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Vacations

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

Pot pies at the beach

On our last full day in Newport, the weather had turned cold and stormy. After so much excitement crabbing the previous day, we were more than content to stay indoors and relax. Although, towards the end of the day I convinced K to go with me to the aquarium.

I had read rave reviews about the Oregon Coast Aquarium, so I was really excited to see it. I had even read that it’s one of the best aquariums in the country. If this is true, then we must have some lame aquariums. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by my last visit to the Vancouver Aquarium. The Oregon Coast Aquarium tank displays seemed terribly uninspired and even the informational displays were as bare bones as possible. The two things that I did like were the circular tank of seductively lit jellyfish and the gigantic octopus. The octopus gave us quite a show, coming out from his hiding place to demonstrate wall climbing techniques.

Later that night, we thought about eating at one of the fancier places in Newport—April’s or Saffron Salmon. We stopped by both to check out the menus. They sounded great, but in the end we decided that our room had the best view in town and, on a whim, I had brought up a few frozen pot pies from my freezer.

Let me just say that these are no ordinary pot pies. They are pot pies sent down from the heavens. They are made from scratch with tender, perfectly cooked chicken, fresh vegetables and amazing homemade gravy. And if that isn’t enough, they are topped with a buttery, puff-pastry crust and sprinkled with a touch of paprika. I wish I could say that I had made them, but I actually bought them at A&J Meats on Queen Anne. It had always been my intention to perfect my pot pie recipe, but once I discovered these at A&J’s, I just gave up; it seemed impossible to improve upon them. That is until K mentioned the lobster pot pie recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I may need to try that one…

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

Crab vs. Mink

On our second day in Newport, we woke up to unexpectedly glorious weather—one of those days where it’s hot out before 9am. I had seen crab rentals in the lobby and decided that today was the day I’d catch my first crab.

I didn’t have the first clue about crabbing. I assumed we’d rent a crab ring in the morning, toss it into the water, go play and check on it the next day. The woman at the rental counter laughed and said if we did that we wouldn’t catch any crabs. I was confused—didn’t the crabs just walk into the trap and not come out? I had heard tales of crustacean cannibalism… maybe the crabs ate each other if they spent too much time in a confined area. Or maybe someone would steal our crabs if we left the ring unattended? We decided to check out the town first and then come back and spend the rest of the day crabbing.

We drove through Newport’s main street; it was touristy, as predicted, but also kind of cute and the perfect place for a family with young kids. We drove a little further and ended up on Historic Nye Beach. It was breathtaking… in more ways than one. The beach was unbelievably beautiful, but it also was unbelievably smelly. There were thousands of tiny, bright purple jellyfish washed up on the beach and rotting in the sun. When a jelly completely dried up it left behind a hard little disk, about the size of a half-dollar, and it looked like a translucent computer chip. I was fascinated with the jellyfish, but they smelled so bad that we had to leave.

On our way back we drove through the town of Nye Beach, which was the exact opposite of Newport’s tourist strip; upscale and understated. It was weird how different each area was, considering they’re less than a mile apart. In Nye Beach we stopped at the cutest little deli (Village Market & Deli) and purchased some delicious provolone and hard salami for lunch.

When we got back to the hotel, we changed into more appropriate crabbing attire and headed back down to the rental desk. I asked a million questions and finally figured out that the crab ring lies flat on the bottom of the water, so the crabs can walk in. Then when the ring is pulled to the surface, it forms a basket that catches the crabs. A crab ring is rented for a period of 24 hours ($8) and you can crab for as long as you want within that time period. The ring rental came with a large bucket and a green plastic ruler for measuring the crabs. We also had to purchase two crabbing licenses ($6.50 each) and I bought a pair of plastic coated gloves ($3) that I figured would come in handy. Now all we needed was bait. The brochure I picked up said that the bait should be as smelly as possible: our choices were chicken or mink. I assumed the mink would smell more than the chicken (an understatement), so we purchase a frozen mink (sans head, tail or feet) for $2.50. I calculated that we’d need to catch at least three crabs in order to break even since I had seen $9 fresh crabs for sale in town.

We headed out to the hotel’s private dock with our crabbing supplies, a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a few Rainers. I still wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing, but there was no one else on the dock to pepper with questions; we had to wing it. The first step was baiting our trap. I unwrapped the mink and was hit with a putrid smell—despite being frozen. Between one frozen mink and thousands of rotting jellyfish, the jellyfish are surprisingly better smelling. I was hoping I could get away with not touching the mink, but I couldn’t grip the string with the gloves. Holding my breath, I tied the mink to the bottom of the trap as quickly as I could. It ended up looking exactly like a giant, trussed pork loin.

We lowered the ring into the water, popped open our beers and discussed strategy. K wouldn’t touch the crabs, so we decided that she would pull up the ring and I would grab the crabs. And safety first; if K got nervous she was to ditch the ring back into the water. K asked what we’d do with the crabs that were under the allowed size of 5.75 inches. I said I’d gently place them in the water and they’d float back down to their home.

We were anxious and didn’t have a watch to tell if the recommended 20 minutes had passed (I’m pretty sure it was only 5), so we decided to pull up the ring and see what we had caught. K cautiously pulled up the net while I took pictures. I was thrilled to see that there were about six crabs in our net! Most of them were under the required size—so small that they could crawl through the net and onto the dock. We didn’t account for this in our strategy, so some excitement ensued. I ended up running around the ring, herding the escaped crabs back into the water while K screamed and pointed when they got loose. Finally we were left with one, giant crab. Just as I was getting ready to put it into our bucket, we remembered that we had to check the sex (you’re only allowed to keep male crabs). I flipped it over and was crushed to find it was a female. Before putting it back in the water, I wanted a picture of me holding my first crab. K was getting the camera when I felt a hard pinch through the gloves. I screamed at the top of my lungs and hurled the crab back into the water, screaming “It BIT me! That f*cker BIT me!” while K laughed. Our first pull was a bust, so we lowered the crab ring back into the water.

Each subsequent pull yielded many more little crabs, but also a few male ones that were large enough to keep. We learned that tossing the ring as far out as we could returned better crabs. I also learned that gently placing the crabs back in the water is neither wise nor practical. I quickly realized how vicious and strong crabs are and I ended up throwing them off the dock as quickly as I could. One crab was holding on so tightly that I couldn’t get him to budge. I was pulling on him as hard as I could while Kelly tried to saw off the piece of mink he was clutching with the ruler (didn’t work).

On the fifth or sixth pull, K pointedly informed me that she couldn’t do this anymore. I was confused since she seemed to be holding up pretty well. Finally she pointed at the mink. Oh. The crabs had gotten to the mink insides. I told her not to look and that I’d take care of it. Ahem. Could I really do this? Our mink meat was about a foot and a half long and at least two feet of intestines were hanging out. All I needed to do was pull the guts out and get rid of them so it didn’t look so gruesome. I pulled. And pulled—all the while screaming at K not to look. She’d die if she saw what I was seeing.

I don’t think degutting an animal can be compared to anything else in life. The best I can say is that it was like pulling a tissue out of a brand-new Kleenex box. I mean, there’s not much resistance, but you do have to tug a little and the sound is not so pretty. I was losing my nerve, but I figured if I didn’t do this, K couldn’t go on—and she was already being an incredible sport considering she’s doesn’t even eat seafood. I kept screaming at K not to look as I yanked and yanked. About five feet of intestines came out and with one last tug, came free. Whew! Then I realized the guts were entwined in the net. “Don’t look!” I screamed. I was slightly hysterical at this point, partly because I was feeling queasy and partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were making such an incredible scene.

After a brief struggle, I got the intestines unwound from the net and tossed them into the water. “I got it! I got it! Oh, NOOOOO! Wait… don’t look… uh… we have a problem…” I’m practically doubled over with laughter at this point. “F*ck! The guts FLOAT… don’t look!” I was trying to figure out how to make the intestines sink when an entire flock of seagulls swooped down on me. I hit the deck and covered my head for protection. I was combination screaming, crying and laughing “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” while two gulls grabbed the entrails on each side and I watched a horrifying and much less romantic version of the lady and the tramp spaghetti scene. I almost lost my lunch, but at least the entrails were finally gone.

We stayed out for almost three hours and caught six crabs total; three Dungeness and three Red Rock. The Red Rock crabs were a beautiful dark reddish color with bright purple highlights on their claws. The Dungeness just looked yummy. We fired up the crab pots located on the upper deck and relaxed in the sun with another well-deserved beer. Once our crabs were cooked and bright red, I covered them with ice and brought them back to our room. I shelled for about three hours that night and ended up with about 2 cups of crab meat. I melted a 1/4 stick of butter and dug in. It was the sweetest crab I’ve ever eaten.

When I got home and figured out what a mink was, I was horrified. They are ridiculously cute. When I found out they purr when they’re happy, I felt as if I’d just used a cat as bait. Will this be the simultaneous beginning and end of my crabbing days?

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Newport beach, here we come…

My friend K is visiting from NY for two weeks and we thought it would be great to get away for a few days. My dad happens to have a timeshare condo in Newport, so we planned a trip down to the Oregon coast. Newport boasts a wax museum and a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, so I was a little worried that it was going to be a tacky tourist town and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The first thing I didn’t expect was how long the drive would be. For some reason I had it my head that it was just past Portland, but it took more than five hours to get there (and we didn’t leave until noon because we were up till three in the morning the night before playing mah jong). The second thing I didn’t expect was how gorgeous it would be. When we arrived it was overcast and even still, the view of Yaquina Bay was unbelievable—sparkling clear water, working docks, boat marinas and a gorgeous bridge. Newport mainly consists of commercial fisherman and tourists, but our condo was at the far end of the main strip, so it was peaceful and pleasant.

Once we checked in, we wandered through our enormous accommodations. We were spoiled with two bedrooms—one in an upstairs loft complete with a spiral staircase, a fully outfitted kitchen, a dining area, a really comfortable living room, a fireplace, two bathrooms with two Jacuzzis and two large private decks, both with unobstructed 180 degree views of the bay. We were in heaven and couldn’t believe our good luck. After we called my dad to thank him profusely, we uncorked a bottle of wine, sat out on the deck (despite the chilly weather) and soaked in the view.

Even though it was only 6pm, I was hungry, so we decided to hit happy hour in the hotel restaurant ($3.50 French dips!). The restaurant had a lovely view of the marina, but was unfortunately also decorated like a marina: captains wheels, buoys, brass lanterns and the whole bit. And it being Early Bird time, the blue-haired were out in force. I looked around and giggled—at least it really felt like I wasn’t in Seattle anymore.

I ordered what quite possibly was the worst French dip I’ve ever eaten—and I’m pretty lenient when it comes to French dips. The bread was all wrong (rock-hard sourdough), the meat tasted sickly and the au jus was simply water tinted brown. The fries were pale and anemic and barely worth eating. K didn’t fare much better with her Caesar salad that was drowning in bottled dressing. But I was happy our meals were only $3.50 each, as the regular entrees were approaching the $30 range! I was also grateful that our condo had a kitchen. After dinner we went back to the room and spent more time on the deck, watching the lighthouse lights blink off and on, then fell asleep early from all that fresh air.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Dad!

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

Mother-daughter weekend

My friend K’s mother was in town for a few weeks and we thought it would be great to take her up to my mom’s place on Whidbey. It turned out to be a relaxing and fun mother-daughter weekend.

When we arrived in the early afternoon, the weather was trying it’s hardest to be nice, so we felt obliged to sit on the deck with drinks and a cheese plate. It was before noon and I felt a little weird drinking that early, but K’s mom opened a bottle of red and started pouring. The funny thing is that she was still on East-coast time and thought it was more like three in the afternoon.

Once the weather turned too cold to be outside, we headed into Coupeville to check out some antique stores and have a proper lunch at Toby’s. We had an order of the Penn Cove mussels, which were extra delicious that day and almost sweet. My mom and I split a crispy halibut burger and a pepper-jack hamburger. They are just regular burgers and there isn’t anything fancy about them, so I have a hard time explaining exactly why they are so amazing and delicious.

Later that evening it was still cold out, but the wind had died down and I was determined to be outside. K helped me build a fire in my mom’s fire pit and we opened some more bottles of wine and prosecco. It was really pleasant being out in the garden, watching the sun set through the trees and listening to the whir of the hummingbirds. K put some rosemary on the fire, so the smell of the fire was incredible. The wind picked up a bit and created a funnel through the fire, which brought the ashes up into the sky and it felt like it was snowing. It was one of those times when I just stopped thinking and had to breathe in how perfect everything can be in a single moment.

When it was too dark to see, we went inside and cooked a beautiful dinner of dry-brined salmon grilled with lovage from the garden. We also had asparagus, a fresh green salad with pear dressing and soft baked polenta with gruyere. It was a perfect end to a wonderful day on Whidbey.

Friday, March 18th, 2005

Home Cooking

This was the big weekend of Zach’s Birthday Pizza Party so Zach and I headed up Whidbey Island the night before to prepare. Mom had a dinner of dilled carrots, pan-fried steaks and fried potatoes waiting for us. Lately I’ve either been cooking huge, fancy event meals or been so exhausted that I just make myself a sandwich, so having my Mom’s home cooking was such a treat. The dinner was delicious, but I especially loved the hand-cut wedge fries that were soft and fluffy on the inside and crisp and golden on the outside.

As we were eating the last of the fries, I suddenly remembered that I had brought along my Casina Rossa Truffle & Salt (from La Buona Tavola, Truffle Cafe). We sprinkled it on our remaining fries and there were moans all around the table. It was so good. My mom actually got mad at me for not bringing it out earlier. Then she suggested we make truffle salt omelettes for breakfast the next morning. I think Zach called her a genius.

We spent the rest of the night making pizza dough and watching Word Wars, which was fantastic. It was not only the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It was funny and engrossing and it made me realize that I’m not neurotic or obsessive in the least bit.

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

A rambling post about my weekend on Whidbey

This weekend Zach and I went up to Whidbey to visit my mom. We left after work on Friday and didn’t get there until late, but mom had a great home-cooked meal waiting for us. We had thick-cut pork chops (braised in a porcini broth that mom transformed into an amazing, salty gravy), creamy mashed potatoes, broccoli with mayonnaise and my mom’s home-made applesauce—which Zach claimed was the best he’d ever tasted. She had also made a batch of chocolate-hazelnut biscotti, which are incredible. Everything was so good that it made me miss being a kid and getting to eat my mom’s cooking everyday. Sniff.

After dinner mom showed us her spoils from Sfoglia—a gourmet takeout place on the island that just went out of business. She had a table full of flavored and balsamic vinegars, cookbooks, chocolate bars, flavored oils, chutneys, jams, torrone, tomato sauces, quince paste and more. She had paid $88 for everything. Out of curiosity, we added up the retail prices and it came to over $600. Mom gave me half of everything, so I ended up with lots of great things… specifically the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. My mom rocks.

The next day we went for a great beach walk at South Whidbey State Park. It was insanely cold (and therefore empty) but beautiful. We poked around the beach and found these beautiful chiton shells that were a brilliant turquoise color on the inside. Afterward, we checked out The Grange—a weird rental hall located just outside of Langley. It has a large kitchen so I was hoping that I could rent it for my Iron Chef party, but once the owner found out I was a Seattleite she jacked up the price. That’s one really weird (and annoying) thing about Whidbey; almost everyone hates “outsiders”. (Does anyone know of a cheap, commercial kitchen in Seattle that you can rent by the day?)

That night we ate pizza and played mah jong into the wee hours of the morning. I had heard several people talk about a great New York style pizza place on Whidbey called the Village Pizzeria. Seattle PI’s Penelope Corcoran actually called it “the best New York-style slice of pizza I’ve unearthed to date anywhere in the Puget Sound”. Uh, too bad I didn’t specify I wanted thin crust. Damn! It was still good, but my mom said that the thin crust pizza was much, much better. I ordered three different flavors; sausage, Hawaiian, and clam & garlic. The clam & garlic was surprisingly rich and delicious, and by far the best of the three.

The next morning I woke up groggy and before I knew what I was doing, I had offered to cook a waffle breakfast. Now usually I’m pretty skilled in the kitchen, but for some strange reason I can’t make a decent waffle to save my life (pancakes are even worse). I really don’t know what my problem is, but I’m going to blame it on shoddy recipes. This time I ended up with one or two perfect, crisp waffles, a few deliciously chewy ones, a few well-done ones and one that was so burnt that it shattered into pieces when we tried to remove it from the waffle iron. I know this doesn’t sound like a huge success, but the good waffles were so good. I think it was the secret, crispy waffle recipe that is found only in the 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking (and here). It’s kind of involved and requires an insane about of butter and whipped egg whites, but the waffles were so good! We ate them with bacon and some maple butter that I had bought for mom during my last trip to Vancouver. The “butter” was made entirely from maple syrup, so it was like a whipped and condensed version of maple syrup; delicious and sweet.

Before heading back to Seattle we called my brother Ross in NY so I could catch up and hear about his recent trip to China. We had both been to China once before in the early ‘80s. It was before China had really opened up to foreigners, but we were able to visit because we were considered “Overseas Chinese”. Which is really funny because I was born and raised in Seattle and have no intention of ever moving to China. I guess they’re eternally hopeful that, one day, all Chinese people will return to the mainland…

Ross said that China had changed drastically and that everything was now very modern and luxurious—an extreme contrast to what we experienced before. He also said that it was much more colorful and that the people didn’t wear those awful drab olive uniforms anymore. I asked if the streets were still packed with bicycles and he said yes. Except that the bicycles are now cars and there are no driving rules. Basically if there’s an open spot in traffic you take it; it doesn’t even matter what side of the street it’s on.

I also asked about the food (of course). Ross said the food was really, really good—which I found surprising because on our first trip to China we could barely eat anything. I got incredibly sick from eating an entire bowl of garlic shoots (lord only knows why I thought eating the entire bowl would be a good idea). After that I only ate packaged crackers or fruit that I could peel myself. Everything was segregated so it was illegal for us to eat where the Chinese people ate and vise-versa. So our dining options were limited. Ross said that on this visit he ate almost every meal from street vendors. He tried frog on a stick and also a crepe with an egg cracked into it which was then wrapped around a donut. You could also get it wrapped around a hot dog. It sounds very bizarre to me, but he said it was delicious.


Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

Feenie’s Weenie

It’s the last day of our trip and we’re both sick of eating out, but we don’t want the awful meal at Le Gavroche to be our last in Vancouver, so we decide to hit Feenie’s for lunch before driving back to Seattle.

Feenie’s is Rob Feenie’s version of a casual bistro and is located right next to Lumière. The pricing for Feenie’s is casual, but the decor is anything but. The front room is bright and cheery with an entire wall of orange and brown tone cushions and a furry white chandelier that I covet. The bar is a lovely, seductive red with inset lighting in the ceiling that glows blue. At the very back of the bar is a room with bamboo walls and a sage green bench seat that stretches across the width of the bar.

Ever since my first visit to Lumière a few years ago I had been wanting to eat at Feenie’s. At that time they were just starting construction on the new addition, but they were already working out the menu. The waiter told us about how the staff had been taste-testing hot dogs for weeks in order to find the perfect one to serve at Feenie’s. I was so jealous. So of course, I had to order “Feenie’s Weenie” (yes, it actually says that on the menu).

Feenie’s Weenie ($8 CAD) was the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted and as I’m writing this my mouth is watering and I have a desire to skip work and drive up to Canada. It was so flavorful and juicy. It was also filled with delicious cheese and came with the best sauerkraut I’ve ever had. It was served with a cone of perfect fries and a tray of four condiments: chipotle mayo, ketchup, herb mayo and sweet ketchup relish.

Zach ordered the Poutine ($9 CAD), which is apparently a popular Canadian dish and consisted of French fries covered in a rich, rich chicken and veal gravy and cheese “curds” (they looked more like melted mozzarella). It was really good, but it was so rich that an entire meal of just that is a little too much. I would recommend the Poutine only as a side dish to be split, unless of course you are Canadian and are used to eating Poutine.

We also shared a romaine salad with yogurt Caesar dressing ($9 CAD), which was delicious and very light. It was topped with a crisp slice of pancetta and a really beautiful and tasty fresh anchovy.

Our bill came to $26 CAD and we left Canada very, very happy.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005

Arms Reach Bistro & Le Gavroche

By our fourth day in Vancouver we were actually getting a little tired of eating out. We agreed to forgo The List and drive somewhere outside of downtown. We consulted the hotel guidebook and decided on Deep Cove because it promised a “cozy little seaside town” with “lots of great cafes”.

We took the “scenic route” which ran along the water, but the scene was of huge vegetable oil processing plants. After a half hour of driving we arrived at Deep Cove. I think that the most important tidbit of information that the guide book left out is that coming here on a rainy day is basically pointless. It was absolutely pouring down rain and we could BARELY make out the small harbor and couldn’t see anything beyond that. The “lots of great cafes” turned out to be a pastry shop, a pizza parlor, a sushi place and a bistro. Only the Arms Reach Bistro looked open so we went in but weren’t expecting anything great.

The restaurant was very cheery and bright inside, despite the grey day, and I liked that they had blankets at every table so that you could stay warm. I ordered the BCLT ($11 CAD) which turned out to be a really good focaccia sandwich with salty bacon and great Canadian cheddar cheese. It came with a side salad that was shockingly good. So good in fact, that I actually wished I had ordered just a salad—and that’s saying a lot because my sandwich had BACON in it. What made the salad so good was the kick ass tarragon yogurt dressing. I tried to finagle the recipe out of the waiter, but he was really vague and said it was “just tarragon, yogurt and maybe some lemon juice or something”.

Zach had the Chad Salad ($9 CAD), which was also really good. It was a mixed greens salad with gooseberries, blueberries, cashews and a great balsamic garlic vinaigrette. We spent $20 CAD for a very good lunch, but I don’t think I’d drive out there again unless it was a spectacularly sunny day.

After lunch we decided that no matter what we did we were going to get soaked and headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Normally, I think this park would be packed, but our car was one of five in the vast, empty lot. We walked up to the ticket booth and found that they give a 20% discount on rainy days, which was good because it was way more expensive than I anticipated ($22 CAD per person), but it ended up being the best (non-food) thing we did on our trip.

We approached the bridge, each holding an umbrella, and looked across—I wasn’t expecting it to be so huge. We tentatively stepped out onto the bridge and felt it shudder; you could feel every step and sway. About 1/3 of the way across, a little kid came barreling over the bridge, shrieking and jumping with excitement. It was cute for the two seconds it took for the motion sickness to hit us. Zach turned to me, pale white, and said he couldn’t make it and headed back. We had a little pep talk and waited until no one else was on the bridge and then hurried across.

The other side of the park was amazing. It had absolutely beautiful walkways and decks with scattered seating in corners of the park—not very appealing on a rainy day, but I could have spent hours here if it was sunny. We picked a path to follow and came across an area that had white Christmas lights strung from the trees. On second look we realized that there was another walkway built into the tree tops. We continued on and came to a shelter area (complete with chairs and a potbellied stove) that lead up to the path in the trees. We were the only ones up there and it was breathtaking; walking among the misty tops of the trees on beautifully crafted pathways that were connected from tree to tree. Zach and I decided that this must be what it feels like to be an Ewok.

Later that night we had a reservation at Le Gavroche which was participating in Dine Out Vancouver—a promotion where restaurants serve a fixed price three-course dinner for $35 CAD.

We got to the restaurant and were seated in the lower room, which kind of looked and smelled like my grandma’s basement. To make things worse, I noticed that the tablecloth had stains all over it and the glassware was less than clean. At this point, I was starting to have my doubts about this place. It was the second night of the Dine Out promotion and the staff looked harried. We found out that we were seated in the room that is normally used for wine tastings, so I suspected that they had overbooked reservations.

We looked over the promotional menu and it sounded really good, but there was also a four-course dinner available so we decided to get one of each in order to taste as many things as possible. The waiter talked up the paired wines (a different one with each course) and told us that they were not to be missed, so we ordered the matching wines as well. An entire hour after we arrived, our meal was served:

Three-Course Meal
Wild Boar Terrine with Onion Marmalade—This tasted very gamey and not very interesting. I was disappointed that all of the pretty sauces on the plate were just for decoration, as they didn’t enhance the food at all. Unfortunately, this was to become a recurring theme.

Braised Venison Osso Buco with Port Orange Sauce—The venison was very tender but the sauce was lackluster, especially for a French restaurant, which I tend to hold to a higher standard when it comes to sauces.

Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Lace Cookie—Everything on this plate tasted burnt. Zach liked it, but he’s crazy about Crème Brûlée or anything that contains caramel.

Four-Course Meal
Duck Rillettes—The duck was okay, but the dish was ruined with terrible stale, stale bread.

Frissee Salad—Zach pointed out that the salad smelled strongly of sweat. I tried to convince him that it was just the vinegar, but he was right; it did smell like sweat. This distracted from the taste, to say the least.

Pork Tenderloin with Trumpet Mushrooms—I liked this dish, but I was predisposed to like it since it contained trumpet mushrooms. Zach thought it was boring.

Profitteroles—This was my favorite course of the night. It had a nice pastry and was filled with delicious ice cream and topped with good quality, warm chocolate.

The whole meal with wines set us back $180 CAD, making it the second most expensive meal of our trip and by FAR the worst. We were really disappointed that this was our last dinner in Vancouver, but at the same time it also made us grateful that we were able to experience so much wonderful food prior to this.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Bon Ton Pastry, Sun Sui Wah & Tojo’s

We started off our third day in Vancouver in search of pastries and good coffee. We failed on the coffee end, but we found some damn fine pastries at Bon Ton Pastry on Broadway. I don’t generally visit pastry stores so when I do, I kind of go nuts. There’s something about seeing all those delicate and flaky morsels lined up in neat little stacks and rows that really gets to me. I bought a delicious palmier, brioche, a jam pastry, sausage puffs, an éclair, a dozen cookies, a bag of shortbread (for my mom) and a bag of pastry cheese twists. There was a seating area in the back, but you had to order something from the cafe menu, so we just sat in the car and tore into the bags like children eating Halloween candy.

After we got rid of all the crumbs we went looking for a record store that Zach wanted to check out, but ended up lost on the UBC campus. I’d always wanted to go to the UBC Botanical Gardens, so I convinced Zach to stop since we were already on campus. It’s not exactly the best time of year to tour a garden and we didn’t realize they had a Winter garden until after we finished exploring the grounds. It was still a nice walk and I really liked the food garden even though everything was dead except for the heartiest of kale and Brussels sprouts. The garden layout was great and they had beautiful, beautiful espaliered apple and pear trees in all kinds of crazy patterns and shapes—even a square box!

By the time we left the garden and found the record store it was getting late, but we decided to hit Sun Sui Wah Seafood for a late dim sum lunch. When we got there they had stopped serving via the carts, but you could still order from the kitchen.

We ordered the “world famous” roasted squab because it was listed as a house special and the picture on the menu was awesome—a whole fried bird with the head attached and everything. We were disappointed when it came out chopped into pieces. I was even more disappointed when I tasted it. It was way too gamey and tasted like liver (more so than it should), plus the sauce and salt that came with the roasted squab were really awful.

From the dim sum menu we ordered honey and garlic fried spare ribs, hum bow, ha-gow (shrimp balls), shu-mai (meat dumplings), sticky rice and sesame seed balls. Everything was okay, but strangely lacking in flavor. Only the ha-gow were great—they must have used really fresh and well-cleaned shrimp because they didn’t have that musty taste that you sometimes get with shrimp balls. I also liked the sweet and flavorful red sauce that accompanied the dim sum. It was slightly hot and made the otherwise dull tasting food a little more exciting. I noticed that there weren’t any of those little gristly bits that you usually come across in dim sum. Normally I would think that is a good thing, but this meal left me wondering if the gristle actually adds flavor. At $43 CAD this was our most expensive lunch and also the most disappointing.

Later that night we had a reservation for Tojo’s which I, sadly, wasn’t looking forward to because I was feeling a little sick from lunch. Also, I had tried Tojo’s about three years ago and was very disappointed. But Zach loves Tojo’s and he convinced me to give it another chance.

I had made special reservations to sit at the omakase bar where Tojo asks you what you like and then gives you a coursed menu according to your tastes. The bar was jam packed, but also kind of cozy and made us feel like we (and the sushi chefs) were the only ones in the restaurant. It also had great overhead lighting, which assisted me in my obsessive photo taking. (Zach is such a good sport for letting me take pictures of every meal we eat. Most people are not so accommodating or just think I’m weird.)

We heard that it’s customary to buy Tojo a beer, so we talked to a waiter who informed us that Tojo likes Sapporo. Apparently when you buy Tojo a beer you are actually buying all the cooks a beer, so I was a little startled and amused when the whole kitchen staff rushed out shouting “Kampai!”.

Sashimi Salad—An absolutely gorgeous “salad” served in a large bamboo bowl. Very, very, very delicious tuna with a perfect balance of soy, scallions and just a hint of heat.

Breaded Shitake—A shitake mushroom with the bottom side encrusted in golden breadcrumbs, set in a sauce similar to what you get with tempura. I really enjoyed this dish and am going to try and recreate it at home.

Steamed Sablefish—A nice cut of sablefish stuffed with mushrooms and steamed in a clear broth. The fish was a little rich for me, but I thought the broth was great. The best thing about this dish was its beautiful presentation. The bowl came out covered with a sheet of paper, tied up with raffia and garnished with a lime wedge and pine needles that you opened like a present.

Crab Sushi—The sushi was rolled in a crepe-like wrap and topped with bright orange tobiko. It was very light and not extremely flavorful.

Toro Sushi—A large slice of the fattiest tuna I’ve ever tasted. It was good, but so rich and akin to eating straight animal fat, that I think it may be an acquired taste.

Avocado Sushi with Scallop—This was my favorite. I love raw scallops when they are perfectly fresh. The sushi had a wonderful mouth feel with the soft, creamy scallop and crunchy, salty roe.

Rainbow Eel Roll—This roll had grilled eel on the inside and alternating strips of salmon, tuna and tamago on the outside. It was very pretty and fresh, but I wanted the taste of the eel to come through a little more than it did.

Tempura Prawn & Yam Roll with Avocado and Pineapple—I hated this. The sweet pineapple seemed really out of place to me. Even when I poked the pineapple pieces out, the sushi tasted boring and chewy because of the undercooked yam. Strangely enough, this was Zach’s favorite.

Dessert—A simple glass of homemade ice cream topped with some sort of sweet cream and a berry sauce. Good, but not outstanding.

Only three of the nine dishes really wowed me, so the cost of $200 CAD (including three Sapporo beers) seemed outrageous. I would have much rather had two more dinners at Lumière or three more at Vij’s. I am sure to get hate mail for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyways: Tojo’s is overrated.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Wild Rice & Lumiere

On our second day in Vancouver we decided to check out Wild Rice, which I had read about in Food & Wine a while back. The restaurant was stunningly beautiful and modern, but still really comfortable. We sat at a great, tall table with bench seating in the bar area and got to see everyone’s dishes going by.

We started with caramelized shallot taro smash ($4 CAD) and edamame with soy braised Chinese greens and pine nuts ($5 CAD). I am not usually a huge fan of taro, but this dish was good and the caramelized shallots sweetened it up and made it more interesting. The greens were surprisingly good and flavorful considering the simple ingredients.

I ordered the Chinatown Sweep, a four spiced blend dusted bbq pork dish with east-west stir fry on crisped chow mein ($12 CAD). The spicy and fatty pork was to die for. The only thing I would have changed would be to add more of the delicious sauce to coat the crunchy chow mein.

Zach ordered the Su Dong wild boar (a Song Dynasty recipe), slowly braised in sweet soy, rice wine, maltose sugar and autumn spices with plantain chips on brown rice ($11 CAD). It was heavenly. I didn’t taste much gaminess in the boar; it was like really good quality pork. The sauce was so rich and complex that I can’t even describe it—you just have to go and order this to find out for yourself. The plantain chips were delicious as well, sliced lengthwise and beautifully presented in one end of the bowl like a flower arrangement.

For dessert we ordered the Shanghai road Szechwan scented chocolate mousse-roasted pistachios, mandarin orange segments & bamboo biscotti ($7 CAD). I didn’t care for this at all. The mousse was really bitter and was supposed to be mixed with a sweet liquid at the bottom before eating, which in my opinion gave it an unpleasant slimy texture and a strong alcoholic taste, but Zach thought it was good.

When we paid the bill ($39 CAD), I realized what day it was and felt relieved that we were in Canada for the inauguration. I was hell bent on not watching the news and seeing the talking monkey that we call President, so we went to the aquarium.

I heart the Vancouver Aquarium. I haven’t been to many aquariums, but I have to say that this one is the best I’ve seen. They had really, really beautiful informative displays and gorgeous tanks. When we walked into the Amazon Gallery, the arapaima stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve never seen such an enormous fish. Apparently at 15 feet in length, the arapaima is the largest fish in the Amazon. Uh, now I sound like National Geographic, but anyways… it was so entrancing that I forgot to take a picture.

They also had a “Treasures of the BC Coast” display which I thought was a really cool idea. Each section of coast had a display area with the typical sea life for that region. After an hour or so, we finally made it out to the outdoor tanks. They had pretty Beluga whales, but they weren’t doing anything interesting. (The last time I saw Belugas was at the Point Defiance Zoo where two males were doing some underwater sword fighting with their penises. It was really funny listening to the adults explain to their kids what the whales were doing.)

We also saw an enormous sea lion who developed a crush on Zach and would bat his eyelashes whenever Zach walked by. I fell in love with the sea otter pup who was so damned cute that he made me want to go to marine biology school. Zach’s favorite was Spinnaker the dolphin who was very speedy and could jump about 30 feet into the air—when there were sufficient treats to be had.

Later we had dinner at the much anticipated Lumiere. I have been talking about Lumiere, pretty much non-stop for the past two years. I’ve never eaten in the dining room area, but I just love the bar. It’s slick and modern and every exquisite dish on the bar menu is just $12. And that’s $12 CANADIAN!

We started out with some seasonal cocktails: I had the salt & pepper highball, which was strangely bitter and full of pepper and Zach had a sazerac, which he loved.

I insisted that we order the Foie Gras Decouverte ($36 CAD), which is a special sampling plate consisting of three different preparations of foie gras:

Foie Gras Boudin Blanc with Truffle Oil—A beautiful and light mousse-filled sausage drizzled with truffle oil. Ooooohh.

Foie Gras Torchon with Cognac Poached Prunes on Toasted Brioche—A rich, dense and perfectly smooth disk of foie gras paired with amazing poached prunes. Aaaaahh.

Seared Foie Gras with Fruit Compote—Foie Gras in its purest form. Incredibly good and delicious with a touch of sweet fruit. I honestly shed a small tear. It was that good.

Zach and I later had this conversation over IM, arguing over who loved the foie gras more…

Zach: when you took the first bite of the foie gras at lumiere, you totally looked like a junkie right after shooting up
Me: um, you did too
Zach: how could you see me with your eyes rolling back into your head?
Me: shush
Me: you uttered words i never thought i’d hear you say
Zach: i say sweet baby jesus fairly often
Me: you’re just as bad
Zach: i know i am
Zach: i like that we have that in common

We then ordered two dishes of the regular bar menu and the special of the day, which was monkfish wrapped in prosciutto with mushrooms and potato puree ($18 CAD). There aren’t words to really describe it except delicious and satisfying. Eating it made me take a deep breath and feel contented and happy.

From the bar menu came sake & maple syrup-marinated with sautéed potatoes and leeks, shimiji, short-rib meat and soy & hijiki broth ($12 CAD), which Zach loved. Sablefish borders on too rich for me (especially after sampling three different kinds of foie gras!), so I didn’t eat much of this, but it was really good.

Last came the Moules et Frites, which were Gallo mussels with lemongrass, ginger, red peppers and chili aioli ($12 CAD). This was fantastic as well and I liked that the lemongrass lightened the dish, but we were way too full to eat much more at this point. Our food total came to $78 CAD, but we definitely ordered one too many dishes—I think you could get a fantastic and filling meal for two for less than $60 CAD.

I love Lumiere, I love Rob Feenie and I love Iron Chef—which is why I’ll buy, beg or steal cable to watch Iron Chef America*, Masaharu Morimoto vs. Rob Feenie on Feb 20 at 9pm. I suggest you do the same.

*Yes, I agree, Iron Chef America sucks and it’s a poor substitute for the original, but I’m praying that Alton Brown makes a better host then the ubiquitous William Shatner (and by ubiquitous, I mean cheesy as hell).