Thursday, 27 August 2015

The PNE: All My Food Is Brown

You know the PNE, right? That shameless, sweaty, noisy, crowded fair. Greasy food. Minidonuts!Minidonuts!Minidonuts! A whole building dedicated to the kinds of things you usually see being shilled on late-night informercials. Balding has-been nostalgia acts competing with adorable performing dogs for your time and attention. Rides that make you dizzy and terrified.

As you may have guessed, I'm a little bit cynical about the PNE.

Pure terror. 
But I went, after a 7-year hiatus, because my guy was working there this week, and because one of my best friends works at the Agrodome and she gave me 2 free passes for helping to judge some 4H displays. So picture this: my boyfriend arrives home, exhausted and unwashed from a week of chaperoning 4H kids, and I drag his ass... right back to the PNE. What a champ. Hey, he had some food vouchers to use up. First stop: Cheyenne Coffee. My guy had been such a regular all week that he got his Americano on the house! And my cappuccino was pretty tasty too.
On to Waffles With Benefits, which Jay had been raving about all week long, for a late breakfast. Now here's the thing: every time- and I mean EVERY time- I have a sweet breakfast as opposed to a savoury one, I regret it. It's like that person you have a fling with... and it's not that fun... but you try again because you think you should be enjoying it more... But they're still not doin' it for ya. Sweet stuff has its place, but for me, the first meal of the day needs to be savoury. So clearly, chicken-and-waffles was the way to go. 
My first chicken-and-waffles ever! It seemed a fitting meal to have at the fair, where everything is deep-fried. 
Photo courtesy of Jay.
I have to say, it was an experience. The chicken was delicious: breaded and deep-fried (of course), lightly drizzled with syrup and sandwiched between two crisp waffles with a side of gravy. I poured the gravy on liberally and set to.
I'd say it was a pretty good experience overall, and certainly not bad at all for a fair ; the gravy was a bit tasteless but the slight drizzle of syrup was a nice contrasting touch. As for the waffles- well, I guess I'm still uneasy about them: they are an excellent vehicle for conveying as much syrup and gravy (or fruit puree or Nutella or whatever) to your mouth as possible, but when it comes to eating fried chicken, a nice crusty bun would have served better, in my opinion. But that's just me, and WWB is not to blame. 

Fast-forward through various fair-related activities involving farm animals (get your mind out of the gutter) and it's time for ice cream. Casa Gelato had a truck there, but we decided to give Rocky Point Ice Cream a try. So glad we did, especially considering they're way out in Port Moody, whereas I can have Casa Gelato's stuff any old time. RP had the old standbys like chocolate, and the de rigueur hipster flavours of Salted Caramel and Maple Bacon. Now, I love the sweet/salty thing, and I'm super glad it's trendy these days, but life- and ice cream- should be about variety. I was tempted by the Honey-Lavender ice cream and the Lemon-Basil sorbetto, but eventually I ordered a double scoop: Raspberry-Lime-Mojito sorbetto & Blackberry-Sage ice cream. 

Did I quail when I saw the enormous size of my cone? Only a little. Jay decided to be daring and try their featured beer ice cream of the day: Yellow Dog's smoked porter. I urged him to try a sample first, but he scoffed. "I don't believe in samples", he said airily, and reached eagerly for his large helping of beer ice cream. 

The sweet/tart sorbetto was lovely. I am a sucker for all things lime, so this was a no-brainer. Pour some white rum on this baby, and it would have been an instant cocktail. But the blackberry-sage was a revelation: the sweet fruit and woody sage balanced by smooth creaminess. Both my scoops had large, delicious chunks of herb leaf in them (mint in the mojito one of course, and fuzzy sage in the blackberry sage one). This might sound weird, but it was fantastic. 
And how did Jay fare with the porter ice cream? Damn, that was some ice cream. Very beery, with a hint of effervescence, it would have paired excellently with chocolate cake. Although I thought it would be a bad idea, and since I don't like beer I wouldn't have gone for it, I was proved wrong. Deliciously wrong. I notice that Rocky Point has more interesting flavours on their website, so if you're in Port Moody go and check them out for me! 

As the evening approached, we retired to the beer tent for a while, then got closer to the Chevrolet Stage to get down to Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts. Here again, my cynicism was proved groundless. Over at the packed Amphitheatre the Beach Boys might have been lumbering through their Brian Wilson-less show*, but on our smaller stage Barney and his band were killin' it, and looking genuinely happy to be there. 

Finally, it was time to wrap things up. I was craving a bit more food before we left, though, so I had some tasty fried rice balls from Roaming Dragon that left me wanting more, and mac-and-cheese from Reel Mac and Cheese that wasn't bad but needed more cheese and less, um, non-cheese (flour, maybe?) in their sauce.**

Then, of course, it was time to celebrate the day's end with a fairground classic: the deep-fried Mars Bar. Of which I can only say that not all things should be encased in doughy batter. The warm, gooey chocolate bar? Thumbs up. The stodgy batter? (Greasy) thumbs way down. 

And so ended my very nice day at the PNE, wherein I discovered that if you avoid the places that are trying to sell you something, and stick to the agriculture buildings, the concerts, and the food-greasy or otherwise- it is possible to have a good time after all. 

*I should say that while the Beach Boys don't appeal to me without Brian Wilson's mad genius, I hope they put on a good show and I'm sure many good folks enjoyed it a lot. But Barney was a better choice. 
** We were at the PNE for basically the whole day, so I wasn't quite as greedy as this post makes me seem. Okay, maybe I was. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Basil Pasta Bar

Years ago, when I lived just off The Drive, my then-boyfriend (is there a sadder term? I think not) and I would often go to a pasta bar and order large, cheap styrofoam containers full of pasta and sauce rather than have to endure the monotony of cooking and cleaning in our tiny galley-style apartment kitchen. The restaurant did have some tables, and we ate in from time to time, but ambiance wasn't its strong suit. I remember watching the cooks multi-task right in front of us: pouring olive oil and chicken in one sizzling pan, giving another one a practiced toss before food started to burn, pouring a finished pan's contents into the to-go container. The name of that place eludes me (and Google has been no help tonight), but I remember that Friday-night band practice would end, and my boyfriend or I would pronounce its name with an interrogative uplift in our voices, and more often than not, the other would smile and agree heartily. 

Strolling up Yew Street tonight I noticed Basil Pasta Bar, and my nostalgia for that pasta place kicked in hard. I locked up my bike, walked in, and ordered. It's a hell of a deal: $7.95 gets you pasta, protein, veggies, herbs and sauce. And here's the kicker: it's UNLIMITED. That's right- you can have as much meat or veg as you want, although extras will sometimes cost a small amount more. 
     In honour of my favorite dish in my pasta-y past, I ordered penne with pesto, salmon, peas, spinach and capers, topped with parmesan cheese. A few short minutes later, it was handed to me, and off I rode. 
     As you can see, even though it had to withstand a short bike ride home, the dish is fairly pretty, and it looked way better served in the huge white bowls for diners eating in at Basil. I was pleased with how generous they had been with everything: there's lots of basil and almost too much cheese. Plenty of salmon, too.  The portion was generous, but I ate it all in two sittings: dinner, and about half an hour later. My mistake was ordering the capers, as they made the entire dish too salty. Either the smoked salmon was already headed in that direction, or the capers were cooked with it, and sent it over the edge. At any rate, the nice sweet peas were a much-needed contrast and next time I'd just say ix-nay on the apers-cay.
     And there will be a next time, I'm sure. I'll probably dine in, too, given Basil's very appealing location and decor. The fact that they're located right across the street from theold Da Pasta Bar location (another long-gone favorite of mine from-gulp!- twenty years ago) is another nostalgic detail in its favour, as far as I'm concerned. Yew Street's been needing a cheap pasta restaurant, and Basil delivers in spades (and yes, they do deliver for real as well, within an impressively large range of distance). But I'd say eat in if you can. They have daily chef's specials and they're licenced. Buon Appetito. 
Basil Pasta Bar is located at 1602 Yew St. in Kitsilano (they also have a Davie Street location). 

Bon Macaron Patisserie

What IS it with our sudden obsession with the tiny macaron? Within the last couple of years these strangely bright-coloured little pucks are everywhere. All over Vancouver-perhaps all over the world- people are suddenly smitten. Me? Well I was a little late to the party. 
     Blame it on being sequestered in a backwoods northern town for much of the last five years. Mix that with a healthy distrust of the macaron's older cousin, the meringue (sweet crunchy air, anyone? Didn't think so), and a real hate-on for the similarly named macaroon (I hate coconut in most desserts. Coconuts are for curry. Period). This may explain why it took me so long to try a macaron. 
     Anyway, we can skip ahead, because for all I've flirted with them in the last year or so, I'm ready to settle down now. I'm going steady with Bon Macaron Patisserie, located dangerously close to my boyfriend's pad in Kits. What makes these guys so special? Three words: ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. Oh, and cute French guys. Bonus. 
     I slipped through their doors on one of those self-indulgent late summer days when you basically let yourself do and buy anything your heart desires. I'd been strolling down Broadway, stopping to graze here and there, and the Bon Macaron enticed me, so in I went. The first day, it was just three macarons. I chose boldly, excited by the mixture of savory and sweet flavours. Creme Brulee sounded safe, but fig/goat's cheese and pear/blue cheese? I dared. When I got home, I knew my instincts had been correct. The creme brulee was pleasant, especially the burnt-sugar kick at the end, but the two savory macarons I'd chosen were extraordinry. The fig goat's cheese had a soft, creamy filling and the bite of the blue cheese macaron was expertly tempered by the pears. Somehow it all worked with the sweet airy chewiness of the meringue sandwhich. 
     My next visit came far too soon for my waistline, but not soon enough for all that. This time? Six flavours, and hang the expense! Unlike the teenaged customers already in the store, who were being generously fed with samples, I chose quickly once again. The pear/blue and fig/goats cheese macarons were so amazing I had to have them again. The new flavours? Raspberry/balsamic, pure vanilla, chocolate explosion and salted caramel. 
     Again, I made it home before sampling-just. The cheesy macarons were just as good the second time. Chocolate Explosion was nothing mindblowing, but a very nice velvety chocolate, to be sure. Salted Caramel had a nice salty, slightly burnt-sugar tang to it that I liked very much. The raspberry balsamic was a lovely balance of tart and sweet, and the pure vanilla... wasn't. The cute French guy had accidentally put an orange-coloured macaron in its place. No matter. I couldn't quite discern its flavour, but I think it was possibly a mango one. 
     I need to do further 'research' at Bon Macaron. What I love is the range and originality of their flavours, and I'm excited to try the black liquorice one, the white truffle and sea salt, and the intriguingly-named Mediterranean Cruise.
     In my rich fantasy life, I am throwing a lavish dinner party on my private yacht. The amuse-bouches arrive, brandished on trays borne aloft by impeccable waiters. As the first, airy mouthfuls are taken, my guests ooh and aah at the marriage of sweet and savory flavours crossing their palates. Is that... cheese? Sesame? Truffle? As I smile at the assembled crowd, wiping a brightly-hued macaron crumb from my lips, my answer is a simple, heartfelt OUI. 
Bon Macaron's  flagship store is in Victoria, but they are now located in Kitsilano, at 2823 West Broadway.