If you’re at all familiar with the food scene in Vancouver, you’re probably aware that this post is long overdue, since the food cart festival is a summer event. (And obviously for good reason, what with all the rain we get). I actually visited the festival in September with Sam and Pickles, when all of us had returned from our summer travels, so this post is actually only four months in the making. What with school and work and life in general, it can be a bit difficult to keep on top of things…that’s my excuse, anyways.
Despite the burgeoning food cart scene in Vancouver, I often find it difficult to seek out the specific ones that catch my interest. Many of them are open for a limited time during the day, or only at a specific location that is out of the way of my usual commute. Well, thank goodness for the food cart festival, then, which conveniently gathers Vancouver’s most popular food carts in one area so that folks like me can get to pig out to our hearts’ content. In 2013, the festival was hosted in a lot right by False Creek, which made it easily accessible by SkyTrain for us car-less folk.
The three of us split up to consider our options, and Sam ended up with a Sourdough Pepperjack Cheese Sandwich ($8) from Mom’s Grilled Cheese. She had tomatoes and double smoked bacon added to her sandwich for $0.50 and $1.50, respectively. She quite enjoyed her sandwich, as the bread was fried up nicely on the griddle, making it crispy but not too greasy. Meanwhile, the sandwich itself was quite hot, so the cheese had that perfected melted consistency that we all look for in a grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich is also served with chips, which were stuffed at the bottom of the paper cone, making the chips themselves soggy. Sam noted that she’d had the sandwich and chips served on a plate before, which was much better, as the chips didn’t get soggy. Still, the tomatoes and bacon nicely enhanced her sandwich, making it an enjoyable meal. Sam also indulged in a Ginger Mint Lemonade ($2.75), also from Mom’s, which tasted mostly of ginger with only a slight tint of lemon. It also had a slight enjoyable fizziness, and was an enjoyable drink for the very hot day that we were enduring.
Meanwhile, Pickles and I wandered over to Yolk’s Breakfast. I’d wanted to try Yolk’s for a while, but simply never had the chance to. I’ve now had their food twice, once here and once at the actual restaurant now open on Hastings Street, but there was a time when I used to drool over some other fortunate soul’s Instagrammed chicken and waffles or soft-poached egg sandwich.
The wait was long and arduous, but we finally received our orders and, luckily enough, found a shaded table to sit down and munch. Pickles had the Chicken and Waffles, which didn’t look super pretty but definitely did the job. The chicken was crispy, juicy, and flavourful, and came in large pieces. I’m a big fan of fried chicken (and pretty much every other deep-fried food), and I often find that I get more batter than actual chicken, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. The waffle itself was nice and buttery, but a little too soft for her liking, although it might have been softened by the hot weather and the fact that it took us a while to find a table to sit at. But then again, Pickles was fresh from her trip to Belgium at this point, so perhaps her waffle standards were a bit too high.
Meanwhile, I had an item that I’d longed for for quite a while, a Poached Free-Range Egg Sandwich ($7.50). They have a beautiful flowchart where you can customize your sandwich, and I had mine with hand-carved honey ham, fresh spinach, dijon, hollandaise, one poached egg, all on an English muffin. There were quite a few flavours going on here: the saltiness from the ham, the tartness from the hollandaise, and a nice, comforting savouriness from the egg yolk. The English muffin was soft to begin with, and only got softer once I broke the egg yolk. This resulted in a super messy sandwich to eat, although it wasn’t a huge problem once I decided to fork-and-knife it. Breakfast sandwiches are my favourite type of sandwich, and this one was certainly yummy, but I’m not really sure if this particular combination was worth the hype that often accompanies any talk about Yolk’s.
It’s just not breakfast without potatoes, and at Yolk’s these come in the form of a Truffle-Lemon Hash Brown Skewer ($3.50). At first bite, my hash browns were quite tart, with a very strong lemon flavour, but after that, the flavour seemed to mellow out, which was good. I think I waited too long to eat mine, as they got quite soggy, but other than that, these potatoes did an excellent job.
After finishing our food, the three of us took a nice walk along False Creek and enjoyed the sunshine. This was back in September, mind you, when Vancouver was enjoying sunny weather rather than the dreary, foggy dampness that we’re enduring now. Summer is always a season I look forward to, but the food cart festival definitely adds to an already perfect time of year.
Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck
800 West Georgia Street
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
As a kid, my family would drive by Save On Meats every once in a while, since it was on our way to Harbour Tower or Stanley Park. This was considered the “bad” part of town, and I suppose for some it still may be–there would be lots of haggardly dressed men and women wandering the streets, pushing shopping carts and looking “scary”, and I was never, ever to go here. Basically, this part of Vancouver was just Chinatown, Gastown and Downtown, and the part in between was not worth talking about, or visiting, at all.
Many years later, I still find myself being extra wary when I’m in the neighbourhood, and I know that while I should be careful, there is no need to cast such negative eyes on the residents of the DTES. Sure, some may have habits that aren’t very appealing to me, but their misfortune shouldn’t be a reason for me to not venture here– in fact, I think I could stand to learn quite a bit. So, with just a little bit of trepidation, Samson and I travelled together to grab a bite at this Vancouver landmark on a cold winter day before class.
The interior of Save on Meats is quite simplistic– there’s the typical bar and a long row of booths that characterizes diners. We chose to sit along the bar for the fun of it (the seats looked extra cushy), and were immediately, enthusiastically greeted by our server. And when I say enthusiastic, I mean that he was so happy and eager that I was worried he might start breaking out in song and dance. Actually, that would have been pretty cool.
The menu offered up simplistic classics as well, but it was a long read– I really couldn’t decide on what to get! We opted for a classic diner experience and decided to share a Strawberry Milkshake ($5) to start. This was super creamy and thick, and sucking on the straw gave me a bit of a headache. Our server put in quite a few scoops of ice cream and syrupy strawberries and I loved that we got to watch it all get made before our eyes. I’m a sucker for novelty stuff like this.
Samson had already decided that he would be having a burger, so all we really needed to do was find one on the menu (under the Sandwich section). His Save On Meats Burger ($6.95) came in a toasted brioche bun, loaded up with bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, and was accompanied by a coleslaw on the side, which he chose instead of fries. He thought that the burger was quite juicy and delicious, the barbecue sauce helping to make this typical burger a little more special. While this tasted good and was a pretty good deal, I don’t know if we’d order it again, since there are so many other things to try on the menu.
For myself, I picked something old-timey and classic (I can imagine an elderly man, looking like Carl from Up, ordering something like this) in the Smoked Turkey Pot Pie ($12.95). I didn’t really give the description a good read, and it turns out this was featured of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives– not that I watch the show anyways, so it wouldn’t have helped my decision all that much. I also got to choose a side to go with the pot pie, and out of creamed corn, mashed potatoes, coleslaw and carrots and peas, I chose the mashed potatoes. Housed in a flaky, buttery pastry shell, the smoked turkey stew within was savoury and steaming hot. There was an abundance of fillings, including carrots and green peas (which I won’t eat unless they are stewed like this), and the dark turkey meat was moist and flavourful. I was honestly expected the turkey to be on the dryer side, but this was actually very well executed! The mash was a little too healthy tasting, needing a good dose of butter, cream and pepper, but I did like that there were still small chunks of potato in it. The gravy, which came on a side dish (props), did help alleviate the health issue.
There were so many options for delicious-sounding food and drink that I would not hesitate to go to Save On Meats again, if I didn’t need to be on the ice for 3 hours afterwards (that way I can eat more!). I loved the atmosphere, the workers and the clientele (there was an eclectic mix of businessmen and women, as well as students and families), which all made for a fantastic experience. Another thing of note is that Save On Meats has a meal token program, where individuals can buy tokens to give out sandwiches to the community (either by themselves or through other organizations). Even though Save On Meats is by no means a complete representation of the DTES, I found my opinion of the area changing just a little bit– I’ll even be volunteering there this weekend!
Save on Meats
43 W Hastings St
For 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.
One 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.
We 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. The 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.
The 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
(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.
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…
Lastly, 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. My 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).
We 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.
221 Carrall Street
Dine Out Vancouver is an annual food festival in Vancouver that gives diners the opportunity to experience the unique restaurants that Vancouver has to offer. The restaurants offer a special three-course, prix fixe menu for either $18, $28, or $38. While I enjoy the sudden peak of interest that Dine Out brings to our local restaurants, I find that many of my dining experiences during the festival over the years have been lacklustre. I decided to visit Catch 122, which had a $28 menu, with SB. I had previously visited Catch 122 for Samantha and Susannah’s birthday dinner a few months earlier, where the food had generally been tasty. Catch 122’s menu looked interesting (it contained both duck, which I love, and rabbit, which I’d never tried before), so I figured that if I didn’t enjoy it, I would have at least tried something new.
We started with the complimentary Bread, which our server brought to us without much ceremony or introduction. It was chewy and soft, but I would have liked it a bit warmer. About the service: it seemed harried and disorganized. Many of the servers seemed quite awkward and unsure of what they were doing. As for the couple sitting beside us, their server brought out their dessert before they were even done eating their entrees. On my first visit, the server had been obviously awkward and somewhat confused, so I’d take this as a sign that their service seriously needs some work.
I started with the Duck Confit Ravioli, with house-made duck confit, ricotta, and sage butter. On my previous visit to Catch 122, I had been unimpressed with my entree, the carbonara, as the pasta had been extremely rubbery and difficult to eat. I found that the ravioli had the same problem, being a tad too gummy. I enjoyed the confit itself, which was both flavourful and rich, tasting strongly of both the duck and the ricotta. As a whole, though, the dish was too oily for my tastes, although I liked that the flavour of the duck was not diminished in the final product.
SB’s starter was the Prawn Bisque, served with a single seared scallop. The soup itself was both too oily and watered down, and had very little in the way of flavour. We both really enjoyed the scallop though, as it was plump and juicy, and had formed a nice crust from the searing. The scallop was quite flavourful, which was a nice change from the rather bland broth. SB remarked that although he enjoyed the scallop, he would have liked some lobster as well to provide some texture to the dish.
As for my main, I decided on the Rabbit Three Ways: braised leg, pan seared rack, prosciutto wrapped tenderloin stuffed with mushroom and sage, and lemongrass rabbit jus. This was my first time eating rabbit so here are my thoughts. At first bite, the meat had an interesting texture, somewhere between chicken and pork, but it actually wasn’t too strange and reminded me of chicken more than anything. The braised leg was full of meat, but was dry and unflavourful. It reminded me of rotisserie chicken in that although the skin was crispy and savoury, the inside was quite dry. The rack, although a bit difficult to eat, had fatty, flavourful meat in small portions. The tenderloin was simply delicious and easily the best part of the meal. As for the accompanying butternut squash puree, I thought it was a great complement to the rabbit–I just wished there was more of it. I would have preferred some other form of accompaniment, maybe some carrot or asparagus, as there was not enough variation of textures and I ended up eating the carrot that came with SB’s meal.
SB ordered the Beef Side Ribs, which were smoked and braised in a house-made barbecue sauce, and served with broccolini, carrot, and bone marrow mashed potatoes. He enjoyed the ribs, which were overcooked on the outside but tender on the inside. He didn’t notice much that was unique about the potatoes, but I thought they were more flavourful than regular mashed potatoes. Overall, it was a solid dinner, but we were both confused as to why it was served in a bowl, which made eating the ribs a bit uncomfortable.
For dessert, I chose the Belgian Triple Chocolate Terrine, which was served with raspberry red wine coulis. It was a tasty dessert, but ultimately unmemorable. The coulis tasted quite typical. SB and I were intrigued by the gooseberry they chose to serve alongside both the desserts we ordered. We weren’t exactly sure what it was, and it tasted a bit strange, with so many seeds inside, and it seemed a bit haphazardly tossed onto the plate. Suffice it to say that SB, at least, was unimpressed by the aesthetics.
Lastly, SB had the Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was served with hazelnut Baileys cream, whipped cream, and again, a gooseberry. We were again unsure why this was served in a bowl. The pudding itself was decent and a little bland, and also a bit too chewy for my taste. The Baileys cream made the dish, however, being sweet but subtly so. SB and I are both not big on sweets, but we really liked the cream here. Out of the two desserts we sampled, I would say we enjoyed this one more.
So that concludes our dinner at Catch 122. Were we impressed by the experience? Not particularly. Based on the dishes I sampled on my previous visit, I did not feel that the Dine Out menu that Catch 122 chose to serve highlighted their potential. However, this is true of many restaurants during Dine Out, and not at all exclusive to Catch 122. Although we had a less-than-stellar experience, I would urge diners to try Catch 122 once Dine Out ends and see what their regular menu has to offer.
Catch 122 Cafe Bistro
122 West Hastings Street
Cindy usually doesn’t mind if I pick a venue for lunch, but she seemed a little skeptical about my choice of Meat & Bread. Actually, I was a little skeptical as well. Although I’d heard rave reviews of the place, I remained indifferent before my first visit–after all, how good can a simple sandwich be? Still, Cindy and I both trekked off to see for ourselves.
First of all, the restaurant was packed. A good sign–there was a considerable lineup and an eclectic mix of clientele. I think of it as a good sign when there’s a diverse clientele since it usually means that the food is universally appealing and not just catering to a certain crowd. That day there were some middle-aged couples, a forty-something mother with her three preteen children and a hipster couple. Cindy and I immediately joined the lineup and perused the menu (helpfully and clearly displayed as seen here) while we waited. We ordered our sandwiches (and, in Cindy’s case, some salad), and sat down beside other hungry diners. This definitely isn’t the place to go if you enjoy your privacy–we were literally brushing elbows with strangers. It was a little uncomfortable if you’re claustrophobic like I am, but the atmosphere is definitely an enjoyable one.
Cindy opted for the Porchetta–savoury, fatty pork with salsa verde. Within minutes, her skepticism about Meat & Bread vanished. The bread had subtle hints of sourdough flavour, but wasn’t overbearing. She felt that the bread was soft and chewy, and complemented the meat well. And the pork–it was crispy, tender, and flavourful, and a little reminiscent of Chinese barbecue pork, but not in a bad way. The salsa verde just improved an already delicious sandwich, adding hits of garlic and herbs. I don’t normally gush about much of anything (well, except my tendency to act like a little girl whenever I see Andrew Garfield), but this was one amazing sandwich.
I debated for a while but ultimately decided on the Lamb Shoulder, which was the daily special. I’m a sucker for any kind of special–I always feel like that if something is the daily special, then that day is the only time I can get it (even though clearly this is not the case). Plus, I love lamb–if I see it on a menu, I will usually order it (same goes for duck). In any case, the lamb here was a great choice–it was tender, juicy and meaty. Although gamy (which is expected from lamb), the meat was also fatty and rich. Still, I didn’t tire of the richness as I usually do. The crunch from the greens kept the sandwich from being monotonous and mushy, and the bread was similarly subtle but delicious. I’m not a huge fan of sandwiches but this one was a winner.
Two items is not nearly enough to comprise an entire blog entry. So, bless her heart, Cindy ordered the Quinoa Salad as well. This was my first time having quinoa (and my first time saying the word itself correctly as well). I tend to shy away from anything healthy, but the quinoa was light, fresh, and not too mushy. The flavours and consistency were both well brought out by the preparation. The strongest flavour present was that of apples–light, crisp, sweet and refreshing.I thought this was a perfect complement to the sandwiches we’d had, which didn’t feel healthy (but were delicious all the same)–in comparison to our rich, heavy sandwiches, the quinoa was deliciously light and refreshing.
So thank you to Meat and Bread for reversing my thoughts on sandwiches. I’ve always had an aversion to sandwiches (so much so that when I brought one for lunch one day, Pickles immediately declared me to be an impostor)–I avoid Subway and Quizno’s like the plague. But Meat and Bread. Any good restaurant is one that only has a few menu items–after all, doesn’t this mean that they focus on being exceptional at a few things rather than having a broad but weak range? Although Meat and Bread isn’t for everyone, I was definitely won over.
Meat & Bread
370 Cambie Street
Remember that dinner at Sushi Town? Well, while there, I complained to Dolph (somewhat jokingly) that I never get to watch movies I want to watch, since SB gets to choose the movies (case in point: The Dark Knight Rises, Cowboys and Aliens). A couple days later, Dolph suggested we watch Moonrise Kingdom, which I hadn’t even heard of before, but I agreed. Lucky because it was a great film–quirky, sweet, genuine, but not at all cliched. Anyways, after the film, the three of us (Dolph, Pickles, and I) found ourselves in Gastown, with no concrete plans for eats. Dolph suggested we simply walk over to Chronic Tacos Cantina for a quick dinner.
Like at many Tex-Mex restaurants, we started off with the complimentary Tortilla Chips and Salsa. We were pretty hungry by this point, having waited a while, so we wolfed these down. I remember only that the chips were corny, a little sweet, and the salsa was quite watery for my tastes. But really, how good could this be, right?
Now, on to the entrees! Pickles opted for the Two Taco Platter. We initially thought you could choose a different meat for each taco, but apparently the two tacos must contain the same meat. Strange. Anyways, Pickles’s first choice (which I don’t remember) was sold out, so she decided on the Pollo Asado (marinated grilled chicken), instead. Her tacos were served with rice and refried beans. She found the rice to have a strange, almost mashed texture, which she did not enjoy, but the beans were tasty. The chicken in her tacos proved flavourful with a couple of dry pieces, and was complimented by generic vegetables. Pickles also commented that she could have done without the sides, as the tacos themselves were quite large. As a general consensus, Pickles described her meal as simply “OK”, acceptable but nothing extraordinary or mindblowing.
Dolph ordered the Shrimp Ceviche, which was originally supposed to be served with plantain chips. As you can see, they simply replaced the plantain chips with the tortilla chips we received above…however the staff didn’t inform us of this until the end of the meal. The ceviche itself was sweet, tangy, and spicy, and the amount of chips was inadequate. I personally thought the portion size was a little small, but I was more disturbed (?) by their failure to inform us about the lack of plantain chips. It was a busy night and the waitresses appeared quite bogged down with their respective tables, but it would have been nice for them to check in and make sure we were okay with the replacement rather than just stick us with it, then only apologize for it at the end of the meal. I suppose I don’t go to a place like this for stellar service, and they did comp part of the bill as an apology, but still.
Lastly, I had the Tostada Bowl. Like Pickles’s taco platter above, you could choose the type of meat–and I chose Carne Asada, marinated grilled steak. The meat was dry, unappetizing, and included in the bowl in small chunks that made it difficult to discern any flavour. The rice was quite wet, and clumped together in places–not good. There were also the same beans included in Pickles’s meal. I liked the crispy outside of the bowl, and the lettuce at least tasted fresh, but I wasn’t too impressed with my dinner as a whole. It was difficult to get a balanced forkful in each bite, leaving me usually with an overload of lettuce. The portion size, at least, was reasonable for the price–I managed to finish very little of the bowl, although I ended up feeling quite heavy and bloated afterwards. If I had to choose, I probably wouldn’t order this again.
So our experience at Chronic Tacos was largely underwhelming. Maybe I was longing for the more authentic and homey atmosphere at La Taqueria, but I found the service lacking. The waitresses seemed friendly enough when we could talk to them, but the restaurant appeared to be severely understaffed. Combined with subpar food and sticky tables, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t return here, especially with so many great eating options in Gastown.
Chronic Tacos Cantina
102 Water Street