Category Archives: Restaurants

SpudShack: Fitting a Vision Into New West

You don’t know how bad French fries can be until you have amazing French fries. When a number of locals were all atwitter and agog to learn that the Spud Shack Fry Co. was opening up at the Shops at New West Station, I kind of shrugged my shoulders. I mean, I didn’t get why this was a big deal. They’re just fries, right?

Wrong.

Call them fancy French Fries or call them by their proper name of Belgian Frités, but either way, you need to head to Spud Shack and become one of the converted, just like me. Owner Dan Close has perfected the art of the deep fried potato stick; both crispy and fluffy, perfectly salted, and well portioned, the hand cut Belgian frités are, in a word, superb. The Spud Shack has quickly woven its way into my brain as one of the best places for a meal and a brew in New Westminster.

Nachos made with Belgian frites

Nachos made with Belgian frites

My frist trip to SpudShack I tried the cod and chips ($11). Served in simple metal trays, the meal featured a big portion of fish (Dan cuts and weighs each piece by hand), delectable batter, and a generous serving of frités, with a pretty amazing tartar sauce. I’ve tried the frité-chos ($10 for the small) – nachos on a tray with generous and unexpected toppings such as pickled red onions – and found them really satisfying. I’ve gone for the poutine ($5 for the small) and found it the perfect ratio of gravy:curds:potatoes. We’ve had the naked frités on their own ($4 for a medium), too, with a side of  bacon mayonnaise ($1) for dipping that was great.

The Spud Shack offers high quality craft beer on tap and in bottles, as well as craft sodas and juices, and just recently started serving desserts. Right now there are two on offer – a chocolate pot de creme with brown sugar whipping cream ($4), and a house made donut with almond praline served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce ($7). It is, as Briana said,  “the best dessert on offer in New West. Period.”

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Housemade donut with marhsmallows, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and house made almond praline

Now, for me, what makes a place a favourite isn’t just the menu or the location. I think I’m a pretty decent cook, and I’m willing to travel to inconvenient places for good eats, so those factors are nice, but they aren’t the be all end all for me. What wins me over is a compelling combination of factors – selection and quality of the menu and liquid accompaniments, price, location, decor, and ambience are all standard criteria. The Spud Shack does a good job for me on all fronts. The wood decor and murals look good, there are multiple seating choices including a cozier low table set up and standard wood tables and chairs. I’m grateful they don’t succumb to the temptation to use styrofoam tableware and instead opt for paper cones and actual ceramic bowls and metal plates, metal cutlery, and glasses not made from cardboard, emblazoned with a logo, or featuring a plastic lid. While there are TVs (a pet peeve for me when I eat) the social atmosphere and high placement of the TVs make them mostly unobtrusive.

What will ultimately tip a place into “favourite” status for me is something a bit more than the food or how a place looks. I believe favourite haunts are welcoming and encourage you to visit rather than simply patronize. These are places we see in pop culture: Boston had  Cheers, the Friends cast had Central Perk, and The Beachcombers had Molly’s Reach (I’m dating myself with that one, aren’t I?). New West needs those, too.  A place where everyone is welcome, and where the ownership “gets” the community. Places that are open and receptive to feedback.

Cases in point: when I stopped in on my first visit, I asked about a kid’s choice on the menu. While my 4 year old is a good eater and likes fries, the fish and chips is a bit too big for him. Dan was incredibly accommodating, and said next time we were in to mention we wanted a kids’ portion and he’d fix us up. And he did – small fish nuggets on a smaller portion of fries at a reduced rate. He also picked up a couple of high chairs and is happy to put one of the TVs on the cartoon channel for his younger diners if requested. When we enquired if wine was going to be offered (thinking about future drinks-and-desserts potential), he showed us where the shelving was going to be installed. When we asked about a size between the small and medium poutine, he said he was hunting for the right bowl. When local vegan crusader Melissa approached him about keeping vegan “cheese” on hand so vegans could enjoy his poutine too, he said “where can I buy it?”

This is the kind of business I can get behind. There are others in our community doing it well already that I try to celebrate them, and I’m excited to have another one I can choose from. As an owner, Dan is positive, optimist, and welcoming. He’s not trying to fit New West into his vision, he’s trying to fit his vision into New West.

And he makes magic with potatoes.

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The Spud Shack Fry Co is located at 352-800 Carnarvon Street, on the east bound Skytrain platform at the Shops at New West Station. Give them a call at 604-553-2582, or check them out on their website, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter.

We’ve organized a Family Day evening meetup at the SpudShack this Monday coming, February 11th, from 5pm onward. Dan’s agreed to offer some special combos and menu items. Check our Facebook event for details and to RSVP

 

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The value of ‘a pint’ in New West: a (semi) scientific exploration (AKA ‘pub crawl’)

It started like most scientific research: someone asked “why?” then sought the answer.

Except that I asked “how much”, and I was hardly the first to ask. As any scientist will tell you, most science is just collecting more data to confirm results already collected by others, so we boldly followed the trend to where many had been before.

In this case, the people we were following were the good people at the Campaign for Real Ale. Following a story that hit the regional media, a minor #NewWest Twitterstorm addressed important issues in the local pub scene: namely sizes of pints, and value for the money. This caught the attention of a few good people loosely affiliated with Tenth to the Fraser, and with many new options for the pub aficionado popping up in New Westminster, it seemed like a chance for a little compare and contrast exercise to better inform your summer pubbing. The actual research was performed on a summery day in early May, but now that summer has arrived, the results are ready for peer review.

Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

We assembled a cracked research team. At the first pub, attendance included no less than two PhD physicists, two MSc geoscientists, and two Professional Engineers. Our technical team consisted of stenographers, computer scientists, photographers, measurement professionals, teachers and poets. All would be put to test.

Being good scientists (or science fans… or science fiction fans…or poets) we sought to control all variables. All pubs were visited on the same Saturday night. We were rigidly consistent in our orders, and we used the same precise measuring tool at each pub. Being environmentally conscious, we would not think of wasting the beers we ordered, so they had to be consumed. This worked out doubly well, as it forced us into carbon neutrality, as it took driving between pubs completely off the table…

There were various ordering techniques amongst the assembled research party, but I attempted the greatest constancy: ordering “A pint of your second most expensive beer, please”. There may have been some discussion after this, as apparently it is an unusual way to order, but I invariably agreed to the first beer offered by the waiting professional, deeming that the Second Most Expensive Pint™. I’m not above mixing beers, and all this fluff about “starting light and moving towards fuller flavours” has no place in science.

Throwing caution to the wind, Research Team 2, code named “Tig”, ordered “whatever’s on special tonight” to provide an extra dataset for the less-beer- inclined. Mixing drinks in this manner is usually advised against, but science is not without its risks.

Dublin Castle, 7:30pm

Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the first week of May, the deck was remarkably crowded with what are presumably the denizens of Fraser View frolicking in their native habitat. The view is just short of really good, the food is above good, the waitress is named Kelsey.

Upon the warming up of the Graduated Cylinder of Truth®, I ordered the Second Most Expensive Pint™, which was apparently the Guinness-produced import “Kilkenny”, served in a tall branded glass. The service pint ordered by a member of our technical staff (Stanley Park Lager) was served in a standard BC-issue b509 “dimple” pint glass, served a little above the line to a measured 520mL.

All beers were enjoyed, including the one on special. The walk west began.

  • Pint: Kilkenny – 510ml for $6.75 ($6.62 per Metric Pint)
  • Special: Okanagan Springs Pale Ale: $4.75.

Brooklyn, 8:20pm

A crowd entered the Brooklyn to the dulcet tones of Huey Lewis and the News, which called for immediate occupation of the Billiards Room. The remarkable view of a non-eponymous bridge was hardly enjoyed, as a furious game of push-the-coloured-balls-towards-a-corner ensued. Certain River Market Staff displayed suspect caroming skills, while being stared at down the nose of more professional science-management staff. It seems dedication to data gathering has already begun to fade. Then Pink Floyd came on the stereo, and a more erudite discussion of the merits of ice-filled urinals ensued. I’m starting to like this team.

The Second Most Expensive Pint® was the quasi-local Granville Island PI, served in a glass of suspect volume but compelling pinty-shape. The B-team reports a Long Island Iced Tea of the vodka-coke-syrup variety, but with the “double” serving size on special, it was an easy choice (although, the fact it was a double probably bodes poorly for future data gathering).

  • Pint: Granville Island Pale Ale – 325ml for $4.24 ($6.52 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Double Long Island Iced Tea: $6.10

The Met, 9:00pm

Until the group sauntered into the Met at 9:02 on May 5th, this reporter had completely forgotten about both Cinco de Mayo, and that Lenny Kravitz, bereft of any irony, recorded a version of “American Woman” that grooved less than the original performed by Burton Cummings and his merry band of Mormons.

Further, the Second Most Expensive Pint™ at the Met, an India Pale Ale entitled “Green Flash” was similarly unknown to me. It was, to the concern of our data collection team, sold as a “sleeve” in a tulip glass (OMG, the variables are adding up…). I told them not to worry. Don’t let it frighten you, let it liberate you! Collect the data, we will worry about getting it through peer review later. If measured by hops per dollar, this would be the clear winner, but we had a graduated cylinder, not some magic bitterness-epiricizing device.

With conversation veering towards political and religious minefields, and the surprise appearance of a City Councillor in our midst, things had the potential to get seriously out of hand here. Not helped by the “theme of the day” special: a Cinco-de-Mayo Margarita. Good thing it wasn’t national Dog Bath day.

  • Pint: Green Flash IPA – 434ml for $6.25 ($7.49 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: a Tig-Approved Margarita: $4.50

The Heritage Grill, 9:45pm

I can only assume this is a Rock-a-Billy band. Lesee: Hollow-body Gretsch, skinny jeans and straw hat, drummer and bassist both standing up, bandana tied around a limb. Yep, that there is Rock-a-Billy. Where does Paul find these guys? I gotta hang out here more often.

At this point, it was probably prudent to put this rag-tag group in the back room, for the courtesy of the Rock-a-Billy fan base. Just how many cigars did Thurston Howell pack for this supposed Three-Hour-Tour? Did he have cigars? I seem to remember cigars.

It appears a poetry context has broken out on the little stage in the back room. A researcher is relating a rhythmic tale of “…a young man from Kent”.

Shooters? No-one said anything about shooters. Yes, those appear to be shooters. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Another funny-shaped glass, apropos for the Weisse-beer, I guess, but there are a lot of cloudy beers lately, they don’t cause headaches, do they? Don’t measure the orange! Fruit is good – gotta keep up the Vitamin C, but not part of the measure… damn variables. How am I going to get that out of the cylinder? Must think of peer review, they can be real jerks about stuff like that. What did you call that shooter again? Tastes like trouble.

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 503 ml for $6.25 ($6.22 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: The Julian (Rum & Coke): $4.50

The Drink, 10:40pm

Look, if you are out drinking pints as fast as you can- a hockey net in the urinal not only looks like the coolest idea ever- it helps with certain aiming situations that you ladies may not understand, OK? If you didn’t want to know about it, why did I come out of the bathroom encouraging you all to go look at it?

Man, this place is cool. They seem to have got the hipster thing down without the grimy bits. Like your hipster brother-in-law got showered and dressed up for a wedding, just enough tweed and leather to know he listens to Modest Mouse, but not drinking from a mason jar.

More cloudy white beer- these branded glasses are messing with our science, and my head. Orange is good, though. Eat the peel- that’s why Belgians never get hung over. That was Eddy Merckx’s secret: orange peels and amphetamines. Whattya mean Kronenbourg is French- Really? Eddy’s gonna kill me.

Special? That looks like some fancy cocktail. No crappy ounce-o-liquor-n-pop here: those are actual berries floating in a pool of vodka. This place is like a freaking Orange Julius with mood lighting, only fuzzier around the edges – actually, most of the edges have been fuzzed right off. Or is that me?

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 495 ml for $6.72 ($6.79 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Bliss: $7.28.

Hops, 11:25pm

Att his point, I am clearly getting smoother- at the peak of my charm. Seeing as how I strode into the place and ordered “a Pint of your second most expensive beer”, and the waitress said – I quote- “OK” [make note on pad, walk to bar to place order], like the last 17 people who stumbled in off the SkyTrain ordered the same thing – As un-nonplussed as I have ever seen. Actually a little creepy in her plussed-ness. How does she stay so plussed? What have I got if not a shock value? Is she onto us? Hide the Cylinder! They called ahead! They are all against us! The guy over there with the sombrero- I’ve seen him before, we are bring followed… or maybe he beat me to the punch, looks like the kind of jerk that saunters into a bar and asks for the second most expensive tequila….

This place is great- where are all the construction workers? Is that real wood? What did you say!?! Oh, Deschutes, I thought you were calling me names. This stuff is definitely the schute. In a good way. Pity the fool over there on Team B with the fruit-less martini.

  • Pint: Deschutes IPA (“Sleeve’)– 383 ml for $7.00 ($9.13 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Martini w/Grey Goose (but no floating fruit): $8.55.

Terminal Pub: 12:15

Depressing Halo song, then Cyley Myrus….starting to get me down. What!?! A Scientist never leaves his cylinder behind! This is unacceptable! Run Forrest, Run! Is that waitress giving me attitude? Hope she doesn’t spit in my beer… whattya mean I’m the surely one, you sure it wasn’t her? I just ordered… second most expensive beer TEE-EM… think she likes me? Cuz her 20oz. pint is actually 520ml… that’s like 21 ounces or something… don’t you double it and add thirty? Lemee countee my fingers. Where are my fingers? Dunno… maybe making up for it being Rickards… Not sure I can drink this whole thing… Red Bull? Who gave the B Team Red Bull and Vodka after midnight? They’ll be up all night. You ever hear the sirens in this town? Gimmie some of them Nachos…you sure are prettier than your twitter… than on the twitter… Loudest Bathroom Ever… I SAID LOUDEST BATHROOM EVER! What was that about an after party?

  • Pint: undetermined… technical difficulties… please stand by….
  • Special: Vodka Red Bull – It’s not what you pay, it is what it costs you…

Conclusion

... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the record, there only thing for certain about “the pint” is that it changes with location and product. It was once said “a pint is a pound, the world around”, but it was also said “a pint of pure water is a pound and a quarter”. Worse, they are both right. Almost. For those raised in the warm socialist cuddle of the Metric System, this all seems baffling, so I will use the Metric System to try to make sense of pints.

Canada, being a Commonwealth country, uses the Imperial Gallon (for most things), and one eighth of the Imperial gallon is an Imperial Pint: 568ml. When you sell things like drinks in Canada, the Federal Government regulates that a pint is 568ml. Anything else is not a “true” pint. This is equal to 20 Imperial ounces, which are 28.4ml each. It also happens to represent the amount of water that weighs about 1.25 pounds. Which is equal to 568g, but you knew that already.

Down in the Excited States, they invented their own, smaller US gallon, which comprises 8 US pints, which are each 473ml. Ever pragmatic, their pint weighs just a little over a pound, and when divided up liquid ounces, each weighs an ounce (allowing for spillage). Since there are 16 ounces in a pound, there must be 16 liquid ounces in a pint. So US liquid ounces are about 29.6ml each, slightly larger than the Imperial ounce.

Ever wonder why a can of beer is 355ml, but a bottle of beer is 341ml? 355ml is exactly 12 US fluid ounces. 341ml is exactly 12 Imperial ounces. I realise that doesn’t answer the question, but it’s gotta mean something! It is also a better explanation than the one I gave my nephew: that the little bit of beer you can never get out of the can because of the rim of the can is exactly 14ml, and they put that much more in the can to make it fair. I’m a favourite uncle.

None of this explains the hybridized “Metric Pint”, which is the defacto pint served in British Columbia and much of continental Europe, and measures 500ml. Those round glasses with a handle and deep dimples that make it look like a hand grenade- what we call a “pint glass”, is typically 500ml to the line (although more will fit, up to a full pint if filled to overflowing). As are most of the “branded” glasses in which you may receive your Stella, Kronenbourg, or Kilkenny. A “sleeve” is a straight-sided tapered glass, and it is anyone’s guess of its capacity, as glass thicknesses and base heights vary widely. The one person who almost certainly does not know the capacity of the sleeve is the waiting staff delivering to you, so take it easy on them.

I could go on at length, but I’d rather do this over a pint. Of any size.

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Hops a solid new addition to local pub scene

Hops on Urbanspoon

Dimly lit Hops, located beneath New Westminster SkyTrain, is ideally situated for stumbling home after a pint or few. Once the new movie theatre at Plaza 88 opens for business, it will almost certainly become a convenient spot for pre-movie drinks. But it takes more than just easy access to SkyTrain and a taxi stand to earn a new pub good customers.

There has been a pub in this location as long as I have been stomping around New West, and I remember more than one rowdy night spent here back in my college years a decade ago. Newly renovated in a similar style to the Terminal Pub or Drink (the latter is owned by the same company), Hops is clearly going after a different demographic than the rougher clientele the former bar served.

The bar at Hops

The bar at Hops

I came in for lunch to scope out the space and sample the menu, finding soft pretzels on the menu (they are a favourite treat of mine, and often don’t live up to expectations), free wifi and a nice selection of local brew on tap. Hops offers a few nice twists on the typical pub experience in New Westminster. I had the pretzels and a cup of chowder, and found both to be very tasty and nicely presented on the plate.

The space is significantly smaller, and includes some higher end decor choices including actual artwork on the walls, designer bar, leather booths, wood accents and upscale lighting. Yet, despite these touches, the space retains some features I associate with a more downmarket pub, such as gambling machines and an economical low-pile carpet flooring in a colour that won’t show stains (instead of a more appealing but less-resilient hardwood look). The service was pleasant, but when I asked for what I thought to be a minor detail (to order only one pretzel instead of the two listed on the menu), it was a non-starter. It is a minor detail, but one that matters to me. I would be more forgiving during the dinner rush, but for lunch when there are maybe five people in the whole place, I expect a waitress to at least ask the kitchen if they can accommodate a custom order.

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

It was all more or less as expected, which puts Hops in a “solid and predictable” category of pub. The menu features mostly comfort foods, including the expected sandwiches, wraps and burgers, but there are a few nice surprises, including a gorgonzola mac & cheese with short ribs that sounded pretty good. In addition to the now ubiquitous walls-of-televisions that unfortunately (to my mind) dominates most pubs, Hops has smaller wall-mounted flatscreens in several of the booths, which I assume could be turned to whatever channel you wanted. There are also a couple of nice nooks for larger group gatherings with larger televisions. Like most pubs, it’s hard to find a seat where you aren’t distracted by screens. Even my favourite local pubs, The Terminal and the Dublin Castle, suffer from television overload from the perspective of someone who comes to a pub to hang out with friends, not TV screens.

I left with mixed feelings about Hops. I will definitely return when the movie theatre opens, and I will probably enjoy my food and brew when I do. But all the televisions are a turnoff for me. And maybe it makes me a pub snob, but I just don’t feel the same way about a pub when I see a dedicated TV screen for Keno and a pull-tab machine. The pub is only two weeks old, so new it’s still listed as “coming soon” on Tag Pubs’ website and at the time I first published this review it didn’t yet have a listing on Urbanspoon. I plan to give it some time to grow on me, and I would recommend trying it out for yourself. Let me know what you think if you do!

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Photo Supplied by River Market

Wild Rice is a game changer

Wild Rice on Urbanspoon Last Saturday I went to Wild Rice again. The server recognized us, and my husband commented it was the third Saturday in a row we’ve stopped in. To say we’ve been heavily sampling what Wild Rice has to offer New West would be an accurate statement; I’ve gone to a post-market late lunch, a fancy romantic dinner, a business meeting, and a birthday party. I’ve tried most everything on the menu and I’ve liberally sampled their infamous cocktails menu. I’ve been served by various staff and I’ve gone at various times of day. The short version of this review: Wild Rice changes what going out for a meal means in New Westminster.

Photo Supplied by River Market

Here’s the longer version:

In case you haven’t heard of the restaurant, Wild Rice is a recently opened tenant in River Market, overlooking the Fraser River. They’re open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week (Tuesday through Thursday: 11:30am to 10pm, Friday & Saturday: 11:30am to 11pm, and Sunday: 11:30am to 10pm) and offer simple, fresh and modern Chinese fusion “family style”; that is, share plates large and small you can share with your dining companions that come in no set order and in their own time as they are prepared by the kitchen. It’s the second location of the same name – the other is on Pender on the edge of Gastown in Vancouver – and much has been glowingly written about Wild Rice’s menu and service since the first location opened in 2001.

Chef Todd Bright leads a cooking class (photo supplied by River Market)

Chef Todd Bright offers dairy free fare and many gluten free and vegan options. Many of the ingredients have been carefully sourced from ethical, local, small scale producers by owner Andrew Wong, and this attention to detail is reflected in the prices on the menu. This is not the least expensive restaurant in town, although there are definitely bargains to be had – the lunch time truffle salt and szechuan pepper tofu with braised mushrooms, water chestnuts and fresh peas served in a bowl on rice may very well be the most perfect comfort food of all time for only $10.

Seared Albacore Tuna

My favourite items so far? Besides the lunchtime salt and pepper tofu which will keep me coming back with regularity (a fuller variation is also on the dinner menu at $13), I’d pick the seared albacore tuna with ginger shallot daikon, black vinegar reduction and toasted sesame seeds ($14), maple hill chicken kung po with twice cooked peanuts, local broccoli, rice noodles ($19), turnip cake with shiitake mushroom, smoked tofu and pickled vegetable salad ($7), and the vegetable spring roll with seasonable local vegetables, ginger soy dip ($8) for the top of my list.

Shrimp Toast (Photo Supplied by River Market)

My least favourite? Although I enjoyed the flavour of the hot and sour soup, I wasn’t “in love” with it – the broth to veggie ratio seemed high on the broth side and it just didn’t blow me away the way I was expecting it to. I have one other minor quibble: while their great local craft beer is well priced at $5 a sleeve, I find their per-glass wine prices a little high for New Westminster at $8-10 for a 6oz glass. (Update: Thanks to Wild Rice for the correction – their wine is 6oz not 4oz! )

Family-style modern Chinese fusion isn’t for everyone (one friend tells me “this isn’t real Chinese food”) but it is a type of eating I personally love. Like tapas style dining the now defunct Orange Room tried hard to capture but didn’t quite nail, I love sitting down with a group passing plates back and forth, and experiencing little bites of many kinds of food.

All in all, however, Wild Rice has so far lived up to the hype, and I find the unpretentious and cozy atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. The staff are top notch, happy to make recommendations, and know the exact right moments to appear and disappear. Two thumbs up.

Across the room (photo supplied by River Market)

But really, the point of this review isn’t about the food or the service – both well documented as being above average and star quality – as much as it is about how Wild Rice’s choice to set up shop in our community has changed what going out for a meal means in New Westminster.

For a very long time, the choices for a fancy dinner here in our city have been twofold for me: reliable chain eateries with predictable everything, or independently owned crapshoots that might be awesome or might be horrific from one visit to the next.

I don’t want you to get me wrong – there are a number of places I frequent and enjoy and heartily recommend (and many of them we’ve written about at length here on Tenth) in our city. Places like Okonomi Sushi or the Dublin Castle consistently impress me with their food quality and freshness. And while I can be spotted at Boston Pizza, White Spot, the Keg, and even The Boathouse, they are… well, predictable. The variables are not about the food; the variables in these familiar places are more environmental: service, parking, and how clean the bathrooms are. It becomes less about the sum, and more about the parts.

New Westminster News Leader editor Chris Bryan and I talked about the shift a few weeks ago when we talked about the Newsmaker of the Year - the feeling that New Westminster is once again becoming a golden city like in the early days of our province. Wild Rice is a part of that shift for me and has managed to completely change the game by capturing the essence of the experience I always want to have when I head out for a meal cooked by someone else without me having to leave my town. Wild Rice offers the trifecta of awesomeness – inventive food that surprises me, gracious staff who are able to be invisible and available at the same time, and decor and ambience I can’t get at home.

Simply? You should go.

Wild Rice is located in the River Market at 810 Quayside Drive. For reservations or info, call 778-397-0028 or find them online or Twitter or Facebook. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Le Saigonnais: Vietnamese Cuisine Served with Style

Pho at Le Sagonnais

Le Saigonnais serves great pho—as it’s pleasantly large, has lots of flavour, and isn’t too fatty.

Proper Vietnamese food has finally come to Downtown New Westminster—and Le Saigonnais has brought it with style! As a resident of the neighbourhood, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the first influx of this cheap and delicious cuisine.

Le Saigonnais isn’t your typical dive that you see lining the Kingsway corridors. Instead, the owners have clearly dressed this place up. The restaurant features its own bar, leather booths, and a modern, low light, almost Zen aesthetic—almost more suited to a swanky Japanese place on Robson. The space could still do with some new carpet, but it’s still one of the fancier Vietnamese restaurants around.

Aside from shiny splendour however, I usually measure the quality of a Vietnamese restaurant based on three key dishes: pho, lemongrass chicken (or pork), and spring rolls.

Lemongrass chicken at Le Sagonnais

The lemongrass chicken is a winner: delightful presentation, a nice cut of meat and garnished with a fresh and vibrant lemongrass seasoning.

The real make-or-break dish for a Vietnamese restaurant is the noodle soup, which is called pho. For those unfamiliar, the dish consists of a seasoned beef broth with rice noodles. All Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver offer a House Special Pho, where you always get a noodle soup topped with well-done flank, sliced rare beef, soft tendon, tripe, and beef balls. If any of these don’t yet appeal to you, don’t worry—you can also pick and choose various combinations. It also comes with fresh bean sprouts, basil, lemon, and jalapeno peppers—all of which I throw directly into the broth. And make sure to top it off with some hoisin and hot sriracha sauce.

Salad rolls at Le Sagonnais

Salad rolls at Le Sagonnais didn't impress. While they were a good size, the price seemed high and the rice paper was a bit too stiff.

Le Saigonnais serves great pho—as it’s pleasantly large, has lots of flavour, and isn’t too fatty. At $7.00, it’s slightly more expensive than what Vancouverites might be used to, but I’m willing to cough up the extra nickels.

Over time, I’ve learned that for many, the slippery noodles of pho can be tricky to eat. For those friends who have yet to reach a certain proficiency with chopsticks, I often recommend the lemongrass chicken on rice. There are several takes on this dish depending on where you go—and the meat can often end up fatty, or contain some unwieldy bones. Le Saigonnais, however, really comes through with this one. Aside from the delightful presentation, they provided a nice cut of chicken, garnished with a fresh and vibrant lemongrass seasoning. It is well worth the $8.00.

Le Saigonnais Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

What didn’t quite impress were the salad rolls. Filled with lettuce, vermicelli, bean sprouts, basil, pork ham, and prawns, the dish also comes with a peanut sauce and is usually one of my favourites. The rice paper that it came wrapped in however, was a bit stiff. I’m not sure if they were premade and sat around for a while, or if they just weren’t soaked for long enough. At $6.00, they might be a bit steep, but they were a good size, and if they get their rice paper right, it should be worth another try.

Overall, Le Saigonnais has a new upscale look that goes beyond your typical Vietnamese restaurant. The pho doesn’t disappoint, and fans of lemongrass chicken will appreciate their fresh take on the dish. You might have to bring a bit of extra pocket change, but in an area that’s been starved of Vietnamese for some time, it’s worth it. I’ll definitely be back to try the spicy noodle soup—and when I do, I’ll probably give the salad rolls another go.

Le Saigonnais is located at 634 Columbia St. in New Westminster.

Been to Le Saigonnais? Let me know what you think @BryceTarling!

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Fare at River Market’s Crab Shop is fiendishly good

The Crab Shop

The Crab Shop

Battered & fried fish is usually a rare greasy indulgence for me. Cod can be rather flavourless, and often is more grease and crunch than fish. Not at The Crab Shop. The batter is crispy but not thick, and the cod tastes fresh and delicious. The fries are good too, and the homemade tartar sauce is divine. In fact, the fish & chips at River Market‘s new Crab Shop is so good I couldn’t resist ordering it for lunch two days in a row.

But dangerously delicious fish & chips are not the only thing the Crab Shop does well. The menu includes a number of decadent seafood dishes, including creamy chowder, fish cake burgers, crab meat sandwiches, and fish tacos. I’ve had the chowder and the fish cake burger as well, and both were excellent. None of the menu items are exactly diet-friendly, but they are worth every chubby calorie.

The Crab Shop on Urbanspoon

Fresh-caught seafood is also available to take home for your own culinary creations. Crab Shop owner Marcel Gregori is a commercial fisherman. As you’d expect from the name, he sells live crab, but also clams, frozen and fresh fish and items like crab cakes to take home and cook.

On a frigid November day, it’s lovely to nosh on the Crab Shop’s rich fishy fare, but it’ll get even better in the summer when the Crab Shop can roll up the garage-style door to the Quay and customers can enjoy their fish & chips with gelato from (soon to be open) Tre Galli on the boardwalk.

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Burger Heaven

Many readers are familiar with Burger Heaven. In any city there is always one restaurant who uses their dishes to poll readers on hot button issues or elections, and in our fair city, Burger Heaven is that restaurant. But do their burgers boast yum factor?

The Tenth to the Fraser Editorial Board + 1 (Will, Briana, Jen and Ross) had a rare kid free night not too long ago, and we decided to start the evening off with burgers and beers at Burger Heaven.

My burger (or what's left of it)

The decor of Burger Heaven is pretty tired and I know the teems of photos of 70s patrons are meant to fill us with a sense of nostalgia, but I’d really like to see a makeover of fresh and light colours. But if decor is my only beef (pardon the pun) then a restaurant is doing pretty good.

The burgers are fresh tasting and flavourful, inventive and relatively well priced. They come with salad or fries, or, if you’re a “want it all” type of gal such as myself, you can request half and half. The fries are fantastic –  big thick wedges of potato-y yumminess. That up there is a bacon cheeseburger, sort of my baseline burger I’ll order in multiple places. I’d say Burger Heaven’s bacon cheeseburger ranks as one of my top 5 burgers. It’s consistently tasty and they don’t scrimp on the bacon or the cheese.

Ross tried the the lamb burger and reports it was “juicy, and not overly salty.” We all came away satisfied with the food, service, and the total on our bill.

Burger Heaven has been around since 1984, and is located at the bottom of Tenth Street and you can check out their website at www.burgerheaven.ca or call ahead at 604 522 8339. They are licensed, accessible, and kid friendly.

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Victoria Sushi one of the freshest in New West

Photo: Lotusutol (via Flickr)

Photo: Lotusutol (via Flickr)

There is an often repeated witticism regarding small Alberta towns having a liquor store and 7-Eleven on every corner. This is only a slight exaggeration of course. However, if one were to suggest in New Westminster there is a sushi restaurant on every corner that might just be an understatement.

Victoria Sushi is not really your typical sushi restaurant. A small space with only a few tables nestled within a high-density residential district and tucked away at the bottom of a multi-use residential complex…ok, so maybe it is. So from the outside and upon first settling in it doesn’t seem that different but before long the cheerful and very helpful staff make you feel right at home. The restaurant is extremely clean and the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful; a good change of pace from other alternatives and a very rejuvenating way to end a busy day. The owners are friendly, accommodating and most importantly seem to truly appreciate your patronage. Never to rush or leave you feeling unwelcomed or that you are just another customer that needs to clear out so new paying clientele can take your place. And then there is the food……

Victoria Sushi on Urbanspoon

Now I must be completely honest. I wouldn’t say I am a seasoned sushi connoisseur but I have eaten at a lot of sushi restaurants in the past and I am not referring to just Edo Japan and Tokyo Express. I live in New Westminster remember, how could I not? In my experience Victoria Sushi repeatedly serves the freshest sushi I have had in the area. The portions are excellent, the taste is supreme, and I don’t recall a time I have not overate. A perfect segue into healthy eating – for those looking for healthy alternatives, they give you the option of brown rice.

If I can find anything negative to say about Victoria Sushi it is that the location is not that accessible or convenient to reach by foot from downtown. If you do not live in the area it is a pretty good hike. Thus, parking can be an issue and will continue to be an issue as word spreads. But like all great things a little bit of sacrifice makes the reward that much more worth it!

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Okonomi – As You Like It

There’s a little sushi joint in New West on Fourth Street, at Columbia, in the building that formerly housed Lafflines. Apparently it used to be an Italian restaurant, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything like that there. In a city with a billion sushi restaurants (okay, I exaggerate, but seriously, there are a lot), Okonomi has won me over completely with their inventive and interesting rolls, awesome service, and great pricing. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve just opened up a second location in the space formerly housing The Orange Room.

Okonomi Sushi (6th St) on Urbanspoon

What makes Okonomi unique in a sea of local sushi competition is the fact that both their downtown and uptown locations are enormous. There are always enough seats, I never feel crowded, and they can accomodate spur of the moment meet ups of 10 or 12 people with relative ease. Their food is fresh, delicious, and well made. The menu alone has something ridiculous, like 200 items, and it can take a good number of minutes to pick from the extensive menu. Tip: don’t go when you are starving and can’t concentrate.

Their rice is also pink, which threw me off at first. The server explained they boil organic blueberries and cabbage additives in the water they use to cook the rice to make it more nutritious. I didn’t notice a taste difference but one of my dining companions did. They also have burning stone tataki, a fun experience where you get to cook your own food on an incredibly hot rock.

The portions are great and I’ve over-ordered a few times. Their prices are very reasonable. I’m not really a fan of leftover sushi, but I’ve gotten used to their portion sized and so that happens a lot less these days. Okonomi means “as you like it”, and I definitely like it.

They have free delivery, free wifi, and are licensed.

Okonomi Downtown is at 26 4th Street downtown@okonomi.com or 778-397-0567

Okonomi Uptown is at 620 6th Street uptown@okonomi.com or 778-397-1003

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Review: Graze Market and Deli

This is a picture of a pulled pork sandwich on plate with coleslaw filling in the bun.

Delicious.

A few times now, a number of the local twitter geeks have had a conversation online about food. Because food is the greatest common denominator. One of the places that continually gets mentioned is Graze Market and Deli and we all salivate all over our keyboards and dreamily discuss what makes an awesome pulled pork sandwich.

So what does make an awesome pulled pork sandwich? We’ll get to that.

This is the logo for Graze Market and Deli.

Graze Market and Deli opened up in Sapperton at the end of last summer. It’s a deli, a bit of a grocery, and a restaurant all in one.  Their deli features some fresh preserved meats and the bacon is amazing. Their produce selection was a little bit disappointing – but what they did have was advertised as local or organic, and was well priced. Their grocery shelves were a bit sparse – only one or two packages of each type of item and lots of empty space, but the items they did have were high quality and organic in nature. They also feature Avalon Dairy milk products as well as local and organic produce and eggs. They sell beef from their own herds, who frolic and roam in the southern interior Fraser River plateau in the Cariboo as well as free range chickens and turkeys. You can buy all cuts of meats and sausages as well.

What they lack in the grocery department, they make up for in the hot food you eat right there.

What makes their pork products stand out  - from the bacon to the pulled pork sandwiches – is that Graze Market and Deli offers pork from the good folks at Gelderman Farms, a former RCFM vendor (they’re too busy this year to make it but you can buy their stuff at Graze) that hail from Abbotsford. If you ask him, Jerry Gelderman will tell you that the key to good pork is happy pigs and he sees that they are happy porkers by feeding them a high quality vegetable based diet custom blended on the farm, no animal meat by-products in feed, no growth hormones (as per Canadian Regulations), and no therapeutic antibiotic treatment. Gelderman Farms pork supports the 100 mile diet. The biggest thing, Jerry tells me, is that the pigs are given room to run and root and generally just be pigs.

Another ingredient to a fantastic pulled pork sandwich is people who know how to cook and present food. Danny and Karen at Graze provide amazing BBQ with fresh made and generous sides like cole slaw, potato salad or slow cooker baked beans, and their BBQ sauce is homemade.  The bun they use is lovely and fresh and the price is reasonable. They also offer a selection of burgers and ribs, as well as a well made veggie burger.

Their website needs work and updating – two different phone numbers are listed and the hours are hard to find (and I think they are wrong) but Graze is a nice little gem with ample free parking in the heart of Sapperton.

Graze is located at 101-450 E. Columbia. Their number is 604-528-0101 Call ahead to make sure they are open.

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Coming Home Cafe is zany, colourful and lovingly retro

The Coming Home Cafe

The Coming Home Cafe

A cash-only diner with serve-yourself coffee ready to pour from a hot plate, the Coming Home Cafe may be low on frills but it doesn’t skimp on the flourishes. Homey meals like mac ‘n cheese are spiced up with gourmet additions like chorizo, and on that hot plate coffee is Kicking Horse Coffee – quality stuff. Inside, the decor is the kind of thrift-store chic you’d see in an art-school major’s first college flat. It’s zany, colourful and lovingly retro.

I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the Coming Home Cafe, but I’m not often around that part of Sixth. Until recently I’d only stopped by for a brief coffee on the patio, but after seeing a bunch of people mention the cafe on Twitter and in the comments on various posts, I made a point of coming by again.

I’m using Coming Home’s free wifi to write this post now on my second visit this week. Last time I had the divine pulled pork sandwiches (flavourful, topped with coleslaw on a just-crispy-enough bun). Today though, I’m trying the mac ‘n cheese special mentioned above. The nostalgic classic is decadently creamy and cheesy, and that chorizo gives it a nice touch of spice. The prices seemed a mite high at first glance until I tasted the quality ingredients – and saw the note on the board that all prices include HST. Mains range between about $6-8 for the most part, and the coffee starts at $2.75 (but includes a free refill with meal).

I haven’t tried the all-day breakfast yet, but the menu looks great, and I would expect the quality would be as good as lunch. There are also a few nice options like gluten-free bread and options like adding tofu or sauerkraut when you build your own breakfast.

As an aside, if I ever write a post on remarkable bathrooms of New West, the Coming Home Cafe would make the list. Their washroom is a cheeky corner featuring decoupaged paper with bathroom trivia and a few hilarious diagrams. It’s not the fanciest washroom in New West, but it’s definitely memorable!

I have only three quibbles with the restaurant: like most mom-n-pop stores in New West, it’s closed on Mondays (annoying to discover when you’re standing outside the door, as I did on my first attempt to revisit this place), there’s no debit or credit card processing (if you bring out the plastic you’re directed to the G&F Financial cash machine across the street) and the music is terrible. The fiercely poppy mix is not at all my cup of tea (though some of it is so bad it edges towards ironic goodness). The first two points can be overcome with a little planning, and the last can be endured (and I suppose could be a plus for fans of autotune and MC Hammer / Black Eyed Peas mashups).

It’s a short walk from the centre of Uptown, but The Coming Home Cafe is worth going a little out of your way. The food is excellent, the service is friendly and the atmosphere is creative and fun.

Coming Home Café on Urbanspoon

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Friendly, affordable eats at Couzies on Carnarvon

Couzies on Carnarvon. Photo: Daniel Fortin.

Couzies on Carnarvon. Photo: Daniel Fortin.

I try to eat a heathy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit most mornings. While this is probably what i should be eating, sometimes I crave something a bit more. Since moving to the other side of downtown, I’ve been frequenting Couzies on Carnarvon.

Couzies is a tiny little restaurant sandwiched between two currently vacant warehouse spaces on Carnarvon between 8th and 10th street. The seating indoors is limited but they have a large patio that will be great once the temperature warms up.

For breakfast they have a variety of wraps, eggs benedict and my favorite Couzies breakfast: 2 eggs 4 pieces of bacon, hash browns, toast and tomatoes for $5.99. Aside from breakfast, they have a pretty substantial lunch menu with everything from creative paninis to Coney Island hot dogs.

The atmosphere inside is great as well. It feels very comfortable. I can tell even after only going a few times that this little place has its full cast of regulars, from the construction workers to the old-timers enjoying their coffee. Everyone seems to get along and chime in on the conversation that makes its way around the small seating area of this great little spot.

It’s not modern, it’s not flashy, but the food is good and the people are friendly. If you get hungry in the morning and don’t feel like oatmeal, check it out!

Couzie's on Carnarvon on Urbanspoon

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Great Wall Tea packs a lot of taste in a tiny space

Great Wall Tea

Great Wall Tea stores their loose-leaf teas in round tins attached to the wall with magnets. On the tin of each lid is an image of a teacup and saucer. Photo: Will Tomkinson.

Tucked away next to the escalators inside River Market, Great Wall Tea packs a lot of taste into a tiny space. While initially I was disappointed not to have a coffee shop open at the Quay, the silver lining is that this has encouraged me to expand my hot drink habits and try tea instead.

Great Wall has so many varieties of loose-leaf tea that it’s hard to know what to taste. I’ve liked everything I’ve tried so far, from the vanilla-infused Cream Earl Gray to the Ginger Rooibos. Plus, they will blend together different teas upon request. I’ve become a fan of a Chamomile-Lavender blend that my favourite Yaletown tea shop O-Cha has dubbed “Sereni-tea.” So soothing with a little honey. Plus, in my last visit I made the welcome discovery that Great Wall Tea is also set up to make tea lattes! I didn’t notice before that they had a milk steamer in the corner. The lovely women who run the shop recommended I try their twist on a London Fog that uses the Cream Earl Gray, and I intend to do just that on my next visit.

At launch there were only a few places to sit and sip, but River Market has now added more tables and benches in the sunny area at the heart of the space earmarked for food vendors, expanding the seating area beyond the barstools and low chairs immediately next to the shop. Plus, public wifi is coming to River Market (hopefully by the end of March, according to Community Services Manager Julie Ramirez), which will make the market a more attractive place for those of us who like a little Twitter with our tea.

Great Wall Tea Company on Urbanspoon

Like everyone else who used to frequent the New Westminster Quay before the renovations, I am eager to see the new River Market busy again with cafes, shops and people. Although there are only a few tenants open for business (Donald’s Market, Great Wall Tea, Tiny (disclosure: I have been hired to help launch the store), Pedagogy Toys, Bloom Art Studio and Vancouver Circus School, I am glad to see that they are all quality businesses who share a passion for what they do and for our community.

Great Wall tea is located inside River Market, at 810 Quayside Drive, New Westminster.


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Classic charcuterie with a touch of the exotic at Quantum Deli & Bistro

Setting a new standard for café quality in New Westminster, Quantum Deli and Bistro brings a little slice of Yaletown to our Downtown area (cat-sized dogs not included).

Quantum Deli & Bistro, at 41 Sixth St. in New Westminster

Quantum Deli & Bistro, at 41 Sixth St. in New Westminster

Quantum offers a killer cup of coffee, gorgeous decor, free wifi and a touch of the exotic with its homey paninis and soups. Look for unusual fare like za’atar alongside the egg salad sandwiches, and ma’amoul (date-stuffed sugarless cookies … oh so yummy) next to the shortbread.

Every table is set with a small, modern arrangement from Queen’s Park Florist. The menus are displayed on digital screens. Quantum is probably one of the only New Westminster eateries to be written up in an interior design magazine (Or so the owner mentioned last time we were in. I didn’t catch the name of the publication, unfortunately).

I maintain that ordering decaf is the best way to tell if a restaurant’s coffee is up to snuff. Decaffeinated coffee is almost always terrible, and only quality beans make it worth drinking. Quantum serves 49th Parallel coffee, which my coffee snob friends tell me is the good stuff (not like my taste buds couldn’t tell).

Quantum also sells sliced deli meats, cheese, olives, roasted red peppers and dolmades at or below grocery store prices.  They carry sandwich cheese favourites like Havarti and Edam, but there were also some I’d never heard of before. After sampling a few cheeses, we walked away with some mellow Kashkaval and salty Nabelsi. It’s worth noting that Quantum also provides meat & cheese party platters, also at grocery store prices (while offering far better quality food).

All in all, I’m very impressed, and I plan to be back.

Quantum Deli & Bistro is at 41 Sixth St. Next time you’re in the area, instead of waiting in line at the Starbucks on Columbia, duck around the corner and give Quantum a try instead.

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What New Westminster inspires me to eat

Photo: Juli Shannon via Flickr

Photo: Juli Shannon via Flickr

Lately I’ve been thinking about how my surroundings inspire my food choices. Reading my way through the Canada Reads books inspired a date with bacon ice cream, a rise in my comfort food intake, and delight in a layered chocolate torte! But what about where we live? What effect does our city have on our food choices?

My career started in downtown Vancouver in a tall building surrounded by sushi and Asian fusion restaurants. Lunch of choice: sushi most days. It’s clean (no chance of soup slippage on your suit), and is fast to eat. Plus, it looks fashionable! It’s a nice ensemble of different colours and shapes wrapped in a black suit of seaweed – somewhat resembling my corporate ensemble.

Or, a loopy salad for the days you need a break from soy sauce. I say loopy because salad bars abound in Vancouver and the kinds of toppings you can put on your salad make bacon ice cream sound quite normal.

So what happened when I started working in New Westminster?

The first thing I noticed about New Westminster is how much it is a “home.” The inclusive community included an array of late afternoon pies, and local and family run restaurants and cafes. Suddenly I found my lunch of choice shifting towards paninis, real hearty foods, and it-looks -like-your-mother-made-it concoctions.

Sometimes I look at paninis filled with freshly colourful vegetables and wonder: how am I going to eat this? Luckily we have panini presses, and although the vegetables add height, it is great to know that as much as possible they are locally sourced and put together with high quality ingredients.

Some of my favourite haunts are La Rustica and La Lorraine providing a perfect ambiance for office meetings and business lunches. The quiet atmosphere combined with an assortment of freshly made pastas, seafood, and sauces might just be what you need to seal that all important deal.   For a working lunch that’s in a relaxing atmosphere I like The Hide Out Cafe. Computer stations and wireless Internet make sure that you stay connected, while delicious paninis and soups and relaxing music make your connectivity stress free.

You may not have to look far to find what the answer to your lunch cravings — just look at your city.

What are your thoughts? How do you think your city is influencing your food choices?

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The Orange Room, Reviewed Again

Orange Room patio in warmer and lighter weather, by waferboard

Orange Room patio in warmer and lighter weather, by waferboard

Update: End of 2010: The Orange Room has closed permanently. Boo!

Will, Briana, and I found ourselves with some toddler free time this past weekend, and after mistakenly planning to hit up Perogy Night (it’s this coming Friday, people!) we ended up at The Orange Room. This simple place has been described as “the closest thing New Westminster has to hip” and has also played host to one of our tweet-ups, prompting Haiku Empress and guest poster Marcy Koopmans to refer to our gathering at the Orange Room as the  ”least awkward meet up of mostly total strangers that I’ve ever been to.”

Last May, Briana also posted her review shortly after new owners took over and resurrected the Room, and while there were a few growing pains to be worked out such as supply issues and slow (yet pleasant) service, the general consensus here at Tenth among the contributors and the readers is that the Orange Room is probably among the top 5 restaurants this city has to offer. Personally, any restaurant that goes out of its way to source local food gets points in my book, just for trying.

So with no toddlers in tow, and only baby Nora (aka: the blob) listening in, we three headed to have some adult dinner conversation, and, dare I say it, an impromptu 3/4 Tenth to the Fraser Editorial Team meeting. We were seated at our selection of tables, a choice I really like being offered rather than simply being led to whatever table balanced out the servers’ plates.  For a Friday night at 6:30pm, I was a little bit unsettled at the few tables that were filled, but during the course of our meal, the place filled out – apparently New West eats late. Menus were presented and drink orders taken -a bottle of house red  -Vodawine – a peppery and berry noted red blend, $25.

All three of us were impressed that management had decided to tweak the menu after a six month stint back in business, promoting ”classic European Fine Cuisine” by Executive Chef Randie Guest. While I was all for the tapas style menu previously offered, and happily cobbled together meals selecting a variety of tapas, some items simply didn’t go together, and there were duplications (for example, bread with the cheese plate and also bread with the spinach salad meant a bread overload and as much as I love carbs, one can only eat so much).  The previous menu also had a few items that I never tried because their entree-sized prices didn’t compute on an appetizer sized dish. However, the addition of actual entree sized offerings on the new menu, including a few pasta and steak options, prompted the three of us to decide to go big or go home.

Briana and I are fans of splitting dishes – meal math says that if you split what you are eating with another person, you have the opportunity to try twice as many items. We settled on two appies to share.

Appetizers

Appetizers

The organic Chorizo Sausage on Crispy Potato Nuggets, $6, was an item leftover from the first menu incarnation and I’m glad it stayed. Spicy but not in-your-face-hot sausage slices on a bed of cripsy bite sized potato nuggets complemented with an amazing ketchup dip that all of us agreed went with more than the dish it came with. It was so good, in fact,we used it with the Almond Baked Camembert, Baby Spinach and Organic Artisan French Baguette, $13. A full camembert wheel, crusted and baked to ooey gooey perfection, paired with delightful delicate baby spinach with some sort of light and zesty dressing and a dish of fresh salsa. Our only complaint was that we weren’t given enough baguette to slather the Camembert onto, and we ended up forking globs of cheese directly into our mouths after dipping them in the yummy spicy ketchup of the potato nuggets (not always a bad thing).

While both of us would normally shy away from ordering pasta at restaurants (a person can make a nice pasta at home so why go out and pay for it?), we were both drawn to the Neptune Seafood Fettuccine with Salt Spring Mussels, Prawns, Scallops & Sautéed Mushrooms in a White Wine, Garlic and Parmesan Thick Cream Sauce, $18 because a) the pasta is handmade each day and b) that’s a lot of lovely, local seafood we couldn’t resist. We asked them to part the entree into two dishes and they were happy to oblige. While we both agree that the sauce was a tad watery, and the fresh pasta felt a bit overdone, the generous amounts of seafood was superb and the cheesy spicy flavour of the sauce overshadowed any shortcomings and we both thoroughly enjoyed the dish.

Seafood Stuffed Steak

Seafood Stuffed Steak

Will elected to try the Seafood New York, $28; an organic 8 oz New York steak stuffed with fresh seafood in a lobster Brandy-peppercorn cream sauce, served with smoked Gouda Duchesse potatoes and fresh market vegetables. It arrived done to order and it was so good, that after his first bite he couldn’t speak, and could only offer us our own mouthfuls of steak swished into the brandy peppercorn sauce. The presentation of the dish was amazing, with fluffly potatoes piped onto the plate and then baked up for a slightly crisp outside, and the fresh market vegetables plated delicately into the potato.  A welcome departure from the usual “green beans and broccoli” touted as the vegetable du jour at most establishments was whole baby beets, fresh tiny carrots, and asparagus.

Briana and I craved some sweets at the end of our meal, and selected Pistachio Baklavas, $10 – two dairy free baklavas served with warm honey and sliced almonds and some fresh fruit for decoration. While the flavour was nice, and presentation was delightful, the baklava lacked a satiafactory crispness.

Pistachio Baklavas with Honey and fruits

Pistachio Baklavas with Honey and fruits

Additionally, Will and Briana were really disappointed by their apres-dinner Americano and decaf Latte. (I opted to finish the bottle of red wine, and was therefore, pleased).

Service was good – no rave reviews but no complaints either. Dishes arrived and went as one would hope, and server/ table banter was mercifully kept to a minimum. We were never kept waiting or rushed. A trip to the restroom was also satisfactory – facilites are well stocked, clean, and functional, although I would really like some sort of shelf to put my purse on while I wash my hands as the only option currently is the floor.

All in all, the menu changes are a great indication of a owner / management team that can run a restaurant. Some of the growing pains that Briana experienced during the first review back in May seem to have worked themselves out. And while we all know we will keep going to the Orange Room regardless of how they change because we want local business to thrive and succeed, it’s satisfying knowing you can recommend a place wholeheartedly.

I apologize if any of the prices are wrong. We did it from memory, and I had a few glasses of wine.

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Friday night perogy dinner: Cyril and Methodius never had it this good.

Perogy factory

Perogy Factory

One of the long-held New Westminster traditions that I had never personally participated in is the perogy dinners offered by the Holy Eucharist Cathedral of the Ukrainian Catholic church (separate archbishop system, same Pope, not Orthodox). Last Friday night we decided to change all that so we loaded up the minivan and took our hungry selves over to 5th Street and 4th Ave for an Apostolic good meal. Perogy night is always a Friday, once a month. The next dinner is October 30.

Mnnnn. Perogy FTW

Mmmnn. Perogy FTW

The set up is classic church basement. Folding tables and stack-able chairs are laid across the hall, enough to seat one hundred perogy-loving residents easily. The laughter and cheery clatter of grandmothers, families and neighbours fills the room and the atmosphere is welcoming,warm and, well, religious. It is a church basement after all. The potions are generous and there are a variety of good Ukrainian staples to choose from. We had the classic perogy dinner with a side of borscht. As the sign near the kitchen says, the food is all 100% homemade and it tastes like it.

Freindly Perogy Accountants

Friendly Perogy Accountants

The taste of cabbage rolls can easily fall flat when stored. The cabbage can get bitter and the stuffing tasteless. Not here though. The cabbage was full of crisp grandmotherly love and the rice filling springy and fresh. The borscht was accompanied with a generous side of sour cream and was fresh and tasty. Briana, who does not usually go for the sweet red beet soup, loved it and gobbled it up. Perogies can be accompanied by fish cakes, sausage or ‘meat’. We did not find out what the meat was but the sausage was classic and the fish cakes good too. I leave the perogies for last, dear friends. Large, plump fresh perogies with no hint of over-boiled pasty starch are filled with an onion cheese potato filling that has just the right balance. I could go in for more fried onions but a few came with the plate so I was kept happy. Help yourself to coffee, tea and conversations with your tablemates. It is good value, a good time and a worthy tradition. An image of the menu is included below.

At $11.00 per plate, this is no church soup kitchen, and it shouldn’t be. It is a wholesome meal, faster and cheaper than a restaurant and a great place to take a family. Kid-friendly, simple, delicious and quick. Sign me up. I am sure it is a great fundraiser for the diocese and a place for citizens to come together. Buy a package of perogies to go and you have a meal plan for later in the week.  It’s an accessible, bloggable,  good time for all.

I am sure there is a Cyrillic copy somewhere

I am sure there is a Cyrillic copy somewhere

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Urth: real coffee, real food, real conversation

I came into Urth for a coffee, and to scope out the free wifi, but ended up staying to chat for over an hour with owner Bryan Schwartz and a handful of well-caffeinated regulars who joined our conversation at the bar.

Urth Coffee House on Urbanspoon Urth isn’t just a place to get coffee. It’s a place that invites lingering to chat, and a place to meet new friends. I’ve found New West to be friendlier than most places, but it’s still unusual to go into a place and strike up a conversation with strangers. But at Urth, the intimate space and the friendly, inviting atmosphere makes it easy. It’s not like a Waves or a Starbucks where everyone cocoons in their invisible bubbles marking their personal space and avoids looking the other customers in the eyes.

Urth Coffee House. Photo: Bryan Schwartz.

Urth Coffee House. Photo: Bryan Schwartz.

In my two hours at Urth, Bryan and I started with small talk about the steep hike up 8th St. and the relative merits of various coffee brands but ended up discussing real estate, the restaurant industry, the potential we see in the influx of young professionals to New West, our wish list for the Burr Theatre, the state of the local media and more. And it wasn’t just me. During the course of the time I spent at Urth, both talking to Bryan and tapping away at my computer, it seemed that most of the customers who came through took time to chat with Bryan and others in the cafe.

Urth is a new kind of coffee shop for New West. To being with, Bryan knows coffee. Due to the sprog in my belly, I ordered mine decaf. Urth is the only place besides JJ Bean where I’ve ordered a decaf latte and half-wondered if my order got switched for the real deal. It’s a lovely change from the weak watery taste of most decaf.

Urth Coffee House. Photo: Bryan Schwartz.

Urth Coffee House. Photo: Bryan Schwartz.

In the course of our conversation I learned Bryan’s passion is the restaurant business, and it really shows in the quality of the food I sampled at Urth. It may look like typical pre-packaged coffee shop fare in the display case, but don’t be fooled. There’s seriously good stuff hiding inside that cellophane wrapping.

Take the veggie panini, for example. Pesto, artichokes and roasted red pepper on soft, fresh bread – perfectly toasted. I’m often hesitant to order coffee shop paninis for fear they’ll taste stale, but Urth’s may be one of the best sandwiches I’ve had, period. I can’t even believe I just wrote that, but it’s true! Bryan also offered me a black bean and chicken wrap to try, which was very good but not quite the level of awesomeness of the veggie panini. I also got to try an orange tangerine smoothie, which Bryan tells me is 100% real fruit (not fruit-flavoured smoothie mix) and packed full of flavour.

The atmosphere at Urth is a reflection of the ‘new’ New West. It makes the most of the great bones in the old building, lovingly highlighting its quirks: the curved wall of windows, the cement block walls, the slanted ceilings and long narrow space. The black-brown accents and cool green walls are very modern, but warm wood accents and retro font on the menu keep it from feeling cold. Work from local artists line the walls and soft indie music sets a laid-back vibe that really suits the space.

A lot of the good restaurants in New West are run by people with passion, but little restaurant industry experience. I’ve become quite forgiving of restaurants with great food but no atmosphere, or one fabulous dish and terrible coffee, or great food but terrible service … etc. Urth is one of the few new restaurants I’ve been to in New West that seems to have itself pulled together at launch. A lot of thought, care and expertise has clearly gone into this place.

We are so having the next Tweetup here. I think it’s my new favourite coffee & lunch spot in New West.

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Restaurant review: Los Generales

Good food. Cheap prices. Cheery service. Free wifi. Booze.

It may look humble, with its homemade signage and rather drab, dated decor, but Los Generales at 334 Sixth St.delivers a surprisingly warm, satisfying, authentic Mexican culinary experience. It is well worth a visit.

Chicken enchilada smothered in green tomatillo sauce at Los Generales in New Westminster

Chicken enchilada smothered in green tomatillo sauce at Los Generales in New Westminster

If your experience of Mexican cooking has so far been limited to chain restaurant fajitas, quesadillas and tacos, you may be surprised at the wholesome simplicity of the food. Cast Taco Bell expectations aside, and you’ll soon appreciate the homey fare Los Generales has to offer.

The tortilla chips with homemade green or red salsa are bottomless and the portions are generous. I had the chicken enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce, and it was delicious, filling, and cost only $7! Fellow TTTF crew Will and Jocelyn were with me as well. Jocelyn had the four-taco platter (also $7) and Will chose the Platillo de Carnitas de Puerco (slow-cooked pork served with rice, refried beans and cheese) for $8.50. All satisfying comfort food!

Los Generales on UrbanspoonAs for the booze, the margaritas are pleasantly lime-y and the glasses sport sugared rims. The beer is served in frosted mugs with a twist of lime.

The booze isn’t as good a bargain as the food, though pricing is still within restaurant standards. The margaritas are $7 and $8, and beer ranges from $5-7. A couple at a neighbouring table ordered mojitos that quickly became objects of envy, with the fresh mint leaves tucked in the icy glasses. They assured us the drinks tasted as good as they looked.

Tasty margaritas at Los Generales

Tasty margaritas at Los Generales

Fellow Royal City blogger Dave Marchuk also reports in his review of Los Generales that the Blue Margarita ($7) is ‘exceptional’ and the cheddar cheese and chorizo sausage appetizer ($8) is also excellent. Dave says the chicken burrito was the best he’s ever had – and his date’s chicken enchilada was ‘unbelievably yummy.’ He also sings the praises of the minty mojitos.

All in all, Los Generales is a worthy new addition to the New Westminster restaurant scene, with top-notch food and service, and lots of memorable little touches that deliver a great experience.

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Restaurant review: Tamarind Hill a favourite culinary adventure

This is a guest post by Asifa, a confessed foodie, writing about one of her favourite restaurants in New Westminster. You can find Asifa on Twitter @asifa604.

Hello fellow New Westminster residents. As my first contribution to this blog, which is a great source of activities and city secrets for the New Royal City, I will be posting about my favorite thing: food.

Food is a journey to other cultures, passions and stories. I love a good story. They say, every life is a best seller; you just have to know how to tell the story. And nothing lets the words flow better than a good meal with friends.

I moved to New Westminster from Burnaby a few years ago. It was obvious this small city packed a lot in its borders. It feels like the province’s diverse population is concentrated in this remarkable city. And of course, one reflection of that is the food.

I set out quickly to find some tasty bites that were delicious, unique and reflective of the community we live in. I quickly found a favorite culinary adventure in the Malaysian favorite Tamarind Hill.

Tamarind Hill Malaysian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Located at 6th Avenue and 7th Street, it is a short trip from most parts of New Westminster and approximately 40 minutes from Vancouver, well worth the drive.

The owner Louis Leung and well known chef Robert Phua (former chef of the popular Banana Leaf restaurant) are behind this amazing experience which captivates you when you enter.

The restaurant not only surpasses your expectations with the exotic flavours and fusion of spices and fresh ingredients, but with the decor. From the rich orange and brown hues to the soft candle lit woodwork and Indian/Asian handicrafts. Not quite on board with the music which seems to be an odd mix of whatever the CD player shuffles in… but you won’t notice once you take your first bite.

Appys start at $3 and include the popular roti canai (a soft, slightly sweet bread pan fried with a mild curry sauce for dipping) and the grilled satays with a mild peanut chilli sauce.

Main dishes range from curries, to the popular Hainanese chicken, veggie, meat and seafood choices, as well as a mix and match option with delicate to wildly spicy sauces. Prices average $15 a dish.

if you are at a loss where to begin, I would recommend your experience include the Nasi Goreng, the Papaya and Mango Salad (the jicama root will pop in your mouth), Eggplant with Chilli, Scallops in Coconut, Cumin and Ginger sauce as well as the Beef and Asparagus. You will be back for seconds!

This is a wonderful place to take friends, or have a lovely intimate meal.
Open for lunch and dinner (dinner starts at 5 pm). They also deliver.

Tamarind Hill restaurant is found at 6th Ave & 7th St.

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Rave review for new Chinese restaurant on 12th

Lucky King Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Some time ago, I guest posted about our challenges in finding a good Chinese take-out place in New West. Some mentioned Hon’s while others recommended the Dragon. Having eaten at both, I found a new contender.

The Lucky King Seafood Restaurant on 832 12th St. in New West is great. They have only been managing the place for two months and I’m sure the work being done on 12th doesn’t help with attracting foot traffic.

I’ve already read one letter in our local paper regarding their most excellent (sorry to sound like Keanu) dim sum. I feel compelled to let everyone know that Lucky King is a little gem in our neck of the woods. Fresh ingredients, not from a can and excellent customer service.

We ordered the “shredded pork with spinach in chilli sauce” and were told that they did not have any spinach, as their last batch was less than desirable. We asked for green beans instead and they happily accommodated us. They even went so far as to ask us to let them know how we liked it. Needless to say, I called them back to let them know how thankful we were to have them in our neighbourhood. They were most appreciative.

Our favourite dish, however, was the vegetable fried rice. That might sound strange to some, given the variety of Chinese delectables on offer at most Chinese restaurants but our reasoning is that all the ingredients were freshly cut and not out of a can and included much more than peas and carrots. I’m sure most of us can attest to the canned peas and carrots (the latter weirdly shaped into perfect squares) in most veg fried rice dishes and the feeling that we were somehow robbed of some of the best vegetables. Chinese broccoli, snap peas, egg, green onion and peas make up this delicious dish.

Lucky King’s portions are also very generous, so generous I cannot imagine them being able to keep that up for much longer. We had so many leftovers in all honesty we can have three meals out of the one order and there’s four of us in our household. My husband picked up another vegetable rice to go along with our leftover “shredded pork with green beans in chilli sauce” and “ginger chicken” and “seasonal vegetables in garlic”. They were so happy we ordered from them, they offered us four free spring rolls.

With the turnover of so many restaurants I certainly hope Lucky King stays in New Westminster. We’ve needed a more authentic Chinese restaurant for some time.

If you are looking for some really good Chinese food dine-in or take-out, visit Lucky King Seafood Restaurant, 832 12th Street. Before I forget, their phone number is 604-525-6000.

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Stewardson winery produces exceptional wine

Hidden among a collision repair shop, a marine outboard sales and repair place, and an ICBC claims centre is New Westminster’s only winery. When you visit Pacific Breeze Winery, you won’t find grapevines snaking over a landscape of rolling hills, but you will meet some of New Westminster’s most passionate oenophiles, and taste some truly exceptional wine.

Pacific Breeze started five years ago, and today employs about 15 people including the two original partners – Frank Gregus and Maurice Hamilton. Frank and Maurice’s passion for wine was kindled years earlier with the purchase of a basic winemaking kit, and the discovery of a lively local wine community. Today, their wines have won an astonishing 34 awards at some very prestigious international competitions, including three “Best of Class” wines. 

Frank recently invited Will, Jen and I down to the winery for a private tasting and tour, where we not only got to taste Pacific Breeze’s distinctive wines, but also learned something about the business of wine and winemaking.

Inspired by the French Garagiste movement, which prizes bold flavours over less distinctive, more traditional flavours, Pacific Breeze makes “winemakers’ wine.” Garagiste-style vinters coax unique tastes from meticulously selected, high-quality fruit from noted vineyards. This is boutique wine, not your average mass-market liquor store fruitbomb.

You won’t find Pacific Breeze wines at your local BC Liquor Distribution Branch, but you can purchase it from the winery itself, and you can taste it at a few restaurants – notably La Rustica and La Lorraine locally and  Hart Houseand Horizons in Burnaby. It’s also available in New Westminster at Moonraker’s Beer and Wine, River’s Reach Beer and Wine, Queensborough Landing Beer and Wine, and Quayside Wine Cellars. 

Pacific Breeze hosts monthly wine tasting events, as well as private tasting parties at the winery. 

We tasted a variety of Pacific Breeze’s wines, from a sharp Chardonnay with an ambrosial scent to a stunning ‘Rhone Style’ red with hints of butterscotch. We loved the 2006 GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) and the Vins de Garagiste so much that we bought half a case on impulse. A sales model built on first plying customers with wine is rather effective!

Note: Thanks to Jen Arbo for contributing to this post.

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The long-awaited ‘new’ Orange Room – reviewed

A few days ago, Will and I made our way down to The Orange Room, which recently reopened under new management. It has long been a favourite haunt of ours, so we came with high expectations and a little fear that the elements that made The Orange Room so great (delicious menu, friendly service, live music, stylish atmosphere) might be missing under different management.

Orange Room on Urbanspoon

We came away reassured, though our experience was somewhat marred by new restauranteur growing pains (more on that later). It was exciting to have a whole new menu to try. The standout was the pistachio-encrusted tuna steak skewers, which were rich and savoury. We also enjoyed the ‘Coquille Saint-Orange Room’ – Scallops in garlic butter and white wine sauce with mushrooms, onions and sizzling gruyere cheese. The potato yam pavé was less to my taste. It’s a layered yam and potato cake with cream, garlic and herbs. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel it stood up to the unique flavour of the other dishes.

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There were lots of interesting little flourishes that show the new owners have put in a lot of thought about the experience they want to create at The Orange Room. For example, they are passionate about sourcing local suppliers, so the beer on tap is from Surrey’s Central City Brewery. Because it’s a brand many people are unfamiliar with, The Orange Room offers beer tasters served in diminutive drams no bigger than a shot glass. It’s just enough to tell that, for example, the pale ale isn’t to your taste, but the ‘winter ale’, though unexpectedly pale, is pleasantly smooth with a hint of apricots.

Sampling isn’t yet available for wine or other drinks, but our server hinted that a wine tasting concept could be on the horizon. Given the local focus, we put in a good word for adding Pacific Breeze‘s wines to the list – we visited the Stewardson Ave. ‘Garagiste‘ winery recently as well and were very impressed with both the bold taste of the product and the local story behind it.

The changes made to the ‘old’ Orange Room are subtle but worthwhile improvements. Re-envisioning the Orange Room as a tapas restaurant makes the menu feel more cohesive. The lighting seems brighter, and the decoration has been pared back somewhat. The room itself is the same deep reddish-orange, and the the furniture is the same, yet the space has been gently reworked to provide more kitchen space and better traffic flow among the tables.

Now, about those growing pains… although the menu looked delicious, many items were marked as unavailable, whether sold out or pending supplier relationships. The service was pleasant, but slow. When we went, the kitchen was backlogged with orders and so it took a long time to get our food. We spotted one of the new owners, Zoe Watters, zipping around the tables, working behind the bar and then finally donning a chef’s hat and apron to get things moving behind the scenes. Despite the frantic pace, Zoe took a few minutes to chat with us while we paid the bill and told us that they’ve been much busier than they expected. It seems we were not the only ones hungering for the Orange Room’s return.

All in all, we were pleased with our experience. The problems we encountered were unfortunate, but understandable given that the owners are new to the restaurant business. The Orange Room delivered the goods where it counts, in atmosphere, menu and charm. Live music isn’t currently offered, but we were assured that it was coming soon. With a little more time to work out the kinks, the Orange Room will remain a beloved local eatery. In the meantime, it’s well worth the visit.

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The ultimate lemon meringue pie

Lemon Meringue Pie Again
Image by ♥ he@rt ♥ via Flickr

This is a guest post by Mojgan Fay, who waxes rhapsodic about pie, chocolate and all things sweet. You can find her on Twitter posting as @somethinglemon. As you will see from the post below, she’s also a fan of the citrus!

This leading citrus assembly offers more than an appealing colour, odour, and flavour. It is a staple of summertime picnics and intimate wintertime gatherings. The cool brightly yellow lemon filling with the soft sugary meringue goodness is a perfect compliment to your afternoon tea. This lemon meringue pie can be found at Couzie’s Cafe and Catering on 619 Belmont Street in New Westminster.

I must admit that for me nothing compares to the coziness that’s created by sipping tea with friends and savouring a slice of something lemon. Couzie’s not only makes the best lemon pie there is — freshly made from a family recipe — but also provides a warm and welcoming ambiance, with art-covered walls, perfect for that all-important business lunch meeting, the family Sunday morning brunch, or simply for an afternoon dessert and tea/coffee medley.

Couzie's Cafe and Catering on UrbanspoonJoan Couzelis, owner of Couzie’s and resident of New Westminster, had a vision to make “real food for real people”, and this family affair has definitely reached this goal. Couzie’s offers a collection of paninis served on bread that’s baked daily in the cafe, amongst dessert pies, meat pies, cabbage rolls, soups, and salads. But food isn’t the only thing Joan is passionate about. She consistently contributes to her community. The staff save dimes, nickels, and pennies from their tips and donate that money to local charities and causes.

So the next time you have a craving for something lemon, check out Couzie’s and you just might be hooked.

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Amelia Cafe reviewed in the Sun

Previously mentioned in Tenth To The Fraser’s guide to “blunch” in the Royal City, Amelia Restaurant on 12th St. is a local greasy spoon phenomenon. Vancouver Sun reporter Shelly Fralic, who I hear is also a New Westie, shared her review yesterday in the Sun:

One of the reasons it’s been a neighbourhood fixture for decades is the All-Day Breakfast Special which, for $3.50, delivers a pile of eggs, bacon/ham or sausage, perfectly crisp home-made pan fries and toast, or, if you’re hungrier than the average bear, a $4.95 Workman’s Special, serving up a whopping three eggs, two pieces each of bacon and sausage, pan fries and toast.

What you won’t get at Amelia, which is known in its neck of the woods for the huge yellow and pink awning protecting the corner of 12th Street and 7th Avenue (and is often confused with Amelia Cafe, another local greasy spoon, a half mile away on 6th Street), is ambience.

The restaurant, which seats about 70, is stark inside, sort of clinically depressing, with little decor beyond some fake flowers in vases and chalkboard menus tacked up on the baby pink and baby blue walls.

But it’s clean and bright, with Arborite tables, kitchen-style chairs and that nostalgic thick china dinnerware that is so reminiscent of the classic greasy spoon.

Source: Vancouver Sun | The greasy spoon trail takes us to New Westminster’s Amelia .

For the record, here’s what our Ruth Seeley had to say about Amelia on 12th and the other Amelia on 6th St:

Amelia Restaurant @ 640 12th St. (604-522-3288)

Amelia’s has gone considerably upscale since my last visit a year ago, despite the endearingly outdated sign that promises free delivery. Amelia’s doesn’t deliver. It does, however, serve cheap and cheerful breakfasts, including a weekday perogie breakfast for around $6, a bagel breakfast, and real desserts like Mud Pie (should you be interested in taking the high-caffeine, high simple carbs, high fat breakfast route). Last time I was there I was tempted by the Monte Cristo sandwich – not too many places around serve ‘em. Its devotees won’t hear of eating at the other Amelia’s. They sort of sniff when you ask, ‘on 6th?’ Bad coffee.

Amelia Café @ 538 6th St. (604-520-3836)

Sometimes you can’t get into Amelia’s on 6th, which is what first sent me to Jim’s. Great breakfast specials here though if you can wait to eat till 10 or 11AM – I like the French toast, poached eggs and sausage special – with watery coffee, about $6. I try to avoid the coffee here. And there is a Starbucks right across the street.

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