The Coast is not Clear: The Case of the Gluten Containing Eel and the Undercooked Scallop

After a trip to the Vancouver aquarium as part of a team building activity (even though only three of us went), we went to look for a quick bite knowing the evening fare at the meeting would be less than appealing.  It was an abnormally warm May day, so we wanted a patio,a drink and some decent food.

Coast is part of the Glowbal group conglomerate which owns a number of popular Vancouver restaurants. Having previously dined at Black + Blue and the Fish Shack with reasonable success, it sounds like a good idea, especially with the advertised cocktail menu and half price appetizers.  After making the uphill trek to Alberni Street, we were able to secure a table on the front patio. The three of us were wearing casual team-building clothes (ie. yoga pants and shorts). We were hardly dressed for the occasion, especially in the midst of the attire of the waitstaff and  numerous suits coming in but we were quickly comfortable in our outdoor seats.

Both my colleagues have what I consider excellent palates and both do not consume gluten.  One of them has also never tried nigiri, so we took the opportunity to run an experiment with the small list on the menu. My thought was to hit her with the ebi thinking it would best to start her off with something cooked not to mention the fact that there was no guilt based on the fact we were just at the aquarium watching numerous other species splash around. The waitress, however, insisted that we opt for the unagi (since it was cooked) although I thought eel may not be the best way to initiate a novice sushi eater.  The shrimp arrived without issue but the eel arrived coated in what appeared to be a brown sauce. Even as a gluten glutton, I have become aware that any brown sauce is an alarm bell, especially on a piece of sushi.  It usually means soy sauce which means gluten. Keep in mind the menu clearly stated this item was gluten free but after deliberation by the waitstaff and kitchen slightly longer than the OJ Simpson verdict, we were told it in fact contained gluten.  Big mistake.  In the end, I ate the eel (which was decent but expensive) and I succeeded in introducing her to the world of nigiri albeit a tame piece of cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively)
Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively). Note the brown sauce…

 

I will give Coast credit for it’s buck a shuck special.  I indulged in a half dozen oysters, portraying behaviour similar to that of a five year old opening a new set of lego.  I become mesmerized by combining oyster flesh with pungent horseradish and some type of mignonette.   In fact, I don’t think anything gives me as much enjoyment in the area of seafood relations since Mr. Tecklenberg showed me how to hypnotize a lobster when I was 8 or 9 at a table in his namesake Sudbury restaurant. I was so giddy I forgot the picture.

Each of us weren’t up for a whole lot of food (beside the after effect of seeing a whole lot of underwater life), but we each ordered a dish and did a family style sorta thing.  First were the thai mussels (minus the bread).  They were tasty but a rather dismal serving for $19. Maybe it would have come with 17 pieces of garlic bread which would have made it a bit more economical.

 

Thai Mussels (18.95 or each)
Thai Mussels (18.95 or about a buck each..I’d rather have the oysters)

 

 

Second was the grilled halibut.  It made a lot of sense given the fact it was the season and there was not a hint of brown sauce anywhere on the plate.  Instead, it was served with a decent potato salad.  The fish was cooked nicely but it’s difficult to justify the $38 price tag.

 

Grilled Halibut ($37.95)
Grilled Halibut ($37.95)

Finally, my choice was the apple chopped salad ($12.95) with the optional upgrade of two scallops for a whopping ten bucks.  It arrived with a lone scallop and I made a note to see if it was reflected properly on the bill.  I never had the chance.  The salad itself was fresh, crisp and nicely balanced but when I cut open the scallop I looked at my colleagues and in my best Gordon Ramsey accent yelled “The f@*%ing scallop is raw”.  In fact, it was a bit of a relief because paying 5 bucks for a scallop the size of a jawbreaker just wasn’t worth it.  Perhaps the  biggest annoyance of all was when the manager returned with the plate to confirm with me that, after careful deliberation with the chef, the scallop was in fact raw and they would gladly take it off the bill.  I guess all those years of watching Hell’s kitchen finally paid off since it saved me the embarrassment of being corrected in front of my esteemed colleagues.

 

Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop
Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop

 

The source of much deliberation....
The source of much deliberation….

 

My Take

Vancouver’s Glowbal group seems to be like olives, cilantro or goat cheese; you either love them or hate them.  Some see the group as an innovative and eclectic collection of restaurants showcasing an incredible arrays of foods.  Others see it as an overpriced series of misguided trends in which the decor is more important than the food. The inability to properly display gluten-free foods combined with minute mussels and an undercooked and underwhelming five dollar scallop (that included  a second opinion on doneness) makes me lean toward the latter.  This was just a bad experience with no effort made to fix it.  Good thing there were crudites back at the meeting.  I swear a carrot stick never tasted so good.

Coast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

 

Turning Over a New Banana Leaf: A Delicious Primer on Malaysian Food

It’s always funny asking people what they want for lunch.  When you spend copious hours mulling over restaurants experiences, you get a reputation as the go-to guy. Here is an excerpt from a typical discussion with a friend or colleague:

Me: Where do you want to go for lunch?

Them:  I don’t know. You’re the foodie.  You pick.

Me: Well, tell me what you like.

Them: I’ll eat almost anything.

Me (with slight look of annoyance on my face):  Do you like Malaysian?

Them (with “I have no idea what Malaysian is”  look on face): Ya, sounds great.

Me: It’s kind of like Thai.

Them (with look of relief on face): Oh! I like Thai.

 

Now that that was decided, I trekked a few blocks from the hotel with a couple of colleagues for lunch at the Banana Leaf, a small Vancouver chain featuring fare from the South Asian country.  Geographically located along the spice route, Malaysia has a rich food history, influenced by near neighbours China, India and Thailand with a touch of input from the numerous other European countries which touched it’s soil during world expansion.  They rely on local ingredients but also import wheat and other staples.

The Banana Leaf is a small Vancouver chain which focuses on Malaysian cuisine.  The menu is quite expansive, reflecting the aforementioned diversity of the country’s offerings.  I went twice during a recent trip to Vancouver; once for lunch and once for dinner. For lunch, we opted for the safe newbie option of the tasting menu consisting of some of the more popular dishes. Here’s the summary…

Green Asian salad

This sizable  starter was a pleasant mix of tropical flavours including pineapple, papaya and coconut dressed in lemongrass vinaigrette. Very fresh and delicious.

h
Green Asian Salad

Spring Rolls and Roti Canai

Appetizers with the  neighbour’s  influence of Malaysia  fills this plate.  The crispy spring rolls and  the delightfully chewy roti were served hot and served with sweet chili  and coconut curry sauce respectively.

Spring Rolls and Roti Canai
Spring Rolls and Roti Canai

 

Rendang Beef Curry

Considered a festive dish, it’s a celebration of  coconut and curry gravy surrounding tender beef. It was very well balanced with a nice kick of spice.

Rendang Beef Curry
Rendang Beef Curry

Gulai Seafood 

The vibrant stew with fusion flavours  mixing  turmeric with classic South Asian staples including ginger, galangal, lemongrass and tamarind.  The abundant proteins were cooked delicately, leaving the fish and shrimp tender and delicious.

Gulai Stew
Gulai Stew

Sambal Green Beans 

Chili and shrimp paste provide the base to this classic Asian dish.  Garnished with tomato and peppers, it was attractive and tasty.

Sambal Green Beans
Sambal Green Beans

Pisang Goreng

Fried banana and ice cream was served atop an absolutely delicious gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) sauce which had a sweet and bitter taste reminiscent of a good creme brule or a Mexican flan.

Banana
Pisang Goreng

 

Quick Take

Perhaps the craziest thing was the fact that all of this food was $18 a person.  I’m accustomed to tiny, expensive portions in a tasting menu but the sizes of these meals were far from “tasting”.  For the value, it’s arguably one of the better meals you can buy.

 

A few nights later I went for dinner…..

Green Papaya and Mango Kerabu ($8)

Another delicious salad consisting of a cornucopia of  Asian flavours including the title fruits with cucumber, carrot and jicama combined with sweet, sour and salty flavours of the dressing and fish sauce respectively.

G
Green Papaya and Mango Kerabu $8

 

Malaysian Spicy Papaya Seafood Soup ($6)

Hinted of Tom Yum but with bursts of sweetness from papaya right in the soup with a nice level of heat.

Spicy
Malaysian Spicy Papaya Seafood Soup $6

Pineapple Fried Rice with Seafood & Chicken ($15)

Visually appealing dish that didn’t quite match in taste.  It could have used a few more of the promised accessories (sunflower seeds, raisins, shrimp etc.) but it sure is pretty.

Pineapple
Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken $15

Sticky Rice with Grated Coconut & Gula Melaka ($7)

Having already experienced the deliciousness of gula melaka (see above), I was keen to try it combined with coconut rice.  The toasted coconut was a great addition from a taste and texture perspective. Once again, it was reminder that Gula Melaka is like nectar from the gods.

Dessert
Sticky Rice with Grated Coconut and Gula Melaka $7

My Take

It is evident that Malaysian food is a mosaic of ingredients with ingredients heavily influenced by neighbours and past travelers looking for the same spices which filled many of the dishes served here. The $18 for the “tasting menu” lunch was ridiculous (in a good way) and included mountains of delicious  food.  The dinner dishes were also reasonably priced.  My colleagues, each with a different capacity to consume copious amounts of food, seemed impressed.  For the most part, the service was prompt (although a little slow and confused at dinner although I think one of our waitresses was in training) and courteous and the decor was simple but classy.  Banana leaf is a small Vancouver chain offering a lesson in the diverse and delicious fare of Malaysian, a cuisine often overshadowed by its more popular neighbours.  I’m just spreading the word.

Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon

Ap Gu Jung and Its Appreciation of Non-Korean Gluttons

Sometimes when I’m out of town I put a day’s worth of effort into carefully orchestrating a dining schedule. A combination of urbanspoon, yelp, the opinion of other bloggers and sometimes Guy Fieri drive my decisions, especially when time is a factor.  Other times, however, I take a walk and see what meets my fancy.  I was staying at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver and decided to take a walk down Robson with a colleague to see what I could devour on a break between my meeting and the planned rubber chicken dinner later in the evening. This part of Robson is dotted with a number of Asian eateries including Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Japanese.   Based on the cozy decor and gluten-free choices (NB-not me), we sat down at Ap Ju Jung.  Despite the fact it was early in the evening. it was already half full. On top of that, I was the only Caucasian in the house so I was confident in this random pick.

After ordering, we were treated to a bowl of sweet potato soup which had a thin but smooth texture and a nice glisten.   It tasted a bit like baby food (although not unpleasant)  and erred on the side of sweet and was in stark contrast to the spicy dishes to come.

Sweet Potato Soup
Sweet Potato Soup

 

Next, we were both offered a tray of  banchan which consisted of seaweed salad, kimchi and what I believe was a sweet boiled potato. Whether it was our peckish nature or the deliciousness of the dishes, we devoured all three with relative ease  (in fact my dinner date  is well known for destroying a plate calamari on a good day so we can add seaweed salad to the list).  This resulted in a  second round of banchan which I found odd since everybody else around us shared one and didn’t get a second let alone a third.  Perhaps they sensed our grateful gluttony.

Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi
Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi

Shortly after, my homemade dumplings arrived dim su.  The dumpling itself was quite delicate and was stuffed with a tasty pork and chive mixture.  It was a great balance between dough and filling  The coarse filling had a great texture and wasn’t dry or watery.  I had no problem putting the quartet  away.

Homemade Dumplings $7.95
Homemade Dumplings $7.95

I also ordered kimchi stew with tuna.  I can’t complain about the lack of authenticity but it was a humble reminder that kimchi can be overwhelming when it’s the mainstay of the dish. Sour and spicy along with the odd bit of sweet tuna collided on the tongue resulting a pleasant train wreck of flavours. Due to the intensity of the kimchi, it was difficult to finish the whole bowl.

Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95
Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95

Not surprisingly, the calamari queen (isn’t that a Billy Ocean song)  ordered spicy squid with rice.  The first bite of squid I had was tough and rubbery but it must have been an anomaly because the rest was spot on.  There was good balance between protein and vegetable (mainly green beans and onions which  both kept their crunch) and the spiciness was aggressive but within the spectrum of a wandering Caucasian.

Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95
Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95

My Take

With the multitude of restaurants in Vancouver, it is easy to over think  each and every dining possibility. Sometimes I enjoy exploring neighbourhoods just to hit a random place along the way.  This was the case with Ap Gu Jung.  Offering an array of Korean cuisine in a clean and cozy environment, the food and service were quite good.  The gifts of soup and banchan were delicious and most appreciated.  The price points of the other dishes were quite acceptable.  Since we were there early, I can’t comment  on the night scene ( I noticed a set of drums on the second floor overlooking the main area), but at 530 pm you could have a conversation even with the funky music playing in the background. In the end, Ap Gu Jung’s gracious experience was much more Ban Ki-moon than Kim Jong-un.

 

Ap Gu Jung Korean on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Fired at the Farmer’s Apprentice.

The Farmer’s apprentice has burst on the seen in Vancouver with the same intensity that Donald Trump’s apprentice hit the airwaves years ago . Trump’s show tested young and aspiring entrepreneurs on a variety of tasks and had sent their asses out the door if they didn’t make the cut.  I can make the same parallels with this restaurant…let me explain.

The first task is getting a reservation. The small venue’s popularity makes it difficult to get into. I placed a call between their designated hours of 2 pm to 5pm only to get a voice mail asking me to leave my name, party size along with date and time and somebody would get back to me IF a reservation was available. Knowing my time in Vancouver was short, I let them know I would be free anytime Thursday night. I received a call shortly after confirming an 830 reservation.

The second task was finding the place. Perhaps it’s a bit easier on a night that didn’t include a confused cab driver and a heavy rainstorm in the dark, but I imagine it’s still a difficult task on a good night. It’s small and subtle exterior along West 6th street doesn’t stand out.

Task three was getting a seat. The host had the typical “please tell me you don’t have a reservation so I can laugh at you” look. He looked a bit disappointed when I announced my 830 slot but still seemed a bit pleased when he told me I would have to wait a few minutes. Looking around, the place is small and looked like a farmhouse an ambitious hipster got his or her hands all over. There were tiny tables, rural country window panes and a washroom separated by barn doors. The set-up was messy, especially at the door. It was quite crowded, especially with the need for waitstaff to run out to the porch on occasion to serve the tables out there. A large bar/communal table takes up a good part of the middle of the restaurant. As I waited, I always felt like I was in the way. Eventually, we were seated at table in the front corner which was rather quaint.

The fourth task was ordering. This feat was hampered by the fact that the online menu is updated periodically and may not be reflective of the evening’s fare. For example, I had my heart set on the leeks, cat tails, caramelized buttermilk, ramps, watercress (I have childhood memories of eating boiled cat tails which may have triggered my desire for things that grow in a swamp). The menu changed, however, so I was out of luck unless I wanted my cat tail served beside roasted chicken. For about 5 seconds I pondered asking if I could just have a side order but visions of the soup nazi filled my head and figured there was a slight chance I might be asked to leave.

I started with a drink. Since having my first one in Toronto a couple of months ago,  I have developed an affinity for the classic boulevadier. This one was decent for $10 but I still crave the one from east thrity-six in Toronto on a regular basis.

Boulevadier $10
Boulevadier $10

 

Foodwise, I settled for poached egg, first season asparagus, rye bread, mimolette, pea shoots for $11. The egg seemed almost sous vide and had a vibrant orange yolk and with the asparagus was hidden beneath a foam and topped with the grated salty cheese and rye bread crumbs.The taste hit the mark although some some slides of ry would have been nice to mop of the aftermath of my yolk piercing destruction.

Asparagus with poached egg $11
Asparagus with poached egg $11

Next was mackerel, lovage, sea asparagus, celery and ikura. The presentation was beautiful. The mackerel skin was charred and the remaining ingredients were served salsa style on top of the filet which cut through the fatty fish with easy. The marriage of crunchy vegetables and silky fish made for great mouth feel and pings of salt from the ikura bounced around my palate to consummate  the seasoning.

Mackerel $12
Mackerel $12

Finally, I had the 3 weeks dry aged quail, honey roasted carrot, orange, pistachio and cabarnet sauvignon vinegar($18). One again, it was a pretty dish; presented with different colours and textures. The hay-stuffed quail was nicely roasted with the breasts served medium-rare. I was encouraged by the waitstaff to rummage  through the hay in hopes of finding an “oyster”. I don’t think I discovered a gem but part of it had to do with the fact I got little enjoyment from digging through mushy, cooked hay. The carrots served two ways (roasted and pureed) were delicious. The vinegar was deep and rich in colour and added some needed acid. The oranges were irrelevant from both a taste and presentation perspective.

Quail $18
Quail $18

 

For dessert, I opted for sesame ice cream.  The ice cream was overpowered by odd taste of the sesame wafer.  Perhaps I was spoiled by the artistry of the previous dishes because I was a little let down by the bland presentation of the dessert.  Hell, a ground cherry/gooseberry  (although not the season) would have been a colourful and tasty addition to the otherwise boring plate.

 

Sesame Ice Cream $7
Sesame Ice Cream $7

My Take

The Farmer’s apprentice has blasted up the charts and is cited as one of the best new restaurants in the country for it’s veggiephilic menu which focuses on fresh, local flavours.  The food is creative, intelligent and unpredictable. The dessert wasn’t.   Many other reviews state that the food makes up for any issues around service, the cryptic reservation policy or sitting within the cramped quarters of  a rundown rural oasis within a bustling west coast urban centre. I disagree.

Much like the show with the same name, you enter the unknown and get  exposed to trials and tribulations of trying  to guess the way the ingredients will co-exist based on the loose description or the kinder egg philosophy of searching through soggy hay for a chance at an “oyster”.  Like the apprentice, the fun and funky gamesmanship  is overshadowed by the feeling of being judged. After all, you should feel privileged to be drinking from a enamel cup and opening a barn door to go to the washroom  within one of Canada’s most touted restaurants.  I couldn’t help but feel that with one wrong move or failed mission and the waitstaff would point in my direction and say “you’re fired” before sending me home in a waiting, yellow taxi.

 

Farmer's Apprentice on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Downtown:The Fish Shack

It was honestly an internet search and a restaurant within walking distance that brought me to the Fish Shack. After seeing it was a creation of the Glowbal group, I was sure it would be far from a shack and even have a few of the gimmicks this restaurant group is renowned for.  The last Glowbal restaurant I went to was Black and Blue. It had a beautiful decor, with a classic steakhouse setup and  highlighted by  a 15 foot high meat locker.  I figured the Fish Shack would be the same.

I wasn’t far off.  The decor is reminiscent of a wooden fishing shack.  Nets hang throughout the place and pictures of fish with interesting trivia line the  wall. It’s bright and clean and the busy waitstaff have a casual look and attitude. The air is filled with the aroma of shellfish, likely  a combination of the bar side shellfish  steamer and the adjacent table ordering the fisherman’s catch, a Cornucopia of mixed seafood strewn across the table in a free for all.

The beer selection is pretty lame, dominated by Molson products. The Whister Bear Paw Honey Lager is a bit of a redemption.  This sad reality led me to the Caesar fleet featuring four offerings laced with vodka, gin, whisky and tequila.  I went vodka, a pretty standard Caesar garnished with prawn and pepperoni.  It was a good Caesar and definitely better than a Coors light.

Caesar
Caesar $8

I like gimmicks, so I opted for buck a shuck oysters (Light house were featured)  and mussels and clams fresh from the steamer. The oysters were fresh and a great deal for four bucks. The $15 steamed shellfish prepared classic style (wine, garlic , shallots and herbs) were good but didn’t rival the mussels at Chambar or the clams at the Pike market in Seattle which were pulled from ocean just minutes away in Puget Sound.

Steamers $15
Steamers $15

For the main, the halibut was calling my name.  Although priced significantly higher than the other fish and chips options, I remembered my experience at Dandelion in Philadelphia and Blue Water cafe in San Diego and hoped for the same in Vancouver.  It was a bit flimsy and although all the components were quite good, nothing was remarkable. The batter was not greasy and had a pleasant taste while the fish maintained a good integrity and decent moistness. The tartar sauce and fries were pretty classic and the creamy horseradish slaw was colourful to look at but didn’t have as much bite as I wanted.

Halibut and Fries $16.50
Halibut and Fries $16.50

I last had the brussel sprouts at Black and Blue last year and ordered them again. I was equally impressed, especially when I hit them with a squirt of hot sauce.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts $6.50

There’s a small dessert menu featuring cheesecake, apple berry crumble and sticky toffee pudding, all for $8.50.  Some may argue you don’t need anymore than that.  I opted for the latter and was presented with a pretty decent offering. The cake was moist, partially helped by the plentiful pool of sauce it sat in.  The traditional chantilly cream and somewhat unorthodox berries were a good finishing touch.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding $8.50

My Take

The fish shack is kind of like Red Lobster, except for people under the age of 65.  Both have a bad beer selection and shrimp garnished Caesars.  Both are decorated with fish and fish paraphernalia.    Both have cheesy slogans like “We sea food differently” and “hook it and cook it”. One can indulge on an array of seafood with the shack’s Fisherman’s catch or Red Lobster’s Ultimate feast, a choice from the fresh daily fresh fish list or non-sea signatures like cheddar bay biscuits (RL) or brussel sprouts (FS).  Both even have a New York style cheesecake for dessert.

The fish shack is pretty; pretty decor and pretty good food.  It’s filled with the little gimmicks like bar side steamers that make the Glowbal group what it is. .  Although none of the dishes blew my mind, the execution of the food was acceptable. and the vibe reeked a little of fish and little of hip. So send Gramma to Red Lobster and suck back some west coast buck a shuck oysters before 6 pm at the fish shack (trust me, Gramma and oysters don’t mix). Afterwards, you can hear about the nice fish and  that dessert cake like Gladys used to make.

As for slogans, I kinda like this one from a famous book that pretty much says it all:

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“Catchy”, isn’t it?

The Fish Shack on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:DDD:Tomahawk BBQ:Part 2

The first time I went to Tomahawk I ventured for the chief Skookum burger and previously blogged about the experience (https://fareeatales.com/2013/05/14/dddvancouvertomahawk-bbq/).  The second time around I was there for breakfast.  Tomahawk is the perfect place if you have a go hard or go home attitude. As a result, I had to go for the mixed grill.  The name is a bit deceiving.  It sounds innocent enough but perhaps “Sasquatch’s feast” of “Lumberjack’s Labour” would be more appropriate.

Here’s the menu description:

Nine generous slices of Yukon style bacon,

two country fresh eggs, fried or scrambled,

two slices of Klondike toast,

ORGANIC hamburger patty,

aged cheddar cheese,

wiener,

onions

fresh sautéed mushrooms.

What the menu doesn’t mention is the fact that it’s served on a bed of home fries which presumably could be made from a whole 10lb bag of potatoes.

I left the fork on the picture below to put the size of the plate into perspective. It’s the size of a hubcap. The highlight is the bacon.  I’m not even sure if yukon-style bacon is an official term outside the confines of Tomahawk.  It is almost a cross between ham and bacon and unlike scrawny slabs of  overcooked side bacon. nine slices are enough to cover the entire plate.  It was cooked perfectly.  The potatoes  are far from the highlight of the dish but add a nice base for the rest of the plate.

Tomahawk mixed grill $18
Tomahawk mixed grill $18

I made my best effort to complete the plate but fell a bit short, meaning I only needed a 9km jog around Stanley Park later in the day.

My attempt at the mixed grill
My attempt at the mixed grill

My Take

The An $18 breakfast is a bit steep but not far from the $12-15 offerings by most Vancouver and Toronto breakfast joints.  In a fashion similar  the great cakes at Jethro’s, it could easily feed a family of four.  It’s a funny concept… a village worth of bacon and potatoes combined with among many things, a single piece of cheese and a few sliced onions.  I wonder if the cartoony, Where’s Waldo placemat has some Di Vinci code which reveals the correct way to eat the mixed grill.  Or maybe you should just eat it Yukon-style..whatever that means.

DDD:Vancouver:Jethro’s Fine Grub

Dispatch: Hello, may I help you?

Me: Yes, I’d like to report a UFO sighting.

Dispatch: A UFO sir? Where are you?

Me: I’m at Jethro’s.

Dispatch: Jethro’s?  Are you in a trailer park somewhere, sir?

Me: No, I’m on Dunbar Street in Vancouver.

Dispatch: OK.  Why don’t you tell me what you saw?

Me: Well, I dropped into this DDD for breakfast and ordered some biscuits and gravy to start.  The gravy was out of this world. Hahaha…get it? Anyway, the gravy was rich and tasty and had a nice spicy kick which took a minute to materialize in my mouth. The biscuits weren’t quite cloud-like.  Well, maybe a heavy cloud.  Anyway, suddenly these two UFOs landed right at my table.

Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy $5

Dispatch: Sir, have you been drinking?

Me: No, they don’t serve alcohol. I had a coffee though.

Dispatch: Ok.  Please describe the UFOs.

Me: They were about 12 inches in diameter and a couple of centimeters thick.  Light brown in colour and filled with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were also covered in some sort of white  material. I’ll send you a pic.

Grrrreat Cakes $12
Grrrreat Cakes $12

Dispatch: White material?  Could it be whipped cream sir? What did you do next sir?

Me: Hmmmmm…ya whipped cream sounds right. Well, they looked good so I ate them. Or at least I tried.  I only managed to get through three quarters of one of them.

Disptach: Were they grrrrrreaaat!? (slight snicker).

Me: Well yes, that’s what they are called. Grrrreat cakes.

Dispatch: Oh.  Do you think it’s an isolated incident?

Me: No.  The staff were way too friendly.  And most of them have a lot of ink so I think they are actually maps that may in fact identify where the mothership is. I forgot my iPad at the table and they ran out after me to make sure I got it back.  Maybe they bugged it…

Dispatch: Ok sir.  So let me summarize.  You went to Jethro’s in Vancouver, ordered really good biscuits and gravy and what sounds like large pancakes stuffed with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were both grrrreat. The staff is friendly and most are heavily tattooed and they chased you out the door to return the iPad you foolishly left at the table.

Me: Yes, that sounds right.

Dispatch: Well sir, I don’t believe they are UFOs.  They just sound like big, tasty pancakes. Pancakes don’t fly sir.

Me: Oh, the F stands for flying.  I thought it stood for fluffy.

Dispatch: You sure they don’t serve alcohol?

Me: Positive.

Dispatch: OK, I’m going to close this file sir.  I think we have all the information we need.  I suggest next time maybe you order an omelette, one of the benedicts or maybe the massive breakfast burrito. The variety is insane and the portions are huge.

Me: Ya, I think I saw the burrito.  It looked like a bus. The lunch sounds good too.  Thanks.

Dispatch: No problem sir.

Verdict:  5 Guyz

Jethro's Fine Grub on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Robson St:CinCin Ristorante and Bar

While in Vancouver, I had a business meeting  in the private room at Cin Cin, an old school Italian eatery on Robson Street. I was shuffled to the private room which housed hundreds of bottles of wines, some at hundreds of dollars.  Speaking of cost, expect to pay a pretty lira here; apps are $13-18, pastas start at $15 and entrees go from $30-45.   Noise was an issue even in the private room. The only thing separating us and the boisterous outside crowd was a thin sheet of glass and a thick wood door that constantly opened and closed, allowing the drone of human banter to roll in like thick fog.There was a four course set menu featuring an array of choices for the appetizers, mains and desserts with a mushroom risotto as a middle dish.
I opted for tuna tartare to start. It was a large portion on the modest side of seasoning and acidity although I got the odd big chunk of salt here and there. The radish was a nice addition to add a bit of crunch to the otherwise silky texture.

Long line caught albacore tuna tartare
Long line caught albacore tuna tartare

The risotto was well prepared and seasoned nicely. The rice had a subtle crunch and there were plenty of tender mushrooms scattered throughout. It was served hot and it held its temperature well.

Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto

The sable fish was treated with the utmost respect, its delicate integrity preserved in the cooking process. Ever bite melted like butter in my mouth. The mashed potatoes were subtle and allowed the fish to shine. The kale was simply and perfectly prepared and added great colour, texture and a punch of bitterness to the sweet filet and creamy mashed potatoes.

Sablefish
Sablefish

I strayed from my normal tendency to order tiramisu for dessert and opted for a lemon tart instead. It really wasn’t a tart; it was served cold and with a side of strawberry coulis that brought me back to days of scraping the last morsels of baby food off the side of the jar and shoveling it into my kid’s waiting mouth. The tart as a whole had that “sitting there for a bit” taste.

Lemon tart
Lemon tart

There is pride in the service, characterized but constant wine and water pours by the head waiter who is as well seasoned as the risotto was. The table’s dishes were served  by numerous waitstaff on a way that would make the Canadian synchronized swimming team envious.  I received “Sir, that’s an excellent choice!”  for each and every order I placed, an accolade I’m not sure was entirely deserved, especially in the midst of my tiramisu regret.

My Take

CinCin is a well established and expensive Italian restaurant promising good food, good service and good wine. The sablefish was spectacular and clearly the godfather of the evening. The rest of the food was more Godfather III.   The decor is old school Italian villa; respectfully cheesy while embracing the dwindling art of old school service which is as much choreography as it is  functional. However, there is no music for the dance. Instead there is plenty of noise which could become quite aggravating if you have anything important to say or hear…like how great my dinner choices were.

CinCin Ristorante + Bar on Urbanspoon

DDD:Vancouver:Tomahawk BBQ

Driving down a highway,  I see deer jumping, wild turkeys frolicking in farmer’s field’s and large billboards features perfectly constructed burgers which are attractively stacked like luxury seafront condos.  Succumbing to temptation, I will on occasion pull over and roll the dice on the possibility that some burger, somewhere will even slightly resemble the imagery posted roadside. Instead, I feel like  William D-FENS Foster (played by Michael Douglas in the 1993 movie Falling Down) in the fictional Whammy Burger:

“See, this is what I’m talkin’ about. Turn around. Look at that. Do you see what I mean. It’s, it’s plump, it’s juicy, it’s three inches thick. Now, look at this sorry, miserable, squashed thing. Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture? Anybody? Anybody at all.”

The only difference is I’m not carrying a gun or wearing a short sleeve shirt and tie.

Whammy Burger
Whammy Burger

I had expected to be fooled by the propaganda of Tomahawk BBQ, which has been featured on both Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and You Gotta Eat Here. Around since the 20’s, it promises meat as organic and the leaping deer themselves.  It features big breakfasts and great burgers.  After what was a hellish cab ride over the wrong Vancouver bridge, I arrived  and was seated at the bar (picture an old school diner with round stools  and formica counters). I turned around to see two gents eating a breakfast (which I later determined to be the mixed grill-Nine generous slices of Yukon style bacon, two country fresh eggs, fried or scrambled, two slices of Klondike toast, organic hamburger patty, aged cheddar cheese, wiener, onions and fresh sautéed mushrooms) served on a plate the size of a hubcap.  Despite this temptation, I had to have a burger.

It was difficult choosing from the 15 choices, but I settled on the Skookum Chief  Burger (Onions, lettuce, organic ground beef patty, Yukon bacon, egg, aged cheddar cheese, wiener, tomato, and Tomahawk special sauce). I prepared myself for internal rage as I patiently waited for the arrival of another substandard burger.  I was, however,  occupied by the “It’s B.C For Me” fact-filled placemat complete with sketches  of Canadian legends, facts and stories including bears, igloos and whales living in Hudson bay.

The burger arrived as a tower of truth.  Each ingredient was evident and identifiable.   Even the minor details, from the toasting of the homemade bun to the angles of the cheese to the liberal yet not overabundant use of sauce, made this a billboard burger which ended up tasting  exactly like it looked.

SKOOKUM CHIEF BURGER
Skookum Chief Burger

Insanity dictated dessert, so I opted for banana cream pie.  Was it as good as it looked?  Pretty damn close.

Banana Cream Pie
Banana Cream Pie

The food lives up to the legend. The decor is a mix of aboriginal artifacts, a candy shop and mildly cheesy souvenir store. The service, at least the day I was there, was exactly what I expected; they weren’t wearing suits and shining bar glasses with sheepskin bar cloths but instead they were hard working people whose moods mirror the people sitting in front of them. I like sincere service in whatever form it comes in…just ask William D-FENS Foster:

“Why am I calling you by your first names? I don’t even know you. I still call my boss “Mister”, and I’ve been working for him for seven years, but all of a sudden I walk in here and I’m calling you Rick and Sheila like we’re in some kind of AA meeting… I don’t want to be your buddy, Rick. I just want some breakfast”.

Verdict: 5 Guyz

Tomahawk Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fare..Eat..Ales: My Top Canadian Restaurants of 2012

I’ve been to enough restaurants this year to compile a list of  I what I think are the best 10 in Canada.  I am also including a few which I may not have blogged about since I visited them before I started in June or July.  I will begin a daily countdown starting with number 10 and ending with number 1 on New Year’s Eve.

I’m a amateur blogger with a passion for food and this post is nothing more than my personal reflection of a year of eating out.  Feel free to agree or disagree. I encourage your comments!

See the urbanspoon list at the link below.

http://www.urbanspoon.com/guides/5781-my-top-canadian-restaurants-of-2012

10. Union 613– Ottawa

I can still taste the fried okra and Berkshire pork belly to this day.  The environment is best described as  union hall meets hipster joint meets smokehouse.  The staff is courteous, flexible and attentive. The impressive cocktail  list features rotating southern influenced cocktails (usually bourbon) and flavourful local brews.  Some of the traditional dishes were presented with a risky twist; the lemon lime parfait  was a savory rendition of the normally sweet yet tart key lime pie and the beef brisket was topped with an aggressive salsa verde.

The only major flaw was the rather bland oysters.

In the end, it’s great  food and great service in a great environment. I’ll sign the union card.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/review-ottawa-union-613/

9. Trevor Bar and Kitchen- Toronto

Trevor is a meat and fois gras happy restaurant buried in the architecture of Wellington Street East. Well executed main entrees such as coq au vin and prawn spaghettini  as well as beautiful desserts are examples of the stellar food.  In an attempt to  preserve the integrity of the century and a half old building, the decor still makes me feel like I’m eating in a subway station. Regardless, I’ll buy a metro pass.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/reviewtorontost-lawrence-market-old-towntrevor-kitchen-and-bar/

8. Table 17– Toronto

Table17 is a quaint place  with a great atmosphere located along Queen St. East.  It’s not too loud but still manages to have a buzzy aura. It offers  an innovative cocktail list and sticks pretty consistently to a well executed menu with large portions and  a focus on signature items including oysters, rillette, hot balls and and beef tartare.  The  polenta, presented table side, was the pinnacle of the meal and the duck entree was done well.   The desserts were not  mind-blowing but you may not need them after the meal.   This is a table I don’t  mind sitting at!

The blog post  is below.  Let me know if you agree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/review-toronto-queen-east-table-17/

7.  Stoney’s Bread Company– Oakville

Stoney’s Bread Company is the least orthodox place on this list.  It’s not fancy, doesn’t have a stunning decor and isn’t the roaring hotspot like some of the others.  That being said, the food is wicked. The chicken curry sandwich on their own bread is one of the best I’ve had all year.  The pizza had a crust thin enough to allow for delicious origami while thick enough to hold together the fragrant sauce and the other fresh ingredients such as the high quality meats and cheeses which adorn the pies. I’d skip the dessert squares though.  Stoney’s may not be  the place to bring a first date or to impress your new boss…unless of course  they love amazing food and don’t mind taking a trip to a plain jane sandwich joint a bit off the beaten path.

The post is pending. Stay tuned!

6. Chambar– Vancouver

This west coast eatery mixes traditional belgian cuisine with tastes from around the world.  Chambar offers an amazing and unique Belgian beer selection and mussels to match.  In addition, there is an array of unique and sinful desserts with a presentation that rival some of the landmarks from the countries they represent.  The entrees were average and it’s almost too loud to have a conversation but the ambiance is pleasant and the edgy yet traditional menu is for the most part one of the better I’ve tried this year. When it comes to the underrated recreation of Belgian cuisine, Chambar is no sham bar.

Read my earlier review!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/reviewvancouvergastownchambar/

5. Charcut– Calgary

Highlights of this downtown Calgary establishment include a trendy environment in the Hotel Le Germain, a decent booze list and amazing well-prepared yet simple food. In particular, the kitchen pickles and pork belly were most  memorable.   The desserts were decent but limited in choice.  I didn’t blog Charcut because I started writing  a few months after going.  Perhaps it was memorable since it was my first celebrity chef sighting when I chatted with Top Chef Canada contestant Connie DeSousa after dinner. Maybe it was memorable because the food was just damn good.

4. Ursa- Toronto

Ursa is a casual yet elegant eatery which sits quietly on Queen West. Adorned with a long wood bar and open kitchen, it has an intimate environment which is both classic and trendy.  As I mentioned in my review, each dish is a story, whether it be the sourcing of the ingredients or the distinct cooking methods.  Every plate is presented with an artistic flare with fresh,seasonal fare.  The elk tartare was a lesson in leaving good ingredients alone to tell their own tale. In addition, the cocktail list featured quality liquors with fresh ingredients presented in award-winning fashions.   Finally, the deconstructed lemon meringue pie was as tasty as it was visually appealing.  The biggest downfall regarding Ursa is an ever changing and unpredictable small menu which may not appeal to everybody..but I leave you to decide whether that is a major or just a minor issue.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/reviewtoronto-east-ursa/

3. Richmond Station– Toronto

In a few short months, Richmond Station has already established itself as a Toronto hotspot.  Maybe it’s riding the wave of chef/owner Carl Heinrich’s Top Chef Canada 2 win.  With a great open kitchen and a decor that is classy yet trendy, it’s a welcome change from the stuffy French bistros and hipster-centric caverns which straddle the Toronto streets. The food follows the same pattern, offering classic  yet contemporary cocktails, lobster bisque, shucked oysters with fresh condiments and duck two ways. The service, the environment, the chef, the kitchen…all the pieces fit together to make Richmond Station a bitchin’ station.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/reviewtorontodowntownrichmond-station/

2. Grand Electric-Toronto

Grand electric has a feel to it like no other place.  It’s well…electric.    The pozole, the spicy squid and the  tacos (especially the arbol chicken and beef cheek) are some of the better things I have eaten this year.  There’s a great booze list as well.  Despite the long waits and sometimes shady service, the overall feel is hip and cool, catalyzed by loud, hard rap and funky yard sale decor. It’s not clear if the second floor expansion will change the vibe but it shouldn’t change the food on the relatively static  but well executed menu.  In the meantime, there are no surprises.  You’ll  get what you expect with Grand Electric; the “it” factor…but first you gotta put your name on the waiting list.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/reviewtorontoparkdalegrand-electric/

1. Sidedoor- Ottawa

The Sidedoor experience started with impeccable service  the minute I walked in and continued until I left. There was a great cocktail list and the food was even more  impressive. The tuna sashimi might have been the best thing I ate all year and the sinful donuts were a great end to the meal. I was treated to a fantastic pickle tray that wasn’t even on the menu, which contained everything from melon rind to sunchoke to sea asparagus. The tacos were just fine as well. Sidedoor is an example of a perfect storm in which the service, food and environment collide for a truly memorable dining experience. It was so addictive, the next time I went to Ottawa I walked through the cold at 11 pm on a Monday night praying that  by some miracle they’d be open so I could  indulge again.  They weren’t.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/review-ottawa-sidedoor/