Chronic Tacos – Vancouver, BC


Chronic Tacos
382 W. Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 709-8226

l’d say that I was among the early birds several months back to spot the disappearance of the former tenant at this location (that served horrible pho) and the pending notice that Chronic Tacos was going to set up shop – mainly due to the fact that I pass this Cambie/W. Broadway corridor very often.  As a result, I kept making a mental note to stop in once things got up and running, which I did hear about from a loyal reader when they themselves passed through their open doors.  A further few weeks passed since that heads up but I finally made my way in on a recent Sunday afternoon.  Coincidentally, as it was just past the 2pm local time kickoffs for several NFL matches, the place was rocking inside and all tables were occupied, which led me to understand that this joint has a serious sports bar vibe and relevant customers (many decked out in the uniforms of their favorite teams).  I thought this was interesting, not assuming the proprietors would take this angle, but it sure has proven to be a success judging by the boisterous room.  While glancing at some screens to get updated on the scores (I happened to be listening to the Seahawks game on the radio on my drive over), I made my way to the very back where the ordering and prep counter is situated.  I didn’t bother to check, but I don’t think there is any table service here, which one might expect given how busy the place was upon setting foot inside and how the seating layout was designed.

With no intentions of dining alone inside – not that there was even a single free chair – I got my order to go.  A few signs on the walls and a menu board are posted up high and are quite visible, and given its a fast food-type of place, its not rocket science to decide what you want and the choices run the usual gamut of popular North Americanized (despite the claims of authentic Mexican recipes) items such as burritos, the hilariously named “fatty” tacos (in reference to the whole chronic thing – “whatup Dr. Dre!”), and other assortments such as nachos and quesadillas.  I’m sure their website would reveal more history and the rationale behind the name, so will leave that to you to delve into and I won’t regurgitate anything here (urgh, that’s a really bad word to use when writing about food, but so be it!).

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Chicken Delight – Burnaby, BC


Chicken Delight
7624 6th Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 521-2121

Another completely random, TOFTT kind of outing.  As I dug up the Urban Spoon reference for the address to be included in this posting, I was amused to see that someone had beaten me to this place – er, make that rather bewildered that somebody had actually decided on their own to have a meal here before my impromptu visit.  Surprise, surprise, it was none other than the adventurous author of I’m Only Here for the Food!

Chicken Delight only stood out as I drove by looking for a quick daytime bite to eat because of its gaudy, outdated colorful signage.  You know the kind, complete with windows plastered over in uncoordinated posters trumpeting various deals, combos and specials you can get inside.  A funny thing though, after I stepped inside (and became the only customer) I learned that one of the items on their posters wasn’t even available.  False advertising at its finest.  Its you can’t order it, take it down please.

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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.

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Handi Cuisine of India – Vancouver, BC


Handi Cuisine of India
4432 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738 3186

Dining solo has been a topic that’s come up from time to time in posts as well as in various comments.  Lately, when I’ve had to eat alone, I’ve tended to go the take away route.  Perhaps I’m being influenced by those who cringe at the thought of eating on their own, whereas in the past I had not been so self-conscious…

Handi Cuisine of India situated in the Dunbar neighbourhood (with another location in West Van) is a place I’d driven past many times over the years but had not yet gone inside to order.  It seemingly has a strong local following and reputed solid service, so my expectations were good.  Recently, I was finally able to find out for myself by dialing ahead and placing an order for pickup.

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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

York Fresh Pizza – Vancouver, BC


York Fresh Pizza
3630 West 16th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 731 1112

York Fresh Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizza… I think we can all agree is a clear cut winner when it comes to good and generally cheap eats.  Its been profiled already a few times here on Foodosophy, and I am sure it will again in the future.  From the classic bubbly-crusted thin style Neapolitan to the thick crust/deep dish-style that Chicagoans prefer, through to the floppy variant favored on the east coast, and all of the other types that lie somewhere on that matrix that is the world of pizza, it is a true gastronomical delight.

Depending on my mood, and more so the strength of the pangs of hunger that hit me, my preference can range from thin crust with very basic toppings all the way (and back again) to the thicker crusted and heavily topped selections out there.  On days, when until the even hours my entire day’s diet has consisted only of a cup of coffee, the latter more heavily mounted style clearly takes precedence and due to shear luck, I found my way to discovering York Fresh Pizza.

Entrenched inside the first floor of an older structure along W.16th Avenue, just before the turn onto Dunbar Street, this pizzeria could easily be missed when driving down this road, especially when one is more concerned about navigating the curve on to the more populated Dunbar.  With limited seating inside the waiting area in front of the counter, it truly is a more take away/delivery type of pizza joint, although the available by-the-slice options seem to be popular with the youth market (while I was getting my order, the place was packed with a bunch of rambunctious local teenagers).

The House Specials caught my attention as I tried to make my choice, and being it was my very first visit, I thought I would choose from there.  In the end, I decided on the York’s Special, complete with a primarily meat-heavy lineup that included the following: salami, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, green peppers, onions and mushrooms.  Talk about hearty!

You can also be creative and “make your own pizza” by choosing anywhere from 1 to 4 toppings (made up of 5 difference cheeses, 2 types of seafood, 9 types of meat, and 16 types of vegetable) in a small (10 inch) to large (14 inch) size, with prices ranging from $10.48 all the way up to $23.81; with discounts on the price per pizza if you buy 2 or more.  The House Specials, of which there were six, ranged in price for a small ($14.29) to large ($25.71).  Of course, you could also ask for more extra toppings ($0.95 for a small; $1.90 on a large).

I was generally quite satisfied with the overall package, as the large amount of toppings was generally spread over the entire face of the pie, and made each slice a meal in itself.  That didn’t stop me from having my fair share (the image is of a large size), with plenty left over for the next morning.  The crust was just right, with a good crispiness to it but not overly so that it was brittle and crumbly.  The base crust was also spot on, not too soft so that it wouldn’t be able to handle the weighty toppings, and not overcooked so that it became a hard sheet of cardboard.  If I had to raise a negative point, I’d say that perhaps the tomato sauce was a touch on the blander side.  But with all the flavors on top, I hardly noticed.

Judging from the busyness of the dine-in area, the trio of drivers who were being shuttled in and out the kitchen space by the two busy managers who also seemed to be manning the phones, it would seem that York Fresh Pizza has its loyal followers, and I think that in my part of town, it will be on my top three list for delivery in the coming year.

York Fresh Pizza on Urbanspoon

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

Tazza Grill and Deli – Calgary, AB


Tazza Grill and Deli
1105 1st St. NE
Calgary, AB
Tel: (403) 263 5922

[Prologue] A brief three day stay in the southern Alberta city has ended for me.  It was a whirlwind of activity, and in between actual work stints I managed to squeeze in a few new and repeat eating experiences – many in the company of the Foodosopher.  Suffice it to say, the Foodosopher is one of those folks who is willing and able to join you on dining escapades on any given day and at any given time – be it the unknown (a new spot), the recommended (by others), and even the dreaded (that rank in the mostly expected-bad category).  Kudos to the Foodosopher for another entertaining few days of sharing meals and I look forward to our next meeting and discussing our plans for Foodosophy.

Tazza Grill and Deli was the first place that the Foodosopher introduced me to in the Calgary food scene several years ago, during a quick lunch break meeting.  Though my memories have faded since that first visit, I do remember that it was not a place that I minded going to again, and hence, my first pit stop on this recent Calgary trip.  As far as I can tell, the Bridgeland area of the city has blossomed into a distinct neighborhood featuring many solid food and restaurants choices, and one that I enjoy visiting. Despite the growing development of the area, it still retains a cozy feel and I think this is reflected in many of the businesses and the people who run them.

Tazza fits precisely into this category as a family run operation. I am sure the Foodosopher could give a more detailed history on the establishment, but I will leave it at this. Its clear the moment that you step inside and give your order, that this place has the process down pat, almost military in its precision. Looking for an item to go, Chicken Shawarma (or on the wrapping, called a Chicken Shistawouk) was my choice – which strangely has replaced Vietnamese Pho as the most commonly had simple lunch item for me of late. The large chalkboards hanging on the walls near the entrance had that old school feel that contributed to that homey feel I had tried to describe earlier about this neighborhood.

Unable to eat it until about fifteen minutes later once I had settled into my accommodations for the night, I was pleased it was still somewhat warm and the extra grilling time to harden the wrap had held up as well. I can easily sum up the flavor after taking the first bite – a complete and well balanced mixture of creamy sauce, crispy vegetables, and both harder and softer pieces of chicken meat. I am sure it would have tasted even better had I eaten it on the spot, but even still, this was one of the best shawarma’s I’ve ever had. The regular size was probably just right for a meal, though the larger variant would be easy to devour on an empty stomach.

A delicious start to my Calgary eating. More reports to follow soon…

Tazza Deli & Grill on Urbanspoon

Kitsilano Sushi – Vancouver, BC


Kitsilano Sushi
3105 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 737 0181

In my ongoing quest to explore, document and capture visually the Canadian west coast food scene, I rely on a myriad of methods.  For instance, simple random stops alone when I spot a new location while walking or driving around town, listening to recommendations/suggestions from others that I personally know, reading informative online sources introducing places I’ve never heard of from people I’ve never met, and probably the most enjoyable, an invitation from friends/acquaintances to join in on a group meal.  With such a diverse system, you can imagine it is quite the shotgun approach; and just like Forrest said about his box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re gonna get”.

On a recent rainy evening (no surprise for Vancouver in the fall), I had the pleasure of dining out with my friends who have a young family, including two little boys aged four and one.  It seems the children are fans of rice and in particular sushi rolls, so we headed out in search of a kid-friendly, Japanese food serving establishment in Kitsilano.  This part of Vancouver is probably known as a neighborhood with a good concentration of restaurants across a spectrum of cuisines from around the world.  There are still many I have yet to try and given the boom-and-bust cycle of the restaurant business, I am sure there will be some that I will never get to eat at before they disappear into the restaurant cornfield of dreams.

We settled on Kitsilano Sushi – I know, not a very inventive name but it served as a bright beacon for us as we scanned the streets for something that met our needs in terms of location and the food being served.  Unknown to me, it was a very popular place for dinner, judging from the mostly full dining area as well as a line up at least five people deep who were either placing takeout orders or waiting to pick them up.  There were at least four people behind the sushi counter, which you see immediately upon entering the front entrance, as well as some staff whose main role appeared to be shuffling between the kitchen and tables, but with a lower emphasis on paying attention to the immediate needs of eating customers.  Either they are in need of more bodies to man the fort, or feel that service should just be about bringing things to tables and clearing empty dishes away.  Friendly, personal attention is not to be expected here – think more cafeteria service.

Personally, I am not a fan of maki (roll) sushi.  But for many Canadians and young children, I know its quite popular.  Maybe with parents, as it seems to be easier for their little ones to eat and rolls enable them to get some vegetable-based nutrients into them as well, it makes for a common selection.  The dreaded Dynamite Roll that we ordered, played right into my argument that maki do not often make for good eats.  For just minutes after we had placed our first round of sharing orders, two rolls of this were delivered to our table.  This shocked us, as it was going to be obvious that these had been made in advance, thus the prawn tempura inside would be cold and the outer crispy layer would be a oily, and soggy disappointment.  This was indeed the case.

The Alaska Roll (salmon, artificial crab, cucumber and avocado) was slightly better in terms of taste.  Though they did skimp out heavily on the outer dredging with Masago.  The rice, as with the earlier Dynamite Roll, was again overly soft for my personal liking.  Combined with the pressing needed to make the maki, it just made the rice seem more mushy than it should be.

The Assorted Nigiri set was just average, not much to comment on here.  Nothing had a hint of fish-gone-bad though, so passed on that front.  I think the high turnover they have here, would help in that regard, no matter what the quality of their ingredient may be.

The boys loved the Assorted Tempura.  Not to let this review have to depend on the preferences/pallates of those under four feet tall, I must include that it was not up to my favored standard.  The exterior batter was too thick, and deep fried in too hot of an oil – reminded me of the kind of deep fried veggies you get in a run-of-the-mill Chinese buffet.  I continue to find it difficult to find a really well done, light but still crispy tempura in Vancouver on a consistent basis.  The only exception being the yam tempura that I had at Octopus Garden.  They know how to do it right there in my opinion.

For quick, basic, and convenient (for take out) maki sushi, Kitsilano Sushi is a safe call and the price is definitely right and very affordable, which makes it the McDonald’s of Sushi on this road.  Though I will not purposely go back as price is not a real huge factor for me when I am craving quality sushi.   The previously reviewed Sai-z that sits across the street, is on the opposite end of the cost spectrum.  That said, they make an interesting combination in such close proximity, with each carving out a niche and clientele base that seemingly supports both of their businesses.

Kitsilano Sushi on Urbanspoon

Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi – Calgary, AB


With the relatively well received post (in terms of our internal hit counter) on ramen, I thought I’d take our readers on a nostalgic jog down memory lane to the location of my first North American exposure to this Japanese noodle-in-soup dish, at a place called Shijiki.

But before going there, let’s step back a bit further, to my childhood. Ramen as I knew it then was the plastic wrapped, fried slab of noodles that came with a small packet of salty powdered soup mix, that you had to cook in hot water, adding in your choice of toppings such as cooked ham and veggies. At least that’s how it was in our house. The brand of choice was the Demai-Ichi. Shoyu (soy sauce) was the only soup flavoring I knew. I didn’t think much of it, until the one time I went to a neighbor’s house and I saw them eating instant noodles like this but without the soup, and the packet of soup mix being used as a dry dusting over top of the cooked noodles on a plate, to give it “flavor”. Suffice it to say, I was shocked. But still, I was in no position to say how great these noodles really were, even when made as per the instructions. As after all, it is “just flour and water”.

Fast forward to college. It was in the early part of winter in the years just before the global Y2K worries. The Liberals seemed invincible with Jean Chrétien as Canada’s PM, the price of regular gasoline was hovering at around 45 cents per litre, and I can remember thinking my recently acquired Pentium II-powered computer was the fastest thing I had ever seen. Oh how times have changed. And for the good… well, mostly for the good. Returning to my narrative of my fateful first experience with ramen in a proper shop. I was hanging out with some exchange student friends of mine from Japan at the university. They suggested a day trip down to Banff, that tourist hot spot better known for skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Being that none of us were into those particular winter sports, my bewildered mind posed a question…

“Why should we go down there?”
Their reply, “to eat ramen”.
“Ramen?”, I said, “they actually have that there and its not the instant kind I can make at home?”
“Yeah, its just like you can get in Japan.”

Well, that was enough for me and the four of us crammed ourselves in my two door sports car and made the drive down from Alberta’s capital city. The journey took almost five hours on not-so-great roads and we made it there just before the lunch hour. Pulling up in front of what is known as the Clock Tower Mall on Banff Avenue (the main strip that juts its way through the heart of this town), we piled out and I was led inside by my pals. Towards the back of the first floor space, was a tiny restaurant that was partitioned off by glass panels (today, it houses the Pad Thai Restaurant). Immediately inside the entrance was a small open window leading into the kitchen, with some short curtains hanging on them to prevent a clear view inside. A head popped out with a bandanna wrapped around it, and a man bellowed out “welcome” in Japanese. My friends had obviously come here before, as they immediately recognized each other. Leaving it up to them to order, they did just that and we soon squatted down as one of the open tables inside.

A short while later out came the steaming bowls of ramen. My friend had gotten me a Shio (salt) based broth, with lots of toppings. I immediately recognized the Cha-shu, but my experience at that time just associated it with Chinatown and the big slabs of barbecued pork, and I did not expect to see it as one of the toppings. I was by no means complaining though, as it was quite tasty. The noodles to me were obviously not the same instant noodles I had had all these years. I remember drinking down the entire bowl of soup while madly slurping up the noodles. I was in heaven. Knowing that we wouldn’t be making this a regular occurrence, after a few hours of checking out the town site, we came back and had another bowl before we made the long drive back. I was forever grateful to my friends for letting me know that there was something like this in Alberta, albeit not a place I could visit regularly, even with it barely costing twenty dollars to fill up my gas tank in those days.

Shikiji, had found a place in my heart.

Jumping back into Doc Brown’s DeLorean again, this time adjusting the flux capacitor and setting the date box to circa 2004. I had learned that Shikiji had moved to its current Calgary location in the early part of this decade after a landlord situation and a better economic climate in the bigger city drew the owners out from the confines of Banff. By now, Shikiji had established a name for itself predominantly within the ex-pat Japanese community and Japanese tourists in this picturesque town, but was looking for a more regular and wider customer base. The owner/chef, a stern looking but kindhearted gentleman originally from Akita prefecture in northern Japan runs the show. His son is often seen there as a server. Numerous articles adorn the wall, showing that the media has caught wind of this place amid the growing Japanese restaurant scene in this oil town.

The menu is now much more diverse, now including space for a sushi bar, and other popular cooked dishes coming out of a much bigger kitchen. I won’t comment on that here, though I’ve had many items from the menu and came away without complaint.

Instead, I want to revisit the ramen offering.

Perhaps its because I am older, have a better understanding of ramen after time spent traveling to Japan to eat the “real deal”, or my memories have a halo hanging over them, but this dish is clearly not the same as I remember it being in terms of my satisfaction. I had the Shio Ramen again, which comes with toppings such as green onions, wakame, the unorthodox Bok Choi, and slice or two of Cha-shu; price is $10.60. They also provide a small Japanese grinding bowl to break up some sesame seeds, to put into the soup as well. The noodles are a slightly thicker straight variety, with decent texture/consistency. With Shio soups, I am not as concerned with it being crinkly to pick up the soup, as its not as thick as compared to say a Tonkotsu or Miso broth. The soup is average, but nothing to write home about. There is not a great depth to the flavor profile of the liquid, and I can tell its simply made from just a basic chicken stock.

But for Alberta, having to deal with a lower skill level/understanding in making ramen soup and poor availability in getting authentic noodles, and despite being made in a Japanese-run restaurant, this is probably as good as you are going to get. Trust me, there are are much more horrible ramen impostors in Alberta – The Tokyo Noodle Shop in Edmonton comes to mind. That place should be ordered to take that off the menu!

Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi
1608 Centre St. N.E.
Calgary, AB
Tel: 403-520-0093
Hours: Mon/Wed-Fri, 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 9pm; Sat, 11:30am to 3pm, 5pm to 9pm; Closed Tue & Sun

Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi on Urbanspoon

Sushi Vancouver – Vancouver, BC


The name alone should tell you something about this place. Much like all the pizzerias (or “pizza parlors” as our friends south of the border are apt to call them) that try to outdo their rivals by putting a series of letter A’s onto the beginning of their business name in an attempt to get to the front of the line when it comes to the Yellow Pages, the generically named Sushi Vancouver is just trying to get noticed. After a pair of visits, I can confirm now that unfortunately, I think it will be for all the wrong reasons.

My latest visit was on a Sunday, typically a day when most Japanese restaurants, and a lot of others, close their doors for a day of rest. Having a craving for some sushi though, this did not deter me, and hence, my stop at Sushi Vancouver after seeing their open sign up. My first take out meal there a few months back when they first opened did not leave me with a memorable impression. I figured, it was worth giving another try to see if anything had changed, with the expectation that this is just a grab-and-dash sushi establishment.  Quite frankly, my determination to grab some sushi could have led me to just about any open door that was serving this up on this day. I know, I must learn to be more selective and know when to put a stop to my tunnel vision, as I’ve been hurt more times than I care to count.

For a multi-person sharing order, my choices were made from nigiri (hand-formed sushi) choices, two here, four there, etc. These ranged from the low end of 99 cents each for the shake (salmon), maguro (tuna) and tamago (egg) to the $1.60 for the ikura (salmon roe). By the way, the most expensive nigiri on the menu is the mirugai (geoduck clam) at $3.  In total, I think I had just over thirty individual pieces.

The restaurant itself was empty, as it was the first time I had walked inside.  Placing the order was relatively pain free as it was just giving some numbers to each piece.  Since the man behind the counter was obviously the same person who would be making it, was looking for some work to do, I figured he’s be snappy about it and get right on it.  Guess again.

From talking to his wait staff, to playing with his kid behind the bar, opening up this container and that, and searching for things in the refrigerator, I am not sure if he was truly interested in making my meal or was just treating the thing as a bothersome task.  With some loud Chinese ballad playing over the speakers, he then proceeded to start singing as if he were alone in the shower, which broke the last straw of my patience.  With his back to me the entire time, I began to really get worried about what exactly he was doing.  His arm movements suggested that he was not really smooth with creating the nigiri, each action a painfully, slow step.  The rhythmic motion of creating the shari (rice ball) and placing the cut piece of neta (topping) on top and forming the nigiri, I just couldn’t see him doing naturally.  Part of me thinks the way he has set up his counter, not allowing customers to openly see his working style, suggests that he is lacking confidence in his abilities.

After what was about a forty-five minute agonizing wait, during which time no other customers came inside, I was finally given my order to go.  The bad taste that was left in my mouth after this brutal service experience, made me wonder if I would have the appetite to eat my portion of this meal.

First glance, things did not “look” horribly bad.  Until I got to the toro (fatty tuna) pieces.  Some strange red strings were hanging from the fish slices from some of the nigiri.  It looked like thin blood veins to me.  Shocking to see this, as one piece was just covered/embedded with them.  How the so-called chef could serve these kinds of pieces to a paying customer is beyond me.  To add to my dismay, the rice was so compactly formed with each piece, that it took an extra effort to chew through.  I really dislike it when sushi’s rice is so hard that it might as well been pressed down in a work worker’s vice.  The rest of the toppings were unremarkable, just average to slightly bad.

The only saving grace was the relatively generous amounts of tobiko (flying fish roe) and ikura.

My fellow diners to whom I brought these boxes of “sushi” gave me enough dirty looks to ensure that I won’t be going back ever again.

Sushi Vancouver
3416 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (778) 371 1337
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am to 10pm; Sun, 12pm to 9:30pm

Sushi Vancouver on Urbanspoon

Komagata Dozeu – Tokyo, JP


[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Komagata Dozeu (Shibuya location)
4F Renga Building
1-5-9 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, JP
Tel: 03-3464-5522
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:30am-10:30pm; Sun/Hol, 11:30am-9:30pm

Earlier this year where I live, a celebration was held to mark the 150 years that have passed since the founding of what is now the province of British Columbia.  1858, that sounds like a long time ago.  But contrasting that to a restaurant that I visited that has been operating for over 207 years now and still thriving, well that really makes for a time warp.  Komagata Dozeu has been in business since the Edo Period of Japan in the traditional “downtown” of Tokyo called Asakusa (obviously benefiting from its prime location on the way to Sensoji Temple), even appearing in a food guide chronicling the city’s best offerings that was published in 1848 (yes, that’s 52 years before the first Michelin guide came out).  Currently, the head chef is in the sixth generation of the family.

It has also opened up a sister outlet (that holds only about a fifth of the customers at their main branch) in the more populous district of Shibuya, and out of sheer convenience, this is the location that I visited on this night with a pair of good friends.  So what does Dozeu serve?  Simply put, their main offering is Dojo fish, otherwise known as Japanese Loach.  Historically, this breed of fish was abundant in rice field patties and rivers throughout Japan and other parts of Asia, though since about the middle of the last century, getting ample supplies of fresh live Dojo became difficult.  Regions in Japan such as Oita and Fukushima where fresh clean water and natural grass surroundings are the perfect breeding ground.

One of my friends who grew up in northern Japan, noted that as a child he remembered playing around and fishing for Dojo in the rivers near his home.  He had an image of it being a slightly dirty fish since it lived in rivers.  But Dozeu takes pride in the preparation of the ingredients and using only the best quality, and upon his first taste, he exclaimed how impressed he was by the lack of “fishiness” or “griminess” (for lack of a better word) of the fish.  We had ordered their most popular offering, the Dozeu Nabe (1,650 yen), which came out on a shallow hotplate with the Dojo fish simmering in a light fish broth, heated underneath by hot charcoal.  A separate rectangular wooden tray was also brought to the table that was filled with sliced onions which were to be put on top of the hotplate after the fish had been cooked for a while.  By being slowly cooked, the fine bones of the fish become very soft and edible, as well the meat itself is loaded with collagen, making each bite very soft and very much eel-like in texture.  The nutritional benefits of all this calcium and iron is a key selling point, as well as the collagen which they say is good for your skin.

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