Golden Pita Restaurant

In the Lougheed area, there are a ton of Korean restaurants, a few Chinese and Japanese places, and even a couple of Greek places, but there is only one Lebanese restaurant, and luckily for us, it's a pretty good place to eat. The restaurant is called Golden Pita Restaurant, located near Red Robin and the recently departed Liquor store. It's a little bit hard to find. It's a tiny spot, with seats for only about 15 people, but it's a local favorite and run by a Lebanese family.

We arrived around 6pm and the restaurant was full of eat-in diners, and people who were getting takeout.

The interior is very basic, with menus and pictures of the food on the walls. You order at the counter and wait until they bring the food to your table. The menu has the usual Mediterranean items, like donairs, falafels, hummous and meat plates. An interesting thing is that they have specials everyday. They also do catering, and the prices are pretty reasonable.

After we ordered, we sat ourselves down at the window seat, right below the TV showing the 6 o'clock news. The wait was a little long for the food--but then they were pretty busy. One bad thing is that they brought out Shane's plate first, while I had to wait for a long while for my plate to arrive.

Shane ordered the Friday special, Lebanese Beef plate ($10). This was strips of beef, with a salad, rice, tomato, tzatziki, pita, and a creamy onion salad. He really enjoyed this. Bits of the beef was a bit tough, but the seasoning was amazing. It was nicely spiced, with notes of cinnamon, and you could tell that the beef had been marinated a long while. We were also surpised by the quality of the sides. I normally don't like Mediterranean style rice, but this was was extremely flavorful. Each rice kernel was plump and had a good firm texture (while still being fully cooked), and it was seasoned to perfection. There were also little noodle-y things in the rice, which I'd never seen before. The salad was fresh, and the dressing was a delicious homemade concoction that tasted a little like Italian dressing. Even the onion salad was great--the creaminess of the sauce quietened the rawness of the onions. Everything was delicious.

I was stealing food from Shane's plate because I was waiting so long, but finally my Veggie plate ($9) arrived. This was a sampler, and it included: 2 falafels, a spinach pie, a veggie pocket, dolmates, tabbouleh, and hummous. The spinach pie was unusual and delicious--it just had spinach inside, unlike the Greek spanakopita, and it was really good, having a slight tangy flavour. The veggie pocket was similar in taste to a potato samosa, and it was good as well. The stuffed grape leaf was really flavourful, tender and with a bright zing. The hummous could have used more lemon, in my opinion, but you could taste the tahini and the chickpeas really well. Tabbouleh is one of my favorite salads, and this one was good--it looked like it had been sitting around a while (the parsley were a little wilted, and there was a lot of liquid), but the the sourness of the salad just brightened up the whole plate.

Finally, the falafels! This was what look so long, because unlike a lot of other places, they were made and fried to order. We ordered the side of falafels ($6), and these plump, large brown rounds arrived with a side of Lebanese pickles and a tahini sauce. They were crisp, crunchy and had a great coarse/crumbly texture. They weren't as well seasoned as those at Nuba, but they were still tasty and fun to eat.

Golden Pita is a great place to visit, especailly if you like falafels. We will definitely come back to try other menu items, especially the daily specials. It's a very modest little place, but in care and love in the food, this place is huge.

Golden Pita Foods on Urbanspoon

Pique In Action

One of our favorite photographic subjects is Pique the cat. She usually stays still for the camera, especially when she's sleeping, but the other day Shane got a few 'action' shots of her cleaning her face.

Look at that tongue!

North Garden

There are about three Chinese restaurants in our neighborhood in the Lougheed area, and surprisingly, all of them have the word "garden" in it (Mui Garden; Yan's Garden; North Garden). Last week we went to one of our regular Chinese spots, North Garden, right on the corner of North Road and Cameron. It's quite a big restaurant, with booths on one side and tables in the rest of the room; at the back there is also an additional room that consists primarily of booths. The decor is minimal, but this place has really tall ceilings which are painted a cobalt blue. The feeling is of strange combination of old-school diner with modern, industrial bits thrown in there.

We've been here many times before, and I must admit that the service has sucked. Being ignored happens on a regular basis, and you're just left alone. To be honest, we've kind of gotten used to this indifference--it gives you a kind of anonymity that can be refreshing. However, much to our surprise, this time around, the service was excellent. Our waitress was nice and not too chatty, and she even asked us how we liked things. Plus, she even asked us if we wanted dessert, and brought our bill promptly! Awesome.

Every time we come here I almost always order the HK style cold milk tea. It's sweet and delicious, and reminds me a little of the 'cha yen' that I used to have in Thailand.

The restaurant has a very large menu, and they have cheap lunch specials. This time around, we opted for the combo dinner, which is 2 dishes with choice of soup, rice, and dessert, all for $26 bucks. This is a great deal, since the soup that comes with it is pretty large.

North Garden has one of my favorite places for hot and sour soup. I love this soup, and I've had mixed experiences with other restaurants. Word of warning though: I like the soup to have strong flavours, and this really fit the bill. It is very sour and quite spicy. Yet delicious! In addition to the usual pork, bamboo, egg, etc., they have really crunchy shrimp in the soup. This is almost up there with the Hot and Sour soup from Bo Kong.

For one of the main dishes, we chose the crispy chicken with soya. This arrived brown and glistening to our table. The chicken was cooked really well: moist, juicy and with really crispy, yummy skin (which was, of course, the best part). The pile of julienned ginger and green onion gave the dish a really nice flavour as well.

The last dish we got was the Szechuan green beans, which is a dish we get pretty often. It doesn't have the special numbing peppercorns, however; this green bean dish has just pork, onion, and bits of pepper. Not spicy at all. However, it tastes pretty good. The beans are crisp (though a little greasy), and the sauce just coats every last bit of bean. Really good with rice.

One of the great things about this place (and Chinese places in general) is the portions. We ate until we were full, but we still had enough leftovers for two more meals.

North Garden on Urbanspoon

Tree House Cafe - Salt Spring Island

In the middle of Ganges on Salt Spring Island there is this unique restaurant that makes you feel like you're eating in a tree house. It's appropriately called the Tree House Cafe. This place is more or less an outdoor restaurant (only open in summer), with wooden tables, wooden floors, and roof built around this big, tall, beautiful tree. The tree itself stands right smack in the middle of the restaurant.

The food itself is full of local goods, with an emphasis on vegetarian. Of course we didn't order anything vegetarian!

We arrived and sat at a table. Of course the service was slow, because the restaurant was full, but it was relaxing sitting there. We observed some sparrows going after some crumbs on the floor. They were pretty loud and cute. Unfortunately one of them left me a souvenir on my bag.

No fries here. Their burgers come with a choice of salad. I ordered the lamb burger with mango chutney and goat cheese with a Caesar salad. I was a bit apprehensive ordering lamb because of the lamb cheek experience at the Faux Bourgeois, but we were in Salt Spring, and the lamb was local, so I had to order this. It turned out to be oh-so-delicious. The burger was thick, juicy and extremely flavourful - I could taste that it had just come off the grill. The mango chutney was a good accompaniment, but the best part was the goat cheese. It goes so well with the lamb and mango, and it was gooey and rich, and brought the burger to the heights of heaven. One of the best burgers I've had. The salad was not that great though, wilted and overdressed.

Shane got the local beef burger with cheddar and bacon, with spinach salad. The salad was nothing to write home about (but at least the bland dressing was on the side). The burger was again tremendous. Thick, juicy, well seasoned, and the bacon was perfectly cooked. It was delicious. I thought it was one of the best burgers (again!), but surprisingly Shane said he preferred the one at Jimmy's. I don't get that.

Overall the restaurant exceeded my expectations. I was kind of sick of burgers and sandwiches before this place, but Tree House has definitely renewed my faith.

Salt Spring Inn

While we were on Salt Spring Island, we dined at a couple of restuarants. We visited Salt Spring Inn in the early afternoon, just after our ferry arrived to the island. I'd wanted to go there because their breakfast/brunch menu looked great, but unfortunately we were a few minutes late for brunch, so we had to settle for lunch items.

We sat on the nice shady patio in front of the restaurant. It was really pleasant.

Shane ordered the Pender Island Porter, which is not available in stores. It's a tremendously dark beer (the server even warned us about it, saying not many people like this), but it was up Shane's alley. It was dark, rich, complex, but not too bitter. I even liked the first sip of this.

I didn't feel like anything heavy (kind of unsual), so I ordered the pear, candied pecan, cranberry and Salt Spring goat cheese salad. This was delicious. The pear was crisp and sweet, and went really well with the delicious and creamy local cheese. Normally I don't like sweet stuff on my salad, but even the pecans and cranberries went well with the lemon dressing. The dressing was fresh and lemony, without a hint of sweetness. It was great.

Shane ordered the Inn's version of the clubhouse, with chicken, bacon, tomato, and lettuce. I'm particular about clubhouses, and this didn't make it. Eventhough it's a lot of bread, I like the triple stacker, and classic turkey. Shane thought this was merely ok--there wasn't a lot of chicken, and it just tasted average. The fries were also just okay. They stuck together, and weren't that crispy--some fries were even soggy.

We had a bit of an adjustment at this restaurant. It's definitely island service here, on island time. It took them about 10 minutes to bring us water and the menus, and everything was super slow. But I hear this is typical of the restaurants here.

La Taqueria

A month ago I noticed that the old 'Nuba' building had been painted a bright yellow, and there was a green outline of what looked like a Madonna-type figure on the building. It was eye-catching and I was wondering what this place was going the end up as. Well, this place became La Tacqueria, a shiny, brand-new taco spot on West Hastings, between Homer and Cambie.

When I visited the restaurant, the building was painted a more subdued white, and the Madonna figure was entirely in full colour. The painting is really, really beautiful--definitely the most attractive restaurant front I've seen. The Madonna mural is a work of art: she is glowing and surrounded by the warmest golden halo, and she has the most beatific, peaceful expression on her face. I must say, the painting is worth the visit, never mind the food!

The interior of the restaurant is attractive, but TINY. There are a few seats on the main counter, and rows of turquoise coloured counters and wooden bar stools along both left and right walls. The front of the restaurant facing the window is mainly cooking space, and there is a large glass partition so you can see the chefs at work. Along the top of one wall is the red-framed Taco menu written on chalkboard, detailing its diverse selection of tacos such as beef tongue, pork cheek, tofu, chicken mole, and fish, among many others. They also proudly proclaim on the menu that their products are free-range, organic, and sustainable, which is really, really awesome, and very well makes up for the price of the tacos ( meat - $2.50, veggie - $2.00, and a set of four meat tacos for $9.95, set of four veggie tacos for $7.00).

When I arrived, there were a handful of people sitting at the main counter, and I was pleased to notice that there were a few Spanish speaking people among them. I decided to eat in and ordered the set of four. In the end I chose the Pollo Con Mole (chicken mole), Pescado (fish), Asada (griled beef) and Carnitas (pork confit).

clockwise from top: Pescado, Asada, Carnitas, and Pollo Con Mole

On a side bar there is an assortment of salsa in squeeze bottles: hot, medium and green; there is also stone mortar-like bowls of vinegary pickled onion (sliced thin and pink) and sliced chilis, along with a jug of water and plastic cups.

The tacos came promptly on a red plastic plate, served with a couple of wedges of lime. They doubled up on the corn torilla, which made for more sturdy handling. Still, it was an extremely messy eat, because I like to put salsa and lime on mine. I'm no taco expert, but these babies tasted good. The flavours were sharp, fresh, and bright. The pickled onion was bracingly sour.

My favorites were definitely the fish and the beef. The fish taco was beautiful--thick slices of fish that were well-cooked, tasty and delicate, and so good with salsa. The beef taco was surprisingly tender as well. The cucumber which topped the beef taco gave the taco a really good clean and refreshing flavour. The chicken mole was quite good, but don't think I was in the mood for a heavy sauce that day. This was my least favorite. The pork taco was very porky, but still good. The salsas were really amazing (especially the red ones)--very well flavoured, lots of lime and deep in flavour.

La Taqueria is very impressive, from the outside to the inside. Truly, a great addition to the downtown/gastown area.

May it live long!

La Taqueria Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

Salt Spring Weekend!

Last weekend both Shane and I took Friday off and went to Salt Spring Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands in BC. It was a long ferry ride from Vancouver, about 3 hours, though this is mainly because the ferry stopped along other islands in between. The weather was sunny and warm, and I passed the journey reading, sleeping and knitting.

We stayed at Ganges Hill B&B, a loft cottage with its own bathroom and kitchenette. It was bright and very cute.

Every morning we would wake up to breakfast at our door: something freshly baked and still warm, a fruit plate, and juice.

Large slices of apple cake

Cinnamon buns

Caught a plane in mid-air....

We stayed right near Ganges, the little town there. For such a small town, there were four bookstores! Everyone there seemed really relaxed. We saw lots of hippies, young and old. We also saw the writer and artist Nick Bantock at a bookstore.

Pears hanging over the water

The water was so clear you could see right to the bottom. There were a lot of purple starfish, and a few little jellyfish too.

On Saturday we went to the weekly market. It was very crowded and hot that day.

We bought these French pastries from the market. One is a kind of Bretagne cake, and the other is a pastachio macaron. They were both delicious. I especially loved the initial crunch and softness of the macaron.

Fresh Shitake mushrooms!

That Saturday also happened to be Salt Spring's 2nd annual Pride Parade. It was pretty small, but still cool. People were really happy.

That night we had dinner at a writer/publisher's place.

This is their yellow dog, who was very kind and gentle. There was also a black cat who liked to talk to everyone about his day ("meow, mew, mew, meow..."), and a more elusive calico (!) cat

They also had chickens in their yard! The chickens would roam around the back and front yard to their heart's content, but they had to be called back into their cage at the end of the night. These chickens seemed pretty happy.

Happy chickens lay lots of eggs.

It was a pretty great weekend. It was my first time to Salt Spring, and it was lovely. We met lots of people, particularly writers, and I caught a glimpse at a much more relaxing, laid-back life.

We spent most of Sunday traveling back, but we arrived on time to watch the new episode of Mad Men. Hurrah!

I must say, though...going back to work on Monday was particularly hard.

Fuji Sushi

There are a handful of Japanese places in the Lougheed/North Road area, a couple of them are of note because they are Japanese-run. One of them is Fuji Sushi, in Burquitlam Plaza, right next door to Paros Taverna, a Greek restaurant. We've been to Fuji numerous times and have never been disappointed by the the food. However, we hadn’t eaten at Fuji’s in quite a while, so we decided to pay a visit late last week. The restaurant was half full when we arrived, but soon after the place filled up. Customers were a Japanese, other Asians and Caucasians, a pretty good mix.

The restaurant is on the small side, with a front section of tables that seats around 20 people and a back section of small Japanese screened dining ‘rooms’, which are generally for larger groups. A sushi bar takes up about a quarter of the room, and you can sit at the bar and observe the chefs make your sushi if you are so inclined. The restaurant has the same cozy feel as a lot of other modest Japanese restaurants; the space is comfortable looking, with green walls, wood paneling, blown-up photographs from Japanese festivals, and black tables and chairs.

We sat down at a table and were promptly brought cups of green tea. It was a very good green tea, I might add. We decided on a few small dishes to share.

First was the Spinach Gomaae ($3.25), which arrived in a neat little pile in a small bowl. Fuji’s version is very simple, with minimal dressing and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. I liked this version, because you can actually taste the spinach. I’ve had many other versions where the sauce totally overwhelmed the spinach. It’s a matter of preference, I suppose.

We also ordered the Ika Geso ($3.00), or grilled squid legs. The legs/tentacles are my favourite parts of the squid, and this dish made me happy. The slightly charred legs were carefully arranged on a small blue and white rectangular plate, piled one on top of another in a puddle of sauce. This was delicious—the tentacles were chewy yet still tender enough to bite, and there was a distinct grilled taste. This was so good that we had to savour this, one little bite at a time to prolong the texture pleasure.

Another little appetizer we got was the Chicken Karaage ($4.25), which were actually four pieces of boneless, battered, deep fried chicken thigh (one piece actually looked like it had been accidentally half-coated in tempura batter as well). It came with, puzzlingly, a little side of Chinese style hot and sour sauce, which actually tasted pretty good with the chicken. The chicken pieces were delicious: the batter was brown, crispy and very well seasoned, and the dark meat was moist and tender.

For Nigiri sushi, we got 2 pieces each of Tuna ($1.25 each), Tako (octopus, $1.75 each), and Anago (sea eel, $2.50 each). These arrived on a traditional sushi geta, or a wooden ‘platform’. The tuna was fresh tasting and the rice was well seasoned and cooked well, but the highlights were the Tako and Anago. I love tako, and so many sushi restaurants don’t prepare it well—the tako is either too tough and/or has lost all its flavour. I’ve had moments where it’s all chew, chew, chew. Fuji does octopus well: first of all it’s so nicely presented, with a thin maki ribbon around the ‘waist’ of the sushi like a tiny black belt. The slices of tako were thick, generous, and so very tender with still some octopus (chewy) texture. Best of all was the flavour of the slices: each piece had a sweetness to it, but also that characteristic saltiness which comes from the creature living in the sea. The other thing we were impressed with was the Anago, or grilled eel. The fish was nicely seasoned with a kind of sweet soy, and it was cooked perfectly: the flesh of the eel was soft and fluffy and just melted in the mouth. I barely had to chew.

We also had a few rolls, California B (with real crab, $3.95), Spicy Tuna ($3.00) and Ume Shiso ($1.99), which sat on a beautiful curved wooden plate. I’m not a big fan of the standard California roll, because it's a boring taste, but this one with real crab was especially good. This didn’t need to be dipped in soy, because the natural saltiness and taste of the crab does it all. Amazing, you can taste the ingredient! So good.

The spicy tuna roll was also great--large chunk of tuna with straight up chili (Sriracha) sauce, with barely a hint of (if any) mayo. This left a nice heat in our mouths. Really enjoyed it.

One of the reasons I like Fuji is that they have the Ume Shiso roll, which contains umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) and shiso (a slightly pungent, minty Japanese leaf). The pickled plum is extremely salty and sour, but in this roll it gives the rice a good kick (the chef puts in just the right amount, this is very important). The shiso leaf gives the roll an stringent herbal quality, and giving the umeboshi a nice, strong back bone. The sour, saltiness, rice, and herbal taste of the roll wakes up your all the tiny little papillae of your tongue. Most Japanese restaurants don’t have this roll for some reason. I suppose it’s because most people don’t like it (for the record, my DH hates this roll; he says it tastes like a “dirty sock”), so it’s for people with sour/salty tooth, if there is such a thing. But personally, this roll is one of my favourite things to eat.

This is a bit of a side note, but the pickled ginger here is extremely good. It’s not (dyed) pink like a lot of places, but the ginger is a fresh light yellow, and it is tasty and strong. Stronger than the usual ginger you get at most places, I must say. It twinkles your toes, shivers your timbers, pulls up your boots…etc.

Fuji is a rare find--always reliable and consistent, and is a great place to go if you’re looking for an authentic Japanese restaurant in the area. The fish is always fresh, the ingredients are top notch, and you’ll find dishes that you wouldn’t necessary find in other Japanese restaurants. The service is kind and polite, the prices are affordable and most important of all, the food is delicious.

Fuji Sushi on Urbanspoon

Squishy & Red

A few days ago I finished this red scarf made from the hand-spun, kettle dyed Manos yarn that I bought last weekend. The pattern is called the "One Row Handspun Scarf" by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, found here. It's a simple pattern, and a joy to knit. Reversible and very quick too!

This one's a Christmas present....

Two Chefs and A Table

I’m lucky enough to get along really well with all of the people in my department; they are funny, witty, and overall pretty fantastic. We work really hard so it’s really rare that we take a proper lunch break (ok, I try to). So on Tuesday my co-workers and I went out for lunch at Two Chefs and a Table, our second time there. It’s located on Alexander street, a little outside Chinatown (down the street from Sunrise Market, if you know the area). It’s surrounded by warehouses and industrial looking buildings, and the little white restaurant really stands out among its nest of trees. It’s pretty hip inside, with black wooden tables and white walls, really cool art (the Tomato is quite striking), and beautiful linear crystal chandeliers. The namesake large communal table stands at the centre of the room, but there are enough tables and chairs to seat about 25 people. On this particular day we arrive early to avoid the lunch rush, and are the day’s first customers.

The atmosphere is clean and modern, with a little bit of Tudor flavor. The cool thing is that the kitchen, which takes up about half the restaurant, is open to observers.

After waffling between the mac and cheese (really delicious here), and the burger, I chose the burger with fries ($9). It came promptly, with a portion of ketchup in a wee espresso cup. The burger was on a soft whole wheat Kaiser bun, with lettuce and yellow tomato, the patty was thick, well-done, and very tasty. The ‘Italian Style Meat Mix’ gave the burger a savoury deliciousness, kinda like a sausage burger. I like meat to be well seasoned and this was really good. I didn’t even miss the pickles, mustard, cheese, bacon, or any of the other stuff I usually like on a burger. My only complaint was that the patty was way too small for the bun. I know, greedy, right?

The fries were delicious: peeled, golden, crispy, and extremely well seasoned. So well seasoned that it didn’t need any ketchup, which is really unusual. Normally fries are seasoned after frying, but these folks did something very special to these spuds. Everyone at the table loved the fries, and they were almost all gobbled up, even though we were a table full of ladies....

Mary is a great fish fan, so she ordered the Salmon burger. However, what she ended up with was their Smoked Salmon CLT (cucumber, lettuce, tomato). Yes, they made a mistake. But good thing, because she ended up loving this sandwich, especially the in-house smoked salmon, which was really, really good. She even ate the yellow tomatoes in the sandwich, despite hating tomatoes.

Allison ordered the veggie burger, which was made from lentils. The patty seemed quite large. I think she liked it, but it was probably a little bland since I observed some salt shakin' action there.

Brigid got the chicken papaya sandwich. This was a love--she said that the chicken was moist and flavorful, the bread was great, and it was a fabulous sandwich. She was particularly enamoured of the fries, which she told me was in her top three (this from a very big gourmet).

We were all impressed, especially for an under $10 lunch. By the time we left the seats and tables were full, and so were our bellies.

Two Chefs and a Table on Urbanspoon