Getting to know the drive…

La Grotta Del Formaggio
1791 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
604.255.3911

 

On a tip from Lisa I headed out to check out the Panini at La Grotta Del Formaggio. La Grotta Del Formaggio is an Italian deli and specialty shop, which while notable contributions, they are perhaps best known for the fresh Panini they make. They have a couple small tables outside, but other than that you’ve got to take your sandwiches to go, but they are perfect sandwiches for a picnic. The trouble you’ll have when you are standing there is in the deciding. This visit after choosing between focaccia or roll and half or full I made no other choices, instead I got the works. A never ending assortment of pickled and roasted vegetables from red pepper to artichoke hearts, two types of cheese (Bononcini and provolone), olive oil, balsamic, Dijon mustard, and pesto mayonnaise…why choose?! The reality is the next time I go I will make some choices because the Dijon was very robust, almost overpowering the sandwich, but it was all so good. They’ll put it in a Panini press or not, whichever you prefer. They’ll wrap it in paper and you will walk away with a splendid gift. It wasn’t my favorite sandwich ever, but I’m a tough critic in this department, however it is a fun sandwich experience. I also haven’t tried the meat versions, which I am sure are lovely as well. So I’m going to give La Grotta Del Formaggio a Very Good rating. While you are there take a look around and see if there is anything of interest to add to your modern pantry!

And as a bit of blog post bonus when you are there, you might as well stop right next door and grab a pastry at Fratelli Bakery for your picnic. My suggestion is the pecan shortbread, my all time favorite, granted I haven’t tried everything J, but there are a number of yummies there!

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kiss and run…jedi mind tricks and other adventures

Abigail’s Party
1685 Yew Street, Vancouver
604.739.4677

 

Who doesn’t like a party?! And Abigail throws a great one. Her party was just the first stop of the evening, but a great start. I loved my Moroccan Chicken, a bit of gamble in west coast restaurant, but the portion was great, the serving style was a refreshing twist on the richer saucier traditional Moroccan dishes, but had all the right flavors and the presentation was beautiful. The couscous was a lovely accompaniment with a mix of sweet, savory, and a nutty crunch. My host thoroughly enjoyed the Qualicom Beach Scallops and a bit of my couscous as well. A good selection of beer and wine, in particular I really enjoyed the house Chardonnay which is the Bonterra Organic Chardonnay (California). The desserts looked tempting and the waiter even suggested they help one connect with their inner child…which is cool…but we were stuffed and needed to move on to part two of the planned event – Yuk Yuks, so no time to search out our inner child. Abigail’s boasts a local, organic, and sustainable food ethic, which although is very trendy I’ve come to appreciate it. It is a small, long, and narrow restaurant appointed with dark tones with warm lighting and a buzz with good ambiance. I had heard a couple of mixed things about the restaurant, but I really enjoyed my time there. There was a certain je ne sais quoi added to the experience that I credit to my dinner companion that you may not be able to replicate on your visit…so my advice in general is if you’re not sure that you’ll love a restaurant, at least make sure to go with someone who makes you laugh so you enjoy the evening. Like all things Kitsilano parking is near impossible to find, but overall for Abigail’s Party I’d say the service was great, the food was excellent, and atmosphere was enjoyable.

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This ain’t your mama’s pantry – a road map to truffle pasta

Many of us recall pantry dinners of our adolescence, classics like the tuna casserole made up entirely of preserved, shelved ingredients. Pantries of the 80’s and 90’s were stocked full of cans of tuna, salmon, Campbell’s soups, condensed milk, and boxed rice, Kraft dinner, cereal, pudding powder and more. Just in case of a hurricane, unexpected invasion, or some other apocalyptic occurrence our mothers would have been fully prepared. Despite thinking we know better than our moms, with our busy schedules a few well chosen pantry items can ensure we’ve got something quick and good to eat when we get home late and don’t feel like ordering pizza. But to forge out on our own and add a bit of flare to the mom classic we have our modern pantry. To start, the modern pantry doesn’t generally contain enough food to sustain a family of 10 through a week of isolation, and the contents tend toward the more gourmet. Modern pantries are well thought out and stocked to be a bit more of a just in time inventory. The contents are premium including items with truffle, capers, tuna packed in herbed olive oil, and other fine foods shipped from around the globe…it is a whole new world, and this ain’t your mama’s pantry!

 

The first pantry dinner feature is truffle pasta with truffle butter. This dish, dished up by the divine Valerie, is so easy I’m not going to give you a recipe, but more of a road map. The truffle pasta, truffle butter (or oil), and truffles themselves can be purchased at specialty gourmet shops (this is where you will find many of the contents for your modern pantry). If you are using real truffles you can skip the truffle pasta, and just use premium pasta. So here we go. Boil some water (generously salt the water so it tastes like the sea). Add the truffle pasta and boil until al dente. Reserve a quarter cup of the boiling liquid in a cup and then strain the water. In a frying pan large enough to hold all the pasta at low to medium heat melt several tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of truffle butter (just melt the butter, don’t burn or brown). Add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss with the melted butter. Add a bit of the reserved boiling liquid to the pasta and serve. You can shave a little fresh parmesan on top or just serve straight up. To speed things up this was made as a two pot dinner, but you could melt the butter in the pasta pot and make this a one pot meal. Fresh tomato toasts are a nice side…but does venture you solidly out of the pantry dinner which requires fresh ingredients in the fridge! Truffle pasta gets a Dish it! again n again rating. So to start your modern pantry off make sure you’ve got a bag or box of gourmet pasta, and something with a little truffle in it.

 

Just a couple of my favourite specialty food shops:
Calgary: Cookbook Co., Mercato
Vancouver: Meinhardt, Edible British Columbia
Montreal: La Vieille Europe

 

If you’ve got a favorite specialty food shop share it in the comments!

We’re not singing the blues (we’re slamm’n them)…birthday part 2

Me & Julio
2095 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
604.696.9997

 

This ‘modern Mexican kitchen and cantina’ is the spin off of another one of my Vancouver treasures Lolita’s. So given my admiration of the classic margarita it was a perfect stop for me to kick-off the weekend birthday festivities! And there is so much to celebrate. Spring has sprung in Vancouver, the Canucks are rocking the playoffs, and it is of course my birthday. We feasted over fresh chips and an assortment of yummy salsas and guacamole. I love salsa verde but the mango salsa was my favorite in the salsa trio, and the margaritas were delicious!! Me & Julio is larger than Lolita’s which makes for a nice open restaurant with a great buzz and atmosphere, with bigger tables and space for a party than Lolita’s but with a smaller group or a date definitely try Lolita’s. Me & Julio gets a Very Good, and I’m looking forward to going back and trying a meal.

 

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My birthday present from British Columbia – my BC drivers License!

Finches Tea House
353 Pender Street West Vancouver
604.899.4040

 

To kick off this weekend’s birthday extravaganza and get me through an afternoon of DMV fun, when I’d already spent the morning there as well I headed over to Finches Tea House to fuel up. A corner restaurant in a prominent building at Pender and Homer this inviting tea shop is a delight for the senses. The menu is chalked on to ornately gold framed chalk boards, and old books, records, and antiques are cluttered around the room and hanging from the walls.  Water is always available for patrons to pour themselves a glass and there is a selection between water with cucumber slices and one with lemons. The beverages are typically premium Italian juices and waters and they have a large loose leaf tea selection. The offering of sweet treats from oatmeal chocolate cookies to dark chocolate brownies, and their selection of baguettes and salads all thoughtfully prepared. Baguettes are served in brown paper if you’re eating in, and wrapped and tied in brown paper if your taking away. It doesn’t matter what you order it will be fresh and delicious, but my favorites are the free range egg salad and the Bononcini tomato basil sandwich. The great news is after I left here and headed back to the dreaded licensing bureau of BC I got my first birthday present of the weekend – My BC driver’s license! I live in the most beautiful place on earth and now I can drive and vote here. So all the me stuff aside I’m giving Finches a Very Good…in the sandwich department alone though it gets a Great!  I believe they serve breakfast as well, but I’ve not been yet for that.

 

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Making me miss Montreal

Bistrot Bistro
1961 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
604.732.0004

 

At a bistro (or Bistrot) the food is paramount, but not too complex, the atmosphere is modest, and the beverage of choice is wine. And Bistrot Bistro accomplishes that with a bit of a west coast flare. This small restaurant on West 4th is a delicious and comfy place to spend an evening. The wine selection even by the glass is excellent. The menu is well chosen and has great options. I tried the most decadent dish on the menu for sure which was duck confit on macaroni and cheese…it was unreal good. I love duck confit and the flavour of duck throughout the macaroni and cheese was mouth watering. Now granted I could barely eat half of my meal because it was so rich, but it was worth it. My dinner date had the filet mignon and quite enjoyed it. The servers were attentive, but did drive me a bit crazy with how often they approached us, it is a delicate balance for perfect service and in Vancouver there are few places that have it just right. The service staff wear t-shirts keeping things simple and the walls are colorful accented by tea light candles everywhere. There is a selection of international clocks by the front door, and a Montreal Forum seat in the bathroom waiting area. It doesn’t quite meet the standard of some of my favorite Montréal places, but it is very good, and made me miss ‘home’ quite a bit.  Make sure to call ahead for reservations this petite restaurant is clearly a fan favourite and fills up quickly!

 

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Motorbikes, sunburns…and a good rosé to finish

Bin 942
1521 W Broadway, Vancouver
604.734.9421

 

I think anytime it takes an entire week of posts to describe your weekend you must have had a great weekend. I drove by Bin 942 two times and couldn’t see it, so it certainly isn’t an easy find, but it is ‘a find’ once you do. From the street it isn’t very visible, and inside it is small, eclectic, and the seating is comfortable. I have wanted to try one of the Bin tapas wine bars for years now and never had the chance. But given that I was meeting up with an oenophile (eh-no-file) it made sense to finally try one of them out. As in classic Gayle style I have forgotten the names of the wines we drank, and their online menu was no help in this regard because I can’t find the Rosé we drank. But I can say we started with a glass of bubbles, followed by a glass of dry Rosé (first time I realized there are Roses that aren’t sweet and are enjoyable), and then with our final course we had red. Them drinks were gooood, and not remembering their names make me feel a bit like a player that forgets the name of their date. But what I do remember is the fluffy warm cornmeal dusted Navjao fry bread served with the beautifully plated olive humous, the cedar wrapped salmon that melts in your mouth and to finish the robust lamb tapas with a samosa side. Not quite tapas in my opinion, a bit too large and really only sharable for two, whereas the tapas I had in Spain tended to be shareable with more than two, but very good big bites to accompany a fine selection of wines. I cut it a little late on the departure, but I still made my flight!

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When you realize it just doesn’t matter anymore and you cannot be bothered …drinks anyone?

The New Bohemian
3162 Broadway West Vancouver
604.736.7576


After a trip into Kerrisdale I headed down to a new spot called The New Bohemian for some arcane enlightenment…or pints of Guinness depending on how you look at it…lol. They claim to have a social ethic that is unpretentious, um I’m not sure about that, but what I can say they have is a great atmosphere for drinks with an old friend, a new friend, or a group of friends. It has lounge lighting, a fireplace, and candles at each table that all culminate into a warm and inviting atmosphere. The service and selection are good. I haven’t tried the food, but I’ll be back to try and keep you posted. What is remarkable to me is they say they are open weekdays to 2am, which I think has to be some kind of a record for Vancouver the city that sleeps early. Because I haven’t tried the food I’m going to give it a Very Ok to be revised upon more exploration.

 

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Cheers to running on pier rails again…

Fish Café
2053 West 41st Ave, Vancouver (Kerrisdale)
604.267.3474

This weekend included great wine, amazing food, a walk on the beach, an 11 mile run, and a motorcycle ride. It is certainly almost all blog worthy so we’ll walk our way through it starting at the beginning. I was meeting a friend in Kerrisdale Friday evening so before meeting them I decided to eat at one of my favourites that I haven’t been to in a while – Fish Café. The fish sandwiches here are excellent and I’ve convinced myself since they aren’t deep fried they might actually be good for me. Eating this sandwich made me dream of Big Daddy Fish Fry sandwiches from Tofino (not quite that good a sandwich…but can’t wait to eat one of those this summer!)  I had the blackened halibut sandwich on Friday…yum yum! The rice is only so so…I prefer the salad (which they don’t ask you if you want, but for a price they’ll add it for you). The short menu is displayed on a blackboard in the middle of the restaurant, but all the options are good and the fish is fresh. The food is served in baskets with waxed paper in them and the cutlery is rolled in a napkin on the table. The atmosphere is slightly nicer than a diner, but making reservations is a good idea, because although it isn’t five star dining there are a limited number of tables and because the food it good it is almost always packed. I’m so happy I reminded myself about this place and looking forward to returning again. I’ll give Fish Café a Very Good.

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