Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Restaurant review - Coppertank Grill (Kitsilano)

Ok, so since we're on the topic of watering holes, it would also be unfair not to review Coppertank. I recently went to Coppertank with M and A, but I had also been there a few times with other friends. In reading some reviews of Coppertank, it appears as though people love the fact that it's an unpretentious, boisterous place where you can have a beer and a burger.

I would compare it to The Five Point on Main Street and almost 15th Avenue, but I have to say that Coppertank feels a bit more cozy. It's perhaps the fact that they have live bands sometimes. And I really enjoy the burgers there. I just wish they had the $10 burger-and-a-beer combo. Speaking of which, I know Stamps Landing Pub and the Five Point DO have said combo.

Coppertank is great to meet your Kitsilano friends or take an out-of-towner who enjoys good beer and food. Just about everyone fits here! Of course you can come here just for the beer, but I would never do that. I need my burgers :)

Coppertank Grill in Vancouver

Restaurant review - The Fringe Cafe

Best place for a jug of beer and hang out with good friends? The Fringe Cafe, hands down. I love this place. I have been here numerous times (quite obviously since many of my friends live in Kitsilano). The Broadway strip from Alma to Macdonald has lots of interesting places worth visiting. Since I went to the recent Greek Festival for a very brief period of time, I thought it was just timely that I write a review of The Fringe Cafe (or The Fringe as we call it).

I raved about Cactus Club's jambalaya recently. Well, honestly, The Fringe Cafe has a jambalaya that rivals that of Cactus. My brother is quite a picky eater and he loves it. My friends love the beer (I am not a heavy drinker, but I can appreciate a good draught).

The Fringe is a really cool place to hang out and just have a good time. I know for a fact that I'll be coming back. My closest friends used to toy with the idea of coming down here for drinks as they knew I had some negative associations (heartbreaks). But I never stopped loving the Fringe. I never will :) And apparently, neither will these reviewers [I love Martiniboys' reviews :)]

Fringe Cafe in Vancouver

Restaurant review - Cactus Club Cafe (Various locations, Vancouver)

I have previously reviewed Earls on Robson, and Milestones. In both reviews I briefly mentioned the Cactus Club but never got to write a specific review. It would be unfair for me not to do a review since I've been a customer of numerous locations. First, I would like to say that I have been to the Broadway and Granville site many, many times. The second most popular location for my friends is Broadway and Ash. The third location is on Robson and I think just past Thurlow (across from Milestone's on Robson). I can't recall if I have been to Cactus Club in Yaletown (but I just remembered that I have indeed visited Milestone's on Hamilton - I think?)

Anyhow, Cactus Club is a consistently reliable restaurant. Not expensive, not cheap. But to be quite frank, they have one of the best jambalayas you'll ever eat. I've had lots of salmon dishes there, curry plates and my brother loves their fajitas. If you need to take someone out to dinner I'd recommend Cactus Club. You'll get lots of good food. Ah, their slushy drinks are excellent. And you can't help but wonder how can so many hot people work in this restaurant!

Note to those who are uninitiated. Cactus Club is not really a cafe. It's a full-blown restaurant.

Cactus Club Cafe in Vancouver

UPDATE - I didn't include all the gadgets from Urban Spoon because there are way too many locations. All of them are good ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Coffee shop review - The Wicked Cafe

Who wouldn't dare to have coffee here with a slogan like this: "Coffee You'd Sell Your Soul For". I kid you not. That's the slogan of the Wicked Cafe. I mean, I am not ready to sell my soul as of yet so I figured I'd try it and see if it is all worth what they say it is. To be honest, it didn't go well with me that they said they had just run out of regular coffee (I only buy the lavish mocha or capuccino's when I really want to give myself a really nice treat, and tonight I am only doing work so no excuse, really).

So I settled for some Apple Amaretto tea. The second thing that didn't go well was that since I had a loose-leaf tea, they gave me a small container to leave my bag. The only problem is that the container is so small that to leave your bag you need to really be a master maneuverer. And since the container is metal-based, if your bag is hot you're bound to get burned.

Those two things out of the way, on to the really nice things about Wicked Cafe:

First, it's off the beaten path. It is located on 7th and Hemlock, so even though this is South Granville - Fairview Slopes, it's not really all that crowded. You do find lots of people as Hemlock is one of the major routes to get to downtown from the Granville and Broadway area, but the coffee shop itself is not located along a 'common' route.

Second, the cafe has wireless internet, and that's a great advantage. The actual signal was quite powerful and I could work really well there. There are two small problems (for me) working there. One is that there aren't lots of power outlets. The second one is that a lot of really interesting people walk in and out of the coffee shop. So I get easily distracted (as I love people-watching).

I would definitely come here to have a coffee and chat with friends of mine who live around the South Granville area. I probably wouldn't sell my soul for this coffee but I really enjoyed it. I am quite puzzled about the fact that there's an eatery right beside that I should really try at some point.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bar review - Oasis

I took two of my out-of-town friends to this bar on the premise that it was a really good bar (located along the Davie Village) and it had a nice atmosphere. While I am guessing that Oasis also has food, I thought it was more appropriate to indicate that this was a bar, rather than a restaurant. Well, perhaps the category should be more "bar-lounge". The place advertises itself as a cocktail lounge.

I had been here before with A and S before S went to Africa for a short stint, but I hadn't been back in a long while At any rate, The Oasis has fairly good, not-too-expensive drinks. There were two things that I didn't really like. Smoking is permitted on the patio, and lots of people take advantage of that fact. I am a non-smoker and of course that spoils my evening. Second, our waitress got to a point where she just simply slapped us with the bill before even waiting to ask whether we wanted to go or not. I actually did not appreciate that.

But to be fair, the service is always good (except this last time) and the bartenders are sweet. I ordered a sweet drink and since it wasn't sweet enough, the bartender added some grenadine. So, really, who can complain? :) And the place is so beautiful and has such a nice atmosphere, I'll definitely be back.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Restaurant review - Cloud 9 (The Empire Landmark Hotel)

Cloud 9 is one of the two revolving restaurants I know of in Vancouver (the other is located at the top of Harbour Centre), and it is a popular destination for visitors. Since I have recently had lots of visitors from out of the country, it was just fitting to bring my friends L and V to Cloud 9.

There are many things that make Cloud 9 an excellent location. The drinks are good (even if rather pricey - I had what was perhaps one of the most expensive martini's I've ever had), although I can't really comment on the food as we thought the menu was really expensive. The service was impeccable. Bear in mind, of course, that this is a tourist destination and thus it may be the case that prices are high.

The view of Vancouver is phenomenal, although come to think about it, perhaps I should have taken them to Harbour Centre as you can't really see East Vancouver or Gastown from the current location of Cloud 9, at the top of the Empire Landmark Hotel. But if you're looking for a special experience for out of towners, I'd recommend Cloud 9. I took L and V there and we had a phenomenal time. Ahh, good times :)

Cloud Nine in Vancouver

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Being alone or going solo?

This evening I had to briefly meet someone for coffee so I walked over armed with my laptop, as I have way too much work to do. As I walked by several places, I noticed people dining on their own. And I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but sometimes when I walk by a place and I see people dining alone I get a real sense of loneliness. I feel really bad for them. I don't know why. They probably enjoy eating alone or circumstances have forced them to do so. But I still sense loneliness and even a bit of sadness.

In a previous life (actually not that long ago), I used to travel a lot for work. I still do travel a fair bit. But I remember eating alone at cafeterias or chain restaurants... I clearly remember one night when I was the only one eating without any company and I felt really bad. Almost as though I was some kind of pariah.

I get this sad feeling particularly when I see elderly people in restaurants, and more so if the restaurant is a greasy spoon joint or a really cheap place. However, after having spent so many years in Vancouver, I think it may really come down to a personal decision on whether you eat alone or not. That's why I titled this post "going solo". It may be the case that those people I see dining alone are in fact choosing to "go solo".

I probably shouldn't even care, but I can't help it. Sometimes I feel even compelled to just sit with the person and say "hey would you like some company?" ... There have been times when I've been out with friends and I see people dining alone and I feel really antsy. But then again, this may be a reflection of me wanting to fix this person's problems (if loneliness can be considered a problem) more than those people actually needing the company. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Restaurant review - Stamps Landing Pub

Located tucked in between two other restaurants in False Creek (one of them being Monk's McQueen, a phenomenal seafood restaurant worthy of another review), this is a pretty good pub. I am getting more and more used to this type of restaurant-pub type of places, as my friends really enjoy the laid-back attitude of Vancouver. I also love False Creek so I took the perfect excuse (having a casual dinner with a great friend of mine, J) to go to Stamps Landing (that's the name of the geographical area).

The food is good and reasonably priced. The burgers are humongous and the service was actually quite nice, our waitress was attentive and willing to accommodate us (it helped that the pub wasn't completely full - had that been a hockey night, I am not 100% sure I would have gotten such a great service).

I'd recommend Stamps Landing for many reasons, not only the food, but the wonderful walk you can take right after. And who knows, you might end up riding the AquaBus just for kicks :)

Restaurant review - Milestone's Grill and Bar (Denman)

There are restaurants that you just know you can count on to make a good impression. Milestone's is one of them. I went with H and his friend S who was visiting from Washington one night to Milestone's on 4th Avenue (near Macdonald) and we had a great meal. I took my Mom and M for dinner to Milestone's on Robson and it was excellent. I went for one of my birthday celebrations with many of my former colleagues to Milestone's in Yaletown and it was really good. My brother and I had dinner at Milestone's on Robson half a dozen times. So it was just appropriate that I went to this restaurant with a very good friend of mine who came to Vancouver to give a keynote speech to have dinner there.

Luckily, as I have mentioned above (and I have had dinner at Milestone's so many times I can barely remember) this is a restaurant where you can count on for good food. One small drawback that I noticed last year was that before, they brought you a small side of salad with your pasta (huge portions) and you had a full meal. They don't do that anymore.

However, if you choose wisely, you'll end up eating so much you won't even need a side of salad. In my case, I had the meatloaf with bread pudding and garlic mashed potatoes (and some veggies), and my friend had a seafood grill (which came with rice and veggies as well). While the prices aren't all that cheap (in the range of $ 20 for entrees), the food is really good and filling.

We shared the Ibarra chocolate cake which was to die for. So I'd come back to Milestone's on Denman (which apparently was the original location) for a meal, for sure. This is one of those 'reliable' restaurants that wouldn't fail. Yes, it has become a chain but it is a good chain of local restaurants. - UPDATE - I only include one location but I've been to all of them, and they're awesome.

Milestone's Grill and Bar in Vancouver

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Restaurant review - Nyala (Main Street)

Ok, so I love Ethiopian food. And I love GOOD Ethiopian food. Thus it was only fitting that I really wanted to visit Nyala (with a very good location on Main Street near King Edward Avenue). Nyala used to have a location on 4th Avenue near Macdonald, but they don't anymore (I actually liked that little place, it was so close to Tatlow's... but I digress).

Nyala is the third in a string of Ethiopian/Eritrean food restaurants I have visited, beginning with the Red Sea Cafe and then followed by Fassil. Both Red Sea Cafe and Fassil are pretty much within a block of each other (near Fraser and Broadway)

The decor of Nyala is beautiful. The service is top-notch. The location is unparalleled. And the food is really good too. I think my mistake was the choice of dishes. I ordered tibs (both chicken and meat) and I think I should have gone for a watt. The food was more than enough for two people. I would have probably tried one more dish if I had had enough room.

Given a choice, I would be hard pressed to decide which Ethiopian restaurant I prefer. Furthermore, I would have to try Harambe and the other restaurant on Commercial Drive. But I can vouch for Nyala too, it is pretty good.

Nyala in Vancouver

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Restaurant review - The Lion's Den

A friend of mine (S) and I had been trying to go to The Lion's Den for a long time now, and we had never gotten around it. Even though we both live fairly close, life was just too busy. At any rate, we ended up doing brunch there and I have to say that I'll definitely be back. The Lion's Den is a funky place (I don't know how else to describe it. You have to go to understand what I am writing here).

The place is small but very cozy (perhaps under 10 tables?). The Lion's Den prides itself in being multi-ethnic. Their Jamaican food is good (I had a spicy beef patty) and their standard brunch fare (breakfast special - scrambled eggs, toast, potatoes) was really nice. Good comfort food, and the coffee was excellent too... I actually really enjoyed the no-frills approach to brunch that this place exudes. Moreover, the company was also extremely relaxed and laid back (S tends to be hard-working yet very fun to enjoy relaxed mornings with).

I wondered aloud how come this place still exists when I see so many places closing down practically every week. Let me tell you this much - at 10.30 am on a Sunday morning, this place had pretty much all its tables full. They open at 10 am. So, the thing is, perhaps it's very much a neighbourhood haunt. It's strategically located, really (at 651 East 15th, near Kingsway, behind the little park that was upgraded by the Dickens Community Group - apparently this neighbourhood is also known as Dickens).

Things that make it even more appealing:

- They have wireless! So I guess you could have breakfast and check my blog there...
- They have Live Jazz on Friday nights (I haven't checked this fact though).

Music review - Getting Away with It by Electronic

If you ever liked the sounds of Pet Shop Boys and New Order, I could almost be sure you've come across this song. "Getting Away with It" by Electronic is one of the most energetic songs I've heard. Electronic included Bernard Sumner of New Order and Johnny Marr of the Smiths. For this song they invited Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys.

This song has the magic effect of bringing tears to my eyes and shake me profoundly. Not because of the lyrics ("I love you more than you love me" - how sad!) but because this song marked the beginning of a very successful period of my life. This song has been present in my life every time I have shifted gears and moved forward. Whenever I have needed an energy booster to focus on a project, I have listened to this song.

The lyrics are somewhat puzzling because they would appear to show conflicting personalities. On the one hand, "I love you more than you love me" would implicitly mean some degree of co-dependency with one's partner. But the phrase that I thought applied to me was "I've been getting away with it all my life". That's exactly how I felt at the time. That even in the direst of circumstances, I was always able to pull it off and get away with it. I hope to always be so lucky.

Below you will find the video of the studio recording session.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Restaurant review - Bistrot Bistro

Located near 4th Avenue and Arbutus, Bistrot Bistro is a French food place in the heart of Kitsilano. Now, for those of you who think I have betrayed my East Vancouver roots, well... I hadn't been to a place in Kitsilano in a while and I thought it was worth it. Besides, it was the very intimate celebration of one of my very best friends so I simply couldn't refuse to go down to Kits (plus I don't get any say in the decision!). Nevertheless, her choice was excellent. Besides, we DID indeed want to try a new restaurant.

While we were cautiously optimistic (the restaurant website is rather pretty and sophisticated but needs some work I think), once we got there we were treated to a phenomenal dinner. For le premiere assiette we ordered several appetizers (including salmon mousse and a charcuterie platter). We then followed with a few French classics: boeuf bourguignon, rabbit in tomato black olive sauce and a fisherman's stew pot.

If only we knew beforehand that the portions were humongous, we probably would have starved to death for four days before heading to Bistrot Bistro. At the end we ended up taking home a large portion of our dinners. But the dessert... OMG the dessert! Their desserts are also served in huge portions. Their chocolate mousse is to-die-for, their crepes are amazing, and of course the profiteroles. It almost reminded me of the last time I was in Paris.

The full staff (and I believe the owner) are French speakers (and if I am not mistaken, pretty much from France as well). So I got to practise my French with them. It also helped having a native French speaker with us for dinner.

All in all, it was an out-of-the-world experience. We would definitely return for dinner and/or just dessert. Actually, I'd be happy to just come for dessert. It is SO worth it. But I think that the experience was also heightened because we were celebrating a dear friend's birthday. It does really have something to do with it.

So, in a nutshell - would I recommend Bistrot Bistro for dinner? Absolutely. Their menu is amazing. Just one word of warning: the place is small and crammed. The space is so tight that you will literally have conversations with your neighbours over their food (... ooops). Strategic recommendations on how to enjoy this place the best? Probably come late because if you show up at 7.30pm you're going to find the place completely packed. That's why I said that perhaps next time we'll end up just doing dessert. Totally worth it.

PS - While surfing the website, I noticed that the owners posted ALL the review (good AND bad) of Bistrot Bistro, as a reminder (more or less in their own words) of the fact that "each night is a new show". They certainly pulled it off with us, as we tend to be picky diners. I should commend Bistrot Bistro's management team for doing that. I hope their level of service stays the same. Our waiter was really good and attentive.

Bistrot Bistro in Vancouver

Monday, June 04, 2007

World Environment Day 2007 - June 5th

For the past few days, I've had the nagging feeling that I'm missing reasons why June 5th was an important day. Two of my best friends are flying back from Europe tomorrow, it is my former personal assistant's birthday (he was simply phenomenal, the best project assistant I ever had). But I still kept thinking "why am I so concerned about June 5th?"

Well, now I know. It's World Environment Day. The slogan for this WED is "Melting Ice - A Hot Topic?", trying to emphasize climate change as an important issue to be addressed. As I have told my good friend H a few times, my real concern is that when people think about environmental or sustainability issues, their heads invariably turn to climate change.

Climate change is an important issue, but not the only one. Urban form, sprawl, food security, HIV/AIDS, homelessness and poverty alleviation are also very important issues. Why do people keep forgetting that climate change is only one of them is beyond me. That being said, and I have said it before, if I have the chance to do some climate change-related project where poverty is directly addressed, I'm happy to jump at the opportunity.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Quick update on The Whip and The Main

Recently, even though I've been extremely busy, I managed to come to The Whip and The Main for an hour to have drinks with good friends (one of them who'll be moving to Montreal really soon). Here are two really quick updates.

The Main: Good atmosphere and good beer, inexpensive pop if you're a non-drinker. Slow service. Somebody said that it was good for Greek food. Haven't tried dinner here yet.

The Whip: On a sunny and warm afternoon, the Whip can be really fun. We had a really smiley and attentive waitress, who bears a striking resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow. Now, the truth is that this young woman actually is (in my humble opinion) prettier than GP, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. I can say that the food was good (perogies and tofu sticks) and the Justice Sangria is pure ambrosia!

Para el que no quiere sopa, dos platos

The title phrase to this post means literally "for the one who doesn't like soup, he/she'll have two platefuls". In my case, it refers to my dislike for crying sounds that emerge from young kiddies' mouths. You'll see... my neighbors have a 2 year old baby with whom they tend to engage in long (over an hour) yelling and crying matches. The kid wakes up at 6 am and starts yelling and crying when his parents don't allow him to throw stuff on the floor and run everywhere (thus creating a lot of noise). The parents have to yell back at the kid and it's a battle of wills (and of course, we get to hear everything!) With the lack of acoustic insulation, it is almost impossible to sleep later than 6 am (so sleeping in is almost a miracle).

Of course, over the course of the past few months, I've developed a complete dislike for any sound that barely resembles a kid crying... And what do I get when I take the plane this past week? Not one, but two kids whose mothers are unable to keep quiet! And on the way back to Vancouver, yet another crying kid! That's what the title of this post refers to... Somebody suggested ear plugs, but since I often get phone calls that are important, I can't really use ear plugs. *sigh*

On a rather positive note, Vancouver's weather is now 27 oC :)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Am I an Old Soul?

Those of you who know me very well (particularly my very closest friends) will find it amusing that I'm posting something about myself in my blog. I usually blog about life in Vancouver, environmental issues, restaurants, music and movies. But I couldn't help but try to check out one of the gazillion tests that the internet has to offer. This one is called "What Kind of Soul Are You?"... many of the test questions applied to me, so I responded in one way and I am sure I'd get a completely response if I had felt differently when responding. So these are the test results of June 2nd, 2007...

You Are an Old Soul

You are an experienced soul who appreciates tradition.
Mellow and wise, you like to be with others but also to be alone.
Down to earth, you are sensible and impatient.
A creature of habit, it takes you a while to warm up to new people.

You hate injustice, and you're very protective of family and friends
A bit demanding, you expect proper behavior from others.
Extremely independent you don't mind living or being alone.
But when you find love, you tend to want marriage right away.

Souls you are most compatible with: Warrior Soul and Visionary Soul
What Kind of Soul Are You?

Now, not that I mind the test results, but I am not 100% sure it takes me a long time to warm up to new people. But the rest of the test results sound somewhat like me. I'm curious to know what kind of souls you are, dear readers :)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Summer is here!

Well, I had the opportunity to spend a few days away from Vancouver and the city that I visited had really strange weather. And it went from completely freezing (5 oC) to really hot (25 oC) within 24 hours. But the most puzzling phenomenon was to go to bed after 10pm and still see light, and to wake up at 4.30 am (as I did today) with sun shining through my window. Despite the reduced amount of hours of sleep, I really enjoy this type of weather, where days are really long and I can accomplish a lot more.