March 25, 2012: Last Dinner at Refuel!

This was the message that greeted diners on Refuel’s final night of service last evening.  Akemi and I showed up for our 6:00 p.m. reservation to find the place packed.  We were greeted by the friendly staff, then welcomed by the ever-affable Katherine who informed us it would be a big curtain closer on account of the restaurant’s many regulars who, liked myself, had booked one final blowout meal.  As a special thank you, Chef Jane and the staff had apparently prepared a few farewell surprises…

Like these cromesquis - deep-fried crunchy on the outside, a delicious foie gras liquid center hidden within. Refuel and Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon are the only places I've ever sampled these sinful little morsels.
Speaking of foie gras - an addition to the menu saw it pan-fried with sweet sun-dried Cascade tomatoes served atop a toasted brioche.
One of Akemi's all-time favorite dishes one last time: Lemon Herb Risotto with albacore tuna tartare.
I was torn between the ribeye and the crispy duck but ultimately opted for a special menu addition: the melt-in-your-mouth rolled confit pork belly rack accompanied by a potato puree and crispy Brussel sprouts. Unreal!
For dessert - as Akemi pointed out, what boy is going to say no to peanut butter, in this case, Refuel's signature Peanut & Chocolate Parfait with honeycomb and vanilla ice cream.

And that was that.  Our final meal at a place that had become my home away from home these past five years.  Akemi had only known it two (one of which we spent in Toronto) but was nevertheless upset by the fact that it had been taken out of our dining rotation.   She went through the three stages of Japanese grief –

Shock.
Boozing.
Disbelief and slightly buzzed.

I finally talked her down to acceptance.  But she wasn’t happy about it.

Chef Jane doing what she does best.

Before leaving, I got two bottle’s of the restaurant’s best wine and gifted them as a goodbye gift to the staff and kitchen crew (minus my modest two glass cut).

Here’s hoping our plates cross again in the not too distant future!

March 14, 2012: A farewell to Refuel! I rundown my Top 16 Most Memorable Meals!

Well, this is sad: Refuel closes; Top Chef Canada contestant takes over space.  Refuel, formerly Fuel, one of my favorite Vancouver dining destinations is closing its doors.  Owners Tom Doughty and Rob Belcham will no doubt remain as busy as ever what with two of their other restaurants, Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma, doing brisk business and another Asian barbecue-themed restaurant, Fat Dragon, set to open soon.  And, from what I hear, the staff will remain employed, moving to one of their other aforementioned eateries.  Still, it is dispiriting to know that one more long-familiar element of my life will soon be no more.

Back when it was Fuel, I was there two, sometimes three times a week, dining with my ex, my fellow Stargate producer Martin Gero, or, occasionally, solo at the bar seating where I could chat with Tom, Rob, or Chef Ted and watch the open kitchen at work.  To be fair, this was at a point in my life when I was dining out all the time – and, by “all the time”, I mean “all the time”.  The only days I ate at home were when we ordered in.  Unfortunately, high end dining took a hit with the recession and, as a result, the restaurant was rebranded, transformed into Refuel – more casual yet committed to the same quality ingredients.  Some dishes remained on the menu (including the outstanding confit crispy duck) joining notable additions like the buttermilk-fried chicken, and the establishment continued to host special events like their annual snout to tail whole hog dinners, offering everything from crispy pig ears with salsa verde to succulent roast temple.  I continued to frequent the place, though not as much as I used to, mainly as a response to the changes in my life and a desire to start cooking at home more (apparently, when they closed the books on Fuel, the reservation history revealed I had, in fact, been their #1 customer), but the food and service remained consistently great.  In fact, under Chef Jane Cornborough’s stewardship, it became one of Akemi’s favorite restaurants in the city.

I had many truly memorable dinners at both Fuel and Refuel which, not so coincidentally, served as the site for most of my annual chocolate parties.  And so, today, I’d like to rundown my Top 16 Most Memorable Meals at Fuel/Refuel.  This list may not be complete however as the restaurant’s doors remain open until March 24th. That’s ten more days to try their lemon risotto with albacore tuna tartare, dry-aged beef burger, crispy confit duck, peanut & chocolate parfait, and many other dishes!  There’s still time!

Blood-chocolate ice cream.

16) December 11, 2011: Dinner at Refuel! – A reunion dinner with Martin Gero, Robert Cooper, and Jewel Staite.

Crispy rainbow trout.

15) July 13, 2007 – One of the first of many casual lunches – and casual conversations with owners Tom and Rob.

Crispy confit duck.

14) December 22, 2007 – An early Christmas dinner with mom and sis. And I sample my very first crispy confit duck.

Foie gras terrine for two. Of course, that's merely a suggestion.

13) April 2, 2008: Fans Feeling Fuelish – The very first Fuel Fan Dinner!

Pig ear, brain, and eggplant salad served with salsa verde.

12) October 28, 2010: Refuel’s Annual Whole Hog Dinner! – Akemi’s first Whole Hog Dinner.

Fried prawn heads.

11) June 20, 2009: Just Like Old Times! – My former culinary wingman, Marty G., comes back into town – and the gang at Fuel are ready for him!

The corn soup. 18 ears of corn, some salt, butter, and a touch of chili in each exquisitely dense serving.

10) August 18, 2007 – I take Carl Binder for his first (birthday) dinner at Fuel – and discover their unbelievable corn soup!

Tagliatelle with black truffle and cultured butter.

9) April 18, 2010: The Greatest Chocolate Party Ever! – My last annual chocolate party (with the SGU gang in attendance).

Assorted sorbet. The coconut version (bottom) were killer!

8) April 26, 2009: The Best Chocolate Party Ever! – My second annual chocolate party (with the SGU cast).

Sliced pig ears, beets, and black truffle.

7) October 21, 2007 – I return for the second day of Fuel’s first Whole Hog Dinner – and they end up creating a whole new menu for me.

Crispy pig brain served with parsley root and Dungeness crab mayonnaise.

6) October 18, 2007 – Martin Gero and his buddy Kurt join me in my first Whole Hog Dinner!

Pumpkin soup with caramelized sunflower seeds.

5) January 7, 2007 – My first meal at Fuel, five days after its opening.

The whole confit pig head.

4) March 26, 2010: Whole Confit Pig Head Alert! Avert Your Eyes! – My friend Denise and I sit down to whole confit pig head.

Black truffle carbonara.

3) October 17, 2008: Birthday Dinner Rundown, Links, and Reminders – Chef Rob and co. serve me up a special birthday dinner.

Roast suckling pig.
2) April 27, 2008: The Best Chocolate Party Ever! – The very first chocolate party I held at Fuel.
Slow-roasted steelhead trout belly.
1) March 18, 2011: The Meal To End All Meals! – As I prepare to head off to Toronto, the gang at Refuel prepare my farewell meal-to-end-all-meals.

March 18, 2011: The Meal To End All Meals!

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!

March 3, 2011: Gauntlet! The dish on that super-secret restaurant! And lunch at Refuel!

I was in the office today to watch the Day 1 mix of episode #220, Gauntlet.  And what a mix it was!  We had a grand total of two notes, and they were mere looping issues. Carl, who also had two notes, emailed them our way this morning.  They were: “31:00  Music cue over this montage is awesome.  40:40  Music cue over end of show montage is awesome.”  A terrific job by all involved, and an extra special thank you to composer Joel Goldsmith for his always excellent work.  The visual effects for this episode are almost complete (kudos to Mark Savela and co.) and they are incredible.  It’s a spectacular yet poignant season ender.  Hopefully, by the time its airs, we’ll have definite word on a potential movie or two. If it’s a go and fans can look forward to a proper end to Destiny’s mission, then Gauntlet will certainly set the stage for a grand conclusion.  If, on the other hand, things don’t pan out and Gauntlet does turn out to be the bittersweet finale, fans will be thrilled, touched, heartbroken – and left to wonder what could have been.

And Imagine Greater.

On our way out, Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela re-enacts the final outstanding VFX sequence from The Hunt.

Look at what I received in the mail today…

No, not HER.  The card she’s holding.

It’s a “looking forward to your dining with us” from E by Jose Andres, the intimate, super-secret restaurant we’ll be visiting in Vegas next week.  How super-secret?  Well, in order to get a reservation, you must contact them through a secret email address which is apparently known to only two dozen people at any one time.  Well, I’ve heard that whenever someone new learns the address, one of the versed insiders develops a sudden case of limited amnesia or disappears under mysterious circumstances.  Still, even knowledge of the secret email address does not guarantee a reservation UNLESS a very specific procedure is followed, a series of steps too complicated to go into but comprised of (among other things): a secret knock, a coded message, a cryptic ad in the Livestock section of the New York Post classifieds, two seemingly chance encounters, and a random alias derived from an approved list of 19th female authors (Harriet Beecher Stowe at your service).

This is gonna be fun!

Today, we hit Refuel for a marvelous lunch –

crispy pork cheek terrine with broccoli, roasted almonds, and a fried egg
bucatini all'amatriciana with cured pork and tomato sauce.
bc spot prawns with butternut squash ravioli, brown butter, and lemon.

Tonight, my farewell tour continues as I head out for dinner with my longtime nemesis, Ashleigh.

warm sugar pie with pear purée and vanilla ice cream

August 5, 2010: Creative spam! Dinner at Refuel! Paul Croteau Confections! Another Masked review! Another SGU season 2 teaser! More from the Atlantis archives!

Whenever a spam comment manages to find its way into my moderation queue, I’m always quick to trash it.  But this one I couldn’t help but set aside because it was refreshingly unique.  It doesn’t pretend to be anything else but a straightforward link dump.  With a twist:

I’m currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia (penis enlargement link) and being forced to post spam comments on blogs and forum! If you don’t approve this they will kill me. (penis enlargement link)  They’re coming back now. (name of company selling penis enlargement product with link) Please send help! nitip (penis enlargement link).

Normally, I do everything I can to help save kidnap victims, but WordPress is fairly strict about spam content.  Sorry, buddy.  Rules are rules.  I did, however, run a search of on the IP and traced it to somewhere in Illinois.  So if you’re out there reading this, buddy, hang in there.  Help is on its way!

The other night, Akemi and I hit Refuel for a long overdue visit.  We enjoyed…

One of the best risottos I’ve had in recent memory.  Garlic Scape Risotto with scamorza cheese and king oyster mushrooms.

Hand Rolled Potato Gnocchi with fava beans, scallions, and creme fraiche

The tasty House Meatloaf with fries.

Refuel co-owner Tom Doughty informed me that he and Chef Rob Belcham have teamed up with their returning patissier, Paul Croteau, to open Paul Croteau Confections, offering a host of delicious desserts for the discerning palate.  He was nice enough to provide a few samples.  For review purposes of course.

Les Macarons.  Flavors include chocolate, coffee, salted caramel, pistachio-vanilla, and lemon (not pictured).  Best I’ve had outside of Tokyo.

The Sables.  The chocolate has a nice bitter dark kick while the regular sable delivers a luxurious buttery finish.

Guimauves, Gelees, and Florentines. I'm not a fan of fruit desserts but the gelees even won me over - although I preferred the delightful almond flavor of the florentines.

Chocolate-dipped Hazelnuts and Salt Caramel. Both marvelous. I could have finished the entire package of the former on my own. The latter were chewy yet not overly so, melting faster than your average caramel and thus avoiding that annoying stuck-to-your-teeth consequence I personally can't stand.

Orange-Fennel Biscotti. The orange flavor is very subtle, somewhat overshadowed by the fennel, but it's excellent nonetheless.

Scout Magazine does a nice piece on Paul here: http://scoutmagazine.ca/2010/08/05/paul-croteau-confections-now-available-at-oakridge-mall/

And if you’re looking for more information on were to pick up some of these goodies, head on over to the Oakridge Mall or check out: http://www.pcconfections.com/Welcome.html

On to Stargate: Universe.  Another hint at what’s to come in season 2…

Photo courtesy and copyright MGM Television

And a few snaps from the Atlantis archives especially for Das who has been a little aggravated of late.  All photos courtesy and copyright MGM Television…

Another awesome review of Masked (the anthology of all-original superhero fiction that will appeal to comic book fans and non-fans alike) here: http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2010/08/masked.html

About a week ago, officials in Tokyo were planning to honor the city’s oldest living resident, only to discover the guy had been dead for thirty years.  Not to be discouraged, they moved on to the city’s oldest living woman, 113 year old Fusa Furuya – who it turns out has been missing for a couple decades: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10848254

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to (belated) birthday gal Anais!

April 30, 2010: Finally! Ellen Kushner drops in! Cynthia leaves! Dinner at Refuel! And – some mailbag!

Success!  I finally completed a first draft of episode 10, Resurgence.  It’s a little rough, granted – but it’ll do.  I’ll spend the weekend revising it and deliver it on Monday.  Normally, it takes me about an hour to write the fifth act (usually in a white heat, coming off the momentum of the fourth act break), but this script was anything but normal.  It never got any easier and I ended up spending the afternoon writing and re-writing those last five pages.  But the important thing is that I’m finally done and pleased with most of the results.  And as for those aspects of the script I’m still a little iffy about – well, I’m sure I’ll grow to love ’em.

Hey, thanks to author Ellen Kushner for dropping by and introducing herself in advance of the June Book of the Month Club discussion on her novel, Swordspoint.  Those of you who missed Ellen can check out what she has to say in the comments section of my April 27th blog entry (https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/april-27-2010-junes-book-of-the-month-club-cynthia-cooks-puppy-pics-chotto-mailbag/#comments).  She even shows off her French for Anais and Jordan.

Well, I saw Cynthia off this morning, but not before she showered me with goodbye presents: chocolates, macarons, and cookbooks.  Since last night was her final evening in The Land That Sun Forgot, I saved the best for last and took her to Refuel for the “above the shoulder” pork dinner.  It was very different from the last time I went (https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/march-26-2010-whole-confit-pig-head-alert-avert-your-eyes/) where the meat was carved table-side and enjoyed medieval style: copious amounts of meat served alongside a dozen sauces and spices. This time, following a brief presentation, the head was whisked away and we were served several chef’s courses highlighting the various cuts.

The house cured plate: a terrific assortment of cured meats.

Crispy pig ear with salsa verde and fried pig brain. The brain had a nice creamy consistency and was quite tasty, surprisingly devoid of the metallic aftertaste I’ve come to associate with it. The ear was fantastic – crispy, somewhat chewy, but delicious. The salsa verde was the perfect accompaniment.

I recognized it the moment it was set down in front of us: pork cheek, the most luxuriously unctuous morsel you’ll find. Here, swimming in a rich chicken-beef-lamb-veal-duck broth(!). Marvelous. I’d happily come back just to have the broth.

It’s too bad most are scared off by the idea because the meat in the head area is, by far, the most tender. The jowl, for instance, is nicely marbled without being overly fatty. Here, served with mashed potatoes and some sort of greens that reminded me of broccolini.

Another tasty contrast in textures. Here, the meat is accompanied by more crispy ear, and greens. Cynthia thought the dollop of fresh ricotta unnecessary but I thought it married nicely with the pork.

Oh no, they didn't. Yes, they did. Brioche fried in pork fat accompanied by bacon ice cream. While good, the savory brioche would have benefited from a little syrup to transform it into a true dessert. While good, it felt like it belonged in one of the earlier courses. The ice cream was very good, with little pieces of crunchy bacon throughout.

A big thank you to Tom and Chef Rob for organizing the meal, Chef Ted for designing the various courses (hope you guys are enjoying Tokyo!), and Chef Jane for the flawless preparation.

After dinner, we stopped by Chapters where I picked up a couple of books (recommendations from one of my very favorite authors, Jeffrey Ford, who is, by the way, the most whimsical and outrageously inventive writer publishing today – http://www.well-builtcity.com/index.html).

No Sleep Till Wonderland is about a narcoleptic detective who lands himself smackdab in the middle of a murder investigation. Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas, you (yes, YOU are the main character) must deal with a stock market crash, the disappearance of a 300 pound psychic, the fall from grace of a born-again monkey, African rituals, and legendary amphibians. They both sound like great fun.

I also came across the latest issue of Backyard Poultry. Alas, my subscription has lapsed.

Then, we came home for second dessert: chocolates and maccarons.

Anyway, you’re all busy watching/commenting on tonight’s episode, Lost, so allow me to get out of your way.  But first –

Mailbag:

Debra writes: “What happened to your dining partner who didn’t want to be photographed?”

Answer: Denise is presently reading and eating her way through New York as part of an 11-day research trip.

Thornyrose writes: “Now,will you please manage to push through the script so I can quit trying to come up with these ridiculous comparisons?”

Answer: Done.  Ish.

PG15 writes: “1. So, which episode in the 1st half of the 2nd season was once the elusive 17th episode of the 1st season?”

Answer: Episode 7, The Greater Good.

PG15 also writes: “2. This is a downer but…given how the ratings are going, IF Season 2 gets to be SGU’s last, will you guys have time to put in your planned series finale at the end of the season?”

Answer: By the time we find out whether or not we’re picked up – probably no until late 2010 – we will have already wrapped production on the show’s second season.

PG15 also writes: “3. How do you think SGU will deal with the heavier competition and higher expectations of a Tuesday timeslot?”

Answer: I think the move to Tuesday nights will be a good for the show and look forward to our new night.

Ishak writes: “also did i just read you like animes??? my favorite is Evangelion (if I had to pick one), what’s yours?”

Answer: Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Berserk, Now and Then Here and There, GTO, Kino’s Journey, Death Note, Last Exile – to name a few.

PJR writes: “A writing question, for what happens In The Room. Specifically, when you plan series arcs and character arcs and episodes, and get to pitching broad story possibilities to fit, and divvy them out, how detailed do you go?”

Answer: We have a general sense of the various story and character arcs with enough wiggle room to shift gears if something isn’t working, if someone comes up with a different take, or if real life intrudes on the production and necessitates a change.  Sometimes, the challenge with these arcs comes in getting from point A to point Z, especially if you assume you’ll be hitting point P in your script – only to have it happen an episode earlier, forcing you to revise the scene to hit point Q instead.  Simple, no?

PJR writes: “Hope the camera upload behaves. Wire transfer (old mac) or card slot (new mac)?”

Answer: Card slot?!  My problem is fixed!

Teal’c_PI writes: “Well, this is a totally random question, Mr. M. (and I’m sure you won’t be doing a mailbag tonight ;) ) but do you know the Japanese band Kalafina?”

Answer: Sorry.  I’m not familiar with their work.

dasNdanger writes: “Joe – the spiders were your idea, weren’t they?”

Answer: I was thinking of you.

April 18, 2010: The Greatest Chocolate Party Ever!

Every April, I hold something called a Chocolate Party, an annual event in which I gathered some fifty of my closest friends, feed them dinner, then try to kill them with massive amounts of chocolate.  Over the years, this event has grown, from a modest get-together at my home to a gastronomic blow-out at Fuel now Refuel) Restaurant.  The evening goes something like this:

The guests gathers.  We chat and drink.

We sit down and enjoy an incredible multi-course meal prepared by Chef Rob, Chef Ted, and the rest of the gang.

Then, we move onto the main event: Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate!

It seems fairly straightforward, but even the most dedicated chocoholic would be hard-pressed to sample all that’s an display – the varied master creations of some twenty chocolatiers from all over the world.  This year, I brought in chocolates from Paris, Troyes, Barcelona, Austria, London, Brighton, New York, San Francisco, Kansas City, Fort Myers, Montreal, Vermont, and, of course, Vancouver.  It was quite a night!

I arrived early to help set up the chocolates along the massive bar and counter area, fully covering all available space with chocolates from…

This year marked four straight appearances for New York’s MareBelle. The 100 Piece Blue Box, pictured here, never fails to draw a crowd.

Also from MarieBelle, the hugely popular Croquette au Chocolat: buttery European cookie milk and dark chocolate bars. Each box contains 4 bars. I ordered six boxes – and they were all gone by night’s end.

It was two years in a row for New York’s Jacques Torres (aka Mr. Chocolate). They usually don’t ship to Canada but made an exception last year after I sent them a link to previous chocolate parties. And we’re glad they did. Their champagne truffles – a combination of milk chocolate, fresh cream, and actual Tattinger Brut la Francaise never fails to impress. I ordered two boxes because they proved so popular last year – and they too were all gone by night’s end. In addition to the champagne truffles, the Jacques Torres corner also included a fifty piece assortment of their hand-crafted chocolates and bars.

One of my personal favorites – Jean-Paul Hevin – presents his marvelous creations in an eye-catching “cave a chocolat”. Basically, it’s a briefcase full of chocolate!

Also from Jean-Paul Hevin, a coffret filled with composed of 8 blisters filled with dark, coffee, milk and milk-caramel with refined salt palets. In addition, I also ordered a box of Hevin’s intense truffles and a Cheese Chocolate Appetizer box that included flavors like époisses cheese/ cumin, Pont l’évêque cheese/thyme, goat cheese/hazelnut, and roquefort/walnut. Ashleigh’s favorite! She made off with any leftovers.

Barcelona’s Oriol Balaguer has been described as a gastronomic revolutionary. One bite of his inspired creations and you’ll no doubt agree.

Also from Oriol Balaguer: luscious ganache-filled mini-tubes in a variety of delectable flavors – Passionfruit, Orange, Yuzu, Raspberry, Star Anise, and – Carl’s wife’s favorite – Hazelnut Praline with Pop Rocks.  You can order them from Borne Confections in New York.

Making their first appearance: chocolates from Troyes’ Pascal Caffet. A sampling of the award-winning patissier’s chocolates included Earl Grey Tea and Hazelnut Praliné with Coriander.  Also available from Borne Confections.

Paris’s Debauve & Gallais boast a rich 200 year tradition of chocolate-making as the appointed supplier to Kings Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis-Philippe. The selection includes a 54 piece assortment, a 36 piece pralines collection, and Les Incroyables (pearls of caramelized roasted Spanish almond coated in dark chocolate) that WERE incredible! These blew away Jamil Walker Smith.

Compliments of my friend Cynthia in London comes Rococo Chocolates’ award-winning salty caramel ravioli. The assortment included dark chocolate with chilli, milk chocolate with sea salt, and white chocolate with cardamom.

Another Parisian heavy hitter, La Maison du Chocolat represents with their Initiation Set of 20 pralines and ganaches. Also, smooth and creamy caramel truffles an Arriba Gift Set of smooth dark chocolate ganaches and…

La Maison du Chocolat’s Habanera Gift Box: dark chocolate perfumed with vine peaches and milk chocolate infused with mirabelle plums. Another annual favorite.

Another little something from Cynthia in the U.K.: Demarquette’s ganache assortment, a signature blend of carefully selected pure single origin and single estate cocoas.

Wow! Some of the evening’s most visually striking offerings came from Norman Love in Fort Myers, Florida. Pictured here: the black single origin chocolate collection.

Another striking offering from Norman Love: the 50 Piece Chocolate Gift Box.

Norman Love chocolate bars: chocolate caramel pecan, peanut caramel, coconut milk chocolate almond, and chocolate hazelnut. Another wow!

A few years ago, a friend brought me back a box of Recchiuti chocolates from San Francisco. They were nothing short of revelatory. For two years, I tried to convince Recchiuti to make an exception to their “no shipping to Canada” policy with no success. Until this year. Pictured here, The Platinum Collection. Marvelous chocolates. I also ordered their Dragee Sampler which comes with with Burnt Caramel Almonds, Burnt Caramel Hazelnuts, Peanut Butter Pearls, Cherries Two Ways.

Also from Recchiuti, Key Lime Pears and Peanut Butter Pucks. Both garnered a lot of fans over the course of the evening.

Barcelona’s Enric Rovira offers up something called The Planetarium – all nine planets and the sun. Mars tastes of Earl Grey tea, the sun of Williams pears and Earth of salt and pepper.

In addition to a truffle selection with flavors ranging from fiery Habanero to peaty Scotch, the Enric Rovira corner also included Bombolas – Covered in intense 70 dark chocolate, flavors include corn, pumpkin seed, pink pepper, lemon, and cocoa nib. The pink pepper and lemon were particularly well-received.  Alegio Chocolate in Berkley carries the Enric Rovira line – and it’s a little closer than Spain.

Missed them last year because they were closed, but Vancouver’s DC Duby made a triumphant chocolate party return with their Arome Collection (praline butter filling is scented with enchanting oil infusions and studded with luscious sun-ripened fruit jellies), Texture Collection (praline butter filling is scented with alluring and exotic spice blends, and studded with honey caramelized nuts or seeds, plump dried fruits or candied citrus peels) and various other imaginative creations.

Requisite dark chocolate fountain.

The requisite milk chocolate fountain.

Representing Kansas City with a stunning assortment – Christopher Elbow.

An assortment from Vancouver’s own Thomas Haas.

And while I was at Thomas Haas picking up chocolate, I spied these delectable-looking chocolate macarons. I sampled one – and ended up buying the tray.

San Francisco’s Jin Patisserie, another chocolate party mainstay, never fails to impress with its delicate creations. This one is Chef Rob’s favorite.

Another U.K. entry compliments of Cynthia – Brighton’s Montezuma’s Chocolates.

Everybody had their personal favorite, and this one way mine – France’s Patrick Roger. Cocoa bean chips, mini-rochers, ganache with hazelnut praline and almond paste, citrus caramels, and a fantastic assortment.

Making a first chocolate party appearance – Montreal’s Gendron Confiseur Chocolatier. I sampled these when I visited Montreal last month and was mightily impressed with their delicate texture and flavors. The ganache assortment included Hawaiian coffee Kaüai, black spruce, mimosa, Matcha, Lapsan Souchong, Tahitian vanilla, Alba truffle, Roquefort, caramel a la fleur de sel, pistachio, cranberry, and grapefruit.

Also from Montreal, Le Maitre Chocolatier delivers a terrific assortment –

– some INTENSE alcohol-spiked chocolates, and –

A double decadent combination of foie gras and chocolate. Everyone who tried them was pleasantly surprised by these truffles.

File this one under “fun”. Austria’s Zotter Chocolates is known for flavors famed and infamous: celery, truffle and port wine, peanuts and ketchup, and lemon polenta to name a few.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Throwdown With Bobby Flay and watched him take on The Vermont Brownie Company and their signature chevre brownie. Impressed, I elected to include these delectable treats in the line-up this year.

Speaking of brownies, check out this decadent Callebeaut-chocolate version from Vancouver’s own Linda Meinhardt. David Blue declared them the best brownies he’s ever eaten.

Another great local entry was Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France. Exquisite ganaches and truffles.

Eventually, the guests started to arrive –

Stuart, Brian, and John

Ashleigh, Lawren, and James

Ivon

Kathy and Will

Teresa and Alan. Oh, and Carl.

Alan and Kerry (with a Y)

Carl, Karen, and Debbie

Peter and Holly

Louis peruses the menu.

And likes what he sees.

Alaina and John

Elyse

Ashleigh and Kerry (with a Y).

David snaps me snapping him.

Jeffrey and Elyse

Al

Me

Carl sports his hungry face.

Jen

Everyone eventually took their seats and dinner got underway…

Amuse bouche of broccoli soup and Welsh rarebit. Not rabbit. Rarebit (coined “cheezy bread” by some). Delicious!

Alan smiles while his wife chokes on her drink.

Ashleigh and James

Remi and Cintia

Alan and Kerry (with a Y).

Lawren

One for Brian’s mom.

Lawren presents the butter lettuce salad with smoked coppa and heirloom beets.  Excellent.  I’m all about the beets.

The partial line-up

The partial line-up.

In the kitchen: Tom, Chef Rob, and Chef Ted.

Black truffles!

Tagliatelle with black truffle and cultured butter. THIS was the dish everyone was talking about all night. Simple yet sublime.

Chef Rob invited me back into the kitchen to watch them finish the prime rib. Cooked sous-vide until rare, then given a crispy coating.

Cirspy Duck Confit and Prime Beef! Two types of awesome!

Denise

Jen and Jamil. And Louis too!

Debbie, Alaina, and Hillary.

Ivon and Elyse

Kathy and Will

I ask the kitchen to include a little something special in Ashleigh’s vegetarian option. Yes, some crispy duck.

Well, look who’s fashionably late. It’s Patrick Gilmore.

My crispy duck confit with mustard spaetzle. Lots of oohing and aahing over this dish.

Brad and Debbie

Kandas and Andy

Steve and Jodi

Alex

Kerry

With a Y.

A Stargate of sorbets!

Chef Rob prepared a special treat: macarons! Vanilla-caramel sea salt here.

And a pile of chocolate macarons here. Best macarons I've had since leaving Tokyo.

With dinner done, we moved onto the main event…

Ashleigh elbows her way to the front and grabs some of the Jean-Paul Hevin Cheese-Chocolate.

Ashleigh steals Jamil's chevre brownie.

Decisions, decisions...

One of these things does NOT belong. Carl plays mix 'n match with the selection.

Patrick and Ivon attempt to re-enact that infamous Superbowl Snickers commercial.

Peter says "Come on!"

The boys

Chef Rob

Chef Ted

Tom

Jen and Lawren

Thanks to the gang at Refuel for an incredible evening!

What a night!

And what  a day – spent uploading all of these pictures!

February 25, 2010: Goodbye, Akemi!

It seemed like only yesterday I was prepping the guest room and stocking up the Lush basket in anticipation of Akemi’s arrival and suddenly, the next thing I know, I’ve seen her off at the airport and am heading back home for a quiet afternoon with the dogs.  It was a wonderful ten days – fun yet, ultimately, very relaxing – and now I look forward to a return to work and the commencement of production on SGU’s second season, while Akemi eyes a brief return to Japan before heading off to Perth where she will be studying English for the next couple of months.  Her English is already better than my Japanese so I’m sure she’s going to have a great time.  And, given her propensity for rearranging linen closets and doing laundry, I’m sure the host family she’ll be staying with will have a great time as well.

Since last night was her final evening in Vancouver, I left it up to her to pick the restaurant.  And so, we ended up back at ReFuel for the oishi food and shinsetsu staff…

Chef Ted serves up a delectable melt-in-your-mouth salmon amuse-bouche with a crispy garlic topping. Oh, and a green apple garnish.

Roasted bone marrow with green apple, parsley, and maldon salt. Okay, granted, this one is an acquired taste – but if you like marrow, you’ll love Refuel’s version.

Like everyone else I’ve brought to Fuel/ReFuel who either a) doesn’t like duck or b) never tried it, Akemi was blown away by Refuel’s crispy version.

An addition to the menu impossible to resist: a luscious rack of pork belly served with caramelized fennel and the house mash.

Akemi bats clean-up.

Okay, seriously, what’s with the lilliputian cups? I couldn’t even hook the handle with my pinky.

Finished another 100 pages of Jonathan Barnes’ brilliant The Somnambulist last night (and fully intend to pick up his second book, The Domino Men, the next time I’m at my local bookstore) while Akemi took her final relaxing Vancouver bath for the foreseeable future.  Speaking of which – what the hell is with the garbage stuffed inside those Lush bath bombs?  I mean, seriously!  The last thing I want to do after taking a bath is stoop over the tub, gathering the scattered seaweed, sparkles, and confetti that risk clogging up the sink if left unattended.

The following morning – all packed up and ready to go.

Akemi bids a fond farewell to the doggies, and oft-spooked, anxiety-ridden Bubba in particular with whom she's developed an extra special connection.

The dogs were bummed to see her go.  Just look at ’em…

Jelly

Maximus

Lulu

And, of course, Bubba.

Hey, the most spectacular results Canada’s short-sighted and ill-advised Own the Podium campaign has yielded thus far have been in the foreign press: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/columnists/simon_barnes/article7041547.ece

Well, at least once these Games are over we can finally put these Olympics behind us.  Oh, no.  Wait.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/sports/olympics/25vancouver.html

February 18, 2010: Disaster denied or simply delayed? ReFuel! And Bathtime for Bubba!

I feel like I’m a character in one of those Final Destination movies.  The reason?  Well, way back when I was in fourth grade, I was helping my gym glass set up the trampoline.  At one point, a section of the equipment clamped down on my fingers but I was able to quickly slip my hand away without suffering any damage.  Stevie Robertson, a classmate who would later gain some Allancroft Elementary School-level fame by pummeling a bully two grades his senior, was standing nearby and remarked: “You just got your fingers massacred.”  “No,”I told him.  “I’m fine.”  And wiggled my fingers to show him I had escaped any serious injury.  Then, seconds later, a section of the trampoline sprang back and broke my arm, snapping the wrist in two places.  What has stuck with me about that incident – besides the horrific injury sustained, the six hours I spent at the Lakeshore General Hospital emergency room waiting for treatment, or the fact that they eventually realized they’d set the bone incorrectly and had to re-break it – was that brush with danger and disaster, not denied as I’d originally imagined, but merely delayed.

Flash-forward to this morning.  The dogs had come back in from the backyard but I couldn’t find Lulu, so I went outside to look for her – not realizing she was upstairs in Akemi’s room, trying to rustle our guest out of bed.  I’m not exactly sure what my deck is made out of but when wet, it’s like one of those hilariously treacherous walkways suspended over a vat of whipped wasabi they make the contestants negotiate on the Japanese games-shows.  My feet slipped out from underneath and I landed hard, hitting the top step, though thankfully not quite its corner, managing to take the brunt of the impact with my butt and outstretched arms.  I slid down the next two steps and rose, remarkably, uninjured.  It could have – and, frankly, should have – gone much worse for me.  I could have caught that corner, injured my lower back, my legs, or possibly even shattered my wrists when I swung my hands around to cushion to my fall.  Disaster denied.  Or delayed?  Suffice it to say that with the memory of that trampoline incident forever in the back of my mind, I was extra cautious today.

Still, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that – to quote Peter DeLuise – “Death holds a grudge.”  And I fear it’s slow-witted step-brother is just as petty.

Last night, Akemi and I had dinner at ReFuel.  Unfortunately, after talking up the crispy duck for two days, I was disappointed to learn that they were out.  So, instead, we had a variety of alternate items including:

The house croquettes - Crispy outside and a decadent liquid foie gras center.
Creamy onion soup with croutons and herbs. Akemi LOVED this dish. Apparently, she's never had anything like it in Japan.
Hand-rolled potato gnocchi with roasted mushrooms and fresh herbs. Another Akemi fave.

We were pretty stuffed and, as a result, ended up sharing dessert.  Three to be exact…

The house creme brulee. Akemi was all over this.
The peanut and chocolate parfait. My favorite.
The apple & pear crostada with extra extra sour cream ice cream.

I was planning to take Akemi to the art gallery today (I hear Vancouver has one) but she suggested just staying home for the day – which was perfectly fine with me.  After perusing my considerable library of Asian dvds, we ended up watching the live-action GTO movie – a truly terrible feature based on a truly awesome anime series.  We took the dogs for a walk and gave Bubba a bath…

Bath-time for Bubba

Tomorrow, we’ll track down that legendary art gallery.  Promise.

Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday boy Joel and the gang at WordPress who have been wonderful hosts to this blog over the past couple of years.  And a special shout out to Nick and Hanni in tech support!