29th Avenue Cafe – Vancouver, BC

29th Avenue Cafe
4441 Boundary Road
Vancouver, BC
(604) 558-2271

Situated in a completely unexpected location is the reincarnation of the former Yoshoku-ya that lived along Denman Street downtown and was home to many fans of the homey Japanese-Western cuisine of the same name.  I was surprised to spot the bold signage trumpeting its opening on a drive along busy Boundary Road and popped in for a dinner earlier this summer.  With ample parking in a lot nearby (or on the street in front or behind in a residential area), visiting this place with a vehicle is much more easier on one’s sanity than it was back in its previous spot in Vancouver.

If you happen to walk by, the big glass windows can give you a clear sense of what to expect – a no nonsense, rather simple decor with ample spacing between tables so as not to feel overly close to strangers.  I guess when you leave the downtown core, the cost per square foot for rent drops dramatically, thus allowing a proprietor to be more generous with the elbow room, which is certainly appreciated by some.  Added to the welcoming tone is a big poster of the dishes you can find on the menu, including an array of photos of the actual plating as well.  I imagine this can come in handy for those who have no idea what is meant by the advertised yoshoku cuisine.

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Beefy Beef Noodle – Vancouver, BC

Beefy Beef Noodle
4063 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6821

I think there is a strong love of beef noodles in this city judging by how fast and furious the reviews of Beefy Beef Noodle came about not long after it opened its doors.  The poor availability of parking in this area really turned me off from going, although I’d driven by several times over the past year thinking that I might drop by if an empty spot was seen.  Lucky for me on this day, there was one.  Inside, the place was quite busy at it was approaching the end of a weekday lunch hour.  Strangely though, the crowd was very young.  I felt like there should have been a high school or two right next door. 

I supposed you could call this a Taiwanese cafe, if there even is such a term.  While I was not really interested in wolfing down a big hot bowl of noodles, I decided instead to try out another stereotypical dish in this genre, the crispy salty peppery chicken with rice.  Served with some light pickled cucumber and nut sides, as well as some steamed white rice, it was a good deal at under eight dollars (if memory serves right).  My really casual server was mingling around with her co-workers and appeared distracted for some reason, so getting this out to my table seemed like a chore.  I don’t really expect much from the wait staff in HK cafes either, so I should not have been too disappointed, but for some reason I was by the lack of attention.

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Cockney Kings Fish & Chips – New Westminster, BC

Cockney Kings Fish & Chips
1005 Columbia St
New Westminster, BC
(604) 522-6099

The relative newness of the building that contrasted against the old school script of the signage was what grabbed my attention the first time I laid eyes on Cockney Kings, during a visit to the burger joint across the street.  While the distinct scent of deep frying goodies permeated the air, we stuck with our mission of getting some ‘burgs, and I had to save a visit here for a later day.  I thought it would be fitting to squeeze this one in now, following last night’s uploading of a fish & chip meal.

For those who are travelers to the north side of Burnaby, there is another outlet of Cockney Kings up there, which I assume is the older, original one.  I’ve only driven by myself perhaps twice and seen it after my visit to this New West branch.

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Fish Café – Vancouver, BC

Fish Café
2053 W 41st Ave
Vancouver, BC
(604) 267-3474

The impetus for a repeat visit to the Fish Café in Kerrisdale was the result of a horrible bowl of pho nearby for lunch.  I just couldn’t let my afternoon continue on that low note, so crossing the street I decided to give this place another try.  Back in May on my virgin visit, this is the comment I made on Urban Spoon.

“If you enjoy your F&C on the lighter side, with a fluffier texture to the batter (deep fried), then this place might suit you, but for me, it just didn’t work. Tearing through the crust took no effort with a fork, and the halibut inside soon found its way all over the place in my basket. Chips were good however. For about $18 for a two piece set, perhaps a touch on the pricey side as well. A steady stream of customers at the start of the dinner hour, suggested to me its a popular place for a quick meal.”

When I stepped back in and saw their chalkboard menu board, I was tempted to try their fish & chips again…

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Empanada Hut – Richmond, BC

Empanada Hut
#1065 – 5300 No. 3 Rd
Richmond, BC
(604) 273-9130

After my eye-opening experience in Calgary having some excellent empanadas at Empanada Queen in Pizza Roma with foodosopher, I was in a desperate hunt to try and find something similar back in Vancouver.  My initial search led me to Empanada Hut, located in one of my least favorite areas in the Lower Mainland (aka “Ditchmond”) and to bring me down even further, inside a dreary looking shopping mall.  To show how anxious I was, I braved the rush hour traffic with some of the city’s worst and unskilled drivers that make Richmond notorious, and even drove down the brutal No. 3 road to find this place.

Upon locating the establishment within the food court, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a dreadful mistake.  First off all, the poor older woman hidden in the kitchen seemed to be stressed out, washing some pots and pans.  I was finally able to grab her attention and ask her how her day was.  She replied “very busy”, as it seemed she had recently lost another woman who worked there, and now it was all on her to keep the place running.  I felt sorry for her.

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Mr.Pickwick’s Fish and Chips – Vancouver, BC

Mr.Pickwick’s Fish and Chips
8620 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 266 2340

Mr Pickwick's Fish & Chips (Granville) on Urbanspoon

To me, in many ways, restaurants can themselves almost be thought of as people. They each have their own personalities, special abilities, unique characteristics, and even credentials. I suppose in some ways, all of the things that you read and hear before your first visit, do help to shape your impressions as if the restaurants were an actual human being that you are interviewing for a job in your company.  I’d like to ask our readers, how much stock do you put in all the accolades that restaurants receive through more “official” channels such as local print and online media, in doing your “reference checks”?

Personally, I’ve always taken these with a grain of salt, or two.  Or three… well, you get the point.  Especially when they are overtly displayed inside the establishment (okay, one or two clippings I don’t mind, but more than that and all framed with pride – a bit overboard) and/or digitized and clearly displayed on their website.  If you’re like me, then Mr. Pickwick’s Fish and Chips might not be called in for an “interview”, as their small space (one of two in the city) was covered in framed certificates from sources such as the Georgia Straight, The WestEnder, and other local business and tourist organizations.  The fact that the business also had a human face associated on all of their branding and signage, made it all the more “personal” – which I think contributed to me feeling like I was not going to like this “person”.

The order board that hangs above the main counter had sort of a retro look with the old school fonts and magnets that are used to list items and their accompanying prices.  The lit up photos of their most popular fish and chips combos, just your regular run-of-the-mill fast food variety.  Being able to see entirely into the small kitchen and prep area, made me think of those narrow spaces that some of those french fry specialty places in shopping malls operate out of.  I’m not sure how it is every day or during more busier times, but the space was occupied by a single person who was doing the phone answering/order taking/frying and bagging duties all alone.

The menu featured the standard choices of fish in the cod (source: North Pacific; incidentally I believe its the eastern Atlantic cod that is facing extinction), halibut (source: Queen Charlotte Islands), haddock and salmon.  These could be ordered as 1pc, 2pc, 3pc and even 10pc sets.  You can also “mix and match” by selecting the West Coast (halibut & salmon), East West (haddock & halibut) or Whitefish (cod/haddock/halibut) set deals. As well, there were other seafood options such as oysters, prawns, clam strips and popcorn shrimp.  Further, probably in an attempt to differentiate themselves, there was a section called “sides and treats” which featured yam chips, poutine, “Newfie” chips, deep fried dill pickles, Mushy peas, and even a Deep Fried Mars Chocolate Bar!

In the end, I went with the tried and true cod and in a hungry mood chose the 3pc set ($10.98).  Personally I find the fattier, buttery texture of cod which “flakes” in larger pieces better and is more pleasing in deep fried food like this, as compared to say halibut (which I tend to associate more as a grilled fish).   The batter was indeed light and crispy as advertised, and I was quite glad as there is nothing worst than a thick, cake-y layer of  deep fried batter that seems more thicker than the actual fillet of fish inside.  The side chips were similarly light but still crispy and definitely not over-fried.  They were not really seasoned however, but I suppose that’s what the self serve packs of salt and pepper were for, but would have hoped they would have done it when they came out of the oil nice and hot, so that it would adhere better.

The tartar sauce which they dub as Rayana’s Tartar Sauce was fairly standard and nothing too different from many other tartar sauces I’ve had over the years with fish and chips.   They did give me a generous two portions with my order though, and two slices of lemons in my take-out order, that was wrapped up in a large sheet of paper and placed in a bio-degradable plastic bag.  I think Mr. Pickwick’s Fish and Chips are playing up their efforts for sustainability, as in the waiting area they had clearly displayed that they were involved in the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program, as well as working in a network called Green Table, which includes restaurants that are working to reduce their operations impacts on the environment… hence all that eco-friendly “packaging”.

I really need to do more exploring in Vancouver for comparable fish and chip offerings, as it seems thats my thing these days.  If you have any, please do drop me a note in the comments section, and I will be pleased to go try them out.

Mr Pickwick's Fish & Chips (Granville) on Urbanspoon

Red Sea Fish and Chips – Calgary, AB

Red Sea Fish and Chips
2 – 4105 4th Street NW
Calgary, Alberta T2K 1A3
Open noon-8:00pm Tue/Wed/Thu, 4:00pm-9:00pm Fri/Sat/Sun

September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

There is this old saying about not eating seafood if you cannot see the ocean. While this was a good rule of thumb back in the day, modern transportation has made previous luxuries, like fresh fish and seafood, fairly commonplace on the prairies. And while there are a variety of ways of preparing seafood, deep frying is definitely one of my favorites.

Deep frying in general has an unfairly earned, negative reputation. While many people immediately dismiss deep frying as “greasy”, and “unhealthy”, this is actually the combination of miseducation, and years of eating poorly executed deep fried foods. In actual fact, deep frying is not inherently any worse than many other cooking techniques. The key is, food has to be deep fried at the right temperature, sealing all the moisture the food releases in, while not having the item in question absorbing a lot of oil. The amount of surface area, coating/batter, density, and moisture content all have a significant impact on the overall product as well. And when you’re talking fish and chips, this can result in some really great fish, or some terrible fish.

Red Sea Fish and Chips brands themselves as an authentic “British AND East Coast” fish and chips restaurant. I think the British part is because they serve mushy peas. In my visits to the UK, I have to say, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with their fish and chips. It was usually fried in oil far too low in temperature. The newspaper is a nice touch, but there was not anything particularly amazing about the fish and chips there. Especially the chips, which were soggy and gross.

From a service perspective – it is definitely a maritime kind of place. Friendly, outgoing, and chatty, they are proud of what they serve, and work hard to make you feel at home. The decor itself is a bit tacky. A strong maritime theme, there’s no mistaking what they serve. Primarily blue, maritime accouterments and flags hang on the wall. This is not a homey kind of feel, but more of a “crazy grandmother and her antiques” kind of feel. But personally, I don’t really care. I am all about the fish. And the chips.

You don’t go to a chippie to eat the decor. You go to eat the fish. On the menu is a wide variety of options. Pollock, Haddock, Halibut, and, ironically enough, Cod – ironic in the sense that they have pamphlets for the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise program for eating sustainable fish seafood next to the cash register, but they still serve cod. Other options include seafood chowder, and a variety of accompaniments including mushy peas. Normally, I am a big fan of halibut, but being in between meals, i opt for the one-piece cod.

There isn’t much to say about Red Sea. The fish is very good. Cod is flaky, tender, and with a great toothsome chew. The piece isn’t over battered, and the batter itself is fairly inert (I prefer a touch seasoned). The color of the piece is a bit light – meaning the oil is fairly clean, and has been changed (or strained at a minimum) regularly. I personally think the temperature of the oil could’ve been a few degrees higher, but this was definitely within my limits of “good”. Next time, I’m definitely trying the Halibut.

The fries were excellent. Fresh cut, they were fried past soggy, near crisp with a great bite, filled with a soft potato flavour. Skins left on, as a good friend of mine always says, “I (was) really digging the fries”. Especially since they had malt vinegar on the table – a necessary accompaniment to fresh fries. The coleslaw was homemade, and good, but please don’t take my word for it – i am not the biggest fan of coleslaw. Lastly, the tartar sauce. I definitely fall into the sacrilegious category of liking tartar for my fish. And it was homemade as well. Red Sea Fish and Chips is all about the homemade. Not quite enough tang for my liking, but it definitely did the job.

At $8.95 for a piece of cod, this wasn’t the best deal going. However, with rising oil prices, it is not out of line with other fish prices in town. The quality of the fish, the friendliness of the service, and most importantly, the attention to detail in the things that matter, make this my favorite fish and chips location in town. Many people like Boyds, Trawlers, Joey’s, or Captain Scott’s, but dollar for dollar, i would choose to eat at Red Sea Fish and Chips over any of the other options. Not because of the service, and definitely not because of the decor – but because they do a great product. And based on the hordes of East Coast patrons, I clearly am not the only one who feels that way.

Red Sea Fish and Chips on Urbanspoon