Kenzo Japanese Noodle House
(604) 522 9969
Original post below:
Located in a very visible commercial building along Kingsway at the intersection with Griffiths Avenue, not far from the Middlegate Shopping Centre, Kenzo Japanese Noodle House is a pretty well known spot for those living in the area. I am sure the commuters who utilize Kingsway daily are also very familiar with this place due the lack of obstruction from the road right into the business’s front window.
Initial impressions gained from scanning the photographed items above the cashier station/beverage case/bar led me to think that the proprieters were Korean, given the Hangul descriptors I saw for the food images (along with the English text). As a ‘noodle house’ I was surprised to see a few non-noodle dishes displayed there, as well as in the menu booklet that I was given as I saw down.
The interior was quite clean, with the sunlight coming into the windows making for a very bright scene, even thought it was becoming close to sundown. Around me were other tables filled with diners, from couples (young and old), a mother with her children, and two guys who were friends and out for a meal together. The booth that I sat in had a light colored wood counter, but I thought the seats were a bit close to the table’s edge so it made for some effort in squeezing in, or is that just that my growing girth is the problem here…?
With the intent of using this visit to sample their ramen offerings, I quickly scanned the choices and asked for the SHIO RAMEN. There were other variants such as the shoyu (soy sauce), miso and some others that had spicy elements in the broth.
Toppings were a few thin slices of pork, bamboo shoots, green onions and a full boiled egg. The noodles were a variety I have seen in the cases of restaurant supply stores, and have bought myself in the past. The broth was light, a chicken-stock base and had not been topped off with any oil. How would I describe the dish overall? Very ‘plain Jane’, it reminded me of the kind of ramen that you find in Tokyo at a small ‘mom & pop’ kind of neighborhood place, your school cafeteria, etc. Frankly, I am able to make a better home version using store bought dried noodles (brand: Myojo Chukazanmai), adding some other ingredients to boost the soup and making a greater effort with the toppings.
For what it is, a simple dish of ramen, I suppose its not completely inedible, but if you live on the eastside and are willing to make the drive further westward to places like Menya or the popular Vancouver ramen-ya around Robson & Denman, you can get a more authentic and flavorful bowl.
Wild Rose Brewery
Bldg AF23,#2 – 4580 Quesnay Wood Drive SW
Calgary, Alberta T3E 7J3
My personal philosophy puts a premium on balance. I believe that balance is one of the key elements in all aspects of life. This doubly applies to food. and drink. The flavours in a dish, the beer that you drink, people find things that are in balance to be more pleasing, and harmonious. Philosophically though, i’ve always wondered. Can a place that focuses primarily on wine, or beer, still serve great food? Do places excel at both? Or does an establishment that focuses most of their energy on producing great beverages, have a limited amount of energy to spend on the food? Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary is an interesting case study.
Wild Rose Brewery is great at brewing beer. Located in the Currie Barracks complex, they are a craft brewery that produces a variety of beers served across Alberta. They maintain a taproom that fronts their brewery, allowing patrons to sample their current production lineup. With some highly regarded and award winning beers,Wild Rose is doing some exciting things.
As was pointed out to me in an earlier post, i am certainly no expert on beer. So i will spend very little time discussing Wild Rose Brewery beer. I will say, however, that this is a fantastic brewery. Their philosophy of fresh ingredients, combined with classic brewing techniques results in some excellent interpretations. Rather than dumb down your standard beers, they brew some true interpretations of classic global beers. Their Imperial IPA is phenomenal, and seasonally, the Stout and Pilsner are must tries for me.
Coco et Olive Fine Foods & Café
3476 West Broadway
(604) 736 7080
As I heard from my Alberta-based friends over the weekend complaining about the snow on the ground and the ongoing colder weather, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them as I strolled outside in nice sunny weather this past week along West Broadway in over 10 degrees Celsius weather. With a clam breeze in the air, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stop into a little café and grab something warm to drink as well as a bite to eat.
Coco et Olive is probably best known among those who live in this end of Vancouver. And by end, I truly mean that. It really is far from the hustle and bustle of the more central and thus busier sections of this strip. In the daytime on weekends, and lunch hours during the week, its filled with people from the neighborhood who clearly have more than their share of free time.
My assumption of this is based on the fact that a) there’s a lot of older folks who probably don’t have to work for a living anymore due to age, and b) younger uppity people who look like they are well off and don’t need to work. Ah, I wish I could be one of the latter… minus the attitude of course!
With an eclectic arrangement of furniture as seating, and an airy bistro feel, its really easy to feel at home and want to lounge about alone with a cup of coffee (they serve Intelligentsia) or with friends sharing any number of sweets and sandwiches on the menu. But with a full house and nary a seat to take, I chose an order to go. [The associated pictures you see here are just simple plated shots once I was back in my kitchen]
The ordering process is straight forward, as the cashier will jot down your order on a notepad and go through the motions of pulling it from the case and if the line is busy, another staffer will handle the grilling. As simple as that is, I sensed a lack of flow among the staff. Some confusion among orders despite the written list, an absence of speed as there clearly is not enough space under the griller when more than a few sandwiches are on deck, were just some of the amateurish things I picked up on the service front.
On this day, there were about twelve different sandwiches on board, though some had nothing next to the name plates in the refrigerated case next to the ordering counter. I did notice as time passed that re-fills from the back kitchen soon made their way into the display area. The casual feel must pervade from the back, as people would walk in and out from the hidden room to the entrance door. They seemed like staff, or perhaps friends of the owners (heard a lot of French flying back and forth), but they all seemed to be treating the place as if it were someone’s home, and not really concerned they were cutting in front of paying customers who were scanning the sandwich offerings.
Making your mind from the tantalizing choices is an exercise in both judgment and restraint. After pacing in front of the case, I ended up picking the Lemon and Herb Chicken ($6.99), as well as a White Tuna Panini. One of which was chosen as a sandwich & soup combo – an added $3 to the price – and the selection was a Moroccan Lentils soup.
Being handmade, you could immediately see the hodgepodge of sizes for the same kind of sandwich. Overall, the paninis, of which I preferred the softer texture of the tuna spread as well as the flavor combination, were fairly good, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were outstanding or the best paninis I’ve ever tasted.
As a sweet dessert to round out the pair of meals that I was taking back home, I asked for two of the Almond Croissants. They just seemed to beckon me, sitting on top of the sandwich display case, as I waited for my paninis to be grilled in the press. I must say, they were absolutely fantastic. A perfectly light flaky and crispy crust, and an oozy centre of almond cream, with an ample spread of sliced almonds on top. I will definitely be back for these, and to try out some of the other cookies, scones, cakes, tarts, and brownies that are made in-house…
5682 Fraser Street
The idea of a Signature Dish is a well known concept for aficionados of Chinese Food. It is no different in many other cuisines, I suppose, but in this city, the opportunities to sample such dishes seem boundless. Word of mouth is usually how I hear about a particular restaurant’s specialty so I try to keep an ear to the ground.
It is not uncommon to patronize a restaurant solely for one particular dish. Debates around Who Makes the Best What are rampant in Chinese community. Traditional dishes such as Soup Dumplings, Pulled Noodles, Peking Duck, just to name a few, require skilled and experienced cooks to be able to produce exemplary renditions. And then sometimes a restaurant’s signature dish is a unique, but un-traditional take on a classic often created by a mom-and-pop operation.
Koon Bo has been operating at this Fraser Street location for over twelve years. It has gained a good reputation as a solid Westernized Chinese restaurant that serves the usual – Chow Mein, Wonton Soup, Lemon Chicken, and so forth. But whenever you mention Koon Bo to anyone – the response is usually: “have you had their shredded chicken salad?”
Chinese Chicken Salad is a North American take on certain “traditional” styles of Chinese cold chicken dishes. Bang Bang Chicken, a dish originating from Sichuan province is the most likely inspiration. The dish as we North Americans know it can be traced back to California – perhaps from the 1920′s. The typical preparation is fairly standard – cold shredded chicken and blanched or fresh vegetables are tossed together in a sweet sesame oil dressing then topped crispy noodles. I would often see it prepared with iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, celery, almonds, pineapple, raisins, and other distinctly un-Chinese ingredients. It is really sesame oil dressing that gives this dish that Asian-ness and brings it all home.
Koon Bo’s version is unique in the addition of jellyfish shreds and a house-made sweet pickle. I couldn’t quite determine the main component of the vegetable pickle – it looks somewhat like shredded Mustard Green (Ja Cai) or Chinese Turnip. Instead of the usual pungent preparation (as in Tianjain Preserved Vegetable) the pickle is very, very sweet (almost cloying). It works very well in this dish.
The shreds of jellyfish are a textural element and add little to the flavour – it merely adds an interesting crunchy-chewiness. The crispy deep fried noodle topping completes the experience. Here, they use wider wheat noodles rather the more commonly used Chow Mein noodles (or, as in certain parts of North America, La Choy crispy Chow Mein Noodles from a can – gasp!)
Today, we also ordered a bowl of rice and some good old fashioned Chicken and Chinese Mushroom Chow Mein to fill out our lunch. The Chow Mein was good – but not particularly memorable. The Chow Mein not unexpectedly took a backseat to the salad – still it certainly hit the spot.
Koon Lock, just up the road, serves a very similar version of the Chicken Salad. Someone told me once that the proprietors of the two restaurants are related – brothers perhaps.
As a postscript about Chinese Signature Dishes – I note that the the new (Vancouver-based) Chinese Restaurant Awards has been specifically designed around the concept of signature dishes….they have 25 Signature Dishes chosen by a panel of judges. (Koon Bo’s Chicken Salad didn’t make the list…they actually won an award for a Spot Prawn dish that I have never had) I think that these awards is a good first step in truly recognizing the significance of this cuisine in this city. Considering the incredible influence Chinese cuisine has on this city’s gastronomy, it gets remarkably little coverage in the mainstream food press.
York Fresh Pizza
3630 West 16th Avenue
(604) 731 1112
Pizza… I think we can all agree is a clear cut winner when it comes to good and generally cheap eats. Its been profiled already a few times here on Foodosophy, and I am sure it will again in the future. From the classic bubbly-crusted thin style Neapolitan to the thick crust/deep dish-style that Chicagoans prefer, through to the floppy variant favored on the east coast, and all of the other types that lie somewhere on that matrix that is the world of pizza, it is a true gastronomical delight.
Depending on my mood, and more so the strength of the pangs of hunger that hit me, my preference can range from thin crust with very basic toppings all the way (and back again) to the thicker crusted and heavily topped selections out there. On days, when until the even hours my entire day’s diet has consisted only of a cup of coffee, the latter more heavily mounted style clearly takes precedence and due to shear luck, I found my way to discovering York Fresh Pizza.
Entrenched inside the first floor of an older structure along W.16th Avenue, just before the turn onto Dunbar Street, this pizzeria could easily be missed when driving down this road, especially when one is more concerned about navigating the curve on to the more populated Dunbar. With limited seating inside the waiting area in front of the counter, it truly is a more take away/delivery type of pizza joint, although the available by-the-slice options seem to be popular with the youth market (while I was getting my order, the place was packed with a bunch of rambunctious local teenagers).
The House Specials caught my attention as I tried to make my choice, and being it was my very first visit, I thought I would choose from there. In the end, I decided on the York’s Special, complete with a primarily meat-heavy lineup that included the following: salami, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, green peppers, onions and mushrooms. Talk about hearty!
You can also be creative and “make your own pizza” by choosing anywhere from 1 to 4 toppings (made up of 5 difference cheeses, 2 types of seafood, 9 types of meat, and 16 types of vegetable) in a small (10 inch) to large (14 inch) size, with prices ranging from $10.48 all the way up to $23.81; with discounts on the price per pizza if you buy 2 or more. The House Specials, of which there were six, ranged in price for a small ($14.29) to large ($25.71). Of course, you could also ask for more extra toppings ($0.95 for a small; $1.90 on a large).
I was generally quite satisfied with the overall package, as the large amount of toppings was generally spread over the entire face of the pie, and made each slice a meal in itself. That didn’t stop me from having my fair share (the image is of a large size), with plenty left over for the next morning. The crust was just right, with a good crispiness to it but not overly so that it was brittle and crumbly. The base crust was also spot on, not too soft so that it wouldn’t be able to handle the weighty toppings, and not overcooked so that it became a hard sheet of cardboard. If I had to raise a negative point, I’d say that perhaps the tomato sauce was a touch on the blander side. But with all the flavors on top, I hardly noticed.
Judging from the busyness of the dine-in area, the trio of drivers who were being shuttled in and out the kitchen space by the two busy managers who also seemed to be manning the phones, it would seem that York Fresh Pizza has its loyal followers, and I think that in my part of town, it will be on my top three list for delivery in the coming year.
Prata Man Singapore Cuisine
180-9020 Capstan Way
(604) 278 1348
My travels in the past three years (2006-2008) have taken me to Singapore a whopping six times. And those are round trips from North America. If I threw in the short haul trips back and forth from there to neighboring countries as well, that figure could climb up to twelve to fifteen. Yes, the Lion City and I are good friends.
If you’ve ever done the flying, you know its a long haul. A big part of what makes it all worth it though, is the great food culture that can be enjoyed there. And for me, a great roti prata is one thing that I look forward too each and every time, morning, day and night…
The ultimate Singapore-style roti prata for me, is that delicate, light and crispy variation found in the famous places at Jalan Kayu, which I’ve commented on previously. But unfortunately, Prata Man does the opposite, with its thicker, moister pancake type. It felt almost like a green onion cake, with the oil having been absorbed and really noticeable when trying to tear it apart or when taking a bite. These were massive too, IHOP pancake large.
Rocky’s Burger Bus
1120 46th Ave. SE
(403) 243 0405
When people talk about restaurants as institutions, it usually refers to a place that has maintained their longevity, and quality. In Calgary, people usually talk Peter’s, or Caesar’s, or Chicken on the Way. They certainly have had their longevity, but I question the quality. For me, there are places not as well known that I also consider to be true Calgary institutions – and Rocky’s Burger Bus is one of them.
Rocky’s Burger Bus is literally that – an old transit bus parked in the middle of an industrial area in SE Calgary. Most people have heard of it, but many people I’ve talked to don’t seem to have an idea of where it is. They proudly serve AAA Alberta beef, and their customers proudly eat it. On any given day, +20 or -20, come lunch time, there is a huge lineup. Get there early or late. Lunchtime is a zoo. You’ve been warned.
The menu is a pretty basic thing, consisting of all your typical greasy spoon items. Burgers. Fries. Onion rings. Poutine. Smokies and hot dogs. Bacon on a bun. Milkshakes. Pop. It’s nothing earth shattering, but you don’t expect that from a place serving greasy spoon out of a bus.
The big thing here is burgers. Hand formed patties made from fresh 100% Alberta beef, cooked on a griddle in their own fat and juices. They make them by the hundreds, and cook them when they are ordered. If you peek inside the bus, you’ll see dozens of burgers cooking at any one time. The smell of beef is unmistakable.
The burgers themselves are a generous size – i’d guess 1/3 of a lb, precooked weight. Maybe as large as a 1/2 lb. They come in 3 configurations – plain($4.50), with cheese ($5.00), or with cheese and bacon ($5.75). You can also make it a double for slightly less than double the price. Standard condiments are mustard, relish, and onions. They are juicy, and lack the texture of having been mixed with a lot of filler, even though they are all cooked to well done. The buns are standard store bought buns, and aren’t good, but don’t detract from the burger.
In most cases, i have some issues with well done. I like my burgers medium. Meat that has been freshly ground does not have the contamination issues that store ground has. So not only are burgers cooked to order generally better quality, but they taste better too. Canadians, however, seem to be very bacteria phobic, and prefer them all well done. Or establishments use inferior beef, and can only cook to well done. Regardless, it is typically a sign of a very average burger. But I will concede that these are a decent well done. Not bone dry. Retain some flavour. It’s about as good as i would expect well done could get, without the inclusion of a lot of pork fat
Any good burger place has some critical accompaniments. For me, the most important is fries. Fresh cut, they are fried to a crispy consistency., yet retain a nice bite with great potato flavour. The interior structure of a well cooked fry is important. It cannot be hollow, and it cannot be like mashed potatoes. These are an excellent representation of fresh cooked fries, though for $3.00, i would like a lot more fries. The order is a bit skimpy.
Fries, of course, can be improved with an excellent gravy, and this is where Rocky’s Burger Bus shines. Made from what i gather are the beef drippings off the griddle, this is probably the best gravy i’ve had in Calgary thus far. Beefy, rich, fatty, not overly thickened from flour or corn starch, the gravy stands out on its own merits. Definitely a bit oily, it isnt for the faint at heart. But I do prefer the gravy to the malt vinegar and salt, which says a lot.
Of course, thanks to our Quebec cousins to the East, there is another way to improve fries. It’s to add gravy, and cheese curds! Poutine, rated the worst food for you on the planet by some health study a few years ago (right above deep fried mars bars, which are also delectable), is considered a point of Canadian pride, and a staple for all grease lovers. The Rocky Burger Bus rendition of Poutine is excellent. Real cheese curds, complete with a little squeak, and a nice quantity, along with their rich beef gravy, and crispy fresh cut fries makes for an excellent poutine. Not quite on calibre with Montreal, but a fine rendition for the West.
In your mind, an institution or not, Rocky’s Burger Bus delivers on the vast promise that a greasy spoon in a bus should. Greasy beef, crispy fries, and an otherwise artery clogging menu that tastes so good, a food coma is almost a given. Even though there is no seating, and large lineups, they consistently serve up quality burgers and fries to the masses that visit day in and day out. And I believe it’s the consistency, the quality, and really, the bus, that make it an institution.
The Naam Restaurant
2724 4th Avenue West
(604) 738 7151
As I settled down to write this review, it struck me that it could lead to examining one of the most polarizing Vancouver-area restaurants in Foodosophy‘s brief history.
After a couple of visits to The Naam Restaurant, speaking with folks who live in the neighborhood and/or have eaten there in the past, and a superficial perusing of general online chatter that surrounds this establishment, I strongly sensed that this restaurant generates as much a fierce two-sided debate as say a discussion about the best political party to lead the province through these dire times, what is the best balance between using tax payer money to promote the 2010 Olympics versus helping fund solutions to remedy the growing homelessness plaguing the city, or even what to do about Coach Vigneault.
Much like the other similar sounding ‘Nam, there is always controversy brewing and plenty of those around who think they have it all figured out and are correct in their judgment.
To begin, a little history and background on Naam. It proclaims to be vegetarian. Reporters have noted it to be one of the oldest natural foods restaurants in the city. It is open 24/7, everyday except for Christmas Day. And although the sample size is smaller, I’ve found that each time I’ve dined in there is always a lineup out the door especially at mid-day or on weekend brunch.
Once you are able to get a table, the overworked (and I think outnumbered) wait staff might come to your table in a timely manner. And I’m not saying that to be fescious. They truly are overwhelmed by the crowds, and given the laid back nature of this restaurant (heck, it has its roots in Vancouver’s hippie culture after all), diners are forewarned not to expect quick, attentive service or responses to any of your usual dining needs.
This could include things as just getting a menu, having your water served, the time it takes for the meal to come out of the kitchen and brought to your table, and hailing them down to receive the bill, etc. Be patient, as it will come… in time. As with any restaurant, as long as you know what you can expect, I think you should be willing to bend and adapt to the local customs or way they do things around here. If not, I recommend you find your vegetarian or 24-hour food needs elsewhere. The Naam is best left to those who are in no hurry, not pressed to fit their meal into a nice tidy one-hour time frame, and who generally are by nature, more accepting and relaxed.
For the food, there is part of me that welcomes the slightly funky twist that comes with the eclectic offerings at Naam that are different from your regular greasy spoon or neighborhood diner. As an example, pictured above is the Croissant Witch. Basically a split-in-half croissant is topped with what is dubbed “tofurella” (a cheese replacement) mixed in with scrambled eggs (of more tofu if you so desire) and veggie sausages. On first glance, it looks like a regular hot top creation, and although I only had a few bites, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. And I am a noted carnivore.
As intriguing as the assorted more healthier options looked, I have never been a fan of whole wheat pancakes. So I went with the Pancake Sandwich on this visit, which came with some fresh berries, whipped cream and maple syrup. It felt more home-y to me, and it was a good sized portion, not overwhelming so that I felt stuffed. I’m finding its not only the ingredients but also the portion control that is key to “eating healthy”. Sorry for the diet-speak.
For die hards, I am sure The Naam will continue to be a favorite haunt for them. For those who have heard the talk about this place, I am sure many will try and be satisfied and conversely an equal number will come away wondering what the hype is all about. For me personally, I’m going to have to go the route of Switzerland here, neither extremely for nor adversely against. It is what it is, a long standing business on the west side, catering to a specific clientele in a generally health conscious city, with an interesting take on classic breakfast and brunch items served up in a very casual, some would say slow, style.
Lloyd’s Patty Plus
202-255 28 Street SE
What’s in a name? When you discuss a food-related strip mall in the East off 28th Street and Memorial called Short Pants Plaza, I will hazard a guess and say nothing. No matter how hard i’ve tried to research the origin of the name, it’s nonsensical designation continues to mock me. “You don’t get me”!
When it comes to Lloyd’s Patty Plus, located in Short Pants Plaza, the name means something. This establishment, run by the friendly Mr Lloyd and his lovely wife, Mrs Lloyd, make Jamaican Patties. Plus, they occasionally make coco bread and other Jamaican specialties. Lloyd’s Patty Plus. Appealing to the logical mind.
I remember when i was first introduced to him. He seemed larger than life in his sterile white lab coat, hair net, and big friendly smile. When you stop by, because inevitably, you will, take a bit of time to chat with him. He has some interesting facts and tidbits that are always interesting. He has a lot of thoughts on his home country of Jamaica as well. Stories i always love to hear about.
Jamaican Patties are the Caribbean equivalent of meat in pastry. Made with a distinct yellow color created by the addition of turmeric, these flaky pies are stuffed with a variety of fillings. In Jamaica itself, they typically carry a wide range. At Lloyds, it’s chicken, and beef, in regular and spicy versions.
146 East 3rd Ave
I love getting tips about great places to eat…especially holes-in-the-wall. So when a friend called me the other day and said that he had a tip about a new Indian place from a reliable source, we jumped at the chance to try it out. The tip came from a friend of Indian descent, so this place must be solid…or so we thought. As it turns out, it was a food counter that is being run within Pita Star, a place I used to frequent when they served some of the best falafels in the city.
Pita Star is a storefront for a small-sized family run pita baking operation. You can get their bread at various grocery stores and supermarkets around town. I have purchased pita and Falafel sandwiches from here on in the past (I then make another stop at Swiss Bakery which is right across the street). I hadn’t been here in a while because they closed their storefront and focused on their wholesale business. It looks like that has changed.
A secondary operation called The Curry and Kebab Grill has taken over the food bar in front. (They also sell frozen Indian meals to go…which is interesting). We had a quick read of the chalkboard menu suspended over the counter. They have Curry and Rice specials for $5 and an assortment of Indian dishes.
We ordered a Butter Chicken and their Platter Combo 1. The Butter Chicken was…well…disappointing. It had the familiar neon-orange sauce found in food court-grade Butter Chicken. The sauce was much too sweet and lacked complexity. The meat was very dry and flavourless…they had used chicken breast (probably a bulk Costco pack of boneless and skinless breast).
The Combo Platter was a selection of deep fried items which included Beef Kebab, Mogo (cassava), Nylon Bhajia (dollar potatoes) and Samosa. It also included a triplet of dipping sauces - Tamarind, Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, and Green Chili Chutney.
The Samosa, Nylon Bhajia and Mogo were decent – fresh tasting and not at all oily despite being deep-fried. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. The Kebab tasted pre-fried, stale and dry.
My lunch companion picked up a frozen curry meal to go. He reported later that it was “decent.” It was packed into a vacuum sealed microwavable segmented container resembling a TV dinner (remember those?)
Clearly, I had my expectations set too high. Perhaps if I wasn’t so picky, I would probably enjoy this food. This area which is at the edge of a light-industrial zone is a little thin of good eating (the truly amazing Argo Cafe is just around the corner, however) so this cafeteria probably fills the bill for many people working within walking distance.
A tip like the one I had most often leads to hidden gems…not this time, unfortunately…not for me anyway.
2090 Alma Street
(604) 733 7331
I’m not sure about my Foodosophy colleagues, but ever since I’ve become a contributor on this site, I’ve found myself becoming a bit more dangerous on the roads. Nope, its not from having stuffed myself and with a full stomach getting that sleepy coma feeling, or being intoxicated with alcohol from some festivities, but rather due to the fact that I’m always scanning both sides of the road for any new or previously unseen eateries to add to my list for future visits. All in the name of Foodosophy I tell you.
Well, while driving up Alma from 4th Ave recently, I caught a glimpse of some signage across the street from a running goods store, and seeing the words ‘sushi’, I thought to myself, oh no yet another place offering up this cuisine. Now I should have kept on going, but instead I pulled over. Rather than go home and have a proper home cooked meal, I zipped up my bullet proof vest and ventured into Daikatsu Sushi to take another bullet for the Foodosophy gang.
As simple as deep fried items seem to be, they really are tricky and give a good insight into the kitchen. As such, I try to sample at least one dish to see where their oil is at, is it overused and dirty, are things fried at too high a temperature, etc. Tempura or Agedashi Tofu is usually what I use as my guinea pig, but on this occasion I felt like having some Ika Karaage. As poor as my camera phone images are, they really did turn out that bad. A classic case of cooked real fast in very hot oil, so much so that a lot of the exterior had almost reached the burnt stage. I had to rip off a lot of the coating and just tried to eat the squid as is, but that in itself was not the greatest quality so this dish was a wash in my books.
Don’t know why I went with this, the Dynamite Roll. I’m not a big maki fan to begin with, so not sure why I pointed to this on the menu to the server (who appeared to be the wife of the man behind the counter, as they spoke to each other in Chinese when not attending to any of the other customers – yes, there were some). I suppose I knew my main dish to be ordered would not be that voluminous and I was looking for some filler here. The rice was quite mushy, which turned me off immediately. And the tempura lacked flavour and all I could taste was the mayonnaise inside.
Lastly, I present to you our fine readers, Daikatsu’s version of a Chirashi-don. Small, yes. Skimpy, yes. Bang for the buck, no. Heck, I sound like I am talking about a pint sized prostitute. The tako (octopus) and ebi (prawn) were particularly nasty, as they just oozed out water when I bit into them, obviously not properly prepared/thawed out. Throw in the obvious fact that there was no real decorative, eye-catching presentation of the toppings, and it just felt like it was thrown together with no thought for trying to capture any points for the visual. I really must post a report from a seaside sushi bar in Japan, to try to help you picture what a really good chirashi can look like.
So there you have it, an entirely disappointing, but totally expected let down from another establishment with a pawn in the sushi game in Vancouver. I hope the next time I do a random stopover, my discovery is much more positive.
Fragrant Wonton (Yishang Bienshi)
42 Sinyi Street
Hualien is a small city on the coast of Taiwan, known for some beautiful mountain scenery, and coastal waters. Nearby Taroko Gorge is a burgeoning tourist attraction, and with the completion of the gao-zi – the high speed rail connection, tourists are flooding in from Taipei on a near daily basis. However, scenery aside, culinarily they are famous for two very different dishes – fragrant wontons, and muaji, glutinous rice cakes. Two must tries when you are in Hualien.
It’s interesting how celebrity endorsement can affect the image of a restaurant. There are two very well known wonton houses in Hualien. The aforementioned Fragrant Wonton, that have been in business for over 70 years, and Dai’s Bienshi, a 3rd generation wonton maker making bienshi (mandarin for wonton) since the Japanese occupation. Dai’s, as a result of being the favorite of a former President, is extremely well known. Foodies generally agree that Fragrant Wonton is better, but it doesn’t have the name recognition and insane lineups.
The decor inside neither looks like it’s 70 years old, nor like it’s a top wonton place. Channeling the entire cafeteria vibe, you generally order first, grab a table, and sit and wait at one of many clean tables. Napkins are dispensed on the wall (took me a while to find this), and things are kept quite clean. Not surprisingly, it’s almost always busy.
When you go to order, you generally order a number. This represents the number of bowls of wontons you want. One order is pretty substantial for most people, but if you’re a wonton/bienshi fiend like i am, i suggest two bowls.
Fragrant wontons are renown for their skins, which are silky smooth, yet strong enough to hold in the succulent juices from the meat. Does 70 years teach you anything? Absolutely. The skins are silky, and wonderfully soft without breaking at all – a big no no and a trick i wish i knew. The pork filling is good – filling the mouth with a blast of warm pork flavour.They are generally filled with the meat from the legs – trotters and shank. This is because the leg meat is generally a bit firmer, leading to a nice texture with some bite without being rubbery, while staying lean. The stock they serve the wontons in are also made of pork bones, spare ribs, and pigs legs, a rich stock that is skimmed repeatedly to get rid of an oiliness. Served with celery leaves and fried onion tops, the result is a nice balance of fragrant, yet slightly neutral soup with a fantastic wonton flavour.
Overall, these are some really nice wontons. The cardboard serving vessels and plastic spoons feel a bit off, as i would prefer porcelain – it’s amazing what a difference in texture you feel using a plastic utensil, but that’s a very small quibble. Im not sure they are good enough to make a special trip to Hualien for, but if you love wontons/bienshi, and you happen to be in the area, don’t leave town without trying Fragrant Wonton.
Golden Spring Restaurant
4200 No. 3 Rd
Sichuan food is a bit of an obsession for me. My introduction to this cuisine was not in China, but here in Vancouver at a popular restaurant on the East Side called Szechuan Chongqing many years ago. The first time my parents took us to this restaurant’s original location, I instantly fell in love with the robust flavours and the fierce heat of the food they served. Over the years, this place became a regular spot for our family. We would meet there at least once a month when we were attending university.
It was not until much later when I came to realize that the food I had been enjoying at Szechuan Chongqing bore only a passing resemblance to the cuisine of Sichuan Province in China. What we have been eating was Sichuan food that evolved in a parallel universe far from its roots. It is a hybrid of the common “Chinese-Canadian” cuisine with some sort of distant interpretation of Sichuan cuisine. The “Szechuan” dishes that we are most familiar (for example, Orange Peel Beef, Ginger Beef, etc) are very different or is non-existent back in China.
For many years, the real deal was hard to come by in the Vancouver area where the Chinese food was dominated by Cantonese – and to a much lesser extent – Shanghainese cuisine. Trudeau-era immigration policies and Expo 86 were largely responsible for this predominance. This second-wave influx of Chinese immigrants (mainly from Hong Kong) elevated the level of Chinese-Cantonese cuisine here. This area has been long famous for having some of the best Cantonese-Chinese food in North America (and some say the world).
As Chinese immigration patterns changed over the last decade, the prospects for Chinese cuisine from other parts of China improved. In Richmond BC, Vancouver’s Chinese ethno-burb, the changes became slowly apparent. More and more, you started to hear Mandarin and other Chinese dialects being spoken by restaurant staff (instead of the ubiquitous Cantonese). Nowadays this area is blessed with some of the best Regional Chinese food anywhere.
Golden Spring Restaurant in in the epicenter of one of the best areas to eat in the Lower Mainland – just off the soon to be completed Aberdeen Centre Skytrain Station. I have dined here a number of times now, and I still have barely touched the surface of its extensive and uncompromisingly Sichuan menu. Its menu has many of the Sichuan region’s favourite dishes and a number of unusual sounding dishes that use ingredients unfamiliar to me.
Today, I ordered fairly conservatively as I was feeling considerate for my rather unadventurous dining companion. We had the Tofu and Century Egg appetizer which not necessarily a Sichuan dish, but I thought it would act as a nice mild counterpart for the more spicy dishes up ahead. It was drizzled with a pleasant, subtly-sweet sesame-oil and chili-oil dressing.
Century Egg is one of my favourite ingredients (I have it often with congee) so I thought I’d post a gratuitous macro closeup here.
The Water Convulvus stir fry was simply prepared with dried Sichuan chilies. It was not as spicy as I have had it in the past (dried chili is notoriously unpredictable that way).
The Twice-Cooked Pork is a dish I often order at Sichuan restaurants. The Twice-Cooking technique involves slow poaching of pork belly or ribs in a flavoured broth. The resultant poached meat is sliced thinly and then wok fried with vegetables and aromatics — fermented Broad Bean Paste, Chile, and Sichuan peppercorn. This was a very good rendition which included Chinese Leek and firm Tofu.
I had ordered a Smoked Pork with Garlic Shoots, but we were presented with Slivered Pork with Garlic Shoots instead. No worries, it was good, but I was really looking forward to the other dish. I will make sure to point to the right item on the menu next time. This was not the first time I had experienced a miscommunication due to the language barrier here.
Finally, Dan Dan Mian (or “Tan Tan Noodles”). The menu listed two types for Dan Dan Mian…one is labeled “Authentic Dan Dan Mian.” Once again, I believe there was a misunderstanding. The last time I was here, I recall that their “Authentic” version is dressed in a “proper” Chili-oil and Sichuan peppercorn-based dressing. This one uses dark sesame paste in its sauce with peanuts and the requisite ground Sichuan peppercorn (an elemental ingredient in Sichuan cuisine.)
This particular rendition is a common preparation in Sichuan Province (in Chengdu in particular). It is not the most common preparation type of Dan Dan (the version with the Chili-oil dressing is the most common). It was good, so I’m not really complaining.
Despite the recurring language-based service issues I experience on this day (and on previous visits), I will continue to patronize this restaurant. The food is good and authentic and its menu still still an unexplored frontier to me. This place seems to fly under the radar for some reason….but if you are ever in Richmond and you like Sichuan cuisine, give this place a shot.
Honey Doughnuts and Goodies
4373 Gallant Avenue
North Vancouver, BC
(604) 929 4988
The easternmost district in North Vancouver known as Deep Cove, is home to a quaint little street populated by several eateries and shops. This two-block stretch of Gallant Avenue is where visitors and locals alike can stop in for a bite to eat while enjoying the natural surroundings. Honey Doughnuts and Goodies stands out as the most popular destination along this strip, given its decent sized eat-in space and convenient snack offerings that are easy to buy-and-go. I’m sure part of its appeal is also due in part to the steady line-up that brings in the curious and the sweet smells that flow out onto the sidewalk.
As the name suggests, doughnuts are a hot seller. In the glass display case inside where you also place your order, an assortment of healthy (e.g organic) and more sugary varieties of doughnuts can be had, as well as scones, muffins and other pastries. The donuts here are “richer” looking, the kind with a heavier consistency and the glazed ones I saw were really attractive. I would not go as far as to say they were all-out gourmet, but certainly more than the generic Tim Horton’s.
While in line on this day, a man ahead of me in the cue ordered a whopping $150 worth of donuts! Its not like he had pre-ordered this, so as the girls behind the counter were busy counting and putting them into brown paper bags, it was clear the supplies would be threatened for those us in still waiting to get our goods. I later saw a tented parking lot that looked like it was an eating area for a film set, which might explain this large order – as homes in the neighborhood are often rented by the television and movie industry.
In addition to the sweets, Honey Donuts and Goodies also has on their menu, some good looking breakfast dishes, along with some soups and sandwiches. With plans to go hiking on the nearby Badden-Powel Trail, I thought it best to warm up and chose the Soup & Bread Combo, with the soup being Chicken Kale. It was a hearty soup, with beans, onions, plenty of kale, and chunks of chicken in a rich, slightly salty broth. Aside from this, I got a Blueberry Muffin to go as a snack for later on (sorry, not pictured). Towards the end of my hike, I opened it up and had a few bites. Good flavor, not too brittle and dried out. I am sure they taste much better hot out of the oven.
I found it interesting that it seemed many members of the kitchen/wait staff were of Latino heritage. We overheard a discussion, it seemed there was some mention about Argentina between one of them and another person in line, so its possible that’s where they are from. I don’t think its had a huge impact on their menu, but interesting nonetheless.
Taste Good Baozi
Intersection of ChangChun Rd and Long Jian Rd
Open 9am-12:30pm, 6pm-9:30pm
“The best”. This is one of those phrases tossed around to emphasize that a place is good. Overused in many cases, everyone has an opinion on where the best breakfast is, the best soy milk, the best dumplings, the best everything. Especially in Taipei. Arguments ensue over which establishments serve the best of everything. People will go to great lengths to prove their point – and really, who am I to argue. They sample hundreds of places, and determine which one is the best. I get to cherry pick their opinions, and avoid some less than stellar places. While there is generally no consensus on any of these establishments, sometimes, you come across a place that everyone grudgingly concedes is “very good”. Taste Good Baozi is one of those places.
Next to a popular inner city vegetable market (tsai se), Taste Good Baozi serves up a wide variety of Baozi, better known as filled steam buns. In the middle of their sign, they prominently mention they are handmade. They definitely are. In addition to steam bums, they serve a variety of typical accompaniments, including a very sub-par soy milk.
The location is very open – racks and racks of fresh made, unsteamed buns lie on racks, waiting to be steamed. A steady stream of people are typically lined up, waiting to patiently place their order. Each bun costs just a bit over standard – running between 15-25NT (60-90cents) each. Typically 25 NT. A variety of fillings are available.
The keys to a good steam bun are actually quite simple. A warm, light, fluffy steam bun, with a well balanced filling that combines the right quantity of meat, sauce, and veg. While it sounds simple, in actual fact, they can be quite difficult to make. The steam bun especially, often ends up quite rubbery, or too thick, or too hard. Not enough time to rise, too much kneading, not enough kneading, not enough sugar, there are an infinite number of variables that go into turning out a perfect steam bun. They also freeze very well, which while it only leads to a small degredation in quality, is noticeable when you’re talk about the “best”!
As for the filling, you need not only a flavourful, well balanced filling, but one that has the right proportion of steam bun to filling, and the right saltiness to counter act the sweetness of the bun.
Proportionately, these are pretty good in terms of a filling to bun ratio.
So are they the best? Well, that’s really a subjective thing. I can tell you that they are extremely good. The steam bun itself is fantastic. Light, airy, fluffy, moist, yet with a slightly dry interior that holds the structure, and soaks some of the sauce up. The filling is good too, well balanced, wonderful flavour, and just the right amount. I seldom use the term “the best”, but i can wholeheartedly endorse these. They may not be the best i’ve had, but on any given day, they could be. Give Good Taste Baozi a visit, and stroll down the vegetable market afterwards. It’s a great way to spend a morning.