I remember when I first started watching Iron Chef (the original Japanese version), being mightily impressed with the creativity and effort that went into the various dishes.  I would sit back on my couch and envy the lucky judges who were granted the opportunity to sample the varied culinary masterpieces.  And I’d think: “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to go to a restaurant that would serve up dishes that brazenly ingenious?”.  Sure, I’d frequented restaurants that would offer the occasional intriguing menu item – braised ox-tails, chocolate-port reductions, and almond foams – but these delights were a rarity.

And then, one day, I happened across a place called Fuel.  And my prayers were answered.  Finally, a restaurant that served food that was not only inventive and adventurous but delicious as well! In no time, it became my home away from home.  In fact, back in the day, I ate more dinners at Fuel than I did in my own house.

Alas, times change.  I lost two of my longtime dinner companions and began to eat out less and less while Fuel reinvented itself, shifting effortlessly from fine dining to more casual dining. Rechristened Refuel, it didn’t miss a beat, continuing to serve up creative, quality plates like no other restaurant in the city.

Over the course of my many, many meals at Fuel (and Refuel), I developed quite a relationship with the gang (co-owners Tom Doughty and Chef Robert Belcham, and the rest of the kitchen crew led by the incomparable Chef Ted).  I greatly appreciated their work in the kitchen, their willingness to be inventive with their cuisine, and they appreciated my appreciation, serving me some of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever had in ways I’ve never seen before and since outside of Fuel/Refuel.  I attended their first Whole Hog Dinner, was one of the first to sample their crispy duck confit, enjoyed a whole crispy confit pig’s head served tableside, got to try one-time-only culinary marvels like shaved pig’s with black truffles.  And, every year, since moving the venue out of my house, Fuel/Refuel has served as the location for my annual chocolate party, prepping and serving up some incredible multi-course meals for my 40+ guests before coordinating the chocolate rush.

Like I said – this place was my home away from home, and the people who worked there became my friends.  And so, when Tom learned I was leaving town for Toronto, he suggested I come by for one final blow-out meal.  The meal to end all meals!

Apparently, Tom, Chef Rob, Chef Ted, and the entire staff at Refuel spent weeks devising the menu, sourcing ingredients, and doing test runs in anticipation of the big night.  The results?

Without a doubt, it WAS – THE MEAL TO END ALL MEALS!  Let me tell you about it…

My dining companion on this special night was my fellow foodie (and fellow Refuel-enthusiast) Denise.  We arrived at 6:30 p.m. and were ushered over to one of the restaurant’s big center tables that usually seats about eight.  Turns out, we would need all that extra room.

Tom Doughty and his "You won't believe what we have in store for you" smile.
Chef Rob Belcham and HIS "Hope you're hungry!" grin.

Tom asked us if we wanted to start with a cocktail.  I elected to go with my favorite –

The Moscow Mule! And check it out! Served in a copper mug! To date, Refuel is the only establishment outside of Tokyo that serves it so!

As much as I enjoyed my drink, I was itching to get started.  And so, I gave Tom the signal.

And the culinary extravaganza began.  Dish #1: Acadian Caviar – traditional service – and blinis cooked tableside by Tom himself.

Chopped egg yolk, shallot, egg whites, chives, and creme fraiche. My preferred combination was the chopped egg whites and chives - both subtle enough not to overshadow the...
Acadian Caviar that was surprisingly good. Missed a little bit of the pop of, say, the Osetra, but possessed of a rich, almost nutty flavor. Great. Especially since it came with a show...
Tom make buckwheat blinis.
Et voila!
Tom broke out the fine dishes for this special night. They went all out for us!

Next up was Dish#2, a one bite…

Red Sea Urchin with giant radish, green chili, and lemon. The sweetness of a light syrup married beautifully with the natural sweetness of the sea urchin.

Tom and co. pulled out all the stops for this special evening including…

The fine cutlery.
Apparently from his personal family collection. Gorgeous, no?

Dish #3…

Weathervane Scallop 3 Ways: sashimi, crispy mantle, and "gomashio". The sashimi was sweet and delicate, a sign of absolute freshness. I discard the mantle when I eat scallop because it's usually too tough to eat but here, lightly fried, it was ethereal and utterly divine. I could have eaten a bowlful! And, finally, the gomashio, was the perfect capper to the trio - the coral/roe was rich and savory.

Dish #4…

Beetroot Veloute with lardo and thick cream. The thin layer of lardo was a transparent skin atop the cool, tasty veloute.

Dish #5…

Hot Spring Egg with dungeness crab and broccoli rabe. This was one of my favorites. The different elements of this dish came together beautifully. It's topped with a mind-blowing lobster brain foam.

Dish #6…

Ravioli alla Carbonara - with pig's brain...
And black truffle!
Tom shaves.
A very generous topping! Earthy, aromatic, and toothsome.

Dish #7…

"Pushed" Foie Gras with toasted bread and maldon salt. The look and texture of ground beef tartare is achieved by passing the foie through a fine mesh (Tom named the implement but I don't recall what it is), lending it an even greater mouth-melting quality.

Dish #8…

Slow Roasted Steelhead Belly with aromatics and finger lime, cooked on a rock with steam bath. Without a doubt, the best smelling dish we were served - a heady mix of coriander, lemongrass, galangal, and holy basil. I've never tasted trout so good.

Dish #9…

Wild sturgeon...
With Sauce Chateau Chalon. The sturgeon was good, possessed of a firm, almost meat-like texture, but the real star here was the velvet, spoonworthy sauce.

Dish #10.  Okay, watching this one was a lot of fun…

Consomme Saignant (literally: Bleeding Consomme - Yes, you guessed one of the not-so-secret ingredents).

Nose to Tail Meatballs.

One of the most robust and intense cosommes I've enjoyed. Loved the meatballs.

Dish #11…

Paprikash-Stuffed Crispy Chicken Wing with creme fraiche. The wing was deboned and stuffed with an offal paprikash. Crispy chicken skin outsidel; delicious livers, hearts, and gizzard inside!

We enjoyed a glass of one of the only red wines I thoroughly enjoy…

A Three Barrel Merlot from the Montagu Cellars Winery.
And the owner of the Montagu Cellars Winery: Tom Doughty.

Next up was Dish #12:  The Lamb Neck “Kakuni” with oroshi daikon and foie gras.  The broth was poured tableside…

The neck was very tender, requiring only the slightest of nudges to come apart.  A perfect match to the daikon and foie.  Again, the broth was wonderfully flavorful.

Dish #13…

Beef Deckle Chop with BBQ sauce and white bread! Best BBQ ever!
We were slowing down, so Chef Rob came by to cheer us on. "EAT!!!"
Check out this luxuriantly marbled cap.

Dish #14…

Pierre Robert Cheese with soft herbs and crystalized textures. Some really nice taste and textural contrasts offered by the soft cheese, bread crumbs, hazelnuts, chives, parsley, and tarragon.

Dish #15…

Chocolate Consomme with Pistachio Sorbet. How the hell do you make chocolate consomme? I didn't get to find out but I'd love to know because even though it looks light, it was fairly bursting with intense chocolate richness. The pistachio sorbet was silky smooth and terrific.

Dish #16…

Chocolate Lollipop - white chocolate with liquid caramel. We were instructed to just pop it in our mouths and chew.
THIS was an impressive creation. The chocolate exterior was thin and melted instantly with the caramel liquid interior that was neither thick nor cloying but surprisingly refreshing!

Dish #17…

Peanut Butter Panna Cotta. My next favorite dessert ingredient after chocolate and pistachio = peanut butter. On this night, we covered all the bases in grand, delicious style!

Dish #18.  Well, let’s let the pics and videos do the talking here.

They begin by clearing everything off the table. And I mean everything. I was even cautioned to clear off my cell phone. Then, this was set down.
An impressive array of ingredients were lined up, everything from chocolate mousse and syrup to honeycombed caramel.
Chef Ted, torch in hand, prepares to administer the coup de grace.

The results…

Tom admitted to having gotten carried away and cautioned us against pushing ourselves. Well, we didn't finish but we certainly put a dent in this piece of dessert art.

Dish #19…

More Dessert! Hand-crafted chocolates, nougats, macarons! AND a couple of giant macarons Denise brought along because, clearly, she assumed the gang would forget to serve dessert!

It was almost 10:30 p.m. by the time we finished.  That’s a four hour 19-course culinary marathon!  And the pics, videos, and descriptions don’t do it justice.  I can honestly say that I have never so thoroughly enjoyed a meal.

I can’t think of a single thing that would have made it better.  Actually, one.  And they almost pulled it off.  Tom had arranged for my former culinary wingman, Martin Gero, to come down for the big event.  The plan was to surprise me by having him already seated when I walked in.  Apparently, Martin had gone as far as to book a ticket but, unfortunately, had to cancel at the last minute.  Still, what a great gesture.

And, finally, when I asked for the bill, this is what I received instead…

Seriously.  Leaving Vancouver?  What the hell am I doing?!

And finally…

The people that made it all possible (plus a few hiding in the back).

A huge thanks to everyone at Refuel.

I’m gonna miss you!

47 thoughts on “March 18, 2011: The Meal To End All Meals!

  1. OMG. I’m actually salivating as look these yummy images of scrumptiousness! They all look so tastey. 🙂 Hopefully, you’ll find a restaurant sush as this when you move to Toronto.

  2. “Seriously. Leaving Vancouver? What the hell am I doing?”

    Never know where the paths you travel will lead to… sometimes right back to a path you were already on. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful looking spread, such nice people! Thank you for sharing your absolutely amazing dinner with us. I have truly learned a lot about trying/learning new foods from your descriptions. Much success in the coming days and also your new job. Hope your throat is better. sleep well.

  4. “Seriously. Leaving Vancouver? What the hell am I doing?!”

    No idea. In a perfect world, you’d be writing another 5 seasons of SGA. 🙂 And inviting me to your chocolate parties.

    Lovely dinner, and what a nice bunch of people at Refuel.

    Hope you’re getting some rest!

  5. Well…I think I could at least handle the desserts. 😛

    That does sound like a wonderful meal, and I know you’re going to miss it. And what a wonderful gift to you!

    I’m really tired, or I would say something snarky or fresh. But I had practically no sleep last night at all. I tried to sleep, but woke up nearly every half hour: between 9-11 pm I really couldn’t sleep because of the esophageal spasm, finally fell asleep around midnight, only for the nurses to wake me up because my heart monitor went off (one of the sticky tabs came loose). They fixed it, I started to fall asleep again, and right back in came the nurses because the monitor was disconnected again. So they replaced one of the sticky pads. Okay…NOW I can sleep…but nope…I could not get comfortable. Would drift off for a minute or two, only to be kept awake by 1. numb hands because I didn’t have my carpal tunnel braces that I wear every night, 2. sore hip because of the bed, 3. left-over tummy pain from the spasm. FINALLY I fell asleep, only to have Vampira wake me up around 2 am to draw blood, then FINALLY fell asleep, only to get a roommate at 3 am, and getting her settled took a good hour or so. Then they woke me up to take my blood pressure, and later to FINALLY give me some meds for my tummy. At about 6 am Vampira was back to draw more blood (my arm looks like it belongs to a heroin addict!), so I decided to call my husband because I knew he had to get up early. Talked to him for about 5 minutes, and went back to sleep, only to have my mother call me at 7 am. SEVEN-friggin’-AM! Ugh. Went back to sleep and sometime between 7 and 9 they took my blood pressure again, and someone left me breakfast. At 9 the cardio doc came in, and woke me up. I have been up ever since, even going to work for a short time today. Needless to say, I’m done. 😛

    das

  6. Incredible. I am so going to get back to Vancouver at some point and try out some dishes at refuel. glad to see they appreciated your patrongage, and that they did such a superlative job. I admire people who are great at what they do and enjoy doing it. Best of luck on the move(9″? is the airline insane?)

  7. What an amazing meal! That was artistry. They planned for it like it was Christmas. What incredible people, and they cooked for you personally, right at the table. The note says it all: “Love…” followed by all the signatures. You will always have a family in Vancouver.

    But more fabulousness is calling you to Toronto, and love and family will follow you there, too: four writing friends, Akemi, and your four furry babies. The good times aren’t over, they just continue….

  8. Wow, what a fabulous meal! And, the dessert that was prepared table side certainly looked decadent. I don’t know how you and Denise managed to consume 19 courses, but my hats off to you! And, so wonderfully kind and generous of Refuel to treat you to such an incredible meal. How did this meal compare to the best meals that you had in Tokyo? Better or equal?

    As for T.O…. don’t worry, there are many fine restaurants there, too, just waiting for you to discover them. Just think of how much fun you’ll have eating your way through a new city. New culinary adventures await you!

  9. Wow.

    The food and wine, fine dishes, and personal service are all incredible. . . at a loss for words, really.

    But what really makes me tear up a little is the relationship you’ve established with these folks. The deep mutual friendship – the labor of love on their part, and a very eloquent personal note in place of a bill (when a bill would have been out of place, of course; you were their guest, clearly); and all of this resulting from your devoted and appreciative patronage – that just moves me so much. And on top of all that, the plans to have Marty G. there as a very special surprise.

    I like @Sg1efc’s comment:

    Never know where the paths you travel will lead to… sometimes right back to a path you were already on. 🙂

    And I’ll add a few lines from one of my favorite songs, “Walk on the Ocean”:

    Don’t even have pictures
    Just memories to hold
    They grow sweeter each season
    As the stories grow old. . . .
    [fade, and out]

    I hope the same will happen for you, and that all the pics you *do* have will make the memories that much richer.

  10. Heya Joe,
    Don’t know what future opportunities are for some of us to visit Vancouver, but we most definitely will – visit ReFuel in your honor and in your name.

    The dinner looks just so superb and fabulous!
    I just got home from a dinner and now am hungry again just from the wonderful pix of your event.
    ReFuel is one of a kind – the best kind!
    sylvia

  11. What a lovely send off! I’d love to have that last big desert in a huge deep dish to catch all that melty goodness. I’m fascinated by that sizzling rock; how did they heat up the rock; in the oven? Would be cool to cook that way when camping, looked very tasty.

    And the very cool science experiment with the Consomme Saignant (had to copy and paste that!) was my favorite; I hope this pops up in one of your scripts; maybe the one about the crime fightin’ foodie detective.

  12. What a wonderful, special gift the gang gave you! I’m going to dearly miss living through your visits there.

  13. Whilst none of the food really appeals to me – I admit that it ‘looked’ good.

    Is Akemi not a foodie? If not I hope that she is in training to be.

    I wish you well in your (ad)ventures on the other side of the worldCanada.

    Susan

    😉 😉

  14. For a split second, I hoped the Re in ReFuel stood for Re-incarnation. I’m so glad they did this for you.

  15. Wow, wow, wow. And wow. Just wow. The 19 dishes, wow. The pictures, wow. All that work just for you, wow. The friendships, wow. The “bill”, wow. The group photo, wow. Just wow.

  16. I echo the other comments. Wow hardly can sum up that culinary experience. You should get your own show “Joe vs. Food”, that Adam Richman can’t even hold your fork. How you two handled 19 courses is beyond me. Most people would either not finish or be violently sick the next day. You are just a food eating machine.

  17. That dessert. Where do they think up these things? Amazing.

    I had the best short rib ever tonight. It was one rib. I kid you not. It was enormous and tasty. Probably not as wild and crazy as Refuel, but a good restaurant. Now I can’t breathe. I don’t know how you manage to eat that much.

  18. Okay I must be hormonal, their note made me tearful. A superb incredible meal followed by graciousness of unbelievable level. The meal to end all meals indeed!

  19. I’ve never had a multi-course meal, or have I eaten anything fancy like that.. maybe some day.

    Bacon IS meat Candy, also, the girl on the left is pretty.

    -Bryan.

  20. Just a question for the next mailbag:

    Someone commented a few days ago that the chances for a 3.season are zero (sad, but I knew that) and the chances for a movie are almost zero (that was new to me and totally shocked me, as it is/was something of a last hope). So the question is: is it true – almost no chance for a SGU-movie?

    And if the chances are indeed almost zero: Will you let us know how the conclusion of the last episode of season 2 was planed, as it is said to be a cliffhanger? Only after it has been aired of course. And maybe also let us know, whether the Destiny and it’s crew would have ever found the intelligence that was present at the time of the creation of the universe? If Destiny’s mission would have ever been fullfilled?

    Thank you so much for the occassional behind the scenes photographs, videos and infos. I appreciate them more than you can possibly know and wish I would have known your blog before the cancellation. Sadly I only found it on the day of the cancellation of SGU.

  21. Wow, thats epic

    Even though I have never met them, or eaten there, through your blog it seems like I know the guys at Fuel(Re-Fuel), they are great people and though it was very touching at the end 🙂

    So kudos of the highest order to them

  22. Hello!! ça va ? moi aussi

    Je vous souhaite une joyeuse fête!!! et oui…c’est la saint Joseph today:)

    Waou!! incroyable toute cette nourriture, ça a l’air appétissant!

    Passez un exelent week end!!!!
    Gros bisous!

  23. Hi Joe!!

    Hope u & your´s r feeling very well. Thanks 4 sharing the pics and your experience.
    U can believe me when i say i love good food (Who doesn´t?), but what you´d experienced at this special place u r told from is surely great.
    Did ya taste buds danced excessive? I think so.
    Hope 2 see ´n read more from such extravagant places, even if i believe it´s hard to find another one like that. Impressive!
    Don´t wanna swap ya life with mine for a week? lol
    Best wishes 2 you, your family & the gang and all of ya friends. Stay healthy and always in a good mood.

    Whining Wolf

  24. The people over there at Refuel truly do ROCK!

    I am so going there (TWICE!) when I get a chance
    to visit that area.

  25. That was so sweet, I’m almost tempted to get sappy. Almost.

    Seeing as how classy it all was, me hillbillying up the place shouldn’t hurt.

    At what point does it cease being called cooking and deserve the accusation of witchcraft? A bubbling cauldron of herbs, deboned chicken wings (tell me how that’s done without the dark arts), and forks with just three tines! I think I’ve made my point.

  26. Wow! That was an exquisite meal. Thanks for sharing. That will be a restaurant I will certainly go to if I ever get to Vancouver.

    Hope you are feeling better!!!

  27. Whoa. That was a meal worthy of an Olympic gold.

    Very appropriate quote from Fringe last night SG1efc. Fits the occasion.

    If I’m ever back in Vancouver, I’m definitely checking our Refuel.

    Glad to see your sore throat did not stop you from your glorious meal. I hope it is feeling better, Joe, today.

    It’s always so hard to say goodbye, or even just farewell, to people. I’m not good at it at all (as I sit here wiping tears from my eyes imagining you saying goodbye to them).

  28. You might have to get a seat-belt extender for the plane, after that meal..

    I didn’t think it was possible, but thanks to that song…. I now hate Friday.. That girl and her song…

    Speaking of, this video says it all.

  29. This blog gave me a big smile. Great people at Fuel! If i’m ever gonna fly over to Canada i’ll make sure to stop by. Thanks for sharing Joe!

  30. Amazing meal! And more amazing that you were able to eat all of it!

    I’ll bet everyone else in the restaurant was in awe of your fabulous food. Especially that second dessert/food art/chocolate explosion!

  31. I just watched the last sgu ep. Is there a mistake or Sam still a Colonel? I thought she was a General now…

  32. WOW! It’s really nice that you’ve got such a great group of friends. It was incredibly generous of them to put on such an amazing meal! I hope all works out in terms of moving to Toronto for you. (Though I think that finding friends like these will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, I hope that you find a restaurant there to enjoy too.)

    🙂 Maria

  33. Holy crap man. That’s insane!

    Well, it’s official. I’m definitely hitting up ReFuel again the next time I’m in town, even if it kind of destroys my grad student budget; I don’t care, it’ll be worth it.

    You think they’ll give me a discount if I say I know Joe (through the Internet)? Something to consider, perhaps. 😉

    Now excuse me while I go home and eat left over fried rice.

  34. That is one great looking meal! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    I hope Das and Mr. M. are both feeling better today.

  35. What an amazing meal. How nice of them to treat you and Denise. Thanks to the gang at Fuel and Refuel for letting you share all those interesting meals with us over the years. I will miss them in your blog.

  36. WOW. That’s all I have to say. What a dinner. What a fantastic, giving, and amazing set of chefs. Thank you for sharing this with us all!

  37. To call that a meal would be too small of an understatement! I am left nearly speechless after these last two food post. Refuel went truly all out. The closest I have ever come to any thing they prepared is my brazed salmon in Pesto. The best salmon I remember eating was at that Indian Island out in Puget Sound near Seattle. But this was a show, an event, an extravaganza!

    Having watched and read you posts I can only gaze in wonder and astonishment.
    You have defeated the Gastro-orgasmatron.

    I will make Refuel a No. 1 priority once I am in Vancouver.

    Great place, great people, great company, great food; what more is there?

    After the meal did you have room for a mint, even just a little one?

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