Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Diamond in the 'Wack.....Harvest Store & Cafe

A diamond in the rough. A hidden gem. This little bakery/cafe/restaurant is just AWESOME. Great feeling inside and a mouth-watering menu full of breakfast and lunch meals. If you happen to be passing through Chilliwack, its worth pulling off the highway and heading to their historic downtown to visit this place.
I had a "Grilled Plants Sandwich" with African Yam and Peanut Soup. Soooo good. The sandwich also had an earthy, slightly garlicky hummus and an olive spread which added a lovely saltiness. The soup was just dynamite and full of flavour and ingredients (there was even some chunks of pineapple - unexpected but tasty). I was also deeply coveting my dining companions lunches....they looked so amazing. Bacon and Guacamole Grilled Cheese Sandwich and fries and a Greek Eggs Benedict. We were all too full after lunch for dessert but I was pretty much obsessed with their Bacon Donuts in the display case. Don't they look amazing!!!!!!

Harvest Store & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mexican in New West at Taqueria Playa Tropical

I FREAKIN' LOVE MEXICAN FOOD! When I close my eyes and go to a "food happy place"....I'm at a beachside cantina with a table of cold cervasas and tacos with all the fillings and condiments you could image. Simple. Perfect.

And I'm always looking for good Mexican restaurants. Some friends recently fell in love with a Mexican restaurant in New West and although I couldn't make it out there the few times they've invited me, it's been on my mind. When my parents offered to take me and the sous chef out for a belated birthday dinner, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

Taqueria Playa Tropical is in the Brow of the Hill neighborhood in New West and a few blocks south of the busy intersection of 6th and 6th. We arrived around 7pm and there was a short line of around 6 people out the door. I took this as a good sign. It was a beautiful evening so waiting in the sun wasn't a bad thing, especially since the wait was only about 15 minutes and we got a chance to chat with some other people in line that were regulars who assured us that the food was definitely worth waiting for.

The outside looks a bit dive-y but, the interior ist bright, clean, with a cool looking tiki-style bar at the back of the restaurant. The place was packed and apparently they are usually quite busy on the weekends when they live music. The service was a bit curious off the top, despite the line up, there seemed to be a bit of a "seat yourself" policy which caused some delay and confusion. We ended up getting seated, and unfortunately we were squeezed right in front of the band. The music was great and they seemed like awesome guys...but because we were in such close proximity to them, we had to yell to chat while they were playing.

I saw this drink on the restaurant's facebook page and knew I had to have it for a belated birthday girl drink. They called it a Tropicarita, but I've also heard it called a bulldog margarita. Whether you call it, this is awesome and will give you a nice Mexi buzz. The beer helps to cut the sweetness of the margarita which is perfect for me.

I ordered the Ceviche; Fish fillet mixed with cilantro, onion, tomato, avocado and lime served with chips ($6.50)
and LOVED IT. It was bursting with fresh flavour dominated by lime and cilantro. The avocado added a nice richness and creaminess to the dish. 


Then I tried three of their tacos- Camaron; shrimp, garlic, celery, onion, cilantro and melted cheese ($2.50) Pescado; fish fillet, garlic, celery, onion, cilantro and melted cheese ($2.5), Choriqueso; Mexican chorizo, cilantro, onion, guacamole and melted cheese ($2)These were tasty tacos!!!

They are served on a single corn tortilla, some people prefer two- but I think the single tortilla lets the fillings stand out more. The seafood tacos were fantastic. Both seafood tacos had a really nice clean flavour and the diced celery addition added a nice surprising crunchy texture. There were approx 2 plump and juicy shrimp in each camaron tacos. 
Fish tacos are usually my go-to but surprisingly for me, the chorizo taco was the stand out here and I ordered another one.

The chorizo here is sooooo good. The flavour is really deep with a slight spicy, smokiness. I asked the server and she told me that they make it in house. 

My mom and dad both ordered the Carne Asada Special House Platter; 8 oz grilled steak with a side of refried beans, traditional rice, pico de gallo, a lime wedge, and two small quesadillas ($11.99) These were big platters and they seemed to enjoy them. 

The sous chef ordered a Vegetariano Burrito; Refried beans, guacamole, lettuce, cilantro, onion, tomato with small house salad ($6). Since he's a vegan, he had no problem getting them to make it without the typical melted cheese and sour cream. He gave a thumbs up on this burrito. 

Service was a bit sluggish and confused during our meal but it was quite busy and all of the staff were really nice and friendly so it wasn't an issue at all. Overall, the vibe in this place is just a happy one, so it's hard to not leave with a full belly and a smile (especially if you've polished off a bulldog margarita). I'll definitely make the trek again to New West for Mexican again!

Taqueria Playa Tropical on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vancouver Food Cart Fest Sunday July 6

I've been kicking myself for missing the all of the Food Cart Fest Sundays last year at the Waldorf Hotel parking lot. I was o so happy to hear that for the summer of 2013, Food Cart Fest was coming back!
This weekly event (every Sunday 12noon- 6pm from June 23- Sept 22) is now located in a massive parking lot right under/just east of the Cambie Street Bridge with entrance and exit gates from the False Creek seawall. They've signed up 30 food carts and trucks and plan to have a rotating roster of about 13 vendors a week. Be prepared- there was a long line to get into the food truck lot (but it moved really quickly) and there is a two dollar entrance fee (I don't really like when I have to pay money to be able to get in somewhere to spend money :$).

Once you're in, a variety of Vancouver food carts are spread out to tempt your tastebuds. Initially, I wasn't going to go last weekend because I had checked which carts were attending on the Vancouver Street Food App and there weren't many trucks/carts that had committed. BUT I checked the app on the Sunday morning and changed when I saw the final line-up which had a great looking roster of Vancouver veterans like Tacofino and rookies like Aussie Pie Guy.

We arrived around 12:30 - the food trucks and carts were set up in almost a semi-circle on the south side of the grounds with some covered tables providing shade and a DJ spinning tunes set up for entertainment. To the northwest of the gates, there was a little market with tables selling crafts and flea market fashions. Even only half an hour into the event, some of the line-ups were pretty epic looking (Tacofino and Yolk's) which actually helped me narrow down my dining choices since I didn't feel like standing in the heat for an hour to get fed.

I had previously eaten at a few of the truck on site but I was hankering to try one of many the food trucks that I drool over online but don't get a chance to visit since I don't work downtown. I ended up going with Mangal Kiss Mid East BBQ, one of the food carts regularly stationed outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. I've read a tonne of positive reviews, perved over tasty food photos and was eager to try their Shislaks. Their was a bit of a crowd in front of their cart but things seemed to be running quickly and efficiently. When I got to the front of the line, I noticed that they weren't offering their typical Shislak wraps but had a special menu with two offerings.

I ordered their Kefta ($9). About 15 minutes later, a received a hefty wrap that smelled delicious. My kefta was a pita with ground lamb and beef meatballs with lettuce and veggies smothered in a savoury, rich tomato cumin sauce. It was really really good. Everything was fresh, hot, quality and well made. Definite comfort food. I did have my heart set on one of their Shislaks from their regular menu with grilled persian flatbread, choice of meats, and the ability to choose your own veggies and sauces. But I understand that to accommodate the huge crowds and turn around orders quickly, they switched to a set menu without customization for this event. It's a really smart move. I really wish they had hot sauce on hand to kick this up a notch because I'm a spice addict and some spice would have made this wrap extra awesome. A word of warning, this Kefta is FILLING. I was so stuffed after eating this jam-packed wrap, that I wasn't interested in eating anything else. SO FULL. I really do want to try their regular Shislak wraps (because they sound sooo good)so I'll have to find a way to get to their cart on a weekday for lunch.

My buddy Hally ordered their Lamb Kebab $8; served on a pita with organic greens, cucumbers, radish, shaved daikon, fresh mint, and hummus with Turkish fig vinaigrette and sweet pepper harissa aioli. It looked a little lighter in the loafers than my hefty wrap with a ratio that seemed a bit more veggie than meat. He enjoyed his kebab but I think he definitely liked the look of mine better. Perhaps we would've shared but trying to cut and share these would have been a messy nightmare. He also ordered a glass of their Limonana ($2); Israeli mint lemondade with fresh picked mint, freshly squeezed lemons and sugar cane served on ice. He let me have a sip and I really liked it. It was simple, light, uber refreshing and the mint balanced out the sweetness nicely.

Mangal Kiss Mid East BBQ on Urbanspoon

The Sous Chef went straight for one of the new trucks, Culver City Salads and ordered their Soba Noodle Salad ($9).

There was no line up at this truck (awesome), the portion was HUGE, and the salad was delicious. Great taste and texture with the noodles against the mixed greens, shredded carrots, cabbage, chickpeas, cauliflower, sesame seeds, avocado and the bright, full-flavoured Creamy Green dressing with miso, tahini, parsley, apple cider vinegar, and garlic. This was probably the best meal for a super hot day.

We met up with some other friends at the FTF and they were also sharing a salad from the Culver Truck- this was their Quinoa Salad with Chipotle Dressing.
Culver City Salads on Urbanspoon

Hally also picked up a grilled cheese sandwich for his little one, Weston, from Taser Grilled Cheese. I stole a bite of his LOLO sandwich; Swiss Gruyere and Cheddar melted on caramel onions and smoked bacon on sourdough. It was buttery, rich, crunchy, and big on flavour. Not the best grilled cheese I've ever had, but pretty good.

Taser Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Tonnes of people I know have been raving about Johnny's Pops so I was really excited to try a tasty frozen blueberry mojito pop but after my Kefta I was just too stuffed. O well, something to look forward to next time.

Friday, July 5, 2013

An exceptional Brunch experience at Fable

My friend Rachel wanted to take me out for brunch for a belated birthday present- and I was only too happy to oblige. She was very specific and wanted to take me to Fable on West 4th. I've been there for lunch and loved it. She's been for dinner and for their Boozy Brunch (a once a month brunch special where drinks are half price) and is a huge fan.
We went on Father's Day and although I was pessimistic about trying to get into a super popular brunch spot on a high traffic "special brunch occasion" where they were no longer taking reservations, Rachel remained positive and optimistic. We arrived shortly after their opening time, waited in line to put our names down, and we were told it would be approx 45 min wait and that they would give me a ring when there was space for us. We also mentioned that we'd be open to sitting at the bar. Barely 15-20 minutes later, we got the call and mosey-ed back to Fable, where the smiling hostess led us two seats at the bar.
The space here is lovely. High ceilings, fairly open with a lofty hipster barnyard feel complete with cool rustic decor. Everything feels appropriate and comfortable. Sitting at the bar was fun....I recommend it for fans of "kitchen theatre" like myself who enjoy food perving on food prep and plating. It was really warm sitting so close to the flat top and frier but not uncomfortable.
Our coffees were great; rich and full of flavour.

At Rachel's insistence (ya right, she really had to twist my arm) we both ordered mimosas. I LOVED my Grapefruit Mimosa ($7.5). Amazingly fresh, deliciously tart with a hint of sweetness and so refreshing.

Their brunch menu is simple but mouthwatering....everything sounded delicious and looking around at all of the other dishes being consumed at the bar, everything looked delicious too.
We decided to order two dishes and share.

Omelette (3 eggs, bacon, mushrooms, cheddar): salad, rosti, rustic bread ($11)
I don't typically order omelettes. This was Rachel's choice. I never really have been a huge omelette fan, but maybe its because I haven't have a properly prepared omelette before. This was awesome. The eggs were buttery, light, fluffy, and very flavourful without the assistance of much seasoning. The fillings were lovely; thick cut chunks of high quality artisanal bacon and savoury, earthy mushrooms. The side rosti potato cake was crispy, well seasoned and caramelized for maximum flavour and I loved the tiny dollop of chive cream on top. I also have to give a shout out to the tasty bread and bright tangy salad dressing on the greens.

Pulled Pork Johhny Cakes; Tomato Jam, picked jalapenos ($12)
I'm a huge fan of the Pulled Pork Pancakes at Red Wagon, so when I saw these on the menu, my choice was made. But this was a different take on the same concept, lighter, with more subtlety. The pancakes themselves that a slight cornbread taste that I enjoyed. The pulled pork sandwiched between and topping the two pancakes, was generous and not very sauce-y but with a really deep flavour. I loved the tomato jam and pickled jalapenos and because I wanted to give this dish some spice, I added some hot sauce.

I loved the food and the whole meal experience. What makes Fable brunch special? I think its the execution of the dishes, the attention to detail, and the quality ingredients. They even give you delightful (and warm) complimentary cookies when they bring you the bill. Service was efficient, friendly, and attentive. More than just good food, a great experience.

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon