True Confections – Vancouver, BC


True Confections @ Broadway
#6 – 3701 W. Broadway (at Alma intersection)
Vancouver, BC
(604) 222 8489

As everyone knows, the food service industry is a tough business. Restaurants pop up suddenly, have their time in the sun, and many burn out before being able to establish a strong customer base. Fickle trends, demanding diners, general economics and others, all factor into the success or failure of any food establishment. Much like the productive lifetime of a professional athlete, restaurants are lucky to get a few good years before having to re-invent themselves, increase their appeal, and stay on the rails towards positive business growth. By marking their twentieth year of operations since creating their first desserts-only-desserts-restaurant in downtown Vancouver, True Confections continues to build their following and has clearly ridden out the tough early years, and has been one of the lucky, long lasting food enterprises in the city. It is all the more amazing, considering their concept, of limiting their offerings to the dessert menu.

It is this kind of boldness that I admire. Niche markets are always a dilemma. While they offer a chance to specialize and fill a need that is narrow in scope, this limitation also can be the death of any business due to the fact that mass market appeal is needed to secure the volume that is often required to make production worthwhile. From my own point of view, desserts have traditionally been an afterthought for many of my meals. I did not grow up in a household where desserts were an element of our family meals, nor did I tend to order dessert when dining outside. It was really not until I was into my first real job following graduation where business dinners were a staple of my work, that I learned how some people view dessert as a crucial element in wrapping up a dining experience.

It was through these dinner parties, working meals, etc. that I became a fan of cheesecake. True Confections does these well, referring to their dense cheesecake creations as being Montreal-style. Whatever that may be, I am a fan. For me, its this richness that makes or breaks a cheesecake. It is a delicate balance, between being still soft enough to enable a fork to cut through with relative ease, while still being solid enough to stand on its own as a single slice without collapsing under the weight of whatever toppings may be applied. The fruit edition is my personal favorite here.

The Broadway location (the second in the three store chain) is a simply designed space, with a prominent showcase presenting the cakes that can be chosen by the slice, and a smaller one near the entrance that is for whole cakes for take-away. Eating-in tends to be either a relaxing or hurried experience depending on the time of day that you go, with evenings (especially on Fri/Sat) being very busy and a popular location for after dinner dates. Parking is a bit tight given that the building shares space with a few other businesses. With several restaurants in the neighborhood, I believe that many customers decide to drop by for a different atmosphere and continue their dinners, with a helping of one of True Confection’s many sweet temptations including cakes, pies, tartes and trifles. Give it a try, your sweet tooth will thank you.

True Confections (Broadway) on Urbanspoon

Sushi Tei – Orchard, SG


Sushi Tei @ Paragon
290 Orchard Road, #05-12/18 Paragon
Singapore 238859
+65 6235 1771

Diversity in the available eating options in Singapore is world renowned. For most, it may conjur up images of the neighborhood coffee shop serving up that sweet spread on toast known as Kaya, the distinct flavors of South Area in the form of a spicy curry and Roti Prata in the Little India neighborhood, or that ever present Hainanese Chicken Rice offered up by a hawker stand in a suburban area. But sushi? It sure doesn’t quite fit into the preconceived set of representative Singaporean food. Despite this, I was surprised to see a fair share of restaurants specializing in Japanese food, though I had never attempted to try it here… until now.

While picking up some items in the Paragon Shopping Centre, I made my way to the top floor knowing there would be some restaurants there, and I was in dire need of satisfying my hunger late in the evening. As with most places, I am am willing to give things a try (and potentially take another “bullet for the team”). Sushi Tei, now in its 14th year of operations, is a Singapore-headquartered chain that has expanded to nine locations in their base country (with two more planned), an outlet in China, ten in Indonesia, one in Thailand, and one in Australia. From all appearances, each outlet is not a cookie-cutter model of the same looking design and layout. The Paragon location that I visited had taken clear influences from modern-style, izakaya in Japan, with its use of open spacing, dimmed lighting, clean lines and use of natural materials to accentuate the atmosphere. I could see how it could be popular with the twenty-something crowd, and it sure was packed with people in this demographic on this night, mostly groups of friends or couples out on dates. Now whether this is the age group that is driving the growth of Japanese cuisine in Singapore, I would have to investigate further to confirm.

As I was dining alone, I was given a spot along the counter facing the open sushi prep area that was in the centre of the room. Towards the back, was the actual kitchen, that was surrounded by banquet seating booths and other table/chair combinations. A large chalkboard was displayed prominently on one wall, outlining the daily specials. The crew in the sushi area was a trio of youths, which did not surprise me as I figured that was the labor they would be using in a place like this. Adorned in clear plastic gloves and visibly cutting the slabs of raw fish with ordinary kitchen knives, I knew that I should not expect much from the sushi. I could see that the bulk of their work was in making those dreaded rolls that everyone in the western world seems to enjoy so much and is what they consider to be sushi. The passing plates of sushi rolling by on the conveyor belt, also did nothing to convince me to give it a try, but alas in the interests of experimentation, I did take a few dishes.

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I must say that I have never seen such thinly cut pieces of salmon on nigiri before – they were almost paper thin and reminded me of the thickness one finds with fugu sashimi. And the flavor of the salmon was so weak, it made me realize just how good the salmon is here in Canada. Just watching the crew go through the paces was amusing in itself. The manner in which they would hold the knives, the angle of the cutting motions they made, etc. it all made for a crystal clear view into the mass market, Japanese cuisine market here in Singapore and the level its at right now. To somehow save face, I ordered off the cooked menu and chose a Katsudon – in the hopes that at least they could get that right and it would have an ample layer of rice so as to help fill my hungry belly.

I suppose its my own fault for wanting to stray off the tried and true path by venturing into a chain-style sushi place. A matter of curiosity and convenience (I was staying nearby) got the better of me, as well as some desire to eat something non-Singaporean after a week into my Southeast Asia trip. Aesthetically, having a seat at Sushi Tei @ Paragon is a refreshing change of pace, and made me wish more Japanese restaurants in western Canada would invest in similar design features, and update their outdated looks. But for the food, I would rate what I ate at Sushi Tei as being around the same level as poor to mid-level sushi joints in BC/Alberta. And that after all, is the most important thing to think about here. Save your Sing Dollars for Sing Food la.

Jumbo Seafood – Dempsey, SG


Jumbo Seafood @ Dempsey
Blk 11 #01-16 Dempsey Road
Singapore 249673
+65 6479 3435

Let me begin this post by asking a question.  Does who you dine with influence the anticipation you may have of a restaurant, the food they serve, etc.?  This could also be asked of your impressions of the experience while it is unfolding, with that person(s) at the table with you.  Taking it a step further, does dining with someone in the “industry”, be it from the kitchen, front of staff, or related business side of restaurants have an effect on how you describe your meal later on?

On this evening, one of the people at my table was a professional business and marketing consultant in the restaurant industry based in Singapore.  I was curious to see how their opinions and comments on the food would affect the others.  It really was sort of like a social experiment, observing the interplay of discussions around the table.  Some of the others knew this person better than others, and it was clear that these personal bonds did have an impact on the rebuttals flying around.  Me?  I just played the role of Switzerland and just enjoyed the evening…

We ordered an assortment of dishes to get a wide range of flavors, and were comfortably seated in the outdoor section of the restaurant.  The place was incredibly busy and getting a free table took some time.  Darkly lit by some pole lights, the space was covered in a frame structure, that would support an automatically deploying canopy – quite the investment, and according to the consultant, conveniently paid for by a corporate sponsor who’s logo was prominently displayed on the outside.  Luckily, but not totally unexpectedly, I was able to observe the unfolding, once a few drops of rain fell from the skies and staff quickly scrambled to start the system.

Apologies for the quality of the images.  Taken with a poorer camera and in incredibly low light without flash, some sharpness was sacrificed.  The Crispy Baby Squid was one of the first to reach our table.  The sauce it was glazed with was an oyster sauce, and the texture combination between the crispy exterior and chewy inside of the squid was interesting, but not overly memorable.

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The Donut with Seafood Paste, was one of the recommended dishes at Jumbo.  Essentially it is deep fried cuttlefish paste fritters, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with a sweet peanut paste.  Much like the earlier baby squid dish, the mix of crispy and moist was the key here.  I suppose I liked this dish, as it was one of the more filling that we ordered.

Steamed Bamboo Clams with Minced Garlic, that were eaten with a light soy sauce and were a challenge to eat.  Each piece was strongly stuck to the shell and required some effort to cut free.  I thought they were a bit overcooked, contributing to the tougher, rubbery consistency of the meat.

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Scallop Wrapped in Yam Ring, served with a sweet Ngoh Hiang sauce.  Yes, another deep fried dish.  The scallop was tender and plump, though I did not care much for the outer rim made of yam paste.  Perhaps by this time I was tired of the oily, deep fried component.

Amid all the seafood, the vegetables got lost in the mix.  Here, a basic serving of Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli).

Golden Nest Salad Tiger Prawns with a sweet yogurt sauce, served in a crispy potato nest.  For me, mixing seafood with sweet tastes just never feels completely right.  I suppose I am the same with red meats.

This popular staple dish of Southeast Asia, Mee Goreng, is a mouthful of interesting flavors as aside from the yellow noodles, ingredients such as chili, vegetables, and seafood (in this case) are included.  As stomach filling as it usually is, by the time this rolled around, I was more than full.

But my table partners would not let me leave without sampling the Black Pepper Sri Lankan Crab.  I knew I had to compare this to the version at Long Beach.  The verdict, Jumbo comes in second based on the quality of the crab meat.  The overwhelming peppery sensation was the same though for both.  As special as this dish is supposed to be, I guess I will never be able to fully appreciate it fieriness, as I’d much rather enjoy the crab meat in its more natural tasting form.

The Dempsey location is now the seventh outlet of this seafood restaurant empire, and opened earlier this spring.  The area of Dempsey Hill is an alluring one, with its historical ties to the old army barracks, that have been transformed into modern yet still colonial-looking buildings that house a variety of restaurants and bars.  Driving around this maze though is an adventure, and parking is tight (a tip: park on the back side, where most people don’t really know about, its next to a nice jazz bar that I frequent when I am in town and allows you to keep a bottle with your name on it).  Bestowed with many industry and media accolades over the years, Jumbo is clearly one of the top players in the Singapore seafood scene.  The business consultant at our table had mentioned that the owners are still very hands-on, and one of them is always found at the Dempsey location.  With over twenty years established on their record for serving Singaporeans, its clear that they are still building towards more and more success.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t be one of their repeat customers, as I came away thinking it was not anything spectacular, ordinary in fact.  When the best dish was the Gai Lan, I must say that does not bode well for a seafood specialty restaurant.  I think some others were feeling the same way, but held their breath in front of the food consultant.  To each his own I guess…

The Regency Palace – Calgary, AB


Regency Palace Restaurant
328 Centre St SE
Calgary, AB T2G 4X6
(403) 777-2288

Buffet. Hot pot. Dim Sum. Banquets. Most  Chinese restaurants leave no potential profit unturned, and yet somehow, even in their bid to be all things to all people, they usually manage to turn out some pretty decent food. To me, very few chefs can rival the versatility of a Chinese restaurant chef. The sheer scope of the menu they must know inside and out,  the sheer numbers that Chinese banquet facilities are expected to service quickly, and the renown pickiness of Asian diners makes for a very high pressure situation. One where when restaurants fall, they can really collapse badly.

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The Regency Palace is one of the premier banquet facilities in Calgary. Able to accommodate up to 700 people, it is often used for Chinese weddings and other celebrations. Most of the time i’ve been to the Regency has been for such events. And the food is usually quite good.

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On a recent week night, some friends and I decided to partake in their hot pot deal/meal. For $24.95, you get all you can eat (AYCE) hotpot, and buffet. When i arrive at 7:30pm, i wasnt quite prepared for what I saw. A completely empty restaurant, with the exception of one two top, and our own table. It was completely desolate.

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Now i’ve been here before on a weeknight, and while it is never extremely busy, usually there are a decent selection of people. The food we’ve ordered off the menu has been ok, but no where near the quality of their banquet food. I’m not sure if the lesser chefs work on the quiet weeknights, but it’s never as good. This weeknight, with everyone getting the all you can eat hotpot and buffet, we don’t get a chance to order off the menu.

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Hotpot ingredients are taken from a self-service bar. The hotpot “bar” has an extremely wide selection of food, of varying qualities. On the positive side, they put out fairly low quantities and refresh fairly often. Popular items are turned over fairly quickly, resulting in some fairly fresh ingredients. On the downside, due to the vast selection of ingredients, many are left sitting on ice for hours on end. In a quieter location, i generally prefer the Gold Wonton method – they bring out whatever is ordered, rather than self service. With a large selection of ingredients, and sauces, they definitely have a very comprehensive list of ingredients available.

Unfortunately, the Regency Palace has only one kind of broth, which is fairly mediocre. Not a lot of flavour, but it doesnt detract from the ingredients either.  Service is very attentive, though the staff to customer ratio was a bit ridiculous.

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The cooked food bar is something completely different. Something straight out of University memories of Foody Goofy and 7.95 AYCE buffet, the food is poor, much of it deep fried and breaded, and while the selection is vast, the food is barely edible. I choked down a few dishes, hoping without hope that I would not be charged a “waste” charge on my plate for all the uneaten food. Thankfully, I was not.

Overall, for $24.95, even with the extensive variety, this is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination. The food quality is fairly poor, and the buffet would fit the “avoid at all costs” category for me. It’s unfortunate, as they really do do a decent job of serving banquet food. However, if you’ve been to a wedding at the Regency Palace, and were thinking of trying it out for dinner – don’t. You’re better off trying somewhere else. Neither the menu, nor the hotpot deal are really all that worthwhile.

Regency Palace on Urbanspoon

Wah Yuen Noodle House – Richmond, BC


Wah Yuen Noodle House
1035-3700 No. 3 Road
Richmond, BC
(604) 231 9080‎

The Pre-Game. That’s what I like to call my personal process in preparing my appetite for an upcoming trip abroad. It usually involves some reading (books, magazines, internet), some tinkering with my camera equipment (cleaning, lens maintenance/acquisition), browsing of grocery stores catering to natives of those lands here in Canada, and most importantly, local sampling of some cuisine I can expect to see on my travels. For my latest 18-day journey in Asia, I knew I was in for a large quantity of Chinese food, being that each country I would be visiting has a large community. Unfortunately, with my busy schedule before I boarded my departing flight, this edition of my Pre-Game was quite limited in the eating component. Sadly so, as I could only recall this single outing to Wah Yuen Noodle House, in the week prior to my leaving Canada, and am embarrassed to say it was at a food court.

Located in the Yaohan Center in Richmond, it is one of my earliest experiences with a dominantly-Asian food court in Canada. I fondly recall there being a simple understated Japanese ramen spot here many years ago, but it has since disappeared. There is also a decent bubble tea place that I like getting my fix at. Near the main entrance is Wah Yuen. It stands out for its big bold Chinese lettering in the signage, and the cooking area that is enclosed in glass in one corner of the stall. Offering an assortment of noodle dishes, including wontons, beef balls/tendon/brisket/tripe, etc. Wah Yuen is a popular spot – judging from the constant lineup. They also offer up some congee, so with that, a sampling was done of both.

The Noodles with Beef Brisket came in a smallish Styrofoam bowl, with cheap chopsticks and a limp plastic spoon. The noodles were that skinny but really chewy variety, and the broth was light, perhaps a tad salty but still flavorful with essence of seafood. There were no other toppings, but at this price of about five dollars, I figure I couldn’t be too picky. On its own, it certainly couldn’t fill you up.

I’d heard some good things about the congee here. So a Seafood Congee was selected, more for sampling as truthfully I am not a big congee connoisseur. Hidden under the gooey, soupy rice were some pieces of squid, fish and shrimp. No doubt just some frozen pieces thrown into the pot and cooked. After a few spoonfuls, I must say I still don’t know the appeal of congee, as it just tastes chalky to me and lacks any significant flavor. As I’ve said before, its “sick food” for those days when other things don’t go down and your taste buds are out of commission.

Based on this meal alone, it did make me realize that I could look forward to better offerings abroad.

Wah Yuen Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Brewsters Brewing Company – Beltline – Calgary, AB (chain)


Brewster Brewing Company and Restaurant (Beltline location)
834 11 Avenue S.W.
Calgary, Alberta T2R 0E5
(403) 265-BREW (2739)

Many years ago, I was fascinated with the idea of starting a brew pub. I was sick and tired of sub-standard beer, and the same boring choices. I wanted beer brewed in small lots, with seasonal diversity, in many different styles. Rather than do my market research, I let enthusiasm take hold of me and I immediately started looking for a brewer. Through one of my contacts, I was put in touch with a top notch Canadian brewer. When i presented him with my idea, he says to me “oh, you want to build a Brewsters?”

Brewsters is a chain of Brew Pubs located in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Each location brews their own beer, and typically has a tremendous amount of diversity on hand at any given time. From Pilsners, to Barley Wine, to stouts, ales, and lagers, to seasonal beers, their skilled brew masters meticulously craft small lots frequently- making sure that their beers are fresh, and tasty.

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The concept behind Brewsters is pretty simple. Pub/Bistro type fare, microbrewed beer, televisions for sports, comfortable seats and VLT’s. A place for everyone – I often go here to meet friends that come from very diverse food and beverage backgrounds – it isn’t anyone’s favorite, but no one objects either. The food itself is reasonable – more of a crossover between Earl’s and a pub. It is, however, nothing to write home about, but with prices fairly reasonable (entrees from 11-30, mostly in the 12-16 range) and some decent, even healthy alternatives available, the diverse selection makes it a reasonable choice for something to eat when you’re craving a tall schooner of beer, and there’s a group of you that can’t decide on where you want to eat. The menu is one of those eclectic mixes of something for everyone.

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The beer itself is quite good. I find they don’t quite have the same body and depth that other brewpubs seem to have (like Wild Rose, or Wildwood) – everything tastes a bit sterile, like it’s been brewed for the lowest common denominator. However, it is very consistent from one brewery to the next, and they do have a great selection of styles. I’m fairly partial to the Bow Valley Brown ale, Czech Pilsner, and the Heffeweizen.

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Overall, the concept is pretty sound, and based on their 11 locations (and growing), they are obviously striking the right chord with the Alberta and Saskatchewan markets. Good beer, decent food, tv’s may not seem like a unique concept, but when trying to find a place that will appeal to everyone that consistently serves a decent pint and reasonable food, there arent a lot of other choices. Brewsters fits the bill.

Brewsters Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Pho So 1 – Calgary, AB


Pho So 1
1609 Centre Street NW
Calgary, AB T2E 2S2
(403) 230-7472

Restaurant names are funny things. I’ve always wondered what goes through an owner’s mind when naming a restaurant. Are they trying to be catchy? Unique? Informative? Self-aggrandizing? Descriptive? I’m sure it’s probably a mix, depending on the restaurant. But i find them to be an interesting study. Think of some of your favorite restaurants – do you know why they named their restaurant what they did?

Pho So 1 has always boggled me, as to me, the “1” implies that there is a Pho So 2 somewhere.  But there isn’t. Maybe there were grand plans for expansion that never materialized. Or maybe they meant Pho So #1..the more recently added tag line “#1 vietnamese beef noodle house” seems to imply this. Regardless, at the end of the day, they could call it “raw cow palace” and i’d go, assuming it was tasty.

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Pho So 1 was the first Vietnamese restaurant i went to when i first moved to Calgary. Consequently, it’s tough to measure it’s place in the pantheon of Vietnamese restaurants in Calgary, because i have a tremendous soft spot for the food. However, i will try and objectively present, and distill, hundreds of visits into a fair review.

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My favorite dish, that keeps me coming back to Pho So 1 is the Cha Gio (Fried Spring Rolls). Supremely crispy, the filling is a wonderful balance of pork and shrimp. A judicious use of tree ear, mushroom, and garlic leaves a very pleasant aftertaste yet doesn’t leave one with any one overpowering flavour. I’ve honestly looked for better Cha Gio, but have yet to find any in Calgary that i like more (though Pho Dau Bo is excellent too).

The Pho itself is decent, and I do occassionally indulge in Pho Tai, but my biggest issue is their broth. Too much MSG, making it a bit salty. It’s also not as rich, and balanced as other broths i’ve had. It’s passable, but nothing to excite the senses.

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One of their special dishes though, the infrequently seen Bun Cari, used to be one of my favorites, and the first place i went in town for curry soup. Pho Anh Huyen down Centre Street has one too, but on their good days, Pho So 1 does a much better job. A blend of turkey, chicken, and potato, the curry is typically rich, flavourful, and full of thick noodles and a great blend of sweet and heat. However, lately, they’ve been quite inconsistent with this dish. On the day the photo was taken, it was extremely oily, and most of the veg had been overcooked. It was 20 minutes before closing, but i’d expect them to suggest a different dish if it wasnt still up to par.

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My final favorite is the Bun Bo Hue, the special beef noodle soup. This is a adaptation (or, as some Vietnamese friends have said to me, a bastardization) of the popular Central Vietnamese dish that typically features a rich broth made with beef, and pork knuckle, and featuring a lemongrass flavour. The broth does have pork hock in it, making for a richer broth, but has been spiced up tremendously, masking any (if at all) lemongrass flavour. It’s more satay meets rich broth than anything else. But i enjoy the break from Pho with thicker noodles, the richer broth, and a bit of kick. It’s still pretty good stuff.

At the end of the day, Pho So 1 doesn’t manage to standout from their peers. I’d skip the satay, definitely order the spring rolls, and order the Bun Cari and hope for the best it’s a good day. The Bun Bo Hue (23c i believe) is a good alternative as well. I can’t promise that you’ll like it as much as i do, but I do encourage you to give it a try, instead of your regular Pho place. Even if it doesn’t end up as good as your special spot, at least you’ll learn a bit more about your tastes, what you like and don’t like, and more importantly, why you like what you do. And if you ever find who what the “1” stands for, definitely let me know. It’s been bugging me for 8 years!

Pho So 1 on Urbanspoon

Dragon View Restaurant – Kuala Lumpur, MY


Dragon View Restaurant
82 Jalan Ipoh
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
+603 4044 4944

Being in SE Asia, I’ve learned that carrying an umbrella is a must.  I suppose in some ways, its much like Vancouver.  While out searching for a place to eat with some friends in Malaysia, the downpour came suddenly and we scattered into a nearby building that had open doors and ready for business.  Luckily, it was a place that some of them knew.  In that way, I suppose we were lucky in that it was not a complete tempting of restaurant Russian roulette.

The menu at Dragon View Restaurant was pretty standard Cantonese fare.  Based on some suggestions by my dining partners, our meal consisted of some meat, noodles, and soup.  It seems that whenever I dine with these fellows, this is the pattern we follow. 

As you can see, the interior is nothing outstanding, as food takes precedent over any atmosphere here.  I think the nearby food stalls on the sidewalk just behind me where I took this image, were more exciting as far as appearance goes.  Too bad they were deluged with water, as I think I would have rather gone there.

These pork dumplings in soup were the first to arrive at our table.  The dumplings were quite large, more than an easy mouthful.  The soup was flavorful, despite being quite light in nature.  With the rain falling down outside, it was a nice warm start to our late lunch.

This plate of noodles and barbecue pork actually came out on two separate plates – the image was taken after I had dumped the meat on top of the noodles.  It was how I was instructed to eat it.  The noodles were a thin variety and not overly cooked.  The slices of pork were from various cuts, some more tender and fattier than others.  The sauce was a thicker sweet one, which went well with the barbecue pork, and wrapped around the noodles easily.  I could have easily eaten more than what was on this single plate all by myself.

The large plate of barbecue duck was the main part of the meal.  Frankly, I don’t really sense a great deal of difference where I eat this dish, as I think its fairly consistent between ethnic Chinese communities is various parts of the world.  As one would expect, it did have an assortment of pieces, which I am sure everyone has their personal preference on when it comes to the leaner or fattier pieces.

These kinds of impromptu restaurant visits are something that I often do, but on this occasion, the direction was given by Mother Nature.  Should I blame her for a rather ordinary meal?  Well, perhaps.  It certainly did nothing to excite my taste buds, as its all stuff I have had many times before, in many different places.  My food odyssey in this part of the world continues…

Misai Japanese Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Misai Japanese Restaurant
7-1915 32 Avenue NE
Calgary, AB T2E 7C8
(403) 250-1688

Choices – so many choices. In today’s society, we are accustomed to what some might consider an excessive amount of choice. While having more choices is usually better, in the restaurant industry, too much choices can be a very bad thing. A menu with too many choices usually means too much stock, not enough turnover, leading to lower quality. Too many choices generally mean that less care and attention are paid to each individual dish, also resulting in lower overall quality, and more inconsistency. Does it automatically mean the food will be bad? No. But i find it tough to believe a restaurant can perform to their full potential with a wide and extensive menu, unless the menu has been very very carefully planned.

Misai Japanese Restaurant is one of the few choices available in the NE for Japanese food. Located in a small strip mall of a busy commuter avenue, they’ve been around for quite some time – definitely one of the earlier “new entrants” to the Japanese restaurant community. Not a venerable institution like Sushi Hiro, but it has been around for almost a decade. It was, for the longest time, the favorite restaurant of my former room-mate and myself – we’d make the trek once to twice a week, and order the same thing every time. This was back when we had less choice.

The hallmark of the Misai menu is choice. Not only do they serve sushi, sashimi, and the general cooked standby’s – tempura, udon, soba, teriyaki, but they were the first in Calgary to carry a heavy Izakaya-influenced menu – Hamachi cheeks, grilled saba head, Grilled Ika, and a variety of other small plates and dishes. The result is the biggest menu at a Japanese restaurant i’ve ever seen. 8-10 very large pages filled with an infinite variety of dishes.

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This, unfortunately, is also their biggest drawback. From raw fish, to complex raw lobster meals, to a dizzying array of cooked dishes, the quality of the food generally suffers. There are several gems on the menu though.

My favorite dish at Misai is the Salmon Sashimi. Large (usually too large) pieces of firm, tasty salmon. This used to be the most amazing value on the menu, but even with recent price hikes (not exact on the price, but it is now roughly $1.80 a piece), it is still excellent value. The quality of the salmon can vary from day to day, but in general, is very good.

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Their bento boxes are also pretty reasonable. A selection of Nigiri, sashimi, tempura, rice, miso, salad, and tsukemono make for a large amount of variety at a reasonable price. The rice for the nigiri is pretty mediocre, but the tempura is often reasonable – not overbattered like many other establishments in town. Salad is lightly dressed, fish is reasonably fresh, the overall verdict on the bento is pretty good.

Out of their other dishes, I would definitely skip the lobster feast. Their grilled squid, and other grilled fish parts are usually frozen, which results in a noticeable decrease in quality, particularly in texture. Freezing fish cheeks and other delicate pieces that lack the fat and structure to stand up to freezing has it’s impact. They aren’t bad, but you can definitely get better.

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With the influx of Japanese restaurants into Calgary over the past 5 or 6 years, we now have an unprecedented amount of choice. Misai Japanese Restaurant, which used to be one of the best Japanese restaurants in town, is now just one of many acceptable places that are reasonable to eat at, but nothing very exciting. I would not measure them on par with Wa’s, Blowfish, or Zipang, but for NE Calgary, which has few choices to begin with, they are definitely the best of the lot. I really wish they would concentrate on just trying to do fewer things more consistently and better, but if you go, choose your dishes wisely – it’ll likely be the difference between an average meal, and a good one.

Misai Japanese on Urbanspoon

Gee Gong Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Gee Gong Restaurant
206 Centre Street SE
Calgary, AB T2G 2B6
(403) 264-1533

Normally I love hole in the wall kinds of places. Small, low prices, occasionally dirty places, with an authentic vibe and a hodge podge of interesting characters for clientele. Something about them just feels…real. But rather than get caught up in the idea of the hole in the wall, it’s important to judge them based on the food.

I have some friends who love these kinds of places – and have been visiting the same ones for years. They like the way they are treated, they like how the establishment knows their order, and they like how comfortable things have become. However, when they brought me to their favorite hole, what mattered most to me was the food, and it was terrible. I couldn’t taste the kind treatment and the years of emotional investment, but what i could taste wasn’t for me. Gee Gong reminds me of one of these places.

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Gee Gong serves Cantonese cuisine, and has been located in Chinatown in downtown Calgary for a very long time now. Well regarded by many foodies as a classic hole in the wall choice for Chinese cuisine, it has many of the hallmarks of one. Small, slightly dirty location, with fairly inexpensive prices. At any given point, it could be empty, or full, with people enjoying the things they are best known for – Hot and Sour Soup, BBQ, noodles, and hotpot. Touting itself as “Authentic Chinese Cuisine”, i’ve never found that slogan to be all that inspiring.

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With respect to the food, I’ve never had the hot and sour soup, so I can’t comment on that. The hotpot and noodles are both reasonable, but there is nothing special nor remarkable about them. The noodles are a bit greasy, and the hotpots fairly sparse, but they are certainly edible, and for the price (which has gone up in the past couple years), are quite reasonable.

When discussing Gee Gong, most people talk about one thing and one thing only – the BBQ. Like most Chinese BBQ, they offer the standards of roast duck, roasted pork, bbq pork, sausage, and chicken. A lot of BBQ really comes down to personal flavour preference, but all Chinese BBQ should be the same. Moist, flavourful, and well balanced – salty and sweet, crisp and soft.

The BBQ at Gee Gong does not suit my preferences. A little bit dry from over-exposure to heatlamps, it is nonetheless flavourful, yet quite greasy. My biggest issue is the bbq flavour –  overly sweet and sticky, it lacks the depth of flavour and balance i prefer in my BBQ. There are better choices for BBQ both in Chinatown, and outside of it.

Overall, I know it seems odd, but I don’t have too much criticism for Gee Gong. The food is edible, and reasonably priced. It certainly is nothing special, but i wouldn’t complain if i had to eat here either. My issue is, as a hole in the wall, with no decor, and no real redeeming qualities other than the food, the food falls flat. It is bland, uninteresting, and I expect better. After all, when you’re not there for the service, or the decor, you better do a darn good job with the food. And they don’t.

Gee Gong on Urbanspoon

IVINS Peranakan Restaurant – Bukit Timah, SG


IVINS Peranakan Restaurant
19/21 Binjai Park

Bukit Timah, Singapore
+65 5468 3060

The centuries long movement of people to the peninsula that forms present-day Singapore and the resulting interplay and mixture of cultures that has occurred is one of the most fascinating elements for a visitor to see in this true city-state, which forms the tiniest nation in this southeastern part of Asia.  As with most historical patterns of migration, the early Chinese who traveled to this region eventually settled down with the local people, in this case the Malays, and inter-married with the women of this culture.  The result is what is known as the Peranakan culture, and this phenomena has also helped transform the local culinary scene, with its exotic melding of the flavors of the Malays with the preparation styles of the Chinese.  If one were to summarize it in a simple statement, it would have to be that it is distinctively seasoned, and hits on all taste buds between sweet and spicy, and is certainly not subdued by any means – how could it be with such a generous use of ingredients such as ginger, chillies, and coconut milk!   Much like many things in Singapore, this mosaic is what makes for such an exciting experience, and makes this part of the world one of the most satisfying for dining out.

The main branch of IVINS Peranakan Restaurant is located on a narrow street in Bukit Timah, with a large open facing window to the road, which also provides for some very minimal parking.  From a North American’s perspective, the exterior looks very much like a strip mall with its bold signage rimming the top of the outer wall, suggesting that comforting home-cooked, family style type of dining establishment you sometimes see in such structures.  The rest of the interior is quite spartan, with spot lighting in the ceiling that helps to brighten the room just right.  The seating is quite open and tables are spaced closely together, which makes for some interesting chances to spy what your neighbors are eating.

The menu is a single paper sheet that is spread out in front of your as a table mat.  It is broken up by ingredient base: Ayam (chicken), Babi (pork), Ikan (fish), Seafood, Sayur (vegetables), as well as other sections that are labeled Other House Delights, Rice, Soup, Local Delights, and Telor (egg).  There is also a good mix of hot and cold desserts.  The dishes themselves are all quite manageable in proportion, so the ability to select several and share among a group is ideal.

We began our dinner with a Bakwan Kepeting, described as minced pork and crab meat balls with bamboo shoots in a clear soup.  The broth was very light and not as salty as I had expected.  The meatballs themselves were well cooked through and had a nice crunchy texture in them, I think it was fine bits of cartilage included with the meat.  Overall, a warm start to our meal.

The Sotong Hitam came next.  This was a small dish of squid that was stir-fried with a black sweet sauce.  A mix of both the squid body and the tentacles were included.  They were a bit tougher and chewy than I would have liked.  As well, it was the only sweeter tasting dish we had this evening.  It did not really interest me however, other than for the contrasting taste to the other dishes.

Garam Assam Fish Head, red snapper fish head with lady’s fingers cooked in a spicy tamarind gravy.  There was not an opportunity to select the level of heat, but believe this came in at about a medium level.  The curry was fairly rich and the fish head had plenty of white fleshy meat on it and around the next area, which could be found by digging deeply into the bowl.  It was served with steamed rice. Very satisfying.

This is the Nonya Chap Chye, stewed mixed vegetables cooked in a soy bean sauce.  It did say it was a medley of vegetables, but I think it was mainly shredded cabbage.  Seasoning was very bland.  I did not enjoy this at all.

Ayam Buah Keluak, this is the signature dish of Peranakan Cuisine. Chicken braised in a thick spicy tamarind gravy with buah keluak nuts.  Very distinctive flavors, and the chunks of chicken breast meat were tender and soft.  The curry was more runny than the one served with the fish head earlier, and probably a tad milder too.  Despite it being a feature dish, it did not blow me away in terms of flavors.

All in all, I suppose I did enjoy my meal here, mainly for the fact that I could get another chance to try Peranakan food, in what was a very popular place.   The highlight of the night for me was the Garam Assam.  I am quickly becoming a big fan of this dish whenever I am in SE Asia.  I am highly interested in exploring other hybrid types of cuisine out there in the world, so if our readers have any suggestions, I would be open to hearing about them!

Oodle Noodle Wok Box – Edmonton, AB


Oodle Noodle Wok Box
10803 – 82nd Avenue
Edmonton, AB
(780) 988-7808

The wok. An Asian cooking utensil typically used for stir frying at high temperatures. The heat and the technique are the keys for making a great stir fry. When done well, you get a crisp, flavourful, non-greasy blend of meat, vegetables, and starch. When done poorly, the end result is an oily, slightly charred, coagulated mess of food. As simple as stir fries look to be, properly using a wok isnt that simple.

Oodle Noodle Wok Box, not to be confused with the local Edmonton chain “Wok Box”, is a small eatery that focuses primarily on wok-fried takeout. Broken down, the name actually makes a lot of sense. They provide a lot of noodle dishes (“oodles of noodles”), cooked in a “wok”, served in one of the classic chinese takeout containers- a “box” – first brought to the Canadian conciousness in movies and television shows set in New York.

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A former Mr Sub located on Whyte Avenue, Oodle Noodle Wok Box first opened shop in 2005, the first of the wok-fried stir fry locations to open up in Edmonton. Wok and Roll, Wok Box, and assorted other places opened soon afterwards. The location is nothing fancy – retaining a lot of the old fixtures from it’s previous incarnation. However, the counter does provide a good view of the kitchen – several employees dancing, singing, and stir frying in intense heat. Their enthusiasm is kind of catchy.

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The selection of foods is pretty diverse – much like a culinary tour around Asia. From Japan, Mongolia, and China, to the flavours of SE Asia (Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia) and even including India, they provide simple wok dishes of chicken, beef, and shrimp, stir fried with differnt noodles, different veggies, and different sauces. A very basic concept, but by allowing you to switch certain choices, providing you with infinite variety.

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The best part of the Oodle Noodle Experience? The price. $6.99 for chicken and beef. $7.99 for shrimp. They provide you with a very large serving of steaming hot food. The veggies are generally very fresh, and crisp. In general, each dish has some wonderful balance. Good acidity, spice, and sweetness. Nice texture contrasts of crisp and soft. The biggest issue is the whole dish is usually a bit oily, the result of inexperienced wok technique, and sometimes the sauce can be a bit overwhelming. Good flavour, but too much sauce leaves you with nothing but that taste in your mouth. Of all the dishes available, my favorite dish is the Jungle Curry Cambogee. I order this two times out of three.

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Ok, so the boxes are cute. And the dancing is catchy. And the food is pretty good. That pretty much covers it all. Great value – definitely the best food, and value, of all the wok places in town. And with some great opening hours (open till 10pm weekdays, 11pm Fri-Sat), they are pretty much available whenever i have a craving for some hot, filling, satisfying food at one of the best prices left in town. Kind of makes me want to dance the next time im in line – and that’s something no one needs to see!

Oodle Noodle Wok Box on Urbanspoon

Thasevi Prata – Jalan Kayu, SGP


Thasevi Food Original Jalan Kayu Prata
237/239 Jalan Kayu
Singapore
+65 6481 1537

The Jalan Kayu area is very well known by locals at THE place for Roti Prata – usually just called Prata by Singaporeans (although some of my friends also swear by the places on Upper Thompson too, especially for the sweeter variants of this dish).  In fact, that’s probably all this area is noteable for as the street itself is nothing special without the main shops that sell this particular food, that originates from the Indian Paratha.  In the morning, it is a staple of the breakfast meal, and here at Thasevi Prata you can see young teenagers grabbing a snack on their way to school, middle-aged men eating before they head to work, and even seniors who have plenty of time on their hands to enjoy a relaxed morning.  Parking is limited to the stalls along the same street, or to a pay parking lot just up the road.  For me on this day, it was a stopover for a quick bite, on the way to wake boarding in the Straits of Johor.

The setup is very simple.  You go inside, place your order, give them your table number that is painted on your table, and wait to have it delivered to your table.  Many of the tables have used cigarette cans, so beware of that if you are adverse to smoke while eating and pick a table more near the centre of the area.  As well, don’t expect much for service, as the folks inside are quite busy and generally not a cheery bunch.  They have a tendency to make mistakes with orders (as they did again on this day) and they’re not so speedy with rectifying problems.  Try not to raise a big stink, as they’ve been known to respond aggressively.

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Faux KFC – Inuvik, NWT


Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) @ The Northern
MacKenzie Road
Inuvik, NWT
(857) 777-2582

I love traditions. To me, they are like the signposts of life. They remind you of things from your past, and give you something to look forward to. Out of all the “traditions” that my friends and family have established, one of my favorites is the KFC meal.

I grew up eating KFC as a treat. There was no extra crispy, or other wacky options. It was original or original. I remember the days my father would come home from work with a bucket of KFC. If i could get to the first drumstick, those were good days indeed. KFC was a part of my childhood, and even as i grew older, still held a lot of nostalgia for me. Besides, KFC tasted really good as a kid.

Fast forward to University. It’s my best friend’s birthday, and slightly short on money, and definitely short on ideas, we decide it’s a good idea to split a 20 piece bucket of chicken. The folly of youth. We each eat 10 pieces, partly because it tasted good, and partly because of bravado, and we proceeded to throw up. The human body just wasnt designed to handle that much grease – without copious amounts of beer anyway.

We couldn’t eat KFC again. Until the following year, when, on his birthday, we decided “why not”, and ordered a 20 piece bucket again. I believe i was the only one purging that year. My best friend had somehow developed a better resistance to the grease.

We do it every year now, for his birthday. It’s the only time each year that we eat KFC. I look forward to these times, as it’s part nostalgic, part good story, and really, i do look forward to eating my KFC once a year. Until i got ripped off this year.

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My best friend’s birthday found us in Inuvik. Thankfully, there is a KFC in town, so we were able to continue our tradition. Inside a department store, i waited at the KFC/Taco Bell combo. 15 piece bucket (we’re a bit older now), gravy to go. They throw chicken into the oven and start baking it. This isnt right. What’s going on here? Maybe they’re trying to defrost it, then toss it in the fryer. Who knows.

30 minutes later, our bucket is given to us, with our large side of gravy. The gravy is definitely KFC gravy – thick, clumpy, congealed and fatty, it’s heaven in a bowl! The chicken, however, does not come in the requisite Colonel Sanders bucket. It’s some strange “chicken” bucket.

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I get the receipt. Apparently i ordered a KFC Large Gravy, and miscellaneous, proprietary, 15 piece baked chicken! This wasnt KFC – this was Faux KFC! They were selling their own chicken, not calling it KFC to avoid getting sued, and adding it to the bill, fooling unsuspecting people. This story was later confirmed – it was not real KFC – it was my very first fake KFC.

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Not really wanting to relive another fried chicken experience, we decided this one would count. We ate the bucket. Surprisingly enough, the chicken was decent. Ok really. Didnt taste like KFC, but it wasnt terrible either. Especially in Inuvik, where the choices are extremely limited. A solid 5 out of 10.

While the pieces we order each year are decreasing, and the likelihood of vomitting these days is generally very slim, i’ve found the onset of age brings practicality and wisdom. I look forward and enjoy this tradition each year, fake KFC or not. It is a unique and interesting tradition that only my best friend and I share.

How about you – do you have any food traditions you can share with the rest of us? We’d love to hear about them!

Margarita’s Dishes (CFM) – Calgary, AB


Margarita’s Dishes @ Calgary Farmers Market
Quesnay Wood Drive Southwest
Calgary, AB
(403) 244-4548

Home cooking. Something about those two simple words evokes a lot of thoughts and feelings. It’s a funny term in the world of food. Simple, unadorned fare made with care and attention. Served in the trappings of a fine dining restaurant, it would be boring, uninspired, and disappointing. But serve it in a rustic kitchen, with a smiling mother in an apron, and you have comfort, soothing, and tasty fare.

Margarita’s Dishes is one of several “food court” options at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, serving what I would classify as home cooking. In their location, you definitely have a rustic kitchen. Instead of a smiling mother in an apron, you have the smiling proprietor, Danny, in an apron. His friendly demeanor, razor sharp memory, and enthusiasm make you feel instantly comfortable. And don’t underestimate it, it’s an important part of the charm.

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Margarita’s Dishes serves Ukrainian and German fare – but really, in Alberta, the food it serves mostly just qualifies as home cooking. Good gut sticking fare like blintzes, pyrohy, cabbage rolls, bratwurst, and stuffed peppers. As the sign clearly states, they sell fresh and frozen products. I’ve only ever had their fresh – preferring to eat whatever they’ve made that day.

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The lineups at Margarita’s are always long, yet, they efficiently deliver food to hundreds of customers each day. A steam table under heat lamps keeps the food warm – i’d obviously prefer these cooked to order, but the turnover is high enough, and the food that is being made doesn’t seem to suffer, it’s a reasonable way to handle the volume. After the steam table is a tray of their popular freshly squeezed juices. These are a nice, cost effective way to get your vitamins. Your mother would approve!

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My go-to order here is a blintz.  These come in sweet and savory versions, but at Margarita’s, it’s generally just the savory. A crepe made with a yeasted/risen batter, stuffed with some precooked filling, and pan fried.

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The best i’ve had there is the spinach and feta. For the price (either $2.50 or $3.00), it is a great deal. A great, soft blin that has been sauteed to crispy, with a warm, gooey, heart-warming filling of cheese and spinach. It is rich, yet not heavy all at the same time. The ladle of sour cream is a nice Ukrainian touch, lending a touch of calm – cool and sour – to a warm and rich bite.

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The bratwurst and sauerkraut is another popular item. Served on a baguette. a warm, juicy bratwurst is generously covered in sauerkraut. Try one of their fridge pickles if they have them – the crunchy sourness goes great with the hot grease of the bratwurst.

Margarita’s Dishes is neither fancy, nor inspired. It is good solid home cooking, and im just fine with that. Their soul-satisfying food really warms a place in the stomach, reminding you of some of the simple foods from days gone by. Before things like molecular gastronomy, locavore, GMO, and other modern day labels and trappings existed, meals like Margarita’s were just food, or Sunday lunch. For me, it’s important to remember these times – because back then, all that mattered when it came right down to it was that you were happy and satisfied. The essence of what home cooking is all about.