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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Ellen Shapiro

  1. Everyone certainly seems to be impressed by the ancient piece of chocolate. Admittedly, because there was such a buzz going about it, I (having missed it the first time through) insisted on going back through the exhibit to find it. Let's just say I'd have been much more excited about it had there not been so much hype generated--by the time I saw it, I found it difficult not to be disappointed about the pebble-sized chocolate--no matter how ancient.

  2. When you approach the exhibition there are several chocolate dresses on display.




    The exhibition itself is well put-together, and the AMNH has enhanced it with several items from its own collection, such as this cocoa-pod-shaped coffin from Ghana.


    The rest is what you'd expect from a first-rate museum exhibition: various storyboards, models, the oldest piece of actual chocolate extant (macroscopic), videos . . .







    The chocolate sculptures are not in the exhibition hall; they are in the museum's main rotunda. Hang an immediate right as soon as you enter from Central Park West. The workmanship and creativity on the sculptures is astounding. Unfortunately because they are behind glass they are tremendously difficult to photograph, especially Steve Klc's because it is the first in the series and therefore in the corner. Maybe Steve K can post about exactly what we're looking at here because I can't do it justice. The important thing to remember is that everything is chocolate. The colored things are chocolate paint, dyed chocolate, etc. You have to get up close and personal to appreciate fully the effort and thought that must have gone into these, each inspired by a different part of the museum's collection and each in a very distinct style. The food-and-art debate ends here.







    Immediately outside the exhibition is a chocolate shop, where you can purchase various trinkets.


    And upstairs is the chocolate cafe, where the media people (today was the press preview; the exhibition opens on the 14th of this month) were in a feeding frenzy, literally. You'll see in the last photo of this series what the typical reporter was loading onto her plate.





  3. Day two, clearly the word was out -- the crowds started accumulating early and they just kept growing. We got out of there at 3:00, before the crowd density reached the point at which atomic fission could occur. No way this event can be contained on 27th Street next year. I bet they're already looking for a bigger venue.

    The barbecue guys and the security guards had been working through the night to get the day's ration prepared and they were all looking pretty exhausted -- but happy. They were definitely pumped on account of the great reception they were getting from all the New Yorkers.

    I tried to catch up with the other three barbecue gods today because I had spent most of my time on day one with Ed Mitchell. So first I wandered by Chris Lilly's place -- that's Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q from Decatur, Alabama. He was just about to start in on a pork shoulder.


    He then applied his skilled hands to the shoulder, kind of massaging it into pulled pork.




    Right at the end he takes a knife to the bigger pieces to get them down to sandwichable size and, as he raises the knife, he yells to the crowd, "Watch out, it splatters!" Then he rolls it all up in a big clump in his paws and hands it off to the guy with the tray, adding things like, "Y'all may be lucky enough to get some of this one, it felt real good -- just right when I was choppin' it." You'll see in all the photos of the barbecue guys, they looked like they were about to collapse from the rain, the smoke, the intensity of the event -- they were borderline delirious.


    Then I caught up with Rick Schmidt from the Kreuz Market out of Lockhart, Texas. He was just about to put some sausages in the oven.


    And then he sharpened his knife in preparation for carving a shoulder.




    Mike Mills from the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois, was really happy with his ribs today. There he was, he sees these things every day, he can eat all he wants anytime, and a good batch still makes him smile.




    Then we went inside for a short film called Barbecue is a Noun, which was actually not a film but rather a preview of a film that is in the process of being made by two guys named Austin McKenna and Hawes Bostic. Austin McKenna was there to show the short film, and then he and Ed Mitchell (from Mitchell's Ribs, Chicken, & Barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina -- Ed was prominently featured in the film) took questions from the audience for about an hour. A sleep-deprived yet still energetic Danny Meyer introduced the panel.



    And that was the end of that. Fat Guy did a near-simultaneous tasting of all four of the imported barbecue styles today so I'm sure he'll report on that later, and he can fill you in on the talk.





  4. Is it worth going? Not if you don't like barbecue!

    Otherwise, no question no question no question. Even if you lived in the South, even if you lived in Lockhart, even if you lived right in a barbecue pit, how often would you have the chance to sample all in one place, MetroCard-only travel expenses, no risk, six bucks a hit, the barbecue from Mike Mills (17th Street Bar & Grill, Murphysboro, Illinois), Rick Schmidt (Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas), Ed Mitchell (Mitchell's Ribs, Chicken, & Barbecue, Wilson, North Carolina), and Chris Lilly (Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, Alabama), plus our Ken Callaghan from Blue Smoke here in New York, New York, who was according to the word on the street holding his own just fine against the big boys?

    I started up the block and came upon Mike Mills's operation, where he was smoking ribs in plain sight.


    The deal is that for $6 (you buy coupons worth $1 each from the coupon booth and then spend them like cash anywhere in the event) you get a paper tray full of barbecue (whichever meat the particular joint is offering) plus usually some kind of bread and maybe a garnish. Some of the places also have sides at $1 each. Beer and such are available at another booth.



    At the Kreuz's booth you had a choice of sausage or beef shoulder, or a combination.



    I had planned to walk up the whole block and photograph each booth, the band, etc., but I saw this and stopped dead in my tracks:


    I knew the place doing the whole hog, Mitchell's, was the place to be, so I started hovering around their area, taking photos of the hog and the guys working in the trailer (as in tractor-trailer, 18-wheeler, 10-ton semi -- the Mitchell's crew had brought a whole pit-equipped Mack truck up from North Carolina for the event).


    Then I hit the jackpot, and the Mitchell's guys invited me up into the trailer to get a closer look and watch them tear down a whole hog.

    They start it by hand, literally.


    And then they move in with utensils to get at the rest of the meat.



    Next they hand-chop the meat with two cleavers. (Some lesser establishments use a mechanical grinder/chopper but the cleavers allow for bigger chunks and better flavor.) Chopping the meat not only aids in seasoning and saucing, but also allows them to mix all parts of the hog together so you get a little bit of everything in your portion.


    Then an army of men descends upon the chopped meat with vinegar, hot pepper flakes, and various other seasonings. It's all done by eye -- no preset measures.


    They all mix it up by hand to incorporate the seasonings.


    Finally, before being served, the pile of meat receives the blessing from the big man himself, Ed Mitchell.



    Next we went inside to the Jazz Standard (downstairs from Blue Smoke) for a panel discussion on barbecue, featuring the four pitmasters and hosted by journalists John T. Edge and Robb Walsh. I'll let Fat Guy fill you in on what was said, and he can also provide you with barbecue tasting notes, but here's the cast of characters.

    Rick Schmidt of the Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas


    Ed Mitchell of Mitchell's Ribs, Chicken, & Barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina


    Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama


    Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois


    This was the first year of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party yet even in the rain New Yorkers turned out in droves to sample the work of the masters. I wanted to get these photos up asap so that those of you tuning in to eGullet could have the chance to motivate and get there today -- you can read about it in the Times on Wednesday, after it's all over, or you can read about it here and still get there for day two. Never mind the weather. Get there right at noon for the shortest lines and best selection.








  5. V -- I don't know what all the struggle is about, I just got an e-mail from Joey Spoon and he promised me that I could lose 82% of my body fat--and keep it off--in just a couple of months. I'm sure if you asked nicely, he'd help you too. I believe it because in the e-mail it says:

    "As seen on NBC, CBS, and CNN, and even Oprah!"

  6. I was a marketing person so I'm blameless!

    Those pesky editors.

    I can't believe Random House is now my publisher, and I'm the pesky mid-list author who always bothers the poor marketing people. But I digress.

    Really, Joy's book is a great read. It made me want to be like her.

  7. Brian Fowke may not have been at the helm of Joe Fortes when you were living in Vancouver. I don't know the chronology or the exact details, but my general understanding is that a few years ago Bud Kanke, the owner, who at one time operated a whole bunch of restaurants, decided to move into sort of a retirement phase. He sold off all his properties other than Joe Fortes and brought in Brian Fowke in an attempt to make the place more serious. I'll try to find out the exact dates of all this.

    As for tall, blonde, thin, and short-skirted, trying to catch the eyes of men with fat wallets, yeah, that's me alright!

  8. It was only after dining there and being impressed with the restaurant that we sought to develop a relationship with the chef! We had a great, eye-opening meal and the rest was history. However I do agree that a restaurant the size and scale of Joe Fortes provides many levels of experience -- and also that cold, poorly prepared food would be a very bad thing and inexcusable (though I have never witnessed it). I hope I made very clear that everything I had was a customized dish (except the claws). But there is nothing to stop you or anyone else from making exactly the same arrangement. I'm not a reviewer; I am -- again I hope this was clear -- portraying a special meal that demonstrates what the restaurant is capable of at its best. But I doubt the international reach of Fat Guy is such that his wife would be indulged beyond the level of, say, a normal paying customer who expresses interest in having a special meal. Although it would be kind of cool if it was!

  9. Joe Fortes is one of my favorite restaurants. Eating there reminds me of a sign that used to hang from the awning of the Al Buon Gusto red-sauce Italian restaurant on West 72nd Street in Manhattan: "Not Fancy, Just Good." Al Buon Gusto wasn't particularly good, but Joe Fortes is.

    Ever since discovering Joe Fortes with Fat Guy aka Steven a few years ago I've gone every time I've been in Vancouver, sometimes more than once per trip.

    The story of us meeting chef Brian Fowke (pronounced sort of like "folk") is best told in Fat Guy's National Post article from August 18, 2001. He starts by saying how great he thinks Vancouver is as a food city, and goes on to tell the story:

    I came to this realization not at the standard luminaries -- Diva, Bacchus, Ouest, Bishop's, Tojo's or Lumière (I expect the ingredients to be good at those places) -- but rather at one of Vancouver's most unpresupposing restaurants: Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House. A favourite local hangout, the cavernous and raucous Joe Fortes is exactly the kind of place my nitpicky restaurant reviewer's radar tells me to avoid.

    Surely, I thought, upon being dragged to Joe Fortes at the insistence of a friend, this is at best a decent place to grab a beer. I may have raised an eyebrow upon seeing what appeared to be an atypically comprehensive wine list (this will happen to you almost everywhere you go in Vancouver), but it was not until I came face-to-face with one of Joe Fortes' multi-tiered seafood plateaus (called "Lifeguard Towers" for the restaurant's namesake, who was, among other things, Vancouver's first lifeguard) that I found I would have to set aside my preconceptions. For Joe Fortes' seafood is as good as can be, and certainly better than anything I've had lately in Paris. Each oyster was intact, having never -- it seemed -- lost a drop of its liquid, and the local spot prawns are surely the apex of that species.

    Joe Fortes represented a turning point in my thinking about Vancouver precisely because it's not a top-tier fine-dining establishment. After all, almost any city can support a few good restaurants based on tourist dollars. The acid test of excellence is when quality penetrates the second tier -- when the local hangouts serve the best.

    So impressed was I by Joe Fortes, that I took the unusual step of asking the restaurant's young chef, Brian Fowke, to take me fish shopping. After all, cuisine is only as good as its ingredients, and I wanted to see what Vancouver was made of. Too early the next morning, Fowke hauled me out to a nondescript industrial park to meet Mark Rossum of Seattle-based Ocean Beauty Seafood.

    "You want to know what's going on in the restaurant biz, talk to suppliers," explains Rossum, who was annoyingly peppy given the hour. "Ocean Beauty wouldn't be growing its business here if Vancouver wasn't the place to be right now." After surveying much of Ocean Beauty's inventory, including nearly 20 varieties of oysters and the season's very first catch of Copper River salmon, I can say unequivocally that Vancouver is one of the world's best places to eat fish.

    (reprinted with authorization)

    Chef Fowke didn't know I was coming, but he was (as he often is) watching over the dining room when I arrived and, after a puzzled look and a "What are you doing here?", we quickly plotted a course of action: we wanted to have a small piece of each of the best things available that day, minus bivalves which I don't favor (which apparently is my loss, Joe Fortes being the top place in town for oysters in a town that is itself tops for oysters).

    You don't expect to find a chef like Brian Fowke in a place like Joe Fortes but sometimes preconceived notions can be deceiving. I'm learning slowly that not all of the most gifted and talented chefs choose to work in "fine dining" restaurants. I bet Brian makes a really good living and has a lot of fun as Executive Chef at a big operation like Joe Fortes. He could I'm sure run a haute cuisine restaurant but he seems happy doing what he's doing. Don't be surprised, someday, to see him take over a really big hotel operation or something like that.

    One of the delights of Joe Fortes is the way it can adapt to any level of experience. You can go at lunchtime and for $9.75 (Canadian) you can get one of the blue plate specials like the Tuesday special of Mediterranean fish soup, you can get basic dinner entrees (a piece of fish prepared and sauced any which way) for $20-$30 depending on the fish. Or you can push into the higher levels of product and variety, like a three-tiered raw-bar platter for $145 (which will feed several people) or the West Coast platter for $98 (grilled lobster, king crab legs, oysters, etc., for two people) or a customized creation based on availability and whim. Mind you the place is big, really big, so if you want to do something special it's best to call ahead and reach out to the chef so he can take care of you. Some of our friends from North Carolina were in Vancouver last year and followed that instruction, and had a very special meal.

    The other delight of Joe Fortes is that it has always exceeded my expections (JJ Goode's recent article on expectations comes to mind). It's such a deceptively casual place that I don't exactly think of it when I think of "Vancouver's top tables," yet when I finish a meal there I always marvel at what I just ate. The thing is that unlike some fish house places Joe Fortes is not just selling commodities to which heat has been applied. There is real cooking going on in the kitchen, some of it very high level cooking.

    This first platter (we did everything family style) contains sauteed Baja scallops from Ensenada, in Mexico. They weigh in at four scallops per pound (U-4 in scallop parlance) and are cooked with EVOO, butter and lemon oil. The sauce is a blood orange beurre blanc with sorrel, shallots, roasted garlic, leeks and a halibut-fennel stock. The garnishes are local hothouse grape tomatoes, fresh whole basil leaves (also local), and California grapes. The sauces at Joe Fortes are the big surprises because, while one might expect good seafood product at Vancouver's largest seafood restaurant (that's the way the market works: big players can demand the best, if they want to), one would not expect sauces of this level of complexity. A little more on technique later.


    The scallops were really just a snack, because the kitchen needed awhile to put together the real meal in the format we had conceived it. I'll use Brian's words to describe the technique behind this dish:

    I really went "old school" on this dish. I was lucky enough to meet up with Anton Mosimann when I was an apprentice. The Chef I trained under worked at the Dorchester Hotel in London. On our menu we had a seafood medley with a saffron tea, quark cheese, chive and yogurt sauce. Anton specialized in Cuisine Natural. He never used creams, alcohol or fats in his cooking. It was truly amazing to see the flavours he created with these limitations. He relied on enhancing the natural flavours and fortifying them with fresh herbs, citrus and savories. We used a lot of reductions of stocks for poaching, natural purees, etc.

    I poached all the fish in a prawn stock court boullion for 2-1/2 minutes. The saffron/yogurt sauce was finished with fresh thyme, chives, sorrel, and tomato concassé, and thinned to consistency with prawn stock.

    (About Anton Mosimann)

    On the platter we have those same U-4 Baja scallops, Salt Spring Island mussels (I was forced to eat them and was pleasantly surprised), North West Territories arctic char, Yellowfin tuna from Hawaii, Texas gulf (pink) shrimp, PEI lobster, first-of-the-season asparagus from Aldergrove, BC, and local baby carrots.


    Finally, for dessert, Alaskan king crab claws -- claws, mind you, not legs; I'm not aware of anybody else in the area doing this. The chef was inspired by the Florida stone crab phenomenon ("As a young cook I lived in Toronto. We would take road trips down to Florida every winter with a group of apprentice cooks. We would always end up at Joe's Stone Crab. The claws were inspirational. We would eat our fill and move on for oysters, chitlins and Andouille down the beach.") and wanted to create a Pacific Northwest equivalent. These were served with a sweet ground mustard mayonnaise and lime. The meat is tender, sweet, and briny, more enjoyable to me than the legs.



    Life was good.

    << Click here for Day 1 -- Click here for Day 2, Dinner >>

  10. Equipment is overrated, though. Not to get too sidetracked on a photography discussion (we can do a new topic if you like), the main advantage of a lot of good equipment is that it makes it easier to take a large number of decent photos quickly and reliably. In other words it's essential for a working photojournalist to have a certain level of gear in order to capture images on the spot and consistently. But good equipment won't magically make your pictures good, and a competent photographer will get usable pictures even with basic consumer-level equipment. Options will be more limited, lighting will be more of a challenge, and it's really tough to control depth of field (aka aperture, which helps give dimensionality to photos by controlling focus contrast between foreground and background), but good photos can be had. That's especially true on the Web. Though I'm shooting at 6.3 megapixels, it's totally unnecessary. The photos above are 600 pixels wide. The images my camera takes are 3072 pixels wide. That's quite a lot of overkill for snapshots. Even the cheapest 1.3 megapixel camera shoots at 1280x960 -- double the resolution you're seeing here. The average consumer camera at 4.0 megapixels shoots 2272x1704. More than enough even for 5x7 prints. Of course there are other factors too, like quality of sensor, but really you can get some great shots with digital point-and-shoot cameras.

  11. Mind if I ask a couple question about the photos?

    Please, go ahead!

    - What brand and model camera did you use?

    Canon D60, which is a 6.3 megapixel digital SLR. These photos were shot with a 50mm F1.4 Canon USM lens.

    - Did you use the built-in flash or existing lighting?

    Neither, for the most part. The food photos are all with external flash. The last one is, I think, the only one done with ambient light only. The one before that is with flash. The one before that may be filled in with flash. If you are very interested I can go into the raw images and pull out all the exposure, flash, shutter speed, etc., data for you on any image you like. In my kit I keep two Canon 550EX Speedlites, which are fairly large and powerful flashes, and a wireless Speedlite transmitter. That means I have the option of shooting with one flash on the camera, one flash on the camera and one flash off the camera operating in slave mode, or two flashes off the camera triggered by the wireles E-TTL transmitter. These permutations address a lot of the glare, reflection, and shadow issues that one faces with a built-in flash. (The 550EXs are even powerful enough to be stand-mounted with my umbrellas provided the umbrellas are placed close to the subject, and I also carry two mini-diffusers that can mount on the flashes to cut glare.)

    Thanks :smile:

    You're welcome. :biggrin:

  12. Credit for the photos belongs to David Hawksworth and the Canon corporation. I just push the button. But I'm glad you all like them and I've got some more coming from Vij's and Joe Fortes.

    Lesley, I was about to say yes there is a Quebec cheese on the list but then I looked up the one I assumed was from French Canada (Jean Grogne) and it turns out to be French-French. So no, there are no Quebec cheeses on the list. That strikes me as odd now that I think about it.

    Mapledale Cheddar, Ottawa Valley

    5 year Aged Cheddar, Slightly Nutty Flavor

    Comte Juraflore, France 

    Creamy Cow's milk cheese, Sweet Flavor

    Tuxford and Tebutt Stilton, England 

    Cow's Milk Blue Cheese, Rich and Mellow

    Natural Pastures Camembert, Comox Valley BC 

    Local Made Young Camembert, Soft and Creamy Texture

    Jean Grogne, Siene et Marne 

    Triple Cream Whole Milk Cheese

    David Woods Saltspring Island Marcella, BC 

    local made goats cheese, firm texture

  13. That's exactly the thing, Tighe. This is the right food for this experience. If you ate like this on a regular day of sitting around the office, you'd be . . . well . . . I guess you'd be me! But seriously, this kind of stick-to-your-ribs grub really hits the spot after a 15 miler. Food that might be considered heavy at other times just doesn't feel that way when you're actually burning more calories than you eat (though if you really go for it food-wise you can gain weight on this trip).

    Jim (my co-leader) and the Sierra Club rate this trip moderate. What that means is that pretty much anybody can do it with a little advance preparation. The reason it's not too difficult are, first of all, that you don't have to carry a lot of weight because all the food and drink and bedding and shelter is provided by the lodges so you don't have to schlep tents and pads and food and stoves and water (except what you'll drink during one hiking-day), and, second of all, that there is very little elevation change because you're hiking along a river. So while it's 15 miles on the hardest day, it's not 15 miles of climbing or 15 miles with a 50-pound pack. It's 15 miles of nice nature hiking with a daypack, with a hot breakfast in the morning, a break for a good lunch, and a big dinner, hot shower, and warm bed at the end of the road. What has to be done in preparation is a little hiking with a day pack. We help people make training schedules depending on their levels of experience as hikers. It's not such a big deal but some training is important. Lodge-to-lodge is a great format for people who want to dip a toe into the waters of backcountry hiking but don't want any of the downside of a full plunge. I'm hoping someday to put together an inn-to-inn hike in Wales as well.

  14. On the way home from my recent hiking trip in Oregon, I squeezed in an ever-so-brief trip to Vancouver. I made it into town in time for a quick dim sum lunch at Kirin, a Mandarin restaurant I hadn't visited before (quite good), but the main event of Day 1 was a check-up visit with David Hawksworth at the restaurant formerly known as Ouest.

    Now that Ouest has refashioned itself as West (rumor has it the next incarnation will be only a symbol: the Westerly aimed compass point), with more of an emphasis on Pacific Northwest cuisine, the question on everybody's mind is, "Is it still as good?"

    Based on this experience I would say yes. West is aiming to capture a larger audience than Ouest and so David Hawksworth is cooking a wider range of dishes in a wider range of styles. There is some casual brunchy fare available that will not necessarily appeal to Ouest die-hards (e.g., eggs "princess," with smoked salmon and salmon roe) but which will no doubt improve the bottom line of West therefore allowing it to stay open, stay affordable, and keep putting out the really good stuff for us. If you are ever in any doubt, just invoke the special gourmet code (see the inside of your decoder ring) with the waitstaff and the chef will prepare you a multi-course degustation in the grand Ouest tradition even at lunchtime, even at the bar. Hawksworth is a chef who likes a challenge. Challenge him.

    The restaurant has been renovated physically as well as conceptually, with a large picture window pouring light in from the street (in summer there is daylight this far north until very late) and a more casual, accessible feel overall. When I visited Ouest-now-West shortly after it opened, it was mostly empty. Vancouverites clearly felt it too stuffy. Return visits were the same, despite a few half-hearted attempts to make the place more casual such as the earth-shattering move from white to gray tablecloths. But this time around the book was almost full and by the time I left the place was slamming. I also saw my first-ever West walk-in customer. A couple walked past the big windows, did a double take, read the menu, and inquired about a table. The hostess said there was only one table left, the one directly across from the open kitchen. The couple wasn't happy about that and, after pestering the hostess a little, departed, pouting melodramatically. Three minutes later, their bluff having been called, they returned and slinked into the table. Within minutes they were yakking it up with the chef and having a grand old time. This is really the best table in the house for those who want the full Hawksworth experience. By the end of the evening, after some prodding from the couple, Hawksworth had instructed them on proper ring-mold-unmolding technique and West had won some new customers. They left triumphantly, gushing to the hostess they had earlier snubbed. Mind you I thought the restaurant was just fine the old more formal way, but Vancouver is Vancouver and this new look is what people like. As long as I can get the same old food it's no skin off my back.

    I asked the chef if I could come a little early and hang out with him in the kitchen so as to photograph other people's food before having my own dinner. "No problem," he said, as if to indicate he thought I was quite batty (I feel I am getting that reaction too often in life; I wonder if there is a message here?). Having been in a few restaurant kitchens now, I can say that the kitchen at West is a first-class operation. There are few theoretical limits to what can be accomplished with this kind of equipment, space, and staffing, and the ingredients being used at West reflect the bounty of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest: vibrant stuff. The West team handles everything with great care, it is all laid out and presented just so, and Hawksworth despite his youth is an old-school perfectionist. Most of the dishes are heavily engineered and rigorously plated but they come out looking simple and casual.

    So, what we're looking at here is mushroom cappuccino with porcini powder.


    This is the amuse bouche of carrot and ginger veloute.


    One of Hawksworth's signatures is the parfait of Quebec foie gras and chicken livers with golden apple jelly -- a big slab of the stuff placed in a pool of the jelly -- accompanied by toasted brioche. Upon a quick review of all the West menus, this is the one dish that appears on all of them.


    Roast wild salmon with a leek and soya bean salad, tomato and fennel vinaigrettes. This is an entree on the current a la carte dinner menu.


    Lamb sirloin with fresh English peas and fava beans. I think this is from the "land" tasting menu (there are three pre-set tasting menus, plus Hawksworth will do surprise menus upon request). What you see in the copper pot there is a jus made with lamb bones and trim, fennel, onion, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, celery, thyme and white wine, veal and chicken stocks, simmered for 3 hours, reduced and passed 3 times. These is the kind of labor-intensive cooking that, while it yields simple-seeming results, cannot be recreated via shortcuts. I do not believe anybody else in Vancouver is putting this kind of effort into dishes and it is for me what has distinguished West/Ouest from Lumiere, which is also excellent and is much more attention-grabbing but lacks the Hawksworth discipline.


    Before I get to my meal, a story: I had all these photos on an IBM Microdrive and I don't have the right adapter on my computer for that so I asked Fat Guy aka Steven aka the Husband to upload and process the images on his PC. I was off by two frames when I told him where the West photos started, so what he wound up seeing was two dim sum plates from Kirin. Fat Guy has not been to the post-Ouest West so for him the photos were his eyes and ears on my meal. His reaction upon seeing the photos, shouted out across the apartment, was, "What the fuck with Hawksworth's new dishes? What is it a Chinese restaurant now? I knew this whole 'West' thing was going to be a disaster." Oops.

    So, my meal. Had I known I was getting a special amuse, I would have stolen one of those demitasse cups of carrot-ginger veloute, but I don't feel too bad because I did much better: Yellowfin tuna, kumquat, and cucumber jus. Beautiful crisp spring flavors. This is really an amuse version of a dish on West's "small plates" menu. Apparently Hawksworth is a tuna fanatic and rejects 1/4 of the deliveries even from the best fishmongers.


    Warm spot prawn salad (spot prawns are just about my favorite local ingredient) served in a globe artichoke with tomato jam and arugula pesto. Again, spring was on the plate. I couldn't find this on any menu; it appears to have been improvised.


    Steamed snapper with crispy greens, peanut, shallot, and tarragon vinaigrette. The mixture under the fish consists of toasted and crushed peanuts mixed with tomato, shallots, white wine vinegar, tarragon, chives, and chervil. Somebody get me Larousse on Sauce Bois Bourdin. This dish was another winner right up my alley: light, with that crispness and acidity that I love to see in haute cuisine. This also from the "small plates" menu.


    Hawksworth decided to push the edge of my envelope with this dish. He knew I didn't favor calamari, but he was adamant I taste some of what he insisted was the cream-of-the-crop product-wise in the calamari pecking order. He referred to this as "disco shellfish" on account of the wild yellow color. A fricassee of Manila clams and golden mussels with saffron (a lot of saffron), topped with crispy squid. I think this was a special of the day, based on an available ingredient.


    The meat dish was roast lamb with a soft herb "crust" and young vegetables. A classic Hawksworth entree and a great piece of lamb -- I'm very picky about lamb. You'll notice the olive oil drizzled around, it's very good and I got him to cough up the 411 on his supplier: http://www.basiloliveoil.com


    Desserts, I'm afraid, didn't photograph well -- all were white on white. But West's pastry chef is serious. I'll try to do that part of the meal justice if I can get back there in the fall. In addition to the desserts, there's a nice cheese selection, half Canadian and half European. The Canadian offerings include David Wood's Salt Spring Island Marcella, which is superb, served with warm walnut raisin bread and spiced pear compote.

    Here's the way the restaurant looks just after opening, with the late-afternoon light streaming in.


    This is what it's like when it's hopping.


    And here's the man himself.


    One final thought on West:

    Even with the Canadian dollar "strong" right now, $63 Canadian is a mere $46 US. That's the cost of a tasting menu at West. I cannot believe you could find a menu on that level for anywhere less than about $85 US in New York, which would translate back to $116 Canadian. Again this is with the Canadian dollar at a recent record high. There is also a 10-course grand menu at West for $95 Canadian (about $69 US) that includes foie gras. On the a la carte side, dinner appetizers are in the Canadian low teens and entrees are all under $30 Canadian save for two. Almost everything on the "small plates" menu is under $10 Canadian. In other words the value is excellent.

    Click here for Day 2 >>

  15. Our early afternoon parting from Pat on day three is always such sweet sorrow: his dogs sense the interruption in their structure -- another group is going to move on -- and they bound, bob, and weave among us as we say our farewells. Eventually the dogs remember that the kitchen is the source of food and lose interest; they take up positions near the kitchen door, where there's a buzz of activity. The crew is already preparing for the next group scheduled to come through that night.

    We throw on our packs and it's a nice stroll up the dirt road to where the trail narrows and we're once again forced to walk single file. This is arguably the most beautiful stretch along the river: we walk on a narrow cliff above the Rogue, a sheer stone wall on our right and the river below to our left. On the other side of the river the same barrier exists -- we're essentially in a canyon. The strength and power of the river dictate the route. The rain is still holding off and, though it's cool, the sun is out and -- a perfect day for hiking and picture-taking. I even find myself with a bit of a one sided sunburn (only on my left arm), making me look ridiculous, at the end of the day.

    Inspiration Point, as the name implies, inspires some couples to take shots for the family photo album (Inspiration Point overlooks Stair Creek Falls on the south bank of the river) and everyone else stands around to ooh and aah. Blossom Bar is the best place to watch rafters and kayakers come through the rapids; it's the most difficult water to navigate on the river and it was impassible until a character named Glen Wooldridge decided to take matters into his own by blasting out the rocks some years ago. Glen Wooldridge is somewhat of a legend in these parts.


    It's just over a mile of flat trail to Paradise Bar Lodge and everyone is impressed with the location.


    Most of us are given rooms that are attached to the main building in a two-story structure -- sort of motel style -- and the rest are put in a three-room cabin down the trail. (Funny, I always seemed to be placed in the accommodations farthest away from the main house. I wonder if someone's trying to tell me something.) Most every room overlooks the river, and those few who can't see it can surely hear it and are but a few steps away from its rushing power.

    Everyone gets an early start on the wine (the selection available for purchase is mostly from Washington and California) and, until it turns cold, most everyone is sitting outside on the deck within view of the river and a bottle of this or that. It's particularly civilized at Paradise: appetizers are served at 6:00, whetting our appetites for 7:00 dinner. The first night's appetizers are potato skins, the exterior of the skins coated in some kind of delicious fat (I'd rather not know) making them extra crispy on the skins. When the platter is gobbled up, a replacement quickly materializes for those who were slow to act. Speed and enthusiasm in replacing platters, even of cheap ingredients like potato skins, makes a big difference in the hospitality experience -- this is the opinion of every hiker and rafter I've spoken to at the lodges.


    Dinner is extensive but admittedly not the best meal they've ever produced here. It's presented buffet style and includes an impressive salad bar (no iceberg lettuce here) with homemade croutons, fresh-baked dinner rolls, and spuds. So far, so good. The chicken with barbecue sauce, however, comes up short (though it could have been my piece because I don't see anyone else's pushed aside) as does the beef (tips or strips) stir fry, and the cobbler doesn't warrant my finishing it (or photographing anything). Don't worry; the next dinner will make up for it.

    I look forward to each breakfast because I like to stock up for the day's hike and there's always a decent selection of protein and starches for me to feast on. I don't eat pork so a lot of the dishes (like the fried rice with chunks of ham at Marial's dinner and the cubed potatoes with chunks of bacon at Paradise) are useless to me. And in these parts they use pork kind of like how salt and pepper are utilized elsewhere: it's ubiquitous. Even without the bacon or ham, though, I always manage to be waddling full after breakfaste. (Can you imagine, the first few years on this trip I was still a vegetarian? And I still ate well.)

    Breakfast on our first morning at Paradise (our 4th day on the trail) includes giant fresh-baked banana muffins; cantaloupe, banana, and orange slices; scrambled egg casserole (at least that's what I'd call it) with diced ham, onions, green peppers, and melted cheddar on top; a trough of home fries; whole grain oatmeal (with the raisins cooked in, my favorite); and the usual beverages (coffee, tea, and hot chocolate). I couldn't decide what to eat first, and though I stole a taste of someone's muffin I couldn't manage one myself what with all of the other choices.





    We spend the morning split into two hiking groups. I lead a group on a longer hike up the Devil's Backbone, while Jim leads the other on a shorter hike up Deak's Peak. In the afternoon, we switch.

    The weather at lunchtime is nice enough for us to sit outside. There's a sandwich bar set up at the buffet and cream of broccoli soup with those yummy homemade croutons.



    The crowning glory of lunch is the thick, chocolaty brownies, baked just right. Not too dry, not too moist. While I don't keep count (others try) there are some calculations that one person in our group (later dubbed Brownie Mary) has consumed 5 or more of those brownies at (and perhaps following) lunch. They are excellent brownies and I drool in anticipation each year, never wanting to tell the other hikers about them until they are presented for fear that this year they won't bake them.

    Our hike up Deak's Peak is about one hour round trip, straight up and straight down. Just as we we are returning to the beautiful pastures at Paradise, it starts to drizzle. Virtually everyone loses the gumption to walk the mile back to Blossom Bar to watch for rafters coming through the rapids. Rather, most everyone cozies up with a book (and a bottle) in the rooms or by the fire in the lodge.

    Then begins a big-ass dinner. The appetizer hour is focused around nachos. The beans have a nice little kick to them.


    Dinner is pushed back a bit, until 7:30, because of the arrival of some very special fish. During our stay Bobbie, a long-time and beloved employee at Paradise is supervising the lodge while Dawn (the owner, with Court Boice) is at the office in Gold Beach. Bobbie's husband will be bringing us, that night, half of his catch of salmon (1-1/2 spring Chinook) fresh out of the river. Needless to say, we were happy to wait for this kind of delicacy.

    Dinner includes the extensive salad bar, our fresh caught Rogue River salmon, a large roast (striploin?), baked potatoes with toppings (again, the potatoes get extra points for the crispy skin -- my favorite part of the spud), fresh baked rolls, and some veggies (with a little ham thrown in for good measure). And for dessert: spice cake with a thick sweet, gooey white frosting. Oh! A particularly nice touch at Paradise is that with your dinner you also get a glass of wine; usually a choice between white and rose.






    Following dinner, after we scare all of the other hikers (there are four) and jet-boaters (three guys who have been jet-boating up the river every year to Paradise for many more years than I've been hiking it) away, Jim gets the party rolling with a bit of Rogue River trivia, Jeopardy style. Everyone whoops and hollers. Bobbie is so delighted watching us play the game that at one point she blurts out an answer before anyone in our group has a chance. Good thing too, because it's a hard one.

    << Click here for Part II -- Click here for Part IV >>

  16. Jim! That's my favorite flavor too! The espresso madness is my first choice no matter the occasion. I was too embarrassed to admit that for my second flavor I ordered mint chip (it was green) over the black cherry (which I've never actually ordered myself and always manage to get a taste or two off of unsuspecting friends). The mint chip was so average compared to the black cherry with the giant local cherries that I'm still hanging my head in shame over the oversight.

  17. Day two is a 15-mile day -- our longest of the trip. That's a pretty significant hiking day for those of you who don't have a good feel for hiking distances. Ideally, all the days would be evenly spaced, but that's not how the geography plays out.

    Our morning starts out with a row across the river and a very steep climb uphill to reach the trail. It is at this point each year that I question my decision of snarfing down that one last fried egg at breakfast.

    8 miles into the day, we take our lunch break at Zane Gray's cabin -- packs off for one hour. Not that the packs are terribly heavy (we're carrying maybe 10-20 pounds each, just a couple of changes of clothes, cameras, and basic necessities), but on a long day like this everyone is happy for the break. We've lucked out with a lull in the rain for our longest day on the trail (by the standards of the Pacific Northwest, the weather tends to be cooperative) so everyone relaxes and we all warm ourselves along the stone wall facing the cabin. Next to the cabin (which is private property owned and maintained by the family that owns Levi-Strauss) is a residence that has been unoccupied each year we've come through. The caretaker was around so we didn't get to peek in the windows or sit on the porch, but he was kind enough to let us enjoy our lunch on the property.

    During the remaining 7 miles, pockets of discussion develop. Some folks are flagging so I distract those around me with the perennial favorite topic: "What's your favorite meal?" The discussion of meatloaf and bread-pudding carries us for about two hours at which point we're interrupted by our arrival at Marial Lodge. Marial, which is in the old post office building, has by my taste buds the best food on the trail. Whatever we're served, it's always an excellent representative of its kind.

    Pat is the proprietor of Marial. He runs a great kitchen and has a wry sense of humor. As soon as he releases the food on the lazy-Susans (dinner is served at round tables for 7-8 with double decker lazy-Susans on top) he chide, "Hurry up and eat so I can get rid of ya already." Later, after we've been through the first round and he or one of his staff is generously refilling baskets and bowls (always before anyone can ask) he adds, "Looks as if ya haven't eaten for days -- Winter's over, what are ya stockin' up for now?" If I hadn't been here before I'd have guessed he uses this material repeatedly, but he's got unique banter every year.

    Tonight's dinner is the definitive homestyle crunchy fried chicken, home-baked bread with thick blackberry jam -- the berries picked and the jam made on the property (best on the river) -- salad, mashed potatoes, and green beans, followed by hot fudge sundaes with or without nuts.




    Breakfast includes homemade blueberry muffins, piles of extra-crispy thick-cut bacon, an egg-and-cheese casserole with herbs (for lack of a better description), more jam, and home fried potatoes (with lots of crispy edges, the way I like them).





    Pat's lunch spread is a groaning board, and as we descend upon the lunch table he resumes his schtick: "You'd think ya hadn't just eaten a lumberjack breakfast the way you folks are swarmin' around that table."

    Watching an independent group of four female hikers he narrates, to nobody in particular, "Would ya look at 'em? I'd stay out of their way until they're through. Hopefully they'll leave ya something to nibble on." Not only were there the usual lunch meats and garnishes but he also includes fresh-baked cookies, hard-boiled eggs, Pringles (a trail favorite), apples, oranges, bananas, and whatever anyone wants to steal off the table from breakfast (can you say BLT?). There isn't a muffin left in the place by the time we're through.

    Pat's lodge is accessible by a dirt road so some people drive into Marial, leave their cars, and hike the river. As a result, Pat, who gets to town regularly enough, stocks some necessities for anyone who might be in need: candy bars, soda, and less critical items like razors and toothpaste. The evolution along the trail is 1) Black Bar Lodge, which seems the most remote and rustic, 2) Marial Lodge, which is a bit more connected (we always see a car or two along the dirt road; often those of local residents), and 3) Paradise Lodge, which will be our next stop and which is quite remote but is nonetheless the most commercial-feeling due to the jet-boats that power up the river (recently Paradise discontinued its lunch-service-for-the-jet-boater package -- too many people tromping through their pristine environment -- but Paradise still has a gift shop as well as booze available for purchase).

    Because our next stop, Paradise Lodge, is only going to be 4 spectacular miles from Marial, we spend the morning exploring the area around Marial -- we'll hike to Paradise in the afternoon, to arrive in time for dinner. Options around Marial include a walk back about a mile or so to the Rogue River Ranch (RRR), which is now owned by the Bureau of Land Management and has a museum on the grounds; a hike up to an old miner's camp with sluice and cabin (falling down but still standing); or the sit-around-on-the-deck-and-read option. After our 15 mile day, one would think that everyone would want to sit around and read on Pat's porch, but without exception everyone always opts at a minimum for a visit to the RRR. The hummingbird feeders are a great source of interest, especially to those with cameras.




    The miner's cabin usually gets about 25% attendance. A couple of years ago I saw -- actually, I heard, then saw -- a coiled rattler in our path en route to the cabin. Maybe that's why no one ever wants to join me on my walk up there. Maybe I should stop telling people that story.

    Following our exploration most everyone settles on Pat's deck to enjoy our picnic lunch. Candy bars, sodas, razors, and toothpaste are optional.





    << Click here for Part I -- Click here for Part III >>

  18. We start at Galice (7 miles from the Galice Store) and come out about one mile past the Illahe Lodge -- a couple of miles from Agnes. This year, rather than staying the fifth night at the Clay Hill Lodge, we walked 12 miles out (as opposed to 6 and 6) and stayed at the Illahe lodge. It was a nice change and the lodge owner, who was born there and now runs the place, is a wildly entertaining man with the most engaging stories to tell. Stay tuned for that.

  19. I haven't been to the creamery but every year on the way back to Seattle we stop at the Umpqua dairy for ice cream. It's divine. Last year I took Steven there for his maiden visit. Even Momo was impressed.


    I had a gross oversight this year though: I didn't order the black cherry ice cream and I'm still regretting it a full week later. What can I say, Umpqua ice cream comes but once a year for me.


  20. If you enjoy hiking, gorgeous backcountry, the company of new friends, and real American food, but you don't like sleeping in tents, shitting in the woods, and packing in a week's worth of food on your back, I've got a great trip to tell you about.

    My friend Jim Jackson and I co-lead this trip, under the auspices of the Sierra Club, most every year (I've done it with him 5 of the 7 years it has happened; unfortunately, every so often, my work gets in the way -- Sierra Club trip leaders are volunteers -- so he finds another assistant leader). It's a week-long trip on a 40-mile trail through the Rogue River Valley.

    Over the years I've photographed the Rogue River, the trees, wildflowers, breathtaking vistas, people, waterfalls, lodges, wildlife, rafters, rapids, rain -- you get the idea -- but I never photographed the food for the Web because I didn't want to carry a big flash with me on the trail and I never before had a digital camera with a brawny enough battery to last a week and take several hundred photos -- yet the food is truly one of the highlights of the trip. This year, armed with a better digital camera and the mother of all memory cards (the 1-gigabyte IBM Microdrive), I bit the bullet and brought proper lights so as to be able to bring you a Rogue River lodges food diary.

    The way it works is that you hike all day, and then at each lodge you get dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch for the next day of hiking. You also get a hot shower and a real bed. It's five-star hiking all the way.

    The food is simple and hearty. It is real American food, with all the good and some of the bad that implies: much of it is delicious, stick-to-your-ribs stuff, comforting, fueling, and delicious, but there is the occasional overcooked frozen vegetable or other faux pas that would make a Frenchman (or Bux) cringe.

    The first day is 10 miles of hiking with Black Bar lodge as the destination. Black Bar sits in a clearing visible from across the river and is made up of a large idyllic log cabin with a giant stone fireplace and about 10 smaller log cabins for guests. It is owned by a character (one of many along the trail) named John, who purchased the lodge from his in-laws. He has been adding (modestly) mini log cabins in recent years. Out front of the main building is a bench swing that is draped in wisteria. This is one of my favorite places on the river every year, ideal for a cigar and an after dinner drink (for those who are clever enough to pack in some hooch). There's a barely passable road into the lodge for use by Black Bar only. No one drives into the lodge -- people come on foot or on the river -- period. John keeps watch from across the river and when we arrive at the river's edge he comes to get us in a row boat. This year the river is very high so he ferries our group of 14 across three at a time . . .


    . . . while the rest of us wait . . .


    Cabins are assigned, people get their hot showers and settle into the warm cabins and begin to look forward to dinner, usually served at 7:00 (standard dinnertime at all the lodges). It has been rainy all day so today we're especially thankful for the hot showers and the roaring fire in the main lodge. Some people reconvene around the fireplace to read and chat and wait for dinner while others nap or snuggle into warm beds in their cabins.

    Dinner is served at long tables and here the main dish of the meal is plated and served to each person while sides are placed on the tables to be passed around family style. After everyone has been served, there are seconds on the meat, which tonight happens to be pork chops -- not, I'm disappointed to learn, my favorite: the roast turkey. Jim has in the past expressed his praise for the thick, meaty pork chops smothered in slow-cooked onions, and while John and I always enjoy witty banter each year, he knows who controls the annual arrangements and Jim's cuisine preferences therefore win out.



    John tries to appease me by telling me that he had already purchased the turkey and was going to make it but remembered that Jim liked the pork chops -- so he put the turkey away for another night. I explain that having this information makes my disappointment more severe -- not the desired effect. A highlight at Black Bar is always the dinner rolls. A crew of rafters from Portland, Oregon gave me the tip on my first year to keep my eyes out for "the sinkers" and ferret one away from dinner to accompany breakfast the following morning. While I've never done that, I never fail to eat my fare share at dinner smothered in the home made blackberry preserves -- picked from the plentiful blackberry bushes around the property.



    Dessert at Black Bar is never a strong suit. Tonight we have a choice of "Neapolitan" ice cream or okay cobbler. Breakfast is always a plated piece of ham, a pile of very greasy fried eggs (is there any other way?), and pancakes, served family style. The lunch -- not a highlight -- is a selection of lunch meats, some kind of cake (I skip it), fruit, chips, and condiments. You make your selection from a buffet table and pack your lunch for the trail.




    Click here for Part II >>

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