Saturday, March 30, 2013
This charming, bustling little cafe bistro keeps delivering on delicious with every visit I make. I recently suggested ECB for a lunch with my mom and aunt. My aunt can't eat gluten and ECB has gluten free pastas and pizza options on their menu.
My aunt ordered the gluten free pasta special of the day with bolognese sauce.
I ordered the Pizza Buongiorno ($12.95); thin crust pizza baked with two sunny side eggs, pancetta, mozzarella and fresh arugula...and my mom copied me ;)
The crust is quite different, it's extremely thin and has more of a crispy, crumbly, cracker texture rather than any kind of doughy chew. I thought this type of crust worked really well with the pizza because it let the toppings shine. The pancetta was salty and rich, the mozza was full flavoured, the arugula added a fresh, peppery bite. I loved the eggs on top, they definitely kicked things up a notch and added their own rich cream, yolk sauce.
A lovely lunch!
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I LOVE cookbooks and fortunately I've got a great group of family and friends who share my affinity. There is such a feeling of accomplishment; from turning the pages, looking at beautiful food photos, deciding which recipe adventure to prepare, and eventually plating and sharing (or eating yourself!) that completed dish. Sometimes you make mistakes along the way, sometimes you have to take a risk and make an ingredient substitution (or two), but that can be part of the fun, breaking the rules, experimenting. I put a call out to some of my friends and family who I know to be cookbook junkies, asking for guest posts, to share their favourite "go to" recipe from a favourite cookbook. Leah was the first to answer the call, with the help of her adorable sous-chef Lucy.
"Energy Balls" from Whitewater Cooks at Home
1 c sunflower seeds
1 c sesame seeds
1 c rolled oats
1 c chocolate chips
1 c raisins
1 c dried cranberries
1/2 c coco powder
1/2 c honey
1 1/2 c coconut (toasted) for coating
Put everything (except for coconut) in bowl.
Mix with your hands.
Add more honey if needed to stick.
Make into small balls.
Roll in coconut.
Store in Airtight container.
Keep in fridge for one week or freeze.
Makes around 20.
Friday, March 22, 2013
My pal T Mc, saw an online group buy for Zen a few months ago. She emailed me and asked if I would go with her. She said it's her one of her best friend's absolute favourite place. I too have heard a lot of North Van and West Van folks RAVE about this place. Zen has a great reputation with locals and on their website, they list many Vancouver restaurant awards they have won. I'm always up for a food adventure, especially one that's made more affordable with a discount of some kind ;)
Zen is quite west in West Vancouver, way past Lonsdale, closer to the massive West Van rec centre. Zen is tucked away from the street, and surprisingly large once you walk down the narrow glassed entry. The room is clean, modern, with a nice view. Service was friendly. None of the bussers and servers were Japanese, but the chefs behind the sushi bar were.
The menu is MASSIVE. We took a long time to decide on our meals...but we were also having a pretty in depth catch up chat. This menu is chock full of delicious-sounding, creative, and inventive dishes. But reviewing the menu, I couldn't help but feel sticker shock at the high price tags. Their "Zen Original Rolls" range from $9.95-16.95. Their Zen Chirashi Sashimi Bowl rings in at $29.95. Even a basic California Roll is $6.95.
Kimchi Yaki Udon ($10.95) Stir fried udon with pork and kimchi. This was the last thing I expected to order when planning to visit Zen but, man, it was a good choice. The flavours were well balanced and the dish was well sauced. The acidity and bite from the kimchi kept the dish bright and worked well with the thick, heavy noodles and pork. There were plenty of veggies in the mix too with onions and mushrooms. This was a large portion, I took some home. Warning: Kimchi Yaki Udon is delicious but smelly. It smelled up my car and then my fridge at home. But it was delicious so it was worth it.
Although I don't think my boyfriend would agree!
We also split a roll from the Zen Original Roll section, a Lighthouse Roll ($9.95) assorted vegetables rolled in soya wrap topped with sweet sesame garlic ponzu. This was light, fresh, tasty with a nice pop of acidity from the bright ponzu sauce. It was definitely different from the standard sushi roll. No fish, no rice, no seaweed wrap. T Mc didn't love this roll.
Shiso Salmon ($8.95) tempura style japanese shiso stuffed with seasoned sockeye salmon. Shiso is an asian herb from the mint family. T Mc let me try this and it was really good. The heavy crispy crunch and slight oily-ness from the tempura was brightened by with bite from the refreshing shiso.
Smoked Salmon Sashimi ($3.00 each)
From the Maki Roll Selection, Chicken Teriyaki Roll ($8.95) I didn't try this roll and apparantly it was good but not amazing.
I feel like that sums up Zen....for the prices, you expect amazing food. Yes, everything tasted great and you can tell they use quality ingredients, but other than my udon dish which I felt was priced in line with other Japanese restaurants in Vancouver, everything else was pricey for what it delivered. In this case, it definitely feels like you are paying more, just being in West Vancouver.
Friday, March 15, 2013
An awesome friend from out of town was in Van city en route to a wedding in Las Vegas and wanted to see as many friends as possible for a pre-flight brunch. It's tough to book a big group for brunch in Vancouver. Many places won't take reservations and most definitely can't handle a party of 10. But she managed to make a big reso at the Rumpus Room.
My only other experience at The Rumpus Room was on the last stop on of my Food Crew crew's epic Bacon Quest, eating Sh-Bang! (deep fried bacon and avocado)
I ordered the BLT $6.50 Bacon, lettuce, garlic ailoi and tomato on toasted multigrain, with a side of breakfast potatoes. I asked for them to take off the aioli and add a fried egg.
I LOVED their breakfast potatoes and they might just be the best breakfast potatoes I've had recently. I found them the perfect texture and well-seasoned.
Scrambled Veggs $4.95 A vegan egg substitute made with tofu, nutritional yeast and spices. Served with breakfast potatoes and sliced tomatoes. This wasn't awesome. I had a bite and all I tasted was tumeric. It was overwhelming and harsh.
Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich $7 Toasted bread slathered in peanut butter and topped with three slices of bacon. Their menu suggests "If you wanna get crazy add pickles." So our buddy, Kyle, did just that. He liked it and said that sandwich combo could become a new standard sandwich to make at home.
Veggie Benny $8.50 Two poached eggs on top of english muffins with house made hollandaise and served with breakfast potatoes. A few people in our party got this benny and there was a chorizo benny as well. These looked tasty and got thumbs up for the diners.
Noone raved about their dishes but noone complained either. This was definitely a fun meal experience though. It was great to have a leisurely brunch, catch up, chat, and be able to play Jenga and a round of Head Bandz.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I love dedicated, well- thought out, pre- planned food adventures. This is the third dish-focused food crawl that I've planned/participated in.
First there was Pork Sandwich Smackdown, then there was Bacon Quest...and although we were all greasy and full at the end of Bacon Quest, we had already put the wheels in motion for planning our next food adventure, a Pizza Crawl.
In terms of food trends, Pizza is HOT in Van city. Over the past few years, Italian-inspired pizzerias have been popping up all over the city and getting plenty of love and buzz. and I don't see this trend going anywhere. The old $2 slice of pizza isn't going anywhere but it's evident that Vancouverites are loving high-end, top quality pizzas.
Four participants. Each participant picks a pizza place they've been wanting to try. I drive the pizza wagon (aka my Honda Fit) and come up with logistics, scheduling, route that makes sense. At each stop, we ask our server for their most popular pizza/ their recommendation. Split a pizza four ways at each stop.
Let the adventure begin!
Pistacchio - Mortadella, Parmesan sauce, Aged Mozzarella, Pistachios and Olive oil $16
Pizzeria Farina has been around for just over a year and thriving in its location at Main and Union, right near the Cobalt, across the street from Campagnolo and Electric Owl. They don't pretend to be "Neopolitan" and follow those strict pizza rules set in place by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (yes there are pizza rules) and but go with that style. They aren't flying in flour and tomatoes from Italy or using a wood fire oven. They instead they work that style, use a gas oven, do a three day artisan pizza dough and focus on simple, quality, delicious ingredients. It's a small place with a couple of small high top tables for two and a communal table in the centre. Love the decor- brick walls, bottles of oils, a bike, and the menu on a butcher paper scroll. Also love that they have a fountain for customers to help themselves to cold water and sparkling water. I re-filled quite a few times because it is hot in there. You order at the counter and basically set yourself up with plates, cutlery, napkins when your pizza is ready. It was MF-ing Coop's pick so he got to order, and I think he swayed the gal at the counter to suggest Pistachio since he'd been eyeballing that menu selection. Around 5-10 minutes later, our pizza was ready and this pizza came out looking beautiful. This crust is AMAZING! It's a thin crust that is full of flavour. I can't rave enough about this crust- they've really been able to hit the perfect texture with a slight crispy crunch and the perfect chew. The toppings were full of flavour: Great earthy, rich, salty crunch from pistachios, mortadella was mild with a bit of herbed seasoning and a subtle parm sauce base. Eating this pizza made me smile.
The Leggy Redhead:
Super Asian Director:
We each were able to choose one location for the Pizza Crawl. Farina was my choice. Happy to report I pick restaurants well – it was the best of the lot (at least, based on the pizzas we ordered). I’ve been wanting to try Farina for ages –when I saw the pistachio pizza on the on-line menu, I knew I had to have a slice. Nothing was going to stand in my way.
Since this was our first location, we agreed upon the rules of the evening – we had to go with the pizza that was recommended to us by our server. I went up to the counter to order as we each had to pay at the location we chose. “Do you recommend the pistachio pizza”. “Yes”. “Well then. We’ll order that”. My work was done.
Super glad I forced the result, the crust was amazing – light bubbly, browned crust. Champagne. The pizza was topped with mortadella (the Bologna of Italy), aged mozzarella and roasted pistachios. The nuts were crunchy with a soft give. Perfect. Instead of the usual red sauce, parmesan sauce topped the pizza – not the white gooey mess of a typical pizza bianco – made from fused milk and parmesan rind. Hella good! Farina has two housemade infused oils to go with the pizza – chili and oregano. Loved the chili – not too strong but had a healthy kick. Oregano not so much - a big essence of oregano punch up front then was just oily. Reminded me a bit too much of homeopathic cold remedies.
The night we were there was a bit warm – some of the crawlers couldn’t stop svitzing (ok – just one but I’m not pointing out which). Time to move on; “It’s a crawl, people, not a sit”.
Cavolini - Fior di latte, Aged Mozzarella, fresh garlic, brussel sprout leaves, house cured and smoked pancetta, sea salt, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil $14
Pizzeria Barbarella was my pick. It opened last year, and I pass the place almost every day on my way to work. I've read a lot about Pizza Barberella on other local food blogs and I've been totally intrigued by the story behind this place. It's operated by Pizza guru Terry Deane who ran a pizza place called Ah-Beetz in Abbotsford. Van city foodies used to drive out to Abbotsford for this pizza. He sold his place in Abbotsford and set up shop here in Vancouver. PB specializes in hand tossed, wood fired oven pizza made with fresh and local ingredients you can taste. The interior of the restaurant is quite bare and decor/furniture is sparse with tables spaced quite far apart. It's got a under decorated,bare bones feel (cement floors, black walls) which felt a bit cold and cavernous. But I loved being able to look into the open wood-burning pizza oven and prep area. Our server recommended two pizzas and since the group was intrigued with the idea of brussel sprout topping. The crust was thin, crispy around the edges and soft in the centre with some black charred spots than gave it some smokiness. Overall, this pizza wasn't consistent, some bites were nicely seasoned and flavourful, and some were quite one note and bland. The garlic was nice, the crispy brussel sprouts gave a nice texture and freshness, but none of the other ingredients really sang. I asked the server for chilli flakes and added those, which improved this pizza for me.
The Leggy Redhead:
Super Asian Director
Fior de Latte, aged mozzarella, house cured pancetta and brussel sprout leaves. That last ingredient sound weird? Yup, it was, but also delicious. They had a slight char and weren’t overwhelming in taste as it was single leaves spread across the top. Aiding in this task was the salty, chewy meat goodness of the pancetta (there’s a reason I’m The Bad Jew) and some garlic. The flavours worked well together. The crust was the Achilles (bread?) heel – just too bready for wood fired pizza.
The biggest disappointment was the atmosphere of the location. It’s a large space and has tables spaced way too far apart. Pizza is cosy and sharing – the tables are not with the program. Decoration was lacking – the space, spartan. Lack of any background music didn’t make things better.
Two lovely points of note – first off, they have frosty mugs in which I enjoyed a Red Racer IPA – that makes up for some of the wrongs above. The other was that The Leggy Redhead had dried up by this point (oooops, I wasn’t going to tattle). My bad.
Salsiccia e Rapini (red) - Fior di latte, italian sausage, broccoli rabe $16
I was completely charmed by my experience at Via Tevere. This neighbourhood pizzeria, located on Victoria Drive, has only been open since March 2012, but they've been getting lots of love from the local foodie community. As a testimony to its popularity, the restaurant was bustling when we arrived around 7:30pm. We had a 20-30 minute wait for a table. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, and full of positive energy. There are touches of Italy everywhere, photos, maps, big bags of flour. The centrepiece of the restaurant is a beautiful tiled wood-burning pizza oven and open kitchen where you can peek in on pizza prep. This restaurant is a certified Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana joint and they definitely take pride in that. Our FANTASTIC, fun, enthusiastic server Denise explained to us. She recommended the Vesuvio and the Salsiccia e Rapini and The Leggy Redhead picked the Salsiccia. What I liked: The crust was nicely seasoned and thin with crisp, chewy edges and tender middle. I LOVED this San Marzano tomato sauce, it was bursting with flavour. Didn't love the sausage, I found it too mild for my liking and lacking flavour.
Great attention to detail- knives imported from Italy for pizza cutting, basil infused oil, pepper infused oil, sides of fresh grated cheese and chili flakes. Even though their sausage wasn't awesome, I still left happy and I can't wait to come back and try their other pizzas.
The Leggy Redhead:
Super Asian Director:
Super Asian Director:
Upon walking in – was struck by the stark contrast to Barberella. Great décor and fantastic atmosphere. Via Tavera was quite busy but the staff avoided being frenetic – well done. Our server, Denise, was incredible. The centrepiece is an amazing, custom designed, blue and white tile encrusted, wood burning pizza oven. A work of art! I’ll eat any pizza that comes out of that delightful creation.
The pizza was our second one featuring an unusual green topping – broccoli rabe. Seems we had pushed our luck; it was a bit too sour for a pizza topping. The sausage, while generally a good pizza idea, wasn’t to my liking – not salty enough and the flavor didn’t really work. Enough with negative sentiment! The crust was damn fine; many little burnt bubbles. The tomato sauce was delightful – very flavorful. Fresh tasting and light. Fior de Latte was also good. The pizza was severed with two oils – basil and chili oil. Both worked well.
Overall – my second place pizza of the night. The crust was slightly behind Farina’s, the atmosphere was equally good, service excellent. The wood burning over gave me a boner. Perhaps if we had ordered differently, Via Tevera may have been a close second.
Romana- Olives, anchovy, tomato sauce -$12.5 add an egg $1
This cozy space seats about 30 people and sits in the Sunrise-Hastings area near Red Wagon, El Barrio, and the Tacofino Commissary. The menu is all about antipasti, pizzas and pastas with specials determined by what's fresh and good and in season. They make their pastas, pizza dough, and breads in house at Roma. I liked the decor, lots of wood, and a cool, textured feature wall. We were welcomed by a friendly host upon arrival but our server was quite cold and not very enthusiastic or helpful. Super Asian Director struggled with ordering- our server recommended two their seasonal special pizzas and I pushed for more of a classic, salty, tomato-based option to finish off the evening. She ended up ordering the Romana and adding an egg. I really liked this crust- it was rustic, poofy, and charred. The toppings were fresh and simple and the sauce was fresh and lively. I did feel like the toppings were a wee bit sparse. I loved the 'add an egg' option...it's a great extra saucy element. Although we should have ordered at least two eggs for more yolky goodness. Big shout out to their side of house pizza sauce: fennel seeds, olive oil, chili flakes. It added another level heat and flavour dimension to the pizza. Loved that sauce.
The Leggy Redhead:
I’ll admit that I was running out of steam by this point in the night. My notes are pretty sparse. Not sure if it was too many beers, the disappointment in the pizza we ordered or a bit of both. No cheese on this pizza, just red sauce which was dried to a paste from the lack of cheese protection. Me no likie. Olives and anchovies spread sparingly – which I’d usually be ok with IF THERE WAS CHEESE. We added an extra egg for the topping – which I am loving as an extra with just about all food choices these days (but not pizzas without cheese). There was fennel and chilis on the pizza as well – not much though.
The crust was number three of four for the evening (ahead of Barbarella). Overall the pizza was far too dry. Campagnola Roma comes in last place – no cheese may have had something to do with it.
I did like the cool rubbery green wallpaper running the length of the restaurant. Made for some cool arty iPhone photos. Not a good sign when you like the wall coverings more than the food at a restaurant.
MF-ing Coop's Winner – Farina (a.k.a. my choice). Followed by Via Tavera, Barberlla and Campagnoal Roma, in that order. Missy Mac summed it up of Farina “I’m gonna dream about that f**king pizza crust”. Amen.