Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sutra Modern Indian- Delicious food, warm service, and a great party venue

It was a landmark birthday for my Aunt (I won't broadcast her age over the blogosphere) and my uncle rented Sutra Modern Indian restaurant for a private party of approx 30 close family members and friends.They recently moved to Yaletown from Langley and randomly discovered Sutra one night.

It's become their favourite restaurant for a few reasons: the owners of the restaurant are amazingly nice, the food is delicious, they pour a mean cocktail, and they bend over backwards to accomodate my aunt's celiac disease (she can't eat gluten).

They've been telling me about this place for a while but I haven't had a chance to make it there for dinner so I was really excited when I heard the party would be held there.
This is a family own and run restaurants and they use traditional indian flavours with a variety of cooking techniques (I guess that accounts for the "modern" in the name) and have a strong emphasis on using fresh, local ingredients. It's in the old "Lucy Mae Brown" space but they've really transformed into into a cool, hip, modern, Indian lounge feel that feels slick and classy but comfortable. It's not a huge space, but they've done a great job with the seating plan because it doesn't feel narrow or cramped at all. Although the lights were pretty dimmed for the event and the room was filled with balloons for the party- so I'm curious what it looks like when it's not in "private party mode."

This restaurant has been open for around 3 months and is the second restaurant (the other is called Bombay Bistro and is located in Colorado) opened by owner-proprietor, Paul Gill and his wife Pari.

After initial mingling and every guest had arrived, we were seated and a plated appetizer round was brought to the booths.

Lamb Popsicle. This was quite large, juicy, and meaty in a light korma sauce with a very mild, creamy, tomato flavour. The sauce was very mild so the rich flavour of the lamb really stood out.

Saag. Creamed Spinach, greens, and fenugreek on a yellow corn roti topped with chopped onion and roasted garlic. I really loved this dish. It was fresh, creamy, and full of bright flavours- I would say definitely no canned or frozen spinach used here! The corn roti was really dense and it was a tasty and sturdy vehicle for the generous dollop of Saag.

Beets and Greens Salad. Marinated chopped beets, organic salad greens and a champagne emulsion dressing. This was fresh, bright, with a lovely citrus kick. So refreshing!

There was an awesome belly dancing performance while we enjoyed a buffet style dinner. She was awesome and definitely kicked the party up another level!
The food was all really good and you could definitely tell that they were serving their mild dishes (not spicy) that had the most general appeal for diners who aren't necessarily Indian food regulars.

They served:

Chicken Karahi Stir fry chicken with tomato cream and carrots and beans. This was probably my favourite sauce of the night. The tomato cream sauce had a really vibrant flavour and perked up my palate without much spice. The chicken was perfectly cooked, soft, not too chewy and the fresh veggies added to the bright-ness of this dish.
Kofta Korma Vegetable Fritters and coconut curry. I really liked this vegetarian option and though it tasted like delicious home-made veggie burger balls. They had a really nice flavour and you could tell that they were making these from scratch and not cutting corners. They put some love into these balls!
Braised Beef with black cardamon and coconut cream
Soft, fork-tender chunks of slow-cooked beef in a very subtle creamy coconut sauce. The beef had a really nice taste and flavour, the sauce was really mellow.
They also provided Basmati Rice with cumin, tumeric, peas and Naan bread (and yellow corn roti for my aunt and any other g-free diners) and a side of sliced onions, chopped cucumber, tomato sauce and raita.
Everything was savoury, flavourful, and you can tell that they aren't cutting corners in the kitchen and using quality ingredients. I typically would order spicier dishes- but when you are eating buffet style with a group, safer, mellow-er dishes are obviously the best choices to serve.

They also brought out a dish of their rice pudding to accompany the chocolate fudge birthday cake (brought in from a local bakery). This rice pudding with soooo good. Creamy, smooth, with an awesome cardamon/ cinammon flavours. This dish was actually an amazing accompaniment to the rich, dense, fudgy cake and I ended up smearing the pudding on the cake.

Their Chai tea also hit the mark- slightly spiced and perfectly warm and luscious and the perfect end to a great dinner.

Sutra Modern Indian on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bel Cafe: Upscale modern bistro lunching

Located inside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia is the equally sleek and sophisticated Bel Cafe. Situated in downtown Vancouver location, the cafe is right on the corner of West Georgia and Howe, right across from the Vancouver Art Gallery. This place looks like a cafe where the "Sex in the City" gals would grab a light lunch. The ambiance is chic with a contemporary European-style cafe feel. Its decor uses relaxed muted tones, rich dark wood paneling, chrome accents and black granite floors. 

This cafe is conceived and operated by famed Chef David Hawksworth (he named the place after his wife Annabel) and it features patisserie-style baked goods, specialty sandwiches and custom-roasted coffee. It is not a big cafe (seating for about 25-30) and it was pretty full when we arrived. The staff were all impeccably dressed, well-groomed, good looking, and polite. We waited about 5 minutes for the corner table to clear out and our group of 5 squeezed in.

We were really hungry from a few hours of intense shopping and since the menu isn't huge- we all ordered food right away and asked for a round of waters. We waited about 15 minutes for our food. All the while, our waters never came. I was really thirsty and I kept trying to make eye contact with the server or the host and didn't want to wave my arms around (since this place has a posh feel). When our food came, I reminded the server, and another few minutes after our food was settled, our waters arrived and was followed by a big apology from our host.

Jayme and I split two sandwiches that were priced at $9-10 each.
The Roasted Berkshire Pork Sandwich with red cabbage, jalapeƱo and house mustard and the Spiced Pulled Chicken Sandwich with bibb lettuce, caramelized onion, provolone and harissa aioli.

The pork sandwich was served on a toasted and grilled multigrain. I really appreciated the flavour, texture and crunch of the red cabbage in the sandwich but for me (and Jayme) the flavours in this sandwich were too mellow and lack-lustre. It tasted good, but was too "one-note" and just not very interesting. It needed a kick or something to brighten up the flavour. 

The pulled chicken sandwich was as good as the menu description sounds. I had read some good reviews from fellow bloggers on this sandwich so I had a feeling that this would be a solid order and it delivered. The oozing buttery caramelized onions were amazing and worked so well with the tender pulled chicken, melted cheese and slightly spiced aoili. The toasted ciabatta bread was a perfect choice- nice and thin so that it toasted nicely and let the sandwich fillings do the talking. 

Presentation was nice and posh too- each sandwich came with tiny pickles and a delicate mini side salad with radish slices. The sandwiches looked quite small when they arrived but they were really substantial and really filling. 

Christine also ordered the chicken sandwich, and Tricia and Tina split a chicken sandwich and each got a small bowl of their roasted tomato soup ($6.80 for a small). 
The both really enjoyed the soup, saying it "tasted fresh" "had a nice full flavour" "just the right level of sweetness" and we all loved the adorable pastry croutons that came with with it.
Half way through the meal, our server checked in and a few of us asked for water re-fills. The re-fills never came...even after the big apology from our host after the first water delay.

As we settled our bill, our host came over and apologized again for the second water re-fill not showing up and gave each of us a complimentary macaroon (regularly priced at $2.00 each). I  ate a passionfruit macaroon and thought it was quite nice. It was pretty to look at, bite-sized and fresh, with a subtle, natural flavour and delicately crisp outer shell.

Bel Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fray is okay.....but not as good as I had hoped

Fray is a fairly new pub that has opened right around the corner from my home in the Fraser/ King Edward neighbourhood. It is definitely playing a part in the evolution of Fraser as it "becomes the new Main" and garnering a fair bit of buzz from locals. The Style Guru and I decided to check it out.

Fray’s in-house designers, owners, and partners have created a cozy game room vibe, complete with bar and big screen television (with burning holiday Yule log playing during my visit), board games and activities for the kids, and the kid in all of us (including activity sheets like "Hipster Bingo."The first thing I noticed when entering was the original Pac-Man arcade machine, which makes a cool first impression. 

It was a Monday night and not very busy. We were led to a comfy booth right away by a friendly, laid-back server. We perused the menu and right away noticed that they had a "Blue Monday" Special offering a pint of draft beer (quite a nice selection) and an Appetizer for $10. 

Fray markets themselves as a community eatery focusing on local, fresh ingredients, reasonable prices, creative comfort food, a wide selection of microbrew beer, delicious mixed drinks, and indulgent desserts. As we reviewed the menu, our server let us know that they had just been written up in the Vancouver Sun and they were so busy all weekend that they had run out of pork belly, beet salad, and burger buns.....which ruled out a few of the menu choices I was leaning towards. 

We each ordered a Pint (White Bark) and an Appetizer and a sandwich to share. 

Portobello Fries (regular price $8.95) "The death of the french fry! A Jenga tower of breaded portobello strips lightly fried and served with truffle aioli. These were quite good, especially their texture. The super crunchy exterior gave way to a tender inside mushroom fry. There wasn't too much in the way of seasoning. These are pretty filling and pretty heavy. I would've been pretty disappointed to pay full price for these if it wasn't "Blue Monday." The portion isn't very big, especially if you were sharing with more than two people. Also, paying almost $9 for 9 mushroom fries seems way overpriced. 

Pulled Pork Sliders (regular price $2.95 each) "Fresh B.C. pulled pork in our own barbecue sauce with slaw on a purple yam bun." The pork itself was okay but not spectacular. It had a bit of a kick and wasn't too sweet. The yam buns were quite heavy, dense, and overpowered the meat and slaw.

Fray BLT ($7.95 with a fried egg for $1) "Fraser Valley bacon, sweet gem lettuce and tomato on fresh bread." I was really looking forward to this sandwich and it really disappointed me. The used a thick, wheat, Texas-toast style bread that overwhelmed the whole sandwich and really stifled/muted the sandwich fillings. The bacon itself was awesome....crispy, flavourful and delicious.

I had really high hopes for Fray and maybe I set my expectations too high, but I was a bit disappointed and found the food I tried to be pretty lacklustre and not overly impressive. 
Overall, I would come back to Fray as a place to hang out, have a beer and a snack and watch a hockey game and perhaps place some board games, but unfortunately it won't be a culinary destination for me since the food just didn't "wow" me. 

Fray on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Warm and Cozy Meal at Burgoo

I met up recently with a group of girls from my co-ed summer soccer team ("Butter FC" because we are smooth like butta...sort of) for dinner. They asked me to throw out a list of restaurant recommendations. Even though I've dined at Burgoo before, I put them on the list. It had been over a year since my last meal there and I hadn't blogged about it. Not sure if it was the dip in temperature and everyone had a hankering for comfort food or it was the most central location- but Burgoo was selected as our meet up spot. 
It was a chilly evening and when we arrived we were informed that it would be a 30 min wait. Definitely not a big issue since none of us were starving and we gave a contact number and headed to the nearby Five Point bar for a few drinks. 
Around 1/2 an hour later after a delicious Granville Island Lions Winter Ale, we were back at Burgoo and seated. 

Burgoo is all about comfort food, and you feel welcomed right when you enter the doors. The interior feels like modern, rustic, country cabin and there's dishes from different countries so everyone can be happy ordering what kind of food they want. Who doesn't love comfort food? Nothing beats coming out of the cold to warm up over a warm pot of stew or a hefty bowl of creamy soup. The menu offers comfort food from several international cuisines from around the world (they also not the country of orgin/influence next to the menu item). There is a lot of variety. In the past, I've only ever tried their sandwiches and soups but I've been impressed. The food is uncomplicated, tasty, made with good ingredients and well executed, and the prices are reasonable.

We shared a fondue to start. 
Fonduemental ($13): molten Gruyere and Emmenthal, white wine and herbs served with red grapes and crusty bread. 
I'm not a huge cheese fanatic but this was a nice, warm, appy to share. The melted cheese was smooth and savoury, but not overwhelming rich or salty. The consistency of the fondue stayed nice and smooth throughout and didn't clump up. The bread was coarse and crumbly which helped keep it fairly firm and not to soggy after dipping. The grapes were a nice addition and gave a real sweet/savoury contrast.

Jess and Gabby shared a Soup and Sandwich Combo ($15) and a Paella. 
They chose the Sunset Corn and Chicken Soup- corn, chicken and light cream spiked with Chipotle and cumin, finished with crema fresca and cilantro. This comes out piping hot and looks beautiful and bright. It's thick and warm and good. It's got a bit of sweetness from the corn and the broth is savoury, smoky, with a slight spicy kick of chipotle and tang from creme fraiche to balance the flavours. It has a fantastic cumin smell too. 

They chose the Dos Diablos sandwich- two grilled angle cut filone sandwiches with melted white cheddar, chunks of chorizo sausage and roasted red pepper. Burgoo is famous for their delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and this was a jacked up version. Crispy, buttery, cheesy with a kick of spice and some meaty heartiness from the chorizo sausage.

The Paella ($18)- tomato saffron rice with vegetables, chicken, chorizo, prawns and mussels, finished with olive oil and parsley. This came out in what looked to be an extremely generous portion and didn't skimp on the seafood. I tried some of this and liked it but wasn't blown away. I think that because Burgoo is a bit of a "jack of all trades" with comfort food- they don't master all of their dishes. The tomato flavour was nice but dominated the dish and all of the other flavours were kind of absent. Not a bad dish, but I've certainly had better Paella.

Farley ordered their famous grilled cheese sandwich. All of the Burgoo sandwiches come with a side salad unless you make a soup and sandwich combo for a few dollars more.
Gooey Cheese Grillers ($12)- two angle cut filone sandwiches with melted white cheddar, Mozzarella, Gryere, and Emmenthal. This dish is delicious but not for the lactose intolerant. They use four cheeses and lots of butter and the result is a delighful, sinful, indulgent sandwich with a crispy buttery exterior and an rich, warm, ooey, gooey, stringy sandwich. She really liked her side salad as well and the light, fresh vegetables helped to balance out all of the characteristics of the sandwich.

Wendy ordered the Tastier Chicken Sandwich with a side Caesar salad. 
Tastier Chicken ($12)- roasted chicken, melted Brie, apple, cucumber, red onion and greens with house made Dijonnaise, served on multigrain. This sandwich is brought out looking very earthy and rustic and open-faced. 
She really liked it- especially the chicken and brie flavours together. 

I wanted to try a dish from their Bistro Classics section since I've only ever had their soups and sandwiches. I was torn was torn between the Ratatouille and the Kentucky Burgoo. 
I ended up ordering the Ratatouille Provencale ($15) oven roasted vegetables in a savoury tomato and garlic baked with parsley, breadcrumbs and Chevre, finished with extra virgin olive oil. It came out in what initially looked like a massive portion in its own baking dish. The dish was wonderfully aromatic and was very tasty too. The veggies were tender and I loved the chunks of salty black olives throughout. The dominant flavour was tomato and overall it felt like eating a dish of homemade vegetable pasta sauce- but a jacked up version, since the breadcrumbs and creamy goat cheese topping added a real richness and sense of indulgence. 
We all really enjoyed the ambience, decor, and feel of the restaurant (except the slight chill from the front door). Our server was great and the food was really good, simple, comfort food.

Burgoo (Main Street) on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest Blog Brunch Tip: Theresa's

My good pal Mel filled me in on a solid breakfast/brunch experience that she had on Commercial drive this weekend.

The place: Theresa's
Food for thought: For ten buck including tax- breakfast and coffee- the hashbrowns are really good with roasted garlic and peppercorns.

Theresa's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Green Lemongrass

Ever since I moved to the Fraser/Kingsway area, Asian Superdirector has wanted to come to check out my place and eat at Green Lemongrass. She had been there once before and loved the food. Finally, the week we made plans and went there for a Monday night dinner with the Leggy Redhead to eat, gab, and catch up. This place was warm and clean and they definitely put a bit more emphasis on decor and atmosphere at Green Lemongrass with antique display cupboards and beautiful tea sets.
The menu was large and full of bright, colourful, delicious looking photos of the menu items. They serve a huge variety of food and it is clear from the wide selection that this place is different from the standard Vietnamese pho shop.

Our server was really nice and friendly but there really did seem to be a language barrier issue and we didn't really think she understood our menu questions or our order. Waiting for the food, I was fascinated and delighted by all of the sauces on the table- soy, hot, and fish sauces, Maggi liquid seasoning, pickled hot peppers, chili garlic sauce, sriracha sauce, and something in a mustard container that I couldn't identify but smelled interesting. We ordered a few dishes to share.

We ordered the papaya salad with tofu- she first brought out papaya salad with chicken. We told her that this was the wrong dish- but she insisted "this is better" and implied that she was also bringing out a tofu variety? We were really confused- and ended up sending the chicken salad back.

The first dish to arrive was C7 in the Rice Dishes section Lemongrass Beef Short Ribs $8.50. The meat came with white rice, sliced tomato and cucumber and shredded coleslaw, a citrus-vinegar dressing, and a small bowl of broth (with bone) to add excess rice to. Eating meat of bone isn't my favourite- but these were easy to eat, chewy, tender, flavourful, and delicious.

The next dish to arrive was the Phnom Penh Rolls $5.50. This dish was Asian sausage, jimaca, carrots, lettuce, caramelized onions and crushed peanuts wrapped in rice paper, served with peanut sauce. It was light and fresh but the sausage and caramelized onions made it heartier and more satisfying. The accompanying peanut sauce was awesome.

This was the Papaya Salad with Tofu $9 that we ordered and we were glad we sent the Chicken version back. This ended up being the favourite dish on the table. It was from the vegetarian section of the menu. The dish was simple but delicious with julienned green papaya salad topped with carrot, herbs, caramelized onion, crushed onion and house vinaigrette. The crispy chunks of tofu were light and crunchy with a nice salty flavour. You can also get this dish with shrimp, shredded chicken, shrimp and pork, and beef jerky but this tofu was so good that I think I'd stick with tofu.

We also ordered a soup dish from the "Regional Dishes" section: N5 Bon Bo Hue with beef, pork and vermicelli in a spicy lemongrass soup for $8. It only comes in one size and it's pretty big. Even though the red lemongrass pictured in the menu looked like it would be sweat inducing, it was pretty mild. About half way through the dish, I added a few generous squirts of sriracha sauce and that kicked things up a notch and improved the dish for me. The menu doesn't really mention what parts of the cow and pig are in the's a good thing none of us are squeamish because there were a few flank strips,  a couple of knuckles, tripe, and cubes of gelatinous pork blood.

 I didn't really have any interest in trying the gross looking cubes of pig's blood but SAD pressured me into it, exclaiming "Do it for your readers!"So I did. Thankfully, it didn't have a strong flavour, it was pretty mild with a weird jello consistency.
We all loved the food here and we'll all be back. I've heard they have an extensive menu for breakfast too with every dish priced at $5.

Green Lemongrass on Urbanspoon