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Weekend Round Up – April 2013

21 Apr

Like most people, I tend to get caught up in returning to my favourite restaurants/cafés/bars time and time again. Let’s be honest, it can be difficult to continue exploring new places when you know exactly where to find your favourite pizza/burger/pasta/whatever. It is a habit I occasionally slip into and so this weekend I made an effort to visit some places that I’ve had on my radar but hadn’t managed to get to yet.

Beta 5 (Industrial Ave/Main Street)

I have been wanting to visit their location for months and I finally made it there. As I’ve already tried their chocolates before,  I was keen to visit them more so for their fresh baked goods. Their baked goods absolutely did not disappoint – in fact, I returned today for another pastry hit. I sampled their butter croissant and their vanilla cream puff, which was texturally very interesting. It was similar to the cream puffs that Beard Papa sells however this had a firmer, crisper shell, which provided a really interesting texture to the bite. Just look at that bite…

Vanilla Cream Puff

Beta 5 makes some tantalizing pastries, such as their chocolate croissant and their twice-baked croissant, but I had to go with the original butter croissant. At just $2.50, this is incredible value. There was a lot of butter, a lot of layers, and many flakes – just how I believe a croissant should be. I would definitely recommend their baked goods (and their chocolates). I also picked up one of the Snickers-inspired peanut and nougat bar, which was well-worth the calories.

Butter Croissant

Hawkers Delight (Main Street)

This is a hole-in-the-wall on Main at King Ed and they do cheap (super cheap) dishes from Malaysia and Singapore, which happen to be some of my favourite cuisines. The restaurant is quite small and was an absolute mad house when I visited, which added to the charm of the place. With all the yelling and chaos I felt as though I could have been in humid, exotic South East Asia (for a few minutes anyway). I ordered the mee goreng, which is essentially fried noodles, and I was surprised at two things. 1/ The price – only $6.50 and 2/ They were really good! The reason why this place is so busy would come down to the value for money – serving sizes were huge and the prices are cheap.

Mee Goreng

Harvest Union (Union Street)

I’m really starting to love that stretch of Union Street that is home to The Union, The Parker, and Harvest Union. I visited Harvest with one thing in mind; green onion and cheddar waffles with bacon and a fried egg. It is one of the items on their brunch menu, however, once I got there the ramen with pork shoulder and candied bacon somehow managed to persuade me. Harvest is super cute inside and they have a simple menu (mostly ramen or udon) with a focus on local foods. Their small store also sells local products, such as Earnest Ice Cream and Beta 5. I really enjoyed the ramen, particularly with the addition of some chilli oil, which gave it a great kick. I’ll be returning for the waffles.

I love exploring new spots and this weekend reminded of how many great new places pop up in Vancouver and why I should continue to keep exploring, even when sometimes I just want something familiar.

Pizzeria Farina – Photo Visit – July 2012

6 Jul

915 Main St
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2V8

T: 604 681 9334
www.pizzeriafarina.com

Brief Description: This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pizzeria, located at Main Street and Prior Street, serves up Neapolitan-style pizza, without pomp and circumstance.

Do you know that Michael Jackson song “You Rock My World”? Well, I must admit that I might have hummed that tune when I left Pizzeria Farina last night after dinner there with my sis. For a few minutes, whilst tucking into my pizza, my taste buds were really rocked. I don’t know what it was about the seemingly basic combination of mozzarella, parmesan, garlic, salami, and fresh basil, but I think this might have been the best pizza that I’ve had at Farina. And that’s saying something because I’ve enjoyed almost all of their pizzas (the pistachio and mortadella was the only one that hasn’t wowed me so far).

Daily Special

For the cost of less than $10 each, Farina is an affordable, yet more importantly, tasty dinner option. They are also licensed (I believe this is a new development) and they sell a limited selection of beer and wine.

Pizzeria Farina on Urbanspoon

The Union Bar

28 Jun

219 Union Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2B2

T: 604 568 3230
www.theunionvancouver.ca

Brief Description: With friendly staff, exotic drinks, and a medley of tasty dishes from South East Asia, The Union Bar offers a temporary reprieve from grey West Coast days. All it needs to complete the picture is a hammock.

Vancouver, 2012…the summer that never was…or at least that is how it seems to be shaping up. I have been bitching and moaning about the rain, the grey skies, and the lack of sunshine, for a few months now. And, yes, yes, I am well aware that I live in Vancouver so I should expect this but come on! This is just cruel! Desperate for a sunny escape, I find myself visiting The Union Bar for a taste of the exotic tropics.

The Union Bar is the latest newcomer to Strathcona, an area of the city that has only recently started to capture the attention of local Vancouver foodies. It joins Campagnolo and Pizzeria Farina (I’ll also include Bao Bei and The Keefer Bar as they are pretty close in proximity) in what used to be a dead-zone for quality food establishments. Constructed using grey cement, and with an almost industrial warehouse feel, The Union could feel unwelcoming but the communal benches, warm lighting, and Chinatown-inspired art pieces, helps it to avoid that.

The menu is an eclectic mix of dishes from all over South East Asia. Vietnamese bành mì is at home next to pad Thai, or Indonesian nasi goreng. I love the concept of the menu – take the most well-known dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore, and put them all on one menu. Yum!

During my most recent visit, I noticed that the menu has changed from my first few visits (the prawn toast is no longer available, for example). In my experiences, I have found that some dishes have been a bit hit-or-miss but overall, the food is good. Prices are quite cheap for bar food, with prices as low as $8 for salads and the bành mì’s (great for lining the stomach before drinking). As to be expected, main dishes cost slightly more although no dish is over $17.

Singapore Noodles – $14

Nasi Goreng – $13

 Prawn Bành mì (no longer available) – $8

Chicken Wings – $12

With exotic flavours and aromas, their craft cocktails transport me away to faraway places. Exotic ingredients such as kaffir lime, calamansi juice, pandan syrup, Thai basil, coconut milk, lemongrass, and galangal, all help to create one of the most interesting cocktail lists in the city. The Bangas – mason jars filled with crushed ice, a double shot of alcohol, and a combination of the above ingredients – are amongst my favourites.

Banga

The Boracay Hangin, a vodka drink with cucumber juice, pandan syrup, calamansi juice, atomised kaffir lime rum, and finished with toasted coconut, is another personal favourite. But seriously, almost all of the drinks that I’ve ordered here (and there have been many) have been interesting and worthy of re-ordering.

Boracay Hangin’

Final Thoughts: The Union Bar has quickly become one of my favourite places in the city for a cocktail. Note: they do close fairly early (around midnight, I believe) so if you are looking for a late night of drinking, do not set your sights on the Union. If you want to sip on an interesting cocktail, and enjoy a bite of South East Asia, get your butt to The Union!

The Union Bar on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo – Photo Visit – June 2012

18 Jun

1020 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2W1

T: 604 484 6018
www.campagnolorestaurant.ca

Brief Description: A casual, rustic restaurant that focuses on affordable seasonal cuisine from the Piedmont and Emigila-Romagna regions of Italy.

Over the weekend I realized that it had been quite some time since my last visit to Campagnolo on Main Street. Too long, in fact. So when B and I were looking for a brunch/lunch option on Saturday, I suggested Campagnolo. We used to visit more regularly a few years ago when B lived on Main so we are quite familiar with their menu and I was pleased to find that some of our favourite dishes remain on the menu after all of this time.

You might already know that I have a real soft spot for carbonara so I couldn’t resist the carbonara pizza ($14), which was finished with a whole egg and sporadic shavings of lemon zest. With so much good pizza in the city at the moment, this breakfast pizza did hold its own. Delicious!

We couldn’t turn out back on our old favourite, the pork ragu tagliatelle ($18). We were happy to find this dish still tastes as it did before but we did miss the individual portions of salt flakes and black pepper that we used to get alongside it to season the dish to your liking.

Final Thoughts: The food was just how I remembered it, although I was more taken with the pizza than the pasta this time around. Service was a little off but I’m putting that down to the rainy, grey Saturday. I’d like to return in the evening for dinner to get a better read on how smooth things run when busier.

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Farina

27 Apr

915 Main St
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2V8

T: 604 681 9334
www.pizzeriafarina.com

Brief Description: This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pizzeria, located at Main Street and Prior Street, serves up Neapolitan-style pizza, without pomp and circumstance.

An invasion has recently taken place in Vancouver: the invasion of Neapolitan-style pizzas. It has only been in the past year or so that we have seen the emergence of Nicli Antica, Verace, NOVO, Bibo, and now, Pizzeria Farina. Yeah, I can get onboard with this kind of invasion!

I must admit that Pizzeria Farina has quickly become a favourite of mine and the reason for this is in its simple deliverance. It’s not a pizza restaurant, say like Nicli Antica, but more of a no fuss, food-focused pizzeria. I can’t even really say it is a restaurant as there is no table service – you order at the bar from the handwritten menu posted on butcher’s paper, sit down at the communal wood table or the window bar, and wait for your pizza to be called. It’s all very no-frills, which lends itself to a relaxing dining experience.

Calabrese Pizza

The interior of Pizzeria Farina is designed by Craig Stanghetta, who has waved his magic design wand over other local hot spots such as Revolver, Meat & Bread, and Bao Bei – all very stylish rooms, in my opinion. Farina is also stylish but in a very simple, rustic way. With its bare bones simplicity of white washed walls, red highlights, and buckled wooden floors, Farina is charming in its own understated way.

Daily Special

The menu consists of seven pizza choices; ranging in price from $9 to $15. The seven choices are: Marinara (tomato, garlic, herbs), Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil), Funghi (mushrooms), Quattro Formaggi (four cheeses), Calabrese (soppressatta, mozzarella, black olives), Finocchiona (fennel sausage, provolone, parmesan, spicy peppers) and a changing daily special.

Quattro Formaggi

My personal favourite is the Quattro Formaggi and the daily specials. I have hardly made a dent in the regular menu as I always get distracted by the daily special. The Caprese was also good and whilst I found the Funghi was tasty, the water from the mushrooms made the middle of the pizza a bit soggy – so make sure you are going to eat this one immediately (that is the general rule for these Neapolitan-style pizzas anyway).

I have three tips for anyone making the journey to Farina:

1/ For those with small appetites; the pizzas are surprisingly filling. I go here for dinner with my sister on a regular basis and we share one pizza and that is enough. On one visit, we ambitiously ordered two pizzas and we left full to the gills and with a pizza box under one arm.

2/ You can take the pizzas away but they are best served fresh and hot. So sit down, take a load off, and munch your pizza in-house (just don’t mind the slippery chairs!)

3/ If you see a loaf of their freshly baked bread for sale (it retails for about $3 a loaf), don’t question it, just buy it. It is delicious, especially dipped in Farina’s own infused olive oils that are available in store. The bread is crunchy and slightly flame-licked on the outside yet spongy inside. Yum!

Final Thoughts: I am thoroughly impressed by Pizzeria Farina. Before I visited I had written it off as an over-hyped Nicli wannabe – how wrong I was. Pizzeria Farina is serving up affordable, well-crafted pizzas in a relaxed and inviting environment. I absolutely love it there and will continue to return even though it is out of my way.

Pizzeria Farina on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo

14 Mar

1020 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
V6A 2W1

T: 604 484 6018
www.campagnolorestaurant.ca

Brief Description: A casual, rustic restaurant that focuses on affordable seasonal cuisine from the Piedmont and Emigila-Romagna regions of Italy.

Campagnolo - ExteriorA true diamond in the rough. Campagnolo is located in the not-so-great area of Main Street but don’t let that put you off. If you make the journey you will be rewarded as this is not your typical Italian restaurant. You will not find red and white checkered table cloths or the obligatory spaghetti bologanise and greasy pizza. Yes, there is pizza and pasta on the menu but it’s not what you think…

Campagnolo is the second “child” of the owners who run the very successful Fuel in Kitsilano. It really is the odd duck out in that part of Main Street. With a huge inviting window in the front you can’t help but be drawn to the fact that the restaurant is, well, different from it’s surroundings. Walk inside and you’ll find that the decor is minimalistic with a modern urban feel. The use of old growth fir wood as a feature works well to bring a slight softness to the space.

Elements of the decor are mirrored in the food. Comfortably understated and simple, the menu is unpretentious and trys to remain loyal to its well-researched Northern Italian roots with a strong focus on pastas, pizzas, and characuterie plates (“the ‘Cure”). You may, however, need to ask your server for an explanation of some of the dishes as the menu can be slightly difficult to understand.  The drinks list has been carefully selected to only represent Italian or BC beers and wines.

Although B frequently visits Campagnolo, I have only managed to make it there twice so far. On the day that we went for our second visit together, I managed to convince him to share the Albacore Tuna Crudo with white bean, oregano and garlic bread crumb for an appetizer. The delicate pieces of sushi grade tuna initially seemed out of place with the earthy white beans, oregano and garlic bread crumbs but the first bite proved me wrong. The flavours actually worked surprisingly well together. I’m not really sure how prominent albacore tuna is in Northern Italian cooking but it was so good that I won’t question it.

Albacore Tuna Crudo

B continues to rave about the Tagliarini pork ragú with basil and pecorino and, so far, has not ordered anything else but this dish on the many occasions that he has been there. It must be the tender shredded pieces of pork that sit proudly atop the fresh home-made ribbons of pasta that keep him coming back for more. I thoroughly enjoyed the Tagliarini the time that I ordered it and the only thing that stopped me from getting it again was because I wanted to try something new.

Tagliarini pork ragú

The Carnaroli Risotto made with anise, black olive and tarragon was a pleasant surprise and thankfully, the quality was on par with the Tagliarini. I wasn’t expecting it to be as creamy as it was but the black olives added a certain amount of punctuation to the dish, in just the right places.

Carnaroli Risotto

I have yet to try any of the actual desserts, mainly because I have no room left after eating their entrees. Although, being that we were in an Italian restaurant, I just couldn’t say no to ending our meal with a coffee and the house-made biscotti and meringues. A perfect ending to a lazy Saturday lunch.

Final Thoughts: A breath of fresh air to the Italian restaurant scene in Vancouver. The food is delightful in it’s simplicity and is thoughtfully selected and prepared.

Campagnolo on Urbanspoon