Sunday, June 27, 2010

Durian Hi-Chew Candy

Hi-Chew candy is kind of like a combination between gum and Starburst except it's better. It's soft, chewy and comes in a wide variety of interesting flavors including lychee, dragon fruit, cantelope and yuzu and also more traditional flavors like strawberry and grape. There are also limited edition specialty flavors, which includes one of our favorites: sour ume plum!

We spotted this durian Hi-Chew candy at a Japanese convenience store on sale for 99¢ and were curious to find out what the flavor was like. I wasn't sure what to expect because I have never tasted durian before but I have heard horror stories about it smelling like rotting flesh, offensive enough to result in banishment from a number of hotels in southeast Asia. The disgusting smell of the fresh fruit must be part of the reason why this candy was on sale; it's not the most inviting flavor when sitting next to other choices like green apple or strawberry cheesecake. No need to worry though, this is just as good as other Hi-Chew offerings and there is no strange smell or aftertaste; it has a subdued sweetness and smooth taste with hints of coconut and banana. Ultimately it is a unique and interesting flavor and I am curious how closely it resembles real durian. Apparently if you can get past the distinctive odour, durian has a creamy custard-like texture and nutty flavor and although it sounds a little bit scary, I would like to give it a try sometime, though I wouldn't expect it to taste like this candy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ya Yah Thai Cuisine

This place is just down the street from where we live so we've been here a number of times, I think it used to be called Yum Yah and has since changed hands but the menu remained pretty much the same. I've tried a few dishes and combos but we always order Spicy Beef Salad, it's really good and spicy and satisfying even though the presentation and preparation seem to differ occasionally (for example, this last time the dish contained slices of tomato rather than cherry tomatoes which was a bit disappointing). Once or twice we ordered it "hot" and the waiter sort of warned us that it's seriously hot and it was a bit much to handle, I think it's generally understood that when a Thai restaurant says hot, they mean hot. The chicken satay skewers in the first photo are a great option from the appetizer section of the menu; much more tender and nicely seasoned chicken than seems to be the norm for satay skewers and the sauce has a rich peanut flavor and a bit of heat. We'll keep visiting Ya Yah Thai Cuisine when the craving for beef salad inevitably rears its head, hopefully next time they'll have cherry tomatoes.

Ya Yah Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Extra Indulgent

New York Cheesecake served with Nutella, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and fresh strawberries. Recipe here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eggs on Toast with Spicy Chipotle Salsa

This is roughly what we eat for breakfast on most days: eggs made with homemade salsa on toast with some variation of cheese. We're generally not fortunate enough to gorge on Camembert but I ate this while I was visiting my parents and taking advantage of their wonderful cheese selection. I can't think of many things that go together as well as my mom's salsa recipe and eggs. This salsa has such a fantastic smoky flavor, it's so easy to make and extremely versatile, a few ingredients can yield a big batch and it's a simple but delicious enhancement to a huge variety of meals. If you want it spicier you can easily add as many jalapeƱos and chipotles as you can handle.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar


Toro Sashimi

Sockeye Salmon Roll

Beef Sashimi

Beef Tenderloin

Assorted nigiri

Uni nigiri

My dad took my sister and I to Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar when he was visiting recently. He always wants to eat seafood - oysters, at least - when visiting the coast, which is a pretty good thing to do! I've been curious about Blue Water Cafe for a while, it's got a strong reputation though it's a bit more upscale than anywhere I usually eat and it always seems packed any night of the week. We couldn't get a reservation on a Thursday night except at the sushi bar which turned out to be really fun, watching "raw bar chef" Yoshihiro Tabo and his team ceaselessly slicing and preparing their mostly Japanese/West Coast Japanese dishes. We ordered primarily from the raw menu which consists of oysters, sushi, sashimi and some "small plates" like tuna tataki, softshell crab karaage and goma-ae. I liked the toro (tuna belly) and beef sashimi most; the tuna was insanely fresh, I think you can actually see it beginning to liquefy in the photo, transcending the edifice of "fish meat", already reaching toward its true, greater purpose as a substance of pure flavor (yeah it was that good). It was so fresh and "melt in your mouth" that it managed only to suggest its state of matter as solid for a fleeting moment upon lingual contact - a matter of textural formality - before surrendering. Ungh, delicious!

My dad also ordered the beef tenderloin with swiss chard and cavatelli pasta gratin with bleu benedictine chanterelle mushrooms, pearl onions and bordelaise sauce. The steak itself was impressive but even the pasta gratin could have stood alone on the menu, making this dish a much better value than a comparable cut of beef at a steak house where accompanying items often seem like afterthoughts to make a plate-of-steak appear less empty. It's easy to understand what makes Blue Water Cafe (+ Raw Bar) such a popular Yaletown destination, it's not really the kind of place that suits me or my budget but it didn't feel pretentious or gimmicky and every dish and sliver of fish came across with an honest simplicity underscored by very carefully calculated preparation.

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jimmy's: The Best Shawarmas Ever?

I had wanted to try the shawarmas at Jimmy's A&A Mediterranean Deli in Calgary for a long time after hearing/reading so many good things about them. I've never been crazy about shawarmas, perhaps owing to the fact that I have never had a very good one before; memories of dry meat and underwhelming spicing comes to mind. These sounded different from my past experiences and I had to see for myself what the hype was all about.

I ordered a small chicken shawarma ($7.50) with everything on it. People are not exaggerating when they say the portions are huge - they are MASSIVE - and packed to the point of spilling over with each bite. I don't mind messy food so this doesn't bother me, just be sure to be careful while you eat or you will end up with a sauce-covered shirt and pile of meat in your lap! The servings of meat are generous and the chicken was tender and seasoned to perfection. Everything was fresh and the sauce has a bold garlic flavor which I loved. Even though I only had a size small, it was incredibly filling and I was satisfied for the entire evening. It's worth the price for the quality of ingredients and portion size, you get what you pay for.

I wish I had known about Jimmy's when I was still living in Calgary, I can only imagine how many times I would have stood in line excitedly waiting to order. I look forward to the next time I visit so that I can finally satisfy my craving for a good shawarma.

Jimmy's A&A Mediterranean Deli on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 11, 2010

New York Cheesecake

For Cory's birthday yesterday I made a New York cheesecake topped with fresh mango and strawberries. Initially I had wanted to make something more complicated but we ended up spending a lot of time looking through recipes unable to decide which one we felt like trying. Some recipes sounded amazing but were definitely out of my comfort zone since they require endless ingredients or techniques that likely call for a fair bit of trial and error before perfecting. I wanted to make something relatively easy and sure to please and New York cheesecake was the obvious choice! I have made this recipe on a few occasions in the past and it has never disappointed; it's creamy, rich, not too sweet and will compliment any topping to your liking.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kingyo Izakaya

How long are we going to continue hearing izakayas described as "Japanese tapas"? With the undwindling popularity of these eating and drinking establishments in Vancouver, there are now probably more people familiar with izakaya than tapas and it's probably only a matter of time before we start hearing tapas explained as "Spanish izakaya". Really, they're entirely different beasts and if you aren't sure what an izakaya is, the best way to find out is, of course, to go eat at one! The dishes are conducive to sharing and accompanying drinks so an izakaya is the perfect place to spend an evening with friends, hopefully sampling a large chunk of the varied menu and often creative beverage offerings. The Lower Mainland - and especially the West End of downtown Vancouver - has been spawning a seemingly endless renaissance of great izakayas and, if local popularity is any indication, they've likely popped up all over the west coast if not all of North America.

As is the case with all Japanese cuisine, freshness and traditional ingredients are vital and Vancouver's proximity to the ocean (as well as, I suppose, Japan) is definitely a key factor in the success and high quality of local izakayas. I've personally been frequenting the izakayas of downtown Vancouver since 2005 but did not until recently make it to Kingyo Izakaya on Denman street even though it's been open for two or three years. Due to its decor and the exterior of the building, I assumed it would be on the higher end price-wise and potentially suffer from too much style over substance like some of the other "trendy" izakayas I've visited.

Photos by Jun Matsumoto, from the Kingyo website

However, the majority of dishes are under $10, comparable to the other izakayas in the surrounding neighborhood. There are also a lot of more deluxe items on the menu; wagyu (kobe) beef is closer to $20 and sashimi platters will obviously run higher but the value is competitive. The atmosphere in Kingyo is a really good balance between Aki's humble, traditional, classic look and the careful sleekness of modern restaurant design options. It feels very modern yet avoids the problem I have with some other izakayas that try to be so trendy and "nightlife-y" they feel more like a lounge or nightclub than a comfortable dining establishment (Hapa Izakaya, for example, I feel crosses the line into a kind of snobby lounge that can't back up its style with high quality food). Food should be the most important thing about a restaurant and everything I've tried during two extensive visits to Kingyo have impressed me...but enough talk, here are our photos:

Tuna Tataki

Stone Grilled Beef Tongue

Aonori Calamari

Grilled Duck

I can't find anything to criticize about the food at Kingyo, everything was just right. It's a lot of fun to cook the meat on a stone (next time I want to try their Wagyu beef in a similar format) and all the items tasted really fresh, of course. I was surprised to see the fried squid listed as calamari and not ika karaage but it really was a Japanese flavored calamari, prepared perfectly. Every dish was really balanced and just the right amount of food for two of us to get enough of each item, it's the kind of place that makes you feel like ordering one of everything! It was also my first time trying duck and I'm definitely a fan now. We were too full for the decadent pork miso soup which I really liked on my first visit. Kingyo is great value and a fun place to eat and drink (oh yeah, Kingyo means goldfish and their sake is served in handmade, raku ware-style [Japanese earthenware pottery] goldfish, very nice touch) and has definitely found a place on our izakaya rotation.

Kingyo on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 4, 2010

Red Bean Buns and Sticky Rice Cakes

Sometimes we get cravings for cheap sweets from Chinese bakeries. Normally paying a few dollars for some red bean and custard filled buns is enough to satisfy us but sometimes the low price is also reflected by poor quality (one of these was so dry inside it seemed to barely have any filling at all!). We tried to buy a custard bun but it was labeled improperly so we ended up with two red bean filled ones instead, oh well.

I've been fond of these spongy gelatinous rice cakes ever since I was a little kid. Every once in a while my parents would take my brothers and I to a Chinese bakery for rice cakes and egg tarts and it was exciting because we didn't get sweets or treats very often. The rice cakes have an interesting flavor - kind of like a mix of sweet and sour - and it really appeals to me because I don't really like my desserts overly sweet. It's been a few years since I've had an egg tart so maybe next time I will get one for nostalgia's sake. Any suggestions for what to get at Chinese bakeries?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Southwestern Black Bean Salad

This salad is great for numerous reasons: the ingredients are incredibly cheap, it's healthy, easy to make and includes avocado (a sure way to make any dish at least twice as delicious). We usually eat it with pita chips and tend to have enough leftovers for breakfast the next day; the longer you leave it marinating the more flavorful it becomes so it's improved by a night in the refrigerator. It also tastes good with chopped orange bell pepper and I'd like to try it with quinoa sometime. We brought this to a potluck before and it was a big hit!