Friday, January 29, 2010

Tangthai - A Complimentary Tasting

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Tangthai Cuisine of Thailand

1779 Robson Street, Vancouver

Tangthai Cuisine of Thailand on Urbanspoon

Food: 3.5
Service: 4

Price: Fair

A week ago, Ben from Chow Times invited a bunch of food bloggers to join them for a tasting at a new Thai restaurant located in downtown Vancouver. In the end, Sherman (Sherman's Food Adventures), Kevin (604Foodtography), Mijune (Follow Me Foodie), and myself attended. There was no expectations from Tangthai, and we were free to write as we pleased.

Tangthai is conveniently located near the corner of Robson and Denman right next to Little Tea House. After everyone arrived, there was a brief introduction to the owners Sonia and Deo, then we were given a tour of their restaurant. It looks modern and chic that suits the downtown look/feel, but it also had many beautiful decorations imported directly from Thailand.
Our first dish was the Prawn Skirt ($8.95), which is pretty much a spring roll stuffed with pork, crab meat, prawn and water chestnut. This reminded me a lot like the Vietnamese type spring rolls, but they did not use the rice wrap. The springs rolls were fried to a golden crisp, and with the sweet and slightly spicy dipping sauce, it was a delicious combination. I love the stuffing as well, it was very well seasoned, but I couldn't really detect the crab meat by taste, but I could see it in the spring roll. Next up is the satay skewers ($13.50 for 8). This was the only dish that I actually disliked. Both the beef and chicken were quite dry. The peanut sauce was very smooth, thus it tasted just like peanut butter out of a jar. However I also dislike peanut, so I may be bias on this one.Our next dish was individual Tom Kha Kai soup which translates to spicy chicken coconut soup ($3.95). I loved the taste of lemongrass, chili and coconut milk. I can taste a hint of fish sauce and lime. This is pretty much the taste of Tom Yum Goong with coconut milk. The chicken pieces in this soup were tender, and the vegetables are soft. In a nut shell, I liked it.
When the Pla Rad Prik ($15.95) came, another round of flashes went off. People at a table closed by said "Everyone at that table is taking picture of that dish, we want to try that one." LOL! This fried tilapia fish was so crispy, you can eat the bones. I mean if I said the meat was dry, that would be a understatement. However after conversing with Sonia, she told us it was suppose to be like that, that's the way people in Thailand eat it. So once you know that fact, you can't really properly judge something like that, just because you are not use to it. Anyways, the sauce for the fish was actually very delicious, it was a sweet and sour with a hint of spiciness. It also had some chunky pieces of pepper corn, so be carefully when you eat it.The squid stuffed with minced chicken and vermicelli was very unique. I haven't seen or tried this at any other restaurant. The stuffed squid was cooked in a green curry sauce with figs. I usually dislike squid due to it's rubbery texture, but this one was actually quite good. The minced stuffing has made it less rubbery by adding new taste and texture. Because the green curry sauce is very strong, thus I couldn't really tell the individual flavors within the stuffing itself. At first I thought the stuffing had eggs, but it turned out I was wrong, it's just chicken and vermicelli. There were also these baby figs(not entirely sure if that's what they were), but I don't see how this contribute anything to the dish, as it was actually bitter when you bite into it. This dish was not on their regular menu, it's something new they are trying out. This one will cost $16.95 when it's on the menu, and I would certainly order it again, as I said before it was very unique and also delicious.The lemongrass beef (Nua Pad Takhai $13.95) was actually one of my favorite for the night. The beef was sauteed enough to be cooked, but not over cooked. The sauce had a strong lemon grass flavor without visible sliced lemon grass. I think they grounded up the lemon grass to a point, you can't even see it. I would certainly order this again.
Our next dish was the deep fried eggplant and Basa fillet. I don't think this item was on the menu yet, but it will probably be around $15.95 when it does. The eggplant was very well done, it was lightly battered and fried to a golden crisp, but the eggplant itself remained soft. The Basa fillet was also batter and deep fried, but it was a different type of coating, and it wasn't as crispy as the egg plant. I preferred the eggplant more than the fish. Both were smothered in a non-spicy curry sauce.
This herb BBQ chicken with dip is also not on the menu. It's your basic herb rubbed BBQ chicken with a special Thai dipping sauce. The chicken did not really have much flavor by itself. The dip consisted of soy sauce, sesame oil, lime, cilantro and some grounded burnt rice cracker sprinkled on top, there also might be some fish sauce, but I am not too sure about that. Although the dish was good, but it didn't wow me. It was just your standard BBQ chicken with dip.
When you are at a Thai restaurant, you got to try their Pad Thai, as it is a symbol of Thai cuisine. It's suppose to be a tamarind base Pad Thai (Pad Thai Krung $12.95), but the tamarind taste was not very distinct. After the first bite, it seems to be missing something, a usually sour/tangy taste. After chatting with the Sonia, she said the Pad Thai here changed to a more westernized version, where they add a bit of tomato sauce for that sour taste and slightly red color, but the original Pad Thai in Thailand is this version we are having. I guess you really can't judge the authenticity until you had the original in Thailand that is. (Time to buy a plane ticket and revisit of one of my hometown ^^)Our last dish was the cashew chicken ($12.95). This was the mildest dish we had all night. It wasn't spicy, although the description said it had some kind of peppers in it. It was more of a sweet taste to it than anything. Although it was good, but it didn't really stand out in any way. This tasted more like a Chinese dish than Thai dish.
Our first dessert of the night is the Thai Tea Pudding. It consisted of 3 layers: whipping cream, sponge cake and the actual pudding. The pudding was simple enough, but it was actually quite good without being too sweet. It was basically a very creamy milk tea turned into a pudding. There was a distinct aroma of tea that linger as you take a bite. The sponge cake was really chewy, and I felt that it didn't contribute anything to the dessert.Personally, I think a mixture of the whipping cream and pudding would be suffice.Our second dessert was tapioca soup with coconut jelly and sliced jack fruit. I did not like this because there was a very distinct salty taste, which I am uncertain if it was intended to be this way or not. Also the was served to us luke warm, once again I don't know if this was intended that way. So this dessert was warm, and tasted sweet and salty at the same time, which I am not a big fan of.Here is the back panel of their menu, it showcased some of the herbs used in Thai cooking. I'm pretty sure we had a taste of almost all of them.

As I already mentioned in the title, this was a complimentary meal. However I stand by my review as being non-bias, as I am only talking about the food here without any other consideration. With all that being said, I think I will go back for 2 reasons. 1. It's convinently located, so if I'm ever heading down to Stanley Park or English Bay, I will definitely consider going there. 2. The food is actually good, although some I did wasn't particularly fond of, but lots of the other ones I did like.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NCL Sky - Food on Cruise

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Right before I went on my cruise, I met up with an old friend. The first thing she said to me after I told her about my cruise is "Oh, be careful, you may get fat from all that eating." To tell you the truth, at this point, I was thinking "Gee, thanks for the warning, but way to put a damper in my happy vacation mood." But it turned out she is absolutely right, because on a NCL cruise, you can eat 24/7, anytime you want. And if you are too lazy to venture out to eat, you can always call room service, it's that convenient.

The Buffet
First up, we have the buffet that's open from morning until about 9pm. You can take anything you want at anytime. The one thing about cruising is that drinks are NOT free, alcohol is a given, but pop also cost money. You can get a pop card for about $6 a day which entitles you to unlimited refills. However drinks at the buffet is always free, which include coffee, tea, ice tea and water. During breakfast they also serve milk and juice.
This would be a typical breakfast plate. They have fresh waffle made to order, and as well as a egg/omelet station where you can request any style you like. They even had just pure egg white if you are on a diet. They also served smoke salmon, sausage, crispy bacon, fresh fruit and assorts of baked goodies. I gotta say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and we were definitely happy with the selection. The above pictures are typical for a lunch buffet, there were the sandwich/wrap station, a salad bar, a carving station (their pork roast was very good), and a hot food area where they serve rice, and various of dishes. They usually have ONE wok station where they make some sort of non-authentic Chinese food. But when you are on a cruise and craving Chinese food, it soon becomes your favorite station.A typical fruit station. I find their watermelon is very sweet and watery, maybe because it's the tropics. It also happen to be the only fruit that I ate on the entire cruise. The desserts constantly changes, but only in appearance and taste. The texture remains the same. It seems like everything is gelatin based. Doesn't matter if it's pudding, jello or mousse cake, it all wiggles. LOLIn the afternoon, the sandwich/wrap station is transformed into the fondue station where they serve it with mini cupcakes and fruit skewers. Also the soft serve ice cream machine came out at about 2pm, and it closed at 5pm. My friend fell in love with the soft serve, he ate more than one everyday. Near the end of the cruise, he even got 2 bowls of it, because he thought the cones were too small. Sometime they have special event happening on the pool deck, at time like this they would move certain aspect of the buffet outside, such as a pool side BBQ. This would be the giant seafood paella we had for one of those days. It was actually quite good. The seafood was fresh and the rice was soft and flavorful.

Restaurant Meal - Free
There are 2 main dining room on NCL Sky: The Crossing and The Palace. Both offer meal service at night. These are the 2 free restaurants that are included in your cruise package. Every night the menu changes.
Although the appetizers looked appetizing, but that was not the case. I don't know what's wrong with the soups on this ship, but all of them are so overly salty. I had only a couple of spoonful and had to stop. The spring roll appetizer was just that, except with better plating. The fruit soup tasted like canned peaches in sweet syrup with a hint of star anise. The skewer was mediocre at best. In fact, I think the food at the buffet tasted better.The entrees were slightly better than the appetizers, but once again it didn't really stand out either. The gnocchi was a bit too starchy. The sauce for the chicken pasta had too much of a soy sauce taste. The desserts were generally good, except the cheesecake. I mean it certainly looks like cheesecake, but it tasted more like jello. Even it's texture was jello like. I guess they just put gelatin powder in all their desserts. The chocolate mousse was actually quite good.

Cover Charge Restaurant - $10-$25/person
The picture below was taken at Le Bistro ($15), but they also have 2 other paid restaurants on board. One is called Il Adagio and the other is called Cagney's Steakhouse. We had the pleasure to visit Il Adagio as well, that one was only $10 cover charge, and it was absolutely worth it, as everything was very delicious. Our favorite has gotta be their tiramisu dessert (drool).
The first thing you notice walking into a paid restaurant is that the decor is much nicer. The food also tasted much better. Not only do they use quality ingredient, the cooking techniques also got more complex. We had seared scallops, mussel, escargot, and foie gras. All were very good.
This would the some of our entrees. As I already mentioned the quality dramatically increased. The leg of lamb on the left was succulent and juicy. The duck breast was equally good. The only thing I didn't like was the pan seared foie gras at the top, it was so fatty and extremely oily. Overall, the entrees are delicious and well worth the money. Oh I forgot to mention, the desserts are also excellent, they actually taste like what they are suppose to be, not at all jello like.

So the lesson of the day is dine at the paid restaurant, and you will get excellent food for excellent value. Because you can reorder anything you liked, and you are not limited to just one appetizer, entree or dessert. In fact at one point, one of my friend had 2 appetizers and 2 entrees.

Summary:
- Buffet: good food for a buffet, and you can eat anytime of the day, and you can even take it to go, great for getting a drink, since it's convenient and free. Also if you are disembarking for shore, you can always grab a few things before you go.
- Free Restaurant: the food is mediocre at best, but worth trying out if you don't want to spend extra money, as the ambiance is nicer than the buffet
- Cover Charge restaurant: well worth the small cover charge price, it's also pretty much an all you can eat, as their is no limit on how many dishes you can order.
- Drinks: Pop and alcohol drinks cost money, the only free drinks are available at the buffet. You can bring your own drinks, but you can only drink in your own cabin. If you bring alcohol, they will charge you a fee to bring it on board.
- Tipping: Since NCL charges you about $12/day/person, tipping at any restaurant is entirely optional. However they do charge a service charge on all alcoholic drinks.
- a little tip: if you really want to bring alcohol on board, and you didn't want to get charged, pour it in a water bottle or soft drink bottle. This tip was given by our friends, but we didn't actually attempt it.

The above is my experience on NCL Sky only. I haven't tried other cruise lines or other ships, so it's purely a first impression on my first cruising experience. Yours may differ :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

On the Side - Photo Essay of The Bahamas :)

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Picture taken at Atlantis Resort private beach
Doesn't this picture look like a postcard, with a caption that should have read: "I wish you were here...". This is also my favorite shot of the Bahamas, because it's a true representation. All white sand and gorgeous clear water with tropical fishes swimming right next to you. It's really heaven, especially comparing with our dreary wet winter weather.
Our first stop on our short 4 day Bahamas cruise is at Freeport. This is one of their tourist local marketplace. I have to say this is a VERY colorful country, I guess with weather like this all year round, this cheerful color theme totally suits them. Imagine if we used their color scheme here in Vancouver, it would feel totally out of place for 3/4 of a year.

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island
If you ever visit Nassau, you should never pass the opportunity to go to Atlantis Resort. Even if you only have a few hours and don't want to spend a dime, you should still go. Look at the impressive structures. One of their lobby wall is part of the aquarium. Atlantis is structurally impressive with tons of details.
If you are the active type and have money to spent, there are tons of things you can do. We did the water park as we had about 8 hours on this island. The first picture shows the Leap of Faith slide with a near vertical drop at the top, then the tube goes through a shark tank and then you end up in a pool. That was the most exhilarating ride ever, I don't think I've ever screamed so loud. If this ride is not for you, there is also a awesome lazy river that have tons of rapids and it also goes through the shark tank. However since you are going through it slowly, you can actually enjoy the view. It is truly a lazy river, because at the end of it, you end up on a conveyor belt that shuttle you up to the house of slides(picture above), then you have a choice between 2 different slides to go back down. So in another word, you can stay in the lazy river all day without lifting a muscle and it's still not boring. They also offer walking with sharks, but it was $199 for that activity, a little over our budget.
For those of you who are not into the whole water park idea, there are still tons you can do at the resort. You can lounge by the pool or the beach. Their beach is just pristine with ultra fine white sand and crystal clear water. They also provide all chairs and towels. Or you can choose to walk through their huge aquarium that also have a lost city of Atlantis theme.

Tip: if you are not staying at the resort, and like us just passing through with a cruise company, it's cheaper to book a room with Comfort Inn next door(you can use all Atlantis amenities) than booking a off shore excursion with the cruise company.

Stirrup Cay - NCL Private Island
When we first arrived at Stirrup Cay, it was gorgeous and sunny, however a storm quickly moved in. However even a storm can't cover up the beauty of the beaches in the Bahamas, the water is still so blue and the sand is still so white.
This is also my first time seeing a real live tornado. It was certainly exciting as everyone whipped out their cameras and just started snapping away. Although the tornado might look like it's on land, but it's actually quite far away at sea, thank God for that. It didn't last too long, after about 15 minutes or so, it was gone.
And this what we were left with, a nice rainbow. This is a first, a rainbow before it even started to rain.Haha, I gotta share this picture. Bar service at the beach. I love how this guy is all dressed up too. Ahhh.. this is the life, and that's what I call a vacation :)

That about sums up of all the places we visited on our cruise. And here I share with you all a local souvenir we bought in support of a charity. It's a cardboard constructed hat what can be worn two ways. We bought the Bahama version ($15USD), as it is the colors on their national flag. Isn't it so cute. It can also be used as vase or anything you imagine it to be. LOL

Next up: Cruise Food...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Turkey Showdown at the Parks - Disney vs Universal

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There are just way too many theme parks in Orlando, and I had the privilege to visited 2 of them. One is Island of Adventure at Universal Studio, and the other one is Disney World.
Universal Island of Adventure was actually quite fun, they do have several very thrilling rides, such as The Hulk and the Dueling Dragon Roller Coaster. The park is divided into several sections, and each section has it own theme and rides. The one piece of exciting news to all you Harry Potter fans is that we saw a 3/4 finished Hogwartz Castle, and this new theme park is scheduled to open sometime this year.

Disney World on the other hand is more for sight seeing, as everything is a beautiful sight. Everything from a castle to a ride has very detailed construction. You will never get bored waiting in line for any ride, because even the lineup area had tons of details to be admired. We stayed to watch the Cinderella Castle firework at night, it was spectacular. After the show, they even made fake snow on Main Street, which made the whole Christmas theme more prominent.

Although theme parks are always fun, but finding something cheap to eat is not. Because almost everything is way over priced, but once in a blue moon you would find something worthy to spent your hard earn money on and that is the Turkey Leg.

This would the turkey leg we had at Universal:Like: huge, has a hickory smoked flavor, cheaper than Disney ($6.99?)
Dislike: Way TOO salty, meat was dry in certain areas (so maybe not that fresh), skin was tough to chew

This single turkey leg was shared among four people, and it was quite filling. But since it was so salty, we felt that if there were bread to go along with this, it would have been better.

This would be the turkey leg at Disney World:
Like: Huge, very juicy, perfect saltiness, fresh and hot
Dislike: higher price than Universal ($8 something)This was just as good as I remembered it from 8 years ago. Everything except the price changed, it was only $5 back then. The meat was juicy, so juicy that it was dripping fat at the bottom. It was also not salty, therefore I could have eaten a whole leg by myself, but this particular one was share with R. The other thing that Disney wins over Universal is that, they actually have a stand where they pretty much just sell the turkey leg, where as the one at Universal was more like a cart that sold a bit of everything. Since this stand had a constant line up, that mean our turkey is always fresh and hot.

Despite the fact that the Disney World turkey leg was higher priced, but for the quality you get, it's worth every penny. I don't know if the one we got at Universal was a indication of all the Turkey leg they sell or were we just unlucky. Either way, since I been to Disney World twice and both time I am impressed, I'd say definitely try the Turkey Leg at Disney World.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bing Sheng - Good Chinese Set Meal

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Bing Sheng

1800 Renfrew Street, Vancouver

Bing Sheng on Urbanspoon


Food: 4
Service: 3

Price: Fair, but our meal was on the expensive side

I've been blogging about food I had on my trip for awhile now, time to change it up and bring it back to the home town. So about a week ago, my family and I went with another family to a local Chinese restaurant. I haven't been to one for a long time. Although Bing Sheng do serve dim sum, we went for the regular menu. We had a set meal for 6 for $245, but since there were only 5 of us, they agree to only charge us as 5 ppl instead.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Red Lobster - pretty good for a chain restaurant

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Red Lobster

5936 International Dr, Orlando

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

Food: 4
Service: 3.5

Price: Fair for the portion

I usually stay away from chain restaurants like the plague, as I think they are just carbon copies of one another. However we have no Red Lobster in Vancouver and I heard some good comments in regard to their seafood. Since we were staying really close by, I figure it doesn't hurt to try it out, and it's convenient.First came the complimentary bread, well in this case it is actually garlic cheese biscuit. It came still hot in its little basket, as soon as I took one out, there was this light garlic aroma. The biscuit was hard on the outside, but buttery soft with pockets of garlic butter and cheese bits. In a nutshell, these are one of the best biscuit I've tried so far. I haven't even eaten anything that I actually ordered, and I am already impressed.Since we know that American portion could be significant bigger than Canadian portion, we decided to get an appetizer and an entree to share. So we started the meal with Lobster, Artichoke and Seafood Dip. The dip was creamy and very cheesy with some seafood bits mixed in. There were only a few pieces of lobster present, but that is expected, after all this is just an appetizer dish for $8.75. The dip was actually very good, it had a strong mixture of both seafood and cheese flavor. The chips were also pretty good, it tasted fresh.We ordered their 2 items signature combo for $18.50. We chose the bacon wrapped scallop with bourbon peach BBQ sauce and garlic cream shrimp. This combo also include rice, some onion rings and 2 sides, which we chose broccoli (came in a separate dish) and baked potato. The shrimps were tender, and the garlic cream sauce was delicious over rice. But the real highlight of this meal was the bacon wrapped scallop. The scallop were fresh, cooked just right, so that it remained soft but cooked. The crispy bacon was a great contrast to the soft scallop. What really made the skewer stand out has gotta be their bourbon peach BBQ sauce, its saltiness was balanced out nicely by the distinct flavor of sweet peach.These dishes were what our friends had. Their appetizer was baked lobster stuffed baby portobello mushroom. For the entree, they chose to have 3 items instead. The 3 item combo is priced at approximately $22, but they decide to upgrade to lobster tail for an additional $6??.

Overall, I am impressed with the food at Red Lobster. Although it's a chain restaurant, I think I will definitely be back. However since there are none in Vancouver, I guess the next time I am craving good seafood, I will just have to drive down to the States.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Five Guys Famous Burger and Fries - Fresh, Never Frozen

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Five Guys Famous Burger and Fries

Located through out Orlando

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Food: 3.5
Price: Fair + (meaning it's a bit higher priced than other places)

The minute we landed in Orlando, we hit the mall to grab a few essential. Coincidentally it was also dinner time. We debated wither we should go and find a restaurant or just eat at the food court. Since we were all pretty hungry at the time, we decided just to stick with the food court.

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