Yesterday I made like a Viking and discovered stuff everywhere.  I headed into Richmond with no plans beyond “find good food and cool things in general,” and my spontaneity was rewarded.

First I arrived at The Oval for a workout and discovered the Wheelchair Rugby Canada Cup was on – cool thing, CHECK.  This tournament is the last stop for teams before the Paralympic games this summer in London, and the match that day between Canada and Sweden was wicked to watch.  Invented in Canada, wheelchair rugby combines elements of hockey, rugby, and wheelchair basketball, and was made famous by the Academy Award-nominated documentary Murderball.  After watching these guys in action, all I can say is YIKES.  They slam into one another fearlessly, and move with outrageous speed and precision.  They are ALMOST as fast as me (to the door) upon the suggestion I participate in a contact sport.  The tournament runs until June 23rd, and if you’re in the area I highly recommend going to watch.

Rugby-viewing and workout complete, I setout on Talulah and decided to visit a Japanese food market called Izumiya.  It’s only a few blocks away, and in passing I’d always wondered if it would be a good place for people to grab lunch when they’re spending time at The Oval.  Turns out, it is.

Izumiya is a large grocery store specializing in Japanese products, meats, prepared foods to go, and as of seven weeks ago, a little buffet restaurant.  This caters mainly to the staff from neighbouring businesses who come for a quick, all-you-can-eat lunch for $13.43.  I was starving, so I decided to give it a try.  Was the food 5-star?  No, but it’s a buffet, and steam tables just can’t compete with food made to order.  It was satisfying enough for this gal’s hungry belly, however, and I think most everyone could find something to satiate them.

There were four rows of hot food including stewed tofu, yaki udon, beef and chicken teriyaki, sautéed bok choy, gyoza, and others, as well as a cold table with sushi rolls, fresh fruit, and salad.

The staff, as well as one of the customers – a finely dressed Japanese woman – could not have been friendlier.  I felt utterly welcomed and enjoyed talking with them.  For large groups of hungry athletes at The Oval, this is a great place to get full, and for those looking for something a little lighter, you could try grabbing one of their containers of sushi to go.

But there was a second, very unexpected surprise waiting for me in Izumiya: La Chocolaterie.

Opened by Kayoko Hamamoto and her husband a year and a half ago, this little shop sells hand-crafted truffles, chocolate bars, and other treats made in their orderly, open kitchen.

In a past life, Kayoko and her husband both worked in Research and Development for a large confectionary company in Japan, and their knack for innovation is clear; their products include truffle flavours such as Green Tea, Sun-dried Tomato, and Lemon Basil, as well as gorgeously packaged bars ranging from Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate to 99% Dark.

Every detail about their business is thoughtful, from the flavours themselves to their branding, the little booklets they provide with information on appropriate pairings for each of the truffles, and the tiny freezer pack Kayoko placed in my bag because the day was “quite warm.”

I had some friends over to help me try the chocolate I’d bought (it was tough to recruit volunteers for such a task, let me tell you), and of the truffles we tasted the Green Tea (coated in matcha, a cup of them cost $5), Dark Chocolate, Raspberry Cacao, Strawberry, Japanese Citron (Yuzu), Lemon Basil, and Coconut (the six of which came in a box for $4.50).  These are not truffles to be eaten, they are truffles to be savoured; each was purely, smoothly, and naturally the promised flavour, and we found ourselves sighing with pleasure after each one.  My favourite was the Lemon Basil, which was flawlessly fresh, citric, herbal, and sweet.

We also tried their Dark Chocolate Coffee Bar ($3.50), which had chunks of coffee beans in its base.  Somehow, coffee only manages to agree with me if it’s locked into chocolate – perhaps this is how I should start my days off?  Also, as a person easily willing to pay $8 or more for a chocolate bar, $3.50 was a steal.

It is both the best and worst thing that La Chocolaterie is located so near to The Oval, as it means I’ll have endless opportunities to try the rest of their collection, and will be doing so after my workouts.  But that doesn’t matter, because I adore chocolate, I was quite enamoured with Kayoko, and I look forward to placing many more of their neat, square truffles on my tongue, and letting them melt.  Thanks, spontaneous day.