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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