Monday, March 29, 2010

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Show

Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery is presenting a unique show based on the drawings and sketches of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun from the past thirty years. Titled Neo-Native Drawings and Other Works, this exhibition includes a variety of studies and preliminary drawings. This show runs from March 19 to May 16, 2010.

Yuxweluptun, a Salish/Okanagan artist, graduated from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 1983. He has since achieved international acclaim with his surreal and abstract interpretations of Northwest Coast aesthetic systems. Exhibitions of his work have been held in Taiwan, Paris, Zurich, Portland, and throughout Canada. For anyone that is at all familiar with Yuxweluptun's work, this show provides the opportunity to see a different side of the artist. Similar to the drawings of Da Vinci (which are at the Vancouver Art Gallery right now), or any established artist for that matter, sketches and studies explicitly reveal raw talent and intimate details. In many ways, they are more educational and entertaining than the finished product!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Breakfast in Vancouver

Why don't Vancouver restaurateurs know how to run successful breakfast spots? I visit Bellingham and Portland regularly, and both of these cities have more great places for breakfast than you can shake a waffle at. In fact, breakfast is one of the best things about the States. I would (will?) actually move to the US because of the plethora of greasy spoons, cafes, cha chaan teng, pancake houses and diners...and the superb Arts institutions. Vancouver restaurants believe that breakfast must be on equal standing with the other meals of the day in terms of quality, complexity and price. Due to this pretentious and unworldly practice, it is incredibly difficult to score a decent breakfast for under $8.00. What ever happened to the $2.99 bacon n' eggs? Where did the classic 2-2-2 for $6.00 go? Even a visit to America's corporate, not-so-greasy spoon, Denny's, will set you back $10.00 per person. I'll tell you where you can slam your over-priced 'Sizzlin' Skillets' grandly.

Like an addict, I go out for breakfast often in Vancouver. I just can't resist the temptation of having someone bring me endless coffee, cholesterol-imbued protein, and buttered toast on those uneventful, groggy mornings. Here are my "favourite" places, in no particular order: 

Sevasty's Coffee Bar and Grill (Net Loft, Granville Island)
The Net Loft is an odd little structure located just before Granville Island's Public Market. Amongst the shops selling cards, crafts and Canadiana in the Net Loft is a tiny coffeeshop that is operated by a mother-and-son duo. I do not frequent this cafe because it is outstanding, but it is one of the few places that serves breakfast items on the island, and their breakfast bagel matches up perfectly with a piping (travel) mug of joe.     

Paul's Omlettery (6th Avenue and Granville)
Paul's is my current favourite, as their menu is diverse and the service is great. The owner,  Dino, is often there pouring (the great) coffee and is always attentive. When it comes to breakfast, the details always make or break a place for me, as I have "particular" tastes. For example, I hate running out of jam for my toast, but Paul's serves their jam in little cups and you can ask for as many as you desire. The wait staff are always sure to ask if you would like their homemade hot sauce too, which I appreciate. Paul's is on the borderline of being pricey, but it is reasonable at this blog in time. 

Joe's Grill (4th Avenue and Arbutus)
Joe's just raised their prices a few months ago, but previous to this they were purveyors of the best breakfast deal in Vancouver: The Waffles Combo. Consisting of two waffles, two eggs, two bacon, two sausages and fruitcup - for $7.95 - the Combo had you covered on all angles. This dish is now $8.95, but Joe's offers other greasy spoon specialities at a reasonable price. I also recommend their corned beef hash and breakfast burrito. Pass on the omelettes. FYI: there is a Joe's Grill on Denman Street too, and both serve breakfast all day long! Speaking of all day breakfast...

9th Avenue Grill (Broadway and Burrard)
All. Day. Breakfast. So much more meaningful to me than those other three significant words. I love you, All Day Breakfast. I wish I could marry you. This way, I wouldn't have to make you eggs in the morning, and I could indulge myself by having brinner most every night. 9th Ave Grill is a fairly standard faux-diner, but they do have a well-constructed Greek omelette and an affordable 2-2-2 deal. Coffee is not great, but it will always be in your cup because the service is quick and consistent. 

Zen Cafe (1st Avenue and Yew)
The best thing about Zen is that they allow you to split your bennie orders. In fact, they encourage you to order two different types of eggs benedict. I have never found Zen especially comfortable, and I believe this might be a negative subconscious reaction to the abnormally low ceiling and cramped seating arrangement. The food, however, has always been good. Again, I wish it were a few dollars cheaper per dish, but I suppose I should stop complaining about value whilst dining in Kits. Pass on the pancakes...bennies and french toast is where it's at, yo.

Reno's Restaurant (Broadway and Main)
You will likely be accosted by a rubby or become depressed by the drab interiors whilst eating at Reno's, but at least you will be happy that you found an all day breakfast special in shi-shi Vancouver for under $4.00. You stick it to those yuppies, Reno. Stick it with your truly greasy spoon.

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins Vancouver", "Vancouver Breakfast"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blondy's or Brunettes?

As anyone who knows me or reads my reviews is well aware, I have an unusual passion - bordering on obsession - for small, individually- owned coffeeshops. I love everything about them: the "little guy" acumen, the attention to detail, the superior coffee, the idiosyncratic interiors, and the fact that there is still a need in society for establishments dedicated to socializing and idea-sharing (even if it IS in the form of wi-fi...which Blondy's provides).

Although I only work four blocks from Blondy's, the proprietress' mother had to inform me of its existence and encourage me to try it out. I am glad I had this chance encounter with the owner's mom because this coffeeshop is literally a hole in the wall. Okay, it's not "literally" a hole in a wall along 4th Avenue, but it *is* a hole-in-the-wall in the colloquial sense. Right on the NW-corner of 4th and Pine, Blondy's is sandwiched in betwixt a board shop and an electric scooter rental storefront.

Speaking of sandwiches, Blondy's makes some good ones, and they always have one or two vegetarian options, which I value, even though I am not vegetarian. I have had their wild mushroom and goat cheese panini, as well ask their Mexican chicken toasted sandwich. These are priced at $6.95, which I think is a tad high but is kind of a standard price now for joints like this. Blondy's also has a decent selection of baked goods, some of which are made by the owner and some of which are brought in.

Most importantly, the coffee is great. The baristas definitely know what they are doing, and are clearly prepared for the picky palates of Vancouver coffee connoisseurs. My one criticism of this cafe is that the aforementioned baristas are a bit obnoxious and overly-friendly. Plus, there always seems to be a gaggle of young, jabbering riders hovering around the entrance, who are somehow associated with the ownership.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fresh is Best - In Guac We Trust

I feel kinda funny writing a review for a company that is based in Kamloops and only has one storefront. This storefront is three blocks from my apartment though, so I believe that this justifies my literary efforts.

Fresh is Best is based on a fairly simple concept: they sell fresh tortilla chips, and Mexican condiments/dips to accompany these chips. The key to the success of this culinary venture - like so many operations involving food - is that they create few products very well. This is much preferred over creating numerous products in a mediocre manner. The chips and dips that Fresh is Best create go extremely well together too, which is a good thing because the company's name is superlame.

While I have not tried every dip that the company produces, I have indeed depended on a fair number of these (along with a few wobbly pops and a bag of their chips) for late-night dinners. My favourite dip that Fresh is Best concocts is the guacamole. Yes, I know that only suckers buy guacamole because it is ridiculously easy to make, but we all have those evenings when we just don't want to venture out for avocodoes, cilantro and limes. FIB's guac contains intense citrus, chunky fresh tomato, and hair-curling onion/garlic domination. I really appreciate how they don't puree the ingredients. The hand-chopped salsa is also great, as there is an emphasis placed upon cilantro and jalapenos. 

The only other product I have tried is the tropical fruit salsa (which I found to resemble a chutney rather than a salsa for chip-dipping), but FIB also produces a hummus, tzatziki, garlic-spinach dip and a smoky black bean dip.

I have saved the best for last: the chips! These tri-coloured wafers comprised of artery-clogging fried cornmeal are a perfect balance of salt, crunch and density. They are a tiny bit thicker than your average tortilla chip, which encourages rigorous dipping. These chips also hold salt very well, perhaps due to this abnormal density.  

Fresh is Best's Vancouver branch is located at 2972 West Broadway, at Carnarvon.

Thanks to friend Ken Blaschuck for bringing me free chips and guac, and for getting me hooked on this deep-fried-corn-and-avocado diet.