Sun Sushi

I’ve been to Sun Sushi multiple times with friends – that is, multiple times without a camera! I do want to enjoy some of my meals without snapping pictures of everyone else’s food. I stopped in for a snack one afternoon after school – i.e., only a few pieces of sushi to squash a craving.

The sushi pieces here are enormous. DSC_0058 copyI know you are meant to eat each piece in one bite, but it is definitely more of a challenge to do so here than at some of the authentic sushi places (e.g., Shiro or Hitoe Sushi). That said, this is a great place to come for cheap, fresh sushi. I’ve never gotten sick eating here, and even though it isn’t “authentic”, the ingredients are always fresh and the portions generous. There are a number of great “bang for your buck” combos on the menu, too.

Ambiance is nothing special (kind of the opposite; there are menus plastered over the front window). Also, I think that there is an assumption – when you visit Sun Sushi – that you are there purely for the cheap sushi and nothing else. The service is pretty atrocious (the servers abandon you after you’ve been served, and they’re not particularly polite and tend to be rather brusque).

Sun Sushi’s great for students. Despite its shortcomings (impolite wait staff, lack of “authenticity”, etc. etc.) I’ll still keep coming back. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and conveniently close to UBC. Even if you have maybe an hour and a half until your next class, you could probably squeeze in a visit to Sun Sushi and make it to your next class on time. And your wallet won’t be noticeably lighter afterwards, either.

Ambiance: 2

Food: 4

Service: 2

Value: 4

Overall: 3.5

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Cardero’s Restaurant

Cardero’s is another restaurant owned by the Sequoia Company of Restaurants (alongside Seasons in the Park, The Teahouse in Stanley Park, and The Sandbar on Granville Island). Like its other restaurants, it’s in a fabulous location and has an amazing setting. That, of course, is factored into the prices, which are [admittedly] quite steep for what you get. The menu is also almost identical to its other restaurants.

BC Salmon Burger

BC Salmon Burger

BC Salmon Burger: 

Another salmon burger?! Like I said, the menu is pretty much identical to the other restaurants. This is fine, I guess, as long as you don’t get your hopes up that – because it’s a different location and under a different name – the menu is going to be a new one. It is a fine menu, though; a fairly large selection and all high quality. This was another great salmon burger, with the tartar sauce nicely offsetting the warmth from the salmon (which, by the way, was indeed cooked perfectly).

Coal Harbour Burger

Coal Harbour Burger

Coal Harbour Burger: 

So, the Coal Harbour Burger and the Queen Elizabeth Burger are the same thing. I haven’t been to The Sandbar or The Teahouse (at least, not with the intention of blogging about them), but I imagine there are equivalents there for this standard burger, also. In any case, I actually thought this was a notch better than the QE Burger; there was plenty of cheese to balance out the beef. Cooked well and just delicious.

The buns at Sequoia restaurants are always incredibly. So fluffy, warm, and… I swear they butter them! They are model hamburger buns.

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza: 

I love pizza. Actually, who doesn’t love pizza? This was a very cheesy pizza, and there was just enough basil that you could taste it but not enough that it was overpowering. I think it could have done with a bit more of both cheese and sauce; the crust seemed like it would be able to hold more of both. I did love the crust though; it was not overly bread-like and, rather, was like a traditional Italian pizza’s crust. Thin, crispy edges, but softer towards the middle. I believe they’re baked in a traditional wood oven.

Gluten-free Montreal Style Smoked Meat Sandwich

Gluten-free Montreal Style Smoked Meat Sandwich

Montreal Style Smoked Meat Sandwich: 

Okay, so, the rating here is for the gluten-free version of this. The waitress was incredibly accommodating in finding Emme something she could eat. They have gluten-free pizza crusts, so what they did here was use the gluten-free pizza dough to make a sandwich that was on the menu. The dough was actually not why I downgraded this; the smoked meat was good (just nothing special and didn’t taste too much like Montreal smoked meat), the mustard was incredibly, but there was hardly any cheese or caramelised onions. The sandwich would’ve tasted more balanced with more of both! Otherwise, it was impressive.

Complementary bread basket

Complementary bread basket

Complementary bread basket and Cappuccino: 

Fluffy, warm, fresh-tasting. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about! The butter was nice and easy to spread because we went on one of these warmer Vancouver days.

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

The cappuccino was good, too. I think Emme should have gotten one of the more “exciting” ‘Special Coffees’ that Cardero’s offers. They have a list of pretty interesting combinations of coffee and alcohol… Give one a shot if you’re a coffee lover!

I really like the Sequoia line of restaurants. They’re always in great locations and the food is always good. The company also seems to make sure that their wait-room staff are the top-of-the-line; the waiters and waitresses that have waited on us in the past have always been personable and very accommodating.

Cardero’s has a beautiful patio. Even if it’s a slightly chilly day, you can sit out if it’s sunny since they’ll give you fleece blankets to cover your lap. (In my opinion, this is a really great touch!)

I didn’t have any of the desserts this time, but they are all outstanding. (I have had all except the cheese plate. (I love cheese but prefer something sweet for dessert!))

Ambiance: 5

Food: 4.5

Service: 4.5

Value: 4

Overall: 4.5
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Portage Bay Café (University District), Seattle

Most Vancouverites I know have either been down to Washington state once or go down routinely to shop. I easily fit into the latter category, but on this occasion Emme and I journeyed down to meet up with a very old, very good friend of mine in Seattle. We decided to rendez-vous at the Portage Bay Café, in the University District, after I suggested it to my friend and he replied that he had heard good things. Word-of-mouth reviews that substantiate written claims on UrbanSpoon.com are fine by me!

We managed to make a reservation, although we still ended up waiting half an hour for a table to open up after arriving early. No worries – we chatted in the meantime! There was unfortunately not a lot of room to stand and wait, which would be a downside, though it’s not like the place is particularly small… It’s just very popular, clearly. (It was probably particularly busy because we went there on a Sunday – the only day I could meet up with my friend – so there were a lot of families out to brunch!)

The menu has plenty of options, all dishes with either organic or sustainably-farmed/raised ingredients. Since it was still relatively early in the day, all three of us opted for breakfast-y dishes.

Apparently on the same wavelength, both my old friend and I asked for salmon omelettes, while Emme opted for a gluten-free eggs benny.

Wild Salmon Omelette:

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Wild Salmon Omelette

Yes, it really was as humongous as it looks here. It’s a three “cage-free” egg omelette stuffed with local wild salmon. I ate it all – very filling, very delicious! Because the dish is quite simple, it really allows the quality of the ingredients to shine through. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, but cage-free eggs taste far better than standard factory-raised chickens’ eggs. They’re more eggy (eggier?) and definitely more golden-hued. Much love for the omelette itself. My criticisms would be these:

  • The menu said the salmon was smoked, but I’m pretty sure it was roasted. While perfectly cooked (moist and flaky, not tough), there is certainly a flavour difference between smoked and roasted (or even pan-fried) salmon. Smoked salmon would have been lovely and added some extra umami flavour!
  • Needs more capers! Does it look like there are a lot? The green things were mostly green onions that were sautéed into the omelette, so you couldn’t taste them. Topping the already-cooked omelette with chives/scallions (as I thought would be the case from the menu description) might add a nice flavour boost.
  • The sour cream was supposed to have dill, but there wasn’t any… Add dill!

So, I still gave this 4/5 stars. Why? Though not smoked, the salmon was still delicious. Though lacking more dimension in terms of flavour, the omelette was, also, still delicious. High quality ingredients will take you far.

As for the ‘taters, they were yummy but nothing special. Actually, the only difference between my pal’s plate and mine was that I ordered extra roasted potatoes instead of toast, so I didn’t try the bread. It looked fresh and was thickly cut, so I imagine it was true to the menu’s description (“freshly baked”).

The Classic Benedict (with GF toast):

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The Classic Benedict

That’s molasses ham underneath the eggs! I’ve already raved about the eggs, so just know that they were great here, too. Poached to perfection. The chefs at Portage Café certainly know how to cook their eggs.

The ham added a great molasses spin to this dish. I thought the hollandaise was a bit too thin, but it wasn’t bad. The gluten-free toast was perfect for soaking up the extra sauce, and wasn’t crumbly like some gluten-free baked goods can be.

The 3 stars is for the fairly average hollandaise (that should be a star feature, but the eggs and the ham seemed to carry this dish, mostly) and, also, the lack of toppings! No chives?! Need an extra sprinkling of fresh pepper, too! I also downgraded the rating for the value aspect. My $14 omelette with its huge side of roasted potatoes was unquestionably a better deal than the $14 benedict, not only in terms of flavour but purely in terms of bang-for-your-buck (i.e., $/amount).

The ambiance was charming. The restaurant is clean and bright with an uncomplicated interior and design. Décor is minimal, which is fine; the food is enough to steal your attention. This is really the kind of place you come with good company to enjoy a hearty meal – which is exactly what I did. Though extremely busy, the waiters remain very friendly and patient with customers. Ours was helpful in regards to finding a gluten-free option (to a usually gluten-containing dish) for Emme and accommodating when it came to any other requests or favours. The hostesses were slightly less friendly, but perhaps understandably so; they have to stand at the front and deal with repeated questions about how much time is left before a party is seated and so on. For the amount of people they’re handling on busy mornings, I’d say they do a good job.

If not for the cheerful and busy atmosphere, then I would certainly recommend the Portage Bay Café for its wonderful food (made with high quality ingredients). Try to grab a bite here if you’re ever in Seattle and can bear a bit of a wait!

Ambiance: 4

Food: 4.5

Service: 4.5

Value: 4

Overall: 4.5
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Seasons in the Park

Seasons in the Park is by far and above one of the most scenic places to dine in Vancouver. It’s one restaurant in the Sequoia Company of Restaurants, which all seem to be beautifully situated, regardless of where they are in Vancouver. Seasons in the Park happens to be smack-dab in the middle of Queen Elizabeth Park, and must be one of the restaurants with the best view in the spring- and summer-time. I’ve actually been here for my birthday twice – this year and two years ago! It’s not a tradition, but a fun choice when the weather is great and the flowers are in bloom.

Needless to say, the ambiance makes this restaurant a winner – but the food itself is great, too! Top that off with friendly and attentive service, and you have a restaurant worthy of being called “amazing”. The dishes aren’t incredibly “innovative” or mind-boggling, so I wouldn’t start mentioning Michelin stars or anything, but they are still delicious and dining here is still enjoyable.

BC Salmon Burger:

BC Salmon Burger

In-freaking-credible. The salmon was perfectly cooked and melty; no dry fish or rubbery texture here whatsoever. The onions and lettuce in the bun were crisp, and the bun itself was outstanding. It was buttered and grilled, I believe, and was warm and fluffy when I bit into it. The buttery-ness went really well with the buttery salmon. The rémoulade had a nice cooling effect to offset the “warmth”, with a pleasantly mild tang. The salad was nice and crisp, as was the pickle. Highly recommend the salmon burger. This was probably one of the best salmon burgers I’ve had in Vancouver (though I haven’t had too many so perhaps my saying that doesn’t mean too much).

Queen Elizabeth Burger:

QE Burger

Another outstanding burger. I guess it’s hard to go wrong with buttered burger buns!

The meat was tender but deliciously juicy. The bacon – a class addition, of course – took it over the top with its subtle crunch and smoky flavour. The cheese was white cheddar, which was awesome but… just a pinch too scant. If I could have re-ordered this burger for Pita, I would have asked for extra cheese. It had a great, strong flavour that cheeses aged over a course of years typically have, but dominated this one side of the burger… Needs more cheese to balance it out!

Pickle and vegetable toppings were great, as was the coleslaw, which was acidic with sweet undertones – the way it should be – and not overly creamy. (I don’t like coleslaw in general, so the latter point is really important in my opinion… It’s not coleslaw if the texture is more creamy than it is cabbage-y.) The fries were thinly cut, warm, and crisp. They weren’t overly-greasy, and tasted fresh. Fries done right!

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake:

Yes, I realise it’s hard to go wrong with dessert but… I love this cake. And not just because it says “Happy Birthday!” to me.

I would not change ANYTHING. I love the multiple layers of a lighter tasty chocolate mousse and a darker chocolate mousse. Both layers are fluffy, and the ganache topping is just sweet enough to take the bitter edge off of the chocolate. This is definitely a dessert I would say should be shared – maybe between three people. But it was my birthday, so I ate most of it, alongside Pita.

Just looking at it is making me salivate. IT IS AMAZING. Texture-wise and flavour-wise (and scent-wise, too, if you’re in-the-know about how important smell is to taste). I guess if I had to complain, I would say that the “Happy Birthday” sign was too sweet… It doesn’t usually come with the cake (of course), so I didn’t factor it into my ranking. The presentation of this cake is also beautiful. The cape gooseberry on top was a nice touch and added a great burst of fruit flavour.

This was my favourite part of the meal, clearly.

Butter

The bread basket at the beginning of the meal was good, too. The buns were fluffy, fresh, and warm and… the butter says “butter” on it! Cool. Just in case you can’t recognise butter when you see it, I guess? Hah. The buns were good but the butter was nothing special. Serving herbed butter would probably be appropriate here, especially because of the “fancy” atmosphere in Seasons in the Park.

The wait staff here, in the couple of times that I have been, has always been very friendly. Maybe we’re just lucky to get great waiters and waitresses serving us here. I definitely appreciate great service when I see it! Our server on this occasion was knowledgeable about the menu and the restaurant’s background (happened to be a topic of conversation for a moment), and was very conversational. Our water glasses were pretty much full throughout the meal, also.

Two thumbs up! Though slightly costly, Seasons in the Park offers great service, delicious food, and a charming atmosphere and view.

Ambiance: 5

Food: 4.5

Service: 4.5

Value: 4

Overall: 4.5

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La Taqueria (Fairview)

I went to La Taqueria ages ago, but revisited it this past week and was reminded I still hadn’t written about it. It is one of those places, like Meat & Bread, that deserves to be written about right away after vising it; I’m just a slow blogger! Nevertheless, my first visit was so memorable that I could never forget how awesome it was, anyway.

The Chemist and I went here for a quick lunch, and I didn’t expect that it would be so small. It’s really not a sit-down restaurant, although there are tables and a counter to sit at. Most people would grab their order and go; still, all the tables were full when we went in, and so we sat at the counter.

Pescado:

Pescado Taco

I wasn’t too savvy at ordering here, and they are very fast-paced. So I ended up with two pescado tacos. No complaints here though, really; I really enjoyed the fish. It was moist and topped with a tasty pico de gallo and some sort of lime-spiked sour cream that both made the flavour “pop”. Of course I topped it with one of the salsas provided (and pickled onions, because I love pickled things) but, even without them, thought it was something I would order again – even though I normally hate sour cream. My only other complaint would be that I wished I’d actually thought through my order before asking, so I could have been a good food blogger and ordered four different types of tacos.

De Lengua:

De Lengua Taco

Definitely, definitely my favourite. I am someone who likes eating offal (so animal livers, kidneys, hearts, etc. – they are all extremely nutrient dense!), but even if I had not known this was beef tongue, I would have loved it. It was tender and delicious all by its lonesome. The condiments, as usual, take it over the top. The raw onions gave it a nice bite, and the salsa verde added a kick and acidity that went well with the soft beef tongue.

Get this! If not for the name, I doubt anyone could tell that this was beef tongue. One of the shopkeepers came over and asked us what our favourite taco was, and this was the one I told him. The Chemist also thought so, so I know I’m not just crazy.

De Cachete:

De Cachete Taco

The beef cheeks are a very close second favourite to the beef tongue, for me. Again, you wouldn’t know these are beef cheeks unless someone actually told you (or unless you know Spanish). I think it’s the condiments that made the tongue my favourite, since the de cachete actually had more flavour carrying through the beef alone than did the de lengua. Maybe because it was fattier? It was amazing, though you could taste the oil on your lips sometimes (which was not so amazing). I thought it could benefit from some chili powder or cumin or maybe some salt, since the cilantro and onion on top didn’t add too much extra flavour or dimension. I added a generous amount of salsa, which made it (in my opinion) worthy of five stars.

Al Pastor:

Al Pastor Taco

The Chemist ordered this! I normally don’t eat pork for a variety of reasons. At first glance, this looked really spicy. I mean, look at it; it’s red and everything! It was marinated with some spices, unlike some of the beef tacos, but tasted more like pungent tomato sauce. The onion was overshadowed by the pork, which – aside from tomatoes – tasted like bacon. This is totally understandable, of course; it is still pork. Still, the smokiness was quite strong and seemed to outdo any sweetness that might have come from the small amount of chopped pineapple or any bite from the raw onion. It was really good, nevertheless; The Chemist did end up adding salsa halfway through eating it.

Machacha Taco

Machacha:

Isn’t that fun to say? Machacha. This was a special of the day, and looked really similar to the taco with beef cheeks, only a little darker in colour. It was good, if a little bit drier than the other two beef tacos. This is the one taco that the Chemist added a lot of salsa to – one of the hotter salsas, too. It was supposedly slow-roasted, but didn’t really taste like it. It was a bit tougher, and tasted leaner than the de cachete. I would still, by far, opt for this over my least favourite flavour (the Rajas Con Crema Taco, which is like an assault of sour cream, blegh). It still lost out to the pescado, though, and was the one I would deem “most in need of salsa”.

Overall, I loved eating here! As I have mentioned, I have revisited it since my initial visit. I really like the atmosphere – not only “authentic”, what with all the Spanish being spoken behind the counter, but so friendly! – and the food is almost always great. The restaurant is bright, colourful, and really adds to the “cheerful” ambiance… even on rainy days (of which there are plenty). I also love that I am able to take my gluten-free friends here – the wait staff and manager have told me that their tacos are 100% corn-based. (The only things on the menu that contain wheat are the quesadillas… which I actually haven’t seen anyone order yet. Their tacos are just too good!) I am also a huge fan – as mentioned in other posts – of restaurants that go to the trouble of sourcing out local and free-range meats. Many restaurants that place on emphasis on quality, locally-sourced ingredients seem to follow through with that theme and produce quality, great-tasting dishes… and La Taqueria is definitely one of them.

Ambiance: 4

Food: 4.5

Service: N/A (but the counter attendants are definitely friendly, for the most part!)

Value: 4.5

Overall: 4.5

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White Spot (Kitsilano)

This is one White Spot branch that I used to visit a lot… and, ironically, never blogged about. Today, that changes.

(And it changes without me typing a longer introduction, because I’m in the mood to actually write concisely.)

Spot Clam Chowder:

Spot Clam Chowder

Nothing outstanding here. Nice, robust clam flavour. Served at the perfect temperature, with an accompaniment of everyone’s favourite brand of saltine crackers to complement the soup. There were plenty of herbs, which was great, and an interesting peppery twist.

Rustica Flatbread:

Rustica Flatbread

Really, really liked this! The roasted veggies were delicious, and paired beautifully with the Bleubrie cheese. I loved the subtly spicy kick from the Arrabiatta sauce. It was just spicy enough to satisfy my love for hot dishes, but mild enough so that Emme and Pita could enjoy this, as well. The flatbread dough tasted amazing – pillowy, warm, and just all things delicious. My only  complaint would be: not enough cheese! But then again, I am a cheese fiend and more cheese (especially Bleubrie cheese) may have been too overwhelming for some people. In that regard, this dish is a wonderful blend of flavours and should appeal to everyone – even people who aren’t fond of really hot food or vegetables or smelly cheeses!

Chargrilled Chicken Burger:

Chargrilled Chicken Burger

I know this has a “healthy” label slapped on it (on the menu), but most of the time, this burger comes out with perfectly cooked, juicy chicken (with those highly sought-after grill marks!) in the middle and fresh-tasting greens and veggies. The relish is my favourite part of this burger, though. I always ask for extra. Even though the bun is whole grain and looks like it might be tough or unappetizing, it is usually just as fluffy and delicious as the regular burger buns at White Spot. I think I have only ever had one bad version of this dish here, but the majority of the time it is just as good as any other chicken burger – only made better with the awesome relish that accompanies it.

Chicken Caesar Wrap

Chicken Caesar Wrap:

Sometimes I think Pita is an even bigger creature of habit than I. He stands to argue that the Chicken Caesar Wrap is pretty much the best thing on the menu… and he likes it, also, because it makes him feel “healthy”. I hate Caesar dressing so I’m totally biased when I say I don’t think much of this wrap, but I do like how generous the chefs are with the Parmesan. There is a distinct undertone of anchovies, so you know that the dressing must be authentic in some sense. The tomato wrap is pretty standard and tastes like any other “normal” wheat wrap, in my opinion, but it makes for a nice presentation of the dish. The greens are always crisp and fresh, and the chicken tasty and well-cooked. Pita has mentioned in the past, though, that they could really put some more chicken in the wrap… It seems like it’s 80% salad sometimes. For what you’re paying, a little extra animal protein should be no issue! The coleslaw on the side was nice and creamy, with a sour tang that is offset by a touch of sweetness. Good coleslaw, if you’re into that stuff (I’m not, but I can tell when a coleslaw is nicely balanced between shredded veg and the creamy dressing).

The Legendary Platter

The Legendary Platter:

It’s common knowledge that White Spot does burgers well. The Legendary Platter at this White Spot is usually a winner, although there have been instances where they were flat out horrible. (Two experiences with incredibly bad burgers at this location, but, again, most of the time they are pretty darned good.) The patty is almost always juicy, there is usually plenty of Triple O’s sauce to go around, and a pickle on top, of course. It’s worthwhile to add cheddar – it’s a delicious addition and pairs well with the rest of the burger components. Ask for lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions if you want them – otherwise, it seems, they don’t add them! We have gone here once before where an order for “The Legendary Platter” scored us a bun, a patty, and some sauce… and nothing else. This instance is not from that time, but the other friend of mine who had received that pathetic burger was extremely disappointed and vowed to never return. (Seriously.) So… it’s a toss up! I would say the burger platters (i.e. the real burgers) are really good about 75% of the time. The sweet potato fries are incredible as a side dish. Get them.

A word about the service here. Like the food, it is completely hit-and-miss. Emme and I have been here for a couple of instances where the service was HORRIBLE. We had a server that made huge errors in our orders, was extremely rude, and just overall very inhospitable  and unfriendly. On other occasions, we have had a wonderful Chinese waitress (a slightly older, more experienced (?) lady) who is prompt, not exactly friendly, but quick to serve and please and really good at reading customers. Sometimes waiters seem to take it personally if you ask for something extra on the side, but this particular waitress was really good about fetching extra fries, tomatoes, relish, sauce, etc. We’ve also had waiters that are incredibly polite, fast, and really good about refilling water and such. I think most of the time the service is pretty good, with a few terrible exceptions, but it seems to be better if you choose to sit on the right side (when you walk in – the bar area) of the restaurant. That might just be my imagination… or it might just be because all the best waiters and waitresses are always assigned to that area of the restaurant!

As for ambiance – it’s like any other White Spot. It has a warm, family feel and this particular location is really nice and bright, thanks to the plethora of windows. The booths are comfy and usually clean (which is impressive, considering the sheer number of young families that frequent this location). No complaints here, really. White Spot is a good last resort if you don’t know where to go for dinner. It gets pretty busy on weekends, although you can usually get a table on the weekdays. For a chain restaurant, I will say that White Spot is one of the best. The food won’t blow you away, but it’s fairly consistent (so you always know what you’re getting!) and tasty. At the very least, their burgers are outstanding!

Ambiance: 3.5

Food: 3.5

Service: 3.5 [Hit-and-miss, but usually pretty good… like the food!]

Value: 3

Overall: 3.5

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Ethical Kitchen

When I read the one other blogger review on Urbanspoon, suffice to say I was a bit dubious. There were numerous other positive reviews below that weren’t accompanied by pictures, but surely, I thought, that number of people can’t be wrong! I’m a scientist at heart and appreciate all of the work the Weston A. Price Foundation has done in trying to straighten out the misunderstandings and flat-out incorrect information out there about nutrition, so reading stuff on the Ethical Kitchen website got me pretty excited to visit the place. It sounded really awesome and all “gung-ho” about traditional foods, locally sourced ingredients, and all that jazz. Ultimately, though, I ended up with a large serving of disappointment.

To begin with, the service here is horrible. Dismal. The girls behind the counter will cook your food and serve it, but don’t expect them to greet you as you come in or even show you some basic human courtesy. From the website, you would expect that the people working here would at least be a little enthusiastic about sharing the benefits of eating locally-sourced, traditionally-prepared foods… Nope. No enthusiasm whatsoever. The entire time I was here, both waitresses/cooks were frowning. No smiles or “Thank you”s or “Come again”s. There wasn’t even a “Can I help you?” as we stood around after walking in, trying to figure out how the “restaurant” was supposed to work. You seat yourself, and order at a counter. Your food is brought to you. Without a smile, of course.

With such poor service wrecking the experience, I can hardly comment accurately on the ambiance. The moodiness of the waitresses kind of cast a dark shadow over the rest of the restaurant. Were they a little friendlier, I imagine the small dining area would have seemed a little more homely and welcoming. It is sparse in décor, but that is fine, since it exudes an atmosphere of being a typical kitchen that you could find in any back-country home. As I already said: under other conditions, it probably would have been very pleasant.

Ethical Breakfast with Vegetables

Ethical Breakfast:

This was… decent. My one compliment: THE EGGS WERE SO GOOD! But this had nothing to do with the way they were cooked (over-done; the egg whites were rubbery, like eating tires!), but the yolks were incredibly flavourful. The quality of the ingredients here is amazing. As they should be, though, considering the prices are ridiculously high. Aside from the yummy egg yolks, the potatoes were blah. Everything was unbelievably greasy. I tasted one tomato and almost choked on all the oil that clogged up my throat. Techie, who I was dining with (alongside Emme) that day, stole the other tomato. There was no way I was eating it. The salad dressing was just oil, too. Flavourless. If the plating looks pretty in the photograph, chalk that up to my photography skills (what little I have, at least). In reality, the plate was really messy. The “home-made ketchup” was also unexciting. The egg yolks and sauerkraut are the only reasons this isn’t rated a one-star dish. Also, the description included the sauerkraut, potatoes, salad, and eggs, but there was an option for vegetables or beef. I went with vegetables. The two tomato chunks were the only vegetables aside from the salad (which was mandatory). I’m sorry, but WTF? Rip-off. I was so annoyed at this. Aside from the egg yolks, the sauerkraut was really good – yes, so good that I bumped up the rating to three stars.

Lamb Chop and Buttered Potatoes

Lamb Chops with Buttered Potatoes:

Techie ordered this, and his experience was similar to mine: incredible ingredients, but messy plating and overly greasy. His potatoes were way tastier than mine, but still ho-hum. (Pretty much anything would be tastier than the potatoes on my plate.) The lamb was also fantastic. Again, the ingredients are obviously of very high quality. The salad is just a flavourless grease ball, aside from the occasional bitter green that makes it, well, bitter. It’s only getting three stars because on top of the delicious main ingredient (lamb), this dish had better potatoes as an accompaniment.

Coconut Macaroon: 

Cheese Bun:

Emme got these, since she wasn’t that hungry and had eaten earlier (i.e. broke the cardinal rule of dining with a food blogger (which I am completely making up, of course) and that is eating before going out to eat even though you KNOW you’re going out to eat). Both of these were gluten-free. The macaroon was tasteless and fell apart the second Emme lifted it off the plate. I can’t help but find this hilarious, in a way, since coconut is supposed to be super flavourful and delicious and all that, according to many. (I wouldn’t know, since I’m allergic to it.) But this… wasn’t. Plain (like the macaroon…) and simple.

Coconut Macaroon and Cheese Bun

The cheese bun was slightly better. There was a nice cheesy flavour, although it wasn’t very strong, and the texture was pretty good for a gluten-free good. It was mostly doughy, though a little dry, with a hint of grittiness to remind you that it is in fact a gluten-free good. The type of grittiness that you come across in many gluten-free goods, really. Anyway, it looked pretty ugly, in my opinion, but ended up being the one thing that Emme almost finished. The coconut macaroon pretty much went untouched, aside from one bite from the first attempt to eat it (after which it collapsed into a sad heap of pink coconut shreds).

I have to say, even though the egg yolks I had that day were probably the best I’ve ever had, and the lamb was one of the best cuts Techie has ever had, I was really not impressed with the Ethical Kitchen. The website is bursting with enthusiasm for being more eco-friendly, for sourcing local and organic ingredients, and for preparing foods the traditional way, but the restaurant itself is a poor reflection of the attitude of whoever made the website content. The limited menu and unavailability of a large number of their dishes were both disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high, as well? I don’t know, but I probably won’t be coming back for a second try, in any case.

Ambiance: 2.5

Food: 3

Service: 1

Value: 3

Overall: 2.5

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Shizen Ya (Fairview)

Triple Attack Brown Rice Bowl

If you’re particularly picky about the type and quality of the seafood you’re eating, Shizen Ya would be a top choice for Japanese cuisine. Or, at the very least, Shizen Ya is the restaurant that most blatantly markets their offerings as “organic” and/or “OceanWise certified”. Unsurprisingly, the quality of cooking and food prep here is just as high as the quality of the raw ingredients. Although this specific Shizen Ya ‘branch’ is small, it is still a great restaurant contender when deciding where to go for Japanese food if you’re in the area. The manager has done a really good job of creating an atmosphere that reflects the restaurant’s name (shizen (自然) meaning nature or natural), in the sense that the ambiance is very mellow and the décor conveys a kind of “wholesome” feeling. The service here is also usually very friendly and accommodating, and your water glass and/or tea cup will both always be full. (This is probably due to the convenient size of the restaurant, but even disregarding the latter part of the statement, the waitresses (and store manager) all seem to be very nice. This should be a necessity at restaurants, in my opinion; it is called “service” for a reason.)

Triple Attack Brown Rice Bowl: (for taste/quality, not satiety factor)

As aforementioned, the food here is also top-notch, based on a couple of visits. My personal favourite is probably the Triple Attack Brown Rice Bowl, which has slices of tuna and wild sockeye salmon sashimi alongside some boiled spinach and pickled ginger sitting atop a dome of brown rice. The fish is all very fresh tasting and thawed to perfection. As with most high-quality salmon sashimi, the pieces just melt into your mouth, and at Shizen Ya they are neither too cold nor warm. Like I said: thawed to perfection. I have had the Kheema Curry Combo for lunch once, too, and it was also very good, very flavourful, and really good value for what you pay. While I do love the “Triple Attack”, it probably won’t fill you up if you’re really hungry, where any of the combo meals would for a much better price. As a final side comment: the presentation is wonderful. I love the sprinkling of shredded nori on top not only for flavour but also for how it enhances the aesthetic appeal.

Beef Teriyaki Combo

Beef Teriyaki Combo:

When I came here with Techie and Emme, Techie opted for the Beef Teriyaki Combo. This may actually be the best combo meal on the menu. The sauce is just thick enough to make a good coating for the beef, and the cuts of beef are all of good quality – no blobs of fat or stringy bits. The accompanying salad is, well, a typical salad. It has a nice dressing, though; it tastes more of miso and less like the average “house-made dressing” that you find at other restaurants (that all seem to taste the same). I was personally pleased that the Spinach Goma-ae that comes with the combo was made with actual sesame paste, and not peanut butter (even moreso because Techie is deathly allergic to peanuts). There is a really nice balance between “nuttiness” (I know sesame is a seed… It just has a nutty-ish flavour when it’s all ground up) and subtle sweetness. Actually, I could say something similar about the teriyaki sauce, which avoided the sickly sweet taste that so many other restaurant teriyaki sauces have. All in all, a great meal at a pretty great price. (I kept it at 4/5 for two reasons: 1) I am totally biased and am not really a fan of teriyaki, and 2) it still is nothing “amazing”, although it is certainly better than the average beef teriyaki in Vancouver.)

Chicken Breast Teriyaki

Chicken Breast [Teriyaki] Combo:

This comes with the same accoutrements that the beef teriyaki combo does, so the same comments apply to the side dishes and the sauce. I don’t know why, but the chicken breast was a fair bit tougher than what Emme was used to, although still very good. It may just have been an oddity in the batch of chicken breasts, because I have ordered this myself and it was much better, relative to the one Emme ordered on this occasion. In any case, even with the sauce, it’s pretty standard. Shizen Ya seems to do everything well, so I will say that they did a good job here, too. A word about the brown rice, since I haven’t mentioned it until now: whether or not you like it is obviously highly individual. Personally, I love the taste and chewiness of brown rice, although when eating Japanese I will admit that I would prefer the more traditional white rice. The flavour of brown rice kind of competes with other flavours on the plate, although that wasn’t really a problem here. In any case, it gets a thumbs up from me, only because I have a personal affinity for the stuff.

Again, I must comment that the presentation was well-done – even for the teriyaki dishes. I thought it was kind of weird how there seems to be a lack of consistency in how they present the combos (sometimes like the way the beef teriyaki was served, with the rice and goma-ae on the same plate, and sometimes like the chicken breast teriyaki here, with the rice and goma-ae served separately), but it all tastes good in the end so I don’t think it matters.

Chicken Breast Gyoza

Chicken Breast Gyoza:

I thought these were done pretty well. They weren’t too oily, but still had plenty with flavour, even without the sauce (unpictured! And please excuse the horrible picture). The outside was the best part, in my opinion; while still soft, the cooked parts had a nice touch of crispness that I really appreciated in contrast to all the soft fillings. Speaking of the fillings: this chicken was seasoned well – nice ‘n’ tasty – and even the vegetables were cooked in a tasty manner.

Prawn Sunomono

Prawn Sunomono:

This was yummy. Loved the freshness of the shrimp, and the really refreshing taste of the marinade. It had a less offensive taste than some of the other sunomono dishes I’ve had in the past. Again, a nice balance with the sweetness, which was offset nicely by the slight tang of the rice vinegar and subtle saltiness. The carrots were an interesting addition, and Emme (who always orders this!) really appreciated how the toppings were a bit more plentiful than the vermicelli. (Does anyone else find that, a lot of times, the sunomono served in many places is like 50% noodle, 45% horribly sweet “vinegar” dressing, and 5% actual topping?)

Salmon and Avocado Roll

Salmon and Avocado Roll:

Well, the salmon and the avocado were both incredibly delicious. This was actually a new combination in a sushi roll for me (how lame am I? I vow to be a bit more adventurous with rolls, going forward…) and it worked really well. You can also tell they were formed by someone who actually knows how to make sushi by how well they stuck together. They were presented prettily, and they stayed pretty until I ate them. Nothing much else to say. The brown rice did not really detract from the flavour. Very yummy – and would order again as an appetizer or addendum to something else.

Tofu and Vegetable Miso Soup

Tofu and Vegetable Miso Soup:

Don’t bother with this! It may be “organic”, but this is the only thing I’d whine about. It tasted fine (like any other miso soup, really) but there were hardly any “vegetables” to speak of, and something like four really tiny cubes of tofu. The $2.50 that you could spend on this dish would be much better invested in the salmon and avocado roll (which is $2.95 – barely any more, but much better bang for you buck, I think).

Green Tea Crème Brûlée:

Do get the crème brûlée if you want to finish off your meal with something sweet. It has a nice, subtle taste of green tea – just enough to differentiate it from the average crème brûlée – but enough sweetness to prevent the bitterness of the tea from dominating. The top has a nice, crisp finish and the texture is wonderfully creamy below the surface. I really liked the faint green colour, too, to remind you that there is green tea somewhere in the dessert. (It has green tea, therefore it is healthy. Heh heh…)

Green Tea Creme Brulee

If you’re in the neighborhood and have a hankering for Japanese food, pass up Minato Sushi (about a block and a half away) in favour of Shizen Ya! You and your tastebuds won’t regret it, and I don’t think the prices are really that different. (Even if they were – Shizen Ya would still be much better value.) It may be small, but it really delivers when it comes to good service, quality food, and a peaceful ambiance.

Ambiance: 4.5

Food: 4.5

Service: 4.5

Value: 4

Overall: 4.5

Shizen Ya on Urbanspoon

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Boathouse (Kitsilano)

Another great location, another Boathouse. This time on Kits Beach!

Emme, Pitah, and I went here on a beautiful day, so we got to take full advantage of the wondrous view from the Boathouse balcony. I think most Vancouverites would agree that Vancouver is the most livable city… for about two (or three) months of the year, when it’s not raining. Those few months are sometimes enough to make you forget about all the miserable rain and gray weather we get for the rest of the year!

An amazing location, however, cannot conceal the fact that the food at the Boathouse is still… not amazing. If you’re not blinded by the blue skies and sunshine and awesome setting, you’ll realise that most of the money you’re putting towards your meal is actually just you paying for the view. With that premise, let the review officially commence.

The service here is friendly, for the most part, although after our rather cheerful hostess seated us, we were served for the rest of the noon hour by a cranky waitress. You would think the outstanding weather would be enough to put anyone in a sunny mood, or at least remind waiters and waitresses to not bring their bad attitudes to work. We had a tough time getting water refills the rest of the time, and our meals took so long to prepare that we actually did have to ask at one point if we could expect our food any time soon. A large party of six that was sitting a little ways from us, but seated twenty minutes after we had ordered, got their food before we did. Not a good way to start off the meal!

Northwest Seafood Pasta with a side of Caesar salad

Northwest Seafood Pasta: ★☆☆☆

Pitah ordered the Northwest Seafood Pasta with the Caesar salad option for a side dish. The description of “wild fish, shrimp & clams, spinach, roasted tomatoes, garlic cream” may make you think that there should have been a bit more there… Indeed. Aside from the Parmesan that was shredded on top, this was mostly bland pasta and shrimp, with a barely detectable hint of garlic. There was nothing aside from the shrimp and the one clam you see in the photo, maybe three tomatoes, and a couple of strings of cooked spinach. The Caesar salad was tastier than the main pasta dish.

Grilled Chicken Breast Club: ☆☆

Grilled Chicken Breast Club

Emme has an allergy to some types of seafood, so she opted to go for a safer option and chose the Grilled Chicken Breast Club. This was better – much better – than the pasta, but still nothing particularly outstanding. The cheese on the sandwich was a nice touch, although it could have used more than the single, wimpy slice of smoked bacon. (What little bacon there was, though, was very, very good.) The chicken was a little tough and could have used some additional seasoning. The roasted red pepper, however, was a nice touch. The side salad was a nice blend of textures – savoury Parmesan, crunchy pine nuts, and crispy lettuce. Huh, reading this review, you’d think that if there is one thing that the Boathouse does do well, it’s their side salads.

Cod in Tomato Saffron Broth

Cod in Tomato Saffron Broth: ☆☆☆

I love seafood, so it almost goes without saying that I ordered a seafood-based dish. My choice was the Cod in Tomato Saffron Broth,which I think was a special of the day or something since I haven’t seen it on their menu since the last time I ate it. Oh boy. This was disappointing. The menu described it as having a “hearty, rich, tomato-based broth”. “Tomato-based” – I’ll give them that, but “hearty” and “rich”? Not so much. There was very little flavour to the broth, and it was very thin and watery. It could have, I suppose, been a little bit better if there had been more herbs simmered alongside, or if it had been topped with fresh herbs, but nothing would have fixed its consistency unless you altered the entire recipe and added more cream or even more tomato. I couldn’t taste any saffron, though maybe it was diluted in the watery mixture. The lemon helped a little… but not much. The vegetables were cooked well, but I don’t think they were cooked in the broth, since they didn’t taste like anything but the vegetables they were. If I have anything here to praise, it’s the presentation and the fish. The fish was cooked well, although it is a white fish and could have used some extra seasoning and flavouring to make it a little more exciting.

So with less-than-impressive food and service, what are the redeeming features of the Boathouse? Definitely location, and the ambiance if you sit on the deck. Unfortunately, I don’t find the view worth the prices you end up having to pay for the mediocre-to-substandard food, so I probably won’t be coming back.

Ambiance: 5

Food: 2

Service: 2

Value: 3

Overall: 2.5

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White Spot (Stanley Park)

White Spot! Yet again. When you’re stuck for dinner and don’t know where to go, and aren’t feeling adventurous enough to try something new, White Spot is not a bad fallback. The quality here is relatively consistent across all White Spot restaurants – and if not the quality, then at the very least the menu is the same regardless of which branch you choose to visit. That said, this is a shorter review since I have reviewed White Spot before – and there’s nothing groundbreaking about their food to write about.

Tomato Bisque

On this particular occasion, I visited one of the White Spots downtown after a walk on the seawall in Stanley Park. The service here seems to lean on the “above average” side when it comes to this chain, and it’s also kind of nice that the restaurant is split into a section for adults and one for kids. You are not necessarily in for an evening of noise, even if you’re visiting on a summer night while school is out. Where you’re seated does seem to have an effect on the amount of service you get, though. We were seated by the wall in the dining area that is usually reserved for kids only – but this was an unusually quiet evening so there were only a few young families dining out. Our waitress pretty much neglected us after taking our orders, and again after delivering the food. She forgot to fill up our water glasses repeatedly, but this was the first time that had happened to Emme at this particular White Spot – and we’ve been here a couple of times. At some point in the evening, all of the lights in half of this dining section went out, as well… Extremely strange. The servers acted as if nothing had happened, but they all came back on after five minutes. Weird. Other than that, the ambiance is what you would expect: laid-back, cozy, and casual. The lighting might be a bit too dim, though, as both Emme and Pitah commented that the menus were a bit hard to read in the low light.

Chicken Caesar Wrap

As for food… Well, like I said: quality is pretty consistent across all White Spots and you’re not going to find any mind-blowingly (not a word) delicious food at any chain restaurants. Pitah ordered a Chicken Caesar Wrap with the soup of the day, a Tomato Bisque, on the side. It was pretty much just standard tomato soup with crackers, i.e. not a true bisque, I don’t think. Nevertheless, it wasn’t bad. Not too salty, but not very rich and a bit watery. The chicken Caesar wrap wasn’t bad, also; the Caesar dressing has a nice tang and balance between cheesiness from the Parmesan and sourness from the lemon. The chicken wasn’t overcooked and there was plenty of it, alongside the lettuce. A good, solid chicken wrap. Personally, I think they could do with adding a few more ingredients – like tomatoes or cucumber or something to give it a bit more crunch. As it was, it was kind of goopy… which is not bad, I just think the texture could be better. The fries were fresh and warm, although the coleslaw was a bit mushy and lacking sourness.

The Legendary Burger

Emme got her usual favourite: The Legendary Burger. Contrary to Pitah’s wrap, the variety of ingredients here was a little better. Look! A tomato! AND a pickle! … Enough sarcasm. This was actually one of the better “Legendary” burgers that Emme has had since coming to Vancouver. There was plenty of “Triple O sauce” to go around and a nice balance between the patty and other ingredients. The patty itself was juicy and tasty, and the fries were fresh and warm. The only complaint I could offer up on Emme’s behalf would be that there really could have been more fries. The plate actually looked a bit sparse with a small pile of fries and the burger when it arrived (the angle from which I took the photo might not reflect that very well). As always, though, the bun was nice and fluffy. I think White Spot has some of the best burger buns in the city – regardless of where it buys them or what brand they are. I think I’m just glad that they’re never squashed…

Seafood Fusilli

We last visited here quite a while ago, and at that time they were still offering the Seafood Fusilli pasta dish on their menu. I’ve no idea why they pulled it to replace it with a lame plain veggie dish (viva seafood!!), but I was a bit sad when it disappeared anyway. It could sometimes turn out pretty well. And even if the sauce didn’t turn out all that well, the seafood was usually cooked fairly well and the highlight of the dish. In any case, speaking of the sauce and seafood, this was an instance where the sauce was a disappointment. I think that is actually quite evident in the picture. There hardly was any sauce. Actually, maybe I’m not that sad that this dish isn’t offered anymore, after all… This was the last time I ordered the dish, because it was this dish in particular that disinclined me to order it in the future. There was so little flavour that I was pretty much turned off from ordering it ever again. I don’t know if I’m being too bold in saying this, but really – it’s the sauce that makes a pasta dish, especially when you are not using fresh pasta. At the very least, the noodles were al dente and the seafood was, as aforementioned, not overcooked and quite tender. It’s just that there was no subtly spicy kick from the fennel seeds (because there were no fennel seeds, as the menu would have you believe) and no tomato-ey flavour. I didn’t eat all the pasta; there just wasn’t enough sauce to make it taste good. It was probably about time that the dish was retired, anyhow, whenever they dropped it from their menu.

Side Spot Salad

Oh, hey, Emme also had a side Spot Salad. Not much to say here. Good, tangy dressing with a good balance between the vinegar and oil. The added herbs are a nice addition. I personally hate dried fruit so I would never order this with dried cranberries, but Emme always enjoys the added texture – the chewiness of the dried cranberries with the crunch from the vegetables and seeds. For the price, I would say it’s not worth it, though. The size they give you always depends entirely on the chefs that evening, and paying something like $5 for a tiny salad prepared by a stingy chef is a waste of your moolah.

So, as always, dishes at a chain restaurant are hit-and-miss. Emme and Pitah were fortunate enough to have fairly good meals while I ended up with a mostly-sauce-less pasta dish. Most of the food is pretty tasty, although nothing special. A good last resort, I would say, if you don’t feel like cooking and just want to sate your hunger.

Ambiance: 4

Food: 3.5

Service: 2.5

Value: 3

Overall: 3

White Spot (Stanley Park) on Urbanspoon

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