Araxi at Whistler: Cougar Milk, Penticton Cheese and Memories of Hell’s Kitchen

Let me start by saying I’m not a skier. Growing up in Sudbury, we certainly had the weather for it but the once majestic mountains of the Canadian Shield  have long since eroded to more minuscule bumps, limiting any chance of maximizing 6000 foot drops. As a result, there was no ski scene other than Adanac mountain with its’ six runs and 239 ft vertical or cross country tracks near Laurentian university.

In addition, I get little enjoyment at the thought of lugging copious amounts of equipment to a crowded resort only to dress up, wait in line for a lift and let gravity pull me down a run named Cougar Milk just to end up at the point I started.  Instead, I’m more than happy to sit in the bar and provide moral support although I do feel somewhat guilty about indulging in the apres menu when I didn’t do any of the work. Maybe this is why the Whistler ski scene bugs me so much.  Don’t get me wrong…the scenery is absolutely beautiful but it is somewhat tainted by the aberrant behavior of the town’s residents and visitors.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Nobody looks cool walking in ski boots- Ski boots are for skiing and not walking.  Regardless of your gait or corresponding wardrobe, people walking around hotel lobby’s wearing boots look more foolish that a guy trying to run in high heels as part of a fundraiser.   If you’re done skiing, take your boots off.
  2. Accents are cool unless you make them up- Whistler draws youth from around the world, especially Australia and New Zealand.  Many people find such accents cute or even sexy…unless you don’t really have one. Hanging with a few Aussies for a couple of weeks doesn’t entitle you to start speaking like them.  Accents aren’t viruses..you just don’t catch one.  In addition, making up an accent to increase your hill cred is stupid; it didn’t work for Madonna it sure as hell won’t work for you.
  3. It’s evident there aren’t an abundance of salons in the village- You can get almost anything in Whistler Village…except a haircut.  According to the map, there are a few places but most people don’t seem to use them.  Sure, chronic helmet head is inevitable in such an environment, but allowing your hair to be a refuge for alpine wildlife is taking it a step too far.
  4. Bathrobes are called bathrobes for an reason.  They aren’t called restaurant robes, lobby robes or bar robes.  If you want to drink wine in a bathrobe, use your minibar.  I don’t need to see your post-pedicured feet stuffed in a pair of disposable slippers or have to witness a wardrobe malfunction because you forgot the only thing holding you man or lady parts in place is a velour belt.
  5. Weed is technically still illegal in BC- Regardless of time of day, it is almost impossible to take a stroll through the village without wafting skunky smells here and there.  Although Whistler is far from immune to wildlife, I’m sure the smells are not the results of stinky mammals….well at least not the ones with a white stripe and fur….oh wait…and four legs.

The dining scene in Whistler is a mishmash of aristocratic eateries, snack bars, beer havens and a few very recognizable franchises such as KFC, Starbucks and McDonald’s.  I spent most of the time at the hotel for work functions, but I did have the opportunity to go to Araxi for dinner one night. Araxi is a fine dining establishment which gained national attention when it was announced the destination of the winner of the sixth season of Hell’s Kitchen.  Dave Levey, best remembered for breaking his arm while washing a fire truck, was the eventual winner.  Rumour has it he was treated like a glorified line cook and left shortly after the 2010 winter Olympics.  In 2014, he was reported arrested as part of a drug bust in New Jersey (perhaps he thought he was still in Whister). Araxi, on the other hand, has continued to flourish under long time head chef James Walt.

I started with a Cuckoo’s calling cocktail, presumably named after the Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling crime novel which is funny because the only bourbons named in that novel are the cookies which are most recognizable as the long brown ones in a box of Peak Frean assorted creme that you only eat once the good ones are gone.  The drink had many of my favorite cocktail flavours including bacon infused bourbon, jalapeno, thyme, lemon and bitters.  The smoky flavour was prevalent but not overwhelming  and the rest of the flavours blended together well.

araxi cocktail
Cuckoo’s Calling $13.50

Araxi features an oyster bar and a small but diverse choice of starters and mains.  Since I rarely have an opportunity to indulge in fresh west coast oysters, I was happy to order a half dozen (three each of Zen and Joyce Point from coastal British Columbia).  They were shucked nicely and served with traditional condiments (fresh horseradish and lemon) and a spectacular mignonette.

araxi oysters
Oysters ($3-$3.50) each

A few of us also split a  Vancouver Island beef tartare tossed with Peruvian chilies, yuzu, local sweet peppers and snipped chives, spiced vegetable chips and arugula and topped with a quail egg.  It was smallish but the ingredients were in perfect proportion and  delivered fresh and delicate flavours with the right amount of heat and seasoning.

araxi tartare
Vancouver Beef Tartare $19.50

For the main I opted for the Quebec rabbit stuffed with slow cooked pork jowl with carrot puree, roasted carrots, sauteed brussel sprouts and grainy mustard vinaigrette.  It didn’t dawn on me on first but I thought afterwards it was rather strange to have a dish with rabbit and carrots together but once I tried the puree, any thoughts related to this food chain faux pas quickly hopped out of my head. It was fantastic.  The rabbit with the pork was incredible and reminded me of a two-tiered and  upscale M&M chicken tornado my mom used to make. The sprouts and carrots were a nice al dente.

araxi rabbit
Quebec Rabbit $36.50

For desert, I decided on a cheese course featuring a mix of offerings from local, Canadian and Italy sources.  I’ve tried a few such as the delicious Benedictin Bleu from Quebec and P.E.I.’s Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar before, but although not normally a huge fan of the softies, the Poplar Grove double cream camembert from Penticton was the star.  In addition to the decedent taste,  its glistening interior was visually stunning. The fig compote was unbelievably good as well.

araxi cheese
Cheese Plate $23.50 for 5 cheeses (a little more for the extra)

My Take

Whistler draws thousands of annual guests ranging from novice skiers to village wondering orophobic tourists.  As a result, the variety of shops and eateries is quite diverse.  Whether it’s an urban taco bar or a swanky sit down, there is no shortage of choices.  Araxi is one of the most recognized of the latter and lived up to its long standing reputation although at resort prices. Whether it’s untamed hair or an affinity for the maryjane, just remember what happens in Whistler should stay in Whistler…just ask the winner of  Hell’s Kitchen six.

Araxi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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The Coast is not Clear: The Case of the Gluten Containing Eel and the Undercooked Scallop

After a trip to the Vancouver aquarium as part of a team building activity (even though only three of us went), we went to look for a quick bite knowing the evening fare at the meeting would be less than appealing.  It was an abnormally warm May day, so we wanted a patio,a drink and some decent food.

Coast is part of the Glowbal group conglomerate which owns a number of popular Vancouver restaurants. Having previously dined at Black + Blue and the Fish Shack with reasonable success, it sounds like a good idea, especially with the advertised cocktail menu and half price appetizers.  After making the uphill trek to Alberni Street, we were able to secure a table on the front patio. The three of us were wearing casual team-building clothes (ie. yoga pants and shorts). We were hardly dressed for the occasion, especially in the midst of the attire of the waitstaff and  numerous suits coming in but we were quickly comfortable in our outdoor seats.

Both my colleagues have what I consider excellent palates and both do not consume gluten.  One of them has also never tried nigiri, so we took the opportunity to run an experiment with the small list on the menu. My thought was to hit her with the ebi thinking it would best to start her off with something cooked not to mention the fact that there was no guilt based on the fact we were just at the aquarium watching numerous other species splash around. The waitress, however, insisted that we opt for the unagi (since it was cooked) although I thought eel may not be the best way to initiate a novice sushi eater.  The shrimp arrived without issue but the eel arrived coated in what appeared to be a brown sauce. Even as a gluten glutton, I have become aware that any brown sauce is an alarm bell, especially on a piece of sushi.  It usually means soy sauce which means gluten. Keep in mind the menu clearly stated this item was gluten free but after deliberation by the waitstaff and kitchen slightly longer than the OJ Simpson verdict, we were told it in fact contained gluten.  Big mistake.  In the end, I ate the eel (which was decent but expensive) and I succeeded in introducing her to the world of nigiri albeit a tame piece of cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively)
Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively). Note the brown sauce…

 

I will give Coast credit for it’s buck a shuck special.  I indulged in a half dozen oysters, portraying behaviour similar to that of a five year old opening a new set of lego.  I become mesmerized by combining oyster flesh with pungent horseradish and some type of mignonette.   In fact, I don’t think anything gives me as much enjoyment in the area of seafood relations since Mr. Tecklenberg showed me how to hypnotize a lobster when I was 8 or 9 at a table in his namesake Sudbury restaurant. I was so giddy I forgot the picture.

Each of us weren’t up for a whole lot of food (beside the after effect of seeing a whole lot of underwater life), but we each ordered a dish and did a family style sorta thing.  First were the thai mussels (minus the bread).  They were tasty but a rather dismal serving for $19. Maybe it would have come with 17 pieces of garlic bread which would have made it a bit more economical.

 

Thai Mussels (18.95 or each)
Thai Mussels (18.95 or about a buck each..I’d rather have the oysters)

 

 

Second was the grilled halibut.  It made a lot of sense given the fact it was the season and there was not a hint of brown sauce anywhere on the plate.  Instead, it was served with a decent potato salad.  The fish was cooked nicely but it’s difficult to justify the $38 price tag.

 

Grilled Halibut ($37.95)
Grilled Halibut ($37.95)

Finally, my choice was the apple chopped salad ($12.95) with the optional upgrade of two scallops for a whopping ten bucks.  It arrived with a lone scallop and I made a note to see if it was reflected properly on the bill.  I never had the chance.  The salad itself was fresh, crisp and nicely balanced but when I cut open the scallop I looked at my colleagues and in my best Gordon Ramsey accent yelled “The f@*%ing scallop is raw”.  In fact, it was a bit of a relief because paying 5 bucks for a scallop the size of a jawbreaker just wasn’t worth it.  Perhaps the  biggest annoyance of all was when the manager returned with the plate to confirm with me that, after careful deliberation with the chef, the scallop was in fact raw and they would gladly take it off the bill.  I guess all those years of watching Hell’s kitchen finally paid off since it saved me the embarrassment of being corrected in front of my esteemed colleagues.

 

Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop
Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop

 

The source of much deliberation....
The source of much deliberation….

 

My Take

Vancouver’s Glowbal group seems to be like olives, cilantro or goat cheese; you either love them or hate them.  Some see the group as an innovative and eclectic collection of restaurants showcasing an incredible arrays of foods.  Others see it as an overpriced series of misguided trends in which the decor is more important than the food. The inability to properly display gluten-free foods combined with minute mussels and an undercooked and underwhelming five dollar scallop (that included  a second opinion on doneness) makes me lean toward the latter.  This was just a bad experience with no effort made to fix it.  Good thing there were crudites back at the meeting.  I swear a carrot stick never tasted so good.

Coast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

 

Turning Over a New Banana Leaf: A Delicious Primer on Malaysian Food

It’s always funny asking people what they want for lunch.  When you spend copious hours mulling over restaurants experiences, you get a reputation as the go-to guy. Here is an excerpt from a typical discussion with a friend or colleague:

Me: Where do you want to go for lunch?

Them:  I don’t know. You’re the foodie.  You pick.

Me: Well, tell me what you like.

Them: I’ll eat almost anything.

Me (with slight look of annoyance on my face):  Do you like Malaysian?

Them (with “I have no idea what Malaysian is”  look on face): Ya, sounds great.

Me: It’s kind of like Thai.

Them (with look of relief on face): Oh! I like Thai.

 

Now that that was decided, I trekked a few blocks from the hotel with a couple of colleagues for lunch at the Banana Leaf, a small Vancouver chain featuring fare from the South Asian country.  Geographically located along the spice route, Malaysia has a rich food history, influenced by near neighbours China, India and Thailand with a touch of input from the numerous other European countries which touched it’s soil during world expansion.  They rely on local ingredients but also import wheat and other staples.

The Banana Leaf is a small Vancouver chain which focuses on Malaysian cuisine.  The menu is quite expansive, reflecting the aforementioned diversity of the country’s offerings.  I went twice during a recent trip to Vancouver; once for lunch and once for dinner. For lunch, we opted for the safe newbie option of the tasting menu consisting of some of the more popular dishes. Here’s the summary…

Green Asian salad

This sizable  starter was a pleasant mix of tropical flavours including pineapple, papaya and coconut dressed in lemongrass vinaigrette. Very fresh and delicious.

h
Green Asian Salad

Spring Rolls and Roti Canai

Appetizers with the  neighbour’s  influence of Malaysia  fills this plate.  The crispy spring rolls and  the delightfully chewy roti were served hot and served with sweet chili  and coconut curry sauce respectively.

Spring Rolls and Roti Canai
Spring Rolls and Roti Canai

 

Rendang Beef Curry

Considered a festive dish, it’s a celebration of  coconut and curry gravy surrounding tender beef. It was very well balanced with a nice kick of spice.

Rendang Beef Curry
Rendang Beef Curry

Gulai Seafood 

The vibrant stew with fusion flavours  mixing  turmeric with classic South Asian staples including ginger, galangal, lemongrass and tamarind.  The abundant proteins were cooked delicately, leaving the fish and shrimp tender and delicious.

Gulai Stew
Gulai Stew

Sambal Green Beans 

Chili and shrimp paste provide the base to this classic Asian dish.  Garnished with tomato and peppers, it was attractive and tasty.

Sambal Green Beans
Sambal Green Beans

Pisang Goreng

Fried banana and ice cream was served atop an absolutely delicious gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) sauce which had a sweet and bitter taste reminiscent of a good creme brule or a Mexican flan.

Banana
Pisang Goreng

 

Quick Take

Perhaps the craziest thing was the fact that all of this food was $18 a person.  I’m accustomed to tiny, expensive portions in a tasting menu but the sizes of these meals were far from “tasting”.  For the value, it’s arguably one of the better meals you can buy.

 

A few nights later I went for dinner…..

Green Papaya and Mango Kerabu ($8)

Another delicious salad consisting of a cornucopia of  Asian flavours including the title fruits with cucumber, carrot and jicama combined with sweet, sour and salty flavours of the dressing and fish sauce respectively.

G
Green Papaya and Mango Kerabu $8

 

Malaysian Spicy Papaya Seafood Soup ($6)

Hinted of Tom Yum but with bursts of sweetness from papaya right in the soup with a nice level of heat.

Spicy
Malaysian Spicy Papaya Seafood Soup $6

Pineapple Fried Rice with Seafood & Chicken ($15)

Visually appealing dish that didn’t quite match in taste.  It could have used a few more of the promised accessories (sunflower seeds, raisins, shrimp etc.) but it sure is pretty.

Pineapple
Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken $15

Sticky Rice with Grated Coconut & Gula Melaka ($7)

Having already experienced the deliciousness of gula melaka (see above), I was keen to try it combined with coconut rice.  The toasted coconut was a great addition from a taste and texture perspective. Once again, it was reminder that Gula Melaka is like nectar from the gods.

Dessert
Sticky Rice with Grated Coconut and Gula Melaka $7

My Take

It is evident that Malaysian food is a mosaic of ingredients with ingredients heavily influenced by neighbours and past travelers looking for the same spices which filled many of the dishes served here. The $18 for the “tasting menu” lunch was ridiculous (in a good way) and included mountains of delicious  food.  The dinner dishes were also reasonably priced.  My colleagues, each with a different capacity to consume copious amounts of food, seemed impressed.  For the most part, the service was prompt (although a little slow and confused at dinner although I think one of our waitresses was in training) and courteous and the decor was simple but classy.  Banana leaf is a small Vancouver chain offering a lesson in the diverse and delicious fare of Malaysian, a cuisine often overshadowed by its more popular neighbours.  I’m just spreading the word.

Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon

Ap Gu Jung and Its Appreciation of Non-Korean Gluttons

Sometimes when I’m out of town I put a day’s worth of effort into carefully orchestrating a dining schedule. A combination of urbanspoon, yelp, the opinion of other bloggers and sometimes Guy Fieri drive my decisions, especially when time is a factor.  Other times, however, I take a walk and see what meets my fancy.  I was staying at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver and decided to take a walk down Robson with a colleague to see what I could devour on a break between my meeting and the planned rubber chicken dinner later in the evening. This part of Robson is dotted with a number of Asian eateries including Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Japanese.   Based on the cozy decor and gluten-free choices (NB-not me), we sat down at Ap Ju Jung.  Despite the fact it was early in the evening. it was already half full. On top of that, I was the only Caucasian in the house so I was confident in this random pick.

After ordering, we were treated to a bowl of sweet potato soup which had a thin but smooth texture and a nice glisten.   It tasted a bit like baby food (although not unpleasant)  and erred on the side of sweet and was in stark contrast to the spicy dishes to come.

Sweet Potato Soup
Sweet Potato Soup

 

Next, we were both offered a tray of  banchan which consisted of seaweed salad, kimchi and what I believe was a sweet boiled potato. Whether it was our peckish nature or the deliciousness of the dishes, we devoured all three with relative ease  (in fact my dinner date  is well known for destroying a plate calamari on a good day so we can add seaweed salad to the list).  This resulted in a  second round of banchan which I found odd since everybody else around us shared one and didn’t get a second let alone a third.  Perhaps they sensed our grateful gluttony.

Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi
Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi

Shortly after, my homemade dumplings arrived dim su.  The dumpling itself was quite delicate and was stuffed with a tasty pork and chive mixture.  It was a great balance between dough and filling  The coarse filling had a great texture and wasn’t dry or watery.  I had no problem putting the quartet  away.

Homemade Dumplings $7.95
Homemade Dumplings $7.95

I also ordered kimchi stew with tuna.  I can’t complain about the lack of authenticity but it was a humble reminder that kimchi can be overwhelming when it’s the mainstay of the dish. Sour and spicy along with the odd bit of sweet tuna collided on the tongue resulting a pleasant train wreck of flavours. Due to the intensity of the kimchi, it was difficult to finish the whole bowl.

Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95
Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95

Not surprisingly, the calamari queen (isn’t that a Billy Ocean song)  ordered spicy squid with rice.  The first bite of squid I had was tough and rubbery but it must have been an anomaly because the rest was spot on.  There was good balance between protein and vegetable (mainly green beans and onions which  both kept their crunch) and the spiciness was aggressive but within the spectrum of a wandering Caucasian.

Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95
Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95

My Take

With the multitude of restaurants in Vancouver, it is easy to over think  each and every dining possibility. Sometimes I enjoy exploring neighbourhoods just to hit a random place along the way.  This was the case with Ap Gu Jung.  Offering an array of Korean cuisine in a clean and cozy environment, the food and service were quite good.  The gifts of soup and banchan were delicious and most appreciated.  The price points of the other dishes were quite acceptable.  Since we were there early, I can’t comment  on the night scene ( I noticed a set of drums on the second floor overlooking the main area), but at 530 pm you could have a conversation even with the funky music playing in the background. In the end, Ap Gu Jung’s gracious experience was much more Ban Ki-moon than Kim Jong-un.

 

Ap Gu Jung Korean on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Fired at the Farmer’s Apprentice.

The Farmer’s apprentice has burst on the seen in Vancouver with the same intensity that Donald Trump’s apprentice hit the airwaves years ago . Trump’s show tested young and aspiring entrepreneurs on a variety of tasks and had sent their asses out the door if they didn’t make the cut.  I can make the same parallels with this restaurant…let me explain.

The first task is getting a reservation. The small venue’s popularity makes it difficult to get into. I placed a call between their designated hours of 2 pm to 5pm only to get a voice mail asking me to leave my name, party size along with date and time and somebody would get back to me IF a reservation was available. Knowing my time in Vancouver was short, I let them know I would be free anytime Thursday night. I received a call shortly after confirming an 830 reservation.

The second task was finding the place. Perhaps it’s a bit easier on a night that didn’t include a confused cab driver and a heavy rainstorm in the dark, but I imagine it’s still a difficult task on a good night. It’s small and subtle exterior along West 6th street doesn’t stand out.

Task three was getting a seat. The host had the typical “please tell me you don’t have a reservation so I can laugh at you” look. He looked a bit disappointed when I announced my 830 slot but still seemed a bit pleased when he told me I would have to wait a few minutes. Looking around, the place is small and looked like a farmhouse an ambitious hipster got his or her hands all over. There were tiny tables, rural country window panes and a washroom separated by barn doors. The set-up was messy, especially at the door. It was quite crowded, especially with the need for waitstaff to run out to the porch on occasion to serve the tables out there. A large bar/communal table takes up a good part of the middle of the restaurant. As I waited, I always felt like I was in the way. Eventually, we were seated at table in the front corner which was rather quaint.

The fourth task was ordering. This feat was hampered by the fact that the online menu is updated periodically and may not be reflective of the evening’s fare. For example, I had my heart set on the leeks, cat tails, caramelized buttermilk, ramps, watercress (I have childhood memories of eating boiled cat tails which may have triggered my desire for things that grow in a swamp). The menu changed, however, so I was out of luck unless I wanted my cat tail served beside roasted chicken. For about 5 seconds I pondered asking if I could just have a side order but visions of the soup nazi filled my head and figured there was a slight chance I might be asked to leave.

I started with a drink. Since having my first one in Toronto a couple of months ago,  I have developed an affinity for the classic boulevadier. This one was decent for $10 but I still crave the one from east thrity-six in Toronto on a regular basis.

Boulevadier $10
Boulevadier $10

 

Foodwise, I settled for poached egg, first season asparagus, rye bread, mimolette, pea shoots for $11. The egg seemed almost sous vide and had a vibrant orange yolk and with the asparagus was hidden beneath a foam and topped with the grated salty cheese and rye bread crumbs.The taste hit the mark although some some slides of ry would have been nice to mop of the aftermath of my yolk piercing destruction.

Asparagus with poached egg $11
Asparagus with poached egg $11

Next was mackerel, lovage, sea asparagus, celery and ikura. The presentation was beautiful. The mackerel skin was charred and the remaining ingredients were served salsa style on top of the filet which cut through the fatty fish with easy. The marriage of crunchy vegetables and silky fish made for great mouth feel and pings of salt from the ikura bounced around my palate to consummate  the seasoning.

Mackerel $12
Mackerel $12

Finally, I had the 3 weeks dry aged quail, honey roasted carrot, orange, pistachio and cabarnet sauvignon vinegar($18). One again, it was a pretty dish; presented with different colours and textures. The hay-stuffed quail was nicely roasted with the breasts served medium-rare. I was encouraged by the waitstaff to rummage  through the hay in hopes of finding an “oyster”. I don’t think I discovered a gem but part of it had to do with the fact I got little enjoyment from digging through mushy, cooked hay. The carrots served two ways (roasted and pureed) were delicious. The vinegar was deep and rich in colour and added some needed acid. The oranges were irrelevant from both a taste and presentation perspective.

Quail $18
Quail $18

 

For dessert, I opted for sesame ice cream.  The ice cream was overpowered by odd taste of the sesame wafer.  Perhaps I was spoiled by the artistry of the previous dishes because I was a little let down by the bland presentation of the dessert.  Hell, a ground cherry/gooseberry  (although not the season) would have been a colourful and tasty addition to the otherwise boring plate.

 

Sesame Ice Cream $7
Sesame Ice Cream $7

My Take

The Farmer’s apprentice has blasted up the charts and is cited as one of the best new restaurants in the country for it’s veggiephilic menu which focuses on fresh, local flavours.  The food is creative, intelligent and unpredictable. The dessert wasn’t.   Many other reviews state that the food makes up for any issues around service, the cryptic reservation policy or sitting within the cramped quarters of  a rundown rural oasis within a bustling west coast urban centre. I disagree.

Much like the show with the same name, you enter the unknown and get  exposed to trials and tribulations of trying  to guess the way the ingredients will co-exist based on the loose description or the kinder egg philosophy of searching through soggy hay for a chance at an “oyster”.  Like the apprentice, the fun and funky gamesmanship  is overshadowed by the feeling of being judged. After all, you should feel privileged to be drinking from a enamel cup and opening a barn door to go to the washroom  within one of Canada’s most touted restaurants.  I couldn’t help but feel that with one wrong move or failed mission and the waitstaff would point in my direction and say “you’re fired” before sending me home in a waiting, yellow taxi.

 

Farmer's Apprentice on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Falconetti’s

When I first heard the name Falconetti’s, I had in my head it was spelt “Falcon Eddy’s”.  Maybe I was thinking of the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary,  where the appearance of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards (you live in Philadelphia or Atlanta, eagles and falcons aren’t that different, right?)  He was the iconic British ski Jumper who left memories as endearing as the Jamaican bobsled team.  I was hoping this place wasn’t quite the same as them..a lot of hype without a lot of talent.

Upon arrival at this DDD located on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, I was lucky to get a seat on the rooftop patio.  The mountainous view was spectacular and other reminder of  Olympic games of the past  (I’d say I could almost see Eddie flying through the air but he wasn’t that good.)

Falconetti's Rooftop View (Free)
Falconetti’s Rooftop View (Free)

So, in homage to the Olympic games, I embarked on an  esculent heptathlon in an effort to taste the best of what the joint had to offer.

The 60 m event was an $8 Cucumber Love -Beefeater Gin, Muddled Cucumber, Lime Juice, Brown Sugar & Soda). I finished it in record time and found it quite refreshing, especially amidst the warm Vancouver afternoon.  Alternatively, there was a number of local pints on tap, ranging from Storm to Russell to Granville.  Not a bad start to the meal.

Falconetti's Gin ($8)
Falconetti’s Gin ($8)

The long jump was the artichoke dip.  It’s a standard bar food that can be really good or really bad.  This one was somewhere in between and a little steep (yes, more mountain analogies) at $13.  After a great start, I fell a bit down the rankings with this effort.

Spinach Dip $13
Spinach Dip $13

The shotput was the poutine (both involve a heavy ball…one is steel and the other sits in the pit of your stomach  for hours after eating). I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about 5 foods I’d want to be stuck with on a desert island if food preparation and safety weren’t an issue.  I thought long and hard and came up with spicy tuna sushi, rice pudding and cheese right away and was a bit stuck on the last ones. I’d like to add Kennebec fries to the list.  I’ve professed my love for the Kennebec potato in previous blogs and am quite pleased to see their recent migration to the centre of the universe( aka Toronto). It’s also good to see that the poutine has traveled west.  Falconetti’s hits the mark with this modest $8 offering which let the fries shine.

Poutine $8
Poutine $8

I needed the afterburners for the 60 metre hurdles..the afterburner burger that is, I’m a consistent sucker for a burger topped with jalapeno anything.  The burger was a little less than what I expected. The bun was great.  The biggest hurdle was an abundance of beef which was a bit more done than I like and not enough burn. The side salad was absolutely delicious, consisting of mixed greens (including kale) oranges, pecans, roasted corn and soy beans with a citrus vinaigrette.

After burner burger $13
After burner burger $13

The pole vault has to be the sausage (insert phallic joke here).  My indecisive nature lead me to order the sampler which is an opportunity to try 3 different signatures sausages (hot italian, chicken thai and polish)  with a few dipping sauces.  Seen as the signature dish of Falconetti’s , I was hoping this would be the standout event.  The hot Italian was classic and delicious although it didn’t have eye watering heat.  The other two were less orthodox (Thai chicken and Polish beef) and less tasty.  Although it was moist (which is tough for a chicken sausage), I was seeking more intense thai flavour.   The Polish were a bit dry and didn’t have memorable seasoning or taste.

Sausage Sample Platter $14
. Sausage Sample Platter $14

The finishing event, the  1000 metre run, was the key lime pie.  Although I did not snap a picture, it was excellent.  The tart filling was the star and was balanced nicely by the crust and topping.

My Take

Any joint endorsed by Guy Fieri should be in medal contention.  In this heptathlon, Falconetti’s fared well in many events and faltered a bit in others,  To start, the drink menu, highlighted by solid cocktails and decent local beer, got me out of the gates quickly. The spinach dip was overpriced with only an average jump.  The poutine with Kennebec fries was delicate and well- balanced and didn’t leave me feeling like I just ate a shotput . The afterburner burger fizzled a bit but the side salad got me over the hurdles. Regarding the sausages, touted as the pinnacle event,  the bar was raised to world record levels although it was a decent effort. The final event, the key lime pie, put the whole meal into medal contention.  Although not a gold medal performance, at the end I’d put this heptathlon of bar food on the podium of decent DDDs.  Eddie would be proud.

Verdict– 4 Guyz

Falconetti's East Side Grill on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Downtown:The Fish Shack

It was honestly an internet search and a restaurant within walking distance that brought me to the Fish Shack. After seeing it was a creation of the Glowbal group, I was sure it would be far from a shack and even have a few of the gimmicks this restaurant group is renowned for.  The last Glowbal restaurant I went to was Black and Blue. It had a beautiful decor, with a classic steakhouse setup and  highlighted by  a 15 foot high meat locker.  I figured the Fish Shack would be the same.

I wasn’t far off.  The decor is reminiscent of a wooden fishing shack.  Nets hang throughout the place and pictures of fish with interesting trivia line the  wall. It’s bright and clean and the busy waitstaff have a casual look and attitude. The air is filled with the aroma of shellfish, likely  a combination of the bar side shellfish  steamer and the adjacent table ordering the fisherman’s catch, a Cornucopia of mixed seafood strewn across the table in a free for all.

The beer selection is pretty lame, dominated by Molson products. The Whister Bear Paw Honey Lager is a bit of a redemption.  This sad reality led me to the Caesar fleet featuring four offerings laced with vodka, gin, whisky and tequila.  I went vodka, a pretty standard Caesar garnished with prawn and pepperoni.  It was a good Caesar and definitely better than a Coors light.

Caesar
Caesar $8

I like gimmicks, so I opted for buck a shuck oysters (Light house were featured)  and mussels and clams fresh from the steamer. The oysters were fresh and a great deal for four bucks. The $15 steamed shellfish prepared classic style (wine, garlic , shallots and herbs) were good but didn’t rival the mussels at Chambar or the clams at the Pike market in Seattle which were pulled from ocean just minutes away in Puget Sound.

Steamers $15
Steamers $15

For the main, the halibut was calling my name.  Although priced significantly higher than the other fish and chips options, I remembered my experience at Dandelion in Philadelphia and Blue Water cafe in San Diego and hoped for the same in Vancouver.  It was a bit flimsy and although all the components were quite good, nothing was remarkable. The batter was not greasy and had a pleasant taste while the fish maintained a good integrity and decent moistness. The tartar sauce and fries were pretty classic and the creamy horseradish slaw was colourful to look at but didn’t have as much bite as I wanted.

Halibut and Fries $16.50
Halibut and Fries $16.50

I last had the brussel sprouts at Black and Blue last year and ordered them again. I was equally impressed, especially when I hit them with a squirt of hot sauce.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts $6.50

There’s a small dessert menu featuring cheesecake, apple berry crumble and sticky toffee pudding, all for $8.50.  Some may argue you don’t need anymore than that.  I opted for the latter and was presented with a pretty decent offering. The cake was moist, partially helped by the plentiful pool of sauce it sat in.  The traditional chantilly cream and somewhat unorthodox berries were a good finishing touch.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding $8.50

My Take

The fish shack is kind of like Red Lobster, except for people under the age of 65.  Both have a bad beer selection and shrimp garnished Caesars.  Both are decorated with fish and fish paraphernalia.    Both have cheesy slogans like “We sea food differently” and “hook it and cook it”. One can indulge on an array of seafood with the shack’s Fisherman’s catch or Red Lobster’s Ultimate feast, a choice from the fresh daily fresh fish list or non-sea signatures like cheddar bay biscuits (RL) or brussel sprouts (FS).  Both even have a New York style cheesecake for dessert.

The fish shack is pretty; pretty decor and pretty good food.  It’s filled with the little gimmicks like bar side steamers that make the Glowbal group what it is. .  Although none of the dishes blew my mind, the execution of the food was acceptable. and the vibe reeked a little of fish and little of hip. So send Gramma to Red Lobster and suck back some west coast buck a shuck oysters before 6 pm at the fish shack (trust me, Gramma and oysters don’t mix). Afterwards, you can hear about the nice fish and  that dessert cake like Gladys used to make.

As for slogans, I kinda like this one from a famous book that pretty much says it all:

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“Catchy”, isn’t it?

The Fish Shack on Urbanspoon