Sai-z Japanese Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

[Update: July 2009.  After a brief concept change to a lower priced izakaya-style menu, has now closed its doors, changed ownership and renamed]

Dare to be different. Amid the hundreds of restaurants offering sushi in the greater Vancouver area, in all forms from the horrifically bad but cheap all-you-can-eat, to very good but preferably-on-expense-account options, it is clear that some have taken a step to differentiate. When it comes to their creations, some have been quite bold and have included ingredients that would make die hard traditionalists cringe and scream bloody murder. Sai-z is clearly one of them, incorporating a creative blend of traditional and non-traditional ingredients in many of their dishes. Case in point, their use of fruits such as mango and papaya in some of their sushi rolls!

Located on popular West Broadway, which is lined with numerous restaurants thus competition is fierce, Sai-z is located across the street from a boutique cinema theater. When the weather is warm, the sliding doors are opened, and there is a narrow patio that has a few tables right on the sidewalk. Stepping inside, the waiting area leads to the main floor area with table seating that has a mini grand piano off to the right. On this night, there wasn’t a live performer, but I am told that it does take place on certain nights. The crowd was quite young, mainly twenty-something groups of friends or couples on dates. I think the relaxed mood of the place probably is conducive to intimate outings and conversations, compared to say the boisterous izakaya scene downtown.

Scanning the special summer set price offering and not finding it to our interest, my dining companion and I chose from the regular menu. After placing our order for drinks, a one-spoon otoushi of a marinated mixture of tuna and green onions. Unfortunately, this was bad, quite literally – it had a terrible fishy smell to it. Not the best of starts.

Seeing the uni chawanmushi peaked my curiosity, so I had to give this a try. A large piece of uni was floating on top of this steamed Japanese egg custard, and deep below were some other seafood ingredients such as scallops, fishcake, prawns, as well as some mushrooms and thin slivers of yuzu peel. The base stock that was used was quite rich, perhaps too much for my personal liking. The addition of the uni certainly didn’t aid in lightening things up. It tasted okay, but I guess I like my chawanmushi simpler.

Another hot appetizer we had was this noodle wrapped and deep-fried shrimp served with a spicy mayo dip. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the plump, juicy shrimp inside was superb! The overall flakiness of it made it a bit messy to eat at times, as bits would fly off while biting through the crust. The dip was a mixture of shichimi and Japanese mayonnaise, adding both a creamy and spicy element to the total dish (and a mix that I’m finding appear more and more around Vancouver’s izakaya scene). This was a great pick up from the hot appetizer section.

Next up was the sushi selection. By-passing some of the unique choices, we settled on a single roll, called the Double Smoke Roll. This was comprised of a combo of unagi (smoked eel) and smoked salmon. Pieces of fake crabmeat, tempura bits and sprouts also added some more texture and flavor, with the outside of the roll dressed with a sweet teriyaki-like sauce. I thought the dual smoked flavored would be overpowering, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Each piece was densely packed, making it feel more filling than it already ways. A solid offering.

A platter of assorted nigiri rounded out our meal, sixteen pieces of maguro, shake, ebi, hamachi, hotate, tobiko, uni, unagi, a California roll and a dynamite roll. The size of the rice ball was “very Japanese”, by that I mean it was smallish and loosely compacted. Personally, this is what I am used to and prefer. So I was glad that it wasn’t that usually tightly bound, poorly flavored, monster-sized ball of sushi rice that you find at too many places in this town. The fish was good, each fresh and succulent, and not too big that it would take more then one mouthful.

Sai-z definitely feels and looks unlike your regular run of the mill restaurant specializing in Japanese food in Vancouver. I think it may be remnants of a previous tenant (Italian, Greek?) but the inner chamber looked very inviting with it high ceiling. There seemed to be a second deck above as I could hear some people upstairs dining as well. The open sushi bar that lines the back wall was quite long, and I could picture people wanting to sit up there and take in the show. Service was a bit lacking at times, with servers spending more time standing by the sushi bar than paying attention to diners. Our server in particular was quite anxious in clearing away our plates each time, which bothered me as it seems she was more interested in doing that than any other service task. Finally, pricing was perhaps above average, and thus might turn off some folks who are used to more quick dine-and-dash sushi joints.

I’ll certainly go back, though probably not often just given the price point. There are still a slew of menu items that I’d like to try out, so that gives me another reason to return.

Sai-z Japanese Restaurant
3116 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-732-7249
Hours: [Lunch] Fri-Sun, 12pm to 2:30pm; [Dinner] Sun to Thu, 5:30pm to 10:30pm; Fri & Sat, 5:30pm to 11:30pm

Sai Z on Urbanspoon

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town] – Vancouver, BC

To recognize the return of university students to the campus at UBC this week, I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the eating options for these youth at the University Village, as they begin or continue their journey in nourishing their minds through academia…

First off, Leona Mediterranean.  Here they serve mainly curries and simple wraps, as well as some platted offerings.  I ordered the special of the day, a chicken leg stewed in a tomato-base, served with a side of cooked vegetables, rice and choice of one salad (I chose the Greek).  The chicken had been marinated okay, and the sauce had both a sweet and sour flavor, not surprising since it was coming from tomatoes.  The rice, a long grain, was a little dry which made me wish more of the sauce that chicken was stewed in had been provided.  The carrot, green bean, potato mixture was decent, with flavor properties like the chicken.  The salad was fresh, nice crisp cucumber and green peppers.  All in all, an adequate and filling meal, which felt healthy.

Next, the Curry Point.  Its located in the far end of the hall, so difficult to spot when you come down the stairs.  It’s part of a chain comprised of three outlets in BC.  The others being in North Vancouver and one on the Island in Nanaimo.  Here you can choose from various curries, getting as little or as much variety as you wish.  The non-veg curries included some Murg Makhani (aka Butter Chicken), the veg ones had among others, Chana Masala.  I elected a non-veg and a veg to complete my pairing, that came with some rice as well as a piece of naan (which was too soggy).  The Gosht Masala (beef curry) had boneless beef, all in the garlicy, tomato paste gravy – but lacking any spicy heat.  The daal (lentil curry) suffered from the heating pan system, as they were breaking down much more than they should, and at the end tasted really chalky.  Again, not much spice at all in the flavoring here, probably “dumbed down” for the local crowd.  I’d pass on this joint, even if it is fast food Indian.

Curry Point (UBC) on Urbanspoon

Finally, Donair Town.  The surprise of the lot, as I was pleased with the tasty package I received, a pita filled shawarma, and I chose a mixture of beef and chicken (both soft and crispier bits).  Stuffed with some fresh lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, and generous dollops of Tzatziki and garlic paste.  The regular size ($5.99) was my order and it turned out to be a fully stuffed package, not sure if I could have eaten the super size offering.

I liked how they wrapped it all up tightly, completely enclosed so nothing could slip out until the moment it was consumed.  Less of a mess, and was appreciated as I took it back to my car.  I could see a few kids carrying this out on my way down to the food court here, so know its a popular choice.

So there you have it, a trio of samplings for the back to school crowd.  Back in my days of school, they had nothing like these ethnic offerings, so am quiet envious about the choice today’s students have in their basic on-campus food zones.

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town]
B1, 5728 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC

Donair Town on Urbanspoon

Puspa East Indian Restaurant – Calgary, AB

Puspa East Indian Restaurant
1051 40 Avenue NW
Calgary, AB T2K 0G2
(403) 282-6444
Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10:30pm

It doesn’t always pay to be on the leading edge. In Jennifer Lee’s book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”, she documents how migrant Chinese workers moved into the restaurant business in the early 1900’s. Rather than serve traditional Chinese food, which would be a tough sell, they served the invented dish Chop Suey; as both a big joke on all the “white people”, and to sell palatable Chinese food to a culture that was adverse to most of the qualities of authentic Chinese food. With increased global awareness, this challenge is not uncommon today either. New cuisines, as they enter a city, or another culture, face many different challenges. They are responsible for educating a whole new audience on the flavours and values that make up their cuisine, while serving something that will suit their tastes. The end result is often a watered down, blander, less authentic version of the cuisine. Sort of like Chop Suey.

Puspa East Indian Restaurant is located in a small stripmall in NW Calgary. While they were not one of the first East Indian restaurants in Calgary, they were definitely on the leading edge, having been around for more than 15 years. The restaurant itself is littered with old reviews ranging from 1994 to 2001, which always makes me nervous.

The decor itself is dated, but the environment is very clean. A smiling proprietor appears from the back a minute after I enter the establishment – apparently the only one serving today. I am promptly seated. And the proprietor disappears again.

During their lunch hour, instead of a buffet, they have lunch specials available. Basically a plate of curry available in a variety of meats, on a bed of rice and salad. Ringing in under 10 bucks, the price is definitely a good selling feature. I order the lamb curry, and a side of naan as well.

The naan arrives fairly hot from the tandoor. It looks great. Unfortunately, that only leads to greater disappointment.  It is a bit soggy, and completely flavourless,

The curry arrived as stewed meat with no distinguishable curry flavour.  The salad was limp. The rice was ok. The meat was recognizable as lamb. A bit tough and stringy, but I knew what i was eating.

Surpsingly enough, their menu actually has some interesting dishes on it. Unfortunately, in what i sampled, their food lacked the heat, spice and depth that make up the Indian food that i enjoy. Their longevity obviously speaks to some level of success, but for those of you who have developed a more distinguished palate when it comes to Indian food, this may be a place to pass on. With reviews from 2001 and prices to match, It’s too bad really that they havent managed to adapt their flavours for a more modern audience. Because really, a good Chop Suey can still be good.

Puspa on Urbanspoon

Bernard Callebaut – Calgary, AB

Bernard Callebaut, Head Office
1313 1 Street SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 266-4300

The theme for today is short and sweet. Bernard Callebaut, descendant from the Barry Callebaut family, is a chocolatier based in Calgary Alberta, and has redefined chocolate for an entire generation of Western Canadians. This is not a premium chocolate, like a rare wild cocoa criollo, but it has paved the way for better chocolate. Much like Starbucks lead the way for coffee, Bernard Callebaut has raised the bar from Laura Secord to something better.

At their head office location, they not only manufacture the chocolates that are distributed all around North America, they experiment and play with different ideas. One of these ideas is serving soft-serve ice cream –  made with iced milk. It comes in chocolate, and vanilla flavours. For $3.75 for a small, it is a decadent dessert. But it is served only seasonally in summer, and they shut the machine down every fall, until the coming of the following summer.

It’s really good. And time is running out for another year. Give it a try. It is both short, and sweet.

Bernard Callebaut on Urbanspoon

European Bakery and Deli – Calgary, AB

European Bakery and Deli
160-515 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2S 0A9
(403) 806-3768

Meat on a stick. Meat wrapped in dough. Every culture has some variation of these tasty treats, and I have to admit, I’ve never really found one I didnt like. While im sure anthropologists have some theory for why these managed to develop separately in countries with no trade, or historical contact, the end result is really all that matters. When attending a festival, or travelling abroad, you can always count on finding a new local variant of meat in dough. Something a little less exotic, and a little more familiar, on one of your less adventurous days.

Hidden in a small recessed storefront, underneath an apartment building on 17th Ave SW in Calgary – better known as the Red Mile – the European Bakery and Deli, from outwards appearances, seems to be another in the long line of independent convenience stores. “Porn, liquor, and smokes” my University friends used to call these ubiquitous stores. With one drastic difference: Bakery really means bakery. Inside is a treasure trove of breads and other baked delights. Including Burek.

The first Burek i ever had was the Bosnian & Herzegovina version – rolled puff pastry filled with spiced beef, and coiled into a pie and baked. This was an extremely tasty treat – each bite netting a great combination of pastry and spiced meat – no bite was left wanting. This was a dish truly worthy of the meat in dough tradition.

I first heard mention from John Manzo (by way of Chowhound) , frequent Foodosophy commenter, that fresh Bureks were available in Calgary at the European Bakery and Deli. I was slightly disappointed to discover that they served the Serbian version – rounds of pastry and meat that more resemble a Calzone, but i quickly put that aside and looked forward to sampling a new meat in dough offering.

European Bakery and Deli had two Burek versions available – meat, and cheese. Cut like pizza slices, a very large piece of each was laid out in a to go container, with the corners thoughtfully cut to allow steam to escape. These are probably better eaten promptly, than allowing them to cool, and get a bit soggy.

The verdict? Not bad. The meat one was quite good – the outside was baked to a wonderful golden brown, with a satisfying, crispy bite. The pastry inside was soft, not flaky, but contrasted well with the crust. The meat itself was a bit sparse, many bites missing the required blend of dough and filling. It was also a bit under-seasoned, and could have used with a few more spices, and salt. The cheese offering was a bit worse – filled with feta, it came out a bit mouth-blistering salty. Once again, some spices, or hot sauce, would have been a welcome relief from the blast of salty, sticky feta. However, at the price (~$3.50), it’s really hard to complain about something handmade, that can easily serve as a large snack for a hungry person. If you have no shame like me, next time, i would bring tomatoes, banana peppers, and some spinach, and stuff the cheese Burek with them, making a better balanced, tastier meal.

What have i learned from all this? Surprisingly, a lot. Im surprised that a few regional differences in a Burek would result in such a difference in taste. Considering these version both come from the former Yugoslavia. I never expected there to be such variation. After all, in Asian cuisine, a dumpling is a dumpling to me, and i love them all. While i will continue to search for Bosnian Bureks, the ones available fresh at the European Bakery and Deli are worth the occasional drop in.

European Bakery and Deli on Urbanspoon

The Philosophy of Theft and Plagiarism –

Culprits: www(dot)martiniboys(dot)com
Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Miami, NYC
Open 24hrs. Thieving for 23 of them.

I first came across the concept of online plagiarism through one of my favorite blogs, Chez Pim, when she highlighted a thief that was stealing both her pictures, and content, and representing it as their own. While i definitely felt for her indignation, I didnt really understand her level of anger. She wasnt asking for much (attribution basically), but still seemed quite angry. Apparently, it has happened again recently, and once again, there is quite a mixed response. I figured with such a popular site in the blogsphere, theft is definitely an issue, but never with us. Well, i can tell you theft is not reserved for just the big sites. Those who often patronizingly tell you that “you don’t understand until it happens to you”, here’s another story to add to your large arsenal of “I told you so’s”. I finally understand where she is coming from, and that understanding is courtesy of Canadian-based lifestyle site, martiniboys. The L’Epicerie entry by Foodosophy has been plagiarized.

I was googling L’Epicerie today to check to see if they had a website with a list of products online. Out of my own curiosity, i was interested in seeing where we ranked in the google search results. Chowhound, understandably, rated first. They are a wonderful resource with a lot of traffic, and inbound and outbound links. Then i noticed that Martiniboys ranked second – ahead of Foodosophy!? – and that they had a review of L’Epicerie as well. I was interested in seeing what they thought.

Foodosophy - ripped off!

Foodosophy - ripped off!

The first thing that caught my eye was the picture that they used. Im not a great photographer like Shokutsu is, but I recognize my own work. And i remember struggling with the right angle to take that picture in my car, in weird light. And the very flat color that the picture was finished with. While i had been warned by Shokutsu that photograph theft was a huge problem online,  I didnt think anyone would ever want my photos. While i’ve seen a lot of incidents of photo theft, maybe this wasn’t. I figured, well, maybe they took the same picture. It is cropped after all…

As i started to read their review, I caught a strange vibe – the structure was very similar to how i write. On a closer examination of the first paragraph, it was an exact paraphrase of my post. Maybe this was still an accident? People can have similar writing styles after all.

Reading on, I realized that they had taken every concept from my post, and re-worded it. Even errors and omissions. Arugula is not an ingredient that is usually on the foie gras sandwich. My typo, Moutarde spelt as Moutard, should have been corrected. They also introduced factually incorrect information. I wasn’t going to say anything MARTINIBOYS, but Teatro is not French, it’s Italian. And the Rilette at L’Epicerie is DUCK, not the traditional pork, which you would know if you actually ventured inside, instead of wikipedia’ing everything. Or been there at all. Ok, this was no longer an accident. I have been violated.

How do i feel about this? Im upset. Really upset. Why would i go from “understandably upset, but nothing to get mad about” to “im really pissed off and i’ll be contacting the DMCA and a lawyer to proceed with legal action”?  I’m mad because by participating in the blogsphere, I finally understand how much work it takes. A few hours to write a posting. Some time spent fact checking to make sure i havent said anything erroneously. It takes time to process the photos so they look somewhat attractive. Put it all together, it is a lot of time spent. Im especially upset because they arent just a small independent blogger out sharing information with all the other readers and contributors – and decided our photos looked better than theirs – but they are a site where people are paid, and advertisers pay for traffic that should be generated by original content. Lastly, im really upset, because Shokutsu warned me when we first started, and that my blind faith in humankind has once again let me down. Im the fool, I laughed at him. I told him “your photos are nice, but really, who’s going to steal any of our stuff? We’re just a few people who like writing about the food we love, and some of our experiences”.

I expect they will catch wind of this soon enough, and likely pull the offending post, but i’ve done my best to document the trail. While im hoping for a retraction, and a published apology, I don’t expect to get one. If they’ve stolen from us, i’d guarantee they’ve stolen from other sites as well. So consider this a warning to the rest of you. Check their site to see if any of your content has been stolen. And report them. Contact their advertisers. More importantly, don’t allow them to profit off of your hard work. It’s a sleazy practice, and it should be put to a stop. Sorry Pim – I didnt fully understand why you were so upset, but i do now. I’m sorry Shokutsu that i doubted you. Im sorry martiniboys that i believed people were better than this. And mostly, im sorry i had to dedicate my time and energy to posting something like this, instead of talking about the things i love most. Food and Foodosophy.

(Aug 27, 1:31pm MST) Edit: Sorry, i realized i hadnt linked the original article. Here is the original link.

House of Tofu Soup – Burnaby, BC

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

(Pukchangdong) House of Tofu Soup
4563 North Road
Burnaby, BC
Tel: 604-420-5254
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-9:30pm; Sun, closed

When a place puts in its name, one dish that its supposed to specialize in and do very well, I tend to have high expectations.  After all, if its in the name, they better have game.  Unfortunately, the House of Tofu Soup did not live up to what I was hoping for in terms of their soondubu (Korean Soft Tofu Stew) and I came away quite disappointed.

The House of Tofu Soup is off to the side of North Road heading south coming off the Lougheed Highway, and its quite easy to miss the turnoff into the space as the building is recessed a bit from the road.  The letdown was probably amplified by the small but near-full parking lot outside the establishment, which raised my hopes thinking that if it was busy then that was a good sign.  Opening the front door and scanning inside, the place was fairly busy and even after my dining companion and me were seated, a couple more groups of people came in.  I was sort of expecting more traditional floor-style seating, but it was just tables in the main space, and some more off to the side that were partitioned off by a barrier.  I’d say about 90% of the people there were Korean/speaking Korean, and was a mix of young groups of friends, older women, as well as some families.

As those familar with Korean cuisine know, after placing your order an assortment of free and refillable side dishes (banchan) are brought to your table.  Again, this was a letdown and was our second hint that things were not up to snuff.  The cabagge kimchi was not flavorful and was lacking real taste and heat, the sweet potato/onion was again lacking flavor, and the vinegar-flavored seaweed was stringy but lacking the chewy texture that I prefer.

Thinking that the soondubu alone would not fill us up (or rather me who was in a much more hungier state having skipped lunch), we decided to order an appetizer of fried mandoo (dumplings).  As a filler, I could accept that it was just a frozen product that was deep fried and perhaps in too hot an oil bath, and the insides were just passable on taste.  My usual dining companion cringes when I order things like this, and this was one occasion that I knew they were right.

The mixed soondubu that I chose had both meat and seafood ingredients, along with an ample amount of soft tofu.  This last characteristic was the dish’s lone positive, as more often than not, many places will skimp out on the quality and quantity of tofu.  The other ingredients though, aside from the decent sized shrimp, were few and far between as I scrambled to dig out a few slices of beef, some tiny clams, bits of green onion and that was about it, from the bottom of the bowl.  As a result, none of the all important seafood flavor had incorporated itself into the broth, and now I realized why they had been generous with the tofu, perhaps an attempt to cover up the lack of a deep flavor in the soup?  With both of us unable to stomach even a half of the bowls, we had them dumped into containers to-go, and at home I tried to invigorate the flavor component of the broth by adding some clams and extra prawns, which helped a little, but probably at too late a stage in the cooking process to rectify the weakly flavored broth that I had to begin with for this reclamation project.

I hate to disparage a place based on one meal, but I am afraid if that meal is what is being advertised as the house special, then it better come fully locked and loaded.  Unfortunately, the soondubu at the House of Tofu Soup is as they say in the ad game, a complete bait-and-switch.

House of Tofu Soup on Urbanspoon