tofino – march 2018

We’ve only lived on the west coast for three years but I think we still act like giddy tourists, zooming around the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island any chance we get.

I am shocked by the amount of local people who have never been to Tofino.  I’ve been told that it is because it is expensive (true), a long trip (8 hours door-to-door for us, including a ferry ride), rainy (yes) and features a journey on treacherous roads (Also true.  We unwittingly drove through a snow storm across the island on the way home).  BUT.  It is worth the trip.  I call Tofino the Hawai’i of Canada.  Sleepy surfer towns at the end of the road are my favourite places. Tofino is akin to Hana or Hanalei in Hawai’i.

This is the third year we’ve ventured to Tofino on Spring Break.  It also happens to be our wedding anniversary – 15 years this year! – so we always go out for dinner to Wolf in the Fog.  This year we had no sitter, so we brought our youngest son with us and taught him how to sit patiently and happily for a two hour dinner (which is an important quality for any kid to have).

Tofino is a foodie haven, so let’s start with our anniversary dinner at Wolf in the Fog.  This is modern west coast food and decor done up fancy but with totally unpretentious, affable service.  Make a reservation and head upstairs to your table.  If you are lucky, you’ll get a booth with a sparkly view of the open bar and kitchen.

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Wolf in the Fog’s view

We promised our boy burger and fries, and Wolf in the Fog did not disappoint.  This place loves vertical food and their burger is no exception.  I stole a few fries off Aaron’s plate and can attest they were crunchy, salty and delicious, as a good fry should be.  I was not allowed one bite of his burger, which is always a good sign.

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Dude smelling fries

Both my husband and I ordered fish – Mike the halibut and gnocchi special and me the rockfish.  The halibut was delicate with a pesto sauce and the rockfish was punch in your face with Asian flavours.  Both fish, but two totally different dishes.

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BOOM the Rockfish Dish

As I’m apt to do, I had scoped out the menu online beforehand and decided I wanted the Carrot Cake Sundae dessert.  I could not resist the description:  Apple Butter, Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Pineapple Ginger Toffee Sauce, White Chocolate, Pecans but by this time it was getting dark and I was losing my light – so I took a crappy picture of it:

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Carrot Cake Sundae, better than it looks

Gods willing, we plan to be at Wolf in the Fog for our 16th anniversary too.

To save on costs, we vowed to eat out only one meal a day on our four day trip.  We always always go to the original Tacofino (an orange food truck parked off the highway, with a totally different, laid-back feel than the Vancouver locations) and are never disappointed.

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Tacofino Me.

Other highlights included brews at Tofino Brewery under the cosy heaters, the spectacular service (and sprinkles!) at Rhino Tofino coffee shop, chocolates at Chocolate Tofino, best thin crust pizza this side of Italy at a new kid in town, Basic Goodness Pizza and the awesome view at The Hatch Pub.  Previous years we got our noodle on at Sea Monster Noodle Bar too.

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Basic Goodness Pizza

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The Hatch Pub

Yes it rains, it is expensive, it is far, the road there is winding.  But STILL GO, if you possibly can, to Tofino.  Food aside, THIS is why you make the effort to travel there:

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I’ve been Maui’ed

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A random beach somewhere

Dear Maui – you aren’t nearly as touristy and kitchy as I thought.  I’ve avoided visiting you over the years, choosing to travel to the understated lush island of Kaua’i instead.

I was wrong to judge you.  Choose the right locale for lodging and places to eat carefully and a more-authentic Hawai’i trip is yours.

Our two weeks in Maui went like this:  we stayed in the little town of Haiku, in what is called Upcountry.  This is far from the condo and resort coasts on the west and southwest (but heck if you stay there that’s a-ok too).  The first week of our trip was with our teenage son, adult daughter and her boyfriend, so we opted for a house rental in a Haiku neighbourhood.  There, we had privacy, room to move, a lanai to observe the lizards and listen to the neighbourhood roosters and a great home-base to explore other parts of the island.

Our first week eating adventures included a surprisingly sophisticated selection of eats in small town Haiku, including:

Colleen’s – we stumbled into Colleen’s after our jet-lagged sleep on our first day.  Awesome egg breakfasts, lattes and service.  The locals all stop by for a take-away coffee on their way to work.  Opens at 6 am.  We went back more than once.
Nuka – a lovely sit-down neighbourhood sushi joint.  (Coming from cheap sushi-saturated Vancouver, I’m biased in my sushi opinions.  Nuka was solid, but expensive – but then everything on Maui is expensive).
Baked on Maui – we giggled at the name, and had strong coffee and baked goods.
Sala Dang Thai Kitchen – the best Thai food I’ve ever had, hidden in a little building behind the power grid in Haiku.  Super fresh and bright.

Up the road a few miles is Paia.  This is a happenin’ little hippy surfer town with many tourists stopping on their way to Hana.  Do not let that deter you.  Here’s where we ate.

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Flatbread Pizza

Flatbread Company – a boisterous place – part bar/part restaurant with friendly servers and straight out-of-the oven flatbread pizzas.
Toby’s Shave Ice – I love myself some shave ice.  Get with it with macnut ice cream and condensed milk on top.
Paia Coffee Company – Dreamy open air coffee shop with dark coffee and freshly prepared breakfasts.
We tootled around Upcountry, too – going to the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Surfing Goat Dairy and tracking down Oprah’s house.  One day in Makawao, the cowboy town, while Aaron was sitting on a step, minding his own business and eating his doughnut on a stick from T Komoda Store & Bakery, a chicken leaped up and stole part of his doughnut.  Lesson learned:  watch out for the chickens in Makawao.

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This doughnut is on a stick

We did a bit more than just eat. We ventured to beaches in Kihei (Kamole Beach Park III), Makena (Makena State Park or Big Beach), Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua (D.T Fleming Beach).  Our favourite beaches were closer to home at Paia – Baldwin Beach, Baby Beach and Sugar Cove.  Ho’okipa was fabulous for watching surfers and spotting turtles, too.

We took a satisfying snorkelling trip to Molokini, where I became so enamoured with the peace of snorkelling that I was the last person back on the boat (me, a non-swimmer, go figure).
One night we went to Sheraton Black Rock Luau. I will confess this is me going cheap on an expensive holiday – we opted for the ‘cocktails and show’ version and skipped the dinner.  Still got dessert and Mai Tais.  The ocean-front sunset location can’t be beat and the fire dance was gasp-inducing.

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Ramen me at Star Noodl

In Lahaina, we ate at Take Home Maui (sit on their shady lanai in the heat of the day and eat nice fluffy sandwiches), Star Noodle for ramen and pork dumplings, and adult shave ice at Breakwell Shave Ice.I had the hottest meal in my life sitting in the parking lot outside Tin Roof in Kahului (weather hot not spicy hot) but it was worth it for this fan-girl to go to Sheldon Simeon’s restaurant.  The Mochiko Chicken was the best.

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Tin Roof goodness, eaten on my lap in a hot parking lot

Week two was what Mike and I termed our second honeymoon.  Our first honeymoon 14 years ago was in Montreal and we brought 5 month old Aaron with us.  I would not recommend this (he didn’t sleep a wink the whole trip).  This time we did it up right.  My daughter and her boyfriend generously agreed to fly back to Edmonton with our youngest son in tow, and the two of us were giddy and Hana-bound in a convertible VW Beetle for five glorious adult days.

The drive to Hana is both harrowing and magical.  Mike swam under a waterfall and we watched local kids jump off cliffs into the clear water below.  It took four hours of meandering to get there.  We sampled banana bread at little roadside shops along the way.  (You must eat banana bread on the way to Hana).

Once there, we discovered that Hana is a sleepy town, and we ate almost exclusively in our little cottage with the drop-dead gorgeous view.  (Recommendation:  check out Hana Oceanfront Cottages for the best couple accommodations ever).

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Diggin’ in at the food truck

The honeymoon nature of this part of our trip will not be discussed.  However, I can tell you that I had the best Mai Tai in Maui at the very exclusive Travassa Hana Hotel.  On our last day we ate rib-sticking chicken, rice and mac ‘n cheese salad lunch on the side of the highway at Brahhah Hutts BBQ Grill food truck  (I have eaten some of my favourite meals sitting on the side of a highway – Red Hot Mama’s in Kaui (now closed) and of course Tacofino in Tofino).

On our last two days of our two week trip, we stayed at the Paia Inn, a little boutique hotel with lux amenities including private beach access at the back.  We also ate at Mama’s Fish House, where I consumed the most expensive meal I have ever had.  (My husband wouldn’t let me see the final bill).  I saw hype online and was ready to hate Mama’s Fish House, but we were seated at a prime beachfront table, the service was impeccable and the fish was out of this world (Mahimahi stuffed with deep sea redcrab went down very smoothly).  It was like Disneyland – yes, touristy with a touch of kitch, but everything done so well that all was forgiven (until our Visa bill comes in).  I’d say Mama’s Fish House is a save-up-for-a-special-occasion kind of place.  It was a perfect end to our decadent trip.

If you read my other blog, you will know we’ve had a tough year.  This trip was exactly what I wanted to celebrate the end of my cancer treatment – sitting on a beach in tropical paradise with the people I love.  And in-between beach sitting, we ate some pretty good food too.  Aloha (and mahalo), Maui.

san francisco (#5)

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I’ve been to San Francisco five times in my long life.  Once as a 15 year old snarky teenager, travelling with my parents & brother in a camper van, twice with my husband (it is a very romantic city), once on a long layover from Australia, and then the last time – last week with my daughter Ella.  

As is our way on our chick trips, we ate our way through the City.  Here are some highlights:

Foreign Cinema for a fancy pants dinner – great service, terrific food and the best ambiance – Singing in the Rain playing on the large screen in the courtyard.  In the rain.
Standing in a pleasant line up in the sun to eat Mama’s crumb cake for brunch
A $6.14 dinner at In-n-Out Burger
Grabbing warm sweet buns from a random Chinatown bakery
A generous salami and blue cheese sandwich at Sutter Street Cafe when I was post-flight starving
The bounty of food and food products that is the Ferry Building, including Secret Breakfast ice cream for breakfast
A waffle shot and cannolis on the Avital North Beach Food Tour
Being treated to warm cream filled churros by my girl at Colibri Mexican Bistro

The great thing about San Francisco is that you can eat your face off…and then just spend the day burning it off climbing up and down the hills.  Viva la chick trip!

vancouver – favs so far

 

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Very Vancouver

Last night, someone asked me:  where are your favourite places to eat in Vancouver? We’ve been here 10 months two years, and it is time for me to update the answer to this crucial question.

Name ANY genre of food, and you can find it here.  This is both exciting and overwhelming.  Plus, somehow with the price of housing, you have to figure out an eating out budget.  This is important.

A couple of years in, here are my conclusions:

Best Dinner Restaurant – Bistro Wagon Rouge – I simply love everything about this little French Bistro.  The food is so perfectly prepared, the servers are so lovely…

Best Breakfast – Yolks (I dream of their Chicken and Waffles).  Runners up, Scandilicious (hello perfectly cooked waffles with savoury toppings), Red Wagon, open-faced toast at Matchstick.

Best Fancy Brunch L’Abbatoir – in Gastown, OMG their currant scones with clotted cream and jam…

Best Punk Rock Hot DogsWhat’s Up, Hot Dog

Best Italian Sandwiches – La Grotto Del Formaggio – get half a focaccia sandwich grilled with all the fixin’s.

Best Dirty Chai – Coco et Olive (runner up, Platform 7)

Best Burritos, Baby! – Sal Y Limon

Best Real Mexican – El Comal, deep in a Burnaby industrial area.  Bonus:  they have a small grocery selection too.

Best Artsy Mexican Food – Tacofino (Hastings Commissary location only, the Gastown location is spotty)

Best Bubble Tea – Angelove Bubble Tea – bonus, get your passport photos done at the same time!  Seriously, I’ve consumed a lot of bubble tea.  This is the real thing.

Best Poke – The Poke Bar – poke is HOT and this is the BEST and I can WALK to this from our place.

Favourite Go-To Sushi – Kimu Sushi  – true confession:  I got here like once a week.

Best Cheap Take Away SushiNanaimo Sushi – chaotic but cheap and plentiful.

Best Japanese (not sushi)Guu Thurlow

Best Wonton Dumplings Shao-Lin Noodle House

Best DoughnutsHoneys Doughnuts in Deep Cove, Runner Up, Lucky’s Doughnuts.

Best Cocktail – Portland Craft (their version of the Amaretto Sour sent me straight to the tattoo place to get three tattoos.  True story).

Best RamenKawawa Japanese Restaurant (put an egg in it, please)

Best BakeryPure Bread (special shout out to their Buckwheat Sour Cherry Scones)

Best Pie – Gabi and Jules – in Port Moody, worth the drive for their Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache Pie.

Best Cookies – Italia Bakery – love their little jam stuffed delights.

Best Birthday CakeCadeaux Bakery

Best Cronut (the only Cronut) – Swiss Bakery

Best Cream PuffsBeta5 Chocolate (best eaten in their sketchy parking lot)

Best LebaneseNuba (falafels please with garlicky potatoes)

Best Aussie Pie Peaked Pies (ya gotta drive to Whistler for this, poor you)

Best Food TruckLe Tigre (Kick-Ass Rice, please)

Best Bubble TeaBubble Lishus Tea House (I went through a serious Bubble Tea phase and this the winner).

Best Hipster Coffee Experience49th Parallel, deep in the bushy beards of Main Street.  Bonus:  indulge in a Lucky’s Doughnut‘s Maple Long John while you are at it.

Best Perogies Iwona’s Perogies in New West

Best BurmeseAmay’s House (tea leave salad yum)

Best Pizza DeliveryViva Sue’s

Best Ice Cream (very well researched) – Rocky Point Ice Cream for the quality of the ice cream, Rain or Shine Ice Cream for the best cones, Glenburn Soda Fountain for the sauces and toppings, Soft Peaks for the soft stuff

Best Italian DinnerAsk for Luigi (it is worth the wait)

Best Bizarre Italian DinnerAnton’s Pasta Bar (endure the wait in line, be rewarded with voluminous portions of pasta)

Best ThaiChad Thai (lovely family run place)

Best SandwichChez Meme Baguette (oh so French)

Best Dim Sum – Shanghai River (a random place in Richmond)

Best Fish & ChipsGo Fish on Fisherman’s Wharf (also Best Tourist Experience to grab fish & chips and then walk around the wharf to Granville Island) Runner Up:  Pajo’s

Best Fish TacosFish Counter

My Instagram feed also contains many excessive photos of food.

 

belle ville de Québec

I travel to many conferences, both as a speaker and as an attendee.  I’ve been to Montreal  several times, but I had my first chance to travel to Quebec City for a children’s hospital conference.

I have never ever eaten so well at a conference.  I ate duck every single day.  I also ate rabbit (by mistake.  Someone told me at the conference lunch buffet that it was chicken.  IT WAS NOT CHICKEN.  I am still recovering from that trauma).

But the conference food!  Fluffy scrambled eggs, juicy sausages, steaming pastas, duck and beans, pate, apple tarts…my, it went on and on.  There was also an exceptional amount of cheese.  Thank goodness I managed to slip out and walk and walk all this decadence off in Quebec City.  There, I ate poutine, more poutine, and drank wine and hot chocolate and Bailey’s.  My, the residents of Quebec sure know how to live life.

I ate some really good meals in this tiny jewel of a city.  Of note:

Le Hobbit – the staff put up with our rotten French, and served us duck cannelloni.  Yes, you heard right:  duck cannelloni.  Smothered in cheese.  The word decadent is too pale to describe this dish.  Thankfully the serving size was contained, as it was served in a tiny little cast iron pot.  This restaurant offered up my favourite setting:  dark with communal tables, flickering candles and brick walls.  Tres French Bistro.

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a gnocchi masterpiece

Chez Boulay – this was a much tonier place.  It also served my most scrumptious meal: potato and seaweed gnocchi with asparagus.  I usually order the gnocchi because I like the way it sounds (tee hee).  But the description of this gnocchi does not do it justice (and neither does this photo).  It was somehow pillowy & crunchy and decadent & earthy all at the same time.

very french, non?

very french, non?

The Panetier Baluchon isn’t fancy, but it is a real neighbourhood bakery on Rue St. Jean, off the tourist track.  I happily sipped a hot latte while eating a flaky chocolate almond pastry that I am still thinking about a week later.

the hot chocolate & bailey's didn't hurt too.

the hot chocolate & bailey’s didn’t hurt too.

Well, then there was the poutine.  Four days, two servings of poutine, and that was me controlling myself.  First, Chez Ashton’s poutine, which is like McDonald’s of poutine in Quebec City.  Fast, cheap and cheerful, with the mandatory squeaky cheese.   It did the trick.  Then, Le Chic Shackwhich offers smashed potatoes instead of fries, which I’m still unsure about, but they were swimming in deep dark gravy, which I’m pretty sure about (as in yes.  Deep dark gravy is a good thing).

Sadly, there were no food tours offered on my time off, but I did sign up for a Tour Voir Quebec walking tour, with an entertaining and informative tour guide named Richard.   It was a two hour refresher on my Canadian history, along with a glimpse of this gorgeous little city:

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roanoke virginia

from the rooftop in downtown roanoke

from the rooftop in downtown roanoke

In the fall of 2015, I travelled off the beaten path.  I found myself in Roanoke for a conference, and enjoyed the Southern hospitality.

free cheese! how delightful!

free cheese! how delightful!

My time was brief, and I ate mostly at the hotel, the regal Hotel Roanoke.  I recall a fair amount of items wrapped in bacon.  I was treated to a cheese plate upon check in – how nice was that?

I did sneak out for a dinner at the River and Rail restaurant.  I’ve never turned down an offer of grits, so I ate the pasteured chicken breast and sausage dinner with grits, apple and sauerkraut.  I left really stuffed and rolled my way back to my hotel room.  I’d describe the River and Rail as having upscale Southern food – fancy stuff, perfect for a special dinner.

My brief time in Roanoke was met with a warm & enthusiastic welcome.  It is a pretty place, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Little known facts:  Roanoke was once known as The Big Lick, and it boasts that Wayne Newton was raised there.  This is a lovely little historic city, nestled in southern Virginia – my talk was even written up in the Roanoke Times, which means I will always reflect fondly on my short time there.

vancouver eating honeymoon

IMG_6387Big news:  I’m no longer a tourist in Vancouver. I actually live here.  Since relocating with my husband and youngest son to the west coast in March, I still feel like I’m on holidays.  I’m madly in love with this place, and my eating honeymoon is not over yet.

One of my favourite things about Vancouver is this:  I can pick any country in the whole world, and then I can find that country’s restaurant here.  Any kind of food you can think of, Vancouver has it.  I’ve been getting my recommendations off Yelp and following foodies on Instagram. Also, folks at my new job have been generous with their food recommendations.  And my brother in East Vancouver is an amazing cook, and a walking encyclopedia of information about where to source local food.  Lucky me.

How do I start sharing all the fantastic bowls of ramen, plates of sushi, and mouthfuls of ice cream sandwiches that I’ve been privy to?  Here is my Vancouver eating portfolio from the past four months, broken into themes.

1.  I Scream, You Scream… I’m always on a quest for non-chain ice cream.  While BDI in Winnipeg remains my all-time favourite ice cream joint, Vancouver steps up with so many options.  My favourite is a mix of two places – the ice cream from Rocky Point Ice Cream (salted caramel is so creamy and kicky – why would I even try IMG_6791another flavour) and the light sugary waffle cones from Rain or Shine Ice Cream. A bronze medal in ice cream goes to Earnest Ice Cream.  Glenburn Soda Fountain is fun for an old-fashioned experience – try their special ice cream concoctions.  Oh wait, then there’s Soft Peaks in now trendy Gastown – organic soft ice cream with luxurious toppings.  And then Beta5’s generously delicious ice cream sandwiches.  Screw it – just try ’em all.

2.  Ramen is my New Pho Edmonton has a bounty of Vietnamese restaurants, so I have been hooked on pho for many years.  But Vancouver boasts so many varieties of ramen, which is my new favourite noodle-based soup.  Kamamarui Ramen delivers deeply-flavoured miso based soup with chewy noodles and funky seasoned rice with seaweed Bombs on the side.

3.  Yo Sushi There is sushi everywhere.  More sushi restaurants than any other type of restaurant in Vancouver.  More sushi restaurants than Starbucks.  Even more sushi restaurants than pot shops.  I’ve done fancy sushi to hole in the wall sushi.  I eat more take-away sushi than I should, but it is SO CHEAP.  A dinner sized entree at a regular sushi place will not set you back more than $12.  I do not yet have a chosen sushi place because I’m still judging sushi places.  Expect this to be an ongoing saga.

4.  Discovering Beverages I stumbled upon a lovely little French coffee shop on Main Street called Coco et Olive.  On the menu, they listed a Dirty Chai.  What is that, I inquired.  Chai latte with a shot of espresso, the gentleman answered.  BOOM.  My new favourite coffee drink.  And bonus, you can order it anywhere, even if it isn’t listed on the menu.  So I’ve had it at Platform 7, Caffe Artigiano, even Starbucks. I’m scared to order it at more purist coffee shops like 49th Parallel or Matchstick, so I stick with a latte with an extra shot at those spots.

IMG_71115.  Must Have Fish and Chips This falls in the category of ‘When in Rome.’  Like, duh, we live near the ocean.  Eat fish.  Lots of it.  While deep fried fish does not fall into the healthy category, it does fall into the ‘best food to eat outdoors by the ocean’ category.  My choice for the best is Go Fish on beautiful Fisherman’s Wharf, followed by Pajo’s, the Crab Shop in North Vancouver and Cockney King’s. Have visitors in town?  Take them for fish and chips and sit on the dock while you slowly munch your way through a day’s worth of calories.

6.  Special Finds
Burmese – when my lovely daughter and her man came to town, I promised them a visit to a Burmese restaurant.  The first place we  located was freshly shut down (!) but thankfully there was an even better option nearby:  Amay’s House.  I ate a tea leaf salad and crunchy noodles, and enjoyed flavours I had never encountered before.  It was awesome.
Meat Pies – can you say Aussie Pie Guy?  Look for the dude’s food truck around tIMG_6468own, or make the gorgeous drive up to Peaked Pies in Whistler to tuck in a meal contained in a pie.  Add a dollop of mashed potatoes and mushy green peas for good measure.
TacosTacofino migrated from Tofino and that’s a grand thing.  I’ve been to the location on Hastings, and it is funky and fun.  Kid friendly too.  I also consumed an exceptional sweet potato and spinach taco at Cafe Deux Soleils.  And Originals Cafe Mexicano is a little Mexican house in Port Moody that is worth the drive.  Oh, wait, El Comal in a industrial district in Burnaby is a special not-fancy spot – join the line-up of film crews from the nearby studios to chow down on huge burritos.  This is the real thing.

OH MY I’ve just scratched the surface.  As my husband gently reminds me, we don’t have to cram in every Vancouver activity – we are here for the long haul, and have many years to nosh at the many eating establishments on my ever growing list.  I haven’t even been to classics Vij’s or Tojo’s, and I’m dying to try Ask for Luigi and the Pear Tree.  So many restaurants to eat up.  Yum, yum, Vancouver.