Friday, May 8, 2009

Vancouver, B.C.

Last Friday, Sarah and I were feeling adventurous, so we headed to to Vancouver, B.C. It is crazy that after three years of living in Portland, we have never taken the time to go up to Vancouver. Personally, I had never been there. It is a very cool place. The architecture is amazing. There are all these modern high rise condominiums. They utilize daylight to reduce heating costs, so they are covered in glass windows. It is a very cool looking city and it happens to be home to some of the best Asian food on the West coast. They have very good fish, so the sushi is great and abundant. They also have very good Indian food. My goal was to go to one of the best sushi places and the best Indian food places in Vancouver. I consulted Yelp! and PortlandFood.Org for advice. The two heavy hitters for the weekend would be Tojo's for sushi and Vij's for Indian food.

Friday afternoon we arrived and got our room at the YWCA hotel. The rooms were cheap and clean. The beds were not Temperpedic, but they worked. We ended up paying about $95 Canadian per night. I would stay there again as the price was right and the location was convenient. After we got situated we headed down towards Tojo's. Tojo's is somewhat of an institution in Vancouver. It is the most recognized sushi restaurant. Of course, this has its downside as it means it may be somewhat touristy and overpriced. They supposedly are the originators of the California roll. They also offer Omakase style sushi, where you tell the chef your price range and he just starts sending you stuff. Sarah was not up for Omakase, so we did not do it. I regret not getting Omakase, but the meal was still good. The fish was very high quality. I ordered a whole slew of nigiri. We also had the California (Tojo) Roll, which was made with real crab and a spicy tuna roll. The rolls were nothing special and were overpriced. They also had some rolls that had lobster and other crab which we did not get. I found the nigiri to be reasonably priced and of outstanding quality. We also had some handrolls that were possibly the highlight of the night. They had a nice crunchy outside and a soft inside. Alongside all of this we had plenty of Sake, white wine, and beer. I thought Tojo's was great and the service was outstanding. I would go back for the nigiri, a couple handrolls, and the Omakase, but not before experiencing some other, less trendy, high end sushi spots in Vancouver.

After dinner, although stuffed, we decided it would be in our best interest to grab a few drinks somewhere around town. We headed back towards the downtown area, where out hotel was. We had a hard time finding a place that was not a bumpedy bump club blasting the Untz music. We were actually longing for a Portland style bar. Finally, we came to a place called the Black Frog in Gastown. They were playing some loud alternative music, but at least it had dim lighting and was not crowded. They also had one of those Guinness taps that pours a perfect Guinness. I tried a local amber ale that was fine, then reverted to my old friend Guinness for a few pints. I have been drinking Guinness recently because it is:
A) Delicious
B) Less calories than a Budweiser, therefore good for my diet.
So we had a few rounds before retiring.

The next day we did our coffee/breakfast thing and hit Chinatown. They have a crazy Chinatown in Vancouver. There are tons of little markets that sell everything. There are all these open air stores that have dried shrimp and fish and lots of other nasty smelling stuff. They also have many butchers that usually have duck, chicken, or pig out front roasting on a stick or rotisserie. There are tea shops, herb stores that sell medicines and places that sell all sorts of little nick nacks. We walked around and bought Dim Sum at random places. The Dim Sum was fine, but no better than Wong's Kind Seafood in Portland (8733 SE Division St). I know that they have outstanding Dim Sum in Vancouver, but was a little too lazy to seek it out. Eventually we got bored with Chinatown and returned to the hotel.

For dinner we decided to go to Vij's, a trendy, high end Indian food restaurant. Vij's had good reviews everywhere and the consensus was that it was a must. We got there around seven and there was an hour and a half wait. So we put our names on the list and went to grab a drink. We came back 45 minutes later and grabbed some drinks at Vij's wine/beer bar while we waited. This was great because they pass out appetizers while you wait. They were all standard fried Indian appetizers. We were finally seated and the real fun began.

For appetizers we ordered a dish that was made up of paneer, Brussels sprouts and papaya in cumin, mango powder and sour cream curry served with naan bread. This dish was tasty, but slightly disappointing due to my extreme love for Brussels sprouts. It tasted good but was not amazing.

The second appetizer we got was spicy ground cricket paranta with tomato-cumin, chutney and celeriac salad. This was delicious and exciting, since we were eating crickets. You couldn't tell that they were crickets. They were crushed up into the dough for these little bread triangles. You put the other topics onto this bread and enjoy. We both really liked this dish and found it to be better than the Brussels sprouts.

For the main course I got wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on tumeric spinach potatoes. This is one of their signature dishes and was absolutely amazing. The lamb was cooked to perfection and the sauce was creamy deliciousness. I would go back for this alone. (Although I wouldn't mind trying some of their other meat dishes)

Unfortunately, my dining companion was not feeling the desire for cooked flesh that evening so she got a veggie dish. I can't remember what it was, most likely because it is forgettable. It was good, but not great and next to the lamb tasted like tofu(not really, just boring).

Vij's was a great experience. It was on the expensive side, but made for a great night. Afterwards we went to the Kitsilano neighborhood for a few drinks. We were advised by a bartender that it would be a more mellow bar scene. It was, except for the disco DJ. We had to leave that bar. After a few drinks we grabbed a cab back to the YWCA and called it a night.

Sarah left her credit card at a bar in Kitsilano so we had some time to kill before we left on Sunday, as the bar opened at two. We went to the tourist trap, known as Grainville Island. They have a cool market. We got a great bagel with lox there. Other than that we just kind of walked around. We decided to grab some cheap sushi before we left. We went to Kitsilano Sushi as it was near the bar we had to go to and Yelp! gave it good reviews. What a mess that was. One of the sushi chefs walked out. So an assistant chef and a bunch of waitresses started rolling the sushi. They were getting orders wrong and the sushi was mediocre at best. At least it was cheap. I was definitely ready to get out of there. It was disappointing to end my experience with such bad food and service in a city with such amazing food. We did, however, have an amazing weekend. On the way out of town we drove by a million bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich) shops. So I definitely have some unfinished business to attend to in Vancouver, BC...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just a few short reviews...

These are reviews I posted on If you are ever curious about a restaurant or want to learn about new places in Portland, I suggest checking it out. They have a ridiculous amount of information and many of their members are extremely knowledgeable. My name on there is HappyHourHero.

Taste of Jakarta:
1239 SW Jefferson street
Portland OR, 97201
Review from 5/5/2009
I got the opportunity to try Taste of Jakarta today for an early lunch. This was my first time eating Indonesian food and I was very satisfied. I ordered the spicy beef(I forgot the name). It came with yellow rice, a small salad of cucumber, carrot, and tomato and some crispy chip like things. The beef was amazing. It was these nice nuggets of beef brisket. The sauce/gravy was sweet and nicely spiced, almost like a mole, but more tangy. I spoke with the owner and he said that they are going for authentic Indonesian food, although they turned down the heat some to cater to American tastes. I found the heat to be at a desirable level and refrained from using chili sauce, but I'm sure you could ask them to kick it up a notch. For 5.95 its a great lunch deal. I will definitely be going back, as the thought of Indonesian fried chicken and jackfruit curry fascinates me.

Lttle T's American Bakery
2600 SE Division
Portland, OR 97202
Review from 5/6/2009
I just grabbed a quick lunch from Little T. This was my second trip there and both times I have left satisfied. Today I had the Italian grinder. They were out of the hogie, so they used their French bread. This sandwich is damn near perfect. The meat and cheese are both delicious and the pepper salad adds the perfect amount of zest and zing. This is what I like to expect out of an Italian sandwich. The French bread was a bit chewy, but still a good bread. I love this spot because I can get a good sandwich for a fair price ($6) and a good espresso. I need to put this into the permanent rotation.

Note: They also changed their turkey sandwich to include cucumber and cilantro pesto. They also had a turkey club with bacon and avocado.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning to ROLL your own...

There comes a time in every man's (or woman's) life where they must learn to roll their own. You can't always go around asking other people to roll for you. Along the way your bound to have some spillages and deal with some stickiness. But at some point, you just gotta step up and go for it. So last week I decided it was essential that I attempt to roll my own sushi. This endeavor started with a trip to the Fubonn Super Market on 82nd Ave in SE Portland (2850 SE 82nd Ave). If you live in Portland and have never been to the Fubonn market, I recommend you go. This place has everything you need and tons of stuff that you will probably never need and think are strange. I was in a rush because SOMEBODY was rushing me to take them to yoga, so I was unable to fully embrace Fubonn. It was my first time and I could have frolicked in the pickled vegetable isle or bathed myself in chili sauce, but alas there was no time for those shenanigans. There was enough time to get the supplies I needed for vegetable sushi though. I got nori (the seaweed wrap), short rice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, wasabi powder, pickled ginger, the bamboo roller mechanism, and some other odds and ends depicted here. I will definitely be returning to Fubonn in the near future for another experiment.

So, once I had the proper supplies, the next step was getting in there and getting my hands dirty. The first step was going to be coming up with some delicious sticky rice. I always thought that this was extremely difficult for some reason. Well, I was wrong. It's very easy to make good sticky, sushi rice. I just followed Alton Brown's recipe from the Food Network. If you are a complete noob to the cooking world, The Food Network has an extensive database of recipes online. You can pretty much learn anything there and get any recipes you may need. I constantly check their database for recipes or if I want to try something new. You can also look on Youtube for cooking tips. I actually watched this clip from Alton Brown's show Good Eats about sushi making to get a little more information on what to do. While my rice was cooking I took out a cucumber, avocado, carrots, jalapeno, and asparagus. I sliced everything into very thin strips, except for the asparagus, which I left whole.

Once your rice cools, pull out a piece of nori. Some tips that I got off of the internet suggested cutting the nori in half. We tried that and it made it too difficult to roll the sushi. I'd say until you are an expert, roll with the whole piece of nori. Your sushi will come out much better. I started by using my hands to apply the rice. This ended up being a very sticky proposition. On later rolls, I realized it was better to use a small spoon to apply the rice to the nori. This takes a little while longer but your hands won't be nearly as sticky.

Something I found important was not to put too much rice on. I would recommend being able to see through to the nori in some spots. If you put too much rice on it will be difficult to roll the sushi. You also want space for your insides. I know, when you go to the sushi bar, you see the sushi chef really piling it on there. Well, I wouldn't suggest doing that unless you want to encounter an epic failure.

See how the rice is somewhat thinly applied, yet covers most of the surface of the nori? I found this to be the most successful approach. Once the rice is applied you can put in your vegetables. Once again, I would not overload this until you really get the hang of it or it will look like the death of a sushi roll. This happened on my first roll. I ended up eating it like a broken cigar. Also, I would put the veggies or fish towards the side you plan to start rolling from. That way, the insides will get tucked into the roll at the beginning.

Rolling it is pretty self explanatory. See how when I placed the veggies near one side the rolled up nicely into a pocket before finishing the roll? That's good and will give you success.

Once your roll is done you can slice it up. I did not have a sharp knife. This is recommended. You can use a steak knife, but a sharp sushi knife is likely better. Once you are done plating the sushi, dip it into some soy sauce and enjoy. We also got some wasabi powder and pickled ginger. On this first attempt, I decided to stay away from fish. I did not want to get a nice cut of fish and then waste it if I was unable to make good sushi. Next time I want to try using sashimi grade tuna, shrimp, and maybe even teriyaki chicken. It was a successful experiment. Once you get all of the ingredients you can make a fresh, cheap snack any time you want. It is also pretty healthy, other than the calories from the rice. Well, until next time, go learn to roll your own.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Quick Update

I just got back from a great weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia. There was some excellent dining done on this trip. This week I should be posting about the food in BC, my sushi making experiment (which was a week ago), and my pickling experiment. Be sure to check for these updates! (Your not gonna want to miss out)