X-Site Grill and Bistro

Summer is the season of (among other things) superhero movies. SB is a huge fan of superhero movies, so we started off the summer with Iron Man 3, with our next selection being Man of Steel. We were planning to watch it at our cheap neighbourhood movie theatre, with a quick, cheap lunch beforehand. And what could be cheaper than $4.95 lunch specials?

X-Site Grill and Bistro, on the eastern end of Hastings Street, epitomizes cheap food for me. $5.95 dinner specials, and $4.95 lunch specials (with the purchase of a beverage). I generally like nothing more than cold water to accompany my meals, but I was curious about what kind of food they could be serving for less-than-McDonald’s-prices, so I indulged in an iced tea to be able to order one of their lunch specials.

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Because we were both quite hungry, we decided to order a Calamari ($6.95) to share. As far as calamari goes, this was decent, but not exceptional. The tzatziki sauce was oddly thick, and lacked any real tang–it simply tasted like sour cream. I love sour cream as much as the next person, but I wasn’t satisfied. The squid itself was tender, but overseasoned and seemed saltier and saltier the more we ate it. The dish was served warm, and the batter wasn’t quite crispy, but it was fine for what it was.

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SB decided on the New York Peppercorn Steak ($9.95), a 60z New York strip served with Dijon peppercorn sauce, rice pilaf, roasted potatoes, green salad, and garlic bread. The steak was a bit small, as expected, and came out closer to medium rather than the medium rare we’d requested. As such, it was a bit too chewy–but what can you really expect? At least the peppercorn sauce added a nice kick. As for the sides, the salad was crisp and fresh, while the garlic bread was warm and toasted. Considering how expensive even a fast food meal is nowadays, this is a good deal for just $10.

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As for me, I had the lunch special Chicken Souvlaki ($4.95), which was served with rice pilaf, roast potatoes, Caesar salad, pita bread, and tzatziki sauce. The chicken was both juicy and tender, and nicely seasoned. There wasn’t really anything to complain about here, except for the croutons in my salad. I’m a huge crouton aficionado (if such a thing exists), and I like my croutons to be salty, cheesy, and garlicky, with a nice crunch. I often force/coerce my friends to get extra croutons at those build-your-own-salad-bars so that I can satisfy my crouton craving. Anyways, I find most croutons to fulfill my requirements, but these croutons tasted oddly burnt. Each one I had tasted burnt, with no other recognizable taste. You probably don’t care about croutons as much as I do (I don’t think anybody does), so let’s move onto the other sides. Other than the croutons, nothing was particularly amiss, with the lettuce being crisp and the rice being well-cooked, and the tzatziki sauce was the same as the one served with our calamari. The pita bread was warm and slightly crispy, and not doused in oil as it is at some Greek restaurants. Overall, this was just a lot of food, especially considering the price, and enjoyable, despite the crouton mishap.

There really isn’t that much more to say about our meal here. The service was a bit lacklustre–despite the nearly empty restaurant, it took us a long time to flag someone down for the bill. Still, the food was cheap and did the job. This area of Burnaby isn’t exactly known for its fine dining scene, so if you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive bite to eat, X-Site will probably do the job.

X-Site Grill and Bistro
4625 Hastings Street
Burnaby, BC

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Hukuya Sushi

Each of my childhood summers has a defining trait to remember it by. There’s the summer I moved to Canada, the summer my family took a road trip, and several summers spent visiting relatives back in Seoul. Summer reminds me of family vacations and structureless days of splashing around in a pool and consuming shaved ice by the bowlful. Each year, summer is a special time, magically separate from the rest of the year.

And, of course, this summer is going to be extra special, since I’m going to be spending the last two months of it in Europe! I’ve never been to Europe before, and I’ve always romanticized the notion of a trip to Europe during college, so I’m quite excited to go, to put it mildly. In any case, having catch-up lunches with friends prior to a big trip is always nice, so Cindy and I planned to meet up near North Road for a quick meal.

Despite the high density of Korean restaurants on North Road, I’ve never been partial to eating at Korean restaurants. I can get it so easily at home, plus my mom’s cooking is free of MSG and the huge amounts of sugar that is often hidden in Korean restaurant fare. Once you eliminate all the Korean restaurants in this area, you’re left with not so many choices, especially considering that it was raining and we weren’t eager to walk far.

So, we headed to Hukuya Sushi, which is hidden beside the Red Robin in a small complex behind Lougheed Mall. Somewhat ironically, Hukuya is Korean-run, but so are many of the popular sushi places in the area, so we gave it a try. We were greeted by the somewhat unpleasant smell of old cooking oil, but seated promptly by the server/owner. They had quite an extensive menu with both lunch and dinner specials, so it took us a while to decide what to order.

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First, we shared a Spicy Chopped Scallop Roll ($5.25). They also had a lot of larger specialty rolls on the menu, but none of them really appealed to me (plus they were actually quite pricey!) This was a decent attempt, but I thought it was expensive considering that the roll was not especially large. It wasn’t much bigger than your regular maki. The presentation was also a bit sloppy, as you can see, with some of the rice falling apart in places. I personally prefer the scallops to be directly massaged with spicy sauce rather than the sauce being distributed on top, but this tasted alright. The rice itself was a bit too vinegary, but not unpleasantly so, while the scallops themselves were nice and juicy, and in large chunks. The sauce was both sweet and spicy. I think I would rather try one of their special rolls on another visit, considering this simple roll cost me more than five bucks…

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I then had a Tuna Don ($10.95), which I again thought was a bit pricey considering the prices at other, similar Korean-run sushi restaurants, but oh well. The tuna was of a decent quality, being neither too mushy nor too firm. I found the rice a bit too sweet and vinegary, but I tend to prefer milder flavours, so that’s just personal preference. The portion size was quite large, and I ended up having a lot of rice left afterwards. It was a simple but filling meal and I would definitely consider ordering it again if I were to return.

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Cindy decided on the Lunch Box A ($8.95), which included miso soup, assorted tempura, chicken teriyaki with rice, green salad, and a California roll. To break down the lunch box one by one…the miso soup was the usual slightly salty fare with tiny cubes of tofu. The tempura was crispy and hot, while the teriyaki was lightly touched with mildly sweet sauce. The salad, meanwhile, was fresh, which is all we’re really asking for in a salad, with apple puree dressing served on top. Cindy was most pleased with the California roll, which she declared above average, and quite filling, despite it being four pieces instead of the usual six. I personally thought it was a great value for $8.95, especially, considering that the chopped scallop roll alone set us back $5.25. I generally don’t opt for lunch boxes since they usually contain teriyaki and tempura, which aren’t my go-to items at a Japanese restaurant, but I would consider ordering one here, since it seemed to be the best value out of the items that we sampled.

Overall, our meal at Hukuya was what we expected: a quick lunch at your average, run-of-the-mill sushi joint. As the only servers were the two owners, the service was a bit slow, but I thought that the service was subpar even considering that fact. The restaurant wasn’t terribly busy during our stay, and it took a long time for us to receive our cups of water and our cheque, even after we specifically requested them. To summarize, I wasn’t incredibly impressed by Hukuya, but then again, I wouldn’t actively dissuade someone from eating there.

Hukuya Sushi
9626 Cameron Street
Burnaby, BC

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E2 Cafe Restaurant

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.

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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.

Noodle Combo 2I 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.

WingsI 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.

DrinksAs 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.

Grill Meal (Steak, Lamb, Ox Tongue)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, Soupas 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.

Lamb CurryWe 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.

Noodle ComboMy 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.

Kids Meal 1Kids Meal 2The 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
Burnaby, BC

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No. 1 Chinese Restaurant 第一家菜館

So, Mui Garden closed down, leaving my family in despair. Maybe despair is a strong term, but my family is picky about what we eat, and when it comes to Chinese food, there are many restaurants we can’t dine at due to our aversion to MSG. I’d heard great things about No. 1 Chinese Restaurant on the corner of Hastings and Boundary, so my family drove out there for dinner one night. We arrived early and were seated promptly, but the restaurant quickly filled up, which is always a good sign.

The interior of the restaurant is a bit odd. Beside me there was a mural of a landscape that vaguely reminded me of an amalgamation of Switzerland and Greece. Apparently the spot was formerly occupied by a European restaurant, and the new owners opted not to paint over the themed mural. I personally hate murals (the minimalist in me prefers a plain wall), but a restaurant should be judged primarily on its food.

DSC_0011Apparently the dish to get here is the Deep Fried Tofu with Golden Garlic ($8.50). I had no idea what to expect from this. After all, what’s so special about tofu, right? But we all fell in love within a couple bites. The outside layer is a bit salty and crunchy, but the tofu inside is incredibly smooth and silky. My mom has sensitive teeth and often has to be careful about what she eats, but this was perfect for her. This came out piping hot, so keep that in mind before you take a bite. All the dishes we tried were delicious, but this was the most memorable for me.

DSC_0007The dish I was least satisfied with was the Wonton Noodle Soup ($4.95). The main reason is that I’m not a huge fan of MSG, and I could taste it in the soup, plus I was terribly thirsty and headachey afterwards. Other than that, I found the noodles a bit tough, and thought that they could have been cooked a bit longer. The wontons consisted of a pork and prawn filling and a smooth, slippery skin. The skin was also quite thin, which I liked. I’m not sure I would order this again, though, since I have a low tolerance for MSG.

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Next up is the Spicy Szechuan Fried Beans ($8.95). The green beans were fresh and actually tasted like real vegetables, which was nice. I often find that fried veggies lose their crispness, but not here. I also liked how the accompanying pork was julienned, which made it easy to pick up and eat, unlike the ground version found at other restaurants. Also, the beans weren’t saturated in sauce, which was great, and in reality the flavour was quite mild, although there was some heat. I really appreciated how this wasn’t too salty, which made it an enjoyable dish for all of us.

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We usually make an effort to order a dish with prawns, since my mom really likes them, and here we ordered the Pan Fried Prawns with Peanuts in Chili Sauce ($12.95). They were fine, but didn’t stand out in comparison with the other dishes at the table. The prawns had a nice snap and retained their natural sweetness, while the veggies tasted crisp and natural. I actually expected these to be spicy, but I didn’t think that they exhibited any real heat. This dish was more than fine, but I didn’t end up eating much of it, since we had a lot of other great dishes at the table.

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Next up, we have the Singapore Style Fried Rice Noodles ($7.75), with a vermicelli version also offered on their menu. If given the choice, I always choose rice noodles–I much prefer the broad, chewy noodles to the thinner ones. In addition to the huge heap of noodles, the dish included some bean sprouts and bits of fried egg. The curry sauce was subtle and not too overwhelming, and the prawns were once again satisfying. This was a great portion size, especially considering the price, and easily fulfilled my carb quotient for the meal.

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The last item we ordered was the Rock Cod and Tofu with Pork Hot Pot ($9.95). Doesn’t it look delicious in the photo? Well, looks don’t lie, because this was a solid dish, to say the least. I loved how the fish was just a little bit crispy on the outside, and flaky and moist on the inside. The tofu was a bit sweet from having soaked up the broth, but was both chewy on the outside and smooth on the inside. We’d ordered a couple sides of rice, and eating these hot, steaming pieces of tofu and fish alongside the warm, white rice was heaven. This was also a great value for the price, and we would definitely order this again on another visit.

Overall, I have nothing but great things to say about my family’s experience here. The food was well-executed and served in sizeable portions, and the prices were quite reasonable. As far as service goes, it wasn’t exceptional, but the servers were friendly enough and always made sure that our cups were full. I would definitely recommend that you pay a visit–and make sure to order the tofu when you’re there!

No. 1 Chinese Restaurant
102A-3701 Hastings Street
Burnaby, BC

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Gaya Sushi

It was time to choose a restaurant to go to after work again, and I was craving sushi… but couldn’t decide on a place to go to. I know, there are a ton of sushi joints we could go to in North Burnaby, but I was tired and famished, and really didn’t feel like making my way to Sushi Garden just to wait forever and a day for a table. A friend of mine recently recommended Gaya Sushi, a small restaurant that opened up in the past year at a strip mall on Bainbridge and Lougheed, so Samson and I, along with my parents, decided to give it a try.

Gaya was pretty busy too, but we managed to get seated right away. The restaurant is bright and spacious but on the smaller side (compared to Sushi Garden, at least), and I immediately appreciated that it was quieter– I’m not a fan of the hustle and bustle that characterizes the other places we go to.

Tuna TatakiMy friend Rosy had insisted we get the Tuna Tataki ($6.95) to start, and I was really glad that we did. The fish was sliced at a perfect thickness, seared lightly along the sides, and tasted very fresh. Presented in a ring topped with garlic chips (my new favourite topping), and with shaved daikon, white onion, yellow and red peppers in the centre with a pool of ponzu sauce, this dish was both visually and texturally appetizing. I’ve really been into tuna tataki lately (ever since my lunch at Guu Garden), and I’m happy to say that this suburban restaurant offered up something comparable. I’ve been to Gaya Sushi twice since this visit, and I’ve ordered it every time.

Miso SoupTobiko and Ikura SushiNow, I’m a bit of a soup nut (I could seriously live on soup and bread for weeks), and besides, I needed to be warmed up after skating for 4 hours. So, I ordered the Miso Soup ($1.25) as another appetizer. I actually really like miso soups, despite their commonality and saltiness, but this way you can actually tell how it compares to other restaurants. This one did the job, and had plenty of ingredients– green onion, seaweed and tofu– to make it a substantial starter. I liked that the green onion wasn’t wilted (they must have put it in right before serving?), as I do enjoy the crunch. Also as part of our appetizers, we ordered 3 pieces of nigiri sushi (My dad didn’t want one): 2 pieces of Tobiko Sushi ($1.35) and 1 piece of Ikura Sushi ($1.80). These were pretty typical, and the different kinds of roe all tasted fresh. My personal favourite is the Tobiko, as the little eggs have more texture and ‘pop’ than masago roe does, but it doesn’t squirt out quite as much salty juice as the Ikura roe does.

RollsWe ordered 3 rolls to share as well: from the left, we had the Chopped Scallop Roll ($3.99), the Hot Night Roll ($5.99), and the Spider Roll ($6.99). The Chopped Scallop look pretty typical, with small pieces of scallop mixed together with masago in a light mayo sauce and accompanied by cucumbers, but I thought that it tasted a little fishier than what I was used to. I did, however, like that the filling wasn’t a weird orange colour. The Hot Night Roll is one of their specialty rolls, and is basically a Dynamite Roll topped with spicy tuna sashimi and some crispy noodle bits. The tempura shrimp was fried up nicely (not too oily), and the spicy tuna was just spicy enough. I liked the crispy noodles on top, which added some more texture to the roll, but found that it got messy quickly, especially since I severely lack in chopstick skills. The Spider Roll again exhibited a nicely deep-fried filling in the soft-shell crab, which was surprisingly meaty. Overall, the rice was cooked just right, and I thought that the rolls were nicely executed, if not a smidge on the expensive side.

Chirashi DonFor something more filling than just sushi rolls, we also ordered a Chirashi Don ($10.50) and a Tempura Udon ($6.95). This Chirashi Don was certainly one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and is definitely the best deal out of ones I’ve had. At $10.50, we weren’t expecting that big of a portion or that many different kinds of fish, but as you can see, the bowl this came in was gigantic. There was a lot of rice underneath the fish, which was drizzled lightly with sesame oil, but the real star of the dish was the sashimi. On it were several pieces each of red snapper, salmon, tuna, toro (fatty tuna), hokkigai (surf clam), tamago (which is egg, not raw fish) and hamachi. The fish was all very fresh and cut nicely with a beautiful sheen, and we really appreciated the assortment and amount that was served. Tempura UdonThe Tempura Udon, which was our final dish of the night, was a solid dish, but I wouldn’t necessarily get it again. The noodles were fairly al dente, and the soup was nicely flavoured and wasn’t too salty. Served with the noodles was a piece of fish cake, some Inari, and a variety of vegetables. On the side was a basket of assorted tempura, and like the shrimp tempura in the dynamite roll, these pieces, which included shrimp, yam, carrot and zucchini, were also fried up adequately.

Like I said above, I’ve been to Gaya Sushi a few times since, and I’ve had great service and food every time (and I wasn’t carrying a hefty camera for many of those visits either). The waiters are very kind and polite, which is a nice change from the borderline rude service you receive at some other sushi restaurants, and came over to refill our drinks without us asking them to. Price-wise, I find that they’re pretty average– some items are a little more expensive in comparison, while some others are a great deal. Being on Lougheed Highway, the restaurant isn’t too inaccessible, but it is a good walk up from Sperling Station (there is always the 134, but that only runs every half hour). I would urge you to make it out to this little strip mall sometime soon to try Gaya Sushi out! You definitely won’t regret it.

Gaya Sushi
2900 Bainbridge Ave
Burnaby, BC

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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


Mui Garden (Permanently Closed)

My family and I have exhausted most of the Korean eating options around North Road, the boundary between Burnaby and Coquitlam. Despite being Vancouver’s unofficial Koreatown, there actually aren’t that many great Korean restaurants to eat at. Then again, I don’t enjoy eating out for Korean food when I have such an excellent chef at home (my mother, not me). Once again, my parents wanted to try something new, so we decided to lunch at the North Road location of Mui Garden.

The restaurant is very spacious, but was mostly empty when we wandered in. One of the servers was incredibly friendly and helped us navigate the menu, making suggestions and even overriding some of our choices. Still, we trusted her, figuring that she knew better, especially after our not-so-successful venture at New Szechuan. The other servers were indifferent at best, tossing menus onto our table in a mostly gruff manner, but ah well. I’m used to that kind of service.

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Our first dish, recommended by the server, was the Pan-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork ($10.95). To be honest, I’m not much a vegetable person, so I was unsure about green beans, but this was a winner. The pork was a bit too salty from having soaked up the sauce, but the beans themselves were crisp and tasty. I liked how they had a slight taste of the sauce while still retaining the crispness of the vegetables. I suppose that it might seem too bland for some people, but we enjoyed it. The portion size was also great, as we ended up packing some for home. (We had ordered three dishes between the three of us).

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Due to my dad’s somewhat restrictive diet, my parents have been opting for a lot of fish and tofu recently, so they were happy when the server also recommended the Braised Rock Cod with Roasted Pork and Deep Fried Tofu Hot Pot ($14.50). Although it was a little pricey for lunch, this dish was well worth it, and well-executed. As a whole, the ingredients were all soft, smooth, and silky, especially the fish. The pork was roasted in small cubes that simply tasted like regular ham. It was a mild broth with cabbage underneath that tasted great with rice.

DSC_0006I ordered the Boneless Chicken Curry ($10). I guess the server approved of my choice as she didn’t offer a better alternative as she did with some other dishes we wanted to try. This curry was mostly sweet and coconutty, and not at all spicy, and quite unlike an Indian curry, which I expected considering the venue. Although it was a tad watery, I still enjoyed eating it with the provided rice. Besides the chicken, the bowl of curry also included potatoes and onions. The coconut flavour was very strong, which I personally love, but if you’re expecting a spicy curry, I wouldn’t recommend this.

DSC_0012After this successful first visit, we returned with my brother near the end of 2012. Out of curiosity, my brother ordered the Half Hainan Chicken ($12). Hainan chicken is simply chicken boiled in a chicken bone stock, served cold. This was our first time having hainan chicken. And to be perfectly honest, we didn’t enjoy it. It’s mostly because we were unfamiliar with this dish, and to someone unfamiliar with the dish, it looks less than appetizing. This particular version was also quite bland, even when paired with the provided chili sauce and ginger oil. We ended up leaving most of this dish untouched. Although we tried to like it, we ultimately couldn’t. I suppose that’s more personal preference than anything else, however, and our opinion is meaningless when evaluating Mui Garden’s hainan chicken compared to other restaurants.

DSC_0013We were served by the same lady on this night, and this time, she recommended the Pork Chop with Spicy Salt and Hot Pepper ($11.50). Although this was a good portion size, the pork itself was a little too tough to eat, and nothing special. Overall, it was an acceptable dish, but not amazing. The pork was quite dry, and although it was well-seasoned, I found it to be a tad too salty for my tastes. Although the menu warned that this was a spicy dish, my primary impression was the saltiness.

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For our carb quotient, we ordered the Special Fried Rice Noodles (Singapore Style) ($9.50). I personally was looking forward to this dish since I’ve always loved rice noodles. These didn’t disappoint, with the noodles being perfectly chewy. The bean sprouts were crispy, and there was a good assortment of ingredients, with plenty of vegetables and shrimp. Surprisingly, there was a spicy aftertaste to the noodles, which added another dimension of flavour to what could have been a simple, boring plate of noodles. One complaint I had was that the noodle to ingredient ratio seemed a bit off, as I would have appreciated even more noodles.

My family really enjoyed both of our visits at Mui Garden. Although some of the waitstaff were surly and silent, one server really went out of her way to make us feel at home, which we appreciated, since this isn’t our native cuisine. The food, in general, was well-prepared, and although the prices are a little higher than I’d prefer, it was still an enjoyable experience. One thing though: they are cash only, so remember to go to the ATM if you’re dependent on plastic like I am. I definitely will be going back though, especially for those green beans!

Mui Garden
4327 North Road
Burnaby, BC

Mui Garden on Urbanspoon