gracecheung604 | write on time: May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ki at the Shangri-La

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Ki Modern Japanese & Bar on Urbanspoon
I have been to Ki in Toronto and was quite eager to try the Vancouver location at the ShangriLa. Having been open for only three weeks or so, I decided to go for lunch with a colleague just last week. It's owned by the same people who own Hy's and The Keg, so we weren't overly surprised to see a Hy's waitress serving us.
The first thing we ordered was the Beef Carparccio. Instead of slices of beef, we were presented with thinly sliced pan seared strips of beef, rolled around scallions and watercress. Served on a thin and long slice of cucumber, and topped with crispy shallots. The shiso vinaigrette is richly scented with shiso, so avoid it if you don't like the flavour of that. The meat had a nice texture and the presentation was really pretty. Do yourself a favour and eat the cucumber too, I did!
Next up was their Sashimi Salad. Slices of sashimi on a bed of lettuce. The dressing is a good mix of sweet and spicy. It won't blow your mind, but the heat is definitely there. They serve the dressing in little fried wonton skin cups as well as some fresh seaweed tossed with sesame seeds and oil. Great for a textural change from the sashimi.
We also got their Dynamite Roll as well as a Spicy Scallop Roll. The Dynamite Roll was as you would expect, with the usual Tempura Shrimp, mayo and julienned cucumber and some tobiko. It wasn't exceptional, it was just average, and not really worth the price. Afterall, it's a shrimp and some rice. so this wasn't bad, but I'd have to say that the Spicy Scallop was. I know my tolerance for heat is quite high, but the heat factor was completely absent here. We did tell the waitress, and to her credit, she did ask the sushi chef about it. He told us that the spicy mayo is very mild and gave us some on the side to enhance the roll. It did help and I also like the presence of asparagus in the roll for added flavour, but it's not spicy! We also got the Ki Spider Roll, made with soft shelled crab, made with mango and perilla leaves. I didn't take a picture of this one, but I remember it well. Perilla leaves are really strong, even more than shiso. As a result, the mango and crab were pretty much lost in the roll.
From their Kushiyaki menu, we got their Unagi skewer. In total, we got four pieces of Unagi, each wrapped in Pancetta, along with some onions and pickled daikon strips. For $12, I would say this was a good deal! 
On each skewer, there were two pieces of unagi, perfectly wrapped. The pancetta was salty and crunchy with a great charred flavour and texture. The sweetness and the delicate texture of the unagi makes this a perfect bite.
All in all, the restaurant is good and definitely priced on the high side. If you avoid the rolls (ie. Lobster Tempura Roll for $20) and concentrate on the other items, you can have a great meal at a decent price. For example, their Ikura (my all-time favourite) is $12 for two pieces of nigiri...when other places charge ~$3/piece at the most. As you can see, this was not ordered. However, their Vegetable Tempura is $11, which is fair market value, I'd say. 
Have you been, either to the Toronto or Vancouver location? They also opened one in Calgary...let me know your thoughts if you've been! 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Late Lunch/Early Dinner at Kita

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Kita Sushi on Urbanspoon
Kita is quite close to my home and after having living here for over a year, I finally paid it a visit. I gave it two shots, just so I would know enough about the place to write a decent review. I dined in the restaurant one evening, and got takeout at home another time. 
Both visits, I got the Tako Sunomono to start. The photo above is dine-in serving and as you can see, it's as you would expect. Vermicelli noodles in a vinegar broth, topped with tako, cucumber, fresh seaweed and lemon slices. 
And in the Tako Sunomono that I got to-go, I had slightly more tako, cucumber, and if memory serves me right, even more vermicelli! But in both cases, I was satisfied with this as a starter. 
For a touch of Sashimi, we got their Appetizer Sashimi, two pieces each of salmon and tuna, and one piece of tai. I loved the touch of butterflying the kai to insert a few pieces of ikura (my favourite). Fresh but slices were just a touch too thick for my liking. 
We wanted something just a bit heavier, so we tried one of their Special sushi rolls. The one we decided on was the Scallop Tataki. Essentially, it's a Californian Roll (imitation crab meat with avocado and cucumber), topped with scallop mixed with mayonnaise, and then torched. The scallop doesn't get cooked through, but you can see the burn marks on the topping as well as on the rice too! Although I am not a fan of avocado, I liked this roll (after poking out the avocado), and was surprised that a small casual place like this could pull it off. 
As most of you know by now, Ikura is my favourite, and I tried one here during my dine-in experience. Simply presented and freshly made, I thought it was a good serving for $2.50. 
However, they made it decidedly fancier for my take-out order the next time, with the addition of sliced cucumber, diced mint and a few sesame seeds. So far, both the take-out items were winning in the presentation department. I was surprised, but happily so. 
Given the two "wins" from the take-out point of view, I decided to try them on another weekend when I was simply too lazy to cook, drive or go out. This is their Spicy Combo - with 6 pieces of Spicy Tuna and Spicy Salmon each, and then a piece each of Tuna, Salmon and Ebi too. The spicy rolls were mostly California rolls but made with the assorted fish rather than imitation crab meat. I would say this was actually an improvement! The sauce you see on the side is the "spicy" factor. I like the care they take to package this separately so as to not make the whole box a soggy mess. 

This is their Assorted Sashimi. On the take-out menu, it promises the following, 3 pieces of Salmon, Tuna and Hokkigai, 2 pieces each of Toro, Sockeye Salmon, Saba and Tai, and 1 piece of Ika. As you can see, I got a few bonuses such as 1 amaebi and some Ikura in the Tai. And do you spot the piece of Tako? Rarely have I been given MORE food than promised but I'm not complaining. This was $16.95, meaning less than $1 for each piece. I have to note that I did order it once after this picture was taken, and I was given exactly what was listed, nothing more. Guess the chef was in a good mood the first time I went, but a good solid value nonetheless! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Phnom Penh - in a whole new way...

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This is my second or third review for Phnom Penh, see my most recent one here if you are looking for the usual Deep Fried Chicken Wing praise. This post is a little different because I am actually going to focus on their "other" specialties.
This is their Beef Brochette...two skewers of grilled beef slices served on a bed of vermicelli. There are also some cucumbers and tomato slices to lighten things up a bit. Pour a little of the fish sauce that comes with it, and you're all set.
We also tried the Deep-Fried Pomfret - lightly battered and deep fried whole. Don't like the fish staring at you? Turn it away like we did here. The sauce is a slightly thicker version of the more common fish sauce. The fish is scored so it cooks through quickly, and the flesh inside is still moist. If you like skin, you'll be delighted with the crunch of the skin. Yes there are bones to deal with, but worth it, I think. Oh, and yes, that is indeed an order of the famous chicken wings in the background.
The other dish I want to draw your attention to is their Claypot Chicken Rice...it takes about 20 mins to prepare when you order it, so expect to wait. The rice is slow-cooked or baked in this casserole, along with bone-in chicken, wood ear (essentially a tasteless fungus used for its crunch).
Wood Ear is mildly sweet but takes on the flavours of the dish it is being cooked in. High in protein and rich in iron, this little fungus packs quite the nutritional punch! Another ingredient is something called Golden Needles, now these aren't fungi, instead they are actually edible flower buds. Normally sold dry, you have to rehydrate them before using them. These are also flavourless but again, great crunch. As you near the bottom of the casserole dish, you'll notice that the rice is stuck to the bottom. This is intentional! Scrape at the pot to get all the stuck-on crunchy bits - some say this is the best part of the dish!
As I have found with another favourite restaurant (Hapa Izakaya), I will always have my standbys, but sometimes, going out of your comfort zone is a good thing too.
Phnom Penh ้‡‘้‚Šๅฐ้คจ on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tasty Eats at Trattoria

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Trattoria Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon
A few months ago, I tried Trattoria on Fourth for the first time for dinner. As a fan of the Glowbal Group, I had some high expectations. This place doesn't take reservations for dinner so show up early! 
We started dinner off with their burrata cheese crostini...so good. I could eat burrata all day long. It's a mild-flavoured cheese but so rich in texture. Creamy and buttery, a spoonful is pretty much all I can handle at a time.  
Since we had a toddler with us, they gave us another appetizer more suitable for him. Their famous Kobe meatball. It was a hit and was gobbled up in minutes. After we painstaking cut it into quarters. No doubt about it, this kid eats well. 
In order to make sure the kid was fed, we ordered their cheese pizza as soon as we sat down. Cut into quarters, the pizza was doughy enough to be filling and cheesy enough to be tasty. After taking a quarter, the boy fell asleep for about two hours. I don't know what they put in that pizza, but for him to fall asleep in the noisy Trattoria, you know he was fully satisfied.
With the toddler asleep, the adults could dine properly. We started off with the calamari. The breading was thin and deep-fried to golden crispiness. Served atop some spicy tomato sauce, this was definitely a good starter. Definitely whetted our appetite for more food! 
For the past few months, I had been craving linguine...in a light non-cream based sauce. When I saw the Linguine Vongole on the menu, I was sold. As with Italian Kitchen, the pasta was cooked to al dente in a simple sauce of tomato and thyme, with a bit of peperoncino. The clams were all still attached to the shell, avoiding the dreaded and all too common "empty shell, clams on the bottom" syndrome. 
We also tried the Special of the Night - a homemade gnocchi with salmon and tiger prawns. I think the server said there were supposed to be three prawns but when the dish arrived, we only had two. The spinach gnocchi was good and you can definitely tell it was homemade that day. Really fluffy and pillowy. The salmon was grilled nicely, with a crispy skin, just the way I like it. The prosciutto wrapped prawn...well, anything with a prosciutto, pancetta or bacon wins me over every time. And yes, it helped that these prawns were pretty big! 
Although we both had pastas for our mains, we definitely had room for dessert. We got a few to try...from left to right, they are the Zeppole (home made choco filled fritters) served with vanilla cream, a biscotti and the decadent Tiramisu.
I am not a huge dessert fan, but this was one of the best tiramisu I've had. Layered with just the right amount of wet cream and soaked biscotti, it was really good. If you're like me and not a fan of really sweet desserts, (I usually go for the lemon tart at most places), then this is worth a shot. It's rich and indulgent, but not sugary sweet. I'm glad I saved room for dessert this time!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Afternoon at Joey's in Burnaby

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Joey Burnaby on Urbanspoon
I have to admit - I love playing with my food, or just getting food into my mouth via my hands, instead of pesky utensils such as chopsticks and cutlery. This time, I managed to circumvent utensils by going for finger foods. I tried the Lettuce Wrap from Joey's and was pleasantly surprised. It was way more filling than I expected, and the flavours were indeed Asian-inspired. It's definitely worth a try if you're in the mood for something light, but if you're looking fill up...get their burger. See my post about it here
The sauce is a mix of what seems like teriyaki sauce blended with Hoisin sauce (more commonly known as Chinese BBQ sauce). It's slightly overly sweet if you eat the filling on it's own, but after placing into the  crunchy lettuce wrap, the filling does mellow out. 
The other appetizer we tried was their fish tacos...another "eat with your hands" type of dish. The Baja Fish Tacos, though they are in the soft tortillas versus the crunchy corn tortillas I had expected. Inside are breaded and deep-fried fish and shrimp with some guacamole and chopped tomatoes. A bit of heat is provided by hot sauce, but we asked for it on the side. It's not crazy hot, so if you're looking for spicy, load it up with some tobasco instead. 
Once taken out of their signature "taco holders", you can see how much filling is really in there. The chopped lettuce and tomato give the taco much needed freshness to counterbalance the deep fried batter of the fish and shrimp. 
All in all, both are good sharing appies and great for an afternoon on the patio with a few martinis or glasses of white. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dim Sum at Kirin on Cambie

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Kirin (City Square) on Urbanspoon
One weekend in April, I convinced some of my friends to have dimsum with me. We decided to head to Kirin at City Square. I got there right on time for our reservation but still had to wait another 20 minutes before our table was ready.
This is one of our Go-Tos - it just doesn't feel like dim sum until the Har Gows have been ordered. They are one of the most popular items. The ones here are fairly average, although the skin is translucent and thinner than other "discount" restaurants. The shrimp inside are usually deveined, as was the case here.
We also got their Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice. It's sticky rice with chicken bits, shitake mushrooms, preserved Chinese sausage, scallions, dried shrimp and usually a duck egg yolk (the yellow in the top left). It's not a big portion of rice but does a good of curing the "you're hungry an hour after dim sum" blues. 
Here is a shot of the unwrapped package. The was a bit more rice in the package, but I had to eat some of it to expose the filling inside. The rice is the wrapper for all the filling and then the whole thing is wrapped in the lotus leaf and steamed when you order it.
Since we had a toddler with us, we also got the Spring Roll since most kids love the crunch of the skin. Our little guy was no different. It is commonly served with some Lea & Perrins so add some tartness to the meat/vegetable filling. 
Next up was the Assorted Beef "innards". The various parts are tripe, stomach, tendon and occasionally lung and intestines. All these organs are slow cooked in a beef broth flavoured with soy sauce and Chinese herbs. Granted, it's not for everyone, but the surprise here in the rice noodle rolls they tucked into the dish too, great for soaking up the gravy.
Another thing that's not for everyone...yes, Chicken Feet. These are basically bones and skin with a bit of cartilage. I've read some recipes for these that include deep-frying the feet first, and then they are slow-cooked in a blend of oyster sauce, soy sauce and even black bean sauce. However, these ones are so tender that I find it hard to believe they were fried first.
I always try to order one "different" dish each time I have dim sum, so I get the usual favourites while making it possible to discover new items. The one I tried today was their Quail Egg Siu Mai. Sui Mais are a pork dumpling, usually open faced with the pork exposed and a yellow skin, meaning they look nothing like this. The one is made with a wonton wrapper, with a cooked quail egg inside. I think the potential for the dish is high, but perhaps they overcooked the quail egg initially, before combining it with the pork filling. Once they steamed the whole dumpling all together, the quail egg was way overdone and dry and mealy.
Dim Sum here is solid, with prices in the slightly higher than average range.
One thing we found weird...our bill was $28.50 pre-HST for this meal, and after paying in cash ($20*2=$40), they never brought our change back. I normally would tip 15-20% but this is a +25% tip! Presumptious...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Time at Hapa Umi

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I've been looking forward to trying Hapa Umi for weeks now and after two months, I'm glad to say I had visited them two times, so this post will be a longer one combining the two visits.
One of my favourite items from the two visits was the Sashimi Salad. The baby root vegetables are too cute! There were 8 pieces of sashimi in total, two each of ahi tuna, toro, albacore and some sockeye. The light citrus-soy dressing was a great complement to the delicate greens and sashimi. It's loaded with butter lettuce, mini root veggies like carrots and radishes and even some asparagus.
Another must-try is the Kaisen Don - the bowl presentation is amazing, a bowl of sushi rice and topped with tons of sashimi as well as fish cake and tomago too. The ebi and ikura are a nice touch too. The fish is sliced nicely and evenly, with a little bit of shiso thrown in to lighten things up.
Another great dish to try is their Scallop roll. There is nori in it, as you can see but that is just wrapped around the scallop, cucumber and mayo. A layer of rice surrounds that roll, and then it wrapped again in a delicate egg crepe skin. So pretty and tasty. Large chunks of scallop and great crunch from the cucumber.
Here's a closeup of the roll. Not too large to be unwiedly, but filling if you ate all 6 pieces by yourself. 
We also sampled the Dynamite Roll. I like how they used green bean instead of the usual avocado at most places. I also liked the ratio of prawn to rice...yes the prawn is quite big, but I am glad then didn't try to make the roll appear bigger than it actually was, by padding with rice.
We also got the their Bento Box which features four Umi specialties and are changing based on fresh ingredients. That day, ours came with a potato salad, with large chunks of potatoes on a mayo based dressing. I've heard that the Bento has undergone some changes so please remember that this is from a few months ago. 
Another dish was the Unagi on top of a bed of greens cucumbers...really nice and tender. Don't let the size of the unagi fool you, it's got big flavours!
And another side dish was the salmon maki...with some gomae on the side. What I like about the presentation is that although there was a main component in each dish, the accompaniment is well thought out and beautifully executed.
The fourth item of the bento box is their halibut tempura. Essentially beer-battered fish, but so much more than that. The fish inside is moist and flaky, and the crunch on the batter can't be beat. The tartar sauce is creamy and nicely flavoured with dill.
Here is the full box as served. I started with the salad, moved over to the unagi, then the roll, and finished off with the halibut tempura. My aim was to go from light flavours to rich, and i think I succeeded. All items are subject to change based on fresh ingredients too.
The bento is also accompanied with their takikomi gohan, complete with carrots, mushroom and bamboo. It was unexpected but I believe their menu has changed to include simply steamed rice to go with their bento box.
And no good bento is complete without miso soup and I am happy to report this is no exception! 

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