Saturday, February 25, 2006

Back On the Blogging Wagon

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to lately, so to help redeem myself, I offer up a little giggle to Nancylanders out there, from the New Yorker, that I found through a great site called, from a Seattle-based blogger who writes about food in several major cities.

Never Go To Blog Angry

I had horribly rude service tonight from a particular female server at a particular restaurant, and my first impulse is to lash out immediately with an angry post, but just like in most situations, I think it's wiser to make peace with it all first. Mainly because I can't imagine that the owners of the restaurant would have sanctioned the behaviour of this waitress, and it would be a shame to sully their entire business because of this one person's screw-up. But I'll find out whether that's the case or not. Ultimately though, even if it is just one person's screw-up, for me, it might be worthwhile to avoid this restaurant just to avoid the risk of getting served by this person again. What a shame that would be, because it's a restaurant I really want to love. Curious? A full report will come in time, when my blogging isn't impaired. Remember kiddies, don't blog angry!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Corned Beef Sandwich Fix

Having spent some time out east, I have a weakness for good corned beef sandwiches, which can be a difficult craving to satisfy in Vancouver. Actually, to be honest, I think it really stems from the childhood memories I have of the great corned beef sandwiches in the clubhouse section of "The Track." But since I don't play the ponies as an adult, I need another source. Well, I tried a hunk of corned beef from the little stand in the Granville Island Public Market where Mike Vitow of J. Beethoven's New York Corned Beef Connection (604-858-5104) sells his stuff. It's really tasty. About ten bucks for three quarters of a pound (I made four delicious sandwiches with this, some people might make three big sandwiches). It was his smallest piece that day, and it felt like a splurge for me, but I didn't regret it at all. He told me it takes him two weeks to make it, since he soaks it in the brine over two weeks the old-fashioned way, rather than injecting the spices into the meat instantly. I really don't know anything about making corned beef, but I just wanted to let you all know that this stuff was yummy. It was really nice to hear him talk about his product, because he obviously takes a great deal of pride in what he makes. It's also just nice to know where my food is coming from, and actually meet the person who makes it face to face. This is one of the many reasons a grocery trip to Granville Island is so much fun. His stand is in one of the corridors between the two parts of the market, and he had little samples out on the Saturday that I saw him. He recommended steaming it to heat it, cutting it across the grain, and not shaving it thinly. I had a little mustard and margarine on my sandwiches, and lots of dill pickle on the side. Delicious, local, and personal - the way food should be.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What We Ate at the Nancyland Birthday Dinner at Yuji's

I've raved about Yuji's (W.4th Ave. at Maple St.) enough, and they haven't disappointed me yet, so here are simply the photos and captions of a very nice meal in celebration of the first year of Nancyland, Vancouver Foodie Fun. My favourites from this meal were that day's Taka-san roll, every one of the desserts, and the seared sable fish, a small dish, but very tasty. The deep fried spicy tuna roll and wasabi chicken tempura are very good too. I've enjoyed them in a previous visit. The only downside of the meal was that our vegetarian had ordered two dishes, but didn't get to eat until well after everyone else because we hadn't made special mention to our server about him being vegetarian (who doesn't eat seafood), and our dishes came out essentially in the order that, well, we ordered them, and he happened to be last as we went around the table. This normally would not be a problem if everyone is intending to share. The only dish that I didn't get a photo of is the vegetable tempura, and with all of these dishes, four people filled up for about $106 including tax (before tip). Isn't that amazing? The current menu has even more items than the old menu posted online at Adam's Dining Guide, and has wine and sake pairing suggestions too now. I have yet to see a website from the restaurant, but they appear to be doing well. There's always a nice big list of specials. And I still haven't had their yam fries with three dips off their regular menu! There's always next time!

Maguro Avocado Crepe: Chopped fresh albacore tuna and avocado with wasabi mayo wrapped in crepe and covered with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Tuna Tataki: Lightly seared fresh albacore tuna served with ponzu citrus sauce.

Age Spicy Tuna Roll: Deep fried spicy tuna roll (spicy sauce on plate)

Some deep fried dumplings from the specials sheet, that I cannot remember. They're resting on a tempura onion ring.

Sable Fish, served with miso sauce

Taka-san's Daily Roll: Tempura chicken breast on top of California roll, with green flying fish roe and a Japanese sauce on top made with seaweed that tastes a bit like black bean sauce


Wasabi Tempura Chicken

Creamy Ebi Asparagus Spring Roll: Prawn, asparagus and creamy sauce wrapped in a spring roll paper and deep fried

Fresh Scallops on the Half-Shell, broiled with a mayonnaise sauce (motoyaki)

Roll Platter: California, BC, Spicy Tuna. We needed something filling near the end.

Green Tea Creme Brulee. This was stellar. Which is funny, because I never really expect dessert at a Japanese restaurant, nevermind one this good.

Coffee Jelly with Ice Cream. It's a solid version of coffee with cream and sugar. Sugar syrup is served on the side.

Black Sesame Ice Cream

Monday, February 06, 2006

Christmas Day Dinner at Fleuri, The Sutton Place Hotel

My Chinese-Canadian family usually has the traditional Christmas Day turkey dinner at home, but this year my brother's travel plans gave my parents and I a good excuse to have Christmas dinner at a restaurant. Guess what? I got to pick the restaurant! Not to worry, we still didn't miss out on the home-cooked turkey feast - it was simply postponed a day, so I wasn't necessarily looking for turkey. As far as I could see, the main choices were either any Chinese restaurant or a nice hotel meal. Kirin was one choice, and there weren't any problems getting a table there. But there really isn't anything that I could get at a Chinese restaurant that I don't feel like I've had before, so I couldn't resist an opportunity for a nice multi-course fancy schmancy evening, and get the opportunity to show my parents a place they would never venture out to on their own. If you find yourself looking for a spot next year, book as early possible. I was doing this more than a week ahead of the day, and some holiday feasts were nearly all booked up. I guess people especially love those hotel big lunch buffets. Personally, when I'm splurging, I like to remain seated.

If you're looking for a classically elegant room to have a quiet refined meal, Fleuri, at the Sutton Place Hotel (Burrard St. downtown, just off Robson St.), is perfect. Over the years, I've done their Chocoholic Buffet, a beautiful Valentine's dinner with chocolate buffet for dessert, dropped in for dessert and coffee on a girls' night out, and booked a full afternoon tea in one of the hotel's private rooms for a bridal shower gaggle of girls. A perfect place, in other words, for indulgence. Fleuri has this wonderfully feminine flourish to me. And she's not just a pretty place. She's got substance too. The enticing menu is made up of interesting flavour combinations in well-executed classical cooking. And where else would you expect to find superlative service, but within the walls of a fine hotel. On our Christmas Day visit, we were greeted with a cute sugar showpiece of a winter scene in the hotel lobby. The dinner was a five course prix fixe meal for $74 per person. Credit card number was required for the reservation in case of cancellation.

Sugar Show Piece in the Lobby

Rare Ahi Tuna Loin with Crab and avocado Salad and Young Micro Green Salad in a Ponzu Dressing

We all started with the Rare Ahi Tuna Loin appetizer. This was quite an enjoyable light tiny salad starter, with the tender texture of tuna being the star of the show, and all of the flavours being quite subtle, including the dressing. It was delightful and interesting because of the different components, but a part of me thinks that I'd almost rather have just a couple of chunks of fresh albacore sashimi at a decent sushi restaurant, in terms of flavour. In the context of this meal though, this dish was a very nice start.

Celery Root Soup with Seared Jumbo Scallops and Grainy Mustard Creme Fraiche

This soup was velvety and flavourful. I've had many good soups in my life, and this one was really stellar and I was very impressed with it. My parents enjoyed this too.

Sun Dried Tomato Marinated Lamb Chops with a Roasted Pepper and Caramelized Onion Pave in a Fig Jus

There were three choices for the main. As much as I was tempted by the Sea Bass Filet on a Blanquette of Clams and Fava Beans with a Porcini Mushroom Ragout in a Black Truffle Sauce, I had found out ahead of time that Chilean Sea Bass is not recommended by Ocean Wise affiliates, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch due to overfishing and potential population depletion. Too bad, because it's a damn tasty fish, as I found out, because my Dad had no moral problems with ordering it, and went ahead, and allowed me a taste. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of it, but the sauce and the fish were delicious, and I thought that the clams were a nice addition. Note that Black Sea Bass is a different fish than Chilean, and in less peril, and I did get confirmation that they were using Chilean for this menu. My Mom and I went with the lamb chops. This was very good, with a substantial chop, perfectly medium rare (and I didn't mind at all that they didn't ask us how we wanted them done, because medium rare is the way to go, and to hell with those well-done people). It's pretty hard to go wrong with lamb chops in general, but this was a particularly nice dish. I enjoyed the roasted red pepper pave with the meat, as well as the sauce. Also, there was a tasty little potato stack with it. The third main course option was roast turkey with traditional trimmings, and I was definitely tempted to order that just to see it, but the parental units were going to be making turkey dinner the next day anyway.

Spiced Dark Chocolate Marquise on a Winter Compote and Christmas Biscotti

The spiced dark chocolate marquise was decadent, rich and airy all at the same time. With a chocolate buffet every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at this restaurant, I know I can expect good things from their chocolate desserts.

Another View of the Spiced Dark Chocolate Marquise Posted by Picasa

We ended with their Mignardise, which included one mini sugar cookie Christmas tree, a couple of beautiful hazelnut cookies, and a couple of berry jam filled cookies. Just a little note here - it seemed quite odd to me that three people were served five cookies. This just sets us up for awkward splitting, where one person feels they get less, while two people get to have two cookies. Serving one additional bit would solve this easily as that would allow two per person (each person getting a different combination of two). Now serving odd numbers of items in a shared plate is a fairly common restaurant practice, and I completely understand the aesthetic reasons for this. Groupings of 3, 5, and 7 do look better than those of 2, 4, and 6. I'm personally in favour of sacrificing the look, though, for the avoidance of the messy affair of "oh you can take the last one"..."oh no, you take it"...and so on. Or, alternatively, especially when it's a really tasty item, the occasional tussle for the last one. It wasn't really an issue this evening, as my parents were full, and, being parents, would give me the last cookie if they were dying a slow death of starvation anyways. And if it had really been an issue with another group, I'm sure I could talk a server into snagging another cookie. But it would all be easier if more than enough was sent out in the first place. But this is a little quibble amongst a stellar line-up of dishes and a lovely evening. Our server, not only working Christmas night instead of being home with family (he may not celebrate Christmas anyway, of course), but was also losing his voice! I hope he had a chance to rest eventually. Despite this, timing was perfect, and there were no service problems. The term "formal" best encapsulates the type of service here and the feel of the room in general, which I find fun and exciting for special occasions simply because it's different from everyday life.

Fleuri makes it onto my list of favourite fine dining restaurants and feels a bit like an unsung heroine in Vancouver to me. The name, Fleuri, feels right, and dining at the restaurant reminds me of rediscovering a favourite serene garden that's always flourishing quietly, and consistantly going about her business with grace and style.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Foodie's Valentine's Day

If you're with the right person, walking down the street, sipping coffee at Tim Hortons, or offering your last fry at Mickey D's can be as overwhelmingly romantic as any fancy dinner, box of chocolates, or bouquet of roses, right? Yes, but...why not allow yourselves to celebrate your love with something decadent and special? I'm definitely not one of the many St. Valentine's Day curmudgeons who poo-poo the whole holiday as simply a marketing ploy by the greeting card, jeweller, and floral industries to manipulate those vulnerable boyfriends into throwing away their money. It can be so much more than that! I'm not sure how far in advance you have to book these things (so it might be a bit late), but here's a sampling of some really nice things in Vancouver to do for the special foodie in your life:

Fleuri Restaurant, at the Sutton Place Hotel downtown, has a beautiful set dinner offered, that I think is romantic for two main reasons: 1. The room is the epitome of elegance, with a very feminine air, and a quiet ambience (even when the room is at capacity), perfect for unabashed goo-goo eyes and sweet nothings passed between two lovers over beautiful food. 2. It all ends with a Chocolate Buffet! If your date loves chocolate, this is indulgent, fun, and can even feel a bit naughty. You're more than likely not going to be able to try too many things after eating an amuse bouche, and three courses before dessert, but just to be offered the selection in such a pretty arrangement is exciting. It's not just a gimmick either, as both the chef and the pastry chef here know what they're doing. Another hotel dessert buffet was not nearly as impressive but I visited a couple of years ago, and don't know what it is like these days.

Diva at the Met (downtown). Note possible spoilers ahead. Don't read if you're planning to go to Diva already. I'm not sure what they're doing this year, but I can't resist an opportunity to share what they did when I went a while back, because it impressed the pants off me...(so sorry, just couldn't resist. Okay, I'll stop smirking now).

Big budget option: dinner at Diva. Several years ago, I had the Valentine's set meal here (I think Michael Noble was still cooking there at the time), and it was really wonderful. The room and the service aren't quite as cosy and elegant as Fleuri, but here are the little surprises that made the experience extra special; When one of us visited the washroom, we could come back to the table with a little gift for the other. The staff had arranged a basket of little womens' perfume samples with pretty ribbons in the men's washroom, and an equivalent basket of men's colognes in the women's washroom! An adorable touch. Even more adorable? On our way out, after a fantastic and elaborate meal, we were surprised with a beautiful take-home package of treats for a little romantic breakfast for two the next morning! A little presumptuous, perhaps, but if you've gone to the trouble of booking this dinner at Diva...let's just say, I guess it's a pretty safe bet. We took ours down to the water with some coffee, and had an outdoor morning picnic, opening up our red package to find freshly squeezed mixed fruit juices, a couple of brioches from Sen5es, with those cute little individual jars of jam, and two of those wonderful Sen5es chocolates. I have no idea if the restaurant will do anything similar this year, but I'm still talking about it years later, and love the creativity behind those touches. Even my date was impressed, and it seemed to take the edge off paying the special Valentine's Day prix of the prix fixe, as he was feeling a bit manipulated by the Valentine's Day industry at the time.

Smaller budget version: Instead of Diva at the Met, go to Sen5es, around the corner. Chocolates are an oldie but goodie. Buy your sweetie some sweets from Thomas Haas' Sen5es. Chocolate Arts on W. 4th is another good source. Here's a picture of the Valentine's showpiece in their window currently. Chocolate shoes!

In the Window of Chocolate Arts - A Valentine's Showpiece of Chocolate Shoes

Or have a daytime dessert date at La Petite France on Arbutus St, or a night time dessert date at Sweet Revenge. Sweet Obsessions at Trafalgar's is another great spot for a lovely dinner and killer desserts. With all restaurants, call ahead and find out their Valentine's Day plans, as most restaurants will go to a set meal with marked up prices, and will require reserving well in advance.

Aurora Bistro is plunging right into the gooey theming of the night, by offering a special menu with each course representing an aspect of love. I say, right on! If you're going to do Valentine's, go all the way, and wallow in the wonderful sappiness of it all. It's a nice small room, and I suspect it could be quite romantic if they tried. The menu theming already suggests that they are committed to providing that romantic atmosphere.

There isn't, as with any question, just one right answer for everyone. You know your own Valentine, and maybe his or her favourite restaurant, or picture of romance, is completely off of everyone else's radar. For the adventurous type, Cypress Mountain has a wonderful evening snowshoe and fondue tour, and a special Valentine's Dinner at their Hollyburn Lodge. Also, Grouse Mountain's Valentine's at the Peak Package includes the view on the gondola, a beautiful meal at the Observatory Restaurant, with a view, and skating on the pond and riding in the sleigh (weather dependent). I recommend both the Grouse experience and the Cypress snowshoe tour, though the snowshoe fondue tour I did was with a group, and therefore isn't quite as intimate as something designed for just two. The Valentine's Dinner at Cypress allows the two of you to ski or hike to the lodge on your own. A snowy winter scene with a warm meal afterwards should be quite romantic. These wintery options are great fun, show off Vancouver, and feel like little adventures. Some other rooms that come to mind as romantic include Le Gavroche (here's to a speedy recovery from their recent fire), Horizons on Burnaby Mountain, The Cannery, The Teahouse at Stanley Park, Amarcord, and Le Piazza Dario Ristorante at the Italian Cultural Centre.

Or maybe what's really romantic for your date is dinner cooked at home. Which is all the more impressive when the cook is not that confident in his or her skills, and makes the effort to figure it all out for the special meal. You can't beat a meal, or even just a cup coffee, made with love. Savour it. Savour the love, no matter what you choose.