Tuesday 26 February 2013

Staying True to Tradition at Bishops

2183 W 4th Ave  Vancouver, BC V6K 1N7
(604) 738-2025
Tastiness Factor: 4/5
Atmosphere: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5
Locavore approved? YES (locally sourced seafood and meets, seasonal produce, extensive seleciton of local wines.  It would be nice if the menu changed a bit more frequently though as this current one has been the same for several months).
Bishop's gets a lot of hype in Vancouver.  It is known as a local establishment, and one of "THE" place for fine dining.  It has been around for years, and is a favorite for special occasions.  On the online reviews (Trip Advisor, Yelp, Urbanspoon), it consistently gets 5/5 stars and touted as "the best restaurant in Vancouver".  So, as a foodie living in Vancouver for over 2 years, I felt that a trip to Bishops for Valentine's Day was long overdue.
The room itself is intimate and reasonably quiet, perfect for a special occasion. Some may say it is a bit dated, but I personally do not think there is anything wrong with tradition from time to time. 
In terms of service, it would be impossible to pinpoint exactly who our server was as it seemed as though we had a different server for every course, with two or three other runners who brought our food.  For a small restaurant, there seemed to be an incredible amount of staff milling around- I sometimes wondered if there were more servers than customers!  While this made for quite attentive service, I found many of the servers to be a bit "stuffy", with some that were even a bit impatient.  Also, I had heard that John Bishops was very friendly to his customers, but on this particular night, he spent all of his time with one table and all we got was a little wave out the door.  
The menu is exactly as it appears online- about 5-6 each of appetizers, entrees and desserts. There were also a few "feature dishes" of the evening that were described to us by our server. They have quite an extensive wine selection, with several pages devoted just to BC wines.  Here were our selections:
Liver pate (amuse)- To me, this was a poor choice for an amuse, especially in a city with so many pescatarians and vegetarians.  Perhaps it would have been kind to at least ask us if either of those titles applied to us. At least my hubby was happy- he got to eat both his and mine, and he really enjoyed both the flavour and texture.


Bread- I do not usually mention bread in my reviews, mostly because I usually pass on it since it fills me up too much before my meal (my husband, the carb addict, usually eats the whole basket!). On this particular night, however, I was pretty hungry and had to skip the amuse, so I tried a piece of the chive cornbread.  This was quite a unique cornbread, very light as it should be before a meal. The chive flavour was subtle and just enough to perpare the palette for the meal to come.
Butternut squash soup- This dish was by far the highlight of the meal for me.  The flavours of the seasonal squash really shone here, and were complemented by spiced buttermilk to make it creamy.  It was rich, without being too heavy.  On top, was a line of crunchy wild rice that looks beautifully rustic and provided a nice textural contrast.  I could have made my whole meal out of a few bowls of this.


Oysters- These were a dish feature of the evening and my husband, being totally unable to say "no" to an oyster, decided that he needed to order this as a "pre-appetizer" (he was hungry!).  The oysters were from Vancouver Island, and very fresh as per my husband (I just cannot do oysters).  The accompaniments were quite unique- a citrus sorbet for sweet and sea asparagus for salt.  Very nice.


Elk carpaccio- My husband chose this as his appetizer and he enjoyed it.  The sides of celeriac and bannocks made it a little more substantial than your average carpaccio and there was a nice, subtle truffle flavour to the dressing.  He cleared his plate easily, although he did not rave about it-  he has certanly had better carpaccio elsewhere in the city.


Pan-roasted ling cod- This looked a little boring on paper, but I ordered it against my better judgement.  It was also the only dish on the menu that did not contain meat, as even the other fish dish contained bacon.  Strange for a place that is said to specialize in West Coast cuisine.  And I was right about the boring part.  While I will give then the fact that the fish was well-cooked, the rest of the dish fell flat.  The root vegetables (mostly turnip and parsnip) were a little bland, as was the color they gave to the dish.  The worst part for me though was the farfelle.  It was just plain, dry pasta which, in my opinion, was a total throw-away.  Had there been a better side dish, this dish may have held a bit more promise.  I must say, I was dissapointed.


Lamb rack- Luckily, my husband's entree was more of a success than mine. The lamb was beautifully medium-rare, and served with a giant ravioli filled with lamb shank (unlike my farfelle, this looked homeade).  The side of roasted sunchokes were a unique and seasonal side, and were roasted to bring out their sweetness.  The dish was finished off by a nice madeira sauce.


Pot-de-creme-  Although we do not usually get dessert, my husband felt it was justified on Valentine's Day so he chose this "feature dessert".  The pot de creme was like a fine chocolate pudding- very creamy and very "chocolaty".  It was adorned by a nice dark cholocate and a few little cholocate cookies.   With all of this chocolate, it was suprisingly light and made a nice end to the meal (of course I was given a spoon too!).


Overall, I had a lovely evening with my honey on Valentine's Day.  But I must admit that, with all of the hype around Bishops, I was expecting more.  The food was good, but it was far from the best meal I have had in this awesome food city.  For me, it was a little too plain and I could not get overly excited.  While it is clear that they have a lot of experience on the Vancouver food scene, there is a need to change with times in order to compete with all the "new kids on the block".  If not, I fear that Bishops will find itself getting lost in the shuffle.

Bishop's on Urbanspoon

Saturday 16 February 2013

It's Just That Good at Bao Bei

Bao Bei
163 Keefer St  Vancouver, BC V6A 1X3
(604) 688-0876

Tastiness Factor: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Locavore approved? YES- seasonal produce used in the dishes (had no idea bamboo was in season?), nightly feature dishes made with fresh and available ingredients, local and sustainable seafood)
I was fortunate enough to celebrate Valentine's Day twice this year.  Since Valentine's Day was a Thursday, I had booked Bishop's for the Saturday (see next review) and then, at the last minute, myself, my husband and a few of our "couples" friends decided to go out as a group on actual Valentine's Day.  We had tried to get into Bao Bei before on a Saturday night, but we were told it would be a 2-1/2 hour wait and we were just too hungry to stick it out.  So we figured that we would try on this Valentine's Thursday instead to see if we would have better luck.
And thank goodness, luck was in our favor.  There was only a 50 minute wait when we arrived at 8pm so we happily went to the Keefer Bar (also a fun spot) for drinks next door while we waited. 
The location of Bao Bei is such that you would likely never stumble upon it if you were not intentionally searching for it.  It is located in Chinatown, which tends to be a slightly sketchy neighbourhood especially in the night (we were approached quite boldly several times by people begging for money on the way in and out of the restaurant).  When you walk inside, however, the atmosphere is great- very eclectic and fun, with a video game machine as you walk in the door. The 6 of us were seated right at the back at a round table around a banquette.  It was the perfect table for a group our size, and very cozy.
Our server (I wish I could remember his name) was phenomenal.  He was very laid back, while still being attentive to our requests.  We decided to do a tasting menu (an option for larger groups) so that we could taste as many dishes as possible, and he diligently took the many food restrictions at our table (pescatarian, no pork, severe nut allergy) and helped create us a fantastic tasting menu (we got every single dish I had spied beforehand!).  He seemed like one of the crowd before the night was out.  
Food at Bao Bei is meant to be served family-style in the form of sharing plates.  I HIGHLY recommend going with a group of friends and ordering a tasting menu as we did, as you will want to taste as many dishes as possible, I can guarantee you.  The tasting menu may also lead you to eat dishes that you would not have ordered yourself, some of which may surprise you with how good they are (this happened to me more than once!).  Here is the lowdown on our custom-designed tasting menu:
Schnacks (assorted pickles, marinated eggplant, sichuan cucumbers)- These little bites were the perfect beginning to our dinner.  Each had a very distinct taste and texture, and were amazingly spiced, giving a little taste of what was to come for the rest of the evening.  Of the three, the eggplant was my favorite (perfect texture), but the cucumber came a suprisingly close second (so crisp, awesome spicy vinegrette).  


Petit cadeaux (vegetable potstickers, steamed prawn and chive dumplings, steamed truffled pork dumplings)- I must admit that my husband and I are not usually big Dim Sum fans so were not expecting a lot from the dumplings, but we were in for a very pleasant surpirse with Bao Bai's version.  The filling of the prawn and chive dumpling was superb and plentiful, with big chunks of prawn and the zing of scallion.  My husband and my other pork-eating friends adored the truffled pork variety too.  I was also a big fan of the potstickers which I would have never ordered had I chosen my own dishes.  These fried dumplings were not the least bit greasy and had a mild filling.  This is a great choice for all tastes- those that do not like spice can enjoy them as is and those that like it hot can add a few drops of Bao Bai's amazing homeade hot sauce (I added it to everything!).  


Vegetables (king pea tips, lotus root)- It is no secret that I LOVE vegetables and the dish that I was most looking forward to after reading the menu and previous reviews was the king pea tips. It is therefore not surprising that I LOVED the king pea tips (the garmlic flavour was out of this world), but of the two veggie dishes, the lotus root was my favorite (the unique curry flavour was incredible).  Everyone at the table agreed that these veggies were some of the best of the evening. Trust me, even if you normally avoid this food category, you must try Bao Bai's veggie offerings.  They may just make a veggie lover out of you after all.



Petits Plats Chinois:
Crisp Pork Belly- My husband specifically requested that this dish be added to our tasting menu since he loved pork belly and heard that Bao Bei's version was a "must-have".  And fortunately he was not let down.  All of the "pork-eaters" at the table drooled over the crispiness of the pork as well as the anise sauce in which it sat.  This was a resounding hit.


Kick Ass House Fried Rice- Wow, this one left me speechless.  This dish, which, according to our server, takes 2 whole days to make is like no fried rice you have ever tasted before.  The rice has the most wonderful light, almost fluffy texture and is complemented by a great variety of meaty mushrooms.  The rice, with a few dashes of housemade hot sauce, are a little taste of heaven.  


Sticky Rice Cake- This is a very unique dish that was enjoyed by the whole table (sans-pork due to multiple food restrictions).  It is presented as a pasta dish but the "pasta" is actually sticky rice formed into oblong "noodles".  The texture is very appealing, and the sauce is a lovely accompaniment.  I was happy to get a taste of bamboo, which is currently in season (I learned this from our very wise server!).  


Salmon- This was a steelhead salmon coming from Vancouver Island.  It reminded me a lot of Atlantic salmon (which, being a Newfoundlander, I still prefer to the Pacific variety) and was perfectly cooked.  It was surrounded by the most beautiful green pistou (oil, herbs) and topped with an Asian chili paste that, when eaten alone is quite pungent but together with the fish and the pistou worked magically well.  This chef is an absolute miracle worker!

Although I expected Bao Bei to be good, I could not have predicted it to be THIS good.  I would go so far as to calling this one of my new favorites in Vancouver.  I was shocked at the complexity of flavour and the originality of the dishes- a true steal for the $30 we paid for the tasting menu.  I really cannot day enough good about it.  The next time (and yes, there will certainly be a next time, and hopefully soon), I may even be willing to wait the 2-1/2 hours...Bao Bai is just that good.  

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie 寶貝小館 on Urbanspoon

Sunday 10 February 2013

La Quercia's New Little Sister- La Pentola

  1. 350 Davie St  Vancouver, BC V6B 5Z6
    (604) 642-0557

    Tastiness Factor: 4.25/5
    Atmosphere: 4.5/5
    Service: 4/5
    Locavore Approved? Kinda (seasonal menu, good use of seasonal veg, appreciate the "nose-to-tail" approach, but this is not the focus here- lots of imported ingredients)


My husband and I have enjoyed two wonderful meals at Quercia over the last few year.  The small, intimate space is perfect for a special night out and the food is a step above most Italian restaurants in the city.
One of the only unfortunate parts of La Quercia is that going there requires a good deal of planning and foresight, as you must book at least a month in advance to snag a table between 6-9pm on a weekend and even some weekdays.  This is one reason that I was very excited to hear that Quercia was welcoming a addition to the family- a new sister restaurant opened in the Opus Hotel.
Like La Quercia, La Pentola serves great Nothern Italian food but that is  just about where the similarities end.  The atmosphere is almost the polar opposite of La Quercia.  It located in trendy and bustling Yaletown, occupies a space that is about 5 times the size of La Quercia and has a much more casual feel.  I found it to be a very pleasant place to go for a nice, low-key meal with my hubby on a Saturday night.  There is also quite a large bar at the back to grab a drink before dinner if you have to wait for a table.  And, unlike Quercia, you could just walk into Pentola and have a good chance of getting a table.  I made a reservation on Open Table the day before and could get a table at any time I wanted.


Just like the atmosphere, service is also a little more casual and perhaps a little less attentive here which is to be expected considering the difference in size as compared to Quercia.  Overall though, I thought the service was quite good and I really liked our waiter, who was extremely friendly and helpful.  When a large, noisy group came to occupy a table beside us, he came right over and offered to have us moved.  With the restaurant being rather new, I was impressed with how good the service was.
Most diners at La Quercia choose to eat family style as per their recommendation.  While the menu at La Pentola is set up in a way that also encourages sharing, it seems as if more diners here are not as much on board with the family style trend and order their own dishes.  Either works just fine and our server was able to give us good options for both.  We eventually decided on doing a little of both so that my hubby could enjoy some meat and I could enjoy more vegetables.  Here were our selections:
Cauliflower and endive salad- This was a very unique dish, made with endive and cauliflower (think they were running out, only had a few small pieces), dressed with a bagna cauda sauce.  The base for this sauce is anchovies and if you are not a fan of this taste, I would pass on this dish because the taste is pretty strong.  I would suggest sharing this salad as it can get a bit sickening if you eat the whole thing (like I did).  Also, a few herbs on the top would do wonders for the presentation (not much color).  I do, however, give the points for originality and for using vegetables that are in season which, in the winter, can be challenging here in Canada!


Selection of meats- My husband was intrigued by the "Stuzzichini" section of the menu, which is basically shaved meats and other finger foods.  He was not sure what to order and asked the server if he could suggest a nice mixed plate of meats.  The server kindly offered to speak with the chef for his top picks, but he may have forgot to pass along the message that it was only meant for 1 person since he appeared a few moments later with three plates full of meats!  The server realized the error and offered to not charge us for what my husband could not eat (much appreciated!), but I get my husband was hungry since he polished off almost all of it! 


Eggplant, tomato, pine nuts and parmigiana- I happily polished off this whole contorni (side dish) while my husband devoured his half of a pig (see above).  I LOVE eggplant and this was perfectly cooked with just enough parmigiano to give it a bit of richness.  Could have definitely ate several.

Kale and ricotta pansotti in walnut sauce- This was the star of the meal for me.  The pansotti (a triangular ravioli) was perfectly al dente and filled with a mild kale filling.  It was the walnut sauce, however, that really stole the show- creamy yet light with a wonderful walnut flavour.  This was a unique dish, perfect for winter.  Be sure to order this one!!!


Mushroom risotto- I could not go to a Nothern Italian restaurant with risotto on the menu and not order it. This version is cooked very al dente (even more than you might expect) but I really liked the texture.  There was a nice variety of mushrooms.  I highly recommend sharing this dish as we did, since a whole plate of it might get a little rich.  We did not leave a bite:)

La Pentola della Quercia on Urbanspoon
Little Miss Locavore Vancouver restaurants

New Favorites at Van Farmer’s Market

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Saturday mornings has become my favourite time of the week.  Not only do I get to sleep in and go get a nice coffee at Matchstick or 49th Parallel with my hubby, but I also get to go to the Winter Market at Nat Bailey stadium! I have been there, rain or shine, every week.  I am addicted! Here are some of my new faves from the past few weeks:

JJ Trucketeria- February is Food Truck month at the market!  JJ Trucketeria, who usually hangs out on Fraser St., is one of the new recruits and they are a must-try for sure!  I was initially drawn to their truck last week when a sign for “Market Bowl” caught my eye.  The Market Bowl contains ingredients sold that day by one of the Market vendors so they are as fresh and as local as can be!  This vegan dish contains brown rice, beans and veggies, and is covered in their “secret sauce” that will blow your mind!  The owner of JJs are incredibly friendly and will undoubtably greet you with a huge smile.  Can’t wait to see what the Market Bowl will bring next weekJ


Slavic Rolls- This one gets a shout out from my hubby for its yummy pastry treats!  These traditional treats are made with a flaky pastry-like exterior, rolled around a choice of 2 fillings. The fillings are either fruit jams, sugary spices and creams. My husband had one with blueberry jam and Bavarian cream based on their recommendation and he loved it.  Very decadent!  



Nidhi’s Cuisine- Attention spice lovers!  Nidhi’s cuisine is a small stand that must not be missed.   The lady who works here and makes all of the goodies (maybe her name is Nidhi?) is delightful and is very enthusiastic about her yummy offerings.  These include homemade samosas and patties made of beans, grains and vegetables (most are vegan!).  I bought her kale and potato cake on my last market visit and loved it, so bought another of those plus a millet cake this week.  The spices in these little cakes will blow your socks off!  I have no idea has she squeezes so much flavour into such a little cake.  They are great to eat all on their own for a snack, but I have enjoyed mine either on greens or on brown rice for dinner.  Yummo!


Hearts and Greens- My husband and I both love a salad to start off our dinner and there is no denying that fresh greens are soooo much better than the bagged ones at the grocery store!  This stand sells microgreens of multiple varieties, from arugula to purple radish, and will make you a mixed bag of those that you choose for either $5 or $10.  The amount of greens may look small for the money, but this is not your average lettuce and sells for much more expensive in stores.  I have been buying regular mixed greens as a salad base and then sprinkling these microgreens on top to make them last longer.  They add a fresh twist to a simple salad so go ahead and splurge a little!


Can't wait until next Saturday!!!!!

Saturday 2 February 2013

Mama's Fish House

Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Pl  Paia, HI 96779, United States
+1 808-579-8488
Tastiness Factor: 4.5/5
Service: 4.5/5
Atmosphere: 4.75/5
Locavore approved? YES (menu is reprinted everyday with daily fish specials made with fish caught by local fisherman whose names are actually printed on the menu along with the dish!)
On our recent trip to Hawaii, my husband and I stayed a couple of days in the tiny little town of Paia.  With only a few streets and one B&B, it is a sleepy little place but we loved it!  So much character, some nice stores, great bakeshops and amazing yoga- what more can you ask for?
The other draw of staying in Paia is its proxomity to Mama's Fish House, one of Maui's most reputable restaurants.  Before leaving for our trip, Mama's had been recommended to us by several of our foodie friends so was on our list of places to check out.  
One of the "claims to fame" of Mama's is its location.  It is located right on the water with absolutely breathtaking views.  One of the drawbacks of going at night for dinner as we did is that you cannot really appreciate its full beauty.  During the day, you can see surfers frolicking in the water and bask in the glory of the sunny skies.  Brunch here would certainly be an ideal time to enjoy Mama's to its fullest, but the setting during our dinner with the waves rolling long the shore and the fresh wind blowing around us was still quite a treat.
Service at Mama's was attentive, yet relaxed and friendly just like Maui itself.  Our server was enthusiastic in describing the food and very helpful with our menu picks.  The pace of the meal was excellent and our food arrived piping hot.  Our server certainly contributed to the success of the evening.
There are 3 different menus- one that changes daily based on what is fresh and available (whatever the fisherman can haul in!), a drink menu with many very original cocktails and a dessert menu.  Here were our picks:
Cocktails- My hubby had our first and only Mai Tai of the trip and, after this version, he regretted that it was our last night and he had not enjoyed more of this signature Maui drink. I had the "Refresher", a very refreshing, not-too-sweet conocut milk-based drink with fresh mint.  Loved it.


Tomato-ginger soup (amuse)- This cute little sip of soup was served along with a large, fresh half loaf of bread that my carb-loving hubby demolished in about 5 minutes. The soup was creamy and full of tomato flavour with just a hint of ginger.  The perfect way to prepare our palate for the delicious meal to come.  It was served with a large loaf of bread to which my "bread-connaisseur" hubby gave an enthusiastic thumbs up and then ate the whoe thing!


Ahi sashimi salad- This salad caught my eye not only because of the fact that I love the Ahi here in Maui, but also because of its other intriguing ingredients such as wasabi goat cheese and pohole.  This was a light and refreshing way to start the meal.  On a base of fresh greens were several thin slices of ahi, topped with a tower of thinly shaved cabbage, carrots and crispy wontons.  I was a bit dismayed to only 1 little pohole in the mix but maybe they just ran out since we are at the very end of the night (would have preferred more veggies and less wontons). Overall though, a very solid dish. 


Coconut ceviche- This was the appetizer recommended by our waiter and my husband jumped on it since he loves ceviche.  And he was glad he did.  He, and I quote, says "best dish of the trip". It was served in a half-coconut with a side of yellow and purple taro chips for scooping the ceviche.  The fish was super-fresh and the sauce was light so as to not overpower the fish.  This dish screamed Hawaii and it was easy to tell why it comes so well recommended.


Curry- I ordered this main, again on the recommendation of our very attentive server as well as the hostess of our hotel.  It was a bit of an "out of the box" choice for me but, with 3 different types of fish and lock veggies, how could I go wrong?  The rich coconut curry was chock-full of Hawaiian veggies (taro, green beans, red pepper) and large pieces of perfectly cooked ahi, mahi-mahi and snapper.  Served alongside were little spoons of chili sauce, banana, mango chutney and macadamia nuts (so fun!!!).  If you are hungry, I definitely recommend this dish.  As my server promised, they have perfected the art of curry!


Stuffed mahi-mahi- Our server told us that this has been the top seller at Mama's every day since the place opened many years ago.  The fish comes with a lobster tail on the top, and is then stuffed with lobster and crab.  It is served with a simple side of rice and green beans to let the fish shine.  Simply delicious. 


Banana Macadamian Nut Crisp- My hubby and I shared this dessert (more my pick than his!) and, let me tell you, this is one rich dessert.  The first bites were amazing but, after a big meal, we could hardly finish it between the two of us.  Maybe a better dessert to enjoy as an afternoon snack while one sits watching the waves.


After eating at Mama's, it is very evident why Mama's has such a woderful reputation amongst locals and tourists alike.  There are not many places where you enjoy magnificent food served with a smiling face, while watching Maui surfers frolicking in the waves.  We cannot wait to try Mama's for brunch (and maybe another dinner too!) on our next trip to Maui!

Mama's Fish House on Urbanspoon