Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Good things come in threes...
It's a mild spring-like evening and you're walking downtown looking out for a group of complete strangers wearing green a week before St.Patty's Day. You have no idea what you're in for or who you'll expect to meet; what you do know is that you will be spending at least three hours dinning with a group of individuals whom you've never met before. You have a meeting place and time, and the rest is a mystery. Welcome to your first Dishcrawl.
I was excited and intrigued to embark on this Dishcrawl event, commencing at Hoja Mongolian Grill downtown Kamloops at 256 Victoria Street. I have eaten at this establishment many a time, knowing that the food is always fresh and amazing and that it's a staple for all things stir fry. I met my group of fellow Dishcrawlers and our host Anita at the back of the restaurant at a table set for ten. The dress code was supposed to be green attire (or so I thought) so I adorned an emerald green top. I was the only one wearing green. Luckily a group of three friends who were outgoing and enthusiastic busted out shamrock necklaces with shot glasses attached to them and green Mardi Gras beads, making me wonder what type of night I was in for. Hoja has a relaxed and casual atmosphere, the lighting is dark, nothing is overly fancy, and it's a buffet style of menu. The focal point of the entire restaurant is the gargantuan flame fired wok at the front of the establishment with the chef dressed in black frying up all sorts of customer-created dishes. You grab a bowl, choose your protein, vegetables, garnishes, carbohydrates/fillers and cover your creation in loads of flavored oils and sauces and hand it to the chef who then frys it up for you. You can be as creative and unique as you want to be with your meal. You can choose a healthy and well balanced stir fry or you can load your bowl with heaps of chicken, beef, pork, lamb and seafood and call it your protein fix. The dinner selection of items is extensive... aside from the meat I mentioned above there are chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, bok choy, pineapple, jalapenos and the list goes on and on. You control your portion size and get to return to the wok with your creation as many times as you'd like. Go back to your long dark table, order a glass of wine and attempt to use chopsticks with your feast. Hoja was/is a great place to eat what you like, never be disappointed with your meal (or it's your own fault) and socialize in a relaxed atmosphere with friends, or new found friends in this case. We spent approximately forty-five minutes eating and getting to know one another then journeyed down the street to our next destination: Indian Aroma.
At this point in the evening I asked myself two questions a) why had I eaten such a huge meal at Hoja, knowing full well two more restaurants were still ahead in the night and b) why had I never taken the time to go to Indian Aroma before tonight. It's a complete hidden gem. I had heard loads of great reviews about it from friends/colleagues but had never bothered to go there. It's in a peculiar spot, located in a food-court below Sprott-Shaw College at 340 Victoria Street, but it's certainly not out of the way at all. If you think you have to go to a sit-down type of Indian cuisine restaurant for authentic exceptional curries, you are completely wrong. I was blown away. Indian Aroma offers dine-in, take away and delivery for it's menu items which include an assortment of naan breads, curry dishes with lamb, chicken, paneer and other options, samosas, and desserts. Enjoy an Indian chai tea with your meal or simply grab a bottle of water to help you tolerate the amazing spices of your dish. The lovely owner had set up a long table for our group and proceeded to greet us with multiple dishes of delicious flavorful menu items including butter chicken, vegetable pakora, naan, and a vegetarian option for me, smothered in the same butter chicken sauce. The prices are incredibly reasonable, the portions sizes are extraordinary and the authenticity and flavors of the dishes are superb. Next time you feel like grabbing fast food, skip going to Subway or McDonalds and go grab a lunch combo at Indian Aroma, I promise you will not be disappointed.
Our final stop of the evening was Sikora Caffe. How I managed to find the room in my stomach to accommodate for another meal is beyond me, little alone how I managed to make room for a THREE COURSE meal at Sikora. Located at 272 Lansdowne Street in the old Caffe Ariana location, Sikora Caffe is lovely cafe style type of establishment with great character and style. Our Dishcrawl party had a private long dinning table set up in the middle of the cafe, surrounded by long windows in a very private and intimate setting. We met the bright and young new business owner Talia who was enthusiastic, creative and sweet as pie. Normally Sikora is only open for breakfast and lunch, but she had stayed open until 9 o'clock that evening eagerly awaiting her dinner guests. Talia later told us that this private event was one she was willing to also offer to the public for dinner upon reservation and special request. Being a graduate from TRU's culinary education program, Talia's dish creations were inventive, artistically created and absolutely delicious. Our first dish was a Thai lettuce wrap with sweet chili creme fresh garnished with sprouts and fresh lime. Followed by homemade gnocchi dressed in a pesto cream sauce with a feta crumble atop and drizzled with olive oil. If you have never heard of or experienced the mouthwatering delectable quality of a homemade gnocchi, please make sure to put it on your foodie bucket list. Every Friday at Sikora for lunch they feature a gnocchi dish... prepare to never want plain ordinary wheat pasta ever again. Our beautiful meal had a grand finale featuring strawberries, peaches and a granola crumble with a hint of sweet basil and a dollop of chantilly cream melting perfectly on top. It was comfort food at it's finest and a perfect way to end the evening. I resisted ordering one of their Italian hot chocolates or Nutella lattes as I knew I would surely burst... but it was so tempting. Sikora Caffe definitely put a great taste in my mouth and propelled me to not only brag extensively about my meal afterwards to everyone, but also made me look at my schedule to figure out when I could fit in coming back for more gnocchi. It's a MUST.
With an overly full belly I parted ways, after spending three hours with a group of fellow foodies discussing everything from politics to health care to everything in between while indulging in multiple savory fares. It was a remarkable and interesting way to spend a Wednesday evening, and one that I hope appeals to many others who may join in on the next Dishcrawl adventure. Variety is absolutely the spice of life, and if you find yourself longing for an existence with a tad more spontaneity or to pursue a more outgoing nature within yourself, look up Dishcrawl Kamloops on Facebook or the web and live a little. All you really have to lose is a few extra inches of comfort from the waistband of your jeans.