Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dine Out Vancouver @ Preston's

For the past few years, a few of my friends and I meet up for  a "Dine Out Vancouver" dinner. I have mixed feelings about Dine Out Vancouver based on my experiences and posts and articles that I've read about others experiences.

What I like: Usually it encourages me to try somewhere new. With two to three options for each course, I find its usually pretty easy to decide. DOV is usually the ONLY time I'll ever go out for a meal and get an appetizer, entree, and dessert all to myself.
What I don't like: I don't think it is usually the big value that they hype it up to be (unless you go really high end). Sometimes, the items on the a la carte/regular menu look way better!

With my DOV crowd, there are some picky eaters and some scheduling issues so usually we have to make a few email rounds to narrow down restaurant choices and available dates. This year, after much deliberation- we ended up agreeing on Prestons in Coal Harbour, a restaurant that calls itself west coast, asian, and mediteranean fusion and offered a $28 set DOV menu.

The restaurant is located inside the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel- it was a bit jarring entering off the streets into an overly-bright, almost sterile lobby/ staircase area. We had to poke around a bit to find the restaurant. Once we did, I actually really liked the dark, lounge-y feel of the place. It was well spaced out and I really liked some of their decor details (they had a wall installation with bright red bowls mounted on the wall). Service was a bit slow to get things started, but once the server took our orders, I was quite impressed at the timing and delivery of the dishes and how on top of water refills and beverage service our server was.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Chicken Karaage - Garlic Sake Marinated Chicken, Flash Fried, served with Spicy Sambal Lime Aioli and Miso Cabbage Slaw. This dish was really delicious. The chicken was very moist and they used boneless chicken thighs instead of wings. The batter was light and crispy. The spicy sauce was creamy, tasty, but as always, I would have preferred spicier. The miso cabbage slaw was light, delicious, and freshing as it balanced out the heaviness of the deep-fried chicken. 4 out of 5 at our table ordered this appy. 

The other option was a Tomato Bocconcini Salad with Baby Arugula, Grilled Artichoke, Basil Pesto, Olive Oil and Balsamic Dressing. The diner who ordered this enjoyed it and said it tasted really fresh and bright. 

For my entree, I ordered the Wild BC Salmon- Seared Salmon Marinated with Soy and Ginger, Server with steamed Jasmine rice and miso vinaigrette. This was a nice dish. The salmon was well cooked and had a buttery, creamy taste and texture. The miso vinaigrette was salty, rich, and was a nice compliment with the plain rice and side of steamed broccolini. It was nothing mind-blowing, but a nice well-balanced, well-executed dish with fairly mellow flavours.

The other option that three diners at our table ordered was the Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs- Sweet Hoisin and Ginger Glazed Pork Ribs with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Crunchy Coleslaw. They all said they liked the dish but weren't blown away and all said that they've had better ribs elsewhere. It was also noted that there was disappointment at the repetition (Karage and Ribs) of coleslaw as a side.....perhaps a bit of a boring, cheap option.

For dessert, we were all drooling with anticipation over the Warm Banana Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream. I LOVE a good dish of bread pudding. But sadly, I was disappointed with Preston's Bread Pudding. I'm afraid that I've been spoiled by the amazingness of the Bread and Butter Pudding at The Three Lions Cafe in Mount Pleasant. In fact, linking that post is making me swoon a bit. This was decent, but doesn't even compare. It was more like a warm piece of banana bread with yummy caramel sauce. The bread itself was quite bland but the sauce and ice cream kicked it up.

Overall, the food at Preston's was good- but not great. Everyone was satisfied and enjoyed their meal but  no one was blown away or overly impressed. The service was great and the vibe and decor inside were quite nice BUT it was actually pretty awful that you had to leave the dark, cool lounge feel of the restaurant to venture into the overly stark, bright lobby of the Coast Hotel to use the hotel lobby washrooms. Also, if you can, take transit down there....street parking is expensive! We all ended up paying around $10 extra in meter parking!

Prestons on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 30, 2012

My First Robbie Burns Party

This weekend, I attended my very first Robbie Burns Party. Although the official Robbie Burns day was on January 28th, the party was moved to the weekend so we could really party, drink and celebrate Scotland's most famous poet and songwriter. It was an evening to where we were encouraged to "Don your kilt and sporran, and raise your Scotch to toast the legendary Burns."

If you don't know who Robbie Burns is.....here's a brief bio: Born on January 25, 1759 in Ayr, Scotland. Robert was the son of a peasant farmer who took to writing poetry as an alternative to working in the fields.As Scotland's national bard, he lived life to the fullest. The 200 year old celebration is a tribute to the life, works and spirit of the great poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796).

Robbie Burns day is typically celebrated with a traditional Scottish meal, drinking whisky, reading poems and singing songs written by the greatest "common man" ever. This party was hosted by Big A (very Scottish) and the Leggy Redhead. We were told to bring along some Robbie Burns poems and any other brilliant Burns/Scottish materials to recite. 

The food: Our hosts warned us to "get ready for the meat sweats" and that they were prepared a traditional Scottish dinner...Haggis and all. For those of you who are unfamiliar.....

"Haggis is a kind of savoury pudding containing sheep's 'pluck' (heartliver and lungs), minced with onionoatmealsuet,spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach."

Before dinner, Big A did a reading of Burns' "Ode to a Haggis" and recruited me as the "Defender of the Haggis" and I had to stand near the Haggis and defend it with a large knife. Yup, that's me....a few drinks in.... wielding a sharp weapon. Scary.

In our glasses: Plenty o' Scotch, Ale, and Wine.

On the Plate: Haggis, Prime Roast Beef, Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Glaze, Mashed Yams, Sauteed Mushrooms, Green Beans, and Lentil Shepard's Pie (brought by myself and the sous-chef). Everything tasted absolutely delicious- yes, even the haggis. I went into the party as a haggis rookie and was delighted with how tasty it was. It had an oatmeal-meets-sausage crumbly texture and the flavour and was rich but quite mild. It certainly didn't taste like intestines and entrails. 

Happy Robbie Burns Day!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Groupon Fine Dining @ C Restaurant

My good eatin' pal Jobin contacted me because he had a $40 Groupon for a 2 person, 4 course tasting menu at C that he needed to use before it expired. So splitting it would mean 20 bucks for a 4 course meal at a fancy Vancouver restaurant. Sold! Well, I've never purchased a Groupon for this type of thing at a upscale restaurant before so I didn't really know what I was getting into. C Restaurant is a high-end establishment that charges high fine dining prices and their regular menu pricing is quite pricy. They have a great location, nestled on the waterfront seawall on the north side of false creek (right across from Granville island).  

The restaurant was two levels and when I mentioned that I was there for the tasting menu, I was led to a table on the upper level. Inside, the decor was a bit kitchsy and overall, the restaurant ambience didn't really have a fine dining feel. When Jobin arrived, our server went through the menu and showed us the standard 4 courses, possible upgrades, and asked if we were ordering drinks. Our server was not the type of guy I associate with fine dining. He was definitely a bit "rough around the edges" and gruff with a bit of a blue collar feel. He even did the middle finger point (Seinfeld, anyone?) when he was explaining the menu. There was definitely a feeling that he's the guy they have to deal with the "cheap, Groupon, riff raff" (my words- not his). We definitely felt like once we told him that we weren't ordering drinks or getting the more expensive upgrade items, that we weren't important.

We were brought a complimentary bread basket with a few varieties of bread (not explained) and some herbed butter. The bread was just okay- but thank goodness we had it because we were left waiting for our 1st course for quite a long time.

1st Course: Pickled Beet Panzella Salad with harissa dressing, shaved ricotta. This was a tiny salad! The pickled beets and the harissa dressing had a bit of flavour kick- but the salad itself was pretty unremarkable.

2nd Course: Seared Albacore Tuna with winter minestrone, pistou, crisp basil. This dish was okay- it was a bit odd because the minestrone was warm and so was the plate, but the tuna was quite cold- so the temperature contrast made the dish a bit off for me. The seared edges of the tuna were really tasty and had a nice flavour.

3rd Course: Seared Lake Babine Salmon with spiced squash glazed brussel sprouts, anchovy tapenade. This was really a fantastic dish. This salmon was definitely treated with some TLC! The salmon skin was light and crispy, it was tender and flaked delicately, the colour was beautiful and bright, and the texture of the meat was supple and melted in my mouth. The anchovy tapenade on top was lovely and salty and creamy. The squash puree underneath was smooth, full of rich flavour, and went nicely with the delicious brussel sprouts.

4th Course: Spiced Chocolate Pudding with crisp caramel puffed rice, orange blossom chantilly. I dind't love this dessert because I'm not a big fan of the chocolate/orange flavour combination and I couldn't taste any hint of spice. I did like the smooth, creamy texture of the pudding and the awesome bits of crisp, caramel, puffed rice which tasted like a cross between gourmet rice krispy treats and the filling of a candy bar. 

Service can be summed up in one word: SLOW. The timing was incredibly poor- we were left waiting 15-20 minutes between courses and when we were finished, dishes weren't removed promptly. Our server was friendly enough, but he wasn't attending to us consistently throughout the meal- I think we counted that 2 other servers brought us dishes and the host who greeted me and took my coat brought out the dessert. Definitely not what I'd expect at a fine dining establishment. The food was good, but the only dish that really blew me away was the salmon, everything else was a bit underwhelming considering this is a high end restaurant.

C Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dining on Platters at Afghan Horseman

It was my good friend T Mc's belated birthday dinner and I was delighted when she chose Afghan Horseman as the venue for a belated "girls night" birthday dinner. T Mc definitely knows what food she likes and what she doesn't and tends to stick with safer choices. I was blown away and super impressed at her adventurous choice!!! This restaurant is located on the upper level of a small cluster of businesses just before you go over the little bridge to Granville Island (on the west side). As you can tell, we were pretty hungry when we arrived and excited! 

Make sure you ask to sit in their Afghan dining room- it's awesome with really low lighting, comfortable cushion seating on the floors and low tables. Some of the decor and the music playing was a bit dated and cheesy, you can tell this place has been running the same way for a while. In my opinion, some small updates could really take the place up another notch.....for example, we ordered a pitcher of sangria and it was served in a plastic beer pitcher- which our server tried to struggle to pour while not splashing ice and fruit everywhere. It was pretty dead when we arrived around 6pm but started to pick up around 7pm.

Their menu is quite extensive and jam-packed with tasty sounding options. Based on some online research, it sounded like sharing some platters might be the best option since we were a group of 5 and wanting to try a bit of everything. Our server was very patient and did a great job of helping us determine the best ordering options to accomodate everyone and was willing to work with us and make substitutions. 

We ordered two platters to share between our group of 5. 

Each platter came with a separate "starter platter" of Humus and Sabzi Mast (herbs and spinach with yogurt) and Salata with Feta Cheese, and Whole Wheat Pita Bread. The hummus was a bit bland for me, but the Sabzi Mast had a stronger flavour and was good. The salad was pretty much your standard greek salad but kicked up a notch because of the delicious, salty, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth feta. That is some good feta. The whole wheat pita bread was lovely, warm, fresh, and fluffy.

When we finished our appy platters, our server brought out the large platters. 

The Kebab Platter Delight ($51.95) had chicken shish kebab, lamb shish kebab, beef shish kebab, lamb shoulder,  side dishes of sauteed onions in vinegar, miced salata, pakawra (batter fried potatoes), chaka (sour cream and yogurt dip), whole wheat pita bread, and baked rice with kabuli (sauteed carrots, raisins, and almonds). I tried and enjoyed everything on this platter. For me, the stand-out in this platter was the lamb shoulder. It was SOOOO good- tender, juicy, falling apart, and succulent. 

The Vegetarian's Platter Delight ($38.95) had baked rice with kabuli topping, Aushak (Afghan Ravioli), Baked Eggplant, Dahl (yellow lentil stew), Pakawra and Chaka. Again, everything was pretty tasty but the stand-out was the Baked Eggplant which was cooked to soft perfection and full of rich, herby tomato flavour. 

Some notes: the first pawawkra I had was delicious, but the second one I ate much later in the meal...not so good. Eat these first while they are hot, as they cool they get chewy, soft, and a bit greasy (like cold thick potato wedge french fries). Also the rice had a really nice flavour but was a bit dry.

 Since we had a birthday girl in our group, our server brought her a complimentary dessert. We were all stuffed, but she persevered and agreed to a vanilla ice cream dessert on the house. I'm glad she did. It was a really simple dish of vanilla ice cream topped with crushed pistachios and it was really, really good with the combination or sweet and salty flavours. 
We all really enjoyed this dining experience and everything was good and a few things were stand out great (the pita bread, the lamb shoulder, and the eggplant.) This is a good place for a reliable meal and a fun venue for a group dinner.

Afghan Horsemen on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dad and Daughter Burgers at Splitz Grill

My dad is a basic meat and potatoes, burger and a beer kinda guy. I like the same things but usually dressed up with herbs, sauces, spices, and condiments. My dad however likes thing very plain. This is how he orders a burger: "I will add bacon, cheese, pickles and other than that, I want it plain. And by plain, I mean no rabbit food, no sauces or relishes- just bun, meat and cheese, and bun."

Many people have told me about how amazing the burgers are at Splitz Grill. In fact, my food friend Hamburger Disco (a notorious hamburger fantatic) told me that his favourite burger joint in the Greater Vancouver area was Splitz Grill. That's high praise. I also heard that you can really customize your burgers here and figured it would be a great place for my dad and I to visit together. 
Splitz is a very casual establishment serving big, fresh, fast, make-it-how-you-want-it burgers. Aside from burgers, they also serve hot dogs, wraps, poutine, ice cream, and milkshakes.

Upon entering, you walk up to the counter and order, then move down the counter to pick out the condiments and sauces you want as they assemble your burger. As one guy is placing your condiments on the bun, another guy is grilling the meat to be placed on it. Everything is made to order, as well as the fries if you order any. They have a variety different meat options (including Grilled Chicken, Bison, Buffalo, Turkey, Salmon, Lamb, Italian Sausage) and a Vegetarian option (Spicy Lentil). Additions like Cheese (choose between half aged cheddar and swiss cheese), Grilled Pancetta Bacon, Sauteed Mushroom, and Sauteed Onions can be added to any burger for an extra $1.25. 

I loved the veggie and condiment bar. There was a huge variety of both to really build your burger exactly the way you want it. You can add as many of these toppings on your burger as you want and they'll put as much or as little on as you request. They sauce and garnish the bun in front of you so you can customize the burger and then you find a seat and wait for a few minute while they cook your burger. 

My dad got a 1/3 lb Lengendary Splitz Burger with Bacon and Cheddar. He added lettuce and alfalfa sprouts and a heaping mound of dill pickle slices. He really enjoyed his burger- thought the meat and bacon were perfectly cooked and admired the sturdy bun. 

I ordered a Spicy Lentil Burger with Sauteed Mushrooms, topped with babaganoush, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, hot sauce, alfalfa sprouts and cucumber. The only burger commonalities between my dad and I were letttuce, alfalfa sprouts, and pickles. 

It was a massive, behemoth, beauty of a burger. Bright, colourful and oozing out of the sides with fresh veggies and sauces. The patty was hearty, only slightly spicy ( i was glad that I added hot sauce) with a nice creamy meets crispy texture. The toasted bun they use works well- it is dense enough (but not too dense) to stay in tact and doesn't fall apart and the texture and flavour are mild to let the burger fillings shine. I really wish they had sliced black olives in their veggie topping selection (like Subway does)- they wouldn't give my burger the perfect salty, mediterranean kick.

We split an order of large yam fries. I was a bit disappointed by these- although they are clearly made fresh, unfortunately they weren't light and crispy. In fact, I found them to be too oily and greasy with a limp texture.

This place is a great place to grab a very casual bite to eat. It draws a mixed dining crowd of hipsters, sporties, and families. It's not a fancy place- Decor is pretty bare bones and sports are playing on a couple of large flat screens. The staff are very friendly and helpful and will definitely joke around with you. We both enjoyed our burgers a lot and liked the whole customiz-ation process. A great Dad-Daughter Dinner Experience!

Splitz Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

American Cheesesteak Co.

There has been a lot of buzz about this place around town ever since Food Network Canada chef, Anthony Sedlak opened this restaurant dedicated to Philadelphia's Philly Cheese steak. I've had my share of sandwiches with beef and cheese but I entered this restaurant a "cheesesteak virgin." American Cheesesteak Co. aims to bring the authentic Philadelphia tradition to Vancouver.

This restaurant has a great vibe. It's situated on Davie near Howe and has a patio facing onto Davie Street. It feels clean, fresh, and modern, yet cozy,inviting and a bit old school. The decor features brick walls, stainless steel fixtures, large TVs, retro posters, smaller tables and one larger communal table in the centre. There is a large menu board at the counter. You order and pay at the counter, are given a number, then when your food is ready they bring it to your table. Sandwiches are made fresh to order!

No surprise here: the menu is all about CHEESESTEAKS and features a variety of 3 traditional cheesesteaks- all made with "melt-in-your-mouth shaved prime rib, come "with" or "without" sauteed onions, and your choice of cheese: American, Provolone, or Whiz *For newbies, they recommend American cheese. They also offer a few Decadent Specialty Steak Sandwiches that are variations on the classic. Basically, these are either pimped up cheesesteaks (with goodies like double-cream brie, caramelized onion jam, house-made tomato sauce, fontina cheese, truffle aoili, and even wagyu beef) and vegetarian and chicken alternative. 

I really appreciated the details at this place. And by details- I mean the many pitchers of refreshing, ice-cold lemon water and awesome condiment station. Their hot sauce was amazing- spicy, tangy, with a powerful picante kick. I asked our server/cashier and she told me that it is a blend of hot sauces and a few other ingredients. The result is really tasty!

I ordered a regular size sandwich: "The Classic" ($9/11) with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and provolone cheese. It was simple and delicious. Rich and flavourful- the meat is well seasoned, the cheese is gooey and plentiful but they don't overdo it, and the mushrooms and onions were soft, juicy and perfectly cooked. The flavours all blend together quite seamlessly. The bread was perfect- not too soft, not too flaky, not too thick, but thick enough to not fall apart or get soggy when stuffed with the gooey, juicy, fillings. Apparantly, they bake their rolls in house. Pretty impressive. 
Surprisingly, this sandwich didn't feel too greasy. After making my way through half of this sandwich, I did start adding hot sauce because I wanted a bit more of a flavour kick.

Bree ordered "The New Yorker" ($10/12) with sauteed mushrooms and peppers, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and roasted garlic mayo. I had a bite of this and was really pleased. The fresh veggies add a bit of crunch and texture and the garlic mayo adds a bit of a flavour pop to mix it up.

Mel ordered "The Cowboy" ($10/12) with shaved prime rib, crispy fried onions, homemade spicy bbq sauce, bacon mayo and aged white cheddar. Wow- this variation took the cheesesteak sandwich to the next level. The delicious prime rib and cheese get dressed up with added texture and flavour from the crispy fried onions and the AMAZING spicy, tangy bbq sauce (I want a bottle of that!). This was a "busy" sandwich with a lot of different flavours and textures going on (including a fresh chopped herb garnish) but everything worked well together. 

We split a large order of Onion Rings ($4/6) "old fashioned skinny" and ACC Fries ($4/6) "tossed with garlic, parsley and parmesan. These were hand cut fries that were super crispy ( i think they were double fried) and absorbed some great flavour from the parsley, parmesan, and garlic. The onion rings were exactly how I like them: light, crispy, with no heavy oily feel.

American Cheesesteak Co. provides a sold sandwich experience and we all gave our meals an enthusiastic greasy, meaty, cheesy thumbs up!

The American CheeseSteak Co. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year!

I spent New Year's long weekend in Tofino in an amazing rental home on Chesterman Beach.
It was the second year in a row that I've come to the area with the same group of people to ring in the New Year (last year we stayed in nearby Ucluelet.) Just like last year, this trip was amazingly fun with great people, epic partying, in a mind-blowingly beautiful location.
And on top of all of the fun and amazing settings- we ate amazing food all weekend. Our group of 16-20 people were split into meal times for brunches and dinners and everyone pulled out the stops to make mouth-watering meals. We arrived late on the Friday evening and sadly missed out on a delicious baked ham dinner with all of the fixings and homemade garlic bread and I didn't get a photo of that...but I tried to capture all of the other amazing food we had all weekend.

Saturday Brunch: Eggs Benedict with a side of sliced fruit! This was delicious- eggs were perfectly poached, bacon was delightfully crispy, and they nailed the hollandaise sauce.

Saturday Dinner: Country Comfort Food featuring Two Types of Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Carolina and Classic), Coleslaw, Mustard Green Beans with Almonds, Baked Mac and Cheese (with and without ham), Vegetarian Chili, Dill Pickles, and Sweet Corn.

Sunday Brunch: Breakfast Sandwiches with Scrambled Egg, Avocado, Homemade Salsa, and Bacon with Mimosas, Sliced Fruit, and Pull-Apart Cinammon Loaves.

Sunday Dinner: Fresh Salmon Sashimi, a variety of fresh home-made sushi rolls (filled with fresh fish, octopus, vegetables, and fruit), and Pho Noodle Soup. Amazing!

What a great culinary farewell to 2011 and kick-off to 2012!!!