Food for the mind and food for the tummy - what more satisfying blend could there be than cooking and the arts? Think leisurely dinner before seeing a play or an opera, and anticipating the visual and auditory feast that is coming up on stage. Or think post-show coffee and dessert as you dissect the performance you have just seen.
The Arts Club Celebrity Cooking Class fund raiser is back for its seventh year, and there are more opportunities than ever before for Vancouver "foodies" to get cooking tips from our own local Celebrity Chefs. I had the opportunity to participate in the first of the 2009 "20 Chefs, 20 NIghts, 20 Homes" events; this one was held at the home of Fred and Dawn Cadham. It was entertaining and I learned a lot. If you love food, this is a really fun way to pick up tips, enjoy an excellent meal (and wine) and support the theatre all at once.
The chef / instructor for the evening was Tony Minichiello of the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver . I got there a few minutes early hoping to be able to chat with Tony. After being warmly welcomed by Scott, I made my way upstairs to be greeted by Dawn and by Lisa Seed, the apparently indefatiguable Arts Club Board Chair of Special Events who chairs this series of dinners. "It's a tough job" she joked, "having to attend 20 dinners." And she has a day job! How does she do it?
Armed with a glass of unoaked chardonnay I went looking for Tony to check out what he had in store for us. Even in our brief conversation his passion and enthusiasm for teaching the art of cooking was apparent. He said that he chose to feature Italian style cooking - simple, unpretentious, letting the ingredients speak for themselves.
The first course was tortolloni (the big ones) with a leek and shrimp filling, served with a simple lemon cream sauce. Next we would have a salad of shaved fennel with apple slices. Then we would get the tips for cooking the perfect steak Caprese style and learn how to make butternut squash gnocchi. Finally dessert would be tiramisu, which is "so passé as a dessert that it is fashionable again".
For many years, through undergraduate and post-graduate medical training, the most important thing that got me through endless late nights of study was having copious cups of coffee near to hand. I believe the human race essentially is divided into two groups, those who can drink a cup of coffee at dinner and fall asleep with no difficulty, and those who cut off their caffeine intake at noon if they want to sleep that night. I belong to the latter group.
Psychological or not, merely having a cup of coffee steaming away beside me was enough to keep me alert and awake to study, so over the years I got used to my coffee cooling to warm and even lukewarm before I drank it. Today I still let my morning coffee cool beside me as I work. I was always fascinated by people who could drink coffee, tea or even soup, at temperatures that scalded my tongue just at the sight of them. Others would mumble and grumble if a soup course was not served piping hot. I would be secretly rather grateful. But whereas before, hot soup seemed to be a hallmark of restaurant excellence, I have noticed a tendency in restaurants I have visited recently to serve soup warm rather than hot,hot,hot. Although I applaud it, I wondered if it is intentional or just lack of attention.
One evening over dinner, the discussion came round to memorable meals away, and the topic of roast beef, English style came up. Recalling wonderful meals in London, and a few restaurants in the US, that serve beef slices carved at table-side from a large roast, a fellow diner bemoaned the fact that he had not found a restaurant in Vancouver that served up such meals. When I tried to remember when I had last had roast beef or for that matter, roast lamb or ham served in that way, I could only think of events such as buffets at conference banquets or cruise buffets! And at the conference buffets, there were usually long line ups to get a bun, smear it with mustard or other condiments, and then have a cook slap a semi-congealed piece of meat onto the bun. Hmmm. Not too appealing.
But still, served table-side with the right accompaniments, roast beef sounded great. I expressed scepticism that there was no place in Vancouver where one could get this, and suggested that possibly some of the steak houses might serve it. "Well", he said, "if you find such a place let me know."
The next day I was wandering down Hamilton Street on my way home when I passed by the Hamilton Street Grill. "Aha", I thought, "a steak house, I wonder about roast beef". I actually had a reservation for dinner there the following night, so I stopped to look at the menu displayed outside. No roast beef- but while I was perusing the menu, the door of the restaurant opened and out came a man in gleaming white chef's attire. It turned out to be Neil Wyles, affable owner and executive chef. Who better to ask about the roast beef question?
Hamilton Street Grill 1009 Hamilton Street Vancouver, BC Ph: 604-331-1511 or Reserve Online
Since this is my "hood" I felt it was time to re-explore more of Yaletown's fine restaurants. We were going to the Arts Club at Granville Island to see The Real Thing but instead of re-visiting one of the places I have already reviewed and walking to the show, I decided to try the "dine and dash". No, in my lingo that does not mean leave without paying - but eating more than a short walking distance away and then zipping over the Granville Street bridge to the theatre.
The New Bohemian 3162 West Broadway, Vancouver Ph: 604-736-7576 or Reserve Online
Continuing my exploration of the dining scene in the Kitsilano area I decided to check out The New Bohemian before going off to see The Idiots Karamazov at the Freddy Wood Theatre at UBC. It has been open about a year, I was told, in the location where Fiction had been previously. I appreciated that they opened up the wall between the lounge and bar area - the place seemed larger and more open than I remembered. We recognised scenes from The Graduate projected on the wall as we entered.
Strong as the draw to California is, it is great to be back in Vancouver and watching the sun glint off the water as I write. Yes, I should be outside with the other hordes on the sea wall but mail piles up when you are away and laundry takes forever, now that I actually separate colours and delicates. Mind you I still don't iron. It's been a matter of principle for me since my days as a medical resident. If it needs ironing don't buy it is my motto.
There is so much going on in the theatre world - whoever said we don't have a busy theatre scene in Vancouver. I cant keep up with it. Managed to catch the closing night of Toronto Mississippi, have two plays next week and am sorting through the other stacks of notifications and invites. It's the time of the year when I have to clean up the folder that I shoved all my tax related items and sort those out. Oh yes, and travel arrangements for the conference. Lucky I grew up on multi-tasking.
But for now I think I will leave the whole mess for later and head off to a dance class. Much more fun than taxes.
Cassis Organic Bistro
420 West Pender St,
Phone: (604) 605-0429
This review covers my latest two visits to Cassis Bistro although I have been there several times before. Cassis is about two blocks away from the Vancouver Playhouse so it is very convenient for pre-show dining. On previous occasions at Cassis I always opted for their entree of Muscovy Duck braised with oranges, so I thought it was time to try their other dishes.
The last time I was there we were going to see The Drowsy Chaperone. Since we arrived early at the restaurant we decided to try their special Pre-Show Menu. They started us off with an amuse bouche, attractively presented in a long dish: sliced pickled cucumber, olives and an antipasto-like mixture. Delicious but a little difficult to scoop it out of the dish.
The first course was a half cured smoked salmon on fennel salad with basil oil which was very light and tasty. It was followed by citrus marinated sable fish with a potato pave. The sable fish was melt-in-your mouth tender and also quite delicious. The next course was smoked pork served with potatoes in a dijon jus. I usually enjoy charcuterie but this was not my favorite dish of the evening. The piece de resistance was the satisfyingly creamy, vanilla bean creme brûlee and lemon tart dessert. Overall I thought the pre-show menu was good value and well presented.
My most recent visit was prior to seeing Toronto, Mississippi, also at the Playhouse. My companion opted for the pre-show menu choosing the tomato -basil soup, the daube de boeuf served over pappardelle pasta. The dessert was a crepe with strawberries, blueberries and cinnamon, flambéed and served with ice cream. More about that later.
I somewhat self-righteously decided that three courses would be a bit too much for me after my decreased level of activity for the last 3 weeks in California so I chose the lobster bisque served with halibut cheek crepe and house made ricotta, followed by a crepe filled with duck (what can I say - I like duck), orange preserve, goat cheese and mozarella. We were also served slices of fresh tasty baguette accompanied by a puree which tasted of creamy mushroom. Very nice. A creature of habit, I sipped on Wild Goose Riesling which went well with everything.
OPAH Restaurant and Bar in Aliso Viejo Town Center
26851 Aliso Creek Road #C
Town Center, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Phone: (949) 360-8822
We decided that we should try to fit in a nice dinner out one night BBC (Before baby comes) and decided on OPAH Restaurant and Bar which was about 5 minutes away by car. Thinking that our party of three adults and a 4 year old would be better off away from the bar area, we decided to try the patio. I was a bit sceptical at first but the overhead heaters worked fine to take the slight chill out of the air and we were very comfortable.
I found a special sheet tucked into the regular OPAH menu that said they were offering a Restaurant Week $30.00 prix fixe - appetiser, entree and dessert. It seemed great value and the choices were appealing to me so I decided to try it. While waiting for the rest of our party to decide on their choices, I resisted the recommendation to try one of their interesting martini choices and instead opted for a glass of Saint M Riesling 2006 from Germany. Very nice.
Trattoria Italian Kitchen 1850 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver Ph: 604-732-1441 or Reserve Online
For our second ladies' night out exploring the restaurants along 4th Avenue, we chose Trattoria. They don't take dinner reservations so we planned to arrive early, just after 6 pm. We were seated promptly, and when one of our party asked to move away from the the proximity of the windows, we were rapidly relocated to a more central table.
We chose a bottle of Merlot from Markham Vineyards in Califonia; the "Glass Mountain 2002", smooth and mellow, which went down well.
Snowball Classic 2009 Photo by Andrew Leung, Picture This
I have come to my ballroom dancing addiction relatively late in life. When I made a "mid-life" decision to change careers and redeploy myself from left brain physician/scientist to right brain entertainment /travel writer, one of my residual left brain activities was to make a list of the ten things I wanted to accomplish in the next ten years. Top of the list was to get back to dance, especially the Latin dances, which I had loved in my late teens when my knees were still elastic and my hips could actually swivel. So having tried out a couple of dance styles and studios, I found myself at the Vancouver Ballroom for a beginner bronze samba class - and after the first lesson I was hooked! Two years later, thanks to the endless patience of Bernice and Aegide, though neither my brain nor my body learns as easily as a sixteen year old, I am working my way through the medal tests in Standard and Ballroom and rejuvenating myself in