Monday, March 26, 2012

Underground Restaurant: Vegan Mischief Brunch

I went for brunch last weekend with the sous chef, little sister and her fiancee Ashley. But this meal experience was something out of the ordinary. Little Sister and Ashley are both Vegans and through the Vancouver Vegan community got on the mailing list for a grassroots underground restaurant for Vegan Mischief. There are a handful of fairly well-known underground restaurants organizing events and serving dinners that I have been curious to try but haven't made the effort yet. Little Sister and Ashley keep telling us how great the food is and how cool it is and finally the sous chef and I were able to make it on the one weekend that the gals from Vancouver Vegan Brunch. I was blown away when Little Sister sent me a text in February about getting a reservation in March. She told me that they always "sell out" with early bookings for reservations.

We arrived for our 10:30 am seating reservation and waited as the guests from the 9:30am all left. Essentially, you enter through a sliding glass patio door and are seated in their small living room at mismatched chairs tables and chairs. We had to shuffle tables a bit and squeeze to create a seating set up for our group of 4. The room seats about 16 people and was surprisingly comfortable. There was a definite positive energy in the small room- everyone was smiling and really friendly and seemed really pumped to be there. I think many of their guests were monthly regulars.

This underground brunch restaurant is run by a few ladies who were unimpressed by Vancouver's brunch options for vegan diners. They decided to do something about it and started their own brunch restaurant serving all vegan options out of their East Van home. They all work in the industry, so they know their stuff. This isn't basic home cooking just served in a devil may care manner. They are cranking out really inventive vegan meals using quality ingredients and plated in a beautiful, professional, casually stylized way (even though the plates, mugs, and cutlery don't match.) I briefly chatted with our server about the popularity of this brunch and the "underground restaurant movement." She said that she thinks people are really ready and receptive to it- that people are wanting to experience different ways of socializing and eating good food- and that maybe people also are into the doing something "on the fringe."

Coffee was $2 and came with a side of their homemade almond milk (which was amazing!) They were even offering a Vegan Bailey's drink for $4 with Coconut milk, espresso, and Jameson's Irish Whisky.

Since it was St. Patrick's Day, the whole menu was slightly themed and titled "Kiss me, I'm Vegan: Irish Brunch." I ordered Peasant Bread $10 Toasted bread, roasted fennel-garlic spread, kale, foraged chanterelle mushrooms, green apple, toasted hazelnuts. This was a gorgeous looking plate, full of colour and a variety of textures. You can tell that they really care about using fresh, high-quality ingredients. It was a really elevated simple dish. The elements all came together really well: the richness of the mushrooms and roasted fennel-garlic spread, the soft salty kale, and the crunchiness of the crisp green thin slices of green apple and toasted hazelnuts. I thought it was perhaps a wee bit too salty and that my bread was a bit over-toasted and crunchy but other than those minor details, this was a delightful, earthy brunch dish.

Little Sister and the Sous Chef ordered the Irish Breakfast $10 Corned tempeh, gravy, potatoes O'Brien, and cabbage slaw. They both really enjoyed this dish. The Sous Chef noted that he could taste that they were really using quality ingredients but also wished that the portion size was a bit bigger (he was hungry!) Another thing to note is that this dish is one of two gluten free options on the menu. The Vegan Brunch gals send out their menu ahead of time to people who have made reservations and they can tweak dishes to work around most food allergies or dietary sensitivities if you pre-order your food with plenty of notice.

Ash ordered the Sticky Buns $10 Local apple, cinnamon, walnuts, Irish whiskey sauce. I didn't taste these but they looked absolutely gorgeous and decadent. Ash said they were fantastic!

Ash is a sucker for sweets and also ordered their dessert option for $5: Chocolate Pie with a mint-chocolate cookie. Gluten-free. More smiles, yums, and thumbs up. I did get a bite of this and loved it- light and mousse-y with a delicate crust and the chocolate cookie was soft and ever-so-slightly minty.

One thing to note: each seating is an hour- so for slow eaters like myself, I did feel a little bit rushed at the end.
I really enjoyed this experience. It was really creative and fun Vegan food with a fair price point served in a fun, cozy, comfortable way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bob Likes Thai Food

I love Thai food. On a mellow Saturday night with the sous chef, we were debating on cooking or going out for dinner. We decided to head out and then after reviewing options, the Sous Chef decided he was in the mood for Thai. My Thai food stand by in Vancouver has been "Sawasdee Thai" on Main and 27th, but I have been hearing a lot of feed-back about a new-ish place "Bob Likes Thai Food"(also on Main but further down around 17th) and decided we should check it out.

First off, the name of the restaurant is fun and kind of sets the tone and expectations for a casual meal.
There was a bit of hype when the place opened in 2010 and it seems to have settled into the neighbourhood. It was full with a totally mixed crowds (all ages, all ethnicities, some families, some groups, some couples) when we arrived, but we only had to wait for about 5 minutes. The restaurant isn't fancy and there aren't any of the bright colours and Thai decor stand-bys that you usually see in Thai restaurants. There is a weird little sink by the wall of the small waiting area, a few vintage looking chairs and trunks with books and magaizines. To get to the bathroom, you have to go through the kitchen.
I loved the playful wood-plank drawings of Bob's fork and spoon on opposite walls.

As we looked over the menu (which unfortunately didn't seem to have very many vegan options for the sous chef), we decided we were thirsty for beer. Unfortunately, our server informed us that they do not have a liquor license and don't serve beer. Kind of a bummer.

We ordered two dishes to share. First up was Papaya Salad $6.50, Shredded green papaya with green beans, tomato, garlic, chillies, fresh lime juice. This was really delicious- sour and spicy- and tasted super fresh. The spice level was pretty good, just a subtle burn that makes your mouth tingle.

Next to arrive was our order of Chu Chi Pla $12.50, Dry Red Curry with fish, basil, lime leaf and bell peppers. Thai curries can be either "wet" or "dry." Wet curries contain significant amounts of sauce or gravy based on coconut milk or stock. Dry curries are cooked with very little liquid which is allowed to evaporate leaving the other ingredients coated with the spice mixture. This was a slightly spicy, slightly sweet curry that was still quite wet but the sauce had a thicker gravy-ish consistency. The fish wasn't identified but was a white fish, cooked quite well (not chewy or rubbery) with a light flavour.

We also ordered two sides of coconut rice (I believe these were $2.50 each). The rice was delicious but quite a small bowl for the price they were charging. We actually found all of the portion sizes to be a bit small in relation to the prices. Overall, the food at "Bob Likes Thai Food" was tasty and you can tell they put some love in the food and use fresh, quality ingredients. I found that the flavours weren't "watered down" like they are in many of Vancouver's Thai restaurants. The vibe is extreme casual and unlike any other Thai restaurant in Vancouver. They give you a knife and large spoon for cutlery instead of chopsticks. It has a certain charm, but I did feel a lack of warmth and cozy-ness. I will come back and try more dishes (they have great sounding lunch specials for under $8) but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped.

Bob Likes Thai Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 19, 2012

Easy, Healthy Cheesecake Snack

I'm a creature of habit when it comes to food. I would almost say I have a "feeding schedule", not unlike a baby...or an animal in the zoo. I like it because it breaks up my work day nicely and keeps my blood sugar and energy level at a pretty even level throughout the day. For me it's all about breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.

For my mid-morning snack, I usually try to have some sort of high protein, fruit combo and usually it's raisins and almonds, dessert tofu squares, or yogurt. Recently, I discovered a new amazing snack combo that makes me feel like I'm treating myself to one of my favourite desserts in the mid-morning.
Faux Cheesecake Parfait- and it couldn't be easier! The star of this snack is PC Blue Menu Individual Strawberry Cottage Cheese Cups.

One container is 110 calories and an awesome source of protein. I crumble up one graham cracker and mix it in for a taste and flavour combo that is really similar to cheesecake.

Other snack/meal suggestions for this strawberry cottage cheese: use it in a smoothie instead of yogurt, use it dip for a fruit platter, spread it on toast/ english muffin/ toaster waffles, or use as a filling for a dessert grilled cheese sandwich with sliced strawberries and top with icing sugar. Some hosting party ideas: hollow out strawberries and scoop in a spoonful of cottage cheese, scoop onto phyllo pastry squares or mini tartlet shells .
For more info on this product and some other healthy snack ideas and products- check out the PC website.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Make your own "West Coast Pockets"

A good buddy of mine just had a birthday and our tight-knit group of girls in the Broadcast/PR world got together to create a birthday buffet of all of her favourite foods. I'm talking home-made caesar salad, guacamole, red velvet cupcakes, baked mac and cheese, oreo cheesecake bars and lots of WINE. She also mentioned that she loves "West Coast Pockets" from Cactus Club. I decided to tackle this and try to make them myself.
After a bit of research, I came across some great online recipes and a video to get me started.
Next up was a trip to Fujiya (an awesome Japanese grocery store on Clark) to buy some Inari wrappers (around $4.50 for 12 wrappers- but you can get cheaper if you are buying bigger quantities), Superstore for Smoked Salmon and Avocados and then I got crackin'.
This is a fun and easy recipe concept to play with....basically stuff the Inari wrappers with sushi rice and whatever you think would taste good inside. I stuck pretty close to the basic Cactus Club concept with thinly sliced smoked salmon, avocado, thinly sliced baby bok choy (I substituted for pea shoots), white rice cooked and seasoned with a little rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt, and garnished with sesame seeds.