My hunt for the no longer available Peanut Butter Mini Cupcake led me to the Starbucks in Safeway. Little did I know that I would discover a local Vancouver bakery item – the Kitsilano Cookie. Known as the ‘healthy cookie’ by the barista, it is a blend of various seeds, raisins, oats, and chocolate chips. I especially loved the pumpkin seeds and the little gritty ones that I could not exactly identify. Most of the cookie was made up from these wonderfully nutritious ingredients and as a result was not very sweet. Most of the sweetness came from the raisins and the chocolate chips and there was hardly any filler dough. The barista was dead on – it is the healthy cookie. It was also surprisingly soft and moist, rather than the hard crumbly texture I had expected. For $1.95, I got a huge cookie with all the good stuff, leaving Safeway satisfied.
With yet another printed coupon, I decided to sample the limited time Caramel Mocha. It was just your regular mocha topped with whip cream and caramel drizzle. The mocha itself had a distinct cocoa flavour but was not too sweet. The cold whip cream was sweeter and went nicely with the thick and very sweet caramel drizzle. I found the drink warm and satisfying without being too sugary, unlike the hot chocolate. However, since nothing is ever too sweet for me, I would still prefer the Caramel Hot Chocolate just because sweet on sweet is more appealing than sweet on bitter.
With only a few days left and McDonald’s just releasing their new specials and coupons for the fall, I had to go the first chance I got. This is probably the fastest I have ever tried limited time offers, on the second day they came out. Luckily, the two McDonald’s I went to not only had the new items, but a few of the old ones too that would disappear all around within the week.
The most tantalizing for me was the Caramel Baked Pie. I love sweet foods and I love caramel. Seriously, I think this thick, sugary item should get a prize for being so lovely when matched with any dessert. The pie was freshly baked and quite hot when I got it. It was slightly burnt on one end but it was nothing major. The size was decent, unlike some I have had in the US. Inside the flaky, but not very sweet, crust, was a warm, thick, gooey layer of caramel. It was sticky and overwhelmingly sweet. For many, I would assume this is way too sweet of a treat, even for McDonald’s. For me, I loved it.
With the new caramel products came the Caramel Hot Chocolate, another sweet on sweet combination. Their regular hot chocolate is quite sweet with a strong cocoa flavour and not at all watered down, which is my favourite kind. On top of the frothy foam, they added caramel drizzle, which eventually melted into the drink. I could taste that caramel, different from the chocolate, but together, it was sugary and warming.
I had to go to another restaurant just to get the Strawberry Vanilla Slim Sensations Muffin. All summer, I have postponed getting this, but since it is about to disappear, I had to give it my last bit of effort. Luckily, the other McDonald’s nearby still had five left. It was baked in an odd shape, without the overflowing muffin edge, which made it smaller than the other muffins. The texture was moist but a little denser than usual, and the edges were slightly hardened. I would have wanted a crisp top, but that did not really happen; part of the top was moist and part of it was slightly drier but not exactly crisp. The flavour was that of artificial strawberries and vanilla, which was not too sweet. There were a few tiny bits of strawberries scattered throughout the muffin but I could not really taste them. It was decent, but not the most amazing muffin ever.
With the new coupons available online and including one for a free, small hot McCafé beverage, I will be trying a lot of espresso drinks over the next few days. It seems kind of perfect that it just happens to be really chilly recently. A nice cup of mocha or latte will really be nice!
August 27, 2012
欢欣餐厅 – Alleluia Café, Richmond BC
川酱茄子班球煲 (Fish Fillet & Eggplants in Szechuan Sauce Hot Pot)
茄汁牛脷烩意大利粉 (Ox-tongue in Tomato Sauce w/ Spaghetti)
水蜜桃绿茶 (Peach Green Tea Bubble Tea)
Finally, I got to meet up with fellow Quaker and Vancouverite, David. For some reason, my thank you for helping me move out last semester turned into a free dinner courtesy of him. Well, there will be many opportunities later. We went to Alleluia Café, since I have only been there once, was pleased with that meal, and know it is extremely popular. Even on a Monday night, the restaurant was 80% full, which is a good sign.
The server first brought us the two bowls of soup that came with our main dishes. The Chinese Soup had a slight herbal taste to it from the somewhat bitter vegetables in it, which was some sort of bok choy-like greens. It was quite plain but served as a nice palate cleanser.
The other soup was the Cream Soup, which had bits of bacon, potato cubes, and mini clams swimming in a watered down Asian-influenced cream soup. The ingredients were okay but my main concern was the cream soup. It was creamy but neither rich nor thick. Being watered down quite a lot, especially since Asians do not usually drink soup so creamy and rich as your regular western soups, the flavour was quite bland.
The first entrée was the 川酱茄子班球煲 (Fish Fillet & Eggplants in Szechuan Sauce Hot Pot). The stone pot was of a decent size for $8.95, filled with sizzling pan-fried fish fillet pieces and eggplants. The chili sauce had a decent amount of heat, very evident but not the least bit overwhelming. The eggplants were soft but not too mushy and soaked up a lot of the sauce flavour. The fish fillets were battered and slightly fried, so there was quite a bit of batter instead of just fish. However, there were so many pieces and the fish was tender and succulent, yet still firm. The batter helped to soak up a lot of flavour as well. Everything was nicely coated in the plentiful sauce and the dish worked well.
The 茄汁牛脷烩意大利粉 (Ox-tongue in Tomato Sauce w/ Spaghetti) had been on my list of ‘foods I have to try’ since the day I started eating at such Hong Kong cafés. Yes, it is that traditional. For $10.95, we got five huge slices of beef tongue over a large bed of spaghetti, topped with the Asian-style western tomato sauce. The tongue was tender but a little rough at times. However, part of it also melted in my mouth. It was likely boiled first, though, so it did not have much flavour besides the tomato sauce on the exterior. Speaking of the sauce, it was mostly made with ketchup and had a nice thickness to it. There were mushrooms, onions, peas, corn, and carrots mixed into the tomato and the sauce. I really liked that sweet and sour flavour. The spaghetti was cooked slightly more than al dente so it was still firm but not exactly chewy. I could definitely have used a lot more sauce than they gave us since there was so much spaghetti.
We got bubble teas to drink instead of the accompanying beverages for $2.50 each. I decided on the 水蜜桃绿茶 (Peach Green Tea Bubble Tea) with coconut jelly since I do not recall when the last time I ate coconut jelly was. The tea was rather sweet, but I love sweetness. I found the artificial peach flavour to be quite strong and loved the cold drink. The coconut jelly was very chewy and also sweet, and since it cannot really be done poorly unlike traditional tapioca pearls, the drink overall was very good.
Alleluia Café really do give generous portions. The service is mediocre; we did not get bad service but David did not get his drink – which is not necessarily hard to make – until more than halfway through. The restaurant seemed clean and casual, though, a nice place to catch up with friends and laugh over some affordable comfort food.
Since my cousin is too young for authentic Sichuan spiciness, we got him 小笼包 (Steamed Pork Buns) from 上海坊 (Shanghai Goodies) next door. Six xiao long bao’s were only $3.50… talk about cheap! Of course, quality was sacrificed, but it was still not too bad. The buns had thicker skin but since they were still made to order, the skin was still chewy. With the extra thickness, they were actually chewier, which was fine by me. The pork inside was not a fresh and did not have as much of a fresh, refreshing pocket of soup. The malt vinegar did not have ginger shreds and came in a container too small to dip the buns into. However, fatty pork and flour wrapper is still fatty pork and flour wrapper at the end of the day. My cousin certainly enjoyed his meal, even though I took one!
August 26, 2012
川厨美食 – Szechuan Cuisine, Richmond BC
酸辣粉 (Spicy & Sour w/ Rice Noodle)
担担面 (Tan Tan Noodle in Soup)
水煮鱼 (Szechuan Style Boiled Spicy Fish)
农家小炒肉 (Family Style Stir Fried Meat)
鱼香肉丝 (Shredded Pork w/ Chili & Garlic Sauce)
[口水鸡 (Szechuan Style Spicy Chicken), 炝炒土豆丝 (Spicy Shredded Potato), 猪舌黄瓜 (Pork Tongue w/ Cucumber)]
Parker Place is well known for its authentic, cheap, and quite delicious food court. After riding, Mom and Auntie called to say they were heading there for lunch, as one of Auntie’s friends is a chef from China and just opened up a Sichuan food stall there, simply called Szechuan Cuisine, serving up made to order Sichuan dishes. He had worked at a local Sichuan restaurant a while back and so we thought his cooking must be pretty good. I figured, why not. It was a chilly day and perfect for some extremely spicy food.
Mom and I were both craving 酸辣粉 (Spicy & Sour w/ Rice Noodle). It is hard to make at home due to the sheer amount of red chili oil required and the soup base is also quite complex. This was perfectly done. The clear, round semi-thin rice noodles were slippery yet still chewy, not at all overcooked and breaking easily. The soup base was not too sour and had quite the amount of heat from the chili peppers and chili oil on top. It had a lot of Sichuan peppers, though, giving it a strong ‘ma’ or tingly-numbing flavour, perhaps a little too much for my liking and certainly too much for many people. It was quite authentic, though, a nice blend of sour and spicy.
The 担担面 (Tan Tan Noodle in Soup) is another must try when it comes to Sichuan cuisine. The one here was made using regular noodles that were cooked al dente and very chewy, much to my pleasure. It was topped with peanuts, minced pork, a little soup, and some chopped scallions. The minced pork was quite saucy and had a mostly sweet flavour, much like that of tianmianjiang or sweet bean sauce. It was a little savoury and spicy, though, and when mixed in with the noodles and crunchy peanuts, the dish was very delicious. I am not so sure about authenticity on this one, but I love a sweet noodle dish anytime.
The 水煮鱼 (Szechuan Style Boiled Spicy Fish) was well worth the $9. It came with a base of napa cabbage and celery, with plenty of large, succulent, tender, and slightly pan-fried fish fillet pieces. The soup base was mostly just spicy with a lot of chili oil on top so that each piece of fish was coated in it and was very spicy. The insides were soft, though, making the spice level acceptable. I enjoyed the vegetables in the bottom and this dish came out very authentic.
Auntie wanted to try the 农家小炒肉 (Family Style Stir Fried Meat), which was Chinese cured pork belly stir fried with green bell peppers. The peppers were crunchy and refreshing while the cured pork was thin and had a nice balance of lean and fatty meat. It was rather chewy and nicely preserved, with the right amount of savoury flavour but still tasting slightly fresh. This dish was nothing special and I could have used more heat but it was still decent.
Our last dish was the 鱼香肉丝 (Shredded Pork w/ Chili & Garlic Sauce), which was also sweeter than it should be due to the garlic sauce. The shredded pork was quite tender but not exactly fat. I liked the celery and peppers in there but my favourite part was the black wood ear. It soaked up the sweet sauce that was slightly savoury and spicy. It could use more spiciness but I have to say, I loved the sweetness of the dish. It came piping hot and everything was cooked to perfection. Without the spice, it perhaps was not the most authentic, but I loved it. Or maybe this was authentic and the ones I have had in the past were not, since it is technically made with garlic sauce.
The dishes each came with a side of 汤 (Soup). This one was just a plain soup made with tea tree mushrooms, which were chewy. The soup was refreshing and flavourful, offering a nice balance with all the spiciness.
The three entrées also came with rice, as well as a side vegetable dish from the warmer where they keep the ready-made stuff for combo meals. We got 炝炒土豆丝 (Spicy Shredded Potato),口水鸡 (Szechuan Style Spicy Chicken), and a cold side dish of pork tongue and marinated cucumbers. The potatoes in the 炝炒土豆丝 (Spicy Shredded Potato) were still crunchy to match the peppers but I have never been a fan of this dish. It could also have used more heat. The chicken in the 口水鸡 (Szechuan Style Spicy Chicken) were extremely tender and succulent, soaking up the spicy flavour and were actually quite tasty. I loved the pork tongue slices that were flavourful and tender yet chewy. The texture was amazing, like the most tender meat but a little tougher. The cucumbers were slightly sweet and quite refreshing.
Szechuan Cuisine is shaping up to be a great place for fast, authentic, and cheap Sichuan food. Conveniently located, I am sure it will draw crowds of spice-loving Chinese diners – there is never a shortage of them in an Asian-dominating city like Richmond. I would love to try a few more dishes and ask them to make them even spicier!
August 26, 2012
大统华面包坊 – T&T Bakery, Richmond BC
菠萝红豆包-港式 (Red Bean Pineapple Bun (HK))
榨菜肉松包 (Preserved Mustard & Dried Pork Bun)
蒜蓉肠仔包 (Garlic Sausage Bun)
全麦香肠包 (Sausage Wheat Bun)
提子条 (Raisin Twist)
菠萝牛角包 (Pineapple Croissant)
One final time getting a bag of mix-and-match buns from T&T Bakery this summer. Actually, Mom got it and I was not there to pick out what I want but she knows. I love it when the bags have mostly what we like and what we have not tried. All in all, buns make me a happy girl.
The 菠萝红豆包-港式 (Red Bean Pineapple Bun (HK)) is one of my all time favourites, regardless of where I get it from. T&T Bakery just makes the best I have ever had. The pineapple crust topping is crumbly yet not very dry. The bread is slightly sweetened, moist, soft, and even quite sticky on the sides where it touches the paper cup. I love sweet and chewy bread too much! The red bean paste filling was also delicious; some beans were blended into the paste so that they still have their original shape and gave it a contrasting texture though they were almost mushy when bitten into. It was a dense but very good quality filling. The whole bun was jut varying levels of sweetness, which is just perfect for me!
I have never tried the 榨菜肉松包 (Preserved Mustard & Dried Pork Bun) before. It was a regular, non-sweetened bun topped with lots of sesame seeds and filled with a blend of dried pork fluff and finely diced Chinese pickled vegetables or pickled mustard greens. The sweet and savoury pork is a favorite of mine and tasted even better when the pickled mustard were added, giving it a slight crunch and the slightly tangy savoury flavour; the two certainly complimented one another. I just wish there was more filling and that the bread was not as dry. To be fair, it was okay, but I prefer moist, sticky dough to give it more of a chew.
The 蒜蓉肠仔包 (Garlic Sausage Bun) was rather disappointing. I could not taste much garlic in the centre even though the green specks made it apparent. The design was pretty to be sure but the sausage pieces were small and slightly dried and hardened. The bread could have been a little sweeter, although it was moist and chewy. The bun tasted good, just nothing extraordinary. With a stronger garlicky aroma, it would have been way better. The ‘petals’ pulled apart easily, pivoting perfect bite-sized portions, each with a thick slice of the normal hotdog wiener. I think T&T Bakery can definitely experiment with gourmet sausages.
The 全麦香肠包 (Sausage Wheat Bun) was also just okay. The wiener in this one was the same but because it was not cut up, it retained its tender texture and moisture. The bread was decent though, being made from whole wheat. It had that whole wheat aroma and the slightly chunky texture. It was not over-baked and so was still soft and chewy.
The 提子条 (Raisin Twist) was a little over-baked. The dough was still soft but it could use more moisture and stickiness. Still, it at least had a pleasant, very light golden colour. The raisins were plentiful, scattered quite evenly throughout. They were quite sour, however, but I rather enjoyed the tanginess rather than just sweetness. It looked pretty but the taste was nothing spectacular.
Finally, the 菠萝牛角包 (Pineapple Croissant) was definitely over-baked. I liked the idea of a pineapple crust topping on a croissant, adding some crumbly sweetness to the buttery, flaky pastry, making it Asian along the way. However, the whole thing turned out very brown and almost burnt. There was no moisture or buttery flakiness that melted in your mouth. The sweetness of the pineapple topping was masked underneath the burnt scent. I do not think I would buy this again, even if it was made well, but when it is not burnt, it would have been a nice pastry nonetheless.
I am quite satisfied with all the buns and bread I have had from T&T Bakery over the past few months. It is always interesting to try some new products but I know there are always scrumptious choices to fall back on. Bread of this quality is certainly hard to find elsewhere in North America and will always be a plus when returning to Vancouver.
Despite being full of Japanese izakaya food from Guu Richmond, after walking around the Summer Night Market for an hour, Jessica decided to get some food as the stalls just looked to tempting. If only we had not had dinner, I would have tried everything from the hurricane potatoes and dim sum to chow mein and barbeque to mango desserts and wheel cakes.
The 咖喱鱼蛋 (Curry Fish Ball) were mildly spicy but I found the curry flavour to be lacking. It was more of a chili spice rather than a mix of various spices found in curries. The fish balls were succulent, juicy, and tender, though. They did not soak up too much flavour, however, so they depended a lot of the sauce on the outside. They were very small, too.
The 超辣咖喱鱼蛋 (Super Spicy Curry Fish Ball) were a lot spicier. The brown sauce would not suggest that, but the spiciness lingered on my lips and tongue for quite a while. Again, the spice overshadowed the curry flavour. The fish balls were still soft and cooked just right. Their slight fishiness and sweetness contrasted the spiciness.
At six for $3, it was actually quite expensive compared to food courts where the quality is roughly the same. Who said night markets were cheap? I find them to just offer a wide variety and you can get any type of snacks within two rows of food vendors rather than travelling all over town. Convenience and the crowded, lively atmosphere are sometimes a lot more important than prices, I guess.
I promised myself I would satisfy my Japanese cravings this summer. Despite having only been to a few places, I think I still got a good glance into this particular cuisine. At least I am now much more familiar with menus of sushi, sashimi, maki and rolls, dons, noodles, and a wide variety of appetizers. So what better way than to temporarily end my Japanese food journey in Greater Vancouver this summer than a trip to Guu Richmond? It had to be with my sashimi and spice-loving friend Jessica, of course. We were welcomed by so many of the servers and workers, both busy going from table to table or working behind the bar. With all the tables reserved, the two of us took a seat at the bar, a cool experience in my opinion.
First, they started us off with a complimentary small appetizer or tsukidashi, the Potato Salad. It was just your typical potato salad, not distinctly Japanese at all. The potatoes were nicely mashed for the most part and mixed with a good dressing that tasted mostly of a tangy and creamy mayonnaise. Mixed into it were bits of carrots, cucumbers, and corn. The lettuce leaves added a nice presentation to the dainty dish.
Our Salmon Yukke arrived first. This was one of my favourites of the night. The chopped salmon were marinated in a sweet garlic sauce. It was rather sweet and thus I loved it, with just the slight bit savoury flavour of soy sauce. The salmon was tender and fresh. I loved the addition of pine nuts on top to give it an extra crunch besides the chopped pieces of romaine. It was served with five pieces of nori and a raw quail egg. The nori tied each bite together and I found the egg rather enjoyable, also slightly sweetened somehow. I love a runny yolk any day.
The Kimchi Udon was also delicious. The udon noodles were perfectly cooked, chewy and al dente. When noodles are thick but still very chewy, they become one of my favourite dishes. They were coated nicely with a salty butter sauce that had a gritty but creamy texture. It made the noodles incredibly flavourful, especially with the kimchi and a little more sauce on top. The spiciness went well with the butter sauce. The spicy cod roe and shredded nori completed the dish. This was certainly my favourite udon dish ever!
The 3 Kinds of Beef Tongue (Grilled, Minced, Boiled) was certainly interesting. My favourite was the grilled type. Each slice was perfectly tender and chewy. The texture was quite smooth and it almost melted in your mouth. Only little parts near the edges were a little rough and tendon-y. It had a nice savoury flavour and the teriyaki-like sauce that went with it tasted amazing. The minced beef tongue was made into a huge meatball and served with a sunny side up quail egg. The egg yolk was not runny, much to my disappointment, but it was not exactly very dry either. The minced tongue was nicely seasoned and tender. The meat was still moist. Finally, I found the boiled tongue to be a little plain, even when eaten with the squeeze of lemon, alfalfa, and dipping soy sauce. It was tender and had a chewy texture much like a sausage. However, there was just no flavour here.
The Aberdeen Roll was full of delicious ingredients; it was a roll filled with spicy salmon and tuna sashimi, avocado, and cucumber, topped with BBQ unagi, masago, some sort of shredded thing, and fried garlic chips, and drizzles with teriyaki sauce, mango sauce, and egg. The sashimi were not exactly very spicy but were quite fresh. The avocado added creaminess while the cucumber added a refreshing crunch. The rice was not the greatest though, a little bland and a little mushy in some parts. The BBQ unagi on top was sweet and yummy, as were the various toppings. I especially enjoyed the fried garlic chips and the teriyaki and mango sauces, giving the roll a light sweetness.
Another special of the day we ordered was the Garlic Soysauce Marinate Eggplant. The eggplant was cut in such a unique way, in a crisscross method, much like the treatment of cuttlefish. Each piece was soft and mushy but soaked up the garlic soy sauce flavour that was quite lovely. However, the sauce was covered in a layer of oil so the dish was quite greasy for a vegetable appetizer. I loved the sweet and savoury flavour though, which led me to eat the radish, romaine, sweet garlic chives, and the other vegetables at the bottom. I love mushy, flavourful eggplants, so this was one of my favourites of the night!
Finally, to warm up a little, we decided on the Kimchi Nabe for more spicy food. It came in a stone hot pot with lots of kimchi in a slightly thickened soup base flavoured with oyster sauce. It was too salty, though, so I am glad we shared it. The pieces of pork looked tough but were rather tender when eaten. The tofu was also soft but could have been even softer. There was not much pork and tofu, but we did not expect there to be for $6. It was a spicy and warming ending to the meal.
I love the casual ambiance of the restaurant. It is a very friendly place, clean and filled with happy workers to uplift the mood. Despite the slightly pricey menu, they offer a good variety and it was interesting to see them make all the food behind the bar. All of the servers shouted goodbye in Japanese when we left and I look forward to try another Guu location in the near future.
I picked up a box of pastries to being to the office the next day since Kam Do Bakery’s red box and packaging looks quite nice and presentable. Unable to resist, I got a few for myself. The rows of pastries looked fresh and inviting, or the filling sounded yummy since I do not like pastry dough.
The 黑枣蓉酥 (Date Paste Cake) was delicious. For those who like the traditional pastry dough, it was flaky, slightly greased, and very fresh. The layers were thin an crumbled easily. The filling was made from black jujubes, with a slight smoky aroma. Although called dates, they are actually different from the long skinny kind, which can sometimes be confusing. It was sweet but not too much, mostly from the jujubes rather than added sugar. It was smooth and dense with just the right amount of moisture to ensure the pastry was not incredibly dry. I love black jujubes so this tasted delicious to me.
The 核桃枣泥酥 (Date Paste w/ Walnut) had less of a smoky flavour. I think it had mostly regular jujubes rather than the black smoky type. The texture was again perfectly smooth and with the right amount of sweetness from the jujubes. The chopped walnuts were scattered throughout, offering a good crunch. I could have used more nuts though. The pastry shell was flaky and fresh as well.
Finally, I tried the 蛋黄莲蓉酥 (Lotus Seed w/ Salted Egg). This is like the traditional mooncake filling with a pastry exterior. The white lotus paste did not have much lotus taste to it but it was quite sweet and smooth. It was also quite dense and hard, which made it chewable and good. The salted egg yolk had a nice savoury flavour but it was rather small. At least there was quite a lot of the lotus paste. I wish I could just eat the filing by itself, though most people would prefer the flaky shell to offset the sweetness.
I would get these classic pastries once in a while just because I am craving the filling. The quality is good and it should be for $1.30 a piece. The layered pastry dough I can do without but the fillings are just so tasty!