Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Shore Club - Where Meat Meets Mollusc

I remember walking along Granville - year after year - wondering about what would become of the historic and vacant Hudson Building at Dunsmuir. The building was finally gutted in 2007 and steak magnate David Aisenstat was able to lease the space in June of that year. He promptly hired Elaine Thorsell of Boti Interiors to begin an $8 million renovation of the space, and the interiors were coated in a mid-century patina of Mahogany and dark velvet. The nine-meter neon sign out along Granville also fits in nicely with the retro Vogue and Orpheum singage, which mark a revival of the city's theatre district that was thriving in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Shore Club is divided between two floors: a casual and lofty lounge on the bottom, and a formal diningroom upstairs. Reflecting Aisenstat's passion for the East Coast steakhouse and the bygone "dining club" era, the lounge specializes in cocktails, but they also have a fine selection of draft beer.

Six of the nine people at our table ordered (surprise, surprise) steak. Our placid waiter recommended the bouillabaisse and the filet-prawns surf n' turf. I decided to opt for the former because it sounded amazing and I wanted to experience something different from The Shore Club's doppelganger, Gotham. I felt bad that the only thing on my mind as the steaks approached was my meal at Gotham a while back. However, all thoughts (and I mean alll) thoughts evaporated as my dish arrived before me. The bouillabaisse was bombastic, and I could barely see everyone's expressions of exasperation over this superstructure of scallops, snow crab and shrimp...standing within a clear saffron broth. The dish also contained mussels, halibut and clams. It was a veritable Casa Batllo of crustaceans!

My dining companions touted the sauteed asparagus, the spicy mushrooms and the salt and vinegar shoestring fries as sides to their steaks. They were not so keen on the steamed broccoli, the mashed potatoes or the tempura onion rings.

While our meal was faultless, I will not be back to The Shore Club's diningroom. I would rather bask in the restaurant's $8 million lounge, watch the game on one of the numerous flatscreens, and then mosey on down to Gastown to eat from one of the city's more innovative, creative kitchens. This plan will also enable me to return home at the end of the night with an extra $30-$50 in my tight little pockets.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

MOA @ UBC (Or Rather, MOF)

UBC's Museum of Anthropology, also known as MOA, has been closed to students and punters alike for the past two years. Since 2008, UBC's Museum of Anthropology has been undertaking a $55.5 million expansion and renewal project, which has resulted in limited access to the Museum's collection.

The project has consisted of the construction of a new wing, a replacement of the building envelope, digitization of the entire collection (which can now be viewed online!) and a redesigning of the visible storage area. Now it's Museum of Fancyopology.

The one aspect of this expansion project that I am having a difficult time adjusting to is the direction in which Director Anthony Shelton is pushing the museum. For decades, MOA has been directly linked to Northwest Coast Native art. Along with the Burke Museum in Seattle, MOA has been regarded as a bastion for both historical and current British Columbian First Nations art/material culture. However, Shelton - who has a background in Aboriginal art from South America and was a professor of Cultural Anthropology in the UK - would like MOA to now display art and artifacts from around the globe. He has repeated in various interviews that only 16% of MOA's holdings are Northwest Coast in origin and that he wants the museum to broaden its focus. He recently stated in a Vancouver Sun article, "What we’re doing is repositioning ourselves as a museum of world arts and culture, which is something we’ve always been but we’ve not gotten that out there.”

While I do understand this perspective, I think this new direction will hurt the museum's reputation. First, the museum is on Musqueam land, and specializing in First Nations art pays tribute to those who have offered their land for public use. Second, there are many institutions around the world that act as general Anthropology/Ethnographic museums, and many of these institutions have better collections than MOA. The Museum of Anthropology is one of the only places in the world where visitors can see a diverse, massive collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art. Third, this shift is kind of a betrayal to those who have supported and enjoyed the museum for what it was. Heck, Arthur Erickson designed the Great Hall to specifically house totem poles! Locals and regular visitors will likely be put off by the lack of historical and contemporary Northwest Coast exhibitions now offered. 

And how generic is that new logo? Everyone is doing the circular pixel thing:

  Performance Clinic

Indra Systems 


*Shelton photo courtesy of Jason Payne, PNG
Keywords: "Alex Dawkins"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Appleseed Cast - (P)review

I bet everyone can name a few albums that have caused an aesthetic, existential shift within, when considering personal taste, auditory expectations and creative standards. Based on anecdotal research that I have conducted, in speaking with friends and family, it seems as though these pivotal albums are usually discovered and internalised during one's youth. I think this is usually reported because developing minds can absorb external stimuli extremely efficiently, and teens/twenty-somethings have the freedom to really commit time and attention to popular culture and various media. People of any age can be blown away by music and art, and change from an aesthetic experience, but it seems as though these "changes" and "shifts" are more apparent in those with impressionable minds. 

One of the albums that really changed my conception of music and helped to formulate my taste for poignant, contemplative composition was The Appleseed Cast's Low Level Owl. This complex sprawl of an album was divided into two volumes, similar to the way in which Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac were created as a single album and then divided for economic reasons. Both Low Level Owl I and Low Level Owl II are constructed around leitmotifs, recurring musical themes and melodies that the band applies to their post-rock methodology and DL4 delay pedals. Like many concept albums, it is difficult (and self-defeating) to isolate specific tracks from the work as a whole. The true skill of Appleseed lies in their ability to compose atmospheric, repetitive and evocative compositions (think Mogwai, Silver Mt Zion, GSYBE, Explosions in the Sky) which are irregularly punctuated by tight, catchy "indie"-sounding tracks. The band's ability to fuse experimental, proggy tracts of sound with catchy musical vignettes - without seeming deliberate or pretentious - creates musical juxtapositions that are entirely unique and memorable.

While I am a fan of Appleseed in general, I must admit that Low Level Owl is their OK Computer...their Andrei Rublev...their V. It is the creation that sparked their career and will be recognized as a genre-defining work in years to come.

AND: The Appleseed Cast is playing Low Level Owl I and II in their entirety on March 9, 2010 at Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret.   

Friday, February 5, 2010

Amrut - The Peatiness of Appropriation

There are several distilleries outside of the UK that are trying to piggyback on the success of regionally-specific, single malt scotch whisky from Scotland. There is Glenora Single Malt from Cape Breton, there is Yamazaki Whisky from Japan, and now there is Amrut Single Malt from India.

Let me tell you something - you alcohol imposters listed above - whisky made from malted barley and created by a single distillery and a single batch is only single malt scotch whisky if it is from Scotland. While this consumer-based cultural appropriation is not as blatant as, say, a Caucasian individual creating and selling Northwest Coast Native art or tattoo artists offering Asian characters and Celtic bands to any impulsive punter off the street, but single malt whisky is inextricably tied to Scottish culture. Of course, I realize that other cultures have made distilled liquors from barley, but these liquors lack the myth, heritage, intricacy, variety and reputation found within the world of Scottish single malt whisky.

A select number of BC liquor stores are stocking Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky. Amrut Distilleries was founded in 1948 and is based in Bangalore, a city of high elevation in Southern India. 'Amrut' translates to 'Elixir of Life' and the company was formed to provide spirits to the domestic population. The distillery began creating rum and brandy, but they also produce vodka...and now scotch. Amrut is like the Walmart of distilleries: they have everything you need. In addition to their lack of history and their factory-like production of spirits, Amrut has contributed to their own suspect reputation by offering six versions of their single malt. They have their basic Single Malt, a Peated Single Malt, a Cask Strength, a Peated Cask Strength, Amrut Fusion Single Malt (made with barley from Scotland and India), and a gimmicky 'Two Continents' Single Malt (made in India and aged at a "secret" location in Europe).

I must admit that I almost fell for Amrut's clever marketing and novelty. I recently tried their regular Cask Strength and was intrigued by the immediate citrus/picrocrocin flavours. The finish was bold but clean and caried bourbon traits. As this unique, spicy spirit flowed happily down my oesophagus I thought to myself "Just because Britney Spears has a Chinese character tattoo doesn't mean that she is Chinese". Amrut has created an interesting spirit, but it is not single malt scotch. 

To the company's credit, they to not chill-filter their products, which contibutes to the body of their beverages.