The Girls’ Day Out

August 1, 2009

Tomorrow, in the blistering heat of this extraordinary Vancouver summer, hundreds of thousands of folks will line the downtown streets to see the boys of Davie Street strut their stuff in the annual Gay Pride Parade.  Today, as they do every year the day before, a few hundred people enjoyed themselves as the Eastside girls came out to play in the Dykes on the Drive March.

Happy marchers

The march seemed bigger this year, much bigger than last year (I note that I said that last year too, which is a good sign that progress is being made) and much happier, lively.  The Dykes on Bikes group led the parade out of the park as usual:

Dykes on Bikes

And everyone had a great time in the sunshine…

Montage

My favourite look of the day?  Easy choice:

Fav look


Waazubee, Where Is Your Edge?

February 18, 2009

There was a time at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one when I spent my time on the Drive divided between Waazubee and Fet’s.  In each one, I would spend many hours watching, writing, reading, just enjoying the flow of the people.  I could spend so much time there because in both restaurants I enjoyed the atmosphere, enjoyed the staff, knew the owners, and enjoyed the food.  I was a genuine regular in both, and I always like that feeling.

We enjoyed WaaZuBee so much that back in the day we had our wedding reception there, in the raised area at the back.  Waazubee was edgy, played industrial trance all day, and was a fun hangout.   However, when we moved from around 1st avenue to this end of the Drive, Waazubee became a little less convenient and we went less.  We used to still frequent WaaZuBee for Saturday brunch but, if truth be told, it has been a couple of years or more since I was last there.  Until today, when we decided to go for lunch.

waazubee

Nothing really has changed, environmentally or gastronomically, except it all seems softer and somehow older.  The decor is the same — the old Portuguese dance hall murals looking tattier than I remember — but the featured artwork was weak.  The old carpet was lifted years ago and I’m sure that nothing else has changed physically since the late 1990s.  The music seemed soft and deliberately unobtrusive, and unfortunately the food was equally forgettable.

I had the Huevos Rancheros.  I guess I had no reason to expect a chile-based dish, but the sad mild mushiness of fried eggs on baked beans (notwithstanding the tortilla between) was an unplesant shock.  There was nothing wrong with it — I finished it down to the bare plate — but it wasn’t anything sparkling as I had hoped.  My best gal had the Waazubwich chicken, a favourite of hers for many years.   She had the feeling the chicken wasn’t quite right and asked me to try it.  So I got to taste another entirely bland concoction, different from mine but just as unexciting.

Anyone can have a bad day, and maybe this was theirs.  But it was all so depressing.  Especially when compared to Fet’s, which has changed both physically and in its menus over time without losing the essence of what it always was.   It is a real shame because I really like Benny and the folks at WaaZuBee, but I’m not sure I’ll be back, at least for a while.


Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

December 29, 2008

In 1977 there was a long bread strike in England.  In some parts of the country one could pick up an expensive loaf from free-lance bakers; but I lived in a small town in Somerset and there was no alternative but to learn how to bake my own bread.  I remember the first few times being serious disasters with an inedible product, but I eventually got the hang of it.  Still, I was relieved when I could just pop down to the local store and get what I needed.

Fast forward thirty years.  We live on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, home to a number of bakeries that are well-known and popular across the city — Fratelli’s, Uprising, Strawberry, Aran Spelt, and Pane Vero to name just a few.  We’ve enjoyed bread from many of them over the years.  But a few months ago, my bride started to bake her own version of Tuscan bread;  most of the time we eat just that nowadays.  It tastes good and the process makes the whole house smell magnificent.

Last week I came across the world’s most simple bread recipe — flour, yeast, salt and water.  And best of all, no kneading is required!   A lazy man’s dream.  Last night I made the dough and this morning I cooked the loaf.   It is great — very crusty on the outside, soft and airy in the middle, and with a clean straightforward taste.  I’m pretty pleased with myself to be honest.

bread


Of Burgers, Bigots and Neighbourhood Spirit

November 29, 2008

Last night, Herself and I went to dine at Fet’s.  Nothing unusual in that.  In fact, regular readers will know that Fet’s is our favourite hangout on the Drive.  However, last night we were not there just for the burgers.

While we are at Fet’s, though, we might as well discourse on the food first.   Fet’s has made a real effort recently to have a good changeable fresh sheet.  Last night it included “Moroccan Meat Pie” which I was intrigued enough to try.  It turned out to be a shepherds pie with a spice I couldn’t recognize, a lot of orange flavour, and cheese in the potato topping.  None the worse for all of that, either.  It was served piping hot and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My bride had the Caribbean burger, which she declaimed was as good as ever.   And that is saying something because in this writer’s humble opinion, the Fets’ Caribbean burger is the finest burger available — definitely on the Drive and probably in the City.  I’m not usually a lover of pineapple, cooked or otherwise; but in this dish it works perfectly.  As always, Eric takes care of his meat, and the burgers are well-formed, generous, and perfectly cooked.

Another fine dining experience.  But on to the real reason we were there.

Some of you may have heard of the Reverend Fred Phelps and his tribe of followers from Kansas.  The leadership and members of his Westboro Baptist Church have become famous for showing up at US military funerals with signs saying “God Bless the Roadside Bombs” and “God Hates America”.   They do this in the belief that America’s soldiers are being killed by God because America allows gays to live and thrive.  Typical extremism, religious fanaticism of the American kind.

phelps

Next door to Fet’s is the Havana restaurant/art gallery/theatre space.  The play opening there last night was about the young gay man brutally murdered in Wyoming a few years back.   Rumour had it that Phelps and his maniacs were motoring all the way from Kansas to Commercial Drive to protest against the play.

His mob was supposed to arrive at 7.   We got to Fet’s at 6 and, on the way, met with several people coming to the Drive to protest against Phelps.  By the time we finished dinner and went back on the street, there were several hundred anti-Phelps folks there, with banners and rainbow flags and a lot of noisy joy considering the continuous heavy rain.  It was wonderful to see our neighbourhood pour out onto the cold and wet streets in support of the consenting diversity that flavours the Drive and, indeed, the entire Province.

My night-time camera skills are minimal and I didn’t have a tripod to steady the long exposures; so this is an impressionistic view of the crowd outside the Havana last night:

phelps-demo1

In the end, Phelps and his people never showed up.  Perhaps he was stopped at the border, perhaps he was scared off by our numbers.  Who knows?   We stayed around for quite a while.   This was community in action.


The Body Language of Recycling

September 16, 2008

The house across the lane from us is being demolished.  It may well come down tomorrow as they have an expensive piece of heavy machinery sitting in the yard.   Yesterday, a crew came and pulled out the fixtures and fitting, appliances and the like.  Today, workers laboured to strip the interior, and pull the front from the house.  This evening came the “salvagers”.

An ineffective temporary fence has been thrown across the back yard, but it doesn’t stop anyone.  One of the neighbourhood’s local binners came by and confidently went through the junk in the yard, finding a bonus of a dozen bottles.  He was clearly pleased.

Later, a couple of women came by.  In the end, they carted off about a dozen or more slats from the old wooden fence, but they searched around for a long time.   They also briefly went into the open back door of the house and their body language was illustrative.   You may notice that when anyone is entering a place where they shouldn’t be, they tend to try to act overly casual.  A common thing is to see both hands behind the back, and the head thrust high.  And sure enough, both women put their hands behind their backs and extended their necks as they entered the door.  Classic stuff.

And as for salvaging, I found a perfectly good heavy ax in the lane this evening.


The Eye Of The Beholder

August 22, 2008

The child bride and I went to Marcello‘s for dinner last night.  The food was excellent and the ambience as bright as a summer evening.  But there was one problem. The wait staff — and most particularly the male waiters — were downright scruffy.

I realise that from this great height of age, there is a tendency to look down my nose at the goings-on of the presently young, but I am generally accommodating.   But last night the two male waiters appeared unshaven, with hair that didn’t look washed, and were, I’ll say it again, just scruffy and potentially unclean.   It is disturbing, especially in a place that had such high standards as Marcello’s.

I hope the boss sees what is happening and straightens it out soon.


Saturday, Pride and PC

August 2, 2008

Busy day today all in all.

I started off by wasting a few hours supporting the pathetic English cricket team, who crashed to a series defeat against South Africa.  It was the first Test series SA has won in England for more than 30 years, and they were worth every penny.  England on the other hand need to take serious stock of their failures.  There are time-honoured fixtures in the team who need to be moved out, and quickly.  We cannot do worse with a bunch of greenhorns than we do right now.

When that was finally over, we headed out for some chores and then to Fets for lunch and to watch the Dyke’s on the Drive Parade arrive at Grandview Park.   The parade seemed bigger than last year’s, there was less nudity (the mild not hot weather may have played a part in that), and the music in the Park was great.  Here’s a picture of the MOB making its move into the Park.

Then it was over to Powell Street for the Festival there.   Other than the drummers, there wasn’t too much going on.  The lines for snack food were too daunting to try.

Home again.  Painting.  Great food from Chong Qing.  And wonderful fireworks seen from our balcony.   Not a bad day.

Thinking back to the parade today, I remember that I watched CTV news at 6 last night — the most popular news program in the province — and the parade wasn’t mentioned.   A lot of the show featured the Pride Parade tomorrow and the festivities surrounding it but the Dykes on the Drive was never mentioned.  They even had a segment about other events during the weekend, but the Dyke’s Parade was ignored.

And then I realized that throughout the newscast the Pride Festival was discussed without a single mention of gays or homosexuality.  Not once was the foundational purpose of the parade and festival openly talked about.   Maybe talking about gays would have upset some viewers?  No wonder they couldn’t say “Dykes on the Drive”.    Shame, really.   But we enjoyed it anyway.


No Car Day

June 15, 2008

Today was No Car Day on the Drive. In fact, several other neighbourhoods around Vancouver have taken up our idea and streets in Kits and elsewhere were also closed to traffic all afternoon. Here on the Drive, we enjoyed the first real summer-like day and it was packed!

This is the intersection of Commercial and Williams, looking north. If only the Drive could be car free every day!

Update:

Mayor Bloomberg has proposed closing 7 miles of New York streets for three Saturdays this August!  This is a great movement and can only grow and help us take back our cities.


Street Art XI

June 11, 2008

One of the great aspects of the Drive is the amount and quality of public art that is available. This delightfully happy example featuring a dildo and lube delivery lady is on the Venables Street wall of Womyns Ware.


We and Me & Julio

May 31, 2008

Deciding to check out Me & Julio’s Honourable Mention in this year’s Vancouver restaurant awards, we had dinner there last night. Overall, it it was pretty good.

Me & Julio advertizes itself as the “modern Mexican kitchen” and it lives up to that. The dishes use traditional ingredients and forms (taco, enchiladas, etc) but combine them in new ways and plate them flawlessly with modern style. The menu isn’t long, allowing the kitchen to focus on a few good ideas.

My better half chose the paella, which had also tempted me. Unfortunately, it was bland and uninteresting. It seemed to cry out for salt, but at the same time one knew that would simply change it, not improve it. I had much better luck with the bistec. It was rare as ordered and came with a fine if unoriginal prune sauce. Side vegetables were excellent and the horseradish-avocado mash was very good indeed.

They have a huge serving staff and service was polite and competent. However, they don’t seem to have the same staffing levels in the kitchen and the wait for food was too long. On a more positive note, they have used the space available really well, with a single large room. Decoration is muted and attractive, comfortable to be in. Popular, too: There always seemed to be folks at the door waiting to get in.

An aside: The short menu, the happy bistro ambience created by the one-large-space, and the dominating bar are attributes Me & Julio shares with the Reef. From the outside at least, Timbre looks to be similar. Waazubee was one of the forerunners of this style on the Drive, but their space is too dark and internal to work as well. Charlatans would like to be seen that way, I believe, but the multiple levels takes it out of the one-large-space category. With at least three new restaurants opening with this style, perhaps this is the new Drive look and feel. I don’t mind it at all.


Good Taste In Vancouver

May 25, 2008

Vancouver magazine’s May edition contains the “19th Annual Restaurant Awards” — the best in Vancouver eateries for 2008.  It is the only edition of the magazine I ever buy.  There are 179 winners and, as usual, only about three of them are east of Cambie.

I was triggered to write this because we went to the Pink Pearl this morning.  We were privileged to enjoy the freshest dim sum either of us could ever remember.  The tastes were subtle, different, clean and delicious.  The Pearl is always wonderful, but this morning was beyond that. And the Pearl was not even acknowledged in the awards.

Three restaurants on the Drive were mentioned.   Rinconcito Salvadoreno received the Silver award in the Best of the Americas category, while Lombardo’s garnered an Honorable Mention for Casual Italian.  Me & Julio’s also received an Honourable Mention in the Americas category, which is odd — it can hardly have been open when the voting took place for this edition.  But good luck to it!


Grandview Recreations

May 10, 2008

I finally noticed today that Grandview Billiards (or Grandview Recreations) at 1816 Commercial has closed.  Nothing unusual in that, I guess.  Except that business started in 1926 and, until a couple of weeks ago, it stood as the longest serving business on the Drive.  (Magnet Hardware and Blue Bird Beauty Shop were also founded in 1926, but they have changed location between then and now).

I’m not sure that Grandview Billiards was ever more than a working-class hangout, with a few tables in back and a lounge/snack area in the storefront.  It was popular with Italians when I first came here, but in the 90s I noticed a lot more East Europeans, Serbs and such, looking surly and unapproachable in the front room.  Recently it had become a genuine anachronism, becoming ever more rundown as the businesses around it were upgraded.  It’ll be another restaurant, I bet.

So, that leaves Magnet Hardware (now known as Home Hardware) and Blue Bird Beauty Shop as finalists in the “last business standing” contest.  Blue Bird has been at its current location since 1936, well before Magnet moved to the corner of Graveley, and therefore seems to own seniority right now.


Marcello’s

May 4, 2008

In another lifetime — or at least in an earlier century — when I lived on Graveley, I was an habituee of Lombardo’s Pizza in the Il Mercato Mall at the corner of Commercial & 1st. Every couple of weeks or so for a few years, I had to get my Inferno fix. The Inferno was my favourite pizza, with a fierce hot sauce at its heart. The chef, and I always assumed the owner, was Marcello and with his classic brick oven he made the very best pizza in Vancouver, recognized in the Georgia Strait‘s annual awards. I didn’t stay if I found that Marcello wasn’t cooking that night.

About ten years ago, a couple of rich westside kids poured a ton of money into a restaurant they called L’Impero at the southeast corner of Commercial and Kitchener. It was designed to attract dot.com yuppies and similar types. Its failure was spectacular and swift. Pretty soon thereafter, Marcello took over the space and named it for himself. It has been going strong ever since.

I never became a regular at Marcello’s as I had been at Lombardo’s. The atmosphere was set at a more refined level than at the earlier place, and certainly never seemed as friendly. Over the years, on our occasional visits, we have been put off more than once by some very arrogant take-it-or-leave-it service. However, their pizzas are pretty good and they have an inslata verde that my wife adores, so we tried again late on Saturday afternoon.

After a cold and wet start, Saturday eventually became a warm and sunny day. The Drive was bouncing with life, the patios were full, and we had enjoyed our leisurely walk. We entered Marcello’s in a fine mood and, praise the Lord, we were not let down. We were quickly found a table for two at the front window, and our waitress was as laid back and easy-going as we could hope for. The warm air and the soothing breeze through the open window made for an ideal atmosphere. Even the famously hard-shelled hostess was enjoying a brief smile or two.

The insalata verde was exactly as the boss ordered and we had fun trying to deconstruct the dressing. The pizza — half Marcello and half Palermo (the closest thing to the Inferno of old) — was good, too (though, heretically, I believe that Eric’s small pizzas at Fets are the now best on the Drive).

A good time and I’m glad we went back.


Stix

April 27, 2008

When I last wrote about our end of the Drive, I was bemoaning the fact that all the new action was on the east side of Commercial. I had completely forgotten about Stix Noodle & Grill, an unpretentious place on an unpretentious block between a 24-hour quicky mart and Deserts on the west side of the street. We went there for dinner tonight and it was great!

Not very large, the interior is bright and fresh and clean, a bit like a food court site. You order at the kitchen counter and wait for your order to be called. There are a few tables and chairs and long counters with stools by the windows onto Commercial, perfect for watching the neighbourhood go by.

There are less than a dozen items on the menu, with Malay and Filipino influences. We had Malaysian beef curry and Lemon grass chicken with a side of spring rolls. The beef in the curry had been cooked, slowly I think, for a long time, until it was just perfect for eating; and the mild curry with coconut milk was exactly right. On the other plate, you could really taste the lemon grass in the chicken. We think it must have been marinated for quite a while before grilling. Excellent tastes from both.

Both meals came with perfectly cooked fluffy rice, the curry with potatoes in the sauce, and mixed vegetables with the chicken. The spring rolls were very tasty, with the lightest possible batter.

Cheap, cheerful and delicious. We will return, for sure.


We Got The Good Buses

April 24, 2008

As of last Monday, the #20 bus route that runs down Commercial Drive is handled by the wonderful new articulated buses.

For years we have had to live with the old buses on The Drive, and boy did they get crowded! Bigger buses, increased schedules — this is a good time!

Update:  It has taken me a week to realize that the big new buses on the Drive are trolleys, running on electricity.  This makes then even better than my old favourites, the 98 and 99 B Lines, which are powered by gas or diesel!


Sun Study #1

April 19, 2008

“Sun Study #1″ (2008), acrylics on canvas, 16″x20″

Once I got over the shock of the snow this morning, the weather was brilliant; cool air and a bright clear light blue sky.  Perfect walking weather.  And so, after breakfast at the Skylight, I wandered about on the Drive for a while.  Soon enough I found myself in the local art store where I stocked up on colours and canvases.  It felt great to walk home with canvases under my arm and visions of paintings in my head.

I spent a lot of the afternoon painting the sun study above and test-painting mountain firs for another piece I’m planning.  Life’s pretty good.


Better Than The Curate’s Egg

April 19, 2008

With about a hundred restaurants on The Drive between Broadway and Venables, I guess it is not so strange that, even in my almost twenty years here, I haven’t tried them all before. One of the ones I had missed to date is the Rinconcito Salvadoreno up around 5th. We finally made it there last night.

When I got there at 6, just a couple of tables were in use. By the time my wife arrived fifteen minutes later, every table was full and there was a line-up out the door that continued throughout our dinner. Unknown this place isn’t! I was amazed at how many people they could squeeze into such a small space, including a fourteen-person group that was, we thought, a Spanish language class outing.

As the name suggests, this is a restaurant that features the cuisine of El Salvador, especially pupusas of which they have several varieties including cheese, chiccharron and bean stuffings. The daily special pupusa was queso con loroco. Much of the rest of the menu was recognizable from Mexican fare. I was disappointed (as was our host, I think) that the imported beers were all Mexican rather than Salvadorean (not that I have ever drunk a Salvadorean beer, but I like to try local brews when eating their food).

The especially good looking one of us ordered a couple of pupusa revuelta, rice and salad. She really liked the pupusa, which came with a tasty curtido and tomato salsa; and she appreciated the fact that the salad contained a wide range of good ingredients rather than just a pile of boring greens. We both thought their rice was overcooked.

I made the error of ordering pollo encebollado, chicken with onions. My fault, really; I should have thought it through. I find that re-heated chicken has a peculiarly unpleasant taste (I adore re-heated leftovers, where flavours have been allowed to marry and meld. But NEVER chicken!) I should remember that most Central American cuisines boil chickens for a long time and then re-heat them with various sauces and condiments. Here, I am guessing, the chicken is slow boiled with onions, and then the meat is pulled and heated as ordered. I am positive that if you don’t mind re-heated chicken, then this was well-prepared. I just didn’t like it.

As I mentioned above, this was a crowded, busy place. That level of activity always seems to feed a friendly atmosphere, and so it was. Many of the diners seemed to be regulars, usually a good sign. Service was fine and the price was reasonable. I’ll go again and try something other than the chicken.


Practising

April 13, 2008

Today was beautiful in Vancouver, as it was yesterday. We’ve looked forward to a break like this for the last few dreary weeks of a wet and wintery Spring.

On the Drive it was if we were practising for summer, wearing shorts, filling every bistro patio (and we have a lot of them) and spilling people onto the sidewalks, smiling faces, plenty of bikes. There was a sense of happy relief — we’ve gotten through the worst of it — and expectation: when is the first No Car day this year? Musicians played at a couple of corners and, even though there were none today, it was easy to imagine dancers in the Park.

What was also notable to me today was the revival of our end of the Drive, between, say, Venables and Napier. For a long time we were the poor cousin to the fun and games to be found around 1st or Grandview Park. Now, almost suddenly, we have our own centres of attraction, and we were attracting good crowds this afternoon. The morphing of Zesty’s into Zawa seems to have attracted its own crowds and, although Bump ‘n Grind coffee may have bitten the dust (it was closed this weekend), Pan e Vero is a highly successful new bakery with an excellent coffee/sitting area at the front. It has gallery-like walls that could compete with Havana for local shows, and an owner/baker willing to listen to bread recipe ideas.

In the next block south, we have the finest chocolatier for miles around (treat yourself to a dozen or so of her handmade delights) right next door to the classic Skylight diner. Next door down is the immensely popular Britannia Sushi where, frankly, the sashimi pieces are too big for good taste and decorum. Finally, to complete a four-door special, next door we find The Reef, a fabulous Caribbean joint I’ve written about before. We went there again last night and it was even better than before. I had their jerk pork tenderloin which was extraordinarily interesting, tasty and good! As I walked by today, clients were hanging out the doors and windows it was so packed.

Now, all we need is a decent grocer down this end. And there is plenty of space for one. All of the places mentioned above are on the east side of the Drive; the west side still needs a lot of work. But, we’re just practising right now. Things can only get better.

Update here.


Reef On The Drive

March 21, 2008

I guess Commercial Drive just wasn’t ready for an American-Pie retro Quebec diner featuring poutine. We watched a man build Frenchie’s last year through months of hard effort. And we watched as day after day and week after week Frenchie’s was never busy. Some days it was hard to see a single bum in a seat. Not surprising it closed, I guess.

But Frenchie’s sad loss has proven to be a boon for the Drive because the space has been taken over and refurbished as The Reef, a Caribbean joint, with other branches on Main Street and in Victoria. We had dinner there last night and it was great! Simply but appropriately decorated and furnished, the atmosphere was good, the service attentive, and business brisk.

My better half had the Bajan fried chicken, which came with yardie yam fries, gravy and coleslaw. She told me it was the best fried chicken she had ever eaten outside of the house, and then called over the waitress to tell her the same thing. It was that good.

I had the goat roti, an enormous and wonderful bundle that I couldn’t finish (packed it up and brought it home). The smooth but highly spiced taste was exactly what I remember from Jamaica. Wonderful. Mine also came with their coleslaw, made without mayonnaise and with a very fresh taste and texture.

I look forward to herself and I going through their menu comprehensively over the next few months.


Fets

February 15, 2008

My wife and I courted in those days before the inevitability of email. In fact, I wrote her dozens of long letters, all in longhand, and mailed them off. We were emailing each other throughout this time, but hand-written mail still seemed more appropriate for intimacies and long stories. Anyway, letters there were — and lots of them — most of them written while I whiled away the hours at Fets Restaurant on Commercial Drive. I ate hundreds of pounds of burgers and drank an Olympic pool of red wine in the four months before she moved here.

FetsFets is still our restaurant of choice, our default option. We went there for Valentine’s Day supper and enjoyed it just about as well as the first time. They have just the best burgers in Vancouver, bar none, and any one of the different types is a winner. They also keep a great steak — better, I think, than any steak house, including Joe Fortes. Recently they introduced thin-crust pizzas that are to die for. If you like hockey — especially Canucks hockey — you can’t beat a game night at Fets.

I’m not a whiskey drinker but Eric, one of the owners is. In fact, he wrote a book about it, and I think he keeps a good bar.

The walls reflect Eric’s musical tastes, heavy on images of the Rolling Stones and dead rockers. They have all been drawn by Paul Archer (we have an Archer of Mick Jagger in our living room that I bought off the wall at Fets).

It is a warm and friendly place and Eric and Allura are fine hosts with a good eye for servers who are better than adequate. Their patio faces Grandview Park on perhaps the busiest section of the Drive. If you are new to the Drive, you can’t do better than a meal at Fets watching the walking cabaret.


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