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A Weekend in the Big City

Living as a country mouse means I get to enjoy space and quiet and peace of mind most days. That’s not to say I don’t like a dose of urban hustle and bustle once in a while. Hubbie and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Vancouver, so I thought I would share some of our highlights. Then you can try out our discoveries, if you like what you see.

We met my stepdaughter for dinner on Friday night in downtown Vancouver. She is recently engaged so we knew the conversation would be all about wedding plans. That required a place casual enough for lots of silly chatting and sharing of Pinterest photos; a tapas restaurant in Gastown sounded perfect. The Sardine Can worked out really well, with delicious food and lovely wine.

As an added tip, I’ll mention that Gastown is a busy part of town for after-work drinks and socializing. Be prepared to wait – you will likely have to get a drink at one place while you wait for a seat at another place. Maple Tree Square is the centre of the action, with restaurants and pubs all around. We wandered into Chill Winston to have our first toast of the evening, since The Sardine Can only has a few seats and they were all full.

Even the lighting at Chill Winston is cool

We visited, but you could go alone and enjoy – it’s a great people-watching spot, and the staff are friendly. Our bartender Charlie even made a custom drink for my stepdaughter.

The tapas were great and the Spanish wines helped transport us; we felt as if we’d snuck into a cozy spot on a side street in San Sebastián.

Good olives are even better when they are warm

Have you ever heard of zucchini carpaccio? It’s delicious!

You have to include chorizo – I think it’s a rule.

Prawns and lamb meatballs made for our grand finale. They were only missing one thing…

…Fresh bread, for dunking in the sauce (served warm, like the olives.) I loved the practical presentation.

By the time we were done we had discussed wardrobe, menu, flowers, and the ceremony venue.

When your Papa is a chef who knows pastry and chocolate, dessert has its own significance. A trip to Sweet Obsession was in order.

If you have a hard time making decisions, this place might be overwhelming. Just take heart in knowing you can’t make a bad choice.

This gem in Kitslano was made famous by a protegé of my hubbie, so it’s near and dear to our hearts. Tracey now owns Lemonade Bakery, where she specializes in gluten free products. There is no cafe to stay and eat, but it is worth a trip even if you aren’t gluten free.

the smell and colours of tropical flowers always makes me smile.

fresh coffee is another of my favourite smells. I am a JJ Bean fan, but any of the vendors you see on Granville Island will fix you up with a fresh brew.

prepared or semi-prepared food adds to the cheeses, charcuterie and fresh produce. Plan ahead or save the day with a few choices.

Stewart’s Bakery has been a fixture at the market for as long as I can remember. I still dream about their eccles cakes…

On Saturday we had to make our cardinal stop. Ever since I was a kid, my favourite foodie spot in Vancouver has been Granville Island Public Market. It still warms my heart and my tummy on every visit, especially now that it’s the source of so many memories.Brave the busy parking and shuffle your way through the crowds – it’s worth all the fuss to enjoy a coffee, or a piece of pie, or fresh fruit, or fudge, or fish and chips (they have it all) and sit outside to watch the boats and birds in False Creek.

We stocked up on all our favourites, planning for a picnic dinner that night in our hotel room. (Having a full suite with a kitchen made it easier and much more comfortable than eating on a hotel bed.) More on that later.

Saturday lunch was for more family time, so again casual was the theme. Hubbie wanted to do some research, so we chose a BBQ joint – oddly enough, it was back at the same square in Gastown that we had visited the night before.

We met my brother and his girlfriend to trade gifts and then wandered down to Peckinpah BBQ, a southern style joint where most of the menu is set up very simply: pick your meat, then choose a few “sides” to go with it. There was beef, pork and chicken (we had a bit of each). Sides included corn bread, hush puppies (basically fried cornbread), coleslaw, fried pickles, and of course mac and cheese.

I can’t speak for the mac and cheese as we skipped that one but the other items were all solid efforts. I prefer vinaigrette for my coleslaw dressing; theirs was creamy and peppery. Fried pickles are good if you eat them fresh from the fryer; wait more than a few minutes and they get soggy. The jalapeño mayo they make for dipping the pickles was just the right touch of heat. We discovered it worked well with hush puppies and chicken wings too.

There is something especially comforting about food shared with family after a long absence. My brother and I hadn’t shared a meal in years and dipping hush puppies together as we laughed at old stories made the tastes even better. I know it won’t be nearly as long till we sit around a table again.

The picnic my hubbie and I set out that evening was just a nibble before heading out dancing, as we weren’t very hungry after all that BBQ. What an elegant way to picnic, though, in our vintage suite at the Arundel Mansion Hotel in New Westminster.

preserved lemon-stuffed olives, duck rillettes, fennel salami and a full cheese selection with baguette and PEI artisan butter went well with our gamay from The Hatch Winery

Sunday brunch was my own sentimental indulgence. Years ago my dad introduced me to a place out by the airport that was unique in its ambience. The Flying Beaver Bar & Grill sits on the water in Richmond, next door to the Harbour Air terminal for seaplanes. You can sit and watch them land and take off as you sip your beer and nibble on a homemade burger or Eggs Benny. I hadn’t been back in years, but it was just as good as I remember. (It’s just busier, like everything in Vancouver fifteen years later.)

Beaver hash, which is Eggs Benny atop chorizo, veggies, cheese and pan fried potatoes

A bison burger, fully loaded

How cool is that?!

Sometimes we head to the city and try out new places, looking for new adventure. This time was more about connections. It was heartwarming to reconnect and add to the memories. Not to mention we filled the fridge with delicacies.

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You win some, you lose some… and some you get rained out

I remember this expression from my childhood, and it has applied in so many situations I long ago lost count. Everyone likes to win at something, but quickly we learn that we won’t win every time. For there to be a winner there also has to be a loser. You wouldn’t have a game otherwise. But it’s the times when you can’t seem to win no matter what that can be the toughest. Matters beyond your control stop the game mid-stream, and you have to change things up to continue. Such is life, or as the French put it,

C’est la vie.

I’ve been in this kind of situation in the kitchen when I did movie catering. I remember the first time I cooked brownies for 100 people on a catering truck while parked on a steep hill. I had to think fast when they came out of the oven – there was a thicker end to the baking pan of batter that was a big brownie (more like cake) and a thinner end that was more like a biscotti. I could not choose “game over” as an option, the cast and crew had to have dessert. So I iced the thick half and dusted the thin half with icing sugar. I cut the pieces smaller and served up a choice: chocolate wacky cake AND biscotti. It worked, even though it wasn’t the original game plan. I did make a note to myself to prop up the pan the next time we cooked on a hill, though. When you get rained out, you learn a lot.

We got rained out tonight for dinner. We were supposed to meet friends at a local restaurant to catch up on all our news, as we hadn’t seen each other in months. We wanted a place on the Westside so it would be close for all of us. She made reservations.

We pulled up first and found the restaurant closed up. We knew it wasn’t open for lunch and we had arrived early… we checked the website and it said they were closed Mondays. So we texted our friend; perhaps she had made a mistake when reserving? She and her partner pulled up a few moments later, and she told us she had specifically asked if they were open since the website said otherwise. The staff said of course and took her booking.

when things don’t look good, we try to think outside the box and see other options.

Growing up with parents who worked in the movie industry meant I learned the motto, “Be Prepared” long before I was a Girl Guide. My hubbie is just as adaptable having spent years in a hot kitchen. We are always prepared for rain. (If we ever ended up on a show like Amazing Race, I think we would do really well.)

It took only a minute or so before we had come to a consensus. Many small restaurants are not open Monday, something we can sympathize with since we know weekends are the busy days. We brainstormed and quickly found someplace close that was open and headed out.

So I’m sorry, Thai Fusion , but I can’t offer any commentary about your experience. It’s a shame, as we don’t get out that often and I like to support small businesses. Unfortunately since part of my expertise lies in customer service I have to say that you did lose out when you had a staff member so out of it they never realized even after taking a reservation that they booked clients for a night you’re not open. You missed an opportunity to win.

As a result, 19 Okanagan Grill and Bar got our business tonight. They welcomed us with open arms and smiles, and took good care of us all evening. The drinks were fun and tasty; my Pineapple Ginger Margarita was the perfect beverage for reminiscing about my Mexican holiday. The food was hot and full of flavours. I had plenty of fish tacos in Mexico, and I already know theirs are good so I chose the Butter Chicken Bowl. I was pleased with the abundance of veggies, chicken and rice; the hot naan bread was a perfect accompaniment. My hubbie said his Cajun Burger was just right too, with a good kick of heat, fresh lettuce and tomato and hot fries. Our friends were both happy too – apparently the Caesar cocktails are at least as good as the Margaritas.

I’m glad I was able to support a neighbourhood business tonight. I am thankful that we got some quality time with friends, and a fun memory to share. Thanks, 19, for keeping us out of the rain. You’re a winner in my eyes. I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.

Master of cheap eats

I’m making a quick entry tonight – nothing fancy, but certainly worth noting. 

We got stuck in the dinner rush last night and ended up wandering through town looking for a place to grab a bite. Finally we hit upon a redneck Mecca – Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar. It’s not what you’d call a local place, featuring more hamburgers and Mac n’ cheese than tacos and ceviche. But it does have some Mexican dishes and it is a solid concept. (If you don’t know of Guy Fieri, he’s a celebrity chef known for his road trips featuring hole-in-the-wall restaurants that offer down-home dishes with their own flair. His TV show, “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” – or Triple D as his fans call it – is a favourite with Canadian and American foodies that love low-brow food.)

We tried to stay in theme, so I had tortilla soup and Martin has ancho lime wings with the seasoned fries. All of it was tasty, hot and fresh – they hit the spot. After all, what more can you ask of comfort food?


Then just to really top the night off, we shared the churros which come warm with Mayan chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces. Sheer heaven! 


It wasn’t cheap by usual Mexican standards but it was cheaper than the prices at his Vegas or New York location, I would bet. The server mentioned their new spot will be in Dubai – another place expats will likely enjoy a taste of home, not to mention those curious about American comfort food. 

I want to talk more about simple food done right in future posts – a meal doesn’t always have to be impressive or innovative to be spectacular. Sometimes you just want to be satisfied in a heartening sort of way. I know I went to bed with a happy tummy last night! 

Food You Want to Eat Naked

Okay, that got your attention, didn’t it? The expression was one used by a friend on our recent trip to Vegas, where we enjoyed a number of meals that were absolutely wonderful. I think what she meant to convey was that feeling you have when something is so close to perfect it makes you hold your breath. There is a euphoria that comes over you as you soak in the experience. I’ll try to show you what I mean with my next few posts. I will start with the classic foodie “wow” and then proceed with other special experiences.

One night we booked at a restaurant owned by a chef my husband has followed since he started working in kitchens. For 30 years Martin has been looking through Joel Robuchon’s cookbooks and following his restaurant endeavours. Of course, Chef Robuchon was not in the kitchen the night we were there, but his touch was in every dish. A kitchen that arranges salad leaves with tweezers is not your everyday kind of place.

We really wanted to sample a range of items, so we booked at L’Atelier, where the a la carte menu is larger.The kitchen is open so that you can see much of the work as it happens. There is also the potential to spend a little bit less money, although this is not a cheap evening. But then like I said, we don’t eat like this every day!

We all chose a few courses, and decided to have wine with dinner. As we sat marveling at the room with all its food displays, we truly felt in the presence of greatness. The sense of anticipation was exciting.

LAtelier de Joel Robuchon Vegas

They set the tone with an “amuse bouche” and boy, was this first taste amusing! A parfait with foie gras and milk foam. Not for the faint at heart, certainly, but that’s one of the reasons we work out, after all.

Robuchon amuse

My first course was “Soy glazed kampachi with endive salad and light mustard dressing”. Kampachi, or kingfish, is a beautifully tender and flaky white fish. The glaze was perfectly balanced with the dressing in the salad, both providing intense flavours to lift the more delicate fish and salad but not overpower them. Robuchon kampachiMartin had a classic dish, “Traditionally poached chilled duck foie gras”. It was served simply with a few toast points that were perfectly crisped. Robuchon foie grasSuch decadence is almost enough to make one feel guilty, it’s so enjoyable…At least with your clothes on! But we had only just begun.

We went on to our second courses, and our friends had similar moans of delight with their dishes. How could pork chops be so delectable? Martin’s Crispy langoustine fritters with basil pesto” was ethereal they were so crispy. I had “veal sweetbread with fresh laurel and stuffed romaine lettuce”… yes, stuffed lettuce! I adore sweetbreads, and they are not an item on many menus. They were crispy on the outside and deliciously melt-in-my-mouth rich and smooth on the inside. The lettuce had a complimentary savoury flavour to it, I believe created by the foam they had made for it. I was in heaven. Robuchon ris de veau

But there was still more. The service team would be gliding back in to deliver more delights. They were practically invisible until we needed them, and their knowledge of the food was impeccable.

 

For the last savoury course, I chose “Caramelized quail stuffed with foie gras served with mashed potato”. Martin had “Maine lobster salad with a sherry vinegar dressing”. Our friends enjoyed a sea bass in a coconut curry (poured over the fish at the table, enveloping us all in its exotic aroma), and more foie gras (why not!) My quail was exquisite, delicate and rich at the same time with the foie gras stuffing and the potatoes that were whipped within an inch of their life. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, eating this miniature dish. Martin’s lobster was prepared “a la minute”; you could practically smell the sea air. We hummed as we ate, we were so contented.

Robuchon quail Robuchon lobster

 

Of course, I could not leave without having dessert. And really, at such a place, why not order the souffle? “Green chartreuse soufflé, pistachio cream” was the description on the menu. I was completely intrigued. It is prepared to order, so we sipped the last of our wine as it cooked, and then had just started stirring our cappuccinos as it arrived, like a piece of art to a museum exhibition. The ice cream was in a frozen ceramic egg, and the souffle was still rising as it arrived I’m sure. We all gasped in awe as it was set down.  Robuchon dessertI took the first bite of souffle, and drifted away on a cloud with the elegant texture and subtle liqueur flavours in my mouth. The ice cream was an exciting contrast to taste, being richer and cold versus hot. I felt as though I had just watched the grand finale at a Broadway show. I was completely satiated.

We spent hundreds of dollars for dinner that night, and it was worth every penny. It’s not something we do often, but that’s okay, because the memories last a lifetime. To share the evening with friends who were equally as interested and impressed with the experience was also a real treat.

Cheers to the fellow foodies out there who love this kind of stuff. For anyone who thinks I’m a bit nuts, well I hope you can appreciate this as an enthusiastic hobby, just like a football fan or a keen scrap-booker 🙂

 

Foodies in the Big City

Martin and I spent a couple of days in Vancouver last week, catching up on our foodie fix and thoroughly enjoying a concert – we got to see Sting and Paul Simon on stage together. (Remember, I did say I like to make the most of life in general!) I thought I would share some of our highlights.

We stopped at IKEA on the way into town – a great stop for any foodie who wants to be funky without breaking the bank. Serving dishes and linens for entertaining, nifty Swedish condiments like lingonberry jam to jazz up Sunday dinner, and candles of all shapes and sizes are there for the taking. Oh, and if you have kids, they have hot dogs for less than $1 and a play room. So now you have no excuse 🙂

IKEA dining fun

Staying downtown was important if we were to cover as much ground as possible in a short visit. We found a boutique hotel that was central, but without parking with in Vancouver is a real hassle so I would recommend one of the larger places that offers on-site parking if you drive to Vancouver.

I used Trip Advisor to give us some suggestions as to funky places. Checking the reviews and filtering the complaints with a grain of salt is a good way to give us a short list, I find. Then we discuss what we feel like and we head out! The first night we chose a place called Twisted Fork Bistro, and although the usually great Trip Advisor Guide app gave us totally wrong directions we managed to find it before the rain got too heavy (it’s on Granville Street, NOT on Robson as the app says, if you’re looking).

My feet hurt by the time we arrived, but it turned out to be worth the effort. If you like mussels, you have to visit this cozy little long bar. If you want small servings or sharing plates, it’s a fantastic choice. If you like wine, they offer BC wines on their list, and they have a fun choice called “just a glass” for a great price. The serving staff will tell you about what is featured that night, and even if you go for a name choice the prices are competitive and the choices excellent. We also shared a “roo loin” – yes, I will eat adventurous food. It was delicious with the balsamic glaze, sauteed green onions and watermelon cubes. The watermelon was also inspired with the Bacon Brussel Sprouts we ordered! Mussels are served with frites piled over top, in a cream sauce. It was like a continental French poutine – decadent for sure. Twisted Fork mussels

The good thing about appetizer portions is that it tends to leave you more room for dessert. The chef here is a pastry chef so don’t miss out if you can help out. We had the chocolate terrine, but all the choices sounded delectable.

don't you love the fork logo in the sugar?!

don’t you love the fork logo in the sugar?!

The next morning we headed for Granville Island Market, the place we used to meet for breakfast when we were first dating. Saturday morning donuts, fresh fruit and coffee is a family tradition for us. Lee’s Donuts and JJ Bean Coffee didn’t disappoint. Donuts just glazed and still warm, and some of the finest roasted beans I have ever tasted made me feel like I could take on the world!

Shopping for dinner is the other fun activity at the market, and there are many offerings for every taste. We like Seigel’s Bagels (Martin is from Montreal; need I say more?), and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese (try the Abondance from France – it’s divine! They will help with wine pairings too, if you like). Choose your veggies ruthlessly, and ask the experts to help you with seafood and meat – they love the compliment and you won’t regret it. If you just want pâté or cured meats, check out Oyama Sausage Co. – they have it all. And if you want fresh pasta, Duso’s is my go-to place – their butternut squash ravioli is divine 🙂

An aside here: You have to train if you’re going to embark on this kind of foodie day. A lot of walking helps, but you want to psyche yourselves for the notion of basically eating non-stop all day. Tasting is the key – don’t look to have large portions, as variety is the objective here. You will be full at the end of the day, for sure, but a good workout for the next few days afterwards will get you back in balance. It’s worth it, trust me. 

From the market we went to see a friend who has a wonderful business on South Cambie. Tracy Kadanoff has been a pastry chef for years and she developed an allergy to gluten. So what did she do? She made lemonade – she opened a bakery where she could still do her beautiful work, Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery.

Lemonade Bakery showcase Not only does she do breads and cookies, she does fine cakes and pastries, all from gluten free recipes. You certainly won’t feel like you’re missing anything here! We got goodies for friends who eat gluten free, and we treated ourselves to a salted caramel chocolate tart that we had later that evening. Then across the street I even managed to find treats to take home for “the troops” (our dogs) at Three Dog Bakery.

Time for lunch! I wanted a stroll at English Bay, especially since it wasn’t raining on a February day. So we decided to eat the food of the ‘hood, and go Mediterranean. I know it sounds silly, but we really did go to the Falafel King, on Denman Street. I have to tell you, my first ever restaurant job was in a Lebanese place kind of like this in Calgary, and this place was just as authentic and equally as tasty. If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see the reviews!

We sat on a park bench at English Bay and nibbled our lunch – my falafel was divine, and Martin’s shawarma was delicious. I thought of my Dad, whose ashes were strewn over the waves there years ago, and wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and warmed us up. English Bay remembering Daddy

We enjoyed the heat, and the view, and we relaxed for a while. Then we thought. perhaps we should see about a little something sweet 🙂 So off we went down Denman Street. We window shopped and wandered, and eventually found ourselves at an old haunt, True Confections. Martin used to run the kitchen here, so he knew just the thing. A pie of Mud Cake was just what we needed. It’s dense, with an equally dense chocolate fudge icing. We shared a piece as we walked back to the car. If you’re going, I would also recommend the Devil’s Food Cake with marshmallow icing, or the Lemon Heaven Cake with its lemon mousse and sponge cake layers covered in white chocolate glaze.

Time to rest up, as the day was not over yet! We headed back to the hotel to change shoes (lots of walking – it helps work off the calories!). After a couple of hours, we headed out for dinner. We wanted to go to Chambar, but they were full. I should have known, as this is a very hip and popular spot. But this was an evening more for something spontaneous, so we wandered down the road. Gastown is full of little eateries, so we weren’t worried.

We found the Revel Room, not full and yet bustling with an energy that we liked. The retro light fixtures and old concert posters gave a cozy feel to the place, and we liked the menu from the first glance. Success! 01a831378fc11444509f228f42049f8676da26b216I thoroughly enjoyed the New Orleans Fix, a house special made with bourbon, citrus juices and homemade pineapple syrup. Martin had one of their craft beers and we shared their Chili Shrimp and their Polenta Strips. They were the perfect snacks before our concert.

Being “of an age” we have amassed a number of memories and many of them are wrapped in music. A chance to see two legends together, intertwining their classics by sharing voices and bands was a truly magical evening. I was a huge Sting fan as a young adult, and Martin’s first concert was the Police. My parents played Simon & Garfunkel all through my childhood and Martin named his dogs after Paul (a Doberman) Simon (a German Shorthaired Pointer). We didn’t get up and dance, but I swear I worked off a few hundred calories in my seat!

We finished the evening off by sharing the tart from Lemonade Bakery back in the hotel room with a cup of tea… the perfect end to the perfect day.

Our trip ended on a high note, with a family breakfast at a funky diner called The Red Wagon. Martin’s daughter Chloae joined us for good old-fashioned hearty morning fare, along with some of the best diner java I’ve had since eating in Harlem. It might sound weird, but pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels-spiked syrup are really good, as is Brisket & Eggs. I went a bit more traditional with Eggs Benny, but they did have pulled pork instead of ham. It was a sublime meal. We all took pictures of each other’s food, and hummed as we ate 🙂

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I know I have rambled, but I wanted to share every delectable moment. I hope you have the stamina to enjoy at least a few of these moments on your next visit to Vancouver; if not, perhaps this article will inspire you to start training.

If you have any foodie trips or moments you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for new horizons!

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