Monthly Archives: June 2009

Notes on Life in Canada vs Life in Mexico

Just back from a trip to Canada where I reluctantly was recruited to drive the fat and always cantankerous (spelling?) Casual Restaurant Critic around, I was struck by some of the rather quaint differences between life in Canada and life in Mexico observed. Here are some:

Safety First in the Kitchen – having had the opportunity to participate – albeit only on the sidelines, chopping red onions as cooks’ helper to a very strict kitchen manager – in a day camp for junior high school age children, I was able to notice the abundance of positively anal rules regarding the handling of food.

When you come from Mexico, where succulent mystery meat tacos are made and sold and eaten streetside, and delicious tamales can be discovered at the bottom of a battered (not breaded; beat up) cloth covered aluminum pot at a gas station, you are bound to be blown away by the rather hysterical regulations regarding food handling and preparation in Canada.

For one thing, the washing of dishes must be done in a commercial-grade dishwashing machine. If that is not available, there must be a three compartment sink available, one for soaking and washing in soapy, xix-filled water; another with ‘clean’ water for rinsing and finally a disinfecting sink with a chlorine solution. There are specific instructions as to water temperature, soap content, and chlorine content as well. These are located on a chart which must be posted at the sink location.

One can’t forget to leave room at the sink for the handwashing poster, which also must be posted there. It instructs one on how to properly wash hands – in a rotary motion and above the wrist and paying particular attention to fingernails – and for how long.

Refrigerator temperatures are controlled as well and must be in a certain range to ensure there is no spoilage. This brings to mind the Comercial Mexicana’s practice of laying out their raw bistek meat on tables in the supermarket, presumably beacuse it is ‘cool’ in the store, thanks to that chilly air conditioning. Of course they are concerned with your health; just look at the ham n cheese ladies: they are wearing facemasks and hairnets. While the raw meat slowly rots nearby.

My hunch is that this is less about food poisoning than it is about legal concerns. In a society where all the basic needs have been met, such as is the case in first-world Canada, people are on the lookout for a problem – any problem, real or perceived – and are willing to sue at the first sign of what they think might be something questionable.

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More fun comparisons later!

The Critic is Back!

Back from a much needed and barely affordable vacation that is.

Once again, the Critic was in Beautiful British Columbia (it must be so, it says so right on the license plate of every vehicle!) and had the opportunity to sample many restaurants great and not so great. Here are a few of the places tried on this visit.

Vancouver

The Keg – As on a previous visit, the well known Vancouver institution The Keg (Thurlow, near Robson, downtown Vancouver) was visited and since this was covered in a previous visit, there is not much new to report other than the fact that the place is still as great as ever. If the Critic may make a beer recommendation, it would be Alexander Keith, a full bodied and slightly sweet – and not too gassy – ale.

Keg Steakhouse and Bar on Urbanspoon

Milestones – Another tried and true BC favorite, Milestones is known for their good food, large portions and friendly atmosphere. On this visit, the Critic and the two MiniCritics as well as the Better Half had breakfast there (English Bay, downtown Vancouver) on two occasions. While the Critic’s choice of prime beef hash with eggs on top was very satisfying, the better choice was made by the Critic’s Better Half; she chose the Eggs Benedict, with the Milestones twist of adding several good sized succulent shrimp and guacamole.

Milestone's Grill and Bar on Urbanspoon

Milestone’s Prim Rib Hash (above) and Eggs Benny (below)

Water Street Cafe – also reviewed previously, this Gastown favorite (Gastown historical district, Vancouver) is as great as ever and the oyster appetizer, again, wipe-your-plate-with-the-bread good! The service seemed a little less attentive than on previous visits, leading the Critic to suggest that perhaps the restaurant had been sold, but the Critics observation was drowned out by the other members of the dining party, who thought the people doing the serving were in fact there on the last occasion.

Water St. Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tsunami Sushi – Tsunami Sushi (Robson Street, downtown Vancouver) has been a Critic family favorite for about 20 years now. The big attraction is the fact that you can get a seat at the oval shaped bar, inside which the sushi chefs are hard at work and around which a small, water filled canal flows, at about eye level. As the sushi chefs prepare the different kinds of nigiri, rolls and other goodies, they place them on little colored plates on small wooden boats that go around in circles in front of you, so you can come in, sit down and begin eating immediately!

The service on this occasion left a lot to be desired, putting a severe strain on the Critics relationship with the restaurant. One piece of raw clam or conch tasted and smelled definitely past its prime and the waitress was informed, who stared blankly and not understanding what was being said. Another waitress and a possible host type person also came over, these two evidently with a better command of the English language but their reaction was of the ‘oh well’ variety. They were probably under the impression that this was another of those cases where the dumb western diner didn’t like the taste of the sushi he/she had selected and was trying to not pay for it. They of course had no idea that the Critic and Co have been coming here for about 20 years now and this was a definite case of fish being ‘off’. In any case there was not a gram (this is Canada and it’s metric) of empathy to be had and this put a damper on the rest of the meal which was thankfully near its’ end.

Tsunami Sushi on Urbanspoon

Powell River

The Alchemist – Everytime the Critic has the occasion to visit this small, former logging town on the optimistically named Sunshine Coast, there is a new ‘good’ restaurant. The reputation seems to last as long as it takes for the Critic to return to this charming hamlet. Last time it was the Laughing Oyster. This visit, it’s The Alchemist (Marine Avenue, Westview, Powell River) where a real, live French chef works wonders in the kitchen.

Well the local gourmets are not exaggerating! The Critic is pleased to report that this is as good as anything in Vancouver or elsewhere, tucked away in an unassuming former house with a (somewhat limited and only on a clear day) view of the snow covered peaks of Vancouver Island across the water.

Service, atmosphere, food; it is amazing! There are some photos below (did someone request food porn?!) so as not to make this post more time consuming than it already is for you…

The Alchemist on Urbanspoon

two main courses and a cheese plate for dessert!)

The Critic highly recommends this restaurant if you are in the unlikely position of both being a reader of this blog and in the Sunshine Coast area.

More Critic mini-reviews from this visit later! It’s late and my eyes aren’t what they used to be.