Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sandwich Saturday- Part 1: La Ghianda

I love making meal plans with open-minded foodie friends. Especially on a leisurely when timing and busy schedules don't factor into eating plans. Jobin and I made plans to have lunch/brunch on Saturday. But instead of picking one place, I emailed him a list of sandwich places and sandwiches that I've been wanting to try and told him that we'd each pick a place and hit two sandwiches to split (and two restaurant/delis) in one lunch visit. My pick was La Ghianda for their corned beef sandwich. A co-worker had mentioned this deli/cafe in Kits and their corned beef (not the sandwich, just the delicious in-house cured meat itself) and then while leafing through Vancouver Magazine, I found myself drooling at sandwich article and particularly salivating over a tantalizing photo of La Ghianda's corned beef sandwich.

La Ghianda is associated with highly acclaimed Kitsilano Italian favoured, La Quercia (3689 W 4th).
Located just around the corner on Alma, this cozy, rustic, yet modern deli is a pleasure to walk into. It's got high celings, a large counter space for ordering and coffee preparation with two or three large wooden tables for seating (there are 4 small bistro tables outside in front) and a busy kitchen behind the counter with 5-6 staff in chef's whites working away.

There is also a constant stream of staff bringing supplies back and forth between La Quercia and La Ghianda. There is a large deli case filled with deli meats and cheese, terrines, fresh ciabatta loaves, desserts, oils, pasta sauces, even vacuum sealed packaged of braised meats, duck confit and bolognese sauce.
I was fascinated with an item on the top of the counter called a "Scotch Egg" a hard-boiled, shelled egg, surrounded by sausage meat, covered in bread crumbs and seasoning and then deep-fried ($7). It doesn't sound as good as it looked.....I was tempted to get one, but I used foodie discipline and ordered what I came for....the Corned Beef Sandwich. After I ordered and waited for my sandwich (approx 5 min), I started to chat with one of the chef's behind the counter and asking about all the different delicious looking food (he explained what the scotch egg was). I asked him whether the Corned Beef sandwich was the top seller and he told me it's always done pretty well with regulars but that since the Van Mag article came out, people are going crazy for it...but he said all of their sandwiches are equally as good (Roast Beef w/Arugula and Horseradish Mayo and Pork Belly w/Pickled Mustard and Mustard were the other options on the menu board- all $10 tax included).

Behold the House Corned Beef with Bolzanese (egg, horseradish, chive blend) $10.
This was pretty awesome to look at but even more awesome to eat... we grabbed the sandwich and sat outside at one of the bistro tables. Overall, this was a sandwich experience where every element worked well together...a buttery, rich, flavourful hug of a sandwich. The house-cured corned beef was generous but not overwhelming. Juicy, moist, and thinly sliced it would've been good on its own with a more basic condiment but the Bolzanese took it to a whole different level.

It was creamy, rich, with not so much a spice as a warmth or subtle kick. It was ooey gooey but not sloppy. The bread was also amazing and perfect for the sandwich: floury, soft and chewy and not too dense with the perfect level of subtle crust on the outside to hold the sandwich together and still make every bite a pleasant experience.
This was an awesome sandwich and I was actually pretty sad to only be eating half. I will definitely be back for sandwiches and many of their other delicious looking eat-in and take-out options.
La Ghianda on Urbanspoon

es, customers will be offered many of La Quercia's menu items such as pasta sauce and braised meats, pre-packed and ready to be warmed.
The Dine-in menu items include hot pastas, soups, roasts as well as quiches, salads and salami boards, not to mention kitsilano/point grey's best Italian coffee.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sushi Town Coquitlam

My friend Bree in town last weekend. We had planned a tonne of fun outdoor "Vancouver" activites but were stymied by poor weather. As a fall back plan for Saturday afternoon/ evening, we decided to go shopping at Coquitlam Town Centre, eat a sushi dinner, and catch a 7:30pm showing of "Bridesmaids" at Silvercity Coquitlam- I did a bit of online research and stumbled across some positive reviews of Sushi Town Coquitlam. I have been to Sushi Town in Burnaby and LOVE their spicy tuna combo so I felt pretty confident that it would be fairly tasty food with large portions and fair prices.
The sous chef came to meet us, as did two of Bree's friends from the Fraser Valley. We arrived shortly after 6pm and the place was pretty packed. We got one of the last tables and were seated right away. We were waiting for the Fraser Valley friends to arrive, ordered drinks and dove in to the menu.
This strip mall sushi joint doesn't have much going on in atmosphere. It's just one huge open room crammed with bare bones tables, minimal decor, bad pop, hip-hop, "top 40" radio playing and a open sushi bar (approx 5-6 chefs working behind it). We waited around for about 15 minutes, ordered gomae appetizers and then one Fraser Valley friend arrived. About 10 minutes later, the gomae arrived, we dove in and it was pretty standard and tasty but nothing to rave about.
Around 6:45 we put in an order and let Bree take the reigns since she's been living in Peace River, AB where the only sushi option is from a grocery store that drives it in from Edmonton. She ordered about 6-8 rolls for us to share and the sous chef ordered a vegetable udon. Shortly after, the second Fraser Valley friend arrived.
They must've been slammed with take out orders around the time we put in our order because we ended up waiting a long time for our food and started getting nervous about eating and making the movie. Around 7:10 the sous-chef's vegetable udon ($5.95) arrived. The sous chef tried to politely wait, but we were started to check our watches and getting even more nervous, so we encouraged him to dig in. He really liked it and I tried some of the broth and thought it was nice- salty and quite full-bodied for a vegetable broth based soup.

Finally at 7:15pm we started to get really worried and began to try to pester our server, letting her know that we were rushing for a movie and to check in on the status of our food and to even cancel the order if they hadn't started making it. At 7:20 the first roll arrived, The Double Dragon Roll ($7.95). On the inside of the roll was avocado, cucumber, masago (eggs/roe), and unagi (eel). The exterior topping on each piece alternated between unagi and avacado.
This roll was absolutely delicious- I loved the contrast of the chewy BBq'd eel flavour with the creamy, rich avocado and flavour pops of the masago. I only wish I had the time to actually savour the taste, rather than stuffing it into my face as quickly as possible.
At 7:25 the rest of the rolls arrived with the bill and takeout container. They all looked delicious but I didn't even really notice what we were eating and any of the specifics because we were so rushed. We jammed these in our mouths and the takeout containers, paid the bill and rushed to the movie theatre. We arrived at the theatre just in time to catch the actual start of the film (we missed the previews) and were stuck in the front row. But- at least we made it!
The food was all good and the Double Dragon roll was amazing- but the sluggish food delivery and service really made for a rushed, frustrating experience (especially since we told them we were trying to make a movie...) with a bland atmosphere.

Sushi Town (Coquitlam) on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 20, 2011

Finally, my first visit to Phnom Penh...

Phnom Penh is an extremely popular hole in the wall and hidden gem and a Vancouver institution. A hot spot for tourists and local foodies alike, it's written about in almost every Vancouver tour book, dining guide, and it's named year after year as one of the best restaurants in Vancouver.
I've heard so much about this authentic cambodian and vietnamese restaurant from friends, co-workers, and general foodie buzz- but I've never been down to PP.
A good friend is moving to Montreal and was trying to hit some of her Vancouver favourite eats before she  left and she suggested it as a good venue for a "farewell dinner" of sorts.

This restaurant is tucked away in on E Georgia in Chinatown with modest signage that you'd probably walk by multiple times unless you knew about the extremely tasty eats inside.
We arrived around 7, put in our names, and waited for about 20 minutes (which flew by). While we waiting, we chatted (mainly about real estate) and I looked around and couldn't help be impressed by all their bulletin board with numerous press clippings, restaurant awards, and even a menu autographed by famed chef and food author Anthony Bourdain (I just read Kitchen Confidential and loved it!)

When we were seated, we looked at the massive menu (I think it was 12 pages) and everyone had different opinions on dished to eat but there are a few signature dished that PP is famous for and everyone agreed that we should order those dishes and a few others.
There were 5 of us and of course we ordered WAY TOO MUCH FOOD and left completely stuffed (I blame Asian superdirector and her classic over ordering...)

We ordered:

papaya salad $14.50 
This was a large portion and perfect for sharing. It was nice and light tasting, but a little drippy, juicy, and a bit too sweet for me. A lot of people thought the spice level was perfect, but I definitely got more sweet than spice in this dish. The prawns in this dish were large and plentiful and there were chunks of jerky to add some saltiness, body, and texture.

phnom penh spicy garlic squid (popular deep fried garlic and squid- grandmother's recipe- with fresh lemon and pepper sauce)$15.50 for a full order
This was the hands-down favourite of everyone at the table. Essentially, this is the best calamari you'll ever eat with the most amazing dipping sauce. It's deep fried squid seasoned with salt, pepper, and fried garlic. It wasn't really spicy but was really flavourful and crispy. Squid when cooked incorrectly can be too chewy, but this squid was absolutely perfect.

phnomn penh deep fried chicken wing $7.95 1/2 order
This is probably the most popular item on the menu and are consistently voted the best wings in Vancouver. I'm not normally a chicken wing fan, but these were really yummy and worth a try. They're lightly battered, meaty, crispy, juicy, and seasoned with rock salt and white pepper. They're salty, peppery with a hint of garlic because they're tossed in sauteed garlic and green onions too.
Now, I'm a condiment and sauce junkie and the for me, the most amazing part of this dish and the squid was the lemon pepper dipping sauce. It's basically lemon juice with white and black pepper. It's not spicy but it gets your mouth and taste buds dancing with the intense flavours. It's tangy and helps cut through any greasy taste that might typically accompany the deep fried items. How can a simple combo of garlic, lemon, salt and pepper be so delicious and flavourful? I literally licked the bowl clean.

marinated butter beef $12.85
thinly sliced specialty prepared (medium rare) beef on a bed of brown garlic, cilantro served with our special house sauce
This was delicious and I would be a happy woman, eating a plate of butter beef as a meal on its own (maybe with a side of rice and veg to balance things out). It's super tender, super thinly sliced beef, rare slices of tender beef that melts in your mouth and requires very little chewing. There is no butter in this dish, I feel like it's more of an homage to the Mike Myers SNL Linda Richmond skit, "It's like butter."
It's a taste experience with the beautiful soft beef, covered with nutty, crispy garlic, ginger, and loads of fresh cilantro and topped with a bold tasting tangy house sauce (tastes like a soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice blend).

vietnamese crepe
crisp beef pancake wrappedwith bean sprout, shrimp, ground pork, pan fried to perfection $12.95
This crepe was massive and although I enjoyed the first couple of bites, I didn't love it. It was super crispy on the outside but a bit too gushy and over-cooked on the inside. Compared to all of the other dishes, this was fairly bland and left a bit of an oily taste in my mouth.

sauteed water spinach $9.50
Another dish I didn't love. Again, where most of PP's dishes hit a flavour high note- this was watery and bland, the texture was greasy and limp. Apparantly, a superior option for sauteed greens at PP is their Gai Lan.

Trieu fried rice $9.50
This was awesome but it was the last dish to arrive so we didn't finish it. The fried rice was moist and flavourful, with lots of chinese sausage, egg, carrots, onions, and fresh cilantro.

All in all, this was an amazing meal and it definitely lived up to the hype. One note: this is a place is all about the food- it won't win any awards for ambience. The setting is pretty basic and a little bit dive-y, and the bathroom is pretty bare bones. But please do yourself a favour and don't let that stop you. The food is AWESOME and their sauces will blow your mind!

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Meat Cakes

It was my pal Dave's birthday. Dave is fellow foodie and I asked him if he wanted a special cake for his birthday and he threw me for a bit of a loop when he told me that he isn't a cake fan. He's not a huge sweets guy and prefers savoury flavours hands down. So, I did what any good friend would do, I decided that I would make Dave meat cupcakes for his birthday.
I hyped up them up quite a bit- so I was feeling some pressure to knock it out of the park. After some research, I found an interesting recipe online that fit my concept, took a shopping trip to get all of the supplies, and went for it.

Ingredients I used:
-1 medium white onion chopped pretty fine
-1 cup oats
-2 eggs, beaten
-1 can of V8 juice
-1/4 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped
-2 tbsp prepared horseradish sauce
-1 and 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
-1/2 pound ground pork
-3 tbsp ketchup
-1 tsp dry mustard
-6 large yellow potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
-3 tbsp butter
-1/2 cup 1% milk
-3 tbsp light cream cheese
-salt to taste
-bacon bits

Makin' Meat Cakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine onion, oats, eggs, tomato juice, prunes, horseradish sauce, salt, dry mustard and mix well.

Add the beef and pork and mix until just combined. Use your hands and really get in there!
Scoop the meat mixture into the cupcake tin, pack the meat in there and level off, then add a rounded scoop of meat on top to create a rounded "cupcake-like" top (these cupcakes won't rise).

The recipe said to bake for 30-35 minute but I think that would've made the party-goers pretty sick because they still looked pretty pink at that point. I ended up turning down the heat slightly (300 F) and baking them for just over an hour.
Take out and let these meaty cakes cool.

Makin' Mashed Potato Icing:
Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 25 minutes, until tender, drain completely let cool and then move to a mashing bowl and start mashing with a hand masher. In a small pot, heat up butter and milk until butter is melted completely and milk is warm. Pour in the milk/butter mixture slowly and work in using a hand blender to whip potatoes into a creamy texture. Add cream cheese and mix with hand blender. Add salt to taste and stir in gradually.

When meat cakes have cooled- spread a large dollop of mashed potato icing on each cupcake and top with bacon bits for garnish.
The recipe I used called for piping the mashed potatoes like regular icing using a plastic bag with the tip cut off. I tried this and the bag pretty much busted open and covered my kitchen table and myself with creamy mashed potatoes. I wouldn't recommend that technique unless you are experienced and have the proper piping gear. I wish I could've taken photos of the mess but I didn't want to ruin my iphone with mashed potato covered hands.

These were fun and pretty simple to make. Next time, I would sub V8 juice for tomato paste (I think the mixture was a bit too liquidy and I might sub chopped olives or jalepenos in for the prunes. Also, I had to serve these cold at the track, and they were pretty tasty, but it you have access to an oven, I would recommend toasting these puppies up a little bit before serving to make them even better and forming a slightly crispy potato crust on top. YUM!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Tasty Roadtrip Brunch at Calico Cupboard

Another trip to the Sea Tac airport means another opportunity for some good cross-border eats. Every time I drive the I-5, I always find myself wanting to stop in the quaint historical, riverfront town of Mount Vernon, home of the Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. After my last trip, I googled the town and I found some information about the tulip festival, but more importantly, some tasty sounding restaurants. I pulled into Mount Vernon around noon, drove around for about 15 min in an attempt to find some tulips, but my grumbling belly encouraged me to give up and head to the Calico Cupboard Cafe and Bakery for some grub.

The Calico Cupboard is actually located in a heritage building that used to be grainery, and is now an antique mall.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is their giant bakery counter filled with an huge assortment of massive, drool-worthy cookies, pies, pastries, and desserts.

I was seated right away and even though they were quite full and everyone was moving with some hustle and bustle, their was a calm, sociable, vibe throughout. It seemed to be full of regulars, couples (young and old), families, co-workers....a real mixed crowd for a Wednesday lunch.

The decor has an antique theme (no big surprise here) and feels cozy yet spacious due to an open floor plan with high ceilings. Historical photos of the town's early years cover the walls and phrases like "Enjoy life...it's delicious" and "A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand" are painted on the walls.

My table with a view of the antique shop
Their menu is quite large and let me tell you, between the regular menu and their daily specials, it was tough to decide on what to order because everything sounds amazing. Also, I kept watching as servers delivered delicious looking dishes to all the surrounding tables. So confused, so hungry.
I was tempted by Calico Clam Chowder, Vegetarian Chili in Bread Bowl and all of their amazing sounding sandwiches.
In particular:
Fresh roasted turkey grilled with Havarti cheese, cream cheese, cranberries, Dijon mustard and red onion.
Grilled lean, thinly-sliced beef, grilled onions, Swiss cheese, BBQ sauce, horseradish and mayo.
A giant portabella mushroom marinated and grilled. Topped with melted provalone cheese, grilled red pepper, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a spicy chipotle mayo.
Triple deck of turkey, ham, jack cheese, tomato, Dijon mustard, light mayo and herbs dipped in egg batter and grilled in butter.

I asked my friendly server for some guidance and she recommended pretty much all of the delicious sounding sandwiches and a specialty hash from their all day Breakfast menu. I've been eating a lot of sandwiches out lately, so I decided to go a different direction and get the hash. It arrived a short 10 minutes later and I was pretty happy with the large bowl of country-breakfast-feel-good-eats that was placed in front of me.

A load of country style potatoes, farm fresh eggs scrambled with smokey ham, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, garlic, feta and parmesan cheese.

It was a large portion but I polished this off. Everything was well cooked (I typically prefer my hash browns crispier, but the softer chunkier potatoes worked well with the other elements) and the flavours all worked well together. The feta and parmesan cheese was salty and plentiful. The ham was crispy, smoky, and also plentiful. The spinach, tomato, mushrooms, parsley added bursts of fresh flavours. An added bonus was the nice assortment of hot sauces at the table which I used liberally.

My food and overall experience at the Calico Cupboard Cafe and Bakery left me with a big smile on my face and a full belly as I hit the I-5 back to Vancouver. Thumbs up!
Calico Cupboard Old Town Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Royal Wedding Tea Party Photos

I didn't get up in the middle of the night last Friday to watch the highly anticipated nuptials of Great Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton. But I did attend a Royal Wedding Tea Party later that evening where we watched a PVR recording of the ceremony and chowed down on british/royal/tea party themed eats. Loved the fashion, loved the afterparty in Hyde Park, loved the hot siblings (hello Harry and Pippa), and all the gossip and fun facts. But like many of these events, I was actually more interested in the food than the ceremony....
Getting in the spirit with tiaras and stiff upper lips.
Custom sugar cookies for the occasion.
Ready to toast the newlyweds.
Tiara and scones. Together at last.

Delicious scones baked in an elementary school staff kitchen.

Royal Fruit Skewers

Crustless Tea Sandwiches (Cucumber and Cream Cheese/ Eggplant and Spinach)
English Trifle. Heavenly layers of Strawberries, Ladyfingers, Shortbread, Whipped Cream and Lemon Curd. 
Photos are courtesy of the immensely talented Jenna Haylock...not only does she take gorgeous photos but she makes a mouth-watering English Trifle.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Play-off Hockey with Schnitzel, Pretzels, and Steins

Is your favourite Canuck Christian Ehrhoff? Do you like Schnitzel? Want a guaranteed seat to watch the game? Then you should probably watch some play-off hockey at the Vancouver Alpen Club.

They have a 17" HD projection screen, tonnes of seating, and a $15 special for Schnitzel, potatoes, salad, and a stein of beer.

I watched game 2 of the Nashville series at the Vancouver Alpen Club and we were pretty much the only people there. At first it was pretty disappointing but we ended up having a pretty fun night, despite the loss in double overtime.

Quite a few of my fellow Canucks fans got the special and really enjoyed the schnitzel. I had a bite and it was super crispy and flavourful. The portion was large and a few people ended up with supersize schnitzel. One diner commented that the schnitzel would've benefitted from some creamy sauce.

We also ordered a round of pretzels ($3 each) with savoury, slightly spicy dijon mustard. The Alpen Club gets their pretzels from a local german bakery on commercial drive near Venables (Andy's Bakery- apparantly they also make the best German rye bread in the city). Andy knows what he is doing with pretzels. These bad boys are chewy, yet soft, with nice giant chunks of salt.

Again, a disappointing loss but a fun night out with friends, some good eats, and delicious german beer.

Vancouver Alpen Club (Deutsches Haus) on Urbanspoon