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Andy Lynes Tours Vancouver & OK Valley


jamiemaw
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An recent trip through the original Borscht Belt (Russia, Estonia, Germany et al) was preceded by a bucolic week in England. In London, my daughter and I met with Andy Lynes, one of the excellent Forum Hosts for eGullet UK. Several afternoon cleansing ales turned into an inpromtu evening and by the end of it, we had Andy convinced that this part of the world was worth a look.

With a couple of articles scoped, and through the good offices of Tourism Vancouver and Tourism BC, he almost beat us back. Four days and nights each in Vancouver and the Okanagan sped by; Andy returned to the UK today. Once the dust settles, he's commited to posting his tasting notes as he moved around--and he did cover a lot of ground.

I'm not going to steal his thunder, especially on the specifics, but I believe several general things impressed him:

1. Value for Money Divide our reasonable menu prices by 2.5 to currently figure pricing in Sterling. By London standards, in other words, it's essentially free here. Or put it this way: almost three meals in Vancouver for the price of one there.

2. Great Food in Casual Settings I believe he enjoyed the casual approach (and the attendant small plates phenomenon) we take to eating well--more about a sense of taste than one of occasion. Certainly the sun-flooded patios and attractive locals didn't hurt either. Nor the accessibility factor--this remains an easy city to move around in, and our restaurants are approachable and easy to book.

3. An Emergent Wine Culture Still unknown to most Europeans--but we sampled lots of the local bottles and for the most part, they showed well.

4. Service The service culture is perhaps the most startling difference, especially noticeable when comparing mid-priced restaurants in the two cities. Training and gratuity-driven incentive spell only part of the difference, though, some are more deeply rooted . . .

I'm sure that there will be much more--keep an eye out for his thread. I think you'll find it very interesting to look at us through the eyes of an articulate guy who knows his mind. And his stuff.

Cheers,

Jamie

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Welcome back Jamie ... been kinda quiet around here without you. :rolleyes:

I'm glad Andy was able to see what we have to offer. Kinda makes yah proud don't it? Let us know when he's posted his notes.

DA

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Jet lagged and frazzelled, I'm sinking a cleansing ale as I type. I will certainly be reporting in full on my trip in the form of a day by day, blow by blow account. This may make for less than scintillating reading but will help me greatly to order my thoughts about what turned out to be an intense and busy time, so apologies for that in advance.

Jamie is correct in his summing up of my impressions, although there is of course much more. Vancouver (and equally the Okanagen) is a very easy place to fall in love with. Back in the UK, I feel I left a little piece of me behind: a pair of black leather lace up shoes and the screw and washer that held the right-hand arm of my sunglasses on to be exact, so if you find them, please forward to etc, etc.

I am already planning to return, hopefully this year. Partly to follow up on a story or two, but mostly in order to be able to shut up all those Vancouverites who, upon hearing my itinerary would retort "What! You're not going to Whistler/Victoria/Vancouver Island/My-Favourite-Restaurant-Which-Is-Better-Than All-The-Crummy-Restaurants-On-Your-List/Insert Your Choice Here". I'm also hoping to hear the following phrase once more before I die: "So, are you ready to hit SkyBar with three hot chicks?" (I kid you not).

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Back in the UK, I feel I left a little piece of me behind: a pair of black leather lace up shoes

What? You didn't trade them in for the required Birkenstock sandals?

I am already planning to return, hopefully this year. Partly to follow up on a story or two, but mostly in order to be able to shut up all those Vancouverites who, upon hearing my itinerary would retort "What! You're not going to Whistler/Victoria/Vancouver Island/My-Favourite-Restaurant-Which-Is-Better-Than All-The-Crummy-Restaurants-On-Your-List/Insert Your Choice Here".

I agree with Jamie ... I'd rather hear what an outsider thinks of what he found discovered on his own, rather than what he thinks of what I might like. Fresh eyes and all that.

I'm also hoping to hear the following phrase once more before I die: "So, are you ready to hit SkyBar with three hot chicks?" (I kid you not).

I'd like to hear that once

DA

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Skybar

"Where exciting professionals come to meet, and then leave.”

Dear Mr. Lynes,

We are very much looking forward to reading your online review of our bar snacks, meat leathers and cocktail garnishes. And yes, your three tour guides, by any standard, were hot indeed even if their collective reaction to your AA Gill impressions was tepid in the extreme.

But now even better news. We have found the screw and washer that holds your right arm on! As that is presumably your drinking arm, we wanted to reassure you that we will return the bionic hardware immediately. Nothing sadder than a one-armed Forum Host, to be sure, however their loss may temporarily put paid to the unfortunate colonial expression ‘bloody Pommy wanker.’

As for your shoes, they were retrieved from the VIP lounge by our hostess, and your new best friend, Ms. Heidi Hough. Unfortunately they are a bit the worse for wear. You may recall, vaguely, drinking the local Winterkill Brute from them, shortly before asking to be shown to the ‘darts area.’ Normally we would have been more than happy to replace them, however we are unfamiliar with the ‘River Island’ brand here. Our advice would be to simply forget about the shoes.

Despite your unusual (and untimely) departure from our premises (and the modest damage to the DJ booth), please be advised that all is forgiven and that we would happily welcome you and your entourage back after the posting of a modest damage deposit. Or the posting of a favourable review.

I kid you not.

Yours, etc.

F. Morris Chatters

Operations Director

Skybar Lounges Ltd.

"Opening October 2004 in the Burquitlam-Whalley Triangle"

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I've recently returned from an 8 day trip to Vancouver and the Okanagan, my first time ever in Canada. The purpose of my visit was to research articles for several UK magazines which will cover restaurants, bars, food and wine from both a tourist and trade point of view. I travelled courtesy of Tourism BC, Tourism Vancouver, Thompson Okanagan Tourism and Air Canada and completed an itenerary that would half-kill a normal person. I am a normal person. I am half-dead.

My experience of Vancouver and the Okanagan therefore was perhaps a little different from that of most visitors. Intense and condensed, it was a blizzard of places to be, names to remember, people to meet and seemingly bottomless wells of food to eat and wine to drink. However, even at that impossibly accelerated rate, it soon became apparent to me that I would leave having only scratched the surface of both locations.

To native Vancouverites therefore, the following report will probably read like a round up of the usual suspects. To our UK eGullet members, and the eventual audience of the finished print articles, I hope I can provide a reasonable overview of some of the best that the city and the wine region have to offer.

As noted in my earlier post, part of my reason for posting here is purely selfish. It will enable me to order my thoughts about my visit and provide a basis for the articles mentioned above. I therefore intend to document the trip on a day by day basis and include some stuff which may well be of minimal interest to anyone but me. I'll try and break things up and sign post individual restaurants, bars and wineries for those of you who just want to get to the interesting parts and skip over my musings and some of the more turgid details.

I will post some photos, but I didn't take any of the food I ate. In a restaurant, I much prefer my hands to be occupied by a knife and fork or a wine glass (not that I need both hands to steady a wine glass to my mouth of course) rather than a Nikon Coolpix. I prefer to concentrate on enjoying the dishes and the evening rather than capturing them for posterity (that said, I am always grateful when others post pictures of their meals on eGullet.) In addition, I was mostly dining with people I had only just met, and it would have been inappropriate, not to say a little rude to be constantly clicking away rather than fascinating them with my witty repartee.

Looking through the snaps I did manage to take, I am disappointed to say that I have almost entirely failed to capture the magic of Vancouver and the Okanagan. I spent a great deal of time uttering highly intelligent comments like "wow, look at that view", "that's amazing" and "isn’t that stunning" whilst apparently taking nothing but pictures of bunches of carrots.

I'll post day one tomorrow, including: Yaletown and Barbera Jo's, argy-bargy at Urban Fare, Granville Public Market and the 14 foot monocycle, strawberry and basil martinis at the Sequoia Grill at sunset and foie gras and smoked eel at Elixer.

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More like get out of bed, the jet lag has been a complete bastard. That said I have very nearly finished day one (just the Elixer write up to finish) which is running to something like 2,000 words alone. I'll try and get it done tonight or tomorrow and post asap. Hopefully it will be worth waiting for!

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Andy,

We await your dispatches with bad breath. As we say around here there's nothing quite like eating out abroad to sharpen the appetites.

Yours, etc.

Jamie

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Day 1 - June 27 2004

It became obvious very soon after landing for the first time on Canadian soil that Vancouver is a city that takes its food and drink very seriously. I couldn't help suspecting that the customs man was doing more than just his job when, upon learning that I was a visiting food journalist, began asking me about the sort of restaurants I intended visiting whilst I was in town. The drive from the airport to the Wedgewood Hotel turned into a mini orientation tour, overview of the city and a few restaurant recommendations thrown in for good measure care of a very clued in chauffer.

Despite a less than luxurious 9 hour flight on Air Canada (all attempts at an upgrade were thwarted. I suppose I should have got the message second time around, but no, I just had to completely humiliate myself by going down for the third time), and the mind numbing 8 hour time difference, I found myself, keen and relentlessly inquisitive professional that I am, eager to explore the city. The fact that my room wasn't ready may also have had something to do with it.

It being Sunday lunchtime I decided to head for Granville Public Market, stopping off in Yaletown to check out Cioppino's menu where I hoped to dine that evening. I was less than amused therefore to discover that the restaurant's week long summer break coincided exactly with the duration of my visit, re-opening as I collected my bags at Heathrow no doubt. I wandered about a bit, mourning the loss of "Pappardelle with 4 hours braised veal cheeks and porcini mushrooms" wondering where the hell I would eat instead, and lucked upon the legendary Babara Jo's Books to Cooks.

I have extreme difficulty walking past bookshops at the best of times (well, you never know, there might be a recipe book I haven’t seen before, or the collected works of Charlie Trotter reduced to clear), but a whole shop dedicated to food and wine - magnets, iron filings, need I say more? I could quite easily have camped out for the whole week, browsing the well stocked shelves.

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As it was, I only had time for a quick chat with shop assistant Ed who told me that local celeb chef John Bishop's demonstration that week in the impressive in-house demonstration kitchen was sold out, that I should check out Umami, Diva at the Met and Ganache patisserie and that I shouldn't leave without complimentary copies of a couple of Barbara Jo's books.

Ed's directions to the ferry over to Granville Island took me past Urban Fare. Although the square watermelons were not in stock (no, really, check out the store's website) just about everything else edible on planet earth was. There must have been 20 brands of maple syrup alone, not to mention impressive displays of fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, charcuterie and a complete range of zinc plated fully threaded coach bolts. Actually, not the last one. But there was lots of stuff, that’s my point. I decided to take a few snaps for posterity, to show the folks at home how civilised people live. I managed to get a nice shot of the freshly ground coffee and was just about to move on to the cheese, when I was accosted by a member of staff who told me that photos were not permitted. I explained that I was "One of the world’s foremost wine and food journalists from London, England " (John Thompson, Castanet) but all this resulted in was a visit from the store manager who explained that I'd have to set something up via Tourism BC. On reflection, wearing my "WAL MART Industrial Espionage Team: Photo Unit" bomber jacket may have been a mistake.

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I smiled indulgently at the crazy Canadians bobbing around the bay in what looked like an oversized mixing bowl as I waited at the quayside for the ferry. A weak involuntarily cry escaped my lips as I realized that the oversized mixing bowl was the ferry. The people of Vancouver are so nice, not one of them sniggered as I clung to the captain's leg crying "we're all going to drown!" as scenes from the "Poseidon Adventure" played unbidden in my head. Somehow, we all made it to the other side, and, after promising to meet up in 20 years time, I headed off to explore the Granville Public Market.

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Its always a delight to wander around a good market and Granville is a very good one, world class in my estimation. As a hotel bound visitor to the city however, it was a deeply frustrating experience: acres of superb quality fresh produce inspiring numerous ideas for dishes and no where to prepare them. I was particularly taken with Duso's Italian stall with its amazing range of stuffed and dried pastas, cured meats, cheeses and canned goods, but it was only one of dozens. Wonderful fish, meat, veggies and fruit (donut peaches anyone?) abounded.

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As a Brit, the one BC wine I had heard of before visiting Vancouver was Mission Hill and I was therefore surprised not to find any available in the wine store in the market. It was here that I first encountered the mysteries of VQA, the ominous, Orwellian sounding Vincorp and the surprising concept of government owned Liquor Stores (co-located no doubt with the government owned crack houses). All this became a little clearer as my trip progressed, but suffice to say that the store in Granville is owned by Vincorp and therefore only stocks product from its own wineries.

I grabbed a plate of not bad pot sticker dumplings and a coffee (yes, I know, but the combination seemed to hit the spot at the time) from the row of food stalls at the front of the market and found a place to squat, admire the view and listen to the free Jazz (not Ornette Coleman, you just didn’t have to pay.) There was plenty of other free entertainment on the island that day, including a highly amusing comedy routine involving a 14 foot monocycle. The performer himself was less than amused when a volunteer from the audience supporting the cycle whilst he mounted it failed to let go at the appropriate time and caused the cycle and performer to topple forward in a potentially life threatening manner.

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Despite desperate attempts to find an alternative way back to downtown, I gritted my teeth and took the mixing bowl back over. After congratulations all round for making it over and scheduling another reunion, I walked back to the Wedgewood, which turned out to be a very British old-money style property, a little bit of Belgravia transported to BC.

When you are "one of the world’s foremost wine and food journalists from London, England" (I'm having business cards printed up with that phrase as we speak) it would appear that there is always someone willing to take you out for a dinner or two, and so it was that I found myself in Stanley Park for the first of what turned out to be a pair of Sunday night meals.

The Sequoia Grill is the re-named Teahouse Restaurant at Ferguson Point in Stanley Park and has stunning views over English Bay and beyond. Named after the bloody great redwood tree that stands beside it, the restaurant now comes with added fireplaces (five of the darned things) and a new awning is under construction for the delightful patio. Except for one occasion (more of which later in the week), I never had less than good to excellent food whilst in Vancouver, but I did experience an inversely proportional relationship between view and quality of food. There appeared to be an unspoken assumption that if the scenery was pretty enough, you didn’t have to strain every culinary muscle to attract the punters.

That said, the selection of "small plates" (along with patios, something I was to encounter a lot of during my brief stay in the city) was delicious: BBQ Black Cod was served with a peppy salad of pea shoots and carrots; lobster fritters with cured tomato sauce were nicely crunchy and meaty; wok fried squid with Thai chili was beautifully cooked (inspired by a signature dish of Chinatown's Phnom Penh I'm informed); sockeye salmon carpaccio was cleverly paired with mushrooms while cherry tomatoes on the vine were simply roasted to accentuate their natural sweetness. I can think of no better place to watch the sun set, sipping the Grill's signature strawberry and basil vodka martinis.

Elixir at the Opus Hotel was the venue for dinner round two that evening. Although the look of the place is classic French brasserie, chef Don Letendre's summer tasting menu is rather more ambitious in style. For example, I was pleased to note that not only was the boudin noir that was paired with scallop and roasting juices for a delicious amuse bouche made in-house, but by a Cornishman no less. With it, we drank Blue Mountain Brut, a very fine sparkler that for my money puts many champagnes I have tried in the shade.

First course proper came in the form of a "bento tasting". Four small square white china bowls on a square white china plate/tray contained a combination of hor d'euvres from the dinner menu: another scallop, this time with gazpacho and micro greens; a slightly under-seasoned spiced beef tartare with a manchego and caper tuile and smoked duck breast with a pecorino and tomato salad. Most impressive of the lot however was the BBQ Eel with Pan Seared Foie Gras from the Opus bar menu. The rich eel flesh garnished with the with even richer liver was not an obvious recipe for success, but it was an unqualified success, so much so that it overshadowed the other three preparations. To drink, more Blue Mountain, this time in the form of their Pinot Blanc 2003 (estate bottled), another stnd out BC wine.

I'm not usually a huge fan of beets, but roasted in a salad of haricot vert, toasted pine nuts and gratinee of French goats cheese they were wonderful. A mixture of ruby and the more subtle golden variety provided an earthy foil to the surprising intensity of the cheese. A simple dish, but one that demonstrated the kitchen's true understanding of the inherently complex flavours of the ingredients and how best to show them off.

A dish of halibut with minestrone was well executed but I'm afraid the details of its compositions and its flavours have not stayed with me. The middle eastern marinated lamb "sirloin" (fillet) with Isreali cous cous, sautéed rapini (broccoli rabe) and pickled grape jus however was another triumph. Letendre (and chef de cuisine Lee Humphries who actually cooked our meal that night) was proving himself to be a master of the art of balance. The warm spicy notes of the lamb were highlighted by the nicely tart jus, whilst the large grains of the cous cous and rapini provided the texture that the delicate and tender meat could not. By this time, we had moved on to reds and to France with glasses of 2001 Faiveley Pinot Noir Bourgogne (Paulee’), and Jaboulet Parallele ‘45’ Cote du Rhone, both working well with the dishes, the Cote du Rhone being a particular hit.

After all that food, I couldn’t possibly have found room for a dessert, unless it happened to be white chocolate-lime mousse with rhubarb centre and vanilla-Thai basil tuile. White chocolate is a difficult beast to both handle in the kitchen and on the plate. Its high fat content can smother other ingredients, coat the palate and quickly dull the appetite. Partnering it with lime, rhubarb and basil therefore was exactly the right thing to do, with the acidity from the fruit and the green herbaceous notes of the basil making for a light and highly digestible confection. Gone in a moment.

Maitre d' Mikel Kanter took extremely good care of us all evening and was the first of what turned out to be many strong personalities that I encountered in the city and in the valley. With his slight frame, wild hair and slightly eccentric manner, it as easy to imagine Kanter playing guitar for Pere Ubu as managing a dining room, which he does brilliantly. Service is something I'll come back to numerous times during this account, but it was Kanter that first set me thinking about what differentiates Vancouver from any other city I have dined in. Individuality certainly plays a part. (NB Details of wines drunk with the meal to follow).

Talk of going on to a jazz club faded as quickly as my energy levels, although I did take the opportunity to check out the washrooms, where you can watch what's happening in the bar via a flat screen monitor above each of the urinals, and the ladies can watch you watching whats going on in the bar via the see-through curtain that separates the ladies from the gents.

I crashed back at the hotel, with Rachael Ray's 30 minute suppers on the food channel sending me off to sleep off very quickly indeed, something she managed to do most night of my stay. Thanks Rachael.

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Delightful report Andy. Looking forward to reading more from "one of the world’s foremost wine and food journalists from London, England" and the continued triumphs, perils and experiences our fair city had to offer you. Cheers!

"Expect nothing, be prepared for anything."

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It is always interesting to read of the places you call home through another persons eyes and mind. Am excited to hear more Andy. I hope that you got to taste more of the boutique B.C. wines than the meagolith that is Vincor. It does sound a little apocalyptic when you think about it.

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I tasted many BC wines, both whilst in Vancouver and once I got to Okanagan. I was very impressed (particularly by Blue Mountain but by a number of others as well) and have bought back 3/4 of a case (all I could physically carry) and am attempting to set up a tasting with some chefs, sommeliers and wine sellers to get their opinions.

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Looking forward to reading more from "one of the world’s foremost wine and food journalists from London, England"

I can't tell you how horrified I was to read that quote. I suppose its flattering in a way, but quite untrue. And I'm from Brighton, England.

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Andy, lovely post, although we expected it given that you are one of the most internationally respected and foremost food and wine journalists currently living on Solway Avenue in Brighton, England. And although we know your fans are legion, please add at least four more at this end--like a good piece of beef, the entire Maw family hung on your every word.

Many of your Canadian readers may not know the extent of your celebrity in the UK and continental Europe, however, and as you are a modest chap, I think I should expalin on your behalf. Fellow Gulleteers, Andy and his co-presenter, Randy Haddock, recently sold out the entire Lower Solway Avenue Activities Centre for their exciting seminar: "Interesting Things to do with Herring Spawn." Writing in the Lower Solway Seniors' Bulletin, Mrs. A. F. Fitzgibbon described the evening as being "absolutely riveting, revelatory in the extreme--if only I'd known this before I turned 80 I might have saved a fortune and had younger looking skin!"

Now Andy, that trifling little three meal, 2000 word warmup you posted has whet our appetites for when you really get eating. Three meals seems hardly worth getting out of bed for, let alone flying over the North Pole. After all, you're a highly trained professional and we hope that in the next post you will behave like one.

Yours etc.

J.D. Maw

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Jamie:

I know that your are one of the foremost wine and food journalists from Vancouver, B.C. but don't knock the herring spawn. I had the priviledge this spring to accompany a group of first nations people, from the Ahousat Tribe in Clayoqout Sound, to harvest kelp laden with herring roe. Seeing that a lot of us restaurant folk in B.C. are taking heed of the "slow food" manifesto and using and delving deeper into local organic products, I think it's counterproductive to knock the lowly herring. I understand you are trying to be light and funny with dear Andy but if this is to be a discussion forum where we broaden our knowledge of the culture of our food that we cook and eat I think I have the opportunity to stand up for the products that we build relationships with. TO bring light to traditional methods of harvesting that have gone on well beyond our primitive scope of "cuisine" I see the herring spawn as one of the defining backbones of our British Columbia landscape. It could be even said for the culinary scene as so much of our "products" rely heavily on those few weeks of spawn. Such an example would be salmon who feed primarily on herring and other such baitfish. I also think that when the herring are running and spawn on our beaches that it puts things in perspective for the average everyday Canadian. I know that in my hometown of Nanaimo people flocked to the beaches to see the congregations of sea lions, hundreds of eagles, seals and of course the fish. I think sometimes we take for granted living by the sea. THe ocean is just there to enjoy at Granville Island or sitting on the patio at C quaffing Far Niente Chardonnay on a sunny day. The herring spawn reconnects us with the bigger picture. The lifeforce. I want to see the connection with land and sea on the plate. Exactly what guys like Feenie, Hawksworth, Bishop and myself and coworkers are doing. We feel that responsibility and it is grounded in the respect of things bigger than us. Things well beyond our years. Things that we will take care of. Like the lowly herring.

Peace.

Edited by paul mitchell (log)
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Day 2 Monday June 28

A jet Lagged induced 4.00am start to the day was quickly curtailed by a 15 minute blast of Food Network Canada's "Licensed to Grill" (I wonder if they are missing a trick by not marketing themselves to insomniacs) and breakfast was delayed to a more civilized 8.00am. Lounging by the window in the Wedgewood's Bacchus bar over a bucket of coffee and a "Globe and Mail", I observed the cities muted West Coast style rush hour. Gosh it was busy, there were several cars on the road at one time and people were walking a bit more quickly than normal, it looked like hell.

A whistle stop tour of the city began with more coffee at Artigiano where co-owner Sammy Piccolo had just returned with Silver from the World Barista Championships in Trieste. Sammy demonstrated the pouring skills that won him the award, a sort of caffeinated version of drawing a four leaf clover on the head of a pint of Guinness.

A drive up to Cyprus Bowl took us over the Lions Gate Bridge (built by the Guinness family oddly enough) although the view over the city once we got there was a slight disappointment as it was obscured by overgrown treetops. I returned to the hotel via Chinatown and Phnom Penh restaurant which I hoped to shoe horn into my schedule at some point but in the end didn't.

Lunch at Bacchus was a simple affair of bow tie pasta, lobster, clams and tomato and a carafe of Blue Mountain Pinot Gris. The restaurant is a less simple affair, a riot of dark wood, upholstered winged chairs and deep burgundy banquettes, ruched satin curtains and a statue of Bacchus himself. It put me in mind of London's Le Gaveroche, just not quite as restrained.

A tour of the hotel confirmed my impression that the description "boutique" is pushing it a bit. Eighty three spacious rooms, a spa, exercise room, conference rooms, restaurant and bar all add up to a pretty substantial property. My own suite I learned had been created when owner Eleni Skalbania decided to knock together the hotel's smaller rooms which she felt were not in keeping with the Wedgewood's luxurious image.

I escaped the food/drink/travel merry go round for an hour or so and compared CD prices at A&B Sounds and Virgin (A&B won: To the Five Boroughs by The Beastie Boys was $14.99 compared to Virgin's $16.99, that’s a little over £6.00 for our British readers), looked at more cookery books in Chapters and used their Cyber Café to check on eGullet for the only time during the entire trip.

It was back to Yaletown for the first dinner of the evening (yes, it was going to be another one of those nights) and to the Blue Water cafe and Raw Bar. We of course dined on the patio leaving the impressive vintage-London- brick and timber dining room criminally empty. Apparently, on sunny days, Vancouverites would rather queue for an al fresco table than dine inside. Anywhere. If they don't already, can I suggest that the local legislature introduce the rescinding of patio rights as a punishment for minor infractions of the law. I'm quite sure that speeding and parking infringements would disappear over night:

"So, how did it go at the court house?"

"Bad, really bad."

"You don't mean…"

"Yep, they took away my patio rights"

"Oh my God…how are feeling?"

"Well, the valium is helping but I'm just taking it one day at a time. Hey, do want to hit Yaletown tonight, I hear there's this great new place…"

"Ah, no, I'm er, washing my cat. See you in the winter, bye"

Blue Water is all about seafood and has not one, but two top flight chefs to prepare it. Executive chef is German born Frank Pabst, who arrived in Vancouver eleven years ago after training in the Michelin starred restaurants of Europe. He served as chef de cuisine at Lumiere, then head chef of Pastis before taking up his current position in November 2003. Sushi chef is Yoshi Tabo, a well known figure in the city, racking up 25 years between Kaede, Koji, Shijo and Yoshi on Denman Street. If for some reason you are actually inside the restaurant and can't bag a seat at the raw bar, you can watch cut-master Yoshi at work via a monitor above the main bar. Another on the other side of the restaurant shows what's happening at Pabst's hot pass.

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Things got of top the best possible start with a glass of Gosset Reserve Brut N/V and some Dungeness Crab and Corn fritters. A tasting of Wild BC Salmon was served on a multi-tiered metal stand so large and intricate that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as the main exhibit in the turbine hall at Tate Modern. It was worth the effort of lowering the plates to sea level to try the sockeye seviche with passion fruit, sockeye sashimi with ponzu, red spring gravadlax with citrus and red spring hot smoked with caviar.

Porcini mushroom and lovage soup was served with foie gras and a chilled Madeira Cossart Gordon proved to be its perfect foil. Highlight of the truncated meal (fourth and fifth courses of lobster and sturgeon were served after I left, along with champagne and yoghurt semi-freddo with chilled strawberry soup and crème brulee with cherry jelly and dark chocolate) was Yoshi's tuna tataki, a beautiful presentation of seared and finely sliced albacore (?) tuna with a small bouquet of salad (details lost to time).

The citizens of Vancouver are, broadly speaking, relaxed, good natured and deeply attractive. That is not an attempt at flattery, simply a statement of fact. They are also concerned with their lifestyle, health, and the environment around them. All of which is of course admirable, but translated into the client-service provider relationship results in a very demanding customer base:

"My lifestyle is very important to me so I'm not going to be pressured into making decisions too far in advance. I might be going to the beach or up to the mountains skiing with my friends after work so I don't want to commit to booking a particular restaurant in advance. I'll decide later today and let you know.

When I arrive I might just want to sit at the bar and sip martinis, or maybe a beer or a glass of wine and have a few small plates of food. On the other hand, I might be in the mood for a full tasting menu so make sure you have one of those on hand as well. If the weather's good there's no way I'm sitting in your dining room, I don’t care how much it cost you, and I'd appreciate it if you can arrange a stunning view.

I'm trying to look after my body so I want to know where you get your produce from, if it's organic, all the better. And don't make the dishes too heavy, I don't work out for nothing you know.

I can't be doing with all that fancy-pants stuck up service, but I do expect wait staff to be highly trained, knowledgeable and efficient. I'll also need a highly convivial and lively atmosphere in which to enjoy myself. Try and have a good range of local wines, lots by the glass, but I'll also want some French stuff, for some contrast. Oh, and it's all got to be exceptional value"

When Ouest first opened its doors in December 2000, it had a separate bar, grey walls, high ceiling and formal French style service. Bowing to the demands of the locals, it has now been renamed West (easier to pronounce and find in the phone book), the bar has been opened out to the dining room, walls have been re-painted a pleasing shade of red or are covered in soft leather panels, the ceiling has been effectively lowered by the addition of a striking swirling metal sculpture and the service is now distinctly West Coast.

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In the future, perhaps chef David Hawksworth may attempt to re-introduce some of the more European elements back into West, but for now, it would appear he has struck a successful compromise with the city. From the outset, the aim was to make West the best restaurant in the city. Winning 2003 Restaurant of the Year in the Vancouver Magazine awards is an indication that some people at least feel that aim has been achieved.

Having had the opportunity to meet Hawksworth, I doubt that his head was turned too much that or any of the other accolades the restaurant has won, which include a four star award in the 2004 Mobile travel guide. My guess is that meeting his own standards and being true to his dictum "True to our Region, True To Our Seasons" is of greater importance to him.

To properly appreciate West, it is best not to have already eaten before you go. Equally, although you surely want good company, you may not want to spend the whole evening gossiping about what's happening on the London restaurant scene. Although I am unable to recount many of the fine details of the meal, it's a mark of the skill of the chef and the ingredients he chose to have at hand that the flavours from that evening haunt me still.

It's very easy to say you want to be the best, that you want to use regional and seasonal produce; chefs do it all the time. It’s another matter entirely to turn those words into meaningful action, to fully understand the implications of the statements and to express them with both weight and finesse.

A case in point is the tian of Dungeness crab that kicked things off. Although the meat is available ready prepared, Hawsworth insists on cooking and picking the crab meat in house as the difference between the two he claims is like "day and night". I can tell you from personal experience that picking crabs in any volume at all is a messy, boring, frustrating and thankless task and one that you would not take on out of choice lightly.

The results of this attention to detail however speak for themselves. The spanking fresh, pearly white meat is bound with a Japanese mayonnaise and chives and formed into a tian with roasted red and yellow peppers and tomatoes and served with a gazpacho, poured at the table. A great start to the meal.

A number of the dishes were true conversation stoppers (and if you've met me when I've sipped a glass or two of La Frenz Semillon and got me talking about restaurants, you'll know that's no mean feat). "West Bacon with Tomato Jam, Roasted Scallop, Spot Prawn and Micro Greens" was a glorious confection. Local pork belly, trimmed of skin and fat is marinated overnight in spices (Hawksworth, in a Colonel Sanders moment, is not saying which), brown sugar and salt. The cured meat is then washed, rolled, braised, reformed and cooled. Its then sliced at the point of service, pan fried and spread with a spiced tomato jam (again, no clues about exactly which spices). The resultant, unctuous texture almost mimicks that of the scallop, with the piquant jam sparking the dish into vivid life. The prawn and greens added yet more textural complexity.

Sablefish (also known as ling cod and black cod and a staple of many Vancouver restaurants) was marinated in sake, miso and soy then charcoal grilled. The accompanying shitake mushroom broth was a deep forbidden lake of arresting, earthy, primal flavour. How this was achieved, I am at a loss to say as, in the hands of mere mortals, Shitakes really aren't that interesting. the dish is finished with chinese sausage, bok choy and scallions.

Topping even this was the Fillet of Wagyu Beef with Cascadia Porcini and Broken Red Wine Jus. Quite simply the most exceptional piece of meat I have yet eaten.

Favas, spinach, English peas, tomato concasse and bacon lardons provided a clean and fresh counterpoint to the beef. The broken sauce is of particular note; Hawksworth makes a beurre noisette (brown butter) which he allows to set. The burnt deposits are removed before being diced and stirred gently into a mixture of red wine jus and shallots.

Desserts were simple and refreshing, with the Sweet Corn Ice Milk being a particular stand out, although they didn't quite match what had gone before.

Manager and sommelier Chris Van Nus is another of those big personalities I mentioned in the report of Day 1 of my trip, and manages to educate, entertain and serve without missing a beat. Authoritative without being patronizing, informal without being intrusive, Van Nus went some way to exemplifying the Vancouver style of service. His wine pairings were also spot on.

My Dinner at West

Classic Chilled Tomato Gazpacho with Tofino Dungeness Crab Tian, Organic Olive Oil

La Frenz Semillon 03, Naramata

West Bacon with Tomato Jam, Roasted Scallop, Spot Prawn and Micro Greens

Hillside Estate Pinot Gris "Reserve" 02, Naramata Bench

Marinated Sablefishwith Shitake Mushroom Broth, Asian greens and Chinese Sausage

Yalumba Viognier "YSeries" 03, South Australia

Fillet of Wagyu Beef with Cascadia Porcini, Broken Red Wine Jus

Langmeil "Three Gardens (grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) 02, Barossa Valley

Cantelope Sorbet with Minted Melon

LimeSour Cream Mousse Filled Cornmeal Tuile with Mango Salsa, Sweet Corn Ice Milk

Quails' Gate Riesling Select Late Harvest 01, Westbank

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paul mitchell

said:

It is always interesting to read of the places you call home through another persons eyes and mind. Am excited to hear more Andy. I hope that you got to taste more of the boutique B.C. wines than the meagolith that is Vincor. It does sound a little apocalyptic when you think about it.

Yes; please tell us more, I too enjoy a different point of view.

thanks

stovetop

Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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Apparently, on sunny days, Vancouverites would rather queue for an al fresco table than dine inside. Anywhere.

Well of course! Have you seen it here???? ... I mean when the trees don't get in the way? :wink:

"Ah, no, I'm er, washing my cat. See you in the winter, bye"

Umm ... we're more dog people here (he says ducking the barrage of cat toys hurled from the feline crowd)

The citizens of Vancouver are, broadly speaking, relaxed, good natured and deeply attractive. That is not an attempt at flattery, simply a statement of fact. They are also concerned with their lifestyle, health, and the environment around them. All of which is of course admirable, but translated into the client-service provider relationship results in a very demanding customer base

:wub: Thanks for noticing! This peculiarity rears its head in many industries ... we want to appear "with it" without losing touch with Mother Earth. As a friend of mine from Montreal once said "You all look like you have just emerged from a kayak."

Looking forward to Day 3!

DA

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Boy, Andy, your timing sucks! Just got back from 4 days in Vancouver to find your reports. (Okay, maybe it's my timing.) Of the places you've talked about so far, I managed the great cappucino at Artigiano and a wonderful dinner at West. (Where, by the way, I was told that sablefish and ling cod are two different fishies.)

Next time, do try to get the work done before I travel, won't you?

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sablefish and ling cod are two different fishies.

It would appear that this is correct. Sablefish is also referred to as black cod and I'm sure somewhere along my travels it was also called ling cod. Comparing the following sites it seems that sablefish and lingcod are quite different, although might possibly be a related species, see what you think:

sablefish

Lingcod

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Well of course!  Have you seen it here???? ... I mean when the trees don't get in the way? :wink:

Of course, and I agree that al fresco dining is the thing to do in Vancouver, but without wishing to labour a point, I think it does indicate that there is an element of "see and be seen" to dining out in the city and that the food is not always the number one priority.

Umm ... we're more dog people here (he says ducking the barrage of cat toys hurled from the feline crowd)   

Which as a dog owner myself I was pleased to note.

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I'm new to egullet and new to these forums so forgive me if things turn out a little funny. I am thoroughly enjoying the review of your time in Vancouver. Most entertaining thing I've read recently (aside from Jessica Simpson's mom asserting that her daughter was a genius with an IQ of 160). Can't wait to hear more.

In regards to the Vancouver patio scene, in Yaletown, yes, it is definitely about seeing and being seen, and unfortunately the food quality comes well below the looks and atmosphere.

However since there is only 3-4 months in Vancouver where we can count on the rain holding off long enough for us to enjoy a complete meal outside, during those months we try to spend as much time as we can outside.

Also I have to agree with DA on this

Well of course! Have you seen it here???? ... I mean when the trees don't get in the way? 
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