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A Taste of Chinatown

Chinatown, Vancouver

Chinatown, Vancouver

One of the great advantages to living in Vancouver’s Chinatown is that it’s almost as cheap to eat out, if you know where you’re going, than to cook for yourself, and if you cook like I do this is a DISTINCT advantage. None the less, there are so many restaurants in the neighborhood that nobody can get to all of them, and if you do happen to blunder into a bad one, you feel quite moronic for having wasted the opportunity to go somewhere you already know is good.

So when Richard Wolack announced that his latest Tasting Plates tour was headed to my neighborhood, I signed up right away. This is a cooperative event with one ticket price, entitling the attendees to a small serving of some set item at each participating restaurant or food shop. A piece of the ticket price goes to support a local charity. For this Tasting Plates round, the charity was Project Limelight, which provides Downtown Eastside youth with support for artistic endeavours and community.

We started with salted caramels, eggnog rounds, and hot chocolate you made yourself by dipping a hunk of solid white, milk, or dark chocolate on a stick into hot milk. Crazy fattening, but rich and a lot more fun than that ordinary stuff. Definitely first-class skating party material. That was all done by Beta 5, an ultra-modern dessert shop in the industrial flats between Terminal and Great Northern Way.

When that’s your first course, the second is naturally pizza. Ours came from Pazzarella pizza truck, which has the city’s only truck-mounted wood-fired pizza oven. I don’t think they were quite ready to be so slammed so quickly, as the line was long and everyone, EVERYONE wanted to try the maple bacon pizza. It smelled good, but they were out of it when I got up to the front, so I had a more mundane, but still tasty, mushroom pizza.

Then it was a trundle northward to Electric Owl, which as anyone who’s gone past it knows is a very hopping night spot, though it is yet very new. The food there was seemingly endless, and all of it was very, very good. Like, foodie quality, which is surprising, because from the crowd I’d always assumed the kitchen would not be a priority. Sliders, pulled pork with coleslaw, skewers of all kinds of tasty things, delicious egg rolls, and pudding in Chinese porcelain spoons. One may have indulged a bit too much, because we practically waddled en route to the rest of the stops.

In Chinatown proper we went first to Harvest, a very hipster/new urban gourmet deli where we had a paper cup double handful-sized of handmade ramen noodles with pork, preserved vegetables, and half an egg. Honestly, it was as much as I eat for dinner some nights all by itself, and the quality of the noodles was simply the best I’ve ever had. Noodles with flavour: what a concept!

In need of respite, we rolled our overstuffed selves to Treasure Green Tea, where staff was pouring their Seasons tea, a blend of black and green teas with a medium body, smoky aroma, and, surprisingly for a tea with that much flavour, no tannic bite whatsoever. It was good enough that I went back later and bought a half-pound for myself. The only thing that can compensate for my lack of fire place in the long, rainy winters is a big pot of steaming, smoky tea. Well, Viggo could try. I dare him.

From there, and feeling mightily stuffed, I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to Oyster Express, where I explained that to me, a perfect payday dinner is savory, salty, fresh oysters and gin Martinis and nothing else. At that point, I bailed on the tour for the sake of my figure (yes, I know, about two years too late). Cheers!

Here’s video coverage from the intrepid Alyssa Dawson for CityLights tv. She actually toughed it out and hit all the venues, believe it or not. I should call her trainer.

The Keefer Bar is a Keeper

Keefer Bar by Cathy Browne, on Flickr

Keefer Bar by Cathy Browne, on Flickr

As Vancouver Chinatown bars go, the Keefer Bar is absolutely #1, and not just because it’s the only one: manager Danielle Tatarin is Bartender of the Year in Vancouver Magazine. If you know anything about the Vangroover booze scene, you’ll know that takes serious talent and originality.

How much originality? We’ll let Dani explain it:

Our menu is influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicinal ingredients that we incorporate into classic style cocktails. Some of the most prominent herbs that we use are Yun Zhi mushroom and astragalus root. This year I have been studying more on TCM and getting a deeper understanding of it. I am working with some really interesting combination of ingredients for tinctures that are meant to help detoxify the kidneys and liver.

Last night I just started a tincture that combines sea dragon, sea horse, cordyceps, lemon and bitter orange. It should be ready in a couple months and I am excited to see how it tastes. For me I have really embraced natural remedies, and as a sufferer of seasonal allergies I hope this year to not have to take antihistamines because I have been working with TCM ingredients to boost my immune system over the last year.

You might think that sounds a little…medicinal. And you’d be right, but you’d be wrong if you think that means it isn’t tasty. When I visited with my friend, intrepid photographer Cathy Browne, there were plenty of flips and creamy drinks on the menu, including several which played on an opium theme.

Opium Drink at the Keefer Bar

Opium Drink at the Keefer Bar

You can see the poppyseeds on this beauty, which was called something like The Flaming Opium Pearl of the Black Dragon or something similarly subdued, and which tasted, like most of Dani’s drinks, subtle, complex, and not very sweet.

The decor is medical, by which I mean they have backlit panels of body scans and apothecary jars everywhere, in use. Fitting for a place where you can give your liver a workout and a healing tincture at the same time. It’s only about ten feet wide, and on Thursdays there is a burlesque show on their tiny (TINY) stage up front, but it is a beautiful, esoteric little gem. The unique drinks mean you can’t always be sure you’ll love what you order, so do talk to the bartender about what you’re thinking of ordering; it’s not always easy to tell what’s sweet, light, savory, or rich from the menu.

Can’t talk about the food: I don’t come here for the food. But you can see the current keefer_menu here (PDF!). The service has never been anything less than excellent, and I don’t know what you look like but I’ll just tell you right now, they are all out of our league.

Pictured below, and starting off our slideshow of fabulousness from Cathy Browne, is the Lavender Sidecar, an aromatic, very light Spring version of the old favorite. Lemons in this case, not oranges (which I prefer with brandy by the fire around Christmas time).

Happy Wok Like Shatner Day!

William Shatner would like you to ease up on the Scotch Bonnets

William Shatner would like you to ease up on the Scotch Bonnets

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure as a Canadian and sophisticated humanoid life form to announce that today is an historic day.

Today, my friends, is Talk … Like … William … Shatner … Day.

It’s also his 80th Birthday, so mazel tov, Bill!

In the spirit of Shatnerianism, we present this ad for William Shatner’s Frying Saucer, a product somewhat less commercially successful than the George Foreman grill, despite the great advantage of being entirely imaginary.

Since we’re on a Shatnerian, foodie roll (a Montreal smoked meat sandwich roll?) here is Henry Rollins’ two-part tribute to the World’s Greatest Canadian and, in particular, his amazing ability to inspire scallop fishermen to greater heights (depths?) of awesomenosity in the pursuit of a Shatner-worthy seafood platter.

“He’s not like us. He’s Canadian.”

Which reminds me of one of the great trivia stories of celebritydom. When young Bill told his stuffy Mount Royal parents about his plan to throw away his proper, preppy upbringing and become nothing more than a meat puppet, his father threw him out without a cent, in fine Dickensian tradition. So William Shatner spent a great portion of his early years subsisting on 25 cent servings of fruit salad at Kresge’s Department Store.

King of the Road

Suck on this, Skyscrapers!

Suck on this, Skyscrapers! Gyeongbok Palace by Laszlo Ilyes

Prepare to be gobsmacked by this gentleman of the road, a mere street food vendor in the humble Namdaemun Market in Seoul, Korea. In only a couple of minutes he spins a hunk of chilled honey into 16,000 delicious candy threads, then rolls and stuffs them to form individual desserts. While he calls this an ancient Korean delicacy, it’s really nothing more or less than a dressed up version of that staple known as Dragon’s Beard in any Chinatown, or Cotton Candy in any county fair.

I’d tip big for a snack served with a side of this fresh charm.

A Merry MultiCulti Christmas!

From David Mamet to you:

But what do the Chinese do on Passover?

How is this night different from all other nights? WONTONS!