Archive for the ‘ First Impressions ’ Category

Commune Cafe: First Impressions

I cannot count how many times I have passed Commune Cafe at 1002 Seymour Street, and I kept on walking. Nothing seemed to grab me. From the outside, it looked like a typical glassy and glossy Yaletown cafe. But with my new “Friday Destination lunches,” the Commune came onto the radar. It’s a quick walk from the office and a cafeteria style with a range of sandwiches (read quick and easy to have me back at the office on time) and has a wine and beer list. It met the criteria,  so off I ventured.


Sign at Commune

First glance and I loved the sign to the entrance; I believe it. It was a good reminder and a prelude for the concept of joining strangers around the long communal table that seats 16.

But for those dining alone, fear not. As you order your sandwich and are forced to wait, perhaps fidget with your solo-ness, recheck the emails you’ve already read on your iPhone or challenge the angry birds, take a closer look at your order tag.

Conversation Starters at Commune

You may just be able to break the ice and start some simple chit chat with the strangers beside you. I liked the fact that the concept of community was woven into the small order cards; trying to foster simple communication and connect people.

The decor

Overall it does resemble a Scandinavian-style showroom with white walls (a black and white mural on one), a natural wood table and floors and then the bursts of red–communist red to boot. But what appealed to me was the shape of the back of the chairs–the top bar slightly curved upwards with multiple downward rods.) The chairs were tucked into the table and I couldn’t help but see the resemblance of eight little torii (traditional Japanese gates marking the entrance to a sacred shrine) lined up.

Commun-ist red chairs

Another natural element that I fell in love with was the cork pendant lamps (all three of them) which were spaced out evenly to hang over the table. Interestingly, they are shaped like beehives – another subconscious communal touch, perhaps?

Cork pendant lamp - Commune Cafe

Cork pendant lamp - close up

The food

Three words: simple, fresh, sound. The menu isn’t overly complicated, nor are the sandwiches but Commune does claim that their ingredients are free-range, organic and locally sourced. There are soups, salads and shares, but with it being Friday, I was more inclined for a side of Canadian craft beer. For $15 I got a great Portobello Arugula Goat cheese sandwich, a small side of fresh greens and a bottle of Apricot Wheat Ale.

Portobello Arugula Goat cheese sandwich - Commune Cafe

I am glad I went back. It was a great communal Friday lunch that reshaped my perception of the sometimes stale and void-of-character(s) Yaletown locales. And not only did I kick my ass for not coming sooner, I found out what the last concert my colleagues went to and who sleeps in the nude (conversation starter 26, I believe.)


Bao Bei – First Impressions

First Impressions – Some say it takes about two minutes to form your opinion and about four minutes for this impression to be locked in. 

Bao Bei has been on my “to-do” list for some time now and with the recent article in enRoute as one of Canada’s best new restaurants, it was time to head to the not-as-dodgy-as-it-used-to-be end of town for a little feast.  

In the darkness of a dreary Vancouver evening, the neon sign marking Bao Bei’s locale at 163 Keefer Street provided a cheerful beacon. There is no doubt that these colourful luminous tubes are making a comeback all the while providing some ambient light to a shadowy street and giving the hood a bit more curb appeal.

Bao Bei - Neon Sign (photo by Amanda Baye)


A Full House
We arrived early, anticipating it to be busy, but it was packed. And it was only 6ish. The host greeted us (efficiently, but with little warmth), explained that the first seating was now in full swing and expected it would be about 45 minutes till a table was available. He took my name, and suggested we wait at the bar in the meantime. No salesmanship required—I was game to try a cocktail or three.

Yeah to Hooks!
As I walked towards the bar to settle in, there was one thing that caught my eye – hooks. Yep, that simple little detail that shouldn’t be overlooked. Thank you! I tucked my jacket, umbrella and bag away and pulled back the Victorian floral covered stool.

The Icy Bar
Despite my mother’s objections to elbows on any eating surface and my claim that a bar is not a formal dining table, I placed my elbows freely on the bar and just as quickly, removed them. The matte steel slab was not a cozy, warm place for elbows to rest.

In a debate with my dining cohort, I agree, it is a practical surface—easy to keep clean and maintain—and you don’t want to design a bar for comfort if food/dining at a table is the focus; get the patrons out of the holding area and to the tables. But if you are expecting people to wait for at least 45 minutes over a cocktail and maybe a “schnack,” of Crispy Fishies at the bar, you would think that comfort would come into play. I digress, and after all they did have hooks.

First glimpses

Bao Bei 008
The space seems to mimic the concept of the fried rice of the day – a hodgepodge of odds and ends thrown together but in the end, it works. The warehouse-like room (complete with lofty rafters and concrete floor) is filled with vintage decor, seemingly from grandma’s attic or garage sale finds, yet retains clean lines and an uncluttered feel. Metallic plates and trays hang on one wall and an installation of white kitchen knives borders another.  

Little vignettes of pictures, plates and kitschy objects dot the room. It truly is a place to let you eyes roam. Look up, look around, look down and see what is tucked away or displayed – you will be amazed.  (Check out Bao Bei’s gallery for some more pictures.) The great thing here is that the first glimpses merely scratch the surface, but with time and more inspection the layers of details will be peeled back. And don’t forget to take a visit to the powder rooms–men, you will be in a nice little surprise. (Click here if you wish to ruin it.)

Faux pas 
Remember I said I gave my name at the door–I was the one that talked the host? Well about 30 minutes into our cocktails the host comes up, puts his hand on my friend’s back to get her attention, looks at her, forces a smile and says, “Amanda, your table is ready.” Ooops! Not good. I know matching names to faces can be tough, (maybe tougher since all us wide-eyed blonde girls look the same), but if you are trying to be friendly and create a rapport with your customer by personalizing things, make sure you get the right person! If you know names/faces is not your strong point, at least jot a note beside my name (short hair, purple sweater, or seat #X).  But the incident got me thinking and I realized that even if he screwed up the rapport part of the dinership, he managed expectations well. We expected a 45 minute wait, but we got to our table in about 30.

It’s not a lengthy menu, but making a decision was tough. We went with the Sichuan pickles, poached chicken salad, squid, steamed prawn and chives dumplings and crispy pork belly followed by fried bananas with lime and coconut sorbet (HEAVEN). Between the three of us we cleared the plates (tempted to lick the crispy pork belly plate), downed a couple of glasses of red, a few bottles of beer and cocktails prior and left completely stuffed. Total cost: $146.

The three of us chose three different dishes as our favourites, but we did agree on two things: 1. We will go back and 2. If we were to do it again, the dishes with the delicate and mild tastes would be ordered first then build up to the richer and spicier items. But maybe that was our wide-eyed faux pas.

Sea Monstr Sushi

 I found myself on Friday making a trip to Sea Monstr Sushi to “destroy my hunger” and find some new fodder for this blog.

Sea Monstr Sushi (photo by a.baye)

 First Glance

(photo credit: Daniel L)

If you can judge a restaurant by the quantity of people dining and milling around for take-out, I figured I had chosen a good lunch destination. It was hopping and me and my dining cohort had to wait for a seat at the bar. But it gave us a good chance to look around. A small room–holding about 12 at the bar and roughly the same at table tops in the back–with very sparse decor. Granted, Japanese style errs on the side of minimalism, but somehow the space felt unfinished and slightly stale. The wall opposite the sushi bar–white and bare–screamed for attention. If it were up to me,  I would put an oversized funky adaptation of their logo in graffiti or some mural done in yakuza tattoo style, at the very least some pictures.


But there is one thing that works here, and that is the use of texture.


Scales on the bar at Sea Monstr (photo by a.baye)

The element of texture provides another dimension to the room and Sea Monstr Sushi has done that very well. The combination of the unfinished brick wall and the stainless steel sushi bar gives the room a bold and modern look. But what I loved is the actual texture of the bar itself. Sadly when the bar is filled with patrons there is little hope in seeing it, but peeking underneath, you will be delighted. Yes, those do look like scales right off the back of a sea monster and they continue down the entire length of the bar.

ebi sunomono

Texture also came into the presentation of the food–a colourful ebi sunomono was served in a white rough clay bowl–a harmonious balance with texture and hues. 

In traditional Japanese cuisine, it is said you eat with your eyes first so the visual presentation of your meal is never by happenstance. You know you will get this at your upscale places, but for this little joint, I was pleasantly surprised that they have the presentation zen. 

Sea Monstr isn’t the cheapest sushi option in the city nor is it the coziest locale, but the Negitoro Maki (chopped tuna belly and green onion roll) is six slices of heaven for only $3.50. All in all not a bad deal and the best part, it isn’t served with a side of fake plastic grass. The tea was warm, the service not as quick as you want for a week-day work lunch, but hey, presentation takes time and you just don’t go for the tea.

 NOTE: Just got word 2 days after this post was published that Sea Monstr Sushi launches a new menu built for extra short lunch breaks on Monday, November 29.

Final Thoughts
Where is the “E” in Monstr? (I was told “it was just done that way,” but my question is why?)

Meat & Bread: Part 1-First Impressions

There really is nothing like a good tease; one that plays with your senses and holds you in suspense, craving more. I will admit that I was aroused from the start—right from the first street poster I saw in September. It was the clean wordmark and animal heads in black and white that caught my eye, but it was the name that grabbed my attention—Meat & Bread. A fantastically simple name and if the name was any indication of what was to be on the menu, this carnivore begged to be satisfied.


First impressions are big in my book. Some say it takes about two minutes to form your opinion and about four minutes for this impression to be locked in. The boys at Meat & Bread, however, had me in about a minute and a half.

00:00 – 00:15: Frankie Harrington greets
Warm and charismatic. Casual, yet confident. He briefly explained the concept, highlighted the menu and guided the dozen or so guests trickling out the door to snake around the counter. I felt welcomed.

00:15-00:20: The oversized magnetic menu
An uncomplicated listing of four sandwiches posted with magnetic letters in the same clean font as the wordmark. A brilliant touch.

00:20 – 00:30: Porchetta
My eyes fixed on the glorious slab of pork loin spotlighted under the hanging heat lamps. Mmmm-meat! I wondered if I was the only person considering asking for the bread on the side.

00:30-00:40: Joseph Sartor carves
Joe wielded his knife through the tender porchetta. I watched him load the bun with the bite-sized pieces and then drizzle the salsa verde atop with care. Despite the growing line, he seemed unfazed. He calmly took more orders, each with a smile and a bit of banter.

00:40-00:50: Breadboards
The sandwiches are served on a breadboard flanked with precise dollops of mustard and chutney. Once again the theme of simplicity wove its way in.

Photo by Heather Johnston

00:50-01:00: The space
Huge. High ceilings adorned by hanging lamps. Crisp white walls. Subway tiles. A four-foot magnetic strip housing knives of all shapes and sizes. Patina mirrors. A communal table. A punching bag and taxidermy. (What the…?) Part butcher, part Parisian bistro and a healthy heaping of circus sideshow. There were stories to be had here and I knew I had to return to uncover them.

1:00-1:30: The first bite
I relished the first bite and let the zing of the curried lamb fill my mouth. The concept of Meat & Bread may be based on the theme of minimalism but the taste is anything but minimal.

After a minute and a half my impression was not only formed but locked in. A simple concept, a solid place. These boys have something good going. It is clear that nothing has been overlooked; whether in the details of the decor, the presentation of the food or the branding. Yet, despite the OCD-like attentions paid, they have retained a laid-back environment.

The waiting, the yearning, the teasing had come to an end, but I know my cravings for more haven’t. I was satisfied once and know that I will be with each return.

(More stories about the decor to come.)

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