Monday, July 19, 2010

Koshi no Kanbai

Koshi no Kanbai, literally "cold/winter plums of Niigata", is arguably one of the best sake in all of Japan.  It's been long overdue that I posted something about my favourite sake, so here it is folks, my little tribute to Koshi no Kanbai.
That's right folks, 1.8 litres of liquid heaven. 
Koshi no Kanbai next to some of it's "lesser" brethen in the world of booze.

I'm in heaven.  

I used to bring a bottle of this stuff back regularly when I was going to Japan every month but it's been a very, very long time since I made a trip over there.  This was my last bottle and was holding on to it like it was a pot of gold.  I ended up bringing it to this year's Annual Iaido Seminar over in Nanaimo and it was shared  and very much appreciated among some sensei from Japan.

Octopus Garden had a bottle of Koshi no Kanbai a few years back, and the going price was about $300 CAD.  I don't think I could bring myself to pay $300, but I'm starting to cave because it's been a while now and I have no idea when I'll be going back to Japan.

GI Gelato & Coffee House

On a hot summer day, one of the best things to enjoy in the shade is a couple of scoops of ice cream.  GI Gelato & Coffee House is a little place tucked away in the corner of Granville Island and has a nice little selection of gelato that isn't grossly overpriced.


Most things on GI are overpriced, but sometimes you can find a place that isn't in it to gouge you to the poorhouse.  The gelato here wasn't bad, the service was very pleasant and the prices were reasonable for the portions you get. 

GI Gelato & Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Salt Tasting Room

I'm a little torn when it comes to Salt Tasting Room.  A few days ago, I had a chance to visit Salt for the second time, and the service wasn't too bad compared to my first visit.  Then again, I didn't encounter the manager this time around.  That being said, we'll leave the ugly stuff for later.

My buddy Eric looking skeptical while standing there in Blood Alley, Gastown Vancouver.  Salt is located in a pretty ugly little alley, but I guess that's where a lot of trendy type places are going nowadays.....trying to be the gem in an ugly place (a la Yaletown Vancouver).  It looks worse at night.

Once you get through the the nastiness of the alley, the entrance looks very respectable and upscale.
The main dining area is not extraordinarily large or anything, but it's a good size I suppose.  I've heard some complain that the seats were uncomfortable and the tables were too small, but it was okay for me.  It's not like I'd ever go here to get a full meal anyway.
I was intrigued by the fact that they had sake at all, and even more so that they had sake from Niigata, Japan's sake capital.
Unfortunately, they may have had this particular bottle sitting there for a while, and probably opened for just as long.  If I ever visit again, I think I'll stick to scotch.

Just as the name of the place suggests, it's more for sampling a variety of food, in this case a huge variety of preserved meats and cheeses.  Though I don't have nice things to say about my first visit, I have to be honest and say that the samples they provide are pretty good.  You can't get full here without ending up in the poorhouse, so don't try, and don't expect a filling meal.  What you can expect is some tasty samples.

Now, for the nitty gritty.  Back in March, my friend had his birthday party at the Salt Tasting Room, in the cellar.  It was a really cool idea, to have a dining room down in the cellar of a restaurant.  Their vast collection of wine was clearly visible through the glass display.  There was one long table that my friend had reserved for oh, about 20 people or so.  On both sides were seats and all along the wall on one side of our table was a concrete bench (at least it appeared to be a bench).  I thought to myself, what a cool place to have a party. 

So, what could have possibly gone so wrong to put me off the Salt Tasting Room?  It wasn't even my birthday, but the taste of aweful service still lingers.  The party was just getting started, and it's not like we were a bunch of rowdy gangsters or something.  What does one do at a dinner party?  A birthday party?  People get up and socialize right?  Well, not long after arriving, the rules started to come down on us as if we were a bunch of elementary school students.  Most people were seated at the table, but a few people had gotten up to chat with other people, some were seated, some were standing, and some and found a spot to sit along the concrete bench.  This is fine right?  Nobody was screaming, no bottles were being thrown, no fights were breaking out, everyone was just happily chatting away and having a good time.  Apparently something we were doing was a no-no because someone who claimed to be the manager came over and told us that we were not permitted to sit on the concrete.  WTF?  It was okay to have our bags and jackets there, but apparently sitting on the concrete was prohibited.  Without much of an explaination, we were left dumbfounded.  It wasn't my party, so I didn't make a stink of it and just returned to my seat.  But no sooner than I started to nibble on some snacks, there was another commotion involving the "manager".  This time he was scolding a couple of my buddy's friends for standing around.  He told them that they had to remain seated......ok, now this was just beyond bizarre.  We were basically told that everyone had to remain seated for the duration of the party...a party of over 20 people, so essentially, one end of the table would never see people from the other end until the end of the night.

Needless to say, I didn't surrender much of my money at Salt that night.  It was outrageous and what should have been a fun-filled night turned into a story of complete bitterness that none of us could believe.  My second experience almost balanced out my negative memories of Salt, but that was only because of the pleasant company I was with, compounded by the fact that the little fascist of a manager wasn't there that night (or perhaps he was torturing customers in the cellar). 

I remember saying to myself that my experience at Milestone's a few months back was far superior.  It was around the same time of my first visit to Salt a few months back (March or April).  It was a similar scenario, an after work party of about 20 people, packed in the smallish lounge area.  Our group was all over the place, nobody was sitting where they started, and a lot of us were starting to get a bit tipsy, yet the servers were able to keep track of all of us, all seperate bills, and doing this with excellent, friendly, customer service.  Again, we weren't rowdy or anything, there were no bottles being thrown or fights breaking out, everyone was just having a good time, and so was the staff (seemingly anyway). 

So Salt is supposed to be a bit more upscale compared to a place like Milestone's?  Well, the little fascist need to take a lesseon in customer service from a supposedly "lesser" restaurant, perhaps even work there for a while instead of running his cellar daycare/toture chamber house of horrors that is Salt Tasting Room - Cellar.

Salt Tasting Room on Urbanspoon

Romer's Burger Bar

I have now had the best burger in my far.  Romer's Burger Bar opened about three weeks ago and I basically heard about it through my buddy Eric, who heard from his buddy Carlo.  Carlo and Eric are both fellow foodies and when Eric told me he heard this place was good, I knew I had to try it.  Our host told us that the owner had travelled the word sampling different burgers from different places, and bringing the best ideas back to Vancouver.
While waiting for my buddy Eric, I was hanging around outside, checking the place out and browsing the menu posted outside.  It looked really good, but one item in particular caught my eye.

Yes, foie gras my friends, foie gras.  I've only discovered the heavenly taste of foie gras in the last few years, so I have a lot of catching up to do.  My eyes instantly locked to the section under R Favourite Add-Ons and Savoury Stuff.  This place already had me sold and I wasn't even inside yet.
Not exactly your standard burger joint, Romer's has a bit of an upscale feel to it.....milkshakes are not on the menu folks.  But don't let the fancy atmosphere scare you off, it's not horrendously overpriced or anything.  The average burger (a la carte - no sides) goes for about $9 - $12.  There is one burger that goes for $24, but we'll get to that later. 
We ordered a couple of starters including these wings.  Sea Salt and Toasted Pepper wings, and damn.....some of the best wings I`ve ever had. 
The drumette was huge, moist and juicy on the inside, the coating closer to crunchy than crispy, seasoned to perfection.  I couln`t quite place it, but there was something defintely scented or aromatic about these wings.  These wings smelled good.
I`ve been eating wings for years from one of my favourite places - The Flying Beaver.  I have yet to do a review of this place, but I assure you, it will be a good one.  Anyway, getting a little off-topic, but I have a strange talent for being able to debone a chicken wing, bones practically bleach-white clean.  After de-boning the chicken wing, the eating process is much more enjoyable, just pop the whole thing in your mouth and you`ll think you`ve just eaten the best chicken nugget of your life.

Yam fries were also ordered, and as I`ve been saying in other posts, every restaurant under the sun is now serving these.  The yam fries here were nice and large, crispy on the outside and seasoned wonderfully.

So, as I said, there was one burger on the menu that was more pricy than the rest - $24.  I think the owner of Romer`s must have visitied a place in Las Vegas for the inspiration of this burger.  Fleur De Lys offers a burger called the Fleurburger 5000, which runs for oh, about $5,000 USD before tax and tip.  Anyway, this post is about the Romer`s so if you want to want to read up on Fleur`s burger, check out this link.
Suffice it to say, I ordered the Ultimate Kobe Classic, because for a person like me who`s on a limited budget, I will never be able to afford a $5,000 burger.  This $24 burger will have to do and it`s probably the closest I`m going to get to experiencing the Fleurburger 5000.  The ingredients are similar - both burgers use Kobe beef, both use the brioche bun, and both have foie gras and truffles as ingredients.
On the left there is the redwine demiglaze that was great for dipping and wetting the buger, which needed very little additional moisture. 
The burger was cooked to perfection, and that is no exaggeration.  The patty was charred just right on the outside, very juicy on the inside, and somehow did not spill out when eating it.  Some gourmet burgers out there fall apart after the first bite, but this incredible burger managed to stay in one piece thorughout the meal.
As you can tell, I couldn`t stop taking pictures of my burger.  I was probably at it for a good 10 minutes before I actually started eating.  Note the slice of Foie Gras pate hiding in the onion strings......glorious.

I flipped the top of the bun open just to see what was inside.  Here you can clearly see the truffly mayo and garlic mustard.  The bun inself somehow managed to stay crispy the whole time, most buns will go soggy only after a few minutes.  I think the trick is to griddle the bun in the grease from the burgers.  The griddling seals the bun so it doesn`t sog up from the burger after it`s all put together.
I finally re-assembled my burger and commenced eating.  It was a burger eating experience like no other.  It has completely ruined me for burgers anywhere else.  Milestone`s Four Cheese Burger, Vera`s Burger, Modern Burger...sorry, you guys can`t hold a candle to Romer`s burgers.  Romer`s has been only open for three weeks and it`s already in a class of it`s own. 
The next time I visit Romer`s, I`m going to give the Romer`s Righteous Rib Burger a try.  Beef Rib is one of my favourite cuts of meat, and to have it on top of a burger may seem like overkill, but when it comes to eating, you have to go a little overboard once in a while. 
Will you look at this thing?  It is just massive! 
That's the braised rib on top of the burger patty.  Looks tough to eat you say?  Not true.  Yes, Romer's does have forks and knives, but you really don't need them, not even for this burger.  However, for the sake of not making a huge mess, this burger was cut, quite easily with an unserated blade.
The rib was braised perfectly, and came apart with very little effort.


Somehow, our server talked us into getting desert and so we ordered the Drunken Donuts

There's no mini-donut stand out there that fries donuts better than these.  The three dipping sauces are Kalua Nutella, Lemoncello, and Maple Whiskey.  They were hot out of the oil, crispy little things that melted in your mouth, simply amazing.

Romer's Burger bar is a place I defintely want to experience again.  The service was incredible.  For example, I was just hanging around outside waiting for my buddy, and the the host came out of the restaurant and handed me a card, inviting me to try the place out sometime.  Our server was excellent as well.  Definetly a place to check out.

Romer's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

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