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Part of the 2009 Izakaya Crawl.

We didn't really need a reservation here, either. We came in and they were ready to seat us right away, but I mentioned my reservation anyway.

This picture is not an exaggeration of how dimly lit the place is. I am usually a fan of dimly lit restaurants, I think the mood feels more intimate and special that way. However, I was disappointed by the overall decoration of the place. It was kinda boring. There was no flair. All minimalism.

We ordered drinks: a Harajuku Girl ($7), a blend of vodka, butterscotch schnapps, sour raspberry schnapps, Calpis (a Japanese yogurt-flavored drink) and soda; an Umeshu Tini ($7), a blend of plum wine, vodka, lemon and sweet; two pours (about 4 shots, I would guess) of Takezake, the house sake chilled in a bamboo server ($16); and a Calpis Vodka Soda ($5.25 and exactly what it says on the tin). The Harajuku Girl was really sweet, almost to the point of being sickening, but some people like that in a drink. The Boyfriend and I split the Takezake and liked it, especially the fun serving method.

We attempted to order food. We started off by saying we wanted their Goma-Ae, a blend of green beans, tuna sashimi and feta. I can't tell you how it tasted because they were out--and then the waitress went into a long, long list of all the things they didn't have. The kind of list where at the end you want to say "Well, what DO you have?" She said that the next day they were having their staff appreciation day or something like that and were closed, so they didn't have as much stock as usual. This weirded me out because you would think that when you're talking about RAW FISH and RAW MEAT, either it's so perishable that it should be thrown out at the end of the day ANYWAY, or else one day in the freezer/fridge shouldn't make that much of a difference.

So we were rather put out, especially because some of the other things she named were the things other people wanted to order. So we called a time-out and regrouped, with some discussion of leaving immediately, but since we didn't want to rush our drinks, we decided to order two things anyway.

If you can squint you can perhaps see the Beef Tataki ($7.95) that we ordered, but here's a picture that shows it better:

Tataki is very briefly seared pieces of meat with ginger. Hapa's version was served with a sesame-chili sauce. It was okay. I'm not a super big fan of meat that is still mooing. I couldn't help but feel that the garnish and sauce overwhelmed the meat.

I apologize for the quality of this picture--I took two pictures, and one of them is too dark, and the other one is washed out. I wasn't looking carefully at the picture afterwards. Anyway, this is Renkon Gyoza ($6.90): dumplings with slices of lotus root for a crunch. I liked this quite a bit, but I felt like the serving presentation was kind of deceptive. It's three gyoza cut in half. For almost $7. I know Hapa is a much fancier place than Hon's, but after getting 6 whole potstickers there for $1.37, I felt like this was overpriced to an insane degree. Ground pork is not that expensive.

Overall we were dissatisfied. I felt bad because this was my roommate's first izakaya experience and it sucked, and she was originally planning to leave after this. She decided to stick around and follow us to Gyoza King.

Name: Hapa Izakaya
Location: 1479 Robson St, Vancouver, BC 604-689-4272
Prices: $4-12 for small plates. Probably about $30/person to eat as dinner.
Service: When you read reviews for Hapa Izakaya, you will see one thing over and over: "The waitresses are hot." Personally, when any place of business's employees are ALL sexy/a single ethnicity/men/women/young etc, without a good reason why this should be the case (eg if a place requires its employees to speak a certain language in addition to English, thus making people of a certain ethnicity more likely to know that language), I don't think "Awesome!", I think "Illegal hiring practices." But then I'm a bleeding heart stick-in-the-mud. Maybe you LIKE objectification with your sushi. For what it's worth, our waitress (who was indeed good-looking) was apologetic about the restaurant being low on, y'know, food. IE the reason that I wanted to go to Hapa.
Food: There are some innovative combinations but they don't always work out in practice. The Harajuku Girl sounded great on paper but we all agreed it was way too sweet.
Recommended?: I don't know if this place is just overrated, or if I'm not the target audience, or whatever, but I was seriously unimpressed. And even if I was the target audience, I can't imagine not being irritated by the fact that THEY WERE OUT OF EVERYTHING. Well, not everything, but everything that we wanted.

Hapa Izakaya (Robson) on Urbanspoon
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We were having one of those nights where we couldn't decide where to eat. I had something of a burger craving, that was about the only strong feeling anyone had. We were walking along W. Broadway just wavering about things, considering and rejecting a Mongolian Barbecue place and several Greek restaurants. Finally we decided to try a place called Migz BBQ, at Broadway and MacDonald.

We walked in about 7pm on a Sunday and the place was dead. Literally there was no one there, and no host at the front, and no sign saying whether to seat oneself or not. There were three people at the bar, the bartender and two staff, none of whom even looked at us.

Uncertain, I asked the boyfriend what he wanted to do. He wanted to sit down, so we did. We sat for a few minutes, and I had a bad feeling and kind of wanted to leave, but I didn't voice it because we had been trying to pick a place for 45 minutes and I was just hungry. The place had a sports bar feel, with three or four televisions, two of which were showing NASCAR, which surprised me. A waitress finally came out, gave us menus, and took our drink orders (water for him, a Pepsi for me).

For an appetizer we ordered the potato skins with pulled pork ($8.95).

To be honest I wasn't a huge fan. To me, stuffed potato skins ought to be just that--potato skins, with just a little bit of potato so that the skins get really crunchy, and lots of toppings. This was more like half a baked potato with toppings. Gordon, however, liked this way better, so YMMV.

The only burger they had that was, y'know, a burger, and not chicken or veggie, came with cheddar and bacon. So, I ordered that, even though I'm not a huge bacon-on-burger person. I chose to pair it with a house salad with dressing on the side instead of fries. Gotta cut calories somewhere. ($11.95)

The salad was really good. Very fresh and a nice blend, no one veggie overpowering the others. The burger, however, was just average. It's not easy to make a tasty, juicy burger cooked well-done as the law requires, but it can be done. Theirs relied too heavily on the toppings. It wasn't bad, but I've had much better here in Vancouver--Moderne Burger or Vera's, heck, even Triple-O's does a better burger.

Gordon thought that you have to order BBQ from a place with BBQ in the name, so he got smoked chicken, and for his two sides he picked yam fries (on my request) and hush puppies ($16.95).

I was going to be diplomatic and say some things about how you can taste the smoke flavor in the chicken and that the bbq sauce was nice, but I'm getting a little tired of this review so I'm just going to say it sucked. The chicken was dry, so it really needed that sauce. The hushpuppies had some kind of weird spice in them, which to me as a half-Southerner was just wrong. He had ordered the hushpuppies because he had never tried them before, but this was a bad introduction to the true nobility possible in lumps of fried cornmeal. The yam fries were okay, but how do you mess up yam fries? Plus they didn't come with any dips other than ketchup--to get any other dip, you had to pay.

Satiated, if not exactly satisfied, we left.

Pretty much anything Migz does, you can get better someplace else. Their main attraction, BBQ, just doesn't even compare to the euphoric experience we had at Memphis Blues (W. Broadway and Granville). I think Memphis Blues sucked all the BBQ culinary talent out of Broadway and thus there was none left for Migz. The best thing I got out of my experience at Migz BBQ was a determination to go back to Memphis Blues ASAP, and write a review showing what real barbecue can be. And if you want a burger, again, Vera's or Moderne Burger will set you up nice. I haven't been to any other sports bars yet (I prefer to watch the Penguins at home), but I'm sure there's a better sports bar than this one, with its tiny televisions and short bar. And, like I said, the service, despite the place being empty when we walked in, was distracted and indifferent.

Moral of the story: If you want into a place on a weekend evening and no one is there and you can't get served within a minute? Leave.

Name: Migz BBQ
Location: 2884 W. Broadway Vancouver BC 604 773 3002
Prices: $10-20 for entrees, $5-15 appetizers. Licensed for beer, wine and spirits. Lots of drink specials.
Service: No one there to greet us when we came in. Not served for a few minutes even though we were the only ones there, and the bartender and his chatty crew must have seen us. Bartender and two waiters(?) spent entire time gabbing not far from where we were seated. Waitress smiled a lot but that's about the only thing nice you can say.
Food: Mediocre. BBQ was dry. Appetizers overpriced for amount gotten.
Recommended?: Don't go here.

Migz BBQ on Urbanspoon
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Oh Taipei. I miss you so much and long to return to you, city of cheap dining out. You can do anything--anything!--except make good Indian food.

Mexican food, however, is within your grasp.

Grandma Nitti's Kitchen, located within the Shida Night Market area of Taipei, is something of an expat hub. Any given evening, you're likely to see at least as many foreigners as Taiwanese. Maybe it's because they sell canned Chef Boyardee, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and other things that people far from home crave. Maybe it's the AWESOME used stuff sale that goes on every Sunday to benefit Animals in Taiwan, an animal welfare organization with a lot of expat members. Maybe it's because of its location, a university area. Or maybe the food is just delicious. :3

This is not authentic Mexican-from-Mexico food; it's stuff like quesadillas and fajitas, the kind of food you'd get at Chili's in the States. They also offer other Western fare like meat loaf and lamb chops. The emphasis is on homey, unpretentious food.

The homeyness and unpretentiousness extends to a extent that many Westerners may not be comfortable with: Grandma Nitti's has cats.

Yes, I took that picture from our table.

Not effecting the popularity of the place, as you can see.

Portion sizes are small and prices are higher than most other Western places. The trio platter above cost NT$760 (~US$23). I split it with two of my roommates, and on our way home we grabbed some baozi to fill our stomachs. Part of this is because imported ingredients, particularly cheese, are expensive. The food is tasty, but IMHO Grandma Nitti's should be saved for Mexican cravings only. There are other Western restaurants with better prices for other kinds of food.

You can add on dessert and coffee to your meal for NT$100 (~US$3).

Grandma Nitti's also serves breakfast. The omelets in particular are good, Western-style omelets, instead of the Japanese-style which is so common in Taipei. However you're still gonna find the same tiny portions and high prices as dinner.

The menu is bilingual and the waiters speak English well. Credit cards are taken. Free Wi-fi.

To get there, ride the MRT to Taipower Building Station, get out at exit 3, and walk up until you get to Lane 93 (it's the second alley I think). Turn right, and you'll see it on the right hand side of the street.

Name: Grandma Nitti's Kitchen
Location: 8, Lane 93, Shida Rd., Taipei (台北市師大路93巷8號). (02) 3365-3448
Prices: NT$400~1000 (US$12~30) for dinner (meal + drink). Brunch is NT$200 on weekdays and NT$300 on weekends ($6/$9), tea or coffee not incl.
Service: Typical for Taipei re: the waiters. The ambiance is comfortable and you won't be rushed out if you go there, order coffee, and sit playing on your laptop. There is a service charge (aka an enforced tip), unusual for Taipei. The service should really be better than it is, with the service charge. Most places in Taipei, you don't tip at all.
Food: Tasty but small and expensive portions of Western style food, especially TexMex and breakfast.
Recommended?: Expats should hit Grandma Nitti's at least once, if only to say they've been there. If your time in Taipei is at all limited, however, there are better options.


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