Sunday 29 July 2012

Inlets Restaurant at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge: Cozy, casual and comforting

Inlets Restaurant

6649 Maple Road, Egmont, B.C.

Canada, V0N 1N0

Yumminess: 4/5

Service: 2.5/5

Atmosphere: 3.5/5

Locavore approved? No (I asked where ingredients came from at each meal and, from the sounds of it, ingredients are ordered from wholesalers.  I was especially disappointed to learn that even the fish came in from elsewhere, as I was looking out at the ocean from our table!)

As I mentioned in my previous post about our stay at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge (WCWL), we purchase a package that included two breakfasts and a dinner at Inlets Restaurant located in the main lodge.  If you decide to stay at the WCWL (which I highly recommend you do!), I strongly suggest purchasing a similar package, as the little town of Egmont really does not have a lot in the way of dining options.  The closest place that you could find other restaurants is in Sechelt, which is almost an hour away.  Doable for dinner, but you may not want to drive that far for breakfast!

And breakfast at the WCWL is not to be missed.  While the chef has not thought too far out of the box in designing his menu, which includes only 5-6 items, one must give him his due for his execition of your standard breakfast.  My husband is what I would refer to as a "breakfast purist". Even at the most creative of breakfast/brunch spots, he often orders his same old breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast.  "Borrrinng", I always say.  So the joke was on me on our first morning after our kayaing when, starving from a morning of activity and not seeing anything else that really caught my eye, I ordered the Two "Eggs Cooked To Your Liking", which included two eggs (yes, you guessed it, cooked any way you like), toast (multigrain or sourdough), potato hash and a few small pieces of fruit garnish.  It also came with a choice of bacon, ham or sausage.  I ordered my eggs poached, which I especially enjoyed the second day when they were cooked to perfection with a nice runny yolk.  The toast was nice and served with a wide assortment of jams (wish they had been made with local fruit, would be a nice touch!) and peanut butter (this got them big bonus points from me!).  But it was the potatoes that led me to order the exact same breakfast the second day, despite their being Hemp Heart Granola on the menu.  My husband and I both agreed that these were the BEST breakfast potatoes EVER.  They were seasoned to perfection and came tossed with some red and green onion to add another flavor element.  You really cannot afford to miss out on these!!!


As for dinner at the lodge, it is again quite a limited menu (5-6 appies, 5 entrees, and a few desserts) and I was quite surprised that no vegetarian option was offerered.  Not only that, but, at this oceanfront lodge which no doubt has access to a bounty of fresh seafood, there was but one fish entree, a salmon dish which was my pick for the evening.  It was a cedar plank salmon, with a very nice Asian-style topping served with coconut rice and very nice steamed vegetables which was quite enjoyable.  To start, I had the "seasonal salad", topped with berries and a yogurt dressing.  I have two criticisms- imported berries when they could have so easily been local (it is berry season!) and it was overdressed with an oerly sweet dressing.

My husband chose to start with a seared tuna appetizer served with a wasabi aioli.  I had a few pieces of the tuna and must say that it was quite well executed.  Perhaps the most sophisticated plate of the evening.  He then had the burger (sorry, forgot to take a pic!), which was quite large and well dressed and, in being the burger connaisseur that he is, I trust his judgement that this was a pretty good burger.  It came with either a soup or salad (he made the mistake of choosing the same salad I had which he did not like at all), but I overheard from other tables that the soup was quite good (a red pepper cream soup that particular night). 

The atmosphere at Inlets was quite nice, mostly because of the view of the ocean that is easily seen from most tables in the room.  The decor of the room itself is quite rustic but works well with the overall vibe of the WCWL. 

As for the service, this was certainly a little "off" at everyone of our 3 meals.  The servers, while very friedly, always seemed slightly frenzied.  Also, service at dinner was exceptionally slow.  

In my opinion, Inlets Restaurants is a but "confused" and has to decide exactly what it is going for.  It seems as though they are striving for this to be a fine dining establishment but right now, it comes across more as a casual and cozy family restaurant.  Either one would be fine, but they have to choose one or the other and confidently proceed as such and not pretend to be what they are not.  But whatever you do, please don't get rid of those breakfast potatoes!!!


Friday 27 July 2012

West Coast Wilderness Lodge on the Sunshine Coast: A little piece of heaven on earth

One of the many, many things I love about living in Vancouver is the ease with which one can escape from city to enjoy stillness without having to put in a ton of time or effort.  Just outside the city lies a countless number of options for enjoying all that nature has to offer.  

Last summer, my husband  and I were still settling into our new condo and it seemed as though every weekend was booked up with things that had to be done.  With our busy jobs, I am certain that this summer could have been just the same but we promised each other that we would make the time to explore everything that Vancouver and the surrounding area have to offer.  Therefore, every month this summer, we have planned a mini-getaway to a new destination and have booked everything so that there is no excuses that can be made for "being too busy". Last month was Seattle (see my recent post) and this month is a trip to the Sunshine Coast.

Being the foodie that I am, I started my search for the perfect place to stay by googling "Sunshine Coast best restaurants".  I got multiple hits including a list generated by Urbanspoon.  Near the top of the list was Inlets Restaurant and using its link, I was brought to the webpage for the West Coast Wilderness Lodge (WCWL) where the restaurant is located.  The WCWL is located in the little town of Egmont which is about 1 hour away from the larger town of Sechelt.  The WCWL is all about rustic beauty and relaxation.  I found the perfect package for my husband and I called the "A Special Occasion", which included two night's accomodations, 2 breakfasts, 1 dinner, a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries.  How can one go wrong?

Fortunately, the WCWL was all we had hoped for and more.  Because I wanted to have dinner at the Blue Heron Inn in Sechelt on the way (stay tuned for my review of this place soon!), we were quite late arriving.  Because those working the desk had gone home, they left use a lovely, personalized note at the main door to welcome us and direct us to our room.  When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see that we had been upgraded to one of their brand new, very large Oceanview rooms, which had a balcony with a stunning view of the water.  

The next morning, we woke up early to go on a 3-hour guided kayaking tour, with ended up being myself, my husband and our fabulous guide who led us around a wonderful tour of the waters around the lodge.  On the way, we saw countless seals (you had to be careful not to hit one on the head with your paddle!) and a purple starfish!

Later in the day, we went for a hike along the Skookumchick Rapids, just a three minute drive down and at peak times, you will see pretty incredible whirlpools which are apparently powerful enough to overturn a tugboat as our kayak guide told us.  We arrived about an our after peak time but it was still quite an impressive sight!
For the rest of the day, we just relaxed on our balcony (me blogging, my husband reading) and then sat out on the expansive deck of the main lodge to enjoy some alcoholic beverages.  The sun came out just in time for a wonderful end of the day sunbathing.

Most of the rest of our time at the WCWL was spent enjoying the food at Inslets Restaurant located right inside the main lodge.  To read more about our culinary experiences here and at the Blue Heron Lodge in Sechelt, stay tuned for my next blog post!

If you are looking for a weekend away from the hussle and bussle of daily life, look no further than the WCWL.  Whether you are looking for a weekend of active adventure, a weekend of pure relaxation or a mixture of both as we did, you are guaranteed to find it here.  

Thank you so much to everyone at the WCWL for your warm hospitality.  We hope to see you again next year to do it all over again!


Sunday 22 July 2012

Vij: Hospitality at its finest

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1480 W 11th Ave
(604) 736-6664

Yumminess Factor: 4/5

Service: 4.5/5

Ambience: 4/5

Locavore approved? Yes (menu features added regular to reflect seasonal ingredients in addition to quarterly menu change)


I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have been living in Vancouver for over two years and have just had my first experience at Vikram Vij’s iconic Indian restaurant.  I am happy to say that my “Vijless” era came to an end this past Thursday when we went to Vij with 6 friends for my husband’s birthday.


As most are aware, you cannot make reservations at Vij and you must go prepared to wait.  And wait and wait.  For 8 of us to be seated, we waited over 2 hours after showing up at 7:15.  This may sound ridiculous to some, but if you know what you are getting into, and what waits on the other side, it really isn’t bad, especially since they have a few tricks up their sleeves to make you feel better about waiting.  First, they pass around free appies (our favorite was the fried chip with mint chutney, topped with mung beans).  Secondly, it is an opportunity to meet star chef Vij, who does his rounds and chats with his hungry guests.  After a glass of wine, I gathered up the nerve to ask him for a picture which, to a foodie like me, was pretty excitingJ  We also found the wait staff to be very friendly and kept us updated at frequent intervals about the status of our table. 


After some good conversation and a few drinks (or, in the men’s case, multiple drinks), we were finally seated at our table.  The room is quite cozy for such a busy restaurant but they do not pack the tables together so that you feel crowded in.  In the back are a few extra seats for those who wish to wait inside (a necessity for rainy nights).  The back also houses the two single washrooms (male and female), which struck me as a peculiar choice for such a busy restaurant especially for us females drinking wine and chai tea (BTW, the tea is amazing, a must-try!).


I give service at Vij a big thumbs up.  All of the servers, both inside and outside, where very friendly and helpful in menu selection.  They were frequently coming to check in to see if anyone needed drinks and regularly replenished our rice or naan (both come unlimited with every meal).  I especially liked the fact that Vij came over several times to check on us and even refill our water glasses, making it feel as though we were guests in his home.


Now onto the food.  You can either choose to order individual dishes or choose multiple dishes and have them served family style.  Our table did something in between, with most couples (except my husband and I), choosing to share two appies and two mains with their significant other. 

 First, the appies:

I started with the mango and sautéed greens served with dates stuffed with a mild cheese called khoa (not found on the online menu).  There were also 4 little fried crackers on the side that acted as great dippers. The server confirmed that the greens were local and organic.  The mango and date combo made for quite a sweet dish but this was balanced somewhat by the khoa.  In my mind, the serving size could have been smaller as the sweetness became a bit overwhelming by the end, and therefore I would recommend sharing this dish rather than ordering it to yourself. 



My husband and a few others at the table chose to have the beef and lamb samosas.  These were my husband’s favorite part of the meal and he is still raving about them three days later.  There are two very large samosas on the plate, making makes the dish very conducive to sharing (although I think my husband was more than happy to have them to himself!).  Sorry, no pics of this one, he ate them too fast:)

Another of my friends had the jackfruit in a cumin and cardamom curry, which was a lovely balance of sweet and spice. 



Onto the mains:

I chose one of their 3 vegetarian entrees, the mashed eggplant and butternut squash with black chickpeas.  It was served with 4 triangles of chapati on the side for dipping, but I preferred to eat it with rice (just a personal preference).  The dish was very nicely spiced and the chickpeas were left quite firm to contrast the soft vegetables.  Although I enjoyed it, it was texturally very similar to my appetizer and I regretted not having ordered the shitake mushroom stirfry or a fish dish.  My mistake, I will know for next time!


My husband chose the infamous lamb popsicles in a fenugreek curry with potatoes.  He, and the others at the table who ordered this dish, really enjoyed the lamb and were especially blown away by the generous portion of curry sauce underneath, so much so that we had them pack up the leftover sauce (I plan to use it on pasta dish this week!).



Other mains at our table included the pork tenderloin with barley and the braised short ribs.  Both portions were very generous and, again, came with perfectly spiced sauces.


Unfortunately, I cannot comment on dessert as we all came back to our place for birthday cake (FYI- Whole Foods Cambie make great cakes that can be prepared at a moment’s notice for a decent price!).

I am very glad that I finally had the opportunity to dine with Vij, where you truly feel like an extension of Vij’s family.  I really admire Vij for still putting so much time into his restaurant and making his guests feel special. Although they offer the option of having your own dishes, I would recommend sticking with the family-style theme and sharing dishes, especially on your first visit. There is so many wonderful dishes, why not treat your palate to as many as possible? 

 After being shown such hospitality, I will certainly not be waiting another two years for my next visit!

Vij's on Urbanspoon 


Hapa Izakaya: A new Friday night favorite

Hapa Izakaya

1516 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738-4272

Yumminess: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Ambience: 2/5

Locavore approved? Yes (all thanks to the Fresh Sheet!)

Overall: 4/5


My husband has been trying to get me to Hapa Iazkaya for a while now.  He has been there multiple times with his work buddies and has come home raving about the food.  So on a nice Friday night in July, we decided to head out to snag a table on the patio at their Kits location.


Unfortunately, the seats on the patio were all taken so we settled for a table inside since we were both too hungry (and too tired after a long week!) to wait.  Although some may find the atmosphere attractive, I was not a bit fan of the loud, “clubby” setting.  I felt like I was back in undergrad all over again.  It is certainly not the place to go if you are wanting to have an intimate dinner.


Although the atmosphere was not quite my style, our server was very friendly and was great at helping us choose out dishes.  We both ordered 1 dish to share and 2 dishes each which was more than enough, especially if you choose to order the rice bowls like we did.  The servers were very energetic and enthusiastic which fit well with the restaurant’s vibe.


I appreciated the fact that they have two menus- their regular menu and a seasonal menu (the "Fresh Sheet") that included dishes with summer ingredients. 


We started off sharing the tuna avocado salsa dip served with plantain chips for dipping.  The server mixes the ingredients of the dip tableside, which is a nice touch.  This ended up being my favorite dish.  So simple yet so fresh, and the tuna added a nice textural contrast.  The plantain chips were a nice change from predictable tortilla chips. 


Next, I had the Goma-ae from the Fresh Sheet.  It was composed of bok-choy and crisp green beans, and was topped in a snappy peanut-based dressing.  Again,simple ingredients prepared confidently.



My husband had wagu beef, which was served raw alongside a hot rock that you could sear the beef on yourself.  It was served with a nice ponzu sauce and some garlic chips.  Kinda fun and my husband enjoyed it.



For our last dishes, we each had a rice bowl that came served in a hot stone bowl.  I opted for the vegetarian mushroom and seaweed version (Kinoko Meshi) while my husband had the Ishi-Yaki, which had pork and a egg on top that were mixed into the rice tableside by the server.  If you a mushroom fan like I am, you will love the diverse selection of mushroom in the vegetarian version.  My husband loved the texture that the runny egg gave to his bowl.  In both versions, the rice was nice and crispy around the edges.  Although you could easily share this dish, I was glad to have one for myself and happily polished off every last bite.  When I got down to the bottom, there was no way I could leave the last bits of charred rice behind!



Overall, I was pretty impressed with the food at Hapa and thought the value was very good (only 60 bucks for both of us, no alcohol).  While the atmosphere doesn’t quite do it for me, I would gladly return here anytime for the food.  It is not a date night place but is a fun place to unwind after a long week.

I can see this becoming a new Friday night favorite for my husband and I.  Hope to snag a coveted patio table on our next visit!

Hapa Izakaya (Kitsilano) on Urbanspoon



Saturday 7 July 2012

Fable: Revisited



1944 West 4th Ave  

For my complete Fable review, based on my first experience, please see my Urbanspoon review ("Top Marks for Top Chef" by Martha).

Since that first visit at the beginning of June, this place has continued to heat up and is now undoubtably one of the hot spots in town.  We had a group of 7 last night so I knew to book early (almot 2 weeks in advance) and I am glad that I did- the place was completely booked up.  In keeping with its image as a casual, neighborhood restaurant, they do still leave a little leeway for walk-ins but I overheard a waitress tell a guest that it would be at least 45 minutes for a table of two. Although Top Chef has certainly helped in the hype, the fact that this little place has gained such a following in such a short amount of time is quite remarkable.  

Because my last review did not include pictures, I took many last night and this will be the meat of this post (no pun intended!).  Between the 7 of us, we were able to get through quite a bit of the menu!

So here it goes- Appies first:
Mushroom flatbread- not quite as I had envisioned (it was a mushroom pizza) but hats off to local mushrooms of 3 different varieties
Chickpea fritters- loved these on our last visit, so much so that I snuck a bite of one of my friends
Canned tuna (left)- probably my favorite dish on our last visit (didn't order it this time around since I wanted to try other things).  My friend who ordered it reiterated our request for more bread as the 4 little crostinis are not big enough to hold all of that tuna goodness!  Perhaps a couple different types of bread might be nice also for some textural contrast?


Green herb salad (right)- a good sized portion of greens and they are obviously modifying it slightly to reflect what is locally growing (local strawberries now!):

Spaghetti and Meatballs- this is one you will recognize from watching Top Chef.  A duck meatball stuffed with mushroom (yeh local mushrooms!) and served over tagliatelle


Sawmill Bay Oysters- my husband and one of our friends had a few of these to start and the consensus was that it was the least favorite of all the dishes.  They both felt the mignonette was quite bitter and quite harsh tasting, therefore overshadowing the natural flavors of the oyster.

Now on to the mains:

Eggplant Parmesan- this was my pick this time as I had already tried the fish dishes last time and was keen on trying their only vegetarian entree.  If I did not know that it was not vegetarian, I would have never guessed!  The mushroom "bolognese" is very meaty and together with the cheese and the perfectly al dente pasta, this is a very hearty dish!  Perhaps not the most attractive plate, maybe a few more green accents would be nice?  Most vegetarians do love their greens afterall!



Slow-cooked sockeye salmon- this was my favorite entree last time and my friend really enjoyed hers last night.  She is pregnant so she needed her salmon cooked through and it was nice that the several waitstaff checked back to make sure the doneness was adequate.  The spinach puree makes this dish so pretty!
Halibut and Chorizo- I had this one the last time also and it is another great dish.  The chorizo crust really elecates it to the next level and the chowder over which the fish lies is chockful of lovely shellfish.  A must-have for seafood lovers!
Duck Breast- this was my husband's least favorite dish at the last meal but that was likely more a matter of personal preference (the thick layer of fat that is essential on duck really turns him off).  My friend really enjoyed the duck and felt that it was cooked to perfection.
Flat Iron Steak- this was my husband's pick this time around and he loved it.  The steak was cooked to perfection and my husband, the hater of all things green, even ate the broccolini!  

Lastly, desserts:
Daily sweet bites- this was the popular choice because, having been all fans of the show, everyone wanted to try Curtis' macaroons!  Unfortunately, they were running out of the macaroons by the time we got our desserts so we only got 1 instead of 2:( But this plate was full of other things, including two light and delicious pavlova and oatmeal raisin cookies.  It would have been helpful if our waitress had told us that this is a sharing dessert (two of each component) as it really is a lot of food for one person after a meal.  Four of these came to our table and we only needed two at most.  
Bread pudding with fennel ice cream- this was the special dessert of the night and my friend really enjoyed it.  The fennel cream was a creative touch.  
Overall, the meal was very much enjoyed by all 7 of us.  The atmosphere is very casual and laid back which really makes for a nice Friday night out with a group of friends.
Obviously, service was quite a bit different this time around as we had sat at the "Chef's Counter" on our first visit for the Tasting Menu.  Last night, while seated in the main room, service was still friendly and attentive but there were a few small kinks.  There was a very long wait to get our appies.  Also, our server, while very pleasant, lacked knowledge about the components of the dishes and was not able to ask many of our questions about the ingredients.  With its "Farm to Table" theme, I think it would be good for waitstaff to know which of the ingredients used are locally grown.  These are very small details which are to be expected for a new restaurant still getting into its groove, especially with such a large volume of diners.
The food here is certainly speaking for itself and drawing in the crowds.  And I do not expect it to slow down anytime soon!  Next on the to-do list for us is brunch so stay tuned for my review!

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Friday 6 July 2012

Campagnola Restaurant: A disappointing trip to the Italian countryside

Campagnola Restaurant:

1020 Main St.

Vancouver, BC



Yumminess factor: 3.5/5

Service: 2/5

Ambience: 4/5

Locavore friendly? Yes

Overall: 3/5


Campagnola had been on the top of my wish list (now over 40 restaurants long!) for some time so I was very excited when the opportunity arose to plan a dinner there with some of our friends. We had planned on making it our "reward dinner" after hiking the three peaks of the Chief but it ended up being so rainy that we passed on the hike and did dinner anyway. The hike could wait but my first trip to Campagnola could not- too long overdue already!

 Campagnola is in a rather sketchy area, right next to the ever-so-classy Ivenhow hotel (the boys in the group went here after dinner, us girls politely declined). Inside the restaurant, however, is quite nice and I almost felt like I was in a casual bistro in Barcelona when I walked through the door.  The place was abuzz, which meant a LONG wait for out table (you cannot make reservations).  My friends were the first to arrive and were quite upset at the greeting they received. They told the man who greeted them (?maybe a manager) that there would be either 6 or 7 of us (one was unsure if she could make it) and apparently snapped at them, saying he needed an exact number or he could not have us seated. Does it really make that much of a difference? Not a good first impression.

They were then escorted to the bar at the back to wait for our table.  The space by the bar was very cramped, making it very difficult for the six of us to have a chat while we waited. I know they are trying to maximize tables but I think hat for the comfort of guests that are waiting (and this place is super busy so this is often the case) they should clear away some of the back tables to expand the bar space.  Space aside, I did really enjoy my bellini made of local white peach purée.  I appreciated this seasonal touch to the quite unique cocktail menu.


Finally, over an hour later, we were seated at a booth in the main part of the restaurant.  Unfortunately, the poor service continued.  It took quite a while for our waitress to arrive to offer drinks and when she did arrive, no apology was given for our wait.  After getting our drinks (by that point, we had been seated for at least 20 minutes, we finally had our orders taken. I did not find our server all that helpful with dish selection and she was not very helpful in telling me about the "localness" of the ingredients.  She did tell us about their group menu, which is a chef-chosen selection of their dishes served family style, but we decided to stick with a-la-carte. 

My girlfriends and I shared 3 appies- the Crispy Ceci (deep fried chickpeas), the Eggplant Carpaccio and a Salmon Bruschetta.    The ceci was very tasty but this is definitely a sharing dish as the chickpeas are quite salty and would get sickening if you ate too many.  I thought the eggplant carpaccio would be my favorite but I felt the flavors to be a little underwhelming. The bruschetta was the star for me because of the generous topping of beautiful (and local!) salmon on a nice crispy crostini. 


For my main, I chose the Risotto with califlower, olives and marscapone.  Whenever I see risotto on a menu, I am always very excited and this one sounded particularly good because of the seasonal (and local, according to our waitress) califlower and the olives (good in almost anything!).  Unfortunately, this was a bit of a miss for me from the start as it lacked flavor and the color (beige on beige) was lacklustre.  I kept plowing through it, however, until I bit into something much less palatable- a piece of plastic wrapping. I called the manager over and let him know and he was very apologetic.  He offered to replate it (had it been a better dish I would have accepted) and I was not charged for it.  Still, this kind of put a damper on a meal that was already mediaocre at best.


All of my dinner companions chose pizza as their main course.  I had a taste of the BlancoVerde (spinach and mushroom) and the Salsiccia (fennel sausage and arugula) and, while they were enjoyable enough, they were certainly not at the same level as those from other Neapolitan pizza places around the city (Nicli, Farina, Novo).  


In the end, the consensus amongst the group was that experience was a bit of a letdown.  Poor service (poor attitude, slow) and the food was just OK which an overall lack in flavor. The only thing that really bought it a few extra points in my book was the seasonal and local ingredients that were incorporated into the menu.  It seems that many before me have nothing but good things to say about this place so maybe we just hit it on a bad day?  Nevertheless, it is not likely that I will be giving this place a second chance anytime soon, especially considering the 40+ other places on my Wishlist.  

Stay tuned for my next planned outing- my return to Fable, a place that, based on my first experience, definitely deserves a second visit!!!

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon