Carthage Cafe: A Review

March 17, 2017

It has been many years since I visited the Carthage at 1851 Commercial Drive — and I have no idea why it has taken me so long to go back.  Today, with a good friend, the everloving and I had lunch there and it was wonderful.

The space is lovely; not too small, but intimately dark, and beautifully decorated in the style of a French brasserie with Tunisian accents. The tables are comfortably large and exquisitely dressed with good quality silver and sparkling stemware. Service was very good, friendly, knowledgeable, and never crowding.

I had the Carthage mussels. There were a good many of them, all splendid, and drenched in a marvelous cumin and harissa liquor. They have good quality bread, too, which helped soak it up.  It is a long time since I enjoyed mussels as good as these. The everloving had the steak sandwich, which also came with a harissa-based sauce. She declared it to be “great!”. Our friend had one of the daily specials, a fish stew which looked tremendous and which he thoroughly enjoyed.  All of the dishes were more than sufficient for lunch, and each was plated beautifully. Prices were on the moderate side of normal.

One small caveat — the frites were a little disappointing and, unlike everything else, were served without much care. This could be improved without too much effort.

Our friend has a relative in a wheelchair. He told us that he once made a reservation for them and, upon their arrival, found that the tables had been specifically re-arranged to make life as convenient as possible for the wheelchair-bound diner. That’s good service.

All in all this was a joyful experience, and I am sure we will return before too long.  Well recommended.


Cabrito — A Review

March 2, 2017

Last night, the ever-loving and I joined some friends at dinner at Cabrito restaurant at 2270 Commercial. It has been open about a year and this was our first visit.

It is a small space, although that is now typical on the Drive – a standard 25′ store frontage running to the back of the building. A lot of the available area is taken up with a bar (?) along the north wall which was not used at all while we were there.  That means the maximum number of patrons is about thirty (if you all breath in at once) seated mostly at communal tables. The decor is bright and Spanish; I liked the feel of it.

Most of the dishes are served as tapas. However, that wasn’t clear to any of us until the waitress explained that each of our choices might be smaller than we expected, and perhaps we should order more, which we did after more time spent with the menu. Maybe we should have known, but we didn’t.

We ordered beet salad, chicken Basquaise, a burger, a chorizo hot dog, Brussels sprouts, and the lamb. It was almost enough for the four of us.  The white beet salad was tremendous and, arriving first, kept us in happy anticipation for the balance. The chorizo was also excellent, and the sprouts were good.  The chicken had an interesting earthy flavour that wasn’t bad, but I got bored with it quite quickly. The burger was full sized, but came without any sides. I didn’t try it, but our friends thought it was “OK”. The lamb came as three very small chops and was overcooked, though the sauce was very pleasant.

So, the food was moderately all right. However, the various dishes arrived with great time gaps between them. The burger arrived last, perhaps 20 minutes or more after the beet salad. Tapas is sharing food, and it becomes difficult when there is only one dish at a time. The waitress was cheery, but that didn’t help the food come in any better order. And $25 a head without any drinks also takes it out of the cheap eats category.

Finally, it was very busy. The noise level was high enough when we arrived and somehow became even louder as the evening progressed.

I am afraid this place isn’t going to make it to our list of favourite and regular haunts. The Zomato rating site gives it 3 out of 5 which sounds about right.

 


The Best Of …

September 21, 2016

It is that time of year again, when the Georgia Straight announces “The Best Of” in Vancouver.  As usual, the majority of awards go to the west side but some local businesses score.

Those awarded #1 spot:

  • Attic Treasures for retro furniture;
  • Canna Clinic for best dispensary customer service (also #2 as best dispensary to chill, and #3 as best dispenary);
  • Daily Catch for seafood;
  • JJ Bean for local coffee chain;
  • Puff for best head shop;
  • Womyn’s Ware for sex toys (also #2 for fetish stuff)

Those in #2 place:

  • Choices for organic produce;
  • Spark for women’s wear independent;
  • Spartacus Gym for best independent gym;
  • Zool Suleman for immigration lawyer

Those in #3 place:

  • Donald’s for produce;
  • Figaro’s for garden store;
  • La Grotta for specialist cheese store;
  • Pasture to Plate for butcher

Congratulations to all of these, and to the many fabulous restaurants, bars, stores, and services in Grandview that were not recognised this year.


Characters Of the Drive

August 23, 2016

Skylight Restaurant — the last of the classic diners on the Drive — has been closed for the last couple of weeks so that the family who run the place can get a summer vacation. They were open today and so the everloving and I eagerly took ourselves down there for an 11:00am breakfast.

Considering it was the middle of the morning on a work day, we were surprised and pleased to see how busy the place was, with just our usual table (kismet!) and one other available. Corned beef and hash, and eggs benny (definitely NOT hollandaise, but damn tasty) with lots of coffee and toast, satisfied our inner needs, while the other clients and their (loud) conversations kept us interested.

Behind me, unseen but not unknown, two transgendered friends went back and forth with a street person at another table. One would tell a story about how “they” had screwed up their claim, and the other would respond with a story that topped the first in getting-screwedness. This went on and on until the stories were far into the BS zone. Still, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

At another table beside me an earnest middle-aged man explained in detail to his bored companion (who never spoke so far as I could tell) how 9/11 was an inside job. I couldn’t quite hear who he considered the villains of the piece but he knew it was all very fishy.

On my other side, three millennial media types took up a booth with their laptops and iphones and notebooks. They ordered coffee and took up a lot of space for a lot of time. I didn’t notice them share a single word of conversation.

And then there were the four West Siders who arrived, and sat defensively, close together. They studied the simple menu for a long time and then ordered with lots of substitutions. They whispered among themselves, and they sounded like the coming of gentrification. Their various loud perfumes filled the room insensitively for those with chemical sensitivities. Leaving the Skylight and plunging into the aroma of Western Reduction (really powerful today) was almost a relief.


What You Can Get For A Dime

May 10, 2016

Some years ago, when it opened, I have to admit to some doubts about The Dime on Commercial Drive. It didn’t seem to fit in well with the groovy easy-going coffee-shop ambience we were all into. Well, I have certainly changed my mind. In fact, for several months now I guess I would have to be called a lunchtime regular; certainly not every day, but often enough that they know what beer I drink.

The Dime

It is not what I usually like: it is noisy, rowdy even at times, and they play music really loud. All of the staff seem to have more tattoos than the law allows.  But service is great and people have fun there — the other day, a whole bar-load of men and women of a certain age were belting out a song and having a grand old time, laughing and slapping backs.  You don’t get that in Starbucks.

What’s more, you can get a beer and a more-than-decent lunch for ten bucks — that’s hard to beat these days.

I’m sure this review will scare off as many as it attracts, so I will quickly point out that the street seats in the right half of the place are comparatively quiet, where it is possible to enjoy a meal and a read.  Check it out.


Readers’ Choice Awards 2016

April 29, 2016

This week’s Courier includes the results of a reader survey on “the best of” Vancouver. There were quite a few winners on the Drive.  Most of the categories were voted on as “east”, “west” and “downtown”; so, except for the first, all the winners below are for “Best Eastside…”

  • Italian Day won best Festival city-wide;
  • Fratelli’s — Best Bakery;
  • St. Augustine’s — Best Pub/bar;
  • Vera’s — Best Burger;
  • Charlatan — Best Cocktail Bar;
  • Saloniki — Best Greek;
  • Sula — Best Indian;
  • Havana — Best Patio;
  • Bandidas Taqueria — Best Working Lunch;
  • Dream Cycle — Best Bike Shop;
  • Catz Lair — Best Hair Salon;
  • Donald’s — Best Produce Store.

Congratulations to them all.

For what it is worth, I agree with the Bakery, Greek, and Patio awards (so long as I could sit in Havana’s patio eating Fet’s food).  The others, for my taste, are as follows:

  • The Dime — Best Pub/Bar;
  • Cannibal — Best Burger;
  • Fet’s — Best Working Lunch;
  • Tino’s — Best Hair (salon);
  • Santa Barbara — Best Produce Store

I suspect I would really like Sula but I haven’t tried it yet. And I don’t have a bike, so ….


Relish Burgers

March 18, 2016

This has been a miserable month, to be honest, with a two-week flu followed by a week’s break and finished off with another week suffering under a very heavy cold.  Miserable, indeed.  So, when this morning found us both feeling a lot better, we needed to treat ourselves. So, we went for brunch again, taking the #20 to the south end and visited Relish Burgers at 2290 Commercial.

Relish Burgers is a small New Brunswick outfit that decided to expand into Vancouver — and very welcome they are too.  As the name states, they make burgers and — other than fries and cole slaw — that is all they make. And they are good. No, they are superb and memorable.

le-nordique

 

I had the Nordique (shown above) which had brie cheese, back bacon, grainy mustard, and carmelized onions. There were lots and lots of carmelized onions which is perhaps why I didn’t taste the bacon. That notwithstanding, these big juicy patties, requiring an inexhaustible supply of napkins, were a delight.

What’s more, their fries were perhaps the best restaurant fries I have ever eaten; they were well-cooked, crispy on the edges; perfect.  And their complex “cool slaw”, with an apple and ginger dressing, was an excellent surprise.

Now, this doesn’t come cheap. You can get a pretty good burger and two sleeves of beer at the Dime for about what you pay for a burger alone at Relish, with fries etc extra.  Also, the post-industrial food court ambience, all concrete and chrome bars, might not be for everyone. Still, they are delicious, satisfying burgers so once in a while, why not?

As an aside, sitting in the window seat at Relish allowed me to see just how much walking traffic now uses that block; I was impressed by the volume.  The development of the Marquee certainly helped and that has encouraged other businesses on both sides of the Drive, including the repainting of the Legion.  Good to see this evolutionary change happening.