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When I wrote that “Cantonese cuisine is the fat, bloated rock star of all regional Chinese cuisines, cruising on excess and ripe for young punks to pick off” for the last Chowtimes dinner, I meant it.  The fare is like the Bill Nighy character in Love Actually, forever trying to maintain a constant presence, at times resorting to kitsch, but still plenty lovable if you only give it a second chance.

For most growing up in North America, Cantonese cuisine is simply ‘Chinese food,’ the noodles we order when we’re drunk, the spring rolls we order when we don’t feel like cooking, the fried rice we order when we’re low on cash.  It’s ubiquitous and thus easily taken for granted, so overly familiar that it no longer captures the imagination.  That’s particularly true these days, when other regional Chinese fare gains a stronger foothold. 

It can be difficult to rationalize why Cantonese cuisine is known as the “best” of all regional Chinese cuisines.  It’s even harder to explain it to others.  But it’s not because that conceit can’t be true: it’s more a matter of not knowing where to begin.  Part of that difficulty is in the sheer breadth of Cantonese cuisine.  There’s dim sum, there’s your wonton and congee shops, there’s your barbecue, there’s your banquet fare… ad infinitum.  Designing a dinner that hits on all these variations is near impossible. 

And that’s why we ended up choosing holding a banquet at Red Star.  If Cantonese cuisine is a glossed out Ab Fab character, there’s virtue in seeking the excessive.  The Granville Street location  — purportedly better than the other branch in Richmond —is flashy without being intimidating, a perfectly good place for a ten course Cantonese banquet.  It’s got a broad and encompassing menu, hitting all the high notes of the region, and more than capable of doing a greatest hits dinner. 


It has also won a Chinese Restaurant Award this year for its barbecue duck, and well known for its other barbecue. That's why we chose to feature a roast suckling pig at each table, our showstopper and main attraction.  If there’s one thing most of the world can get behind, it’s roast pork (well, except for those with religious constraints), and the Cantonese barbecue version provides a completely persuasive argument as to why the region tops all other Chinese fare.  It’s all about the crackling with roast pork, and Red Star’s is exceptional.  The crispy skin is separated from the tender meat underneath, and comes with offerings of tiny wrappers, hoisin sauce and green onions on the side, such that one can wolf it down like a miniature version of Peking duck.  The barbecue duck in itself can be hit or miss, but thankfully mostly the former.  The Red Star version has plenty of meat topped with a thin, crispy layer of skin.  On most occasions, it’s plump and juicy; on others, it’s just slightly dry.

It’s unthinkable to host a Cantonese dinner and not have soup.  The region is known for them, and they’re prized for both their tastiness and, depending on the soup, their medicinal qualities.  We didn’t bother with the latter and focused on the former, with a double-boiled (so-called as the soup is actually steamed inside a container placed in a boiling water bath, in order to concentrate the soup’s flavor without subjecting it to direct heat) chicken broth made with pork shanks and Jinhua ham.  The ham, similar to an Iberian ham in flavor, adds a richness to the soup that fills your bones and enters the marrow.

It'd be naive to dismiss the class politics involved in championing Cantonese cuisine above all others. If ingredients can make or break a meal, than there's surely an advantage in being able to afford high end, exotic ingredients. Instead of being the best, Cantonese cuisine might simply be the most enviable, depending on one's subjective taste.


Sea cucumber is one moderately affordable (and, unfortunately, overharvested) example.  The echinoderm can fetch north of USD$110 a kilogram, prized for its purported health benefits, and the subject of the first part of Satie's Embryons desséchés.  It's an acquired taste of nothing, notable for its spongy blandness.  For that reason, it's often used in braises and soups that impart its flavor: at Red Star, it's braised with Chinese mushrooms, the sea cucumber soaking up its earthy richness. 


Guangdong is also synonymous with the Pearl River Delta, and the region is flush with conventional seafood as well.  Slices of fuzzy melon (akin to a zucchini or squash) were cored and stuffed with a scallop in its centre, a single bite both light and heavy at the same time.  A steamed rock cod was served whole, an auspicious choice for the Cantonese as having a 'beginning and an end,' head to tail, with little else to interfere with its natural flavors.  A typhoon shelter crab, so named for having its supposed origins from sampan ships docked at Hong Kong's harbours, is buried with generous amounts of minced garlic, peppers and dried shrimp.  The dish hails from Hong Kong's lower income community that lived on sampan boats dotting the waters, at one point numbering around 40,000 in a relatively small area, and which has now dwindled down to a 30 odd headcount amongst Hong Kong's perpetually shrinking harbour.


Dinner ended off with the obligatory starches; no Cantonese dinner is complete without at least one bowl of rice.  A fried rice with dried scallops was then steamed inside a lotus leaf, taking in the herbaceous aroma of its vessel.  Each person was then served a small bowl of egg noodles and a sui gao dumpling, a larger type of wonton emphatically filled with shrimp, covering off yet another cherished facet of Cantonese cuisine.  

After ten courses - each exquisitely prepared by Red Star, surely one of the most consistent Cantonese restaurants in town - I'm hoping we've successfully given Cantonese cuisine a fair shake.  Though it's difficult to pitch the comforts of familiarity, I'm hoping the dinner has churned that nurture that interest again.  While it might have passed over into the ubiquitous, there's real depth to the regional fare, and it's definitely more a character than a caricature.  Whether it's the 'best' or not, it's time to re-visit Cantonese cuisine again.

Joe.

Red Star
8298 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 261-8389

Red Star Seafood on Urbanspoon

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Vicki Wong is one half of Meomi, the unsung heroes of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, having designed Quatchi, Miga, Sumi and Mukmuk. Based between Vancouver and LA, the duo have provided illustration and design work for the likes of Google, Yo Gabba Gabba!, EA, CBC...the list is endless. Meomi are also the authors and illustrators of the Octonauts series of children books, and, on their time off, avid eaters. Here's Vicki's top picks in town:

(1) Shiro's
3096 Cambie Street

Shiro's wild salmon sashimi just ~MELTS~ in one's mouth. Lovely cozy neighbourhood home cookin' menu and atmosphere. Plus free Pocky with every meal!!!

(2) Nuba
207-B West Hastings & Cambie

I developed a super crush on their garden falafel so I keep making up reasons to see it. I think maybe it likes me too.

(3) Garden City Hot Pot
8788 McKim Way, Richmond

Chinese family favourite! – nothing like spicy hotpot tempered with cool Chrysanthemum tea. Mmm- geoduck - you are long and freaky looking, but so delicious.

Runner-up crushes: La Taqueria, Zakkushi, Shanghai River, Zipang, Wallflower's Canuck burger, Rhizome's miso rice bowl, the orange drop ceiling at Gizmo Pho

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We've deliberated over the many entries to our Cookware.com contest: there's just a boatload of you folks that are in desperate need of new Le Creuset gear!  Thanks to everyone that entered - there was alot of great (and entertaining) entries!

Congrats to Mariz, who had this awesome quasi-recipe for Kare Kare:
I'd like to share this wonderful Filipino dish with you called Kare-Kare. It's a stew with braised oxtail, mixed vegetables like okra, eggplant, long green beans and bok choy, slow cooked in a super mild peanut butter based sauce. It looks like a lahksa but with a richer, creamier broth. It's traditionally eaten with an equally huge helping of rice and lots of shrimp paste--it's amazing!

I'll share with you guys how my mom makes it. Since I moved out of their place a couple of years ago my mom makes this on the last Sunday of every month when she knows my sister and I will come over for a visit. I'd love to be able to make this dish for her, but am obviously lacking the tools!

She makes everything in this metal vat that she brought over from the Philippines. She slow cooks the oxtail to reduce some of the fat, with onions and tomatoes. Then, she sets the meat aside and starts on the sauce, which is basically the broth of the oxtail, mixed in with a Mama Sita brand mix (mostly for colour) and adds a bunch of aromatics and 2 ladles of Kraft smooth peanut butter. After mixing it up, she puts the oxtail back and slow cooks it for a few hours until the meat is melting off the bones. Yum. She throws in the vegetables and puts the lid on, just until the vegetables are tender.

The contrast of the salty shrimp paste with the smooth creaminess of the broth is amazing! Best eaten with a hungry family.

Many thanks to Cookware.com.

The Slop.

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When a English pea falls off your fork and tells you the etymology of the word "dandelion," you better sit up and listen.

Designed by Japanese ad agency Dentsu, "Mameshiba" technically translates to "bean dog," but realistically translates to "WHOATHATSHIZZISHI-LAR-I-OUS."  There are around 25 characters, each with a puppy dog face, dropping truth bombs like a cuddly Chuck D.  Other bits of wisdom include: "the inside of a kangaroo's pouch is supposedly really stinky"; "when you kiss, 200 million germs per second are exchanged between mouths"; and "mandarin duck couples stop liking each other once their nest is built."  Beat that, Don Draper.

Joe.

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We’re in that unique niche of suburbia Portland (ed: thanks for the correction, irate Portland dweller!), in a neighbourhood where even mini-malls have yet to venture, trapped in a stretch of 1970s tract housing more in need of upheaval than revival.  There are few landmarks to find one’s bearings, and yet here we are, in an intersection with at least five or six restaurants, an odd blip on an otherwise blank canvas.  When people say that Portland is a food town, they weren’t kidding.

It’s Beast that has brought us here, an ongoing dinner party hosted by chef Naomi Pomeroy, and for which she was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2009.  The restaurant is more akin to an apartment; even ‘bistro’ would understate its coziness.  Guests are ushered in for two seatings daily, and find a place at the two communal tables flanking the featured kitchen.  Curtains made by Pomeroy’s mother hang from the window, and the room’s darkness is further exaggerated by its chalkboard-painted walls, decorated with quotes, recipes and notes taken by the staff.  A selection of current indie rock plays over the din; you’ve got to force yourself to remember that you’re not in someone’s living room but in a place of business.

A six course menu changes daily (USD$60 per person; add USD$35 for wine pairings).  Each, however, pays unrelenting attention to all things meat, an interesting choice considering that Pomeroy has done years as a vegetarian.  This, perhaps, reflects Beat’s refined treatment: there are no Flintstone brontosaurus ribs to be had here.

Soup often plays the opening act, one last breath of lightness before heading deep into heavy waters.  On our visit, we were treated to a chilled zucchini and yogurt soup topped with a mint salsa verde and lemon oil, an act of mercy given the plus 30C/90F Portland heat.   

This marches right into the charcuterie platter, which, by all accounts, is what brings Beast its accolades.  The plate is filled with little treasures, each to be consumed in one bite.  Chicken liver mousse is topped with pickled shallot. A slice of blood sausage is paired with chantrelles.  A Seville marmalade brings brightness to a pork shoulder rilette.  Steak tartare and a raw quail egg sit atop a tiny sliver of toast, a bite so concentrated in richness that it necessitates a short breath of air immediately afterward just to contemplate what has happened.  The best of them all, though, is the foie-gras ‘bon bon,’ which is nestled on a shortbread cookie, its fattiness cut with a square of sauternes gelee like a flash of light through a velvet fog.

It’s almost a mistake to start the evening off that strong, particularly if the main entrée doesn’t quite deliver on that promise.  We were served braised beef cheeks with a veal demiglace, a salty dish made even saltier, served with a horseradish cream that weighed the dish down further, with sautéed cucumbers and baby onions on the side doing their best to provide some sense of counterbalance, like a slight tap in response to a heavy blow.  This was followed by a forgettable garden salad of “early girl” tomatoes and oak leaf, a shrug of indifference to the earlier portion of the evening.

A cheese course is a must when in Oregon, and they hopefully come in larger portions than what Beast offers.  Three tiny slices are offered alongside a fennel pollen and fleur de sel shortbread, a dollop of wildflower honey, five or six candied hazelnuts and one – yes, one – cherry.  Things, thankfully, ended on a higher and more well-portioned note.  A peach leaf crème caramel came with a warmed slice of peach, with a delicate almond tuille to give a bit of crispness. 

At the end, it’s hard to be too disappointed with Beast, though perhaps it’s more for novelty than for the complete meal.  The concept has legs, and with a menu changing daily, there's bound to be some bumps along the way, much like any dinner party.  Pomeroy is a gracious host, and it's only courteous to be a grateful guest.    

Joe.

Beast
5425 NE 30th Avenue
Portland OR
503-841-6968
(There are only two seatings daily: 6pm or 8:45pm)

Beast on Urbanspoon

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Not quite in Vancouver but on Vancouver Island.  Tofino to be exact and so worthy of a post.  Why?  Because Tacofino could possibly be the best mexican, or at least the best fish tacos in BC!  Tacofino is food truck that parks itself just behind LIVE TO SURF surf shop on the coastal highway on your way to Tofino.  




They have a pretty healthy size menu for a food truck with some options for burritos, tacos and gringas......but I've yet to explore all the variations.  I've been stuck on the Fish Tacos and the Tuna Tacos.  It's hard to stray away from what you know is so damn good!  All the items are freshly prepared on the truck and served with a friendly smile.  


My friend tried the Gringas and he is stuck on them.  What is a Ginga?  Well, my friend best describes them as a marriage of a Taco and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  The drinks are served mexican style as well. The Freshies are crushed ice drinks which are perfect as an apres surf refreshment.  Lemon-Ginger, yes!


If you're lucky enough to visit Tacofino on a day they are serving their Diablo Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches, you must drop in for one!  Two homemade rich chocolate cookies sandwiching 2-3 inches of creamy vanilla ice cream.  Do it!


Tacofino
located behind Live to Surf
250-725-8228

O-toro

Tacofino Cantina on Urbanspoon

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Ever wanted to ask Anthony Bourdain something?  Perhaps, how do you feel that Japadog constantly has an hour long line  since you had featured it on your program?

Well, CBC is having a question and answer session with Anthony Bourdain on his tour to promote his book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.   


Most likely you won't be in Toronto to ask your question in person however you can submit a question to the CBC for them to ask for you.

Email yournews@cbc.ca

More information is available at the following link here.

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In the short five-minute walk between my office and the Re-Up BBQ food cart, at least two strangers have stopped abruptly, stared at my pulled-pork sandwich, and asked where they could buy it.  While that’s usually unheard of, when it comes to southern barbecue, it’s understandable: options are limited in town. 

It goes without saying that barbecue is somewhat of a religion in the southern US.  In Texas alone, hundreds of barbecue cook-offs are held every year.  Bitter rivalries form not only between contestants, but between states.  As Houston-based writer Robb Walsh describes:
Some argue that the definition of barbecue is meat with a spicy sauce, but some of the best barbecue in Texas is smoked meat with no sauce at all.  Some say barbecue means smoked meat, but in Memphis some of the most famous barbecue pork ribs are simply grilled with sauce and no smoke.  In the Carolinas, barbecue most often means a sandwich of slow-cooked pulled pork in a spicy sauce.  And for a huge number of Americans, ‘barbecuing’ just means cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill in the backyard.

For those whose barbecue pedigree has only involved the backyard grill thus far, take heed: Re Up offers the real deal.  While the pulled pork sandwich ($6) is its only meal option at this point in time, what an option it is.  The pork is a labour of love, smoked (from what I can tell, Carolina style) for hours, the taste of hickory lingering in the air well after its consumption.  The meat falls apart at sight, tender and luscious, and there is plenty of it: this is a sandwich that is loved and loves back.  It is topped with a generous amount of fresh coleslaw, and somehow held together by a Portuguese bun in a friendly hug.

The master at work here is Chester Carey, a certified cicerone (think sommelier, but for beer) and the instructor of the Serious Beer class at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.  This, of course, makes perfect sense: if there is one marriage better than smoke and meat, it is barbecue and beer, and one can only assume that Carey’s success in beer has naturally imparted a gift in barbecue, the two gifts born as fraternal twins.

One final bit of advice: go early in the day.  The cart is small and the line is long, and those folks walking down the street will inevitably find their way to it.  As word spreads, supplies will dwindle, and the cart is already running out of pulled pork before the day is done.  Take an extended coffee break, as Re-Up is worth skipping out on your daily chores for.

Joe.

Re-Up BBQ
700 Hornby Street (on the NW corner of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Georgia St entrance)
Vancouver, BC
(604) 724-0894

Re-Up BBQ foodcart on Urbanspoon


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ASHER ROTH MIXTAPE
Even the rappers are getting into good food!!!!


Track List:






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La Belle Patate
When I think of a poutine I think of stumbling down Davie Street drunk grabbing a piece of pizza at Numero Uno and then waiting in line at Fritz.   I have now been spending some Saturdays at the Bayside Lounge (Vancouver's best kept secret) and my buddy drove by a placed called La Belle Patate which was still open after the bar.  When we stepped in, we found out that they serve my favourite after the bar meal, poutine.

I was too drunk to really gauge that visit so I visited again, this time sober.  The reviews on urbanspoon have numerous favorable likes for this place but I needed to check if those people can be trusted, some people love everything.   La Belle Patate is licensed (I wonder when they stop serving beer) serves over 30 types of poutine, and the nice thing is that there is available seating (no more standing on the street and eating). We ordered a couple of poutines to try which ran us about ten dollars a piece.  The breakfast poutine which came with fried egg, and the smoked meat version was topped with montreal smoked meat and onions.

The price for the poutine was not cheap ranging around 10 dollars for the medium size, but the portions are massive (enough for two or three people).  I just noticed that GoodNews.com has a great deal at La Belle Patate where for 5 dollars you get 10 dollars worth of poutine, a perfect excuse to try this place out. GoodNews.com is Vancouver’s socially conscious daily deal site that not only offers great deals for local restaurants, they also donate 10% of all their sales to a local cause.   


Breaking the poutine down to its three major components here are our thoughts.  The gravy which was wheat based lacked the salty flavour that I was used to in meat gravy, however it did allow for the extra toppings to be the hero of the poutine (the taste of the gravy reminded me of Zakos for those who like their poutine).  There is a chicken gravy option which I would have loved to tried but didn't find out about until I was walking out the door.  The fries were on par with most other poutine establishments in the city and the cheese curds were tasty and squeaky (confirming authenticity).  I usually ask for light gravy so my fries stay crispy and I believe all fresh cut fries should be double fried (I don't think that these were double fried).

Both of our poutines were good and I was surprised that the egg and gravy made for a tasty combination.  I must say the price is  on the high side but it equates to the size of the portion you receive.   We ended up with poutine to take home but how good is a poutine the next day?  One thing I can say is that this  poutine is authentic and the hero's behind this dish are the toppings.  

La Belle Patate
1215 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC


La Belle Patate on Urbanspoon


I guess the real question is La Belle Patate better than Fritz? I would put them on the same level, both with their weaknesses and strengths.  La Belle Patate wins for their cheese curds but Fritz in my opinion has them on the gravy.  If you eat at La Belle Patate make sure you share a poutine and that should make it the same price point as Frtiz.



Matt


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If there's been a consistent darling of the local culinary scene as of late, it's Bo Han. His noodle counter, Bo Laksa King, has been the source of much internet fodder (including our review here) since last fall: a shining example of when street food, artisanal fervour and ingenuity - particularly as it relates to the city's food licensing regime - finally culminate into tangibility.

Part of this success is due to Bo himself.  The man hails from Burma, though he's cooked throughout Southeast Asia, which his menu reflects.  On most days, Bo tended to matters personally at the noodle counter (his wife covered on the days he did not), putting thoughtful care into each bowl.

This remains true at Bo's new spin-off, Bo Laksa King's Bubbles & Bits.  This is an expansion of his empire, his first true sit-down location.  Though having additional staff has now become a necessity, it's still highly probable that Bo will be at the new location on most days (his wife now runs the original location), either in the kitchen or making the rounds in the dining room to greet his patrons.  The original charm is there, filling up what is otherwise a barren room that serves only the most basic of utilitarian functions.

The other part of Bo's success is, of course, due to the food.  The original laksa is here in all its glory, this time sans the wraps offered at the Joyce Street location - which weren't really worthy of fuss anyway - but with a menu fleshed out by other Southeast Asian staples, all tied together with a common theme of spice.  An authentic pad thai ($8.75) is offered, one of few in town that are made without ketchup, sweeter than most might have had before, and liberally featuring banana flowers, an ingredient uncommon to most palates in town.

Of note are the Burmese dishes.  Instead of the laksa, try mohingar (often spelled 'mohinga' elsewhere; $7.50), widely considered to be Burma's national dish.  It's all about the soup, a rich fish broth flavored with lemongrass, onions, garlic and ginger, filled to the brim with rice vermicelli, banana tree stems and the ubiqituous hard boiled egg.  Crispy bits of deep-fried split pea fritters are also added to an already complex bowl, providing little bites of crunch with each slurp of noodle.  The dish is a Burmese staple, often served street-side and as an all-day breakfast, and is to Burmese cuisine what pho is to Vietnamese fare (one can imagine the debates as to which region of Burma's is the best, which version is the most authentic, etcetera).  It's the stuff of memories, and one can imagine the nostalgia each spoonful must have for those that are from the country.

The 'bubbles' part of the equation comes by way of bubble tea: as with the original noodle counter, which found its place inside a Joyce Street convenience store, this new location finds itself partnered with an East Hastings bubble tea place.  The bubble tea, of course, is neither here nor there: it simply is.  This casual randomness taken altogether, it all still feels like street food, despite the walls and ceiling.  Most importantly, it all still feels - and is - as charming as the original location, and it should rightfully confirm Bo Han's ever increasing popularity and stardom around town.

Joe.

Bo Laksa King's Bubbles & Bits
2546 East Hastings (between Kamloops St and Penticton St)
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-4593

(Bo Laksa King's) Bubbles and Bits on Urbanspoon





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One of my childhood favourites was the happy meal until I found out there was a something called the Pirate Pak.  I never knew it was spelt 'Pak', kinda looks like how a hip hop emcee would write pack when he was making his lyrics.


On August 18, White Spot is celebrating the legendary Pirate Pak meal during its third annual Pirate Pak Day and for the first time ever, guests of any age will have the opportunity to be a kid for a day and order a special edition 'Adult Pak.'


White Spot is raising money to send kids with serious medical conditions to Zajac Ranch for Children for an unforgettable summer camp experience - http://www.zajacranch.com/whitespot.htm. On August 18, $2 from the sale of each Pirate Pak will help fund White Spot Week at Zajac Ranch.


http://www.whitespot.com/piratepak.htm



All Adult Pirate Paks include creamy coleslaw and ‘endless’ fries, plus a soft drink, our famous chocolate coin and a scoop of creamy ice cream in a fun cardboard boat.
Legendary Burger
$9.99
I love White Spot burgers, and I don't mind eating with a cardboard boat in front of me either.  So I am there.

PS - Let's get White Spot to bring back the strawberry shortcake!!!!!!!!!






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It is summer and my weekends are filled with birthdays, baby showers and BBQs.  If you are a calculating son of a bitch like me where you don't want to show up empty handed,  and you don't want to pay for an item that would cost more than the meal they are providing, then I have the thing for you. 


Sara's Green Tea Ice Cream Cake.

This thing is fantastic, serves lots of people if you cut the slices thin and only costs about ten dollars.   The macha green tea is flavourful and complements the Oreo cracker crust nicely.

Look for this joint in the ice cream section at TNT.  

Also, the mochi ice cream is worth trying if you haven't had it.


Matt

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We might write about Matt's cooking adventures every now and then, but believe you me, if the man had a slew of new Le Creuset cookware, we'd be flogging his skills every day. Restaurants are an expensive addiction, and the HST ain't helping matters.

Assuming you're in the same boat, the good folks at Cookware.com has a kind offer of help: in conjunction with the ol' Vancouver Slop, they'd like to offer a USD$125 (yep, that's in greenbacks!) credit to cover purchases (but excluding shipping and handling) at their online store to speed you along your own cooking adventures. There's a plethora of cookware and gadgets to choose from, so take a look around.

To enter the contest, just leave a comment or email us (vancouverslop@gmail.com) about what you'd cook up if only you had some new pots and pans to do it in. Enter BEFORE 5pm (Vancouver time) on August 20, 2010. Sorry, Canadian and US residents only: you're out of luck, Icelandic fans.

Submitting a recipe on top of it just grabs our attention more. Who knows? We might even post a winning recipe after Matt works his way through it.

(Remember to leave an email address or some way we can get in touch with you in case, uh, you win.)

Joe.

UPDATE: Contest is now closed!  Thanks!

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If Commune Café were located one block east, it would easily be one of the better things to happen in Yaletown in the recent past. That’s not a difficult judgment: in a neighbourhood where tight muscle tees and silicon duck lips still reign supreme, this unassuming new restaurant is a brief oasis in a sea of spray tans.

The restaurant, conceived by Annette Rawlinson (C, Au Petit Chavignol) and Tina Fineza (Flying Tiger, Les Faux Bourgeois, La Taqueria), is set up cafeteria-style, a long communal table running down the centre and smaller two person booths flanking the perimeter. Hours are long at Commune: breakfast, lunch and dinner service is available, snacks and baked goods in between, and coffee, Canadian craft beer and BC wines.

With that said, most of the offerings are ideal for a quick bite, with sandwiches both hot and cold featured prominently throughout all three menus. The breakfast and dinner menus also offer further options to linger over, with standard egg dishes to start the day, and Iranian flatbreads and other entrees to end the night.

We stopped in for dinner on two occasions, mere days after Commune opened, to enjoy the relative solitude of a new restaurant before the inevitable rush that will undoubtedly occur in the coming weeks and months. The expansive menu runs across several cupboard doors, with baked goods from Kreation, Tartine and in-house to serve as distractions.

It’s not often that I care about salad, and it’s even rarer that I rave about one, but the quinoa salad ($9) is something to behold. Locally sourced quinoa is mixed with cucumber, mint and alfalfa to give a refreshing summer bite, with currants and lime to give it a necessary contrast, and smoked sablefish to elevate the entire dish into something substantial and satisfying. Instead of being merely tossed together, here’s a salad that shows true thought and care, one that will make you want to re-evaluate salads offered elsewhere.

Oceanwise fish – on our visit, halibut – is offered as an entrée, roasted and served atop white beans, an onion confit and the occasional sliver of green ($15). The kitchen may still be smoothing out its first bout of growing pains: the halibut was slightly overcooked, though not enough to be unenjoyable, with the beans, rich and glorious, serving as the true star of the show.

A few days later, we returned for sandwiches, which we felt necessary considering they make up a solid half of Commune’s menus. In the interim, we visited Commune’s twitter page, where talk of housemade porchetta piqued our curiosity, a pang that fans of all things porcine should thoroughly understand. There’s few better ways that pork loin can be so honoured than to be slathered with rosemary, garlic, fennel and sage, rolled up in a glory tube and roasted to juicy perfection.

Porchetta’s something to be passionate about: if served in a sandwich, it’s all I want to taste. Commune’s version ($9) comes with mozzarella melted over the porchetta and roast peppers, and there are glorious bites to be had when you reach its fattier regions…well, at least as glorious as porchetta can be without the crackling. That’s the key missing ingredient to the sandwich, which the restaurant is cognizant of: they’re still tweaking the roasting process in their limited kitchen facilities, and leaving it off until the crackling reaches its necessary crunch. Until then, get the roast eggplant sandwich ($8.50), which comes with roast peppers, melted provolone, and hummus, a hearty and substantial vegetarian option.

Commune Café has started off on the good foot, and if that quinoa salad is any indication, there are undoubtedly great things ahead for them. Go in these early days: it won’t be long until the place gets rushed by the neighbourhood that surrounds it. When that happens, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Joe.

Commune Café
1002 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC
604-681-2551

Commune Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Napoleon Dynamite
It took me a couple of sittings to fall in love with Napoleon Dynamite but eventually the kid with ninja moves, moon boots and quesa dillas won me over.  

The movie is filled with tons of great quotes and zingers but one thing that I really loved other than the soundtrack was the opening credits.

I don't know if you Emily Carr kids call this typography or not, or if you are going to criticize that the kerning or ledding is off but to me these opening credits were amazing.  The concept is amazing and I am sure that it fit the budget of the movie.

I wish I had a friend that kept tater tots in his cargo pockets.



Another amazing opening scene is Delicatessen, but we will save that movie for another post.

Matt

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It’s amazing what a difference a few hours can make. Seattle’s really not that far away – if not for the border wait, the drive is about 2.5 to 3 hours, the same amount of time to watch and digest a good film – but it feels as though it runs on an entirely different genetic make-up than Vancouver, a difference that can make dinner a thrilling experience.

This is more than evident at Maria Hine’s Tilth, for which Ms. Hines has won a James Beard Award for Best Chef (Northwest) and which Frank Bruni placed in his 2008 list for the ten best new restaurants in the US. We’ve eaten there on numerous occasions now, and ensure we include it on our things-to-do list for each visit.

In part, it’s the coziness. Tilth is based out of a small converted house in Wallingford, with half of the seats inside what feels like an old living room, and the other half outside on the lovely porch. The servers are gracious hosts, each eager to make you feel at home.

There’s a certain amount of pride that is taken at the restaurant – much like a family might be proud of each member – and it’s due, in part, to Tilth’s modus operandi. The restaurant has been certified by Oregon Tilth, an organization from its name state that gives its designation to those meeting exacting organic and sustainability standards; very little at Tilth fits outside those restrictions.


On our last visit, corn was very much in season, and things started out with a white corn flan, floating along under a white corn foam, served with popcorn shoots and nasturtium petals, all tasting of lightness, vitality and of the season (USD$9 for the half-order, USD $14 for the full; almost everything at Tilth is available in both portion sizes). A risotto with dungeoness crab, sea beans, English pea and lemon balm was featured that day (USD$15 for the half, if memory serves), each bite breathing of tide, ocean and beach.

Not everything is light and airy: duck sliders sit atop mini brioches, dressed with hot mustard, house-made ketchup and onion jam, and served with fingerling potato chips fried in duck fat (USD$16 for two, or USD$27 for 4). They might seem a bit expensive, but a few bites into the ground duck patty and chips will quickly erase that complaint away and give a strong validation as to why the dish is an obvious crowd favorite. We like to end things off with a selection of local and Oregon cheeses (an assortment of three goes for USD$15), each paired with accompanying jams, honey or nuts; it seems that, much like many West Coast wines, many Washington/Oregon cheeses don’t quite make it across the border.


All of this together – during this dinner and each other visit we’ve made to Tilth – is refreshingly different, and not merely because of the change in scenery. Pacific Northwest (or simply West Coast, at least in Vancouver’s case) is a varied beast, and the thrill of Tilth is its take on the genre, which feels more youthful and passionate than what Vancouver has offered in the past while (at least until the recent openings of L’Abattoir and others, anyway). The drive to Seattle might not be that long, but those short hours make an impressive contrast.

Joe.

Tilth
1411 North 45th Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 633-0801

Tilth on Urbanspoon

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Just went to Nandos and had a meal and a beer on their patio.  The garlic peri peri sauce is fantastic.  Don't forget about the Nando's contest.

Update - Winners posted under the original post.  Ian and Mary Anne please email me at vancouverslop@gmail.com

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Diabetics beware: when it comes to the worship of baked goods, not much can compare to the delerious fervor of Anpanman, Japan's favorite carbohydrate son.

Instead of deriving power from the sun, Anpanman gains his Superman-like strength from using his noggin...of course, it helps if your head is a giant Japanese bun filled with red bean. The hero also has a heart of gold, naturally: if the lads and lasses he saves are hungry, he doesn't think twice about offering bits of his head for sustenance, though ripping off pieces of his head weakens his strength considerably (not even Japanese ingenuity has figured a way around that one). Don't fret: Uncle Jam can bake a new head for Anpanman, post haste.

Baking features large in the world of Anpanman, populated by almost 1,800 characters since the late 80s (garnering an entry into the Guiness Book of Records). There's too many to describe, but here's my other two faves:
There's Currypanman, who pretty much has the same powers as Anpanman. I've never seen him offer up bits of his own head for the greater good, but his head is FILLED WITH CURRY THAT HE SQUIRTS OUT WHEN ATTACKED. Mindblowing.
Every artform needs a touch of narcissism. Shokupanman might spend his days serving lunch to schoolchildren, but he brings sass to the group, despite being white bread (literally).

Here's an episode to get the full flavour of the show, but you'll need to bring your Japanese skills to the table:



Joe.

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The Bacon Maple Donut
Joe just went to Portland and his trip inspired me to do this.   In Portland sits one of the craziest donut shops in the world called Voodoo Doughnuts.   This shtick to this place is that it serves all different kinds of donuts including donuts with fruit loops or oreos stacked on it, or a cock n balls shaped donut and other crazy variations.  One of their best donuts is the bacon maple bar which is a maple donut with bacon on top.

I stopped by Tim Hortons for a ice cap, and ordered a Canadian Maple Donut with cream inside and a side of bacon for an extra 60 cents.   I placed the bacon on top of donut and took one big bite.  This thing was fantastic, my face smiled when the hit of maple bacon flavour rampaged through my mouth.  Soo good, it trumps the Portland version because you also get cream in the donut.  Even my female friend was amazed how good this was.

The one thing to note is that the bacon comes in a soup container.  In the spirit of saving the environment ask the Tim Horton's person to place the bacon on top of your maple donut.  Not only do you get to see her face when you make this odd request but you also do your part in saving the world.

All in all, if you love bacon, you will lose your mind on how good this combination is.   Think about it Bacon X Maple X Cream X Fried Goodness = AMAZING!!!!!

For those wondering : 210 cal for the donut + 25 cal for the bacon = 235 calories.

Tim Hortons
Various Locations


Matt - Respect to my friend Marc for telling me that I could do this.

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In the thick of the tourist season, out-of-town guests always seem to voice a preference for two things: a view, and fresh seafood. The West End restaurants make a good dime off this request, ditto with the Boathouse at Kitsilano, Monk McQueens, the old Cannery (RIP), etcetera.

The Beach House fits into the same niche, located right off the Dundarave Pier in West Vancouver. Call ahead and ask for a patio seat: while they can’t offer any guarantees, book early enough for dinner or late enough for drinks, and your odds of scoring waterfront real estate are pretty good.

This sort of restaurant (read: a tourist trap) is usually pretty pricey, though there are often plentiful deals to be had. As full disclosure, we went on a recent spend-$20-get-$40-credit offer from Teambuy, one of the newer group buy outfits expanding into Vancouver from Toronto (the premise is simple enough: get enough people to buy into a deal and the local business in question will provide it, a sort of voting-with-dollars conceit), and probably one of the main reasons why the Beach House was even an affordable option. That works into a good two-entrees-for-one deal, depending on what you order: coupled with the view, I thought the place couldn’t be beat.


That was, of course, until we actually ate there. As one can guess, the summer is a busy time for the Beach House, and the service was scrambling, despite there being more than enough of them to cover approximately 20 tables on the patio. There’s an amazing wine list at the Beach House, and it took a good half hour for us to ponder that fact before we got our first glass. Our half-dozen of raw oysters ($16) – plump and fresh, and served with a red wine migonette with grated horse radish – came quickly enough, though one wasn’t thoroughly cleaned. When we asked our server what kind of oysters they were, she promptly disappeared without ever answering.


Even the view couldn’t save the entrees. A steelhead salmon ($28), which I generally see elsewhere listed as a trout, came skin-side up, the bottom covered with albumin. I don’t usually mind the white stuff when I cook salmon or trout at home, but that’s because I’m a hack in the kitchen, and expect more from a trained chef when dining out (apparently either brining or brining the fish up to room temperature before cooking can reduce or eliminate that). That minor complaint might be easily chalked-up to me being a fussy prick, but the rest of the dish was a bigger issue. Served atop savoy cabbage and sweet potatoes, with a caper and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, the salmon tasted of nothing but oil, the dish glimmering like a man-made disaster in the sun, rendering the entrée near inedible.


The red snapper ($26) fared slightly better, seared with Cajun spice (which turned out to be plenty of black pepper and tumeric) and topped with a mango salsa, but still fouled by excess oil. The accompanying snap peas were also drowned in it, though sweet and fresh enough to pull through. Both were served alongside Israeli couscous, the only item on both dishes not covered with slick. A look around the patio saw most tables stick with burgers, sandwiches and pasta: we probably should have taken heed and saw that as a warning sign.

When company calls, this all might be irrelevant. A view is a view is a view, and even the most critical jerk has to recognize that Beach House’s is spectacular. Entertaining is not without its sacrifices, and so Beach House can still remain a viable option…just pull up a chair and stick with the wine list.

Joe.

Beach House
150 25 Street
West Vancouver, BC
(604) 922-1414

The Beach House at Dundarave Pier on Urbanspoon