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.

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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

Salsa and Agave

Last week we were in Yaletown and decided to try a place that we heard had great, authentic Mexican food. When we approached the restaurant, it was a little confusing because it looked like there were two locations of Salsa & Agave, separated by only one or two stores. After a minute we realized that one location is solely dedicated to take out and the other was more of a sit-down restaurant. Nevertheless, the restaurant is very small, with only about 20-30 seats. The decor is nothing special, but the deep red walls are pretty unusual.

Our server was very helpful, asking us if it was our first time to the restaurant, and offering to answer any questions that we have about the menu, even though the place was quite busy with the lunch crowd. The great thing is that the server never tried to rush us at all throughout our meal, even though by the end of our lunch the place was hoppin'.

Shortly after we sat down, our server brought complimentary salsa and chips to our table. The chips were pretty standard, and the salsa was moderately tasty, with a pureed consistency. We prefer more lime and spiciness in salsa, but I suppose this is a matter of taste.

For drinks, I ordered the Horchata, a rice-based Mexican drink. I'd never tried it before and  I was pleasantly surprised by the delectable cinnamon flavour. It was a little too sweet, but still pretty refreshing to drink, especially after the ice cubes started to melt. Shane ordered the purple hibiscus drink (not pictured), and it was sourish and very sweet, and not our favourite.

We ordered a set of 4 tacos for $8. We choose two of carne asada, one pastor, and one chorizo. The tacos were palm-sized with a double layer of tortillas, and were accompanied by a red salsa, finely chopped onion, cilantro, and generous wedge of lime. The chorizo filling had a subtle kick and went really well with a squeeze of lime. The pastor was the most intriguing looking, with large chunks of pork in a red sauce; however, it wasn't very memorable, and could have used stronger seasoning. The carne asada was probably my favourite in terms of taste; it was nicely spiced and tasted pretty good. However, the beef was a little unappetizing looking, cut into thin squares and cooked to a deep gray colour.

While the tacos were certainly enjoyable, we much prefer those sold at La Taqueria. Those tacos had better cooked protein, and the flavours have a lot more punch.

We also shared the beef enchiladas ($12) with green tomatillo sauce. Overall, the dish tasted good and had a comforting feel that dishes with baked cheese seem to always have. However, there were a few issues with this dish. First, the beef filling was identical to the ones used in the carne asada tacos; this made us feel like we were eating the same dish, that there was just one way they made beef. Secondly, the rice lacked flavour, and more than that, it was a little overcooked, with broken grains. However, the beans were smooth and rich tasting, and the tomatillo sauce had nice flavour and tang.

Would we come back here again? Yes, but only if we were in the neighbourhood. Salsa and Agave's food is moderately good if you are in the mood for Mexican, but it is not exactly the ultimate food experience. The cuisine lacked a certain freshness and burst of flavour. We were expecting a lot more, and we were a little disappointed.

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A Canadian Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada, and despite not celebrating it while growing up, it has become one of my favourite holidays. This is, of course, because of the food, and the fact that it is the only time of year that I ever feel like making a big holiday dinner.

As usual, our Thanksgiving was small and celebrated on the Sunday, not the holiday Monday; we invited only a couple of friends (I find making things small greatly alleviates any stress). Strangely, this year was one of  the most relaxing cooking experiences I've ever had for a holiday dinner, partly because I did a lot of cooking before hand.

Sigh. There is something so wonderful about feasting.

We tried the Cheesecloth method of roasting turkey this time, after being inspired by a show on the Food Network.  It's pretty simple:  you soak cheesecloth in a mixture of melted butter and wine, cover it over the turkey, and bake away.  I didn't have any white wine, so we used Apricot ale instead.  The turkey turned out pretty well, with really nice, crispy skin.

Here's the plate: turkey, mash, turkey & ale gravy, ginger & carrot glazed carrot, roasted sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts with bacon & Italian parsley, stuffing with walnut & apple, and homemade cranberry sauce (SO much better than the canned, I promise).

Top that with pumpkin pie, and we were golden.

Hope you Canadians had a great day yesterday!

Acme Cafe

On one of our rare sunny days, I took Shane to Acme Cafe, which has been open for only a few months. Because I work nearby, I had been there 3 or 4 times before, but it was Shane's first visit. The look of the place is wonderful - it has a feel of a 1950's diner, but is distinctly modern in its colour, lines, and minimalist decor. There are booths, window bar seats, and a horseshoe-shaped counter top.

Shane ordered the Crock Pot Feature ($12.50), which that day consisted of a beef stew. This was served with a green salad and a bun. The stew looked lovely and hearty, with potatoes, carrots, and onion, and it was very filling. However, the meat was a little tough and the seasoning needed to be tweaked. It definitely could have done with more slow cooking. The bun was nondescript. The salad, on the other hand, was delightful: fresh, crisp, and with a nice balsamic dressing.

Having had sandwiches at the cafe previous times with mixed results, I opted for the Chicken Pot Pie ($12.50).  The pastry dome that covered the bowl was a sight to behold.  The crust was flaky and very fun to crack. However, the contents of the pot pie was a little less successful; the interior was more soupy than stew-like, and like the beef dish, this also benefited from a healthy shake of salt and pepper.

Having eyed the baked goods and desserts on our way to our table, we could not resist one of their fabulous pies. Apparently, each flavour is different everyday. On this particular day, one of the choices was a peanut butter pie.

The slice of pie, to put it simply, was a work of art.  The crust was delectably flaky, on top of which was a potent layer of crunchy peanut butter, a rich custard-like layer, and a creamy layer of sweetened whipped cream. This pie was heavenly, and very unusual, with a distinct peanut buttery sweetness.

Come to Acme, if only for the pie. Despite the average food, we would definitely return  - for the baked goods and dessert!

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Introducing Mr. Sexsmith

Anyone love Ron Sexsmith? If not, you should. He is probably one of the most talented contemporary singer-songwriters out there. His songs are sensitive, subtle, and all about the complexities of emotion. Plus, he is Canadian and has a wonderful, clear, sincere voice and delivery.

This weekend we saw the documentary 'Love Shines.', which had its premiere at the VIFF on Friday. Apparently the filmmakers followed Ron for seven years and this is the result. The film is fantastic - you get a real sense of Ron, and you glimpse into the artistic process and recording process quite a bit. It's really, really good, even for people who have never heard of Ron Sexsmith, I expect. The last showing is on October 15, and then it will be doing rounds on the film festival circuit before appearing on TV.

The wonderful thing about the show is that Ron and Douglas Arrowsmith, the filmmaker, appeared at the end of the screening for a Q&A. I was a little giddy!

Here are a couple of really bad shots from the balcony, where we were sitting. (Douglas Arrowsmith is on the left and Ron Sexsmith is in the centre.)

Art of the Everyday: Song Dong & Robert Adrian

Last week we went downtown and renewed our membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Then, we took a look at a few of the exhibitions that were currently on: Song Dong's 'Waste Not' and a group exhibit called 'Everything Everyday'. Exhibits at the VAG are usually hit or miss for me, but these group of exhibits made it the most wonderful Vancouver gallery day. A lot of the pieces resonated, and there were moments where you connect with the art, which is a feeling that's out of this world.

Song Dong's exhibit was an installation of all the objects that his mother collected over the years. We may understand her compulsion as 'hoarding', but it seems much more complicated than that. It speaks to the values of previous generations, cultural history, mourning, and the value of things. Ultimately, the art shows the relationship between mother and artist son. The exhibit is huge, and very impressive, just in terms of size. The detail and immensity are astounding.

On the same floor, there was a group exhibit of everyday objects transformed into art. Like a lot of group shows, there are things that stand out and things that would make you shake your head. But probably my favourite piece was Robert Adrian's 'dictionnaire par images', made in 1979. He took out pages from a picture dictionary and created tiny clay sculptures of the object as they were on the page. Perhaps it is my love of miniatures, but I found this piece to be charming and poignant, considering these objects are more than 30 years old!

The other exhibit that blew me away that's at the VAG right now is the American artist Kerry James Marshall's first solo exhibit in Canada. His paintings are amazing and tell stories of the African American experience. He draws from religious icon imagery, pop art, Basquiat, advertising, Naive Art....

The canvases are just beautiful and reflects on the history of African Americans, especially during the Civil Rights era. Although he's a past recipient of the MacArthur 'genius' grant and quite well-known in the US, I'd never heard of him before. What a discovery.

Go Thai

Living on the border of Burnaby/Coquitlam/New Westminster, we often embark on long walks in random directions. On one of these occasions, we started walking down North Road and found ourselves in the Sapperton neighbourhood in New Westminster. We passed by a Thai restaurant and decided to visit.

Go Thai is located on Columbia Street, right before you get into the core Sapperton strip. It's a little curious looking, because the location and the building is where you expect a fast food chain should be. However, we were curious about this place because apparently the owner is a woman from North East Thailand.

The restaurant is minimal and has very little ambiance, with unremarkable furniture and decor. However, I am always in some strange way charmed by places that are unapologetic about how it looks. It's kinda ballsy.

To our delight, the restaurant had a pretty decent Thai Iced tea ($2.50), being appropriately very sweet, orange and a distinctive tea taste. My only complaint is that it could have used a wee bit more evaporated milk. However, this was refreshing and a brilliant counter to the spicy food that was to follow.

I was very excited to see sticky rice on the menu, because up in Northern Thailand, this is a staple food, and you rarely see this in Thai restaurants for some reason. The portion is small ($3.00), but it's presented in a traditional rice basket. We ordered dishes that would normally be eaten with sticky rice in Thailand.

We ordered a variety of Thai staples, one of which is Som Tam ($8.95), or green papaya salad. This is a very standard dish in Thai restaurants, but few dishes do it well. This version was very good, with a nice balance of sweet, sour and salty. However, the salad was extremely spicy, even though we asked for 'medium' levels. It was so good that we couldn't help but finish the whole thing!

We also ordered the Larb Gai ($8.95), which is minced chicken served like a salad with onions, spices, cilantro, chili, and lime. This was really good and fresh tasting, though the dish had a touch too much sugar. However, the only thing I didn't like about both salad dishes is that they were served on a bed of iceberg lettuce, which made the dishes look a lot bigger than they were.

Next, we had the Gai Yang ($9.95), which is grilled chicken. In Thailand, people would grill a whole chicken over charcoal on the streets, and you can buy it in every street corner, cut up, and served with a sweet and sour chili sauce. This dish had echoes of that, but it was a pale comparison. The meat itself was chicken breast which was nicely seasoned, but slightly dry. There was a distinct grilled flavour, but not as intense as it should have been.

Finally, for dessert we had the deep fried bananas and ice cream ($4.95). The portions were very generous, and this dish was good, though not spectacular. The bananas were soggy rather than crispy, and the ice cream was just regular, plain vanilla ice cream.

All in all, we were happy to have discovered this hidden gem of a place, considering how reasonable the prices are. It's not just like in Thailand, but I'm not sure I'll ever find that place. However, we'd definitely be curious to try a lot more of their dishes.

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