Vancouver Spots

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We spent the first half of the day checking out a couple Vancouver neighbourhoods, Granville Island and Chinatown. Breakfast was a smoked meat-filled bagel from Siegel’s Bagels at the Granville Island market. The market was full of offerings from local providers including amazing produce from the area’s farmers. It was exotic to our eyes and utterly beautiful.

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After breakfast, we continued on outside the market and checked out a cute dog and cat place that specializes in home made, baked on the premises dog goodies. Yes, everybody is getting spoiled!.

Chinatown is next in our tooling about. Friday finds the streets full and bustling with shoppers. We soak up the streets as we move towards the Chinese Cultural Center where the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen  Gardens are housed in an old, tile topped, walled courtyard. The gardens are lush and mossy. Silent and peaceful. Magnolias, bamboo, Japanese maples shade pathways and over hang a pond afloat with lilypads in flower. Koi cruise coloufully under the surface. Chinese structures artfully frame views. As we continue on, we are asked to pay a small fee to center a more manicured garden, hung with classic red lanterns, paved with intricate stone tiles and home to several bonsai treasures. The Gardens are truly memorable.

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A Diners, Drive-ins and Dives recommendation, Peaceful Restaurant, is on tap for lunch after an amazing morning strolling through the Granville Public Market and The Chinese Gardens in Chinatown.

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Peaceful is an unassuming, Northern Chinese hallway of a joint on Broadway. Not technically Chinatown, but Guy Fieri has enticed us away with his ravings over the beef roll here. We find street parking and forget to drop a twoonie in the meter, for which we will pay handsomely later. The restaurant is jam packed at 1 pm this Friday. We are lucky to be seated right away. Hot complimentary red and green blended tea lands immediately on the table. The place oozes 1970 Chinese restaurant ambiance, that is to say, none whatsoever. Clearly, they focus on really good food, not decor. The menu has 49 items on it including soup, noodle dishes and a variety of steamed and pan fried goodies. We would like to try a few things and as we gaze around at other tables, we note that portion sizes are quite generous. We settle on three things to share: Peaceful House Noodles, Beef Rolls and Steamed Pan-Fried Pork Bao Buns. Peaceful has no diet soda so we ask for ice water, which arrives quickly sans ice.

Our noodles arrive first. Delicious handmade noodles bathed in a sweet soy chili sauce, just hot enough for a slow burn and complimentary enough not to drown out the delicate seafood and pork in the dish. The noodles are the star of this dish and are quite unmanageable without cutting up or doing a rendition of Lady and the Tramp if sharing.

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Pacing of the dishes at Peaceful is very well done. About a minute after finishing our noodles, the beef rolls are presented. Flaky, pan-fried scallion pancakes are spread with a hoisin and sweet bean paste and then covered with house made roast beef shank which has been braised with star anise, hunan chili, bay leaf, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, green onion, rock sugar, salt, pepper, dark and light soy and cooking wine, and then rolled jelly roll style. They are everything Guy said they would be – crispy, sweet and delectable. They were like beefy, savoury cinnamon rolls — layers of anise-laden beef and sweet hoisin and crispy, scallion-laced pancake. Shortly another couple was seated beside us and asked us a few questions about our meal. Turns out they were also from Ottawa and had come specifically for the beef rolls.

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Our final dish arrived. The bao was fine but not spectacular. Heavy on the dough with minced pork inside, served with a soy dip. Minced pork tends to be a little pasty and I’m not fond of the texture. The pan-fried bottom was a tad tough. They were perfectly okay, but not nearly as wonderful as our other two dishes.

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With full belly and happy mouth we head back to the hotel to relax before an evening of comedy. And to pay a parking ticket.


Vancouver Arrival!

Early morning today. Up well before the sun, but not before Scout. Fed the kitties, snuck past a groggy dog and headed to the the airport. We breeze through the long line at security because Rob was the lucky random selection for an explosives swipe. Flights on time, no immigration. Except for the hour, this is painless. Flying within Canada and not crossing into the United States is so much more pleasant. Felt less like cattle and more like a crated dog. We arrive in Van on time, get our rental and we are here! The drive into downtown along Granville Road is pleasant with cedar-lined properties, pretty homes and little shops. Can’t wait to explore the city.

This evening after a little nap we are meeting up with a high school chum, Donna, who has been living out here for twenty-one years now. She has suggested Joe Forte‘s a Vancouver establishment, for drinks.

We arrive at Joe’s a little before 6:00. The place is lively with an after work crowd. An old school oyster and chop house, Joe’s is exactly the perfect place to relax after a long day and catching up with a friend. We luck into three seats at the oyster bar, settle in to watch the shuckers in action, while two cold local Granville Island Cypress Honey Lagers are placed in front of us. The beer is crisp, smooth with a nice bit of body. Perfect compliment for fresh oysters. While we wait for Donna, we check out the menu and the plates being ferried from table to table by white coated waitstaff. If looks are anything, choosing will be difficult. Sticking to local west coast seafood will help. Our waitress informs us that Halibut and Dungeness crab are in season, as is wild Pacific salmon.

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Donna arrives and it’s like thirty some years never passed. Conversation is easy and we catch up. I have lots of questions about life on the coast. Winter is coming to Ontario in the next few months and I’m already looking at an exit strategy. Vancouver is really appealing with its fresh seafood and year round farmers markets, excellent Asian food and mild climate. And ocean. And Mountains. And Hockey. And it is in Canada. Van has it all it seems. Now I just have to convince Rob that he wants to live on a boat.

Tonight Rob and I decide to share fresh oysters (because why wouldn’t you?), the Dungeness Crab Cake, Iceberg Wedge Salad and Tempura Alaskan King Crab. We also decided on a half bottle of  Kettle Valley 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. BC wines are harder to come by in Ontario because of unfathomable trade restrictions so we will enjoy them as much as possible while we are here.

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The oysters at Joe’s are sublime. Perfectly shucked, sweet, briny. Served with fresh horseradish, cocktail sauce, champagne mignonette and a soy sesame ponzu sauce. The dungeness crab cake came with a fresh slaw and a generous spicy basil-lemon aioli swipe. The cake was lightly fried and heavy with crab. It was for all intents and purposes an excellent cake but I prefer large lumps of crab not shredded pieces so it was not to my liking.

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The wedge salad came divided on two plates for us. Cool, crisp and delicious with diced tomato, crumbled bacon and excellent blue cheese, lightly dressed with a mild creamy blue cheese dressing and green onion. This is an old-school item that we are seeing more these days. Rob orders it whenever he sees it on a menu.

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The tempura Alaska king crab was probably my favorite offering.  Served with an avocado guacamole and a sweet soy syrup, tempura battered and fried, the crab had a nice crunchy exterior – hardly a tempura, but excellent nevertheless – and a sweet, delicate crab interior.

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Too bad there are so many excellent places to try in Vancouver and so little time. I would come back to Joe Forte’s in  heartbeat.

Long-Awaited Bao Cart

2013 is the year Ottawa finally jumped on the exciting food truck bandwagon that most major cities have already embraced. Offerings include BBQ, Texan, Korean and Indian among others. Rob and I have been awaiting the opening of the Gongfu Bao food cart for some time. When Ottawa announced the introduction of these new restos on wheels back in May, we headed to the corner of Elgin and Slater for a quick lunch. Alas the cart was not to be found. I started stalking them on Facebook and learned that they were not operational, working out kinks, waiting for the cart and on and on.  I soon forgot about them. Then finally in August they are up and running.

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Today the dog and I walked over, braving threatening weather. Rob was meeting us there between meetings. When I arrive at 11:30 there is a small line up. I’m eighth in line. They are a half hour late getting started. The young man taking orders in line says the steamer takes at least 10 minutes to get to temperature and then it has to cook the buns. Gonfu offered up two steamed buns today, Maple Charsiu Pork Bao and a Tofu Spinach Curry bun. Those of you who know me know I wrote tofu off last year after many failed attempts to like it, and so I ordered us two of the pork buns with the Killer Slaw. I actually ordered twice, because when the line was only 10, the young man asked us what we wanted so they could get going. He then came around 15 minutes later with a pen and paper and did the same thing over again. When all was said and in my hand to be gobbled, I had waited in line for 40 minutes. I’m glad I do not have the office job most people in line were trying to get back to.

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We settled down on a nearby bench with fellow bao dinners and dug in. The Killer Slaw is well, …killer. Excellent. Tangy with a bit of heat, crunchy with paper thin mandolined vegetables, peanuts and crispy fried onion. The bao itself was decent. I would prefer a little thinner, stickier dough. The bbq pork interior was plentiful, tasty and sweet. Did not detect any discernible maple,  but it was quite flavorful. $20 for two buns, slaw and two locally made ginger beers.

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The Gongfu cart offers good value and pretty good fare. Would I wait 40 minutes in line for it again? No. I was really waiting for this particular rolling resto to get up and running. I sincerely hope the young guys putting their heart and souls into this enterprise succeed, but they really need to get organized and open on time. People are fairly patient in this city but they, for the most part have to eat and return to work and other options are plentiful. Located at Confederation Park, corner of Slater and Elgin Streets

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Texas in a Bowl

I’m not a huge fan of bottled salsas. Something is lost in the translation from fresh. They are often too hot or too sweet with no real depth of flavour. I can barely tell one commercial brand from the next. Even smaller boutique varieties with their mango and corn entries, tend to miss the mark. In a word they are …boring. Recently one of my neighbours brought by a bottle of locally made Texas salsa. I was skeptical as I am with all bottled salsas now. I have since tried both the regular and smoky varieties and can affirm that both are excellent. I won’t buy any other salsa. My search is over. Texas salsa combines the right textures, a rich, smoky, roasted tomato puree with small chunks of onion, jalepeno and avocado, brightened with lime, cilantro, cumin and some back heat. Pairs well with ultra thin tortilla chips (we like Xochitl) without breaking. Not being super chunky makes it a perfect taco topper as well. Available at corner stores in Sandy Hill in Ottawa and at some farmers’ markets. A portion of sales benefit the homeless which is indeed very nice but should in no way affect your reason to buy this product. It stands on it’s own as the best bottled salsa I have tried to date.

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N’awlin’s BBQ Shrimp

BBQ shrimp is a dish that has little to do with BBQ as most people know it. We first experienced the dish at Mr. B’s in New Orleans’s after a night prowling the French Quarter for the best sazerac. Bellied up to the bar and bebibbed (?), we dipped amazing fresh, crusty, chewy, bread into a divine, rich, buttery, black pepper-laced, sauce with six plump, head-on, shell-on, gulf shrimp, simmered in said divine sauce waiting to be devoured. Elbows up! Do not wear white. Naked would work best.

We were so enamored with this simple dish that we wanted to recreate it at home. Mr. B’s provides the recipe willingly and it’s spot on. This dish can almost certainly be made with ingredients on hand except for the shrimp and fresh baguette. Make sure you read the recipe through and have your ingredients ready to go. It cooks up fast, in about 3-4 minutes. The shrimp, having a starring role, absolutely must be wild-caught Gulf shrimp. Pelican in Ottawa always has them, but unfortunately they cannot be had anywhere in Ottawa with their heads on for authenticity.  Beer pairs really well with the sauce and cuts its richness. Yes — that really does say three sticks of butter! Don’t skimp. Go to the gym.

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