Mouthful of Sunshine

Satisfaction in every bite

That Tiramisu! – Al Porto Ristorante

May 11, 2013
Al Porto Ristorante, Vancouver BC
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[Bread Basket]
Linguine Pescatore
Calamari
Mussels
Tiramisu
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ImageFor a long-time friend’s 20th birthday party, we went to Al Porto Ristorante in the lovely, historic Gastown. While sunny weather is always nice, there is a certain magical feel to Gastown in the drizzly rain. The restaurant was large, with great friendly servers and traditional decorations. 

We started with a complimentary Bread Basket that I thought could have been better to match the sophistication of the restaurant. The bread was not exactly fresh out of the oven, although it had a nice crust and a soft, airy inside. However, I loved the focaccia. It was so soft and a little chewy.Image

The Linguine Pescatore was a common dish amongst our group. The seafood was fresh and nicely done: mussels, clams, prawns, squid, scallops, salmon, and halibut. Unfortunately, there was only one scallop, which is my favourite seafood… ever. The fish added a nice touch since you eat it with the pasta unlike the shellfish, which you usually eat separately. The linguine was al dente and the tomato sauce very flavourful with a touch of cream.Image

The Calamari was served with a chili aioli and a red onion bruschetta. The squid had a thin but crispy batter with the chewy seafood nicely done on the inside. I liked the chili aioli but would prefer the bruschetta. I thought it was an interesting touch for calamari.Image

The Mussels were steamed with garlic, shallot, and Italian parsley in a tomato broth. The broth had a decent herb flavour but could have been thicker with more seasoning. The mussels were okay, nothing outstanding.Image

Finally, since it was a birthday night, we all had a small bite of Tiramisu. It was a lovely bite. Coffee, liquer, lady fingers, sponge cake, cocoa powder, and most importantly, mascarpone. It was fresh, sweet, soft, moist, and absolutely scrumptious!

It was a really nice dinner, at a nice, fancy, but not over the top restaurant. I think a seat by the window would be a lot nicer and would actually be a great place to enjoy an upscale brunch of light dinner in the glow of the setting sun. 

Al Porto Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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A Coconut-y Christmas – Goldilocks

ImageDecember 25, 2012
Goldilocks, Vancouver BC
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Buko Pie
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Christmas Day is always so relaxing and this year was no exception. You get up whenever you just happen to wake up. Then you greet everyone a good morning and a Merry Christmas as you raid the fridge. Then you snack throughout the day before raiding the fridge in the afternoon yet again. So that was what I did and this is what I ate.Image

The Buko Pie from Goldilocks was brought over my Auntie the day before. It was National Pumpkin Pie day, but hey, at least I was eating pie. This is a traditional Filipino twist on a coconut cream pie, minus the cream. The crust was not flaky, but rather crumbly, like a super large tart shell. It was lightly sweetened and I loved it. Inside had a layer of young coconut meat with custard. The coconut was chewy, slightly juicy and sweet, and very refreshing. The custard was sweeter and light, with two different textures. One was more moist and creamier surrounding the coconut meat, while the layer on the bottom held its shape better. This is by far my favourite pie ever, hands down. So sweet yet light and refreshing – just perfect for a relaxing Christmas Day. 

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Golden Bread – Goldilocks

ImageDecember 24, 2012
Goldilocks, Vancouver BC
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Cheese Loaf
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Goldilocks is all the way in Vancouver but, thankfully, T&T also carried a small selection of their baked goods. Mom found one on sale and it was a great deal of bread for only $0.99!

The Cheese Loaf is a slightly sweet, soft, airy, and somewhat sticky bread with a sugar and butter glaze on top and cubes of cream cheese hidden inside each individual bun. The cream cheese was a little hard but went well with the bread. I just loved the texture of the hard but creamy cheese and the bread. The top layer of the bread was delicious from the sweet buttery glaze, the best part of this bread!Image

It was large but not dense at all. Apparently, it usually sells for around $5, in which case would not be worth it at all. Perhaps T&T sells even more variety than we were first aware of, but that is definitely a good thing!

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Famously Cheap Yet Delicious – The Famous Warehouse

ImageAugust 21, 2012
The Famous Warehouse, Vancouver BC
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Union Street Noodle Salad
Sweet Chipotle Chili Chicken
Mama T’s Crunchy Mac and Cheese
Yam Fries
Chiang Mai Bowl
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Even early on a Tuesday evening, the line was never-ending for a table at The Famous Warehouse. I met up with two buddies, Jason and Rachael, both of whom I have not seen for over a year. At least we were busy exchanging stories while we waited. Even as we ate, people were constantly lining up. That just goes to show how popular $4.95 for decent sized entrees really are.

First up was one of their specialties, the Union Street Noodle Salad. It came in a decent sized bowl with lots of chow mein noodles. They were cooked with a soy sauce of sorts and while al dente and chewy, were extremely salty. At least the texture was good. The noodles were topped with a spring mix tossed in a sweet soy and ginger dressing. It did not have a strong acidic or tangy taste to it, which I was wishing for to balance out the saltiness of the noodles. The cucumber slices and pea shoots were refreshing at least and the avocado was creamy and smooth, offering the bland flavour I needed. The almonds I missed but the sesame seeds gave a nice aroma. The diced, marinated grilled chicken on top were nicely seasoned on the outside but way too dry and gritty. However, for $4.95, it was quite a good deal.
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The Sweet Chipotle Chili Chicken were served on a bed of tortilla strips and jasmine rice. The few pieces of chicken had a good batter coating, not too deep fried but still crispy and soaked up the sauce nicely. The sesame seeds on top added that extra aroma to the delicious sweet and tangy sauce. It was not as spicy as I would have liked but the flavour was still great. The cucumbers were again very refreshing. I also enjoyed the tortilla strips and rice since they were coated with the sauce and thus became very tasty. This was by far the smallest plate of the evening but the flavour was spot on so no one minded. Image

I heard rave reviews of Mama T’s Crunchy Mac and Cheese so it was a must try for us. It came piping hot and creamy. The macaroni was cooked al dente and coated completely with the gooey cheese sauce that was a blend of cheddar, mozzarella, and alfredo. It was a mild but rich and creamy cheese so while not the strongest of flavours, it was not bland. The smooth texture was great when mixed with the parmesan crust topping and the somewhat hidden crispy cornflakes. It was slightly seasoned from the thyme, which certainly made it better. I like my mac and cheese with ketchup so I added that to my plate. However, even without the ketchup, I did enjoy the simple cheese and pasta dish. The green onion garnish on top seemed a little out of place with a flavour so much stronger and incompatible with the dish. The cheesy pasta itself, though, was economic comfort food at its best; it was quite a large portion so we were satisfied.Image

We were not full after three plates, so we went ahead and got an order of Yam Fries. These were not the best that I have had. While each fry was large and thick, they were also slightly soggy by the time the bowl of them arrived at the table. I missed that delicious crunch, which is the defining factor in yam fries. I did appreciate that they were not overly oily but I would have liked them to be crispier. They were served with macho sauce, which is pretty much just chipotle mayo. I enjoyed the kick from the heat mixed with the tangy and creamy mayonnaise was quite a contrast with the sweet aroma of the yam. This is when two very different flavours work harmoniously together. If only they were brought out right after being fried, I would have been satisfied. There are certainly times when the food should not be brought out at the same time if they were not finished together.

ImageFinally, we also got the Chiang Mai Bowl. The ingredients were plentiful but simple: fat hoikken noodles, red and green bell peppers, onions, carrots, celery, pea sprouts, and broccoli. The dish was made with quite a lot of sesame oil, stir fried in a wok, and served in a metal wok-like bowl with handles. It looked quite cool and the colours were vibrant. The spicy soy chili sauce, in addition to the sesame oil taste, was tangy, spicy, and slightly sweet. Clearly, it was a pub’s version of Asian stir fry noodles. I did like the flavour though, and the noodles and vegetables were all coated in more than enough of the sauce. I found it to be slightly on the greasy side, so perhaps less sesame oil will have been better. I loved the extra crunch from the almond slivers. The vegetables were refreshing and not mushy; the noodles were chewy and al dente. This was another of my favourites of the night and while it is not a big portion, it would be enough for me.

Overall, considering the $4.95 pricing, I was extremely pleased with our meal. The flavours were not outstanding but they were still mostly very decent for comfort food. It is so much better than fast food, which nowadays is roughly the same price, if not more expensive. For $10 per person, this was such a good deal of cheap yet still good-tasting food. They have quite an extensive menu for such a small place, and there are certainly more dishes I could have tried. The ambiance was extremely casual, quite noisy as it was a pub. The servers were friendly but I found them to be quite underdressed. It is certainly not a place for anything close to fine dining in a quiet restaurant with elegant decor but rather a rowdy place to catch up over cheap and tasty food.

The Famous Warehouse on Urbanspoon

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A Salmon Surprise – Vancouver Convention Centre

ImageJuly 30, 2012
Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver BC
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[Bread and Butter]

Butter Lettuce Leaves with Toasted Almonds, Raspberry Vinaigrette
Fines Herbes WIld Pacific Salmon Filet, Grape Tomato Red Wine Butter, Tricolor Linguini, Fresh Market Vegetables
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A surprise as I got into the office this morning led me to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Originally only supposed to stay for a while, it gradually turned into the majority of lunch as the reception sort of blended in with the food. What a nice surprise that was. Once I got home, I checked up the menu online. You just have got to love the incredible amount of information that can be found online nowadays. All you need is Google and you are good to go.Image

We started off with complimentary dinner rolls and butter. One basket per table was served with a small dish of generic balls of butter. I saw at least three types: plain, oat, and pumpkin seed. I had a pumpkin seed one. It was soft on the inside and chewy with a slight hardening on the outside, making the texture a lovely one, especially with the addition of the pumpkin seeds. I really enjoyed the seeds and wished they were mixed into the dough as well instead of just on the surface. The inside was orange, which made me think it was some sort of special grain dough. It would have been better had it been warm but at least it was not bad.Image

The appetizer course was Butter Lettuce Leaves with Toasted Almonds, Raspberry Vinaigrette. There were only three butter lettuce leaves, some almonds, four raspberries, and some edible flowers that gave the salad a nice aroma. The almonds were crunchy but there was not enough for me. The leaves were chilled and the vinaigrette sweet and tangy at the same time. It was a rather thick vinaigrette and slightly on the oily side, but the taste was good.Image

The main dish was Fines Herbes Wild Pacific Salmon Filet, Grape Tomato Red Wine Butter, Tricolor Linguini, Fresh Market Vegetables. The salmon was by far the highlight of the entire meal. It was pink, succulent, moist, and juicy, sprinkled with flavourful herbs and baked to utter perfection. It was definitely one of the best salmon filets I have had. The herbs offered enough flavour so that it did not taste bland or overly fishy. I also loved the grape tomatoes and red wine butter. Despite the somewhat revolting purplish hue of the butter sauce, it was slightly sweet and tart, not bland at all. It matched the salmon perfectly and was delicious! The linguini was al dente, but I had a few strands that were stuck together. There was not enough of that delicious butter sauce for me to finish the linguini; without it, the pasta was bland. It was definitely pleasing to the eye though. Finally, I loved the roasted red bell pepper slice and the baby broccoli. The baby broccoli was crunchy and the pepper soft and flavourful. I wish I had a whole plate of the brightly coloured vegetables.

Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to stay for dessert, which would have been a Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake “Sevigné”, Crispy Meringue, with Raspberry Coulis. That would have been delicious, I am sure. However, I am already thankful we got a great lunch. For hotel catering services, this is definitely one of the better ones I have had. I really appreciate having salmon instead of the generic chicken breast, especially since it was baked so nicely.

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Cooled Down and Refreshed – Starbucks

ImageJuly 13, 2012
Starbucks, Vancouver BC
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Cool Lime Starbucks Refreshers
Very Berry Hibiscus Starbucks Refreshers
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A hot, sunny afternoon calls for a refreshing drink. Luckily – though that would be somewhat weird since it was a Black Friday – Starbucks was debuting its new line of summer beverages: the Starbucks Refreshers with Green Coffee Extract. It is caffeine without the taste of coffee, or what I call the exact opposite of decaf. For the summer though, there is nothing like an icy cup of refreshing fruit-flavoured beverage with a boost of caffeine to get you even more excited with everything that is going on. After a quick meal at McDonald’s, Mom and I walked into Starbucks and the line was almost out the door. Everyone was holding a Starbucks Refresher, either pink or yellow. There seemed to be no other drink in sight, from 12-3 p.m. when they were giving out tall drinks for free. Honestly, though, why would anyone buy another beverage when a cool looking new one was being promoted?
 
The Cool Lime Starbucks Refresher is made with real citrus fruit juice, mint, and a lime slice. It looks like it is watered down, but is a less sour version of lemonade, with a nice hint of mint. At first, you can only taste the lightly sweet and tangy lime. Once you swallow your sip, however, you will get that refreshing mint aroma on your tongue. It is quite a pleasant surprise. The mint is masked by the lime at first and is revealed only after you drink the beverage. The lime slice just makes it more interesting. I would certainly get a cup of this on a hot afternoon.Image
 
The other flavour was the Very Berry Hibiscus Starbucks Refreshers, made with real fruit juice and whole blackberries. This one was a lot sweeter, but still not sugary. After all, it is fruit juice and thus, still very refreshing. There were about four blackberries in the drink, which again, made it quite fun. The dark pink shade was very pleasing for the eye. The tanginess was nicely balanced with the sweetness and it was really nice and fruity. I would get this on a slightly cooler summer day, or perhaps in the evening, as it is slightly sweeter than the lime one and does not have the mint. 
 
Both drinks live up to the name of ‘Refreshers’ as both are perfect under the sun. Two different flavours for different moods, whether it is the lime for a relaxing, drowsy afternoon, or the berry hibiscus for an exciting, fun-filled afternoon. I think they probably could have released these a little earlier, especially considering how much of the US and Canada got hot really early on this year due to the extremely weird weather worldwide. I am sure, though, that a mere three hours of free beverages would bring in a lot of extra revenue for them as these Refreshers provide customers the boost from caffeine without having to have something too rich and milky. Ice and fruit in the summer is always a good decision!

Starbucks (Granville & 64th) on Urbanspoon

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Mediterranean Meets McD’s – McDonald’s

ImageJuly 13, 2012
McDonald’s, Vancouver BC
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Mediterranean Chicken Snack Wrap
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A big meal just does not cut it for lunch on a hot summer day. The sunshine calls for a light snack around noon and nothing much. With this in mind, I went into McDonald’s, remember the last time they had a chicken snack wrap promotion. Three summers ago, I got hooked on their Teriyaki Chicken Snack Wrap. The sauce was so good. I remember it clearly, along with iced coffee, as that summer’s heat was especially unbearable in that no ventilation classroom in summer school. After that, they also offered the Parmigiana Snack Wrap, which was not particularly memorable.Image

Now comes the new Mediterranean Chicken Snack Wrap. I get it with grilled chicken, as it makes for a much healthier snack, or in this case, meal. It was not very pleasing to look at when I first unwrapped it, being slightly flattened. The chicken, shredded lettuce, and other ingredients did not come close to the edge of the soft, warm tortilla. This made the first few bites bland despite the lovely tortilla, which was heated up just right. The bottom was wrapped nicely, though, without too many thick layers or tortilla. They do need more of everything inside though. When I did get to the centre of the wrap, I was not disappointed. The chicken was nice and tender. The lettuce was just… well, lettuce. I loved the feta cheese and the Mediterranean herb sauce though. The rich cheesiness went very well with the slight tanginess of the sauce. It was pretty sour but tasty and creamy, like ranch with herbs and a little bit of spices. There was enough sauce and cheese to make it possible to discern between each individual flavour, which was good. I loved the sour sauce with the warm tortilla that I might go back just for those two put together.

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Some Quality, Zero Quantity – 侬-Nong Chinese Restaurant

ImageJuly 12, 2012
侬 – Nong Chinese Restaurant, Vancouver BC
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避风塘茄子 (Spicy Eggplants)
南翔小笼包 (Shanghai Dumplings)
花素蒸饺 (Veggi & Egg Dumplings)
豉汁蒸排骨 (Steam Spare Rib)
北菇滑鸡煲仔饭 (Mushroom & Chicken Rice)
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We needed a quick lunch as it was quite late already to be heading out to somewhere for a meal already. We were nearby, so Dad recommended this restaurant, which he had previously eaten at and thought the food was decent. Well, we though, why not? We were a little taken by surprise when we were given the dim sum marking sheet as it was already after one on a Thursday. However, I guess it is still technically dim sum. Another issue we realized right away was the inflated prices on all the dishes, at least $1-2 more than very decent dim sum in Richmond, by far the most expensive. Thus, we went with some simpler dishes and had a light lunch.

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First on the table was the 避风塘茄子 (Spicy Eggplants). The eggplants were lightly battered and fried. I liked this dish a lot, even though it is not completely worth it for the price. It had a nice crunch and texture to it though. The chili peppers with the dried small shrimp made a very salty, extremely spicy, but also delicious topping. The eggplants were still soft on the inside so the heat went with it very well. The strong spice paired nicely with the bland taste of the eggplant and the crispiness of the batter.

ImageThe 南翔小笼包 (Shanghai Dumplings) were some of the best xiao long bao I have ever tasted. The skin was thin but still chewy. The meat was soft and flavourful on the inside. Most importantly, there was a lot of liquid in each bun, the great-tasting ground pork juices with a nice taste to it. The meat looked quite pink, which at least means it contains a lot of meat rather than have too much flour or starch mixed into it.Image

My favourite dish was perhaps the 花素蒸饺 (Veggi & Egg Dumplings). The concept here is simple: carrots, baby bok choy, black wood ear, and water chestnuts all diced, slightly sweetened, in a large steamed dumpling. It is not a particularly complex dish, but it was certainly well executed. I like the bigger size of the dumplings, as well as the light hint of sweetness in the vegetables. The dumpling skin was also well made, quite thick and chewy. It is comfort food for me.

For something a little more traditional for dim sum, we went with the 豉汁蒸排骨 (Steam Spare Rib). The pieces of ribs were extremely tender and quite flavourful, which I really liked. I found the meat to be on the fattier side for me. I would have preferred more muscle meat than fat, which made the dish a little too greasy. The black bean sauce flavour was there though and quite distinct. The pumpkin cubes at the bottom really soaked up the flavour and were very tasty. They were soft and mushy and had that nice pumpkin aroma. I wish there were a few more pieces though. 

ImageImageFinally, the most disappointing dish of the meal, the 北菇滑鸡煲仔饭 (Mushroom & Chicken Rice) was plain and unexciting. It was chicken thigh meat marinated – I think! – and steamed on top of rice with two pieces of mushrooms, baby bok choy,  and Chinese sausages. This was a little bland for me as there were not multiple layers of taste. The chicken was extremely tender though! They had really smooth and silky texture. The mushrooms could have been so much more plentiful. They do not cost much, unless they are using fresh shiitake mushrooms. The Chinese sausages were sweet but very uncreative. It looks like if they were sloppily thrown on top. The baby bok choy had no flavour at all. The rice was nicely cooked, and after it got chicken juice soaked into it, it became slightly more tasty.Image

I would not recommend this restaurant to anyone. For the extremely high prices they charge, you get above average food but definitely not one of the best. Thus, it did not end up on my dependable restaurants. It was a quick lunch, but we waited a while before the food came. They also did not give us a pot of boiled water to refill the teapot. The service was average for a Chinese restaurant. They also do not specialize in any one cuisine, which kind of lowers the prestige level of the restaurant. However, I guess each market is just very different!

Nong Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Happy Birthday Canada… and Uncle! – 西湖海鲜酒家-Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant

ImageJuly 1, 2012
西湖海鲜酒家 – Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Vancouver BC
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蜜桃沙汁虾 (Prawns with Honey Glazed Walnuts in Salad Dressing)
XO酱爆带子 (Sauteed Scallops in Spicy XO Sauce)
罗汉上素 (Buddha’s Feast Assorted Vegetables)
鱼香茄子扒玉子豆腐 (Eggplant & Egg Tofu in Chili Garlic Sauce)
铁板三菇牛柳粒 (Diced Beef Tenderloin with Mushrooms on Sizzling Plate)
秘制东坡肉 (Specialty Layered Pork)
[糖水 (Dessert Soup)]

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Not only was it Canada’s birthday, it was my uncle’s birthday as well. Thus, we went out to celebrate and save Mom from making a large dinner. Of the many times I have been to Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant, I have never been disappointed by their dinner dishes. While their dim sum is rather mediocre, I was glad to find last night that their dinner is still as amazing as it has ever been. The taste is not as delicate or complex as those of more upscale restaurants such as Kirin Restaurant. However, they have huge portions at very reasonable prices. They do not skimp on ingredients and each dish has a distinct and strong flavour, much to my liking

We started off the evening with one of my favourite dishes – 蜜桃沙汁虾 (Prawns with Honey Glazed Walnuts in Salad Dressing). Regardless of which restaurant I eat at, I will likely order the equivalent of this dish. After all, how can you not love lightly fried prawns coated in a sweet and sour mayo-based sauce with honey walnuts. I was pleased to find the prawns were only slightly fried and not too oily. The sauce was delicious; it was tart and sweet, with the texture of mayonnaise but better taste. The sauce coated the prawns nicely and there was plenty if you wanted to eat simply more of that delicious sauce. The walnuts were slightly disappointing this time. The honey was sweet and good and there were enough sesame seeds. However, the walnuts were not fried or roasted long enough. They were hard to bite and were not crunchy. For $14.80, there were about a dozen prawns with plentiful walnuts, which is such a great deal.Image

XO酱爆带子 (Sauteed Scallops in Spicy XO Sauce) was another great deal. XO sauce is already expensive. Add scallops and the dish can get quite pricey. Here, however, they have a huge dish with a decent amount of scallops for only $16.80! I loved the spicy XO sauce. That fishy taste coupled with spicy oil is simply delicious. The vegetables – onions, red and green bell peppers, snap peas, and shiitake mushrooms – were all coated nicely with the sauce, giving them a rich flavour. The scallops were cooked nicely; they were soft, tender, and slightly chewy. The dish was not overly oily, which was much appreciated. I would certainly order this dish again, just because I love scallops and their version of the spicy XO sauce.Image

The 罗汉上素 (Buddha’s Feast Assorted Vegetables) was full of delicious vegetables and tofu. The dish was comprised of three types of mushroom – button, shiitake, and straw – as well as mini corn, black wood ear, jelly ear, carrots, water chestnuts, gai lan, and fried tofu cubes. There were only two slices of carrots, but they added a nice colour to the dish. The tofu was mediocre. It was nicely fried with a soft and tender inside. The outside soaked in some of the sauce and flavour, which was a nice light one as vegetarian dishes tend to be. I liked the lightness of the dish, though I wish there was slightly less oil. The gai lan was what I was craving vegetables-wise. All three mushrooms were delicious, although I prefer the shiitake and straw mushrooms. They are so slippery, soft, chewy, and tender. I love the slipperiness so much! The mini corn and water chestnuts were nothing too special. Overall, it was a decent vegetarian dish and the ingredients were all great.Image

Next was the 鱼香茄子扒玉子豆腐 (Eggplant & Egg Tofu in Chili Garlic Sauce), another of my all time favourites at Western Lake. This is pretty much just eggplant in garlic sauce over fried egg tofu. Egg tofu is lighter and not as firm and compact as regular tofu. Slightly fried, the inside was extremely soft, wrapped in a nice, chewy outside. The eggplants were cooked nicely, but I was slightly disappointed as they were not the best quality of eggplants to begin with. Some parts, especially the skin, were hard to chew. This is just due to the quality of the vegetable itself, though, and not because it was cooked badly. There were also plenty of pork, bamboo, red bell pepper, and black wood ear strips to top it off. I even got a slice of bitter melon, which I found to be odd. The sauce is what makes the dish amazing, tying together all of these lovely ingredients, which I love anyways. The spicy, savoury, and slightly sweet taste blends together so nicely. Adding a little garlic and starch to make it less watery, the sauce is one of the best garlic sauces I have ever tasted. To this day, it remains one of my favourite dishes, not just at Western Lake, but in Chinese restaurants in general.Image

I have had the 铁板三菇牛柳粒 (Diced Beef Tenderloin with Mushrooms on Sizzling Plate) before as well. I am not a huge fan of it, but Mom loves it. It comes on a stone plate, wrapped in tin foil. When you open it, it is still steaming hot, with the sauce still bubbling and steam rising like crazy. That is when you know the beef will be flavourful, with the little cubes soaking up the sauce while still remaining moist and tender. I have never really been partial to stir fried beef or Chinese beef dishes in general. But for what it is, the flavour was great. The sauce was slightly sweet, which I do like. My favourite part of this dish is the vegetables – the onions and again, the three types of mushrooms. This time, besides the shiitake and straw mushrooms, which are once again slippery and so good, there were bunches of enoki mushrooms. They soak up the sauce and flavour better as they have more surface area to be coated in the sauce, making them quite flavourful. The carrots are there for the colour, and for me, do not add much to the taste of the dish. Despite the fact that this dish was not one of my favourites, it was nicely executed.Image

The final dish of the night was the 秘制东坡肉 (Specialty Layered Pork), a traditional dish of Hangzhou – Mom and Dad’s favourite Chinese city – and named after one of China’s greatest poets of all time, Su Dongpo. It is basically pork belly, slightly pan fried and then red braised in a mostly sweet sauce. I thought this dish was especially well executed. It came with six steamed plain buns, although I did not try them so I cannot comment on the quality. The piece of pork belly we got, however, was excellent as it was not too fat; underneath the skin, there was only a thin layer of fat and mostly just comprised to lean pork meat. The meat, for me, was slightly overcooked, as the lean parts were slightly dry and not as tender and soft as I would prefer. Also, because they cooked it in such a large piece and cut it up at the table rather than cooking it in smaller cubes, the meat did not have much flavour unless you coated it with the sauce. The sauce was, however, incredible! The thickness was just right and I loved the sweetness! It was perhaps a little sweeter than it is supposed to be traditionally, but I am not complaining, being a huge fan of sweet dishes. I loved the baby bok choy in the sauce as well – a nice, sweet crunch! The meat was sort of oily, but not in the make-me-sick, greasy kind of way, which is just how the dish should be. At least for me, the sauce really stood out! I would eat anything dipped in that sauce.Image

They also gave us complimentary 糖水 (Dessert Soup). This one was made with both azuki and mung beans, as well as orange peels. I did not get any orange peels, but the flavour was strong. It was quite sweet and had a nice bean texture, since it was cooked until all the beans split open so that all was left were the outer shells. It was slightly watered down and I prefer it thicker, with more of that bean paste texture. However, I liked the sweetness mixed with the orange flavour, even though it was nothing special.

Once again, I must say Western Lake is great for a VERY affordable dinner full of great flavours and quality ingredients. Oh, and did I mention HUGE portions? For six massive, flavourful dishes, our total came to around $90 before tax and tips! The service was also great. It does get loud and noisy, and the din from quickly setting up tables with all the china dinnerware is very annoying. However, the restaurant is clean and with decent décor. If the food is good, I usually do not mind the atmosphere too much. With absolutely delicious dishes, you can bet I will be back, especially if I am craving prawns or eggplants!

Western Lake Chinese Seafood 西湖海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

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A Macaron for Canada – French Made Baking

ImageJuly 1, 2012
French Made Baking, Vancouver BC
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Le Yuzu Macaron
Macanada Macaron
Le Pistache Macaron
L’Anglais Macaron
Le Framboise Macaron
Le Passion Macaron

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I was absolutely delighted when I discovered French Made Baking had a booth at the Steveston Salmon Festival. Farmers’ markets in Vancouver are just not very convenient for me. Even better, they offered a special Canada Day flavour! Besides macarons, they also sold croissants and other pastries, but I was there for these meringue cookies and so that is what I got. I was delighted to find that the texture for these macarons were quite well executed. The outer shells were extremely delicate, while the insides were soft and moist – just the way the macaron shell should be. None of the fillings were a buttercream base and were thus not oily at all. For $10 for six, I got to try each flavour, which came packed in a cute little box.

The first flavour I got to sample was Le Yuzu Macaron. Yuzu juice, which is a citron flavour, was used to make the shell. It had a dark chocolate and cream filling to offset the tartness of the shell. I actually did not like the citrus flavour in this. It tasted somewhat artificial to me and was not distinct in the citrus fruit. I am certainly not a fan of mixed citrus tastes. It just seems overly complicated, especially when paired with the dark chocolate. A simple lemon one would have sufficed for a yellow macaron.

The special Macanada was my favourite one. Not only did I love the red and white shells, the maple ganache with bits of roasted pecans was sweet and yummy. The white chocolate ganache filling, with the maple and pecan flavours, was truly special and fit for such a special occasion. It was sweet and sticky; in my opinion, that was the perfect combination for macaron fillings. Roasted nuts will bring out that nice aroma in most desserts and this was no exception. It was also just extremely pleasing to gaze at.

Next was the Le Pistache Macaron, which was perhaps the best pistachio macaron I have ever tried. The flavour was distinctly that of an artificial pistachio, but it was pistachio and not just any nut. It was strong and I loved it. The white chocolate and cream filling was very thick and full of flavour. The colour was not too bright or too light. Being such a popular flavour, the pistachio macarons I have tried at different places differ quite a lot. Some are bad and others just do not taste anything like pistachios. For once, I could tell it was a pistachio flavour.

Another one of the good ones was the L’Anglais Macaron, or rather an earl grey tea macaron with a milk chocolate and cream ganache. I loved the lilac shade of the shell. It was a very elegant colour, looking very upscale. The chocolate ganache went perfectly with the earl grey tea infused macaron shell. The two flavours, both very distinct and strong, matched nicely, bringing out a contrast while maintaining the balance of the two.Image

The Le Framboise Macaron was mediocre. The texture was good but the flavour was not as strong as I am used to. There was, however, a nice, slightly different taste to it; it did not completely taste like a raspberry jam or artificial flavouring. Instead, it had that musty feel to it. The colour was a nice shade of pink and the texture of the raspberry ganache filling was great.

Finally, the Le Passion Macaron was the worst one in my opinion. This is mostly due to the artificial passion fruit flavouring. Having drunk a lot of passion fruit bubble teas in the past, I know I like a good artificial passion fruit taste. This was just too fake though, like the awkward-tasting zero-calorie sweeteners. Even the milk chocolate and cream ganache did not help to make the macaron taste better as the passion fruit artificial flavour was just too strong.

I never thought that there would be macarons of all the treats there are to be available at the Steveston Salmon Festival. They are really turning into a more upscale event, I guess. Regardless, it is nice to have so many options so close to home so I am not complaining.

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