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We made a special trip to Irvine, primarily to visit Fukada. This is a small Japanese restaurant in a shopping plaza in Irvine, CA.

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They’re doing something right, because this is pictured about 15 before they’ve opened.  There were a good 20-30 people waiting outside.  There was a sign up clip board on the front door to register our name and party-size.
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It’s a modest sized space (probably seats 40 or so).  Clean, well-lit, very functional layout.

The menu is an assortment of fairly typical japanese fare, including some slightly more unusual items like eel, duck, natto, mountain potatoes, etc.  There seems to be an emphasis on noodles, as well as fresh organic ingredients.  I do remember seeing sushi on the menu, although I do not remember seeing anyone order it.

We started with an order of goma-ae

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This is cold blanched spinach, spooned over with a dressing of soy, sugar, sesame seeds, and dashi stock.  This was pretty good.  Notable for the use of whole toasted sesame seeds rather than sesame paste.  It added a slightly different dimension for texture.

 

Next came agedashi tofu.

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This is soft tofu cubes, dredged in seasoned starch, and deep fried lightly.  It’s served in a sauce of dashi stock, soy and mirin, garnished with scallions and finely shredded bonito flakes.  This was very good.  The tofu was warm and quite soft (had to be delicate handling it with chopsticks), with a lightly crisp coating.  The sauce was savory and sweet.

Next came the appetizer of tonkatsu.

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This is a pork loin chop, tipped in a liquid batter, and dredged in panko, then deep-fried to a crunch.  It’s sliced and served with shredded cabbage with a drizzle of miso dressing.  This was okay.  It was a very lean cut of pork, so it came out a little dry.  The seasoning and taste were right.  I don’t think it was overcooked, just really lean.

Next came the udon soup with tempura “bits”.

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There’s actually a proper name for those “bits” but it escapes me.  But that is what they are.  It’s the little chunks of fried tempura batter that’s skimmed off the deep fryer after making a batch of tempura.  The soup is quite nice, a warm broth of light dashi, with fresh udon noodles, seasoned with scallions and seaweed, and of course, the tempura batter bits.  They have a nice crisp crunch for about the first minute or so when the soup arrives, before they go soggy. The noodles were freshly made in-house, and slightly thinner than most udon noodles I’ve had before.

Addendum:  mystery solved, the “bits” are called “tanuki”.

Along with the soup came assorted tempura on brown rice

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So this is a bowl of brown short grain rice, covered with an assortment of tempura vegetables and prawns.  There was eggplant, zucchini, carrots, lotus root, sweet potatoes, and two prawns.  This was good tempura.  It’s a little heavier than I’m used to, but still very enjoyable.  The batter had a good crispy/crunch to it.  It came with bowl of tempura dipping sauce made from soy, mirin and dashi.

This is an extremely busy place, and they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait for a table.  The service was a bit slow, but perhaps to be expected given how busy they are.

Fukada on Urbanspoon

Walking through the (rather moribund and desolate) Anaheim Garden Walk Shopping Plaza, we wandered across Cheesecake Factory and McCormick and Schmick’s. The line up at Cheesecake Factory was quite long, and since we’d tried it before, we opted for McCormicks instead.

McCormick and Schmick’s is a chain of seafood & steak restaurants based out of Portland, Oregon.

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We were seated immediately upon arrival.

While the menu has a variety of offerings, seafood is the emphasis.  We went for the power lunch specials.

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The space is large and bright, with warm colors and and simple but stylish decor.

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We started with the crispy fish tacos

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This is a pair of soft tacos, consisting of a strip of cod, battered and deep fried, wrapped in a flour tortilla, and dressed with cilantro aioli.  It’s serve with a jicama slaw and a cup of black beans.

This was pretty good.  The fish is fresh, the batter is light and crispy without being oily.  The flour tortilla was grilled on one side to give it some texture.

I’ve never been a fan of black beans, so it didn’t make an impression upon me.

This was followed by crispy cod sandwich

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This is two battered deep fried cod sticks (much like the ones in the taco), served on a toasted bun, garnished with lettuce and coleslaw, and dressed with malt vinegar aioli.  It has fresh crispy french fries on the side.

The sandwich was really good.  I preferred it over the tacos.  Even though it’s the same fish, I preferred the malt vinegar aioli and the coleslaw over the jicama slaw in the taco.

The french fries were pretty good: crisp, lightly salted.

In hindsight, I probably should have ordered something with a different profile, since the tacos and the sandwich both featured batter fried cod.

Our server was quite exemplary:  pleasant, friendly, patiently explaining the menu items, checking in on us periodically throughout the meal.

McCormick & Schmick's Grille on Urbanspoon

After retrieving a rental car, our world of options expanded exponentially.

Just as an aside, the public transit system in the greater Los Angeles Area is ridiculous. The issue being, metro LA is spread out. REALLY spread out. If you want to get anywhere by public transit, it takes FOREVER.

I tried planning an outing from our hotel in Anaheim to downtown LA. 45 minutes by car (assuming no major traffic delays), but 2 hours 45 minutes by transit. Each way. And the public transit system does not seem to take advantage of the highway system that criss-crosses the metro area.

So with our increased mobility at hand, we had options, and decided to check out some more exotic cuisine. Our search (thank you, internet) yielded a well reviewed Korean barbecue restaurant in Garden Grove, about 8 miles from the hotel.

This brings up a second driving rant, about Orange County. Many of the major thoroughfares in OC are 8-10 lane streets with a divider running down the middle. Translation, no left turns in the middle of the block. Translation, alot of U turns. This was extremely disorienting for the first day. When I tried to get to a destination that I’ve plugged into my GPS. First it tells me to make a U turn because I’m facing the wrong direction. Then I’ll be driving towards it, and the GPS will then tell me a need to do a second U turn up ahead. But I just did a U turn! What the heck? Well, it’s because the destination is mid block on the wrong side of the street, and there’s a street divider running down the middle. Ugh, confusing.

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Cham Sut Gol is a Korean barbeque house inset from the street in a strip mall off main drag.

This is one of the largest dining spaces I’ve ever seen for any Korean restaurant, it could easily seat 200 or more, split over three dining areas.

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So when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  This is a Korean barbecue house, so we ordered the barbecue special, which included 3 types of marinated meat, and all the banchan (side dishes) we wanted.  The side dishes arrived quickly after we ordered.

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From the top left, going clockwise, we had

  • cubed white radish with kimchi seasoning (khadugi).  I’ve never been a big fan of kimchi, so whether is cabbage, or white radish cubes, it doesn’t make an impression on me.
  • blanched broccoli with a spicy sauce
  • marinated pressed fish cake with picked vegetables
  • marinated bean sprouts (sukjunamul) – these were crisp and fresh

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  • pictured top left – stir fried glass sweet potato noodles (japchae). The japchae was very nice, good flavor.
  • and top right – potato salad.  Not bad, basically it’s a pretty familiar potato salad with little bits of cucumber, apple and korean pear in it. The potato salad was surprisingly good (maybe just because I was really hungry).

we also had a large bowl of green salad, dressed with a sweet spicy vinaigrette.

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The lettuce greens were fresh and crisp, and the vinaigrette was tart and sweet, with just a little kick of spice.

Included with the meal was soup for each of us.  We received a steamed egg soup (gaeran jim) in a hot earthenware bowl.

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This is whipped eggs with soup stock, scallions and seaweed, steamed until the eggs rise and set.  This was quite good, and kinda reminiscent of a steamed whipped egg dish that mom used to make when I was a child.

We also had a bowl of spicy tofu soup (kimchi jigae)

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This is a hot earthenware bowl, filled with soft silken tofu, whipped egg, kimchi cabbage and spices, scallions, and soup broth, and brought to a boil.  I’ve had this soup/stew elsewhere, but this was really good.  The best interpretation of this dish I’ve had to date.  The broth has lots of flavor, well seasoned, with a just a little heat from the kimchi.  The egg and the tofu provide a smooth rich texture.

Next came the marinated meat.  We started with dak golgi and bulgogi, which promptly went onto the propane grill.

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The bulgogi is very thin strips of beef (typically sirloin), marinated in crushed garlic, soy, sugar, mirin, pureed pear, pureed onions, ginger, and sesame oil.  It’s the same (or very similar to, the marinade used for kalbi).  This was fabulous, probably the best part of the meal.  The beef is tender and cooks fairly quickly (if you properly separate the sheets meat before laying them on the grill…. mental note to do that properly next time).

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The dak gogi is boneless chicken thigh and breast meat, marinated in soy, sugar, garlic, ginger, mirin, chilies, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar.  We grilled it for a good 6-7 minutes until it was cooked through.  This was not bad.  Not nearly as good as the bulgogi.

My guess is, both are marinated all day (or even over night).  But beef fares better with lengthy marinating, while chicken does not.  At least not with the ingredients in it’s marinade… it was tougher and tighter than I like.

Arriving with the chicken and bulgogi, was pork belly.  There wasn’t room for it on grill initially, so the server placed it in a ceramic dish of marinating liquids (that gave it a rich brown color by the time it was ready to go on the grill).

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The pork belly was pretty good.  I’m not sure about the contents of the marinade here, but since it was cooked on the same grill as the beef and the chicken, the flavors started to come together and it was hard to tell if we were eating something different, or more of the same.

Included in the meal is a dessert of ice cream (no pictured).  It’s a self-serve freezer in one corner of the restaurant, where you help yourself to a cup or a cone, and scoop up one of four flavors of commercially made ice cream.  I saw green tea, rocky road, mango, and what appeared to be spumoni ice cream.

Our servers were quite helpful and pleasant and more than willing to provide additional sides and meat on demand (not necessary, the initial offering was more than enough).

The room, as mentioned, is enormous.  But it’s clean and organized (and thankfully, not crowded).

This was a good meal, at a decent value.

Cham Sut Gol on Urbanspoon

While visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, we decided to exit the studio grounds and grab something to eat from the shopping/dining area just outside the gates (we were warned that the concessions on-site were overpriced and not very palatable). Wandering through we spotted one of Wolfgang Puck’s establishments. Since we had no plans to visit Beverly Hills, we figured that this was as close to Puck’s “Spago” as we would get during this trip, so we went in.

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This is a very casual eatery, with a streamlined lunch menu consisting of pasta, pizza, burgers, salads, and appys.  The dinner menu is a little larger and more elaborate, but we were here for lunch.  We arrived just before the lunch hour, placed our orders at the front, and took a seat in a booth on the side.

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It’s a bright airy space, with lots of wood tones, and minimalist decor.

We started with an appetizer of fried calamari.

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This is tenderized squid, battered and deep-fried to a light crisp, served over arugula, and sprinkled with herbs and salt.  It’s accompanied by a small cup of tzaziki sauce. This was a good calamari: tender on the inside, with a nice light crunch on the outside, properly seasoned.  The tzaziki dipping sauce was rich, thick and creamy.

This was followed by our fennel sausage pizza.

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This is a thin crust pizza, topped with tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, fennel sausage, roasted garlic, peperoncini (the small slightly hot pale green peppers), and roasted red peppers.  This is a really nice thin crust pizza.  It’s crisp on the bottom and edges, the toppings are packed with flavor.  There’s nice creaminess from the herbed ricotta, and light acidity from the tomato sauce.  The peperoncini gives a tiny kick.  I really liked this, and would probably get the pizza if I visited another Puck restaurant.

The service was pretty minimal (and by design I think).

Wolfgang Puck L.A. Bistro on Urbanspoon

In spite of frequently visiting Honolulu, we’d never dine at any of Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurants. But when we passed by one of his establishments in Anaheim, we decided to give it a try.

This Roy’s location is on Katella Avenue, on the street, at the south edge of the Garden Walk shopping and entertainment center.  I use the term “shopping” pretty loosely, because there aren’t many stores in this complex.  It appears to have been an unsuccessful attempt to create a non-Disney shopping and dining complex adjacent to Disneyland.  The restaurants have worked out reasonably well, but the shopping hasn’t.  There were alot of boarded up stores in there, and the few that were open, weren’t very busy.  But I digress.

Roy’s restaurants are decidedly fusion, borrowing influences from around the Pacific Rim, and drawing from him adopted home of Hawaii. His restaurants reflect this approach, as well as the local ingredients and tastes.

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We were seated on the patio shortly after we arrived.  After placing our orders (we went for the “Aloha hour” appetizer specials), the server brought us some compliementary endamame beans .

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Not much to say here:  there’s not much to endamame.  These are young soy beans, boiled, dusted with seasoned salt and served.

The appies started with the Crispy Pork & Steamed Buns

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These are soft steamed buns (Shanghai style), split and filled with a slice of roasted pork belly, garnished with a slaw of green apples, matchstick carrots and purple cabbage, and drizzled with what the menu describes as a Red Dragon Sauce.  This was pretty good.  The steamed buns are soft and pillowy and slightly sweet.  The pork belly was fatty and delicious, but not nearly as crispy as I expect (I guess I’ve become too accustomed to chinese roast pork, which crunchy crackling skin, it’s now by benchmark for roast pork belly). The sauce is complex with sweet, salty, slightly tangy, and a slight aromatic overtone that suggests the presence of sesame oil.

This was followed by the Misoyaki Butterfish Lettuce Wraps.

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The term “butterfish” originates, as far as I know, from the Hawaiian islands.  To the rest of North America, its black cod.  It’s a delicate fatty mild white fish, marinated in miso and mirin, seared to a light char around the edges.  It’s served in a butter lettuce leaf-cup, with crispy shallots and a smoked shiitake vinaigrette.   These are wonderful.  The fish has a smooth, delicate texture, and its mild flavor soaked up the miso and mirin for saltiness and sweetness.  The fried shallots provide some crunchy savoriness.

We finished up with an ebi roll.

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This is a shrimp tempura, in a sushi roll, topped with sliced avocado and mango, accented with the flavor of coconut milk, cream cheese, and drizzled with a spicy aioli.  This was pretty good, although I found the addition of coconut milk to the sushi rice made the rice a tiny bit too moist.  There are lots of sweet and salty tones with creaminess from the avocado.

Our server was extremely friendly, patient, knowledgeable and accommodating.  She gets points for excellent service.

We were seated outside, so it’s hard to comment on the atmosphere of the interior of the restaurant.  But the patio was nice, and not too crowded.

 

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine on Urbanspoon

After a long day of doing touristy stuff, we wanted to grab a late dinner, and chose Roscoe’s. This was one of a number of “places to eat” recommended on Timeout’s Los Angeles web portal, and since it was (barely) within walking distance of our hotel, we decided to give it a try.

We arrived around 8pm and were seated immediately in spite of a near full house.

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Roscoe’s is a California based chain of soul food restaurants started by a expat Harlem native, and specializes in, not surprisingly, fried chicken and waffles.

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There actually is other fare on the menu.  Not that you’d notice by looking around.  But they seem to be doing something right, because the place was buzzing, and every table within sight was ordering the same thing.

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So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  I ordered the “Scoes” dinner, meaning a quarter chicken and two waffles.  I asked for the “southern style” chicken, the alternative being chicken with gravy.  Looking around the restaurant, “southern style” was the dominant preference.

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This was a marinated chicken leg and a breast, dredged in a deeply seasoned flour mixture, and deep fried to a light crisp.  It’s served with two large fluffy waffles, a huge dollop of creamery butter, and two large cups of syrup.

 

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The waffles, we found a little disappointing.  The flavor was nice enough. They were slightly sweet, with a hint of cinnamon, soft spongy on the inside.  The disappointment was that they were soft on the outside as well.  We like our waffles to be a little crispy on the edges.  No so here.

The chicken was excellent.  It was hot and juicy on the inside, cooked and seasoned extremely well, with a nice spicy hit that wasn’t overwhelming (milder than, say, KFC).  It combines nicely with the sweet syrup.

 

My dinner companion had a smaller order of a single piece of chicken with a biscuit, also with a very generous dollop of creamery butter.

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This biscuit was actually kinda dense.  Flavor and seasoning was okay.

The room is very open, bright and boisterous.  It’s functional and clean.

Our servers were nice enough, albeit a little overworked, probably because of how busy this location was.

Honestly, the chicken was good, but I’ve had better fried chicken & waffles elsewhere, but the price was reasonable.

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles on Urbanspoon

Upon the recommendation from my lunch companion, we took a drive out to North Vancouver to patronize Tour de Feast.  This is a small french bistro situated in a light industrial area.

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The menu consists of salads, sandwiches, omelets, and heartier meals of cassoulet, steak, braised meats, and seafood.
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I ordered a feature lunch special, which took the form of a soup and sandwich.  The soup came as a house made tomato soup

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This is a creamy but still light tomato soup with a good flavor and seasoning, and a light fruity aroma from the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

We shared an order of the alsatian onion tart.

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This is sautéed onions in a rich white cheese sauce, with chunks of cured bacon, baked in a pastry crust, served with a swipe of pistou (a Provencal cousin of “pesto”), and a side green salad. This was a splendid tart.  The white cheese sauce with the onions and bacon was rich and savory and intensely flavorful.  This was offset with the herby pistou, and the crisp tartness of the green salad.

The other half of my lunch consisted of a confit pork sandwich served with a green salad.

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This is pork simmered in its own fat at low temperature, dressed with herbs and served on a split panini roll with a side green salad.  This is reminiscent of a pulled pork sandwich, but more subtle.  The flavors are subdued, lightly sweet, and herby, with good pork flavor and spot on seasoning.

My lunch companion ordered the braised short rib sandwich

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This is braised short rib, sliced thick, and served on a split hoagie with sautéed onions & mushrooms and a truffle infused mayonnaise.   This is a substantive sandwich with a generous serving of tender braised short rib, smothered in a savoury mayo/sauce.

This was a good meal at a very reasonable price.  It probably warrants a second visit, on the odd occasion when I venture over to the east side of North Vancouver.  Or perhaps a visit to their second location in West Point Grey (opened just a few months ago).

Our server was pleasant and friendly.

The room is small, functional and very minimalist.

Tour de Feast on Urbanspoon

When you have twelve pound turkey (statistically, a smaller bird), and 7 dinner guests… the result is a mountain of left over turkey.  The good news is, there’s quite a few options to re-purpose the meat of the gigantic holiday bird.

I had some frozen home-made chicken stock, and a little heavy cream left over from making dessert the night before.  I decided to make a turkey pot pie.  My first instinct was to pick up a frozen ready-to-bake pie crust from the supermarket, chop up some vegetables, make up a cream sauce, add chunks of cooked turkey and bake it.

Problem.  The frozen pastry shells at the local super market are made with vegetable shortening (ie. hydrogenated fat) which every nutritionist says is a no-no.  And more over, they are for single crust pies.   So if I want to do a double crusted pie, these prepared shells will not do the trick.

Okay.  I’ve made pie crusts in the past.  But I was never satisfied with it.  And I not recently.

Oh what the hell, let’s give it another go. Let’s call it “practice”.

Besides, I had all the ingredients needed (flour, butter, lard, salt, sugar, eggs, vinegar).

So I went ahead, and prepped enough dough for a double crusted pie.  Then chopped up some fresh vegetables, cubed up the turkey, and prepared the ingredients to make a cream sauce.

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I placed my home-made pie crusts in the refrigerator while I worked on the filling for the pot pie.  I sautéed the mushrooms, and aromatic vegetables, seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, sage, thyme, and parsley.  Added some butter and flour to the vegetables, then poured in some chicken stock to form something of a roux.  Then I mixed in the cubed turkey, and finally dumped in my heavy cream, stirring until the mixture formed a thick soupy consistency.

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Then I retrieved the pie shells from the refrigerator, poured the filling into the bottom shell, topped it with the second crust, pinched the edges, perforated the top to let the steam out, and brushed the top with a little egg white.

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I quickly tossed it in the oven let it go for 45 minutes at 400F.

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It smelled good, and it looked alright when it came out of the oven.

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The end result was… okay.  The taste of the filling was good.  The ratio was off a little.  I didn’t have quite enough filling for the size of pie plate that I used (unfortunately, it’s the only pie plate I have).  So I needed to make more filling.  And it was little on the dry side.  I needed more cream sauce.

And the crust was, well, better than it’s been the past, but still not nearly as flaky as I’d like.  Probably overworked it.

Guess I need more practice making pies.

Long’s Noodle House in the Riley Park area of Main street, has been a favorite of many a Vancouver food blogger. It’s a small, super busy family run restaurant serving some fantastic Shanghainese cuisine.  But if you’re not looking for it, it’s pretty easy to bypass.  It’s a nondescript hole-in-the-wall in pretty unremarkable location.

We arrived shortly after they opened, and were seated immediately at a small table near the kitchen.

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We can’t visit a shanghainese restaurant without sampling the xiao long bao.

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These are finely minced pork in aspic, wrapped and sealed in thin flour wrappers, and steamed gently until the aspic melts to form a savory sweet soup within the wrapper.  These are very well executed.  The flour wrappers are very thin, but elastic enough to withstand manipulation with chopsticks.  The pork broth is slightly sweet, slightly savory, with a hint of ginger.  These are among the best xlbs in town.

Next was the crispy rice with salty egg.

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These are crispy puffed rice, tossed in a savory sauce made from salted duck egg yolks. This is wonderfully crispy/crunch and savory.  The duck egg adds a rich fatty salty flavor.   It’s a simply dish, and as good as it is, it’s a kinda one note, and it really needs other dishes to compliment it.

We needed to round out the meal with some greens. So we ordered a plate of pea shoots sauteed in garlic.

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This is pretty good, the greens are fresh and tender, and slightly aldente (for lack of a better word).  There’s a good garlic hit and a little chicken broth to round out the flavors.

Lastly came the stewed pork hock.

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This is a whole pork hock, braised slowly in savory brown sauce (I don’t think it’s soy, not salty enough for that… may have been oyster sauce), and served with some quartered blanched chinese mustard greens.  This is quite good.  The pork is rich and fatty, but oh so tender.  It meat pulls apart with the slightest tug.  The sauce is rich, savory and thick (probably thickened with starch).

The room is tight and crowded, it’s not uncommon for small parties to have to share a table.  It’s fairly clean but otherwise unremarkable.

The service is about what I expect from a chinese restaurant (efficient), but not especially pleasant, chatty or helpful.

Long's Noodle House 小龍記麵家 on Urbanspoon

I have wanted to check out the Hogshack Cookhouse in Steveston for quite some time, but strange as it may seem, their location on the Steveston waterfront actually seemed to work against them.  Because, Steveston is a little out-of-the-way for me, and most of the time, when I go there, I’m thinking fish & chips.

But this time, I fought my natural inclination and wandered into the Hogshack instead.

Hogshack is located near the waterfront, in a building that’s east of the Stevenston “boardwalk”.

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The menu features the expected array of smoked pork, ribs, brisket, along with burgers, chicken wings, salads, coleslaw, beans, and even grilled fish and fish & chips.

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I went with the brisket sandwich

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This is a smoked slow cooked beef brisket, sliced thick and served on a soft bun, topped with barbeque sauce and a crisp pickle slice, along with a healthy load of coleslaw.  This sandwich platter comes with a side of fries or a green salad.  I opted for the salad.

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This is a fabulous brisket.  It’s fall apart tender, with a rich smokey flavor, a nice hit from the spice rub, and some sweet and tartness from the barbeque sauce.  And it’s a big portion, the bun can barely contain it all.

The coleslaw is crisp and creamy.

The salad (with red and green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, and cube tomatoes) was crisp and fresh,  and the garlicky cucumber dressing was creamy and tasty.

The room is airy and bright and clean, and feeling much like a back yard barbeque,  with the red checked table tops and plastic tumbler cups.

My server was friendly, helpful and accommodating.

Right now, Hogshack has taken the lead as my favorite barbeque place in the greater Vancouver area.  The Smokehouse Sandwich shop still has a special place for their unique spice rubs and flavored mops, but Hogshack comes out slightly farther ahead for their more complete menu, their more accessible hours, and better service.

Hog Shack Cook House on Urbanspoon

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