Birthday Breakfast

I treated D. to breakfast at the Red Wagon Cafe for her birthday last week. It was a Monday morning and we arrived around 9-ish so luckily no line up yet. Also, despite limited seating they graciously gave us a 5-seat table to help accommodate the space JD would need, so brownie points for kid friendliness! I also loved the rusty Coke and Orange Crush signs up on the walls and adored the miniature red wagons as well.

D. ordered the Crisp Pork Belly. Something I wanted to order as well but I conceded as it was her birthday after all. She readily admitted that she is now more critical when we dine out ever since she completed her Culinary Arts program. Her comments for this breakfast were that the hollandaise sauce was not the right texture, she didn’t like the taste of the gridled tomatoes and the confit pork belly was a bit salty. It made me glad I didn’t order the dish for myself, but then I promised to take her out for dinner to make up for this meal.

I ordered the Trucker. I was tempted by the Super Trucker but thought I should bring it down a notch. The star of the dish for me was the buttermilk pancakes. They were very tasty, not overly fluffy nor dense, and also medium in size, which made it easy for me to eat the entire dish which included two eggs, large-cut homefries, and your choice of meat and bread. I chose back bacon and sourdough.

Just beware the there are no free coffee refills here (usually standard for breakfast restos) a surprise I discovered when settling the bill.

The Red Wagon on Urbanspoon

J.J.’s Restaurant hidden inside VCC downtown

Last week was the end of D.’s scholastic culinary journey. But before she finished she really wanted to me to visit her at school and try something she made while on line in the kitchen. The last two months she had been cooking for the evening shift, which made it challenging to bring J.D., but D. asked Espie to join me and partake in D.’s cuisine, which was a big help.

The Culinary Arts section of Vancouver Community College (VCC) Downtown campus runs J.J.’s restaurant. I believe the majority of the staff (from servers to cooks) are students going through the culinary program. I think the servers are normally mid-way through the program, whereas the cooks are in their last two months. I don’t know how well known the restaurant is but I think it is a bit hidden inside VCC.

Service was excellent with tons of smiles and a lot of personal service. Simple things that win me over in restaurants (fine dining or otherwise) are servings of warm bread, soft butter, and constant water glass refills. J.J.’s hit all three and you might be surprised how few restaurants do that. The complimentary olive loaf bread was a highlight as it had the perfect balance of spongy texture and saltiness to get the appetite going.

D. explained that J.J.’s is fine dining is normally a la carte, one set price for a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert. Although throughout the month they also have scheduled all-you-can-eat buffets.

The restaurant staff were very welcoming and friendly, even with my large stroller in tow. Baby was asleep for the first part of the meal allowing E. and I to choose our meals at leisure. (E. is welcome to comment on this entry, if she wishes too. Otherwise I will use “I” statements in terms of what I thought about the food and only comment on E.’s dishes if we shared them.) Unfortunately all of my photos turned out too dark, a camera-fail on my part as I did not set it to flash. I’ll try to describe the dishes more in the absence of photos.

For appetizers we chose the mixed salad and the scallop with pork belly and shared both dishes between the two of us. For full disclosure we should say that D. was the one who prepared the salad, but nonetheless and without bias, I enjoyed it. It was a large portion for an appetizer. The greens were fresh and crisp and the cucumber vinaigrette dressing was acidic enough to prepare the palate for the main course.

In contrast in terms of size, the other appetizer was minuscule, basically one scallop and one pork belly portion. It was well plated, with a tasty turnip puree laid out in wave shapes from one protein to the other. I ate the scallop with a slightly sweet glaze drizzled lightly over it, which was perfectly cooked, but hard to judge overall taste from just one.  E. and I shared the pork belly, (a two-bite portion) which was only slightly larger than the scallop. The combination of the savoury, well-trimmed pork, topped with salty but sliver-thin onion crisps made it a great bite. This should have been called an amuse-bouche rather than a full appy.

In between courses I had to breastfeed the baby, but the restaurant layout was spacious enough that this wasn’t a problem.

The entrees and desserts were of average fare so I won’t dwell on it here. I will say that the ice cream is made in-house, and you can tell the difference in its quality and taste. The baked goods, I understand, are created by a separate class earlier in the day, whose focuses is strictly baking.

For curious eyes who enjoy entertainment while dining there is also a large screen television in the middle of the room which shows the students in the kitchen preparing the food. That must up the ante for them, but probably results in better food for us!

JJ's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Feasting at Street Food City III

Last weekend Dine Out Vancouver organized Street Food City III with a variety of food trucks over several days offering their fare on the not-so-green lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown.

The trio (D, baby and I) went on Saturday for lunch. We hit great sunny weather, although still brisk, which influenced what we ate. I was on a mission to finally try J.J.’s Trucketeria and Vij’s Railway Express, which were two of the trucks among a dozen or so advertised to be there for this event.

chickencurryFrom Vij’s Railway Express we tried the butter chicken schnitzel with basmati rice and naan as sides. It was an average portion of food with a cost of $12.50. I’m guessing Vij is trying for fusion here, but I didn’t like the texture of the battered chicken in the curry. My mouth was anticipating succulent soft chicken instead of crunchy chicken bits. I know heat and spice is a personal preference but I found this dish to have above-average heat so beware! The way I judge is if I can enjoy the chicken curry on its own, or if I need the rice or naan to assist. I definitely needed the rice or naan to help temper the chicken. I enjoyed the aromatics in the rice but found the naan quite bland. I don’t know if my expectations were too high, given that I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at Vij’s restaurant.

Vij's Railway Express on Urbanspoon
bigplateCurrently I think there are two Filipino food trucks in Vancouver that I’ve heard of and J.J.’s Trucketeria is one of them. We ordered the Garlic Fried Rice Big Plate and the portion size did live up to its name, especially given it was only $8! There was a generous portion of pork barbeque which the carnivore in me can always appreciate. However, in terms of taste the barbeque itself on the Filipino spectrum of barbeque was somewhere right of tocino (sweet cured pork) and traditional Filipino pork barbeque (some sweetness but more savoury). J.J.’s pork was a bit overcooked and heavily glazed. I did enjoy the rustic style of the cut of meat, slightly larger than bite-sized chunks, as it enhanced the “big plate” experience. The fried rice had just the right amount of garlic and it all went well with the sunny side up egg. The plate came with J.J.’s vinegar, which was probably made up of white vinegar, mustard and chili sauce. It was too spicy for me and I didn’t need it to enjoy the dish.

Jj's Trucketeria on Urbanspoon

Now at this point I thought I was full but in need of a beverage. Unfortunately most of the trucks were offering canned or bottled drinks and I wanted something more original or unique or warm. I went over to The Juice Truck but the line up was so long and we were getting colder by the minute. By sheer luck The Juice Truck was parked right beside Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck. The line up to order was shorter and they were offering hot cocoa with marshmallows, so I stepped up. However, the aroma and the long line of folks waiting patiently for their orders encouraged me to also order a grilled cheese sandwich. At Mom’s you get to choose your bread, baked fresh everyday. I chose Sourdough. You also choose from several cheeses, I chose Provolone. You can add things like tomatoes, extra pickets, etc. but I decided to keep it simple. I was tempted to add a shot of soup (either tomato or chili) but I didn’t want to push my luck since I was supposed to be full. In terms of ambiance Mom’s truck was the friendliest and seemed to be the most fun from the three I visited. They talked a lot to the customers as they waited and a couple of the workers sang songs together that were playing inside the truck while on the assembly line making the sandwiches. It was a bit of a wait but one I would experience time and again. The sandwich was quite large and easily could have been shared between two people. I loved the overall crunch. The bread crusts were not too thick so the crunch was even throughout the sandwich. It was oozing in cheese and you could tell it was grilled open faced first because of the slight baked spots you could see and taste in-between the slices of cheese. The pickle was a nice touch and the potato chips at the bottom of the cone, which helped prop up the sandwich, was a great surprise. Apparently the chips are locally sourced from the Fraser Valley. On top of that they served me piping hot cocoa. It was soooo good and went down smooth. It did not leave my throat burning like some cocoa does (not from the heat but rather as a reflection of the lower quality of cocoa used in those other drinks). Great pair on such a wintry day!


Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon

Seafood sinigang surprise

Early in the new year we were invited to our friend Espie’s house for dinner. By “we” I mean the “trio” made up of D, myself and JD. For future reference I may refer to us that way in blog entries from here on in.

Baby was a bit under the weather but on the road to recovery so we thought we’d venture out when we got invited. E. had invited a handful of people over to enjoy what turned out to be a feast of sorts.

The cooking team comprised of E., her niece Maya, and her cousin Bong. The team made several dishes that included stuffed fish, beefsteak, dinuguan, and more, but the dish that I really want to feature is their seafood sinigang surprise.

c sinigang

Avid fans know that sinigang (tamarind sour soup) is one of my favourite Filipino dishes. However, this time was a unique experience for me.  Not only did the dish have plenty of shrimp as can be seen in the pic, but it had a couple of other surprises. Ingredients also included salmon heads (very flavourful) and clams (possibly Manila clams). The entire combination was the real surprise element as I’ve had sinigang with shrimp OR salmon but not one that combined a variety of seafood and let me tell you the combination was succulent!

E. shared the cooking tip of soaking the seafood in freshly squeezed lemon juice beforehand. I think this added in enhancing the depth of the broth and helped mute any fishy aftertaste.

Sinigang is always a great soup for those cold wintry nights and this was no exception. If D and I weren’t taking turns eating as we had to care for JD, I probably would have had a lot more. Here’s hoping for more dinner invites in 2014!


Gooey Louie is Gooood

Pre-pregnancy I wasn’t a big fan of desserts other than perhaps ice cream. However, during pregnancy I would have cravings for a little something sweet at the end of my meals. It wouldn’t have to be a big serving of something, but it would have to be a touch of sweetness. Now that I’m in post-pregnancy phase apparently this sweet need hasn’t left me, but it’s still manageable, just a taste, no large servings.

My in-laws are visiting for my son’s baptism and to spend the holidays with us and they brought with them something directly from St. Louis, MO. Enter Gooey Louie butter cake.

I enjoyed the dessert immensely. It is rich (no surprise given it’s a butter cake) and definitely gooey but not overly gooey or thick, so its still easy to eat. I was worried it would be very dense or as thick as molasses. It also has a hand-formed crust that is crispy adding a different texture and the powdered sugar adds varied taste of sweet from the cake itself.

Thanks Leonard and Mimi! I didn’t get a chance to try this when we went to visit you in St. Louis, but instead, you brought it to us, lucky lucky me!

On the search for baby-friendliness

I know it’s been quite a while since I have posted something, but I have a good reason – I had a baby!

Now while I fully intend on continuing this blog I haven’t yet had a chance to try out any new restaurants recently, mainly for fear that they won’t be able to accommodate the large stroller that inevitably follows me everywhere I go these days.

However, I did want to comment on a couple of my past entries and rate how baby-friendly they are. Given my current situation I will also add this as a tag for folks who are also looking for this same information.

My last two visits to Kawawa Restaurant with baby in tow left me with good feelings. Both times they seated us in booths that were convenient for them, but more importantly fit our parked stroller. Seating was easy to get in and out of for us as well. I was able to breast feed in the booth and didn’t have to leave the table. Also, when baby was crying a bit and I had to stroll him around the manager had no problem with me doing so a bit in the aisles. When I tried to apologize for the crying, she even said, “No apology necessary.” Both visits were during their busy lunch hours, so I appreciated their assistance even more.

My last two visits at Max’s Restaurant were also positive. However, I’ve found you have to be more strategic on the time that you go because it’s easier for them to seat us during their slower times. We generally try to go for an early dinner, around 4 or 5 pm. Our first visit (post-birth) they sat us at one of the round tables that normally seat 5, because we’ve found their booths are too small for the car seat (in case we take it out of the stroller) and there is no space to park the stroller.  I was also able to breast feed but felt a bit more exposed seated at a round table versus a booth. On our second visit (p-b) they put us at a regular two-person table (if you’ve been there you know these are larger than most), but they ended up parking the stroller near their greeting area. This only worked because D. happened to have baby in the sling and he slept through our meal. Although we may have been getting strange looks from other patrons while we were eating, it didn’t matter to me. I was happy to have a quiet meal with D. and a baby sleeping contently throughout.

I hope we continue on this roll of positive baby-friendly experiences.