The corner strip mall on Austin and North Road holds a special place in my heart, as my favourite Burnaby HK Style Cafe when I was little was located next to the current Sushi California. Its name was something like Big Wok, which sounds silly but hey, I was 8, names didn’t matter as long as the food was good.
Unfortunately, my fave spot closed down, and has since been through several incarnations, all of which stuck to the HK Style Cafe cuisine. The most recent replacement is called E2 Cafe (but in Chinese it’s Butterfly something-or-other), and it was with a little apprehension that I went there with my mom one day.
See, my reason for not being so excited was that the last few restaurants that took over weren’t that great. The food was bad, the service was awful, and the restaurant itself wasn’t very clean (actually, a lot of the older HK cafes are pretty questionable…). My visit to the last one left a less-than-stellar taste in my mouth, but my mom ended up dragging me to this one, telling me that it’ll maybe, probably, definitely be better.
The HK Café is often a mixture of Asian and Western dishes (rather, Western dishes with an Asian twist, like spaghetti in a ketchup-based sauce), and E2 seems to be holding true to this style. On the menu here were various appetizers and Western mini specials (for Afternoon Tea), as well as stir-fries and the pick-your-own noodle combos that are permeating many restaurants.
I went for the Noodle Combo ($7.95), and much like my visit to Deer Garden, I opted for a Malaysian Laksa soup base with rice noodles, but had fried fish cake and pork balls for my meat choices. Each bowl of noodles also comes with siu choy, long slippery slices of bean curd, and a sprinkling of cilantro and green onion. I felt that the Laksa wasn’t nearly as spicy or coconut-y as I’d have preferred—in fact, it was rather bland. However, the noodles were prepared perfectly, and there was an abundance of them in the soup, as well as a large amount of toppings. I’m certain that the balls and fish cake were previously frozen, but they still had a good chew to them, so there isn’t too much to complain about there. Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the soup, this was a great deal; there was so much in the bowl, I ended up having to take part of it home.
I really wanted chicken wings that night, so I added an order of Desert Fried Chicken Wings ($2.95 with the noodle combo; $8.95 as a 10-piece appetizer). Guys: I swear these are probably the best chicken wings I’ve had at an Asian diner. Perfectly seasoned and deep-fried, these were crunchy on the outside, but the meat remained juicy on the inside. I probably could devour an entire plate of this by myself if I didn’t order the noodles, and every time I pass by the restaurant, my mouth starts watering from the memory of those wings.
As with most HK Cafes, the meals come with a drink; the great thing about E2 is that the cold drinks are free of charge too, which is a rarity in the Lower Mainland. The last restaurant I went to that had free cold drinks ended up changing their policy within a month. Now paying an extra $1.50 isn’t that big a deal (think about how expensive it is to order drinks at other restaurants!)… but obviously I had to take advantage of this. Needing to stay up to write a paper that night, I went for the HK Style Milk Tea. This was exactly what I was hoping for—there was a good balance of black tea and milk, and the syrup came on the side, so I could choose how sweet I wanted it to be. My mom had a Hot Lemon Tea. There isn’t too much to say about this—the drink was hot, the lemons were fresh, and nothing tasted amiss.
My mom ordered a Mix and Match Combo ($10.75 2 choices, $12.95 3 choices), and chose lamb chops, ox tongue and steak as her meats. These set meals, a staple of HK Cafes, come with soup (sometimes bread), the entree, side of spaghetti/rice/veggies/fries, side sauce, and drink. Out of cream and Borscht, my mom chose the HK Style Borscht, which was made with a tomato base, so this is definitely something that’s been adapted for Asian taste buds. In it were a ton of veggies (celery, potato, carrot) and a few pieces of tender beef brisket. We really liked this hearty, full-flavoured soup, as it wasn’t too watered down, nor was it too salty. As for her main dish, my mom was unable to finish this (which was great since that meant she had lunch for the next day). There was a large spool of spaghetti (more than enough to feed 1 person), and the cuts of meat were large, but remained tender. The lamb didn’t taste too gamey and wasn’t overcooked, despite us not having been asked the degree of doneness we wanted, and the steak was a perfect medium-rare, as if the kitchen read our minds. The two thick slices of ox tongue– tender, juicy and not-too-fatty– were easily the best part of the dish. Some places I’ve been to only serve really thin pieces of overcooked meat, but here each one was prepared well and came in a very generous portion. Our only qualm with the meal is that there weren’t more veggies (but that’s typical of this dish); still, some broccoli florets would’ve helped.
We returned to the restaurants a few weeks later with my cousins, aunts and uncle in tow; they had all been to the restaurant previously and enjoyed it, so we made a Tuesday night get-together of it. My uncle ordered the Lamb Curry ($10.95), with steamed rice served separately. There were quite a few pieces of lamb in the dish, as well as potatoes, peppers and onions (though I wish these were stewed a little longer). I liked the curry sauce as it provided a bit of heat, and wasn’t too sweet and was bursting with coconut flavour. Again, this was a very large portion, though my uncle had no trouble polishing it off.
My mom, Aunt Knife and Cousin Nomi all ordered the Noodle Combo ($7.95 with drink) I had above, but switched out the laksa base with the more traditional cilantro and century egg fish soup. They found that this soup had more flavour and depth, and after trying it, I would order this over the laksa. Again, their noodles were prepared well, and toppings were plentiful; Of note were the slices of luncheon meat (Spam) that Nomi ordered with her noodles, as these were pan-fried perfectly with slightly crisp outer edges.
The boys decided on the Kids Meal (forgot to take down the price, but something like $7), and were really excited to get them. Cousin Ham ordered the pasta in cream sauce meal, which came in a heaping portion of spaghetti with chicken and corn in a sauce that seemed like thickened Cream of Chicken soup. Cousin DingDing, on the other hand, ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese meal (with a ketchup-based meat sauce, which actually didn’t taste as bad as it sounds). Both Kids Meals came with 3 chicken wings (which they loved as much as I did), fries, and a drink (they had Sprite). We all felt that the portion size of this meal was more than adequate, as the boys, who are pretty big eaters, couldn’t finish the meal themselves– plus it was nice that they shared their fries with me, of course.
I like E2 Cafe because of the great food they offer at relatively low prices, as well as its convenience– I live really close by, but it’s also very easily accessible by transit, if one doesn’t want to tackle the horror that is their parking lot (since they share it with Sushi California and the other businesses there). Though there are a few Chinese places nearby, none of them are direct competitors, and I feel that E2 is superior in service anyways. If you live in North Burnaby, and don’t want to trek into Vancouver or Richmond to grab some HK style food, then E2 is definitely the place for you.
E2 Cafe Restaurant
501 B North Rd
Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I make sure to go have congee and noodles for breakfast at least 3 times a week– there’s a little shop near my uncle’s apartment in Tsuen Wan, and my mom and I (sometimes joined by other relatives) would trek over there to feast before heading out on our day. Here, that’s a little difficult, since most places that do serve congee are too far away for me to get to on a regular basis.
In fact, I haven’t had congee in the morning since my visit over two years ago. So when my dad suggested he drive me down to Richmond for breakfast while we waited for my mom to finish up her badminton game, I jumped at the chance to have a Chinese breakfast.
We actually got to Michigan Noodle House on Alexandra Road a few minutes before opening. Funny thing was, if it weren’t for a huge traffic jam on the 91, we would have arrived far too early, and would have chosen some other place to eat. So you could say that it was destiny…
We were the first ones in the restaurant, so we had our pick of the tables. We chose a booth furthest from the kitchen so we (really, I) could watch the goings-on of the waiters and chefs. After checking to see if the congee I wanted was on the menu, we flagged them down to get our order in.
My absolute #1 favourite is the Pork Stomach Congee ($6). My other favourite is the century egg and lean pork congee, but when pork stomach is present on the menu, I always get it. This one was full of thick, chewy pieces of stomach that tasted clean and fresh– stomach, and other innards, are notoriously hard to clean out, but they did a great job here. The thin slivers of ginger and rings of green onion helped to add some crunch and flavour in the congee (think porridge, but with rice instead of oatmeal), which was lightly salted. I felt that the congee was a little too mushy, as the rice was too broken-down. Maybe it’s just me, but I like my congee a little grainier. I would also have liked them to add some black pepper in, but the white pepper at the table did the job.
It is my opinion that congee should never be served alone, and any Chinese restaurant (that serves congee) worth their salt should also have fantastic Chinese Donuts ($2). I really liked the one they had here, as it was fried up fresh (I saw them in the kitchen), so it was nice and hot when it arrived. It was also very light, crispy and chewy, and not overly greasy. Cut down to a good size, these were perfect for dipping into my congee, and I wanted to order another one just to munch on, but that would have been a little too indulgent.
My dad likes his noodles, so he ordered the Shrimp and Pork Dumpling Noodle Soup ($5.25), which looked pretty small in size, but ended up being quite the hefty bowl. The long, thin wonton noodles were the right texture, being slightly chewy, though they were a bit long. I understand that it’s tradition to leave the noodles uncut (they signify good luck), but that just makes it a lot more difficult to eat, and as you remember, my chopstick skills are not great, and don’t involve cutting chewy noodles (I left that for my dad to do). The four large dumplings had a thin, wrinkly skin, and hid some really well-made filling. The shrimp and pork were both appropriately bouncy and chewy, and the wood ear mushrooms provided that crunch needed to round out the dumpling. The soup was quite flavourful, but I didn’t detect too much MSG in it, which is always a plus.
I felt that our meal here was pretty standard, but definitely did the job in satisfying my 2-year-long craving. Prices are rather reasonable– one can get very full for less than $10– and the noodles were of especially good quality. I do wish that the congee was less goopy, but that is the way that some restaurants make it, so I can’t complain too much. There are many other restaurants like this in Richmond (and Vancouver), but if I were in the area and had a hankering for noodles and congee, Michigan Noodle would be on my list of restaurants to choose from.
Michigan Noodle Restaurant
8580 Alexandra Rd
A few months ago, my friend Hanzhou (he has a blog about his amazing food escapades too!) told me to try out PiDGiN, whose chef used to work at the restaurant he’s currently working at. Unfortunately, he caught me at an inopportune time, as March was my month of Madness (papers! work! midterms! quizzes! Bolivia meetings!), but I told him that once my schedule freed up, I would definitely visit.
This visit happened on the Thursday before Good Friday (no classes, whee!)– I was downtown with Samson, Darek, David and Emo at the Vancouver International Auto Show at the Convention Centre already, so we decided to make a night of it. A late night, as we didn’t leave the Auto Show until 8:45pm– who knew you could sit in THAT many different cars, grab SO many recyclable bags, and win a lift ticket to Whistler, all in one place?
It was a chilly night and a long walk (since we haven’t eaten since 1pm) from the Convention Centre, so we were glad that PiDGiN was so warn and cozy. We were seated at one end of a long table, and thankfully, no other parties were seated next to us, so we could spread out a little bit. I don’t really know what I was expecting to see when I was seated, but it was a pleasant surprise to see chopsticks and bowls in a decidedly un-Asian looking place.
PiDGiN features a focused menu, with obvious Japanese and Korean influences. Over the course of the night, we ordered a large majority of the dishes, each of which demonstrated the great skill and vision of Chef Ono. Without further ado, our first foray into his menu: the Oyster Shot ($3). I said a few months ago (at Cork & Fin down the street) that I would eventually try this, and here I am, knocking back a Golden Mantle oyster topped with icy apple bits and horseradish cream. I suppose this isn’t quite the same as slurping up an oyster on half shell, but a girl’s got to start somewhere, right? We loved how the flavours and textures worked together (the horseradish cream wasn’t too spicy, and the crispy, cool apple served to contrast the smooth oyster) so much that we ended up ordering another round to finish off our night.
The next dish brought over was the Beef Tataki ($13), artfully presented as a long puzzle of interlocked slices of slightly seared beef. Topping it off were small slices of gruyere cheese, dots of black garlic, wood ear mushrooms, sprouts, and wasabi mayo, with a pile of shredded potato crisps that we crumbled over the beef before we ate it. The beef was served at the right temperature and was very buttery, and each different topping was impactful– we especially liked the black garlic and wasabi mayo for their distinct, but not-overwhelming flavours.
The “Dan Dan” Kohlrabi Noodle Salad ($8) was a little misleading: I actually expected there to be noodles in the dish, but it was actually just long shredded pieces of kohlrabi made to look like noodles, then topped off with the usual dan-dan (tan-tan) noodle toppings– peanut sauce, tofu, shredded pork. The kohlrabi, which none of us had had before, was very refreshing when paired with the sauce–it reminded us of a less pungent Asian white radish. The sauce was adequate, but we would have appreciated a little bit more in the way of spiciness and some more peanuts and almonds, which would have been truer to the dan-dan noodle concept.
The Beef Tongue and Cheek ($17) came at the same time as the kohlrabi, and featured a very, very tender piece of beef that was braised in their house sauce. There was definitely more cheek than tongue in the dish, and Samson stated that more tongue would have been better. We especially liked the garnishes of broccoli pistou (light pesto and minced broccoli that actually looked a little bit like green quinoa) and the tiny fried and heavily seasoned broccoli florets, which packed a lot of flavour into the dish. There was also a scattering of mustard seeds that we ate along with the beef, which helped enhance the flavours even more.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Pork Belly Rice Bowl ($12), presented to us beautifully with its melt-in-your-mouth, fatty, delicious pork belly resting on a bed of sushi rice. Topping it off were kimchi pears and a sunny-side up quail egg. The rice was the proper texture, being moderately chewy but fluffy, and soaked up a lot of the sauce so that it was very flavourful, but not too salty. The pork belly had just the right amount of fat so that we didn’t feel too unhealthy, and the meaty parts of it were tender. The quail egg was a nice touch (I didn’t realize it was quail til later, and was wondering why a chicken egg was so dinky), and the kimchi pears provided some crispness and spiciness to balance out the texture of the dish.
Our first round done with, we decided to order some more food, a) because we definitely weren’t full, since portions are on the small side, and b) because the food was so darn good we wanted to try even more of it. I am a huge fan of Mushrooms ($12) in any way, shape or form, though sauteed in browned butter is probably my favourite– these had a touch of soy sauce and yuzu as well for the extra depth in flavour. That same seasoning was used to marinate the eggs, which had lovely brown-coloured whites and a mildly runny yolk (which we dipped the mushrooms into). Along with the mushrooms were several split sugar snap peas, light, crisp and green-tasting, and the same veggies were pureed and used as a garnish (which was also light, crisp, and green-tasting).
We actually ordered the Sea Urchin ($12) with our first set, but it didn’t get put through; it eventually made its way to our table, after much apologizing from our server. This was a favourite of the night, as the chunks (blobs? what would you use to quantify this) of sea urchin tasted fresh and extremely sea-ish, and the cauliflower mousse was delightfully creamy, light, and faintly cheesy. Topped off with plenty of ponzu jalepeno salsa and a few sprigs of sprouts, this was a dish we were very glad we ordered (and our server was very pleased that we ordered this as well, as it was his favourite dish).
Next, we had some Yakiudon Inspired Calamari ($9), which was prepared in the same fashion as the kohlrabi “noodles”– the long, thin slices of roasted squid were formed into a spool of “udon”. This was, again, a stellar dish, with fresh, expertly prepared squid, crumbled bacon as a garnish for a salty hit, and a brush of black squid ink in the bowl to help bring out the flavours. Although the presentation of the dishes can be a little repetitive (you’ll see that to some extent with our next dish as well), I found most of these endeavours to be very interesting and refreshing.
Besides bread and mushrooms, one of my favourite foods are Potatoes ($10) in any style: these julienned potato slivers were served cool, tossed in seaweed butter and spicy cod roe. I found the flavours of this dish reminiscent of the Mentaiko Udon at Sushi Garden, which has a slightly cheesy taste to it. The stringy potatoes ended up tasting like un-fried hashbrowns (it’s tastier than it sounds), and we felt that the roe was relatively fresh. Although this was a good dish, I don’t think it was particularly special, so I probably wouldn’t order it again.
I was excited to try our next dish, the Parisienne Gnocchi ($12), since I had never had this potato dumpling pasta before. I found the skins to be surprisingly thin, and the potato-y filling very light, which totally ran opposite to what I had in mind– not that that’s a bad thing. Garnished by thin slices of light pink radishes and sorrel (which is apparently an herb), I thought this dish was really aesthetically pleasing, reminding me of the cherry blossoms that are outside now. I don’t really know what makes this dish Parisienne– anyone care to enlighten me in the comments?
And now I present to you the final dish of the night: Scallops ($17), seared and served with rectangular blocks of fried polenta, brussel sprout leaves, caper raisins, and house-made XO sauce (for more scallopy goodness). This was an excellently prepared dish, everything having been cooked just right: the scallops were warm, and not overcooked, and the brussel sprouts were unwilted. However, the XO sauce wasn’t as flavourful as we would have liked, though the dried scallops were easily discernible– we definitely wanted a bit more of a kick. Aside from the scallops, my favourite part of the dish was the fried polenta, with its crispy outer coating masking the grainy goodness within that I was still able to pick up with my chopsticks.
Our long day ended with a very enjoyable wrap-up at PiDGiN, as the food, service and atmosphere were all superb, for a newer restaurant that may still have been figuring out some kinks, and especially in light of the protests they’ve been subject to. The plates are on the small side, but they’re meant to be that way (and you can try more), and each dish showed the exquisite care of the chefs. PiDGiN does change up its menu every so often, and I hear they’ve incorporated tasting menus into their line-up, so it would be a good idea to go soon to see what it’s like! I wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant, and will definitely be going there again in the near future.
350 Carrall St
The end of the skating season means many things—on the more depressing side of the spectrum, it means that I no longer have work (and a source of income), but on the happier end of things, it means that my feet no longer need to be squished into a pair of tight skates, and it also means that my Tuesdays and Thursdays, which were devoted to work before, are now completely free!
I immediately jumped at the first chance to hang out with Darek and Cynthia on the first Thursday I had off from work, and since we haven’t had brunch in a while, we decided to hit up Paul’s Place Omelettery. So it was, on that beautiful, sunny Thursday, we hopped into Darek’s car and made the trek down to South Granville for some delicious eggy goodness.
We were seated immediately by our friendly waitress, but for some reason we didn’t get menus or water til some time later. It didn’t matter too much for us though, since the restaurant was pretty busy at the time. When a waiter came over, we ordered drinks: a cup of Coffee ($2.25) each for Cynthia and Darek (who seems to have issues functioning without a mugful), and a pot of Earl Grey Tea ($2.25) for me. The coffee was decent, as was the tea (by Mighty Leaf, so really, what could go wrong?), and I certainly spent a fair amount of time admiring my chipped, but beautiful teapot adorned with a cilantro leaf.
Without hesitation, Darek ordered the Corned Beef Hash ($9.95), which seems to have been his go-to the last few times I’ve had breakfast with him. This version included sautéed potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, bacon and corned beef, topped with two poached eggs, cheddar and edam cheese. The presentation was great, but Darek found that his dish was under seasoned (a comment I’ll make about the potatoes in my dish too), and so he added quite a bit of hot sauce and pepper to spice it up. The eggs, though, were poached perfectly, and the dish wasn’t too greasy overall.
Cynthia, after much debate (they all sounded so good!) settled on the Da Vinci Omelette ($9.95), which was made with three free-run eggs, and filled with chorizo, mushrooms, tomato, spinach and feta cheese, and accompanied by multigrain toast, with jam and butter on the side. This was a pretty sizable portion, and there were plenty of ingredients hidden within the omelette. We loved the chorizo as it added a bit of spice to the otherwise vegetarian omelette; however, I felt that the egg could have been fluffier, as it felt a little thin in certain parts.
And for myself, I had originally wanted an omelette, but changed gears and ordered an eggs benedict instead. The Florentine (Small (1 half of a muffin)- $7.50; Large (both halves of a muffin)- $9.50) sounded delicious omelette style, so I figured that it couldn’t be bad atop an English muffin– and I was right! There was a plethora of ingredients underneath my amazingly runny poached eggs: spinach leaves (not terribly wilted, which I would have hated) and mushrooms (button and shitake, from what I could tell) sautéed with garlic butter and onions, and a few crumbles of feta cheese. This was all topped off with their house cheese sauce, as opposed to Hollandaise– I was a little skeptical at first since I love my hollandaise–but it worked out quite nicely, since it wasn’t overwhelmingly cheesy. The English muffin was also toasted nicely so that even towards the end of my meal, the muffin was still a little crisp on the edges. The Benny also came with a side of pan fries, but I found them to be rather plain: as a rule, I don’t add salt to my food, but in this case I needed to because they were so bland. Some seasoning on their end would have made this a stellar plate.
Lastly, we decided to share a plate of Cinnamon French Toast ($5.75 plain, $8.95 with fresh fruit, berry compote and whipped cream) since it sounded delicious. However, we weren’t too impressed with this, as the toast wasn’t as fluffy or eggy as we expected, thereby rendering the slices quite dry. The portion size was pretty good though (6 slices for about $6), and if I had only ordered this to eat I would have been extremely full. The berry compote was well-balanced, being both tart and sweet, and I wish there could have been more of it; as well, the whipped cream tasted fresh and well, creamy. The side fruit wasn’t anything special, just the usual cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes and oranges you’d expect. I don’t think I would order this again if I were to come here in the future.
We had a nice time at Paul’s Omelettery catching up, and the food, with the exception of the french toast, was very well prepared– there’s no denying that they know how to make eggs right. After the initial hiccup in service, our server (a man, perhaps Paul himself?) made sure to check up on us once in a while, and our coffees and waters were never sitting empty for long. It’s obvious that Paul’s Omelettery is a local favourite as well as a tourist spot (there was a family from the States sitting next to us), as there was a huge line around the time we were finishing up (mind you, we went on a weekday, so I can’t imagine what it would be like for Saturday or Sunday brunch), and I think I would go there again– maybe make a day of it, and spend my afternoon shopping on South Granville.
Paul’s Place Omelettery
2211 Granville St
David, Darek and Samson had been raving about St. James’s Well ever since their visit last year. Nearly every time I see David, he mentions SOMETHING about the chicken strips or the yorkshire pudding, so of course that piqued my interest (I really like chicken strips). Samson and I had actually planned on going earlier this year, but when we went the place was positively bursting at the seams with people, so we had to go somewhere else instead.
Since it’s March and St. Paddy’s Day was coming up, the aforementioned guys, Hui and I decided to make our way to The Well after the game last Sunday. The place was rather quiet (well, it WAS a Sunday night)– just a some older patrons by the bar, and a few clusters of people here and there. Also, just a heads up– I had to use a cellphone camera that night (wasn’t really planning on going out), so picture quality isn’t really going to be all there…
Our waitress seated us at a pretty spacious table, and we got right down to ordering– drinks first, of course. I didn’t feel like beer that night, so I settled on Magners, an Irish cider that they had on tap; Hui ordered a Long Island, and the guys decided on 3 beers– a Granville Island Cypress Honey Lager for Samson, Innis and Gunn Oak Aged Beer for Darek, and the Steam Whistler Pilsner for David.
With our drink order done with, we took a look through the big menu. And of course, we had to order the chicken strips and yorkshire puddings, so we picked the St. James’s Sampler ($28), which included the aforementioned strips and mini puddings, as well as 1 pound of wings (we chose salt and pepper out of hot and sweet chili), potato skins, 3 lamb sliders, and veggie sticks, accompanied by beef au jus, honey mustard sauce, and ranch dip. At $28, this seemed a little pricy, but the platter was actually quite big; as well, each of the dishes ordered regularly (with bigger portions, of course) cost over $10, so it ended up being a great deal. The potato skins were topped with cheddar cheese, chives and bacon, and weren’t too greasy; the salt and pepper wings were seasoned the right amount, and there was a good mix of wings and drummettes. My favourite of the platter would have to be the lamb sliders, as the toasted bread, not-too-gamey lamb patty, cheddar and pickled onions just worked perfectly together. The chicken strips were just as good as David said they’d be (very tender, with only a light crispy coating), and the yorkshire puddings, which I had never had before, were a nice surprise. The pudding itself was flaky and soft, and was filled with a few pieces of beef. Topped with horseradish and then dipped into the au jus, this was fantastic– I certainly wanted to order another plate!
The guys ordered the Mussels ($13) when they came here last, and we ordered it again this time–cooked with spicy chorizo sausage and onions in Guinness, this 1-pound order was a hit. All the mussels were open, and the broth was very rich and flavourful– I gladly dipped my garlic bread, as well as various other foods, into it. We thought that the broth was a on the saltier side, but we could definitely taste the beer, which was a plus.
Our third dish for the night was the Chorizo and Goat Cheese Flatbread ($11). I thought that this was a rather small portion, as it was basically the size of my hand, but at least everyone was able to have a slice. In addition to the sausage and cheese, this flatbread also came topped with grilled spice-marinated artichokes, which I really enjoyed. The crust was thin and just crispy enough, with some doughier bits as well, and it held up under the ingredients. I don’t know if I’d order it again, though– out of the other dishes we had, I don’t think it was really that spectacular or special.
We went for an English classic next, in the Shepherd’s Pie ($12), which came topped with a beautifully baked mashed potato layer. The mash was creamy while still exhibiting some texture, and I really liked the crispier bits of it. Underneath, there was a plentiful mixture of beef, onions and green peas that mixed well with the buttery flavour of the potatoes. A pet peeve of mine are restaurants that serve a side salad on a warm plate, or have parts of the salad touch a hot part of the plate (ie a baked dish), because the salad gets warm and wilty. I’m happy to report that The Well didn’t do this, and I ended up really enjoying the salad as a result (but I’m sure that the good amount of vinaigrette and fresh veggies helped with that too).
After all this, we were still feeling hungry, so we ordered 2 more dishes, the first of which was the Irish Stew ($16). This consisted of large, pull-apart pieces of lamb, carrots and potatoes. The lamb was marinated in English cider, and hence was quite tender; the potatoes had broken down quite a bit, and so the stew was very thick, and overall I liked the texture of it. The stew came with some house-made soda bread, which I didn’t like very much– I thought it was too dense and crumbly, and would definitely have preferred baguette instead. This was Darek’s favourite dish, and I certainly liked this stew too (I don’t get many stews at home), so we’d definitely order it again.
In fact, I liked the stew so much, I ended up dipping the Habanero Pork Bites ($11) in it instead of the sweet chili aioli it came with. These were quite spicy, and long-lasting at that (you can kind of feel the burn on your tongue even after taking a drink). Each piece was juicy and tender, while the batter was thick and crunchy, and not too dry. The aioli (and the stew) helped to break up the spice a little bit, but after a while I found it pretty easy to eat.
I had a wonderful time at The Well– the food and drink all exceeded my expectations of pub food, which I usually just associate with average wings and burgers. The majority of the dishes we had tonight were pretty special (of course we could have gotten burgers but those are hard to share), and showcased the abilities of the kitchen well. In terms of service, our waitress was helpful and attentive, and I hope that that’s the case if the pub were busy too. I will definitely return sometime in the near future, armed with an empty stomach and a camera. For those of you going out tonight, I hope you’ll have a great St. Paddy’s Day– maybe even at St James’s!
St. James’s Well
248 Newport Drive
Port Moody, BC
Brunching with Cynthia is always fun, and it really is a shame that we can’t go out more often– school, work and (the ironic) lack of funds keeps getting in the way! When we do go, we always have a fantastic time, and this day was no different.
We originally planned on going to Coast, since we went for Dine Out the year before and loved the food, but it wasn’t open! No matter though, since there were a ton of other restaurants on Alberni for us to choose from– we ended up going to Italian Kitchen, which is also part of the Glowbal Group, right across the street.
The visit to Coast last year resulted in a coupon for a complimentary amuse-bouche from any Glowbal restaurant; imagine my surprise when it was still valid after a year in my drawer! These small bites of Bocconcini, Tomato and Arugula were presented to us first, atop of a small piece of chewy, fried bread. In addition, it was drizzled with a bit of olive oil, but as you can see, there isn’t much to the actual morsel. I wasn’t super impressed with this, but it’s free food from an old voucher– what did I really expect?
Brunching-with-Cynthia times also invariably ends up being Drinking-with-Cynthia times, so we also ordered a pair of Italian Sodas ($3.50) to go with our meal. The menu lists a variety of fruit syrups you can add to the soda (you can choose two), as well as a list of predetermined mixes. I chose the Mango/Apricot, while Cynthia chose the Pineapple Colada. We made these brunch-worthy by adding vodka (they offer other liquors too), for an additional $3.50. I really liked the soda, as it was refreshing and a nice change from drinks you’d normally get– there’s the fizziness of pop, but also the different fruit flavours of smoothies and juices. If I were to go to Italian Kitchen again, I’d be content with just having the non-alcoholic version (a pretty good and delicious deal, I think).
We actually arrived after 12, so “brunch” really isn’t a correct term for our date… but we were adamant in our brunching, and this reflected in the dishes we ordered. Our first dish to share was the Dungeness Crab Benedict ($18.95) from their Prima Colazione section (they also offer a Proscuitto Eggs Benedict and a Mushroom Benedict, as well as classic breakfasts and some less-than classic dishes, such as polenta and “breakfast pizza”). Our Crab Benny came with a side salad and hasbrowns. The eggs were poached a little too long for my tastes (the yolk wasn’t very runny), and the hollandaise was a little bland, but on a positive note, this allowed the fluffy crab to shine, as it wasn’t too overpowered by the other flavours. The English muffin was toasted just right, but it definitely would’ve benefited from more hollandaise and egg yolk. The potatoes were again, very lightly seasoned, so they didn’t have too much of an impact. I liked the salad, as it wasn’t too wet with dressing, but placing it on the warm plate probably wasn’t such a good idea, as the bottom pieces got a little wilty. Overall, the dish was a on the mediocre side, and I didn’t think it was worth the $19 we spent.
We didn’t realize that the Crab Benedict came with potatoes (only the salad was listed in the menu, and other menu items did list potatoes so we just assumed), so we ordered a side of Roasted Potatoes ($4.50) to share. This serving of potatoes was much more presentable and tasty than the ones that came with the Benny, so maybe it was a good idea to get them anyways. These came with more flavour than their plated counterparts, and were topped with crumbled parmesan cheese and parsley. Sometimes you just need a good potato dish to make a meal better, and I believe these did the job.
Since we were at Italian Kitchen, we couldn’t very well leave without trying something more Italian than an Eggs Benedict. Since we had a seafood breakfast item, we decided on the Spaghetti and Wagyu Meatballs ($17.95), which came in a spicy basil tomato sauce, topped with a blob of herbed ricotta cheese. The picture I took doesn’t really do it justice– in actuality, there was a pretty big portion of pasta, and the 3 meatballs were quite big as well. The spaghetti was prepared al dente, and there was just enough sauce for each noodle to be evenly coated–not that it’s a bad thing, but I do wish that there was a bit more. I don’t know too much about wagyu beef, but I reckon that once it’s in meatball form there really isn’t THAT big a difference from good ole’ regular beef. I’m also not a meatball expert by any means, but I did like these ones, as they were springy and light, but still substantial in size. The pasta was good overall, but I don’t know how comfortable I am with paying this much…
I had a pretty average experience at Italian Kitchen: our host and waitress was pretty helpful when giving us advice about our drinks, but otherwise there wasn’t much to comment on. I realize that because of location and the brand name prices would run high, but I was a little disarmed by our $50 bill at the end of lunch, even after a discount was taken (Cynthia had a coupon). The food was adequate and was nothing too special, and the modern decor was average (I like Coast and what used to be Sanafir better). Overall, I had a good time catching up with Cynthia, but I don’t know that I would return to Italian Kitchen in the future, especially when there are so many other great Italian places to visit downtown.
1037 Alberni St
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to Golden Lake in the past year or so– including both dim sum and dinner visits, I’d ballpark it around a dozen. For my family, that’s a lot, since we tend not to go out to Chinese restaurants too often (it’s usually just my mom and I, and you can’t really order much if there’s only 2 people eating it). This time around though, we went with my dad and Samson, to enjoy the short Alaskan King Crab season, which runs roughly from the middle of February to mid-March, depending on the amount of crabs shipped over.
My mom, dad and I actually wanted some king crab last week, but as it was just the three of us (and we weren’t feeling exceptionally hungry), we decided to wait a week so that Samson could join us too. Our visit wasn’t all for nothing, as we did have one of my all-time favourite dishes, Peking Duck ($26.99/2 courses)!
Here, they bring out the entire roast duck and slice it for you at the table– a little entertainment to go with your dinner, if you will. Some may find Peking Duck incredibly unhealthy (it is mostly duck skin, after all), but I think that this is the bestest thing ever. No, really. If prepared right, the crisp duck skin, wrapped in a thin steamed pancake, drizzled with a little hoisin sauce and topped with slices of green onion is a real delicacy– my favourite restaurant for this is actually in Hong Kong, but I do like the one offered at Red Star Seafood Restaurant (on South Granville Street in Vancouver). The one they offer here at Golden Lake is quite good, but the skin isn’t quite as crispy as I’d like. I appreciate that they include a little bit of meat with the skin, so that it doesn’t induce tooooo much guilt.
Now, since throwing out the rest of the duck would be an utter, horrifying waste, most restaurants offer it served in an additional one or two ways. We opted for one other course, and this came out soon afterwards in the form of the Lettuce Wraps. Here, the duck is chopped up and pan-fried with water chestnuts (for that satisfying crunch), green onions and plated atop crispy wonton skins. Again with hoisin sauce as a condiment, you would put a few spoonfuls of the duck mixture into the freshly cut lettuce, and eat it taco-style. I’ve been to restaurants where this isn’t executed very well, because the lettuce is ripped up oddly, creating crevices for the cubed meat to fall out of. At Golden Lake, the lettuce leaves are whole, and there were quite a few pieces too. I like this dish for its differing flavours and textures– you have crisp lettuce and wonton wrappers, crunchy water chestnuts and chewy duck, and it’s all a mingling of sweet and salty that just seems to work out. For reference, the third course is often a duck soup or “gung”, which is a starch-thickened soup.
You probably came here to read about our adventures in the wonderful spiky world of the Alaskan King Crab, so without further ado, here it is! King Crab, like most seafood, is served by the pound, and Golden Lake is currently selling it for $16.99/pound (I’ve seen it go as low as $12.99 last year). The King Crab in itself is also a three-part meal, and there are many preparation options. The Crab Legs always come up first, and we chose to have them steamed with garlic and green onion. Eating crab is often the bane of my Chinese restaurant visits– I love it, but I’m lazy and I hate getting my hands dirty. With King Crab though, all that isn’t such a big deal, as the legs are served split open, and it’s as easy as eating lobster — you just pull it out with the little fork! These were prepared perfectly, as the fluffy, sweet meat just slipped right out. As well, the minced garlic was steamed to the right point, so they weren’t overly spicy from rawness, but still had that great garlicky taste.
The next course consisted of the Crab Knuckles, which could be prepared with a seasoned salt rub (tsew yim) or battered lightly and tossed with dark soy, green onions, ginger and onions. We chose the latter, as its our usual preference for crab and lobster, but I hear that the seasoned salt is a more traditional approach to it. The knuckles came out steaming hot, and were again very well executed– the batter was very, very light, and the soy sauce seasoning wasn’t too salty. As well, the crab meat was still fluffy, and wasn’t drowning in oil. This take on the dish is a little messier than the legs, as you have to do a little work to pick out the crab; however, I thought that the work was definitely worth it, and I’d love to have this dish again.
Served shortly after the knuckles was our requisite veggie dish, the Baby Bok Choy with Gingko Nuts and Bean Curd in Broth ($15). We had ordered this dish during another visit, and felt that the simplicity of it would go well with our decadent meal tonight. There really isn’t too much to say about this– the veggies were cooked properly, the broth was appropriately seasoned– it wasn’t a fantastically stellar dish, but it did the job.
The very same minced garlic and green onion mix (actually taken from the empty platters of crab legs) is used as the broth base for noodles in the third course. I found this practise to be a little puzzling (hence, why it was important to use a separate pair of chopsticks to pick up the legs), but it made sense in the end, as the Garlic Noodles were infused with that delicious crab aroma from the first course. For this course, you could choose from e-fu noodles (a spongy thick egg noodle often served with lobster) or sang mein, which is the kind you’d see in a bowl of wonton noodles. We chose the sang mein, as it tends to soak up more of the sauce; e-fu noodles need more oil to be cooked well, and we thought it would probably overwhelm the dish. Along with garlic, this veggie dish is cooked with bean sprouts, chives, and green onion. The noodles were cooked al dente and were quite chewy, but I thought that there was a bit too much water in the dish, making it wetter than I would have liked. The garlic was pretty overpowering in this dish, and I found it a smidge too salty for my tastes.
As for the King Crab itself, it certainly was an indulgence– our crab was just under 10 pounds, making the price for the crab about $170; to make it into a 2 course meal, you need to add $28; and to get the noodles, you have to add another $15. If you’re keeping count, that means we nearly spent a whopping $240 for a meal for 4 people, and that’s definitely not something we’d do every day. If you have the funds for this kind of a splurge, I’d say go for it (at a reputable restaurant so your money doesn’t go to waste). As for myself, I don’t know if I would have king crab anytime in the next few years…
Sometimes, instead of a noodle course, the Alaskan King Crab head is used as a container for baked rice; however, our server Peter (the floor manager, I believe), recommended that we go with the noodle dish, as our head didn’t have much meat in it, and we’d get more bang for our buck with the noodles. His presence as our server on both nights was much appreciated (though was a little too talkative at times…), as he gave us great advice with regards to portion sizes, and how many dishes we should order. There was never any pressure to order more food (or more expensive food, on our Peking Duck night), our tea and hot water was always filled up, and our plates were always being changed over. We did go eat at a later time (we ordered our food around 8pm), but I’ve been during peak hours for both dim sum and dinner, and service is equally good then. After finishing yet another satisfying meal with fresh-baked almond cookies and taro-tapioca dessert soup, I hope that you’d find the same service and quality here that makes Golden Lake one of my favourite restaurants!
3555 East Hastings Street