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Photo Visit – Bao Bei – April 2013

16 Apr

163 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1X3

T: 604 688 0876
www.bao-bei.ca

Brief Description: A funky, Chinatown-based restaurant offering non-traditional Chinese fare in tapas style. Bao Bei appeals to those who aren’t necessarily looking for an authentic Chinese experience but more of a modern, up-market version of that experience. Prices are between $4 (for small “schnacks”) but most are around the $14 mark.

It has been some time since I was last at Bao Bei but after tonight’s dinner I am wondering why I had left it so long. The flavours were popping tonight, the serving sizes were spot on, and the price (without drinks) was an affordable $43. One of my previous complaints about Bao Bei was the cost of their simple fried rice dish. At $17 a bowl I had a hard time justifying it, even though it was delicious. Well, I’m happy to report that the price (and size) of the fried rice has come down to a reasonable $12. This makes me much happier as the decrease aligns it with the cost of most of the other menu items (understandably, lamb and salmon are slightly more expensive).

Truffled Pork Dumplings – $7.50

Shao Bing – $12

Mantou – $9Seasonal Fried Rice – $12

The shao bing was well-rounded with a lot of flavour from the cumin lamb, punctuated with pickled onions and the fiery heat of the salted chillies. The seasonal fried rice sounded unusual (with iceberg lettuce and prosciutto) but the end result was actually very good but made even better by the addition of the chilli oil condiment available. The truffled pork dumplings were warming, with a light splash (more like an aroma) of truffle oil, and the mantou buns were soft, and spongey with just the right amount of pork belly (cubes rather than a big slab).

For a Tuesday night, the restaurant was steady and they still aren’t taking reservations in advance so either show up on a weeknight or plan for a bit of wait. Thankfully, there are now a few bars in the area where you can whet your appetite before waiting for a table to become free (I recommend The Keefer or The Union).

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Photo Visit – Golden Garden – August 2012

8 Aug

509 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2V1

T: 604 685 5623
No website

Brief Description: A Vietnamese restaurant located on the cusp of Chinatown and Down Town Eastside, that sells traditional Vietnamese dishes such as pho and báhn mi. Prices are very cheap and serving sizes are filling.

Are you someone who likes keeping lists? I am. I get a serious kick from making lists, and even more of a kick from checking things off my list. My iPhone has been a big help with this addiction. My notes section is full of lists, including “wines to buy”, “books to read”, and “restaurants to try”. If I hear or read about a restaurant that I’m not familiar with, I jot it into my phone with the intention of visiting. Well, Golden Garden was on my list and whilst B and I were scratching our heads thinking of where we could go for food at 3pm on the stat holiday, I remembered my list. CHECK!

On our way to Chinatown, I realized that I rarely eat out in this part of town. It is mostly due to being unfamiliar with “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in this area. I really don’t know what the hot spots are and which ones are to be avoided. I had seen Nathan Fong (a food and travel journalist with the Vancouver Sun) waxing lyrical about Golden Garden, so that was good enough for me. B and I settled into our booth in the very quiet restaurant (it was 3pm afterall) and ordered steaming bowls of pho (a bargain at only $7 a bowl) and a plate of vegetarian fried rice ($9).

Pho Garnish

Beef Pho

Vegetarian Fried Rice

I’m not an expert in Vietnamese cuisine, and certainly not in pho, but I enjoyed the flavour of the broth but not so much the meat (just me being picky). The veggie fried rice was great and I’d pop back in to try some more dishes, particularly the báhn mi, which the restaurant seems to be known for.

What are your favourite Chinatown restaurants? Where should I try next time I’m exploring the area?

Golden Garden on Urbanspoon

The Keefer Bar

17 Apr

135 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1X3

T: 604 688 1961
www.thekeeferbar.com

Brief Description: Are you tired of choosing from uninspired drink menus at bars that all look the same? Want something different? Perhaps try The Keefer Bar located in Chinatown – I doubt that you’ve sampled concoctions like these in Vancouver before.

The Keefer Bar is a small, dark, sexy spot located in bustling Chinatown, just down the street from the ever-so-popular Bao Bei (I can’t write a review of either place and not mention the other). I′ve heard the atmosphere at The Keefer Bar described as a seductive opium den, which seems like an appropriate description. With a small outdoor patio, mood lighting, and an apothecary feel, The Keefer Bar is unique. And so are their tincture and herb infused cocktails.

The drinks menu is full of buzz-inducing cocktails with tongue-twisting names; such as Wēnxù (vodka, grapefruit, lemon, ginger syrup, red ginseng tincture), the Buddha’s Kiss (shochu, pearl sake, sweet plum syrup, lychee nut bitters), and Riding in a Rickshaw (G’Vine Floraison, Jasmine green tea, honey, immunity tincture). They have many more cocktails available than just what is listed on their website so whether you like bourbon, vodka, rum, or something completely different, you′ll find something to suit your tastes here.

The Dragonfly – Dragonfly gin, pearl sake, lemon, ginger syrup and magnolia bark tincture.

Even with the Chinatown location, prices are still about the same as what you′d pay at any of the hip drinking spots in Gastown (say Pourhouse or The Diamond) so go in knowing that prices are around the $10-$14 mark.

There is a limited food menu to provide sustenance and to help soak up the strong drinks. With menu items such as Peking duck sliders, braised pork belly tacos, BBQ pork pizza, spring rolls, dim sum, and a meat and cheese plate, the theme of the menu is hard to nail down. The dishes that I had were satisfactory but I would be more inclined to visit for the drinks rather than for the food. Although, with that said, the Chinese Churros (fried Chinese doughnut, with salt and dulce de leche) were delicious.

Peking Duck Sliders – $9

Braised Pork Belly Tacos – $10

As your friend, I′m letting you know that people do seem to get dressed up to come here so you might feel more comfortable if you make a bit of an effort. See, aren′t you glad you know now than when you arrive at the bar in your yoga gear? Oh, and single guys, I′ve seen a lot of beautiful girls at this bar so grab some guy friends and head on down!

Final Thoughts: It is great to see some more independent bars opening up in Vancouver. The Keefer Bar is certainly worth a visit if your mission is to try some interesting and unique cocktails. I′d recommend it for a sexy date night or perhaps a night out with the girls (you could catch the burlesque show on Thursday nights).

The Keefer Bar on Urbanspoon

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie

23 Nov

163 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1X3

T: 604 688 0876
www.bao-bei.ca

Brief Description: A funky, Chinatown-based restaurant offering non-traditional Chinese fare in tapas style. Bao Bei appeals to those who aren’t necessarily looking for an authentic Chinese experience but more of a modern, up-market version of that experience. Prices are between $4 (for small “schnacks”) but most are around the $14 mark.

Bao Bei has been on the lips of every foodie in Vancouver for some time now. There are those that love it (they seem to be the majority) and there are those who question its value for money and the hype that surrounds it. I fall halfway between the two.

There is no denying that Bao Bei is a beautiful spot. Located in Chinatown, Bao Bei stands out from the crowd with its polished, chic look. The modern space has been thoughtfully decorated with interesting pieces of art used as accents and an eclectic mix of furniture styles. The vibe is young, hip, and financially well-off. How else could you get away with charging $17 for a bowl of fried rice in Chinatown??

Whilst the food is Chinese, you should know before going in that they aren’t serving traditional, authentic Chinese. It is more of a modern, almost fusion, take on some old dishes. It is also tapas-style so they do encourage you to order a number of dishes and share them with your table. The staff will tell you that the dishes are quite small but on the few times I’ve been there the sizes have been quite reasonable (check the pics out and determine if you think that’s enough for you). The one thing that does set Bao Bei apart from other Chinese restaurants is their use of hormone/chemical-free, locally sourced and ethically raised meat. I believe that is worth paying slightly more for.

Dishes that I recommend are the lamb Shao Bing, which is a crunchy sesame flatbread filled with a slightly spicy cumin lamb sirloin. I had tried the same dish when they offered it with pork and it just wasn’t the same – the lamb makes it.

The steamed prawn and chive dumplings were worth ordering, as is the ever-changing daily fried rice (although it is pricey). The duck and mushroom wontons in duck consommé, and the spicy stir-fried squid with pork belly and bok choi, were also pretty good. I’d give the potstickers a miss. I’ve definitely had better elsewhere.

The cocktails on offer are very unique and worth splurging on. Even their non-alcoholic drinks were tasty, complete with candied lotus fruit. Be aware that you can’t reserve a table in advance. I know, it sucks. And this place is especially busy so the wait is long but you can always console yourself with a drink at the near-by Keefer Bar (which also has awesome drinks) whilst you wait.

Final Thoughts: I like Bao Bei although I’m not as wowed by it as others are. I like the atmosphere and the cocktails, and yes, the food is decent but I don’t buy into the hype. It really comes down to what experience you are after. An authentic Chinese experience with large serving sizes and traditional dishes? You won’t find that here – keep walking. A fun, cocktail-filled night out with some interesting dishes to share and a cool space to boot? Then line up, my friends. Bao Bei has exactly what you are after.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Phnom Pehn

7 Sep

244 East Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 1Z7

T: 604 682 5777
No website

Brief Description: An extremely popular, no-frills restaurant that prides itself on offering authentic Cambodian and Vietnamese food. Located in a somewhat questionable part of Chinatown (in my opinion).

This post is about chicken wings and a chicken. And that chicken would be me. Although I have wanted to visit Phnom Penh for quite some time, I have just never felt that safe venturing into Chinatown by myself, or even with my sister – just call me “chicken”! Hence why I have been dragging my feet on making the trip to Phnom Penh. But after recently reading even more rave reviews, I just had to go. So, under the watchful eye of the burly B, I made my first visit a few Saturdays ago for lunch.

If you are a foodie in Vancouver then I am sure that you are well aware of this extremely popular Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant. If you aren’t, you should note that it is very well-known and appears to have a lot of regulars. We visited on a Saturday for lunch and the restaurant was already bursting at the seams and there was still a constant line of hungry hopefuls out the door, desperate for a table. That’s pretty impressive in a city that is generously sprinkled with good Asian restaurants.

The restaurant itself is a fairly decent size and the tables are laid out in three rows, which kind of gives it the feel of a cafeteria. The decor is simple and fairly unremarkable. Prices are quite reasonable. I had heard some complaints from other foodies that the prices were slightly higher than you’d expect to pay; however, I didn’t feel that the difference was that noticeable. Our bill was still fairly cheap considering what we ordered so I wasn’t about to complain. Service was very prompt and efficient. There was no small-talk but that didn’t really bother us too much. You could tell that the staff were extremely busy making sure that customers were seated and that the food was served quickly.

DSC_0015-1

Indisputably, the main attraction for a trip to Phnom Penh is the Deep Fried Chicken Wings. All of the reviews that I had read prior to my visit had practically glowed with admiration for these finger-licking inducing delights. Of course, I had to order them. And damn, they were really good (thanks for the tip, Vancouver foodies!). The skin was crunchy with a winning combination of saltiness and flavour and some of the bites were punctuated with small pieces of fried garlic or green onions – yum!! The wings were fresh out of the deep fryer so the flesh was still hot and the pepper/lemon sauce that accompanied the wings added even more “oomph”. The serving size was very impressive. We ordered a small, which I believe was around the $8 mark and that was more than enough. I was happily chomping my way through them for most of the meal, in-between bites of my other dishes.

The other dishes that we feasted on were Pork Salad Roll, Vietnamese Steam Roll, Phnom Penh Egg Noodle in Soup (for me) and Squid Ball Noodle Soup (for B).

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The Pork Salad Roll was ok but not rave-worthy. I probably wouldn’t order it again as it was pretty uneventful – there was no party in my mouth. Although I did like the dipping sauce that it came with.

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The Vietnamese Steam Roll was delicious. There was a lot of flavour in this seemingly simple dish.

I don’t think that either of us was blown-away by our soups but they were decent enough.

DSC_0018-1

DSC_0019-1

My Phnom Penh Egg Noodle in Soup was a tad dull. There really wasn’t much flavour happening, however, I’m not that well-versed on how Cambodian soups are meant to be so perhaps this is standard.

DSC_0021-1

We finished our meal with Vietnamese coffees, which is coffee that is slow-dripped into individual cups with condensed milk at the bottom. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these!! Sweet, strong and fresh iced-coffee was a fantastic way to finish the meal.

Final Thoughts: I liked it, particularly the Deep Fried Chicken Wings, however I wasn’t overly impressed. I would go back to see what other dishes they could “Wow!” me with.

Phnom Penh on Urbanspoon