Friday, May 16, 2014

May 1, 2014 Central Lonsdale

Thursday, May 08, 2014

April 25, 2014 Downtown

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Fish

An article in the luxurious-to-the touch paper version of our local entertainment paper whetted my appetite. There was good fish in Vancouver..  There have been waves of good fish flooding where humans live here, and nourishing the trees for longer than any humans. A lot of good things have grown here. Ideas too. Is that what makes the sustainable seafood meme thrive here? Maybe Chef Robert Clark would know. I'd enjoyed his seafood at C in 2005, maybe the best scallop I've ever eaten. Far more impressive to me has been his advocacy for sustainable seafood, and one of our local delicacies, the spot prawn. A decade ago this wasn't a high profile issue that I noticed, but with the local tentacles of Green organizations, several of which I've been associated with, there is a consciousness on oceanic issues that may go back to Jacques Coustean and Flipper on TV, if not our first nations' relationships to their protein source. Not just my local fish stores but local chain or even American stores like Safeway brag about their sustainable seafood, and ask you to visit their websites. My local frozen meat store chain M&M even advertises sustainable seafood in its freezers. There is obviously a market here.
Why not elsewhere? If Japan changed its seafood consumption, the downward spiral of fish species could stop. Look at what Yao Ming has done to the consumption of shark's fin soup in China. It can be done and needs to be done before there is no more seafood to eat for anybody. . I suggested the San Francisco Bay area, Japan and Quebec with world cuisine altering credentials and he mentioned that he was from Gaspe. A much deeper food culture than trendy Vancouver. Food needed a Quebec connection to succeed there, he suggested. I certainly felt that in my visits to its stores and Cideries on recent visits But all places do. If you live in a place, you treasure what you can enjoy there. Let's keep those. In his book Fat Chance, Dr. Robert Lustig states: "Life's too short to eat bad food, even if it's cheap... It's one of the true enjoyments of life. Yet familiarity breeds greater cravings. Ask Philadelphians about their cheese-steaks, New Orleans denizens about their Po-Boys and beignets or Memphians about their barbecue." Why can't Quebecois be equally passionate about their traditional fish dishes along with maple syrup and poutine? If the Japanese tradition of seafood cuisine brings about the nonexistence of seafood, so much for that tradition. To whom is that not obvious?
After talking to the chef on the phone, I went to the Fish Counter with my friend the following day. The same friend who dragged me off to a Greenpeace meeting when the organization was just in Vancouver, in 1973.The clam chowder was interesting. Not really Boston. Far from Manhattan. Different. We also ordered the halibut fish and chips. The best halibut I've had in Vancouver. We have excellent fish stores in North Vancouver. I remember how proudly the owner of our closest fish store was when she got the Ocean Wise certification. Her customers must have been just as delighted. And the fish store at Lonsdale Quay is major league. Yet from neither store have I ever had halibut this good. Is because of the great homemade tartar sauce? Not exactly. It's because it's the best halibut the chef could find, this piece from Haida Gwai (also known as The Queen Charlotte Islands). Perfectly cooked. Chef Clark told me he got into the sustainable seafood thing because the sustainable fish he was acquiring just tasted better. We all follow our taste buds.
  Sustainable seafood and organic food are not just relics of the Hippies. They are increasingly economic engines. I would imagine the owners of Las Vegas casinos where some of the world's best chefs offer up their creations, want their hotel guests to be depressed about their gambling losses more than about the destruction of fish species their dinner choices are bringing about. Perhaps that's just my imagination, but the sustainable seafood meme is thriving in Vancouver and it can in other places as well. To quote John Maynard Keynes, "the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared to the gradual encroachment of ideas."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Friend Manny: R.I.P.

I arrived in the the Japanese city of Hamamatsu to teach English in the middle of August, 1971. Or I thought I was there to teach English. I was in a school. I had multitudes of students. But they were not there to learn English. The men were there to meet the women, and vice versa. Both sexes were there to hang out and have fun. No one had more fun that my student turned friend, Manny. His real name was Hisato Ota but I gave everyone a nickname in lieu of learning to pronounce their Japanese names. I named Manny after a favourite Dodger, Manny Mota because Ota was close to Mota. As soon as classes were over every night, it was off to a bar. On weekends there were excursions and/or parties. Manny organized most of these, including this one: 
Japan was vastly more fun that it would have been in those early days of my life there if Manny hadn't been involved. I was transferred up north to the city of Yamagata on Halloween but kept in touch with Manny ever since.
  After marrying Fumiyo Ishikawa in Vancouver in Sept. 1975, we went to Japan together in March 76. We hitch hiked south from her hometown Kamagaya, near Tokyo and visited Manny, who had moved to Nagoya and also gotten married. Here is Manny with his wife Mineko in April, 1976. Still having fun.
After our daughter was born in Vancouver in October, 1978, we moved to Kamagaya and lived there for the next decade, seeing Manny and his family often. We moved permanently to Vancouver in 1988. I've only been back in Japan twice, in 2003 and the last time in August, 2007. It's ridiculously hot in Japan in the summer. Here is Manny having fun even in that hideous weather:
This was the last time I saw Manny. His daughter told us he died at the end of 2013. He had a good life.
He was born in Manchuria when it was a Japanese colony in the 30s. As an adult, he was in the Japanese Self Defence Force for a while. Later he was a pig farmer in, oddly, Kamagaya when it was rural instead of a suburb of Tokyo, as it is now. Then he worked digging tunnels for the Tokyo subways, including one under my school in the Kudanshita neighbourhood of Tokyo. I don't know what he was doing in Hamamatsu, but in Nagoya he worked for a company that made textile machines. But whatever he did wasn't important..
  In one of Peter Bergman's first radio shows, maybe 67 or 68, shortly after he formed the Firesign Theatre, Peter responded to a question on the air about jobs. "There is no such thing as a mailman," Peter said, "just a guy who spends a few hours a day delivering mail." After Peter died in 2012, I met Peter's daughter Lily, and she told me he raised her that way, that jobs were not important: Life was important. Having a good time was important.
  Manny's life is perfectly captured in Charles Dickens' ending to A Christmas Carol, speaking of Scrooge:
  "It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us." I hope Manny's son and daughter and their children take after Manny in his sheer mastery of having fun. May that be truly said of the rest of us too.


Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Visit to Vij's

At a 2011 book launch event for the Las Vegas dining guide Eating Las Vegas I attended as part of Vegas Uncork'd, a foody event the city has every May, a person in the tiny audience asked the 3 authors where's the best Indian food in Vegas. "In Vancouver," said one of food critics. He was referring to Vij's. He could have suggested a taxi to the Vegas airport, a trip to the Vancouver airport, and then a cab ride to Vij's for the quickest you could get great Indian food from starting in Vegas. I'm not a fan of Indian food. But here I am at Vij's.
Some Fijian-Indian friends of ours pummel my wife with Indian food on a regular basis and she submits. She had been to Vij's twice before, once with our huge dog Icy, Vij's offering him a dish of water while Fumiyo bathed in its spicy entrees, and I had read Vij's contributions to The Flavour Bible, a book I'd discovered in the local North Van library. Food affinities are important to me, and perhaps everyone with a tongue.
Waiting for dinner, I tried their personalized Mimosa. It was strategically subtle. As I told the ubiquitous Vij, it was a great introduction to his food, full of subtle spices and fruit and he told me how he wanted to have a few very good cocktails, not a lot of minor league drinks. I tasted allspice and star anise, and I'm not sure I know what star anise tastes like. My palate dances. Fumiyo has ordered the Jack fruit. I have a bite. It tastes like generic Indian food. Imagine going to a store and buying a can called Indian Food. That's what this tasted like. No fruit flavour involved. Then the lamb popsicles arrive.
I know this as his signature dish. The dish he served the luminaries in New York when Daniel Boulud brought Vancouver's top chefs to his flagship city to show how the Vancouver palate was sophisticated enough to appreciate Daniel's perfection attempts. Our companion kept saying, "this guy's a multimillionaire and yet he keeps hanging out with his customers." He thought that weird, but also reverent. He likes hanging out, I figure. I like eating not hot spiced food. I'm not enjoying the popsicles. When my friends made them, assuring me they were identical to Vij's, they probably toned down the heat knowing how I disliked it. Vij knew not of that. Whoever decides what's on the drinks menu saves the day. My favourite local cidre, Red Roof, is on the menu, though I keep having to request a glass of ice cubes to keep it at its optimum level of temperature sensitive exquisiteness. A finely chilled apple cidre mis-directs the heat seeking missiles of the fenugreeked; lamb and I survive the meal. How did you like the meal, asked Vij? The lighting is really good here. Your staff is extraordinary. The cocktails were as you promised. We discuss the excellence of the cocktails of my cousin's bar around the corner. And the food? If I liked Indian food, I'd probably like this a lot. Follow your tongue, eh? What Vij prooves with his cocktails is that he can intrigue and please me with his flavours. His food? I await pleasure. I have never met any restauranteur in this city who was so committed to the experience of his customers., He deserves Michelin stars for that. Food? Ask someone who likes Indian food.
We go around the corner to West and eventually get seats at the bar where my cousin David's is dazzling every lucky tongue with his spontaneous creations. I suggest he do me a passion fruit spectacular, never dreaming of what he was about to unleash. He'd created subtle passion fruit cocktails over the past few years as I discovered this taste seemed to bring me the most pleasure, when appropriately invoked. The sudden (see previous blog post- I was in Vegas before this) disappearance of the Passion Fruit Sour from Pierre Gagnaire's Las Vegas restaurant Twist, made me wonder if its signature drink, still listed on its website, could be recreated. Well, no. David's passion fruit cocktail hit my palate like Mohammed Ali in his prime, using my palate for a punching bag. Ouch. I didn't know it was possible to have too much passion fruit. But the reason we have taste buds is to learn how to use them to our advantage.
What I need to do here is to pay attention. What tastes good? Why? Can I recreate it, or add to it? That's what I've been thinking about since returning from Vegas food trip a few weeks ago. Food enjoyment is a ladder. We can keep going up.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Vegas 2013: last 2 days

The next day I waste  $62 on Joe's Tasteless Crabs. They use another adjective, but it implies how intoxicated one would
have to be to hallucinate flavour for these crabs. Squeezing a lemon wedge on them saved them from nothingness. They came with a mustard sauce which obliterated the crab's lack of taste. Unlike this taste violation, their baked tomatoes with spinach puree and cheddar is a wonder to behold, and worth the long walk. The violence of this crab's sauce and RMs murderous ailoli for its tasteless crab atrocity combined to make me wonder if anyone here cared about food any more? The trip goes up and down like an earth quake. First its flat, then it flutters

The Tea Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel has to be one of the mellowest spaces in Vegas. I'm there for an exotic tea cocktail called a Maple Tree Bird. Thankfully lacking in maple flavour, instead it is steeped in tea goodness and assorted good spirits. Described in the menu as a complex sidecar with allspice and brown sugared rim. Hennessy Black, Daron 5-yr. Calvados, Quantro apple juice, maple black tea syrup, Peychaud's bitters, garnished with star anise. The magically disappearing crab thing of the hour before is washed away by intellectually challenging and palate delighting liquid.
  I'd heard great things about Lobster Thermidore and Andre's brags about theirs. Must be good, eh? A cocktail called a Willly Nilly:Vanilla infused vodka, cranberry juice and peach liquor pulls the lobster into something resembling taste, as well as mighty efforts by sauced asparagus and mashed potatoes, but the meal seems an insult to the noble lobster. 

Next, it's off to Twist. I am no longer remembered here, or is it just a new staff? When I order my favourite drink in the world, Twist's passion fruit sour, it has vanished from their consciousness (But not from their website cocktail menu, where you can still see the ingredients: Stolichnaya, green Chartreuse, passion fruit puree, fresh basil simple syrup, fresh lime, slash egg whites).  They attempt something and it's not poisonous although too heavy on the pineapple.
The absence of the Passion Fruit Sour reminds me a scene from Hemingway's novel The Torrents of Spring. Apparently based on a real episode, a young woman and her mother check into a Paris hotel during the World's Fair (the one that gave Paris the Eiffel Tower and maybe better crepes) The next morning, the young woman awakens to find her mother gone. She goes downstairs to ask about her and is told she had checked in alone, there was no mother. Only much later, we learn that the mother had gotten up in the middle of the night feeling ill, was found to have a highly contagious disease, and promptly disappeared to keep people from avoiding the world's fair. That seems to be what happened to my passion fruit drink, probably the main reason I came to Vegas- the possibility of that level of palate pleasure. Now not only gone, but divorced from memory.
 It's sea bass with veggies. The fish being a transportation vehicle for the zucchini. The green thing is a Parmesan crumble that takes the fish into a comfort food zone. You can probably cook this yourself, It's really good compared to the "lobster" at  Andre's, but then, what isn't?

I begin the next day with a cab ride to Bouchon. It's spinach quiche is as melty as before, but its' formidable grapefruit has vanished down the same memory hole as the passion fruit drink at Twist. 

My server seems to think I'd ordered a grapefruit juice. Horrors! Should have gone to Mon Ami Gabi, far more reliable about grapefruit, but it's too late now. For drinks it's back to Vesper.
Ever since checking into my hotel, the default channel on the TV relentlessly features Carrot Top previewing cocktails named after acts in town, his and others, including The One for the Michael Jackson show of the same name, which seems to be available only at the bar of his theatre and then only during the show. The M Magazine in my hotel room also promotes it and gives its ingredients as Funkin Passion Fruit puree, Grey Goose L'Orange vodka, Grand Marnier and orange juice. My bartender TJ makes me a similar drink, without the Funkin but with passion fruit liqueur instead. It tastes light and healthy and makes me want to go back to my hotel exercise room and lift weights, which I do later. I try and order a pear cocktail from the menu, but TJ insists on making me something new, which contains Zirbenz pine liqueur, Chandon ginger liqueur, Hangar 1 spiced pear with Thai chili syrup, lemon juice topped with ginger beer and garnished with a basil leaf and a ginger candy. Wow! Best drink I've had on this trip.

 Ginger has been a taste theme this trip.

Then, back to the Tea Lounge for their Royal Tea cocktail: more refreshing tea at the Tea Lounge. Absolut Mandarin, homemade simple syrup, chilled Osmanthus Oolong tea, splash of fresh lemon juice. The server asks how I like it and I tell her it's refreshing, better for the weather which is a few degrees warmer today.

After lifting weights back at the Excalibur,  I'm off to Le Cirque. It was pretty good the last time I visited, 2 years ago, but it is vastly better now.  I sip a fine rasberry cocktail and peruse a book about the restaurant called A Table at Le Cirque. From the introduction by Alain Ducasse,  " other words, he (Le Cirque founder Sirio Maccioni) introduced the very important notion that dining is all about experiencing a moment of happiness."
 Things I would normally refuse to eat, such as liquid eggs, actually become edible with the addition of salmon and caviar. Never before have I been able to eat soft eggery. Grant Achatz once served me  an oyster dish that didn't make me puke. Takes a wizard to do that.

An orange widow remarries. A truffle and a scallop enjoy each others company.

 And prosciutto, not a favourite ham form, wraps itself around a monkfish and the result is better than the monkfish I'd eaten at Le Bernardin 3 years ago. Better fish than Le B? Can it be? A wondrous final meal in food town.

The whole trip would have ended splendidly if had ended there. 
I'm as happy as Scrooge on Christmas morning. Instead, I go back RX Boiler Room to see if the pear cocktail is still as good as a few days ago. This time, in the absence of local food critics, the drink tastes like a bag of dirty laundry smells. I complain and the bar tender tries again. Another failure. I'm appalled. Thankfully, I spend my last minutes of the last night of the trip at Fleur. It's great server Marisol even gives me a Christmas present and the bartender makes me a cocktail strong enough to remove the dirty laundry taste.
  Last cup of tea at the Excalibur before departure, the woman in the store asks how long I've been in Vegas. Seven days. "Oh, that's a long time," she tells me. I don't disagree.
  A very tasty tomato, ham and olive bruschetta at the airport and I'm on my way back to Vancouver. Two tomato dishes I can make myself and Schlotsky's great tomato soup make me call it The Tomato Tour. Despite the  wounding loss of Twist's Passion Fruit Sour, I had more tasty beverages this trip than any other. Would have been more successful if the weather wasn't freezing most of the trip. Ice belongs in a glass, not on my glasses.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Vegas 2013 Day 5

  Some sort of canned peaches in the wrong century and a cup of tea keeps me from starving when I awake. I've heard Wicked Spoon is good for buffets. I've never had a Vegas buffet. Once in a hotel in Sapporo some years ago but never the city that claims to invent the food spread. Maybe I just took the wrong entrance, but it is exhausting just to find the place. $28.00 and it's only 10 AM. Can I eat that much to justify such an expense while it's too cold outside to do much of anything other than get inside soonest? I'm dubious. Also hungry.
  There are stations one would have to be hungrier than I to explore. Omelet's always a good idea, and the salmon that died for my pleasure here is greatly appreciated. Mushrooms, Swiss cheese as useful as their currency, and more lox with a few adventurous capers. Grilled tomatoes, artichoke thanks itself for becoming a salad, an ambassador from the bacon republic, but the star of the meal is the tomato covered with parsley,  thyme, a tiny quantity of rosemary, and garlicky breadcrumbs spread on a tomato slice, doused with olive oil, and baked until the ingredients are passionate about each other. . Hey, I can make this. I eat well and learn something profound. What a vast reversal from yesterday's bummers.

 Too much salt here, so I went for some fresh fruit. Helped alot, and taught me the great lesson that pineapple can suck the saltiness out of an omelet just enough for them both to have fun. 
  At the Grand Tasting at the Vegas Uncork'd foody event in 2011, I sampled many fine tidbits from many of this city's finest chefs, but nothing was better than a taste of salmon from American Fish. From BC, I've had more great salmon than anyone should, but down in the salmon-less desert, such wonders could occur, a puzzle but a good one. When I had the chicken Jidori at Micheal Mina's selfy restaurant 2 years ago, I did not leave the restaurant with the idea that Mike could cook at all. Stunned by his inability to blend ingredients. I have to spend money to learn that?
 The lionfish dish at American Fish intrigued me. Just the idea. They've intrigued my eyes at the city's aquarium, so can I eat them? Indeed. I ask their flavour and am told they taste smoky. Do you mean they are smoked, I ask. No, they just taste smoky, amplified by a chowder. Yes indeed, sounds good. The LV locals had raved about the cocktail Dark and Stormy, and it sounded like just the right pairing for this novel fish's fierceness. Into the lionfish's den went I. To emerge with a revelation. The best piece of fish I've had in this city, and that's saying a lot.  The ferociously helpful ginger of the stormy darkness brought forth light in my palate previously undreamt of. There were mussels in the chowder. They stayed there. The potatoes, on the other hand, leaped into my mouth to help the lionfish retain its palate enriching crown. I guess Mike can cook after all.

  If I were to die while typing this, the lionfish taste would be at the pinnacle of dieing memory. It kind of makes your palate say, OK, that's why I exist, and if longer life occurs, this is the direction these molecules of enjoyment need to go, eh? While I'm eating, the Gil Scot Heron song Living in a bottle, one of my favourite tunes, explodes on the stereo. What, is there something better than this?
  Actually, yes. I showed up at L'Attelier the previous night at 9, hoping to get in. Come back in an hour, I was told. Was asleep by then. This time, no waiting. I'm ushered into the back and order one of the wonders of my previous Vegas trips, the langostine fritter with basil leaf. A kind of tempura of the mind.  To go with it, keeping with the cocktail pairing exuberance of American Dark and Story Lion Fish, I order another basil infused gem, heavy on the ginger but not tipping over into stormy darklions. Taken together, I am stunned by the vastness of their goodness.