RSSArchive for November, 2010

Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Victoria and 33rd, Vancouver

It is just who I am OK? So you really got to bear with me.

Whenever I get myself obsessed on a certain food, I will go and find out more about it. I am no expert but I have an insatiable curiosity for information.

What I was really obsessed about of late is something called the XO Sauce. Lily was telling us in this post that Western Lake has the best XO Sauce. It is so good that legend has it that they charge $2 for a saucer. Wow, that I had to see for myself.

Suanne and I made our way to Western Lake on Victoria and 33rd. We had never been to this particular restaurant before. Frankly if not for that XO Sauce discussion I don’t think we would even come here at all.

So I did some research and it seems like this is one place I should have visited long ago. A lot of people like this place and many reviews talked about the long waits for tables. People were telling me that I either go at 9AM (that’s when they open) or you better call for a reservation.

It’s not that they will honor your reservation and have an empty table waiting for you to show up. No siree. This is a Chinese restaurant. LOL! At least with a reservation you stand a better chance of being seated ahead of the walk-in customers.

We had a reservation and we got there just in time by 10 in the morning. We did not want to go earlier than 10AM because this restaurant does not serve the Kitchen Specialties until that time. We are here for their Kitchen Specialties, not the ho-hum stuff like siu mais and har gows.

The restaurant is big and busy. It was running at full house already. I think in Cantonese the expression is “bau pang” which literally means that the tent had exploded. Something like that.

So we were lucky we had a reservation. We just had to wait for 5 minutes before they jostled us to the far corner of the restaurant. I did not quite like the spot because it has blind spots and we can’t be seen by the waiters in case we need them. Well … take it of leave it, I guess.

We took it. I have a feeling those guys have little patience for my petty peeve.

While waiting we stood there and counted 25 tables, mostly 4 to 10 seaters. Quite big is what I say. You know I like double table cloth.

Service was very prompt, very fast. They will throw you a smile or field a question or two but you sense that they really have a lot on their hands serving all the customers. So in that respect I gotta hand it to them. At least they were never rude or have a grumpy face.

You may click on the menu above (and below) to show it larger. Sorry I had to constantly repeat this because I know it is not obvious to everyone. Believe it or not, not every chowtimes readers are that savvy like most of you are.

Anyway, there are no push cart dim sum here. It is by order form. On one side (above) is the normal dim sum which is served from opening time at 9 AM. We only ticked one item on this page (#15 Steamed Prawn Siu-Mai with Dried Scallops) because we wanted this to go with the famed XO Sauce. I mean, we can’t eat the XO Sauce by itself right? We gotta had something to “dim” the XO Sauce.

Oh … one more thing. Although there are no dim sum carts, they do occasionally bring out trays of their specials to the table. So for strategic purposes, I advise you to:

  • get a table closest to the kitchen so that you can intercept the good ones faster, and
  • order 1 less dish that you can finish so that when the specials come to your table you don’t have to deal with the dilemma to say no to an absolutely item

What do you think? Good strategy? Trust me … I had eaten enough dim sum and is “kiasu” enough to have these strategy ingrained already. :-)

Ah yes … flipping over the page is the Kitchen Specialties. Again, this is available only after 10 AM.

We took quite a while looking over the menu because we wanted so many dishes and yet there is only that many we could order. The waitress came by twice asking if we are ready. I am a charming guy and flashing my usual charming eyeless smile, I told them “why do you have so many good dishes? How am I now gonna decide?”

After consultation with Suanne, we decided that since it is a cold snowy day, we will order dishes that will fit the winter theme. We went for almost all soupy dishes for a change.

The Clams in Spicy Chinese Wine Sauce is $7.

We would normally not order clam dishes because we thought it has little substance (meat) to it and has lots of light soup. But what made us choose this dish are two words … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Mr Zhang Szechuan Restaurant on Victoria and 40th Ave, Vancouver

If you are into hot and spicy food … and if you like Sichuan food, this is a restaurant that can stand up to all the other Sichuan restaurants in town.

I haven’t seen much written about them on the internet except for a brief take-out post on Parker Pages. That’s the beauty of it … being able to discover a place like this quite by accident.

It was the day after the 1-inch snow “storm” when Suanne and I decided to take a drive and look for food that will warm the body. We did not have anything in mind but of late our focus had been on Victoria Drive. We had covered a lot of restaurants already in Richmond and it’s harder to mine the city for golden finds.

But Victoria Drive among all streets in Vancouver is still ripe for the picking. There are a lot of places we did not have the chance to check out yet. What we had in mind was some soupy food (like Pho, Taiwanese Beef Noodles or hot pot) or something spicy.

As I was slowly driving past the intersection with 41st Ave, we caught a glimpse of pictures of the dishes outside of Mr Zhang Sichuan Restaurant. We parked our car right in front of the restaurant to get a closer look.

It looked good and appears worthy to check out.

It was bright yellow inside. We are a bit dismayed to see that they have rectangular tables and booth tables instead of round tables. I mean, any authentic Sichuan restaurant worth its salt chili must have round tables. Well, at least one or two of it. But it is all smaller tables — mostly for four seats, some with six.

We went in as they were just opened for the day at 11 AM. It was freezing cold that we kept our jackets on for a good part of the meal before the whole restaurant warmed up.

They have the posters above pasted on the wall in several locations in the restaurant. It is the same set of dishes that we saw outside by the window.

Go ahead, click on it so that you can see read this better. This is all in Chinese unfortunately.

This is obviously their specialties and their signature dishes. We know we need not look further than this poster menu for our choices for the day.

The menu which is printed in thick plastic page (not paper!) is pretty impressive. Their prices are much cheaper than other more established Sichuan restaurant. Sichuan dishes in many restaurants are generally more expensive running easily into $15-$25 dishes. The prices in Mr Zhang is certainly much cheaper. Many dishes are below $10 and even the more expensive ones are $15-$16.

So yeah … we were impressed with their prices. You can click on the picture above (and below too) to blow it up bigger.

They have more handwritten specials pasted on the wall. We can’t read it at all but we know some of you who could would like see what they are.

Can someone try to translate roughly what the items are?

I know it is sometimes frustrating to see the specials written in Chinese only. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy or anything like that to discriminate customers but still I think they should make the effort to translate them. Translating poetic Chinese dish names are sometimes not the easiest thing to do.

Perhaps what we as customers could do to encourage these restaurants to provide English translations is to ask them repeatedly why is it that they don’t provide English versions of their menu. Shall we collectively go about doing that?

I like this restaurant. It is the small things that count. Not many restaurants will serve you free peanuts along with the tea. Their free peanuts is both sweet and salty which is quite pleasant. It is even crunchy as though it had just been fried.

The waitress, who constantly switches from speaking in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, told is that they give away free pickles for delivery only.

We asked her who is “Mr Zhang”. She pointed to the handsome picture of the man on the poster menu (the 4th picture).

Mr Zhang is the owner and the chef who had opened this new place about 1 year ago. She told us that Mr Zhang is a good chef and that he does not use MSG or chicken base for his cooking.

The Stir Fried Pork Belly ($13) is one of Mr Zhang’s signature dishes.

It smells so good as it was brought to the table. We instantly knew it was … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Multigrain Salad

Following the knife skills workshop, Ian proceeded with a grain workshop.

In this workshop, Ian introduced us to four grains, i.e. Couscous, Bulgar, Quinoa and Kasha. Ian showed us how to cook the different grains and we got to taste the texture of all the grains which is lightly dressed with olive oil and salt. Most of the grains can be cooked like pasta but the nutrients will be lost in the water. So, if you cook it the pasta way, save the water to make stocks.

A good place to buy such grains is Galloway’s Specialty Foods.

The grains are used along with some fresh vegetables, herbs, seeds and dried fruits to create a healthy multigrain salad.

The above are some of the vegetables and herbs that were prepared from the knife skills workshop.

Couscous is the easiest and quickest to prepare among the 4 grains. All you have to do is … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Knife Skills

The Richmond Food Security Society hosted a series of Basic Food Skills classes on three consecutive Monday nights, from November 15th to the 29th, at Garrat Wellness Center, from 7-9pm. The cost for all three workshops is $25.

The mandate of the Richmond Food Security Society is to support the growing and consumption of local foods in Richmond. The Society has identified that the lack of culinary skills to cook food at home to be one of the bigger obstacles to community food security.It is hoped that as more people feel comfortable around the kitchen, the more cooking, using fresh, preferably local ingredients, will happen. The goal is to eat healthy and reduced consumption of processed or boxed food which are usually high on salt and fat.

The Basic Food Skills workshops were conducted by Chef Ian Lai. Ian teaches school children to connect with the earth, the community around them, and agriculture at large. Students learn to grow, monitor, harvest, and eat nutritiously on a weekly basis. Their garden activities integrate the complete food cycle – from seed to table, and from table to soil, in the form of composting. This Terra Nova Schoolyard Society was founded by Ian in 2006 and is a non-profit, community-based garden project.

In the first class, Chef Ian Lai guided participants through Knife Skills: how to choose a knife and maintain it; and how to properly chop and prepare foods. Students will then use their skills to cook a grain dish which will be covered in the next post.

Ian brought along his professional knife kit for demonstration. It is his travel kit. Ian quoted in the workshop “My knife is my knife”; not even his wife can share it. I guessed chefs are passionate about their most precious cargo which is their knives and kitchen tools.

Ian shared with us that his most favourite knives are his paring knife and a Japanese style thin blade knife. He said a good knife should have metal extended all the way to the handle. One must feel comfortable holding and using the knife when choosing a knife. Ian suggested to bring a carrot when shopping for knives and one must try out the knives before buying them. The knife should balance well on your hand and neither front blade or the back handle is heavier.

Ian also suggested that one must have a knife block to store the knives to prevent chipping.

Some of the participants brought their knives for Ian to share on what is the best application of them. Knives with thicker top are good for … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Madrid: Going Home

We had already packed our bags the night before. Suanne is a stickler for these sort of things. She will line up the final things we need neatly for the morning the night before so that we can get out in just minutes. The toothbrush and toothpaste is arranged nicely. Also, the travel clothings were also arranged neatly with the last fresh pair of socks and underwear.

That is the whole thing about travelling on the company’s travel pass. We had to be attired in business casual to check in. That specifically means that Suanne must wear skirts which I thought was a weird rule.

We did not have much time to laze around. We went to the hotel next door for a quick breakfast.

The breakfast here was much simpler to decide. They have English translations too.

Our last cafe con leche in Spain. We had this almost everyday and … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Madrid: Mercado de San Miguel

Well, this was the last evening in Spain.

We got back from Toledo and had a short nap in the hotel to recharge ourselves. We then went out to explore Madrid but largely we were in the vicinity of the hotel on Gran Via and Plaza Mayor.

We spent sometime just sitting in Plaza Mayor to watch the world goes by. We thought we understand the Spanish people much better in this trip and frankly, we had gained respect for them as a people. Spain would have been a much greater nation than they are today if not for some unfortunate turn of events centuries ago.

We had passed by the Mercado de San Miguel twice before. This time we went in.

It is a nice and modern place that is … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Madrid: A Memorable Day In Toledo

Day 5 is the day we travel outside of Madrid for the day.

The plan was to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Toledo. Toledo is one of the historic capitals of Spain.

Toledo is about 70 km outside of Madrid. The best way to reach it is by train.

We took the train from the Atocha Railway station. It is the same station we arrived in Madrid a few days earlier. We thought that we might just go straight to the railway station to have breakfast as we were quite sure there were some options there.

Actually there was not a lot of options there. There were just simple cafes with pastries and coffee and nothing fancy at all.

Since we had communication difficulty again, it was just a flash of two fingers with the words Cafe Con Leche and random pointing to the pastries on display. The pastries were pretty satisfying.

While there, I was still reading up on Toledo and was still unsure why we are going there besides that everyone telling us we must visit Toledo. Anyway, we wanted to get outside of Madrid.

Suanne, as usual, plays the tourist and I play the role of her personal tour guide. She did not have to do a thing and let me handle everything for her. Lucky girl.

After the breakfast, it was still early. The station was eerily quiet. Being a major train station I had expected that will be busy.

The Madrid’s Atocha station has got to be one of the best train stations I had been to. It is calming and we love the garden inside the station. We just waited at the garden right next to the turtle pond waiting for the time to board the train.

We can see it was mainly tourists who were getting onto the train to Toledo. How do we know? It is the … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Madrid: The Fourth Day and Visits to Museo de Jamon

The fourth day was going to be light. I had planned for just one museum to visit but is filled with little eats here and there. It is also the day of shopping … Suanne’s shopping, not mine.

For once we slept in a little and take our own sweet time to get ready to go out. It was a time to catch up on emails and matters of this blog (moderating and responding to comments). We had not signed in to the internet for several days already and I must say it was good!

We decided to go to a place called Cafe & Te. It is a chain restaurant because we see a number of them all over the city of Madrid.

There are smokers here just like all other restaurants here. It bothers us big time but I guess it is how it is in Spain. I am so thankful that in Vancouver we can treat smokers like pariah. In our city, we can afford to stare at people who light up a cigarette but here we are so meek.

Did you know that I once worked for the British American Tobacco Company before? Oh yeah, I was the Regional Corporate IT Manager for Asia Pacific. Even though I worked in the company and were given 2 cartons of cigarettes every week, I had never smoked at all. It was terrible working in a company where people smoke in meetings and you can’t speak out about it. I had to toe the party line. As a matter of fact, during the one week orientation in my first day at work, the first session was a discussion on “Is smoking bad?” (something like that). It was a dream job and a major career move … that’s why I worked there.

Today I still hate cigarette smoke.

We had the usual thing every morning. This time we also ordered the Jamaican Blue mountain just to see if there is a difference to the Cafe con Leche. We can’t tell the difference. It is not that the cafe con leche is as good as the Blue Mountain but it’s just that we are not sophisticated coffee drinkers.

We had something called the Panini Espaguolo. It is … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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