Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Diva at the Met

Holiday season is said to be the most wonderful time of the year.  No doubt, it is also one of the busiest and most stressful time of the year too.  While I expected myself to be quite busy at my job, I didn't expect to be thrown off course with a flu that hit me one night like a ton of bricks which left me to be repaired for the next few days.  While the sickness may have tarnished my holiday spirit slightly, I knew I would do whatever it take to look and feel my best for our family Christmas dinner at Diva at the Metropolitan hotel in downtown Vancouver.  

I am a fan of innovative cooking techniques and concepts, so I was looking forward to see what new gastronomic adventure was awaiting us tonight.  The service at Diva was top notch.  Valet parking at the hotel is complimentary after the restaurant gives you a stamp for your parking, which is valid for 3 hours.  Who doesn't love convenience? The staff were attentive and professional. We made dinner simple and went with the 5 course tasting menu for $55 per person.  
Four kinds of snacks were included as an introduction to the meal.  We were presented with a basket of eggs.  Inside was a smoked bone marrow custard with truffle.  It was mild, fragrant, and the most luxurious custard ever.
Chicken bacon served on a rock was unique.  It was thin, crispy, salty with a spread of molasses butter.  

The next snack was intriguing.  Mussel coal, or bread, black as night, topped with gleaming ikura on a smouldering coal board.  Despite turning my mouth all black, it was worth it.  The mussel bread and garlic aioli were injected with squid ink, giving it coal-black color.  The bread was so moist and tender with hint of dill and exquisite with garlic aioli. I wondered how the mussel flavour was so pronounced and had to ask.  We were explained that the executive chef used 'mussel nectar', or the broth, to bring out the flavour.  The concept came when he and his wife would share mussel frites.  His wife would take all the mussels while he was left with bread to dip in the broth.  I think we all love doing that too so I though the idea of combining mussel broth in bread altogether was quite clever. 
The next snack was foie gras walnut.  Curiously, it was creamy foie gras shaped as a walnut on the right corner of the picture.  It was smooth, and tasted like a rich barbecue duck spread.  The quince jelly was great with it.  
A complimentary basket of artisan bread arrived to keep us occupied.  My favourite was pecan and caramelized onion bread, and shea butter with poppy seed bread.  It was really hard not to get filled up on these.  Grandma paid no attention to the discretion so I got extra portions from her plate ^^.

Orange honey soda in between courses to cleanse palette.  It was a refreshing, tangy, fizzy foam made from fresh orange juice.  Too bad it only lasted a couple of sips.  I would like a tall glass of foam please.
The first course, sable fish carpaccio impressed us all. Thin slices of sable fish blanketed over olive oil-poached lobster and octopus dressed with nitro olives and vinaigrette.  I got the crunch from the vegetables and crouton bits, mixed with acidity and sweetness of the olives.  The combination of textures and flavours were refreshing and left us wanting more.  

The second course, smoked black cod was a hit also.  My first thought was "where's the rest of it?".  The cod was perfectly crispy on the outside, tender and flakey on the inside.  There was just the right amount of sodium on the fish, anymore and it would've been too salty. It was served on a bed of pickled cabbage, pork jowl, navy bean cassoulet, cauliflower puree, and accompanied with oyster sauce (not the asian kind in a bottle).  The whole table was in complete silent until everything on the plate was cleared. I never thought I would enjoy navy bean, but the amount wasn't overwhelming.  The cauliflower puree and the oyster sauce complimented the dish so well that I had the dip the bread in to soak up the rest of the sauce.  And I can't forget about talking about pork jowl.  It looked like a piece of tuna sashimi, gelatin-like and fatty enough that it melts in your mouth.  A great component to go with the cassoulet. 
The third course, veal cheek, was beautifully displayed.  The plate was also decorated with popcorn sweetbread, chicharone, fall vegetables, pine mushrooms and porcini foam. I felt like a kid and was intrigued by the popcorn sweetbread had a crunchy batter like popcorn chicken.  The mushroom foam was thick and rich, much like a bisque.  
Truffled lamb tenderloin with natural lamb jus.  Again, I was thinking, "that's really pretty, but where was the rest of it?".  But believe it or not, we had trouble finishing the last bites even though it was really good.  The food was finally catching up to us, and suddenly we had much appreciation for the smaller portions and beautiful presentations.  The tenderloin was extremely tender, and the bed of truffle it was sitting on was just divine.  

I'm not sure if my words could accurately describe how awesome our last course was.  Pumpkin caramel pudding was anything but simplistic.  It was presented in such a way that made us go "wow" while we scratch our heads trying to figure out what's what.  There must have been about 10 different components in there and I could only list yam ginger ice cream, praline, pumpkin pudding, and meringue. It was crunchy, creamy, nutty and not overly sweet.  The ginger flavour was not overwhelming in the ice cream but was distinct. Altogether, it was decadent, delicious, and I could probably eat about 5 more.  
The entire meal was absolutely impressive.  The open kitchen was located right across from us and we could see the action up close.  However, while the chefs were actively busy, the only noise we could hear out from the kitchen was when someone said, "service".  The kitchen was a calm environment with excellent control to details.  The ambience was formal, yet comfortable. However, the decor could use a little update to better match the modern and creative dishes they offer. 
After the bill, we were given the last treat; orange chocolate shaped like tree bark.  I know I complained about how I thought the portions were small, but to be honest, they were just right.  I wouldn't want them any bigger aside from the dessert.  In the near future, I would definitely come back to Diva again in the near feature and explore more of their tasty creations that are also feast for the eyes.


Diva at the Met on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Refinery

the Refinery is a cozy little spot located in the heart of downtown on Granville street.  On the weekend, this tapas restaurant transforms into a busy bar where you would miss having a personal space.  We got there early enough before the rush and were able to score a fair size seating.  The atmosphere was casual and energetic, a good place to go socialize after work.  There are 2 menus; one for flatbreads, salads, bruschette and charcuterie and the second for tapas.  We focused on ordering smaller and bigger tapas. 
I have a thing for pork belly and runny eggs, so 'bacon n' eggs' for $12 was a given.  Three slices of braised pork belly served over caramelized onions and apple compote, topped with fried quail eggs was a great starter.  The pork belly was slightly sweet, tender with fatty pieces that melts in your mouth.  Of course, I cracked the creamy yolk and let it coat all over the pork and paired with some apple compote.  
The steak tartar for $13 was very well seasoned and a good portion.  Usually, steak tartar is a hit or miss for me.  I've had experiences where it would taste like it just came from the slaughter house, or it would taste like an exquisitely refined dish.  I was pleased that the steak tartar at the Refinery is the latter.  You get the tanginess and extra texture from capers and pickled shallots. It was topped with quail's egg yolk and drizzled with a generous amount of balsamic reduction.  The crostinis were thin and crispy and great for spreading on the steak.  
Arancini, or fried risotto balls, for $9 for 4 comes with a different flavour each day.  Tonight's flavour was wild mushrooms topped with tomato sauce.  This one didn't blow us away.  The tomato sauce tasted pretty generic and the batter was quite thick.  The risotto was not soggy so it was a plus, but other than that, there wasn't much more uniqueness to it.  If you're really hungry, this would be a good filler. 
Roasted duck breast with grape and walnut salad for $14 was a great value.  The dish was good, but it could've been great.  Instead, I spent my time figuring out what was missing from this dish.   The seared duck breast, medium rare and tender, was lacking crispiness on the skin.  The dressing to go with it was a bit too light and sweet.  Maybe it should have more savoury factor, but I think that was the whole concept of the dish, something more refreshing and light.  Nonetheless, the duck portion for the price is a steal!3

Okay, the last dish that arrived blew us away, mainly by its sheer size.  The roasted lamb chops from the bigger tapas proved to be as big as they claimed.  For $14, we got 3 very large and meaty lamb chops served over pesto and topped with pine nuts.  At this rate, 2 hungry guys and 1 bear were politely offering each other more food and passing it.  In the end, I am sad to report that we were so full that we could not finish the lamb.  Although the chops were more cooked than how I usually like my red meat (more rare-medium), but it still had a nice charred and fatty-melt-in-your-mouth flavour.  The pesto composition was great with the lamb.  I would definitely come back for this dish again.

There is one dish missing from this collage and, unfortunately, it was the best of the night. The baja scallops were seared to perfection.  They were large, plump, with golden crisp exterior and served over sweet carrot puree and wine syrup.  An 'ingenious' combination.

I would definitely come back to the Refinery.  Their tapas can pretty much make a completely meal or something light to nibble over drinks.  The lamb and scallops won my heart and the ratio of portion to price keeps me coming back for more. 

**Update: 07/03/13  

I paid a visit back to the Refinery on a Wednesday night and was mainly surprised by how much the food had changed from my first visit.  The seared scallops were room temperature and rather soggy this time.  The size also reduced by about half.  The steak tartare was similar to what we had last time, but with less balsamic reduction.  The biggest disappointment of the night was the lamb chops which had shrunk about 3 times and completely under-seasoned.  Unfortunately, this visit was a complete opposite experience of my first.  There were only 3 tables at that time, including ours so I'm not quite certain what to make of the quality control, if there was any.  Certainly, the consistency was not there.

The Refinery: Market.Style.Eatery on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 23, 2012

Khao Tung Na Tung (minced pork and shrimp dip) recipe

Khao Tung Na Tung is one of the tastiest Thai appetizer in the realm of Thai cuisine (in my opinion).  Khao Tung refers to the deep fried rice crackers.  Na Tung is a part of the name that doesn't make any sense on its own. Literally, it means 'face up'.  Altogether, the name refers to a dip made with coconut milk simmered with spices, ground pork, shrimp and peanut served with fried rice crackers.   It's a harmony of savoury, coconut-peanutty flavour with a note of sweetness.  I've been so fond of the flavours and deprived from it that every single time I go back to Thailand, this dish was a must at every single Thai restaurant I visited.  I don't know why I never thought about learning how to make it until this very moment.  I guess because I thought the flavours were too complex that I'd ever be able to achieve it.  But one spontaneous night, I tried making it, and it was successful.  It didn't take me all night either.  The prep time was only 15 mins and cooking time was about less than half and hour.  I cheated with the rice cakes and bought packaged ones from Yaohan.  But that just made my life a whole lot easier.  The whole thing came together nicely as a dish.  So, if it was simple enough for me to freestyle my way through, it's only right I share the recipe of this wonderful dish everyone.

1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
1 dried chili
1 tbsp. coriander roots
1 tsp. black pepper
1 3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup ground pork
1/2 cup minced shrimp
1/4 cup ground peanut or cashew
2-3 tbsp. fish sauce
2-3 tbsp. sugar
1 shallot

Using a pestle and motar (the old school way), ground garlic, dried chili, corriander roots, black pepper into a smooth paste.  Don't have the tools? Blend the ingredients in a food processor.
Heat coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Let simmer until the fats start to separate.  Add the mixture of spices and stir until mixed well.  Add ground pork and shrimp.  Simmer until cooked, make sure the meat doesn't clump together.  Add shallot and peanut or cashew.  Stir and let simmer.  Season with fish sauce and sugar.  It should taste savoury, nutty and a little sweet.  Once the mixture is mixed well together and it's tasting pretty good, it's ready! Turn off the heat, garnish with cilantro and serve with rice crackers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Taco Luis

The story of how Taco Luis got started would inspire many ambitious individuals with an entrepreneurial soul to go out there and just take a risk.  Though I won't elaborate in case I get the facts wrong.  I have heard numerous positive stories about how one hardworking man from China created this successful family-run taco joint.  

As I spend most of my time staring at the food court at Lansdowne mall, I often see that, day after day, there is only one vendor that always has crazy line-ups while the surroundings are nothing but a wasteland.  I got introduced to the Tater tots deluxe just months ago and became addicted to it like novacane.  It's nothing like Taco Bell/Taco Time junk.  First, the large take out box weighs like a rock.  Once opened, it is literally exploding with so much toppings.  You would find all kinds of vegetables you'd expect in a salad, plus pickled carrots and peppers, a slab of seasoned ground beef or chicken, a generous load of cheese, sour cream, guacamole. Don't be fooled by the aesthetic and my lack of skill to make the photo any prettier looking that what it was.  Buried at the very bottom are world's crispiest and tater tots and there are just so many of them! I don't know how but they stay amazingly tasty and crispy.  The tater tots have become my staple 'fix' from mundane days.  Lather them up with their signature salsa (also so amazing I swear there's a 'special ingredient'), I can almost guarantee you would finish the whole plate up and still crave for more.  This meal is an epitome of "food high", just mind-blowing on so many levels and you forget the feeling of being full.  For just about $6 + taxes, there is no way someone wouldn't be so satisfied by another meal of the same calibre and value.   
Exploding scrumptiousness
Taco salad, also massive
Taco combo, more tater tots goodness

Taco Luis (Lansdowne Centre) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mouthwatering crispy Korean pancake at Haroo, Richmond

The moment I entered Haroo, a Korean restaurant located on the second floor next to Deer Garden on Alexandra, I felt like I was invited over to a friend's house.  The humble, family-owned restaurant has a very cozy, home-feel to it.  The menu offers popular Korean dishes you often find at other Korean restaurants.  However, the ambience, presentation, and quality of the dishes all make Haroo much more unique than the rest.

We were each presented with starters which consisted of salad, congee, and dried marinated bean curd.  It was very comforting and I honestly felt like my friend's mom just cooked for me.    The sides were also the typical kimchi, bean sprouts, sweet potatoes, seaweed, and broccoli.

We didn't order much that night and were just looking for comforting dishes.  The first to arrive was a  rich pork bone soup.  And when we asked for spicy, they took it to heart.  We spent the rest of the time blowing our noses as we slurped down this very savoury, meaty broth.  B ordered chicken jajangmyeon, a savoury Korean noodle dish.  I had something else in mind.
I was craving Korean pancake, pajeon, especially after B flaunted me with an enticing portrait of a paper-thin, crispy one from Korea. I haven't had such luck finding anything that came close to that around here, let alone a slightly crispy one for that matter. They had all been very thick, soggy, bland, or even spongy. The pajeon at Haroo didn't come cheap. At $20, I had to think about it through and through. I turned to the uncle to convince me that it is indeed crispy. "It is", he reassured me. "But this one is REALLY crispy", he pointed to the seafood pajeon. SOLD.

I waited impatiently while the rest of my party stuffed their faces with pork bone soup and jajungmyeon.  The pajeon was fashionable late to arrive the table, as with anybody famous that the fans are anticipating to see.
Finally, a large stone plate arrived just as I was about to cave in and stuff my face too. It was sizzling, golden, especially on the edges. I don't think the ajusshi was kidding when he said it's crispy. Without hesitation, I dipped a slice into the vinegary sauce.   I took a large anticipated bite into layer after layer of crunch. It was so crispy and had a texture similar to vegetable tempura.  Just what I had been hoping for. Still not as paper thin as the one in Korea, but this is the crispiest one in Vancouver greater area thus far. I truly hope that it is always consistent because I am totally going back solely for this dish.

Haroo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Better Than (you know what) Chocolate Fondant at Cafe de L'Orangerie

A little heaven in a cup..

I'm not a big fan of desserts.  My sweet tooth is small and underdeveloped, and, at times, my dessert would consist of something savoury.  But this seemingly typical chocolate cake was so special that I am compelled to dedicate a post for it.   The chocolate fondant cake at Cafe De L'Orangerie, a small homestyle Euro-Japanese cafe in Marpole area, arrived at our table in a ramekin with a side of light whipped cream.  It took a while to arrive, but it was well worth the wait. 

 Dusted with powder sugar icing, I dug my spoon into a light and fluffy cake batter.  The top layer was had a bit more crisp in the exterior and very airy.  The overall texture was more puffy and loose like a souffle than a spongy cake.  Underneath was a warm, oozing liquid chocolate that was not overly thick or sweet, it was just right.  The first bite of the decadent chocolate sauce combined with the cocoa-rich cake was such an intense gastronomic experience that drove my palette into a frenzy. 
The last bite was just as amazing as the first.  I scraped every last crumbs off the dish, savouring every bits of it.  If you had a bad day, order one of these and I guarantee you'll feel better.  

Now that I got the best part out of the way...

 Allow me to back track and walk you through some of the other dishes.  Cafe de L'Orangerie specializes in Euro-Japanese cuisine, including fusion pasta, hamburg steak, curry, panini, and desserts.  We tried out several dishes and the mentaiko spaghetti with extra bacon just hit the spot for me.  The pasta, tossed in cod roe and mayonnaise, had a nice creamy and savoury flavour.  With added smokiness from the bacon and shredded nori, I had no problem finishing up the entire plate alone. 

A small bowl of soup of the day and salad came with one of the sets

Hamburg steak is the ultimate comfort food for Euro-Japanese cuisine.  The oroshi hamburg steak was served with a fried egg on top.  A total homestyle, hearty meal.  They left the yolk runny just the way we love and it was satisfying with the succulent patty.  The oroshi sauce was a combination of shredded daikon and ponzu sauce which was really zesty and gave the steak a zing.  They were generous with the amount of sauteed mushrooms too.  We also tried the hamburg steak with curry version. While the oroshi was good, the Japanese curry had so much more depth and flavour for the hamburg steak.  Again, you won't notice how full you are, you would want to keep on eating.  
Two things I wish this place had was 'doria', or baked rice, and 'omurice', or omelette wrapped fried rice.  Instead, I ordered the seafood mac n' cheese gratin, which is almost the same as a doria but with macaroni instead of rice.  The top layer of baked cheese was so satisfying.  It was thick, hot and gooey, wrapping around the scoops of macaroni drenched in cream sauce.  Again, you know this is not good for your heart, but it is good for the soul.  

On to other desserts on the menu:

This impressive looking parfait consisted of edamame paste, vanilla, ice cream,  red bean, rice balls and puffed rice.  The edamame paste was a bit dry and not very sweet. It was an interesting texture to pair with the vanilla ice cream.  This was a heavy duty parfait.  The bean paste and the whole combination was really filling just after a few bites.  

Green tea pudding parfait was pretty awesome and I would love to get it again.  The pudding was very soft with a distinct matcha flavour.   Again, the red bean was present to complete a wholesome Japanese dessert. They loaded up the rice balls pretty good for this one.  If you eat all of them (which I almost did), you'll feel pretty stuffed.  

Cafe de l'Orangerie on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 28, 2012

3 unique lobster dishes to try in Richmond

Lobster ramen at Gyo O ($19)
Served in a ginormous bowl, this epic ramen comes with half a lobster with a gigantic claw.  The poached egg just brought everything an extra mile.  There was enough ramen noodles in there to feed 2 people.  You have a choice between miso and tonkatsu broth.  I went with the latter.  The broth was the best part as it had a lot of depth and richness from the lobster.  The lobster meat itself, though slightly over cooked, was still very plump and meaty. For $19, this luxury ramen is not on the regular menu.  You can ask the server for its availability.   If you're able to finish this enormous dish by yourself, the empty bowl is large enough to be adorn as a victory hat.  

Gyo-O 魚王 on Urbanspoon
Lobster congee at Fisherman's Terrace ($20)
Best hangover breakfast to have on a Sunday morning with your dim sum ritual.  Served in a traditional wooden pot, it is a blend of flavourful lobster-simmered, silky congee is great for sharing. The pieces of lobster are pre-smashed so they can easily be enjoyed without getting your hands all dirty.  

Fisherman's Terrace Seafood 釣魚台海鮮酒家 (時代坊內) on Urbanspoon

Lotus wrapped rice with lobster, shrimp and scallops at Golden Bauhinia ($38)
This family-size dish will definitely fill you up.  It is definitely the high end version of the typical 'lo mai gai' at dim sum.  While they are not stingy on the seafood, you will definitely be stuffed by what seems to be bottomless amount of glutenous rice.  And don't forget to pack some gum, this dish is loaded with steamed garlic.  

Golden Bauhinia Restaurant 金紫荊小館 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dining with royal round 2; Secret Location

Secret Location's concept combines everything trendy from food, luxury, fashion, art, and contemporary design. Located right beside the ever-buzzling Chill Winston in Gastown, this not-so-secret spot is actually really hard to miss as its white open space with fluorescent lighting would turn heads for any passerby.  Not an average lounge in the city, it is worth stopping by if you want to indulge in the ambience of the glitz and glam.  Of course, when dining with His Majesty, one wouldn't expect for anything less. 


Secret Location's got great selections of specialty cocktails.  I ordered one which has the name associated with a kimono.  The cucumber taste was quite prominent, but I found it light and refreshing. Sir A&W ordered a very mean looking 'Arsenic', an indigo-coloured concoction served in a tall glass like the ones the evil queens drink from in fairy tales.  It was as mean and stiff as it looked, and worth every penny.

Plowman's Platter was a great plate to share with a group.  It arrived with a basket of  I'm not sure if I remember this correctly (the Kimono got to me), but I think it was 'duck tongue' terrine, which I really liked. It was smoky, sweet and salty like Chinese char siu pork.  The aged cheddar was sharp and wonderful, while the homemade mustard was delightful pairing with the other charcuterie.  The one lone pickled Romanesco broccoli was peculiar and fascinating to look at as it was my first contact with it.    
 The Qualicum beach scallops with parsnip and  bone marrow ravioli, chanterelle mushrooms, and carrot butterwas an art on a plate.  It actually looked prettier than it tasted.  The ravioli dough was on the extreme end of al dente.  Though His Majesty loved it that way, I found it too chewy and hard for my liking.   
This dish looked like it came straight from the garden; Italian burrata, Okanagan peach and nasturtium salad.  The grilled peaches were so sweet and juicy, it made me miss Okanagan and the summer very much.  The salad itself was crisp, the burrata was soft, yet incomparable to the ones served at Cru and Siena.  
Daily selection of canapes that night came with chicken consommé, quail, a dollop creme fraiche, and a cocktail shrimp.  That's the best description I could give.  The quail was very tender, but the other three bites were not so memorable.  
We loved the truffled organic deep fried egg and grilled asparagus, and fontina fondutta.  The black truffle was really faint, but the deep fried egg had a very crispy exterior and soft, runny yolk, which when mixed with the silky cheese sauce, was just delicious.
I stole a bite off Lady Chang's crispy skin Polderside duck, another art on a plate.  Cooked medium rare, it was very similar to the duck I had the previous night at L'Abbatoir, but with less sauce.  Again, when they say 'crispy' skin, I really wish they took it to heart and made it really crispy! 
My pick for main entree, grilled AAA striploin with peppercorn sauce and potato zucchini galette.  Though the striploin was much too chewy for my liking, despite being medium rare, I absolutely loved the zucchini galette.  Thin, crispy layers of golden brown potato pastry with even thinner alternating layers of sliced zucchini.  There were interesting components on there; the fava beans, and the pecorino stuffed squash blossom which strangely tasted very much like a dessert. 
Artichoke and black truffle gnocchi with English peas and Reggiano parmesan sounded excellent.  In reality, it was really dry.  The texture of the gnocchi was what's expected, and slightly on the chewy side.  It tasted great the first few bites, but, even with the truffle, it wasn't enough to keep us interested.  
Lady Chang finished her meal off with Petits Fours of the Moment, the passion fruit tart on the lower left corner won her over.  

At Secret Location, you can indulge on the aesthetics; elegantly presented food, and chic atmosphere.  
Secret Location on Urbanspoon