Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best of Vancouver: Best Complimentary Bread

Some times a simple element like complimentary bread can elevate a meal and dining experience to a whole new level. Here are some of Vancouver's top bread baskets:

Glowbal http://www.glowbalgrill.com/ (Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt with warmed butter) MM

La Brasserie http://www.labrasserievancouver.com/  The Leggy Redhead LOVED this rich salty butter and thought it tasted like it had been made with chicken stock.

The Reef http://thereefrestaurant.com/ (Bucket of Johnny Cakes)MM *What are Johnny Cakes? Johnny Cakes are fantastically delicious! These Fried Cornmeal Cake Balls served with mango pineapple butter and their house hot sauce will have you planning your next trip to The Reef.

Al Porto http://www.alporto.ca/  (delicious focaccia)

Olive Garden http://www.olivegarden.com/default_f.asp (unlimited breadsticks)

Pied a Terre http://www.pied-a-terre-bistro.ca/ TV LOVES this bread, she loves the presentation (served on a receipt skewer), crusty on the outside, fresh and soft on the inside with a rich, salty, spreadable butter.

Locus Restaurant & Lounge on Main http://www.locusonmain.com/  MM
Kate writes "The dinner bread is herby and fresh with some spicy butter churned in heaven. I could just mainline that stuff all night. And then the brunch basket has two kinds of whipped butter (sweet and savoury)."

Friday, November 25, 2011

GO FISH! on Broadway

It was Friday date night and I wanted to try something reasonably priced, not-too-fussy, and new. Style Guru had mentioned a delicious outing to the new Go Fish location on Broadway in the space formerly occupied by Bin 942. This is the latest venture from owner and Vancouver well-known chef Gord Martin.
He offers the basic delicious staples that have made the False Creek Fisherman's Wharf Shack location a hit (Fish and Chips, Oyster Sandwiches, Wild Salmon Tacones) and ups the ante with some more high-end and inventive dishes.

The narrow space was packed when we arrived around 7pm and we were seated at the last two seats at the bar. After a 15 min wait at the bar- we were seated at what our server called "the date table"- a cozy open booth with a glass top table. Servers and hostesses were all very friendly and chilled out.
The decor is pretty simple and they have really tried to open up the narrow space. It looks aquatic meets 80's mod. There are white walls, pale wood panneling and lots of funky lighting and accessories like flasher-and-lure chandeliers, nori art on the walls, a carved mermaid, aquatic looking mirrors, and one of the coolest dolphin faucets I've ever seen.

The menu is very "Vancouver" and chock-full of delicious sounding meals. Unless you don't like seafood, there should be something on this menu that appeals to you. I actually sampled one of their appetizers at this summer's Feast of Fields event- their Tequila Cured Sockeye Salmon- and it was fantastic. Other amazing sounding items include Calamari Steak Salad, Hot and Sour Coconut Thai Chowder, BC Pan Kissed Jumbo Scallops with Arugula Pesto/ Chorizo Vinaigrette/ Jalapeno Corn Bread/ Grilled Artichoke.
We ended up ordering one of their more basic dishes and one of their higher-end options to share.

Wild Pacific Salmon on the Grill Sandwich with Side Shrimp Mayo, Japanese Style Pickle, Organic Style Greens served on a toasted fresh daily Portugese Bun with coleslaw and Kennebec Fries $11

This sandwich was light and flavourful. The salmon was fresh tasting with a slightly smoky flavour and perfectly cooked. The bun was a good match- light and fluffy, it let the salmon be the star. The coleslaw was amazing with a fresh burst of citrus flavour....I should've put in on the sandwich! And the fries were stand-out amazing: fresh, hot, crispy, tasty.

Pan Seared Pacific Halibut Fresh with Mango Beurre Blanc, Banana Leaf Black Sticky Rice, and Shitake Mushroom Stir Fry $20

This was another great dish. The halibut was rich and buttery with every bite. The Mango Beurre Blanc was more mango than butter and not too sweet- which I was a bit concerned about. The mushroom stirfry had a really nice tang and texture and the black rice (which I had never had before) was really sticky with a deep earthy flavour. There was a salsa verde sauce on the side that I loved...it gave all of the flavours in the dish just a little extra burst when added. My one complaint would be that this was a beautiful plate, but the portion size was pretty puny.

This place is great: funky, casual, fresh, fun and unpretentious. It's seafood fusion and very Vancouver. This would be a great place to take an out of town guest for a taste of our city.

Go Fish on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pub Night at Cascade Room

This wasn't my first visit to Cascade Room. It's become a solid "go-to" place on Main. It is a fantastic place to get together with a group of friends and a pretty awesome place for a date night. The restaurant is comfortably loud but not painfully so, you can still hold a conversation.  The decor is pretty cool, with some elements that make it feel like a updated version of a 1950s hotel lounge and some awesome modern elements. The menu is decent sized and focuses on local sourced products. The prices are reasonable, the portion sizes are great, and the service is always friendly and attentive.

In a nod to British Pub Culture, Monday nights have become quiz nights at Cascade. Questions are "general knowledge, " registration is between 6-7 for a prompt 7:00pm start. Maximum of four per team, $2 to take part, and the winning team scoops up the proceeds to go to the charity of their choice. This quiz was not easy!!!! Questions ranged from topics like world population, current events, geography, history, sports, language, current events....Our team, "Let's Get Quizzical" struggled through the first few rounds with a late surge in points and mad success in the Madonna name-that-tune section. All in all, even though we left feeling a little dumb, it was a really fun way to spend a night. Team "Let's Get Quizzical,"ordered a variety of tasty treats.

Beets & Butter Lettuce salad $12 roasted pecans, green apple, red grapes, celery, chantilly dressing
T-Mc ordered this and really liked it. It was a crisp,large and filling salad with a lot of different taste and textural elements. She noted that the beets could have been more dominating in flavour. The dressing was light with a bit of a citrus kick.

Saltspring Island Mussels $13 red curry, coconut milk, sesame flatbreadThis is a huge portion (it comes out in a bucket) and great for sharing. The mussels were huge, plump and meaty. The broth was nice and garlicky and rich but not too heavy. The curry flavour wasn't very strong or spicy- but still pretty damn tasty.

Mushroom Pizza $14 Roasted mushrooms, pesto, edam and goat's cheese, fresh spinach.
This a stand-out delicious dish at Cascade and it's hard to order anything else when I know how yummy this pizza is. It's a simple thin crust pizza with light flavours. The mushrooms and spinach add a rich, earthy flavour. Even with pesto and a few different types of cheese, this pizza isn't greasy or messy. The crust is chewy and light but not the star of the pizza...it's definitely about the toppings.

Crisp Polenta Fries and Curried Mayo Dip $6
This is another must-order dish for me at Cascade. They are creamy, warm, and fluffy on the inside and have an awesome light fried crispy exterior. They come out piping hot (wait a few minutes so you don't burn your tongue) and they are huge and pretty filling. The curry mayo dip is nice but felt pretty heavy at the end as I filled up....I started dipping them in the mussel broth which turned out to be a delicious combination.

Cascade Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy Vancouver Food Truck Friday

Recently there was a CTV TV news story about how the Occupy Vancouver movement is hurting the food carts around the Vancouver Art Gallery site. Food carts like The Re-Up BBQ, that have been there for a couple of years, are saying that their sales have dropped 50-60% since the movement took over the site. 

A local food blogger "Mary in Van City" reached out through the interweb with a great idea:

"I hereby declare Friday November 18 Support the Food Carts Day. Between 11-3 pm, stop by for lunch, a snack, or take dinner home from one of the many Food Carts in the VAG area. Even if they clear out Occupy Vancouver before then, It will take a long time for these small businesses to recover. Let’s spread the word and put our money where our mouths are! Let’s #supportYVRfoodcarts this Friday!! Spread the word!!!"

My co-workers and eagerly I headed downtown with some dollar bills and big appetites to support the cause!

Randy grabbed lunch from the boys at the Re-Up Cart. A delicious pulled-pork sandwich and a glass of  sweet tea. I've had this sandwich before and it is just good street eats. The meat is soft and moist but not too drippy. The sauce is killer on this sandwich- it's smoky and rich with a slight kick with just a little sweetness. The pork has a well developed slow smoked smokiness to it. Fresh-cut coleslaw adds some crunch, acidity, and light-ness to balance out this meaty sandwich. The bun was airy light with a crusty dry exterior and it wasn’t hard or that chewy, but nice and pillowy soft. 

He also had a glass of sweet tea- probably not the most fitting beverage for such a cold day but pretty delicious. It’s better than iced tea and has a more floral aroma and rounder flavour with less citrus. It’s very mild, light, refreshing.

My other co-workers and I were torn on whether to visit Mom's Grilled Cheese (one of the newest truck rolling through Vancouver). The truck is adorable and definitely got my attention with its cute kitchsy retro logo, the crowd, the energy of the truck staff, and the delicious looking sandwiches and drool-worthy menu (mmmm.....you can order a scoop of chilli in your grilled cheese sammy).

We decided to head to Granville St to hit Kaboom Box for some seafood offerings instead.

Kaboom Box is a food cart that serves a menu focused on sustainable seafood and local ingredients. The three of us ordered sandwiches and two poutines to share. Sandwiches work out to be $8 each with taxes and the Poutine is $6 with taxes included. It was a short wait for our food, no more than five minutes.

David ordered the Gulf Island Fried Oyster Po-Boy "Locally and sustainably harvested oysters, panko breaded and fried, served with house-made tartar sauce and signature slaw" The chef recommended that David take a few napkins to eat this with calling it "a messy one."

He enjoyed the sandwich but it didn't quite meet his expectations. He liked the breading and the crunch on the oysters but he felt like the aioli-creamy tarter sauce was too lemon-y and over-powering, so much so that it masked the flavour of the oysters.

Amber and I both ordered the Hot Smoked Salmon Sandwich "Hot smoked on the cart, our salmon is local, wild caught, Oceanwise Certified, and some of the best fish available in Vancouver. The salmon is smoked fresh and served on a toasted whole wheat bun with a touch of spicy mayo and our house-made maple mustard slaw."

Although a bit small, this was a pretty good-looking (lots of colour and texture) and tasty sandwich. The salmon inside the sandwich seemed a bit small at first glance., but it was meaty and so full of flavour that I don't think the portion needed to be bigger. The fish is moist and meaty in texture and nice and salty, savoury, and smoky in flavour. The slaw tasted pretty basic but did add some lightness and brightness and crunchy texture. I really liked the multi-grain ciabatta bun which was sturdy with just the right chew level and although I liked the spicy mayo, there was too much on the sandwich and it's flavour packed such a punch that it didn't really let the fish shine. This might be the one time in my life where I would recommend that the chef ease up on the use of condiments.

The four of us shared two orders of their BC Poutine "Crispy fries topped with a local mushroom gravy and cheese curds." The fries were pretty standard but well seasoned with a really good crispiness, and the cheese curds tasted just like basic white cheddar. The star of this dish for me was the mushroom gravy. It was good and creamy and full of rich flavour and I enjoyed the mushroom bits mixed in (I wish there were more). This was a pretty poor dish to eat in cold weather.....it got cold really quickly and poutine is not meant to be eaten cold.....the textures just all turned kind of goopy and gluey.
Overall, this cart had good food that could be spectacular food with just a few tweaks and I'm definitely curious to try some of their other menu items. This would be a great cart to take an out-of-town visitor....it feels very "Vancouver."

Is adding Ketchup to poutine is a Montreal thing?
It was a fun and tasty office lunch outing. If you can, bundle up, and brave the cold weather for some good grub and support Vancouver street eats!

Re-Up BBQ Foodcart on Urbanspoon

The Kaboom Box on Urbanspoon

Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Best of Vancouver: THAI

Thai Food is near and dear to my heart and I've had some of the most amazing meals (and SPICY) from little food stalls in Thailand and ended up with my own private cooking class in Chang Mai.

Street Pad Thai in Bangkok

Grilled Street Squid on a Stick at a Night Market in Ko Pha Ngan

Checking out produce in Chang Mai

Just gettin' down with a mortar and pestle making curry powder
Again, I've polled my friends, co-workers, and family members to get their opinions on their favourites when it comes to anything food in Vancouver.
I've listed the most popular choices, I've added a particular dish if it was mentioned, and added an MM if I've been there and give it my personal thumbs up.

Maenam MM  http://www.maenam.ca/main.html *Pork Belly and Water Spinach

Thai House http://www.thaihouse.com/ *Jayme loves their cashew chilli chicken *Adam loves their Pineapple Rice

Pad Thai MM http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/181345/restaurant/Mount-Pleasant-Main-Street/Pad-Thai-Cuisine-Vancouver *Awesome $5.95 Lunch Special and my favourite is Chicken with Eggplant, Basil Leaves and Jalapeno

Thai Café http://www.thaicafe.ca/

Let me know if there are any other amazing places serving up tasty Thai that I should know about!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Banh Mi Goodness....

My quick grab-and-go dinner two nights this week was a Banh Mi Ga (shredded chicken, vegetables, and hot peppers). For a $3.75 dinner a tasty Banh Mi is kind of as good as it gets in my book. 

Au Petite Cafe is near 33rd on Main and they make a tasty sandwich. Their bread is pretty fantastic and soooo fresh. The crust is thin and crispy and the center is really soft and buttery. So good. The chicken was nice and saucy and the veggies were crispy (although the green onion was a bit tough to bite through and the hot peppers were quite large- I would've preferred that they were chopped a bit smaller). There was a decent portion of chicken and veg inside, in but this sandwich is by no means overstuffed and the bread is the real stand out. This was kind of a messy sandwich to eat and you'll end up covered in crumbs. 

Call ahead (their sandwiches are popular and sometimes they run out of bread) and bring cash (they don't take credit or debit).
Au Petit Cafe 小小咖啡屋 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stressed out Subeez experience

Three of my gal pals and I had tickets for the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soliel's Michael Jackson travelling show, "This Is It." We played around with a few ideas for places to go for dinner and decided on Subeez, which is a short walk away from Rogers Arena. We didn't realize that this would be such a crazy busy night downtown, but it was quite busy because there was a BC Lions game and a David Sedaris literary reading.

I arrived at 6:00 and told by a flustered hostess that it would be a 30 minute wait. It was busy but the open kitchen seemed to be cranking the food out at a good pace, and tables seemed to be turning around fairly quickly. I was a pretty hectic waiting area...

Two guys actually came in and proceeded tp seat themselves at a small table near the entrance. We were pretty irritated since there was a large crowd of people patiently waiting and these guys essentially "butted in line." We alerted the hostess and were further irritated when she didn't do anything about it.
40 minutes we were seated. Since we were in a rush, we had perused the menu and decided on our orders so we were ready to order right when we were seated.
We explained that we needed to make an 8pm show and our server told us the kitchen turn around would be about 40 minutes. It was 6:40 and we figured that would give us a 20 minute window to eat. Not a leisurely meal, but do-able. Food took about 50 minutes to arrive so we essentially shovelled our food as fast as we could down our throats.

I ordered their Spicy Szechuan Udon $13: Saltspring Island Smoked Tofu, broccoli, shiitake mushroom, bok choy, orange sesame glaze, toasted almonds, scallion. This was a really nice dish. The smoked tofu had a rich smoky taste that actually tasted a bit like cheese, the shiitake mushrooms were earthy and deep flavoured, and with the orange sesame glaze, thankfully the orange flavour was subtle and the sesame flavour was dominant.

Carrie ordered the Braised Chicken Penne $15: Chicken breast, julienne vegetables, mushrooms, shallots, roast garlic, chicken jus, fresh basil, bocconcini. She like this dish and all of the flavours but she thought the portion size was a bit skimpy.

T- Mc ordered the Gnocchi $14: Pan fried gnocchi, chili flakes, coriander, peaches, asiago cheese. She really enjoyed this too and although she was worried initially about the chilli flakes and the spiciness level of the dish, she thought the flavours were nice and melded together quite well. In fact, she noticed that there were no chili flakes. Also, she was disappointed that the peaches were obviously from a can.

Christine ordered the Chicken & Brie Sandwich $13: Baguette, chicken breast, brie, demi-glace, arugula, roasted tomato. She was really happy with this......it was ooey, gooey, indulgence in sandwich form accompanied with a side of fries. The brie cheese oozed throughout the sandwich and it was very rich with a bit of light-ness from the arugula.

Unfortunately, we all had to wolf down our food at a rapid pace (5-10 min) and jump in a cab to make it to the show just in time.

Now here's the thing, everyone thought the food was pretty delicious and I've had great group dinners at Subeez before so I can't give it an all around bad review- but all in all, this was a stressful and somewhat frustrating experience that highlighted flaws in their system and management that came close to ruining our evening.

Subeez Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Savoury Heavenly Flavours at Red Wagon

Red Wagon has been open for about a year and it's been getting a lot of positive buzz since it opened its doors on the southwest corner of Garden and East Hastings. This diner is the first restaurant from owner and cook Brad Miller, who's been working in notable kitchens such as West, Pastis, and Au Petit Chavignol before striking it on his own. Along with the new-ish Lucy's Eastside Diner, Acme Cafe, Deacon's Corner, it's a part of Vancouver diner renaissance movement. They started doing strictly breakfast/brunch service and now has extended its hours to include a dinner service. It's become a beloved East Van institution that gets crazy blog blog love and positive write ups. The attention hasn't just been local, in fact TV host Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives film crew visited the diner recently and Red Wagon will be one of the Vancouver restaurants featured on an episode of the Food Network show, scheduled to screen in late 2011 or early 2012.

Red Wagon is a bit off the beaten path for me, so even though I've been interested and intrigued- I've never dined there. Finally, my buddy Jobin and I planned to meet there for dinner to try their signature "Pulled Pork Pancakes."
The crowd was eclectic and the room was comfortably busy, but not packed when I arrived at Red Wagon— families, young singles, elderly couples and some hipsters filled the tables. The atmosphere and decor evoke an old-time diner, but the effect is subtle, simple and classy, and not overdone – a wide lunch counter sits in front of an open kitchen window, wall art made from retro Coca-Cola and Orange Crush signs decorate the vintage wood panels.

 The venue is small enough to feel homey but is still bright, open and not cramped at all. One downer, I think they have cheap single pain windows so it was actually kind of chilly in there. But for something amazing....there actually is a vintage red wagon that is full of colouring books.

The menu is full of delicious sounding higher-end comfort food that would have made it tough to decide....if I hadn't done my research and been salivating all day over the promise of two dishes. We ordered Pulled Pork Pancakes and the Smoked Short Rib and Brie sandwich.

Our food came out pretty quickly (15-20 minutes) later. Service was really friendly and really efficient, especially considering that there was one server working the room.

Pulled Pork Pancakes: Jack Daniels Maple Syrup, 3 buttermilk pancakes layered with pulled pork $12.50

I don't usually gravitate towards pancakes but I'm so glad I ordered this "must-taste"(according to Vancouver Magazine) dish. It was amazing and all of the elements worked extremely well together. The pancakes were soft, cakey, fluffy, with a bit of density, and they aren't sweet. The shredded slow-cooked pork was generously sandwiched between the pancakes.

The meat wasn't dry, but wasn't overly juicy/saucy either which meant the pancakes didn't get soggy. The pork had a nice savoury, hickory bbq flavour with a slight kick from vinegar and chipotle flavours. I don't think this dish would work if the pulled pork was sweet. The maple-whisky syrup is sweet with a slight kick and actually ties the dish together with the melted butter pat on top.

Smoked Short Rib and Brie, Sherried Onions, Arugula, on Ciabatta, Chips, Pickle $12

The sandwich was also delicious....so delicious that Jobin and I were both kind of wishing there was more. It was a textural and ooey, gooey taste experience. The beef was tender and melded with the brie cheese, the sherried onions added depth and a bit of sweetness, and the arugula added a bit of a fresh kick and lightened the sandwich up a bit.

The ciabatta was the perfect bread to soak up the juices. It was served with in-house made crispy kettle chips, which tasted fresh and weren't too greasy, and 3 mini dill pickles.

This place lives up to all the hype and I will definitely be back. Yummmmmm!

The Red Wagon on Urbanspoon