I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
Zaffrron Cuisine appeared out of nowhere in a random search on a PG website—a second Persian restaurant to follow on the heels of its immensely popular progenitor Shiraz. But to be Frank—and damn Franks for being so upfront—Zaffron and Shiraz are by no means related outside of their shared cuisine. Rated on their initial impressions, Shiraz is more a proper restaurant while Zaffron apes a cafe at lunch, with me assuming that it transforms into a bistro come nightfall as flawlessly as a GoBot (meaning not so much). Both Shiraz and Zaffron label themselves as cafes but Zaffron is the closest to the claim. There is a bakery display and a buffet. The restaurant is tiny with less than eleven tiny square tables tiled about a small building looking more like a renovated house than a business. But the aforementioned buffet is not actually a buffet; it’s a replication of a technique I wished not to encounter since my stretch in a Catholic private school—that of the cafeteria counter.
This is not a roadside diner on the way to Quesnel catering to exposed ass-cracks, highway prostitutes, and folks named Jethro with the one good remaining tooth to open beer bottles with. (Wait, do we have highway prostitutes?) Only one other restaurant in my journeys has operated in the same fashion as Zaffron, Just Goode Food…and in an amusing sense of irony, Zaffron is the one with good food while I wouldn’t return to the other unless you tore out my fingernails and dipped my hand in Varsol.
Upon entering Zaffron and greeting the pleasant owner (assuming), I was informed that she would fill my plate according to my cravings among the various buckets—eight in fact, though only three had anything in them. My fault for showing up early.
Zaffron felt like part cafe, part Starbucks; how did that come about? It’s almost like having two ingredients, each differentiated by its own color, threw them in a liquidizer and hit puree. You can see bits of each scattered about like a Jackson Pollock. The waste disposal bin looks taken from a coffee chain, likewise for the refreshment display. My tea arrived in a paper cup with one of those cardboard jackets to prevent burning. I had to slide it down to check the name on the side of the cup. Despite these, there are still huge hallmarks of Persian culture, more so than Shiraz when it first opened. Arabic lettering is scrawled across supporting beams. Wonderful paintings and photos line the walls. I would have immediately fallen in love with such an establishment if the franchise-like fragments hadn’t shattered my suspension of disbelief.
Zaffron is still good…but will it survive: that’s the five dollar question. If it was the first of its type in town, I would hope so, but Shiraz fought tooth and nail to reach the level of respect achieved. It was rough around the edges from the start but I loved it then; looking at it now, it stands as a testament to quality service and business etiquette. Zaffron has its work cut out for it. From the onset, it has to contend with location—London Drugs blocks my line of sight between Zaffron and Shiraz. I could walk between the two in under two minutes. If Zaffron was located in College Heights, I would exclaim like a herald to the masses of its merits, but with Shiraz so close, which one would I prefer?
Obviously Shiraz, having earned its place as one of the city’s premiere locations. What does that leave Zaffron? I want it to succeed, I really do. I want to come back during a dinner service and have them prove to me that they’re an alternate choice worthy of patronizing. This is a nightmare for reviews like me. Zaffron is a good cafe and as those go, one of the better in town. The speed of food delivery is astounding for those on a time crunch in the afternoon. It tastes good with a real kick of spice I wish Shiraz would indulge in from time to time. It offers free wireless internet and pleasant service from an easy to understand front of house. It’s clearly a labour of love and one which I am more than happy to support. My only hope is that they can perma press their wrinkles and even out their inconsistencies. Mugs replacing paper cups, a menu at lunch, and the removal of decor choices resembling a fast food joint.
Finally, about the price. The not-really-buffet costs $9 but my final bill with $4 tip came to $35. So what happened? The tea-in-a-paper-cup cost me $1.50. I ordered a tiramisu which cost an additional $4.50. I ordered three pastries to take home, $2.00 each. That means the container of hummus I purchased was a staggering $8 (excluding tax). I’ve bought homemade hummus from craft fairs which didn’t cost as much. So a good place with good food but avoid the deli counter.
I’d love to, but I failed to review this place in time. Bite Me! (With the slammer) replaced the not-forgotten Empress Tea House. But before I had a chance to check them out, Bite Me! went under. They claim it was because of staffing issues and not because of lack of revenue. Unfortunate. Another casualty.
White Goose Bistro
To quote Yoda, “blown your mind would be.” Given my last update, this should’ve been as obvious as the needle in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s arm (too soon?). All callousness aside, White Goose Bistro has always remained my favorite restaurant in town, though not as I’ve admitted my most frequented location. Its distance from my house coupled with my obligations to this blog has prevented regularity. When accommodating visitors, White Goose is the first place mentioned, the first visited, and the one I prefer during celebration. Already my yearly birthday tradition, I plan on eventually calling on it for Mother’s Days, Easter, Thanksgiving, Earth Day, Palm Sunday, Ramadan and, what the hell, let’s include Kwanza and Arbor Day. White Goose Bistro is the place one looks to if they’re a foodie, a true foodie. Boston Pizza be damned, I embrace the title, and no other restaurant relishes in satisfying one’s curiosity more. It’s also the only restaurant in town with a chef’s menu—an actual tasting menu—where you’re up to the chef’s whims that day. If food can be considered art then what White Goose Bistro brings to the table is truly worthy of framing, at least more than Warhol’s stupid Campbell’s Soup can. The common question asked, one repeated with my recent CBC interview, was can restaurants in Prince George be measured against the best in larger cities like Vancouver or Calgary. Even if I could mention more than one as proof, I would probably still mention only one. White Goose Bistro. We have other places, amazing locations worthy of recommendation, more than enough to justify my argument that we can ask for more and do indeed get it, but simple questions often require simple answers and mine only has three words. The best restaurant in Prince George, White Goose Bistro.
In the lead up to the best restaurant in Prince George, I am going to list out the top ten, saving #1 for Saturday. As always, this list is totally subjective on my part and throws every restaurant into the mix.
10. Sushi Star
9. Mai Thai
8. Spicy Greens
7. The Copper Pig
6. Nancy Os
4. Twisted Cork
2. North 54
Seriously…at this point, it should be obvious…
Basically, I created this award to point out the truly impressive evening events commonly put on by Nancy’s O’s and Shiraz. In truth, this award is owned by Nancy Os. I admit it; this is that one award I created for Nancy Os—it’s one of those truly special restaurants I wish deserved more credit. This is not some hand out award for participating. I am not going soft around the edges. Nancy Os truly deserves recognition and this was the one award where it rates the highest. It’s food is amazing, the décor is unique, and the staff is pleasant. Whenever anyone complains about PG cuisine, I’d tell them to walk down 3rd Avenue. North 54, Nancy Os, and White Goose are all there.
Thanks again to Andrew Kurjata for granting me a few moments to show the world (or rather Central BC) how incredibly awkward I am when a microphone is placed so uncomfortably close to my mouth, I assume I’m about to have my molar cored out. Pregnant pauses and monotone throat emissions aside, I did the best I could and cannot thank Andrew and the staff at CBC Radio Prince George enough for this opportunity to talk about one of my many passions. Unlike the last interview, this one was done live in studio, so in that I’m thankful I didn’t shout “penis” fifteen times and run out of the room, waving my arms hysterically.
I’m not sure if the interview will be replayed or posted. I’ll let you know. Again, Andrew is one of the more generous humans on this little globe for giving me these few moments of grandstanding.
The Twisted Cork
The Copper Pig
I really admire the décor choices of these winners; I respect what they did to their respective establishments, but in the end, North 54’s reserved and classic display proved why they’re so well regarded in town. I often said and will repeat again that North 54 is the place you take a date to when you are in the mood to get lucky. I’ts okay to raise your pinky when you drink your wine there. The Twisted Cork comes up second with one of the most exicting decors this town has to offer. I’m also giving a shout out to Copper Pig for just being flat out ballsy.
College Heights Pub
What constitutes a pub? Hell, I’ve been doing this for three years—I’m still not sure. It can’t be just about the televisions or the alcohol adverts. So in order to make this arbitrary, I am eliminating places that balance the knife-edge, like Kelly O’Bryans, which still claims itself a restaurant. This leaves an honestly rather sad sort of places which often enough proved to be the depressiong low points in my reviews. Thankfully, there were highlights, and one which truly impressed. Yes, I speak of College Heights. I just hope they fixed that door. However, I must take a moment and praise Cowboy Ranch, a huge step up from the pub they replaced, proving along with CHP that a pub can be a source of food as well as drink.
On February 15th (a Saturday) I put on an event called the Samsara Carousal, revolving around (get it!) the film Samsara, a Ron Fricke non-narrative documentary. The gathering was intended to challenge culinary expectations—people were asked to each bring at least one dish from a different country from the other guests. In total, we had eight dishes from four different countries. A good start. Dishes included…
Beer & Sauerkraut Sausage Home-style stew
Mussels in Saffron / Pimento White Whine Broth
Drunken Potatoes & Chorizo in red wine sauce
Portuguese Codfish Cakes
Haggis with Neeps & Tatties
A great first attempt and I hope to follow up the same theme with Fricke’s other film, Baraka. Guests have already tied themselves to Moroccan, Korean, and Jamaican while I’ll be tackling French. Thanks to everyone who attended…and now I have to go pass a small waiter.
Basically, I reserved this for places that are either not open in the evening or are not known for their evening scene. Cafes fall into this category as well. Basically, outside of a simple coffee and / or donut locations, best brunch is for those places where you want a good meal and are not looking to be sucking coffee through a straw for three hours. Best brunch refers to great places you should go to for a bite when you have an hour to spare from work…and for that, Sassafras Savouries wins by a nose. Honestly, this was difficult…there are many places to recommend and none of them truly suck. Sims Lunchbox was above average when I first visited and later meals there have only shown improvement after improvement. And I will always have a soft spot for Voltaire as they are inside of a bookstore that is not a Chapters.
The Twisted Cork
The term bistro has expanded from its humble origins to encompass any restaurant without a buffet and lacking any specific ethnic identity. Of course, hints of ethnicity are permissible, very often touching on Spanish, French, and Italian influences. Like brasserie, the term has evolved from its roots and I have no issue utilizing it to categorize all the restaurants in Prince George NOT falling into any specific regional cuisine. This also covers any restaurant claiming itself a “steakhouse” or any place which elects to list its food under its sign (steak, seafood, pasta, etc). It’s my favorite category and one I am proud to award to White Goose Bistro. Although it may not be as haute (it’s a word) as others, it exists for the love of food first and foremost over all other concerns. Don’t get me wrong, North 54 and Twisted Cork are amazing locations and all three are worth multiple visits, but White Goose is the one I mention first in foremost when asked. It’s the restaurant I am most proud of being in Prince George. In truth, all three could make a play for a Michelin star, and in honesty, knowing what I know about how the guide evaluates potentials, chances are…well…none of them would get it; I have to be honest. BUT…these restaurants are probably the only ones that truly understand what it takes to earn one.
Hi! So want to come on CBC again this week to discuss your awards?akurjata
Of course. I work at staples now, and my lunches are now only 30 minutes. However I am off at 400 now. My only day off this week is Saturday. I would love to find an opening which works for you.
Indian: Spicy Greens
Thai: Mai Tha
Unlike other awards, this one needs to expansion. I elected to offer one award for all of them because there simply aren’t enough restaurants to label the best of each foreign cuisine. That being said, a lot of people might require a specific recommendation for specific cuisines. For that, I have broken up the Red Ribbon awards for the best of specific regions. For Vietnamese, of the two we have, U&Me wins out by a country mile. For Indian (or related regional cuisines), Spicy Greens with their new location wins out. And as for Thai…well, we only have one of those but thankfully, it’s actually pretty good. However, of all of them, I enjoy going to Shiraz most of all. For those looking for hard numbers, Shiraz edges out U&Me, and I often mention both of them in the same breath. It helps that they are both within walking distance of each other. But Shiraz simply brings a level of service, showmanship, flavor few places in town can measure up to.
No, this award, like all others, stipulates that the restaurant be currently in business by the time I issue this award (here am I hoping that these places remain open or didn’t suddenly close in the last few months. Even taking the BLATANTLY obvious bias, if I was taking the past into perspective, I would still gladly award the top prize to Suzuran. I already considered it the best sushi outside of Japan before I befriended the chef. Alas, I cannot do so, and the award goes to Sushi Star. Is it the best quality? Admittedly no, but the best in town is only a little better, is overpriced, and comes saddled with depressing service. So Good had been in the lead for so long but the presentation coupled with menu offerings send Sushi Star to the win. Thanks to their showmanship and teppanyaki tables, Shogun follows behind.
You know I had to, and because people ask me. In fact, it’s the most asked question I get. Well, here’s your answer…but it arrives with a huge condition: order from the Chinese menu. Although there are rumors other restaurants offer this, China Taste was the only restaurant in which it was confirmed. If you don’t have the grapes to brave such food from a foreign language menu, then the red ribbon awarded Fortune Palace is still worth your time.