South Castle Korean Restaurant

Our Korean friends, Ana and Kay, took us to a new Korean restaurant called South Castle that had recently opened up on Austin  Avenue in Coquitlam. The original restaurant of the same name is in North Vancouver, and apparently the Coquitlam location is the second branch of this restaurant (around Austin Heights Pizza area - I didn't take down the address, and somehow there is no trace of this location in the internet!).

Our friends warned us that the restaurant is very specialized and caters to mostly Korean customers.

The restaurant is on Austin Avenue, and is the location of a string of failed restaurants. The decor is very typical for a Korean restaurant, with lots of wood, and booths. However, the first thing I noticed about this place as we walked in was how busy it was; all of the tables were nearly filled, and the servers were running around.  As a consequence, our service wasn't that great and was quite rushed.

There isn't your typical menu at this restaurant; in fact, the only menu they had was on one wall, and it was entirely in Korean. However, this doesn't seem to be a huge deal because the menu consists on variations of one dish - sausage encased in intestine, and soup with lots of intestines.

As usual, we were presented with an array of Korean side dishes. They were good, though not remarkable.

The only thing that didn't have intestines in it was the bulgogi soup, which is what Shane got ($8.99). This arrived in an impressive stone pot type vessel in full boil. In addition to the slices of marinated beef, the soup had lots of green onion, veggies,  a few strands of potato noodles. Shane enjoyed this, although for me, the soup had a bit too much sugary sweetness.

The rest of us went for their specialty, which is the intestine soup with sausage ($10.49). According to our friends, this is 'soul food' and the ultimate comfort food for Koreans. Apparently South Castle does a near gourmet version of the dish and is of a quality that you would unlikely find in Korea.  Like the other dish, it arrived in a rollicking boil. This too, was filled with onions, bean sprouts, and green onions. I was very surprised at the amount of pepper that was in the soup; it tasted overpoweringly peppery, which was a very different flavour than I'm used to.  Some of the intestines were enjoyable, and the sausage was pretty interesting, though the thick intestine casing made it a little too chewy. However, the dish had too much intestine for me. Near the end I couldn't really eat any more. 

I was very pleased that I was able to try this specialty dish. I definitely would try this again, though it's not a dish that I would crave on a regular basis. Judging from the number of customers, this restaurant seems here to stay.

Christmas Cookies!

This weekend was spent inside with a sore knee (yoga injury, if you can believe it), and lots of baking. Both Shane and I had work parties and events coming up, and I somehow felt like making Christmas cookies, which is something I never, ever do.

These are wonderful 'Triple Ginger Cookies' from one of my favorite cookery writers, Heidi Swanson from her blog 101 Cookbooks. The recipe is wonderfully healthy for a cookie (of course, I just used a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat). These are the perfect size for a discreet gingery hit; they are crisp on the outside and slightly chewy.

These are 'Crisp Chocolate Bites' from the book Cookies by Williams-Sonoma which I borrowed from the library. I added a teaspoon of cayenne to give it a kick. It turned out pretty well, though it could have done with a minute or so less baking. These suckers are surprisingly spicy, but in a nice way.

And now, the classic Mexican Wedding cookie, from the same book (though the recipe is everywhere). These are definitely my favorite - nutty, buttery, and oh so very rich. I don't like a lot of icing sugar, so they look a little plain.

Finally, I made two batches of a sugar cookie recipe from the same book. However, since this recipe calls for a cup and a quarter cup of butter per batch, it is more like a shortbread. Indeed, the cookie cutter shapes I cut out ended up being pretty fragile. So I gave up on that and made really ugly balls / lumps instead.

The batch pictured above have rosemary as a flavouring. This really worked - it didn't taste too herby at all, but the rosemary added a mysterious depth that made you wonder.

The second batch below had the addition of citrus (lemon, orange, lime, kaffir lime leaf). This turned out pretty well, with quite a pronounced aroma.

So...the decorating. This was harder than I anticipated, and I really didn't like working with icing, which really ruins the cookie with sickly sweetness, in my opinion. So I ended up mostly 'painting' on a really transparent, colourful sugar glaze.

All in all, a pretty productive weekend. At least I got the baking urge out of my system!


(Bear with me, I'm catching up on a backlog of food posts. Here's one from a few weeks ago....)

Amanda, a friend from work, and I had a chance to have a leisurely lunch when we were out of the office visiting various places for one of our projects. We decided upon a French bistro on Cambie called Pied-a-Terre. As you can see from the photos, the restaurant is very distinctive looking, with a playful flying pig mural on the side of the building contrasting with its rather stark, elegant, vertical facade.

Reservations are recommended for this place because it is quite small. The interiors were a delight, with a fancy black chandelier, dark framed mirrors, a chalkboard menu, and tasteful wooden tables and black leathery banquette and chairs.

The lunch started out wonderfully, with a stack of warm slices of French bread that were utterly divine, with a crunchy (but not hard) crust and a fluffy interior.  These came with a generous portion of butter. This was amazing - one of the best breads I've had.

Both Amanda and I had the unfortunate disposition of being gluttons, so when we saw the Table d'Hote option of three courses for $25, our eyes widened and we impulsively went for it. You only live once, right?  For the first course, both of us chose the quail on a frise salad. This was very decadent, to have the whole bird to yourself as an appetizer, no less!  The quail was delicious, with a really mouth-watering grilled flavour and delicately cooked flesh. The salad was also really tasty, with morsels of pork nestled among the greens. (Note: my dining companion who does not eat red meat or pork didn't enjoy this - the quail tasted too 'gamey' for her palate)

For the main course, Amanda ordered the trout with capers, served on a bed of vegetables. The portion was very generous. She liked this quite a bit, and loved the size of the meal, even though she couldn't quite finish the whole thing.

Amanda also wanted to replace the bed of vegetables with fries, so the server gave her an extra side of fries at no charge. I found that to be pretty impressive. Look at the size of that!

In fitting with the theme of the day (gluttony), I went for the steak frites with peppercorn sauce. This was huge, and along with the main components, also came with creamed spinach and a herbed breadcrumb topped tomato. The dish was enjoyable; the fries were well cooked, golden brown and crispy, the vegetable sides were really pleasant departures from the regular steak frites. The meat was a nice medium rare and was well seasoned. My only comment would be that the steak itself was a little tough and needed quite a bit of chewing. But considering the cost, this is pretty understandable. All in all, a very hearty dish.

We were utterly stuffed at this point. But who can pass up dessert? Amanda chose the simple vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Judging from its appearance, the ice cream looks housemade (thought it did seem a bit too 'melty'). She enjoyed this, although she thought that a bit more chocolate sauce would have made it perfect.

I got the Napoleon with sour cherry compote. The sour cherries were absolutely amazing - the tartness cut through the richness of the cream on top and between the layers. However, there was a major problem with the dessert, because the pastry layers were so thick and hard that it was impossible to cut through them. As a result, the layers and cream went all over the place. It was not very elegant to eat.

We very much enjoyed our lunch at Pied-a-Terre. For the amount of food, the service and quality of the ingredients, it is quite the deal. The whole meal was an experience, and was one of those meals where you felt like you were in a different country on vacation. 

I would definitely comeback to this restaurant. They know what they're doing.

Pied-à-Terre on Urbanspoon

Pagliacci's - Victoria

Pagliacci's has been around since the 1970's and has quite the following. Every time we've visited Victoria, we've seen long line ups outside the restaurant; for this reason, we've avoided it, but this time we decided to try it when we went for dinner with Shane's dad. Being from Victoria, Shane had tried the restaurant before, but not in a long while.

Luckily, the weather was clear the night we decided to go, so the wait wasn't too bad even though the line was really long. However, the restaurant was well aware of this and brought us each a beverage as we waited. We thought that was pretty great and quite rare for a non-fine dining place.

The interior of the restaurant was filled with knick knacks and bright yellow walls. The space was really small, and tables were jammed into the restaurant with very little room for people to move. We were probably six inches from the next table. It was a little uncomfortable.

The complimentary foccacia  bread was amazing and unique. It was flaky, buttery and utterly rich. It was really irresistible.

Demsey's Lasagna ($14), touted as a favourite of Bob Dylan's, was surprisingly delicious. The handmade pasta was still slightly chewy instead of the usual mushy stuff that you'd normally get. The meat sauce was delicious and had a wonderful basil flavour. On top of that the whole thing was really cheesy, and you had decadent strings of cheese as you portioned it to your mouth. It was probably one of the best lasagna's I've had. Would I order this again? Yes and yes.

Shane had "The Heart of Saturday Night", which had artichoke hearts, capers, olives, red peppers in a tomato sauce over fettucine ($14). The pasta was well cooked, but the sauce lacked punch. With those ingredients, you might expect assertive, briny flavours, but the whole dish tasted really bland. The tomato sauce lacked the freshness that the lasagna had, and even the olives and capers imparted no flavour. In fact, we had to add a bunch of salt to this dish to make it palatable.

I've thought of the lasagna many times since this visit and can't wait to return. I had my doubts about this place before I went, but I now understand the long line-ups!

Pagliacci's on Urbanspoon

The Giant Sparrows

One of the best things about Vancouver recently have been the public art that have popped up as a result of the Olympics. One such piece that has captured the imagination are the giant sparrows in False Creek by artist Myfanwy MacLeod. They are really astonishing. Seeing them tower above you is quite the experience.

There is a great write up about the project from the City of Vancouver here.

Aren't they just the most wonderful things?

Pig BBQ Joint - Johnson Street Location

A week and a half ago we spent the weekend in Victoria to visit Shane's family. One of the things we wanted to do was return to Pig BBQ Joint, which was one of the many highlights of our last trip. I thought about their pulled pork sandwich a lot. Perhaps this was part of the reason we ate at this place not once, but three times.

To our surprise, when we walked over to the restaurant, we found that the location had (temporarily) closed and that Pig had moved a few blocks away to the corner of Johnson and Blanchard. What a difference! The old joint had seats for about five people and was literally a hole in the wall, but the new digs are large enough to seat about 30 or 40 people and are very swanky in comparison. Apparently, they had only been open at that new location for two weeks.

The decor was full of personality and cool, from the chalkboard menu, to the multi-layered wooden pig, down to the blue water spout above shelves of mason jars.

The iced tea was a steal at $1.50 and arrived in one of the aforementioned mason jars. This was not too sweet and utterly refreshing.

The first time, both of us ordered a pulled pork sandwich ($6), and we saw a curious thing on the menu: the deep fried macaroni ($4), which of course we had to order. The sandwich did not disappoint; it was as good as we remembered, with tender, subtly smoky pork, a tangy sauce, and a mustardly coleslaw. Delicious.

As for the deep fried macaroni and cheese, it was as you'd expect: amazingly crunchy on the outside while being soft and creamy on the inside. The only flaw was the seasoning - the macaroni and cheese should have used a tad more salt and cheese.

For our second visit, we tried the pulled pork meal ($10), which consisted of 1/2 pound of pulled pork, beans, and cornbread. The pulled pork is again excellent. The beans are a little sweet, but the cornbread is very good, especially with the sweet herb butter they provide.

On our third visit, our gluttony continues, with Pulled Pork Poutine ($9), which arrived steaming hot. The portion was huge. This dish was interesting, though neither of us knew if this was entirely successful. The pork didn't add much to the poutine, strangely enough, and the curds were too 'melty', and should have had more of a squeak when you bit into them. Lastly, the gravy was a tad salty. However, we were really glad we tried this.

Finally, the Fried Chicken meal ($12), consisting of 3 pieces of chicken, coleslaw and cornbread. The chicken was wonderfully crispy and well-seasoned, and the meat was wonderfully juicy, even for pieces of white meat. After sharing that huge poutine, we couldn't finish all the chicken, so we saved a piece for the next day. The chicken was even really good cold.

Every time we paid Pig a visit, the place was jumping and incredibly busy, which made us ever so happy. However, a part of me is glad we don't live in Victoria - coming here so often would really fatten us up!
Anyhow, Shane got himself a Pig BBQ t-shirt and wears it proudly.

Pig BBQ Joint on Urbanspoon

Charm Modern Thai

I have wanted to try Charm Modern Thai ever since it opened. In fact, we visited the restaurant a couple of times in hopes of a weekend lunch, but were disappointed both times because the restaurant was closed. The premise of Charm is that of "classic exotic Thai flavours with a slight Western modern influence".

However, we were in the neighbourhood for an evening movie and decided to try this place again for dinner. My experiences with Thai food in Vancouver have been mixed to say the least, and I've been trying to find one that would bring back memories of growing up in Thailand.

The interior of the restaurant is posh, plush, with red walls and booths, and gold accents. It's pretty refreshing to see a Thai restaurant that had a contemporary feel without the usual Thai kitsch. However, with the music and the darkness, it had a little too much of a 'nightclub' vibe.

We both ordered the Thai iced tea ($3). Though it was missing that characteristic bright orange hue, the tea was very good, with a nice balance of sweet and creamy, and a prominent tea taste.

The first dish we shared was Lemongrass Mussels ($10), which were steamed in a lemongrass, galangal, chili, Thai basil, lime and wine broth. It arrived in a large white bowl with a couple of slices of garlic toast. As soon as I tasted the broth, I was sold - the broth had a real punch with lime, herbs and chili, and was absolutely heavenly. It very much reflected the broths you would get in Thailand. The mussels, however, were on the tiny side; there was little meat inside and the morsels were far from plump.

For the other dishes, we decided to try out the classics, because what better way of testing out a Thai restaurant? We got the Papaya Salad ($10). Strangely, the server did not ask the level of heat we wanted for this dish. Anyway, it looked great when it arrived, piled high in a bowl, but like some other places, the salad was piled on top of a foundation of iceberg lettuce, giving the impression of a bigger portion than there actually is. I'm not a fan of this strategy.

The salad itself had good elements: the look of it, the texture of the papaya, the addition of carrots, the taste of fish sauce. However the dish was entirely too sweet.  A great som tam has to have a balance: the sweetness needs to offset the lime and chili, but this dish did not have that. This was disappointing because the salad looked so good.

Next was the Larb Organic Chicken ($10), which is a salad of minced chicken with spices, herbs, lime and fish sauce. Again, our spiciness preference was not asked.  This arrived with a side of iceberg, which is okay (but why iceberg?). The intention is to have the larb with the lettuce, almost like a lettuce wrap. This is because normally the larb would be really strong in spicing and flavour. Again, the elements were outwardly great, but this dish really lacked seasoning as well. I've never had a bland larb gai, but this was really watered down and nearly tasteless.

The Pad Thai ($12) was one of the dishes that I'd heard that Charm does really well, so we are excited to try it.  When it arrived, it certainly looked impressive, with the nest of carrots, and a few lonely stalks of chive. However, it looked a little off - there was no lime wedge, and normally you would have a larger side of chives to eat the noodles with. The noodles also looked really wet, which was not a great sign.

A good thing about the dish were the prawns, which were large and juicy. However, that was the end of the good stuff. Quite simply, the noodles were too soft, and were quite broken up; this is really bad. But the far larger sin was again in the flavours of the dish; the noodles were way too sweet. I mean overwhelmingly sugary. We couldn't even finish this dish. This is one reason a wedge of lime would have been a godsend here.

It's very possible that I'm being overly harsh here, but why would you ruin pad thai like this? This dish does not resemble anything you would get in Thailand. It just makes me shake my head.

After the disappointment of the dishes, we still decided to give dessert a chance; we shared the Thai tea ice cream ($4). Unlike the other dishes, this dessert had awful presentation. A scoop of ice cream in a glass bowl topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry? Really?

The taste of the ice cream was actually very good, with a great Thai tea flavour. Why don't we have this flavour in the stores? It would be a great addition to any gelato shop!  But we did have a major problem with this dessert, however; the ice cream tasted really old, and had icky, congealed lumps throughout, like the kind you'd get with ice cream that you'd left in your freezer quite some time ago.  Why would you serve this to your customer? It baffles the mind.

We were thoroughly let down with our dining experience. While the restaurant calls itself having modern Thai cuisine, they need to have much better classic dishes (or not have them at all on the menu). I just don't get it; do the compromise in flavours make for a better restaurant?

While it's true that I'm probably quite a lot tougher on Thai restaurants than other cuisines, it's because I seriously want these restaurants to be good, and I go into them with a great hope. It's tough to be let down so much. Disappointment is the word of the day on this one.

Charm Modern Thai on Urbanspoon