Friday, October 8, 2010

korean BBQ: Westender Korean Cafe vs. Kim Ga Nae

I find it both humorous and annoying (I'm not sure which is more) when reading some of the comments on regarding korean bbq dining experience.  Particularly these ones;

"Raw meat is served to the table and you are expected to cook it yourself on hot plates. " on Westender Korean Cafe.

 "Steak and chicken were not sliced for you (came in a big chunck) and I was told to use the scissors to cut it myself. Wow, I am paying $18 to cut meat?" on Kyung Bok Place.

Of course, I am one who is also quick to flip the switch on poor service, food not arriving, sanitation, etc.  Nonetheless, there are several common sense pointers I would like to point out to these critics, whom I can only assumed were misinformed, regarding general norms for dining at korean bbq or any other less than fancy asian food joints.

1. I'm not sure why people are surprised that they have to cook their own meat.  Maybe it's best to do some research before trying it for the first time so you have a general idea.  When I went to Westender Korean BBQ for the first time, I witnessed the waitress told a caucasian couple at least 4 times that pork belly bbq is all they have, and if they are sure they want to eat it.  Initially, I was probably as annoyed and baffled as the couple as to why the waitress had to ask them repeatedly.  After reading some of the comments on the website, she probably just wanted to make sure what they are getting into with no surprises.  Most bbq meat are served raw so you can cook it yourself at your own convenience at your own table.  It is universal.  If you can't handle the sight of raw meat being served and cooking it yourself, I would suggest not ordering bbq or hot pot, or even sushi/sashimi.  

2. Yes, large pieces of meat are served at your table along side of a pair of scissors and you do cut them up yourself.  The reason for this is because the meat will remain juicier if you cut them up after rather than before they are being cooked.  It is unreasonable to expect servers to station at each and every single table in the restaurant, waiting to cut up each piece of meat for you.  Again, if you find that appalling, I would suggest you dine at the Keg instead of trying to venture any new type of cuisine.

3. A lot of asian food joints reputation are all about quality of food, the price, or the value in general.  Yes, there are some old ghetto places which if they are crowded, you can probably expect them to taste really good.  Obviously, I never expect customer service from these places as I do at Cactus Club, or anywhere else higher end.  I don't expect the servers to come over to chit chat, and constantly following up (those are luxuries).  What I do expect are my food being served in a timely manner without mishaps, and nothing foreign is in it.  I mean, you are basically there solely for the food, and not the atmosphere.  Chances are if the restaurant is busy and under staff, you are going to have to fight for their attention.

Westender Korean Cafe

Barbecue pork belly for 3

For $10.95, the barbecue dinner comes with a spicy soup, 2 kinds of salads (western and korean), side dishes which include bean sprouts, daikon, and kimchi.  A bowl of rice is extra $1.25. The place is a strictly pork belly place.  There is no menu and they get straight to the point.  I was content grilling my own pork belly slices (or having them grilled for me by others) until they are crispy.  Then, garnishing the meat with pickles, wrapping it lettuce before dunking it in hot sauce and sesame oil with salt.  Enjoy that over a bowl of rice.  And as long as we keep getting refills, I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.

Kim Ga Nae

Lunch menu

Dinner menu
The dinner menu has kalbi and several more cooked items than the lunch menu.

Soft tofu soup
I was expecting spicy soon do bu tofu soup and was disappointed that it was a clear broth, quite different than what other people has posted on previous blogs regarding their dining experience at Kim Ga Nae. It was more of a chinese inspired taste.  I didn't really touch it much.
I was hoping there would be more than just kimchi as a side.  I don't feel the same way about korean barbecue without at least 3 side dishes sitting in front of me.  There was pickled radish, but it wasn't spicy either.
Jab Chae
The jab chae was served cold as though it came straight from the fridge.  I pretended it was some kind of noodle salad...
Spicy rice cake
The rice cake was chewy and that is all I have to say.

Pumpkin, onions and mushrooms

Barbecue meat 
I have to say that they were quite generous with the portions of sliced beef and bulgogi.  This picture shows one order of each meat item.  The pork belly only comes in 2 pieces per order.  The beef bulgogi and the pork ribs were my favourite as they were tender and well marinated.

Gyoza and sweet chicken (2 pieces/order)

Bi Bim Bab
The bi bim bab is standard.  We finished it with the barbecue meat. What a filler. By the way, did you see the scissors in the corner? Yes, we cut our own meat!
Beef bone soup
For some reason, I found the beef bone soup to have the same flavour as KFC chicken.  Again, I left it alone.

Overall the experience was average and the quality of food is average.  I was disappointed with the lack of sides and the tofu soup.  Even though it is a descent meal for a barbecue lunch, I'm having trouble thinking of reasons to go back again.  

cheap sushi tour: Sushi Garden, Banzai and Samurai Sushi

Sometimes when I crave sushi, it's all about instant gratification.  While I value quality and taste in food, there are times when you just need to satisfy the craving without hurting the wallet.

Sushi Garden 
Mentai Yaki Udon
Still, I haven't found a replacement for Zakkushi's mentai kimchi yaki udon.  Everywhere else just seems so bland and mediocre compared to now extinct tasty dish.

Salmon sashimi $7.95, Toro $1.30
Salmon sashimi in fair sizes and thickness.  I was happy they were fresh and not frozen or slimy (like at Banzai or Suishaya).  The toro (tuna belly) sushi was also delicious.
Spider roll $6.50
You will begin to notice that I often order spider rolls.  What can I say? I have a thing for soft shell crab.

B.C. Combo
The B.C. Combo for $7.95 comes with 1 tuna sashimi, 1 salmon sashimi, 1 BC Roll (BBQ salmon skin) 1 Alaska roll (salmon, avocado and roe).  

Sushi Garden is always busy and, although I hear that the wait time can be long, I would definitely go back there again.  In terms of quality and price it is my favourite out of the 3 places listed here.

4269 Lougheed Hwy
BurnabyBC V5C3Y6


When I think of Banzai and Samurai, I don't really associate the restaurants with authenticity, or (sometimes) freshness.  Nonetheless, value wise, I still choose either place over McDonald's for sure.  I'm from Edmonton where a typical Japanese meal usually costs at least $30 per person.  Therefore, to say I went buck wild on ordering during the first visit Banzai in Richmond would be an understatement. No one had warned me about the sheer ginormous size of the sushi, sashimi and rolls.  So, I opted to ordering a party tray which came with 44 pieces of sushi and maki rolls for $32 between 2 people to share.  A mistake I shall never repeat and, needless to say, I ended up with more than I can chew.   

Monstrous size assorted sashimi 
After my first experience, I wouldn't probably order the sashimi again except if I plan on making Tuna Tataki later at home.  The portion is huge as you can see, however, I prefer the sashimi to be cut thinner so I wouldn't feel like I'm chomping down on the flesh of a dead fish.  The texture didn't do anything for me. It was mushy, and a lot of the pieces are frozen.  I wouldn't recommend ordering the sashimi unless you want to take them home and make something else out of it.

Party Tray B - Futo maki roll, BC roll, California roll, tuna, cucumber rolls, 

Party tray C - Tuna, Tai, Salmon, Ebi, surf clam sushi

Party tray C - tobiko and masago sushi
Surprisingly, their mackarel sushi is actually really good.  Of course, it comes in a large piece.  I usually don't eat mackarel sushi or sashimi because I find the fishy taste is too strong for me.  At Banzai, there is hardly any fishy taste, it has a smoky and creamy taste that makes it quite delicious and satisfying.
Prawn tempura

The prawn tempura are made fresh so they are always hot and crispy.  They don't coat them with too much batter and the prawn are not overcooked.  For

My favourite rolls, spider roll and spicy chop chop roll!
As mentioned, the spider roll is my favourite and I  was lucky enough to always get the freshly fried softshell crab each time at Banzai.  When I'm running to the airport or on the go, I often get this combination.  Their party trays are also good deals if you are having a function or throwing a party.

#40-8251 Westminster Hwy
Richmond, BC

Visit their website here.
Samurai Sushi

The restaurant has an extensive menu that is divided into categories and most at reasonable price.  
Even bigger sashimi cuts - Tuna/salmon $11

Giant dynamite, spicy tuna and alaska rolls.  Can't forget the spider roll!
Fraser location
6428 Fraser Street Vancouver

Downtown location
1108 Davie Street Vancouver

Visit their website here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zakkushi Disappointment

I featured Zakkushi in one of the best izakayas to go to in Vancouver last year and have returned a few times since.  This last trip I made, unfortunately brewed a small storm inside my heart.  We walked in and the place looked a bit different.  Fancier menu, brighter lighting, not as smoky, not as crowded, loud, or ghetto.  Hmmm it's not quite the Zakkushi I remember, but that's ok.. I'm mostly here for the food even though I miss the ghettoness just a little bit.  We ordered the usual skewers, daikon salad, and of course, the delicious kimchi mentai yaki udon smothered with cod roe.  At first, the waiter informed us there was no more udon and if we wanted soba instead.  He later revealed, that they don't make the dish anymore.  Shocked and appalled, I demanded answers.  I was there 4 weeks ago and they were still serving it.  From what I know, the dish is one of the MOST RAVED ABOUT on the Vancouver food blog sites.  And from what my friend told me, they were there last week, and they STILL got it!  The waiter had no answers for us.  He said the owners simply removed it from the menu.  I told him the owners made a huge mistake.  He shook his head in despair and simply told me to blog about it. So that was blow number one.  FYI this is what the dish looks like:
Kimchi Mentai Yaki Udon
I believe this tuna rice dish is also now non-existent.  What a shame, it also was really good.
Negi toro don
I came home and checked their website and it says their "Grand Menu Starts Now".
I appreciate it when restaurants try to up their scale but being innovative and changing up things.  However, I don't appreciate the sheer negligence over the quality that sometimes comes after the menu/owner/chef changing.  Such as the case at Wo Fung chicken wings (now 3 times smaller), Cattle Cafe (watery soup base), and Pied a Terre (salty steak frites and dismissal of Napoleon), and now Zakkushi charcoal minuscules.
New menu! 

Back to the restaurant. After we delighted ourselves with the $9.99 Sapporo pitcher, we ordered the usual Kushi Set which comes with 5 skewers.  Each time, the skewers seem to be shinking smaller and smaller.  Did the change the chef? Did we come on a bad day? What has happened?
Before - Kushi set on July 31, 2010
After - Kushi set August 25, 2010

Tsukune December 12, 2009

Tsukune Aug 25, 2010

I looked over at the Japanese folks next table and, to my astonishment, their skewers were twice the size of ours.  Due to legal reasons, I decided not to post their pictures with skewers.  Of course these are not the biggest blunders for a restaurant and it is still as busy as ever.  But to me, the wow factors for Zakkushi is gone.  I have absolutely no reason left to go back there (unless for the $9.99 Sapporo pitchers).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Favourite Restaurant in Victoria: Bon Rouge

If you are looking for best bang for your buck restaurants, Bon Rouge is a gem in each and every way.  Located on the corner of Courtney street, the bistro outside decor is warm and inviting.  The parisian style decor, the comfort food, and jazz music softly played have made Bon Rouge my all time favourite place to go for brunch.  

Summer features menu
Two menus are offered, the summer features and the brunch menu.
The decor
The bistro is divided into 3 sections; the patio, the bistro interior, and the restaurant interior.  Jazz music. Casual and relaxed. Friendly service.

Champaign cocktails - $5
Drinks specials are champaign cocktails for $5 until 4 pm every weekend and a glass of wine for $5 every wednesday.  Martinis are $7.50 for 2 oz. and are exquisitely named after famous French figures; Coco Chanel, Yves Saint-Laurant, Bridgette Bardot, etc.

Freshly baked french loaf, complimentary
We were already excited about the french bread as its freshly baked aroma swarmed us. As we pulled the bread apart, we could hear the crunch and the softness of the inside dough softly pulling apart.  Crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside. Wow.

Prawn crepe $12 - Pan seared with fennel shallot and garlic cream sauce
6 giant succulent prawns nestled inside!
I do mean it when I say the prawn crepe at Bon Rouge was the best crepe I've ever had.   The giant prawns are cooked perfectly and in perfect harmony with sauteed vegetables in fennel and garlic cream sauce.  We appreciated each and every single bite.  For the sheer size and for only $12, it was truly amazing.

Croque Monsieur $12 - Baked ham and gruyere cheese on house made brioche loaf and mornay sauce, with a side of fennel soup

I've always been more accustomed to traditional Croque Monsieur with baked cheddar or swiss cheese  on top.  Instead, the mornay sauce, which is made up of half parmesan and half gruyere, offered a subtle  texture that complemented the brioche loaf.  It was light, creamy and not overwhelming.  The fennel soup was aromatic but was a bit too salty.  However, the intensity was brought down a couple notches when alternating between the Croque Monsieur or the french loaf.

French Onion Soup $8 - Gruyere on crostini
We were debating on what to order for the dessert but we kept thinking about the French Onion soup.  Since I'm a fan, I knew I would have to try.  So we ended up getting it as a dessert instead (lol).  The broth was rich and, again, still a tad too salty for me.  But if you are a cheese lover like me, you would really enjoy the thick layer of melted gruyere and added bread made up for it.   

As we stumbled out of the restaurant an hour and a half later, though I may have easily gained 5 lbs, I was ecstatic and could not wait to come back again.

Visit their website here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hangover Busters for Girls: Look and feel as good as new

The last thing I need after an all nighter of partying like a rockstar is to look like I was the next day.  I'm also the type that will only get 4 hours of sleep max. with a hangover.  Well, people have different hangovers they deal with but if you are girl like me, the evidence of partying can be quite overwhelming; the breakouts, the dark puffy circles.. And besides looking like shit, there's also feeling like shit too; the headache, absolute dehydration and constant need to vomit.  Oh yea, don't forget about the calories and the toll on your liver.  Therefore, to keep my stamina, detoxify, and steering clear from looking like a zombie, I've come up with a hangover cure regime.   In order to look and feel as refreshed and rejuvenated as though one week of partying is just a dream, try out hangover busters.
Before you go to bed: Drink at least 3 glasses of water. Don't forget to remove the makeup!

When you wake up:

*1. Detoxify - Drink as much water as you humanely can.  Forget the 8-10 glass/day rule, you are going to want to remove most of that toxin from your body.  Drink one glass of water every hour and double with each meal.  Rid yourself those bloated and nauseated feelings.  DRINK IT!! DO IT!!

*2. Eyeball burstings headaches - If you forget to pop 2 advils before bed, it is probably a good idea to pop a couple once you wake up, even if you don't feel the headache coming yet.

3. Bags and dark circles - Cool pad pads, eye stick, eye cream... anything you got.  The best treatment for puffy eyes and bags are probably using a refrigerated tea bags pressed over your eyes. The caffeine in the tea will elevate blood circulation, while the coolness of the bags will ease the swelling.  I use Tony Moly 24 Hour Cooling Eye Stick coupled with Clinique All About Eyes.

*4. Eat carbs avoid fruits and dairy - this maybe the only occasion where it is better to eat more carbs than veggies as they tend to absorb excess alcohol.  Fruits, veggies and dairy may make you feel more bloated or give you diarrhoea.

5. Hit the gym and do light cardio. - nothing intense or you might seriously hurt yourself.  Just a quick 20-30 minutes work out on the elliptical or in the pool just to get the blood flow going, removing excess toxins from that hardworking liver of yours.  Most of all, remember how much calories are in those drinks? They will eventually catch up to ya.  If you have been consistently been going out, you probably will need a fixed daily workout schedule.

6. Hot tub - relax sore muscles, stimulate blood circulation.  You will feel a 100 times better.

7. Spa treat your skin - Hit the steam room. After not having enough sleep and with access alcohol consumption, I breakout like crazy.  To nourish my skin back to its health, I have to give it extra attention. The best way is to hit the steam room and open up those pores, detoxify for a bit.  Afterwards, I lather on Balea sea salt clay mask for deeply cleansing pores and rejuvenate fresh skin turnover.  Moisturize.  After this treatment, you will look more refreshed like you just came back from a vacation than a week of binge drinking.
Kwang Loong to the rescue!

8. If you're still feeling puky... Last but not least, if you are feeling nauseated, you can either vomit and get it over with. Another option is to take medication.  I have tried a small medicated drink and, after the first and last taste, I thought to stick with the hangover instead.  A less painful alternative is to take Gravol.  The downside is it will make you extra drowsy if you have to go to work.  The last option, my favorite, is to take the aromatherapy path (aka grandma smelling ointment).  My number one cure is Kwang Loong oil, a pain relieving ointment.  It is made up of menthol, lavender and eucalyptus oil that will help clear the air path, making you breathe easier and feel less nauseated.  The downside is your friends may make fun of you, but who really gives a shit at this day and age?

9. Green Tea - Free radicals from excess alcohol consumption can damage skin cells, leaving skin looking blotchy and leads to premature aging.  Green tea contains polyphenols, antioxidant compounds, which combat free radicals and reduce cell degeneration.  Drink up!