Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine – Richmond, BC


Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine
6360 No. 3 Rd
Suite 6
Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
(604) 270-6169

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Richmond BC, as many people already know, is a great place to eat Chinese food. Chinese restaurants of varying quality dot the city – specially around the main drag of Number Three Road. When it comes to breakfast spots – it is a real challenge to find anything worthy to eat. The choices seem limited to chain restaurants such as the Whitepot, the IHOP, and similarly mediocre restaurants.

I was running errands early one chilly morning and I wanted to have breakfast….so I drove up to Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine, a restaurant that I knew served dim sum at 8:00 am. Nice.

tea

Dim sum for breakfast? Sure…why not? People in the West think of dim sum as a lunchtime experience. In China (Hong Kong in particular) and other countries in Asia, dim sum is most certainly a breakfast meal. Dim Sum restaurants there open very early and often stop serving at noon. Here in Canada (and the US) most places that serve dim sum often start serving at 10:00am or 11:00am and stop at 3:00pm.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine is a mid-sized restaurant situated in one of Richmond’s oldest strip malls. It is somewhat upscale – it is clean, the tables have nice linen  and they are set with nice white porcelain settings. Like most dim sum restaurants these days, Imperial Court uses order sheets instead the once ubiquitous cart service.

At little after 8:00am on a weekday when I walked in, the restaurant was well staffed – having two “captains” and about four servers. I sat down and ordered a small meal. The captain asked for my tea preference – jasmine, I said. Using the green order sheet, I ordered some Sou (flakey pastry) with Char Sui (BBQ Pork), Chao Fun (Rice Noode Rolls) filled with enoki mushrooms, and Congee with Pork and Century Egg.

The Sou pastry dish came first. Imperial Court’s rendition of this dish is coated with a shiny and sticky syrup – so sticky that with each bite, a bit of the pastry stuck to your teeth. I notice that some of their other buns were similarly coated with this shiny syrup. They looked beautiful…almost like porcelain orbs. The BBQ Pork filling tasted fresh and tender…and not as “porky” as the others I have had.

dimsum1

I didn’t get a picture of the dipping sauce, but now I wish I had in restrospect. In my opinion, dipping sauces are the unsung heroes of the dim sum universe. It can really make or break the whole dining experience for me. In this case, Imperial Court’s dipping sauce was a sweet, but thin soya sauce concoction. It was a nice balance between sweet and salty and it had subtle notes of spice (perhaps some anise or five spice).

dimsum2

The Rice Noodle Rolls came in quick succession. The noodles tasted freshly made – soft, tender, and still resilient. The enoki mushroom filling, while delicious, was a bit unwieldy as bits of it fell out as I tried to pick up a piece. (The kitchen had failed to completely cut through the rolls).

dimsum3

The last dish was the Congee with Cooked Pork and Century Egg. The rendition came with an embellishment of deep fried wonton skin and scallion. It was good and creamy. On a cold day, it was definitley hitting the spot.

congee-copy

All in all a nice meal for under $10 CAD including tax. Unlike a “regular” breakfast – I didn’t leave feeling bloated and greasy. I asked myself why I don’t eat dim sum for breakfast more often.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV


Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant
3765 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 891 8403

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Along The Strip, you can still find a proper non-hotel affiliated, family-run, ethnic restaurant… if you look carefully. One of them can be found in a building recessed behind a small mall housing some shops selling tacky Vegas trinkets, beside the MGM Grand and across the street from the Monte Carlo. Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant is not visible from the street, and if it were not for the large digital signage that flashed Korean Hangul that I saw while driving by on the first day of my recent stay, I would not have know there was a restaurant back there. I noted it in my memory and revisited the area on foot the following day.

Once inside, I asked the waitress why the “II” was noted in their name; she remarked that they have their first establishment in Los Angeles, and this is their second venture. Being the entertainment city that it is, I immediately noticed that some of the handwritten autographs tacked to a wall near the front cashier were for some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment, such as one from the actor Jang Dong-Kun. A far cry from the B-list actors and singers you see on the same autograph boards in Vancouver’s Korean restaurants.

Seated in a comfortable booth that could easily seat six people, we ordered from the menu a pair of dishes. Yes, I decided to continue my hunt for my most favorite edition of Soondubu outside of South Korea. At Ginseng, their creation was surprisingly good. I’d say I would rate it up there with my current favorite (from Insadong in Coquitlam, BC), with its depth of seafood flavor in the rich spicy broth, and plenty of delicious soft tofu adding that delicate texture to the mix. The only factor that would take them down a notch in the rankings would be the volume of various seafood bits inside, Insadong has a slight edge here.

The Yukejang (spicy beef soup) comprised of a watery and slightly sour but mainly spicy broth that included shredded beef, tang myun (clear noodles) and an assortment of vegetables such as gosari namul (bracken fiddleheads), and green onions was as expected. A relatively straightforward dish, that is less fiery in comparison to the Soondubu, begins to taste overly “beefy” if eaten to the very last drop. For me, this begins to be a turnoff towards the end of the meal, as the meatiness of the dish just lingers on my taste buds. No complaints though on how it was prepared, as there was nothing out of the ordinary from versions of this that I’ve tasted in Seoul.

Should you ever find yourself on Las Vegas Blvd., looking for a reprieve from all the casino buffets, and having a craving for barbecue meat Korean-style, Ginseng is your place as well. The table of tourists next to us were cooking up a flaming storm and the aromas were very enticing. Meat on a grill though, how could you go wrong? I am aware of other Korean restaurants off the Strip, but I have not visited any of them. Perhaps I’ll save that for another trip…

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Café Gelato – Las Vegas, NV


Café Gelato (Ice Cream & Sweets)
@ Bellagio Las Vegas
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV
1 888 987 6667

Café Gelato (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

You’d think that in December in Las Vegas, one would probably avoid cold sweets, especially when we actually had snow in the city – a rare occurrence for Sin City. But after a lot of walking around in heated buildings, something cool was highly sought after. Café Gelato with its large glass display case showing an assortment of tantalizing gelato flavors, appeared like an oasis in the massive Bellagio hotel.

I have to admit, ice cream and gelato are probably my most favorite dessert. As bad as it is for you, I have a hard time controlling my cravings when it comes to this stuff. I even have a bad memory of attempting (and finishing) the legendary “4×4″ at Baskin Robbins back in the day – which included four scoops and four toppings in one single serving. So I surprised myself by just asking for a single scoop ($4.75) of the refreshingly cool mango flavor.

For me, the balance of just how soft gelato is makes a big difference to me. Too soft and it reminds me of a slightly runny milkshake, too hard and its just ice cream. Thankfully Café Gelato had it down pat. Still solid enough that it wasn’t like soft serve ice cream, and a strong intense natural flavor that reminded me of the ripe mango fruits that I have eaten in places like southern India and Thailand this past year. Despite its appearance, the single serving cup was more than enough due to the richness and density of the gelato. Either that or I am slowing down in my ice treats consumption as I get older – there is no way I could even face that 4×4 today.

The Raspberry Brownie ($6.00) was pleasantly not overwhelmingly sweet as if often the case. Again, as with gelato, I am a bit fussy when it comes to how “thick” brownies are. Here, it was pretty good in terms of that contrast between the sticky moist goodness of the inside and the crumbly exterior. For those who don’t like their brownie way too sugary, this is a good option.

Being that it is Vegas and in one of the more expensive casino hotels, the price point was a big high. The small latte I had also went for a generous $5.50, making me think I should have gotten my caffeine fix at the better looking café across the hallway at Palio. But for those fortunate to have some winnings at the tables, I suppose it really doesn’t matter what you pay in this town.

Café Gelato (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

IHOP Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV


IHOP Restaurant
7490 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 617 0077

IHOP on Urbanspoon

I recently read that approximately two-thirds of American adults are considered obese. That’s a pretty striking statistic.

I know that Las Vegas cannot seriously be considered an accurate sample of a population, given that a good part of it that you see in public, are visitors from out of state, or out of country. For anyone who’s ever been there, you know that the availability of large quantities (and varying quality) of food in “America’s Playground” is a 24/7 proposition. Being responsible, meaning not overeating, can be a challenge with the never ending temptations from the numerous restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets especially along Las Vegas Boulevard. And with most people staying awake for longer hours each day, it also leaves the possibility of sneaking in a few more snacks than usual. All a deadly combination for those who want to avoid gaining significant weight during a vacation.

With that in mind, on my recent trip to Sin City, I tried to keep an eye on what I was eating. For some reason, during my whole stay, I didn’t feel like having more than two meals a day – which was probably helped by my getting up a bit later each day than I usually do at home. I had in mind some potential places to eat during the time I was there, but in the end, I completely ignored my list and just ate when I was hungry, someplace close by at the time, and I tried to keep it simple and affordable. I can hear the Foodosopher groaning at me already for passing on some of his suggestions (although the Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay was shut down due to lack of power). (SMILE)

The International House of Pancakes (better known as IHOP) has been in business for fifty years and according to their website, they have 1,375 IHOP restaurants located in 49 US states, Canada and Mexico. 14 of those are in Las Vegas, and I was surprised to learn that 12 exist in British Columbia. Until this trip, I have never stepped foot in any of them. In fact my only exposure to it was probably seeing it appear in the feature film staring Sean Penn, “I am Sam”. My breakfast choices, when I even choose to have this morning meal, is usually a combination of some toast and coffee. Not since my high school days have I really had a huge appetite in the morning, and thus this bare bones combination tides me over til lunchtime. Driving up the Strip at the noon hour in search of some caffeine to start my day, I spotted the distinct sign and decided I’d make my virgin visit to the place that boasts serving up “700 million pancakes per year”.

Believing that the crepes at least would be on the lighter side, I chose something off the “international crepes” section of the menu in the Danish Fruit Crepes. I should have stopped it right there, but when asked for what topping I wanted, I looked down and said “cool strawberry”, with the warm blueberry, and the cinnamon apple being left aside. What was a light meal turned into a heavily sugar coated mess, as the strawberry compote just overwhelmed the more delicate crepes. I wish it had come in a separate pouring container rather than lathered on top by the kitchen. Add in the squirts of cream cheese, and the dollop of whipped cream, it was a sucrose bonanza that I would have preferred to have avoided.

Also at our table was the Double Blueberry Pancakes, which I had a taste of and frankly don’t see what the fuss is about. If this place is known for pancakes and this is their offering, I am puzzled by the apparent success of this franchise which uses this as their flagship dish.

Lastly, the simple combination of eggs and hash, was the most comforting dish that I had some bites from. Perhaps its my advancing age, but for breakfast, I am into more savory items rather than anything sweet anymore. And will remind myself of this the next time I am having my morning meal outside. IHOP sure was a popular place though, as the room was packed with people, and with all the other breakfast/brunch places in town, this was pretty surprising. I suppose its capitalizing on its strong name value in America, and the de facto choice in some households for their breakfast fix. With the size of servings, heavy influx of sugar in many of their dishes, I think this is working to contribute to that obesity figure that is plaguing modern day society in this part of the world.

IHOP on Urbanspoon

Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe – Vancouver, BC


Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe
2095 W. 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC
(604) 732 6810

Sophie's Cosmic Cafe on Urbanspoon

It seems to me that over the past several years, especially in food-related media, good old fashioned comfort food has achieved a heightened status as a style of cooking. Perhaps its the back-to-basics movement that has taken root in many aspects of our lives amid all the growing interjections of technology, busy work/life schedules, and the sense that the world is becoming too fast too soon for many of us. With the progression of time through generations though, there are always some things that remain constant, and for a lot of people when it comes to food, it is simple, home cooking that reminds us to enjoy our lives to the fullest and try to be happy in the process.  We all have our personal favorites.

This new found respect for comfort food stretches across cultures. I was re-watching a television documentary that followed the journey that Ryori no Tatsujin (Iron Chef) Masaharu Morimoto took before opening his New York outlet of his restaurant “Morimoto”. In the months ahead of their opening, for his prime investor Stephen Starr, Morimoto presented a sampling of some menu items he was planning to put on the menu. Surprising to me, this test run included a version of Nikujaga (literally translated as Meat-Potato) – a sweet broth flavored dish that combines thin slices of beef with rough cut potatoes and other vegetables, and is a common Japanese home cooked meal that differs from household to household (based on the recipe passed down through a family over generations). Whether this incorporation of home cooking into more formal restaurants translates into an actual trend in other high end/fine dining establishments, remains to be seen. It was interesting to hear Morimoto say that he feels this dish will go over well, given its sweet properties, and the history of dishes such as sukiyaki and teriyaki-flavored creations being popular in North America. Some interviews with day one customers confirmed this impression.

For comfort food in Vancouver, a popular spot in Kitsilano is Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe. Celebrating their 20th year of business in 2008, this business managed by the Dikeakos family is located on busy 4th avenue and is well known even for non-Vancouverites when visiting the west coast. On weekends, lineups out the door are commonplace – though I often wonder just who is in that que: devout neighourhood loyalists, curious tourists, or a mix of both? For those that know me, waiting in line is not something that I enjoy doing, so every opportunity that I’ve had to try this place out and its had a wait, I’ve kept walking/driving by. But this winter holiday season, I managed to pick a late afternoon weekday to swing by and get a seat inside without a great deal of waiting (no lineup outside but standing in the entranceway, it still did take a while to get noticed and given a table – more thoughts on the service later). With an interesting decor, I suppose I kept myself interested by scanning the walls of old school sports pendants, lunch box pails, etc. that were strung up on the walls. I don’t get the “cosmic” naming though, as there was nothing really “space-age” about the decorations.

As it was approaching four in the afternoon, I figured at this hour I wasn’t interested in their breakfast items. My dining companion did however give the Spanish Omelette a try. Filled with classic ingredients such as diced bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, the layers of egg were nice and light, and it came out hot. No complaints from the bites of it that I had, and the side potato hash was well seasoned and crispy, though overall it wasn’t that “OMG, this is amazing!” kind of food that you can get with some diners putting out home cooking. Should I come back, I will surely give the breakfast offerings a more thorough investigation, to see if there is anything that I could come back for, time and time again (which I suspect some customers must do).

My own selection of the house Steak Sandwich was less than comforting. Under-seasoned, tough, and cooked all the way through (though I had asked it not to be done as such when I ordered), it was fairly thin as well, and thus overwhelmed by the three times thicker slices of bread it was served on (one side had been garnished with slices of lettuce, tomatoes and red onions). The side salad which I chose was quite poor – the green leafy vegetables felt like they’d been sitting on the kitchen counter all day as they were really dried out, and the dressing just squirts from some Kraft bottle.

In joints like this, I have this stereotype in my head of really robust, fast, engaging staff who are quick to seat you, take your order, make sure you are refilled with coffee without prompting, and a true sense of wanting to make sure you’ve had a satisfying meal. Our waitress was jovial and fast when asked for items (e.g. extra cream, etc.) although the food coming out of the kitchen was slower than I had hoped. Without a really full room, I wondered what happens when its one of those really busy brunch servings with people out the door. Or perhaps that explains the lineups? I’m also thinking that part of the “popularity” arises from really strong competition in the neighborhood for good solid comfort food. Other than Joe’s Grill up the street, I can’t recall any similar establishments, that could steal away customers. Are people buying the long standing tradition, the unique sounding name, thinking that if there is a lineup that it must be good eats? All of these I’ve tossed in my head, as frankly, I was left with a disappointing experience and was glad that I hadn’t lined up outside for this meal…

[Apologies for the poor picture quality with this post - all images taken with a mobile phone in really bad lighting]

Sophie's Cosmic Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant – Richmond, BC


Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant
#102, 4940 No. 3 Road
Richmond, BC
(604) 876 1638

Sun Sui Wah (Richmond) on Urbanspoon

Go to where you know.

In this case, it could apply to one’s stable consideration set of restaurants when heading out to have a meal. It may be formed by factors such as proximity convenience, local knowledge of the geographic area, familiarity with the chef/cook/menu, or just simply knowing that you or your dining companions have had satisfying eating experiences there in the past. With this latter point, just how far back should one go back in time? One month? A year? Perhaps more?

I recently had a reunion with an old college friend. With the convenience of email, we’d managed to keep in touch off and on, and I had a general sense of his whereabouts and his mine. Given my often crazy global travel schedule, and his much more family-centered sedentary lifestyle, it seemed we could never meet in person over the past ten years. When we found out that we’d both be on the west coast at the same time (as he was coming up from the States for a holiday), it was easy to arrange a date to meet. But where?

During his youth, he had told me he had spent some years in Richmond, BC. It also seemed to be convenient for my friend given his planned accommodations in the nearby area, but with my limited knowledge of the restaurant scene there and no friends who could guide me (especially of the Cantonese speaking/reading variety), I was hesitant to name a place (and was subconsciously thinking of not selecting any place I’d previously reviewed on Foodosophy.

So in asking my friend if he knew any place or recalled one from his past, the first one that came out of his mouth was Sun Sui Wah. Not a big surprise I thought in my head, as its been around for a long time and has a strong name awareness among anyone who’s been to Vancouver (refer to Foodosopher’s earlier post on the Dim Sum offering at their Main St. location). I agreed, given I knew where it was, and he was comfortable in getting there again after spending the earlier part of the day in downtown Vancouver with his family, and it would be easy for them to get back to their hotel after our dinner.

After meeting in the restaurant lobby, we were led inside and I was immediately struck by how busy the place was, and how we were fortunate to get a table without a reservation. I am not in a position to say this is always the case, but with a 6pm seating, there was an ample crowd already dining. Most of the parties were larger groups of six or more, which looked like large extended Asian family gatherings as several generations were represented at virtually every table. While going through the menu at our table, I noticed several servers bringing out big baskets of fresh fish and Alaskan King Crab which were then shown to diners before being carted away back to the kitchen for preparation. How much bait and switch is going on, is unknown to me. But whenever I see this practice, I can’t help but think of used car salesmen and back alley electronics dealers.

With a pair of children under ten years of age at our table, I left it to the family to order knowing how fickle some children can be. To my surprise, the little one of three years of age, is a big seafood fan, especially scallops, which we had in a stir-fry with broccoli. Big plump scallops and the accompanying vegetables were just as large, and a vibrant green color. Perhaps a touch on the oily side (as can be seen from the shiny appearance from the image) though. I always try to match a dish like this with some kind of starch that can aid in covering up the oily feeling in your mouth by just eating something like this on its own, or with cups of hot tea.

The idea of trying some of their popular roasted squab came up, but in the end we declined. In its place, we chose the Peking Duck (two ways) with the first course of just the skin served with Chinese pancakes, sliver thin spring onions and a thick sweet Hoisin sauce. The skin had that nice filmy and crispy crunch texture and given that I haven’t had it in a long time, I found that I still liked it – but I don’t necessarily crave it on a regular basis.

The second course of the duck meat was served with lettuce leaves and was probably my favorite dish on this evening. Not overly seasoned and just the true flavors of the duck meat came through. Again, my liking this dish was no doubt due in part to the fact that its been so long since I’ve last had it. But I am sure there are other places that readers will say is better, and would love to hear from you for the next time I have the craving for Peking duck two-ways in the GVA.

The other dishes we had, a chicken and red/green pepper stir-fry and a basic fried rice were both quite pedestrian, but also kid friendly. I was really disappointed in the fried rice, as it was so bland and seemed overdone (eg. too many brittle/broken kernels of rice).

The decision to dine at Sun Sui Wah was based mainly on ease of access and familiarity. I asked my friend if his thoughts of this place had changed after many years away and he said it was quite as he remembered it. I didn’t want to press him further with my rather ordinary impressions of our meal, aside from the feeling I had on the duck after a long break in time since last eating it, and with that we parted ways. If I were asked to go again with other friends, I would probably try to convince them to check out other places along the same No. 3 road.

In other words, go where I don’t know.

Sun Sui Wah (Richmond) on Urbanspoon

Song Huong Restaurant – Vancouver, BC


Song Huong Restaurant
1613 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 4T9
(604) 251-1151

Song Houng Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Beef Seven Ways (or to use the wonderfully semiotic term: “Bo 7 Mon“) is a truly celebratory meal. In Vietnam, Bo 7 Mon is often served at weddings and any other special occasion where the overt display of largesse and bounty is important. The Vietnamese people’s love of beef is of course famous: Vietnam’s most loved contribution to our gastronomic scene – pho bo –  revolves around beef. Bo 7 Mon is something all carnivorous aficionados of Vietnamese food will appreciate. The best examples of this experience can be found in and around the Los Angeles area…and of course, Vietnam.

Song Huong is one of the rare Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver that offers Bo 7 Mon….actually, it could be the only one. The other two that I know about are now long gone. The last time I had this dish in Vancouver was at a restaurant which has now been annexed to become a part of Les Faux Bourgousie , the new, hip, and oddly located French restaurant on Kingsway.

Song Huong - The Spread

Bo 7 Mon traditionally starts with Goi Bo a course of thinly sliced grilled beef served on top of shredded fresh vegetables.  Then the meal progresses through a series of beef dishes which usually includes Bo La Lot, a Beef Sausage wrapped in La Lot leaf. The individual beefy items are wrapped, along with condiments, herbs and vermicelli, into a rice paper roll. Finally, you dip this little parcel into a selection of sauces prior to eating it. Other courses could include Beef Wrapped Scallion, Beef with Rice Crackers, Beef Satay, and whatever else the chef decides to present. The meal traditionally ends with a Chao Bo – a type of Vietnamese Beef Congee.

Each time I have had Bo 7 Mon, some of the beef dishes that comprised the meal varied significantly… but it always started with Goi Bo, it always included Bo La Lot and it always ended with the Chao Bo. Song Huong’s rendition of this meal is fairly typical in this sense.

Song Huong’s Goi Bo course is served on a mound of daikon, carrots, and cabbage. The cooks added crushed, toasted peanuts which added a nice crunch.

Goi Bo

Three of the next courses came all at once as our waitress set a dish of three different types of grilled beef sausage: the  Bo La Lot, another sausage which is strongly lemongrassy and yet another which is sweet and garlicky. This is where I believe Song Huong had taken a shortcut by serving three sausages instead of varying it up a little. I would have preferred just the Bo La Lot and two other types of beef dishes to provide more contrast and variety. Perhaps a Beef Wrapped in Scallion and Beef with Rice Cracker would have been perfect here. As it was served, I thought that the three dishes were far too similar in flavour and texture to be truly considered three seperate courses.

Bo La Lot et al.

The next course is yet another dish made up of ground beef. I believe this one is supposed to simulate the commonly served course of Ground Beef Wrapped in Beef Caul (the fat surrounding the intestines). I would have loved to have a real version of this dish, but alas….

Pseudo Beef with Caul

The next course, the Hotpot, consists of a tender Beef Carpaccio which you dip into a simmering broth. The beef has been drizzled with a garlicky vinaigrette prepared with Nuoc Nam, the pungent Vietnamese Fish Sauce.

Carpaccio of Beef

The broth is a light concoction of water, Nuoc Nam, herbs, onions and spices. I like to cook my beef to just rare.

Hotpot

To begin assembly of a roll, you first reconstitute the dried rice paper by dipping it very briefly into a bowl of hot water. This quick bath will turn the brittle disk into a soft, pliant crepe. Leave it in the water too long and the rice paper will be too soft and will tear when you attempt to use it. Luckily, the waitress gives you more than enough of the dry rice paper so you can practice and perfect the timing of this water bath.

seven

On the rice paper goes vermicelli, some herbs, the current course of beef….

Beef Parcel

…Voila!

Rice Roll

One area that Song Huong  differentiates itself from other Vietnamese restaurants in town is in the quality and variety of their herb plate – Rau Song in Vietnamese. Those who have eaten in Vietnam will be familiar with this sight: the big mound of wild herbs and leafy greens on a platter placed in the middle of your table at the start of your meal. Over the course of the meal – the diners incorporate the various herbs into the dishes in varying proportions to add flavour and to vary the experience.

To me, the Rau Song provides Vietnamese cuisine  with much of its appeal: the food is at once intensely savory and crisply fresh….and it is highly interactive. Song Huong provides you with an abundant selection of unusual greens such as Rau Ram, Fish Mint, Spearmint, Vietnamese Balm, sliced Plantain, sliced Banana Heart, Vietnamese Pickled Scallions – along with the usual Mung Bean Sprouts, Lemongrass, Leaf Lettuce, Tomatos,  Cucumbers and Purple Basil.

Herb Plate

And finally the last course: Chao Bo…Vietnamese Beef Congee. The congee had a nice rich flavour and texture rivalling the best Cantonese congees in town. I can detect some spicy notes which probably means that the chef used some of the Pho stock. And the meal is now nicely rounded off.

fourteen

Overall, it was a very satisfying experience, despite the shortcomings I had mentioned. It is a great deal for about $25 CAD – the meal could have easily fed three of four diners (…there were only two of us).

As an aside, I should mention that Song Huong is a very good Vietnamese restaurant. The proprietors are ethnically Hue – from central Vietnam – an region known for its distinctive cuisine. If you aren’t feeling so carnivorous, you can try their Pho or Bun Bo Hue.

Song Houng Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

Happy Holidays from Foodosophy to You!


Well, it is that time of year again. Good friends, family, and good food. What this means is parties, get togethers, and not a lot of restaurants. As a result of the holidays, we wanted to let you know that we will be following an abbreviated posting schedule until the New Year. We will still be posting when we have the time, but will not be able to commit to our daily posting schedule. After all, even those of us at Foodosophy need some time off once in a while! Otherwise, the next post may be the “Foodosophy of Divorce” :)

fire-and-ham1

We want to thank you all for making the last 7 months as enjoyable as they have been. We wish you and yours the very best for a safe and delicious holidays!

~ The Team at Foodosophy

Foodosophy of Taste – Key Elements


The subjectivity of taste makes it an interesting topic to examine. In an earlier post, I brought up a statement I had once heard , throwing open the idea that what I taste cannot be proven to be the same as what another person does. What tastes like an apple to me is not guaranteed to taste the same for you.

I was confronted with an interesting question today – I was asked what my tastes were when it came to food. While i spit out a rote answer – “simple, flavourful, fresh, well-balanced food”, it lead me to thinking, what were really my tastes? Simple isnt really a taste – it’s a subjective opinion. Flavourful and fresh –  well, one is self-evident, and fresh is almost impossible to describe. At the root of it, I know i prefer salty over sweet, and sour over bitter, but what is it about each of these elements that is appealing, or not appealing to me? Is it a balance of tastes I prefer that make up my preferences? Or is there more to it than just what my tastebuds register?

As a child, my tastes were defined by what was cooked for me. Familiar food was good food. Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about what was familiar, and more about what I truly enjoyed. Sometimes. I remember “liking” some foods because it grossed other people out.  I remember liking some foods because i was supposed to like them. I remember liking some foods because my brother liked it, and gosh be damned that he would like something that I would not! So in being honest with myself, I know that a lot of my tastes come from a variety of influences – not just what is on my palette.

My theory? I think the reason food connects with people on such a deep level is because it is one part emotional, one part taste, one part chemisty, and one part familiarity. Emotional are the strong experiences, both positive and negative, that we associated with certain foods. Taste is the reaction of my tastebuds to what I am tasting. Chemistry has to do with the interaction of the food with your mouth chemistry (part saliva, part pH), and familiarity is how familiar the experience is to you, people being creatures of familiarity.

Watching Top Chef tonight, I heard an interesting statement.  Tom Colicchio called one contestant’s food “uni-taste”. Is this such a bad thing? Is it layers of taste that make up balance, interest, and complexity? Or can a single flavour, one pure taste, not be equally enjoyable? Is this just something personal to him, or something commonly found across most people?

I find this to be personally confusing, as I really have no idea on how to answer the question “what are your tastes”? I throw it out to you readers – what are the key elements that make up your taste? And how would you define them?

Olives Restaurant Deli & Lounge – Calgary, AB


Olives Restaurant, Deli, and Lounge
1129 Olympic Way SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0L4
(403) 984-5000

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Putting a restaurant in an area under redevelopment is a high risk, high reward proposition. New entrants into the neighbourhood are hoping to be the first to capture the loyalty of the shifting population, resulting in long term, steady, profitable business. However, neighbourhoods don’t always redevelop as planned. Things start and stop. In Calgary, The East Village is a good example of a neighbourhood that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Restaurants that rushed to get into the area ahead of the curve are paying the price.

Olives, from the Hotel Arts Group,  is a trendy, modern restaurant and lounge that is moving in ahead of the curve in the new Arriva building in Victoria Park. With a tremendous number of expensive high density buildings planned for the area, a restaurant featuring “innovative” Italian cuisine seems like the perfect fit. Approachable food that would appeal to the population at large. Based on the limited amount of parking for a 200 seat restaurant, mostly street side, I’m assuming this was not intended to be a “destination” restaurant, but to serve the local community. While the total impact of the financial crisis yet to be determined locally, the situation in Victoria Park is tenuous at best. Will the community of high income patrons ever move into the area? And can they survive with an expansive 200-seat space until it happens? It could, but for me, it would depend on the food.

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Upon entering the restaurant, my first thoughts were “impressive”. For me, Olives is a beautiful space. My dining companions found it a touch cold and impersonal, but the modern look combined with a fine attention to the small details works for me. Right down to the tile work in the bathroom and the decorations on the wall, they’ve done a  fantastic job of setting up a functional space that pleases. The only drawback is the extremely high ceilings, which do leave the space feeling a bit empty when it is not completely full of patrons.

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In terms of the food at Olives, there is a lot to say. First off, the menu is a manageable length, something I definitely applaud them for. Too many restaurants these days have a menu that is difficult for the kitchen to manage – sacrificing quality and efficiency by trying to be all things to all people. They’ve made some concessions from the Italian influence in some of their selections, but it’s an appropriate compromise for a menu that features 9 starters, 5 pastas, and 6 entrees.

Our meal starts with a selection of olives, bread, and olive oil for dipping. The bread and olive oil were satisfactory but not exactly memorable. The olives, however, were a great selection of well-preserved olives at the height of their flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to mention I’m not an olive fan. Dislike them really. No matter how hard i’ve tried, the tastes are too bitter on my palette. These olives were edible though. In my world, that is something extremely memorable.

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We started with the highly recommended grilled squid appetizer($12), served with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and a salsa verde. The squid was perfectly cooked, with a nice combination of tender, and bite. However, i wasn’t thrilled with the dish overall. The squid lacked the characteristics that make grilled squid great – a nice smoky char with a light taste of the ocean shining through. It was overdressed in a salsa verde that lacked balance, not enough acidity, and while the artichoke was a great complement, the tomatoes and asparagus added very little to the overall dish. It felt like a salad with squid, when i felt the squid should have shined instead.

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Next dish was one of their two flatbreads($12) – Chorizo with roasted red tomato, provolone, and Italian parsley. Well baked, there was a nice blend of ingredients topping a well baked crust. I found it a touch too doughy for my own personal preferences, as I usually like my flatbread to be a bit thinner, but the crust had a nice blistering to it, and a satisfying bite. Well executed. My only complaint was it arrived warm and not hot.

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The dish I was most looking forward to was the ravioli ($21). Well-prepared ravioli, while simple to prepare, I find to be very comforting on a chilly day. These ravioli were filled with marscapone and truffle parsnip, served on a bed of asparagus and topped with a wild mushroom cream.  Unfortunately, it was the dish that disappointed the most. Once again, the dish arrived a bit cool. The pasta itself was very good – silky, not too thin, but not too thick. I like a little more yellow “richness” to the pasta, but this was more an indication of the quality of the egg yolks rather than the preparation. The filling was conceptually good, but fell short in practice. Creamy smooth texture with a nice hint of truffle oil. The wild mushroom sauce was a bit underwhelming, but the asparagus was good. The issues with the dish were twofold. First, the overall texture was too soft – it was what my friends call “old people food”. A piece of crispy pancetta, or even a fried sage leaf would bring about a bit more contrast. Secondly, the flavours were mild, and to be honest, a bit bland. Parsnip, marscapone, brought very little to the table. Truffle oil, while nice, isn’t the predominant flavour im looking for in a dish. Traditional raviolis where the filling is milder are usually accompanied with a more robust, or brighter sauce. In this case, the wild mushroom sauce fell flat. It did nothing to accentuate the ravioli. Just provided some creamy texture. It was not a poorly executed dish, but I feel poorly conceived – the flavours failed me on this night.

img_3077_filtered The surprise of the night was the steak ($40). Dry rubbed Black Angus Rib Eye with caramelized shallot and mushrooms, served on a bed of pancetta mashed potatos. Succulent, tender, and perfectly cooked to medium rare, this rib eye was a revelation. Great flavours that accentuated the beef, a fine cut, served on my favorite preparation of mashed potatoes – pancetta, heavily buttered. I like some heavy cream in there too, but only on holidays! This was an excellent steak.

I got to try a piece of halibut ($32) too, and it was very well prepared as well. Moist, nice rich flavour well-basted in butter, without taking away from the flavour of the fish. The size would’ve disappointed me, as it was a small 5-6oz serving, but that’s why I didn’t order it.

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We finished with a couple of desserts. The chocolate and pistachio torta with pistachio gelato ($10) was good. Beautiful presentation, the torte had a rich, chocolate flavour that pared well with the pistachio. A touch dense, i enjoyed it nonetheless. The other dessert was a tiramisu ($10), which while I didn’t get to try, was assured was excellent.

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In most reviews I’ve read, Olives has been universally lauded. While there are a lot of very good aspects to them, I would not sing their praises as much as other people have. They’ve put together a solid menu, and the kitchen staff do an excellent job of  executing on the food. Some of the dishes are a bit conceptually flawed, and the portion sizes can be a touch small. The value was ok, but at these prices, I’d probably rather eat at Divino or Blink. They are, overall, consistently better. However, when you look at the experience on its own merits, I have to say, I enjoyed myself. Service was good albeit a bit slow, the food was well-prepared, and other than a few disappointments, it was a decent experience overall. I probably won’t go out of my way to go back, but I wouldn’t be upset if I found myself in the area and dining there again. The key question is, will the patrons needed to keep them afloat do the same until the Victoria Park revitalization is complete? I’m not sure. I think they have some challenging times ahead.

Olives Restaurant, Deli & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant – Causeway Bay, HK


Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant
517 Jaffe Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2980 2565

My visit to Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant began with a memorable entrance…

After wandering around with an American friend of mine (who was visiting Hong Kong for the very first time to meet up with me during this trip, despite having lived in another Asian country for the past eight years) among the busy streets of Causeway Bay, we sought out some refuge from the masses of people and satisfy our growing hunger at the same time as it approached 8pm. After trying to get into several other places that we came across and had long lineups out the door, we continued zigzagging the streets until we came to the ground floor entrance of the restaurant.

Taking an escalator ride up to the first floor, we immediately saw a boisterous room and thought we would be turned back again. One of the waitresses was near the front and the first thing that came out of non-Cantonese speaking mouths was, “do you have an English menu?”.

Now, I am not sure if foreigners are a rarely seen presence here, but she immediately called over another worker and they broke out into a burst of laughter, while looking back in our direction. I made eye contact with my friend, who had just as bewildered a look on his face as I did. Scanning each other dressed in casual t-shirt & jeans attire and after spotting nothing out of the ordinary, I returned my confused gaze to the woman, as if asking for an explanation with just my eyes. It was not the kind of greeting we were expecting, and we didn’t know if we should be amused or offended. But she then grabbed some menus off a table and started leading us deeper into the restaurant. But by this time, all the people sitting at tables near the front had turned their attention to us in mid-meal, and it felt like we were making the long lonely walk to an execution chamber. Has this ever happened to any of you?

From here, things did not really improve as we got led all the way to the very back corner, and to a smallish table even though it was clear that others more in the middle of the room were open. Frankly, it felt like we were being treated like second-class customers. But with the language barrier, it made it hard to be understood, let alone protest the strange treatment we were getting. With our hunger being more important to satisfy, we resigned ourselves to this blatant discrimination and settled into the menu.  Furthermore, while placing our order, the male server seemed intent on “up-selling” us on dishes that included crab and abalone, when we were vehemently saying NO to, and clearly pointing to other dishes in the menu booklet.  As he walked away, we were not quite sure what he understood and what we would eventually get delivered to our table later.

An assortment of Canton-style dishes could be had, but we immediately knew we’d dig into some of the seafood-inclusive offerings. Looking back on it, I didn’t realize that prawns were such a heavy component of what we did end up choosing. The Har Gow was delicate, a perfect thin, translucent wrap around a nice meaty shrimp (Incidentally during my entire time in Hong Kong eating dim sum on several occasions, I never once experienced those much thicker filling wrappers that you unfortunately get too many times in dim sum restaurants on the west coast).

I tend to agree with those that say Cantonese cuisine is perhaps on the blander side, amid all the other regional styles of Chinese cooking that I have been exposed to. Some would go beyond this characterization and say its flat out boring. After more than a week in Hong Kong, eating mainly Cantonese, by the end of my time there, I was in full agreement with this latter group. I found it interesting that a few local Hong Kong people that I met had said to me that you could get just as good, or even better Chinese food in restaurants over in Canada (Vancouver and Richmond in particular) since so many top chefs had gone abroad.

Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant was cleary a popular place with the many tables filled with diners, and our general summary of our dishes was of a satisfactory grade.  Nothing overly exciting was ordered, but everything that was, came out prepared solidly and not disappointing on taste.  I could not forget the service component of the evening though, so would have to say it did put a damper on our overall experience.  I still don’t know the Richmond restaurant scene as well as I could, to even justify the afore mentioned claim put forth by the Hong Kongers, but I am sure some of our readers have some thoughts on this matter and would love to hear opinions.

Oriental Restaurant and Bar – Sai Wan Village, HK


Oriental Restaurant & Bar
Sai Wan Village
New Territories, Hong Kong

[A return to the other side of the ocean with this post, as I try and catch up on my recent travels. Please enjoy them as Vancouver-specific posts will be rotated in, along with Foodosopher's regular contributions from Alberta]

Venturing into the remote parts of the New Territories courtesy of a four hour long hike along a segment of the MacLehose Trail was a welcome reprieve from the urban madness and concrete jungle that travelers usually associate with Hong Kong. The entire trail measures over 100 kilometers long, and stretches over mountain peaks and valleys across lush forests that truly takes you away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Well into my journey, I came to a small little village called Sai Wan, that appeared as an oasis after long stretches of not seeing any signs of local civilization.

Having exhausted my water supply, I was dying for some liquid replenishment, but as I stepped inside the entrance of the Oriental Restaurant & Bar to buy a bottle of water, I realized that I was also quite hungry. Luckily my two other hiking pals were also in need of some food and we decided to take an extended break on the patio of this establishment, as the sun began to make its way into the late afternoon sky.

To our surprise, we soon saw a bunch of other customers sitting at the tables in the back of the building that faced the Pacific Ocean. Even more unexpected was the fact that all of them looked very refreshed and not drenched in sweat from having hiked the paths that our group had (we later learned that there was a bus stop just ten minutes away that these people had probably used to access this little village). Even in the midst of such splendid nature, these Hong Kongers were taking the easy route – those darn spoiled city folk!

Perhaps some readers would concur, but after some extended, strenuous physical activity, your cravings for food changes. For some, it makes you want to consume more having burned so many calories. Other times, coupled with dehydration, it makes you crave salty things. Both of these sensations had hit me as I sat down on the cheap plastic chair at our table and scanned the menu booklet.

As I closed my eyes to give myself a moment to calm down, I knew I could eat just about anything. But at the same time I was aware that I couldn’t expect too much from a place like this, that was literally in the middle of nowhere, so I opted for a safe bet – the Special Fried Rice. Again, I am not sure if it was my physical state at the time, but this was a delicious plate of fried rice which included simple ingredients such as green peas, onions, egg, etc. Nothing “special” about it per say, but for a hungry hiker, it really hit the spot! For me when it comes to fried rice, its the rice that is vital. Can’t be too mushy and each rice kerenel must have that little bit of a crisp exterior.

And the view didn’t hurt either!

Further adding to my sudden relaxed state was seeing one of the waiters carry out some cold bottles of beer to a small boat that was sitting in the shallow water and wishing I could be on that watercraft.  Talk about paradise!  But I knew my hike was not yet finished so indulging in that desire would have caused my friends to leave me for dead on the intense trail back to the nearest town site.

I love coming across these expectation-exceeding little spots on my travels. They don’t always have to be in these beautiful natural surroundings, a hole-in-the-way food counter in a side street in the city will do just as well. Great food, interesting scenery, amusing service staff, etc. they could all help make these kinds of experiences a long lasting memory. I hope to have the opportunity to continue to explore and find these places that stand out for me and I can fondly look back on many years later. Oriental Restaurant & Bar will certainly be one of them. Happy trails!

Wang Ga Ma Restaurant – Coquitlam, BC


Wang Ga Ma Restaurant
#450 – 329 North Road
Coquitlam, BC V3K 3V8
(604) 936 6866

Wang Ga Ma on Urbanspoon

I’m often torn when I am head out for grocery shopping. Do I eat at home before I leave, partly to help control any sudden pangs of hunger that may arise and cause me to exceed my planned purchases? Or do I go on an empty stomach, as an excuse to visit another restaurant that I’ve been hoping to try and that is located near the store? Either way, I figure I can’t lose so my dilemma is not much of one in the end.

Wang Ga Ma Restaurant is located in a U-shaped strip mall complex that houses the popular Han Ah Reum (or H-Mart) Korean supermarket chain, just off North Road as you enter the city of Coquitlam. At the H-Mart, its easy to satisfy one’s hunger through the ready-to-eat food items in this market – from the take away kimbap rolls, sets of nigiri sushi, and other Korean fast foods available from the in-store kitchen located along the east wall of the building. I’ve previously dined in some of the restaurants in this same strip mall (Blue Sea Seafood) and general area (Insadong, House of Tofu Soup). But there are still others that I have yet to step inside of, and on this occasion, I was able to strike another one off the hit list. All in the name of Foodosophy, of course!

With the dominance of Korean cuisine in just a few block radius of this location, I am sure the competition are all wary of each other and try to do their best to capture a loyal following in the community. While others seem to try and focus on one particular dish, Wang Ga Ma is more of an all-encompassing place, featuring staples such as noodles, soups, and hot pots – in other words, Korean comfort foods. Deceptively large as a result of the wall of mirrors filling an entire wall as you enter the doors, you’re immediately put at home as it does feel very casual with its partitioned off seating areas, from tables of two up to larger tables that could accommodate up to eight people. The kitchen is visible through a window on one wall, with a large walk-in space to it also seen from the seating area, through which the servers scurry back and forth, often using a rolling cart to bring out hot steaming dishes of food that are too hot to carry by hand.

As it seems I am close to exhausting the hunt for the best Soondubu dish in greater Vancouver, I decided to switch my focus to Seolleongtang. For those new to Korean cuisine, and for those who are not very fond of spicy dishes, Seolleongtang is probably a very safe bet. After all, its a simple combination of a mild ox bone broth (though my guess is that pork bones are used as a replacement as well in Canada), that is seasoned with green onions and your own discretionary amount of sea salt to help flavor the broth. The version of this dish here was just average in my opinion. I think the broth is much richer and therefore better tasting at Seoul Dookbegi.

Thin wheat noodles or steamed white rice is often added to give it more volume. At Wang Ga Ma, the Seolleongtang comes with a special treat – hot stone bowl steamed rice. There’s just something about rice cooked in such vessels, as it adds a difference taste component to it, making each rice kernel seem that much more moist and tender.

The kimchi plate came in a very rustic form – with each strand of the cabbage uncut, as was each length of the daikon version. For the uninitiated, some sharp scissors and a serrated knife are provided to cut it into smaller pieces which you need to do yourself. I was quite impressed with the flavor that had been incorporated into each variant, a strong kick of heat, and the daikon was particularly fresh and crisp when bit into. The above photo was taken after I had made a significant dent into the plate before I realized my over eagerness.

The plate of sliced boiled pork belly (known as ‘Bossam‘) was our other selection during this meal. Served with the usual sides of blanched lettuce leaves and a spicy kimchi mixture to be wrapped with the pork, I came to the conclusion that this again was fairly standard. I’d say the version to be had at Pojang Macha is slightly better with the pork.

For a relatively new home-style Korean restaurant, this one fits the image of the typically clean, with limited service and chatter from workers, that you might expect of places in this mold. It was very busy when we walked in during the afternoon, so a good sign that its known and frequented by locals, most likely those who are also shopping at the H-Mart. I am thinking that based on the level of satisfaction I had with the dishes, that a part of their success is from their location, as comparable dishes that taste better can be found at other locations. And I assure you, this opinion was not influenced at all by the empty stomach I had when I entered the place. (SMILE)

Wang Ga Ma on Urbanspoon

Ramen Santouka – Quarry Bay, HK


Ramen Santouka – Hong Kong branch
1F, JUSCO Kornhill Store
Kornhill Plaza (South), 2 Kornhill Road
Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2967 4044

Now if you are at all familiar, you know that authentic Japanese ramen in Hong Kong is hard to come by, even in that food crazed place. Amid all those miserable, wannabe places serving up their Hong Kong-interpretations of the dish, many of them with weak, one-dimensional broths that are always dreadfully lukewarm (why is that?!?!), you will appreciate Ramen Santouka coming into this market and straightening things out before the perception of ramen in SE Asia hits rock bottom. In essence, I am looking at Santouka as the guardian of ramen in this part of the world with their recent entries (July 2008 – Hong Kong; January 2008 – Singapore), and appreciate their efforts in this culinary fight against more poor “copies” out of China.

With their humble beginnings in Asahikawa, located in the upper part of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Ramen Santouka began as a simple nine-seat shop in the spring of 1998. The proprietor started out the business with a basic premise – to serve the best ramen he could to his family – I know, it sounds like something out of that cult classic flick “Tampopo“. They further built upon this motto by striving to achieve what they call a ramen that “is easy to understand, and that can be eaten many times over the years and you won’t tire of”. With this simple start, an capitalizing on the popular boom in shio-tonkotsu ramen, the Santouka empire has grown over the past twenty years into what is fast becoming an expanding global operation – as along with its 44 outlets spread throughout Japan, it now boasts 8 overseas branches (6 in the United States, 1 in Singapore and 1 now in Hong Kong). I’d say they have achieved their early goals.

Having been familiar with Santouka’s offerings from eating at their Shibuya and Shimokitazawa locations in Tokyo over the years, I was pleased that my recent visit to Hong Kong enabled me to sample it in their latest overseas venture. With the extreme popularity of the JUSCO hypermarket (run by the Japanese AEON group), I immediately learned that Santouka will not have any issues with foot traffic. I believe in America, they have followed the same strategy by placing their outlets within existing Japanese food/cuisine-friendly confines such as shopping centres catering to the local Japanese community, etc.  As you fight through the hoards of traffic, the moment you enter the main doors and walk down the steps to the first floor, you run smack dab into the window display and entrance way of Santouka. Their distinct noren, complete with their trademark backwards spelling of their name is retained, along with some supporting flags bearing the same characters.

Nearby are other notable Japanese shops that have been transplanted here, selling sweets, desserts, etc. but Santouka clearly garners most of the attention here. An impromptu waiting area made up of about twenty stools closed off by a taped-off series of poles, try to prevent waiting customers from getting in the way of the people headed to the supermarket section of JUSCO. On this day, the seats were all occupied as I arrived on the early Saturday afternoon (regular business hours are 11am to 10pm with last order called at 9:30pm), causing one staff member to come outside and pass out menu booklets to give those waiting a chance to see what could be had inside and also pre-order.

A smart strategy, as it not only built up the anticipation but also helped give the hurried kitchen a chance to know what was coming. For those in a rush and unable to wait, on the other side of the place was a take away window, though only ramen dishes were available. I am not sure if they put the soup and noodles in separate containers for this, but wonder why anyone would want to eat ramen as take away, as for me part of the experience is eating inside a ramen-ya.  You would think that non-ramen dishes would be better suited for take away, but hey that’s just me.

As I was more interested in catching up with an old friend who had come down from Guongzhou just to see me on my trip, I didn’t really catch much of what was going on around me – though I did feel the tables were fairly closely put together (resulting in plenty of stares when I whipped out the camera from my bag and started shooting away). After about a twenty minute wait after being seated inside, our meals arrived. With the last of the late-summer heat still present outside, I elected to go with the Tsukemen (cold noodles, with the hot broth used as a dipping sauce), and an Ikuradon to add more volume as I was feeling quite hungry.

The noodles were of a thicker variety (as you get in their Japan outlets), perfect for this dish as the broth clung beautifully to it, probably aided by the difference in temperature between the soup and the noodles. The tonkotsu-shoyu soup was as bold, fragrant and teetering on the delicate line between sweet tones (from the vegetables and sanma used in making the broth) and savory as I remembered it. Inside was a boiled egg, menma, onions, nori, and chashu. For some people, I could see them saying that this is on the salty side, but for me, who prefers stronger flavors, it suited me just fine. It is always so nice though, to find that even after several years, and in a different country to boot, that the memories I had of the soup were intact and well represented by the Hong Kong branch.

The second component of my meal, the Ikuradon, was nothing special. The rice was a tad undercooked (or had dried out from sitting in the bowl during prep), but the ikura itself was fresh and full of that tantalizing pop when you bit into each morsel. For its small size, it was just right in terms of adding some more volume to the combination meal. I think others around us had not seen many people eating a ramen bowl and a rice dish together, as I got some inquisitive looks (and this was after my camera was put away).

The challenge in making sure an original dish is duplicated successfully by the same food operation is critical in any expansion plans. For without it, you will run into those customers who know the basic offering and compare it negatively to any offspring and say that its not the same. That alone will end your path to business growth. Not to mention the countless other first time customers who will come away saying that it is not good, without even knowing the rich history and taste properties of the main menu items that exist at the home base. I suppose whenever I visit a branch outlet of a personal favorite/well known restaurant, I am reminded of a quote from Michael Jordan that went something to the effect of “I play hard every game and give it my all, because there will always be someone out there in the crowd who is seeing me for the very first time”.

I think food and restaurants should hold that same standard, if they are courageous enough to operate and even more so, when they are actively growing their operations organically and taking steps out of their home base (or country for that matter), for many will have an impression built up in their minds of the original and demand it, time and time again. Santouka has succeeded in this regard in my opinion, bringing to Hong Kong a solid ramen selection, that is on par with what you get in their Japan-based outlets.  Job well done!

Captain Scotts Fish and Chips – Calgary, AB


Captain Scotts Fish and Chips
76-55 Castleridge Boulevard NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3J8
(403) 280-0009

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Today is more about food, than than any “osophy”. For some reason, i have writers block. I feel repetitive. Any other blog writers ever encounter this? Any solution that doesn’t involve emptying my bottle of gin?

I’ve been exploring the NE a lot lately – mostly because it’s one of those areas I find i’ve neglected for too long. Lots of interesting places – ethnic and otherwise – a drive into every neighbourhood yields a new adventure.

I’d first heard mention of Captain Scotts when involved in a discussion about Captain’s Fish and Chips. I kept confusing the two, and couldn’t keep them separated. It’s located in the same mall as Nirvana, Bombay Sweet House, The Village, and a variety of other East Indian eateries. Makes it a bit easier to find – it definitely sticks out like a sore thumb. 

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The decor is clean and simple. You order from a counter in the back, and sit in a cafeteria like setting. While there is nothing notable about the interior, there isn’t the oily residue on table surfaces and walls that places a little less meticulous often have.

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In terms of a menu, it’s very simple. A wide variety of fish, including Cod, Haddock, Halibut, and Boston Blue, and a bunch of seafood choices – shrimp, scallops, clams. They have some salads and desserts, but to be honest, in a restaurant where everything is deep fried, neither of these really appeal. Prices are pretty reasonable – 1pc fish and chips start at $6.95.

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Unfortunately, the fish is pretty poor. The fish was dry,there was too much batter on an otherwise small piece of fish, and the oil had a definite funk to it. Old oil that really needed to be changed. Condiments came in plastic packages – tartar by Heinz. The coleslaw was slightly mushy and mostly cream – no acidity, no flavour.

On the plus side, the fries were excellent. Fried in what i would guess is a different fryer (no fish-smell contamination), they are crispy, hot, and toothsome. With malt vinegar on every table, and a generous amount of salt, they were an excellent order of fries.

No matter how good the fries are, fish is a pretty critical component to fish and chips. While i may go back occasionally for the fries, i’d skip the fish. Captains, in Brentwood, is much better.

Captain Scotts Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon