Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sometimes You Just Need a Little Mac' and Cheese

Nancy's Macaroni and Cheese

In this particular mac' and cheese, I used cheddar, Monterey Jack, Danish blue, Parmesan, and Asiago. Plus I threw in some spinach that I had around. Baking makes it so pretty, but I think next time I might just eat that creamy wonderful sauce on the macaroni right away. The sauce turned granier after baking. Watch out if you make one, though. These things are dangerous, and I don't mean just calorically. You just don't know what kind of trouble you'll lure in with a decadent mac' and cheese. Have fun!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Richmond Night Market 2006

As the end of summer approaches, I hope you get a chance to hit things like the many farmers' markets and fairs like the Richmond Night Market before it's too late. I'm personally going to try and get to the PNE before it ends to get my mini doughnuts. There's also other community events like Country Celebration in Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley (a GVRD Parks event) on Sept 16 and 17.

Here are photos from my trip last night to the food section of the Richmond Night Market. For me, these tasty little bites are well worth the trouble of wading through the ridiculously crowded aisles, and withstanding the background sounds of amateur karaoke (going on that night at the entertainment stage). I hope they widen the food aisles next year. That's where all the action is. We started eating right around opening at 7:30 pm, and kept going for a few hours, with strolls through the merchandise aisles in between.

Crispy Duck-filled Pancake - I liked this quite a bit. ($1.75)

Curry Puff - unfortunately served cold (2 for $3).

Roti Canai (2 for $3)

A School of Fishies - Look they're swimming so fast, they're blurry.

We Caught One of the Veggie-filled Ones! - Yummy. Also comes filled with Sweet Red Bean.

Waiting for our Lamb Skewers to Cook

Watching Someone Threading Big Squid Tentacle Sticks

The Ice Shaving Machine with a Block of Mango Ice

Big Bowl of Mango Shaved Ice without Toppings - wonderful lacy texture ($3.50)

Fistful of Meat: The Best Lamb Skewers Ever - So tender, fatty, and spicy! (4 for $5)

Lychee and Osmanthus Jelly (not very sweet), Side View

Lychee and Osmanthus Jelly, Top View

I can still taste those wonderful spicy lamb skewers, which were definitely the highlight of the lot. Worth the very long wait (they handed out numbered cards), and having to stand near the stinky smell of the fried tofu skewers served with a very odd sauce. We also had some great takoyaki, puffy balls of dough embedded with cabbage, and a chunk of octopus in the centre, and tasty Japanese toppings, that is not pictured here. Also missing from the photos are a bowl of fried rice, Korean sweet chili meatballs, and five pieces of fish cake stuffed eggplant and green pepper ($3). Bac'n Girl and I probably spent about $20 each on the food, shared everything, and came out stuffed. Oh yah, we also bought some cute crap from the merchandise stands (yes, I did have to buy those socks with the Ampanman cartoon figure on them), and paid $4 in parking, so you can factor that into the cost of a visit there. My first time was last summer. It's not for everyone, but it's now on my list of favourite summertime hotspots to hit each year.

Some tips for first-timers? Bring lots of cash. Resist the temptation to get too many of any single food item (even though they often are cheaper if you buy more), so that you have room to taste everything that you'll want to taste. Bring friends that will share food so that you'll have room to taste more items. Ask for that weird sauce for the fried tofu cubes to be served on the side if you are brave enough to try that dish (ew). And finally, be friendly to everyone around you and patient, as you're making your way through the crowds. Oh, one more tip, get those lamb skewers. There's several stands with meat on a stick, but we had the skewers from the one in the middle, serving just lamb skewers and squid skewers, that sold a paper bag of them at four for $5. We were glad we said spicy when they asked spicy or not spicy. They were so spicy and so good. They were also so wonderfully soft and tender, I wish I had their marinade recipe. In the classic words of Bac'n Girl, "even the fat tastes good."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fisherman's Terrace Seafood Restaurant

Here's just a quick post about Fisherman's Terrace (in the Aberdeen Centre Mall, 4151 Hazelbridge Way at Cambie Road, Richmond, 604.303.9739). I'm somewhat undecided about the place. The food was fine on this visit back in May, with some highlights, but service at the front was a bit cold and odd at the front, with us having to wait in the crowded foyer area for a table when arriving on time for our (birthday dinner) reservation, despite nearly half the restaurant being empty. The space is massive, and it looks like the servers really have to run around to cover the big space. Since I'm so ambivalent, this post is not really meant to be a recommendation or a warning. Anyhow, I thought you might just like to see what we ate.

I'm feeling guilty about Shark Fin Soup these days. I've mentioned this to my family, but it doesn't deter them. Think of the poor sharks thrown back in the water without their fin, trying to swim. The soup we had was supposed to be made with some sort of extra special shark fin. The stuff still doesn't actually taste like anything in particular! It's all about texture, but I say, if you can save a shark, and use a noodle instead, then just go ahead. We could make those noodles extra expensive to allow people to feel just as elitist about your meal as your heart desires, if need be.

Shark Fin Soup

The soup was part of a set meal meant for five people (and we had four that evening). If you had five really hungry people, I'm not sure this meal would do it, but I can't remember if we ordered any plain rice to go with it, so a bucket of that should help. This set meal was quite nice because the food wasn't too oily and included a couple of braised dishes, instead of fried ones. In many Chinese restaurants (as many of you will know), often times they will have set menu's printed up in only Chinese, and any set menu's written out in English are suspect. Those tend to be what the restaurant will think white people will want to eat, or are familiar with, like sweet and sour pork or spring rolls). I've never done this myself, but if I were going to a Chinese restaurant with a group, and no one at the table could read the Chinese, I would say that pointing at the menu meant for the appropriate number of people would be a good way to go, especially if everyone was in the mood for a fancier dinner. Have the server explain the dishes maybe.

Fresh whole abalone, with bok choy, and braised duck feet

This abalone dish was quite tasty. The server doled out all the individual portions for us, as they should when at a Chinese fine dining restaurant. I'm pretty comfortable with eating the feet of fowl, but I grew up with it. Plus, I don't mind the weird bits of animals in general because I feel that if you're going to kill an animal for food, you shouldn't waste any bit of it. But in this case, I didn't really enjoy the texture of these feet. The braising makes it very, very tender. Almost mushy. I would prefer if the webbing retained some of its chew. This is just personal preference though, because I believe they are going for that super soft effect. I did enjoy the abalone. The other braised dish, that I somehow managed to miss photographing, was really good, and was probably my favourite of the evening. It was a vegetarian Buddhist's feast sort of dish, with lots of gingko nuts. There's just something I love about gingko nuts - the texture, the smooth rugby ball shape, and probably just the fact that I don't get to eat them all that often.

Crab with a chili sauce

I really enjoyed this crab dish, with it's sweet chili sauce. Reminds me a bit of my trip to Singapore, and it's not one of the usual sauces my family would get on crab. We tend to go with the ginger, green onion one or the cream sauce, so this was a nice change.

Almond cookies and sweet coconut rice rolls dessert

Some nice desserts to finish it all off. I really like the soft, chewy rice roll dessert, covered in shredded coconut. I'm not a huge fan of the hot red bean sweet soup, but it's fairly traditional and this one was nice enough.

Red Bean Sweet Dessert Soup

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I'd Like to Send a Nancyland Shout Out To...

...whoever made my spicy jerk chicken burger today at The Galley Patio and Grill, the casual restaurant on top of the Jericho Sailing Centre, at Jericho Beach. It had a delicious mango salsa and a spicy sauce on top of a really tender, juicy piece of chicken breast (about $9). I even liked the big, soft whole wheat kaiser it was served on, and the fries that came alongside. Another great summer patio, with a view of the ocean. It's very casual - just a counter service place (and they're constantly calling out people's numbers for them to pick up their food), and the food is served on paper-lined plastic baskets, but that's great, because you can feel comfy clomping up from the beach below wearing whatever you have on. Martini Man and his friend both wore their soggy wetsuits, and I was wearing a swimsuit and shorts, from sailing. It's a perfect example of how a restaurant experience can be so satisfying when you come in with low expectations and have them totally exceeded. I was just so impressed that the chicken wasn't overcooked, that I thought I would tell y'all. Plus, I was vaguely under the impression that the restaurant is only available to the users of the sailing centre, but it's actually open to the public. They have a buffalo burger, a giant nacho plate (18 inches across), and fish tacos too.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Slice of Vancouver - "Uptown" to Downtown

It always amazes me how abruptly some of our neighbourhoods change. I like to go for walks, and one noteable example is how suddenly West Hastings turns into the "Downtown Eastside" in the matter of a block. It's almost like there's some sort of invisible wall that keeps the respective regulars on their side of the wall. I take some joy in crossing boundaries like that, and observing city life. Myself lying in a sort of middling spot economically, I can peek at the excessively rich buying their designer handbags with as much interest as observing the homeless going about their day. Well, I went on another single street walk that struck me as being another Vancouver spectrum. First, I had dinner at West (2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938), one of Vancouver's most touted fine dining establishments. It sits on Granville and 13th, in the heart of the "South Granville" neighbourhood, and afterwards, I walked all the way down Granville Street, over the bridge, to where it crosses Robson Street, taking me through what I think must be Vancouver's largest collection of porn shops around. But even this side of Granville Street is undergoing a transformtaion, and I stopped in on one of the new trendy eateries opening up on what used to be a much grittier area. Whineo's (pronounced "Wino's," I believe, 1000 block of Granville St., and surprisingly difficult to find on the web) was the one I stopped into, Sanafir is across the street, and a very modern looking sushi bar was next door. I think this trio just shoved that invisible wall over one block South. The other wall seems to be the bridge itself. What will happen to that shrinking grungy porn area? It's down to a couple of blocks now. I think The Templeton, a long-time fixture on that block, brings in plenty of the un-grungy into the area, but it somehow manages to blend in with it's surroundings, with it's old diner looks. I think we'll be alright in the end as long as no one plunks down a GAP on Granville. Anyhow, at least for now, exploring Granville makes for an interesting evening.

In a White Bread World...
The early bird prix fixe menu at West is great if you want to see what it's like to live like an uptown girl, without spending nearly as much as one normally would for dinner. Arriving at 5:30 pm, for $45, Runny Cheese Woman and I experienced a three-course dinner, complete with amuse bouche and petit fours, and excellent service. Each option has a wine pairing by the glass, which is a nice touch. To start, we were given a little cup of hot tomato cream velouté, I think. I don't remember exactly what the soup was, but I do remember it being quite tasty. The bread was served with organic butter and organic olive oil. The butter was fine, the oil either slightly rancid or not to my taste, I'm guessing the latter.

We both chose the salad pictured below. Apologies for the fuzzy photo - I was extra self-conscious about taking photos in this room. It's very bright and open, with good sight lines, and the staff always seem to have an eye on us. Not a restaurant I'd think of for a romantic evening out, incidentally. My photo doesn't do the dish justice, as what really struck me, even more than the taste, is how pretty this looked when it came out.

Crispy Duck Confit Salad with Beetroot and Candied Walnuts, Honey Essencia Syrup

It's a nice salad. I really like the Essencia Orange Muscat dessert wine that I'm assuming is the base for the syrup, but I didn't really "get it" when I tasted the syrup. What I mean is that the syrup was a nice accompaniment to the salad, but it could have easily have been made with anything else, with a much cheaper product, and it would have had the same impact (aside from making the menu description sound interesting). I think I should have ordered the ravioli of ricotta and goats cheese instead. Or maybe the wild mushroom soup with blue cheese beignet.

Runny Cheese Woman enjoyed this risotto main dish.

Risotto of English Peas and Chanterelles

Fillet of Wild Spring Salmon with Dungeness Crab Beurre Blanc, Parsley Pomme Puree

This salmon dish is offered on the regular meal. I was quite pleased with it. The parsley in the potato puree gives it a beautifully striking colour and it was very tasty too, in a mild, refined way. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and the crab beurre blanc was delicious, as you would expect it to be. Take good wild salmon, butter, and could that be bad? Nothing mind blowing yet, but certainly pleasant, and mild-mannered, much like the entire restaurant itself and the staff.

It's funny though. I was really expecting David Hawksworth's cooking to be the star, but really the wonderful desserts from Rhonda Viani stole the show. Perhaps this has to do with having the prix fixe instead of the regular menu. It would be interesting to go through their tasting menu, I think, but I'm not entirely convinced that I would get really excited about the place even then. I think, for me, it's missing a bit of that really personal touch that gets me excited about a place. I never really felt like I belonged there, as pleasant as the staff were, I only felt the warmth flowing strongly from the one who came out to serve us a couple of times with the white apron on (someone from the kitchen?). I'll report fully on Elixir a little later, a meal I was ecstatic with a couple of weeks later. I think it helped me pinpoint what I was missing from my West experience. It's not that the food was technically better at Elixir, but that it contained more interest, and was served with more warmth, and for lack of a better term, a bit of charming humility. Top that off with a room (actually three) that I actually felt like staying in, and you get an all around beautiful evening. Again, it's all personal taste. If I were the power business lunch type, I think West would be a very safe bet. Oh, but the desserts did wow me. They were really amazing, and I'd put up with (almost) any amount of smugness to eat them.

Fresh Summer Berries with Buckwheat Honey Ice Cream, Coconut Wafers and Canteloup Coulis

Cantaloupe (with or without the e at the end) Coulis is a wonderful idea by the way. So good, in fact, I wondered why I've never encountered it before. Go pulverize a ripe melon and serve it under something sweet right now. So refreshing!

Dark Chocolate Torte with Creme Caramel Ice Cream, Rum Marinated Bananas and Sesame Florentine

This chocolate dessert was absolutely the highlight for me. It was much smaller and thinner than I expected (almost like a square or bar, rather than a torte), but it was delicious. The rum flavour of the banana concassé was intense. It was all so tiny and perfect. I could have eaten two or three of their desserts. The coffee I had with it, an Americano, was great. We ended with petit fours of banana cake with a caramel topping, and oat covered "truffles" with a bit of chewy apricot centre. I preferred the truffles while my dining companion preferred the banana cake. Adorable. Nice.

Petit Fours

And Now She's Looking for a Downtown Man...

Well, maybe not a downtown man, but it's almost like having too much sugar, and suddenly finding yourself craving salty things - I went searching for a downtown experience with some character to balance myself out on my way home. Plus I wanted to poke around and peek into the new places popping up. I looked in all the windows, thought about stopping in at the Yale, and wound up stopping into the young and earnest Whineo's, where there was only one other group there. It was still early in the evening. Had great service, a glass of wine (Big Yellow, $11.50) , and a $7 cheese plate of a tiny wedge of a single cheese (I chose a BC camembert) with apple slices, tiny pita wedges, and three interesting spoonfuls of condiments. Can't really evaluate them based on that, but I'm sure they'll do fine. I felt mostly neutral about the place, but I left feeling like I wanted a bit more for my twenty bucks. Really what I should have done, if I could have fitted it in, was gone to The Templeton and had a coffee and a deep-fried Mars bar. Or simply a few beers at the Yale. But perhaps then I'd run the risk of really finding that "downtown man." I'll save that adventure for another night.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What's Summer Without At Least One Trip to La Casa

Dragonfruit Gelato

I hadn't been to La Casa Gelato (1033 Venables, at Glen Drive) for a while. I actually prefer the depth of flavour in gelatos at Mondo, like their wonderful pistachio. But La Casa is good fun, with all the people buzzing around the store and spilling out into the sidewalks and all the flavours to peruse (508 total now?! Wow. 218 on site at a time). I tasted one of their newer flavours - spicy mango, and it was amazing. First the mango flavour, nice and strong hit me, then the heat filled my entire mouth and stayed with me for a long time. An amazing flavour. As successful and interesting a flavour that was to me, I couldn't decide whether I felt like that amount of heat for an entire cone or not, and opted for another flavour. I guess I just wasn't looking for that when I felt like ice cream. So I went for the very photogenic dragonfruit gelato. Dragonfruit itself is a much more visually attractive fruit than it is appealing in flavour. It's flesh is actually white [edited to add: or bright pink in some varieties, see photos in the link], with black seeds, tastes something like kiwis, and has a beautiful spiky bright pink skin which is so pretty next to the black dotted white flesh. And they are one of the most expensive fruits around. The gelato was quite pleasant, and the seeds provided a nice little crunch. Maybe next time I'll get an entire cone of spicy mango.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Blue Juice

Here's an easy sweet summer cocktail that I made up, perfect for blueberry season. I don't really measure when I do this, I just do multiple tastings and tweaking, which is why mixing up cocktails at my place is so much fun.

Blue Juice

3 parts blueberry cocktail (I found TrueBlue at my corner store)
2 parts ginger ale
1 part (or to taste) Amaretto Disaronno
a little ice (or shake it with ice and strain)
a few fresh blueberries for garnish