Monthly Archives: September 2011

Dude! Really?

On my last visit to Vancouver, from which I have just returned only days ago, I was struck by the re-invention of the term “really” in the English language. I suspect that this is North America-wide and not just a Vancouver or Canadian thing as evidenced by a friend who visited from the nearby hamlet of Bellingham, Washington and uttered the expression in the title of this blog post over and over again.

“Really?” used to mean just that.

“I just bought a Ferrari” you would say.

“Really?” would be the incredulous or envious reply, depending on the self-esteem of the person you were conversing with.

If I were to describe the word ‘really?’ (as a question) as a wine it might be something like this: Questioning; with elements of sarcasm, disbelief and subtle undertones of disgust or pena ajena.

An example would be the following:

You are dying to get to a bathroom and simply cannot wait any longer. You stop between two cars in the parking lot to relieve yourself and your buddy, who had walked on ahead, walks back, sees what you are doing and says, with a pained look on his face “Dude. Really?”

I suppose a Spanish equivalent is being used as you read this, but I don’t know what it is. Perhaps “En serio, guey?” would be appropriate?

The Casual Restaurant Critic – Vancouver, Canada (Part II)

Continuing with the Critic and his neurotic reviews, here are some more notes on the restaurant scene in Vancouver which you may or may not find useful. A full refrigerator and invitations from friends for dinners and lunches have scene a drastic decline in the number of establishments visited; nevertheless, there is always something to observe, document or write about and so here goes.

VIJ

A good friend (who shall be referred to as Ms Cinci for the remainder of this write-up) of the Better Half and the Critic came to Vancouver for a brief visit and says “hey, my friend recommended Vijs for Indian food!” by way of suggestion and so the Critic and BH just had to see what the fuss was about; and were pleasantly blown away by the food!!

One arrives at Vij and sits at an outdoor terrace, where one can order an exotic drink; how does an Indian Mojito sound, with cilantro? Or a mango and masala infused dark rum cocktail called Dark Army?  Both of those were had and they were fantastic, while the little group sat outside waiting for a table in the packed, deliciously lit room. Appetizers are brought out while you wait, courtesy of the restaurant which takes no reservations and seating is on a first come, first served basis.

The food is absolutely glorious! Hearty, complex in the variety of flavors that cross your palate as you savor each and every bite. The Critic ordered the prawns, the Better Half a chicken-based dish and Ms Cinci had “lamb popsicles” which were actually little cutlets perfectly cooked – crispy, crunchy and tender chewy at the same time – in the most delectable, buttery and decadent sauce. All the dishes were served in large bowls so sharing was not only nice (inside joke) but encouraged and easy. Appetizers were fantastic as well; the Samosa with a very spicy stuffing was a meal in itself and who could resist the pork belly? Not this group!

The meal was accompanied by a bottle of crisp white wine going by the name of Joie Farm Market and was the perfect, non-intrusive complement to the outstanding food.

Service was gracious, professional and friendly by a mostly female staff who all took care of all the tables at once; none of this “my section” nonsense.

Ms Cinci picked up the bill so price information is not available, but a look at their website can give you, my dear reader, an idea.

Overall, the experience was gourmet, perfect for foodies, but not pretentious or stuffy in any way. Highly recommended!!

Website for Vij here.

Tomokazu Japanese

Tomokazu is a very popular all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant on Broadway in Vancouver. Thanks to the Mini-Critic, the Casual Restaurant and Better Half were able to experience this incredibly inexpensive sushi restaurant which is one of the few places open late in Vancouver, where you can go at 11 PM and find the place hopping.

The sushi is not the greatest in the world but for an all-you-can-eat option, and at the ridiculous price of 12.95 CDN per person, it is a bargain and you will not be disappointed. The Critic suggests ordering your limit of sashimi (there is a limit of 2 orders per person) and plenty of salmon niguiri (pieces). The fish is fresh and cold and delicious. Service is quick, with servers speaking enough English to get by. Orders are taken via a piece of paper where one marks the amount of each sushi you want and this is handed to the server. The food comes along almost instantly, so those guys at the sushi bar are really cranking it out.

Excellent value for the money.

Write-ups on Urban Spoon here.

That Mediterranean Food Store

There is a little specialty shop on Commercial Drive that has the largest selection of Lebanese and other Mediterranean food you have ever seen – the Critic and BH “discovered” this Vancouver institution while searching for lunch options to have at the vacation rental in Vancouver. If you love Lebanese food – and who in the Yucatan doesn’t – this is the place to go. The owner is there each and every day, doling out olives, humus (garbanza) and fresh-baked sweet and savory pastries and making jokes with his many customers.

Write up on Urban Spoon here.

La Temporada at Shuswap Lake in British Columbia

Last weekend, I had the chance to get a taste of the British Columbia version of the Yucatecan ‘temporada’ (more on the temporada here) at Little Shuswap Lake in the heart of the sunny B.C. interior; that stretch of sunny, Monterrey-like mountainous stone and grassland located between the town of Kamloops and Yale.

Each summer, residents of the big cities of Vancouver and even the neighboring province of Alberta flock to the region to rental cabins along the lake, much like Merida residents who move, lock, stock and barrel, to the beaches around Progreso. The beach toys are brought along: everything from bright yellow sea-doo aquatic vehicles, motorboats and skis, kayaks and canoes and a barbecue grill worthy of Gordon Ramsey along with fridgefulls of food to eat between sessions of water-based activities on the lake. Accompanying them are a gazillion tourists from as far away as Germany and the U.K., who rent enormous motorhomes and fifth wheel campers, clogging traffic arteries and intent on ‘roughing it’ in the great outdoors and in saturated, reservations-only Provincial Park campgrounds.

The Better Half and I had the opportunity to experience the weekend version of this ‘B.C. temporada’ and I must say it was a glorious experience, probably as good as the Yucatecan beach version, if not better. For starters, the house, modestly called a cabin, had indoor plumbing and carpets throughout, something you would never find in Chelem. The lake, complete with occasional breezes and even seagulls, lacked however the salty humidity of the beach and the water, which was clear enough that you could see large strands of fresh water vegetation growing up from the bottom, was a lot cooler than the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming was possible, although at this time of the year, when the salmon make their migration up-river to spawn and then die, was an iffy proposition due to the fact that some of those salmon give up halfway across the lake and their eyeless bodies float on the surface, to be picked over by gulls, crows and even bears once they are washed ashore. Their whitened carcasses floating there make one think twice before diving in.

Flying overhead are not flamingos, but Canada geese, their honking similar to their pink relatives but distinctively Canadian; and the morning sounds that wake you up are not the shiny black x’kaues screeching out their noisy greetings, but the insane cackle of equally shiny and black loons on the water.

Afternoon burgers and beers on the deck are enjoyed in warm sunshine until 7:30, when the sun promptly retires for the night behind the surrounding mountains, the shadows emerge and temperatures plummet – from 30-plus degrees in the afternoon to a bracing 16 degrees by 9:00 PM – as the moon makes an appearance and casts a silvery glow onto the lakes surface.

Canadians are a quiet lot, especially the ones renting lakefront cabins and come nightfall, there is no nearby feria to entice youngsters with futbolitos, deep fried junk food and precariously put-together rides. Instead, there are campfires, board games and the forgotten art of conversation is enjoyed over many a glass of wine while the kids roast marshmallows and hot dogs and read. By 11 PM, everyone is fast asleep, resting up for another day on the water or a trip into town for some shopping or mini-golf.

Enjoy the photos!

Enter Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado

Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barlovento Ruiseñor Pesado or “El Duque” as he was jokingly referred to by his Yucatecan friends walked carefully along the sidewalk; at this time of the afternoon it was late enough that he didn’t need to be concerned about which side of the sidewalk it was, as the sun had already disappeared behind the buildings in el centro and the temperature, while still very warm, was no longer suffocatingly hot.

He didn’t mind the nickname. It was to be expected, what with that insanely pretentious last name his parents had insisted on bestowing upon him.

Originally from Alicante, Spain, his mother Doña Alicia Ruiz-Señor Pesado and his father Don Marco San Pedro de las Asturias de Barvolento were of royal blood, or so they claimed. They had fled Spain and it’s violent civil war in the late 1930’s, able to do so through their wealth and connections, had come to the Yucatan and settled in Merida in a fine mansion in the city’s center and had pursued their lifelong ambitions of alternately impressing and intimidating those around them, in their minds all undoubtedly of inferior social class and economic means. Doña Alicia was particularly fastidious when choosing worthy companions for her weekly canasta game. Meanwhile Don Marco had opened an exclusive boutique that provided the up and coming society around them with the finest clothing and fashion accessories and had been able to maintain the pleasant fiction that was their royal status in a new land teeming with aspiring socialites and new money.

Marco, the son, was one of 8 children, neither the youngest nor the oldest but somewhere in between and had been raised – as were all the children – to carry on the family tradition of pompous superiority but had committed the grave and imperdonable sin of falling in love with the dark skinned daughter of one of his fathers Mayan tailors. The outrage and dismay caused by this breach of etiquette resulted in his virtual banishment from the family and its fortune, such as it was, and when Marco announced his decision to marry the girl, his mother and father upgraded his banishment status from virtual to real and he was, as they say, ‘cut off’.

He had moved to a relatively new – at that time – area of Merida, the colonia Garcia Gineres, with his new wife whose apellidos were considerably shorter and monosyllabic and found work with a company that commercialized products related to the booming henequen industry. They had raised 3 fine children, two sons and a daughter, who were themselves now married and successful in their own right. Now in his sixties, Marco divided his time between his garden at their Garcia Gineres home and socializing with lifelong friends and acquaintances, many of whom were getting on in years, but who still found time for a game of domino or a weak, tepid coffee at a small cafe in the bowels of the Lucas de Galvez market, in the very heart of Merida. During these encounters, the old friends would discuss the latest local and national political gossip, argue over whether Bush was right in invading Iraq or not and describe their various ailments to one another.

It was, in fact, one of these sessions that Marco had just left, and was now on his way to a bus stop some blocks from the market. He chose to walk a few blocks each time he came downtown as it was his only form of exercise and the walking seemed to ease the pain in his knees that would flare up when he spent too much time kneeling in his garden.

He was walking a little faster now, still remembering with a smile his friend Alberto – “El Caballo Perez” they called him – wagging his index finger as old men do – and giving them all advice about the dangers of mixing Viagra with Red Bull, when he noticed a door suddenly opening across the street and a woman staggering out onto the sidewalk. She clutched at her throat and without saying a word, dropped onto the sidewalk where she lay, motionless.

He heard himself yelling “Señora!” and, without even checking to see if a car, or worse, a bus, was coming, he rushed into and across the street to see what he could do to help this obviously ailing elderly woman who had, from the looks of it, fainted right there in front of what was probably her house. Behind him, a man with a bad leg came to the window to see what was going on, a television flashing blue light on the wall inside.

He reached the woman, now lying in a crumpled heap at his feet and felt his heart was racing, perhaps from the adrenaline charged effort of the sprint across the street or perhaps from the realization that he was faced with a possible life or death situation. Kneeling down he, he noticed cookie crumbs on the front of the woman’s simple house dress and he recalled her clutching at her throat just before she collapsed. At that moment a door in his mind that had been shut for ages opened and he remembered – as if it was yesterday – a medical training session that had been obligatory for all employees of Telas Agricolas Yucatecas S.A. many years ago and what to do if someone was choking. Reaching under the woman he half-lifted her in order to wrap his arms around her from behind, placing his hands under her sternum and applied what he remembered was a technique called the Heimlich maneuver, pulling his closed fists towards himself through the womans chest.

There was a sudden sputter, a cough and a gasp for air from the woman in his arms; a piece of something had flown out of her mouth and onto the sidewalk. “She is going to be fine!” thought Marco as he relaxed his grip and then, when he saw she was indeed breathing, released the woman, who was now sitting up, coughing, eyes watering. She turned to look at him, blinking, in confusion.

Se cayó, señora” Marco explained looking at her, concerned. “Cómo se siente?” he added. The woman could only nod, obviously still in a state of shock from what had just happened. Her breath came hoarsely. “Bien” she replied in a weak, unconvincing voice, between fits of coughing. He was suddenly aware of a voice from the television inside the house; a woman’s voice seductively extolling the virtues of Ponds hand cream.

Across the street, Don Arsenio had opened the front door to his house and was standing, watching intently, completely oblivious to his television or the fact that he was not wearing more than an undershirt and ragged shorts. A few more passersby had gathered and they too, were watching from the safety of the opposite sidewalk, and from that group a heavy-set woman accompanied by a small child, a girl of about 7 or so, quickly checked traffic and crossed quickly over to Marco and the now calmer Juany, still sitting on the sidewalk. In her hand was a cellular phone.

Acaba de llamar a la policia” she said excitedly to Marco, her eyes not leaving the woman sitting in front of her “dicen que ahorita vienen” The little girl stared at the strange sight of a grown-up sitting on the sidewalk.

Marco nodded. “Le ayudo entrar?” he asked the woman on the sidewalk, motioning to the open door of her home. Doña Juany nodded and tried to get to her feet. Marco took her arm, helped her to her feet and gently escorted her inside, where he found a chair in the sala and sat her down. He turned off the television, silencing the strident, nasal voice of a woman making a pitch for a skin-bleaching cream.

An ambulance appeared moments later, lights flashing, its appearance heralded by sirens which had been thankfully turned off as it came to an abrupt halt in front of Doña Juany’s home. The heavy set woman enthusiastically filled in one of the paramedics with the details as she had seen them, while two others went inside the house to check on Doña Juany. While Marco explained what he had seen and done, the paramedics checked Doña Juany’s pulse and made sure she had not hit her head. When asked if she would like to be taken to the hospital ‘para que le revisen‘ Doña Juany shook her head vigorously and it was decided that she was fine, no injury to the head and so, no danger of a concussion and, after a brief interrogation of Marco’s relationship to the woman and jotting down the particulars, the three of them left, pulling away in the ambulance that now only sported a smaller, more discrete number of red and blue lights flashing on its roof.

Marco pulled up a chair, sat down in front of the woman and asked if there was someone he could call. He felt it would be unwise, as well as somehow discourteous, to leave the poor woman alone after her fright. Doña Juany, now regaining her composure, replied that yes, but that her phone line had been canceled and that the nearest phone was at Maria Inés corner store down the street; she scribbled a phone number in pencil on a slip of paper napkin and Marco stepped out to find the grocery store and make the call.

The Casual Restaurant Critic – Vancouver, Canada

The Casual Restaurant Critic is on vacation from his “relaxed and carefree lifestyle” in Merida (phrase borrowed from a real estate TV show featuring Merida) and lounging in a relaxed and carefree manner in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Here are some random, food-related thoughts.

Sourdough Bread

Having become addicted to Monique’s Sourdough Bread (available at the Slow Food Market ie. her bakery in Colonia Chuburna and soon to be in a new, as yet undisclosed, location, the Critic was looking forward to some great sourdough in Vancouver. Alas, it has not yet been found. There is plenty of excellent looking sourdough but to bite into it, you might as well be chewing hardened Bimbo. The Critic will, in the name of personal research of course, continue his quest to find a sourdough that matches what is available in Merida. Merida!

The Ravenous Raven

The name is so West Coast isn’t it? In the space formerly occupied by the Treefrog restaurant (another good eco-friendly West Coast kind of name) a group of talented women have formed a business partnership and are running this restaurant which also features two guest suites which the Critic did not get a chance to try. But the food is great! Homecooked, abundant and well-priced, it is worth your trip to Texada Island, just off the coast of Powell River. Ideally you would go to Texada Island for something and take advantage of the Ravenous Raven for a good place to lunch. It is good enough though, that you could go to the Ravenous Raven for lunch and then find something else to justify the trip over. Say hello to Wendy. Website here

Havana

Havana is a great little spot on Commercial Drive for lunch or dinner whether you prefer your lunches and dinners of the liquid variety, or not. Their drinks are delicious and their yam fries and chipotle mayo are highly addictive. Eat at your own risk. If you order the Latin Burger, you will find, along with the usual trimmings and a thick beef patty, a chunk of sausage in there as well, making this burger impossible to eat with your hands. Website here

Burnaby Keg

The Critic has reviewed or written about The Keg before so he won’t bore you with more of the same. It’s still good, the service is gushy-friendly, the room is relaxed and you can have dinner in front of a fireplace! Nice to warm one’s buns while you’re eating on a chilly September evening. Website here.

Fresh Fruit

One of the things the Critic likes to do on a Canadian visit is to stop at fruit stands and buy fresh peaches, cherries, organic apples etc etc etc. The peaches this year are, apparently, a little late in ripening due to a terrible British Columbia summer and so at the moment the Critic consoles himself with nectarines, which are unbelievable; juicy and sweet. And to bite into a crisp apple is a delight after the mushiness of what is available in the Yucatan in the apple department. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, a mango here costs 84 pesos EACH while in Merida during mango season people are giving them away.

Speaking of fresh fruit, if you are renting a house or apartment in Vancouver and have an oven, do visit Whole Foods, formerly Capers market on Robson Street, downtown, and pick up one of their fresh baked pies made with whatever fruit is good and ripe at the moment. Heat that pie in your oven, add some vanilla ice cream and feast ’till you burst. Last night it was the sour cherry pie for this Critic. It was an OMG moment. Mouthgasms, even.

More later!