April 9, 2008

LITTLE NEST


"FANTASTIC FOODY SMELLS"

Location: 1716 Charles St, Vancouver
Telephone: 604-251-9994
Website: LITTLE NEST

I always wondered where parents with kids can go to eat with other friends and not have to worry about their children... is there such a place other than McDonald's? Good news my friends, there is!

There is a place that is open concept, has a play area for kids, tables all around for everyone and great food to boot. The Urban Diner sums it up well by stating "If you don’t have kids, it might be tricky getting the gravity of a place like this, but trust me, it’s like seeing cows jump over the moon." I don't have kids but I like good food and I appreciate what a place like this has to offer. A place like LITTLE NEST.

My wife had been to LITTLE NEST with a friend and loved the food, when she suggested we go their again, I was a bit hesitant (again - no kids) but I am always up for a good meal. The place was a madhouse, a controlled madhouse but a madhouse nonetheless. Kids everywhere, playing & laughing (no crying thankfully), the tables were full and there was a line-up at the cashier. We finally got seated and the girls got up to order some eats while Bill took his kids to the "play area" so I just sat back and soaked in what was happening around me. Everywhere I looked, there were young parents, relaxed and smiling, eating or playing with their kids who were also grinning ear-to-ear and all around... fantastic foody smells.

A waitress came by to wipe down our table and I asked her "what's the deal with this place" and she told me "Mary the owner wanted a place for parents that was kid friendly and dealt in good organic, fair trade foods". Looks like they succeeded.


The gals came back and despite the loudness of children everywhere we were able to have a good conversation. The coffee arrived (yummy extra large Americanos) and then came the food, a fantastic Cauliflower Soup served in the biggest bowl I have ever seen and a delicious Prosciutto, Cambonzola & Fig Sandwich... wow, did that hit the spot.

I was pleasently surprised by my experience at LITTLE NEST, not by the fantastic food, which truly it was but by how little the number of playing children didn't distract from my meal. This is a great little casual cafe with affordable prices just off of Commercial Drive that deserves a look whether you have kids or not. But if you can't take "kiddie chaos" I suggest visiting during non-peak hours.

April 7, 2008

ME & JULIO


"LET'S PUT IT THIS WAY, I WILL BE GOING BACK"

Location: 2095 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
Telephone: 604-696-9997
Website: ME & JULIO

As a man with a Mexican stepmother, I have a great love of Mexican food, classic or modern, texmex or authentic, I love it all. What I truly admire however is when someone or some place takes a well-known Mexican dish and turns it on its head and makes it “loco”. Take ME & JULIO for example, here’s a little joint that calls itself a “modern Mexican cantina” and does a fantastic job of delivering classic dishes with a new twist.

I have now eaten at ME & JULIO’s three times, once for dinner and twice for brunch and all three times I have been incredibly impressed with my meals. Their Guacamole is always spicy & citrusy at the same time and you get the bonus addition of some Star Anise-kissed Black Bean Dip every time you order it, the Ceviche is extremely fresh, the Calamare Salad (with squid & chorizo) is sensational, the Shrimp & Avocado Benedict is richly satisfying and their Sangrias (red & white) are worthy of another round. Lets put it this way, I will be going back.


Open for both Dinner & Brunch (on weekends), ME & JULIO lives up to its name as a "Modern Mexican Cantina". The vibe is alive, the d├ęcor is entertaining and the staff is fun. The drinks are large & potent and the meals are always rich & flavorful, ME & JULIO is a welcome addition to the foody adventures of Commercial Drive. I can’t wait for summer to hit so I can enjoy a meal and a drink on the patio.

April 3, 2008

SUSHIYAMA


"FRESH, FLAVORFUL AND CHEAP"

Location: 371 E. Broadway, Vancouver
Telephone: 604-872-0053
NO WEBSITE

If there is one thing Vancouver has a lot of, it's Sushi Restaurants. Top quality to poor quality and everything in between, there is a sushi restaurant out there for every palate. But when I want "great sushi for a great price" there's only one place to go... SUSHIYAMA.

On the corner of Broadway & Brunswick across from the Kingsgate Mall, you'll find this little restaurant and the only thing that gives it away is the line-up of excited and hungry people outside. You see, the locals know and love Sushiyama and they support it consistently whether its by eating-in or taking-out and now it's time to spread the word. Yes, I am happy to say that SUSHIYAMA is "that good".

I was introduced to it by my wife one Saturday afternoon and when we arrived at 4:00pm, the place was half full. By the time we left at 5, it was full. We tried a number of different favorites and all were, fresh, flavorful and cheap. Yes, SUSHIYAMA is quite a light hit to the wallet, take this order for instance:

3 SPICY TUNA ROLLS
1 CRUNCH ROLL
1 KAMAKAZE ROLL
1 GOMAE
1 TORO SASHIMI
1 SALMON SASHIMI
TOTAL - $35.00


Yes there are cheaper joints out there, but I dare you to find one that has this quality of fish or this much flavor for that price. Seriously, I judge a Sushi joint by it's Spicy Tuna Rolls and SUSHIYAMA by far and wide has the best STR's I have ever tasted... ever. All the usual suspects are available as well as some uniquely awesome creations (like the Mango Mango Roll or the Snapper Carpaccio in Garlic, Chili Oil for example) and I have never tried something that I didn't like. The sashimi melts in your mouth like butter, the fish is fantastic, the gomae is tasty, the gyoza is crisp, the veggies are fresh and portions are ample.

SUSHIYAMA is a great sushi experience, like I said, always fresh, always flavorful and they have the best Spicy Tuna Rolls I have ever tasted... ever!

April 1, 2008

HAPA IZAKAYA


"A UNIQUE ASIAN EXPERIENCE"

Location: 1479 Robson St, Vancouver
Telephone: 604-689-4272
Website: HAPA IZAKAYA

The NY Times has this to say about HAPA IZAKAYA:

"Dinner comes at almost disco decibels in Robson Street's hottest Japanese "eat-drink place" (the literal meaning of Izakaya), where chefs call out orders, servers shout acknowledgements, and the maitre d' and owner keeps up a running volley to staff about the (often sizable) wait at the door. The service is fast and obliging, and the price per dish at this most entertaining of eating spots is very reasonable."

I couldn't agree more!

I've been to HAPA three times, the first was an utter disappointment, the second a vast improvement and the third extremely enjoyable. Let's talk about these visits. The first time I went there was only a few weeks after opening. The place was getting alot of buzz throughout the city and the line-up out the door was intimidating. Once we sat down, we had a few tasty appetizers but then we ordered the fish that was to be charred at the table. The inexperienced waitress came to the table with the fish and a torch, which she couldn't get to work. The fish was doused in gas, the entire table reeked and the fish itself tasted like fuel more than anything. When we talked to the manager, nothing was done, the fish wasn't replaced and the meal wasn't removed from our bill. Like I said: disappointment.


A year later, we went back with another couple and while we didn't try the fish again, we had a fantastic meal. The flavors were exciting, the staff quick & friendly, the prices high but reasonable and overall, the experience like I said, was a vast improvement.

Well, last weekend, we went again but this time with 10 people for a birthday party and again, we had a great experience. 3 appetizers (Beef Tataki, Negitoro & Tuna Carpaccio), 2 Hot Stone Rice Bowls and a shared dessert of Panna Cotte along with some sake & a Ceaser made for a great meal. The price was the same (as in it didn't go up over the year from the last time I was there), the staff was quick & friendly (at times we had three servers watching over us) and all the dishes were fresh & flavourful.

All three of these HAPA meals including drinks, taxes & tip were under $85 for my wife and I.


All three times, the restaurant was packed and all three times the restaurant was loud. Not only were the clients loud, the staff were yelling and the music was blaring. If you are in for a loud night, then you won't have an issue but if a quiet, intimate meal is your desire, than this might not be the place for you.

If you are looking for a unique Asian experience, I would recommend HAPA IZAKAYA. It's energetic and loud and the flavours are all great, just stay away from the charred fish!

WELCOME

I grew up as a family member of the food industry and I have a love of cooking so why not talk a little bit about the world of restaurants in my favorite city around, Vancouver. Enjoy...