Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vancouver: The Italian Kitchen

it is only what it is 
The Italian Kitchen, yet another eatery brought to you by the Glowbal Group

The space is CRAMPED (seriously poor seating arrangement; ahem powers-that-be, please revisit this so you don't squeeze people in corners and then create an obstacle course for them when they try and exit).

It's also  loud and dark, especially since the place is more family friendly. I would cater to that crowd, but Glowbal wants a larger reach. 

Service is BASIC because while our server was pleasant enough, he wasn't present. He just went through the motions of his job and didn't bother to do anything outside his duties. The sister chirped her two cents that I should take into account that my bar may be set higher. Well, that's a given and I don't lower it because I've seen other restaurants meets it time and time again. If it can be done by one, it can be done by anyone. 

This waiter did the bare minimum of what his job entails which means five years from now, he'll still be where he is today. Moving along since there's no need to belabour the point - The food was good. It's exactly what you expect and it's easy on the wallet.

Pasta platter for 3 ($20 per person)
The truffle pasta was the clear favourite for the sister, but we know the scent of truffle unilaterally shifts the scale in a good direction.
Momma GG loved the lamb and sausage bolognese. Momma GG doesn't like lamb which is why I didn't tell her. Shhh, our secret.
The meatballs were my favourite - moist, meaty and delicious.
The beet and (sparse) arugula salad:

The brussel sprouts were heavy on the salt:

But overall, decent food. It's economical, efficient and filling. Probably one of the more commonly visited Glowbal eateries and I can kind of see why.

Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vancouver: Alibi Room

modern family

Alibi reminds me of something I'd find on Ossington. It's a pub-and-a-half...the half being hipster chic. They call themselves a Modern Tavern. I actually think that's the perfect way to describe it. They are exactly what they purport to be. I like that - no surprises.

My international sister Cracker and I wanted some booze with a side of eats so I picked Alibi Room. I had tried to go a month ago with a friend but it was a 30 minute line-up and we were too thirsty to wait. 

The weekend Cracker and I went it was still early enough to get seated. Alibi has long communal tables and there's something easy about it. You just feel like you can pull up a chair, kick up your feet and hang out for an hour or so.

About 10 minutes into our visit we got hungry. We shared the burger which Cracker said was "the best burger" according to someone somewhere on the www. Well now, let's not just go throwing things around - it was good but it was far from "the best".

It takes a lot more than a wellmade burger for this belly to call best.
I like Alibi Room - it's the kind of place everyone will like. Easy, chill, unpretentious with a serious number of beers on tap and a solid selection of other drinks. 

This is the kind of place a girl like me calls a good night out.

Alibi Room on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Vancouver: Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar

oysters can save you
:Coal Harbour:

The location in Kits is an institution. People love it. To be clear, when I say Chewies, I'm referring to the new location in Coal Harbour.

I'm hoping it's just experiencing some growing pains. It's still new and still under construction (the patio). But the interior is complete and it looks great:

New Orleans chic
Again, in the interest of transparency - at this time I do not endorse the food. And on that note, I'll close off that discussion with a lil' show and tell:

Cajun Chili Prawns
This is what $15.50 gets you. But Happy Hour is 50 percent off. Even then...
what's the first thing that comes to mind when you look at the plate? 
Nothing. I feel nothing. It's lifeless.

So why am I here? Because oyster lovers help other oyster lovers. If you love slurping these delectable treats, there are a few places in the city for buck a shuck and some are better than others. I love Joe Fortes' happy hour, but it gets busy. Chewies takes reservations and their oysters are just as easy to slurp:

$1 for 1 oyster. Balanced budget, balanced diet.

Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar - Coal Harbour on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vancouver: Greenhorn Espresso Bar

neighbourhood delight
:West End:

I completely agree with my neighbours - this is exactly what the neighbourhood needed. The West End is my favourite hood in downtown Vancouver. The streets are beautiful and there's a sense of community but there's a lack of local joints for the community. Sure Davie Street cuts through, and then there's Denman on one end, but not much in the heart of the area.

Then opened Greenhorn. It reminds me of the sister's local cafe around the corner from her old place in the Plateau in Montreal. But it lacked sincerity. It's not Greenhorn's fault - I think it's the patrons. The majority of the people who popped in while I was there are Vanhips. A term I use to describe the undefinable group of locals who are on the extreme Vancity end - hipster-esque individuals who critique coffee to the nth degree, demand gluten free and think they live in the best place in Canada even though they've never lived anywhere else. Sorry Vancouver...I do love you, but sometimes it's hard when you throw your chia seeds and Birkenstocks in my face.

All that said, I have tunnel vision - so I appreciated only what I liked. Greenhorn is a stylish and carefree kind of cafe. I loved the interior and the warm neighbourhood service.

Large paper roll menus - LOVE!
And yes, they dish out a good cup of coffee. It's rich and softly bitter:

My macchiato
The flavour of the crema wasn't the best...but it was still good.
They also serve a small but inspired menu, but much like Medina - it's a specific craving rather than an open ended book. I generally prefer open book eating, but adding options to my ever growing repertoire of places to eat in my hood is never a bad thing.

Because nothing on the brunch menu appealed I opted for a single waffle with a side of homemade yogurt. A $5 morning treat.
I'm happy to have met Greenhorn, and I look forward to my second visit.

Greenhorn Espresso Cafe on Urbanspoon

Vancouver: Ask for Luigi

screw Paulie, tell them GG sent you

Because of my blog, I get a lot of "have you heard of __________", "have you eaten at __________". Now you can fill in the blank with whatever you want, but for the past month, it's been "Ask for Luigi". I read about it, I heard about it, and then the sister and her friends Raulie and Taro were talking about it. Hype can hurt you, but in the case of this restaurant - it didn't even factor. Sure it has limited seating, and yes it's on the cusp of DTES, but if you can't manage a challenge then you're not very resourceful are you.

So with my visitor in town last weekend, I thought it would be a great place for brunch. And you know what? It was. 

My buddy and I got a table as soon as we arrived. There seemed to be a wait when we left, but they turn tables over quickly so it's not a huge impediment. Service is responsive and good. The menu is casual but explorative enough for you to find something to appease your appetite. 

Our meal was solid on all fronts - well seasoned, well executed and well, damn good. I can't complain, neither could my company.

Tagliatelle alla carbonara & a poached egg
Beautiful isn't it...
Pork belly with a fried egg, salsa verde and creamy polenta
The polenta was indeed very creamy.
The pork belly was crisp on the outside and tender and meaty otherwise.
Bonus points for serving me a proper panna cotta (this is not as easy as you might think).

Beautiful to boot.
It's a lively venue with a simple premise - Italian-inspired food (specializing in fresh handmade pasta for dinner and artisanal dried pasta for lunch). If you're looking for an easy place to dine that's worth your dime...Ask for Luigi. The story behind the name is cute enough - read here and then enjoy. 

Hearty & heavenly.
Ask for Luigi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vancouver: Xi Shi Lounge Afternoon Tea

let the storm rage on

I love Afternoon Tea. Love it. Windsor Arms is starting to become a faint memory. I long to return. Only three months to go.

For Mother's Day and Momma GG's birthday I thought I'd treat her to the lux and pomp of Afternoon Tea. I read a few reviews and it seemed like the Shangria-La was well endorsed.

I am here because I feel I was led astray...far, far astray. Like I'm lost here people. So yes, I contemplated not posting at all - since that is my self-imposed rule (no bad reviews), but I felt compelled to since Afternoon Tea at the Shangria-La is not cheap. $38 per person. I was grumpier about this yesterday, but the past is in the past, so learn from mine.

The Afternoon Tea is served in the Xi Shi lounge. It's a beautiful space but for the large industrial speakers for when the lounge turns into some sort of pseudoclub after dark. 

I can forgive the decor, but I cannot forgive the plain glass dollarstore teapots they served our tea, nor can I forgive their biscuits they call a scone. Yes, that is a strong opinion, but it is still a fact. Their scones are not scones. Even Momma GG knew this. 

It was a traditional display of goodies:

It was also a disappointing and poor selection. 

The ham sandwiches in the bottom left were on old bread - stale and the processed meat smelled.
The smoked salmon bagels and the lobster salad on a brioche bun were good. I enjoyed them. I also liked the grilled cheese with truffle but it wasn't exactly luxury as described - you could barely see or taste the cheese.
My heart plummeted with each bite and it just completely broke after this:

Not scones. I repeat NOT.
Perhaps some of the worst petit fours I've ever been served.
This is the cream and jam preserves, and it epitomizes Afternoon Tea at the Shangria-La - SLOPPY.

The dishes don't fit. The cream is substandard - far removed from the decadent and delightful clotted or devon cream one expects.
Also note the stain on the table cloth. That was one of many. Throw it away. It's one cloth of hundreds, let it go.
This experience tells me the state of Afternoon Tea is in danger if this is one of the best Vancouver has to offer. I think Urban Tea Merchant has been the best so far.

I'm going to bring them one of Windsor Arms' scones and attach a little post-it note that reads: This is a scone. Yours are not. And then I'd add a happy face just to end on a positive note. 


Ya, just like that.

Xi Shi Lounge on Urbanspoon

Vancouver: Willow Stream Spa

best in the city
:Coal Harbour:

Did you miss that? I said BEST in the city and if you know me (personally or otherwise) you may know that I do not give that away lightly.

From the moment I called to book an appointment to the time I paid and left, I was pleased. They exceed expectation. This is my new sanctuary:

I have to personally celebrate Angie. I spoke with her on the phone when I first booked a set of appointments for myself and Momma GG and she was not just professional but genuinely pleasant and helpful. You cannot fake that. I believe some people just have an affinity to work in the service industry because they have a natural light and joy about them. That describes Angie and nearly everyone else I encountered - they like what they do.
  • The amenities are in good condition - cared for and maintained.
  • The spa is on theme with accents of natural elements like stone, rocks, wicker and wood.
  • The change room facilities are clean, well stocked and spacious. 
  • The lounges are comfortable with ample seating.
  • A steam room and experience shower (25 heads of water coming at you)
  • The terrace was my favourite - a luxury little oasis in the heart of the city with cozy covered day beds and blankets
  • Two jacuzzi tubs and infrared sauna
  • Complimentary snacks, juice and tea
It is on the pricier end, but I will objectively tell you it is worth it. Willow Stream is far beyond the company (Absolute, Chi) it keeps and far above the likes of Spa Utopia or Vida. Been there and done those and not once have I been as impressed by the care of the staff or the quality of service as I was on my first visit to Willow Stream.

It is your own cloud 9 in the big city and it is all yours until you choose to leave. The spa is really good at what they do and even stagger appointments so there isn't a lot of congestion on the terrace or in the lounges.

Book an appointment. Check-in early or stay after to enjoy some time to yourself, with some girls, with your significant other or in my case, my mother. It was a wonderful experience and it really does live up to the praise others shower it with - whether online, in person, or from yours truly right here.

TIP: They take Way Spa gift certificates and Way Spa always has a deal on their gift cards so you can save up to 20 percent. You can also purchase Way Spa gift certificates at Costco at a 25 percent discount. Combine that with any benefits you may have and an RMT ($175 for one hour) visit just became a staycation. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Vancouver: Miku

sibling rivalry
:Coal Harbour:

If there's one thing I know better than anyone else, it's that you can be related but totally different. The familial resemblance is there and they share some mannerisms but personalities are like pineapples and bananas. People prefer one or the other, it's simply a matter of preference. And a handful enjoy both.

The same can be said of sister restaurants. Take Minami and Miku. They're related and it shows. One shines brighter, depending on who you ask. Since you're on my blog, I'm guessing you're asking me. I liked Miku more. She's a little classier and a lot more high maintenance. Those aren't bad things.

I had the best visitor in town - my pseudosister Cracker. She looks nothing like me, she sounds nothing like me, and we don't have the same taste in many things, like music. She's currently down with XX by the Crystalized. I YouTubed it and thought it was okay, but wouldn't put in on replay. But that's what makes our girlfriendship the best. Our differences help us grow, our similarities keep us fat. Yes, she LOVES food like I love food. So a trip to Vancouver must include a visit to the grandfather of aburi sushi. 

This was our Miku dinner, prepare to salivate all over your keyboard...

Soba Pepperoncino

Better than Minami's soba. So many textures, flavours, and subtle heat.
Aburi Beef Carpaccio:

A PERFECTLY poached egg. PERFECT. 
Look how it glazed all over the beef - as good as gold.

Pan Seared Alaskan Scallops:

Large, plump, and precisely cooked with a fresh complement of watercress and frisee. The dollops on top are yuzu puttanesca (a little too much but we just flicked some off).
Of course no meal at these restaurants is complete without aburi sushi. It was a little sloppy (too much rice) but I don't fault them because it's still delicious and a best I ever ate.

Salmon sushi oishi + Ebi sushi oishi
We ended dinner with dessert and it was phenomenal. 

The most delicious blueberry lime tart
Every bit (blueberry compote, cassis, green apple gelee, lavender reduction, white-chocolate juniper quenelle) played its part. The chamomile-yogurt sorbet was fabulous.
The server recommended this since we couldn't choose and she was right - it was simply the best, better than all the rest.
I don't think I can throw enough superlatives their way. It's a high end restaurant worth its weight in dollars. The food is elevated, the service is fantastic, and the view of the harbour (even with the tankers) is beautiful.

Every meal I've had at Minami or Miku makes me happy. This was one of the happiest because of the view, the interior:

Designer endorsed.
But most of all, the company.

Miku Restaurant on Urbanspoon