Pizzeria Bianco – Phoenix, AZ

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 258-8300

Before we get into my pizza trip to Phoenix, let me introduce myself.

I’m currently a barista in Alberta and finished a Bachelor of Arts last spring. I’ve been working in the food industry for the last 11 years, but only started appreciating real food when I began working in the specialty coffee industry three-and-a-half years ago. Being a part of the coffee industry has been an excellent opportunity for palate training: there are over 1,000 chemicals in roasted coffee, making for a very complex and diverse drink. No two cups of coffee or two pulls of espresso are the same; the quest for the perfect extraction lead many baristi to lose sleep, become over-caffeinated and obsessive.  One major upside is that any good barista will become concerned about everything she consumes. It is through this process that I really began to care about the food I eat. By no means do I claim to be a culinary expert; I’m just a food-lover, like every other contributor on foodosophy. I care about where my food comes from and hope that the person who prepared it cares even more. I also believe that when someone focuses on one thing and decides to put everything he or she has into it, the results will come through. This is obviously true in the food industry and I intend to experience as much of that passion around the world as I possibly can.

Continue reading

Burger Burger – New Westminster, BC

Burger Burger
340 – 6th Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 525-4229

May 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Another sojourn into New West.  I’ve been expanding my food hunting journeys to the “far east”, as frankly for me its a largely unexplored area and the Vancouver coverage of eateries and restaurants is seemingly getting more saturated and repetitive – especially in light of the start of “the event” next week in town.  So I thought, what a better way to really get off the beaten path of reviews on those standard superstar places that are appearing in cyberspace and print media, than a return to a classic mom-and-pop joint.

Interestingly enough, despite its very generic sounding name, Burger Burger gets top billing on the commercial signage that stands at this complex along sixth street.  It totally reminded me of my high school years, where my buddies and I would always congregate at our town’s favourite hole-in-the-wall burger spot – which ironically stood across the street from a McDonald’s.  Even the yellow signage was identical, as well as the open facing flat top cooking area and fantastically priced burger-fries-drink combos.  Over a decade later, I am bewildered to see that a place like Burger Burger has prices that I am most familiar with when I was a cash-starved but always hungry teenager over a decade ago.

Continue reading

Mon Mom’s Cafe – New Westminster, BC

Mon Mom’s Cafe
821 12th St
New Westminster, BC
(604) 524-2088

On the quick and easy breakfast trail in New Westminster, I chanced upon Mon Mom’s Cafe located along 12st Street. Situated in a wooden building reminiscent of structures popular from an earlier era, it certainly has its charms and nostalgic sidewalk appeal. The slow pace of things on the road outside took a turn as I stepped inside the place which was full of chatter and customers. The sounds and smells of a breakfast diner never fail to disappoint me.

With breakfast plate offerings (eggs, toast, ham/sausage, French toast/pancakes) in the $4 to $4.75 range, and omelets in the $5 to $6 range, great value can be had. Preferring French toast over pancakes, I ordered one of the choices from the top half of the menu and sat back to take in the scene. Families, groups of working class men, single diners taking up the smaller tables near the front window, it was all a regular mix of common folk out for a relaxing morning meal.

Continue reading

Lhy Thai – Burnaby, BC

Lhy Thai
7357 Edmonds Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 526-8085

September 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Simple, honest food without pretense but with the tasty flair that only the cuisine of southeast Asia can provide is something that I’ve had a craving for lately, as its been much too long since my last visit to that part of the world (sadly, over a year ago now)…

Located in a dilapidated building along Edmonds Street, very close to the new Burnaby Public Library, is this quaint space known as Lhy Thai, that served as a quick fix for me recently.   Inside, the dining quarters are cramped to say the least and you won’t be coming here for the decor.  Coupled with the widely unnecessary array of low quality posters that could easily be mistaken for being ripped out of some promotional material for Tourism Thailand encased in cheap frames all over the walls, and the stacks of books near the bar enclosure, and the place feels even more claustrophobic.  Where I was seated, I had a decent view into the kitchen area, which I noted was staffed by all female, Thai-speaking cooks.

Continue reading

Thai Terrace – Vancouver, BC

Thai Terrace
2872 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738-2824

The delectable intricacies of the mouth watering cuisine from the Kingdom of Thailand – a country that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting at least ten times in my lifetime – sadly gets undue respect here in North America.  Perhaps its the fear of the “exotic-ness”  that many people associate with the food from this southeast Asia nation, or the complexity of sweet, savory, spicy, sour and bitter that permeates so many of its fine dishes that is confusing to locals more accustomed to meat and potatoes, which results in a “let’s dumb it down” approach that native-Thai proprietors are forced to take in order to survive and try to establish a beachhead for their cooking in a foreign land.

Whatever the case may be, its a darn shame I say…

On a busy strip of West Broadway populated by many local shops and restaurants, I was completely shocked to see the signage for Thai Terrace while driving past in the early evening and in the middle of a downpour.  I traverse this section of Vancouver often and it surprised me that I had not seen this place before.  With a few diners already inside eating and a couple waiting at the til (apparently to order to go), I decided to turn my car around and stepped inside.

Continue reading

One More Sushi – Vancouver, BC

One More Sushi
222-2155 Allison Road
Vancouver, BC
(604) 228 9773

One More Sushi on Urbanspoon

Located on the second floor of  mixed commercial/residential complex just behind University Village at UBC, One More Sushi is impossible to see from the road.  With three other places (Suga Sushi, Osaka Sushi, Omio Japanese Restaurant) in the same general area that also serve up their take on sushi, it makes for a very condensed location for Japanese food.  As such, unless you knew about it from actually walking in the area, I highly doubt you ever knew it exists and most people probably satisfy their sushi fix at one of the other better known and more visible places.

As it occupies a more spacious area, the seating floorspace is clearly the largest of the sushi serving restaurants in this geographical area.  A long narrow entranceway leads into this space, with the sushi bar along one side that leads back to the kitchen area, as well as a bar station that is located nearby as well.  As the lighting was incredibly dark, and we were seated at the opposite end, I could not be sure but it appeared like there were private rooms at the other side of the room.  The decor was your typical, North American interpretation of what a Japanese restaurant “should look like”, with cheap pictures and paintings hanging on the walls.  One more thing I would mention is that the heating, or lack there of, made the place very cold – something that people who have gone there on multiple occassions have told me never changes.   So dress warmly!

In the mood just to share a few appetizers and get a sample of their sushi, our table chose a basic spinach Gomae, which had a weak flavored but really thick consistency to their sesame paste/dressing.  Not the good first food impression we were hoping for.  This was followed by a serving of the Agedashi Tofu.  It had a very thin layer of coating and the tofu itself was fresh and very soft.  Perhaps they could have fried it a bit longer and provided a more flavorful broth to accompany it.  Two appetizers in, and I was disappointed at how lighthanded they were with the depth of flavor in both.

Not my selection, but this is the Yam Tempura Maki.  I don’t tend to like sweet things in sushi nor maki in general, so I am not the best person to be commenting on this plate.  The piece I had confirmed my preferences, not that I can’t eat it

Lastly, as I was somewhat hesitant to try any nigiri, I elected to go with the Chirashidon.  That way I could at least try to get a semblance of the quality of their product, freshness and skill in cutting.  It came in a rather smallish bowl which was fine as too many places put this in a large one and compensate by filling it with too much sushi rice.  It turned out the ingredients themselves were simply average – not horrifically bad that I couldn’t eat it, but not overly enthusiastic at the same time either.

Apologies for the poor quality of pictures, as they were taken with my mobile, but I hope you were able to form some image in your mind of what each dish looked and tasted like.  With its seemingly strong level of popularity with the student crowd at UBC, I imagine One More Sushi will continue to be a relatively busy place despite its shortcomings and pumping out just average/sub-standard fare.  I just know it won’t have me coming back, One More Time…

One More Sushi on Urbanspoon

May Flower Restaurant – Zhuhai, CH

May Flower Restaurant
Jiuzhou Avenue, Jida District
Zhuhai, Guangdong, China
Tel : 881 44 1889 7423

Recently, one of the movies in the X-Men trilogy was broadcast on local television. It reminded me of that age-old question that seems to pop up whenever a superhero-action movie is played. If you could be blessed with super human powers of any kind, what would you want it to be? To make matters slightly more interesting, let’s see how that might tie into food or eating out.

For me, if I had the choice, I’d really just go for a basic Superman package.

Being able to fly super fast where and whenever I wanted, is all I would really desire. Perhaps its from my many years of tedious air flights to international destinations that makes me wish I had my own personal form of ultra quick, long distance transportation.  If I felt like having Italian food, I could jet over to Rome in minutes and not have to head over to the nearest restaurant facsimile here in Canada. Fresh sushi?  No problem.  In minutes I could be back at my favorite Ginza sushi bar.

Could you imagine the possibilities? Dining out would be taken to an entirely different level.

But being as I don’t hold such abilities of lightning fast flight, I had to make due with regular modes of transport on a day’s journey that took me through three border checkpoints and resulted in a total of six immigration stamps and one visa applied for.  Beginning in Hong Kong, we took a TurboJET across water to the port of Macau, spent a few hours exploring around, walked across to a land border station to enter mainland China, shopped and ate, walked back across to Macau, and then the speed boat back to Hong Kong.

A lot to do for a single meal don’t you think?  Now you know where my super power preference comes from…

My Hong Kong-residing friends kept telling me that if I wanted large quantities of fantastic seafood for absurdly cheap prices, then we needed to go to the mainland.  They said it would save us a bundle and we could see other sights as well. Me, not being a hard sell, jumped at their idea and off we went.  Their suggestion, the May Flower Restaurant was apparently well known, but finding it, that was another challenge.  Trying to navigate around a strange town in China after the sun had set is something that I will not attempt ever again.

For after a nightmarish taxi ride which felt like I was in the midst of a video game with all the swerving and ignoring of traffic lanes and even lights(!), and getting ripped off on the change (the sneaky driver folded two bills to make it look like four notes – hey, I know its a small piece of change but its the principal, or rather lack there of from the Chinese driver, that really got my Hong Kong friend’s ire), we made it to the district area where the restaurant is.  The strange presence of an actual airplane in the parking lot threw me for a loop, but then I realized we were so close to Macau, which is trying to copy the tackiness of Las Vegas, so perhaps it was not entirely out of the question.

Soon enough, the sight of large tanks of fish and other underwater creatures calmed down our mate after we were seated and instructed to go check out what was available.  Other than in Thailand, I’ve never had the opportunity to go and select what I wanted to eat myself, and so I loved they had this system here.  With all the choices though, it made for an interesting dilemma, but my eyes immediately locked onto the lobsters.  If you’re the type who prefers straight ordering of a menu, then you might be out of your element here.

This unfortunate pair that were huddle in the corner together, as if to avoid my gaze, were the innocent victims that I instructed our waiter to pluck out of the pool and serve to me.  A little Lost in Translation took place as I was offered to select from a few styles of preparation, but I was able to finally persuade the man to see if the kitchen could just steam them.  I wanted to avoid anything like a heavy sauce that would totally mask the flavor of the meat.

This is what eventually came out, a little too “perfumed up” for my liking with the base sauce in the plate adding a distinct scent, and was contrary to my instructions of asking for a bare-bone treatment. But alas, it was not a total loss as the meat was succulent and rich with that definitive flavor that these crustaceans possess.  As guilty as I felt for ordering these two to their untimely demise, I knew in the end that they had found a well appreciated home in my belly.

A platter of boiled shrimp with soy-based dipping sauces was the choice of my Hong Kong pal.  De-shelling these tasty morsels was a bit of a hassle but they were so fresh and juicy that they were soon polished off.  It was interesting netting these guys out of their tank, and probably the most combative opponent we had among our selections.

Crab claws stir-fried with assorted vegetables.  I can’t say I enjoyed this dish as much as the others, just based on my personal preference for allowing the seafood ingredients to take centre stage, rather than the sauce in which it is cooked.

Steamed fish, provided its incredibly fresh, is always one of my favorite things to order in a seafood-specialty restaurant.  The simplicity of it all just appeals to me.  With a light soy/ginger-based broth giving it some added punch, the delicate white meat just fell from the bone structure without any deliberate picking.

And lastly, a bowl of chicken feet.  I must explain.  Ordering this is a running gag with my friend and me.  He knows I’ve never had it, and can’t stand the sight of it.  But nonetheless, he reveals in getting this brought to our table whenever I am in Hong Kong.  Oh, the comedy!

Through the course of this day, traveling through border crossings as if they were just neighborhoods in my own city, I learned one thing.   There is never a barrier to finding great fresh food is you are willing to seek it out.  You don’t need super powers to accomplish this, but just a mad crazy, change cheating Chinese cab driver to drop you off at the door.

Taj Mahal Club – Kowloon, HK

Taj Mahal Club
B4, 3/F, Block B, Chung King Mansion
36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 5454

There are some cuisines that for some reason or another just seem more conducive and better appreciated in a group environment.  For me, Indian is one of those.  Perhaps is the still relative niche-ness and lack of true understanding of the diversity of this country’s food culture by many North Americans that leads one to want to share with others – perhaps out of fear of making a disappointing decision while ordering the unknown. Others might suggest that its just simply wanting to try a little of everything on the usually large menus of such restaurants – which in and of itself is not a bad thing for someone that is continually trying to broaden their perspectives and knowledge.

While in Hong Kong recently, it dawned on me that there might be a hypothesis worth testing.  Does the lack of great familiarity with Indian cuisine also work hand-in-hand when dining in a group where most people don’t know each other well?  A double dose of hesitation, uncertainty and tentativeness so to speak.   I decided to have an actual experiment and our group’s decision to share a meal together in a strange country (no native Hong Kongers in our posse), with non-native cuisine and in a location (the restaurant was inside an actual residential complex) that was slightly intimidating, even further complicated matters.

Located on the third floor, and with a group of ten members, we opted to take the stairs up to the Taj Mahal Club restaurant, despite the existence of an elevator.  In hindsight, I am not sure that was the wisest decision, as the halls were darkly lit and dingy, with all sorts of local residents (all apparently Indians) sitting in the stairwell passing time with friends, and it felt like we were invading someone’s private space.  I swear I also saw smears of red on the walls which did not look like paint at all, and made me think this place has a sketchy past.  But once you get to the front door, you are welcomed by a brightly lit display, complete with press coverage dutifully collected and shown on the wall – including both local and foreign media.

Despite the relatively uneasy start to our night, the meal itself was an excellent example of the ability to get authentic ethnic cuisine in a country not native to that type of food.  The various curries we ordered included some staple chicken and lamb for those more timid, as well as more pure vegetarian options (yes, those people still do exist!).   The lamb version that I sampled had an ample amount of spice and was flavorful and the hot kick from it certainly made the bowl of rice and plates of fresh naan go all the more faster.  The coconut milk-based curries on our table were a bit sweeter and thus satisfied those for whom high levels of spice was not appreciated.  Simply put, our folks with various preferences meshed well with the curry menu and it enabled everyone to get at least one that they enjoyed, thus not leaving anyone out.

Tandoori chicken is always a catch-22 for me.  As much as I enjoy it, too many times I’ve been let down by it being overcooked and a dry, flaky mess of meat.  Thankfully, Taj Mahal Club does an amazing job with this.  The meat was tender and juicy, and the marinade had held up incredibly well through the cooking process.   An assortment of other dishes were on our table, but given the size of our row, I was unable to get other images.  But judging from the loud conversations and general jovial mood and rapidly depleting plates and bowls, I could tell that things were just as tasty at other sections of our row.

So how would I conclude my tested idea?  I would say that whenever great food can be had, it certainly helps to relax the mood on a night out with people who are meeting for the very first time.  The diversity of Indian cuisine, even in just the well known curry dishes alone, work well to meet the personal tastes and needs of everyone at the table, from carnivores to vegetarians, lovers of spice and those who are not.  When people are not really comfortable with a type of cuisine, I think that even works to help break the ice and enable those who are slightly more familiar to share what they know, and engage others in conversation.  A sort of exploration as a team occurs, with everyone anxious to give their thoughts and opinions on each dish, knowing that its a safe environment with nobody really standing out as a true expert on the cuisine so their impressions won’t be smashed to smithereens.

I’m sure the cold pints of Kingfisher didn’t have anything to do with it either…

Suga Sushi – Vancouver, BC

Suga Sushi Japanese & Korean Restaurant
#201, 5728 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC
(604) 228 9912

Suga Sushi on Urbanspoon

Places that you could deem as being a “restaurant” are hard to come by on most university campuses. The spots to grab a sit-down meal are usually either a cafeteria setting populated by food services departments of the institutions, outlets of chains, primarily alcohol serving pubs, or just simple mom-and-pop kitchens. On the campus of the University of British Columbia, the choices are similarly constrained, with perhaps Sage Bistro being one of the few exceptions.

Suga Sushi, located in the UBC Village complex near one of the heavily populated bus stops that takes students back out of the area and into Vancouver proper, has been in existence since about spring 2007. I’d been a few times, mostly to get a simple meal without high expectations. At the time, I thought it was an affordable decent menu that had the usual staples that Canadians enjoy and fit within their realm of understanding when it comes to Japanese cuisine.

The crew of employees that I would usually see was an interesting bunch, from a senior gentlemen who would take orders, and a middle-aged Chinese man who I believe was the manager and for some reason could speak a little conversational Japanese.  The decor intrigued me as well, as it was a reasonable (albeit it cheaply constructed from a materials point of view) replica of a homey, teishoku or izakaya that one finds in Japan.

A long time had passed since my last visit, and I learned that earlier this summer the ownership of Suga Sushi had changed hands. The first indication of this was when I saw the additional of “Korean” to the full name of the restaurant signage. I think its unique to Vancouver, compared to say Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary specifically) that there are often these joint Japanese-Korean restaurants serving up menu items from each style of cuisine under one roof – of course with all of them being Korean owned/operated.

With this management shift, I was hoping that the one dish that I did enjoy routinely could still be had, and that it tasted the same.  That alone was enough for me to go an have a try recently.  The dish in question is the Chicken Karaage (deep fried, marinated chicken thigh meat), or more specifically the Chicken Karaage Teishoku (set menu).  Tender chunks of chicken encased in a crispy seasoned coating was what appealed to me about Suga’s take on this.  The key part being it was not fried in very hot oil so that it was a hard crispy crust, rather it was a more softer, lower temperature fry that made it stand out for me.  Thankfully, the changes have not included any tampering with the recipe or cooking method, and the plate I had was a generous serving of at least 12-15 pieces, complete with a miso soup and a bowl of steam rice for just $7.50. I’m not usually a big fan of sweeter sauces on my karaage (prefer a straight up salt & pepper dusting), but the sweet ginger-based drizzle on top is delicious.

Not wanting to let the new Korean cuisine sub-menu go to waste, a Doenjang Jjigae (Korean miso and vegetable stew) was ordered as well at our table.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much but was pleasantly surprised it was good, not outstanding, but just good.  Certainly edible to the last drop and heartwarming in this cold weather snap we’ve been experiencing of late in Vancouver.   I guess with the kitchen populated by a cook who has more experience with Korean cuisine than anything else, I should not have been that pessimistic.

A note though on both dishes, the accompanying steamed rice was quite horrid.  For those who eat it often, you will know what I am talking about, as it was as if it had been made a long time ago (day or two in the past) or in one massive batch that had been sitting too long – as it was gummy and clumped together.

Suga Sushi appears to continue to be a student wallet-friendly, decent establishment when one has a craving for basic Japanese and Korean comfort foods when out in the wilderness that is the UBC campus.  Certainly more appealing atmosphere-wise than the nearby food court in the basement of the UBC Village, it is a popular place when school is in session, as it is once again now.  That said, in my opinion, not a destination spot that you would specifically target for your sushi fix (as my meals that have included that have been disappointing with the former ownership group), but if its a solid chicken karaage you are after, I can definitely say, Suga’s your spot.

[Apologies for the poor picture quality with this post – all images taken with a mobile phone in really bad lighting]

Suga Sushi on Urbanspoon