Qoola Frozen Yogurt Bar

After the movie we decided to try the brand new Qoola in Metrotown, which just opened in January 2010. Having never gone to any other Qoola locations, we weren't sure what to expect. But it's basically a self serve frozen yogurt bar, where you get your own paper cup, swirl your own frozen yogurt into the container, and put any toppings you want.

The first thing we noticed is that the cup they provide is HUGE. This is the tricky bit, because you pay by the weight, and you naturally want to fill that big cup, right? Beware. But what's great is that they have a lot of choice as far as frozen yogurt go: chocolate, vanilla, green tea, mango, lychee, and original.

I opted for the original and mango flavours, with a little strawberry and pineapple on top. The original is great, with a real yogurt flavour and a nice tang. The mango was really good too, with true mango flavour. The fruit was refreshing.

Shane got the green tea, and lychee flavours, with mango on top. Both were tasty, with the green tea being very mild having a subtle tea aftertaste. The lychee tasted very much like lychee, with slightly smoky undercurrent, if that makes sense.

We enjoyed the Qoola experience quite a lot. Both of our favourites was the original. However, it is a tad pricey. Each half-filled container was around $3.50, so a full container would be a whopping seven bucks. Still, we'd return for a once in a while treat.

Qoola Frozen Yogurt + Fruit (Metrotown) on Urbanspoon

Abdul's Barbeque

A couple of weeks ago we went to Metrotown to see "Up in the Air" (pretty good, but a little forgettable). We decided to go over to Crystal Mall before the movie to check out this Middle Eastern place that I'd first heard about through a Chow Times review. It was a little hard to find, because the storefront actually faces the street.

This place is a real hole in the wall-- 3 or 4 metal tables, and barely enough room to walk around. The feeling is more of an eat and run or take out place. There were pictures of the menu items on the wall, and an electronic bell which rings as you come in. Mr. Abdul himself was there, and he was very friendly.

We decided to go for a couple of shawarmas--I got the beef and Shane got the mixed meat (chicken, lamb and beef, all Halal). They were around $7 bucks each, and were an amazing deal, considering how large they were. They were the biggest shawarmas I've ever gotten and filled with a generous quantity of meat and vegetables. The meat was pretty fantastic, with lots of crisp brown bits. But a bit of warning: the hot sauce is incredibly hot. These Syrian shawarmas are a lot different than the regular kind you'd get anywhere else. The meat and sauce are strongly spiced, which I imagine can turn off milder palates. But we loved it.

We were very full after that huge wrap, but like an idiot I wanted to try Abdul's falafels. Mr. Abdul said it would be a wait of about 15 minutes because he fries them fresh, unlike other places which fry them before hand and nuke them in the microwave. Upon hearing this, we were sold. We got a side of 4 (around $4), and they were worth the wait. These pucks were quite large; they were crisp on the outside, but incredibly soft in the middle. The seasoning was spot on, and the sauce that was put on these babies was lemony and really, really good. These falafels made me happy.

We will definitely come back for more--especially for the falafels. There is nothing that makes a place more perfect than a wonderful, friendly owner who obviously takes pride in his food.

Abdul's Barbeque (Crystal Mall) on Urbanspoon

The Wonderful Art of Alex Gross

from Alex Gross' website

You know how sometimes you suddenly stumble upon an image that grabs you, that some how seems utterly familiar and fitting to you? And how suddenly you wonder how this artist has never been part of your life before? Well, this was what happened to me on Saturday.

We were browsing in one of Vancouver's excellent art book stores, Oscar's Art Books, and what did I see on the sale table, but the the most fascinating looking book, The Art of Alex Gross. I took a look through his paintings in the book, which are full of anachronisms, Japanese pop art, vintage images, and art history references. The faces were distant but full of feeling, and the colours reminded you both of commercial art and really old paintings. This guy's got skills.

The book was on sale, which is another bonus. It's quite a big, heavy book, so the only downside to purchasing it was having to lug it around all over Granville Island and Vancouver.

Don't you love it when you find an artist you like? It's like finding a soul mate or something.

For more about Alex Gross, visit his website here.

Granville Island, Chai, and Streetcars

Yesterday was a gorgeous day--an immense change from all the 'refreshing' rain we've been having--so we paid a visit to Granville Island in Vancouver. Granville Island is always crowded with tourists, but locals also visit for good bread and fresh produce. Emily Carr College of Art is located there, and there are quite a few local artists and artisans in cute little shops (plus, it is the home of Granville Island Brewery). The vibe there is always cheerful and artsy.

We saw this raccoon painting near one of the community gardens on our walk to Granville Island. Even though it's still January, green things are sprouting up already.

We passed by the fisherman's wharf. I love that you can see fishing boats against the background of tall downtown buildings.

Granville Island has great many buildings, so it is pretty easily to get lost. But you always end up somewhere pretty interesting. This building is the Net Loft, which houses a spectacular paper & stationary shop (Paper Ya), and a postcard store.

In another large building is the market. You can get just about anything here, from really good deli meat, to fluffy donuts, to exceptional produce.

One of my favorite places is the Granville Island Tea Company, which recently moved to larger and grander digs (right next door to their quaint old cubicle). This is where to get one of the best Marsala Chai teas in the city. It's sweet, milky, and redolent with warm spices. Yum!

This was the view of Coal Harbour across the water, as we sat and sipped our heavenly chai. We also saw quite a few sea gulls, begging for a scrap of food.

On our way back, we decided to try out the street car route that started a few days ago for the Olympics. It's a free service connecting Granville Island to the Athlete's village right at Cambie street. It was pretty crowded, but we managed to get a seat. The ride was smooth (those borrowed Belgian street cars!) but lasted just a few minutes. Pretty incredible, since it would have taken about 20+ minutes using normal public transportation.

The line up on the other side was huge! We were lucky to have taken it from Granville Island. Hopefully they'll keep this line up after the Olympics. It's pretty convenient.

Overall, a lovely Saturday.

Burgoo - Main Street

After buying wool in the Main Street area for Shane's sweater, we decided to stop by Burgoo for lunch. I used to frequent its first location on West 10th Avenue when I was a student at UBC years ago, so I have quite a soft spot for this place. The restaurant is a niche restaurant of sorts, specializing in comfort food (stews, soups, sandwiches). Since its early days, Burgoo has expanded into Main Street and North Vancouver. We'd been to this Main St. location before, and weren't blown away the time we were there, so I wasn't expecting too much.

The Main street location is as cute as a button on a teddy bear's nose, especially considering it used to be an old Subway restaurant back in the day. The exterior looks a like a little cottage, with wooden shingles and stone walls.

The interior is just as inviting, with rustic wooden tables and chairs, large windows, and large wood ceiling beams. We arrived at 11:30, and were one of the first people there; later on, the restaurant got really busy.

Shane ordered a pint of R&B Raven Cream Ale ($5.50), one of his favorites, and I saw mead on the menu and my curiosity was piqued. The mead in question was Middle Mountain Alphenglow ($6), which promised cinnamon, clove, and cardamon flavours. I'd never had mead before and had visions of large cups of golden liquid (from reading Beowolf as a teenager, methinks), so I must confess I was a little disappointed when I saw the petite glass of something that looked like rosé wine. It was different than what I expected and tasted a lot like wine. It did have a nice aromatic sweetness, but I'm very stupid about wine.

To start, we shared the Burgoo biscuits ($4). These came in a cute, flowerpot-like vessel, and were very good. The biscuits had a nice cheddar flavor, and a surprising peppery kick. Really good, even on its own.

Shane had the macaroni and cheese ($9), and this golden and overflowing cheesy mound arrived still bubbling in a French onion soup pot. This looked spectacular, this mountain of melted and browned cheese. I was a little jealous. This was probably the best macaroni and cheese I'd tasted (and Shane agrees). The flavour is very cheesy, rich, and utterly sinful. The portion is big enough to feel a little gluttonous, but not so much that you feel sick after eating it.
I opted for the Ratatouille Provencale ($13), which is roasted eggplant, onion, and peppers in a tomato sauce, and topped with bread crumbs, and chevre cheese. This arrived in a square casserole pan, and was huge. The dish was wonderfully aromatic, and it was very tasty too. The tomatoes and sauce had a beautiful flavour--rich and not too tart, nor too sweet. The vegetables were tender and had its own distinctive flavour which went wonderfully well with the sauce.
Burgoo has really good desserts, so we had to get something despite being incredibly full. After much thought, we went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($7), which was a layer of spiced cake, caramel, and a large ball of vanilla ice cream. This was delicious as well. The warm cake was moist, with fruit and Christmas-y spices, and the ice cream was incredible with this. The contrast of the cold and hot was utterly wonderful.

This meal made us incredibly happy. Everything was exceptional, and the food fed our bodies as well as our spirits. We were blissed out.

Burgoo (Main Street) on Urbanspoon

Keg Steakhouse and Bar - Yaletown

It was my sister-in-law's birthday and she invited a group of us out to the Keg out for dinner. Of course we'd been to the Keg (various locations) many times; as I recall, the chain didn't use to be such a fine dining aspirant as it is today. We went to the new Yaletown location, and it was pretty swanky. The place is huge, with high ceilings and a space that opens up to a second mezzanine level. There was lots of black wood, stone, and large windows.

For our starter, Sh and I shared the baked goat cheese with toasted bread and salsa (around $10). We order this dish every time we come here; the goat cheese is creamy and warm (the almond slices also add a nice nuttiness to the cheese), and the salsa is tangy and delicious. Plus, the tiny forks are quite cute. We like this dish quite a lot.

Both of us opted for the Keg classic dinner ($24.99). I opted for the sirloin dinner, while Shane got the prime rib dinner. The caesar salad, which came with the dinner, was a nice, generous size, though they really should do away with the dried parsley sprinkles all over the bowl. The salad itself was nothing to write home about. The dressing was bland, but was livened up by a squeeze or two of fresh lemon.

My steak arrived with a baked potato (fixins on the side) and sauteed veggies. The steak was cooked to a nice medium rare and was quite tender. The potato was a little dry, but the sour cream fixed that up. The vegetables tasted pretty good, especially the cute and tiny mushrooms.

Shane was less impressed with his prime rib--although the meat was tender and nicely cooked, his slice had a lot of fat on it. He opted for the garlic mash, which was smooth and pretty good.

We could hardly finish our plates, we were so full. That's the Keg. It would never be our first choice and it doesn't give you the most astounding food, but what the restaurant produces is pretty consistent, which is saying something. We always leave stuffed, which is also a good thing. The new digs is pretty rockin' too.

Keg Steakhouse and Bar (Yaletown) on Urbanspoon

John Thompson: Collected Poems and Translations

It's hard to tell if someone reads poetry or not. I read poetry. However, it seems that a lot of people are really puzzled by it and don't really know what to do with a poem. But there is nothing to be done to a poem: you don't need to analyze it, fully understand it, or know what it's trying to say. Like encountering an animal, you just have to sit beside it and be with it. Most poems you sense its nature and never fully understand. That is good. That is mystery, which is very good.

Just read the poem, in silence, or out loud into silence, and have the patience to be with it. It will give you the treasures you've forgotten about.

So I've been dipping into the Collected Poems of John Thompson (edited by Peter Sanger), and have been awed (again) by his talent. He was a Canadian poet/university instructor who died in his thirties; his story is really sad. But he was a visionary with the written word and wrote about the intimacies of life and nature. His two books, At the Edge of Chopping There are No Secrets and Stilt Jack, are brilliant and have influenced a whole generation of Canadian poets. Even though the poems are more than 40 years old, they still feel fresh and immediate.

From "The Onion":

I cup the onion I watched grow all summer:
cutting perfectly through its heart
it speaks a white core, pale
green underskin, the perfections
I have broken, the curing grace
the knife releases;

and then you are by me, unfolded
to a white stillness, remade warmth on warmth

Pretty Paper

Essence du Papier is a popular paper store in Canada, with locations mostly in Quebec and Ontario. A few years back, they opened a branch in the Sears department store at Pacific Centre in downtown Vancouver. I remember first visiting the store and being amazed at the amount of goodies they had: envelopes of all colours of the rainbow--little striped paper clips--wrapping paper so beautiful you could frame it on your wall. I have spent a pretty penny at this place over the years.

Alas, the Vancouver location will be no more. Which brings me to sad and happy news: everything is 50% off!

I paid a visit yesterday and got two thick notebooks: a red cloth bound one (is anything more wonderful than a red notebook?), and a most unusual one with a wood cover.

Plus, a couple of packages of my favourite G. Lalo Vierge de France envelopes, in cream and blue. These are made of beautifully thick paper that is lovely and nice to touch, and these envelopes are also neatly lined in white.

And yes, I do write letters...!

Lao Shan Dong

Recently, we went out with Ana and Kay again for lunch, and we chose Lao Shan Dong noodle house because neither of them had been there before. Shane and I had eaten here many times because it's usually our pre-movie meal anytime we go to Metrotown to catch a movie. Lots of people have written reviews about this place (as you can see here), but I first learned about it from I'm Only Here for the Food blog.

The restaurant is on the corner of Nelson and Kingsway, right across the street from the Metrotown mall parking lot. There is not much to be said of the ambiance, except to say that the focus is really on the food.

First, we shared the homemade dumplings (15 for $7.95). These arrived steaming hot; the dumplings tasted fresh and the dough was nice and springy. We were given a small dish with a bit of sesame oil, as well as vinegar and soy to make a dipping sauce. We enjoyed this very much.

Kay ordered the dry Beijing style noodles, and he seemed to like this a lot.

The rest of us ordered variations of the noodle soup; both Ana and Shane had the small #1 Beef Brisket noodles ($7.95), and I opted for the pork and beef ball version. You have a choice of spicy or non-spicy. We usually go for the 'spicy', because it's not spicy at all. The soup was delicious, and had a deep, dark brown beefy flavour. There is a slight sweetness to the broth, and the addition of sour pickled mustard gave the soup a necessary tang. The meat was tender and generously portioned; the meat balls also were great, with that slight rubbery texture that I actually love. But the best part was definitely the handmade noodles, which were slightly chewy and which had absorbed the flavour of the soup.

We love coming here. The dishes are consistently good, and we have never left disappointed (or hungry!).

Lao Shan Dong Homemade Noodle House on Urbanspoon

The Seamless Hybrid

Yes, I am attempting my first sweater. It's a bold move to go from scarves, hats, and baby's things, but I was bowled over by Brooklyn Tweed's version. The pattern is of course, the inimitable Elizabeth Zimmerman, from her book Knitting Without Tears. It's a little scary, because her patterns are guidelines rather than detailed instructions. I'm just working on the easy part--body and sleeves. Who knows what disaster will ensue when I get to the shoulder shaping?


Brand New Library!

Last weekend we went to the Mount Pleasant area, which used to be our old neighborhood a few years ago. Things sure have changed! The area was considered a not-so-good part of town 10 or 20 years back, but so many new buildings seemed to have popped up, and the neighborhood has definitely been revitalized over the last 2 or 3 years.

We paid a visit to the brand new Mount Pleasant Library, which just opened in the new year. The old library was previously in the sketchy Kingsgate Mall, and it was really old and worn out.

The new library is beautiful and modern and is right next to the community center. The space has a lot of natural light from the floor to ceiling windows, and has a wonderful, friendly feel.

view from across the street

the entrance with dog

notice how the carpet echoes the lines of the books?

a children's corner


Pho Vy - Victoria

Walking down Fort Street in Victoria, we were intrigued by two Vietnamese restaurants right across the street from each other. One of the restaurants was actually a popular chain Vietnamese restaurant in Vancouver, but the other one, Pho Vy, I'd never heard of; however, we looked through the windows at both places and chose the one with the most customers (always a pretty good indication).

Like a lot of Vietnamese restaurants, Pho Vy's decor is nothing to write home about--really functional and basic. The service is minimal, but polite.

I ordered the large pho with beef balls and steak (around $8), and this looked wonderful. As usual, the soup came with the side of sprouts, Vietnamese basil, and a wedge of lime. The soup was dotted with thinly sliced onion, bits of green onion and cilantro. This was a comforting and delicious bowl; the noodles were nicely cooked, and they were also generous with the meat. The broth had a clear, brown colour, and it wasn't too fatty; however, the broth also had a particular sweetness which I usually don't like in pho broths (this is a personal preference, though), but this kind of grew on me, and I really liked it in the end.

Shane had the grilled pork vermicelli bowl (around $8). It arrived in a huge bowl, and came with a spring roll and veggies. This was delicious. The meat was tender and well marinated, and had a wonderful grilled flavour. This was probably one of the better grilled pork I've tasted. The sauce that came with the dish was also good--not too sweet, and with a really nice savoury quality to it.

We really enjoyed this place--if we lived in Victoria, we would definitely be regulars here. Simple atmosphere, unpretentious food at a most affordable price, what else can you ask for?

Pho Vy on Urbanspoon