Sunday 21 July 2013

Which Scone Gets the Throne II- New Front Runners!

So nothing has changed since my first post on the best Vancouver scones (see here for the yummy details!).  I still LOVE scones and am still on the hunt for new stand-out scones in Vancouver and beyond!

Since my initial post, I have eaten plenty more scones from Purebread (my treat every weekend at the Van Farmer's Market!), Creme de la Crumb (my favourite post-call pastry) and Beaucoup (yummmm..tropical scone...) and have also been fortunate enough to add some new favourites to the ever-growing list.  Here are my new tasty scones discoveries:

1. Butter Baked Goods- I have sang the praises of Butter in my recent post about MacKenzie Heights (see here) and, after enjoying a few more of their scones, I feel the need to once again spread the word about frickin awesome these things are (I am actually eating one as I write this post!).  They have offer a new variety of scone everyday (lemon thyme, cherry dark chocolate, apricot almond, etc.), all baked into the same buttery scone base.  The sides are wonderfully crispy and the inside is soft and pillowy.  And for a little extra decadence, there is always a sprinkle of sugar over the top.  This drool-worthy scone is quickly making it to the top of my all-time favourites list!

 2. Forty Ninth Parallel- This hip coffee joint with its original location on Main and now its brand new location in Kits, offers amazing coffee and has also become known for its Lucky's doughnuts.  But what some may not be not know is that they also make pretty fantastic scone.  They offer both a savoury and sweet variety, which both seem to sell out before noon.  My personal favourite is the ginger-currant scone, chock-full of sweet currants and spicy candied ginger, all topped off with a new favourite scone trend, the sugar sprinkle.  And to go with it, why not try an almond milk latte made with their homemade almond milk?  I can't think of any better way to start the day!

3. Salt Spring Island Coffee Company- I recently went to a Yoga retreat on Salt Spring for a weekend of relaxation and adventure.  While I was there, I had the pleasure of having an afternoon snack at Salt Spring Island Coffee company.   I was quite hungry after my long bike ride and what better to fill my belly than a banana blueberry scone?  Salt Spring makes a variety of fruity scones, using everything from bananas, to berries, to mango.  There are big chunks of fruit throughout the scone which makes the scones wonderfully moist.  These are perfect for an early morning when one is craving something a little less sweet.  A trip to Salt Spring might be worth it, just to get one of these scones!

Butter Baked Goods on Urbanspoon

Forty Ninth Parallel Café & Lucky's Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Salt Spring Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Siena- Bringing a Little Piece of the Mediterranean To Vancouver

1485 W 12th Ave  Vancouver, BC V6H 1M6
(604) 558-1485

Tastiness Factor: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  YES (Although Siena does have some elements that go along with its casual Mediterranean theme, including a wine list featuring European wines and some imported delicacy items, they also add local flair with a significant portion of their menu that changes daily depending on what is seasonally available.  If only more restaurants would use this approach!)

I love summer.  Warm temperatures, sun, lots of great fresh produce, drinks outside on a patio.  There are so many reasons, but one of my very favourite things about summer is the long days, when there is still several hours of sunshine left after the workday is done.  And with those long days comes the desire and the sense of obligation to make every last minute of sunlight count and I seem to forget the fact that I have to get up for work the next morning.  And what better way to celebrate these long summer days than a weeknight out with friends?  In the winter, when it is cold and rainy, I could not be bothered going out after 7pm, but in the summer, it seems almost wrong to throw in the towel so early!

It was these sentiments that led to our recent visit to Siena on a Monday night.  For us, and our great neighbours who we dined with, Siena is the perfect summer restaurant because it is within walking distance from our condo.  This is especially important when visiting Siena on a Monday night which just happens to be 50% bottles of wine night!  So not only could we soak up the last bit of sunshine on the way to our 8:30 reservation but we did not need to bother with a cab home.  How perfect is that?!

Siena is located just off Granville St., a street that is notorious for having a high turnover rate for its businesses.  Siena has been open now for a little over a year, and fortunately, there are no signs of it going away any time soon.  Quite to the contrary, it appears that it is getting busier than ever, as it continues to introduce new ideas to attract customers, such the amazing 50% off wine bottle Mondays that we took advantage of, the 50% off pre-theatre dining at the Stanley and their relatively recent addition of weekend brunch.  Its successes can at least in part be attributed to its owner Mark Taylor, who closed down the very successful Cru restaurant on Broadway to open Siena.  The lessons he learned at Cru through his years there are obviously coming in handy!

The atmosphere at Cru is casual and laid back, and at the same time, quite sophisticated.  I liken it to sitting in a little hotspot in the centre of Barcelona.  There is a nice bar as you enter, and then the room opens up into a relatively intimate space with the kitchen sitting at the back.  On the back wall, there is also a chalkboard listing all of the night's features.

Service stays true to the casual yet sophisticated vibe.  Although our server seemed a little flustered when we first arrived (it was a packed house even on this Monday night, glad we had a reso!), he composed himself as the meal went on and was joined by a lovely female server who made us feel like guests in her home.  The male server was also extremely attentive to our needs and obviously wanted our visit to be perfect.  When Hubby spilled some of his coffee on his side place, he quickly ran over and offered to replace the coffee for him.  It is quite obvious why Siena seems to have a lot of regulars who have joined the Siena "family".

As previously mentioned, the wine list is composed of selection of European wines to accompany its food's Mediterranean flavours.  Because it was 50% night on bottles of wine, we decided to get  bottle of white for the ladies and a bottle of red for the gents.  The initial plan on the ladies side was to drink half and bring the rest home (it was a Monday night after all!), but it ended up that not a drop of wine was left at the end of the evening.  Good intentions anyway!  A big thanks to our server for his wonderful wine suggestions (loved the Gwerst!).

The menu is split between a dishes served nightly printed on a menu and a number of special dishes that change from night to night based on availability of ingredients.  For me, this is the mark of a truly great restaurant as it shows that the chefs is constantly challenging himself to use seasonal ingredients  in new ways rather than just serving the same food night after night.  And it is indeed true that Siena has a wonderful chef (Tim Evans, former sous-chef at Cru), as was demonstrated by the wonderful food that we enjoyed on our visit.

We began with the Antipasti plate for Two which is a wonderful way to sample many different nibblies created by the chef.  The components change on a regular basis, and include a variety of different foods, from meats to fish to veggies to spread, etc. etc.  On the night of our visit, it included gorgonzola-stuffed figs, roasted pepper jam, orzo salad, soppresatta, smoked salmon, bread and a few other goodies.  All were made with top quality ingredients.  With this variety, there is bound to be lots for everyone to enjoy! The portion is quite sizeable and we easily shared it between the 4 of us.

My dining companion had ordered the Panzanella salad on her last visit and suggested we order again since she had enjoyed it so much the first time.  It was a great compliment to our antipasti platter and shared nicely between the four of us.  The greens were wonderfully fresh and sweet (as they are right now at the farmer's markets) and the heirloom tomatoes were beautiful (just starting to make their summer appearance!).  Although I have not normally been a huge fan of bread in salad, I must admit that these large focaccia croutons coated lightly with olive oil and a hint of butter were addictive!  What a lovely representation of summer on a plate!

The Ricotta Gnudi was the obvious choice for me as it contained many of my favourite ingredients all on one plate- artichokes, spinach, basil and chevre.  It was like they read my mind!  The gnudi (like gnocci except bigger and made with less flour) were plump and pillowy.  Although this is a vegetarian dish, it is quite heavy and I found myself getting a bit overwhelmed by the richness as I ate the last quarter or so.  Although I love chevre, this dish may have been equally successful, or perhaps even more successful, without its added creaminess.

My friend chose the special pasta of the day, the Seafood Stuffed Ravioli, stuffed with smoked salmon and shrimp with cream sauce.  It is hard to believe that so much goodness could be stuffed into a piece of pasta, but Siena pulled it off beautifully.

The men ordered the Grilled Flat Iron Steak, served with salsa verde, arugula, parmesan and fingerlings.  This was a fairly simple but perfectly executed with perfectly cooked steak (medium-rare), a light and summery salsa and a bit of contrasting tang from the arugula.   This is the classic steak and potatoes kicked up to a whole new level.

This is my second visit to Siena since it opened, with my last visit being about a year ago.  Age has obviously served Siena well, as, although we enjoyed our first meal last year, it did not have us yearning to come back for more like this meal did.  Siena has the goods to compete with any other great restaurant in Vancouver and I feel very fortunate to call them "neighbour".

Siena on Urbanspoon

Sunday 14 July 2013

Food Cart Fest- A New Sunday Tradition!

Today was my third Food Cart Fest (FTF) in four weeks.  So it is no secret that I LOVE FOOD TRUCK FEST!

I have already described the event in detail in previous posts (see here for the original post and here for the second visit) but have two quick additional comments after Visit #3 today:

1) Kudos to the organizers of FTF for collecting $2/visitor at the entrance to donate to Loving Spoonfuls, a wonderful Vancouver charity that provides nutritious meal for people living with HIV/AIDS.  What a great way to fundraise for such a worthy cause.

2) I would like to applaud all of the food cart owners who are so busy preparing food for line-ups of hungry customers in the scorching afternoon heat.  It must be pretty darn hot in those cramped little kitchens but they are still amazingly all smiles when they hand you your food!

3) One of the best things about the third go-around was the "Great to see you again" that I got from several vendors as they recognized me from week's past.  Awww, thanks guys!  It is like one big happy food cart family!

Here are today's picks, as ordered by Hubby, myself, our two friends and their VERY cute baby:

Johnny's Pops:

Mango Coconut Pop- Johnny's has become our first stop on our visit to make our mouths happy before waiting in line for the rest of our food!

JJ Trucketeria: 

Market Bowl (my all-time favourite Food Cart item to date!)- brought it home in my Tiffin Box for dinner:)

Pork Panwich- my friend loved the flavours and the awesome value in this sandwich (only 5$!).  Way more pork than bun!

Pig on the Street

The Porker- Hubby convinced our friend to order this from his very favourite food cart.  Not much arm twisting required!


Fried chicken (sorry, cannot remember the name they use!)- Hubby saw Mogu at last week's FCF and vowed to try it this week.  He loved the crispy exterior on these plump chicken pieces, as well as the tasty sauce!

Kaboom Box

Oyster Po-Boy- This is likely Kaboom Box's most famous item and it is easy to tell why!  My friend was swooning over this sandwich, with its fried oysters and creamy slaw!

Corn Stand (not sure if this is the official name!)

Cuban Corn- This may have been one of the best ears of corn I have ever tasted.  Topped with mayo, cheese and parmesan seasoning, it is a little on the decadent side but oh so worth it!!!

Culver City Salad

Soba Nooodle Salad- Last but certainly not least, is my awesome salad and very healthy salad from the smiling ladies at Culver City.  Also looking very pretty in her Tiffin Box;)

See ya next week FCF!!!

Thursday 11 July 2013

A Great Find for Herbivores and Carnivores Alike at Grub

Tastiness Factor: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  "A" for effort- According to our server, they try to buy local within the limits of the prices they charge.  While I completely appreciate that buying local is sometimes more costly and that they want to make their food accessible to different price points, I think they could at least try to better incorporate seasonal vegetables into their dishes (based on previous reviews, it seems as though brocollini seems to appear on every dish since at least January!), especially since they are doing such great things with veggies in their veg/vegan menus.  To their credit, their veg specials did include some current farmers market finds like sweet peas and leeks.  Glad to see them at least putting some thought into "locavorism"!

After a wonderful night of fun and food last month with a group of former co-workers at Acorn (see review here), it was time for another render-vous, this time at Grub.  One of my dining companions spoke very highly of it, and I have also heard rave reviews from other friends, so I was looking forward to checking out what all of the hype was about!

Grub is located in East Vancouver, just north of King Edward on Main St.  The storefront, like the restaurant itself, is quite small and unassuming, and it would be pretty easy to miss it while walking up the busy street, especially at night.  There is only seating for about 30 max inside.  Based on the advice of previous online reviews, I made a reservation several days in advance for 5 people at 8pm, although I think that we may not have had trouble getting in as walk-ins as there always seemed to be a table or two free  (found this a bit odd for a Friday night).  We had nice seats tucked in the back next to the white bar.  The kitchen is in the back and totally closed off (I have become so use to open kitchens which I much prefer), as is a patio which we all found a bit confusing.  It was over 20 degrees and would have been a perfect night for alfresco dining but no one seemed to be eating out there.  On the walls is some funky wallpaper that seems to tell a story with its many pictures, but the company I was with was too good for me to want to spend the time to figure it out.  The room was cozy enough but with the white bar and the light coloured seats and tables, I thought it could do with a blast of color to brighten up the atmosphere.

Service was very attentive.  Our water glasses were kept full throughout the meal, we were constantly asked if we wanted more drinks and our food arrived in good time.  My only complaint was that I felt a little rushed throughout the meal.  I can fully understand that, in such a tiny restaurant, they want to keep the flow moving but, as previously mentioned, there was never anyone waiting at the door for a table.  One of our appetizers was even whisked away before we had a chance to finish it.  Overall though, service was good and I understand the mindset of needing to turn tables with so few tables and such reasonable prices.

One of my favourite things about Grub is its chalkboard menu, a concept that I wish more restaurants would adopt.  The menu changes nightly, and includes dishes featuring a protein (meat, fish) or, for the vegetarians of the crowd, a vegetarian and a vegan dish.  Grub should be applauded for its creativity in developing unique veg and vegan dishes, which are such a refreshing change from the ho-hum "pasta and sauce" veg options offered at many restaurants.  In addition to the chalkboard menu, there is also a pre-printed menu, including appies (shared plates and single plates) and desserts which do not change nightly (they do have a nightly vegan dessert feature- huge pat on the back for that!).  One of the most popular options here is their three courses dinner ($35 for meat/fish, $30 for veg) that include a choice of appie (salad, soup or personal size share plate), a main from the chalkboard and a dessert (there is a choice of 4 including the nightly vegan option).  This is quite a steal for the money and, unlike many prix fixe menus, it is not overly restrictive in what it includes.

The noteworthy cocktail list includes a variety of interesting options, including the one that I chose.  My sangria based cocktail whose name included the word "Picnic" (wish I could remember the exact name, I swear I only had one drink!) was quite lovely, with just a hint of sweetness from apricot and pear juice, as well as elderberry.  It was a delightfully refreshing summer's drink made even better by the fact that it was served with a straw in a mason jar.  How cute is that!  I just wish the cocktail list had included some non-alcoholic options for my one dining companion who was choosing not to imbibe that evening.

My other dining companions chose from beer and wine from a list of menu options (would like to have seen more local varieties) and our server was very helpful in choosing some very good ones to suit their tastes.

And then the meal began!  Here is the "grub" that what we enjoyed:

The Herbivore- This is a shared plate from the "everyday" menu.  It included little toasts for scooping (they were kind enough to bring us a few extra too!), hummus (not sure what gave it the colour but delicious and creamy), amazing veggie pate), ratatouille (my fave- eggplant), marinated mushrooms, pickled cabbage and cauliflower, olives and burrata.  It was easily enough food for 2 or even 3 people as an appie, and was only $15!  What a nice way to start.

Grub House Salad- This was a simple and fresh salad made with greens, pear, candied walnuts and perfectly dressed with a light and tangy dijon vinaigrette. Although it was nothing too special or creative, it worked well as an appie here at Grub since it is a nice light compliment to the mains which tend to be quite heavy.

Tomato chickpea with coconut and lemongreass (soup of the day)- This hearty soup was made with a light yet creamy tomato base and tons of chickpeas and had a lovely hint of coconut.  It came with a long piece of baguette on the side, which you probably do not need if you have a main on the way (may be hard to resist though!).

Halibut- This PERFECTLY cooked halibut (generous portion) was served with saffron risotto with crab and lemon marscapone, fennel and watercress salad and topped off with a caper aioli.  The creamy risotto was creamy with great flavour but was a just little overcooked.  One of the only things that did not work for me was the wallops of marscapone that made the heavy dish even heavier.  The watercress salad was a nice touch for color and added some much needed lightness.  This was perhaps the best composed dish of the night.

Arctic char- As per the description on the chalkboard, this was served with a salad nicoise, poached prawns and lime avocado salsa.  Unfortunately though, the salsa was about the only part that worked for me in this dish.  The "salad nicoise" was not a salad nicoise at all.  Instead, it was made of lettuce and a very unusual mixture of potatoes and tofu that had an off-putting texture, especially when you were not expecting it.  The poached prawns were just thrown on top as if they were an afterthought.  There was just WAY too much happening on this plate and it just became a bit of a mumble-jumble, which I would generalize to a criticism that I have about the restaurant generally.  This was the least successful dish of the night.

Lamb- My dining buddy who had been to Grub before had enjoyed the lamb so much on her first visit that she just had to order it on this return visit.  This roasted rack of lamb was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and, according to my friend, was quite succulent.  It was served with a lovely, simply-spiced israeli couscous and a cooling mint cucumber yogurt.  This dish had nice middle-eastern flair.  That is, until you dug into the couscous and discovered the goat-cheese Okanagan pudding which was admittedly very tasty but totally unnecessary and confusing with the rest of the plate's elements.  The large portion of couscous plus the rich sweet potato made for "starch overload", to the point of becoming overwhelming.  Overall a nice dish, but they should have stopped while they were ahead!

Vegan- First of all, I feel the need to once ahead commend Grub on its creativity in creating a new vegan dish each night of the week.  Kudos to you for that!  And there was certainly no lack of substance or flavor in this dish!  The "meat" of the dish was a cauliflower and white bean stuffed pepper, sitting atop a delicious and beautiful coconut sweet pea puree (peas are one of the freshest in-season veggies right now!).  On the side was a fried polenta cake which was again just a distraction that had no place on the plate.  The stuffed pepper was way too good to be overshadowed by mediocrity!

Because two of my friends had ordered the prix fixe menu, they each got a dessert to finish off the meal and were kind enough to share!  The first dessert was the Lemon Tart, a lovely dessert with a flaky crust and a delicious lemon filling, dressed with a few berries.  One can never go wrong with lemon for dessert in my mind!  The other dessert choice, on the recommendation of our server, was the vegan dessert special (also gluten free), a cashew chocolate torte with summer berry compote and cream (non-dairy I presume).  If you are a fan of chocolate, this dessert is for you!  The chocolate filling had intense chocolate flavour and was very creamy.  The crust was mouthwatering (maybe even better than the lemon tart) and the berry compote complemented the chocolate beautifully.  I was so happy to see that, unlike most of the other dishes, the desserts were not overcomplicated and were delicious in their simplicity.

At the end of the week, Grub is a great place to go and unwind with friends over a few drinks and a nice meal.  Grub has many things going for it including tasty food, a laid back vibe and affordability.  I just wish that the chefs here would recognize that simple is often better.  By putting too many things on one plate, the flavours become muddled, which is a shame considering how great the main components of the dishes tasted.  There is no doubt that the chefs here are very creative and I would certainly return to see what else they have up their sleeves!

Grub on Urbanspoon

Monday 8 July 2013

Another Fabulous Foray at Food Cart Fest!

After such an amazing time at last week's Food Cruck Fest (see my rave review here), there was no way that I was going to miss all of the fun this week.

It was refreshing to see so many new trucks at today's FCF, and I feel the need to spread the word about all of the amazing food that we sampled today, as well as some must-try places for next time!

My pick of the week was .  Although these fine gals have been around for a while, selling their fully vegan and gluten free salads online and at the Juicetruck in Gastown, they just last week opened their very own truck near Victory Square on Cambie.  There is lots to love about their salads.  First, and most importantly, they taste awesome!  They are filled with yummy goodies like quinoa or soba noodles, beans, yams, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and much more!  They change the ingredients up daily to keep things fresh and interesting.  Secondly, they use all compostable containers and cutlery so the planet loves them too.  Thirdly, and of course very near and dear to my heart, is that they strive to use all local, organic ingredients.  Little Miss Locavore Approved:)

At the FCF today, they were positioned right next to the fine folks at the Juicetruck, the very first food truck that I ever tried, and a place that I make the trek down to Gastown whenever I can for a juicy visit.  What better way to beat the heat than a cold, healthy juice or smoothie?

Hubby was pretty hungry and felt like having a good feed, so he headed over to Kaboom Box for none other than their "World's Most Famous Hot Smoked Salmon Sandwich" (try saying that three times fast!) with a side of BC poutine. It may sound like pretty high praise for a sandwich, but there is no doubt that this sandwich got it going on!  It is made with wild, Oceanwise salmon, smoked fresh and served on a bun with a healthy helping of maple-mustard slaw and a dab of spicy mayo.  It is easy to tell why they have this as the first item on their menu- you do not want to miss it!  The side of poutine is made with homemade fries (thin and crispy) with gravy, mushrooms and real cheese curds for a weekend "guilty pleasure"!

We met up with some friends who had enjoyed Re-Up BBQ, a very popular downtown food cart that is so good at what it does that it only needs to sell two items at their food cart- a pulled pork sandwich and beef brisket.  There are no bells and whistles here, just great tasting food and a smiling face to serve it.  What more do you really need?  They also offer a few products including house-smoked bacon (love the fact that they use pastured Fraser Valley pigs!) and BBQ sauce made with Parallel 49 Brewing beer (again, local!).  My friend very kindly agreed to let me take a picture of the last bite of his  pulled pork sandwich before eagerly gobbling it up!

And then, of course, after every meal there must come dessert!  And although we were trying to try new stuff this week, we could not resist a return trip to Johnny's Pops for a gourmet popsicle (or in Hubby's case, two!).  This week's flavours- strawberry balsamic basil for me, blueberry mojito and raspberry lime for Hubby.  Just the ticket on a hot day!

And here are a few newbies that we discovered today that really piqued our interest:

The "Corn Stand" (not sure what their real name is), where they sell vibrant yellow corn on the cob wither roasted with butter (can't go wrong with that!) or cuban style with cajun seasoning and cheese.  Nothing like biting into a fresh ear of corn on a hot summer's day!

The Aussie Pie guy is new to the food cart scene but he really seems to have some amazing flavours going on!  His flaky pasties are packed with all kinds of different yummy ingredients including pulled pork, brisket, chicken and a veg option.  These little mini pies are so cute and I am sure very delicious too!

Another two on the list for next week are Holy Perogy (selling, you guessed it, perigees!) and Mogu (Japenese Street Food), both of which I have heard great things about. Their menus look pretty exciting!

How awesome is it that Van has such an exceptional of food carts?  We are, after all, one of the best food cart cities in North America, and, with the number of great food carts increasing exponentially, we may be rising to the very top of the charts very soon!!!

Culver City Salads on Urbanspoon

The Kaboom Box on Urbanspoon

Re-Up BBQ Foodcart on Urbanspoon

Aussie Pie Guy on Urbanspoon

Holy Perogy on Urbanspoon

Mogu Japanese Street Eats on Urbanspoon

Johnny's Pops on Urbanspoon