The Narrow Lounge

Take a close look at the first picture of this post.  What immediately comes to mind?  Is this an entrance to a crack shack?  An abandoned warehouse?  Illegal gambling?  Something found on the X-Files?  A Chinese restaurant washroom?  No, none of these are right.  In fact, it is the "welcoming" entrance to The Narrow Lounge.  This little and aptly-named establishment was where Mijune and I went for some eats one night.  Actually, it was I who was hungry.  She was coming from dinner, but hey, 2nd dinner for her...

In fact, Mijune had been here before and enjoyed the food considering the reasonable pricing. We ordered a whole bunch of things including the Truffle Parmesan Popcorn.  Presented in an appropriate ceramic container, the smell of the truffle oil was pretty strong.  Personally, I'm not a huge fan of truffle oil (and neither is Mijune), but it wasn't completely overpowering here.  However, it wasn't used lightly either.  Our only wish was for the popcorn to be served fresh and warmer.  Next, we tried the Mushroom Chorizo Flat Bread with artichoke and Parmesan. As you can clearly see in the picture, Mijune was reaching for it as I took the picture.  Why?  Because it was loaded with salty, spicy chorizo with an equal amount of tender artichoke.  There was a nice garlic Parmesan hit as well as the Earthy mushrooms.  The flat bread itself was either crunchy or chewy depending on the piece.

Onto the Mini Dogs consisting of Nathan's famous 100% beef hot dogs, we enjoyed its simplicity.  Yes, they were nothing more than mini hot dogs served with mustard and ketchup, but these were good.  The meaty wieners were appealingly salty while the buns were toasted until a touch crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.  Presented on a bed of radicchio and diced tomatoes topped with a creamy chipotle lime sauce and cilantro, the Fish Tacos were decent.  We found the modestly-sized tilapia filets to be flaky and moist with a crispy and light tempura batter.  With a squeeze of lime, there was a good balance of spice, acidity and savouriness.  Although the radicchio added a solid crunch, the slight bitterness didn't seem to go.

Lastly, we sampled the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich served with potato wedges.  We found the pulled pork to be moist and easy to chew.  It was sauced just enough that it didn't leak all over the place nor destroying the brioche bun.  It held up and the firm crunch from the coleslaw provided that textural contrast to the soft meat and bun.  I wasn't a huge fan of the wedges though as they were rather stiff and dense.  I would've preferred something crunchier with a more moist potato interior.  In the end, I was pretty surprised at the decent eats at equally decent prices in a neat little bar.  Sure, the entrance is sketch, but don't let that scare you away.

*We received a 20% discount off our bill*

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Reasonably-priced
- Genuine service

The Bad:
- Yes, it looks sketch
- Very dark and narrow inside (hence the name)

The Narrow Lounge on Urbanspoon

Paul's Restaurant

North Americanized Chinese food often gets a bad rap.  In a metropolitan that boasts some of the best Chinese food around, it is almost embarrassing for someone to admit that they like it.  For me, I don't really care about authenticity too much unless the food is terrible.  So if there is some good North Americanized Chinese food to be found, I'll not only eat it, I might even enjoy it.  One can be discerning without being a complete food snob.  With that in mind, I finally decided to get takeout from Paul's Restaurant (which Viv resisted trying since we moved to Burnaby over 9 years ago).

We tried the Spring Rolls first and I thought that the immediate inside layer of the exterior wrapper was doughy and wet.  As for the filling, the veggies were a bit slimy and bland.  They were crunchy though and not heavy on the grease, but in the end, they were substandard.  Next up, I sampled the Wonton Soup.  The soup base itself was mild and didn't have many distinguishing flavours.  It was neither salty nor sweet.  Rather, it was barely more tasty than hot water.  As for the wontons, they were the typical all-pork version with bits of water chestnuts.  If we do not compare them with the shrimp version, these were okay with moist pork with a light crunch from the water chestnuts.  They were mildly seasoned where I needed to whip out the hot sauce.

I dug into the Chicken Chow Mein before the mains and it was on the drier side.  No matter though as the rest of the dishes had some form of moisture to make up for it.  I didn't notice much in the way of wok heat as there was little caramelization of flavours.  In fact, other than the dark soy colour, there wasn't much impact at all.  On the flipside, the noodles were nicely chewy while the bean sprouts maintained some crunch.  There wasn't a lot of chicken though.  I though the Sweet & Sour Pork was respectable as the sauce was a nice balance between tartness and sweetness.  In fact, there was a nice zip.  As for the pork, most pieces were moist while not being too fatty.  The batter was on the thicker side where it was a bit doughy, especially after soaking up the sauce.  We liked that there was an array of peppers.

Somehow, it seemed like they forgot to season the Beef & Broccoli.  Okay, let me rephrase that, the beef was seasoned, but the broccoli was very bland.  Hence, when we ate only a piece of broccoli, there was no flavour other than the natural vegetable taste.  The beef itself was tender enough except for a few thick pieces.  It didn't seem like they overdid it with the baking soda.    We weren't overly enthused with the Lemon Chicken as the accompanying sauce was stone-cold.  It's as if they didn't reheat it.  Also, the batter on the thin slices of chicken was not completely cooked through being slimy and doughy on the inside.  As much as the food was alright, we weren't all that interested in ordering it again.  With that being said, there was a decent amount of food for the price.

The Good:
- Decent portions
- Serviceable food

The Bad:
- Below average
- Not as cheap as you would think

Paul's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Alpha Sushi & Bar

After a long break from heading into Downtown, we went in search of late-nite Japanese eats.  At the Southernmost end of the Granville Street Entertainment District, Alpha Sushi & bar was our next food adventure since they were open past midnight.  In fact, when Milhouse and I were walking to the restaurant from our parking spot on Davie, we passed by many other restaurants that were open pretty late.  Excellent, more potential future late night food forays!

At first, I thought it was a mistake when the Assorted Sashimi arrived.  With only 2 pieces each of sockeye salmon, tuna and hotate, it sure didn't seem like a whole lot of substance.  However, quality definitely reigned supreme as the tuna was buttery soft while maintaining a chew.  The scallop was sweet, buttery and fresh.  Completing the trifecta was the equally good salmon which was naturally sweet with a bite.  Next up, the Yam and Potato Fries were somewhat disappointing.  They were just not fried enough as the exterior wasn't even all that crispy.  I guess this may have been intentional, but I much prefer my fried items crunchy, not firm and greasy-wet.  However, the garlic anchovy mayo was fantastic adding a certain Earthy saltiness to the dish.

With what was my favourite dish of the meal, we had the Grilled Toro Pork in garlic onion sauce.  With a squeeze of lemon, the succulent meat had a little of everything including tart, sweet, savoury and aromatic.  The char around the edges of the meat helped add both smokiness and caramelization of the sugars.  Hence, there was a depth-of-flavour.  Continuing on, we had a somewhat too uniform looking Ebi Mayo.  Despite the appearance of Chinese takeout-looking prawns, they were anything but.  The exterior was lightly crunchy while the ebi had a buttery snap.  The side of chili mayo was purposefully spicy and somewhat sweet.

We ended up with 2 rolls beginning with the TD Roll consisting of mango, tobiko, mayo crab meat wrapped in albacore tuna and avocado with plum wine mustard mayo sauce.  With the sweet ingredients, the flavour profile was as such.  I found the rice to be chewy while sufficiently moist.  It was mild tasting, yet the rest of the ingredients definitely had impact.  The second roll was the Spicy Tuna Prawn Roll with 2 tempura prawns, avocado, tobiko, cucumber wrapped in chopped spicy tuna with sweet & spicy soy sauce and plum wine mustard mayo sauce.  We didn't find this particularly spicy (not even a mild amount), rather it was sweet and saucy.

Our last dish was the Ocean Yaki Soba with pan-fried yaki-soba noodle with scallops, squid, prawns and vegetables topped with a rich soy flavoured broth.  The ramen-like noodles were toothsome with a slight seafood taste.  The seafood (shrimp, squid and scallops) were well prepared where each texture was on point.  There was a certain tang and sweetness to the dish.  Although not outstanding, the eats at Alpha Sushi were solid and appetizing.  Considering all of the other late-night options around, if one wanted Japanese food, Alpha would not be a bad choice at all.

The Good:
- Carefully prepared eats
- Friendly service
- Open late

The Bad:
- Can get pricey (but they have good specials)
- Not a whole lot of seats, can get busy
- Good, but not great

Alpha Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Spoon Kitchen

Fresh off a couple of fantastic meals at Manis Pan-Asian Eatery, we were right back at it with another Malaysian meal at Spoon Kitchen.  Ned Flanders, in addition to Choobee, JoJo and a bunch of their friends were all present to help tackle the menu.  Armed with a coupon that allowed us to sample 8 courses, it enabled us to go nuts with substantial additions to our meal.  This was a nice revelation for Choobee as she can give Mijune a run-for-her-money in terms of ordering way too many dishes.

We began with the Mango Salad made with
shredded mango, cucumber, carrots, shallots and jicama in a lime dressing topped by crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.  This was a light salad that had enough crunch for texture, yet was pretty ordinary as it lacked any punch.  Next, we had a plate that consisted of Roti Canai, Calamari and Chicken Satay.  Really crunchy on the outside, the roti was a little dry and chewy.  With that being said, it was decent.  The accompanying dip was mild and slightly creamy from the coconut milk.  We thought the calamari was pretty good with tender rings that still retained an appealing chew.  Lightly breaded, it was crispy and not overly greasy.  Exhibiting a sweet zing, the chili dipping sauce had loads of impact.  Featuring succulent dark meat, the chicken satay was well-seasoned and nicely charred.  The peanut dip was sweet, yet ultimately mild-tasting.

Onto some bigger items, we had Caramelized Ginger Fish stir-fried with black sweet soy sauce, caramelized ginger, garlic, shallots and rice wine. Although the batter started to take on a spongy texture due to the moisture, the fish itself was moist and flaky.  We thought the flavours were a touch too sweet, but the ginger and garlic really came through.  Ned Flanders was curious with the Pad Thai and it did arrive with an interesting egg lattice on top.  Despite the menu description about the use of tamarind, there was an abundance of palm sugar that practically negated the tang.  However, the noodles were wok-fried expertly where it was chewy and caramelized.  The chili flakes were a nice addition as it provided a kick.

Moving along, we dug into the Beef Rendang consisting of boneless tender beef cooked with a paste of ground onion, lemongrass and chili.  Despite its description on the menu, I noticed the ginger and coconut milk more than the other ingredients. Unlike other versions I've had, this one was more sweet and had a slight star anise hit.  I didn't mind the dish, but it was a bit too mild-tasting.  As for the beef, it was pretty good being moist in big chunks.  We also had the Lamb Curry made with slow cooked lamb in red curry sauteed in coconut milk.  Much like the previous dish, the lamb was in big chunks and nicely moist and tender.  It was only slightly spicy while being sweet.

Continuing on with our feast, the Kung Pao Chicken made with boneless chicken breast, peanuts, dried chili, soy sauce, chili and black rice vinegar arrived next.  As much as this was a more authentic version than the typical North American dish, it was pretty sweet with little heat and tang.  Although there was a good amount of large chicken strips, they were pretty dry.  Seemingly excessive on the sugar, the next dish was also very sweet being the Mango Chili Prawns with basil.  With a considerable amount of sweet chili sauce, the dish took on that flavour (which was too sweet in our opinion since there was mango already).  As for the prawns, they were large and meaty.

Completely different than the version we had at Manis, the Nasi Goreng was yes, you guessed it, sweet.  There was some tang from the tarmarind, but it didn't seem like there was any Kachup Manis or very little of it.  Rather, it appeared to be doused in sweet chili sauce.  There was good wok heat though and caramelization of flavours.  As evidenced in the picture, there was no absence of ingredients.  Being influenced from our meal at Manis, we tried the Singaporean Laksa.  We really didn't like this version as the broth was like drinking pure coconut milk with only a minor spattering of spice.  It was far too creamy and one note.  We also didn't like the addition of the salty imitation crab.

For dessert, we were served a soupy type of Black Rice Pudding topped with coconut milk.  It wasn't overly sweet and the good amount of coconut milk added a nice aroma.  I would've liked to see a thicker consistency though.  At the end of the meal, Ned Flanders reiterated that it was unfortunate that we ate at Spoon Kitchen so soon after we had just dined at Manis.  With such heightened expectations as a result, nothing less than amazing would've impressed us.  Hence, our meal at Spoon was serviceable, but hardly memorable.

The Good:
- Fairly large portions
- Comfortable and clean

The Bad:
- Everything far too sweet
- Hit and miss

Spoon Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Osteria Napoli

Way back when in my high school days, I would visually take into account a selection of restaurants I would want to try in the future (yes, it started early).  Of course, some of them were out of my price range, so that would be much later.  One of which was Osteria Napoli situated on Renfrew at 1st.  Fast-forward many years later and by virtue of a Groupon, Viv and I finally got to visit the place.  Good thing too because the place is pretty ol' skool, not sure if we necessarily fit the age group back then.

After we were seated, we really appreciated the genuine and attentive service from the staff.  Interestingly, we not only served bread to start, we also were presented with some Crostinis topped with melted mozzarella and a dab of tomato sauce.  Light and crispy, these crostinis benefited from the nice acidic tang from the sauce.  Looking over the menu, we were confused why the Large Caesar Salad was only a dollar more than the small.  So being the deal-hunting Asians that we are, we went for the large.  Crisp and bright, the Romaine was dressed just enough that there wasn't a pool of dressing on the bottom.  It was rather mild though with a creaminess accented by the Parmesan.  We would've liked to see a bit more acidity and saltiness though.

Moving onto some pastas, we had the Linguine alla Vongole in a white wine sauce and the Spaghetti alla Calabrese with Italian sausage. Although a touch soft and saucy, the linguine was full of briny clam flavour.  It benefited from the generous amount of canned baby clams and fresh-in-the-shell Manilla clams.  We felt there was a good balance of properly cooked-down white wine and seasoning.  As for the spaghetti, it was nicely toothsome and slightly thick.  The chunky tomato sauce exhibited an appealing tang offset by a muted sweetness.  We didn't notice much heat from the sauce, rather it came from the meaty and ample Italian sausage.

Lastly and to our server's surprise, we also had the Veal alla L'Osteria with white wine sauce, mushroom and shallots.  Lightly floured, tender and meaty, the thin veal slices were nicely prepared.  We found that the overabundance of sauce was not necessary though.  It was thick with a hint of wine, but in need of some salt.  The side of veggies were still vibrant and crunchy except for the salty soft carrots.  Of course the potato was not crunchy, rather it was soft without being mushy.  After it was all said and done, we were a bit on the fence about the place. It is true that the food will not exactly knock your socks off, but it was okay.  Definitely a bit more ol' skool, possibly in need of some modernization.

The Good:
- Despite some other comments about the place, we felt the portions were fine
- Again, unlike others, we received excellent service
- Homey in a nice way

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Could use some updating here and there

Osteria Napoli on Urbanspoon

Shiosai Sushi

Subsisting on a primarily burger and fries diet for the past 2 weeks, it was about time I stopped the insanity! (a la Susan Powter).  Since I was out and Viv was at home, I decided to get takeout.  I thought of the various choices such as Pho, Wonton Noodles or TBN, but all those create a bloody mess with all the soup sloshing around.  For a brief moment, a salad bar came across my mind.  That quickly dissipated - what kinda nonsense was that???  Finally, I settled on plain ol' simple sushi.  I stumbled on this little place called Shiosai Sushi located on Joyce.  Operated by a Japanese couple, the place is truly a sushi bar without any of the usual cooked items.

As such, I focused on the major 3 items including the Assorted Sashimi consisting of sockeye salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, hokkigai and tako.  With a nice sheen and an equally pleasant smell, everything was as fresh as flash frozen could get.  Textures were on point too, especially the tako as it was tender with a nice bite.  I also got the Nigiri Combo that included one piece each of salmon, tuna, hokkigai, tako, unagi, ebi and tobiko as well as salmon and tuna maki.  With the same qualities as the sashimi this was another solid offering.  The sushi rice was a touch stiff, but it was appealingly chewy and mildly seasoned.

Moving onto some roll sushi, we had a combo consisting of California Roll, Dynamite Roll and Kappa Maki.  With vibrant avocado and cucumber, the appearance was appealing while the amount of rice was balanced.  I wasn't a huge fan of the romaine lettuce in the dynamite roll though.  Moreover, the ebi tempura was somewhat hard and heavy.  The California Roll was pretty standard, but with fresh ripe avocado, it was pleasant enough.  There was slightly a bit too much mayo though.  For takeout sushi, we found Shiosai to be good.  The place is definitely simple and modest, but considering the prices, the quality is not bad.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Neatly made items
- Good for what it is

The Bad:
- It's only a sushi bar, do not expect anything else
- It's takeout, don't really plan on eating in (very few seats)

Shiosai Sushi on Urbanspoon

Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream

Normally, Mijune and I are pretty much in an agreement about most food-related matters.  But there are times that we agree to disagree.  One would be the Mango Butternut Squash at East is East.  She reckons that it has the texture of baby food, while for me, I like it.  Another more recent example is the premium ice cream found in Vancouver.  I agree with her that what we have to choose from is not great, but on the other hand, we can only compare with what we got.  Up until recently, I thought Earnest was pretty decent, but after sampling the stuff at Rain or Shine during the Kits Brunch Crawl, I changed my mind.  Since I couldn't write a post on just a few items, I returned 2 more times just to make sure.

As for my first visit (on the aforementioned brunch crawl), I first sampled the London Fog.  I thought the ice cream base was rich and dense which meant it was creamy as well.  As much as the Earl Grey was present, it wasn't particularly overwhelming.  Overall, it was sweet, but not too much.  As much as the London Fog was good, it paled in comparison to the Blueberry Balsamic.  Normally, I find blueberry flavoured treats to be rather mild with only a touch of tartness from the skin.  But with the addition of balsamic, this flavour of ice cream sang the high notes.  It was purposefully sweet with the hit of balsamic which actually brought out the taste of the blueberries.  My favourite of the bunch.  On my next visit, I also had the Blueberry Balsamic, in addition to the Coffee Toffee.  There was a mild coffee aroma that was accented by crunchy and sweet bits. 

Finally, on my third visit, I smartened up thanks to Ned Flanders as he pointed out that 2 scoops in a small cup cost only 50 cents more than 1 scoop.  Yes, my inner Chinese was obviously off prior to this...  Anyways, we ended up with Nellie's Tiger Tail, Vanilla, Malted Milk Chocolate Honeycomb and Peanut Butter.  Okay, with so many to talk about, I'm only going to focus on the most memorable.  That would be the tiger tail and the malted milk chocolate.  The slight hint of citrus added a nice lightness to the tiger tail while the crunchy honeycomb provided texture and a pop of sweetness to the creamy malted milk.  From my 3 visits to the Rain or Shine, my opinion of the place has not changed.  Currently, it is my favourite in the city (sorry Mijune!).

The Good:
- Rich and creamy base
- Generally on point flavours
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Very few seats

Rain or Shine Ice Cream on Urbanspoon