Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kedah House: Cheap, Tasty, Gut-Busting Malaysian Buffet

I work in South Van and my soccer coach lives in South Van. He's also Malaysian. After doing a bit of research online, I came across Kedah House Restaurant on SE Marine Drive near Knight Street. I've definitely driven past this eatery's bright pink/purple awning many times and stopped at it's strip mall neighbour, Fabric Land, but I've never stopped in for a meal before. It was Friday night and Kedah House sets up a small buffet on Friday/Saturday/Sundays for $9.99. Coach said he's eaten there before and that his parent's eat here frequently (so I figured it must be tasty AND authentic).

At 7:45pm, the restaurant only had people seated at one other table. Decor is really basic and a bit cheesy/outdated, so I wouldn't recommend coming here if you are looking for any kind of atmosphere or if you are looking to impress someone. The place was very clean. I was greeted warmly and lead to a table, and the service pretty much ended there....and it wasn't really necessary. I was informed that there was no ordering off the regular menu, just buffet (serve yourself). Each table had two glasses and a giant water jug (serve yourself).
The buffet spread is placed along the wall on two sections of a long table. The selection isn't huge, and was  pretty underwhelming to look at.

I started my first plate with their "make-your-own" Gado Gado (essentially a Malay salad) section- Lettuce, cucumber, tomato wedges, sliced tofu, shredded turnip, sliced potato, bean sprouts and then either dip or cover with peanut sauce. The veggies were fresh, crisp and refreshing and man, o, man, that peanut sauce was damn good. 

Also, on round one, I tried a Sambal Hard Boiled Egg. Essentially a hard boiled egg in chili garlic sauce. 

I like hard boiled eggs and sambal, so without much suprise, I liked this a lot and even more so after adding a heaping dollop of side garlic chili sauce.

Clockwise from far left: Beef Rendang, Veg Mee Reebus Noodles,  bone-on Chicken Biryani, and steamed rice.
The next plate I put together had a helping of Beef Rendang: Chunks of stewing beef simmered in coconut milk and seasoned with a paste of ginger, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, tumeric, lemongrass, cinnamon, star anise, and chillies. This was extremely tender from being slow cooked and with a nice spice and rich flavour.
The bone-in Chicken Biryani was well-cooked with a slightly spicy kick, but didn't do too much for my tastebuds.
The Mee Reebus Vegetarian Noodles were thick, chewy and quite flavourful with shreds of green onion mixed in.
The steamed and seasoned basmati rice was cooked to light and fluffy perfection and was a welcome accompaniment to the saucy curry-based dishes.

There was a Vegetable Tom Yum Soup which was nice and light. It was a nice balance of sour and spicy and I could taste the lemongrass in it.

Vegetarian Dulcha (mixed vegetable and lentil curry) was a surprise favourite for me. I was expecting your typical "daal" flavour but this dish was super savoury and spicy- I had a small bowl to taste and ended up going back for seconds. 

The dessert station featured Jello cubes and  Black Glutinous Rice Sweet Soup. I was already gut-bustingly full but I had to at least try the BGRSS. It was goopy, not too sweet, with a tapioca texture. I liked it , but after I had almost finished my bowl, Coach let me know that most Malaysians serve this dish with coconut milk. I thought about getting another bowl to try with coconut milk because it sounded really good but I was just too stuffed. 

 I enjoyed my meeting/meal here and so did Coach. The place is really bare bones and won't win any awards for ambience, but they served really tasty, flavourful food for a really low price. This was definitely a case where you should not judge a book by its cover, especially when the "book" is such a good value.

Kedah House Restaurant and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not just your average slice....Nicli Anitca Pizzeria

Part one of my belated birthday Gastown eating adventures was a deliciously successful visit to La Taquiera. Because I was dining with another food/restaurant enthusiast, he was game to hit another place on my list of places to try, Nicli Anitca Pizzeria. This Neapolitan pizza restaurant opened in Feb 2011 with a lot of hype and fanfare amongst foodies and pizza lovers in Vancouver. I've read and heard a lot of good things about the tasty "authentic", "this-ain't no fresh slice," pizza and some mixed reviews about the service and long wait times. I love pizza but I wouldn't consider myself a true connoisseur- so I was eager to try out aunthentic Neapolitan pizza and find out if its worth all of the fuss.

According to some research, Neapolitan pizza "toppings are sparse and traditional" and "dough that has been laboured on and that has developed for hours and hours, but takes only minutes to cook in a wood burning oven." The big difference in this style of pizza seems to be the crust....trying to acheive a crust that's thin, tender and pillowy inside with charring on the undercarriage and leopard-spotting along the rim.

We arrived at around 7:45pm and the place was full. We were told it would be a 30 min wait, I gave them my cell number and we took a little stroll around Gastown to kill the time. Approx 10 minutes later, I got a happy call that our table was ready. The decor was clean, open and modern (clean lines, crisp white features and black laquered detailing with funky floral arrangements) meets old school (exposed brick). Their is a sizeable bar and the centrepiece is the floor to ceiling wood burning pizza oven set up so you can watch your pizza as its made and then fired in the oven. This is no ordinary oven...the baby is a blistering wood-burning brick-lined oven that cooks at a temperature of 800- 1000 degrees Fehrenheit that bakes each pizza in a mere 90 seconds.

We were seated in what I thought were the best seats in the house.....right in front of the pizza assembly station and wood burning oven...aka FRONT ROW.

The menu was simple- dominated by pizzas (less than a dozen varieties), about half a dozen rustic Italian salads and starters, and a extensive drink menu. The pizzas and ingredients are all in Italian and they all sound mouth-watering. We had decided that after our Taqueria "starters", that we would split a pizza, but deciding on which one was tricky because they all sounded really tasty.
The pizza dough at Nicli is made from "00" Caputo flour and hand formed. All of their pizzas have a tomato sauce made from high quality "San Marzano" tomatoes (apparantly the kichen crushes the whole canned tomatoes by hand as not crush the seeds, which are bitter), pomodoro (a type of mozzarella) and parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and are finished off with a liberal dousing of high quality olive oil.
The menu options are: Margherita $12 (basil), Marinara $9 (oregano and garlic), Napoletana $13 (oregano, garlic, anchovy), Funghi $14 (basil and mushrooms), Prosciutto e Rucola $19 (prosciutto, arugula), Prosciutto Crudo $18 (basil, prosciutto crudo), Capricciosa $20 (proscuitto cotto, artichokes, mushrooms, black olives, basil), Diavola $16 (sopressatta (hot) basil, finished with chili oil), Quattro Formaggi $19 (gorgonzola, emmental, basil), Bianca $17 (roasted garlic, roasted onion, oregano, gorgonzola).

After much deliberation, we decided to go with the Napoletana, because we wanted to try one of their most basic pies, but we both wanted a bit of a salty kick and to try anchovies (we were anchovy rookies and feeling really curious). We watched the pizza chefs eagerly, pretty much drooling, as they assembled our Napoletana. After assembling, they threw it in the oven, and then finished it liberally with a dousing of olive oil. Our pizza was brought to our table around 10 minutes after we placed our order.

These are gorgeous looking pizzas. The thin crust rises a little uneven from the extreme heat, with a slight singe and blistering. The tomato sauce is a vibrant red and the additional ingredients give a nice texture and hearty appearance.

The crust is sturdy but nice and thin throughout. It's slightly crunchy, puffy, and beautifully chewy with a slightly salty and sour taste. The middle of the pizza is soft and tender, but not wet and soggy. As nice as the crust was, it really let the beautiful fresh flavours of the minimal toppings shine. The tomato sauce tasted as vibrant and fresh as it looked, the cheese was light and savoury and salty, and the roasted garlic chunks and salty delicious anchovies were like little flavour bombs.

The pizzas are served with rosemary infused olive oil and chili infused olive oil. The chili oil was nice with a ever-so-slight spice that gave a subtle kick to the plain crust and the rosemary oil had an awesome scent, rich flavour and fresh taste. I wish the chili oil was spicier, because I love spicy dips, but it was nice to have some condiments and dipping sauces available.

Throughout the meal, the service was wonderful. The host/ Maitre D did a fantastic job welcoming us and made the short wait a complete non-issue. Staff was attentive and quick to answer any questions. The staff was all extremely knowledgable and enthusiastic about the restaurant and the food itself. We weren't rushed and once we ordered, the wait time until our pizza arrived was very brief.

We had a really nice dining experience at Nicli and I highly recommend this as a perfect place to get some amazing pizza.

Nicli Antica Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Taqueria- Getting Busy with Beef Tongue

Ever since it opened last year, I keep hearing and reading about La Taqueria and how they make the best/ most authentic Mexican tacos in Vancouver. Why didn't I rush there right away? I don't make it to Gastown/Victory square all that often for eats and I'm also a little bit in love with Dona Cata restaurant on Victoria and their tacos so I didn't feel any sort of urgency to hit La Taqueria, but I've definitely been curious. When Jobin offered to take me for a belated birthday dinner, I opted for a two part dinner in Gastown to try places that I've been wanting to try: splitting 4 tacos at Taqueria and a pizza at Nicli Antica Pizzeria.

This place has a great look to it. The interior isn't particularly large, but it has a cozy feel with a few tables and bar seating. It feels bright and airy with fun, kitschy Mexican decor. The staff were really friendly and helpful.

La Taqueria's menu states that they use "natural, free-range meats, organic produce & wild sustainable fish,  locally sourced when available and they offer 8 different types of meat tacos (2.50 each or 4 for 9.50) and 4 vegetarian varieties (2.00 each or 4 for 7.00). 

I was impressed by their condiment station under a piece of bejeweled Virgin Mary art, with purple pickled onions, pickled jalepenos, pepper rings and cauliflower. They have a variety of 6 salsas in squirt ketchup bottles with faded labels so you couldn't really tell what flavours you were going to guess. The salsas I tried were really nice: a smoky chipotle, a spicy/peanutty variety, a mild one with more tomato, but my favourite was a avocado salsa which was creamy with a kick of spice and bright lime flavour.

To drink, we split a glass of their Horchata, a cold drink made of rice, almonds, cinnamon, lime zest, and sugar. This Horchata rocks! It was refreshing, not too sweet, with a subtle twinge of cinnamon. We described it as a Mexican eggnog or liquid rice pudding. 

We ordered 4 tacos to share 2 Braised Pemberton Meadow Beef Tongue (so we could each have our own), 1 Braised Chilliwack Beef cheek, and one Pescado (grilled seasonal fish with pico de gallo). The staff dress the taco with the salsas and toppings that they feel best compliment the meat.

Braised Pemberton Meadow Beef Tongue (front centre and right). I wouldn't normally order tongue...the idea of it kinda freaks me out, but I'm not afraid to try new foods, and I had read a few reviews that claimed it was the best taco at La Taqueria. Fortunately, it doesn't look like a tongue! Instead, its served in chunks that look like it could be from any part of the cow:)
If you go to La Taqueria- please do yourself a favour and order this taco. The meat is so juicy, soft and tender and it shreds as you bite into it. The flavour of the meat is savoury with a flavour that tastes like its been slow cooked and it's topped with their avo salsa and the light flavours in this salsa really compliment the rich taste of the tongue (honestly, it only needs a bit of topping because the meat has such a nice flavour on its own.) It's not too greasy or oily and just melts in your mouth. Like the Mike Myers as Linda Richmond skit on SNL, "It's like butta."

The Braised Chilliwack Beef Cheek Taco (left) tasted like a smoky beef brisket and the meat is shredded and topping with onion and cilantro. This taco was quite greasy which meant a nice rich meaty flavour, but it didn't taste like it was marinated so it was definitely kicked up a notch when with the addition of their salsas.  

The Pescado Taco (back centre) was a grilled white fish which was slightly charred which gave it an awesome crispy texture but the flavours were a bit dull for me. It was nice and fresh and tasted pretty good with the pico de gallo, fresh cabbage, lime and avocado salsa BUT after eating the first two rich beefy tacos, it tasted a wee bit bland. 

Overall, this is a great place for cheap eats, big flavour, friendly service and an all around cool vibe. Be brave....order the TONGUE!!!! I wish I worked in this neighbourhood because it would be the perfect go-to easy and affordable lunch.

La Taqueria Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A delicious weekend in Victoria

I had the pleasure of spending the weekend staying with the sous-chef's Aunt and Uncle in Victoria. I bonded with these two right away over many common interests but we really connected over a love of FOOD. I've had some curries whipped up by these two when they've been over to visit and been bowled over with deliciousness. When they knew I'd be coming over for the weekend, I think they started to plan a full on assault of my tastebuds. Everything I ate was absolutely amazing, and even more impressive is that fact that a good portion of their produce is grown in their massive backyard garden.

After a late ferry over on Friday night, I was greeted to a dessert of homemade strawberry meringue pie. What a way to welcome a house guest! Made with local strawberries, this dessert was positively bursting with bright, fresh, flavours. I'm not sure if it was the pastry or the meringue, but there was also a nice, subtle saltiness that went really nicely with the sweet, gooey, strawberries.
The next day was a "fix your own breakfast" type of day. But still there was a kitchen full of fresh fruit, delicious baked banana bread and homemade granola. Awesome.

 Lunch was served outside in the backyard and was a picnice of baguette slices and bread with a variety of homemade (of course) dips and spreads. A cheese plate, olive tapenade, red pepper spread, artichoke heart dip, and tuna salad. There was also fresh, delicious, crisp lettuce from the garden and chips and salsa. I loved everything, but in particular the creamy, salty tuna and artichoke spreads, and the mix of flavours in the awesome olive and nut tapenade. They know what they are doing with a food processor in this house.

Dinner was also al fresco in the backyard garden dining area. This salad was simple and really delicious. Made with lettuce picked from the garden, slivered red peppers, and an amazing citrus dressing (fresh lemon zest, juice, and pulp with olive oil, salt and pepper, and rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar). This was so fresh and light, I could've eaten this large bowl all to myself.

Also on the table were grilled veggie skewers featuring eggplant (from their green house), cherry tomatoes, peppers and huge mushrooms. These were marinated with sweet thai pepper sauce, garlic, and olive oil. The flavours were a nice contrast of bright flavours (cherry tomatoes and peppers) and meaty, smoky flavours with the mushrooms and eggplant.

The main was cedar plank BBQ salmon fillets with chives, garlic, ginger, teriyaki sauce, and cumin with grilled yellow squash, zuchinni, and peppers. The flavours on this plate were so light and bright and everything tasted so fresh and the salmon was cooked perfectly so it melted in my mouth.

An amazing summer dinner plate!

It didn't stop there.....dessert was an amazing Mango and Raspberry pie. I never have thought about combining these flavours, but now, I'm going to crave this combo. Sweet and a bit sour with explosive flavour. The crust of this pie was a blended crumbly pumpkin seed and fig crust.

Burger Patties
Potato Salad

Home made Dill Pickle Wedges
Of course the next day, we had fresh blueberry pancakes with a variety of jams, jellies, syrups and spreads. We fended for ourselves for lunch and then before heading off to the ferry to sail back to Vancouver, they treated us to another amazing backyard dinner- homemade burgers (beef and tempeh for the vegs), potato salad with celery, snow peas (from the garden) and sundried tomatoes, and roasted yam fries.
Let's just say me and my taste buds are planning my next trip back!!!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chutney Villa- A Hidden Gem on Main and Broadway's not really hidden since it's location in such a high traffic area. It's actually quite visible with it's orange sign near other Main and Broadway stand-bys like the Congee House and Reno's restaurant (a fun cheap diner experience with super friendly service, check it out too if you haven't been) but whenever I tell people about Chutney Villa, the response is usually "I walk/drive past this place all the time, but it really doesn't look like much..."

I experienced Chutney Villa for the first time about a year ago with a group of girlfriends (at my friend Jill's recommendation) and was blown away by my amazing meal and the superb service we received from the owner, Chindi Varadarjulu (who was working the floor). This woman was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm and a passion for food. She even hosted South Indian food tours abroad. I was tempted to sign up on the spot!
When my sister's offered to take me out for dinner, I went through a list of places and realized that even though I always recommend and rave about this place, I haven't made it back there. So we planned to meet up at Chutney Villa.
There have been some changes at this restaurant and right away, I noticed that the dining room had completely been renovated/ re-decorated. It was kind of a more casual mish-mash of Indian decor but now it looks like an Indian banquet hall with understated Indian decor and white linen tablecloths and napkins. The bathrooms have also been redone to reflect this new theme/decor.

We started with a round of waters and wanted to try something different in the beverage department so we ordered a Limca ($5) to share. This lemon-lime soda had a really strong ginger flavour, which I enjoyed, but was wayyyy too sweet. At $5 per bottle, I wouldn't order it again unless it was to mix with soda water or booze. Chatting with our server, I learned that she had worked at the restaurant for many years and had recently bought the restaurant with some other employees from Chindi, who moved back to India. She explained that they made some changes in decor, but were planning on keeping the menu the same, and possibly adding new dishes and new special meal evenings and brunches.

I ordered the same dish I ordered on my latest visit to Chutney Villa, Katrika Chops ($14) "Fresh Delicious Eggplant in a tomato based curry, with or without egg."

I ordered it with egg, same as last time. I really like spicy food, and when ordering, I told our server (the new owner). She recommended that I stick with medium spice and that she would bring me green chilli on the side. All of our meals arrived within 15 minutes of ordering. The food arrived on metal plates with sauces and mains in separate dishes (which I love because I'm a control freak about mixing flavours). My  eggplant curry was topped with a green onion filled fried egg, and served small sides of lentil curry, mushroom curry, creamy yogurt, white rice, and crispy papadum. This eggplant is curry is AMAZING. It's so rich and flavourful on its own, but when paired with the texture and flavour of the green onion fried is a full on taste experience. The side lentils and mushroom curry were also excellent compliments to the meal. As much as I loved this dish- I really wanted it spicier, and despite reminding our server when she came to check in, she never did bring me a side of chopped green chillis.

Middle Sister ordered Masala Uttapum($10) "A thick dosa topped with fresh veggies, spices, and cooked with ghee."

This was an pretty impressive looking dish. Essentially, its a large (nearly plate sized) omelette/pancake hybrid. It's texture was soft and a nice medium thickness that is both doughy and slightly crispy and cooked completely throughout. The veggies inside and on top tasted crisp and fresh. This dish was nice and had a "savoury indian vegetable garden" taste to it. This dish came with a medium size of dahl lentil curry. Middle sister really enjoyed this dish but after trying some of my eggplant, she was wishing that she had ordered the Katrika chops.

Youngest sister, a vegan, ordered the nightly special, The Veggie Village Feast ($16* special on Weds). This was an assortment of vegetarian curries served with rice under a crispy pappadum, and mango pickle on a banana leaf with a vegan tapioca for dessert.
There was a tangy, sweet tamarind curry, a rich mushroom potato curry, a chickpea curry, a coconut curry with cloves and coriander, a lentil curry/daal, a beet curry, and a taro root curry. I sampled these all (thanks for sharing!) and my favourites were the taro root curry, which had a smoky, bacon-esque flavour and the beet curry, which was nice and light, with a great shredded texture.

We were also brought 4 chutneys to enjoy with our meals. Two were more savoury, a spicy tomato/pepper coconut curry, and a coconut curry. The other two were sweet, with apple and pear flavours respectively. These were all rich, delicious and full of flavour. My favourite was obviously the spicy tomatoe/pepper option, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the sweeter chutneys here- mainly, because they weren't too sweet.

All in all, I really like this place. The food just tastes amazing. I do have to mention that although our server (the owner) was very nice, friendly, and knowledgable....the efficiency and accuracy of the service needs some work. We ordered an appetizer that never came (without any explanation), our water refills were few and far between, and she never brought me the green chilis to spice up my dish- even though I asked twice. I'll be back for the tasty food, my only hope is that they can work out the service issues to match the high quality of their dishes. And a special shout out to my crazy, awesome sisters: You guys are awesome. Thanks for the great night.

Chutney Villa on Urbanspoon