April 19, 2013: Akemi’s Birthday Festivities!

1Yesterday was Akemi’s birthday.  I had the whole day planned weeks in advance.  As it turns out, months in advance as I learned too late that I’d actually booked us for a visit to the dentist back in October. And so, after dropping the dogs off at doggy daycare, we kicked off Akemi’s special day by having our teeth cleaned.  On the bright side, upon discovering it was her birthday, our dentist presented Akemi with a few gifts: a pink toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.

Since we had big dinner plans, we opted for a light lunch.  Relatively speaking.  We headed over to Rodney’s Oyster House where we enjoyed…

A dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Surprised?
The Manhattan Clam Chower for Akemi.
And the oyster po’boy for me – possibly my favorite sandwich. As much as I love haute cuisine, I have to admit nothing beats a po’boy.

After lunch, it was time for our couple’s massage at the Wedgewood Hotel spa compliments of sis and Daisy in Montreal.  Akemi enjoyed it immensely, declaring it the best massage she’s had in Vancouver.  As for me…meh.    I was actually more tense and sore AFTER my massage. Also, what’s the proper etiquette on underwear?  I keep mine on. Akemi is more of a free spirit.  Thus, I was inside the sauna wearing a bathrobe over my towel over my underwear, standing by the door so that I could keep an eye on my belongings outside (since no locker was provided) and give Akemi the heads up if someone was coming.  It was NOT particularly relaxing.  Also, I found it odd that we weren’t offered flip-flops and ended up having to walk around barefoot.

Still, it was Akemi’s day and she loved her massage.  And that was the most important thing.  Outside of the lack of flip-flops.

We picked up the dogs, fed them, and then it was downtown for Akemi’s birthday dinner at her favorite Japanese restaurant: Minami. It, and its sister restaurant, Miku, specialize in aburi (flame-seared sushi) and are part of a restaurant group headquartered in Japan. Most of its sushi and kitchen staff are Japanese.  In terms of quality and service, it’s the closest you can get to the Japanese dining experience without actually visiting Japan.  But I wanted to go one step further.   Aware that the restaurant sourced some of its fish from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market (along with the freshest local catches and ingredients), I contacted one of the managers and arranged to have some more unique selections shipped in for the occasion….

As per my request, we were seated at the sushi bar.  There, we were welcomed by Chef Hiroshi Hoshiko who, along with Chef Hideto-san, ensured we were well taken care of.

Dinner was fantastic, reminiscent of the many fine meals I’ve enjoyed in Tokyo.

We started with an appetizer trio: Japanese broccoli and clam, tuna tartar-stuffed ravioli and apple, prawn ohitashi (marinated in sweet vinegar).  Then, we moved on to the sashimi plate that included:

Aji (horse mackerel) tartar “namero”, aji, tuna, and two kinds of hirame (flounder).  The aji was the best I’ve had outside Tokyo and the textural differences in the two hirame cuts – one mouth-in-your-mouth tender, the other firmer but no less delicious – were terrific.

Next up –

Grilled snow crab with (cooked) tuna in what Akemi believed was a sweet and savory soy and sugar-based sauce.  Marvelous.

While we were eating, we noticed the chefs discussing the multicolored contents of a glass container.  They noticed our interest and presented us with some “kosen” –

Japanese puffed rice used in –

It was very kind of them to share.  The rice was a gift to Chef Hiroshi-san from his mother in Japan.

The next course was a heavy hitter:

Red miso-braised pork with potatoes, peas, and crisp enoki mushrooms.

My description doesn’t do it justice.  A tender, well-marbled, incredible dish.

Intermission –

Shiso and champagne granita palate cleanser with gold leaf.

And then, it was on to the sushi.  We were served a variety of fabulous nigiri.  A few of the highlights –

Tai (snapper) with sakura (cherry blossom) salt.
Bonito!  First time I’ve enjoyed it outside of Tokyo.
Sayori from the southern coasts of Japan.
Anago (sea eel)!  Much more delicate than its more common (unagi) counterpart.
Toro toro!  Another melt-in-your-mouth wonder.

In addition, we were served a traditional grilled snapper collar followed by a miso soup.  We finished with…


A delicate yuzu cake served with a light ginger ice cream, orange compote and pistachio foam.

Best Dinner of the Year.  I honestly felt like I was back in Tokyo.  Very nastukashii.

A big thank you to our sushi chefs, Hoshiko-san and Hideto-san, and chefs Kazuki Uchigoshi and Michael Acero who conceived and created our special meal.  And, of course, an equally big thanks to Minami Event Coordinator Karen Lau who made it happen.

Minami Restaurant — Yaletown Vancouver

But wait!  There’s more!  We returned home for the piece de resistance –

Akemi’s birthday cake!
Chocolate + Caramel: Flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate cremeux, milk chocolate mousse, hazelnut chantilly, milk jam, and chocolate covered hazelnuts.

Compliments of Beta 5’s Adam Chandler.  Wow!

BETA5 – Award-Winning Chocolates and Pastries – Vancouver, BC

Then, tonight, on the menu…

Oysters on the half-shell, port-braised short ribs, pork belly appies, sweet potato mash, and quinoa salad.
Oysters on the half-shell, port-braised short ribs, pork belly appies, sweet potato mash, and quinoa salad.
And friends.
And friends.

Akemi thanks you all for the birthday wishes!

April 7, 2013: Foodly Matters! And a Supermovie of the Week Club reminder!

The other night, Akemi and I checked out one of the buzziest Taiwanese restaurants in Vancouver, the well-reviewed, foodie favorite: Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant.  Akemi has a couple of Taiwanese friends who swear by the place and so, more than a little intrigued, we headed out to Victoria Street to see (and taste) for ourselves.

The restaurant is notoriously busy.  Reservations are recommended. And arriving promptly for your reservations is also strongly advised. Not wishing to take any chances, we booked a table for 5:30 p.m. and arrived early – only to realize it doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m.  And so, after a stroll through the neighborhood, we were at the door – then at our table – on time for our reservations.

It didn’t get busy until 6:00 p.m. or so at which point the tiny room was packed, mostly with – from what I could tell – regulars.  Prior to that, however, we had the place – and the staff – more or less to ourselves.  The service was attentive, friendly, and downright warm. We placed our orders and our dishes arrived sooner after, all bold, wonderfully balanced flavors.  Some of the highlights included…

Pig ear
Spicy pig’s ear.

Not for everyone but I love the texture – crunchy and chewy – and Kalvin’s version is, by far, the best I’ve ever had.  We were asked to specify a spice level and we elected to go medium, which packed a nice little kick.  Next time, I think I might hazard the hot.

Diced chicken and peanuts with chili peppers

The restaurant offers many traditional Taiwanese dishes but, as the name implies, some Szechuan fare as well – like the above dish, Akemi’s favorite.  A robust and, yes, fiery dish.  Despite their size, the chicken morsels are moist and tender, a step above the tougher, drier versions I’ve had elsewhere.

Shredded pork with garlic and chili sauce

This one came highly recommended on a couple of the foodie blogs and I wasn’t disappointed.  Also spicy but possessed of an aromatic spice I couldn’t quite place that simply wowed.

We rounded things out with a hearty, slightly sweet corn soup, 5-spice beef rolls, and a spring roll.  Throughout our meal, Chef and Owner Kalvin himself popped out of the kitchen – when it wasn’t too busy – to see how we were enjoying what we’d ordered.  And then, as more customers filed in, he broke off to greet them – most by name.  I felt like I was in the Cheers of Taiwanese restaurants.

According to Kalvin, his restaurant will celebrate 30 years in business this year.  30 years!  Given my first-time experience – and the obvious loyalty of his cliente – I’m not at all surprised.

Chef Kalvin and (I believe) his wife.

Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant (604-321-2888)

Open for lunch and dinner daily (except Wednesdays)

5225 Victoria Dr

Then, on Saturday, Akemi and I paid a return visit to the Bakers Market.  This time, Bubba stayed home so Akemi was free to take her time and roam the aisles.  Like last weekend, we loaded up on a variety of treats –

First stop was Mamaz Sweetz N’ Treatz where I picked up –
Red velvet chocolate chip cookie
Red velvet white chocolate chip cookies.  Surprisingly, this was the first time I’d had red velvet in cookie form.  A winner.

Last week, I picked up chocolate biscotti from home baker Giada Vacca’s Treats and Blossoms.  On this visit, these caught my eye –

Amaretti – crunchy AND chewy, a tough balance to pull off.

A return visit to my friend at Life’s Lemons…

Last weekend, I was their first sale ever.  This weekend, they apparently sold out.  I’m clearly a trendsetter.
This time out, it was the Apple Pie shortbread cookies that tasted…yes, amazingly like apple pie!
[in the oven] offers assorted caramels and a killer salted caramel sauce.
The owner recognized me from last weekend and asked how I enjoyed the caramel sauce.  I admitted that I hadn’t tried it yet because I’d run out of ice cream.  “You can eat it right out of the jar,”she assured me. “I won’t judge you.”  Well, I forgot to pick up ice cream on the way back home so I did end up trying it right of out of the jar after all.  And it was unbelievable.

Don’t judge me!

The gals from Sweet Talk, bakers of my surprise favorite on last weekend’s visit: the lemon poppyseed cake.  And, this weekend, I discovered they bake a pretty mean chocolate salted caramel tart.
And a return visit to Sweet Lily, this time for –
Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and lime cornmeal cookies.
Maple bourbon pecan brioche.
The ladies of (my favorite cupcakes) Vivi’s cupcakes, sweets and treats
Chocolate cupcake, red velvet cupcake, and cheesecake brownie.
The plan was to just sample a bit (so we could try a bit of everything) and have the rest after dinner.  Well, that WAS the plan.

Baker’s Market – Bakers Market – The Sweetest Event in Vancouver

Treats and Blossoms | Facebook

Life’s Lemons- sweet treats baking co. – Vancouver, BC – Community …

[in the oven]


Sweet Lily Bakery – Vancouver, BC – Food & Grocery | Facebook

Vivi’s cupcakes, sweets & treats – Vancouver, BC … – Facebook

Finally, what sweet Saturday would be complete without a visit to Vancouver’s premiere chocolate shop: Beta 5.  Their selection changes monthly and, this weekend, they kicked off their April Union Pack with an outdoor theme: “On the Forest Floor”.  Among the offerings are “deer droppings” (a mix of 63% dark chocolate covered raisins, and 39% milk chocolate covered peanuts), melt-in-your-mouth “candy cap caramels” (earthy, sweet Candy Cap mushrooms captured in a buttery, caramel bite with a flavor reminiscent of maple syrup)…

French Toast Toadstools: house made brioche soaked in a ganache of “blonde” chocolate maple syrup, cinnamon and rum, then paired with a dollop of spiced apple butter.  Unbelievable.
Chocolate twigs: 45% milk chocolate and 63%, 72% and 85% dark chocolate sticks dusted with cocoa powder and presented on a bed of matcha white chocolate.  Akemi’s favorite!
Bark: olive oil and salt roasted Marcona almond, blended with 50% milk chocolate from Madagascar, and finished with a touch of flaked sea salt.  Nearly impossible to stop eating once you start.

They ship!  http://beta-5.com/

Our Supermovie of the Week Club reconvenes tomorrow with guest film reviewer, Cookie Monster, weighing in on his latest superhero-themed screening: Super Capers.  If you haven’t already seen it in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion – spoiler alert! – it’s beyond awful.  Don’t bother.  But do stop in to check out monster’s thoughts on what could arguable be the worst superhero movie yet.

For Cookie’s previous supermovie reviews (as well as his opinion on Snakes on a Plane and There Will Be Blood), head on over here: http://cookiemonstermovereviews.wordpress.com/ 

February 16, 2013: Beta 5’s Valentine Dessert Tasting!

Last night, Akemi and I attended a Valentine Dessert Tasting at Beta 5, Vancouver’s premiere chocolate (and cream puff!) shop.  I know, I know.  It was actually the day after Valentine’s Day – but we were out for dinner the previous night and would have had to cut it kind of tight. And so, instead, we made the reservations for the the 15th, thus enabling us to head over with plenty of time to spare following a leisurely and light fish and salad dinner.

Beta 5 is located on Industrial Avenue just a ways off Main Street.  Not exactly easy to get to, but always worth the effort.  Akemi and I are huge fans of their chocolates (their award-winning banana chocolates are the best I’ve ever had and we never fail to pick up a couple of packages of their aerated dark chocolate “rocks” whenever we drop by) as well as the aforementioned cream puffs (also the best I’ve ever had). And, in addition to their regular offerings, owner Adam Chandler and his partner Jess Rosinski always surprise with ever-changing monthly specials: gelees, polygon bars, and chocolate-covered fruit and nuts.

Akemi and I arrived early and joined another couple on a tour of the Beta 5 kitchen…

Where the chocolate magic happens.
Chocolate tempering machine
Coating pan used to make chocolate-covered fruit and nuts.
Hmmm.  Don’t recall.  Used for heating?  Cooling?  Storing the oompah loompahs?
Chocolate art.
A sneak peek of the Easter  offerings.
A sneak peek of the Easter offerings.
Chocolate centerpiece

We ended up sitting with a couple (Dana and Matt) who took two buses to get there from the UBC campus (didn’t I say it was worth the effort?).  As it turned out, they had both studied Japanese and spent some time in Japan.  What are the chances?

Akemi, Dana, and Matt

Our dessert tasting was made up of six courses paired with various wines – champagne, sake, whites, and ending with a port.  Up first…

Strawberries and Champagne: carbonated strawberries, champagne granite, strawberry jello

I passed on the first glass because I’m not fan of champagne, preferring the sparkling sweetness of an Italian muscat.  The strawberries were lightly carbonated and the jello very subtle, but the champagne granite possessed a borderline bitter dryness that made this one my least favorite plate.

Blood Orange Rice Pudding: vanilla-scented carnaroli rice pudding, blood orange, biscotti.

Akemi’s favorite – and this is saying something since, prior to last night, she had never met a rice pudding she’d liked.  The blood orange pearls were a nice bittersweet touch.

Akemi pacing herself.
Red Velvet Cake: goat’s cheese parfait, beet sponge, honey-poached pear, cocoa nib.

Great.  The goat’s cheese parfait was reminiscent of the airy cheesecake my father used to make.

Creme Brulee: vanilla custard, caramel, raspberry, cacao fruit snow.

Gorgeous.  The sugar globe was incredibly delicate, cracking at the lightest tap.

The liquid nitrogen ice cream-making process…

Chocolate Tart: chocolate ganache, passionfruit curd, coconut sorbet, caramelized puff.

I was waiting for the chocolate course and, boy, did it deliver. Incredibly rich.  Incredibly decadent.  Utterly delicious.  Akemi couldn’t finish hers – so I did the honors.

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate: frozen milk chocolate mousse, dark chocolate pudding, blackout cake, cocoa nib sable.

Now this one was my favorite course – the chocolate no-doubt frozen in liquid nitrogen as well and served Alinea-style with an assortment of other chocolate goodies, reminiscent of the fabulous dessert I enjoyed for my Meal to End all Meals back in 2011: March 18, 2011: The Meal To End All Meals!

Our hosts for this sweet, sweet evening…

Jess Rosinski
Adam Chandler

And, just in case we wanted something to snack on for the drive home, we were gifted this lovely Valentine assortment:


Our dining companions – Dana and Matt

Our new friends, Dana and Matt, were wonderful company.  Over the course of our six course dessert extravaganza, the discussion ranged over many topics.  The subject of the Japanese language segued to a chat about Japanese culture which, in turn, moved on to an appreciation of anime that, eventually, transitioned to an animated discussion of SF literature (Matt is a big fan of the classics – Asimov, Clarke, etc.).  From SF lit to scifi television as Dana informed us she was a huge fan of SG-1.  “Really?”I said.  “What was your favorite episode.”  “Window of Opportunity,”she said.  And that guaranteed them a ride home.  If she’d answered Emancipation or Broca Divide, who knows how long it would have taken them to get back home.

Apparently, this will be the first in a series of dessert-themed evenings Beta 5 will be hosting.

Look into it!


October 27, 2012: Travel Day! The Top 11 Things I’ve Been Eating in Vancouver!

Planning a visit to Vancouver and looking forward to sampling some of the city’s finest – but not looking forward to playing hit and miss?  Well, relax and allow me to guide you through some of the city’s tastiest treats.

Here are the Top 11 Things I’ve Been Eating in Vancouver:


Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, its five-spice, hoisin-laced beef rolled in crispy onion flatbread.  The restaurant focuses on northern Chinese dishes, more robust and intensely flavored than their southern counterparts.  Lots to like on the menu but the peaceful beef roll leads the list.


Vancouver’s best taco place (Sorry.  Nowhere else comes even close.) offers up a varied and delicious selection.  My favorites are the tender and tasty cacheta (braised beef cheeks) and lengua (braised beef tongue).  If you’re feeling less adventurous, go with pollo con mole or pescado (grilled fish), then wash it down with a horchata or Mexican coke.


This place specializes in chocolate, but they do so many other things well – like their irresistible salted caramel cream puff, a perfect marriage of sweet and salty, crisp and creamy.

ABURI SALMON OSHI SUSHI AT Downtown Vancouver Japanese Restaurant – Miku Restaurant

Local salmon pressed and dressed with Miku special sauce, topped with jalapeno then grilled topside using a blowtorch and charcoal. Whenever I go with first-timers, I always order two rolls (at least) because I know that one won’t be enough.


The greatest soft serve I’ve ever had available in a variety of inspired daily flavors.  My favorite (surprise surprise) = the delightfully refreshing cucumber!

CHOCOLATE PUDDING AT Fable Restaurant | From Farm to Table

Former Top Chef Canada contestant Curtis Luk makes some amazing desserts (including kick-ass macarons), but his chocolate pudding is my go-to after-dinner treat.  A brilliant balance of tastes and textures.

CHOCOLATE ZEPPOLE AT Giovane cafe + bakery + deli: a stunning cafe & retail emporium …

A chocoholic’s dream bomb: cream on the inside, ganache on the outside.  Bring back-up!


Juicy slow-roasted pork, crunchy crackling, and salsa verde served on a ciabatta roll.  We’ve gone so many times of late that Akemi has declared a temporary moratorium on near future visits.  I’ve already got a plan to work around the embargo.


The impressively-thin shell possesses a great chocolaty snap, giving way to fantastic banana interior.  I’m a huge fan of this particular flavor combination and have tried many variations.  My all-time favorites are those offered at Le Chocolat de H in Tokyo (ル ショコラ ドゥ アッシュ_) and Beta 5’s version.


Having grown up in an Italian household, I’m incredibly picky when it comes to pasta, especially spaghetti, so the fact that Campagnolo Roma’s version is on this list says a lot about the dish.  Perfectly cooked to a toothsome al dente and served with luscious tomato sauce and a touch of fresh basil.

CARROT CAKE AT cadeaux bakery

I’m a sucker for carrot cake and, after an in-depth (and thoroughly delicious) search, I’ve found my favorite.  But Cadeaux Bakery in Gastown offers more than just carrot cake – which is why, every time I go, we end up sitting down to a good half-dozen heavenly creations.

June 5, 2012: Bad dining karma!

I believe the food gods are trying to tell me something.  Lately, my dinner outings have varied from middling to highly disappointing. Several of my formerly dependable favorites have failed me.  Still, I held out hope that some of my old standbys would come through and deliver the positive dining experience I desperately needed.  And so, yesterday, after dropping Akemi off at her class, I decided to venture out for a solo lunch.  The service was terrific.  The food…fantastic.  I enjoyed a platter of lamb ribs.  Lamb ribs!  Hell, the last time I sat down to lamb ribs was years ago when the Memphis Barbecue House used to prepare them on the rare occasion – so rare, in fact, that, back then, I was on what I called “the lamb rib hotline”.  Whenever I got the call, I would drop whatever I was doing to drive down and pick up a rack before they sold out.  They were delicious.  And, yesterday’s platter was equally great.  As I sat back, satisfied, I eyed the lone rib sitting on my plate.  It seemed a shame to let it go to waste.  I picked it up, stripped it clean and, as I was finishing up the last bite – CRUNCH!  Lamb bone met tooth – and lamb bone won.

I went to the bathroom to check and, sure enough, one of my teeth was broken.  Fortunately, it was a molar and not one of the front teeth, the loss of which would have seen me walking around town sporting a gap-tooth hillbilly grin.  And, fortunately, my dentist had an opening that afternoon.

Yes, I think the food gods are clearly trying to tell me something: “Eat at home!”  Which is what I plan to do – after tonight because I already have dinner reservations.   My recent outings have graduated from bad food to bad service to injury.  What’s next?  Am I going to eat a toxic mushroom?  Bleed out on account of a mussel shard?  Choke on a fazzoletti?   I don’t mind telling you that I’m VERY nervous.

I should just go back to the days when Akemi used to cook for me, preparing those adorable bento boxes with the peanut butter bears and egg yolk chicks.  Though, given my luck of late, the bento boxes would more than likely run along the lines of something like this:

Or maybe I should just stick to chocolate.  My new fave chocolate shop, Beta 5 (http://shop.beta5chocolates.com/), has been pretty damn consistent in its sweet, sweet offerings.  The other day, Akemi and I dropped by and picked up a new-for-June banana split chocolate bar (containing chocolate, banana, and cherries), and a “box of rocks” –

A collection of aerated chocolate rocks in 45% milk and 72% dark chocolate.

I figured we’d start with a box and come back for more next week when we were done.  As it turns out, we were done by the time I pulled into my garage.

Finally – received a text message from my buddy, Ivon, the other day. “Perogie food truck,”he wrote.  “1o different kinds like “Thai curry” and “classic”.  That’s a money maker!”  and “It would rule the food truck wars.”  “Holy Perogy,”I texted back.  “Love the name,”he replied. “No,”I texted back.  “That’s the name of the Perogie food truck in Vancouver. It exists.”

Hey! They used a time machine to go forward in time and steal Ivon’s food truck idea!

Oh well.

April 22, 2012: Beta 5! A Top Chef contestant checks in! Switching over from horror to mini-series mode!

Akemi and I paid a follow-up visit to Beta 5, a bold new addition to the Vancouver chocolate scene.  Located in the out-of-the-way industrial area off Main Street (appropriately enough, on Industrial Avenue), the shop/factory offers up a variety of intriguing products, from bars to caramels, marmalade to caramelized Marcona almonds.

No seating, just a counter selection and a view of the chocolate-making process.

I picked up a chocolate selection for Akemi’s birthday and she was wowed by the expert thin shells.  For my part, I was bowled over by their bars.  The 63% dark + choconut granola and the 67% Dominican dark with cocoa nibs was particular stand-outs.

A little out of the way, but well worth the trip: BETA 5 (413 Industrial Avenue).

The marmalades make use of citrus from Rising C Ranches in Reedley, California. I was tempted by the seville orange and the meyer lemon. Maybe next time.

Almost finished the rewrite of the horror script.  I’ll give it one more read-through tomorrow, then send it on its way – after which I have to switch gears and start thinking about this mini-series.  We’re looking at 2 x 2 hours with a very tight delivery schedule.  Paul’s worried but I figure that if we can get together and bang out an outline by early next week, we’ll be in pretty good shape.  I mean, if i was able to write three SG-1 scripts in two weeks, I should be able to write the equivalent of four in eight.  Well, maybe more like six.

Back on April 10th, I wrote a blog post about macarons and complained about people who referred to “macarons” as “macaroons”.  I mentioned a recent episode of Top Chef Canada in which a competing chef won by making a macaron, which he referred to as a macaroon. Well, the other day, Curtis Luk, the competing chef in question (and a self-proclaimed food nerd according to his show bio), left a note in the comments section of that post in which he explained the circumstances of the macaron/macaroon perceived flub (check it out here: April 10, 2012: Getting my macaron fix! Full Preview Dark Matter #4!).  And, for the record, he’s a fan of Stargate but not such a big fan of macaroons. According to Curtis: “Also for the record I hate macaroons and given the choice I wouldn’t make them, unless someone pointed a staff weapon at me.”

If you haven’t watched the 1990 version of Captain America yet, please do so before tomorrow when our Superhmovie of the Week Club reconvenes and guest film critic Cookie Monster weighs in with his review.  From what I hear, it’s a doozy.