Friday, November 8, 2013

CocoaNymph

Today I ventured to CocoaNymph on a Groupon for a chocolate making class. The Groupon cost $35, a 50% discount from a $70 class. 80 Groupons were sold. The description on the Groupon was "Students learn about chocolate during an interactive presentation and craft truffles while tasting chocolates from around the globe." I believe this was an accurate description.

CocoaNymph is located on 10th and Alma. It's not too flashy on the outside, so be sure to pay attention if you are driving by. Inside, the walls are red and purple. I loved the eye catching d├ęcor.  The piano is a nice touch, covered in product. Patrons play it from time to time!



I was the last to arrive for the chocolate making class. With one seat left, I sat at a table with a family of 3. They were lovely and the mom seemed to know a little about chocolate. One of our instructors approached myself and the 11 other eager wanna-be chocolatiers. She had a warm smile and welcomed all of us to CocoaNymph and gave us an overview as to what we would be engaged in for the next two hours. First, a history of chocolate and where it comes from, followed by a tasting (yay!) and finally creating our truffles!

Our first instructor explained how chocolate works, what part of the cocoa plant we eat and how it gets from plant to the chocolate we see in stores. She passed around various photos and an actual cocoa bean pod. The pod was donated to CocoaNymph from the Vancouver Aquarium, which I found really neat. I had never noticed the cocoa plant in the Amazon section of the aquarium before.



After the cocoa lesson, we were given a tray with some chocolate samples. The first sample was cocoa butter. We can find cocoa butter in foods, various cosmetics and moisturizer. Cocoa butter is not exactly delightful, but it was not repulsive. It tasted like wax. Next up was some 65% chocolate from Mexico. The soil that Mexican chocolate grows in is kind of acidic. This actually affects the chocolate. Like a more acidic wine, acidic chocolate makes your mouth water. Chocolate from the Dominican Republic (70%) was the 3rd item to tease the palette. I had no idea that cocoa grew in the DR. After the DR chocolate sat some 75% from Tanzania. This chocolate had a little sweetness to it, despite being 75%. We learned that, once again, the soil had affected the taste. Lastly, the class tasted cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are dry, roasted pieces of the cocoa bean. Nice little bits to munch on! I like a good crunchy texture.

At last we've arrived at the chocolate making! Well, kind of. Really we weren't going to make any chocolate. The ganache was pre-made and provided to us in a slab.


What we were going to do was shape the ganache, give it a chocolate shell and then decorate. This sounded just great to me! I had never done such a thing before.

We were given some cookie cutters, knives, and sticks to shape our ganache. We were also encouraged to mold the ganache ourselves into whatever shape we desired. The most creative I was able to get was a fish. Considering it was my first time, I'd say my fish turned out pretty well. My other chocolates were all shaped with cookie cutters or rolled up and placed on sticks.

 
 
 
 
Once we were satisfied with our ganache, we were given vats of melted chocolate to coat our creations with. The chocolate must be stirred every 5 minutes to retain the desired state.Each member of the family I was sitting with and myself took turns stirring. Once the ganache was dipped, we had to decorate our truffle immediately, before the chocolate dried. Our choices of decorative toppings were sea salt, edible prints, cinnamon and sugar, strawberry-white chocolate shavings and cocoa nibs. I used all 5.


Upon completion, we handed our tray of chocolate treasures over to the Cocoa Nymphs who placed them into the fridge for about 4 minutes. This allowed the chocolate coating to settle and harden completely.


Four minutes after handing over my chocolates, my name was called and I was given a little silver box to place my truffles in. They don't look professionally done by any means, but they sure were great to eat!

I was so impressed by the quality of the chocolate provided by Cocoa Nymph, I had to buy some of their other products. When I had arrived at the store, some of my classmates were raving about the drinking chocolate, so I bought some of that. Earlier in the class, we had a sample of a chocolate bar with coffee and cocoa nibs. I bought that. While waiting for my chocolate to dry, I paroozed the displays and stumbled across some chocolate covered almond slivers, with honey and sea salt. I bought that too.

 

As I drove away from Cocoa Nymph, all I could think was YUMMY!! The ladies running the class were personable, professional and knowledgeable. I look forward to going back to Cocoa Nymph to purchase some more chocolate and taste the variety of drinking chocolate they provide. Upon visiting the website, I saw that Cocoa Nymph has tastings. I got very excited when I saw there was a chocolate and wine pairing, but I have other plans on the day it is provided :(. I'll be sure to continue to check out the website for more tastings and pairings. So far, Groupon has lead me to some awesome finds!!! 

I love you Cocoa Nymph! :D

Thursday, October 24, 2013

C Restaurant

This blog entry is quite overdue. I've learned that it is best to blog ASAP after the initial experience. I hope I haven't forgotten too much of the details from my C Restaurant experience this past Thanksgiving Monday. Yep, C Restaurant was my Thanksgiving dinner. With my family living thousands of miles away, I figured I'd spend Thanksgiving with a friend who also has family thousands of miles away with a fantastic deal from Groupon.

Like my last Groupon, Flight Adventures, C Restaurants "Six-course Royal Seafood Tasting for Two" sold over 1,000. The six course meal was priced at $78 (regularly $156), and with the experience I had, $78 was quite the bargin! The description for the Groupon reads "Creative alliance of chefs serves fresh, sustainable seafood in a dining room with views of the False Creek waterfront." This statement is accurate and smart, as it tells you exactly what you are getting without causing your expectations to soar.



Stealing photos... a blogger no-no, I'm sure. I told you last blog, I'm bad at remembering to take photos. It's only my second time! Thank you for posting this VanFoodies! This is C Restaurant. It's located on False Creek directly across from Granville Island.

My friend and I, for anonymity's sake I'll call him Mike, had made a reservation for 7pm. When we had called, the individual on the other line had assumed we possessed a Groupon. After selling 1,000+, fair assumption.

We arrived promptly at 7pm and were greeted by the host (and later we learned manager) who promptly offered to take our coats. There were a few available tables in the restaurant, and we were given two to choose from. We chose a two top next to the wall. The other table looked to be located in an area of heavy traffic, and later we were very glad we did not choose that table.

The Groupon menu was presented to Mike and I once we sat. It showed the 6 courses we would be receiving if we stuck strictly to the Groupon. The menu also provided optional substitutions for most courses for an additional price and for $18, a 7th course option of foie gras. There was even a wine pairing offered for $40/person and a sommelier pairing for $60/person. Mike and I both decided to purchase the $40 wine pairing and I chose to make my meal 7 courses with the addition of foie gras. Our server, Tim, also gave us the option to order still or sparkling water. The sparkling water is from in house, created by a machine. A bottle costs $2.50, with unlimited refills. We went with sparkling.


Salmon and cream cheese roll.
 
 
 
 
 
 Immediately after we ordered, Mike and I were presented with an amuse bouche. A salmon and cream cheese roll is not a unique item, but it was unexpected and so appreciated and enjoyed.


 
 
 
                                                           Bread with black lava salt.


Once the amuse bouche plate was lifted, bread was placed in it's spot. Silly me, I was so entranced by that black stripe on our butter, I didn't take a photo of the actual bread. The bread is not too important. It was tasty, but nothing breath taking so you aren't missing anything by my lack of photo. Inside the napkin laid 6 slices of baguette style bread. There were 3 different types, so Mike and I each got 1 slice of each. The  black lava salt with the butter was lovely. I haven't been exposed to black lava salt before, so my excitement may have made the butter/salt combo taste better than it would have with any other type of salt. The amount of butter provided was ample. I'm a butter lover, so I was a happy girl.

*Sigh* I dove into the first course so quickly, I didn't take a photo. :( Sorry everyone. Artichoke soup officially began the meal accompanied by . I found it quite tasty. It was cream based with a "crab cracker" laid in the middle of the bowl. The cracker looked as if it was pumpernickel and there was a small lump of crab meat sitting on top. Mike prefers a soup that not cream based so he wasn't as impressed as I. However, Mike, not being an artichoke lover, did like the flavour.


                                                                  Second course
 

The second course was seared Tuna. The red dots are ponzu sauce and there is watercress on the plate as well. Next time I blog, I will take notes because I don't remember the yellow/green sauce on the plate. This tuna was good, but not wow. This is not a dish that stands out from the many seared tuna's I have had in my life time. I found that one of my slices of tuna was a little over cooked.


                                                                        Third course

On the menu, we were lead to believe that the third course would be ling cod, so we were a little confused when a scallop arrived before us. Mike then recalled that he saw on the Groupon that the chef reserves the right to change the menu at any time. I like a scallop, so this swap was OK in my book. The dish was simple, but very tasty. The scallop was cooked to perfection. The green and yellow sauces were lovely. I wish I remembered what they were! Notes next time, notes!


And then I forget another photo :(  The foie gras 7th course option was inserted into my meal as the 4th course. I was stoked to try foie gras pan seared. I have had foie gras before, but never classically pan seared. The foie gras sat atop a brioche bread with some pickled grapes. I found the flavours blended nicely and did not regret choosing to add a course for $18.


                                                                    Fifth course

The fifth course was salmon on a fennel risotto (if I recall correctly!). The salmon was cooked well, medium, but the risotto was pretty standard. Don't get me wrong, the risotto was definitely yummy, but not something I haven't had elsewhere.


                                                                       Sixth course

A surf and turf followed for our sixth course. Cod with carrot foam and beef with a peppercorn jus. The carrot foam was awesome. Sweet and complimented the fish well. The peppercorn jus was OK. It doesn't stand up to what the chef where I work creates. The beef was cooked well. Medium rare by the look of it.


                                                                     Final course


The dessert course was a deconstructed pumpkin cheese cake. Pumpkin is an appropriate flavour given the fall season. The frozen yogurt next to the "crust" was AMAZING. I wish I could have more of it! I believe they made it in house. The cheesecake itself was good. The deconstructed concept is a neat one, but the flavours of the cheesecake were nothing new. But that frozen yogurt, WOW.

The wine that was had with each course was lovely. Some I liked more than others. I felt that the wines chosen accompanied each dish well. Mike and I had fun first trying the wines before having a bite of the dish and then after to see how the food would change the flavour of the wine. None of the wines were spectacular enough where I had to get the name so I could hunt it down and buy some, but no complaints could have been made.

Now...the service. The service was AMAZING!! Mike and I loved loved LOVED Tim (I'm 95% sure I'm getting the name right!). He was fabulous and had only been working at C for 2 weeks! Very friendly and appeared very knowledgeable about all the wines presented. Mike had many questions for Tim, and he answered them all with a smile on his face. We couldn't get enough of him. He knew just how much attention to give us without disrupting our dining experience. We didn't once run out of water and our plates were promptly cleared by Tim or other staff. If you go to C Restaurant, ask for Tim!!

I want to point out that there was one staff member, another server I think, perhaps a lead server supervising Tim, who shimmied his way in once Tim presented us with our desserts. Tim was about to explain the desert when this server (or whatever he was) barged in and said "I'll explain it" and promptly turned our plates to reflect the presentation. It seemed that it was implied he felt Tim was incapable of explaining the dessert the proper way. Mike and I were not impressed by this and felt it was a little rude since we liked Tim so much. We wouldn't have known the plates were not placed in front of us correctly, so pointing our Tim's minor mistake in such an obvious manner was unnecessary.

Mike and I were at C Restaurant for 3.5 hours!!! I have never been in a restaurant that long. We were enjoying ourselves so much, and slowly enjoying each dish with the wine that we didn't realize the time. Many other Groupon customers came and went while we were there. We never once felt rushed.

The verdict....

Worth the Groupon? YES
Worth the actual price? YES

Based on my Groupon experience, I would definitely go back to C Restaurant, and of course, ask for Tim. They have tasting menu options on their regular menu too, which I would most likely go for.

Check out their website. C Restaurant

See you again soon C!!! :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flight Adventures

My first post! How exciting! Welcome to Groupon Diaries. I buy Groupons and see where they take me, who they introduce me to and what I discover.

A little about me and how the idea for this blog came about...

I'm 25 years old, single and love trying new things. Vancouver, BC (the lonely city) is my home. I work in hospitality and do not have your 9-5, weekends off kind of schedule. At the end of my last "weekend" I was feeling a little unsatisfied with what my 2 whole days off had consisted of. I had watched some HBO movies, gone to lunch with a friend (the highlight of my weekend) and ran whatever errands were necessary to get through my next work week. Not too exciting. So as I was sitting on my bed, laptop on lap, I thought to myself "what a waste of a weekend." I had done nothing new and knew I would have anything slightly interesting to report about my weekend when asked the following day at work. "How was your weekend?" "Oh, good. Got some cleaning done, you know." LAME. The last few weekends, ever since summer had ended, had all been the same. LAME. I needed to get a hobby or something. This led me to recall all of these food bloggers that march into our restaurant from time to time. There hobby is going around to different restaurants from time to time, eating food and then heading home to their computers to write about their experience. I love food, what a great idea, but it seems that everyone in this city does that. Plus, I don't have the money to spend on eating in restaurants all the time in order to obtain writing material. I need something cheaper. Something... discounted. And then it came to me, Groupon. Not only can one find great deals, the deals can be kind of random sometimes. Random. The most exciting and eye opening experiences tend to be random.  Random is also a great conversation starter. With my job, I have to talk to a lot of people. How perfect. Done and done. So I started shopping...

I had purchased the first Groupon before I thought up Groupon Diaries. Flight Adventures had been a gift for my father Christmas of '11. He left Vancouver before getting a chance to use said Groupon so, in order to get the bang for my buck, I had to use it. What a perfect way to begin my Groupon endeavour, with one truly random.

This is the photo from the Groupon
 
 
Flight Adventures did very well in the Groupon world, selling over 1,000. I purchased it for $69, instead of the regularly priced $139. The description read "$69 for a 30 Minute Flight-Simulator Experience Modeled After Boeing 737 Next Generation at Flight Adventures." Typically, I read reviews before purchasing Groupons. Yes, it is a discount, but I still don't want to be wasting my hard earned moolah on something that other people have described as terrible. I didn't read the reviews on Flight Adventures, so I had no idea what I was in for. I had bought the Groupon because Daddy dearest likes his planes and I figured he would enjoy such a thing. He would have.

Flight Adventures is located out in Richmond, appropriately by the airport. I had to google map directions, but it was pretty easy to find. I was a little freaked out when I first arrived at my destination. It looked quite sketchy to me.

Where the eff am I?
 
 
This image was kind of concerning. The address matched up. Those large numbers, 6080, told me I was in the right place. What the hell? Luckily, being as intelligent as I am, I quickly realized I was most likely at the back of the building.

Ah ha! The front looks much better!
 
 
 
At last! I had arrived at Flight Adventures, or rather Aviation World. The title seemed appropriate, so I headed on in.

Now, unfortunately, this is where I get camera shy. I feel awkward pulling out my camera in front of people and taking photos of everything. I promise, I will be putting forth some serious effort to overcome this issue over the course of this blog. I have no more photos of my own for this entry :( So here is Aviation World's webpage!  http://www.aviationworld.net/   There are a few photos on the site so check it out!

When I walked through the door of Aviation World, there stood two gentleman. At first I wondered if they worked there or if they were customers, as they were not wearing obvious uniforms or sported any name tags. As a 25 year old woman walking into a plane enthusiast store alone, I think they were just as confused as I. After saying our hellos, one of the men inquired if I was looking for the flight simulator. He was expecting me and even knew my name, as I had to book an appointment online for the experience. He introduced himself as Jason and explained that when he sees a woman's name on the appointment booking it is usually a Groupon that has been bought for a man as a gift. That is exactly what I had done, but stuff happened and it was me!

Jason proceeded to lead me outside, to a separate entrance for the flight simulator. After climbing the stairs, we reached a room containing a chair, a large white stand alone wall in the shape of a half circle and some posters of airplane controls. As I sat in the chair, I wondered if some images were going to be flashed on the stand alone wall, like a lame imax experience and I was to reference the controls on the posters. Well, this will be interesting. Jason began explaining the controls and just what a pilot is looking at when he or she is flying a 737. The "steering wheel" of a plane is called the yoke. Pull back on the yoke and the plane would climb, push forward and it would descend. I would take off from Vancouver airport, vear towards Howe Sound and then Pitt Meadows, put the plane on autopilot and then land the plane. He would be my co-pilot. Once the debriefing was complete, Jason asked if I was ready to begin and then guided me to the simulator.

The simulation wasn't anything like the initial part of the room lead me to believe it may be. What it actually was was friggin amazing and Jason had made it. Jason is a plane enthusiast, just loves loves loves planes. You could tell by what he had created. It was (or at least it appeared to me) to be a perfect replica of a 737. He had even made the little area of the plane before the cockpit.  I sat in the pilot's seat to the left and Jason sat in the co-pilots seat to the right.  While I oogled the amount of buttons and knobs, Jason secured the cockpit door. He explained the buttons and asked me to turn on the fasten seat belts sign. The seat belts switch was complete with the little ding you hear as a passenger on a plane. How satisfying! Jason went over the computer screens in front of me and informed me again of what I would be looking for.

Photo by Wai V. on Yelp


After reading off a checklist for take off, it was time for us to leave the Vancouver airport runway. I found myself really wanting to be good at this simulator. I most definitely did not want to crash. I wanted to fly this simulated plane expertly!  During take off, pilots don't look out the windshield as much as you may think. I spent the entire take off staring at the computer screen, trying to keep the little black box (representation of the plane) in the right spot on the screen. I pulled back on the yolk 15 degrees and began to climb. After a successful take off into the simulated sunset, we put on auto-pilot. Auto-pilot is a little more active than you'd think. After inputting information into the plane's computers using dials, the plane turned itself! That made me rather giddy. The computers in a plane are insane!

While the plane flew itself, Jason and I chit chatted a bit. Very friendly guy, great with his "pilots." Turns out, real pilots like to try out the simulator. Pilots visiting from out of town had bought the Groupon. One gentleman who flew it was 92 and had flown in WWII. Apparently, he wasn't all that great at flying a simulated 737. Back in WWII the planes weren't as reliant on computers. I guess he really wanted to look out the windshield like he would have in the planes he flew instead of at the computer screens. Another customer was working for NASA and really enjoyed himself.

Then it was time to descend. I'll admit, I got nervous at the thought of landing. I did not want to fail! I tried my darndest to keep that little black box in the right place. I pulled the yoke back and pushed it forward, turned right and veered left and success! The plane was safely on the ground. I had done it and very well according to Jason.

After paying $8 in GST, I left Flight Adventures and Aviation World with a smile on my face, happy that I had tried something new and learned something in the process. My Daddy would have loved it. Jason had mentioned that he is in talks with the airport about getting it placed by the terminal so airport patrons could use it while waiting for their flights. What a fabulous idea and I really hope that happens for him!

Now what's the verdict?

Worth the Groupon?  YES
Worth the actual price? YES

I would definitely recommend Flight Adventures with Jason to anyone with even the slightest interest in planes. What Jason created is so impressive and his flight simulation was a very enjoyable learning experience. His knowledge and obvious passion about planes is fantastic and his customer service is superb. THUMBS UP!