Friday, January 31, 2014

Dine Out Vancouver 2014 at Twisted Fork Bistro

There is a group of lovely ladies that I typically do one Dine Out Vancouver meal with every year. Our group changed a wee bit this year because we decided to meld the DOV tradition with celebrating someone’s birthday.

After careful review of the DOV menus, the birthday girl picked Twisted Fork. I called to make a reservation and the lovely hostess explained they didn’t take resos, but had a great “call when your table is ready” and assured me that they had the space to seat our party of 8.
On the night of the dinner, this was definitely the case. Our name was put in, we went to a nearby pub for some drinks, and approx 1.5 -2 hours later we were seated.

Now I’ve heard about Twisted Fork and their awesome brunches (although I’ve never been) but haven’t heard anything about dinners. Their DOV menu was set at $28 and the menu sounded good.

Twisted Fork is located in downtown Vancouver on the Granville strip, close to Davie St. The restaurant is quite small and narrow, so you could miss it walking by…Look for the big fork! The inside of this bistro is long, narrow, with mellow lighting, creating a relaxing vibe. They’ve got high ceilings, rustic wood tables, and cool touches of décor and art (an old door, a wall lined with their own jams, jellies, canned goods, preserves, an old kitchen mixer as a vase).

Complimentary rolls:
Liked the presentation! (served in a colander with whipped butter in a shot glass)

The appetizers:

Cream of potato and leek soup garnished with pancetta crisps
I really really liked this soup. It was rich, warm and full bodied with a delicate smooth creamy texture and a slight peppery kick. The pancetta crisps were essentially two thin bacon chips, crispy, salty, awesome.

Warm beet salad mixed with goat cheese, arugula, carrot and almonds tossed in a sherry vinaigrette

Gruyere and caramelized onion tart with a hint of nutmeg served with pesto dressed greens and pear chutney
No one in our group had the tart

The Entrees:

Vegan Lasagna with layers of yam, eggplant, zucchini, basil, almond ricotta and tomato sauce served on top of braised swiss chard
I liked this dish okay but didn’t love it. I found it a bit boring flavour-wise. The textures were pretty one-note too.

Pan seared Sablefish on herb couscous, cauliflower coulis and raspberry balsamic reduction topped with leek fries

Herb and brie stuffed Chicken Breast, served with wild mushroom risotto, roasted herb cherry tomatoes finished with chicken jus

The Desserts

Pumpkin spiced cheesecake served with sour cream topping and fresh mint
LOVED this dessert. Definitely not your average slice of cheesecake. Served in a mason jar, this was a layered creation with loose graham crumbles at the bottom with a main layer of a creamy whipped pumpkin pudding, then lightly topped with a thin layer of slightly sweetened sour cream.

Frozen chocolate terrine served with raspberry sorbet, fresh raspberries and almond tuile

Caramel mousse served with fresh raspberries, raspberry coulis and almond tuile

All in all, an enjoyable DOV experience. The company was fabulous. The food was solid (with no complaints from a diverse group of 8). I would say that this was well cooked west coast bistro food in a tasteful, cozy, intimate setting. Portions were reasonable. Service was friendly and warm. And again…I am dreaming that one day I will have my own wall of pickled goods and preserves. 

Twisted Fork Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chinese New Year Dinner Party Homecooking

On January 31st, it’s Chinese New Year and time to enter the year of the Horse. 

Food is an important part of the Chinese culture and a lot of significance is assigned to different foods for the New Year. Many foods are served up to usher in wealth, happiness and good fortune.

This year, I decided to ring in Chinese New Year by cooking a vegan meal full of lucky foods to usher in the new year. I’m so lucky to live in Vancouver where I have access to Chinese markets and grocery products. I can even pick up T &T products from the Real Canadian Superstore so I don’t need to make a separate trip!

Wonton Soup: Dumplings are supposed to be lucky and bring wealth and prosperity. I stuffed twonton wrappers with minced tofu, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, and I tried to shape the wontons to resemble a little gold ingot (ancient Chinese money). I used my own homemade veggie broth seasoned with soy sauce and garnished with green onion and boy choy (cut in long thin strands because leafy greens are supposed to be lucky and long food (noodles, beans, etc) implies long life.

Rice cakes: The Chinese name of rice cakes ‘nian gao,’ literally means a “higher year” or year of
improvement or advancement. I served Senbei rice crackers as an appy...close enough?

Buddhist Delight: This Buddhist vegetarian stew chock full of eggplant, snow peas, cabbage and more, known as jai in Cantonese, is traditionally served on the first day of the Chinese New Year to bring good luck. Also on the plate was a Sesame Radish (Chinese for radish is tsai tou, which means “good omen”) bean sprout salad and steamed white rice.

Did you know?

The Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year cycle, each of the years being named after an animal.

According to the Chinese calendar, 2014 is the Year of the Horse. The Chinese believe that people born in a particular year take on the characteristics of the animal associated with that year.

If you were born in the year of the horse, you are likely:
Cheerful, popular and smart with money. Wise, talented and good with your hands. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Taco Crawl (Part 2) Cuchillo

Our taco crawl adventure continued to Railtown where we stopped at ...

Mole Lamb Albondigas, Sardo Parmesan Browned Popcorn ($8 for a plate with 2 tacos)

Cuchillo on Urbanspoon

A refresher on The Food Crawl basics:
Four participants. Each participant picks a taco joint OR a specific taco dish they've been wanting to try. I drive the taco wagon (aka my Honda Fit) and come up with logistics, scheduling, route that makes sense. At each stop, we either have done our research and picked a taco OR ask our server for their most popular taco/ their recommendation. One taco per crawler per venue.
Let the adventure continue!


This was the Leggy Redhead’s pick…she had been there before- LOVED IT- but never ordered their tacos. This was my first visit to Cuchillo, which opened this year in the Railtown area. You enter under a neon skull sign through glass to ceiling doors to a spacious waiting area and a long restaurant interior with communal long tables. This space is pretty awesome- high ceilings, exposed brick walls, retro luchador posters, and some pretty cool light fixtures. It was busy but not packed and the servers and clientele were of the smile-y hipster genre. 

TLR asked the server for some recommendations, she gave a few but TLR was most tempted by the lamb option. When these tacos came out, the aroma is the first thing to grab your attention.

The lamb itself is surprisingly in a juicy, tender, meatball form. The meat has a lovely gameyness which is lifted with the toasted garlic. The popcorn is a clever, playful, creative touch that adds a fun texture element. The meatball was interesting. Although, well cooked and juicy, I found it a little awkward to eat as a meatball, so instead I did some pre-shredding with a fork which allowed for easy, well-distributed bites. Served on double red tortillas that were "meh", no real flavour or wow factor, instead letting the bold showy flavours and textures of the inside shine. Loved the space and luchador décor, loved the creative menu, I will definitely be back.

The Leggy Redhead:

Mole Lamb taco--This one was my pick.  I'd eaten at Cuchillo before and loved everything, but hadn't tried the lamb taco.  Lots of great flavours.  I didn't expect the lamb to be sausage/meatball style.  Not my first choice for texture in a taco.  Popcorn gave it a neat crunchy texture that worked. 
Venditas tequila shot - I'd never heard of these.  Well the Bad Jew introduced us to this.  What a great, refreshing chaser shot...crisp cilantro with a bit of sweet from the pineapple juice and heat from jalapeno all pureed together .  Makes you feel healthy again after the tequila shot! Ha ha, I can pretend can't I!

The Bad Jew:

Already a favorite of The Bad Jew, Cuchillo drew us in with its purple neon skull lighting the way.  If you haven’t been, the décor and set up of the room is fantastic.  A long room with a long bar (Yay) and a lengthy communal table.  Generous lighting throughout –everyone seems in soft focus.  The Leggy Redhead looked five years younger (than what?  I’m not saying, I intend to stay alive).

I took the liberty of ordering a round of Venditas – an off menu libation.  “Is it a shot?”, “Well it’s like a shot but not … you’ll see.  You won’t be sorry.”  A half shot of tequila chased by a half shot of beautiful green concoction – cilantro, jalapeño and pinapple blended together – sweet and spicy, kinda like The Bad Jew.  Highly recommend ordering Venditas if you visit.

We selected the Mole Lamb tacos – my first thought was – “I can’t believe I’m at Cuchillo and I’m not ordering the Wild Mexican Sea Prawns”  yup they are that good.  I had a lot of following thoughts; the tacos took an excruciatingly long time to arrive.  A pungent smell announced their eventual appearance.  I was eating this dish through my nose J
The tacos featured a packed lamb meatball covered in a healthy dose of my favorite Mexican sauce –Mole!  A complex dark brown sauce featuring over 20 ingredients including several types of chili and chocolate.  Thumbs up Cuchillo on your version – thick and juicy but sadly dumbed down with not much heat.  The tacos were topped with a garnish of pea shoots and sprinkles of popcorn – for an added visual and fun factor.  The red tortillas (tomato derived, I suppose) displayed pretty grill marks.  Overall, a taco sure to please the fancy pants crowd – but sadly it’s a shadow of the prawn dish.  Bittersweet.

The Glib:

One of Vancouver’s better new restaurants, with an ownership group with rumoured ties to the much missed Cobre, Cuchillo promised to deliver. The Bad Jew rightly pointed out the deliciousness of non-taco menu items, like the spectacular prawn dish, as he ordered up three Venditas (a tequila shot with a refreshing blended coriander chaser), but this night was about tacos.

The Leggy Redhead’s instincts overrode our capable and friendly server’s recommendations, and in a few short minutes we were dining on a lamb meatball, mole sauce and garlic popcorn wrapped in a warmed corn taco. Popcorn, you say. In a taco, you say. Hell yes. 

On the nose, garlic, not fresh or roasted, but crisp fried garlic. Maybe a little too much garlic. But only just. The mole was smooth and velvety. The lamb fresh, flavourful but not overpowering. The tortillas in this dish played a perfect background role, giving just enough flavour to say a casual hello. All in all, a delicious, balanced dish in taste and texture.