Lately, I've taken to cooking more, or attempting to anyways. It's a skill that you really do need for the remainder of your adulthood. As much as I love eating out, it's nice to know how to make meals you can enjoy at home. Since I am still an amateur, I stick to things that are pretty basic and don't take much time to make: appetizers, salads, soups and desserts. While I have succeeded in making some simple dinners, having dinner nights with friends is one of the best ways to learn to cook and to try new meals. It's fun to choose the recipes, split up the tasks, learn all at one, and then get to enjoy the meal you made together. The timing of making multiple things for dinner is always the challenge.
Judas Goat has finally opened its doors a mere stumbling distance from its sister Salt, the wine and charcuterie bar in Blood Alley, and it might just steal its older sibling’s thunder.
While tapas have always had a crucial co-dependent relationship with alcohol, the small plates at Judas Goat are the overwhelming star (an advantage aided by the surprisingly short drink list, perhaps a trepidation from encroaching on the raison d’etre of Salt). This, despite the limited real estate: the kitchen area is no larger than that of a college apartment (if even that), and the restaurant seats less than thirty.A word of warning to the authenticity police: those seeking traditional Spanish tapas should go elsewhere (Spain, given the city’s slim pickings), though any one that has visited the more modern tapas joints in Barcelona or in Basque country should find Judas Goat not completely out of place. The portions are perhaps larger than most tapas bars, with most plates enough for two to have a healthy portion or enough for four to have a fair-sized tasting.
Start out with the bruschetta. There’s four to choose from – tiny white anchovies on salsa verde, mushrooms with comte, piquillo peppers with goat cheese, and chorizo atop carmelized onion and dark chocolate (think mole) – so bring an equal number of people so that you can try them all ($2.25 for one bite, or $8 for four). Each does a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the menu, but no more.
There’s a sous vide machine taking up valuable counter space, and it’s being put to good use. The sablefish, cooked in paprika and paired with Israeli cous cous, is a wonder, and considering the price point ($9) and the portion size, perhaps one of the best values in town. The braised pork belly ($6), served with an onion puree on bottom and a pine nut and orange gremolata on top, is unbelievably tender and flavourful, surely to be a hit for fans of all things pork. The brisket meatballs ($6) don’t quite hit the same high points, though that’s only because the other two dishes fly at such soaring altitudes.
The “Pressed, Potted or Cured” section swings widely in variety, from simple cold cuts to complex terrines. There’s not much one can say about the former, apart from applauding the inclusion of caccitori sausage ($6) from local purveyors Moccia, though it does serve as a good reminder that one should not go for tapas without having at least one form of ham ($10 for either parma or serrano; the cured salmon ‘pastrami’ ($7) provides a healthy alternative, if one is absolutely needed). The foie gras ($9) is served with a rhubarb foam on the side, and the density of the foam (more a parfait) matches evenly with the richness of the liver. The rabbit rillette ($6) is similarly paired with a carrot pannacotta (closer to a mousse); both dishes do well with the combination of savory and sweet. But the division title goes to two other dishes: lamb cheeks ($8) are encased in savoy cabbage leaves in a ‘terrine,’ and doused with a healthy amount of truffle oil that quickly fills the room with its earthy aroma; a scallop tartare ($7) is perhaps nothing out of the ordinary, in and of itself, but whoever had the idea of pairing it with pork cracklings deserves an amount of applause loud enough to wake up the Blood Alley inhabitants from their drug-fuelled haze.
We ended things off with two of the desserts. The goat cheese and almond cheesecake ($7) is surprisingly light and not as rich as one would dread. The dark chocolate tart ($7) is well enough on its own, with a chili jam providing a lively contrast, though with an appearance that harkens back to ectoplasm. These desserts, with no easy analogy in any traditional Spanish tapas bar (try Bubo Bar in Barcelona, however), are a good reminder that Judas Goat makes no bones of being the same. (The staff also reminded us of this: shortly after, we were rushed out to free up seats - despite there being no one in waiting - in contrast to a standard tapas bar, where the wine would flow freely into the night.)
Despite having opened only a few weeks prior, Judas Goat has seemingly escaped the opening jitters that other newcomers have faced in the past few months. The tapas bar has really exceeded expectations, which is even more of a compliment when one considers the months of anticipation. Given the limited amount of space, make a reservation before you go, and see every inch of the kitchen produce with exponential returns.
27 Blood Alley
The Cannery is closing on March 27 th , 2010. I have been here many times and have had some very memorable meals. I was lucky enough to go for a meal just a few months ago to enjoy the food and the amazing view (has to be one of the best in the city). The items that stood out to me are the mussels, salmon and that fantastic lobster oil.
The menu is indeed comprised of various Asian dishes, cherry-picking from well-known Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian favourites. The server went to great lengths to inform us that even the service would reflect an “Asian” flair: dishes would be served whenever they were ready, instead of in a typical three course progression. Chopsticks are the default option; knives and forks available on request. The room features an impressive origami light fixture made by local master Joseph Wu. The message is presented loud and clear: if Oru is pushing the Pan-Asian concept, they’re going all out in doing so, guns a-blazing.
We started with the housemade tofu ($10) served with maitake mushrooms, Mongolian truffles and braised daikon in a thickened sauce. The tofu is a silken wonder, lingering in the mouth just long enough to savor its subtle flavour and breathed in shortly afterward, the sauce good but perhaps a bit lacking in salt. It’s not overly clear why this should be considered an appetizer on the menu (particularly given the server’s emphatic speech beforehand), the portion size masking how rich and filling tofu can actually be.
This was followed by the ramen ($15), served with housemade noodles, braised Berkshire pork belly, egg and bamboo shoots. The Straight’s Carolyn Ali has called this “easily the best ramen in Vancouver,” an exaggerated description given the city’s ever-increasing ramen options as of late. It’s good, not great: the noodles not quite toothsome enough, the broth not quite flavourful enough, with only the pork belly being noteworthy.
The smoked sablefish with claypot rice ($24) has similar problems. Though the sablefish in itself is fantastic, it doesn’t make immediate sense when paired with the lap cheong rice (nevermind the limited portions), and the rice in itself is no more than a good fried rice. Though served in a claypot, it hasn’t done quite enough time in it, and is without those crunchy bits of rice that make a claypot dish so enviable in the first place.
Despite these shortfalls, it’s safe to say that Oru has avoided all the pitfalls of Pan-Asian kitsch: there's no sense of dumbing these dishes down in the same way chain restaurant menus might. If anything, one could easily argue that these dishes are more representative of a true, multicultural West Coast cuisine, reflective of an environment where these dishes are increasingly less exotic.
There’s enough missing from Oru, however, that will garner the same criticism that has been laid on brethren-in-spirit Bao Bei. It may be a mistake to immediately compare these places to the traditional dishes from which they came, but it’s not a mistake to criticize both for not departing from those benchmarks enough. A modern context is sought and achieved; a modern product, not so much.
Where Oru succeeds, then, is in the desserts. These take Asian flavour profiles and leaves the baggage in the dust. A jalebi sits atop a pistachio-cardamon kulfi ($7), pomegranate gelee cubes sprinkled all around. It hints at the traditional without being mired down by it, providing a glimpse of some undiscovered land to which the rest of the menu will hopefully emigrate. And if Oru intends to be the destination restaurant that it should be, it'll need to.
Oru at the Fairmont Pacific Rim
1038 Canada Place
604 695 5500
This is good news for the downtown lunch crowd, particularly those bored with Sciue, which is only a hop/skip/jump away. The pizzas aren’t quite as novel, but the capricciosa pizza ($9) we ordered – served with artichoke, prosciutto and slices of hard-boiled egg – was no slouch either, just as tasty and large enough for two having a light meal. The paninis, however, are more accomplished, each served on house-baked bread. The porchetta panini is served with braised pork, shaved fennel, and fontina cheese; the positana panini features grilled eggplant, chabichou cheese and pickled shallots. We had this as part of a combo ($12) with the mushroom soup, rich with portobello and cream, and probably one of the better versions in town.
Given the high price point, many may turn away, and I don’t know if Giovane offers up the utopia and assertion of standards that the Enzo Mari poster speaks of (to be fair, I'm not sure that anywhere does). Those willing to pay extra for a bit of polish, however, will find it well worth it.
Joe.Giovane (at the Fairmont Pacific Rim)
1038 Canada Place
604 695 5501
There’s a tremendous lack of Spanish fare in Vancouver. Café Barcelona, which serves up tapas and pintxos on Granville Street downtown, fills that void somewhat, and thus it’s easy to gloss over its many deficiencies: you take what you can get.
The place is not without its charm, and recalls the casual breeziness of many neighbourhood tapas bars in Spain. Here, then, are your obligatory selections of olives, seafood and jamon in a variety of shapes and forms, supported by a limited assortment of Spanish wines and beer (along with your local choices). It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of alcohol in any tapas outing, and with the view looking out towards the Granville Street nightclubs, it’s hard to forget its importance at Café Barcelona too.
We ordered a few staples. The croquettes had a pleasantly thin crust surrounding a sea of béchamel that drowned not-quite-enough ham. The txistorra, a Basque sausage, was what one would expect but no more. The pulpo a la gallega, octopus served with potatoes and drenched with olive oil, took on a bit too much of a metallic taste of the can from which it came (Spanish fare being one of very few that value canned foods as much as fresh). The tortilla de patatas, a Spanish frittata of sorts, turned out to be a highlight, simple and well executed. All were good, not great: if Café Barcelona reminds one of an average Spanish tapas bar, the emphasis is on “average.”
From there it went downhill. We ordered a crème Catalana, a Spanish riff on crème brulee, which had a chewy, sugary mess on top, covering an overly liquid crème that was warm in some patches and cold in others. This provided a good summation of the bipolar service, with one server pleasant enough, the other dour, forgetful and just plain absent. Taken together with the average fare, Café Barcelona isn’t a place to rush back to. If it wasn’t for the city’s slim pickings for traditional Spanish fare, it probably isn’t a place to rush to in the first place.
1049 Granville Street
604 909 2223
The Olympics are over and hopefully gone are the raised menu prices and the mandatory 15 - 20 % gratuity.
I took a trip back to Gyoza King and I forgot how good this place is. It saddens me to think that Gyoza King is just getting reviewed now. This place to my memory is one of the first izakayas in Vancouver, maybe Raku on Thurlow is older but I don't think so.
The interior could use an update now and sometimes there is a strange smell in there but those things are worth pushing through just so you can get some of those gyozas in your belly. I am happy that the photo of the staff with John Travolta is still on the wall.
We ordered a few things all of which were good but I want to talk about the gyoza. The prawn and vegetable gyozas are fantastic. The prawn gyoza are hands down best in the city. Each gyoza filled with one whole prawn so you are guaranteed to have prawn piece in every bite.
I always order chikuwa cheese at Gyoza King, I actually don't know another spot in Vancouver that serves this dish. Chikuwa cheese is a processed fish tube, filled with processed cheese and then deep fried. Similar to a jalapeno cheese popper.
Long story short, I forgot how good this place is. My recent visit reminded me that Gyoza King sits at the top of the list when it comes to izakayas in Vancouver.
1508 Robson Street