Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Bites - LiveCity Yaletown

LiveCity Yaletown is proving one of the most popular and exciting party venues for the Vancouver Olympics. I made it there for the first time on Wednesday and cheered along with hundreds of other Canadians as we took the silver medal for speed skating. But all that cheering makes a fan hungry. What was the food like?

The venue: LiveCity Yaletown, near David Lam Park.
The meal: Bison burger, shrimp dumplings
The price: $13 ($8 for the burger, $5 for the dumplings)

The impression: I was expecting the same kind of food at LiveCity Yaletown as LiveCity Vancouver,  so imagine my surprise when the concessions featured a variety of international cuisine! Separate windows offered food from Greece (gyros and donairs), India (mostly curries), Italy (pizzas and calzones), China (noodles, fried rice and dim sum items), Jamaica (jerk chicken and patties) and Canada (hot dogs, burgers etc). I really appreciated the nod to Canada's multi-cultural background (but what, no Japanese?!) as well as the attempt to offer some variety. I decided to try the bison burger from the Canadian booth and the shrimp dumplings from the Chinese.

First things first... the bison burger was a big disappointment. I had high hopes as I love both beef and burgers and thought it would be something really cool and unusual, but the taste was underwhelming and the presentation was very bad. The burger patty was simply cut in half and shoved into a hot dog bun. It was very awkward to hold and eat, doubly so when I tried to add toppings as well. The patty itself was interesting, with a slightly saltier, gamier taste than regular beef burgers, but it wasn't worth what I paid for it. All in all, I was very let down.

Luckily, the shrimp dumplings were there to save the day, and save it they did in fine fashion. Initially I was concerned as the "skin" seemed a bit rubbery, but as soon as I bit into the shrimp insides I was in heaven. Sweet, moist and tender, the dumplings were set off to perfection with a tangy soy sauce (you can also ask for spicy sauce). An experienced dim sum expert might not be impressed, but I certainly was, and would happily order these again. Not only that, but they seemed remarkably well priced compared to other overpriced options.

The verdict: I much prefer the food here to that at LiveCity Vancouver; there's more variety, and there really are some gems here. Next time I come back, I want to try more of the Chinese food, or perhaps try some Jamaican, Greek or Italian dishes. Having said that, I do recommend giving the bison burger a miss; there's a lot better food to spend your money on.

Olympic Bites - Cypress Mountain

Hey everyone! Hope you're enjoying the Olympics as much as I am! For those planning to make it up to Cypress Mountain for the events, here's a quick review of the concession up there.

The venue: Cypress Mountain, near the half-pipe/snowboard cross runs.
The meal: Homemade clam chowder + hot chocolate
The price: $9 ($6 for the chowder, $3 for the hot chocolate)

The impression: Firstly, the venue gets unavoidable marks off due to concession location, although it's not really anyone's fault. See, the  concession is situated behind the bleachers at the base of the hill, which wouldn't be so bad... if the bleachers didn't have over 200 stairs to climb to get up to your seat. What this means is that if you go, take your seat, then go back later for a bite to eat, you will be climbing over 400 stairs (or at least what feels like it!) and wiping yourself out. My legs felt like noodles by the time I got back to my seat. With this in mind, I'd recommend grabbing a bite to eat when you first arrive before you take to the stands; if not, at least try and get all your food in one go, and be sure to get enough drinks/etc for the rest of the event.

Having said all that, the food itself was pretty darned good, almost worth the climb. I was not expecting great things from the clam chowder, but was very pleasantly surprised to find it was absolutely excellent. It had a nice and subtly spicy kick to it, and went down smooth without being cloying or overly thick. The pieces of clam and potato were a little small, but there was more than enough of them, and they were tender and fresh. The packaged crackers made a perfect addition to the soup.

The hot chocolate was also excellent. The chocolate was extremely rich and strong with a sweet taste. My dad thought it was a little too sweet, but for me it was just right.

The verdict: If you can bear the inflated prices and the long stair climb, the food at Cypress Mountain is more than satisfying enough to tide over sports fans. The clam chowder particularly is fantastic and well worth a taste. Just try to grab it on your way up!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Bites - LiveCity Downtown

I thought it would be a good idea to cover some of the food available at the Olympic venues and pavillions. After all, restaurants are all well and good, but when you're on site sometimes all you have time for is a bite from the nearest concession stand. How do the venues stack up?

The venue: LiveCity Downtown, near the corner of Georgia and Beatty.

The meal: BBQ salmon and salad with bun.

The price: $10

The impression: All right, first the obvious; this was definitely overpriced based on the portion and the quality. Having said that, it wasn't a total wallet-buster, and I didn't come away reeling in disgust over the price gouging, just mildly smarting. After all, it's to be expected that Olympic concessions are going to be a bit overpriced.

I was surprised to see a dish like this on offer next to the hot dogs, burgers and other regular concession fare at LiveCity. It's nice to see a heathier and fresher option, not to mention one with a British Columbian flare to it. Certainly it makes for a great alternative to the "usual" fried dishes.

My overall feeling was that it was okay. There wasn't anything wrong with it, mind you; the salad was fresh and the salmon wasn't rubbery or overly dry. It just didn't particularly stand out as amazing. The BBQ salmon was just short of being bland; it had a nice flavor but a bit too low key to really stand out. The salad is served with prepackaged Kraft dressing in either ranch or Italian. The bun was quite nice though, and as a whole the meal was of much better quality than I would expect from such a high-traffic concession area. 

The verdict: While overpriced, the food at LiveCity Vancouver is certainly decent enough to warrant a try if you're onsite and peckish. The chance to have something like BBQ salmon and salad at a concession is a pleasant change of pace, and certainly better than we could expect! If you're at LiveCity Vancouver and feeling peckish, give it a try!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Old Spaghetti Factory - Best value for money in Vancouver

Despite originating in Portland, The Old Spaghetti Factory has long since evolved into a Vancouver institution, attracting both tourists and locals looking for a great meal at a ridiculously low price. With branches both in the trendy neighbourhood of Gastown and the snowy slopes of Whistler, this should be #1 destination for Olympic budget chasers and people looking for a great meal for the family.

Richmond branch. Photo taken from Danny and Jeremy at Urbanspoon.

About the restaurant: The Old Spaghetti Factory cheerfully embraces a sort of kitchy retro charm in recognition of its 39 year history, displaying a large collection of vintage posters, scales, gas pumps, bicycles and other items. The Gastown branch even has an old streetcar trolley set up inside the restaurant; diners can sit inside it and enjoy their meal in an atmospheric relic of Vancouver's past. Mood lighting, stained glass, menus smattered with turn of the century ads and simple checkerboard-cloth covered tables gives it a warm and homey atmosphere, made even more welcoming by the very cheerful staff.

 The Old Spaghetti Factory is very popular and as such there's often a bit of a wait to get in. Luckily, there are some comfortable seats for waiting customers, and usually it doesn't take very long. The restaurant can also be a little noisy at times, especially during children's birthday parties.

The food: The Old Spaghetti Factory excels at providing hearty and satisfying meals with a simple and homemade taste. They make their own soups, salad dressings and spaghetti sauces, all of which are fresh, thick and flavorful. I'm a huge fan of their clam sauce as it is so thick and creamy that it echoes a great clam chowder. The pasta is soft and tender as are the meat dishes. Special mention also goes to their bread which is always warm from the oven and served with garlic butter (my favorite!).  There's nothing pretentious or overly fancy here, and there doesn't need to be; this is the kind of food that everyone can enjoy, from the eager foodie to the picky eight-year-old.

Picture taken from Fit and Fabulous.

Not only is the food good but the servings are absolutely fantastic for the amount of money you pay. With an order of spaghetti (which covers a rather large dinner plate), you also receive a sizable pile of salad smothered in fresh dressing and a dish of spumoni ice cream (similar to Neopolitan except with pistachio instead of strawberry), as well as bread and tea or coffee. I am particularly fond of the thousand island salad dressing, and the ice cream is an unusual but incredibly effective mix of sweet and slightly salty tastes, and the perfect finish to a large and satisfying meal.

My favourites: Spaghetti with clam sauce, spumoni ice cream, Cookie Monster smoothie.

Cost: This is where the Old Spaghetti Factory really shines over almost all its contemporaries. In my opinion, you cannot get better value for your money in all of Vancouver. A complete meal including bread, large salad, large plate of spaghetti, ice cream and beverage of choice goes for only $10. If you order some of the fancier pasta, it goes up to a mere $13-14. And again, these are all extremely generous portions, meaning that even those with large appetites will walk away satisfied.

Take-out?: No, although you are welcome to take leftovers away.

Delivery?: No.

Licensed?: Yes.

Location(s): The Old Spaghetti Factory offers several locations in popular areas, the main ones being in Gastown and Whistler, making this an ideal choice for Olympic visitors. Link to Google Maps for Vancouver and for Whistler.

Website and menu: Here.

Summary: There's a lot of great reasons why the Old Spaghetti Factory has remained a popular Vancouver institution. Great atmosphere, excellent food and absolutely amazing pricing makes this a winner by any restaurant standards. If you like spaghetti, have an appetite, are looking for a great deal or just want a good family restaurant, make the time to try this place.

Old Spaghetti Factory (Gastown) on UrbanspoonOld Spaghetti Factory (New Westminster) on UrbanspoonOld Spaghetti Factory (Richmond) on Urbanspoon
Picture taken from Fit and Fabulous.