Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Gold Standard

Lumiere is the kind of restaurant I read about and say, one day I'd like to go there. That's like saying, one day I'd like to " ". Fill in the blank with some totally unrealistic event. But a new deck, a new season, and a new gardener all fill me with reasons to explore what can be done with things I can grow in my garden so off to Lumiere we went.
Chauncette the Gardener is a vegetarian, and a veg. menu was produced for her. Unfortunately it was after the meal was served. The server suggested I go with the seafood menu, and that is the direction I was already headed. Ok, Vancouver' s Top Restaurant year after year after Iron Liver Feeny commercials for the aptly named White Spot after the Feeny Restaurant micro-orderve at the Taste of the City event after all the raves my food worshipping friends have lavished on the place, after a delightful travelogue of the history of the buildings we inched by on the Broadway Bus- is it too abject a bow to the lords of irony to take a bus to a place where a meal costs as much as rent for most gardeners; we disembarked, whole Minutes before our 645 appointment. The fact that it's the actual day of my birth after a week of celebrating it and the date of escrow closure for the Palace of Ancient Dust. A good reason to eat real good. Memories of dust, Be Gone!
First up, some bread puffs, "grejer?" I think the server pronounced it. My gardener is allergic to its blue cheese interior. Thankully we are warned in advance. As a prelimary appetiser, I was brought a clam, a mussel and a mini-scallop all in shells, on top of a bed of rock salt. The mussel, a sea food I avoid, was actually almost edible. I love clams, but this one, stewed in its clamness, reeked too much of the sea for me. My gardener pointed out I was consuming a radish sprout, which went well with the microvegies. The scallop, one of my favourite things to eat on this planet, looked like it had a disease. Perhaps it was a disease. It did taste good though. I ended up licking it out of its shell, as if I were a real cat. I had begun the meal with a glass of champagne, which went poorly with these micro-seafood things. The wine which should have accompanied them should have appeared with better timing. Chauncette is drinking sparkling water and I try some, but it's not icy enough for me. I wanted to cleanse my pallette and that requires maximum coldness.
The gardener enjoyed the bread in general and when I had one of her cheese sticks, it reminded me of cheese cake from distant youth, graham crackers and a hint of tobacco. Butternut squash raviolis with tiny baby mushrooms (which really made the meal). and parmesan shavings delighted both of us, and I got a bigger scalop than the previous appetiser. What the gardener first thought was arugula, turned out to be a medley of greens, particularly watercress that was amazing in the Hamachi Tuna and Crab salad, with shrimp, watercress, crushed peanuts and nuc-cham dressing. The dressing was the star here. I couldn't eat the raw tuna. Its wine pairing didnt help at all. It failed to complement all the rich flavours and once more, wasn't cold enough. My gardener enjoyed her poached hen's egg with watercress coulis and herb vinagrette. My sous-vide wild salmon with sauteed root vegetables and preserved lemon foam was high art. It felt like beauty being born in my mouth. My gardener was served a risotto topped with gold foil. I thought I was at the banquet table of King Midas, or King Tut. Good as the salmon was, its vegies were even better with the lemon foam. The gardener found her risotto a bit too salty but suitably saffroned. A tiny bit of curry came with French fresh lentils, beans and veggies galore for her. My halibut casserole, braised with mediterranean spices, coconut froth and kaffir leaf broth was far too small didn't taste like halibut, but was amazingly good. Somewhere in there was a bit of potato that is what potato would taste like if it were the solution to an Einstein equation. My pan seared Alaskan scallop tasted like the ending of Hard Day's Night. We are given a cheese menu. Never seen such a thing before. I think a bit of cheese between courses is a good idea. I get a glass of tawny port to go with the belgian beer cheese, the goat cheese and a cheddar. The cheddar is as good as cheddar is gonna get, and I've been in search of the ultimate cheddar for at least half a century. The Belgian beer cheese went wonderfully with the port. I am reminded of the taste of a life saver I savoured during the Kennedy administration. The lychee sorbet has a wonderful oriental flavour to it. Eating it is like being appointed emperor. The wine pairing magnified the desert's sweetness, which was not welcome. Both of us enjoyed the pavlova with passionfruit cream, orange chiboust and tropical exotic fruit. A very good use of dragon fruit. At some point, I imagine I'm eating very comfortable pyjamas. Flannel pyjamas with pictures of fruit on them. The gardener didn't have the cheese plate but did enjoy the cranberry bread. She had to send back her Riesling chocolate rain desert. What part of "no alcohol" didn't they understand, she wondered. I ordered a B52 coffee and it tasted too much of coffee, so it was replaced with another more sodden with liquers. All in all, a memorable meal.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Don't Crush that Kingklip, Hand Me The Pecans

I had walked by Joe Fortes Seafood restaurant before and saw kinds of fish on its menu I'd seen nowhere else. Exotic (to me) species. I'm always on the lookout for things I've never eaten that sound edible. Recently meeting someone who used to be a chef there and having friends in town who appreciate restaurants and seafood put Joe Fortes on my list of places to eat at.
They claimed not to know the restaurant, but once inside, our guests Kiyoshi and Miyoko recalled having dined there in their years living in Vancouver. Named for a life-guard and swimming teacher from the early 20th century, the place had a late Victorian ambience I quite liked. Dark wood, brass and ferns. I could imagine Mark Twain emerging from the restroom, thinking of something clever to say, but lighting a cigar instead. Fumiyo complained about the noise. The website said it was a popular meeting place, particularly for oyster-lovers. Not being one of those, I studied the "regular" menu, the specials and the list of exotic fish, and decided on Pecan Crusted Kingklip. Would it live up to its royal name? First, we had a couple of big plates of Coconut Curry Tiger Prawns, with chiles, cilantro and lime. Delicious. The fine bread made a perfect sponge to soak up its delicate yet complex sauce. Fumiyo, still full from lunch at the Orange Club Cafe in North Van, thought she'd had better versions of the same dish elsewhere, but the guests were content with both appetisers and their entrees. Kiyoshi ordered the Trio of Fish and Miyoko ordered from the fish menu. She was in search of fish in sauce and the buttery sauce on her salmon was as close as the menu got to what she wanted. Fumiyo ordered the pasta with prawns and scallops, and ended up taking most of it home. My first taste of Kingklip was amazing. I'd never had a fish melt in my mouth like that. Then I discovered I was eating the mashed potatos. The fish and the potatoes were in a BBQ sauce that reminded me of an exotic BBQ brand of catsup from the 60s. Kingklip was supposed to taste like sea bass, according to what sites mentioned it on Google, but I could see no similarites. The pecan crust really added to the flavour combination. The wine pairing was perfect. I don't know if Kingklip is available in fish stores or in any other restaurant but I intend to find out. We all bypassed deserts and specialty coffees and after a considerable wait, the valet brought our car. On the news channel, a piece about Martha and the Vandallas. The piece opened with a comment to the effect that you don't normally sing in libraries, but Martha and her group sang at the Library of Congress today. I'd heard that my comedic heroes The Firesign Theatre were going to have their masterpiece Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers put into the museum along with Martha and this was a report about that event. Martha (or someone) said her tune Dancing in the Streets was the anthem of Motown (a chat friend suggested she was wrong- MONEY was the anthem of Motown) and then Phil Proctor appeared on the microphone, saying, I think, that he was happy that Dwarf was now in the Library of Congress because it meant he didn't have to keep it in HIS library. A news event I didn't expect to hear on a local Candian news station, and to my further surprise, news that friends who follow the Firesigns closely hadn't heard the news item broadcast in the States. Last summer when I was in Washington DC, I met a Firesign scholar named Schoolboy who was determinted to get at least one of the Firesigns great albums into the Library, and it appeared that he'd succeeded. Wonderful news on top of wonderful food.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Go West, Old Man

Vancouver was abuzz last year about the review a newish Vancouver restaurant called West got in a British magazine: one of the ten best restaurants in the world. Take that, Toronto! OK, so the dish that inspired this rating was Wagyu Beef, which just means Japanese beef and there must be thousands of restaurants in Japan that have the national cow slices better than you can get when you leave Japan, but it was worth checking out for my first birthday as an official old man.
First we were told the restaurant was fully booked on Sunday, then West called me and said it had magically opened on Sunday, but I had to be there at 6, then one of my friends noticed on the online menu that a fixed price dinner could be had for small sums, but only BEFORE 6, so at the most undinnerly hour of 545 we sat down to eat in a decidedly empty but utterly beautiful restaurant in the mid-Granville area we had previously enjoyed fine fusiony Japanese food at En. West was supposed to be French, but that could mean anything in Vancouver these days. The restroom could have just escaped Versailles if that French palace had been designed by The Jetsons. Everywhere in the empy restaurant, the eye met delight. While contemplating what to order, we were gifted with a toy cup of leek soup. The truffle oil may have a French pedigree, but the taste suggested that I'd just entered a new world. With its warmth and vegetable familiarity, it reminds me of something my Eastern European ancestors would have cooked, or at least provided ingredients for the royal owners.
Sampling my co-diners' nibbles, the ravioli appetiser is supposed to be full of artichoke. Perhaps more of the idea of artichoke. Sure is good. The duck thing sends my tongue on a meat merry-go-round, reminiscent of all the animals I've eaten in my lifetime. It does have a strong after-taste so I indulge in a tiny bit of bread to neutralize it. As usual, I order the scallops and they are in a fine sauce. By the 4th scallop, they are sufficiently soaked, as are their accompanying vegetables and both go splendidly with the reccommended wine. Unfortunately I had to wait until the 4th scallop to rave about it.
The tuna tataki with yuzu dressing is like entering a forest full of all the enchanting things you'd expect to encounter in a library of forest-sodden folk tales. Every movie about a forest, every National Geographic Forest Fantasia, every great dream of a forest, there they all are, on your tongue. Every verdant thing growing and smelling and reeking of foresty goodness. Like being washed back into the primordial ooze. You feel yourself sucked back into all the sediments that have ever built up, all the chemicals that have evolved to turn into life, and there it is. Are you going back in time, or forward, you don't know.
I was planning on ordering the beef on the menu, but today's special was a Kobe-style beef dish so both Steph and I went for that. Would it score 82 points on my tongue? When it arrived, it proved surprisingly chewey. My teeth turned into Sumo wrestlers pummeling the Kobe into suculence, but perhaps an earthquake or two would have done a better job. The mustard does kick it into another level and as usual the wine does it's job. I'm in the middle of a volcano eruption of flavour as filmed by National Geographic. I'm getting all the highlights. The best photographers in the world with the best cameras are describing the lava pouring out of this volcano which is the earth, becoming a pasture which nourishes this beef.
Thankfully no birthday cake appeared. My lack of fondness for sweets is legendary, in my small circles. Instead West presented me with the above birthday greeting and chocolates my friends were more than happy to consume. I asked if West had a signature specialty coffee, which has become my "desert' of choice in good restaurants. They did not, but said they'd concoct one for me. They asked what I liked and I said fruit, and citrus fruit in particularly. They presented me with a coffee full of citrussy goodness. All in all, a splendid meal.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


More of Dino's beneficence. A coupon for the great Queen Elizabeth Park restaurant Seasons in the Park with the instructions to bring my camera and capture its beauty when spring came. A Christmas present. And finally, it was time to unpack the camera, for the first time in 6 monthes. Our food loving friends, the Miyoshis had just arrived from Tokyo. Long resident in Vancouver, they had never been to this restaurant. Smaller than normal breakfasts for the Miyoshis and and a good workout at the rec. centre made us hungrier than passengers should be in a car headed far too slowly through the streets of Vancouver, in a noonish haze of blurred vision and rapidly diminishing existance. Some folks parked far too slowly in front of us, and then we got in as the valet chased us for the keys. Too hungry to shoot the flowers, we barged in like Jack Johnson at a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Liliput. A towering table was granted us, brazenly without reservations. Painfully past 12, and Icy the Burg had to be picked up at 3. What kind of leisurely meal was that?
A very good one, actually. From the appetiser menu, we ordered the flat iron steak skewers, the tuna tartare tower and Seasons' famous stuffed mushrooms (all not bad names for rock groups). The more obvious Japanese people ordered the black cod (only my name hints at the yellow peril of mystery) all Satchmo'd up with good ol' blood orange carrot reduction- you listen'n Brer Rabbit, your turn to cook next! Endive? what is that, a French torpedo? Belgian? Ok, if the best beer makers ruled the world, we'd all be speaking Walloons, but instead, its some sort of
Wallmart patois.
In preparation for something divine rising out of the sea and into my mouth, I order a Mission Hils 5 Vinyards Chardonay (how many vinyards does it take to make a good wine?). Thankfully the waitress obeys my suggestion to serve the wine With the food, not long before.
The beef explodes. No it isn't beef, it's like quantum mechanics suddenly taking place on your tongue. And you can taste the altered universe. It is not the heavy dead cow dropping into your teeth like 16 tons of tooth decay, it's alight, a bird suddenly aborn, your tongue soars into, what, this isnt tongueland, this isnt Kansas beef anymore, this is what? I'm so far above the earth I can no longer imagine its species. Even its clouds are unclear. Down there somewhere some poor cow must have died to send this rocket into interstellar taste possibilites, but that cow is to be honoured, and never forgotten, as on I soar!
And that's only appetiser #1.
The tuna tartare comes with wasabi tobiko. I can't imagine less appealing words on a menu (well I can, but we'll let this conceit enliven its particular universe for a micro-slice of time). Let the fish keep their eggs, not attempt to convince me they're edible. And wasabi? Only in the smallest qaulity is it of value. It did say mango. Those yellowish things were definitely not fish eggs. I thought they were corn. No, tasted too sweet. And the cucumber. Always a favourite veg, particulalry in sushi, it sashayed into the not-too-undead tuna "tower" like it owned the death certificate, and waltzed out. Mango. Maybe I can swap a few for a nuclear reactor too.
As the four of us gradually dismantled the tuna tower, I was reminded of world's fair pavillions. I attended 5 worlds fairs from 62-86 and always delighted in the latest technology one company/country could summon to make us love it. What could stand out architectually, draw in the crowds for an interesting show and make us all want to continually feast on that country's food was a real goal, and one usefull to all. Near our former house was a Czech restaurnt that mophed into a North Van eatery from its role in the Czech pavillion of the 86 Expo. Up until recently Montreal had a pretty good baseball team named after its delightul world's fair that closed a couple of years before the team began. The gravity from the fair was so strong, it could suck its name into baseball-sodden brains as dense as wood hardened by a thousand home runs soaring into the cobwebbed seats of empty stadiums in the late innings of the world series of zombies. Sometimes, the world was fair.
The mushrooms were heavy. With difficulty we slogged through them, like a century besotted with memory. Cream cheese, crab, et al a good idea but after the spiritually uplifting sacred cow and tower of babbling tuna cape canaveral imitation, what was a rich, cheesy mushroom cap to do? Thankfully the chardonay sliced that cream into slivers of digestible diamonds.
The entrees arrived. The dead awoke.
A new friend/old chef chided me upon a recent black cod purchase (Westview fish store; hey, I couldn't just Look, eh?), assuring me, as my cooking non-skill has always verified, that you can't win with black cod. Perhaps the variables are too great to mask with ingredients and skill. Yet Fumiyo delighted to find it upon the menu, as did the Miyoshis. And black cod came forth, and smothered their place settings. Fumiyo had considered ordering the salmon, but it seemed easier to order 3 of the same. She wondered what was a "human sandwich?" I pointed out that it was actulaly the Chinese province Hunan that gave birth to this pork sandwich, and not yet more cannibal mythology. I had a bite of the black cod. It wasn't bad. The carmelized onions helped a lot. The Hunan pork was perfeclty matched with the "white" zinfandel as I suspected it would be. Sweet but sweetness of the sweet days in the life of the pig, the happiness of the spices, in the love of the cook, no sugar in this universe of sweetness- just the idea of sweetness. In all its manifestations.
I ate not of the bread. Perhaps it was good. The french fries were what I wanted from Red Robin. Peel on. Not sodden with salt. The spirit of the potato lives on. Although I ate only a couple of fries, it was difficult eating the pork alone. Too full from the earlier appetisers.
And yet, on came desert. Burnt lemon pie for Fumiyo. Looks like Miro got there first . A tiny taste and my lips long smarted from all that sour. The Miyoshis order a B52, a Pentagon briefing for the palate. . A wonderfully subtle drink to end the avalanche of subtlety that was our meal. Is that Slim Pickins riding a bomb with my name on it? Ok, I'll move.