After a long and wonderful summer filled with European travels, I returned to Vancouver. Hopefully I don’t sound too much like I belong on a yellow brick road, but there’s really no place like home. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel, to gaze down on Paris from Montmartre, to sample some Guinness in Dublin, to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and to study in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Landing at YVR was quickly followed by guzzling down an Ice Capp, snuggling my cat, and unpacking the souvenirs I’d acquired for family and friends. Returning to Vancouver means returning to Vancouver eats, and I had no problem with that, as there are still plenty of restaurants both old and new that I have yet to try.
On a bright, cool October day, Pickles and I decided to meet up for a late lunch on Commercial Drive. Despite hopping on and off the 99 from and to UBC many days out of the week, I have to admit that my exploration of the area has been minimal. I just don’t feel the urge to explore when I’m hauling around my laptop, books, and am generally just exhausted from the effort of trekking down to campus. In any case, Pickles and I decided that we’d start trying out some restaurants on the drive, and our first choice was Bandidas Taqueria.
Bandidas, like many restaurants on the drive, just has that requisite hipster vibe, complete with mason jars used as cups. The restaurant itself was quiet when we arrived, but then again, it was around 3 P.M. All the better for us to have a nice conversation without having to compete with background noise.
We both started off with a Horchata ($3), which is available with either almond, soy, or regular milk. I thought it was a nice touch to have all three available, and I opted for almond milk. The horchata was generously sprinkled with cinnamon, which added a flavourful hit of spice. The drink itself was creamy but not without that quintessential nuttiness. It was an excellent way to start off our meal.
One of my fondest childhood memories is going to camp in elementary school and consuming an inordinate amount of cornbread and chili. Whenever I see chili on a menu, I tend to order it, and that’s what happened here. This Chili ($7) was a vegetarian stew, topped with melted cheese and avocado. The avocado added a nice savouriness to this meatless chili, and it went well with the thick, hearty stew. The cheese also made it taste rich and luxurious. Despite lacking meat, the chili was full of ingredients, including chickpeas, corn, and some small pieces of celery. I personally would have preferred it to be a bit spicier, but other than that, I was immensely satisfied. It was also a great value for the price that I paid, as I ended up having the leftovers for dinner as well.
Pickles, meanwhile, had three tacos, which totalled to around $8. She thought that overall, the tacos were a good value, as they were packed with filling, but that also made them difficult to eat. The Leona Gayle (chipotle tofu, pinto beans, cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce, and sour cream) in particular was too wet, and she had to resort to fork and knife to get at it. She also tried the Connie’s, which consisted of ground walnuts, apple salsa, cheese, and roasted red pepper sauce, and the Wolf & Goat, which had fresh guacamole, purple cabbage, pinto beans, fresh red salsa, cheese, and sour cream. She thought that the former would have benefitted from toasted, crunchier walnuts, while the latter was the best of the three she’d tried. The addition of guacamole was a nice touch, and the cabbage added some much-needed texture.
The two of us really enjoyed our late lunch at Bandidas. I wish that yummy Mexican food were more accessible in Vancouver, but this was more than acceptable, especially for the prices that we paid. If I were on the Drive again, I would gladly return here, especially for that yummy horchata, and to try more dishes on their extensive menu.
2781 Commercial Drive
I don’t consider myself to be too picky of an eater (although my mother may disagree), and in general, I’m quite open to trying new and different foods. For one thing, I get quite excited whenever an “exotic meat” (a.k.a. anything outside of the usual realm of pork/beef/chicken/lamb/duck/seafood) is available on a restaurant’s menu. Well, this food adventure didn’t feature any exotic meats, unless you consider lamb to be exotic, but it was still exciting in that it was my first time trying Lebanese food.
Nuba is a popular chain in Vancouver, with four locations located throughout the city. Gawa and I decided to lunch at the location on Main and 3rd one Saturday afternoon. It’s kind of an odd location, and, true to the spirit of the city, surrounded by apartment buildings in various stages of construction. Still, it ended up being a good choice for lunch, especially for Gawa, as it has an extensive selection of vegetarian items.
The waitstaff were especially helpful and enthusiastic to help us make our choices, and good thing too. Despite my unfamiliarity with Lebanese cuisine, everything on the menu sounded delicious. In any case, we started off our meal with a Mango and Orange Juice for Gawa, which was the juice of the day in addition to the usual flavours available. Gawa generously allowed me a sip, and, to be honest, it tasted mostly like orange juice, with the mango flavour being not as apparent. It was still refreshing and enjoyable, but I would have liked it more if the mango flavour had been more pronounced. But then again, I’m not much of a juice person. As far as juices go, it was tart, refreshing, slightly sweet, and ultimately satisfying. And honestly, what more can you ask from juice?
As for our mains, we both ordered off the “Plates” section of the menu, where the entrees are accompanied by hummus, salad, pickled cabbage, pita bread, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), hot sauce, and a choice of either roasted potatoes or organic brown rice. Gawa chose to have her Eggplant Stew with the potatoes, while I had the rice. Although she enjoyed the meal as a whole, she had more than a few critiques of the food. She found that the salad wasn’t well-dressed, and the dressing itself wasn’t anything special, while the hummus could have been more flavourful. Still, she enjoyed the olive oil that had been drizzled onto the hummus, which appeared to be of a good quality. As for the other sides, she especially liked the pickled cabbage, which, being extremely sour, served as a refreshing palate cleanser. As for the stew itself, she thought that it could have used some other types of chunkier vegetables, to add variety of texture as well as dimension of flavour, as it ended up being a bit too mushy and one-dimensional. Despite these complaints, she thought that the experience was a positive one, and would definitely consider returning.
I decided on the Lamb Kafta ($12), a grilled grain-fed halal lamb patty, served with the same sides (although with the rice instead of the potatoes). I enjoyed the lamb, although I thought it was served with way too much tzatziki. The dollop of tzatziki was pretty much the same size as the lamb patty itself, which was just overwhelming. Anyways, the tzatziki itself was fine, being chunky, sour, and tangy. It was a nice complement to the slightly gamey, salty flavour of the lamb. The rice tasted exactly like how I expected it to taste, with the texture being more apparent than the flavour of the rice itself. As for the sides, my opinions echoed Gawa’s, although I especially enjoyed the hot sauce, which was the type with a subtle spicy kick rather than an obvious heat.
Both of our meals were accompanied by some Pita. Gawa thought that the pita should have been thicker, but I personally had no opinion about it one way or the other. To be honest, I was quite hungry so I inhaled the food without too much thought. And although it seems like we had a lot of complaints about the food here, we genuinely enjoyed our meal, although that may be in part due to our hungry hungry hippo-ness on this particular day. More than the food, we enjoyed the atmosphere here. The dining area was clean and modern, and the service was friendly and accommodating without being overbearing. And, of course, the menu is a refreshing change of pace from the overwhelming dominance of Japanese food in Vancouver (although, as you know, I enjoy Japanese food as much as the next person). I would definitely return to Nuba to try some of their other dishes, especially Najib’s Special, which is apparently the dish to get here. I guess we’ll save that for next time.
146 East 3rd Avenue
I think that as a university student, April is one of the most dreaded months of the year, just because of…finals. This term, my exam schedule was quite packed (April 13, 17, 18, 20), with all the stress concentrated in one week. Usually I’m more relaxed than my friends during exam period, but this time, I found myself quite nervous and panicky the whole time. Happily I found myself with somewhat of a break after my third exam on the morning of the 18th, so Sam, Jason, and I went for an early lunch at Aphrodite’s. (Appropriate since we’d just finished our Classical Studies exam!)
I pass Aphrodite’s most days of the year on my way to school, but this was my first visit. It was decorated in a rather kitschy and homey way, with handmade pinatas (creations of a local artist, according to a plaque on the wall) hanging from the ceiling (including the Lorax!) and mismatched furniture. We arrived a little before noon, and decided to order mainly off the brunch menu, as it seemed unlikely we’d visit at brunch time again, due to school and other obligations. Of course, we ordered a piece of pie to share as well (how could we not?).
Sam also ordered a Chai to start. She’d never had a chai before (what?!!), so at least we popped her chai cherry! I took a sip of it and it tasted like it should, spicy with a nice helping of cinnamon and a good level of foam. The overall impression I got from it was that it had been made with care (this was reflected in the other items we had as well).
I don’t remember the exact price, but I remember thinking it was a little on the high side. That being said, the prices here are generally on the higher side. This is due to their practice of using local, organic ingredients (especially in the pies), as well as their location in Kitsilano, generally known to be a more expensive neighbourhood.
Jason chose the Turkey Pot Pie, accompanied by greens. He found the portion size a little too small, as he was still a little hungry afterwards. The pie crust was nice and flaky, with sufficient chunks of moist turkey, potatoes, peas, carrots, and celery. We liked how the pieces of turkey were a good size (sometimes the turkey is barely noticeable in a turkey pot pie, but not here!). The filling had good flavour, and overall he enjoyed his dish, although he would have preferred a larger portion.
Sam, a known mushroom lover, predictably decided on the Wild Mushroom Quiche, which was served with the same accompaniment of greens as Jason’s pie. She enjoyed how light it tasted, as quiche can often be quite heavy. Like Jason, she found the portion size a bit small for the price she paid. The greens were nothing special, but the dressing was nice and nutty. Sam also commented that it would have been better if they served the salad on a separate dish, as the salad touched the hot plate and wilted a bit. She found the quiche, which consisted of shiitake mushrooms and spinach, to be a bit bland.
Since my fellow diners both chose savoury dishes, I went for something sweet in the Stuffed French Toast, which was served with maple syrup and fresh whipped cream. As expected, this was quite sweet, yet I managed to finish a respectably large percentage of it (well, for my standards…I’m notorious for leaving food on my plate). The toast itself was a little spongey, soft, and pleasingly warm. The cream cheese (which changes depending on the season–for us it was blueberry) was a little too overwhelmingly sour for my tastes. I know cream cheese is meant to be sour, but it was a little sour beyond expectations. Still, I think the ingredients worked well together. The whipped cream in particular was light and complimented the other ingredients nicely.
Lastly, we couldn’t leave Aphrodite’s without trying a piece of pie. Sam recommended the Blackberry Apple, which she’d tried on a previous, undocumented visit with Pickles. We chose to have it with vanilla ice cream. Turns out it was a good choice as the warm pie and the cool ice cream tasted great together. There was just the right amount of sugar, making it sweet but not too sweet. Jason remarked that the ice cream tasted very natural–the vanilla was not overdone but still present. Still, we would have preferred bigger pieces of blackberry, as we could only really make out the seeds. The pie crust was flaky and buttery, but not overly so. We also appreciated the cinnamon hearts–a cute, personal touch!
So my verdict on Aphrodite’s? The bill came to about $22 a person, which is generally a bit more than I care to spend on lunch (well, I usually don’t have dessert with lunch, I suppose). Despite the high prices, I felt that I enjoyed my meal, both the atmosphere and the food, and the service was efficient yet friendly. One of my concerns is that one of the waitresses had these incredibly long, painted nails. While I’m quite obsessed with nail polish myself, I prefer waitresses to keep their hands free of nail lacquer, as it seems a little less than sanitary. I suppose that’s just personal preference, though. I probably wouldn’t frequent Aphrodite’s as I do my other favourites (even if I lived in Kitsilano), but the pie definitely did not disappoint.
Aphrodite’s Organic Cafe and Pie Shop
3598 West 4th Avenue