Gabriel's Fire

For the start of our annual Summer trip, we did what we usually do each time - drive down to Sea-Tac.  Yes, it is true, we pay about half the price to fly out of SEA as opposed to YVR.  For us, it represents a substantial savings since we need 4 tickets.  Therefore, before we checked into our hotel near the airport (where we left our car), we stopped for lunch along the I-5 at Gabriel's Fire in Mountlake Terrace.  Not particularly inviting from the outside, we were warmly greeted once we entered.

Viv and I decided to build-our-own-meal with 1/2 pound of Side Ribs, 1/4 Chicken and 1/4 pound of Pulled Pork.  With an attractive and tasty bark, the ribs were a good mix of meat and fat.  Furthermore, they were remarkably tender considering the chewy exterior bark.  Also very surprising was the moist chicken despite looking quite dark.  It was well-brined and smoky in flavour.  The big chunks of pulled pork were sufficiently moist as well with the same tasty bark.  We chose the KC BBQ sauce which was more vinegary than sweet, but it went well with all the meats.  For our sides, we had the Gumbo and Macaroni Salad.  We found the gumbo a bit bland and lacking in ingredients.  It was thick with a slight spice.  However, the macaroni salad was a veritable flavour explosion due to the amount of chilis.

For the kiddies, we got them a Brisket Sandwich to share.  Slathered in just enough BBQ sauce, the fatty meat was tender and smoky.  Similar to the other meats, there was a nice smoke ring on the exterior.  The crusty bun held up to the wet ingredients providing a textural contrast.  For their sides, they had Mac n' Cheese and Fries.  A bit on the floury side, the mac n' cheese was decent with chewy macaroni and a mild cheese flavour.  The fresh cut fries were a bit dark, but ultimately were crispy.  We couldn't help ourselves and added another 1/4 pound of Brisket.  This time, it was a bit leaner and drier. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised at the solid execution of the smoked meats.  Gabriel's is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area.

The Good:
- Smoked meats are not dry
- Nice smoke ring and tasty bark
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Only one guy running the front, he's really nice, but difficult to do it all
- A bit dark inside

Gabriel's Fire on Urbanspoon

Bella Gelateria (Yaletown)

4 years ago, I was tipped off by Richer Guy as to a new gelato spot named Bella.  I didn't think much about it as I planned to meet him there after dinner at the old Miku location (now Chewies) on Hastings.  Unbeknownst to me, Bella was no ordinary gelato store.  Rather, it was the brainchild of passionate owner and gelato master James Coleridge.  Fast forward to the present, a second location is now open in Yaletown with a bigger mandate - offering up unique desserts and beverages based on their gelato.  Furthermore, Neapolitan pizza is added to the mix.  I was invited to try it out and I enlisted the help of dessert aficionado, Whipping Girl.

To start things off, we were treated to 3 house-made sodas (left-to-right) including Raspberry, Lemon Thyme and Orange-Vanilla. Suffice to say, we loved the latter due to its resemblance to a Creamsicle.  It was smooth, not sweet, aromatic and lightly citrusy.  The lemon thyme was refreshing and light with a nice tang accented by a minute hint of thyme.  With a big whiff of basil, the raspberry exhibited more body, yet was still light.  Onto some food, we sampled the Antipasto consisting of speck, napoli salami, prosciutto, eggplant garlic spread, anchovy cream, olives, Fior di Latte, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano and grilled house-made bread.  This was a nice selection of items which was highlighted by the flavourful spreads.  I particularly liked the anchovy cream as it was salty with a background bite.

Onto 2 more appie, we had the Burrata Orginale with local heirloom tomatoes, argula, olive oil and sea salt with grilled house-made bread.  We liked the creamy and stringy texture of the fresh burrata where it was salted quite aggressively.  I personally didn't mind it, but Whipping Girl thought it might've been too salty.  As for the bread, it was crusty and chewy with a definite firmness. The dough was nicely salted though where it had a good nutty flavour on its own. Lastly, we tried the Prosciutto San Daniele topped by arugula, red onion, capers and pine nuts tossed in lemon vinaigrette with Parmesan shavings. The acidity in the vinaigrette was a nice counterbalance to the salty prosciutto.  However, the salt content in the salad was evident from the capers and Parmesan.  Hence, the dish was fairly salty as a whole.

Moving onto a Bella original, we sampled their Gelatinis including (left-to-right) the Negroni, Texas Grind and Buko Bird.  The Negroni consisted of gin, Campari, & Italian vermouth with creamy Earl Grey Tea Gelato & caramelized fresh orange peel oils.  For us, this one was the most alcoholic tasting. These were essentially boozy milkshakes but with a "scoop" of gelato in the middle of the drink.  The strategy was to take a small spoonful first before drinking, otherwise, it would be too strong.  For us, we liked the Texas Grind the most due to the coffee and pecan, vanilla & sour cherry gelato (that added a certain sweet tartness).  Our first pizza was the classic Margherita with San Marzano (D.O.P.) tomatoes, fior di latte, Parmigiano-Reggiano, EVOO, & fresh basil.  We thought the edge of the crust exhibited enough nutty leoparding while the middle was softer.  It was properly salted where it had enough impact on its own. Although it wasn't wet per se, the middle was somewhat spongy.  As for the tomato sauce, it was mild, but did exhibit a slight tanginess.

Off to 2 more pizzas, we had the Capriciossa and Completa.  The Capriciossa was comprised of San Marzano (D.O.P.*) tomatoes, fior di latte, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms, artichoke, EVOO, fresh basil, & Parmigiano-Reggiano. We liked this pizza for its combination of flavours ranging from the tangy artichokes, woodsy mushrooms and mildly salty prosciutto cotto.  The taste was balanced and appealing.  Naturally, with more ingredients, the middle of the crust was more wet.  As for the Completa, it was a concoction of fior di latte, prosciutto crudo, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano, & EVOO.  Of course, without any tomato sauce, the crust was chewier and more dry.  The prosciutto was all the flavour that was needed as the bursts of saltiness was brought down a few notches with the arugula.

With 2 more drinks, we tried the Raspberry Manhattan Isola and the Lemon Pimm's Isola.  We thought the latter was the lighter of the two being almost refreshing despite the alcohol.  It was made of bright lemon sorbetto in a chilled blend of Pimm’s Number 1 Cup & ginger liqueur stirred with cucumber & mint then topped with a measure of Fentiman’s Ginger Beer.  Consisting of whiskey & Italian vermouth with raspberry sorbetto infused with a dash of dark chocolate & dark chocolate bitters completed with a kirsch-soaked cherry, the Raspberry Manhattan was a much more luxurious drink. This went down much stronger with only a touch of sweetness.  Off to the desserts, we had the Torta Gelato featuring Pie Hole's fantastic apple pie.  The crust was flaky, firmly crispy and buttery.  Inside, the neatly layered apples had the right combination of tart and sweetness.  The addition of vanilla gelato was the veritable icing on the pie.

Of course there were more desserts including an interesting deconstructed Tiramisu made of espresso ganache layered between homemade lady finger sponge cake & brushed with Amaretto espresso sauce. It was finished with tiramisu gelato & garnished with spiced coffee grinds.  This ate like a tiramisu with the definite taste of rum as well as a mild hint of coffee.  It wasn't especially sweet even with the 3 mini scoops of gelato.  Next up was The Toe Curler featuring fior di latte gelato topped with brownies, home made candied pecans and smothered with caramel & dark chocolate sauce.  This was a very sweet concoction due to the amount of impactful ingredients.  I would've personally liked to see less sauce, but then again, Whipping Girl liked it.  The brownies were chocolatey, sweet and chewy while the pecans effectively stole the show.  They were super light and crispy with only a hint of sugar.

Lastly, we sampled the 2nd place dessert at the 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival Vintner’s Brunch Wine and Food Pairing Competition - Vintner's Choice.  This was comprised of fonseca port wine gelato with cassis port mousse, stilton blue cheesecake, port ganache and raspberry port sauce.  Although the port gelato was quite mild, the port sauce was quite tannic.  As for the mousse, it exhibited a sweet and tangy taste that was nicely accented by the smooth and mildly sharp Stilton.  I personally liked this dessert the most because it wasn't overly sweet and displayed unfamiliar flavours compared to the others.  Overall, we thought our meal at Bella was pleasant.  Some of the items (particularly the gelatinis) were definitely "out there" but you can't accuse them of being boring.  Although the Neapolitan pizza wouldn't be confused with the best in the city, it held its own.  However, the gelato still continues to the my favourite in Vancouver and I liked how the pastry chef incorporated it into her dessert creations.

*All food and beverages excluding gratuities were comped*

The Good:
- Still best gelato in Vancity in my opinion
- Excellent location for the view and people watching
- Interesting uses for gelato

The Bad:
- Some items are quite pricey (but then again, consider the location)
- Possibly a few too many options which confuses some people about the place

Bella Gelateria on Urbanspoon

La Amigo Restaurant

What's in a name?  If one was to think of the restaurant La Amigo (or Amigo on the awning now), what type of cuisine does it conjure up?  Mexican? Spanish Tapas?  Nope.  Try an elevated Hong Kong-style cafe in the same genre as former Bauhinia.  That is, in addition to the usual stuff, we see Lobster Thermidor and Filet Mignon. We decided to check the place out after our softball game despite the fact, I had already visited Richmond earlier in the day for Dim Sum and Pineapple Buns from Lido.  I think it is pretty obvious I have this sadistic secret love for Richmond...

And about that Lobster Thermidor...  Hey, go big or go home right?  For a whopping $35.95, the meal included Lobster Chowder (with garlic toast), which I started with.  This was more like a cross between a bisque and a cream soup that featured a few nuggets of lobster.  It was somewhat aromatic and mild, but was enjoyable nonetheless.  And here we go...  the Lobster Thermidor with spaghetti and veggies.  This version was more like lobster in a creamy sauce baked with some cheese.  I didn't taste cognac, but whatever the case, it was yummy.  The pieces of lobster had a bouncy chewy texture where the natural flavours stood up to the cream and cheese.  The mushrooms were a nice complimentary flavour.

Miss Y went for something more normal (especially after a softball game) being the Brisket Soup Noodles.  The egg noodles were sufficiently al dente while bathed in a fairly salty broth.  Although the chunks of brisket appeared to be rather dry, this was not the case.  In fact, they were super tender and moist.  I liked the ample amount of baby bak choy to balance out the saltiness.  Boss Woman was pretty disappointed that there was no scrambled eggs & shrimp on the menu (does she eat anything else???), so she opted for the Curry Shrimp Fried Rice instead.  This had the necessary wok heat so that the rice was dry and nutty.  There was only a mild curry flavour while the small shrimp were scattered here and there.  With the fried egg on top, she did end up with some form of shrimp & eggs...

Bam Bam and Pebbles ended up with the same set meals as I did but with different entrees.  Bam Bam decided on the Walnut-Crusted Filet Mignon with peppercorn demi. The steak was prepared a beautiful medium-rare (closer to the rare side), subsequently being moist and buttery soft.  He really liked the aromatic walnuts as well as the mushrooms.  Best of all was the demi as it was flavourful and impactful.  Pebbles went for the Homemade Smoked Sablefish with jambalaya rice accompanied by veggies. I was able to get a sample and the fish was on point.  With a sweet smokiness, the sablefish was fatty and flaky.  Although it was an interesting take on jambalaya, it was good with firm rice and a zesty tomato hit.

Gyoza King ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese, something that he usually avoids.  So fate would have it, he should've never deviated from the usual because he didn't like this one very much.  Nothing wrong with the spaghetti, but the sauce was far too salty.  So much so, he wanted to stop eating it (but he ate it anyways).  On top of the saltiness, there was very little meat for a bolognese sauce.  With a considerably different red sauce, Bear had the Baked Pork Chop Rice.  This was more on the sweeter side, but he liked it.  The ample amount of pork chop was fried nicely where it was tender.  As a whole, the dish worked.

Chill tried to do his best impersonation of me by ordering 2 dishes beginning with the Sauteed Shrimp.  The shrimp were cooked just enough where they exhibited a buttery snap.  As much as I was expecting tarragon rather than basil, the flavours worked as the sauce was creamy and complimentary to the sweet shrimp.  For his main, he had the Curry Fish with Rice.  Consisting of a pan-fried Basa filet with potatoes in a curry sauce, the dish worked.  I found the fish to be moist with a crispy brown sear on the bottom.  The curry itself was creamy (with coconut milk) while being quite mild.  It had a nice consistency to it.

Onto some creamier concoctions, Milhouse and Dark Helmet had the Baked Fish with Cream Sauce on Rice. With the same type of preparation, the fish filet was moist with a crispy sear.  It was smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce which was mild with a hint of cheese.  It was pretty decent.  Judes went for the Baked Seafood with Spaghetti in Cream Sauce.  The flavours were very similar to the aforementioned dish except for the addition of seafood.  Most of which were prepared just right except for the squid which was chewy.  Overall, for all the variety of dishes we tried, the food was pretty good at La Amigo.  It had to be though because the prices are appreciably higher than most of the competitors in Richmond.  I found that they really nailed the non-Asian dishes.  A bit surprising, but tasty nonetheless.

The Good:
- More refined and carefully crafted than other Hong Kong-style cafes
- Non-Asian dishes surprisingly good

The Bad:
- Appreciably more expensive than other restaurants of this type 

La Amigo Restaurant 雅谷餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Bakery Sate

"Bakery Sate".  What's in a name?  If you think this sounds like a Malaysian joint specializing in grilled skewers of meat and roti, it couldn't be further from the truth.  Without the acute accent on the "e" in Sate, the word is a shortened version of "satiate".  Hence, the place is actually a French bakery that is the brain child of Eric Ho, a graduate of the Pacific Institute of the Culinary Arts.  Viv and I were invited to visit the newly-opened store on the Southern edge of The Drive to sample some their pastries made from all-natural ingredients.

We tried the Hazelnut Scroll first where it was buttery and flaky.  Employing the same methodology as a croissant, but in a different shape, it exhibited the same qualities as well.  However, in this case, there was a nutty sweetness as well as a sugary (but not overly sweet) crust on top.  Next up was the Raspberry Vanilla Napoleon with house-made puff pastry, vanilla bean diplomat cream and fresh raspberries.  This was relatively light (in texture) with defined crispy layers.  The cream was smooth, airy and semi-sweet with the background hint of vanilla bean.

Onto another type of pastry, we headed off to a selection of choux starting with the Paris Brest.  This consisted of a sliced ringed almond choux pastry filled with praline cream.  It exhibited a light airy interior contrasted by a lightly crisp almond topped exterior.  Inside, the smooth and purposefully sweet almond cream had a nice aromatic finish.  On the same plate was the JJ Bean Espresso Puff with a texturally pleasing streusel topping.  As much as the light diplomat cream was pleasant, it could've used more espresso.  We had one more cream puff in the Mango Coconut Puff with mango and coconut custard cream. Again, the light choux was nicely accented by the crunchy streusel topping.  Inside, the custard cream was aromatic and not overly sweet.  We would've preferred to see a thicker custard though.  Moving onto the New York Style Cheesecake with hazelnut shortbread crust, I was a happy camper.  In the classic style, the cheesecake was rich and full of cream cheese smoothness.  It was only sweet enough with a slight tart finish.

With the table beside us eying our bevy of sweets (they must've thought we were nuts...), we moved onto the Strawberry Frasier comprised of gluten-free chiffon, strawberry mousseline, strawberries and white chocolate parfait.  This was a study in varying soft textures and differing sweetness.  We found the gluten-free chiffon to be slightly denser than the regular version, but good nonetheless.  Overall, we found the cake to be a bit too sweet as some of the different flavours were muddled as a result.  In a beautiful hue of green, the Matcha Black Sesame was also pretty sweet.  It was comprised of gluten-free dacquoise and chiffon, real black sesame mousseline and matcha white chocolate parfait.  Again, with a layered cake, an array of flavours and textures were at play.  I especially liked the black sesame as it exhibited its unmistakable aromatic nuttiness.  

Nearing the end, we sampled a Coconut Macaroon, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie and Canelé.  Not to be confused with a Macaron, the Macaroon was sweet, chewy and coconutty.  As for the cookie, it was surprisingly good for gluten-free.  Predominantly comprised of rice flour, the cookie ate, well, like a cookie.  It was crunchy and only slightly dry.  There was massive amount of chocolate chips which made it pretty sweet.  Lastly, we had the
Canelé which was probably one of our favourites.  With a hard caramelized crust (and a bit smoky) revealing a soft, custardy filling that was purposefully sweet, we liked the well-defined textures.  Overall, we enjoyed our visit to Bakery Sate.  Other than some sandwiches and croissants, we sampled almost everything that they had. Their location at the edge of The Drive keeps things low-key which works as a nice place to grab a drink and some treats.

*All food and beverages were comped*

The Good:
- Offering up some gluten-free items
- Reasonable-pricing
- Carefully made pastries

The Bad:
- A little heavy on the sugar on some items
- Relatively modest selection
- Decor a bit spartan

Bakery Sate on Urbanspoon

Pho 777

On our way back from Semiahmoo, it looked like we'd need to stop for dinner somewhere along the way home.  Seeing how White Rock/South Surrey was the first place we'd pass after the border crossing, that made the most sense.  In fact, I had remembered an email from a reader suggesting that we try out Pho 777.  Yah, Pho and White Rock are not necessarily the first 2 things that come to mind.  But we were hungry and not really in the mood to figure anything else out.  As we approached the front door, we could smell BBQ lemongrass wafting towards us.  A good sign if you ask me...

We ended up sharing a few items starting with the Grilled Minced Pork, Lemongrass Chicken & BBQ Short Ribs on Rice.  This monster plate of food was covered in meat with chewy rice underneath.  Unlike other places, the lemongrass really came through in terms of aroma and taste with the moist, well-charred chicken.  The ribs were smoky and well-seasoned with a balance between sweet and savoury.  Firm and bursting with hits of salt and sugar, the minced pork was a touch dry.  Our next item was the Pho Dac Biet which featured a impactful broth.  Laced with MSG, there was a pronounced sweetness as well as meaty and anise notes.  The meats were sliced super-thin being tender.

Next up was the Grilled Chicken and Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl.  This was another well-portioned dish consisting of nicely charred chicken that was still moist inside.  The spring rolls were crunchy and hot with moist filling that was mildly sweet.  Interestingly, the vermicelli underneath was smoking hot where we had to wait for it to cool.  As a result, it got a bit soggy though.  Lastly, we had the Banh Mi Dac Biet which was stuffed with a good amount of meat.  The bread was crusty, yet a touch dense. There was sufficient pate, but it wasn't very pronounced.  The same could be said for the pickled carrots as they were only slightly tart and sweet.  A few drops of fish sauce helped bring the sandwich alive though.  Okay, I gotta hand it to the person who recommended the place...  The food is indeed good while the portion size and prices hit all the right notes as well.

The Good:
- Above-average eats
- Large portions

The Bad:
- A touch heavy with the MSG
- Restaurant layout inhibits the staff from seeing if certain tables need attention

Pho 777 Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon