gracecheung604 | write on time

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Japanese Eats in Arbutus Ridge - Zest

Now I realize I'm a little late to the Zest fanclub, but I have to consider myself a card-carrying member now! We checked this neighbourhood favourite last month, during spon prawn season. 
20140523_200611 This picture needs no introduction as these Spot Prawns are well known to all of Vancouver during the month of May. Super sweet and with a firm texture,  these prawns are a favourite of mine. Just a bit of wasabi to bring out the sweetness is all you need. 
Prawn Heads Another treat of the spot prawn is the Deep Fried Spot Prawn Heads. They are crispy little nuggets of golden prawn heads. They are crunchy and pretty tasty. You can eat almost the entire thing, almost like old school prawn chips. 
Sashimi salad We also tried the Sashimi Salad, which is a load of greens and seaweed, accompanied by salmon, tuna, surf clam in a light ginger soy dressing. This was a great blend of textures and flavours, with the salmon being the standout for me. 
Sable FishWe also decided to get a "hot" dish, and settled on Wild Sable Fish. The fish is perfectly cooked and flakey, while the seared skin has a hint of smokiness and a touch of crisp. The kale and beets are all there to highlight the sweetness of the fish. It was my second favourite of the night and I highly recommend this. 
Roll Perhaps the most disappointing dish of the night was the Zest Roll. The contents are albacore, sockeye, salmon skin (a la BC roll), along with some cucumber & one of my favourites, tobiko! What ruined the roll for me was the soft (almost chewy) seaweed, and the lack of flavour overall. The salmon skin was soft too, and just added to the general sogginess of the whole thing. The fish was fresh enough, just the execution of the roll was a bit lacking.
They are also affiliated with Shu Raku in downtown Vancouver, which I have yet to try as well!

Take Note: 

  • It's situated in a strip mall along with a Starbucks but the prices defy this humble settling. 
  • Courses are served one at a time, so you can enjoy each dish as it comes. 
  • Get a seat at the sushi bar and chat with the chefs!

Zest on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 02, 2014

Thai Eats in Burnaby: Chad Thai

I always love a good bowl of Pho but my mom is a die-hard Pad Thai fan, so on a day when I was meeting her for lunch, I suggested Chad Thai (so she could have her fix and so we could stay rather close to home as well). Though Thai cuisine is not really known for noodle soups, I have been exposed to versions of them at Pink Elephant Thai near my work.IMG_5725 As with most Thai lunch specials, our meal came with a daily appy (deep fried wonton and a simple broth). The soup was as bland as it looked. You can't really go wrong with deep fried foods, and it's the same here, crunchy exterior with a bit of meat in the middle. Sometimes, I feel restaurants would do themselves a favour and not serve anything "free" if they are going to be so lackluster. Afterall, this was the first thing I tried from their establishment, and I was completely unimpressed. Why start someone's lunch off that way? IMG_5729 Fortunately, the next few dishes managed to redeem them in my eyes. This Tom Yum Noodle Soup (the reason for my visit) was delicious with just enough spice (though I did ask for extra spice). A huge bowl of hot and spicy soup loaded with vegetables (mushrooms, onions, green onions), and then topped with some chicken and flavoured with Thai spices such as coriander, lemongrass, red onions, kaffir limes leaves and galangal. The rice noodles had a great chew to it and there was a lot of it! My only wish, if the broth was just a bit hotter (temperature wise, not heat). IMG_5732 Both my parents wanted Pad Thai and they proclaimed it to be excellent. I gave it a try and it was okay. The noodles again had a good texture and the bean sprouts and lime provided crunch and brightness (respectively) but I felt that the sauce was a bit bland, and almost a touch too sweet. It's good, certainly not great.  IMG_5734 To round out our lunch, we also got an order of their Chicken Wings, and this was much better than I expected. Not Phnom Penh good, mind you, but the wings were crispy and crunchy with a nice light breading. The meat inside was still very moist (so definitely not refried or day-old). The coating was well flavoured as well. The sauce was average, your usual sweet and sour sauce, and I didn't even bother using them. In fact, I asked for some extra lime to squirt onto the wings and the flavour brightened up nicely.
I wouldn't say it's a destination restaurant but if you are in the neighbourhood and craving Thai, then it's worth a shot.  

Take note: 

  • They are packed at lunch on weekdays. 
  • Portion sizes have supposedly been reducing. 
  • Tom Yum Noodles best thing on the menu.

Chad Thai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Brunch in North Vancouver - Thai House

Now that my office is in Chinatown, weekday lunches have become a bit boring, a constant stream of Dim Sum, BBQ Duck and Banh Mi. So I definitely have to make up for this on the weekends. One type of cuisine that I was definitely missing was Thai. It's funny how there's a total lack of Thai in Chinatown. Japanese is hard to come by too, but more on that in another post. IMG_5669 The North Vancouver location of Thai House is actually the closest one to me, so I decided to give it a shot last month. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the updated decor as well as how busy it was for a Sunday brunch! Oh, and for some reason, I didn't expect them to have a bar, although their sister restaurants Pink Elephant Thai and Urban Thai boasts great weekend traffic due to their fun and friendly bar service. It was a bit early for drinks, so we just went right for the food. 
IMG_5681 This is a dish I actually first tried at Pink Elephant as part of their appy platter. It's called the Goong Noon Hae, a Tiger Prawn wrapped with noodles and then deep-fried. It's a bit messy to eat, but totally worth it. The crunch is unreal. IMG_5686 One of my favourite Thai dishes is the Spicy Som Tum Malagor. It's only available seasonally so be sure to try it if it's available. The raw papaya are julienned and mixed with a spicy concoction of lime juice, fish sauce and lots of Thai spices and chilies. For a salad, this packs a huge punch of heat. If heat isn't your thing, they can prepare it mild as well, as can most of the dishes on their menu. Just be sure to let the server know! IMG_5690 Another fun appetizer idea (and great for groups) is their Lettuce Wrap. It has a bit of heat, but not as much as the salad above. The one we ordered is the minced beef version but chicken and duck are also available options. The beef is stirfried with lots of veggies and fresh basil as well as some deep fried vermicelli. The lettuce does a great job of holding everything together and gives it an extra crunch as well.  IMG_5695 This is the dish that everyone knows, the Pad Thai. The actual portions are larger than this, this is just my portion from the main serving dish. The flavours are quite mild and should appeal to those who don't crave a lot of heat. Crushed peanuts (lots!) are a traditional garnish, so if you're allergic, be sure to tell your server. They are great at asking you as well; something I am glad to be seeing more of in ethnic restaurants. IMG_5698 We also got a few of their stir fries. The first one is the Pad Bai Grapua, which is a saute with Thai chilies, pepper and basil, for our protein, we chose chicken. It can also be made vegetarian with tofu instead. IMG_5700 In addition to the Pad Thai, my other favourite carby Thai dish is the Pad See-Iw, made with broccoli and egg. The rice noodles here are a bit thicker than Pad Thai noodles, and are stir-fried with pork (So we had one of each protein (Beef lettuce wrap, Chicken Stir Fry and now, the pork). The veggies had a nice crunch to them still but the best part was the slightly chewy rice noodles. Often, I've had stir fried rice noodles that were clumpy and overcooked, but fortunately, these still had a bit of bite to them. Definitely a winner in my book. 

Take Note:

  • It can get busy for brunch on the weekends in North Van, call for reservations!
  • Their Kitsilano has AYCE brunch on weekends.
  • Free delivery after 5:30!

Thai House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring Tasting Menu at The Blackbird

Last week, I was invited to taste the new Spring menu at The Blackbird, created by Chef Alvin Pillay, Research & Development of the Donnelly Group as well as new cocktails made by Trevor Kallies, the group's Bar & Beverage Director. downstairs The Blackbird is an interesting space, with barber shop, scotch tasting bar, pub and an oyster bar. Located on two floors in the Financial District, it's open daily at 11am, perfect for people to grab a quick lunch. Above is the hustle and bustle at the lower level restaurant. cocktail We started off with a cocktail called the Vitner's Brunch. The wine is a Charles & Charles Cabernet Sauvignon, and into the mix are Victoria Oaken gin, Luxardo Cherry Morlaco Sangue, Scrappy's Cardamom bitters and a touch of lemon zest. It's a rather light cocktail, perfect for a starter beverage. oysters 6 Following a few sips, we were treated to an Oyster Tasting Trio. They are (from left to right), a Reed Island Oyster with bacon and sherry vinegar mignonette, a Royal Miyagi Oyster with wasabi horseradish cocktail sauce, and a Sawmill Bay Oyster with cucumber and kombu. I loved the bacon mignonette, it gave the oyster a rich and meaty texture. The cucumber & kombu topping was also well-paired with the Sawmill Bay. albacore tuna salad 1 Next followed two salads, the first of which was the Tempura Albacore Tuna salad. The tuna is first wrapped in nor before being battered and fried. The inside was still a nice rare with a slightly crispy exterior. There wasn't a lot of greens but the cucumber and cilantro was very flavourful. I'm not a huge fan of avocado, but if you are, you're in luck, there was plenty of it here amongst the greens! duck confit salad 1 Our second salad was my favourite (except for the dessert, I'll get to that later), a Duck Confit salad. I love the crispy skin of duck confit and this did not disappoint! And the portion was great for a salad. Rounding out the plate were lots of Fraser Valley beets and arugula, and lightly flavoured by an aged balsamic dressing.
lemon 2 b 
The dessert was a knockout. I love lemon so I was ecstatic that they went with a tart offering instead of chocolate. It's a Frozen Lemon Bar (with a layer of curd and mousse!). A nice crumble surrounded this, and it was topped with just a few dollops of Italian meringue. Surrounding the star were some rhubarb chunks as well as a bright green pistachio smear. All the flavours blended well and perfectly complemented a nice light lunch. 

Our final taste of the afternoon was another cocktail, called One to Grow On. As explained by Trevor, it's a throwback to the PSAs which aired during Saturday morning cartoons that he grew up on. This cocktail is served with an old-time striped paper straw and is made with a Golden Grahams infused Absolut Elyx vodka, a nod to the cereals kids usually eat while watching morning cartoons. The cocktail also contains egg white and egg yolk. There is also a bit of Pale Ale and Averna Amaro, which has a rich caramel taste. All served in a mini milk bottle, to complete the imagery of a time in history. 

The food was delicious, the servings portions are perfect for lunch and the price points are definitely comparable with the other restaurants in the area. If you are looking for a casual lunch in a fun atmosphere, be sure to give The Blackbird a try. And if you're just looking to get your drink on after work, be sure to check out the scotch tasting bar upstairs!

They are hosting a Spot Prawn Boil on May 18th, give them a call for all the details!

  **disclaimer - my lunch was complimentary but my opinions are my own. 

Take Note:

  • The Duck Confit Salad is amazing!
  • Skip the wine and give their cocktails a try.
  • $1.50 Oysters 4-6pm daily! 

The Blackbird Public House & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First try at Pidgin

I had first tasted Chef Makoto Ono's food back in 2006 in Toronto at the Gold Medal Plates competition where he actually beat out Chef Mark McEwan in his hometown. I heard that he moved to China next and was surprised to see him resurface in Vancouver. I was eager to give his menu a try. 2013-12-28 19.26.53 They have a simple drinks and dinner menu and a clean chopstick & napkin combo. Side plates (rather, bowls) are provided since most of their dishes are meant for sharing. 
2013-12-28 19.45.15 
My drink on the right is the de capo negroni. It's a pretty potent blend of gin, vermouth, campari, and a large ice ball made with cold press coffee. Interesting, that's for sure. 2013-12-28 20.04.45 For a starter, we tried their simple Korean Gochujang Fried Chicken Wings. People raved about this so I really wanted to give them a try. True, they were good, a great crunch, not greasy at all, and juicy and tender on the inside. I recall reading that the wings are actually brined overnight, so that could be the reason why they seem juicier than your average "hot wings". I appreciated the fact that they were not drenched in sauce too. The veggie garnish didn't really do anything for me though.
2013-12-28 19.57.51 For our second starter, we gave the Shrimp Toast a try. Served with a slaw of daikon on homemade brioche, this was a tasty bite, but note that it's nothing like the Shrimp Toast you normally get a dimsum restaurants...  
2013-12-28 20.30.06 
This is the Ling Cod, gently smoked and pan-roasted. It was done to a medium and the sweet smokey fish flaked off easily. The lentils were a good side this, the two textures matched well together. The clams added a playful touch to the dish. The sauce is a bacon dashi veloute, essentially a broth-based roux, but using bacon is playful. 
2013-12-28 20.30.15 
I had reviewed the menu prior to coming and was delighted to see that they had Squab on the menu. I've since noticed that it's no longer on the menu though; too bad because I thought it was a clever nod to the name of the restaurant. Served with pickled veggies and some fresh herbs, I found the dish a little sparse. However, the flavour of the squab was really good and had almost a rustic feel to it.  
2013-12-28 20.38.27 
After finishing the cocktails, I decided to get a half litre of wine to finish off the meal with. I was smitten with the cut up pop bottle presentation. I was tempted to through it into my purse, next time...I'll have to bring a larger purse! 

Take Note:

  • Some appies are better deals than the mains (ie. wings versus squab)
  • Prix fixe menu pricing has risen from $40 to $55/person
  • Shishito peppers are highly recommended as a starter

Pidgin on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Vegan tasting at Be Love in Victoria

For those of you who know me, I'm definitely a carnivore, with mad love for steaks, wings and BBQ duck. However, I'm always open to new ideas. I recently received an invitation to give Be Love in Victoria a try. It's the new restaurant opened by siblings, Joe and Heather Cunliffe of Cafe Bliss. 
However, living in Vancouver, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to take advantage of this offer. As fate would have it, I was able to visit Victoria last week and had a chance to give this place a try! I really loved the high ceilings in the space. It's spacious but not intimidating at all, it was really cozy and had a nice cafe-style feel.
Just because they are vegan, it doesn't mean that Be Love doesn't serve up a mean cocktail. On the right is the Red Cedar Swizzle. The gin is infused with red cedar, then mixed with lemon, honey, angostura bitters. The flavours were quite woodsy and the garnish really accentuated that.
On the left is their Black Star Liner. It's a warm cocktail with Kraken black spiced rum, quetzal cola syrup blended into steamed almond mylk (no real dairy here), then topped with nutmeg. IMG_5539 
Our first two courses are from the Soup and Salad section. Here is their Sesame Miso. It's a miso broth loaded up with seaweed, kale, sprouts, and various veggies. The nori in the chickpea miso sesame broth gave it a rich texture. The flavours are reminiscent of meaty Chinese sausage, as well as sesame oil. The miso and shitaake really stand out, and I loved the warmth of this dish.    
Our next item is the Warm Quinoa Salad. It's loaded with lots of roasted beets, more kale, crunchy toasted hazelnuts,and lots of shredded carrot (which I'm mildly allergic to). The sauce had a cumin base with a sweet and nutty balsamic vinegar, sweetened slightly by some fig juices. Although I'm normally allergic to raw carrots, I didn't have any reaction with this locally grown variety. It is definitely hearty and fills you up without being heavy. As you can see, there is an amazing cracker served with this, loaded with seeds and nuts, this is crunchy goodness at its best.  
We also tried their Masala Dosa. A fermented lentil crepe. The fermentation makes crepe a bit sour, which I wasn't a fan of. It's filled with a potato curry & served with tamarind-date chutney (more sour). The side is a cucumber-mint salad with a dairy-free cashew raita. The sourness of the crepe ruined this dish for me, but upon removing the cover, I really enjoyed the curry inside. 
Another main we tried was the Numi Noodle Bowl because it seems most "traditional" with a vegan twist. The buckwheat soba noodles & kelp noodles are tossed in a adzuki bean miso garlic sauce. There is also stir fried sesame baked tempeh, as well as some shitaake. There are random greens as well as marinated burdock root. The tempeh was weird to me, I didn't like the texture at all. However, I loved the taste of the broth, with hints of hoisin. I found the texture of the dish inconsistent, some were al dente, yet other bits of noodles were very clumpy. Overall, it was good, but it could have been a bit more uniform.  
For dessert, we got treated to their Karma Bar, a nanaimo bar like sweet with Salty caramel, pecans and chocolate! Oh my goodness, this was heavenly. Salty, sweet and just the right amount of gooeyness.

I can't say that I would convert to veganism because of Be Love, but I would join a vegan friend here. It's got what I like (bold flavours and textures) and it serves up food that vegans would love. 

Take Note:

  • Servers are great and very entrenched into the vegan lifestyle
  • Amazing desserts
  • Try their Cheezecake!
Looking for more Victoria ideas? Here you go!

Be Love on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Homecooking with Akakurobuta

After the Akakurobuta tasting a few weeks ago, they sent us home with a few packs of Akakurobuta. Because I was heading out of town for a few days, I decided to freeze the package and play with them upon my return. IMG_5571 We were given two packages, the top one is the pork loin, the bottom one is the collar butt. The fat cap on the loin is pretty huge and the marbling in the collar butt is designed for amazing tenderness and juiciness. Of the four recipes we were also given, I decided on trying the Tonteki from Kingyo Izakaya, as created by Chef Kittaka. If you want to give this a try, here is the recipe from the Wingtat site.IMG_5575 First step is to cover the pork with grated onions and garlic. I used more garlic than the recipe called for, but used half an onion as recommended. It's the first time I've tried grating an onion, and it was surprisingly easy. I might do this for future recipes that calls for diced onions. I keep my onions in the fridge to reduce the tears, and it certainly came in handy here.  IMG_5581 For Step 4 of this recipe, you have to fry the pork loin in pork fat, so I decided to take this opportunity to take out some of the fat from the edges off the loin. At first glance, doesn't this look a bit like tuna sashimi?  IMG_5585 After the marinating process, brush off all the onions and garlic and coat the loins with flour. The little bits of lard in the upper edge has rendered the fat needed to fry these babies up.  IMG_5592 I fried them on each side for about 5 minutes, giving them a slight turn at the 2.5 minute mark.  IMG_5597 And here is the final product, in all it's glory. We did the sauce in a small pot on the side, instead of in the pan, because I thought my pan was too large. The sauce is really easy, with just five common ingredients (worcestershire , oyster sauce, soy, mirin and stock). You put all the onions and garlic from the marinade and simmer until tender.  IMG_5602 This is the final product with the sauce. It was really tender and moist. The sauce was a quite savory and complemented the pork very well. I would definitely make this again. We had it with some takeout roti, but it would be great with some rice.
Akakurobuta is a premium  Japanese style pork that is 100% Canadian, produced in Alberta. The pork is well-marbled and served a strict diet of barley. This creates a whiter fat compared to corn-fed pork. The hogs are raised in small family farms and are free run, resulting in a stress-free hogs. The pork has previously been exported solely to Japan, but now, it's available to Canadian consumers, exclusively at all T&T Supermarkets.
Various restaurants in Vancouver are also featuring their take on Akakurobuta, see my review of the tasting at Kingyo, Damso and Secret Location.

Akakuro-Buta | Premium Pork Tasting

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a media tasting for Akakurobuta, a pork product that until now, has been raised solely for export to Japan, until now. Kurobuta from Koshima is a world-renown pork product,due to its tenderness, juiciness and marbling. It's aiming to be a twin to the Kurobuta, the berkshire black hog found in Japan. Akakurobuta, from Alberta farms, comes very close to the way the Kurobuta is raised, but enhanced by the Alberta's gorgeous grasslands, glacier water and unpolluted air. The hogs receive individual attention with their farmers, resulting in stress-free and happy hogs. They are fed on a diet of barley (resulting in a firm and white fat) versus other North American hogs that are corn fed (giving it a yellow and greasier fat). We were set to visit three restaurants where each chef was tasked to created new dishes with Akakurobuta. IMG_5440 Our first stop was at Kingo Izakaya, where Chef Chikayoshi Kittaka served up Tonteki. It's rare for me to get a personalized menu so I appreciated this!
2014-02-19 15.18.12 
Before the pork landed on the table, we were treated to a Tomato Kimchi, which was amazing meaty. The flavours were very clean and the seaweed sauce was something I had never tried before. Given the darkness and thick texture, the seaweed flavour was actually quite light. 

Another appetizer was the Tuna Tataki, which was served with a light Ponzu Jelly. This was just lightly seared and the Albacore had a really fresh taste. IMG_5446 Finally, the start of the show, the Tonteki, a Japanese Style Pork Steak. The pork was definitely the star here, simply marinated with garlic and onions. The sauce had hits of Worcestershire sauce, mirin, oyster sauce and a bit of soy. Then it was simply pan fried and sliced. 

IMG_5453 Our next stop took us to Damso where Chef Eric Lee. Before the Akakurobuta hit the table, we were served their Beef Taco, which was really tasty. Simply served with sliced onions and greens, this is a great starter.  IMG_5460 For our first course, Chef Lee served up the Kimchi Jim with Akakuro-buta Loin. The pork is pan seared and then baked in the oven. The kimchi base gives the pork some flavor but the pork is definitely the highlight. It's super tender with a nice ring of fat around it. I loved the pork skin too! 

IMG_5462 The second course was the Akakuro-buta Gamja-tang. The pork is brined for 12 hours and then cooked sous vide. The broth is made with a blend of chicken stock and pork stock, giving it a very meaty flavour, which was enhanced by the addition of Dwenjang (fermented soybean paste), Gochujang (chili pepper paste) and Gochugaru (chili pepper powder). A few potatoes and cabbage rounded out the broth, which was served tableside. I liked the thickness of the broth but found the fermented soybean paste a bit overpowering. I'd probably cut back on this if I were to replicate it at home. 

IMG_5470 Our final stop was Secret Location, where Chef Jefferson Alvarez who made us a Burnt Apple Crusted Akakuro-Buta Collar Butt. First of all, I have to say that the serving size was enormous, especially since we already had three other pork courses! But I also have to say, it was probably my favourite of the evening. The pork was brined/marinated and seared. Simple but super amazing. The sweetness from the burnt apple was enhanced but a bit of the brown sugar and cinnamon in the original brine. This had an amazing crust and the marbling of the collar butt really shone through. 

Akakuro-Buta is available exclusively at T&T Supermarkets. There are two cuts available, the loin and the collar butt. The loin has a thick fat cap and the collar butt has intense marbling. If you want to give these recipes a try at home, you can find them here. I tried to make the Tonteki with the loin that was given to me at the end of the media tasting. See my attempt here!
Kingyo Izakaya 金魚居酒屋 on Urbanspoon Damso Modern Korean Cuisine on Urbanspoon Secret Location on Urbanspoon


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