Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A new food crush: Banh Mi

Last week, I developed a food crush after grabbing my first Banh Mi on the way to a Thursday evening Canadians game at Nat Bailey stadium. For those of you who don't know, a Banh Mi is a Vietnamese baguette sandwich.
It starts with a Viet style french baguette, very light and not overly dense, with a crackly crust and fairly chewy on the inside.
Inside the length of the cut baguette, a Banh mi will be filled with all sorts of luscious, Viet flavoured fillings: juicy meat balls, grilled chicken, sardine, bbq pork, shredded pork, cold cut combinations.
Other than the meat, other key ingredients in the sandwich are: liver pate, homemade mayo, touch of soy sauce, shredded pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro, slices of japelepeno, and crispy shredded/slices of cucumber.
They are made fresh to order, usually take about 5 minutes to make (depending on how busy the place its) and you can omit some of the above ingredients if you don't like.
One of the best things about banh mi....most of these sandwiches will set you back less than 4 bucks.

Thursday's Banh Mi was from Bon Cafe on 33rd and Main. I ordered an grilled shredded chicken option and asked for them to make it spicy. 5 min and $3.50 later, I stuffed the warm, freshly-made sandwich in my purse and finished peddling to the Nat. I had a good feeling about this sandwich....and my expectations were exceeded. It was stuffed with warm, saucy, flavourful chicken, just the right amount of mayo sauce, but the kicker was that it was really loaded with the fresh fillings: jalepeno slices, cilantro, daikon, cucumber, and carrots. Super fresh and a great mix of textures.

Bon Cafe on Urbanspoon
Paired with a beer, baseball, and a beautiful sunny summer evening with friends, I savoured every bite.

After a North Shore hike on Saturday morning. I had Banh Mi on the brain again. I fought crazy Kingsway street construction to reach Ba Le at the corner of Kingsway and Fraser.

This place was pretty busy at 1pm, but even with a lunch rush and a full shop, I was still out the door in about 10 minutes, with a chicken Banh Mi for $3.50. I took this home to gobble down before heading out to set up decorations for a friend's birthday party.

The bread for this sandwich was the stand-out. It was ever-so slightly flaky and crusty but was light, with a great "chew" level and tasted really fresh. They forgot to add the pepper slices to make it spicy, so I added some sriracha sauce when I got home.

While the bread was a stand-out, she was a bit disappointed with the amount of veggie and meat fillings and actually felt like it was a bit skimpy compared to my previous banh mi experience.

I still really liked this sandwich and will definitely go back to both places for Banh Mi's again. I'm really looking forward to going back to these places and trying Banh Mi all over the city. Apparantly, Ba Le's House Special is filled with a combo of cold cuts and pate, looks kinda freaky, but tastes awesome.
Ba Le Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon
If anyone has a favourite Banh Mi in Vancouver, please pass along any tips or places I should go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Me n Ed's Pizza Parlour: An "off the beaten path" delicious pizza experience

I recently attended a farewell fiesta for a new friend, "Mini Gong Show" who moved to Saskatchewan. The venue was "Me and Eds Pizza" and the stakes were high for this meal. This place is definitely not in my neck of the woods and involved a drive to the far reaches of Kingsway- almost out of Burnaby territory and getting pretty close to New West. When I'm making an over 30 minute drive for a meal...it better be good. Either way, I was happy to be invited and get a chance to say adieu over some pizza.
Me and Eds is a classic pizza parlour with a real 80's feel.

We sat on the patio, but walking through this place made me feel like I was at a 1980's kids birthday party. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if like me, you enjoy a bit of nostalgia. There are tonnes of high backed wooden booths and checkered floor tiles with retro art and photos sprinkled all over the walls. Showcased on one of the walls by the front door is an autographed photo of Burnaby native, and local hero, Michael J Fox, who spent a lot of his childhood years hanging at this pizza parlour and calls this his favourite pizza place in the world. Don't believe me? Check out this clip with ET Canada's Erin Cebula! 

Now onto the pizza! We were with a big group and fortunately I got to sample a few different types of 'za as well as my own order.

My general thoughts:
The crust here is different than any pizza I've had before. It is a much thinner, flakier, lighter crust that borders on the texture of a crunchy cracker or pastry. Consequently, the crust is not oily or greasy. Since the crust is so light and easy to eat, people probably eat more pizza and feel less full. Their pizzas are available to order with whole wheat and gluten free crust as well.
They are also very generous with their toppings and creative. They offer some interesting options and clearly have fun playing with flavours and topping combinations.

I was able to get a nibble of my neighbour's Soprano Pizza. "A high-calibre pizza fit for a Don, with a spicy blend of Italian meats including salami, pepperoni, capicollo, and Italian sausage, topped with mushrooms."
This was a hearty pizza. My neighbour enjoyed it, calling it meaty, salty and delicious.

Another neighbour ordered a large Perogy pizza to share between a few people. "Oven roasted potatoes on our garlic herb sauce base, layered with smoky bacon, onions and bubbling cheddar cheese. Topped with green onions and a side of sour cream. Baba would be proud."
They gave me a slice- THANKS! This was a slice of comfort food. It was creamy, cheesy, and soft. The flavour kick definitely came with the chopped green onion and bacon. This was one mellow pizza and good for people who don't love tomato flavour and can't get enough cheese.

I ordered a mini Soprano pizza ($10.20). "The Boss. Bocconcini cheese, succulent Roma tomatoes, and fresh basil on a bed of capicollo and onions with our garlic and herb sauce. Oh, Madonna!"
I really loved this pizza. It was fresh, light, heaping with toppings with just the right level of salt-iness and meat-iness. I would've loved a bit more tomato sauce, but other than that a delicious blend of fresh flavours.

Me n Ed's is is definitely an unexpected hidden gem off my beaten eating path and a great pizza find if you are open to a non-traditional crust.

Me-n-Ed's Pizza Parlor (Burnaby) on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Post: Roaming Dragon Food Truck with an H-Mart Chaser

I really haven't had much of chance to hit many of the food carts in Vancouver, so when my co-worker, "Neil (that's my middle name)", mentioned that he was leaving the office to run errands down town and grab lunch at a food cart, I handed him my camera and requested a guest post. He ended up hitting Roaming Dragon, parked at the busy hub of Robson and Burrard. This was his second experience with RD. The first time he hit the truck he told me he was wow-ed by their Basil Lychee Lemonade and thought their Fried Rice Balls were okay, but were smothered in too much curry sauce. 

This time he ordered a Korean Short Rib Taco ($3) marinated beef short ribs with sesame sauteed spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, and shitake mushrooms, topped with Korean bbq sauce and nori, served in a corn tortilla and a Roaming Dragon Sub with Pork ($6) vietnamese- inspired sub in a french baguettes served with spicy mayo, cilantro, and pickled cucumber, daikon, and carrots.

"There was no line-up whatsoever when I arrived @ 1:00pm. Service was great with a friendly lady at the counter. Food was ready in under 5 minutes.
I found a spot to sit next to the Vancouver Art Gallery and began to chow down. I started with the Roaming Dragon Sub
It was loaded with lots of shredded Carrots/Daikon/Cuccumber, a few sprigs of cilantro and 2 or 3 slabs of cold grey meat(pork) with a spicy mayo. All this was stuffed into a French Style Baguette. I was extremely underwhelmed by the flavor profiles.
I was expecting to be hit by the sweet pickled veggies, hunks of juicy pork, perfectly crunchy Baguette and a zippy spicy aoli instead it felt boring and uninspired( the last 2 or 3 inches were left soggy and dripping juices on my lap).
I ate the Korean Short Rib Taco next. My first bite was greeted with stringy spinach, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, beef that was a little too sweet, and thin slices of dried seaweed on a corn tortilla. It looked pretty but lacked an overall flavor pop. The flavors came across as muddled and not totally sure of themselves. Less is always more in my books."

Not one to end an errand trip downtown on a culinary low note, "Neil (that's my middle name)", decided to grab his favourite go-to snack.

"After this disapointing lunch I decided to drop by H-Mart Bakery to get a
quick pick me up. I found my "Twister" pastry and a nice refreshing Milkis.
The twister has a slightly crunchy sugar coating, with a chewey inside.
Perfect and simple. The Milkis was nice and light, almost like a carbonated
glass of milk with a sweet finish."

Roaming Dragon Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goldfish Seafood & Chops: Taste Club

This July, Yaletown's Goldfish Pacific Kitchen emerged with a new persona, "Goldfish Seafood and Chops." Now a sister restaurant to Joe Fortes, the new menu is meant to rebrand the Yaletown restaurant and focus on fresh and authentic seafood from Northwest region. They've also revamped the wine list and added new vegetarian and meat menu options. It's all about West Coast cooking and Pacific Rim flavours. I recently entered and won a contest for a "Taste Club" event featuring some of GFSC's new menu options with wine pairings. I brought along my pal Jayme as my plus one since it was her birthday the next day- and she's pretty game for foodie adventures with me.
I'll start by saying that my last meal at Goldfish was about two years ago for a friend's birthday and I had one of their three course meals, loved it, and was really impressed by the great service. I was curious and a little worried about possibly changes to an already pretty awesome restaurant.

When I showed up for my Tuesday night dinner experience, not a whole lot had changed. The decor and atmosphere felt the same as I had remembered. Clean modern decor, cool accents and light fixures, high ceilings, with a cozy patio out back and a private dining room (both were booked with functions.) I really like this space, it feels upscale and trendy but really welcoming and not intimidatingly fancy. I found they did a great job with keeping the noise level and lighting at a nice mellow level throughout the meal (even though it was quite busy).

We were seated right away with some other winners and their "plus ones." As we mingled and waited for everyone to arrive, they brought out some of their house made Rosemary Focaccia Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This was a good start- fresh, slightly warm, with large chunks of sea salt. There was an early hiccup in service with our server who quitely, and immediately took away Jayme's wine glass when we were seated. Jayme is on the shorter side of 5 feet and people often think she's younger than she is. We were both a little put off by this assumption and action, but the next time our server came by Jayme explained that not only was she of drinking age but that she was actually about to celebrate a birthday that would put her pretty close to 30. Our server was extremely embarrassed and apologized profusely and brought her a wine glass immediately, joking that he would make it up to her with generous pours all evening.

When everyone finally arrived, we were brought an amuse bouche of seasoned baby shrimp and chilled asparagus soup. This was really good and I could've eaten a lot more, especially since I am a clutz and spilled my soup after one sip. I managed to keep the mess pretty contained and fortunately didn't spray any other dinner guests with the bright green asparagus soup.

The soup was creamy, but light and with a nice briny, salty kick of flavour. It was definitely a nice way to wake up the palette and get ready for the feast.

For the first course, our server brought out a Two Tier Seafood Tower (Menu Price is $58.00/ 1 tier and $105.00/ 2 tiers) for the table to share. This tower definitely had some "wow" factor in its presentation. It was packed with Scallop Sashimi, Dungeness Crab Legs, Poached Jumbo Prawns, Vodka Cured Salmon Pastrami, Steamed Mussels, Clams, Local Oysters with horseradish/cocktail sauce and a citrus garlic sauce, and an Atlantic 1/2 lobster. Our server was great and explained the tower and described all of the elements, while also explaining their commitment to the Oceanwise program and using sustainable and local (as much as possible) seafood.

 I tried everything on this tower and everything tasted very high quality. My favourites were the slightly spicy asian flavours in the scallop sashimi, the plump, juicy, jumbo prawns, the salty, savoury Salmon pastrami, and the fresh salty oysters.

I was so proud- the birthday girl was brave and tried her first oyster.....and it may be her last oyster, but at least she tried. This first course was paired with a Tiera Woods Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2008. I really loved this wine and thought it was a great compliment to the fresh, light, salty seafood. It was crisp, dry, not to sweet and refreshing.

The second course was Braised Shortribs with cashew brittle, radish, scallions, and mash potatoes (Menu Price is 24.95). This dish was deep, rich, soulful, comfort food. The meat was cooked to tender perfection and shredded at a light touch and fell off the bones in a savoury, light gravy sauce. The mash potatoes were creamy awesomeness, fluffy without any kind of lumpy-ness and a slight sour cream/cream fraiche taste. The cashew brittle added a nice hint of cruchy texture and a sweet/salty pop. The braised swiss chard was fantastic too and my only feedback would've been to have more green on the plate to balance out the meat and potato richness. The wine pairing for this course was a glass of Zefine Serience 2004. This red was too heavy, smoky, rich, and boozy-tasting for such a heavy dish. It made the second course too overwhelming for me and neither Jayme or I could actually finish our glasses.

Before the dessert course, we were served a palate cleanser: a tiny scoop of pink grapefruit sorbet. This was absolutely delicious, tart, sour, and refreshing. I would love to eat a large bowl of this and keep some in my freezer at all times. The flavour was so bright and airy and light.

Dessert was a Yuzu Lemon Tart with roasted marshmallow, blueberry compote, and little pavlova sticks (Menu Price $7.95).  Although Jayme and I were both stuffed at this point, this dessert was a must eat. This dessert is worth returning for. The flavours in the lemon tart filling had a powerful tart freshness that tasted like a blend of lemon, lime, grapefruit, with a hint of mandarin orange. The pastry was flaky and buttery, the blueberry compote added another sweet/sour flavour. A real stand-out on this plate was the homemade marshmallow drizzle and its warm slightly smoky vanilla flavour. Stellar! This was paired with a glass of Nivole Moscato D'Asti 2009 a white, sparkling white dessert wine. This was nice and light and I liked the bubbles although it was too sweet for me to finish the glass with dessert.

This was an awesome experience. Jayme and I both ate way too much food and felt sick because everything was so crazy delicious. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and you can tell that a lot of effort goes into the food here...from planning the menu, sourcing the ingredients, creating sauces, to execution in the kitchen and the way the food is presented on the plate. Everything tasted extremely fresh and made in-house. The service team at Goldfish are really A+. They really know how to treat guests and service is attentive, personable, gracious, knowledgable, and efficient from the minute you walk in until you walk out. Everyone from the hostesses, servers, bussers, and management are really on top of things and seem to enjoy what they are doing and believe in their brand and product.

Goldfish Pacific Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Latitude- Yet another cool Main Street hang-out

Recently got together with two great gal pals the Style Guru (who just moved to Main Street) and my former roomate TV (who works in TV). We had planned on grabbing a bite to eat, and as usual, I had compiled a short list of dining options. The Style Guru mentioned that she's been wanting to try Latitude (around 16th and Main). I hadn't heard much about Latitude other than that it closed and re-opened/ re-branded this spring. It was close, I was curious, and we headed to Latitude. As we walked in, the first thing we noticed was that it was "Taco Tuesday". 2 for $5...not a bad deal but not remarkably cheap either. Pretty in line with my favourite taco places: Dona Cata, La Taqueria, and Chronic Tacos.

The second thing I noticed was the decor, vibe, and music inside. I actually mentioned to my dining companions, "This place has a 'Cascade Lounge' kinda feel." I found out later when I returned home and googled the restaurant, that they are the newest member of the Habit Lounge/Cascade restaurant group family (hence the closing and re-opening this spring). They have a delicious looking drink menu, which is the work of Cascade's mix-master, Nick Devine. 

The room was beautiful: sophisticated and sleek, but warm and inviting with comfortable seating inside and outside. Really cool looking light fixtures which gave it a touch of hipster decor, without overdoing it. Service was friendly and unobtrusive and even though we lingered long after finishing our meal- they didn't rush us. Also, a shout out to the nice staff who put aside my laptop bag when I left it there, and didn't make me feel like an idiot when I came to pick it up.

TV (who works in TV) and I both had the nightly drink special, Cans of Main Street Pilsner (Domestico) for $4, and Style Guru had a Paloma (Mexico)- El Jimador Reposado, grapefruit soda, pressed lime, pinch of salt, served tall, over ice for $9.25. 

The beer was nice- clean, crisp, and cold. Style Guru gave me a sip of her drink. Not too sweet, this cocktail was refreshing with a subtle kick and I could see myself sitting on a patio drinking a few pitchers of this on a sunny day.

The menu wasn't overly extensive but everything sounded tasty, with a focus on Central- South American- Latin meets Northwest Coast cuisine. Even though everything sounded good, it was Taco Tuesday and that's what we went for. 
TV (who works in TV) ordered 2 Carne Asada tacos *Grilled Steak, Guacamole, Horseradish Jack, Tomatoes, Onions.
The Style Guru and I ordered 2 Pescado Tacos and 2 Carnitas tacos (to get the 2 for $5 deal they had to be the same type of tacos) and Chickpea Fries to share.
These tacos looked pretty puny and not too impressive at first sight. Maybe its because they come on a extra large plate with no sides or fancy plating. But 2 tacos and noshing on chickpea fries ended up being enough food.

The Chickpea fries with smoked paprika mayo for $7 were really tasty and comparable to the Polenta fries at Cascade. They were hot and light with a crispy, garlicky, exterior and a soft, warm inside that wasn't too mushy. Well-seasoned and fluffy. The dip was awesome with an intense flavour and creamy texture.

On to the tacos...
Overall, these were tasty tacos, but unlike my other favourite places where the meat/main filling is the real start, these tacos were good because the whole taco was well put together. The construction of these tacos is well thought out and the toppings and sauces really made these tacos. 

The Baja Fish Tacos were served with cabbage, chipotle creama, pickled sweet onion and red onion. The fish was fried rather than grilled and the taco wasn't wet but instead quite crispy, crunchy and light. The pickled onions and the chipotle creama added a smoky, savoury, heavier aspect to the dish that were the perfect compliment to the light fish and cabbage.

The Carnitas Tacos were filled with slow roasted pulled pork, queso blanco, and vegetable pickle. Again, the pork would've been just okay on its own but when combined with the salty, creamy chunks of queso blanco and the vinegar-y kick of the pickled peppers and onions- Really good!

I liked my experience here. Main street really has no shortage of go-to cool places to eat and drink and I will now have to add Latitude to my list.

Latitude on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Powell Street Festival Eats

This weekend, Mi-ster (Middle Sister) I biked down to Oppenheimer Park for the Powell Street Festival. This is the 35th anniversary of the summer event. The festival began in 1976 as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first documented arrival in Canada of a Japanese immigrant....basically its a chance for people to learn about the history of Japanese immigration to Canada and more specifically Vancouver, and a chance to celebrate Japanese culture. This means lots of booths, a market, taiko drumming, martial arts (a sumo competition!) music, dancing, kimonos, katanas, and FOOD! The nice weather brought out a massive crowd so although there were many different booths, offering different food options, there were crazy long line-ups everywhere.

On the east strip of the park, the offerings included a massive salmon barbeque, $3/piece Spam Sushi, Donburi, Teriyaki, meat skewers, but once Mi-ster and I food spotted on some passerby's eating Okonomikyaki, our first course was decided.

Okonomikyaki are a savoury pancakes made with batter, cabbage, spring onions, minced meat, then topped with bonito flakes (dried tuna shavings), japanese mayo, and okinomayaki sauce (tastes like a saltier, less sweet, teriyaki). Apparantly, different parts of Japan have their own variations with the batter and fillings. The line-up was certainly intimidating, but we were hungry and finally decided to stop talking about the food/lines and just get in line. The line moved quite slowly, and we reached the front of the line, pretty much drooling, 30 minutes later. My good pal, Style Guru had joined us at that point and we placed our orders. Once our orders were in, the food was ready quickly.

Mi-ster and I split an Okonomiyaki ($4) and each tried a Yakionigiri (essentially grilled Rice Balls) 2 for $3). Style Guru ordered a Okonomiyaki combo for $9, adding two BBQ chicken Yakitori skewers.

She also threw in a banana flavoured sno-cone/shaved ice!

The long line was now a distant memory as we sat on the grass in the sun, enjoyed the musical performance on the mainstage and chowed down. Everything was delicious. The okokoomi was a savoury mix of flavours and textures. It was salty, onion-y, with a crispy exterior and a bit of a crunch with the cabbage and a soft well-cooked batter. The toppings were out of this world- rich, dynamic, and explosive flavour.
I loved the grilled rice balls- such a simple concept but so delicious. They were slightly oily from the flat top grill job, the rice was warm but not hot with a hint sesame/soy flavour. It had an awesome toasty, slightly crunchy exterior. I had a bite of Style Guru's yakitori skewers and sno-cone and they were both tasty too. We took a food break and walked around for about an hour before ending up at the food stalls at the west side of the park.

I REALLY REALLY wanted some Takoyaki (octopus balls) but I couldn't face another 30 minute line-up so we decided to hit some of the booths with smaller line ups.
Mi-ster and I hit the Sunrise tofu tent and split an order of "Crazy Spicy Hot Tofu for $2.50" and each got a Matcha Frappe ($2 each). The Tofu was good but not amazing and the "Crazy Hot" was false advertising...it was only kinda hot. We both loved our Matcha Frappes. It was cold and refreshing, not too sweet with a touch of soy milk flavour. My only complaint was that the serving size cups were quite small for a very basic $2 drink, especially because it was so delicious and refreshing.

Lastly, Style Guru and sister lined up for Imagawayaki ($1.50 each.) SG bought me one too- she's so generous!
Style Guru and I thought these were wheel cakes filled with chocolate or Nutella but when we bit in we were surprised.

This was more of a thicker pancake batter filled with mushy red beans. After the initial surprise of beans instead of hazelnutty/chocolatey good-ness, I really really liked this dessert treat. The batter was a little salty and the red beans had a subtle sweetness that made the whole cake a bit lighter. This was an awesome afternoon of sunshine, entertainment, good people, and good eats....and long line-ups. As much as I enjoyed this, all I kept thinking about is how much I'm looking forward to hitting the Richmond Night Market soon for cheap, tasty, Asian street food- with shorter line ups that move way faster.