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WHERE TO EAT IN VANCOUVER by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Le Cirque by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Châteauneuf-du-Pape by John Mariani
WHERE TO EAT IN VANCOUVER
by John Mariani
As a roving gourmand, I’ve become particularly enchanted with Vancouver's rich gastronomy.
The city is reputed to have one restaurant for every 156 people, and just about every one of them delights in fresh seafood, from Chinook salmon and Dungeness crab to sablefish and big, fat briny local oysters. Chefs also draw from farms, cattle ranches, dairies, salmon hatcheries, and wineries no more than an hour or two away. In just the last ten years more than 150 vineyards—many easy enough to visit--have been planted in the nearby sloping valleys and are now beginning to rival some of the best in Oregon, Washington State, and Northern California.
And with two Chinatowns teeming with food markets and restaurants, the evidence of a longstanding Asian influence on the cuisine is manifest in the lavish Sunday dim sum brunches and banquet feasts that celebrate the people’s good fortune to have settled here.
One of best places to sample the full array of BC seafood is in trendy Yaletown--the Blue Water Café and Raw Bar (left; 1095 Hamilton; 604-688-8070), which does indeed specialize in uncooked seafood and sushi, along with a menu of dishes like Arctic char with barley risotto scented with vanilla sauce, and Sunshine Coast sturgeon with fennel and smoked brandade.
For haute cuisine Canadian-style, the long-running West (right; 2881 Granville Street; 604-738-8938), formerly Ouest, is the star of the South Granville district, and Chef David Hawksworth is considered one of Canada’s brightest. Working behind a beveled glass kitchen wall—with two chef’s tables—he uses mostly organic seasonal ingredients in dishes like pink bream and lobster with honey mussel clam chowder, and Canadian beef with shortribs cannelloni. The beautiful cherry bar here is stocked with one of the best winelists in Vancouver.
West’s principal competitor at the high end is C Restaurant (left; 1600 Howe Street; 604-681-1164), whose chef Robert Clark prides himself on a very eclectic, quite daring East-West-style tasting menus made from sustainable seafood configured as much to dazzle the eye as your palate. On my last visit Clark produced little marvels of flavor, texture, and presentation that included shaved Albacore tuna spiked with chili and pomelo, a confit of sablefish scented with tarragon, and “All Night Braised” shortribs of beef with wine vinegar and a salsa verde.
A little down the food chain in style, the casual Raincity Grill (1193 Denman; 604-685-7337), has, since 1992, been a West End fixture and local favorite smack up against English Bay. Known for its terrific winelist (more than 100 selections by the glass) and wine dinners, “RG” is also famous for its brunches, which can include candied wild salmon Benedict with rösti potatoes, and a Dungeness crab and green onion “scramble” with buckwheat cakes and daikon radish slaw.
One of the newest spots in town, appropriately named Nu (1661 Granville Street; 604-646-4668), sitting smack on the fast-flowing waters of False Creek and across from the lights of Granville Island, is done up like a sleek, art deco oceanliner (right). Chef Robert Belcham keeps his food simple and personalized, like his crispy oysters with Granville Island Beer, braised pork belly with pears, walnuts and cider vinegar, and roasted halibut with clams. On weekends the “floating bar” here, with its own light menu, is thronged with young Vancouverites.
A real surprise on my latest trip was a very unassuming place on the False Creek marina whose mundane name—Ocean 6 Seventeen (617 Stamps Landing; 604-879-6168)—tells you nothing about the wonderful, unpretentious, wholly focused cooking of Chef Sean Cousins unpretentious, which ranges from a delicious “lobster dynamite roll” to perfect pan-seared halibut with rosemary honey. Squid comes crispy in a dusting of corn crumbs, served with tomatillo salsa and avocado relish. and there's s good selection of artisanal cheese to go with the splendid BC winelist here. Owner Maureen Fleming is one of the most ebullient of hosts in town, too, and this is a very pretty spot from which to watch the maritime flow of people and boats.
My favorite new restaurant of the moment is the very popular, very affable Senova (left; 1864 West 57th Avenue; 604-266-8643), run by Portuguese chef Manuel Ferreira, who is rightly proud of his heritage and shows it in robust dishes like roast suckling pig, salt cod with roasted tomato and garlic sauce, and chicken with hot piri-piri sauce. There is a good selection of tapas like grilled sardines and tapenade and salt cod with pan-fried potatoes and peppers. The winelist reflects some of the best bottlings coming out of Iberia these days.
Given Vancouver’s west coast location and a history of Asian immigration, you’ll not want to miss visiting its two Chinatowns. The original, between Abbott and Gore Streets, is chockablock with open air markets and scores of eateries. One of the best is Sun Sui Wah (3888 Main Street; 604-872-8822), known for its squab dishes and Peking duck. But the new Chinatown of Richmond is fast gaining a rep for authentic regional cuisine. Richmond used to be farmland but it has been developed with huge shopping malls, and 98 percent of the inhabitants are now Asian, most of whom seem to be having Sunday lunch at the gargantuan Kirin Seafood (7900 Westminster Highway; 604-308-8833), which on a Sunday can serve more than a thousand people—overwhelmingly Chinese-Americans. It is a very handsome restaurant on the third level, with mahogany carved wood chairs, hanging lamps, and a vast menu that begins with carts of dim sum wheeled throughout the dining room (right) carrying items like pork ribs, fried chicken cartilage, and myriad soup dumplings. Also delicious is the fried King crab with garlic and hot peppers and onion, available only three weeks during the season, which is, fortunately, right now.
One of the very fine restaurants in Vancouver is working, of all places, at the the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, which is itself a very fine, modern hotel and near enough to the city to make it worthwhile throughout your stay. Here Globe@YVR restaurant is set at the swanky lobby level with a wonderful view of the comings-and-goings of jet planes. The menu, under chef David Wong, tries to please all tastes, but his dinner menu is full of truly wonderful dishes like sweetbreads and prawns over mushroom risotto; Quebec foie gras torchon with a warm vanilla and pear French toast with cranberry jelly (outstandingly good); Fraser Valley chicken with gnocchi, chanterelles, and corn in a rich roasted chicken broth; and rosemary-and-pecorino crusted rack of lamb (sadly, not from Canada but New Zealand), with cranberry beans and braised lamb cassoulet with a preserved plum sauce. The apple pudding cake with caramel sauce makes for a first-rate dessert. The winelist is also excellent here. Starters run C$9-$21, main courses C$29-$43, with a vegetarian tasting menu at C$49.
Over on Vancouver Island in the capital city of Victoria, there is also a small Chinatown and new restaurants and storefront eateries on almost every corner. You need not walk more than a few yards without finding a cafe or pastry shop, and for some of the best Italian food I've had in Canada, there is the very likable, no frills Zambri's (
For the big splurge in Victoria, dine in the grand and majestic Empress Room (right) at the Fairmount Empress Hotel. It is such a beautiful dining venue, with impeccable service, an excellent winelist, and sumptuous food served on refined china and in stemware. Begin with a chilled crab cake "flight," with three types of sauces, of slowly cooked pork and manchego chimichangas with mango and sesame vinaigrette and a chive cream, then move on to a juicy cut of Alberta Prime rib within a roasted garlic and fines herbes crust, with baby potatoes, vegetables, and a jusy scented with horseradish. Appetizers run C$9-$17, entrees C$24-$37.
And while touring the environs of tony Oak Bay on Vancouver Island, make a stop where everyone else does, at a little stand that's been around for decades that sells the odd combo--not on the same plate--of fish and chips and soft frozen yogurt.
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
NEW YORK CORNER
One Beacon Court
151 East 58th Street
I’ve been waiting since last summer to report on the new incarnation of Le Cirque, its third, and I’m glad I did. When it opened last June I didn't feel the restaurant was hitting its stride, and subsequent visits indicated that this New York gastro-icon was taking more time than anyone expected to get in synch. It took a while for service problems to be ironed out and new staff whipped into shape, but the real problem--evident to just about every food writer and many fans of the restaurant who dined there--was that the food lacked the kind of excitement that Le Cirque had previously been famous for over three decades.
Indeed, food has always been paramount here, despite the babblings of those who have always insisted that Le Cirque is a place for celebrities and snobs, while the "poor schlumps" (a curious choice of words used by people who would never admit to being one) were sadistically shoved off to bad tables and served sub-standard fare. True, the pampering of famous guests was rife in the oddly configured, L-shaped original dining room, opened in 1974 on East 65th Street (which Restaurant Daniel now occupies), but the second Le Cirque in the Palace Hotel (now the restaurant Gilt) was composed of two rectangular rooms where only a neurotic could puzzle out which was a good or bad table.
But what truly distinguishes Le Cirque then and now is the Maccioni family's commitment to the very finest in food and wine, from the days when Alain Sailhac was the chef, then Daniel Boulud, then Sylvain Portay, then Sottha Kuhn. Its culinary reputation remained fixed, give or take a star, throughout that entire era, at a time when other haute French restaurants were fading and closing. In addition to highly refined classic French cuisine, Le Cirque was in the forefront of many nouvelle cuisine concepts and in the vanguard of promoting modern la cucina italiana, along with Italian wines. Former pastry chef Jacques Torres revolutionized dessert-making in America, and meanwhile the Maccionis always offered daily specials that were homey, gutsy, and extremely popular.
Le Cirque was a place where on any given night you might spy Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti, Woody Allen, Paloma Picasso, Bill Cosby, Rudy Giuliani, and Barbara Walters. The glory of the place was in its circus-like atmosphere, swirling with vitality and buzz, always with captains brandishing silver pots of white truffles, sommeliers popping corks on magnums of
After leaving The Palace, it took more than two years before Le Cirque surfaced again, this time in the Bloomberg Tower, on the ground floor of the courtyard. Adam Tihany was again the architect, this time trading in the controversial yellow-and-red decor of Le Cirque 2000 for an arching, soaring dining room of 16,000 with plenty of glass, plenty of room between tables--only 95 seats--and all sorts of witty references to the restaurant's literal and figurative name, the Circus. Indeed, a kind of glowing circus tent hovers over the main dining room. By the way, there is a smaller dining room at the end of the arc, with perfectly fine tables, but those who need to feel snubbed will probably find their neuroses fed there. There is also a bustling, more casual glass bar/lounge (above) with a remarkable $25 three-course lunch box. In the dining room most men will wear jackets and ties, though the latter is no longer required.
Early on some critics wrote that perhaps Le Cirque had simply gotten a bit gray, but most comments were about the food, which, under chef Pierre Schaedelin (who had been at the last Le Cirque for two years), was of good quality but had little real panache. I had to agree. My meals were pleasant enough, with a few high points, but the more I ate the more I recalled the truly great meals I'd had under other chefs in the past. One of his signature dishes at the time was sardines four ways, not an item likely to enter the pantheon of Le Cirque classics like pasta primavera and crème brûlée.
It was, then, with renewed appetite that I returned three times in the past two months to sample the cooking of Le Cirque's new chef, Christophe Bellanca, 34, whose cuisine I loved when he was chef at the now defunct L'Orangerie in Los Angeles. Half-Italian, half-French, Bellanca has cooked in restaurants throughout the
My first two meals under Bellanca's new tenure at Le Cirque were encouraging but, oddly, not wonderful. Flavors were tentative, overcooking marred some dishes, and there didn't seem to be the kind of imagination I had known of his cooking in Los Angeles. Limp flowers on the table, unpoured wine, and other service gaffes made the evenings lackluster. I was, therefore, exultant when I returned this week and put myself in Bellanca's hands for a tasting menu--specifying that I only wanted to eat food that was from the regular menu for the season. I was not disappointed.
We began with an amuse of zucchini flowers stuffed with zucchini, parmigiano and mint with a tomato coulis and lemon pulp--all flavors that played off each other's textures, sweetness, and acids. Next was sliced, marinated tuna served three ways, with a tomato gelée and arugula sorbet--novel turns on what has become a cliché elsewhere.
Superb in every way was a single fat langoustine cooked à la plancha with Asian mixed vegetables and a coconut lemongrass jus that never strayed into the exotic for its own sake. So, too, a turbot treated to ginger and herbs, with Swiss chard, tomato and lemon, Japanese mushrooms, and citrus vinaigrette was a smart idea, even if the fish itself was a little dry and flavorless.
How much can any chef do with beef tenderloin and foie gras? Hasn't it been done to death ever since tounedos Rossini hit the plate a century ago? Somehow Bellanca redeems the idea, slicing two pieces of well-fatted, velvety tenderloin with a sliver of luscious foie gras and cooks them to a degree that must be within milliseconds of absolute perfection, then adds to the dish a millefeuille of carrots, honey, and pepper--a spectacularly simple masterpiece of form and texture.
Pastry chefs Vincent Jaoura and Antonio Hernandez are producing some of the finest desserts in the city right now, including wonderful big bomboloni oozing rich vanilla cream, and a textbook soufflé. And, yes, the classic Le Cirque crème brûlée is always available. There is also a cheese cart of note here that you may wish to consider.
Le Cirque's winelist is among the finest in the city, with 900 selections and, aside from plenty of high ticket items, nearly 20 percent of them are under $50.
No one is happier than I to see and taste how good Le Cirque is right now. It took a while. I shall be monitoring the cooking and service in months to come, but to everyone who had not thought of going back there--or ever been--I think you will be gleeful about the way the new place was evolved.
Lunch appetizers run $15-$20, main courses $27-$42; at dinner, $18-$40 and $39-$64, with a tasting menu at $95.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
ChâteauneufduPape, The Lovable Mongrel by John Mariani
Grenache is not a varietal that leaps to most connoisseurs’ minds when speaking of great wines. Except in one distinctive case: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the tantalizing red wine of the Southern Rhone Valley. Here this sweet pinkish grape finds its fullest expression, but it takes a lot of blending to make it so.
That is the complex fact of making Châteauneuf-du-Pape, whose name means “the
Grenache is still the dominant grape in the region and in the wine—usually 60 percent or more--though syrah and mourvèdre have in recent years been gaining percentage points in the blends by well-known producers like Beaucastel. Others, like Chapoutier and Rayas, make their wines exclusively with grenache. In addition to the myriad stylings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s grape compositions, there are also considerable differences of opinion among vintners as to whether the wines should be filtered or not. Those who favor filtering are aiming for a younger, easier-to-drink style; the others insist on bolder, long-lived wines that take time to come around.
For a tasting at my home this week, I assembled six Châteauneuf-du-Papes from recent vintages and found a good deal of difference along with some comforting similarities. All indeed showed grenache at its best, its sweetness tamed by time in oak. Tasted both with and without food, the wines showed their virtues under both circumstances. With the lighter or more recent vintages I enjoyed a first course of grilled bread with leeks, mild cheeses, and charcuterie; with the older wines I had a veal stew made with saffron and lemon.
Domaine Roger Perrin Réserve des Vieilles Vignes 2004 ($45) had a delightful fruity beginning, like very ripe raspberries, but the wine also was chewy and dense, and its long, elegant finish was both remarkable and delicious. Perrin’s wines tend to be well filtered and smooth, so although one could put it away for a year or two, it’s very fine right now.
Firmer and not yielding quite so much so soon was the Roger Sabon Réserve 2004, but it loosened up with the charcuterie and salt in the food, so that it was ideal for a wintry first course. It’s a teenager, though, and three to five years should give make it more supple and velvety. At $29, it’s a great deal.
The reputation of Rhone wines from the 2003 are now coming into focus, for a heat wave made winemaking difficult that year. I think this is the case with Domaine La Roquète’s wine of that vintage ($25), which I found overly fruity and a little sweet, probably from the build-up of sugar that summer, and one-dimensional. Made from 70 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah, and 10 percent mourvèdre, and unfiltered, it has tannins below the surface that may well improve the wine over the next two to five years.
I then turned to the great 2000 vintage, beginning with Domaine de la Charbonnière Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix ($38), which listed the highest minimal alcohol content, 15 percent, of all the wines I tasted (the rest were either 14 or 14.5). This domaine is known for its traditional style—big, oaky, unfiltered—but it’s going to take a while for it to lose its odd, almost chemical smell I detected, which could be the higher percentage of mourvèdre than usual. In any case, I’d like to sample this again in five years. At this low price, I can wait.
Also very big but with considerably more charm right now is the famous Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2000 ($53), though it too is not ready to drink except perhaps with a well-charred sirloin off the grill. The use of large, old oak barrels assures the wine’s big tannins and longevity. It should, however, be a bold beauty when it’s mature, and it’s well worth cellaring a case.
Finally, my favorite wine of the evening was M. Chapoutier’s 2000 Le Bernardine ($38), made from an estate planted exclusively with grenache. It has an enchanting, blossoming bouquet that is almost as wonderful as the complex flavors of the wine. There’s the spice that a good Southern Rhone wine should have and enough tannin to ensure a very long life, with each year revealing more and more flavor, layer by layer.
The fact that only one of these wines topped $50 indicates that Châteauneuf-du-Pape still ranks as one of the world’s great red wines at the most affordable of prices.
John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.
And the Pope Wrote Back: "Thou shalt all go to hell for this!"
KFC has begun selling a Fish Snacker sandwich for 99 cents. The company's president, Gregg Dedrick wrote to Pope Benedict XVI asking for his papal benediction for the item "as a way for members of your flock to keep holy Lenten season."
FOOD WRITING 101: Avoid putting more than two clichéd words or phrases in the opening paragraph.
"From the young, sexy, and hip people lounging at trendy Posto 9 on Ipanema beach to the foodies feasting on authentic Brazilian cuisine in the rustic yet chic Aprazivel restaurant in the bucolic Santa Teresa neighborhood, cachaça (ka-SHA-sa) is as much a way of life here as samba."--Kelly E. Carter, "Cachaça: It's the Essence of Brazil in a Bottle," USA Today (Feb. 16, 2007).
NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with Everett Potter's Travel Report, which I consider the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:
* On March 6, in Summerville, SC, Executive Chef Tarver King of the Dining Room at Woodlands will host a 45-minute cooking demo sharing the history and techniques of Trappist Monks. Following the demonstration, The Dining Room will be offering its new 3-three-course menu at $54 pp. Stay for dinner and enjoy the demonstration for free. Call 843-308-2115, or visit www.woodlandsinn.com.
* On March 13 at Bear Mountain Resort Victoria Golf Resort & Spa, Howard Soon, master winemaker for the Okanagan winery, Sandhill. Will host a 5-course dinner by Executive chef Iain Rennie and Sommelier Stuart Brown. CAD $95 (USD $85) pp. Call 250-391-7160; www.bearmountain.ca.
* From March 13-17 six of Ireland’s best chefs come to Boston this St. Patrick’s Day season to showcase New Irish Cuisine (sponsored by Tourism Ireland and the Boston Irish Tourism Association), incl. Noel McMeel of Castle Leslie, County Monaghan, Ed Cooney, Merrion Hotel, Dublin; Mark Donohue, Adare Manor, Limerick, Patrick McLarnon, Francesca’s Restaurant, Dublin, Kevin Thornton, Thornton’s Restaurant, Dublin; and Barry Wallace, Glenlo Abbey Hotel, Galway. They will pair up with
* On March 15, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) will host “At the scholarship and internship programs. Women chefs nationally and locally renowned will join with female winemakers and sommeliers to present a 5-course dinner at the de Young Museum. Local chefs incl. Heather Ames, Farallon; Patti Dellamonica-Bauler, One Market; Traci Des Jardins, Jardinière; Elizabeth Falkner, Citizen Cake; Emily Luchetti, Farallon; Michelle Mah, Ponzu; Melissa Perello, Fifth Floor; Wines and Sommeliers: Traci Dutton, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone; Gina Gallo, Gallo Family Vineyards; Chaylee Priete, Greens; Debbie Zachareas, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant/bacar. $150 pp or $1,200 per table of 10. Call 877-927-7787; www.womenchefs.org
* On March 18 at Daniel in NYC a Sunday dinner, "Savoring Citymeals," will celebrate that charity organization's first 25 years of service and Daniel Boulud's 25 years of cooking in the USA. All prodceeds go to City Meals. $1,800 pp; $25,000 for a table for 10. Call 212-687-1290.
* On March 19 - 25, San Domenico NY celebrates with guest Chef Salvatore Tassa, chef and owner of Colline Ciociare in
* On March 20
* The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association takes its award-winning wines on the road for the 5th Annual Monterey Wine Country Spring Tour, a four city tour that incl. March 22:
* On March 27 The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance 2007 Grand Tasting Tour visits~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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