Monthly Archives: July 2017

Blue Water Cafe: An iconic seafood restaurant in Vancouver, BC’s Yaletown

When visiting a new city for the first time, any foodie’s first question is, “Where do I eat?” I rely on cross-referencing friends’ recommendations with Trip Advisor and Yelp so I ensure I go to places locals would eat and not the easy, middle of the road places that happen to be popular. My first meal stop proved to a tough decision, but I ultimately chose Blue Water Cafe in the city’s Yaletown neighborhood. It was a great introduction to Vancouver’s Pacific Rim fusion cuisine and British Columbia’s burgeoning wine industry.


Vancouver, like many cities along the Pacific Rim, has an immense seaport and is a great source of fresh seafood. Coupled with its heavy Asian cultural influence, it’s a destination for sushi lovers. 


Blue Water Cafe is one of Vancouver’s elegant sushi bars, and like famed sushi spot Miku, it features the unique Aburi style – the fish partly torch-seared or grilled rather than fully raw. Yet Blue Water Cafe is well known also for its raw bar with a seemingly endless selection of oysters, as well as its cooked dishes. Its menu is one designed to have something for everyone. As such, it was no surprise to see an array of business dinners, locals, and travelers alike. What appealed to me was the relative lack of tourists, since Yaletown is a bit off the beaten path from the downtown waterfront area housing the cruise ship terminal and most large hotels. Yet Yaletown is an easy and fairly safe 15-20 minute walk from those areas.


I dined on a Tuesday night, and the restaurant was packed indoors and out. I recommend securing a reservation if you are able. Flying solo, I preferred to wait for a seat to open up at the bar (I hate sitting at a table by myself and enjoy watching chefs and bartenders work, as well as the communal nature of bars. Yet even bar seating required a wait at 7:45 pm! I sat between U.K. and Australian accents during my wait, and the accommodating, friendly hostesses set us each up with a beverage from the extensive wine and spirits menu.

I am a huge proponent of going local, so I ended my British Columbia wine virginity with a Spotted Owl Sauvignon Blanc from the Okanagan Valley. I later learned that this winery is well-known and well-established in that region. I was not terribly impressed, however. It was dry, with an almost Old World minerality but lacking the complexity of a flinty Sancerre or the crisp citrus notes of a New World Marlborough that compliment spicy food so well. I’d pass on that in the future – at least without food.


To my delight, a seat opened up at the sushi bar, giving me a view of culinary art in progressed. The sushi chef, one of four working the counter, appeared mildly amused as I watched and photographed his handiwork while waiting for my food.


To start, I needed some healthy greens, and I opted for the server’s recommendation of the special summer salad and not the seasonal salad I originally craved. The special was comprised of mixed lettuces, celeriac, savory summer melon, blueberry, and cubes of barrel aged feta (the latter of which doesn’t have any perceptible difference from “regular” feta). I would have liked the melon to be a bit more ripe and sweet to provide more complexity and contrast of notes, but it was quite tasty with interesting textures.
I paired the salad with a glass of Blue Mountain Brut, a sparkling rosé of Pinot noir from the Okanagan Valley. I found this wine to be pleasing, but again lacking a bit of complexity and balance, but not all that far off from a solid Cremant de Loire or Bourgogne.


For my main course, I chose a yellowfin tuna seared rare with flecks of sea salt with baby Dino kale, a bean trio of edamame, white and black beans. It was served over a wonderfully Unami sweet onion purée and a tangy soy-balsamic reduction that somewhat resembled Worcestershire sauce with notes of tamarind. It was. A. Ma. Zing. It was the best seared tuna i’ve had since Waterbar. The accompaniments were harmonious and nicely balanced.


Ready for a red, I chose an Okanagan, single vineyard Desperation Hill Pinot noir, from La Frenz in the Naramata Bench. I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of this wine, as its 50 degree latitude is on the northern end of wine-growing regions – and red varietals are notably inconsistent at extreme latitudes. This delicate fruitiness paired well with the tuna and its accompaniments. It was a course to remember.

In terms of other main courses, the Sablefish is the most popular and is great for summer poached in a light dashi-miso broth. The scallops with wild rice cakes smelled so amazing, I wanted some for myself. My sushi bar neighbors recommended both of these entrees.


I willed myself to skip dessert, but the restaurant makes the check a bit sweeter with a tiny cake duo. Tonight’s consisted of a poppyseed blueberry financier and “the world’s smallest carrot cake” with a dollop of berry buttercream. Both had lovely essences of orange and lemon zest. They were the perfect ending to a wonderful culinary welcome to Vancouver, BC.

Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch: Reliably wonderful Napa Valley farm to table

You know you’ve found a favorite restaurant when you can eat there twice within a week, and the second meal is even better than the first. That’s how I feel about Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch, a Napa Valley restaurant that is a must for anyone traveling through the area, no matter how short your stay.


Longmeadow Ranch, like so many other winery-centric businesses in the Napa Valley, many businesses in one: tasting room, general store showcasing local products, casual eatery, fine restaurant, and private event venue. While all are well done here, it’s the restaurant, Farmstead, that takes center stage.


Having first tried Farmstead at the behest of a foodie friend last summer, it was an instant hit with me. Its shareable burrata appetizer and an addictive butterscotch pudding – so good our party of four ordered one and decimated it so quickly we ordered two more! – won me over. Alas, I was too slow to blog about it then. But two more recent visits later, and here I am, telling you that YOU. MUST. EAT. HERE. Fresh, local, and creative. Longmeadow Ranch takes your favorite food trends and innovates them – enough that they are recognizable but unique and great enough to be memorable.


Let’s talk about that Burrata, for example. Cool, creamy, oozy burrata is so good on its own, why mess with that? Longmeadow Ranch hears it. The result is basically mozzarella fondue, and it works beautifully. Try it alone, with its crackling olive-oil crostini, with a clove of accompanying roast garlic squeezed on top, with a dose of pickled onions or gherkins on top, or the marinated, pickled beets – or a little of all of the above. While part of me would like a sweet element to offset the saltiness and richness of the cheese, the different bites of various savory flavors still manage to to bring out different aspects of the burrata itself. Who knew burrata could have such versatility?


Love cheddar biscuits? Farmstead serves theirs slightly caramelized in a cast iron skillet with honey butter. They are nowhere near your heavy Cracker Barrel biscuit, but if you’re a Yelp user, you’ll be delighted to find out that they can be yours, complimentary, should you choose to check in on Yelp.

Ok, let’s talk about this menu.
First, the drinks. Farmstead makes some great cocktails; if you don’t like wine, they have many great ones. Beers aren’t a strong suit, so pick the cocktails, mocktails, or wine. Tip: Try a tasting next door, purchase a bottle and drink it at the table for $5 corkage – you’ll save a bunch over ordering off the restaurant menu. I love their Sauvignon Blanc. It is crisp, clean and versatile. Perfect for a warm afternoon on the patio, surrounded by greenery. The rosé is also fantastic – light, dry, fruity and tangy with watermelon and strawberry notes.


The food: Their current summer menu has many great options for starters, entree salads, and main courses. On my recent visits I opted for their summery salad with mixed greens, strawberries, feta, and almonds with pulled chicken first; on the second visit, I chose two small plates: beets and meatballs.

Let me just tell you that the beets and meatballs were extraordinary. I’ve talked in this blog at length about a few of my favorite food trends of the decade, including beets, Brussels sprouts, and kale. As cliche as they all can be, the last 15 years have made vegetable side dishes so delicious that people like me order them as an integral part of the meal and not a simple afterthought. In that perspective, I can’t roll my eyes when I see yet another version of them on a menu. Because they’re still nutritious (well minus all the additives to help them along) and delicious.


I am a fan of a sweeter, cold, pickled beet, but Farmstead again takes the route less traveled by making them savory and caramelizing them. Beets’ dense and juicy texture doesn’t lend themselves naturally to caramelizing, but Farmstead has made me rethink that assumption. The caramelization created an umami smokiness that paired well with the smooth, mascarpone-like goat cheese presented with it.


The all-beef meatballs also came as a harmonic and hearty small plate. Served with a tomato jam – really, reduced sweet tomato sauce and collard greens that had been broiled with high heat for an almost kale chip-like consistency, I could have eaten this dish or the beets alone as a filling main course. Our server had recommended them together, and I am grateful for the recommendation, as the two dishes did contrast nicely with one another.


My friends on these visits ordered beef tartare, macaroni and cheese (both pictured above), the pulled pork panini (not pictured), a vegetarian arborio rice dish not called risotto (but essentially was risotto), and the capellini primavera. 


Each one was fantastic in its own right. The ricotta capellini primavera, had an interesting tang to it, hinting of yogurt. The mac and cheese is one of those dishes worth the calories.

My one caveat for Farmstead is its lack of restraint with salt. I happen to love salt, but if you have sensitivity to salt, simply ask them to go easy on the salt, as their flavors tend to concentrate anyway and don’t necessitate salt.


For dessert, their new pastry chef frequently rotates dishes. Homemade ice creams and sorbet are delicate and vary daily; flavors on our visits included peanut butter and jelly (yum!), cucumber, and lemon-raspberry. Sadly, the memorable butterscotch pudding (photo near the top of this post)was a creation of the previous pastry chef, but we hope it will be resurrected later this summer (!). Other tempting dishes include fruit pies and cobblers.


I can’t recommend Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch enthusiastically enough. You’ll leave with a new or renewed appreciation of Northern California’s local bounty and culinary talent.

Pasta Fresca Barkia: The best of Italian cuisine and Greek hospitality in Mykonos

Greek cuisine is fantastic. Whether you prefer surf or turf, meat or vegetarian food, Greek cuisine has something for everyone. Yet in the Mediterranean food wars (I made that up), Italian food wins the global battle. I would argue that no other cuisine has such is represented by more restaurants or appears on more menus around the globe, or remade in home kitchens around the world. Its universal appeal makes it that sort of reliable go-to for travelers, too. Its pretty hard to screw up pizza and pasta – though I assure you, I’ve seen that happen. Mediocre Italian is everywhere also, so when you find something special, you remember it. And Europe tends to hold onto the best traditions, so it shouldn’t be a surprise, given the millennia-old, complicated brotherly dynamic between Greek city-states and Rome that some modern-day Roman conquerors found their place in the wealthy desert isle of Mykonos.

In a small town packed with an enormous amount of shops and restaurants per capita, Greek food and international fusion (often on the same menu) comprise the majority of restaurants, with a small army of slick fast casual shops selling anything from gyros to crepes and gelato joining the clamor for tourists’ seats and Euros. When you smell fresh pasta sauces, it commands attention.

So while spending another long stretch in Greece, after 8 days of Greek cuisine, the smell of pasta drew in a small group of colleagues and myself into the quaint, if not crowded, Pasta Fresca Barkia to try something a little different.
Pasta Fresca Barkia passed our test: good pasta, large menu variety, and even tzatziki to keep alive our daily streak of eating the delicious cucumber-yogurt-garlic concoction.

Walk inside and you may well find yourself in very close quarters as they cram in as many seats as possible (what fire code?). But what it lacks in allowing personal space or freedom of movement, it gains back in charm, Greek hospitality, and a great meal chosen from a veritable pasta catalog.


Our group started with a few appetizers, most of which had a decidedly Greek flair. A large, crusty loaf of bread formed the base for a Greek bruschetta that layered traditional crushed tomatoes atop the spicy, funky local Myconian cheese. 


Caprese and Greek salads continued the Greco-Roman fusion, and, finally, our tzatziki. 


Theirs had a stronger tang from citrus or vinegar than other versions but was nicely balanced with garlic and a hint of dill.

Now, decision time. When I say the menu choices were endless, I’m not exaggerating. It was more difficult than a Thai menu. The restaurant itself makes a wide variety of pastas, from spaghetti and tagliatelle to fusilli, penne, rigatoni, to filled tortellini and ravioli to al forno (baked) canelloni and lasagna. You can watch a daily pasta-making demonstration – if you can fit it into your shopping schedule and not lose your way in Mykonos town’s maze of alleys, that is. With all variety of shapes and styles, an equally ridiculous offering of sauces and accompanying meats vie for your appetite.


I chose the rigatoni pesto rosso (red pesto) after significant deliberation. I prefer ridged rigatoni to its sister penne, as I find sauce clings to its ridges much better, and I don’t find sun-dried tomato pesto often on the menu. It was fresh and delicious. Though it wasn’t quite as garlicky as I would like, it was delicious, and the pasta was perfectly al dente.
Two of my colleagues chose the spicy penne d’arrabiata – which turned out much spicier than expected. The culprit was their homemade blend of dried red pepper flakes. I sprinkled a very scant pinch of the flakes (brought upon another’s request) on my rigatoni, and wow. The tiny amount added an inexplicable amount of heat.


The other two chose a yin and yang – one a hearty and cheesy baked ravioli, the other langoustines (baby lobster-ish) with squid ink linguine. The latter was a more cosmopolitan take on a dish that is very typical of the Greek isles.

Everyone’s meal left us with no room for dessert, but in typical Greek form, we were served a lovely (complimentary) presentation of watermelon wedges over ice, served with a digestive, and tiny milk and while chocolate bonbons. To our pleasant surprise, the digestive was a homemade watermelon-infused moscato instead of the typical mastika. Mastika is a true digestive made from the sap of the mastic tree, which grows only on the eastern island of Hilos. Explaining the sap part goes a long way in giving an idea of its taste. To me, mastika tastes like sugar-laced wheat grass and weed killer. Occasionally, it can be infused with pleasant aromatics or fruit that help mask the musty mastika taste. I share this sidebar because mastika is presented at almost every restaurant after every meal, so to be given a digestive that actually tastes good – win!

Should you find yourself in Mykonos and in search of an alternative to the hoardes of Greek restaurants and tavernas, look no further upon Pasta Fresca Barkia. It was a happy accident when we stumbled upon it, and you’ll be grateful also.