flat. No head or hint of carbonation in the glass. I was thirsty, and drank it anyways without complaining.
Roti Canai ($6) 2 pieces of Flaky layered bread with curry dip. This was a hit- light, warm, and buttery- everyone eating this dish gave it two thumbs up.
Satay - Chicken, Beef  ($1.5 each- min of 6 per order) Grilled marinated skewers with spiced peanut dip. Those who ordered these liked said they were pretty standard. I tried some of the spicy peanut dip- it was thick, not very spicy, but tasty. The meat looked kind of dry to me, but I didn't try any so I can't comment.
Kung Pow Boneless Chicken ($13) Chicken sauteed in dried chilli, ginger & soy sauce with peanuts enriched by black rice vinegar. A couple people who ordered this dish gave it lukewarm reviews calling it "pretty good", "not great,"  and "pretty standard."
Curry Boneless Chicken ($13) Boneless chicken breast simmered in creamy curry with lemon grass, coconut cream. This dish came out in a oversize bowl with a mix of colourful was the first to arrive and it looked huge. Turns out it was a good portion and that the dish was pretty wide but shallow. It came with rice and the diner said that everything in the dish worked well together and made for a nice meal.

Malaysian Curry Chicken ($13) Bone-in chicken legs and thigh with potato stewed in red curry, lemon grass & coconut milk. This diner was not as satisfied with his meal. He said overall, it just wasn't great and he was put off that he needed to order rice seperately with this main. The menu isn't very clear on what dishes do and don't come with a side of rice.
Rendang Beef ( $13)  a rich Malaysian dish, boneless lean beef stewed  in coconut gravy and spices. Those who ordered this dish really liked it. I had a bite and had to agree, it was rich, spicy, hearty, and full-bodied.
Sambal Green Bean ( $11) Stir-fried crunchy green beans with small shrimps & tomato in chili, garlic & dried shrimp paste. This is the dish that blew me away on my first visit to BL and apparantly it is still pretty tasty. The girls who split this dish said the spicy, savoury, salty flavour was awesome and that the beans were cooked perfectly with a bit of a crunch.
Assam Curry Tofu & Vegetables ($13) Soft tofu and mixed vegetables simmered in tamarind juice and curry spice with coconut cream. The sous chef ordered this and liked it. He thought it was a good level of spiciness and loved the crunchy beans and okra.
Seafood & Chicken Fried Rice in Pineapple Boat($13) Fried rice mixed with seafood, chicken, egg, raisins, corn, sunflower seeds, served in a half pineapple boat. Beautiful and over-the-top presentation, but this was another dish that was met with a "just okay" rating. Adam says he orders this dish at the Thai House and they make a far superior version (also served in a pineapple).
Singapore Laksa ($11) Rice noodle in coconut soup base made of dried shrimps, chili, garlic, lemon grass & turmeric with bean sprout, cilantro, tofu, egg, chicken, fish-cake, squid & shrimps. This was my dish....I wasn't sure whether to get the curry laksa or the singapore- the server recommended singapore so maybe I'll blame her. This dish was super bland, over powered by coconut couldn't taste the flavours of the other ingredients.

All over dining experience:
It was a great night and I had an awesome time catching up with great people I hadn't seen in a while. BL has a really nice set up and decor. Servers are dressed in south asian sarongs and long skirts, and the decor and lighting create a nice atmospere. Our server was pleasant, although a bit slow on water re-fills, and checking in throughout the night.
Another server who brought out the food was both startling and entertaining (to a few of us). With every dish that was brought to the table, he would impatiently yell the dishes name until someone came forth to claim it. I found it funny (just to be clear, he wasn't doing it to be funny), but I could imagine it gets on a lot of diner's nerves.
I was really disappointed with the end of the night at the slow speed at which the bill was organized and divided. It honestly took close to 30 minutes for the bills to get organized and presented to us and another 15 to execute payment.
In my opinion, other than a few stand-out dishes like the Sambal green beans and the rendang, the dishes at Banana Leaf is average and over priced, especially after eating other malaysian food around Vancouver (go to BO LAKSA KING!). They are however a nice alternative to the other big chain restaurants for a group meal....that being said, if BL is going to fill that role- they need to figure out how to be better and more efficient with customer service.
Banana Leaf (Fairview) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Healthy and Easy Moussaka

I love Greek food but other than Greek salad and hummus, I don't ever really get Greek in the kitchen---usually I'll head to Pasparos (North Vancouver) or Stepho's (Davie St.) to get my fix. One of my go to orders for Greek is Moussaka- beefy, eggplanty, cheesy goodness. But I've always been intimidated by all of the cheese and the idea of making a "bechamel" sauce on top.

I decided to break down the elements and do a simple, less cheesy (and use low-fat soy feta) version, and after researching into bechamel- it didn't seem very hard to screw up.

So here is what I whipped up:

1 fresh eggplant

1 medium zuchini
8 oz lean ground sirloin beef(100 % Canadian) *I'm trying to get my iron levels up!
3 cups low sodium chopped canned tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1tsp chilli flakes
1/2 cup flour
1 cup skim/unflavoured soy/ almond milk
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
1/2 cup soy feta cheese, crumbled

Slice eggplant and zuchinnii very thinly (i used a mandolin).

Brown ground beef with onion and garlic.
When brown, add tomatoes, oregano, parsley, chilli flakes. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
Layer eggplant/zuchini, then meat mixture in medium casserole pan or loaf dish, ending with meat mixture on top.
In a seperate, small pot, add milk to clean saucepan and slowly stir in flour a little at a time until sauce thickens. Add feta and parmesan cheese and whisk or stir brin.
Pour white sauce over the casserole.
Bake at 350 degrees until top starts to turn golden brown approx 30 minutes
Number of Servings: 8

Enjoy the Greek Goodness!!! Making Moussaka is not scary!

By the way, the recipe also enters me into a contest to go away to a food blogger retreat in Washington, DC called Eat, Write, Retreat It would be amazing and the weekend of a lifetime - keep your fingers crossed for me!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

California Roll Salad for the Canucks game

I came across a recipe in a magazine a few months ago, loved the idea, and have been meaning to try it out with a twist. Last night, Jayme hosted a crew to watch the Canucks beat the Flames before we headed out to watch one of our favourite local bands Rosco perform.

The sous chef and I attacked this project with gusto and were so happy with the results. It looked, and more importantly tasted amazing (if I do say so myself)! 

The elements:
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Chopped cucumber
Shredded Carrot
Roasted yams with light teriyaki
Imitation Crab Legs
Chopped Avocado
Chopped Nori (dried seaweed)
Pickled sushi ginger
White rice (with rice wine vinegar)
The Dressing (rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, minced pickled ginger)

I can't wait to play around with this recipe more....spicy sashimi, smoked salmon, wasabi peas, shrimp...

A nooner at Wang's

I’m back working in South Vancouver as of this week. There aren’t really many lunch options within walking distance so when Asian super director called and wanted to meet a co-worker and I for lunch, we knew we decided to head north up Granville and meet at Wang’s Noodle House.  ASD have both been here before and enjoyed the soup- so it seemed like a great location for a lunch meet up.
This place is clean with slick, modern décor and light bamboo walls. Service was pretty slow and enthusiastic and our server was pretty infrequent with tea re-fills. The menu isn’t overwhelming and when my co-worker and I had arrived, ASD had already put in an order for two dim sum style appies to share. 
Sliced Beef in Chinese Pancake (5.25)- this is one of my favourite Chinese food appies  and I’ve had some amazing versions of this dish recently….this one was just okay, especially when slathered with chilli garlic sauce- but too dry- both the pastry and the beef inside. I like this dish with more hoisin inside.
Pan Fried Chive Volauvent (5.25) chive, onion, bean threads, egg in a flat dumpling pouch….this was a bland and boring dish. The flavour was dominated by the chives and fell flat on my tastebuds- wouldn’t order it again.
We all got the spicy beef brisket soup(7.50- small)  and enjoyed it (ASD got the thick noodles, c and I got the thin) noodles were chewy and tasted really fresh….love the loads of cilantro, pickled veg, and green onions. 
There were approx 8-10 generous chunks of supple beef- thick and melt in your mouth (no stringy-ness or gristle).  The spicy broth rocks: this beef broth is rich but not heavy or too oily with a nice spicy kick.
I would come back to Wang's for the soup, but I can't give it a solid thumbs up since our other lunch items and service were pretty lackluster.
*I actually took home my leftover soup noodles and reheated them for dinner with some bok choy….it made for another tasty meal. 
Wang’s Beef Noodle
8390 Granville St
Vancouver, BC Noodle House
Wang’s Beef Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Late Brunch at Bandidas Taqueria

A late brunch replaced plans for a walk, and the sous-chef and I headed to Bandidas Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant on Commercial Drive and Granview/12th to meet up with some friends (who were planning on making us brunch before I informed them that the sous-chef is vegan!)

This spot is funky with antique, hipster décor, bright flowers on the tables, bikes near the ceiling, and water served in mason jars (love this!) It was the tail end of the typical lunch rush (1:30pm) but the place was packed and we had an approx 15 min wait (made more pleasant with trivial pursuit cards)before we were seated in the cozy/semi-cramped restaurant.
The menu is pretty big and full of delicious sounding option (pretty much all of them can be made vegan with soy sour cream, vegan gourmet cheese, and eggs replaced with a butternut squash/tofu mix) so even though we were all starving it took us a while to decide. Service was decent but not exceptional (a bit slow with water re-fills and not overly friendly). On to the food!

Greg’s order:
Huevas Rancheras ($10.50) came with 2 free-range eggs on hand-made tortillas, ranchera sauce, pinto beans, purple cabbage salad, and roasted potatoes and yams. Everything on the pate was really good and each item had its own distinct flavor and texture. The sauce was light, it had just enough spicy hint for a breakfast plate.

Linda’s order:
Lester's Benny ($10.50)Two poached free range eggs, roasted yams and onions, feta cheese and your choice of tomatillo or spicy tomato salsa on top of fresh cornbread muffin tops, served pinto beans, roasted yams and potatoes & purple cabbage salad. Linda ordered this with a side of guac ($1) and really liked her meal. She was able to try both salsa toppings and dubbed the tomatillo salsa superior and was pumped about the cornbread.
The sous-chef’s order:
Ronny Russell Burrito ($7) Roasted yams and onions, fresh guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage, & pumpkin seeds wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. This burrito was huge (a plus) and was given a light grill to seal it up for easier eating (a touch I always appreciate). He enjoyed the burrito and really dug the hearty amount of guacamole and the flavour of the yams.He would’ve appreciated some salsa inside and perhaps a bit more effort in the plating department.
I ordered:
The Breakfast ($7.50)
Free range eggs (soft poached), pinto beans, roasted yams and potatoes, purple cabbage salad, and fresh salsa, served with cornbread and honey butter. I was torn between this and ordering the Mexican breakfast which comes with tortillas (I’ve had it before and loved it) but the server told me that the customers go crazy for their cornbread….so I pretty much had to try it. Another great Bandidas brunch. This plate is so satisfying and well proportioned. I left satisfied but without feeling like I was going to bust a gut. There is so much going on with this busy plate but everything is fresh and well executed. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the oozing yolks on the cornbread was delightful smothered in their hot sauce. The cornbread was moist, not oily, with a subtle sweet flavor, and the edges were a little bit crisp. The crispy, charred yam/potato mix was peppery, smoky, and garlicy (look out for the clove of roasted garlic mixed in- it’s tasty but you’ll smell for the rest of the afternoon) and a definite improvement on the typical hashbrowns. The purple cabbage was crispy, crunchy, with a slightly spicy, vinegar-y flavor with balanced out the creamy pinto beans quite nicely.

2781 Commercial Drive

Bandidas Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Travel Eats: Port Townsend, WA

A mid-week road trip getaway took the Sous-Chef and I to Port Townsend, Washington where we were to stay at a friend of his family's. After an approx 3 hour drive and a 1/2 ferry ride, we were in PT, Washington's Victorian Seaport on the Olympic Peninsula- it's an old town town with a lot of historical buildings, storefronts, charm and of course, opportunities for some good eats!

Fun fact: There aren't big on giant corporate chains in PT. There are limited chains, and the ones that are present aren't allowed big logos or signage. They have one McD's and there are no golden arches.
But they did have this sweet statue!!!

Another fun fact: PT is where they filmed the movie "Officer and a Gentlemen". Ironically, we tried to rent the movie and despite visiting the two movie stores, we were only able to find a VHS copy (our accomodations not surprising had a DVD player only)

Our first night, we picked up some salmon, vegetables, and a giant bottle of wine from the grocery store (yay for one stop shopping!)

We made a delicious thai curry, rice noodles, a tonne of cilantro and  BBQ the salmon with a ginger marinade.

The next day we went for a long walk along the beach, trails, and abandoned bunkers at Fort Warden State Park and worked up an appetite for lunch. The sous-chef's mom said I should make sure to try her favourite sandwich....and I was game. So we headed to Sweet Laurette's Cafe and Bistro, a patisserie/bistro serving French cuisine with a Northwest twist. This restaurant was cozy and comfortable, with easy listening french music playing softly in the background. There was literature on the tables to let diners know that the owner/operators were passionate about working with local products.

The sous chef ordered a House Salad for $7(vegan choises were few because all the vegetarian options had cheese) and got two baskets of complimentary bread. The salad was bibb and frisee lettuce tossed with roasted shallot vinagrette, garnished with cucumber, cherry tomato, and carrot and extremely pretty to look at. He thought it was extremely fresh and liked the dressing. He also loved the soft, chewy, baguette.

Despite all of the delicious sounding options, I kept a laser like focus and ordered the recommended sandwich...the Cape Cleare Pan-Seared Salmon BLT Sandwich ($15) with bacon, avocado, mayo, tomato, red onion and lettuce on griddled pain au levein.

I was a bit wary of the $15 price tag for a sandwich with no side- but this sandwich really brought it. I definitely had a food-gasm with this one. Every aspect of this sandwich was perfect- delicious buttery sourdough bread lightly toasted, amazing flavour and texture with the fresh pan-seared salmon and the fresh lettuce and tomato, perfectly crisp bacon, and rich, soft avocado made every bite a symphony of texture and flavour playing on the palate. Our server was awesome- quick, plenty of water re-fills, super friendly and gave us some great recommendations on the best place to buy seafood in town (in particular the Cape Cleare salmon).

Next up, we walked around the main Victorian seaport strip of town and checked out all of the pubs, coffee shops, cafes, novelty and antique shops before we headed to the large industrial shipyard area where we stopped at Port Townsend brewery for a beer tasting. We tried 4 beers ($1 per sample glass). Our favorites were the light Chet's Golden Ale and Brown Porter.

Then we strolled over to Key City Fish where they sold fish fresh off the boats, along with delicious smelling chowder and local smoked salmon/canned tuna. I picked up some mixed seafood(scallops, shrimp, tuna, cod) to fry up for dinner and throw on a salad.
The next day, we did another awesome hike and a bit more exploring before taking off. Before we left, I bought some delicious Cape Cleare smoked salmon for my lunch. The flavour was amazing and smoky and was soooo tasty in a pita with dill pickles and basil mustard based coleslaw for a ferry ride picnic on the way home.