Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday eats

Christmas! I am not much of a religious type, in fact, as I am getting older I find myself more and more a staunch atheist. But that doesn't dampen the spirits, I do have a long tradition of cozy Christmas homes with trees, decorations and all the other good old Pagan traditions. There is also a lot of food involved. I tend to eat myself silly around these times, cold and dark days are ideal for lots of chocolate, treats, warm coffee drinks, good bottles of wine and other delights. I think we had a little bit of a highlight during our yearly pre-Christmas trip to Whistler. Conditions were marginal, snow decidedly lacking but that didn't stop Kai from having a blast. Connie has chronicled this visit very nicely here, I'll just talk about the food and the aforementioned highlight which was dinner at the Bearfoot Bistro. This place is fairly legendary and somehow in all these years I had never been there. Araxi was always the default and is very good but this time we had a different experience. Some restaurants are all about the food, some about the flashy room and fancy people that come there, some are formal and service oriented, some are casual and simple. The Bearfoot Bistro elevates all this to the next level, turning the act of eating out into an almost theatrical experience. After we sat down a server came by wheeling the cocktail and champagne trolley, offering drinks.

the cocktail trolley!
We had a couple of glasses of champagne while Kai received a sort of virgin Mojito made with pineapple juice. The wine list is an epic journey and fascinating view into the depths of wine culture, entire verticals of Pomerol, 80-year old bottles from obscure Chateaus and absurdly expensive vintage champagnes are up for grabs. Or if you so desire, a premium Vodka sampling in their ice room which is kept at a balmy -18C. If you decide to splurge on a bottle of champagne, you can go down to the cellar and sabre it yourself. There is solid pedigree here to back up the excess, Melissa Craig runs the kitchen and she is a bit of a cooking prodigy, winning many awards and running a place as prestigious as Bearfoot Bistro is no small feat. The food was flawlessly executed and presented, unabashed in flavor, texture and composition. She doesn't hold back on her themes, everything was suffused with flavor, down to the desserts that were fascinating and nothing like the standard fare that so many places offer these days.

Beets, carrots, greens, cheese. Classic and delicious

The pricing matches the extravagance, this was easily the most expensive meal I have had in a long time. Given my propensity to enjoy my food, this is saying something. The starting price for a 3-course menu is $98, the wild game sampler I had for my main was a $20 add-on.

Bison shortrib, wild boar wrapped venison
It was delicious, the wild mushroom and bean ragout accompaying the meltingly tender shortrib was beautifully creamy yet full of texture.

Desserts were eclectic, I had the Chocolate and Pear, it sounds deceptively simple but the concoction I was presented with was anything but. Marshmallow foam, a very interestingly spiced chocolate log, ribbons of poached pear, some kind of gingerbread and caramel sauce were all there.

We decided not to go for another one of the Bearfoot Bistro signature experiences, the Nitro icecream. We saw it prepared at the table next to us, creme anglaise is turned into ice cream through the addition of a generous dose of liquid nitrogen. Lots of spectacle here with the white smoke from the nitrogen billowing from the bowl and guests craning their necks to see what is going on.

The whole thing came to a climax when the staff assembled by the grand piano in the middle of the dining room and burst out into a Christmas carol.

a little peach and champagne palate cleanser
Well, it sure was an experience. A good one, but also something we won't repeat too often since the total bill could build several schools, orphanages and hospitals somewhere in Africa. We took it easy as well, just a few drinks and limited add-ons to the menus. I can see how someone with an unlimited budget could easily drop a few thousand on dinner here.
One last observation about this place is the amount of staff. We counted at least 30 different front of the house wait staff, runners, sommeliers and various other managers and people wandering around doing stuff. The kitchen was almost serene with Melissa Craig at the front plating and checking every order and a very disciplined looking line cooking away in the open kitchen.

OK, enough about Bearfoot. If you are comfortable with dropping a couple of car payments on dinner then I definitely recommend it, the experience is worth it and the food is flawless.

We did eat other things while in Whistler, we stayed at the Crystal Lodge, which is very well situated in the village a couple of minutes away from the main gondolas. The main restaurant there is called Rick's Grill which is a steakhouse, it has a more casual bistro like room called The Mix by Ric. The second night we were tired from a day on the mountain and a bit glamoured out so we decided to just eat downstairs. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about what we were going to get. That's the food snob in me, I can't help it, sorry. I was very pleasantly surprised though, the food was really good.We had some tapas like dishes, one that stands out is a sticky chili chicken consisting of breaded pieces of chicken breast in a sweet chili sauce with crispy bits of corn tortilla. Sounds bizarre but it worked surprisingly well. It also had a pretty decent wine list, I had a French Pinot Noir that was quite good. We liked it so much in fact that we went back the next morning for breakfast before heading up the mountain again.

Moguls Coffee on the Village Square kept me cafeinated and provided a quick lunch before heading back to Vancouver. With the Sea to Sky highway being still all shiny and new from the Olympics, it now takes about 1.5 hours to get back to Vancouver. Too bad it then takes another 45 minutes to get across the Lion's Gate and through the traffic monstrosity that is downtown Vancouver...

I am more or less off work now, doing a bit of work from home still here and there. With Connie still at work and Kai in snowboarding camp this means lots of Skyrim, toodling around town in the TT, running errands and making daily visits to, well Thomas Haas of course! Tomorrow I am planning on having Fried Chicken Friday lunch at Refuel. Oh it is a hard life...

I am so glad I have the metabolism of a hyper-active hamster without the hyper-active bit!

Merry Christmas everyone! Much more cooking, eating and drinking is in my immediate future. More posts to follow.

Friday, December 09, 2011


As someone who works in video games, I haven't said much about them yet on this blog. Well that is about to change. I play quite a lot of video games and am currently deeply into Skyrim. This is a role-playing adventure game that takes place in a massive frozen wilderness and gives the player complete freedom to roam around and explore, finding many interesting things along the way. You can play this game in many different ways, choose to be a pure fighter, a mage, a thief, trader, blacksmith and so on. You can combine these roles to suit your playing style. The character I am playing currently uses light armor, conjures weapons and creatures to help in combat, does a bit of smithing and enchanting and uses restoration spells for healing. This makes for an interesting mix. There is a central story that you can follow, dragons have returned to Skyrim and are terrorizing the locals. You can investigate the return of these creatures, fight them and unravel the mystery behind it all. I haven't paid too much attention to this though, I have simply been traveling around getting into all sorts of trouble.

The game is very well put together, the visuals can be extremely impressive. I had added a few screenshots to give an impression of how well they have managed to convey the sense of being in this frigid northern land. There is no end to the amount of content in this game, I am about 40 hours in and expect at least that much again.

To give you a small example of what happens in Skyrim, here is a memorable bit of adventure I had recently. As usual I was roaming around, looking for trouble. I noticed a lighthouse in the distance perched on a frozen rock overlooking a bay full of ice floes. I went to investigate and found that the door was unlocked so I entered and came across a rather shocking murder scene. There was a dead body on the floor with an axe protruding from it and a large dead insect like creature was in the next room, other than that the place was deserted. I examined the various rooms and found diaries of the occupants. These diaries told a story of a couple who bought this lighthouse and retired there. They mused fondly of sitting by the window looking at the icebergs floating past whereas their children lamented the isolation and boredom. Things got sinister quickly though, there was mention of noises from the cellar and items disappearing. The last entry in the husband's diary was an anguished note about finding his wife dead in their living room and how he was going into the cellar to investigate. I found a key to the cellar in a vase on the mantelpiece and entered. At the back of the cellar was a dark tunnel opening that I ventured into. Almost immediately I was attacked by giant insects and strange pale orc-like creatures called Falmers. I battled my way through tunnels and caves until I found what looked like a breeding room where a queen insect was surrounded by eggs and many of her brood. A pitched battle later I had killed them all and found the husband's remains in the queen. I laid these to rest at the top of the lighthouse, it seemed fitting.

This episode took a couple of hours of playing time and is only a tiny bit of the enormous scope of Skyrim. I could have passed this lighthouse by and never known about the fate of this unfortunate family. There are many other of these kinds of encounters hidden away in Skyrim's many, many nooks and crannies which to me makes this game so fascinating to play. I have saved villages from vampire attacks, cleared out bandit nests, located artifacts in tombs full of undead, bought a house and decorated it (yep!), helped strangers from bear attacks and fought off dragons that were burning down entire villages. So far so good :-)

Skyrim has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon as well. A quick search on Google or YouTube will yield hundreds of results. People are blogging about their adventures, there are many video diaries on YouTube of people chronicling their character's travels (one, called Chinchilla Dave is hilariously funny) and pretty much everyone I know is playing it. It is definitely a testament to the lure of perfectly immersive escapism...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Weekend cooking

I like slow weekends. Some of them are a blur of activity with social visits, Kai's various activities, errand running and shopping. Others can be a lot less hectic, getting most things done on Saturday, leaving a lovely quiet Sunday for some time at home. Yesterday was one of those Sundays, I went to Granville Island first thing in the morning and came back with a small mountain of groceries. I then spent most of the day in the kitchen with occasional breaks to play some Skyrim or help Connie with her house organizing mood she was in.

I started out making a pasta sauce, I like to cook big pots of sauce or soup that we can enjoy during the week, to avoid those hurried weeknight cooking sessions that invariably mean we don't eat until 7:30pm and I am still busy cleaning up the kitchen at 8:30pm. This one is a favorite staple, a very rich meat sauce that has pancetta, ground beef and ground pork in a rich beef broth with oregano, nutmeg and tomatoes. It goes very well with pasta, a generous helping of parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

I then moved on to a banana bread cake, our neighbor makes it sometimes and sent us the recipe. I decided to give it a try, prompted by the three overripe bananas sitting on the kitchen counter. I love baking and working with butter, flour, sugar and the KitchenAid mixer.

Next up was dinner, nothing more classic on a Sunday than a whole chicken with roasted vegetables. I buy whole free-range chickens at Granville Island. This recipe is not the usual roasted chicken but an even simpler concept of cooking the chicken in a sealed Dutch oven with some simple aromatics. I season and sear it, then add some carrots, celery, garlic and fresh rosemary to the pot. This then goes in the oven at 250F for about 1.5 hours, resulting in a beautiful moist, tender and juicy chicken. It also yields a good 1/2 cup of delicious gravy so this recipe is a winner.

Simple roasted potatoes and asparagus accompanied the chicken:

As usual, I enjoyed a good treat while cooking and eating:

I love Oregon Pinot Noir!
Such comfort, spending time at home, cooking for the family and enjoying life!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It has been a bit quiet lately on this blog, I usually come up with stuff over the weekend but last weekend was a very sad one, due to the tragic passing of Mikey, one of our cats. Connie has a beautiful blog post about him so I will only say I will miss the little guy very much.

I was listening to some music on the way to work this morning so I thought I'd write a little bit about what I am into these days. My taste can be eclectic and tends to wander but I usually end up with something metal-like although it needs to be a bit different and interesting to hold my attention. There are some terrific bands out there that produce intelligent but powerful music. My current favorite is Primordial. This is an Irish metal band that has been around for quite some time (1987) and is still producing very good albums. Their latest "Redemption at the Puritan's Hand" is one I can't stop listening to, the track 'Lain with the Wolf', is quite brilliant, both in music as well as lyrics. The other track I keep listening to is 'Gallows Hymn', something with an almost classical foundation and lyrics that are deeply disenchanted and bleak.

Along the same vein is 'My Dying Bride' which is probably one of the most profoundly dark and despairing yet musically devastating bands I know. They have some absolute classic songs like 'The Dreadful Hours' which is a terrifying and nightmarish yet hauntingly beautiful song about an abusive father. Then there is 'Catherine Blake', another gothic horror story that in true MDB fashion goes from slowly melodic to full-on hardcore death metal and back again. They too, have been around for a long time and are also still going strong.

Their latest album

There is more of course, I listen to Tool quite a bit, music from my teenage years still features with The Cure and Depeche Mode and I still listen to some of the classic Goth stuff like Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim.

On different days in different moods I will go to the classics, I love to listen to baroque stuff like Bach on a quiet Sunday morning or an early morning drive in the car. I have some performances by Murrah Perahia that I listen to quite a bit, mostly piano sonatas by Bach and some Chopin as well.

Then I admit, every once in a while I will go to the other extreme, pure electronic dance music, if I feel particularly weird. DJ Tiesto has some music that I listen to sometimes, usually in the car or if I am feeling particularly indulgent on the big speakers at home for some utterly bombastic excellence.

Funny, the two bands I like the most at the moment aren't particularly cheerful. I don't consider myself very dark or pessimistic so it must be the music. I do also appreciate the lyrics, especially Primordial has some very good stories to tell.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beer and food - Kitsilano Daily Kitchen

Chef Brian Fowke is a bit of a culinary hero of mine. I have been following him through his restaurant adventures (Rare, Metro, Mon Bella and now Kits Daily Kitchen) and have always enjoyed his cooking immensely. He is the kind of chef who always finds the freshest, most local and high-quality ingredients and turns them into a wide array of sumptuous dishes. He also has a great personality, obviously passionate about his food and willing to talk to anyone who wanders into his restaurant or kitchen.

Brian likes to organise food events, Kits Daily holds frequent wine dinners and he recently collaborated with R&B brewing, a great local Vancouver brewery on a beer paired dinner. I love these types of things so signed up immediately after I got the email announcing the event.

Last Monday I arrived at Kits Daily, ready for what was surely going to be a fairly epic dinner. Knowing Brian, he never skimps on these things. The first thing of notice were the kegs of fresh beer awaiting opening:

We started off with a rose petal pilsner, a light and refreshing beer with a hint of the sweet rose petal extract they used when brewing the beer. We then sat down and enjoyed a Paella-inspired dish paired with a ginger pale ale:

spot prawns, Alaskan diver scallops, swordfish, baby peppers and chorizo...
Following this was a rich pasta dish with freshly foraged chanterelle mushrooms in a brown butter sauce, paired with a chanterelle wheat ale. Mushroom flavored was actually quite good!

papardelle pasta, chanterelles, chard, brown butter sauce

Next up was a braised Bison dish paired with a East Side Bitter, followed by a beautiful piece of beef with mashed potatoes and some blackberry jam.  This one was paired with a blackberry IPA. An apple pie pale ale with cinnamon, ginger and allspice came along (sweet and flavorful). The potato bread with caramelized Parmesan was also delicious:

Dessert was a sourdough chocolate cake paired with a Mayan chocolate stout with cocoa nibs and cayenne, both were supreme.

I walked home that night, feeling extremely satisfied and considering myself very fortunate to have experienced these unique beers and the amazing food. Somehow, Brian managed to do all this for $50 a plate which is quite the deal!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Big lunch

Sometimes quantity trumps quality. For some people this important when choosing where to eat. My friend Erik likes large meals since he is a large guy who works out a lot. Whenever I tag along with him for lunch or dinner (I work with him so we hang out a lot) I usually end up eating a lot. Today was no exception, Erik was excited by the opening of Dunn's, a Montreal Smoked Meat house that just opened a couple of days ago. It is a very typical North American sports bar / grill restaurant style place with plastic coated menus, TVs on the wall and massive, enormous, gigantic portions. I ordered the Reuben since I wanted to try their smoked meat. I have to say the actual smoked meat was really good, tender and flavorful. It came with a side of crisp coleslaw and I opted for a Caesar instead of the fries. I managed to make it through about half of it before capitulating and resting back in my chair in a protein and calorie induced stupor, gasping for breath and wondering how many days it would be before I could manage to eat again...

Good though! If you are very hungry and in for the biggest sandwich you have ever eaten, this is for you!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Audi driving experience

Yesterday I participated in an event organized by Audi at the Pitt Meadows Airport. It was focused on driver skill training and was an absolute blast. It came down to flogging Audis on an extremely large and wet expanse of tarmac, doing big fishtail oversteer, emergency braking, cone slaloms and understeer exercises. The cars we had at our disposal were S4s and A6s, all 2012 models. There was also an R8 lurking about that was used for hot laps, it was pretty much ripping around the periphery of the event, driven by a world champion rally car driver with wide-eyed participants in the passenger seat.

I arrived around 11:30am and was immediately impressed by the scale of this event. I more or less expected some small tents, porta-potties and a few cars to be scattered around. Instead, I found a large number of Audis and some very impressive looking temporary buildings, complete with reception, buffet and classrooms, all very well appointed with cushy leather seats and nicely heated. I immediately returned the bag full of wet weather gear back to the car since it was clear I wasn't going to need it.

Lunch was first, catered by The Dirty Apron (made me happy!), while I watched the previous group (they had an early start) finish off their classes out on the field. It was still dry then so they had a tanker truck spray water in strategic places for the various exercises. Once lunch was done we were divided into groups and headed for the classrooms where we got some basic theory about tire physics, weight distribution and other information to prepare us for the events to follow. I was in the S4 group, looking forward to getting out there.

Yep, flat screens mounted in the classrooms for instruction
We then paired up with other participants and headed out to the cars. It was raining heavily by then so the water truck was parked at the back. The R8 was now skidding and drifting around like mad, much to the enthusiasm of the people watching it from under a tent.

the R8 having fun
In the S4s we did oversteer and understeer exercises. This was great fun, gunning the engine then doing some mad steering to induce understeer for example and trying to remember what the instructor had said earlier in order to correct the situation. After a few tries I got the hang of it and it clicked. The oversteer bit was also fun, at some point I more or less forgot to let up on the gas at the designated cones and as a result the car went into a wild fishtail, scattering cones everywhere and ending up with a cone wedged under one of the front wheels. I called it the cone of shame but it was more the cone of fun! The S4 is very fast btw, especially with the dual clutch transmission setup.
S4 in understeer practise
After the S4 antics it was time for a hot lap in the R8, the driver still grinning mischievously saying it was a bit of a handful in the wet. This was an understatement of course, he gunned it straight off the line and the resulting vehicular mayhem was impressive. Somehow he managed to keep it more or less going in the direction he intended, the engine howling angrily and the poor drivetrain struggling through the massive puddles and slick surface. This was of course an immense amount of fun and a few minutes later I climbed out of the car feeling a bit giddy. There was a dashboard camera involved so I will get a video of this at some point.

After a quick coffee break (they had a full espresso bar that served up a choice Cappuccino) and some more instruction, this time about emergency braking and cone slaloms, we headed for the A6s.

The A6s, looking all sinister...
The first thing I noticed is how gorgeous the interior of this car is. Very, very nicely appointed. Lots of gadgetry like a heads-up display, night vision, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel and so on. It even has a little touchpad that allows for gesture input i.e. you can write out letters with your finger while entering an address in the navigation system for example. The other thing that surprised me is how fast this car is. The cars we had were equipped with the 3.0 TFSI V6 making 310hp and according to my iPhone timing did 0-100km/h in about 5.5 seconds. This became evident during our first exercises which was emergency braking. It involved mashing the accelerator, getting to about 90km/h then slamming on the brakes to avoid a wall of cones heading left or right depending on a cone being raised by one of the people standing on the side of the track. Interesting experience, I was impressed by how much control there still was under massive braking in terms of being able to steer the car through the cones.

The cone slalom was the bit that I had the most trouble with, the first couple of cones would be fine but error accumulation meant further down I would get into trouble, mowing down cones and on some runs, completely losing control of the car. After a few tries I got the hang of it a bit better, the instructor giving feedback through a 2-way radio all the time.

This was a great event, I learned quite a bit and was very impressed by the production values. Audi looked after us very well in terms of creature comforts, the instructors were very good (all competitive race car drivers of some variety) and even though the weather was absolutely terrible, it added to the challenge. During the closing comments it was mentioned that Audi is looking at doing more of these including advanced courses and an R8 experience. All I said was 'sign me up!'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on Audi...

I've had the TT-RS for just over a week now, I have mostly driven it around town but also taken it on a longer highway drive to Redmond for work. So far so very good. The car so far is turning out to be the perfect mix between a more comfortable luxury vehicle and a snarling, chomping at the bit little monster that is just waiting to be let out of it's cage. The difference from the Boxster couldn't be more stark. The Boxster is a hard-core driving machine that was very mechanical and stiff with every rattle and squeak telling you this. There is nothing wrong with that mind you, especially when taking it on a windy back road but for everyday use and especially longer drives it would become quite punishing and tiring.

The TT however, is far more forgiving and surprisingly smooth and comfortable around town and on the highway. It too, has a sports button, this one has much more of an effect on the driving experience however. The suspension is tightened up, the throttle response is heightened and a valve opens somewhere in the exhaust system to enhance the already very impressive and unique sound this car produces. This makes me very happy since the car can be quite civilized when needed but also rough and tumble when taking it out for a joyride. As for the latter however, I'll have to be patient since the back road driving season is entirely over and won't start until at least May of next year. The other thing is that the smooth ride is dangerous in terms of speed, I have had several occasions where a slight throttle indulgence leads to double the speed limit without trying or really noticing. That engine sound is so enthralling that it is hard to notice much drama in terms of how fast you are going. But that is hardly something to complain about!

Now for a different story, still Audi related. This is a short account of the Audi driving weekend I did back in 2007. My friend Eric Pateman from what used to be Edible British Columbia, now Edible Canada managed to snag the Audi press fleet for a weekend of driving and eating through the Okanagan. It took me about 1/10th of a second to decide I was in when he asked me and I ended up helping out with choosing a route for optimum driving fun. The car lineup was impressive:

From left to right: A3, A4 cabrio, TT, S8, A8L, RS4, A6 and Q7

We picked up the cars at the Audi center in Richmond. The plan was to stop at pre-determined locations and pick keys out of a hat to determine who got which car. With 14 people and 8 cars, there was plenty of opportunity to get to drive all of them. I picked the RS4 as my first ride which I of course was very happy with. I drove it through Vancouver, along highway 1 and finally into Manning Park where it got interesting. The RS4 is relentlessly fast, handles like a go-kart and is simply brilliant. I was grinning madly all the way. After that we got into the A8L which was quite the experience with massaging seats, an astonishing $6,000 B&O sound system with tweeters that rose out of the dashboard and a very, very comfortable ride. We made our way along the Crow's nest highway to Osoyoos, then up to Summerland while eating ourselves silly along the way. In the evening we were treated to an incredible meal prepared by private chefs at a very nice B&B called La Punta Norte.

The next day we drove around the area visiting cheese makers, wineries and other food related places of interest. After another sumptuous evening at the B&B we headed back home, I fondly remember taking the incredible S8 across the Okanagan connector (it was snowing a bit on the pass!), then down from Merritt to Princeton. This car, with the 500hp V10 impressed me greatly, a big, heavy full-sized sedan acting like a sports car, ripping through turns at incredible speeds without breaking a sweat. I could only imagine the forces at work on the tires, brakes and rest of the drivetrain as I piloted this thing through the twisties. Awe-inspiring is all I can say...

the RS4 was everyone's favorite!
My favorite memories of this event were driving the RS4 and the S8. The little FWD A3 with it's 2 litre turbo and dual-clutch paddleshift was a blast as well actually, so was the TT that my friend pushed quite hard at some point.

I was pleasantly surprised and very excited by an email from Eric later on saying that Audi had agreed to let the participants of this event drive the newly arrived R8. Yep, the R8. We went back to the Audi center one evening and each got half an hour with the car. I was completely giddy to be driving this car and remember going around Richmond, desperately looking for a bit of road where I could exercise the car. I wasn't familiar at all with the area though so ended up driving through some industrial lots, managed to get some speedy moments but the half hour was over before I really got the hang of the car. I also didn't bring a camera so you'll just have to take my word for it. :-)

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

lunch in Vancouver

One of my favorite events in a typical workday is going out for lunch. Having an office in downtown Vancouver surely makes that very interesting given the plethora of restaurants and cafes in the area. I am pretty picky however and tend to prefer lounging in a café with a coffee and a pastry over a full meal. Lately, some new places have opened that perfectly fit my bill. For me, it is all about quality and craftsmanship when it comes to food and drink. I have gushed over Revolver and Meat and Bread in previous posts. Medina and it's sister The Dirty Apron are also lunch time favorites.

What I most appreciate however, is the Café ritual. Revolver is perfect for this, so is Thierry, which is fairly recent addition to Vancouver's burgeoning European style café scene. The interesting thing about a Thierry is that it has a liquor license and is open in the evenings as well. They have a great selection of pastries, chocolates, sandwiches and drinks. I have been there during the day for lunch but also in the evenings for a spiked coffee and a cookie as sustenance on a rainy evening while out and about in the city. Perfect.

Today I went to the latest one to open, Bel Café. I have had my eye on this one for a while now, it is the café addition to Hawksworth, which is the restaurant run by David Hawksworth who is a bit of a culinary hero of mine. Given his pedigree, expectations were high and I wasn't disappointed. It is definitely upscale, with waiters and white linen napkins and a carefully designed interior. I was happily surprised to see that the barista is someone I knew from a previous coffee shop that I used to frequent so I immediately connected and got the lowdown about the coffee and the food. I decided on a Bel Cappuccino which is a traditional Cappuccino with a little bit of chocolate, caramel and cinnamon, making for an exquisite drink. Not exactly a Mocha since it is much smaller but that allows the coffee flavor to remain very strong alongside the subtle flavors of the chocolate and cinnamon. Delicious. He has other interesting varieties on the menu, a spicy Vienesse Espresso with cloves and cinnamon for example sounds very intriguing.

I had a croissant, which is always a good test of how serious the chef is. Well, pretty serious if you ask me, it was buttery, flaky, moist on the inside with a nice crunch on the outside. I also had what has a cross between a Danish and a cinnamon bun, delectable as well. Pastries tried, next time I'll go for one the sandwiches!

I am very happy this place exists, yet another one to add to the list of lunch hangouts...

the Bel Cappuccino, very interesting flavors.

PS I am happy to report my iPhone 4S arrived yesterday. The camera is so much better than the one from the old 3G so expect better phone pictures going forward!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Hello Audi...

I picked up the new car yesterday. A 2012 Audi TT-RS that I put a deposit on June first. Exactly five months later it is now sitting in my garage, looking all dark and sinister but ever so pretty as well. I haven't really driven it much yet, it needs to be 'broken in' which means driving very conservatively for the first 1,500 kms.
It certainly feels completely different from the Boxster, a bit less mechanical and raw. The clutch is stiffer, the gearbox a bit longer and more notchy. The exhaust note is very interesting and the car simmers with latent power, I can't wait to get past the 1,500 km mark and open it up, I have a feeling it will be rather spectacular.
The interior is up to Audi standards, all looking very spiffy. Nice stitching, beautiful flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in perforated leather and leather sport seats emblazoned with the TT-RS logo. The electronics are there as well, navigation, bluetooth hands-free and two SD slots for media. I have a 32GB SD card in there now crammed full of MP3s to enjoy on the Bose sound system that so far sounds great. Too bad Audi doesn't offer a B&O system for the TT, I have it in the A4 and that is still by far the best sounding stock system in any of the cars I have owned.

So far so good, I will be driving this car quite a bit in the next while, going around town, Redmond on Friday and perhaps a bit of a drive in the direction of Whistler this weekend, time and weather permitting.

I took some photos this morning, the lighting was a bit weird and my skills with the DSLR are minimal but they do give a good sense of what the car looks like.

Once I have had the car for a while I'll post some more!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Farewell Porsche...

Today I said goodbye to my Boxster. I drove it to a dealership, signed some papers and left it behind. There is a story here of course, initially it was going to be a simple story. Boy meets car, boy drives car, boy meets new car, boy trades old car in for new car. They live happily ever after.

Well the actual story is far from simple. Let's see, where to begin...and bear with me, this is fairly lenghty...

As you may know, I have a soft spot for the Audi TT. In fact, I am a bit of an Audi fan, this started with the TT and has further roots in a rather epic Audi press fleet event that I did years ago. I will definitely post about that one in the future. I am particularly fond of the Audi RS models. After driving an RS4 through the BC back roads during the press fleet event I was floored by the ferocity and pure brilliance of this car. The RS6 Avant is the stuff of legend. When Audi announced the TT-RS, I was immediately smitten. A 2.5 liter 5 cylinder turbo making 340hp? Wow, sign me up! Sadly, these cars weren't destined for North America so I more or less forgot about it. I would gaze forlornly at the occasional TT-S that I would spot on the streets of Vancouver but that car is just a bit too underpowered to be truly special. Then it all changed when Audi did a Facebook petition to gauge interest in a North American version of the TT-RS. The responses were overwhelmingly positive and Audi decided to bring the TT-RS to North America. This excited me greatly to the point where I started to have bad thoughts about my Boxster, selling it, going back from Porsche to Audi.

About four months ago now, on a whim I decided to call a local Audi dealer, the same that sold me the A4 Avant that so competently transports my little family. I asked what the deal was with the TT-RS, was it coming to Canada? Serendipity struck, the guy on the phone said that they just received two allocations, one white, one black. If I wanted, I could put down a refundable deposit and the car would have my name on it until it arrived some time in October. I could then give it a look and test drive and decide. I thought 'sure, why not' and gave him my credit card number for a deposit on a fully loaded, all-black TT-RS. After that, more details started emerging, Audi had tuned the ECU a bit to increase output to 360hp and 340lb/ft of torque for the North American version and the buzz on the Internet forums started building up. I became more and more excited about this car to the point where I pretty much had decided that it would replace the Boxster.

In mid October I finally got a firm date for delivery, October 21st. A couple of weeks before that, I put the Boxster on the market, which resulted in some interesting responses. Nothing concrete came out of this so two weeks ago now I took it to the Audi dealer to have it appraised for a trade-in. This is where the plot thickens considerably. After dropping off the car with the techies and settling into the waiting area of the dealership, the sales guy came over, wielding a piece of paper and looking quite grim. He showed me the document, which turned out to be a vehicle history report, pointing out some very bad things like a $24,000 accident claim way back in 2005 and several sales at auction. This was one of those moments where the bottom falls out of your stomach and a cold sweat breaks out. I was stunned, shocked and flabbergasted all at the same time. Remember, I bought this car as a certified pre-owned vehicle from an authorized Porsche dealer. I paid a premium for it. Given its history, it was worth about 20% of market value. Other Audi guys came over, gaping at the document and muttering how crazy this was. All the while I was sitting there thinking I was completely and thoroughly screwed. I was told to lawyer up and prepare for a court case. I was asked how I wanted to proceed with the TT-RS. I had no idea how to respond.

After the initial shock had worn off I decided to write a letter to Porsche Cars Canada to explain the situation and nicely ask for my money back. I included all the relevant documents including the signed inspection report claiming a clean vehicle history. I hinted at lawyers. I then couriered it to Porsche and waited. Two days later I got a phone call from a nice lady from Porsche Cars of North America who said they were terribly sorry and were willing to offer $3,000 for my inconvenience. I was momentarily stunned, shocked and flabbergasted again but quickly regained my composure and proceeded to tell her exactly how I felt about that. This seemed to trigger a flight response since she suggested several times I contact the dealership in question directly, bid me a nice day and hung up.

I had already sent a copy of my initial letter to the dealership so I called them, asked for the general manager and proceeded to ask her how she was going to fix this situation. This lady was a lot more grounded in reality, said things like 'I have no idea how this car was sold to you in the first place' and 'I want to help you' that considerably lowered my anxeity levels but I was still very much guarded and almost resigned to the fact that a lawyer was going to be inevitable. She then said she needed to consult with 'the vice president' and he would call me back. It took the mysterious VC two days to get back to me but when he did he was all business. Market value quotes for the car were being rattled off and I was asked if I would be so kind as to email him all the bills for costs I had incurred after purchasing the car. I remember doing this rather hurriedly at 7:45am in the morning while also trying to orchestrate the logistically challenging task of trying to get myself and Kai to work and school, Connie had already left for work.

A couple of hours later in the office, I received another call from the Vice President's favorite business manager who proposed that Porsche would buy the car back from me at market value, the dollar figure quoted as OK, not great but internally I sighed a deep sigh of relief and said I would think about it. He also proposed the interesting fact that I could still trade the car in at Audi and they would in turn bill Porsche. This required several phone calls to the Audi dealer who was taken aback at first but then realizing the need for this chain of transactions in order to sell me the TT-RS, agreed. He also noted that in the seven years in the car business he had never experienced a case like this.

The end result of this sordid affair is pretty much exactly what I had intended in the first place, trade in the Boxster for the TT. I just never thought I'd be experiencing two weeks of an anguishing crash course in used car sales that I'd rather soon forget!

The only thing left to do now is wait patiently for a couple of days longer. It turned out that one of the front brake pads on the TT had become misaligned during the journey from Hungary (that is where Audi builds TTs) to Vancouver. It needs to be replaced, the part is underway. Wednesday is the current expected arrival date. I am a bit giddy. Expect a gushing post soon...

This makes you think though. I am a bit risk-averse, especially when it comes to things to do with money and large purchases. I have always leased new cars since I like the idea of 4 years of bumper to bumper warranty. I decided to get a used Porsche to see how that would go, thought that buying a certified pre-owned car from Porsche itself would be the lowest-risk way of going about it. Well, I was proven wrong in the most thorough way possible. How this happened in the first place is still a mystery. I got several hints of the truth from various people at Porsche I spoke to but never much detail. The guy I dealt with last claimed it was an oversight on their part. Quite the oversight and I doubt it is as simple as that. But the affair is over and I am now the proud owner of a brand new 2012 Audi TT-RS. I don't care about the Porsche anymore.

Will I ever get a used car again? Probably not, crazy as that may sound. At the end of the day this is most definitely a first world problem. It turned out OK and I am much the wiser for it I suppose. I will write it up in the book of experience, stay calm and carry on.

I took a couple of quick shots at the dealer in their shop where the TT-RS is now, awaiting brake pads. Once I have it home I'll take some good shots, but here is a taste:

Friday, October 28, 2011

A chocolate treat

Some time ago I read about Soma Chocolate and became curious. Their microbatch chocolates that come from small bean batches from independent growers they work with directly sounded very interesting. I decided to order a bunch of their chocolate bars and sent an email with the order. This was at least a month ago now, I got a very nice reply saying that the availability of their bars was very variable and if I minded waiting while they collected the bars for the order. I said 'sure' and more or less forgot about it until today I found a package in the mail full of chocolate!

So far I have tried two of them. The 'old school' is a very old-fashioned mixture of cocoa nibs and cane sugar crystals ground together. The result is a very crunchy piece of chocolate full of texture and flavor, not like traditional chocolate at all but far more raw and simple. I can imagine how people used to eat chocolate this way before the modern processes of tempering and refining came along. The other one I tried is 'Arcana 100%', a blend of 4 beans without any additions of the usual sugar and emulsifiers. The result is the most intense piece of chocolate I have ever tasted, it is astringent, has quite a lot of acidity but also deep fruit flavor. Think of a hard-core Barolo that knocks your socks off, reduce it to its essense and turn in into a chocolate bar. Wow is all I can say!

I will be trying the others over the weekend, should be good...