Saturday, June 30, 2007

Vancouver Diary 4

June 15, 2007

Marquis Wine Cellar

I was innocently reading Madame Bovary in S.'s office when an empty bottle of wine caught my eye: Domaine Tempier, Bandol. Richard Olney's loving portrait of the Peyrauds* and their vineyard had had me on the lookout for this particular bottle for some time, so you can imagine my surprise. Clutching the bottle, I raced downstairs and asked where in the world S. and D. had gotten it? "Oh, that old thing? A wine store on Davie," they answered, ever so nonchalantly. So I picked up the phone and called Marquis Wine Cellar excitedly, and, sure enough, they had a couple of Domaine Tempier's wines in stock. It was almost anticlimactic, but we still raced there directly and got a bottle of their 2003 for ourselves. And you'll be happy to know it made it back safe and sound. It's hidden away right now in our "cave,"

AEB wine cave fig. a: inside the AEB cave

waiting for a proper Provençal feast to accompany it.


All that talking and thinking about wine made us hungry, so we took T. for ramen at Kintaro. We knew this place was the real deal from the minute we entered. The dead giveaway? The chef was wearing a stonewashed denim kimono. No joke. Now that's what we here at AEB call style.

denim kimono, Kintaro fig. b: denim kimono, Kintaro

Our friends R. and S. had recommended Kintaro's ramen soups highly. "Get it fatty," they insisted, but I only had the guts to go medium. The medium was plenty flavourful, though, believe me.

ramen soups, Kintaro fig. c: ramen soups, Kintaro

We're kind of starved for ramen in Montreal, so we try to make up for it every time we go to places like NYC (I heart Rai Rai Ken!), S.F., and, well, Vancouver. We were absolutely ecstatic about all three of our ramens: shio, shoyu, and miso. Too bad the day we went to Kintaro was a Friday and not a Saturday, though, because that's the day they have their "Forest Fire Ramen" on offer.

Forest Fire Ramen ad, Kintaro fig. d: Forest Fire Ramen ad, Kintaro

What exactly is the Forest Fire Ramen? Well, apparently it's a bowl of ramen soup with chicken that's assembled so that it looks like a smoking campfire. What would Smokey say?

eugene choo canoe fig. e: Eugene Choo canoe

Eugene Choo

Another day, another great Main St. shop. Yes, later that afternoon we found ourselves back on Main St., this time at the boutique of the world-famous Vancouver designer/outdoorsman Eugene Choo. There, we caught up with K.C., Mr. Choo's steadfast assistant/shop clerk, who I hadn't seen since '99, when I left Vancouver. Shooting the breeze, joking around, trying to squeeze myself into some pencil-thin French jeans--it was just like old times.

Phnom Penh

Come dinnertime, we were back in Chinatown, this time at Phnom Penh, a highly recommended Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant on East Georgia. Phnom Penh is a big, bustling restaurant, and that Friday night it had all the energy of a dim sum palace prime time on a weekend morning. We had seasoned experts there on-hand to guide us through the extensive menu, so we handed over the reins and let them do the driving. And we were not disappointed. Highlights included the tangy hot & sour soup, the wonderfully overstuffed Vietnamese crêpe, the garlicky sautéed pea shoots, and the outstanding batter-fried squid with pepper sauce.

La Casa Gelato

We ate so well at Phnom Penh that we literally staggered off the premises (of course, this might have had something to do with that 3:00 pm ramen at Kintaro), but somehow, miraculously, when we arrived back at Chateau Vermont I had gelato on my mind. So I laced up my shoes again and hoofed it past an Evaporators' gig in Strathcona (plus ça change...) to that frozen foods phantasmagoria that is La Casa Gelato (218 flavors!) to pick up a pint. I was tempted by their durian and Limburger flavors, but I ended up getting boring, old fig & almond.

Marquis Wine Cellar, 1034 Davie St., (604) 684-0445

Kintaro, 788 Denman Street, (604) 682-7568

Phnom Penh, 244 Georgia St. E., (604) 734-8898

La Casa Gelato, 1033 Venables Street, (604) 251-3211


*Lulu's Provençal Table by Richard Olney is one of our most beloved food books and is highly recommended to all those who haven't had the pleasure of reading it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vancouver Diary 3

June 14, 2007

Day 3 in Vancouver still involved some hustling around, but generally it was a lot more sedate that either Day 1 or Day 2, and that bachelor party at Six Acres (which then carried over to The Brickhouse) may very well have had something to do with that. All I can say is, thank god for J, N, & Z's smoked sausage, which, along with a couple of eggs over-easy and some toast, made for an unbeatable breakfast.

Regional Assembly of Text 1 fig. a: interior decor, Regional Assembly of Text

Regional Assembly of Text

We'd heard all kinds of great things about Regional Assembly of Text from S., but nothing could have prepared us for what we found there. A few of Vancouver's shops really left an impression [more on this later], but Regional Assembly of Text was definitely the most original. It's not like we hadn't been to good stationery stores before, or anything, it's just that Regional Assembly of Text is so smart, so creative, so D.I.Y.--and not in the lifestyle sense, either, but in real terms. I mean, not only did they have a button-making station,

Regional Assembly of Text 2 fig. b: button-making station, Regional Assembly of Text

but they also have a monthly letter writing club, where all you have to do is drag your sorry self into Regional Assembly of Text with a correspondent or two in mind, because all the materials are provided for you gratis, right down to your very own vintage typewriter, paper, pens--hell, even tea and cookies. These are our kind of people. No email, no MySpace, no Facebook--just an old-fashioned letter-writing party. Of course, I don't remember such events happening back in the day, but who the hell cares?

Regional Assembly of Text 3 fig. c: interior decor, Regional Assembly of Text

Anyway, we didn't exactly clean Regional Assembly of Text out--they've got all kinds of goodies to keep you occupied with, from wrapping paper and stationery, to house-screened t-shirts and bags and iron-on kits--but we did go a little wild. A couple of happy customers, we were.

AEB button fig. d: AEB button

Hawker's Delight

And, having spent at least an hour at Regional Assembly of Text, we'd worked up an appetite. So we headed up above 25th to pick up some Malaysian at Hawker's Delight. Typically we would have made ourselves comfortable, ordered a whole slew of spicy treats, and gotten the full Hawker's experience, but we had a rendez-vous back at Chateau Vermont and we kinda had to run a little to make it back in time. So we just ordered a couple of items to-go--the Mee Goreng we'd heard so much about and some pork satay--and raced on over to the bus stop to catch the #3 back down to Chinatown. I pity those poor people on the bus. That damn satay was giving off the most lovely scent--let me tell you, it was murder restrainiing ourselves from just devouring it right there on that bus.

take-home satay fig. e: satay in a bag

Somehow we made it all the way home with those five satay sticks and that Mee Goreng unscathed. Michelle pull our treasure out of our carrying bag, and we sat down to attack our Hawker's delights. Really good, and so cheap, too. Mee Goreng = $4. Satay sticks = 60¢ each.

mmm, satay fig. f: satay on a plate


Hours later we found ourselves on a date with destiny. Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly destiny, but it was Rangoli, Vikram Vij's latest success story. I knew full-well what to expect, having been a regular at Vij's between '96 (when it was still on Broadway) and '99. Michelle, poor dear, was a novice. She had some sense of what she was in for, but it took a visit to Rangoli to make everything clear.

Rangoli, for those of you who haven't heard, is the informal nouveau Indian restaurant that Vij opened right next door to his wildly popular flagship restaurant. We ordered a bottle of B.C. white (Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser) and as the conversation began to heat up,

michelle, tammy fig. f: michelle, T., Rangoli

so did the food. Everything was great, naturally, from the jackfruit paranta (with lentil dumplings and spiced yogurt), and the beef, lamb, and lentil kebabs (with date-tamarind chutney),

kebabs @ Rangoli fig. g: kebabs, Rangoli

to the Indian-style pulled pork with sautéed greens and Vij's legendary lamb stewed in masala.

Regional Assembly of Text, 3934 Main St., (604) 877-2247

Hawker's Delight, 4127 Main St., (604) 709-818

Rangoli, 1488 W. 11th, (604) 736-5711


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Vancouver Diary 2

June 13, 2007

Chinese Natural Green Tea ON SALE fig. a: signage, Chinatown

Having only skirted Chinatown on Day 1, we decided to get to the heart of the matter on Day 2. What follows are the relevant details.

I should add that we arrived in Vancouver with a couple of trusty lists of recommendations firmly in hand. And while we were open to any and all suggestions, we made it clear to our insiders that we were most interested in things like ramen joints, hand-pulled noodle specialists, sushi bars, malaysian restaurants, dim sum houses, and izakayas--things that are either nonexistent in Montreal or have yet to reach the state of the art, things that we find ourselves craving on a regular basis. Day 2 was the day that we started to really put these tips to use.

New Town fig. b: New Town

New Town

One of our tip lists had drawn our collective attention to the "cocktail buns" at New Town, but the author had forgotten what the exact name of the place in question was. The sign outside--the one behind the frog and next to the smiley face, the one that quite bizarrely descibed the house specialty, steamed buns, as being "Chinese hamburgers"--made it absolutely clear that this was the place we were looking for. We walked in and found the steamed bun shrine of our dreams, complete with a wide variety of freshly steamed buns of all types, a retro, Chinese diner-style interior, and dozens and dozens of older Chinese men luncheoning. We marched right up to the take-out counter and ordered a steamed barbecue pork bun--our favorite--and when we tore it open on the sidewalk, moments later, we were happy to see that it lived up to expectations: fresh, hot, and steamy, with a pork filling that was not overly sweet and had plenty of character. All I can say is that this was the first of numerous stops at New Town during our one-week visit to Vancouver.

vintage cookbooks fig. c: vintage cookbooks from MacLeod's


God, we wish we had a secondhand bookstore like MacLeod's here in Montreal. Actually, there are a number of bookstores that Vancouver has that we could use here, but MacLeod's is the one we find ourselves missing the most. Those huge leaning towers of recent arrivals scattered about the store are enough to make us swoon. We spent well over an hour scouring the shelves, making selections, and taking full advantage of their 20% off sale on purchases of 5 books or more. These purchases included a number vintage illustrated cookbooks like the two pictured above: the Royal Baking Powder Co. of New York, U.S.A.'s New Royal Cookbook (the one with the tantalizing stack of flapjacks) and the British Columbia Electric Company Limited's Home Preservers' Handbook (the one with the tantalizing Bettie Page lookalike).

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden fig. d: Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

By the time we got back to Chinatown, we'd worked up a bit of an appetite again, but first we stopped off in the world-famous Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden to travel back in time, take in the views, meditate, and say hello to a turtle who was busy swimming among the lotuses.

Kam Gok Yuen 2 fig. e: décor, Kam Gok Yuen

Kam Gok Yuen

Little did we know that Kam Gok Yuen, the next stop on our tour, had its very own garden on premises.

Kam Gok Yuen 1 fig. f: booth, Kam Gok Yuen

We took a seat at one of their gorgeous green booths and ordered the chili wontons (in actual fact, "red hot chili wontons") recommended by one of our tipsters along with the bbq duck with noodles, because we'd heard from D. that Kam Gok Yuen's bbq duck was something to behold. Win-win. The wontons were wonderfully delicate, with a tasty filling and chili sauce with real depth to it; the bbq duck (accompanied with the clear broth seen below) was just plain succulent.

Kam Gok Yuen 3 fig. g: red hot chili wontons and noodles with bbq duck, Kam Gok Yuen

Sun Fresh

S. insisted that we check out the steamed vegetable buns at Sun Fresh, and who are we to deny the world (or S., for that matter)? We stopped in after Kam Gok Yuen "for dessert" and picked up a bun for the road. The verdict: ridiculously good, stuffed with a savory medley of Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and other vegetables that was irresistible. As was the case with New Town, this was the first of a number during the course of the week. We also tried the steamed vegetable with pork bun one time when they'd temporarily run out of the vegetable bun, but it wasn't quite as satisfying.

Salt fig. h: the menu at Salt


Hours later we found ourselves at Salt, a wine bar and "tasting room" tucked away on Gastown's ominously named Blood Alley (come to think of it, Gastown itself is pretty ominously named, and so is Gassy Jack, but that's another story). Anyway, Salt is just as stylishly minimal as the name suggests, just a relatively small and sparsely appointed room with a lovely bar, some seats by the window, and a couple of long communal tables. The concept is simple and elegant too: just a few menu items, including a brilliant charcuterie plate, a plat du jour, a shaved fennel salad, a soup of the day, and a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich; a few microbrews; a handful of whiskeys; and a tasteful selection of wines. "What's so 'brilliant' about the charcuterie plate?" Get this: you scan the chalkboard and you pick your choice of three items from the meat & cheese selection (which includes a whole host of artisanal sausages, hams, corned beef, and other delicacies from such local standouts as J, N, & Z Deli and Grandville Island's Oyama Sausage Company, not to mention a number of excellent European cheeses) and then you get three homemade condiments to go with them. Who can argue with that? We ordered a charcuterie plate and a few glasses of wine and we settled in.


When we felt we needed a jolt to the system again, we said goodbye to our friends at Salt, went around the corner and up Water St., and stepped into the madness that is Guu. But first: years ago, when I lived in Vancouver, I had a friend who lived on Thurlow just a half block away from Robson (a.k.a. the site of the notorious twin kitty-corner Starbucks). Right across the street there was a Japanese hipster hangout that we used to admire from about 200 feet away. The comings and goings of their clientele fascinated us, as did the drunken antics of the departing crowds around closing time. Of course, the climax came one night when a cleaver-wielding cook chased one young reveler down the street, cursing at top volume. We never did cross the threshhold to find out was going on inside. Well, that was the original Guu. Now there's three of them, each with their very own personality. One of them specializes in garlic. I'm not sure that the Guu on Water St. specializes in; all I know is that we liked it. Especially with beer and sake and pan-seared tuna and sweet shrimp sashimi and hip-hop.

Six Acres

If that wasn't enough, I found myself at a bachelor party at a place called Six Acres, formerly known as Moonshine. It wasn't exactly The Drake, but it was very nicely appointed, the conversation was lively, and they did have an awfully nice selection of imported beers, including D.'s favorite, Alhambra from Spain.


Meanwhile, Michelle and S. followed up Guu with some drinks at Shebeen, a "whiskey house" that, along with Irish Heather and The Salty Tongue, is part of the same family as Salt, and that has an awfully nice selection of whisk(e)ys. It, too, isn't exactly The Drake.

New Town, 158 Pender Street East, (604) 689-7835

MacLeod's Books, 455 Pender Street West, (604) 681-7654

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall, (604) 662-3207

Kam Gok Yuen, 142 Pender Street East, (604) 683-3822

Sun Fresh Bakery, 215 Keefer Street East, (604) 688-3868

Salt Tasting Room. 45 Blood Alley, (604) 633-1912

Guu, 105-375 Water Street, (604) 685-8682

Six Acres, 203 Carrall St. (behind the statue of Gassy Jack), (604) 488-0110

Shebeen, 9 Gaoler's Mews, (604) 915-7338


Saturday, June 23, 2007

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you...


Yes, strawberries.

2007 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for strawberries. The markets are overflowing with them, they're reasonably priced, and we've yet to see any duds. Try and get the most freshly harvested strawberries you can--it does make a difference, no matter what you have in store for them. We got half a flat of the most perfect strawberries you can imagine (just look at 'em), and it only came to $10 for six pints (and it would have been $18 if we'd gotten twelve). You'll find it hard to focus long enough to actually think of cooking with them--because once you start popping them back, it's difficult to stop--but when strawberries are this good and this cheap you're actually in a position to use them with abandon.

Now, I'd been dreaming of making this strawberry gazpacho that I'd noticed in Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table for ages. Thing is, gazpacho is generally a dish that begs to be made when ingredients (like tomatoes) are at their peak, and in this case you need both excellent tomatoes and excellent strawberries. I wouldn't exactly call the tomatoes that are available at the markets right now "excellent" necessarily, but they're not bad, and the strawberries more than make up for them.

If the thought of combining strawberries and tomatoes weirds you out a little, GET OVER IT. You won't believe just how refreshing this combination of tomatoes, strawberries, fennel, green bell pepper, and garlic is. And everything becomes even headier and more interesting as you season it with salt and pepper and add a final drizzle of olive oil.

Strawberry and Fennel Gazpacho

1 cup cubed day-old country bread, crusts removed [confession: we used a day-old Portuguese bun and we didn't remove the crust and it worked like a charm]
2 pounds ripe, flavorful tomatoes (roughly 3 large beefsteak tomatoes), seeded and chopped + 2 tbsp seeded and finely diced for garnish
2 pounds strawberries (roughly 3 pints of strawberries), hulled and chopped + 2 tbsp hulled and diced
1/4 medium-size fennel bulb, thinly sliced + 2 tbsp finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, cored and seeded and chopped + 2 tbsp finely diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 - 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups chilled bottled spring water
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed with a garlic press
salt and pepper to taste

Place the bread in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak for 5-10 minutes. Drain the bread and squeeze out the excess liquid.

Mix the soaked bread, the chopped tomatoes, the strawberries, the green pepper, and the fennel in a large bowl. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Working in two batches, place the vegetable mixture in a food processor and process until smooth, adding half of the olive oil to each batch. Once each batch is processed, puree it finely in a blender, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the spring water and the garlic and stir. The gazpacho should have the consistency of a smoothie. Season the soup to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and refrigerate it, covered, for roughly 2 hours.

Place the finely diced tomato, strawberries, green pepper, and fennel in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a tiny bit of olive oil and an even tinier amount of balsamic vinegar and toss.

strawberry-fennel gazpacho

When the gazpacho has been chilled, spoon the diced tomato mixture into shallow bowls and ladle the chilled gazpacho around it (or pour it out of a pitcher, like we did). Drizzle olive oil over the surface and serve.

[adapted from The New Spanish Table, Anya von Bremzen]


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Vancouver Diary 1

panorama of vancouver fig. a: super, natural vancouver

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's safe to say we hit the ground running. Our flight out west wasn't nearly as (brutally) early as the one we took to San Francisco two years earlier (that time around, the only things that saved us were those two fully reclinable bulkhead Barcaloungers we were granted for the NYC-SF leg of our trip), but it was early enough to get us into Vancouver by 10:15 a.m., leaving us with virtually the whole day to mess around with.

When we got downtown we took the time to catch our breath, catch up with our hosts, S. and D., and take a good look around the Chateau Vermont, where every room has been decorated by at least one real Vancouver artist (and usually two!):

bunny mobile fig. b: living room/dining room

chinese telephone exchange fig. c: kitchen

crayon fig. d: hallway

bedroom fig. e: guest bedroom

studio fig. f: studio

But before long the city was beckoning to us, so S. led us out the door so that we could continue the Better Homes and Gardens tour on the town, and we began to reacquaint ourselves with a city neither of us had seen in over six years. Of course, Vancouver can be a little jarring at times--sometimes almost 28 Weeks Later-like, as D. pointed out--so we chose to ease our way back in with a stroll into Strathcona and a stop at the local community garden. There we admired the handiwork of the local green thumbs: the elaborate bamboo architecture, the landscaped ponds, and the poppies.

poppies fig. g: community garden, Strathcona

Afterwards, we made our way out of Strathcona and allowed ourselves to be drawn east towards Commercial Drive.

reminder fig. h: public art

We were anxious to check out old haunts and see how things had changed in our absence, and the closer we got, the more our memories fell into place, the more everything came back to us. And, sure enough, though there were a lot of new faces on the block, many of the old standbys were still pretty much exactly as we'd left them: Tony's Market, Sweet Cherubim, the Portuguese Club of Vancouver, WaaZuuBee, Joe's. We popped into a few places for old times' sake, but we needed coffee more than anything else, so we didn't waste much time, we went straight to our favorite Commercial café:

Continental Coffee

Continental's renovated over the last few years, including a spiffy new sign that reads "artisan roaster," and I didn't notice any drinking jars this time around, but aside from that, things have remained just as no-nonsense as ever and their coffee's still fantastic. We sidled up to the bar, got Nick to make us one of Continental's famous con pannas and a truly artful macchiato, and made our way back outside to catch some sunshine and check out the sidewalk traffic.

The First Ravioli Store fig. i: The First Ravioli Store

First Ravioli

I wanted to see if First Ravioli was still going strong, so that was our next stop. It's now almost 50 years old, but virtually nothing has changed in the decade since I was a regular: same decor, same selection of cheeses and antipasti, same assortment of homemade stuffed pasta at a very reasonable price. We picked up two types of pasta--porcini and carrot/onion--and decided to head back across the street to see what was shaking at La Grotta.

La Grotta del Formaggio

La Grotta doesn't have the most mind-blowing selection of cheese you're going to find, but everything they do, they do well, and the place has definitely got character, and back in the day it was easily my favorite Vancouver cheese shop. We picked out a few choice numbers, including an excellent dry, aged Crotonese and a locally produced chèvre with truffles, but the real find of the day was a smoked ricotta. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one. It looked too much like the smoked mozzarella at Joe's Dairy not to be the genuine article. Turns out it's made by some "little old man" who lives in the neighborhood and makes it and smokes it at home. We snapped up a hunk and continued on down the street.

J, N, & Z Deli

A minute or two later, though, we'd made another stop. This time at J, N, & Z Deli, a place that looks as though it's been around for 100 years. It was impossible to pass by without stopping--that pungent smokehouse scent was way more than either of us could take. Funny thing is, though, I don't remember ever having noticed J, N, & Z way back when. Over the course of our week in Vancouver, Michelle and I had that same experience a number of times: things look different when you've left your vegetarian ways behind. Anyway, as it happens, J, N, & Z Deli occupies a location that's been a charcuterie for decades, but the present ownership has "only" been around for some twenty years. We felt instantly at home among the impressive collection of Eastern European-style smoked sausages, smoked bacon, smoked pork chops, and other delicacies. We felt even better after we'd bought some sausages and some bacon to take home with us. We meant to come back on Saturday, when they've got a slew of Saturday-only items for sale and apparently the queues stretch out the door, but Saturday we had a pretty full schedule.

And with that we headed back to the Chateau Vermont to regroup and figure out what our dinner plans would be.

Yes, there were deliberations, but they really weren't all that drawn out. We knew we wanted Asian--95% of the places on our hit-list were of the Asian persuasion. We knew we wanted to eat a fair share of Japanese. We were desperate for sushi--Nick Tosches' "If You Knew Sushi" had made sure of that. When we took everything into account, there was really only one choice: Toshi. So what if Toshi had a reputation for extraordinarily long waiting times just to get a seat? Surely those lines were a good sign. Plus, we'd flown 2,500 miles just to get to Vancouver. We were all too happy to exercise a little extra zen-like patience.


Quite simply the best sushi restaurant we've been to in ages, both in terms of quality and execution, but also in terms of affordability. We love Jun-I here in Montreal, but going there is still kind of a big deal for us. Toshi is pretty much our ideal sushi restaurant--the kind of place we could easily see ourselves going to weekly. Yes, we had to wait in line for a while to land a table for four, but what's 45 minutes when there's supremely fresh tuna belly sashimi at the other end of the wait? And that's exactly how we got started, along with some edamame, their spinach goma-ae, and their hot chili agedashi tofu. Standouts? Well, everything was exceptional, but if I had to narrow things down to just a few they'd be the mackerel roll,

toshi sushi 1 fig. j: mackerel roll w/ green onions, Toshi

the sea eel roll (which was much less sweet and much more flavorful than your typical freshwater eel roll), the massive salt-encrusted & baked tuna cheek, the tuna belly roll, and the extraordinary box sushi,

toshi sushi 2 fig. k: box sushi, Toshi

which wasn't listed on the menu, but which we'd noticed on the tables of a couple of seasoned regulars (including one guy who showed up with his fancy one-speed, brakeless bike, waited about for 45 minutes for a seat, got just that, ate it, and left). What was this mysterious "box sushi"? Scallop, shrimp, salmon and avocado served on rice and graced with a thin sliver of lemon. Heavenly. Actually, with the grand total coming in at just over $100 for four, including four king-size Japanese beers, our meal at Toshi was downright miraculous.

We were positively giddy afterwards, so we headed down Main a few blocks to Monsoon for some après-sushi drinks with some more long lost old friends.

Continental Coffee, 1806 Commerical Drive, (604) 255-0712

The First Ravioli Store, 1900 Commercial Drive, (604) 255-8844

La Grotta del Formaggio, 1791 Commercial Drive, (604) 255-3911

J, N & Z Deli, 1729 Commercial Drive, (604) 251-4144

Toshi, 181 East 16th Ave., (604) 874-5173


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Cat's Out of the Bag!


Pick up a copy of the July/August issue of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine* and you'll notice that the front cover contains the teaser to what appears to be some kind of cheeky story about Montreal. Flip it open, turn to page 52, and you'll find a fetching 8-page spread bearing the same title--"My Montreal Is Better Than Yours"--and penned by none other than "A.J. Kinik and Michelle Marek." Yes, that's absolutely right, this is that very story that we coyly alluded to a month ago in a little piece on Wilensky's 75th anniversary.

Now, before you get all bent out of shape over the gall it takes to blithely proclaim to the world that our "Montreal is better than yours," you should know that this piece is the fourth in a series of such city profiles that our friends at Budget Travel have published over the last several years. The dynasty began with Charlie "Manhattan User's Guide" Suisman's "My New York Is Better Than Yours" back in 2004; then came none other than Clotilde "Chocolate and Zucchini" Dusoulier's "My Paris Is Better Than Yours" in 2005; the following year Budget Travel readers were treated to Dan "Shanghaiist" Washburn's "My Shanghai Is Better Than Yours"; and now we here at AEB humbly present "My Montreal Is Better Than Yours."

We loved the assignment. Behind the cheek of the title, there lay an opportunity to describe a version of Montreal that was absolutely and entirely personal. Okay, maybe it's not "better than yours," but it's definitely original and not at all something you'd find in a guidebook. It's also a pretty tasty Montreal.


Check it out at your newsstand or online and you'll find tons of suggestions about where to EAT, SHOP, and PLAY in Montreal. Stay tuned and we'll tell you all about a special guest blogging stint we'll be doing at Budget Travel Online in July.

Actually, come to think of it, the cats are on the bag, too. They're so upset we're going on vacation without them, they're staging some kind of sit-in on our luggage as I write this.


* If you can't find Budget Travel at your local newsstand, here's a link to the online version of our article.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Westward Ho!

Vancouver, 1959 fig. a: Granville & Robson

"Wait a second. That's not Montreal." Right again. That's not Montreal because, come Tuesday, we're taking the show on the road again. As we did in 2005, we're heading west. And once again, Asian delicacies of all sorts (Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, etc.) and fresh seafood are near the very top of our list of priorities.

Ho Ho Chop Suey, Vancouver, BC I fig. b: Ho Ho Chop Suey

Only Sea Foods, Vancouver, BC, copyright Maurice Jassak fig. c: Only Sea Foods

Any guesses? No, we're not making a return visit to California (although it's tempting to get a car and just keep heading down the coast). This time we're staying north of the border for the most part. This time we're going to Vancouver.

We're going in large part to attend a wedding and to get some much-needed R & R, but this particular 7-day journey has the added of benefit of being a trip through time. You see, both Michelle and I lived in Vancouver in the late '90s. Funny thing is, though, we didn't actually meet until we found ourselves in Montreal at the turn of the millenium, even though we'd had a number of mutual friends back west. So we'll get a chance to catch up with a whole slew of old friends, eat and eat well, and see an ex-hometown of ours anew.

Our itinerary is already pretty chock-full--including a whole host of old haunts, like Gyoza King, Vij's, and Continental Coffee--but if any of you out there have any additional suggestions for us, please send them along.


[photo credits: Vancouver, 1959: Fred Herzog; Ho Ho Chop Suey and Only Sea Foods, Maurice Jassak]

Saturday, June 09, 2007

In Praise of Chocolate Caramels

chocolate caramels fig. a: chocolate caramels wrapped in wax paper

For some reason, I was taken by the urge to make caramels the instant the humid weather arrived. This, of course, flouts all laws of pastry and science (and of the science of pastries) for those of us who live and cook in un-air conditioned environments, and is akin to making a croquembouche in August in Montreal, even if the making of caramels is obviously a much less dramatic endeavour. Undaunted, I pressed on, knowing full well that for some infuriating reason my caramels had never before achieved that perfect texture: firm enough to hold their shape when cut, soft enough to give in to a bite. This time, though, I was a bit more confident. I'd found a recipe for chocolate caramels in a 1940s edition of The Joy of Cooking whose instructions were so convoluted that I became convinced here was the master recipe I was looking for, a recipe that not only would result in perfect caramels, but one that could withstand any adverse conditions. I was right. They turned out perfectly creamy, chocolatey and chewy, exactly what a Tootsie Roll should be but isn't, as Anthony pointed out. Now if you don't have the luxury of air conditioning at your place, you may want to wait until the humid weather blows over to make these, just to be safe (for those of us who live in Montreal, that means September). Among other things, you'll notice that the caramels will last longer than they do in this weather. This recipe worked like a charm for me, though, and shelf-life wasn't much of a problem for us because they were so good that they just kind of evaporated out of the jar we were storing them in.

Chocolate Caramels (with cream)

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
3 oz. chocolate
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cream + 1/2 cup cream + 1/2 cup cream

Bring the ingredients to a boil, excluding two counts of cream, over medium heat, stirring. Once the sugar is dissolved, boil over medium-low heat until it reaches 238°F, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup cream and bring to 238°F, stirring all the while. Add 1/2 cup cream and cook until it reaches 248°F. Pour into an oiled loaf pan and let set at room temperature. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into squares with an oiled knife. Let them dry 4 hours, then wrap in waxed paper. Enjoy.

[Recipe from Irma S. Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking (1946)]

Mona Lisa w/ chocolate caramel fig. b: perfect


Friday, June 08, 2007

Top Ten #19

1. Clare & Carl's, Plattsburgh, NY

2. Black Narcissus, dir. Powell

blonde redhead, 23

3. Blonde Redhead, 23

4. Little Dieter Needs to Fly + My Best Fiend + Of Walking in Ice, all by Werner Herzog + Herzog's cameo in Wenders' Tokyo-Ga

dynamic duo

5. A Postillion Struck By Lightning, Dirk Bogarde

6. rewatching The Sopranos from scratch

7. Feist, "Sealion"

8. Nick Tosches, "If You Knew Sushi," Vanity Fair, June 2007

9. seafood platter, Au Pied de Cochon

10. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster