gracecheung604 | write on time: December 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guud Fuud at Guu

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Despite being a huge fan of izakayas, I've been very loyal to Hapa Izakaya's three locations. Deciding to veture outside of the chain, we headed to Guu on Thurlow before catching a show at the Vogue Theatre on Granville.
The above are their chopstick covers...nice touch and  quite cute. It's one of the things that many Asian restaurants do, a little quirky and whimsical. It's similar to the various comical coasters that you find in many bars and lounges.
We ordered a starter of Marinated Eggplant, topped with crispy fried garlic chips. We expected this dish to be warm, so we were slightly taken aback when it arrived almost immediately, and although not exactly cold, it was more cold than warm. Nice flavours and very tender, just not what we expected.
Looking at the fresh sheet, they had fresh amaebi today! It's one of my favourites and I always try to order it when it's fresh. Served on a bed of shaved daikon with some shiso leaves. See the bright eyes of the heads...we will see them again... 
Now, after the cold and cool dishes we had, I was craving something hot. So we decided to order the grilled salmon cheek. That was bound to be hot, right? The dish arrived with the cheek exposed, but the photo doesn't look quite as good, does it?
So we flipped this baby around and now there you go, what a pretty smile! :)
We had one more dish to finish up the meal. It's the takoyaki, something I had actually discovered this at Richmond Night Market years ago. These are little Japanese dumpling with diced octopus, mixed with batter and tempura bits and green onion. Then, it's topped off with some okonomiyaki sauce, ponzu, mayonnaise, and katsuobushi, thin wispy dried fish shavings, which waft in the wind, really pretty.
See, remember those amaebi heads? We asked for them to be deep fried once we had finished with their bodies and here they are again. You can eat these whole, just like little prawn crackers. No waste at all!
The meal ends with two frozen grapes - a green one and a red one. Kind of cute and unexpected.
If you work near Guu and want to try it for lunch, take note that their lunch menu is very different, mostly grilled saba and sanma, various BBQ meats, and the usual Katsudon and Chicken Karaage. To really get the full experience, you really should try Guu at night.
Guu on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dragon Trucking

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After scoring a few Groupons to Roaming Dragon Food Truck a few months ago, it was time to test them out. One location is just outside my work, along Georgia, between Burrard and Thurlow. So I've been walking by this place everyday, but never actually tried it. I've had it before at PNE, but never outside of the fair. 
The first thing we had was a pair of the Korean Tacos. Made with a corn and nori tortilla, it was something I was not accustomed to, but for those of you bored of the plain old flour tortillas, these are a nice touch. The beef short rib was really tender, well marinated and reminded me of Korean BBQ. The taco was filled out with a slew of toppings, much like the side dishes that you would get at K-BBQ, such as marinated bean sprouts, spinach and matchstick carrots. All this is topped with some kimchi dressing, so tasty!  
The next thing we had were the Pulled Pork Belly sliders, which I first tried and fell in love with at the PNE. These did not disappoint, I was worried that my memory would have made these impossibly good, but thankfully, they were just as I remembered. Tender pulled pork with some cucumbers and green onions, with a slather of hoisin sauce, sitting atop tender white steamed Chinese bun. The only complaint is that they might be a little dry, ask nicely and I am sure they will give you an extra slather of hoisin.
Another of their popular dishes is the Chicken Karaage. Since I prefer dark meat, I was delighted that the cut they chose is the thigh...marinated in soy and sake, boneless tender morsels, breaded and deepfried. There was a sweet/tangy flavour that I couldn't quite place, I thought it was orange juice/rind in the sauce, but after reviewing the menu again, it turns out it's due to passionfruit juice and palm sugar. What an unexpcected flavour combo. Another bonus for this dish is the rice that the chicken pieces sits on top of, definitely serves to fill you up, but not overly so. And I love the attention detail, serving it with a mix of white and black sesame seeds. What a pretty dish!
We also got to try the "not really a Banh Mi". It was again filled with pork, but I think they offer tofu for their vegetarian option. The bread was really good, not too crusty as to crumble all over. There were a lot of pickled veggies inside, as well as some truly tender pork. There are some slices of raw onions, which we took out, purely a personal thing. I really liked the spicy mayo they used, giving the sandwich something of a kick but nowhere near hot.  
As part our the Groupon, we also got their basil lychee iced tea. I know it sounds a little weird, but it totally works...a good blend of sweet from the lychee and fresh herb taste from the basil. Really refreshing, it would be awesome on a hot summer day.
It's definitely a must-try for lunch, if you go with a friend, you can get four tapas for $20 (they are $6 for one, $10 for two), which gives you a nice variety. Be prepared to wait a few minutes though, as everything is made fresh to order. Roaming Dragon Food Truck on Urbanspoon

White Spot - comfort food...

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Earlier this month, my mom and my stepdad met me for lunch at my neighbourhood White Spot. It's one of my mom's favourite places and since she was heading to HK for a few months, she would be going through serious withdrawal for a while.
She tried out one of their new flatbreads, the Rustica. It's a flatbread with spinach, portobello mushrooms and grilled peppers, zucchini and onions, topped with an Arrabbiata sauce and Bleubrie cheese. Her only complaint was the Bleubrie that came with the dish - she finds Bleu cheese too pungent. We asked if they could make it with cheddar instead and they were very accommodating. Good to know that these weren't pre-made, frozen and just reheated when a customer placed the order.

She was really delighted with the dish...as you can see, it's truly loaded with vegetables but I didn't really see any portobello mushroom on there, do you?  Oh, and the whole thing comes with a side caesar salad, in case there isn't enough vegetables for you on the flatbread.
I decided to go with a Beef Dip, their au jus always gets me. I love how it comes nice and hot. I asked for the sandwich to be made without butter, and double-toasted, really, it's the only way to go. After all, the butter would just make it harder for the au jus to soak into the bread. The side salad was quite large, but not my focus today.
The bun didn't really seem to be double toasted, it's so pale, isn't it? But I can't complain about the stack of roast beef in between the bread. Once you dip it into the au jus, it's like a mini roast beef dinner in your mouth.
I've loved White Spot ever since growing up with their Pirate Paks, and would still recommend it to parents of young children. They have been revamping their menu, trying to bring themselves up to compete with the other "younger" chains, such as Earls, Joey's and Cactus Club. But their clientele seems to be an older crowd, so maybe they should just focus on upgrading their tried and true dishes such as the Nat Bailey's Hearty Breakfast, Shrimp Clubhouse, and their Double Double. How can you beat a 1/2 lb. beef burger with two patties, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, Triple “O” sauce & double dills? Oh, you can add their coleslaw and endless fries, now, there's a classic.
White Spot on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cactus Club - reno'ed

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Headed to the renovated Cactus Club by my place with a co-worker to go over some documents I've been working on. The idea was that I would buy dinner and he would help me edit. We just grabbed a seat at the bar, facing one of their many gigantic TVs. Something with plenty of room for me to spread out all my papers.
We had ordered while we were working, so it was good timing that the food arrived as we were finishing up. He ordered the BBQ Duck Clubhouse, but the name is quite misleading. It's actually made with  bbq duck, pan seared chicken and crisp prosciutto sandwiched between two slices of pecan fruit bread, served with a side salad.
Can you see the chunks of duck and chicken there? Plus the lettuce and bacon and a bit of mayo. It looks amazing, doesn't it? I think I'll have to try this on my next visit. But I don't like pecan fruit bread...wonder if they will make it with regular panini bread or sourdough bread? If you're reading, Cactus Club, let me know?
I got my usual...Chicken Wings, along with some nicely stacked celery and blue cheese dip. The wings aren't sauced, just the way I like them. I order them just flash fried, with some salt and pepper. Oh, and yes, you are right, all the wings are wings...not a drummette in sight!
TIP: If you are like me, and prefer either wings or drummettes, the secret to get what you want is not to ask for "mostly" wings...just ask for ALL wings...makes it easier for the kitchen to give you want you want.
Cactus Club Cafe (Lougheed) on Urbanspoon

Let's go dim-sum-ing!

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I officially haven't had dim sum in over four months. I was going through serious withdrawal. So, on my first opportunity, I headed for dim sum with B. We hit up a place close to my house, since I had the day off. Now, I know it's not exactly the Kirin, but hey, it's been FOUR months, people, cut me some slack.
First dish to arrive, spare ribs with black bean sauce. Shockingly pale, right? But fortunately, the flavour didn't suffer from the lack of colour.
For me, it's not dimsum without the Har Gow (steamed prawn dumpling). I can live without the Sui Mai (pork dumpling), but desperately need the prawn one. I was delighted by these, firm but not dry shrimp meat inside, and light, transparent skin on these babies. Oh, and they're so big, they're more like toddlers...
They also have a few specials that you can order only one of, per table. I was slightly confused at first, but all this means is that there are about five things on special, but you can't have multiples of the same thing, you are only allowed to order one of each. We went the healthy route and got Veggies with Oyster Sauce. Other options included Soya Sauce Fried Noodles with Bean Sprouts, Deep Fried Chicken Knees, and a few others. Oh yes, the one standout that I wanted to try, had there been more than two of us, would be the Lobster Congee.
Ok, I know I'm missing carbs when I order plain rice noodle rolls. I didn't want shrimp, no BBQ pork, no beef, no nothing. Just give me the noodles the way I want them. These were steamed perfectly...not overcooked, and seemed 'made-to- order'. The soy sauce wasn't as salty as you would normally expect...could they be using low sodium here? And of course, it came with the mandatory hoisin and peanut dipping sauce.
Oh, another favourite of mine that I rarely get...Malaysian-styled Fried Turnip Cakes. As many of my readers know, I am a bean sprout fiend, so if you toss it on anything, I will likely try it. (see my pho and ramen posts). These were really good, nice doughy texture, with a firm bite and very crispy outer skin.
The last dish to arrive was the most disappointing...they clearly did not save the best for last. I normally love these bean curd skin rolls "seen jok guen" but the meat in this dish seemed a little off, and the flavour was just not right. We each took half, couldn't quite figure why we didn't like it at first, but we both agreed, it was "off".
One of my favourite things to do with the rice noodle rolls is to unroll a portion of it on my plate, apply the necessary sauces to the inside and then reroll it. Am I weird or do you do this too?
Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Years Eve

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On New Years Eve, my friends Mike Sato and James Suk are hosting a bash at Hapa Izakaya!
Make it a night to remember and come to the VELVET ROPE PARTY at Hapa Izakaya.

The Hapa on Robson (1479 Robson St.) will be transformed one night only, and open its doors for an exclusive party.

DJ Trizzak will take full control of your body, mind and soul with some of the best House, Hip Hop, and Top 40 music in the city, and some amazing light shows to accompany the awesome sounds.
There will be ample seating, yummy appies, and a countdown to midnight with complimentary toast.
Usher in 2011 with an exquisite and extravagant evening in the excitement of downtown Vancouver!

Ticket Details:
Regular tickets: $40 (includes appies, midnight toast, and party favours), admission after 9pm.
VIP tickets: $75 (includes set dinner, appies, midnight toast, and party favours)

Seating Time:
First seating: 5:30pm
Last seating: 8pm.
Once you've purchased your VIP tickets, call Hapa Robson (604.689.4272) to make your reservation.

Limited tickets may be available at the door. Early arrival is highly recommended.

For tickets contact me at 604.250.6161 or email me at: gracecheung604 [at] gmail [dot] com.
Note that this event is for 19 and over only. All Sales Final

About Hapa
Hapa Izakaya, located in Vancouver’s premier shopping and dining district combines timeless zen inspired décor with an upscale atmosphere and well-priced portions of Japanese tapas, beer and premium spirits. A standout in a city known for its Asian dining experience. A must-go setting when you’re in the mood for a unique blend of food, fun and culture.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tea with Mommy

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Wow, I just realized, I eat out with my mom a lot! Here is another in the continuing saga of Brunch with Mom. This time, I dragged her to The Urban Tea Merchant on Alberni.
We had their traditional high tea. The first course was their jasmine tea, but served chilled, in champagne flutes. Accompanying the tea were some sliced fresh strawberries, also soaked with some jasmine tea.
Here is the tray as it arrives...tiers of food and my pot of tea. See the pot on the right of the tiers, next to my mom's tea? That is a pot of steamed frothy milk! That way, your tea won't get cold...love it!
Here is one of the two savory tiers. Clockwise from the top, we haved the smoked salmon on rye with some cream cheese and capers, the endive with blue cheese and candiet walnut, the three cups were filled with chicken salad, the cucumber and watercress crustless sandwich, as  the egg salad on whole wheat bread.
The second tier was a combination of savory and sweet. The flakey croissants and the scones were perfect for the jam and clotted cream. We also got mini quiches, filled with asparagus chunks.
Alas, we were so full with the first two tiers that we didn't even have room for dessert! Chocolate strawberries, macaroons, chocolate gelee, mini-donuts, and a cookie too. Too much food.
See how nicely the frothy milk goes with the tea? So decadent.
Since my mom and I were splitting everything, here is my portion of the cucumber and watercress sandwich. Soft bread, buttered, and thin sliced of cucumber and a few leaves of watercress. So simply, but so good!
Here are the other portions of my lunch. The smoked salmon was good, both the chicken and egg salad were nice, not to heavy with the mayo.
I recently also had lunch at the Hotel Vancouver with my BFF, and I would have to say...that was better. This was good, but the little extras you get at Hotel Vancouver does elevate the experience. But then again, you do pay more for the privilege.
Have you tried both? What do you think? The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

Brunch with Mom

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Another in the series of brunch with Mom. As my regular readers will no doubt know, my mom doesn't drive downtown, and rarely ventures onto the skytrain either. As a result, she doesn't get to come eat where I work very often. A few weeks ago, I decided to take her to Joe Fortes for brunch. She loves seafood, abhors meat, so this was indeed a perfect location for her.
The moment we sat down, we were greeted with a bread basket, accompanied by the usual oil and vinegar dipping.
One thing that I always look for (and crave) is warm fresh bread. I just love it when a restaurant goes the extra mile and does that for you. I know you're already giving me something for free, so who am I to ask for it to be hot, right? But places that do this? I love the added value there. So thank you!
What was unique about this dish though, was the oil. This wasn't your average extra virgin olive (EVOO a la Rachel Ray). They use lobster oil, made in-house. The acidity in the vinegar serves to enhance the flavour of the oil, so good!
As I mentioned before, the mom isn't a meat fan. So it comes as no surprise that she would order the Fortes Benny. It's their smoked salmon benny, served atop the traditional English muffin. It came with a side of hash as well.
We liked that the server asked how my mom would like her eggs cooked, rarely been asked that for eggs benny. Love the sprinkling of dill on top, don't you? The eggs benny themselves were amazing but we were a bit disappointed in the hash. They were just chunks of potatoes, without anything added to it, I would preferred the addition of some diced onions. And it seemed as they were undercooked, well, cooked, but not crispy.
I decided to get the Lobster and Shrimp Club House, after seeing one arrive at the table next to me. I asked for the brioche toast to be double toasted, so it's a little darker that you would expect. The filling was a combination of lobster meat and baby shrimp, in a light mayo dressing, mixed with celery for crunch and parsley for freshness. I opted to skip the mayo on the bread, and didn't miss it at all.
Add some fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and you've got yourself an amazing sammy. I rarely get clubhouses, but this one is changing my mind.
One thing that I really enjoyed about this dish was the generous portion of greens that they served up with it. Just lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette, and topped with a lot of finely diced tomatoes. Such a treat! For the prices (almost White Spot-like), you're getting an amazing value here, and very white glove service.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House on Urbanspoon

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