Guu – Vancouver, BC

838 Thurlow Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 685-8817

In the past, I’ve touched on various reasons why despite the surge of popularity (which is a good thing) and the burgeoning mainstream acceptance of this concept of Japanese drinking-dining in Vancouver that I don’t regularly frequent them, in particular the better known ones that have been exposed in major media outlets.  I won’t rehash them all here for the sake of brevity and for not sounding like a broken record.  And let me add that it is just my personal feel and thoughts on this topic, not to say they shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone out there and I’d ask you continue to support the businesses out there that serve this transplanted, albeit North Americanized-style of going out on the town.

So when an old friend and his colleague visiting from the east coast (Washington, DC in fact) that I hadn’t seen in over 12 years let me know he’d be making a short business trip to our fair city on the other side of the continent and would be housed up in a hotel not far from Robson Street, he asked me to give him some ideas of where to eat while in town.  Better yet, he wondered if there were any Japanese places that could help us relieve our brief time together spent in Tokyo oh those many years ago.  That instantly brought back some flashbacks of too many crazy nights in the local izakaya around our flat, and the mad dashes to catch the last train home when we ventured a bit further out for some binge-focused evenings of drinking and eating.  Ah, to be young again.

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Tai Won – Burnaby, BC

Tai Won
4727 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 437-3399

A true hole-in-the-wall based on its location in a somewhat downtrodden row of commercial businesses just across from the busy Metropolis at Metrotown, but once inside it looked better (and cleaner) than I expected at the front door.  Nearby, was a AYCE-looking sushi place and I caught more than a few people looking inside Tai Won before stepping over next door.  I think this business might have received a refreshing or a change of ownership around the time of my visit, as I could see it was very busy inside – and there were some apparent “congratulations” type of gifts near the front door and the female manager was conversing with some trades people outside and it seemed they were discussing the awning above the front window.  The clientele was very young, mostly teenagers and early-twenty somethings led the way.  Which led to a nice buzz of conversation and excitement, all in a very casual setting.

Up front was an intriguing self-serve setup.  Of course a water station.  But also two containers filled with pickled vegetables that you could re-fill at your leisure, after getting your first serving with your meal.  Tables and chairs for two and four seating were scattered around, including a small two-top in the corner right by the front window – a perfect place to take in the busy Kingsway traffic, both on the road and the sidewalk.  Only a pair of waitresses were on hand and it was clear they were swamped.  It made the do-it-yourself area all the more reasonable.  I took advantage of the free side re-fills at least twice. 🙂  It wasn’t the full array of a stereotypical medley of banchan, but sufficed.

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Cafe Osceola – Orlando, FL

Cafe Osceola
Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel
9939 Universal Boulevard
Orlando, FL
(407) 996-9939

Jetting from one corner of the US down to almost the exact opposite quadrant is something that I never enjoy.  I realize its just one country, but man, can America seem massive some times.  And I’m not just talking about the gigantic people I sometimes get sat next to on the airplane.  So after a day long journey, a taxi ride once I landed and a groggy check-in past the dinner hour, I was in no mood to check in with my mates (one of whom had arrived two hours before me) and desperately needed to eat something as I got into my room.  Thank goodness for that wonderful thing called room service.

Those massively, old fashioned binders that house the pages of the hotel’s restaurant options had some not bad looking choices, but room service was limited to just the one.  Fine, I thought, let’s just roll with it.  It seemed to be from the Cafe Osceola located on the main floor, and their menu choices were pretty standard fare variety American family fare.  As I really hadn’t had anything substantial on the plane rides (after all, who wants airplane food?), I thought it might be overwhelming but decided to get a French Onion Soup to begin with.  I should have taken the plastic wrap in taking this shot – so excuse the shiny glare.  It was a good size, easily the palm of my hand.  A thick layer of oozy cheese was cut through, revealing a very thick with bread cubes soup.  Rich and flavorful, and not too salty.  The only downside with room service is of course, the temperature of the soup had cooled somewhat, to the point where it was getting just above warm.

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Choices in the Park – Burnaby, BC

Choices in the Park
6855 Station Hill Drive
Burnaby, BC
(604) 522-6441

Okay, I realize this isn’t exactly a post about a restaurant with full service but we’ve gone off the usual path in the past with reports about food counters, retail shops and general ramblings on topical food-related issues, so I’m sure you’re used to it if you’ve followed us along these past two-and-a-half years.  Variety is the spice of life don’t they say?  I’m certain that those of you who live in the GRVD that you are familiar with the small chain of natural and organic grocery stores known as Choices Markets.  Actually, they even have a rice bakery on W 16th Avenue, that is just a block away from the Choices Market that I am most familiar and frequent in Kitsilano.  For my daily grocery needs this purveyor of healthy, quality goods and food is my main source, and a big part of it is the satisfaction that I get from supporting the local player, and a 100% Canadian owned enterprise that is thriving despite the flood of the mass market chains such as Superstore and Safeway that dominate the family grocery landscape.  Another aspect of their operations that I like is that despite the eight locations, of which I’ve hit several, they all “look” somewhat different from the outside, and don’t confirm to that dreadfully generic commercial building design code of boxy squares that seem to be pumped out of some construction replication machine and are given a distinct “name” for their location to further generate some individuality.

Now normally the Choices Markets are placed along side some more high-traffic roads that are easily seen and accessible by passing cars – which I assume is to entice more store visits and volume.  However, the Choices in the Park location was completely different from this pattern, as it was hidden and nestled in a residential neighborhood, albeit not too far from a SkyTrain station.  It clearly is intended to service the local populace and even their tiny parking lot that could probably hold eight cars at best would suggest that their main customers are of the walk-up variety.  I’m sure there are other such grocery stores out there that fit this model of being primarily for the neighborhood, but I believe most of those are the mom-and-pop single operation type, not major commercial businesses such as this.  Another quirky aspect of Choices that makes me like what they’re doing and their strategic decisions for their outlets.  But enough about the hard side of things, let’s take a look at what you can get to eat – and not the stuff you have to cook yourself…

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Meat & Bread – Vancouver, BC

Meat & Bread
370 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 566-9003

The speed of news delivery and the response rate of this city’s fanatical food bloggers never ceases to amaze me.  There seems to be a continual rush by this unique niche of internet-based writers to first discover any freshly opened location and swarm on it like a pack of hungry wolves.  Incredible I say, and more power to them as spreading any new intel about good eats is fine by us here at foodosophy.  Keep ’em coming my cohorts, as after the buzz subsides somewhat, I’ll usually make my way down and partake in a meal much like a hyena or a vulture after the lions have dismantled the wildebeest carcass. 🙂  A case in point, my weekend jaunt down to Gastown to visit the very hot (from a posting perspective) space known as Meat & Bread.

I honestly can’t recall what business occupied this historic building, but it has character written all over it.  The hanging chains and massive steel meat hooks right by the front door window is a sign of things you can expect inside.  The very industrial theme is then juxtaposed by the very modern-rustic sensibilities of the decor within, highlighted by the thick and elongated wooden table that falls into your field of view immediately upon entering the front door.  The warmth of the natural elements continues into the design aspect of the service area with its angled placement of off-colored wood pieces on the counter, and the light colored wooden mini-chopping boards that make up the serving trays upon which the sandwich creations are presented.  White painted brick completed the motif, along with glass, stainless steel appliances and multiple units of these large round hanging lights that reminded me of those used in interrogation rooms of spy movies.  A large matte black, almost chalkboard-like in appearance wall  sign that sits near the front window is the only menu that I saw; as limited as that was with a spartan listing of just their four signature sandwiches.  I’ve seen the lamb replaced with veal in other reports so its quite possible that this is one that is in flux.

Porchetta – $8
Roast Lamb – $8
Meatball – $7
Grilled cheese – $7

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La Taqueria – Vancouver, BC

La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop
322 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-4406

Its been over a year but I finally made my way down to this by now, well known taqueria not far from Victoria Square where the Remembrance Day ceremonies took place this week.  There seems to be a mix of die hard fans and those who are skeptical of its authenticity or just plain disappointed by the flavors or even the portion sizes out there in the blogosphere about La Taqueria.  I always take all of these opinions just as they are, individual thoughts and impressions that each of them are absolutely entitled to.  In the end it comes down to me (and everyone else) to decide if they enjoy the food, with varying factors influencing just how we interpret and therefore accept them on our taste buds.

To conduct my own personal experiment as a first time customer in this compact shop on West Hastings Street, the order of the day was this plate of four of their meat taco options…

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Cioppino’s – San Francisco, CA

400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-9311

Big groups require big spaces to eat.  Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran.  With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal.  This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more.  It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.

Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine.  I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location.  But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention.  There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them.  Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation.  A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.

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