Monday, August 28, 2006

Raven as Mona Lisa

We took Eichi and Tomomi to the UBC Anthropology Museum, not only one of Erickson's best buildings but my favourite site in Vancouver. While we were admiring Bill Reid's Raven and First Men pictured above, a tour guide was telling his tour that this sculpture is considered Canada's Mona Lisa. Nah. Mona Lisa isn't nearly as good.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Raven Higashi West

Tomomi & Eiichi at Higashi West

My friend Frank demanded I see the show of Haida Art as well as the Arthur Ericson retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Along with the Haida pieces, the museum showed off some of its other First Nations collection, including Secret Flowers, by Mike Macdonald. I had seen this at North Van's presentation house more than a decade ago. It's a video presentation, mostly closeup videos of flowers and butterflys, seemlingly randomly displayed. I learned that Mike had died recently, alas. I still recall his talk accompanying the display of his art, encouraging us locals to plant flowers to attract butterflys, which remains good advice.
I'm begining to think of Ericson as Vancouver's own Gaudi, so prominantly do his buildings add to this city. Particularly striking were Ericson's "collaborations" with Bill Reid- Reid's statue of the Ericson-designed Canadian Embassy in Washington DC began this blog last May, and the way the roof of the Museum of Antropology highlights Reids sculpture Raven and First Men, which is the first piece of sculpture I actually liked. I'm told by students and professors that Ericson's SFU campus is much better to look at than to attend. Frank was raving about Ericson's Museum of Glass in Tacoma. Unlike Gaudi, but like Raven, Ericson gets around.
On the way back, I stopped at the new Japanese fusion restaurant Higashi West at Lonsdale Quay. I ordered the scallops to eat there

as well as raw beef salad and shrimp gyoza to take home. The scallops were delightfully fruity. I wondered what it was, then discovered it was pineapple. The scallops were somewhat spicier than I tolerate, particulalry with the little shoots they were with, but the pineapple mellowed them down and the sake margarita with the scallops proved the perfect companion. Once home, I dug into the beef salad, which has a great salad dressing but its beef slices were too thick, and the ebi gyoza, which wasnt so good. Fumiyo insists that all gyoza taste lousy compared to hers. Today, guests just in from Japan, we all visited Higashi West for more food.

The chicken bits with sesame seeds and a subtle mayonaise dressing was most refreshing.

An interesting take on Mabodofu, a spicy tofu and meat Chinese dish popular in Japan. This tasted unlike any Mabodofu I've had before. Intriguing, and not as spicy as the scallops.

Lemon and chili'd squid went splendidly with the lychee drink.

Duck spring rolls are not to be ducked.

The guests wanted to try cold ramen. I was in no condition to eat noodles, after all those other goodies, but I was finally prevailed upon to eat what Fumiyo called "asian spaghetti." With orange pepper, tomatoes and slivers of chicken, it was unlike and much better than any bowl of ramen I'd ever encountered.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Salt Spring Island trip-2

Studying the restaurant possibilites of Salt Spring online, I came accross House Piccolo. Originally of Finnish origin, with some Scandinavian dishes on the menu, at least it sounded different. I had a meeting to go to at 630 so wanted to get the earliest meal I could. When Piccolo opened at 5, I was one of many who'd booked reservations, waiting to get in. The chillled scalop ceviche said "please allow for sufficient curing time" and when I asked the server, he said that would be about 15 minutes. Not a long wait, particularly as he promptly brought a small salad and some very good bread. I was considering the prawn and scallop brochette but I usualy avoid having the entree the same as the appetiser. I ordered prawns newburg as my main course and didnt want to OD on prawns, if that is at all possible. I consider ordering salmon chowder Finlandia, in keeping with Piccolo's roots, but decide to go with the scallop ceviche. I assumed a micro-bottle of "Orange Widow" would complement it well. The wine list has "piccolo" next to it and several other wines. I wondered if this meant they were house wines. No, it refers to being served in small bottles, from the Italiann word for small. I didnt know they spoke Italian in Finland. I 'm told that Piccolo is the chef's nickname.
The tiny salad comes with two dressing, one balsamic-based and the other a creamy dill, both very refreshing, happily complementing the lettuce as it bathed in champagne. What I had assumed was a cherry tomato turns out to be a scoop of watermelon. Could I be any more refreshed? I have a competition to see which dressing is better but they're equally good. The vinagrette tastes of pineapple, a wonderful addition to a salad. Bombs of newly cleared space for goodness on your tongue.
My first bite of the ceviche seems very spicy. Oh that's right, this colourful stuff is chili oil! As soon as I neglect the pretty oil, the heat goes way down. Then the cilantro began to serenade my mouth. Then the lime kicks in. Now I can understand and appreciate the time the scallops took to marinade in the lime juice and cilantro.
Cold, the champagne goes great with the salad and the ceviche, but it's become room temperature by the time the strongly flavoured newburg meal arrives. Actually the champagne has more flavour at room temperature and makes a pleasing complement to the prawns. My server reccommends a Sauvignon Blanc and it does its job admirably. I am offered a sip of the wine before committing to ordering a glass. I don't recall that ever having happened before. It is an interesting step up in flavour from the Orange Widow. The newburg sauce is strong and delicious over all the ingredients. Green beans, red pepper, zuchini, and what I finally discoverer is pureed rutabaga. A continual parade in my mouth. The rice reminds me of some flavoured rice (from a package) I had as a kid. So many memories of tastes from distant decades assail me these days- this may be because I'm thinking about the past more, as my parents are increasinlgy unable to live consciously in the present. The wine cleanses the pallette so I can experiment anew with combinations of ingredients, soaking this one and then that one in the puree and newburg sauce. I feel like one very happy infant, playing with my food. The sudden appearance of dill slices through all the other flavours like Alexander through opposing armies. Muchly satisfied, I make my way a few blocks over to the legion hall to hear the perfectly named Helen Goodland from Vancouver's Sustainable Building Centre inspire the community into even more green buildings.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Trip to Salt Spring Island-1

My BC Sustainable Energy Association newsletter informed me of a tour of eco-houses on Salt Spring Island, sponsored by the Island Conservancy. It sounded like something I should attend. Anyone can build a house. To build a house you not only loved but was easy on the land and energy was a true goal, an artistic statement. Thankfully, Salt Spring Island is awash with artists.
With some difficulty, considering how late I decided to go and the fact that it was a long weekend (BC Day), I was able to book rooms at two different B&Bs (one for each day, no place could give me two days in a row) and celebrated by dining at two of the islands best REVIEWED restaurants. Friday night found me at Hastings House, a transplanted English manor house only rich people could afford to stay at, but even I could afford to eat at.
I've never been to an English manor or any other kind of English house. It was a bit like walking into a Sherlock Holmes story, or one of the great English children's books I read as a child. I was invited into the living room for a cocktail around the storied fireplace. The menu offered some famililar drinks and something called a Rosemary Swizzle which was made with crab apple wine, gin, lime, soda and fresh rosemary. I loved crabapples when I was a child in Yorkton (only the town's name is English) so thought I would enjoy this unusual beverage. It turned out to be heavy on the rosemary, but not much else that I could taste. Where was my childhood fruit friend, the crabapple? It was like trying to have a drink with a tree in your glass. OK, a flavourful tree, but still!
While waiting for the other ingredient-kids to show up and play under the rosemerry tree on my tongue, I paged through the colourful history of Hastings House in a book of mostly black and white photos. It seems Mr Hastings, the builder of the house in the 1930s, also drew up the plans for the landing craft that liberated Europe from the Nazis, while losing his wife to a tennis pro, as his house was being infiltrated by a German Spy. If only my drink was as intriguing! I kept wondering, Adam-like, where's the apple already?
So that's why they call it a swizzle! By stirring the beverage between black and white windows into earlier incarntions of the room I was sitting in, I could summon the apple, and eventually the lime. I drink such concoctions slow enough to invent evolution by, to the consternation of the server-dude who wanted me to move to the dining area. I even got my name on a menu!
Finally appropriately tabled and ordered (having thought about this for some time on the online menu, which brought me here to begin with) I was rewarded for finally showing up with a basket of bread sticks. Focaccia, where art tha? and the ubiquitous balsamic/oil melange. First bite of bread, I wished I'd saved some rosemary from the drink! The oil and vinegar didn't kick it up any either. The first sip of wine did help the vinegar and oil and bread to be nice to each other in my presence, but I didnt want to fill up on bread.

I am offered, as amuse bouche (since when do appetisers need appetisers?) a Fanny Bay Oyster with cucumber, carrots, some sort of mustard thing on it. Oysters are the taste of death. Will I survive? I'll find out quickly.

Oddly, I survive. Must be the panko. Makes anything taste good.

Purple potatoes is just a strange thing to do. Again with the memories of lavender sweets I enjoyed in maybe, jr. high? I was really into the science in those days, and fondly recall my science club buddy Cliff Kahn's demonstations of how colour effects our tastes of food, just from expectations, the brain's tyranny over the tongue. 40 years later, feasting on smoked albacore tuna, blue potato and prosciuto salad with calamata olive vinagrette; it's hard enough just to type all that, much less to evaluate the effect of hue on its assorted tastes.
"Subtle" and "rich" fought to see which could describe this the best. The smoke in the tuna and the sauce danced, etc. My bubbly prosecco kept on keeping on the right taste beat. Also moonlights as a pallete cleanser, when not devoting its time to complementing the herbs as if they were newly introduced breasts. Overall, it tastes expensive. That's generally a good thing, when taxmen hover not about.
These ingredients don't grow on trees. Oh, they do? Well, that's not the point!

The great wall of halibut arrives! The wall is propped up by a tomato and other strange things. I'll discover what they are when I bite into them.
On the menu, its labelled paprika herb encrusted west coast halibut, sundried tomato and sweet pea couscous, grilled patty pan squash, basil vinagrette. yeah, right. The dominant flavour is the panko. Always a good choice for domination. The Gary Oaks Pinot Gris, a local wine, increases the subtlety of the fish and magnifies the ingredients in the overall meal. I remain in search of the paprika flavour for some time. The baked, almost blackened green vegetables taste rather oriental. Delicious. The green peas and red sundried tomatos in the couscous are like Christmas in your mouth. Maybe its the colour triggering Xmas iconography in your eye, which your tongue can't argue against. The server re-informs me the veg is Patty Pan Squash. Peter's wife? Tasting it flashes me back to living in Kashiwa, a distant suburb of Tokyo, in 1977. Not really what I want to be thinking about when I'm looking out the window at an exquisite sunset. How tastes suddenly remove us from the now and hurl us back far into our pasts is more oddity than digestive aide. Like staring at a favourite Vermeer and then having a bucket of purple paint thrown over it. The classical piano goes well with the fish, but when the violin enters, it does so rather violently. Teeth, etc. Reminders of meals in restaurants with my parents in the 50s, and how annoying the violin made those meals, though I had far greater tolerance for this type of music then. But the goodness of the food prevailed over musical annoyance, disturbing memory and all other intrusion. Riding waves of happiness, I exit the flower-strewn grounds of Hastings House for a short stroll back to my B&B.