foodography – spot prawn festival

This past Saturday (May 7th), The Chef’s Table Society of B.C. once again hosted their Annual Spot Prawn Festival at False Creek’s Fishermen’s Wharf to kick start the approximately two month long B.C spot prawn season which brings live, locally sourced and sustainable spot prawns right to the city’s citizens.

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Hiyashi Chuka at Menya Japanese Noodle & Deli Nippon – Vancouver, BC

Menya Japanese Noodle
401 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 725-9432

Deli Nippon
3913 Knight Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6101

As much as I love a hot bowl of noodles, especially ramen, I tend to put a stop to such consumption once the summer arrives.

Food to me is very seasonal, I think its ideal if you eat what is best at that time of the year, whether that thing is grown, raised or caught.  It’s also part of the reason why I could never live in a place where there does not exist a clear distinction between spring, summer, autumn and winter.  I’ve actually turned down work opportunities to go and live in everyday hot climates because of it twice in my lifetime.

And thus the idea of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup when the mercury rises over 25 degrees C, is something I consider irrational.

So what’s a rameniac to do?

Simple…  hiyashi chuka.

Breaking down the Japanese language, “hiyashi” being cold, and the characters for “chuka” shorthand for “chuka-men“, or the generally yellow colored, crinkly flour-based noodles.

Hiyashi chuka, sometimes also called hiyashi ramen (in northern areas of Japan like Hokkaido), or reimen down in the Kansai region.  As with most noodle-based dishes in Japanese cuisine, you can find a wide variety from prefecture to prefecture in terms of the flavoring, toppings, etc.

By chance, on a recent visit to Menya, I spotted the small chalkboard posted on the wall inside that noted a summer special of cold noodles.  On closer inspection, I determined that indeed it was hiyashi chuka.  I was interested in how they might do this Kyushu-style, as they do their regular ramen, so that was instantly determined as my order.

Besides the traditional soy-vinegar based sauce ($7.75) , they had what they called an “original sesame flavour” ($8.25), so guessed that might be the southern Japan version and went with the latter.

The first thing I picked up on was that they had changed the type of noodle since I was last there many months ago.  Gone was the thinner straight type, which was replaced by a much thicker variety.  I wasn’t sure if this was just for the hiyashi chuka, but a few looks around at other diner’s bowls confirmed the same noodle was being used for their hot bowl.  I wondered about this clear change in their product (was it a supplier change, a philosophical adjustment to move away from Hakata tradition, or customer demands?) as I began to dig into my plentiful plate.

The toppings here were the usual cucumber, tomato, and egg, with some added shiitake, chicken and shrimp.  The aromatic sesame sauce was mixed in throughout the noodles and some black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top.

Perhaps it was the much more filling type of noodle but this was quite a meal in itself.  The thicker noodle did seem to match well with and allow the sauce to cling nicely.  The toppings were plentiful and fresh, though the shrimp was a bit tougher than I would prefer.  The balance of textures, from the crispy cucumber to the juicy soft slices of tomatoes were complete.

All in all, I’d consider this a more “upscale” or “luxurious” representation of hiyashi chuka, and it was a wonderfully flavourful dish.  I’m not sure how much long into the summer this will be around, but would recommend you give it a try while you still can.

Upon learning from another message board that Deli Nippon was also currently serving up this creation, I knew I had to make a visit.  This very bare bones, cafe-looking place is obviously a place where you don’t go for the decor.  A strange unused, stainless steel buffet-type of contraption inside behind a panel of glass that separates the dining space from the kitchen, just adds to the mystic (and questions about the “designer”).

As at Menya, there are two flavours available. The orthodox soy-vinegar ($6.50) and a miso style ($7.00).

Aside from the oddly-placed slice of pineapple, the cherry on top, and the fake crab meat, this representation of hiyashi chuka is the more homey arrangement that I am accustomed to seeing in Japanese households with the thinly sliced ham, cucumber and egg.  The accompanying soy-vinegar sauce was on the weak side from a flavour profile, and a few bites into it, I began thinking I could make a better one at home.  For the price though, I could stomach it and the noodles were cooked right and the main trio of toppings were fresh.

Though different interpretations and slight variance in price, I would have to give the edge to the one I ate at Menya, despite it being the less traditional (at least to my Kanto-based tastes) of the two.

For another look at a hiyashi chuka, refer to an image in this older post.


As an added bonus, here is a look at the okonomiyaki offerings at Deli Nippon. Now I must admit I don’t hold high hopes for this dish in Vancouver, after experiencing the slothered with oil, undercooked version at Modern Club a while back.

At least the ones on hand at Deli Nippon were very reasonably priced (compared to Modern Club), so if a total disaster, I could live with it.  I was a little thrown off by the “Italian” option, but for me, okonomiyaki always means pork, so “buta” it was.

As it was brought to the table later than the a fore mentioned hiyashi chuka, I couldn’t help to be pleasantly surprised as it was nice, wide disc, but not overly dense and thick.  All the requisite toppings were there too.

Breaking it down some more, the base was cabbage and onion, topped with a layer of the same chuka-men used in the hiyashi chuka and a thin layer off egg on top.  Though not horribly bad tasting by any means, it lacked the punch of a really solid okonomiyaki, I think the rather bland pork slices (which were kind of few and far between as well) being used led me to feel this way – they lacked the really crispy, bacon-like texture that I prefer.  One thing to keep in mind, the small bottle of extra okonomiyaki sauce that they bring out, is simply just too thick for the small narrow spout, so you have to take off the lid and pour out the top directly.

Deli Nippon on Urbanspoon

Beckta Dining and Wine – Ottawa, ON

Beckta Dining and Wine
226 Nepean Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0B8
(613) 238-7063

When I assess the quality of a restaurant, i generally take into account a multitude of factors. For the most part, restaurants focus on food, and really, that is all that matters to me. After all, without good food, there really is very little reason to visit a restaurant. There are some establishments that focus more on wine. The menu is little more than an excuse to showcase a Wine Spectator worthy list. To me, wine without great food is a waste. However, it is a rare place when you have a restaurant that seamlessly marries food and wine – to the point where it’s hard to imagine having one without the other. Beckta is one of those places.

Beckta first hit the Canadian consciousness when showcased on an episode of Food Network’s “Opening Soon”. The brainchild of sommelier Stephen Beckta, it’s the story of the homecoming of a local boy “done good”. A sommelier who worked in NYC at Cafe Boulud and Eleven Madison Park, returns home to up the local scene. With his extensive experience in building world class wine lists, he has not only put together a fantastic list of eclectic, quality wines, but has dedicated a large portion of his list to local, Canadian producers. A diverse selection of Ontario wines that showcases some of the best our country has to offer.

But as i mentioned, for me, it’s all about the food. The original menu was a Stephen Vardy creation, a young, up and coming chef when he first started at Beckta who has since moved onto a variety of different projects.  Michael Moffat, his sous-chef, took over without any appreciable drop in quality. In fact, in my opinion, his experience over the relatively inexperienced Vardy has strengthened the marriage of wine and food.

The food emphasizes seasonal, local, organic, and sustainable, combined with top quality producers from around the country. While everything is available a la carte, the only way to dine at Beckta is through the chef’s tasting menu ($79), complete with wine pairings($35), and the optional cheese course ($15). The tasting menu is its own inspiration – and does not reuse standard menu items like so many places do these days. Each wine selection is carefully chosen, and when i did find some small fault with a pairing (mostly a matter of personal taste), a new pairing was selected that better fit my palate.

With all the publicity and press Beckta has gotten, I think deep down, I spent a lot of time looking for something not to like about the experience. I couldn’t fine one thing wrong. The atmosphere was classy, hip, yet comfortable. The service was impeccable – both food service, and wine service. In fact, similar to Chambar in Vancouver, this was some of the best service I’ve had in a very long time. Friendly, approachable, yet professional. Efficient without the snottiness.

As for the food? It did a great job of highlighting a lot of the strengths of Canadian food quality. From Alberta beef, to Nunavut char, to Quebec duck, to Nova Scotia scallops, everything was very well executed – perfectly seasoned, packed full of flavour, clear in purpose, creative, and most importantly, the dishes just worked.

When it’s all about the food, I find it’s about finding the right balance of flavours. Along with amuse and palate cleanser, I was dazzled with an array of flavours. Perhaps the my favorite course of the evening was a torchon of foie gras, along with a parmesan cornetto filled with epoisse and sweetbreads. While some might consider this to be too rich, cut with the acidity of the wine, the interplay of sweetbreads, with warmed epoisse and parmesan was perfect.

My last general concern when sizing up a restaurant is about portion size. I am occasionally a bit of a glutton. Tasting menus, in my experience, often leave me fairly dissatisfied. I need only point out experiences at Manresa (with a trip to In N Out afterwards) as an example where the portion size was disproportionate to the cost. With Beckta, there is no need to be concerned about the portion sizes. Everything comes in a good sized portion, allowing you time to savour and enjoy the flavours, without overwhelming you. After this meal, I was stuffed. And yet i still found some room to sample their extensive cheese course – filled with a great selection of high quality, small production cheeses. I did mention something about gluttony….

I generally try to bring a balanced approach to my reviews – after all, there is usually a balance of both positive and negative experiences when dining at any restaurant. However, try as I might, I really have nothing negative to say about Beckta at all. Great atmosphere, great food, great wine, great service. For me, this is *the* place to dine when in the Ottawa region.  With a new restaurant opening in the next year, here’s hoping that they are able to maintain the same lofty standards they’ve already set. After all, they have a tough act to follow.

Beckta Dining and Wine on Urbanspoon