gracecheung604 | write on time: April 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dim Sum at NingTu

Whenever I go to NingTu for lunch, there are two items that I just have to order. The Siu Loong Bau (steamed soup dumplings Shanghai style) and the Chee Fan (sticky rice stuffed with Chinese donut, pork floss and preserved vegetables). Everything else is gravy. This time, we rounded out the meal with Green Onion Pancake and Pork Chop in Noodle Soup.
First to arrive was the Chee Fan. A little disappointing in appearance, since the two end pieces were falling off the edges of the plate, so it wasn’t as “rolled” as it should be. Most Shanghai dimsum places serve their rolls still wrapped in saran wrap, to avoid this. Appearances notwithstanding though, the roll was perfect. Crunchy donut (some places cheap out and give you stale ones), lots of pork floss for the salty flavour and diced preserved veggies for added crunch.
The Green Onion Pancake was next, and there were two golden rounds of flour with loads of green onions…perfect for a green onion lover! Not as oily as I expected, thankfully, but still piping hot with a doughy chew softness.

The Pork Chop in Noodle Soup came and they were the only mild disappointment in the whole meal. The pork chop was fried well, nice and golden in colour but the noodles and soup were bland. But never fear, hot sauce to the rescue!
The Siu Loong Bau came last, and there were 8 cute little dumplings sitting atop of thinly sliced carrot, to prevent bursting as you peel it off the bottom of the steamer with your chopsticks. Gently dip the dumpling into the vinegar, and then carefully bite through the skin, releasing the juicy soup inside. Oh wow…delicious!
We only had the green onion pancake left and one section of the Chee Fan to pack home. Comfort food, Chinese style.
Note: this place is Cash Only...something my dining campanion will attest to as he had to go grab cash so we didn't have to wash dishes...
NingTu on Urbanspoon

Sprained my Arm...

Stayed home from work today due to a workout injury. Between the chest and incline presses that I did, as well as the various planks and other bench related exercises that I’ve been doing, I must have pulled something in my arm, and pulled it bad. I didn’t notice the pain right away, but there was definitely pain involved when I was driving home yesterday. I couldn’t make a turn using my right arm only. The next thing that made me realized it was the pain I got when trying to open the fridge for a Coke Zero! Emailed my boss last night to advise her of my stupidity.
Woke up early this morning but just couldn’t get out of bed. In desperate need of soothing food and shameless pampering. Since I can’t really drive, I enlisted my friend to help me out by taking me to lunch at NingTu (review here)…and to Costco…and to the liquor store.
Had to get TP from Costco. I’ved been living on my own for 9 months and this is the first time I have bought TP for my place. I’ve been mooching off my mom this entire time…shameful!
Got a ton of new magazines and enough European sausages to have my very own sausage fest tonight! Yes, I took them out of the original packaging...and repackaged into ziploc baggies in a less menacing portion...only 4 at a time. Wonder if they shrink in the freezer?

Staying in for an old school WAP night, (W
ine and Austin Powers) night. It’s an old school tradition and one that has been forgotten for way too long. The race is on to see who can recite more lines from the movie…we opted for AP #2 with just a touch of Liz Hurley and a whole lot of Heather Graham. Hmmm, he thinks the crochet dress would be one wicked Halloween costume…I just need to get a wig…and the body!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salads and Sliders at Cactus Club Cafe

Cactus Club Cafe (Burrard) on Urbanspoon
Had another unexpected lunch out today during work, this time at the Cactus Club Cafe located in Bentall 5. Last week’s surprise at Joey’s was delightful (review here), but I can’t bring myself to go there so often. Instead we headed over to Cactus, at noon. There was a short lineup, but we decided to sit at the bar and only waited about 10 mins. Although it was weird to sit at the bar and not drink, both of us had to head back to the office, so no liquid lunch today.
Deciding to be a bit healthy after the recent DineOut extravaganzas at the Granville Island Keg (review here) and Zakkushi (review here), we ordered the Spinach Salad. Okay, the fact that we saw it paraded past us with generous servings of prosciutto had persuaded us too. But we can’t be too healthy here, so we compensated for it by getting the Mini Burgers.
The salad was flanked by prosciutto at each end, loaded with spinach, sprinkled with goat cheese and candied pecans, with chunks of pickled beets on the bottom. Since we were sharing, I divided up the salad, and then remembered to take a photo. Well, then I was reminded to take a photo. This is maybe one-third of the salad here, so there is lots to go around.
Saw some people around us having actual burgers so, when our Minis arrived, I did experience a moment of burger-envy. Happy to report that bigger is not necessarily better in this case. The burgers we peeked at looked a little bare, lacking adornment and sauciness. Our little minis had a nice soft bun, some mustard/mayo blend, and bacon as well as melted cheese. It was a pretty good burger, definitely not the typical more bun than patty deal. I found myself eating it clockwise, instead of top to bottom. Does that make sense? Just picture this, my final bite was the middle of the burger, not an edge.
All washed down with good old Vancouver tap water…no complaints here. Satiated and sashayed back to the office, all in under 75 minutes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

DineOut - Day Two (Happy Bday, B)

Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (Main Street) on Urbanspoon
Another DineOut dinner tonight. This time at Zakkushi. In my opinion, prix fixe meals work better as a 3+ course meal, and Japanese food has always seemed like a big one-course deal, so I was a little hesitant. Here is their menu.
I was concerned if there would be enough food, or enough variety. Well, I needn’t have worried. The food was amazing, plentiful and beautifully presented. I should have brought my camera along instead of relying on my blackberry for all the foodie shots.
There were two choices for appies and three choices for entrees (one was vegetarian and summarily excluded from contention). With 4 people eating, we decided to do two of each and call it a day.
The Fisherman’s Favourite (Sashimi) was amazing, fresh and sweet, bite-sized pieces of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, toro, uni and even amaebi! I thought the serving portion of 10 pieces was very generous, and any fear I had about lack of food was gone. The Antipasto Trio was really different On one end was the Gomaae, which was flavoured with a mild peanut sauce and served with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. The beef tataki slices were thinly sliced and served with green onions and grated daikon alongside. The Kimpira was something new to me, but the crunchy lotus root gave the dish the texture it was lacking.
The entrĂ©es were so beautifully presented. The Charcoal Grill Intensity was a meat lovers delight. Part One consisted of four skewers of meat. There was the chicken meatball, a skewer each of chicken thigh and pork, and a skewer of garlic stubs wrapped with pork. Truly delicious and welcomed after the 10 slices of sashimi I had. Part Two of the entrĂ©e was the Beef Steak Don. Served in a little wooden bowl, the presentation was very pretty. At first glance, there didn’t seem like a lot of food inside, but once you start digging, there was plenty of rice and even more beef to go around.

The second choice was The Japanese Tradition with a distinctly seafood bent. We started with a Bouillabaisse, with loads of shellfish, salmon and cod, along with corn and potato. Not to be outdone by the Grill selection, this choice was accompanied by 6 generously sized nigiri sushi. And they didn’t try to trick you with Tamago or Haddock-based imitation crab. All 6 pieces were quality sushi, each with a little dollop of wasabi placed inside, not your run of the mill AYCE sloppiness.
Needless to say, we were stuffed by this point (and I had completely forgotten about taking photos, again), yet we still had dessert coming. We again had two to choose from, the matcha tiramisu, and the black sesame and yuzu ice cream. I was the lone brave one to test out the tiramisu, and was pleasantly surprised. There was just a very slight taste of green tea, almost like an aftertaste. The black sesame ice cream was similarly light in taste, in fact, it was light in appearance too and looked to be green tea ice cream. The yuzu scoop was very refreshing after the sweetness of both the tiramisu and the black sesame. There were actual citrus peel in it too, a very nice touch.
Overall the meal was amazing, lots of food, lots of variety, and presentation that really displayed the artistry of Japanese cuisine. For all of you who stick to the AYCEs, it’s time to give it a try. To those of you who love your Hapa and Guu, this is definitely worth checking out…you won’t be disappointed.
And one very odd thing…there bathrooms are very cool. I only have photos of the women’s washroom, and even then, I felt very weird heading into the bathroom with a camera. The size of it is tiny, reminiscent of a airplane bathroom, but the ceiling is richly textured, and the faucet is really unique.

The tap is on the wall, attached to a stone-like display. The water trickles out from a bamboo pipe (reminded me of the bamboo sake from Hapa). Heard the men’s bathroom was just as off the wall, but I will have to take my friend’s word for it…for now.
Note: only the location on Main is part of DineOut, their other locations on Denman and Fourth are not.

Monday, April 26, 2010

DineOut - Day One

A group of us headed out to a friend's birthday dinner at the Granville Island Keg. I was actually surprised that a chain restaurant would participate in DineOut. Back in my Toronto years, they would never be part of Summerlicious or Winterlicious. To decide if I find a restaurant DineOut worthy, I do a quick mental calculation of what I normally spend in that place for a meal, and then see if the price point they set is worth it.

The Keg actually has two DineOut versions, a $28 and a $38 one. The appetizers and the dessert selection are the same, but you do get your choice of two desserts with the $38. The major variation between the two is the main course selections. At a glance, the $28 is strictly your basic meat and potato entrĂ©es, and the $38 is more of a surf and turf type deal, where it is still meat and potatoes, but with a pile of seafood either scooped on top, or tucked on the side. Since I like my meat straight up, I knew I’d be going with the $28 version. Their steaks run $20+ and their French Onion Soup (my favourite) is about $7. Seemed like a worthwhile endeavor.

The table they showed us to was a small semi-circular banquette. It was meant for five people (there were seven of us), so we asked if there was a way to move us to a larger table. There was nothing our waiter could do, but I place the blame was more on the hostess/reservationist. Our Group of Seven all crammed into one semi-circular banquette and made the best of it. We ordered a bottle of Painter Bridge zinfandel (my mom’s favourite Keg wine), the waiter brought the bread and we looked over the menu. For the appetizers, there are two salads (House and Caesar), their French Onion soup as well as their Baked Garlic Prawns.
It was a rainy gloomy day, and I opted for the soup (I probably would have ordered that even on a hot sunny day though). Others got the Caesar and some got the Prawns. When ordering the main course, he gave us the option to switch baked/mashed potatoes regardless of what the menu said. I decided to stick with my baked potato (which accompanies the NY Steak) since my seatmate was getting mashed potatoes (to go with the Prime Rib). I knew my fork would be wandering over to his plate…
My soup came and it was a white-hot mess. It was so pale I couldn’t take a picture of it…the flash and the cheese…just not good. I actually sprinkled pepper on the soups so that it didn’t look as bad but I do regret not photographing that. Instead, I drank most of it first, and then took the picture you see here. Just wondering, does anyone else drink their soup with a teaspoon like me?

Another side effect of being crammed into one small booth…each of us had to play “waiter”. The staff couldn’t lean far enough to serve the people at the end, so they gave us napkins and lessons on how to pass the extremely hot plates around. The salad looked very over-dressed, almost to the point of soggy. They accidentally brought over the House salad first, and that one actually looked much better! The baked prawns smelled amazing…buttery goodness.

The mains came quickly, and my NY Steak arrived with a baked potato, all naked. But don’t fret, I’m not a puritanical potato lover, I simply like my toppings on the side. I use it all…butter, sour cream, bacon and green onions. However, this trick makes it easy to share with people who don’t like everything…you can customize! And the bonus, leftovers went into the mashed next to me to make it better (bacon-ier, butter-ier, cream-ier).

The Prime Rib was cooked perfectly medium rare, but my NY Steak was more medium-well, though I had asked for medium rare. It seemed as though the steak was cooked to medium rare at some point in the evening, but sat under a heat lamp for too long, until it was served.

The desserts were quite cute, arriving in little shot glasses. My Lemon Blueberry dessert alright, but it tasted like cake-mix cake, with Jell-O Instant lemon pudding and a dollop of blueberry jam on top. And yes, I forgot to take a picture…

If you’re a DineOut fan, this is a good choice for you. The quality is to be expected, but if you are ordering anything other than the prime rib, ask for a rarer temperature than you normally get. I probably would have ended up with a medium rare steak if I ordered a rare one.

Keg Steakhouse and Bar (Granville Island) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Game I dare to watch?

So, after witnessing the Canucks win at home at GM Place on Friday (more on that later), I was excited to watch the away game, since it will not be a do-or-die game for the Canucks. Obviously, I want them to win as quickly as possible, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if they didn't win today. It would mean that they would play Game 7 here and win the series at home! *wink*

So it was with that thought in mind that I accepted my friend's invitation to watch the game with him at his place, where I witnessed the depressing Game 2 loss as well as a regular season loss. If memory serves me right, both time the Canucks were leading, both times he left the room, and both times, the opposing team scored, once it was three goals, and two during Game 2.

I repeated my strategy from last Wednesday, didn't wear anything Canuck-y, but still drank red wine. It was good game, with a 4-2 win by the Canucks to take the series in 6 games! Full recap here.
I guess some jinxes can be broken!

A good pho day...

Pho Hoang Vietnamese on Urbanspoon
Been craving pho for the longest time, ever since lent, and that awful Thai Son experience. Although I did satisfy my Vietnamese noodle craving at Phnom Penh a few weeks ago (review here), I didn’t actually get pho, specifically pho tai sach. Convinced a friend and his son to grab a bowl (or two) with me for lunch. We headed to Pho Hoang where, last I checked, there weren’t any pigeons in the kitchen, and the place is always clean.
Ordered my #15 (pho tai sach) small, and decided to sample their chicken wings as well. I think they were call Butter Fried Chicken Wings. The hot bowls arrived and I took a few sips of the broth, unadulterated. And then it was time to play! Shredded the mint into my bowl, dunked the bean sprouts into the soup, forcing them to go down to the bottom of the bowl. Also got some extra Thai chilis and split them open into the soup as well. I squeezed out two generous squirts of both the chilli sauce and the hoi-sin sauces straight into the soup. Then I aimed a few more squirts of the two sauces onto the Thai Chili plate for dipping. Usually, by this point, my other friends have inhaled half their bowl, wondering when I’m going to eat.
As luck would have it, my friend used the whole time I was doing this to fix up lunch for his little guy. So in fact, for the first time in my life, I started eating before everyone else at the table! The noodles were perfect, the bean sprouts just slightly cooked but still had a crunch and the chilli seed throughout the broth made it nice and spicy. The beef slices were a little bit clumped together and more cooked that I normally like. Remember the days when you could ask for your beef “on the side”? Does anyone do that anymore?? The tripe was cooked through, and quite tender, and there was a lot of it. Definitely good value too because I’ve been to places where you get 5 slices of beef and two strands of tripe, and I’d say Pho Hoang gives you almost double!
The wings arrived and they weren’t nearly as oily as we had feared (and secretly hoped). Nice dark colour and very crunchy looking. They served it with a lemon pepper dipping sauce, just as they do at Phnom Penh, but there was no comparison. The wings were good, soft and juicy inside with a crispy coating, but the batter was a little bland. Good thing the sauce was provided, it definitely made the dish better.
Overall, the Pho was better than Thai Son, and the wings were worse than Phnom Penh. I’d definitely come back the next time it’s a rainy and miserable weekend in Vancouver…pho is a good comfort food. But if I’m craving chicken wings, I’m going to have to suck it up and wait for a spot at Phnom Penh.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saunaing Saturday

Woke up a little sore from all the workouts lately, so decided to treat myself to an hour or two at the sauna. Peaceful sweating until I realized I was going to be late heading down for dinner with the BFF! Planning to head down to Phnom Penh for some of their signature wings, but 7pm on a Saturday night? Don't be silly. Instead, we derailed and headed to Campagnolo instead (review here). Good conversation and good food. It's always nice catching up, reminiscing about the past and plottng the future. She was so impressed with the food that she ended up ordering a pizza to take home! Now, I sort of wished I was smart enough to have done
Headed home to relax some more... guess the heat of the sauna just drained me.

Camping out at Campagnolo

Finally got a chance for dinner with the BFF. With a baby in her life, it’s been harder to get together. Once we were seated, we both ordered a glass of vino each. From the Antipasti section, we knew that the Crispy Ceci is their more well-known appetizer, so we ordered one of those. And from the Salumi section, I decided to try their Dry Cured Chorizo. I had been craving this since my mom’s taster from her Grilled Halibut at Coast last week (that review here). A huge bowlful of ceci (chickpeas) arrived, sprinkled with peperoncini, mint and citrus. It is a very generous portion and definitely more than enough to share! Who knew you could coax crispiness out of chickpeas! This is a far cry from the usual way I use/eat chickpeas…uh, hummus anyone? The chorizo came, thinly sliced…laid out in 4 x 4 rounds, and made me want to play checkers with them. Perfectly cured and super tasty…not too salty as can often happen with cured meats, and delicately spiced. This was the start of a great meal.
After having too many pizzas and flatbreads lately, we both opted to have their pasta, from the primi section. I got the Tagliarini with the pork ragu, basil and pecorino. My friend got their Rigatoni special, in what seems like a Bolognese sauce. There is just something unbeatable about fresh pastas done right.
Tagliarini is an egg noodle, long and flat, just a little narrower than tagliatelle. The pork ragu tasted as though someone slaved over it all day…tender morsels of pork that practically melt in your mouth. Her rigatoni was cute little round tubes, perfect to munch down with the Bolognese sauce. Portions are not huge, no Anducci’s-sized portions here, but it is just the right amount to fill you up. And with the old world taste of the sauce and homemade texture of the pasta, each mouthful leaves you very satisfied.
I was so delighted with the meal and the service that I booked my Mother’s Day brunch here. I can’t wait to post the review on that. Based on my meal tonight, I’m sure their Frittata and Colazione are fabulous.
Campagnolo on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 23, 2010

Round One – Game Six

Scored tickets to the Canucks game at General Motors Place (GMP) tonight. So grateful that we won Wednesday’s game, so that we’re not facing elimination for this game. I put on my #33 jersey and hoped for the best. What followed is beyond words so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. We were seated in row 12 behind the Canucks bench…I was in heaven!


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