My Shanti

Every morning, it is a ritual that I check all of my email accounts - work, personal and blog email.  Naturally, I quickly delete those asking me to invest in a timeshare or to enlarge my privates.  Then I look through all the media releases for new restaurants and of course, restaurant invites.  One particular email caught my immediate attention - it was an invite to tour Vij's production facility and to a lunch at My Shanti, his new restaurant in South Surrey.  I don't ever remember Vikram Vij doing any of these events before.  So of course, I jumped at the chance, consequently, enjoying my meal with fellow attendees Sean and BCFoodieBlogger.

Before we even entered the restaurant, there was no mistaking the building as it was sparkling silver with a glare that needed sunglasses.  Inside, the purple-reddish interior was ornate, yet wreaked havoc with our pictures (I did the best that I could to remove the purple tinge).  Anyways, we were started off with the Udiapuri chaat with eggplant, spinach and sweet potato.  This dish was an exploration in textures with starchy, leafy and crunchy.  There was a good lingering heat that complimented the apparent spices.  Next up, we had Bombay’s Chattpatti Squid served atop appam.  Buttery soft and tender, the squid still maintained a meatiness and chew.  The masala was spicy in layers, ultimately finishing off with a lingering punch.

Onto another round of appies, we tried the Goan Oyster Pakoras with with spicy green chili crème fraîche.  One bite and there was no doubting the taste of the sea without being fishy.  The oysters were buttery and coated with a light crispy batter.  I found it to be quite greasy though.  The chili crème fraîche was creamy with a slight tang as well as spice.  Next, we were served Chhatra Sagar’s Baby Eggplants with mango powder & chillies.  These cute little eggplants were tender while staying intact.  Again, there was a noticeable spice level accented by a tart zestiness.  Although not in the description, there was the taste of tamarind.

With one last "appie", we had the Mysorian Vegetable Thoran topped with grated roasted coconut.  Consisting of jackfruit and shredded veggies, the soft mixture was sweet and spicy.  The toasted spices added aromatics as well as the crunchy coconut topping.  Moving onto the mains, we were presented with Calcutta’s Panch Phoran Steamed Fish atop a "very mustard gravy".  Although tilapia can often be mushy and devoid of texture, the one here was flaky and moist.  Underneath, the sauce had a noticeable tang and once again, a purposeful amount of spice which added flavour without overwhelming the fish.

Moving on, we tried the Hydrabadi Chicken Biryani served with 3 mistresses.  No, don't be alarmed, we weren't up to some debauchery, rather they were sides of cashew gravy, kachum­ber and raita.  The rice itself was fluffy with a crust on the sides of the clay pot.  There was a slight cinnamon aroma that was addictively fragrant.  I particularly liked the cashew gravy as it was sweet and nutty.  As part of the kitchen tour, we were served fresh Naan from the tandoor.  Fluffy and light on one hand and chewy and slightly crisp on the other, these were very good (and much better than the ones I've had a Vij's in the past).

Our last savoury dish was Banglore’s Goat Curry with cassava.  After my initial taste, the spiciness was quite apparent.  Again, it wasn't "burn-my-tongue-off" hot, rather, it merely added another layer of flavour where the other spices such as coriander and cumin came through.  The goat itself was tender while the cassava added a starchy texture.  We ended off the meal with 2 desserts consisting of the Almond & Pistachio Fudge atop coconut cream and Almond Macarons.  The soft and slightly grainy fudge was not as sweet as it looked.  The real star of the plate was the aromatic coconut cream.  As for the macarons (made of cashews, rather than almond), they were rather chalky and not really my cup of tea.  Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting at My Shanti.  Kudos to Vikram Vij, for boldly bringing his food to South Surrey.

*All food and gratuities were comped*

The Good:
- Interesting and tasty offerings
- Nice spot offering something different in terms of food and decor

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Modest portion sizes

My Shanti on Urbanspoon

Gusto di Quattro

Gadget Girl hates to drive for food.  Wait, rephrase that, she hates driving to unfamiliar destinations. Hence, I was somewhat nervous when I watched her circle for a parking spot along Lower Lonsdale.  I swear there was steam coming out of her ears as she drove by.  I was even more afraid when our original restaurant of choice, Fishworks, was completely full.  Fortunately, Emilicious made the executive decision to eat at nearby Gusto di Quattro instead.  My life was spared!  Besides, we knew the food would be good since it is the North Van location of the popular Q4.

At first, only Emilicious and I were sharing a salad to start our meal.  However, with a little coercion, I was able to get Milhouse to join in as well.  So we ended up splitting 2 salads beginning with the Wild Arugula with shaved Parmesan, fresh lemon, EVOO, balsamic reduction & crispy onions.  This was a well-thought out concoction which hit a collection of flavours and textures. Crispy and sweet, the onions added the necessary crunch while the lemon and balsamic reduction provided both acidity and sweetness.  All of these components combined nicely with the peppery arugula and salty Parm.  Our next salad was the Fresh Burrata Cheese consisting of chorizo, grilled asparagus, tomatoes, arugula and balsamic reduction.  The creamy cheese was amped by the salty and spicy chorizo (which was crisped up).  With both acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes and balsamic, this was another fine marriage of flavours.

We also decided to share 3 pastas including the Fusilli con Rucola consisting of shaved beef, wild mushrooms, truffle porcini cream and Parmesan cheese.  This was a rich, creamy and extremely Earthy dish where I could smell the truffle oil from afar.  Combined with the different mushrooms, it made it extra woodsy.  For me, I liked it, but I can see how it could be overwhelming for some people (as it was quite greasy).  I enjoyed the toothsome fusilli as well as the tender mushrooms and equally moist beef.  Next, we had the Spaghetti con Polpette with house-made pork & beef meatballs simmered in red wine & tomato sauce and finished with fresh herbs.  Again, the pasta was a firm al dente while the meatballs were moist, somewhat loose and exhibiting plenty of depth of flavour.  What really brought everything together was the fantastic chunky tomato sauce that was tart with a smidgen of sweetness.

Lastly, we shared the Linguine di Mare with rock shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams & fresh fish, tomatoes, garlic, chili & herbs.  This was the most subtle-tasting of the 3 with only mild hints of garlic and chili.  There was plenty of seafood though consisting of plump scallops, flaky fish and crunchy shrimp. Personally, I would've liked to see more salt added to this dish.  However, as a whole, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal despite the premium pricing.  Quoting Milhouse, "it is okay to spend money on good food".

The Good:
- Attentive service
- Spot-on execution
- Adequate portions

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Seating is quite tight

Gusto di Quattro on Urbanspoon

Burgundy Restaurant

During the Mac n' Cheese Challenge, I came across some pretty cool spots that I filed in my "to revisit for an actual meal" list.  Luck would have it that I was invited to Burgundy as part of a media tasting (*crosses another off my list*). Located on a rapidly changing block of East Hastings, Burgundy joins already established restaurants in Acme Cafe and Save-on-Meats. Formerly of the Wallflower, owners Lisa and Erica have continued the theme of eclectic and comfort over to Burgundy, with an elevated twist.

We were served tasting-sized portions of their menu items starting with the Goat Cheese Fondue with baguette, apples and raspberries.  I found it to be a little runny, yet smooth and sufficiently creamy.  The flavours were purposeful with the right amount of seasoning.  Next, I sampled the Beef Tartar with avocado, balsamic onions and crostini.  The textures lived up to its attractive and vibrant appearance.  The meat was buttery and smooth while the onions added a mild crunch with a bit of acidity.  For me, I would've liked to see even more tartness.

Moving on, we sampled the Crab Cakes with rock crab, quinoa, sundried tomatoes, chili oil, pea shoots and aioli.  I liked the flavour profile as there was a natural sweetness accented by the purposeful amount of chili oil.  However, the cake itself was rather mealy and the rock hard sundried tomatoes weren't pleasing to chew.  Our last appie was the Tuna Nicoise consisting of tuna carpaccio, green beans, nugget potatoes, arugula, soft yolk eggs and olive tapenade.  I thought this dish was executed quite well with fresh tuna, crunchy beans and expertly-prepared eggs.  The potatoes were a touch too firm though.  As for the tapenade, it was just enough salty olive hit for the dish.

Onto the entrees, the Scallops & Crab with seared scallops, rock crab salad and scallop potatoes was attractively plated.  Although the sear was a bit inconsistent, it was sufficient for both colour and texture.  I found the scallops to be a touch overdone albeit not by too much.  The tarragon aioli dressing was really good as there was a nice acidity that perked up the greens.  As for the potatoes, they were soft (not mushy) and cheesy.  As evidenced in the picture, the Coq au Vin was the "blanc" version.  The crispy rendered skin was fantastic.  Despite being sufficiently moist and tender, the chicken was quite salty with a lack of wine essence.

With an equally mild wine taste, the Beef Bourguignon was lacking impact.  To be fair, my tasting portion was devoid of sauce which may have contributed to the problem.  However, the beef itself was moist while the ample mushrooms partially made up for the lack of depth.  Lastly, we had the Pork Tenderloin stuffed with cherries and thyme accompanied by nugget potatoes and veggies.  Since it is a lean meat by nature, the tenderloin was on the drier side.  I liked the cherries as they added sweetness and a touch of tartness.  The side of veggies were vibrant and crunchy.

We finished up the meal with the Mionetto Prosecco & Orange Galliano Sorbet.  This was the ideal end to our meal as it was smooth, almost creamy in texture.  It wasn't too sweet and had similarities with a Creamsicle (which is a good thing).  Overall, the meal had its ups and downs.  I could definitely see the direction of the menu as it was certainly sophisticated French comfort food served in generous portions.  With a few tweaks, there is potential for something good here.

*Meal and gratuities were comped*

The Good:
- Decent portions
- Fair pricing
- Plating featured vibrant colours

The Bad:
- Flavours as a whole could be more bold
- Tight spot, keep your party small

Burgundy Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Gyoza King

A week ago, Whipping Girl and I made our way to Gyoza King in hopes of an Izakaya lunch.  However, unbeknownst to us, the only things available were ramen, donburi and gyoza.  Despite the decent meal, we were longing for the late-night menu.  Instead of waiting for her to revisit the place at night, the hockey team ended up there after our Friday night game.  I guess I'll have to face the consequences for my actions later...  Possibly a whipping?  Uh...

Well, we were able to get a table after a 30-minute wait, but that was not without them asking a couple to move their seats.  Lucky for us and yes, we thanked the nice couple.  Once seated, we got down to ordering and the food came out pretty quick starting with the Tofu Salad with sesame dressing.  Seemingly simple, the aromatic dressing was not overly salty nor sweet.  Hence, the true flavour of the sesame really came through.  I found the tofu to be somewhere in between firm and silky which meant they stayed intact.  Next was my personal favourite being the Ebi Mayo.  This was a good version with crispy battered prawns which exhibited a nice snap.  The mayo, which was sweet with a slight spice, wasn't laid on too thick.

Moving along, we had the Nasu Dengaku (broiled eggplant with miso).  The large slices of eggplant were soft, yet maintained a textural integrity.  The large amount of sauce on top didn't overwhelm as much as it looked.  It was only slightly salty with only a mild hit of acidity.  By virtue of being known as "Gyoza King", we went ahead with an order each of the Pork and Chicken Gyoza.  Much like my visit for lunch, the gyoza were fried up golden brown on their bottom sides  The rest of the dumpling skin was thin and toothsome.  As for the filling, I liked both as they were moist and flavourful with a good mix of greens.  The dipping sauce was a nice balance between sweet, salty and sweet.

For some reason or another, we went on a tuna binge starting with the Negitoro.  Despite not looking like much, the amount of tuna was substantial, especially for the amount of nori. The tuna was soft and buttery (fatty tuna) while somewhat neutral tasting.  Yet, when mixed together with the green onions and slightly spicy dressing, the flavours came alive.  Onto our second course of tuna, we had the Spicy Tuna Sashimi.  The cubes of tuna were fresh-tasting (as much as flash-frozen fish can get) while exhibiting a nice sheen.  With a drizzle of sweet hot sauce, I wouldn't categorize the dish as actually all that spicy, but then again, Japanese food is about balance.

Our third course of tuna ended up to be the Tuna Tataki.  As illustrated by the picture, the piece of tuna was uniformly seared on all sides.  With just the right amount of sear, the rest of it was beautifully rare.  Hence the texture was soft and moist.  With a dip into the salty and tart ponzu, this was a pleasant enough dish. Changing it up a bit, we had the Garlic Salmon with ponzu, garlic chips and mayo.  For me, the mayo was unnecessary as it didn't add any flavour, rather, it started to curdle and look unappetizing in the ponzu.  As for the salmon, it was buttery and was accented well by the ponzu and aromatic garlic chips.

For our next 2 dishes, we had some starches including the Kimchi Fried Rice.  Although a bit soft and not really exhibiting a lot of caramelization, the rice was flavourful with some spice.  We felt the kimchi was a bit weak since it lacked both colour and impact.  Yet, we needed to remind ourselves that this was not Korean kimchi.  Whatever the case, I thought there should've been more of it for textural purposes.  We also got an order of the Shio Ramen which featured a fairly light broth.  It wasn't bland nor was it overly salty though.  It did lack some real body.  As for the noodles, they were al dente while the chashu was moist and soft.

Lastly, we shared the Agedashi Tofu that looked pretty typical (not including crappy versions at AYCE places).  Hence, there was grated ginger, daikon, green onions and bonito flakes.  The tofu itself was soft while the exterior was lacking crispiness.  I did like the sauce though as it was nicely balanced.  With the lunch visit notwithstanding, my nighttime visit to Gyoza King was the first time in over 5 years.  During that time, many other Izakayas have opened up, however, Gyoza King still does the job for me despite being a bit less refined and definitely less sexy.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Accommodating staff
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Really small with tight seating
- Less refinement like a Hapa or Suika

Gyoza King on Urbanspoon

King's Chicken

In terms of takeout Fried Chicken, we usually only have 2 choices in the GVRD - Church's and KFC.  Yes, I do realize there are some independent operations as well as the 2 remaining Lee's Chicken.  And to reiterate, there are many places one could order fried chicken, but I'm talking about fast food.  If you are familiar with Lee's, you would've known there was actually 3 of them up until recently.  The one in Newton is now King's Chicken in the same vain as LA Chicken in Richmond (still using similar recipes).  Zamboni Guy and I decided to check out if that was really the case.

Okay, we appreciated the fact everything was made-to-order, but the 32-minute wait we had to endure was a little excessive for a fast food joint.  Was it worth it?  Well, not really because the fries were soggy and extremely greasy.  It was part of the 2 Pc & Fries lunch special that also came with gravy for $4.99.  I went for the extra crispy spicy and it was very crunchy with only a bit of spiciness.  The chicken itself was somewhat moist, but a little dry in some spots.  I think that might've been due to the lack of brining which also meant the chicken was bland (relying solely on the skin).  I'm not sure if the Gravy was exactly like it was before because it wasn't as peppery, but it was thick and mild in flavour.

I got a Chicken Burger as well for Mrs Spray Bottle and it was a pretty typical frozen chicken cutlet.  She was extremely indifferent about it since she could've easily made this at home (and probably in less than the 32 minutes we had to wait for it...).  Initially, we went in with high hopes that King's Chicken would pull off what LA Chicken did in Richmond.  Alas, they have not.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Crunchy skin

The Bad:
- Takes too long for food
- More greasy than it should be

King's Chicken on Urbanspoon

Tasting Plates Latin American Flavours

When I first got the invite for Vanfoodster's Tasting Plates Latin American Flavours, a thought came into my mind.  No, that wasn't the only time a though has come into my mind...  It does happen occasionally according to Viv...  Anyways, it made me think of Sexi Mexi.  No, not in an inappropriate way, but rather, it made sense for her to be my eating companion.  She happens to know her Mexican food (and other Latin cuisines), so she could be an authoritative voice for this particular food adventure!  As I proudly stated, I was taking advantage of her (wait, that didn't come out right...).  Ultimately, she, Alvin and I formed a quasi-3 amigos as we made our way through our 7 stops.

The registration point was at Agro Roasters 
where we were treated to a variety of Latin American organic coffees from Columbia, Peru and El Salvador.  Unlike the last Tasting Plates where we had to wait 40 minutes at Tapas 23, we were able to get out of there quickly.  Due to the Whitecaps game, our short drive over to Downtown took 25 minutes.  Fortunately, we were able to snag a parking spot near our next stop, El Azteca,in Yaletown. We were treated to a plate consisting of Ceviche de Pescado, Guacamole Mumuca and Cochinita Pibil.  We found the ceviche to be bright and sufficiently acidic.  The guacamole looked and tasted fresh where there was a sufficient amount of lime but it could've used more onion and some garlic.  As for the conchinita pibil, it was moist and tart with a definite kick.

Over the Cambie Street Bridge while still stuck in traffic, we snaked our way over to Las Tortas.  We were presented with a premade basket of goodies including Conchinita Pibil Torta, Tortilla Chips with salsa & guacamole and a Churro.  Since the torta had been sitting around for who knows how long, it wasn't as good as if it were fresh.  Whatever the case, the conchinita pibil was not as impactful as the one at El Azteca.  It was more dry and one-note (being tart).  The salsa and guacamole were pretty generic while the churro was a bit dense and cold.  Over at Chicha, we were treated to a plate consisting of Ensalada de Quinoa (mango, avocado, roated red pepper, red onion, cilantro, mint and jalapeno huacatay dressing), Bolas de Yuca (croquettes with assorted cheese and chilies atop a Huancaina sauce), Calamari and Chorizo Anticuchos (skewers with basic and aji Amarillo mash & Peruvian black olive aioli).  We loved the mango and array of flavours in the salad while the croquette was crispy while fluffy on the inside with the benefit of both spiciness and cheesiness.  The chorizo was meaty and spicy, but the calamari was a touch chewy.  Loved the salty aioli though.

At the nearby parked Guanaco Food Truck, we were served Pork Pupusas with Yuca Frita.  Unlike the last time I tried this very same offering (at the Kits Tasting Plates), the pupusa was less greasy and significantly more fluffy.  Hence, it wasn't overly heavy while the filling helped the cause by being moist and flavourful.  The yuca fries were crunchy and starchy as usual.  Already stuffed, we rolled over to Sal Y Limon where they were serving their wares in the parking lot.  On the plate, we sampled the Chicken Tinga Tostada and Ceviche de Camarones served on a tostada.  We really liked the chicken as it was super moist with a good amount of cheese on top.  It wasn't particularly popping with flavour, but it did have a slight spiciness.  As for the shrimp, they had a nice snap while being adequately spicy with a touch of acidity.

Lastly, we ended off at La Mezcaleria with a plate that included Guacamole (fresh avocado, cilantro, lime, onion, jalapeno and tomato), Pacific Red Snapper Ceviche (with tomato, lime, red onion, serrano and cilantro) and Tostada Oaxaquena de Frijoles (refried cowboy beans with Mexican cheese, fresh tomato, lettuce and sour cream on a corn tostada).  The guacamole was on point with a balance of flavours including acidity and spice.  Much like the last time I was here, the ceviche was good, but I didn't get a lot of fish though.  Finally, the tostada was loaded with toppings which was a curse and a blessing as it was flavourful, yet soggy.  According to Sexi Mexi, most of the food we sampled was pretty authentic and good for Vancouver.  As for the amount of food, it was more than enough.

*All food was comped*

The Good:
- Nice lineup of restaurants
- More than enough food

The Bad:
- Requires a bit of traveling
- A few repetitive items