Monday, 8 September 2014

Pizza Well Worth the Visit at Kerrisdale's Bufala

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 3.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Unlike many of the other upscale pizza joints around town that focus on authentic ingredients for their pies, Bufula has taken the local road.  The flour for the crust comes from Saanichton Farm on Vancouver Island, while the sauce is made from local tomatoes.  Toppings also sing "local", with seasonal produce and local meat/seafood.  While they will not be getting the VPN certification anytime soon, that is not what they are going for, and I think their local approach is what will set them apart from their competition.

Kerrisdale is not an area that is known for its good eats.  But with the appearance of a new kid on the block, that may change.

The new kid's name is Bufula, and in her few short months since opening, she has made great strides with long line ups for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.  After eating there last night for the first time, a totally get what all of the hype is about.

When we arrived at 8:30 on a Friday night, there was a 45 minute wait.  There was no space at the bar so they offered to call us when a table was ready.   We walked down the street to 41st to find a place to have a drink but were surprised to discover that the only places that were open at that time in the evening were coffee shops and sushi bars.  So what was the next best option?  The White Spot right next door to Bufala.  Since it is pretty much the only place within walking distance, it has likely seen its evening business skyrocket over the last several months, with customers that are either too hungry to wait for a seat, or those like us who are killing time while waiting.  I must say, they actually have a few decent BC wines on the menu and surprisingly cheap local beers!

When we were finally summoned back to Bufula at around 9:15, the place was still packed.  Although I quite liked the room due its high energy and hip vibe, I should note that the space is quite cramped with communal seating down the middle, booths on one side and the bar/kitchen on the other.  This is therefore not the ideal place for a first date or work meeting, but well suited to a get-together with friends.  We were seated at the communal table which worked fine for us, but my choice would have been one of the cozy-looking booths if I had the choice.  We enjoyed peering into the large open kitchen behind the bar, where we could watch the chefs hard at work making the pies and taking them out of the pizza oven.

Service started off a bit slow, which was understandable considering how busy they were when we were first seated.  After the server finally got around to taking our orders, however, our starters came out in decent time.  It should be noted (and our server did forewarn us) that the food arrives family-style so if guests are ordering personal pizzas like we all did, they will not all arrive at the same time.  Most of our pizzas came out a bit too quick, when we were only half way through our appetizers, while our friend ended up waiting about 10 minutes for his pizza after ours.  The servers themselves seemed pretty run off their feet and did not have much time to walk us through the menu but when things got a bit quieter at the end of the night, they were happy to chat with us.

Bufula is fortunate to have Josh Pape at the helm of its bar program.  Pape has won numerous accolades for his work in many great Vancouver restaurants and is doing great things now at Bufula.  The cocktail list is succinct, with only a handful of classic aperitif cocktails and a few original cocktails.  My friend and I both sampled from the original cocktail list.

Westside (Vodka, basil, lemoncello, soda)- I am not one for sweet cocktails so the lemon-basil combo was just perfect for me.

Rossini (prosecco and strawberry puree)- For those who are looking for something sweet, my friend's classy cocktail definitely delivered.

In keeping with the cocktail menu, the food menu is also fairly short and sweet and consists of about 12 starters and 12 pizzas.  Being a pescatarian, I noticed that the menu is fairly meat heavy (most starters contain at least some meat) which is not all that surprising once you know that the co-owners are from Vancouver's meat-centric Wildebeest.  Vegetarians can take comfort in the fact that 5 pizzas are vegetarian-friendly so they will not leave hungry.

Here were our picks of the night:
Kale Caesar Salad- I never order Caesar salad but had read rave reviews about this one so I suggested we try it. This was honestly the best Caesar I have ever tasted.  Must to Hubby's delight, it came topped with 2 strips of bacon and an egg yolk on the top.  Although it was a tad overdressed for my liking, I loved the flavours in the dressing, and the kale held up really well to its richness.

Meatballs- The meat eaters at the table loved these very moist house-made meatballs.  Although I did not eat the meatballs themselves, I gladly helped myself to the side of bread that I used to soak up some of the tomato sauce.  The sauce was absolutely heavenly.  Not only was the tomato sauce bursting with flavour but it was mixed with creamy ricotta that brought each bite to a whole new level.

Bruschetta- This dish switches up daily depending on what is fresh and available (gotta love that!).  Out trio consisted of roasted red pepper/basil/goat cheese, mortadella/artichoke, and apple and walnut.  I loved the variety of flavour combinations and also appreciated the generous topping:bread ratio.

Pizzas- There are plenty of great pizza joints here in Vancouver (Farina, Barberella, Nicli) but I now feel pretty confident saying that my new favourite pizza of all is here at Bufula.  Interestingly, they do not use traditional flour and do not have a traditional pizza oven, and it was their crust that stole my heart.  So soft and chewy, with the perfect amount of char.  It is what every pizza crust should aspire to be.

The Funghi was the obvious choice for me (I am a mushroom fanatic) and, with its perfect crust and impressive variety and quantity of meaty mushrooms, this was my favourite funghi EVER.  Not to mention the perfect balance of pecorino and goat cheese, and the generous heap of watercress overtop.  I am salivating...

My friend's partner enjoyed the Bacon and Clam which he felt was reminiscent of a comforting bowl of clam chowder.  It was quite unique, with potato, thyme and little dollops of pickled mustard seeds over top.

Hubby and friend shared oxtail and kale, and the carpaccio.  Although Hubby enjoyed the Carpaccio which happened to be our server's favourite, he felt they really knocked it out of the park with the Oxtail and Kale complete with spicy peppers and aged cheddar.

Overall verdict?
Before going to Bufala, I questioned whether anther upscale pizza place in Vancouver was needed in Vancouver.  After eating here, I can answer my own question with a resounding YES!  I will say it again- Bufala is now home to my FAVOURITE pizza in the city, with its to-die-for crust and very unique flavour combinations.  There is no higher praise to give!

Bufala on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 September 2014

Asian Fusion Confusion at Bambudda

99 Powell St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1E9
(604) 428-0301

Tastiness Factor: 5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Locavore Approved?  Not really- Although there were a few local "accents" (a few peaches and nectarines strewn on some of the plates), local was not all that well represented.  In reading previous online reviews/blogposts, it appears as though the menu is pretty “stagnant” and does not reflect the changes of the seasonal produce.

Hubby loves Asian food and has been itching to try Bambudda for a while now.  In looking at the menu, it reminded him very much of Bao Bai, one of his favorite restaurants in the city (see my Bao Bai blog post here).  A year after its opening, we finally ventured down to its Gastown location to give it a whirl.

Our first impression was a positive one.  there is no denying that the bar at the front of the restaurant is pretty awesome.  On one side, it is open to the street (if weather permits) with lots of standing room around the outside.  The opposite side of the bar within the restaurant has some seating around it and is adorned by faux Chinese lanterns overhead.  The bar is really the focal point of the restaurant and, as we were to find out later, the best thing about the whole experience by far.  

The back of the room housed the main seating area.  We were fortunate to snag a table for 2 overlooking the bar and we were well entertained by the very energetic bartenders busy shaking, stirring and pouring cocktails.

The service started off well as we were quickly escorted to our reserved table, given menus and then had our drink orders taken a few moments later.  Unfortunately, the speedy service did not last.  It took a good 15 minutes to get our drinks and take our dinner orders. After that, it was at least 15-20 minutes between dishes, which is unusual for a small plates-style restaurant.  Interestingly, our one "side dish" came right at the end of the meal, about 10 minutes after our last dish.  I should mention we arrived at 9:15pm and the dining area was only about half full, so I can only imagine how backed up things must be earlier in the evening.  That being said, our server was very friendly and approachable and we had several people regularly filling up our water.

In keeping with the fabulous bar, the cocktail menu is unique and fun.  The drinks all have Asian-inspired names and, in watching those being served to other tables, some very creative presentations.  I ordered the Chinatown Sour, which had gin, house-made citrus and clove liqueur, lemon, Campari vinegar and egg white.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evolution of flavours- first sweet, then sour, then bitter.  This was one of the best cocktails I have had in a while, and definitely want to come back to the bar to sample some others.

The concept at Bambudda is family-style, with dishes that are meant for sharing.  The menu is divided into “snacks” ($4-6), “small plates” ($9-15), “not so small plates ($16-22) and “sides” ($2-8).  There is also a small dessert menu ($8).  Hubby and I shared 2 snacks, 2 small plates, 1 not so small plate and 1 side, and left a little under-full with a tab of $100 (before tip).

Here is the rundown of our meal:

Wood Ear- This mushroom "snack was OK but nothing too exciting.  Hubby found texture off-putting (personal taste) so I ate the whole dish myself which, after a while, did get rather sickening.

Skins- This was Hubby's pick.  How could one go wrong with chicken skin after all?  Just like my mushrooms, Hubby managed to finish off the dish, but for something that should have been so sinfully delicious, they were just "OK".  Unlike any of the other dishes, they were under seasoned and could have done with a little something other than the lemon on the side to jazz them up.

Nectarine Salad- While this salad was undoubtably fresh and I really appreciated the use of seasonal ingredients (the peaches were outstandingly juicy!), the dressing pretty much ruined it for me.  It was SO incredibly salty from the very heavy-handed use of fish sauce.  The only redeeming quality was the little grains of popped corn on the top which added some nice texture.  There are few salads that I cannot eat and I had to choke down the last bite of this one.

Dungeness Crab Rice- If I had to choose a favourite dish, this would be it, although it was still  mediocre at best.  It reminded me of a risotto dish that was a bit overcooked.  It was pretty mushy, but I must say that I did like the textural variety that the chewy Carolina gold rice added.  Again, this dish was WAY too salty but at least it did not have the "fishy" taste that the salad did.  

Crispy Pork Belly- This was Hubby's meat pick of the evening and it unfortunately did not redeem the meal for him.  The pork itself was pretty pedestrian and fattier than it should have been.  I ate some of the red spinach on the bottom which was decent, except for the plum-based sauce that it had soaked up from the bottom of the plate, which was overwhelming sweet and, once again, too salty.

Eggplant- This was a "side" that was delivered to our table about 10 minutes after our last dish, so I ended up just eating it as its own dish.  The eggplant was prepared in two ways- coins of deep-fried eggplant on the top and stewed eggplant on the bottom prepared with tea and popped grains.  The tea flavour of the stewed eggplant was too strong for my taste, and the popped grain had become soggy and mushy.  And (surprise, surprise) the whole thing was way too salty.

Overall Verdict?

I hate to say it, but this was one of the worst meals we have had in this city in quite a while.  While it may be worth your while to check out the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail, make sure you have dinner reservations elsewhere.

Bambudda on Urbanspoon

Friday, 29 August 2014

Japanese Food with Modern Flair at Zest

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Chef Yoshiaka Maniwa is passionate about local seafood.  Many of the items on the menu are Oceanwise (approved by the Vancouver Aquarium as sustainable seafood) and the chef is keen on supporting local fisherman.  And you can taste it in the fish- this is about as fresh as it gets.

Zest is one of Vancouver’s many hidden gems. While others sushi restaurants like Tojo’s and Miku are among the most popular spots in the city, Zest has kept a low profile and stayed under the radar.  But that is soon to change.

Tucked away at Macdonald and 16th, away from the hussle and bussel of Yaletown and Gastown, and far from the new foodie hangouts in East Van, Zest is easy to miss.  But fortunately, the folks from the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant awards took the time to venture over that way and were obviously impressed with what they found.  They awarded Zest with “Best Upscale Japanese”, a distinction that has been won by Tojo for several years previous.

From the outside, Zest is not all that impressive, but the inside is quite forma (according to Vancouver standards) with white tablecloths and white cloth napkins.  Even with these formal touches, there is cozy feel to the space.  There are only about 20 tables in addition to the seats around the sushi bar and it manages to stay decently quiet.  We liked our table in the middle of the restaurant, but the next time we would like to snag a spot at the bar to catch all of the sushi-making action.

 We had the same server all night, taking our order, delivering our food, filling our water glasses and coming to check up on us.  He was very gracious, and took the time to explain the components of all of our dishes.  Like most Japanese restaurants, our food started to arrive within 10 minutes of ordering.  The progression was consistent and timely.  

Zest has a unique sake and wine program.  They serve wines from all over the world, including some selected picks from BC wineries, and they have won numerous awards for its wine over the last several years.  And if sake is your thing, you will be equally impressed by their very well-developed sake menu.

I would describe the food as “modern Japanese”.  Having said that, the building blocks of the dishes are quite authentic.  It is the sauces and flavor combinations that give Zest its modern flair, and even these accents are fairly subtle.  While most ingredients are locally sourced, the chef also imports some specialty ingredients, including some of its fish, from Japan.  The lengthy menu includes a mix of traditional and original dishes, from starters to sushi to meat dishes to fish dishes.  Set menus, including an Omakase menus (24 hours notice required) are also offered.  Dishes at Zest are best shared, which allows you to try out as many dishes as possible.  Although the offerings are definitely more costly than your average sushi restaurant, Hubby and I still managed to get out for just over $100 (not including drinks) and were comfortably full. 

Here is a snapshot of the dishes that we enjoyed:

Wakame Sunomono- I am a sucker for seaweed but this version was just "so-so".

Tuna in Three Ways- A nice selection of tuna, each done with a different sauce.  My favourite was the middle one, with avocado and nori soy sauce.

Four of a Kind Signature Sashimi- Although we enjoyed this, it was quite similar to the Tuna Three Ways and, for the steep $29 we paid for it, we could a tried several other more diverse menu items.

Chicken Gyoza- Hubby loved these and ate the whole plate to himself (I am not a fan of gyoza).  Really, they are meant for sharing as they are pretty filling!

Rolls- Signature Tuna Amigos Roll and Zest Roll- These were the highlight of the night for me, and on my next visit, I will definitely be trying a few more from their very unique list of rolls.  The Zest Roll was among the best rolls I have ever had while Hubby was partial to the Signature Tuna Roll.

Overall verdict? 
Zest is an underdog in many respects.  Its “off the beaten path” location and the relative lack of hype have kept this place a secret for most, but those that know this place love it and keep coming back for more.  I have a feeling the list of “regulars” will be expanding over the next while, especially as curious foodies like us add it to their to-go list.  Zest’s intimate atmosphere makes it ideal for anything from a date night to a business dinner so one can find many “excuses” to check it out.  While it may be pricier than your average sushi joint, the food here is way above average so it is worth the extra cost.  At Zest, you get what you pay for and then some! 

Zest on Urbanspoon