Posts Tagged brunch

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 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.


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

Seasons in the Park 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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Sophie’s Cosmic Café

Sophie’s Cosmic Café seems to be (well, it seems to me) one of those places in Vancouver that everyone is told to visit at least once. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but with all its funky décor that speaks of decades and generations past, you’d think it’s at least held its ground on W 4th St. for quite some time. Actually, I’d visited it well over a year ago for brunch with Emme, and after that just pushed it to the back of my mind, labeled as just a place for breakfast or brunch. While Sophie’s definitely does breakfast dishes well (though I’m saying that based on the brunch I had there in the summer of ’09), it has quite an extensive dinner menu as well. And this time ’round, it was for dinner that I visited Sophie’s with my two good friends – M and N, I’ll say, until they ask for ‘code names’, heh.

I’d been waiting in Sophie’s for about ten minutes, wondering when M and N were going to show up, when… M and I realised we were both in the restaurant, just at different tables — we hadn’t seen each other. Hah! Good thing we texted each other… or I wonder how long we would have both been sitting alone, “waiting”? Anyway, N arrived last and after a bit of catching up and initial greetings, M and I were starving and cut the chatter so we could order. Burgers are supposedly one of the specialties of Sophie’s (and by looking at the place and considering the fact that it’s supposed to be like a “diner”, you would suspect that the burgers, fries, and milkshakes have to be good – just because of the “diner” image) so all three of us ordered different ones.

7 oz Cosmic Workout Burger

M is the most adventurous of the three of us, and ordered a bacon burger with mushrooms (called the 7 oz Cosmic Workout Burger, I believe), topped with smoked cheddar (by recommendation of the outstanding waitress we had!) and with fries and a salad on the side. (I can’t remember the cost, but all of the burgers at Sophie’s seemed to be in the range of $11 – $14.) The bacon was crispy but not too greasy, the smoked cheddar was indeed very good, and the mushrooms flavourful. I have to say, to pull off a burger with bacon without overdoing it on the grease is pretty impressive, and M really enjoyed her burger.

Fries on the side

M also quite liked the fries, which were somehow just right. Not too thick nor too thin, and also not horribly oily or greasy in any way. They were the perfect crispness – not soggy nor too crunchy – and fluffy and tasty. There was no need to add salt, and M happily finished them off (and let me steal her salad, which was, I imagine, much less appealing than a batch of delicious-looking fries).

N got the BC Wild Salmon Burger ($12.95), which I actually wanted to eat, to be perfectly honest, but… for the sake of trying to include variety in blogging, I passed on it in favour of something else. Anyway! Looks like it was a fantastic choice, since the lovely salmon fillet that came with the burger was grilled to perfection and glistened with freshness and smelled heavenly. (I love fish, so please excuse me if you find it absurd for a fish to smell “heavenly”.)

BC Wild Salmon Burger

And I can honestly say that I will definitely order the salmon burger the next time I visit Sophie’s. Not only did it look great, but N happily nodded when I grated her for answers about the dish – “Is it good? Is it good?!” Yes, it’s delicious. Truly grilled to perfect, so that the salmon melts in your mouth when you bite into it – no stiffness or chewiness in this salmon. Also, the aioli sauce is very flavourful and really complements the salmon nicely. The lemon is a nice touch, and although it may seem cliché, I really do think that adding a bit of dill would only do the burger more justice and make it even more wonderful. To be quite to-the-point, it was good.

N asked for salad on the side to balance out the meal and keep it relatively light, and the veggies were of course fresh and tasty as well. She passed the cucumber and tomato onto me, and I had my own salad, so I can vouch that all salads are of consistent quality. The cucumber was crunchy and crisp, and the tomatoes juicy and ripe. The mixed greens were fresh, as was the carrot. Really, though, it is what it is – a side salad and nothing more. The vinaigrette was a little more on the oily side, though, and could’ve done with been more vinegary.

I asked for the Chicken Breast Burger ($12.95), and also got a salad to go on the side. You have a couple of options for how you want your chicken breast to be cooked — grilled plain, or Cajun-styled. According to the waitress, the Cajun-style chicken breast is really spicy, so I passed on it and just got my chicken breast grilled – plain and simple.

Chicken Breast Burger

The chicken was delicious. Like the salmon, it was grilled to perfection. It had lovely grill marks on it and was full of flavour without being overly greasy. I topped it with a little Dijon mustard and the entire burger was fantastic. I did notice, however, that all of our burgers were lacking pickles that night… I love pickles, and I had been to Sophie’s once before this and had a burger, and hey, that burger came with a pickle. Where were the pickles?! Very sad. [Note: The BC Wild Salmon Burger pictures were from an earlier trip to Sophie’s. The night I went out with my friends M and N, none of us had pickles with our burgers.]

Aside from the lack of pickles, the only other complaint I have is about the burger buns. Yes, they are very tasty, but they’re also very flimsy and not very fluffy. Even after you assemble your burger, it’s quite hard to hold it together since the bun is kind of floppy. I’m not sure I would demand bigger burger buns, but perhaps ones that are slightly firmer while still being fluffy and soft… if that’s possible. (White Spot has good burger buns! Not to compare the two, but…)

House Salad on the side

Anyway, my complaints are small and my satisfaction great. M and N were also, I believe, quite happy with their meals and also comfortably full afterwards. The prices may seem a bit steep, but the portions are generous and the food quality is pretty much guaranteed to be consistent. It is good food. Maybe not gourmet fare, and the dishes don’t contain any real “complex” flavour combinations, but everything was tasty and the meals were filling and a pleasure to eat.

The service at Sophie’s was great – and it has been like that on the few occasions that I have been there. The waitresses are all very personable and friendly, yet quick and efficient workers. For such a busy restaurant, they do a good job of keeping things moving and keeping customers satisfied. It may be a bit difficult to flag them down when they’re really busy, but something like that can’t be held against them, I believe. Only once have I actually had to wait ten minutes to get a refill on water, and even then it was on a very busy evening. Otherwise, great service.

The ambiance is what makes Sophie’s special, since the dining room is heavily decorated with all sorts of paraphernalia from the past, and it seems that every time you visit, you can find something new or spot something that didn’t quite catch your eye before. The fun décor and cozy atmosphere make for an enjoyable dining experience, in my honest opinion — whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Sophie’s Cosmic Café is a great place to visit whether you’re with friends or family, as there seems to be something on the menu for everyone and good food is abundant. Even vegetarian items have a place on the menu, although I would definitely encourage everyone to give the burgers a try – chicken, salmon, beef, or otherwise. They all seem great to me! We didn’t buy dessert (just a little too pricey for our tastes – and we were already stuffed!) so I can’t comment, but there were quite a few people sipping milkshakes – if that says anything at all to you!

Ambiance: 4.5

Food: 4

Service: 4

Overall: 4

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