Posts Tagged cafe
Most Vancouverites I know have either been down to Washington state once or go down routinely to shop. I easily fit into the latter category, but on this occasion Emme and I journeyed down to meet up with a very old, very good friend of mine in Seattle. We decided to rendez-vous at the Portage Bay Café, in the University District, after I suggested it to my friend and he replied that he had heard good things. Word-of-mouth reviews that substantiate written claims on UrbanSpoon.com are fine by me!
We managed to make a reservation, although we still ended up waiting half an hour for a table to open up after arriving early. No worries – we chatted in the meantime! There was unfortunately not a lot of room to stand and wait, which would be a downside, though it’s not like the place is particularly small… It’s just very popular, clearly. (It was probably particularly busy because we went there on a Sunday – the only day I could meet up with my friend – so there were a lot of families out to brunch!)
The menu has plenty of options, all dishes with either organic or sustainably-farmed/raised ingredients. Since it was still relatively early in the day, all three of us opted for breakfast-y dishes.
Apparently on the same wavelength, both my old friend and I asked for salmon omelettes, while Emme opted for a gluten-free eggs benny.
Wild Salmon Omelette: ★★★★☆
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): ★★★☆☆
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!
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.
One place worth considering on South Cambie, should you ever be in the area for a movie or otherwise, is definitely Trixi’s Crepe & Coffeehaus. This little place is a small, cute, yet nondescript “hole-in-the-wall” type place on the corner of Cambie and W 17th. Aside from serving up the obvious — crepes and coffee — Trixi’s also offers a selection of cold desserts (ice cream, sorbetto, gelato…), teas and tisanes, baked goods, and lunch items like bagels, paninis, soups, and salads. It’s the perfect pit-stop if you need a quick bite-to-eat or just a place to visit for a warm, inviting place to chat with a friend over coffee (or, if you’re like me, tea!).
Emme, who just so happened to need an afternoon snack before we went to watch a movie at the Park Theatre one time, suggested we drop by since the place didn’t look too busy. Upon entering we were greeted by a welcoming counter attendant and an equally welcoming interior. Trixi’s is a long and narrow café, but is quite cozy — even more so because of the cushy, comfortable chairs available if you’re not running out the door after getting your coffee. Not in the mood really for crepes — though all the combinations and choices on the board seemed really delicious — Emme ordered a Vegetarian Panini and got a Mocha Latte on the side.
The latte was apparently perfectly done… Emme couldn’t really compare it with one from Starbucks, since she usually doesn’t order mocha-anything from Starbucks, but this latte was hot, tasty, and flavourful. Quite nicely done.
The veggie panini looks delicious, and, Emme assured me, it was actually as delicious as it looks. The veggies were fresh, as was the egg (which was also cooked to perfection!). The melty cheese brought all the ingredients together and the oregano sprinkled within and on top of the panini was a particularly nice touch. It added a pleasing herby flavour to the sandwich.
I’d eaten a snack just a bit earlier and was satisfied enough with a tea – or rather, a tisane, as it was a fruit infusion. Trixi’s carries teas and tisanes made by Steeps, and they all sounded extremely appealing to a tea-lover such as myself, but I managed to pick one: Raspberry Dream. It was a lovely blend of flavours in its own right, with a strong raspberry taste and delicate undertones of rosehips and hibiscus. If you’re starting to feel blue thanks to Vancouver’s
seemingly semi-constant rainy weather, perhaps you could try sipping some of the Shi**y Weather tea? (I don’t swear, really, but that tea’s name definitely made me chuckle a bit, and Trixi’s does offer it — along with the perfect environment to enjoy it in on a rainy day!)
Although we didn’t stay for long and didn’t try what the café is obviously known for — its crepes — both Emme and I agreed that we would happily come back again just to taste the crepes and maybe some of the gelato. Both sweet and savory crepes are available, so there should be something for everyone! And if the quality of the panini is a good reflection of the rest of the food options at Trixi’s, then we can decidedly say that the place has great food… Alas, that’s a far shot just based off of one sandwich, but the place definitely left a good impression. The attendant at the counter (actually the owner, I think?!) was also super friendly and happy to answer any and all questions we had as well as strike up conversation and make us feel even more welcomed. True, it’s not a restaurant, but I’d still compliment the place on great service. The ambiance was also lovely, and aside from comfortable chairs, the décor was also tastefully done (and the bathrooms clean – always a good sign, haha).
All in all, a very pleasant “dining” experience! We will be back to try the crepes (and more tea and hot coffee!). [And if what I’ve been told is true, then the counter attendant is actually no mere attendant, but the owner! Even more impressive, in my opinion. Good way to build up strong connections with customers and ensure that they get nothing but exceptional customer service.]