Monday, July 30, 2007

Vancouver Diary 8: The Final Chapter

June 19, 2007

Our flight back to Montreal was a 2:00 pm departure, which meant we had to get to the airport at about noon. I made sure to make it out to Continental Coffee one last time to make a pick-up, but Michelle figured we had time for one more full-fledged food-related stop before going to the airport, as long as the place was more or less on the way. The question was where to go. Do we go back to one of the week's highlights? Hawker's Delight? We only really had a snack from there and it was right on Main. Toshi Sushi? Do they even do lunch, and, if so, would they prepare a take-out order for us? Or do we try someplace new? In the end we opted for novelty.

Duffin's Donuts

Michelle had read about Duffin's Donuts on Main and how there was some kind of Southeast Asian sandwich shop lurking within. She had a feeling Duffin's was worth a visit, and she was positive that a couple of take-out sandwiches were just what we needed for our flight. She insisted we'd be the envy of the entire passengers' cabin.

We weren't exactly sure what we'd find when we got there, but when we pulled in across the street things looked promising.

duffin's donuts fig. a: signage, Duffin's Donuts

We're still not 100% sure of what we experienced at Duffin's Donuts. One thing's certain: it's located in an old ('70s?) doughnut shop. But beyond that, things get mysterious. The place is owned by a Southeast Asian family who maintained the shop's donut selection and their Canadian-style light meals, but then added a bunch of Southeast Asian treats to the menu. We've read accounts that the family is Vietnamese and that they serve Vietnamese sandwiches, but we've also read that they're Cambodian and that they serve "Vietnamese" sandwiches (why they wouldn't be Cambodian sandwiches in that case isn't clear to me). All we know is that they're known for their "hot torta" sandwiches, and that torta wasn't the only Spanish word on the menu. Michelle got the "hot torta" with machaca, while I got the carne azada number. Did all these Spanish terms indicate some kind of Filipino connection? We're still not clear on that. All we know is that we loved the whole Duffin's Donuts experience: the friendly service, the hybridity of the operation, and especially those "hot torta" sandwiches, which made for some awfully great airplane food. Overstuffed with avocado, tomato, and lettuce, and served on a big, puffy bun not unlike a Portuguese bun, both sandwiches featured generously seasoned, thinly sliced cuts of meat.

Did we end up being "the envy of the entire passengers' cabin"? I couldn't tell you. I was way too busy wolfing down my sandwich to notice.

Oh, and the doughnuts are good too.

Duffin's Donuts, 4898 Main St., (604) 879-5551

All in all it had been quite the week. A week filled with so many highlights, it took over a month to write about it.

Many thanks to Brady and Robin for getting hitched and for bringing together so many great people in the process, to S. and D. for being the consummate hosts and for somehow putting up with our powerful food fixations, and to all our other Vancouver friends, new and old, for making the 2007 "Yummers, Not Bummers" Tour such a success.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vancouver Diary 7, rev. ed.

June 18, 2007

Monday was our last full day in Vancouver.

light lunch fig. a: high-fibre lunch, Chinatown

There we were, wandering around Chinatown for the umpteenth time, looking for an old poster shop that I'd found up above a souvenirs shop back in 1999 (apparently it's long gone), getting hungry because of the Asian delicacies in prominent display at every turn (see photograph above), and just generally minding our business, when who should pull up next to us in a beat-up old Nissan, honking wildly, but our good friend Erin Templeton. We were looking for Erin because she'd just gotten back from Switzerland and Monday was going to be our only chance to get to spend some time with her, and it turned out she was driving around, looking for us, too. Fate.

She took us to see her house and then she took us on a very exclusive, personal tour of her brand-new Chinatown boutique, which had just opened days earlier.

erin templeton fig. b: Erin Templeton @ Erin Templeton

Erin Templeton

The eponymously named Erin Templeton was the third of the three killer boutiques we visited over the course of our week in Vancouver (along with Eugene Choo and The Regional Assembly of Text). I was thrilled to see that she'd moved into the former home of Modernize Tailors (fittingly, they've moved into a modern building across the street), one of the most beautiful storefronts in all of Vancouver,

erin templeton 2 fig. c: entrance, Erin Templeton

right around the corner from the world-famous Jack Chow Insurance building. I was even happier to see what she'd done with the space.

erin templeton 1 fig. d: interior, Erin Templeton

We got to see the studio out back where she makes her lovely line of bags, sandals, and accessories and we got a chance to catch up. By the time we were done yapping we were good and hungry. Good thing, too, because we were heading towards a feast.

Legendary Noodle

We didn't actually go to Legendary Noodle, in the sense of walking into the place, ordering some food, and eating on premises, but we did walk by Legendary Noodle on a couple of occasions, and we'd evidently expressed that we'd very much like to get that Legendary Noodle experience at some point during our stay, because soon after we showed up at Brady and Robin's for a social call, Brady walked in the door with the most extraordinary take-out order we'd seen in quite some time, all of it from--that's right--Legendary Noodle. He started unpacking the spread and we were beside ourselves with anticipation.

take-out, legendary noodle 1 fig. e: noodles from Legendary Noodle

Sure, we didn't get to watch the noodle pros at Legendary Noodle make fresh noodles before our very eyes, but that's okay because you see those thick-cut, homemade noodles in that Fried Thick Noodles w/ Celery, Onion & Greens? They were just as tasty as they look.

take-out, legendary noodle 2 fig. f: spread from Legendary Noodle

The hits just kept coming--Cut Noodle w/ Lamb, Gai-lan w/ Oyster Sauce, Fried Pan Cake w/ Onion, etc., etc.--and everything was fantastic. A few hours later, we rolled on out of there with some leftovers in tow for S. and D. We couldn't believe our good luck: quality face-time with the newlyweds and another "must-taste" scratched off our list.

Green Lettuce

Against all odds, we were hungry again by 7:00 pm., and the timing couldn't have been better because we had one last "must-taste" to give a look-see: Green Lettuce.

green lettuce 2 fig. g: exterior 1, Green Lettuce

Now, Green Lettuce might very well have been the place we obsessed about the most during our Vancouver trip. Part of that had to do with the fact that it was one of the very last places we visited, so we had way more time to obsess over it than some of the other places on our hitlist. But it was also just the nature of the tip. We'd never heard of the place until we discussed the Vancouver food scene at length with Kildare "Eugene Choo" Curtis on the previous Friday. And, frankly, we liked what we heard: an Indian-style Chinese restaurant run by a Hakka Chinese family from Calcutta. We tried to imagine what Indian-style Chinese food might taste like and we got goosebumps. Plus, Kildare told us the place had a reputation for being the hottest, spiciest restaurant in all of Vancouver. That definitely piqued our interest. Later that same evening, when we told D. that we wanted to check out Green Lettuce, he only fueled our obsession. He started fantasizing about an all 3-chili pepper meal--nothing remotely mild or even medium, just the fiery, Indian-style hot stuff. An Indian-style Chinese gastronomical bonfire.

green lettuce 3 fig. h: rating system, Green Lettuce

Days later, when we finally got to Green Lettuce, we liked the look of things right from the get-go.

green lettuce 1 fig. i: exterior 2, Green Lettuce

Any place that insists on its firepower to that extent is all right by us. And the best thing is, after all that build-up, Green Lettuce didn't disappoint. Not in the least. Everything we had was outstanding, and while the single 3-chilli-pepper dishes that we ordered (okay, we chickened out a little at the sight of all those chili peppers) had some serious legs to it, the heat was smart, tasty heat, not just heat for the sake of heat. Faves? Like I said, everything was great--from the Vegetable Hot & Sour Soup, to the Hot Chili Vegetable Dumplings (served with a garlic, onion, and bell pepper masala), to the Masala Chicken (Dry) Fried Rice, to the Fried Green Beans (Dry) (among the best I've ever had), to the Pili Beef--but the ones that blew our minds were the chicken fried rice and the smoking-hot Pili Beef. What a way to cap the week! We tried to wrap our heads around Green Lettuce's "15% off on pick up" deal and what it might mean if we lived in Vancouver, but ultimately we just couldn't. It'd be too good to be true.

Erin Templeton, 511 Carrall St. (604) 682-2451

Legendary Noodle, 4191 Main St., (604) 879-8758

Green Lettuce, 1949 Kingsway, (604) 876-9883


Friday, July 27, 2007

judge dread 2

chili scores

People come up to me all the time and ask, "What's it like being a chili cook-off judge?" Well, friends, it's not easy and not for the faint of heart. If you can't see the anguish and torment that went into the complex set of calculations on the scoresheet above, then you really are just as tuned-out and desensitized as the pundits say you are.

Yes, that which you see above is an honest-to-goodness Chili Appreciation Society International, Inc. (C.A.S.I.)-approved scoresheet from July 6th's 1st Invitational Chili con Carne Cook-off at Barfly. All right, it's an improvised one, because there weren't enough to go around, but one which followed C.A.S.I.'s strict guidelines nonetheless. C.A.S.I. rates chilis according to five criteria: "AROMA - RED COLOR - CONSISTENCY - TASTE - AFTERTASTE." We broke with C.A.S.I. conventions by only granting 5 points per category, for a maximum score of 25 per judge, and a maximum score of 125 for all 5 of us judges. There were only 11 competitors in this year's competition--as opposed to the 250-300 competitors you might get at Terlingua--so we figured our dumbed-down (?) system would be plenty sophisticated for this particular event.

When we'd taken care of the preliminaries, we got down to business. Round after round of numbered bowls were served to us freshly microwaved (?), and round after round of chilis were assessed.

Now, being a betting man, and this being a punk rock/rock 'n' roll affair co-hosted by Jonathan "Punkusraucous Rex" Cummins, Nick "Punkusraucous Benz" Robinson, and the notorious Barfly, I wagered that the competitors would go HOT or go home. I thought they'd throw down that proverbial chili-stirring gauntlet by mixing up the most volcanic chili imaginable, daring us lily-livered judges to dock 'em points for having served up manmade magma. I thought they were gonna make us sweat, and maybe even cry. Frankly, I was a bit worried, imagining bowl after bowl of punishingly spicy chili, so I brought some help along: a bag of Maya tortilla chips. Ostensibly I'd brought them to help clear the palate between bowls--to give each and every competitor the fair shake he or she deserved--but in all truth I thought I'd need them to help dampen the pain. In the end, we needed those chips, but certainly not to help put out fires, because by and large those chilis were limp. Some of them were even sweet, for christsakes.

Now, I don't want to badmouth any of our competition chili-making brothers and sisters out there, but let's just say there's room for improvement because, unfortunately, there really wasn't any anguish and torment that went into the scoring. I'd say there were three or four chilis whose relative accomplishment helped them stand out from the rest. There was a little anguish and torment that went into the tasting, though: at least two of those chili chefs could/should have been tried under the Geneva Conventions.

Advice for would-be chili contestants:
1. lose the beans--it's all about the meat (and the chili peppers, and the herbs, and the spices, etc.), or at least that's what chili judges tend to dwell on
2. avoid using ground meat--unless you're gonna take the time to grind it to your own uncompromising specifications, or you're making a chili to top your chili dogs with, ground meat's probably going to result in an insipid chili, and it's all about the meat
3. slow cook your meat to perfection--let's not forget, it's all about the meat--and specifically it's about turning cheap cuts of meat into something spectacularly flavorful
4. make your own blend of spices, taking care to toast them and grind them according to your own uncompromising specifications, and make sure they're well balanced when you blend them (see #1 above)
5. avoid whimsical fusion touches--chili itself is a fusion dish of sorts, but you don't need to go overboard
6. heat isn't "the answer," but a good chili should make the one enjoying it break a sweat

At least the musical entertainment was blistering hot. We came out of our judges' deliberations and the band--The, uh, Sandwiches--were tuning up.

j.c. of the sandwiches

There were a couple of mid-set mishaps involving sudden loss of power, but the band itself had power to burn and as they ripped through a set of Black Flag covers a healthy little moshpit formed right in front of the band. Who knows: that might have been a first. Not the "post-chili cook-off moshpit" part necessarily. But maybe the "post-chili cook-off moshpit in front of an all-Black Flag covers band." Or at least the "post-chili cook-off moshpit in front of an all-Black Flag covers band in Canada." "Eastern Canada"?*

All in all, though, mishaps, mistakes, and all, the night was a hit. Can't wait for next year's affair and, on behalf of this year's judges, I'd like to tip my ten-gallon Stetson to the co-hosts and organizers for a job well done. May this be the beginning of something big.


* I'd assumed the post-chili cook-off moshpit was a first until I punched "chili cook-off moshpit" into Google. I was wrong.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Vancouver Diary 6

June 17, 2007

Fittingly enough--it being a Sunday and all--June 17 was our most relaxed day in Vancouver, our day of rest.

I woke up thinking about the produce we'd gotten at the East Van/Trout Lake Farmers' Market the day before. I was also thinking about that as-of-yet unopened package of smoked ricotta from La Grotta del Formaggio.

zucchini blossoms, smoked ricotta fig. a: smoked ricotta, zucchini blossoms

I kept the mushrooms simple. They were so nice that I wanted to taste them relatively unadorned. Just some butter and some garlic, salt and pepper. The zucchini blossoms were kept pretty simple too. I just gently undid the petals and stuffed them with small hunks of that smoked ricotta, which, quite frankly, was dazzling. Probably the best cheese experience I've had since the smoked mozzarella epiphany we had outside of Joe's Dairy earlier this year. I then gently twisted the petals back together again and seared them in a bit of olive oil in a medium-hot pan--just a minute or two on each side. Eggs over-easy, toast, and Continental coffee completed the scene. The mushrooms and the zucchini blossoms and the garlic scapes (I almost forgot about the sautéed garlic scapes) were all pretty great--ideal brunch fare. I'm not the only one who thought so, either. Here, read all about it.

We ate brunch kinda late, so lunch didn't really come into play that day. We just went and caught a film at the Scotiabank Theatre, and as we rode up the escalator towards our movie theatre we noticed this out the window:

grass tennis court? fig. b: what the...?

a bizarre, overgrown, rooftop grass tennis court sitting on top of a Denny's. We immediately envisioned some kind of site-specific artwork, a film, or, even better, a large-scale photo-conceptualist piece, this being Vancouver, after all. Mostly we just wanted to find a way up there so we could enjoy the perverse thrill of playing lawn tennis on the roof of a building. Or was that just moss?

Japa Dog

Anyway, when we left the cinema two hours later, we fully intended to try and find a staircase up to that tennis court, but we kinda got sidetracked. You see, we'd heard rumors that the one, the only, Japa Dog--home of the Japanese-style "special hotdog--was located kitty-corner to Scotiabank Theatre, at the corner of Burrard and Smithe. And, sure enough, when we got out on the street, there he was: the Japa Dog chef, along with his lovely assistant, and that unmistakable Japa Dog cart. Suddenly, lawn tennis just didn't seem as important.

Japa Dog! fig. c: Japa Dog!

In fact, we were ecstatic. It looked even better than we'd imagined. We weren't hugely hungry, but NO WAY were we going to miss out on that Japa Dog experience. So we took a close look at Japa Dog's Japa-style menu and made a couple of selections: the all-beef Terimayo and the bratwurst Oroshi. The Terimayo, as you might have gathered, comes with teriyaki sauce and Japa-style mayonnaise. What you might not know, is that it also comes with sauteed onions and--yes!--shredded nori. It looks like this

Japadog! fig. d: Japa-style Terimayo dog

and it tastes divine. The Oroshi, on the other hand, comes with "special soy sauce," chopped scallions, and pickled daikon. I preferred the Terimayo, but the Oroshi was pretty stellar too, and Michelle thought the two were equals.

Not surprisingly, Japa Dog has made waves in the two years its been open. It's gotten its fair share of attention and it's won a number of awards too. Trust me, it deserves all the attention it's gotten. We'd definitely give it an award. In fact, I'm gonna give it an award right now: AEB's "Best Fusion Dish in the World." "Ever."

All those snapshots and articles on Japa Dog's Wall of Fame were pretty impressive, but we were particularly struck by one photo in particular:

Mr. Ice Cube ate! fig. e: "Mr. Ice Cube ate!"

"I love turkey!"? AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted might have lost some of his attitude over the years, but at least the man's got taste.

Japa Dog, corner of Smithe and Burrard


Saturday, July 21, 2007

"I'm Just Wild About Berries, and Berries Wild About Me"*

ghost currants

Okay. So you went to your favourite U-Pick berry farm. That's right. You invited your best friend, or your sister, or some other nice person, and you drove out to the country, to a place like Le Pavillon de la Pomme. Or you called up your best friend, or your sister, or someone else, and you got them to drive you. Either way, you got yourself in those berry fields and you picked and you picked to your heart's delight. No one had to remind you that the berry season is short. No, ma'am. Ain't no way you were gonna miss out on berry picking. You were more than ready. You got yourself "in the zone" and you picked. You picked red currants, you picked gooseberries, you picked blueberries, and you picked raspberries. You even picked those hauntingly beautiful little blush currants you see above in the photograph. You got back home and you had massive amounts of berries. I mean, you were swimmin' in them. You spent a good two or three days just making your berry preserves. And meanwhile you had them with cream, you put some in your morning yogurt, and, yes, you scarfed them down by the handful as-is, just as Nature had intended. You'd had berries every which way but loose, but you still had leftovers. Nice ones. Juicy ones. And that's when you decided there was only one thing to do: make summer pudding. You were tired, after all. A recipe that had only 4 ingredients and required virtually no skill at all (you'd already exhibited plenty while making those preserves) was quite frankly something that appealed to you. So that's what you did, you followed the recipe below and when you unmoulded that gorgeous, vibrant red pudding, topped it with some freshly whipped cream, and garnished it with the last few remaining bunches of berries left from your berry-pickin' extravaganza, you were sure glad you'd come up with such a sensible idea, such a fitting tribute. Seven of your best friends were pretty happy too.

summer pudding

Summer Pudding (serves 8)

1 loaf best white bread
5-6 cups mixed berries, especially red currants and raspberries, but also blueberries, gooseberries, black and blush currants and blackberries
sugar to taste, less is more
lemon juice to taste

Place the berries in a pot and add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Err on the tart side, as you can adjust it later. Bring the berries to a slight simmer, and let them release their juice but don't cook them. You want them to retain their shape. Let cool. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep in mind this should be a tart rather than sweet dessert.

Cut the bread into 1/2" slices and remove the crusts. Line a medium bowl with enough bread to cover the bottom and the sides, slightly overlapping. Ladle half of the berries into the bowl, then top with another layer of bread. Ladle the rest of the berries into the bowl and top with a final layer of bread. Cover with plastic wrap, then place a small plate directly on the top layer of bread and weigh down with something heavy. Chill overnight.

To unmould, remove the weight and plastic wrap, run a spatula between the pudding and the bowl, place a large plate over the top of the bowl and, in one fell swoop, flip the bowl over: the pudding should unmould perfectly onto the plate. Serve as described above: with gently whipped cream and extra berries.


* or The Continuing Adventures of Pudd'nhead Marek

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vancouver Diary 5

As you may or may not remember, in our last installment of our hugely popular Vancouver Diary series, it was Friday night and we'd finished an action-packed day (more or less) with some frozen fun from Casa di Gelato.

We now rejoin our intrepid heroes, as the AEB Players Theatre brings you...

June 16, 2007

June 16 was a Saturday. It was also Wedding Day. The event we'd been waiting for. The catalyst behind this whole Vancouver adventure.

We knew we had a big day ahead of us, but we'd heard the East Van/Trout Lake Farmers' Market had become quite the scene since the last time either of us had had the chance to visit, and T. & T. had expressed interest in making an early morning market run, so we got them to swing by and pick us up, and off we went.

pink rhubarb, Trout Lake Farmers' Market fig. a: pink rhubarb, Trout Lake Farmers' Market

Trout Lake Farmers' Market

Things had changed. It was rainy and cool and it wasn't the nicest June morning, but it didn't seem to have dissuaded anyone from making their way to Trout Lake. There was quite a hubbub when we arrived--certainly busier than I remember back in the '90s. We'd been told to expect a "foodie feeding frenzy." We were never really sure if we were up against certified food fetishists or not--we didn't check I.D.s--all we knew is that Trout Lake's phenomenal selection of organics were definitely being snapped up in a hurry. Take that pink rhubarb, for instance: the whole crate disappeared in the space of about 15 minutes. Naturally, we were most strongly attracted by those things that we don't see here in Montreal, real West Coast exotica like these gorgeous mushrooms:

mushrooms, Trout Lake Farmers' Market fig. b: mushrooms, Trout Lake Farmers' Market

No, those mushrooms haven't been touched up with Photoshop or otherwise altered. Yes, that's their real color. The poor woman who was selling them must have answered that question 150 times that day. We bought one of those assortments in the middle there just to cheer her up. Yeah, right. Who're we kidding? We bought those mushrooms because they were gorgeous and we absolutely couldn't resist. We also got a bundle of garlic scapes, some zucchini blossoms, and this magical jar of chestnut honey:

chestnut honey fig. c: chestnut honey, Arila Apiary

Kind of a strange combination of purchases, but we left Trout Lake happy, if a bit hungry. That was soon to change.

Atelier Gallery

After dropping off T. & T. and making a pit stop at Sun Fresh for a couple more steamed vegetable buns (a.k.a. breakfast), we raced back to the Chateau Vermont to change into our respective monkey suits for the Big Occasion. Then we joined D. & S. and made our way to the Atelier Gallery for a little pre-wedding culture. Our new friend Sarah had curated a show entitled

drawing never died fig. d: It's official: Drawing Never Died

and we were pretty excited to go because the show brought together the formidable talents of two old Vancouver friends and two new Vancouver friends. There was even a little food art.

Drawing Never Died, Atelier Gallery fig. e: drawing by Maxwell Simmer

Trouble is, that two-dimensional spread only made us hungry.

So we said goodbye to the gang and charted a course due north to Granville Island. That's where the wedding was--at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design--and Granville Island's also the home of a fish shack called Go Fish that had been highly recommended to us. It took us a few minutes to figure out where exactly Go Fish was because it's nowhere near Sammy J. Peppers or any of those other Granville Island tourist traps. Eventually we just tried to figure out where the fishing boats dock because, after all, Go Fish's motto is "in support of local fisherman." Sure enough, there it was, directly in front of a shrimp boat that was displaying some pretty impressive food art of its own.

shrimp boat, Granville Island fig. f: shrimp boat, Granville Island

Go Fish

We couldn't possibly sing the praises of Go Fish enough. Talk about West Coast dining at its best. Take one tiny little fish shack, add a patio to it so that your patrons can dine al fresco, put together a small but thoughtful menu including a few seafood sandwiches, some legendary fish & chips, and a few grilled fish specialties, deal only in sustainably harvested fish and shellfish, keep your prices surprisingly affordable, and what you're left with is the fish shack of our dreams. So much so that we went in intending to just have "a little snack" prior to the wedding, and we ended up having a pretty substantial little meal.

For her: the Granville Island beer-battered halibut with perfect fries and a lovely tartar sauce complete with fresh tarragon.

halibut fish & chips, Go Fish, Granville Island fig. g: halibut fish & chips plate, Go Fish, Granville Island

For him: Go Fish's wonderful "tacones" (cone-shaped tacos): one with grilled salmon, the other with grilled tuna, both of them very B.C. (as opposed to very Baja), but no less delicious for it.

salmon "tacones," Go Fish, Granville Island fig. h: salmon & tuna "tacones," Go Fish, Granville Island

The Wedding

Okay, we were on a roll--no doubt about it--and the wedding didn't disappoint in the least. Of course, the Montreal contingent had to kickstart the rugcutting,

Rugcutting 101, Brady & Robin fig. i: Brady & Robin shake a leg

and T. in particular had to pull out her notorious "air sitar" routine in order to seal the deal, but the whole affair was beautiful. The ceremony was short but very sweet, the toasts were touching, the drinks were flowing, hell, even the food was great--exactly the kind of expertly assembled charcuterie & cheese spread we favor. Of course a slight wardrobe malfunction forced Yours Truly to split the seam, uh, scene early, but all in all: a huge hit.

Congratulations, Robin & Brady! Happy Month-iversary!

Oh, yeah: we made off like bandits too. The official party favors were produced by none other than Robin's design company, Hundreds & Thousands. We didn't hold back when it came to stuffing our pockets full of her fetching coasters and pencil & notebook ensembles.

party favors by hundreds & thousands fig. j: party favors by Hundreds & Thousands

Modern Club

These damn afternoon weddings. We were drunk by 4:00 and adrift by 7:00. Luckily we had a reservation at Modern Club to sample okonomiyaki for the very first time. We were hungover by the time we arrived, so we had a bit of a hard time deciphering the menu, and especially what distinguished "modern" okonomiyaki from its "post-modern" counterpart, but everything worked out fine in the end and those crazy Japanese "pizzas" that we'd heard so much about were totally delicious. Our favorite: "modern" (natch) with squid and shrimp.

The scary thing is, the night was still young when we left Modern Club. We piled into a car and made our way back east...

East Vancouver Farmers' Market, Saturdays @ Trout Lake

Atelier Gallery, 2421 Granville Street, (604) 732-3021

Go Fish, 1504 West 1st Ave., Granville Island, (604) 730-5040

Modern Club, 3446 Dunbar Street, (604) 739-0170


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Enquiring minds want to know...

Well, this marks the end of our guest-blogging stint here at Budget Travel Online (and simulcast on " endless banquet). We thought we'd leave you with some more results from of our AEB Summer 2007 Questionnaire, which (as we're sure you've noticed) are light, and maybe even a bit frivolous, but they're loaded with lots of useful tips for all of you who are contemplating coming to Montreal for a visit.

Ethné de Vienne fig. a: Ethné de Vienne, La Dépense, Montreal, QC

Ethné de Vienne
Co-owner/world traveler
La Dépense, Olives et Épices

1. Place of birth: Port of Spain, Trinidad
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: My backyard with a Cosmo.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: The jazz festival [le Festival International de Jazz de Montreal]. And right here [Jean-Talon Market]. This is pretty cool too, but the jazz festival is weirder, and weird is good.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Fu Kam Wah [1180 Décarie Blvd., Ville St-Laurent, (514) 337-2262].
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Cosmopolitan.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Pistachio.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Cashew nuts in Trinidad.
8. Mountains or ocean? Mountains.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Trains.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Plums.
11. Bonus question: Best recent trip: India and Sri Lanka.

Inspired by Ethné's responses, Michelle got to work again. This time she whipped up her very first batch of pistachio ice cream (one of my all-time faves too) in Ethné's honor. She didn't exactly invent the recipe, but she based it on a recipe from a very reliable source: Fruit: A Connoisseur's Guide and Cookbook by the legendary Alan Davidson. She was sure Ethné would have approved, especially because this recipe calls for cardamom, a specialty at Olives et Épices. We recommend their ultra-fragrant Sri Lankan cardamom. The results were fantastic—one of the finest, most exotic pistachios we've ever encountered.

pistachio ice cream fig. b: pistachio ice cream

Pistachio Ice Cream

10 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups cream
2 high-quality cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup high-quality pistachios, crushed

1. Place the yolks in a medium bowl.
2. Bring the milk, cream, crushed cardamom and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a boil in a medium-size pot.
3. Add the rest of the sugar to the yolks and whisk till the egg yolks lighten in color, about 5 minutes.
4. Pour the boiling milk/cream mixture onto the yolks, making sure to mix constantly as you do.
5. Place the mixture back in the pot and heat over low heat, never allowing it to boil, until thickened to the point that it coats the back of the spoon.
6. Cool the mixture over an ice bath and strain.
7. Churn in an ice cream maker.
8. When fully churned, fold in the pistachios.
9. Transfer to a container and freeze until solid.
10. Serve and enjoy.

camilla fig. c: Camilla inspects the menu at Niu Kee

Camilla Wynne-Ingr
Backroom Records & Pastries

1. Place of birth: Edmonton, AB.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: Café Romolo [272 Bernard W., (514) 272-5035].
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: Café Olimpico [124 St-Viateur W., (514) 495-0746].
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: India Beau Village [752 Jarry W., (514) 272-5847].
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Cucumber Swizzle.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Can I pick one I haven't tried yet? [Uh, sure.—eds.] Kentucky Rhubarb Pie. It's rhubarb with pieces of pie crust and bourbon.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Sour cherries.
8. Mountains or ocean? Mountains.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Trains.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Peaches.
11. Bonus question: When will Backroom Records and Pastries re-open [they’re currently on hiatus]? August. Definitely August.

mark slutsky, naturalist fig. d: Mark Slutsky, Lil' Lake, ON

Mark Slutsky
Filmmaker/film critic/restaurant critic
Automatic Vaudeville Studios / Montreal Mirror

1. Place of birth: Toronto, ON.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: Club Social.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: My balcony overlooking St-Viateur.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Ange & Ricky.
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Pimm’s is my #1 Cup this year.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Roberto’s [2221 Bélanger, (514) 374-9844] lemon gelato.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Fresh corn.
8. Mountains or ocean? Ocean. That’s where my heart lies.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Trains.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Peaches.

on the good ship Faith fig. e: Michelle, Tilghman Island, MD

Michelle Marek
“…an endless banquet”/ Laloux

1. Place of birth: Toronto, ON.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: BU
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: Parc Jeanne-Mance.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Mister Spicee.
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Pimm’s Cup.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Milk gelato.
7. Favorite farmstand find: English peas.
8. Mountains or ocean? Mountains.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Trains.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Plums.

anthony & nick's excellent adventure fig. f: Nick & A.J.’s mountain holiday, spring 2007

Nick Robinson
Korova Bar

1. Place of birth: Montreal, QC. I’m half Québécois, half Jewish. It doesn’t get much more “Montreal” than that. I’m a Mordecai Richler novel become flesh.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: My Fortress of Solitude.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: Café Italia. I live in the neighborhood [Little Italy] now and I love watching all the wannabe goombahs... I hope that doesn’t get me clipped.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Milani [227 Rue Bernard W., (514) 278-7240].
5. Favorite summer cocktail: I didn’t realized this until just this year, but La Malbaie at Pop! [250 Avenue des Pins, (514) 287-9127]. I’m serious.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: I don’t eat much ice cream [??—eds.], but if I had to choose [You do.—eds.] I’d go with one of those crunchy flavors. I like those crunchy ice creams, like Hazelnut Crunch [??—eds.].
7. Favorite farmstand find: Recently I’ve been into Quebec lamb. Organic lamb. And I’ve also found out that there’s some pretty killer asparagus in this province.
8. Mountains or ocean? Mountains.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? I drive a Mercedes now [It’s true.—eds.], so automobiles.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Peaches. Does anybody answer “pears”? [Yes.—eds.]

A.J. Kinik
Blogger/writer-in-the-making/instructor/PhD candidate
“…an endless banquet”

1. Place of birth: Stanford, CA.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: Korova Bar [3908 St-Laurent] or La Sala Rosa.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: ZooBizarre.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Mister Spicee, Ange & Ricky, and Chez Apo have been the holy trinity over the last year.
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Gin & Tonic, although Michelle’s A High Wind in Jamaica at Pop! [250 Avenue des Pins, (514) 287-9127] is pretty nice too.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Berthillon’s Plombière or, more realistically, a good rum-raisin.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Ripe beefsteak tomatoes for BLTs.
8. Mountains or ocean? Ocean. I’m pretty fond of the Atlantic in particular, but I’ve yet to meet an ocean or sea I didn’t like (with the notable exception of the Salton Sea on a 115º F day back in 2001).
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Automobiles, although “Putney,” our 1989 VW Jetta, is giving us grey hairs at the moment. But I do love a good road trip. Trains are pretty great, though, too. Especially in Europe.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Peaches. There are few things that come close to matching a real summer peach at the peak of perfection [check out our account of our trip to Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, CA for proof]. Plus, Nina Simone’s “Four Women” just wouldn’t have been the same if Woman #4 had been named either “Pears” or “Plums.”

Thanks for reading,
Anthony & Michelle

Friday, July 06, 2007

Les Réponses de Chloé (et la Sandwich de Michelle)

chez chloe 1 fig. a: Will the real Chloé please stand up?

One day last week we popped into our favorite chocolate shop, Les Chocolats de Chloé, to see if we could subject Chloé herself to our “…an endless banquet” Summer 2007 Questionnaire. She was kind enough to take time from her schedule to answer our questions and these were her replies:

chez chloe 2 fig. b: chez Les Chocolats de Chloé

Chloé Gervais-Fredette
Les Chocolats de Chloé

1. Place of birth: Montreal.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: Reservoir.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: From my window at Les Chocolats de Chloé.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Does Reservoir count? [eds.—Well, okay.]
5. Favorite summer cocktail: 2007 is the year of white wine for me.
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla Swiss Almond, but, just between the three of us, if you want something really good, try a slice of spice bread, Vanilla Swiss Almond, caramel au beurre salé et vanille fraîche, and a shot of dark rum or bourbon.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Raspberries.
8. Mountains or ocean? Ocean.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Trains.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Plums.

Not long after we left Les Chocolats de Chloé, Michelle’s wheels really started turning. I could tell by that look in her eye. There was something about Chloé’s answer to #6 that had her intrigued, something that made her want to turn this fireside sundae into a summertime sandwich. After mulling it over that night, the next day she got to tinkering, and within a few hours she’d hit upon a combination she liked: a parfait laced with bourbon and Chloé’s very own salted butter caramel for the interior, and a couple of thin, crisp Belgian spéculoos, perhaps the world’s best gingerbread cookies, with hints of ginger and cinnamon and just a little orange. Why a parfait and not an ice cream? Well, not only did it not require churning, but Michelle knew that it would result in a creamy interior that would be much easier to portion. She knew it would taste great, too. And she was right.

Sandwich Chloé fig. c: confection perfection: la Sandwich Chloé

Sandwich Chloé

1. Orange Spéculoos (adapted from Yann Duytsche’s Diversions Sucrées)

260 g sugar
200 g butter
zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
400 g flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tbsp milk

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the zest, spices, flour, salt and baking powder, than the egg and milk. Stir until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour. Roll out on a floured surface to 2 mm thick, cut into desired shapes and chill. Bake at 325° F until golden. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

2. Caramel-Bourbon Parfait (adapted from Patrice Demers: Chef Pâtissier aux Restaurants Les Chevres et Le Chou)

2 eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 cup whipping cream
1 healthy shot bourbon
Chloé’s caramel au beurre salé et vanille fraîche, or any other quality caramel sauce of your liking

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside. Beat the egg yolks with 2 Tbsp. of sugar until it is thick and pale. Add the mascarpone and mix until smooth. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, add the remaining sugar and beat to hard peaks. Fold into the yolk mixture. Whip the cream to medium peaks and add the bourbon. Whip to medium-hard and fold into the egg mixture. Pour into the loaf pan, adding the caramel in layers, if using. Freeze for at least 6 hours.

3. Assembly

Unmold the frozen parfait onto a cutting board. Cut into pieces the same size as the cookies. You can use the same cutter. Place parfait between two cookies and freeze, or eat immediately.

They turned out so well, in fact, that Michelle decided she had to deliver one to Chloé herself just as soon as possible. Well, “as soon as possible” was the next day. At first Michelle had herself convinced that she was capable of zooming down to Chloé’s at such a pace that not only would the ice cream sandwich manage to survive the journey without melting, but it might just be colder upon arrival than it had been when it emerged from the freezer. Luckily I managed to get her to reconsider. She put our Playmate cooler in the freezer, let it chill for a good 30 minutes or so, then, with all the care and precision of an EMT specialist handling a donated organ, Michelle sandwiched the Sandwich Chloé between a couple of ice packs, gently placed the bundle in the frozen cooler, and raced out to her bike to make her Meals on Wheels delivery.

Needless to say, Chloé was a little surprised by the spectacle of Michelle’s arrival—the bike, the cooler, the ice packs, the buried treasure—but she loved her namesake sandwich.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

judge dread 1

pixelnick fig. a: Why is this man smiling?

Not only will "yours truly" be attending Nick's [pictured above] chili cook-off tomorrow night, July 6, at Barfly (!) (4062a St-Laurent), I'll be one of the judges. Pray for me. There'll be free chili (while supplies last) from 8 PM - 10 PM and red hot live musical entertainment from 10 PM - 1 AM.


The Breakfast Club

Montreal is a funny place to be on Canada Day. Those who have to, move, because July 1st is Moving Day here in Montreal, the one day every year where by far and away the most leases exchange hands. Those who can, go to a cottage. And the rest of us are left in the predicament of deciding whether we really want to celebrate our second fête nationale in a week, and, if so, having to contend with what it all means. Luckily, our friend Carlin, who just happens to be one of the chefs at Reservoir, made our breakfast planning easy on us by deciding to set up a Sunday brunch “restaurant” in her backyard (on her day off!), complete with a menu (!), a kitchen staff, and even some table service.

table setting fig. a: before the deluge

We felt instantly at home when we arrived. Not only did the mix & match cutlery and tableware resemble our own mix & match collection at our place, but there was something about the whole ensemble—including the chairs, the tables, and the back deck—that brought to mind The Zoo, a wonderfully ramshackle cottage on Lake Muskoka, ON that we once spent a weekend at. The Zoo was the real deal, a cottage from a time when cottages were still cottages, and its cluttered interior was something of a museum of 1950s and 1960s popular culture. We’d traveled several hundred miles and several years back in time, and we hadn’t even left our neighborhood. Amazing.

We took a look at the menu

breakfast menu fig. b: Canada Day menu

and placed our orders with our friendly waitress: for her, the breakfast sandwich, for him, the frittata. As the tables started to fill up and business began to pick up, our plates arrived before us.

l-r: sausage & egg breakfast sandwich, frittata fig. c: l-r: sausage & egg breakfast sandwich, frittata

Frankly, we were pretty impressed: a delicate and flavorful souffléd frittata with chèvre and cherry tomatoes, with an arugula and shaved fennel salad, and toast; a breakfast sandwich complete with homemade sausage (!) and a homemade bun (!!), and accompanied by a creamy potato salad; minty lemonade with rhubarb schnapps; and all the fresh coffee you could drink. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better Sunday brunch outside of, well, Reservoir, and you’ll never find a Sunday brunch with more character. I mean, how many places in town can you think of that are making their own breakfast sausage? How many restaurants of any stripe can you think of that are baking their own hamburger buns? And how many places can you name that are trimming their herbs from their very own garden?

Between her job at Reservoir and her back-alley restauranting, Carlin was a very busy woman last week, but she still took the time to take our “…an endless banquet” Summer 2007 Questionnaire:

l-r: Flinder, Carlin fig. d: r: Carlin

Carlin Dunsmoor-Farley

1. Place of birth: Vancouver, B.C.
2. Favorite place to unwind after a long day: The water park between Bernard and Van Horne on St-Urbain.
3. Favorite place in Montreal to people-watch: Café Olimpico.
4. Favorite little-known gem of a restaurant: Niu Kee.
5. Favorite summer cocktail: Gin, sake, and cucumber. Camilla made it for me. I think she called it a Twizzler or a Swizzler or something [eds.—Apparently it was a Cucumber Swizzle: 1 oz. Hendrick’s gin; 2.5 oz. Shobu-sake; 1/4 oz. lime juice; splash of soda water; 1 cucumber stick; serve over ice in a highball.]
6. Favorite ice cream flavor: Ginger.
7. Favorite farmstand find: Peaches, and rhubarb.
8. Mountains or ocean? Ocean.
9. Planes, trains, or automobiles? Automobiles, although my “new” 1990 VW Fox is presently by the side of a highway in the Eastern Townships.
10. Peaches, pears, or plums? Peaches.

[Stay tuned. Who knows who we’ll be giving the AEB Summer 2007 Questionnaire to next…]


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Strawberry Socialists

Canada Day weekend got started with what seems likely to become a lasting “…an endless banquet” tradition: the Ormstown Strawberry Social.

Strawberry Social, Ormstown fig. a: June 29, 2007, Ormstown, QC

We’d been talking about going to one of Quebec’s many, many strawberry socials for years now. Home-baked shortcake, fresh Quebec strawberries, whipped cream, a little socializing—what could possibly go wrong? So this year Michelle took the bull by the horns and started doing a little research. That’s how she found out about the Ormstown Strawberry Social in MacDougall Hall. Though it’s situated just 60 km southwest of Montreal along a stretch of the Chateauguay Valley that we know quite well, we’d never been to Ormstown before. Michelle had a good feeling, though. So good, in fact, that she could picture the whole thing: the old Victorian architecture, the well-kept gardens and shade trees and the tidy lawns, the central church, and MacDougall Hall, a stately old town hall sitting next to it. She didn’t have an address, but she claimed she didn’t need one—she’d just know when we got there. And that’s pretty much the way things played out. Ormstown was just as attractive as Michelle had imagined it to be, she knew exactly when and where to make a turn, and, sure enough, there was stately old MacDougall Hall perched just to the left of the central church. It was early still, it was warm and beautiful out, and we’d brought some sandwiches along for a picnic, so we sat down on the lawn in the sunshine and had our dinner and a beverage before joining the social.

New old Sprite, Ormstown fig. b: everything old is new again

Things on the inside of MacDougall Hall were more or less just as Michelle had pictured they’d be too. With our tickets in tow--$6 for a large and $3 for a small—we made our way to the eat-in counter (the take-out counter was located in an alcove off to the right of the front entrance). There we exchanged your ticket for your portion of freshly baked shortcake slathered with the ripest, sweetest strawberries imaginable (barely stewed to perfection), and a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

strawberry shortcake plates, small and large fig. c: l-r: small and large strawberry shortcake plates

Once we’d gotten our plates, we sat ourselves down at a smartly appointed table and were immediately greeted by a friendly man bearing cups and a pot of freshly brewed coffee. We thought we were dreaming. Then we tasted the shortcake and we were sure we were dreaming.

strawberry shortcake, Ormstown fig. d: still life with strawberry shortcake

People were definitely kind of curious about us—everybody else seemed to know each other—but when some of the organizers found out that we’d come in from Montreal it caused a bit of a stir. “You drove all the way in from Montreal just to come here?” “How was the Mercier [Bridge]?” “D’ya get stuck in traffic?” “Where did you hear about us?” “What? You read about us on the internet?” When the storm had blown over, we went back to our table, finished our strawberry shortcake, and talked about how, at that moment, there was nowhere else we’d rather be. We meant it, too.

Want to check out your very own Montreal-area strawberry social featuring real Quebec strawberries? Try the Hudson Strawberry Social in Hudson, QC, just to the west of Montreal at the mouth of the Ottawa Valley. It takes place next Saturday, July 7 at the St. James Church. Start time is 5:30 PM, and, yes, there will be a dessert auction.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Of Swell Maps and Guestblogging

This week, we here at " endless banquet" are once again forging ahead, breaking new ground. We've joined forces with Budget Travel Online and are doing a special week of guestblogging on their site to celebrate the recent release of our "My Montreal is Better Than Yours" feature in the July/August 2007 issue of Budget Travel magazine. You can find our very first Budget Travel Online dispatch here , or, if you're carpal tunnel syndrome is acting up and you just want to hang out here for a while, you'll find the very same dispatch immediately below:

AEB maps

Welcome to Montreal! Bienvenue à Montréal!

Happy belated St-Jean!* And happy belated Canada Day!**

In conjunction with the release of the July/August issue of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine, which includes our somewhat irreverent roundup of the culinary, commercial, and ludic landscape/s of Montreal, and to kick-off our week of guest-blogging at Budget Travel Online, our cartographic division here at “…an endless banquet” took it upon itself to create a series of ultra-high-tech maps in order to assist you in your journey/s (both virtual and real) across our fair city. Consult these maps online or download them onto your very own personal computer and you’ll find virtually every single one of the suggestions contained within our exhaustive “My Montreal is Better Than Yours” field report, plus a few bonus suggestions. They’re relatively accurate, and, better yet, they’re free, absolutely free.

So, without any further ado:

The cover of our “…an endless banquet” Montreal map can be found here.

Meanwhile, one large-scale A.E.B. map of “central Montreal" is located here.

To find A.E.B.'s Map of the Main, the Lower Main, and the Plateau just go here.

And, finally, get your very own A.E.B. Map of Mile End, Little Italy, Villeray, and Parc Ex (and Outremont too) here.

Thanks for reading,
Anthony & Michelle

*”La St-Jean” is June 24, St. John the Baptist’s saint day. It’s also the fête nationale of Quebec.

**Canada Day, July 1, is, of course, our national holiday.