Vij’s at West 11th and Granville, Vancouver

It was a special occasion.  Suanne and I thought we can allow ourselves to splurge a bit.  We’ve been told that Vij’s is expensive and probably the most upscale Indian restaurants in Metro Vancouver.

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Vij’s is not operated like a restaurant you would expect.  Firstly, Vij’s does not open for lunch and they only open for dinner.  Then, they do NOT accept reservation at all.  If you want a table, you are made to wait in line outside the restaurant for them to open at 5:30PM.  I really don’t understand why Vij’s would do that to their customers.

We went on a weekday.  Arrive at the restaurant at 5:00PM, a good 30 minutes before they open.  Even then there were people there staking their spot in the self-organized line. I have heard that people actually wait for 2 hours for a table even.

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By the time they were opened, there was a long line.  Actually everyone got in that evening and only just.  So technically speaking, we could have showed up at 5 minutes before and we would have gotten a table too.  But really, if you could not get a table, the wait will be up to the next table is freed up.  Assuming that the diners will take at least 1 hour for their dinner, you can imagine how long it could be.  Suanne and I took 1.5 hours for this dinner.

Vij’s is supposed to be fine dining but I really think it resembles more of a cafe than anything — very basic.   The tables were so close to one another too.  And it was really warm inside too. Some of the customers were dressed up but there are also a number of people in T-shirt, sandals and shorts. The whole restaurant is very noisy too — very much like a bazaar. Never been to Vij’s before and I certainly was surprised how it looked.

Looks and being forced to wait apart, Vij’s sure is popular … both with locals and with tourists.

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It took a while before they gotten to us for our orders. Not surprising given that they had just filled the restaurants with hungry customers (we were!). It is tradition here that they come around serving hot chai and snacks.  These are complimentary.

We had hot chai which is not sweetened. It was just a half cup. The tapioca fries was a little spicy with a texture coarser than potato. The snacks were alright, nothing to shout about really.

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Vij’s had quite a wine list. I bet it is great with curries but then we don’t drink. Instead we ordered the Ginger Lemon drink which we thought sounded interested. It sure was. The ginger syrup and soda was served separately along with a chilled glass.

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It was good. It is more like a ginger flavoured soda, that’s what it is … nothing more. $5.

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We thought we share an appetizer and have a main each. The appetizer we ordered was the Chickpeas with Star Anise and Date Curry on Grilled Kale. $12.

It was a large plate and is meant for sharing. Interesting dish too. The hot chickpeas contrasted well with the cold yogurty topping. The Kale was leafy which soaks up well the curry. The curry wasn’t particularly spicy hot, it was just right.

We like it a lot.

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I had the Wine Marinated Lamb Popsciles. The mains in Vij’s is between $25 and $30. This is one $26.50.

The mains are served with naan and rice. They asked is we wanted the naan & rice together or separate with the mains. Not really understanding what that means, we said separate. What do they mean anyway, anyone knows?

This seems to be a very popular dish here because we saw a lot of tables having this. (more…)

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Ashiana Tandoori Restaurant on Kingsway (and Knight), Vancouver

Suanne and I first came across Ashiana Tandoori Restaurant during our visit to EAT! Vancouver.  When we blogged about the event, it just so happened that the picture we selected for our front page was two action pictures of them making fresh roti on site.  It was Sonia who requested that we email them the pictures we took.  So, one thing led to another, we were invited to Ashiana to check out their restaurant.

Suanne and I like  invitations like this not because it was a free meal but that we get to speak to the people behind the restaurant and learn more about the restaurant, the food and the people.  We realize that we appreciate the food we eat the more we know about it.  We wanted to also learn more about Tandoori and see it in action for ourselves.

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Ashiana Tandoori Restaurant is located at the intersection of Kingsway and Knight.  It was in a bad location just a few years ago when the Vancouver flea market was just around the corner.  However, in the past couple of year the neighborhood had undergone a major rejuvenation when the new King Edward Village was completed.  It is amazing how just one carefully planned development project changes the face of the neighborhood just like that.

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Ashiana is celebrating their 26th Anniversary this year.  Having first opened in 1983, Ashiana is one of the first authentic Tandoori restaurant in Vancouver.  The people behind Ashiana is Rick and Sonia.  It was a pleasure meeting them and having them telling us their story.

Sonia told us the story how they got their first major exposure during the Expo 86 when they took their clay Tandoori oven.  At that time, the Tandoori oven was quite a novelty and his clay Tandoori oven was the first in Canada.  It just happen that Rick fell ill on the day and Sonia, even though a few months pregnant, had to stand in to do the demo.

They came across to us as a very hard working husband and wife team.  Over the years, they had built a name for Ashiana and had won so many awards year in and year out.

You know, speaking to restaurant owners, Suanne and I had new respect for them.  Like many restaurant owners, Sonia and Rick put in 14 hours a day, 364 days a year — closing only on Christmas.  In all these years, they had only gone on a vacation once together!  They had to take turns to manage the fledging restaurants.  Even though, Ashiana had made a name in the restaurant business, Sonia and Rick said they do not encourage their children to take over their business.  We were quite impressed by what we learned.

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Ashiana has a banquet room that can easily cater for up to 150 people.  They told us that it is rare that restaurants can get to their size these days.  Ashiana first small restaurant is located on Victoria Drive.  In 1992, they put in all they had and re-opened in this new location.  Since then they had never looked back.

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First thing we were served were Papadums.  We learn now that is is made of lentil and is sundried.  The ones Ashiana serve here are made in India.  They could have microwaved this to provide a more uniformed charness.  Instead they make it in the tandoori clay oven.  Love the charred sides!  He he he … is that carcinogenic?

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We see the same type of dips that we had in La Tandoor a few weeks ago.  The tamarind chutney and hot mint chutney are better than those we had then — particularly the hot mint chutney.

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We told Sonia before the visit we would like to learn more about the Tandoori oven and to see for ourselves how they make our dinner.  So, the first thing we did was to have a tour of their kitchen.  We saw how our naan bread was made in the Tandoori oven — man, I had no idea how fast it was made.  It was almost instantly we saw the air bubbles popping through the skin.  I never quite figure out how the bread sticks to the side without falling off.

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The fresh hot Naan out of the oven was fantastic!  It was fluffy and soft … and particularly great with … (more…)

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La Tandoor Restaurant in Steveston, Richmond

Updated: 27th June 2012; This restaurant has closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

Suanne and I think we need to discover more about the restaurant scene at the Steveston area.  Located at the south western end of Richmond, we don’t normally drive there.  Wendy of Eat-n-About had done a number of good restaurant reviews in the area.  I like Wendy’s and her boyfriend reviews.  They like the same type of food Suanne and I like … so, every post of theirs are of interest to us and we make it a point to check out some of the restaurants they had reviewed on their site.  We like their style of writing too … very smooth easy reading.  Check their site out.

We thought we should have a closer look at Stevestone Village ourselves since we had already covered a lot of the restaurants in the Richmond City Center.  We were surprised how rich the area is in the variety of restaurants here.

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La Tandoor is located on Moncton Street.  It is the main tourist stretch … so if you walk down that short stretch of road, you will not miss it.  Even when we were one street away, we could actually catch a heavenly waft of cooking curries.  It was without doubt where the smell came from.  Suanne and I found this amusing and was wondering if there were any complains from the neighboring restaurants.

La Tandoor had won numerous City awards over the years.  They proudly display them on their windows with the awards won for Readers Choice award for 2006 and 2007.  From the outside they do seem like they had seen better years.  It somewhat bothers me when characters are missing from the signage and not replaced because it could reflect on how they care for their business.  I really hope they will replace the missing alphabets quickly.

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As always, we were at dinner early at 5PM.  There were only a couple of tables taken.  Not so evident from the outside, the restaurant could fit … oh … fifty people or so.  So it is quite large.  I like the earthy tone of their decor and it is well lighted with a skylight in the middle of the restaurant.  It is clean, no doubt about that.

We were attended by a man who looks like he own the place.  He greeted us and asked if we would like to check out their $17 buffet dinner.  Although the choices he described seems like a great deal but we declined.  We were not very hungry and we wanted to check out their real dishes.

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La Tandoor served us water in these traditional water vessels.  They were quite heavy.  What are these made of, do you know?  Brass?  Copper?  I am sure there is a little story that can be told of these traditional water vessels.

We all like these cups (goblets?) because it came so cold which is so perfect for a hot day.

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We were given two dips together with the water.  We were told that the dips were meant for the papadams.  One of them has a mild spiciness in it and is made from mint (the green one).  The other one is sweet and is made of tamarind.

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Their thin papadam was awesome.  I wish they gave us more than just three.  They were large but we like it so much we wanted more.  Are papadams generally free in East Indian restaurants and people can ask for more (without extra charge) if they wanted? (more…)

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Simply Curries on Kingsway, Vancouver

Updated: 16th Dec 2014; This restaurant has changed its name to Cafe Madras according to Urbanspoon.com.

ChowtimesNoWord32x32This is a complementary meal from Simply Curries.

There is something about Simply Curries that catches my attention. I still remember the first time we had lunch there when they first opened about six years ago. It was brand new then. I think it was the striking yellow-orange color of the place.

A few weeks back, some of you recalled that I blogged about Popular Chinese Cuisine. Walking back to our car from the dinner, we walked passed Simply Curries and remarked that we had been to this place before.

Coincidentally, a week later, a friend sent us an email to check out Simply Curries and said that the owner wanted to invite us to do a review on the place.

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Simply Curries is very much a hole in the wall kind serving South Indian food. It is located along Kingsway in Vancouver, between Joyce and Tyne. You will not miss spotting Simply Curries — just look for the large yellow-orange signboard.

Vishy is the man behind this place and I must add, very chatty too.

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The interior is very simple but it is painted in bright yellow-orange. I asked if he is a NDP supporter (since he proudly showed me a video of Jack Layton’s visit on his computer). He vehemently said, “No, No, No!” … and then proudly added that it’s painted in the colors of the Indian national flag, pointing to the green on the ceiling.

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Vishy said that the theme he wanted for Simply Curries is “keep it simple”. He does not believe in very fancy menus with hard to picture Indian names. He has this 3-step ordering system posted on the wall prominently.

Since we were there on Vishy’s invitation, I asked that he surprise us … just serve us what he wants.

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Surprise us he did. He made Curry on Fries for Nanzaro. Hmmm … why have anyone not really thought of this? This was great. I personally prefer curries over gravy with fries anytime. You might want to try this. At Simply Curries, this is $4.75.

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The other surprise he gave us was these colorful and marvelous Mini Samosas. You will love this. They came color coded so that you know what it is in them. Green is spinach, yellow is lamb, white is chicken and red is beef. Yeah, I know. I had the same question too about the beef samosa.

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We absolutely love this. They are plump, well-formed and made in bite sizes. The skin was crispy with a little spiciness in the skin even. Vishy serves this with tamarind sauce as the dip. We dipped it both in the tamarind sauce and the curries he gave us … they are great. Simply Curries sells this for $5.75 a plate which includes a dozen pieces.

Here is the beauty. You will get this for free if you …

(more…)

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Saffron Indian Cuisine on Kingsway, Burnaby

I brought the project team out for a Christmas lunch just before Christmas. The choice of the lunch places is somewhat limited as I have now a few contractors from India who wanted vegetarian dish. Moreover, I was told that they had been going to the Curry Express stall at the Metrotown Food Court for their daily fix of curry. So, I know they will then enjoy Saffron.

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Saffron is located on 4300 Kingsway which is just walking distance away from the office. With all the snow still falling, no one was in the mood of driving anyway. Despite the fancy name (Saffron Indian Cuisine), it is just a buffet place.

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The place is almost always crowded at lunch time. When I called for a reservation, I was told that they will take the reservation if it is for 11:45 AM. If we do not show up at noon, they’ll give up the table … and … no, they don’t take reservation after noon. (more…)

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Saravanaa Bhavan on Broadway, Vancouver

Updated: 24th Dec 2014; This restaurant is closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

Christina and ET invited us to try something new … a meal they enjoyed a lot and thought of going there again. We hardly had any vegetarian meals before and thought it would be a great idea to check it out.

Saravanaa Bhavan on Broadway
Saravanaa Bhavan on Broadway

It is hard to correctly spell the name of the name of the restaurant. Firstly, there are too many syllables and then the way it is spelt makes it difficult to remember.

Saravanaa Bhavan is a popular South Indian Vegetarian restaurant. I checked with some of my East Indian friends and they all swear by the food here. Saravanaa Bhavan is located on Broadway, just east of Oak. I was told that this is where the Broadway Phnom Penh restaurants once was.

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Their premises is really clean. We were there early. That is why you see that it was quite empty. By the time we left,the place was bustling with customers.

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Service was superb. Being new to South Tamil cuisine, we obviously asked a lot of dumb questions. The waiters were very keen to help us with our questions.

They came by promptly and served us water with stainless steel cups. It felt kind of odd at first drinking from the cups.

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I had to be the hero. The waiter tried to talk me out of ordering the Lasi saying that I would enjoy the Mango Lasi more. Christina also tried, in vain, to tell me I better order the Mango Lasi. The more they tried to talk me out of it, the more determined I was to order the traditional Lasi.

The Lasi ($3.50) came in two flavours … salted or sweetened. Salted sounded more exotic and so Salted Lasi it was. Well … it came and it looked like some thickened milk. The taste … it was sour and salty and frankly, not meant to be rude or what, it tastes like … puke. It was not my kind of drink but I finished it off nevertheless … a sip at a time. Actually, the first sip was the worst but it gradually was not so bad after that. I tried the Mango Lasi ($3.75) … and yes, it was like a million times better.

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I consider the Medhu Vada ($5) the Indian version of donuts. There were four pieces of it. It is fried lentil donuts and served with coconut chutney and sambar. Unlike the normal donuts, this one is quite salty.

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Arkensen and Nanzaro could not find Salted Fish Fried Rice on the menu. So, they ordered the next thing closest to fried rice. They had the Paneer Biryani ($9.25). For all I know, Paneer is the Indian version of cheese … I expect to see some cheese cubes or bits in it. The boys liked it.

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My choice was simply their version of “The Works”. It is simply called the Saravanaa Special Meal ($9.95). It came with 10 small tiffins. Collectively, I think this is what they call a Thali. (more…)

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Bombay Bhel on Hastings in Burnaby

Updated: 25th Dec 2014; This restaurant is closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

You know, our boys used to think the world of their dad. To them there is nothing that Dad does not know. They trusted Dad’s judgment in everything.

However, of late, they are beginning to feel confident of their own opinions and that means that there are a lot of disagreement that they will stand up to. So, when I suggested that we drive all the way to north Burnaby to try one of the best Indian cuisine, they vehemently protested saying that I am exaggerating! The nerve of them!

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Since I am still the king of the household, I have direct veto power and the authority to force the boys to endure the long drive. I told them it will be worth the drive and for them to trust me. “Yeah, right!” they said.

Bombay Bhel is located on 4633 Hastings in Burnaby. I had been there several times before and East Indian friends in my company swears that they are the best around Burnaby … even much better than Saffron or Samosa Garden on Kingsway. I tried Bombay and I agree … totally.

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The interior of Bombay Bhel is spacious. Even though it was a good restaurant, I always wondered why it had never been full. This is especially glaring seeing Bombay Bhel is located just next door to Anton’s Pasta which had torturous queues everyday during peak meal times.

We were there on Sunday and for the whole duration of our time there, there were only two tables taken. Strange.

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I still don’t know what is what when it comes to Indian Cuisine. They all looked alike … curries in pot with various kinds of meat (except beef!). I can’t make out Vindaloo from a Massala from Paneer. Whatever they are, ALL of them taste great.

So, we ended up ordering three different kinds of mains from three separate sections on the menu. (more…)

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Tandoori Kona Restaurant in Richmond

We found this little gem of a place quite by accident a couple of months ago. It had been sometime since we had East Indian food. We initially wanted to go and try the Himalayan Restaurant at the intersection of Cambie and the No 5 Road. Instead we were drawn to the Tandoori Kona restaurant by the Lunch Special sign that had put out.

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There were no one in the restaurant when we visited. Being such a minor strip mall in Richmond, we had not expected this. While it was no lavish in decor but it was quite impressive.

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Again, in such an unassuming place from the outside, the place is very clean.

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The Lunch Special meal combo came with freshly baked and warm naan. It was some of the best naan we had.

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London Series: Chicken Tikka Masala from Sipson Tandoori

I was so intrigued. When I first heard that the national food of England is Chicken Tikka Masala, I thought that someone was pulling my legs. In a few days I was in London, some people (mainly Indian taxi drivers) told me the same thing too. Here is what I learned the past few days — let me know if I get this correct.

Masala is an Indian term that refers to a mixture of many ground spices. What does the word Masala mean? Spices? And Chicken Tikka Masala is really invented in Great Britain. So, I figure since I am in London I must simply try the national dish. 🙂

I had blogged on the Sipson Tandoori the last time I was in London here. I vivid remembered making an unkind remark about the “pretty dumb” paper bags the delivery came with. I had the tendency sometimes to be brash, I admit. He he he … the paper bags I guess will always be there but at least this time, the curry did not leak all over the place.

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Got a question for you, Rukya. How many pieces does people normally order the papadam? When I ordered ONE piece, the person who took my order sounded so surprised. I mean, the papadam is such a large piece that one is more than enough for me. Guess what, when they delivered to me, they game me four pieces. Hey, I have no complain. I must say that Sipson’s papadam is simply one of the best I had tried … they are so crispy and flavourful … and they tastes just as good the next morning. 50p per piece but they charge me only for 1 piece — nice!

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You know, most curries looked and tastes the same to me. So I really can’t figure out what Chicken Tikka Masala is. It looked and tastes like Butter Chicken but am sure it is not. Rukya, can you tell us about Chicken Tikka Masala? (more…)

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London Series: Grapes Tandoori on Uxbridge Road

I think RR must be waiting for this blog entry. 🙂

In a previous trip to London, I had an Indian dinner delivered from Sipson Tandoori. RR. whose late father founded the Sipson restaurant, found my posting on the internet. We got in touch and exchanged a few emails and she invited me to try the other restaurant also started by her father, the Grapes Tandoori. I did go to the Grapes Tandoori on the first night I was in London.

Getting from my hotel to the Grapes Tandoori, although not really far, still requires a a taxi ride. I really hate taking taxis in London. They have this minicab services which does not use meters and charges arbitrary. Well, for the short taxi ride of 5km, it costs me 14 Pounds. Sigh … the disadvantage for being a visible foreigner …

Locating Grapes Tandoori was easy. It was right on the rather busy Uxbridge Rd. The taxi driver did bring me to the wrong Grapes, the Grapes Pub which obviously did not resemble anything like an Indian restaurant.

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I got in early and there were only one other customer. Man, I must say that the service was attentive to say the least. I have never seen so many waiters in a restaurant, very unlike in Canada where a restaurant of this size would perhaps have 3-4 people max. Kind of unnerving, if you ask me. Because there were just two customers, the waiters were milling around my table and I do feel so … watched.

Started with a drink. Wanted a cocktail but I guess either it’s not big in England or they don’t have it in Indian restaurants. Anyone can tell me why?

Ordered the Sherry and Port which costs 2.50 GBP. I don’t really know what it is and when I asked the waiter about it, he told me he does not know either because he had never tried it before. I asked for recommendation but he could not either. Oh well, I just went ahead and ordered it.

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The waiters came by with a platter of condiments. I was really curious what it was but I guess I ran into some communication problem. 🙂 So, what I found out was that they were not spicy and one of them is onions. They do tastes good though.

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