Thursday, May 28, 2009

EAT! Vancouver -- Part 1: The Samples

EAT! Vancouver happened this May 22 to 24, and I just so happened to be there for almost all of Saturday (as a customer) and Sunday (as a volunteer at the Grapes and Hops Pavillion).

For those unfamiliar with EAT!, it's "Canada's largest consumer food, beverage and cooking festival ... featur[ing] hundreds of food, beverage and kitchen goods exhibitors along with wineries, breweries, restaurants, cooking demonstrations, wine and cheese seminars, cookbook authors, and chef competitions." It takes place every year during the month of May at BC Place Stadium.

For $15 (adult price) at the door, or $12 online, attendees could watch black box cooking competitions; see food celebs like Rob Feenie at the Food Network Celebrity Stage; sample and learn about cheese; spend more money on food tickets ($10 for 20 or $5 for 10) to use for sampling items at the Bite of Vancouver restaurant pavillion, Grapes and Hops pavillion, and other booths selling snacks; and sample lots and lots of food and drinks -- even getting to take some home for their pets, too!

For those who missed this year's fest, over the next few posts (this one counting as Part 1), I'll be giving you the full scoop on what was served up.

First up: the samples!

Samples are no doubt one of the main draws to attending EAT!. This year's offerings were enough to ensure that no one went home hungry.

Among the most-grabbed items, I'm sure, were the chocolate samples. Green & Black's offered more than eight varieties of chocolate squares (including Mayan Gold, White, Butterscotch, Ginger, and Caramel), while Nestlé NOIR had four kinds of dark chocolate (including two filled with mousse) available to sample. Being partial to white and milk chocolate, my faves were G&B's white chocolate and Nestle's chocolate-mousse-filled milk chocolate square.

Four Kozy Shack ladies kept busy opening and distributing sample individual-sized regular and sugar-free varieties of their rice, tapioca, and chocolate puddings. Having already tried all the regular versions, I went for all the sugar-free ones. My advice? Stick to the regulars -- the sugar-free ones are, for the most part, tasteless and just don't cut it.

Stoneyfield Farm gave out two different kinds of yogurt -- pomegranate-blueberry and peach-mango. Both were creamy and delicious. One teenaged girl must have really enjoyed it -- I saw her ask the food demonstrator to take a photo with her (with the company's logo in the background), and overheard her telling him afterward that he'd "made [her] day". No, I don't think the man's "yumminess" was a factor.

One booth had over 10 varieties of shortbread cookies, including lemon, maple, rosemary, and original. My faves were apricot and raspberry -- so yummy!

Island Farms started charging two tickets for ice cream samples this year (boo!). On the plus side, their booth hardly ever had any lineups. I tried three flavours in one cup (melon, black forest, and peach cobbler -- their fourth flavour, coffee crunch, was all gone at the time), and they were all quite good, especially melon. They're all new flavours, and I recommend giving them a try.

Aquafina Plus had new flavoured water flavours on offer (here's an interesting review), including fuji apple pear. Interesting fact: as a natural health product, Aquafina Plus can't be given away for free, so the demonstrators got would-be samplers to grab pennies and nickels from cups full of change and got them to drop them back in to bypass that law. Oh, the loopholes.

Fuze had to abide by the same rules, and, since I didn't have any change with me, I sadly missed out on their offerings -- no new strawberry-melon juice for me :(.

Pasta from Olivieri; salad with italian dressing and pear and blue cheese dressing from Renee's; kimchi, korean cookies, garlic tablets, and tea samples from the korean section; and miso soup, two kinds of miso-based dip with tofu, rice with medium-hot curry, flavoured teas, and more from the Japanese section, and many other food and drinks were available to try for "free" at various booths throughout the stadium.

Over at the Jamaican booth, I was lucky enough to get a sample of Jamaican rum cake -- the demonstrator didn't start sampling those till the afternoon -- which I've read are one of the things to bring back as souvenir gifts from cruise trips to the Caribbean. It tasted like fruit cake or plum pudding to me -- nothing special -- but I'm glad to have tried it.

Antigua and Barbuda offered a type of coconut fudge made by the representative herself.

Spain sliced wafer-thin pieces of jambon serran (the country ham) before our eyes to let us sample. Had my digital camera not malfunctioned, I could have scored a picture, which many onlookers were doing when the carving first started. It looked kind of like the ham featured above, only far more appetizing and clean-looking.

The Turkey booth had a limited quantity of Turkish delights to give out (rose, lemon, and lime) -- and if you've tried the real stuff from Turkey, you know they're as good as they made them out to be in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

There were two booths with coffee (I think only one was giving away freebies). As well, there was also rice and soy milk, regular cow milk, granola cereal, chocolate bliss and pumpkin bliss balls, and birch sap (it tastes like maple syrup) available to try.

Arthur's Fresh was sampling pretty much all its smoothies (sooo many flavours!). I wasn't a fan of the Goji berry one, and the carrot one tasted more like mango.

What else was at EAT!?

Chai, butter chicken, kiwi juice, three different kinds of bread from Silver Hills Bakery, four different kinds of ginger snap cookies... the list goes on.

I love frozen foods, so I couldn't get enough of the vodka-infused spiked ice (re. freezies!) at the Black Fly booth at the Grapes and Hops pavillion. I had all three -- Cranberry/Blueberry, Strawberry/Rhubarb, and Black Currant/Blueberry -- for $1 each. Those were so good!

For the most part though, I stuck to the food pavillions, and so don't have much to say about the alcohol. A perk of being an emptier-of-spit-buckets was getting free samples from some of the drink exhibitors :). Nothing really stood out as particularly amazing to me, however.

Over at the "Bite of Vancouver" Pavillion, there were some pretty good food deals going on -- with all items going for $1 to $4.

At the Sweet Chili Café booth, I tried the bami goreng (Indonesian stir-fried noodles; see below for an approximation of what it looked like; $2.50) and nasi goreng (fried rice; $2.50), as well as a cantaloupe-mixed-with-honey-and-lime drink ($1) and a cendol drink (coconut milk, palm sugar, and and starch noodles; $1.50). The cantaloupe drink wasn't that great -- my family's recipe -- which just uses cantaloupe, sugar, and water -- is loads better.

I also went for a stick of chicken seekh kebab (it looked like one of those featured below; $1) from Ashiana Tandoori. It wasn't bad (my companion, H, enjoyed it), but it seemed really greasy to me.

Birch sap toffee (indistinguishable from English toffee; $0.50); a california roll-sushi cup (nothing special -- just sushi ingredients layered in a cup; $3); jambalaya from Big Al's Soul Food (free at the end of the event at closing time, but just tasted like vegetable soup on rice to me); brownie explosion and strawberry-banana gelato from Mamma Mia Gelato (I wasn't too impressed; $3 for a large); some cupcakes from Goldilocks (not too impressed with these either; $2.50 each or $2 each for more than one); samosa, papadam, and mango juice for free from New India Buffet -- or was that Maurya -- at closing time); and tacos (ground pork, chicken, and lamb -- I loved the lamb but didn't really like the chicken) from Dona Cata (I got them for $5 altogether at closing) were just some of the things I tried.

Sadly, I missed out on the Indonesian booth offerings: tumpeng (a cone-shaped mound of rice surrounded by an assortment of Indonesian dishes), which looked kind of like a mini-version of the one featured below, only with different and less-elaborate sides (including a garden salad, chicken wing, and tofu/veggie mixture)) and pisang goreng (fried bananas) with condensed milk and chocolate ($3). I couldn't find the booth until my break was over on Sunday, and so didn't have the time to wait for them to make me a rice cone :(.

You can check out the list of participating restaurants here.

Note that the list isn't entirely accurate. I was sad when Cassis Bistro was nowhere to be found -- I had been hoping to try their ratatouille, which they offered last year. I hope they'll come next year.

So there's my take on the food samples at EAT! Hopefully this post gave you enough of a glimpse of EAT! Vancouver to whet your appetite for next year's event!

Did you attend? Was there anything I missed that you particularly enjoyed? Comment and tell us about your experience! I know I haven't covered everything!

Stay tuned for my next post, where we'll move on to a more useful subject that I might revive when the next EAT! rolls around: tips on how to make the most of your EAT! admission fee.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eat me! / Menu review: The Clubhouse Restaurant

Before heading to bed to rest up for EAT! Vancouver tomorrow,I feel compelled to stay up and let you in on an old "secret spot" of mine I'd forgotten about until today, when D. stopped there to grab some dinner and I came along for the ride (literally, since she was driving me home from hot yoga).

I first discovered The Clubhouse Restaurant (255 West 2nd Avenue; see for reviews) back while I was interning for WHERE Vancouver Magazine -- a shopping, dining, and entertainment magazine housed on Spruce St., just a few blocks away. It was one of my coworker's favourite dining spots. So I gave it a try.

It was so good, I created a new listing for it under the magazine's Japanese restaurant category.

I still remember exactly what I had. My friend, J., and I ordered and shared the beef okonomoyaki (one of the specials that day, on for only $6.95), the oh! avocado (baked avocado with seafood & cheese -- kind of like oyster motoyaki, only with avocado; $5.95), the "rockin' ross" cream cheese sushi roll (prawn tempura, sweet potato, BBQ salmon skin, cream cheese & asparagus; $5.75), and the azuki red beans with ice cream dessert ($3.00 or $3.50 -- I can't remember).

All of the dishes were delicious.

Nowadays, you can find okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza) at numerous places. The selection at the Clubhouse, however, is particularly huge -- there are 17 different kinds (including natto {fermented soybean}, mochi, pork gyoza, scallop, and mixed meat), with the option of paying extra to add kimchi, mochi, cheese, or yakisoba. The beef version we had was our favourite dish of the evening. Please note that the image featured below wasn't taken at The Clubhouse (I didn't dine there today, but it looks very similar to what we were served).

In terms of the cream cheese roll, I must say that adding that tiny dollop of cheese to sushi makes all the difference. I definitely recommend trying it at least once -- if not here, at least at another sushi restaurant.

But the real point of this post was to talk about the dessert item that is, sadly, no longer on The Clubhouse menu: sweet azuki red beans atop a huge dollap of vanilla ice cream.

I must admit, when the dessert first arrived at our table, I was a bit disappointed by the simplicity of its appearance -- $3.50 for just a scoop of ice cream and some beans?

Those red beans ended up being some of the best I've ever tasted. Larger, sweeter, and far tastier than any of the kind I've had served on the numerous ice desserts I've consumed (and I've eaten a lot!) or I've seen sold ready-made in plastic sachets or glass bottles at the grocery store, they were perfectly complemented by the mildly sweet and refreshing vanilla ice cream.

Noticing its absence from the dessert menu while waiting for D's order of sushi to arrive, I learned from the owner, Karen, that it had been taken off the menu because too many of the restaurant's customers don't like red bean and kept asking for vanilla ice cream alone, and because the dish is so labour-intensive.

It takes four to five hours to make!

Apparently, making those beans involves a long, complex process that begins with buying the right beans. They buy special dried dessert red beans and take care to choose only those of the right size (not too small or too big). They then have to take those beans and soak them for around four to five days, changing the water twice a day. When they're finally ready to cook, they need to be boiled for upwards of five hours, and then mixed with three types of sugar (white, brown, and "Chinese" sugar). After that, the cook has to determine how sweet the beans should be, bearing in mind that their level of sweetness will fade after being stored in the cooler.

While Karen was kind enough to share this recipe with me, she emphasized that I'd probably have to make the dish many times before hitting upon just the right proportion of sugar, water, and beans.

So, it's safe to say that I probably won't ever attempt it. ;)

All that work for something that sells for only $3.50!

I'm glad I got to try it before it was pulled. I turned down Karen's generous offer to make some for me for a future visit -- if it's really that hard to make, I'd rather have her make it for a much larger group to make it worth her while.

So, if you like red beans, are planning a large gathering, and have The Clubhouse on your list of places to try, consider calling ahead for the red bean and ice cream dessert.

Sometimes those items that look sweet and simple are some of the most complex and satisfying dishes you can try, and I'd definitely say that this dessert fits the bill.

Before dessert, go for the tuna steak ponzu and agedashi tofu. Karen says she can eat them every day, and that some people come just for the tofu.

The Clubhouse has whole menus of daily specials every day -- be warned though: my quick comparison of Friday's daily specials and the regular menu revealed that some of their "specials" are the same price as what they go for regularly. The restaurant used to post its daily special menus on its website, but seems to have taken down almost all the information it used to have. Guess you'll just have to come down and see the specials for yourself!

If you've tried The Clubhouse or know of another place that offers great red bean desserts, fill us in!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Candy-gram: Introducing.... headers!

If you've been keeping up with my posts and happen to look back on past entries, you'll notice that I've added some nifty new headers to help you find your way through the buzz of food conversations that will hopefully start taking place very soon here (*hint hint*). Here's a breakdown of what's available so far.

Eat me!: Posts about specific foods (e.g. cheese ice cream) or food types (e.g. ice desserts) that I think are definitely worth trying.

Ask and I will find: My concierge service -- ask me for that food you long for, and I will do my best to find it or, if -- heaven forbid -- I can't, I will suggest related items you might enjoy instead that are available in or near the Lower Mainland.

Menu review: Food-focused restaurant reviews -- I'll highlight the particularly intriguing items (that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else) on the menu, and note anything else that stands out about the eating establishment being covered.

Who knew: Informative entries about fun and/or interesting things you might not know about what you eat.

Candy-gram: Updates about new features and functions I've added to help sweeten your time on my page.

Coming soon...

Drink me!: Similar to Eat me! -- posts about drinks that I think are worth trying.

Foodie 'files: Profiles of folks with cool food-related jobs, sharing their specialized knowledge and secret dining spots with you.
Check back on this post if you need help navigating the page -- I'll be adding to the entry as I come up with more "convo-fodder". If you have any in mind, I'd be glad to hear them!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who knew?: Coprophagy, or, eating poop

Me: Guess what I won't eat?
AA: I dunno... manure?
Me: Uhh... that too, but...

I was all set to write this post on the things I won't eat (based on another conversation I had with AA about eating not-quite-dead animals), but of course my train of thinking led me to write instead on this far more intriguing topic -- coprophagy/coprophagia, or, the consumption of poop/feces/manure/two four-letter-words/you-get-the-picture.

Though my initial reaction to AA's response was "Who on earth would eat poop?", my mind immediately flashed to a scene from the film Fast Food Nation, which revealed that -- get ready for this -- fast food hamburgers contain cow manure. As the cow's guts are being removed during the butchering process, the poop spills out of the intestines, and gets mixed in with fast food-grade meat.
So --I'm sorry to break it to you -- but if you've eaten a hamburger from a fast food place, you've likely eaten poop.

Don't feel bad though. Apparently, we all have, at one point or another, eaten poop. "One of the main ways that diseases and parasites spread is through the consumption of food and water contaminated with feces. This happens because people don't wash their hands carefully after pooping or changing a diaper or scratching their butt. It can also happen through careless disposal of diapers."

What I find most interesting is the fact that there are people out there who eat poop on purpose. It could even be/have been you.

"In rare instances, people with severe developmental and psychological disorders practice pica, the consumption of non-food items, including coprophagy, the ingestion of feces. The behavior may also be observed among very young toddlers."

"Coprophagy is also listed as an unusual sexual practice in the encyclopedia of that name. Some people who practice sexual coprophagy say that only a lover's poop is good to eat; all other poop (including their own) makes them gag."

And, as you're probably imagining, "you can definitely get sick from eating poop, even in minute quantities! Although urine emerges sterile from the body (unless the person has an infection), poop emerges loaded with bacteria and sometimes other life forms. Many diseases, including food poisoning, cholera, and typhus, are spread by fecal contamination. Many parasites, such as the notorious tapeworm, can be spread through deliberate or accidental ingestion of poop."

Some parasites, such as pinworms (found in the large intestine), depend on people eating their own poop to keep the population up.

Talk about disturbing: "The females emerge from the anus at night to lay their eggs. Their activity makes the anal area itch. The person scratches the itch (often doing so in his sleep), procuring a small amount of fecal matter and eggs under his fingernails, and then puts his fingers in his mouth. Once the eggs are consumed, the person is infected with a new generation of pinworms."

This raises the question: are these people all sleeping in their birthday suits, or are those parasites just that eager to get out of our pants?

Apparently, almost everyone has pinworms.

If you want to find out if you do indeed have them, get someone to gently touch around your anal area with Scotch tape while you are sleeping. The worms will stick to the tape and you'll be able to see them.

For more information than you probably ever want to know about poop, check out the Scoop on Poop.

Any thoughts? Interesting personal experiences? Feel free to share! ;)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ask, and I will find: red velvet cake

Tiffany said...

Do you know any place in Vancouver that sells red velvet cake by the slice? I know two places that occasionally make red velvet cupcakes. They make cakes too but then you have to buy the whole cake which is too much to eat.

Thanks in advance!

"A Red velvet cake is a type of rich and sweet cake, with a distinctive dark red to bright red or red-brown color." The red colouring comes from beets or red food colouring.

Some recipes/reviews I've encountered have said that real red velvet cakes should contain a whole bottle of food colouring. I think that's a great way to speed up the onset of cancer, since I doubt that most bakeries are using this stuff.

But hey, we're young, so, as Marie-Antoinette has been misquoted as saying, and which I will now misappropriate, "Lettuce eat cake."

Red velvet cake can come topped with either butter roux icing (also known as a cooked flour frosting) or cream cheese frosting. The cream cheese version is apparently ever so much better.

There don't appear to be any bakeries or restaurants that sell red velvet cake by the slice in Vancouver. I checked the great bulk of the Southern restaurants, "fancy" restaurants, and bakeries in Vancouver, and none of them carried it.

Red velvet appears to be a special occasion item that that mostly shows up around Valentine's Day. I know that Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (aka PICA) had them as part of a post-Valentine's Day theme. Maybe they carry them occasionally during other times in the year?

I suggest you make a reservation at PICA around that time in February (come with me!) -- there's a 2-for-1 three course meal-deal that happens during the months of January and February (which I know you've already done, and which everyone else should take advantage of -- it's equivalent to $12 for lunch and $18 for dinner). Right now, they're offering the same promotion every Monday.

La Baguette et l'Echalotte on Granville Island used to carry red velvet cake five years ago (alas, no longer).

Waterloo (where Tiffany currently resides) also appears to be red velvet-free.

I did (correct me if I am mistaken) manage to locate the two cupcake places you mentioned.

Cupcakes -- now with five different locations -- describes their version as "red cocoa cake topped with cream cheese frosting and dusted with white sugar".

Butter Baked Goods on 4321 Dunbar St. also sometimes has red velvet cupcakes on rotation.

Based on the reviews I've seen, neither rendition is particularly spectacular.

If you want the good "to-die-for" stuff, I think you have to be willing to drive down to the States. Aside from the fact that red velvet cake is a Southern specialty, the mere existence of a post about the "best red velvet cakes in Seattle" (there are seven on the list) points to the fact that you should be planning a trip to the States now (how's that for a mini-honeymoon?). There, they even sell red velvet cupcakes at Target!

The best is supposed to be at The Kingfish Cafe (602 19th Avenue East), where it "comes in slices as big as your head" for around $9.

If worse comes to worst, definitely look into this: According to, red velvet cakes are sometimes given as a groom's cake in Southern USA. "Intended to be a gift from the bride to the groom, the groom's cake is usually dark (often chocolate or liquor-soaked) and designed with a nod towards what's traditionally considered "masculine" (i.e., no rosettes in sight)."

My advice: splurge on a tasty treat for your husband-to-be! (Aren't newly-weds supposed to share everything?)

Or, even better, start a new tradition -- the bride cake. ;)

Believe it or not, pictured below is a Spiderman Red Velvet groom's cake. How awesome would that be?

In the meantime, since "[a] Red Velvet Cake is really a Devil's Food Cake that has red food colouring added to it," I suggest heading to True Confections for a slice of their devil's food cake "with dark chocolate layers, chocolate filling, and marshmallow icing."

I liked it so much the first time I had it that I actually had it again :o. Make sure you get it fresh -- it's not as good the next day. It's definitely worth trying if you haven't already.

If you don't mind BIY (baking it yourself), just ask if you want some good recipes for red velvet cake. Be sure to specify exactly what you're looking for -- I've come across sooo many (gluten-free, vegan, all-natural, all-artificial (just kidding) etc.).

Bon appetit!

UPDATE: Wow, you made it this far -- and not for nothing anymore, either! I have found a place that sells red velvet cake in Vancouver! Unfortunately, I don't think it actually tastes all that good. You can buy red velvet cake by the slice at WE. Coffee (1696 Robson St., a few stores to the right of Robson Public Market). The girl working the counter said it was her favourite cake slice, so I was expecting extreme deliciousness!

It looked like this:

I took it home to share with my mom and little sister. I also picked up half a dozen cupcakes from Cupcakes (one of which was red velvet), for comparison purposes.

I have to say, I was very disappointed with the WE. version. Inspired by this post, I'd made a point of trying pretty much every red velvet cake and cupcake I came across during a trip to New York, and the WE. version was on
par with the worst of them. The cake part was extremely dense and not very flavourful, and the icing was a plain white one that tasted like the crummy store-bought kind. To be honest, I was quite surprised, given the $5.75 price tag for the slice. All three of us agreed that the version from Cupcakes was superior by far.

Cupcakes' red velvet cupcake was moist and delicious, complimented perfectly by their cream cheese frosting. I think the
Cupcakes version is a much better value for your money. If you like dense, rich cakes, however, feel free to give the WE. version a try and let us know what you think of it.

Other places you can find red velvet cake/cupcakes in Vancouver:

Superstore. I've heard great things about their PC Red Velvet Cheesecake, but haven't had a chance to try it yet myself. I haven't found a reviewer yet that wasn't impressed by it.

Cassia Cupcakery (1706 Commercial Drive).
I tried their mini red velvet cupcake for $1 and thought it was pretty tasty. The bakery itself doesn't look like it's gotten very good reviews overall though... I can't give my thoughts because the mini was all I tried (I was already full of other stuff from the Italian festival that was taking place that day).

Super Valu (
1645 East 1st Avenue, just off Commercial Drive) also sells big red velvet cupcakes in packages of four. I haven't tried those, but I did try a strawberry frosted cupcake by the same brand, and that was delicious.

I'm sure there are a lot more places that sell red velvet cake nowadays, as it's gotten pretty popular... I just haven't been looking all that hard since I had my fill of them in New York City. A lot of the cupcake shops in Vancouver sell cupcake versions, while WE. Cafe is the only place I've found that actually sells red velvet cake by the slice.

One last note about WE. Cafe -- I had their famous Mariage Frères Marco Polo tea there the same day I picked up my slice of red velvet, and felt quite ripped off by it. Mariage Frères is supposed to make some of the best teas in the world. It smelled so refreshing and appetizing in my cup, but had next to no taste whatsoever. I think that the barista didn't steep the tea bags for long enough. Unfortunately, I couldn't simply wait for the tea to steep longer, because the cafe's policy is to remove the tea bags before they bring your teapot to you. So I basically paid $5.99 for a nice-smelling pot of flavourless water.

But that is the subject of another blog post that I will probably not get around to writing, because I have given up food writing to write quirky novels and short stories.
My first novel, which I am now looking to get published, is called Teaching for Apples. It's about a girl who likes apples so much that she decides to become a teacher, because everyone knows that being a teacher is the best way to get free apples. Too bad none of her students will give her any!

You can find out more about the novel and even read some of my stories by liking my Facebook fan page:

Menu review: Breaking the fast at Seb's Market Café

Banana bread French toast, elk medallion bennys, scrambled eggs with caribou meat and sundried tomatoes, bacon and caramelized apple omelettes... for interesting takes on traditional breakfast fare, look no further than Seb's Market Cafe on 592 East Broadway (about five blocks east of Main St.).

Eager to sample elk for the first time, I selected Seb's for this Sunday morning's breakfast date with three friends -- D, KK, and J. Opting for an early get-together, we arrived at Seb's well before the morning crowd, at 9:15am, and were seated immediately.

Seb's has a bunch of interesting smoothies and juices on their menu, including a melon celery drink, I believe. D had carrot, celery, and ginger juice (she likes her mom's fresh-made juice better, but will now ask her to add ginger too); KK had the coffee, and J and I settled for waters, all of which arrived promptly.

I ordered what I came for -- the elk medallion benny ($10, up from $9.50, which it apparently was just last month): two decent-sized disks of medium-rare elk, served on yummy savoury biscuit halves, smothered in sauce, with a side of homecut fries (not too greasy), and fruit (watermelon, honeydew, strawberry, and pineapple, which I thought was a nice touch). The bennys were a bit on the small side -- about the size of my fist.

Seb's offers three different sauces for their bennys. I think they must change their sauce offerings from time to time, since I've heard they've had such flavours as blueberry chipotle and curry pineapple on their menu.

The waitress was kind enough to let me have my benny halves with two different sauces. I went with her suggested pairings of havarti sauce and chipotle wildberry (they also offer thai curry coconut). D, who had a benny with pan-fried sweet peppers, onions, and basil ($9; featured below), also had the chipotle wildberry sauce. Neither of us enjoyed this particular sauce very much. I don't think it pairs well with egg, but to be fair, I'm not a fan of berry-flavoured things.

Since I'm not much of a red meat fan either (I only eat chicken and fish at home), the elk was just okay to me. It tasted a bit like beef (I won't get into its gamey-ness, since I haven't eaten enough red meat to be able to authentically distinguish what counts as "gamey"). I did really enjoy the egg and biscuit though (far tastier and richer than a plain old English muffin would have been).

The Havarti sauce was quite tasty. I would definitely go for the thai coconut curry sauce in a future hypothetical visit though (it's my policy to eat at restaurants just once, so that I can try more of them).

My favourite dish was what KK ordered -- a crab and avocado omelette (I can't recall the price, but it should have been in the $9-10 range; see below), which came with two thick pieces of toast, homemade preserves, and the standard sides (fries and fruit). The egg was delicious. He's a big foodie though, and he thought it was just okay.

J's order was the most intriguing of them all -- banana bread cooked French-toast style ($8.50; pictured below). It tasted exactly like you would expect -- like banana bread -- and came with two little pots of strawberry preserves and maple syrup, as well as side of fresh fruit and potatoes. KK and I thought it was okay; J and D seemed to enjoy it.

The French toast tempted D so much that she accidentally took J's leftovers with her after he dropped us off for dragonboat practice (note the lack of quotes around "accidentally", since D would never intentionally make off with another person's leftovers ;P).

The consensus was that Seb's has a great ambience and is a cool spot to hang out in (the decor is hip and casual at the same time, and KK liked the environment), but the food is just okay.

Still, it's been referred to as a "hidden gem", "the busiest place that no one has ever heard of", and "Vancouver's best-kept secret", so why not give it a try and see for yourself?

It's open weekdays from 6:30am to 4pm and weekends from 7:30am to 4pm.

If you've dined at Seb's before and have anything to add, please lend your perspective.

Thanks a bunch to D for the cellphone pics! Being one of the few people who still prefer and use good old film, I forgot to bring a digital camera *sheepish face*.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ask, and I will find: treacle sponge pudding

Rosanne said...

You know what I want. Treacle sponge! My research hasn't turned up any in Vancouver...

Rosanne is referring to treacle sponge pudding, which Wikipedia describes as "a British dessert dish consisting of a steamed sponge cake with golden syrup or molasses cooked on top of it, sometimes also poured over it and often served with hot custard".

In this case, a picture is worth 31 words.

I'm pleased to report that I have located the said dessert.

In Vancouver, it's sold at some British convenience shops (let me know if you want the names), but if you want it like you had in England, head to The Diner -- "an authentic English-style Diner, complete with kidney pie and and mushy peas. Breakfast is served all day".

It's not on the regular menu, but they'll make it for you as a special request if you call ahead 24 hours before you want it. The owner, Stella (a very sweet lady), estimated that it will cost around $7 (I asked about how much it would be for one to two people, so I don't know whether it's a one or two person serving she was referring to).

I've eaten there before, and it seems like the real deal. I went for the steak and kidney pie, and my friend went for the fish and chips. She really enjoyed her dish; as for me, not so much -- kidney just isn't my cup of tea, but the owner had warned me to go with something more traditional since I wasn't a British native, so I'm not complaining. On the menu were baby liver and onions, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and more.

Shall we make a pudding date, Rosanne? I need to go back and try their bread pudding!

Have any of you tried treacle pudding or something similar? I've heard it's insanely sweet, but I do have a massive sweet tooth. What did you think of treacle pudding? If you haven't tried it, now's your chance!

It's recommended that you try their British breakfast (I haven't yet). It's a really homey place and is worth checking out.

The Diner is on 4556 West 10th Ave. I think it's closed on Sundays (because I was supposed to eat there with another friend once and had to go to Burgoo instead because I hadn't checked ahead to see if it was opened).

Keep the questions coming!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ask, and I will find!

Do we all know what a concierge is?

It's my dream career, and the thing I love most about it is that involves knowing everything happening in the city and sharing that knowledge with people, be it recommending places to shop and eat to getting impossible-to-get reservations for hotel guests.

I've decided to turn this blog into a concierge-like service, pertaining to food, with you being my "clients".

What this means is that I want you to tell me what food-related item you're interested in finding, and I will research the topic and find all the best places for you to get the item (and probably tell you places to stay away from).

We'll see how it goes. I haven't quite figured out what I want to do with this blog yet.

Thank you so much to my regular readers for your great input though. Now's your chance to get your burning food questions answered! :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who knew?: Bugs for breakfast!

I'm starting my FOODSAFE training in just five minutes, so I anticipate being able to share some interesting facts about food safety - most likely a couple of gross food handling stories, etc.

The worst personal story I can recall at the moment was one time when I was eating a rice and bean dish in a restaurant in the Philippines and saw something that looked like neither a bug nor bean. Turns out, the "bean" was really a small beetle. It was really tiny, so if I hadn't been looking closely, I would have probably just eaten it.

Eating a bug in a meal really shouldn't bother us, since there's bug bits in practically everything we eat. Back when I used to have a membership at Science World, they had a special members-only night in conjunction with the opening of the OMNIMAX film Backyard Bugs, where they had all kinds of foods that contain pieces of bugs for attendees to eat. Up for grabs were bags of chips, peanut butter, bread, popcorn, etc. The take-message was that every time we eat a chip, there are probably crushed bits of ant or grasshopper in them.

And we apparently end up eating an average of eight spiders in a lifetime -- they crawl into our mouths while we're sleeping. Don't quote me on that though -- I quickly googled it to make sure the statistic is out there, but some sources say we eat 10, and I also don't know how on earth they measure that!

There are also all the bugs that eat by choice. My dad used to eat honeybee larvae and said they taste like candy. During the Science World night, they fried up mealworms (the larva form of the mealworm beetle) and I think also served honeybee larvae, but I wasn't brave enough to try either at the time (I was only in elementary school).

Then there are the novelty insects you can buy at candy stores. One day I will try some. They're really expensive though, for less than a handful of bugs!

If you know anywhere in the Lower Mainland that sells insects/bugs (e.g. termites, chocolate covered ants, etc.), or if you'd tried any cool insects during your worldly travels, please enlighten us with your insights!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eat me!: Queso (cheese!) ice cream -- sarap (yummy)!

Today, in celebration of mother's day, my family and I went over to my aunt and uncle's house for dinner. Since a big chunk of my extended family (12 of them) had just come back from an Alaskan cruise and the dinner had been planned literally on the day of, there was sadly no sugary lasagna or yummy homemade Filipino desserts on the buffet array (I guess I'll have to save those subjects for another time).

Luckily, there was one particular item on the dessert table that I often talk about and don't get to eat enough of -- queso (cheese) ice cream!

Heart2Heart describes queso as "The Pinoy's version of a cheese desset (sic). Fresh cheese blended in creamy, milky sorbetes (sic) and dotted with "cheese" bits as how Pinoys know and love it."

The first time I encountered cheese ice cream, I had the same reaction as what you're probably experiencing now. "Cheese (and corn) ice cream? Seriously?" (This was a Magnolia-brand ice cream not featured above, and was basically the same ice cream dotted with corn bits). It was soooooo good. Unless you hate cheese or are lactose intolerant, you need to try this flavour. Heck, try it even if you don't like cheese -- it's that good. Everyone I know who's tried cheese ice cream has been instantly converted. It's now one of my favourite flavours of ice cream.

Of the three brands I've mentioned (Selecta, Magnolia, and Arce Dairy), I think that
Selecta is the best by far (just look at the picture!!). My mom attests to it, and she's grown up with the brands.

Selecta is an offshoot of Arce Dairy. I don't know why, but it's soooo much better than its parent company. Magnolia is super-popular in Asia. Apparently, people from Hong Kong buy lots and lots when they visit the Philippines, and bring it back with them by packing it in boxes of ice (the flight is short enough for it to last without melting away).
Today was my first chance to t
ry the Arce Dairy version of queso ice cream. It was very good, but it doesn't have the yummy cheese bits and rich creamy texture that Selecta has.

The only place I've seen that sells the Selecta and
Arce Dairy brands of queso ice cream is my uncle's dollar store (the 99 cent store, across from the McDonald's located across from Landsdowne Mall in Richmond). I think that they go for about $11.99 for a litre, and it's well worth trying!

Mais-Queso ice cream by Magnolia is much easier to find -- it's in a lot of the small Filipino shops around Vancouver. If you want just a scoop, you can go to Rekados on Main Street, where I think they sell three scoops as one of their dessert items, one of which is queso. I have no idea what brand it is, however, and it's pretty pricey (over $5). The advantage is that you get to try ube and I think langka-flavoured ice cream as well. I would go for the tub. Look fo
r this, if the thought of corn and cheese intrigues you:

**I will qualify this post by mentioning that a colleague just caught a glimpse of my post and commented that queso ice cream "is nasty and tastes like nacho cheese". I beg to differ, but be warned -- you might not enjoy it as much as I and my relatives do!**

Mango, ube (purple yam), macapuno (coconut), ube-macapuno (purple yam and coconut marble), and langka (jackfruit), are other flavours I would recommend trying.

Are there any interesting/delicious flavours/brands/kinds of ice cream that have particularly impressed you?

La Casa Gelato (the gelato place on Clark and Venables with the insane amount of flavours) has closed, so if you can recommend other spots for neat flavours, please do so!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bon(jour)/ Appetit!

Welcome to the never-ending story of my adventures with food -- and the chance to talk about them and your own food adventures.

Friends, acquaintances, and even people I've just met have always been telling me to give food writing a shot -- I'm always talking about good/interesting foods (take note that those terms are not always interchangeable) and places to find/try/buy them -- so I've finally decided to get on my ass and try it!

Here's where I'll get all my thoughts and experiences down (in possibly the most random fashion possible), to help you discover new dishes, recognize vendors who wouldn't catch your eye otherwise, and maybe even be persuaded to choose something entirely different the next time you eat out/go grocery shopping/stop for a snack.

I mean it in the broadest possible sense when I say that I am interested in any and all kinds of food. I'm by no means a gourmand, or even someone who eats out regularly. When I say food, I mean anything from restaurant meals and fast food snacks to interesting flavours and brands of everyday items like chips, chocolates, cookies, jams, milk, bread, juice, etc.

I like hearing others' food suggestions and favourite dining spots as much as I like sharing my own, so I would love to get your input on any topic I happen to hit upon - whether your knowledge be first- or second-hand.

I usually do A LOT of research about foods and food places before I try them, so I often end up talking about places I haven't yet tried but plan to visit. However, I'll always indicate whether the information's directly from me or from other sources.

Ultimately, I would like this to become a conversation about food - one that we can continue the next time we meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, or brunch; so, without further ado, let's get the ball rolling.

Let's talk carbs, or specifically, pasta. For someone who wrote an article on the harmfulness of lowered carb intake (aka the low-carb diet), I rarely go for the high-carb options when I go out to eat. I'm just not into rice, bread, and pasta. Generally, I haven't been too impressed with any of my pasta experiences, and it's just occurred to me that I've never specifically sought out a fantastic place for Italian-style pasta (to me, it's weird to think of Asian noodle dishes as pasta, even though they usually rightfully belong to this category).

I think it's time to ameliorate my "poor pasta" situation.

Part of the reason for my lack of a "wow" experience is high standards. For the longest time, I used to think that lasagna was my favourite food, and tried it at a bunch of places before I realized that it wasn't; it was my aunt's lasagna that I loved, and what I loved most about it was *shh* her secret ingredient -- sugar, and lots of it! It's apparently "a Filipino thing" (maybe a Chinese-Filipino one?), and it's just the thing to turn a mediocre pasta into what my friend Isabelle calls a "party for your mouth". It doesn't hurt that my aunt's lasagna also has about a full centrimetre's worth of gooey mozzerella cheese on top. Other lasagnas and pastas just don't match up once you've tried sugared pasta. Don't knock it till you try it - it's amazing! But I digress.

I've had spaghetti and lasagna at the Old Spaghetti Factory, lasagna at Red Robin's, chicken pesto/wine sauce pasta and turkey tortellini at Anton's Pasta, some kind of pasta at Da Pasta Bar (I honestly can't remember anymore what kind), fettuccini alfredo at Earl's, four-cheese gnocci at Marcello's, and some kind of chicken pasta dish at the fancy La Terreza in Yaletown, and none have really wowed me.

I haven't been to any of the really high-end places (with the exception of La Terreza), but also hope that there are some reasonably-priced pasta places out there that will fulfill my need for some good pasta. I'm planning to hit up The First Ravioli store on Commercial Drive sometime to try a bit of each of their different (uncooked) pastas. They're supposed to be really tasty.

If you have a favourite Italian pasta place/experience, please share it with me so that I and any other readers can make my/their stomach happy with a yummy pasta dish!

Cheers to the dreaded first-date food! :)