Archive for April, 2011
With such a large number of people who “like it” on Urbanspoon.com, and also with a noteworthy number of good reviews, it seemed to me that East is East was a shoe-in (weird idiom, huh?) for a great dinner… and so Emme and I decided to pay a visit for dinner when night when we were cruising along W Broadway anyway. In any case, I’m always up for trying new restaurants, and Emme is always up for Indian food.
We arrived relatively early in the evening, which was probably a good thing considering how busy it soon got after we sat down. The interior décor and overall atmosphere seriously made the two of us feel as though we had walked into a restaurant in the Middle East, with the large front window being the only thing that reminded us that was not the case. Wooden tables are nicely spaced out throughout the dining area, so you don’t feel cramped or as though the dining party next to you is encroaching on your personal space, and most tables have a comfy couch on one side. Wooden benches are the other seating option, though they don’t have backing so neither Emme nor I felt compelled to sit on them… Nevertheless, the décor is very traditional and unique, and transports you to an entirely different place… where there also happens to be wonderful food.
We were actually given some chai tea samples to start off with, though I don’t know what type they were exactly. A lot of things on the menu seemed really delicious, and Emme and I were both fairly hungry, so we didn’t wait long to start ordering and both decided that we would go with “Silk Route Feast” platters. With the promise of complimentary refills of any dish on the platter, it seemed like a great deal, in any case.
Emme asked for three of the optional items from the list right off the bat (as I said, we were hungry!): Mango Butternut Squash, Afghan Eggplant, and Chicken Masala.
The Mango Butternut Squash was very sweet and creamy (the latter of which is pretty clear from the picture), and Emme said it was “interesting” and that the mango flavour was quite pronounced, although there was a subtle and delicious taste of coconut… but barely noticeable kick from the spices as well. It did have the consistency of baby food, however, and Emme commented that it wouldn’t be something she would eat alone – so it was a good thing that there was rice alongside it.
Next on the tray was the Afghan Eggplant, which certainly did not disappoint. I think it was Emme’s favourite dish of the night, actually… It came with some yogurt (raita, I think, actually), which gave the dish a nice complexity in terms of the blend of flavours. The eggplant was perfectly cooked: wonderfully tender and stringy. The sauce was a fantastic complement, as well, with a nice tang from the yogurt and mildly spiced. Needless to say, it was one of the dishes Emme ordered again once she had finished off these initial three.
The Chicken Masala was actually a dish that Emme did not order again… It’s not that it was bad, but it certainly wasn’t a clear favourite like the Afghan Eggplant. The sauce was really too mild, and Emme wasn’t a fan of the dark chicken meat. White meat probably would have worked better, especially if the sauce were made a little bit stronger and the flavour amped up a bit with some more spice.
As for the rice… The Afghan Rice that comes with the Silk Route Feast was wonderful. The raisins and carrot pieces gave some much-needed flavour to the rice, although it seemed as though the coconut in the Coconut Rice did not do the same for that half of the rice portion…
For myself, I also got a Silk Route Feast platter, however ordering was actually quite tricky. I’m mildly allergic to coconut, but the waitress didn’t falter and was more than happy to ask the kitchen which dishes I could have, even with that allergy. It seems that the kitchen is making an effort to use coconut milk rather than cow’s milk in almost all of their dishes, now, in order to better cater to the lactose-intolerant folk and vegans. In the end, though, everything worked out somehow – and I left without suffering from too serious an allergic reaction.
Allergies dictated that I avoid the classic Coconut Rice, but it was personal preference that I steered clear of the Afghan Rice. I’m not a raisin fan, though I like carrots, but I was given the option to change that half of the rice dish entirely to Brown Lentil Rice, which was really good. It was very flavourful and I loved the herb-pieces scattered throughout and the mildly spiced lentils that were ever-present.
Neither Emme nor I received a leafy salad with our dishes, so I’m guessing the tabbouleh-like dish was intended to be the Salad… In any case, it did the job of being a “cooling” dish throughout the meal. Nothing was really too spicy, but it was still nice to have the refreshing tabbouleh-ish salad to cool off your mouth and cleanse your palate when switching between dishes. We both really liked it, and I actually ordered a second one along with some other things.
One of the things that was safe for me to eat was this okra dish, which I’m calling Bindhi Masala because I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. It’s not listed on the menu, but the waitress said it was offered at their café upstairs and the chefs would be willing to prepare it, since it was one of the few non-coconut-based dishes. It was amazing. It was the dish with the most flavour and spice that I tasted that night, and better than I could have expected. I reordered it… twice. I probably would’ve ordered my fourth dish of it, but 1) I was filling up and 2) I was indeed feeling bad for requesting the chefs to prepare a dish they normally wouldn’t have to… and wasn’t sure how much trouble it was causing them to make it. Anyway, the spices and tomato flavour went beautifully with the okra, which were cooked perfectly and not slimy – the one characteristic that most people shun okra for.
I also tasted the spinach dish, Saag Paneer, only without paneer (not a fan)… so I think it’s Saag/Palak Sabji when there’s no paneer, though I’m not sure about the names as I’m improvising as I go along, here… It’s a good thing I like spinach, because the spinach flavour was very strong. Actually, it looked like the spinach you get when you defrost frozen spinach bags from the grocery store… and was a pretty bland dish overall. Its supposed to come with mushrooms, but those apparently got excluded along with the paneer for some reason, which was disappointing since I love mushrooms. I didn’t order it again, and probably wouldn’t in the future, were I given the chance.
Along with my repeated orders of the okra dish, I also decided to take a chance [because there is some coconut in this dish – not a lot] and get the Chickpeas. For lack of better words, it was “meh”. Maybe I think that because I’ve had better chana masala elsewhere and even at home, but what was given to me was flavourless relative to the other times I’ve had the dish.
Aside from the okra dish, my other two favourites of the evening were the pickles that came on the platter (I actually ordered another small serving of them) and the Dhal. It was much thicker than the other takes on lentil soup I’ve had before, but seemed to me to have more flavour than most of the other dishes on my platter (excluding the okra dish). That said, however, it was still very mild. I will note that I liked it more than the take on chana masala that I ended up with also.
As for Roti on the side – there isn’t much to say. It was okay. Not really good, nor notably horrible. It was cold when I ate it, and Emme said hers was as well – and it was one of the first things she bit into. I don’t know if it cooled down super fast since it was on a cool metal tray, but it would’ve been nice if it were served warm. It didn’t taste very fresh, though the roti that arrived when Emme ordered some more were a bit better and didn’t seem as limp and stale.
The food seemed very “hit-and-miss”, but the chai tea samples at the beginning were bursting with flavour and quite tasty – a little too strong for my personal preference, though. The service was also consistently fantastic. The water jug was left on a wooden table in the corner of the room, which was actually nice because you can refill your own glasses… although you’re probably not supposed to, heh. The waitress didn’t do a bad job of topping up our glasses, but once it was busier the service for tables that already had their food dipped a bit. However we did manage to get additional orders in pretty easily, and the waitress was very friendly, personable, and happy to provide a bit of conversation if you so desired it. Of course, I also appreciated how helpful she and the rest of the staff were in catering to a client with unusual allergies. (I’m allergic to a lot of tropical fruit. Mango, papaya, coconut, and even pineapple give me slight allergic reactions – though I’ll eat pineapple sometimes because I love the taste… just not the side-effects.)
With the awesome ambiance and décor, along with some pretty great service and the fact that your meal is fairly good value (especially if you get the Silk Route Feast and can get refills), would I go back to East is East? Although I adored the okra dish and Emme loved the Afghan Eggplant, I would still say no. Only because I’m allergic to practically the entire menu, and more so because the dishes seem so inconsistent in terms of whether they’re good or bad. The chai tea is very good – though I’m not sure which exactly, since they have quite a few varieties of chai – and so is the Afghan Eggplant dish. Most things seemed to be underwhelming in terms of spice, but otherwise the food is generally fairly tasty. (A lot of the drinks on the menu seemed really promising, too.) If anything, it’s worth going for the one-of-a-kind dining experience and unique atmosphere!
I’d never been all the way down to Steveston before, so Emme and I paid a visit one afternoon just so I could see it. However, by the time we reached it, it was already pretty late and most shops were already closed or getting ready to close. Giving up on the idea of poking around and doing a little shopping or poking around or something, we just settled for finding something to eat. I’d spotted a Japanese restaurant when we were driving around and practically demanded Japanese for dinner… so that’s we went for!
When we entered, Emme was already warning me that we’d be out the door in two seconds if it wasn’t “authentic”… (We have had bad experiences at places where the chefs aren’t actually Japanese, so although it may seem haughty and purist-ish, we try to stick to “authentic” Japanese places. Seriously excuse me if that seems snobbish!) However, another customer that had just entered with his two kids assured us that this place was nothing short of absolutely amazing, and I have to say that we were very pleasantly surprised with the way dinner turned out that night.
The décor was what you would expect in a Japanese restaurant, but far “classier” than what you will find in many “hole-in-the-wall” sushi joints in Vancouver. It was very clean, in any case, and I liked how the sushi bar, like any truly good sushi place, had all of their fresh ingredients on display in a refrigerated glass container in front of where the itamae works. The music was also Japanese, and overall the place gave me a really good feeling about deciding to dine there. The ambiance was great, as far as I could tell. Obviously, the “cleanliness” aspect is especially important in a place that serves raw fish, and Ichiro certainly had that part covered.
The service started off as very promising, too. Even though the restaurant had opened only three or so minutes before we arrived, there were already loads of people flocking to get inside and quite a few tables taken. We were seated in a nice, quiet corner by the window and a friendly waitress brought out drinks pretty quickly and took our orders. The efficiency of the service was impressive, especially since none of the waitresses seemed rushed in the least while still managing to cater to clients quickly and in a personable manner. Only towards the end of the meal, when there was actually a line up and a constant stream of take out orders coming in, did the service start to falter a little bit. It was inevitable, I suppose, but Emme and I took that as our cue to leave, anyway. Aside from that point – since we were basically being ignored after we had finished – I don’t have any further criticism for Ichiro’s service.
Emme started off with one of her typical dishes – Ebi Sunomono. Not much to say… It was very good, and there was a copious amount, so you could actually consider it good value. It’s not too hard to make, so you’d think that more sushi places in Vancouver would be a little bit more giving when it comes to sunomono dishes, like Ichiro…
Even though it wasn’t on the menu, the waitress informed me that they actually had an assortment of pickles when I mentioned that I kind of wanted oshinko maki, although all I actually wanted was the takuan inside the roll. So I ended up getting Oshinko Moriawase, which wasn’t just a collection of your typical pickles, but also some ones I’d never seen before! Never seen pickled lotus, or whatever-the-heck-that-delicious-stuff-in-the-bowl-was, but it was awesome. Definitely not just your typical, Japanese-grocery-store-bought pickles. I think the lotus root pickles were actually my favourite, which is saying something considering how much I love takuan (the yellow stuff; pickled radish).
Emme claims that fish never fill her up, so she got another one of her favourites that usually manages to satisfy her appetite: Beef Teri Don (just beef teriyaki donburi). Needless to say, it was also great. For once it wasn’t just a bunch of tough beef pieces just sautéed in some teriyaki sauce you can buy from the grocery store. It had its own unique taste, probably because the sauce was house-made, and the beef was all of pretty good quality and very tender. No bad cuts of beef here, it looks like! The rice was also authentic sushi rice… and thus tastier than your average steamed rice that you sometimes get at sub-par sushi places.
As is my habit, I got a bunch of nigiri sushi pieces. They were all amazing. Maybe it’s because Steveston is right by the water? I don’t know what it is, but the ebi, hokkigai, hotate (especially!), and sockeye salmon nigiri were the best I think I’ve ever had. Better than Hitoe Sushi’s. I was impressed… and my tastebuds were in ecstasy, I believe. The nigiri made me excited for the other dish I ordered: Tai Usuzukuri. Well, what can I say? If the sashimi pieces for the nigiri pieces are great, I guess it’s a given that actual sashimi will also be fantastic. It is on the menu, but it was also the special of the day on their fresh sheet, and so was a better price… It was also the best red snapper I’ve ever had. Incredibly tender. Was it even previously frozen? It tasted so fresh that I think I may have fooled myself into thinking that they had killed the fish just a couple of minutes before serving it to me…
I finished off with some Vegetable Soup — a yosenabe pot, essentially. For me it was a toss-up between the veggie one and the mushroom (Kinoko Yosenabe, I think) one, but obviously I picked the veggies over the ‘shrooms. With the delicious broth they serve it to you in, though, I’m sure they’re both fantastic. I loved mine. I’ve been let down by broths at other Japanese places, for they’ve always been really weak when I’ve had yosenabe at other restaurants, or even udon dishes. This one was hearty, but not heavy, and was hot enough that the vegetables would cook by the time it was cool enough to eat… but not so hot that they were overcooked instantly. (That takes skill, I’m sure, haha!) The soup was a winner in my books. I’m glad I decided not to get a plain miso soup, though I’m sure their miso is bound to be great, as well.
With the varied menu and all the delicious-sounding dishes on it, and the promise of great food with pretty good service and a nice ambiance, I can’t help but really want to go back to Ichiro. If it weren’t so far away, I would go more often!
Value: 4 [A tad pricey, although you are getting great bang for your buck when you consider how high the quality of the food is.]
Let’s face it: Whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, the organic movement has been growing and becoming increasingly popular over the years, so much so that organic markets have popped up and dozens upon dozens of studies have been released detailing how much better organic food is for you, or how much better it tastes, etc. In many ways, it’s easy to see how it’s much better for you — its being “pesticide/herbicide/insecticide-free” definitely helping with that aspect. As for tasting better, however… That is a claim that is still very much “in the air” and up for debate. Even if it’s one day proven that organic food doesn’t taste any better than food made with conventionally grown ingredients, one thing is very clear to me: The food at Aphrodite’s tastes amazing.
Emme and I first heard about Aphrodite’s a little over a month ago, and already we’ve been there three times… Our first impression of it was definitely that it was another sort of trendy “hippie” place that served healthy food, a bit like the Naam [only cleaner and with obviously much better service]. However, I wouldn’t look at it as such anymore. Now, I just can’t help but think of it as a great place to eat — lunch or dinner. Décor is actually pretty tasteful and trendy, with some artwork that’s clearly “local” and some that’s from decades past. The paper maché figurines hanging from the ceiling give the restaurant more of a “homey” feel (and in no way come across as tacky), as does the tiled floor and fact that the kitchen is rather open and only hidden behind a big blackboard with specials and pies written on it.
On our first visit, Emme had actually just had a late breakfast and wasn’t too hungry for lunch, and so instead sipped on a Caffè Latte and ordered a cinnamon roll to nibble on. The latte was good, of course — though there is only so much you can say about it. It was hearty, warm, and satisfying, as all properly done caffè lattes should be. The Cinnamon Roll was fantastic. I think you can tell that just by looking at the picture, almost! It was ginormous, and amazing value for what you dish out to get it. The nuts in the swirls gave it a nice crunch, and the exterior had a nice crispness while the interior was soft, gooey with delicious layers of cinnamon and sugar, and just full of deliciousness. They may have the word “pie” in their name, but clearly they’ve got other baked goods down pat, too.
I was starving, and actually having a hard time choosing from their large selection of delicious-sounding dishes, but settled on the Harvest Vegetarian Chili, partially because I’ve had a huge craving for spicy foods lately and partially just because I’ve always loved chili anyway. The chili came out steaming hot and fresh, with equally fresh salad and bread. The salad greens were crunchy, crisp, and delicious. The grated carrot, beets, and sprouts reminded me a bit of the Naam, but somehow just seemed much classier here. In any case, the salad provided a great way to escape the spice of the chili and cool down between bites. Oh, but the chili… It was a dream come true. Hearty, delicious, spicy but not overly so, and full of nutritious goodness in the forms of beans and veggies… It was just amazing. I love this chili. I would get it if I went back. And again. And again. Even though there are so many other items on the menu that definitely hold great promise.
As if the fabulous chili wasn’t already enough to talk about, I could probably also go on for quite a while about the fabulous bread, too. It is fluffy but hearty at the same time, and the best bread I have eaten in a while. Don’t skip the butter, in this case. If you need to feel better about spreading it, just know that it’s organic, from grass-fed cows, local, etc. etc. And… butter makes everything better. Even bread that is fantastic on its own.
Emme still didn’t have much of an appetite on our next visit, and just got the Caramelized Leek and Lentil Soup with a side of the amazing, freshly-baked bread. This soup is delicious as well though. [I apologize for overusing that word, but I’m finding repetition especially necessary in this post.] It is light, but definitely does not skimp at all on the flavour and is still very filling because of the lentils. Do not let its plain appearance fool you: a wonderful blend of complex flavours is what you’ll get when you order this seemingly bland dish. How do I know this when I didn’t order it, myself? Because I did actually get it, too. Obviously the bread did not disappoint the second time around, as well.
Recently, Emme has shifted from drinking coffee to drinking chai tea more, and ordered the Chai Latte to go with her bread and soup. It was also great, according to Emme… though she hasn’t tasted enough chai lattes at different places to rank it relative to anything. The least that can be said is that yes, like everything else at Aphrodite’s, the lattes are good too. [East is East probably still has the best chai tea, though! That is one thing Emme said, although this one was very good.]
On our most recent visit, Emme ordered something off of their “Fresh Sheet” for dinner: the Potato-Crusted Wild Coho Salmon. (I, with my supposedly unquenchable thirst hunger for spicy things, was boring and got the awesome chili again.) It may not look like a very pretty dish, but both Emme and I can vouch for it: It was, like everything else on the menu seems to be, amazing. The salmon was cooked perfectly, the crust was indeed nice and crunchy and was a very refreshing take on your typical bread-crumby or panko crust. The beurre blanc sauce was what really made it special, though. It was amazing. Oh, and yes, of course all of the “seasonal organic vegetables” were cooked perfectly as well, maintaining some crispness and all of their flavour. The salad that came as a part of the meal was also fantastic, with fresh veggies and a “to-die-for” house dressing. The meal came with a slice of pie, so Emme decided on a slice of Apple Blackberry Pie. Neither of us have actually tasted it yet – we were stuffed after our dinners! – so I can’t comment on the quality of the pies at Aphrodite’s, but… Well, everything else is amazing, and I’ve read and heard lots of great things about the pies here, so I imagine it will be outstanding! Actually, I’ve also gotten a [ginormous] Raspberry Millet Muffin from Aphrodite’s as well, and that was delicious. It was huge, but I went through it pretty quickly. The millet give it a nice crunch! And as far as I can tell, all of their baked treats taste great without being too sweet, and are also great in terms of value and bang for your buck.
Our dining experiences here have all been pleasant, even when you exclude the quality of the food. The service is super friendly, and even though the waiters are all very laid-back in their work, they are extremely attentive and routinely check up on you to make sure that your water glass is full, that you have everything you need, and that your meal is nothing short of amazing. We’ve only once had a little trouble getting the bill, but that was an extremely busy evening where the place was starting to get an overflow of customers lining up. Otherwise, service is personable, upbeat, quick, and pleasant. Food is out relatively quickly and is consistently delicious.
The ambiance isn’t bad, either. The country-style décor that exudes a homey feeling, and the place has two dining rooms which allows diners to spread out a bit. Even if you eat here when it’s full, you will most likely find that you don’t feel cramped, or that you can’t hear the people at your table talking to you. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and makes for a peaceful and enjoyable meal. Also, the bill shouldn’t knock you out of the water too much. Some dishes may seem a little expensive, but at least know that you are certainly getting what you pay for when you come to Aphrodite’s. A higher price here is merely indicative of higher quality, and quality is what you will get.
Whether you’re a fanatic about only buying organic and/or local food or not, I would definitely recommend you pay Aphrodite’s a visit. You won’t regret it.
Considering how much I’ve grown to love Japanese food since arriving in Vancouver, it’s hard to imagine a time when I was still very much a “newb” when it came to sushi, sashimi, and anything that wasn’t tonkatsu, really. [For the longest time, tonkatsu and miso soup were the only dishes I would order when my family would go out to a Japanese restaurant for lunch/dinner. Sad, huh?] In any case, Applause was my favourite Japanese restaurant after it was introduced to me two years ago, so this review is actually based on a couple of visits there… with a conclusion more based on the most recent experience – since that’s the most relevant, now.
The Sunomono dishes are standard — they’re good, and a nice solid way to start off the meal. The dressing is as it should be: light, vinegary, slightly sweet, and refreshing. The fish and/or shellfish are tasty, the lemon slices always fresh, and the cucumber nice and crunchy. My only gripe would be that there isn’t enough seaweed, but I know a lot of people probably don’t like it so they don’t put a lot… [or any at all, as was the case two years ago, it looks like.]
The seaweed salad – Chuka Salad on their menu – is also a great choice if you like seaweed. I’m not sure about how it was two years ago, but I had it recently, and it had the pleasant taste of the sea with a tang of sesame (from the seeds, but also from the dressing, I think).
Miso Soup is such a basic dish that you’d think it’s really hard to do incorrectly, but Applause’s miso soup unfortunately left much to be desired. There were a few, tiny pieces of tofu and only a couple of shreds of wakame seaweed. There didn’t seem to have been any attempt to garnish it with negi, or green onions, when I went recently… and it was also strangely lacking in flavour. Not sure if that’s because of the miso paste or a problem with the broth, but it was just “meh“.
Definitely get the Edamame, if you do typically like it. The portion size was generous, and the sprinkling of salt was just as generous. The plate was warm, as were the beans themselves. That’s how you serve edamame. Both Emme and I enjoyed it, although it is an easy dish to prepare.
The Holenso Ohitashi was good as well. The sauce was tasty but light, and of course the katsuobushi (bonito/fish flakes) added a nice aesthetic element, as they traditionally do, and salty kick.
We also got the Nasu Dengaku, or eggplant baked in a miso sauce, to share between us… Though Emme wasn’t really a fan of the taste. I liked it and thought it was well done, but I have to admit that it was over the top when it came to oil. It tasted just a little too heavy for an appetizer, and the excess of oil killed some of the overall flavour.
The Vegetable Gyoza were really delicious. They seem faintly spiced, which really kicks the flavour up a notch and probably fools a lot of people into thinking that the vegetables inside are really delicious… Of course, I love vegetables, so even without the spice, I know I would have though it was awesome. They are a little too greasy, but I liked that they weren’t too chewy but still had a nice, slight crust from being pan-fried. The sauce was good too. I’ve also tried the Ebi Gyoza here, and those dumplings were also really good, so I imagine that any type of gyoza you order are going to be tasty.
I’m sad to say this, but the first sashimi I ever tried was the Wild Sockeye Salmon Sashimi at Applause… and it has remained a bad memory, if that tells you anything. I was almost put off of sashimi! This sashimi, from two years ago, was definitely old (I know that now, considering all the other sashimi I have eaten). It was very rubbery and hard to bite through; I had such a hard time eating it that I almost didn’t notice the fact that it really had no flavour at all… and it was sockeye salmon!
I haven’t dared to try the salmon sashimi there again after that, but I can say that the other sashimi dishes here are fantastic. The Tai Sashimi has always been perfectly thawed, has a very pleasant taste, and that sought-after “melt-in-your-mouth” quality. The presentation is always quite pretty, as well.
The nigiri sushi, I think, is very hit-and-miss, depending on the pieces you pick. The hokkigai from two years ago was horrid. I could barely get it down my throat, since it was so chewy, tasteless, and just like my salmon sashimi in times of how hard it was, actually. The hotate, though, was a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Applause is actually where I fell in love with the taste of scallops, if that says anything about how good it was. The ebi of two years ago left a lot to be desired (I think it was probably old), but the tai was great… I only started to like red snapper after tasting it, too.
The most recent nigiri sushi I tasted at Applause were much better. The hokkigai was miles better, and tasted as great as the tai and ebi did. The outlier this time was the ika, which was far chewier than it’s supposed to be, and loaded with wasabi underneath the sashimi piece, as if they were trying to disguise the fact that the ika was just… horrid. Like a tasteless piece of rubber, I’m sorry to say.
The Kappa Maki was very good; well-formed so that they held together until I was ready to eat them, and with crunchy cucumber pieces and, as the rest of the sushi had as well, real sushi rice that was slightly sweet and vinegary. Yumm.
Emme ordered the Ebi Mayo for herself, and was very pleased with the dish. The shrimp had a very nice crunchy exterior but didn’t lose their taste underneath the batter, which was also not too thick nor too thin. You would expect the dish to come out greasy and to be over-filling and heavy, but it was neither things and one of the highlights of Emme’s dinner, I think.
Emme ordered Yakisoba on our most recent visit, though I’ve had it in the past. It was as I remembered it, though: Very oily, a little bit too heavy… and a little bit too skimpy on the shrimp and chicken! It looks like a lot because of all the mung bean sprouts hidden underneath, so it’s a bit disappointing to dig in and find so little chicken and/or shrimp – and/or any other vegetable, actually!
Putting aside the food for the time being… The ambiance in Applause is actually quite nice. The traditional décor is tastefully done, and the way that they either have screen dividers or cloth tapestries between booths is really fantastic. It’s nice to feel like you have your own little “space” and makes for a more comfortable dining experience, overall. The music is Japanese, which just adds to the authenticity of the place, but it’s never really seemed too loud in the small restaurant, no matter how many groups are in there. It’s also always pleasantly warm in the winter and cool in the summer. (At least they know how to control their thermostat, unlike some other places Emme and I have visited…) Thumbs up for nice décor and ambiance.
The service is also usually pretty good, although on our most recent, it was nothing short of disappointing. There were three waitresses, but they unfortunately were having a difficult time catering to a full restaurant. They are all very friendly, though, and are genuine in their desire to serve you well, as evidenced by how hard they will try to explain a dish clearly when you ask about it. Food is delivered quickly, which is definitely a plus, but you’re effectively abandoned for some time after all of your dishes have arrived — if the restaurant’s slightly busy — which is a bit hard to swallow (like the ika nigiri) when you really need water at some points in your meal. (E.g. Discovering a surprising treasure stash of wasabi under an inedible piece of ika.)
As for value, though… I have to say that I don’t really find Applause’s prices, which are slightly steeper than a number of other fantastic Japanese places, justified in that regard. It truly used to be my favourite Japanese place in Vancouver, because the quality of the sushi did improve over time… but the overall quality, I’m sad to say, has gone down. With the knowledge that I can get fantastic sushi and sashimi elsewhere in Vancouver for even less than what I would pay here, Emme and I won’t be returning to Applause for a while. Don’t let that put you off, though; it is very good. But I can get “very good” elsewhere, and, at the moment, there is nothing that makes Applause stand out above other places – aside from its authenticity (and there are other authentic Japanese places with better food, so…!).
If you’re in Marpole, it’s definitely worth a visit. However, don’t go too far out of your way to give it a try. (I’m still keeping it on my “like” list, though – because I do like it!)
Tucked amongst a smattering of other stores and restaurants in a strip mall supposedly called “Broadway Centre”, I had walked past Salmon n’ Bannock many times. I had seen it, sure, but had never really seen it, if that makes any sense. Over the summer, it still had its big banner and a sign out front, but both had been missing since the fall and the place became more unassuming and less noticeable than before without those pieces of “advertisement”. However, I had popped in for a quick lunch one day over the summer and was blown away by the quality of the food. So when an opportunity presented itself one day, when Emme and I were stuck about what to do for dinner, I suggested Salmon n’ Bannock. Even months after my first meal there, the restaurant still exceeded my expectations.
I wasn’t sure how popular the place was, so I fretted the entire time that Emme and I were heading over that we might not get a table. After all, the food was so good the first time I ate there that it seemed unthinkable that the place wouldn’t be popular. Yet, when we stepped inside one weekend evening, the place was totally empty – aside from the waitress and chefs, of course. No matter – it’s nice to have a restaurant to yourself sometimes! The waitress was extremely friendly and seated us promptly, handing us menus and filling up our glasses of water right away. The ambiance was – and still is, based on another recent dining experience there – fantastic. The whole place exudes a feeling of warmth and comfort while maintaining a nice, classy feel – without seeming pompous or anything. The art on the walls is actually quite fascinating, and adds a really nice burst of colour to the place. The kitchen is open to the front, and delicious smells were wafting out even when we walked in. It was slightly chilly when we first stepped inside, but heated up right away and was soon pleasantly warm. The lighting and music were pleasing to the eye and ear, respectively… The interior and décor are both done in very good taste.
Aside from the wonderful setting, the service was also top-notch. Even after other customers came in a little later, the waitress perfectly managed all of the different tables, constantly keeping glasses full but always somehow finding time to chat pleasantly with customers who were asking about the menu (or the restaurant, if they were first-timers!). Even Emme and I found our inquiries about dishes met with polite responses and personal recommendations, when we asked for some. Any alterations we asked for were also met with complete willingness to change things around a tiny bit to suit our needs. Yes, clearly we were both really impressed by the service! Upon another more recent visit to Salmon n’ Bannock, we found that the waitress had moved out of Vancouver, but in her place is another outstanding server; The new waiter is just as friendly and helpful when it comes to suggesting items off the menu or offering background info about the restaurant – or interesting conversation, if you’re feeling talkative.
As for the food… It was as I remembered it: O-u-t-s-t-a-n-d-i-n-g. I think I can confidently say that anything you order off of their menu is bound to be fantastic.
On our first visit together, Emme picked the Salmon n’ Bannock Burger, which the waitress did say was really good, and a side of Sweet Potato Wedges to accompany it. Needless to say, it was as the waitress said — only more than “really good”. The salmon was cooked to perfection and not even close or anywhere near overcooked or anything. It was bursting with flavour, and the bannock was just as good. The aïoli on the burger nicely complemented the salmon, and the entire dish just sang of quality. The sweet potato wedges were great, too; they were crisp on the outside but had a soft, delicious interior. Yes, they did make me wish I had forgone my habit of always ordering salad in favour of getting these with my dish instead. [And, trust me, that means a lot coming from someone as bizarre as myself who loves greens.]
Speaking of my dish, though… I’m sorry – if I said Emme’s was good, then mine was better… though I’m perhaps a tiny bit biased in saying that since I’m the one that ordered it. My main course was the Smoked Salmon Club Sandwich with Organic Mix Greens on the side, but it is of course the sandwich that was the highlight of my evening. Now, I have had a lot of smoked salmon in the past (because I am a huge fan of it – but not of how much it costs…), but I can honestly say that this was the best smoked salmon I have ever had. It was freshly smoked and just perfect in every way possible. It was the tastiest and most flavourful salmon I’ve ever had the joy of eating, and it did indeed melt deliciously in my mouth. The bannock was also great, but humble enough in terms of flavour to let the salmon be the real showstopper. As for the side salad: The greens were fresh, the dressing a perfect match for them, and the walnuts added a pleasant and much needed crunch-factor to the salad. Yes, the dressing is to die for… but if you’re not on a diet (or a big salad lover, like I am), do yourself a favour and try out the sweet potato wedges.
As aforementioned, Emme and I visited Salmon n’ Bannock again more recently, when the wonderful waitress had just been replaced with an equally wonderful waiter, and had a second dining experience that was just as stellar as the first. I believe I’ve made it quite clear by now that this restaurant is definitely a hit with Emme and me, so I’ll just quickly review our dishes on the second visit:
I chose the Seafood Chowder, which may look like quite a humble dish upon first glance, but was truly full of flavour from the interesting blend of fish that go into the chowder. It has a great tomato base that could easily stand as a lone dish, as it was tasty enough to nicely stand up to the deliciousness of the fish. It came with some Bannock on the side, which was as I remembered it: fresh, soft on the inside, with a lovely crisp exterior and a wonderful buttery flavour.
Emme ordered a more expensive dish: the Bison Tenderloin, which came with a super tasty purée of carrots and parsnips, seasonal veggies, and wild mushrooms. The bison was perfect and juicy and just… awesome, if I may say so. Even without the sauce, which was also really great and not too overpowering or anywhere near underwhelming, it would’ve been fantastic. The mushrooms were a nice final touch and added great texture to the dish. Even the veggies on the side were sautéed to perfection and the purée, which one might look at and think “Ew, baby food?!” was actually really delicious. I kind of wanted to steal it off of Emme’s plate, actually…
After our first visit, our super friendly and attentive waitress brought us Berry Bannock Bread Pudding — on the house! I’m not a bread pudding fan, so honestly I can’t comment on it, but Emme just about died and went to heaven after taking a bite. So take that as a sign that, yes, Salmon n’ Bannock even knows how to do amazing desserts.
The bill even came in a pretty little box with some Pacific Northwest Indian art on it. I have to say, it was a nice touch to present even the bill in a classy manner, and to go as far as to give two nicely wrapped candies alongside. It definitely brought the whole experience to a close in the best way possible.
Will I be going back? Um, yes. I think that goes without saying.