Choppers Diner

A while ago, we went to Choppers on Nanaimo on a whim – the exterior tattoo-parlour like awning had always peaked my curiosity.

Choppers on Nanaimo just south of Broadway

The insides matched the funky outside with motorcycle memorabilia throughout, and walls either painted black or flocked with red wallpaper.

We were seated quickly, but didn’t get menus or coffees for some time.  It was a long-weekend Sunday, so the place was really busy and the one waitress we saw was clearly overworked, but at least when you have coffee, you feel like you can wait with something to sip on.

Pastrami Hash (Special) ($11)

True to form, Chris saw that there was a hash special so ordered it.  The Pastrami Hash include house-made pastrami, on their regular potato/sweet potato hash, two (cheater-style) poached free-ranged eggs and toast (lots of toast choices; here Chris chose sourdough).  The pastrami hash was really good, with lots of big strips of pastrami, and the hash itself, which we all had too, was excellent.

Chopper's Breakfast Special ($7.50)

My brother, who was visiting us, ordered the Chopper’s Breakfast Special, which he got with bacon & scrambled eggs.  The hash is different here – you can see that not only are there regular and sweet potatoes, David also get green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.  Pretty awesome, but I think this was an error…  Nonetheless, the bacon was super crispy – and there were 4 pieces of it!  A great deal for such a low price.

Hunger Benny ($11)

For my breakfast, I ordered the Hunter Benny which I was drawn to because of the “bacon and zesty lima beans” that were placed between the poached egg and english muffin.  I was disappointed to see that the lima beans looked much more like navy beans.  In any case, the benedict was pretty good, with a very lemon-heavy hollandaise, and eggs poached properly.

I think some things got a bit confused with our orders – like the breakfast special coming with fancy hash (e.g. the veggie breakfast’s “special hash”) and the beans in my benny didn’t seem to be as described, but overall, everything still tasted really good and was reasonably priced.  I think, if we were to revisit, the kitchen & waitress wouldn’t be slammed and hopefully we’d have an even better overall experience.

Choppers Diner on Urbanspoon

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Flamingo Casino – Paradise Garden Buffet

Flashback to February!

Remember that  “Buffet of Buffets” pass?  We made good use of it for sure (again)!  For our breakfast during the 24-hours it was good we went to the Paradise Garden Buffet at the Flamingo Casino.  It is one of the oldest casinos left on The Strip, but it has managed to keep drawing crowds, both to it shows (I saw Donny Osmond on our way in!) and to the buffet too.

View of the bird sanctuary/gardens from our table

Unlike other places where the buffet is tucked away in the depths of the casino building, the Paradise Garden one is a rare gem as it not only is bright and sunny, but you get a great view of the bird sanctuary/garden area that is in a courtyard-like outdoor area of the casino.  We were seated right by the windows and enjoyed the calm fish and birds swimming or floating past us during breakfast.

Plate #1

My first plate was a bit of a tour of the various stations available – from the hot items there was a waffle (good, not stale), a cheese blintz/stuffed crepe (which had a lot of lemon zest, but was sweet – not my thing!), an “egg benedict” (which was just bad as it was more of a mini fritatta over a hard english muffin and dry piece of ham), and some corned beef has (the pink stuff in the centre; less hash, more corned beef, but good).  I enjoyed the fresh fruit and the abundance of cherry tomatoes that were far out of reach in Vancouver during February!

Plate #2 - fresh-made, fresh-carved!

My next visit to the buffet was to try out some of the more labour-intensive items :)  The omelette station was well stocked with lots of veggies, proteins (though always only one kind of cheese – why?).  The carved ham was great too – salty and juicy, though finding hot mustard was impossible!   Roasted potatoes and more cherry tomatoes rounded this plate out.

Plate #3 - desert crepe!

Given the gloppy filling choices, on my last visit to the buffet, I chose to have my fresh-made crepe be served plain, though I did ask for a bit of icing sugar and cinnamon to be dusted on top.  Oh, and in a stroke of genius, if I may say so, I got some of the melted butter from the pancake & waffle station to drizzle over the crepe!  While I was very happy with my “plain” desert, I overheard some French Canadian men complain about the meagre fillings they got in their stuffed crepes – in my expert joual French, I hinted they could get more of these fillings at the sundae bar – needless to say they were a bit surprised to hear me relate in their native tongue!

I didn’t find the service at the Pardise Garden Buffet to be either good or bad – I suppose “passable” is what I’d rank it.  Drinks did get refilled and plates did get cleared, but always when we were away from the table so we couldn’t ask our server for things (like hot mustard darn it!).  Nonetheless, the oasis-like atmosphere and the decent food is definitely a reason to return.

Paradise Garden Cafe (Flamingo) on Urbanspoon

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Planet Hollywood – Spice Market Buffet

Flashback to February!

Remember that  “Buffet of Buffets” pass?  We made good use of it for sure!  Despite an inauspicious dinner at the Paris’ Le Village, we did have good luck with it elsewhere.  The Spice Market Buffet was definitely one of those!

Publicity shot taken from Harrah's site

I have to admit I have an unexplained fondness for the Planet Hollywood Casino.  It was renovated and had its grand opening during our previous vacation to Vegas, and it still shines super sleek and hip.  I love the giant disco-ball chandeliers, and I’ve purchased several overpriced drinks at the Heart Bar on the gaming floor.  Why? I don’t know. But I do like it a lot (though our visit to the Cosmopolitan during this most recent trip to Las Vegas, which I’ll be reviewing soon too, is poised to take over this top spot!)

Plate #1 - heavy on the spice!

Similar to many buffets that either opened or reopened in the mid-2000′s, the Spice Market Buffet is segmented into various “stations” – this one in particular is regionally themed.  Smelling the delicious spicy aromas from the kebab grill, most of my first plate came from the “Middle Eastern” station.  Grilled meats were still nice and tender, and the “tandoori chicken” (which was a poor version of the dish, but very good for grilled chicken) was actually juicy.  I enjoyed the stuffed tomato with grilled lamb, and more so the bed of Israeli Couscous that it was nestled in.  From the cold dishes, the grape tomato and bocconcini salad was okay (needed more dressing), but the dolmades with spiced feta were delicious.

(Sorry for the blurry pic!)

Instead of searching for the right tools, or even struggling with them to get the slippery meat out of the cold steamed seafood, the Spice Market Buffet folks made my day with the pre-sawed snow crab legs.  These were so much easier to eat (especially with lots of hot melted butter) and were delightfully *not* waterlogged.  I saw huge piles being devoured – what a scary thought to think about how much crab they must go through!

Plate #3 - crazy combo

I went off the deep end with plate #3 – normally I try for some kind of thematic balance when putting together a plate at a buffet, if not for flavour sensibilities, then for at least visual appeal.  Here I screwed up!  From the poppy seed crackers with goat cheese at the top, to a soft taco/fajita, followed by fettucini a la vongole, then another one of those tomatoes with lamb and couscous, smothered by grilled eggplant and turnip (not a good choice), everything on this plate tasted, individually, very good, but made for such a crazy melange, that I got taste overloaded.

I should have been better prepared because I ended up skipping desert too :(  I think the food there was of good enough quality, and wide enough variety that I would have had an excellent dinner there but chose poorly and ended up with a crazy confused meal :(  Oh well, Spice Market Buffet – I will have my day with you at some point soon! :)

Oh, and throughout the meal, I must note that our server was quite good.  Plates were cleared, drinks were refilled, and general cheerful conversation was had despite the fact that she had a very full section (including a tableful of tween girls who were SO LOUD).  I also have to point out how different this place feels (so much more modern) than the other Buffet of Buffet locations – the less formal experience (or at least attempted formality) actually made this place feel more put-together.  I was surprised at how at home everyone felt – from fancy-dressed couples, to multi-generational families.  I also enjoyed the food-themed movie posters used throughout as decore, including a very CanCon one for The Peanut Butter Solution :)

Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood) on Urbanspoon

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Paris Casino – Mon Ami Gabi

Flashback to February!

In complete contrast to the horrendous meal we had at Le Village buffet, the Paris Casino does offer some very nice dining at Mon Ami Gabi the bistro/cafe terrace that wraps around the strip-side of the building.

Casino entrance to restaurant

On this most recent trip to Las Vegas we had a bit more spending money and a bit less on our “to do” list.  As a result, when the sun began to really shine, I decided to treat Chris to a mid-afternoon snack outside at this rather posh but accessible attraction on the strip.

Me! Enjoying the sun and some champagne!

We got some prime seats facing the street, and enjoyed not only the people watching, but also the Bellagio fountains which are just mesmerizingly beautiful.  I have been on a rose kick of late, but when in Vegas, you’ve got to kick it up a notch!  Here I am enjoying a glass of Marquis de la Tour Rose (reasonably priced at $8.50).  Chris, who is just as happy and relaxed in his picture, enjoyed a Frangria, the restaurant’s signature cocktail, which is a fruity rose sangria ($4.95).

Chris with a delicious Frangria cocktail

One can, but should not, just drink on a cafe terrace, so we ordered some snacks too:  French snacks!

"Moules"

"Frites"

The most shareable item on their starter menu was the Moules Frites ($21.95) which, along with every single item on their menu, was impeccably French.  The mussels (all of which were nice and clean, with only one closed one in the batch) were served in a white wine, tarragon and butter broth which was delicious and light.  The fries/frites were insanely crispy and well seasoned – totally addictive.  We also got not one, but also a refill of baguette with whipped butter to go with the moules – a great way to sop up the last of the broth and stretch out your meal.

And I’m just partially joking about stretching out your visit there – we were not at all rushed by the servers – ours (Carlissa) was particularly good.  She was able to recite the list of specials easily and seemed quite knowledgable about both the food and the wine list.  I was very pleasantly surprised when we were welcome to stay after finishing our snack (so much of Vegas is about making more profit, and with our table being in such a prime spot, I would not have been shocked if hints would have been dropped that it was time to leave).

Our afternoon snack at Mon Ami Gabi was really one of my favourite things about this most recent trip to Vegas – the great service, the good food, and the great sunny view.  We will definitely plan to return on our next visit!

Mon Ami Gabi (Paris) on Urbanspoon

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Las Vegas: Paris’ Le Village Buffet

Flashback to February!

On previous trips to Las Vegas, Chris and I have enjoyed the Paris Casino’s Le Village buffet quite a bit.  Notably their expansive brunch was high on our lists, but also we have fond memories of good service and very kind waitresses (one of which could not comprehend why someone would drink out of a glass, without a straw!)

Picture taken from Harrah's virtual tour - note the pretty sky!

On this most recent trip to Las Vegas, we chose Le Village for a dinner to go with our “Buffet of Buffets” pass (which, for $44 gives you unlimited meals at the Harrah’s group buffets for 24-hours – hint, start with a late dinner, get breakfast, lunch, and then an early dinner, thus maximizing your value as dinners can be as much as $30 alone!).  It took a little while to wind through the line, but as usual, things do move quickly given the size of the dining area, and we were seated in one of the small “houses” which give the whole buffet a lot of visual appeal.  It really does look like you are in a village with the various food stations and dining areas being housed in shop fronts or little buildings.  There’s also a nicely painted blue sky on the curved ceiling which adds to the overall effect.  It’s quite cute, but there was a problem with the room where we were seated… Because it is small, it got VERY loud when one of the staff members there started putting away cutlery into the serving trays, clanging every single piece they were polishing and dumping into the pile.  That was awful.

Plate 1 - seafoods & more

Speaking of awful – I’m sorry about the tones in this picture!  They say that yellow (and red) plates make you feel more hungry, but this one just makes the picture all wonky!  On this plate you will see some cold steamed seafood (dungenous crab and snow crab), roasted tomato and zucchini, brussel sprouts, some braised pearl onions, roast beef, and in the front, some “cassoulet” which, given that it was white beans simmered in tomatoes with bacon and duck fat, was the best thing on this plate.  Despite all the cutlery clanking, it took our server about 5 minutes to get us the right crackers to open up the crab – and no pick-thing was offered at all.  I hated trying to get at the meat but didn’t want to waste anything either.  My roast beef, though tender, got cold quickly, as did my roast veggies.  I love brussel sprouts, and these ones were overcooked.  Sad.

Plate #2 - Veggies, salad and "pasta"

My second plate (usually a salad-heavy one) wasn’t much better.  First the Caesar salad was unevenly dressed – it was like they missed out on the oil entirely!  The wedge-like thing to the right is a piece of floppy cheese (havarti!?).  You’ll recognize the cassoulet, and the roasted zucchini and tomato (these were warmer).  The white blob was supposed to be a raviolo, but it just felt like a gloppy mess.  The pink thing at 3 o’clock – that was some overcooked salmon.

I really tried to be more careful in my choices as I went up for a better plate – most of the first two were picked at, so I was still looking for a good mouthful.  I observed the cooks behind the buffet line – none of them were paying any attention to the customers.  I was really sad to see one “chef” sprinkle big handfuls of chopped parsley over every chaffing dish in his area after giving the contents of each a quick stir.  I honestly gave up after seeing that, and decided to just focus on deserts.  The Paris Buffet had been one of the most prestigious desert-offering buffets back in its heyday – but, like many other things that are notable in Vegas (e.g. duelling pianos, the “party pit” tables), they get copied quickly and often the originators get left in the dust.

Desert plate - crepe & junk

The crepe station had been a true highlight in the past at Le Village, but now, pretty much every place has them.  Rather than have fresh fruit to encapsulate in a buttery thin crepe, you have cheesecake-topping-like gloop.  Also, check out that icing sugar – clumps-o-rama!  I was so disappointed with that little macaroon – it tasted of the cherry goop too, and the creme brule was brule’d to the foil crinkly cup and impossible to eat.  And you’d think that fruit would be impossible to screw up, right?  I found a mouldy grape in my mix.  Awful.

And you know that great service that we reminisced about from previous visits, well it too has disappeared.  Water glasses ran dry, coffee was never refilled, our plates piled with uneatable food on our table.  I never “not tip” in the states given the labour laws and ridiculous minimum wage for food service staff – but this time I was really tempted to leave nothing.  I left $1.50.  A sad, but deserved recognition for the state of affairs at our once beloved buffet.

Le Village (Paris) on Urbanspoon

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Menya

A loooooong time ago we were headed to one of Chris’ colleague’s place for an evening out, and decided we shouldn’t show up with empty stomachs :)  I suggested stopping at Menya which is right on the 99 bus route on Broadway just one block east of Cambie.

On Broadway near Cambie

I had tried to come for a late lunch here in the past, but, like many restaurants in Japan, it closes between the lunch service and dinner.  I also had been under the impression that it may be a cash-only place, but in fact it takes both debit and credit (including the JCB International card! :) )  Inside, the restaurant is spartan but warm, with the real wood stump stools, nice flags, and cheerful pictures and autographs from Japanese athletes who dined here during the 2010 Olympics.

Inside Menya - very Japanese!

As we were there for dinner, we chose to partake of the very reasonably-priced “Ramen Set” add-on to round out our meals.  I’m a really big fan of onigiri, and I love gyoza – so for an extra $3.40 more, I was sold!

Onigiri (in set $3.40 add-on)

The onigiri options were plain, salmon (I think) and BBQ pork.  I had ordered the salmon one, but got BBQ pork for sure.  Oh well!  It was served quite warm and due to my clumsiness, ended up falling apart on me.  Nonetheless, it tasted very nice with well cooked, well seasoned rice.

Gyoza (part of add-on set)

The gyoza (pictured here both the “undercarriage” and the top side, to demonstrate the “correct” cooking method which causes the wrapper dough to merge when being pan fried) were a bit small and didn’t have a ton of filling.  The wrapper was very nice though, with a good chewy texture and very precise folds.  I found the dipping sauce to be a bit on the dark side, lacking the vinegary aspects that I’m more used to.

Shoyu Ramen ($7.50)

On to the main (or should I say “mein”) part of the meal.  The Shoyu Ramen was my choice primarily because of the soft boiled egg and the shoyu broth which, in this case, was rich and complex, not just salty like cheap soy sauce.  I loved the broth very much – it really was the star component.  The egg which had a custardy yolk was very nice in the broth, as was the BBQ pork (hence why I had wanted another protein in my onigiri!).  The noodles, which are sunk at the bottom of the dish, were very fresh tasting, and denser than most ramen I’ve had, but not in a bad way.

Tonkotsu Miso Ramen ($7)

Chris went with a Fukuoka-style Tonkotsu Miso Ramen that was made with pork bones which resulted in this creamy looking broth.  He found this ramen to be quite authentic to the kind he had had in Fukuoka first-hand, and was delighted to have sweet corn mixed in (and a fancy pierced spoon to go with!).  The bowl was empty in no time!

We definitely enjoyed our meal at Menya (and subsequent repeat visits have been excellent too).  I am tickled by the incredibly polite and cheerful waitresses who ooze Japanese courtesy.  Now that I know the hours and the accepted forms of payment, I’m happy to tuck into this adorable little place for a hot meal!
Menya Japanese Noodle on Urbanspoon

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Jane’s Restaurant

Oy!  I’ve been ignoring this blog for too long!  Gardening, lots of work, garage sales, and random busyness has drawn my attention elsewhere, meanwhile my desktop and phone are full of pictures of food I need to post!  Sorry for the radio silence folks!

Several, several, weeks ago now, we had brunch at Jane’s Restaurant on Hastings.  Chris in particular had passed this place on a few occasions and had thought it would be a good place to try, meanwhile I’ve bussed passed it nearly daily and barely noticed it.

On Hastings near Willingdon

No wonder I barely noticed it – Jane’s is an old school Chinese-run “western food” diner which looked, on the inside more so than on the outside, like it has not changed since the late 70′s or early 80′s when it probably first opened!  No matter, some of our favourite places, like Victoria Restaurant, aren’t particularly pretty!

Coffee - old school!

We were seen to right away and were served tiny old school cups of coffee.  The glasses of water we also got were served in plastic tumblers that were seriously dishwasher worn!

Older school!

Here’s what the inside of the restaurant looks like – bright red pleather banquets, heavy chairs, and wood panelling.  Yup – pretty grungy!  I did notice thought that things were clean (e.g. the ketchup bottle wasn’t all goopy, and the tables were cleared right away) so don’t think this place is gross, just retro!

Corned Beef Hash with Poached Eggs

For our brunches that day, we too chose an “old school” meal – both of us had the same thing (sorry!) of Corned Beef Hash with Poached Eggs.  I have to say, the corned beef has was delicious – not skimpy on the corned beef, and with nice cubes of potato that were homemade (not out of the McCain bag).  The eggs were free-formed poached for sure, and were done perfectly.  All this, for under $6 too!

I can see why Jane’s has a good reputation – super cheap food that is well made.  No frills, but that’s fine!

Cash only!
Jane's on Urbanspoon

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