Milano Espresso Lounge (Gastown) – Vancouver, BC


Milano Espresso Lounge (Gastown)
36 Powell Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 558-0999

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)!
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Kakao – Seattle, WA


Kakao Chocolate & Coffee Cafe
415 Westlake Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 833-5467

I admit freely to having some cravings for sweet stuff and giving in.  The times are few and far between though, so thankfully I’m not on a permanent sugar high like some people I know who guzzle litres of pop a day or never are without a sugary doughnut with their morning coffee, a candy bar at their work desk,  or pass on a daily dessert at dinner time. When I do crave something with chocolate as its primary ingredient, its often a dark variety bar.

Earlier in August, I was exposed to a variety of sample product from a Vancouver-based XOXOLAT ahead of a private function.  The use and dedication to serving single origin chocolates struck a chord with me, as it reminded me of what a segment of the coffee scene is like with its strive to procure ingredients from reputable and solo operations.

While on this recent trip to Seattle, we came upon the Kakao Chocolate & Coffee Cafe, located right by the Tesla showroom and an outpost of Serious Pie.  A very large and open concept space, outfitted with a mishmash of comfortable looking and more stiffer wooden furniture.  Big bright windows and high ceilings, led me to think this used to be some kind of industrial or commercial storage facility before it was transformed to the people-friendly business it is today.  While primarily concentrated on the chocolate realm, they do give ample attention to their coffee beans as well for their espresso (provided by Seattle roaster Herkimer Coffee) and the loose leaf tea on the menu is from Miro Tea.

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Stumptown Coffee – Seattle, WA


Stumptown Coffee
616 E Pine Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 324-6755

The Capital Hill area of the Emerald City is an intriguing one to go for a stroll around in.  Bars, live music venues, theatre houses, fashion boutiques, bookstores and coffeehouses abound.  I think you could spend a full day up and down the main streets of this area and get in a complete day of good eats and entertainment.  One of the most popular places to unwind and get a solid cup of coffee is Stumptown‘s location on the steeply inclined East Pine Street.

My only previous experience with their coffee was when I picked up some of their roasted beans in Vancouver’s Chinatown district.  So I was keen on actually going to one of their two cafes in this part of Seattle.  With limited seating outside and big glass windows leading inside, it was quite inviting from the sidewalk when you approach it.  Stepping inside, you are in direct line of sight with the main service counter.

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Uptown Espresso & Bakery (Queen Anne) – Seattle, WA


Uptown Espresso & Bakery
525 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 285-3757
Mon-Thu 5am – 10pm, Fri 5am – 11pm, Sat 6am – 11pm, Sun 6am – 10pm

I’ve come to discover that one of the best things of having a base in Vancouver is its close proximity to the United States and a decent sized city that is very much like the one in B.C.   In less than three hours, you can be in Seattle, and have a chance to explore new sights and places to eat and drink, and still be able to get home and sleep in your own bed.  Can’t say I could do the same living in two major centers in Alberta like I did over the years.

First stop after arriving in town was at a breakfast place, where we got on the waiting list – to be written about later. We then walked down the street for some morning caffeine.  It was close and convenient, no pre-planning in effect.  A shame I know, given that Seattle is reputed to be a great coffee town.

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Dairy Lane Cafe – Calgary, AB


Dairy Lane Cafe
319 19 St NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 283-2497

Nestled on a quiet street situated close to a residential neighborhood (from what I could see behind the parking lot of the building where the car I arrived in was parked), the Dairy Lane Cafe was our choice for an impromptu lunch just ahead of the madness which is the start of Stampede.  As such, I was quite surprised to find a packed inside seating area, as well as all the available spots being taken up on the uncovered tables situated on the sidewalk in front of the building.

It didn’t seem like it was anywhere near any walk up traffic from the office worker crowd, but yet still busy at the noon hour.  Scanning the relaxed attire of those eating already, it was clear to me that this was a casual, homey spot for clean honest grub for those who might more often than not, just live around the corner – some younger ladies who seemed to be out for a bite to eat with their girlfriends, to some guys who obviously fell into the hipster genre given their tight fitting attire and attitude, as well as strangely enough, some rougher dressed fellows who if I were to assume from the paint on their overalls, were some tradesmen on break for something to eat while on the day job.

The spot came recommended by locals and was described to me as a throwback to simpler times and with operators very keen on the whole “produced local” attitude, and knowing where their ingredients came from.   The space was not very large inside and staffed seemingly by just two busy servers.  Some large framed pictures hung on the wall reminded me of a by-gone era in rural Alberta, catching my eye enough to snap a photo myself.  If I were to compare the looks and feel of this place to anywhere in Vancouver, I would say something like Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe & Pie Shop in Kits comes to mind.

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Everything Cafe – Vancouver, BC


Everything Cafe
75 East Pender Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-3115

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.

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To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery – Seoul, KOR


To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery
32-21 Chae-Dong, Chongro-gu
Seoul, South Korea
+82 (02)-720-5001

With long business hours (Mon~Fri, 7am to midnight; Sat, 7am to 11pm; Sun, 9am to 10pm) and a serious dedication to contemporary art and design – given their ties to a nearby gallery – the To Go Coffee Shop housed within this quaint brick-and-glass building made for the best of both worlds. Open early enough for a warm cup of coffee to get your day going, but also laid back and aesthetically interesting with its display of modern artwork to make you want to stay longer than you normally might just to take in the scene.

The bukchon neighborhood follows a similar dual dynamic.  Retro remnants of a by-gone era with traditional architecture and residences that take you back in time, flanked by rows of ultra hip and trendy shops popular with the city’s busy youth.  The latter characteristic reminded me of the ura-Harajuku area of Tokyo. I have a friend who works as an assistant director at one of the many galleries here, and I’d always heard interesting things from her about hanging out and working in this district, so I had to check it out for myself, camera in hand.

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Coffee Mama – Namyangju, KOR


Coffee Mama
Various locations
Location visited: Namyangju City, South Korea

Asian desserts.  For some they are a welcomed treat.  For others, I’ve heard words like strange, confusing and not appealing as descriptors or reactions.  I will take a stab at this topic despite not being a huge sugar-goodies fan and say that one of the main causes for this seesaw result is the source of the sweetness within many Asian desserts.  That being azuki beans.  I think for most westerners, the concept of sweet tasting beans is unusual and hard to comprehend, given that beans are generally used more for savory dishes in North American cuisine.  This juxtaposition is a concept that for some, that I think is hard to overcome.  Its perhaps more a mental hurdle than anything else, that perhaps more experience can help people overcome.

When it comes to after-meal sweets in Korea, one of the things that pops into my mind right away is the summer favorite known as patbingsu.  In English, I’ve seen it being referred to as red bean sherbet.  But really, its a compilation of shaved ice, ice cream, diced fruit (strawberries, banana, etc.), jelly, bits of rice cake as staple elements and toppings.  And for added texture, some places even add in some dry cereal flakes.  I’m sure there are even more creative approaches and touches that some places add, but these seem to be the standard set from my own experience.  Of course, the a fore mentioned sweet azuki beans are always involved.

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The Lions Den Cafe – Vancouver, BC


The Lions Den Cafe
651 E 15th Ave
Vancouver, BC
(604) 873-4555

ec·lec·tic/iˈklektik/
Adjective: Deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

That single word that I feel best sums up what The Lions Den Cafe is all about, with  its unusual combination of Caribbean and Japanese food menu items (based on the married couple proprietors’ backgrounds), the unmissable large stuffed lion that hangs on the wall inside and the complete freestyle approach to the service.  On first glance, it may seem like your regular neighborhood diner, but delving in deeper you soon realize its quirky and unique is its own special way, that should appeal to some and perhaps confuse others.

The day of our visit was a bright sunny weekend late morning.  Following a morning jolt at The Elysian Room, we headed on over to Kingsway for a bite to eat.  The hot weather resulted in all of the tables inside the establishment being brought outside for diners, and the place was busy by the time we arrived but were fortunate to get a table immediately.  After perusing the menu – initially I thought I’d try something fusion – our waitress inquired if we’d be interested in drinks and with that, I opted for one of these sweet Grace bottled beverages.  High on sugar but with ice, it was on the refreshing side.

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Caffé Vita – Seattle, WA


Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting Company
813 5th Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 285-9662

There is just something innate about living on the we[s]t coast that seems to drive the people here into the warm embrace of a welcoming hot cup of good coffee more so then perhaps other parts of the continent.  Some sources peg Seattle as averaging about 160 days of the year with a measurable rainfall and getting 92cm of the wet stuff per year (compare that to say Los Angeles, which receives just 30cm).  No wonder this gem in the Pacific Northwest is often referred to as Rain City.

An unproven theory that I hold is that when the outdoors are unpleasant but still tantalizingly temperate enough to make one long to be outside in non-rainy weather, it makes for an ideal environment for the development of  a strong network of neighborhood cafés.  For what better way to pine for better weather and gaze outside at it hoping for a shift in Mother Nature, than in the company of friends and neighbors, all huddled together in a homey place buzzing with the hum of active conversation that signify the free sharing of thoughts and ideas, with everyone sipping on a cup of aromatic and deep flavored coffee.

Does that paint a warm and fuzzy picture?  I sure hope it does…

Doing a quick scan of the online community for some favored coffee houses in Seattle produces a plethora of results.  Luckily, I left this legwork to my traveling companion and we found that we were starting our day in a neighborhood with one on the list nearby.  Good for us, as we both needed an early caffeine jolt to get started that morning.  And so with that, we quickly made our way to Caffé Vita in the Queen Anne section of town, and found it nestled into a quiet street-side building, across from some newer condominiums.  Apparently, this location was the original base (established in 1995) of this four-café operation, which also has its own roasterie.

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Midam Rice Cake House – Burnaby, BC


Midam Rice Cake House
#110 – 4501 North Road
Burnaby, BC
(604) 568-5357

Not a dessert man, am I.  But after a hearty meal of Korean-style barbecue, we took a short walk down the stairs from the second level of this commercial complex to close out our dinner with some sweets at another establishment.

I only had a faint recollection of this place from a previous walk around and approaching 9:30pm, I wasn’t sure I’d get my chance as I reckoned that the closing hour was near.  Luckily, there was still thirty minutes on the clock and the employees inside were welcoming and gave no sense they were in a hurry to wrap up.

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Simply French Café – Vancouver, BC


Simply French Café
3742 10th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6180

Saturday mornings and quiet times in cafés are becoming a combination that I’ve come to appreciate more and more of late.  Perhaps its the dreary winter season, but the mixture of powerful aromas and hot liquids and heart warming foods to start my weekend is something that can’t be beat by much else these days.  Any of our readers feeling the same way?

I had noticed this new café being established in a building along 10th Ave W, just before the Alma intersection.  I believe it had previously housed an antique shop.  The exterior signage is bold and noticeable when passing by, thus I was drawn in after I found out renovations were completed.  It has the simple, airy feel of a European hangout, complete with an assortment of various shaped wooden chairs and tables, a long counter at the back where food and drinks are prepared, and even a wall with various French food products for sale.  Its not the typical interior that one finds in coffee houses in this part of the city, so it was a refreshing change of pace for me.  Not sure about most of you, but the cookie cutter designs that dominate the chains and even independent coffee houses in town are starting to all look alike to me, with their use of stone, modern lines and earthy color tones.

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Café Muse – Vancouver, BC


Café Muse
2305 41st Ave. W
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-2948

First off, loved the name of this place.  And no I’m not a fan of the band.

My visit was on a dreary winter weekend morning – a perfect time to get a quick cup of hot coffee, something to nibble on and work on the laptop with free wi-fi as I killed some time before a meet up with a friend.  I wasn’t alone, as several others had the same idea, some even pulling out those dreaded computers with a piece of fruit as their logo.

With a wide open glass facing, the entrance area is nice and bright.  Towards the back are more tables but feels darker and enclosed.  Why people would want to sit there when you can be in natural light is beyond me.  Pleasant and boisterous welcome from the folks behind the counter, make this place feel pretty homey.

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Springfields Cafe – Calgary, AB


Springfields Cafe
4-1715 27 Avenue NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 250-8283

Springfields Cafe on Urbanspoon

Every industrial park, office building in every city i’ve ever been in has the ubiquitous breakfast/sandwich/burger/chinese food cafe. Typically run by industrious immigrants, I can grudgingly respect their “all things to all people” approach – a departure from my usual philosophy, but after all, they can’t really afford to pass up any sales. Usually, for some strange reason, I love their grilled cheese and fries. Frozen fries fried in a t-fal fryer, process cheese melted between two heavily buttered pieces of Safeway toast. Usually $3-$4. Yes, there, i said it. I really like that junk. What can I say – being denied processed cheese as a child has made me a minor addict.

Anyway, all things to all people aside, i’ve found most of these cafes are run by Asian immigrants. And all without fail, they serve some form of wor wonton soup. The popularity of wonton soup is almost universal – safe, generally a little bland, and a nice balance of vegetables, meat, and broth. My issue is you can seldom find an actual good bowl of wonton soup! Simple things, after all, are some of the hardest to make.  If you think about it, there are a lot of components that are key to a good bowl of wor wonton soup. Nice broth – rich flavour without too much msg or sodium. The right egg noodles – firm, and chewy, that maintain their texture in the hot broth. Good crisp vegetables, cooked slightly in the heat of the broth. BBQ pork, fresh and fatty. And of course, the wontons. Nice silky skins, that hold their structure in the broth, with a rich, fatty filling of meat or seafood, with bursts of flavour (i like garlic and sesame oil).  Of course, i spent 3 months looking for a great bowl of wor wonton soup in Calgary, and have yet to find it, so most times, i’ll take a few positive things about the bowl and move on. That was the extent of my hope for Springfields Cafe.

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Anyway, I ordered the grilled cheese and fries ($3.75). Believe it or not, the fries were not very good. The straight frozen kind, they had the chalky texture of mush on the interior, and not crispy enough on the exterior. The grilled cheese was ok, though i think they used margarine instead of butter. All in all, that part was a bit disappointing.

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Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn – Inuvik, NWT


Caribou Cafe at the Eskimo Inn
133 Mackenzie Rd, Inuvik
North West Territories
(867) 777-3675

I have a confession. Im fascinated with lounges and restaurants in hotel lobbies. Typically, these paisley clad seating areas with uncomfortable seats are sparsely populated affairs, with a few lonely travelers sitting in silence, contemplating the free bar nuts, the 6th gin martini, or whether accounting will approve the 3rd order of chicken wings on expense account. Yet, somehow, they feel…real. Unpretentious. And sometimes, you even get some great food. Unless you’re on the 30 something floor of the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Columbus Circle in NYC. Then it’s pretentious :)

Lack of pretension is probably the most endearing trait to Inuvik. And across the street from the Mad Trapper, the infamous Inuvik bar, lies the Eskimo Inn. An unpretentious kind of place. When people talk about hotels and Inuvik, they invariably think of the Mackenzie hotel. Yet the Caribou Cafe draws a tremendous number of people for lunch from nearby government offices.  Eating options are not plentiful in Inuvik. And prices are high, due to enormous fuel costs for shipping in nearly all perishable goods.  Not usually a great combination.

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Decor is pretty standard northern faux-thentic. The Eskimo Inn will never be confused with a Ritz Carlton. However, it’s clean. Service is perfunctory, yet extremely slow. They move at a different rhythm to life up here. There is no rush – there is always tomorrow.

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Every day, the Caribou Cafe does a tidy lunch business. More often than not, people are ordering the daily soup and sandwich special.  On this day, the soup is potato leek, and the sandwich is roast beef. The soup, which many locals swear by, is oily beyond belief. Im not sure if they substituted butter for cream, but it leaves my skin in serious need of an oxy clean. The sandwich, is distinctly average. Bad bread. Condiments. Unremarkable roast beef. At $10, it’s a hearty serve and a good price, especially for Inuvik. But the food is distinctly mediocre.

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Continuing with day 3 of the grease parade – this time, a good sampling of their burger and fries. This will easily cure my Eskimo Inn malaise I hoped! However, there is nothing redeeming about this burger (firehouse burger pictured). For $14, what is essentially a Safeway frozen burger loaded with cheap toppings and some lousy fries, i’d rather go to the grocery store and get something else to eat. Even if a big bag of chips costs $5! Or the Inuvialuit Development Corporation next door. Sometimes they have Char Chowder or other local delicacies floating around their staff kitchen. Ask nicely and you may get to try some amazing local food.

I have been expecting this to happen. After all, there must be some let downs in a town covered near in perpetual dark

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ness in winter. Sadly, there was nothing enjoyable about the Caribou Cafe. Some people told me their split pea soup is amazing. Something worth trying perhaps, though i am not a huge split pea soup fan. I was hoping that the lobby characteristics of the Caribou Cafe would bring with it some charm, yet it fails to do so. And more importantly, in a town with some history and culture of local food cultivation, the lack of any local ingredients  in the food served on my plate makes it even more disappointing. Frozen food trucked up from Yellowknife is not my idea of great restaurant food. Lobby or no lobby.