March 29, 2010: I was talking to a colleague about how he and his wife always go back to the same three or four restaurants. They're nice places, the menu is familiar, the food is good. Why go elsewhere?
In the last few weeks, I've found myself in the same frame of mind. Going to an unfamiliar restaurant is, well, a little anxiety-inducing. Does that Please Wait to Be Seated sign really mean it? What's good to eat? How do you pronounce all those foreign words on the menu? (Should have paid more attention in Spanish and French classes; should have taken Korean.) And, where have they hidden the washrooms?
I got over my short-lived new-place phobia this past week, and ended up at Young Young, on Cedar Hill Cross Road, near Shelbourne.
It appears to be a favourite spot for Asian exchange students to hang out. When we arrived, there was a large group settled in one corner, on couches, their bubble tea on low tables. They were still there when we left. At another table, three young women were playing cards while they waited for their food (which turned out to be noodle dishes). At a third table, a couple and their young son also played cards while they waited for their drinks to be delivered.
There's a long counter along the back of the restaurant where bubble tea and other drinks are made. For most of our visit, various machines were whirring away, making drinks. That's the soundtrack of the restaurant. Motors whirring. Mixed with Asian pop music.
I had the curry chicken hot pot, with a bowl of rice for $6.99. My eating companion had the spicy tofu hotpot, with a bowl of rice, also for $6.99.
The portions were generous, and the broth amount was a little overwhelming. Neither of us managed to finish our meals.
My chicken hotpot featured small chunks of chicken on the bone - none of that sissy boneless stuff. The meat was flavourful and moist, but there were several bits of bone floating about, which made the meal more of an adventure. There were also slices of carrot and potato.
The tofu hotpot was, not surprisingly, dominated by tofu — lots and lots of tofu cubes. My eating companion spooned tofu and spicy broth onto his rice, and finished all the rice. With the rice gone, he still had about half the hotpot left, and he was too full to continue.
The meal, while not outstanding, was good enough for us to consider a return visit to Young Young.
Later in the week, I ended up at Glo, at Selkirk Water, with a different set of eating companions. I haven't been to Glo in a couple of years, so it was like going to a new, unfamiliar place.
The restaurant has wrap-around windows, and an orangey decor that features booths with upholstered bench seats.
We all ordered off the specials menu. Two of us had the braised lamb shank with rissoto, asparagus, zucchini, another had the iceberg lettuce wedge salad which came with tomato, boiled egg and bacon. I had beef stroganoff, which came ladled atop wide noodles and with a generous dab of sour cream. The reviews were good for the lamb shank and the salad. I mostly liked the stroganoff, though some of the beef pieces were dry and tough, as if they'd been reheated.
Braised lamb shank at Glo.
Wedge salad, with egg, tomatoes and bacon at Glo.
Beef stroganoff at Glo
Glo has really big serving bowls.
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March 20, 2010: Over at a website called the Smart Set, Meg Favreau has many unkind things to say about Jimmy Dean's Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick -- a name that pretty much describes the product, judging from the picture on the box. They have been sold in the freezer section of American grocery stores since 2006. Thanks to an appearance — not a dignified one — on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick are getting a spurt of publicity.
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March 16, 2010: nytimes.com also has a story about the latest electronic kitchen appliances. One conclusion, after a tour of what's coming to a store near you: "We are a nation that cooks with an index finger." Press a button to cook chicken nuggets, press a button to warm up frozen pizza. Gadgets have been specially tuned to cook them at the touch of a button. My favourite - a device that toasts bread and makes a poached egg at the same time.
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Fat, sugar and salt are to blame for our life-threatening obesity woes, says David A. Kessler in his book The End Of Overeating: Taking Control Of Our Insatiable Appetite. The fat, sugar and salt combo makes us want to eat more, he says. Fat is particularly important. We can ingest fatty food faster - less need for chewing, more slide-ability, clearing our mouths quickly for the next load of fatty food. There's a book excerpt at guardian.com. A couple of people have sent me this link; they might be hinting at something.
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March 15, 2010: You should use less detergent in your dishwasher, says a story at nytimes.com. As of this writing, the story is in the No. 1 slot of nytimes.com's most-emailed list.
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Tropicana has downsized its orange juice cartons - 1.75 litres now, instead of 1.89. I just noticed the change at Thrifty Foods. The cost of wholesale orange juice is going up because cold weather in Florida has harmed much of the orange crop. Tropicana is responding by selling smaller versions of its gabletop cartons and keeping prices roughly the same. On bigger jugs, prices will go up. Their market research must be telling them something about orange juice carton sizes and price thresholds. Here's a Wall Street Journal story.
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March 14, 2010: An eating companion is visiting Melbourne, Australia. Here's another food report from there, via photos.
Movie theatres have beer fridges.
A New Zealand Natural Chocochillo with cinnamon-dusted doughtnut. The Chocochillo is a "blended ice drink" made with ice cream, and is sold through a franchise network called New Zealand Natural.
A Time Out chocolate bar - a chocolate "flake" sandwiched between wafers and chocolate.
Churros bought from a booth at an outdoor festival. They were a little oily.
Coffee scroll bun thingie.
Fruit juice that looks a little like shampoo. It's the bottle that does it. Medicinal design.
An ice cream bar.
Fries with BBQ sauce, from Lord of the Fries. Comes with compact eating device. They sell vegetarian burgers - a no-meat burger place.
Noodles and spicy tofu from a fast food place.
Diced peach in juice. They taste like real peaches, which they are supposed to be.
The Thai Princess veggie burger from Burger Edge. Their slogan: 100% Australian healthy gourmet burgers. Ingredients for this burger: Thai vegetable pattie, coriander, lettuce, sweet chili mayo.
Takeout sushi comes with this nifty soy sauce dispenser. Take off the cap and squeeze. Even with the cap off, no sauce comes out, unless you squeeze. Way more tidy and efficient than the soy sauce pouches offered in Victoria. You use as much as you want, and keep the rest for later, which is really tough to do with a soy sauce pouch.
Vegetable pie and almond roll from the Pie Face bakery.
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March 13, 2010: There's growing concern about contamination of spices. Irradiation is one way to improve safety, but spice producers are wary because they think consumers will shy away from anything that's gone through a process they don't understand, and contains the word "radiation". Story at washingtonpost.com
Much anxiety also about a "flavour enhancer" called HVP.
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Feb. 24, 2010: Robots that can cook. As explained at nytimes.com. Plus, a video at YouTube of a robot making pancakes. I'm wondering about the grease splatter issue.
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Feb. 22, 2010: Dipped into the Olympic city again on the weekend and found, away from the crowds and long lines of downtown, a nice meal on Denman Street. Vancouver people know this already, but Denman is home to a lot of interesting, well-regarded restaurants. I tried to pop into Banana Leaf, which features Malaysian cuisine. But the door wouldn't open. Stuck door. They locked the door as they saw me approach. Not enough upper-body strength. Whatever it was, I decided not to pull on the door again, and moved along to ponder the many other choices, ending up at Mr. Pickwicks's Seafood Bistro, 1007 Denman.
I had their $13 halibut and cod combo. The fish comes battered atop fries and with a small salad.
It was one the best battered fish dishes I've ever eaten. Really hot (in temperature) and yet not overcooked. Deliciously moist. Really crisp and appealing batter. It was a great meal. The fries were good too, though I encountered a few dry, mealy pieces among the mostly good ones.
Fish and chips at Mr. Pickwicks's in Vancouver on Denman Street, $13.
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They were having problems with street rowdiness after Olympic hockey games, especially ones involving Canada, so the liquor board, at the behest of police, cut off liquor sales after 7 p.m.
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Feb. 21, 2010: One of my eating companions is exploring Melbourne, Australia and has sent back food photos.
A taste of Canada before boarding the plane in Vancouver -- egg salad sandwich and doughnut combo from Tim Hortons.
Breakfast on the Qantas flight to Melbourne. My eating companion was harsh -- unnecessarily so I thought -- about this meal. She said this: Grossest breakfast ever. Well... wasn't THAT bad, but looks pretty awful. Did NOT eat tomato.
She really liked this all-veg burger, the Garden Madness at Grill'd.
Another breakfast. Mocha, buttermilk pancakes, banana at a café in Federation Square, Melbourne.
Vegetarian curry from a booth at Melbourne's St. Kilda music festival.
Some money to pay for food.
Australian groceries -- some of it nutritious, some of it not so much.
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Feb. 20, 2010 -- Sometimes, Vancouver bus drivers are waving passengers on without payment as they (the drivers) struggle to keep up with the Olympic crowds.
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Feb. 19, 2010 -- Jack Knox advises that you can now buy $9 TransLink day passes from gift shops on ferries going to Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay. The passes let you travel on Metro Vancouver's public transit network, including buses, SkyTrain, Canada Line, and Sea Bus. I had complained earlier that you can't buy day passes at Tsawwassen terminal to go exploring for food in the Olympic city. Jack's column is here - Commuting to Olympic Games means no time for sleeping.
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A couple of us ducked away from the Olympic excitement and dropped in on Gorilla Food in downtown Vancouver. It's at 436 Richards Street, near Waterfront station. The Vancouver Sun's Mia Stainsby has it on her recommended list for vegetarian restaurants.
Gorilla is sort of like Cafe Bliss in Victoria, specializing in dishes made from raw vegetables and grains.
It's easy to miss. You enter off the street by going down a few outdoor steps.
You get a friendly greeting when you enter, and you order at the counter. The dining area is compact, and if the door is open, you get a breezy blast.
We ordered falafel wrap for $7.50 and sprouted quinoa tabouli for $6.
This food is still pretty unfamiliar to me - I can't even pronounce quinoa. So I'm not sure if it was good execution or not. But I mostly liked the food.
The falafel wrap is a nice package. It's a romaine lettuce leaf topped with falafel balls, spicy seed, and hummus. It had a nice tang, engaging textures, and a pleasant crunch from the seeds.
Eating the tabouli dish was more of a challenge. My eating companion decided she'd had enough after eating barely half of it. I dipped in after she pushed it aside. Gorilla's menu describes the dish like this: "A wheat-free, watery, fresh and raw take on a classic parsley, cucumber and tomato salad." It was sour, required a good bit of chewing, and made me feel virtuous about eating it. But it was short of an enchanting experience.
We also had a Choco-Gorilla shake for $6.50 — almonds, cacao, bananas, hempseeds, date and coconut oil put through a blender. I enjoyed it. But my eating companion thought it required too much chewing; drinks should not require chewing, she said.
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We also dropped by Granville Island market. The Canada Line took us from downtown to Olympic Village station. We then transferred to a demonstration streetcar, which took us the rest of the way for free.
At Granville, I had a really lousy meal from a fish and chip stall — calamari and chips for just under $10. The calamari was overcooked, tough and had shell bits; the batter was soggy with oil. The chips looked like they came out of a frozen package, and were limp and tasteless.
We had better luck with pizza-like focaccia bread for $3.75 each from Terra Breads. The focaccia was crunchy on the edge, moist and flavourful in middle. I really enjoyed the two toppings we sampled — roasted red pepper and spinach, and black olive and tomato. It's definitely a go-back-to place.
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I'm a fan of the Pacific Buffet on B.C. Ferries. So, I'm sad to report that I recently encountered my first off-stride ferry buffet. It was the dinner version, for $22. The roast beef was flavourless and tough, even though the slice I had was rare. The baked salmon was overcooked and dry. After all those ferry buffets, I guess I was bound to encounter a bad one.
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An update on bus service between Tsawwassen ferry terminal and Canada Line's Bridgeport station (where you can catch a train to downtown Vancouver). The day before the Olympics started, I caught an express route 620 from Bridgeport in Richmond to Tsawwassen. It took 25 minutes, instead of the 40 for the non-express. Not sure when the express buses pop up; they are not mentioned on the schedule.
Route 620 service is still just hourly though. As I arrived at Bridgeport, I saw the 620 pulling away, 5 minutes early. So, I had an hour to wait for the next bus. I spent part of that time touring the adjacent River Rock Casino Resort, where you can have a lunch buffet Monday to Saturday for $16.95. Prices are higher at night and on weekends, topping out at $29.95 for dinner on Friday and Saturday. I haven't tried the buffet yet, but I cruised by the dining room. It looks well-appointed. Highlight of my brief casino tour: the curved escalators, which are, I gather, famous.