Saturday, July 29, 2006

I Miss Oysters!

Recent warnings about raw shellfish, plus their being just out of season now (months that don't contain the letter 'r'), have made me a bit wary about ordering oysters right now. I miss them, but it won't be long before I'm ordering them again. But here is a wonderful memory of oysters used in an unusual way. At least unusual to me, as I'm not that familiar with Portugese food. Chef Daniel at Senhor Rooster's (3885 Rupert St., at 23rd Ave.) stuffs a pork loin with oysters, and the result is this beautifully soft, delicate, yet sumptuous centre to the meaty loin. Basically, it's like using the oyster as a condiment, to flavour the pork. This was such a tasty and satisfying dish. The meaty blueberry sauce worked wonderfully. I think he made me two sauces, one blueberry, and one more savoury brown sauce. I loved the potatoes too, on the left side of the plate, cooked with a barbecue like sauce that evening. This dish was on his specials board when we dined, in mid-June.

Pork Loin Stuffed with Oysters, with Blueberry Sauce

Crime Lab Restaurant Boy had the basa basa, a really lovely fish dish, with capers and raisins. He enjoyed this and the restaurant too.

Basa Basa Topped with Capers and Raisins

It was another soul satisfying meal at Senhor Rooster's. It was the perfect meal to replenish us after an amazing canoe paddle through a lake teeming with tail-slapping beavers, a curious painted turtle, and so many startled bullfrogs splashing into the water from their lily pads. You need a hearty meal after you've harassed wildlife all evening.

I feel like I can really count on this restaurant to deliver a great meal. We arrived fairly late in the evening, after 9 pm, without a reservation, and Chef/Owner Daniel welcomed us warmly. While of Portugese descent, his cooking is probably influenced by his time living in Africa. His sauces still wow me, and I believe they change a little from time to time (it really sounds like he loves experimenting with sauces), but one I look out for is the light green coloured jalapeno sauce that seems to have an avocado base. Creamy, mildly spicy, and delicious. Oh my, reminiscing about this meal is making me hungry now!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Beautiful Spoon from Capstone Tea  Posted by Picasa

What? I'm A Glazed? I Thought I'd Be Boston Cream!

You Are a Glazed Donut

Okay, you know that you're plain - and you're cool with that.
You prefer not to let anything distract from your sweetness.
Your appeal is understated yet universal. Everyone dig you.
And in a pinch, you'll probably get eaten.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More Beach Picnic Ideas - Fujiya or DIY

Well, I'm not sure what took me so long, but I FINALLY visited Fujiya on Clarke and Venables. Actually, it's mainly because I used to take transit a lot and never passed by the place, and now that I'm driving more these days (unfortunately), I pass by it quite often. And remember when parking lots in Vancouver were free? Well, they still have one, so it's super easy to pull into their lot, stop in, and grab some Japanese groceries, and since you're there, grab some of their take-out sushi so that you can go eat it on the beach. Beach picnics are what summer in Vancouver is all about for me. Sushi on the beach is particularly Vancouvery to me - to be able to get cheap, abundant sushi and eat it right in front of the ocean. I had their chicken katsu roll (about $5.95?), and loved it. Their California Roll is $2.95. For indoor summer meals, I picked up all the fixings for zaru soba - iced buckwheat noodles that you dip into a soy sauce based dipping sauce. You can buy the sauce in a bottle, and add green onion, grated ginger, grated daikon, and wasabi (if you wish) and it makes a great easy and refreshing meal for a sticky hot day. Fujiya on Clarke is open until 7 pm. There's also a smaller Fujiya on Pender St. and Burrard, downtown that I keep meaning to visit too.

For those Do-It-Yourselfers out there, there are lots of easy nibblies that are great to bring to the beach. When I pack a picnic, I look for things that taste good luke warm (or somewhat chilled, since I carry ice packs), that don't involve a lot of utensils, and pack easily. I also try to pack things in foil or plastic wrap when possible, that can be tossed afterwards, so that at least on the way home you've got a pretty light load. Here's a recent very simple picnic menu that I was quite pleased with:

1 litre of "English Bay No-No," my cocktail spritzer creation of silver tequila, lychee liqueur, grapefruit juice, a splash of pineapple juice, ginger ale, and ice.

1 litre of ice water

Mini pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw and barbecue sauce, on mini French white rolls

Fresh veggies ("baby" carrots, daikon, snap peas, roma tomato wedges) and homemade blue cheese veggie dip (plain yoghurt, sour cream, grated carrot, minced daikon, black pepper, green onion, blue cheese).

Dill pickles, Mediterranean olives

Small rounds of assorted breads (multi-grain, potato roll, white French roll) served with:
Brie and roasted garlic (slice top of head, wrap in foil, 400° F oven, 40 min.)
Pork and porcini mushroom paté
French prosciutto
Smoked tongue

Fresh pineapple chunks
Fresh blueberries
Wedges of golden kiwi (wonderful when wrapped in prosciutto)
Wedges of Asian pear

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Salt Tasting Room - Living up to the Hype

The Hype

I haven't been this excited about a place in a while. And the funny thing is that I was just about this excited about the place before it even opened. Credit the internet and the phenomenon of opening soon blogs. Like the Opening Soon show on Food TV, opening soon blogs allow you an inside peek at what it takes to put together a new restaurant business. Besides a little promotion, it seems to provide the owners a fun way to document this very exciting time in their life and keep their friends and family up to date, as well as an outlet to vent about the process. How can you not get pulled along in the anticipation of a new restaurant opening as you listen to all of the trials and tribulations (and triumphs) the owners and staff go through to get the project off the ground. So the blog was one factor in my excitement. But really, this place is something to get excited about before ever seeing it just because the concept itself is just too cool, and there's nothing exactly like it in Vancouver. At least not right now. I'm sure copy cats will soon follow with the success of Salt Tasting Room (Blood Alley, aka Trounce Alley, between Abbott and Carrall St., Gastown, 604-633-1912). So what is this groundbreaking concept? Here's the deal: it's a wine bar, with cheeses and cured meats. So simple, it's genius. Why hasn't anyone put one of these here before? But it has to be executed right for it to be so exciting, so here are some details. It's got the coolest of cool Vancouver addresses - hidden away in Blood Alley, Gastown (officially known as Trounce Alley, if you're looking for it on a map). They have a full sheet of interesting wines by the glass, and they have tasting flights of three wines, three selections of meat/cheese, and three condiments (about $29 or $27), all paired up for you by an incredibly impressive staff. Everyone there is a pleasure to talk with, and ask questions of, so don't be shy. They'll all make recommendations and explain things without an ounce of pretension. Part of the pre-opening buzz was that two of the most well-known Vancouver cocktail crafters were on board. Chris Stearns left Lumiere and Jay Jones left Nu to join the restaurant where there will be no cocktails at all on the premises. If you want to put together your tasting platter, you can choose your own trio of meats/cheeses and condiments to accompany ($15). Terra bread is served with everything. It doesn't really sound like a full dinner, but we consumed enough calories to satisfy us soundly, especially with an extra trio, dessert and extra alcohol. So it can be your dinner or your drinking and nibbling place. They're currently open 4:30 - midnight, 7 days a week, but it looks like they are planning to stay open later in the future. Before going, I was half expecting there to be some veggie antipasto platter or salads or something to provide a vegetable component, but whatever, you can eat your veggies another day. Or make sure to order the piccadilly relish as one of your condiments - that's got some bits of zucchini and things in it. Mmm. I think there are some roasted peppers too in the condiments list, but let's face it, this place is cool because it's NOT about being all granola. It's about indulging in wine and cheese and salty meat. Prices feel fair, particularly if you are dining with just one other person (and compared it to what one might spend gathering cheeses, cured meats and wines for an evening), which makes the place feel like somewhere you can drop by over and over. The owners are Sean Heather, owner of Irish Heather Gastropub, Shebeen Whiskey House, Salty Tongue Deli, Limerick Junction Irish Pub and Fetch Hotdog Cart, and Scott Hawthorn, who owns the wonderful old building Salt is in, among other gastown spots. A great little gastown story that is on the opening soon blog is his Parking Spot concept. He received a tiny 120 ft. space included with an actual parking spot he purchased, and decided to use that space to showcase local art and design.

Living Up to the Hype (Plus an Extra Helping of Hype from Me)

Blood Alley is full of character even these days - quaint old-looking streetlamps cast eery glows here and there in the night, craggy old cobblestone still covers the ground (unlike, say, the alley behind Storyeum), metal balconies with all sorts of gritty characters poking out from their apartments, another interesting assortment of characters pokes out onto the balcony of a club during its monthly fetish parties. It's a great place to include on a summer evening's city walk, if you're looking for a walk to really sink your teeth into. But Blood Alley is full of character because of its history too. It is said to be named for the butcher shops that used to be there, around the turn of the last century, that would rinse out the blood into the street at the end of each day. As well, public executions were held in Blood Alley Square.

So to start, on my first visit, I had fun before I even arrived, just because I love the location so much. I also love going to restaurants that feel a bit hidden away. We had made reservations for the four of us for fairly early in the evening, 7:30, on the second night of operation, a Thursday. We find the black salt shaker banner, and walk into a nice room, not too many people, with a very relaxed vibe and lots of creative looking types having a good time. It's got a blackboard painted wall in the back, with the cheeses, meats, and condiments listed (with origins in brackets for many, such as the local Oyama Sausage Company). It's all open space, old brick walls, zinc bar, and clean Brent Comber furniture (which I'm a fan of really because I heard him speak once, and he's quite charming). The simplicity of the room and the food is very refreshing. There's a great long communal table on one side. And there's a real epicurean sort of joy in it all. A forcemeat from Chef Jeff of Aurora Bistro here, a roadtrip planned to Seattle to acquire some Salumi meats there, a hearty recommendation for a particular glass of bubbly here, a little taste of fresh Okanagan apricots and cherries there. I remember a moment where Crime Lab Restaurant Boy pointed out another table "look, they're taking photos of their food like you do!" I felt so at home! We had exceptionally fun foodie company with us too, so our table of four was able to put a nice dent into the menu. I was happy to see the option of a pre-selected flight ($29/27), as I was a bit too spacey to really focus enough to make all those decisions to put together my own trio ($15 now, $14 then). Three of us ordered the themed flights, Made in BC, Sherry, and Red & Meat. The fourth chose a selection of cheeses, with accompanying condiments, and a glass of bubbly was recommended to pair with them. The beautiful photo of the spread says it all. Of course we all shared, so look at all the wonderful things to taste on this table.

The Spread

Their clever solution to organizing all of this really titillates the geek in me. Everything is all labelled! They simply put down a sheet with all the selections written down and lined up, complete with spots for the wine glasses all marked down. I really enjoyed the pairing aspect of the evening. For fun, try crossing over and trying your wines with the food that it's not paired with, to help you appreciate the actual pairing. For one of mine (on my second visit, not pictured here), I discovered the "unpairing" nearly ruined the experience of the meat compared to the pairing that really enhanced it (I can't really remember for sure, but I think it was the Palandri Cabernet Sauvignon with the ox tongue that really didn't do the tongue justice. Or maybe the wine suffered. Or maybe both. I dunno. Remember, I was drinking...and you know how I get).

The Sherry Flight (for that evening)

A Selection of Cheeses and Condiments

Topping things off are some surprisingly good desserts. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But I was definitely impressed. The chocolate mousse was rich and very deeply flavoured.

Chocolate Mousse

The Creme Brulee was even better. And on my second visit, with Cheeseboy, a week later, the Creme Caramel was good too.

Creme Brulee with Persimmon Slices

Sometimes I get tempted to keep a place secret so that I can have it all to myself, but it's no use with this place. The secret's out, and on my second visit, on a Thursday evening, the place was absolutely packed, and filled with that "beautiful people" crowd that seems to be searching always for the latest thing. But the secret is out with the foodies of the city too, and that actually makes it kind of fun, and it's a good place to go when you're feeling social anyway. My second visit was quite entertaining in a very different way, because there was only room at the bar for us, and we were seated right in front of Sean and his beautiful meat slicer. We could watch him and the others work. I love it when I can see someone in the middle of a dinner rush just stop and take a moment to place something just so. To me, it really shows that they care. Reminded me of a moment watching a cook in Guu with Garlic. When Sean handed us a little extra sample of local cherries, it almost had that same homey feel that I used to get as a kid when my dad was cooking and would hand me a little sample of something. Their condiments will change all the time too, and one delightful accompaniment was the fresh Okanagan apricots right at their peak, served with my smoked pork tenderloin. There was a point where we were waiting a bit for our final dessert wines, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, the staff are wonderfully hospitable and very professional, and apologies abounded, and everyone was so nice, we didn't think twice about it. There were too many yummy things to name everything we had, and everything will be changing constantly anyway. Even the ox tongue that got a fair chunk of attention on the thread in Waiterforum (in Waiterblog) changed in flavour from one week to the next, so I won't go into too many details about individual items. I expect that the ever-changing selection is part of the charm of the place that will allow people to have a new little gustatory adventure each time they go. Now that I've thoroughly gushed, I hope everyone else has as good a time as I did. If not, try ordering an extra glass of wine!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I Take It Back

A while ago, I gushed about Slickety Jim's Chat 'n Chew. And I swear I had a great experience that day. But I don't want to lead Nancylanders astray. I went back this week, and had an awful time. I was disappointed in both the food and the service, and left feeling awful about having recommended the place. The thing about having a food diary online, is that it can look an awful lot like a food critic column, and while I love eating and writing about it afterwards, unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of an expense account, and can't usually visit restaurants repeatedly like I would like to before publishing a post. This means that occassionally I'll get lucky, and hit a restaurant's really good day, and write glowingly about an inconsistant restaurant, and alternately, sometimes I'll hit a restaurant's really bad day, and wind up dismissing that restaurant. However, this happens to all of us who dine out (food blog or not), and there are just too many restaurants in Vancouver to try to waste time giving everybody second and third chances with our hard-earned money. The truly successful restaurants will be those that impress customers over and over again consistantly, even on their rough days. On top of that, restaurants can change. They can slip, and they can improve over time. Anyhow, I went to Slickety Jim's on a Friday morning, the place wasn't very busy, and my "eggs revolution" was almost unpleasant to eat. It's a dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes and asiago cheese, served over black forest ham and cornbread, and also served with their potatoes and a bit of salad on the side. The eggs were underseasoned, rubbery and overcooked (and needed more cheese), the ham overcooked and dried out, the cornbread was greasy and tough and not tasty, the salad was a small pile of limp mesclun, with a hidden dab of uninteresting dressing underneath, and the potatoes were just there. Our server might have been the owner (my clue being the severe-looking, oil paint portrait of her, as a dictator in her younger years hanging on the wall), and she was fairly condescending and surly, served me coffee in a dirty mug, refilled my dining partner's water without refilling mine, and as we were paying, said something about being very tired, and we'll all just try to get through this morning together. She didn't stop to consider that maybe we were having a great morning (eating breakfast out, on a day off for me), up until encountering her cheery self. The thing is, I spent my other post going on and on about how friendly and wonderful the waitress was. Oh where oh where was she that morning? The menu's still amusing, and the room is still kitcshy, but it just wasn't worth it. Cheese Boy's eggs benny was fine. But we both noticed the service issues. I can't believe it's the same place where last time the waitress asked me whether I wanted the poached eggs in my benny to be soft or medium. This time, it was almost like she was holding a grudge against me for eating in her establishment. Not quite as bad as the waitress at Aphrodite's Cafe who literally scowled at us upon seeing us walk through the door (during their regular operating hours, when there were still some other customers in the restaurant). Maybe a little meat would cheer her up. I'd rather have slow, yet friendly service from someone in the weeds, than the grumpy, attitude-laden service we received in that half empty room. A great example of friendly service is Salt Tasting Room, another place we went to this week. It's a great place, packed on my second visit, and maybe running a bit slow that evening. It was only their second week of operation. But the staff and owners are so hospitable, it didn't matter at all. The small delays had no negative impact on our experience whatsoever. Cheeseboy and I both left very happy. Anyhow, just a couple of notes. Don't order the "eggs revolution" at Slickety's, that is, if you go at all. And secondly, always look at the date of a food review. I always say that they have a shelf-life of three months or less, as restaurants can fluctuate in quality wildly from time to time.

It's So Hot Out...

...I had to go get me some barbecue. Having lived in Georgia for a while, I've got this association between sweltering heat and eating pulled pork. Satisfied it with the Memphis Feast ($32.95) from the Memphis Blues on Commercial Drive, which includes a generous helping of every meat (not the catfish) and side dish they offer. Usually the pulled pork is hands-down my favourite, but this time, I have to say I really enjoyed their sliced brisket. Some other hot night, I'd like to try making some chilled soups as that is an area I definitely haven't explored much in my own kitchen. So what do you like to eat when it's hot?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Name That Vancouver Restaurant No. 5

A quick round of everyone's favourite Nancyland game, Name That Vancouver Restaurant:

This place opened this Wednesday, and involves two of Vancouver's hottest "mixologists" retiring their cocktail shakers.

How long will it take for someone to guess this very cool spot that's been getting great buzz? The clock starts NOW!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Coolest Small Appliance Ever!

Pedal-Powered Blender

I went to a party where the hostess rented a pedal-powered blender to make yummy smoothies with. Is that cool or what?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gotta Love the West End!

West End Farmer's Market, Comox St. at Thurlow

Of course the West End farmer's market would have a Shiatsu booth! I happened upon the market, on my way to Granville Island (by way of the little ferries that leave from the Aquatic Centre) on a bright, beautiful Canada Day.

Toast Booth (The Cake Studio)

The booth that most tempted me as I perused the offerings that day was Toast, with their incredibly pretty pastries. I was even willing to forego my usual Granville Island treat, an almond croissant from La Baguette et l'Echalote, to try one of these beauties. By the way, this also sounds like a nice place to pick up a loaf of bread. It was a busy day and by mid-afternoon when I was there, they had already run out, so I'm suspecting that they make some nice bread. Susie Lee, the Cake Artist and Pastry Chef, has a specialty cake business called The Cake Studio.

Lemon Raspberry Cake from Toast Posted by Picasa

I took with me one of their little lemon raspberry cakes, and it was so moist and lemony and wonderful. Delicioius, right down to the tiny blob of sweet pastry cream that anchors the candy lemon slice garnish. A bundle of pleasure for only $1.50.

I sampled a bit of cheese jerky at one of the cheese booths too. It was actually pretty good!

Farmer's Market season is a great part of summer that I really haven't taken advantage of fully in the past. Check out the West End version at Nelson Park, Comox Street between Bute and Thurlow. 9:00 am to 2:00 pm Saturdays from June 17 to October 7, 2006.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

When Is Multi-grain Bread Really Multi-grain?

T&T Supermarket Utane Bread - Multi, Toasted Posted by Picasa

I have to admit that while a beautifully crisp-crusted French baguette or a wonderfully chewy ciabatta will please me to no end, I really do like soft squishy breads. Especially given the choice between an overly hard crusty bread that'll scrape against the roof of my mouth, and a nice soft one that won't hurt at all when I eat it. I suspect this might in part be a Chinese thing, as I heard once that our palates tend to be softer on average than Caucasian palates. I don't know the causal relationship, or if this is even true. If it is, perhaps our palates are softer because we don't have crusty breads in the cuisine, and everyone else has spent their lives toughening theirs up, and then in turn there is no desire to make crustier breads. Or perhaps it's simply a physiological thing, like the 50% or more of us Asians that lack the alcohol dehygrogenase in our bellies to help metabolize great quantities of alcohol quickly. Anyway, sometimes I go to a T & T Supermarket and buy their very boxy squishy half loaves or full loves of bread. The very regular shape pleases me, and I see no reason for sliced bread to always have that billowy top to it. It's just a matter of baking it in a deeper vessel. Reminds me of Potato Salad Boy, who was particularly taken with the neat and tidy shape of the "cube fries" at the PNE, where they cooked their curly fries so that it wound up looking like a Borg cube. Don't look too hard for these this year, by the way. They mysteriously disappeared a few years ago. Perhaps not everyone is as anal as my friend and I.

Well getting back to the bread, this last trip to T&T, I discovered their "multi-grain." I just enjoyed some of it toasted. The grains they're talking about though, are black sesame seeds throughout and possibly a few sunflower seeds, and the light whole wheat content of the bread itself probably. Doesn't have that annoying "healthy taste" at all! I don't know about you, but to me, when I'm choosing bread at the store, "multi-grain" often reads as "cardboard" and any disappointment that I feel with it is generally balanced out by the thought that "at least it's better for me than the white bread." Not always of course. And I sometimes do enjoy the hearty flavours of those grains. And now a company has even started packaging roasted flax seeds in little packets so that you can add it to your food anytime. I tried one of my free samples from the Eat! Vancouver goody bag, and it's surprisingly tasty as well as convenient as a topping for yoghurt in a packed lunch, for example. I'm not really convinced that this T&T "multi-grain" is better for me than the white bread, but maybe it's better for me than the buttery coconut swirl bread I usually get there, hee hee. But I don't usually eat that with strawberry jam and butter. I don't want to get into a debate about what technically is considered a grain and how much you need to make something certifiably multi-grain. I'll leave that to the real bakers, like Bac'n Girl and her cohorts, to quibble about. I'm happy with my occassional fakey bread from T&T (check out this link for web coupons).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

For Crying Out Loud, Not ANOTHER Summer Patio Article!

What could be more overdone in the microcosm of Vancouver food writing than a write-up of patio restaurants at the beginning of summer? Well, I've resisted so far (aren't you proud of me, I didn't succumb even once last summer), but I couldn't hold back any longer. It's now mid-summer, and a restaurant with a patio is exactly what I've been feeling like these days. Don't resist it, soak up the view and be grateful for it. Enjoy the crisp air, comfortable temperature, blue-blue view, cool breeze, and the beautiful light of a summer evening in Vancouver. This post is just one example of a nice summer patio experience. Here's a view of Horseshoe Bay, with a little packet of cloud tucked into the crevices of a mountain.

The View

The restaurant was The Boathouse at Horseshoe Bay (6695 Nelson Ave at Bay St., on the water, 604-921-8188), less than 45 minutes away from downtown Vancouver. I've been there twice, with neither time being my idea to go, but both times coming away very pleased, and feeling quite pampered indeed. While it's not a long drive, it still has the feeling of being whisked away to a special spot. Maybe that's why this location feels somewhat better than the English Bay Boathouse. Then again, it might also be the food and the service.

We shared a portobello mushroom appetizer ($9.49), a single smallish cap topped with dungeness crab and shrimp in a cream sauce which sounds from the menu description alone like it would be good, but it actually exceeded my expectations. It was delicious, and the only improvement I can think of would be to perhaps double the portion, because I could have eaten a plateful of those things. I was so excited by it, that I forgot to take a photo before devouring my half.

For the main dish, my dining companion had the salmon (about $23.99). The prawns that came with this were yummy. Everything was cooked perfectly. The service was friendly and efficient, and the restaurant has a nice, casual feel on the patio.

The Salmon

I had the "house smoked wild Alaskan sablefish ($24.99) in a roasted shallot citrus cream sauce." The sauce was very rich and delicious, and of course the sablefish was wonderful (as sablefish has a tendency to be). Yah, any restaurant that uses yummy grilled fresh prawns as a GARNISH is okay by me. No flaccid parsley afterthought here!

The Sablefish

For dessert, a very competent tiramisu and coffee to cap it all off.

The Tiramisu

I had a wonderful dinner, but I can't tease out whether the restaurant is really that good, or if my experience was distorted by my delight in the beautiful weather, my general good mood and well-being, and the very good company...but then again, who cares? I'll continue to associate this restaurant with good things, (unless they do something to screw it up later), and that's just fine by me. I wonder what it's like to go there in the winter...