Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cafe Champignon

I have a group of six friends, we get together every 3 months to cook a six course meal. Each person makes a dish and the only thing we coordinate is the date, time and place.  Some how it all seems to work out.  I usually make dessert, being a pastry chef though I enjoy cooking just as much. On this occasion  we had scheduling issues so one friend suggested we meet at a restaurant.

Several restaurants were mentioned but no one wanted to venture into Brooklyn for my suggestion of Diner in Williamsburg or Vinegar Hill House.  I think A suggested Cafe Champignon in Chelesa (their website is terrible & apparently they also cater) and everyone agreed.  I must say I was far from excited.  I even thought I might bow out and see them all at our next formal gathering but I decided to take a chance.

It was all arranged A made the reservation.  I arrived first being 3 minutes early (I hate to be late).  Cafe Champignon has a very European feel and looked more like a place for coffee & a pastry not a full meal.  I noticed most of the tables were full and people seemed to be enjoying themselves but my expectations were still low.  I was a little concerned when the waitress/hostess didn't know about or have a reservation for a party of 6 at noon.  But she quickly pulled 6 seats together and brought over another table, so I sat down bundled in my jacket with a menu to wait.

As my friends arrived we had to insist they close the door as it was a nippy day. Personally I didn't find the menu inspiring but we ordered.  I had the Eggs Florentine as did one other, the rest ordered the Soup and Quiche, Steak, and an Omelet..  I must say considering I had such low expectations I wasn't terribly disappointed.  The portions were a very good size and the prices were very reasonable.  Even though my eggs were luke warm (the other dishes were hot) the Eggs Florentine were tasty and believe it or not I'd go back again. Maybe the clincher was the tasty hot chocolate I had after the meal.  Served in a large cup (it was a tad sweeter than I like but I'm picky and like my hot chocolate almost bitter but this was not cloying in any way.  I'd go back for another hot chocolate too!

I should know by now to always carry my camera but it never occurred to me that I'd even consider mentioning this place so I didn't bother- my bad.  It's not the meal of the century or anything like that and your expectations need to be kept in check, but if you're in Chelsea and happen to need a descent meal at a reasonable price this neighborhood place is worth going to.

Cafe Champignon
200 7th Ave
between 21st & 22nd Street

Mon-Sat: 8am-11pm
Sun: 8am-6pm
Breakfast, Lunch, Brunch &  Dinner
Be wary of reservations!
Credit Cards accepted

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

La Taqueria in Vancouver

In the morning we checked out of the Marriott, where from our room we could watch the sea planes landing and taking off.  Hopped into the car and headed to Dave's (our friend who brought us the banh mi sandwich).  Dave's building is right next to the rain forest.  I'm not 100% sure it qualifies as a rain forest but it was raining and it was a forest. The air smells so fresh and clean very different from the east coast (maybe it's because of the different weather patterns).  The windows from their apartment look out into a jungle of enormous evergreens and it's magical. We decided to head out for a short hike through the forest to work up an appetite. In the photo above, I'm standing inside the trunk of a burned out tree looking up. Dave has a wonderful sheep dog (a herder of some sort) we took with us. This is a great animal who loves to be out in the woods and made sure we were together at all times.

After the hike we headed out on the last of our Vancouver eating festivities at La Taqueria aka Pinche Taco Shop (as they say on their business card.)  This place is a great find. As you walk in you see the kitchen tucked into the corner by the window.  We sat at the counter and chatted with the staff who helped us choose The food is freshly made to order and comes out fast.  It's clean and has a hipster appeal.

We ordered the arrachera (flank steak), de lengua (tongue), carnitas (braised pork), pollo con mole (chicken with mole sauce), pecsado (fish- in this case fresh tuna), & rajas (cooked peppers).  They were all delicious and at $9.50 for 4 you've got a meal.  Many of the ingredients they use are free range, organic and sustainable.  Just as it should be each taco is actually two small corn tortillas onto which the meat, sauce. vegetables and whatever else is placed. They have 4 salsas (green, very spicy, avocado, & red) on the side so you can add the amount you want.  I liked the green and very spicy the best.  I thought they both complimented the flavor of the meat very well and added the spicy bite of flavor I crave with Mexican food.

They were so tasty I was gobbling the tacos down so fast I completely forgot to photograph the food.  You would never have known I'd already shared two hot dogs; you would think I was starving (that's how much I love good tacos).  Luckily I remembered when we stepped outside to at least get the entrance and a shot into the kitchen from the window on the street.  So now you will recognize the place as you're driving, biking or walking by.

Our time to head back to Seattle was coming up fast. We thought we might have just enough time to go have some dumplings. But after ordering another round of tacos (because they were so delicious) I just didn't think I'd be able to fit dumplings in my stomach.  On the way out we started talking to the chef/one of the owners, Jesse, who recommended Goyza King for dumplings and Kintaro for ramen over on Robson Street in the West End area.  Luckily for my stomach but unfortunately they are closed on Mondays.  I still would have had to have at least one! Next time we'll go for dumplings after a few tacos here.

La Taqueria
322 West Hastings
Vancouver, BC Canada

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aree's Dawg House & Japa Dog in Vancouver

When I travel these days it's all about the food.  It includes friends too of course, but they should also be into the food.  Until recently aside from the eastern seaboard and having been to Chicago and the Mexican Riviera only once each, I'd never gone anywhere other than Phoenix, Arizona.  Well okay, once when I was in Phoenix, I drove to Las Vegas but that's it.  This year I managed to go to San Francisco twice, Vancouver and Seattle.  The reason being was to see a little of the area but mainly check out the food scene. and eat.  The eating hasn't been arbitrary, the friend I travel with has friends in all of the places he goes, who are also into food. We go with a plan, to eat here, there and everywhere someone recommends a place making great innovative food in their area, and of course places we already know are making amazing dishes, The Cafe at Chez Panisse for example.

In Vancouver my travel friend knows Dave who is really into food (among many other things).  It was he who told us about Japa Dog.  I had no idea what he was referring to but I was excited to check it out the following day.  Our plan was to go around the city sampling dawgs, dumplings, more tacos, and anything else that looked interesting.

As I mentioned in my Viji's in Vancouver blog it just so happened, we passed the Japa Dog cart on the way to Vij's restaurant.  I'm a nut when I travel and I get very excited about trying food that I think is going to be delicious.  I would rather taste a little of this and a little of that in several restaurants rather than siting down to an entire meal.  It might not be traditional but it's the only way to know if I want to go back or if I'd recommend a place.  Lucky for me I was dissuaded from the temptation, otherwise I wouldn't have enjoyed Vij's as much or tasted so many dishes.

First thing after the hike we headed to Aree's Dawg House where we shared the marinated volcanic smokie with onions and a garlic mayo. This is probably the best sausage hot dog I have ever eaten.  First the sausage is doused in volcanic hot sauce then it's grilled (over hot coals), then smothered in onions, the chef suggested the garlic mayo and he was right! Not to mention the bun toasted perfectly crisp on the outside and light and airy on the inside.  It's was smokin delicious!  Now, it had a nice bite to it but nothing that anyone (well almost) couldn't handle.  The texture of the meat and the flavor was firm and tasty.  I'll be back for these baby's.

Next it was onto Japa Dog.  This is very unusual, tasty, and very unique to me. (I'm sure somewhere these are common like on the corner of Burrard and Smithe). We went for the Okonomi Kuroburta Sausage (Okonomi is a Japanese sauce, Kuroburta is an area the pork is from, fried cabbage, and dried bonito). You might think the combination would be odd but let me tell you the flavors and textures go together so well and it's delicious.  I would try this again, but I actually preferred the texture of Aree's sausage to this one.  The texture of the sausage itself was a little soft for my taste, but my companions loved it. We will be back to try another the next time we're in Vancouver.

Aree's Dawg House
1740 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6J

Japa Dog
899 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z, Canada
(604) 667-4663

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Banh Mi, Tacos, Coffee, Croissants & Chocolate in Vancouver

This past week I went to Vancouver for the first time and unfortunately only spent 2 days.  Of what I've seen it's a great city with great food, great hiking and huge trees.

The day we arrived we met Dave at Dona Cata at  2pm for tacos and a banh mi sandwich.  Just as we parked in front he pulled up on his bike, the timing couldn't have been better.  He rode all the way to pick up the best Banh Mi sandwiches from Ba Le Sandwich Shop and then to meet us. Outside we shared this delicious sandwich (which was meatball - thank you to the anonymous commenter as enquiring minds want to know).  The Vancouver eating feast had just begun.  I had to seriously control myself not to eat the second one Dave had in his bag.  The sandwich was hot the filling a perfect mix of carrots, cucumber, meat, spices & cilantro, and the amazing BUN light and airy as if it had just been baked moments before we ate it.

Ba Le Sandwich Shop
China Town
121-633 Main Street
 Vancouver,BCV6A 2V4, Canada 
 (604) 662-8108

Next we ventured inside the restaurant Dona Cata.  The plan was to share all the tacos and salsa (so there would be room for more of course).  The meat for all the tacos was moist and succulent, in fact it tasted steamed.  I didn't ask for all ten salsas but after working in restaurants and eating family meal prepared, in my humble opinion, by some of the most talented Mexican chefs (mostly working at jobs other than cooking) in New York City I can tell you the salsa was great! It was chunky without being too large, moist without being watery, the colors enticing, the flavors fresh and lively with the right amount of salt and spice.  These salsas were not made for the timid American palate, they were made with fresh chilis with various names ranging from the pale green to the yellow and dark deep purple reds.  Thought I enjoyed these tacos very much I thought they were lost without the salsas.  I didn't eat any other food here but the table next to use looked like they were sharing some version of Chilaquillas with green salsa, that I was tempted to stick my fork into for a taste (they were eyeing me cautiously).

This place is in a very interesting neighborhood filled with Chinese restaurants, Chinese herbalists, and Chinese markets.  Check it out if you're in the neighborhood.

Dona Cata
5076 Victoria Drive
Vancouver, BC V5P3T8, Canada
(604) 436-2232
Closed Mondays
Tues- Sat 9am-2pm, 5pm-10pm
Sunday 12pm-5pm
Mastercard, Visa, Debit

After Dona Cata we were going to head for a beer but we'd over done it with the tacos and I was still contemplating that second Bhan Mi (but I left it for Dave). So we headed to the hotel Vancouver Marriot Pinnacle to relax and get ready for dinner at  Vijs (Blog to follow).

The following day we started out with  croissants from 49th Parallel Roasters Cafe and Coffee at The Elysian Room, got it..... Oh well it's not the most beautiful photograph of an espresso I've ever taken but.... oh the taste. In my humble opinion I think they are brewing some of the finest espresso anywhere!  49th Parallel Roasters is making an espresso blend exclusively for Elysian that is incredible.

So where are the croissants from~~~ah the amazing Thomas Haas. Go and check out his new store in Kitsilano. The store is adorable.  I bought a bar of his Wild 67% at 49th Parallel and it's some of the finest chocolate I've tasted.  At 67% you might think it would be too sweet but this is a fine eating chocolate.

Now, I must confess I am not a coffee drinker and I lay no claim to having drunk millions of cups.  I don't need the caffeine buzz and I don't like coffee breath.  But I do know what I like and when on vacation and traveling I like to taste espresso.  Several years ago I had an espresso pulled by an amazing person in the Chelsea Market when Ninth Street Coffee first opened there. Up until I tried the Elysian Espresso Blend from 49th Parallel that was the best espresso I'd ever had.  Originally I thought it was 'just' the coffee.  I have since learned the error or my thinking, yes of course it was the coffee and the espresso machine but if it weren't for that amazing person the espresso wouldn't have been quite as good.

When I taste I add nothing. If it doesn't smell great, taste great, have a smooth &; creamy sensation, leave a nice long finish that keeps giving then I don't think it's the most awesome ultimate espresso I've ever tasted.  So if that coming from a non coffee drinker gives you any sense of how I like my espresso then I am happy and thank you for reading.

The Elysian Room
1778 W 5th Ave
Vancouver, BC, Canada
M-Th 7-7
Fr 7am-10pm
Sat 10am-10pm
Sun 11am-7pm
Master card, Visa & American express accepted.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe
2152 W 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC V6K

Thomas Haas
2539 West Broadway Avenue
Vancouver, BC  V6K 2E9
Underground parking available
Tuesday - Saturday:  8am - 5:30pm
Sunday & Monday:  Closed

Vij's in Vancouver

Vij's is an unusual and amazing restaurant.  The food is not typical of what you'd find in other Indian Restaurants.  To begin with the entire staff is composed of women.  The kitchen is compact, open, and very well organized and run.  They have close working relationships with many local farmers, brewers, wine makers and artisans.  They also have a cafe that serves lunch, take out, frozen packaged food, spices, and teas next door, Rangoli.  Vij's opens at 5:30, if you come later you'll wait about an hour.

Since Vij's doesn't take reservations our friend Dave was kind enough to arrive 1/2 hour before hand so we only had to wait 30 minutes by the time we arrived.  My friend and I decided to walk from our hotel, the Mariott on West Hastings over the bridge to the restaurant.  It was a brisk 35 minute walk that took us past Japa Dawg the delicious sausage hot dog with a Japanese twist, (I was tempted to try one....) and through the different neighborhoods so close to one another. The walk also helped after the Taco/Banh Mi feast upon our arrival in Vancouver a couple of hours earlier.

Waiting with our friends I ordered a Scottish Ale by Storm a local brewer, I love beer (it tends to fills me up too much and then I can't eat- but it makes for taking home leftovers). The ale was delicious, small bubbles no bitterness just perfect for me.  The place was filled with people waiting in the lounge for a table and we were a party of 6 with one person who was going to be an hour late. When our table was ready our waitress was happy to seat us and let us keep the seat warm (they did check once or twice to make sure our sixth was coming).

We must have started with 6 appetizers (I started to lose count of the plates coming out) and then ordered a second on the samosas (3 dimensional pyrimid shaped fried dumplings filled with beef, lamb, paneer cheese and freshly roasted spices~ photo above) and the paneer (Indian cheese that gets soft when cooked)with brussel sprouts and papaya because there wasn't enough to go around, photo on left  Not to mention they were the best samosas I've ever eaten and there's nothing like fresh house made paneer cheese.  The flavor of the combined spices in the samosa was so fragrant, I don't think I ever smelled or tasted flavors so freshly blended together. Several times one of the lovely waitresses came around offering fresh cassava frittes (the South American starchy tuberous root sinilar in texture to a potato aka yucca, ground into a flour this root gives us tapioca).

I would have been very happy with a plate of those delicious cassava morsels and an order or two of samosas.  But then I would have missed out on the chickpea curry with grilled kale; the paneer, brussel sprouts, papaya with mango powder &; sour cream curry,mutton kabobs with bengali style curry, spot prawns & halibut with black chickpeas, the combination of ingredients and flavors was absolutely out of this world, photo on right; short rib; a pork dish;  lamb popsicles (a fancy name for lamb with the bone sticking out like a handle, photo below) with an amazing sauce of fenugreek whose fragrance lingered on my tongue, not to mention the Chai Tea.

Luckily the 5/6 of us were taking a bit and passing the plate.  It was like having an amazing tasting menu of small bites. I had only one complaint that no one else seemed to notice and I'm hesitant to say (I thought the Jackfruit with black cardamom and cumin masala was too salty (I couldn't get the flavor of the black cardamom or the cumin masala) considering the flavors of everything else were so vibrant and fresh I think this was just a fluke.  In the end I could only taste someone elses chai tea because I could no longer fit anything else in my stomach. Luckily another couple drove us back to our hotel.

I have to thank the people who joined us for this meal, without them I never would have been able to sample 1/3 of the menu and enjoyed this innovative restaurant.  If you're in Vancouver and as close as Seattle because the border to Vancouver is only 2 hours away starting at noon on a Sunday and worth every second getting there, this restaurant should be at the top of your list!

1480 West 11th Ave
Vancouver, BC Canada

5:30pm ~No Reservations
credit cards accepted

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sitka & Spruce in Seattle

This wonderful restaurant will be moving to a larger location (1531 Melrose Ave. between Pike & Pine) sometime next spring.  Sitka and Spruce will have an open house on their last day Dec 30th for $15 plus drink(s). Sounds like the deal of the century if you're near by.  This kitchen is putting out local, sustainable, organic food from a group of people that really loves fresh ingredients.  Not to mention the wines that Matty (manager/owner) is selecting.
The decor is nothing to write home about and the menu and wine list are written on a chalk board but one choice is better than the next.  The food is served on small plates and is easily shared, or not.  The presentation is not the most elegant I've ever seen but nothing compares to the freshness and lovely combination of ingredients.  The kitchen knows how to make scrumptious food.  We had eight dishes plus a dessert between 4 of us and 3 bottles of wine. I remembered to take photos of everything so I'm going to show you my favorites starting with the wine. A 2005 Saint Joseph that I adored with the food. Since coming home from this trip I've had two other wines from the Saint Joseph area that I've really enjoyed.
As many of you know I've never been a huge fan of red wine. I've often described my palate for red wine like that of a child, it hasn't fully developed yet. So, this is a very exciting time of wonderful discoveries. I want to thank all my friends for their generosity in sharing their delicious favorites with me.

Chantenay carrots with zaatar (a middle eastern oregano like herb combination) & dill.  The dish was delicate and showcased the lovely sweet flavor of these locally sourced beauties.

Veigadarte with watercress served warm with local rustic bread.  Veigadarte is a tangy goat cheese from Spain and if you ask Matty at Sitka and Spruce he'll tell you where you can buy some in Seattle.  If you love goat cheese like I do then this is a treat.  It's creamy and tangy and when warm you can dip the bread right in.  The flavor of the watercress was perfection with this cheese. It wasn't easy to find information about this cheese so I was thrilled to find a fellow blogger who knew about it and she was kind enough to let me link to her blog.

     Delicata squash with chanterelles, treviso and hazelnuts. All of these ingredients prepared in the right way can be sweet on their own.. The locals forrage for chanterelles and the hazelnuts grow in Washington State too so you'll never get them any fresher than this. The tenderness of the squash & chanterelles against the braised treviso and the crunch of the hazelnuts was a treat for the senses and probably my favorite of all this dishes. Trust me they were all great tasting.  All of the ingredients in each dish tasted so fresh and well balanced it's really hard to say one was better than the other, they were just different.  But for the closet vegetarian that lurks inside me for me it was the delicata.

Lamb shoulder braised in whey with turnips and kale. If a closet vegetarian lurks inside me it because I just don't need to eat a lot of meat and it's more the texture that I don't care for especially if it's chewy in any way.  I like my meat tender and soft, my ground beef just less than raw, a three inch piece of a ribeye perfectly rare, and lamb shoulder braised to perfection.  As you can see from the photo it was just the way I like it.  If we'd all been thinking clearly we would have started with the lamb and ended with the veigedarte
Sitka and Spruce

2238 Eastlake Ave. E.
Seattle, WA. 98102
(206) 324-0662

Tuesday through Saturday
5:30pm - 10:30pm

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mary's Lobster Camp

My friend and I went here so I could taste what he thinks is the best lobster roll in NYC. I must say his taste in food is spot on. Mary's is nothing fancy but in my opinion the food is fantastic. I always like to try a little of this and a little of that. So we decided to order a few things and share. It's a good thing because if I had ordered my own lobster roll I wouldn't have been able to eat anything else.

The Lobster Roll was amazing. Large pieces of lobster with a light dressing of mayo and seasoning, but not over done. The bun was perfect and it came with a very tasty and huge side of shoe string french fries. It was rich and filling and everything I always wanted in a lobster roll and cheaper than I expected at $25.

In addition to that we ordered the Flash Fried Silver Hake with Sunflower Sprouts with Cilantro Vinaigrette for $10. Let me tell you, who ever is frying knows what they're doing. I asked about the oil and they told me it was a combination of peanut and canola (FYI anyone with a peanut allergy).

We also shared the Peekytoe Crab Beignets with Key Lime Aioli for $12. These were also fried to perfection. I like beignets so I enjoyed them a lot but I must say I would have preferred a lot more peekytoe in there. While I was eating it I had no idea it was peekytoe crab at all.

This isn't a cheap place to go but they're very friendly. We sat at the bar which I often prefer. The tables are small and looked cramped but they open at 6 and the place fills up within minutes. Worth going and if I lived in the neighborhood I'd be a regular. Unfortunately I keep forgetting to take photos. I'm new at this but I'll get the hang of it.

Mary's Fish Camp

64 Charles Street
corner of Charles & 4th Street

Mon- Sat Lunch 12:00pm - 3:00pm Dinner 6:00pm - 11:00pm
Master Visa and AmEx
No Reservations but you can take out.