Chambar - A Vancouver Benchmark



Chambar serves French/Belgian/North African influenced cuisine in an unpretentious environment. There are no dress requirements or restrictions like most Vancouver restaurants. Though most guest have a trendy fashionable disposition, in their late 20's to early 40's. Most people I've spoken to have been impressed by Chambar's long narrow dining room. I find it stylish but haven't found anything that makes me go, 'wow!'. However, I did find some of the seats uncomfortable. Sorry, just being honest. I like the vibe and environment plus the mix of people that gather at Chambar. As usual I like naming names of the people behind the restaurant. In particular the food. After all great food doesn't happen by itself. It's the people behind the food that makes the 'magic' happen. No two cooks cook exactly alike. Therefore if you change the cook, the end results are different. It really cannot be over emphasized, especially in finer dining restaurants. How one individual person can make a good meal - into a great meal. It really is like magic. The Chef and owner Nico Schuermans was born in Rwanda, Africa. His family moved back to his native Belgium where he apprenticed and worked at a couple of 3 star Michelin Restaurants. He started his apprenticeship in his early teens. Before opening Chambar, he worked in London, Puerto Rico and Australia. It was in Australia that he met his current wife and business partner Kari. While Nico takes care of the back of the house. Kari manages the front of house including the local art work on display, that changes every 4-6 weeks. Eleanor Chow, the pastry chef is one of the rising pastry chef in the city. She has continued to improve and refined the dessert at Chambar. And also at Chambar's baby sister Cafe Medina, where Eleanor's Belgian Waffle accompaniment of compotes, caramel and chocolates sauces are sinfully delicious. The front of house team members has changed over the last 6 years, some leaving to explore other opportunities. The current bar program is lead by Wendy McGuinness.

There are lots of love for Chambar by many people I know. Strangely I've never felt the same way. I have been here over 20 times since they first opened, 6 years ago. Mainly in the beginning when they opened and twice it the last 7 months. Most recently I was here for dine out Vancouver 2010(DOV 2010). My regular items that I order are the Congolaise mussels, poutine(with blue cheese), and their various foie gras interpretations. I used to get the cherry beer, Bel Vue Creek(?sp). They don't serve that anymore and their replacement doesn't have the same light refreshing cherry tasting light beer, unfortunately. The beer and wine selection is good, imho. But I am no expert in those department. The bar program is also good. Over the last 6 years both the kitchen and bar have been very consistent. Which is impressive. There recent addition's of Pourhouse, Diamond, Bao Bei, Keefer, Voya, Loden, etc.... mean more options for the martini's and cocktail crowd looking for a good mixologist. Chambar is quintessentially a place to gather with some friend's enjoy a beverage and good food in an unpretentious manner. Which is probably why it has been so successful. If you want a quieter dining experience and to whisper sweet nothings to your love one, dining in the back room is probably a better choice. They can also cater to a larger party crowd in their private dining area. They prefer if you partake in a set menu for larger groups
.
My most recent visit was on DOV 2010. The reservation was for 9pm. Which I assume possibly meant that there were possibly two group of diners ahead of us. One at 5pm and the other at 7pm. That's super busy for a weekday night at a finer dining restaurant. Most of our group arrived promptly at 9pm. The host who normally is cheerful and smiling, ushered to our table promptly. Felt a bit rushed. Menu were placed on the table. They had the regular menu plus a 3 course DOV menu for $38. They also had a couple of add-on's at additional charge for the DOV menu. Good options for food. The initial service was prompt and acceptable. Do you ever notice how the server acts after you answer the question, "would you like a drink to start?". I always pay attention to how the behave particularly at 'finer dining' restaurants. And I like to see their reaction and how they attend to you after. I have experienced poorer service when the table orders less in general. But normally if your table drinks and spend money, the service gets better. Perhaps it is a coincidence or maybe the alcohol makes you think the service is better. He he.. well no doubt server's live off their tips/gratuities but that inconsistency really bugs me. Anyways, 3 of the 6 of us ordered a drink. It was a weeknight. After taking our initial drink and food order, our server appeared maybe three or four times the rest of the night.

Chambar is well know for their Moule Frites. Which is a great pairing with the mussels. Chambar serves the largest sized fresh mussels in the city. Seriously!. You will never find one this big in your neighbourhood markets. Nico certainly has cornered the market for large mussels. Bloody chef's and their connections with food suppliers, always getting all the prized seafood. Leaving us the leftovers for our home cooked suppers. :-D . The mussels here are probably the best in town. And the $22 regular serving will fill most bellies. I normally order the mussel as a share item with others. And always upgrade to poutine. Since you can get similar quality fries at a few places but not similar type of poutine anywhere else.

There was 3 options for the DOV menu and the foie de canard for an $8 add-on. I have always liked the foie gras at Chambar and this one didn't disappoint. Because of my 'caring' nature, I think I only ate 1/4 of the foie gras, as everyone else seem to like it too. :-) . The black trumpet, truffle, king oyster mushroom and curried got cheese soup had a very nice earthy tone. And the curry added a nice kick of flavor to the pureed, lightly creamed soup. There was a lot of contrasting flavors and texture and I wasnt able to fully understand based on a couple of spoonful. I found it to be interesting and unique. The yelowfin tuna carpaccio was sliced paper thin and had a delicate, sweet flavor. It was nicely complimented with a fresh and slighty tart vegetable and citrus brunoise. I think I like this dish, but was too busy fending off invaders to the Foie De Canard. :-D

On to the main courses. Again three options or either the beef tangine, halibut, mussels(done either vin blanc or congolaise). The add on option was a AAA rib eye steak for an extra $10. The rib eye had a nice presentation as far as rib eye steak presentation goes. But it bewildered me why the steak was served pre-cut. I guess they were willing to risk releasing the flavor of the nice meat juices in favor of a nicer presentation. Or I look really old and they thought I needed my food cut up. Which would have been a nice gesture. Except I really love my meat juices. As caring as a friend  can be, I love the flavor of meat jus, and that is something I don't share. When it comes to meat juices and flavor, I am selfish and not caring. :-D Whilst the additional cost was reasonable, I didn't particularly think the cut of rib eye I received was particularly well aged and I found it too sinewy. Under the poor lighting conditions, and based on the texture of the meat, it seemed like I was eating a very well prepared flank or side skirt steak. Truly far off the best rib eye steak I've had. But not bad value considering it would have been $48 with an appy and dessert. The rib-eye could have been better handled and prepared. The halibut was OK but cooked till a tad dry for my preference. And the risotto wasnt much to talk up or rave about. It was decent. I had higher expectation for the short rib tangine. I have had the regular tangine at Chambar and find it a tad too sweet for my liking. Short rib seems like a good cut to do a tangine with. I was a little disappointed when I tasted the short rib and the accompaniment. The short rib was neither tender nor flavorful to my taste buds. It was like eating poached lean brisket in some gravy slurry. The accompaniment was better but a tad boring compared to the regular tangine. I actually liked the rib eye steak better. The frites and poutine was good. The last time I was here, the poutine was a tad cold by the time it got to the table. Today it was hot. I like the blue cheese instead of cheese curd and the 'gravy' is yummy and could have used more gravy on the side for me personally. And I prefer my french fries crispier, that is a personal preference.

For dessert there was two options OR a cheese plate. The dessert were solid. I think the winner was the chocolate pecan torte. Which was rich and decadent without being overtly sweet. And the passion fruit parfait was just nicely sweet and tart. It was a nice ending to the meal. Both presentation of the dessert looked good offered contrasting flavors. It gave diners options and the addition of a cheese plate is brilliant. Not everyone loves dessert. Not everyone love chocolate. Unbelievable as it may sound, some people just don't have a sweet tooth. I don't remember the cheese that was offered nor the option to choose what was offered. Sorry!. One was creamy and rich, maybe a goats milk camenbert-ish, the other was a more robust and stronger flavor profile. Good contrasting choice of cheese. I preferred one cheese and one of my dining companion preferred the other cheese. The bread was OK and probably great with the cheese. But I cant recall the flavor. Maybe a tad sweet. It was getting dry and crusty-ish by the time I got to try them. The bread was acceptable.

All right, I got an axe to grind. :-D . Chambar took a full page ad($$$$) out in the Georgia Straits last year to announce that they were not going to be part off DOV 2009. So it was surprising they took part this year:
http://scoutmagazine.ca/2009/01/10/chambar-totally-shines-dine-out-in-new-georgia-straight-ad/
Kari add's a comment below, quote:

 ¦Karri on January 12th, 2009 1:16 am
        "We know that it’s attractive during times of economic uncertainty to get a $25 or $35 meal, however the dining experience is also important.
         Experienced Dine Out patrons know that the two-week event means limited menu choices, surly service staff, and quick turns on the tables. We don’t feel right about shuffling people through Chambar to eat the same 3 options for two weeks. There is a reason we dine out, it’s to be in an atmosphere where we can escape for an evening to enjoy great food and service.
If you haven’t had a chance to dine at Chambar for a while, you’ll notice something different when you walk into the back dining room. Where there was once a solid wall is now a narrow antique door from Egypt. Through this door is the restaurant’s new cozy dining room, which holds about 40 people. With its massive windows looking out to the Vancouver skyline, this new room is the perfect place to warm up with some moules frites and ask to sample our other new addition – Chambar Ale, it’s brilliant.


        p.s. If you’re looking for value for money, we’re still cheaper than Earls." end quote.

I haven't been to Earl's in a few years, so I can't comment on her last statement. I do agree there are many better value and tastier dining option in the city at that price point than Earl's. FYI, Chambar's main courses are around the $30 mark and the famous mussels are $22. The appies are $13-18 range. Which is reasonable. But what she said she didn't want to do, was exactly what she did do this year. They did have add-on and other dining options. But the service was off the mark by a lot. The staff didn't enjoy catering to the 'culinary tourist' and were visible worn down, and it showed. For what it's worth, the service at Earl's the last time I was there was better than at Chambar tonight. That was a night me and a friend polished a bottle of Patron at Earl's. Wait!... I think I understand now. Sorry Kari, maybe the poor service was my fault, not because of DOV. Perhaps there is a correlation between how much one spend on booze = good service. Note to self: when want good service, drink till mildly inebirated. :-D

Overall my food experiences in Chambar has been very consistent.The service was off the mark prob due to dine out. Felt bad for the server and some staff, but should I be? I am still a paying customer. Shouldn't that be the manager's and owner's obligation to deal with that so I can enjoy my experience. Kari had it right last year. Too bad she caved in this year and did do DOV 2010. Should have stuck to her guns. Either ways she exposed her restaurant to some new potential customers and made some $$ while at it. Good for you Kari!

Pros:
Can cater to individual diners(grab a sit by the bar), to groups of 40(the standard auto gratis 18% for large groups)
The mussels are really big, probably cant get this big ones anywhere else
The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious
Great location for pre-concert, opera and games at GM place, Playhouse .... (there is another reason I go to Chambar, sent me a comment and maybe I'll share)
Menu and food has been pretty consistent the last 6 years

Cons:
The menu and food has pretty much stayed the same for 6 years.
The service can be spotty at times.

Food : 7
Experience : 6.5
Value : 6.5

Chambar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I will probably begrudgingly return to Chambar. It would not be my first choice in any circumstance. Whilst it is a solid destination in every category and fulfills most elements in dining out. It does not have any outstanding areas(except best mussels) that makes it a must go for me personally. Plus, I know at some point, someone will want to have dinner at Chambar, and I can use this conveniently to dine at Chambar, without admitting that Kari and Nico have done a tremendous job making Chambar a success. :-D Happy eating y'all!

Kimura Sushi - Report



What defines a great kitchen or restaurant? To some in the Food channel era, maybe watching Hell's Kitchen you may get a sense that you need a great leader like a Gordon Ramsay that demands perfection, that pushes his team to their full potential. Ensuring every cook gives 110 percent every night for the paying guest. Whist this may be reality TV show. I've never encountered such an environment. In my professional experience, whether cooking fine dining for 25 covers on a Monday night, to cooking 350 covers on a Mother's Day brunch, some things are very relevant. You need focused intensity when preparing and plating food. The kitchen is like a zen garden. Where you leave your problems behind, once you step into the kitchen. And you commit to your role and perform the task required as well as you can and asking for help if necessary. Whilst it is great to push boundaries and demand more from each individual. Service time is not the time and place to be practicing new skills or techniques. It is a time of precise timely execution. It is a time when every team member is harmoniously and symbiotically working together. Trusting each member of their team in executing their task with zero complications. An environment where open communication and camaraderie is welcomed. I do agree with Gordon Ramsay, all that matters is the guest's dining experience. The leaders in most professional kitchen are not drill sergeant's; rather they act as facilitators. Ensuring that his team has the required resources, skills and ability to execute at that level. I believe you always talk up the positives publicly and deal with the negatives privately.


Oh yeah, here is my report on Kimura Sushi. :-D Located South of 22nd Avenue and on Rupert Street, Kimura Sushi is a potential hidden gem. If you drive on Rupert Street, chances are you may miss the sign hidden behind a tree. It has only been opened 3 weeks. And in the soft opening mode when I dined there. At the heart of the operation is Kimura-san. Who has worked in the US, China and Japan in various Japanese restaurants. He certainly appears to have quite a sushi making pedigree. His last restaurant in Santa Monica was popular with the more discerning sushi eaters in SoCal. After decades of working, owning and running Japanese eateries, Kimura-san says that this is his retirement sushi shop. I am not an expert in Japanese cuisine, nor even an expert in Japanese food. I can only based what I say on my limited knowledge. Kimura-san clearly demonstrates a proficiency in Japanese cuisine. He deftly wields his knife as efficiently as a samurai warrior. Each slice with a clearly defined task. When I asked him about his sauces and ingredients, he rarely hesitated to share his knowledge. Even going as far showing me his special order Konbu(Kelp) from Japan. And he uses a blend of White Miso Sauce and Red Miso Sauce to yield a delicious tasting sauce that he serves with several items including the ankimo(monk fish liver).



My initial destination was Sushi Hachi, but they close at 9pm and it was pass 7 pm, when I made a call to reserve a table at Kimura. A female voice answered with a clear Japanese accent. After a slight struggle communicating, I ended with a 8pm reservation. Arrived just slightly before 8pm and there was only a couple of tables occupied with a single person at the bar. Walked in, was greeted and asked if we made a reservation. Shown to the table. A second server approached and asked the same question, if we had a reservation. When I asked if we could sit in the table closer to the sushi bar. Was told no, so ask to sit at the sushi bar instead. Which
was a good decision for me. As I got to see Kimura-san at work. The restaurant was roomy and adequately furnished. One of the attraction for me was the advertised Jazz music playing. The idea of perhaps John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, playing in the background while I ate well prepared nigiri was very inviting. But that never happened. Instead all I heard was the voices of the servers and other diners all night. And never made out a single song that was playing all night. I did notice a collection of maybe 30 Cd's sitting on the shelve. From a distance I recognized a couple of the the CD's. While I wouldn't have mind not enjoying music if the occasional conversation with Kimura-san wasn't constantly being disrupted by the service staff. He meticulously tried to focus on trying to prepare each nigiri but is clearly distracted by what is going on around him. It is evident that the staff is struggling to understand his ordering system. Thinking about it, there seems to be a struggle in the front of house about their individual roles. Rather all three seemed to be doing all the task required with varying degrees of success. IMHO, assigning roles and responsibilities would be better than doing it by committee at this point. Will pay attention on this on my next visit here.


Kimura-san works without a printed or written receipt. Rather he cuts the fish as the server reads the orders to him. With the struggle with his service staff this night, I politely enquire about his family. Thinking that all he really needs is his wife or someone that has worked with him and understand his system. Kimura-san mentions that his wife is in Japan right now. And his son has no interest in this line of work having been 'Americanized'. Which is something I hear often by immigrant parents. They seem to think that their kids are spoiled when they inherit North American values. Too bad. Was thinking maybe he can adopt me. Since I really would love to learn to make great Japanese food. he he.. His system is certainly old school, replaced by point of sale systems(POS) that prints the appropriate receipt at each cook's station. I notice all three servers communicating orders and information to Kimura-san at various points in the night. Understandably he is a busy man. Besides being the sushi chef, he is also the expediter too.


On to the food. There are three menu's: one for the hot food, one for the raw food and sushi and a third is the Omakasse. I was informed that the oven was broken and needs to be fixed. So no Omakasse tonight. Bummer!. There is a 'soft-opening' special which consisted of 15 pieces of nigiri, rolls and mini udon for $13.95. Which was a great introduction and reasonable I thought. Kimura-san brushes each nigiri in his special mix of soy, mirin, sake, and sugar. Which means there is no need to add soy sauce for me. Although I noticed that some pieces could have used more sauce and the brushing wasn't consistent all night. Small detail, mind you. Of the special combo. The red tuna, scallop and fresh eel really stood out to me. The avocado in my California roll tasted like it been sitting out too long. But notice that the avocados used all night were directly from a fresh avocado, cut to order. Meaning none were cut ahead of time! Which equals fresh. Small observation. Ordered another round of nigiri. The deep fried shrimp head on the amae-ebi was fantastic. Kimura sushi uses ingredients that are better grade than your average mediocre sushi joint. Especially on this side of town. And it shows, the short grain rice were really fat. And the sauces were made in house using good to great ingredients. Sadly there is no real wasabi. And there is no o-toro, yet. He informs me that in a few months when he is more settled, he will add o-toro. I tried ordering uni(sea urchin), but was dissuaded by Kimura-san as it wasn't fresh enough to be served. Which is a great touch. Instead he suggest some flounder fin and monk fish liver. The flounder fin was thinly sliced with precision and placed on a shiso leaf. It was denser in texture and had a bit more bite. I asked for some ponzu sauce which he willingly provided and added a dash of something that I could not detect. Monkfish liver is certainly an acquired taste. And is certainly something I order at most Japanese restaurants I visit. Sort of a barometer of how well the cooking is in the kitchen. Like ordering har gou(shrimp dumpling) at a Canto dim sum restaurant. But this time he suggested it to me. His version is lighter and more melt in your mouth than some others than have a denser texture. I really liked it especially with the miso sauce he served it with.



While I came to Kimura Sushi for the nigiri. I did manage to try some hot food. A mini udon came with the opening special. The udon noodles tasted like the frozen variety that you can buy at your Japanese grocer. Al' dente with a bite and chewy enough without the taste of gluten. The seafood based broth was light with a slight smokey overtone. Had enough natural occurring umame to flavour the soup. The real stand out from the kitchen was their deep fried items. In particular their deep fried oysters and pork. It is way better then the mediocre Katsu that is served almost all non Japanese owned Japanese restaurant. It wasn't in the slightest bit greasy. And it was light that you can taste the oysters. It was better than the ones in Rodney's Oyster Bar. Certainly going to come back to try their cooked items maybe this time with some biru to sake(beer and sake). Don't know if there was a different between the set menu that includes the rice and miso and a none set menu. But I asked for a none set menu as i didn't care for the rice or miso soup. But I think I was served the same and charged the the same sans miso and rice. Wish I knew it was the same price, at least I would have like to try their Miso soup. :-(



I really wanted to enjoy my meal but was distracted just as much as the staff and Kimura-san with some of the challenges. It bothered me more so because I can relate to to their feelings. NOTE: the service was never bad throughout the night. The intention and sincerity was there. The comments on service were largely due to inexperienced and being newly opened. Can certainly see the frustration in the staff and Kimura-san. Some things take time. I am hoping the opening jitters will soon past and they can move on to being a successful restaurant. While sitting at the sushi bar, I noticed the tools and knifes Kimura-san used, in particular his 'plating chopticks' stood out, it was really neat looking. Half metal, half wood. Will take a picture next time I am there. They do take-out orders. Though I highly dissuade anyone from ordering take out here. Unless you live next door. As most of the items here are not great take-out items. I was disappointed that Kimura-san was making inside out rolls for take out customer last night. Nori needs to eaten immediately. Once it touches the rice the texture and flavor changes. Oh well.... I suppose there is always folks that love to order their take-out California roll. Kimura-san never did take out in his previous California restaurants. Partly due to fear of lawsuit of eating raw fish he tells me.



Overall my food experience was positive. And I really enjoyed sitting at the sushi bar and chattting with the Kimura-san. Whom fortunately wasn't anything like Gordon Ramsey. He was patient and trying to find his zen state, despite being questioned by a server if he remembered the entire take out orders. Perhaps she fears he may forget an item. Just who is running this place and signing your pay cheque, young lady? This man sure is patient. Especially considering this was his retirement sushi joint. Will return when he works out the kinks and have his full complement of menu items.



Pros:
Both the hot and hold stations provided excellent items
Best in this category in this part of town
A more authentic Japanese food experience
Uses good to great ingredients

Cons:
the service needs improvement. especially to be considered a mid to higher end restaurant.
music volume level was too soft, and was drowned out by the few folks talking.
need to work on their system and billing better.

Food : 8
Experience : 5.5
Value : 6.5

Will likely return and recommend to others. East of Main Street in Vancouver, there is only Lime on Commercial that are likely the only sushi joint of this calibre. If you love sushi and have friends that hate raw fish. Bring them to Kimura. You will both find something you will like, I hope.

Kimura on Urbanspoon

Nine Dishes - A Beijing Watering Hole in Vancouver



One of the pleasures of being foodie for me is the exploration and discovery of new food, cuisines and places to dine out at. I recently met someone that was from Tianjin, China. And usually for me all my conversations eventually steer towards food topics. The last person I met from Tianjin brought me to O'tray's at President Plaza last summer. This is a stall that serves authentic Tianjin food. The couple who owns this stall are from Tianjin. And the husband was a chef/cook at a major hotel in Tianjin before immigrating to Canada. So I suggested that she try to visit O'trays. She in turn suggested a restaurant on Kingsway called, "Nine Dishes". She informs me that the owner is from Tianjin and the food was really good.

Google map 'steet view' showed a place called 'Pho Mai". Have you ever used this feature? Its pretty neat, isn't it?

http://maps.google.ca/maps?q=960+kingsway&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=qyPzS8yuKIT58Ab2m9nADg&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&ved=0CAkQ_AU(click and drag the 'man' above the zoom in and zoom out slider and drop it onto 'A" on the map)

My memory recalls a Vietnamese restaurant that used to open late and have Karaoke on some night. It perked my interest and I needed a willing belly to join me. I emailed Fmed but couldn't set a date. He goes numerous times in the afternoon the following days but it was closed. On my next available free night I was really hoping that Fmed and Dylan would be available to join. Unfortunately, Fmed had already planned a chowdown and couldn't make it. So it was up to Dylan and I to explore this new restaurant. On the outside awning it says "All You Can Eat $15.99 and Beer $1.99(hope the liquor board doesn't read Chinese)".

Upon walking into the Nine Dishes, the reminiscent of the old place was still evident. The aquarium was there from over a decade ago, cleaned with new fishes and reef. The new paint and lights gives the space a newer facade. It was really bright compared to the old dingy campy seedy, dark lighting when it was a karaoke/restaurant many eons ago. While the lighting has improved, I was occasionally annoyed with the light bulb directly above me.

Not knowing what to expect we were handed 4 menus. There was two of us in total. Odd, normally each person gets one menu at a Chinese restaurant. Turns out he has four menu, each one with Nine Dishes. There was a menu for appetizer, meat skewers, noodles and main courses. So there are about 36 items on the menu. Each menu was filled with pictures of the dishes with English on it. I started snapping pics of the menu, when IF(the owner) asked if I liked the pictures on his menu. Have you met anyone named IF before? He asked if I thought the pictures on the menu looked god. To which I nodded my head politely and agreed it was. IF(the owner), tells us that he was born in Tianjin and his family moved to Beijing when he was 3 years old. And the food on the menu are dishes that he liked eating when he was in Beijing. Also some comfort food like the lamb congee that his mum use to make(only one person has ordered it so far).   Apparently he has been in Canada nine years which he says is another reason he chose the name Nine Dishes. The restaurant has only been opened just over 30 days. And that he has only been cooking for one month(which I am skeptical to believe).

 I asked IF for his recommendation on what he liked best on his menu, and suggested the boiled kidney in chili sauce($9.99). Dylan ordered the spicy beef slices and tripe($3.99). And we went for a variety of skewers(eggplant, pork with chili, lamb and beef tripe) at a dollar a skewer. And of course a couple of beer to wash it all down. IF(the owner) lets us know that we ordered enough food..... . The kidneys and spicy beef tripe arrived first. I am not a big fan of kidneys, but really did enjoy this dish quite a bit. Both Dylan and I loved the spicy beef and tripe. Dylan and I was hoping they would have some mantou. Which they didn't, instead they have a rice cooker which we later learned that you can help yourself to. No charge! So yea free rice, $2 beer, $1 skewer, $3.99 appies. Hmmmm..... . Seems like a gem so far.

If(the owner) theories are one I've never encountered from any restauranter. So far I gather he is either an inexperience restauranter, or out of his mind. But I am not complaining as the $1 skewer soon arrives. With lots of apprehension, that perhaps this is NOT lamb, instead a road kill or worse.... :-D . Actually they use NZ lamb which tasted great, especially for $1 a skewer. His skewers are small morsel of meat compared to N. American standards. Similar size and just as good flavor to the Chinese-Muslim street vendors in China. We ordered another beef slice and tripe. More skewers and of course more $2 beer. Over the course of SIX hours, we try as many things as our belly could handle. Enjoying the easy drinking Yanjing Beer, with and odd mixed of music ranging from Chinese pop to reggae playing in the background. Many classics that I recognized and some very esoteric odd pieces of music.

Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been here 4 times. And well, Dylan has literally lived there. Spending almost every night here. And I can assure you the food is very solid and safe to eat. And there have been many surprises each time I dine here. The service is odd to say the least. It can be slow and you need to flag IF(the owner) down for service. IF(the owner) hands you the order pad and you write down what you want. He than writes it in Chinese if you can't write Chinese and hands it to the kitchen where his wife does a majority of the cooking. Whilst IF runs back and forth in and out the kitchen and dining room. You really want the man to succeed but wonder how long he can survive working everyday with very little in return monetarily.

Recommends: IF makes his own sausage. It's a Szechuan sausage with numbing szechuan peppercorns. If you have a tolerant of spice and love chorizo, then highly recommended. I've had about 20 lamb skewers and found them all easily edible with no sinew or tough bits. The pork skewer on the menu is actually pork intestine skewer. Which is a love or hate item. Myself and a couple of friends love them. Some can't even look at it. The vegetable balls are a unique textured deep fried semi sweet batter. I like them too. The pork ribs in clay pot is very tasty, esp with a little rice. But beware this one is really greasy dish.

Pros:
Excellent Value. A couple of friends refer to this place now as the $2 beer place.
Not rushed, IF lets you drink and eat at your own pace.
Excellent Beijing Szechuan street stall food and quality.

Cons:
Lighting can be glaring at times.
Tends to leave tables cluttered and doesn't clean up after his guest leaves.
Service is not what you expect from other restaurants in the city. If you are timid you may not get served.


Food          : 7.5
Experience  : 5.5 in the beginning. Now 8.5 (4-9 depending on your priorities)
Value          : 8.5

Would return soon and highly recommend for a unique dining experience. But understand this is not a place for all folks.

Nine Dishes on Urbanspoon