Monday, October 25, 2010

Trees Organic Coffee


Trees proudly claims to make the best cheesecake in Vancouver and after three visits and three variations (chocolate swirl, mocha, lemon-lime), I can say it's the best I've had in the city. There are a handful of other places I'd like to try before making any final judgments but for now Trees stands on top. Each variation I've sampled has been so airy and creamy, every bite practically melts in your mouth upon impact. What steps do they follow that bring forth such a fluffy, perfectly baked cake? I wish I knew.

It's a bit pricey ($5.99 - $6.99 per slice) but since I don't know how to make this at home, it's worth it every once in awhile. People generally seem to expect to pay less at a small cafe whereas at a nice restaurant it's considered normal to shell out at least $10 for dessert. Cheesecake is the main focus at Trees and they give generous portions and have high standards for quality (all of the ingredients are organic) so I think the pricing is generally reasonable. I've never tried the strawberry topping because it doesn't seem worth the extra dollar for strawberries and sugar. Even without the extra topping, every piece of cake includes whipped cream and drizzles of chocolate or other sauces. The coffee is as good as you'd expect from any decent, high-end cafe.

I don't think it's necessary for Trees to make bold claims about having the "best cheesecake in town". It's good enough that it stands up on it's own and doesn't need the hype. Maybe it's good for getting people in the door but I'm sure it also makes some approach it with a more critical eye. With such high expectations it's harder to please; instead of being pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture many will be questioning if it's really the BEST, comparing it to everything else they've tried instead of just enjoying it. Personally I prefer when establishments are a bit more humble and let the customers decide for themselves. Either way, I recommend Trees for the cake, coffee and warm, pleasant atmosphere.

Trees Organic Coffee (Granville) on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 15, 2010

Benkei


A block or two from both Kintaro and Motomachi Shokudo, Benkei Ramen was, until recently, the newest addition to the "ramen district" around the intersection of Robson and Denman in downtown Vancouver's West End. While Kintaro seems to be the established, more traditional, ramen joint in Vancouver and Motomachi Shokudo is a bit more modern, higher end and features some original variations of ramen, Benkei offers a much more streamlined experience. The menu is very standardized and easy to understand; one side shows the variety of basic choices (different broths are shio, shoyu, miso, akaoni and peko, each come with their vegetables and toppings) and the other side lists additional items like spinach, kimchi, egg, etc., that cost 50 cents each to add to your ramen. There are also side dishes like gyoza but I've never felt the need to order anything other than a giant bowl of soup.

I think Benkei is overall the cheapest option out of those restaurants ($7.30 for the cheapest "basic" bowl) and the food always arrives within minutes of ordering, even when it's totally packed. I think the ramen at Kintaro is a bit more substantial and I prefer their chashu (pork slices) but Benkei is a close contender, especially their spicy "Akaoni" (that's what's in the photo above). There is definitely a place for Benkei despite competition from the already established ramen places and they must be doing something right because several new Benkei locations have opened up in and around downtown, all fitting the same streamlined format that makes Benkei perfect as a franchise. Apparently there is always room for more ramen in this town because Hokkaido Ramen Santouka opened up a few months ago just down the street from the first Benkei location. All these places manage to compete with each other, both in terms of price and quality, and offer their own benefits and signature takes on the versatile dish which is good news for ramen-fans.

Benkei Ramen (Robson) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thanksgiving and Tacos


It was just Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and though it isn't a huge holiday here like in the States, we still wanted to make something special to suit the occasion. Sharing a gigantic turkey between only two people would have been crazy so we ate a roasted chicken instead. The sad looking dollop next to the chicken is spicy mustard, it doesn't look very pretty but I love the combination, much more flavorful and suitable to my tastes than gravy. We baked some yams, drowned them in butter, sauteed spinach and tomatoes and sprinkled roasted garlic over everything. It was a simple but delicious meal, the yams were so soft and sweet.


The next day most of the chicken was still waiting to be eaten. One of my favorite things to do with leftover meat is to shred it and eat it in tacos. Maybe I'm just slow but it took me an hour to separate all of the meat from the bones and tear it into little strips. Shredded meat fried with onions and salsa (this recipe) makes a great taco filling, it's even better with pork instead of chicken! On top is a mixture of red cabbage, tomato, green onion, cilantro, Mexican chili powder, cumin and lime juice. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

South China Seas Trading Co.


South China Seas Trading Co is a tiny specialty shop located on Granville Island. For such a small space, they've managed to pack it with extremely fresh - and often difficult to find - ingredients. Some of the things they were selling - turmeric root, galangal, black garlic, ghost peppers - I've never seen available anywhere before, some things I've only read about online. The ginger they had looked so fresh and juicy, a far cry from the dry, wrinkled pieces that I'm used to seeing in most grocery stores. Everything is chosen and displayed with care, even if you aren't looking for anything in particular, it's nice to browse their selection and maybe find something new to try.

They also sell a variety of other specialty items such as kettles, comals, molcajetes, tortilla presses and a selection of books related to cooking, regional cuisines and food in general. It's difficult to resist the temptation to buy everything that catches your eye, especially knowing it's hard to find some of these things anywhere else, even if you don't know what to do with them! After this visit, we came away with a head of black garlic which turned out to be surprisingly sweet, kind of like balsamic vinegar mixed with honey - delicious!