Thursday 29 August 2013

Laid Back Sophistication Homer St. Cafe and Bar

898 Homer Street
V6B 5S3

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- Our kind server told us that the Executive Chef here, Chef Marc-Andre Choquette sources many of his ingredients from 2 organic farms located just outside of the city.  He is said to have a "green thumb" of his own and would like to start an urban farm of his own to grow some of his own ingredients.  The menu, which, being a rotisserie, is meat-heavy (all ethically-raised), but I was there are also a very good selection of Oceanwise seafood and local produce, both as sides and in main dishes.  I really lucked out on coincidentally choosing to go on Monday night which was Meatless Monday (an international initiative to encourage so there feature "roast" of the evening was vegetarian, and made with all all local produce from their partnering farms.  I appreciated their daily feature menu that changes daily based on availability of ingredients.  I never really expected all that much in terms of locavorism at the outset, but ended up being pleasantly surprised!

***To learn more about Meatless Monday, an international project with a Canadian branch that has roots right here in Vancouver, please click here.

A group of my work colleagues and I needed to have a meeting, and what better way to do it than over dinner?   So I hauled out my "to-go" list of restaurants and as I worked my way down the (very long) list, Homer St. Cafe and Grill caught my eye.  This new restaurant led by the culinary team from Tableau Bar Bistro in Coal Harbour, had the qualities that I was looking for- a casual atmosphere in the heart of downtown, with approachable food at reasonable prices.  Just the ticket!

We planned the dinner for a Monday night at 7:15.  I made an online reservation but, as with many restaurants on Mondays, this was not really necessary as there were only a handful of tables occupied.  Interestingly though, the place really filled up around  9pm with guests enjoying not only drinks, but full dinners.  The relaxed atmosphere and central location make this a great Yaletown gathering place.

Homer St. Grill sits right at the corner of Smithe and Homer.  On entering, you will see a row of tables to your left and the kitchen/bar to your right.  Behind the bar, you will also note a rotisserie oven filled with whole chickens and other goodies soaking up all of that roasted goodness.  I would liken the atmosphere to a bistro/diner hybrid.  It is quite casual, but, true to Yaletown, also has an upscale feel to it.

Service was a bit of a mixed bag.  Our server for the evening was very chatty (in a good way) and was knowledgeable in answering my questions about where they sourced their ingredients from.   She was also attentive to our needs and did not make us feel rushed when we arrived and wanted to catch up a bit before ordering.  Unfortunately, there were a few hiccups in our service such as one of my colleagues finding a piece of chewed gum wrapped up in his cloth napkin and then later finding a fly in his water.  Also, there was quite a delay between receiving our shared "snack" and the rest of our meal, and then again quite a wait before dessert.  Perhaps they were a bit understaffed for a Monday night?

In terms of food and drink, there is a drink menu that includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options and two food menus, one standard menu and a feature menu that changes daily.  Although I really appreciate the concept of a daily menus, I was a bit disappointed that they had run out of almost all of the daily specials by the time we got there at 7:15.  Fortunately, the dish that I wanted was one of the only dishes still remaining!  On a more positive note, I was happy (and surprised!) to see that most entrees were around the $20 mark.  Their signature item, the rotisserie chicken, was really a steal at $32 for a whole bird to share, fresh off the spit!We got out for only $40/person including alcohol, one dessert and tax/tip.  That is a rare occurrence in Yaletown!

We started with drinks, with two of us choosing to imbibe in an alcoholic variety (why not, it is Monday after all!) while my other two colleagues chose a non-alcoholic drink.  I was at first tempted to get a wine from their commendably extensive selection of wines (complete with a good number of BC wines) but in the end, I chose the Spring Flowers, made with whisky, limoncello, lavender-infused honey, dandelion bitters, lemon.  This was a bit of a stretch for me as whisky is something that I usually shy away from, but the rest of the components sounded so good that I just had to go for it.  And I am glad I did.  The perfectly balanced cocktail was light and refreshing, and I particularly enjoyed the hint of lavender that hit my palate at the last moment.  There are only 8 cocktails on the menu (4 house creations, 4 classic) and I would be very interested to see what else they have up their sleeves.  My other colleague who opted for a little dose of alcohol chose a beer from their short, but well planned, list of options (draft and bottled options available), while the others chose a non-alcoholic version of my cocktail that was found on a separate drink list that our server brought when they specifically requested a non-alcohlic cocktail (not sure why it is not just included on the master drink list).  They loved the flavours as much as I did and were glad to have found such a great non-alcoholic cocktail option (a rare find these days).

Now for the food:

Fried Chickpea Dip with Crostini- After a long day at work, we all had the munchies and needed a little pre-meal snack.  Lucky for us, the menu included "Snack" section, which are the perfect little nibbles for before dinner or with a drink at the bar.  We chose this dip, which was, simply put, hummus with a few whole fried chickpeas in it.  Having said that, the hummus had great flavour and I enjoyed the crunch of the whole chickpeas.  There was a bit of false advertising at play here, as the "crostini" as described in the title were actually an assortment of fried plantains and root vegetable chips.  In this case, false advertising was a good thing, as the chips were much more unique and more flavourful than any crostini could have been.  We also appreciated that they delivered more of these yummy chips for free when we ran out.  A nice menu-pondering snack and quite a good deal for $6.

Green Leaf Salad, Cucumber, Tomato, Cider Honey Vinaigrette- We chose to share an appetizer between the four of us and this salad fit the bill perfectly.  This very generously portioned and visually appealing appetizer salad was overflowing with a bounty of seasonal veggies, many of which I had bought for myself at the  Farmer's Market the day before.  The cider-honey vinaigrette was very light and its balance of sweetness and acidity complimented the tomatoes perfectly.

Risotto (Feature "Roast")- This ended up being the popular choice at our table, with myself and two of my colleagues choosing it as our mains.  As mentioned previously, Homer St. Cafe has a daily "roast", which on most days, involved a type of meat cooked in the rotisserie.  Because it was "Meatless Monday", they daily "roast" was actually local zucchini that had been prepared in the rotisserie and then served over a lemon and herb risotto.  The risotto was beautifully cooked with nice, light summer flavour and I enjoyed it very much.  My only "beef" about this dish was that I wish that the zucchini had been made the star component of the dish and that there had been more of it.  The rotisserie flavour on this "peak-of-its-season, organic vegetable were amazing and could have easily held up on its own as the king of this main.

Citrus Baked Steelhead Trout, Red Cabbage, Brown Rice, Dill (sorry, the pic did not turn out)- When I was doing my usual menu perusing online the night before our meal, I had my mind set on ordering this dish.  This was before the risotto curve ball that got thrown at me when I arrived (I am a such a sucker for risotto!).  My only colleague that did not join me in ordering the risotto ended up ordering it in my place and quite enjoyed it.  It was a noticeably smaller portion than our risotto, and if you were hungry, it would likely not be substantial enough without having had an appetizer or a few sides.  In terms of taste, it did work well and its simple, pretty plating was very pleasant for summer.  The fish, although quite a small portion, was cooked perfectly and was the obvious focal point of the dish.

Sauteed Crimini Mushrooms with Fried Sage-  There is a separate "sides" part of the menu and guests can choose sides of their choice to share around the table.  Although I am not usually a big fan of this arrangement as it ends up increasing the cost quite a bit for a veggie lover like me, I must admit that it does make sense at a rotisserie restaurant where you purchase the chicken as an individual item and then build up from there.  Although we did not get the chicken, we still wanted to sample some of these yummy-tasting sides.
     This mushroom dish was a very successful side that would pair nicely with pretty much any dish.  The texture of the creminis was hearty and meaty (a great compliment to a vegetarian dish like our risotto) and the flavours were pleasant yet mild so as not to overwhelm the flavours of our mains.  The portion was generous, and perfect for sharing, but I could have easily eaten the whole thing (or 2 or 3) to myself.  Highly recommended!

Chocolate Pudding, Maldon Salt, Cocao Nibs, Honeycomb- I always enjoy going out for dinner with the colleague of mine who ordered this dessert, both because she is my good friend and because I can always count on her to order a dessert that I can add to my blog post.  And what's more is that she always shares:)  The pudding delivered a nice shot of chocolate without being too rich.  The salt, which is all the rage right now with chocolate, was subtle yet just enough to make it interesting.  I enjoyed the crunch for the cocoa nibs.

In my opinion, Homer St. Cafe and Bar is a great addition to the Yaletown restaurant scene.  With its unique focus on rotisserie foods, including chicken and lots more, as well as the chef's passion for local ingredients, I think that we have only seen the beginning of what they have to offer.

Homer St. Café & Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday 22 August 2013

Farmer's Apprentice: South Granville's New Locavore Champion

1535 W 6th Avenue
V6H 3G1
(604) 620-2070

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved?  HECK YA!-  The menu changes daily based on availability of local ingredients. The chef, Dave Gunawan, buys his produce from farmers that I meet every weekend at the Farmer's Market (Klipper's Organic Acres, Sole Foods Urban Farms, North Arms Farm, etc.).  Although there is quite a bit of meat on the menu (he is, after all, the ex-Wildebeast chef), he certainly has a way with veggies which he demonstrates in his vegetarian dishes and in his use of vegetables in the non-vegetarian dishes.  All the meat is organic and non-medicated, while the seafood is all Oceanwise-approved.  On the whole, his ingredients are purported to be 95% local.  What more could a locavore ask for?

It was with great anticipation that Hubby and I made our way to the newly-opened Farmer's Apprentice this past Friday night.  I had first discovered it back in May before it even opened as I was walking home on my way from Beaucoup Bakery one afternoon.  The sign was lying on the sidewalk, ready to be put up, and, because it contained the word "farmer", it immediately caught my eye.  I googled the name when I got home and was ecstatic to find out that it was a new restaurant, specializing in local fare and led by Dave Gunawan, the renowned ex-chef of Wildebeast.  That such a promising new restaurant would be in such close proximity to our condo was big news indeed!

Farmer's Apprentice, opened on July 16th, is located in a tucked-away spot right off Granville at 6th.  It is in the space of that was previously occupied by the short-lived Pig and Mortar, owned by the guys who operate Pig on the Street, Hubby's favourite food truck (not opened long enough for Hubby to even try it!).  On the Farmer's Apprentice website (still under construction), there is a welcome page that speaks of its mission to make itself accessible to everyone by providing a comfortable space and by catering to the needs of its guests, whether that be lunch, an mid-afternoon cocktail or a multi-course dinner.  They are currently opened for lunch  (11am-2:30pm) and dinner (5:30-10pm), on Tuesday-Saturday.

Outside is a small dining area with two tables that can accommodate groups of 6-8.  On a warm evening like the night we visited, it may be a wise choice to request one of these "al fresco" tables, as the small space inside tends to become pretty warm, especially when the room is full.  Having said that, the inside is very charming, with decor that is rustic yet stylish.  There are pitch forks scattered around the walls, with wooden accents.  I like to think of it as "Farmhouse-Chic".  There was not a spare table to be had on the night that we visited, and although it did heat up the room a bit more than we might have liked, it certainly gave the space an energetic "buzz", full of happy guests enjoying good food, wine and company.  Every new restaurant's dream come true!  I also really appreciated the large, open kitchen where I could watch all the action from my table (including the the chefs using the Big Green Egg at the back- such a cool rig!).  On a future visit, I would like to try sitting at the bar, where the view of the kitchen is better and one may potentially catch a word or two with Dave Gunawan or his sous-chefs.

Just like the atmosphere, service was approachable and casual.  We had one main server who was very accommodating and knowledgeable, and he was happy to ask the chef which farm had supplied the tomatoes used in our starter so that I could find them at the Farmer's Market the next day).  He took care of our drink and food orders, and regularly checked in to make sure everything was to our liking.  Most of our dishes were served by the kitchen staff themselves which I thought was a nice touch.  It was a treat to meet those talented young men and women preparing our food!  Aside from our main server and the kitchen staff, there was also other staff milling about to make sure that water was replenished and wine glasses topped up.  The high guest-server made for notably personalized service.  We were also quite impressed with the speed at which our dishes flew out of the kitchen onto our table, especially considering how busy the restaurant was on that Friday evening.

Based on what I ate at the Farmer's Apprentice, the food style is Pacific Northwest with a hint of both French and Asian influences.  The menu changes almost daily, with some of the most popular dishes staying on the menu as long as the ingredients are still locally available.  There are 10-12 savoury dishes on the menu daily, plus 2-3 desserts.  Dishes are meant to be shared between guests, and about 5-6 dishes/couple should suffice for a light meal (you will need more if you go hungry and/or you do not order the bread).  I have really come to enjoy this sharing plate format which many of the new restaurants have embraced (Burdock and Co., Sardine Can, PidGin) as it gives you the opportunity to try many dishes in one visit.  With a group of 5-6 people, you could easily order every dish on the menu to share.  I am already recruiting friends for a return visit!

The drink menu includes a short but sweet selection of beer and wine (some local options, with a good number of European wines as well).  They also have a few cocktails to choose from, which are also locally-inspired.  I had the Elderflower Dollhouse, made with gin and elderflower syrup.  It was light and refreshing (perfect for summer!) with the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.  And look how pretty that cup is!

Now to the main attraction, the food!  Hubby and I chose 3 dishes each for a total of 6 that we "shared" (he ate most of the meat dishes, and I ate most of the veg dishes).  Here they are:

Beyond Bread Sourdough, Onion Butter, Olive Oil- This was an obvious pick for carb-loving Hubby.  This would not have been a pick for me, but I must admit that Hubby was right on the mark with this one for several reasons.  First of all, the bread, made at a nearby artisan bakery in Kitsilano, was right up my alley- hearty and dense, with lots of grains and seeds.  Secondly, onion butter was a unique accompaniment that paired perfectly with the bread's flavour.  Lastly, and most importantly, it was the perfect vessel for soaking up all of the amazing sauces of the other dishes which would have been a real shame to have to leave on the plate!  The half loaf, meant to tear apart (so much more fun than using a knife!) was served in an adorable little bag that fit the "Farmhouse Chic" theme perfectly!

Heirloom tomato salad with shaved melon (feature dish)- This dish was all about the tomato.  These tomatoes, at the peak of their season, were firm, sweet and juicy, as every perfect tomato should be.  And, for an extra punch of tomato, there was a layer of gazpacho underneath that acted as a dressing of sorts.  Its flavours were amazingly fresh, and I could not help but to spoon up every last drop.   The shaved melon on top added another textural element as well as another layer of sweetness.  I really appreciated how the chef did not overcomplicate this dish.  With such a beautiful product as these tomatoes from Klippers Organics and Sole Foods (two of my favourite market stops), why would you ever ever want to?

Charcoal Grilled Beans, Ricotta, Dates- Upon spying them on the menu, Hubby (the carnivore) was most excited about the sweetbreads (obviously his pick!), but shockingly, these greens beans ended up being his favourite dish of the evening!  The beans were grilled on the Big Green Egg, elevating these naturally delicious, local greens beans to a whole other level.  Who knew that one could achieve such an intense char on a green bean?   Underneath was a pool of house-made ricotta that I again found myself spooning up every last bite.  The dates, although seemingly simple,  knocked it right out of the park.  This is about as close to perfection as you can get.

Fresh Scallops, Ikura, Blackberry, Smoked Potato- This was admittedly our least favorite dish of the evening.  We found the scallops a little underdone, and lacking the sear that we are accustomed to.  We also found the presentation a bit "blah" with the white scallops and potatoes on white sauce.  On the positive side, I quite enjoyed the saltiness of the Ikura (salmon roe) as it was used in this dish (I am usually not a roe fan).  I also quite enjoyed the creamy sauce, with its hint of smokiness.

Sweetbreads, Shallot Emulsion, Charcoal Cauliflower, Jus Parisienne- Hubby was quite excited about this dish, as sweetbreads are a relatively rare find on menus these days, at least in Vancouver.
And these sweetbreads really made the mark- tender with a perfect sear.  There was an interesting combo of flavours on the plate, with a bit of French flair from the jus and then a dash of Asian from the shallot emulsion.  The cauliflower, again done on the Green Egg added nice balance to this otherwise heavy dish.

Halibut, smoked gnocchi, Chanterelles, Sauce Barigoule- This was sadly our last dish of the evening after being treated to such tasty dishes by Chef Gunawan.  It had been recommended to me by others as one of his "standout" dishes and fortunately, we were not disappointed.  The perfectly cooked halibut was accompanied by a light cream-based sauce which we once again eagerly moped up with our bread.  The gnocchi were nicely prepared, with a very subtle smokey flavor that complimented, rather than overwhelmed, the other elements on the plate. A very well-executed dish.

After these 6 courses, our appetites had been satiated, and therefore we opted to forego dessert, however they do offer quite intriguing dessert options created around local, seasonal foods.  The night that we visited, the desserts were focused on summer fruits (berries, peaches) that are so abundant right now.  We will have to save some room to try dessert the next time we visit!

I feel so fortunate to have Farmer's Apprentice in my neighborhood.  This restaurant is great at so many different levels.  From the local sourcing of ingredients, to the renowned and very talented chef, to the pleasing space, Farmer's Apprentice is the whole package.  See ya again soon, I will not be able to stay away for long:)

Farmer’s Apprentice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Local to the Max at Alta Bistro

4319 Main St 
Whistler, BC V0N 1B4
(604) 932-2582

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved: Enthusiastically YES- Their dedication to all that is "local"is apparent in every aspect of the dining experience at Alta.  From the wall of preserved vegetables and fruits, picked at the peak of their season, to our server's knowledge about the origin of components of every dish, to the menu's mention of the farms that source the ingredients, this place is the real local deal.  Heck, they even have a tribute to local locavorism in the women's washroom! (see below)

Alta Bistro is a place that I just keep wanting to keep coming back to.  Although a part of me wanted to try two new restaurants on our recent weekend in Whistler, I just could not bear to be in the town and not visit this wonderful restaurant that is so dedicated to all that is local and sustainable.

We had been to Alta for the first time the year before during the first Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Whistler (I did Yoga, Hubby played golf) and we had so much fun that we planned a return trip for the same weekend this year.  We made a reso at Alta several weeks in advance for Friday night  to avoid disappointment as Wanderlust weekend is insanely busy.  The restaurant was packed but with our reservation, we were promptly shown to our table at the back of the restaurant.  The room is quite small, with tables that are packed fairly close together, but I quite enjoy the intimate atmosphere that is true to its title as a "bistro".  The atmosphere is quite relaxed, and guests come dressed in all kinds of attire, from sweat pants, to shorts, to jeans, to shirts and tie (the latter being much less common).  There are a few tables outdoors as well which were occupied on the cool night that we dined there.

Service is friendly yet very attentive.  Our server's introduction to the restaurant was music to my ears- locally sourced, sustainable, Oceanwise, preservative and hormone free.  You know right away that you are in good hands!  The staff are obviously passionate about the local cuisine that they are serving and are more than happy to take the time to explain the origin of the ingredients and the details about their preparation.  When our server was unsure of one of my questions, he took the time to go back to the kitchen to ask the chef even though he obviously had his hands full with restaurant being so busy.  This was certainly much appreciated!

The menu at Alta has changed slightly since our visit last year, when it was a 3-course prix-fixe menu composed of 2 appetizers and a main.  This year, we were told that has been changed to an a-la-carte menu for the summer so as to "lighten things up" and allow the choice of just ordering one dish if they so choose.  As someone who always orders an appie and a main sans dessert, a liked the old prix-fixe menu but this new a-la-carte menu worked just fine for me as well and I appreciate the fact that it offers more flexibility for diners.  Of note is that they are offering a $33 prix-fixe menu before 6:15 which includes an appie, main and dessert (what a deal if you can eat that early!).

Cocktails are not just an afterthought at Alta.  The bartender, Scott Curry, makes all of his own syrups (nothing artificial here!) and uses old-fashioned bitters to create depth of flavour.  Curry's knack for flavour building really came through in our cocktails.  I happen to love all that is rhubarb and therefore chose the "Ruby Tuesday", made with rhubarb syrup, vanilla, black pepper and citrus.  Although the rhubarb flavour was lovely as expected, the best part was the spiciness of the peppercorn that added a little zing right at the last moment when you least expected it.  Because I do not enjoy overly sweet cocktails, I asked them to cut some of the sweetness, to which they gladly obliged.  Hubby chose the Kentucky Peach, one of the evening's special cocktails, made of bourbon, peach syrup, egg white, amaro averna and citrus.  This "manly" fruity cocktail had just a hint of sweetness and was very well-balanced.

After our expertly-prepared cocktails, we could not wait to discover what wonderful delights Executive Chef Nick Cassettari had to offer.  Like the restaurant itself, the menu is small but obviously very well conceived, with dishes to please everyone's tastes.  The summer menu, full of light flavours, had quite a number of meat entrees (2 pork dishes and a beef short rib dish), as well a fish entree and, to my delight, a vegetarian option that changes nightly (can you guess what I ordered?).  There were also a number of appetizers, including a Charcuterie plate that changes nightly, as well as cheese and deli boards meant for sharing.

Here is what we enjoyed for our pre-yoga/golf weekend at Alta:

Bread with white bean puree, fennel and star anise- Hubby (aka. carb lover) just had to have some of this homemade baguette, made at the nearby Nita Lake Lodge, to start off the meal.  The accompanying savoury spread was quite unique, with a hummous-like consistency from the white beans.  The flavours of the spices were subtle but certainly more interesting than your average oil and vinegar.

Side Stripe Prawn and Scallop Crudo- Because I was going with a vegetarian main, I chose a seafood appie and was certainly pleased with my decision.  This was the ideal summer starter- incredibly light and refreshing.  The freshness of the seafood, the creaminess of the avocado, the smokiness of the eggplant- absolutely divine.  With so many different flavour components, there was a new surprise in every bite!

"Two Rivers Meats" Charcuterie- Two Rivers Meats (check out there informative website here) makes there products using meat supplied by partnering local farms are free of hormones and preservatives.  On the night of our visit, the board featured salami and speck, which were both delicious and obviously of high quality.  Hubby equally enjoyed the accompanying house preserves, including the cutest little pickled radish shoots (they look like mini chili peppers!), a relish and lavash bread.

Je Suis Vegetarian (changes nightly)- I just love restaurants that have nightly vegetarian specials.  It is a rare phenomenon but makes a whole pile of sense considering the fact that the availability and quality of seasonal veggies varies from day to day.  It obviously means more work on the chef's part, so kudos to you chef Cassettari!  On this particular night, I was treated to fingerling potatoes panfried with cauliflower, summer squash, green beans and onions, that were all sauteed with the most delectable salsa verde (a bit creamy while still being light and herbaceous).  This is what true vegetarian is all about- a plate of nothing but veggies, that was unmistakenly a complete and substantial dish in and of itself.  It takes a very talented chef to pull this off!

Maple-glazed pork cheeks- Hubby, in contrast to my vegetarian fare, went for the pork cheeks and he thought they were "awesome".  The meat was tender and moist, then kicked up another notch with the just-sweet-enough maple glaze.  It was served with spaetzle, hazelnuts and puffed quinoa, making for great textural contrast.  This was a real winner in Hubby's mind!

After finishing our meal, all I could do was thank my lucky stars that I returned to Alta on this return yoga/golf weekend in Whistler.  Although I do love testing the waters and trying new places, there is no way that I can spend any length of time in Whistler and not pay a visit to Alta.  Their food philosophy is completely in line with everything that I believe in (locally-sourced, sustainable and seasonal), they are passionate about what they do and they readily acknowledge the farmers that supply them with their top-quality products.  And finally, there is no denying that their food tastes mighty good!

Thanks for an amazingly local dining experience Alta.  Next time I am in Whistler, I will be back with bells on:)

Alta Bistro on Urbanspoon

Saturday 10 August 2013

True Newfoundland Hospitality on Its West Coast

Back home.
That is always how I feel when the plane lands on the small runway in front of Deer Lake airport, about a half hour outside of Corner Brook, Newfoundland.  It is in Corner Brook that I competed in my first figure skating competition at age 7, went to my Grade 9 prom, graduated high school and then eventually returned to marry my high school sweetheart.  It is therefore no wonder that a piece of my heart still resides there, no matter where else my life has taken me. 
Corner Brook, located on the West Coast of the island, is the province's 3rd largest city after St. John's (the oldest city in Canada) and the cities making up St. John's metropolitan area.  Although its population is just a little over 20 000, it serves as a hub for the many small surrounding areas and therefore, it has a lot more resources and infrastructure than your average small town.  Within a short drive from Corner Brook, you will find picturesque fishing villages, stunning natural beauty and amazing hiking, including the summit to Gros Morne mountain in Gros Morne National Park.  And, no matter what corner of the island you visit, you will be treated to the second-to-none Newfoundland hospitality for which this province is so well known. 
Here is a little look at some of my favourite bites here on the West Coast of Newfoundland:
Oasis Grillhouse
This cute little restaurant located right on the water in Pasedena (a little town located about a 15 min drive from Corner Brook) is a great spot for a few drinks and a casual bite.  The highlight is the large deck right on the beach.  Inside, there is a bar on one side and a large spacious area with large tables on the other.  The atmosphere is laid back, with beach house decor and service is very friendly.  The menu has quite a wide variety of options, from the typical bar snacks (wings, nachos, mozza sticks) to full sized meals (burgers, fish, chicken).  We chose some of the more traditional  Newfoundland fare, including pan-fried cod and the ever-popular fries with hamburger meat, dressing and gravy (only in Newfoundland)!  For even more Oasis fun, visit on a Wednesday with four friends to participate in Trivia Night.  Apparently, it is quite a good time (and as everyone knows, Newfies know how to have a good time!!!).

Marlaine's Tidewatcher Cafe and Crafts
This place is a real gem.  It is located in Lark Harbour, a lovely little fishing village about 1 hour northwest of Corner Brook.  The drive there is quite spectacular and therefore it is well worth driving the hour to Marlaine's for lunch.  You will likely want to book off the whole afternoon so that you can stay in Lark Harbour to take in some of the amazing hiking trails nearby, or to simply sit on the deck outside Marlaine's and admire the beautiful views of the water and the mountains. 

Marlaine serves an assortment of sandwiches, including a delicious crab salad sandwich made with chunks of real crabmeat.  She also sells soups (Newfoundlanders make the very best soups by the way!) and salads.  If you are visiting Newfoundland for the first time (and not on a diet!), I recommended trying her Fish and Brewis (pronounced fish and brews), a traditional Newfoundland dish made with salt cod and hardtack (a simple cracker made from flour, water and salt).  Marlaine also goes the extra mile and tops her Fish and Brewis with "pork scrunchions" (aka fried salted pork fat).  After one bite, you will feel like a true Newfoundlander!
And be sure to save room for dessert! Marlaine makes a lovely assortment of cookies, pies, cakes and other pastries that are definitely worth a try.  My favourite is her date square- chock full of dates with plenty of buttery oatmeal topping goodness, just the way I like it!  I left the store with 3 in a to-go box for later! Other favourites are the cinnamon bun (my dad's pick) and the chocolate chips cookies.
After you tummy is full, stick around for a browse through the Newfoundland crafts.  There is a great assortment of sweaters, quilts, dolls and other Newfoundland nic-nacs that make great souvenirs.
So be sure to include a trip to Marlaine's in your West Coast travel plans.  Between the beauty of Lark Harbour, the traditional food and the Newfoundland hospitality,  Marlaine's is the perfect example of what this beautiful province is all about!
Brewed on Bernard
Corner Brook certainly has its fair share of Tim Hortons (4 in total, plus more just outside city limits), but for those who are not so keen on Tim's coffee (including me!), there is finally another (much better) choice.  Brewed On Bernard, and her sister restaurant Brewed Awakening located on Main St., are independent coffee shops that know how their java.  They are the West Coast's only coffee roaster, specializing in organic, fair trade coffee.  They offer the full gamut of caffeinated beverages including coffee and espresso-based drinks, with soy milk as a non-dairy option (and maybe almond milk soon).  I had a very nice latte, complete with latte art.
In terms of food, Brewed in Bernard offers a breakfast and lunch menu, as well as a great selection of cookies, squares and other goodies, all baked in-house.  For breakfast, they make waffles, breakfast sandwiches and smoothie.  For lunch, one can get a tasty sandwich, made on bread baked daily at the store (loaves are available for purchase) and they sometimes have a lunch special.  On my last visit home, I had the vegetarian chili which was delicious!  And whatever you do, do not leave the store without sampling some baked goods.  I HIGHLY recommend the homemade granola bars (chewy goodness, chock full of raisins, chocolate chips and nuts) and the oatcakes  (the ones with chocolate on the top are out of this world!).  There was no way I was leaving these behind- I have 3 each of the granola bars and the oatcakes in my suitcase to bring back to Vancouver!
Brewed on Bernard is the perfect place to relax for a few hours with a cup of coffee and your laptop (free wifi).  Service is what just what you would expect here in Corner Brook (super friendly) and the space is very bright and pleasant.  If I still lived here, this is a place you would find me at often!
My trip home to "the Rock" is quickly drawing to a close and, although it will be nice to back to the life I enjoy so much in Vancouver, there will will be lots of sad goodbyes to say to loved ones and to this wonderful island that will forever be "my home".

Brewed on Bernard on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Thyme to Indulge- A New Lunch Spot in Mount Pleasant

2858 Main Street
Vancouver, BC

Tastiness factor: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 3.5/5

Service: 3/5

Locavore approved? Not quite- There was a few hints of locally-inspired food, mostly when it came to my salad.  I was pleased to see green beans, potatoes and tomatoes which are at their peak of freshness right now.  The menu is obviously not built around the local philosophy, with lots of more winter-like dishes, heavy on cheese and rich meats like braised short ribs and pork belly.  Perhaps they might consider lightening it up a bit for summer, using the bounty of fresh produce that is now so abundant!

Main St., once considered by many as the shabby, run-down, hipster area of town, is now really coming into its own.  Home buyers are sweeping up properties that they hope to make great returns on down the road as the area becomes increasingly sought after, and fortunately the food scene is following suit.  In the first few years that I lived in Vancouver, I do not recall ever venturing over to Main St. but over the past year, with the addition of so many great new spots (49th Parallel, Matchstick, Acorn, Burdock and Co., Grub, etc), it has certainly made its way onto my foodie radar. 

This has become especially true over the past month since I have been working over near Main St. and have had more of a chance to explore it even more.  Work lunches are a special treat in this area, with lots of different options to choose from as well as the constant opening of new restaurants. 

On a recent Friday afternoon, my colleagues and I decided to venture out to Main St. for lunch.  I was happy to let them choose the restaurant since they regularly work in the area and have had a chance to scope out many of the lunch hotspots.  Instead of choosing one of the "tried and true" places however, they chose the new kid on the block, Thyme to Indulge, which had newly opened just a couple of weeks before

Thyme to Indulge (cute name, by the way!) is located at Main and 13th.  It consists of the small restaurant space where we had lunch, as well as a large catering kitchen in the back.  They serve breakfast and lunch daily, as well as weekend brunch.  The restaurant space is, as one of my lunch companions called it, quite "girly" with its white and pastel colour scheme and feminine decor.  The decor reminds me quite a bit of Butter Bakery in Mackenzie Heights, one of my favourite Vancouver bakeries, and although I like that clean and dainty look, I think it works better on Mackenzie Heights (near Kerrisdale) than it does in Mount Pleasant.  Although this area is becoming more diverse, it certainly still has a "hipster" feel to it which is captured to at least come degree in the other new restaurants that have laid down roots there.  The small space is used quite efficiently with a good numbers of tables filling the main room, as well as a little alcove on the side with a counter and stools looking out the window where we sat.  The window unfortunately looks out at a concrete lot and the Dairy Queen next door but they have done their best to put a few nice tables in the lot to fancy things up a little.  Overall, they have done a nice job with the space, but it remains to be seen how this traditionally "hipster" neighbourhood responds to it!

When speaking about the service, one must keep in mind that the restaurant had been opened for only a couple of weeks when we visited and therefore there were still some kinks to be worked out.  The young all-female servers, who all wore cute patterned aprons looked a bit flustered and had to come back a second time to verify our order, and our food took quite a while to arrive.  Having said that, the servers were all extremely gracious and very accommodating.  I am sure they will improve once they get a few more weeks under their belts!
Their lunch menu is comprised of sharing appies salads, soups, sandwiches, burgers and desserts.  Prices are reasonable for lunch, mostly around the $12 mark.  Here were our selections:

Thyme's Nicoise Salad- This was my choice which I selected because of its seasonal ingredients (tomatoes, green beens, potatoes) and my yearning for light, summertime flavours.  It may look like a small portion but it was surprisingly substantial with a hearty mix of egg, tuna, potato, olives and avocado.  It was dressed in a robust vinaigrette that stood up well to the big flavours (perhaps just a tad overdressed for my liking).  The tuna was very fresh but cooked more than the "rare" that I had requested.  Overall though, this was a very well-conceived summer dish.

The Jerk- My work colleague was quite pleased with this sandwich, piled high with sous-vide chicken breast, grilled pineapple, avocado, mango chutney and a Dijon aioli.  Although the sandwich made for a nice summer lunch with its mix of spice and fruit flavours, it was her side of fries that really stole the show.  Let me tell you, and i am not exaggerating, these parsley-tossed fries were some of the best fries I have ever tasted.  I am not the biggest fry fan in the universe, but I know I great fry when I taste one and feel like I want to eat the whole basket (it took real restraint not to, but luckily my co-worker shared!). Crispy on the outside with a hint of parsley and soft on the inside, like every great fry should be. And the crispy bits at the bottom of their newspaper wrapping? Sinful.  If you go to Thyme to Indulge for no other reason, go to get some fries!

 Roasted Vegetable and Mozzarella Sandwich- My other colleague ordered this sandwich, one of the only vegetarian options on the menu, and was once again quite satisfied.  She appreciated that the veggies (eggplant, zucchini, roma tomato) were nicely grilled (not at all soggy).  The sandwich was finished with a nice basil pesto and bocconcini cheese.  She also chose the side of fried, which I could go on and on about (see above) but I will spare you except to say that they are AWESOME!

Although we did imbibe in any desserts on our lunchtime visit, I did note that they had quite an extensive assortment of desserts including a vast assortment of pretty macaroons in all kinds of different flavours.  I will have to swing by some day on my way home to try one!

Overall, my co-workers and I had a very pleasant lunch at Thyme to Indulge and I would certainly be inclined to return again for lunch.  There are still a few "growing pains" to work out, as with any new restaurant, but I think that they are on the right track to becoming yet another great lunch option in the ever-growing Mount Pleasant food scene.

And whatever you do, order the fries!!!

Thyme to Indulge Bistro on Urbanspoon