Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hitting the Tacofino Cantina Blue Truck for Lunch

A food truck lunch excursion had been planned between JB, MP and I, and fortunately, when the day arrived, the early spring Vancouver weather cooperated with a warm, sunny day. It was a perfect day to enjoy TacoFino in the sunshine with our shades.
Since it's not peak season (summer), Tacofino only had their Blue Burrito truck in operation at the corner of Burrard and Dunsmuir.

Originating from Tofino (one of my absolute favourite places in the world!), TacoFino started up here in Vancouver last summer and have established themselves as one of the most popular food trucks and a fan favourite. In fact, they are so popular that they'll be opening a brick-and-mortar location on East Hastings very soon! Yum. TacoFino serves Baja-style or Californian-Mexican style tacos and burritos. Their food incorporates California flavours but also injects some "Vancouver" flavour by incorporating some Japanese and Asian twists.

MP is on a gluten-free diet so I tweeted the truck ahead of time to make sure that they had corn tortillas for substitutions- they replied and let me know that they always keep corn tortillas on hand and can substitute to acommodate some dietary restrictions.

This truck is busy but the staff move things along pretty quickly. You line up at the order window to order and pay (cash only). I was disappointed that the staff at the truck told me over twitter and then initially when we ordered, that they could make the corn tortilla sub for those who eat g-free, but then retracted that. In general, service isn't as warm and friendly as the other food trucks and fact, the girl at the window didn't even crack a smile. About 10 minutes later, our names were called and we collected our orders and plenty of napkins!

MP ordered a Pork Burrito ($10) Spicy braised pork with refried black beans, seasoned basmati rice, sour cream, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca and shredded cabbage rolled in a warm 12' flour tortilla but since she's gluten-free she got them to put it in a bowl instead of the large flour tortilla. She loved it and thought the braised pork was incredibly juicy and saucy with great smoky and slight spice flavours.

Fish Taco ($4.50) with tempura battered ling cod, chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage, salsa fresca on a fire toasted tortilla. I was bringing this back for The Boss but man, o man, was I tempted to dive in. This was a decent size taco and looked really fresh and beautiful. The Boss loved this taco and commented on the crisp fish and the great balance of flavours.

Pretty tacos! JB ordered their two of their taco specials for just under 5 bucks each, The Tempura Tiger prawn tacos with papaya-lime mayo, cabbage, watercress, and chin zu pear salsa fresca. She loved this dish calling it refreshing, light and tangy with a citrus "ponzu" flavour kick. 

I ordered the Fish Burrito ($10) Tempura ling cod with refried black beans, seasoned basmati rice, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca and shredded cabbage rolled in a warm 12" flour tortilla. $10 is a bit steep to pay for a fish burrito from a food truck but it is a hefty meal and I guarantee it will fill your belly. I've only ever had their fish tacos before (LOVE THEM!) and thought I should get a burrito since I was feeling particularly famished. This burrito is generously filled with large pieces of crispy fish. The fish is lightly battered and fried, it's not greasy, but a delightfully crispy and light on the outside and moist, meaty, and flaky on the inside with a great fresh salty flavour. The fish is really the star of this burrito. I liked the chipotle mayo and salsa fresca but did find the many heavy elements of this burrito (rice and black beans) mellowed out the flavour a bit too much and I ended up adding quite a bit of hot sauce to perk up the flavour. If I could have my way, I would mess with the burrito ratio and add way more crisp crunchy coleslaw and have way less rice and beans- more crunch, less mush...or I'll just get two fish tacos instead.

**I didn't order this TacoFino menu staple on this food truck adventure but I've had this before and need to give a shout out to the CHOCOLATE DIABLO COOKIE! I'm not the world's biggest dessert person but this cookie rocks- it has giant chunks of melted chocolate, ginger, chili, sugar, and big chunks of salt. It is a delicious adventure in taste and texture and I highly recommend. 
TacoFino Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trafalgar's Lamb Burger Experience

The boss and I wanted to celebrate some hard-earned work victories and kept planning to go celebrate with a burger. We're both burger fanatics and he mentioned that his brother (also a burger fanatic) had told him that he had eaten what he believed to be  "The Best Burger in Vancouver" at Trafalgar's Bistro. After many attempts to co-ordinate schedules and plan for an out of office lunch, we finally made the short trek (drive) from our office to Trafalgar's just west of Arbutus on 16th. I called ahead to make a reservation for lunch and while doing so got to chatting with a friendly staff member, I mentioned the burger and she acknowledged it's reputation..."Yes, indeed, it is the best burger you'll have." As if the hype for this burger experience wasn't built up enough!

It’s quite sophisticated and mature, and it still has a warm, cozy and intimate atmosphere that’s very charming. It feels a little bit "fancy" and upscale, but the service is friendly and they do welcome you like a neighbourhood restaurant would.

We briefly perused the menu...but already knew exactly what we were ordering. I did ask our server about it  "What's better, the beef burger or the lamb burger?" and she started to rave, calling the lamb burger her very favourite, and mentioned that the caramelized onion jam is the perfect compliment to the meat. Big surprise: We both ordered the lamb burger! I ordered mine with half salad/ half fries. The server asked how well-done we wanted the meat and we both ordered medium. She also asked if we wanted to up grade our regular fries to "Bistro Fries", the boss did and I opted to stick with regular. A short 15 minutes and our burgers arrived.

Lamb Burger ($15) aioli, aged cheddar, onion jam, arugula, fries, house brioche bun.
Dang! This was a delicious looking plate. It was finally time to dig into this famous lamb burger. It was cooked a little more than medium, but it was definitely not well-done, over cooked or dry. It was juicy and tender and had a real "melt in your mouth" factor. 

As for the other burger elements, I loved the light, fluffy, slightly brioche bun and the plentiful amount of fresh, peppery arugula, but I didn't even really notice the cheese. The red onion jam was slightly sweet and the aioli was garlicky- the two sauces combined to create a nice, blended seamless mellow flavour that let the meat do the talking. For me...I felt like the whole burger was delicious but was missing a flavour punch or kick. Definitely delicious, quality ingredients that were extremely well executed for a delicious burger but I wasn't drooling over the memory of this burger days later. In short, maybe if it hadn't been so hyped up, I would've been wow-ed. There is no disputing that this is an exceptional burger but I can't say it's the best I've had.

The server ended up making my regular fries Bistro Fries instead....and boy, was I happy about the mix up. These fries are unreal and very similar to the ACC Fries from American Cheesesteak Co. The Bistro Fries are dolled up with truffle oil, parmesan, herbs, and served with an aioli dip. They are tender, soft, crispy, and buttery, the cheese shavings and herb sprinklings are generous, and these fries tasted like delicious INDULGENCE. The garlic aioli was a nice compliment but a bit too rich...I ended up getting a side of ketchup, hot sauce and mustard. I also really enjoyed my side salad which was definitely not your standard bag of mixed greens. It was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette and had little bits of tender kale in the mix.

All in all, Trafalgars is definitely a nice place to go for a slightly upscale lunch. The atmosphere is beautiful and classy but not pretentious, the service was friendly and prompt, and the food was delicious. But the best burger in vancouver?....not sure it takes the title.

Trafalgars Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hubbub Sandwich Bliss and Hunger Games

It was a Weds night and fresh off reading the book, TMc and I heading to the Scotiabank theatre downtown to watch The Hunger Games. We arrived a bit early so we had time to grab a bite to eat. I'm not one to just have movie popcorn for dinner, so we did a quick walk of the neighbourhood to assess our options and I was pumped when we discovered Hubbub Sandwich Bliss right around the corner. Being the sandwich fiend that I am, I had read a lot of great reviews and I've been wanting to try them since they opened last year. I didn't know they were open until 8pm...I thought it was lunch only! 

I love the decor in the restaurant. The design is clean and hip with wood and tile, booths on both side, bar seating and some stools, and some chalkboards, funky industrial office lamps and jars of hot peppers.

There are five sandwiches on the menu to choose from but essentially the sandwich remains the same for all of them, it's just the "protein" that changes. The sandwiches are on a 9.5 inch lightly toasted baguette, filled with a base of pickled jalapenos, creamy garlic sauce, romaine lettuce, and caramelized onions. This isn't like Subway, you don't really customize these sandwiches (other than the ability to ask for more of one of the fillings for an additional cost). Then you select your protein: slow roasted pork, turkey sausage, coconut milk soaked chicken breast, marinated tiger prawns, or veggies. 

They also have a nice selection of interesting and healthy sides: corn, quinoa salad, potato chips and slaw. If you aren't in the mood for a sandwich, you can get the protein in a salad bowl instead.  

I've heard the "must order" sandwich is their slow-roasted pork...but I wasn't that hungry and felt like something a bit lighter. I asked the guy at the counter which sandwich he'd recommend and without hesitation he replied "PORK." I was torn but ended up going with the tiger prawn sandwich (Vancouver magazine had listed it as one of the best sandwiches in the city last May).

It was a short wait because they make it fresh and to order. It was really great because you can watch them grill the meat and onions and delicately assemble your sandwich. These sandwiches are a bit pricy but they are filling and they are pretty on par with what other sandwich shops are charging. 

We brought our sandwiches into the theatre, grabbed some choice seating, and began to chow down before the previews started to roll. 

My sandwich: White tiger prawns basted in a margarita-style marinade and sauteed to order ($8.93...10 bucks even with tax). This sandwich was DEEEElightful! My sandwich had about 7-8 medium size prawns. They were perfectly cooked and juicy and packed a real bright, fresh flavour punch from the marinade. I loved how they did the onions- cut into long strips and grilled until slightly sweet and caramelized but still a bit hard and crunchy. I don't normally love romaine in sandwiches but I liked the crispy crunch in this case. The pickled jalapenos were awesome (I love pickled jalapenos) and their slight spicy and vinegar flavour balanced out the rich, creamy, indulgent garlic sauce. The bread was fresh and had a real artisan feel. It was dense and chewy. All of the flavours and textures worked really well together: slightly spicy, tangy, sweet, and savoury with juicy, gooey, and crunchy. This sandwich is extremely messy so eat with care or bring lots of napkins (especially if you eat it in a movie theatre!)

TMc enjoyed her Chicken Breast sandwich: All Natural, steeped in citrus juices and coconut milk ($8.93...10 bucks with tax.) She doesn't like onions and jalapenos so she picked them out and gave them to me. She thought the chicken itself was awesome: thick-sliced, un-processed, lean but extremely juicy. She said even after removing the onions and jalapenos that the sandwich was still a bit spicy but was impressed at how all the elements worked really well together.

Hubbub Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What's a Spicy Night?

It's my kind of potluck dinner party! 
I was pretty excited to get this facebook invitation from the brother sister hosting duo of Tara and Tyler:
"Bring your favorite spicy dish and wear your favorite spicy outfit! Maybe, post what you are bringing so I/we can fill in eating gaps!"

Baby Lucy loves hot sauce!
My contribution: Spicy Asian Coleslaw with Eggplant, Mushrooms, Sambal Oolek and Cilantro
Spicy Hummus with Cooling Cucumber and Pita
Cheesy Jalapeno Foccacia Bread
7 layer dip
Spicy Tortilla Wraps
Spicy Black Bean Slides with Chipotle Mayo, Avocado and Lettuce
Mind-blowing! Dried Apricots with a slice of pickled jalapeno wrapped in BACON!
Spicy Cheesy Bean Dip
How do you make Brownies better? Make spicy brownies with a little chili powder. I added chili flakes and Frank's.
Yep- I'm wearing a chili pepper apron! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tinseltown Movies and Chinatown Eats

I love going to watch movies at Tinseltown! The free parking is awesome and their cheap(er) ticket pricing on Tuesday nights is fantastic and all but the best part is being close to Chinatown to grab cheap and delicious grub before the show.

Recently, I went to see an amazing food documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi with Asian Superdirector, Foul Mouthed Godson, and the Style Guru. Asian Superdirector led us into Kam Gok Yuen Restaurant for a cheap, chinese feast. This is an old school Hong Kong style restaurant with two large windows by the front door. On one side you can watch a man boiling noodles and dumpling through the steamy window, on the other you can drool over the sight of hanging Cantonese roast meats.
We split 1/2 BBQ duck and rice, Gai Lan, Crispy Fried Squid, and Seafood Congee. It was satisfying and tasty (the duck and gai lan were the highlights...everything else was pretty average.)

BBQ 1/2 Duck -- Tender and Juicy on the outside and crispy on the outside....Delicious but beware that you'll be gnawing on bones

Sauteed Gai Lan- fresh, delicious, perfectly cooked delicious sauce

Singapore Noodles

Kam Gok Yuen 金菊園 on Urbanspoon

The following Tuesday, the Style Guru and I returned to Tinseltown to check out Undefeated (this year's Oscar winning documentary). This time, we hit up New Town Bakery to grab some treats to smuggle inside the theatre for dinner. I ordered a Steamed Spicy Pork Bun ($1.60) and a Vegetable Steamed Bun ($1.50). Talk about cheap eatin'!
I was really impressed with the ratio of bun to filling....they don't skimp on fillings at New Town. The bun itself was light, soft, chewy, airy, with a subtle sweetness. The spicy pork rocked- not exactly spicy but super flavourful and tangy. The veggie was pretty boring and lacked much flavour. Both buns were enhanced by the side of hot sauce I was able to wrangle from the friendly staff...but apparently after chatting with some people I've learned to ask for a side of their secret sauce which is a hoisin blend and has an out-of-this-world flavour.

Check out those BUNS!!!

Dinner Theatre!

New Town Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Breakfast at Jethro's Fine Grub

Jethro's Fine Grub has been on my "to eat" hit list but it's Dunbar location (a bit outta the way for me) and the knowledge that timing would be an issue (meaning it's a small place and very popular....and it's been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and the morning line ups to get in are even longer than before). Ashley, my Sunday morning breakfast date, and I are both early risers and neither of us was in a big rush so we headed off to Jethro's and arrived just after 9am. There was already a small line-up (approx 7 people) outside when we arrived. We popped in and were given an approx 45 minute waiting time and they put us on the list. There is no inside waiting area so everyone must wait outside. We ended up just waiting outside in the chilly weather but the staff approximate wait time was right on the nose. We were seated exactly 45 minutes later. Unless you get here right when they open at 8am a wait seems inevitable. If you do come here on a weekend, prepare for a wait...maybe come and put your name down and go for a walk around the neighbourhood, maybe run some errands, grab a coffee nearby, whatever. The line-up and wait time definitely kept the time we were inside and seated, I believe I heard that the wait was 2 hours.

There is seating for about 24-25 inside of the diner and decor is minimal but there is a funky retro feel. Even though we had plenty of time to peruse the order during our wait for a table, I still was torn on what to get. Pretty much everything on this breakfast menu sounds pretty awesome...all the usual suspects are there but some really cool options: Cowboy Breakfast with chorizo smothered in chili, Cobb Omelet (think cobb salad toppings in an omelet), Crab Cake Benedict, Baked Potato Benedict, Gold Rush Pancakes with banana, pecans, caramel and streusel, Chocolate Chip French Toast. Tough Decisions!

I was trying to decide between the Huevos Rancheros and La Nina and my server did a great job of helping me decide. "I love them both. I eat the Huevos all the time but the La Nina is more of a treat. Well, I had driven a distance and waited for almost an hour, so I figured I should go for the treat option.

La Nina: Our grilled corn cake benedict with Tex-Mex chili, two poached eggs and smothered in hollandaise. Served with hashbrowns ($12)
First things first- they definitely dish out big portions at Jethro's so just know that you won't leave hungry! Also, I have high praise for Jethro's in the hot sauce department. They offer bottles of the magnificent Tapatio hot sauce and a fantastic chipotle sauce. 

My eggs were perfectly poached and looked beautiful with slivers of fresh green onion. The corn cakes had awesome flavour and were a nice vehicle for the poached egg deliciousness. They were a little bit crumbly so maybe could've been grilled until they were a bit crispier and firmer. I ordered the hollandaise on the side so I could add sparingly.... and they brought a huge side cup full of it. It was nice sauce- thick, creamy, buttery, with a slight cheesy taste.The hashbrowns were more like roasted/smashed potatoes and they were pretty ordinary. They definitely could have used more seasoning of herbs and I was kind of missing any sort of crispiness.

Ashley ordered the basic Two Eggs with Hashbrowns and Toast for $6 (fried eggs and rye toast).
Pretty standard but she really enjoyed it- especially the rye toast. And she taught me a new flavour combo...jam on toast then top with egg for a sweet/savoury combo.

The coffee is strong and topped up regularly. Service is friendly, efficient and down-to-earth.

Part of the fun of Jethro's is looking at everyone else's food as it comes out....every dish that came out looked awesomely delicious and in some cases over-the-top indulgent. I definitely had some order envy looking around at all of beautiful, cartoonishly large, decadent stacks of French toast and Pancakes.

It's easy to see why this place is so popular- a cozy feel, yummy comfort eats, simple offerings but with creative twists, giant portions, reasonable prices (I don't think there was anything over $14). I've gotta go back and get me some pancakes....on their website (I don't remember seeing it on their menu in the diner) they have a Hog Tied Pancake Stack with a side of bacon cooked into the pancakes.......I want that!

Jethro's Fine Grub on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 2, 2012

Palm Springs Food Round-Up

As I do with every trip I take- I do my food research. In the case of Palm Springs, I did some internet research and got some advice from friend's who frequent this little piece of snowbird desert paradise (thanks to the Alanas and The Style Guru) for places to go, things to see, where to shop, but most importantly for me...where to eat.

We were staying in a wonderfully quirky-bizarre-art deco-sixties"mid century modern" rental home with a kitchen so we cooked and ate in quite a lot. As a result, I didn't dine at very many of the eateries on my hit list- but I wasn't too disappointed since the delicious and healthy home cooking resulted in some note-worthy meals.

We arrived in Palm Springs after a cancelled flight, an amazingly long wait in the Vancouver airport, and overall a wayyyy longer trip than anticipated. When we got to the house, the first thing I wanted was a beer. Thankfully, there was some in the fridge. Unfortunately, it was American beer. I thought of the up and coming beer cocktail trend and how I enjoy citrus wedges in certain beers. Fortunately, there was a pink and yellow grapefruit tree in the backyard and a juicer. Thus, my delicious cocktail creation was born and became my go to beverage in PS... I give you "The GrapeBud."

Palm Springs Villagefest- Every Thursday night, they shut down car traffic on Palm Canyon Drive for a pedestrian street fair with live music and entertainment and over 200 booths selling art, hand crafted items, and a wide variety of food.

A Delicious Falafel Wrap Dinner

The Viceroy Hotel- Omygod! We went to this beautiful hotel to lounge by the pool and get drinks one evening.   This luxury boutique hotel has an old Hollywood feel done is beautifully modern way- just gorgeous. Our drinks were expensive ($12-13 each) but absolutely delicious. Service was impeccable and we were even brought a basket of delicious foccacia scones with balsamic and olive oil.

Palm Springs Farmer's Market- Every Saturday morning in the parking lot of Camelot Theatres. This market was fairly small compared to Vancouver Farmer's Markets but was still a fun place to people watch and check out local farmers and vendors and the fruits of their labour.

Mary bought green tomatoes and then when we got home she whipped up some fried green tomatoes. This was a totally new food experience for me and not what I was expecting to eat in Palm Springs. She sliced them up, patted them down, dredged them in cornmeal, and fried them in a hot pan with oil. She recommended adding a drizzle of Sriracha hot sauce. These were awesome, fresh and juicy on the inside and a light, crispy, slightly oily crusty exterior with a kick of spicy. Yum!

On Friday night, a few of hit the downtown strip for a bit a crawl. We started with microbrew beers and dry ice steaming cocktails at The Falls, before heading to Las Casuelas Terraza, a popular Mexican restaurant with live music. We loved the restaurant- the only downside was the really, really long wait for a table. We put our name on the list before going for drinks and when we came back we still have to wait for 30 minutes. We placed our orders and then danced away the wait until the food arrived at our table. I ordered crispy battered fish tacos served with spicy white beans, salsa de arbol and tartar sauce for $12.95. I did take a photo but it's not quite post-worthy due to intoxication and the rush to eat it because I was extremely hungry. It was delicious and a really fun place.Then we headed off to the karaoke bar before calling it a night.

We spent an afternoon at the overwhelming Cabazon outlets....I don't remember much from this crazy over 130 store experience, but I do remember the delicious round of Date Shakes that Janet bought for us afterwards at the awesome diner-meets grocery store- Hadley's. It was so refreshing and delicious!

More home-cooking: Fellow houseguests Mary (of earlier Fried Green Tomatoes fame) and Janet cooked us an amazing salmon (with lemon, herbs, and capers) dinner on Saturday night.

We spent one day hanging out in Hungtington Beach with some of the Sous Chef's extended family. We all went for lunch downtown by the pier to Wahoo's Fish Tacos. Apparantly, one of their cousin's friends owns Wahoo's and has built up a pretty nice business with a few locations in Southern California. I had a combo platter with two grilled fish tacos, spicy white beans, slaw, and brown rice. This was really nice- fresh, filling, and not too heavy. I LOVED the spicy white beans and the fresh cut side salsa that was soooo full of flavour.



Brioche bun, harissa aioli, fried egg, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, sprouts


Garbanzo beans, tomato, lemon, cumin


Avocado, butter lettuce, vine ripe tomato, sprouts, harissa lime aioli, wheat toast


County Line Harvest rucola & crumbled goat cheese


Avocado mayo, roasted tomato, bacon
 One of my absolute favourite meals was dinner at the King's Highway Diner at the Ace Hotel. The Ace restored an old Denny's restaurant that was on the property and turned it into a cool-retro-kitchsy-fun-hip hangout. This isn't Denny's food though- that is for sure. The menu is massive and mouth-watering with an emphasis on fresh, local, organic and artisanal ingredients. At 7pm the place was jam packed for a weekly "Sissy Bingo" night hosted by the one and only singing hostess Linda Gerard. The atmosphere is so fun and high energy and Linda runs this joint with her enormous sunglasses and over-the-top flamboyant style. 
Getting back to the food- my Breakfast ALT was one of the best sandwiches that I've ever eaten. From the buttery, light, slightly sweet brioche bun, to the ooey, gooey egg and rich, soft avocado, to the crispy and salty bacon, to the light crunch of the sprouts and lettuce....this was pretty much sandwich perfection. Everyone else loved their meals and Adam said their fries were the best fries he's even eaten. 

Breakfast ALT close up! AKA "A peek at sandwich heaven"
King's Highway at ACE Hotel & Swim Club on Urbanspoon

Other Recommended Eats/ Experiences that I didn't get to hit up this trip but were highly recommended:
Pappy and Harriets- Awesome BBQ and Bar with some great live music
Native Foods- Vegan Deliciousness
Trina Turk Residential- fun shopping, fashion
El Gallito- Mexican Food (Cathedral City)
Sherman's Deli