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!