Category Archives: Travel

Travels to far-away places.

Whistler Day 2 Peaks and Salumi

Another warm, sunny day in Whistler. I headed out in the crisp morning to take some photos and ended up following The Valley Trail for an hour. The trail takes you around a golf course and affords lovely views of the mountain, surrounding forest and chalets.

Today we head to the gondola which will take us to the peak of Whistler and then a second tram will take us to the top of Blackcombe. I am not fond of gondola rides, less so in earthquake country. I am however persuaded by the promise of bears and so steel myself and go. Basically, they frolic for your entertainment directly below the chairlift.  LIES! Turns out, there are only an estimated 60 bears on the mountain. I believe they spend their days avoiding the approximately 10,000 kids ripping through the interior on mountain bikes.

The views from the top are magnificent as expected. Cold, barren, snow covered, rocky peaks are framed by deep blue, sunny skies. Olympic rings stand, and Canadian flags wave, in colourful contrast to the rock and snow. The valley below, lush with evergreens and emerald lakes, seems never ending. A perfect day to be on top of a mountain.After descending to the village now busy with families and tourists enjoying the weather, we grab a late afternoon beverage and snack of humma-ganoush, an amazing combo of chickpea tahini hummus and charred eggplant baba ganoush which left us wondering how the hell no one had thought of this before.

Whistler has some decent restos. I had feared they would all be geared for tourists, meaning expensive with food appealing to the lowest denominator. I am pleasantly surprised so far. Basalt Wine and Salumeria does not disappoint. They have lost our reservation but are able to seat us on the patio, which was perfect as the shade was still warm from the lingering sun at 6:30 pm.

For starters we choose The Around The World cheese and salumi board accompanied by a lovely glass of BC Osoyoos Larose Petales d’Osoyoos 2013, a tad pricey at $17 for a 5oz glass. Salumi included a selection of lomo (dried cured pork loin from Spain similar to bresaola from Italy), finocchiona (fennel seed cured sausage from Italy),  nostrano (garlic salami from Italy), beemster (aged, buttery Dutch gouda), Spanish Manchego and  a creamy British sage Derby. Classic accoutrements of crostini, seedy mustard, classic fig compote and really good house made pickle complete the board.

The mains menu has several compelling options and the duck leg special with herb and fig jus sounds amazing. In the end, I decide on the duck breast from the regular menu and Rob goes for the cumin and smoked paprika rubbed lamb ribs.

The menu suggests I pair the duck with a glass of Domaine du Beaumière Côtes du Rhône 2014 and so we both choose it. An excellent choice. Mains come out nicely paced (we have requested space between courses and they are accommodating). My duck breast is juicy and accompanied by excellently roasted jewels of beet, fingerling potatoes and oddly, some shaved radish which adds a nice hot, spicy element. Not something I would have chosen for duck but it worked. Under the duck lies a flavourful blackberry jus,  but does not deliver a blackberry punch. The pickled rhubarb which intrigued me on the menu I find all but absent. A side of braised chard — bright and not overcooked and well done — goes mostly untouched. I’m just not a huge fan. For me, chard has the bad stewed garbage taste bok choy can sometimes have and a light bitterness on top of that. I have a lot of complaints about what was actually a very delicious dish lol.

Rob’s meaty, exotic spiced lamb ribs look delicious. One bite confirms they are. A puddle of refreshing cucumber raita, grilled pickled red onion, simple fresh greens with tomatoes at their delicious peak of freshness and sugar content, are excellent foils for the very rich meat.

Portions are nice at Basalt, leaving us room for the dessert menu. I have seen the strawberry shortcake whizz by and must have it. It begins with good buttermilk shortcake (but not my Mom’s good. She adds orange zest to the biscuit, elevating it to the Best Strawberry Shortcake Ever). Whip cream and fresh strawberries topping the cake are nice, but the strawberry ice cream is why I chose it. As far from the sweet, creamy, pink goo of the store brand ice cream of my childhood as one can get, this single scoop tastes of cold sweetness,  jam packed with small pieces of icy fresh berries.

We usually split dessert but I wanted this to myself. Rob opted for a tiny (3 inch) coconut banana cream tart with torched meringue and coconut crumble. Despite the new fangled trappings, the pie delivers on old fashioned coconut cream flavour. Aaaaahhhhhh. Another lovely meal to end the day.

 

 

Whistler Weekend!

Hello, Happymouth! It has been awhile since my last confess… I mean road trip. Old habits die hard. I have not written (Rob has) for two years. I have been busy transporting an adult life across a continent. Only just this month have I felt planted and home, ready to get back on the road.

After an early morning hike with Josie, AKA The Red Menace (ask a bunny), we hit the road north on this gorgeous, sunny but comfortable Thursday. I have not been beyond Squamish BC. and am looking forward to the scenic Sea to Sky Highway.  I knew it would be pretty but it really is majestic.

The highway cuts through bold rock face of slate and ochre offering tremendous views of towering evergreens, crystal waterfalls, open blue sky, emerald lakes, and lush, summer alpine mountains effortlessly reaching into mashed potato clouds. Also of note and just for fun are warnings about not stopping due to Rockfell areas, Debris Torrent Hazard, and….BEARS! Bears for 50 km!. Lies. Not a one.

We have decided to stop near Squamish at a little bus turned roadside stand where we have eaten once before later in the season.

Mountain wo-Man, an ocean-side, open air place with a patio, seems barely more than a chip wagon. It offers fish and chips, hot dogs, fried prawns and…poutine. Yeah, poutine. Scary. But I decide to run with it. Not bad.

Decent, skin on fries, salty, crappy (in a good way) dark brown gravy and real cheese curds. Cheese curds are known as squeakers here and hard to find, so I was not overly hopeful. It was good poutine…for BC, but not Ottawa chip wagon good. A side of prawns and tartar sauce was also well made, not greasy.

We arrive at Crystal Lodge in Whistler Village before check in so we walk about the village briefly before settling on the patio of Brasserie des Artistes. The colourful view of bedding plants, tourists, bikes, dogs, awnings and brellas, bustles and makes for great people and dog watching with a beer in the sun. I cannot see the massive mountains from my seat and could swear I’m in Mont Tremblant.

I order a Whistler Grapefruit Ale with a tart pink grapefruit finish. Not sweet like a radler.

Very nice. Rob had the Driftwood White Bark Witbier. Heavy on the clove and coriander flavours with secondary citrus notes. Very refreshing.

 We stick around for cocktails, still killing time. I opt for a very average Moscow Mule, not objectionable but probably saved by the atmosphere and Rob had a really good elderflower and lime cider. The lime was real and pulpy tasting, not artificial or cloyingly sweet. He won the round.

Dinner tonight will be at the well regarded Araxi Restaurant and Oyster Bar. 6:45 reservations inside. Evenings get quite chill here when the sun goes down. The diners consist of an eclectic mix of tourists in shorts and pajamas to the well dressed. We get comfortably seated and check out the menu. Our waitress, a sweet native of France’s Loire Valley with a charming accent and bubbly personality, delivers Cadillac Margarita cocktails. Cadillac involves the addition of orange juice and a smoky, salted rim. The smoke adds a pleasant note as you sip. A very well made marg but I do think I prefer the classic lime.

They have a small but decent raw bar with so many things I want…lobster cocktail, salmon tartare, oysters 5 ways and caviar. Hard to pass up excellent caviar. They have Northern Divine on offer. Yes please.! Northern Divine, a farmed, sustainable BC Sturgeon caviar melts and pops lightly salty on the tongue.

It comes with classic accoutrements…finely diced chive, egg white, egg yolk and creme fraiche.  Paired with a cold glass of Tattinger,  this caviar makes for a special treat albeit a very expensive one. 30 oz., fully prepped, goes for $169 tonight.

Our waitress has paced our courses as we had requested. Mains arrive leisurely after we linger on the caviar. I’m having the fresh BC halibut in season now for a few weeks. The fish comes with a braised leek and cabbage veg but more notably, with a delicate bed of barley lightly scented with anise and a smoky, buttery, charred side of rapini. The char removes the bitterness typical of rapini.

Rob had local pork two ways, with a hammy, smoked pork tenderloin and then pork belly on a bed of asparagus and whipped parsnip. The tenderloin had a cured snap to it that was unique, and the pork belly was slow-roasted, tender and juicy.

Dessert. Yup still had room to share a small dessert. Rob picks the lemon tart. The delicate, lemony, jiggly filling on a shortbread crust dissolves wonderfully on the tongue. Topped with shreds of sweetened lemon zest and accompanied by a creamy Tahitian vanilla ice cream that tastes faintly of goat’s milk, raspberry coulis and fresh blueberries,  served with excellent cappuccinos makes for a perfect dessert and the end of a lovely first evening in Whistler.

Pioneertown and Tapas!

Today we headed out towards Pioneertown, an interesting little town in anticipation of finding some grub and good photo ops. Pioneertown was constructed in the 1940s by Gene Autry to house movie folk and to act as the setting when they shot cheesy westerns.

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Today it is an unincorporated community of artisans and hippies, living in the old set houses. When we arrive there are a few other tourists wandering around. A few places seem open and others not so much.

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The entire place has kind of a weird, unsettling vibe about it. Should I go in this shop? Is it just part of a set? Is that person sitting outside, a home owner Actor? Shopkeeper?

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Pappy and Harriet‘s is a large building that houses a pub of sorts. It is 3/4 full on this Thursday and more people keep coming. The food is decent but not all that remarkable. Not sure why there is a crowd. We are in the middle of nowhere.

This aft we vegged around the pool sucking back cocktails and enjoying a great conversation with a group of people from Minnesota down for an anniversary. It is sunny and 73 degrees. So pleasant.

Tonight, our last evening in Palm Springs we decide to go down the road to the Saguaro  resort to dine at Tinto, a tapas bar by iron chef Jose Garces.

We opt for the chef selection and wine pairing. It begins with a lovely selection of mixed olives lightly dressed in olive oil and orange, and a dish of smoked almonds. This comes paired with a delicious, bubbly Spanish rosé.

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Shortly a selection of Spanish cheeses and chorizo, Iberico and Serrano ham arrives. The cheeses are served with acacia honey and a quince paste, just a little sweet to cut the fat of the cheese. The meat is thin and drizzled with olive oil, and accompanied by a quenel of Spanish egg salad.

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Next a cast iron dish of perfectly caramelized brussel sprouts with bacon and manchego arrives as does a wonderful Spanish white.

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This is followed by a rice dish with a poached egg. The egg is broken into the rice making for a rich, creamy, decadent dish. There were large pieces of green pepper in the rice which provided a green, fresh flavour.

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Shrimp bathed in a garlic butter sauce and served with toasted baguette  for dipping appear as well.

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At this point we are very full. A red Malbec arrives and a large portion of grilled steak, accompanied by a well made bright chimichurri , fingerling potatoes and mushroom.

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Our server delivers an excellent sherry from chef Garces’ private collection to accompany dessert. We are way too full for desert but who can resist perfectly fried, light, cinnamony, sugary puffs of fried air.  Chocolate ice cream and chestnut foam on flourless something or other round out the plate but I can eat no more….unless there were more donuts.

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All in all an excellent meal with excellent wine pairings. I would complain that some of the servings were too large and served near the end rather than the beginning of the meal.

 

Palm to Pine Highway and Some Vietnamese-ish

After a luxurious sleep in, I roll over and read a few chapters while Rob takes a bidness call, we hop in the KIA and head up to Palm Desert and the Palm to Pine Highway. This winding roadway will take us up three thousand feet past spectacular views of the Coachella Valley at our feet. Further on there will be views of the snowy peaks of San Jacinto and Santa Rosa, and beyond that, lunch awaits at the Paradise Valley Cafe.

IMG_4204Palm to Pines highway is a well maintained, slightly harrowing climb through mountain passes with spectacular views. Don’t look Rob, just drive! We pull into a few turnoffs (which allow faster traffic to pass) to take photos before we come to the main vista point overlooking Coachella.

IMG_4197The views of the Coachella Valley from this vantage are spectacular, marred only by douchebag cretins who think nothing of tossing their trash over the barrier and in the parking areas.  The view of the Valley below and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains is a symphony of pastels beginning with the azure blue of the clear sky, the pinks, buffs, greys, apricot, rust and mocha of the rocky peaks to the green sage dotting the rock faces and crevices in a bid for a foothold. Teddy bear cholla cactus, agave, century plant and octillo make their home below the 3000 foot elevation. These plants become more sparse, giving way to pinion pines at the higher elevations, where we get the best views of St. Jacinto and Santa Rosa. We left the towering, stately, royal palms at the base of our climb.

IMG_4206After an hour drive to conquer 24 miles of twisting, rising roads, we come upon the Paradise Valley Cafe.

IMG_4509They are only serving lunch by 11:30 which is fine. They are known for their burgers and Rob orders The Harley Davidson,  with a whole green chili and cheese. It was a great, homemade angus burger with fresh toppings. Definitely fit the burger jones he was feeling.

FullSizeRender-2I went with the chicken burrito, spying spumoni ice cream on the menu…maybe later. The burrito comes out the size of a football. It is stuffed with rice, chicken and refried beans, smothered in cheese and enchilada sauce, accompanied by both red and green salsas, each of which have quite a bit of heat.

IMG_4512While excellent, I am not playing hockey 9 times a week anymore. It is a struggle to finish half. No spumoni for me. Although we did not indulge, Paradise has quite an interesting beer menu.

IMG_4510No one however, not even passengers , should be drinking beer and then hitting the Palms to Pines. More caffeine, please!

Back at the Ace for a little photo work and cocktails! Three Desert Facials (vodka, pineapple, cucumber, and mint) in and I decide it is a good time to play some ping pong. Best of three! I won’t say who won…ok I won but it was uncomfortably close. The man has a wicked back spin.

This evening we are headed a short drive from our hotel to dine at  Rooster and The Pig, a contemporary vision of Vietnamese cuisine. Not much to look outside and nestled into a small strip mall, there is a small crowd waiting for seats. We get on the list and are seated within minutes. By 6:45 there is a large crowd waiting. The house front staff, wait staff and from what I can see of the kitchen staff, are not Vietnamese. The resto is sparsely decorated with small mementos from Vietnam and a few favorite cookbooks. Clearly this is a labour of love of Vietnamese food.

The house is full of 40 and 50 year old diners with the exception of two twenty somethings beside us. In Vancouver this place would have a younger vibe, but Palm Springs is an old town and this crowd is “young”.

Our server brings us a amuse bouche of a spicy rice porridge, speckled with a little shredded chicken, scallion and roasted garlic. A delicious way to quick up your appetite for more spicy food. This kitchen as we found, was not afraid of garlic and chilies!

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The menu is not very large and that in itself is different than most Vietnamese places. There are starters, mains to be shared and “autumn rolls” which are the same as summer rolls, delicious things wrapped in rice paper and dunked in noc cham. The Rooster and Pig offers a number of fillings in their rolls, all of which are inspiring and unique. We chose one with lemongrass pork, date, cucumber, carrot and daikon glass noodle. Fresh and delicious. Other rolls came with wood ear and green papaya and I wish I could have sampled them all.

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Next up we tried the charred brussel sprouts, an unusual ingredient on a Vietnamese menu. Sauteed in tons of fresh garlic and fish sauce and tossed with thin slices of a pepperoni like Asian sausage, they were a standout.

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Mains took a really long time to come out but as we were in no hurry, it was nice to have a little down time to digest our starters. We ordered three mains to share which was a bit ambitious now that I think of it.

First up was a crispy beef and noodle. The thin egg noodles were very well dressed with scallions, onion and soy, and tossed with delicious morsels of crisp fried beef. The perfect noodle dish. Full on umami.

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The shrimp poppers were well thought out menu item but missed the mark somehow. Delicate cups of a well made bean custard and pieces of shrimp are folded into lettuce leaves with a little red cabbage and noc cham. The noc cham overpowered the delicate custard. Maybe a little citrusy sauce would have been more complimentary.

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Our third main was a more classic dish of spicy garlic shrimp and green beans bok choy, onions and chanterelles in a very spicy chili sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked but overpowered again by the chili sauce. The green beans however, were the star of this dish and really stood up nice to the chilis.

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Rooster and the Pig is an inspired take on Vietnamese cuisine, incorporating classic dishes with new and fresh ingredients. I could return there daily for the sprouts, autumn rolls and the crispy beef noodles.

 

 

 

 

Joshua Tree, Jaliscan and Italian

Today we decided to let the wind take us. We doodled around the main drag checking out little shops and were frankly kinda bored. So we hoped in the car and headed to 29 Palms. Mostly so Rob could take a photo for some ex-band mates, referencing the Robert Plant song. The drive is very picturesque and enjoyable. The mountains, as all mountains are, are mesmerizing. We pass wind farms and desert scrub while our front vista is the gorgeous Sierra Nevadas. As we ride higher in elevation and the scene changes little, but the mountains envelope you.

On the return from 29 Palms, which aside from the pretty desert drive is nothing to right home about, we decided to check out Joushua Tree National Park. $20 gets you a 7 day pass. The road into the park leads us past humble desert abodes and a few upscale but not over the top, colourful homes built into the landscape. The builders seem to know what they have and use it to the best of their means.

Joshua is a pristine National Park at the center of two deserts, the Mohave and the Colorado. It is a chilly 58 degrees once you leave the valley. The only trees above the scrub are the pointy, prickly poodle tufts of the Joshua. They dot the landscape and oversee the lesser vegetation and small cacti.

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It is January and the desert is awaiting its spring burst to life, but there is plenty to see.  Deserts, despite their name, are teeming with life, insects, birds wheeling overhead, small and medium sized mammals and lizards and reptiles skittering across roadways and under bushes. The stone hills, the only relief taller than the Joshuas,  look carefully stacked and like they could tumble at any moment, but in reality they have been formed by millions of years of volcanic activity and weathered by wind and water.

IMG_4185On the return trip we intend to check out a little BBQ place we saw on the way in, but alas it is closed until Super Bowl Sunday. Decision made. Tacos at the scrabbled together Jaliscan Mexican joint attached to the Jaliscan tire mart.

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They don’t speak English and we muddle through ordering. How can you go wrong? You can’t really. One look and you know it is authentic Mexican and you will leave with happy mouth.

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We ordered up 3 kinds of soft tacos, pork carnitas, al pastor and carne asada with two Modela beers.  The tacos, $1.50 each, came on two 3 inch soft, corn tacos with a little raw, sweet onion and a choice of red or green salsa. Total for 6 tacos and two beers, $13.30. Perfect.

Back at the inn we chill around the pool as the sun sinks behind Mount St. Jacinto, with icy drinks and catch up on the day. Tonight we we will walk across the street to dine at Appetito, for some light Italian fare.

It is a short, pleasant walk to Appetito in the chill desert evening air. The place is half full on this Tuesday evening and we grab what ever table we want. We order a nice bottle of chianti and consider the menu.

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Clam linguine for me and spaghetti with Sunday sauce for the man. The linguine was classic, garlic and white wine with perfectly cooked pasta.

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Rob’s Sunday sauce was a nice sweet tomato and the pork sausage was tight with  sweet Italian spices and a lot of fennel. We were offered regular or large portions which was really appreciated.

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The regular size was perfect and allowed us a little room to share a dessert of Kahlua bread pudding.  Cappuccinos arrive (average) and a piece of excellent, caramelly coffee bread pudding that could easily feed six.

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While very good, I am not sure of the point of this. It was far to large a portion for two of us let alone the single it was intended for.

Back to the hotel for a little reading and a little research for what to do tomorrow.