Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tuscany: Day 1

First full day in Tuscany
It is so beautiful here it is just ridiculous. It feels so surreal -- Like I am in a movie set or in a dream. I am staying in an outskirt of Florence in a town called Figline in a converted 16th century villa on top of a hill. My room, which is really a suite, has a kitchen bigger than mine at  home,  it has a window that opens up to a view of the town below. The main area has French doors that opens up to an enormous terrace, again with this soaring view of Tuscany. This terrace has a Magnolia tree which is one of the oldest in Italy and an olive tree and several tables for al fresco dining. This is where I had my lunch today while reading (which I actually did not end up doing very much because the beauty is extremely distracting).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to Europe

How to Europe I have been perusing several websites and books on traveling to Europe and found this very comprehensive, no frills freebie. It's quite thorough -- dealing with many things that you may not think of. It contains many tips and "inside information" from his personal experiences. The best part is that the entire thing is online free, however, you may purchase the book if you wish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Graduate

I went to a see Last Tango in Paris with a very young friend last year when it played at Vancity Theatre. It was both our first time seeing this very famous movie that everyone seemed to know about. The most famous scene being the butter scene. Anyways, my friend was absolutely appalled and disgusted. She could not understand why this movie would be so famous. I, being the older one (saw more movies/experiences) earnestly attempted to defend "art." I explained that "art's" existence is not to be liked or loved, "art's" job is to invoke emotion - good or bad.

When you see good art (theatre in this case), you instinctively feel something. The Graduate failed to make me feel. I did not empathize with the characters. I cannot exactly identify the reasons why, maybe it's because I had the original images of Dustin Hoffman, Ann Bancroft and Catherine Ross and expected too much (like seeing a movie after reading the book). 

"In 1996, The Graduate was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It ranked as the seventh greatest film of all time on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies." <>

Monday, April 18, 2011

Favourite Places for Coffee

Many people are addicted to their cup o' joe. I, however, can actually get through the day without one. This said, I am gaga over a good cup. One that is so good that when you take your first sip, you just go... ahhh. And... if they happen to have a good fresh and authentic croissant -- even better.

Here are my favourite places:

Artigiano - there are now many locations of this coffee shop (and I have probably been to all of them, except for the one in Kelowna, but that's only because I couldn't find it and ended up on a wine tour instead), but I still like the one across from the Art Gallery. Order their cappuccino (they have special Artigiano way of making it). And please, do not order "no fat" or "skim milk" for heaven's sake. If you are going to have a decent cup of cappuccino, I say go big or go home. Make sure to say, "for here" and I also like it "extra hot" so I can savour, sip and contemplate. I have a rule that I only order good specialty coffee when I have the time to sit and enjoy it (as opposed to grabbing a cup to go and drinking it in my car) FYI: You may have seen Bob Blumer's show if you watch the Food Network

Their pastries are only Ok. I do like their almond croissant.

Bakery 101 - is the culinary school bakery in Granville Island. You may remember me raving about their macarons on a previous blog. I'm not sure if they are still under construction, but when they are done, it is a good place to find good coffee and pastry. Ambiance (pre-construction) is not really great. It's not very relaxing, but with good coffee and pastry, you can over look this. (Much better than the over-priced La Baguette et l'Echalote Bakery.)

Re-Entry - I am sad to find out that this place closed down in February. But, the site says stay tuned so I am hoping that they will come back. It is my top pick!  It is unpretentious -- they have a spaceship look/theme with art works on the wall of local artist. It's a bit out of the way for me (Main & 26th area), so I don't get to go there as much as I would have liked. Their baked good are so flaky and so fresh. Their pain au chocolate is divine. I hope they will re-open. 

 Le Panier (Pike Market in Seattle) - if I am going to Seattle, it's a sure thing that I will be having my coffee here (despite the fact, that the first and original Starbucks is only steps away). The line at Le Panier is always so annoyingly long, but when the food is good, it's usually the case. The bakery is quite authentic French, with ready made baguette sandwiches to go. Needless, to say, coffee is rich and very well made.

Faubourg (Arbutus) - I didn't have their coffee, but I would imagine that if they cared enough to make good bread and pastries, then they would care enough to make quality everything. Their croissant is as good as any boulangerie in France.

Othello Tunnels & Old Settler Pub

If you are going to be on the Hope or Coquihalla area, check this place out. 

"... These tunnels were designed by Andrew McCulloch to save going around the Coquihalla Canyon. The railbed crosses the Coquihalla River several times and the views are well worth the trip. The trestles have all been converted to walkways now, and it is a provincial park. It is located about 5 km outside of Hope."

It is one of those beautiful BC places to hike -- water rushing, monolithic boulders -- BC at its best. The main trail is an easy hike. There are however, more medium trails off the main one. We have decided to turn around, though, upon seeing bear poop as we aren't equipped for a possible confrontation. 

To complete our rustic day, we thought we would eat locally. Unfortunately, it was pretty dead everywhere in Hope at 7pm Saturday night. So off, we go again on our small road trip. We decide to go to Harrison Hot Springs. Still sticking to "rustic" we go to the Old Settler Pub. It is a nice change to go to a place where it's not a "Donelly or Mark James" type. We both have a "stick to you ribs" food - meat, potatoes and beer -- very authentic.

If you have a day, this is one good excursion away from the city.

Denman Tap House & Steamworks

Laughing Statues at English Bay
Denman Tap House
This location has been many many different eateries before. Despite the fantastic location (overlooking English Bay), they cannot seem to get enough loyal customers. I've been here when it was a "fancy" seafood place, and most recently as SOHO pub (recently all closed down). It was the first day of playoffs, so it was pretty much packed everywhere. It was a half hour before puck drop and there were still several tables around. This didn't last very long though.

I was pleasantly pleased with my food. I ordered the halibut with couscous. It was just a tiny bit overcooked but it was actually quite decent. I had my trepidations ordering seafood in a pub but it was my second pub of the day and I already had "pub grub" at Steamworks in Gastown.

I hope to come back here in the summer -- check out it they make a decent pitcher of sangria.

This place in Gastown has been around for a long time (since 1995) but until last week, I've never checked it out. It is pretty much what you'd expect for a brew place -- good central location, typical pub grub, excellent for a group, good pub ambiance.

I recommend the ginger beer (I can't remember what it's called, but I'm sure they will know.) It was perfectly refreshing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

13 Rue Therese

This posting is not about a real place I have been to, but a place I have been transported to in my imagination. It is Paris, 1928.

I have just finished reading this book by Elena Mauli Shapiro called 13 Rue Therese. I have heard about this book from a review on The New Yorker a few months ago and have had been intrigued. 

What a wonderful journey she has taken me to. It is a fictionalized story of a real Parisian woman and her shoebox of memories. It is a life imagined from fragments of her mementos. 

The character reminds me a little bit of Anais Nin -- a seemingly very proper woman who definitely has a penchant for the wild side.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Super moon at Taverna Greka in New West

I used to be a regular at Taverna Greka when I worked next door, so it was the perfect place for my girlfriend and me to catch up. It turned out to be the perfect night to be there. On an ordinary night, it has a fantastic view of the river and the bridge, but on the night that we were there, it was the super moon day. It was a busy night, but the host (owner) was nice enough to squeeze us in window side without a reservation.

We dined as the moon impressed us. The food was quite decent and the retsina was nice and chilled. There was even a belly dancer to entertain us (as if the moon wasn't enough).

I was there with a friend, but this could be a nice place for an intimate evening.

Thomas Haas

As some of you may know, I enjoy my pastries and chocolate. I finally got around to visiting Thomas Haas' tucked away location in North Vancouver last week. My GPS couldn't actually find it, but it brought me close enough, I just had to ask someone and was referred to the orange umbrellas infront. 

They have beautiful easter treats for the kids and even more beautiful treats for me. I tried the generously champagne infused, gold flecked chocolate creation. Only one word to describe it, Yummm!
 Champagne Truffle - Layers of champagne ganache between 3 layers of moist cakes: chocolate, almond and hazelnut

I also tried a passion fruit flavoured macaron. Also a perfection. It had a different texture from the one in Granville Island culinary school, which I also loved. Their version is less crisp on the outside and more spongy soft. Nevertheless, it's delish just as well.

Alligator appy!

Well, it is nice and close to the theatre (The Stanley), so I did go to Ouisi Bistro again. I guess this is a sign of a good place when you can go back several times and not be bored. 

I tried the alligator for appetizer this time, and the Caribbean "hotter than hell" fare.
Gator Bites
genuine Louisiana alligator, served 14~
spicy & hot with a dollop of Cajun tartar sauce

The alligator, I hate to say it, taste like chicken - an over-cooked chicken actually. It's all about the sauce, and the sauce was good. I wish I asked how they make it. Perfect with a glass of a cold one. 

The Caribbean Hot Plate 18~
****Hotter than Hell ****
habanero and coconut chicken with
cilantro-lime pesto, red beans and green rice

If you think you can live through "hotter than hell," I say go for it.  It has a nice combination of different flavours. I ate the entire thing happily. (with another cold one.) I think I will try to make their cilantro-lime pesto at home, it will be perfect with white fish as well.

The Philanderer

I have been so crazy busy the last few weeks that I am so behind here. I am finally having the time to do my updates again, so here it is.

The sign of a good play is it's timeliness. Last night, I saw George Bernard Shaw's play written in 1898,  The Philanderer,  at the Stanley. It is amusing to know that it seems that since the dawn of forever, many married couples have been bored with each other, and have married for all the wrong reasons.
"You might have married him not because you loved him,
but because you didn't love anybody else.
When one is young, one marries out of mere curiosity,
just to see what it's like." 
It's funny that so many plays are all about marriages. I guess that would be because that's were the drama lies. (Right next to teenage daughters, that is. - who thankfully/hopefully grows into more reasonable adults.)