Toyo Sushi – Vancouver, BC


Toyo Sushi
2211 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 879 0990

Toyo Sushi on Urbanspoon

With less than a year to go until the 2010 Winter Olympics, the impact of the preparation for the event continues to receive heavy coverage in the media.  For Vancouverites, among the most contentious issues out there is the ongoing construction of the Canada Line; which is a rapid transit line which will eventually connect three major areas including the downtown core, the Vancouver International Airport and the nearby city of Richmond.

This intersection (pictured below and taken from the window of my car) at West Broadway and Cambie Street has seen its fair share of trouble and bothersome construction work.  And sadly, many businesses along this stretch have suffered tremendously due to the building of the line and virtual cutting off of most pedestrian traffic so crucial to their daily cash flow.

Knowing this, I was surprised to see a restaurant that I’ve dined in since before the construction really got going on this street almost two years ago, was still flashing its “Open” sign.  A business next door I noticed had moved out, probably due to a decline in sales or just general frustration at the interference to their operations.

So it was with a sense of part pity and curiosity that got me to check out the Toyo Sushi again.  I wanted to help support them as a paying customer and applaud them for sticking through the tough times, as well as to see if this blatant disruption to the area directly in front of their restaurant was having a detrimental effect on attracting customers.

Stepping inside, I could see not much had visibly changed since my last visit.  Widely spaced at the main entrance way, brightly lit near the front where the cashier station was set up, along with the sushi bar counter.  There were a few groups of customers already seated and eating, lined up towards the far end of the floor near the windows looking out towards False Creek.

Every time I’ve eaten here, it seemed there were some regulars at the sushi bar conversing casually with the main man behind the counter, and it was the same on this night as well.  That’s always a good sign for me to see at a sushi bar.  Often I’ll be one of them and try to learn more about their restaurant and what’s fresh, but on this evening dining alone, I was seated in one of the partitioned booths. A small serving of edamae (baby soybeans) was brought to me right after receiving the menu, along with some hot barley tea.

The menu at Toyo Sushi is all-encompassing and fits the mold of what many people in North America would expect from a restaurant serving Japanese cuisine.  Being a Korean-run operation, there was also a single page at the back of the menu listing some staple Korean dishes.

As I was in the mood for sushi (and its the only thing I’ve ever had on my past visits too), I opted for one of their assorted nigiri sets (11 pcs plus 1 roll).  Technically, the formations were good with a narrower shari (rice), with no strange raggedy cuts.  Freshness was solid all around, and I particularly enjoyed the aka maguro (red tuna) and the amaebi (sweet shrimp) and uni (sea urchin).

If there were some system on which I would sort and thus rate all of the numerous sushi serving places in the GVA, I would probably slot Toyo Sushi in the mid-range.  Clean, decent nigiri that is done with a touch that would suggest its more than a dine-and-dash-takeout-joint level and best to give it the respect of a dine-in, but obviously not quite up there with the best on offer in the region.

I do hope they can continue to pick up customers and survive during this brutal business-altering period they’re experiencing, as I will be back when I am in the area when I have a craving for good nigiri.

Toyo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Well Tea & Asian Cuisine – Vancouver, BC


Well Tea & Asian Cuisine
5728 University Blvd
Vancouver, BC
(604) 222 0016

Well Tea (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Its a well documented fact that finding good eats in certain places is always a challenge.  Airports.  Train stations.  University campuses.  Perhaps its the transient nature of these places, full of people on the move and just wanting a quick bite as they come and go.

Well at the University of British Columbia (UBC) this stereotype definitely holds true…

The enclave that is the University Village is an interesting microcosm of the perceived general populace of students who attend this institution.  Set in this two block area, the overwhelming majority of retail space is taken up by places to eat… with many of them are ethnic.

There’s been a lot of turnover in recent years as well, be it swaps in ownership/management (e.g. Suga Sushi), or just rapid closures (e.g. some taco shop lasted mere months before shutting down).  Coincidentally, this a fore mentioned collapsed fast food joint is now the site of the subject of this post, Well Tea & Asian Cuisine.

Located not too far away is the Pearl Fever Tea House.  So it was a little bit surprising to find yet another bubble tea serving place pop up.  But given the large Asian student body at UBC, I suppose they have the right demographic in dense concentration to survive the dangers of potential “bubble tea cannibalization”.

This outlet of Well Tea also has a place to eat in, its in an area accessible by a steep climb up some stairs to the second floor.  I had no idea there was space up there, as I don’t think the previous tenant had seating up there.  Regardless, with my intention to only get something to go, I only glanced up at the alleyway leading to the seating area, and can only guess at how many people can actually fit up there.

I’m not sure if you are like me, but do you ever find some menu’s really daunting?  And I’m not talking in terms of not knowing the cuisine.  Its the sheer size and volume of choices, especially in places like run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants, or in this case, bubble tea shops.  I often wonder how one can come up with twenty-odd dishes that are listed under generic headings such as beef, chicken, pork, rice and noodles.  The same goes for tea.

Its almost like looking at the departures screen at YVR.

After going through my fair share of bubble teas this past year, which was preceded by very little exposure or interest to this drink, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of them taste the same to me.  Perhaps this is because I often sample the same base tea, and don’t get creative with the extras beyond the pearls.  In fact, the pearls are likely the only true distinguishable thing (too soft, too hard, too chalky, etc.) between one place and another for me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like bubble tea.  But perhaps I should stop drinking it for a while.  The offering at Well Tea is nothing extraordinary, and if I had to choose, I’d go with Pearl Fever.

Take-away orders are available, and upon opening the bag once I was back home, I smiled when I saw these distinctive looking packages containing my meal.  Not the usual Styrofoam containers you get at other fast food places, or as boxes to take home any left overs at restaurants, these had a clear Asian motif.  Not knowing what they say, I can only guess they are a generic brand of packaging, but well suited to the food that can be had here.

To further explain my earlier sentence, it seemed that a lot of the quick snack food items come with a trio of vegetable-based sides.  These would be slotted neatly into the separated compartments built into the container.  On this day, it was a very bitter tasting, gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), a spicy miso-flavored eggplant mixture, and lastly a strange cabbage kimchi and bean sprout pairing.   Suffice it to say, none of these were any good in my humble opinion.

As you can see, my main target for my lunch was the fried chicken “nuggets”.  Flavored Taiwanese-style, they had that fragrant scent that I enjoy with this kind of deep fried chicken.  The chunks of meat were crispy on the exterior but still very juicy inside.  I won’t go as far to say I like them over the chicken karaage at Suga located upstairs, but not bad for the low price.

I’ll take Well Tea for what it is, another good, quick and easy place to grab a cheap meal when I’m in a hurry or just passing by.  Certainly more interesting than the neighboring McDonald’s, but for your average Canadian student, I imagine the golden arches will still have them lined out the door…

Well Tea (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Bangkok Express – Edmonton, AB


Bangkok Express
6234 99 Street NW
Edmonton, AB
(780) 433-0795

Bangkok Express on Urbanspoon

In Canada, the distribution of good Thai restaurants is a bit of a strange thing. Some cities seem to have a great collection of Thai restaurants, and some don’t. Edmonton, oft-maligned for a variety reasons, certainly has a fantastic collection of Thai restaurants. Syphay in the south, to Boualong and Viphalay in the North, these are all great restaurants – though they are all Thai food by way of Laos. Even your generic Thai restaurant, Bua Thai, or Ban Thai are reasonably good. Why? I honestly couldnt tell you. However, what I do know is this does not mean that we don’t have our share of questionable places either. But for the most part, it’s all pretty decent.

Bankok Express is located in Argyll Plaza – an odd assortment of businesses and hotel, it can be pretty easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Bangkok Express is conceptually more Thai than many other Edmonton Thai restaurants – serving fast, cheap, and fresh food. With no dish over 10 dollars, the price point is fantastic for a cuisine that shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’ve always been a bit offended by the prices at establishments like the King and I – nice decor doesnt justify double the prices for half the food.

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The interior of Bangkok Express is clean and cafeteria like. You order from a counter with an open kitchen, wait for your order to be called, and pick it up. Things flow fast, and are served fairly promptly, dishes hot. With a limited menu, there is very little time wasted. They could be a bit faster, but i appreciate the extra time they put into cooking everything.

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On cold days, i find nothing more soothing than a bowl of soup – preferably, something spicy. Any version of Tom Yum is a great soup for this – light, spicy broth whose heat and acidity evoke memories of warmth, and sunny days. My preference is usually Tom Yum Khaa, but the non-coconut version is usually good too. Unfortuately, the version here is not. The vegetables are reasonably fresh, but the broth is limp, the balance is missing, and it lacks a lot of the subtle undertones that make Tom Yum so memorable. Not enough heat. Not enough acidity, not enough fish sauce, and in general, just a poor bowl.

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I ordered the Pad Thai as well, and this was slightly better. The noodles were hot, and had a nice chew, and the peanuts were fragrant and fresh. But once again, the flavour was uniformly oily, and bland. From my standpoint, the brilliance of Thai food lies in balancing key, essential flavours. Pungent, heat, and acidity, along with the textures of crisp, and chewy. This dish lacked any pungency, any heat, and no real acidity. Thoroughly disappointing, considering how simple a wok fried noodle should be.

Considering Bangkok Express is, according to published reviews, run by Thai people (i’ve never been able to distinguish based on language alone), i have to say im pretty disappointed with the outcome. It’s like everything has been taken down 3 notches in order to appease the clientele near their location. After reading many reviews, I was genuinely looking forward to this. “This is how we ate in Thailand!” they would gush. Makes me wonder where they were eating, as this food was really sub par. Thai food is generally fairly basic – and excellent eateries in town manage to demonstrate this on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, Bangkok Express is not one of them.

Bangkok Express on Urbanspoon

Posh – Burnaby, BC


Posh
#105, 6462 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 434-7674

Posh (Burnaby) on Urbanspoon

A return to some posts from the west coast…

When I first saw the signage for Posh at their West Broadway location over a year ago when they opened that outlet (there are three in total around the GVA), I was struck by the obvious imbalance between the UK English meaning of the word “posh” versus the very North American concept of “all you can eat”.

For me, they’ve never been two words I’d put together.  But with all the various interpretations of the word posh, it made me wonder…

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Toriyoshi – Tokyo, JP


Toriyoshi
Sekaidou Building B1 Fl.
2-10-10 Dougenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan
+81 3 5784 3373

If you were to literally translate TORIYOSHI, it would end up being something like “good bird”.  I suppose with poultry heavily entrenched in their menu, this is quite fitting and completely appropriate.  As after you’ve had a taste of their famous TEBASAKI KARAGE (deep fried chicken wings), you’ll be saying good things about the bird served at this place too!

Despite it being a “chain” restaurant, I still find the quality and dining experience here to be a delight each and every time.  Owned and operated by the Samukawa Food Planning group since 1984, TORIYOSHI has expanded in the 25 years that have passed and now encompasses forty branches spread across mainly the city of Tokyo, but also in other major centers such as Osaka and Yokohama.

My multiple visits have always centered around one of the outlets in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the second branch in this part of town.  Its located along the uphill sloping DOUGENZAKA street, and can be found hidden from the sidewalk as it is on a basement level floor of a building.

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Tamahide – Tokyo, JP


Tamahide
1-17-10 Nihonbashi
Ningyocho, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan
+81 3 3668 7651

As a history buff who is fascinated by all things old and the stories behind them, my interest in learning and discovering places to eat that have an established link to an ancient or significant past is very strong…

Previously on Foodosophy, I’d reported on a centuries-old establishment that specialized in Dojo fish (Japanese Loach).  But today, I thought I’d even go back a bit further in time and tell the story about an even older establishment, which is behind the birth of the oyakodon (the Japanese chicken and egg rice bowl dish).  Literally translated, oya means “parent”, and ko means child.  Chicken and egg… hope you get the reference.

Since 1760, the Yamada family has been involved with Tamahide.  Inside their restaurant located in the Ningyocho district of old Tokyo, they proudly display a photograph from that earlier time, showing the structure that housed the restaurant from its humble beginnings (when it began holding a designated role related to the food slaughtering and preparation of chicken for the ruling Shogunate of the era through three generations of the family) through to it operating as a restaurant featuring Shamo breed chicken nabe (one pot dish).

They still serve the shamo nabe in various courses and still is probably the best way to enjoy this breed of Japanese chicken through various forms of preparation and cooking methods, although the oyakodon is definitely the less expensive option here, and just as well known.

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Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus – Calgary, AB


Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus
2439-54 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 243-7757

Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus on Urbanspoon

My lack of enthusiasm for breakfast and brunch foods is fairly well documented, and, it seems, there are voices in the wilderness that concur. While i enjoy certain elements that make up breakfast, I just find the overall the entire meal to be unsatisfying. Instead, as i advance in years, I generally take advantage of the meal to get as much healthy stuff out of the way – fibre, fruits and veggies, dairy, so i can concentrate my remaining two meals on things i really like. Like meat. And soup. And meat. However, every once in a while, you’re reminded why breakfast can be so great. An amazing hollandaise on a perfectly poached egg, a nice fatty strip of crisp and soft bacon, bratwurst, crisp and fragrant hash browns, perfectly ripe fruit. Or, you can just have foods that take great elements from lunch and dinner and incorporate them into breakfast! Pfantastic Pannenkoek Haus does a little bit of both.

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Pannenkoek is a Dutch pancake. More like a crepe than a traditional pancake, they come in two types of basic flavours – sweet, and savoury, or often served as a combination of both.  With a wide variety of different toppings, as well as the ability to customize your own, Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus has a little bit of something for everyone. Located in a strip mall off Crowchild Trail in SW Calgary, it is a bit difficult to get to. People heading North on Crowchild Trail have a simple turn into the complex. For people heading south, a roundabout trip through the local side streets is needed.  This small snag aside, clearly enough people know where it is, as weekends have a very very long lineup. I typically show up very early, or very late, otherwise i expect a 45 minute wait out the door.

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Alvin Garden – Burnaby, BC


Alvin Garden
4850 Imperial St.
Burnaby, BC
(604) 437-0828

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

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Alvin Garden is not the best name for this place. The name “Alvin” reminds me of chipmunks. I much prefer this restaurant’s former name — “The Xiang”…it is far more evocative. Xiang (“Xiangjiang”) is the name of the major river that runs through the Hunan province and flows into Lake Dongting. (The more famous Yangtze River also flows into that lake).

Alvin Garden has actually gone through two resurrections in the last few years. It is really a reincarnation of Crystal Hunan formerly located on Kingsway not too far from this new location.

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The menu at Alvin Garden is unapologetically Hunan in composition. There are over a hundred dishes to try and nearly all of them are rustic Hunan dishes. Hunan cuisine is a rare beast in this part of the world which is dominated by the familiar Hong Kong inflected Cantonese cuisine. Alvin Garden is one of only three truly Hunan restaurants in this region that I know about. I have not yet been to the other two: Hu’s Hu Nan in Vancouver, and Gordon Park in Richmond. I have heard good things about them and I am looking forward to trying them out.

Hunan cuisine is fiery hot…with sourness, chili heat, and smokiness dominating the flavour profile. Many dishes use pickled Hunan pepper and smoked meats similar to Western bacon and ham. The hotter dishes initially pummel you with the quick acting sour heat which, to the relief of the diner, subsides quickly as you keep eating. After a while, all you feel is sort of chile-induced euphoria.

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I have noted the use of Sichuan peppercorns and a few nods to Sichuan cuisine in a couple of dishes. This should not be entirely surprising since Sichuan province is right next door. The use of Sichuan peppercorns (an essential ingredient in Sichuan cuisine) is relatively rare and is reserved for only a couple of Hunan dishes. The Hunanese find the flavour of the peppercorn obtrusive.

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I truly think that this place is a real treasure and thus I have been patronizing this restaurant’s various incarnations over the years. Often I am dining alone or with one other companion….which comes with some obvious disadvantages. Like in many fine Chinese restuarants, Alvin Garden’s/Xiang’s/Crystal’s best dishes come in banquet sized servings. In some of my past visits I would often compromise and order smaller and perhaps less interesting dishes….or when I know I am on my way home, I would deliberately over-order with leftovers in mind. This particular strategy raises a few eyebrows from the server and the neighboring diners as dish after dish would arrive at a table of one…I have learned to not be embarrassed.

When some Vancouver denizens of the online forum Chowhound chose this place as the next Chowdown, I was ecstatic. Finally I would be have a full dining experience there. So the other night, nine Vancouver area Chowhounds converged at Alvin Garden for an evening of dining, and convivial discussions about food. One of the attendees is a notable expert in Chinese cuisine here in town and it was great to hear his take on the food here.

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We ordered eleven dishes. I’ll try to recount as many as I can remember: the Dongting Chili Soup Fish (Tilapia); Five-Spice Pork Heart; Lamb with Pepper, & Cumin; Beef with Pickled Pepper; Dried Tofu Skin & Chinese Celery; Potato Shreds in Chili Oil Dressing; Hunan Braised Pork; Fried Pork & Green Beans with Chilies; Hunan Bacon with Garlic Stems, Hunan Smoked Duck; and Home-Style Tofu.

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My favorite dishes were the Hunan Bacon with Garlic Stems, the Chili Soup Fish, The Five Spice Pork Heart….but all dishes were great, really. None of the dishes suffered from the typical murkiness you would too often find in Hunan dishes cooked at Cantonese restaurants. Cantonese cooks employ certain techniques that do not complement Hunan cuisine – for example, they would often augment their dishes with a master stock instilling a certain “sameness” and lack of clarity to a Hunan dish. (The context is different – those techniques work for Cantonese food where the fresh flavours of the main ingredients are meant to stand out) Here, the flavours were clean, distinct, bright and bold. Each dish stood on its own and yet complemented each other.

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All told…we paid $20 per person (this includes the tip) – an amazing deal. I noted that the place was packed on this Tuesday night so business must be good. Great news to those of us who love Chinese regional cuisines.

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo – Vancouver, BC


Campagnolo
1020 Main St.
Vancouver, BC
604-484-6018

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon

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I have been sitting on this report now for a few weeks. I’m not really sure why I hesitated to publish it. It could be that it sort of broke a minor rule I have of only reporting on smaller, more under the radar sort of places. Campagnolo does not fit this mold for sure. It had received a lot of good publicity from Vancouver’s food press…rightly so. It is a good restaurant that has a lot going for it.

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Campagnolo is operated by the group who run Fuel over on the West side of the city. Fuel is a great restaurant with the kind of ethic that this area of the world is known: organic, locally sourced ingredients, “nose to tail” philosophy, talented cooks. Campagnolo is much the same. As a matter of fact, the kitchen had a deer hanging in it getting ready to be prepped “nose to tail” (from primal cuts of meat all the way to the nasty bits that end up in their pate and cured sausages.) The group has also started up a small retail/in-house curing operation cleverly called “The Cure” which will supply Fuel, Campagnolo, and retail.

Campagnolo attempts to serve “rustic” Italian food from the countryside of Peidmont and Emiglia-Romagna. I have a positive bias towards rustic and homey food so I was very interested to see how Campagnolo attempts this style of presentation.

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My friend and I started with the Cecci – deep fried chickpeas that have the same kind of addicting quality as good peanuts. The outer skin had a pleasing papery crispness which acted as a counterpoint to the creaminess of the chickpea. The skin was somewhat dark and caramelized…perhaps they pre-marinated it with a sweet concoction prior to deep frying it.

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The next dish was their Octopus Salad. It wasn’t exemplary as the Octopus itself tasted strongly fishy. It’s supposed to taste slightly fishy, but this was a bit much…and for comparison, I have had similar dishes elsewhere were the octopus tasted much more refined and subtle.

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The we moved on to the salumi platter consisting of pate and cured sausages – all house made of course. This cold plate was decent enough…nothing spectacular and certainly nothing that I wouldn’t be able to source right in my neighbourhood. Perhaps they are still in the process of experimenting and improving their recipes and techniques at The Cure, but so far, the salumi fails to impress. Oddly, it didn’t come with the obligatory bread. I did ask for some at an extra cost…but it is an odd choice on their part to not have included it. The pate certainly would not have worked at all without bread.

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The next dish was their tagliarini with pork ragu. The noodles where thin and perfectly cooked…the ragu was nicely prepared and seasoned. The shreds of pork were very tender – perhaps a bit past where it should have been because I felt it lacked ‘bite’ in the texture.

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We finished with their Olive Oil cake…this was the most pleasing part of the meal. I’m always surprised how well Olive Oil works as a dessert ingredient – it imparts a floral, fruitiness to this dish. It worked very well with the semolina cake base, vanilla cream and the caramelized pear.

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Overall, a fine meal. Campagnolo is a very nice addition to the city’s Casual Fine Dining scene – and it certainly is a very nice, but oddly juxtaposed addition to this very sketchy underbelly of a neighbourhood. It is also refreshing to see some real Regional Italian food instead of the usual generic Italian I normally see. Yet, a few weeks after dining there, I still feel unexcited about this place (quite unlike the feelings I have about Campagnolo’s sister restaurant, Fuel). As I wrote this report, I started to understand. Perhaps its limited and focused menu needs no more exploration on my part – and sampling a few dishes was enough for me to say “I get it.” Perhaps it didn’t feel quite “rustic” enough…it felt too fine? Maybe Italian food just doesn’t excite me as much as other cuisines?

The food was good, the service was excellent, the space was interesting, but I have no real compulsion to return.

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon

Sakanaya – Shimoda, JP


Sakanaya
Bay Station 1F
1-1 Gaikaoka, Shimoda City
Shizuoka, Japan
+81 0558 23 0358

Having lived in various places when it comes to closer to home (Canada), please have often asked me which I prefer among my two latest stops… the coastal environment of Vancouver with its proximity to the ocean, or the majestic mountains that are a short drive away from a place like Calgary.  Put simply, am I a ‘water’ guy or a ‘land’ guy?

In response I’m apt to say, that as much as I enjoy outdoor hiking and think the Rockies are one of the most amazing natural surroundings any place on the planet, there is something about the beauty and calming sensation that comes with strolling along a beach with the waves crashing against the shoreline and the distinct scent of sea water that permeates the air.  Perhaps its also the Pisces in me, but that draw to the ocean always beckons me when I travel.  So whenever I come across a harbour with various boats as well as larger ocean liners, I always imagine what it would be like to travel the seas on a daily basis or over long periods of time.  Shimoda City is one such place that struck my fancy with its quaint little waterside marina and the following is a report on a simple meal I had there.

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Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Calgary, AB


Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
294-115 9 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 246-3636

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, as it never seems to be the right time to bring it up, but i’ve decided to bite the bullet and post it. Ruth’s Chris. I’ve been called a traitor for eating here. By my best friend no less. Ruth’s Chris, in my opinion, is one of the most controversial restaurants in Alberta. In the middle of Canadian Beef country, stands this iconic US chain serving…USDA Prime Beef? Regional protectionism aside, you have to admit that you’d be surprised if there was a place trying to serve Canadian beef in Texas. Other than the thought of oil dollars and population expansion in Alberta, i’m not sure why they ventured into Alberta, but it makes for interesting discussion that they did.

Ruth’s Chris was founded in New Orleans, and has expanded into a global empire of “fine dining steakhouses”. They sell themselves on two key things – the temperature that they cook their steaks at (1800 F), and the corn-fed, US beef that they serve.  They have a standardized, high end look, and pride themselves on their service, the decor, as well as high quality beef.  The prices certainly match the image. Service is designed to be high end – but it has a tendency to be a bit overbearing. Especially the sneer when tap water is ordered.  A little more laid back would be appreciated on my part.

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In terms of a menu, it’s all classic steakhouse. Big meaty appetizers and salads, beef entrees, and the obligatory entrees for those who don’t eat beef (seafood, lamb, chicken, veg option). I havent looked, but i would guess they would have cheesecake and creme brulee on the dessert menu.

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Springfields Cafe – Calgary, AB


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

Springfields Cafe on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

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Uosuke – Shimoda, JP


Uosuke
Shimoda 1-6-8, Shimoda City
Shizuoka, Japan
+81 (0)558 27 3330

As we enter our tenth month of existence here at Foodosophy, I’m reminded of one of the reasons why I accepted Foodosopher’s offer to contribute to the site (besides that fact that I was already experimenting with food photography) –  I’m always on the lookout for new and good places to eat.

Taking a look through the various search terms that bring our viewers to our humble pages, I’m struck by the fact that I must not alone in having this interest.  People are constantly seeking information and checking out commentary and reviews of places they intend to dine at, or perhaps at restaurants they recently have done so and are looking to compare experiences.

As good as online sources, published books, magazines, newspaper articles, etc. are at providing this kind of information, for me word of mouth plays a very strong role in deciding where I go to eat.  Not just anyone’s opinion mind you, it has to be from a trusted source or from people that I feel that I have a similar set of food preferences and tastes with.  Granted we won’t agree on everything, but for the most part we will, and its that comfort level that leads me to continue to rely on these sources.

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Green Grato – Calgary, AB


Green Grato
3229 17 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 272-2988

Green Grato on Urbanspoon

Blending two food cultures cannot be an easy thing. With the restaurant industry in any major city comprised of a large number of immigrant cuisines, they face a tough challenge. Trying to accurately balance authentic native cuisine with the tastes of their newly adopted country. If the purpose is to service people from their birth country, then they have less to be concerned about. But from my own observations, this typically fails to work – most restaurants need a fairly diverse clientele to succeed in the long term. This is a challenge very much in evidence at the Green Grato.

Green Grato serves Carribean and Canadian meals. Ignoring the pizza, wings, and other Canadian dishes, their primary focus is on classic Jamacian dishes. Jerk, brown stews, roti, ackee and salt fish, rice and peas. A lot of Jamaican food is quite approachable for the general masses – with the actual spicy “heat” level of each dish being the only real issue for the general populace. For me though, Jamaican food is all about bold, punchy flavours. Big flavour, lots of happiness in one place.

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Located in a large strip mall just off 17th Ave SE, the location leaves a lot to be desired. During the day, it is a long way from the high worker density areas of downtown, and NE. At night, the area often slows down – shops close early, and many people avoid the general vicinity. It’s too bad really, as some of the more interesting restaurants in the city are in the area.

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River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise – Bangkok, THA


River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise
195 Ratwiti Road
Bangkok, Thailand
+66 (0) 2883 1588

Just about everyone who’s read a book in their lifetime, knows the age old expression “when in Rome (do as the Romans do)“.  But who knew the Thai’s would be coming along for the ride… literally.

The Chao Phraya River, though not an impressive sight during the day, becomes this magical waterway lined with some of the most incredible ancient structures that are lit up with lights, thus providing a breathtaking view that differs from what you can see from land during daylight.

Led by a Finn of all people, along with folks from Indonesia, the UAE, China and other nations, I found myself in a large group being taken for an unexpected dinner cruise aboard a vessel docked at the River Side Bangkok Hotel.  The taxi ride to this older part of the city was a bit doggy, but I must admit that it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get me to go.  After many trips to Thailand, I was running out of new things to do, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, as well as get a free meal to boot!

As I alluded to in my opening, I truly expected this to be a complete tourist trap, but low and behold, the entire ship was packed with Thai couples, families and friends out for a weekday dinner.  No other foreigners, aside from our group, to be seen for the entire voyage.

Before our ship set sail, we discovered this uncovered beer garden near the dock.  With at least an hour before we were to board, this made for a great opportunity to get going with some refreshments, and nothing beats a few cold bottles of Singha after a long day of networking.

I could imagine that this is a popular spot a little later in the evening (we were only there around 5pm) for those who aren’t interested in paying for the trip down the river, but would just prefer to have their drinks and food in the comforts of this wide open space.  If I was working nearby, I could see this as being an almost daily stopover on my way home…

The River Side Luxury Cruise is a journey aboard a massive boat.  It easily holds a few hundred people, complete with two decks (the top uncovered), and a large dance hall on the main floor with live entertainment provided by the in-ship band.  With numerous servers floating about catering to all the diners, it makes for a chaotic environment which is coupled by the gentle swaying of the ship as it gets into the open waters of the river.  Thankfully, our waitresses quickly delivered the many bottles of beer, wine and spirits that our group requested.

Despite the pleasant start to our journey, there was a part of me that was still hesitant about the food.  Would it be any good?  After all, it is aboard a ship, which probably had to have a restricted cooking space and the limitations that go along with it in terms of putting out great food.

Now I haven’t posted all of the possible photos of the food that arrived, but our first dish of a vegetable Thai curry was a solid opening volley.  A rich, creamy texture with the requisite spicy kick that pervades the food of this culture, I was really pleased with whoever ordered this for our group. The battle over the steamed rice quickly ensued and we had to order more.

Of all of the places that I’ve visited around the world, Thailand has always struck out one of the fantastic places for fresh seafood.  Even aboard a river patrolling ship this held true, as these giant prawns were amazing!  With the delicate slightly salty scent that suggested they were recently plucked from the sea, each bite into the juicy meat was met with a satisfying grin.  They were also very easy to separate from the shell, so this made scarfing them down all the more pleasant.  I can’t even remember how many plates of this were ordered, but I surely raised my cholesterol level as a result of one too many.

The simplicity of a fresh steamed white fish always makes for a great meal in my books.  Coupled with the taste enhancing ingredients like fine sliced onions, mushrooms, ginger, cilantro, lemongrass and the distinct access of fish sauce, I can honestly say this was as good as I’ve had in other places across Thailand’s coastal regions.  The fall-of-the-bone meat was oh so satisfying.

Leaving the food angle, and as described earlier, there was some in-ship entertainment, comprised of a six person band that went through various songs, Thai and English.  They really only got going later in the night after all the dining was done, and people were really getting into it to my surprise.  The dance floor in front of the stage was packed with locals bouncing around to the beats.  Quite the bit of entertainment in and of itself, just watching the crowds rather than the band.

Lastly, I thought I’d close this review by showing you the “views” from the ship itself, that I took from one of the outer walkways.  Some of the most impressive wats in Thailand are along this river, including my personal favorite, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  I’d gone during the day earlier in the week and climbed up to the highest deck that you can.

As a result of my four hour journey on this dinner cruise ship, I learned that I should never let any preconcieved thoughts affect my expectations…especially when they involve food.  This was a great lesson in having an open mind.