Nook - Quality Italian Food

When dining at a new restaurant, one of my first question and observation is, "How long do I think this restaurant will survive?". I understand that this sounds so negative of me. But I feel it is a more a reality. If you look around the city there are new restaurants coming up, but for every new restaurant about 70% fail within 3 years of opening. Pretty scary when you consider the cost of of opening a new restaurant at between 40k-2million. Seems like a lot of wasted resources.

So i digress, but going to a new restaurant can be like going on a first date. Sometimes it can be a blind date when you know nothing about a place. You never really know how it is going to turn out. You always hope for the best but try to prepare yourself for the worst. So whenever I find a new restaurant I like, I get really excited and cant wait to go back. Hence, I get disappointed when I learn they have closed their doors.
Nook joins the new trend of restaurant that are offering choices for diners that like to eat well without having to take a mortgage. It is run and operated by the same same folks at Tapastree. Was there a couple of months after the opening on a weeknight. Was asked if I had a reservation. He looked surprised when I said i didn't. Waited 10-15 minutes to be seated at the bar. Didn't feel very welcome at the door. Also there wasn't much room for waiting. The restaurant was small, probably a 30+ seats. With an open kitchen, and bar. The space was cosy but a bit cramp, I thought. Room was narrow and small. There is about 5-9 employees total.

Once seated at the bar, the server/bartender was very warm and welcoming. There was some nice conversation at the bar. Same thing I notice at the seats at the kitchen bar(Chef's Table), Chef/Owner/Cook Mike Jeffs was jovial and chatty. During the course of the night we were served slices of their prosciutto and salumi(Oyama) on the house at he bar. The bar also serves as the cold station preparing the salads and plating the desserts as well. The Chef has never been to Italy, but yet his take on Italian cooking is better than most Italian restaurants it town. Using quality ingredients and solid proven cooking techniques, his Italian food is straightforward and unpretentious.

The pricing is affordable. For the price you would be hard pressed to create and cook the same meal at home. Whilst there are no foie grais instead they use chicken livers, not truffle shavings but there are truffles in salami and instead of an 8oz steak they settle on filet mignon meatballs. I have heard conflicting reports regarding whether they make their own pasta. My hunch is that they make their own gnocchi and but buy in their pastas. I did find the menu too heavy on starches (crostini, pasta, pizza). Nook is not a North American Italian restaurants which are normally heavier on the sauces.

Everything about nook is straight forward. From the food, drinks and service. The straight forward casual cooking with the best sourced ingredients falls short of incredible. I love sparse seasoning and light sauce, just enough to coat the noodles. Like you were to get in Italy. The thin crust pizza was a simple pizza dough with nicely thought out ingredients and the liver crostini was delicious. The salad were fresh with a rustic feel. The service was inconsistent but very acceptable. Nook has a lot going for it. The pros outweigh the cons. Unlike the many failed restaurant ventures, Nook is a well thought out restaurant that will remain in business for while.

Reasonable priced
Good ingredients

Small space and a tad cramp

Food 7
Service 6
Overall 7
Value 7.5

Nook on Urbanspoon

Photos uploaded....

I've uploaded some pics taken the last 12 months since I started taking pictures of food. Note: the dates on picasa are incorrect for some of the pics as I never set the date on my camera after I purchased my original camera. Such a rookie blogger. :-D

Well looking forward to writing more reviews and comments, in the mean time enjoy the pics. happy eating y'all!

Judas Goat

The search for a true spanish tapa's eatery in the city has proven futile. La Bodega was my first experience to spanish tapas's style meal. I was immediately fond of this expereince. And felt it was a lovely way to spend an evening getting better acquanted with friends. Enjoying an assortment of dishses with many flavors and some wine to complement the meal. Tapastree provided a more modern setting when they opened in 1997. And then Gord Martin's hipper Bin's, was introduced and Vancouver was set into a tapa's loving city. There have been many restaurant's that have come, tried with some or little success. Most with a new twist to Spanish Tapas. Which always made me wonder, why no one tried to bring a more authentic experience to Vancouver.

So when I heard about Barcelona and Judas Goat I got excited and hopeful. I manage to make it to Judas Goat on a late weeknight evening hoping to avoid a crowd. Sean Heather has added his third eatery after Irish Heather and Salt. He has slowly built a reputation in the industry, learning his craft the hard way. His early mistakes in the begining have made him stonger and wiser today. Chef Lee Humpries presides over the food at Judas Goat just as he does for the other two establisment.

The glass and concrete walls balanced the marble and composite plastic stools in this small 25+ seater eatery. Giving it an industrial chic. It is located in Blood Alley, an alley that some would have never considered walking through at night just a decade ago. But improvements and devlopment has seen many businesses enjoying success in the outskirts of downtown where rent and leases are much more profit friendly.

Once inside I was greeted and sat along the banquettes along the wall. Was explained how the ordering worked and I quickly glanced at the 'menu'. The menu was a sheet of paper with boxes for you to fill with pencil the quantity of each item you wanted. The entire room was small, no larger studio apartment downtown. Less than 800 sg ft, I think. There was no kitchen or bar that u normally see in other places. Salt located next door also has no kitchen, so I assume that the food prep and hot cooking would be done in Irish Heather.

The selection of wines was good for such a small place. And they have cider on tap. No beer on tap but the selection of beer were unique. I liked the bubbly and sangria(too small of a glass, though). The drinks sizes was small which was nice which meant you could try different drinks during the course of the night. The crostini's are nice, chorizo with chocolate odd tasty combination. Not a fan of them preparing all the crostini' ahead of time. The pork was fatty, fork flaky, almost melt in you mouth that I am sure many will like. The brisket meatballs were wonderfully moist without an overpowereing tomato taste and balance with a slightly salty cheese. The lamb cheeks, savoy cabbage in truffle oil was gamey and flavorfull. The truffle oil was evident almost overwhelming, but I felt in wasnt needed. The rabbit rillete with carrot panna cotta was really good. Especially the the carrot panna cotta!. Veal sweetbread was dissapointing as I love sweetbreads and wasnt expecting the way it was prepared. Always thought saltimboca meant sauteed. The food was good, but not outstanding.

Overall I liked the food at Judas Goat and looking forward to test out the rest of the menu. The service was very good esp the gentleman that was helping close that night. Says he's been with the company for 4 years when asked and explained that they are not a truly spanish tapa's. Which mean my search continues.......... The bill came to $90++. Judas Goat has small areas of improvement, none of if large enough that it would disuade anyone to come back. I am looking forward to going back, wanna try their sous-vide sablefish, foie grais and salads. :-D

Grea for snacking(small meals)
Fast and prompt service
Get's pricey when you add all the items and drinks
The seating can be tight, and table small if you have more than 4 food items

Food - 7
Ambience - 6.5
Overall - 7
Value - 6.5

Judas Goat Taberna on Urbanspoon


..Will start posting restaurant reviews. Will cover all the popular restaurants in the city as well as share some of the hidden gems. Also looking forward to write a "Comparison.... " series. i.e. best 'AYCE sushi', 'Izakaya', 'Ramens", 'Steak Houses", 'Patios' etc etc....

Rodney's Oyster House - Oysters! Oysters! Oysters!

Are oysters an aphrodisiacs? Historically, the first aphrodisiacs were food that resembled sexual organs thus, food that in some way looked like a female genitalia were reputed as being aphrodisiacs. In this list one of the most famous aphrodisiac foods are oysters for the clear resemblance to the female sexual organs. The Romans prized the aphrodisiacal properties of oysters and they may have been on the right track; oysters, have high amounts of zinc, essential for sperm production. Raw oysters contain lots of D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, both of which may increase testosterone which may, in turn, increase libido. Sexual appetite, more often than not, starts in the mind rather than in the body. So whilst oysters could have a psychological effect on the libido, I dont think it stimulates your mind. So maybe it is a myth...

I know there are many who are squeamish about eating raw oysters. The thought of a raw life bivalve mollusks down your throat can be unnerving. Can't blame anyone for not wanting to try raw oysters. Which is great for folks like me that love freshly shucked oysters. Naked or dressed! I generally avoid raw oysters at buffets and restaurant with low turnover. No point taking chances for health reasons.

In times past, a common rule of thumb was to eat oysters only in months that had an "R" in their name--that is, during cold weather. Happily, with modern refrigeration techniques and pasteurization, the danger of decay and food poisoning is nil. Today, oysters can be and are shipped and eaten year round

There are hundreds of varieties, each with distinctive characteristics. Often taking on the flavor of it's habitat. An oyster’s taste comes from the area it’s harvested. There are three broad classifications: Pacific, Atlantic and Olympia. Each is further broken down to the very shore from which they are harvested. The names of Oysters are sometimes base on where they are harvested from. Some of their names include Kusshi, Kumamoto, Cortes Island Oysters, Samish Bay, Steamboats, Pearl Bay, Malaspina, Royal Miyagi, Malpeque, Caraquet, Blue point, Pine Island, Pugwash, Effingham, Blue Points, Fanny Bay, Hood Canal, Tomales Bay, Hog Island, Cheseapeke Bay. Note how many of these are named from a geographic area. But most oysters fall into either the Pacific(West Coast) or Atlantic(East Coast).

The finer restaurants always gets the top pick of oysters available before you see them in your supermarket. As far as restaurant in Vancouver for oysters, my pick's are, Rodney's Oyster Bar, Blue Water, Joe Fortes, and Coast as my go to spots for oysters. But purely based on fresh oysters, I would pick Rodney's. So here is my blurb on Rodney's.

Rodney "the oysterman" Clark has been serving oysters with a Maritime hospitality themed in Toronto for over 20 years. They have one other location in Toronto. The Vancouver location located in the trendy Yaletown has been going over 10 years strong. It is a small two level place that probably sits 50-60 people with a 'Maritime Room" room available for up to 30 for private parties. You can dine by yourself or with your dining mate at the oyster bar. Where you can watch the 'oyster-tender' shuck your oysters place them on a bed of ice and grate fresh horseradish.

They have 5-10 different variety of oysters for you to choose from. Though it is based on availability. So best to go early for dinner if you want the best selection. There are three item's I am fond of on the menu, besides the fresh oysters, I like the pan fried oysters and bloody caesar's with fresh grated horseradish and a cocktail prawn garnish. I have not enjoyed any other food items that I have ordered whenever I go to Rodney's. I like the individual steam soup kettle that they use to make the chowders and steam the mussels and clam. Unfortunately the way they prepare them lacks flavor and taste. The chowder are very basic and bland tasting. Too bad since they have a perfect set-up to deliver great tasting shellfish chowders, soups and stew.

They do have a modest selection of beers, wines and champagnes to go with your meal. They do offer a few wines and champagnes by the glass. Sumac Ridge Stellar’s Jay Brut, and the Weingut Kruger-Rumpf Riesling (Germany) worked really well with the oysters. I really like the caesar's with fresh grated horseradish and cocktail prawn garnish. Price wise, it can get expensive as oyster doesn't really fill you up. With prices of about $3 or more per oyster. The bill can add up real quick. And they lack of solid main courses really hurts making Rodney's a serious dining destination. So I paraphrase. I come here only for the fresh oyster. And stay for some more oysters. They generally have the best and freshest oyster selection in town. Come early for the best selection, as they do run out of some variety later in the night.

Casual fun dining
Sitting at the oyster bar and making conversation with your oyster shucker.
Fresh Oysters with lotsa 'sauces'

Most of the other food items are kinda flat and bland.
Gets busy and sometimes loud. It's a small room so not an inimate setting.

Food          6 overall (8 for the oysters only)
Ambiance   6.5
Overall       6
Value         6.5

Rodney's Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka - The Crown Jewel Of Ramen in Vancouver

The search for the perfect ramen brings me back to the time when I was a culinary apprentice that enjoyed watching all movies that was food related. Specifically there was a Japanese movie called "Tanpopo". Tanpopo is a widowed chef with a struggling noodle store. With the help of a trucker she learns the secret to good ramen.There are also various sub-plots, lots of food related humour. If you have an interest in Japanese culture and food, and lucky enough to find this movie, I highly recommend it.

Japanese cuisine in Vancouver has come a long way. Earlier incarnations of the cuisine were far removed from a typical authentic Japanese food experience in Japan. The first time I had Japanese ramen in Vancouver was at Ezogiku.Then later at Gyoza King (before it expanded it's menu to add izakaya items). I though it was far better then the ramen at the Japanese restaurant Kamei, Aki etc etc... .Then Kintaro opened and set the standard for ramen noodle in the city. In the past few years there have been no shortages of new ramen noodles houses. There are three component to good ramen. I use to thing that the most important thing to good ramen is a great broth. A slow simmering controlled broths simmering for up to days with fresh ingredients. A rich broth would be the most important thing to a good bowl of noodle right? But the Japanese just like the Italians understood that it is the noodles that is the most important component. In fact many Japanese don't drink the broth but rather enjoy the noodle and the soup is simply to enhance and  enjoy the noodles. Besides the noodles and the soupy broth, the other component is the topping.

The latest ramen entry to the city is located close to the hub of the major Ramen centre of Robson/Denman. Where three top ramen noodle shops are situated including Kintaro. I was driving on Robson and notice a new ramen store. I immediately pulled over parked my car and immediately proceeded to try Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. The space is has some table and bench seating as well as some seats facing the kitchen. Being the curious cat i asked to seat facing the kitchen. I'd notice that a lot of thought has went into the planning and execution of this place. Most evident is the kitchen set-up. I believe this is by far the best set up conducive to making consistent good ramen broth. I got the feeling this franchise was experienced and makes sure the employees adhere to the systems and standards. One thing odd that i notice was that there was no pass through or expediting table for the cooks to place the noodles for the server to pick up the food. ??

I had the shio broth ramen with the pork jowl. I was surprise to find the price to be just under $13 before tax. The basic noodles options are just under $9. Kinda pricey for noodles in soup. :-D . Price consideration aside, how was the ramen? The noodles were tender with a nice bite. I have very rarely ordered the shio broth. Cause i find them to be lacking in depth and flavour generally. The shio broth at Santouka is in the best of the class. It has nice smooth flavour with a buttery finish. The freshly toasted sesame added a nice nutty and aromatic burst of flavor to complement the noodles. The fork tender pork jowl compared to all the other ramen shops in town stand a clear winner as well. It was lean and tender and perfectly cooked. Better than brisket for sure. To me this is clearly the best ramen shop today. All three components really stood out individually and yet managed to complement together. The fresh egg noodle with the well balanced broth and melt in your mouth pork. Hmm .. I'm ready to head back for more. 

Bear in mind that all new restaurant have their honeymoon period where everything and everyone works in unison and harmony. So folks enjoy Hokkaido Ramen Santouka the reigning Jewel of Ramen in this city as much as you can! Cause like a beauty queen eventually you have to hand over your crown and tiara. The benchmark is 2 years. Whilst I praised Ezogiku/GyozaKing/Kintaro/Motomachi/Benkei/G-Men/Menya when they first open, they have all either faltered or platuead. Great businesses set high standards and have systems in place to consistenly execute their food and service. Whilst it seems Santouka may have the best kitchen system in place. They best watch their back, it's just a matter of time before a bettter ramen noodle shop will come along.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka on Urbanspoon