AMATO GELATO CAFE – Suite 100-5951 No. 3 Rd Richmond, BC, Canada (604) 231-5885

3 Apr

PRICE: $3.50-$9

Cold, damp, and wet.  Those words pretty much sum up the majority of the weather today.  Having been a resident of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland for virtually all of my life, this is really no surprise to me at all, but nevertheless, it still carries with it that same dispiriting feeling.  I mean, it is April.  It’s pretty much the middle of spring, and we’re still not really getting anything well, spring-y as far as the weather goes.  I’ve had enough of this.  I’m setting out to change things.

So that’s what has brought me to where I am at this very moment, standing in front of Amato Gelato Café, which holds a certain type of food that no one in their right mind would consume in winter conditions.  Ice Cream.

Centuries ago, it was a common practice for Aboriginal people to gather in large groups and dance, chant, and sing.  They would perform these rituals for long periods of time in hopes of summoning rain.  People have referred to this ritual as the ‘Rain Dance.’  I’m about to do something similar.  I’m about to do a ‘Sun Dance’.

“The vendor looks at me.  I must look like I’m trying to do the spoon-feeding ‘heeeere comes the airplane!!’ routine on a toddler.  Except that toddler is myself.”

How does a ‘Sun Dance’ work, you may ask?  Well it’s really quite simple.  I get the most summery dessert of all (ice cream), sit back, enjoy it, and wave the Ice Cream Cone around like Harry Potter trying to cast a spell.  I’m hoping this ritual will magically fix our crappy weather conditions and morph them into something summer-like.  I’ll be willing to settle for spring-like though.

Entering Amato Gelato’s, I bear witness to the extraordinary amount of Ice Cream flavours I have to choose from.  An entire gallery of Ice Cream sits behind the glass display counters.  I step forward and rub my chin like a Sherlock Holmes attempting to deduce the perfect way to summon the summer weather.

There it is.  Coconut Sorbet.  What’s more tropical and summery than a Coconut?  Nothing.   That’s what.

I place my order for a scoop.  The vendor gives me an awesome, gigantic scoop atop a waffle cone.  Perfect.

I make my way to a table and begin devouring the sucker for all it’s worth.  Sweet Coconut flavours permeate my palette and provide a cool, refreshing and tasty experience.   Mmmm.  Summoning the summer gods is fun.  Oh wait, I forgot the dancing part.  I wave my cone around in figure eights.  The vendor looks at me.  I must look like I’m trying to do the spoon-feeding ‘heeeere comes the airplane!!’ routine on a toddler.  Except that toddler is myself.  The embarrassment is painful, but hey, whoever said that doing something as important as the Sun Dance was easy?  I suck it up, and continue tracing the magical figure in the air.

Finally having slurped a great deal of the refreshing and creamy Coconut Sorbet, I’m down to the cone.  The waffle crunches pleasantly in my mouth.  Light tasting, sweet, and crunchy.  The sun has to come up now.

After a great dealing of slurping, licking, and crunching, I look out the window.  It’s no longer raining.  The sky is actually beginning to clear up.  However, it is still cold and chilly.  I look at my empty hands.  Hmm.  Maybe if I have another cone, those problems will disappear…

The Sun Dance resumes.

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ITALIAN TOMATO – 8380 Bridgeport Rd, Richmond, BC, Canada (604) 247-0040

1 Apr

PRICE: $15-$30

Running a marathon and eating at the Italian Tomato, while on the surface may appear to be two completely different things, are quite actually one and the same in my experience.  Running several city blocks taxes the mind, body, and soul.  Trying to finish a single pasta entrée at the Italian Tomato taxes the mind, body, and soul.  Completing the first few kilometers in a run feels like a milestone. Realizing that you’ve eaten all the olive toppings on your entrée feels like a milestone.   Both running a marathon and eating at the Italian Tomato push you to your limit.  And finally, completing both of these activities gives you that same sense of accomplishment and self-importance.

The only thing is, I’m not feeling that sense of accomplishment, nor that sense of importance right now.

I’m sitting in my chair, and I’ve barely had anything to eat all day.  I’m really just about ready pass out from over-eating.  I’ve realized that having almost nothing to eat the whole day has made my stomach contract to the size of a walnut.  Shocking my system with this rich and creamy Italian food is probably the stupidest way to break my fast.  I’m running the first block of the marathon, and I’m already fainting.

Fortunately, what makes me keep on going despite the judgmental stares of my compatriots is the fact that I LOVE spaghetti.  I’m looking around at the folks at my table, and they’re all giving me looks that read: ‘This guy just can’t eat.  He can’t fight the good fight.’  They’re all looking at me to see if I’m game enough to finish my massive plate of pasta, as well as the other sampled servings that they have kindly offered me.  I glare back at them challengingly.  You just watch me.

First I sample some of the Ravioli with Portofino Sauce.  The Sundried Tomatoes and Pesto swim in Tomato Sauce, providing a primarily sour overtone to the dish.  The Sauce is thick and has the consistency of a Stew.  The Pasta is well cooked and the stuffing of the Ravioli adds a cheesy zing to each bite.  This sample is finished.

“They’re all looking at me to see if I’m game enough to finish my massive plate of pasta, as well as the other sampled servings that they have kindly offered me.  I glare back at them challengingly.  You just watch me.”

All’ Emeiliana has spicy Italian Sausages dancing atop of a Saucy stage of Bacon, Tomatoes, Basil, Black Olives, Feta Cheese, Garlic Olive Oil and Clear White Wine Sauce.  Linguine serves as the Pasta underneath.  Despite the abundance of ingredients the overall taste has a nice balance that allows space for each ingredient to breathe a little bit.  Sample finished.

Finally I start working on the dish that I actually ordered.  Linguine Pasta topped off with a traditional Alfredo Cream Sauce.  Some pass judgmental remarks on the ‘simplicity’ of my order, but I shrug it off.  Hey, always gotta go back to the classics, baby.  I dig in.  The creamy Alfredo Sauce offers a pleasant, consistent texture.  The lightly savoury shades of Cheese dance pleasantly in my palette.  This sample is not finished…not yet…I hope.

Now fast forward ten minutes.

“….uhhh…so full….”

I’m probably at the 2/3 mark of the marathon.  I’m just about to pass out.

Now five more minutes.

“…UHghguH”

I can’t even pronounce words.

Now three more minutes.

I tap out.  You just can’t win a marathon when you’re racing against the Italian Tomato.

Judgmental grins line my table.  I glare back anyway.

Italian Tomato on Urbanspoon

SWEET BUBBLE CAFE – 130 – 6068 No. 3 Road, Richmond, BC (604) 270-9993

30 Mar

PRICE: $4-$12

Right now I’m quite literally dashing to dine.  It’s evening meal break at work and I’ve been running around from shop to shop outside the mall I work at.  Everywhere I go a ‘CLOSED’ sign is standing guard between me and a much needed meal.  Time is starting to run out.

After ducking in and out of restaurant windows and playing charades with the owners (lip reading ‘ARE YOU CLOSED?’ – ‘YES WE ARE CLOSED’) I finally come across a place that doesn’t make me perform the tireless ritual.

I peer through the window of the door half-expecting to begin the tireless dance.  Just as I begin preparing to give my best ‘ARE YOU CLOSED’ charades impression, I lean on the door and realize that it’s…open. THANK GOD.

I crack open the door and begin to make my way to the cash register.  Asian pop music rings through the empty room.  Save for the tunes, it’s so still it feels like I’m at church.  Or a circus.  Polka-dot red and white sofas line the room. The black walls are highlighted with neon orange and green.  I’m just waiting for the clowns to start coming in.  I’m not used to this look, but I suppose it has its own kind of charm.

“I suppose hanging out in this place could help me get in touch with my Oriental side.  After all, I suppose we’re all really just different shades of yellowish-brown.”

I look at the menu.  While this is a very stereotypically Bubble Tea-looking place, they also serve a pretty wide variety of entrees.  I’m feeling the Crepes at the moment.  I place an order for the Tuna & Corn Crepe.  I’ve never had both of these foods surrounded by a very thin French Pancake.  I’m in.

I twiddle my thumbs while sitting at a table alone.  I feel awkward.  I’m not used to these kinds of places.  The colours are so bright.  The atmosphere so… Asian.  Hong Kong/Taiwan style.  I suppose these are the occasions where I can truly realize how much of a *Banana I am.

Even though my parents identify themselves culturally as Filipino, I suppose hanging out in this place could help me get in touch with my Oriental side.  After all, I suppose we’re all really just different shades of yellowish-brown.

The Crepe arrives and I hungrily wolf it down.  Savoury Tuna complements the sweet corn.  The warm but slightly crunchy Crepe complements the two.  The presentation is simple but elegant.  It can probably be best described as the most upscale Tuna Fish Sandwich I’ve ever had.  Simple, but awesome in its own right.

Content from the food, but still feeling pretty out of place in this joint, I lean back in my seat and begin to relax a little.

After a while it happens.  A feeling that I can’t quite describe, but it’s there.  Fleeting, but still noticeable.  That feeling that you get when you start feeling comfortable in what was an otherwise alien environment.

At home.  But just for a second.

It’s good feel a little more like an ‘authentic’ Asian, even if it’s just for a moment.

 

*To my international readers: Banana is Lower Mainland slang for an Asian with primarily Caucasian mannerisms – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

 

Sweet Bubble Cafe on Urbanspoon

MY CUP COFFE & TEA – #105 – 6011 No. 3 Road, Richmond, BC (604) 270-3990

29 Mar

PRICE:  $3-$10

I’m a little nervous right now.  I was just recently kicked out of a restaurant for the very first time.  Apparently some people don’t take too kindly to having scum like me taking pictures of their food and their restaurants.  Oh well.  I suppose the soul-stealing qualities of cameras are still feared by many food vendors.  I guess I really should’ve seen something like this coming, but honestly given the amount of people with smart phones taking pictures of food, I didn’t think that it was such a big deal.  Chalk it up to experience.  Soul-stealing without consent isn’t safe.  Let that be a lesson to all of you.

So yeah, I am quite nervous right now as I walk into this café.  I’m really hoping that the good folks at this place will be better sports when it comes to soul-stealing.

A slight pause.  I finally pull myself through the door.  The place is nice.  Dark tiles line the floor.  Big windows offer a panoramic view to my right.  Black marble tables line the room with comfy leather chairs standing by their sides.  The Pastry display case is to my left, the cash register in front.  Hiding behind counter, you can catch the steel glint of an Espresso machine.

“I wince each time I click the button, half-expecting to get thrown out of the place again.  Foodie PTSD is catching up with me.”

I place my order.  A Soy Caramel Macchiato and a Chocolate Waffle with Whip Cream on the side.  I pay the cashier, and wait for the order.  I fumble around anxiously with my camera in my pocket.  This is unnerving.  I’m suffering from Foodie Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (FPTSD).  Who would’ve thought getting thrown out of a restaurant would’ve given me such battle scars?

I finally start to talk, anxiously muttering as politely as I can.

“Uhm…could…I…”

My hostess is giving me a blank stare.

“…uh…”

Now a blanker stare.

“…take pictures?  I’m…a blogger.  For food.”

I feel like a twelve year old asking out a girl for the first time.  Some things never change I guess.

She gives me an awkward okay, followed with a forced smile.  Yup.  Some things really don’t change at all.

I finally reveal my camera, stumble around awkwardly trying to look professional, and start snapping photos.  I wince each time I click the button, half-expecting to get thrown out of the place again.  Foodie PTSD is catching up with me.

I’m finally done clicking away and start to appreciate the orange diamonds dancing on my Caramel Macchiato.  Beautiful.  A sip reveals the foam to be of good quality; thick enough to provide a pleasing texture to the tongue, smooth enough to transition between foam to liquid without interruption, and uniform.  No stray bubbles.  An inferior barista makes their drinks feel like microwaved sugary Coffee-Milk with bubbles on top.  Definitely not the case here.  I’m enjoying it.

The Chocolate Waffle looks good and provides a nice Mocha-infused experience.  With Whip Cream on top, and bits of Chocolate Flakes sprinkled around, it makes for a satisfying snack.  My only concern; I wish they served it warm.  It was a little cold for my tastes.

The food finally relaxes me, and I think most of the symptoms of Foodie PTSD are starting to wear off.  I lean back, and enjoy the rainy day the way all rainy days should be enjoyed; inside, with a cup of great Coffee, a snack, and a newspaper in hand.

I fell off the horse a little while ago.  I think I’m back on again.

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Reflections – PEARL CASTLE – 6060 Minoru Blvd, Richmond, BC, Canada (604) 279-0177

28 Mar

Every now and then, I think we all just need to pause and stop thinking so much.  Just stop and enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the tastes.

Bright lights.  Chandeliers cling to the ceiling overhead.  Soft cushions.   Leather seats are there to catch you when you’re ready to fall.  Solid Spruce.  Wooden tables under our hands, carrying our utensils, our tools of our trade.  Time to dine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef Brisket Hot Pot has an almost reassuring glow.  Drenched in a Tomato Stew and served with Rice and a bit of Sweet Hot Sauce to accent the slightly savoury and tender Beef, it’s the tasty trophy you get once you cross the finish line of a long work day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hot Milk Tea with Tapioca Pearls has a distinctly friendly shimmer, especially when you’re tired.

Red Rose Oolong Tea scatters a warm and lustrous scent throughout the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Seafood Hot Pot decorated with slices of Pork is a prize to behold.  Swimming in the Broth is some measure of satisfaction when it’s cold, wet, and rainy outside, and you’re inside a cozy restaurant looking out

Deep Fried Calamari offers crunchy relief, with salty overtones to help sort your thoughts out.

Jell-O makes you grin like a little kid again when you slurp it in your mouth.

The company of friends lights up a cold and rainy night.

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NOOCH SNACK & CHILL – 6900 No 3 Road, Richmond, BC, Canada, (604) 284-5434

26 Mar

PRICE: $6-$12

Today I skipped lunch, which is something I absolutely hate doing.  Today I’m running from job to the next with almost no end in sight.  Fortunately I have a tiny 30-minute window which will allow me to eat.  Or so I thought.  Briskly walking through No.3 Road in Richmond, I make my way to Nooch Snack & Chill.  I’ve passed by it almost countless times on my bus trips to work, and I figure it’s high time I actually pay that place a visit.

While No.3 road sits as one of the most busy and prosperous areas in Downtown Richmond, the area in which Nooch is located is surprisingly dilapidated.  Ironic that such a neglected area stands right in front of City Hall.  Oh well.  Further musings on irony will saved for another time.  As I draw close to the entrance, I’m not really expecting a whole lot.  Maybe just a cheap sandwich joint staffed with illegal immigrants.

Opening the door, I am rather shocked to see the place so…well…CLEAN.  The walls are a sparkling white with red highlights to accent certain areas of the interior.  The building is spotless, the area sparse, but with pleasing artistic drawings, couches, tables and chairs sparingly placed rather tastefully.

“I used to have a classmate in high school that kept cheeseburgers in his pockets.  Seriously.  And this was before Napoleon Dynamite ever came out.”

A friendly smile emerges from the cash desk.  I’m hesitant.  I have no idea what kind of stuff this place serves, so the man behind the counter helpfully suggests the more popular dishes.  I choose one.

“Would you like that for here, or to go?”

“For here.”

A slight pause follows, followed by the explanation “Unfortunately we’re closing at 6:00 today, would you still like it for here?”

I glance at my watch.  It’s 5:45.

I sigh.  So much for enjoying a relaxing meal.  Ah well.  It’s either 15 minutes or nothing.  Sometimes you just gotta make do with what you have, and it’s either eat here real fast, or eat on the bus on the way home.

I do not like the idea of eating a meal on the bus.

I used to have a classmate in high school that kept cheeseburgers in his pockets.  Seriously.  And this was before Napoleon Dynamite ever came out.

I do not want to have that reputation with the people on the bus.

The decision is now obvious and easy.

“…I’ll just take it for here anyway…”  I wince a little as I say this.

I hate being that jerk customer that stays after-hours to bug service workers.  I work in a food court, and every time someone approaches me for coffee after the store has shut down, I feel like a little part of what makes me human dies inside.

Surprisingly enough, my host seems rather good-natured about it, offers me a seat, and gives the cook my order.  Ham and Swiss Cheese Panini.

As I do my usual rounds of picture taking, my host strikes up a little bit of small talk.  I try to explain to him that I’m really just a writer; I’m not trying to stake out the place.  Nothing to worry about here!

The food arrives pretty quickly.  I start ogling my plate.  Sourdough Panini Bread encases a layer of Ham and Melted Swiss Cheese.  Kettle-Boiled Potato Chips and Salad drenched in what appears to be a Balsamic Vinaigrette stand guard between the main course.  I dig in.

The bread is delightfully warm and crunchy; a welcome change from the gross soggy Oatmeal-like sludge that often passes for warm Panini Bread.  The Cheese is warm and thick, with a pleasantly mild tang.  The Ham…is I think Safeway Select.  Oh whatever, Ham is Ham.

The Salad’s Vinaigrette is light and easy.  The Vinegar is pleasant and offers a pleasant sour overtone, but overall is rather sweet.  The Vegetables offer a refreshing crunch. 

The Potato Chips are either Miss Vickie’s or Kettle Boiled Chips.  That’s fine, I like both brands.

I hastily down the meal as quickly as I can.  I’m the only one left in the restaurant at this point.  Ugh. I feel like that straggling, sickly Wildebeest (which always gets left behind in the group and dies) that you always see in those nature documentaries on Africa.  It’s 6:05.

Expecting to see a menacing frown on my host, I do my best to excuse myself.  He grins, seeming pretty chill about it, shakes my hand, gives me his name, and waves.

Well, Nooch Snack & Chill delivered on the chill part for sure. I guess even the sickly Wildebeest can have its place in the pack after all.

Nooch Snack & Chill on Urbanspoon

TREES ORGANIC COFFEE AND ROASTING HOUSE – 450 Granville Street, Vancouver, Canada, (604) 684-5022

23 Mar

PRICE: $3-$12

Coming up to the entrance of Trees Organic Coffee & Roasting House, there is perhaps a greater than 85% chance that you will come across the gate keeper of this café.  A man with a mane of stark white hair, a long beard, and owl-rim glasses.  I call him Santa Claus.  Or his retired, embittered, and disgruntled double.  During the off-season, it appears as if Santa enjoys spending his time here in Downtown Vancouver, watching the world go by while sipping on a cup of Organic Brew.  I think I’ll join him.  But from a distance; he gives me the creeps.  I don’t think my niceness compensates for the naughty at this point of the year, and I don’t want a lump of coal being prematurely hurled at me so early in the year.

His gaze is constant, and his seat is right outside the door.  Always the same seat.  Always that same look.  Implacable.  Impenetrable.  Calculating.  Always.  Me and my foodie compatriot do our best to tip-toe past his watchful eye.  We open the door.

The atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  It’s a place that’s bustling with life, yet is still manages to feel cozy and avoid the rat-in-a-cage vibe that very busy cafes seem to be encompassing more and more.  The lighting is soft and vibrant, yet still bright.  True enough to its namesake, the pillars that line the center of the store are decorated with branches.  Trees inside Trees Organic Coffee & Roasting House.  They take their marketing quite seriously.

“…I don’t want a lump of coal being prematurely hurled at me so early in the year.”

Judging from the fact that Cheesecake related articles from The Province’s (A Vancouver Newspaper, for you non-Canadian readers) food columnist have been splashed around this area, I would say that the hottest thing to order at this place would be Cheesecake.  My foodie partner and I order a slice of Mocha and Key Lime Cheesecakes, and a Soy Latte to boot.

We take our warm, Cheesecake bearing, fresh-off-the-dishwasher plates to a corner by the window.  It gives us a clear view of Santa Claus.  Busily munching on our desserts, chatting about work, life, and other random things is a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.  And with a room with a view, (of none other than the illustrious patron of gift-giving) this place also doubles as a sort reality show.  A Day in the Life of Santa: The Off-Season.

I take in the full sweet-and-sour flavours of the warm-on-the-outside, cool-on-the-inside Key Lime Cheesecake.  Whip Cream adorns its sides and provides a great complement to the sweet Citrus and Cheese flavours.  All the while, a show is unfolding before us.

Santa stands.  Look at the lacquer and black stain marks on the bottom of his pants.  He’s been sitting there so long, he’s slowing starting to assume the colour of the furniture. Santa is a chameleon.  But I suppose he’d have to be, in order to blend in with mortals.

The Mocha Cheesecake settles in our mouths.  Also possessing the familiar sour taste of Cheese, but combined with the pleasant tang of Dark Chocolate Mocha and Whip Cream.  A firm but pleasing texture.  A satisfying experience.

I look at my Latte cup.  A cat is standing guard.  Hastily etched onto the foam of the drink, but I appreciate it nonetheless.  I take a sip.  The Espresso is full bodied, prominent, yet also avoids the dreaded ‘Burnt Coffee effect’ that some Cafes seem to produce in their desire to create a strong Espresso taste.  I wish the foam was a little more prominent, and a little thicker, but it’s still a reasonably pleasing drink.

My foodie partner and I continue our banter and watch the world pass by.  We’re all feeling jolly right now.  Especially when the Patron of Christmas is quite literally, right outside our window.  Even Saints need their Coffee break.

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