Thursday, August 30, 2012

3 hour dinner at Le Parisien French Bistro

It's been a while since my last visit to a French bistro.  P picked Le Parisien on Denman as a place of choice for the night.  I had to say that when we walked through that door, we didn't think we'd spend almost the rest of the night there and walked out with mixed feelings about this place.

While I was running late for dinner and had to be picked up, B had already ordered for us.  I'm pretty sure it was around half an hour for the time it took for B to sit down, ordered, and food arrived before I showed up.  Three appetizers arrived and they rested before the starving B as she waited for our arrival.  Between that time, she was constantly hounded by hostess/server/manager, we weren't sure what she was, whether the party was still coming.  It would've been fine if she got the message we were still coming just running late the first time, but we didn't think it would take her a couple more times until we arrived that she understood the rest of the party was coming.

I got there around 8 o'clock, the restaurant was at its full capacity, although there was nobody else waiting for tables.  The atmosphere was what you'd expect from a bistro; more laid back and very lively.  The appetizers had not gotten cold by that time.  We dug in like hungry wolves.

First dish, I'm a cheese lover and, quite frankly, their French onion fondue just blew me away.  Imagine broth-less French onion soup with 5 x more cheese than regular.  Dipping a baguette into the gooey melted gruyere with caramelized onions and a note of sherry.  Pure indulgence and happiness.  The best part? the slightly burnt, but crispy edges.  That was probably the best dish we had.

The second appetizer was a classic beef tartare with waffle fries and salad.  I like this combination a lot but no one else seemed to be too impressed with the beef tartare.  I think it had a lot of flavours and went well with waffle fries.
Next up was the escargot en cocotte, another dish I really liked here second to the French onion fondue.  Escargot and cremini mushrooms were baked in an aromatic cognac infused cream and topped with bread crumbs.  Served along side were caramelized roasted garlic and crostini.

While we were munching on the appies, suddenly it daunt on us that a bottle of wine would be a splendid idea.  Here's the thing, the bistro didn't have a server for particular section so we just had to grab whoever was available.  P ordered it with the hostess/manager lady right away and our wine was never seen or heard back about again.  As we started lurking around to ask about our wine, a server, a true Frenchman and reminded me of the Paul in the movie Unfaithful, approached us and said he would check up on our wine.  Another server came to our table, asked who we ordered the wine to, apologized for the missing wine, refilled our water. P pointed to the wine she wanted and ordered with her and was brushed off as she walked away from our table after finished pouring the water.  Meanwhile, the rest of us had a WTF expression on our faces as we watched P ordering to herself.   At some point, someone took her order for the third time.  Paul came back with a different bottle than we ordered, saying they were out and this one was just as good.

Our French wine came, a 2010 M. Chapoutier Cotes Rousillon Bila-Haut.  It was smooth as silk.  At some point I even wondered if there was alcohol in here.  I felt it after the bottle, though.  It was a good thing we had wine to keep us company because little did we know that despite ordering the entrees the same time as the appies, it would take another hour before more food came out.

I went to the washroom and scoped out what was going on.  The restaurant died down by a lot at this time.  I peaked through the kitchen if there was only one chef working on overdrive.  No, there were 5. Finally, we asked Paul, the only person who didn't make our table feel invisible, to check up on our entrees.  Paul brought out entrees as soon as he went to check.

 Someone ordered duck confit, which normally I would be excited for.  However, there was way too many cannellini beans in this dish for my liking. The duck was baked into the dish and the meat was really tender.
The second entree, an 'onglet' or hanger steak frites with peppercorn sauce.  The steak looked really small to me compared to the frites.  I liked the steak, though.  It was juicy and tender and the peppercorn sauce was wonderful.  
A side dish of gratin dauphinois or scallop potatoes was really good.  Again, the cheese was amazing and it was like eating potato fondue.  

I'm not quite sure what to take of the service.  I felt like we were ignored when we needed them, and constantly interrupted, and, at times, pushy.  Don't get me wrong, they were definitely not rude and were quite professional. I guess it was just wrong timing that made it super awkward and almost annoying.  The only person who was attentive enough to us was Paul, and I'm not saying that just because he looks like a movie star either.
Our expression throughout the night
 We ordered desserts; a citrus parfait and crepe suzette for only $7 each.  The citrus parfait had a creamy, zesty calamansi custard on the bottom.  It was layered with blueberry preserve and fluffy meringue and topped with an almond cookie.  
Crepe suzette was just plain outstanding.  The texture of the crepe was good, the orange Grand Marnier sauce was even better.  

Overall, if you're looking for rustic French comfort food, Le Parisien is right on the map amongst others like Bistrot Bistro.  Price is also very reasonable, by the way.   From my particular experience, I'll probably only go back if I have another 2.5 hours to dine on a weeknight though.  

Le Parisien on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Upper class hot pot at G-Be Izakaya

I recently went to G-Be Izakaya in Burnaby and it just became one of my favourite places to go for hot pot.  

  For a hot pot place, G-Be is more attractive than the other ones I've been too.  The restaurant was pretty dimly lit where we were sitting with spotlights shining straight at each table, which is why I was able to take decent pictures of food here.  The atmosphere is reflective of a Japanese zen garden with a wooden Torii gate (like the ones at shrines) and origami installed from the ceiling.  One side of the wall had an installation of a sand garden which I thought was pretty cool.  Service was prompt and the staff were really polite.  At the sound of my chopstick dropping and hitting the ground, someone hurried off to our table with a new pair for me.  I was impressed.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Shark fin movement and Preperation H

Without a doubt, there has been a growing concern over shark fins being served in Chinese restaurants world wide and the government in various countries have banned sale and consumption the delicacy. Some activists also take it to the extreme and protest outside any random chinese restaurants which may or may not serve shark fins.

While I'm not going to go into much details about animal cruelty issues, culture, activism and controversy around the topic, I recently discovered a peculiar observation.  For years, I have spent a lot of money and searching the world for an eye cream that actually works.  I have tried A LOT of products natural, expensive, over the counter, etc. with still no satisfaction.  I have heard for quite sometime that Preperation H, the cream you use to stop the swelling on haemorrhoid effectively reduces mad eye bags.  Could this be my answer?

I was still reluctant.  So before I purchased it, I was sure to read the ingredients on the label to see what are in it before I lathered up the cream that's supposed to be on your @$$ all over my eyes.  You can't be too careful right?

The one of the first few ingredients listed, meaning they have the highest % concentration, is shark liver oil.  It definitely was not listed as an inactive ingredient or derivative either.  So, Preperation H, the over the counter cream sold worldwide, has an ingredient derived by the very same animal people are going on a witch hunt to protect.  Yet, nothing's being said and done by the shark activists or the government.  Clearly I haven't done much research into this matter and it was something I recently noticed.  If any activisits, scientists, consumers out there care to fill me in on this subject, I'm all ears.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer night lounging at Reflections

Located on the 4th floor of Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Reflections is a great haven to escape from hectic urban life and wind down.  MaynaMerh gave me the DL of this place when she went on a lady's night escapade and pre-ordered a group menu, consisting of almost everything on the menu for $50 pp of West coast style tapas.  I was in an adventurous mood and searching for a new place I've never been to.  Somewhere with a mellow atmosphere, and after looking through Mayna's pictures, I thought Reflections would be a great spot to celebrate my ____th birthday with my closest friends and family.  

So one Wednesday night, we were decked up to the nines.  As soon as I stepped on to the rooftop lounge, I immediately fell in love with the space.  Unfortunately, I couldn't translate the setting into photos, only through descriptive words.  Umm let me see.. The open air lounge had a New York City feel being surrounded by metro high rises , the outdoor lounge sets a mood with a tranquil pond and a waterfall to one side.  Seatings are extremely spacious and comfortable and we could sit there all night.  There's a fire pit and blankets to warm you up if the evening gets too cold.  The place was lively with upbeat music.  It was trendy, yet sophisticated and laid back.  

We shared a bottle of Prosecco Veneto, and by we, I mean mostly me.  There aren't too many selections for grubs and so we ordered almost everything on the menu.   

Merh raved about their beautiful watermelon salad.  It was presented beautifully and drizzled with basil puree and feta cheese.  But there was more to the salad than the eyes can see.  The watermelon cubes were saturated with something that made them more juicy and flavourful.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but it was really refreshing.  
Marinated chicken breast with arugula was rustic in ensemble. The chicken breast was tender, and the chorizo sausages added the smokiness, and spices to the dish.  I probably wouldn't order this again since there wasn't much vow factor in it except that the dish can fill you up more than the other ones.  Plus, there was way too many white beans in there for me to appreciate.  
Grilled albacore tuna, sundried tomatoes and tapenade.  The crusted tuna was nicely seared and, I've never paired it with tapenade before and they went quite well together.  
Spanich Manchego cheese with freshly sliced country style ham, quince paste, fig, toasted hazelnuts.  The grilled sourdough was crispy but they definitely did not give enough for the platter. This was a great plate to share and the sharp Manchego cheese was great to pair with the bubbly we were drinking.  
The scallop ceviche was one of my favourite dishes here.  Served over tomato aioli, and drizzled with lime vinaigrette, there was enough acidity and kick in flavours and the scallops were really fresh.  
Marinated flat iron steak with chimichurri sauce--while I loved the chimichurri sauce and the side of roasted vegetables with pine nuts, I wish the marinated steak had more to it.  Even with the sauce, it still fell short of flavours. 
Another dish I had high hopes for was the crispy polenta.  The polenta came out in cubes reminding me of fried tofu. They were topped with black olives, some tomatoes, and served over red pepper Romesco sauce.  The crisp exterior had a hard, grainy, corn-meal like texture, followed by the smooth mashy interior.  Again, there wasn't much flavour and I had to smear it with a lot of sauce.
Sweet trio with macarons, spicy brownie, lemon meringue tart and chef's special macarons in 5 flavours.  The macarons were really soft and fresh.  The crumbled easily and had a soft chew to them.  Definitely some of the best ones I've had in the city.
My birthday cake was the decadent chocolate raspberry turron.  The cake was a rich dark chocolate layered with tart raspberry and hazelnut. 

There's only a few weeks left of summer in Vancouver and it's best to take advantage.  I could spend hours coiled up on their comfy oversized couch with some cocktails and just chat the night away.   Reflections is on the top of my list for lounging in style relishing in short-lived summer nights. 

Reflections (Rosewood Hotel Georgia) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Minami; Best fusion rolls and place to go on a date

Why Minami makes an excellent choice  to go for a dinner date? 
- Great ambience.  Modern and upscale decor.  Professional service.
- The food.  Unique, fusion, beautifully presented.  While a place like this may seem to serve not so authentic sushi at small portions,  you can count on Minami serving delicious creations with excellent quality control.  If you're not happy, a manager will always make sure you are.  
- Price is higher but still affordable, be expected to drop at least over $100 for 2 people. 
-Good selections of exotic cocktails and wine. 
Conclusion: It's a great place to impress someone with your excellent taste in fine foods.  You can chat about whatever over sushi and cocktails creates a sexy mood.  Meanwhile you can try to flex your knowledge in Japanese cuisine.

And now food and drinks in review.

The cocktails
Finding shiso in Vancouver is just as rare as finding really fresh uni.  So, I was impressed that fresh shiso is used in many dishes and coctails at Minami. I ordered shiso mojito, a Japanese version with muddled shiso leaves and soju, which was really refreshing.  It took me back to memories of drinking shiso umeshu in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

The first drink P ordered also had a shiso leaf in it, but she absolutely couldn't stand the taste.  She was recommended to try Pacific Pimm's, sake cocktail infused with elderflower.  She loved it.  There was no 'cough syrupy taste' in there.  
The very first dish we had was Miso baked duck breast with watercress, ginger braised carrots, potato fondant, oranges.  The duck breast had a sweet glaze, slightly salty.  The meat was plump, slightly charred and smoky.  We would've liked it more medium rare or tender. I liked it with the oranges but no one else seemed to care for it.

Next up, shiso mojito watermelon with citrus cured scallops, goat cheese, pickled celery and micro greens. The shiso was present, but discrete.  The watermelon and goat cheese came together in a weird 'opposites attract' phenomenon which I can't figure out who was the first person who figured these 2 could work together.   The flavours came nicely all together.  But because there were so many competing textures and flavours, the scallops unfortunately got lost in this dish.   I couldn't even tell I was eating it along with everything else.  The last bite of the watermelon I tasted a strong alcohol saturation.  It was a pleasant surprise and I wonder why not all the watermelon pieces were as saturated.

Like its sister restaurant, Miku, Minami also thrives on the same specialty; aburi, flame-seared sushi.  Their "no wasabi no soy sauce" concept at a Japanese restaurant was what I viewed as inconceivable before I set foot inside the restaurant.  

There was no way I was going to enjoy my sushi or rolls without at least wasabi!?!

Alas, I got my head out of the concrete bubble and went in open minded to see what Minami has to offer.  

We read about the Aburi beef, the Minami experience.  It is described as aged premium Angus beef, thinly sliced.  I might add that, when they say "beautifully marbled and tender" on the menu, there was no false advertisement there.  We tried both the carpaccio and the Minami roll.  It is absolutely everything they described and much more, definitely an indulging experience.  
Aburi carpaccio, pictured above, was by far one of the most memorable and unique beef carpaccio variation I have come across to date.  Strong words. But the difference definitely lies in the beef, which was so tender, there's no other word but 'delicious' to describe it.  The other components of the carpaccio just added to it.  Sweet and crisp Asian pear and lotus chips added nice crunch.  Arugula was a great choice and it was great with the zesty jalapeno-garlic ponzu.  The poached egg, I believe the server mentioned it was sous-vide.  At any rate, it wasn't too runny but thick enough to bind everything nicely together into a thicker sauce.  

Sushi chef aburi-ing it up
Before I could get over how good that plate of carpaccio was, our trio of rolls arrived.  They were a good size, not too large or small, and beautifully presented.  My mouth watered over more aburi beef.  

On the far left, we had the Pacific roll which was pretty good.  The albacore tuna was lightly seared with a refreshing dab of avocado sauce on top.  I couldn't really taste the shiso, but with this roll, I wanted wasabi to go with it.   
The Minami roll, aburi beef short rib with spicy prawn and topped with wasabi masatake (soy sauce, green onions, and sesame oil). The short rib was more marbled that the carpaccio, which means it had more tender fatty part.  The texture of the beef was already to die for.  The bit of sauce on top of the roll and spicy prawn were awesome flavour boosters, like adding more crowd to the party. I enjoyed every bite of that roll.  

We also tried Miku's famous Aburi Salmon Oshi Sushi which everybody always raved about.  it was simplistic, yet it was our number one pick that night.  The torched top layer of salmon was smokey with the texture literally melted in my mouth.  The Miku sauce was some kind of seasoned mayo/aioli.  The pressed sushi was layered with a fresh piece of salmon.  The one slice of jalapeno was a nice kick.  I could've used wasabi and soy sauce here again, but...I didn't feel I need to.  The sushi rice was also really well seasoned to be enjoyed on its own. Wow, the liberation... It was an eye opening experience with a mouthful of happiness. 

Just when I thought my minds couldn't have been more blown away that night, we added Miku roll to the table. It  had typical maki ingredients; flying fish roe, salmon, crab and uni.  But, darn it, just because it had the special Miku sauce and it was torched, it was also one of the best rolls ever.   It was creamy, smoky, and just heavenly.  There was also a lot more crunch from all the popping flying fish roe.  There was less rice than then pressed sushi so it's not as heavy on the stomach.
To end things off, we ordered just one dessert to share, the strawberry rhubarb charlotte.  The strawberry mousse cake was light and fluffy.  Under it was a layer of chocolate chip spongecake.  Along side was a raspberry sorbet, rhubarb compote, fresh berries and whipped cream.  It was a nice finishing dessert that wasn't too sweet, and more tart and refreshing.  

Lessons of the day: 
Minami/Miku serve almost everything torched.
Anything torched tastes good here.
Always order Aburi carpaccio, Minami roll, Aburi salmon oshi sushi and Miku roll all to self.

Minami on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio

My family and I visited Aura at Laurel Point hotel on a beautiful sunny day.  It was a perfect setting for brunch; a picturesque oceanside scenery, warm weather, a quiet setting, and we didn't have a care in the world but to enjoy ourselves.

Aura offers contemporary Pacific West Coast inspired creations with influences from Japanese and Hawaiian cuisines.  There were a lot of more items on their lunch menu we didn't get to try since it was Sunday brunch.  Nonetheless, we really enjoyed a lot of the dishes here.

The complimentary chocolate and zucchini bread and refreshing strawberry banana smoothies were a really nice touch.   The zucchini bread was presented with a cute fresh flower.  Mini jars of jams, peanut butter and honey were there for you to go crazy on. I'm not a fan of raw bananas, but I was ready to order more of these smoothies.

Brunch just wouldn't be brunch without eggs benny.  Aura's Crab Benny is served with soft poached eggs over meaty Dungeness crab cakes.  The toasted brioche was fluffy with crispy edges, way better than the typical mundane English muffin.  The hollandaise sauce was nice and creamy, yet not too heavy.  Although it was infused with shiso, the flavour wasn't too overwhelming but very fragrant. Along side were melon salad and "home fries", or roasted fingerling potatoes.
Albacore tuna and tomato poke was our most memorable dish here.  Rather than typical guacamole, the chef put a spin on it and took it a step further, by making it into an avocado sorbet.  It was a fun and exciting plate with a party of flavours.  The tuna and tomato were well marinated and went great with the bed of noodles underneath.  The sorbet was really rich with fresh avocado taste, kinda like eating a frozen avocado paste.  Of course, it had to be eaten along with the tuna poke rather on its own.  I find that you only need a little bit of the sorbet to go with the tuna, though.

The steak sandwich was a favourite of my carnivorous sister.  The 6 oz. strip loin was served medium, though could have been more rare, but still very tender.  Over it were 2 jumbo onion rings, fragrant truffle mayo (mmm...) and toasted herb torpedo buns.  The frites arrived hot and crispy and we blamed ourselves for not ordering a side of truffle mayo to dip them in.  The newspaper-wax paper was a nice touch.  

Grilled romaine heart with crispy pancetta, soft poached egg, parmesan and pesto vinaigrette.  Compared to other dishes, this dish did the least for us.  Some parts of the romaine weren't grilled all the way through. And despite having most of my favourite ingredients, the dish wasn't enough to keep me interested after a few bites.
 We ended brunch with a few sweet notes.  The server recommended the 'Carmelia Valhrona Chocolate Bar'.  We took his words and we were glad we did.  This was no ordinary chocolate bar.  The texture was smooth with rich, dark chocolate flavour. It also had pop rock crunch which fizzled in your mouth with every bite.  Very exciting stuff.  The salted caramel ice cream on the side was wonderful with everything else around it.  Kudos.
 Lemon thyme cheesecake was also really nice.  I'm not a huge cheesecake fan as some can be too rich and I find it hard to swallow down without chasing with a glass of water.  But this cheesecake was more smooth and velvety, and very lemony in flavour.  It had a pleasing presentation being served with vibrant raspberry coulis and fruit salad.
I would definitely come back to Aura again for their relaxing atmosphere and exciting creations!

AURA waterfront restaurant + patio on Urbanspoon