Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Food Bloggers Dinner: Alvin Garden (Burnaby, BC)

One cloudy evening, thirteen Vancouver food bloggers (and their spouses / significant others) decended on Alvin Garden in Burnaby for dinner (and joint food photo session :). It was an event organized by none other than Sherman of Shermans Food Adventures, at a location suggested by Kim of I'm Only Here For the Food! In attendance were the bloggers behind 604 Foodtography, Ho Yummy!, Doesn't TaZte Like Chicken!, TBDFBTI!, [eating club] Vancouver, and La Petite Vancouver.

Tucked away behind Metrotown (as us old folk remember it!) and the Bonsor recreation center in Burnaby is Alvin Garden. While some would disregard it driving by (as I have - I have a couple of friends who lived / live nearby and I've never even noticed it!), Alvin Garden would probably classify as a "fan toung" (a Chinese 'trattoria'?) for the locals as it filled up (and continued to fill up!) while we were there. There also seems to be a conflict in the name out front on the awning and the name on the napkins above. Perhaps similar to how Excelsior Chicken Noodle House has a completely different meaning from their Chinese name?

We ordered a number of dishes, ranging from soup to hot pot, encompassing egg, pork, duck, vegetables, fish and everything in between. However, part way through, we noticed that we hadn't ordered a lamb hot pot that we'd seen on every other table throughout the restaurant, or a tantalizing cauliflower and meat dish (and I LOVE cauliflower!).

I suppose we were a spectacle - a table of thirteen, madly snapping photos photos every time the server placed a dish on the lazy susan. I felt pretty normal for once - I was kind of in the shadow of a number of Canon and Nikon DSLRs, (and a tester Sony). Even with my red camera, I didn't stand out too much. :)

I honestly do not remember that much about the food - the beer-braised duck had nice flavour, although I detected more Shaoxing / cooking wine instead of beer. And somehow I managed to get all wing tip bones both times I tried to sample the dish. The soup was also a nice, sweet alternative to all the fiery chili that was going about the table.

I did come by this interesting spice in one of the dishes. [eating club] vancouver tells me that it is a Sichuan peppercorn. I can't explain the flavour - I thought I was chomping into a regular peppercorn, but it gives off this slightly soapy, floral, lavender-like mouthfeel as well. I think I'll use some with pork. Hmm.

There were a lot of interesting conversations going around the table - parking lot mayhem, certain restaurant review sites, and foodie talk alike. It was good to put some faces to online personas and to enjoy some food together, if only in our paparazzi-style obsession. :)

What I do not recommend ordering are the corn cake cones above. They were bland in flavour and had a texture reminiscent of playdoh. (Not that I would know...) The dough seemed to have been overworked and sugar / salt were absent from the recipe. As Sherman put it, "[I don't remember much,] but I remember *those* things!"

I do plan on going back to Alvin Garden - I'd reorder the pumpkin cakes, mapou tofu, and the steamed egg, and I'd try out the cauliflower dish and the lamb hot pot.

Alvin Garden

4850 Imperial Street [map]

Burnaby BC

Phone: (604) 437-0828

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: La Boheme Creperie (Farmers Markets, GVRD, BC)

I haven't exactly felt like blogging as of late. I really need to get on an exercise program as all this food blogging has been taking its toll! :)

The New Westminster / Royal City Farmers Market kicked off on Thursday with local musicians, serenading the crowd, free carrot cake, and lots of local produce and products.

I wasn't exactly in a shopping mood - I just showed up to look around for inspiration and motivation to cook or eat. There was a stand selling bell peppers at a good price - $4 for as many you could fit in a bag, but I remembered that I still had peppers at home. There were garlic scapes in season, but I'd had a little trouble using up my last batch from the Main Street Farmers Market. There were the organic meats and locally caught fish, but I knew that I'd be out this weekend and wouldn't have a chance of finishing any.

I'd heard great things about La Boheme - the line up for them at the Trout Lake Farmers Market was huge, and the lineups at a Portobello West show at the Rocky Mountaineer station was equally long. So when I saw the meager three-person lineup at the Royal City Farmers Market, I knew it was the day to try a crepe.

La Boheme makes their crepes with a light batter made from organic buckwheat flour and a small amount of white flour. I thought that it would make for a heavy crepe, but it actually very light, nutty and added a crisp texture.

I ordered the Ali Baba - red pepper spread, baba ghanoush (seasoned eggplant spread), and feta cheese warmed on a toasty-crisp buckwheat crepe, and topped with lettuce before being wrapped and served. It was a vegetarian option and it was delicious!

Yes, that's right, not just "delicious", but delicious!

I should add, that this crepe made me happy that M wasn't having dinner at home that night. I was extra-garlicky all night and I believe that the people in my building should thank me for fending off any vampires for them that evening. :)

I'm looking forward to trying La Bohemes' other offerings.

La Boheme Creperie is at local farmers markets and other outdoor events throughout the summer. To find out when they are at your local farmers markets, sign up for a newsletter from My Market News. They'll send you newsletters each week for the markets of your choice.

Review: Rose Thai (Ambleside, West Vancouver, BC)

It's been over a year since we last went to Rose Thai in the Ambleside community of West Vancouver. Why am I so sure?

Last year, there was a fire at the apartment where M lived on 19th in North Vancouver. He was kept from his apartment and his belongings for about a week, then told to evacuate his belongings as the apartment management and owners wanted to do a restoration and renovation before opening it up again for rentals this year.

We spent a couple life-sucking days trying to clean, dispose of, salvage and pack any items that were not water-damaged - it was an extremely hot time of year and the fact that the air cleaners and dehumidifiers warmed up the air made it unbearable at times.

After one such afternoon, we peeled off our dust masks and went for a drive around the North Shore. Driving along Marine Drive in West Vancouver, we came upon Rose Thai. We'd seen the owners painting and making minor renovations to the space a before (it used to be a Greek restaurant with a nice-sized patio) and had inquired then what kind of restaurant they'd be running.

Now, over a year later, we returned again, after a day of shopping and tinkering about in West Vancouver. Time kind of flies as you get older, huh?

It was a visit that was a long time coming. We settled on three choices: Pad Thai with seafood, Green Curry Chicken, and Beef with vegetables. The Pad Thai came first, with a generous garnishing of freshly roasted peanuts and a wedge of lime. When we were brought the dish, though, one of my dining companions exclaimed, "Is that for one of us?" It was such a small portion!

The Pad Thai at Rose Thai was pretty saucy. To their credit however, there were lots of white shrimp, egg, and bay scallops in the dish. This brought the following thought to our minds: how much do rice noodles cost?! Could they not throw in an extra brick of noodles? They certainly had enough sauce for it. Apart from the lack of noodles / extra sauce issue, the pad thai was flavourful and mildly spicy. The shrimp were nicely done and the sauce highlighted the sweet flavour of the shrimp.

The green curry chicken was a hands down favourite. It came with chunks of bell peppers, eggplant, onions, and green peas. We ordered two bowls of rice with it and had the following conversation between us (M Me MM):

Are we going to order more rice?

That depends. Are we going to pack up the rest of this?

There's so little though.

But it's so good!

Oh nevermind! I'm going to finish this all! [Proceeds to rapidly drink the remaining curry like soup]

[Makes mental note to blog about this]

The beef with vegetables came last. It was nothing too special, with a mildly spicy glaze coating onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, snow peas and slices of beef. It went well with rice and supplied some daily nutrients!

It should be noted that restaurants in West Vancouver do not, generally, offer great value. The same notion is carried out at Rose Thai: where Thai restaurants in the GVRD do not generally offer huge portions for the money, Rose Thai seemingly takes the two generalizations to the extreme - smaller portions than average, and smaller portions than other Thai restaurants! They don't even offer the "discount lunch specials" on weekends! That being said though, it does offer great flavours and is one of the only Thai restaurants in West Vancouver.

Rose Thai

1425 Marine Drive [map]

West Vancouver BC

Phone: 604-925-0070

Rose Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: Falafel King (West End, Vancouver, BC)

After an afternoon of biking around the Stanley Park sea wall a couple weekends ago, our grumbling tummies begged us to stop for food before we returned home.

We'd always wanted to try Falafel King previous times as it always looked busy and had been around for a good long while. It was either Falafel King or take out fish and chips from across the street (closer to English Bay) but since I had wanted to try out Qoola, M opted for Falafel King, which was right next door.

While I made my purchase in Qoola, M pondered over the limited selection in Falafel King. There were falafels, falafel platters, vegetarian platters, and the shawarma - beef or chicken. Since there were two full skewers of chicken shawarma heated and ready to go, M ordered a chicken shawarma plate. It came with tabbouleh salad, garlicky hummus, pita, and rice.

I'll have you know that I did a project on shawarma and donair in my last semester of public health training at BCIT. What makes for a good (and foodsafe) donair / shawarma? The risk itself comes from the way the food is made - donair is a mixture of ground seasoned meat that is formed onto a metal rod for cooking, while shawarma is typically chicken breasts that are seasoned, stacked, and skewered. As the cone of meat rotates past a heating element, the outside layer is cooked and sliced off to serving.

Since both shawarma and donair meats are formed raw, there is potential for the food to sit too long at optimal temperatures for pathogen growth, or for the meat to remain raw if there is insufficient time for the meat to cook.

However, it was found that as long as the 1) heating element is turned on, and the 2) cone of meat is set to rotate, the meat didn't remain within the "danger zone" (4-60ÂșC) for long. Since the rod that the meat sits on is metal, it also helps conduct heat from the center of the cone; combined with a careful thermometer-armed cook and a steady lineup of customers, the risk for pathogenic growth or survival is quite small.

About Falafel King? We've *never* had better, fresher chicken shawarma. The meat was tender and juicy, and done just right! It was, by far, the best value item on their menu. As I noted before, I had to pay more for dessert at Qoola!

The tabbouleh was more parsley and mint than we have ever had, but it just showed how fresh the ingredients were. The humous was a rich, creamy, flavourful condiment to the meal, and the pitas are made locally by none other than the Pita Bread Factory in Burnaby. As for the rice? I don't know if they used a plumper, short-grained rice to appeal to the downtown (i.e. Asian) crowd, but it was a noted (and delicious!) difference to what I'd had before (long grain, dry).

We loved the shawarma so much that we ordered another two (with spicy sauce! - it isn't actually that spicy at all.) to take home for dinner through the week. Just yesterday, me and M contemplated that if a Falafel King were to open up in the vacant commercial units in our apartment complex, we'd probably gorge ourselves on it until we couldn't walk.

Oh Falafel King, we are so happy to have found you. May you quelch many of our after-seawall hunger pangs and offer us many a third beach "picnic" this summer!

Falafel King

1110 Denman Street [map]

Vancouver BC

Phone: 604-669-7278

Falafel King on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Baristas are better than Your Baristas!

So it was our local (favourite!) Starbucks' anniversary last week. I couldn't make it in time for their anniversary festivities, but M made it, and won a tumbler and freebie coupon for drink of his choice, as well as his drink of the day for "guessing" the number of beans in a container.

It was awfully sweet and we love our baristas - everyone!

On the weekend, we went down and Zam & Amber gifted us with a giftcard as well!

To make it more touching, they also made us part of their "Anniversary Board":

Wow, talk about making our day and making me smile. To think that we went from being just the grumpy, mumbly couple who dropped by every now and then, to the "guy who ordered a venti dark (because he doesn't like Pike!) and the girl who orders 'whatever' (weather dependent)" to M&J.

Thank you! From the S'bux "original" baristas who have been here for a year (and counting) to Luna (who makes the BEST hazelnut lattes - with a smile, always) to Zam, Sam, Amber and everyone else (you need nametags!) You guys are the bestest!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Qoola Yogurt + Fruit (West End, Vancouver, BC)

*Finally* tried Qoola when I went biking last weekend. It was nice to work up an appetite / burn off some calories before indulging in a (healthy) sweet treat.

Everyone has heard about Qoola. (Minus a certain little sister, up until a couple weeks ago.) The store has a real clean, fresh vibe to it - bright walls, nice layout, and recyclable / compostable cutlery and containers. It is a philosophy that I can get behind!

I opted for a medium green tea frozen yogurt with blackberry and sea foam toppings, and my bill came to a little over $7. I note this only because on the same day, M purchased a whole meal next door for the same price (I'll post about it later). They were both great-tasting items, but when I worked out that it cost me almost a dollar each for a sprinkle of crushed honeycomb candy and about five blackberries, I felt a little ripped off.

It did taste good - tangy, light and slightly sweet. It was creamy and you could taste each ingredient - matcha, blackberry and the crushed candy. I guess I'm just a suburb bumpkin at heart though. It'll take a real craving for me to shell out the bucks for toppings!

Qoola Yogurt + Fruit

1116 Denman Street [map]

Vancouver, BC

Phone: (604) 801-6338

Qoola Yogurt + Fruit on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yum-O-Rama Connects: Now on Facebook!

There are more ways to connect with Yum-O-Rama - I've created a page for this blog on Facebook.

Alternatively, you can follow me on twitter, share with me / view my shared links in google reader, or view my photos on flickr!

I started Yum-O-Rama: Where I Live to Eat! (officially) in January of this year. Previously, there were strains of YOR in my former blogs - Who knew that after six months I'd still be here, with all of you, with this undying appetite for food?

Thank you all for following me and continuously making my day! I am always ready to receive constructive criticism, although all I've received so far (and am VERY appreciative of!) are positive comments and feedback. To you, my friends, new and old, online and offline - THANK YOU! May you all have fantastic months and delicious food experiences. :)

Thanks a million!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Event: Car Free Vancouver Day - The Drive! (Vancouver BC)

As promised on twitter, I went to car free day - at the original location - The Drive. Before Car Free Vancouver Day came to be, it started out as Car Free Drive Day, in a community defiance of Vancouvers' plans to make Commercial Drive a widened (no parking) through fare for cars on all days of the week.

As the flavour and energy of The Drive thrived (and still does!) on cafe patios, sidewalks, bike routes and pedestrian areas, one could see how such plans would ultimately destroy the life of Commercial Drive. And so Car Free Drive Day was born.

I attended Car Free Drive Days in 2007 and 2008 and I`ve seen it grown every year. This year it was *packed*.

Now the idea behind Car Free Vancouver Day has evolved - it is to promote alternative modes of transportation to cars by way of walking, public transportation, or bikes - hence the large bike valet area at 1st Avenue & Commercial Drive.

Last year at Car Free day, we vowed to try Stix, a satay / Vietnamese restaurant near Venables. They'd just opened but I believe that we had a birthday dinner or something to go to, so we passed. This year, we tried two pork skewers. M kind of swallowed his skewer whole, so I was left to take a photo of myself eating - using my reflection in a window...the skewers were hot, flavourful and "better than night market", as the vendor claimed. :)

Stix, Commercial Drive @ Venables, Car Free Vancouver Day, Vancouver BC Pork skewer meets my mouth at Car Free Drive Day 2009, Vancouver BC

After years of drooling over the rotating sardines at CFVD, we *finally* tried some. An order cost $6, whereas the chicken halves cost $10. The chicken wasn't nearly done when were to the end of the lineup, so we opted for the sardines. Here's a short video on the mesmorizing rotisserie of chicken:

Vender showing off his Portuguese pride - Portuguese Club of Vancouver, Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC Grilled sardine plate - Before! (Portuguese Club of Vancouver, Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC) Grilled sardine plate - After! (Portuguese Club of Vancouver, Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC)

After all that anticipation, I realized that I am not a sardine person. Granted, the grilled fish were really yummy. They had a nice hit of seasoning and the grill added lots of flavour. The light Portuguese bun offset the richness of the fish really well! M and I both agreed that while the fish was delicious, it wouldn't be something that we'd eat or order. But, when in Rome!

There were a number of bands and musicians along the way. It felt everyone came out to the Drive to enjoy the sun and take in the festivities - including some mimes (I'm thinking they're part of the "In the House" series of intimate plays and concerts that takes place in August.

There were drummers and percussionists galore. The African drum circle group kept the vibes going...

...and, believe it not, they complimented the Mariachi band that was close by. Musical synergy at its best. :)

We did eat more, of course - we had an appetizer at Tio Pepe's (blog about it later) and we also tried out Pagoda Vietnamese Cuisine.

M had the meat spring rolls while I had the beef wrapped in heart leaves. The spring rolls were a little soggy, but the beef in heart leaves were yummy. Slightly salty, with a touch of vinegar to even it out.

At this point, we were suffering a little bit of food coma and decided to head home. But not before snapping a couple photos of people and their pets!

The top pick for "like owner / like dog" goes to this lady:

And picks for cutest pups go to the laughing retriever, "Millie", who begged me to keep petting her by pawing me every time I stopped, and the cute poodle who snuggled in her owners' arms...

Another great event on The Drive, and another festive Car Free Vancouver Day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Guilty Pleasures: Screamers at Danny's Market and Pizza (Richmond, BC)

I had another *fantastic* weekend (and a busy Monday!) that was kicked off by a Screamer at Danny's Market & Pizzeria in Richmond.

People who know me know that I have one of those "addictive" personalities - I pick something up, I love it, and then I *have* to have it. There was the first night when I logged on to the internet and stayed glued for about twelve hours straight (when my brother woke up and had to pry me off). There were the times when I drove to Sephora *just* to get Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer when I first heard of it (I still use it religiously, to this day). There was the time when I hunted down my size of Pumas when one of the only pairs was downtown - I drove there straight after work to pick them up (still in their box, well worn but still beautiful).

Sometimes I think I just love the hunt...it becomes part of the obsession and experience.

Such was the case when I read Five Loaves' review of Screamers, part of me said, "me want."

Being that I work in Richmond, I began to plan out how I'd take my prey.

I'm usually one of the unfortunate saps that make up the Knight Street traffic during rush hour, so being that Francis Road is in the opposite direction of home, I decided to drop by on a Friday to ring in the weekend.

It was a great choice.

I pulled up to Danny's on a hot Friday afternoon. It's one of those corner stores that has every kid in the ten-block (ok, maybe every five Richmond blocks) radius hanging out. There were kids sitting and sipping screamers on the plant stands outside - you know. The green painted risers that could be stairs leading up any east van porch. There were kids inside who had just finished their after school basketball pickup game and ordering a slice of pizza along with their screamer. There were even the one or two truck drivers / cabbies / off-work construction workers ordering a screamer combo.

All that was missing was the Street Fighter game in the corner and the "sore-loser" kid that would lose and scream at their best friend for pulling a cheap move...

Wow. What a step back in time.

A screamer, as posters around Danny's Market claim, are "The Best Drink on Earth". It is a perfect parfait-style layering of thick soft serve ice cream, and syrup-flavoured slush that results in a concoction that is not ice cream float, and not slurpee, but a thirst-quenching hybrid of spoonable, slurpable goodness.

Danny's Market is just around the corner from an outdoor go-kart track and a load of fruit farms. I'm thinking it'd make a good "trip back in time" afternoon stop after some go-kart racing and farmers markets.

Danny's Market & Pizza

9040 Francis Road [map]

Richmond, BC

Danny's Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Glance: Main Street Station Farmers Markets (Vancouver, BC)

The Main Street Farmers Market rang in the 2009 season yesterday with a bang! Many vendors and patrons alike were in attendance, and they also had a raffle for market money, which can be purchased at all EatLocal farmers markets and redeemed at any vendor.

What is good about the newly-relocated Main Street Farmers Market is that it is literally steps away from skytrain as well as bus routes. In addition, there are plenty of places to lock up your bike, and free or metered parking should you choose to drive to the market.

Main Street Farmers Market at Thornton Park, just in front of Central Station / Via Rail, Vancouver, BC (2009)

Things that caught my eye? Maples Sugar Shack (from Whistler) that sells maple butter, syrups, maple taffy, and an assortment of other maple products. My Urban Farm, who was selling sunflower sprouts - it wasn't the product that caught my eye, but their quest to change the world, one edible garden / lawn at a time. Go visit their website for more details.

Bad Girl Chocolates made me wish that I'd brought more money - they had truffles and flavoured chocolates for sale.

I wound up walking away with garlic scapes and fresh strawberries. I believe the garlic scapes were from Klippers Organic Farms? ...The strawberries were definitely from Sandhu Farms. Pretty to look and slightly tart, but still so yummy...

Fresh succulent strawberries from Sandhu Farms purchased from the Main Street Farmers Market at Thornton Park, Vancouver, BC. (2009) Garlic scapes, still tender and coiled, bought at the Main Street Farmers Market at Thornton Park, Vancouver, BC (2009)

What are garlic scapes, you ask? They are the sprouts that come from the head of the garlic heads. Although to be called scapes they need to have the distinctive "coil". They should be harvested while they are still green and coiled, before they have straightened out as the scapes are still tender at this point and haven`t developed any bitterness. ...It was my first time purchasing garlic scapes, so I quizzed the vendor on how to prepare them. She suggested salads, or blanching. However, when I returned home last night, M had barbequed up some steak for steak sandwiches! I promptly sauteed the scapes in some butter - the result was a product that had the flavour of garlic, and the texture of green beans. I`m looking forward to other recipes with garlic scapes!

The Main Street Farmers Market also had a stand about the 100 mile diet. I thought this was a nice coincedence, as I`d blogged about it briefly yesterday before I went out. Seeing so many people interested in sustainable farming and eating is a plus. :) Yay Vancouver!
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