| 4 comments ]

Despite the toll of the recession and the HST salt on our wounds, new restaurants still open at a rapid clip (and in Gastown, seemingly on a semi-automatic basis), and L’Abattoir is the newest of them. Located in the old Irish Heather location in the revitalized Gassy Jack Square, this newcomer is a welcome addition to the mid to high-end scene.

It takes a short minute to overcome the Irish Heather nostalgia. The space has been gussied up, but the memories are still there. These pangs quickly fade when the bread basket is delivered with three different options, chief among them being a bacon brioche. Based on that buttery perfection alone, first impressions run high, and if the restaurant doesn't work out in the end, a bakery would be an excellent back-up plan.


The first course of starters continued the well-to-do introduction. The "dungeoness crab and chickpea toast" ($12) is perhaps the most understated of names: a chickpea wafer tower arrives, overflowing with crab custard, bits of crab meat, and a brioche base, as rich and luxurious as one would expect and hope. A soft-poached egg crowns a base of quinoa and swiss chard ($11), with tomato sauce and housemade ricotta rounding out the yolkiness with tang and cream, as rich in flavour as its bold colours implies.


The summer heat leads one to light seafood dishes, and though seafood is not L'Abattoir's sole focus, they clearly have a strength with it. Halibut ($23) is poached, dressed with a garlic sabayon, and served with spinach dumplings, morels and other vegetables, the dish tasting fresh, herbacious, almost vital, with the handful of mussels almost unnecessary. The steamed ling cod fillet ($23) is aqueous, served with celeriac croquettes, glazed celery, tomatoes and artichokes; whereas the halibut is a walk in the garden, the ling cod takes you through the sprinkler.

End things off with the apricot mousse ($10), which comes encased in a soft lemon meringue and a base of shortbread. Take a spoon and tear down those meringue walls, give sweet, sweet freedom to the mousse inside.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cocktails, which are assuredly a good thing. Restaurants and boutiques may be the first wave of Gastown's gentrification, but vice and alcohol will always remain a constant. One finds it difficult to stroll down that block without finding, among other things, a few drinks in hand, and L'Abattoir's are in the upper echalon of those offered.

As opening jitters go, L'Abattoir has few of them, and if the restaurant has a quiet confidence about it, it's a deserved one. In a city where high-end - still a necessity despite our times - has been left to an old guard, things have settled into a mundane rut. With L'Abattoir, Lee Cooper and company provide new blood and momentum to that scene, and, even at this early stage, it's really their's for the taking.

Joe.
(The photos, taken by phone, don't really do any justice.)

L'Abattoir
217 Carrall Street
Vancouver, BC
604 568 1701

L'Abattoir on Urbanspoon

| 4 comments ]


Food critics, bloggers, enthusiasts, etc. are, for better or for worse, constantly obsessed with questions of ‘authenticity,’ and thus suspicions were raised when Terracotta, a recent Gastown addition, opened its doors. Taking over the previous space inhabited by Le Marrakech, the lounge/restaurant initially struck fear of dubious Chinoiserie, having based its name and design features on the namesake statues that decorate its multiple rooms, and having added the words “Modern Chinese” to its signage.

Expectations were not high when we approached the door. With its doors facing Alexander Street, Terracotta receives little of the street traffic that the now bustling Carrall/Water intersection sees, and if there is one warning that Chinese people take to heart, it is that provided by a quiet restaurant (there is no guarantee of such tranquility on Tuesdays, when $2 draft beer is offered).

As though on cue, however, Terracotta’s head chef – an elderly Chinese gentleman – rushed past us towards the kitchen, a positive sign to end early trepidation. Though the room – a modestly renovated room, dimly lit, spread over multiple floors, with a VIP area and slightly dated house music – has no obvious signifiers of your typical North American Chinese restaurant, the man has crafted a genuinely commonplace menu, generally a good thing, with familiar dishes covering pan-regional Chinese fare, slightly ‘updated’ to reflect its environment.

It’s all moderately Cantonese and Taiwanese at Terracotta, fare from Chinese regions prone to outside influence, a smart move for a place that straddles the lines of restaurant and lounge. Scallop and shrimp are stir-fried Cantonese style. Szechuan green beans, the name more a signifier of an idea than of the region, are dotted with pork, sesame, and the ubiquitous spice. A black cod comes bathed in black bean sauce. The Beijing fried rice is named for its inclusion of roast duck rather than the city. These dishes are good, relative to their unexpected presence; these dishes are shocking, but only in their familiarity.

Conversely, Terracotta is disappointing in its familiarity when it strives for the unfamiliar. Creative license is always appreciated, but does it always have to come in the form of spring rolls or sliders? The former are stuffed with tuna, mango and peppers; the latter feature a hoisin-braised shortrib, slighty lacking in salt, but sandwiched with green onion between two halves of a fried mantou bun. Both are perfectly fine and well-executed, but join the endless crush of novelty spring rolls and sliders on the city’s collective digestive system.

All of this, of course, is beside the point, particularly at Terracotta, where context is everything. The food is not the main feature at Terracotta, but a small part of the overall experience. It does well for those craving standard Chinese fare without the trappings (or benefits, depending on your leanings) of a standard Chinese restaurant. The restaurant caters to those in mood for the same experience as Bao Bei: one for the hipsters, the other for the younger club set (you can debate which is which and betray your own preference). Both places make that much more sense when you’re having cocktails alongside your meal (try the Chivas and green tea at Terracotta), though Terracotta’s got a slight leg up on those craving a canned authenticity.

To that end, the New York Times food critic Sam Sifton recently gave a good summation on this odd issue of authenticity:

We never have these debates about European cooking. There’s never any question about whether Daniel Boulud is cooking authentic Lyonnaise food. He’s not. He’s making his food. It’s informed by his childhood in Lyon and by his experience as a chef. We never get tied up in whether Whitey McEuropean is making authentic Whitey McEuropean food. It comes up all the time with so-called “ethnic cuisine” and I think that’s really, really unfortunate… The same is true of music, particularly in the rap world, which is obsessed with questions of authenticity. And does it matter? Probably less than we think.


Joe.
(Photos by Matt.)

Terracotta Modern Chinese
52 Alexander St.
Vancouver, BC
604 569 3088

Terracotta Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

| 25 comments ]





Nandos Flame-Grillled Chicken
I am a big fan of Nandos.   Great tasting chicken, well priced and the place is licensed if you need a beer with your meal.  I reached out to Nandos to see if they wanted to do a promo with Vancouver Slop and they have happily agreed.   So here is the contest.   Add a comment to this post listing who you would take to Nandos and why.  Be creative with your answer because it will help us choose.  Make sure to sign in so we know who you are or  if you are too lazy to create an account you can email me your comment and I will add it for you.   

This contest will run for two weeks.
Each week one winner will be selected and they will receive a $25 gift certificate from Nandos Canada.


Winner will be picked - Tuesday, Aug 3 and Monday, August 9.  So keep writing your comments.


http://www.nandoscanada.com/


UPDATE - WINNERS SELECTED!!!!


Winner 1 - Ian

 I would take the colonel so he can see how much better nandos grilled chicken is than his KFC!!!!!!!!!!!!


Winner 2 - Mary Ann
When i proposed to my new spouse, i scratched at the ground and sang like a chicken in a cafe right across the street from the new Nandos on Davie...we have a secret chicken dance that we've done for each other since we started dating! It was crowded and full and patrons thought we were insane...and she said yes.

So yes, I would take my new spouse :)

(and if it helps, we are both chickenheads, eating neither beef nor pork
)
Matt

| 0 comments ]

It is nice to be liked.  Here are some of the support that we have received lately.  Check them out.


http://www.sweetspot.ca/SweetLife/top_five/19188/savvy_sites/



http://www.metromarks.com/vancouver/blogs


http://www.tripbase.com/c/vancouver/

| 1 comments ]

(This is the first post of what will hopefully become a series on food featured in films.)

In Luca Guadagino's I Am Love, there is as much emotional devastation to feast on as there is glamour and beauty for the eyes. The food is inescapable: much of the plot revolves around it, Tilda Swinton's character grows obsessed with it (among other things), to the point where the New Yorker's film critic Anthony Lane has proclaimed that "the best sex you will get all year, if that’s what you crave in your moviegoing, is between Tilda Swinton and a prawn."

There is one dish in particular that features heavily in the story arc: ukha, a clear Russian fish soup, together with root vegetables, leeks, potato, lime, dill, and other herbs and spices. It is one of few things that Emma (Swinton's character) brings from her Russian upbringing into her Italian life, something she shares intimately with her son, but also something that ultimately signals her betrayal and brings forth the end of life as she knows it. Its time on screen is short, though its impact is immense. As Guadagino puts it, "I love the idea of the transparency of the broth and Emma is transparent, translucent and intense…like that broth."

Joe.

| 0 comments ]



I am playing keeper for the EA team in Live Cup tomorrow.  Come down to hang out, watch some footie and listen to some good music.


The tournament is for a good cause and our team through the Right to Play Organization has set us up a last minute fundraising page to help us raise money to fullfil Right To Play's mission statement.  To improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.

In the spirit of micro crediting we are hoping that you could donate $2 to help our team reach its goal.


http://righttoplay.akaraisin.com/pledge/Team/Home.aspx?seid=3357&mid=10&tid=27499


Hope to see you down there either way.


Thanks
Matt


Update - here are some pictures from the event
http://deadstock.ca/livestock/events/

| 5 comments ]

My friend showed me a new technique for cutting grape and cherry tomatoes.

1. Get two of the same plates.  Turn one upside down.
2. Stick your tomatoes on the bottom of the plate inside the bevel.
2. Make sure your tomatoes are pack tight on the flat surface within the bevel.  You do not want them to shift around.
3. Sandwich the tomatoes with another plate.
4. Slide your sharp knife through the tomatoes.  Try and cut through the middle of the tomatoes so you have equal portions and your knife won't dull against the plate.

This works pretty well and after a couple of tries I got pretty quick at it. However, because I was making salsa, I had to cut the tomatoes a few more times to make them smaller so overall the technique didn't save too much time but it was cool to try it out.

Matt

| 0 comments ]


We have all heard about the city of Vancouver trying to be more street.  Not street like Step Up 2 but street in the fact they are launching a pilot program that will allow 17 more street food locations.  The draw was held by lottery and anyone who was submitting another hot dog cart was denied.

Here are the winners.  The winner has to get their operation up and running by the 31st or else the alternate gets a chance to step up.





Food Cart 2010 Lottery Backgrounder

Winners marked with a W, Alternates marked with an A (see below)

| 2 comments ]

In this summer heat, there are better ways to preserve your fluids than refusing to pee. Here's a quick list, in no particular order, of our favorite drinks in the blistering heat:


1. the Kalamansi spritzer ($3.75) at Thomas Haas (128 - 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver) - tart but citrus-y, the kalamansi lime is a gentle tweak on the usual lemon spritzer. Enjoy it while ogling the desserts in the display case behind (their sandwiches are great too).

2. the Agua Frescas ($3.99) at Whole Foods: made daily in an assortment of flavours, with a good solid taste of mint in the mojito agua fresca. Go to the West Vancouver location; the agua frescas at the Cambie Street location are in desperate need of a strainer.

3. fresh watermelon juice with pearls ($5.00, an additional $0.50 for the pearls/grass jelly) at Dash (1239 Pacific Blvd): there are plenty of bubble tea places in town, but this new Yaletown joint gives you the option of foregoing the usual sugar concoctions. Get them to hold the sweetener and enjoy the watermelon on its own...with or without the pearls. Try it also with grass jelly, made from a mint-related herb rather than lawn, which is purportedly a cooling agent.

4. the ginger beer with toasted coconut juice and lemon ($5.50) at Maenam (1938 West 4th Avenue): house made ginger beer has gained prevalence around town in the past couple of years, the quality (read: ginger content) varying drastically from place to place. Maenam's version, with the added coconut juice, is one of the good ones.

5. the unsweetened Nobo wholefruit iced tea ($2.65) at Coo Coo Coffee (477 Davie Street): a simple, unsweetened iced tea of an assortment of berries, hibiscus and other flowers.

What drinks are on your list? Let us know in the comments.

Joe.

| 2 comments ]


Sweet Obsession
In my teen years I used to go take girls to True Confections which was a really long ass drive from my place in Coquitlam.  It was one of the only late night dessert spots in the city and oddly enough it was always packed with asians.  Where were the other kids?  Probably doing something cooler than me.

Now, I am double that age and I am even nerdier.  Instead of jumping over sharks  (I tried to think of the coolest thing someone could do and this episode of Happy Days came to mind) I am still going to late night dessert places but this time I am taking pictures of my food.  I think I stepped up my nerd quotient.

The good thing is I got a better spot for late night dessert.  Sweet Obsessions is a dessert spot tucked away from the main drag that serves an amazing selection of dessert and at a reasonable price.  Our group of six ordered a variety of items and there was not an unhappy face in the crowd.  The lemon cake, carrot cake, zuccotto, and dolce de leche all knocked everyones socks off.  Not too sweet and not overly rich.  Each cake was priced at about $5.95 per slice and the selection was massive.

If you are tired or need a break from jumping over sharks come join me for a cake at Sweet Obsessions.

Sweet Obsessions
2611 West 16th Ave
Vancouver BC
http://www.sweetobsession.ca/
Sweet Obsession Cakes & Pastries on Urbanspoon
Matt


| 2 comments ]

Generalizing the tenets of Slow-Food here would probably do the movement a disservice, but, as its name implies, at least a portion of its aim is to rid the world of fast-food culture. As Felipe Fernandez-Arnesto puts it, "the priorities of fast food already seem as outmoded as Futurism or Vorticism: they belong to an already bygone age. The fifteen-second hamburger will join the fifteen-cent hamburger: consigned to the dustbin of history."

When Sweeney's opened up in the forever-cursed location next to Bluewater Cafe, with signage proclaiming to be a "slow fast food" joint, the contradiction in terms piqued my curiosity. The menu is comprised of soups, sandwiches and salads, all made from the "freshest ingredients, local when possible" (so asserts their website), with a guarantee of quality. In a neighbourhood increasingly swarmed by chain restaurants with dwindling cheap options, this was a welcome addition.

This optimism was initially served well with their meatloaf sandwich ($8.50), made from Pemberton beef, seasoned simply, drenched with the yin of a light tomato sauce and the yang of a heavy cheddar on a toothsome bun. The roast chicken waldorf salad sandwich ($8.50) -basically a chicken salad with apple slices and walnuts - had its own contradictions; the chicken was overly dry, but the bread overly soggy. This, coupled with a disinterested weekend staff, meant that Sweeney's didn't quite deliver, despite its good intentions.

Joe.

Sweeney's of Yaletown
1091 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 689-4505
Sweeney's of Yaletown on Urbanspoon

| 8 comments ]



I can picture people sitting down to eat here and asking themselves, "What the hell is this place?"

This is a modest attempt to explain what the hell this place is.

Beijiang Restaurant (Běijiāng Fàndiàn 北疆饭店) (1075 - 8580 Alexandra Road
Richmond, BC), the first foreign outpost of a branch that got its start in Sūzhōu (point to Shanghai on a map and Sūzhōu will be in its shadow), is the latest addition to Richmond's strip mall restaurant scene.

While the Mainland branches of the Sūzhōu mini-chain are known for unrestrained opulence, the strip mall setting and size constraints of the local branch give us a far more modest dining room.

Beijiang can be easily slotted into a quite well established genre: the Xīnjiāng theme restaurant.

The name of the place is a vaguely classical term for the northern (北) frontier (疆): the edges of the empire; the final destination of banished criminals or unlucky imperial bureaucrats; and home of biānjiāng mínzú, the non-Han denizens of the borderlands. And it's also an immediate signal (if you're a Mainland Chinese diner, I mean) of what to expect: a Sinified recreation and reimagining of China's furthest west territory (a zìzhìqū 自治区, to be precise: "autonomous region"), that massive lobe of Central Asia (three times the size of France) that has come--through historical happenstance and very intentional scheming--to rest within the territory of the People's Republic of China.

Okay. That clears up some of the potential confusion, but...

...the room, to begin with: the overall effect at Beijiang restaurant is something similar to how I picture the Big Tymers' breakfast nook, heavy on the fake marble and gold leaf accents (and I think I saw a dude enjoying lunch in a Burberry tracksuit). It's slightly less garish than its parent chain's restaurants in the Motherland, but still gaudy as hell.

The room is filled with knick knacks and pictures meant to evoke a romantic image of the mysterious west, Orientalism with Chinese characteristics.

While a restaurant run by the Uyghur (former-)majority of Xīnjiāng would likely be decorated with images of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, and plastered with warning signs about bringing in outside food or drink (this isn't universal, but there's a tendency to not be completely cool with pork and booze), the decorators of Xīnjiāng theme restaurants (like the chain of restaurants that has given birth to Beijiang in Richmond) lean heavily on exotic Central Asian pinup girls and camels. That's the basic approach at Beijiang. Minus the doe-eyed Kazakh Betty Grables, sadly. (At Mainland Xīnjiāng theme restaurants performances by Uyghur dancing girls or musicians are also common, as is the practice of dressing the front-of-house staff in vaguely Central Asian costumes).

The way the dining room looks in a Xīnjiāng theme restaurant is definitely the rest of a certain history. Central China has had a... strained relationship with its outer territories (say: Tibet, Xīnjiāng, all those hot, wet places down in the south, the big, empty places up in the north) and the people who live there.

Xīnjiāng has been contested since long before the Qīng and the chaos that followed its fall in 1911, but it was only in the modern period that the central governments of the Republican (Guómíndǎng) and Communist (Gòngchǎndǎng) decided it was worth having a serious presence in the region. The situation under the Communists is the most relevant to unpacking the phenomenon of the Xīnjiāng theme restaurant.

In the early-'50s, as the first cadres arrived in Xīnjiāng to spread the Gospel among Uyghur herdsman, there was befuddlement on both sides. The cadres couldn't quite wrap their head around pastoral, and usually Muslim, Uyghurs, who spoke a language from the same linguistic family as Turkish. The Uyghurs (and Kazakhs and the other minority ethnicities) couldn't quite wrap their heads around ideas like collectivization of agriculture or the equality of men and women. But, for the most part, everybody was basically pretty chill, or as chill as these kind of situations ever get. There are lots of examples from the early days of the mostly Han Chinese (with some Huí Muslim Chinese sprinkled in) learning the languages of the region and going native.

But, in '61, with the beginning of the Soviet-Chinese mini-Cold War, the Xīnjiāng situation changed. Xīnjiāng was no longer the PB&J in a big ol' Socialist Sandwich: it was all that stood between two nuclear-armed heavyweights. Central Asia has always been a battleground for imperialist powers and the Russians and Chinese continued that bloody tradition. The Russians attempted to turn the region to the Soviet side, reaching out to Uyghur activists that were dissatisfied with Beijing's policies. In response, China tightened its grip on the region and began a policy of flooding the area with Han Chinese settlers.

Beginning in the late '50s, intensifying in the '60s and '70s, and continuing today, the demographics of Xīnjiāng tilted wildly in favor of Han Chinese, who became the majority in the region's urban centers. In recent years, Xīnjiāng's cities have been the scene of deadly race riots. Uyghur and minority ethnic culture in Xīnjiāng has been under assault: language policy has been severe, historic sites have been torn down, imams and their mosques have regulated into insignificance, radio stations and newspapers and websites (for most of the last year, Xīnjiāng's internet, when not completely shut down, has been limited to Chinese government websites) have been shut down, and activists have been intimidated, tortured and murdered.

So, it's kind of ironic that under this cloud of racial violence there's been a simultaneous growth of interest in Xīnjiāng (and Tibet, too, which is another place with a similarly fucked up recent history [the political situation in both regions is sorta similar, but Xīnjiāng has traditionally received less Western sympathy (maybe when Central Asian Islam has as much appeal to white people as Tibetan Buddhism?)]).

In a way it's nothing new, since the culture of the China's far west has long appealed to Central Chinese, especially after Liberation in '49. But the recent appearance of Xīnjiāng(-ish) restaurants in cities like Sūzhōu is something new and is definitely the product of Han Chinese establishing a presence in the region. As interest in Xīnjiāng grows, the simultaneously exotic and Sinified image created by Han settlers and Xīnjiāng-born Han has become the Central Chinese image of the region. (The situation is a bit like dishes co-opted during the British Raj in India being brought back to the Homeland by British Colonials: kedgeree for breakfast, while the 93rd Highlanders massacre rebels. Maybe).

The food, then, is also the product of this Han and biānjiāng mínzú cultural exchange ("exchange" is probably too cheerful of a word to use but...). So, despite the claims on the signboard, there's no particular attempt to keep it real with Central Asian cuisine done the way that Uyghurs or Kazakhs do it. At Beijiang (and at the other Xīnjiāng joint in town, Richmond Public Market's Xin Jiang Delicious Food), the chef was born and raised in Xīnjiāng and grew up eating this style of cooking.

There are some purely Chinese dishes, like the ol' sweet-and-sour fish covered in McDonald's-grade neon red translucent goo, or something more tasteful, like pídàn dòufu 皮蛋豆腐, a simple arrangement of preserved eggs and silken tofu.

And there are some dishes that are definitely Central Asian in origin, but which have been subtly tweaked or completely remade with Central Chinese ingredients or methods.

So, sitting down with all that in mind, it's a bit easier to figure out exactly what's going on with the dining room and the menu. On my first visit I was steered away from the few slightly exotic choices on the menu ("Oh no, you aren't used to food like that! You won't like it"), which included most of the Central Asian-inspired dishes. But a few visits after that, I worked through most of the the straight up crossover classics of Central Asian-Chinese cuisine, which now pop up on standard restaurant menus.

Those dishes are the standouts of the colorful but basically uninspiring menu. The premium price tag and finicky plating aren't something that I really dig, either. But... the lamb and cumin (zīrán yángròu 孜然羊肉)... "big plate" chicken (dàpánjī 大盘鸡), a rustic plate of chicken stewed with whatever is on hand (chilies, peppers, potatoes, garlic)... effective beside a thick slab of chewy náng 馕 bread... served extravagantly, nestled in baskets and topped with a bright purple floral garnish...-- the gold-rimmed china on the table suddenly looks less out of place....

End on a high note: the lamb skewers are tender and cooked over real charcoal and are possibly the best in the city.

Dylan.

Beijiang Restaurant
1075 - 8580 Alexandra Road
Richmond
Beijiang Restaurant on Urbanspoon