I HEART BACON
Monday, January 31st, 2005

The Best Pork. Ever.

Ever since our trip to Vancouver last week, I haven’t been able to get the Su Dong Wild Boar dish we ate at Wild Rice out of my mind. I did some research and found a recipe at Times Online in the U.K (update: the recipe is no longer online at the UK Times, but you can find it on my recipe website). Apparently Su Dong Po was considered one of the greatest Chinese poets and was a bit of an epicure. It is said that he invented this recipe because of his love of pork—something that we both share.

Once I found the recipe I was determined to make it. I started out by trying to locate skin-on, uncured pork belly (Wild Boar seemed too ambitious for my first go, but next time…). I called both A&J Meats and Don & Joe’s Meats, but they both referred me to Uwajimaya for the pork. I went down and purchased three pounds of it (labeled as rind-on pork side) and was surprised at how cheap it was. I think I paid about $1.50 per pound (Niman Ranch sells it for $4.50 per pound if you’re desperate).

When I got home and opened up the packages, I was delighted by how much it already looked like bacon and had a brief moment where I considered turning it into bacon instead. But I persevered.

I salted it up and let it sit for two hours for a brief cure. Then I boiled it for a few minutes to get the meat scum (i.e. blood albumen) off. Then I rinsed it and started the braise. I used about 1/2 pound more pork belly than the recipe called for and this resulted in not having all the pork fit in a single layer in my oval French oven. In hindsight, this is actually fairly important as having the pork in the liquid for the first two hours of cooking helps to render a lot of the fat.

After the first phase of cooking was done, I cooled the pork and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I think this step shouldn’t be overlooked, because when I put it into the fridge it didn’t seem all that fatty, but when I pulled it out the next day I was surprised that there was a 1/2 inch of creamy white fat coating the entire surface.

When I finished prying off all the cold fat with a fork, I noticed that the “juice” underneath the surface was like Jell-O from all the collagen. The recipe called for straining the juice, but when I tried to remove a piece of the pork, the entire contents of the bowl came out in one solid piece—like a giant, gorgeous meat aspic. So I added the step of re-heating it gently in the microwave to turn it back into liquid form before straining. I was worried about the amount of fat still in the pork, as there were giant striations of fat between the thin layers of meat, so I used my fingers to scoop some of it out.

The pork and the juices went into a makeshift steamer and steamed away for four hours. I can’t even tell you how good my apartment smelled. I was working at home that day, but it was hard to concentrate because I kept day-dreaming of pork. After four hours of steaming, I opened up the package. The pork was swimming in fat and smelled incredible. I tried to gently remove the pieces of pork so I could skim off the fat, but the pork was falling to pieces as I lifted it out. It was the most tender piece of meat I have ever laid eyes on. By the time I got all the pork out, I had caused so much chaos in the bowl that the fat had commingled with the juices again. I absolutely couldn’t wait to eat it, so I proceeded with minimal fat removal, but next time I will either skim before removing the meat or wait for the juices to resettle.

I made a sauce by boiling the juices with a little cornstarch and then pored it over the pork and steamed brown rice. It was truly one of the best things I’ve ever cooked—and possibly ever eaten. The soy marinade just barely flavored the pork giving it a nice salty taste, but the predominant flavor was pure pork. It was still insanely fatty and that took a little getting used to, but it’s also what made it so good and rich; like eating foie gras. Given its richness, I don’t think I could eat this every month, but I’m thinking I’ll be making this at a bare minimum of once a quarter.

I think this amazing dish should be seen and shared with as many people as possible, so I am submitting it as an entry to MeatHenge’s Meat Platter Contest, even though I suspect that Kitchen Monkey’s beautiful entry will win.

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

Happy Days

We were looking for a cheap, diner-style, dive breakfast this morning and I was really missing Twin Teepees, which burned down for the umpteenth time in 2000 and was finally bull-dozed in 2001. As a less than perfect substitute, we headed downtown to Diner, which fits the bill of a cheap, dive and dinner on all accounts. Unfortunately, it was closed… I’m not sure if it was temporary or permanent, but I’m hoping it’s the former.

After much discussion, we decide to head over to West Seattle and eat at Easy Street Records and Cafe. Zach ordered the New Wave O’s Rancheros, which I only had one bite of and thought they it okay, but Zach said it was definitely not good… something about the tortillas tasting funny.

I wanted to order the Messy Elliott special, but only because of the name; I generally try to avoid scrambles because they make me feel like I’m eating pre-digested food. I settled on the Suzy Q, which came with really great hash browns that were crunchy on the outside and soft and cooked on the inside, two perfectly prepared over-easy eggs, some toast and, get this, FOUR slices of bacon!

A lot of people were ordering French toast so Zach and I started a discussion about savory vs. sweet breakfasts. I’m a savory all the way and actually dislike eating sweets for breakfast, but Zach can go either way—and probably actually leans towards the sweets. The way I generally order from a breakfast menu is to briefly scan the menu for mention of bacon, then re-scan for sausage, then go back and read the those descriptions and decide based on how much bacon and/or sausage comes with the meal.

On our way back home, we passed by the construction happening at the corner of Denny and Westlake. We both saw it at the same time and literally screamed “WHOLE FOODS!” in unison. I’d like to take credit for this, since I’ve been emailing Whole Foods at least once a month for the past two years, begging them to open a Capitol Hill location (I was gunning for the current Trader Joe’s location, because it’s only two blocks from my apartment). I know that I should shop at the local farmers’ markets, but sometimes I just need to go grocery shopping for specialty foods at 11pm on a Tuesday night.

I can’t wait until it opens…

Easy Street Records and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

Date Night #3: Agua Verde / Deep Fry Party

I’ve decided that date night doesn’t necessarily have to involve a new restaurant every time, so I have now expanded it to include restaurants that I haven’t been to in a while. So tonight we went out to Agua Verde.

I really like Agua Verde, especially on sunny days when you can sit outside on the deck and watch the newbie kayakers trying to get into their boats. Agua Verde is a great, casual place that is bright and loud. I don’t always love the food, as it can be hit or miss, but it’s one of those places where I always have a great time. Plus they have really good margaritas.

We started out with chips and salsa. The chips were extra salty (just the way I like them) and Agua Verde has a salsa bar that is fantastic. Zach ordered the carne tacos which are marinated flank steak sautéed with chilies and onions, topped with cotija cheese on flour tortillas. They were really good, but I wanted more of the marinade sauce as the meat seemed just a touch dry.

I had the el antiguo presidente torta: shredded pork with tomato, red onion, lettuce, chipotle mayo and guacamole on a bolillo roll. I had ordered this once before and it was fantastic, so I’ve been dreaming about this sandwich for the past year. Maybe when you fantasize about something for that long you’re bound to be let down, but I think that I may not have received the exact sandwich that I ordered. The torta was loaded down with pork, but it was still in chunks, not shredded. The meat was tender, but not the kind of tender you get when you stew something for an entire day, which is how I remember it being. I actually suspect that they ran out of the usual filling and just threw some leftover pork in there.

All in all, the meal was not as good as I had hoped it would be, but maybe it serves me right for waiting a year between visits and building it up in my head. Or maybe it was just an off night. Either way, I will still go back.

On a side note: I learned about the Shrimposium being hosted at Agua Verde to benefit FORKS (Fields Oceans Ranches Kitchens Stewards). FORKS is a group that exists to work with local food economies and artisan food producers to sustain the long-term health of our food system—always a good thing. The symposium covers the state of shrimp and the shrimp farming industry, which to me actually sounds interesting, so this may be the perfect excuse to return.

After dinner we went to a mah johg / house warming / Chinese new year / deep fry party that a friend of Zach’s was throwing. I need to get on the ball and start planning my parties for the new year, because everyone keeps beating me to the party ideas. Although, it was actually an enlightening experience on how not to host a deep fry party…

The mah johg set never showed up, so I spent my time hanging around the deep fryer and asking way too many questions. Deep frying is a mystical thing to me and I’m amazed that people do it. I’m a little scared of hot oil and I HATE the smell of frying oil and the way it permeates through every fiber of your clothing, hair and skin.

I was glad to see that they were using one of those self-contained deep fryers that looks like a giant crock-pot. The bad thing was that the fryer was set up in a corner behind a door that opened in and the house was packed—probably about eighty people showed up. So you had to wedge yourself between the door and counter and have someone hold the door for you so you didn’t get knocked into the fry pot.

People had brought some weird stuff to fry, like pickles and store bought bags of onion rings that were supposed to be baked. Someone was making catfish that was breaded in cap’n crunch. I was appalled, but of course curious. I tasted it when it came out of the fryer and I have to say, it was freaking delicious. I grilled him about the recipe, which was really simple: just a quick dip in a batter made from beer, flour and baking soda and then rolled in crushed cap’n crunch cereal.

I brought shrimp chips because Zach had never seen them made before and they’re so fun to watch. Most people don’t believe you when you tell them that shrimp chips start out looking like translucent beach glass. When you toss them in the oil nothing happens for the first few seconds, but then they start making a loud crackling noise and look like they’re blooming in the oil. On the first try I put in WAY too many and they were literally coming up and out of the fryer like popcorn in an air popper—except there was no shoot for them to go down and they were covered in hot oil. We quickly adapted to a system of only putting in four or five chips at a time and scooping them out with a slotted spoon (the basket was useless for this, although a pair of tongs might have worked the best), and then laying them on paper towels for a few seconds to drain.

For my party, I am DEFINITELY having at least two fry stations at separate tables and will put them all outside. I think a lot of people have a similar fear and fascination with deep frying, because it was amazing how many wanted to watch the food fry. I will also have the stations fully stocked with paper towels, racks for draining, utensils and food platters. It was creeping me out watching people with greasy hands root around in all the cupboards looking for stuff. The clean up the next day must have been a nightmare, as when we left (quite early), there was already an oil slick on the counter that was heading for the floor.

Agua Verde on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Cafe Stellina

Since I own a car, I have a bad tendency to drive to places that are familiar but far away instead of exploring in my own neighborhood. I’ve been feeling guilty about this, so I decided to head down to Cafe Stellina on 20th and Union to check it out. The second I walked in, I wanted so badly to love it. It had a great casual feel, but was also nicer than I expected, with pretty blue walls and good art.

I ordered a salami sandwich with melted mozzarella and basil on focaccia. It was gigantic and artfully placed on gorgeous blue plates with bright red rings of grapefruit as a garnish. The sandwich was really good and hearty—I definitely liked the combination of salami and basil. The thing I went nuts for, however, was the side of coleslaw. It was vinegar-based and didn’t have any mayonnaise and it was crisp and delicious. Zach ordered the quiche. It was okay, but after having the quiche at Cafe Besalu, it just didn’t compare.

I loved that the place had regulars that would stop in to get coffee and chat with the owner. They all seemed to know each other and it made me sad that I don’t drink coffee. I think coffee drinkers have this special bond with their cafe that doesn’t happen too often in other situations.

I also really liked that the cafe was dog friendly, because we got to see a lot of cute dogs wolf down free doggie treats while their owners ordered coffee. I like dogs okay as long as I don’t have to live with them, but I’m a sucker for dogs that have giant paws. We saw the cutest puppy that had been rescued and was available for adoption. He was a black lab and rottweiler mix with the biggest and clumsiest paws and it broke my heart to think that someone would just dump him by the side of the road. I’m going to try and convince my mom to adopt him.

But back to the food… I wouldn’t say the food is fantastic or recommend driving out of the way to eat here, but if you’re in the neighborhood and craving a sandwich in a cozy spot with plenty of dog and people watching, then it’s perfect.

Friday, January 28th, 2005

The Gift of Elegance

Zach emailed me a few days ago to tell me (okay, brag) that the photographer for See’s Candies was done with the latest catalog shoot and had dropped off all the leftover candy at Zach’s office. He said that there was so much candy that it filled the break room and left only a small path of space from the door to the fridge. Everyone was told to take home several boxes and Zach took a gigantic four-pounder in gold gift wrap that was embossed “The Gift of Elegance”. He brought it to our friends’ joint birthday party that was held at Cafe Septieme.

I really love Cafe Septieme. I think because it’s nearby, dark and smoky, always warm, has red walls and all my friends go there. The food really isn’t fantastic—in fact it can be very spotty (along with the service) but I love it anyway. I also have a secret weapon called the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger. Every time I eat at Septieme, this is what I order and not only is it delicious, but it’s actually the best blue cheese bacon burger I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what they do to it, but it has lots of really creamy blue cheese sauce and crisp, meaty bacon.

At the party Zach broke out the box of candy and there were gasps around the table. You had to use both hands to pass the box, otherwise it would bend under the weight. It really was a beautiful sight and people at other tables were staring with unabashed jealousy. Seeing that much candy available for immediate consumption made me giddy, but I used restraint and only ate a few of my favorites. Plus a log of nougat that was coated in pecans and was about the size of a soda can.

The birthday boy and girl had a great time and are so well-loved that their friends not only took over the entire dining room but, toward the end of the night, ended up spilling into the bar as well. It was a fun party and I met a lot of new, nice people that I will eventually have over for dinner. They will remember me as the girl with the fistful of candy.


Monday, January 24th, 2005

A Kitchen Table

My new kitchen table has arrived and I am happy as can be! My mom and dad bought it for me for Christmas and it’s the perfect gift.

I had been making do with a folding card table for the past three years. It only seated four and had a bad leg that would collapse if you touched it—which made for tense dinner parties on my end. I was always yelling “NO! I’ll sit there!” and startling my dinner guests.

My new table seats six very comfortably and has a leaf extension that allows seating for eight or maybe even ten if my kitchen was big enough to hold that many people. I may have to wait until I move to use the extension.

I am so so happy with my new kitchen table and am already setting dates for dinner parties that I have been waiting to have. Every time I walk into my kitchen, I smile.

Thank you mom and dad… you are too good to me! And yes, this means you have drop-in dining privileges at any time.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

Feenie’s Weenie

It’s the last day of our trip and we’re both sick of eating out, but we don’t want the awful meal at Le Gavroche to be our last in Vancouver, so we decide to hit Feenie’s for lunch before driving back to Seattle.

Feenie’s is Rob Feenie’s version of a casual bistro and is located right next to Lumière. The pricing for Feenie’s is casual, but the decor is anything but. The front room is bright and cheery with an entire wall of orange and brown tone cushions and a furry white chandelier that I covet. The bar is a lovely, seductive red with inset lighting in the ceiling that glows blue. At the very back of the bar is a room with bamboo walls and a sage green bench seat that stretches across the width of the bar.

Ever since my first visit to Lumière a few years ago I had been wanting to eat at Feenie’s. At that time they were just starting construction on the new addition, but they were already working out the menu. The waiter told us about how the staff had been taste-testing hot dogs for weeks in order to find the perfect one to serve at Feenie’s. I was so jealous. So of course, I had to order “Feenie’s Weenie” (yes, it actually says that on the menu).

Feenie’s Weenie ($8 CAD) was the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted and as I’m writing this my mouth is watering and I have a desire to skip work and drive up to Canada. It was so flavorful and juicy. It was also filled with delicious cheese and came with the best sauerkraut I’ve ever had. It was served with a cone of perfect fries and a tray of four condiments: chipotle mayo, ketchup, herb mayo and sweet ketchup relish.

Zach ordered the Poutine ($9 CAD), which is apparently a popular Canadian dish and consisted of French fries covered in a rich, rich chicken and veal gravy and cheese “curds” (they looked more like melted mozzarella). It was really good, but it was so rich that an entire meal of just that is a little too much. I would recommend the Poutine only as a side dish to be split, unless of course you are Canadian and are used to eating Poutine.

We also shared a romaine salad with yogurt Caesar dressing ($9 CAD), which was delicious and very light. It was topped with a crisp slice of pancetta and a really beautiful and tasty fresh anchovy.

Our bill came to $26 CAD and we left Canada very, very happy.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005

Arms Reach Bistro & Le Gavroche

By our fourth day in Vancouver we were actually getting a little tired of eating out. We agreed to forgo The List and drive somewhere outside of downtown. We consulted the hotel guidebook and decided on Deep Cove because it promised a “cozy little seaside town” with “lots of great cafes”.

We took the “scenic route” which ran along the water, but the scene was of huge vegetable oil processing plants. After a half hour of driving we arrived at Deep Cove. I think that the most important tidbit of information that the guide book left out is that coming here on a rainy day is basically pointless. It was absolutely pouring down rain and we could BARELY make out the small harbor and couldn’t see anything beyond that. The “lots of great cafes” turned out to be a pastry shop, a pizza parlor, a sushi place and a bistro. Only the Arms Reach Bistro looked open so we went in but weren’t expecting anything great.

The restaurant was very cheery and bright inside, despite the grey day, and I liked that they had blankets at every table so that you could stay warm. I ordered the BCLT ($11 CAD) which turned out to be a really good focaccia sandwich with salty bacon and great Canadian cheddar cheese. It came with a side salad that was shockingly good. So good in fact, that I actually wished I had ordered just a salad—and that’s saying a lot because my sandwich had BACON in it. What made the salad so good was the kick ass tarragon yogurt dressing. I tried to finagle the recipe out of the waiter, but he was really vague and said it was “just tarragon, yogurt and maybe some lemon juice or something”.

Zach had the Chad Salad ($9 CAD), which was also really good. It was a mixed greens salad with gooseberries, blueberries, cashews and a great balsamic garlic vinaigrette. We spent $20 CAD for a very good lunch, but I don’t think I’d drive out there again unless it was a spectacularly sunny day.

After lunch we decided that no matter what we did we were going to get soaked and headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Normally, I think this park would be packed, but our car was one of five in the vast, empty lot. We walked up to the ticket booth and found that they give a 20% discount on rainy days, which was good because it was way more expensive than I anticipated ($22 CAD per person), but it ended up being the best (non-food) thing we did on our trip.

We approached the bridge, each holding an umbrella, and looked across—I wasn’t expecting it to be so huge. We tentatively stepped out onto the bridge and felt it shudder; you could feel every step and sway. About 1/3 of the way across, a little kid came barreling over the bridge, shrieking and jumping with excitement. It was cute for the two seconds it took for the motion sickness to hit us. Zach turned to me, pale white, and said he couldn’t make it and headed back. We had a little pep talk and waited until no one else was on the bridge and then hurried across.

The other side of the park was amazing. It had absolutely beautiful walkways and decks with scattered seating in corners of the park—not very appealing on a rainy day, but I could have spent hours here if it was sunny. We picked a path to follow and came across an area that had white Christmas lights strung from the trees. On second look we realized that there was another walkway built into the tree tops. We continued on and came to a shelter area (complete with chairs and a potbellied stove) that lead up to the path in the trees. We were the only ones up there and it was breathtaking; walking among the misty tops of the trees on beautifully crafted pathways that were connected from tree to tree. Zach and I decided that this must be what it feels like to be an Ewok.

Later that night we had a reservation at Le Gavroche which was participating in Dine Out Vancouver—a promotion where restaurants serve a fixed price three-course dinner for $35 CAD.

We got to the restaurant and were seated in the lower room, which kind of looked and smelled like my grandma’s basement. To make things worse, I noticed that the tablecloth had stains all over it and the glassware was less than clean. At this point, I was starting to have my doubts about this place. It was the second night of the Dine Out promotion and the staff looked harried. We found out that we were seated in the room that is normally used for wine tastings, so I suspected that they had overbooked reservations.

We looked over the promotional menu and it sounded really good, but there was also a four-course dinner available so we decided to get one of each in order to taste as many things as possible. The waiter talked up the paired wines (a different one with each course) and told us that they were not to be missed, so we ordered the matching wines as well. An entire hour after we arrived, our meal was served:

Three-Course Meal
Wild Boar Terrine with Onion Marmalade—This tasted very gamey and not very interesting. I was disappointed that all of the pretty sauces on the plate were just for decoration, as they didn’t enhance the food at all. Unfortunately, this was to become a recurring theme.

Braised Venison Osso Buco with Port Orange Sauce—The venison was very tender but the sauce was lackluster, especially for a French restaurant, which I tend to hold to a higher standard when it comes to sauces.

Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Lace Cookie—Everything on this plate tasted burnt. Zach liked it, but he’s crazy about Crème Brûlée or anything that contains caramel.

Four-Course Meal
Duck Rillettes—The duck was okay, but the dish was ruined with terrible stale, stale bread.

Frissee Salad—Zach pointed out that the salad smelled strongly of sweat. I tried to convince him that it was just the vinegar, but he was right; it did smell like sweat. This distracted from the taste, to say the least.

Pork Tenderloin with Trumpet Mushrooms—I liked this dish, but I was predisposed to like it since it contained trumpet mushrooms. Zach thought it was boring.

Profitteroles—This was my favorite course of the night. It had a nice pastry and was filled with delicious ice cream and topped with good quality, warm chocolate.

The whole meal with wines set us back $180 CAD, making it the second most expensive meal of our trip and by FAR the worst. We were really disappointed that this was our last dinner in Vancouver, but at the same time it also made us grateful that we were able to experience so much wonderful food prior to this.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Bon Ton Pastry, Sun Sui Wah & Tojo’s

We started off our third day in Vancouver in search of pastries and good coffee. We failed on the coffee end, but we found some damn fine pastries at Bon Ton Pastry on Broadway. I don’t generally visit pastry stores so when I do, I kind of go nuts. There’s something about seeing all those delicate and flaky morsels lined up in neat little stacks and rows that really gets to me. I bought a delicious palmier, brioche, a jam pastry, sausage puffs, an éclair, a dozen cookies, a bag of shortbread (for my mom) and a bag of pastry cheese twists. There was a seating area in the back, but you had to order something from the cafe menu, so we just sat in the car and tore into the bags like children eating Halloween candy.

After we got rid of all the crumbs we went looking for a record store that Zach wanted to check out, but ended up lost on the UBC campus. I’d always wanted to go to the UBC Botanical Gardens, so I convinced Zach to stop since we were already on campus. It’s not exactly the best time of year to tour a garden and we didn’t realize they had a Winter garden until after we finished exploring the grounds. It was still a nice walk and I really liked the food garden even though everything was dead except for the heartiest of kale and Brussels sprouts. The garden layout was great and they had beautiful, beautiful espaliered apple and pear trees in all kinds of crazy patterns and shapes—even a square box!

By the time we left the garden and found the record store it was getting late, but we decided to hit Sun Sui Wah Seafood for a late dim sum lunch. When we got there they had stopped serving via the carts, but you could still order from the kitchen.

We ordered the “world famous” roasted squab because it was listed as a house special and the picture on the menu was awesome—a whole fried bird with the head attached and everything. We were disappointed when it came out chopped into pieces. I was even more disappointed when I tasted it. It was way too gamey and tasted like liver (more so than it should), plus the sauce and salt that came with the roasted squab were really awful.

From the dim sum menu we ordered honey and garlic fried spare ribs, hum bow, ha-gow (shrimp balls), shu-mai (meat dumplings), sticky rice and sesame seed balls. Everything was okay, but strangely lacking in flavor. Only the ha-gow were great—they must have used really fresh and well-cleaned shrimp because they didn’t have that musty taste that you sometimes get with shrimp balls. I also liked the sweet and flavorful red sauce that accompanied the dim sum. It was slightly hot and made the otherwise dull tasting food a little more exciting. I noticed that there weren’t any of those little gristly bits that you usually come across in dim sum. Normally I would think that is a good thing, but this meal left me wondering if the gristle actually adds flavor. At $43 CAD this was our most expensive lunch and also the most disappointing.

Later that night we had a reservation for Tojo’s which I, sadly, wasn’t looking forward to because I was feeling a little sick from lunch. Also, I had tried Tojo’s about three years ago and was very disappointed. But Zach loves Tojo’s and he convinced me to give it another chance.

I had made special reservations to sit at the omakase bar where Tojo asks you what you like and then gives you a coursed menu according to your tastes. The bar was jam packed, but also kind of cozy and made us feel like we (and the sushi chefs) were the only ones in the restaurant. It also had great overhead lighting, which assisted me in my obsessive photo taking. (Zach is such a good sport for letting me take pictures of every meal we eat. Most people are not so accommodating or just think I’m weird.)

We heard that it’s customary to buy Tojo a beer, so we talked to a waiter who informed us that Tojo likes Sapporo. Apparently when you buy Tojo a beer you are actually buying all the cooks a beer, so I was a little startled and amused when the whole kitchen staff rushed out shouting “Kampai!”.

Sashimi Salad—An absolutely gorgeous “salad” served in a large bamboo bowl. Very, very, very delicious tuna with a perfect balance of soy, scallions and just a hint of heat.

Breaded Shitake—A shitake mushroom with the bottom side encrusted in golden breadcrumbs, set in a sauce similar to what you get with tempura. I really enjoyed this dish and am going to try and recreate it at home.

Steamed Sablefish—A nice cut of sablefish stuffed with mushrooms and steamed in a clear broth. The fish was a little rich for me, but I thought the broth was great. The best thing about this dish was its beautiful presentation. The bowl came out covered with a sheet of paper, tied up with raffia and garnished with a lime wedge and pine needles that you opened like a present.

Crab Sushi—The sushi was rolled in a crepe-like wrap and topped with bright orange tobiko. It was very light and not extremely flavorful.

Toro Sushi—A large slice of the fattiest tuna I’ve ever tasted. It was good, but so rich and akin to eating straight animal fat, that I think it may be an acquired taste.

Avocado Sushi with Scallop—This was my favorite. I love raw scallops when they are perfectly fresh. The sushi had a wonderful mouth feel with the soft, creamy scallop and crunchy, salty roe.

Rainbow Eel Roll—This roll had grilled eel on the inside and alternating strips of salmon, tuna and tamago on the outside. It was very pretty and fresh, but I wanted the taste of the eel to come through a little more than it did.

Tempura Prawn & Yam Roll with Avocado and Pineapple—I hated this. The sweet pineapple seemed really out of place to me. Even when I poked the pineapple pieces out, the sushi tasted boring and chewy because of the undercooked yam. Strangely enough, this was Zach’s favorite.

Dessert—A simple glass of homemade ice cream topped with some sort of sweet cream and a berry sauce. Good, but not outstanding.

Only three of the nine dishes really wowed me, so the cost of $200 CAD (including three Sapporo beers) seemed outrageous. I would have much rather had two more dinners at Lumière or three more at Vij’s. I am sure to get hate mail for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyways: Tojo’s is overrated.

Friday, January 21st, 2005

Wild Rice & Lumiere

On our second day in Vancouver we decided to check out Wild Rice, which I had read about in Food & Wine a while back. The restaurant was stunningly beautiful and modern, but still really comfortable. We sat at a great, tall table with bench seating in the bar area and got to see everyone’s dishes going by.

We started with caramelized shallot taro smash ($4 CAD) and edamame with soy braised Chinese greens and pine nuts ($5 CAD). I am not usually a huge fan of taro, but this dish was good and the caramelized shallots sweetened it up and made it more interesting. The greens were surprisingly good and flavorful considering the simple ingredients.

I ordered the Chinatown Sweep, a four spiced blend dusted bbq pork dish with east-west stir fry on crisped chow mein ($12 CAD). The spicy and fatty pork was to die for. The only thing I would have changed would be to add more of the delicious sauce to coat the crunchy chow mein.

Zach ordered the Su Dong wild boar (a Song Dynasty recipe), slowly braised in sweet soy, rice wine, maltose sugar and autumn spices with plantain chips on brown rice ($11 CAD). It was heavenly. I didn’t taste much gaminess in the boar; it was like really good quality pork. The sauce was so rich and complex that I can’t even describe it—you just have to go and order this to find out for yourself. The plantain chips were delicious as well, sliced lengthwise and beautifully presented in one end of the bowl like a flower arrangement.

For dessert we ordered the Shanghai road Szechwan scented chocolate mousse-roasted pistachios, mandarin orange segments & bamboo biscotti ($7 CAD). I didn’t care for this at all. The mousse was really bitter and was supposed to be mixed with a sweet liquid at the bottom before eating, which in my opinion gave it an unpleasant slimy texture and a strong alcoholic taste, but Zach thought it was good.

When we paid the bill ($39 CAD), I realized what day it was and felt relieved that we were in Canada for the inauguration. I was hell bent on not watching the news and seeing the talking monkey that we call President, so we went to the aquarium.

I heart the Vancouver Aquarium. I haven’t been to many aquariums, but I have to say that this one is the best I’ve seen. They had really, really beautiful informative displays and gorgeous tanks. When we walked into the Amazon Gallery, the arapaima stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve never seen such an enormous fish. Apparently at 15 feet in length, the arapaima is the largest fish in the Amazon. Uh, now I sound like National Geographic, but anyways… it was so entrancing that I forgot to take a picture.

They also had a “Treasures of the BC Coast” display which I thought was a really cool idea. Each section of coast had a display area with the typical sea life for that region. After an hour or so, we finally made it out to the outdoor tanks. They had pretty Beluga whales, but they weren’t doing anything interesting. (The last time I saw Belugas was at the Point Defiance Zoo where two males were doing some underwater sword fighting with their penises. It was really funny listening to the adults explain to their kids what the whales were doing.)

We also saw an enormous sea lion who developed a crush on Zach and would bat his eyelashes whenever Zach walked by. I fell in love with the sea otter pup who was so damned cute that he made me want to go to marine biology school. Zach’s favorite was Spinnaker the dolphin who was very speedy and could jump about 30 feet into the air—when there were sufficient treats to be had.

Later we had dinner at the much anticipated Lumiere. I have been talking about Lumiere, pretty much non-stop for the past two years. I’ve never eaten in the dining room area, but I just love the bar. It’s slick and modern and every exquisite dish on the bar menu is just $12. And that’s $12 CANADIAN!

We started out with some seasonal cocktails: I had the salt & pepper highball, which was strangely bitter and full of pepper and Zach had a sazerac, which he loved.

I insisted that we order the Foie Gras Decouverte ($36 CAD), which is a special sampling plate consisting of three different preparations of foie gras:

Foie Gras Boudin Blanc with Truffle Oil—A beautiful and light mousse-filled sausage drizzled with truffle oil. Ooooohh.

Foie Gras Torchon with Cognac Poached Prunes on Toasted Brioche—A rich, dense and perfectly smooth disk of foie gras paired with amazing poached prunes. Aaaaahh.

Seared Foie Gras with Fruit Compote—Foie Gras in its purest form. Incredibly good and delicious with a touch of sweet fruit. I honestly shed a small tear. It was that good.

Zach and I later had this conversation over IM, arguing over who loved the foie gras more…

Zach: when you took the first bite of the foie gras at lumiere, you totally looked like a junkie right after shooting up
Me: um, you did too
Zach: how could you see me with your eyes rolling back into your head?
Me: shush
Me: you uttered words i never thought i’d hear you say
Zach: i say sweet baby jesus fairly often
Me: you’re just as bad
Zach: i know i am
Zach: i like that we have that in common

We then ordered two dishes of the regular bar menu and the special of the day, which was monkfish wrapped in prosciutto with mushrooms and potato puree ($18 CAD). There aren’t words to really describe it except delicious and satisfying. Eating it made me take a deep breath and feel contented and happy.

From the bar menu came sake & maple syrup-marinated with sautéed potatoes and leeks, shimiji, short-rib meat and soy & hijiki broth ($12 CAD), which Zach loved. Sablefish borders on too rich for me (especially after sampling three different kinds of foie gras!), so I didn’t eat much of this, but it was really good.

Last came the Moules et Frites, which were Gallo mussels with lemongrass, ginger, red peppers and chili aioli ($12 CAD). This was fantastic as well and I liked that the lemongrass lightened the dish, but we were way too full to eat much more at this point. Our food total came to $78 CAD, but we definitely ordered one too many dishes—I think you could get a fantastic and filling meal for two for less than $60 CAD.

I love Lumiere, I love Rob Feenie and I love Iron Chef—which is why I’ll buy, beg or steal cable to watch Iron Chef America*, Masaharu Morimoto vs. Rob Feenie on Feb 20 at 9pm. I suggest you do the same.

*Yes, I agree, Iron Chef America sucks and it’s a poor substitute for the original, but I’m praying that Alton Brown makes a better host then the ubiquitous William Shatner (and by ubiquitous, I mean cheesy as hell).

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

I want to put on my my my my my… bacon shoes!

A friend just sent me a link to the most awesome footwear ever: Dave’s Quality Meat Bacon Nike Air Max 90.

My favorite part? ”… the front toe of each shoe is different cuz the have these scuff marks which represents the fat deposits that’s on bacon… So no 2 are alike and everyone who has them are special.” (Another friend pointed out that this interview has the worst editing ever.)

The bad part? It looks like you can only get them in New York and according to the website: “WE DO NOT SHIP. DON’T ASK.” Lucky for me, my brother lives in Brooklyn…

Oh shoot. I just checked the site again and it looks like they sold out while I was writing this. Damn.

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

Banana Leaf & Vij’s

The Vancouver eating trip begins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Vancouver, here I come!

I leave for Vancouver tomorrow and I can’t wait!

After weeks of research, I narrowed down my restaurant list to 38 places—which means I need to average 7.6 restaurants a day in order to try them all. A second (and third) trip may be in order.

Monday, January 17th, 2005

Lamb Dinner

I had the day off today, so I decided to cook something. I called a few people and had an impromptu dinner party.

Bob brought his latest favorite vodka: Zubrovka, flavored with bison grass. It was too strong and odd tasting for me to drink straight, but I liked it with some tonic and lime.

I wanted to use the golden whitefish caviar I picked up on Saturday, but I couldn’t locate the salad recipe I wanted to make. I found a recipe for Wild Rice Cakes with Caviar and it was great. The nuttiness of the rice complemented the caviar perfectly. I’m also thinking this would make a great (and less expensive) appetizer when made with salmon lox instead of caviar.

For the main course I made my favorite lamb dish: Lamb with Miso Sauce. A simple roasted rack of lamb accompanied with an amazing salty-sweet sauce made from miso paste, soy sauce, mirin and blue cheese. I know it sounds strange, but everyone who tries it loves it—even those who “don’t like lamb”. On the side, I served Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and green beans in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Dessert was King Leo peppermint bark and purchased almond and apricot filled cookies. Mmmm.

Monday, January 17th, 2005

The Saveur 100

I just received the latest Saveur, which was a special issue with their top 100 favorite “foods, restaurants, recipes, people, places & things”. This is what caught my eye:

#1 Apparently, cooking in the fireplace is the new hot thing—although, this is most certainly not going to happen in my apartment

#4 Pepperidge Farm Bread—I’ve always seen this bread recommended in recipes, but I’ve never seen it in the store…

#9 Best substitute for Pizza? Okonomiyaki! I am lucky that Zach cooks really delicious ones.

#12 Certified Humane Raised and Handled Products

#21 Furikake! This is on my top 100 list as well, but I would have rated it higher.

#25 Most irresistible aroma: frying bacon. Again, on my list, but more like #2, right after eating bacon.

#49 Old South Tomolives—the latest martini garnish

#55 Senapata—a delicious sounding quince paste with a touch of mustard

#72 For those of you lucky people with fireplaces, check out spitjack

#74 Del Norte raw flour tortillas

#96 Best sliced bread since sliced bread: Shokupan

Yumm!