A $15 cup of coffee and a soggy sandwich

La Cuisson

Words and pix: S. Yuen

When it comes to coffee, I am the scrooge. Well, the same could be said about bubble tea. The urban life-style concept of spending $5 or more on a cup of caffeine-loaded beverages on a regular basis just doesn’t sit well with my bank account. Though I admit, with the right company, the right ambiance and fine coffee or tea; relaxing moments and good conversations can be had.

As a food writer, I had tasted a $60 cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. Yes, that famous coffee originates from Java and Sumatra, home to Luwaks (small civet-like animals) who eat the coffee cherries, digest the fresh but get rid of the beans via natural bodily functions and wella; these beans become the jewel of coffee! Why, the natives are smart enough to notice or smell the fragrant aroma emitted by these beans caused by the so-called “special digestive system” of the Luwaks. Thanks to the even smarter marketers who not only call the Kopi Luwak coffee “The most delightful coffee you can find” but also charge an average of $60 per serving! The overall experience of a ‘digested and passed out’ coffee was decent, though I had to try very hard to sniff and detect the illusive aroma and failed, the steamy dark liquid was layered with complex coffee flavour and was indeed velvety, but would I pay $60 for that, the answer is still a big no.

Obviously, the $15 per cup coffee was no Kopi Luwak but a Jamaica Blue Mountain.  This is no ordinary coffee either, says so on the Blue Mountain Coffee website. Hand-picked in single estates, small-batch roasting only on the shipping day and shipped in barrels, the whole process is regulated, carefully monitored and certified. A cup of Blue Mountain was what I ordered with a prosciutto & mozzarella sandwich last week at La Cuisson.

I was granted an unexpected afternoon break when a meeting was cancelled last minute. To embrace the leisure time, I decided to browse around in a neighbourhood I seldom visit – Kerrisdale and it didn’t take long at all for me to wonder into La Cuisson Café, a relatively unknown place with a few small patio tables and chairs out front. Once inside, I could tell the owner was attempting a Brasserie atmosphere. Tended by youngsters, the clustered counter lies adjacent to a huge glass showcase filled with cakes, pastries and stuff. La Cuisson offers both eat-in and take-out service, with a simple menu of sandwiches, salads and delicate desserts and special coffees such as Blue Mountain coffee.

Blue Mountain coffee beans

First arrived was the plate of sandwich, the supposedly made to order gourmet offering came buried in a dressed salad. When it was dropped in front of me, I had an elapsed moment thinking that I had ordered salad instead. Being creative is a good thing, but when it comes to food, practicality takes priority. Why the kitchen opted to load the salad on top and soil the quartered sandwiches was beyond me. The fact that there was no chef or a kitchen supervisor and the sandwich was made by any staff that could make it might explain why.

Next came the Blue Mountain served in a fancy set of cup & saucer, may be 5 to 6 oz. Silky smooth, mellow and hot, no cream needed (it was not brought either), a lovely cup of coffee indeed. But a $15 price tag? I had the same sensual satisfaction from a cup of Italian coffee years ago in a mall café called Little Darling who also served the most decadent piece of home-made Kahlua cake found nowhere else. There, I paid $3.00 for each mug of coffee and $0.50 for a refill. Yet for some strange reasons, Blue Mountain Coffee has achieved a brand-name status (much like Gucci, Channel or Coach) in the Chinese coffee-drinking arena.  However, if you talk to random customers sipping a cup of Blue Mountain in a similar café, the chance of them having a clue why each cup costs $15.00 (sorry, no refill) is pretty slim.  Ergo, brand name effect would be the only explanation.

There is nothing wrong paying $15 or $60 for a cup of coffee, but it is the value of that price tag I am looking for! I do wonder, in a blind-tasting scenario, how much will savvy coffee drinkers be willing to pay for the Blue Mountain or the Kopi Luwak?

 

 

BC Wine Industry Blooming with International Awards

bloom 2014 -4

Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese blog post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/379905 )

Whether you go to a government liquor store or a private wine store, you should have noticed the latest releases from     various BC wineries by now. The BC VQA wineries celebrate their annual releases through a tasting event called “Bloom”. BC wine industry grew from 17 to 235 wineries in less than 25 years. It is still growing as new wine sub-regions are being discovered. There are over 9,800 acres planted in the five designated viticultural areas (Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands). Even though small in international scale, non-the-less it is extremely important to the BC economy from an employment and revenue generating perspective. Even though some wineries jobs are seasonal, there are lot of subsidiary and indirect jobs created such as restaurants, tourism and hospitality positions benefiting from this particular industry.

What about the BC wines you might ask. It is ever improving as far as I am concern judging by the over 2000 awards garnered annually through international wine competitions. Of course there are outstanding ones and there are mediocre ones and also those from new wineries with potential to improve over time. With competition from New World wines, I can expect prices of BC wines to stay competitive as the economy of scale improves and the unit cost of production coming down.

bloom 2014 -2

However, don’t expect premium tier wines to be cheaper as those are in limited production with exceptional care from viticulturalists and winemakers. Wines destined for cellaring will always be hot items for collectors.  The list, including award-winners such as Mission Hill’s “World Best Pinot Noir”, Joie Farm’s list of awarded wines, and Haywire Winery’s Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir that just received the Lieutenant Governor Award, is too long. The best way to find out is to visit a specialty BC VQA stores, consider your budget and feel free to ask for advice. If you come across these wines, don’t miss the chance.  These are some of the gems to your liking!

http://winebc.com

http://missionhillwinery.com

http://joiefarm.com

http://haywirewinery.com

bloom 2014    Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770

Mission Hill World's best Pinot Noir

The Rosé of Provence

VI-8

TP-060815Words: Henry Yuen

Pix: Vins de Provence

Besides Paris, what other part of France would tourists like to visit? The south of France has always been considered a charming place. With its Mediterranean climate, sun-lit blue sky and lush countryside, Provence is most likely on the top of the list. More so for food and wine lovers!

The cuisine of Provence is world famous! According to Francois Millo, Author of “Provence Food and Wine – The art of living” a printed illustration of the beauty and bounty of Provence, “Provencal food is at the core of what is known as the Mediterranean diet!” The abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, farm produce and seafood provides the foundation for the cuisine that chefs and foodies from around the world aspire to.

For me, the wine of Provence is the clincher; the region is after all, responsible for 40% of the wine production of country. And when it comes to the wines of Provence; how can we not talk about Rosé? Over 87% of the wines produced in Provence are Rosé, which represents 5.6% of the global market!

With 152 million bottles of Rosé currently produced each year, it means this colourful wine is a demanded beverage not only in France but throughout the world. Inevitably, French Rosé is held in high regard, perhaps due to its strict production guidelines that follow the traditional methods; or simply because of the drier style of wines that most drinkers enjoy! Generally speaking, Rosé from Provence is not as sweet as other Rosé or blush wines from the rest of the world, yet each sip is full of Provence characters.

With its attractive pinkish, light orange and salmon colour; Rosé is often regarded as a romantic, even sexy wine! The mood is easy and mellow; likely the reason why most drinkers identify it as a refreshing patio or poolside wine. Surely belonging to balmy lazy late afternoons,  Rosé is a perfect wind-down sipper, while drifting away in a rattan chair set under a canopy overlooking rolling mountains or blue wide horizon!

CONSO-120729-1-rosé

Rosé, however, does pack in a lot of punches! The added bonus is that this wine is more versatile than most people think. There is the citrus and berries aroma, juicy yet delicate to keep the palate fresh and lively, therefore a good companion to be had with food.  At one of my favourite French restaurants in town Bistro Pastis, we did just that, the two Rosé wines poured that evening were Domaine Houchart 2013 and the Miraval 2013.

GV-0508 Rosé Verre 1

 

The breezy and refreshing Domaine HouchartRosé; filled with floral and fruity aroma and a slight hint of minerality upon entry; is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hailed from the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt famed winery with the collaboration and guidance from the Perrin Family, the Miraval 2013 emits subtle fruity nose and a balanced citrus aroma caresses not just the palate but the moment nicely. The entry is soft and smooth with shy shades of spices and enough concentration to provide a lingering finish.

Chilled properly, Rosé can be a tantalizing welcoming drink,  sipped with canapés and antipasti, it will also go well with salads and can be served with the first course or a seafood dish as well.

When it comes to embracing Rosé, a little bit of imagination will open a world of possibility for you and your guests. From Old World to New World, there are all kinds of Rosé produced to caress your mood and palate, so why not a tasting and food pairing of Rosé of different style and sweetness? Do taste them alongside the Rosé from Provence and you will taste the subtle differences and appreciate what the strict traditional method of crafting Provence Rosé is all about.

VEN-100915-63

 

When Food Truck Asian Fare met German wines

New generation appeal

Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen (中文博客:http://taiyangbao.ca/food/374354/ )

They came all the way from Germany; and along with great wines, they also brought good news – the German wine industry has embarked on a new era!

At a recent “Generation Riesling” tasting lunch, their alluring Rieslings were not the only featured beauties, also presented was a passionate and young wine-makers Nadine Poss who happened to be the reigning German Wine Queen of 2013-2014! This ‘pageant queen’ was there to describe each wine poured and her wine knowledge was as impressive as her charm.

The 'queen'

Apparently, a new generation of young, passionate and innovative winemakers are transforming German’s wine world.  They are not only bringing in new energies, they are making much more noises and turning heads on global wine stages! What they are doing is obviously endorsed by the wine world of Germany at large. It would be interesting, however, to find out what the courses have been like, challenging perhaps, but the outcome has been ravishing for sure!          Gen Riseling 1

An Asian-themed lunch was served. Two brand-named food trucks: Roaming Dragon and Vij’s Railway Express parked right outside the venue and were turning out small plates in their limited mobile kitchen while the waiting staff strode in and out constantly to bring the plates inside to serve the 50 or so eagerly awaiting guest. Regrettably, no matter how fast and efficient the food truck operators and the staff were, majority of the small plates of food arrived less than hot (temperature). I admit pairing wine with food truck fares is cool and fun, but is it practical and as functional? What is more important here; the wine or the food?

Asian cuisine, especially spicy fares do go well with German Rieslings, but pairing with red wines, any red, has been a different story all along, thanks to the complex of flavour and texture profiles of Asian cooking. Let me reassure you though; the availability of thousands of Asian dishes, traditional or fused, makes the task very doable, provided the right menu choices and logistics were executed!

A total of 10 wines were poured.  The plate made up of two main were served with two Pinot Noirs at the end.  Overpowered by both the spicy “Curry breaded chicken breast” and the Lucknow lamb kebabs, the reds became silent. Sorry to say this, but the limitation of the equipment and facility food truck operators have to face often mean the temperature and texture delivered to our table would be compromises. Why the chicken had to be breaded and the lamb skewered was beyond me, since serving a luncheon party of this size presented enough challenges, and Asians do cook the curry in pots and lambs in chunks. Yes, I’m being picky and fussy here, but we all know how important food quality plays when it involved wine-pairing.

Spicy food & red may crashDon’t get me wrong, I embrace the food trucks who work so hard in the harsh Vancouver market with full respect, but with wine being the main focus, I’d have gone the easier way – go to an S.E. Asian restaurant so the focus would indeed be on the wine, not the food catered by the food trucks.     Reisling & Dimsum

The whites were, on the other hand, fabulous! The three whites I loved most that afternoon were:

Weingut Heitlinger 2008 (Blanc de Noir Sparkling) – Make sure you have a bottle or two chilled away in the fridge – it’s BBQ and patio season after all! This creamy, dry and refreshing Black de Noir bubble Sparking is sensually delicious!

Willems Hofmann 2013 Silvaner – One of the most-planted German white grapes, Silvaner’s tropical, juicy and capturing flavour goes well with a sizzling oyster cooked on the grill, yam fries and chili-peppered chicken wings.

Moselland 2013 Riesling Mosellschild Feinherb  - Feinherb is perhaps the new word for “halbtrocken” which refers to off dry or half-dry white wines. Sweet hints of apple and Asian pear with a touch of honeydew give this Riesling the breezy summery notes.

For more information: http://31daysgermanriesling.ca

Tormaresca

tormeresca vineyardsWords: Henry Yuen
(Chinese version: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )
My exposure to Italian wines is quite limited and admittedly, so is my knowledge. Other than Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, there are not many Italian varietals that I am familiar with.

I have heard of popular wine regions such as Tuscany and Piedmont but have scant knowledge of other wine-producing regions, let alone their appellations and geographic systems. Yes, I have been to Rome and Florence but not much was picked up as far as wine was concerned since it was not a wine focus tour, I did fortunately enjoy numerous glasses of fine Italian wines during the trip. When the opportunity to have a close-up wine tasting dinner with, Vito Plaumbo, the export manager of Tormaresca arose, I jump at the chance.

Tormaresca has two estate vineyards in Puglia located at the “heel” of Italy in the southeastern part of the country and is a fast rowing wine region with lots of potential to produce quality wines. It  has been a prolific region known for its strong agricultural background therefore not exactly a new wine region and is slowly gaining global recognition. Besides native varietals such as Primitivo and Negroamaro, Tormarseca also focuses on non-native varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that flourish in the terroir of the area.

Tormaresca Chardonnay
Being one of the estate wineries belonging to the Antinori family, Tormaresca has good DNA. Established in 1998, Tormaresca is following the path of Antinori to produce superior quality wines with sound viticulture practices. The result is delicious wines with affordable price points that wine lovers in Canada will soon take notice.
The Chardonnay 2012 Puglia I.G.T. is a 100 % Chardonnay harvested from both vineyards. 100% stainless steel fermentation means no oak influence that brings forward a crisp, slight minerality and refreshing mouth feel with good citrus and melon aroma with a juicy finish. At $12.99 it will be a hit once becomes widely available when off the spec list.

The Neprica 2011 Puglia I.G.T. is a medium bodied blend of Primitivo, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of juicy, dry prune aroma and a touch of earthiness makes this an easy and lively sipper. Once again, the stainless steel tank treatment prevents any oak influence but the finish is a smooth one. At $13.99, there is every reason to like this wine. These two wines paired surprisingly well with the antipasto served at Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Gastown.
The next wine is the Torcicoda 2010 at $26.99. A 100% Primotivo, this organic wine is full-bodied due to its 8 to 10 months in French and Hungarian oak barrels. Harvested with good ripeness thanks to the warm summer, it attacks the nose with lots of cherry and hints of mint and herbs in the aroma. On the palate are elegant black fruit and a bit of cocoa in the end. This is a true representation of the terroir of the Salento appellation.

Tormaresca Neil, Henry, Gloria
As more delicious pizza is served, so are more wine. The next up Trentangeli 2010 (available at BCLDB for $19.99 ) is a 65% Aglianico, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah with 10 months in oak and another 9 months bottle aging. The result is a full-bodied wine with silky richness that lingers on the palate. It’s a great wine to pair with not only Italian dishes but a wide variety of other cuisines.

Tormaresca Neprica

To further understand the wine-making philosophy of Tormaresca, the Bocca di Lupo 2008 is served. 100% Aglianico, this luscious, earthy wine is fused with minty aroma and layered of ripened fruit and a hint of chocolate on the finish. A great wine with cellaring potential for sure but at the same time, it is a challenge to resist drinking it right away. A medium-bodied Masseria Maime 2010 is the last wine of the evening. This wine is 100% Negroamaro with 12 months in French oak featuring lovely tannins and good acidity laced with submissive sweetness and dry prune and berries aroma.
Tormaresca may not be Tuscan or Piedmont appellation wines but does deserve wine lovers’ close attention since Antinori puts a lot of faith on this up and coming wine region of Puglia.

A pot of comfort food

A claybpot of milky fish soup

Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen

If you come into my kitchen, the first thing you’ll notice is a large clay pot.  As a matter of fact, the 15-quart drum-like clay pot is sitting on the stove top, loaded with simmering creamy chicken congee and emitting warm and ravishing aroma right now.  The congee, which takes about 2 hours to perfect, will be served with Chinese donut sticks, chopped green onion and cilantro, along with a platter of wok-fried pork and mushroom vermicelli for our family brunch today. Around the table the family will gather to indulge in a simple but healthy homey meal while sharing laughter and events of past week. This is a regular weekend scene in the Yuen’s household and, I am quite sure, in many other Asian households as well.crab & fish maw soup

The same pot is also used for making specialty soups made with certain herbs, vegetables and meat ingredients. Known as ‘Lo-For Tong’ (Long-boiled soup) that requires few hours of simmering, different ingredients are combined to provide different holistic needs human bodies require due to climatic changes and what life throws at us from time to time. Summer heat? Caught a bug?  Not sleeping well? Overworked? Feeling weak?  There is a pot of soup for that!      braised whole papaya soup

According to traditional Chinese medicinal studies, the well-being of our bodies rely largely on the well balance of energy and strong blood flow. A healthy yin and yang equation can be garnered by consuming the right food at the right time.  Our bodies need a break from heavy eating and senseless consumption of junk food, alcohol and other substances regularly. Chinese believe wholesome soups or congees not only induced healthy effects into the body, it also helps cleanse the internal system and replenish vital energy loss which often are the reasons behind immune deficiency.

Quite a few Chinese restaurants here in Vancouver are known for their gourmet Lo-For Tong as a lure to attract diners. Do not let the remedial functions of these soups stop you from trying; they are guaranteed to be more delicious than most of the soup broth you’ve tasted. Besides seafood, lean meats and soup bones, goji berries, dried longan nuts, honey dates, even papayas and pears play an important role in the pot of soup. So go ahead, take a sip!

For those who want to make a pot or two at home and have no clue what get or do, T&T Supermarket and other Asian super stores offer lo-for soup ingredients already packaged for you to take home. Go to the meat cooler section or ask a store clerk to show you.

 

 

Sunshine and BBQ with wine

June has always been weather-finicky, but when the sun comes out, it’s all about roof top, patio, beach and BBQ! Recent wine-tasting events brought my attention to a few new-releases I quite enjoyed. BBQ is more than burgers and hot-dogs and these wines will be great sippers under the sun.

Joie - pinot blanc & roseJoieFarm new releases

Just celebrated their 10 year anniversary, JoieFarm wines have been my favourites over the years and it is the consistency that wins me over. Sure they have garnered quite a few awards, Gold, Silver, Bronze etc. but that’s not the main point here. What is important is that their wines are always good, awards or not; and that I have yet to be disappointed. The style is fresh, lively with a bit of Burgundy style and expresses the terroir of the various vineyards and Joie’s very own portfolio very well. A great amount of work is done in the vineyards even though the winemaking team of Heidi Noble and Robert Thielicke brings local and international experience and knowledge to the table. The front of the house under Michael Dinn ensures everything else is in the right hands. Their 2013 & 2011 whites have just been released followed by the 2011 Reds. The whites include Riesling 2013, Pinot Blanc 2013, Rose 2013 and the ever popular Noble Blend 2013. The 2011 line-ups are Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. The reds include Gamay 2011, Pinot Noir 2011 and the PTG 2011 plus the Reserve wines. All are ready to drink and available at most private wine stores and restaurant establishments since the production is around 15,000 cases. It’s worth the while to find them and if you do, grab them! JoieFarm.com would be the best place to locate the outlets around town.

InceptionInception 2012

“Inception”2012 is a blend of 81% Shiraz, 10% Petit Verdot and 9% Mourvedre sourced from vineyards in the Western Cape region in South Africa. At $14.99, the price point is afforded by most consumers and for restaurants looking for a drinkable, fun and not-too-hefty wine on their wine list. This wine certainly fits the bill for fruit forward, pleasant and good value. The entry is full of berries and plum and a bit of sweetness. On the nose, you will find a hit of mint and herb with a slight touch of smokiness (12 to 14 months in oak barrel) and medium-bodied to round out the finish. It’s definitely a delightful sip for everyday and for the barbecue and patio. It’s availability at BC Liquor stores makes it easily accessible.

 

 

Anciano Tempranillo Grand Reserva

A Spanish Tempranillo with Old World charm. This wine is aged 10 years in cellar before releasing. Luscious with typical Spanish Tempranillo characteristics, the deep-layered and full-bodied with berries and dark fruit concentration is indeed delightful with BBQ ribs and steaks. It has smooth tannins due to the length of aging, especially 24 months in oak barrels, and a soft palate to round off in the mouth. The 100% Tempranillo from the Valdepenas DO in the south central of Spain enjoys the higher altitude with warm days and cool nights resulting in ripened fruits with adequate concentration to balance the tannins. Produced by Bodega Navalon, the Anciano Tempranillo Grand Reserve is ready to drink now even though cellaring for another 5 years would elevate its prime. At a price point in the $15 range, it’s another excellent value wine where one can enjoy the Old World grace while not breaking the bank.   Anciano Tempranillo

 

C.C. Jentsch Cellars – The Chase 2012

The new kid in the Okanagan Valley is The Chase 2012 from C.C. Jentsch Cellars. While new to wine making, the family has been fruit grower since 1929 who decided to switch to vines in 2002, amassing tremendous amount of experience in producing premium fruits essential for crafting good wines. They have 63 acres in the Golden Mile Bench and smaller plots in the other area around Okanagan. The Chase 2012 is a Bordeaux style red wine with 35% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 7.5% Malbec. The result is a well-balanced medium-bodied wine with enough fruits upon entry. Black berries and dry plum sensation is prominent to attract attention. A bit of spice and toastiness on the mouth feel to appreciate the round tannins. Good to drink now but will show well for another 5 years or so. A wine at $19.99, it is a well-crafted Okanagan Valley product worth bringing home.      cc. JENTSCH CELLARS

 

An afternoon with burgers and sliders

Words: Stephanie Yuen (Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/359591/

The receipt of Vanfoodster Richard Wolak’s invitation to one of his recent Tasting Plates events to spend one afternoon with numerous burgers prompted two reactions. Henry’s was “Awesome, let’s do it!” Mine was “Huh? Burgers”?

Anyone could tell I am not too enthusiastic about burgers, for simple reasons: Ground meat is off-beat and boring. Burgers is so uniformed. My hands are too small to hold and eat burgers without making a big mess.

Good old Richard assured me these were sliders (mini-burgers) with special touches. In another word, they would all be gourmet burgers.  Why mini burgers are called sliders is beyond me, may be they are small enough to ‘slide’ into the mouth?  Nevertheless, I had to admit, this afternoon of burger adventure proved to be quite an eye-opener.

We started late and due to the participating eateries spreading from Gastown to Denman, we only had enough time to taste 4 burgers. This worked to our advantage – it gave my stomach a break in between burgers and gave Henry a refreshed­ palate for the next pint of beer.

Milestone's burger

First stop: Milstones Robson.

The “Stacked Burger” was a classic: The cute skewer of cherry tomato and pickle added vivid colour to the stack. Moist and fluffy were the juicy patties with perfect thickness. I felt in love with the crunchy Tuna Taco which was definitely a pleasant surprise. Bravo to the chef who went out of the way to create something unique and so tasty!

Henry loved the King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen from How Sound Brewery. “Perfect drink for burgers and tacos!” was his cheerful comment.

King Heffy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was Yagger’s Downtown (Pender Street)

We had the choice of: Yagger’s Famous Cowburger OR Housemade Chorizo Burger. Since there were two of us, we naturally ordered one of each. The existence of both organic beef & pork in one patty in the cowburger was not unusual, but interesting. The double smoked bacon and aged white cheddar would be forever enticing; with chipotle peppers and peppercorn mayo, the burger scored even higher.  The “kick” inside the ground chorizo & beef patty was very engaging and was an excellent partner with cold beer. Once again, my palate loved the side dish “Mac & Not So Blue Cheese” white cheddar& gorgonzola cream sauce on jumbo mac noodles and smartly garnished with fresh bruschetta.

Yagger's two burgers

3rd Stop: The Bismarck Bar

Bismarck Chorizo Prawn Slider applied top ingredients generously, that included using brioche buns, combined to offer layers of flavour and a truly gourmet profile.  Being close to Roger’s Stadium, the Crunchy and extremely flavourful Stadium Fries that came with the slider were the first to disappear.  Classic burger & fries

Last stop: Buckstop Denman

Henry and I both agreed, their Venison burgers stuffed with blue cheese, mushrooms and horseradish aioli was a show stopper.  Two slices of tender loins of venison, not ground, told me 1/ Not all burger meats are minced. 2/ Burgers can be as tasty as any other well-prepared dish. Who knew blue cheese and venison loins are merry couples? The bowl of warm and crispy house-made potato chips was all so seductive, I had to warm myself 8 times to pull to a full stop! Oh, the running-out meter helped too!

Venison burger platter

 

Our sincere apology to the ones that we missed:

Kobob Burger – Mini Bulgogi (Marinated pork with veggies) rice burger, served with a piece of Korean pancake and Kimchi.

DeeBee’s Organics at Whole Foods that offered choices of one of the flavoured Teapops: Berries and Cherries, Minty Mint, Southern Iced Tea, Tropical Mango and Toasted Coconut.

 

 

 

Hello Sonoma!

California CS vines

Words: Henry Yuen          Pix: S. Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/357811/

Last year, we spent a two-day holiday in Napa and we kept saying we needed a few more days towards the end. This time, we spent a total of five days in both Napa and Sonoma and once again, we told ourselves we needed another week. The fact is no matter how many times we have been, we still anxious to take in as much as possible; quite often, we leave with the same feeling it is too hasty and that we probably miss a few things here and there.  I guess this is a common feeling California most famous wine regions have on visiting wine lovers; that a holiday there almost always seems too short regardless how many days you have. Under the California sun, there are indeed many things to do; place to visit and interesting stories to tell, both indoor and outdoor; no holiday ever seems long enough.  Getting up each morning brings in the anticipation of another day of food and wine exploration.wine bars & tasting rooms everywhere

Are we complaining? Certainly not! Who would complain about all the wine tastings and delicious meals at rustic towns full of histories! Spending time in galleries and quaint shops looking for one of a kind artifact, fashions and jewelleries, and feeling the vibe of the nightlife of bustling towns are all bonuses.inviting wine bars

Though it is impossible to even scratch the surface of the over 600 wineries combined and pockets of tasting rooms here and there, the wines at Sonoma were as impressive as her natural beauty. What we did was to take our time at each tasting and not feel obligated to rush to the next winery. This turned out to be a wise strategy as we enjoyed each stop a lot more and got to know some of the wines and their stories better.

We did a loop start from the southern part of Napa and headed north from downtown Napa to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga where we managed to stroll relaxingly and dined like the locals. From there, we drove to Sonoma region touching on Geyserville, Healdsburg, Sebastopol and back down south to Petaluma. It was really an enjoyable road trip as the weather was a charmer and lush green was everywhere. Heading south from Geyersville to Petaluma, Sonoma was picturesque with rolling hills, farm houses, uniform vines and lazy farm animals grazing on endless fields.Rodney Strong Vineyards

I am a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon so let’s get that out of the way. First up on the tasting list were a series of Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong Vineyards. With over 1000 acres planted in the Sonoma County that practices sustainable and carbon neutral farming, Rodney Strong Vineyards has a few tiers of well-crafted Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the terroir of Sonoma well. The 2011 Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and bold with plum and cherries aroma and a hint of smokiness due to the 17 months in oak. The 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon also from Alexander Valley is sensational, smooth on entry with a hint of licorice and cocoa. Both are ready to drink now but will improve for the next five to ten years. Not to be missed is the Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Single Vineyard, Alexander Valley. This big, powerful cab is rich and velvety with delicious dry plum and cherries on the palate and a smooth finish due to the 25 months in 49% new French oak. Ready to drink now as well but will hold up superbly for special occasions to come. R.S. Cab Sauv

To further appreciate their efforts in terms of crafting well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, we were led to the cellar for some barrel sampling of the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Gorgeous aroma of dry cherries and black fruit with a silky mouth feel, the 2012; still waiting for the winemaker’s final attention before bottling; will definitely be amongst Rodney’s top lineups upon released.  Barrel labelOther Cab tasted included the Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. A forward, smooth Napa Cabernet with exquisite aroma of dry plum, a hint of mint and herbs. On the palate, it has lots of black fruits, currents and a big finish. If you want to find a good representation of what Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is all about, this is it. Another Napa Valley product is the Honrama Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, also a full-bodied cabernet that is round with lots of black currents and plum aroma and will go well with a thick slice of juicy rib eye. For fans of intense oak treatment in their wines, the Farm Collective Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 would be a good choice. Black fruits, spice and vanilla give way to smoky and cedar earth aroma. A few years in the cellar would tame the oak intensity to render a more balanced profile. The Renteria Vineyard Salva Tierra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 has a smooth entry and balanced mouth feel with enough black fruit sweetness and a long finish. The Benzinger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2009 portrays lots of dark fruit and dry plum on entry with a hint of cocoa and leafy aroma.

A visit to Napa and Sonoma would not be complete without tasting luscious California Zinfandels. At Rodney Strong, we tasted the 2012 Estate Zinfandel Knotty Vines, Northern Sonoma Valley. This is a smooth Zinfandel with juicy red fruit aroma. The 2011 Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley has ripe black fruit and herb aroma and enough depth due to the 8 months in French oak. The Cline Cellars 2011 Big Break Zinfandel is a delightful Zinfandel with a full-bodied texture that packs blackberry, cocoa and spice aroma.  The 2011 EOS Reserve Rossini Zinfandel, Napa Valley is full-bodied with raspberry and earthy aroma that ends in a long finish. The Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2011 is a well-crafted luscious wine with supple and smoothness on entry and lots of dark fruits aroma that lingers. Those average 90 years and older vines have a huge stamp on them and are truly significance of the best Zinfandel California has to offer.

While at Rodney Strong, we couldn’t resist tasting a few Pinot Noirs too. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is medium-bodied but packs lots of fruity aroma and a silky, toasty finish. The 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is crafted with the best fruit from the Valley and is elegantly soft due to the 100% French oak treatment.  The posh mouth feel easy has lots of cherries, licorice and dry herb aroma. We also tasted the Red Lava Vineyards Lake County Reserve Syrah 2004. Equally attractive, it is also full-bodied with a smooth entry and enticing cherries and spice aroma with a hint of oak. Another interesting encounter was the Cline Cellar 2012 Ancient Vines Mourvedre where the vines are 100 years old giving the wine the added depth and concentration. Across the street from Cline Cellar is the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards with its lineup of Italian grape varietals. The grandfather was the one who invented the famed Jacuzzi bathtub that we spa in. I particular liked their 2011 Lake County Primitivo with its balanced mouth feel and bright fruit aroma on a smooth finish. Russian River Valley Pino Noir

All in all during the trip, I had enough Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy my big Cab craving for a while.  As for the California whites and Rosés, let’s say they are the perfect excuse for another California trip!

 

 

 

Irresistible Crème Brulee

Hm...bacon

Words & Pix: S. Yuen (http://taiyangbao.ca/food/352541 )

My previous blog post told you I was in Montreal for a recipe developing project in March, twice! This month of April, I was in California for 3 different reasons: As a presenter at Culinary Institute of America’s Flavour Summit 2014 in Napa; reviewed a few restaurants in downtown Napa and in the lovely town of St. Helene; spent a couple days at Sonoma to taste and observe their food and wine scene.  Articles on the California visits to come soon.

When I came home, the Crème Brulee Challenge, organized by Vancouver Foodster Richard Wolak (http://vancouverfoodster.com) was waiting. As 1 of the 4 media judges, I only had about 1 week to go to all 9 establishments and tasted the various crème brulee while trying to meet 4 deadlines plus developing a new set of 12 recipes by early May. And walla! I broke my own personal record of having 3 servings of Crème Brulee in a single day, three days in a roll. Oh no, didn’t even want to think about weighing myself. Even if each crème brulee equals one pound, that is 9 pounds – the flip side of working with food as a living!

As much as I enjoyed indulging into those made-with-passion and skill Crème brulee, it was a relief when I sent my comments and scores to Richard. Yet, if Richard asked me to go to Novo Pizzeria, Café One and the Apron, the top 3 winners, I’d say yes without hesitation.

The nine eateries competing in the Crème Brulee Challenge were:

A Bread Affair – Granville Island (http://abreadaffair.com )

Bella Galataria – 1001 West Cordova (http://bellagelateria.com )

Café One – 1088 Burrard, Sheraton Wall Centre (http://sheratonwallcentre.com)

Catch 122 – 122 West Hastings (http://catch122.ca )

Gramercy Grill – 2685 Arbutus (http://gramercy.com )

Kingston Taphouse – 755 Richards (http://kingstontaphouse.com )

Novo Pizzaria – 2118 Burrard (http://novopizzeria.com )

The Bakeshop – 4021 McDonald (http://vancouverbakeshop.com )

The Apron –3099 Corvette Way, Westin Wall Centre, Richmond (http://westinwallcentre.com )

1st Place: Novo Pizzeria  – Toasted Hazelnut Creme Brûlée

Chefs Carmine Paradiso & Charles Richard were the creators of Novo’s winning master piece. A well-executed plate of dessert seduced the judges with the beautiful decoration; perfect texture and sweetness.  Everything on the plate, from the orange granite to the crispy almond cookies to the golden brown sugar crown covering the crème brulee, was all there to make love to my palate!Chef Richard's winning creme brulee

2nd Place: Café One (Sheraton Wall Centre on Burrard) – Banana Choconutty Crème Brulee

As a banana lover, the slightly torched banana topping grabbed my attention at Café One instantly. The silky smooth yet consistent custard, the lavender meringue and the choconutty-flavour dust created a painting-like presentation.  Pastry Chef Gabriela Gandolfo’s detail-oriented creation did not go unappreciated.Cafe One

3rd Place: The Apron (Westin Wall Centre Hotel on Corvette & No. 3 Road, Richmond) – Bread and Butter Crème BruleeThe Apron

Under the supervision of Excutive Chef Robert Uy, the team of chefs led by Chef Gabriela Gandolfo and Michael Stavely illustrated what a classic crème brulee with a west coast twist was all about.  The indigenous use of vanilla bean matched charmingly with the application of bread pudding, producing a light fluffy texture that was so exceptional!