So I feel compelled to write about my experience at Brown’s Social House last weekend.  Now, it was the first and only time I’ve been to the Kits location, and I admit I didn’t have any food, but I just want to talk a little bit about the service I received.

I spent a week planning my girlfriend’s 30th birthday, and surfed around a bit for a good spot to host the celebration.  I invited about 15 people with the assumption that 8-10 would show up.  I knew I wanted to have the event at around 8pm (so people who didn’t want to eat wouldn’t feel pressured to order dinner), and I wanted to pick someplace that would be really condusive to socializing and maybe having a few appetizers with drinks.

I decided on Brown’s Social House because it was a good location for our friends to get to, it got dynamite reviews for atmosphere and staff, and wasn’t too expensive.  Everything was in place down to the smallest detail.  I admit I obsessed a bit because the last thing I wanted to do was ruin someone’s 30th birthday.  Turning 30 is grounds alone for a ruined day, anyway.

That’s when I realized I’d forgotten one small-little-itsy-bitsy-minute-almost microscopic detail:  I didn’t make a reservation.  Oops.  I can’t take me anywhere.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal.  I thought everything would work out.  My girlfriend trusted me to make sure everything ran smoothly.  Hmmm….

So we arrived at about 7:15 to make sure we didn’t miss anyone.  The place was absolutely busting at the seams.  There wasn’t a table to be had anywhere.  I started to get that sinking feeling in my stomach, naturally.  I was pretty sure we were going to have to get a booth at Denny’s and all bring flasks.

So we explained the situation to the staff.  They seemed pretty calm in relation to me (but so would an air traffic controller in a blizzard).  They said most of the tables were reserved (the one we really wanted, in particular).  So they seated us on the heated patio and said they would do some manuvering to make sure they could accomodate our party.

They went out of their way to make room for us in the back, got our drinks, and were really adamant about updating the status of our request.  After about 30 minutes a gentleman came back and said he had found us a spot, and hoped it would be OK.  He took our half-consumed drinks and led us to our table.  That’s when I saw the angels…

It was probably the best table in the house.  A 10 seater booth right near the washrooms and servers station.  I could see sunshine and heavenly lights radiating from it.  I feel like the whole staff had surrounded the table with their arms extended welcoming us to the spot.  It was absolutely perfect.  They said it was no problem at all, but I imagine it took a little creativity to secure such a desirable table.  We sat down and it was one of the most comfortable booths we’d ever been in.

So our guests began to file in, 10 in all, and the staff was excellent.  The servers cheerful and friendly, helpful to a fault, and absolute naturals as what they do.  It was just the right kind of service for our event.

With the labour shortage and constant turn-over experienced in a restaurant, it’s difficult to find that perfect consistency.  They made our evening outstanding.  I’d have to say it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  Under the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse.

So my girlfriend had a wonderful evening, I didn’t have to move any of my books off the couch, and we all went home happy.  Now it’s never appropriate to judge a place on one visit, but they earned my respect and certainly another visit.  Next time I’ll have some food and report back.  If the food is half as good as the accomodation, I might just make it my official go-to hang.

Brown’s Social House

2296 W 4th Ave, Vancouver
Tel: 604-733-2420

Have you ever been to a restaurant and said, “I can’t wait to come back here again!” and then the next day, you actually do? I never had…until I went to Cobre Restaurant. Always up for a new culinary adventure, I sauntered up to the bar greeted by an inviting room, a welcoming kitchen and lovely staff. The two fine gentlemen who entertained me turned out to be two thirds of Cobres’ owners. Jason, who is also the beverage manager and Stuart, whose passion and detail in describing the Nuevo Latino menu, proved that he commanded the kitchen. The third, Tyson is the G.M. and trained chef who collaborates with Stuart on the menu.

My journey consisted of Tuna Ceviche, Wild Mexican Sea Prawns and Pan Seared BC Sablefish. I took family there the next weekend and my boyfriend and I now indulge ourselves regularly. Cobre surpasses expectations on all counts – service, ambiance, and food are exemplary. I highly recommend sitting at the bar and getting to know Jason, Stuart and Tyson. You’ll want to visit them every chance you get.
“…blending the passion of Argentina with the exuberance of Cuba, the sultriness of Brazil, and the joy of Mexico.” 52 Powell Street, at Columbia Vancouver BC in Gastown.

~ Kimberlee Alexander

Cobre Restaurant logo

Tapastree

March 5, 2009

By Natalie Carriere

Here’s a wonderful place to celebrate Valentines Day. Tapastree
has been a keystone on the Vancouver restaurant scene since 1997 and in
restaurant years, that’s a lifetime. Treat yourself to dinner there and
you’ll soon see why Tapastree has been a top rated establishment time
and time again.

With a warm atmosphere and delicious food, Tapastree
like drinking a rich Brunello in front of a roaring fireplace while
watching the snow fall out of your window. Prawns grilled with pesto,
flat iron steak with peppercorn sauce and my favorite, buttermilk fried
chicken. Tapastree is also known for their wine list which features
prices and tastes to suit every budget. Never disappointed, always
wanting more and pleasantly full – that’s what you will get with a
visit to Tapastree.

1829 Robson St., Vancouver, BC 604-606-4680

Kimberlee Alexander

Tapastree

Yew Restaurant

March 5, 2009

By Nathalie Carriere

Cuban born Executive Chef, Rafael Gonzalez has a new playground. The last time I stepped foot into the Four Seasons Hotel Restaurant, I remember a somewhat out dated atmosphere that was not indicative to the hotel’s high standards. The Four Season’s finally decided to do a renovation of epic proportions to the dining and bar area and the new space is now called YEW, after the rare indigenous Pacific Yew tree. With 20 foot high ceilings, hints of a nature-focused theme, a 2 faced stone fireplace that divides the lounge from the dining area and a glassed cellar room – This new face lift is definitely a “step up”.

If you get a chance to drop in, here are my recommendations: “Braised Veal Cheeks, Torchiette Pasta Moonstruck White Grace, Walnuts, Cipollinis” ($16), “Parsnip and Coconut Soup, Dungeness Crab, Coconut Crisps” ($14) and to share for two the “Spicy Paella, Lobster, Prawns and Clams, Chorizo, Honey Mussels and Chicken” ($61). Yew restaurant

Pinky’s Steakhouse

March 5, 2009

Here’s a classic steak house with a reasonably priced menu and a great selection of wines

Pinkys Steakhouse oozes sex-appeal. Sit cozy in their half-moon booths and take in the atmosphere, trimmed with splashes of red flora and accented with damask printed wallpaper. If you only have time for a drink, they have a welcoming circular bar in the center of the room.

Needless to say, so up my alley.

Here’s the course: You must start off with the Spicy Kobe Meatballs ($12), a side of Scallop Potatoes ($7) and follow up with the 7 oz Steak & Lobster ($40) and finish it off with a fluffy Key Lime Pie ($7). Here’s the pre-warning, you’re going to have to roll yourself out.

Pinkys Steakhouse – Yaletown Location
1265 Hamilton Street, Vancouver BC
604.637.3135, info@pinkyssteakhouse.com

Pinkys steak house

Ok:  Who HASN’T told you about their FAVORITE sushi place around town.  Pretty much everyone you know has a go-to spot that is ABSOLUTELY the best.  No question.

Some people want great quality, therefore are willing to spend a bit extra.  A lot of us like the sit-and-go 18 pcs + miso for $5.95 lunch.  I’ve had a lot of those specials, and find them to be satisfying, but standard across the board.  Rarely do the two worlds mesh.

Hold up.  A shockingly inexpensive, carefully prepared sushi tray you need both hands to hold doesn’t exist only in a vacuum or alternate universe.  It just takes forever to get it once you know where to go (you know what they say about 2 out of 3).

Sushi Town (5935 Hastings St., Burnaby) a “best kept secrets” selection in the “word’s already out” class meets all the requisite sushi qualifications in a big way.  Some of the specials:

Tuna or Salmon Sashimi (9 big pcs) = $7.95

Alaska Roll (6pcs) + 2 Salmon, 1 Ebi, 1 Tuna Nigiri = $7.75

Cali 1/2 Roll + Dynamite Roll + Tuna Roll + Salmon Roll = $7.95

Now if the prices don’t shock you, the portions will.  Sushi Town offers some of the largest pieces of sashimi and sushi around, and the roll presentations are fantastic to boot.  Combo B ($23.95, 46 pcs) could either feed a family of 6 or me.  The atmosphere is very tasteful (albeit a bit crowded) and you’re guaranteed to never leave hungry for more.

Tip:  Peak hours are just that: you’ll feel like you’re climbing to the top of a very skinny, crowded mountain with only your fellow patrons as fall protection.  It’s very busy most of the time, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself being a bit proactive to snag a server.  If you set aside enough time, and don’t mind sitting close to your neighbour (think 99 B Line at 8am on a Monday) then Sushi Town is a must try (you only need to go once every two days because what you don’t finish will be lunch for tomorrow).

During an economic downturn, things have a tendency to stop happening.

Auto salesmen, when not pacing and sighing, spend hours over-grooming their stalled vehicle inventory. Homes sit vacant while For Sale signs half-hang from single unsnapped chains, blowing and squeaking in the breeze. But if there’s one necessity which keeps the money flowing, no matter how thin our wallets get, it’s this:

“Ya gotta eat.”

Without sounding too much in line with Stephen Harper’s ill-timed “pre-recession” comments, this adjustment period WILL create exceptional opportunities, or at least a chance for industries to creatively add value to goods and services while minimizing customer inconvenience and stretching out everyone’s dollar as much as possible. This isn’t the time to stop investing, but to start investing smarter. It’s true that hunkering down and waiting for the economic tide to turn is like not trying to swim if you’re drowning. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”

Never is this truer than in the food and beverage industry. Food is an essential but also discretionary item, especially in fine dining restaurants. But people visit fancy eateries for the experience just as much as the meal, and often for reasons that are primarily social, cultural and atmospheric. They also don’t want to be bored eating the same things at home week in and week out. Conclusion: people want to dine out, but their entrée selections are heavily influenced by the economy.

For example, as people curb their discretionary food spending, recipe websites have seen a 10% increase in visitors, or double the rate of total internet growth. eMarketer reports here that the leading recipe website in the US, Allrecipes.com, has seen a jump in visitors and searches, especially those focusing on specific, less expensive ingredients. In response to these trends, the site launched a “cooking economically” section, where users and editorial staff submit articles, videos and tips on how to enjoy food while saving money.

One inexpensive dish being embraced by consumers is pasta, a staple which provides unlimited potential for creativity and added value. As reported by the Associated Press, “Sales of pasta products in the United States – including frozen and refrigerated pasta, canned pasta, soup mixes and prepared dinners – rose 5 percent last year to $6.4 billion…” The increase in sales couldn’t have come at a better time for the pasta industry, as low-carbohydrate, high protein diet fads have whittled away their profits.

On the flip side, American’s consumption of seafood has leveled off. Rising prices, contamination worries and cooking difficulties have all contributed to the decline. However, cheaper and easier seafood, such as canned tuna and salmon, has remained steady. And it seems people don’t care to prepare seafood at home: “About 70% of all seafood consumption takes place in restaurants,” according to a Packaged Facts report.

Chicken is another product emerging as a consumer preference powerhouse. According to Technomic, people are bypassing beef for inexpensive proteins such as chicken. Consumers also think poultry is healthier than beef, which will further influence their decisions. When they do order beef, especially steak, consumers “…expect more quality, better cuts, aging and seasonings to justify paying a higher cost.”

An emerging trend which creates a tremendous amount of opportunity for restaurants is ethnic food preference. The Technomic report reveals flavours such as chili pepper, chipotle, garlic, black pepper, and bourbon, and other hot and spicy twists are building steam (no pun intended) amongst students, which is a good demographic to explore when considering trendy-ness. Even more telling, according to a Marketing Daily report, is that infusing those traditional staples with a little ethnic spark is just what the consumer ordered (or wants to order). Flavour fusions are also becoming big: “Any kind of fusion is very big right now – meals and dishes that combine flavors, mixes and spices from different categories – Pan-Asian foods, sushi/samba trends. People are looking for those new flavor combinations.”

This is where the food and beverage industry needs to get creative. If consumer value has been recognized in pasta, and seafood consumption has waned (though still preferred, but labeled discretionary) then featuring dishes that combine the two will bring people to your establishment. Ethnic flavours are big? Devote some of your menu to spicy chicken dishes, combined with pasta, and experiment with flavours for beef and pork.

Foodservice professionals must research consumer trends, and brainstorm value-added strategies so their customers feel like their getting a good deal on something different. As food is an essential item, the industry will continue experimenting with creative selling and re-proportioning, of which other industries providing non-essential goods and services should take note. Oftentimes a subtle slant, turning an idea on its head, changing a simple flavour, will make all the difference.