Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Smallflower

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Happy Place: Lunch at the Wildside Grill

The sous chef/husband and I visit Tofino a few times a year. He is a surf junkie who  eagerly plans trips multiple times a year. Tofino isn’t exactly the most easy and convenient trip. To get to Tofino from our home in East Van requires an approx 2 hour ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo and an approx 3 hour island drive. 

It takes a lot of effort to get there, but every time we make the trek, it is SOOOO worth it. The beaches. The waves. The hikes. The fresh air. Tofino is also well known for beautiful resorts and hotels and an assortment of gourmet options for dining.

We are lucky to have good friends that live in Tofino so we have convenient local accommodations and most of our meals in Tofino are home cooked (usually featuring delicious local seafood). 

Over our many Tofino trips, I haven’t tried that many of Tofino’s dining options but I do have a favourite spot that I look forward to grabbing a meal at every time. The Wildside Grill. This casual eatery is a concession-style shack located in the Live to Surf retail area about 10 minutes outside of the main town. It serves up a wide range of casual beachside favourites (most dishes featuring fresh, local seafood).There is usually a bit of a line up and crowd because this place has become a go-to for hungry local Tofitians and tourists alike. It’s nothing fancy; with picnic table seating (watch out for hungry crows!) and counter service. This place is run by a commercial fisherman and a chef and they describe their food as “Fish and chips with an upscale twist….featuring local ingredients year round, delivering the best flavors the west coast has to offer.”

On a recent trip to Tofino in January, we went for a lunch at the WIldside Grill and sitting in the warm sunshine, about to chow down on some delicious food, grinning from ear to ear thought to myself, “This place, this lunch makes me very very happy.”

We split an order of their fish tacos and full order of seafood gumbo. 

Fish Tacos (3 tacos for $13 or 1 for $5); ling cod, cabbage, avotillo, fresh salsa, cilantro, green onion
I love me some fish tacos and whenever I see them on a menu, I tend to gravitate in their direction. For me, these Baja style Wildside fish tacos are some of the best I’ve had. The fish is so fresh and perfectly cooked with a light layer of crisp batter, then served in a fresh warm tortilla and covered with bright fresh salsa, lime and crunchy cabbage topping that compliment the beautiful piece of fish….I’m drooling just thinking about it. We are talking texture perfection here.

Gumbo (Half order $6, Full order $10); Louisiana style chowder, brown rice, pink shrimp, cilantro, green onion

This hearty dish is the equivalent of a warm hug on a chilly Tofino day. It’s comforting and envelops you with hearty, rich flavour. Eating this chowder is a fun experience because with every bite you come across something different…a chunk of fresh salmon, a pink shrimp all in perfect harmony with the thick, strongly flavoured roux that has a warming kick to it, rather than a tonne of spice. The sprinkle of green onion on top adds a nice texture and flavour element. 

Wildside Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Off the Tracks Espresso Bar and Bistro: HASHBROWNS!

Recently, on the strong recommendation from a co-worker, a few of us ventured to Granville Island for lunch on Granville Island at Off the Tracks, formerly known as Agro Cafe.

Off the Tracks Espresso Bar and Bistro is tucked away on Granville Island's cozy, car-free, nook Railspur Alley.
On the exterior, there is a nice little patio. On the inside, it is a big bright open space with a few small tables and counter seating and a large communal table in the middle. 
There is no table service, instead- the menu is written up on large chalkboards behind the counter. You make your order at the counter, pay, and your name will be called when your food is ready.

Approximately 10 minutes later after an engaging bit of banter about potential plot points in the upcoming Star Wars movie, our name was called and our food was ready at the counter, waiting for us to pick it up and bring it back to the table. 

I ordered from the All Day Breakfast Menu, the Granville Island Special ($9.99) 2 organic eggs, garlic Kale hash, Vegan Multigrain toast. CHOICE OF Flame grilled meat or Thyme Tomato

I opted for my eggs sunny side (pan cooked options only) and the thyme tomato.
This was a solid breakfast/brunch but for me the standout was the HASHBROWNS!
The garlic kale hash was amazing. Crispy, garlic fried bits of kale intermingled with perfect little cubes of fried potatoes. Definitely adding it to my roster of top breakfast potatoes in Vancouver (with Yolk’s and a few others).

I also appreciated that the hot sauce option available for smearing and dipping was Sambal Oelek (chili garlic) paste!

Off The Tracks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brunch at The Union

I work out an office in the Chinatown area. I am lucky to be surrounded by delicious food destinations. One of my favourite places nearby for post- work drinks and dinner is The Union.

One of my colleagues was raving to me about how good The Union's brunch is. He even mentioned that he liked working some weekend shifts because it meant a tasty brunch....specifically he had one favourite dish, The Bangalore Hash.

This past weekend, my pal T and I did a Sunday morning coat drive donation drop off at Covenant House.

Side note: this is a great time of year to clean your closets and donate warm clothes that you no longer wear to those in need. See Covenant House link above for donation deets.

I was quick to suggest that we head to The Union for a post donation brunch.

We arrived around 11am. There is meter street parking out front and residential parking nearby. The restaurant environment is industrial-style with wood and concrete pillars, long picnic bench seating that feels cozy and communal and trendy metal light fixtures hanging from high ceilings. It was a sunny day and this space was full of pleasant sunlight streaming through large windows. This place feels relaxed and cool.

We asked our server for recommendations and she enthusiastically sang the praises of the aforementioned Bangalore Hash, saying it was hands down her favourite thing.

The menu is full of intriguing and delicious sounding options like Bao Bennies, Pandesal French Toast, Breakfast Banh Mi, Shanghai Scramble and even a Pho option.

Ultimately, with two strong recommendations,  I had to go with the Bangalore Hash $14 curry spiced potatoes, peas, spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas, squash, goat cheese, poached eggs, cauliflower purée ‘hollandaise’(with goat cheese on the side since I'm eating semi-vegan).
This dish was worth the hype. Pretty damn perfect breakfast if you ask me with every element executed awesomely. The base of the dish is fantastically flavoured crispy curry potato hash browns with chunks of butternut squash. The tomato, chickpea, cooked spinach had a nice flavour with a  bit of a chunky chana masala taste and feel. The eggs were perfectly poached with perfect, thick-yet-runny, silky, bright yellow yolks. The cauliflower puree was a lighter, more subtle flavour alternative to the traditional hollandaise, but with so much flavour happening underneath, it certainly didn't need the rich hollandaise.

I would have enjoyed the dish a bit more without the butternut squash. It didn't really contribute anything flavour wise, its texture threw off the balance of the dish for me and just made the dish heavier than it needed to be.

T ordered the Filipino Pankaplog $14 two eggs (choice of fried or scrambled), sinangag, pickled papaya, pandesal, curry spiced hashbrowns, choice of sausage or bacon. 

She really enjoyed her meal especially the pickled papaya salad and curry spiced hash browns and sinangag (garlic fried rice) which was quite rich and flavourful.

Unless you are a pretty "meat and potatoes" type of bruncher with an unadventurous palette, I would definitely recommend checking out brunch at The Union.

The Union Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bao Down

Some  work buddies and I saw an article about this place opening soon and knew we had a lunch date to plan. When I read about the concept, bao-steamed rice buns stuffed with tasty sounding fillings, my mouth started to water. 

The space is a 2-floor set up with counter seating on the main floor and a few small tables on the 2nd floor. Here you’ll pay for your meal before getting a number and finding a seat. It can get quite busy in this 25ish seating restaurant. 

Water service is self-serve and you have choices of cucumber or lemon/lime water. THIS IS DELICIOUS and AWESOME. I hope more places start offering this. It’s such a simple, yet special touch. And a big step up from the usual glass of lukewarm tap water that you have to ask for.  I also have to give a shout out to the staff, who were both very friendly and enthusiastic about the food. 

The menu consists of bao tacos, sandwiches, and a small variety of sides (a chowder, slaw, fries, poutine) and every item features Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese inspired flavours. Steamed Bao are $5/6, Sandwiches are $10-12, and sides are between $3-8.
I had 2 Bao, the Vevo ($5) Tamari braised shitake mushrooms, garlic pea shoots, sprouts, organic red kale, avocado, organic carrot & beet strings, ginger-peanut sauce and toasted sesame seeds and the Jaws ($5) Coconut crusted Ocean Wise Vietnamese catfish, kimchi tartar sauce, micro greens & cabbage in Thai vinaigrette.

The Vevo was their veggie option that truly packed a punch with fresh, plentiful fillings, harmonious flavour pairings and giant juicy mushrooms. In fact, my only suggestion would be to slice the mushrooms as the large pieces were a bit tricky to eat and smaller pieces might spread throughout the bao easier to ensure some mushroom with every bite. The ginger peanut sauce is a delicious and dominating force in this bao. Sooo good.

The Jaws was delicious too with a generous amount of coconut crusted catfish which was full of flavour and cooked to juicy perfection. Texture and flavour here are just great.

I also noshed on some of my buddy’s Kimchi Fries ($8). This is a generous serving, quite decadent and great to share. The Kimchi is a nice accent and the sour, spicy flavour pairs well with the fries and other heavy elements with the dish. The fries get very soggy on the bottom, but when its so tasty, it doesn’t really matter.

Bao Down is a cool space serving up food that is undeniably delicious. It’s definitely not a budget lunch since you are looking at likely two baos and a side to fill you up.

Bao Down on Urbanspoon