Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Senhor Rooster: The East End, Portugese Bishop's

The Assortment of Sauces (Tangi-Fruit, Piri-Piri, Jalapeno, Mango-Ginger, BBQ, and Extra-Hot)

Meet Senhor Rooster (3885 Rupert St. at 23rd Ave. 604-434-1010). That bird makes a mean sauce! Actually more like six of them...and counting. This little Portugese restaurant in the middle of nowhere (yes, I'm being downtown-centric), is one of the best restaurants in Vancouver that I've been to in a long time. And it's not about the decor, which is fairly humble, intimate, and comfortable, with white tablecloths in a place you initially might not expect them. Partly, it's the unexpected pleasure of finding such tasty dishes with such complex sauces, with a wonderfully friendly staff in such a low key place. But there are tasty, friendly, ethnic non-fancy places in plenty of areas. Why does this place grab me so much? To me it's like the East End, ethnic version of Bishop's. You've got a warm, hospitable chef/owner, who seems to have a passion for food, popping out of the kitchen to serve the customers himself, with an exceptionally homey little restaurant. This restaurant accomplishes the same feeling that John Bishop does at his place - like he's hosting a dinner party at his own home, and you are his (very fortunate) guests. Both chefs also allow the ingredients to speak for themselves in a fairly uncluttered way. You've also got phenomenally tasty food, and on top of all that, (this is where the comparison falters) you're getting it all for amazingly low prices in this hidden away gem. Starters were under $10. I think our prawns were $8 or $9 and entrees between $10 - 15. Yet another reminder that there really aren't many good reasons to go to those casual chain restaurants whose mains start at prices above that.

To begin, nice Portugese buns and butter are brought to the table, as well as a collection of sauces for dinner. Sample them all, and you'll see why the foodies are raving about this place. Rumour has it that chef/owner Daniel Alexandre used to work in the Il Giardino kitchen. Things are simple here. No wine list, but whatever the red was that night (I don't remember), I enjoyed. I'm not even sure how much our glasses of wine cost, but looking at the total of the bill, it must have been next to nothing. We started with prawns in the delicious piri-piri sauce. Some of the sauces have some nice heat like the piri piri, and some are sweeter and milder. If you can't get enough of the stuff, he has bottles of the sauces available to take home. We had one additional, unlabelled sauce in the collection of the table that was very hot, which I think was a newer addition to the line-up.

Prawns in Piri Piri Sauce Posted by Picasa

Daniel himself came out to tell us the specials that evening, and he was listing away, when he said, "we have horse." After we did the inevitable verbal equivalent of a double-take, and Daniel assured us he wasn't joking, my dining companion, Martini Man, quickly jumped on the opportunity to try it, and there was nothing else on the menu for him. Well, I wasn't so sure, and anyways, I don't think I was THAT hungry. Daniel continued his list of specials, then tacked on that he had rack of lamb too. That was it for me. I think it may help to call ahead and ask, if you are looking for that. We did make reservations, and I would definitely recommend making them if you go, as the word has been out on this place for a while (it sounds like it's become an eGullet clubhouse). The night we went, most of the restaurant was filled with one huge birthday group (maybe 36 people), who took up three long lengths of tables. The restaurant seemed to handle this very well, and the tables got big mixed grill platters of meat. Yet our server, a very sweet Portugese gentleman, was quite attentive, and made our experience at Senhor Rooster very warm and comfortable.

Horse in a Rosemary Tomato Based Sauce

The horse meat was actually pretty good. Pounded thin, tender, and very mild with no gamey taste at all. It was served with potato and a wonderful assortment of mixed vegetables, including a few pretty lotus root slices. The rosemary flavoured tomato sauce was really good. Martini Man ate his whole entree, but we both definitely preferred the lamb. Oh, the lamb... So incredibly tender, and yes, it was an entire rack! I shared some with Martini Man, but somehow, I had no trouble putting almost all of it down. Yes, it was more expensive than the other mains, at $35, but it is worth every penny (and probably more). Eight perfectly cooked, flavourful chops, covered in a rich brown sauce, and served that evening with potato and mixed veggies. High styling presentation, using unusual ingredients in odd combinations is a lot of fun, but this simple, homey plate with big, rich flavours just speaks to me, and is the perfect antidote to fancy-trendy-restaurant overload.

Rack of Lamb

To finish off, we shared a sweet, creamy Portugese dessert called babas de camelo. Just a really nice soft, texture, and with several quick scoops with our spoons, it disappeared in seconds.

Babas de Camelo

Daniel, the consummate host, treated us to a little extra something at the end of the meal - he brought us two snifters of a cherry liqueur he had made himself, and it was delicious, just like everything else he served. His quietly swooping over with a "Try this, I made it myself" just made things feel all that much more irresistably personal. Oh, and as if I haven't gushed enough, I love the name of the place too! In short, the restaurant is simple, genuine, light-hearted, and very good at what it does. Gawd, it feels good to be able to wholeheartedly recommend a restaurant once in a while!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Worship

For many people, Sunday mornings are for religious ritual. Well, I'm not so different, but I pray at a different personal altar - my beloved stovetop. This morning, I was seeking the ultimate pancake truth, and let me tell you, I found the answers I've been looking for. These flapjacks were absolutely divine! I have a new book that I draw inspiration from in my life, and it's the New Best Recipe from the editors of Cook's Illustrated and the makers of the television show "America's Test Kitchen." Hmmm, I wonder what the differences are in the old book vs. the new... Anyhow, it's a fantastic publication. If you are familiar either with the periodical or the tv show, you will know that they basically geek out in their quest for the best possible method of preparing whatever they tackle, trying variation after variation, and testing their results on a panel of tasters. I love that! This book clearly explains their testing, considers the aspect of personal preference, considers both equipment, ingredients, and procedures, and settles on a favourite recipe for each dish, while keeping a very practical approach in terms of reasonable time, recipe complexity, and clean-up. It's filled with great tips and also notes on tastings of different brands and types of ingredients. Well, I decided to try their light and fluffy pancakes recipe. I've been searching for a light, fluffy (is there anyone who likes them otherwise?), sweet, and flavourful pancake recipe. While preparing and eating my pancakes, I was reflecting on the spiritual choices that people make for their lives. I found this definition of meditation, in the context of religion, on a website: "An extended and continuous concentration on a single object, with this object being the only thought in your mind, may be a good definition of meditation." One very useful purpose of prayer, religious ritual, and religious mediation is to create a personal calm within, to counter the stresses of life. Well, you can connect with your God(s) in church, and I'll take my pancake ceremony. The service was complete with music (today, the radio was playing classic rock), the smell of the butter in the pan (better than incense), personal reflection, concentration, a sense of calm, and a bit of ceremony in the application of maple syrup. A code of ethics? Well, I think it's immoral to use that fake maple syrup stuff. Only pure Canada Gr. 2 for me. Religious services also provide social connection with others of like mind, and isn't it a great thing to share in the greatness of pancakes with someone you love? So I'd like to share my recipe with you. I substituted sour cream and a little 1% milk for the milk with lemon juice (or buttermilk) called for in the recipe simply because that's what I had around, but I really liked the sweet, tangy flavour and texture of these pancakes, and may wind up always using these. I also halved most of ingredients in the recipe from the book (which originally makes "16 pancakes, serving 4 to 6") . I followed their tips for using a very gentle hand in mixing the dry with the wet ingredients, and not overmixing. They also believe that the best way to test the temperature of your griddle/non-stick frying pan, is to make a mini pancake with a tablespoon of batter, and it should yield a golden brown colour after 1 minute, rather than a blond or dark, uneven pancake. The book is full of great guidelines like how to keep your pancakes warm until you've made them all. I picked it up at Book Warehouse, and I think it's changed my cooking forever. My faith in the book grows with each recipe that I try to incorporate in my life. Had enough? Yah, I thought so. So here's the recipe:

Nancy's Enlightening Pancakes

Makes about eight four-inch pancakes (or two large deities), serving one to two

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup 1% milk (approximately, to yield very thick but oozing consistency)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons of ulsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
a little butter to rub the pan with, or vegetable oil.
optional: 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries, rinsed and dried

1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt together in a deep bowl.
2. Whisk the egg and melted butter into the sour cream and milk.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet, and whisk gently until just combined. It should be lumpy. Do not overmix.
4. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, rub a little butter or oil on pan, use mini pancake method of testing heat discussed above. Pour 1/4 cup of batter onto three spots on the skillet. Alternately, make cutesy shapes with the batter. Yes, that's a Nancy variant on the recipe. Could you tell? Then you can say, "I see [insert favourite religious or pop culture figure here] in my pancakes!" I recommend Laughing Buddha, as he should be particularly easy to make with blobs of batter. And there's always Elvis in his later years.
5. If using blueberries, sprinkle fresh or frozen dry berries onto the pancakes now, as they set. Cook until large bubbles begin to appear, 1.5 to 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes with a thin, wide spatula, and cook until golden brown on the second side, 1 to 1.5 minutes longer. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve immediately. If making a larger batch, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and place pancakes on a rack in a baking sheet to keep pancakes warm and not soggy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Perfectly Parkside - A Dine Out Vancouver Success

Has anyone ever gained your complete trust within the first minute of meeting? Isn't that a wonderful thing? That's how I feel about Parkside (1906 Haro, just off of Denman). I immediately walk in and I feel like I can count on it, and I've only been there twice. No, they're not going to serve me anything yucky...yes, of course they'll serve everything with care...and obviously, asking questions about the menu will get me informed, gracious, answers. Now, that doesn't mean that they don't take chances. Chef Andrey Durbach changes the menu regularly, and in fact, their online menu is updated daily! So great was my trust after one visit, that this restaurant immediately came to mind as the one to pick for Dine Out Vancouver - the event where restaurants seem to set themselves up for big falls, between servers dealing with the large crowds of "unsophisticated" diners who are there for a bargain, exasperated hosts dealing with clogged phone lines, "campers" (those who eat slowly and stay a long time after eating) and no shows, you've likely got an exhausted staff on the brink of snapping at the next person who tries to order, say, a hot water with lemon.

But I look at Parkside, and I think to myself, "they've got class, they can do this" and I book myself a table as soon as they start taking them (beginning of January for any of you Dine Out newbies who want to snag a table at one of the more popular restaurants next time). Well, in short, they did it marvelously.

We arrived for our 8 pm (here's a tip: book later seatings for Dine Out to dampen the pressure to get in and out as quickly as possible) and the staff were relaxed and cheerful. The room was inviting despite being full of the beautiful people. We were seated promptly, and we started with a couple of their intriguing cocktails, a Dark and Stormy (dark rum, West Indian ginger beer, citrus juice) for Guiness Cheddar Boy and I think a Frozen Pineapple Cosmopolitan (vodka, pineapple sorbet,cranberry & fresh orange juice, shaken) for me.

My terrine appetizer was wonderful, with big, satisfying chunks of chicken, rabbit, ham, and foie gras, served with the cutest baby toasts, cornichons, pea puree, and a little fennel slaw. My dining companion had the salad, and I was tempted by the mushroom soup with truffle oil, but I think mine was the winner.

Terrine of Chicken, Rabbit, Smoked Ham and Foie Gras, Toasted Country Bread, Traditional Garnishes

Salad of Belgian Endive, Apples, Croutons, Toasted Pecans and Blue Cheese Dressing

We both chose the beef short rib, which was swimming in a delicious pool of sauce. Again, deeply satisfying, and perfect fare for a chilly evening, especially with a bottle of Chianti (Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva 2000, Italy) alongside.

Braised Beef Short Rib, Spring Onion Mashed Potato, Savoy Cabbage, Mustard Jus

For dessert, Guinness Cheddar Boy, true to his cheese fiend nature, opted for the dolce latte gorgonzola, which was a really lovely softly flavoured cheese. I went for the decadent sticky toffee pudding, and was so full, that I could only finish half of it. A small tragedy in my mind. These are the times when a spare stomach would come in handy.

Dolce Latte Gorgonzola, Toasted Pecans, Poached Apple and Greek Honey

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Spiced Rum and Ginger Ice Cream Posted by Picasa

What particularly impressed me was that they managed to provide a meal normally priced at $49 for only $25, without making any single part of it feel like a discounted meal. Additionally, they offered it at the $25 level, rather than $35, as many Dine Out Vancouver participating restaurants did. The dishes were just as interesting as they normally are, the portions generous, and the service filled with their special touches, like decanting our wonderful Chianti and serving a little complimentary biscotti alongside my after-dinner coffee. It was a stellar meal from start to finish.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mmmmmm, Luminescent Larvae!

Lightning Bugs Gummy in action! Posted by Picasa

Found this super fun gummy candy in Seattle's Ye Olde Curiosity Shop that comes with it's own light up tongs. It's Kandy Kastle's Lightning Bugs ($1.69 USD). When you grasp your little translucent yellow and red gummy bugs with the forceps, the little light inside makes the candy glow beautifully - a great treat for a night time snack (like my stroll through downtown Seattle in the dark), but maybe not so good for the movies!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Name That Vancouver Restaurant No.4

Here's another round of everyone's favourite blog game, Name That Vancouver Restaurant! This restaurant is a hidden East Vancouver gem, serving up wonderful Portugese food, and known for their sauces. The chef/owner's name is Daniel, and he's been making some foodies very happy in his little spot on Rupert. Okay, I'm starting the clock now!