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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Culinary Sojourns on Vancouver Island

A couple weeks after returning from Europe, I went to visit my folks in B.C.

My culinary sojourning here, on Vancouver Island, was considerably less noteworthy; not because it was lacking in any way or any thing, but just because it was much more familiar.

In fact, I won't really even talk much about the food, because it is all relatively common from what we are used to.

I will say that the locations were all spectacular.  For example, my Dad took us to this place at Salmon Pointe, just south of Campbell River, that was literally RIGHT off of the water.  These were taken right in my seat at the table.


The weather was perfect the entire time I was on the island, even reaching some low-thirties which didn't feel too hot because of the fresh mountain air.

I will say that I ate a lot of fish, however.

Perhaps unsurprisingly?

Another spectacular location in a stunning setting, was this delightful place built right over the water of a bay in Nanaimo.



I had a pint of beer and some fish and chips right on the water, watching the ships come and go from the harbour.  This was even right next to a seaplane airport, so we saw a couple of seaplanes take off as well.  It was pretty neat.

However, the best part of my culinary sojourning on the Island, was the wineries.

I had wanted to visit a few around the Comox/Courtenay valley, so I planned an entire day trip around 40 Knots, and Coastal Black vineyards.

40 Knots Winery was quaint and quiet, but with a couple bottles of which they should be proud.  It was really close to Comox, and offered a simple, yet informative and enjoyable tasting.




We came away with a really nice rosé from here.

Next on our trip was Coastal Black, which was an interesting and very impressive fruit vineyard.  They also had a fully functional apiary on site, which led to the very, very, so very cool fact that they bottle mead in addition to their repertoire of fruit wines.

We sampled a variety of fruit wines, and of course, some spiced mead, before settling in to a very calm and relaxed lunch on their ample patio.



The whole place smelled of cedar and fresh air.

The day was hot, but nice in the shade.  Especially with some wine and cheese.

To go along with my blueberry wine, I had a wood-fired napolese style pizza.  And it was cooked in a huge oven they had across the courtyard.



There was this poor young girl who had to go all the way out there to cook it, and I felt badly for all of about 10 minutes (until I tasted it.)

Anyway, we came away from HERE with I think three bottles of wine and a bottle of their spiced mead.

Delightful!

While we were here, we had a 'cheese platter' as an appetizer, and they served up several local cheeses from just down the road.  We liked a couple of them enough to consider making a trip there a couple of days later.  To be fair, Little Qualicum was on the way to Nanaimo, where we were going anyway, so it really wasn't out of our way.

The Little Qualicum Cheeseworks was a delightful, sprawling farm, where we were invited (encouraged!) to wander on our own and see everything from chickens and turkeys to pigs and newly born calves.



We left here with three cheeses, including a delectable blue cheese that was beautifully mild.

So, compared to our culinary sojourning in Europe, this was definitely 'low-key', but in a great, slow-paced, casual, and relaxing way!




Culinary Sojourns in Paris

I'm not sure if it was just coming from a week eating British food, or what, but when we got to France, the food was like a breath of fresh air.

Everything was just as rich (if not more), but there was something literally refreshing about the cuisine.

The very first thing we ate was not even (or at least shouldn't be) indicative of Parisian cuisine, but even the over-priced, tourist-trap, crepes we had in the Jardins du Trocadero, were the best crepes I'd ever had!


Sure, I can accept that some part of this was the inherent subjectivity of being in France, sitting in a green field in front of the Tour D'Eiffel, but still... good job on the crepes guys.

That's just one example, but a good one, of how a lot of the cuisine in Paris was simple, but delicious.

In fact, much of the Parisian food we sampled was extremely unpretentious. Surprising given the stigma the French are given regarding their cuisine. However, now I see that they are merely haughty about their food because they have a right to be.  The vast majority of all the food we sampled, in various areas of the city (both touristy and not), and various levels of expense (both high and low), were minimalistic, but perfect. Everything was delicious (I can't think of a single dish that wasn't wonderful) and no one felt the need to over-burden the dishes with an excess of pretension. In many places I've been to, chefs and menu-planners will effuse everything from frisee to pomegranate (and many questionable additions in-between) upon what could easily be vaulted to great heights on its own virtues.  Not so in Paris.  I'm sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, and the majority of places I sampled, a dish of 'x' was literally 'x' but cooked and prepared to the best possible way that 'x' could be prepared.

Anyway... I realize that was kind of a rant... so, sorry.  That's what you've come to expect though, right?

So, on to a few highlights from my culinary sojourning in Paris.

:)

Patisseries on almost EVERY corner.  Just soak that in for a minute.  I couldn't find a single 'convenience store' like we have in N.A., but in their stead, are wonderful, independent, warm boulangeries, patisseries, and brasseries.

All over the place.  Every street had one or more of these delightful places to get everything from bread and cheese, to wine and steak.  And they're little. And cute.

The bottom line is that we ate so much wine and cheese.  For one thing, wine was the cheapest beverage on the menus, almost everywhere we went. Water would be around 3 €, a commercial soft drink (like coke... damn but they LOVED coke over there!) would be as much as 8 € !!!, but a 25 cl (that's centiliters, btw... cool, right?) glass of wine would be only about 3 - 5 €.  So, you can guess what we drank for the most part.

And, even though it is an EXTREME cliché, we really did see so many people just wandering the streets with baguettes.  Sometimes just munching on them as they walked. Although, to be fair baguettes were sold just about everywhere.

While we did go to many of the 'tourist' places in Paris, the wife and I both remarked that the best times we had there were when we were wandering off the beaten path.

That's how we discovered some of the best places.

Like the coolest ever Sunday market on la Place Charles Fillion, just off of the Boulevard des Batignolles.

We literally stumbled into this marché. And they were selling everything from macerated raspberry wine to freshly picked country lavender.  And about three whole stalls devoted to nothing but chèvre.  Oh man.



We bought so much goat cheese from here that we were seriously worried about customs for the rest of the trip!

:)






DROOOOOOOOOOL!

Anyway... allow me to begin to wrap this up.

The cuisine we sampled in Paris was everything its hype suggested. All the food we ate was at the peak of its respective perfect preparedness, freshness, and quality.

I (obviously) can't stress enough, how wonderful the food was.  I can say that I would go back to France for the food alone, and I would not be exaggerating.

And, like in England, we may have eaten a ton of animal products (meats and cheeses... sooooo many meats and cheeses), there was something about the French method and style that made every meal seem light, airy, and delicate.

I will finish my expounding, by talking about this - our last meal in Paris - delightfully Parisian, tiny, vintage bistrot, unpretentiously called, Chez Paul.

Chez Paul was near to la Place de la Bastille, and was pretty far from where we had spent most of our time in Paris, so we had to take a couple of taxis, but it was certainly worth it.

It was a quintessential Parisian bistro, complete with the kitschy wall art, and excessively-homey decor.



We were immediately greeted warmly and enthusiastically by the proprietor, a middle-aged man behind the bar, aproned and complete with bar towel slung over one shoulder.  This vivacious character's entire job - it seemed (throughout our entire 2-3 hour visit) - was simply to greet patrons with wide arms while shuffling back and forth looking busy in-between arrivals. A few times the patrons were regulars or at least known, and our gregarious host would bound from behind the bar to give hugs and kisses to these new entrants.  All the while pounding back the red wine.

After we exclaimed (in French of course, as we were not spoken even a word of English) that we had a reservation, we were immediately seated at a small, but comfortable, cosy table for two.

The requisite broken baguette was immediately in attendance, but Chez Paul had the wonderful addition of some of the spiciest mustard I've ever had! To be spread directly upon the chunks of bread!




We quickly ordered a bottle of wine (which was an excellent choice if I do say so... I took a picture so I'd remember the choice).



And then an appetizer to share, which was braised leeks.  This stuff tasted like heaven.  The single best leeks I've ever had.  To be fair, they tasted like beef jus, but that shouldn't detract from how awesome they were.




Then came my steak au poivre.  The REASON I wanted to come here. Purportedly some of the best steak au poivre in the world, it did not disappoint!




I wish I had brought my camera there, because my phone's camera just does not do it justice.

:(

This came with potatoes au gratin which (again, alluding to the above-mentioned minimalist, and unpretentious simplicity, of French cuisine) was dished separately.  I mean, how cool is that?

I REALLY wish I hadn't been drunk on French wine and steak when I took THIS picture of the potatoes... but maybe you can kind of make them out?! 

:)



Absolutely delicious.

The wife also had some biftek, which she also adored...




Even though her potatoes were not as good as mine.  But hers came with Bearnaise sauce... so it kind of balances out, right?

Anyway, after a truly unforgettable experience, and finishing with a couple cups of café, we were truly stuffed and veritably elated.



We left the small establishment slightly inebriated, and we felt a little disoriented in terms of both time and space. 

However, immediately upon exiting we were greeted with Paris at dusk, blanketed in a soft drizzle, with the soft brilliance of Rue de Lappe beckoning...





Culinary Sojourns in London

Sampling cuisine from various places in England was both an absolute delight and a bit stressful.

:)

For one thing, everything really is so much richer.

Even without my own predilection for wanting to sample these sorts of things, I can't even count how much cheese, meat, and just plain saturated fat there existed at almost every place we went.

Some places were so extreme - particularly in London - that menus would not offer even a single item not covered, slathered, dipped, or glazed in some sort of fat, gravy, jus, or lardon.

And that's not even bringing to bear the Brit's penchant for frickin offal. There were definitely a few things we tried which we really should not have...

 <shudder>

Anyway, I'm absolutely certain that there are healthy and vegetarian options all over the place, but it suffices to say that we, in particular, consumed a lot of meat and cheese. In fact, I ended up getting into a stride where - because my evenings would be filled with such rich animal products - I found myself just automatically gravitating towards eating nothing but fruit and vegetables for breakfast and lunch (and coffee...let's not forget that). While in London, I hit up a fair few Pret A Manger just for something healthier.

Now... that's not to say that we did not THOROUGHLY enjoy all of our meats and cheeses.

And the beer.

My diet in London basically consisted of coffee and fruit during the day, and beer and beef in the evening.

Oh man.

Anyway, I won't go into everything in detail, but I'll highlight a few things...




If you've noticed by now, I don't really ever write about eating out. However, I've been thinking of changing that.  Perhaps devoting a whole separate blog to Culinary Sojourning.  At any rate, I will briefly talk about - only a few - establishments.

There were a few really great London restaurants (and a few not so great) but I do want to talk about the two Jamie Oliver restaurants I hit up...

:)

The first was Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden.

The day was hot, the patio was cool, and the service sucked real bad.  However, the menu was delightful (I could have eaten there all week!) especially after having had a few too many experiences before with offal and/or pickle (if you don't know what pickle is, consider yourself lucky).


Moreover, the food was exquisite, and everything I would have expected (I admit my expectations were quite high).

I had the Sausage Pappardelle.

And it was marvellous.





A couple of highlights of this dish were the whole fennel seeds (a surprise, but a wonderful flavour crunch!) and the herby breadcrumb topping. Delightful!

The ONLY complaint I had was that the pasta you see there in those pics is actually one freakishly long, single noodle!  I mean, I appreciate the fact that all the pasta is made fresh, in-house, but c'mon...

Anyway, that was a delightful experience in what was a pretty cool, if a bit busy, part of town.



I feel especially in need of blogging about this experience in particular because I was eating there by myself, with nothing but my headphones and my fancy DSLR camera, so I feel that I gave off the impression that I was a food writer.  At least I hope that was the case, and not just a pathetic, lonely, tourist.

:)

There were a couple other great restaurants I went to while in London, but the next one I want to mention is Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa.  And it was as different from Jamie's Italian as you could get.

For one thing, everything had meat in it.  Barbecoa is not a great place for vegetarians.  Even the sides and salads had things like pulled pork and bacon in them.

However... it was freaking delicious, and equally up to my lofted expectations.

We had made a reservation several days in advance, as we were told would be a good idea, and were glad for it as it was certainly hoppin'!


I didn't want to bring my camera in there, so the following pics are just from my phone.  Sorry.

:(

Anyway... if you DO like meat, in particular, barbecued meat, this place is a must-try!

Everything was delicious and smoky and was cooked absolutely perfectly.

The wife and I shared a 1.1kg "Rib Eye for Two".  It was a scrumptious £70, 1.1 kg of beef.




Even the presentation was delightful, the meat was thickly sliced into about 7 or 8 manageable 'medallions', but the huge rib bone was left on the plate!

Very cool.




We also got some sides including a salad, some baked beans, and some wood-fired mushrooms.



Anyway, this was our last night in London, and although we had to get up early to take the train the next morning, we stayed for hours drinking and eating and drinking some more.

Everything was awesome... the only thing which was not completely, ridiculously, delicious, was the bread board.  Interestingly cool presentation, but kinda meh bread.



Anyway, we consumed so much that evening I'm surprised we were able to stumble home.  We walked from there as our hotel wasn't too far.

So, that was some of the best that London had to offer, and although I'm only mentioning Jamie's restaurants, I do so because they were actually fairly indicative.  

There were many other culinary adventures to be had in London, (for example, some of the best fish & chips I've ever had - complete with mushy peas - right off the Thames)...

But these listed herein were 'remarkable' above and beyond the blanket statements I've made here regarding British cuisine as a whole.

All in all, we witnessed a large population eating a diet of what seemed predominantly meat and potatoes, supplemented with an insane amount of beer.

Not altogether a bad scene.

And when I return to England, I'll definitely have a better notion of what to expect, and what to eat!

:)

Stay tuned for Culinary Sojourns in Paris... which, in my humble opinion, is where the money's at!




Culinary Spatter's Culinary Hiatus

So, it may be apparent to some (perhaps some more than others) that there has been a marked absence in writing here... I believe sometime in May was the last post... oops.

Well, I've been away.

For practically the entire month of June I was travelling. 

And then July was spent catching up.

And, now, as July is winding down already, I find myself receiving scorn for my culinary absence.  I mean... I'm used to the wife's scorn at even short breaks in culinary extravagance, but people (the two or three who actually read this stuff) are actually starting to comment on the lack of posts here.

<sigh>

So I've accumulated a bit of info regarding my culinary spatterings in the last month.

And maybe I'll even talk a bit about my June culinary sojourns.

If you're ever so lucky.

So sit back, relax, and endure culinary spatter as he regales you with intoxicating tales of heady culinary experiences from such far-off, exotic locales as England, France, and... Vancouver Island??

heh heh heh

It's been an interesting couple of months.

:)