Dineout reviews: 2010 Q2

Oh my, another quarter did just roll by before I have a suitable number of interesting photos and experiences amassed for a group review. I just couldn’t wait and did post some themed reviews: my Easter trip to Toronto, three super Dineout Vancouver 2010 meals, and a vegan meal “spree”. This quarterly review will include the rest of the interesting meals.

AoYama Cafe
As much as the idea of Japanese comfort food appeals to NPY, we don’t seem to have tried out the ones that are relatively local to us, like downtown. So I have to have other friends to “push the envelope” with. Okay, it’s not that daring at all. AoYama is relatively new, in the spot that I think used to be a Starbucks at Aberdeen Centre–yeah, a Starbucks actually closed shop and it would happen to be the one located in a quirky modern Chinese mall. The coolest thing, I thought, about AoYama was their chairs if you’re so lucky to get to sit at the tables (not booths). The chairs have two chairbacks at a 90 degree angle to each other so you can lean into it like a chair version of a daybed. It was very lounging condusive and I felt languid. I find it slightly difficult to explain.

The fun thing about this dinner is that I got to try two things at once: Japanese rice omelette (omurice) and their hayashi sauce, neither of which can be found in regular Japanese (read: “sushi”) restaurants. Unfortunately it was kind of so-so. I realized that hayashi is a sauce that I have made before at home from a brick sauce when I got tired of Glico brick curry and experimented with other sauces in the same aisle at T&T (Asian supermarket). I do like the salisbury steak sauce taste but it got to be really salty by halfway through the dish. The idea of rice wrapped in egg would appeal to NPY a lot but it grew a little tired as I realized just how boring my dish was.

Prince Chinese Seafood Restaurant
To try something out different from–oh gosh, not again, Golden Star or whatever its current incarnation is–I suggested to my mahmah (paternal grandmother) that we try out Prince which is around-the-corner-and-down-the-street in east Vancouver for our Saturday dim sum. I think mahmah once told me that Prince is related to Pelican, but it was far easier to get a seat during prime time at Prince than at (mismanaged? understaffed?) Pelican. And, she would point out, we were paying a pretty penny for it.

It doesn’t matter much to me because between the two of us, we eat like birds and can’t rack up the cheque too much and I was pleased to try some new dishes, like the rice rolls which enveloped fish cake rather than the usual morsels of leftover pork or shrimp.

Banana Leaf
Not too much to report about Banana Leaf, our go-to restaurant for a cheap group lunch. I reluctantly joined in on their Big Lunch Sampler because we had the minimum 6 diners to order it and the dishes are the usual (and delicious). But it was the dessert that we ordered separately that was the intriguing part. I wasn’t ordering dessert and they mulled over how a coconut crepe may taste and queried to me what pandan is. Says the girl who has had a pandan flavoured pastry or two, I shrugged and said it was a non-obtrusive green leaf with light fragrance. No one was expecting that there would be four crepe rolls on the plate and they would be so bright green! There was shredded coconut in a sweet milky sauce inside and I thought it turned out perfectly because we could all have a small bite of dessert. The green was so shocking that some people just couldn’t get over it and stomach it.

The One Restaurant (and Lao Shan Dong)
What does wyn want for dinner? Taiwanese (TW) noodles! Like always, every time. Even when it’s hot outdoors and NPY thinks a hot bowl of noodle soup is winter fare. Good thing it’s been a particularly gloomy and cold spring in Vancouver and I’ve been able to have more TW noodles. My suggestion to try out the “new” Lao Shan Dong restaurant, The One, went over very well with the other couple because, apparently, the LSD restaurants do not use MSG in their cooking. To make a fair evaluation with my favourite TW noodles (No. 1 Beef company), I had to order the beef flank in noodle soup. The beef was tougher than it should be, the noodles splendid, and the broth quite alright. NPY ordered a vegetable hotpot but the best deal, it seems, and I wish I had the guts to take a picture, was to order the hotpot/fried pork chop combination. The Taiwanese fried pork chop is generally so good: perfectly crispy batter, a tender cut, and about 3 ounces. At The One, the pork chop is impressively the size of an 8-inch plate and the combo price was just a little more than a hotpot by itself. The drinks were also massive and you have to stand up to reach the top of your straw.

One evening when I was at the “mega-mall” in Burnaby, an opportunity arose to try the original Lao Shan Dong (老山東) restaurant nearby. It seems to be such an institution that I had to try it as an avid TW noodle fan. The food was good and I’m grateful that no one kicked us out while we lingered about twice the time that customers are expected to stay. But I wasn’t prepared for the hole-in-the-wall “decor”. Now I have been there, and next time I will suggest driving a little further down to The One!

Silver Tower Cafe Restaurant

My usual Hong Kong-style cafes (HKSC) are in the middle of affluent Vancouver west-side so they can do gouging things like charge you extra for having a cold drink with your mini meals instead of a default hot drink. (I usually like a hot drink anyways because I drink so slowly ice melts and dilutes my cold drink.) I’m finding that in Richmond where HKSC competition is rampant, more and more places we’ve tried don’t charge extra for ice cubes and a larger glass. One day we happened upon Silver Tower in Richmond and based on their dated 1990s awning, NPY was reluctant. Nothing much recommended it over other HKSCs until we learned that they are the same restaurant as one of his local HKSCs, Golden Oscar in east Vancouver. At once it was acceptable and we are unafraid to go there for a snack/meal.

A dish that I’ve identified on the Silver Tower mini meal menu that does not routinely appear on mini meal menus is “red roasted tofu” (红燒豆腐) using “jade tofu” (玉子豆腐). I think “red roasted” is completely up to a restaurant’s interpretation ranging from completely mild in taste to mild-medium spicy–it may also be a Cantonese-Taiwanese difference in what “red roasted” means. I’m a sucker for “jade tofu” that is a tube of egg tofu cut into rounds and then fried in a thin batter–that batter really isn’t necessary for me, it’s actually the texture of the egg tofu I love. At Silver Tower, “red roasted tofu” is mild in taste, tending perhaps towards being a little too saucy, and a great vegetarian option.

Golden Great Wall Szechuan Restaurant

I must confess some residual ambivalence towards this restaurant but I’ve relaxed since seeing ChowTimes.com’s post where they pulled out all the stops for an elite group of diners and Golden Great Wall was no longer just “that Cantonese restaurant with all the white patrons by way of being in hospital district and on West Broadway”. I still don’t know for myself about their dinner options and it’s their lunch special priced around $8 that I keep going back for. My favourite lunch special is a double hit of tofu: the mapo tofu lunch special with hot and sour soup. The mapo tofu is no holds barred spicy and red with chili oil with that unmistakeable Cantonese kitchen smell. I could get this for much cheaper in a food court in Richmond but I can’t get it within 15 minutes, the total time to leave the office, pick it up, and return to my desk!

Sumo Bites @ Richmond Night Market

I thought what I wanted at the Richmond Night Market was a Hurricane Potato as several stands opened shop to sell them this year. With several stands offering it, it was difficult for me to decide which one to buy from but when I saw someone walk by with something resembling a burger but the “bun” was just too bright white to be normal, I had to track down which stand had this offering.

As luck would have it, we had to do a complete loop of the stands to find it at the end of the search: Sumo Bites. As you can see from the photograph of the stand, they have some cute branding going on. I chose the sukiyaki beef option and delighted in the sticky, slightly charred pearly Japanese rice formed into a bun for the fragrant marinated beef. I do believe that the kurobata pork is the next one I will try. And maybe a hurricane potato, too.

Hash Browns

I love McDonald’s hashbrowns, don’t you? When Tim Hortons added a hashbrown of sorts to complete their breakfast menu, I tried it immediately but came away disappointed: it was limp and thin and very oily. When I heard recently that they had improved, I tried it again and agree that they have improved.

In other hash brown news, I also learned that Burger King–not a fast food joint I really ever frequent–has tater tots with breakfast, I had to give them a try. As coincidence would have it, I was flying out of YVR and there is a Burger King at which I could kill off time. It was really early in the morning so I scratched my head when I didn’t see it in the food court but then trekked over to the international departures food court and enjoyed a very peaceful and greasy breakfast that would tide me through a whole day of flying (to Halifax).

In the middle of my eight-meal vegetarian streak, I found myself in the food court of Pacific Centre and wondering how much money I was willing to plunk on a vegetarian fast food lunch. Made-while-you-watch teppanaki? Overpriced and “light” Thai food? Too-filling Chinese food? A veggie burger? I finally decided on a kids’ meal–because do I really need an adult-size meal??–from Tacotime: cheese quesadillas with their Mexi-fries (read: tater tots with a light dusting of spice). The quesadilla was not horrible and I was much happier munching on tater tots dipped in some hot sauce than if I had purchased a combo that came with fries.

Alvin Garden

This Burnaby Chinese restaurant easily escapes my notice–it’s just in Burnaby!–except for it being the site of the first Chowtimes.com cuisine discovery dinner. From the array of pictures from that post, I really wanted tea smoked duck, Hunan braised pork, cumin lamb, and sweet and sour potato shred. But I don’t get to control the order however I did manage to sway the girls to finally get our dinner from Alvin Garden one night after mentioning the restaurant several times and not going. We ended up ordering Hunan pickles, green onion pancake, siuchoy with Hunan chili, cumin lamb, shredded potato, and pork with “green peppers” that was recommended by the server to round out the meal.

That was a unique meal although we suffered so much through the spicy food! Kind of perfect for girls’ night, don’t you think, because we didn’t have to brave up and mute our suffering around boys. We laughed and laughed when we poked at the pork and “green pepper” dish and realized that the green pepper referred to was jalapeno peppers! But jalapeno was the tamest pepper we would encounter that evening. It was really enjoyable. I’m happy that my shredded potato suggestion was heralded a success and now I’m eager to make my own from a recipe Su-lin/Tamarind and Thyme linked to long ago.

On this day..