Archive for March, 2006

Cross boarder hopping

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Bellis Fair Mall, originally uploaded by Jeffery Simpson.

When I was young my family lived in White Rock for a few years. This was about 15 years ago or so back when White Rock had no real shopping areas other than a K-Mart, and no theatres.

For shopping or movies my family had the option of driving into Vancouver proper, or crossing the border and going to Bellis Fair in Bellingham.

This was back when stuff in the US was truely cheaper. I remember excited trips to Target to get Super Mario Brothers 3, or watch one of the Short Circuit movies.

One of the most awesome parts of Bellis Fair was the Nintendo kiosk, where they had about a dozen TVs set up demoing Nintendo games. I mean how cool is that?

Very cool.

Since Vancouver and White Rock have both built up now to the point where White Rock has a movie theatre, and shopping and the prices are no longer as cheap in the south, I’d imagine that an evening of cross border shopping is less appealing now as it once was.

The Georgia Straight: I liked your earlier, funnier issues

goldenplate.jpgThis week is the Golden Plate awards. I consider this issue such a benchmark of Vancouver restaurants that when I put it in my magazine rack this week, I removed last year’s Golden Plate issue, since I had been keeping that all year as a restaurant reference.

But I fear that my friend Eric Bin has it right: somewhere the Georgia Straight went off the rails, and Vancouver Magazine is doing a much better job of directing me to interesting places to eat.
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Kitanoya Guu has enough customers already. Don’t bother.

My goal to evaluate whether all the hype about the Guu restaurants is justified remains unfulfilled.

A few months back, Maktaaq and I stepped into the original Guu on Thurlow for lunch, but were disappointed to find that the lunch menu is a greatly abbreviated form of their standard menu, offering primarily Japanese staple dishes such as katsu and curry and ramen, without so many izakaya specialties. The food was decent, but nothing memorable.

We had commented various times over the ensuing months that a repeat visit in the evening was in order, and this past Saturday night seemed the opportunity in question.

Based on claims that Kitanoya Guu with Otokanae in Gastown is the most interesting incarnation of the popular local chain, we made our way toward the trendy Water St location.

The entrance to the restaurant seems inviting enough. The establishment perches at the top of a staircase, in a loft-style arrangement which straddles the entryway of a nice Gastown brick-and-wooden-beams ex-warehouse building. The top of the stairs land potential diners in front of a refrigerated display case which includes examples of the day’s specials, which, on Saturday, included tako yaki octopus dumplings, a Japanese paella, and a fried dumpling dish which had sold out.

Also near the top of the stairs was a shelf containing a selection of newspapers and magazines with both English and Japanese selections, and a small podium with a sign saying “Please wait to be seated.”

Finding ourselves somewhere between not being in a tremendous hurry but still increasingly hungry, we asked one of the two couples already standing there how long the wait would be. “Around twenty minutes, I think,” came the answer. It seemed reasonable enough, and not far from the podium was an empty table presumably shortening the wait further. So we waited. so far no one had approached to take our names, but we concluded they were busy and didn’t worry about it.

After around fifteen minutes, we looked up from a break in our conversation to notice that one couple had disappeared without our notice (I’m not sure whether they were seated or if they left), and the couple with whom we had spoken had become fidgety and were wandering back and forth between the waiting area and the bar area, finally giving up and standing near the bar to order drinks. The previously empty table still remained empty. Even now, not a single restaurant staff member had so much as waved at us from the bar, let alone welcomed us to the restaurant, apologized for the wait, or given us any indication how long we would remain waiting.

Now that we stood alone at the podium, it seemed even more obvious that we would be noticed, so we held out a little longer, doing our best to make eye contact with each staff member who passed by. Still not a word from anyone.

After around five more minutes, I paused conversation to comment, saying, “I hope I don’t sound like I’m whining, but does it bother you, too, that no one has so much as talked to us since we arrived here?”

“Oh my God, you too? I’m so glad,” she said. “We must have been standing here twenty minutes already. I’m starting to get really angry.”

“Me too,” I said. “At first I thought I was just getting irritable from being hungry, but then I realized, how are we supposed to know if there’s a table available or not. The place could even be closed entirely for a private party, or reservations only tonight, and were just wasting our time, and we’d have no way of knowing.”

“I’m going to go say something to them,” she stated. She surveyed the restaurant, and about half a minute later, as one of the waitresses walked by, Maktaaq intercepted her and asked about the wait. The response, rather than being the least bit apologetic, was shocking.

“You want to eat here?” (The answer to this seemed obvious.) “Do you mind eating in the bar?”

We looked at each other. “Sure, I guess the bar is okay. Is there space in there now?”

“No, thirty minutes for the bar.”

“If it’s thirty minutes for the bar, how long for the restaurant?”

“Thirty minutes for the restaurant, too. Both sides are busy.”

We both paused for a minute contemplating how the bar question had even been relevant, but then couldn’t help but voice our frustration. “We’ve been standing here for twenty minutes already, and not a single person even came to say hello, or to let us know about the wait, or to assure us there was even going to be a table at all. When were you planning on greeting us?”

The waitress gave us a look of vacuous incomprehension. “Why would we talk to you? We have enough people eating here right now,” she said.

Since by the Guu staff’s own proclamation they had plenty of diners already, we decided to cease being a burden on them and to find another place nearby where we might be more welcome. We resumed our walk up Water St and stopped into Sitar, where we were welcomed effusively, were given our choice of tables next to the window, and enjoyed an intimate dinner of some of the best Butter Chicken and Lamb Roganjosh either of us had ever tasted. The crispy pappadams, delectable samosas, and syrupy gulab jamun for dessert also didn’t disappoint. The service was attentive and warm, the food was outstanding, and the atmosphere was pleasant and relaxing.

While dipping warm tender pieces of fresh naan bread into the remaining butter chicken sauce, she and I both agreed that it’s perplexing why someone would forego a stellar meal at a place like Sitar in order to be voluntarily abused elsewhere.

Mokuyokai Ohanami Redux

At the tea house
Thanks to Maktaaq’s write-up, my lovely bride and I went out to the Mokuyokai Ohanami (cherry blossom viewing party) at the Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC.

It was a delight.
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Flug Tag Lands in False Creek

flugtag.gifI was watching the Simpsons tonight (old one where Marge goes to prison) and saw an ad for Flug Tag, which is happening in Vancouver in August. I first heard about Flug Tag when I was travelling; I saw stickers defacing public structures in Austria. This is the first event held in a Canadian city.

What is Flug Tag? It’s a made-up event where competitors build large but odd “flying” machines that are launched out over water off a 30-foot ramp. The contraptions and competitors usually don’t go very far. I guess the tie in is that, like Red Bull, prreparing to launch yourself off a ramp “gives you wings” and jitters and the urge to pee.

You must apply to enter by May 19th; competition is on August 19th at Concord Place. First prize is flight lessons worth $7,500. Fourth place is a cool, refreshing dip in False Creek.

Great Condo Floorplan Site Goes Dark

When we were looking for a condo downtown, the absolute best resource online was Les Twarog and Sonya Peterson’s condo directory, which contained the floorplans and descriptions of every building downtown. It saved me hours of running around and wasted research. Whether you’re renting or buying, it was an excellent resource.

However, I just heard that because of the actions of some unscrupulous bandwidth and content stealers, they’ve had to take the maps offline.
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Dodgeball Lives!

Vancouver Dodgeball League logo

Dodgeball is awesome. Oh come on, you know it is. But you know what’s lame about dodgeball? The fact that adults don’t generally get to play. This didn’t bug me much at one time, but then I became an adult. Anger!

Fortunately, help is here. Some wonderful lunatics in East Van have formed the Vancouver Dodgeball League. I am 100% impressed. I’m also posting this item now because it’s timely: They’re starting their first season April 4th, and the registration deadline is Tuesday, March 28th. Sign up now!
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Stanley Park Art, another look

StanleyParksSecret.jpgDuring a fascinating standing-room-only lecture by Jean Barman on the history of Stanley Park at the Vancouver Museum last night, I realized that my original post on the new Coast Salish work commissioned for the totem pole area at the park is really only the most recent in over a century of rather bizarre interactions between the Vancouver Parks Board and First Nations (and other) people over park development.

Here are some interesting highlights of the discussion.

When construction on the park first commenced, the land was not empty forest. Within the current park boundaries was the large Squamish settlement Whoi Whoi (or Khwaykhway), along with a couple of other smaller settlements of First Nations and other groups. Whoi Whoi was torn down, its residents evicted, a secondhand logging arch was brought in and erected at the site, and it was renamed “Lumberman’s Arch”, with the newly erected arch being designated a site of historical interest.

Also on the park land were several First Nations burial areas, a Chinese cemetery, and Vancouver’s original “white” cemetery, all of which seem to have been simply landscaped over, and none of which bear any kind of marking today to recognize the people still buried there or even simply the sites themselves. In a 2004 memo, the Parks Board indicated that identification of the areas would detract interest in the “genuine historical attractions” of the park, defined as the rose garden, the cricket grounds, and so on.

Within a matter of only a few years after having evicted the First Nations people from the park, the Parks Board decided it needed an “authentic Indian village”, including residents, as a tourist attraction (it’s not clear what was unauthentic about the settlement recently removed). After debate over what kind of decor would best suit the purpose (even including consideration of teepees, oddly enough), the board settled on totem poles from the north coast of BC and began collecting them. The Indian village itself (thankfully) never really panned out, but the totem pole collection became the basis for the current totem poles in the park.

To quiet an initial round of concern about the lack of representation of lower mainland culture in the park, the Park Board commissioned a “Squamish Totem Pole”. Despite the fact that Squamish had never created totem poles, the local Squamish leader resigned himself to the probability that this might be the only way his people would be represented at all, and agreed to carve a totem pole for the park, which remains there today as a bizarre souvenir of this arrangement.

Other examples of the inexplicable artificiality of Park Board policy continue through to today, with a consistent pattern of attempting to engineer the selection of plants and animals of the park so that it seems “more natural”, and choosing to create public interest in the park only through creation of new sculptures and attractions rather than by capitalizing on the historical value already there.

You can understand why the new Coast Salish commission is far more interesting when viewed in this larger context, especially when it’s not clear based on other recent actions whether the commission is finally a sincere gesture of inclusion for the people to whom the land belonged, or if the ways of exploiting First Nations culture to create tourist attractions for white people have simply become more refined.

If you find these stories as fascinating as I do, be sure to pick up a copy of Jean Barman’s book, Stanley Park’s Secret, or stay on the lookout for her next public appearance.

White Noise 2: The Light

White Noise 2 [imdb] was filming this week at the Orpheum Theatre. The first White Noise, which had Michael “Batman” Keaton, was only interesting if you were into spotting the Vancouver locations throughout the film.

Really was there anything about the concept of being able to communicate with dead people through TV static that we feel was not fully explored in the first film? About the only thing that makes this sequal half interesting is that it stars Firefly and Serenity star Nathan Fillion [imdb].

Since we’d been drinking at the Atlantic Trap and Gill [atg] my friend Ryan wanted to adopt an Irish accent and burst onto the set drunk demanding to be allowed to play the slots. However when we found out it was White Noise 2, well who are we to stand in the way of the creation of art?

Still hooked on Cafe S.V.P.

Cafe S'il Vous Plait

Hi, my name is Matt, and I’m an addict.

I don’t mess with drugs. And alcohol’s not my issue, though I do like my beer now and again.

I’m officially addicted to Cafe S’il Vous PlaĆ®t.

Tonight I started to cook dinner at home. I really did. But when the lettuce for my salad was followed into the bowl by some kind of woodland slime mould, and nothing else in the fridge was wearing a “Hello! My name is Dinner” name tag, I just couldn’t help myself.

And it wasn’t just tonight, with my big bowl of Chili No Carne.

It’s true — I was there Monday night as well, trying the Vegetarian Shepard’s [sic] Pie.

What? Sunday? Um . . . yeah, that might have been just the day before that I was lunching on some Indian Samosa Pie, but I really thought it had been more than just a day. I couldn’t miss it that much after only 24 hours, right? Right?

But you can’t blame me. Good food. Quiet. Always a place to sit. Bottomless coffee mug. A comfortable place to work on my laptop or read a book. Even a coat hook at every booth. Friendly staff. That would be enough already, wouldn’t it? And then add the best cornbread north of the Canadian River? What’s a man to do?

I promise I’ll quit. Once I’ve tried everything on the menu, maybe. Though the Breakfast Pie and Samosa Pie are worth eating twice, just to make sure they were really that satisfying the first time. And they just added Udon Noodles to the menu, so that adds another visit or two. And the daily specials, depending on how many of those there are.

What? No, it’s not gourmet food, exactly, but it’s healthy, and satisfying, and just the right portion, and tasty. And their homemade salad dressing is oh so sweet and vinegary.

But I’ll quit after that, I promise. Honest. I might even skip the homemade desserts. Maybe.

As long as that takeout container of cornbread keeps longer than my lettuce did. . . .

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