Three different milkshakes. From left to right: D.R.E.A.M. (Donuts Rule Everything Around Me) – a vanilla milkshake topped with mini donuts, Amusement Park – cotton candy milkshake stacked with cotton candy, and Go Shanty It’s Your Birthday – vanilla milkshake topped with a slice of birthday cake.
I’m in heaven.
Ivon pacing himself.
Elliot and his mysterious floating cap.
I contemplate life. And that birthday cake milkshake.
We WERE planning to go for ice cream next, but our intended target wouldn’t open for another fifteen minutes. And so, rather than wait, we made efficient use of our time by taking a walk up to College Street and getting in another dessert stop.
BAKE SHOPPE: Baked goods.
The offerings included, among other things, homemade pop tarts!
Nutella brown butter cookie and red velvet cupcake.
Ruffles marshmallow and passion flakie.
Highlight: The unusual sweet and savory Ruffles marshmallow, the passion flakie, and that nutella brown butter cookie.
Yesterday, we took a day trip to Akemi’s old stomping grounds, catching the Chiyoda line from Hibiya station to Yoyogi Uehara where we transferred to the Odakyu line and finally arrived in Seijogakuen-mae. In short, just a little easier to get there than it is to pronounce…
Once we arrived the first thing we did was go on a tour of the places Akemi used to frequent – like, say, the local grocery store…
Then, we took a stroll through the area. Akemi offered insight throughout the tour. “This is where you can come and get your shirts dry-cleaned,”she would helpfully point out as we’d pass a dry-cleaners. And “This is where you can get your hair cut” – as we’d walk by a barber shop. “And this is where you can buy your insurance.”
Akemi had a hankering for soba (buckwheat noodles), so we had lunch at a soba restaurant called Akatsukian.
For dessert, we headed over to another one of Akemi’s old haunts: Seijo Alpes…
Akemi had a chestnut dessert that I found not sweet enough and texturally kind of strange – but she loved. “Very Japanese taste,”she said. I, on the other hand, had a decadent hazelnut taste. Very Joe taste.
And the overall verdict?
As we walked through the area, Akemi kept mentioning what a great neighborhood it was and how wonderful it would be to live there. I was unconvinced until I came across these guys…
We continued our exploration of Seijogakuen-mae with a little tour of the local bakeries. We picked up a few samples for…well…sampling.
We eventually wrapped up our tour and caught the subway to Shinjiku where two girls complimented me on my awesome Attack on Titan cell phone cover, and we walked some more…
It was a great day – but little did I know that the best was yet to come. Our evening was so awesome, I can’t properly do it justice in the tail end of this blog so what I’m going to do is give our outing its own special blog entry later in the day. Consider it a bonus blog entry.
Now, I don’t want to say too much and spoil the surprise, but here’s a sneak preview…
The other night, Akemi and I checked out one of the buzziest Taiwanese restaurants in Vancouver, the well-reviewed, foodie favorite: Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant. Akemi has a couple of Taiwanese friends who swear by the place and so, more than a little intrigued, we headed out to Victoria Street to see (and taste) for ourselves.
The restaurant is notoriously busy. Reservations are recommended. And arriving promptly for your reservations is also strongly advised. Not wishing to take any chances, we booked a table for 5:30 p.m. and arrived early – only to realize it doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m. And so, after a stroll through the neighborhood, we were at the door – then at our table – on time for our reservations.
It didn’t get busy until 6:00 p.m. or so at which point the tiny room was packed, mostly with – from what I could tell – regulars. Prior to that, however, we had the place – and the staff – more or less to ourselves. The service was attentive, friendly, and downright warm. We placed our orders and our dishes arrived sooner after, all bold, wonderfully balanced flavors. Some of the highlights included…
Not for everyone but I love the texture – crunchy and chewy – and Kalvin’s version is, by far, the best I’ve ever had. We were asked to specify a spice level and we elected to go medium, which packed a nice little kick. Next time, I think I might hazard the hot.
The restaurant offers many traditional Taiwanese dishes but, as the name implies, some Szechuan fare as well – like the above dish, Akemi’s favorite. A robust and, yes, fiery dish. Despite their size, the chicken morsels are moist and tender, a step above the tougher, drier versions I’ve had elsewhere.
This one came highly recommended on a couple of the foodie blogs and I wasn’t disappointed. Also spicy but possessed of an aromatic spice I couldn’t quite place that simply wowed.
We rounded things out with a hearty, slightly sweet corn soup, 5-spice beef rolls, and a spring roll. Throughout our meal, Chef and Owner Kalvin himself popped out of the kitchen – when it wasn’t too busy – to see how we were enjoying what we’d ordered. And then, as more customers filed in, he broke off to greet them – most by name. I felt like I was in the Cheers of Taiwanese restaurants.
According to Kalvin, his restaurant will celebrate 30 years in business this year. 30 years! Given my first-time experience – and the obvious loyalty of his cliente – I’m not at all surprised.
Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant (604-321-2888)
Open for lunch and dinner daily (except Wednesdays)
5225 Victoria Dr
Then, on Saturday, Akemi and I paid a return visit to the Bakers Market. This time, Bubba stayed home so Akemi was free to take her time and roam the aisles. Like last weekend, we loaded up on a variety of treats –
Last week, I picked up chocolate biscotti from home baker Giada Vacca’s Treats and Blossoms. On this visit, these caught my eye –
A return visit to my friend at Life’s Lemons…
The owner recognized me from last weekend and asked how I enjoyed the caramel sauce. I admitted that I hadn’t tried it yet because I’d run out of ice cream. “You can eat it right out of the jar,”she assured me. “I won’t judge you.” Well, I forgot to pick up ice cream on the way back home so I did end up trying it right of out of the jar after all. And it was unbelievable.
Finally, what sweet Saturday would be complete without a visit to Vancouver’s premiere chocolate shop: Beta 5. Their selection changes monthly and, this weekend, they kicked off their April Union Pack with an outdoor theme: “On the Forest Floor”. Among the offerings are “deer droppings” (a mix of 63% dark chocolate covered raisins, and 39% milk chocolate covered peanuts), melt-in-your-mouth “candy cap caramels” (earthy, sweet Candy Cap mushrooms captured in a buttery, caramel bite with a flavor reminiscent of maple syrup)…
Our Supermovie of the Week Club reconvenes tomorrow with guest film reviewer, Cookie Monster, weighing in on his latest superhero-themed screening: Super Capers. If you haven’t already seen it in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion – spoiler alert! – it’s beyond awful. Don’t bother. But do stop in to check out monster’s thoughts on what could arguable be the worst superhero movie yet.
Every Saturday morning (and Sunday morning during the summer), Akemi and I head down to the farmers market to support our local growers. Starting this weekend, we can now head down to the bakers market and support our local bakers as well. And so, today, after swinging by Nat Bailey stadium, we headed over to the Moberly Arts & Cultural Centre to check out the sweets.
Sadly, because it was held indoors, Bubba – who had joined us for the trip – had to wait outside…which meant that Akemi and I had to take turns browsing. She was a quick in and out, spending all of five minutes inside before returning empty handed. I, on the other, went a little crazy. Like I said, I was there to support my local bakers/entrepreneurs. Their kids gotta eat!
And so do I!
We returned home, dropped off Bubba, took Jelly for a walk, then headed downtown for a walk with Lulu. Akemi was eager to check out the cherry blossoms.
Lulu too, but for completely different reasons.
I never realized the number of cherry blossom trees in Vancouver. They line almost every suburban street.
Akemi – along with most of the city’s Japanese population – are anxiously looking forward to Vancouver’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival that kicks off next week and runs through most of April. Highlights will include umbrella dances, haiku, and blossom viewing. My buddy Carl has, I’m sure, already made plans to attend. No one appreciates a good haiku like Carl.
Last night, Akemi and I attended a Valentine Dessert Tasting at Beta 5, Vancouver’s premiere chocolate (and cream puff!) shop. I know, I know. It was actually the day after Valentine’s Day – but we were out for dinner the previous night and would have had to cut it kind of tight. And so, instead, we made the reservations for the the 15th, thus enabling us to head over with plenty of time to spare following a leisurely and light fish and salad dinner.
Beta 5 is located on Industrial Avenue just a ways off Main Street. Not exactly easy to get to, but always worth the effort. Akemi and I are huge fans of their chocolates (their award-winning banana chocolates are the best I’ve ever had and we never fail to pick up a couple of packages of their aerated dark chocolate “rocks” whenever we drop by) as well as the aforementioned cream puffs (also the best I’ve ever had). And, in addition to their regular offerings, owner Adam Chandler and his partner Jess Rosinski always surprise with ever-changing monthly specials: gelees, polygon bars, and chocolate-covered fruit and nuts.
Akemi and I arrived early and joined another couple on a tour of the Beta 5 kitchen…
We ended up sitting with a couple (Dana and Matt) who took two buses to get there from the UBC campus (didn’t I say it was worth the effort?). As it turned out, they had both studied Japanese and spent some time in Japan. What are the chances?
Our dessert tasting was made up of six courses paired with various wines – champagne, sake, whites, and ending with a port. Up first…
I passed on the first glass because I’m not fan of champagne, preferring the sparkling sweetness of an Italian muscat. The strawberries were lightly carbonated and the jello very subtle, but the champagne granite possessed a borderline bitter dryness that made this one my least favorite plate.
Akemi’s favorite – and this is saying something since, prior to last night, she had never met a rice pudding she’d liked. The blood orange pearls were a nice bittersweet touch.
Great. The goat’s cheese parfait was reminiscent of the airy cheesecake my father used to make.
Gorgeous. The sugar globe was incredibly delicate, cracking at the lightest tap.
The liquid nitrogen ice cream-making process…
I was waiting for the chocolate course and, boy, did it deliver. Incredibly rich. Incredibly decadent. Utterly delicious. Akemi couldn’t finish hers – so I did the honors.
Now this one was my favorite course – the chocolate no-doubt frozen in liquid nitrogen as well and served Alinea-style with an assortment of other chocolate goodies, reminiscent of the fabulous dessert I enjoyed for my Meal to End all Meals back in 2011: March 18, 2011: The Meal To End All Meals!
Our hosts for this sweet, sweet evening…
And, just in case we wanted something to snack on for the drive home, we were gifted this lovely Valentine assortment:
Our new friends, Dana and Matt, were wonderful company. Over the course of our six course dessert extravaganza, the discussion ranged over many topics. The subject of the Japanese language segued to a chat about Japanese culture which, in turn, moved on to an appreciation of anime that, eventually, transitioned to an animated discussion of SF literature (Matt is a big fan of the classics – Asimov, Clarke, etc.). From SF lit to scifi television as Dana informed us she was a huge fan of SG-1. “Really?”I said. “What was your favorite episode.” “Window of Opportunity,”she said. And that guaranteed them a ride home. If she’d answered Emancipation or Broca Divide, who knows how long it would have taken them to get back home.
Apparently, this will be the first in a series of dessert-themed evenings Beta 5 will be hosting.