Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The restaurant has recently moved into the ground floor of the new Atrium building at Yates and Blanshard.   This is a dramatic improvement from the last location close to the London Drugs on Yates Street.   The ambiance of the old location kept me away, so I was glad to see the move to the new location.

The restaurant is one of the first ones in this city that feels like it belongs in Seattle or Vancouver.   It is another sign that slowly but surely we are becoming a better place for restaurants.

After having to be downtown for various errands on Friday, Sheila and I stopped in at Zambri's for lunch - we both really wanted to try it.   We got the the restaurant right on the dot of noon and it was almost full.   We ended up sitting at the bar because the tables available in the atrium part of the building were a bit too cool to comfortably sit at.

The service quick and attentive.  The staff was really making sure we were being well served and were willing to answer any questions.   This was not one of those situations when the server comes back while you are mid bite and asks if everything is fine.

I ordered the prosciutto pizza.  It was not a wood fired pizza, but it also did not have the burned bits that I often get on the Prima Strada pizzas.  The crust was good and the sauce was clearly made from roma tomatoes slowed reduced over a long period.   There is a certain sweetness that comes with that process.   The only complaint I would have is that the mixed greens on top would have worked better as a mesculn and not the full sized leafs they used.   It made it hard to eat with such large pieces of the greens.

Sheila ordered the gnocchi with sausage ragu.   She had expected a tomato based sauce simply because of the ragus she has had have been tomato based.  The gnocchi themselves were decent but not stellar.   They had a little bit more tooth than we expected, though when eaten with the ragu it worked well.   Sheila is still of the opinion that best gnocchi she has ever had was at Ulla.

We got our meals quickly and managed to be out of the door again at 12:30 but it did not feel rushed.

Can I do better at home?   Not really.   I could not make a pizza that good.   I might, if everything went right, manage to make comparable gnocchi, but most days I would not be able to.

I expect we will regularly go back to eat there.   I am looking forward to eating dinner there as the setting is more conducive to an evening out.

Zambri's on Urbanspoon

Cafe Rustico - 3136 Main Street Vancouver

The other weekend I was over in Vancouver and needed to go for lunch the one day while Sheila was at her course and I was looking for somewhere in the Mount Pleasant area. I was looking for an authentic pizza and thought Cafe Rustico was going to fill the bill.  I should have left once I had entered the place as it was clearly not going to be what I expected.   It looks like a thinly stocked deli that serves some food.

I ordered a pizza, it was bad.   The crust was thick and hard and the there were too many toppings.  I was having a late lunch and therefore was hungry, but hardly hungry enough to make this pizza palatable.  

Could I do better at home?   Yes, without even thinking at all.   If this food is there norm, I wonder how they manage to remain in business.

I will be giving this place a miss.

Café Rustico on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

A winter garden

I am trying to put in some sort of winter garden this year, but I hate the cold wet rainy weather, I hate to go outside.   I know I should do something, but it is just a weather that I hate.  

I have a lot of fall rye that should have been planted already.

I have a set up to have some cloches for the plants so that I could plant various greens like spinach, mache, kale and lettuce.  I would even try some radishes.   I know from the UVic Weather Network that I have very little danger of a killing frost at my house most years, especially if I have covers for the plants.

So what stops me?   A damp outside is soul destroyingly depressing to me.  If the weather dries up a bit tomorrow I will try and see what I can get done.

home baking

Recently I have been increasing my home baking and have been rather proud of the results. Last week I actually made the same thing twice in an attempt to get the result I was after. My goal was a nice, spicy ginger-pear upside down cake. Both attempts were quite edible and I am constantly amazed by how pretty upside down cakes look.

The basics of an upside down cake are very simply. You make a white cake batter, melt butter in a cast iron or other oven safe pan, add brown sugar to the butter and stir until the two are integrated, add fruit and bake. One of the trickiest bits is turning out the cake. You must do this immediately or the cake sticks. I have read you can leave it and just heat the pan on the stove top before turning out to plate later but I see burnt caramel or incomplete detachment written all over that option! I make Bernard do the flipping out because I had trouble managing our large cast iron pan one handed while holding the receiving plate against the top of the pan.

The original version of the recipe (my Mom's Joy of Cooking)calls for pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the middles but I have never actually done that type. I generally have do plum or peach which both work very well. I have also used apple and pear now, which also work well though I find that they are a bit drier than those made with softer fruit. The first try is at the top and the second is the one on the right.

I also have been excited to discover a pastry recipe that is reliable. I love the Re-Bar cook book for baking. I do use all butter and I suspect if I used their recommended butter and shortening combination I would get a less fragile pastry I do not usually have shortening and the full butter experience is super tasty. Here is an apple pie I made with some of those windfall apples Bernard made apple sauce out of.

Cascade Room 2616 Main Street Vancouver

On the Saturday night when we were in Vancouver recently we were looking for somewhere to go for dinner that was no Japanese and was not downtown.  In looking through Urbanspoon we found the Cascade Room on Main Street close to Main and Broadway.

The restaurant screams out hip and urbane, a place for young professionals to hang out and be seen.   These are not qualities that lead me to have faith in the quality of the food, but the reviews on Urbanspoon where good.   Having access to a restaurant review webpage on your smart phone makes going out to dinner so much easier assuming no one is gaming the system.  The Cascade Room has a decent number of positive votes and many good reviews.

A quick digression here.   It is interesting to see how Urbanspoon is not completely the same in each city.   In Victoria it is very hard to find a restaurant with a low percentage of people that like it, but in Vancouver it is normally to see places with more people that dislike it than like.   I would seem that people in Victoria are willing to accept a lower quality of restaurant than people in Vancouver.

The restaurant is loud but not painfully so, you can still hold a conversation.  The decor is nothing fancy but works for the space, to my mind the decor does not live up to the name.   Cascade Room says a 1950s hotel lounge to me, something one might expect to see Don Draper to be having cocktails in.

The menu is decent sized, clearly focuses on local sourced products and is reasonably priced.    The portions are much bigger than I expected and we could not finish what we ordered.   I had the pork loin and ordered a side of the maple glazed beets, I did not need to do so.  The roast potatoes I had with the pork were amazing.   Sheila had the salmon, which she said was cooked to perfection, but was more than she could eat.

The restaurant has a long and detailed cocktail list.   Clearly they are going for a excellence on the drinks side.  You name it, they seem to have it.  They have received some dramatically good reviews.

So good food, decent price, warm ambiance and interesting drinks, it is worth going to and is an experience I can not replicate at home.

Cascade Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gyoza King on Robson Street in Vancouver

View of sunset over English Bay from hotel room
We were in Vancouver over the weekend because Sheila had a course she was attending,  during that time we had a chance to go to a number of restaurants in the city and I will give my impression of a number of them over the next day or two.
Entrance to the Gyoza King

I am starting with a favorite of ours, the Gyoza King on Robson Street near Nicola in the Westend of Vancouver.   We had managed to get a good deal on the ferry and hotel room from BC Ferries through their new travel packages program.  We stayed at the Coast at Denman and Comox and were upgraded to a suite at no extra cost.

Sheila was insistent that we go to the Gyoza King on one of the nights, so we went there on Friday night.   We arrived at 5:25 because we know that there are no reservations and if you get there after 6 on a Friday you are likely going to have to wait in line to get a seat.   There are not a lot of tables in the restaurant.

I grew up in the Lower Mainland and spent many hours downtown and in the Westend in the 1970s and early 80s.   The area restaurants have changed a lot, there is a huge selection of Japanese restaurants in the Westend, it seems to be almost every second restaurant in the area though the focus of most them is in sushi which makes the Gyoza King a bit more unique.
Sheila excited by menu choices

The menu as more interesting things to choose from than we can eat and really require us to come there numerous times to work our way through the whole menu.   I was overwhelmed and left the ordering to Sheila.

Agedashi Tofu
Sheila is not a fan of seafoods which meant all those options would not be among out choices.   She started us with the agedashi tofu.   On teh surface it looks like a large block of tofu sitting in some broth, which I guess is what it is, but this does not tell you anything about the dish.   The tofu is of a much better quality than I have ever found in a store to buy, it has a subtle flavour and a delicate texture.   The broth has the right edge and saltiness to compliment the tofu.   The tofu has a small ribbons of seaweed and bonito flakes on top for some other texture and flavour.
Chicken and pork gyoza along with deep fried prawns

This being the Gyoza King, we needed to eat some gyoza and Sheila ordered us two different types, a chicken one and a pork one.   I try to cook gyoza at home but I never manage to get something like what we get at this restaurant, I will admit I use frozen ones and not ones that I made myself, I am sure it would make a difference if I made them from scratch, but the skill needed to put together the pouches intimidates me.

We ordered some deep fried prawns for me because I like them and they were done to perfection with a nice spicy sauce.   I need to learn how to bread with panko bread crumbs.

We got out of there for just over $50 for the whole meal with drinks and tip.

Can I do as well at home?   No, I do not the skills or learning to be able to replicate the food.

Gyoza King on Urbanspoon