Alvin Garden - Hunan Cuisine Feast

This was a dinner that is part of the Chowtime's 8GTCC (The 8 Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine) . It is the first of eight dinners, each representing one of the tradition of Chinese cuisine. The first cuisine was - Hunan. For more info on Hunan cuisine read Fmed's very well summarized essay on Chowtimes - Hunan Cuisine (fmed). Fmed is a well known and respected in the gastronomic scene. You will find him on the Chowhound forums. He suggested that Alvin Garden was one of the best Chinese restaurant in Vancouver and definitely the best choice for the first 8GTCC dinner.
Alvin Garden in located on Imperial Avenue, in Burnaby. Some members of the current restaurant used to be to be part of Xiang(Hunan) Garden located on Kingsway. The name Alvin Garden certainly doesn't suit the food served at this restaurant. I would associate the name Alvin Garden to a Chinese restaurant more akin to serving bastardised Chinese food, can you say chop suey, egg foo yong and sweet and sour chicken balls. But never would I consider it an authentic Hunan Cuisine Restaurant based on the name. We later learn how the name came about when introduced to the owner's son, Alvin. :-D . Of course it all made sense now. On to the main event, the food report.
Alvin Garden had recently won awards for two of their dishes in the Chinese Restaurant Awards 2010. A gold for the 5 spiced pork heart and a silver for their tea-smoked duck. Both were served at our table this night. In total we sampled 17 items on the menu for this dinner. That's right 17 items, it may have been 18. Yikes! Here is the list of what we had, the item# and cost on the current Alvin Garden menu.
Item# Name Category Price Spicy D
17 Hunan Pickles Appetizer $4.98 Mild
18 Spicy Dried Bean Stick with Celery Appetizer $4.98 Mild
23 Spicy pork ear Appetizer $5.98 Medium
25 Pork heart with five spices Appetizer $5.98 Medium
28 Tea-smoked duck Appetizer $18.98 Mild
29 Free-run chicken with ginger Hot pot $13.98 Medium
36 Country-style fried pork with green chili Stir fried $11.98 Medium
46 Stir fried garlic bolt with hunan smoked pork Stir fried $12.98 Medium
52 Stir fried lamb with cumin Stir fried $12.98 Medium
55 Chicken giblets with Hunan white chili Stir fried $11.98 Medium
5 Donting Boiled fish in chili soup X special $18.98 Medium
2 Hunan braised pork X special $12.98 Mild
1 Steamed Ling cod head X special $18.98 Medium
3 Duck braised in beer X special $16.98 Medium
65 Chicken with Hunan Chili and vinegar Steam $11.98 Medium
76 Spicy and sour potato shreds Vegs $9.98 Mild
72 Braised eggplant with black bean chili sauce Vegs $9.98 Mild

Hunan cuisine is spicy. The heat comes mainly from chili peppers rather than the better know szechuan cuisine which derives its heat from the tongue numbing szechuan peppercorns(BTW did you know that they are not really peppercorns?). Overall I felt that the restaurant dialed down on the heat to cater to the diners for this dinner. Though a simple request to the chefs and I am sure they can accommodate your spiciness tolerance. Besides the tea smoked duck and 5 spiced pork heart(very unique texture not as weird as it may seem), I really enjoyed the Stir fried garlic bolt with Hunan smoked pork and the Hunan braised pork. They also have a version of the Hunan smoked Bacon with bamboo shoots on the menu. Which I will order the next time at Alvin Garden. I love the 'Hunan' bacon. Smoky and crisp. It seemed like everyone at this dinner enjoyed their meal. There was something for everyone to enjoy. I was kinda in a gluttony comatose at some point from all the food, spiciness and flavors. That is a lot to taste and dechiper, between the spicy food and conversation I lost track of what I was eating toward the end of the dinner.
In China, Hunan cuisine can be pricey, depending on the Restaurant you go to. This meal cost $20 per person. I can honestly say that this was cheaper than the Hunan dinners that I'd experienced while I was in China and just as good. Having a group of people helps to spread the cost of the meal. But more importantly, in Chinese culture a communal meal among friends and family gives opportunity to bond and get better acquainted. Everything tasted like a good home cooked meal. Fresh flavors of chili's, cumin, garlic, ginger, blended with smoky, salty and spicy elements that boldly stated this wasn't a bland cuisine. Flavors so far remove from the sweet and sour chicken balls I would expect from a Chinese restaurant called Alvin Garden. And the value of this dinner made it clear why Fmed suggested this was the best Chinese restaurant in the city. The next cuisine on the 8GTCC is Jiangsu. I can't wait....
Note: There was 13 people per table sharing this meal the actual cost if it wasn't part of 8GTCC would have still been under $25 per person.

Great place to meet friends and try some new dishes
Very reasonable prices

Not all the servers are fluent in English

Food           :   7
Ambiance    :   6
Overall        :   7.5
Value           :  7.5

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

Cioppino's Mediterannean Still At The Top

Since opening it's doors in 1999, Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill has been on top of the Vancouver culinary scene. Under the diligent guidance of chef and owner Pino Posteraro who consistently delivers his best to ensure a memorable meal for all his guest. Italian cuisine was a cuisine that I had great affinity too since I was a child. So it was one of the first cuisine I tried to learn. Whilst working at an Italian resto in the 90's, I really wanted to better understand the finer aspect of this cuisine, I asked my Italian chef what restaurant or whom was the best in Vancouver. Without hesitation he declared that 'Pino' was the man. That was a remark that has stayed with me through the years. Chef Pino arrived in Vancouver in 1996 to work for the Vancouver's original food don, Umbertho Meghi. I'll save stories about Umbertho Meghi for next time. Chef Pino had previously worked in Toronto, Singapore and Itay. In Singapore while at the Marina Mandarin Hotel he learned and master sous vide cooking under Michelin star Chef Jan Gundlach.

Cioppino's features an open kitchen and you often see Pino conversing with his dining guest. The menu is seasonal but some item like the Pappardelle with 4 hour braised veal cheeks and porcini mushrooms stay on throughout the year. On this evening that I visited the restaurant I was noticeably under dressed. Which is what happens when you live in Vancouver long enough. Well actually it was because we haven't made concrete plans. Was meeting a friend that was leaving for Amsterdam the next day. And she asked me about this Italian restaurant that I had talked about. "Cioppino's!", I proclaimed.  Never one to turn down a good dining experience, I gladly agreed.

Restaurants in Vancouver generally do not enforce dress codes, but tonight I felt under dressed in my jean and polo t-shirt. Tip: professional waiters immediately figure out who you are and what you want in seconds. For various reasons, most notably to best served as you would expect. But more importantly for their bottom line, better tips. :-D . Despite feeling rather grubby, I stayed focused on my mission. Which of course is always, good food. Service at Cioppino's is very good. All night we were well taken care of and given proper attention. I was happy they didn't ask me to put on a coat or blazer to enter the dining room. We decided on white wine and left it at the sommelier's discretion to decide what was best. We had two dry whites, the first was an easy drinking northern Italian, the second was more full bodied, southern Italian. Sorry but i didn't get the names of the wines. They were both very good. It matched and paired well with what we were having.

We were served some bread and rillette. I  couldn't make out what rillete it was as i couldn't understand what the bus person was saying. I asked twice, but still failed to make out what he was saying with his heavy accent. Neither the bread nor the rillete were impressive. On to ordering and the food. Started with the classic lobster bisque served with crab-apple-celery root remoulade. I almost never order lobster bisque anywhere but at finer restaurants. Mainly because it is almost always artificially flavoured with some stock base. Lobster shells are not always readily available. There are lots of 'cheating' that goes on in a professional kitchen for different reasons. Safe to say Cioppino's is NOT a restaurant that would take the easy way out. Contrary, Pino runs his restaurant like a big tight knit family and holds everyone accountable to ensure you have the best experience possible. The bisque was the best balanced lobster bisque I ever had. While the lobster flavor wasn't dominant, it was enough that I really enjoyed it.

Next, I had the seared Qualicum Bay diver scallop with roasted porcini and black truffle vinaigrette. I read that this is one of the dish that the Sedins like. Not sure which one. The scallop was fragrant, sweet and tender. With the middle just slightly raw, which contrasted well with nice searing on the outside. The roasted porcini gave this dish some 'oomph'- a fuller bodied flavor and the truffle vinaigrette just perfectly lightly scented and completed this dish. For my main course I choose a flavour I was familiar with, Milanese Veal 'osso buco' with safron risotto. Having made osso buco numerous times and eaten osso buco in Milan, I wanted to taste Pino's version. His presentation of the dish was clean and easy to eat. The meat was just tender and I could be detach the bone off the meat easily. The veal texture was similar to a nicely braised beef. I like it but not blown away. The risotto was cooked perfectly. My dining companion had the Risotto with dungeness crab and herb peas. This was one of the best risotto we both ever tasted.

After the meal, as Chef Pino walked by I smiled and said "Hello Chef", he looked right at me and followed by giving me a very welcoming and friendly hand shake, to my surprise. We proceeded to chat for a couple of minute. Chef Pino has a very humble demeanour, but commands respect because he would only ask of you what he would only ask of himself, to work to the best of your abilities. His dedication and hard work has earned him national and international accolades. All very well deserved, imho.

2 starter, 2 main, 3 glasses of wine - was about $200 total with tips. Not cheap for sure. And certainly not within the means of your everyday meal. Perhaps a special occasion. It is still the best Italian restaurant in the city. There were no food-gasm's or epiphany on this night. Even if I could fly to Italy, there are not many places that will serve a better meal than at Cioppino's. And it shows, they are always busy everynight. Certainly, there are better value elsewhere. Reservation is recommended. Definitely will return.

Very good service. Pino understands that you have to staff accordingly to serve his guest.
Very consistent high level of food execution.
Over 200 wines. Easy to find that perfect complement for your dinner.

Many will find his prices too expensive.
I don't think so - but some have found the service pretentious
Parking is limited most nights - may have to use the valet service

Food:              8
Ambiance:        7
Overall:            7
Value:              6.5

Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Free Noodles @ Legendary Noodle

Legendary Noodle on Denman is celebrating their 3rd anniversary and offering free noodles on Sunday May 2nd.

A quick report on Legendary Noodles.
They have 2 location. One on Denman street and the other on Main Street. Their richmond location is closed.
Brock Li and legendary noodles was one of the featured guest on Bob Blumer's Glutton for Punishment episode about 'Xiao Long Bao(Shanghai Steamned Soup Dumpling") on the food network.
The location used to be an Italian Coffee shop. Walking into the restaurant you notice lots of chinese trinklet and props. I think it works but still a little tacky.
Famous for their hand made noodles which are chewy and starchy. Good bite.
Had the lamb noodle soup, found the lamb to be tender but the broth lacking of flavor.
The steamed juicy pork dumplings were saltier than most I had. Nothing in this neigbourhood to compare it too. But not as good as Lin's on Broadway.
The 'Chao Shou' lemon chicken dumpling in a spicy peanut sauce was interesting to me. Tasted a lot like the description. It was a chicken jiao zi(northern chinese dumpling) with lemon juice in the filling. Served in a bowl with a Tan Tan Mien like broth, a spicy peanut broth. The combination of lemon juice, chicken dumpling and peanut sauce worked for me. And i did like this the best.
The new japanese server was very accomodating and friendly.

Whilst it is unlikely I would make a special trip back here due to better and cheaper options elsewhere. For those in this neigbourhood, it is worth considering.

Legendary Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Comments working now...

Thanks Ben for letting me know that my comment setting wasnt working properly. Problem fixed and should be able to leave comments now.

French Bakery - Baguette & Co

One of my favorite indulgence is a French croissant. Crisp on the outside, with over a thousand layers of filo thin butter pastry. Like many food outside it's original region of origin. Finding a suitable replacement is not easy. In the case of croissant in North America, the three major ingredients used, which are flour, butter and yeast are very different to the ones used in France. The cost of importing the ingredients are cost prohibitive and therefore local sources have to sourced. Baking more so than cooking is a science where little variance can have significant results.

So when Laurent and Bernard (not sure about the spelling of their names!) decided to open their own bakery. They spent over a month experimenting and trying to recreate products that are similar to their Native land. Bernard has an engineering background, is Chinese but was born in France. Laurent appeared to be more of the baker. She had traces of flour on her. :-D . Bernard tells me proudly that all his baker are from France or trained in France. I don't doubt him.

When I walked in there were some bite size pieces of cake and baguette for you to sample. I did not hesitate and was immediately pleased. Looking around, the store was sparsely decorated and furnished. I am told they've been opened for six days. Their window display baskets just arrived and the menu board should arrive shortly.

In the refrigerated display. There were sweets patisserie and petit fours that all looked very delicious. Noticed they were not all perfect asymmetrical and 'big like Texas' that you find in many more North American displays. A lot of them dainty and pretty. The prices started at a dollar with nothing over $6. They are looking to add some breakfast and lunch items. I asked him what his favorite items were and he gladly explained them to me. He also sliced some saucisson(French Salami) for me to try. It was very nice and moister than the North American salami. Appears like they are just working out the kinks. Which is true for any new business owners in a new city.

There wasn't a line up but the people I spoke to, all suggested they loved it or were looking forward to trying Baguette and Co. Eventually I settled on a croissant and a shot of espresso. The espresso was served very similar to in Paris with a dark chocolate. And tasted similar to espresso I had in Paris. The croissant had a nice crisp on the outside but lack the flakiness, buttery layers and fluff that I was hoping for. It tasted good but lacked the texture and buttery flavor. The espresso and croissant were each $2, which i though was very reasonable.

I ended with a couple of boxes of pastry to go. Was able to share them with others. The feedback from everyone was positive. I am definitely returning. Hope that they are able to work out their kinks. Here are a few pics and link to my favorite bakery in Paris. The brioche and croissants are the best I've ever had. It was divine and wish I could have such a nice treat more often. Happy eating y'all!

Paris Bakery
Afordable prices
Freshly baked daily
Authentic tasting

Limited seating
Still working on a more complete menu
Product show signs of inconsistency

Food: 7
Service: 7
Overall: 7
Value: 7

Baguette & Co on Urbanspoon

Chinese Restaurant Awards 2010 in the City voted to have best chinese food in the World?

Edgewater Casino's Chinese Restaurant Award 2010:

Note the critic's choice signature dishes. Helpful to know some of the dishes to order when you are visiting some of the top Chinese restaurants in the city!

In the February issue of travel magazine Conde Nast, writer Mark Schatzker claim's that Vancouver has the best chinese food in the world. Is it possible that a North American city can lay claim to having the best Chinese food in the world? A city with a population of just over 600,000 people? Huh, better than the source of Chinese food, China? Better than cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Qingdao, better than food loving cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, San Francisco, New York? Hard to believe, but apparently he has traveled and eaten Chinese food in many Asian and North America cities and was blown away with the Chinese food in Vancouver. Nice job Vancouver!

Dine Out Vancouver 2010

Here are the list of participating restaurants and details:

Seems like the list of restaurant are pretty much set. The best value are normally in the $38 just because it gives the Chef the opportunity to use the best ingredients to make a more memorable meal. While I haven't been to all the restaurants on the list. I think that a lot of the better restaurants are staying off  dine out partly due to it happening much later in the year due to the 2010 winter Olympics. Dine out usually happens in February. Dine out was a way to promote the city and get people out to restaurant in the slower time in the year.