27 August 2007

Javaher polo

Last saturday, at Paul and Ali's wedding, we had javaher polo, which means jeweled rice. The dish is made of basmati rice, rice with saffron, orange peel (though in this Wisconsin version we had caramelized julienne carrots), barberries (they reminded me of cranberries, tart and tiny), and almond and pistachios slivers. The different colors represent jewels such as diamonds, rubies and emeralds for the marriage.* That was Paul's nod to his Persian heritage: food! It was incredibly delicious.

If I may add also, it was a wonderful wedding, and I was extremely lucky to witness two of my best friends from college get hitched finally! I will get a list of the very good wines soon to post on this blog (let them finish their honeymoon!). I remember some Spanish champagne (tasty, less sparkling than what I've tasted from Reims)... And as pre-desert we had the excellent chocolates by Gail Ambrosius, with flavors like rose, passion-fruit, caramel with sea salt, and dark-dark-dark. (I also highly recommend her chocolate bars, and the green tea-infused chocolate buddhas). Hands down, the best chocolate I've ever had.

* Source: persianmirror.com

19 August 2007

Victory Lager

I've talked a lot about Victory Prima Pils - one of my favorite beers - but had somehow never until now had a Victory Lager. Well, it was on special this week at Weaver Street, so I leapt at the opportunity. Victory describes the lager as, "Perfectly balanced, this authentic version of a German helles-style lager satisfies gloriously. Lean, German malts and fine European hops offer subtle harmony." Subtle is right - very little in the way of hoppy flavor here. It's a nice pale, straw color with little in the way of head and a hint of the similar lager'd brilliance of the Prima Pils - but only a little, accompanied by a bit of lager-y sweetness. Very refreshing, goes down easy but not quite with the full body of the Pils. Still, a solid beer.

11 August 2007

Wild Flour - Banff's Artisan Bakery

On my initial pass-through of Banff, one place looked the likeliest for good coffee, WiFi and atmosphere - Wild Flour. I was right. High ceilings, gray floors, Scandanavian-style tables and chairs and big glass windows team with a bakery in back (also visible through a glass window), menus written in chalk on blackboard-painted cabinets and classic glass display cases for pastries. Plenty of seating inside - not cramped -and outside tables both on the streetside and as the cafe opens into a courtyard.

And the espresso (a single) was excellent - solid crema, rich and smooth. The filter coffee - all fair trade organic (as is the rest of their product "whenever possible") - was also good, and came in three gradations of darkness, all house blends (as was the espresso). Didn't have the bread but it smells excellent - everything is made in-house - and the staff is a good one. If ever you find yourself in Banff, this is

10 August 2007 - Lake Agnes Teahouse, AB

The Lake Agnes Teahouse, sitting on Lake Agnes above Lake Louise, AB, is an absolutely wonderful marriage of food and place. It takes a medium-length-but-not-strenuous hike to reach it, ascending from Lake Louise and its attendant Fairmont Hotel on the valley floor, up past the smaller Mirror Lake and the falls that feed it from Lake Agnes, to finally reach Lake Agnes and the teahouse.

aforementioned falls

Once there, the teahouse itself is homey and bustling, with a (young, of course) staff that lives in a loft in the single building and comes down once a week ("for a hot shower"), attending to all of the functions of the teahouse in the interim. The tea menu is extensive - a few dozen varieties - with a few soups, sandwiches and tea-biscuits to accompany. And of course, the tea is fresh boiled from lakewater.

interior of the teahouse

We went with the Irish Breakfast (excellent), and split-pea soup. The soup was less thick than a split-pea normally is, but then, they have to bring everything in either on their backs or a horse's. The bread was fine, but the main point of the exercise was a relaxing fill-up of hot liquids and some solids as it rained outside on top of a mountain. Not bad.

Lake Agnes - note the teahouse on the far shore, opposite Big Beehive

08 August 2007

Evelyn’s Coffee Bar, Banff, AB

Sitting in a coffee shop, ruminating as the world goes by on a gray and rainy day - and then writing about it - is an awfully cliche way of eating the world. I’m not even, at this point, sure of where I picked it up as a habit. Was is just suffused in my by popular culture, some third-order derivative product of the Seattle scene? Did I come by it honestly? Do I even like coffee?

At any rate, I sure think I like coffee, and sitting in coffee shops contemplatively - with or without masses of people, with or without the loud noise of a city, of civilization. As it happens, I’m getting the best of all possible worlds right now, a beautiful mountain view in the distance, a busy coffee shop around me, a sidewalk full of humanity passing by outside and then, just past the sidewalk, absolutely hellish amounts of noise from a Cat shovel tearing up the street. It’s glorious - the quiet of the mountains is wonderful, but a week of it has found me craving the awful, glorious succor of humanity’s destructive noises. Trains passed by the lodge last night, and that was a start, but the diesel and electric and metal and stone and dirt is rattling the table here, and that makes me happy. And now there’s the smell of cigarette smoke wafting in from outside, which is really nice.

The coffee: I really need to stop ordering double espressos, as each one I’ve had here has been dumped into a cappuccino cup, allowing whatever crema there’s been to disperse into islands around the inky black. The taste - not bad, but I should really go with a single next time to actually judge the quality.

UPDATE: Had the single. Still not good. The baristas are... not particularly committed to their craft.

7 August 2007 - Poutine - Columbia Icefields Center, AB (between Jasper and Banff)

I knew I’d have to get some of this stuff eventually, and this seemed as good a spot as any: a tourist-trap’s cafeteria. Poutine, for those who don’t know, is one of Canada’s national dishes - fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Served in a styrofoam tray in this particular cafeteria, food just doesn’t get much dirtier than this. And - it was delicious. Gravy tasted, as my father put it, “right out of the can” (and yes, did almost certainly violate my no-beef guidelines, but this was in the name of tourism), cheese curds got gradually meltier as time went on, and the fries were, there’s no way around it, excellent. Eaten with a plastic fork, it left me feeling satisfied and vaguely disgusting, which I think was pretty much the point.

There’s a vegetarian restaurant in Banff, and I’m curious if they’ve got a veggie poutine - maybe mushroom gravy over extra-silky tofu and fries?

UPDATE: Photo below. No veggie poutine yet.

Sortilége - Liqueur made with Canadian Whisky and Maple Syrup

Choosing a digestif after a pretty good and way-too-expensive-but-that’s-how-it-goes meal was a happily difficult task. Go with one of the two kinds of grappa? The pear eau de vie? The framboise? No, I’m in Canada - maple whiskey it is. Not only was I not disappointed, I was floored. I could drink a gallon of this stuff, drink it like juice. The nose starts with the familiar gasoline burn of whiskey but doesn’t continue to incinerate your sinuses - instead the full, sweet and malty maple takes over and glides through. The taste is even smoother, with just a hint of whiskey bit to begin with, maple throughout, but with none of the saccharine disgustingness of so many flavored liquors. Southern Comfort this ain’t. I suppose I’ll have to get around to trying some of the other Canadian whiskys while I’m here, but I don’t expect any of them will be quite so pleasant an experience as this.

6 August 2007 - Jasper Brewing Co. Brew Pub and Eatery, Jasper, AB

At least in Alberta (or at least in its mountain resort towns), the trick to Canadian cuisine seems to be staying away from anything too fancy and sticking with solid, hearty food. Not burgers, though - law requires they be cooked with the consistency of hockey pucks. So I was confident that a brew pub’s fish and chips would be a good choice - and I was right, but even more right than I expected. The fish was delicious, the outside not over-battered or over-fried, and the cranberry tartar sauce good. The fries were only okay and the slaw too little, but the fish more than made up for it. And then, since it was a brewpub, there was the beer. Rather than an imperial pint that could be a mistake, my mom and me split the sampler, a generous six-case of 6-oz. glasses. The breakdown was as follows:

Rocket Ridge Raspberry Ale: “Yep, tastes like raspberry. Very nice,” said JD. Hoppy presentation but not taste; raspberry-y but not too sweet, and not gimmicky. One of my favorite non-Lambic fruit ales.

Liftline Cream Ale: best cream ale I’ve had in a while - very much like a Sierra Nevada, actually, but less hoppy and less carbonated.

Honey Bear Ale: actually pretty good. A little weird - local honey, cardamom and orange peel (but the honey was mostly what showed up), served with a slice of lime. JD didn’t like it; very aromatic, I found it clear and refreshing. Dunno if I’d want a lot of it, but an interesting beer.

Rock Hopper IPA: hoppy and a little bitter (in a good way), not too carbonated and just flowery and sweet enough (i.e., not very). A good IPA - JD’s 2nd favorite.

6060 Stout: a solid, chocolatey stout - the roast came through strong, dry and satisfying. Not Guinness but definitely multiple-pint-worthy.

B Hill Pil: a local favorite, JD rated this “Not overly bitter but with a tanginess. Full of flavor and with an effervessence.” Clearly the best beer of all of them, a big flavorful pils that’d be a regular drink of mine were it available.

05 August 2007

Big Rock Brewery Sampler Pack

While in Alberta, it only seemed fair to sample some of the local brews. Canadians make a point distinguishing their beer from what they consider its overly-watery American counterpart, and while they certainly have a point vis a vis Labatt's and Molson vs. Budweiser et al., I was curious to see if they'd kept pace with the substantial improvements in American beer brought by microbrews. So we settled on Big Rock Brewery (a local Alberta brewery), which offered a 15-pack sampler (of cans!) with a wheat beer, honey brown, English brown ale, light lager and an ale. And each can offers a helpful spinner with the full range of beer flavors (also including pale, Irish, and stout) with the given beer highlighted on the wheel. There's a rooster at the center.

Grasshopper (wheat)- "This beer doesn't have much taste," says JD. She's not all wrong, though I can see where they were going with the wheat beer - it's just not the distinctive wheat-y goodness of an Allagash (or even a Blue Moon), let alone the Belgians. Inoffensive, but doesn't bring much to the table.

Honey Brown - "Very smooth, pretty clean finish - fairly solid, middle-of-the-road lager. Nothing outstanding about it. It's got the hint of honey in there, yeah," says MKD. "Dark enough so you can *almost* chew on it. Actually pretty damn similar to [JW Dundee's] Honey Brown, but a little smoother." This assessment doesn't do much to recommend this beer to me, though that might have to do with my particular history with JW Dundee's Honey Brown. A sip generally confirms my wariness - Honey Brown and Newcastle have conspired to turn me well away from sweet brown ales.

Traditional Ale - Hoppy, flavorful and not too sweet. The can-spinner locates this as an "English Brown Ale" but that's a category too populated with overly-sweet brews (e.g., Newcastle Brown) to be a good guide. This is a good, medium-dark ale, not too dissimilar from Duck Rabbit Brewery's Brown Ale (to my mind, one of the best brown ales I've had), though without the hint of sweet and with a little more carbonation. And in a can, though it's also available in bottles.

Warthog (ale) - MKD ranks this as his second-favorite (behind the Traditional Ale), and it's a fine enough ale though without any particular distinction.

Jack Rabbit Light (lager) - "It's Miller," sayeth MKD, and that's pretty much the idea, I'm guessing. It could've been worse - he could've said Beast.

Below - the winner, can and pour.

04 August 2007

Denjiro Japanese Restaurant - Jasper, Alberta

Continuing in the "a bit [but not when you think about it] surprised this is in Alberta" category of restaurants was Jasper's Denjiro. And... while not as superlative within its element as Uyen Uyen, Denjiro was pretty darn solid. Not exceedingly expensive, either, and some unexpected innovations - both myself and MKD had and were satisfied by the Yam Yam roll: sweet potato tempura, avocado and spicy miso. Also excellent: for $0.60, a small side of Japanese pickles (mild cucumbers and cabbage) was a perfect added bonus. The service was pretty so-so... or bad, I suppose (I received [and was offered] exactly zero water refills), and both the beer and cold sake were not quite that cold to begin with. But, well - it was a Japanese restaurant in the Canadian Rockies. And it was pretty full of Japanese tourists, so I wasn't just making this up.

A Few Thoughts on Canadian Supermarkets

As readers may or may not be aware, one of my favorite things to do upon entering a foreign country is to visit its supermarkets. You can tell a lot bout a society from its supermarkets, and based at least on the results of the survey of greater Hinton, Alberta, Canada is... unimpressively different from the United States. The supermarkets, for one, were: Safeway and IGA. And yes, there were a few of the "this is just like in the States but different!" products; a few more Anglophone products (better availability of Cadbury chocolates, chiefly), but mostly it was exactly like a supermarket in the States (not a good one, either), with a few slightly different products from the same big food companies. Little in the way or organic or high-end products, and to my great disappointment the only smoked fish they had was frozen. And, as I remembered from a disappointing Winter Term Scavenger Hunt trip lo these many years ago - no booze in the supermarket.

There was, however, a boozer two doors down that carried - to my and MKD's delight - Castle Lager. In tall boy cans no less. Also purchased there were some local beers and a Canadian bitter - Alpenbitter - reviews of which will follow.


Also, below, is from a deli case in Jasper. Apparently in Canada, rather than call something "New York" when you mean "Jewish," you say "Montreal." There is and has been for a while a sizable Jewish community there, so this makes a kind of sense. Still a little odd.

02 August 2007

Uyen Uyen Vietnamese Restaurant - Calgary, Alberta

After a 3:30 wake-up in DC, the level of comfort one can always expect from a DC-Denver flight on a legacy carrier (i.e., not much), and finally meeting up with the MKD for the Denver-Calgary leg, we found ourselves cruising through the sketchy neighborhoods near the airport in our Lincoln Mark Z, looking for food. Despite the promises of a reliably bad meal offered by all your North American chain favorites (they have Denny's! and Hooters!), the MKD spied a Vietnamese place in a particularly beaten-down strip mall. As far as Vietnamese goes, that's usually a good sign, and Uyen Uyen was no different.

I went with a Tofu Sate Sub, which was enormous on a perfectly toasted bun, and at $5.95CN was definitely a bargain. The tofu was fried crispy outside, tasty and tender inside, and the sub was piled high with sliced carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts and cucumber slices. Topped with the sweet and savory tamarind sauce and the a-bit-sweet-but-not-way-too-spicy chili sauce, it was pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

MKD went with #52 - pork chop and fried egg (two of each) on rice - and was quite satisfied, the eggs barely sunny side and fairly seeping into the rice from the first; JD with the shrimp wonton soup, a nice mild broth and wonderfully delicate wrappers on the wontons; and BK with the Bun Nem Nuong - grilled pork balls and spring rolls on vermicelli. More sausage or salami-y than "balls," he nonetheless walked away happy.

The only slight disappointments were fried spring rolls that didn't off too much beyond being hot from the frier, and Vietnamese iced coffee that came pre-prepared and wasn't either that strong or that sweet. MKD's jackfruit bubbletea, however, was "just like" he remembered jackfruit from Hawaii.

This will, I'm guessing, be the only Vietnamese food on this trip, but I head out into the prairie with at least a modest fortification of veggies.