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Salted Brick: simple honest intentions that make complex flavours

30 Oct
No Filter!

No Filter!

In September,  I had the chance to work in the beautiful Okanagan Valley for a couple of weeks.  The picturesque and almost desert-like interior of British Columbia proved to be a powerhouse for fruit orchards and of course, as everyone has heard, vineyards.  The best part was, almost all the top restaurants sourced locally and stressed (ha!) the slow food movement.  Yeah, I had trouble booking a flight home.

I confess, I had a prejudice prior to my arrival that I would be served mostly vegetarian health-conscious fare (as if you don’t think granola when I say West Coast).  Much to my surprise (and relief), I found the complete polar opposite of fresh kale salad – really great charcuterie!  And one of my favourite places to split a board of locally sourced cured meat  in Kelowna was at Chef Jason Leizert’s Salted Brick.

Located next to the old Paramount Theatre, Salted Brick is a stylish but unpretentious eatery that makes food an accessible event.  Seven days a week they serve up mind-blowing affordable sandwiches to the lunch crowd (get the smoked chicken!  No, wait, the brisket! Ugh, no, the smoked chicken!)  while Wednesdays to Sundays there is dinner service and on weekends only, brunch. Everything is priced extremely reasonably and prepared with such care. Also, with the small seating space close to the food prep and bar, you cannot help the intimacy forged between the diner and the plate creator and that is part of the experience of their locavore’s menu.

As soon as I walked in, I could smell the aroma of cured meats and cheeses.  It was prevalent enough to almost act as an amuse bouche but certainly not overpowering.  My dreamy-eyed look must have indicated I would get a kick out of their ‘meat closet’ because guess where I was seated?  Yup right next to it- I could stare to my heart’s content.  My friends, all of this locally-sourced, free range and hormone and antibiotic free charcuterie was created in house!

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

My dining partner and I decided to start off with oysters from Salt Spring Island.  They were creamy, briney, and matched perfectly with a mystery house-made hot sauce.

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Next came two giant boards which we unabashedly demolished.  Local cheeses and in-house cured meats.  Paradise!

Cheese board

Cheese board

 

Meat board

Meat board

The cheese pairings ranged from traditional to whimsical.  The charcuterie board was out of this world good; with each bite we proclaimed we found our favourite until we tried the next one.  Our server felt like a pal who casually wandered by and made sure we were having a good time.  We were never rushed, and with the beers and wine flowing, food to share, and a great atmosphere, we were shocked to find 3 hours had passed!

Salted Brick emphasized my belief that dining is an intimate event to be enjoyed with friends and the creators of your meal.  It also bridged the gap between food source and my plate – I could read about the farmers they sourced the meat from and see, with my own eyes, the curing room at the back of the restaurant.

Simple honest intentions and complex flavours – thank you Salted Brick.

 

Edit: I mentioned this was accessible to most wallets and I forgot the prices we paid for the above but just to give you an idea, they do offer a Family Dinner priced at $25/person!  And this is the ridiculously delicious sample menu: 

Bouillabaisse

Squash Ravioli, Brown Butter, Parmesan

Pork Cheeks, Mushrooms, Buttered Kale, Apple Sauce

Goat Cheese

Apple Tart Tartin

Salted Brick on Urbanspoon

 

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Labatt vs Craft Beer: When Goliath Tries to Wear David’s Clothes

22 Sep

 

One of my favourite places in the world - Bellwoods Brewery.

One of my favourite places in the world – Bellwoods Brewery.

Hey pals, I’m blogging from the Okanagan this week! Stay tuned as I do have a lovely post about Kelowna-based restaurant RaudZ in the works but for now, I just wanted to quickly share a reminder I received on the importance of knowing the origin of your food and drink.

It’s pretty much the understatement of the year if I say I like craft beer.   Craft beer is enjoyable because it iss made skillfully, driven by passion and community. When you care about your art, you sacrifice time and energy for the slightest details and in return, these small nuances get noticed and celebrated by the educated consumer.   Even if you’re new to beer tasting, or not a beer fan at all, you can still appreciate earnest effort and that is a-plenty in the craft beer industry.

So like anything good and pure, big corporations want to profit from it. And instead of perfecting a beer, they perfect spreadsheets and marketing budgets and then bully their way into an organically created community.

If you haven’t already, check out Ben’s post on Labatt’s expensive and intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top, a beer which is commonly misidentified as a craft beer .

From Shock Top's website

From Shock Top’s website.

Hey, I’m not terribly ‘Shock Topped’ about this (PUN!) – these actions are in line with Big Corporation’s mandate to please shareholders. Okay, so if you’re not surprised they’re capable of that, then why all the hate Alice?  Corporations will be Corporations!  Yes, but there’s something different about imitating real passion and hard work.  I just can’t tolerate that. 

You can cram catchy slogans and expensive giveaways and celebrity endorsements down my throat.  I know what that is.  But when Goliath tries to disguise themsleves as an artist who poured sweat blood and tears into their work, then that’s an outright lie.  You can test my patience for irritating pop songs in your advertising campaign, but you cannot go ahead and skew with authenticity.

But we also have a far more powerful comeback – and that’s our purchasing power.  We can simply not buy Shock Top.

Trust your tastebuds and your common sense. Meet brewers, farmers, and the artisan behind your products.  Always be purposeful with your wallet.

That’s all I wanted to say. 

Love from the Okanagan Valley,

Alice

Return To Sudbury: How Gourmands Camp

1 Aug

Last year some friends and I were spoiled rotten with a bountiful harvest of wild blueberries foraged from the Sudbury area.  We planned the same camping trip for this summer and you can bet for weeks leading up to it, we talked a big game.  C even bought four new 4-L tupperware containers, and worried that they’d overflow. Let’s just say, this year, our trip was not fruitful (sorry, sorry…).  We each left with a sad sandwich bag worth of tiny blue berries.  We think we missed the first harvest by a week, and were too early for the second round.  Woe!

Falls

It was still a fun time camping near Onaping High Falls, a gorgeous natural wonder made famous by Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson’s painting, Spring on the Onaping River.  (There, your art fact of the day!  Cherry would be proud.)  And of course, we ate like gluttons.

The difference between camping when I was a teenager versus camping as an adult  who makes more than minimum wage: we used to pack the cooler with frozen hot dogs (and cheap beer) and lived off that.  Now, we take the time to make sure that the benefit of living outdoors doesn’t cost us our enjoyment of a really good meal.  Camping is really about spending quality time with some good friends in beautiful scenery while breathing fresh air and that is all made better with a bountiful feast on a picnic table.

One of my favourite camping meals?  Breakfast (well, it’s a three-way tie, really….)

Open Faced Fancy Breakfast Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • smoked bacon from a butcher on Roncesvalles
  • one of de la Terre’s amazing organic artisan breads
  • free-range organic eggs
  • pre-washed and pre-chopped red onion and cilantro (pre-washing and pre-chopping is KEY to camping gourmand)
  • Black River Cheese Company‘s 6 year old cheddar (strong flavour means you use less, pack less!)
  • homemade preserved cherry tomatoes (no Heinz for us!)
  • homemade sriracha (go ahead, close down that California plant…we’ll survive)

Bacon!

The first step: cook up that bacon!  And yes, it’s so that you can use the bacon grease to cook up the rest of your breakfast (nobody said we’re cardiologists). This way you don’t have to pack cooking oil and everything tastes like delicious bacon.

onions

Next, brown those pre-chopped onions in that bacon grease.  Yup, pre-washing and pre-chopping some of the vegetables will make things a whole lot easier while camping.

eggs

Once those onions caramelize, crack some eggs into the pan and soak up the remaining bacon grease.

Preserves

Bring out the jars of preserved cherry tomatoes and homemade sriracha from the cooler so that they can come up to room temperature (forest temperature…?).  Preserves are a great way to add flavour, and don’t even necessarily need to stay in the cooler if you plan to finish a smaller jar rather quickly.  It also reduces prep as you really just need to spoon out a cherry tomato instead of washing and chopping.

Sammy

Once everything is finished, take a piece of incredibly dense de la Terre’s artisan bread, put some of that 6 year old cheddar on it, then top with the warm eggs so that the cheese melts a bit.  Then a dollop of preserved cherry tomatoes, a smidge of homemade sriracha, and a sprinkle of pre-washed, pre-chopped cilantro. Eat this masterpiece while throwing the bacon-grease-soaked paper towels into the fire for a little show.

Patois: Caribbean-Asian Soul Food

14 Jul OG Fried Chicken

My childhood pal Ren recently moved back to Toronto after a stint in Vancouver.  With all the traveling I’ve had to do for work the past 5 months, we simply haven’t had a proper catch-up yet.  The worst, right?!  So a good ol’ fashioned friend date was top priority last week.

With Ren’s and my respective Caribbean and Chinese backgrounds, we couldn’t have picked a better place to have our hangout than at Chinese-Jamaican chef Craig Wong’s newly opened Patois on Dundas West.  I’m so glad we ended up there because guys, the food was SO good.

Being the gentleman that he is, Ren made us reservations.  A personal place card held our table and encouraged us to tweet & ‘gram.  Miss Manners is probably weeping inconsolably into her hanky knowing our cell phones are active at a dinner table but hey, #hashtags and drool-inducing photos are the lifeblood of a restaurant’s PR (and without which, YYZ Gourmand posts would just be filled with the words, “Trust me, it looked good!”).  It certainly made me less self-conscious about (quickly) snapping some food pics!

Place card

When we were in Brooklyn last summer, MCyyz created a drink by mixing a house made hot sauce with tamarind juice.  It was divine and we affectionately called it a ‘tamarind Caesar’.  Well, Patois offers a cocktail called the Island Iced Tea ($10) and it was reminiscent of that drink and, dare I say MCyyz, it was better than yours.  (GASP!)

Island Ice Tea

Island Iced Tea

It’s not a fancy cocktail with rim and twisted lemon peels but it is so well balanced and hit the spot.  You should all know by now that I love when a consumable is simultaneously sweet, savoury, and spicy and this drink was just that.  Made with jerk spice, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and Cointreau…it had 6 of my favourite things in life.

We started off with an order of Ackee ‘n Saltfish ($14).  We were too greedy (I blame the super strong cocktail) and we totaled two of the saltfish fritters before I remembered to take a picture.  The crispy not-overly-salty dried salted cod croquettes contrasted nicely against the sweetness of the red peppers and the soft buttery ackee.  A simple Caribbean staple that was well executed.

Remaining third of Ackee 'n Saltfish

Remaining third of Ackee ‘n Saltfish

Ren and I decided to split their Yardbird Special ($32) which came with 1/2 order of O.G. Fried Chicken, 1/2 order of Juicy Jerk, slaw and dirty rice.

OG Fried Chicken

OG Fried Chicken

The OG Fried Chicken came out first and was accompanied by sriracha sauce, refreshing basil watermelon and (what we think are) pickled asian pear.  The chicken was amazing.  Not greasy, fried perfectly, and juicy inside. I normally can’t stomach too much fried chicken skin but yeah, I totally ate all of it.  Oh let me give you stomach-growl-inducing closeup.

OG Fried Chicken closeup

OG Fried Chicken closeup

The slaw side wasn’t particularly memorable but the dirty fried rice was such a treat.  They’ve emulated a ‘wok heat’ flavour and the sweet Chinese sausage used gave me childhood flashbacks while the cajun spices made me wish I had beads to throw.

Dirty Fried Rice

Dirty Fried Rice

Last but not least, we were presented with churrasco rotisserie roasted jerk chicken.  This is the first time I’ve had jerk chicken that wasn’t barbequed.  And it certainly lived up to its menu name of Juicy Jerk.  So incredibly tender and juicy.  I do wish the jerk seasoning was a bit more prevalent but they used a good quality chicken and I agree one shouldn’t distract from quality natural flavour.  But to satiate my crazy addiction to spice, we were given a house made habanero sauce.  Oh it made my lips burn which meant I was happy.

Juicy Jerk

Juicy Jerk

Patois is a true fusion restaurant with creative ideas but it still manages to satisfy my craving for familiar comfort food.  The menu is well thought out, well executed, and definitely an homage to soul food.

Patois on Urbanspoon

Bastid’s BBQ 2014: Beers, Brisket and Beats

9 Jul Bastid BBQ Apron

HEY before you ignore this blog post for a dusty Kit Kat you just found tucked between the pages of last year’s enlarged font Readers Digest crammed behind the couch, just know this: the Bastid BBQ is worth you going out RIGHT NOW (you can take the Kit Kat with you) to buy a 2015 calendar JUST so you can save-the-date for the next one.  I’m sorry Toronto, but if you weren’t at the Queen & Peter parking lot last Saturday for the 4th annual party, you really missed out.

Skratch Bastid (aka Paul Murphy), is hands down a crazy skilled DJ and, true to his East Coast roots, a really nice guy.  He seems so approachable and full of joie de vivre; the entire event felt like an intimate back yard party with me and my closest ginormous crowd of friends. ALSO there was BBQ BRISKET.  Ya, nice talented guy and tasty beef: my eyes were basically hearts the entire night.

Partly sponsored by Steam Whistle Brewery, refreshing pilsner was on hand as we cooled down from dancing under the sun.  And by dancing, I do mean awkwardly elbowing strangers and bopping slightly off-beat.  I was totally adorable.

Cheers to beers!

Cheers to beers!

When Skratch hosts a party, every detail is looked after, including event staff wardrobe.  How great are these aprons?  They were also on sale for purchase!

Bastid BBQ Apron

Bastid BBQ Apron

So how was the food, Alice?  Well, I’ll be honest.  I was picturing more grills and typical BBQ fare such as burgers, sausages, ribs, and sauce-drenched chicken thighs.  I was slightly disappointed when I saw that the one true BBQ offering, Stoke Stack BBQ, was actually from a food truck (where’s the outside grill so I can soak up the delicious delicious smoke smells?).  The other option was Toronto sweethearts and faves La Carnita.  Although they did have a grill, and their tacos are amazing, it still wasn’t really what I pictured for a BBQ.

I opted to check out Stoke Stack BBQ since they were new to me.  Everything on their menu sounded amazing but I’ll let you guess what I picked.

Stoke Stack BBQ menu

Stoke Stack BBQ menu

Damn straight I got the Franklin, a brisket sandwich!  And because I have a serious addiction to heat, I sweet talked my way into a side of pickled jalapenos.

Stoke Stake BBQ's brisket sandwich

Stoke Stake BBQ’s brisket sandwich

The brisket was stupid tender and I’m a fan whenever bourbon or espresso is used in BBQ sauces (it cuts the sweetness and tang nicely, and it brings out the richness of beef).   And it didn’t overpower because it wasn’t over-sauced so you can actually taste the brisket.  The bun was pillowy soft and the cool crunchy slaw provided the needed contrast. Oh and this camera angle didn’t do it justice, but my $10 sandwich easily weighed, like,10 lbs.   It was a LOT of meat.  This sandwich was SO good that if Skratch Bastid himself came up to meet me, I probably would’ve said, “Hold on, Paul.  Let me finish this sandwich first.”  Excellent work, Stoke Stack BBQ,  I will be a repeated patron.

It was a day of cold Steam Whistle beer, fantastic brisket sandwiches, excellent beats and a generally great vibe from the crowd.  Then Skratch Bastid himself did two sets and I may be biased, but I’d say they were my favourites of the night.

SkratchBastid

Bastid BBQ was a great party.   Hopefully next year more actual ‘BBQ’, but everything else – don’t change.

Folks in Calgary and Vancouver, you still have a chance!  Get your tickets NOW!

VIA Rail: Derailing my Tunnel Vision and Setting the Platform for Train Meals

10 Jun A refreshing start!

Sorry about the title.  I know I have a problem.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a VIA Rail train from Windsor to Toronto for the the return leg of a business trip.  I’ve always preferred to travel by train versus plane for shorter distances.  Tell us why, Alice!  Oh, okay I will.

  • If you factor in the time required to show up early for airport security, a journey by express train takes about the same time as a short-haul flight.
  • There is GLORIOUS wifi onboard which means I can download stock photos to get that last minute PowerPoint completed (aka stream Mad Men from Netflix and gasp audibly whenever the plot thickens).
  • No pesky seat belts! I can (safely) rebel against personal safety and stand up whenever I want (which proved to be not very often).
  • And lastly – and most importantly –  I can actually afford Business Class on VIA…

…Business Class – the land of hot meals and cocktail carts!

Let me set the scene.  I was a bit cranky after a tough couple of days in Windsor and was really looking forward to going home.   Once on the train, I sank into my luxurious leather seat (with enough leg room for an entire basketball team) and I didn’t even have time to exclaim, “AUGGGH I COULD USE A DRINK!” before someone came around with a cocktail cart and a packet of nibbles.  Gin and soda, please!

A refreshing start!

The last time I was in Business Class, I was offered a descriptive paper menu detailing three meal choices and a server came around to take my order (just like at a restaurant!).  Unfortunately, I think they stopped doing that.  I admittedly love reading menus so this was a bit of a bummer (but okay, fine, we’ll let the trees live).  Instead, the server came around with the meal cart and I had to pick on the spot.  And instead of fancy schmancy descriptions, he only said, “Beef, seafood or vegetarian?”.    I chose beef…and red wine.

Nothing like a hot meal!

Never would I have thought I’d say this, but man, I was impressed.  This was probably one of the better onboard travel meals I’ve ever had.  The beef tenderloin was well-seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium and was not dry.  My broccoli was crisp and my potatoes cheesey.  The salad was a creative mix of butternut squash and feta on a bed of wheatberries (I think?  Again, would’ve loved a menu!).  The chocolate cake looked pretty good but I renounced those calories for a second…er, third glass of wine.

Coffee and tea were offered to accompany the dessert, as well as an organic fair trade piece of dark chocolate.  Just when I was about to go for my post meal cool-down nap (much to the chagrin of fitness gurus everywhere), a digestif cart appeared and next thing you know it, I’m sipping a port and watching the scenery of Southwestern Ontario whizz on by.

It was such a pleasant end to a rather stressful business trip.  Looking forward to taking the train again for a weekend getaway!

 

If you’re like Alice and always on the lookout for a quick and cheap getaway, keep your eyes on this site, where every Tuesday VIA releases some extremely discounted fares!

 

 

National Beer Hall: my Calgary staple

31 Mar

Hey, remember me?  Ya, I’m that other girl who sometimes writes here.   I’ve been touring Alberta for the past 2 months for work.  Livin’ the dream, amiright?

So whilst on this roadshow,  I’ve been eating at my fair share of pubs.  It’s a bit for the convenience (their country-wide proliferation a result of our colonial past, no doubt), a bit for the price point (can’t be chowing down free-range Albertan prime rib every night!), but mostly because after a 10 hour day all I want is a cold beer and an appropriate venue to cuss about work without getting stern stares from a maitre d’.   As such I’ve become intimately acquainted with typical pub fare (and the art of squishing into snug pants).  One of my favourites in Calgary?  National Beer Hall.

We came upon this place the first time the temperature in Calgary went above 0 C for us…and shot straight to 13 C!  Let me translate this bit o’ Canadiana for any non-Canadian readers…+13 C means we as a people are out on patios.  We wandered 17th Ave and found National’s patio to be packed, as well as the patio of neighbouring Ship & Anchor (which we’re told is a Calgary favourite).

Their disposable paper menus featured a long draught list (yay!) filled with Western Canada microbrews (double yay!).  But I was craving a Caesar, so a Caesar is what I got.

Caesar

Bonus points for sufficient garnish, use of freshly grated horseradish and a splash of IPA which mellowed the acidity.  It was a Caesar that even Brutus could love (har har har…).

Now what made this a venue worthy of a return visit is the food, which was beyond the typical quality for pub fare, yet the prices remained (Calgary) reasonable (no jacked up prices under the guise of ‘gastropub’!).  Want photographic evidence?  Let me present, Duck Nuggets ($7):

Duck Nuggets

Served with a grainy mustard and fig dipping sauce, this ain’t your Happy Meal nugget.

Another snack or appetizer, the Scotch Egg ($5)

egg1

Crispy sausage hugging a soft poached egg?  That’s some extreme skills in timing.

My entree was a short rib & oxtail ragu open-faced sandwich with caramelized onion and Quebec cheese curds, served with a side of choice ($16).

Alice, what is that next to your meat pile of a sandwich?  Is that…more meat?  Yep.  Apparently at National, if you order a caesar salad, you’re really getting a bowl of fried pork belly.  I regrettably asked for dressing on the side (an annoying habit, I fully admit) because if properly tossed, this would’ve been a beauty.  Not to take away from the amazingness of the sandwich (it was amazing – rich full-bodied ragu with shredded tender melt in your mouth oxtail/short rib combination and the squeeky melty curds accented by the sweetness of the carmelized onion), but let’s take a closer peek at my salad…

Ya.  An anchovy.  Guarded by grana padano.  This was a legit caesar salad.

If you’re nothing like me and give a crap about your health, then your options wouldn’t be limited to water and sniffing hot sauce here.  A colleague ordered the sesame salmon with kale and quinoa ($21).

He’ll be embarrased, but I need to tell you the guy isn’t a health nut; this tahini-infused salmon dish was preceded by an order of deep fried spicy hoisin wings.

With fancier fare made from fresh quality ingredients and attention to detail, National Beer Hall provides a ‘restuarant’ dinner at pub prices.  On top of that, almost every night of the week there’s a different feature: half priced entrees, discounted wings, buck-a-shuck oysters…always a reason to keep coming back.

Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market: an Edmonton gem

27 Feb Inside the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market
Old Strathcona Farmer's Market

Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market – if you squint, you can see me!

Hi.  I’ve missed you.  Where have I been?  Well, my boss had the most brilliant idea – let’s send Alice to Edmonton in February!  It’ll be an enriching experience; she’ll learn to defrost frozen eyelashes, have an opportunity to wear THREE pairs of thick tights simultaneously, and become an expert at re-starting her own heart after succumbing to hypothermia!  Her LinkedIn profile will be just bursting with new added life skills which I will endorse out of guilt.

Needless to say, after being here in Edmonton (-30 C!) for almost 3 full weeks, I’ve become a little homesick for Toronto and in particular, am missing my habitual Saturday morning grocery shopping with MCyyz at my neighbourhood St. Lawrence North Market.   When I overheard that my hotel in Old Strathcona was just around the corner from Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, I immediately scrawled, “MUST CHECK OUT FARMER’S MARKET!!!!!” in giant cursive writing across my work calendar, with a Sharpie that stained through onto the following month.   I didn’t even care that it was a jointly shared calendar for the team…cripes, everyone, just come to the market!  Even you, Mr. Senior Vice President!

Being the food nerd that I am, I had to look up The Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market on ye olde Google machine (sorry conference call, this is more important!).  It started off in 1983 as just 10 vendors in a parking lot and in 3 short years it had to move into the ‘Old Bus Barns’ building.  It now has over 130 vendors selling fresh produce, Albertan bison and beef, prepared foods, baked goods and crafts – all of which must be locally produced, making it a true farmer’s market.

So on a Saturday morning, bright and early, I donned my toque and mitts and tried to re-create one of my greatest pleasures back home.

Inside the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market

Inside the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market – um, ignore busy man on cell phone.  I’m bad at photography.

Cheerful vendors?  Check.

A sense of community?  Check.

Delicious homemade preserves, free-range bison meat, and baked goods and samples of everything?  Check.

Samples!

Samples!

 

Bagels!

Bagels!

It’s always fun checking out farmer’s markets whenever you travel because you get to see what the local agriculture produces and what eating trends are for that area.  Also, it’s usually always a great space to find out about community projects because it is, inherently, a community project!  At the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, I noticed a lot of Vietnamese cold rolls being sold (interesting!), a lot of bison and beef vendors (not surprising), and got to try roast dandelion coffee (?!) as well as Saskatoon berries.  Last but not least, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with warm and friendly vendors who truly loved being there and fed me like I were their long lost grandchild.  It was such a warm lil’ ray of sunshine on what had been, up until then, a very cold and dreary experience in Edmonton.  Okay, okay, I’ll stop the sap now.

So if you find yourself in or around Edmonton on a Saturday morning, you must check out the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.  It’s a gem in the middle of Edmonton!

The San Fran Bay Series: Monterey Bay and Sustainable Seafood

30 Jan

Over the holidays, I went to visit my brother who lives in the San Francisco Bay area.  He is a Renaissance man – athlete, artist, academic, and all-around-great-guy.  On top of that, he has a super refined palate!  So when I showed up at the airport, I wasn’t surprised to hear he made several reservations for us between Monterey Bay to Napa Valley.

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

When my brother and I went to Monterey Bay, we ended up spending more time than we had planned at the gorgeous Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I loved watching the feeding shows!

We ducked out for a quick lunch at The Fish Hopper .  While their fried calamari should be avoided (tasteless, over-battered, under-fried), I must say the crab cakes with papaya relish were superb.  Although listed as an appetizer, generous portions were served.  The cakes were crispy on the outside and full of fresh Dungeness crab, with no fillers, on the inside.  Also, I have to applaud the drink list for featuring this epic cocktail:

The Ultimate Seafood Bloody Mary

The Ultimate Seafood Bloody Mary

In case it’s hard to see, it’s an ‘Ultimate Seafood Bloody Mary’ cocktail, featuring Absolut Peppar Vodka with their Signature House Made Mix and garnished with a fresh oyster, bacon-wrapped prawn, crab cake slider, Dungeness crab meat in a lemon cup, crab-stuffed olives, pickled green beans, hot peppers and a lemon wedge…

…I know, right?!  I wish I tried it.  Regrets, big time.

My biggest food takeaway from Monterey Bay wasn’t from the meal nor the beast of a cocktail above, but from the Aquarium’s revitilization of my desire to become a conscientious consumer of seafood.  I am a big, big fan of seafood.  I love a freshly shucked osyter, sashimi, beer-battered fish, poached shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce, seared scallops…the list goes on. And on.  But I’ve been hesitant in my consumption because I know 1) not all fishing practices are sustainable and 2) polluted waters are hurting a lot of sea creatures and then, me, after I make a tasty dinner.

So this is where The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s super awesome fantastic Seafood Watch steps in.  This program provides guidance on making choices that affect the health of our oceans, and inevitably, our own lives.  By using a science-based, peer-reviewed process to create recomnmendations of what is safe to eat, the program encourages consumers and businesses to support seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment.  You look up what you feel like eating (Hmm, how about Barramundi for dinner?) and it will tell you the Best Choice (sourced from U.S., farmed in recirculating systems), a Good Alternative (sourced from Australia, farmed in fully recirculating systems), and what you should Avoid (sourced from Indo Pacific except Australia, farmed in open systems, or Indonesian wild-caught).

They have a handy free app for your smart phone that is SO easy to use while you’re at a grocery store or a restaurant.  Does the menu not say where they sourced the seafood?  Never be afraid to ask – because they really should know.  Get the dialogue going!  It’s worth it to help save our health and our home (you know, Earth).

This is what the app looks like:

Seafood Watch

Seafood Watch

Don’t have a smart phone?  No problem, you can download/print off a paper guide (check back often because it gets updated!).

If you eat seafood, and you want to be able to make scientifically-backed decisions that support the health of our oceans and our bodies, then I encourage you to check out Seafood Watch and download this app.  Each of us totally have the ability to leverage our purchase-power to change the approach to fishing and seafood farming.

The next time you hear form me will be the last of the San Fran Bay Series: the long awaited drool-worthy Morimoto Omakase (yes, all Seafood Watch approved dishes!).

The San Fran Bay Series: Bouchon Bakery & Bouchon Bistro

24 Jan Bouchon Bistro

Over the holidays, I went to visit my brother who lives in the San Francisco Bay area.  He is a Renaissance man – athlete, artist, academic, and all-around-great-guy.  On top of that, he has a super refined palate!  So when I showed up at the airport, I wasn’t surprised to hear he made several reservations for us between Monterey Bay to Napa Valley.

The next day’s plan was to hit Napa County, which is a 2 hour drive from my brother’s home in San Jose.  We left early at 7 AM PST which is 4 AM EST!  Fortunately, as my vacation chauffeur sped us along the highway, I got to doze in and out of a nap with the sun on my face (sorry people back home in -30 C weather).

Our first stop was a no-brainer.  With French-pressed coffees in hand, we stood in line at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery for our first meal of the day!

Always a line at Bouchon Bakery!

Always a line at Bouchon Bakery!

While at first I was super impatient and scowled at those taking their sweet (pun intended) time at the bakery, I developed a lot more empathy once I ditched my ‘Outside in Line’ status and became an ‘Inside the Bakery’ folk and witnessed the jaw-dropping French patisserie splendor that was being created.  We were faced with tough decisions in there, evidenced by the fact that I spent $70 USD on baked goods.

My Bouchon stash!

My Bouchon stash!

 

Macarons!

Macarons!

This is what a small fortune in sweets looks like. My bag was filled with: 2 dozen macarons (a mix of pistachio, salted caramel, black cherry, lemon meringue and vanilla…all with light and crisp outside and soft and chewy inside), Chocolate Bouchons (small brownie-like cork-shaped treats), and my breakfast…

My breakfast: bacon and cheddar scone!

My breakfast: bacon and cheddar scone!

A delicious savoury bacon and cheddar scone.  Although light and moist, it was also so rich and filling I could only eat half!

With my closely-guarded treats in hand, we wandered around Yountville, enjoying the sun, checking out artisan craft stalls and felt a similar vibe to Toronto’s Distillery District.  Basically we were killing time until our next meal at:

Bouchon Bistro

Bouchon Bistro

Yep.  Bouchon Bistro!  (FYI: the line at Bouchon Bakery next door was still ongoing!)

Bouchon Bistro table bread: perfect start.

Bouchon Bistro table bread: perfect start.

The table bread was straight from the bakery next door.  Crispy exterior and chewy interior, I could have easily eaten the entire thing for lunch and been a happy camper.

Gin 'n juice

Gin ‘n juice

I can’t remember what was in this cocktail but it was refreshing and easy to rationalize as my vitamin C intake for the day.

French onion soup!

Soup a l’Oignon

I am a sucker for a good French onion soup so I couldn’t resist testing Thomas Keller’s. It was, as expected, perfect.  Savoury rich wholesome broth that wasn’t oversalted, and perfectly broiled crispy melted cheese…I was in onion-breath heaven.

Confit de Canard

Confit de Canard

I am also a sucker for duck (my favourite dish of all time is Peking Duck) and I guess I was testing the ‘standards’ so I ordered a Confit de Canard.  Now this dish I did want a bit salty because there’s nothing better than crisp fatty duck skin with salt melting on your tongue.  It’s a fancy potato chip on steroids, really.  And did they ever deliver – and it balanced so nicely against the earthy lentils with root vegetables.

Truite

Truite

My brother ordered the pan-fried trout which he said was quite enjoyable!

Holding our full bellies, we decided, naturally, to walk to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and gaze wistfully outside like sad groupies.

French Laundry

French Laundry

**SHAMELESS ASK: If any of you know someone who knows someone and can get me on their 3 months in advance reservations list, I will be FOREVER grateful.  My brother and his friends have been trying for over a year.  Let’s just say, now that I’ve tried Bouchon Bistro, I KNOW I will need to go to French Laundry!**

Of course nobody inside French Laundry responded to our telepathic pleas so we settled for a tour of their farm which is right across the street from the restaurant.

The farm

The farm

The rest of the afternoon we toured around Napa Valley, visiting wineries, shopping at gourmet shops…basically killing time until our dinner reservations!  (See a theme?)  Stay tuned for my next post – dinner was Morimoto’s omakase!

 

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Bouchon on Urbanspoon