Archive for June, 2012
First things first: I know all reviews by food/restaurant bloggers are biased, but I have to say that this post is the most biased review I’ve written to date – just a forewarning. COWS, Inc. and I go way back. And I mean way back…
I read another review that claims it’s only been in “recent years” that COWS, Inc. has brought their ice cream to B.C., all the way from P.E.I. Actually, that’s a bit inaccurate, if one is saying that based off of when the Whistler-based COWS opened up. There used to be a COWS ice cream store on Robson St. in Downtown Vancouver – no joke. It closed just over ten years ago – in 2002 I think, because one summer I came back to visit Vancouver and… it was gone. I was devastated. And by devastated, I mean tears-streaming-down-the-face-where-the-heck-is-my-favourite-ice-cream upset. Let’s just say I am passionate about my COWS ice cream… I can’t remember when the Robson store opened up, but I think it was around 1995 or 1996. (Could be totally off on that guess, though. I just remember eating COWS ice cream every single summer (and/or winter) I visited Vancouver.)
But I digress (hugely so). After eating at Sushi Village on our trip to Whistler, Emme and I visited COWS. Visiting this ice cream parlour is usually my actual motive for going to Whistler – no joke. We were lucky enough to get there before a huge crowd came in after us… Even in winter, I remember visiting the COWS storefront on Robson St and having to wait twenty-or-so minutes in a line that went out the door. I imagine it’s not much different at this branch – rain, snow, or sunshine.
Emme rolled with plainer flavours – two scoops, one of vanilla and one of chocolate – in a fancy chocolate-rimmed cone that had nuts embedded in the chocolate. Needless to say, both flavours are great. The chocolate was the highlight – no wonder there are two tubs of chocolate ice cream instead of just one behind the counter… – but the vanilla was top-of-the-line, too.
I got my childhood favourite… the flavour I waited in line for practically every time I visited the store on Robson… bubblegum. Yes, the most unnaturally coloured and flavoured one. I have to admit, my only beef with this flavour is that I’ve always hated the little “bubblegum” pieces that come with it. The texture of COWS ice cream is seriously out of this world – and they explain why on their website. The ice cream here has a high butterfat content, contributing to the incredible creaminess and wonderful mouthfeel. The nice thing about the ice cream, too, is that you actually feel full afterwards thanks to the high fat content. Love this stuff. I would argue that it is better than Häagen Dazs. Ahem… Aside from the amazing texture and overall taste, I must say that it was quite a bit sweeter than I remember. That might be the only other thing I would change about this particular flavour, next to the bubblegum pieces; the sweetness could be toned down a tad. In any case, I don’t think it’s a common feature amongst all the ice creams. The vanilla and chocolate were both less sweet, but spot-on in terms of sweetness as a result.
Okay, enough about the food (the most important part). I personally like the store ambiance – there is a lot of brand paraphernalia for sale (shirts, lipbalm, mugs, etc. etc.) with fun graphics and such. Also, while you could say the service is a pretty minimal part of the experience, the gentleman manning the counter that day was a great “server”. He was super friendly, quite jovial, and helpful. Definitely knowledgeable about the flavours, too, which was nice. Just made the overall experience even better.
A trip to Whistler is not complete without a visit (or multiple visits…) to COWS ice cream parlour. In my world, the trip to Whistler is made primarily to get this ice cream. It has been named one of the “World’s Top Ten Places for Ice Cream” for a very good reason. Whatever the season, it’s more than worth your while to stop by and grab some COWS ice cream.
Value: 5 [Expensive but SO worth every single penny. Seriously. This is considered some of the best ice cream in the world!]
Overall: 5 [Told you I’m super biased.]
Emme and I took the opportunity to visit Whistler the other day when the sun had actually come out – to take a breather from the city and to take advantage of the day being beautiful. (This is “Beautiful BC”, but clearly Vancouver is confused over what season or month it is. (Dear Vancouver… The season that comes after spring is, um, summer. Not winter again. Please adjust the weather accordingly…) Ahem.) I actually wanted to visit Araxi, but seeing as it’s closed for lunch, we opted to try out Sushi Village instead.
So let’s get a couple things straight off the bat. This place isn’t what I’d call “authentic” in that there are some “innovative” rolls on the menu, but it’s got traditional dishes aplenty, too. Also, the waitresses and waiters are not Japanese, which does kind of take away from the experience a little bit, but the chefs are and the little history blurb on the website will tell you that the owners and/or manager are as well. No, I’ve no reservations about being a sushi snob; it does matter to me whether the chefs are trained in Japan or something close to that… especially considering the prices some places charge, like at Sushi Village.
So ambiance is not bad – there seem to be a couple of more traditional seating areas in the back of the restaurant, which I imagine you need a reservation for (or a large group…) – but nothing particularly special. The seating area is nice and bright thanks to the windows. The whole area in front of the stairs up to the restaurant was being torn up for some reason when we were there, which was clearly impacting the number of people going up to visit the Sushi Village and the other restaurant that are up above the ground-level shops. As a result it wasn’t very busy, but that’s fine by me; the only thing to be said here is that “busy-ness” wasn’t a good reflection of food quality.
Yes, the food. As I mentioned before, the prices are incredibly high – bordering on outrageous. So I was pretty sceptical after ordering that my meal would be worthy of its price tag. While I won’t say that the prices are justified, the food was g.r.e.a.t for the most part. I got a half order of Sockeye Salmon Sashimi, which definitely would be ranked amongst some of the best sashimi I’ve had in Vancouver. I had some Miso Soup on the side, which was nothing more than your average, run-of-the-mill miso soup. For the slightly higher price (than average in Vancouver), you’d think they could have at least tossed in some wakame… Nope! So it was nothing special. Not particularly flavourful, not noticeably bad.
I ordered some sushi on the side… Only a couple of pieces, because I was so deterred by the pricey-ness (yeah I’m still going on about that…). Anyway, the Ikura Nigiri was lovely – loved the crunchiness and slightly saltiness of the roe, and for some reason even the nori was tastier than normal. The Hotate Nigiri might be the best I’ve ever had. Super melty, subtly sweet, perfect. The Ebi Nigiri was equally great. Everything was presented beautifully, too. Two thumbs up for both the sashimi and the sushi here.
Emme ordered the Beef Tataki… the catch here being that she didn’t seem to catch the word “rare” in the description for the dish. (Maybe it just got lost in the ‘fancy’ description of the dish, ahah.) Anyway, she was pretty shocked when it was served. Emme doesn’t like anything raw, really – the reason I always eat all the sashimi and sushi we order by myself. Nevertheless, she tried it, saying “There’s a first for everything…” And indeed, there is. She thought it was great! Her comment that it was quite obviously very high quality beef. It was cut well and matched the accompanying ponzu sauce wonderfully. The negi (green onions) were a great complement, as well. So, looks like Sushi Village doesn’t just do raw fish well… All the raw dishes we tried get our approval.
Emme also started with some Edamame beforehand. If anything, these were the biggest disappointment. True, this dish is so simple that you would argue it’s impossible to mess up. Honestly, I think restaurants should get in the habit of asking whether customers want them hot or cold, since they are traditionally served either way. Just so happens that Sushi Village serves them cold, and Emme prefersedamame when it’s hot. Also, there was hardly any salt – close to none at all. Could use some improvement on the basic dishes, here.
As for the service – it wasn’t bad. I think our waiter found it odd that I ate my nigiri with my bare hands. Argh come on! You’re allowed to eat nigiri-zushi with your fingers, people. ): (Yes, of course I ate my sashimi with chopsticks, thank you very much.) Anyway, our waiter wasn’t particularly attentive, which was the only thing I could complain about. Sometimes it was hard to grab any waiting room staff-member’s attention, but it wasn’t that noticeable. Could’ve been better, considering that the restaurant was hardly what I’d call busy.
If you’re in Whistler and just looking for cheap sushi to stuff yourself with, look elsewhere. But if you’re in the area and looking for truly high-quality sushi, then this is the place for you… even if your wallet feels quite a bit lighter afterwards.
Quite some time ago, Emme and I brought someone I shall just call Techie up to Horseshoe Bay… purely for the sake of doing something different, and to get out of Vancouver. (Does anyone else ever feel like they just need to get away from the city?) It wasn’t a particularly great day, but the weather was fair enough and it was a good time to escape from the ho-hum routines associated with being stuck on the West Side. We were stuck for where to go for lunch, not particularly wanting to visit the Boathouse (the overall quality in all of the Boathouses seems to be taking a nosedive over these past couple of years – and I’m saying that based on more than the one visit I wrote about before) and settled on Olive & Anchor since the menu seemed promising, offering something each of us would be interested in eating.
It was empty when we stepped in and were seated. As I said, it wasn’t that nice of a day and on top of that it was a weekday so only a few people were milling about the village. I think only two or three other tables became occupied over the hour or so that we were there for. Anywho, the ambiance is quite nice and the restaurant is nice and bright, thanks to all of the large windows that allow you to look out over the bay and water in the distance. (The restaurant is farther away from the water than the Boathouse, which of course is pretty much sitting on the water, but the setting is still pleasant.) Fewer diners makes for less noise, which I’m sure everyone can appreciate, though I get the feeling that this place comes more alive at night and on Fridays, as it is equipped with a bar and the interior gives off a classic “pub” sort of feel to it. Since there were so few people, you’d think the service was amazing (what with three people waiting on a relatively empty restaurant) but… it really wasn’t. The servers talked to each other the entire time, making it hard to get their attention sometimes and making it take waaaayyy longer than it should have to actually order in the first place. The waitress we had was a bit catty and impatient, but at least our food came pretty quickly after we ordered. (Well, again, that should have been a given anyway seeing as we were probably their first customers of the day!)
Techie surprised me by going for the Pulled BBQ Chicken Burger… He usually goes for beef! The menu describes it as having nacho cheese melted on top, butter lettuce, tomato, sautéed mushroom, crispy onion straws, avocado salsa, chipotle aioli. Anyway the flavours were good! The sauce wasn’t too sweet – more “smokey” and BBQ-appropriate, in my opinion – and the chicken was tender as opposed to chewy (which would be characteristic of being overcooked, of course). The chipotle aioli added a nice extra kick and dimension to the burger, although the avocado salsa was scant and thus unnoticeable. The “crispy onion straws” were nice and crispy, as the name suggests, at the beginning… but became soggy pretty quickly, which was weird. I thought they could have been more generous with the cheese, honestly… Other than that, Techie enjoyed the Gumbo he chose as the accompaniment to his burger (it was the special of the day), although said it didn’t taste strongly of anything but tomato. Emme thought the cilantro on top looked rather… aged. I would have to agree. But other than that, it wasn’t too bad at all.
Emme went with the special of the day, which was a Mexican-themed Beef Wrap with plenty of hot, gooey cheddar cheese and chopped green onions and red peppers and supposedly salsa and guacamole. The beef was really great and the star of the wrap; it was beef chuck, kind of like what I got at Meat & Bread a while back and cooked just as well. If there was guacamole in the wrap, though, it was hidden really well – or maybe the cheese just… outcompeted it in terms of being tasted at all. Although the presentation was great to begin with, the wrap did fall apart a bit as Emme ate… which is fine, as long as you’re not wearing white or on a date or something. She had one of their standard salads on the side, with the only comment about it being that the carrot shreds were a nice touch, as were the scatterededamame. Everything tasted fresh.
As for myself, I ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala, which you might think is stupid since we weren’t at an Indian restaurant (and perhaps that’s why I got edamame thrown on top of my dish, haha). BUT! And that is a big ‘but’… this was truly a great dish. The masala [sauce] was really flavourful and sang of fresh spices and was just altogether awesome. I wouldn’t say it was 100% authentic tasting, for sure, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious. The chicken was cooked perfectly, like it was for Techie’s burger. My only complaints were that I wished it were just a bit spicier (but this will obviously depend on how spicy each person likes their food!) and that there were more cilantro. (I asked our waitress to bring more cilantro after she served us our lunches, actually.) The shredded carrot on top was kind of weird, but… evidently the chef likes to put carrot shreds on top of lots of stuff, since I saw other dishes coming out of the kitchen (for other diners) that also were topped with shredded carrot. The brown rice on the side was pretty bland and actually wasn’t basmati rice, which would have been more appropriate in my opinion, and could have benefited from being cooked in some spices like turmeric (for flavour + presentation) and ground cumin or something.
Some other stuff came with my dish, too: Cucumber Raita, Pear Chutney, and Pappadom. Nothing to write home about, really. The pear chutney was my favourite of the two “dips”, and wasn’t overly sweetened, which really allowed the pear flavour to shine through. I thought they could have done something to make the raita stand out a bit more – maybe add an acidic ingredient and freshly chopped cilantro – but as it was, it was mostly just plain yogurt with a tiny bit of cucumber mixed in. Maybe I would have been more appreciative of it had my dish been spicier, hah. It was my first time having pappadom and this one was super crispy, but tasteless unless used to scoop up some of the curry (umm are you ‘allowed’ to use it for that?) or chutney. Guess that’s what it’s there for: scooping stuff.
Overall it was a good dining experience. I would go back. My biggest complaint of all – aside from the rather poor service – would definitely be the prices. Yes, the food here is good and maybe even great, but the food isn’t so outstanding that the prices are justified. Then again, I suppose you are also paying a bit for the setting when you go to any of the places that have some sort of view of the water… Even if people go for the food or the ambiance, though, the service could really use some work.