Napa, Wine, Etc.

The Enoteca Wine Shop in Calistoga, on the long and only Western-style Main Street, has an impressive array of bottles.  The owner, whose first name reads “Margaux” on her business cards, has what seems to be a terrific sense of humor as well as knowledge.  She steered me to a good Pinot, just released, from 1994, which is hard to believe–she didn’t believe it either.  How could it still be great?  What about those cellar costs?

She also made me promise to hit a Mexican grocery store with the best vegetarian tacos in Napa and then noted the first Farmer’s Market of the year to be held tomorrow A.M.  Holy smokes!

The day ahead: Peter Michael Winery and Redd.

Wine producers are often quirky, passionate, funny, and smart.  Imagine a line of work where what’s most critical can’t be repeated or controlled reliably; where terroir, here at least, isn’t certain; where consumer and critics’ tastes change; etc.  Got to love what you do.  It’s another instance of passion and a marriage of art and science.

I find that inspiring.

Napa, Napa, Come in Napa

The day began yesterday with a fast visit by tiny ferry to the Granville Public Market (redux) to get what’s needed for an airplane picnic: Great baguettes from Terra bakery, charcuterie of spring pate and sliced salami from a French-Canadian stand, and cold smoked salmon.  I’ll say.

Arriving in downtown SF, by Union Square, via Bart, the tumult, madness, dirt, ambition, and casino-like entitlement of day to day life in my home country were immediately evident.  In my face.  No desire to face reality, I cashed in briefly with a nap.

That was before dinner at Gary Danko.  Having always wanted to go, at last I went.  Normally in San Fran it’s Zuni.   Anyhow, a wonderful three course meal of morels in a tart; blue nose bass wrapped in proscuitto; and, some desserts.  A Robert Sirsky blend, most Pinot Gris, was delicious.  At the next table, a woman got hammered and extremely happy on two big Martini’s before getting sad, quiet, and ataxic.

This AM, speeding along in a Mustang convertible, fobbed off on us by a clever Avis agent who talked us into the cool car, we reached Yountville.  Bouchon: rabbit cassoulet and roasted sturgeon.

Uh oh: Room service just arrived with a gift–Schramsberg blanc du blanc and a cheese plate.

Hate to run and eat…

And now we bid a fond farewell…

to Vancouver.  As Nixon is said to have said on leaving the Rose Garden one last time, “I won’t say goodbye, but instead will say, au revoir!”

Indeed, this deeply segregated, staid, and conservative city by the sea has offered much and has more still of interest.  Its urban beauty is unparalled, its charms deep.

Yesterday, renting bikes, it was a two hour jaunt along the seawall in spectacular Stanley Park.  Then a return to Legendary Noodles for thin noodles with spicy chicken. Following that, off to Rodney’s for a dozen raw oysters, slurped by my companion, while I made due with perfect fried fish on a roll and a cold one.

After a nap, winded from the mini-triathalon (three miles of running, eight miles of biking, and four miles of walking), it was time to cross the bridge to Kinsilato.

Drinks with the editor and publisher of Vancouver magazine @ West–Victoria gin is as smooth as Plymouth.  The plan had been to eat at Vij’s, but our group grew to eight, which meant a two hour wait at Vij’s, so we cabbed back over the bridge for dinner at Blue Water: raw tuna, unagi, etc. and good, local Riesling.

Of the segregation noted: One sees folks from Asia and of European stock, no blacks, and it’s a peas don’t touch the carrots culture, prissy.

Of note, too, is the “100 mile” menus: Nothing served outside of 100 miles.  What a fine concept!  More on that later.

O Vancouver!

This is certainly one of the world’s greatest walking cities.  Guided by appetite and a love of observation, I began the day in Stanley Park.  Along the seawalls, past swan nests, six miles later, through a dreamy urban park.

Lunch at Shanghai “Bistro” on Alberni.  Pretty remarkable and subtle food: Pressed, fried tofu strips (yuba) stuffed with mushrooms, carrots, and bamboo followed by thin noodles in a delicate peanut sauce.  Among the best Chinese meals I have ever had due to the precision and quality.

At night: Return to Gastown for dinner at Boneta.  Big, open kitchen, high ceilings, in a terrific, old brick building in an area better known lately for its speed and crack cocaine addicts on the sidewalks than its food.  The dinner was a $35 prix fixe as it is “Dine Around” week.  Duck rillettes, pork belly, chocolate financier.  Extraordinary flavors and impressive restraint.  A kind of rare simplicity–a chef who knows when to stop and whose trust in his skill and confidence in his ingredients were there on the plate.  Not Boston by about 4000 miles.

The Real Vancouver

I have no idea what the “real” Vancouver means as a phrase or where the “real” Vancouver might be, but somehow the phrase resonates for me.  Like bumping my head on a low ceiling.

The real Vancouver yesterday:

Exploring by foot again, pith helmet off as it rained delightfully, off and on, from start to finish, I walked down Davie Street past crouching and seated homeless guys in their 20’s.  Bearded, tattooed, and grimy, they begged for change or zoned out.  Storefronts offered lots of unappetizing food that was rooted in the invention of the Fryolater.

Reaching the bottom of The West End, near Stanley Park, I turned right onto Denman Street to reach Legendary Noodles, my destination, which was closed as it was before noon.  So it was time then to walk through Sunset Beach Park and take a tiny ferry on False Creek to Granville Island and the Public Market.

The Market seemed less grand than the day prior, but still remarkable, rather like a very attractive person  who’s been up all night.  The Kaisereck sausage stand was wonderful: Grilled and savory.  The Montreal bagel guy had a huge oven and I bought a $1 poppy that was soft and chewy, but still had a crisp crust and probably was the best bagel I have ever eaten.

Leaving the market, feeling disengaged from The Bear, whom I met the day before, I walked further along False Creek, passing by running dogs and beautiful, little homes.  It all seemed like something of a happy dream.

Up a hill in search of 12th Avenue, I came across Victoria General Hospital instead: Sprawling, looking like it needed a hug.

Finally: Rangoli, my goal.  Next door to Vij’s, which is closed until the evening, this restaurant has a terrifically small menu that offers lots of subtly spiced, vegetarian driven dishes.  Of eight entrees, none named or familiar, five were all veg; the other three were goat, lamb, and chicken.  My dish of black chickpeas and tomatoes was by far the best Indian meal I’ve ever had outside the subcontinent.

Sated, I walked down a hill and saw a line of people waiting for a bus.  I joined the line and headed “downtown.”  A person reeking of marijuana, pleasant obviously, grimy, with a wispy beard, looking to be in his 60’s, sat down beside me.  I can smell the pot even now.  He explained that he was from the Yukon–“Five days by bus”–and noted that the bad street I saw the day before was part of, “The ten worst blocks in all of Canada,” due to the crack addicts.  He told me which stop would land me in the aptly named Gastown.

I walked from Gastown through Chinatown to Main Street.  Lots of empty lots, abandoned buildings, and so on.

Tired but goal-oriented, I made my way back to Legendary Noodles, which was open, of course.  A big plate of specatular noodles with pork and fried garlic and a cold beer.   The noodles were fresh and firm and the pork sliced just right.

At night, at last, Guu–a branch of several izakaya in the city.  They gave us a big table, hidden near the kitchen, and in short order 42 small dishes were shouted back and forth and arrived to bus.  Delicious tuna, pumpkin, fried chicken, salads, tofu, and bamboo shoots, all washed down with Sapporo and shochu.

Nightcaps  on Granville and time to turn in.

Vancouver: The Fog Lifts Somewhat

On my first full day in Vancouver, I hoofed the city from one nearly to the next, north to south to west to north to northwest to south again.  It is a great walking city.

Granville Farmers Market is where the day started and where it might begin again today.  Located in an old industrial area, the market is by far the most impressive one I have ever seen due to the quality of its fish and shellfish.  Fruits and vegetables looked good, too, only being imports they lacked the allure of local stuff.  A few bakeries, delicious food stalls, etc.  The chief complaint?  Too pristine, not having the chaos, say, of Reading Terminal or Union Square.  But the compensation was the exceptional quality.  I was jealous and angry and amazed: Why doesn’t Boston have anything remotely like it?  Sad that I didn’t have a kitchen: So at least I bought hot smoked salmon–no refrigeration needed–and huge, dried morels.

Outside the market, I chatted awhile with a man calling himself The Bear.  He was giving away taut metal and plastic thingamajigs and talking a mile a minute about his special powers.  We hit it off immediately.

From Granville, past condos with huge windows that got me thinking–“Wow, I should move to Vancouver!”–it was a long walk on a few beaches in Kitsilano.  Very beautiful, spectacular use of public space, renewed annoyance at Boston’s abdication to the private sector.

On W. 4th, it was a lunchtime visit to Refuel, which I’d read about in the NYT. A very cool storefront, tail to snout pig joint, manned by a heavily tattoed guy.  Cold beer and pork shoulder on the first nettles of the season.

From here it was back across the bridge to the West End to check on an izakaya for tonight and then over to the wonderfully named Gastown, which is kind of a cross between the East Village and Mars.  Brick streets, fancy shops, countless restaurants, charm that has had its nails clipped and polished.

Then a stroll to Chinatown quite by accident.  Nothing there, everyone’s gone to Richmond.  We did manage to bump into a huge sidewalk crowd of staggering or numb crack cocaine or heroin addicts selling what they had to get high.

Finally, back to Kitsilano @ 8 and in a car for dinner @ Lumiere, which is probably the city’s best restaurant.  Dale Mckay, the chef, is a friend and we were his guests: Crab, foie, halibut, duck, and beef.  Certainly the best halibut I’ve ever had.   Everything delicious.  Fun to try beef from Alberta: thick, great fat content, seared.

Vancouver: Day One

After a delightful, restful eight hours in the air, we arrived in Vancouver on 4/23.

About the hours in the air: Tasty salmon from Norway on H & H everything bagels for the first leg and homemade chicken parm on Hi-Rise rolls on the second, created a great comfort zone.  I caught up on book reviews and finished reading brother Ira Berlin’s work of genius on African-American migrations.

Vancouver is immediately pleasant.  “Native” art and faux waterfalls at the airport.  People so friendly it’s scary.  Downtown clean.  Pedestrians who wait for a signal to cross.  Cars that move slowly.

Last night: Dinner @ DB Bistro.  Full disclosure–The NY based chef is a friend and we are his guests.  What follows are pork cheeks with tortellini, salmon, morels, and cod.  Service and flavors that rival or surpass restaurant by the same name in NYC.  Delicious local white wines.

The big plan today: Farmers market and an izakaya named Guu.

West Coast Tour Warmup

The day begins at 5 A.M. The good news is the seeded ficelle from Hi-Rise in the kitchen that is crying out for butter.  Fresh coffee and then it will be 93S–Raceway Park–to Hyannis to interview several unemployed, mentally ill people.

Later, famished and distracted, it will be a drive to two mental hospitals to evaluate people with, respectively, dementia and depression.

The day ends, after a run, when chicken parm will be cooked in The Haas Test Kitchen.

All this prior to the West Coast Tour: Vancouver.  Looking forward to two Boulud outposts, an izakaya, Vij’s, etc.

Meanwhile, on the Cape, throughout the day, post-ficelle, it will be hunger.  The good thing about not eating is that I’m more alert.  That and Dunk’s–small black–across the street from Welfare.

Wednesday Food Sections: The Big Update

In  today’s food sections, joy was abundant.  A kind of euphoria threaded its way through each of the pieces.  The best?  Here they are:

The Boston Globe

1.  Actual title, swea’ ta gawd: “Taking nachos to the next level.”  Here the reporter went to area restaurants and sampled the nachos to see which ones made it to, “The Next Level.”  I was unaware, prior to reading this well-researched piece, that levels existed with nachos.  Many varieties were described with the one that was so clearly the next level being Chocolate Nachos served at Cottonwood Cafe.  When the Michelin guide finally makes it to Boston, this dish may be the one that is described as, “worth a detour.”  The runner-up, close to the next level, but not quite there, are the Italian Nachos, “topped with beef Bolognese, ricotta, mozzarella, and hot cherry peppers,” and served at Anchovies–the reviewer wisely notes, “Definitely ask for a fork.”

2.  Fascinating piece on school lunches in which celebrity chefs tell kids what to eat.  Not a single nutritionist is quoted.

3.  A wonderful recipe, no kidding, for country vegetable soup by Peter Davies from Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel.  This guy has a straight-ahead, unpretentious kitchen with terrific ingredients.

The New York Times

1.  Bruce Seidel from The Food Network is launching a hipster network: Cooking Channel.  Very cool idea.  Roll up your sleeves, learn to cook, watch how it’s done, no nonsense. (Full disclosure: I once sat next to Mr. Seidel on an Amtrak train from NYC to Boston and he was shouting into his cell phone, which I thought rude at the time.  I wanted to say, “OK, you’re a big food network executive, but indoor voices please,” but instead just sat there quietly not wanting to offend.  Talk about ironic.  I mean he was the one being offensive, not me.  But I digress.)

2.  A great Pad Thai recipe by Mark Bittman.

3.  Jidori chicken.  Folks, this is good chicken, I’ve had it in Japan, but it’s not a whole lot different from the birds from PA.  The writer notes that the chickens, “are fed all vegetarian diets, without antibiotics,” which is how most chickens are fed, nothing new about that.  Mind, the fact that these chickens are free range and therefore eat crickets, worms, bugs, dung, and paint chips is not noted.  The fellow who processes them in his plant, Dennis Mao, is quoted: “You don’t just grow a chicken, you form a relationship.”  The writer left out the part that the relationship ends when Mr. Mao’s workers kill them all.

This taco is most definitely not at The Next Level:

American Women Don’t Get Fat

On April 27th, the much awaited release of, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook, takes place.  (That’s quite a mouthful of a title.)  Written by Mireille Guiliano, whom I met at a big, free wine-lunch weekend many years ago in Piedmont (sponsored by her employer LVMH a.k.a. LVMH Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton S.A.), the book has recipes designed to keep American women as slim as their French sisters.

The odd thing is that French women actually do get big.  (I prefer “big” rather than fat since the association to the word “fat” brings to my mind Bill Cosby’s character, “Fat Albert,” whose diabetic condition, never made explicit by the great comic, surely caused suffering.)

According to a recent recent study (2009) conducted in France by TNS Sofres Healthcare in collaboration with Roche, 15.1% of French women are clinically obese and another 26% are overweight.  That means, let’s see, hold on, let me get my calculator out, um, 41.1% of French women are big.

That leaves–calculator just froze–58.9% of French women who don’t get fat.  OK, it’s a clunky title, but isn’t this more like it?

The 58.9% of French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.

In comparison, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States, in the most recent survey (2007-2008) found these obesity figures: “For women, the prevalence was 35.5 percent overall, and ranged from 33.0 percent among non-Hispanic white women to 49.6 percent among non-Hispanic black women.”

So wouldn’t a better book be?

The American Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.

Put down the croissant, pick up the barbell!  Sisters here live at the gym.  You won’t see them having three hour lunches!  No sir!  It’s Pilates, Spinning, and personal trainers.

This is a French women:

This is an American women:

Gym Woman Ready To Race Royalty Free Stock Photo

Gonna kick some butt!