888 Nelson Street
With shrinking domestic markets and consumption, combined with growing awareness and demands overseas, we’re seeing more new entrants in various industries reach our borders. Rumors of Japan’s massive clothing retailer Uniqlo apparently coming soon to Vancouver is one. American’s Target and Nordstrom are also prime examples. And the focus of this piece, the 600+ strong (in Japan) yakiniku chain Gyu-Kaku has steadily made its way with outposts in Asia and the US. Canada was chosen as their beachhead into Canada, specifically downtown Vancouver.
Having been to several of their locations in Japan over the years on lazy meal nights when I was craving meat, news of Gyu-Kaku’s arrival in Vancouver personally didn’t excite me a great deal. Its like a Vancouverite getting excited about a Cactus Club visit I suppose. When its around you and very ubiquitous, the allure is simply not as high. So my eventual visit was even a random, impromptu one just last week. I came away from the dinner pleased overall and with no major complaints and with a clear understanding it can’t be 100% replicated overseas. From the very full room on a rainy, mid-week evening, its clear they have established a solid clientele already. Kudos!
The recent influx of Mainland Chinese has brought over more than just an increase in our real estate prices – they have also imported a taste for spicy Chinese food that until fairly recently, was relatively foreign to Vancouver. As recent as three or four years ago, I recall thinking how precious few places served authentic spicy Chinese food. And those that did specialize in these cuisines are often cloaked Cantonese kitchens that catered to the milder Cantonese palate – serving food that would not have satisfied the Mainlanders’ spice cravings. Over the recent years, with the increasing immigration of these “Northerners”, the number of spicy Chinese restaurants has been steadily increasing to the point where I think we now have enough of a selection to have a solid week-to-week rotation of places to eat.
I still think we don’t have an exemplary Sichuan restaurant (especially after losing a very good one in Chuan Xiang Ge in Richmond), but I think we have Yunan covered (S&W Pepperhouse in Crystal Mall and their less able branch in Richmond), and we now have two very good Hunan joints to choose from: Alvin Garden (Burnaby) and Lucky Noodle (Collingwood).
Sal y Limon
701 Kingsway Ave
I’m a big fan of Kingsway as a foodist’s destination. The scruffiness of this diagonal slash of a street seems to impose a level of gastronomic authenticity that you will not see in other parts of this city. Embedded into the various strip malls along this drag are some true gems – mostly of the ethnic hole-in-the-wall variety. This road is of course well known to fans of Vietnamese food, but this post is about a Mexican Tacos and Tortas newcomer to the section many people call “The Triangle” at corner of Fraser St.
When someone texted me a picture of the menu of this newly opened hole in the wall a couple of weeks ago, I was instantly intrigued and have been angling to check it out. The subsequent social media buzz about this restaurant further stoked my interest.
I finally made the effort last week and ordered a selection of tacos (al pastor, cordero, pernil) and a carne asada torta (grilled beef sandwich). The tacos are small (as they should be) and served on doubled-up tortillas…but they were not inexpensive at $2.25 each – about the same range as La Taqueria’s offerings. A bit high for Kingsway joint, I thought.
When Goa Girl posted that she missed the banh cuon from the late lamented Northern Vietnamese restaurant Truong Thranh, I thought it was time to revisit Thanh Xuan, a Kingsway hole-in-the-wall that I knew specializes in this Vietnamese delicacy. I blogged about this place around the time I first encountered it, and I haven’t really been back for quite some time, so I finally found an excuse to return.
Banh cuon, a simple steamed rice flour crepe, is a common breakfast dish originating from Northern Vietnam. Like most of Vietnam’s indigenous food, however, banh cuon’s true origins are in Southern China – specifically from the familiar cheong fun, the rice roll you will find in all dim sum menus. The methods of preparation are quite similar – rice starch batter (often augmented with wheat, tapioca or other starches) is steamed to form a thin sheet over boiling water. While cheong fun is steamed in shallow metal trays, bank cuon is steamed in a specially constructed pot which has a fine cloth tautly stretched over the opening.
Unit 40 1055 Canada Place
This recently opened downtown “outpost” of the much loved Turkish restaurant Anatolia’s Gate in Burnaby has a comparatively pared-down menu, but a number of the favourites are here including their stuffed pide. Sadly missing is their lavash which, at the Burnaby location, comes out of their pizza oven puffed up to the size of a baleen whale. Also, the flavours of the dishes here are subdued compared to those at the mothership.
The eggplant salad, for example, lacks the lovely smokiness of its fire broiled sibling in Burnaby. The portion sizes are also slightly miniaturized for area’s the take-out market
654 E Broadway
It was a tough year for Terry Deane. He had sold Ah-Beetz in Abbotsford (his first pizza joint) over a year ago now to open his dream pizzeria here in Vancouver. It took a lot longer than he expected. A couple of missteps with city permits have stretched his resolve and his finances to the limit. Zoning issues prevented him from building out at his original location – a former gelato store on Victoria Drive. This insurmountable hurdle finally forced him to seek a new place.
After a few months of active searching, he settled on a location near the corner of Broadway and Fraser. This dog-eared space that formerly housed a Chinese restaurant wasn’t any easier – it took months to get proper permits in order, and the conversion process took much longer than he had anticipated. ”It was a mess. Everything was covered in grease,” he said.”It was a lot of work.”
832 Cardero Street
It has been a few years now since I last visited this popular Korean lounge off one of the side streets of Robson. Hidden away from the main strip, its not always been on my radar so I was pleased to find Chungdam Ahn was still around after all this time. With a few boisterous friends in tow in search of some unique food and drink combinations, we headed to this part of Cardero Street and tucked inside to a pretty full room. With some lively music and a vibe that only excited, young twenty-somethings can bring to a place, it had all the markings of a good night to be had…
Fortunately, we were able to squeeze into the bigger corner table of the place, almost as if it was waiting for us all this time. Scanning around with my eyes, it was clear we weren’t the only group out for a hard night of eating and drinking, although there were some tables occupied just by couples on an evening out. A pair of female servers were buzzing from table to table, collecting orders and bringing out food from the kitchen area.
Cafe de l’Orangerie
8636 Granville Street
Sometimes location plays a crucial role in even picking a restaurant to go to. To expand upon this point, the establishment’s parking options, is a critical factor for me at times when deciding on one place versus another. Cafe de L’Orangerie falls into the difficult category as it is not in an ideal spot (accessible by only one direction of busy Granville Street) and the limited number of stalls in front that are shared by other businesses does not help matters. Despite all this, the good buzz that I’d heard about the French trained, Japanese owner/chef and the approachable menu they have here, led me to deal with the inconveniences of getting here and here’s my report of that visit…
Upon entering the doors, the scene that falls into your line of sight is one of a very simple soup-and-sandwich kind of place, along with a display case of desserts and pastries. I could see how it was straddling several lines, and perhaps serving a different clientele in the day as opposed to the dinner hours. It felt more “western” than anything else, but when you are seated and presented with the evening menu, you are quickly aware that there are some Japanese-influenced twists. And it was these that I was keen on trying.
Ajisai Sushi Bar
2081 W 42nd Ave
Consistency of quality is an aspect of restaurants that I hold in high regard. When it comes to serving raw food, this perhaps becomes even more relevant and all the more important. Case in point, my somewhat regular routine of having sushi perhaps a few times a month. I suppose I have a couple of standbys that I patronize most often now in the greater Vancouver area.
However among them, Ajisai in the Kerrisdale neighborhood remains tops when it comes to plating things in a very predictable manner – by that I mean the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the knife work, and maybe most importantly, the quality of the rice – all come through as exactly the same as the previous times I’ve eaten here.
1626 W Broadway
Generally in life, I abhor queues and lineups. Chalk it up to immaturity or impatience. But mainly I hate wasting time doing nothing. That and I have a very short attention span.
So when I spot new places in and around town, I’m often torn about when to go and check them out. When I first saw Suika open its doors during its first week, I had noted that I should go early and beat the crowds that would no doubt be keen on exploring the menu of an izakaya setup that was not located in the downtown core. Quite refreshing for that aspect alone and with the pedigree of its Kingyo backing, the word of mouth was sure to spread like wildfire. Looking back at the year that has passed, its clear that’s exactly what has happened. Good on them I say.
So recently I finally made my virgin pilgrimage to their busy West Broadway location, even managing to squeeze into a table just at opening and avoiding the need to have had a reservation. I should clarify. I have been here a few times before attempting the “let’s get a table on a busy night and hope for the best” approach, only to get turned away at the door by one of the friendly staffers. The chillier weather, a light rain, I think contributed to my favorable venture this time, although by thirty minutes after opening, the place was pretty much filled to capacity.
Looking at our category log, I see its been eleven months since we last posted one of these grouped restaurant updates. I’m sure we could do more and do them more often, however the challenge is to provide something new. That said, I feel they do have added value as return visits that support/rectify earlier opinions is something worthwhile striving to provide. I hope you agree. Going through a bunch of notes and folders with accompanying images, I tried to come up with a consistent theme, and this one will be heavy on places I’ve frequented way over in Coquitlam/Burnaby…
1. Anatolia’s Gate
Its out of the way especially if you live in Vancouver, so you’re probably more apt to visit this popular eatery in the evening, which they can accommodate with their late business hours. But I’ve been able to check it out at lunch time and finding its a lot less busy, and the wait times are shorter as a result to get your food. In fact, on one of my most recent trips, I was the only one there and had my quick meal made up for me right on the spot, as if it were my own personal kitchen! Its really refreshing to see the lavash bread (with whole wheat option too!) made immediately at the counter before being fired in the oven, stuffed with your choice of ingredient (beef in this case) and carefully wrapped up to go. Photo above is a cross section as I cut it in half. I was hoping for a bit more meat but the balance with the vegetables enabled it to have a pleasing ratio per mouthful. So much more to explore on their menu, so a place I’ll come back to again.
I am currently diving into, well perhaps I should rephrase that given the laborious pace at which I am reading, a book that focuses on the role that big business is playing in the global world of food production, processing and ultimately on food supplies. Once I complete getting through it, I might put up a post about it and share what I took out of it.
But for now, let me turn to another related topic, that of food sustainability and more about the very basic function of food in our lives. I am positive that those of us who actually devote our personal time to writing these kinds of blogs hold food in high regard, truly enjoy it and are adventurous in our exploration of what is out there to eat.
Save on Meats
43 West Hastings Street
Early adopters, supporters and enthusiasts of many things in our grande old world are an interesting lot. Its safe to say they love being in on the ground level, before things really take off and get established in the mainstream. Often at the cost of being scorned or mocked for their fervent adoration for whatever it may be that strikes their fancy as others cannot yet understand why, and for which they are often stringently dedicated to defending. Places to eat certainly fall among those categories where fanatics make themselves known, but then when their beloved spot gets popular, they are filled with mixed feelings. Part glad that their views are vindicated, but also saddened that their special place will now be flooded with those catching the word-of-mouth and covered in public sources of media.
The previous incarnation of Save on Meats and today’s refurbished edition are an interesting pair to compare. Suffice it to say, the new edition is a lot more “user friendly” to say those folks who are hesitant to venture to this part of downtown east, especially once you get in through the front door. The decor has a definitively retro slant, complete with adornments such as the old school candy dispenser and juke box situated near the main entrance’s waiting area. Even the signage has the decades-old look and feel to them, that might remind the older generation of days gone by, but are clearly with the styling of an era that is beyond my early days on this planet earth.
Hapa Izakaya (Robson)
1479 Robson St Map
Clearly, with all of the attention this long standing location has received over the years in local publications as well as by online bloggers, it would perhaps seem strange to some that there has not been a post made here on foodosophy, despite our group’s well known love for the izakaya genre.
I cannot attest to the experience of the other contributors here, but personally, I must have passed by the front of this business 20~30 times over the last several years. And among these, I can only recall stepping inside to check out the scene and/or consider dining inside, mainly out of curiosity, a handful of times. Its just never really struck me as a place I need to check off my dining list. For whatever reason.
Further, I can count on one hand the number of occasions when I made my mind up to really taste the food/sample the drinks here, but decided to turn around after some very spotty service – mainly the lack of attention from any of the staff upon stepping inside and vocally/visually making signs that I wanted to be seated. I can clearly recall this happening at least three times now. And on this last visit, it happened again.
But we stuck around trying to get someone to see us waiting, going beyond my usual patience level. Even flagging down one of the wait staff and being told she’d be back, only to be ignored again. After literally grabbing the next girl that came near us and demanding we get a table (there were several open), we were finally seated.
Milano Espresso Lounge (Gastown)
36 Powell Street
The coffee scene on the west coast is a pretty vibrant one and Milano explains their heritage on their website in proud terms, noting their long Vancouver legacy and family traditions. Their location in Gastown is a fairly spacey lot, with high ceilings, clean lines and a mix of industrial, artsy and comfortable concepts, textures and patterns in their lounge’s design. The base of their operations – their roasting facilities – is situated in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, not too far from the likes of Menya, the busy MEC flagship and the fun to browse Dunlevy Food Equipment store.
Claiming to be dedicated to the old school Italian coffee tradition, Milano notes their key differentiator when it comes to their coffee product is their knowledge and dedication to a unique roasting and blending method – one that is not openly taught. And with their belief that what makes a great espresso is the blend quality. So much so that they even jack it up by using up to 11 beans in a blend, formulating options that run the full roast range (dark, medium, etc)!