Restaurant Reviews

Story Sherise Lacey, Philip C. Breakenridge, Alison Pengelly

New Mekong

1414 Commerical Drive

By Philip C. Breakenridge

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Dining at New Mekong is a transcendent sensory experience even for the most discriminating lover of Asian food. This unassuming eatery offers a Thai take on Vietnamese cuisine, presented with a French flare. The menu is extensive, featuring a huge selection of tempting appetizers, delicious soups, and hearty main courses. The prices are reasonable and the portions are generous.

New Mekong is delightfully unpretentious. Guests are welcomed into the cozy environment by courteous servers. The restaurant’s butter-coloured walls and subdued lighting create a feeling of warmth and serenity. Decorative trellises and delicate French doors, which open out onto eclectic Commercial Drive, allude to a Parisian café. The aroma of spices and grilled vegetables dances in the air.

New Mekong offers a selection of appetizers in the $3 to $5 range. These flaky, non-oily delights are delicious without being overpowering. The vegetarian spring rolls are delicious without being overpowering. Their sumptuous crusts are generously stuffed with vegetables and tofu and come with a sweet chili sauce sure to excite any palate.

The soups are meals in themselves. The small size, for $3.25, makes for a filling lunch, and the large size, for $6.50, easily feeds two. The hot and sour soup is a delicious departure from the norm, its extra spicy broth full of bean sprouts and enormous tofu chunks. New Mekong’s famous pumpkin soup with coconut is divine. This delicate taste sensation soothes the taste buds with sweet creaminess. All of New Mekong’s soups are available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions.

New Mekong’s entrées are served in generous helpings for under $10. The most popular main courses are the Sizzling Hot Plates, for $8.95. Each plate comes with beef, chicken, shrimp, or tofu, served on a bed of crisp vegetables, topped with a delectable sauce. They are brought on metal dishes, still crackling and smoking. The Mekong Special Sizzling Hot Plate features broccoli and baby corn in a rich coconut sauce. The Siamese Thai Spicy Chili Sauce Sizzling Hot Plate is perfect for those who like their food fiery. Topped with sliced marinated tofu, it is a healthy and flavourful dish. Rice or noodles are included with the sizzling hot places, at no extra charge.

With its stellar service, down-to-earth ambiance, and appetizing menu, New Mekong Restaurant has a lot to offer. Plan on many repeat visits to sample their variety of offerings.

 

Kitanoya Guu

838 Thurlow Street

By Alison Pengelly

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You can’t go wrong with something truly authentic – next time you dine out, try Kitanoya Guu. As unpretentious as they come, this authentic Izukaya meeting place will linger in your memory.

Expecting a weekend line-up my companion and I arrived at 8 pm, fashionably late and hoping for the best. Although there were seven groups ahead of us, we waited only 35 minutes. As customers opened the door to leave, we heard the staff shout good-bye in Japanese. Likewise, when we entered they greeted us with enthusiasm. We felt fantastic. I even blushed a little. The staff was having a ball and so were we.

As a former server, I’m hard to impress, but at Kitanoya Guu I recognized genius right away. As our server approached she yelled out a few orders to the cooks on her way. Genius, pure genius. I had Sake for $3.80 and my date had the vodka with lemonade for $4.25.

In Japan, people go to an Izukaya primarily to drink. But since food was on the agenda, we perused the menu, our stomachs growling audibly. Most tempting were the shouts of “Beef tongue!” as servers delivered this intriguing dish to neighbouring tables. Vowing to try it next time, we chose 6 small dishes that varied from $4 to $5.50.

Kitanoya Guu provides a lengthy special sheet. Our favourite was the Grilled Scallop in Shell. I’ve never seen such a huge scallop: it was like a seafood steak, and delicious. Also on special, the Marinated Octopus with Wasabi Stems was odd in texture but satisfied our curiosity; and yes, wasabi stems do taste like wasabi. As usual, Deep Fried Tofu and Tuna Sashimi did not disappoint. My companion, who would crab-walk backwards over hot coals for bacon, was ecstatic over the Asparagus Bacon Maki. We were pleased to note that the asparagus was only a vehicle for the bacon. In fact, you wouldn’t know it was there if you hadn’t read it in the menu. I, for one, respect a chef who isn’t afraid to wrap bacon around other foods. There are few things in life as enjoyable as the moments before and after ingesting a raw oyster. The Fresh Oysters (4 pc) were the best raw oysters I’ve ever had! And the cheapest! Who would have thought those two statements would ever be said in conjunction?

Satisfied with a successful evening out, we headed for the door vowing to return for drinks, oysters, and beef tongue. We were so immersed in our reverie that the enthusiastic good-byes startled us on our way out. We turned to wave and saw chefs and servers smiling back at us. At the end of a long night’s work, that is a rare sight indeed.

 

Grand Honour Hot Pot

5668 Granville Street

By Sherise Lacey

When you step inside Grand Honour Hot Pot, there is surprisingly little scent of the food being enjoyed. The lack of scent is probably due to the hood fans placed above each table. The room is well lit, and has the feel of an eating hall. It seems authentically Chinese, as there are signs dotting the walls written in Chinese characters. A bright and colourful illustration of koi fish watched over us as we cooked our own meal.

When we were seated, a server asked for our tea preference. I ordered the green tea, which was spectacular. It smelled of honey, and had a slight mint flavour. I have yet to taste another green tea this naturally light and sweet. For appetizers, we had Shrimp Dumplings and Deep Fried Squid with Spicy Salt. The squid was mildly spicy, and splendidly tender. The Shrimp Dumplings were aromatic and succulent.

We chose the Hot Pot as our main course. A hot pot is a wok-like pot of soup broth placed in the center of the table, with a heating element underneath. The boiling broth is used to cook the meal. You can have both chicken and spicy broth, but we opted for the chicken broth only. Many items are available for the hot pot, including unusual ingredients, such as cow tongue and goose guts. Not up for a culinary adventure, we chose spinach, baby bok choy, sirloin steak strips, Chinese vermicelli, and shrimp wontons. The portions of each item are substantial. A large group of diners is ideal.

The servers were prompt and informative. They explained to us the process of cooking and retrieving items from the hot pot: when the broth boils, you cook your food in it using a metal strainer. This way, everyone can cook their portions individually.

Vegetables cook quickly so it’s best to put items like wontons and meat in first and cook the vegetables when you’re ready to eat them. Three sauces are provided: a slightly spicy sauce, a peanut sauce, and soy sauce. All the food smelled and tasted delicious. The only pitfall was that the wontons were a little tough.

When making dinner plans for Grand Honour Hot Pot, it’s best to reserve your table in advance. It’s a unique experience if you’ve never eaten in this style before, so try not to feel intimidated. The staff will be happy to answer your questions.

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