Monday, April 26, 2010

Food Bloggers Lunch: Lions Den Cafe (Mount Pleasant, Vancouver BC)

There is a great community of food bloggers here in Vancouver. You can pose a query about the best restaurant for "x" entree, price category, or style of food in a neighbourhood and the community responds.

Lately, however, there have been a couple of "ESP" moments where the likeness are just a touch eerie. Take, for example, Delicias de Alicias, which Kim blogged about here. Foodosophy also blogged about it here; I had also seen Delicias de Alicias replace the prior Fish and Chip shop, and had mentioned to Kim that we should do a simultaneous food blogger dinner / posting around the same time that Kim had added the restaurant to Urbanspoon. I haven't had the chance to try it, but may do so in the near future.

There was also the instance of a small Japanese restaurant in Burnaby, which Sherman had also wanted to complete a post on; after he referenced Urbanspoon and saw my vote, he had suggested visiting together (for more photos and to compare notes). We should be doing that soon...

Finally, there was Lions Den Cafe. On Easter weekend, I had tried going to Ruby Dog's Art House (half a block from Lions Den Cafe) for art paper and some mixed media supplies; however they were closed. Turning around to head back towards the car, I realized that we were close to Le Faux Bourgeois as well as Lions Den Cafe. While Le Faux Bourgeois was also closed that afternoon, Mark and I had shared a small lunch at Lions Den Cafe. I wasn't prepared to eat and take photos, thus I hadn't even brought my camera. But...I still voted on Urbanspoon.

The very next day, Karl, Sherman, and Kim had been planning a lunch at, guess where-Lions Den Cafe. Elaine was also looking to do a group brunch at a restaurant that I had on my wishlist. Since we were already in the planning stages of Lions Den Cafe, we did that instead. Anyways. ESP. Food Bloggers have it. :)

The weather cooperated nicely that day; Lions Den Cafe is probably, at best, a 12-15 capacity eatery. However, as the sun came out the afternoon we congregated at Lions Den, Karl showed up early and snagged a beautiful spot outside.

It was a nice day, but there was still a little bit of a nip in the air! Sherman was still slightly sick (or was he getting sicker?) and showed up shortly, followed by Elaine and finally, Kim. Some remarks were made about the parking preferences (we had considered boxing someone in ourselves, but decided against it...), and the task of ordering got underway.

Karl took the liberty of going inside to order for us since the staff had left us to our own devices (M joked about how the phone number was listed on the sign outside specifically for us).

First up was the large order (3pcs) of jerk chicken. It came with an order of salad, and a side of rice and beans. This is actually what brought M and I back. We had tried it the previous weekend - it was flavourful, tender, and moist. Everyone mostly agreed (although Kim remained quiet...). Luckily, Karl had ordered two orders and thus no food bloggers were harmed in the makings of this post. The salad? The salad was not memorable.

We ordered one goat curry with roti. The previous visit M and I had, the owner, Ken had mentioned that the goat and oxtail stew were sold out. So there was the expectation that this was quite good; similarly, when the roti came, it looked enticing - it was moist and light, and filled with a yellow split pea mixture. Unfortunately, the roti was a little bland. We're not quite educated in Caribbean food, but in our opinion, the roti could have used some spice or even simply salt. The group did not really appreciate the goat curry - it even divided me and M. M thought it was disappointing and lacked flavour; I thought there were the fundamentals of a curry in there - I could taste the cardamom, mace and coriander, but it lacked any spiciness and could have used more body.

The oxtail stew lacked a little flavour as well. It was on the sweet side due to onions and butterbeans, but lacked spice. Eating it reminded me of the book Pigtails n' Breadfruit, by Anthony Joyette. It is a beautiful book including stories from the authors' upbringings and his families' recipes and cooking. In one sense, the oxtail stew conveyed the comfort of eating West Indies cuisine...but in another sense, the foodie in me expected something more. Perhaps another dish lost in translation?

For fun, we ordered the okonomiyaki to sample their "Japaribbean" food. It was a little doughy, and the mayo and okonomiyaki had all squirled into one. Absent was the usual garnishings of green onion and bonito flakes.

I was quite full after the whole meal. We all had different places to go after this late lunch, but I was reminded of how the owner Ken had a story to tell about his cafe. The name? It came from the name of the stuffed "Canadian born lion" pictured below.

The owners, Ken and Junko are especially nice. Ken explains to all newcomers the story of his cafe and how he keeps track of its ten years in operation - all first timers are encouraged to sign his guestbook - a calendar numbered with days in operation.

The menu was very reasonably priced. You can't argue with the price point; many of the meals are priced under $10. The locals seem to love his food and his laid back demeanor; it has been busy both times we have been there. Overall, we like Ken, his story telling, and like to root for the little guy.  But the menu can be a little bit of a hit and miss.

Click through for everyones' photos and commentary:
Karl (Thank you for organizing!)
Lions Den Cafe
651 East 15th Avenue (Fraser & Kingsway)
Vancouver BC
P: 604-873-4555
Lions Den Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 23, 2010

Menu Sampling: / Regional Tasting Lounge (Yaletown, Vancouver, BC)

As you may know, Dine Out Vancouver takes place from April 26 to May 6 this year at select restaurants throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. The three course menus are tiered at $18, $28, and $38 price tags.

We were extended an invite by Danica at dvinewrites to sample some of / Regional Tasting Lounges' offerings and happily accepted.

Regional Tasting Lounge ( is the product of sommelier Alain Canuel, mixologist Matt Martin, and Chef Darryl Crumb. The premise behind their restaurant is that the menu is renewed every three months, and that with every change, different regions are featured. Currently they are serving up South American and local British Columbian flavours, and their $28 Dine Out menu reflects that. Their Dine Out menu may be found here and includes a number of options (including three vegetarian starters and a portobello main for vegetarians) from their smoked duck starter to a glazed salmon or bacon wrapped chicken breast.

We arrived fashionably late (some of my friends may change the "fashionably" to "annoyingly" but meh.) and were greated by Alain. Raul of hummingbird604 (who just celebrated his 4th blogoversary yesterday! Congratulations!) and Candice of Albach Photography were already present and sipping cocktails. One notable one was their house sangria. It was beautifully presented in a wine tumbler and had fresh blueberries, raspberries, blood oranges, and other citrus fruit in a serving. They pack a punch too (as I soon found out). Delicious and not cloying at all. As we chatted a bit, various servers offered us samples of their prawn ceviche, served atop a cilantro corn salsa, and hor d'oevre portions of their organic quinoa salad. has a great wine list - last summer we visited La Stella winery in Oliver and sampled some of their Vivace, a pinot grigio. I loved it and bought a bottle, so when the server rattled off a number of wines last night, I stopped her after she said "La Stella Pino Grigio". It is a light, crisp tasting white, summery and perfect for sipping. It paired well with the quinoa salad and the prawn ceviche / corn salsa.

By the time the trio of venison sliders made its way out, I was oblivious to food (sangria will do that to you) but M got his mitts one topped with blue cheese and bacon. It was a very bold option. M thought it was on the greasy side, I appreciated the creamy, full bodied blue cheese and the crisp salty bacon. Aside from the blue cheese version, there was one topped with foie gras and tomato, and one with sauteed mushroom and cheddar.

Overall, r.tls hospitality was great, and I love that their menu is refreshed seasonally. It gives diners a chance to expand their palates. The cocktail menu is as imaginative as their food menu; and I appreciate their extensive, ever changing wine list that is offered by the glass, as well as the by the flight.

The best part? We live by the skytrain. With the Canada Line Yaletown station mere steps away from, it makes it that much closer. Was it coincidence that we took the skytrain to on earth day? I think not.

I foresee us visiting this spring and summer...good food, great wine, delicious drinks. Oh, and the masterminds behind, easy on the eyes as well. ;) / Regional Tasting Lounge
1130 Mainland Street
Vancouver BC
P: 604-638-1550
R.TL on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aka Tom Bo (Lonsdale, North Vancouver, BC)

We were running some errands in on the North Shore recently, and got the grumblies. Since M used to live along the Lonsdale corridor, we searched around looking for some familiar eats. Since it was a Sunday, a few of our "usual" joints were closed (ahem, Hachi Hana. And we're still sad that Okra has closed up. Does anyone know where Joe has gone?).

We drove around for a while before succumbing to hunger-rage (the point where we *almost* don't give what we eat, so long as we get to eat!) and deciding on Aka Tom-Bo on Lonsdale at 8th Street. The place used to be a "pizza and sushi" restaurant prior to the current management taking over, and to be honest, we've rarely had a dine-in meal at Aka Tom-Bo. There used to be a ridiculously inexpensive party platter, which if we picked up and paid in cash, would cost us a little over $18, and would feed both of us for a solid two meals, plus a light lunch for myself.

The good times have passed, however, and although the current management offered the same "grandfathered" deal to us for a while, we felt kind of bad and stopped ordering our special deal. It was time to try the dine-in experience!

A lot has changed from when we used to frequent Tom Bo. For one, pizza is no longer served! Another is that there are a seemingly endless selection of specialty rolls, many of which contain cream cheese. As we're not fans of cream cheese in sushi (kind of defeats the our purpose of eating sushi - we choose this fare when we feel like something "light"), we opted for an assorted sashimi and a lunch special which included a miso soup.

The miso soup was nothing special; although some people would say "WTF with the spoon in the miso soup!". :p Us, we just removed the soupspoon from the bowl and sipped from the bowl.

The assorted sashimi included 12 mouthwatering pieces, 2 each of salmon, tuna, saba, tako, tai and toro with a garnish of tobiko. All the fish were fresh and flavourful For $13.99, the assorted sashimi could be a little expensive to some, but the quality is what you are paying for here. And there is no "cheapie filler" of hokkigai here - just tako and yummy fresh fish. We would order this again.

The lunch special we ordered included three pieces of the ocean garden roll, and a whole dynamite roll and unagi-avocado roll. This plate, along with the miso soup came to $7.99. The ocean garden roll is essentially a California roll and salmon held within a thin sheath of carefully trimmed cucumber. It is delicious and refreshing.

The tempura prawn in the dynamite roll could have been a little hotter, but flavour-wise, satisfied our deep-fried food craving. The bbq eel and avocado roll was garnished with toasted sesame seeds. The roll didn't require a dunk in wasabi soy sauce; it was flavourful enough on its own.

Overall, we enjoyed dining in at Aka Tom-Bo. Since the chances of us getting take-out from there is close to nil as we live across the water, that's a good thing! A plus is that Aka Tom-Bo is open on Sundays whereas other places (like the beloved Hachi Hana) is closed. Ahhh, the North Shore (the city where merchants make too much money and close on Sundays), you gotta love it.

Aka Tom-Bo also offers rolls that are prepared with soy paper instead of nori, and a variety of combos and bento boxes. On weekdays, the restaurant is packed with business people and health care workers from the nearby offices and Lions Gate Hospital. With a deal or two and a large menu, Aka Tom Bo is sure to satisfy any appetite.

Aka Tom-Bo
751 Lonsdale Avenue
North Vancouver BC
P: 604-929-9999
Aka Tom-Bo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Modified Gomaae (Cold Spinach Salad)

A couple weeks ago (has it been that long?! I was supposed to post this up the following week!) I posted about my lunchtime inari. Inari is a fried sweet bean curd that is cooked in noodles, salads, and also split open partway and stuffed. On that one occasion, I stuffed the inari with seasoned brown rice, then a variety of toppings, including a kimpura endive and gomaae which I had modified by utilizing what I had on hand, cashew butter in place of tahini / sesame paste.

I don't usually order gomaae in restaurants since it is so overpriced, and almost always, it is some sort of fail - too small a portion, too little sauce, too much sauce, sauce is bland, sauce is watery, or spinach is too leggy.

Being that is so simple to prepare and customize, I've been known to go through Costco sized bags of baby spinach in a week, just eating gomaae. Its been so true that I've had to manage my Costco shopping trips so that I don't OD on vitamin A, vitamin K, or iron. (You laugh, but it is true. Vitamins A and K are fat soluble, meaning they, along with iron can acccumulate in your fat stores and, in high enough concentrations, cause toxicity issues. Spinach also contains oxalates, which bind calcium. This can contribute to kidney stones. Thus the Asian belief that spinach shouldn't be eaten with tofu; however this is only partly true - tofu does not contain considerable amount of calcium unless calcium sulfate is used in its production; GDL or other coagulating agents are used in different methods.

Try to use baby spinach; otherwise, trim the stems off of older spinach leaves, as it will affect the texture of the final product.

1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly and trimmed, or 6 handfuls of prepackaged baby spinach
2 t cashew butter
1 t water
1/2 - 1 t sugar
salt to taste
1-2 drops sesame oil
1 t sesame seeds

Bring to a boil a large pot of generously salted water. Blanch prepared spinach 1 minute; quickly drain and rinse with cold water.

Prepare dressing - blitz cashew butter, water, sugar, salt and sesame oil in a small food processor or magic bullet until combined. Adjust with cashew butter or water to desired consistency (depends on your brand of cashew butter).

Squeeze water out of cooked spinach. If you used a bunch of spinach (instead of baby spinach), you may want to roughly chop the squeezed spinach. Arrange in dish or on a plate and pour a teaspoon or so of dressing over top. Garnish with sesame seeds. Makes about two servings, although I have been known to down two recipes in one night...

Simple, isn't it?! You can adjust the seasonings, using tahini instead, adding soy sauce or tamari instead of the salt, or adding other flavourings, but I like it in its simple form the best. The dressing is also nice on other steamed or raw vegetables like cherry tomatoes, celery, carrots, and bell peppers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Itsa Pizza Party! (Roasted Vegetable & Goat Cheese Pizza)

A couple weeks ago, I took part in a noodle party featuring Korean yam noodles / dang myun. Participants were to blog about their favourite noodle recipe, try something new, or...anything, just as long as the recipe included the yam noodles. A couple days later, Jeroxie suggested a pizza party, and the ball got rolling.

Participants this time (to be changed periodically once this post is live - list is from Jeroxie) are:
For my contribution, I kept in my "meatless" theme and went with an old favourite: roasted vegetable and goat cheese pizza. The crust is crisp, light and thin, and the vegetables are complimented by the tang of goat cheese. I forgot to add olives here, but they really add to the dish - calamatas please! :)

Ingredients - Crust (makes 2)
2 t yeast
1 1/4 c warm water
1 t sugar, syrup, or honey
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 c all purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
3/4 t sea salt
1/2 t thyme leaves
1/2 t rubbed oregano

In a large bowl, mix together yeast, warm water, and sugar (or syrup or honey). Set aside for 10 minutes.

Add olive oil to bowl. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 1/2 c of the all purpose flour, all of the whole wheat flour, salt, thyme, and oregano. Gradually mix flour mixture into yeast mixture. Dough will be slightly sticky and moist. Add in remaining all purpose flour by hand.

Generously flour a working surface and hands. Knead for 10 minutes, adding flour if necessary to avoid stickiness. Place in well-oiled bowl; flip to coat surface. I covered the bowl and left it to proof for a good long while (I was away at work. :)

Punch down dough. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

Divide dough into two parts. With floured hands, on a floured surface, form the dough into two rectangular or circular bases.

Usually, I dust the pizza pan or baking sheet with cornmeal. In addition to adding lots of texture to the finished product, it prevents the crust from sticking to the pizza stone, baking sheet, or pan. But M is anti-cornmeal. So I dusted a piece of parchment paper with flour and used that instead.

Ingredients - Toppings (Yields about one pizza-ful; double to make enough to use up the dough)
1 small each red, green, orange bell peppers, or about 2 colours of your choice, cut into wedges
4-5 sliced mushrooms (I used shitaake, although this would be nice just with a mixture of mushrooms and asparagus!)
4-5 spears fresh spring asparagus cut into 3-4 inch sections
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 t red chili flakes
1/2 t basil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 t balsamic vinegar
3 T olive oil
Tomato sauce
~150 g goat cheese / chevre

Preheat oven, with pizza stone, to 440ºF.

In a medium bowl, toss together vegetables, garlic powder, chili flakes, basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Smear tomato sauce onto reserved and shaped crust; top with seasoned vegetables. Drizzle any remaining olive oil mixture over top of pizza. Crumble goat cheese over pizza.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crust bottom is lightly browned and toppings are cooked.


I've enjoyed this with eggplant, portobellos, wilted spinach, and fresh summer tomatoes - it is just so good. Do give it a try and let me know how you like it!

BTW - this is not only limited to veggie toppings. M seemed to have assaulted his half of the pizza today with some cooked ham. C'est la vie!

New West Winter Farmers Market (Holy Trinity Cathedral, New Westminster, BC)

Did a workout this morning, then went out to the final Royal City Winter Farmers Market held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Hall in New Westminster. At only fifteen minutes after opening the vendors (one which had barely set up!) were already busy helping customers, answering questions, and selling their goods.

Here's what I picked up:

I always circle the farmers market once, just to get a scope of what everyone is offering, then I make a second round to purchase things. Since I had gone for a workout in the morning, I hadn't had breakfast, so when Maluma Bison offered me a sampling of their bison salami and their bison bbq sausage, I made note to remember to buy a pair of sausage. He also offered a cranberry sausage and what appeared to be a pepperoni. What is special about his product? He uses a seed meal (sunflower, pumpkin seed) as well as a blend of essential oils instead of animal fat in his recipe. This results in a product that is lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and free of fillers.

Since spring is here, I also picked up some asparagus for a pizza that I hope to post about later today. :) The vendor (can't remember which farm!) also offered kambucha and spaghetti squashes, a variety of garlic, nettle greens, and a spring mix.

What started the "shopping spree" was actually the offering of a sharp aged cheddar from one of the vendors. To say it was "good" would be an understatement. But you have to understand that in my self-imposed (on again, off again) meat ban, the one thing that I really missed was cheese. Top that off with no breakfast this morning, and I caved. The cheese is mine! :)

I also bought some peppers from the "pepper barn" / "pepper boys" outside. I've bought from them before - you grab a bag, fill it up, and enjoy snacking on baby bell peppers for the entire week. I <3 bell peppers, so I stocked up. Plus, some will go on the pizza today...

What really brought me to the Royal City Winter Farmers Market? The promise of gardening goods. I procrastinated (what else is new) on the gardening this year and didn't start anything from seed. Although the chives, lemon balm, and (surprise!) broccoli came back this year, the oregano, parsley, and thyme died off. So I purchased two small containers of mizuna, and one of cilantro. We use cilantro a lot. But even though we do, it never lasts for us - we'll buy a bunch and get about 75% of the way through it before we have to toss it. Hopefully the cilantro stays healthy so we can enjoy it in everything!

Have a great weekend folks! It is rainy, cold and wet out there but the weekend holds much promise! :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fu Lin Hot Pot Restaurant (Coquitlam, BC)

This is another post that has been on the backburner for a while. In fact, this is from Chinese New Year - I remember going with Fmace and Fizzo. Why did it stick out in my mind? It fell on Valentines Day, the opening day of the Olympics, as well as Chinese New Year. Being that those three events coincided, all of us had all "reserved" the night for family dinner. Unfortunately, the Chinese New Year dinner didn't happen as the elders didn't want to brave the crowds and head out during the Olympics (later in the week, they rescinded this - you don't want to miss that post). As this visit was completed before I got my new camera, I apologize for the sub-par photos!

Ordering at Fu Lin is easy - it is all you can eat and you pick your menu (regular or deluxe, both under $20). We opted for the deluxe, as there was more variety, as well as a free dipping sauce for each of us.

We wound up ordering 2 satay sauces, 3 garlic soy sauces, and 2 sesame sauces - different sauces for different foods. That being said, I wished we had ordered another sesame sauce instead of the garlic soy.

There was a good selection of fresh meats, vegetables, seafoods and meat alternatives (bean products). The service was prompt and friendly, and I was surprised at the number of waitresses there were that night (four, for a small Chinese restaurant!). The only complaint (if any) would be that there seemed to be a small problem in the kitchen. As a result, we had to wait a little longer than expected for our food to arrive. I remember sitting there staring at Fmace and saying, "what gives, it's not like they have to cook it or anything!"

Overall, I would return to Fu Lin Hot Pot if I were in the area. The meat and seafood are fresh, and the variety trumps other hot pot restaurants. For under $20 you can enjoy yourself with some good times with friends and family.

Thank you to Fmace for organizing the last minute dinner and also being there on time (even when we weren't!).

Fu Lin Hot Pot Restaurant
#780 - 3025 Lougheed Highway
Coquitlam BC
P: 604-552-5851

Fu Lin Hot Pot Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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