Fat Dragon

26 Jun

Fat Dragon is the latest restaurant venture by Tom Doughty and Robert Belcham, who own Campagnolo on Main Street and, until recently, Refuel on 4th.  Refuel closed earlier this year, apparently due to high operating costs.  This is sad as they served the best fried chicken in Vancouver.

Fat Dragon is at 566 Powell; deep in the heart of the impoverished east side, in an area with no other restaurants or indeed shops.  This is definitely a bold move.  This is not a location with foot traffic, not a place people will typically stumble upon; this is a destination restaurant. The theme is Pan Asian with a Southern BBQ twist.

Having read rave reviews, we gathered a group of foodie friends and headed to Fat Dragon a few weekends ago.  All the food is served ‘family style’ and is meant for sharing.  This is what we ordered:

  • ·     2 types of Bao Buns: slow smoked beef and crunchy squid
  • ·         Jalan Alor chicken wings
  • ·         Slow cooked lamb ribs
  • ·         Thick cut Szechuan pork belly
  • ·         Crispy beef ribs
  • ·         Stir fried noodles with smokey drippings

Overall we found the quality of the food to be mixed.  We loved the pork belly; it was full of flavor, not too fatty and really tasty.

The crispy beef ribs were also delish, really tender with the meat falling off the bone.

The lamb ribs were a huge disappointment, being really gamey and fatty; to the point they left a bad taste in your mouth.  Not good at all.

The Bao buns were ok, but the filing inside was on the small side and I found them very bland.  The chicken wings were not bad, but nothing special, they didn’t have much flavor to them.  I did enjoy the noodles, which came with garlic and green onions.

We decided that while the pork belly and ribs were really good, the other dishes were disappointing so we are not in a rush to return.  In a city that is saturated with Pan Asian cuisine it is odd that these renowned chefs decided to go with this theme.  I wish they had decided to open up a fried chicken joint instead!  As a destination restaurant I don’t know how long it will last.
Fat Dragon on Urbanspoon


Pajo’s Fish & Chips

9 May

BC’s highly anticipated spot prawn season kicked off last week so off we headed this past weekend to Steveston fishing village in search of these sweet crustaceans.  Sadly, we arrived too late and could only watch as the fisherman sold his last few pounds of spot prawns to someone else!  Since the commercial season started two days earlier local supplies were low.  As a consolation, we decided to go for fish and chips at Pajo’s.  I’ve read that Pajo’s is one of the best places in Steveston for fish and chips so it seemed like a good choice.

With the sun shining and Pajo’s location on its own waterside dock, this seemed the perfect destination for lunch.  The place was bustling and we had to wait in line for 20 minutes before being served.  We ordered one small portion of cod and chips ($9.99) and one large portion ($12.99) with the intent to share.

At first glance it looked really good.  The fish and chips came wrapped in a paper cone, which reminded me of the way it is served back home in Scotland.  However the meal was very disappointing.  The chips were mushy and inadequately seasoned.  The fish batter was soggy, not crunchy so it slid right off.  Clearly their deep fryer wasn’t hot enough.

Not surprisingly we were dissatisfied with our meal.  We decided that the fish and chips at the concession stands at Kitsilano Beach or Spanish Banks are superior to Pajo’s.  The batter is crunchy and the fries are crispy.  And if you pay a little extra, the best fish and chips in Vancouver can be found at Go Fish opposite Granville Island.  The batter is made with Granville Island beer which is especially tasty and the fish is always cooked to perfection.

Pajo’s is overrated and we won’t be back.

Dinesty Chinese Restaurant

25 Apr

Apart from the airport and IKEA the suburb of Richmond is a mystery to me.  Located south of Vancouver, Richmond is home to the largest immigrant population in Canada.  More than half are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, the majority having moved there in the early 1990’s.  Richmond therefore has a large number of Asian restaurants and last week we ended up at Dinesty on the recommendation of friends.

Not being familiar with Richmond and its excess of authentic Asian restaurants, eating out can be a bit daunting.  Our visit to Dinesty ended up being a great experience.

The restaurant is located just off No 3 Road, at 8111 Ackroyd.  The décor is modern and gives off a contemporary feel.  There’s an entire wall displaying teapots on glass shelves.  As you wait for your food you can watch the chefs at work as the kitchen is open and separated from the restaurant by a glass window.

The place was lively and, not having made a reservation, we waited about 15 minutes for a table.  It was definitely worth it.  We sat near the kitchen and loved watching the chefs preparing food, chopping vegetables at impressive speeds and frying them in huge woks, meticulously wrapping meat into dumplings and making handmade noodles.

We ordered three dishes to share:

Marinated beef with soy sauce pancake
This is a dish I’ve only ever had once before and I haven’t seen it in many Chinese restaurants.  Thin pancake with beef and green onion wrapped up inside, with a sweet soy sauce.  I didn’t enjoy the huge hunks of green onion, I’d prefer it if the onion was sliced thinner, but overall it was a tasty dish that I’d have again.

Shredded pork with hoisin sauce

This was fantastic, really flavorful and something a bit different.  Shredded pork glazed with hoisin sauce and served with skinny pancakes that you wrap the pork in, similar to how Peking duck is served.

Fried handmade noodles with seafood and pork

This contained wonderful handmade noodles, with pork, seafood and vegetables, cooked up in a light garlic sauce.  I loved this dish, the noodles were perfectly cooked, best described as ‘al dente’, and the sauce was really light and flavorful.  I’d go back again just for this dish.

I would definitely make the trek out to Richmond again to eat at Dinesty.  The prices were noticeably cheaper than most comparable Vancouver Chinese restaurants.  The entire meal came to $30, including tax and tip and the portions were generous.  If you’re ever in Richmond or feel like trying something different I’d recommend Dinesty.

Dinesty Chinese Restaurant 聚 on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum at Chinois in Yaletown

9 Feb

I absolutely love dim sum; it is one of my favourite eating experiences.  Dim sum is the Chinese equivalent of brunch with many different tapas-like dishes that are served in mini bamboo steamer baskets.  Dim sum staples include steamed dumplings, BBQ pork buns, sticky rice, and spring rolls.  All are delicious and meant for sharing.

Happily for me,  there are dozens of dim sum places in Vancouver.  We frequent Chongqing on Broadway and Sun Sui Wah on Main Street.  Both serve excellent dim sum and Chongqing in particular has extremely attractive prices, each steamed basket is $3.25.  We go about once per month, have a feast, which rarely costs more than $30 (incl. tip) for two.

I stumbled upon an article in Tourism Vancouver’s blog, Inside Vancouver, last week and discovered that a newish Chinese restaurant in Yaletown was serving dim sum.  This immediately caught my eye.  I am borderline fanatic about dim sum and had to try it ASAP.

Chinois is located at 1035 Mainland Street; it’s a ‘trendy/modern’ Chinese restaurant, like Wild Rice & Bao Bei, and I doubt the owner is Chinese.  As we walked in the first thing I noticed was the lack of customers, I think there was one other table.  Not a great sign.  We ordered 6 dishes:  Shu mai, BBQ pork buns, potstickers, steamed prawn dumplings, prawn toast and prawn spring rolls.

Overall the food was not very good.  The shu mai was really small compared to other places and just did not taste like authentic Chinese.

At first glance the colour of the sweet BBQ pork filling in the pork buns looked grey rather than the usual pink, but the meat was tasty.

The potstickers were described as ‘twice fried’.  While they did have a flavorful sweet sauce, the filling was bland and again they were on the small side.

The steamed prawn dumplings were ok, but just did not taste as good as they usually do in a ‘real’ Chinese restaurant.

Prawn toast is rarely found in most local dim sum restaurants; however it’s a dish I used to eat frequently in Scottish Chinese restaurants and something I love.  It was probably the highlight of the meal, although far too greasy for my liking which made it hard to finish.

Finally the prawn spring rolls were also swimming in grease and contained no vegetables whatsoever.  We couldn’t finish them either.

The bill came to $50, which is far too expensive for 6 dim sum items!  This would have cost $19.50 at Chongqing where the portions are decent and taste delicious.

Sorry Chinois of Yaletown but your dim sum is not authentic, too expensive and not worth it.  I won’t be back!

Chinois on Urbanspoon

Why I think Dine-Out Vancouver is a poor reflection of a restaurant

31 Jan

Dine-Out Vancouver is now is its 10th year.  This event runs from the last week in January to the end of the first week in February and aims to encourage locals to enjoy a 3-course meal at a participating restaurant for a reduced price.  All offer a set menu with typically 3 choices for each course, and the set menu usually varies between $18, $28 or $38.

Overall this is a great concept.  Entice locals to go out and spend money in January/February when most restaurants are dead and people’s wallets are still recovering from Xmas.  Until a few years ago Dine-Out’s prices were either $15 or $25 for a 3-course meal.  We participated in this for a number of years; we ate at Cru, Delilah’s, the Boathouse, and Chambar to name a few.

However after a few years we realized that Dine-Out is really a poor reflection of a restaurant and we stopped going.  We found that most of the participating restaurants try to squeeze in 2 or 3 seatings per night, so you feel like you are being rushed through your meal.  Friends who work in restaurants always grumble about Dine-Out as it brings in customers who are overly  price conscious and who typically don’t leave good tips.  Thus the staff are often grumpy and rushed off their feet.  Not good.

We noticed that the food options were often the cheaper choices on the menu, with lots of chicken and salmon for example.  Really tasty items were rarely offered.  We ended up feeling like we really did not gain a true reflection of what the restaurant has to offer.  So, we have not Dined- Out for the last 3 or 4 years.

This year some friends invited us to join them at Chambar on the first day of Dine-Out 2012.  Yes the food was good, with venison carpaccio, mussels and chips and a chocolate caramel log for dessert; however the price is now $38 for 3 courses.  While this may sound like a good deal, our meal cost almost $200 for 2, including  a bottle of wine, and a couple of $9 cocktails (not much discount considering they usually cost $10)!  We were left feeling this was not much of a deal at all!

When we go out we usually have 2 courses and some drinks.  Therefore we could have gone to any number of gourmet restaurants, eaten 2 courses from the regular menu, spent the same amount of money, and actually got what we wanted!

If you’re into eating good food Dine-Out is no longer good value.  I recommend that you avoid Dine-Out Vancouver as you are not going to save much money and you may well walk away with a bad taste in your mouth! It really is not worth the small amount of savings.

Porchetta at Pronto

19 Nov

A year ago I had not heard of porchetta, now it seems to be everywhere.  In case you’ve not yet come across this Italian culinary wonder, porchetta is boneless slow-roasted pork that has been cooked with herbs and is typically served chopped up in a sandwich.  I must say it’s absolutely delicious, chunks of tender meat laced with herbs and crunchy pork crackling.  It’s my idea of heaven in a sandwich.

My first experience of this meaty delight was at the sandwich shop, Meat and Bread, where it is served on crunchy ciabatta with salsa verde.  Then Big Lou’s the butcher started making them. Now a great new Italian café on Cambie Street called Pronto I’ve just discovered is specializing in porchetta, so I can get my fix without going downtown!

Pronto is located at 3473 Cambie Street, it’s a small Italian joint serving up lunch and dinner.  Its classic art deco design with dark mahogany booths is fabulous; it really feels like an authentic Italian café.  As well as porchetta, Pronto offers daily sandwiches, sides such as cannellini beans, olives and a daily soup.  They also serve daily homemade Italian desserts and excellent coffee.

I’ve been twice now.  On my first visit I tried the porchetta sandwich; it certainly lived up to my expectations, really tasty tender meat on soft French bread.  Although I’d prefer to have it served with a salsa verde or chimmichurri sauce, I find these parsley and vinegar based sauces help to cut the rich fatty flavor.  Next visit I tried the daily sandwich special, steak with caramelized onions.  The meat was extremely flavorful and altogether an enjoyable experience.

On both visits Pronto was bustling (a good sign for sure), however the service was a bit muddled.  It’s confusing as to whether you should sit yourself or order from the bar.  On each visit we sat ourselves, but no one took our order so we ended up standing up and ordering ourselves.  Not a big deal, but a little frustrating when other people (who arrived after us) were being served first by the waitress.  I reckon these are just teething problems.  Once you order the food comes fast and its fun watching the sandwich-maker slice up the roast pork.

I will definitely return to Pronto.  I really enjoy the atmosphere and it’s a great destination for a tasty sandwich and a latte.  For more info check out their website http://www.prontocaffe.ca/ 

Pronto Caffe on Urbanspoon

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain

31 Oct

Anthony Bourdain is my culinary hero.  He rose to fame in 2000 after writing Kitchen Confidential, which became an international best seller and gave him celebrity status overnight.

In my mind he’s the cool guy of the culinary world, the Lou Reed of cooking.  He worked his way through the New York culinary underbelly in the 80’s and 90’s, battling drug addictions and experiencing firsthand the perils of working in the restaurant scene.  After the success of his book, he left the kitchen and since 2005 has been hosting his own TV series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the US Travel Channel, arguably one of the best shows on TV.  He now travels the globe eating weird and wonderful cuisine.  He’s even been to Edinburgh where he sampled a deep fried king rib at a local chip shop!

Last year he published his sequel to Kitchen Confidential:  Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.  And this past weekend Mr. Bourdain was in Vancouver, promoting the book and speaking about his adventures.  We of course bought tickets and spent the evening with Mr. Cool at the Vancouver Centre for Performing Arts.  I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

Dressed in black and looking sophisticated, Anthony took the audience on a behind the scenes tour of No Reservations, explaining how they manage to get away with showing footage that some might view as inappropriate or even illegal.  Such as eating hallucinogenic plants in South East Asia and munching on a raw seal eyeball during a traditional Inuit hunt.

He ranted about his dislike of vegetarians and the Food Network (albeit admitting their parent company has recently bought the Travel Network).  He expressed utter frustration about US chain restaurants that regularly ruin good food.  In particular the Olive Garden, which he stated he can’t help but fantasize about blowing up!  He described hilarious ideas about teaching kids to form negative associations with McDonald’s, by for example convincing them that good old Ronald McDonald is an evil kidnapper.

He was extremely candid and open with a wonderful ironic and sarcastic sense of humor.  He talks about things as he sees them, a quality I respect and enjoy very much.

For the last 30 minutes of the evening he invited the audience to ask questions.  When asked his opinion about Gordon Ramsey’s hit TV show, Hell’s Kitchen, he called it “an exercise in humiliation that has nothing to do with cooking”!  Raising the point I have asked myself many times, where do they get these pathetic people who can’t cook to save themselves.  So funny, I am still laughing.

When asked about his favourite place to eat in Vancouver, he diplomatically stated that he doesn’t know the city well enough to say, although he did mention that a good friend had recommended L’Abattoir, in Gastown.

Our evening with Anthony Bourdain was a great experience.  If you love food and travel I recommend you read his books and watch his TV show.

Save on Meats

4 Oct

The ‘Save on Meats‘ sign has been an iconic part of the Vancouver skyline since 1957 and this butcher has been a Vancouver institution for over 50 years. Save on Meats represents a time past when Vancouver was the neon capital of North America, when Hastings Street was still thriving and before big box stores ruled the world!

In 2009 when original owner Al Des Lauriers retired and closed the business most assumed (including Al) that the building would be torn down and turned into yet another ugly high-rise. A very likely scenario in a city that rarely preserves its history. Local restaurateur Mark Brand (who owns Boneta, The Diamond & Sea Monster Sushi in Gastown) has rescued Save on Meats from this fate & has revamped this Vancouver landmark.

This 22,000 square foot area has been divided, one half remains a butcher and the other side is now a diner. The space feels and looks retro, high ceilings (which is rare for Vancouver) & quintessential diner decor. Walking inside you feel like you’ve gone back to the 1950’s with dark green tables, brown booths and counter seating.

While the food is far from gourmet, they are serving diner staples like burgers ($6), hot chicken sandwiches ($8) & meatloaf ($9), classic N. American comfort food at reasonable prices.

Save on Meats is located at 43 West Hastings Street, in one of Canada’s poorest neighborhoods. This is a block most people avoid. By re-doing Save on Meats, Mark Brand has helped to rejuvenate life back into a block that has long stagnated while preserving a piece of Vancouver’s history. Something I think is important.

Having opened this summer, we finally made it to the diner this past weekend. I had the hot chicken sandwich with fries. It was made with real (not processed) chicken and homemade gravy. The fries were disappointing, too thick and not crunchy enough for my liking. The sandwich was on the small side (only one piece of bread) but hey for $8 it’s not a bad deal. Sam had the meatloaf with buttermilk mash, it was well seasoned and seemed to satisfy as the plate was left clean.

The vanilla shake was tasty and the shot of Bailey’s in it was a nice touch. I almost ordered the Knickerbocker Glory for dessert but managed to abstain. I don’t think I have ever seen that on a menu in Vancouver, it’s something I associate with growing up in the UK. It made me feel nostalgic (which I guess is the point). We did buy two chocolate chip cookies to go. They were really good, crunchy with that homemade taste and a steal of a deal for $1 each.

While the food did not blow us away, we enjoyed our meal and our Save on Meats experience. I think next time I go it’ll be for a shake or a dessert. Perhaps a sandwich from Meat & Bread around the corner, followed by a Knickerbocker Glory at Save on Meats!

Save on Meats on Urbanspoon

Sha-Lin Noodle House

30 Sep

Last night we went to Sha-Lin Noodle House at 548 West Broadway (between Ash & Cambie).  We’d been to this restaurant about 2 years ago and really enjoyed it so figured it was time to visit again.  As the name implies, Shan-Lin specializes in noodles, hand-made noodles to be exact.

This restaurant is not fancy; it’s a typical ‘hole in the wall’ Chinese with awful strip lighting and pictures of menu items covering the walls.  We arrived at 6pm and the place was practically full, clearly a good sign (especially when the majority of the clientele are Asian).

The menu is huge, to the point it’s almost overwhelming.  It features lots of Chinese soup, dumplings and of course noodles.  You can select different types of noodles, such as cutting, dragging, pushing or round noodles and you can watch the chef preparing them in the kitchen.  It’s definitely an art form and fun to observe while you wait for your food.

We ordered 3 dishes to share: Shredded Pork with Hoisin and Green Onions, Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings and Cutting Noodles with Peppered Beef and Vegetables.

Shredded Pork with Hoisin, Green Onions (& Pancakes)

The shredded pork was delicious; it tasted sweet and really flavorful.  When we ordered this the waitress asked if we wanted pancakes with it.  Of course I said yes (I love Peking duck with pancakes & this is similar), however when the bill arrived it cost an extra $3.50 for them.  I found this a bit of a rip off and rather misleading!

Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings

On our first visit to Sha-Lin Noodle House, we had seen another table eating the pan-fried dumplings & thought they looked enticing.  We attempted to order them but got it wrong and ended up with steamed dumplings.  This time we made sure we ordered the right ones and what arrived was rather unique.  They are pot stickers that are literally fried-up in a pan all together.

The pork filling inside was yummy and perfectly seasoned, however the dough was much thicker than regular dumplings.  While I enjoyed them, I don’t think I’d order this dish again.  There was far too much dough and not enough meat, plus this dish is too much for 2 people, we took most of it home.

Cutting Noodles with Peppered Beef & Vegetables

We both loved the cutting noodles.  These are hand-cut noodles that are roughly cut from a piece of dough.  They are cooked al-dente & have a great texture.  That said, we were not impressed with the rest of the dish.  The vegetables were totally undercooked (the onion tasted raw) and there was not much beef or sauce with the noodles, definitely disappointing.

While we enjoyed our meal, we’re not in a rush to return.  As we left Sha-Lin we noticed that there’s another Chinese restaurant a few doors down that was packed & also features handmade noodles.  I think we’ll give them a try next time we’re in need of a noodle fix.

Castle Terrace Restaurant

3 Aug

Castle Terrace Restaurant in Edinburgh opened July 2010 and has already received a prestigious Rising Michelin Star.  Not a small accomplishment.

Castle Terrace is the latest venture by Tom Kitchin, an internationally renowned Scottish chef who runs The Kitchin (also in Edinburgh). The restaurant is headed by Chef Patron Dominic Jack. He has an impressive culinary background, training in a variety of top Michelin restaurants throughout Europe.

While back in Edinburgh last month we stopped in for lunch & discovered Castle Terrace’s fabulous three course set lunch menu for 20 pounds per head (with today’s favourable exchange rate this is approx. $30 Canadian). In fact we were so impressed by the quality & high standards of the food we returned the following week. In a city where top-notch cuisine tends to hurt the wallet, I can’t stress enough that this is a really good value lunch. If I still lived in Edinburgh I think I’d frequent this restaurant at least once a month…!

Located at 33/35 Castle Terrace, in the heart of scenic Edinburgh, Castle Terrace is an elegant space with contemporary décor. Although the place was bustling, it’s clearly a favourite spot for business lunches, the restaurant still has a relaxed atmosphere. While the staff is attentive, they are not in your face & over the top (which is often the case at fine dining establishments). Their mission is “from nature to plate” and they strive to serve seasonal Scottish ingredients. Definitely something I look for in a restaurant and a great selling feature.

As we visited twice I must say that I am very impressed with their level of consistency. The set lunch menu was similar to the previous week & the quality of the food was extremely consistent. There really is nothing worse than an inconsistent restaurant.

The set lunch has 3 options for all 3 courses. Here is a photographic tour of our lunch (the photos are just taken with my iphone, not a fancy camera):

Tartare of line caught mackerel served with gooseberries

This dish was absolutely delicious. Raw mackerel served with croutons & gooseberry sorbet. The delicate texture of the mackerel went really well with the crunchy croutons. And the gooseberry sorbet complimented it perfectly.

Braised & seared Ayrshire pork belly, with black pudding & apple

Sam enjoyed this as his first course & did I on our second visit. The pork belly was bursting with flavour, it was tender & scrumptious.

Curry of free range, corn fed chicken from Burnside Farm

This dish was so good I ordered it on both occasions. A korma based creamy curry, with rice, sultanas, homemade pita & a confit chicken leg.

Braised rabbit from Roxburghshire served with peas & carrots

This was a rabbit pie, with smoked ham. Sam loved it. Rabbit is not something I typically order, but after trying it I realized how tasty it is, especially when cooked really well. The presentation of this dish was magnificent.

I unfortunately didn’t get photos of the desserts. On both trips I had the vanilla creme brulee. It was cooked to order & was perfectly crunchy on top & warm in the middle. Sam enjoyed his British & French cheese that is served from a cart that you personally select.

I should also mention that for 17.50 pounds each you can opt to have a set wine pairing with the lunch. Great idea & good value for 3 glasses of decent wine.

Whether you live in Edinburgh or are just visiting I would highly recommend Castle Terrace. I reckon they are offering one of the best value lunches in the city. Furthermore the food is superb, not fussy, just seasonal & delicious. In my mind they are showcasing some of the best contemporary Scottish cuisine available at an affordable price.

Castle Terrace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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