Vancouver Staycation

Usually, we are on the road for two weeks this time of year. We haven’t managed to hit the road since moving to BC. Too busy exploring our new world close to home. Not much has changed this year. Earlier this year we booked our petsitter, for a four-day vaycay, destination to be determined. Our choices were limited this year by wildfires still burning in much of BC. We settled on the big city, a 40-minute trip, where we are still very much tourists. We are treating ourselves to four all-star restos, pared down from a list of 40. AND the Hotel Georgia, an elegant, grand dame built in the 1920’s and newly renovated, known for its superb service, downtown local, and an excellent bar.

The day, hot and sunny, marred only by the smoke of new wildfires, and the knowledge of the weather turning to rain and cloud tomorrow has us cruising into the city at our leisure for a late lunch at Meet, a vegan eatery on Main Street.

Meet, very much a homemade hippy enclave features a creative menu showcasing a large “burger” selection, including the famous Beyond Meat patty (unavailable currently everywhere in Canada due to its popularity), coconut bacon, real ice tea, rice bowls and mushroom calamari. A small tv over the bar is playing Little Shop of Horrors.

For starters we shared the sweet-chilli cauliflower fritters, beer battered and glazed with a sticky-sweet tamarind chilli-ginger glaze. They promise to be addictive, and they are. Sweet with a mild heat, well-fried and not greasy.

Rob and I both choose burgers, The Meet for me and The Mighty Mac for Rob. The patties are thick and tasty. Nuts and mushroom are the predominant flavours. The bun is soft and the toppings fresh. Crispy onions on mine add a nice crunch. Rob’s burger came slopped on with a pile of mac and cheese which was tasty enough with what I imagine was a cashew-based cheese. The well made skin-on fries are served on the side with chipotle mayo and a rather dull salad of greens, shredded carrot and beet and little or no dressing.

Meet gets a bit noisy when half full but you can be seated outside if you like. The bathrooms are NOT clean ( have not had a good scrubbing in some time) and almost a deal breaker. Service is slow, so don’t go in a hurry, but if you are looking for creative vegan, check it out.

Tonight we are eating Thai at Maenam, a sister resto to Longtail, a more casual place we have previously enjoyed. We can’t get a taxi at this time of day, so the Hotel Georgia sent their Bentley around to take us to dinner. An unexpected treat for sure.

Maenam in Kits is small, clean, modern and not particularly Thai in design. Seated by a window overlooking a busy, vibrant street, beers are ordered, and menus are oohed and ahhed over. Choices are hard. Finally, despite being momentarily tempted by the chef’s menu, we settle on two appies and two mains to share.

The grilled Thai sausage and crispy rice salad was a lime bomb! So delicious with fermented pork sausage, crispy curried rice puffs, coriander, lemongrass, ginger, fried chillies and limey goodness. The portion size, a bit substantial for an appetizer, should be shared family style as with most of the menu items.

The Thai “tacos” with mungbean wafers and their crisp, light sweetness, were stuffed with Dungeness crab meat, coriander root and young coconut. Elegantly presented with a few flower petals and some gold leaf, I would go back time and again just for these.

We rounded the meal out with 8-spice lingcod, crunchy and caramelized with a palm sugar tamarind sauce and crispily fried basil leaves as well as a classic pad Thai with shrimp.

Excellent on all counts, food, service and clean bathrooms.

Rob’s Bullshit Food Terms

A warning: This is a curmudgeonly and cynical rant. Maybe I’m the only one who cares about how words are used around here or being a positioning and messaging guy, I have a lower tolerance for words that are used to either disguise bad things or words that have little to no meaning at all, except to lull the reader with some vague association.

Here’s a short list of what’s bugging me lately, plucked from the menu of a dining establishment near you.

  • Fall-off-the-bone tender. Usually, this describes ribs. Most real barbeque doesn’t do this unless it’s a bone-in pork butt that’s been smoking for 14 hours. Certainly not ribs. It’s binary. Either you’ve smoked the ribs just right and they will have a little pull to them, or you’re serving boiled meat that’s been grilled to finish.
  • Piled high. This means one thing if you’re talking about Nachos — a pile of unadorned tortilla chips under the top layer of goodies and chips. The best nachos are served flat unless they really are piled high with layers of toppings, and the plate weighs 20 pounds.
  • Flavour profile. Do you mean “flavour”? This is one of those useless terms people use to sound smart, like “incentivize” instead of “incent,” or “utilize” instead of “use.”
  • Flavourful. Well, duh. Is its size sizable too?
  • Unctuous. Unctuous means oily, or greasy. It’s one of those terms you hear people use to describe something that tastes rich or luxurious. They use it because they heard someone else use it. And so on. And so on. Nobody in that chain bothered to look it up. I did.
    Merriam-Webster defines it this way:
          a: fatty, oily
          b: smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
    If you know what it really means, it is NOT an appealing food term. It’s a flat-out insult.
  • Artisanal. Made by an artisan? Can I see their papers? Doesn’t this mean that someone took care in preparing something, so it’s good? Artisanal muffins. Artisanal pizza. Artisanal hot dogs. It loses meaning.
  • “Handmade” or “Hand” anything. Those crappy deep-fried cubes of breakfast potatoes are handmade. Places that have to brag about that shouldn’t need to brag about that.
  • “Deconstructed” anything. I don’t pay you to “un-cook.” Please construct my food.
  • Superfood. Look in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a nominally more nutritious food than the average!
  • Natural. Cyanide. Poison Ivy. Asbestos. Mosquito bites. Mercury. Sulphuric Acid. And your granola. Yippee.
  • All-Natural. What does this even mean?
  • Harvested. Well, I’m not sitting down to it in the field with a knife and fork. What’s the alternative?

I’m sure there are plenty of others. What are your favourites?

Little Gem Nestled in the Fraser Valley

Hot as all get out in the Fraser Valley this week. Air quality, reduced due to elevated ground ozone levels, means keeping outdoor activity on the down low or in the water. I got out early to do a 5k walk with the pooch, and then Rob and I spent some quality time at our local farmer markets.

We picked up an excellent late-July haul. Ruby radishes, onions, perfect, round, amethyst baby eggplants which will find their way into an Indian curry, and padron peppers which will be grilled with salt and olive oil then spritzed with lime for a snack. Mushroom guy was back and I chose an array of mixed mushrooms because I cannot resist beautiful fungi, and I scored some gorgeous bright green jalapenos that are gonna be reincarnated into jars as super zesty bread and butter pickles. Found some beautiful, yellow umbrels of dill alongside some young, spiny pickling cukes destined to be spicy dills and bread and butter slices, and picked up some pretty orange squash blossoms that I am going to stuff with local Golden Ears Neufchatel, dip in tempura batter and serve on a tomato relish inspired by 10 Acres Kitchen in Victoria.

Driving through the Valley in air-conditioned comfort seems to be the way to go today. We will be stopping at The Fraser Valley Cidery on the way home for lunch. Chef Adrian Beaty is in the house, and we want to check out the new cider flavour people have been raving about, Black Currant and Cardamom.

The Cidery, located on 16 Ave in Langley Township, can easily be missed, tucked away back behind some buildings, despite being marked by towering road flags. We discovered this gem about three years back, when it first opened. Our foodie meetup checked it out as part of the Circle Farm Tour when it was a very new operation, with 4 flavours of cider, a charcuterie board on offer, a few seats inside and a lawn chair or two outside. Since then the cidery has continued to grow and mature, adding a few new flavours, planting an orchard, building a patio, hosting paint nights and long table events, all the while, maintaining its adorable homemade charm in the shadow of the Cascade mountain range and snow-covered peak of Mount Baker.

New this summer, Chef Adrian, formerly of Seasonal 56 (a mourned farm-to-table closing) hosts a small menu of creative fare from an outdoor kitchen, Chef Shack, on the patio. Far as I can tell the menu is never the same.

We are meeting up with two friends and their pups who are coming in from a low-tide walk at White Rock. The cidery’s patio is probably the best dog-friendly patio in the Vancouver metro area. Easy going staff love ’em, water is provided, and fur babies can lounge comfortably beside their owners as they munch.

Our party today tried about 90 percent of the menu. Serving sizes while not huge are large enough to share. Rob and I decided on the feta and chipotle cornbread with cumin-lime butter, pan-fried potatoes with aioli and chicken quesadillas. Our friends had the same fare but added the shaved ham sammy and the buffalo yogurt pannacotta.

First off though, we all sipped the cidery’s latest, Black Currant Cardamom delivered in buckets on ice with their elegant cider glasses. It has become a favourite with everyone. Our friends have enjoyed it before, but the flavour has become more widely available only now. The cider, delicately sweet, has a light bubble on the tongue, with just a hint of berry and spicy cardamom. Other flavours in their inventory include Rosy (raspberry), Scrummy (A British style cider which we have at home but have not tried yet), Smoked Sage (not available ’til next week and a fave of anyone who has tried it. Excellent with chicken or fowl), Elderflower (a perennial favorite, no pun intended, with most everyone and I believe their best seller), House, and Bone Dry (not my preference but probably deserves a second go).

We sip icy cider in sweating glasses and wait for our food. The chicken quesadillas are small, thin, delicate. They are easy to eat and delicious with fresh, chunky pico de gallo and avocado cream.

Chef’s skin-on pan-fries are so much better than a plate of French fries. Adrian pan fries them first and then oven-roasts them leaving them creamy and nutty on the inside, crispy on the outside and hot enough to start soaking in the cider-mustard aioli dressing.

The cornbread was fresh and tasty, uniquely studded with feta and offered with a side of cumin-lime butter. Good but not a standout for me. I would prefer an oiler cheese like a cheddar and a little more heat in the butter.

Our friends shared the shaved ham sandwich, which looked drool-worthy. The meat was generous and luscious. Not the stuff of your local deli. Look at the pic! Made on a good roll and complemented with an inspiring combo of Jersey blue cheese, apple butter, and micro greens, it looked amazing, and it was reported that it indeed was.

Rob and I did not try the pannacotta either as we needed to head out, but on the way home I received a phone call to report that they had eaten the pannacotta and it was a game changer. Wow. I wanna head back lol.

Chef Adrian serves on weekends, but not always. He has other commitments and it may be weather dependent so always check with the cidery before heading out. Cannot recommend this place highly enough for its relaxing, idyllic atmosphere, wonderful cider, pleasant staff and excellent food experience. Truly a worthy way to celebrate summer in the Fraser Valley.

You can also pick up their delicious cider in their distinctive ceramic-topped bottle at local farmer’s markets, some private liquor stores such as Liberty and if you’re lucky you will find it occasionally on a restaurant menu.

10 Acres Kitchen – You need to go here

Last day on the island and we are heading up the coast to visit a high school chum at his float home in Maple Bay. The drive up the Trans-Canada and through the Cowichan Bay area reminds me of cottage country anywhere in Canada. Sun-parched grass and rock faces.

The big difference being glances of ocean and mountains through Sitka spruce and gorgeous outcroppings of cinnamon barked arbutus trees high on rocky promontories.

We drive through the sun-washed, salt-worn seaside town of Cowichan Bay, on the scenic route detour off the Trans-Canada, past a happening folk festival and on to the Shipyard restaurant, a classic friendly seafood joint on Maple Bay where we come upon Salty Steve chilling in the sun, checking out the local talent on guitar and sax. We go way back with Steve.

This is our first visit to the marina where he makes his home. We share an idyllic meal wharfside and catch up, take selfies to mark the occasion and head back to Victoria where we get held up by construction and cottagers heading back to real life.

Last evening we had a very memorable dinner at 10 Acres Kitchen on Humbolt in Victoria. So remarkable in fact I must insist that if you are in town you need to go as well. There were several items on the menu that we wanted to try last night and so we went back this evening. Staff did not seem all that surprised to see us again. They know they good.

The two apps that we had to bypass last night were the Tomato Panzanella Salad and “Toast.” They did not disappoint. The salad of large chunks of toasty sourdough drenched in good quality EVO and balsamic, topped with farm-fresh basil and succulent strawberry tomatoes, shavings of Parmesan and warm milky fresh mozzarella was everything I hoped for.

The toast was a simple dish — great crab claw meat and sweet BC tiny wild shrimp all melty and gooey with gruyere on …toast. Spectacular.

On every menu, at every restaurant, we visited this weekend in Victoria there seemed to be a clam linguine option. I make pretty spectacular clam linguine myself and am often tempted then disappointed when I order it. Too liquidy and light on clams usually. Until tonight, I successfully avoided the dish. I thought, why not? Even poor clam linguine is pretty good with a glass of vino. I order the Vongole at 10 Acres. I am disappointed again because it’s seriously up a notch and better than mine.

The oven-dried tomato embellishment gave the loose, but not thin, sauce a depth of flavour that was inspired. The addition of a bit of fresh spinach added a little green freshness that brightened the overall flavours. A generous helping of plump clams and perfectly cooked linguine makes 10 Acres’ version of the Italian classic the best I have ever had. A glass of cherry, smokey Foxtrot pinot noir put this meal way over the top.

Rob had the Berryman Farm Porkchop with garlic and chilli summer squash and parmesan polenta. Rich and luscious, it was very generous, almost a rack of pork. Our puppy will be nearly as happy as Rob was upon tasting it.

Our new fave?

This morning starts out crisp and sunny. A beautiful day in BC’s capital. We breakfast at a funky diner, Spoons. On the way, we duck into a Chevy dealer to check out the Chevy Bolt in our quest to find an electric vehicle that suits our needs. This only further clouds the contender list.

Spoons, an eclectic diner, with booths and stools, checkerboard linoleum, and framed classic movie posters offers well-made creative diner fare. You can even let the kitchen whip up a surprise for you. Portions are overly large, and coffee is passable. On the whole, Spoons is a pleasant spot to grab breakfast.

Today we are headed to Butchart, Victoria’s famed gardens. Butchart Gardens are not a botanical garden but are somewhat more akin to a Gentleman’s hobby garden on a grand scale.

The plantings are a must-see in Victoria. As a horticulturalist, I was hoping for more specimen plants, particularly in the Japanese garden area, but was satisfied with the use of annuals to create spectacular broad vistas of colour.

The lack of plant identification on site was a bugaboo for me, but a Plant ID desk maintained in the information area of the main square upon entering or leaving the gardens suffices to answer some of my questions.

We opt out of lunch after our heavy diner breakfast and have early dinner reservations at 10 Acre Kitchen, a two-block walk from our hotel on Humbolt. Heading over a tad early on purpose, we grab a cocktail in the bar. Classic night tonight: An old-fashioned for me and a dirty martini for the man. Excellent.

The bar menu looks and smells delish, and I almost wish we were eating there. In retrospect, I am glad we waited. The best was yet to come.

10 Acres Kitchen uses fresh, innovative ingredients, much of it raised ethically on their farm in Saanich or procured from like-minded farmers and fishers. Both dinner and service were pretty much perfect from beginning to end.

When I want five items from the starters menu, that says something. We settled on two to share: Zucchini blossoms, a first for both of us, and Humbolt squid. Three squash blossoms, stuffed with smooth, creamy goat cheese, were then so very delicately battered and fried and plated on a most excellent vinegary, complex tomato relish, and completed with a sprinkling of peppery wild arugula leaves.

The second starter, Humbolt squid, presented with meaty pieces of squid, imaginatively paired with a chunky “satay” of peanut, chilli and lime, with crisp plantain pieces. Both of these plates will live in memory for some time and inspire me in my kitchen.

Rob has been jonesing for steak since I have stopped eating and cooking mammals this year. His medium-rare strip came with a chimichurri sauce, some fresh corn pudding and a mix of foraged mushrooms. A Haywire Pinot Noir Reserve completed the story.

I chose the halibut which was delivered perfectly seared and nestled on a crisply fried rosti potato cake in a pool of lemony Bernaise. Perfectly sauteed farm fresh kale rounded out this entree. Paired with a Poplar Grove Viognier from the Okanagan, this meal was divine on all counts. And we haven’t even had dessert yet.

I spy a special Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest 1966 for $42 a glass. Ouch. Worth it or no? I flip a text to the son in law, my go-to sommelier.
Damn. Working and unavailable. My daughter Hannah is the next best resource. After a few texts back and forth we decided to order and share a glass with our dessert. #yupworthit.

I selected a chocolate tart with island berries and blackberry ice cream. The thin tartlette was rich and but not cloyingly sweet. Perfect blackberries and blueberries adorned the tart, some frozen, icily delicious and pretty with a dusting of lacy frost, some fresh.

Rob’s elevated blueberry cheesecake arrived with a similar mix of berries for texture, both flash frozen and fresh.

This memorable meal was capped with Jamaican French Press…mmm. I want to return tomorrow for the things I could not have tonight. 10 Acre Kitchen has been the dining highlight of our trip.