Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dinner at Diva: The. Best. Food. Ever!

Perhaps because they read my blog post about Diva (March 11, "Edison Goes to Diva, discovers Light") or one of the numerous raves in local journals, Dino and Krista decided they wanted to take me to Diva. Dino had some wine while his pregnant wife enjoyed some pineapple juice.
I noticed a cocktail with thyme, chartreuse and bubbly. I tried to keep the thyme from being tangled in my beard. It was slightly medicinal, but good with the amuse bouche:

Well, I actually needed some white wine to eat it. Uncooked albacore tuna with some other stuff. Krista had a bite before remembering that pregnancy frowns on raw fish. Dino wasn't impressed either. Ok, this meal is not off to a good start

At the server's excellent suggestion, we ordered 3 "starters." This is the trout.

This is some sous vide scallops and prawns, probably other stuff too. The reason we went to Diva was for their sous vide concoctions. This was amazing.

The lobster gnocchi was the server's suggestion. Although the lobster was a bit chewy, the gnocchi was better than anything I had in Italy (OK, that isn't saying much).

I rarely eat chicken in restaurants but upon the server's suggestion and as it was the only main course sous vide I hadn't eaten (the unbelievable salmon Fumiyo feasted on in March is still on the menu), I went with the chicken. Eating it, I flashed on the first time I ever ate chicken. When my parents went from vegetarian to 3 steaks a day at the end of 1962, my only relief from the sudden beef onslaught was our Sunday chicken dinner, caused by a sale on BBQ chicken at a local market, which also featured in the lunch I took to Jr. high on Mondays. That's how good it was. It was like discovering a new food, and being saved by it from monotony.

Dino had the lobster. Again, chewier than I'd prefer but with the white and green asparagus, still an amazing meal.

Krista had the halibut. Properly done, it's my favourite fish. This is so far above "properly done" it might as well be in a different taste galaxy.

Amazed that I still had room for desert, I agreed to try the Stilton cheese cake sodden with fruit. If you can get drunk on cheese cake, I was quickly besotted.

Dino and Krista had some chocolaty things. I found them scenic but tasted them not.
As I was eating all this food, I had the sensation that I was driving in a tunnel (possibly because Fumiyo is driving across Canada as I dined?) underneath a lifetime of food consumption, finally emerging in a new land of superior tastes. As someone who has searched for the best possible food for nearly 60 years, I've never had a better meal. I couldn't believe how good each course was (lose the amuse bouche pronto! ). The wine pairings were rather substandard, but I DIDNT CARE. I thought the scallops at C were the best food in town, but that's only one thing. Here everything was as good as those scallops. Vocabulary fails me. Food this good doesn't seem part of reality. It's worth a trip to Vancouver to eat here, even if you live in a different universe.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Year of Meats

I was planning to read this novel when it came out a decade ago but didn't get around to it until I was in the library a few days ago, and discovered, according to the library, that everyone in Vancouver was supposed to read this book now, and discuss it. Perhaps because it was written in the library? Or perhaps because it's a very good book, of particular relevance to the large portion of this city that is of Asian origin.
I rarely read fiction. I'm glad I recently read Fast Food Nation, and if you read my blog about it, am even more glad to have seen the fictional version of FFN as a flick before reading this one. Ruth Ozeki is a film maker and writes like one. The novel is a blend of Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book from 1000 AD, the travails of an American-Japanese film maker making a TV series called My American Wife to get its Japanese audience to buy US meat, particularly beef, and the even greater problems of the Japanese wife of her obnoxious boss. A very good blend indeed, unlike the stuff they put in that meat.
Something I've always disliked about novels and films by non-Japanese people about Japanese people is how stereotypical they are. As the excellent Japanese novelist (and recent Nobel prize winner) Kenzaburo Oe inquired, why are people so interested in Japanese technology but not in Japanese people AS people, not as stereotypes? The only novels I can think of that transcend these stereotypes are Quin's Shanghai Circus (only partly set in Japan) and Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle. One would think, with the millions of gaijin (non-Japanese) who have actual experiences with Japanese people by now, those stereotypes would have gone the way of Steppin Fetchit. Alas this is far from the case.
Ozeki wrote the book to be provocative, both with the subject matter of chancy meat and as cultural observations. The book is more about Japanese misconceptions of America than American misconceptions about Japanese people. In general, the Americans are portrayed as genuinely welcoming to the visitors from Nippon. A nation of immigrants, versus a nation besotted with the fiction that they've been there forever. One thing I disliked about the book, and about fiction in general, is the obvious story arc: girl gets boy, loses boy, gets him back that defines fiction. As soon as things are going well in any plot, you know problems have to arise for the hero/heroine to overcome, as if you can't appreciate a story without tension. Fiction seems to be defined by that. Life isn't like that, why must "stories" be enslaved by that formula?
That said, I enjoyed this novel more than I expected to, and I had planned to read it. I recommended it to my wife's friends, who have lived in Canada for decades. It is something worth talking about. Meat is more than culture. Sushi is more ubiquitous in North Vancouver than it is the similar sized town of Kamagaya where my wife and daughter grew up. Like Ozeki, Monique was a product of these two cultures. Growing up in Kamagaya, she enjoyed the priviliges she received from the populace because her mother was the town's English teacher, oblivious to the racism I continued to encounter because of my appearance throughout my 17 years in Japan. But in that sense, everyone's experience of everywhere is unique. If Japan hadn't been "other" it wouldn't have continued to interest me during those long years. But these things change. Perhaps beef will become the most consumed meat in Japan (if it isn't' already) while fish comes to dominate the Canadian market. In that sense, My Year of Meats is a snapshot of a particular time. Perhaps Ozeki will turn it into a film?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The scallops at the Blue Water Cafe

I had some time before the Andersen Project so I thought I'd find a seafood restaurant nearby. Actually, though Blue Water is on the same street as the theatre, it's not close but worth the walk. I was offered a table at the sushi bar, even though I protested I didn't eat sushi. Being only one person, they didn't want to waste a table on me, perhaps.

Although the tuna on the entree menu looked good, I didn't want to be too full for a two hour no-intermission play so I just ordered a couple of appetisers.

To start with, I order a cocktail called a Hello Aloe. I remember the aloe is a medicinal plant. Here it's mixed with rum and apple juice, with slices of apple on top. Tastes rather medicinal. More something I'd want to study than quench my thirst with. When I asks for a wine suggestion to accompany my scallops, I'm offered a Fork in the Road. Better than a chopstick in the road. When the scallops arrive, they look and smell delicious.

Galliano Island Swimming Scallops, smothered with panko and a subtle tomato sauce with lemon and capers. Are there non-swimming scallops? Tastes more intricate than it looks and the Fork goes well with it. The ingredients are quite simple so the quality is a factor of the ingredients.

Even though I'm at the sushi bar, the chair is quite comfortable. Good back support. I need it as though the dish is tiny, I find it quite filling. I can't say I find it entertaining to watch men cut up fish and speak Japanese and I'll have enough entertainment at the Andersen Project soon enough.

Next up, the prawns with fresh urban vegetable salad, ginger, chili and lemmon grass. When I request a wine pairing, the server asks if I like savignon blanc. I tell her, if it's REALLY COLD. The shrimp are BIG. The sauce is COLOURFUL.

Very visually entertaining and the sauce is superb but not actually that much food. I felt full after the scallops. I had some trouble getting rid of the prawn shells, the first bite was more shell than prawn. I can do that at home- at a restaurant, I expect de-shelling to have been done before the food arrives in front of me. Then I made the mistake of having some cilantro with the prawns, which drowns out their subtle flavour. This really does function as a appetiser, making me hungry and I won't have anything to eat for many hours after this meal. The sauvignon, chilled to perfection, carries the meal to a higher level.

To get the cilantro aftertaste out of my mouth, I order a glass of calvados. I began with an apple drink, I end with an apple drink. By "glass" I mean of couple of teaspoons of booze. It succeeds in freeing me from the cilantro so it does its job. Next time I'm here, I'll try the tuna entree.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Andersen Project, or

What do you expect when you go to see a play? Is it a different experience from going to see a movie, or a circus? Seeing this play is like seeing more media than we thought could be so combined. Yet to what effect?

My esteemed friend Stephen Huddart, while visiting him in Montreal and touring his wife's recently concluded gig at the National Theatre School, told me that The Andersen Project was the best play he'd ever seen. Considering how much my own plays are due to the skill and imagination of Stephen and Catherine Huddart, I bought tickets for this play as soon as they came on sale in Vancouver, last fall.

I did not know such stagecraft was possible. Frank remembered a pavilion at Vancouver's 86 Expo that had similar effects. I've always loved going to Expos for their tremulous unveiling of technology of that era, to seduce you into buying that company's product, with something resembling Art, or at least borrowing its expectations.

This was what Walt Disney lived and died for. The illusion of climbing a stair case, or taking trains, or coming forth from a tree spirit into a woman and visiting the Paris World's Fair from the Andersen story The Dryad. At no point was this not overwhelming. Like those world's fairs, this challenges anyone who thinks of marrying their ideas with technological possibilities. If only the Firesign Theatre had Lepage's millions, what stagecraft they could have altered reality with.

My friend from Lepage's Montreal was right on how this play sets the bar, if you're going to do fully funded theatre, you can't do less than this or else keep making soundless films a century after the invention of talkies. But my friend Dave Samuels was right as well, the pyramid of technology did not support this script, ie it could have done so much more with a thematically, as opposed to just a technologically advanced venture. I know Lepage had to do this story for his commission and if Andersen were alive to see it, he might rejoice in the modernization of his out of time tarried tales. This play has won shelves of awards and its numerous makers well deserve them. But one doesn't cure loneliness by identifying with the loneliness of others. Plays benefit only those who have come to play.

"I knew that this would end like a Hans Christian Andersen story, where humans who have longings and desires die, and animals have lots of children and live happily ever after" says Lepage at the plays end, as he is about to be engulfed in fire. It is a stunning theatrical moment. I felt electrocuted by its eloquence. At the same time, I wondered if my daughter Monique and her friend Kim had such eloquent thoughts as they were being blown up on May 30, 1998. Or not. Should it matter? The idea of incinerating people spectacularly is a constant desire of more film makers than is necessary to count. Good box office. Blow them all up. Lepage can provide the best words, Hollywood can produce the most scintillating flames. Everyone benefits. Except the dead.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Preston Sturges and the 40s

A talented comedian of my acquaintence, Phil Austin, upon being asked who his favourite director was, answered Preston Sturges. I had seen Sturges' Sullivan's Travels in film class in 1972. I remember enjoying it immensely, but little about it. The local classic dvd store had no Sturges, so I signed up for Zip.Ca, the Canuck equivalent of Netflix in order to see more of Sturges' work. Another Firesign Theatre friend, David Ossman named his youngest son Preston in honour of this director. I had to see his work!
The first DVD that arrived in the mail was Miracle at Morgan's Creek. It starts out really funny. Austin called it the oddest war story, and to some extent it was that. The special features of the DVD told how the flick subverted the Hayes Code rules but that's too long ago to matter to a watcher in 2007. It reminded me of Its' a Wonderful Life, even though critics called Sturges the anti-Capra. Certainly his work is more cynical, subversive in the sense that Tom Paine and The Firesign Theatre are subversive, in that they imagine a better world is possible. Both Capra and Sturges seem to grow healthily in that American sunlight only Hollywood can create. All the Sturges flicks I saw were numinous in that sense.
Following Morgan, I saw the noirish Rex Harrison vehicle, from toward the end of Sturges' career, Unfaithfully Yours. The commentary by Terry Jones was particularly enjoyable. In general, the commentarys on all the DVDs were profoundly meaningful to me as a one time student of film and as someone who grew up among film people. Terry Jones figured it was too complex, too adult to be successful. I thought its slapstick strangely unfunny and Rudy Valee not nearly as amusing as his character was supposed to be. Jones was also bowled away by the dialogue. That's true in all 4 Sturges films I've seen thusfar. It is amazing dialogue. It's so fast. Like the Firesign goal of making us use our brains at greater efficiency, Sturges must have wanted to do the same with his audiences, or perhaps just make them have to see the films repeatedly to get all the jokes.
Seeing Sullivan's Travels again after 35 years was even more enchanting than the first time. What a perfect movie! There isn't anything you can say about it. Go rent it and let its numinous hilarity pour over you.
Austin had claimed The Palm Beach Story as his favourite Sturges so I thought it would have to be amazing to beat Sullivan's Travels. For me, it didn't. The Joel McCrae character you cheered for in Sullivan seemed more pathetic in this flick. Great dialogue, but that's a given with Sturges. The Claudette Colbert person seemed too old for her role, as if she had been beautiful long, long ago, and refused to leave that world in her mind, though her face told other tales.
While watching all of these movies from the 40s, I thought about my parents watching them when they first came out. They were young then, younger than most of the actors on the screen. Did they delight in Sturges in their day? There is something so much of that era, the 40s, the days of their youth in his films. The well-lit idealism. A different, alien world to me but thankfully I have Sturges to show me that world.