Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Duck in a Pair Tree

The grapes helped. The cheese fought the nutted bread thing to a draw. Superport saved the day.

The salmon is Really Good. It is magnified by the mushroom pastry bomb. The winey Sabayon seems like a visitor to your tongue from another dimension. They go well together with the Pinot Noir. It's not as if they had a choice.

The wafflesque diversion won first place in the Liliputian Architecture Society's Frank Gehry memorial miniature competition, but failed to make up for the sea-centric core of this overburdened scallop. Alas.

I'd read nothing but good reviews of North Van's Moustache Cafe for some time, and when the local North Shore News mentioned the cafe was having a wine pairing, I quickly called the cafe and got the last ticket for the event. It began with a small pool of rubber ducks from which we were asked to select a duck and I was one of the few to win a prize- under the prize winners were written the names of the prizes, and mine read "dress shirt." OK, it's a shirt with the Duckhorn Wine Co. logo on it so it's as much an ad for the vinyards as a shirt, but I'm sure I'll wear it eventually. While we selected our ducks, some superb punch was being served. Peach liquer, lychee, orange and cranberry juices, Triple Sec and enough mint to make a good mint tea were wonderfully refreshing. I had a second glass from the dregs of the punch bowl and the ratio of mint leaves to liquers had so altered that it tasted more like mint tea than punch, but Very Good mint tea.
First off was a scallop. The more I visit these upscale restaurants, the more resigned I'm forced to become with having a single scallop as an appettizer. And since when has nut encrustation become de riguer? The citrtus melon emulsion was appreciated but the singular scallop was Far Too Fishy for my tastes. Thankfully, it was more than dragged back into taste territory by the Sauvignon Blanc, the only white that Duckhorn makes and I was lucky it was on my table to wash away the marine excess of the scallop-yep, even one is too many when it don't taste good.
Much better was the salmon carpaccio, which was magically multiplied in quality with the mushroom brioche and the sabayon. You need some serious fork skill getting them all on your fork to enter your mouth at once, and then add the pinot noir. Good enough to make a flick about.
The duck breast was intense. Thankfully, so was the merlot. The duck was chewy and beefy. I could imagine a cow flapping its wings and flying into the sky, but then I imagine a lot of strange things. I thought the plump thing was a duck liver and thus avoided it, until fellow diners reported it was the fruit- filled ravioli I would have known about it I was paying more attention to the menu. I've always thought fruit was meat/seafood's best friend, and am always delighted to find chefs who share that view. My uncle Fred is buried in the Yorkton cemetary with an image of a man shooting ducks on his tombstone. He would have enjoyed this meal. I could feel the duck shooting its flavour into my tongue with each bite.
We were treated to video messagery from the Duckhorn rep during the meal, and when he invited us to sample the Paraduxx before its course materialized, I did more than sample. When the venison appeared, I had no wine left to pair with it, and upon asking if I could get more, I was not rewarded. Indeed, the amount of wine we were given to pair with the food was remarkably small. The venison tasted like a Disneyland of dead Bambis. If they were alive, they would have run away.
Lastly we were treated to a trio of cheeses, one of which may have been a cheddar, another seemed like a blue cheese dressing turned solid, and the last fully veined cheese chunk was intense enough to spar with the port. The cheese, like the other courses was perfectly paired with its wine. Everyone else in the restaurant seemed to know chef Geoff Lundholm and if this pairing is a demonstration of his skills, such knowledge would appear mandatory for foodies in North Van. If pairing of this quality is to be had locally, who needs Europe?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Zest Japanese Cuisine

The eaters

The mushroom salad. MMMMM.

The beef. Dorothy, we're not in Kobe anymore.

The flounder. Flee!

Scallops, shrimp and asparagus. That's why you go to restaurants.

An interesting take on soba noodles.

Our defacto son-in-law Dino and his wife-to-be Krista invited us out for father's day, to Zest, a newish Japanese fusion place we'd heard good things about. The first dish to appear on our table was the mushroom salad, if something hot can be called a salad. I was expecting something along the lines of the mushroom foil-yaki at Zen. Nope. Oyster mushrooms, red and green lettuce in a subtle sauce that creeps up on you and then you discover, "This is Fantastic!" The flounder, from the specials menu, was like having your tongue invaded by Ghenghis Kahn. Avoid at all costs. I hadn't ordered the spring roll as it has roe in it, but Fumiyo insisted I'd enjoy it so I had a piece of her order. It was, to my surprise, very good. Very dry, like a good champagne is dry. Is the crust made of corn flakes? A superb sweet sauce accompanies the spring roll. Another treat is the soba rolls covered with grated daikon. It sent me back to when I first went to Japan in 1971 in waves of culinary nostalgia, and yet it was also new. The familiar tastes are so rearranged that memories of having hot soba noodles in cold train stations fluctuated with a curiousity as to the sheer novelty of the dish. Karage is Japanese fried chicken, and usually very good, far more flavourfull than any of the Colonel's offerings. Seeing Karage Italiano on the menu reminded me of all the great Italian food I'd had in Japan- far better spaghetti than I ever ate in Italy. It seemed a natural fusion food. Maybe in other hands it would be, but instead of succulent chicken flesh exposed to the best Italian flavours, it tasted like skin a chicken was all to happy to lose. Interesting flavours are happening there, but there's not enough substance to sustain them. The Kobe beef vegetable roll sounded like something Fumiyo used to make, carrots and asparagus rolled up in thin slices of beef and presented in a sweet sesame sauce. The sauce for this dish may have that origin, but the beef was, well, a long way from any Kobe beef I've ever eaten. If you didn't see vegetables on the menu, you would never guess they are buried in this meaty excess. It's as if whole species of cow are being slaughtered on your taste buds. Ouch! Soon they'll be extinct, but you won't miss them. The scallop, shrimp and asparagus thing was genuine restaurant food. Very pleasent. Subtle, between the more seriously flavoured courses. Next we had a variety of tonkatsu (the Japanese take on pork cutlets) stuffed with cheese and ground up shiso leaves. I can't see cheese going well with pork, though it is superb with other meats (lasagna, Italian cheesy chicken recipes, etc). Shiso, on the other hand, is the taste god's gift to everything it touches. I can't imagine a better tasting leaf. The pork tasted like it should have been left on the pig, to live a contented life and die of old age. In general, the meats of Zest are considerably inferior to what I'm used to in Vancouver restaurants (not to mention meat-heaven Japan). They need to find better suppliers.
The desert menu featured tomato ice cream. Now that's just odd.
Go to Zest for the mushroom salad. The rest of the menu still needs work.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bistro 1734

The "duck crepe" needed the greens to mitigate its orange/ginger sweetness that washed over my tongue.
Above, a view of the lemon sponge cake with rhubarb sauce. It was as sour as the crepe was sweet.
On top, my mother's tiny scallops.

My parents celebrated their 64th anniversary by accompanying us to Bistro 1734 in West Vancouver.
They used to enjoy the French restaurants near their former house in Sherman Oaks. This was their chance to compare the French restaurants in their new neighbourhood. I'd wanted to try Bistro 1734 since seeing it reviewed in the Georgia Straight.

The daily special was a scallop appetiser, pork ribs and then a lemon spongecake. My mother had the scallops (too fishy for my tastes) and the sponge cake, 2/3 of the daily special minus the pork. My father and I went with the endive crepe stuffed with duck confit and seriously sweet orange and ginger sauce, and Fumiyo went with the onion soup, which she found too greasy.

While enjoying our meal, my father noticed the Eiffel Tour construction photos on the wall and reminisced about their voyage to the top of the tower on thier trip to France. Although Fumiyo and I have been to Paris twice, we never bothered seeing that particular sight. We did eat well, both in Paris and at Bistro 1734. I look forward to the tuna and the pork on the main menu.

Friday, June 02, 2006

West with Wolowidnyks

Bar Emperor Dave clutches his visiting Ann Arborite sister Elicia, while keeping our glasses full

I switch from the lobster appetiser to the scallop in some sort of upscale pea soup from the daily special menu. Was that really a good idea?

Steph sticks with the Kobe "style" beef


Pink Bream gets juiced

After my previous visit to West in April, I discovered that my cousin David Wolowidnyk ran its bar. Along with his sister Elicia visiting from Ann Arbor and our regular dinner companion Steph, we went back there on May 30th to sample his skills and try other things on its tantalizing menu.
In honour of our common Ukranian heritage, Dave served us his borscht in a glass martini called The Beetnyk. Golden beets. Sprig of dill. Tasted like food, not booze.
I had wanted to try the Pink Bream when we feasted here in April but went with the Kobe "style" beef as the best beef is better than anything else. Steph stuck with the Kobe, Fumiyo and Elicia tried the salmon, and I finally had the Bream, swimming in some sort of sweet and sour juice. All were wonderful.
I had planned to order the lobster appetiser, but upon discovering a scallop on the specials of day menu, I went for that instead. Unfortunately it was only A Scallop. It was a very good scallop, in a delicious sauce, but it was only A Scallop.
After the fine meal, Dave concocted another citrus coffee for me, even more citrussy than the original concoction his week-end guy came up with for my birthday.
It was restaurant-loving Elicia's first visit to her brother's lair and we enjoyed our 2nd visit enough to try even more of its menu in the future. The only sad note of the meal was that our foodie daughter Bit (whom Elciia had once escorted to Disneyland) was unable to join us, after what happened to her 8 years ago on this date.