Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dine Out at The Oakwood Canadian Bistro

Our first dine out this year led us to the Oakwood in Kitsilano.  I've always been intrigued by their rustic, yet contemporary spin on Canadian comfort food using local ingredients. So, I was happy we made this place one of our destinations.


Pork ravioli was the most visually appealing dish.  Wasabi butter was a beautiful emerald green while pork rinds and radish sprout gave a decorative arrangement to the plate.  The texture of the ravioli was quite thick, reminding me of asian dumplings.  The pork was shredded, much similar to pulled pork texture.  The wasabi butter, I found, didn't quite help amplify the flavour and I wish they used a sauce that was thicker and richer to help enhance the flavours of the ravioli.  
Confit albacore tuna, white bean puree was served in a jar and on a wooden block for an extra rustic feel.  Altogether, the combination made a very smooth spread on the crisp garlic crostinis.  The taste was slightly acidic, but refreshing enough that you don't get sick of eating it after a few bites.
Smoked cheddar cauliflower soup was a great comforting dish on a cold night.  It was creamy with a slight sharpness. The tang from tomato foam just lightly diffused a little bit of acidity into the soup and brightened things up.   Happily floating thyme croutons added crisp texture.  


Fish seldom blow me away, but their maple smoked sablefish was really a winner.  It was fried to crisp on the edges, while the meat remained flakey and buttery texture with a sweet hint of maple.  Cod brandade croquettes were pretty dense and I wish they had a lighter sauce than the puree to dunk it in.   I've never had these cute looking patty pans before.  They had a neat flavour and texture, like hot peppers without the heat.  
The second main to arrive was wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil and baked provolone gratine  served in a skillet.  Okay, it was really cheesy, and since I love cheese so much, there was no such thing as too much cheese.  Or....was there?  It was really filling and I found myself sitting on the sideline digesting after eating more than half of it.  There was a faint hint of truffle oil, and the risotto was really "saucy".  
B ordered sous vide lamp shank to go with her red wine. The meat was fall-of-the-bone tender and juicy from soaking up the tomato nage.  The garlic mash did a great job soaking up all the flavourful broth also.


There were 2 types of Canadian favourite desserts to choose from; 'Nanaimo bar' custard and apple crumble.  Both were served in jars.  I think jars are great as containers and presentation, but switching things up wouldn't hurt anybody.

Warm apple crumble was  home-style, like how we used to make in Home Economics class.  The vanilla bavarian sitting on top was rich and creamy.  The crumble was crispy and buttery, while the caramelized apples had both tartness and sweetness with a hint of cinnamon.  
Initially, I found the Nanaimo bar custard to be a bit too sweet.  But my palette may have adapted because I couldn't get enough of the vanilla custard after.  It was really filling, though.  The ganache had large coconut chunks which gives you more texture to chew from aside from being just smooth and creamy.  

Overall, their $28 3-course menu is a great deal with fair size portion for everything.  For $10 $15 more you can also upgrade to a ribeye steak.  If you are looking to try out the Oakwood for dine out, it is worth a try.  I would recommend the tuna as appetizer, lamb shank as main, and apple crumble for dessert.  

The Oakwood Canadian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lily Mae's

One Saturday night, after we decided half an hour would be too long of a wait for dinner at an establishment in Gastown, we stumbled upon a lovely little spot just seconds down the block.  Lily Mae's was just as buzzling that night.  We had never seen or heard of this French-inpsired bistro before but decided to take a peak to satisfy our curiosity.  I would describe the ambience as warm, cozy, eclectic, and charming. Careful attention are placed in accenting decors with baby blue and white colour schemes.   Space is pretty limited, but I still find the setting quite lovely.  

We were first greeted by Armand, one of the partners of the restaurant.  He was very accommodating to us despite the bistro running at full capacity.  Our server, Natalie, was also very pleasant and, to be honest, we haven't received as attentive service as we did that night in a while.  

The menu has a list of comfort favourites such as the French onion soup, poutine, beef bourguignon,  while the prices are reasonable.  As Lily Mae's is still pretty new to Gastown food scene (it opened last October), some of the items on the menu are being tweaked.  Their winter 3-course menu for $25 is a steal and it includes an appetizer, a main, and a dessert.  You can't go wrong with that.


We chose crab cake and French onion soup as starters and neither one was a disappointment.  The crab cake was served on a bed of arugula and "ebi sauce", a punchy aioli.   What I loved about it was that aside from the crab cake being almost the size of a burger patty, it was actually packed with 90% crab meat.  It had golden crispy on the edges and was excellent with the sauce.  French onion soup was not covered with melted cheese as I had hoped, but it was tasty and comforting, nonetheless.  The crostini was baked with generous amount of cheese.  The broth was savoury, and had a lot of depth.  It was actually the star of the show rather than being blanketed by the bread and the cheese that accompanied it.   


Traditional mussels in tomato or white wine cream sauce replaced sizzling mussels on the menu and also an option on the 3-course menu.  The mussels were fresh and still a good plump size.  They didn't have that strong, distinct (almost rotting) aftertaste that some mussels have when they have been frozen or sitting around too long. I also hate to see them shrink from being overcooked down to particles.  The white wine cream sauce hit the spot and I drank it up like soup. Of course, I also used up the sourdough to soak up all the flavourful broth and they later expanded in my stomach.

Eggplant parmigiana was a great and hearty dish.  There were right amounts of cheese and tomato sauce.  It was like eating a home-cooked, low-carbs and meatless lasagna.  Armand told us it was his own recipe and they will be adding the dish to the regular menu.  
All the dishes were excellent but the rustic meatball risotto particularly  gave us an extra "wow" factor.  For some reason, the turkey and beef meatballs transferred me back to my adolescent memories.  The risotto was cooked just right, the porcini mushroom gravy was rich, earthy, and comforting; creamy but not overwhelming. 


For desserts, there were 2 options; triple chocolate Guiness cake or apple bacon cake.  Of course, without having to think twice, I pounced on the apple bacon cake.  Some may find me twisted but I have a thing for sweet and savoury, not sure why.  I leaned to the couple next to our table who just finished their desserts, "Pss.. which one was better?"  And without hesitation, the husband claimed, hands down, the apple bacon cake was really memorable.  They were both rocking back and forth, completely satisfied out of their minds.  I couldn't hardly wait for mine to arrive.   

When it did arrive, I dove in, making sure I have a good bacon:cake:ice cream: caramel sauce ratio.  



The apple cake was fluffy, buttery,  sweet with caramelized apple chunks, and moist from soaking in the caramel sauce.  The warm texture of the cake with ice cold, creaminess of ice cream, and a salty, crunchy bits of bacon and pecans just put everything together like a work of art.  I could not stop eating it.  So, to say it was good would be an understatement.

The triple chocolate Guiness cake with fruit coulis was also decadent and delicious.  It was rich and compact, but very subtle in sweetness at the same time.  

This dining experience was quite rare to occur where we enjoyed every aspect from the ambience, to service, and quality of the meal.  That night, Lily Mae's was impeccable.  Armand was also one of the driving forces behind creating this positive dining atmosphere.  He was very warm and personable.  I never realized how crucial it is for business owner, particularly in food and service industries, to create positive connection and interaction with their his guests, and thus, creating a good rapport.  Despite being incredibly busy, I don't think one customer felt neglected or unhappy because they waited for the food for too long.  

If Lily Mae's goal is to leave their customers feeling satisfied, then darn it, they were successful on that busy Saturday night.  I'm not just speaking for our table either.  I spoke with a couple next table, and they, too, just stumbled upon this gem and couldn't have left any happier.  Lots of hugs, lots of laughter.  Bravo.  Lily Mae's is definitely making her mark.

Lily Mae's Comfort Café on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Ultimate Nigiri at Ichiro

When I asked a Japanese customer what she thought was the 'best' Japanese restaurant in Richmond, she quickly replied, "Ichiro, it's authentic".  Thus, later that evening, I dragged poor Mr. C to Steveston and found us a table for two.  I observed the environment, the restaurant was quite spacious, yet busy. Service was prompt. Also, the staff were all Japanese.  Could this be the first sign of authenticity? 

One of the sushi chef was in his late 50's, maybe early 60's.  He stood behind the sushi bar with a watchful eye.  I noticed he looked assertive and had an aura of Jiro (Dreams of Sushi), which made me more curious to try the sashimi.  C was already excited by the pages from the menu, filled with pictures and variety.  I was just as ecstatic and didn't know where to begin.  Everything looked and sounded good, particularly from the sushi and sashimi section.  I could swear we wanted to try something that was unique and a specialty, but somehow we just ended up ordering most of the usuals -__-
Have you ever recovered from a flu, only to be attacked by another cold right after? That's what the worst flu season in Vancouver has done to me.  So, a bowl of miso soup seemed to be a legitimate and comforting choice.  We each got one.  There is a version with clams in it, but we just kept it simple. It wasn't too salty or diluted, just a right balance of flavour.  
Okay, here's a specialty dish Mr. C ordered.  Steveston agedashi tofu was visually appealing. I'm a fan of anything wrapped in nori and deep fried. Of course, there was a harmony of textures between soft tofu, asparagus, imitation crab meat, and salmon. Nonetheless, C expressed his disdain for the texture of the salmon as it was dry and slightly overcooked. I agreed that it could go without. The broth could also be a bit more rich to enhance the flavours. We glanced at the next table and drooled over the golden fried dumplings with prawn tails peering out over the sizzling hot plate.

 A short time later, a small order of assorted tempura arrived, which led to a small altercation between C and I as to why no prawn gyoza was substituted instead. No table flipping involved and, of course, it was me who took the blame for not being interested in any gyoza in the first place. While we were less excited to indulge in the tempura, I dove for the fried bean and it was perfectly crispy. The prawns were good as well.  The batter was crispy and not too heavily coated.
Despite our best efforts to not order any more deep fry dishes, Mr. C and I have too much fondness (or weakness) for oily, crispy things.  Ebi mayo was served with a bouquet of sophisticatedly wrapped up greens and drizzle with an acidic and gingery and zesty vinaigrette. My favorite place for ebi mayo is still Guu Garlic. The prawns here were not overly battered and had a little bit sweetness from the mayo, but they somewhat reminded me of the Chinese prawn and peaches.
I don't really have much to describe about the soft shell crab roll and Steveston roll.  Softshell crab in the roll we both thought could have been a tad crispier.  The latter had sweet shrimp, tuna and topped with salmon.  It was a good size with a good filler-rice ratio.  The toro nigiri was quite fresh and melts in your mouth.  I still think the best and unbeatable toro is at Hachi Sushi where the fish just 'glistens'.   Now, let's talk about the U.I.T.
I knew I had to order this ultimate nigiri.  The U.I.T. for $3.50 per piece doesn't come cheap, but trust me, it's all worth while.  It features the 3 superstars of sushi; uni, ikura, and toro.  It's just glorious and so pretty to look at.
I fit the whole thing in one bite and was chewing for a good 30 seconds trying to taste all the components and how they worked together. Fortunately, the uni tasted like it was freshly plucked from the sea (as opposed to the stench from sitting out for a week).  The ikura was popping out 'sea-water' juices with no trace of fishiness, while the toro was smooth and fatty.  Mmmm.... It was a delightful combination to be indulged and savoured.

Last but not least, I thought their deluxe sashimi was fresh and great quality.  It included the basic and luxurious sashimi items; sockeye salmon, tuna, yellowtail, white fish, octopus, geoduck, surf clam, sweet shrimp.  But the one item that blew me away was the hamachi, or farmed yellowtail.
Check out how marbled that piece is!
Hamachi has really high oil or fat content, but the texture is more firm than toro.  So you still get a firm, but buttery taste with a sweet finishing note.  I highly recommend ordering hamachi at Ichiro as it is probably the best I have come across.

Ichiro has gotten it down for quality sushi and sashimi.  As quality should be over quantity, I would skip the cooked food and strictly do a few items from the sushi bar next time.  I'm definitely coming back for more U.I.T, hamachi, and would love to try their kaisendon too.  

Ichiro Japanese on Urbanspoon