Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dine Out Vancouver - April 26 to May 6, 2010

The city's annual foodie fandango, Dine Out Vancouver, is on now! This is your chance to sample a selection of the city's top restaurants without fear of being unable to make rent. There are 208 restaurants participating, and set menus are available at the $18, $28 and $38 price points. These prices are based on average entree prices at each particular restaurant.
The cool thing about this promotional event is that patrons are able to make reservations, which guarantees you both seats and amazing meals in some of Vancouver's most popular, expensive eateries. This is a great excuse to eat out and splurge at a restaurant you might not normally dine at.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Refuel Needs to Reconnoiter

I still regret that I did not dine at the original, unadulterated Fuel. The prices set by the cocky yet capable Alberta-bred ownership were too steep for Fourth Avenue, and definitely too steep for Fourth Avenue during a recession, so the restaurant was revamped in December, 2009. With a shift towards comfort food and charcuterie, Refuel has a diverse and undeniably original menu, but every dish that was ordered at our table was a bit "off".

First, the Aged Beef Burger was raw and cold in the middle, despite a request for a "medium" yet "cooked-through" patty. This was brought to our server's attention and she assured us that there were no health risks based on the way that the beef is ground and prepared in-house, but cold ground beef is never pleasant in texture or consistency. Second, the ingredients in the Seared Albacore Salad (which I ordered) were original and complementary, but my fish-to-greens ratio was off by a few degrees. The chefs were generous with the tuna, which I definitely cannot complain about, but I did not have enough blood orange and crushed picholines to tame these ginormous slices of fresh fish. I actually left some of the tuna (gasp!) because I sensed a seafood overdose coming on and really felt that I needed more greens to resolve this "f-issue". Third, the Hangar Steak Salad was elegantly presented (deep reds of rare beef juxtaposed against lush arugula like rugosas in an Italian garden) but contained an overpowering amount of blue cheese. A sprinkle would have tied the room together, but this downpour of Devon Blue left the room flooded and inhospitable. Lastly - and this only counts as a quasi-criticism - the Buttermilk Polderside Fried Chicken basically consisted of an entire chicken, with a teeny dish of slaw and a tiny jalapeno biscuit. Again, appropriate ratios would have been appreciated, by our palates and arteries.

Yikes. I hope I haven't been too mean to Refuel. Robert Belcham and company definitely have crazy skills, and the service was attentive, and the food was well prepared, but - like the mismatched and random decor - things didn't quite click. I don't think I will go out of my way to dine here again, but if I do end up at Refuel again I will focus on the playful and rare starters, such as the Roasted Bone Marrow and Foie Gras Croquettes (which I ordered as my appetizer and was highly amused by).  

* Keywords: Refuel Restaurant Vancouver, Alex Dawkins

Friday, April 16, 2010

MacFalafel - Those Greasy Balls

I hope nobody out there reads ALL of my reviews because I must sound like a broken record sometimes, repeating my mantra and proselytizing: "order and select food with a contextual perspective".

In fact, this does not just apply to applies to all services. Whenever you enter a commercial transaction, know what you want to get out of it as a consumer.

A quick once-over of MacFalafel should reveal that it is a poor place to order falafel. One look at those sad, rancid little croquettes should communicate the fact that some little garbanzos have definitely been mistreated. MacFalafel does offer some fresh and pleasing items, you just have to scope things out first. Their *chicken* donair, spinach pies and chicken buns are cheap and fresh. Their beef donair, cheese pies and falafel are pretty terrible, I admit. If you are disappointed in something here, let them know! This is a local, family-run hole-in-the-wall that needs your support and will appreciate your feedback. Really.

Try MacFalafel, just avoid putting those neglected greasy balls in your mouth. This is just good advice, in general. They are located at 10th and Alma, conveniently positioned across from the 99 bus stop heading up to UBC.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Local Natives - (P)review

Of course, you have heard of the saying "What goes around, comes around" but have you heard of the phrase "Harmonies heal the lacerations of vulgarities past"? I didn't think so, because I just made it up whilst thinking about this crazy trend in music over the past year-and-a-half involving groups of soft-spoken, super-talented musicians reviving the harmony-fuelled folk-rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wow, I used a lot of hyphens in that last sentence.

Grizzly Bear, The Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and Beach House have all tapped into the vocal-heavy, melodic, catchy compositions that hearken back to the musical formulas popularized by Buffalo Springfield, The Band, and Love. There are a few traits that differentiate this new wave of indie-folk from the original folk-rock tsunami - such as longer tracks, slick production, and lyrical sophistication - but this genre is always pleasant and accessible. 

I hadn't jumped onto the inclusive Neo-Folk bandwagon up until hearing the Local Natives' Gorilla Manor (the name of the house in which the band resides). I like Grizzly Bear & Co but each of these bands lack something. For example, Grizzly Bear can meander, and the Fleet Foxes are a bit contrived in their appearance and personae. A glance at the Local Natives may trip the *hipster* switch in your head, but a thorough listen to their album and a superficial investigation into band member biographies will reveal a group that places music before ego, and  a band that is so diverse in their talent that it makes you hopeful for the future of original rock music. I mean, you just end up looking "hip" if you are from a well-to-do family, are left-wing, are in a successful Neo-Folk band, are young, are from the West Coast and are intelligent...right?

There have been some significant smaller shows in Vancouver over the past year: We Were Promised Jetpacks, Phoenix, Beach House...these are bands that WILL be big and WILL move on to larger venues the next time around. Local Natives will be playing at the Venue on May 28th. Even if you don't love their music, go for an educational cultural outing. It's cheap. It's good. It's Neo-Folk.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Glen Scotia 17 -Year: One of Three

When I was living in Scotland, I naively assumed that I could purchase the majority of my favourite single malts in Canada. If these whiskies were not stocked, I could always order them through the BCLCB, right? Wrong. British Columbia is so conservative and stingy when it comes to liquor that they just do not allow the importing of specific spirits. 

Case study: I visited the smallest single malt distillery in Scotland when I was over there, Edradour, and fell in love with both the distillery and the spirit that they produce. Once I was back in Vancouver, I asked about this whisky at one of the "signature" government liquor stores and the Special Orders Representative explained that they can order items from the UK, but only if the liquor is on the BCLCB list of registered spirits. Sure, there are hundreds of single malts on this list, but guess which brand was absent?

I recently discovered that Glen Scotia 17-Year is available in BC. This surprised me because a) Campbeltown Scotches are rare and b) the Glen Scotia 12-Year and 14-Year are way more common. There are five primary whisky regions in Scotland: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown. Campbeltown burgh is in southwest Scotland, on the Kintyre peninsula, and it used to be a peaty-scotch-producing powerhouse. A downturn in population and economy during the early 1900s resulted in the closure of dozens of distilleries, and now only three remain. Along with Springbank and Glengyle, Glen Scotia is (in very VERY general terms) a cross betwixt the briny, smoky Islay malts and the grassy, dry Lowland malts. This results in an incredibly distinctive and drinkable Scotch which always finishes strong and full.

Glen Scotia, established in 1832, almost went under as well. They were producing on and off throughout the 1980s and 1990s as ownership changed hands a few times, and they actually closed altogether in 1984 for a stint. Since 1999, however, Glen Scotia has been producing consistently under the ownership of Loch Lomand Distillery (known for blended Scotches...hmmmm). The Glen Scotia 17-Year is initially dry on the tongue, but it quickly converts to a typical Campbeltown with its oily, piney characteristics. This is not an easy dram, but it's rewarding and makes for a great aperitif.

I highly recommend this whisky, if you can find it. The folks at Rare Drams will know where to find it, if you cannot find it at one of the disappointing BCLCB branches.