Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Coast makes its diners feel at home and the food is pretty good too

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Great service makes customers welcome

Mia Stainsby

Sure, food matters. But the it‘s just as important to feed egos. Restaurateurs who don’t know this perhaps didn’t have mothers like Emad Yacoub’s who didn’t believe in doors. It was always open and tea was at the ready inside.

He just reopened Coast, having relocated from Yaletown to the dense downtown. The $4.8-million, 265-seat, two-level restaurant beauty got slammed on the first day, just from word of mouth. Three expediters stand at the open kitchen like air traffic controllers, routing dishes to the tables and averting pile-ups.

Yacoub could thank his mom, as I said. The door in her second-story walk-up apartment in Cairo was always open and tenants climbing stairs stopped and rested and had some tea before continuing their upward journey. “People were always welcome. When Mum passed away and I went back, the first thing I saw was the door closed,” says Yacoub, sadly.

I watched him make the rounds at Coast. He hit every table, not just ones with shiny-lipped, laughing young women but the old couples with spreading silhouettes and sensible shoes as well.

“I tell my guys, it’s our home, our living room, our friends have shown up. Walking on to the floor for me is like a holiday,” he says. He doesn’t stint on staff and at times, the room is a traffic jam of servers. Anyway, my long riff indicates how impressed I am with the service here. It helps when staff, including bussers, are invited to become shareholders in his restaurants — socialism with a profit motive.

Coast is a medium-priced seafood restaurant. Action eddies around a central circular island where steamers of shellfish and chowders are on the go, and where sushi is made and drinks are poured. Seats near the kitchen are extremely noisy so if you want a civil conversation, ask for a seat on the mezzanine where it’s quieter. I didn’t like the extra-large menu (awkward to hold) and cluttered format (confusing) but chef Josh Wolfe respects seafood. The quality’s there and he leaves well enough alone. The menu shows an Ocean Wise logo, meaning there are sustainable choices. Of dishes I tried, there were hits and some minor misses.

Dinner starts with an amuse bouche of delicious flatbread (crispy and made in a pizza oven) smeared with mascarpone, topped with smoked salmon, sprinkled with arugula. It amused us so much we ordered more flatbread but with sablefish, capers, olives, pinenuts and smoked mozarrella from the menu.

The crabcakes are the best I’ve had. Made in a ring collar, sides are perfectly straight; top and bottom are crisp and golden; inside, it’s very crabby. The New England Clam Chowder with double-smoked bacon, at $8, cost less than a bowl I’d had a few days earlier in Bellingham. This was delicious compared to the sludgey, clamless impersonator.

Steamer mussels and clams were in a hearty pale ale broth speckled with chorizo, tomatoes and corn. Arctic char and halibut were rustic dishes, simply grilled and served with lightly roasted tomato on the vine, another veg and lobster filled new potatoes. Fish and chips featured lovely fish; the batter wasn’t oily but too doughy for my liking and the chips were middling.

The crab gnocchi, a side dish for $14, threw me. It was smothered and lost in a bechamel-like sauce like a baked mac and cheese and honestly, if I had my druthers, I’d choose mac and cheese. I didn’t try the seafood tower ($58 for two) but it’s a good deal with beautiful King crab legs, lobster, Dungeness crab, shucked oysters, manila clams, jumbo tiger prawns (definitely not sustainable), sushi, and mussels. It would, however, look more appealing in a glass bowl rather than the double-layered metal woks.

The wine list “100 Under $100″ and a reserve list offers a great range of products and prices. The restaurant’s O Lounge, next door, is like pheromone city with servers in teensy outfits, sexy lighting, and Austin Powers meets Phillipe Starck visuals.

No shag carpeting, though.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Lolo fits right in to the Lonsdale locale as the cool new neighbourhood hangout

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Great food, great wine, better prices

Joanne Sasvari

Owner Michael Moller with some of the fare at Lolo restaurant in North Vancouver. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun, Special to The Sun

Dining at Lolo is a bit like hanging out at a good friend’s place. Things aren’t always perfect, but the mood is so friendly and the food so good that the slight hiccups just don’t matter much.

Besides, at these prices, you can always just order another glass of wine. And that always makes everything seem a lot better.

“Lolo,” for those readers who don’t live on the North Shore, is the nickname for Lower Lonsdale, that trendy area of sleek condos and funky restaurants just up from Lonsdale Quay.

Lolo, the restaurant at the corner of Lonsdale Avenue and Second Street, fits right in as the cool new neighbourhood hangout, a minimalist-chic wine bar that specializes in charcuterie and small plates, with live piano music most nights.

“Probably the most common comment we’ve been getting is North Vancouver needs a place like this, because of the price point and the casual nature of the operation,” says manager Michael Moller.

“When it comes to food, a lot of people scratched their heads at first, but now they get it, the cheese and the charcuterie.”

For a restaurant without a full kitchen, serving cured meats was a logical choice. It helps that Lolo has sourced its charcuterie from popular local sausage-makers TN & Z and Mocchia Meats, and plans to add products from Oyama soon.

The choices are interesting and at times daring — it’s not often you see spicy head loaf on a menu — and include such highlights as the black truffle-studded dry-cured pork sausage and a mild, beautifully balanced Serbian salami, as well as Mocchia’s exotic, clove-and-cinnamon-spiced Toscano.

It’s an evolving selection, too: Moller hopes to add several beef products soon, as well as patés and terrines, which will be made in-house by chef Oscar Zaragoza.

Meanwhile, Zaragoza is whipping up exceptional house-made condiments, such as the sweet carrot mustard, tangy tamarind chutney and tart pickled beets that arrive chopped into a pretty confetti alongside a generous heap of sliced meat or cheese.

Lolo also offers savoury flatbreads such as the popular “Zola,” its tender crust topped with gorgonzola and figs, or the rich “Tarti,” a crisp, buttery base slathered in a mash of potatoes, bacon lardons and melted cheese.

Then there are the spreads, such as the addictively creamy white bean and artichoke, enlivened with garlic and lemon, or the fresh-flavoured Moorish Fava Bean and Mint.

Best of all, for diners on a budget, almost every menu item is under $10. You can eat quite well here without spending a lot of money, especially as all this fun-to-share food is partnered with a nicely edited international wine list, much of which is, happily, under $40 a bottle, with several selections $30 and under.

Like the food, all the wines by-the-glass are under $10, and offer plenty of interesting options, ranging from a sparkly Prosecco to lush sherries and ports, as well as food-friendly aromatic whites and light, crisp reds.

“The guiding philosophy is three things,” Moller says. “First is how well it goes with the menu. Then price point is very important to me. Thirdly, quality. I look for very good value.”

It’s such a good deal on such good wine, it seems almost churlish to quibble about what it comes in, but unfortunately the thick, heavy, too-small glasses at Lolo do the wines absolutely no favours at all.

Then again, Moller points out that nice new wine glasses are on the way.

Also in the works is a much-needed update to the slightly barren decor: “We are looking to inject more colour and more life as well,” Moller says. Meanwhile, the warmth of the staff may well make up for the chilly décor. True, service can be hit and miss, but everyone here is just so darn nice and genuine that it’s easy to forgive pretty much anything.

You know, just like at a good friend’s house, especially if your friend’s name is Lolo.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Devilishly good food at heavenly low prices

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Ling Zheng and her staff create the food they want to cook for friends and family

Mia Stainsby

Server Andrew Beatty with cumin chili-crusted rack of lamb and a bowl of Prohibition Punch at Grub restaurant . Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

This busy ribbon of urban life is reclaiming its name. On the food front, Main Street is busting out with some of the nicest little places and good value ones at that.

Grub is the latest to slip into that category. No. Correction. It offers great value. The food is devilishly tempting, you leave well-fed and, at the end of dinner, your bill will surprise you. (In a good way.)

When I mention the generous portions to owner/chef Ling Zheng on the phone, she makes me laugh. “It’s a Chinese thing. I’m so afraid people won’t be full. I’m sick and tired of going to places and getting home and having to order take-out. I’m amazed, though, at how much people eat. They’ll go through three courses and that’s just how it should be.”

Well, lemme tell you, I was full, Ling. Very full as I left, tail wagging, doggy bag in hand. My six-foot-tall husband was, too.

Grub has been open for a month or so. The music’s great — indie rock, mostly. The cow print wallpaper along one wall looks like nursery room sweetness, but a closer look tips it into adult whimsy. The Calder-like mobile was made by friends of her father. At some point during your meal, you’ll see a server ferrying a punch in a bowl to a table. Grub has resurrected old-fashioned punch, but Zheng had to resort to urban archeology to find punch bowls with hanging cups. She finally found a whole bunch in a box, languishing in the back room of a Salvation Army store. They didn’t have the hanging half-handles she wished for, but still, they’re punch cups.

When I first walked into Grub, the menu got me all excited. The name Grub fits — the food is bistro-style spun out with flair. Entrées are well under $20 and I’d recommend sharing an antipasto plate to start ($13 to $15). Zheng and her cooks in the kitchen are quick-change artists; entrées are here, then gone so fast they’re written on erasable chalkboard (which, by the way, is hard to read from some angles). The printed menu features sharing appetizers and pizzas. I wanted to try everything, but settled on a dish that seemed to have “everything.” The seafood sharing platter is a big plate of salmon gravlax, seafood ceviche (squid and clams) and smoke trout brandade. I just loved the latter. My entrée, Alaska cod with roasted yam, had a bright contrast of mango, strawberry and celery salad (and lots of it). My husband dug into his ancho pepper rubbed pork shoulder with eggplant and chickpea stew with gusto. A fruit cobbler nearly burnt my mouth, but upon cooling was a pleasant, mom-made kind of dessert.

On a return visit, we dug into the colourful vegetarian platter with ratatouille, pickled red cabbage, pickled curry cauliflower, marinated mushrooms, hummus, vegetarian paté, bocconcini and olives. It was a really good mix of flavours and textures. (Thanks to a couple of vegetarian cooks, there’s always vegetarian and vegan options on the chalkboard.)

Duck confit was fall-apart tender and served with sausage and “been” ragout; a thin-crust pizza with sopressata (dry-cured sausage), lamb sausage, rapini, garlic and crushed chili, for $12, was rustic and once, again, generous, filling up the plate. For dessert, a lemon brulée tart.

The kitchen’s hoping not to repeat dishes as they keep switching up the chalkboard.

Other dishes have included: braised pork shoulder with anise, rock sugar, lemon grass with mango and sweet potato stew (Zheng’s mother’s specialty); butternut squash ricotta frittata with spinach dumplings and roasted red pepper sauce; empanada with roasted mushrooms, olives and goat cheese; and roasted eggplant and tomato stew with soft polenta (vegan).

“We’re creating a place and food we like to cook for our friends and family,” Zheng says. “My staff and I think and talk about what we want to eat.” As it turns out, it’s what I want to eat, too.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

An at-home feeling on the Hastings fringe

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

1940s-style cafe’s menu is the ‘heart and soul of comfort food’

Mia Stainsby

Peggy Hoffman, who with her husband Alan owns the Acme Cafe on West Hastings, shows a Chicken Club and a slice of Daily Cake, some … Photograph by: Photo By Ward Perrin, PNG, Vancouver Sun

…of the home cooking available at the retro diner. Photograph by: Photo By Ward Perrin, PNG, Vancouver Sun



Where: 51 W. Hastings; 604-569-1022.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The trend of restaurants pushing deeper into the raw fringes of the city accelerates.

Two Chefs and a Table made the boldest move a couple of years back, plunking down on the 300-block Alexander. Salt and Judas Goat settled in the middle of nitty-gritty Blood Alley; Campagnolo is on an edgy part of Main Street and even Au Petit Chavignon is a bit of swish on an iffy block of East Hastings. Calabash, a Caribbean restaurant, just opened on Carrall Street, and the iconic Save-on-Meats location has been leased by Gastown restaurant mini-czar Mark Brand, who will no doubt be doing something cool with it.

Acme Cafe sits on a boarded-up kind of street at 51 W. Hastings. It’s a throwback to an era when this street was young and vibrant. Pierre Paris and Sons was a shoe and boot shop in this building, which was redeveloped into condos.

Owners Peggy and Alan Hoffman say city officials put the location in Gastown, but the Gastown Business Association doesn’t agree. “They said Gastown doesn’t go to Hastings,” Alan says.

Peggy has worked in the restaurant industry since she was 15 as a server, and spent eight years at Bishop’s restaurant. Alan says his father was a butcher as was his grandfather. his granddad’s recipe is used for corned beef in the cafe’s Reuben sandwich.

“We use my grandfather’s Berkel meat slicer which has been in storage for 40 years,” Alan says. “It’s a beautiful old thing that slices better than an electric one.”

Walter Messiah is the chef. Until a few years ago, he was the head instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. He went to Europe, travelled around on a motorcycle, started a restaurant in Provence, sold it and returned to Vancouver.

He likes the idea of working in a place where he can see the customers enjoying the food (from the open kitchen).

They’re trying to capture the feel of a real cafe from the 1930s and ‘ 40s.

“It’s easy to cross the line and become kitschy,” he says, explaining why they didn’t install jukeboxes at the tables. They found a chrome furniture maker to do up tables and seats with Formica, Naugahyde and aluminum edging. “We want it to feel like it’s always been there, solid and homey,” says Alan.

The menu is simple and straightforward as they tended to be back then. Lunch and supper plates are chicken pot pie, mac and cheese, meat loaf and stuffed peppers. There’s also soup, a couple of salads and daily features of quiche and a crockpot dish. It’s the heart and soul of comfort food or home cooking. It’s not meant to astonish or excite, but it does hit the spot.

They do have a thing for pies. “Keep your fork, there’s pie,” is the server’s mantra there.

I’ve always thought the charming phrase traced back to a royal visit. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth visited this country shortly after her coronation and the server at a community function told him: “Keep your fork, Prince, there’s pie.” (In different renditions, I’ve heard it was a visit to the Prairies, Prince George and the Northwest Territories). Further investigation says it could have been the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Another version says it’s from a short story — a dying woman wanted to be buried with a fork because all her life, she’d heard that expression at potluck dinners and church socials and keeping her fork meant the best was yet to come.

I digress, don’t I? Just keep your fork, princess. Order the Millionaire’s Pie with cream, pineapple and pistachio. “It’s healthy,” our server said. And order coffee. It’s good.

Acme is open for breakfast and it provides the perfect homey feel to start the day.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Cactus Club wins bid to open at Vancouver’s new convention centre

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

High-profile 500-seat location to feature two patios with ‘spectacular views’

Mia Stainsby

Cactus Club president Richard Jaffray promises a ‘unique nemu.’

To Richard Jaffray, being a restaurateur is a lot like big-wave surfing.

And the avid surfer -who is president of Cactus Club Restaurants, with 20 restaurants in the chain -has just landed another big wave.

Jaffray has won a primo bid to open a restaurant in Vancouver’s new Convention Centre West complex, just west of the Olympic cauldron, in an existing stand-alone building.

“It’s definitely a stunning location,” Jaffray said. “There’ll be spectacular views from the two patios facing south and west. It’s a high-profile location for us and we’re very excited to have this.”

He was approached to compete for the lease on the building, which is 8,900 square feet on the ground level. There will be 300 seats inside and another 200 on the patios.

High-profile chef Rob Feenie will add it to the list of Cactus Club restaurants he oversees. The menu will be similar to others, but will be tweaked to serve the downtown, tourist and Convention Centre market.

“It will have a somewhat unique menu,” Jaffray said.

There are other commercial spaces that will be part of the development around the Convention Centre, he said. “Right now, there’s construction, but people will be able to walk all around the centre through to Gastown.”

Jaffray said it’s too early to talk about a budget, but he’s hired architect Mark Ostry to design interior and exterior elements.

“Right now, it’s about how to make the space work and make sure the energy works well and flows from both customer and employee perspectives. It’s gotta be comfortable. We’ll do the spatial planning then think about finishes and features.”

The building has a green roof and the whole complex is built to the highest level of sustainability, he said. “It’ll require some extra expertise.”

Jaffray said he’s confident about the aggressive expansion.

“I believe in Vancouver for the long term. The more I travel, the more I realize what a gem of a city we have. The world discovered that during the Olympics. I’m confident the economy, certainly for the city and for the province, too, is going to do well. This is a great city to do business in, even in challenging economic times.”

The Convention Centre restaurant is expected to open later this year. The chain’s 22nd location will open on English Bay beach next May.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Conviction Restaurant: This is not a con job

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

An eatery staffed by former convicts opens for business today in Vancouver

Mia Stainsby

Marc Thuet ( right) and Biana Zorich ( second from right) with the ex-convicts who will staff their Conviction Restaurant.

Restaurants don’t usually go looking to hire ex-convicts, but then whoever said chef Marc Thuet and wife Biana Zorich do the “usual”?

They open Conviction Restaurant today, with 12 ex-cons working in the kitchen and front of house. The restaurant is at 1789 Comox and it’s an honest-to-goodness business. It is also a reality-TV show called Conviction Kitchen Season 2. Season 1 was shot in Toronto after the couple turned one of their own restaurants into the reality-TV restaurant and set. He was the chef and she was general manager.

The restaurant, owned by Daniel Frankel, was formerly known as Delilah’s. (Frankel also runs Prospect Point Cafe, Mill Marine Bistro, Stanley Park Pavilion, and Burrard Bridge Bar and Grill.)

Thuet has serious culinary chops, having worked in two-and three-Michelin-star restaurants in Europe and is now operating several bistro/ bakeries in Toronto.

Josh Wolfe, executive chef at Vancouver’s Coast restaurant, worked for Thuet and is thrilled to have him in the city. “I would say hands down, he’s probably one of the best cooks in this country,” he says.

Advance press material deals with the couple’s edgy personalities head on, referring to Thuet’s “leather-clad, Harley-riding, tattoo-sporting, hard-drinking, drug-taking, unfaithful, bankrupt past.” (He’s reformed.)

And she, “beyond her good looks and big heart, is also known by staff as the Dragon Lady when things go awry and describes herself as an ambitious, money-driven, career-focused control freak.” (The woman I met was cheerful, good-humoured and bright.)

“I was a very functioning chemical lab. I lived life through chemistry,” Thuet confirms. He’s been clean for five years and feels hugely indebted to Zorich for supporting him through recoveries and relapses. Conviction Restaurant is about paying it back.

“She has given me so many chances in life and inspired me to give others a chance, to make it easier for others,” he says with a thick Alsatian accent. “I had a good 25 years of addiction and it 100-per-cent affected my reason to do this. It is about 12 people who want to change their lives. That’s the No. 1 focus.”

Thuet and Zorich had been planning to go into prisons to teach restaurant skills. But when the production company Cineflix got wind of that, their plans morphed into Conviction Kitchen.

“At the end of the day, most people have a negative image of ex-cons. It’s very difficult for them to re-integrate,” says Thuet, in an interview at the restaurant.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” says Zorich.

All but two of the ex-cons from the first season are working in the food industry and some are still with Thuet. One came to Vancouver to help with the startup of operations here. One, out of that first group, went back to prison; another is a roofer.

They did have a selection criteria. “They couldn’t have committed hideous crimes like rape, murder, child molestation,” says Zorich. Beyond that, they looked for people who love food and the restaurant culture.

“We were looking for people willing to go along on this journey and looking to change. You can sense when a person desperately wants to change.”

In the Vancouver group, one accidentally slashed himself with a knife and had seven stitches. “He’s going to be a waiter now,” Thuet says.

“You become a family when you do something like this,” says Zorich. “They come to you with problems. They’ve made stupid decisions. There’s alcohol and drugs.

“It’s one-third social work, it’s one-third being a father and mother and a small amount of work,” Thuet says. He exaggerates on the last point. The Toronto crew were putting in 14 to 15 hours a day.

The worst occurrence was when one of the ex-cons used heroin during service in the bathroom.

“It affected a lot of us who were obviously trying to stay clean. We came together and worked through it,” says Thuet, adding that all the males in that group had addictions.

As for the food, it will be in keeping with the Vancouver zeitgeist of using local, fresh and sustainable products. Expect Fraser Canyon rabbit, Sloping Hill pork, Organic Ocean shellfish, Nass River sockeye and Brooks Peninsula ling cod done in French bistro style “with a twist.”

Expect also some firsts, even for Vancouver’s leading-edge restaurant scene. The menu features horse meat tartare, an initiation for Vancouverites (but very French). Frankel was at a tasting and loved the food, but had, he says, a hard time with a salad of lamb testicle, pig brain and tongue.

But the squeamish need not quake. There will be ling cod, poached in olive oil; risotto with braised pork cheeks and boudin noir; pan seared onglet with frites and shallot reduction, and more.

Conviction Restaurant is open Wednesday to Sunday for dinner. Reservations can be made at [email protected] 604-687-3424.

The show airs this fall on Citytv on Sundays at 9 p.m. but the date is not yet set.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Come for the patio, stay for the pasta

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

West Vancouver eatery offers views into the kitchen and onto the beach

Mia Stainsby

Chef/Owner Dino Renaerts of Beachside Forno enjoys a meal on the restaurant’s water-view patio. Renaerts, who has worked at the Georgia Hotel, West, Bishops, La Gavroche and William Tell, has over 24 years of experience in the culinary business. Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG, Vancouver Sun


Beachside Forno

1362 Marine Dr., West Vancouver 604 926-3332

www.beachsideforno.comOpen daily for lunch and dinner; brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Overall: 3 1/2

Food: – 3 1/2Ambience: – – 3 1/2ervice: – – – 3 1/2 Price: $$

$$: $50 to $100

$$$: more than $100

Since Beachside Cafe in West Vancouver closed several years ago, new restaurants and chefs came marching in, one by one.

The last was Crave, the bro to another on Main Street. The last time I was there, dining on the Ambleside water-view patio, actors Anne Heche and partner James Tupper were doing the same, while fellow diners pretended not to notice.

The new place, Beachside Forno, has chef Dino Renaerts become partners with West Van power couple Paul Chalmes and Barbara Inglis. (The trio also run Fraiche, a higher-end restaurant, levitating on a lofty West Van hillside.) Chef Renaerts was previously the executive chef at the Metropolitan Hotel.

Like Crave, Beachside Forno aims to be casual with an array of comfort foods. Prices for main dishes are between $12 and $18.

The kitchen’s been totally renovated and a brick forno oven installed. The glass wall to the street has been defrosted. Now you can stand on the street and stare into the working kitchen, if you can do that without looking too creepy.

Renaerts comes with 24 years of culinary cred. He’s done the rounds at the Georgia Hotel (before reconstruction), West, Bishop’s, Le Gavroche and William Tell.

At Beachside Forno, you can cobble together a tapas meal from a nice array of appetizers if you want to go that route. There are big salads that would serve as a meal. There are pizzas, burgers with various proteins, sandwiches and pastas. But entree-style dishes with the triad of protein, starch and veggie are absent. You will find them, perhaps, as a special.

Of what I sampled, the pasta category is the strongest. I can’t say the food is consistently good; a lot of what I tried needed tweaks.

With the new forno oven, I’d like to be able to say the pizzas are killer, but whoever made mine didn’t time it right. It was pizza crust interruptus. The pale crust looked more Easy Bake Oven than blistering brick forno. However, the prosciutto, arugula, pecorino topping with reduced balsamic drizzle was good. Had the crust been crisp and blistered, I would have liked it a lot.

My pasta, as mentioned, was very good. It was linguine with seafood, herbs, garlic and a white-wine sauce that coated the noodles just right. The seafood was fresh and I really enjoyed the dish. Fish and chips were cooked nicely with lovely halibut inside. Forno-baked oysters with barbecue sauce were not exciting, but tasty.

Some dishes didn’t create sparks. Crab cakes and Vietnamese fishcakes and chili-lime sauce had sparkle in the Vietnamese salad but the fishcakes were dense and the crab cakes didn’t taste much of crab.

The halibut in halibut burger is processed into an uninspired fish cake. I would have preferred a nice filet tucked between the buns (which were bland). Saltspring Island mussels in kaffir lime and coconut curry needed more oomph; it was more coconut water than milk and the curry seemed ostracized. Seafood chowder with cream, corn and fresh herbs featured great fish but it, too, was a little too watery.

Desserts needed tweaks. A half-dome cheesecake came with what looked like frozen strawberries; ricotta lemon doughnut balls were fine; I saw through the kitchen pass, the accompanying ice cream being scooped from what looked like a Breyers brand container.

The wines are really nicely selected, with a selection of hard-to-find B.C. vintages.

All in all, I’d go back for the pasta, the patio and a great glass of wine.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

At this restaurant, you pay what you want

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Vancouver restaurant asks patrons to pay what they think their meal is worth

Bruce Constantineau

Rogue Kitchen and Wetbar owner Eli Gershkovitch sits at the newly renovated bar in his establishment at the Waterfront station in downtown Vancouver, formerly the TransContinental. Gershkovitch says that eatery was ‘perhaps too grand.’ Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG, Vancouver Sun

It’s a rogue concept for a new restaurant — telling patrons to pay what they think the food is worth.

But Vancouver entrepreneur Eli Gershkovitch will give it a try, at least for a couple of weeks.

Gershkovitch has transformed what used to be the grand, ornate Trans-Continental restaurant on West Cordova into a funkier new eatery called Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar.

The new establishment aims to be hipper, more casual and more affordable.

There are set menu prices but customers can choose to pay more or less, depending on what they feel the food is worth based on fair market value.

It’s believed to be the first time a Vancouver restaurant has put its full menu under the pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth policy.

Rogue opened with the new subjective food-pricing concept late last week and Gershkovitch said no one has paid an outrageously low price for anything yet — like $2 for a $24 New York steak.

“So far, it has almost balanced out,” he said. “People have knocked off or added a buck or two but they take it very seriously and we have had some very insightful feedback.”

Several restaurants throughout the world have tried the innovative pricing policy in recent years but the concept has never taken a firm hold in the industry and Gershkovitch admits he’ll drop it if it costs him money.

A Seattle-area coffee shop — Terra Bite Lounge — got a lot of hype when it introduced the policy in 2007 but it only lasted about two years.

U.S. bakery and restaurant chain Panera Bread Co. opened a St. Louis outlet last month where customers donate what they want for a meal. A non-profit foundation runs the restaurant and the pilot project will be expanded across the U.S. if it works.

Gershkovitch likens the policy to Radiohead’s 2007 release of its album In Rainbows, when fans paid what they wanted for a digital download.

He said he had to think outside of the box after the commercial failure of the TransContinental, which he opened with great fanfare three years ago.

It started out as a lavish, high-end restaurant with a decor that reflected the glory days of transcontinental rail travel. But it never caught on with Vancouver restaurant-goers.

“As beautiful as the TransContinental was, it was perhaps too grand,” Gershkovitch said. “There was no way of bringing it down to the point where people felt comfortable and relaxed without doing some major work on it.”

So he shut it down for six weeks this year and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on interior design changes that made the space more intimate by creating several smaller spaces within the establishment.

Four-and-a-half-metre light fixtures were installed to reduce the sense of high ceilings while hardwood floors and exposed brick have been featured to be more reflective of Gastown.

Gershkovitch said the Rogue name represents the radical transformation of the restaurant space and the unique nature of a menu that includes mini corn dogs and sushi bombs.

“This was not the time to be formulaic,” he said.

– – –

The Ground Rules

  All food menu items are subject to the policy, while liquor is not.

  Servers should still be tipped on overall quality, service and atmosphere.

  It’s not pay-what-you-want. It’s a “social contract” where you pay what you honestly feel is fair market value.

  If patrons pay more than the menu price, the difference will be donated to charity.

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New faces, tastes at Summer Night Market

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Look for Hurricane Potatoes and the Roaming Dragon food truck

Mia Stainsby

Kwang Chul Lee, of Hurricane Potato, holds up a couple of them at the Summer Night Market in Richmond. Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG, Vancouver Sun

At a glance

Summer Night Market.

Where: 12631 Vulcan Way, Richmond.

When: Open 7 p.m. to midnight and 1 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays to September 26.

I don’t care about hair clips, socks, CDs or anything I can’t eat at the Summer Night Market in Richmond. And I’d like an electronic anklet to keep me from getting too close to the snake exhibit. “You mean they’re outside the cage?” I squeaked when my partner informed me that one was draped around someone’s neck. I scurried like a nervous rat to the comfort and distraction of the food-hawker zone.

This year, there are some new and interesting food vendors. Some of them are nicely tricked out with design-conscious fronts, cute names and business cards. Others have no name, the food on offer being their only pitch.

We were greeted by a new stall at starting gates. Mollie’s Mini’s does doughnut holes. (I could get all technical and argue that they aren’t holes, they’re balls! But I won’t.) Amid all the exotic Asian fare, Mollie’s might seem like a great big yawn but these poppers are light and tasty, especially when they’re freshly hot. Just don’t get carried away. But who am I kidding? Go on. Get totally carried away. You’d have to go to Asia to find street-hawker food like this for $2 to $5. And to compensate for not actually being in Asia, these stalls are health-inspected.

Another new item I like is the Hurricane Potato. They’re whole potatoes sliced into a spiral and stretched out, looking like a double helix; they’re deep-fried but not oily and come with a choice of sauces. At $3 each or two for $5, it’s a deal.

Sumo Bites takes the idea of a burger and turns it Japanese, even more than Japadog and their hotdogs. The ‘buns’ are made of rice (kernels) formed into patties, grilled and then sandwiched around sukiyaki beef, teriyaki chicken or kurobata pork. “We saw them in Taiwan and fell in love with them,” said the perky young entrepreneur.

For the longest time, hotdogs were something I avoided, but now that they’ve risen above the ballpark version, I’m interested. A new “designer” hotdog stand offers several –nori, Thai, bonito, kimchee and cheese. I tried a kimchee hotdog. “All beef, barbecue sauce, cabbage, kimchee, fried shallots and sesame seeds” the sign said. Not bad.

I almost walked past the Rollie stand. Too much like same-old spring rolls I thought. There are two savoury and three sweet fillings in the crispy rolls. I tried the ‘apple pie’ filling but declined the ice cream. I expected canned apple pie filling but, instead, found fresh apples inside. The blueberry filling, I’m told, is locally sourced.

Moving on, I dove for one of my favourite treats. Korean fish-shaped waffles filled with sweet bean, so cute, they’re like Hello Kitty pets. The woman making them has it down to an art. Heat griddle to 350 F, pour in batter, then filling, cook for 1½ minutes. Done! You can get six for $5.

Next, the Xin Jian Man BBQ stall, where I tried barbecued lamb and chicken on skewers.

I was defying rules of etiquette and digestion, swerving between savories and sweets. I tried another new savoury, the quail egg wrap, right next to the Sumo Bites stand. Unfortunately, the egg wasn’t fully cooked and I let my husband have most of it.

There were new stalls I didn’t try. A French toast stall departs from the norm. It comes stuffed with chicken or pork. “Ordinary ones are always like toast and jam. It’s too boring,” says vendor Fred Hsu.

I passed by a place that sells barbecued ice cream, where ice cream is wrapped in dough, put on the barbecue, and I suppose, when you bite into it, you’ve got an ice cream gusher.

At another stand, a fusion of German and Indian offers curry wursts, along with tandoor chicken and butter chicken. J.J.’s Hot Cobs has a rotating roaster set up. Inside, there’s unhusked corn as well as yam roasting away.

And this weekend, look for a new food truck, Roaming Dragon with pan-Asian street foods with items like braised pork belly steam bun sliders, chicken karaage with passion fruit and palm sugar, shredded duck salad. The culinary consultant behind the menu? None other than Don Letendre, recently executive chef at Opus Hotel.

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Ken’s Chinese Restaurant menu seasoned with award winners

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Food that’s worth the wait in line

Mia Stainsby

Award-winning chef Ken Liang, owner/chef of Ken’s Chinese Restaurant, won gold for his golden Dungeness crab and lobster hotpot dishes at Vancouver’s Chinese Restaurant Awards this year. Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG, Vancouver Sun

At a glance

Where: 1097 Kingsway,
604-873-6338 Hours:
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

If you hear accents from around the world and see out-of-province licence plates in the parking lot at Ken’s Chinese Restaurant (a wallflower Chinese restaurant on Kingsway), I’ll tell you why.

Earlier this year, Conde Nast Traveler magazine mentioned a dish here in a story about Vancouver being “home to the best Chinese food in the world.” That’s got to have blanketed the world in 80 seconds and landed on many a must-do list on travelling BlackBerrys.

And the manager at Ken’s has, indeed, noticed a lot of licence plates from Washington and Alberta when he looks out the window.

And yes, I, too, loved the golden Dungeness crab for which they won the Conde Nast accolade, as well as top “crab dish” awards in 2009 and 2010 from the local Chinese Restaurant Awards. The dish was invented by owner/chef Ken Liang.

His scallops with Portuguese sauce and lobster hot pot are also award winners.

What impresses me most, however, is that he is one of the first Chinese restaurants to not-so-quietly remove shark’s fin soup from his menu because of the inhumane and wasteful process for this symbol of wealthy dining.

The soup is a profitable dish and it’s a deeply embedded Chinese tradition for large celebratory dinners (not so much weddings at his modest restaurant) like anniversaries, births, baby showers and birthdays. He served his last shark’s fin soup in March to a party of 100.

Ken’s menu can be confusing for a first-timer as it rambles. There’s a Hong Kong-style menu, group menus, a Chinese language one, as well as a lengthy a la carte.

I found the seafood to be fresh and respectfully cooked; prawns and scallops featured very good quality ingredients. A pork cheek with chives in XO sauce and pan-fried Shanghainese rice cakes were delicious.

Seafood dishes average $15; meats and poultry are about $11; and vegetable dishes average $10.

Liang was not always a cook. He always liked cooking but before immigrating to Canada 20 years ago, he sold radios and TVs in China. “My English poor, so work in kitchen,” he says in halting English. He did a tour of duty in 10 restaurants, learning as much as he could. And now he’s inventing dishes, like his famous crab dish. He dredges the crab in flour, deep-fries it until 70 per cent cooked, then cooks it in a wok with a sauce of egg yolk, garlic, butter and Chinese wine.

(You can view him cooking the dish for a TV show on the restaurant website.)

Regulars also like his Triple A beef tenderloin dish, Ken’s special chicken (somewhat like Hainanese chicken but not the same), clams with spicy sauce and from the Hong Kong-style menu, the lamb rack gets a lot of compliments from regulars.

It’s a busy place. Soon after we arrived it was full and people waited for tables outside.

In other words, on weekends, you’ll have to reserve if you want some of that Golden Dungeness Crab. At the time of writing, the market price was $11 a pound and the average crab is about three pounds.

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