Posts Tagged: oysters


31
Mar 14

PEI: My Island Pictures

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There are some trips that you make which seem a little magical and dream-like even at the time. Of course; memory softens the edges; that annoying wait for the car that one afternoon or the rainy morning which made you pout, they all melt away with time. But there was something special about Prince Edward Island right from the start.
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The sharp bright colours of the island made you feel as though you’d stepped into a child’s drawing; the sky so blue, the grass and trees so green and this vivid, almost-glowing red soil and red sand. The coastline dotted about with reminders from the past and standard bearers for the future; lighthouses painted with quaint deckchair-stripes next to bright white bands of wind turbines stretching their arms as they scraped the sky.

PEI4We took a sightseeing trip in a small plane, rising just high enough to make the illusion of it all being a child’s colouring book seem real. We saw the cold, clear waters where some of the world’s best lobsters, mussels and oysters thrive. That iron oxide-rich soil which grows such sweet flavoursome potatoes, the lush green grass which feeds some of the most-prized cattle in North America.

PEI6Over the next week I’d eat and drink so many delicious things – all from just a few miles away from where I was staying in its historic capital Charlottetown. I’d meet some of the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve encountered anywhere in the world; a friendly acceptance and a delight in sharing and showing the best that they had, that felt as gracious as something from a more sepia-tinted age.

almorrisonOne afternoon I met an elderly man in a cafe and fell into conversation with him. He insisted on giving me a copy of a book, ‘My Island Pictures’ a History of Prince Edward Island by folk artist, A.L. Morrison. The pictures have that child-like dreamy quality that the island conjured up for me. I wish I knew if it had been the artist who gave it to me; I was in a rush but adopting island ways, I made time to stop and talk. But I put the book in my bag as I left and didn’t look at it until I got back home to Vancouver; now I can’t match the hazy memory of the lovely old man with the author shot on the book. Flipping through its pages now, it’s all as I remember it, almost like he drew it for me just as I remember it. He must have been the author –  who else would carry around spare copies of their book but an author? And where else would such a thing happen but PEI?

I travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism PEI but as ever, all my words are 100% my own.

More information:

Tourism Prince Edward Island

Air tour in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk thanks to FD Airtours

 

 


17
Jul 13

Weekend in Whistler: Summer fun at the Bearfoot Bistro

Six bloody Caesars - only one can win

Six bloody Caesars – only one can win

There’s something about Whistler that reminds me of my home town Brighton; oh, not in appearance, it couldn’t be different. Pristine and shiny, thoroughly modern Whistler is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, its inhabitants all seem to be like the girl or boy from Ipanema, all tall and tan and young and lovely. Whereas my beloved Brighton, in the words of Keith Waterhouse, “… looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.” But there is something in that ‘determined to have a good time even though it’s clearly hours past your bed time’ Brighton spirit that burns in Whistler too.

I recognised it the second I clapped eyes on the Bearfoot Bistro’s Chief Bad Decision Enabler, Andre Saint-Jacques, so no surprise at all that some of the best fun to be had in BC is always at his restaurant. The Bearfoot World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle took place this Sunday. A charity fund raiser for Playground Builders, an excellent Canadian charity who build playgrounds in areas of the world affected by wars. By the end of the afternoon enough money had been raised to construct three playgrounds in Afghanistan. So I’m not going to feel a jot of guilt about anything that happens here.

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro deliberate

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro get serious

Two contests were in play – six mixologists battling it out for the honour of the best Bloody Caesar (it’s a much-beloved Canadian drink – essentially a Bloody Mary with clam juice added) as well as the fastest oyster shucker contest. I couldn’t wait to see the shuckers in action, 13 competed from as far afield as Sweden, Denmark and Japan. Before the doors opened the judges got stuck into the cocktails, everyone else got to sample the six different kinds from booths set up around the restaurant and downstairs in its famous champagne cellar – which is usually where you’ll find M. Saint Jaques merrily sabering a champagne bottle or two. Along with the caesars, wine flowed freely and we were kept from slumping to the ground by a stream of bite-sized goodies from Chef Melissa Craig’s kitchen.

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

By the time the shucking contest came around it’s fair to say that everyone was feeling at their most Whistler-ish and the cheers were deafening. The rules are strict in these contests and closely adhered to. Each shucker is presented with a tray of three varieties of oyster, they have to shuck 30 and present them “upright, free from shell and blood in a whole top shell.” They are scored not only on time but also the appearance, presence of shell, grit and the cut of the meat. I was fascinated: each shucker had such a different technique, from the sorting at the start – some piled them like legos, others lined them up neatly – some wore gloves, others went in bare-handed (one was bare-footed) and others wound tape around their fingers. Each shucker has a timer and each heat must begin with the shuckers hands in the air above their oysters and the one to finish first must raise their hands again.

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

The first heat was over in a matter of minutes. It was shockingly fast. They tore through those shells like hot knives through butter; it was fantastic to watch. There were four heats in all and then a final round. My two favourites, Noriko Kamashima from Japan who shucked in a gloriously calm fashion with a beatific smille on her face and the looks-a-bit-like-Eric-off-True-Blood Dane, Simon Toensager didn’t make it, so I had to pick a new favourite from the finalists. I went with the only shucker to have cleaned the shells from his station to save the Bearfoot staff the trouble, the beaming bearded Eamon Clark from Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto who was the 2011 champion.

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Turns out I can pick a winner. Eamon finished fastest and also – after a l-o-n-g deliberation by the judges – came out top on points. He scored a $5000 prize, a huge trophy that I wouldn’t have liked to try and take back on the plane and a whole year of bragging rights. I didn’t do so well guessing the best caesar. I liked Justin Taylor’s from Yew at the Four Seasons in Vancouver best, but local lad Scot Curry from the Alta Bistro scooped the $5000 instead. Full of nitro vanilla ice cream, awash with caesars and feeling like a girl who should go lie down somewhere, I sat on the stairs outside and waited for the Pacific Coach to pick me up. I’d stare out of the window on the two-hour trip back to Vancouver at the dazzling sea and mountain scenery on the lyrically-named ‘Sea to Sky’ highway, I might have been far from Brighton but oh – that town is starting to feel like home.

You can see why it's called the Sea to Sky highway

You can see why it’s called the Sea to Sky highway

I travelled as a guest of the Bearfoot Bistro  - thanks for that! Also thanks to Pacific Coach for the return ticket. As ever – my opinions are 100% my own.

More info:

Pacific Coach Lines

Whistler Hilton Resort

The Bearfoot Bistro 

Tourism Whistler

 


8
Feb 13

Food and drink adventures in Yaletown Part 2: Minami

Launching a successful sushi restaurant in a city with more sashimi and speciality rolls than you can shake a chopstick at takes something special. Down in Vancouver’s Yaletown, Minami has hit on a neat solution to keeping things fresh with ‘aburi sushi’ – a method of blowtorch-ing the topping. I went to see what it was all about.

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Sit at the counter and watch the amazing action at Minami

As an Ocean Wise sustainable seafood restaurant, I was already eyeing up Minami favourably, but as I walked in on that cold Vancouver night, I was greeted with a chorus of “Irrashai Mase!” which means ‘welcome’ and I soon felt warmed up -  and no -  it wasn’t just from the kick-ass Katana cocktail.

It’s mesmerising to watch the chefs prepping at the sushi counter. I sat, goggle-eyed with admiration as they created plate after plate of toasty-topped nigiri, which thanks to a smart little gizmo which you pack with rice and tap, was all perfectly rectangular. While I watched the chefs work their magic, I started off with a single oyster, topped with a lemon sake foam. I usually like my Vancouver Island oysters naked (apart from the smallest squirt of lemon), but the foam was a deft touch – giving a small but intense flavour burst.

As chef prepped my flame-finished sushi, I tucked into sustainable salmon sashimi.

As chef prepped my flame-finished sushi, I tucked into sustainable salmon sashimi.

I’ll confess I had my doubts about the aburi: flame-finished sushi, really? But it turns out I had nothing to fear; it was gorgeous, the topping had a faint charcoal flavour which worked beautifully with the rice and fish.

Aburi sushi - flame-finished and mouth-wateringly delish.

Aburi sushi – flame-finished and mouth-wateringly delish.

I’d been recommended to try the sea urchin; sandy-orange and curled on top of a wedge of rice, it’s maybe not the prettiest sushi on the block and I’d never ordered it in a restaurant before. “When it comes to some seafoods you have to fight preconceptions – forget the looks; if it tastes good, eat it!” advised the manager Patrick as I hesitantly raised my chopsticks. I gingerly bit in and savoured its flavour; creamy and tasting of the ocean.  This was fresh from Vancouver Island too, where the icy clean waters make for excellent sea food. I wound up not eating the rice, so delicious was its pure clean flavour.

Sea urchin - feel the fear and eat it anyway!

Sea urchin – feel the fear and eat it anyway!

It’s one of the things that I’m loving most about my time in Canada – so far, every week I’ve managed to try something new to eat or drink that I’ve never tried before. I went for a look around Minami’s funky interior and peeked out to the patio. It was, of course, raining (it basically rains from October till April in Vancouver, I’ve been told!) but I imagined sitting in the summer sun, tossing back more of those delicious oysters and a whole plate of those tasty sea urchins. I can’t wait.

I ate as a guest of Minami but my views are 100% my own.


20
Sep 12

Vancouver hotel low-down: The Loden

There was a pleasing amount of bustle and excitement as I checked into the Loden hotel; sequined gowns, elaborate hairstyles and a smattering of men adjusting their ties and checking their waistcoats. Pretty spiffy crowd, I thought, rather regretting not having worn something more dressy myself. But Vancouver always feels like such a dressed-down and casual town that I was tired of feeling like the only person not in flip flops!

After a few minutes swiping cards at the desk (how I love a pain-free check-in) I was zooming up to the 9th floor, sharing the lift with a woman in a dazzling dress.

“I love your outfit.” I told her.

“Thanks!” she said and anxiously checked her make up in the mirror.

“You look great.” I assured her.

“Oh! I’m doing hair for the wedding here today so need to look good for the photos.”

Spiffy dressers explained. Vancouver hadn’t undergone a style transformation, but perhaps if it stayed at The Loden it might… 

Sophisticated caramel and cocoa shades

Shiny marble floor in the bathroom, caramel and cocoa shades in the bedroom, a huge and pleasingly firm bed with crisp high thread-count linens in a room flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows. Stylish indeed. I was glad I’d packed my favourite just-in-case red dress so I could get dressed up when I visited the bar and Tableau restaurant later.

I hit the bar and tried the house cocktail ’1181′ a citrusy fizz of prosecco, gin, elderflower syrup and lemonade. Nothing seems to match fizz as well as oysters and I’d never tried the local Vancouver island variety. Large and meaty with a faint cucumber-ish after taste I squished them with lemon and sucked and chewed my way though a half-dozen on the half-shell with indecent speed. Delicious! Tempting through it was to work my way through the small, but perfectly formed cocktail list and an ever-increasing pile of oysters, there was local wine to sample from the Okanagan Valley and the main course to order.

My new favourite thing: Vancouver Island oysters.

Tableau specialises in French bistro cooking so of course, it had to be the steak-frites, I asked for a wine recommendation and my server suggested a Pinot Gris from Naramata’s Nichol winery. It was a fruity and spicy white with a blush-pink tint that paired perfectly with the juicy steak and crisp twice-cooked fries. 

Juicy, buttery steak with salty, crisp fries.

The buzz of a good room on a great night can’t be beaten and that’s exactly the feeling at Tableau thanks to excellent table service paired with good solid cooking and some creative twists. Hotel restaurants used to be the last option of the unimaginative diner – but no more, Tableau proves that. And as for casual Vancouver? Well, if you want to feel stylish in the city, you know where to come to stay… 

I stayed as a guest of The Loden & Tableau, however, my views are 100% my own.

Like Canada? Keep exploring

The Loden: Reservations:  877 225 6336 /  Phone: 604 669 5060 / 1177 Melville Street, Vancouver

Tableau: tel 604 639 8692 / 1181 Melville Street Vancouver / info@tableaubarbistro.com

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