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


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!


One evening, Nine Chablis

Chablis map

Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/348262 )

I recently talked about the cache and status that Champagne brings forward and how the whole sparkling wine world look up to Champagne with awe and revere. Champagne’s esteemed reputation has always been invariably shared by imitators who liberally use the name and by novice drinkers who misuse it.

Evidently, Chablis is in the same boat. Chablis takes on the same challenge to convince to the world that only wines made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis region in France can be called Chablis. Other Chardonnays around the world should never have the word “Chablis” in their labels!  So why is Chablis so unique that a lot of other Chardonnay wines want to associate with it?

For one, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal produced in the area surrounding the village of Chablis in France. Located in the northern part of Burgundy, it has about 10,000 acres of vines planted in a relatively cool climate region. Soil is predominately clay and limestone as a result of the area being under sea level million years ago and yielding in lots of fossils such as sea shells and oyster sediments. The unique terroir generally produces wines that carry handsome crispness with bright acidity, minerality and a hint of wet earth. It is this distinct characteristic that makes Chablis famous!

Usually un-oaked and 100% Chardonnay, Chablis is fresh, lively yet elegant.  The word ‘elegant’ is aptly and frequently used to describe Chablis for its tantalizing flavour profile and lush golden colour. Usage of oak aging introduced by certain contemporary winemakers recently started to give the wines a more balanced profile. While the region has warm days and cool nights, early spring frost can sometimes wipe out substantial crops, hence the importance of selecting good vintages. Needless to say, such year by year fluctuation pushes up the demand for preferred vintages and consequently, higher price points.

I had the chance to learn more about the wines of Chablis at a wine-pairing 3 course dinner at Secret Location Restaurant in Gastown.  Conducted by three of Vancouver’s celebrated sommeliers – Brooke Delves from Wildebeest; Jason Yamasaki of Chambar and Roger Maniwa of Hawksworth. Each chef recommended one Chablis to pair with each course and asked the guests to choose their preferences. The refreshing La CHABLISIENNE, Chablis La Pierrelee 2010 we sipped with fresh oysters prior dinner has already heightened our anticipation.  The nine smartly selected Chablis were indeed the perfect presentation for a fun and educational evening.


  1. Domaine DROUHIN VAUDON, Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2009
  2. Domaine BILLAUD-SIMON, Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre 2009
  3. Domanie A’DAIR, Chablis 2008
  4. PASCAL BOUCHARD, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2010
  5. Domaine LOUIS MOREAU, Chablis 2011
  6. Domaine CHRISTIAN MOREAU Pere et Fils, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Cuvee Guy Morneau 2011
  7. Domaine PATTES LOUP, Chablis 2011
  8. Jean-Marc BROCARD, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010
  9. Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2008 

Seldom do we have the chance to taste these wines all in one session! These Chablis were poured and discussed to provide the comparison and understanding of Chablis throughout the evening. Such well-organized wine event that allowed us to expand our horizon in the world of Chablis is truly enjoyed and appreciated. It takes wine-drinking to a higher level, for both wine-lovers and novices alike!

Delicious Montreal


Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen

A recipe-development project took me to Montreal two times within 3 weeks. For a west-coast dweller whose icy-cold encounter limited only to a hockey arena, I found it difficult to even walk a block in the -15C temperature. Having been in Montreal during warmer days imprinted a certain image of this old city in my mind, trotting along gloomy streets of downtown in the rigid cold allowed me to observe another side of this lovely city. Sullen but quaint, Montreal invited me to experience a different feel but cozy dine-in meals. Glad to share them with you here.

French: Auberge Solmar Sauvagi

111-115 St. Paul Es , Montreal H2Y 1E7 (514) 861-4562

From outside looking in, everything about this restaurant told me this was a fine-dining establishment. The décor, service and furnishings all proved that, but not the price point!

I chose and highly recommended the 2-course dinner with oven-fresh warm bread plus tea or coffee included. Depending on the main you chose, the price ranged from $18 to $23. I ordered Braised Lamb which cost me $20.95. The arrival of a basket of hot bread and a big dish of soup was a comforting start on a cold evening. The unpretentiously-plated and generously portioned lamb drenched with classic flavour and the slow-cooked meat texture was simply tender and flaky. But my favourite of the eveing was the fruit flan dessert dressed with fresh strawberries and dusted with icing sugar. At $7, the overall value of this silky and juicy flan was better than some of the $10 dessert in Vancouver.

Fruit flan

Poutine: Poutineville

3 locations:

1348 Beaubien E. Montreal (514) 544.8800

1365 Ontario E., Montreal (514) 419-5444

99 Place Charles Lemoyne, Longueuil (450) 332.9977 – The one we went to.

Not a fan of French fries, poutine – French fries with gravy and cheese curds has never been on my desired food list. However, being in Montreal, the capital of poutine, I had to give it a try. Poutineville happens to be one of the famed poutine restaurants whose menu offerings are quite amazing. From Mediterrean-inspired salad to cheeseburger, General Tao Poutine to Vegetarian poutine, the selections could be overwhelming. Diners can put add-on vegetables, meats and sauces to personalize the poutine. But as I see it, it doesn’t really matter what topping you order; the outlooks are more or less the same, but locals regard them as a good lunch choice.

Crushed Poutine

Interestingly, I found myself enjoying my colleague’s place loaded with cooked and pressed then deep-fried, crunchy skin-on tiny potatoes listed on the menu as ‘crushed house special’. These babies I could munch with a ice-cold beer!

Indian: Resto Darbar (near Hotel 10)

2027 St. Laurent, Montreal (514) 982-3724

A cozy corner room

I was going to walk around in the neighborhood to look for a European restaurant but was hindered by the freezing air attacking my nose and lung after walking only half a block. Hungry and cold, I decided to walk into the first restaurant encountered which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The exterior of Resto Darbar was not eye-catching at all but once I stepped inside and saw how beautiful the dining room was, I knew I chose the right place.

fully loaded thaili 2For $13.95, I had Thali Viande, a traditional platter with my choice of main (Lamb Biryani), 2 vegetables, a tandori chicken drumstick on a bed of lettuce salad, hot-to-the-touch naan and pappadam. Herbs and fresh spices are the soul behind Indian cuisine, with the two vegetables, the chicken and the lamb all displaying distinct flavours that kept me going for more, even when I was over-the-top full, I left fully loaded, warm and contented. Resto Darbar infused the right amount and right balance to capture the essence of Indian cooking to perfection!

B) Urban Tea Merchants presents Sakura Tea Service

1070 W. Georgia (at Thurlow) 604-692-0071


It is all about the presentation! Colour-coordinated, dainty and engrossing savoury and sweet creations – do pay attention to the artistry and knifing skill of each piece. Indulge with two choices of tea for perfect pairing: White Spring and Sakura Sakura.

Caviar lovers beware! Urban Tea Merchants just launched their ‘Caviar Service’. Yes, Caviar!! For this, a glass of chilled bubble to start will be fitting!




Meyer’s wines

Meyer wine pix

Words: Henry Yuen       Pix: Stephanie Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans/

A recent wine-pairing dinner hosted by the Meyer Family Vineyards at Forage comported wine lovers to fully appreciate what terroir in wine-making was all about!

Meyer Family Vineyards of the Okanagan Valley owns vineyards in both the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls. Their philosophy; which they diligently practise is to concentrate on producing what is best for the terroir instead of casting a wide net to plant and use every varietal possible. As a result, the vineyards dedicate their efforts on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Proprietor Jak Meyer, an astute businessman with background in investment banking, understands and grasps the importance of quality over quantity. Different tiers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to best embrace and utilize what Mother Nature granted the two benches are their strongholds.

To wet our palate, we tasted the 2012 Rose along with the very tender braised octopus salad. The evening got more serious when a line-up of four different Chardonnays came on board to be sipped with the moist and flaky Pacific spring salmon with leeks, squash gnocchi and shrimp chowder sauce. They were: 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, the 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay, the 2011Tribute Series Chardonnay and the Micro Cuvee Chardonnay. The wines, each with its own subtly-unique flavour and body, were there to demonstrate how different terroir produced diversed grapes, though they belonged to the same varietal. And of course, the detail orientation; timely observation and wine-making techniques of Chris Carson the winemaker, was the other key element behind these delicious Chardonnays.

Jak Mayer and Chef Whittaker

The entry level 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay is sourced from both the McLean Creek Vineyard and the Old Main Road Vineyard in the Naramata Bench. It is a crispy, uncomplicated Chardonnay which is fresh on the palate with a hint of apple sauce and warm citrus profile. The 2011 Tribute Series Chardonnay is 100% made from 15 year old vines in the Naramata Bench that is known for its distinct soil profile of clay and loam. The grapes were gently pressed and the light French oak treatment gave the wine the creamy golden colour. Clean entrance with   refreshing citrus notes and peach aroma; and a hint of oak and buttery in mid-palate. This is definitely a signature Naramata Bench product. The 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay made with 100% grapes from the vineyard in the Okanagan Falls. The winemaking technique is perhaps more or less the same, but the fruits here render its own character due to the different soil profile, elevation and slope angle. A creamy entry with hints of peach and honey, this Chardonnay benefits from the oak treatment but not enough to weight it down. Finally, the 2011 Micro Cuvee Chardonnay is produced only from the best juice worthy for the quality demanded of this tier. When a particular vintage is deemed not good enough; no Micro Cuvee will be produce. The aroma is of tropical fruits, citrus and a lovely peach note with good creamy mouth feel and proper weight and balance.

Pork due + 4 Pinot Noir

Next came the flight of four Pinot Noir to pair with The Geiderman Farms Pork Duo. The 2011 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir was sourced from different contracted growers throughout the Okanagan Valley. The aroma is full of berries and black fruits. It is a juicy Pinot with a lighter profile with decent acidity. The 2011 McLean Creek Pinot Noir is 100% from the Naramata Bench with 10 months in 100% French oak to give it the structure and depth and is fumed with oma of black fruits; has adequate acidity and good balance. The 2011 Reimer Pinot Noir came from the vineyard in the Kelowna region. Using 100% French oak and 10 months in barrels, this wine has lots of depth, balanced acidity and fruit components. Luckily, the 2012 was considered good enough and Micro Cuvee Pinot Noir was produced for this vintage. With aroma of plum and berries, this Pinot Noir is smooth and well balanced, thanks to the 100% new French oak treatment. A decidedly Okanagan Pinot Noir that is jammy with sensual acidity with enough structure. This Pinot is cellar worth quality!


A big round of applause to the 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival

pouring red wine

Words & Pix: Henry Yuen

Judging by the public response, the media coverage and all the sold out events, the just-ended Vancouver wine festival, already at its 36th year, was no doubt a huge success. Once again, Vancouverites’ overall interest in wines was verified. Also demonstrated was their high level of understanding and appreciating both the New World and Old World wines.

Look no further than the layered crowd gathered at the French wine-tasting stations at the main tasting room.  French wines; inevitably; still carry the suave and draw mystic amongst the minds of wine lovers. Even though Bordeaux was just one of the nine French regions represented, it still was the much revered tasting section and crowds were there all night long. I am sure if there is ever a special event in Vancouver that focuses on Bordeaux wines, it’s guaranteed to be vibrantly successful.

Glad to be able to taste my way through stations where apparently presenters from other French wine regions were there to offer their signature wines to tantalize everyone’s taste bud. The Burgundy, Rhone and Loire regions all have exceptional wines on display and information to share. From fruity and floral whites to the sophisticated and intense reds, there were no shortage of wine profiles to suit all desires.  Can’t argue that the 52 participating French wineries was a small representation of French wines in terms of numbers, nevertheless, their presentations solidified the calibre of old world French wines and verified their pride and passion already etched in our minds.

The well-attended “All About Bubbly” event indicated our adoration towards bubbles and of course, Champagne!  Here, we learnt how the ranking of Champagne applied fittingly into the sparkling wine category. “Ultimate”, “Premium”, “Revered” were the vocabularies common amongst wine lovers who, swirling and sipping tentatively, were describing the sensational feel of Champagne they encountered. French wines and Champagne definitely performed their wine festival anchor job beautifully. I firmly believe these two were the ultimate keys that laid such a strong fab foundation to the entire event.


Having said that, it’s nice to see a good number of fine products from other wine regions of the world were also poured. Kudos to our very own local wine producers who did not disappoint either; more than 25 BC wineries had tasting stations at the festival.  These were outstanding representations of tasty and exceptional wines. We understand it was costly to participate in the wine festival, however, what better venue and opportunity it was to showcase your wines and tell your side of the story to a highly focused group who know their wines pretty well? Vancouver wine drinkers have come a long way in terms of expectation and taste buds. We have a lot more exposures to quality wines through the good efforts and visionary of wine merchants, wineries, vineyards, restaurants and those who help and make things happen.  Vancouver International Wine Festival who has been creating waves and stamping statements year after year is inarguably the very important factor. Cheers to organizers and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to a good cause!

domaine de babio

Wines worth tasting:

Champagne Lanson Exrta Age Blanc de Blanc NV

Champagne Thienot Blanc de Noirs 2006

Cave De Lugny Cremant De Bourgogne Rose NV  $24.99

Domaine De Longue Toque Gigondas 2011

Romain Duvernay Hermitage 2009

Chateau Rey La Tour Reserve 2009

Domaine de longue toqueChateau Dubourg Saint-Emilion 2011

Chateau Fourcas Hosten 2005

Domaine De Babio 2010 Minervois

Cave De Rasteau La Domeliere 2011  $19.99

El Petit Bonhomme Blanco

Antano Crianza Rioja 2009  $12.95

Villa Teresa Organic Rose Frizzante N/V  $17.49

Haywire The Bub  $24.99

Cremont de bourgogneCastano Hecula 2011  $15.99

Domaines Paul Mas Estate Malbec 2012  $15.99

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Carmenere 2011 $19.99

Hester Creek Character Red VQA 2012  $19.95

Domaine Bousquet Organic Malbec 2012  $15.99



Famiglia Supper Series – Communal Table at La Pentola

Words & pix: Stephanie Yuen


I always love communal tables, quite likely because that’s how meals are served in Asian homes; but more so because communal meals allow you to enjoy multiple courses all at once! When the invitation to go to last month’s La Pentola Famiglia Supper, I shouted out a big “YES”! What could be better than a rustic Italian dinner served family style inside Yaletown’s most notorious boutique hotel on a cold and damp Sunday evening?

Opus’s family supper served communal style is a great way to meet new friends, embrace the culinary culture of Italy and of course, share a bottle or two of wines. This is also a great venue to create your own supper event – a special celebration or a birthday party – when your food is prepared by a talented chef and served by friendly and able staffs. The best part, the 10-course dinner is at $55 per person, boiling down to $5.50 per course each!

I’ve been told about the scrumptious La Pentola Famiglia Supper Series which takes place every last Sunday evening of the month only here, and was warned beforehand to bring a big appetite. To prepare, I walked extra distance to the next Skytrain Station and hopped onto the train, surely glad I did!

IMG_6067Once seated at the round table where my friend Kelina and I were greeted by fellow ‘diners’, we ordered our drinks. Not usually a cocktail fan, only because my stomach doesn’t always agree with the recipes, but I found myself sipping away the tall glass of Opus Bar’s featured cocktail “Montmorency” infused with orange and vanilla aromas. With certain resistance, I reminded myself to go easy with the drink since the first platter of the 10-course family supper arrived.

Here’s the 10-course menu we indulged that evening:

Speck (cured meat), mustard fruits (pear and zucchini), canederli (bread dumplings) – Can’t believe how wonderful it was to start a meal with poached pear and fluffy dumplings that reminded me of mini green onion pancakes.



Carne salata, greens, parmesan – What a plate of colourful lettuce – oh, more parmesan please!



Trout, apple puree, roasted chestnuts – Apple and trout? Yes, they’re meant to be together!


Fennel and blood orange salad, pine nuts, speck. – The pairing of the fennel and blood orange was as good as how the fennel was cooked.

Spatzle, duck confit, duck jus – A juicy and moist version of spatzle that complemented the duck jus beautifully.


Salt cod, potato, cauliflower, caraway – I fell in love with cauliflower all over again, and again!


Tortellini with brown butter and sage – That’s what al dente was all about.IMG_6084

Cotechino, lentils, squash, Brussels sprouts – The pork sausage (cotechino) using all renegade meats such as pork rind, cheek, neck muscle and shoulder was singing my tune.



Grilled venison, porcini, polenta, juniper butter – What to devour first, the venison, the porcini or the polenta?



Tamarind Ice Cream – treated acidity of tamarind cut through nicely with the silky ice cream. The slice of meat on top was bacon!IMG_6099 Chef Lucais Syme has prepared a roasted pig and a lamb for previous Famiglia suppers, but the above 10 courses showcased classic Italian cooking technique and communal fares perfectly. The next family supper will be this Sunday, Feb 23rd.  Reservation is recommended. 604-642-0557


Xishi Lounge brews Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea


Words & pix: Stephanie Yuen 


It could be because February is the prime time to celebrate Lunar New Year; could be this is how Shangri-la Hotel says ‘Thank you!” and “Happy New Year of the Horse!”, the graceful Xishi Lounge is treating those born in the year of the horse to a complimentary Afternoon Tea during this month of February, all you have to do is bring one or more friends belonging to other animal signs with you!

I’m sure you’ve been to this 5-diamond hotel at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow, but how often do you stop by the huge painting of Chinese calligraphy and give yourself a moment or two to drift into the free-flowing energy the painting is emitting?  This majestic painting has always been one of the reasons I choose to walk into the hotel via the main entrance off W. Georgian. The other reasons? To grasp the charming elegance of the hotel lounge and enjoy the view up the few steps leading to the greeting area of Xishi Lounge where the warm, calming and relaxing mood is waiting to embrace me!   IMAG0030Enjoying a cup of tea is, after all, the moment to relax your body and mind, ergo the mellow pace! Once seated, soak in the harmonious décor and soothing ambiance; do leave any worries outside and soon, you will not even notice the hustle and bustle of downtown.IMAG0032

Be reminded that “Afternoon Tea” is more than well, a cup of tea; do allow yourself ample leisure time, especially now at Xishi where Chinese New Year celebration meets ‘High Tea’. You’ll be glad to hear that this special “Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea” is served daily, starting at 11am to 5pm; meaning that you can turn the afternoon tea time into brunch or lunch! IMAG0035

Right now and till the end of February, with your selection of fine teas is the classic 3-tier full of  delights. Besides the orange and plain scones with jam and clotted home-made cream, you are going to be tempted by savouries such as BBQ pork brioche buns, juicy and crispy Duck eggrolls, Smoked salmon bagel and Curry tofu wraps. What about Coconut New Year cakes, mini egg-tarts along with Green tea opera cakes for dessert?  To finish (or to start for some), a bowl of Sesame Tan-ren in ginger syrup!IMG_6117

To top these off, there’s live Chinese music performance every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3-5pm.  Info and reservation (highly recommended) – 604-661-3352


February means non-stop food, wine & fun


This weekend – Granville Island

Jump onto the Olympic bandwagon at Edible Canada House

What better way to interrupt winter and celebrate Canada’s Sochi Olympic medal counts and our Olympic hopefuls?

First of all, the annual Winterruption Festival is taking place this weekend. There are numbers of activities for the whole family. Secondly, the iconic Edible Canada Bistro right in the Market (underneath the Granville Street Bridge in the heart of Granville Island) is hosting an Olympic-themed “Edible Canada House” and every Team Canada fan is invited! It is also family friendly with a play area and face painting by the Granville Island Toy Company.

Edible Canada House is featuring a number of live and pre-recorded Olympic events on three giant projection screens. Guests are welcomed party the night away while cheering on the nation’s top athletes. In true Edible Canada fashion, the theme will be quintessential Canadian.

There are of course food!  Besides an array of comfort food fare provided by Edible Canada such as cheesy perogies, multiple ‘Savoury Chef’ food stations showcasing classic Canadian such as bison chili, Alberta beef brisket & maple flapjacks and other late night snacks!

Granville Island Brewing is there to supply the craft beer; along with many other local wines and spirits being poured over the course of the weekend. Don’t miss Edible’s famous “Garnish Your Own” Caesar bar.

The event ran all day and into early mornings yesterday and will continue today Saturday and tomorrow Sunday with an amazing lineup of bands and DJ’s! Check out program details and ticket info: http://www.ediblecanada.com/tours-and-events/events/edible-canada-house-2014/#sthash.FArtt2Sv.dpuf

On February 27 – Market Restaurant at Shangri-la Hotel

French wine & Market pairing dinnerWinemaker Caroline Frey

To set your drinking palate into the French mode and get set for the International Wine Festival, why not pamper yourselves with a food & wine marriage made at Shangri-la Hotel?

Caroline Frey, winemaker for Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Château La Lagune, will host a special winemaker’s dinner that celebrates the Burgundy and the Rhône Valley of France, their history, their terroir, their exceptional people and their exceptional wines. The reception and four course dinner will feature some of the winery’s favourite wines paired with a MARKET menu. Tickets are $149 per person and are available by telephone at (604) 695-1115.


February 28 – Market lounge at Shangri-la Hotel

Cannonball Wine Gourmet Pizza & Wine Party,

Mirroring the philosophy of the Cannonball Wine Company from California, this approachable event is serious about quality, Cannonball winehonesty, and enjoying life. Hosted by CEO and Founding Partner, Yoav Gila, the event will take place in the MARKET lounge where for $35, guests will be treated to MARKET’s gourmet signature pizzas alongside Cannonball’s signature wines including their celebrated chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. The event starts at 6:30 pm and tickets are available by telephone at (604) 695-1115



Finding good value wines

IMG_5455Words: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans

Any way you look at it, wine prices in B.C. are higher than most other places. Chalk it up to the taxes involved and the way wine distribution is managed in this province. Having said that, let it be known the theory is that your purchase of wine is contributing to the government coffers to support health care, education, transportation…etc. directly or indirectly. So every bottle you drink, you are helping out in some way, perhaps this will make you feel better! In spite of that, there is no reason why the effort of finding good value wines should be diminished. The satisfaction in finding wines is when the price to value ratio is high, given that fact that there is a host of reasons why sometimes wine price is not a good judge of the quality. Higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is higher in ratio.

The upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival has an event on March 01 called 25 under $25 where you can taste 25 very good wines all priced at under $25. Here is the list of the wines that wouldn’t go wrong in any occasion:

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Organic 2012

Peter Lehmann Wines Layers Red 2011

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2012

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Pinot Blanc 2012

Burrowing Owl Winery Chardonnay 2011

Haywire The Bub Traditional Method Sparkling Wine 2012

Hester Creek Estate Winery Character Red VQA 2012

Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011

Famille Bougrier Vouvray AOC -Famille Bougrier 2012

Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé

Marrenon Classique Luberon Rosé 2012

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Heritages Blanc 2012

Domaines Paul Mas Estate Malbec 2011

Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2012

Cave de Rasteau La Domelière 2011

Fontanafredda Barbera Piemonte “Briccotondo” DOC 2012

MASI Agricola S.p.A. Masianco 2012

Vini Tonon Villa Teresa Organic Rose Frizzante

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Ramos Pinto Douro Vinho Tinto Duas Quintas Red 2010

Nederburg Manor House Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Bodegas Castaño Hecula 2011

Nathalie Bonhomme El Petit Bonhomme Blanco 2012

Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009

West Coast Wine Partners Lake Sonoma Russian River Chardonnay 2012

Perez Cruz CS

There are others worthy of consideration in the price range of around $25.  Most will be available at government liquor stores but some will need to be purchased from private wine shops or VQA stores.  Due to the costly underlying fees, some wineries cannot afford listing wine at government liquor stores, hence the limitation on released quantity. All better for making the wine shopping exercise more adventurous and finding good-valued wines more exciting!

While I will report on VIWF list after the tasting event, here are my favourites from a series of recent wine tastings:

Sumac Ridge Steller Jay Brut

Summerhill Cipes Brut

Oak Bay Vineyard Gewurztraminer

Haywire Pinot Gris

Bodega Norton Privada

Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon

Valle Las Acequias Malbec

Coyam – Emiliana Colchagua Orgainc

Sideral – Altair Rapel Valley

Concha Y Toro Marques Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon

Santa Rita Medalla Real Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

Edge North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

Prices and availability do vary a bit depending on location of purchase, vintages or stocks on hand. However, these fit in nicely my personal taste profile and some wouldn’t hurt cellaring a year or two before uncorking them. Cheers!

2011 haywire PN     Summerhill Cipes