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 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.