O’Tray (Tianjin Flavours)
2285 – 8181 Cambie Road President Plaza
The topic of street food often comes up in discussion amongst this city’s food-obsessed. We longingly look to Asia where street food has been elevated to artform. Or even a few hundred kilometers south to the city Portland deemed a streetfood mecca by the American food press. Portland has hundreds of street carts serving fairly mediocre, but sometimes great streetfood. “Why do we have to settle for hotdogs and chestnuts?”, we ask rhetorically. Now that the City of Vancouver’s street food initiative is underway, we finally have some hope. But if you look hard enough, you will find street food here….but not on the street. Street food lives in the city’s Asian food courts.
Those who have been to Singapore know the story well. The city (perhaps my favourite city in which to eat) used to have thousands of quasi-legal food carts and stalls that served often sublime (but inexpensive) food. In the spirit of modernization, the Singapore city government forced all these stalls to operate within government regulated “hawker centres” or food courts. Many of these are built into the parking stall levels of mid-rise residential buildings.
I’ve always been more than a bit suspicious of Chinese restaurants whose appearance doesn’t scream “Chinese,” – meaning the divey dumpling joint with specials written on the walls only in Chinese characters or the slightly-tacky upscale Cantonese seafood palace/aquarium – as if compromise in decor suggests similar in the kitchen. Lucky Strike is a Sichuan restaurant with an unfortunate name and a decor which screams “Portland” despite the Chinese theme. Portland oozes hip from seemingly every pore, and no number of dragons is sufficient as camoflage. Countering my normal skepticism were a number of strong reports of real Sichuan food.
Balance is certainly one of the hallmarks of great food no matter what price point or region. Cantonese food seems to balance the sublest flavors like a game of Jenga in a windstorm – the smallest wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Sichuan food balances flavor Jenga blocks the size of entire buildings, with flavors almost bigger in scale than appropriate for humans. It’s no wonder that some Sichuanese (apocryphally?) wonder why all other cuisines taste so bland. Two of the key flavors are ma, usually translated as “numbing” but to me has a strong hint of “tingling” as well, and la or spicy/hot. The former comes from huajiao or Sichuan peppercorn (among a whole list of names).
5880 Marine Drive
Its hard to believe but it was a year ago this week that I was chilling out and relaxing on the beaches of the Hawaiian islands. Good memories and fun times eating my way around Oahu are still fresh in my mind. I can remember upon my return to the west coast that I had it in my mind to try and find anything in the GVRD that resembled the offerings or stylings of my trip. I reckoned my best bet would be something like this, as it had some familiar North American fast food/diner items. After some very preliminary searching, I discovered an establishment on Kingsway with Honolulu in the name, but alas, disappointingly I learned that it was more of a Hong Kong-style cafe.
So it was with a tingle of excitement that caused me to stop when I randomly drove past the Hawaii Cafe. Built into the same building as a convenience store and near a gasoline stand at an awkward three-way stop intersection, parking is sparse and difficult to acquire. You could park down the road at the larger pub with well-sized car lot and walk down, which would be my suggestion. As I got closer however, my hopes of a Hawaii-themed meal were struck down, as I noted it was billing itself as a “Chinese food and Taiwanese beef noodle” place. Recently opened judging by the signage, I figured since I had come this far, I would venture inside.
Hakkasan Contemporary Chinese Cuisine
110-2188 #5 Road
Taking a cuisine with the length and depth of history that Chinese cooking has and making bold adjustments and giving it a contemporary twist in an environment like Richmond, that is stocked with a multitude of restaurant choices from the east Asia region. must be acknowledged for its bravery. Hakkasan does just that with their aim of bringing the visual impact of traditional Chinese dishes and ingredients to the forefront, in this out-of-the-way location in an industrial/commercial district of this waterside city. Supported by an eye-catching website and a rotation of various special and tasting menus (with no fear about raising some culinary sustainability flags by showcasing one right now on shark’s fin), this sleek operation has found a way to rise above the field and make some inroads with the local food loving community.
The regular dinner menu is separated out into groupings that one would normally find with Chinese restaurant menus (e.g. by protein, rice/noodle, dessert, etc.) but without the numerical references that go into the hundreds that you can find on occasion at those all-purpose Chinese places that try to cater to a very generic audience. After being seated and examining our choices, including the higher priced promotional tasting menus, my dining partner and I settled on the monthly dining special – priced at around $29/person.
Its been said many times, but there is something special about the big blue skies of summer in Alberta. On a recent visit to Edmonton, I had the pleasure of driving around a bit, seeing some rural and urban landscapes that reminded me of how great the scenery can be where there isn’t that abundance of grey clouds and gloomy rainy weather that dominates the west coast in June. I guess that has something to do with the large quantities of great produce and livestock product that comes out of this oil-rich province. Good eats under sunny skies, what could be better!
During my stay, I made a completely random jaunt to 97th street just north of the downtown core of Edmonton that resulted in a trio of stops all within the span of about an hour! While the Alberta capital’s Chinatown isn’t as pronounced nor expansive of say Vancouver’s version, it does have some of the same classical appeal and is worth checking out. Alas, this early Saturday morning resulted in stopovers at least than traditional Chinese places for the most part, but hope you can follow the story…
4850 Imperial Street
Wow, its been over a year since gastro first introduced (it seems, to the world) this Hunan Chinese restaurant on the pages of foodosophy. Much has been written about it since in the blogosphere, and it now has its share of fiery (to match the food) fans. Pretty impressive for a place with a somewhat odd sounding English name, Alvin Garden.
Despite passing it numerous times since but never having solid plans to venture in with a group, I recently broke the barrier and visited as a solo lunch diner, just to get myself a small sample. Well aware the experience in Chinese cuisine is best shared across many plates and with as large a party as possible in order to get a full range experience, I temper this report by saying that I only had one of their single plate, lunch specials. As I looked around, there were just two other tables of two occupied this noon hour and from what I could tell, they were all doing the same kind of ordering. With lunch deals in the seven to eight dollar zone, its not a bad idea.
at Aberdeen Centre
4151 Hazelbridge Way
If anyone asks how to find this place, just mention the eye-catching, replica Terracotta figures proudly standing guard at the entrance of the Northern Delicacy restaurant. With an open, well-lit, clean, modern looking dining space, it certainly is a welcome change from many of the more grungier, poorly laid out, hole-in-the-wall joints that one can find in this city by the airport. With wait staff that is for the most part more attentive as well, an eating experience here feels a lot less rushed, more pleasant and welcoming from the customer perspective.
As we were greeted and led to our table, we passed by a private dining room at the front of house, which was unoccupied on this particular evening. Curious, I wanted to know more about it and posed some questions. Our male server quickly replied that it required a $700 minimum group charge, to which I followed up by asking “how many could it seat?”. “15 people”, he replied, so doing a rough calculation that would come to about $47/head. Not cheap.