Friday, April 18, 2014

Omakase at Octopus Garden

P and I have always wanted to try the omakase (chef’s choice) menu. So we chose Octopus Garden and aimed for the gold star $100 menu. Hey, we don’t do this every day if we’re going to try it out might as well go big right?

Advice
- prepare your stomach for an epic battle
- spare at least 2.5h for the meal (and we eat pretty darn fast)
- menu changes every day so don’t expect to get the exact same thing if you do revisit

 



Hot sake on a cold winter night with sashimi mmm… Great way to start off a night.


Fried dumpling with side salad

The uni shooter (sea urchin, mountain potato, quail egg & wasabi)

I’m always a skeptic when it comes to having uni outside of Japan (one too many bad experiences). The uni shooter here is however nothing short of amazing.

The urchin was extremely sweet giving of freshness from the sea. The addition of quail egg made it even creamier but not overly so with a hint of freshly grated wasabi. Mountain potato gives the shot a bit of a crunch. Hidden shiso finishes off the experience on a refreshing note.

 

The soup that followed the uni was a bit disappointing. It wasn't very memorable or very Japanese. We started hoping that it does not represent the rest of the dishes. The tofu with fish and mushrooms was a bit better but still didn't ease our worry.



If we were ever worried about the value of the set, this was when our concerns were put to rest. We were told that the difference between the $70 and $100 sets lie in the quality of the ingredients. Some of the goodies here included: amaebi, sea urchin, Bluefin tuna, saba, salmon, toro, oysters. Everything was so fresh and sweet that it basically melts in your mouth.

The fish remains were later on deep fried so you could eat its bones like chips.


Bluefin teriyaki. At first I was wondering why they would cook Bluefin since I thought it’s usually served as sashimi. But the texture was different from anything I’ve ever had before. Though it was cooked, it was tender almost like eating a medium rare steak.


At this point, we were extremely full. I really wish that this dish came way before the small plates in the beginning when we were a lot hungrier. I think the chef must’ve known this because the sushi rice was in tiny bite sizes (under the humungous sashimi).


The dessert was green tea sandwich with red bean and vanilla ice-cream. Though very good, I regret to say I couldn’t finish this.

For anyone looking to try out Octopus Garden, I would highly recommend getting the omakase menu. Since the pricing here is on the higher end, it would give you a much better value than ordering the dishes individually. P and I thought it would take some time to go back but we ended up going back a month after our first visit. Just make sure you prepare your stomach and wallet.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Portland (Food) Adventure

On a one fine weekend, my friend and I decided to take a trip to Portland. There’s probably nothing better than escaping the chaotic work life and reconnecting with your long-time friend on a six hour road trip. Throw in a food and wine hunt in one of the most foodie friendly cities in North America and we got ourselves a trip to remember.

Our weekend was short and sweet but we still managed to hit up a few great spots that I’d recommend for anyone going to Portland.

1. Food Carts – Portland is most famous for its sheer number and variety of food carts so this was naturally our first stop.

Tabor – Czech Food Cart



The Original Schnitzelwich (breaded chicken breast in a Ciabatta roll with lettuce, paprika spread, sautéed onion and horseradish)
There were always people waiting around this food cart so make sure you order first before you wander around the area. The chicken breast was extremely crispy and well-seasoned. If you’re a fan of crispy fried chicken, this one is for you.  The sandwich itself was huge I was almost full after half.

Tábor on Urbanspoon










Nong’s Khao Man Gai


Chicken on rice (khao man gai) is one of my most favorite Thai dishes. Ever. So I was quite excited to see khao man gai place. We don’t typically eat Thai food outside of home but there’s no way I could have resisted this! Nong’s Khao man Gai is indeed authentic. It may not be the best I’ve ever had in my life but it is definitely on par with what is offered back at home. For a brief moment, I was brought back to Thailand and got my khao man gai fix.

Nong's Khao Man Gai on Urbanspoon









2. 
St. Honore Boulangerie

This place is highly recommended to anyone who loves pastries. I rarely return to the same place on the same trip, but I definitely went back to grab as many pastries as I could before I left the city.

 






We ordered Soup du Jour (vegetable soup with pesto) and Croque Madame. The soup was very hearty and just what I needed for the rainy day. Croque Madame was extremely crispy and the cheese oozes out the moment you cut out a piece.

I also bought back several other items to bring back with me on the last day including: Vol au Vent, Chouquettes, Canele, and coffee éclair. The only thing I regret about that list is not buying more. I still dream of the creamy and not too sweet coffee éclair today.

St. Honoré Boulangerie on Urbanspoon









3. Pok Pok

This was the only place I didn't enjoy on my Portland trip. I was excited to try it out because of the rave reviews. However, it fell far short of my expectations. We were first told that the wait time would be approximately an hour which was okay because we weren't very hungry and it would be like that anywhere else at that time. Two hours later.. we still didn’t have our table.  We were consistently reassured that we would get our table shortly, and after two hours we really didn’t want to go anywhere else. Finally, after two and a half hours we were seated… on the patio section in a winter cold night. It would have made no difference if we sat at the “bar” section that was also outside two hours and a half earlier.


We ordered gai yang (fried chicken), neua nam tok (flank steak salad), and khao man som tum (papaya salad with coconut rice and shredded pork).  Gai yang was quite dry lacking in seasoning and garlic. Neau nam tok was way too salty than it should be, the dish should have been a medley of spicy, sour, and a bit of sweet. I ended up having to ask for more lime to wash out the salt. Khao man som tum was okay but definitely not something to write home about.

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon








4. Tasty n Sons  

No one likes waiting to be seated (especially when you’re hungry). But this is one of the few places I’d be willing to wait an hour for.


First off we ordered bacon wrapped date with maple syrup& almond. The date was immersed in sweet syrup which goes extremely well with the smoky bacon.



Potatoes Bravas with easy eggs and aioli. Creamy yolk on crispy potatoes - I personally like to add hot sauce for a bit more flavor.


Steak & eggs with cornmeal pancake and jalapeno butter
Best. Steak & Eggs. Ever. The dish comes on a skillet with the steak & eggs sitting on top of a bed of pancake. The eggs were fluffy with runny yolk. The steak was tender and had just enough spice you don’t need to add sauce. I would go back to order this again in a heartbeat.

Tasty n Sons on Urbanspoon









5. 
Sokol Blosser Tasting Room

For wine lovers, Oregon wine country is just a short drive outside of Portland. As a Pinot lover, I couldn’t resist visiting at least one tasting room on my trip.




With big tall windows, the new tasting room gets lots of natural sunlight and an expansive view of the vineyard. It was raining when we got there so the view wasn’t clear. However, we were able to enjoy our wine flight beside a cozy fireplace. Even if I didn’t end up buying three bottles of Pinot, the trip would have still been worth it for the view and experience. 

Sokol Blosser Winery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tasty Persian feast at Zeitoon


Seeking a new food adventure this week, we set off to Zeitoon, a Persian restaurant recommended by a friend's co-worker.  Since we don't go to Middle-Eastern restaurants often, all of us wanted to try many dishes on the menu without killing ourselves.  Thankfully, the kitchen was able to accommodate us and preparing the dishes family-style that was easy to share.  Their dips and kabobs are definitely must-try.

Kashke bademjan, a mashed deep fried eggplant topped with whey, fried garlic and fresh mint, had a lot of flavours and was more unique than the eggplant dip I've had before.  Merza qassemi had broiled eggplant with slightly sweet and smoky flavour.

Their hummus was also very tasty with a smooth creamy texture.  I wanted to replicate this dish in my kitchen but having trouble finding tahini.  I think we stuffed ourselves with the pita before the mains even arrived.  We also tried dolma, or stuffed vine leaves, which were very good with their seasoned yogurt.

The kabobs were definitely the highlight.  We tried koobedeh (premium ground beef, they tasted like meatballs), barg (AAA tenderloin), shishlik lamb, bakhtiari (combination of chicken and ground beef).  They came with beautifully charred roasted tomatoes, peppers, olives and rice.  I ordered extra yogurt just to amplify the kabob eating experience.  There were plenty of rice and pita for us to enjoy the meat with. I love that everything was served with lime wedges. A little acidity brightened everything up and kept us from feeling overwhelmed.  My favourites were the tenderloin and the lamb, which was not gamey.

Underneath this blanket of rice infused with dill and lima beans was a tender lamb shank.  The meat was tender and went well with the accompanied sauce.  The bonus part was the bone marrow, which was cleaned out without a remnant. Fresh dill really brought in a nice aroma for the rice and I wish all their rice was served this way.

Ghormeh sabzi stew was a hearty dish with beef chunks cooked int sauteed vegetables, dried limes and red kidney beans.  I slathered all over saffron rice and relished in the tangy and savoury broth.
The portions were great and wholesome. And yes, we were stuffed after almost 2 hours of non-stop feasting.

For dessert, they didn't have anything else available beside the saffron flavoured ice cream topped with pistachio.  A pretty big bowl that was good enough to share.  For the price of around $4-7 per appetizer and $13-15 per main, that's really quite the value.  Between 6 people, we only paid $25 per person including gratuity.  We were all really happy with the dishes and would definitely go back.  Our only awkward moment was when we paying the bill.  Somehow our waitress didn't like that we had included the gratuity in the amount as we were paying, and demanded it be paid separately under "Tips" option rather than in full amount.  After calming her out of what I could only call a "near-meltdown" state, everything was settled and resumed normalcy.  I'm not really sure how tips are split amongst staff at the restaurant, but we thought that part was extremely bizarre.  So be aware when you pay with cards!


Zeitoon Restaurant and Grill House on Urbanspoon





Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One of the best Neopolitan pizzeria in Vancouver, Via Tevere

When I arrived at Via Tevere, I was greeted by a sea of people swarming aimlessly outside the property and we knew our wait would be long.  This did not break our resolve to try the pizzas here that night and we proceeded to join the queue and put our names down with the premise that our wait time would be around an hour.  It was around 7 pm and we were not about to sit around and torture ourselves.  So, off we went, adventuring what other establishments on Commercial Drive had to offer until our main course.

Two hours later, we already had a snack at Memphis Blues and a couple beers from Biercraft.  It was close to 9 pm when we headed back to Via Tevere, and although the line ups had gone down, our table was still not ready! It was not until almost half an hour later that we were actually seated.  Had we stayed around, we would've sat there and waited over 2 hours for dinner.  I would've starved and my temper would've flared.  It wouldn't be a pleasant scene for anybody.

We already had our drinks and appies, so once we sat down, we just went straight to business.  Authentic Neopolitan pizza was what we came for, so we ordered 5 kinds; prociutto e funghi, capricciosa, prociutto e rucola, vesuvio, and quatro formaggi.  The prices were more than reasonable, ranging from $16-19 per pizza with quality ingredients.  That's around the same price as many less-than-mediocre places serving frozen pizzas (but caling them "gourmet"), the kind I would never set foot back in again.   I haven't had a pizza this good since Chef Daniel Costa, now infamous for his Corso32 restaurant, at a humble Italian cafe, Cafe de Copa back in Edmonton in 2007.

I had a chance to try them all, and aside from the quatro formagi, the components on all the pizzas were all similar.  All tasty, nonetheless.  The features that make Via Tevere's pizzas more amazing than most Neopolitan pizza joints out there are:
1. the dough, which they import the double zero flour directly from Italy.  It's got a great texture with the right amount of air in the dough.  It also only takes 60 to 90 s on average to fire in the oven, which was also imported from Italy.
2. the tomato sauce.  It's freshly made and not processed out of a can from Costco.
3. Their fior di latte mozzarella that melt beautifully and creates this nice, chewy, gooey texture when you take that first bite.
4. the fact that they fill up their toppings.   I've had many great pizzas which had a sparse wasteland of toppings at the centre, and that's a real deal breaker for me.  Via Tevere is generous with their portions.  They don't cheap out and that, my friend, is integrity.


It's near impossible to choose a favourite pizza here, but the fresh arugula really gives the pizza a refreshing kick.  The quatro formaggi was also really something special that you wouldn't find at any other pizzeria.  It had all the famous Italian cheeses, all with different flavours; fior di latte, ricotta, smoked provolone, and parmigiano.  Cheese lovers won't be disappointed.  


 

Whether you have trouble deciding, or you want to try all their desserts, the nice folks have figured that out for you.  Tris di dolci is their dessert trio sampler that let you try all 3 desserts; flour-less almond and walnut chocolate cake, fritter topped with Nuttella, and tiramisu.  I'm a huge fan of tiramisu and this one was really light, creamy and not too sweet.  The fritter was melt-in-your-mouth amazing and it reminded me of churros when they're done right.  The torta caprese would be perfect if you're on gluten-free diet. 


It's been over a week since I dined at Via Tevere and I still dream about their pizzas everyday.  One of the best pizzeria in Vancouver, by far.  I will not wait another 2 hours, though.  Going when they first open, or around 9:30 pm after drinking and snacking would be best for quick seating.  
Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Manhattan's Finest: The Nomad




When I stepped into the Nomad restaurant at the Nomad Hotel with its nostalgic and upscale vibe, that was when I felt like I was a true grown up.  It was busy, with 40's + crowd, and everyone seemed like they'd been here before numerous times. Loud chatters filled the atrium as people sipped from their wine.  Dressed up parsnips seemed to be the  popular snack as they were flying out all night.  We were on a mission; to try their famous roasted chicken.   However, I ended up falling in love with other few dishes on the menu instead.

First off, we could not get enough of their artisan flatbread.  It was baked crisp and topped with sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, and white beans.  It was hard to not fill up while waiting for the courses to arrive.

As you can see, I had no idea the marinated fluke would be a stunning art on a plate.  And yes, it tasted as amazing as it looked. The basil oil brought out natural sweet flavors of the heirloom tomato while the subtle acidity complement the fluke, making it the star. This was my favourite dish of the evening.  

Out of all the things on the menu, there's always a soft spot for poached egg, no matter what time of the day.  And this time was no different and it had to be included.  A perfectly poached egg peaked through a cloud of foam and brown butter with asparagus and crispy quinoa. When it comes to food porn, there's nothing that's more visually tantalizing than cracking a perfectly poached egg and watching the yolk slowly oozes out. Only this time, the yolk dripped down to a cloud of foam clouds. Although the sauce was a bit too high in sodium, it was an awesome comfort food no less.

Looking at this dish, comparing with other items we just had, we were not as wowed by the seemingly humble appearance.  However, the king crab tagliatelle with Meyer lemon and black pepper proved to be the underdog.  Frankly, it was a well executed dish.  The tagliatelle pasta, made in-house, had the perfect texture. It was lightly seasoned with lemony flavor, but it was enough to make an impression. Topped with succulent king crab meat, we gobbled it up the entire plate within minutes. 

When the suckling pig confit with pears cabbage and mustard showed up at the table, we already knew what we expected out of it; ultra crispy skin, a fatty layer with moist and tender meat.  

The star of the show, and what many come to the Nomad for, was the $79 whole roasted chicken with foie gras black truffle and brioche. It was the most pricey and fancy roasted chicken we have paid for.  It was presented to us fresh out of the oven before being carved up and prepared 2 ways (like a Peking duck).  It looked gorgeous with golden brown glistening skin with arrangement of fresh herbs.  But aside from that, the only other thing I seemed to notice was how small the whole roasted chicken looked compared to the size of that gentleman's hands holding it!

The different meat of the chicken was prepared two ways. Accompanied by white bean truffle puree, the breast, served skin on, was very tender but the truffle essence was very faint.   

Meanwhile, the dark meat had a more rustic take, served in a skillet with green beans and mustard seeds with a touch of acidity from vinegar. The crispy skin bits were a real treat.  Overall, the chicken was good, but in my opinion for $40-50, not $79.

Our food journey at the Nomad ended with 2 modern desserts.


I loved the artful presentation and play on 2 contrasting textures for "milk and honey".  You get the crunchy harder bits from short bread brittle with the sweet, yet mellow honey ice cream.

When it comes to taste, I thought this plum dessert was more unique than the rest.  There was a lot of flavours and textures going on in this dish; from sweet to tart to salty from the corn sabayon, spongy to rich to creamy, even temperature ranged from warm to cold.  While it was yummy altogether, I had a great time dissecting each component with each bite and trying to figure everything out.  It was unique, distinct, and special. A dish you wouldn't find at just about anywhere.

I would love to come back to the Nomad again for their creative takes on snacks, appetizers and desserts.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon