Italia Bakery

Something exciting has taken place namely that Marie and I have managed to try all the entries in a Vanfoodster food challenge! Of course, there were only 4 croissants to try but hey, we live in Aldergrove and it requires an effort! At any rate, with 24 hours to spare, we visited Italia Bakery on East Hastings near the PNE grounds.
A Vancouver institution since1985, Italia Bakery has been baking from scratch as well as selling pasta and other Italian staples. We tried their entry in the challenge which was a Pistachio-Raspberry Croissant.
Perhaps a little ungainly compared to the competition but there was a lot of tasty croissant to be had here. The pastry itself had a decent flaky exterior and soft buttery interior. The topping included a generous amount of pistachio and pistachio cream icing. It was sliced open and spread with pistachio frangipane and fresh raspberries. It might have been the entry in the Vanfoodster's Croissant Challenge that we enjoyed the most just in terms of flavour (and that really is the point, isn't it?). 
We tried a couple other of their specialties (to go) while we were at Italia Bakery. The first was the Torroncini. This was a shortbread cookie wrapped around chocolate nougat and topped with almonds. This was a rich and chocolaty treat if a little on the dense side. This was made to share.
Finally, who would go to IB (aka Cannoli King) without getting some cannoli? The small size are $3 each so we tried the raspberry, La Nonna (almond) and pistachio. All were assembled before our eyes and carefully packaged for us. Which was the best? I guess that depends on your preference. I think we enjoyed the pistachio but there are many other flavours to try on a different visit.
You can place an order on their web site for breads, pastries, cakes, pies and much more for pick up and possibly local delivery (it wasn't abundantly clear from their web site without being signed up). You can also seek out their "Cannoli King" food truck. We lined up social distance style and ordered at the bakery and our order was quickly ready. The folks working the counter were friendly and accomodating and there are a couple of tables available if you can't wait to get home to try your treats.
For what it's worth, we give Italia Bakery 4 out of 5.

Italia Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mon Paris Patisserie

Our stop number three on Vanfoodster's Best Croissant Challenge was Mon Paris Patisserie. Located on the 'other side' at Metrotown Station, MPP is a small but welcoming bakery with some creative choices. 
There is currently one small table available inside the bakery and it was occupied by a young fellow who was taking his time (I don't blame him for that) and enjoying some activities on his phone. As a result, we tried to take some photos outside in the rain and wind with mixed results!
Mon Paris Patisserie's entry in the best croissant challenge is the Rubylicious with Marscapone, strawberry gel and Ruby chocolate.
It was delicious and perfectly baked with flaky pastry and rich cheese. We kind of felt like we got shorted on the strawberry at least in comparison to the pictures that I have seen on Instagram. I sort of mangled the poor thing with a plastic knife to get this picture and torrential rains did not help.
We tried a cream cheese croissant as well which was also very nicely made with cream cheese inside and cream cheese icing on top.
Finally, we tried a Kouign-Amann (from the Breton words for cake and butter) which we had never heard of before but enjoyed immensely. This was a rich and wonderful pasty, a little on the sweet side and amazingly buttery. You definitely want to try this.
The counters at MPP offer some wonderful works of chocolate and pastry and they are worth a visit.
I'm not sure why but this bakery like a couple of others that we have visited recently, do not have drip coffee. I guess they would rather sell you an Americano but personally, I prefer dark rich coffee with pastry or dessert. 
Nevertheless, we give Mon Paris Patisserie 4 out of 5.
Mon Paris Patisserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vanfoodster's Culinary Scavenger Hunt - Part Two

So the Scavenger Hunt did not actually consist of 2 parts but I decided to blog about it in 2 parts in case you were getting tired of my culinary prose after 3 stops on our adventure! We had just enjoyed a sample plate of deep-fried treats on the sidewalk in the rain trying to balance umbrella and plate! Hey, this is Vancouver and we are pretty good at that type of acrobatics! Marie and I took the long walk (largely uphill) from Robson and Bidwell to Davie and Howe (this contributed greatly to my getting my daily steps!)
Shamefully, I have not been back to Firecrust Neopolitan Pizzeria since Vanfoodster's Pizza Palooza some 2 years ago. They seemed pretty enthusiastic about the CSH at Firecrust and they seated us on the sidewalk patio, socially distant from other groups of participants.
They served us personal-sized Margherita pizzas. I probably would have ordered it anyway as I always feel that it is the true test of a pizza kitchen being simple in concept and requiring very good ingredients. At Firecrust they tick all the excellent pizza boxes. They use 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, Fior di Latte and cook them in the impressive wood-burning oven! Excellent!
The crust has just a bit of chew and char while the tomato sauce is not acidic as you sometimes find.
We also enjoyed a sparkling water beverage.
After answering our scavenger hunt questions, we were challenged to fold up a few pizza boxes. Not too difficult a task but we weren't trying to set a world record like the folks on YouTube. Marie and I set off with a couple of $10 gift certificates in our pockets for our last destination.
At Canada Place, we visited Uno Gelato. Despite being down here on many occasions, we have never stopped in for gelato. We will certainly do so in the future!
We were each given a little sample of spectacular gelato. There were two flavours, the first of which was Salted Pecan which was certainly spectacular. As we know, a little salt will emphasize sweetness and it certainly did so in this case. The second flavour was a Vegan Dark Chocolate which was also very impressive. I'm not sure what the base would be for vegan ice cream. Uno Gelato has three outlets and some impressive made daily small-batch gelatos and sorbets.
Thanks to Vanfoodster for setting up this adventure and we hope to see you again next year!

Vanfoodster's Culinary Scavenger Hunt - Part One

This event was originally scheduled for back in March but guess what happened then? Now finally in June, complete with new social distancing rules in place, Marie and I set off on Saturday afternoon to solve some puzzles and taste some food! In the interests of social distancing, we were each assigned a separate location to start Vanfoodster's Culinary Scavenger Hunt! 
Our start was at Pappa Roti on Robson, not far from Denman. We have always meant to try this place but somehow...well, you know. As part of the scavenger hunt, we had to answer some questions and post and tag Instagram photos. It turns out that PR originated in Malaysia and their original bun has its roots in that country's roti (although you would not guess it to look at it).
Their feature taste for the scavenger hunt was their original bun with one of two toppings. I wasn't paying enough attention but one topping was blueberry based and the other was a sort of sweet marmalade but both were nice. The bun itself has a caramel coffee outside crust and the interior is buttery and this is where you can imagine roti. Although I made a bit of a mess, this was a nice treat to start our afternoon.
We were also offered a choice of beverages of which we tried one each. Again, I was not paying enough attention but there was an iced expresso complete with whipped cream etc . while the other was a nice mix of iced tea. Thank Pappa Rotti. 
This is a nice little cafe with a personable staff and a surprisingly extensive menu when you get right into it. We will definitely be back at some point. (BTW, we found out a couple of days later that we had won a $25 gift certificate from PR for our participation!) 
Next up was Kumme Cafe on the outside of Robson Market. I think that they might have underestimated the impact of a Vanfoodster event as they got behind on orders. No problem for us. We have nowhere else to be this afternoon! 
It was worth the wait as the Mango Slush was pretty decent with a lot of fresh mango chunks. They also had little bubbles which popped in your mouth. They weren't pearls. I would compare them, size and texture-wise to fish eggs (without the fishy taste!) Marie has Strawberry-Mango which was equally impressive.
They were working hard to keep up with the scavenger hunters who just kept coming! NIce folks who helped us with the scavenger hunt questions when we stumbled over them!
Finally, just a little further towards Denman was stop number three (and the last in the area) J & G Fried Chicken. We tried them out when they opened in Crystal Mall and found their chicken to be pretty good so we didn't mind visiting again.
J & G has been around since 1973 so the rooster mascot must predate the Jolibee bee (who will soon make his appearance in Vancouver) by about 5 years.
They presented us with a nice little sample of their deep-fried goodies. We love their chicken which came both as bone-in wings and as boneless popcorn. There were a couple of sweet potatoes fries and my favourite; king oyster mushrooms. Some of the pieces were surprisingly spicy while others were mild. I'm guessing that whoever applies the spice needs a steadier hand but we enjoyed it all anyway!
We had two more places to visit and some serious walking ahead. We will climb the hill in part two!

J&G Fried Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Top Cantonese Cuisine Restaurant

Now that a few more restaurants are opening their dining rooms, we are back to eating out more often and I am learning something. Don't take for granted that they are open during the hours that their web sites or Google indicate. Make sure you phone ahead or you will run around aimlessly and hungry like we did on Sunday morning. Having decided on Dai Tung on Kingsway for dim sum, we arrived to find them closed. A quick search on the phone (but no phone call) indicated that Excellent Dim Sum, just up the road was open! Again no. Almost at the point of giving up but continuing along Kingsway, we came across Top Cantonese Cuisine Restaurant. On Kingsway near Earles, TC looked a little worse for wear from the outside (power washing the awning would help a lot) but maybe that means that the food is so good that they don't care about the awning! Any way we threw caution to the winds and it turned out to be our best decision of Sunday morning!
We were seated right away in the dining room which has evidently been rearranged to allow for social distancing. 
The Deep Fried Squid with Spicy Salt was very good. Everything was arriving at our table right out of the fryer or wok. The squid was hot and just pleasantly chewy. The jalapenos were not mild so one or two slices provided a pleasant burn. There was lots of garlic also.
The Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce were nicely tender and flavourful. They were on the giant size and offered a lot to eat. At $6.75, these are a bit of a bargain compared to the "Chicken Paws" that we had a Cold Tea but really, you have to consider the surroundings and vibe. Not that there is anything wrong with the vibe here, but it is nowhere near as 'hip' as Cold Tea.
These were some of the best Har Gow that we have ever had! The shrimp itself was just cooked and in surprisingly large pieces that maintained wonderful texture. There was a lot of the shrimp also. The wrapper was just thick enough to contain the filling. Perfect!
The Steamed Chicken with Ginger Buns were also amazing. The ginger flavour was significant and made the buns into the ultimate comfort bite. Again, they weren't cheap with the filling. Don't miss these!
We almost always order some version of rice roll. This one was Steamed Minced Beef with Rice Rolls and it was not our favourite. Not that there was anything wrong with how TC prepared it. The rice roll was tender and of nice texture but the minced meat is just a not too flavourful choice. We like this better with Chinese Donut.
Finally, we had Deep Fried Minced Pork with Dried Shrimp Dumplings and these were pretty special also. Hot from the fryer and crispy on the outside. The filling was delicious. Order these also!
So I love it when something unplanned works out well. Its good to be flexible. This turned out to be some of the best dim sum that we have had in a long time! As usual, we had a bunch of food to take home but a couple could easily eat here for under $40. The room is actually quite beautiful and comfortable. Our servers were friendly and efficient!
For what its worth, we give Top Cantonese Cuisine Restaurant, 4 1/2 out of 5.
Top Cantonese Cuisine Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Umai Savory Hot Dogs

Every so often, I get an inexplicable craving for a hot dog. Once that craving is satiated however, I usually realize that a hot dog was not such a good idea after all. Something about pork and even beef wieners pushes my stomach towards malaise. I wonder why that could be? Don't read the ingredients list.
Anyway, that feeling came over me and I had looked at the Umai Savory Hot Dogs web site and some of the specialities sounded good. Located on Robson next to the long line up for Ramen Danbo, we waltzed right in and were also able to dine in.
So we tried a couple of dogs. First up was Chicago style.
They call it the Chicago Chopper here and ingredient-wise, it is pretty close to the original. They could have taken it a bit easier on the green relish and I would have liked to see a bigger dill pickle. Still, it was tasty and messy. Not too badly priced at $7.50. I don't know what you pay at Rogers Arena.
Next up was the Texas Roundhouse Dog. This was a chicken wiener (not very Texas at all) with batter-fried onions and barbecue chips (should be corn chips, shouldn't it?) and sauces. It was OK. Same deal, as in messy, tasty and the chicken sits well with me although, I would still not want to see the ingredients. Their website indicates that there are no by-products, fillers or artificial colourings and they use only premium cuts of meat so maybe that's OK.
We tried a burger because Marie is less keen on hot dogs than I. The Kyoto Baga includes cheese, batter-fried onions, creamy habanero sauce and jalapenos. It was a bit spicy and frankly, a pretty good burger! We were also taken with the brioche bun. Nice!
We rounded out the meal with Garlic Fries. These were crispy and quite garlicky (i.e raw garlic). Not too bad. 
The menu also includes wings, ribs,  noodles and a bunch different dogs (although the bacon-wrapped dogs didn't seem to be available and I was a little disappointed by that). They even have a sweet dog at Savory Dog namely banana and a couple of other desserts.
USHD is not Japa Dog but it is OK. Pretty typical fast-food dining room and service.
For what it's worth, we give Umami Savory Hot Dogs, 3 out of 5.

Umai Savory Hot Dogs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cold Tea

So I read in one of the posts introducing this new Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of Granville and Davie, that "cold tea" was at one time code in some eateries, for beer that would be served to you in a teapot  (in disguise as it were), after hours when the bars in Vancouver had closed.
Located in the former space of Tsui Hang Village Seafood Restaurant, the new management has done some serious renovating and the result is a beautiful room. The oohs and ahs started as soon as we entered the restaurant and saw the abacus wall behind the front desk.

Despite our eating at an odd hour (we have adjusted our schedule in the interests of avoiding the crowds and making social distancing easier), we had made a reservation and were promptly seated. Selecting off the menu is a bit difficult as there are so many things that sound good. I had perused the menu but the addition of the happy hour menu just made it more difficult.
We decided to start with some skewers which were on the happy hour menu. The prawn skewers were tasty and had very nice texture but there was a note that I could not identify. Our serer asked for us and it turned out to be tamarind! It worked perfectly but I never would have identified it myself.

Next up were Barbequed Chicken Hearts. I was admittedly a little leery here not being a huge offal fan but these were really quite excellent. The texture was pleasantly tender with just a hint of chew and a slight barbeque sauce type flavour. There was none of the liver flavour that I kind of expected (not completely sure if I have ever had chicken heart).
From there we moved onto the all-day dim sum specials starting with Dickey's Dumps pork and chive flavour. There were only 3 dumplings but the all-day dim sum choices are only $5. They were tasty enough and had very good texture. Dickey's is local and very popular around Vancouver.  
Also off the all-day dim sum menu were Chicken Paws. No matter what you call them, we still know they are feet but that's ok because we almost always order them when we go for dim sum. Again smallish order but only $5. It means you can try a lot more different things. These were also tender and tasty!
Mr.T's Sweet and Salty Wings (the chef not the guy with the bad attitude and Mowhawk) were quite a revelation. They were meaty and sure enough, sweet and salty. We are not quite sure what is in the secret sauce except that for sure there is a hint of fish sauce demonstrating the Vietnamese side of the menu. We loved these and considered ordering more to go!
Finally, we had a Wake and Bake Sub. The bread of course, like any good Bahn mi, was pillowy on the inside with a slightly crunchy crust. There were a couple of amazing fried eggs which were beautifully runny with deep yellow yolks. There was a skiff of pate and lap cheong providing the meaty end as well as Bahn mi vegetables and sriracha mayo. I would eat this for breakfast any day!
Again, the environs really made an impression on us. This is a pleasant and comfortable room and the staff were very personable too.
I haven't written about restaurant soundtracks in a long time and while this one was subtle and did not insinuate itself into our conversation, it was very cool. Let's just say, I have been listening to Junior Kimbrough on my phone for the last few days as a result.
We'll be back soon to try some of the other tempting items off their creative menu.
For what its worth, we give Cold Tea 4 1/2 out of 5.

Cold Tea Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Are you guys eating again? At some point Marie and I became the kind of people who take pictures of everything we eat, whether in a restaura...