"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eating Vancouver, Part the Third

OK, so Lumiere. Once per trip, Mr. Gateau and I try to treat ourselves to a really special evening out, and often that means we go to the lovely and thoughtful Bishop's in Kits. However, Mr. Gateau had often spoked glowingly of the vegetarian tasting menu he'd eaten years before at Lumiere, which as far as I can tell, is basically the French Laundry of Vancouver.

Even fine dining in Vancouver tends to the west coast casual, though Lumiere is the tiniest bit more dressed up in atmosphere. Still, you would not feel out of place in jeans, and there is not a whiff of pretentiousness, even though everyone there knows that Rob Feenie can cook the pants off of most anyone.

They offer an a la carte menu, a seven-course chef's or vegetarian menu, and the total decadence overload of the ten-course "signature" menu. At $180 a person, plus the fact that we thought we might explode if we attempted it, we decided to go for the more than enticing chef's menu, and wisely skipped cocktails and went right for the wine, a local Chardonnay. While we were kicking these important issues around, we were served a dish of lovely gougeres. I will note for the record that of the six on the plate, Mr. Gateau "forgot" that he was only entitled to three, and took one of mine.

Then we began. Because a mere seven courses plus gougeres might leave us starving to death, we first were served an amuse-bouche of heirloom tomato soup, which was more or less the best cup of tomato juice you ever ate. Then our first official course arrived: scallop tartare with a tiny amount of fresh jalapeno and caviar. We both agreed that this was utterly divine, even though Mr. Gateau is not a huge shellfish fan.

Next up was a ravioli stuffed with luscious short rib of beef, in a wild mushroom and truffle consomme. You'd think this would be a little heavy for midsummer, but it was just meaty enough, while remaining light in texture and tasted of the woods. Phenomenal.

The fish course was a knockout -- pan seared Arctic char with grainy mustard risotto, peas, morels, and a red wine reduction. The skin on the fish was incredibly crispy and the risotto is something I now dream of (I'm going to attempt it tonight, though what I really need to do is buy Rob Feenie's cookbook in the hope the recipe is in there).

Instead of duck or red meat in the meat course (both duck and lamb were on the signature menu, and that was what really tempted me about it), this menu has a combination of butter-poached lobster and Redbro chicken breast cooked two ways, with parsnip puree, caramelized cauliflower, candied walnuts, and truffles. I wasn't that excited about this, and still don't quite see how the lobster and chicken work together, but every element on that plate was perfectly prepared. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a piece of chicken so much.

By then we could see our limits in sight, but next up was cheese. Each of us was given a little form with the available cheeses listed, with short descriptions, and told to pick three each. We decided to pool resources, and I think we did a great job, especially as we tend to go for the more pungent offerings, but we tried for a good range of styles. That was served with paper-thin chewy slices of fruit-studded bread.

For dessert, the menu offered a chocolate and beet fondant with pepper ice cream, aged balsamic-macerated strawberries, and beet raspberry coulis. That was ideal for the chocolate fiend Mr. Gateau, but I had my eye on one of the signature menu offerings, and they had no problem making the substitution for me: apricot and lavender millefeuille with vanilla poached apricots, almond pastry, manjari chocolate and lavender parfait. That was killer. Those flavors came together just perfectly for me. That, and an espresso capped it.

But wait! God forbid we stop eating, a two-tiered display of creative, beautiful, and delicious candies and petit fours were presented. So we did our best, but sadly we had to leave some over. Human beings have their limits. I can't imagine how anyone completes the signature menu, but I aim to find out some day.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Eating Vancouver, Part the Second

On Monday we joined friends at the Parkside restaurant in the West End. The restaurant, which features slightly Italian-inflected modern cooking, offers four courses, and you can choose prix fixe options of all four courses or any three. After pretending that we might be delicate flowers, we gave up the pretense after a cocktail and went for the four course option. We were seated outside on the lovely patio, though we had to move inside for dessert due to noise regulations barring occupancy of the patio after 10pm. So civilized, those Canadians.

For cocktails, I chose not to go fruity, for once, and had their Buckeye Martini, which is a nice take on the Dirty Martini. This is frozen vodka served in a glass rimmed with lemon salt, and served with a side of "gourmet" olives. There was also wine, but frankly I drank too much of it to remember many of the details.

My first course was seared scallops with pea puree, sherry vinegar caramel, and micro greens. Mr. Gateau had the foie gras terrine special, which was introduced as the chef's "signature dish." I followed with a lobster and sweet corn risotto and got to taste the wonderful gorgonzola ravioli that the friend next to me had. For a main course I had a superb New Zealand veal chop that was lemony and flavorful, which also marks the first time I've ever chosen to eat veal in the presence of Mr. Gateau, who usually spoils the mood by rolling his eyes and sighing ostentatiously. He was seated at the other end of the table, and by then it was dark anyway.

For dessert, we decided to share several options, including the cheese plate. We also had pink grapefruit sorbet with grapefruit sections and vanilla sauce, and poached apricots with almond cake and cinnamon ice cream.

On Tuesday evening we unloaded Young Master Gateau on his grandma, and we were hankering for sushi, so we decided to take Mr. Gateau's dad and stepmother out to thank them for all their babysitting help. We had always enjoyed Octopus' Garden in Kitsilano, but it's become a bit of a family joke that every year when we visit, they are somehow closed when we want to go. This time we made it, and we had a delicious meal, but it wasn't what we had expected. Sometime in the last few years, they have changed their menu from traditional sushi to the trendy "Japanese tapas" with an emphasis on order the chef's omakase, which as far as I can tell from eyeballing the table next to us just means they serve you basically all the dishes on the regular menu.

For the table we ordered: the special miso soup (which I did not have, opting instead for a sunomono-style seaweed salad), foie gras nigiri (which was delicious, but I'm not sure entirely worth it), tempura "fish and chips" with yam fries, spicy tuna mango roll (excellent), a "risky business" roll of smoked and fresh sockeye salmon with asparagus and avocado, and a fancy version of a California roll, plus probably something I'm forgetting.

As I said before, this was all really good, but it adds a level of fussiness and foodieness to food that at its best leverages pure simplicity to let the tremendous quality of the ingredients available in B.C. to take center stage. This is the second of our favorite traditional sushi places in Vancouver to go in this direction, and we're a little at sea with respect to knowing where to get plain old regular, but good quality, sushi in Vancouver with a pleasant ambiance.

Next post will tell you all about one of the best (and most expensive) meals I've ever had, or probably ever will have: Mr. & Mrs. Gateau unload their kids and go to Lumiere.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Eating Vancouver, Part 1

On our first weekend in Vancouver, we began eating and basically never stopped. We were aided in this by a lot of rainy weather, but really, it would have happened anyway.

We started on the first evening with Greek tapas at our favorite Greek Town restaurant, Ouzeri. Ouzeri is one of the first places Mr. Gateau took me to on my first visit to Vancouver, and we always head there whenever we're in town. They used to make absolutely the best lemon roasted potatoes either of us had ever eaten, but these have slipped to ordinary in the last few years. Everything else remains good, so we ordered up a good spread of dips (hummus, olive, and feta-spicy pepper) with fluffy hot pita, saganaki cheese, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, fried calamari, spanakopita, and some chicken souvlaki skewers. Along with Mr. Gateau's dad, we polished off a pitcher of sangria with it.

The next day, in case our bodies were close to having digested the Greek food, we headed to possibly the best dim sum restaurant anywhere. I certainly haven't encountered better in dim sum eating that has taken place elsewhere in Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. The restaurant is Sun Sui Wah, and it is clear from the crowds and the commendations on the walls that this is the favorite for many people. They specialize in seafood, so we ate plenty of shrimp and squid, but they have an extensive list of vegetarian dim sum as well as meat-based dishes. Young Master Gateau held out for everyone favorite, the barbecue roast pork steamed buns, which he called "Fluffy Buns," and ate a whole order himself.

That afternoon, we attended the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which has a terrific area for food vendors. My meal of fish tacos with local halibut, chipotle sauce, basil sauce, radish sprouts, and papaya salsa with hot sauce and lime, plus and ear of roasted corn with butter and lemon salt, and a fresh lemonade, eaten at the beachfront site just before sunset, hit the spot perfectly.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Cooking

I was going to name this post something really stupid like "Hot Tips for Summer Cooking" but decided to spare us all.

I'm sure this is getting linked to all over the universe, as it's the #1 most emailed post on the New York Times website, but it's really worth it. 101 great ideas.

Eating to Oblivion

The Gateaux and I have just returned from our annual vacation to Vancouver, where we did little other than eat everything in sight. Without going into excruciating detail right this minute, I will say that we covered the gamut from dim sum to sushi to a seven course tasting menu to Greek to Mexican to family dinner at home.

I will note that Vancouver has incredibly good food, but the dining trends seem to run a few years behind New York and L.A., and when they fall for a trend, they really commit. So it's gotten easy to find Japanese "tapas" with things like foie gras nigiri, tempura "fish and chips" and mango-spicy tuna rolls (all delicious, by the way), it's getting harder and harder to find nice traditional sushi. And our formerly cheap vacation has been rather undermined by the decline of the U.S. dollar, so you're paying top price for those bits of rice and fish. Even the local bars tend to tart things up in a foodie sort of way. Not that it's bad that there's all this attention to good eating, but it did make me long a bit for a plain old burger or steak.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Green beans

Isn't it sad to see how those beautiful purple beans turn ordinary green after cooking? Oh well, I squeezed some lemon over them, opened a can of the good Italian tuna, put a little more lemon and some sundried tomatoes from a jar, a bit of sea salt, and call it an impromptu salade nicoise.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Great Indoors

On Friday, I went out and bought a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and a bar of Hershey's Milk Chocolate, since A CERTAIN PERSON was going to make s'mores with me, but THAT CERTAIN PERSON had to run to get her train, leaving the s'mores unmade. So I took this opportunity to experiment with two types of indoor s'mores.

For the first s'more, I placed a marshmallow on one half of a graham cracker, put a block of the chocolate on top, and put the other half of the graham cracker on top. I then placed the whole shebang in the toaster oven, set at 300 degrees, and baked for around three minutes. I must say, the result was no fun at all -- the chocolate melted and made a gooey mess; the graham cracker burned my fingers; and worst of all, the marshmallow didn't melt, but rather just got a wee bit soft. In sum: totally unsatisfactory.

For the next s'more, I put the marshmallow on a long fork, turned on the stove burner, and toasted the marshmallow. (I have a gas stove, but I used to toast marshmallows over my parents' electric range when I was a kid.) The only problem was that toasting a marshmallow over a gas stove makes the marshmallow hotter than when you toast it over a bonfire, presumably because the marshmallow is closer to the flame, so that the marshmallow kept bursting into flames. But all was well, as I quickly lapsed into the old Girl Scout trick of blowing the marshmallow out. Once the marshmallow was toasted to a nice black/brown, I put it between the graham crackers with the chocolate. Mmmmmmm -- nearly perfect s'morey goodness.

The verdict: the stove method wins, no contest.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Just picked

Just picked from my garden, purple string beans! Later in the summer we're hoping for red carrots and yellow cucumbers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Things Learned at a Birthday Party

On Sunday, Baby Gateau and I had our first joint birthday celebration. He turned one and I turned, well, something older than that. We had a bunch of friends and family over for a backyard barbecue, kept pretty simple with hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salad, fruit, and cake. This being my house, I also set out a well-edited cocktail bar with fixings for margaritas and gin & tonics, but I also happened to have quite a lot of the limoncello I'd made two Christmases ago.

So the first thing I learned: you can make a really nice cocktail with limoncello. To wit: a big glug of limoncello, over ice, topped off with lemon-lime seltzer (I guess you could use Sprite if you want something sweeter), lemon wedges, and a sprig of mint.

Second, I didn't want to fuss around with making dips and such, so I bought a big container of spinach dip at Costco. It's really good, at least as good as the one you make with frozen spinach, sour cream, and a packet of that Knorr vegetable soup mix. So go ahead, save yourself the hassle and just buy some. It's really good with Stacey's "Simply Naked" pita chips.