Archive for the ‘Vancouver restaurants’ Category

It’s hard to believe we’ll be heading back to Toronto in about a month.  And just when I was settling back into the swing of things here in Vancouver, revisiting my favorite book shops and discovering amazing new restaurants.  At the top of the latter list is Mission on West 4th.  I discovered this place while Anthony Lemke was in town, checking it out on the spur of the moment and being completely wowed by the creativity in the kitchen and the depth of the flavor profiles.  It’s the type of restaurant that would thrive in more culinary-forward cities like New York or Los Angeles but here in Vancouver, where diners are more interested in bang for your buck fill-your-piehole joints, it’s going to be more of a challenge.  Still, Mission is not without its ardent supporters and has been nominated as one of Vancouver’s Best New Restaurants by enRoute Magazine.  And no surprise there. It’s farm-to-table Pacific Northwest cuisine at its finest.

The man behind the restaurant is Chef Curtis Luk, a former Top Chef Canada finalist and – gotta love this! – big SF fan.  Yes, Stargate fans, he’s one of us! And, on our last brunch visit, I enthused about the food and he complimented me on Dark Matter (which he recently binged on Netflix).

Duck confit scrambled eggs, zucchini, black pepper

Duck confit scrambled eggs, zucchini, black pepper

One of the things that really stands out for me are – believe it or not – the vegetarian dishes.  I know, I know.  It sounds crazy coming from me, but it’s true. I could go to Mission, bypass the many wonderful meat-themed plates on the menu, and still leave delightfully, deliciously satisfied.

If you’re in town, check it out.  Then head on over and help a fellow geek out by Voting Mission Best New Vancouver Restaurant of 2016.

Hey!  Interested in joining our Comic Book Reading Club?  We kicked things off this week with our first pick, Dardevil: “Born Again”.

Swing on by and join the discussion!

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Akemi and I don’t get out as much as we used to but, the other night, we hung up our pots and pans (and packed away the sous vide machine) in favor of a night out.  We headed to Gastown to check out Pidgin, one of the newest additions (less than a week old!) to the local dining scene.  The man behind the menu, Chef Makoto Ono, was the winner of the first Canadian Culinary Championship at Gold Medal Plates back in 2007.  Since then, he has opened Makoto restaurant in Beijing, as well as Liberty Exchange and Liberty Private Works (which made the World’s Best 50 Restaurants) in Hong Kong.  And finally, Chef Ono has set up shop in Vancouver.

I’ve heard the menu described as mix of French, Japanese, and Korean influences with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.  Akemi and I were intrigued…


The menu is a one-sheet covering everything from appetizers to larger plates, the individual prices a guide to their relative portion sizes.  We started small and worked our way up.

The rice crackers and sweet soy anchovies weren’t my thing (as I enjoy neither rice cracker or anchovies) but Akemi is a big fan of both and loved this starter.


Akemi concentrates on eating.


More my speed where the fried shisito (Japanese) peppers with parmesan and pine nuts.  I’m a big fan of their sweet and slightly bitter taste, also the fact that roughly one in every three is mouth-blastingly hot.


Akemi presents…

One of the highlights of the night, however, was the sea urchin with cauliflower mousse, ponzu jalapeno salsa, and dashi.  Forget what you think you know about sea urchin.  Most of the stuff served at many sushi restaurants is packaged and possessed of an unpleasant funkiness.  But get them fresh – as served here – and they’re nothing but creamy sweetness melting in your mouth.  I ended up having two servings.

Akemi also did a wedge salad with tofu dressing, nori, and bonito flakes.  Again, not my thing but very much hers.

The only dish that didn’t impress was the Korean rice cakes with pork belly with tomato sauce and furikake.  It wasn’t bad, but I thought the belly and rice cakes an odd textural combination.


On the other hand, there was the other highlight of the night: beef tongue and cheek with broccoli pistou and mustard.  A marvelous dish but, I thought, a little pricey given the portion size.

We had three options for dessert and, rather than risk second-guessing myself, I decided to go with all three.

The black sesame cream with red bean and snow fungus was interesting and I loved the little crunch imparted by the fungus, but it felt like a very good Chinese dessert – which is my way of saying it was better than what I’d expected but not something I’d order again.

The chocolate fritters with the matcha dipping sauce were a bittersweet treat.  My only quibble was that the chocolate inside the fritters hadn’t totally melted and were solid and cool at their center.

The meringue with yuzu curd, vanilla, and celery (Yes, celery!) was excellent – and Akemi’s favorite.  This was the dish she was talking about on the way home.

The verdict?  Akemi put it best: fresh, clean flavors.

We’ll definitely be back and, on our return visit, I’m definitely getting the one menu item I regretted missing: the foie gras rice bowl with chesnuts, daikon, and unagi glaze!



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Last night, Campagnolo Roma hosted another one of its famed Quinto Quarto dinners, an offal-themed culinary extravaganza inspired by the Roman “fifth quarter” feasts of yore.  I was flying sort of solo as Akemi had bowed out on account of the far-too-late-for-her 8:30 p.m. seating. That and the emphasis on liver.

Like I said, I was flying “sort of solo” because, even though I didn’t have a date, I had plenty of company in the form of some adventurous friends.  There was Robert of course, a mainstay at these events (in fact, we met at one of Roma’s Whole Hog dinners) who was, in turn, joined by his buddy, Dave.  Longtime dining companions Jodi and Steve also put in a surprise appearance.  And, since the meal was family style (meaning you’re sharing a table with strangers), we ended up making some new friends as well: Barbara (whose husband used to work in the local t.v. industry and was also flying solo), Rosita (an accountant with a taste for adventure) and Su (who runs a catering company).

Now, the last Quinto Quarto dinner I attended was full of surprises (most of them good) so I wasn’t expecting this one to beat it.  But, damn, if the gang at Roma didn’t surprise me yet again.  The meal broke down as follows:


Beef tendon, honeycomb ripe, tongue.

That’s the way it was listed in the menu.  Rather uninspired, I thought. And I was thoroughly prepared to be underwhelmed given how much I loved the appetizers (spleen sliders!) from the last Quinto Quarto dinner – and how much I don’t like tripe.  But this dish turned out to be one of the highlights of the night, an outstanding combination of textures and flavors.  The addition of parsley and mint brought it to a whole other level.


Cavatelli all’anatra with duck gizzard sugo and crispy sage and chicken skin.

Speaking of outstanding – I could have eaten a double portion of this and the appetizer and gone home singing the praises of “My best meal in recent memory!”.  The pasta was perfectly al dente (can’t tell you how important that is).


Sauteed calves liver, sauteed onions, aceto tradizionale.

Okay, let me start off by saying that this was, without a doubt, the best calves liver I’ve ever eaten – sweet, tender, but intense.  No second helpings for me.  Growing up, this was one of my father’s favorite meals, and mom would prepare them the same why: fried with onions.  It took me back.


Roasted brussels sprouts with cured pork.

This is the only way to eat brussels sprouts = with bacon!


Pork kidneys, mustard greens, and extra virgin olive oil.

Hmmm.  This one didn’t do it for me.  The salad was interesting, the mustard greens possessed of a nice little kick, but those kidneys were akin to oversauced mushrooms.  Not my thing.


Sweet black pudding, pannetone, marsala zabaglione.

As much as I applaud the courage and creativity that goes into an offal-inspired dessert, I can’t really say I’ve ever had one that made me say: “Wow!  They’ve got to put this on the regular menu!”.  Not the black pudding and chocolate ice cream I once had at Refuel with Marty G. and Jewel.  Not the ricotta and pig brain cream in the cassata siciliana served at the last Quinto Quarto dinner.  And, to be truthful, not this sweet black pudding with pannetone and marsala zabaglione. Nevertheless, it WAS good.  The hazelnut black pudding and chocolate cake was reminiscent of fruit cake – but in a good way.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the meal and, based on those first two dishes (appetizer and pasta) have to give the edge to last night’s Quinto Quarto dinner over the previous one I attended.  Can’t wait for the next one!

Jodi and Steve

Jodi and Steve surprised me by joining me – and genuinely enjoying the dinner.  Didn’t realize they were such culinary daredevils.

David and Robert

David and Robert enjoyed the meal as well – but weren’t quite as enamored of the liver.

Rosita and Su

Rosita and Su = new foodie friends.


Barbara.  Since everyone else but the two of us were paired off, that made her my date for the evening!

Special thanks to the gang at Roma – especially the two individuals who created the menu and cooked the food: Chef Nathan and Chef Ted…

Chef Nathan and Chef Ted

Chef Nathan and Chef Ted

Thanks, guys!

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Last night, Akemi and I met up with Simon and Sean for dinner at a restaurant I’ve been eager to check out for quite some time: Wildebeest.  According to the restaurant’s website, its focus is on “Meat-centric, off-cut farmhouse fare simply prepared with immaculate ingredients and thoughtful creativity”, reminiscent of L.A.’s Animal and Toronto’s Black Hoof, two other places I’ve been dying to try.

Because of the recent snowfall Vancouver’s inept drivers we gave ourselves plenty of time, leaving the house one full hour ahead of our 6:00 p.m. reservation and arriving fifteen minutes early.  Surprisingly, Simon also erred the side of caution and showed up at the same time. Sean, unfortunately, ended up stuck in traffic and didn’t get there until 6:30 – so we went ahead and made the executive dinner decisions.

To be honest, I wanted to try pretty much everything on the menu.  As Akemi put it, it would have been far simpler to just tell our waiter what we DIDN’T want from the listed items.  In the end, we decided to go with a few starters, a few mains, and a few sides.  This is how our meal broke down:


Pork schnitzel with Wildebeest mustard

The pork was perfectly prepared, crisp and succulent, and the Wildebeest mustard (honey dijon) made for a great dipping accompaniment.  Simon, however, wasn’t totally sold on the coating.


Bacon-wrapped country pate with pistachio, seasonal jam, and pickled vegetables.

Wonderfully rustic, studded with pistachio and hazelnuts.  Akemi, with a taste for the slightly sour, polished off the pickled veggies.


Popcorn chicken hearts, crispy shallot dust, caper relish.

One of the more intriguing plates of the night.  I liked it but didn’t love it.  Hearts are tricky at the best of times, predisposed to being a little tough, and deep-frying them renders them that much chewier.


Grilled beef tongue, wild mushroom consomme, toasted grains, mustard greens.

While Akemi prefers her tongue crispier and thinly sliced, Simon and I marveled over its mouth-meltingly tender texture here.  The broth was outstanding.


Roasted sweetbreads, caramelized buttermilk, wild mushrooms, porcini vinaigrette.

I’ll got ahead and call this my favorite dish of the night.  A nice contrast of tastes and textures – crisp, tender, sweet and savory. Probably the best preparation of the sweetbreads I’ve ever had.


Pork jowl, long pepper-scented oats, bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup.

I know you’d think I’d be a belly guy but, in truth, my favorite part of the pig is the jowl (with the temple coming in a close second).  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more tender cut and Wildebeest’s take does it full justice.


Sunchokes and brussel sprouts.

An addition to the regular menu.  I liked the preparation but found the sunchokes underdone.


Slow-cooked natural Angus beef short rib, smoked salt, hay-infused jus.

Heavily marbled but deliciously smokey.


Poutine, roasted foie gras.

I’m used to the Au Pied de Cochon version which is a lot heavier on the foie, but this one was a consensus winner – surprisingly, less so for the foie than for the crunchy yet meaty golden fries.


Foie gras torchon, Earl Grey tea, orange blossom bread.

This one was a late addition.  As much as I enjoy a good pate or a pan-seared preparation, nothing beats a good torchon.  And Wildebeest does a damn good one.

We decided to run the table on dessert, ordering all four on the menu…


Pink Lady apple sorbet, vanilla grapefruit creme anglaise, granola, 63C egg yolk.

This was the dessert I was most looking forward to, less so for the fruit elements (of course) than for the inclusion of the 63 degree egg yolk. In the end, I didn’t love it – although Akemi did.


Cardamom & goat’s milk cheesecake, quince sorbet, crumble.

This one was the hands down winner.  The cheesecake is almost a foam – light, airy, very tasty.  I was not a fan of the quince sorbet, its fizzy tartness reminiscent for me of slightly turned apple juice, but Akemi loved it.


Single origin Malumi chocolate cake, tonka bean ice cream, candied beets.

I was dubious about the candied beets when I saw them on the menu and, quite honestly, in the end, they failed to convince me.  Still, they fell somewhere in between the tonka ice cream (great) and the cake itself (disappointingly dry).


Composed cheese – baked farmhouse brie, seasonal fruit jam, buttermilk ice cream.

Well, I’ll give them points for trying.  Brie with buttermilk ice cream? At first blush it sounds a little off-putting but, after giving it some thought, it sounds like it may work.  It didn’t for me.


The kitchen at work

A few minor quibbles with our savory courses but there were at least three or four standout dishes I would recommend to a friend or look forward to on my return visit.  The desserts, on the other hand, while interesting failed to impress.

The atmosphere is laid back; comfortably casual.  The service was terrific, friendly and informative.  And the price point was a surprise, roughly half what you’d expect to pay elsewhere for a similar meal in the city!

Overall, an excellent dinner.  I look forward to coming back to try that roasted bone marrow luge with almond butter and tomato jam.


This was a farewell feast for Simon who heads of to greener – and no doubt tastier – international culinary pastures.

Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit!

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Planning a visit to Vancouver and looking forward to sampling some of the city’s finest – but not looking forward to playing hit and miss?  Well, relax and allow me to guide you through some of the city’s tastiest treats.

Here are the Top 11 Things I’ve Been Eating in Vancouver:


Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, its five-spice, hoisin-laced beef rolled in crispy onion flatbread.  The restaurant focuses on northern Chinese dishes, more robust and intensely flavored than their southern counterparts.  Lots to like on the menu but the peaceful beef roll leads the list.


Vancouver’s best taco place (Sorry.  Nowhere else comes even close.) offers up a varied and delicious selection.  My favorites are the tender and tasty cacheta (braised beef cheeks) and lengua (braised beef tongue).  If you’re feeling less adventurous, go with pollo con mole or pescado (grilled fish), then wash it down with a horchata or Mexican coke.


This place specializes in chocolate, but they do so many other things well – like their irresistible salted caramel cream puff, a perfect marriage of sweet and salty, crisp and creamy.

ABURI SALMON OSHI SUSHI AT Downtown Vancouver Japanese Restaurant – Miku Restaurant

Local salmon pressed and dressed with Miku special sauce, topped with jalapeno then grilled topside using a blowtorch and charcoal. Whenever I go with first-timers, I always order two rolls (at least) because I know that one won’t be enough.


The greatest soft serve I’ve ever had available in a variety of inspired daily flavors.  My favorite (surprise surprise) = the delightfully refreshing cucumber!

CHOCOLATE PUDDING AT Fable Restaurant | From Farm to Table

Former Top Chef Canada contestant Curtis Luk makes some amazing desserts (including kick-ass macarons), but his chocolate pudding is my go-to after-dinner treat.  A brilliant balance of tastes and textures.

CHOCOLATE ZEPPOLE AT Giovane cafe + bakery + deli: a stunning cafe & retail emporium …

A chocoholic’s dream bomb: cream on the inside, ganache on the outside.  Bring back-up!


Juicy slow-roasted pork, crunchy crackling, and salsa verde served on a ciabatta roll.  We’ve gone so many times of late that Akemi has declared a temporary moratorium on near future visits.  I’ve already got a plan to work around the embargo.


The impressively-thin shell possesses a great chocolaty snap, giving way to fantastic banana interior.  I’m a huge fan of this particular flavor combination and have tried many variations.  My all-time favorites are those offered at Le Chocolat de H in Tokyo (ル ショコラ ドゥ アッシュ_) and Beta 5’s version.


Having grown up in an Italian household, I’m incredibly picky when it comes to pasta, especially spaghetti, so the fact that Campagnolo Roma’s version is on this list says a lot about the dish.  Perfectly cooked to a toothsome al dente and served with luscious tomato sauce and a touch of fresh basil.

CARROT CAKE AT cadeaux bakery

I’m a sucker for carrot cake and, after an in-depth (and thoroughly delicious) search, I’ve found my favorite.  But Cadeaux Bakery in Gastown offers more than just carrot cake – which is why, every time I go, we end up sitting down to a good half-dozen heavenly creations.

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The other night, Akemi and I went out for burgers with a couple of our very favorite Vancouver friends: Steve, Jodi, and their daughter, Gemma.  Per Akemi’s request, we ended up going to Romer’s Burger Bar for their varied menu offerings and those silly iceberg lettuce buns the ladies seem to enjoy.

Steve and Jodi.  Future Vegas travel companions?

Gemma says: “I’m eating! And watching Madagascar 3.”

The Chorizodor.  A pork and chorizo sausage patty topped with cheddar, pepper jack, creamy boursin, avocado, and Diablo sauce.  Tasty – but very messy.

Steve and Jodi ended up surprising both Akemi and I with belated birthday gifts.  A travel kit for me (which saves me the trouble of having to go out and buy one for my Tokyo trip!  How’s that for timing?) and a pug-themed accessory for Akemi:

So cute!

As the dishes were being cleared away, our waitress asked who was the birthday boy because, apparently, they were preparing some sort of dessert in my honor.  I assumed that she had spotted the gift and informed the kitchen who had decided to whip up something for the occasion.  I would have honestly preferred to simply order my own dessert.  BUT it turned out the dessert wasn’t coming from the kitchen. Not exactly.  It was coming from the kitchen via a sneaky Steve and Jodi via Ganache Patisserie: an assortment of delectable pastries including:

My birthday mini-cake

And my favorite: the hazelnut cocoa meringue.

The desserts were totally unexpected but greatly appreciated.  And delicious.  If we do end up doing Vegas with Steve and Jodi in, I’ll have to find a way to surprise them as well.  I’m thinking garden snake in their luggage.

Then, last night, Akemi and I headed over to Fat Dragon for their famed Hog Times dinner.  We were joined by Emma and Robert (who we met at the last family-style dinner at Campagnolo Roma) and our buddy Simon…

Emma and Robert = expert eaters.

Simon = diner, chef, photographer.

I’m usually not a fan of family-style dining which requires you to share a table with complete strangers.  Sometimes, dishes introduced at one end of the table take forever to get to you – and, when they do, it can be slim pickings.  Conversely, if you’re starting with a dish, you may limit your initial serving to ensure everyone at the other end of the table receives a share and, as a result, end up leaving the table feeling hungry.  On the other hand, the family-style setting allows you to make new friends (like Emma and Robert) – which wasn’t the case on this night as the group seated beside us was immersed in their own private conversation throughout.

Still, it was a great meal.  The following photos were snapped by Simon and his far superior camera:

Barbecued Sloping Hill Farm Pig.  They trotted the pork out and posed for the requisite pics.  

Papaya and cabbage salad with lime, green chilies, and crispy shallots.  Akemi loved it.

Jalan Alor chicken wings.  Simon went to town on these!

Stri-fried noodles with smokey drippings.  Smokey drippings? Aka pork fat.  And, yes, they were delicious.

The cheek!  The tastiest, most tender part of the pig.  

Other menu items included bean sprout kimchi, stir-fried Japanese eggplant, BBQ pit beans, butter lettuce and bean sprout salad, Korean BBQ sauce, scallion sauce, and steamed jasmine rice.  The eggplant was a favorite of the table.

For dessert, I ordered a round of Fat Dragon’s famed soft serve ice cream.  That night’s flavor: pandan.

The happy couple

Akemi says: “Oishiiii!”.

In addition, Simon gifted me a box of belated birthday chocolate and macarons.  They were incredible, especially the pumpkin macarons!

Like my birthday dinner at Campagnolo, Chef Ted Anderson was the man behind the meal.  A big thanks to him and the rest of the gang at Fat Dragon/Campagnolo/Campagnolo Roma.

Well, after two big meals, Akemi has decided to eat soup for the foreseeable future.

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So much for being on the program.

My Birthday Week festivities continue!  How are YOU celebrating?

Today, I received a little something from Sis (and by “I”, I mean “we” since the contents of the package were for both Akemi and me, and by “a little” I mean a lot).  Mexican chocolate, chocolate-covered licorice, multi-flavored chocolate bars (including peanut butter and banana, and BBQ potato chips), chocolate truffles…Do you sense a theme?  Akemi, meanwhile, went absolutely crazy over the three adorable aprons she received (which she intends to model on her blog tomorrow). Coincidentally, she was up last night, internet-perusing adorable aprons.  No kidding!

She was up late because she couldn’t sleep after the incredible meal we had at Campagnolo earlier that night…

I texted owner Tom Doughty last week and told him I wanted to swing by for a special birthday dinner.  Not only did he make the arrangements, but he even showed up on the night with a handsome new haircut!

Our first course was a lentil and chorizo soup.  It was intensely flavorful, the lentils pureed to a silky smoothness and studded with tiny bites of smokey chorizo.

Alas, forgot to snap a picture of the second course but you’ll have to trust me when I say it looked gorgeous.  And tasted wonderful.  Savoy cabbage, beet roots, courtons and two year cured ham.  Yes, cured for two year and melt-in-your-mouth wonderful.

Bruschetta of andouille sausage, fontina cheese, and walla walla onions.

Our third course, the bruschetta, was an incredibly rich mix of sweet, smokey, salty, and sharp.

Foie Gras with coronation grapes.

Speaking of “rich”, our decadent fourth course almost did me in.  One incredibly lucious pan-seared duck liver.

Veal-stuffed agnolotti with thyme butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

I was a little worried that the Parmigiano Reggiano would overwhelm here but it married wonderfully, sliced paper thin, with the delicate flavor of the agnolotti.  And that thyme butter simply put it over the top.

Seabass en papillote.

The flavors of our sixth course were clean and altogether fantastic.  One of the best fish preparations I’ve had in recent memory.  Akemi bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have chopsticks on hand to thoroughly pick the very last bits of tasty meat from the bones.

Accompanying the seabass was a nice little kale and sundried sungold tomato salad.

And then, we were presented with our seventh course.  I was expected pork and was surprised by…

Horse filet with glazed onions and chanterelle mushrooms.

I was admittedly leery.  My first (and only) foray into horseflesh was…well, memorable for all the wrong reasons (February 7, 2012: Tokyo Day #11! The gang back home! Okonomiyaki! And my weirdest meal yet! Well, actually not so much a meal as a bite.).  Happily, this preparation fared much better.  Perfectly cooked, surprisingly tender and, to be perfectly honest, very tasty.

Dining with us on this night: Hillary and fellow birthday boy Rob.

Akemi so full she can’t eat another bite.  Unless it’s dessert of course.

Dessert #1: Mascarpone Cheesecake

Most wouldn’t consider it light but I certainly did, especially in comparison to our second dessert.  And I don’t mean that in a bad way.  It was, without a doubt, the best piece of cheesecake I’ve had in ages.

Dessert #2: Chocolate pudding with French toast and vanilla cherries.

As much as I enjoyed the cheesecake, chocolate pudding is more my speed.  And this particular pudding packed a helluva chocolate punch!

Chef Ted and the birthday boy.

A HUGE thanks to Tom, Chef Ted (who designed the menu), and the rest of the gang at Campagnolo for yet another fabulous culinary extravaganza!

And, just in case those nine courses weren’t enough, Rob and Hillary gifted me a little something from their recent trip to Vegas:

A Vosges dark chocolate assortment. 

Damn, that takes me back to the chocolate parties I used to host in the Stargate days.



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