Monday, July 28, 2008

Cioppino's again

Fumiyo's friend was visiting from Toronto. As good excuse as any to take them to Cioppino's.

Thankfully, the mushroom soup was still available. 3rd time for me, just as good every time.

We shared the grilled calamari, sauteed wild prawns, goat cheese, portabella and eggplant salad.

Vannesa had the tuna, which I had feasted on in my last visit here. She enjoyed it as well.

Fumiyo had the sablefish.

Pino's Dover Muniere used tomatoes like Monet used the colour red. Tasted as good as it looks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Transcendence, The Musical

The idea of Spamalot makes a lot of sense. The flick had songs. I think all the Python flicks did, not to mention their memorable tunes from the TV show such as I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Ok. Idle can certainly write great, and greatly amusing tunes and King Arthur's adventures have been presented on stage innumerable times.
With this in mind, I made my way over the Centre for the Performing Arts, an interesting building next to the library I'd seen often enough but never entered. Once entering, one goes upstairs on a ramp covered with mirrors, and then into a sizeable yet intimate theatre specificlally designed for these sorts of plays, travelling big budget musicals. I hadn't seen one in a while but looked forward to this.
Musicals are an art form I was into almost before I was into music. When we moved to LA in 56, my parents used to listen to a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan records and go to lots of plays. Seeing Damn Yankees onstage in LA in 57 or so was actually more enjoyable than actually seeing a world series game (The Dodgers lost, in 77). I remember particularly enjoying Little Me. Reading bio of Shultz, about how much him and first wife loved The Unsinkable Molly Brown, reminded me of how much I did too in those days.
There was a point when I stopped going to plays, probably in University and certainly when I went to Japan in 71. It's only since I came back to Vancouver in 88 I've begun attending theatre again. Although the Firesign use songs in their stage shows, very little of the theatre I've seen in the past 2 decades has had music. Yet on film, my favourite movie until recently was the Southpark flick, which is a kind of parody musical. Without my deep background as a Broadway hound, I wouldn't have found it that delightful.
The point being, the idea of music and story has always gone together in my mind. The reason I've been unsuccessful in film projects thus far is I haven't found appropriate musicians, unlike the radio plays. The days when I composed music are so far in the past, it belongs somewhere in a museum. But Eric Idle can still write songs, right?
Well, maybe not.

This was the first play I've ever seen from the front row. The orchestra pit was a peril. The actors were close enough that in the spitting scene, I was worried. I remember seeing Keith Jarrett in a club in LA in 73, so close to my table that his flying sweat endangered my drink. It was almost like that.
Holy Grail transitions very well onto the stage. You miss the Python actors, but these folks aren't at all untalented. The same great Terry Giliam animations are used to great effect. The stagecraft is what you'd expect. I occasionally thought of high school musicals, but then I've seen some such musicals with very high production values (in my hometown Yorkton, among other places). I kept flashing back to that era of my life, when I still really enjoyed the genre. I remember seeing a muscial version of A Midsummer Night's Dream by a Watts theatre group that beat any nonmusical version of any Shakespeare play I've seen in the past 40 years. When the actors broke into Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, it was transcendent. Even if it belonged to people dieing on crosses instead of in King Arthur-land, it's such a great song it still worked.
If it only ended there.
One of my favourite scenes from the flick was when the king stopped the musicians from accomodating his son about to burst into song. The rest of the play, I really wanted to be that king. The other tunes Idle (or whomever) concocted were woefully alien to the Holy Grail theme, and thoroughly tedious as tunes. For all the production value, all those good looking women dancing a few feet from me, I kept wishing it would end. Have you ever watched a Python flick/tv show/stage show and wanted it to end? Ever? The extraneous plot, with the endlessly over-the-top Lady of the Lake, seemed like something tacked on because they ran out of money to do the rest of the Grail or something. The audience member coming on stage seemed like filler. Maybe Idle's lived in Hollywood too long. His horizon has shrunk from Shakespeare parody's to bad TV game shows. There were still flashes of wit with new stuff, or sort of new- close enough to the orchestra pit to really appreciate the Symbol joke, but I was there for transcendence, not the odd chuckle. French horn?
It finally ended, with more hideous music. People kept bowing, expecting applause. I wished I'd had a few cows to toss at them. Finally, they came out and sang Bright Side again. Yes, the tune transcends.
After the play, Frank and I had a hard time finding a restaurant still open at 10:30 Capone's has live music so we were able to get some fine food and drinks. Angus Tenderloin Carpaccio $12
dijon & peppercorn crusted, white truffle oil, asiago, crispy capers. This in itself was better than Spamalot. Sunkissed Knob creek, Triple Sec, mango puree, a splash pineapple & soda, layered with raspberry liqueur. This was pretty good too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Krazy at the Vancouver Art Gallery, with Bill Reid and good scallops too

The Vancouver Art Gallery has been featuring a show called Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art for a couple of monthes now. Ah, the riches of city life! As a long time fan of most of the things listed as "delirious," I expected a great show. With Art (Maus) Spiegelman as one of the curators, this had to be a great show. Or so I thought.
Although there were lots of thoughtful comments by serious and humourous folk about the subjects and a few large images on the walls, most of the subjects didn't really feel like they belonged in a musuem at all. A library, yes. Roy Lichtenstein's blown up comic images are museum images. Little drawings in books are not. I had just read new bio of Charles Schultz, whose Peanuts comic strip obssessed me as a kid. I read that there is a museum devoted to his work and I look forward to seeing it in an upcoming trip to California. The Peanuts characters were as siblings to me, a stronger reaction than I had to KRAZY's panoply of comic characters but their presentation is a factor of the this vast popularization of comic art, from Micky on my 7-year-old wrist to Snoopy on the moon. We've seen this stuff well presented elsewhere. Why not here?
The person who turned me on to blogging, Elayne, also turned me on to the graphic novels Persepoolis, 1 and 2, which I read at her place in 2005. When I learned that these books would be turned into a film, completing under the control of the author, I was ecstatic. Well, it was ok on a 50" tv. On a movie screen, maybe better yet. Did the small magazine image blown up to a tv image become a better image, or at least more accessible? Maybe not. I seemed to care less about the character now, when her story is well publicized than when it was new to me. No surprise there. But aesthetically, I was excpecting greater heights. Seeing comics go to the big screen magnificently, it is a drag to see great imagery magnified only graphically, not intellectually. The Southpark flick and to a lesser extant the Simpsons movie managed to keep what we love in the small and then go somewhere exquisitely new with the large. I thought Persepolis profoundly faithful to its graphic novel origin, but not transcendent, not yet mistress of its medium. I suspect its author will grow into her new fields of options, and great images will spring forth garden-like from her occular imaginings. Persepolis does a lot of good in bringing the individuality of Iranians in front of an occluding parade of Iranian missiles aimed at us. Does Dick Cheney really want to drop bombs on little girls wearing pro-American t-shirts? Doesn't America have enough enemies? A large proportion of the city I live in is now Iranian. That means more signs in a language I can't read in local stores, but much better local food. Which is more important? Hmmm.
Yes, movies are important. They impact public opinion. They protect us from bummers. Sometimes they prevent bummers. Its what story tellers have always tried to do.
I had the great privilidge of seeing Paprika in a theatre (instead of just on dvd)last year. Seeing a few minutes from it on a tiny TV screen just isnt the same thing. That's shrinking imagery that is supposed to be vast and full of information. Not a good idea. At the Tokyo history museum I went to last summer, there were extensive exhibits of manga, the Japanese "comic" books of the 19th century. You can look at dioramas of stores were workers slaved away making the wood block prints and selling them in the store windows and you can get a great sense of perspective. This KRAZY show had a few comic books (graphic novels) displayed as totem objects and also, copies at a library-like station to study them further. A few Japanese tv shows and bits of assorted animes. Maybe if I knew a lot less about this subject matter, I would have enjoyed the show more. I was expecting so much more. Delirious would be the last word I could imagine applying to this exhibition. Tedious, timid, uninspiring, poor use of wood. But at least, they, well, sorta, tried.
Next, I wandered over to the new Bill Reid Gallery . A very intimate space. You'd expect Bill to walk in at any minute. Very bright and airy, natural light really complementing the glistening jewalry. I've never been any more interested in jewalry than I was in sculpture before I first beheld Reid's Raven and the First Men at my university's museum of anthropology. Reid worked on small version of large works, or large versions of what was first jewalry, I'd have to look that up. It's interesting to see Raven and The First Men in all its forest-born magesty and right next to that, the same piece as a small gold sculpture. You can see Reid telescoping. If only they'd been able to do something like that in Krazy! Larger, not small versions of interesting visual ideas.
The scallops were smaller than I remembered at The Blue Water Cafe last May. Were they as good? I've been having terrible luck with scallops, not just this year but the later part of last year. West, C, and other restaurants that were reliable in providing declious scallops, have failed me. I needed to find out if The Blue Water's Galliano scallops were still good. Yes, they are, but! This is but fragments of scallop in panko (which I love) in a kind of tomato paste. I could probably make the same thing, and will try soon. I had started off with too spicy a cocktail called a Marley. Switched to a glass of Babich SB for the scallops and it helped liquidate the whole thing in my mouth. Was it as good as it was last May? Hard to say, because the scallop flavour was overwhelmed by the tomato sauce and panko. I'm going to compare to another scallop dish I'm fond of from a local restaurant and then a new thing on a menu overtown that sounds intriguing. It couldn't be that all the good scallops have been eaten, and we only get mediocre scallops now (what I felt about prawns in Japan last year, and mostly beef too) because of some change in the ocean or something. But no one has mentioned this in the local food press that I follow. Very mysterious.
For my entree, I was tantalized by the wagyu, the speciality of the day or perhaps longer. I was told that this was quite a catch for the restaurant, not something that would appear on thier menu regularly. Is it really good beef? Minimum 2 ozs, I decided to find out. They also added some shrimp (2 side prawn $6.00). A wonderful Dessert Hills Mirage 2005 made the beef even better. "Isn't this the best beef you've ever eaten?" the server asked? Actually I ate better beef than this daily from my local department store meat dept in the small Japanese city I lived in for a decade. But by Vancouver standards (and the vile quality beef sold in Japan has become) this was quite good. Though the Japanese anime presentation rather dissappointed me, a seafood restaurant's Japanese beef immitation is a sign that someone's looking up. We need to be inspired, in our galleries and our kitchens. Like Bill Reid looking at a tree.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bacchus: One Merry Deity

I've been wanting to go to Bacchus restaurant since I bought the suits last year and was looking for a place to wear them. It rates 3 1/2 stars out of 4 in the local foodie Vancouver magazine. The day was so hot I was glad not to be wearing anything suity. Coming into the Wedgewood Hotel, I realized I'd walked by this place many times. It's right accross from the Court building. Finally inside. The part of the restaurant facing the street consists of a large and very comfortable looking lounge I'll have to visit again this summer for a drink. In preparation for that visit, I had a cocktail made of pureed pear, apple juice, some expensive vodka and a sprig of rosemary. I remember the rosemary cocktail I had at Hastings House on Saltspring Island two summers ago. This was much better. It reminded me of a Jolie Coure, which is astronomically high praise. Never did taste any pear though. Unlike the Hastings House cocktail, the rosemary in this one was complementary, as opposed to overpowering.

Fumiyo and friends enjoyed the bread. I enjoyed taking a picture of it.

Our amuse bouche was pea soup, with mint. Miyoko and I really enjoyed it. The peas tasted so fresh, as if they were just picked before the soup was made, and mint goes together with peas perfectly.
For a first course, Fumiyo and Miyoko had this leek soup. They loved it. Inside were morel mushrooms with some sort of chicken inside them. Looked like tiny kiwi fruit. I see from the menu that there are ramps inside. I've never had ramps, but see them all the time in menus of extragent restaurants I hope to visit eventually. This unfortunately was not my day to try them for the first time. My appetiser was far too filling to try anyone else's.

Crab croquettes with ginger. What a fabulous combination. The croquettes were mostly crab and very succulent. Topped with pea shoots, a perfect combination after the pea soup. Really filling but really good.

Kiyoshi also enjoyed the croquettes.

Fumiyo had the Alaskan black cod. Very scenic. I had a taste of the sauce which was obviously made by someone who takes saucing seriously.

Miyoko and Kiyoshi had the Baja scallops and very happy with them.

I ordered the centre-cut halibut, which also included scallops. I was not impressed with my scallops, and Fumiyo ended up eating this one. I asked the server if it was the same scallop as the Miyoshis had and was told it was from the same batch, though the Miyoshis said theirs were succulent, while mine was rather dry. The halibut, on the other hand, was magnificent. Artichokes go as well with halibut as the graham cracker crumbs I had with halibut at Gastropod recently. All in all, the restaurant was just as good as I expected.