770 Bute Street
“If you build it, they will come”. Its as if the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson from the 1989 classic film Field of Dreams is whispering all the way across the Pacific Ocean into the ears of the leadership responsible for steering the business growth of established Japanese ramen chains. First of the known bigger players, Santouka, ventured forth and established a Canadian beachhead in the burgeoning ramen battle zone situated in the west end of Robson Street. It’s probably my favorite in town these days, but I’m I would be curious to hear what the likes of the man behind the original true ramen-ya in Vancouver, Matsubara-san of Kintaro fame, would have to say about the growing market and resulting competition for the dollars of Vancouver “rameniacs”. Hard to believe its been eleven years since this all began in our fair west coast city.
Delving into the history of Sanpachi is an interesting read. Starting in that ramen hotbed of Sapporo back in 1987, its stretched to now approximately 70 outlets throughout Japan and as well as overseas (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan). Progressive it seems in their business model as well, by offering “gift packs” of its popular miso and shoyu variants through an online store. The sole founder (and current CEO) is fiercely proud of the original and unique taste of their ramen, and has expanded this love of ramen and keen dedication into a motto that serves to remind their entire network of stores and staff of their purpose. Loosely translated, I would say in English this would be “Warmly Satisfied in Both your Stomach and Heart”. Yeah, that didn’t come out well, but I think you get the point.
Wen Xin Chinese Restaurant
5240 Rumble Street
Though I’d seen it a few times while in this little corner area of Rumble Street and Royal Oak Avenue, I’d never thought to bother with stepping inside Wen Xin until local readers (LotusRapper and Karl of thefridaylunch) mentioned/wrote about it in one of the comment threads of a previous south Burnaby post. My visit was actually back in the late-summer, while school was still out so a lunch hour timing actually turned out to be perfect – as it was just me who was inside getting a meal (to go). No annoying teenagers to get in the way. Its in the same general area as Makoto and Georgio’s.
Unsure about what to get as the extent of my ability gained over the years of travel that I’ve done to read any Chinese characters is limited to beef, chicken, fish, pork, and perhaps a few of the preparation terms (fried, stewed, roasted, etc.). The English descriptions really don’t do it justice, as I’m sure the Chinese readers can attest to. That chalkboard you see pictured below, looks like it could be a special menu for Chinese-readers only, but I didn’t bother to ask. Also note here, they are a cash-only establishment with a CIBC ATM inside the nearby Seven Eleven if you are out of greenbacks.
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Schisandra chinensis. Yes, difficult to pronounce but as one can guess, it has its roots in China. The viny-plant produces a rich berry that is beloved for its five different taste sensations and its herbal/medicinal properties. With various practical uses including its use in teas and even wine, it has a modern day application that you can enjoy today if you know where to look. I had such an opportunity in the remote city of Myungyeong, nestled amid lush green forests spanning rolling mountains and hills that make this a spectacular visual landscape in North Gyeongsang Province.
On my way to visit some tourist sights, I came across this tiny cafe at the base of the town site before the long trek up past some re-created rural villages that were even used for present day movies and television sets, and up into some of the nearby hills. It was a brutally hot and humid day so a rest was needed even before the hour long journey that I was about to embark on. Spotting several people lined outside, I knew I had to check it out and find out what the commotion was all about. So here I present to you, the Omija Cafe.
75 East Pender Street
Strolling around in Chinatown is an interesting activity. I see many tourists doing it, with cameras slung from their necks, taking in all this part of Vancouver has to offer. Not only visually but also the many places to eat. After all, Chinese culture has a long culinary history and has pervaded its way into North American dining, and has a wide spread familiarity, albeit perhaps not always along the true lines of authentic and regional cuisine that the country has to offer and is yet under-explored by many. I’d say stick around here on foodosophy, as one of our keen writers GastronomyDomine (aka fmed) is a knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this genre and has posted more than a few reports on places you should try out. And hopefully more to come. (nudge, dudge, wink, wink)
Amid a mainly Asian collection of shops, eateries and other stores, you can find the slow spread of other kinds of places that are merging into this neighborhood. You can notice is especially if you walk from Gastown towards the heart of Chinatown. Now whether this is a good or bad thing, it surely is up for debate depending on your stance. I applaud though from a business perspective to give new things a shot, and inject old areas with new life and different choices. At least for me, coming across these on random strolls makes things interesting. Enough so to entice me to stop and go inside. The Everything Cafe was once such place.
7900 Westminster Highway, Unit 101
As I think back to foodosophy‘s early days, I can recall a lot more random outings like these where I had no specific eating intention or destination but ended up taking the proverbial “bullet for the team”. While in Richmond dealing with some business matters recently on this particular block, I did so again and ended up ducking quickly into the nearest place to warm up (man, is it ever cold these days!) and get a quick meal rather than seek out something specifically and have to drive around this city which tends to have its own logistical challenges. While I did not engage in a wider round of choices from their menu as I was dining for one (Follow Me Foodie ate other items apparently) at Katsu-ya Sushi, I did end up having much the same kind of experience. Here is my take on things…
A simple setup, I knew immediately that I had to make a quick call. Keep going or step back out (into the cold). The temperature won and I resigned myself to asking for a spot for one. A female server glanced over to an empty table (another was occupied by a group of four men, who seemed to be their on their lunch break, and looked to have been employed at a construction site judging from their steel-toed boots). I received the laminated menu sheet and decided to play it safe and go with one of their set combinations. “A”, I think it was. Strangely, the woman did not say a single word to me when I entered, gave my order and when I went up to the til to pay. I think there was some shyness and language issues involved, so can accept that.
Chihuahua’s Mexican Food & Pizza
881 Carnarvon Street
New Westminster, BC
After my recent satisfying experience at La Taqueria, I wanted to continue my quest of discovering the very best of tacos in the greater Vancouver area. On a complete whim, I was in New Westminster and passed by a place that I remembered as being Mexican (as far as the signage goes) and slowly crept by in my car until I found it once again. Without any information other than my faded memory of the store front, my decision to stop and walk inside was based on the silhouettes of several people eating inside that came into my eye. Had it been empty, I might have been less inclined to stop. Do you ever do that? Base entering a restaurant upon how busy the place is? Love to hear from you in the comments box if so/if not, and why/why not…
The moment I stepped inside, I had a good vibe. All of the folks inside were Latino, and the female served burst out with a “hola!” upon seeing me. I knew I was just going for take away so headed straight to the front counter, that was fronted by a large heating case apparently for pizzas – of which there were none on display as the folks ahead of me took away a box that probably contained the last few pieces. As I took in the small menu sheet that was taped up on the glass which listed all of the available offerings, a fellow came in asking when the next pizza would be ready – six minutes called out the male employee – and headed back out for a smoke only to return some time later. The whole pizza thing made me lose some hope that I’d be getting a true Mexican experience. But I guess there is nothing you can do when you try to be more than one kind of eatery, serving what appears to be the native Canadian crowd who wants cheap, fast food, and those who have the cultural ties to that part of the world and probably come here for a taste of home.
1508 Robson Street
Again, as noted in yesterday’s update, my full attention was not paid to this dining experience, as I was there mainly re-hashing old times with a friend that I had not seen in over a decade. Hence this post will be brief. My other visits to this perpetual favorite of Robson Street’s eating scene were a while ago now, so my memories of even past meals are faded. Alas, I guess this means I need to make another trip to Gyoza King in the future and really flush out how I feel about this place. Foodospher, you coming for a Vancouver visit anytime soon?
Some other dishes were ordered by the “third wheel” at our table as she was less inclined to want to listen to old stories of our drunken youth, but I only shot this solo shot (with my cell phone to boot) of a ten-plate of genso gyoza, just so I’d have something on the record. Of course, the cold bottles of Asahi kept flowing. I must say the thing that first and foremost stands out for me of Gyoza King’s gyoza is how tight the skins are and well packed the inside ingredients are but without bursting at the seams.
838 Thurlow Street
In the past, I’ve touched on various reasons why despite the surge of popularity (which is a good thing) and the burgeoning mainstream acceptance of this concept of Japanese drinking-dining in Vancouver that I don’t regularly frequent them, in particular the better known ones that have been exposed in major media outlets. I won’t rehash them all here for the sake of brevity and for not sounding like a broken record. And let me add that it is just my personal feel and thoughts on this topic, not to say they shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone out there and I’d ask you continue to support the businesses out there that serve this transplanted, albeit North Americanized-style of going out on the town.
So when an old friend and his colleague visiting from the east coast (Washington, DC in fact) that I hadn’t seen in over 12 years let me know he’d be making a short business trip to our fair city on the other side of the continent and would be housed up in a hotel not far from Robson Street, he asked me to give him some ideas of where to eat while in town. Better yet, he wondered if there were any Japanese places that could help us relieve our brief time together spent in Tokyo oh those many years ago. That instantly brought back some flashbacks of too many crazy nights in the local izakaya around our flat, and the mad dashes to catch the last train home when we ventured a bit further out for some binge-focused evenings of drinking and eating. Ah, to be young again.
A true hole-in-the-wall based on its location in a somewhat downtrodden row of commercial businesses just across from the busy Metropolis at Metrotown, but once inside it looked better (and cleaner) than I expected at the front door. Nearby, was a AYCE-looking sushi place and I caught more than a few people looking inside Tai Won before stepping over next door. I think this business might have received a refreshing or a change of ownership around the time of my visit, as I could see it was very busy inside – and there were some apparent “congratulations” type of gifts near the front door and the female manager was conversing with some trades people outside and it seemed they were discussing the awning above the front window. The clientele was very young, mostly teenagers and early-twenty somethings led the way. Which led to a nice buzz of conversation and excitement, all in a very casual setting.
Up front was an intriguing self-serve setup. Of course a water station. But also two containers filled with pickled vegetables that you could re-fill at your leisure, after getting your first serving with your meal. Tables and chairs for two and four seating were scattered around, including a small two-top in the corner right by the front window – a perfect place to take in the busy Kingsway traffic, both on the road and the sidewalk. Only a pair of waitresses were on hand and it was clear they were swamped. It made the do-it-yourself area all the more reasonable. I took advantage of the free side re-fills at least twice. It wasn’t the full array of a stereotypical medley of banchan, but sufficed.
Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel
9939 Universal Boulevard
Jetting from one corner of the US down to almost the exact opposite quadrant is something that I never enjoy. I realize its just one country, but man, can America seem massive some times. And I’m not just talking about the gigantic people I sometimes get sat next to on the airplane. So after a day long journey, a taxi ride once I landed and a groggy check-in past the dinner hour, I was in no mood to check in with my mates (one of whom had arrived two hours before me) and desperately needed to eat something as I got into my room. Thank goodness for that wonderful thing called room service.
Those massively, old fashioned binders that house the pages of the hotel’s restaurant options had some not bad looking choices, but room service was limited to just the one. Fine, I thought, let’s just roll with it. It seemed to be from the Cafe Osceola located on the main floor, and their menu choices were pretty standard fare variety American family fare. As I really hadn’t had anything substantial on the plane rides (after all, who wants airplane food?), I thought it might be overwhelming but decided to get a French Onion Soup to begin with. I should have taken the plastic wrap in taking this shot – so excuse the shiny glare. It was a good size, easily the palm of my hand. A thick layer of oozy cheese was cut through, revealing a very thick with bread cubes soup. Rich and flavorful, and not too salty. The only downside with room service is of course, the temperature of the soup had cooled somewhat, to the point where it was getting just above warm.
Choices in the Park
6855 Station Hill Drive
Okay, I realize this isn’t exactly a post about a restaurant with full service but we’ve gone off the usual path in the past with reports about food counters, retail shops and general ramblings on topical food-related issues, so I’m sure you’re used to it if you’ve followed us along these past two-and-a-half years. Variety is the spice of life don’t they say? I’m certain that those of you who live in the GRVD that you are familiar with the small chain of natural and organic grocery stores known as Choices Markets. Actually, they even have a rice bakery on W 16th Avenue, that is just a block away from the Choices Market that I am most familiar and frequent in Kitsilano. For my daily grocery needs this purveyor of healthy, quality goods and food is my main source, and a big part of it is the satisfaction that I get from supporting the local player, and a 100% Canadian owned enterprise that is thriving despite the flood of the mass market chains such as Superstore and Safeway that dominate the family grocery landscape. Another aspect of their operations that I like is that despite the eight locations, of which I’ve hit several, they all “look” somewhat different from the outside, and don’t confirm to that dreadfully generic commercial building design code of boxy squares that seem to be pumped out of some construction replication machine and are given a distinct “name” for their location to further generate some individuality.
Now normally the Choices Markets are placed along side some more high-traffic roads that are easily seen and accessible by passing cars – which I assume is to entice more store visits and volume. However, the Choices in the Park location was completely different from this pattern, as it was hidden and nestled in a residential neighborhood, albeit not too far from a SkyTrain station. It clearly is intended to service the local populace and even their tiny parking lot that could probably hold eight cars at best would suggest that their main customers are of the walk-up variety. I’m sure there are other such grocery stores out there that fit this model of being primarily for the neighborhood, but I believe most of those are the mom-and-pop single operation type, not major commercial businesses such as this. Another quirky aspect of Choices that makes me like what they’re doing and their strategic decisions for their outlets. But enough about the hard side of things, let’s take a look at what you can get to eat – and not the stuff you have to cook yourself…
Meat & Bread
370 Cambie Street
The speed of news delivery and the response rate of this city’s fanatical food bloggers never ceases to amaze me. There seems to be a continual rush by this unique niche of internet-based writers to first discover any freshly opened location and swarm on it like a pack of hungry wolves. Incredible I say, and more power to them as spreading any new intel about good eats is fine by us here at foodosophy. Keep ‘em coming my cohorts, as after the buzz subsides somewhat, I’ll usually make my way down and partake in a meal much like a hyena or a vulture after the lions have dismantled the wildebeest carcass. A case in point, my weekend jaunt down to Gastown to visit the very hot (from a posting perspective) space known as Meat & Bread.
I honestly can’t recall what business occupied this historic building, but it has character written all over it. The hanging chains and massive steel meat hooks right by the front door window is a sign of things you can expect inside. The very industrial theme is then juxtaposed by the very modern-rustic sensibilities of the decor within, highlighted by the thick and elongated wooden table that falls into your field of view immediately upon entering the front door. The warmth of the natural elements continues into the design aspect of the service area with its angled placement of off-colored wood pieces on the counter, and the light colored wooden mini-chopping boards that make up the serving trays upon which the sandwich creations are presented. White painted brick completed the motif, along with glass, stainless steel appliances and multiple units of these large round hanging lights that reminded me of those used in interrogation rooms of spy movies. A large matte black, almost chalkboard-like in appearance wall sign that sits near the front window is the only menu that I saw; as limited as that was with a spartan listing of just their four signature sandwiches. I’ve seen the lamb replaced with veal in other reports so its quite possible that this is one that is in flux.
Porchetta – $8
Roast Lamb – $8
Meatball – $7
Grilled cheese – $7
La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop
322 West Hastings Street
Its been over a year but I finally made my way down to this by now, well known taqueria not far from Victoria Square where the Remembrance Day ceremonies took place this week. There seems to be a mix of die hard fans and those who are skeptical of its authenticity or just plain disappointed by the flavors or even the portion sizes out there in the blogosphere about La Taqueria. I always take all of these opinions just as they are, individual thoughts and impressions that each of them are absolutely entitled to. In the end it comes down to me (and everyone else) to decide if they enjoy the food, with varying factors influencing just how we interpret and therefore accept them on our taste buds.
To conduct my own personal experiment as a first time customer in this compact shop on West Hastings Street, the order of the day was this plate of four of their meat taco options…
400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
Big groups require big spaces to eat. Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran. With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal. This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more. It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.
Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine. I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location. But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention. There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them. Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation. A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.
Cheontong Son Kalguksu
206-3 Cheongun-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Returning to another report on another stop from my August stay in South Korea. I remember this lunch well, as we were racing to leave Gyeongju City as the powerful typhoon ravaging the coast was approaching fast and already the rain was falling horizontally due to the swirling winds. We spotted Cheontong Son Kanguksu from the road as we approaching this area that was populated by a few restaurants. The lights seemed to be on inside but nobody could be seen, so one brave member of our party stepped out into the falling rain and knocked on the door to see if they were indeed ready for customers. Perhaps it was the weather and the lone female proprietor felt sorry for us, as it seems she was still doing her preparation work, but she let us inside and told us to make ourselves at home.
The wet, humid weather made it perfect for something hot to try and warm up our cores. Kalguksu or hand-cut wheat noodles served in a bowl of rich, mainly seafood (shellfish)-based flavorful broth, topped with a mix of thin sliced vegetables. While the ambiance was nothing special, perhaps even on the dilapidated side and I could spot a few flies spinning around in the air, I was just grateful to be indoors and away from the storm. Although being in a fully glass encased building was not something one should probably do when powerful winds are ravaging all around.