Quick Review: Sushi Nanaimo

Friday night I felt like eating sushi so le GF and I decided to try out Sushi Nanaimo. I had great expectations heading in because of all the rave reviews and 93% rating on Urbanspoon. However, at the same time I was a bit skeptical, since, judging by all the reviews, it seemed like they were just another sushi restaurant that focused on large portions for a decent price. In Vancouver there is a large market for these sushi restaurants,  demonstrated by the success of places like Sushi Garden (I still eat there because of the good value) and Samurai (eughh…don’t even get me started…so gross), but I feel like the quality of the sushi suffers.

Anyways, this place gets pretty busy after 6:00, but GF was already in the area and got there before me. Although there were a lot of people waiting, she was seated within 10 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised that this restaurant seemed to be mostly Japanese-run, given the abundance of Korean and Chinese-run sushi joints in Vancouver. Looking through the menu, I noticed that it was oddly similar to the one at Sushi Garden. When I checked online later, I found that they were almost identical; even most of the prices were the same (click links to see the proof). Well, that was weird. Moving on…GF doesn’t like raw fish so she ordered udon, but I ordered a variety of sushi so I could make a fair assessment of their sushi in general. GF’s tempura udon (I didn’t try any but she liked it) arrived quite quickly but my sushi took awhile to come; they must have been backed up with all the restaurant and take-out orders.

Assorted DX SushiIn order to sample a lot of nigiri, I got the DX Assorted Sushi ($16.95), which came with tako (octopus), salmon, tuna, ebi (cooked prawn), ika (squid), amaebi (sweet prawn), hokkigai (surf clam), chopped scallop, masago (flying fish roe), hamachi (yellowtail), unagi (eel) and tuna and salmon rolls. The nigiri were quite large (Sushi Garden size) and they all tasted fine. However, I didn’t find the quality to be extraordinary in any way. There was also too much rice (I didn’t eat it all) which makes it hard to eat. Traditionally, nigiri should be able to be eaten in one bite, but these would take at least two. The fish was not super fresh or anything and didn’t set itself apart from the sushi at Sushi Garden.

Awesome Roll I also wanted to try one special roll, so I ordered the Awesome Roll ($6.95), which is a california roll topped with salmon then baked and topped with your choice of fried shoestring yam and potato or bonito flakes, finished off with a soy-based sauce and chili mayo (I think). I got it topped with the fried yam and potato. I thought that this was just okay, so it didn’t live up to its name. I’m not a big fan of california rolls and all the sauce and fried yam/potato made it difficult to taste the salmon. This was really big though, and with all the other sushi I was quite full after barely finishing everything.

Overall, the sushi was all decent but nothing was super awesome and it didn’t really live up to the hype (always seems to be the case). This is a good place for cheap, big sushi and I would be fine eating here again or ordering take-out, but this isn’t the place to go if you want high-quality, ultra-fresh sushi.

Food: 3 out of 5
Service: 2.5 out of 5
Ambiance: 2.5 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

My Rating: 3 out of 5

(0 = I would rather die, 0.5 = torturous, 1 = terrible, 1.5 = bad, 2 = no good, 2.5 = very average, 3 = above average, 3.5 = good good, 4 = very good, 4.5 = near perfect, 5 = I can die in peace)

Sushi Nanaimo on Urbanspoon

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Dine Out Vancouver 2013 – Maenam Revisited

I went for Dine Out for the second night in a row and this time it was off to Maenam with another group of friends. I had been to Maenam before and had a pleasant experience. As well, their $28 Dine Out menu looked good and seemed to be good value for the quantity of food (regularly they offer a 5-course tasting menu for $32.50). Maenam serves authentic Thai food in a modern, finer-dining setting. We arrived pretty early but our table was ready and we were sat down right away. It was a Monday but the restaurant was mostly full with everyone being there to try the Dine Out menu (they didn’t offer the regular menu). The way the menu worked was that each pair picked one dish from each of Appetizers, Salads, Curries and Stir Fries and each person got their own dessert. Since there were 6 of us, we got to order 3 dishes from each of the 4 courses. We almost got to try the whole menu!

(With the large quantity of dishes I didn’t manage to get a picture of everything and I only had my iPhone, so the pictures are fairly dark and might be blurry)

Creamy Hot and Sour Soup of Chicken Steamed MusselsFor appetizers we ordered the ‘creamy hot and sour soup of chicken thighs’ (above left), ‘steamed mussels with lemongrass and thai basil’ and ‘creamy mushroom soup.’ The two soups looked the same and actually had the same soup base, just that the mushroom soup was a vegetarian version of the chicken soup. I guess we should have gotten something else instead of the mushroom soup, since both soups tasted identical. That being said, the soup did taste good. It had a pleasant sourness and hearty creaminess from the coconut milk. It wasn’t that spicy though and there was this dark “leafy thing” on top that had a bitter, sort of charred flavour. The mussels were flavourful and juicy with most of them being quite plump (though somehow I got a couple of really small ones…). They were served a dipping sauce (nahm jim) which was quite strong (lots of fish sauce) and we didn’t find that it was necessary for the mussels.

Squid Salad

The rest of the dishes all came at once, so suddenly our table was filled with tons of food. We also got complementary rice, which was refilled free of charge. From the salads we ordered the ‘braised pork cheek salad,’ ‘squid salad with chili jam dressing’ and ‘banana blossom salad.’ The squid salad (left) came with one fried piece of squid on top with strips of marinated squid as the base. There was also an abundance of cilantro, mint and fried shallots. This one was interesting; the dressing on the squid was fairly tart with hints of spice and sweet while the cilantro and shallots added a lot of flavour. I found that the dressing on the squid sort of overpowered the natural sweetness of the squid. The banana blossom salad was pretty tasty. The banana blossoms were deep-fried and served with cilantro, fried shallots and a tamarind and palm sugar dressing. The dressing was fairly sweet along with the sweet banana blossoms but tasted good with the earthy, herby cilantro. With all the food around me I didn’t actually get to try the pork cheek salad so I don’t have anything to say about that (nor did I get a picture).

Panaeng Curry of Beef ChuckGreen Curry of Halibut CheeksCurry of ChickenFor the curries we got the ‘panaeng curry of beef chuck,’ green curry of halibut cheeks’ and ‘aromatic curry of oven roasted maple farm hill chicken’ (left to right in the pictures above). The beef curry had darker, browned flavour and the chunks of meat were very tender and moist. It was the richest of the curries as it was blended with peanuts. The green curry was spicier and had a lot of cilantro and thai basil. It also had baby corn and baby eggplants (they look green berries), which were quite bitter but complemented the curry well. The chicken curry was my favourite. It was also the sweetest curry and had tender chunks of chicken, sweet onion and longan (similar to lychee).

3 Flavour FishChicken and Cashews

Finally, for the stir fries we ordered ‘crispy pork belly stir fry,’ ‘3 flavour fish’ (above left) and ‘Maenam’s chicken and cashews’ (above right). The pork belly (sorry, no picture) was prepared well; the skin was crisped nicely, the fat was melt-in-your-mouth good and the curry paste that it was stir fried in added a lot of flavour. The fish’s skin was crispy and the tamarind and palm sugar sauce permeated through the entire dish. The flavour was quite aggressive but was mellowed out when eaten with rice. The chicken and cashews was the spiciest dish of the night. The chicken was fried until crisp and mixed with cashews and thai basil. It was hot but not tongue-numbing and the sauce that chicken was fried in was quite tasty.

Passionfruit TrioFried Baby BananasChocolate Pot de Creme There were 3 choices for dessert: ‘passionfruit trio,’ ‘fried baby bananas’ and ‘dark chocolate pot de crème.’ I got the passionfruit trio, which had passionfruit ice cream, passionfruit jelly and a tuile (a thin cookie), along with some fresh passionfruit on top. Needless to say, this dessert was very “passionfruit-y,” for lack of a better (or real) word. I was glad that they didn’t decide to tone down the passionfruit flavour, which can be strong. The sweetness in the tuile and ice cream balanced out the tartness for the passionfruit and I quite enjoyed this dish. The fried baby bananas were battered and skewered and served with lime and a condensed milk ice cream. The batter was a bit too thick and there wasn’t much banana but the ice cream was very smooth and creamy. The chocolate pot de crème was served with a tamarind tuile and tamarind semifreddo (like a frozen mousse). I didn’t try any of this but my friend who had it said it was really good.

I was definitely glad with our decision to go to Maenam as everything was quite tasty in general. Also, everyone was stuffed after the meal with all of the different dishes that we tried. A stark contrast to the meal we had the night before at Dockside. There were tons of flavours in all the dishes; I can almost still taste all of the cilantro, thai basil, coconut milk, tamarind and curry spices. The Dine Out menu was excellent for $28 and I’m happy that I got to try such a great variety of Thai food. I believe that this is the best Thai I’ve had and might even hazard to call this the best Thai restaurant in Vancouver (I need a bigger sample size though). You be the judge.

Food: 4 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3.5 out of 5
Value: 4 out of 5

My Rating: 4 out of 5

(0 = I would rather die, 0.5 = torturous, 1 = terrible, 1.5 = bad, 2 = no good, 2.5 = very average, 3 = above average, 3.5 = good good, 4 = very good, 4.5 = near perfect, 5 = I can die in peace)

Maenam on Urbanspoon

Dine Out Vancouver 2013 – Dockside

It’s Dine Out Vancouver season again and I went out for dinner with a large group of friends to Dockside Restaurant in Granville Island (menu is $28). It’s located in the Granville Island Hotel and has a nice view overlooking False Creek. I would first like to state that this restaurant was not my choice, but we ended up going here because some people wanted to try it out and many restaurants were not able to accommodate our large party. I hadn’t heard many good things about the food here, so, accordingly, I had fairly low expectations going in. Unfortunately, as you will see, those expectations were met.

We arrived a bit early and were seated quite promptly. The usual suspects were late, but that was okay since we weren’t in any rush. Our waitress was nice, serving us water and patiently waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive. We all had a good idea of what we were going to get (there wasn’t really much choice anyways) so once everyone settled in we ordered our food.

Tomato and Fennel Bisque Amuse

They served an amuse-bouche, which was an ‘Heirloom Tomato and Fennel Bisque’  served in a cute little cup accompanied by a cheese puff twist. It was nice that they decided to include an amuse, but the bisque was just okay. To me it tasted like regular tomato soup and I wouldn’t have known that there was fennel in it. The cheese puff tasted average but was good for dipping in the soup.

Crab and Corn Bisque

For the first course, most of us ordered the crab and corn bisque which was served with a ‘jade rice cracker’ and ‘peppered crab butter’. The bisque had good flavour but I was disappointed that they didn’t include any chunks of crab or corn. The rice cracker was odd; it wasn’t that crisp and the center was sticky and a bit gooey. The butter added a pleasant contrast in flavour when I dolloped some on the bisque.

Arugula Salad

The other appetizer was ‘Arugula with Goats Cheese and Tomato Chips.’ The salad seemed pretty standard to me. The vinaigrette was roasted pear and gewürztraminer and they also drizzled some balsamic over top. The dressing went fine with the arugula and goats cheese but I found the tomato chips to be kind of strange. They were basically just oven-dried tomato slices but they weren’t particularly crisp and they had an off-flavour, as though they had been dried at too high of a temperature.

Roasted Sablefish

For the entrée there were 3 choices, but no one got the vegetarian option. I got the roasted sablefish, which was served over barley and with green beans, balsamic and a tomato sauce. The fish seemed under-seasoned and I was disappointed that they didn’t sear the skin to make it crispy. The fish was cooked to the correct doneness (hard to screw up sablefish), but I think the quality of the ingredient was sub-par since the texture was slightly mushy. The rest of the ingredients on the plate were cooked fine but I found that neither the balsamic nor the tomato sauce added anything to the dish. This wasn’t very large and I finished it within 10 minutes.

Lamb Neck Tortellini

The other entrée option was a braised lamb neck tortellini. When it came out, I saw that there were only three tortellini on each plate. It was served on smoked carrot and with roast apple veal jus. The tortellini were large but the portion was not justified. Everyone said that the tortellini tasted good, however.

I was quite surprised by the smallness of the main dishes. I thought that for a restaurant like this, they would have reasonably-sized portions but the entrées were bordering on tasting portion sizes. I think that they downsized the entrées for Dine Out, which is unfortunate. Most of us were still quite hungry after the entrées.

Paris Brest

For dessert I got the ‘Paris Brest’, which was an éclair with hazelnut praline custard, served with salted honey caramel. The pastry was a bit hard and dry, serving mostly as a vessel for the custard. The custard  and caramel tasted fine. I ate the dessert up pretty quickly since I was still hungry.

Dark Chocolate Creme

The other dessert was a ‘Valrhona Manjari Dark Chocolate Cream Cup’. It looked like it was very chocolatey and my friends said that it was really really rich. Haven’t quite determined if they liked it or not.

Apple Pot Pie

My nut-allergic friend got her own dessert, which was an “Apple Pot Pie”. It seems like a standard dessert to me but she said that it tasted good.

Overall, everyone left the restaurant with a sense of dissatisfaction (some of us half-joked about going to McDonald’s after). The food was average in general and the entrée portion size was not justified for a restaurant like this. For comparison, my parents went to the Boathouse (a very similar restaurant to Dockside) for Dine Out and they said that their portions were quite large for the same price. I don’t think I’ll be back, even if it’s not for Dine Out. The only thing this restaurant has going for it is the view.

Food: 2.5 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3 out of 5
Value: 2 out of 5

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

(0 = I would rather die, 0.5 = torturous, 1 = terrible, 1.5 = bad, 2 = no good, 2.5 = very average, 3 = above average, 3.5 = good good, 4 = very good, 4.5 = near perfect, 5 = I can die in peace)

Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Brunch at the Twisted Fork

The Twisted Fork Bistro (1147 Granville) is an interesting little place located deep in the Granville Entertainment District. It’s quite cozy and has a lot of quirky decorations; I especially like the ‘twisted forks’ on all of the menus. I have been there once before for dinner, but it was a long time ago and I have since forgotten my experience. My girlfriend and I ended up there on Saturday for brunch and it was BUSY. It was about noon and we were told it would be about a 30-45 minute wait, but we were willing to stick around. People were waiting outside and it was raining. Luckily, a space at the bar opened up and we were seated earlier than expected, within 20 minutes.

Our server, the bartender, was really friendly (realllly friendly; almost too much, but it was okay) and tended to us promptly. After a quick glance at the menu, we made our orders. Everything for brunch is $12 (except for sides, of course) and portions are fairly large. I’m not really much of a breakfast/brunch person, but every now and then it’s nice to have. The restaurant only has 2 chefs, so they give a warning that the food might take longer than usual, but it arrived reasonably quick. I ordered the bacon, caramelized onion and brie frittata, which was served with a corn salsa and mixed greens. A frittata is like a big omelette which is baked in the oven. It was good, but really filling and a bit on the greasy side. The corn salsa worked well to cut a bit of the richness, but in the end, I can’t really eat that much egg at once. I couldn’t even finish it! I was so surprised. The meal is a true BEAST.

My girlfriend ordered the Eggs Benny, which is one of her favorite dishes. You get a choice of ‘filler’ so she got it with prosciutto. It is served on brioche with rosti (like a hashbrown/potato pancake), spinach and homemade baked beans. The poached eggs were cooked a bit more than expected; they weren’t runny at all. The hollandaise was good and the rosti were very starch-satisfying. She doesn’t like beans, so I had to eat them for her and they were pretty tasty. The spinach wasn’t touched so I can’t comment on that…

It was a pleasant meal but I didn’t find the food that amazing. It is quite a popular place, so maybe I didn’t order the right thing. However, I don’t know if I would come back. Maybe for dinner, because that seems like the meal to go to a bistro for (and brunch food isn’t really my thing). The service is super friendly and it has a cool atmosphere. At $12, it is reasonable for brunch and given the portion size, but not too cheap at the same time. All in all, the Twisted Fork is a cozy little bistro on Granville with good food, a nice departure from the hopping nightclubs, shady establishments and sketchy individuals the area is better known for.

Food: 3 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (barely)

Twisted Fork Bistro on Urbanspoon

P.S. I haven’t done any recipes lately because my kitchen is undergoing massive renovations. I will try to squeeze something out soon, but no promises. Hold tight, they will come!

Bella Gelateria

After our lunch at Phnom Penh we walked around a bit, went to Sun-Yat Sen Park and then made our way to Bella Gelateria (1001 West Cordova). It has been garnering quite the praise lately, with many saying that it has the best gelato in town. We had to investigate! Apparently the owner is some sort of gelato expert and even went to a university to perfect his craft. Bella Gelateria is located in the Fairmont Pan Pacific and looks quite big from outside but it is actually pretty small when you walk in.

I’ve always loved ice cream, though some would argue that gelato isn’t technically ice cream. It’s ice cream! Gosh. It’s actually better. For those of you that don’t know, gelato has been around for much longer than ice cream and it’s made with milk instead of cream. Sorbet or sorbetto is considered to be a variant of gelato and contains no dairy. I went on a trip to Europe in high school and I had gelato almost every day. It was so good…and there was even a place in Nice where you could get 10 scoops (dix boules), but when we went back it was closed :(. I consider the gelato in Europe to be the standard by which I measure all other gelato and so far nothing has compared.

Here’s some gelato I got in Monaco

That’s where Bella Gelateria comes in. We walked in and looked around a bit. I sampled a 3 flavours (that’s their ‘limit’) before deciding on the Meyer Lemon Sorbetto. Lemon Sorbet happens to be my favourite thing to get at gelato shops, so I had to try it here. Meyer lemons are a bit different than normal lemons; they have thinner skin and a sweeter, more orange-like flavour. This sorbet was really good. Not too sweet, lots of lemon flavour and it had bits of the rind in it to boot. It was smooth, not icy, and satisfied my ice cream craving (dairy is not necessary).

My girlfriend decided to get the Chocolate and Sea Salt Gelato (ooh how gourmet). It was good too! The salt really brings out the chocolate flavour and, again, it was really smooth.

At Bella Gelateria, they scoop their gelato the old-fashioned way, using a sort of paddle or spatula to ‘hand-craft’ the gelato. The gelato is really good and I think it’s probably the best in the Lower Mainland (’twas a day for bests in Vancouver). Many people love La Casa but there are too many flavours and the overall quality isn’t that great. I think this gelato is almost as good as the gelato I got in Europe, but still not quite. There’s something missing, but I can’t quite figure it out. Anyways, it’s still awesome and you should all try it out if you haven’t already. Since it’s not really a restaurant, I’m only going to consider the gelato and the value in my rating. The price for one scoop is about $4.50 (can’t really remember) and a cone is around 40 cents extra. I think a double is almost $6 and a triple is $7 something. It’s more expensive than most places, but you simply can’t beat the quality. You should note that gelato is much cheaper in Europe: around 2 euros for a single scoop!

Food (i.e. gelato): 4 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Bella Gelateria: Old-World Handcrafted Gelato on Urbanspoon

Phnom Penh

I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a while because I had exams but now I’m back and hopefully I’ll be able to write a lot this summer! I went to Phnom Penh (244 East Georgia) for lunch on Friday, but I honestly haven’t had time to write about it until today. My girlfriend and I went out to enjoy the nice weather and I wanted to eat at Phnom Penh since I hadn’t been there in a long time. The restaurant is named after the capital of Cambodia and it is a Cambodian restaurant but the food is decidedly Vietnamese (correct me if I’m wrong). It’s a very ordinary restaurant located in Chinatown and once inside you’ll notice that the walls are strewn with pictures of the Angkor Wat, probably to emphasize the Cambodian-ness.

Though it may look very ordinary, Phnom Penh is quite a renowned restaurant in Vancouver. It is consistently rated as one of the top Southeast Asian and Vietnamese restaurants in the Lower Mainland by several newspapers and magazines, as evidenced by all the awards on the wall. It also has the distinction of having arguably the best chicken wings in the city. Because of its reputation, it is quite busy, so we had to wait a few minutes for a table. Fortunately, they have quick service (like most Asian restaurants) and the turnover is quite fast. We were seated, looked at the menu briefly and ordered our food.

I got the dish I get at every Vietnamese restaurant, Grilled Lemongrass Pork with Rice. This one came with shredded pork (gelatinous goodness) and the typical vegetables, nuoc cham sauce (fish-sauce and vinegar-based dipping sauce) and broth. Since this is my favourite Vietnamese dish, I enjoyed it, but it isn’t quite as good as the one at Thai Son (2800 East 1st, where T & T is). I love the flavour of the marinated pork and any sort of meat on rice is good to me.

My girlfriend got Beef Balls with Rice Noodle in Soup. It was kinda like pho, but they didn’t call it that so I can’t be certain. The beef balls are made from scratch and they are quite tasty and pretty large at the same time. She enjoyed it but she wasn’t able to finish the whole thing.

Finally, we of course had to have the famous chicken wings and, for once, something lived up to its reputation. They were DELICIOUS. They were super crispy and the seasoning is great; they were salty, sweet and savoury at the same time. SO YUMMY. They came out piping hot and stayed crispy throughout the entire meal. They may actually be the best chicken wings in Vancouver, but I will have to test that. We would come back just for the wings. Also, they were served with this sort of lemon and pepper sauce which was good but I didn’t find it necessary.

We were thoroughly stuffed and satisfied after this meal and will definitely return. This place is always busy so be prepared to wait, though the wait is well worth it. Since it’s not really a “nice restaurant”, I’m not going to consider ‘atmosphere’ in my rating. The prices are pretty good, typical of a Vietnamese restaurant, though just slightly higher and the service is as expected: quick, efficient and emotionless. Overall, a delicious experience and I’d recommend Phnom Penh to everyone!

Food: 4 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Value: 4 out of 5

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon

Maenam

It was Friday night dinner with my girlfriend and I suggested that we try out Maenam. Maenam is a very modern Thai restaurant in Kitsilano (1938 W 4th). It used to be a high-end modern restaurant called Gastropod and it’s run by the same chef, Angus An. I was interested to see what a modern approach to Thai cooking would be like. Apparently the chef has previously worked at the only Michelin Star-rated Thai restaurant in the world, so the food should be good.

We had a reservation and were sat down near the window. The sun finally decided to come out today, so it was nice and bright and I had plenty of natural light for my photos! Yes! The restaurant is nicely decorated and definitely modern and there is even this ‘curtain’ that sort of separates the dining room from the waiting area. Interesting. Anyways, we looked at the menu for a bit, decided on a few items and ordered our food.

We started with the Thai Sausage ($8) and the Hot and Sour Soup with Sablefish and Turmeric ($17). The Thai sausages are fermented so they are actually sour. They were definitely well-seasoned and the sourness was interesting. My girlfriend liked this. A funny thing was that there was a piece of red chili in the sausage and she bit down on it accidentally (even though the waiter had previously warned us about it). She survived though :). Also, the sausage was served with a sweet chili sauce, which I liked (I love sweet and sour chili dips).

The hot and sour soup was interesting. It was quite sour but not that spicy at first. But it was also flavoured with dill, which I don’t really like. The whole thing sort of just tasted sour and like dill. But the sablefish was good :). We weren’t able to finish all of this (there was enough for almost 3 bowls each, but we only had about 1.5 each). Never had something like that before, but we didn’t really like it. I mainly ordered it because people around us got it and they seemed to really like it. I guess it just isn’t our thing.

It took quite awhile for our main dishes to come, but we weren’t in a rush. After at least half-an-hour they came. We got the Panaeng Chicken Curry ($17) and the Pad Thai ($13). We also got a side of rice ($3) because the curry doesn’t come with rice. The curry was pretty good. My girlfriend said she loved it. It has an interesting sweet, yet salty flavour with a sort of browned taste (hard to explain). The chicken was fairly tender and it came in this nice little gold dish. It was topped with fried Thai basil, which I though was just for show, but was actually a good addition.

Every Thai restaurant has pad thai, so I figured it would be a good test of the restaurant’s mettle. I actually am never amazed by pad thai I have, but this one was good. The noodles were nice and chewy (unlike those soft ones) and it had a lot of flavour. A splash of lime also adds a nice touch. There were a lot of bean sprouts, though, which inevitably end up being pushed to the side. It was actually quite a bit of food and we were stuffed when we were done.

I’m no expert on Thai food but I thought that this was good. It is a bit more expensive than your typical Thai restaurant, but those don’t tend to be fine dining places. I think $30 per person is fair for this kind of meal. The service was fine, but the food did take a bit longer than I would expect. The decor was nice and the restaurant was quite bustling (a euphemism for loud). If I went back I think would try the 5-course Chef’s menu for $30, which is a similar amount of food compared to what we got. It may not seem like a lot at first, but it fills you up. One of the most interesting parts of the meal was listening to the guy sitting next to us. He loved everything he ate and he exclaimed it quite emphatically. I think this is his new favourite restaurant. Enough about eavesdropping. Overall, the food was good and interesting but nothing was WOW and a modern approach wasn’t really taken on the food (which I guess is okay).

Food: 3.5 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Atmosphere: 4 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Damn, another 3.5. Good just isn’t going to cut it…

Maenam on Urbanspoon

Suika: No Watermelons Here

Suika (1626 West Broadway), which means watermelon in Japanese, is a relatively new izakaya restaurant that has become quite popular. It has the same owner as Kingyo on Denman. I went there with my parents tonight for a quick dinner. I’ve been there once already and my parents have gone several times. One thing to note: I HATE watermelons. Absolutely despise the things. They are disgusting and I do not eat them. People think I’m weird…it’s probably true. Luckily, Suika has not taken their name to heart and put watermelon in everything. I would have to leave.

Anyways, walking in, it’s a neat restaurant with a lot of fun decor (perhaps borderline tacky). I like the Japanese beer bottle chandelier that they have and I like the open kitchen (common for izakaya). It’s a bit bright, but I don’t mind. On to the food…we ordered pretty quickly and I decided to try one of their drink specials, fresh ginger ale. It was interesting; very ‘gingery’ and not too sweet once the drink was mixed a little. It was refreshing and the ginger gave it a bit of a ‘kick’.

The first thing we got was the “Aburi Shime-Saba Salad”, which is a salad with a mustard dressing, onions and saba (mackerel) sashimi (sorry, no pictures :(). The dressing was tasty and the saba tasted fresh. Not a whole lot of interesting textures though.

Next, we got the amaebi (sweet prawn) sashimi. I love amaebi, so this was a no-brainer. It was fresh and tasty like always and, of course, the best part is sucking on the head (not for everyone, though).

Then came the pig’s foot (not for the faint of heart). I can’t remember what the dish was called in Japanese…but it doesn’t matter. It was cooked for a long time and finished with butter and, I think, some soy sauce. It was very fatty and gelatinous; my kind of thing :). Most people wouldn’t like this kind of thing, but I do.

Up next was the “Mapo Rice Cake”, which is a play on the Chinese dish, Mapo Tofu. It’s a fried glutinous rice cake that is topped with a spicy chili and minced meat ‘sauce’. The rice cake is nice and gooey and the minced meat sauce is tasty, but perhaps a bit salty.

We also got the Kimchi and Tendon Sukiyaki, which, sadly, had no tendon :(. It had brisket in it, which is what I think they meant. I love kimchi, though, and the broth was tasty, but I was still disappointed by the absence of tendon.

The next dish was this thing that I think was called “Asia Age”, which was basically a deep-fried pancake of assorted seafood and shellfish, served with tempura sauce. I think I could identify scallop, squid, imitation crab, carrot, potato and broccoli, but I’m still not totally sure. It was just okay.

The last thing we got was the garlic and filet of beef fried rice. It is just garlic fried rice with chunks of filet mignon. It is quite tasty, but not very breath-friendly. However, I do find the chunks of beef a bit large and not very well-seasoned.

Overall, the food is quite good and they brought everything out very quickly. I feel like the presentation of the food isn’t that interesting, but it’s not that big a deal. The restaurant gets quite busy, but today it wasn’t completely full. The servers are all very friendly and attentive and maintain a fun atmosphere. The prices are fair at about $20 per person. As a final touch, they give you some refreshing frozen grapes at the end of the meal. Suika is a successful izakaya restaurant that I’m sure I’ll be visiting again.

Food: 3.5 out of 5
Service: 3.5 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3.5 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

…ooh how consistent

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

I feel like I give out a lot of 3.5’s…oh well -.-
Guess I either have to go to some crappy restaurants or maybe some super-awesome ones

Suika on Urbanspoon

Meat and Bread: PORCHETTA!

Yesterday afternoon I went out for lunch with the girlfriend to a place I’ve been wanting to try for a while, Meat and Bread (370 Cambie). It’s located in Gastown right next to Victory Square. I wanted to go there to try their famous porchetta sandwich, which has become quite popular in Vancouver. Porchetta (pronounced PORKetta), is basically a fatty and moist boneless pork (obviously) roast, seasoned with salt and herbs. Meat and Bread is only open for lunch and, from what I’ve heard, can get quite busy (with lineups out the door). As implied by the name, VEGETARIANS BEWARE! (they do have soup, salad and a grilled cheese sandwich though)

A photo of half of their menu, showing all the sandwiches

We showed up around 12:30 and it was busy, but there wasn’t a long lineup. The place looks quite cool inside; it has an open area where the sandwiches are assembled and very hip decor. I lined up and ordered our sandwiches; I had the porchetta ($8), of course, and my girlfriend decided on the meatball sandwich ($7). They only have 4 sandwiches on the menu and there is always one special that changes daily (today was a beef brisket sandwich). All the sandwiches are served on ciabatta buns. I got the sandwiches and we sat ourselves down at a table at the front of the restaurant.

After snapping a few photos, I finally got to dig in. The meat was fairly moist and had that salty, almost cured, pork flavour. I liked the herb flavour too and the salsa verde (literally green sauce) that they put on it worked well. There was homemade mustard on the side as well, which tasted like kicked-up French’s mustard. The meat was nice and fatty and the crispy pork skin they put on it was yummy. I found, however, that it was kind of cold, probably due to the fact that the meat was from the end of the porchetta (it had been sitting out for a bit) and due to the waiting time and the time I took to take photos. All in all, it was a good sandwich but not super-awesome like I hoped for.

The meatball sandwich didn’t really have meatballs on it, more like ground meat. It was served with their “man-made” sambal sauce and shaved grana padano. It was a messy sandwich but my girlfriend said that she liked it. It was a little spicy because of the sambal sauce, which is made with chilies.

There wasn’t really any service, per se, since you order the food yourself and bring it back to a table, but the workers there are very friendly and helpful. I think the value is fair, but it may be a little more than some people are willing to pay for lunch. Although it didn’t exactly live up to the hype, I thought it was a good experience and I want to come back to give the porchetta another try and maybe try another sandwich. Also, they have a BACON and maple ice cream sandwich which I must try! Meat lovers rejoice!

Food: 3.5 out of 5
Service: 3 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3.5 out of 5
Value: 3.5 out of 5

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Meat & Bread on Urbanspoon

O’Doul’s

On Thursday night I went out for Dine Out for the second night in a row (oh my poor wallet). This time it was off to O’Doul’s (1300 Robson) to try their $28 menu. I apologize in advance for some of the pictures being dark, blurry or grainy. I didn’t want to use flash and the lighting wasn’t helping at all. We were a group of six and, of course, made reservations in advance.

O’Doul’s has been around awhile and I’ve heard some negative things about it lately. Apparently, it is dated and the quality of the food and the dining room has gone down. I have never personally been there before, so I had nothing else to go on. However, we thought that they had a good menu for the price (probably trying to attract more customers) and, checking reviews, it seemed like some people still think it’s a good restaurant.

Walking into the restaurant, I noticed that the decor did seem a bit dated. The wood floor and other wooden features seemed a little beat up, but the restaurant did have a nice ambiance. The lighting was dim and there was a nice background of jazz music (not live jazz, yet).  We were sat down promptly and started looking at the menu. Soon after, our waitress asked for drink orders, but we just wanted water, so she brought that out right away (refreshing after the experience at Sanafir).

After taking our orders, they brought bread and then an amuse-bouche, which was a nice touch. It was a chicken and duck terrine served on potato. It was a little large for one bite and was a bit awkward to get in your mouth, due to the dish (I had to use a fork). It was tasty, though, and was effective for whetting our appetites.

For appetizer, we were given the option of venison carpaccio, pumpkin gnocchi or flame-charred albacore tuna. I ordered the venison, which was served with shaved parmigiano reggiano, romesco sauce and a quinoa, apple and raisin salad.

The venison had a lovely melt-in-your-mouth texture and was surprisingly not gamy (though I wouldn’t mind). I didn’t mind the romesco (it’s main component is red bell pepper), but I feel it didn’t add much. The quinoa salad was quite tasty (the apple and raisin added a nice sweetness) and it went well with the carpaccio. The dish was also presented nicely, in a pretty flower shape.

My girlfriend had the pumpkin gnocchi, which she liked, even though she doesn’t like pumpkin. It came with blue cheese, sage brown butter, and “pickled walnuts”. She doesn’t like blue cheese, so she ignored it, but the gnocchi itself was tasty and had a good texture.

The tuna was also well-received. It was served with a spinach salad, horseradish parsnip puree and a parmesan rice crisp. It looked to cooked well (nice and rare) and I heard no complaints.

For mains, we got the wild salmon filet or the smoky braised short rib. There was a vegetarian option that none of us ordered.

I decided on the salmon, which came with cabbage, bacon, cauliflower sunchoke puree and “mustard quince”. The salmon was cooked well and had very crispy skin. However, there was a bit too much salt, but only on the skin. The cabbage was good and the puree was tasty, but a bit too smooth for me. They both went well with the salmon, but I found that the mustard quince was out of place. It was much too sweet and a bit sour; I didn’t care for it. It was a satisfying dish, though.

My girlfriend got the smoky braised short rib, served with a celeriac (celery root) pomme (potato) puree, gremolata, and the braising jus. The meat was very tender (fall-off-the-bone) and the smoky flavour was very nice. The puree was interesting; not your typical mashed potatoes, due to the celeriac. It was also served with some vegetables, but they seemed to be there just to have vegetables.

For dessert, they offered an apple bread pudding, a meyer lemon mousse and a chocolate espresso torte.

I got the bread pudding, which was okay. It was served with a ginger anglaise and a caramel sauce. I found the bread pudding to be too “eggy” and it wasn’t that sweet. The anglaise was good, but I couldn’t really taste ginger. Eating the pudding with the anglaise made it better, however.

My girlfriend ordered the lemon mousse (yay lemon!) which was served with white chocolate feuilletine (a thin crispy wafer), cassis puree and some huge raspberries. The mousse had the right texture and was not too sweet. It had good lemon flavour and the feuilletine was nice and crispy.

As for the chocolate espresso torte, I didn’t try any, but I heard it was good. It seemed very “chocolatey” and it was served with a chocolate porter ice cream (chocolate beer!) and candied orange coulis.

I thought it was quite a successful meal. The service was very good. Our waitress was very attentive, was constantly refilling our water and was checking up on us consistently. She was very nice and even joked around with us. The servers were very professional, as well. Sanafir could learn a thing or two. The space is a bit old, but the ambiance is pleasant and they even started playing live jazz towards the end of our meal. The food definitely exceeded my expectations and had great value for $28 (plus they came up with new items, not on the regular menu). I would like to come back one day, but I know I will have to pay at least $50 to get the same amount of food. At least it was a good Dine Out experience!

Food: 4 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Atmosphere: 3.5 out of 5
Value: 4 out of 5 (only cause it’s Dine Out, though)

My rating: 4 out of 5

O'Doul's on Urbanspoon