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Vacations

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

Banana Leaf & Vij’s

The Vancouver eating trip begins!

We left Seattle fairly early and there was no traffic at all so we arrived at our hotel, the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle*, too early to check in. We had some time to kill and were hungry so we consulted The List for something nearby. We walked up to Denman in the pouring down rain and ate at Banana Leaf, a Malaysian restaurant.

We ordered shrimp chips ($5 CAD) and roti canai with curry ($3 CAD) to start out. The shrimp chips were giant mutants compared to the ones my grandma usually makes. They were good, but I think they’re best when pulled right out of the hot oil and eaten while still warm. I’ve never had pork rinds (gasp!) but this is what I imagine they taste like, only with pork flavor replacing the shrimp taste. The roti was good, a little greasy and oddly sweet in a good way, but the curry dipping sauce was just so so.

I ordered the chicken satay with gado gado ($7 CAD) and it was the best chicken satay I’ve ever eaten. It was PERFECTLY cooked, with a crispy outside and flavorful charred edges, but still very moist inside. The peanut sauce was great as well. A good balance of salt, sweet and crunchy peanut bits. Gado gado turned out to be a vegetable stir fry which was perfect with the rich peanut sauce.

Zach had the rendang beef ($6 CAD) and it was amazing. It was like a spicy beef stew, that’s cooked all day (in a coconut milk based curry) so it’s falling apart and tender. And then it’s cooked some more so that it’s almost dry and the flavor concentrates.

The place was so cute and cozy on a such miserable rainy day and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Our waiter was really nice (and funny); we asked about a shellacked thing on the shelf that looked like a lobster tail and received a dissertation on ling chi and its magical medicinal properties that our waiter swore by—it cures cancer AND makes you feel good!

Our bill came to $21 CAD, which we though was a great deal considering the quality of the meal—a very auspicious beginning to our eating trip in Vancouver.

When we were thoroughly soaked and tired of wondering around in the rain we went back to the hotel to dry off and relax. I opened the bottle of Veuve Clicquot that I received for Christmas and the tin of white sturgeon caviar I brought from Seattle. The caviar was absolutely delicious—salty and perfect atop blini and crème fraiche. So decadent!

After the bottle of champagne and too many episodes of the Simpson’s, we realized we were hungry again and headed out to Vij’s, my favorite Indian restaurant. I think we arrived after 9pm, but there was still a wait. This was actually a good thing because they have a cute little lounge in the back of the restaurant where they serve nibbles while you wait. This evening it was hot cassava fries sprinkled with cayenne. They were crunchy, sweet and so addictive that I was almost sad when they told us our table was ready.

Zach and I were drooling over the menu when Vij came by to say hello and see what we wanted to eat. We couldn’t decide between the quail cakes with celeriac puree ($10 CAD) or the lemon, cayenne pepper marinated and grilled sablefish in tomato-yogurt broth ($9.50 CAD) for an appetizer, so Vij set us straight and said to order the quail cakes. They were slightly gamey and crisp and perfect with the celeriac puree. Vij also brought us a complimentary sablefish appetizer so we could try it out. It was very good, spicy and bright with lemon, which was a nice contrast to the richness of the fish.

Zach ordered the grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with khoa and potatoes in porcini cream curry with spiced whole almonds ($24 CAD). It was rich and mildly spicy with many great flavors going on. After Zach finished telling me how amazing his dish was I bet him that mine was better. He accepted the wager and lost.

I had the beef short ribs in spicy cinnamon red wine curry with cauliflower & honey parata (like naan, but fried in oil instead of baked, $24 CAD). The beef was, again, falling apart tender and soaked in a beautiful red sauce. It was a little spicy, but also sweet which helped temper the heat. The dinner was completely amazing and seemed like a deal at $58 CAD. We were too stuffed for anything else so we happily went to bed without any dessert.

*A bit about the Marriott Pinnacle: It is definitely a business hotel and is smack dab in the middle of the business district, but we actually found the location to be very convenient. It was an easy walk to many of the restaurants we wanted to try and a quick drive to Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Our room was quite small and we didn’t have a view, so I called down to the front desk to see if we could change rooms. There was a $30 CAD upgrade for a room with a view, but the receptionist politely told us that the weather was going to be awful during our entire stay and we wouldn’t see anything but fog (and she was right). Normal rates at this hotel start at something like $160 CAD per night and I would not pay that much for this hotel. However, this hotel is a STEAL at the $55 US per night rate that I booked through Priceline.

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

Toby’s!

Our second day on Whidbey started out with mom’s waffle breakfast. She makes the best waffles! We ate them with syrup and quince chutney and, of course, bacon.

After breakfast we went to Coupeville and stopped in Penn Cove Antiques where I found yet another cool egg cup, shaped like an elephant.

It was so cold and rainy that when the lady from Mariti Chocolate Company handed us cups of hot chocolate on the street, we had to follow her inside. The hot chocolate was amazing—really high quality chocolate mixed with milk and spiced with cayenne pepper. I had to buy some, along with these three weird little bottles of Underberg bitters. The package said ‘After a good meal to feel bright and alert’; so they should come in handy.

We had a late lunch at my favorite restaurant on Whidbey—Toby’s Tavern! It’s a dive bar, but they have great mussels right from Penn Cove, some of the best prime rib I’ve ever had and a great crispy halibut sandwich. Mmmmm. I heart Toby’s.

I also heart Spanish chorizo, which I had for a snack dinner with apples, quince paste, Fontina and Sopressata salami. A weird mix, but surprisingly good.

Saturday, November 20th, 2004

Self-serve chicken

We started out a great day on Whidbey Island at the farmer’s market in Bayview. It was chilly out, so I was glad that they had moved it indoors for the winter. Boxes of beautiful, tiny Brussels sprouts caught my eye first and I loaded up. Then I saw fresh, bright orange baby carrots that I couldn’t resist. I was already picturing a bountiful fall dinner when I ran into my mom who was holding a gorgeous hubbard squash. A perfect food trifecta.

We went to breakfast at the Smiling Dog Cafe. After looking over the menu I asked if it was a vegetarian restaurant; it turns out that they used to be, but they have now added sausage to the menu. I was upset that they didn’t serve any bacon, but I got over it and ordered one of the few dishes with sausage: chilaquiles. I am a chilaquiles snob. After having them for breakfast and lunch everyday for a week while at the beach-front, open air restaurant in Puerto Escondido, I really should know better than to order them in the states. Even the ones I make at home don’t compare. Anyways, if you pretended that it was more like an egg scramble with a few tortillas and a chopped up hot dog, it was pretty good.

After breakfast we discussed what we should cook for the main dish that night. We were torn between a roasted pork loin or a roasted chicken. Then I remembered stories about a place where you can buy fresh chickens at a house somewhere on the island.

We almost drove right by it, all of us shouting “CHICKEN!” in unison when we saw the sandwich-board by the side of the road. We pulled into the driveway of a little red house and got out. There was no indication of where to go, so I headed up the hill to find what turned out to be the tool shed. I turned around and then spotted some freezers in the back of the garage. Once in the garage, the freezers were labeled with instructions to take your chicken and leave the money in a cigar box on the table. Someone hadn’t read the instructions and had actually left their money in the freezer.

I picked out an eight pound chicken (eight pounds!) for $16 and a six pounder for $12. You got a free bag of gizzards with every purchase, so I grabbed a hefty one. I left the money in the cigar box and then we were on our way—the proud owners of a turkey-sized chicken.

Afterwards, we tried to find the Mukilteo Coffee house because it roasts some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted and I heard that they had a tasting bar. We got so completely lost that by the time we got there it was closed, but now that I know where it is I will have to make another trip out there.

Then we went for a walk on the beach at Double Bluff. The tide was on its way out and we saw lots of stranded jellies. Including a gigantic Lion’s Mane jellyfish that was about one foot in diameter. We also saw a really cool blue-green starfish, which Zach saved by hurling into the water.

We then went home to cook and eat a fabulous dinner:

Fontina Val D’Aosta and truffled cheese with quince paste from Italy
Roasted chicken with porcini sauce
Roasted hubbard squash stuffed with mushrooms and truffles
Braised baby carrots (which were so sweet they tasted like candy)
Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots
Fudge from the farmer’s market

Sunday, November 14th, 2004

Bainbridge Island

My friend used to live on Bainbridge Island, so we decided to take a day trip over there. We were on a mission for licorice and yarn.

Our first stop was a licorice spree at the Marina Market in Poulsbo—a cute and strange Norwegian town. I honestly didn’t know there were that many different kinds of licorice produced; I guess they import a lot of it. I have never really liked licorice very much but after trying some of Zach’s I’m open to the possibility that I just don’t like bad licorice. He gave me this kind that looks like a piece of chalk and is coated with salt and then a hard candy shell. It was really good. My favorite part of the store was the freezer full of dead, bloody herring that were right next to the bags of crushed ice.

We then wandered down the street and I dragged Zach into an antique store to see if I could find another egg cup for my collection. I did and isn’t is cute?

There wasn’t much else in the town that seemed interesting except for the Marine Science Center. It was a teeny little place, but they had nice displays and touch tanks so we decided to go in. Zach didn’t want to touch anything so I made up for him and touched everything twice. Although, I did make him touch the sea anemone because it was so weird and sticky. I kept looking at the giant sea scallops wondering if they are still tender when they’re that big. More and more I find that when I’m looking at animals I’m picturing them on a dinner plate with an accompanying sauce. Sometimes, when I look at my cat, he runs away.

It was fortuitous that we went to the science center, because if we hadn’t, we would have completely missed The British Market. They actually had real, imported HP sauce (we did a taste-test a while back between HP sauce that was brought from London by a friend and HP sauce from DeLaurenti’s—they are drastically different and the real stuff is much better). We got the HP sauce and some Hob Nobs. They also had a freezer stocked with Pork Bangers, Bubble & Squeak and British Back Bacon, but sadly we had no way to transport frozen meats.

We got back in the car and drove to Winslow to check out Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. I had been used to shopping for yarn at places like Jo-Ann fabrics, so I was impressed and had to touch everything… Twice. I ended up with some really beautiful and soft balls of yarn.

We needed a snack, so we stopped in the Blackbird Bakery. I had to try the pots de crème—I love anything that requires its own specialty cookware or dish. And of course milky, gooey caramel doesn’t hurt either.

After dessert, we decided we needed dinner, so we walked down to the marina and stopped at Doc’s Marina Grill. We ordered a great gorgonzola bacon burger and a prime rib dip with cheddar cheese on sourdough—possibly the greasiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten, but it was incredibly good. The beef was delicious and the waiter told us it was from Misty Isle Farms. The burger boasted some of the best applewood smoked bacon I’ve ever tasted, also from Misty Isle. The waiter said that the farm produces a limited number of pigs (and only in the summertime), so it may be hard to locate bacon available to the public. But I will try.