Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wine Event: Salud Chile at O'Doul's on Robson (Vancouver, BC)

Had a great time this weekend - short, but definately sweet.

Met up with some friends for some food and wine at the Playhouse Wine Festival event, Salud Chile which was held at O'doul's Restaurant on Robson. Since we attended last year, our expectations were pretty high.

While there wasn't as much food as last year, there was definately more people at the event. We spoke to someone else at the event, and she thought that Playhouse had over booked / oversold. While the website listed the event as sold out, perhaps it was just economic cuts that led to the "overbooking".

Ah well. I had a great time. I did think it was a little crowded, but I did try some great wines and chowed down on yummy food - the ceviche was my favourite! Although the tamales / huanitos (?) were surprisingly delicious as well. Previously I had labelled tamales as small, hot, bland bundles of paste, but I think O'doul's has made a tamale lover out of me!

I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

The reds dominated over the whites this year. Undurraga had a rich Pinot Noir that both Ms loved, and Carmen had a nice Syrah that I'd like to share with my dad - if I can get my hands on some!

The food was great as usual. The tamales (station manned by Executive Chef Chris Whittaker), ceviche, and skewers of tofu and steak were prepared live - I noticed that the chefs running the stations had all worked the year before; a good indication that the restaurant is doing things right!

The ceviche was a mixture of shrimp, scallops, red onions, lime juice, cucumbers, olive oil, and bell peppers, served atop a baguette crostini - so simple, but so good! I think I had about three or four.

Other hors d'oevres were on trays that made their way through the restaurant, including kushi (I think) oysters, canapes topped with guacamole and tomato, and a quail egg, tuna tataki, and artichoke topped crostini. I didn't even make it to the grilled veggie, cheese and cracker trays - and barely touched the smoked and candied salmon platter.

Food was great - the event was just overbooked though! We might make it to try another event next year.

O'doul's Restaurant & Bar

1300 Robson Street @ Jervis [map]

Vancouver, BC

Phone: 604-661-1400

O'Doul's on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Quest: Are You My Cannoli? (Fratelli Bakery, Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC)

I'm on my quest to find a cannoli that compares to, or IS the one from La Piazza Dario Ristorante! I am really really jonesing for that sweet treat again - crisp shell, lightly sweetened, creamy ricotta and the whole thing lightly dusted with sugar. It seems that I am *not* the only one looking for good canoli in Vancouver, a yahoo user posted this question a couple months ago.

After some google-ing and some perusing, I stopped by Fratelli Bakery on the way home from work and picked up Italian pastries. Since I am the only one with a serious sweet tooth in the house, I only picked up five pastries: Sicilian cannoli and pistachio squares.

Fratelli Bakery, Italian Pastries, Sicilian Canoli Cannoli Canolli Commercial Drive The Drive Vancouver BC Fratelli Bakery, Italian Pastries, Sicilian Canoli Cannoli Canolli Commercial Drive The Drive Vancouver BC

I was actually so hopeful (and anxious!) that the bulk of these photos were taken in the car. Thats right, only a portion of what I ordered at the store made it home! ...Proof that I was not delivered to the wrong parents as an infant.

The Question: Are you my canoli?

The Verdict: Sadly, no. Although the canoli were more traditional in flavour (than Dario, actually!) with slight citrus overtones and chocolate pieces in the ricotta filling, the shell was noticeably thicker and not as crisp as the one I had at Dario's. I'm sure that many people love the canolis at Fratelli (the place had a line up close to closing time!), but it wasn't what I was looking for. Fratelli also had a regular canoli, but it appeared to have a puff pastry shell with a more custard-like filling.

*sigh* I guess the quest goes on...

Fratelli Bakery

1795 Commercial Drive [map]

Vancouver, BC

Phone: (604)255-8926

Fratelli Bakery on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Ubi / Ube (Purple Yam) Bread

When I first joined the Foodbuzz community, one of the first recipes I was and was enamoured with was Angie's Ubi Purple Yam Two-Tone Bread.

I set out to search for Ubi powder, and found it shortly after while we were antiquing on Main Street! ...We wandered into a Philipino grocery store where the owner / lady helped us with a smile. Aside from the Ubi powder, we also picked up a variety of sauces. ...we tried the sauces first (that night actually) and were surprised to find that they were all very sweet - much like Philipino "ketchup", we declared. We had been expecting fiery, spicy sauce, so the sweetness was a little bit of a surprise.

Fast forward a couple weeks - I had forgotten about the ubi powder, but wanted to make a sweet bread. My mind went back to that fantastic photo of the dramatic purple streak through the white bread, and also the curiousity of what Angie calls a Tangzhong starter.

The Tangzhong starter utilizes a concept called starch gelatinization. It makes sense that as the water and flour are stirred and heated up over medium heat, that the starch, an insoluble polysaccharide breaks down into simpler sugars. The resulting hydrogen bonding sites are then able to pick up more water, and thus, improve the texture and moisture content of bread. (My Food Tech instructors would be so proud!)

While I was weighing out and preparing the bread dough, I noted the weights. I also made some changes and suggestions below.

Ingredients - Purple Dough
3/4 c all purpose flour (the original recipe calls for bread dough, but Canadian flour is harder / has more gluten, so I used that instead)
3T Ubi powder
2T + 2t white sugar
1/2t salt (I used Kosher salt)
1/2t instant dry yeast
2T Tangzhong starter (prepared from approximately 1/2 c flour + 1 c water)
1/4 c warm milk
1T + 1t egg, well beaten
2T butter, melted

Ingredients - Light Dough
1 c all purpose flour
2T + 2t white sugar
1/2t salt
1/2t instant dry yeast
2T Tangzhong starter
1/4 c warm milk
1T + 1t egg, well beaten
2T butter, melted

The recipe instructs users to prepare the dough separately, but next time, I'd prepare the doughs (minus yam powder) together, then divide them in two and knead in the yam powder. When I prepared the purple dough, I was worried that the yam powder wouldn't dissolve and make the bread grainy (see photos above). However, after baking, the yam provided a slight sweetness, and there was no graininess.

I'm looking forward to trying out the starch gelatinization concept in other applications. The bread was noticeably more moist than other breads, even a day later. I've been snacking on it here and there and it is tasty!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Excelsior Chicken Noodle House (Richmond, BC)

Had dinner with the family a couple nights ago. We got the gang together for Alaskan King Crab (hurry, before it isn't "in season" anymore!).

We generally go to Excelsior for two things: Alaskan King Crab, and pork tripe soup. Excelsior has won an award for the Best Crab course in Richmond! This is because the crab is fresh (you can taste and feel a difference in texture when the crab has been in captivity at the restaurant for too long), the small kitchen and small restaurant allows food to be brought to the diners ASAP, and because you can choose from a variety of ways to have your crab!

My mother opted to have four courses: the legs were prepared two ways - ginger and onion steamed, and garlic steamed. Everyone preferred the latter over the former. The restaurant also uses the steaming liquor from the first course to prepare a noodle that is served with green onions and chives. Chinese love it for the light, fresh flavour, and for the "al dente" (dan gnah)texture of the noodles.

The larger cluster of meat where the leg meets the body was dredged in seasoned flour, deep fried, and seasoned again with garlic chips, jalapenos, and pepper. Finally, the crab head is utilized to prepare a baked crab-scented rice.

Western and European cuisine use the shells or carcasses of shrimp, lobster, and other seafood to prepare bisque. Well, in Cantonese cuisine, we utilize the fact that the shell has so much flavour as well, and Excelsior prepared a baked rice from the head.

It seemed every other table was there for Alaskan King Crab the night we dined there as well - everyone had platters of king crab legs, baked crab rice, or noodles prepared in crab sauce on their tables!

Alas, dining with my family, you have to act fast. Thus, there were no photos of the ginger and onion steamed crab legs, or the garlic steamed crab legs (my favourite!), or the spicy deep fried crab clusters (my favourite!). Trust me though, it was good.

I did manage to snap shots of the honey spareribs (above), singing chicken hot pot (below, left), the baked crab rice, also "my favourite!" (below, center), and soy sauce chicken (below, right). We also had platters of vegetables braised with gingko nuts and mushrooms, and Excelsiors "lo fo tong" (a house soup, of sorts).

The ambience wasn't much except for crowded and busy - if you like buzzing energy, this is the place to go. :)

Food was great and bellies were full in the end. But the best part was the company.

Excelsior Chicken Noodle House

6-6340 No. 3 Road [map]

Richmond, BC

Excelsior Chicken Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: La Piazza Dario Ristorante (Vancouver, BC)

Wine Rack at La Piazza Dario Ristorante.!

I had a work event that brought me to the Italian Cultural Center one weekday afternoon. Little did I know that the "Dario" restaurant that I had passed so many times in my childhood / commutes / trips downtown was a classy stop for lunch or dinner!

It was also my birthday, and my boss (one of the best!) treated me to a lunch at La Piazza Dario Ristorante. I was surprised that the place was so busy - there were several large parties in the establishment, and we were serviced by waitresses, maitre'ds, and busboys galore.

There were a number of business people in their various attire, as well as some older couples dining during my stay.

The prices were quite reasonable and Dario's focuses on quality more than quantity. I thoroughly enjoyed my penne with meat sauce, and later, a cannoli.

Does anyone know where they source their desserts from?? I haven't had such good cannoli since I got back from Victoria! It was fresh, light, crisp and nicely sweetened.

Light, refreshing cannoli at La Piazza Dario Ristorante. The perfect way to end off a meal!

I'm looking forward to visiting La Piazza Dario Ristorante with the boy (you know. When I can talk him into it. :p)

La Piazza Dario Ristorante

3075 Slocan Street [map]

Vancouver BC

Phone: 604-430-2195

Dario's la Piazza Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Recipe: French Onion Chicken Stew

Had our annual general meeting for our strata last night. It was a JOKE.

Knowing that we basically had to go straight home last night, wolf down a quick dinner, then to the meeting, we knew that we had to have something preplanned. Something fast. Something that required no fuss!

Behold, Michael Smith's recipe for French Onion Chicken Stew. It looked interesting and simple enough when I had seen it on his show, Chef at Home while eating breakfast one morning. The ingredients were simple, I had a Costco-sized bag of onions to use up, and I've been dying to maximize effort and time to use the slow cooker!

I adapted the recipe to my slow cooker - it wouldn't hold the entire recipe, and also added some extra seasonings.

Ingredients (adapted from Michael Smith's recipe)
9 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in, rinsed and patted dry
8 garlic cloves
8 yellow onions, peeled and sliced
1 cup white wine (I used a Californian Sauvignon Blanc)
2 T ground thyme
4 heaping tablespoons of dijon mustard
1 t oregano
4 bay leaves
salt, black and white peppers
pinch of cayenne

I used a cast iron pot to brown off the chicken thighs which were first seasoned with a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper. I did not use oil in the pot as I figured that the chicken skins would render off enough oil to cook the meat in. I was right.

I layered the ingredients into the crock pot, starting with a layer of onions. I scatted a couple cloves of garlic on top of that, then lowered in some chicken. I dotted the chicken with dijon mustard, then seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper, oregano and bay leaves. I repeated the layers once more, and topped everything off with a layer of onions.

This was all done the night before. Before I went to work, I removed the crock pot insert from the fridge, poured in a cup of wine, then plugged the slow cooker in, turned it to low, and went to work!

When we got home yesterday, I boiled up some pasta and served the chicken and onions atop noodles. It was one heck of a comfort meal!

...Before and after the annual strata meeting. :o\

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Tropika - Cambie (Vancouver, BC, Canada); Mom is Always Right.

I have to admit, Tropika does not have it good in my books. They were one of the premier "Malaysian" group of restaurants that opened in the Vancouver area and Calgary in the nineties. Unfortunately, I believe that my tastes, as well as many Vancouverites tastes, have evolved and become more knowledged, and Tropika just doesn't cut it for me anymore. Their dishes taste more Chinese than Malaysian or Thai as they bill themselves to be, and do not taste authentic.

However, it is also one of the "different" restaurants that my mother and grandfather really likes.

With my father out of town and my mother wanting to go out for dinner, she chose Tropika, and I obligingly agreed - they do somethings right, if not all. And secondly, as I'm sure many others will agree, mom is always right.

I would like to note that it was just my mother and myself dining that night, although she ordered enough food for another two people! Meh, who am I to argue though, mom is always right.

roti canai from Tropika (Cambie location), Vancouver, BC, Canada

First up, we have roti canai. One order includes one roti, and will set you back about $3. My mother ordered three. Yes, three. And we finished it all!!! (it was the one thing we finished.) Tropika *does* still do this right after all these years. Time after time, the rotis are fluffy, slightly buttery, and light, served with an appetizing sauce for dipping and dunking. I could probably eat an entire meals worth of roti canai, but you know...it'd be a little unhealthy. :) I have to say, for Vancouver, Tropika makes the best roti, hands down. The side of sauce makes it a great appetizer, although you could also use the roti for dunking into curry or whatever else you order.

The next dish the waiter brought was half a dozen of beef satays, and half a dozen of lamb satays. Sadly, neither were very good. The lamb was slightly gamey and the beef was not tender at all! I snickered softly as I tried to chew through a satay. My mother asked me (demanded to know) what I was laughing at.

I laughed and mentioned that good thing my grandpa "wasn't eating this, otherwise he'd be here all night!" She laughed and we ate some more.

It was right before they brought our next dish that my mother noticed that although we had ordered half a dozen of each satay, there were only eleven sticks on the table. booo!!! What was worse was that the waiter hesitated and questioned us on this when we brought it up. Geez Tropika, don't you know that mom is always right?!

Shame on them.

I had seconded my mothers decision of ordering a Pineapple Fried Rice - Tropika always had served them in pineapple halves, with chunks of pineapple. I did notice that the size of the dish had gotten larger (I spied it at another table first!). Even while we were eating, a neighbouring table remarked, "that pineapple fried rice is quite large." I liked the size, and the fact that the rice had large chunks of pineapple and smaller pieces of meat in it. However, mom thought it was average. She wasn't impressed by the size, and didn't think that there was much to it. Who am I to argue?

...mom is always right

Next up was the rest of the satays - that's right. Two people, two dozen satays. My mother doesn't do anything half way! We had the chicken and pork satays, which were much better than the first dish of satays. The chicken satay at Tropika is very tender and flavourful. You get a good taste of the grill, along with slight lemongrass and curry flavours. Yum! After having the pork satay that day, I'd order it again too. All satays were served with a meager helping of peanut satay sauce.

By the time the beef curry came along, we were so full we could only manage a couple bites. It was average for the price. But the pieces of meat were plentiful and braised until very tender.

Afterwards, I stopped by Cheesecakes Etc to pick up a cake and some strawberry sauce. It was so good! Although I didn't like what I saw in the restaurant. One of the employees was packaging the strawberries for take out, and a couple of lids fell onto the floor. At first, she just attempted to kick it under the shelf. When that didn't work, another employee picked the lids up off the ground and put it back on the lower shelf. Now, interpret that as you will - I didn't see them put the lids onto any containers for usage, but I didn't see them clean or throw them out, either!

It was good to see my mother and the company was definately better than the food, even though we packed about 75% of it to go. :)

Tropika (Cambie)

2975 Cambie Street [map]

Vancouver BC

Phone: 604-879-6002

Tropika (Cambie) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review: Kingyo Izakaya, En Vogue @ the River Rock (West Side, Vancouver, BC, Canada)

Had a GREAT time at En Vogue last night. My super-special cousin dearest gifted me with a ticket for my birthday and we went together last night - not bad, as it accomplishes a whole gamut of my "29 things to do when I'm 29": 1) spent time with a family member, 2) went to a live concert / event.

Here's a great moment from the night:

...although one of the best moments of the night happened seconds after the video was shot - the fourth guy burst out in this beautiful sex-ah chorus. Loved it!

The absolute BEST moment of the night happened when En Vogue did Free Your Mind - the theatre went cray-zay!

This show was the first in Vancouver since they were reunited on the BET awards - I have to say, all the ladies look fabulous and they can saaaaaang. Terry, Maxine, Cindy and Dawn put on a great show and I *loved* it!

Ahem. Yes. We were originally going to make a night of it and have a great snack before, and a small meal afterwards - which we essentially did, but I didn't take any photos of the first meal! We dropped by Continental plaza in Richmond and chose to eat at "Ellie", a "Singaporean & Taiwanese" joint. As I was eating with a Singaporean, I asked her what she thought of the food. She said off the back that she was picky with her laksas, but once she tasted it, she actually thought it was ok. My cousin thought that the laksa would be served with a thicker, starchier noodle, but it was served with a vermicelli that I detected to be slightly undercooked. We also had the chicken wings (sweet and sour Thai sauce) and chicken skewers (yes, chicken chicken chicken!) and found them to be average to below average. The saving grace was that the bill only came to twenty dollars for three plates / two people. Meh. It was just a snack.

After the show, we made our way to Denman street downtown in hopes to have some dessert at True Confections. However, when we drove by, it appeared to be closed! We went to Kingyo Izakaya instead to get some grub. I've been to Kingyo before, and posted a review here.

Kingyo Izakaya Mural, Denman, West End, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Last night, it wasn't as busy as we went later at night and the place was almost closing. Subsequently, when we ordered a Chirashi cocktail (not a drink but a mix of sushi), we were informed that they had just sold the last one.

We did enjoy two refreshing drinks, a lychee gray (soho & grapefruit) and an aloe drink, as well as a salmon carpaccio, tako wasabi, kimchi udon, and beef tendon miso stew.

Our favourite dish had to be the salmon carpaccio - fresh slices of thin wild sockeye salmon served with mayo, onions, garlic chips and daikon sprouts. I guess we were craving lean protein! The tako wasabi, as we discussed, was so hot that it kind of "punched you in the face" - in a "nice way". :) I wouldn't change the dish as it was a nice, refreshing appetizer, served with seaweed / nori sheets for wrapping.

The cocktails were refreshing and not cloying. My cousin noted that Kingyo used hollowed bamboo (?) stalks as straws, which I found a nice touch. It served as a "green" utensil as well as a garnish!

The beef tendon miso stew was a comforting reprieve from all the "nouveau" items on the menu. I liked the chunks of radish, carrot, and beef in here.

Originally, I had ordered the kimchi udon because I wanted something different - little did I know that I had ordered it before. Oh well. I do believe that it was better last time - last night it was slightly too starchy. The flavour was great though! I'd still come back to Kingyo - it is, again, the slightly more grown up Guu and the food is still crave-inducing!

The service and the hospitality, along with the warm food, was a great ending to our already-fantastic evening.

Kingyo Izakaya

871 Denman Street [map]

Vancouver, BC

Phone: 604-680-1677

Kingyo on Urbanspoon
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