Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 10 Albums of 2011

This list of 2011’s best albums, according to the baroque and diverse tastes of ABCD, comes with a disclaimer.

Disclaimer: I was on the road for much of the year and have not put in the hours and hours of listening that I usually complete. This list, which has been presented in random order, is based on albums that I was exposed to whilst traveling and the music that I have been obsessively catching up with over the past two weeks.

1) Austra - Feel it Break
With a Stevie Nicks vibrato and charging keyboard accompaniment, Katie Stelmanis' Austra creates songs that are melodramatic but catchy. Like The Organ and Beach House (who were on my list for 2010), Austra creates a distinctive sound by combining deep, commanding vocals with New Wave synth. While Stelmanis is tempted to wander into pop territory once in a while, this is essentially music of sacrifice and Gothic beauty. Darken Her Horse and The Choke will hook you on this kickass Canadian band.







2) The Jezabels - Prisoner
Boy, is this a good year if you are into bands led by women with deep, haunting, octave-hopping vocals. I saw The Jezabels in Adelaide this past November and was really impressed with the wall of sound created through the use of their chorused guitar strumming, the spacey keyboard backing, the steady syncopated drumming on most tracks, and Hayley Mary's "banshee" vocals (great description, Beardo). This is their first LP, and it is evident that The Jezabels need to explore new sounds. I don't think Hayley is really able to alter her singing style, so it will be up to the band to lead her away from her epic, Kate Bushesque tendencies. The following video is awesome for two reasons: first, it features the music of said band; and second, it contains some of the most jaw-dropping BMXing I've ever seen...







3) Gotye - Making Mirrors
With tickets still available for his Vancouver show on April 8, Wally (oh, sorry...Gotye) has been selling out mid-sized venues down under for over a year now. Man he's popular in Australia and New Zealand. With musical stylings echoing Sting and his fellow Melbournians Crowded House, Gotye produces eclectic pop-rock that borrows from many, many genres...he even busts out the Auto-Tune for one track. When I first heard Eyes Wide Open I pictured Gotye as a middle-aged, Irish, ex-member of a folk group from the early Nineties, who is making an effort to revitalise his career with help from a clever production team and primarily rock-based tracks. I was very, very wrong. One more thing I like about Gotye is that he was born in Bruges, one of my favourite cities!



4) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Before seeing the Fleet Foxes in Paris this past May, I was indifferent towards the asymmetrical harmonising of this sextet from Portland. I found their flower power a cappella and heavy reliance upon ballads kind of passé, and I thought they needed to grow some balls, in general. When I saw them this spring, it was an incredibly warm evening and the venue's air conditioning just happened to break down an hour before the band hit the stage. There was no circulation, and the hundreds of bodies in La Bataclan began to drive the temperature into the nineties. Unlike The Kings of Leon, The Fleet Foxes did not cancel the show due to extreme heat. They stuck out a ninety-minute set, thanking us for tolerating the crappy conditions, and also exposed me to the excellence of Helplessness Blues. This album has a great mix of ballads, solo pieces, Sixties psych-folk, and indie rock. I also think that The Shrine/An Argument is one of the best songs I have heard all year. 



5) Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
I have a few favourite bands that always deliver (to my particular tastes, that is). Releases by Hot Water Music, Sigur Ros, Radiohead and Mogwai never fail(ed) to progress and contain a great deal of complexity. EITS also falls into this category. Ever since my sister bought me How Strange, Innocence ten years ago (wow...TEN years ago?!) this band has been on constant rotation on my computer, in my CD players, and on my various i-gadgets. With songs that often exceed six minutes in length and are composed of various transitions/movements, EITS albums can stand up to countless listens and are great to play when studying or reading. Fortunately, I still have a term to go before obtaining my MA!  

6) The Roots - undun
Dear Roots, 

There was really no need to make me like you even more than I already do. Your  unexpected collaboration with the amazing Sufjan Stevens, and your creation of a clever concept album - akin to Pedro the Lion's Winners Never Quit and The Who's Tommy - has elevated you to one of the most prolific and dynamic hiphop bands ever. If you continue to push the boundaries of jazz, rap, and urban music, and keep creating albums of this caliber, I may have to promote you to my Favourite Bands category. Don't make me do this, Roots. Once I do this, there is no going back.


Sincerely,


Alex


Postscriptum - the short film is just excessive...you have no right to be this productive while you are playing for Fallon every night:




 


7) M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
I am not a multi-instrumentalist, nor am I a musician! If I were, I could definitely imagine becoming obsessed with pushing my own skills and output, and becoming less in tune with the needs and desires of my audience. M83 is becoming more complex and epic, but the group is always accessible, and this is just one of the reasons why I really appreciate the astral electropop of Anthony Gonzalez and company. Since their first release in 2001, band members have come and gone, the group has switched from stellar instrumental work to lyric-based pop, and they have managed to remain relatively unknown despite recently touring with the Kings of Leon and Depeche Mode. This double album based on the fluidity of dream logic is the band's most epic effort to date, and I was very happy to hear Morgan Kibby on many of the tracks. I would have her babies.  


8) Kimbra - Vows
Holy cow, can this pint-sized Kiwi belt the tunes! I attended Adelaide's Parklife Festival this year to see another New Zealand outfit, The Naked and Famous, but Kimbra stood out as one of the best acts of the day. With the intensity of Florence + The Machine and lithe allure of Lykke Li,  Kimbra creates songs with clever mixing, numerous layers, and a soulful edge. I have heard comparisons to Amy Winehouse, but Kimbra's music is more playful and positive.  She recently collaborated with Gotye (see above) and won the New Zealand Critics' Choice Award, so I am sure you will be hearing about this one in no time.

9) Real Estate - Days
Music in this genre is usually too straightforward for me. While the Beach Boys and Weezer made careers out of producing peppy (yes, I just referred to Weezer's career in the past tense), carefree tunes that are perfectly suited to barbecuing and chino shopping at the Gap, their lyrics and compositions could often be unpackaged and understood after the first few listens. I have known about Real Estate for a few years but always thought their music was one-dimensional, vapid, and sloppily produced. With this album, Real Estate is still one-dimensional and fairly superficial, but they sound great and have produced some catchy songs that should accompany such mundane but enjoyable tasks as folding laundry or taking an afternoon drive to get ice cream on a warm summer day.    

10) Wild Beasts - Smother
It is easy to mock or dislike the Wild Beasts. The lead vocalist is often comically theatrical, they haughtily named themselves after the art-historical Fauves, and the band is from England's beautiful but backwards Lake District (I visited the band's home village in 2007 and can confidently state that the music reflects the quirky charm of Cumbria). I had heard bits of their past two albums, Limbo Panto and Two Dancers, but found their sound inconsistent and affected. This album is more thoughtful and kind of eerie, which actually suits Hayden Thorpe's vocals.   


 
"gotye vancouver", "austra canadian", "austra vancouver", "top albums 2011", "alex dawkins"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bellingham Beer Lab

What do beer aficionados do when they have become competent home brewers yet cannot afford to construct their own microbreweries? Illicit and home brewing is popular in North America, but there are few avenues for those who want produce beer on a commercial scale and turn their hobby into a career. My good friend, Josh, is one of five brewers behind the Bellingham Beer Lab, a cooperative brewery that will soon be opening just south of the border. 

At this point in time, Black Star Co-op is the only cooperative brewery in North America. Located in Austin, Black Star is a microbrewery and brewpub that meets operating costs through the sale of memberships. Members  pay a one-time or payment-plan annual fee that entitles them to discounts on beer, voting power for the Board of Directors, free birthday beers, and invitations to exclusive members events. Black Star generates day-to-day funds through their bar, by offering growlers for take-away, distributing kegs to local businesses, and selling merchandise. The Bellingham Beer Lab is using a similar business model to Black Star in that their initial memberships cost $150.00 USD and liquidity is maintained through the brewpub. In short, as a member of the cooperative you are a part owner of the business.

The benefits of this business type extend beyond the creation of local entrepreneurial opportunities and the provision of diverse beverage options. This collective structure promotes development and growth in each brewer, as the co-op is viewed as a transitional enterprise to assist brewers in achieving their goal of opening their own, independent breweries. After one brewer moves out, another moves in. This concept of production is also linked to civic pride and community building. Each brewer within the cooperative will have numerous ties to the neighbourhood and region, and will attract a unique client base. Most cooperative business models, including the BBL, make an effort to incorporate local resources. Some BBL brewers, for example, will make an effort to use Washington State hops and domestic barley. The beer produced by the BBL will, therefore, reflect the people, produce, and pride of Bellingham.

Another great thing about this particular project...it will be located just 45 minutes south of Vancouver. You can become a member, shoot across the border, fill up some growlers, and be back in Vancouver for dinner with your fresh, microbrewed beer. Keep up-to-date with how the business is progressing on Facebook. Just search "Bellingham Beer Lab".

Josh (Right) and the BBL Boys at the 'Best of the Bay' Brew Competition

"Alex Dawkins Vancouver", "Bellingham Beer Lab", "Vancouver Beer"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Australian Cuisine?

No, there isn't really an "Australian cuisine". But if you keep reading, I will tell you about some items and recipes that are uniquely Australian, and appetizing. Having spent the past month down under, I have discovered that Australia is a lot like Canada when it comes to renowned foods and dishes of national pride. That is, both of these countries are so young and such a mishmash of cultures that many popular victuals have appropriated origins. In Canada, Montreal smoked meat can be linked to the Jewish Diaspora from Eastern Europe, and toutins/bannock/beavertails are based on the First Nations' fondness of fried doughs. Australia's widespead consumption of meat pies is directly connected to the country's colonial past, and the popularity of Asian restaurants and supermarkets can be explained by geography, but Aussies have invented some meals and foodstuffs that they can truly call their own:

Lamingtons
Deceptively enjoyable, these coconut coated rectangles of chocolate covered sponge cake can be found in most Australian bakeries. They look fairly bland and one-dimensional but these light and flavourful pastries vary a great deal in terms of texture and composition. Some contain a layer of jam, some have a thick chocolate coating, and sometimes the sponge cake is really dense. I also like lamingtons because they are fairly large and satisfying but are not created with a butter/lard based dough that is the base of so many baked goods.    


Ned Kelly Pies
Due to their colonial origins, Australians love meat pies and sausage rolls, yet they have created several items to call their own. Kangaroo pies are not uncommon, and Ned Kelly Pies can also be found at the better bakeries around the country. Ned Kelly was an outlaw born in 1855, just north of Melbourne, who spent several years in his twenties hiding from the law in the outback. In order to provide extra sustenance for those days in the outback when you are...you know...shooting at coppers and robbing farmers, Ned Kelly Pies are topped with a fried egg and broiled cheese.  We found some acclaimed pies at Beck's Bake House, and I was surprised by how well all of the ingredients melded. I was scared the Ned Kelly would be heavy, like its namesake's infamous iron suit, but it was bold and delectable

BAM: My Sis and Dan

Anzac Biscuits
Associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), these robust cookies were often sent overseas to the troops of Oceania who were fighting in WWI. Composed of oats, coconut (they love this stuff!), sugar, golden syrup, butter and baking soda, these biscuits did not spoil easily as they travelled thousands of miles to sustain and cheer-up soldiers fighting abroad. They are fairly average when considering ingredients and taste, but they are ubiquitous. Similar to Girl Guide cookies in North America, Anzac biscuits are often sold to support an organization, the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL). However, they can also be found in most supermarkets and bakeries. 

Pie Floaters
This dish seems as though it should be popular in Eastern Canada or Quebec. It shares traits with Canada's famed poutine and it is ideal for cold weather, rather than the dry heat of South Australia where it originated. This meal looks about as appealing as it sounds. It consists of a meat pie, usually beef, that is served in a bowl of pea soup. To soup-up the unappealing appearance of this hearty delicacy, servers often smother the top of the pie in ketchup. Due to the fact that it is warm most of the time in Australia, and to the fact that the bigger cities here all have great cafes and restaurants, this sloppy mess is usually a favourite of late night carousers.   

"Alex Dawkins", "pie floater"

Saturday, September 10, 2011

October Concert Highlights

Vancouverites are fortunate to have some great gigs coming to town this October; unfortunately, I am in Australia. While I was creating this entry I was perusing the Pollstar website and it really was painful to read about all of the awesome shows that I will be unable to attend. I knew what I was getting myself into when deciding to undertake an eight-month trip though, so I will have to settle for vicarious concert-going experiences, created through Georgia Straight reviews, You Tube clips, and descriptions from friends. Coincidentally, two of the bands that I am (highly) recommending are from Oceania!   

Cut Copy - Vogue - October 7
I am a runner, and a portion of my music harvesting is based around bands that produce complex, 150-bpm music. I am pretty picky when it comes to electronic, up-tempo music though because the repetition and laptop-reliance of most dance music becomes boring after a few minutes. My legs might like run-of-the-mill house music, but my brain needs to be doing something while my body is busy exercising. Bands like Block Party, Daft Punk and Cut Copy use a wide variety of instruments and effects to produce songs that are both stimulating and spirited. Hailing from Melbourne, Cut Copy has been around for more than a decade and are known for creating poppy tracks with clever synth/keyboard effects and smooth vocals. It is rare to find an electronic group that: plays actual instruments, produces great vocals, and walks the line between techno and pop. In Ghost Colours has been on my Shuffle for two years!    

The Naked and Famous - Commodore - October 11
My sister turned me onto this Kiwi group and there are three or four outstanding tracks on their debut album, Young Blood. Their sound is immature right now - some of their songs run out of steam mid-way through and some of the songs end awkwardly - but Alisa Xayalith's dynamic vocals and the band's dense synth-pop compositions are very promising. They are actually in the same category as Cut Copy, but they are not as electronic. This will be a good chance to see some up-and-coming kiwis at Vancouver's best venue.




 
 

Friendly Fires - Commodore - October 18
Like Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours, the Friendly Fires debut album from 2008 has been on my running playlist for two years. My favourite song from this debut is 'Jump in the Pool'. Like most of their songs, 'Jump in the Pool' is heavily mixed and super snappy, but all of the digital detailing and  effects cling to a rock nucleus. Unlike The Naked and Famous and Cut Copy, the  Friendly Fires are guitar driven, with synthed percussion often mixed over the band's tracks. The band members met in highschool (in St Albans...where my great grandparents were married!) and originally played dark post-rock. Post-rockers love guitars - especially screwing with them to produce unusual sounds - and this love is evident in the music of the Friendly Fires, despite the glossy production of their past two albums. Ed Macfarlane, the lead singer, started experimenting with keyboards and laptops in university, and then the band as a whole really embraced electronic elements in 2007. The band is currently touring to promote their new album, Pala. 

"A.B.C. Dawkins", "Alex Dawkins", "Vancouver concerts"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beyond Pho Bo and Ga

Before I left on my RTW trip in April, everyone told me that food was one of the true highlights when travelling through Vietnam. While I did believe that the food would be great, I was fairly ignorant of Vietnamese cuisine and assumed that the range of dishes would be limited. Before my travels, I had tried pho, salad rolls, spring rolls, brochettes, and canh sour soup. I definitely did not expect the range of regional specialties (from Hoi An's cao lau to Hue's banh khoai), and there are many more snacks/street food options than spring and salad rolls.

I ate pho every two or three days. With its comfort food elements and $1.00 price tag, it is very hard to resist. Most people have heard of pho, but even this ubiquitous noodle soup can vary a great deal when considering spices and ingredients. The good pho shops offer you a bowl containing rice noodles, thin slices of beef (bo) or chicken (ga), chives, Thai basil and a zesty broth...but they also provide you with a side dish containing bean sprouts, kaffir leaves, thin savoury doughnuts, and more basil. You can further customize your soup with the soya, chili sauce, pepper and hoisin sauce on offer. 


I actively sought unfamiliar dishes to avoid getting stuck in a delicious pho rut, and while this did result in the accidental consumption of chien, it also led to some wonderful culinary experiences:


Chao Tom 
I started seeing this dish on menus beginning in Hue. I completed a South-to-North route in Vietnam, and did not see chao tom in restaurants or on streetside barbecues until I reached the country's half-way point. Chao tom consists of a sweet, seasoned shrimp surimi formed around sugarcane spears. The spears are then grilled or barbecued, and often served with a sumptuous selection of accompaniments to be rolled within banh trang (rice paper). These additional ingredients often include julienned carrots, bean sprouts, basil, fried onion, peanuts, and vinegary fish sauce. You remove the shrimp mousse from the sugarcane as you compose your roll and can customize each one.




Hanoi Cha Ca


Cha Ca
This dish originated in Hanoi and was made famous by the Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant. It is so famous in the city that there is even a Cha Ca Street! I went to Cha Ca La Vong but was not impressed by the decor or the staff so opted to dine at the New Day Restaurant on Ma May. This entree is based around grilled pieces of dense, fresh-water catfish (hemibargus) that are served with an aromatic fish broth created using turmeric, saffron, ginger and dill. A plate of ground peanuts, vermicelli noodles, basil, dill and fried onion is usually served with the dish. Like many Vietnamese entrees, cha ca enables the diner to customize their meal. I didn't want my sizzling, spicy fish dish to be transformed into a soup, so I just drizzled some broth over the fish and noodles. The texture of the fish was addictive, and the addition of the peanuts and fried onion created a wonderful contrast with the soft noodles. I'm going to try to make this one at home!     



Cao Lau 
Hoi An prides itself on its colonial connections and its insular ethos. This small, quaint city is a World Heritage Site that is full of tailors, artist workshops, and dainty restaurants. Food is also important to the cultural identity of Hoi An, and there are specific dishes that you will be hard-pressed to find outside of the city. In addition to White Rose Dumplings and Garlic Morning Glory, Cao Lau is a dish that is inextricably connected to Hoi An. Similar to cha ca (above), contrasting textures is key to this noodle dish. It contains broad browned wheat noodles (vermicelli can be used as well), thinly-sliced pork, delicate fried croutons, bean sprouts, mint and cilantro. It is simple but completely satisfying and fun to eat. While the ingredients are pretty much universal, the sauce that coats the noodles can differ a great deal. Some sauces are dark, meaty and salty while other sauces are light, spicy and tangy.


In terms of Vancouver restaurants that offer some unconventional Vietnamese options, My Chau and Green Lemongrass on Kingsway are solid options. While both restaurants promote their pho (yawn), they do offer some tempting alternatives. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Arcane Cambodian Cuisine

I can honestly say that I had no idea what Cambodian cuisine consisted of prior to visiting the country this summer. I wasn't particularly surprised by the ingredients used or the dishes favoured by locals, but there were many popular main courses that I had simply never heard of before. While I (usually) believe that it is a cop-out to describe something by simply comparing it to something else, I must say that Cambodian food is like a fusion of Thai flavours and Vietnamese robustness. The chili pepper is not used very much in Cambodian cooking. Heat is often added to a dish through the preparation and use of a paste called kroeung, which is commonly composed of kaffir leaves, pepper, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. This "curry" paste provides many dishes with a dark, murky character that is bold and quickly identifiable. There is also less coconut milk used in Cambodian cuisine, when comparing it to Thai cooking.

While simple noodle and rice dishes are popular throughout Asia, there are certain recipes that are famous in Cambodia. I met-up with a Cambodian friend-of-a-friend while I was in Phnom Penh and she was great in describing these recipes. She also took me to a fancy Khmer restaurant so I could sample some of the dishes. Here is what we tried:

Loc Lac
This is a stir-fried beef dish that is always served with rice. It is easy to recognize because the beef is normally cubed and served on a bed of lettuce. It is a beef party, and few vegetables are invited. The sauce is gravy-like and is composed of garlic, red onion, ginger, tomato,  black pepper and a smidge of ginger. The cubes of beef are traditionally dipped in a paste made from lime juice and black pepper before being eaten or applied to rice. After looking online, I found some reliable sources stating that this dish is Vietnamese in origin, where it is known as Bò lúc lắc or 'Shaking Beef'. However, it is now part of Cambodian culture, and attributing Loc Lac to the country's neighbour probably isn't the best idea when dining in the company of the Khmer. 

Amok
I had this dish twice while I was in Cambodia and really like its simple, fragrant character. Although catfish from Tonle Sap Lake is primarily used in Cambodia, any white fish with a flaky consistency and medium density (such as Tilapia) could be the base for this curry. Similar to Loc Lac, this entree is easy to spot because it is steamed and served in a banana leaf. The fish is mixed with coconut milk, red and green bell peppers, basil leaves and kroeung. It is served with sticky rice.


Samlor Kari
This soup took a little getting used to because it is fairly sour, but the complex flavours and the addition of a neutral meat such as chicken or pork result in a brilliant, stimulating dish. This soup is created from a tamarind base, which provides the tartness, and the broth also contains fish sauce, tomato, garlic, and chilis.

Vancouver has many Thai restaurants, and it even has a good number of Vietnamese/pho restaurants, but options are limited when it comes to Cambodian food. The appropriately-named Phnom Penh Restaurant at 244 East Georgia has received acclaim for its Cambodian-style chicken wings and its Butter Beef dish. While I have heard that prices have increased with its popularity, the Phnom Penh is one of the only places you will be able to sample unique Cambodian flavours outside of...well...Phnom Penh.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Two Drams from the Motherland

I went to university in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and one of the things that I ended up missing most about Scotland once back in Vancouver was the range of single malt whiskeys available. Before I returned home from Caledonia in 2007, I figured that I would be able to buy - or at least order - a great number of the malts available in the UK. I was wrong. The BC Liquor Control Board is very selective regarding the whiskeys that they regularly stock, and one must pay for a case (plus shipping fees, plus an administration fee) if one wishes to order an atypical whisky. 

I recently spent two weeks in Scotland and appreciated the vast array of single malts at my greedy little fingertips as much as the many reacquaintences and nostalgic activities that were completed...well, almost as much. In addition to visiting the Oban Distillery with my sister and speaking with several whisky vendors, I made a point of patronizing several of Edinburgh's more comprehensive, established bars to sample some rare single malts. 

One of the single malts that I tried was Glengoyne 10 Year. There are many things to like about this whisky and distillery: it is only one of two distilleries that still use rotund Golden Promise barley, it is distilled in the Highlands but aged in the Lowlands (which is unheard of), and it is very drinkable. I noted, however, that this last trait also detracted from the overall quality of the drink. Glengoyne's slogan is "The authentic taste of malt whisky untainted by peat smoke" and I definitely found that the lack of any peat results in a really flat finish. Like the inclusion of hops in beer, the use of peat smoke in whisky production results in flavours that compliment the bready, straightforward characteristics of barley-based alcohol. I do not enjoy peaty whiskeys, such as the Islay malts, but Glengoyne truly lacks cojones. The bouquet is wonderful, with delicate apple and grass aromas, but the whisky has zero finish and zero complexity.


Another single malt Scotch that I tried was Inchgower 14 Year. This whisky surprised me because it has a humdrum history and is the major contributor to Bell's, the vin ordinaire of blended whiskeys. Although Inchgower is owned by a corporate conglomerate and is closely linked with disgusting Bell's Whisky, it is a decent dram that I would much rather drink over any of the common single malts found in most bars and restaurants (Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Balvenie, etc). It has subtle nose, offering hints of nectarine and cardamom, and it provides a super typical Speyside flavour. With a full-mouth feel, bright copper colour, and lightly peated finish, this malt offers the drinkability of a daily Scotch and just enough complexity to keep your tastebuds engaged. 


Now the important question: will I be able to find Inchgower in Vancouver? D'oh.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

RTW Trip Regional Delicacies

My sister and I are currently completing a round-the-world trip and are nearing the end of our time in the UK and Europe. While there are not ginormous differences between British/European and Canadian cultures, we have definitely noticed some differences with regard to dining etiquette, common ingredients, and popular dishes. Below are some of the more memorable items that we have come across and tried ourselves:

Aperol Aperitif  

We had heard of Campari, or Italian bitters, prior to our travels in Italy, but we had never heard of Aperol. Aperol is a bitter, orange-flavoured aperitif that is often mixed with club soda and ice to create the Northern Italian cocktail known as Spritz. Initially, we ignored this orange drink that people were sipping every evening in the cafes of Milan. However, by the time we reached Venice a week later we noticed that practically every outdoor table was supporting a tall glass of this bright concoction. We asked a waitress why it was so popular and she explained that it is sweeter and less bitter than Campari. She also mentioned that it is affordable as a cocktail and more refreshing than wine or the (unusually awful) Italian beers regularly on offer. 

Tarte Flambee 

A note from experience: never EVER compare the Alsatian tarte flambee to a thin crust pizza made with bechamel sauce. This wood-oven baked, uber-thin pie is simple yet elegant with its toppings of lardon, onion and fromage blanc...and it is ideal beer-drinking food. We stopped by a birthday party for a friend of a friend in the Alsatian village of Roppenheim, on our way to Baden-Baden one day. The birthday boy, Julien, was very welcoming and encouraged us to stay for drinks and, of course, some flambee. We watched in anticipation as they prepared the pies in the back of the community hall, via portable wood oven. Once the pies were ready we pretty much inhaled the first round and were offered more by the generous guests. We didn't hang around for too long, however, because we wanted to see the spa town Baden-Baden before it got too late. We said goodbye to our new French friends, Julien and Marion, with a new appreciation for this northern variation of the pizza pie.  







Porchetta

While we had heard of this dish through Mario Batali on the Food Network, we had never tried it prior to visiting the Farmers' Market in Verona. Consisting of an entire de-boned, fire-roasted pig, this uniquely Italian pork roast is famous for its texture and spices. As per usual, slices of this roast were served to us in a panino, and the vendor was very careful to fill the bun with equal portions of crispy skin, succulent fat, and tender flesh. It sounds a bit gruesome, and the head of the pig that was on display in the stall was indeed graphic, but this dish really did smack of history and culinary passion. The vendor seemed very proud to serve the animal that he had raised and prepared, and the head of the animal simply acted as an acknowledgement of the sacrifices that were made in order to present the dish to the public.

Brined Herring

Paraphrasing my Dutch friend Maaike: "We are genetically programmed to enjoy nieuwe haring. Even if a Dutch person dislikes the concept of eating an entire pickled Herring by the tail, he will be unable to refuse due to our history with this fish." When I committed to trying an entire brined Herring, sans bun/sauce/barf bag, I was pretty sure that I would not be able to consume it without gagging or stopping after a few bites. I like seafood, and I have been eating smoked Herring since I was little, but the consistency of nieuwe haring from the Netherlands is something to be reckoned with. Slimy, super fishy, and dense, the texture of this speciality is quite different from smoked and/or canned Herring. I did gag on the first bite, but the flavour was rich and pleasant, so I took a breather and continued on. I admit that I did not finish the entire fish, but I did eat 80% of it.    

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Drambuie - Not Just for Old Men Like Myself

Drambuie isn't really popular with my generation, or with the kids out there who are smokin' the ecstasy and sippin' the sizzurp to get their rocks off. Despite its 250-year history, endorsements from Ol' Blue Eyes, and its popularity in the UK and Asia, most young (and youngish) people do not know why this liqueur shares the bar shelves with mundane favourites such as Jack Daniels and Baileys. Drambuie is a Scotch-flavoured beverage containing (of course) Scotch whisky, heather honey, lavender essence, and a few secret ingredients. If it sounds namby-pamby this is because it was, indeed, invented by a namby-pamby, and this namby-pamby's name was Prince Charles Edward Stuart (or Bonnie Prince Charlie, as his milksopping friends called him).

In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie made a last-ditch attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart throne in the UK. Traveling to Scotland from France, where his family had been living in exile, the Young Pretender managed to organize a strong albeit small army composed of freedom-fighting Highlanders, Catholics, and anti-Parliamentarian soldiers. Not surprisingly, Bonnie Prince Charlie was eventually defeated by the English Protestant army and fled across the Highlands towards the Atlantic in an attempt to make it back to France. During this time, he stayed with the MacKinnon clan on the Isle of Skye for several weeks. Destitute yet grateful, Charles is said to have demonstrated his appreciation by giving the MacKinnon family the recipe of his favourite beverage. Legend claims that this recipe stayed in the family throughout the 1700s, until the liqueur was later produced by a hotel on Skye. The first documented connection between Skye and Drambuie (in its current form) relates to the island's Broadford Hotel, the proprietor of which took out a patent in London on April 24, 1893 to manufacture a drink known as Drambuie

As a single malt fan, I like Drambuie when I am in the mood for a dessert liqueur or a refreshing drink. I love Drambuie Rickeys (a highball with soda water and lime) when it is warm, and I also enjoy a Drambuie on the rocks after dinner. As hinted to above, Frank Sinatra also loved Drambuie, and preferred it in the form of a Rusty Nail, which consists of blended Scotch, Drambuie, and soda water. Note: do not mix Drambuie with a single malt Scotch!

So if you have never tried Drambuie and think it is just an "old man" drink, give it a shot (pun intended). And as you are buttoning up your cardigan, lighting your pipe, getting your crossword puzzle ready, thinking about how all young people are ignorant and obnoxious, and bringing that sweet sweet Drambuie to your lips, remember the Gaelic saying that has been on the bottle for over one hundred years: cuimhnich an tabhartas orionnsa; that is, remember the gift of the prince



Keywords: "Alphabet Review", "Alex Dawkins", "Vancouver events"

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lattimer Gallery 25-Year Exhibition

Lattimer Gallery opened in its current location, in my home neighbourhood of False Creek, twenty-five years ago as Leona Lattimer Gallery. Preparing for Expo 86 and her personal vision of a Northwest Coast gallery, Leona made her first sale on June 9th, 1986 during an opening event that was well attended by artists, collectors, and friends. To celebrate a quarter century of outstanding artwork, valuable relationships, and community support, Lattimer Gallery will be featuring an exhibition titled Silver: Celebrating 25 Years. Consisting of twenty-five pieces by twenty-five artists, this show will present an exciting mix of modern masterworks and classic creations. From earrings and sculptures to paintings and basketry, Silver will contain a diverse selection of works by artists such as Phil Gray, Corey Moraes, Daphne Odjig, Steve Smith, and Bill Reid. It has always been a goal of the gallery to promote the work of young and emerging artists, and Silver will reflect this ongoing objective. The show will run from June 9th to June 30th, and a preview of the pieces will be on the gallery website by June 1st.

The gallery will also be holding an opening celebration on June 9th. With food, refreshments, and many of the artists that they represent in attendance, this event will be a great opportunity to both see the show and schmooze-it-up. The event will run from 5-8pm and guests are welcome. This is sure to be an exciting evening, and you may even leave with a new piece of art!

Friday, May 20, 2011

NWC Stormtrooper by Andy Everson

The concept of fusing pop art with aboriginal art began more than 100 years ago with the work of the Post-Impressionists. This idea is not new within the Occidental artworld, and it is not even new within the Northwest Coast artworld. First Nations artists along the coast began combining traditional art forms (such as jewellery and masks) with colonial elements (such as Victorian floral motifs and subjects) shortly after the Spanish, English and Scottish settled on the coast in the late 1700s. One of the best examples of this cross-cultural art production can be seen in argillite sculpture. Argillite is a slate-like stone that is found on Haida Gwaai and is inextricably linked to Haida culture. Haida artists began carving argillite in the mid-1800s for tourists on the coast, and many of these early argillite carvings reflect the perceived interests of colonial visitors.

Artist, dancer, scholar and printmaker Andy Everson has been creating art since 1990 that plays with themes of assimilation, integration and interpretation. The thing that I have always liked about his prints, in particular, is that that are always playful. Even when Andy is broaching serious subjects, he does it in a way that is accessible and thought-provoking. I came across one of his recent prints from this year titled 'Warrior (Or: Harbinger of the Treaty Empire?)' and love how it is continuing this dialogue between entrenched aesthetic systems and the pervasiveness of pop culture references.

This print reflects the artist's own feelings as a "trooper" in relation to the treaty agreements that are still enforced by the K'omoks (Comox) Nation, Andy's Nation...he writes: This piece is a clear nod to a favourite childhood movie. I felt it was a great metaphor for the subject matter at hand: is treaty really black and white, or shades of grey? Do the “good guys” always wear white? Will there be a treaty empire and am I part of the rebel alliance? I did insert a glimmer of hope in the chin of the mask--a small cedar tree seedling that represents a rekindling of awareness and growth. 

 

Keywords: Kwakwaka'wakw, "Alex Dawkins", Vancouver, "Native Art", Northwest Coast

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May and June Concert Highlights

Although I am on an 8-month backpacking trip around the world, I still have my finger tapping to the pulse of Vancouver's music scene. I have noted a few shows below that promise to be entertaining, if not immensely pleasurable (this sounds kinda dirty):

Mogwai - May 6th - The Commodore
I have seen Scotland's finest three times: in Glasgow, in Edinburgh, and in Vancouver. While these were not necessarily the "best" concerts I have been to, they were definitely the loudest concerts I have ever been too. Loudness has a negative connotation because it is often associated with discomfort, confusion, and the indeterminate. It can be a powerful force in music, however, when used in a calculated fashion to emphasize melody and communicate passion. I highly recommend that everyone experience Mogwai's great-wall-of-sound at least once. Oh ya...bring earplugs.

Atmosphere - May 10th - The Vogue
I am super selective when it comes to rap and hip-hop. I find it difficult to find rap that strikes a balance between grit, intelligent rhyming, and creative beats. Atmosphere, a duo comprised of MC Slug and DJ Ant, are incredibly open-minded and literate, yet they hold on to the intensity and aggression that provides good hip-hop with its engaging edge. I don't think rap translates very well to the stage, but I think this setting will be great for Atmosphere because of the clear acoustics and intimate, non-clubby setting. 

Man Man - May 17th - The Rickshaw
I am not going to pretend to possess an intimate knowledge of this band, but I will state that two people whose musical tastes I greatly respect have described Man Man shows as "off the hook". The kids these days use this colloquialism to describe something as exuberant and/or extremely enjoyable, so I suggest you "score" an affordable ticket to this "gig" which promises to be "dope". Mind you, Man Man is not for everyone. They are prone to hippie jam sets and psychedelic freak-outs, but I suppose these musical phenomena can be entertaining in and of themselves.

The Airborne Toxic Event - June 7th - The Venue
I wasn't a fan of ATE's first two albums, and I think their band name sucks, despite it being based on part of a Don DeLillo novel. As with many bands, it has taken ATE a few years to define their sound and to make necessary amendments. They were a shallow West Coast pop-rock outfit attempting to embellish their frothy music with strings and orchestral elements, which resulted in a sound that was discordant and pretentious...like a watered-down Arcade Fire. Their first album earned them a 1.6/10 from Pitchfork. While ATE's early work was (forgivably) derivative, they are beginning to produce an interesting and unique sound. This is probably the time to see them, as they are evolving...and still affordable.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Irish Heather - Long Table Series

I attended my first Long Table dinner at Gastown's Irish Heather a few weeks ago. Affordably priced at $16 per meal (which includes a pint of local craft beer), these events reflect owner Sean Heather's nostalgic affinity for the traditional and communal "sunday dinners" of yore. In an Occidental world of conveyor-belt sushi, take out suppers, and latchkey kids, it is refreshing to find a business that is promoting casual, communal dinners...with a fine dining twist.

I have always liked Gastown's Irish Heather, but their regular menu is fairly average with its focus on British pub fare. The Long Table menu features a rotating selection of meals - independent from the standard Irish Heather menu - which include roast suckling pig with rosemary apple sauce, leg of lamb with turnips and kale, and braised pork hocks with homemade sauerkraut. There are about four Long Table events every week, and the ever-changing menu items are posted the Irish Heather's Long Table blog

We booked places for the turkey dinner, and were impressed with the speedy service and generous portions. Upon making our reservation, I pictured a single chef removing several cumbersome birds from a giant oven and slowly carving each carcass while forty hungry patrons waited impatiently at the (long) table, making awkward chit-chat to distract themselves from their grumbling tummies. This was not how it went down. After downing a few pints of Blue Buck in the Irish Heather, we were summoned to the long table in the adjoining room and were immediately served a pint a of beer. The turkey, with the customary stuffing and mashed potatoes, arrived but a few minutes later, a crew of four chefs having plated the fowl as us diners took our first sips of the hoppy Riptide Pale Ale (from Lighthouse Brewing) placed before us. It was a great meal and a fun night out, although I didn't really make new friends within this communal setting. I hope I didn't let Sean down.    

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Omakase at Tojo's

I am experiencing a deep feeling of satisfaction right now. I finally dined at Tojo's, as one of the final meals I had with my co-workers at Lattimer Gallery. I have really wanted to eat at this Vancouver institution for over three years, but have never found an excuse to shell out $25 per uramaki. Tojo did, however, invent the California roll! 

We went all-out and ordered the omakase, or chef's menu, which included: tuna tataki with ponzu, various rolls, octopus salad, seared coho with Spring vegetables, a rustic stewed bluefin dish, and Tojo's signature suntan tuna. It was outstanding. I am not sure, however, that I would order omakase again now that I know the menu and have been at the delightful mercy of Tojo himself. While all of the dishes that we tried were unique and interesting, I don't think that I would order them myself if they were individual items on a menu (I'm talking to you, stewed bluefin). As ridiculous and frivolous as it sounds, I now feel like I can die a happy man. Actually...I do still want to have kids and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so it is more appropriate for me to say that I can now die a "moderately content" man.

Keywords: "Tojo's Vancouver", "Alex Dawkins", "Best Japanese Vancouver"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spirit Wrestler's 'Mini-Masterworks IV'

Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Downtown Vancouver is currently displaying their  Mini-Masterworks IV exhibition. The gallery explains that "each Mini-Masterworks exhibition is an eighteen month journey to find rare art works from the Māori of Aotearoa (New Zealand), First Nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and Inuit of Alaska and Arctic Canada".

I am fairly ignorant of both Maori and Inuit art, but I do enjoy looking at their Northwest Coast pieces. I also enjoy Spirit Wrestler's Mini-Masterworks shows because I am never tempted to buy anything. While many of the delicate, intricate pieces that they feature are awe-inspiring and completely unique, they are difficult to display and are incredibly impractical. I would much rather purchase a three-foot cedar panel, for example, than a three-inch Catlinite sculpture. Although I am less impressed with this recent outing than shows they have had in the past (what is with all of the frontlets this year?!), I do love a few of the objects.

One of the highlights is Donnie Edenshaw's argillite 'Totem Pole Pendant' (displayed to the left). Measuring just 3 1/4" x 1/4", this piece  displays the proportions and ratios of a full-size cedar pole, and it epitomizes Haida design. I have not been impressed with the work of this young artist in the past, but this is truly a masterwork. Other standout pieces include Jay Simeon's 'Foam Woman' cuff and Isaac Tait's 'Hummingbird Ring Bowl' from 1988. The show is on until April 16th, and all pieces can be viewed on Spirit Wrestler's website.   

Saturday, March 12, 2011

But Will it Whet my Appetite?

From the Sirloiner to Sammy J Peppers, the address of 1517 Anderson Street just has not been able to retain businesses for extended periods of time. There is a new kid on this block of Granville Island, and it's called Whet (Kitchen.Bar.Patio). It will be interesting to see how this new ownership handles the huge square-footage of the space and being just outside of the hubbub of the Public Market.

I popped my head in the other day and spoke to one of the new managers at Whet and he told me that the emphasis within this new venture is going to be local ingredients and bar-appropriate fare, rather than steak (a la the Sirloiner) or predictable chain standards (a la Sammy J Peppers). Most of the ingredients used at Whet will actually be coming from the Island, which is a great idea.

Whet is marketing itself as a bar and patio spot as well, so they had better start advertising drink specials. I am a regular at Granville Island's Backstage Lounge for their $1.59 cheap beer nights every Tuesday and Thursday, and it will have to take some crazy deals and/or uber-delicious dishes at Whet to earn my loyalty.

I want this business to succeed, but the competition is tough on the Island. I mean, come on...$1.59 beers! That is hard to beat, even if you have one of the largest patios in the city and local ingredients.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Suika - Breaking the Curse

There are few things as difficult for a restaurateur (and encouraging for a foodie) as providing great food and ambiance in a space that has been unsuccessful in the past. I enjoy trying new restaurants because I have a curious palate, but I also take pride in community and supporting small businesses in my neighbourhood. The address of 1626 West Broadway has not been a successful location for dining establishments over the past ten years. It was home to the morally admirable yet gastronomically average Picasso Cafe for a few years, which was a West Coast, non-profit establishment operated by employees at-risk. It was then O Thai, which showed promise when it first opened but lacked the novelty or extroversion to generate a fan base. A few months ago, Suika (Japanese for "Watermelon") opened and it's a hit...so far.

As I first walked into a bustling Suika I was impressed with the open, warm layout and the numerous seating arrangements available (a tiny sushi bar, a casual sports bar, a banquette, and regular tables). Upon examining the menu, I spotted many of the usual suspects: tuna tataki, ramen, agedashi tofu. However, there were some really creative dishes too: stewed pork jaw, grilled yellowtail cheeks, and duck carpaccio. We ordered the latter, which provided a fresh, clean tasting alternative to confit or braising. 

I really appreciate how Suika is attempting to create a true izakaya character. Of course, Suika does not physically resemble many of the izakayas in Japan (Have I been to Japan? No. Do I think I know what urban izakayas look like in the Land of the Rising Sun based on hearsay and Interweb research? Yes.) but they do emphasize drinks, promote a relaxed atmosphere, and provide the setting for ichigo ichie encounters. Izakayas should feel like local taverns, informal watering holes that promote socializing and serve suitable snacks. Suika fits this much needed mould.

Another good sign: I was the only non-Japanese customer in there! Surely the harshest judges of izakayas are those who invented them...and so far Suika is not receiving much criticism.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bellingham's Notorious Waterfront Tavern

If you are anything like me, you enjoy ending your day with a $1.50 glass of Bud Light, a crazy pull-tab sesh, and a round or two of Big Buck Hunter Pro. All of this can be yours by patronizing Bellingham's glorious Waterfront Tavern at 521 West Holly Street. Located just outside of downtown, on a dark road near the water, beside the city's crisis homeless shelter, where many of your fears and nightmares reside, the Waterfront Tavern has been a popular spot for decades because of the cheap drinks and seedy hospitality. Having served such prominent social figures as Ted Bundy and the Hillside Strangler, the Waterfront possesses a disturbing je ne sais quoi that attracts locals and visitors alike.

I actually do enjoy beginning or ending the night at the Waterfront because it is a no-nonsense watering hole that serves its drinks just-chilled and its grub greasy. Do not, however, spend an extended period of time here or you will likely end up depressed, or maybe dead. Seriously though...I do try to drink at the Waterfront every time I visit Bellingham. As a Vancouverite, I appreciate any establishment that allows - nay, encourages - its customers to drink without ordering food. There are bylaws in British Columbia that tie alcohol sales to food orders, thus restricting the amount of alcohol businesses can serve. Canada lacks taverns, and I find the expectations of food orders very annoying in this country. 

If you are wanting to order food at the Waterfront, or if someone (literally) holds a gun to your head and makes you select an item off the menu to consume, just avoid all seafood. While this is likely a no-brainer for most, one really shouldn't taunt the Salmonella gods by taking a flier on the fried oysters. You are pretty safe with the burgers and fries, but why would you ever subject yourself to this mediocrity when considering the plethora of solid restaurants in the city? It is worth noting that the Waterfront is close to Chuckanut Brewery, which serves decent pub food and is also the city's best microbrewery. I love the 'Welcome Bikers' banner in the photo. Classic. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Best Cinnamon Buns in Vancouver - God Said So

I am going to make a bold claim: cinnamon buns are the best pastry to consume with coffee. Yes, I believe that they are better than doughnuts (because of their absorbency resistance), cookies (due their structural elegance and complexity) and cherry pie (despite what Dale Cooper thinks). The sweetness of cinnamon buns counteracts the bitterness of coffee, and the earthy characteristics of the cinnamon reflect the fuscous flavour of the beans that must be roasted and ground to create a cup of joe. I have waffled on this issue for many years, but having completed hundreds of tests - utilizing baked goods from around the world - I can scientifically state that God wanted humans to eat cinnamon buns with their daily grind.

Fortunately, I have some excellent cinnamon bun providers in my vicinity. The interesting thing about this fact is that all of these providers offer unique and distinctive products:

Solly's

A Jewish bakery with locations in Kits, Cambie Village, and Main Street, Solly's offers more bagels, knish, and rugoleh than you can shake a shtekn at. I really dislike the management and service at all three locations, but I keep going back because I love their...you guessed it...cinnamon buns. With their concentrical construction and caramelized tops, these tight buns are packed with cinnamon. Their lack of icing and their thin layers also trick you into thinking that they are *slightly* better for you than a Cinnabon, but I doubt it. 

Grounds for Coffee

I have been going here for years because a) I am a professional student and b) this cafe is right beside the 99 B-Line stop where I catch the bus up to UBC. They have been making moist (ya ya...we all hate this word, but it is really appropriate here), sloppy cinnamon buns for more than a decade, but they actually expanded their business about five years ago in order to ramp up production. They now deliver their archetypal, icing-laden, puffy delights all over town. They are good, don't get me wrong, but they lack defining features.

Calhoun's

I hate Calhoun's. It's always packed with loitering UBC students, the food is average, and the uber high ceilings obliterate any hope of having a meaningful conversation or comfortable coffee break. Having said this, they regularly serve these dense, quick-bread-esque cinnamon buns that remind me of highschool Home Ec (because this is the one recipe that I remember actually working out for me). Similar to a scone in consistency, this type of cinnamon bun can be surprisingly satisfying when cut in half and embellished with butter.

Urban Fare

Although they are not available all of the time, Urban Fare's raspberry and blackberry cinnamon buns are refreshingly fruity. I am pretty conservative when it comes to the pastry standards - such as croissants, cinnamon buns, and scones - but I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of these juicy drupelets. The dough is often light as well, and they never go crazy with the icing.    

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scandirock: Efterklang & The Concretes

I recently ranked Efterklang's Magic Chairs as one of my favourite albums of 2010. However, it wasn't their music that first attracted me, it was the appearance of this Danish 8-piece in French filmmaker Vincent Moon's An Island. A nomadic, solitary director obsessed with fusing music and documentary film, Moon (alias for the much more French sounding Mathieu Saura) decided to make a movie in August of 2010 based entirely upon Magic Chairs. The film runs for the exact length of the album, and - like a good nerd should - I wanted to familiarize myself with the music before watching the movie.

I loved the album right away, and noticed that there was some element within Magic Chairs that reminded me of another group. I dug through my iTunes and CD collection to finally discover that this group reminded me of another Scandinavian indie ensemble, The Concretes. I have come to the conclusion that there is definitely a Scandinavian indie rock sound. Like The Concretes, PB&J, and Bodebrixen, Efterklang (which, btw, is Danish for "Remembrance") follows the tenets of twee but is substantiated by catchy, acute percussion. This genre, as a whole, can be identified through the use of oddly-constructed English lyrics, multi-instrumentalism, and innocent melodies that are as charming as Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina. The disturbingly blond pride and joy of Sweden, The Concretes, will be at Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret on March 1st. I always think of The Concretes as a Nordic Belle and Sebastian. Tickets are only $15...kykkeliky!

Efterklang has come through Vancouver twice now, that I know of, so be sure to catch them next time they are here. The following clip from Moon's film will whet your appetite, like sampling some smørdejgssnitter before the skinkefars:
 


AN ISLAND - 3rd TEASER - Vincent Moon & Efterklang from Rumraket on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mandala Iki: Boo For Fusion

For many people, myself included, the food category "fusion" conjures up disturbing images of vindaloo xiaolongbao and miso-glazed New York strips. A concept that exploded in the Eighties, fusion cuisine is now passé and sets off gastronomical warning bells for most foodies. This is not to say that the combination of ingredients and flavours from dissimilar cultures cannot result in creative and enjoyable dishes, but the term "fusion" has been tarnished by many culinary experiments gone awry.

I recently dined Mandala Iki Asian Bistro, at 2394 West 4th Avenue, with co-workers and was totally disturbed by the dishes served and the inattentive service. Mandala is popular because it serves brown rice sushi (which I find disturbing in and of itself!), but it also serves a slew of fusion disasters and pan-Asian classics such as sate and chow mein. To give Mandala a break, it does not market itself as a fusion restaurant. Having said this, I cannot think of anything that this establishment is doing well. Our large group of ten ordered everything from pad thai to fried rice, and every single person stated that their meal was bland and sloppily prepared. I was the poor soul who ordered the ketchup-laden, octopus-packed pad thai. This single dish has turned me off Thai food for the time being, and I freakin' love Thai food. The fried rice wasn't fried, and the Chinese dishes were wet with cornstarch slurry.

Mandala is trying to offer a menu similar to those found at the Red Door and the Flying Tiger (which is actually just a few blocks west). These two restaurants serve pan-Asian fare as well,  in addition to the occasional "fusion dish", but the chefs at these two restaurants clearly know how cook within each culinary tradition.

I found the above picture on the web and thought it visually demonstrated how bad fusion can get: motoyaki escargot!

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins Vancouver", "Sushi Vancouver"