Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Toshi Sushi: Worth the wait!

I had never been in Toshi Sushi but I used to live nearby and was always amazed by the seemingly constant line inside and crowds around the door waiting to get in. Many friends have raved to me about it and I've read many a positive review that put it in the "hidden gem" category. My pal, The Style Guru lives near there and suggested it for dinner, as we walked we came up with a list of back-up options if it was too crowded or if the line was too long. 
Toshi is a tiny sushi joint located on the corner of E16th and Main street. We arrived to no crowd or line up out front (a good start), went inside, put our name on the list, and waited in their narrow foyer for about 20 minutes. As we waited, the line up got longer and longer and eventually people started showing up, looking at the list, and heading out (presumably to a "back up" in the area).
The Style Guru and I looked at the menu and decided pretty quickly since she's no stranger to Toshi and I had read some posts on their "must order" items.

Spicy Agedashi Tofu $4.95 deep-fried, spicy sauce. The Style Guru was a bit concerned about the spicy level so thankfully the spicy sauce arrived in a side dish so she could dunk and dip as she felt appropriate. I pretty much wanted to jump in and swim in this hot sauce. It had a thick, creamy, almost-tomato-soup-like texture with thin slices of mushroom and chopped green onion and had a rich flavour, but not overpowering heat. The tofu itself wasn't greasy but light and crispy.

The Box Sushi Roll $8.25 Ebi, Hotate, Salmon, Avocado, Thinly Sliced Lemon. Apparently this roll only recently appeared on the menu. It started as a one-time creation for a regular customer- although word got out about this tasty dish and due to popularity, it's now featured on the menu.

It isn't your standard roll-shaped-roll: the rice and toppings are pressed into a box and then sliced giving more of a rectangular piece of sushi. This was really, really delicious. I've never had a sushi roll with such light, bright, delicate, slightly tart, fresh, yet powerful flavours. It felt like a sushi "wake up call" for my taste buds.

Sashimi Salad Sashimi $9.25 (tuna and salmon) with salad greens and yuzu-soy dressing. This was definitely fresh and a great value. There were around 10 pieces of sashimi that fanned around a centre of salad greens in dressing. The dressing again was enjoyably fresh, bright, with a bit of a citrus-vinegar kick.

Another famed "must order" dish here is the Nasu Dengaku 5.95 Baked Eggplant with Miso Sauce- and for a good reason! It is baked until soft and mushy with dark, crispy, caramelized edges. It is sweet, salty, rich, and buttery. I've definitely made baked eggplant with miso at home before and it's been good- but not this good.

Service was polite, prompt and efficient and although this isn't a cheap sushi place, the prices aren't extravagent. Didn't like that they charge you for green tea- LOVED that their chopsticks have instructions on the package.

Toshi Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 27, 2012

The 84th Annual Academy Awards Viewing and Snacking Party

I hosted my first Oscar Party last year and had such a great time that I decided to do it again this year. 
 I love watching these awards year after year and love to watching with my friends and fellow movie buffs/ pop culture junkie/ red carpet fashion analysts. My place is too small to host more than 5 people at a time but thankfully, my parent's were willing to let me host the party in their home.
We had our own best (Gwyneth Paltrow) and worst (Rooney Mara) dressed list, ballots so everybody could make their picks for each category and most importantly each guest brought a dish with an Oscar/ Film there. It's a fun chance to get creative with food and I was so impressed with everybody's dishes!!!!

*baked Mac N Cheese "biscuits" infused with truffle oil

*"Billy Beane Bites"- Moneyball (Bud Beer, Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts, Crackerjacks, Mini Ball Park Hot Dogs)

And the Ch-Oscar (chocolate Oscar) goes to......Breanne and I tied to win for most accurate Oscar Picks (we both picked correctly for 15 categories). 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Au Petit Chavignol - Simple, Savoury, Cheesy Goodness

After reading some mouth-watering reviews on Au Petit Chavignol's burger and hearing friends and colleagues claim that they have one of the best brunches in Vancouver, I've been wanting to check it out. This place is located on East Hastings near Clark in a stretch that still has some grit and character to it. Next door is an amazing gourmet cheese store. Obviously, this was a meal date not to be shared with my vegan-ish boyfriend, but fortunately two of his best friends were eager to indulge in a cheesy brunch.

The restaurant is fairly small and always crowded. There is a large amount of bar seating and table seating for about 25. It's cozy and warm with a slight retro-un pretentious hipster vibe and the crowd was really mixed. They do take call-ahead reservations which I would suggest, especially for brunch since it was jam-packed when I popped in at 1pm on a Sunday and I ended up waiting about 20-25 minutes.

The brunch menu offers a really nice selection of cocktails, small plate meals, egg dishes, some sandwiches and a burger. Not surprisingly, the menu is cheese-centric.They also have some really impressive charcuterie towers available to order as well. We ordered 3 items to share and they all arrived at our table at the same time and quite quickly.

We all pretty much instantly agreed on ordering the Classic Four Cheese Macaroni ($9) with Gruyere, White Cheddar, Orange Cheddar and Stilton. I'm not a giant mac and cheese fan- but when in Rome......and wow, my mind was pretty blown. It was fantastically cheesy and I could really smell and taste the different cheeses. They were distinct but blended together amazingly well in cheese harmony. 

It's rich and creamy with a crunchy top of crumbs that is broiled to perfection. There is also an option to add double smoked bacon for $3.....this was amazing but I'm curious to try it with bacon to see what that does to an already amazing dish.

I had to try their Cheeseburger, which has been touted as one of the best in the city. The Cheeseburger ($12) is Ground AAA beef chuck on a toasted Kaiser bun, secret sauce, pickle served with a side of fries. Then you basically pimp your burger out with a choice of aged cheddar, gorgonzola, Le Marechal, or Truffle Percorino for $1.50 (we added the aged cheddar). Add lettuce and tomato for $1 (we did), add double smoked bacon for $1.50 (we did), add a fried egg for $1.50 and caramelized onions for $1.50. This burger definitely is worthy of all of the praise that it gets. Visually, this burger didn't wow us when it came out, but when we cut the burger into 3 and dug in, that's when we got the wow! The beef patty was really amazing- It was moist, well-seasoned, juicy, fresh and full of flavour. The bun was lightly toasted, fluffy, and held everything together while letting the actual burger be the star of the show. The bacon added a great smoky crunch, while the lettuce, and tomato added some nice freshness. The cheddar was really nice and melted in with the secret sauce for ooey-gooey goodness that also didn't overwhelm the burger and let the actual beef do the talking. 

I did regret not fully pimping out the was a really good burger, but I can't help thinking that caramelized onions and fried egg would've taken it over the top! I also can't wait to return and try the other cheese choices. Also, I've gotta give a shout out for the fries. They were so crisp and well-seasoned, very crisp and golden brown outside while light and airy inside. The amount of salt was just perfect. 

Chorizo Hash ($10) Original Hot Chorizo, Onion, Potatoes, Peppers, Poached Eggs. This was a great dish but pretty standard compared to the other two dishes. Again, the potato hash browns were crispy, yet fluffy and perfectly salty. Slices of full-of-slightly-spicy flavourful chorizo sausage were sprinkled throughout with some thin slices of cooked onion and red pepper and topped with perfectly poached eggs. The runny egg yolks brought the flavours together really nicely. 

We also ordered a Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich ($8- i think). Points for cute presentation! It was a layer of salted caramel ice cream between two soft toffee/caramel/nutty cookie bars. I liked it because it wasn't too sweet. WIth this dessert, I wasn't super impressed at the first bite, but interestingly enough, it took a few seconds for the sweet and salty flavours to pop. It was nice and not too heavy. 

A solid brunch option with awesome classic dishes and a burger I can't wait to have again and experiment with different cheeses and toppings. It also seems like a cool evening hangout for beers and appetizers.

Au Petit Chavignol on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mochikas- Tasty Peruvian Cuisine in a Car Wash

Mochikas is in the same building as Platinum Touch Auto Spa, a car detailing business. I definitely would never have noticed, seen, heard of this place if it weren't for great posts by a few other food bloggers and a great Vancouver Sun piece. On the way home from a coffee shop near my office, I noticed a familiar looking banner....low and behold, it was Mochikas and just a few blocks away from my office. I made a lunch date with a friend who lives in the area and was always curious about this "Car Wash Cafe."
This is definitely a hole-in-the-wall/ hidden gem material/ mom and pop shop. It is a clean, bright, cozy space (could fit about 15) with bright orange walls and a large flat screen TV with soccer playing and peruvian pan flute music playing. I couldn't help but laugh because whenever I hear pan flutes, I have a flash back to an overnight bus ride in Peru where they blasted pan flute music on the stereo through the whole duration of the trip....I'm talking 10pm- all night through to 8am. There is a small market shelve with Peruvian grocery products for sale and a glass display cooler with desserts and chocolates. 
We perused the menu and the owner/chef explained the daily lunch specials which were all under $10. It's cash only- so be prepared, dishes are all under $15.

I ordered Chupe De Mariscos ($10 for Small/ $14 for Large). I asked the owner if the small would be filling enough for lunch and he explained that they are pretty much the same size but that the large has more seafood in it. So, I ordered the small. This is a spicy, hearty seafood chowder with fish (sole), clams, shrimp, calamari, mussels, cream, Aji Panca, rice, feta cheese, and cassava. I would strongly recommend this dish! It was totally unique to me and was like a mash-up of a Paella rice dish and a Laksa Soup. 

The broth was out-of-this world: slightly creamy but not too heavy, tangy and spicy and full-bodied with flavour.It was loaded with generous mixed seafood and was filling but not too heavy. 

My dining companion ordered the Tamal Criollo o Verde (stuffed cilantro ground corn tamal) with chicken which was on lunch special for $5. The tamal was served with a fresh red onion salad. She actually got creative and added a scoop of my broth on top which she said added a nice flavour kick.

I can't wait to come back and try their Ceviche!!!

Mochikas Peruvian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sushi Burger and Sushi Pizza at Japolo

I was in the Burnaby/Coquitlam area or "Bur-quitlam" area for a work outing and my boss and I were pretty hungry on our drive home. I remember having pretty decent sushi at one place in the area a few years back yet when I was in the area for a shoot.

Immediately, the special on the blackboard caught the boss' eye and he said "We gotta try that sushi burger." Sushi burger? Sure! The menu also had six different "sushi pizzas"- so we decided to get one of those two. Clearly, the owner/chef is not scared to get creative and put his own twist on sushi.

The Sushi Burger is essentially imitation crab, lettuce, smoked salmon, tobiko, mayo and unagi sauce sandwiched between 2 fried panko coated pressed sushi rice patties ($12.95) The smoked salmon flavour was the dominant one in the dish and gave a nice fresh punch of flavour while everything else was quite mild.

The sushi rice bun stayed in tact and had an awesome contrast of crispy exterior and soft rice inside. It was a bit greasy and oily so splitting it was perfect. The presentation was pretty awesome and perfect for sharing and to up the awesome factor it even with tempura yam fries.

We also split an Albacore Tuna Sushi Pizza ($9.75). This was sushi rice pressed, breaded and deep fried for a crispy crust, drizzled with mayo and sauce, topped with ahi tuna sashimi, chopped onion and peppers. Another creative dish that was really tasty. There is a lot going on with this dish but it works. The sashimi is fresh and light while the rest of the dish was quite heavy (mayo and deep fried crispy rice crust). This is a definite must-share for me since I found this dish super filling and heavy with the deep fried rice crust and mayo.

We each ordered a Seaweed Salad ($5.75). This was a good choice since the other shared dishes were so heavy. It was nice, light, fresh, vinegary, and citrus-y with sunomono base and noodles and two decent ebi prawns.

If you are looking for some good grub in Bur-quitlam and appreciate a creative twist on Japanese food, I would definitely recommend stopping into Japolo.

Japolo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 10, 2012

Behind the scenes of Westender Food Truck Tour/ Interview

A friend of mine works at The Westender, a fantastic local newspaper with a great FOOD section. 
When her editor mentioned that she wanted to learn more about the Vancouver food truck scene, she gave her my contact info and told her that she should get in touch with me since I'm a food truck enthusiast. I was really excited when I got the email from Martha and we set up a time to get together and explore the world of Vancouver food trucks.
We lucked out and got a gorgeous sunny day!

I have so many favourite food trucks that I wanted to introduce her to- but with a limited time, we were only able to hit a half lap around the Vancouver Art Gallery. We had a great time walking and poking around some of the trucks and carts in the area and chatting about all of the things that make food trucks fantastic. 
Here's a link to the article in the WE!

We started in front of the Mangal Kiss Mideast BBQ cart. They serve one type of food item: the shishlik. This is a local meat kabob (chosse between Fraser Valley rib eye and Rossdown Farms Chicken) on Iranian flatbread called Taftoon.  You can then add your toppings like hummus, tahini, purple cabbage, beets, pickled turnips, pickles, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, spiced Moroccan carrots, radish and tabbouleh.  
They also offer 3 different types of sauces-baharat (mild spiced BBQ sauce), amba (spicy & savory mango) and zhug (Middle-Eastern hot sauce). I LOVE all of these sauces. With friendly owners grilling the meat in front of you and assembling your shislik just the way you like it, at $7 it's a filling, fresh affordable lunch option.
Mangal Kiss Mid East BBQ (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

We then strolled east towards La Brasserie Street cart on Georgia and Granville which serves up one of the most gorgeous sandwiches in the downtown core. They serve one item: Beer brined rotisserie chicken in gravy, on a buttermilk bun, topped with crispy onions  for $6.25. The chicken is moist and plentiful. The gravy is creamy with a fantastic, peppery taste to it. The fried onions gave this sandwich a satisfying crunch and a textural POW. I recommend adding the dijon mustard sauce to give the sandwich a bit of dimension and it adds some lighter flavour to this extremely rich sandwich.

La Brasserie Street (West Georgia & Granville) on Urbanspoon

Mom's Grilled Cheese is guaranteed to put a smile on your face! Cindy Hamilton and her lively crew serve up classic comfort food. From taking orders, chatting up regulars, telling stories- they are having fun serving you and want you to have an equally fun grilled cheese experience.  Grilled cheese sandwiches are close to my heart- and here, you can either customize your own grilled cheese (choose your bread, choose your cheese, choose any fillings or toppings) or you can sample their pimped out grilled cheese creations (The two "Mom's Specialties" are The Jackson 3, triple cheese, triple decker grilled cheese- three pieces of sourdough surrounded by melted, Brie, Boursin and Gruyere and Mom's Meatloaf Sandwich which features a slice of meatloaf, topped with marinara sauce and surrounded with melted mozza and parmesan.) They even have options of gluten-free bread and vegan cheese!!! 

But they aren't grilled cheese snobs either- Cindyshowed us that she keeps a few slices of processed cheese slices for customers who like their sandwich "old-school."

For sides, they serve up roasted tomato soup and chili. I tried a shot of the tomato soup for $1. It was absolutely delicious with deep, full-bodied flavour (like real tomato!) and the drizzle of basil mascarpone adds a nice herb-y creaminess. Martha got a shot of the chili and was blown away by how much it tasted like her mom's chili (her gold standard!) All sandwiches are served in an adorable red/white plaid cone with a scoop of locally produced "Hard bites" potato chips and a dill pickle wedge. 

My cheddar on whole wheat with tomato slices was pretty awesome. The bread was buttery, crispy, crunchy golden-brown and the cheese was melted to ooey gooey perfection. It's a well balanced meal that was surprisingly not too heavy or greasy. They've got grilled cheese down to a science!

Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon

If you never tried any of the great food trucks here in Vancouver.....what are you waiting for?!