3883 Rupert Street
[Original (Oct 2010) post here]
Itsuroku Kimura, the itamae at his eponymous sushi restaurant Kimura, is a bit of a workaholic. After selling his previous restaurant in Santa Monica (one of a number he has owned in his long career), he moved up to Vancouver to retire.
“But I was bored of playing golf all day, so I opened this restaurant,” he told me on my first ever visit there a couple of weeks after he opened. Jazz – another of his passions – is the theme here at the restaurant. He plays it over the sound system, and his website urges you to “listen to our Sushi that Swings.”
121-4600 No 3 Road
Those who are familiar with Bushuair know that it is infamous for two things: its many names (it has been called Gordon Park, Aroma Garden, the Xiangcai Museum/Pavilion, and now finally Bushuair); and its menu is peppered with hilariously endearing Chinese to English mistranslations.
Hunan cuisine will probably never attain the level of acceptance of Sichuan food in this part of the world. Hunan and Sichuan share some similarities – they are both known to be spicy cuisines that rely on the chili pepper for much of their flavour profiles. Hunan cuisine is more assertive in its use of chilies. Hunan cooks use fresh and pickled chilies about as much as dried. One type of Hunan dried chili – Hunan White Chili is particularly incendiary in the Scoville scale of chili pepper heat. It is this heat – which can go on unabated throughout the meal – that provides a challenge for the prevailing Cantonese palate here. Sichuan cuisine has the potential to reach this level of spiciness, but more often than not, the dishes are mitigated by a a balance of sweetness and spiciness…and most importantly of ma la - or the numbing heat introduced by Sichuan peppercorn. (The Sichuan peppercorns provide an antidote to the chili pepper’s capsaicin.)
3924 N Mississippi Ave
Portland’s dining scene is incredibly diverse. Thai food, in particular, is very good in this city. Pok Pok is renowned for its Issan/Northeastern Thai cuisine….and along Sandy Rd are a number of small family run Thai restaurants (along with a good smattering of Vietnamese and Cambodian). And over in the quickly gentrifying Mississippi District is Mee Sen – a restaurant run by a young crew of Thais that is serving uncompromising Thai food.
Those are indeed deep fried grasshoppers – a common drinking snack in Thailand. Mee Sen serves this delicacy perhaps as a gimmick to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. The food served here is a good survey of Thai cuisine but definitely leans towards Bangkok style southern Thai. However, noticeably absent from the menu are the all-too common Tom Yum soups, and the red/green/yellow curries found at most typical North American Thai restaurants. Instead you are presented with a menu of curries, salads and soups that are more representative of the cuisine. The flavours and spice levels are authentic – all the food I have had here had the right pungency and heat.
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA
Whenever I am in a city with great pizza, I make sure to eat as much of it as I can while I am there. San Francisco has a great pizza scene and I managed to eat at Pizzeria Delfina and A16 on this trip. (I note that Foodosophy member almatonne recently covered Pizzeria Delfina here.)
The pizza here is a thing of beauty – leopard-spotted from the intense heat of their wood fired oven. I had the baby octopus and clam pizza tonight. The crust was near perfect (though not quite as perfect as the crust at Pizzeria Delfina) and the toppings were well seasoned and well balanced.
120 NE Russell St
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some quality eating time in Portland. I have been to this city many times before as I have relatives who live there. I often go down to visit, but my eating is usually limited to one or two restaurants. This visit was different…I was on a mission to survey one of the most exciting cities in the continent to eat.
Toro Bravo has been on my list for a long time. It is the kind of restaurant that I wish we had here in Vancouver. It has an farm-to-table ethos that is coupled with approachability and accessibility…a combination that is non-existent here in Vancouver. It was devoid of the typical pretensions and other baggage that I am used to experiencing at similar restaurants in my home city. It really felt like a neighbourhood restaurant – full of families with their children dining on communal tables.
4140 Meridian Street
I love to eat at ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These little joints plug away making tasty food oblivious to the ongoing debates about culinary authenticity and ethnicity. This insulation from such gastronomic banter is what makes good holes-in-the-wall so endearing and finding them such a satisfying experience. One such place is the humble La Gloria – part restaurant and part grocery store – located just south of the 49th parallel in Bellingham WA.
It is no secret that Vancouver has dearth of decent Mexican food. It is an issue of demographics and immigration patterns, of course. We just do not have the population of Mexican immigrants to support many authentic Mexican restaurants. La Gloria serves some of the tastiest and most authentic Mexican food within a day’s drive of Vancouver.
O’Tray (Tianjin Flavours)
2285 – 8181 Cambie Road
The topic of street food often comes up in discussion amongst this city’s food-obsessed. We longingly look to Asia where street food has been elevated to artform. Or even a few hundred kilometers south to the city Portland deemed a streetfood mecca by the American food press. Portland has hundreds of street carts serving fairly mediocre, but sometimes great streetfood. “Why do we have to settle for hotdogs and chestnuts?”, we ask rhetorically. Now that the City of Vancouver’s street food initiative is underway, we finally have some hope. But if you look hard enough, you will find street food here….but not on the street. Street food lives in the city’s Asian food courts.
Those who have been to Singapore know the story well. The city (perhaps my favourite city in which to eat) used to have thousands of quasi-legal food carts and stalls that served often sublime (but inexpensive) food. In the spirit of modernization, the Singapore city government forced all these stalls to operate within government regulated “hawker centres” or food courts. Many of these are built into the parking stall levels of mid-rise residential buildings.
This turned out to the biggest disappointment on my most recent visit to Portland. Nong’s Khao Man Gai – the now famous Thai-style Hainanese Chicken food cart at the cart pod at 10th and Alder had just closed as I walked up to it. Next time.
With Vancouver’s street food scene starting to warm up, my visit gave me a chance to observe what Portland is “doing right” in its own cart scene. Since it is very early into the City of Vancouver’s fledgling street food initiative, I am hoping the Vancouver regulators recognize certain key factors which I believe are responsible for Portland’s impressive cart scene.
I was bitten by the photographic food blogging bug when I was given a Blackberry by my former employers about two years ago. It had a crappy built-in camera which took equally crappy pictures – but the Blackberry was enough to get the ball rolling. (The Blackberry has a lo-fi aesthetic that I really like, actually. The images are grainy and washed out, yet there is something very “immediate” about them:)
It’s quite funny looking back how I never really considered taking photos of food until that time. In my travels through Asia many years ago, I carried an inexpensive pre-digital Point and Shoot camera and the only real pictures I had of food were of food stalls and markets. I took hundreds of shots…and the photos were mostly of the typical “tourist” shot. (I have since been back through Asia a few times for business, but my photography was limited due to my obligations).
218 Keefer Street
Do you ever have one of those weeks? A week that makes you want to just curl up into a fetal position for a while? What is your escape from such a week? Come Friday evening, some people may choose to drink – maybe a glass or two of scotch, some beer, perhaps. Not me. I go seek my comfort food at my usual spot: Chinese Roast Pork (sui yuk) and Won Ton soup at Gain Wah in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Gain Wah has been around forever. I don’t exactly know when the first time I ever ate here (that’s all part of my primordial memories now), but I have been coming here regularly for perhaps decades. I don’t come so often anymore, mainly because I don’t work so close nowadays. Whenever I walk in, the servers always smile and say “the usual?” It’s actually almost embarrassing. But why change? I have eaten most of the other dishes on the menu…but usually have those when I dine with others. When I am dining alone, it’s always “A Dish of Roast Pork on Rice and a Bowl of Wonton Soup please…”
163 Keefer Street
“Modern is the new Fusion.” I don’t know how many times I have heard this glib and cynical phrase in the last few months. The recent launch of modern yet “authentic” Asian restaurants such as Bao Bei, The Keefer Bar, Oru, and a few others have this city’s foodies sitting up at full attention. Are these places at the beachhead of a new era in Asian dining here in town? This city is certainly not crying out for authenticity like most of North America’s urban centers. Vancouver has an embarrassment of riches in terms of great Asian food. So what makes these places so special?
One look around at Bao Bei provides a clue. The place is hopping…and it is a predominantly non-Asian crowd. It sounds so incorrect even as I write this….but there it is: the food appeals to non-Asians. A more charitable way to say it is that part of Bao Bei’s success to date can be found in their approachable renditions of “authentic” Chinese food. It is in the same vein as Wild Rice on East Pender which is perhaps the true prototype for this type of dining in this town.
Pho Thai Hoa
Pho Thai Hoa is one of the best and most well known Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. It has a lot of competition along Kingsway – Vancouver’s version of little Saigon. Pho Thai Hoa differentiates itself from most of the other Vietnamese restaurants in the area with its clean premises, extensive (and nicely photographed) menu, and generally good food. It is known for its good pho and other Vietnamese classics. Now it is doing something new for this town: a hot banh mi with grilled meats.
Now, I am perhaps presumptuous in my pronouncement that hot banh mi is a recent phenomenon here in Vancouver. After all, I have certainly not eaten at all the Vietnamese places in town. However, in my explorations along Kingsway, known to be on a cutting edge of authentic Vietnamese food, this is the first I have seen this. More recent second-hand reports from others indicate that there are a few places that serve a grilled meat banh mi – but none seem to be attempting it to this scale. Is it perhaps grilled fillings are really only possible in a full kitchen – something a typical banh mi joint does not usually have? Also it is somewhat unusual for the pho-centric restaurant to be serving banh mi.
Huaxi Noodle Specialists
Crystal Mall Foodcourt
In recessionary times such as these, it is great to have a solid rotation of tasty and inexpensive meals in your back pocket…and lucky for us, the Vancouver area is blessed with many places that can quell lunchtime hunger pangs for around the $5-6 range. More often the not, I choose a noodle soup – it is a quick, complete, filling, and often quite healthy meal. A fairly recent addition to my regular “Pho, Ramen, Chinese, Taiwanese Beef Noodle” rotation is a real keeper: the Huaxi Noodle Specialists in Crystal Mall.
My usual order is from a short list of Guizhou soup noodles – often the beef tendon (#9) or plain beef (#8). Guizhou is a sorely underrepresented cuisine here in town. It is also one of the Great Eight Culinary Traditions that define Chinese classical cuisine. It is very similar to the cuisines of its neighbours in China – Sichuan and Hunan, and thus its flavour profile is also very similar: heat from chilies; sour; and salty dominate. This soup is essentially Guizhou cuisine in a bowl – hot, sour, and salty.
The Pink Bicycle Gourmet Burger Joint
1008 Blanshard Street
One of our regular dining spots when we are at Victoria is The Pink Bicycle – a “hole in the wall” known for its gourmet burgers. Over the years, I have come to accept that the phrase “gourmet burgers” (in nearly all practical terms) is an oxymoron. Way too many places are using this label to differentiate themselves from the rest…and nearly all of them fall flat. The Pink Bicycle, though not flawless in its execution, is one of the rare places that succeeds.
All their burgers are made with naturally raised and/or organic meat. Their beef burger is made from naturally pastured Hereford cows sourced from a local producer on the Island. This type of beef is often much leaner than the typical grain or corn fed beef. The resultant burger tends to be “drier” in texture. This burger isn’t any different – it is indeed dry, but it had a good intensely “beefy” flavour that most burgers these days lack. The texture is also a bit different than usual. The cooks here “flatten” their burgers on their flattop griddle..resulting in a squished, slightly dense and shredded texture.
Pin Pin Restaurant
6113 Fraser Street
Filipino food has a bit of a PR problem. Not unlike many other cuisines, Filipino food revolves around family gatherings and religious feasts – not around restaurants. Essentially, it is “potluck” cuisine: the best food isn’t prepared by chefs, but by various aunties, grandmas, grandpas, uncles, dads…all with their own specialties. Filipino restaurant cuisine in the West has not evolved beyond the all-too-common buffets (“turo-turo”). Unfortunately for many non-Filipinos, buffets – where the food is of dubious freshness – are their entry into this cuisine . It really doesn’t come as a surprise that non-Filipinos find this food either: unappetizing, or mysterious.
Pin Pin is one of the rare restaurants that prepares their food fresh from the kitchen – no steam tables here. (So far, I know of three restaurants that do this here in the Vancouver area…there may be more.) Pin Pin labels itself as a Chinese-Filipino restaurant, and the menu has a Chinese section at the back. (As a matter of interest, Pin Pin is the name of one of the streets in Manila’s Chinatown – established in the 15th century, making it the world’s oldest.) I prefer to order the “straight” Filipino food, however.