Archive for March, 2011
When there are so many fantastic restaurants on the West Side of Vancouver itself, there’s rarely – if ever – any need to venture anywhere else for great food. However, seeking escape from the “usual” scenery one afternoon, Emme and I headed over to the North Shore for dinner. I was craving Japanese food, as usual, so we passed by and checked out a few, but ended up picking Ki-Isu simply because we were starving when we stopped by and tired of comparing to see which was best. Plus, Ki-Isu had a “restaurant”-y feel that several other Japanese places we saw lacked. (They were more take-out based places, and while I know that those take-out places can serve up really fantastic sushi sometimes, Emme likes to have a very nice ambiance when we dine out… Understandable, I think.)
We chose to sit at the “sushi bar”, since the only other option available was sitting at tables on either sides of two obnoxiously loud diners (the only other people in the restaurant) or by the door. As we looked over the menu, I could hear the waitresses and chefs speaking Korean… so to those who care about authenticity (erm, like me, for example…), this place isn’t actually Japanese-managed. I was starving, though, so Emme and I stayed put. The ambiance, aside from the noise from the other two diners, was quite nice. The place is tastefully decorated with a dark colour scheme, and the kitchen is in full view of the dining room and is also very clean and organised. The lighting was actually perfect for taking photos – at least by the sushi bar. However, it was cold inside. You’d think that because the place is relatively small, it would be easy to keep warm… but Emme and I had to pull our coats back on right after taking them off. Again – eating with your winter coat on isn’t fun!
There were two waitresses the night that we stopped by. One was extremely rude. She was inflexible when it came to asking for minor substitutions to items on the menu (even though the chefs, who could obviously hear us ordering since we were sitting at the bar, said that would be quite willing to meet our requests!). She also got irritated when Emme asked any questions about portion size or what an item was (I speak Japanese, but Emme doesn’t). In addition, not once did she top up our tea cups or water glasses, whether we asked (and we did… several times) or not. Thankfully, the other waitress stepped in to finish taking our orders after the first got annoyed when we had to change our orders since she refused to relay requests for menu substitutions (even though, as I said, the chefs were right there and happy to make some substitutions). This second waitress was extremely accommodating, and, although her English wasn’t as good as the first waitress’s, very polite. It was definitely a case of having polar opposite restaurant service… in the same restaurant.
As for the food… Emme started off with some Edamame, which… were served in a bamboo basket?? Definitely had not seen that sort of thing before… but they must have been freshly steamed, because they were warm. They cooled down very quickly, though – a warm ceramic bowl probably would’ve helped keep the heat a little better. They were good, though, as Emme said. She had a Crab Sunomono while working on the edamame, but was so quick to eat the sunomono that I didn’t catch a shot of it. It was okay, but a little pricy for the portion size that was served up. She also said it tasted funny, but couldn’t put her finger on what was off about it. Her main dish was the Beef Teriyaki Donburi, which was actually served very hot and was giving off steam when it arrived. I was already in a biased, judgmental mode because of the rude waitress and thought it would be bad, but alas – the chef’s skills are of course no reflection of the poor service. The dish was really tasty, Emme commented, and the sauce was not too heavy while adding just the right amount of flavour. However, she added that while it was indeed really delicious, it did not seem at all like Japanese food, but that it was really good Korean food. This I can actually totally understand, because, after all… a donburi is supposed to be a meal were you have something served over rice! Traditionally in a bowl, I think. So while it was a good dish, it wasn’t a real donburi at all, really. (To be fair, they did give Emme rice. But it came with her sunomono and edamame, as though it wasn’t meant to be eaten with the beef. Also, the rice… was just plain rice. It was totally flavourless and bland, while sushi rice – or at least the rice that good Japanese restaurants will serve – usually has more of a slight sweetness (probably from having a bit of rice vinegar added to it?).
As for myself, I also decided to try out a sunomono, but went with a plain one – so a Plain Sunomono. I recognised that the funny taste Emme mentioned was due to the salad not having the right sort (well, I say “right sort” but I suppose I mean “traditional”) dressing for a sunomono. It lacked the sweetness you will typically taste in a sunomono, and had a strange, faint spicy kick to it. It was definitely unexpected, seeing as sunomono dishes are usually supposed to just be cool and refreshing. Also, what happened to the cucumbers? They looked like they had been mangled in a food processor for a second or two or something. They had no crunch or taste and just fell apart when I tried to pick some up. Well… at least the presentation was very nice.
As for the Miso Soup… It was so nondescript that I can hardly comment. It was literally just miso paste with some hot water poured over top. No wakame seaweed, no tofu, and definitely no green onions.
The Kappa Maki was a much needed “pleasant surprise” and a real sight for sore eyes (or a real taste for a deprived mouth? Not sure if there’s a food version of that expression…). The rice was not real sushi rice, but these cucumbers were fresh and crunchy and the rolls at least held together very well. The pickled ginger had a weird flavour (again with the spicy kick, as though it may have been pickled with a mild type of chili pepper or something) but wasn’t bad.
By now it is hopefully clear that no, I’m not a fan of this restaurant… but I will grudgingly admit that the nigiri sushi was good. The sashimi pieces were all fresh and very flavourful (guess that’s just due to high quality ingredients though!), although not all cut in a traditional way. The hokkigai (surf clam) pieces were huge and those nigiri were definitely done in a style I’d never seen, but were really good – and I definitely appreciated the slightly larger portion size. It was kind of weird that it took so long for the sushi to come out, though. Emme’s dinner actually came out before mine… I’m not 100% sure, but aren’t sushi dishes supposed to come out first – so you can appreciate the more subtle tastes of raw dishes before eating stuff with stronger sauces and more powerful flavours? I’m not Japanese, but I know I’ve been told something like that before…
Anyway. I’m not going back. The sushi may have been good, but it was not outstanding, and I know I can get much better sushi for a much better price elsewhere. If you want non-traditional but mediocre Japanese food with a sort of Korean twist that’s served up with a side of bad service, though, go ahead and check the place out. At least the classy interior décor will keep you distracted.
Value: 3 [Decent prices.]
I have to admit, no one in my family – including myself – goes out to eat Chinese often. Virtually never, actually. And I can’t recall the last time we did, before this one occasion where Emme and I decided to do the unthinkable and do just that: go out for Chinese food.
Connie’s Cookhouse is listed in the “Top 10 Best Restaurants in Kitsilano” so I thought it’d be a good place to start. Emme and I perused W 4th and eventually found it. When we entered we received curt service – as was expected, pretty much – as the waitress told us to sit anywhere that was open. There were only a handful of other people — two women speaking obnoxiously loudly and an elderly couple — which was probably a good thing seeing as the restaurant itself is pretty tiny. Décor is minimal – just enough stuff to give you the impression that yes, you are eating at a Chinese restaurant. The only thing that was strange was the fact that there was an open box of green beans sitting on one of the tables in the dining room, with a pair of scissors lying on top, all ready to have the ends chopped off. Well that’s fine and dandy, but… shouldn’t vegetable preparation be kept in the kitchen?
Anyhow, Emme and I were served tea (it was yummy! No clue what it was, though) and kept waiting for quite some time as the one waitress bustled about – doing some kitchen work, it seems, while also juggling take out orders but essentially neglecting those of us in the dining room. She eventually got to our table, though, apologized for the wait quickly and took our orders just as quickly – and a little impatiently. (Emme wanted to make some substitutions to “Family Dinner Combination A” but the waitress wouldn’t allow it and got a little annoyed.) Emme ended up ordering the Lemon Chicken from the combo meal anyway, and we were eating about half an hour later.
To be honest, the Lemon Chicken was probably the worst dish of the bunch that we ordered. There was hardly any actual chicken in the dish… The thin slivers of chicken were coated in a ridiculously thick batter, so that the chicken flavour was almost entirely masked and it was basically just like eating batter… with a tasty lemon sauce. The sauce is obviously the crucial component, and the dish would be flavourless and pointless without it, but it would probably definitely be a good idea to incorporate more chicken and less batter into the dish, so it tastes more like “Lemon Chicken” and less like “Lemon Batter”.
Emme also had the Vegetable Fried Rice, which was significantly better than the Lemon Chicken and actually quite good. The vegetables were cooked through but still maintained a slight crunch, and the rice was flavourful and not too oily. The portion was also, as the picture shows, quite generous. Thumbs up to this dish.
As for myself, I picked the Scallops with Seasonal Vegetables with a bowl of some simple Steamed Rice to go on the side. Although Emme’s main dish was a disappointment, I was actually quite satisfied with mine. It wasn’t anything drop-dead astounding, but it was definitely really tasty. I don’t know what type of sauce was used (probably because I know virtually nothing about Chinese cuisine, save the fact that it used to include a lot of MSG) but I quite liked it. I almost demolished the entire plate, as both the scallops and vegetables were cooked quite well. I wouldn’t call the vegetables “seasonal” but I love vegetables so I really couldn’t care less… I loved that there were so many scallops. The portion size definitely matched the price, in my opinion.
As a “first venture” back to eating some Chinese food, the dining experience wasn’t bad, per sé, it just wasn’t good either. That would pretty much be how I would describe the restaurant, in a nutshell: Not good but not bad.
The service was obviously not that great, because there does only seem to be one waitress – and even then she is multitasking and working in the kitchen sometimes as well as trying to cater to the dine-in and take-out customers. Also, when she does interact with customers, she is quite brusque — but Emme and I expected that and weren’t really thrown off much, and you can’t really blame her for being really “to-the-point” since she seems to have so much to do.
Ambiance could do with some improvement – maybe separating the kitchen from the dining room a little better (with more than a tiny curtain) would help. Also, it was cold in the restaurant (the drafts seemed to be coming in from the back – the kitchen) and most diners, along with Emme and myself, were eating with their coats on.
Because of my final verdict, I can’t bring myself to vote for “likes it” or “dislikes it” on Urbanspoon.com, heh. However, why Connie’s Cookhouse is on the Top 10 for Kits, I don’t know.
Cafe Mumbai seemed to me to be just another small, nondescript restaurant on W Broadway that I would probably never have the opportunity to visit, since there are so many other fantastic restaurants out there that offer food that’s guaranteed to be good. However, Emme and I decided to stop in one evening when we were pretty much just desperate to eat something. Emme likes Indian, so we just picked out the first place that met that criterion – and that place just happened to be Cafe Mumbai.
It didn’t really seem like much from the outside (although that may be partially because its exterior is overshadowed by the more decorative storefront (i.e. huge bright pink awning) of the big cupcake shop next door to it) and, to be honest, it didn’t seem like much from the inside, either. But the atmosphere was relaxed enough to satisfy Emme and I, so we sat down and perused the menus for a short while.
The ambiance here definitely isn’t bad – it just isn’t anything special, either. The lights were a bit dimmer to create that “easygoing” sort of atmosphere, the Indian music playing in the background was at an appropriate level, and the dining room seemed pretty clean. About five or six tables were occupied when Emme and I entered, though a couple more small groups of people came and went during the time that we dined, so at least it seems like the place has some sort of following. Despite this, the noise level was pretty constant, which was nice (and rare). Also, although we were both a bit chilly at first, the restaurant warmed up a bit while we were there so we didn’t have to eat with our coats on (I can’t stand that!).
As for the service: It was good. There isn’t much more to say about it. The waiter was accommodating and happy to explain dishes to the best of his ability, and seemed to know the menu really well. He was pleasant and friendly, although a little hard to flag down for top-ups on water during the meal. Overall, though, the service was pretty good.
Emme kicked off the meal with a Mango Lassi. She said it was good — tasty — although her personal preference is for the drink to have a stronger rosy flavour (more rosewater).
She also ordered some Garlic Naan to go on the side of her meal. I took a bite after she tried it out — because her immediate comment (well, following the “Mmm!”) was that “This is really good naan.” I have to agree — the naan was great. The garlicky flavour was strong without being overpowering, the texture of the actual naan was wonderful, and it was just… really tasty.
As her main dish, Emme ordered some Chicken Vindallo with the request that it be made very mild (I was surprised she chose it since the menu indicated that it’s normally supposed to be really hot). Both of us like a little kick in our dishes, but are sensitive to spice. Luckily, the waiter didn’t mind, and Emme said her curry had the perfect amount of kick and was still full of flavour. (I’m guessing almost all of the “fiery” spices had to be omitted…)
I love chickpeas (garbanzo beans) so I asked for a really mild Channa Masala. Well… I’m sure Emme’s dish was good, but I’m also sure that mine was better. She tasted it and actually noted that my dish actually had even more of a spicy kick than hers… but it was still fine to me. My lips were on fire while eating this, but not in an uncomfortable-burning way, haha. The sauce and chickpeas were just fantastic and full of flavour, and I loved the fresh coriander and ginger on top.
The whole dish came together really nicely, and I ate it along with some Steamed Rice and a Side Salad. I could’ve done without the added oily component in my rice, but the freshly chopped basil was a nice addition and it was still a great accompaniment to the Channa Masala. Also, because my main dish did have a bit more kick than I expected, the side salad was a great way to cool down between bites. The raita that came with it wasn’t that awesome or noteworthy — and neither was the Raita that Emme actually also ordered on the side of her main dish — but the veggies were plentiful and, like the coriander and ginger on the Channa Masala, very fresh.
At the end, we still had leftovers — which we were actually pleased about for once. The meal was fully satisfying and eaten in a relatively nice setting in peace. The prices weren’t too bad, and were actually pretty reasonable considering the amount of food you get for what you pay. My final verdict would be that, yes, I would come back again if I were craving Indian food… though I will definitely still try out other places to see if there is actually even better Indian food around. Nevertheless – thumbs up for Cafe Mumbai. (Though perhaps they may want to do something about their store front to make the place more appealing!)