Dio Deka – Los Gatos, CA

Dio Deka
210 E. Main St.
Los Gatos, CA 95030
Open 11:30am-2:00pm, 5pm-10pm Mon-Fri. 5pm-10pm Sat. 10:30am-2:00pm, 5pm-9pm Sun.


As a 15 year old (more years in the past than I’d like to admit), I went to Greece as part of a high school trip. While I had travelled abroad a number of times before, this was my first visit to Europe and the history, people and food (yes, even then), perhaps predictably, made a lasting impression. While I’ve done quite a bit more travelling since then, I’m not sure I’ll have such a strong memory of Europe as the first night at our hotel on Parthenonos street, with the namesake monument lit up and viewed perfectly from our room’s balcony like a floating home for the gods. Our late dinner comprised of rather exotic fare for a young Canadian lad – moussaka (delicious!) and baklava – helping to take some of the sting out of a long and delayed trip.

Fast forward to a recent trip to Dio Deka, a rather well-received, modern and pricey Greek restaurant in upscale Los Gatos, CA. Instead of the sloppy, primally satisfying street food served nightly in the Plaka, the owners wanted a place where Greek cuisine could be experienced through a highly refined lens. The tzatziki appetizer resembles not so much Monet – broad-brush impressionist tzatziki such as that I make at home (a handful of this, a pinch of that) – and much more Ansel Adams, made with great clarity, executed with precision, and carefully calculated to hit doubles (if not home runs) with American diners.

The aforementioned tzatziki had clearly been made with yogurt painstakingly squeezed of all water, leaving behind a very thick spread that more than slightly reminded me of herbed cream cheese. It was very tasty, but was clearly lacking garlic (as the foodosopher pointed out about two milliseconds after it hit his taste buds) and the normal yogurt tang that one would otherwise expect. The popular lamb meatball appetizer, each skewered on a small stick of rosemary, were similarly well-executed, though the sauce was a bit non-descript.

The terrific grilled calamari salad, produced from the mesquite grill which constantly belched smoke into the large ventilation system, had beautiful char marks while being impressively tender.

This same grill produces the famous Dio Deka lamb chops, three to a plate and cooked, after some negotiation, to a tip-top perfect medium-rare (which required asking for it rare-to-medium-rare). Some have criticized these lamb chops for lacking “flavor”, by which I think they mean that characteristic lambiness that causes some to shy away. I’m not in that camp, as I prefer it when the meat expresses its origin sotto voce, rather than yelling in my ear, so I found the subtle flavor rather delicious. The double-thick Berkshire pork chop was similarly flawlessly executed – it was cooked exactly to the knife edge between underdone and overdone that is often so elusive with pork. The accompaniments with these dishes were exactly that: no more, no less. One entree, a braised lamb shank with orzo, didn’t come from the grill. The meat itself was braised lovingly to falling-apartness, but the orzo was far too rich with butter and cheese that made the meat seem lean (not an easy task). We did not opt for any desserts, but they certainly looked to be great crowd-pleasers. The “Greek beignets” seemed to appear at every table, although I’m not so sure they would be ten percent as popular if the menu read “Greek doughnut” instead. The wine list was quite strong, even by Bay Area standards. There are a good two to three dozen wines available by the glass, with a handful of interesting wines interspersed among the sea of populist choices.

The owners have succeeded – wildly, by all appearances – in their quest to bring updated Greek cuisine to the well-to-do masses. However, this success comes at the expense of the Greek-ness of the whole experience. If one wanted to be cynical, one might even claim that Dio Deka is really an American steakhouse with a definite but carefully-measured Greek twist. The menu seemingly explores a rather small fraction of Greek cuisine in order to ensure that the food retains a familiarity for American palates (although further visits might be needed to fully confirm this – the restaurant for some reason has taken the menu off their website, at least from what I can tell). This populist path means that it is a very useful place for parties with less-adventurous eaters who nevertheless want to experience something different. The noise level was a bit high, though, so don’t take the grandparents from Iowa unless you’re sure they’re up for it. The strength of the restaurant are the dishes from the grill station which were all executed with GPS precision and are the reason to go back. It won’t replace in my heart my first late-night lamb souvlaki, however imperfect it was, but not for a lack of trying. It’s not so much food that has been dumbed-down as food calibrated perfectly by their shrewd business plan.

Dio Deka on Urbanspoon

Mac Falafel – Vancouver, BC

[Normally I’d encourage viewers to click on the image to get a closeup of a great creation, but this time, do it for the laughs.  Go on.  I promise I won’t tell.]

Mac Falafel
3685 10th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC

Had to be done.

Introducing, the World’s Most Pathetic Beef Donair.

– processed meat slices out of a warming bin
– dry, stale pita (actually 1.5 pitas, half of another was torn to make this strange contraption)
– limp lettuce
– some dab of a tzatziki sauce in there someplace

This is a “large” with the “works”.  All yours for $4.99 plus tax.

Welcome to Mac Falafel.

Avoid at all costs…

Mac Falafel on Urbanspoon

X-talk: Makanai Ryori

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Returning to the tiny subfolder here that the Foodosopher has dubbed “X-talk”, for anything that is off the usual path of restaurant reviews, I thought I would touch on a topic that is known as “makanai ryori” (Japanese in origin).

Literally translating the characters for this word, it means “to make due”, “to cover off”.  It also has a connotation of “providing” (as in a supplier) but in this case it refers more to the former definition.  Simple stated, “makanai ryori (cuisine)” are dishes that are made by those working in the kitchen for their own consumption while on the job, using ingredients or materials that would be considered “waste”, not worthy of being used for preparations for actual paying customers, or whatever might be left over in the refrigerator (to clear it out).  This could entail things like the hard core of a head of cabbage, the lower quality ends bits off the end of a rack of pork ribs, the remnants of a braising liquid, etc.  It might not sound like much, but in essence, this is a little known training exercise for apprentice chefs looking to improve their culinary skills and/or impress their bosses in the kitchen to give them a bigger role during service.

Traditionally, it is the younger cooks who are tasked with making these meals for the rest of the kitchen crew.  It’s their chance to show what they’ve learned, especially in those kitchen environments where nothing is formally taught, and any newbie must keep his eyes and ears open to take in any technique or bit of knowledge more senior members of the kitchen may be wielding.  In Japanese, this is called “minarai“, literally “learn by watching”.  So things are taken quite seriously when their turns comes up to prepare for the whole entourage of their peers in the kitchen.

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The Flying Tiger – Vancouver, BC

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The Flying Tiger
2958 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-737-7529
Hours: Mon-Wed, 5:30pm-11pm; Thu-Sat, 5:30pm-12am; Sun, 5:30pm-10pm

Driving along W 4th Ave, I’d spotted the sign for The Flying Tiger on more than a few occassions, and most of the time I just thought it was a tattoo parlour (from its interesting logo) or some kind of store selling Asian-themed goods or something.  But this day upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was actually an eating establishment, and thus decided to check it out with some friends.  The menu dubbed itself as being “modern Asian street food”, which kind of raised some concerns in the back of my mind as whenever the word “fushion” pops out, I tend to run for cover.  Thankfully though, I was pleasantly surprised with most of the dining experience here, so let me go into some detail…

The menu consisted of about twenty items that were broken down into headings labelled “smaller” and “larger”, with a few “sides listed as well.  Apparently the food is meant for sharing, which ended up being ideal so we could all sample bits and pieces of each dish.  Obviously, the menu was trying to cater to the entire Asian continent with its liberal naming of items and tagging on the country where the inspiration was drawn from be it Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam, etc.

Began my meal with a refreshing cocktail called an Indian Summer, made up of Bombay Sapphire, ginger liqueur, berries, lime, and pineapple juice.  Then the food began to arrive at our table one at a time, with long breaks of time in between (we’d gotten there early, so the place wasn’t yet busy but once it was full, the time between dishes took even longer, I’d say at least thirty minutes).  It seemed like a very popular place from about 8pm onwards and reservations are a must as I saw many people getting turned away at the door (coincidentally, we had no reservation but got seated at the one table that was free at that time).  Inside, it was quite dark, especially towards the back of the room.  Music was playing at a good level though once the room filled up and conversations started everywhere, it got difficult to hear people sitting at your very own table.  Very much a lounge-like atmosphere though quite laid back in terms of atmosphere and no attitude from servers (who also took time to explain each component of each dish as it arrived at our table, something that I appreciate).

Our first dish was the Crispy Thai Squid, which were crispy panko crusted slices of fresh squid, with a dip of sambal ($9).  The breading was nice and light and not oily at all, and the squid was very well done, not that rubbery mess that you often find with frozen squid product.  It came served in a simple white cup with some paper to absorb any excess oil.  I’d recommend this item off the “smaller” side of the menu as a good appetizer to start your meal.

Next up came the Pulled Duck Confit Crepes ($16), served with a jicama and cucumber salad with Vietnamese coriander to add to your self-serve crepes.  The aromatic hints of mint and basil in the confit contrasted well with the tender meat mixture.  The bowl of duck confit had more than enough for the six crepes on the plate, but you could order more on their own, which we did as this dish was quite delicious.  How can you go wrong with a flavorful protein cooked in its own fat?

Looking for some more substance, our next dish was the Humba Style Braised Pork Belly, a Filipino-style preparation which was braised in a sweet marinade which tasted like it contained some soy sauce, acid from some vinegar, bay leaf, garlic (not too strong though) and the obvious taste of star anise.  On the side was a leaf wrapped up like a Japanese sushi maki, that was filled with some garlic fried rice (now this was very garlicky).  The pork belly was again very tender as one would hope, and the rich flavors worked well with the more plain tasting fried rice (which was too dry on its own to eat).  It wasn’t as easy to eat as the a fore mentioned duck confit.

Last came the Hawker Street Noodles ($14), made up of egg noodles, shiitake mushrooms, prawns, peas, and bok choy, that was stir fried in a sweet oyster-based sauce.  Upon looking at it, it didn’t look too bad, but I was disappointed in the overall taste.  The sauce was just too gluey and pulling the noodles out of the bowl was a challenge, as it ended up being this great big gooey clump of noodles.  We didn’t end up finishing this at all, and perhaps it was one dish too many, or just a bad dish that was the wrong call.

So I can say that I was glad that I discovered what this establishment was all about, and was a nice venue to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen in a while.  No big push from servers for you to leave after your meal and the bigger gaps in time before each dish arrived actually helped stretch out the evening and have a good long conversation over an interesting and for the most part, a good tasting meal.

Apologies for the lack of quality in the images this time around, the darkness of the room made it a real challenge to get any decent lighting (and I refuse to use a flash).

P.S. The Flying Tiger boasts that it is proud to offer natural, free-range meats, organic produce and wild, sustainable seafood and locally sourced (when available), so if you are into these food conscious aspects it should have some appeal.

Flying Tiger on Urbanspoon

Golden Phoenix – Vancouver, BC

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Golden Phoenix Chinese Seafood Restaurant
2425 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-253-9717 & 604-253-6183
Hours: Sun-Thu, 9am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 9am-1am

Popularized in western culture, dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine that revolves around an array of small dishes that are eaten with Chinese tea, and typically in the morning hours.  The act of drinking Chinese tea (yum cha) plays a key role in this type of dining, and its roots go back to the long ago times of teahouses where people would gather, socialize and share some simple meals.  There was an older Chinese gentleman sitting nearby who took this to heart, as I watched him drink tea constantly, and then occasionally taking a bit of some dish he had ordered, and this continued in ten minute bursts.  Personally for me, I think its a great combination as despite that fact that many dim sum dishes are steamed, and thus have the image of being healthy, a lot are fatty, oily and darnright salty, so the refreshing Chinese tea does aid in digesting it all.

The addition of the word “seafood” in this restaurant’s title is a bit deceiving, as checking out the menu, there is indeed a section for seafood but its just 14 items on a full menu that boasts a total of 106 dishes.  My main intent on this day was to check out their dim sum offerings, which still get delivered to your table by staff pushing around carts or carrying them around by hand.  There is a narrow yellow sheet of paper that tallies up your choices that ends up being totaled up to generate your final bill.  Items ranged from $2.95 to $4.25.  The randomness of it all is part of the appeal to me of going to these old-school dim sum places like at Golden Phoenix.  Its always a game to discover what is indeed under those little lids and sometimes it takes a tearing apart of the food itself to know what is contained inside.  Sure there are the staple beef, chicken, pork, prawn and vegetable offerings that I’ve gotten familiar with over the years, but sometimes there are many unknowns out there that raise my curiousity level.

At the Golden Phoenix, I felt that the servers were a bit pushy with trying to get your to try just about all the dishes that came around.  Everything was “very delicious” according to the staff, who must have seen that the overcrowded table could not possibly accept any more plates or steamed baskets.  I think I took more than was needed, and some I regretted: the lo mai gai (glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf) is one of my favorites and it contained some chunks of chicken and mushrooms and was very flavorful; deep fried and coated in black bean sauce chicken feet – not my cup of tea; shaomai (steamed pork dumplings) were good, though you can’t get anymore basic than this for dim sum; something that resembled har gow (a large shrimp inside topped with a layer of scallop) was probably my favorite on this day, the shrimp was big and tender; and then some sweets whose names I can’t recall (one was a ginger flavored sweet potato mixture inside).

The Golden Phoenix is a mid-sized restaurant, with round tables scattered about and tight seating, which made it impossible for some of the carts to navigate around the room without bumping into someone or something.  Its brightly lit, with some simple faux-wood paneling on the walls and the tables were all clean.  Its a little out of the way for those who don’t live on the east side of Vancouver, and there are many other choices for dim sum in the downtown core or out in Richmond, but the Golden Phoenix should meet your dim sum craving should you be in the neighborhood and want to avoid the monsterous and busy caverns elsewhere where dim sum is served.  And this way, you can better enjoy your Chinese tea and not feel rushed.

Golden Phoenix Chinese Seafood on Urbanspoon

Little Italy Cafe – Calgary, AB

Little Italy Cafe
1935 – 27 Avenue NE
Calgary, AB T2E 7E4
(403) 291-5654
Open 9:00am-4:00pm-ish, M-F; Closed Sat, Sun and Holidays

September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

If you’ve ever worked in an industrial park, you can attest to how difficult it is to find good food. Small sandwich shops, offering the always odd assortment of sandwiches, soup (usually Wonton!), french fries, samosas, and burgers, dot the landscape – trying to capture as much of the local pedestrian traffic as possible. Every once in a while though, you come across a good find that is worth patronizing. Little Italy Cafe is one of these finds.

Little Italy Cafe is not really located in an industrial park – but on a commuter road sandwiched between several industrial parks in NE Calgary. Fancy doesnt work here. Good solid, gut warming meals are the order of the day. They focus on some standard Italian sandwiches, cold cuts, meatballs, and veal cutlet, as well as a few daily hot specials. A baked pasta, a regular pasta, and often times sausage, chicken, or other assorted meat. And they do so at an extremely affordable price.

The restaurant is owned by the affable Piero Perrotta – an extremely friendly, outgoing Italian gentleman who is a bit forgetful. So the ladies in the kitchen always complain about anyway, as they yell at him to “fix this order, pick up this order, hurry this up!”. Service is quite slow, typically as he takes a minute out of his day to chat with each customer. However, i kind of like it. It reminds me a bit of Italy – a stark contrast of high speed, while maintaining priority for things that matter, like socialization.

The food itself is made by a few Noni’s in the back. The kind i wish still made lunch for me every day. The sandwiches, which are ok, are not what i would recommend here.  The bread, after all, is that tasteless 12″ roll. Pasta – in massive quantities, is the order of the day. At $7.95, you get a very large serving of whatever pasta they decided to make that day. Usually there is a baked, and a regular dried pasta topped with gravy, and some form of meat. My favorite are their meatballs – wonderful, large, hand-rolled meatballs that are the typical Italian soft and crumbly consistency. Throw some roasted peppers on there, some “gun powder” chili flakes, and you have a tasty. very filling homemade meal. Things are not the perfect al dente, but it doesn’t matter. My mom never got pasta a perfect al dente either.  

Little Italy Cafe is not fine dining. No one will mistake this for Capo, Il Sogno, or other high end Italian restaurants in Calgary that do “fine” Italian Cuisine. What Little Italy does well is comfort food – homestyle Italian cooking. The kind your Noni would make – if you were Italian, and you had a Noni. And when your other choices are another grilled cheese and Wonton soup combo, it is, on many a day, comforting indeed.

Little Italy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Transcend Coffee – Edmonton, AB

Transcend Coffee
9869 – 62nd Avenue
Edmonton, AB T6E 0E4
(780) 430-9198
Open 7:30am-5:30pm, M-F; 9:30am-5:00pm Sat; Closed Sundays and Holidays

September 2008 re-visit post below

Original post below:

Unlike food, I don’t get coffee. Not yet anyway. But someday soon, i hope to. You see, many years ago, back in my University days (where i met Shokutsu), I drank coffee for stimulation – typically to keep me awake through a combo of too little sleep, and boring boring classes. This was rocket fuel – sludge loaded with sugar and cream to make it palatable. It didnt taste good, but this was the way coffee was supposed to taste. Coffee was cool. An easy date. And a necessity. And i could learn to like it.

Fast forward several years, and we have the proliferation of Starbucks. Expensive, catchy drinks with a lingo all its own. The drinks taste better than rocket fuel, but that’s because of the skinny, vanilla, extra hot, half and half, venti, whatever else is in the cup that makes it a coffee beverage. This tastes better than sludge, so im happy. But it doesnt taste like coffee. It tastes like sugar. And vanilla. But it’s good!

Today, there is a proliferation of “good” coffee – single origin, the concept of terroir, roasted dates, tasting notes. There is proper temperature and steeping time, fancy grinders and tampers. The complexity of coffee is endless. In the end, none of these things really matter. This coffee tastes better – that’s what matters.

The bottom line is simple: Transcend Coffee produces great coffee. They are passionate about coffee. And they love to educate people about coffee. Running a small roasterie in an industrial area of SW Edmonton, they have added a small retail cafe to a thriving roasting business. Their prices are cheap – relative to the expertise and the quality of their product. They have experienced baristas, who compete at a high level, to produce your espresso drinks. These have the fancy art, and the really nice full flavour. The good crema on top of your espresso, and the great textured foam. They also have a Clover Machine – an automated french press that is able to reproduce a near perfect cup of coffee each time, bringing out wonderful flavours like chocolate, citrus, grass, honey out of the coffee. Coffee is surprisingly complex – more than wine, and similar to food. The flavours you can taste will surprise you. Drink it black. Bitter, rancid coffee doesnt happen here. It’s how you taste the good stuff.

I feel particularly comfortable at Transcend. The room itself is warm and comfortable.  The people are nice. The service is friendly. They have a small selection of food (in house baked goods, outsourced baked goods, sandwiches, and chocolate bars from Chocophilia). More importantly, they are happy to discuss their #1 passion – coffee. And they put up with all my questions, no matter how inane, or oft repeated they are.

There is a slow growing movement towards “great” coffee – and Transcend definitely are helping lead the charge in Alberta. If you’re open-minded to trying it yourself, put down that cup of Starbucks and give it a shot. Like me, you may learn something new, and even enjoy it! Because afterall, at the end of the day, coffee, like food is about enjoyment.  Consume what you enjoy. And if you get something more out of it, all the power to you.  Maybe someday, i’ll get coffee. I’ll keep trying anyway. And in the meantime, i’ll keep going to Transcend Coffee, and learning a bit more about coffee sip by sip.

Transcend Coffee on Urbanspoon