Horizons (Dine Out Vancouver 2013)

And moving on to my last Dine Out meal of the year, my family decided to have dinner at Horizons, the occasion being my brother’s birthday. This was our first time at Horizons, and it really struck me how inaccessible the restaurant is, being on top of a mountain. Unless you have a car, there is virtually no way to get there (unless you want to walk up the mountain for quite a bit). The side road leading to the restaurant is also incredibly dark and without any streetlights. I’m sure it’s fine in the daytime, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience at night. If I were to return for a second visit, I would most definitely go for brunch or lunch, especially to enjoy that view.

DSC_0004Horizons chose to serve their regular menu alongside their Dine Out menu, but all four of us ordered Dine Out meals for $28, with the addition of a calamari to share between us. First, we started off with a basket of complementary Bread. I’ve had one too many experiences lately where restaurants serve their bread cold, so I was quite happy when the bread turned out to be nice and warm, with just the right amount of chewiness. It was the perfect way to start off our meal.

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For my entree, I chose the Albacore Tuna Tataki. I originally had my eye on the baby spinach and frisee, but I’ve always had a soft spot for tataki. The tuna itself was of average quality, and I personally would have liked it if more of a crust had formed. I enjoyed the accompanying veggies, though, with some lettuce, tomato, and avocado. I’m not sure what the salad was dressed with, but it was surprisingly salty. Despite the salad though, the tuna itself was quite bland and uneventful.

DSC_0006Meanwhile, my mom opted for my first choice, the Baby Spinach and Frisee, with some pear, walnuts, bleu cheese, and honey balsamic vinaigrette. She didn’t have much to say about this, but complained that the cheese was a bit too salty and overpowered the other ingredients. I tried a bit and I quite liked the vinaigrette, which was light and refreshing, and I thought that the addition of the pear and walnuts was a nice touch. Overall, the ingredients seemed fresh, which was a plus.

DSC_0008My dad and brother both ordered the Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup, with sourdough croutons on top. I had a couple sips and it tasted quite creamy as expected, but lacked the earthiness that I most enjoy about mushrooms. Still, there was a good amount of mushrooms included, and the croutons added a nice textural contrast. As with many soups, it tasted quite salty about halfway through. Still, I thought this was a decently sized portion.

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We also added a Crispy Fried Calamari ($12) to share. It arrived with some cucumber red chili raita for dipping. The calamari was lightly battered and served lukewarm, which I liked because they didn’t taste overly greasy. The seasoning, however, was distributed unevenly, leading to some pieces being very salty while others bordered on bland. The squid itself remained tender without being too chewy. Although this resulted in us not being able to finish our desserts, I would definitely order it on a return visit.

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And onward to the entrees! Although I initially wanted the salmon, I ended up with the Pork Tenderloin. The pan roasted pork had been soaked in an organic apple cider chili brine, and was served in an apple bacon demi glace. Accompanying the pork were Yukon gold mashed potatoes and some vegetables. The pork itself was tender but uneventful, but I enjoyed the natural sweetness from the apples. The mashed potatoes were also quite standard, while the veggies were perfectly cooked. Although I enjoyed my meal, it wasn’t anything mind-blowing.

DSC_0012My mom had the BC Sockeye Salmon, which had been my first choice. It was accompanied by tomato basil risotto and charred asparagus. She was unimpressed by her meal, saying that the risotto was undercooked and unpleasantly hard. While the salmon itself had been perfectly grilled, it was overly fishy and would have benefitted from some lemon. Although it came with a spiced lemon emulsion, I found that it just didn’t help to freshen up the flavours like a simple wedge of lemon would have.

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My brother and dad, meanwhile, both opted for the New York Steak, eight ounces of char-grilled beef in a red wine demi-glace, with some pepperberry butter, nugget potatoes and seasonal veggies. My dad had it medium while my brother had it medium rare; both were cooked according to their specifications. Both found it to be an average steak, and a bit too salty due to the pepperberry butter. The potatoes, meanwhile, were bland and weren’t very pretty to look at. Still, the portion size was larger than what I expected, considering that it was a Dine Out meal.

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There were two desserts available, so of course we ordered two of each, the first being the Cinnamon Poached Pear, which was served alongside warm pecan brioche pudding and butterscotch rum sauce. Of the two desserts, this was our favourite. I personally love both pecans and brioche, so this was a clear winner for me. The brioche was spongey as it should be, while the cinnamon flavour was strong. The poached pear itself was somewhat slimey and took some getting used to, but I liked how the two elements of the dessert complemented each other well. My mom and I both loved this dessert and how it wasn’t overbearingly sweet.

Creme BruleeThe other dessert was the Chocolate Hazelnut Creme Brulee, with a small piece of housemade biscotti. We had two orders of this, as you can see, but only one actually came with the biscotti. While the initial crust of the creme brulee was too sugary, the inner layer was simply rich and chocolatey. It reminded me of those grocery store chocolate pudding cups I would devour as a child–not that that’s a bad thing. I would have preferred a regular creme brulee though, with maybe some vanilla bean.

To summarize, our meal at Horizons was quite standard for this type of restaurant. Personally, next time, I would prefer a place like The Keg, despite its chain restaurant status. I think that The Keg offers better value for its prices, and has a significantly larger selection than Horizons. Still, it was a decent option for Dine Out.

Horizons
100 Centennial Way
Burnaby, BC

Horizons on Urbanspoon

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Cork and Fin (Dine Out Vancouver 2013)

IMG_0774For Samson’s birthday, we originally planned to go to Catch-122, which was also the restaurant we went to for my birthday a few months back. However, In Hye’s review of their Dine Out menu didn’t seem too appealing, and even though we were excited to try rabbit, we decided to go somewhere else. Looking for another restaurant wasn’t too hard, as I had made my annual Dine Out wishlist already, and Cork & Fin was an obvious choice for a nice evening out.

After a brisk walk from Waterfront Station, we were seated on the main floor of the restaurant, and were promptly asked for drink requests and handed menus. We denied drinks for the moment (only asking for water, since I had a horrible sore throat), because we were actually intent on trying out the wine pairings that accompanied the menu.

IMG_0729One thing that made Cork and Fin an easy choice was that they not only had a plethora of choices, but the price, at $28 for the 3-course Dine Out menu, and $42 for their own 4-course prix-fixe menu (essentially the same menu, but with an added pasta mid-course), was very reasonable considering the sophistication of the dishes offered. We decided on one of each set menu, intending to share all our dishes anyways. We also opted for the $18 House Wine Pairing (they also had a BC VQA Pairing) and, because I wanted something fruity that wasn’t wine or alcoholic, decided on the $9 mocktail pairing, sore throat be damned.

IMG_0742We started off with the Oysters ($17/half dz) and Winter Salad ($9). I don’t think I’ve had raw oysters in recent memory– the last time I had any was probably when I was 10, too young to appreciate the flavour and not get squeamish about the squooshiness. I didn’t have any of Samson’s this meal either (I promise to go have some sometime soon!), but he did tell me that they were flavourful, juicy and delicate, all in one. The champagne mignonette with shallots complemented the shellfish nicely, and I actually stole some for my salad. IMG_0745The Winter Salad consisted of crispy kale, cubed squash and king oyster mushrooms tossed in a walnut vinaigrette. I was surprised that this wasn’t too sweet– the honeyed flavour of the vinaigrette was just right, balancing the kale’s seasoning. The mushrooms were, well, shroomy, and the squash was blander, but it was alright considering the kale’s slight saltiness. This was a solid dish, but I don’t know if I would be ordering this if I went another time.

Our first course was paired with champagne and a tumbler of an almondy, fizzy concoction– I didn’t catch the names of the drinks, and I didn’t manage to get pictures of them. The champagne was a nice touch (we definitely weren’t expecting that at all), whereas my drink was a little too sweet and almondy for my taste; again, I’m more of a fruity-drink kind of girl.

IMG_0750The second course, of Skuna Salmon Carpaccio ($11) and Lobster Bisque ($11) arrived shortly afterwards, along with our next set of drinks– a glass of white wine for Samson, and a agave-guava-cucumber soda for me. The carpaccio was thinly sliced, and topped with green papaya (which I thought was julienned cucumber at first), some sprouts and breadcrumbs, a rather interesting add. The fish tasted fresh, and all the toppings complemented it nicely. I’ve never actually had salmon carpaccio before

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(it’s basically thinly sliced sashimi marketed a different way, yes?), so this was a great first experience of the dish. The breadcrumbs introduced a crunchy, grainy texture that we both liked, and the few veggies on top were fresh. My lobster bisque came out hot and steaming, and was chock-full of flaky fish, and small bits of lobster and shrimp. I liked that there were so many ingredients, as sometimes, I feel like Dine Out isn’t quite representative of the care you’d get normally. However, the bisque was too salty, so I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

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The mid-course of  Saffron Spaghetti ($15) our server set down smelled heavenly from the get-go, and with the aroma of butter and garlic wafting up from the dish, we just had to dig in. The spaghetti was actually a lot thinner than what I had imagined (not that we minded at all, it was just a surprise), and was cooked al dente. Topped with breadcrumbs and chunks of sweet, fluffy dungeness crab, this was an amazing dish– I would go to Gastown just to order this, even if it was out of the way for me. I liked all the textures that came together in this dish, and of course, we couldn’t say no to anything with garlic and butter in it. This was simply superb, and I found myself wanting another one even after I finished my entree…

IMG_0761Lastly, our waitress brought out our final course of the evening, accompanied by a glass of pinot and a grapefruit-elderflower concoction for me. Samson’s Braised Pork Shoulder was actually a pretty hefty piece, bigger than I expected, and was nicely braised, being tender. The layer of fat on it helped with the flavouring and juiciness, of course, but for some reason we thought of “tong ja”, which is the term for the meat/veggies that are cooked in Chinese soups, where the pork is typically dryer. Nevertheless, this was a pretty solid offering, and combined with the really sweet- sweet potatoes and the tempura’d oyster (very light and crispy), made for a very filling meal. IMG_0764My Local Petrale Sole was on the simpler side, being pan-fried with a nice golden crust. I appreciated that it didn’t disintegrate as I started eating it, even when I started picking at it with my fork, and that each piece of fish was flaky and moist. The sole also came with cauliflower, 3 mussels, cooked to juicy perfection, as well as 3 pieces of chorizo, which provided a nice spice to the meal. I wasn’t quite sure what sauce was on the plate, but it did have nice buttery and garlic notes (and of course I loved it).

IMG_0773We had very nice evening out at Cork & Fin: our waitress was very competent and knowledgable, explaining the rather complex menu for us (their Dine Out menu was a bit of a road-map), and refilled our waters promptly throughout the evening. Meanwhile, our food showed that the chefs put a lot of care  and effort into making our meal, and I mostly enjoyed it. I have heard from several friends that their food tends to be quite salty, but from what I experienced, only the bisque needed some work. I would recommend this restaurant, and would definitely return someday myself.

Cork & Fin
221 Carrall Street
Vancouver, BC

Cork & Fin on Urbanspoon


Fable Kitchen

Before you read this, a word of caution: this was the best meal I’ve had in the history of the blog. If this post ends up being very rambly, glowing, and overall uncharacteristically positive, I apologize. It’s simply because I had a really great dining experience here.

So the story goes that it was my birthday. I always get really excited for my birthday, which usually results in some kind of disappointment. This year I had a perfect birthday. It started with a lovely dinner with all my friends at Cardero’s Restaurant a week before the actual day. On the day itself, I went to the flea market with my mom in the morning, had lunch with her at Belgian Fries (review upcoming), and then dinner with SB at Fable.

I pass by Fable on the bus everyday on my way to and from school. Once called Fuel, then Refuel, the newest incarnation is called Fable. The restaurant has a classy yet cozy interior, and the tables are quite close together. I actually liked it that way because we were sandwiched between a hipster couple and a group of older couples, and the atmosphere was quite friendly and appreciative of the food. Also, the server was very accommodating and genuinely friendly.

For our appie, we shared the misleadingly named Spaghetti with Meatballs. It’s actually tagliatelle with a single duck meatball and parmesan foam. In one word, this was great. The meatball had bits of mushrooms and onions, with the mushrooms retaining their natural chewiness and adding texture. The meatball itself had a crispy exterior, with a prominent duck flavour that we both enjoyed. The noodles were very chewy, and tasted organic, handmade, and overall, fresh, while the parmesan foam meshed the ingredients together.

For  his main, SB chose the Flat Iron Steak, which was served with black pepper jam, broccolini, and potato fondant. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare and tender, and the portion size was perfect. The steak itself was flavourful, and eating it together with the black pepper jam made it heaven. Yup, heaven. The black pepper jam tasted slightly oriental, with SB commenting that it reminded him of hoisin sauce.  The potato fondant had a crispy exterior and perfectly uniform consistency. The broccolini tasted fresh, but was nothing special. At first, it didn’t appear to be a lot of food, but it actually turned out to be quite filling, even for SB, who I believe is capable of eating more than anybody else I know. As far as steak goes, this did not disappoint in the slightest.

As for me, there was duck on the menu, so of course I had to order it. In this case, it was the Duck Breast, served with scallion perogies, fiddleheads, and sauteed cauliflower. The duck was cooked perfectly, being juicy, chewy, and not too fatty. It was complimented very well by the perogies and cauliflower. Overall, I felt that the dish was unique, and the flavours were delicate but balanced each other out. The perogies were quite soft, while the cauliflower still retained some natural snap.

Lastly, we shared the Lemon Pot de Creme for dessert, since it was recommended to us by the server. This was served topped with lemon granita, gin foam, and tangerine slices. The granita was almost shockingly refreshing, but in a good way, with the smooth, silkiness of the dessert offsetting the strong, tangy citrus flavour nicely. The gin foam was mild and the tangerine slices tasted as you would expect, but the granita was the star of the dessert. We both enjoyed how this wasn’t overwhelmingly lemony or sweet, since we’re both not fans of really sweet desserts.

The two of us were really impressed by our dinner at Fable, with every aspect of it being nothing short of excellent: the food, the service, the ambiance, etc. Every dish we sampled was delicious, creative, and unique. Generally after meals, I have to pester SB to get the details on his food; this time, as soon as we stepped out of the restaurant, he forced me to whip out my notepad so he could rave about the food. And the great part is, the whole meal cost under $100 even after tip and tax, despite us having had both an appie, a dessert, and a drink in addition to our entrees. I definitely hope Fable sticks around for a long time and doesn’t end up becoming ReFable, or something. Yum.

Fable Kitchen
1944 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Ark Whistler Retreat

So I haven’t done a home-cooked meal review yet, mostly because I’m hardly home for dinner– and when I am, I’m so hungry I commit the Ultimate Food Blogger’s Sin and just eat the food without taking pictures or notes (shame on me). Early in May, though, I had the pleasure of going on a retreat with my church fellowship, and so I took advantage of the large amounts of beautifully plated food, and decided to write about it as my first home-cooking post.

That being said, because of some extenuating circumstances (I was too hungry, I couldn’t find my camera because it was hidden under a pile of blankets, et cetera et cetera), I wasn’t able to take pictures of all the food from our weekend in Whistler, so what I’m about to write about is really just a glimpse of what we enjoyed…

Anyways, most of my church group (21 of us) made it up to Whistler on the 1st weekend of May for a retreat, where we learned, grew and bonded with one another. One way we did this was by preparing meals, in teams of around 4, for the rest of the group. Our Friday night dinner was made by Kelvin, Joy, Felix and Michael, and I for one was super appreciative that they cooked up such a storm, even after a tiring drive. First, we were served French Onion Soup, which was finished with a toasted baguette with Swiss cheese. This slow-cooked soup was chock-full of onions and spices that were in a light but nevertheless flavourful broth. French Onion is one of my favourites, so I definitely enjoyed this (I had thirds).

The rest of our meal was served cafeteria style, so that everyone could get their food quickly.For our main, they had prepared Chicken Linguine with Bechamel-Red Sauce, and for the side they made a Roasted Vegetable Medley, which included a colourful array of asparagus, yellow and orange peppers and carrots. The chicken was surprisingly moist, while the linguine was prepared al dente, and didn’t get clumpy while in the serving dish.As if this wasn’t enough food, their team also cooked up a delicious Apple Crumble for us to enjoy later that night.

This dessert was slightly crunchy from the toasted oats, while the granny smith apples had baked into a nice texture. This was the first time I tried apple crumble (weird, because I love apple desserts), and it was pretty much everything I imagined it to be.

 

 

Saturday’s breakfast at 9am was made by Judith, Kirstie, Josh and Angie. Presented to us when we walked downstairs was a selection of Bagels (sesame, everything, blueberry), along with paired toppings of nutella + strawberry, peanut butter + bananas, and cream cheese + honey. My personal favourite was the unconventional cream cheese + honey combination– the honey adds a little bit of sweetness, and cuts the heaviness of the cream cheese to make for a very mildly flavoured bagel. They also put out Greek Yogurt and Granola, for those of us who needed a little extra fibre 😛

Now our second lunch is where I failed a little, only managing to capture 2 shots of our self-serve taco bar. Prepared by Rosy, Jelissa, Timothy and Julianna, they set out all the fixins for a Tex-Mex Wrap and Burrito Bar: beef, beans, and an assortment of veggies. They also made some Panko-Breaded Chicken and Bacon-Wrapped Chicken (not pictured), which I actually ate on the side because my wrap was already too full from everything else I put in it! For sides, there was a big bowl of homemade guacamole and tortilla chips, as well as an enormous fruit salad, consisting of pears, green apples, mandarins, strawberries, green and red grapes. This was definitely a very filling meal, giving us a ton of energy for the rest of the day’s activities.

Our second and final dinner was made by Andy, Briony, Nathaniel and Kristen. For starters, there was a creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup and a Spinach and Strawberry Salad. The soup wasn’t what I expected at all, even though Andy’s gourmet-ness is well documented– I thought we’d just be having a flat of Campbell’s soup, which wouldn’t have been terrible– but I was pleasantly surprised by the homemade version. This soup had a ton of sliced mushrooms in it (none of the little cube bits you’d get in canned soup), as well as a bit of green onions. As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, so of course I loved the soup (plus, it was soup. Who doesn’t like soup?!). The spinach and strawberry salad was drizzled with a light vinaigrette, which let all the flavours shine through; I liked the sweet and vinegary mix.

The night before, the team had marinated the Honey Miso Grilled Chicken Thighs (pictured is a blurry picture of Andy marinating the chicken, and the final product), which meant that it was bursting with flavour when we munched on them for dinner. They ended up barbecuing the chicken on the grill at the house, giving it a nice blackened skin and smoky flavour. For our sides, we had a choice of three:

Mashed Potatoes, Spanish Rice and Chili Corn. The mash had a good amount of pepper and spices (as well as butter) in it, and went well with the chicken.This was my first time eating Spanish rice, and I liked the different take on rice (I usually have it plain, or fried up Asian-style). The chili corn was my favourite, though– mixed with some Sriracha sauce, the corn looked deceptively plain. I liked the slowly permeating heat that complemented the sweetness of the corn.

The next morning, my team (Janet, Kenny, Jeffrey and Mitchell) woke up bright and early to cook up a storm (I wasn’t able to take any pictures though, simply because we were too busy). We decided on Waffles, Bacon and Sausages. Let me just say that cooking bacon is the worst thing ever. I have nothing against eating bacon, but I just don’t like having to deal with the splatter and grease and bacony-smelling clothing that results from it. Anyways. The lodge we rented came with a double Belgian-style waffle maker, and this definitely helped us save time. We ended up running out of batter after 12 or so waffles, so we decided to divide them up into fours; we also had some leftover bagels, so we just warmed those up again. For toppings, we had bought some frozen mixed berries, but we also chopped up some fresh strawberries, bananas and green apples, and for garnishes we provided chocolate chips and cinnamon. I definitely had a fun time making the food, even though our team was pretty pooped afterwards (the car ride back to Vancouver was all too short for my much-needed nap).

So in the end, we left Whistler with content stomachs, happy smiles and renewed spirits, and for that, I would like to thank everyone who was there who made it such a special time, and especially those who organized the event. I hope that everyone is able to experience something like this in their lifetime, be it with their extended family, their church group, or their friends– serving each other, in a world where most people only serve themselves, is a surprisingly great way to bond.


The Urban Tea Merchant (Part 2)

Thanks for checking in again! Without further ado, here are the remaining sandwiches and desserts from yesterday’s post, Mother’s Day @ The Urban Tea Merchant (Part 1).

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the menu featured Wagyu Beef, albeit in a smaller portion that a meatlover like me would like. The Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with Horseradish Foam, which sat atop an olive oil crostini, exhibited nice marbling, and was very delicious. I liked that the carpaccio was more on the raw side, being only lightly seared along the edges. The extra seasoning of black pepper along the edges of the beef gave the beef a little bit of a crust which I could have done without, but it didn’t detract from the dish. I thought that there was a little too much horseradish foam on top of the crostini, so I ended up scraping it off, but the little I left on (after this picture was taken) still complemented the beef.

My favourite in terms of presentation was the Boursin Cheese Mousse with Crisp Endive and Candied Walnut— just look at how cute it is! I actually popped the whole thing in my mouth, just because I couldn’t figure out a better way to eat it (I didn’t want to be left with all the endive in the back, and spreading the cheese around seemed a little too peanut-butter-and-celery kiddish to me). I liked the mingling textures of it– the crispiness of the endive, coupled with the crunch of the walnuts and the creaminess of the cheese mousse was something I had never experienced before. I was a little skeptical at first, because the words cheese and mousse don’t really conjure up appetizing thoughts, but I found that the cheese was actually quite light, which allowed the walnuts and veggies to shine too. Even my mom, who despises cheesy things (except for the cheese on pizza and on cheeseburgers), enjoyed eating this.

The second-last sandwich I had was the Cucumber Tea Sandwich with Watercress Foam. I don’t really understand all this foam business– I guess it makes the sandwiches more fancy– but to me it just looks like a weird light paste, and most times I can barely taste the foamy ingredient. I’m sure someone who is more of a food connoisseur would be giving me the death glare right now because I’m not appreciating the work that goes into making it, the delicate flavour, the blah blah blah… anyways, I digress. In short, I couldn’t taste the watercressy-ness of the foam. The sandwich on the whole was pretty much the mild and refreshing finish I expected (I think cucumber and watercress sandwiches are staples of afternoon tea). It wasn’t anything spectacular (cue foam-lovers’ gasp!), but by no means was it poorly executed. I just wasn’t very excited about it.

This, though– THIS I was excited about. I have had the pleasure of munching on this Lapsang Souchong Tea-Infused Chicken Tea Sandwich on all 3 visits, and needless to say, I really really love it. I love that it’s served in an adorable little waffle cone; I love that you can taste the smokiness of the Lapsang Souchong, a tea that’s showcased in the storefront; I love that the chicken and celery and lettuce and cone go so darn well with each other. This last savoury item is pretty unique in my books, but of course, I haven’t been to many other afternoon tea places, so maybe I’m just woefully ignorant. Anyways. I’ll stop gushing. My mom and I both thought that the chicken cone was well prepared– the chicken salad filling was just moist enough so that even though we ate it last, the cone was still crisp. In addition to this, the filling was nicely seasoned; like I said in my above rave, you could really taste the smokiness of the tea leaves. Overall I thought it was a great end to the savoury portion of our meal.

By the time we reached the dessert platter, we were already feeling really full, which surprised my mom because she didn’t think that she’d be satisfied with those few sandwiches. Since we were one of two groups at the restaurant at that time (I guess nobody has tea at 7:30!), we could take our time and digest a little before tackling the desserts. This platter, like the savoury one, had double the portion so that we could save on space. On it were Assorted Fruits, consisting of a few slices each of dragonfruit, starfruit, oranges and pineapple, plus a gooseberry. The fruits all tasted very fresh and sweet– I was very pleasantly surprised that the pineapple wasn’t super sour, and that the dragonfruit and starfruit were both very flavourful (these two fruits normally taste pretty bland). The Chevron Strawberry (chocolate dipped strawberry) was prepared correctly so that the fruit was still juicy and and not mushy underneath the chocolate layer. Also included on the plate were Chocolate-Dipped Green Tea Madeleines. Compared to the other tea-infused items on the menu, this was one of the best executed in that you could actually taste the green tea baked into this light and spongey pastry.

The last thing my mom and I ate were the two Macarons— the pink one was Bain de Roses Tea-Infused, and the yellow one was Lemon Rooibos Infused. Both these macarons were well balanced in flavour; I could taste the almond flavouring used in the shell in addition to the tea. My personal favourite was the lemon Rooibos, which was a nice blend of sweet and sour. The Bain de Rose macaron was a little too flowery for my taste, reminding me somewhat of my Crabtree & Evelyn lotion…

We packed away the Truffles and Petit Fours, simply because we were too full to continue (And also because any more sweets would make our teeth fall out. Probably). We have actually yet to eat them, since we’ve been going out for meals all weekend with various family members. I remembered not liking the petit fours that much though, because they were extremely sweet– so sweet that my jaw started hurting. You could taste the almond flavouring, but I was far too distracted by the sweetness to taste anything else (apparently these are tea-infused too). Perhaps I’m just not a petit fours kind of person.

In general, we had a fantastic time at The Urban Tea Merchant. The staff were very friendly and informative, and when I asked them about the champagne they immediately apologized and corrected their mistake (even though it was a fairly minor one by my standards). The manager also checked up on us a few times, even though he had his own Mother’s Day dinner to attend (his was the other group in the restaurant). Overall, I found service to be top-notch, and it’s certainly one of the reasons why I have returned. Price-wise, it can be a little expensive for some (the Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea Special is $48, but they do have some cheaper sets that are priced at $25 per person), but the quality of food and service (plus the champagne) justified the cost for me. I don’t think I’d drop by for a random visit because it would put too big a dent in my wallet if I went too often, but it’s certainly a great place to go for a special event.

Anyways. I hope you’re all having a splendid day (it’s beautiful in Vancouver) and that you’re spending quality time with your mothers! Again, Happy Mother’s Day!

The Urban Tea Merchant
1070 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon


The Urban Tea Merchant (Pt. 1)

With exams and summer school and everything in between, I have to say that blogging wasn’t really on my mind for the past week or so– so I have to apologize for the delay in posting! Thank you for still reading on and visiting even though our (mostly my) posts have slowed down a bit.

Anyways. This first post after my impromptu hiatus is going to be a long one, so I’m actually going to split it into 2 posts– one today, and one tomorrow. In any case, brace yourselves for a plethora of pictures of open-faced tea sandwiches!

I usually have a hard time deciding on where to go with my mom for Mother’s Day, but luckily this year I had no trouble at all. Having been to The Urban Tea Merchant twice the previous year (for a birthday and  a bachelorette), I knew that I would get both scrumptious food and outstanding service, and so I made an online reservation a week beforehand to ensure we’d get a great evening.

We arrived at the Georgia location a little early for our 5:30pm reservation, and so we had the opportunity to browse through the storefront’s display of different teas. The staff were incredibly friendly from the get-go, informing us about the kinds of leaves they stock, and letting us know that they were preparing our table for us. Their advice definitely made choosing a tea for our meal a lot easier!

Since we were celebrating Mother’s Day, it made sense to order their $48 Mother’s Day Signature Tea Service, which includes a $6 tea of your choice, champagne, sorbet, plus the usual variety of savoury and sweet sandwiches and desserts. My mom and I started off with a pot each of Grand Wedding and Alfonso teas, both of which are black tea-exotic fruit combinations. Both these teas smelled strongly of fruit (mine had mango in it), but tasted rather light– generally, we like our teas a little stronger, but it wasn’t that big of a problem. We were also presented with two flutes of Pink Flamingo, a non-alcoholic tea cocktail. I was puzzled when we drank it as it didn’t taste like there was alcohol in it at all–turns out they didn’t think I was legal (even though I am– I guess it’s nice that I look younger than I really am, that could come in handy a few years down the road…) so they didn’t serve us the actual champagne cocktail. When I enquired with the manager, who had come by to check up on us, he promptly apologized and said he’d bring us the champagne right away. We didn’t really care if we got the champagne or not, since my mom and I aren’t really big on drinking, but it was really nice of him to give it to us even though we had already polished off the Pink Flamingo. So, here’s a photo of the Tea-Infused Champagne and White Wine Cocktail. I don’t know my alcohols very well, so all I can really say about this is that it was very refreshing and it tasted like what I expected (bubbly, grape-y, with a slight hint of green tea).

Next up our server brought us a palate-cleansing Peach Mint Sorbet, which was just right– not too sweet, and not too sour. You could really taste the peach flavour in it, and the mint leaf added a refreshing element to the pre-meal dessert (as my mom called it). Soon after we finished the sorbet, our server brought out the tea tower. I don’t have a picture of the whole thing because the middle tier of fresh-baked scones came a little while after the tower, and by then we had already eaten a few of the sandwiches. But you can imagine it, right? (:

They only brought over one tower so that our table wouldn’t be too crowded, so what you see in the picture to the left are the 7 savoury options, multiplied by 2. I had the Baby Shrimp and Granny Smith Apple spoon (bottom left corner) first– this was a really delicate starter, where you could taste the freshness of the diced shrimp amidst the mousse. The crispness of the green apples and the alfalfa sprouts gave this some extra texture. My mom and I thought this spoon was a little on the bland side, and definitely had to be eaten first so that the taste of the other, stronger-flavoured sandwiches wouldn’t overpower it.

We didn’t really eat in any particular fashion (ie. we didn’t follow the order of the sandwiches listed on the menu, and instead just ate whatever we felt like grabbing), so I had the Smoked Salmon & Wasabi Aioli with In-House Ponzu Jelly open-faced sandwich next… maybe I was subconsciously choosing to eat all the seafood first. This sandwich had a lot more flavour than the baby shrimp spoon before it, courtesy of the smoked salmon and ponzu jelly strip. However, the sandwich wasn’t overwhelmed with saltiness; rather, I felt that the ponzu (which was only lightly lemony) complimented the seasoned fish. I couldn’t really taste the wasabi aioli spread, though– I actually didn’t even know there WAS wasabi aioli until I looked at the menu again.

By the time I finished the smoked salmon sandwich, our server had brought out the fresh-baked scones– so of course I had to leave everything and eat that first (You could say that fresh-baked bread and pastries are my mom’s and my Kryptonite)! The left Cheese, Onion and Chive Scone was satisfyingly buttery and flakey, and my mom and I liked that these were indeed made fresh for our meal. All the flavours went really well together– I have had scones of this kind that were extremely (grossly) cheesy or oniony– but this one was a mild mixture of all the ingredients, and I almost didn’t want to put the cream on it because it tasted so good by itself. Almost. It IS devonshire cream… Anyway. The Petit Savoury Tart was basically a small square quiche– the crust was buttery and flakey, and the filling was cheesy. I think this might have been a tad overcooked though, as it was getting a little hard by the time we ate it. The smaller scone on the right is the Chocolate Chip Scone, which was a fruit scone the last two times I went for afternoon tea. No matter though– I’m not that big a fan of dried fruit, and I love chocolate chips– so no harm, no foul. This scone was a bit denser than the savoury one, and actually tasted a lot blander. I think it would have benefitted from more chocolate chips, as they were distributed quite sparsely throughout the scone.

Next I had one of my favourite things of the night– the Nilgiri Tea-Infused Egg Salad Sandwich, where the eggs were served devilled-style. I could tell that the restaurant put a lot of care into making each and every part of the tea set, and that was certainly exhibited in this sandwich. This was an overall delicate sandwich, where the egg yolk mixture was only lightly seasoned (my mom liked that it wasn’t ridiculously mayonnaise-y). It did get kinda messy though, as the bread wasn’t really able to hold up the heavier egg, but all that meant was that we had to cut it up into smaller pieces. My only qualm with this sandwich was that the eggs didn’t taste very tea-infused; as an Asian, I’ve had plenty of tea-infused eggs in my lifetime, and I have to say that this one was on the blander end of the spectrum. It’s not like we didn’t enjoy eating it, though.

So I’m going to save the rest of this post (the remaining sandwiches and desserts, plus my closing comments on service, price and overall experience) for tomorrow. Hopefully you’ll read this tonight and– if you’re stumped on what to do with your mom tomorrow–be inspired to do something fun with her! Thanks again for reading, and to all the mothers out there, Happy (Early) Mother’s Day!

The Urban Tea Merchant
1070 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon


American Grille (Dine Out Vancouver 2012)

On a dreary winter’s night, the gang and I headed out to the faraway lands of Richmond to partake in one of DineOut Vancouver’s many offerings. Okay, Richmond isn’t THAT far away from where we live… but having to get there in the cold and wet just makes it seem that much farther. Good thing we were able to organize rides!

Since we were a little slow on the uptake this year, choosing a restaurant was a little difficult—we needed to find a place with a worth-your-money-menu (basically, a menu with seafood or steak) that could also fit our rather large group. And so we ended up at American Grille, which is inside the Marriott Hotel on the corner of Westminster and Minoru in Richmond.

With In Hye and me tonight were our friends Dolph, Yvonne, Hui, Angela, Jessica, Scottie, SB, David, Darek and Bruce. We were seated in our own section of the restaurant, which was great since we probably got a little loud (for a hotel-restaurant crowd, anyway) as the night wore on. Nevertheless, servers still came by periodically to check up on us, making sure that everything was going fine throughout the night—I think they came by with water at least 3 times. The $28 menu included an appetizer (Qualicum Scallops over Couscous, Flank Steak Salad or Garlic Soup), entrée (Lamb Shank, Ahi Tuna Steak or Butternut Squash Ravioli) and dessert (Peach Melba, Banana Walnut Cake or Calamansi & Passion Fruit Sorbet).

For starters, we had the requisite Bread Basket. This one included two different kinds of baguette and some sesame crackers. What can I say, it was bread—nothing spectacular, but I did like that it came warm and with loads of butter. And they brought over two for our table, so I could indulge in my pre-meal carbs. Yum. Bruce and I chose the Flank Steak Salad appetizer. The steak was cooked a perfect medium-rare (sorry about the bad picture quality, I had to use my phone), and the greens underneath were still cool and crisp despite the warmth of the meat. There was just enough vinaigrette covering the leaves, and it worked in complete balance with the steak, which definitely stood out in flavour. Nearly everyone else had the Jumbo Scallops Couscous (Darek had the soup), which consisted of two large scallops over some greens, figs and couscous. In Hye thought that the couscous was a little too moist, but they did not detract from the sweet, well-cooked scallops. The figs that I ate were sweet and (surprisingly) juicy, and I liked dipping it into the citrus vinaigrette as it added a different dimension to the fruit.

We didn’t have to wait too long after that for our mains. Being Asian, we ordered the meat and the seafood to get our money’s worth (pasta seemed like a boring choice, anyway). All the guys had the Slow Braised Lamb Shank, which came with parsnip puree (not mashed potato, to our surprise) and grilled onions. This was fall-off-the-bone tender, and there weren’t any complaints about it.

The rest of us had the Grilled Ahi Tuna Steak with Warm Potato Salad. I’m not that big of a tuna person, but I enjoyed the different textures of the tuna, which was grilled just right—it was only lightly seared, so that most of the fish was still pink inside. The warm potato salad was really just a bed of roasted vegetables in olive oil (not like the salad I had in my appetizer). Included were yellow and green beans, nugget potatoes, whole cherry tomatoes, and my favourite part, quail eggs!The beans were squeaky and crunchy, the potatoes were cooked just right, the tomatoes were squishy (in that delightful, pops-in-your-mouth kind of way), and the quail eggs were just the slightest bit runny.

For dessert, I had the Calamansi and Passion Fruit Sorbet in Raspberry Pepper Soup. Raspberry Pepper Soup, you read that right. The tartness of the calamansi was really all I could taste in the sorbet; I couldn’t pick out the passion fruit flavour at all. Nevertheless, it was refreshing and went along nicely with the lightly spiced and minty raspberry soup-sauce. The sorbet was surrounded by honeydew and cantaloupe balls, which really rounded out the dessert. I liked the mingling of flavours in this dessert; it was definitely something different.

I’d say this was a pretty good experience at the Marriott. The food was great, service was welcoming (Vanessa, the woman who took my reservation, was very accommodating) and the prices were quite reasonable– but then again, it was DineOut. Another thing worth noting is that there is free parking in the hotel; you just have to register your plate with the host at the restaurant. Despite its location in Richmond, I could see myself returning in the future if I was looking for a low-key, solid meal.

American Grille
7571 Westminster Highway
Richmond, BC

American Grille on Urbanspoon