Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Tale of Many Breakfasts Part 2: Diners

 I don't know if this is a city-specific thing, but Vancouverites have a weird habit of lining up for meals that may not be bad, but certainly aren't worth waiting for. Sophie's Cosmic Cafe? Stepho's on Davie? The Red Wagon? They're okay, guys. Not great, not exceptional. Just okay. But hey, if you want to waste your time lining up, go ahead. I'll be across the road at some underappreciated breakfast haunt, getting served the best breakfast ever in record time. 

You can add Jethro's Fine Grub to that list of places I won't be lining up at any time soon. I've been curious about this place for a while now: it's in my 'hood and it's always jumping on weekends. Last Thursday I took my mom there for brunch, and was left wondering what the fuss was about. We're both Benny freaks, so it was smoked salmon bennies for both of us. Utterly unremarkable (and expensive) bennies. A plain, lightly toasted English muffin (not crisp enough to stand up to the double onslaught of egg yolk and Hollandaise sauce), a piece of meh smoked salmon, a decent egg, some ok sauce. Nothing terrible, nothing great. Rounded out by some very dull potatoes and absolutely no extras: an unattractive presentation. 
I must admit that I spied shamelessly on other diners' meals and the pancakes looked insanely huge, as did a breakfast burrito. But I prefer my pancakes thin and crisp (actually, I basically just prefer crepes and am always sorry when I order pancakes and waffles for breakfast). Coffee The service was very friendly and pleasant, but because the room itself has absolutely no atmosphere, it's not a place I'd want to linger. Which, given their lineups, is probably the idea. Sorry Jethro's but I've had better meals in far cheaper spots. 

Which brings me to Joe's/Nelly's Grill(s).
Confusingly named, because Joe's used to be on West 4th, but is now located on Main Street. While the one on 4th Avenue is now Nelly's (apparently a relation to Joe). Get it? Don't worry about it. Just go there if you want an affordable, no-frills breakfast that won't bankrupt you.
My sweetie and I go to Nelly's (I still think of it as Joe's) on 4th quite regularly and I always get The Brit because I'm charmed by a breakfast place that serves baked beans with toast and eggs. As a child of British parents, I ate beans-on-toast every week ("please put the beans beside the toast, mummy, so it doesn't get soggy"), so this dish is pure nostalgia. I tell a lie though, because last time I got some kind of hash and it was fan-freakin'-tastic. Poached eggs, nice salty fried potatoes and veggies... Sorry Brit, I've found a new fave. Service is brisk and friendly, and prices are decent. This is a no-frills-no-trendy-no-lines kinda joint. You don't have to go out of your way to go here, because your own 'hood probably has something similar. But these guys do it well. 
Joe's/Nelly's is at 3048 Main St and 2061 w.4th Ave
Photo courtesy of my sweetie, who is never too busy
eating to social-media the hell out of something.

Hey, speaking of doing it well, Sunshine Diner is kicking ass and taking names when it comes to breakfast. Can you get past the way-over-the-top '50's diner decor, complete-if that is the word- with life-sized Elvises and Marilyns frolicking in plastic rigor mortis splendour? Well okay, I guess that's part of the charm, along with the sawed-off Chevy reservation desk just inside the door. Though he lives oh-so-close, my guy had never been to Sunshine, and it had been years for me. So off we went, on a late Saturday morning. Although there was a lineup, we were both appeased by the free coffees that materialized for all of us who were waiting outside (there's not much room to wait inside). It's the little touches like that that make for good customer service. Also, we only had to wait about 10 minutes, which is respectable. 
Yeah, we both ordered Bennies. I had a half order of the Popeye (avocado, cream cheese, a delicious mushroom slice, asparagus and spinach) and my guy had the Blackstone. These were Bennies done right: crispy muffins, delicious Hollandaise, perfect poached eggs. Served, cutely, with a bowl of crispy brown potatoes and a really nice fruit bowl: not your usual tired melon chunks but banana, apple, even blackberries. Presentation: on point. Major kudos for getting the carbs absolutely right and making us feel as though we were making a healthy choice by including a really good fruit bowl. This attention to presentation and balance (fruit to counter the fat and starch) was what was so sorely lacking at Jethro's. Sunshine could have cruised by on its kitsch, so I'm glad to see they're so much more than vaguely creepy plastic Elvis statues. 
Sunshine Diner is at 2649 West Broadway, in Kitsilano.

I'm going into Show Mode this week, as I'm in a musical that's opening on Tuesday. I foresee a lot more eating out in my near future. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Tale of Many Breakfasts: Part One

I've been eating out non-stop.

Blame my schedule, which is not conducive to home cookin' right now, or blame a sudden upsurge on the financial front, but I've definitely been chowing down at a LOT of restaurants lately. Unfortunately, a lot of it's the stuff-this-late-night-donair-down-my-gullet-at-11pm kind, rather than quality eats. I even had a convenience store tuna sandwich the other day, and that is about as low as you can go. 

The good thing about my schedule is that my work doesn't start 'til afternoon. Which leaves a lot of time for breakfast. Oh, the breakfasts I've had lately! 
I admit, these are all on the fancy-breakfast end of the spectrum. No cheapo greasy spoons here. But with Reno's closing (although a note on the door says they'll reopen in 2016), my go-to greasy spoon is out of commission. On, then, to the following places, which range from coffee bars to actual restaurants. Here is Part One, which deals with places that are not so much breakfast joints but manage to do a mean brekkie anyway...

33 Acres Brewing Company
So.Much.White.  It's a Hipster thing.  Photo courtesy of a site called Wit & Delight
I'm not sure I'm totally qualified to review 33 acres, given that
a) I dislike beer and 
b) I've never tried their weekend brunch waffles, although I hear good things. 

In my defence, 33 Acres- located at 15 West 8th- has pretty minimal seating, and I dread the idea of waiting in line for breakfast, as I've mentioned before. However, if you go of a weekday morning the place will be mostly peaceful and while the waffles are unavailable it doesn't really matter because there is still a limited but delicious selection of breakfast-y items. 
Yes eggs (poached being the only option), yes toast (chewy, hearty bread from Nelson The Seagull)... but if you're me, you've met your true love in the Muy Caliente. Get it on a buttery, flakey biscuit: sliced avocado and poached egg with a drizzle of honey, a sprinkling of sea salt, and the most delicious sweet/spicy red pepper jelly on the side. It's my new favourite brekkie, no lie. One day, I WILL be back later in the day to check out their food truck pairing (different ones park out there every day of the week), as well as 33 Acres' own charcuterie plates and their house cider (sadly only available in-house at this point). The coffee is also wonderful. I'm on the fence about their aesthetic because it's so very, very Hipster- all white tiles and sparseness with copies of Kinfolk Magazine for sale. If you follow Socality Barbie on Instagram, you'll know what I mean when I say that she would be very much at home photographing her cappuccino here.  However, I have to admit it's a lovely space to sit in on a sunny morning, so I guess I'm more Hipster than I'd like to admit. 

Matchstick Coffee
Photo courtesy of Matchstick's website
Speaking of Hipster aesthetics, my local coffee bar would be the prototype. White tiles? Check. Warm wood to contrast the sterile whites? Check. Actual record player providing the house sound? Yup. Coffee being made in pretentious glass beakers? Oh yeah. Yet I can no longer mock them, because dammit, they are way too good! Not only their cappuccinos, which I love, but their baked goods and breakfasts as well. Buttery muffins (they tend to stick to 2 or 3 flavours), interesting savoury scones and- I'm serious here- THE best croissants I've ever had. I have strong opinions on croissants and these are incredible, the best mix of a buttery interior and a flakey exterior. Before 11 you can also have baked beans and poached eggs with their delicious toast, which is also of the heart-chewy variety. Matchstick has 2 locations: my local, which is where Fraser and Kingsway meet, and Chinatown, at 213 east Georgia. 

Marche St. George
Okay, by this point in the blog I'm having a battle within myself between the part of me that hates, just hates this trendy need to have everything be sparse and white or grey, as if colour and clutter were somehow gauche, and the part of me that really likes some of these places, despite their desperate trendiness. Check out Le Marche St. George's online store if you don't believe this is a thing. I looked at their textile page and immediately felt as if I was Dorothy in Kansas, seeing the world only in shades of grey. I like colour. I like it a lot, especially in my home. I would hate it if my room didn't have its red Persian rug, or my blue-and-red quilt.
On the other hand...
I love biking to the actual market (located on the corner of 28th and St. George Street in east Van) and eating a cheesy crepe while sipping coffee and listening to their excellent musical choices. You won't find eggs-and-bacon here, but the crepes are fabulous. They also sell very pricey and delicious indulgences like: drinking vinegar! Which is a thing (another trendy, trendy thing) I love, and I happily coughed up a twenty for a bottle of Pok Pok apple drinking vinegar, which is amazing when mixed with: sparkling water, a squirt of lime and a spoonful of pomegranate seeds. Or with vodka and cranberry. 
You can get a sweet or savoury crepe at Marche St. George (or a flatbread, or a croissant, or a pot pie) and if you're lucky (seating is very limited) you can sit inside, or head outside and grab a table out there if the weather's warm. Local parents obviously love this cafe, which is awesome, but it means that at certain times of day the cafe is filled with strollers and hip-but-still-exhausted moms. . In contrast to its uber-white-coloured online presence, the actual market gets major points for being warm, cluttered, wooden and welcoming. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of A Tale of Many Breakfasts, where I'll review Jethro's Fine Grub and The Sunshine Diner! Both refreshingly free of the colour white! 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Nature Box: Snacks In The Mail!

So, my brother has a wee bit of an internet shopping addiction fetish habit. It is a rare day that goes by without some tempting box arriving in the mail for him, usually with the word Amazon emblazoned on it somewhere. As the stay-at-home member of the household, the one who usually gets to take in the mail, this is frustrating in the extreme. Where is MY box? Where are MY treats?

Today was like Christmas for me: not only did a long-awaited cheque finally show up for me, but my first box of snacks from Nature Box also showed up! I'd read about this company from Amalah, a mom-blogger who regularly does sponsored posts. She's mentioned Nature Box a few times (as well as Blue Apron, which I wish would deliver in Canada but does not yet). Nature Box does deliver to Canada. And like the sleazy guy on the corner who's offering you your first hit of something addictive says: first one's free, kid. That's right, you can order your first snack box for free.

So natch, I was on it. I signed up on Nature Box's website. I selected five snacks. I waited, mostly patiently. Just over a week ago they emailed me to let me know that my box was en route from New York. And today it arrived! Excitedly, I placed the box on the kitchen table. And immediately, this happened:
"Hmm, what this?"
"Comfy AND crackly. I like."

The kitties in this house are obsessed with boxes. When I had finally removed the cat, my snacks sat waiting for me in all their glory.
Salted Caramel Pretzel Pops, South Pacific Plantains, Sriracha Cashews, Cinnamon Spiced Almonds and Sriracha Cashew Crunch (I like Sriracha, okay?). 

Here's the deal: you can sign up easily on Nature Box's website. Once you're signed in, you can select whether you want 3 or 5 snacks, and how often you want them to come. I chose once a month, but we'll see...  My subsequent boxes will cost 24.95 Canadian. The snacks don't come in huge bags, so it will be easy to finish them quickly. However, I like the idea of having healthy(ish) snacks in the house and not spending that money on impulse buys at the grocery store. You can build a flavour profile online, so Nature Box will know whether you like sweet, savoury, chewy, crunchy, or a mix of things. You can set up a virtual "Pantry" and they'll make up your next box from the top 5 (or 3, if that's your order size) items on the list.

But enough of that. What do the snacks taste like? I put together a little sample bowl of the 5 products I'd ordered: 

Cinnamon Spice Almonds: I wouldn't say they're spicy. Slightly sweet though, and with a good dusting of cinnamon. Pleasant, but not earth-shattering.
Sriracha Cashew Crunch: A mix of puffed corn, rice and cashews. Yeah! Nice sweet/spicy kick to these guys, and yes, they're definitely crunchy. These are good.
Sriracha Roasted Cashews: A bit mellower than their crunchy friends. Also very tasty, with that sweet/spicy buzz which is what I love about Sriracha.
South Pacific Plantains: I love plantain chips, so these were a no-brainer for me. Salty and mild on their own, they'd also be fantastic with any kind of dip.
Salted Caramel Pretzel Pops: Ah the trendiness of salted caramel anything. Like most pretzels, they're heavy on crunch, but light on substance. These were okay, but I wouldn't get them again. 

I just had more of the Sriracha Cashew Crunch, and it certainly cleared out the sinuses! 
In summary, I'd say the snacks are pretty yummy, and getting them delivered is a fun gimmick, although I think this service would make more sense in a rural setting where healthy snacks are maybe harder to come by.  I'll make up my mind after next month's delivery. For now I'm going to keep the boxes coming, and I can cancel at any time if I get tired of getting my snacks delivered. Now, at least once a month, there'll be a box waiting at the mailbox for me, instead of my brother. And it will be filled with tasty goodness. 

Warning: Cats may show increased interest in life with the arrival of your Nature Box. 

*This post was not sponsored in any way by Nature Box. Just so's ya know. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

In Praise of Your Local Pub

What a day. 

I didn't mean to write another entry so soon, but man, I could NOT cook at home tonight. Check it out: this morning I braved crazy winds for a late-season ocean swim. It happened to be incredibly warm and sunny yesterday, so my guy suggested we start today with an invigorating dip in the ocean. 
Invigorating, ha! A sandstorm swirled into our eyes as we struggled towards the water. A beautiful wooden sailing boat had grounded itself right up on the beach, an escapee from its moorings. "Are we gonna do this?" asked Jay, as we parked our bikes at the dog beach. "Fuck yeah," I growled, and shucked my shorts and tank top. Into the waves we went, watched by a bunch of incredulous dogs and their owners. Our hearts skipped a few beats, but the salt water scoured us clean. We hugged each other, as much for warmth as for joy, and beat a hasty retreat to Siegel's for toasted bagels, accompanied by enormous Americanos from Bean Around The World. 

Siegel's Bagels always makes me think of my earliest days away from home, when I moved out at 18 and went to live in Kitsilano. It's still open 24 hours, and their bagels are still chewy and delicious; the dense, small Montreal-style bagels that taste best toasted. I remember a time when I went illegally midnight skinny-dipping at the crazy retro apartment next door, and then had a wonderful warm bagel from Siegel's... But I digress. 

Skin still salty from my dip, I had to cycle like a demon to make an accordion concert at Spartacus Books... Which I would have done well to look up before I left Kits, as they've moved. More demonic cycling brought me to their new location, and my students did me proud. 

But after all that biking, I couldn't face the thought of cooking anything, and I needed a drink. So I biked up to my almost-local, the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub.
Obligatory stock photo of the pub. I didn't take any pictures today. Sorry.

Why do I like this place? 

  1. Because your neighbourhood pub needs to feel like a comfy slipper, somewhere you could almost go to in your pyjamas, and Cedar Cottage feels like that. Also: 
  2. Big (gas) fireplace, if you can score a couch seat in front of it. 
  3. It's below street level, which is a nice quirk. You enter just off Kingsway, go down some stairs, and there you are. 
  4. It's the kind of place you can go to by yourself if you're a chick, and you probably won't get hassled. 
  5. They still have a cigarette machine. Not that I'll use it, but I like that it's there. 
  6. The food and drink are satisfying. Nothing fancy, just filling and affordable. I had the perogies, loaded with sausage, bacon and onions, and a sleeve of Lonetree Cider. I almost always have the perogies. Yum.
  7. It hasn't been renovated into hipster coolness yet. Long may it not be. You'll find a mix of folks, all of them decidedly uncool, just like you. And yeah, the decor is a bit grubby understated, but that's what keeps it unpretentious in there. 
Okay, I really hate the fact that there are around 20 TVs in there. (No, I'm not exaggerating. I counted at least 18.) But that's because I couldn't give a rat's ass about sports. If you do, you're gonna love it here. 

By my estimate, I was home within 10 minutes of leaving Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub. That makes it officially my new local bar. Next time I have a crazy-epic-swimming-biking-accordion-adventure kind of a day, I'll see you there. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

From greasy spoon breakfast to baked kale, with an ice cream stop along the way.

First of all, can I just say that I got a new phone? Well, new to me; my sweetie had an extra one that had belonged to a friend, and he passed it on to me, knowing that I've been frustrated by my old phone's terrible camera. I took myself down to International Village Mall today to get a sleeve for it, and found myself walking through the aisles at Yokoyaya, because I find it so charming. I know I should be horrified by all the over-packaging, and I am, but...

There is something so charming about it, something that our western dollar stores lack entirely. Everything in Yokoyaya is- and I don't mean to sound patronizing here but I probably do - adorable. I guess it's the charm of the exotic, but also the beautiful colours and orderliness. When my life feels chaotic, I walk through Yokoyaya and think If only I had stacks of plastic lunch boxes, packages of sweet chopsticks and a box of perfect, tiny hairpins, my life would be so much better. 

But before my downtown excursion, there was Bon's Off Broadway. 

Look at this place! It's totally badass. Bon's has a grungy appeal. The walls are graffiti'd. You help yourself to coffee after the first serving. The place is packed- why? Because the basic breakfast is still $2.95, for god's sake! Jay and I both went for it. The portions were generous- no skimping here. 
My bacon was cooked just the way I like it and my potatoes were delicious, and had obviously been made from scratch rather than been poured out of a McCain's bag. Eggs and rye toast rounded out the plate. 

Jay had less-than-fond memories of Bon's but after this morning's feast he had to admit that it was better than he'd remembered. Look at this face- I think this man is enjoying his breakfast, don't you? Plus they basted his eggs, which many places don't (or won't) do. 
I'd definitely recommend Bon's over our other cheapo breakfast haunt, Reno's. The food is better and you can't beat the price! 

On my way home from downtown, I decided to go back to another place that Jay and I had checked out recently: Rooster's Ice Cream Bar, which is located dangerously close to where I live, on east Broadway. Apparently they had to open quite late in the summer, due to the fact that they had to do a lot of work on the property before they opened. Hopefully we'll have a warm autumn, so that they have a chance to make some good money before the cold and rain set in. 
The food blogger over at Nosh & Nibble gave these guys a good, comprehensive review last month, but I will add my two cents here: these guys make yummy ice cream! Definitely more down-to-earth and less hipster-precious than Earnest Ice Cream, this is home-made ice cream, east van style. 
Flavours on Parade.
On my first visit I had the coffee-toffee-chocolate crunch. The owner anxiously asked if the coffee flavour was strong enough, and I assured her that it was. It tasted like a lovely, milky cafe au lait. However, I was a little disappointed in the lack of crunch going on. I'm someone who likes good, thick chunks of stuff in my ice cream, and these guys seem to be a little more subtle. However, they make up for it with flavour: not only was my coffee ice cream delicious, but Jay had a real winner: a daring combination of avocado, honey, and vodka! It was nothing short of amazing. Bonus: he liked mine better, so we traded cones when we were about 2/3rds through. I love that man.
Today I had the raspberry cheese cake. Again, I found the cheesecake bits to be too small for me to really get the texture, but the raspberry flavour was wonderful. Looks as though these guys have some new additions to the menu coming this fall, so they'll certainly keep me coming back.

Of course, I can't eat like this all the time. People ask me: "how can you eat all this rich, delicious food and still keep your amazing figure?" (Actually, no one says that at all. Although I do eat out too much, I eat healthy meals at home a lot. And because I enjoy food, my figure certainly isn't without its extra curves.) 
But I digress. I was pretty self-indulgent today, so my evening meal was nothing more than a big bowl of home-made kale chips. I cannot believe how much companies charge for bags of these treats, so I never buy them. You can make them at home in under 15 minutes. Jay had bought me a big bunch of kale from the Kitsilano farmers market, so I washed it, ripped it up, patted it dry, and threw it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 325, tossed in a little olive oil, parmesan cheese, and salt. Delicious. Although I'd better not smile at anyone tonight; my teeth are probably covered in flecks of un-sexy green. 

Bon's Off Broadway is located at 2451 Nanaimo Street, Vancouver. 
Rooster's Ice Cream Bar is located at 1039 East Broadway 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Jackalope: Birthday Breakfast, the Hipster Herd Mentality, and Sizzling Skillets.

The end of August is a wistful time to have a birthday. You might get sunshine and heat. But even if you do, the leaves are changing and falling, there is a nip to the air as the sun sets, and the clouds are just as likely to start rolling in and reminding you that the seasons are changing.
Lucky me! Last Saturday was my birthday, but it will be remembered by Vancouverites not for being the happy day of my birth, but because there was an epic windstorm that left many thousands without power, and uprooted trees and flung branches far and wide. I tell you, it's been hard to believe that last Wednesday I was basking in the sun at the PNE. Even harder to believe that the PNE is still on. Feels like a lifetime ago.
Anyway, before the winds really ramped up on that fateful Saturday, my mom took me out for a birthday breakfast. Our first stop was Yolks, but I'd dragged my feet, as I'd forgotten it was the weekend. By the time we got there the lineup was out the door. Now, much as I love Yolks, I wasn't going to wait in any damn line, not on my birthday! So we did what any self-respecting people of gently English extraction do: we slunk away and tried to think of another place to eat that wouldn't be packed to the gills.
As we were in east van anyway, a thought struck me: why not try Jackalope? I'd looked them up recently and noticed that they had a brunch-on-weekends menu. We weren't far away... We hopped in the car and headed east to take a look.
As I suspected, the lineup across the street at Red Wagon was ridiculous, while Jackalope was warm, welcoming, and blessedly empty, considering the wind and threatening skies outside.
An aside here- In a city as large and as blessed with amazing restaurants as we are, it absolutely boggles my mind that people will line up for breakfast, or any other meal for that matter. But especially breakfast! Picture this: it's the weekend, perhaps it's your only day off after a tough work week. You want everything to go your way. You've slept in, you've stretched lazily, and now it's mid day and you're in serious need of sustenance. So you go to the same trendy place as every other hipster in the freakin' city and stand in line for an hour? What the actual fuck? There are so many places to eat in Vancouver! And while some places, like Yolks, put out a breakfast so seriously good that I would-almost-stand in line for them, most of them are mediocre at best. Okay, rant over. It works to my advantage anyway, because I will always look for the place that doesn't have a lineup, and now that I have a boyfriend who is practically allergic to waiting in line (and adores breakfast), this isn't about to change.
So, Jackalope. Serious hipster vibe: Tom Waits on the system, deer heads and the mythical Jackalope itself peering down from various walls, beefy wooden tables. (They call themselves a Dive Bar on their website. Guys, if you call yourself a dive, you're not one. Hell, if you have a damn website, you're not a dive bar.) But for all that it's trying a little hard, it's a charming place, and one that I'd like to hang out in some stormy winter night, drinking too many ridiculously delicious cocktails and boring someone with my life story.
Hey look, it's a Jackalope! 
In fact, I did hang out in Jackalope one night last year, with an ex-flame, and indeed drank at least one wonderful cocktail. Unfortunately, the evening- which had begun pleasantly enough- took a left turn into Awkwardsville when I mentioned that I was seeing someone new, and soon I had to scramble off to band practice, as both of us had had very different ideas of where the evening was going.
Now I was back, and determined to try a meal, because I remembered being sorely tempted last time I'd been there.
Jackalope loves their skillets, and many of their meals- especially of the brunch variety- nestle in mini skillets brought to your table resting on a wooden board. Watch your flailing limbs: these things are HOT! After some deliberation I ordered the Skillet Hash, with a side of bacon, and Mom ordered the Huevos Rancheros. Service was friendly, fast and attentive, and soon we were munching happily on our brunch. No lineups for us!
Jackalope's brunch menu.
My skillet hash was, in a word, fantastic, with some nice touches that elevated it above the everyday version. My notes simply say kale and corn in the hash, which is true- plus there was some yam in there as well, making the hash seem almost...healthy? (But in such a delicious, tasty way.) The bacon was meaty and cooked just right: not too crunchy, not too limp. Mom's Huevos Rancheros was also in a skillet (of course), and equally yummy, although I was in the mood for potatoes, not rice, so I was glad I'd chosen the hash instead. Our drip coffee was fine as well, although I'm an espresso girl, so I wished they'd had a machine. But that wouldn't really fit in with a dive bar, would it?
So now I've discovered what an excellent breakfast Jackalope does, will I be back? Damn straight, at least until the lineups start. "You know," I mused to my mom as we munched "I could have eaten at Denny's for free today, seeing as it's my birthday and all." But that was only to get a rise out of her,
because of course, I'm so glad we didn't.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The PNE: All My Food Is Brown

You know the PNE, right? That shameless, sweaty, noisy, crowded fair. Greasy food. Minidonuts!Minidonuts!Minidonuts! A whole building dedicated to the kinds of things you usually see being shilled on late-night informercials. Balding has-been nostalgia acts competing with adorable performing dogs for your time and attention. Rides that make you dizzy and terrified.

As you may have guessed, I'm a little bit cynical about the PNE.

Pure terror. 
But I went, after a 7-year hiatus, because my guy was working there this week, and because one of my best friends works at the Agrodome and she gave me 2 free passes for helping to judge some 4H displays. So picture this: my boyfriend arrives home, exhausted and unwashed from a week of chaperoning 4H kids, and I drag his ass... right back to the PNE. What a champ. Hey, he had some food vouchers to use up. First stop: Cheyenne Coffee. My guy had been such a regular all week that he got his Americano on the house! And my cappuccino was pretty tasty too.
On to Waffles With Benefits, which Jay had been raving about all week long, for a late breakfast. Now here's the thing: every time- and I mean EVERY time- I have a sweet breakfast as opposed to a savoury one, I regret it. It's like that person you have a fling with... and it's not that fun... but you try again because you think you should be enjoying it more... But they're still not doin' it for ya. Sweet stuff has its place, but for me, the first meal of the day needs to be savoury. So clearly, chicken-and-waffles was the way to go. 
My first chicken-and-waffles ever! It seemed a fitting meal to have at the fair, where everything is deep-fried. 
Photo courtesy of Jay.
I have to say, it was an experience. The chicken was delicious: breaded and deep-fried (of course), lightly drizzled with syrup and sandwiched between two crisp waffles with a side of gravy. I poured the gravy on liberally and set to.
I'd say it was a pretty good experience overall, and certainly not bad at all for a fair ; the gravy was a bit tasteless but the slight drizzle of syrup was a nice contrasting touch. As for the waffles- well, I guess I'm still uneasy about them: they are an excellent vehicle for conveying as much syrup and gravy (or fruit puree or Nutella or whatever) to your mouth as possible, but when it comes to eating fried chicken, a nice crusty bun would have served better, in my opinion. But that's just me, and WWB is not to blame. 

Fast-forward through various fair-related activities involving farm animals (get your mind out of the gutter) and it's time for ice cream. Casa Gelato had a truck there, but we decided to give Rocky Point Ice Cream a try. So glad we did, especially considering they're way out in Port Moody, whereas I can have Casa Gelato's stuff any old time. RP had the old standbys like chocolate, and the de rigueur hipster flavours of Salted Caramel and Maple Bacon. Now, I love the sweet/salty thing, and I'm super glad it's trendy these days, but life- and ice cream- should be about variety. I was tempted by the Honey-Lavender ice cream and the Lemon-Basil sorbetto, but eventually I ordered a double scoop: Raspberry-Lime-Mojito sorbetto & Blackberry-Sage ice cream. 

Did I quail when I saw the enormous size of my cone? Only a little. Jay decided to be daring and try their featured beer ice cream of the day: Yellow Dog's smoked porter. I urged him to try a sample first, but he scoffed. "I don't believe in samples", he said airily, and reached eagerly for his large helping of beer ice cream. 

The sweet/tart sorbetto was lovely. I am a sucker for all things lime, so this was a no-brainer. Pour some white rum on this baby, and it would have been an instant cocktail. But the blackberry-sage was a revelation: the sweet fruit and woody sage balanced by smooth creaminess. Both my scoops had large, delicious chunks of herb leaf in them (mint in the mojito one of course, and fuzzy sage in the blackberry sage one). This might sound weird, but it was fantastic. 
And how did Jay fare with the porter ice cream? Damn, that was some ice cream. Very beery, with a hint of effervescence, it would have paired excellently with chocolate cake. Although I thought it would be a bad idea, and since I don't like beer I wouldn't have gone for it, I was proved wrong. Deliciously wrong. I notice that Rocky Point has more interesting flavours on their website, so if you're in Port Moody go and check them out for me! 

As the evening approached, we retired to the beer tent for a while, then got closer to the Chevrolet Stage to get down to Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts. Here again, my cynicism was proved groundless. Over at the packed Amphitheatre the Beach Boys might have been lumbering through their Brian Wilson-less show*, but on our smaller stage Barney and his band were killin' it, and looking genuinely happy to be there. 

Finally, it was time to wrap things up. I was craving a bit more food before we left, though, so I had some tasty fried rice balls from Roaming Dragon that left me wanting more, and mac-and-cheese from Reel Mac and Cheese that wasn't bad but needed more cheese and less, um, non-cheese (flour, maybe?) in their sauce.**

Then, of course, it was time to celebrate the day's end with a fairground classic: the deep-fried Mars Bar. Of which I can only say that not all things should be encased in doughy batter. The warm, gooey chocolate bar? Thumbs up. The stodgy batter? (Greasy) thumbs way down. 

And so ended my very nice day at the PNE, wherein I discovered that if you avoid the places that are trying to sell you something, and stick to the agriculture buildings, the concerts, and the food-greasy or otherwise- it is possible to have a good time after all. 

*I should say that while the Beach Boys don't appeal to me without Brian Wilson's mad genius, I hope they put on a good show and I'm sure many good folks enjoyed it a lot. But Barney was a better choice. 
** We were at the PNE for basically the whole day, so I wasn't quite as greedy as this post makes me seem. Okay, maybe I was. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Basil Pasta Bar

Years ago, when I lived just off The Drive, my then-boyfriend (is there a sadder term? I think not) and I would often go to a pasta bar and order large, cheap styrofoam containers full of pasta and sauce rather than have to endure the monotony of cooking and cleaning in our tiny galley-style apartment kitchen. The restaurant did have some tables, and we ate in from time to time, but ambiance wasn't its strong suit. I remember watching the cooks multi-task right in front of us: pouring olive oil and chicken in one sizzling pan, giving another one a practiced toss before food started to burn, pouring a finished pan's contents into the to-go container. The name of that place eludes me (and Google has been no help tonight), but I remember that Friday-night band practice would end, and my boyfriend or I would pronounce its name with an interrogative uplift in our voices, and more often than not, the other would smile and agree heartily. 

Strolling up Yew Street tonight I noticed Basil Pasta Bar, and my nostalgia for that pasta place kicked in hard. I locked up my bike, walked in, and ordered. It's a hell of a deal: $7.95 gets you pasta, protein, veggies, herbs and sauce. And here's the kicker: it's UNLIMITED. That's right- you can have as much meat or veg as you want, although extras will sometimes cost a small amount more. 
     In honour of my favorite dish in my pasta-y past, I ordered penne with pesto, salmon, peas, spinach and capers, topped with parmesan cheese. A few short minutes later, it was handed to me, and off I rode. 
     As you can see, even though it had to withstand a short bike ride home, the dish is fairly pretty, and it looked way better served in the huge white bowls for diners eating in at Basil. I was pleased with how generous they had been with everything: there's lots of basil and almost too much cheese. Plenty of salmon, too.  The portion was generous, but I ate it all in two sittings: dinner, and about half an hour later. My mistake was ordering the capers, as they made the entire dish too salty. Either the smoked salmon was already headed in that direction, or the capers were cooked with it, and sent it over the edge. At any rate, the nice sweet peas were a much-needed contrast and next time I'd just say ix-nay on the apers-cay.
     And there will be a next time, I'm sure. I'll probably dine in, too, given Basil's very appealing location and decor. The fact that they're located right across the street from theold Da Pasta Bar location (another long-gone favorite of mine from-gulp!- twenty years ago) is another nostalgic detail in its favour, as far as I'm concerned. Yew Street's been needing a cheap pasta restaurant, and Basil delivers in spades (and yes, they do deliver for real as well, within an impressively large range of distance). But I'd say eat in if you can. They have daily chef's specials and they're licenced. Buon Appetito. 
Basil Pasta Bar is located at 1602 Yew St. in Kitsilano (they also have a Davie Street location). 

Bon Macaron Patisserie

What IS it with our sudden obsession with the tiny macaron? Within the last couple of years these strangely bright-coloured little pucks are everywhere. All over Vancouver-perhaps all over the world- people are suddenly smitten. Me? Well I was a little late to the party. 
     Blame it on being sequestered in a backwoods northern town for much of the last five years. Mix that with a healthy distrust of the macaron's older cousin, the meringue (sweet crunchy air, anyone? Didn't think so), and a real hate-on for the similarly named macaroon (I hate coconut in most desserts. Coconuts are for curry. Period). This may explain why it took me so long to try a macaron. 
     Anyway, we can skip ahead, because for all I've flirted with them in the last year or so, I'm ready to settle down now. I'm going steady with Bon Macaron Patisserie, located dangerously close to my boyfriend's pad in Kits. What makes these guys so special? Three words: ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. Oh, and cute French guys. Bonus. 
     I slipped through their doors on one of those self-indulgent late summer days when you basically let yourself do and buy anything your heart desires. I'd been strolling down Broadway, stopping to graze here and there, and the Bon Macaron enticed me, so in I went. The first day, it was just three macarons. I chose boldly, excited by the mixture of savory and sweet flavours. Creme Brulee sounded safe, but fig/goat's cheese and pear/blue cheese? I dared. When I got home, I knew my instincts had been correct. The creme brulee was pleasant, especially the burnt-sugar kick at the end, but the two savory macarons I'd chosen were extraordinry. The fig goat's cheese had a soft, creamy filling and the bite of the blue cheese macaron was expertly tempered by the pears. Somehow it all worked with the sweet airy chewiness of the meringue sandwhich. 
     My next visit came far too soon for my waistline, but not soon enough for all that. This time? Six flavours, and hang the expense! Unlike the teenaged customers already in the store, who were being generously fed with samples, I chose quickly once again. The pear/blue and fig/goats cheese macarons were so amazing I had to have them again. The new flavours? Raspberry/balsamic, pure vanilla, chocolate explosion and salted caramel. 
     Again, I made it home before sampling-just. The cheesy macarons were just as good the second time. Chocolate Explosion was nothing mindblowing, but a very nice velvety chocolate, to be sure. Salted Caramel had a nice salty, slightly burnt-sugar tang to it that I liked very much. The raspberry balsamic was a lovely balance of tart and sweet, and the pure vanilla... wasn't. The cute French guy had accidentally put an orange-coloured macaron in its place. No matter. I couldn't quite discern its flavour, but I think it was possibly a mango one. 
     I need to do further 'research' at Bon Macaron. What I love is the range and originality of their flavours, and I'm excited to try the black liquorice one, the white truffle and sea salt, and the intriguingly-named Mediterranean Cruise.
     In my rich fantasy life, I am throwing a lavish dinner party on my private yacht. The amuse-bouches arrive, brandished on trays borne aloft by impeccable waiters. As the first, airy mouthfuls are taken, my guests ooh and aah at the marriage of sweet and savory flavours crossing their palates. Is that... cheese? Sesame? Truffle? As I smile at the assembled crowd, wiping a brightly-hued macaron crumb from my lips, my answer is a simple, heartfelt OUI. 
Bon Macaron's  flagship store is in Victoria, but they are now located in Kitsilano, at 2823 West Broadway.