Cristos Greek Taverna

Once again, the most convenient of places seemed to be taken for granted as one knows it will always be there.  For me, Cristos is just another Greek restaurant that I pass by on the way home.  So there I am traveling all the way to places such as White Rock and Langley for eats and completely ignoring my own backyard.  Hence, when we decided to head out for eats, we finally decided to try out Cristos with the family, including my parents.

We began with 3 appies including the obligatory Calamari.  It was served with a heaping dollop of thick and smooth tzatziki which was laced with enough lemon and cucumber for impact.  As for the calamari itself, it was coated with a light crispy batter than remained adhered to each piece of squid.  The batter was properly seasoned while the squid was on the chewier side, yet not tough to eat either.  We also got the Chicken Livers which were also fried with a light crispy batter.  These were not incredibly dry, so there was still a bit of moisture in the middle.  Again, the batter was seasoned, which ensured that there was flavour beyond dipping each liver into the tzatziki.

Our last appie was the Hummus served with a basket of whole wheat pita bread.  They were toasted up crisp while still soft in the middle (as soft as whole wheat can get).  The hummus itself was smooth and well-seasoned.  There was a definite lemon hit as well as garlic.  For my main, I had the Mousaka that featured a creamy layer of bechamel.  It was just thick enough (as in size) to provide a "sauce" rather than overwhelming the entire dish.  The tender slices of eggplant and zucchini sandwiched the moist nuggets of ground beef.  Once again, this was seasoned just enough with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon.

My mom had the Roast Lamb and it was a decent portion.  Although the exterior was a little big dry and stringy, the inside was sufficiently moist and well-seasoned.  The rice was a little bland, but did have a nice texture being chewy while not hard.  She had a side of Caesar salad and it featured crisp romaine with a light toss of dressing (which was pretty standard).  My dad had the Greek Ribs which was also a good portion.  Again, they were a little dry, but okay nonetheless.  They were properly seasoned where there was enough flavour without being salty.  The Greek salad was fresh and topped with plenty of feta.

Viv went for the Beef & Chicken Souvlaki and it was also well-seasoned.  We found the chicken to be rather moist for being white meat.  There was an attractive char that added another layer of flavour.  As for the beef, it was on the chewier side, yet not dry.  It also had a nice char which added a smokiness.  My son shockingly agreed to a Kid's Souvlaki (not sure he would like the spices) which he finished. It was consistent with Viv's dish in terms of texture while exhibiting a bit more char.  Fortunately, it came with steak fries, so he didn't have to go through therapy seeing all those veggies on his plate.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Cristos as it was generally well-prepared and adequately portioned.  The service was pretty good as well.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Kinda pricey

Cristos Greek Taverna on Urbanspoon

The Flying Pig Gastown

Sometimes, I think that subliminal thoughts affect my decision-making more than I think it does.  For instance, what would myself, Milhouse, JuJu and Kaiser Soze do after  hockey?  If you answered brunch, then you are either brilliant or peeking at the answers.  We ended up going for brunch at The Flying Pig in Gastown partly because I had it in my head subconsciously.  You see, Viv was out for brunch with her crew at Tableau at the very same time.  I couldn't let her steal my thunder right?

Arriving a bit past the rush, we were seated near the bar, overlooking the rustic charm of the 2-story dining room.  They started us off with some complimentary Banana Bread which we devoured immediately since we burned so many calories during hockey (at least we thought we did).  Nothing much to say other than it was moist and not overly sweet. JuJu decided to try the Braised Beef Shortrib Jumbo Macaroni in a Cabernet mushroom cream sauce.  For a bit eater like JuJu, he thought the portion size was insufficient for the price.  However, in terms of quality and taste, it lived up to expectations.  The pasta was a bit past al dente, yet bathed in a creamy, woodsy sauce that clung onto each piece of macaroni.  As for the short rib, it was sufficiently moist and natural-tasting.

For myself, I started with the Devilled Jumbo Chicken Drumettes.  These were tossed in sriracha BBQ glaze with Parmesan basil sour cream on the side.  I've had these before at their Yaletown location and unfortunately, this time around, they were rather dry.  I did like the completely rendered skin which made it pleasant to eat.  As for the BBQ sauce, it was more sweet and tangy than actually spicy.  For my main, it was as if Viv was channeling into my brain because as she was dining on a Croque Monsieur at Tableau, I got the Croque Madame (sourdough, 3 cheeses, ham and over easy eggs).  Have we been married that long for this to happen???  Crispy and not overly tart, the sourdough did not interfere with the melted cheeses.  The thick slice of ham was noticeable while the runny eggs made this a good dish.

Milhouse opted for the one of the featured items being the Corned Beef Hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce.  Again, this was not bad with plenty of corned beef that was more chewy then soft.  The mixture of salty, sugary notes and the buttery Hollandaise made for an impactful concoction.  I thought the potatoes could've been crispier though.  Kaiser Soze ordered what was the most filling item being the Pulled Pork 4 Cheese Gnocchi in spicy tomato cream sauce served with garlic toast. Although not chewy, the gnocchi was firm and filling.  There was a plethora of cheese as well as the slightly chewy pulled pork.  The sauce wasn't particularly spicy, instead, it was on the saltier side.  Overall, we went away satisfied, if not longing for some more food.

The Good:
- Great location and dining space
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Pricey for what you get

The Flying Pig on Urbanspoon

Pinpin

Often, when a bunch of us meetup to eat, we do the standard Japanese or Chinese thing and to a lesser extent, near-fine dining.  However, to change it up a bit, Bear suggested we go grab some Filipino cuisine.  Well...  that's easier said than done because the options are few in the GVRD.  As I've said before, there are only a handful of Filipino restaurants and compared to the actual population, it is truly disproportionate.  And as same as always, my Filipino friends remark that they merely just cook the food at home with often better results.

Well, since our group did not have any Filipino representation, the only way we could get it that night was Pinpin out on Fraser. To start off with a little bite, we got literal by ordering the Lumpia Shanghai (finger-size spring roll).  These were hot and crispy with a balanced mix of pork and veggies.  Although most of the pork was moist, there were a few pieces of bone and fat that were not that appealing.  Next we had the 1/2 Fried Chicken.  From its appearance, the skin looked to be quite crispy and in fact it was.  However, the meat was pretty dry and not seasoned very much.  Although not my personal favourite either, I like the one from Max's more since it is less dry and more flavourful.

We decided on ordering the large Crispy Pata, but when it arrived, our server proclaimed it was an extra large portion (for $1.00 more).  I guess they were out of large pork hocks?  Whatever the case, we enjoyed it as the meat was succulent and tender while well-seasoned.  Of course the vinegary soy helped cut the heaviness and salt.  As for the pork skin, it was fried up until super crunchy with the fat rendered.  To even things out, we were got the Mixed Veggies.  This stir-fry was nicely prepared where the veggies were vibrant in colour and firm to the bite.  A subtle layer of starch-thickened sauce added a mild flavour to the veggies.

We couldn't decide which noodle dish to have, so we ordered both starting with the Pancit Miki Bihon. Although the vermicelli was a bit too soft for my liking, the whole plate was the beneficiary of good wok heat where the flavours caramelized and the moisture evaporated (and soaked up by the noodles).  Adding more aroma was the plethora of garlic. As for the ingredients, the shrimp had a good snap while the veggies were still crisp.  Our other noodle dish was the Pancit Palabok. It was pretty saucy (as usual) and soft as well.  It had the trademark seafoodiness as well as a light pepperiness and sweetness.

Of course we couldn't get out of their without getting the Chicken Adobo.  This featured chicken thighs charred and topped with a thickened adobo sauce.  For me, I felt it wasn't very impactful.  I like my adobo on the vinegary side and this one was far too mild. Also, I wasn't too sure about the viscosity of the sauce, I much prefer a non-thickened version.  The chicken was okay though being sufficiently tender with well-rendered skin.  We were pretty stuffed, so we were on the fence about dessert.  With Bear around, he literally tipped the scales and we ended up with 2 desserts including the Leche Flan.  This was silky and thick where the carmelized flavours were smoky and sweet.  Luckily we shared this as it was pretty rich.

We were inspired by the table beside us and their Grand Halo-Halo, so we ended up with a much smaller version with ube ice cream.  Not shown in the picture were all the usual ingredients hidden underneath the ice.  The combination of beans and palm fruit added texture in a chewy manner which was contrasted by the smooth ube and ice. This was a sweet end to a filling meal (we didn't even come close to finishing everything).  Sure, some things could've been better and overall, Filipino food can be heavy, but considering the lack of options in Vancouver, Pinpin does the trick.


The Good:
- Generous portions
- Lots of choice
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Hurried service
- Tight seating 

Pinpin on Urbanspoon

Peqish

With our busy lives, it's pretty easy to fall into the "fast food trap".  You know, when you are totally short on time and have to resort to grabbing a bite that is usually unhealthy more often than not.  Hey, don't get me wrong here, I don't mind the occasional burger, but it's not a great way to keep nourished daily.  So when I was contacted to check out Peqish and their array of grab n' go items (that didn't include burgers), I was intrigued.  I enlisted the help of Sean and Grace as well as Viv to try more than a few items.

In addition to their selection of salads, sammies and drinks in the display fridge, there was also a warmer that offered up hot soups, sandwiches, baked goods and treats.  We sampled 3 sandwiches to start including the Turkey Meatball Marinara, Veggie Caponata and 5-Spiced Pulled Pork.  These were indeed warm where the bread was a bit dry on the outside as a result of being kept in the warmer. I liked the pulled pork the most as there was a nice mix of five spice and sweet hoisin.  Onto some soups, I tried the Rosemary Minestrone first. I found it quite mild with little nuggets of sweet veggies including carrot, corn and red peppers.  There was a certain wholesomeness to it where it was easy on the sodium.

Onto 2 more soups, we tried both the Coconut Thai Chicken & Tofu Soup and Pumpkin Patch Soup.  Although hearty and substantial, the coconut Thai was a little mild in flavour.  It did taste fresh and healthy though with a certain brightness.  I would've liked to see some more coconut essence as well as a touch of spice. The most memorable was definitely the Pumpkin Patch Soup with carrot and ginger.  I normally look forward to pumpkin soup as much as a vasectomy, but this one was different.  The sweetness of carrots and the sharp spice of the ginger brought the flavours alive as well as masking some of the "vegetable gaminess" of pumpkin. 

Hey, we couldn't get out of there without trying some beverages right?  We sampled (from left-to-right) the Berry Berry Banana Smoothie made with field berries, banana, orange and pineapple juice, Ginger Berry Chia H20, Ice Tea Lemon Crush Chia H20 and Mango Coconut Water.  As much as I was apprehensive about the chia in terms of texture, it wasn't an issue as it went down easy with the drink.  The common theme was that each drink had a certain flavour without being reliant on sugar. My favourite was the Ginger Berry Chia H20 as it was refreshing with only a minimal sweetness accented by a ginger "bite".  I was a bit indifferent with the Mango Coconut Water, not because it wasn't any good, but for me, it was more about essence than actual flavour.

Moving onto some sweets, I had to go for the 5 Berry Icebox Cheesecake (because I love cheesecake...  duh...).  This was a lighter version with a "crumb dust" that wasn't heavy nor sweet.  The cheesecake itself was creamy and not overly dense with only purposeful sweetness.  This was complimented nicely by the semi-sweet and tart berries.  Sean was keen on trying the Crème de la Coconut Brownie.  Turns out, it was pretty good as it was chewy, rich and of course coconutty.  It was decently sweet without going overboard.  However, I'm not sure if I could eat the whole thing by myself as it was quite filling.

With a few more treats, we ended our tasting with a Iced Lemon Scone and a selection of cookies including Old Fashioned Chocolate Chunk, Lunchbox Coconut Oatmeal Raisin and Double Chocolate Super. The scone was kept in the warming display and hence was soft throughout.  It was somewhat light with a sweet lemon frosting on the top.  As for the cookies, I liked the chocolate chip the most as it was crispy with sweet chunks of chocolate.  Naturally, the oatmeal cookie was chewy instead of crispy.  It was fairly sweet, especially from the raisins.  So as you can imagine, the food at Peqish isn't rocket science.  However, it is all made in-house and served fresh everyday.  I especially liked the moderation with both sugar and salt in most of their products.

*All food and drinks were complimentary*

The Good:
- Fresh food made daily
- Easy on the salt and sugar
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Some of the items kept in the warmer were becoming dry (but we went after the lunch rush)

Peqish on Urbanspoon

Au Comptoir

There are 3 things that really irk me: bad drivers, rude people and being stood up.  Well, the first 2 cannot really be avoided in the GVRD.  However, I could not avoid being stood up when Choobee texted that she could not accompanying me on my visit to Kilimanjaro for the Curry Challenge.  For that, the only way I was going to forgive her was to be treated to a good meal.  When she suggested Au Comptoir, I was all ready to forgive and forget.  When she asked if JoJo could tag along, I was game - that meant more food!

Since the place doesn't take reservations, we ended up waiting for nearly an hour and half for a table to open up.  I thought our server was efficient and friendly though (he kept checking in on us as we waited).  As for the food, we didn't find the appetizers overly interesting, so we only ended up with one being the Oeufs Meurette.  Consisting of runny free range eggs, shallot red wine sauce, bacon and black truffle baked in a mini-skillet, this was a pleasant way to start the meal.  I personally love runny eggs, so this was nicely executed.  However, we felt the flavours were not very pronounced (even with the crispy bacon and shaved truffle).  Underneath, the shallot red wine sauce ate like a under-seasoned onion soup.  We also got a side of Frites which were fresh cut and fried until lightly crispy.  Properly seasoned, there was a good amount of potato goodness left in them.

We ended up ordering 4 entrees to make up for the lack of appetizers starting with the Bavette avec Pommes Dauphines (skirt steak, pommes dauphines and shallot-red wine sauce).  We asked for medium-rare and the steak was closer to medium.  Yet, it was still plenty tender with a meaty chew.  We didn't get a whole lot of flavour though in terms of meat nor the sauce. It was essentially a mirror image of the sauce in our appetizer.  We absolutely loved the pommes dauphines though as they were crispy while soft and plenty seasoned on the inside.  Next up, we tried the Magret de Canard a L’Orange consisting of duck breast, fennel puree, endive, orange pieces and potato fondant.  We thought the duck was tender and moist, yet sliced a bit too thick.  Furthermore, the skin was not rendered enough nor crispy.  Interestingly, the rich-hued sauce on the plate was ineffective in offering up any impactful flavours.

Onto the Faisan Roti et Son Pithivier (roasted pheasant, chestnut pithivier and coffee-roasted carrots), the star of the plate was the pithivier by far.  This little flaky pastry was filled with pheasant dark meat and chestnut.  The filling was moist, meaty and surprisingly not overly heavy.  It was well-seasoned where the natural flavours really came through.  As for the white meat, it was sufficiently moist with some parts of the skin being crispy.  Once again, the sauce was not doing much other than sitting there.  We felt the pheasant was seriously underseasoned.  On the other hand, the Saumon A L’Unilateral  (unilateral salmon, tagliatelle and tarragon beurre blanc) was bang on with all of its components.  With crispy skin, the salmon was flaky and moist while the toothsome tagliatelle was bathed in a rich flavourful beurre blanc that caressed each noodle.  Despite this dish, all the other proteins were universally under-seasoned (which was a shame because that could've made some of the dishes).  Overall, the food wasn't bad, but the place needs a bit of time to iron out some of the finer details.

The Good:
- Decently executed proteins and sides (especially for a packed-house)
- Although hurried, the service was decent for us
- Lively atmosphere

The Bad:
- Under-seasoned proteins almost across the board
- Food expedition was slow (packed-house though)
- A bit loud for some

Au Comptoir on Urbanspoon

Vancouver Curry Challenge (presented by Vanfoodster)

It's no secret, I like curry.  I do. I like them, Sherm-I-am.  And I would eat it in a car! And I would eat it in a bar.  And I would eat it in a rink.  And with a Robot. And in a sink.  Heck, I'd even eat it in the Crystal Mall parking lot!  Since that is completely true, it was a natural fit that I accepted the role of judge for the Vancouver Curry Challenge.  However that meant I had to try 11 curries within a 3-week period.  Curry Impossible?  Absolutely not, but it could be more like toilet impossible...

So, I got off to a quick start by heading to the farthest location being Ban Chok Dee out in Langley.  Their entry happened to be the Thai Shoo Shee Curry consisting of lightly battered cod on a lemongrass skewer, kale, zucchini and green beans with a rich and thick red curry base with fresh coconut, lime leaves and basil atop jasmine almond rice (with nuts and candied pineapple). I found the cod to be flaky and buttery with a light crisp batter.  The curry itself was quite salty but the ample candied pineapple helped balance it out.  My next visit was to Calabash with Viv (yes she exists!) to their Duck & Cover Curry.  The plate included slow-cooked duck thigh confit simmered in a coconut pumpkin curry and a crisp duck drumstick served on Guyanese chow mein and seasonal veggies. I found the duck to be tender where the spices really came through with a lingering spice.  To me it tasted like they combined jerk seasoning with cumin and coconut.  To add some tartness to the dish, tamarind in the chewy chow mein was prominent.

Enlisting the help of Choobee, I traveled to Richmond and headed to the American Grille for their Thai Coconut Lamb Curry with chunks of lamb served with fig-
cranberry chutney, fresh cilantro and cumin raita, jasmine rice and grilled house made naan.  We found the curry to have depth-of-flavour with the taste of cumin, sweet peppers and a mild peppery spice.  The lamb was plentiful and succulent.  As per usual with non-tandoor made naan, it was a bit stiff and bread-like.  With my visit to the Broadway location of Bob Likes Thai Food, I dared to bring the kiddies.  Not to worry, as I got them a Pad See Ew and left the curry to myself and Viv.  That curry happened to be the Green Curry Chicken.  Despite its plain description, the dish was constructed very differently than the typical version found in Vancouver.  With chicken-stuffed portions of tender fried eggplant topped with hot chili peppers, this was purposefully spicy with the aromatics of coconut milk and saltiness of fish sauce.

Daring to do it all again with the kiddies, we visited Hai Phong Vietnamese Kitchen to try their Chicken Curry Noodle Soup.  This consisted of boneless chicken and taro simmered in a light curry broth infused with lemongrass and coconut milk. Rather than the regular Pho accompaniments, it was served with vermicelli, bean sprouts, chives, Vietnamese coriander, white and green onions and finely sliced chilli peppers.  The result was a sweet and fragrant broth that was mildly spiced (until we added the hot chili peppers).  The abundance of moist chicken added body to the dish.  Finally, Miss Y was able to make it to my visit to the Copper Chimney (it ain't right without an appearance by Miss Y!).  In addition to a complete meal, we did not forget to try their entry being the Goa Spicy Pork Vindaloo served with basmati rice and garlic naan.  Even with the use of the famed ghost pepper, the restrained spice level let us enjoy the dish as a whole.  Don't get me wrong, it was spicy though with gradual heat with a slight tang.  As for the pork, it had a nice rebound texture.

Whipping Girl had to be a stand-in for Choobee on my visit to Kilimanjaro because I got stood-up!  Choobee better make it up to me! Anyways, we tried the Kuku Paka which consisted of coconut cream curry with East African spices, chicken, hard boiled eggs and potatoes.  This was something we'd never had before and it was definitely a subtle-tasting dish.  It was very creamy where the flavours penetrated the succulent pieces of chicken.  The accompanying spicy carrots really helped amp the mild flavours.  Seeing how I was running out-of-time before the challenge would end, Miss Y and I decided to hit up 3 places in one night staring with Showcase.  There, we had the Braised Shortrib and Parsnip Curry made with authentic house made masala curry paste, red wine braised short rib and fall vegetables (with naan, raita and mango chutney on the side).  I found the beef to be fork tender while a touch dry.  It tasted more like a stew with traces of cumin and coriander.  Rounding out the flavours was the tartness of the wine and the sweetness of the veggies.

After that we headed over to Morocco West for their Trio of Moroccan Curry.  The dish was comprised  of Lamb Curry with farro, Seafood Vermicelli Curry Puff and Masala Curry Scotch Egg. One thing was definitely clear with the lamb curry - it wasn't bland.  The flavours really popped with the sweet peppers mixed in the firm farro.  The curry itself was spicy and salty with a purposeful amount of acidity.  I enjoyed the pieces of succulent lamb where the sauce really penetrated the meat.  Already completely full, we dragged our butts to U & I Thai.  With probably the "lightest" offering of the bunch, we sampled the Green Queen Curry consisting of halibut with coconut milk, green curry paste, fish sauce, spinach, red bell pepper, eggplant and Thai basil.  We found the fish to be flaky and moist where it sat atop a wonderful mix of smashed peas, eggplant and spinach.  Although the curry itself was pretty salty, the veggies along with the pomegranate seeds and drops of tamarind sauce helped balance the flavours.

My last place to visit was Abode Restaurant and I got Whipping Girl to make a return appearance (instead of the "stand-me-up" Choobee!).  Among other dishes (we couldn't just eat one dish...), we did get to try their entry being the Moroccan Braised Lamb Shank in a light tomato-based sauce consisting of a house made blend of ginger, garlic, cumin, jalapenos, cinnamon, a mix of smoked paprikas and spices. This was served atop pomegranate dirty rice.  The flavour profile was quite mild, yet when I took a big scoop of the veggies along with a piece of lamb, there was a good amount of tartness with a background spice.  The lamb itself was moist throughout, including the exterior.  

So in the end, the results of the judging went in favour of 2 restaurants that tied for first place:

1. Morocco West and U & I Thai
2. Ban Chok Dee
3. Bob Likes Thai Food

For the reader's choice:

1. U & I Thai
2. Ban Chok Dee
3. Morocco West.