Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bao Down

Some  work buddies and I saw an article about this place opening soon and knew we had a lunch date to plan. When I read about the concept, bao-steamed rice buns stuffed with tasty sounding fillings, my mouth started to water. 

The space is a 2-floor set up with counter seating on the main floor and a few small tables on the 2nd floor. Here you’ll pay for your meal before getting a number and finding a seat. It can get quite busy in this 25ish seating restaurant. 

Water service is self-serve and you have choices of cucumber or lemon/lime water. THIS IS DELICIOUS and AWESOME. I hope more places start offering this. It’s such a simple, yet special touch. And a big step up from the usual glass of lukewarm tap water that you have to ask for.  I also have to give a shout out to the staff, who were both very friendly and enthusiastic about the food. 

The menu consists of bao tacos, sandwiches, and a small variety of sides (a chowder, slaw, fries, poutine) and every item features Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese inspired flavours. Steamed Bao are $5/6, Sandwiches are $10-12, and sides are between $3-8.
I had 2 Bao, the Vevo ($5) Tamari braised shitake mushrooms, garlic pea shoots, sprouts, organic red kale, avocado, organic carrot & beet strings, ginger-peanut sauce and toasted sesame seeds and the Jaws ($5) Coconut crusted Ocean Wise Vietnamese catfish, kimchi tartar sauce, micro greens & cabbage in Thai vinaigrette.

The Vevo was their veggie option that truly packed a punch with fresh, plentiful fillings, harmonious flavour pairings and giant juicy mushrooms. In fact, my only suggestion would be to slice the mushrooms as the large pieces were a bit tricky to eat and smaller pieces might spread throughout the bao easier to ensure some mushroom with every bite. The ginger peanut sauce is a delicious and dominating force in this bao. Sooo good.

The Jaws was delicious too with a generous amount of coconut crusted catfish which was full of flavour and cooked to juicy perfection. Texture and flavour here are just great.

I also noshed on some of my buddy’s Kimchi Fries ($8). This is a generous serving, quite decadent and great to share. The Kimchi is a nice accent and the sour, spicy flavour pairs well with the fries and other heavy elements with the dish. The fries get very soggy on the bottom, but when its so tasty, it doesn’t really matter.

Bao Down is a cool space serving up food that is undeniably delicious. It’s definitely not a budget lunch since you are looking at likely two baos and a side to fill you up.

Bao Down on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cinco De Mayo at Tacomio

I had a lunch date set up with some lady friends from the last series I worked on.  The lunch date happened to be on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, so I suggested we go for tacos in the gastown/Chinatown ‘hood. We decided to go check out a relatively new taco joint, Tacomio.

Tacomio is a small fast-food style joint with warm, sunny decors and a unique, festive ambiance. Although the place is fast-food styled, everything is made fresh daily and almost everything on the menu is made from scratch. These are street style tacos. Smaller, a few bites, with various fillings in two layers of soft corn tortillas. You get to choose any 4 tacos for $10.

The interior of the restaurant itself is definitely noteworthy. Everything from the light fixture to the wooden counters make the place super warm and welcoming. There is even a cute hand-painted mural on the wall showing different exports of Mexico. Seating space is limited (small counter dining only) so I wouldn’t recommend this for another group meal date.

The staff is super friendly and I loved that they were celebrating Cinco de Mayo, offering complimentary strawberry tequila popsicles and hibiscus drinks. I liked their recycled cardboard taco vessels in which the tacos were served that kept everything upright and organized. I also enjoyed their salsa station and availability of pickled cauliflower and jalapenos.

Unfortunately, these tacos were a disappointment. I found the tortillas tasted bland and a bit stale. I also found that the tacos were quite bland and needed generous dollops of their salsas. I found the menu pretty limited for vegetarian, dairy free and wished that they had a fish or shrimp option on the menu.

Tacomio on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Banh Mi Crawl- Kim Saigon Sandwiches/Golden Garden Vietnamese

This is a much belated food crawl post, but putting this together has been a delicious stroll down memory lane. In March 2014, four of us crawled the city tasting Banh Mi sandwiches. I first fell in love with Banh Mi’s when I lived near Fraser and Kingsway.

For those who don’t know, banh mi (often called Vietnamese subs), are the colonial love-child of French cuisine and the Vietnamese palate. During their rule over what was then called Indochina, the French brought their baguette, mayonnaise, pâté and charcuterie to Vietnam where these ingredients evolved and adapted to take on more Asian flavours.

The ideal banh mi is a feat: a bun with a impossibly crackling crust and soft airy crumb encases a filling comprised of a tangy shredded daikon pickle, charcuterie, mayo, and pate all co-existing in a fine balance of tart and savoury.

This post sums up our first stop on this food crawl.

Stop #1
Kim Saigon Sandwiches/ Golden Garden Vietnamese
$5 Chicken Bahn Mi

This was the Leggy Redhead’s pick, a find from one of her favourite app’s, Chef’s Feed. The interior of the restaurant was quite upscale compared to most Vietnamese restaurant’s I’ve experience and the actually had a minimum spend if we wanted to eat in. To achieve that minimum spend, the Leggy redhead added a side, a Green papaya salad with beef jerkey ($8) and two beers. I really enjoyed the salad, it was slightly sweet, salty, with some great crispy and crunchy textural elements.
On to the main focus of our eating adventure….the Banh Mi. Overall, I found the sandwich tasty but not mind-blowing delicious. I found it a bit lacking in flavour- from the meat to the pickled veg, the flavours were all quite mellow. I missed the sour kick that usually comes from the pickled veg and wanted a bit more jalapeno. I also found the ratio a bit off. Bread was nice and crunchy on the outside, fluffy-with some density on the inside.

Hungover Crawler
It was a rainy Saturday in March and I had been waiting patiently to lose my virginity (twice) that day. This was my first food crawl with the Lifebites crew and it was to be my first Banh Mi ever. How could I have lived in Vancouver so long and never tried one? I also have to admit I had a big evening out the night before and was still feeling the effects of a few bottles of wine that may have been imbibed. But nothing could slow me down and I jumped eagerly into our fearless leader's Fit (luckily I wasn't driving) ready to enjoy four stops guaranteed to cure my hangover.

Stop number one was Kim Saigon in Chinatown. Now, it's actually within the Golden Garden Vietnamese restaurant. Banh mi wasn't on the menu but we asked and our server said we could order them. She seemed rather confused and not terribly impressed that we wanted to order one sandwich to share between four people. We were told that it's a $5 minimum charge per person (which would never be a problem under normal circumstances and isn't unreasonable, but we were the only people in there). So we also ordered the beef jerky green papaya salad. And just to make her like us a little more I also ordered a beer. (Or maybe that was in hopes of warding off my approaching headache from the previous night's festivities.)
We had the chicken banh mi. The bun was nice and warm and had a nice texture to it. It wasn't the most flavourful sandwich, but I still liked it (remember, this was my first ever). I was more impressed with the papaya salad. It was light and refreshing and the beef jerky on top was an interesting twist, giving the green papaya a little salt and spice. It also had some very tasty Thai basil on top. Although I wasn't blown away by the banh mi I am interested in going back to the Golden Garden to try other menu items.

Leggy Redhead
This one was my pick from reviews I'd read on Chef's Feed.  Funny enough, banh mi's are not on the menu, but can be ordered anytime (with lots of choices when you ask the server).  We had the chicken banh mi (+ we decided to try the beef jerky papaya salad).  Banh mi - warm crusty bread and nice flavour to the fillings, but can't say I'm waiting to go back.  It wasn't bad...but it also wasn't great in comparison to our other stops.  The papaya salad, however, I loved.  Super light, flavourful and lots of thai basil flavours.  

The Bad Jew
Incredibly clean upon walking in, abrupt departure from the Main and Hastings exterior.  Is this really Vancouver Chinatown?  The interior finishing gave it a bit of an Earls look and feel – sadly without any boobs on display.  I somehow think this added to Hungover Crawler’s general disorientation stemming from her still being drunk from the night before.
The server announced that there was a $5 per person minimum charge before we ordered.  We all looked at each other thinking – “this is going to be a problem.  We plan to eat one sandwich between the four of us.”  Not to worry, Hungover Crawler had it all figured out.  We’ll just order 2 bottles of Tsing Tao in addition to the beef jerky and green papaya salad to start.  Strong thinking at 11:15 am. 

The salad was odd and unexpected – cilantro, shredded beef jerky, thai basil, green papaya covered with a mildly spicy soy sauce dressing.  Not bad given the crazy ingredients – but not interesting enough to seek out as a foodie delight. 

The Bahn Mi arrived looking traditional.  11 “ long (yes I measured – I guess it’s habit).  Cucumbers, carrots, jalepano, shredded chicken.  The bread crust was light and not too crunchy which is important in my books.  Overall taste was balanced with a subtle salty flavour.  Excellent french baguette.  Not unique enough to venture down to this part of town on a regular basis.

Golden Garden Vietnamese Cuisine / Kim Saigon Sandwich on

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Feast Portland 2014 Oregon Grand Bounty Tasting

Do you love to eat? Do you love booze? Then put Feast Portland is probably an event you should attend.

I was lucky enough to hit the road for a road trip with some of my dearest food lover lady friends to Portland, Oregon for a three-day weekend of absolute gluttony this fall. We planned our trip around Portland’s Feast, a multi-day event celebrating Oregon's bounty and the chefs and artisans who do some pretty amazing things with it with tastings, dinners, classes and seminars.

We bought tickets for the Oregon Grand Bounty Tasting. There were two days of Grand Bounty tasting events (we went for the Friday function) taking place right in the centre of Portland in Pioneer Square. It was like the main city square was transformed into a massive cocktail party. This event is the perfect way to explore creative and delicious food, fantastic wine and delicious craft beer. This event is soooo well organized and from an outside perspective seemed to flow seamlessly. Despite the event being extremely busy, line ups were rare, bites and sips were plentiful and generous and the options offered represented a wide variety of food and drink guaranteed to please any palate. And to make things even more awesome, the money raised goes to hunger charities in Oregon.

Some of  my favourite bites were:

USA Pears Pop Up; with three courses from Chef Ben Bettinger of Laurelhurst Market. First bite of the day: Grilled albacore tuna, confit pear, pear and salsa verde, dehydrated pear, salted hazelnuts

Dessert course from USA Pears pop up;  Roasted Honey Panna Cotta, brandy roasted pears, pear wood smoked bacon

From Red Wagon Creamery

From Les Caves Bier and Kitchen; Lamb BLT

From Whole Foods; as someone who isn't a huge cheese gal....holy moly this was perfection

Beautiful tomatoes as a vessel from Jacobson's salt (in a variety of flavours)

From Olympic Provisions; back - Pork Frank with sweet corn and oregon bay shrimp

Cacao, serving Salt and Straw olive oil ice cream topped with hot drinking chocolate and crunchy cacao nibs

Noteworthy and very memorable beverages (no photos sorry!)

Bridgeport Brewery
Gilgamesh Brewing- Mamba, Fresh Prince of Hops

Finnriver Pear Cider
Stumptown Coffee Roasters Iced Coffee

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Middle sister came into town and wanted to take me out for a belated birthday dinner. She's a gluten free vegetarian and after she did a little "what's new in food in vancouver" and discovered Ask for Luigi and that they offered a g-free pasta option.
We arrived at the tiny spot that used to house the popular "Two Chefs and a Table" in crosstown and were told that there was about a 45 min wait. This spot is cozy and my guess is that it seats about 30 people. The decor and atmosphere feels upscale but not fussy. It feels like an Italian bistro.

We weren't starving and didn't mind. We put our name on the list with our contact info. We walked over to the Alibi Room and killed time with their awesome atmosphere and extensive impressive beer (and cider for the g-free) list. The wait was almost exactly 45 minutes.

The menu is fairly short and sweet with about 10 appetizers and 5-6 different pastas. And they all sound fairly delicious. Unfortunately, the options were pretty limited in terms of vegetarian options that they could make gluten free.

They've got sparkling and still mineral water on tap and a lean wine list by the bottle or by the glass (casual stemless tumbler).

We split the Fried Cauliflower & Aoili appetizer ($12). This was absolutely dynamite. Cauliflower is one food trend that seems to be everywhere and I'm definitely not getting sick of this trend. This dish was a stand out and worth the visit alone. Crispy yet soft with a bit of bite. Cheese, aioli, mint, basil, chickpeas all added some texture and played with dynamic flavours.

Ask for Luigi makes their pasta fresh in house, including the gluten free option. It's a tagliatelle (made with corn and rice flour, potato starch and xantham gum) which can be dressed with any of the sauces on the menu for $2 extra. She's a vegetarian so she only really had one option, with fresh peas, garlic and pea shoots. I had a bite and it was quite tasty with a great freshness.

I'm sucker for Italian dishes, especially anything with tentacles, so when I saw Spaghetti Nero with octopus and jalapeno ($18), I knew what I'd be ordering. This was a visually interesting dish. The noodles with black and the octopus was chopped into tiny rounds. Both the noodles and the octopus had a wonderful chew. The sauce was light with fresh tomato but not very dynamic or bold. The jalapeno was lost on me and I didn't really taste any heat. Our server was surprised when I requested salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Although the fresh pasta was truly a delicious treat, and the octopus was tasty and well prepared, but after a few bites, I found this dish overall to actual be fairly one note and not that exciting.

Overall, we had a nice experience. The space is cute, the service is efficient and friendly, and I do love a good Italian meal with fresh pasta. But this place had been pretty hyped up in social media and press reviews. And the price points are on the higher end. Ask for Luigi was good but not awesome and didn't quite live up to the hype. I was also a bit disappointed that the pricing was a unclear for beverages. Our glasses of wine we ordered ended up being a way more then we thought (we thought they were the house wine by the glass price) and there was a charge for sparkling water (they didn't let us know and kept bringing bottle after bottle of on tap sparking water to the table only for us to discover a $2 per bottle price on the bill.)

Ask for Luigi on Urbanspoon