Review: Bao Down On the Drive

July 29, 2017

Today I went for lunch at Boa Down which has been open a couple of months now.

Bao Down has been described to me as a Filipino-fusion taco joint, and that seems fair enough. The place is bright and cheery, with — today at least — loud NSFW hip-hop blasting out. It is dressed like a beachfront cabin, the attractive tables made from irregularly cut wood. With the front window open, the place is perfect for people watching but, if that bores you, they have two large screen TVs.

The menu essentially consists of a number of baos and tacos, each with a more or less exotic filling. I tried the Between Two Worlds bao (braised pork belly, hoisin, pickled daikon and carrot) and the Huli Huli taco (island style chicken breast, pickled papaya, crispy garlic, and radish).  They come with a range of homemade hot sauces.  The boas and tacos themselves take some chewing. Service was welcomingly minimal and the price — the two dishes plus an oversized portion of Kennebec fries — was about $17.

The food was more than OK and there was the occasional bloom of unusual taste that woke up my palette. But, for me at least, I can’t see this becoming a regular habit.


Joe’s Grill: A Quick Review

July 20, 2017

It was happenstance that I bumped into a good friend outside Joe’s Grill yesterday, just an hour or so after they had opened up for their first day of business on the Drive. Having brunch at the new place seemed a natural.

Joe’s Grill already has three locations in Vancouver, on Denman, Davie, and Main. For their Commercial Drive location they have slotted into a space on the east side of the 900-block that has a less than illustrious history for restaurants; it has been vacant for 10 months since Nonna’s failed after just a few months of business following a previous 10 months of vacancy since the earlier failure of Adeline’s.

The interior of the space has been modified somewhat, making it much more appealing and open than it was before; it felt comfortable and welcoming. It still has the lovely patio, where we chose to eat on what was another fine summer’s day.  Service was excellent: prompt, efficient, and courteous. That could be a challenge on a restaurant’s first day, but they managed it well.

The menu is standard breakfast and lunch fare. The Commercial Drive location hasn’t made it to their website yet, so I have linked to the menu on Davie Street.  However, the Drive menu seemed shorter, with less choices. My friend had corned beef hash and scrambled eggs; his looked good and he declared himself satisfied with it. I had the classic eggs benny, my usual test for a diner.  Mine came with country fried potatoes. The benny was fine — the egg cooked exactly to my specifications — but, as is usual in many breakfast joints, the hollandaise was a little bland, as if they forgot there was supposed to be lemon juice in it.

With coffee and tip, but without toast, my breakfast came to about $16. This is about the same as Zawa’s, the Euro Cafe, or the Tangent. The everloving and I usually spend about $20 for two breakfasts with toast and coffee at Skylight and their portions are bigger (as they are, too, at the Tangent for example).  But it is a nice place and the patio is a real plus.

Joe’s Grill’s timing for their opening is both good and potentially bad. Good because the Skylight in the next block is closed for vacations for the next few weeks; I am certain that many of Skylight’s regulars, like me, will give the new place a try during that time.  Potentially bad news is that the Bosa’s store next door to Joe’s will close in September when their rebuilt store on Victoria re-opens. Joe’s will lose the foot traffic that Bosa brings to that corner, and they will have to hope both that another restaurant chain doesn’t take the large space then available or that the double-wide vacancy doesn’t bring a sense of desolation.

My friend and I were the only customers when we arrived but by the time we left the place was quite busy. I wish them well!

Hirado Sushi — A Small Review

June 17, 2017

On Commercial Drive between Venables and Broadway there are roughly 100 restaurants or food joints. Fourteen of these are in the 1400-block, which makes that small strip more like a food court than anything else.

We went there for lunch today, hoping to try out the new Filipino-Pan-Asian Bao Down but that, oddly for 12:45 on a busy Saturday, was closed. However, there were thirteen other places to choose from within a hundred yards, and we settled on Hirado Sushi which I hadn’t been to before.

Hirado, like several neighbours on either side if it, is a tiny little space, full of industry and bright smells. You can probably seat fourteen for dinner, but only if they are very close relatives or friends. But they do really well with the space they have, and the friendly service makes it welcoming.

Like most sushi places, they have a huge menu full of the usual selections. To get a range of stuff to try, we both had bento boxes, mine with prawn teriyaki and the everloving’s with chicken. The miso soup was just  touch salty but, to be honest, that was the only complaint we could have had. The prawns and rice with mixed vegetables, the four good sized pieces of tempura, the tuna and salmon nigiri, and the crunchy crisp salad were as good as any I’ve eaten for a long while.

This probably isn’t the place you’d take a first date you were trying to impress, but for a satisfying quick meal at a very reasonable price, the Hirado is well worth the visit.


The Abstract Cafe

April 27, 2017

The Abstract Cafe has been open for a few months now and I have been meaning to give it a try. I had some time between assignments yesterday and dropped by.

This has to be one of the least visible sites on the Drive. It is in the mini-mall at the south-west corner of Commercial & Venables. It faces Venables and is in a deep set back and can easily be missed.  The Spelt Bakery used to be there before the space failed as a vape lounge last year.  For a limited-menu cafe it also faces competition from Uprising Bakery, right across the street, which has an ominously loyal following.

The space has an airy, comfortable feeling, with lots of art all over the orange walls. They have tables and chairs and easy couches; it feels homely, with an interesting soundtrack. It has something of the feel — though not the decor — of the Props House that used to be a few doors further down Venables. I liked it, I liked the coffee, and the lady who runs the place seems pleasant enough.


There is, as I said, a limited menu (click on the image for a larger view). I haven’t tried anything yet but I will be back.

Review: Sweet Greek

April 10, 2017

In the last Changes on The Drive I mentioned that the old Kingdom Beauty supply depot at 2227 Commercial had been given a new coat of bright yellow paint and was being renovated.  The new business is now open and is called Sweet Greek. I went there today to welcome them to the Drive and to try them out.

This is a Greek-based cafe with all the usual menu items and more,  but the first thing to notice is just how friendly are the couple who run it. They have only been open a couple of days and they are clearly wanting to encourage business, but the warmth to me and the others who followed me seemed genuine and I appreciate that.

All of the food is made on the premises and the pastries looked delicious. It was lunchtime so I had the daily special which proved to be a really good leek soup and a well-heated ham and cheese roll.  The coffee was just as good, too.

This is a huge space; much more than they appear to need right now. There are currently just a couple of chairs along one side of the serving bar, a shelf-table with stools along the Drive window, and four small tables along the north wall.  If they get popular, they have plenty enough space to put in more tables and chairs — and I hope they will need them.

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.