Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brunch at The Union

I work out an office in the Chinatown area. I am lucky to be surrounded by delicious food destinations. One of my favourite places nearby for post- work drinks and dinner is The Union.

One of my colleagues was raving to me about how good The Union's brunch is. He even mentioned that he liked working some weekend shifts because it meant a tasty brunch....specifically he had one favourite dish, The Bangalore Hash.

This past weekend, my pal T and I did a Sunday morning coat drive donation drop off at Covenant House.

Side note: this is a great time of year to clean your closets and donate warm clothes that you no longer wear to those in need. See Covenant House link above for donation deets.

I was quick to suggest that we head to The Union for a post donation brunch.

We arrived around 11am. There is meter street parking out front and residential parking nearby. The restaurant environment is industrial-style with wood and concrete pillars, long picnic bench seating that feels cozy and communal and trendy metal light fixtures hanging from high ceilings. It was a sunny day and this space was full of pleasant sunlight streaming through large windows. This place feels relaxed and cool.

We asked our server for recommendations and she enthusiastically sang the praises of the aforementioned Bangalore Hash, saying it was hands down her favourite thing.

The menu is full of intriguing and delicious sounding options like Bao Bennies, Pandesal French Toast, Breakfast Banh Mi, Shanghai Scramble and even a Pho option.

Ultimately, with two strong recommendations,  I had to go with the Bangalore Hash $14 curry spiced potatoes, peas, spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas, squash, goat cheese, poached eggs, cauliflower purée ‘hollandaise’(with goat cheese on the side since I'm eating semi-vegan).
This dish was worth the hype. Pretty damn perfect breakfast if you ask me with every element executed awesomely. The base of the dish is fantastically flavoured crispy curry potato hash browns with chunks of butternut squash. The tomato, chickpea, cooked spinach had a nice flavour with a  bit of a chunky chana masala taste and feel. The eggs were perfectly poached with perfect, thick-yet-runny, silky, bright yellow yolks. The cauliflower puree was a lighter, more subtle flavour alternative to the traditional hollandaise, but with so much flavour happening underneath, it certainly didn't need the rich hollandaise.

I would have enjoyed the dish a bit more without the butternut squash. It didn't really contribute anything flavour wise, its texture threw off the balance of the dish for me and just made the dish heavier than it needed to be.

T ordered the Filipino Pankaplog $14 two eggs (choice of fried or scrambled), sinangag, pickled papaya, pandesal, curry spiced hashbrowns, choice of sausage or bacon. 

She really enjoyed her meal especially the pickled papaya salad and curry spiced hash browns and sinangag (garlic fried rice) which was quite rich and flavourful.

Unless you are a pretty "meat and potatoes" type of bruncher with an unadventurous palette, I would definitely recommend checking out brunch at The Union.

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