Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

February 14, 2020

We had another great meal at the Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight.  Excellent food and gracious service.

Between us we had the goat cheese terrine, rib-eye steak, scallops, and rice pudding.  Each was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked.  Moreover, they were more than happy to explain the ins and outs of the sauces, reductions, and special sides; the chimichurri (with the beef), the endive marinated in lemon and the pink apple confit (with the terrine) were particularly good.  The rice pudding with caramel was the perfect finish.

So happy to have somewhere so special so close to home.


Absinthe Bistro

October 30, 2019

Finally, we made it to Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight.  The Everloving bought me a fine birthday dinner.

After seven years in a tiny unsuitable space in the 1200 block, and after their rent doubled, Absinthe recently moved to 952 Commercial. The building was erected in 1963 for Babic Lighting and was separated into two storefronts in the early 2000s.  Since then, the 952 space has been occupied by Pane Vero bakery, Adeline’s Restaurant, Cafe Shibuya, Nonna’s Sandwiches, and Joe’s Grill, with long vacancies in between. That doesn’t sound like a great pedigree for a new business location; however, I suspect that Absinthe will break that unlucky streak.

First, the space.  They have cleaned and refreshed the place considerably, with white walls and black ceiling and floor. It looks a lot better than it ever has before. The counter/bar has been pushed further back, giving the impression of much more space. A quick peek into the kitchen was very satisfying. The owner told us that it was a joy to have a good size space after the cramped quarters in which they had laboured for seven years.

The tables were elegantly set with simple glassware and candles. And the tables are placed such that, even with the thirty or so diners we saw in the room, it never seemed crowded.  The service was extremely friendly and relaxed.

Then there was the food.  They have a very short menu: a couple of starters, three mains, and two desserts. The choices change on a frequent basis.  We shared a beef carpaccio starter that was beautifully dressed. I had a hanger steak with a mushroom and spinach side in a rich glaze. It was perfectly cooked.  The Everloving had the duck cassoulet which she adored.  There was excellent bread with perfectly seasoned garlic butter.

We finished by sharing a decadently rich chocolate lava pie with vanilla ice cream. My dessert was served on a Happy Birthday plate complete with candle!

 

All in all it was a delight.  We’ll be saving our pennies for another visit!

 


In Praise of Older Diners

September 25, 2019

The Everloving and I went for breakfast today at the Skylight on Commercial. Nothing newsworthy about that; we go there on a regular basis.  However, it was special because the Skylight is going to close later this week, with Eva and her husband retiring after working so hard there for more than twenty years.  The closing saddens us but, unfortunately, extends a series of such closures.

I love a cooked breakfast, and I particularly love eating a cooked breakfast in inexpensive diners.  When I first moved to the Drive in the early 1990s, and living on Graveley, I almost immediately discovered Grant Cafe at 1464 Commercial. The fact that it was positioned at the intersection of Commercial & Grant was a pure coincidence, the cafe having been opened in 1951 by Wally and Gladys Grant at 1501 Commercial. In those days, it was anything but a lowly diner. On its opening, the Highland Echo praised its “unusually pleasant wallpaper design.”  After several changes of ownership, the Cafe moved across the street in May 1968 and by the following year was advertising itself as “The Place Where The Elite To Eat.”   However, it went through another series of owners in the 1970s and 1980s and, by the time it became my regular haunt, it had become a down-at-heel diner.  I thought it was great — the sausages were especially good as I recall — and I was devastated when it closed in 1996.

Luckily, I had already found a substitute. A restaurant called Greek Express had been opened in the Il Mercato mall in 1995. It operated in the space west of Van City and served both breakfast and lunch. The owner was a grumpy old sod but it had the very best coffee I have tasted and the same with their rye toast.  Even better, perhaps, was the gorgeous smell that they produced and which saturated the interior foyer of the mall.  Unlike say McDonalds where the sickening greasy smell keeps me away, the aroma of the Greek Express was sweet and delightful. Even when I didn’t stop for breakfast, I used to walk through the mall just to enjoy the atmosphere. v At the end of 2000, we moved from Graveley to Adanac, and so the Greek Express became less convenient as a daily stop. However, if I had business at the credit union or SuperValu, say, I made sure to have breakfast at the old place, until they too closed in 2010.

Meanwhile, we had discovered the Skylight within walking distance of our new home.  For a couple of years in the early 2010s, I split my breakfast custom between them and the regrettably short-lived Adelines, but the Skylight has been our regular go-to place for the last twenty years.  They have friendly service, great coffee, the best corned beef hash I ever ate, and a large cadre of regular customers, many of whom have become nodding acquaintances at the least.  During school terms, it is filled at lunch time with Britannia students, and I wonder where they will go when they want something better than a slice of pizza.

We are sad, for ourselves, that our favourite diner is closing. But at the same time, we congratulate Eva and her family on their retirement; they have earned it and I hope they enjoy their rest.

 

 

 


A Date For The Calendar: Theatre On The Drive

February 15, 2019

It has been three years since the Caffe Napoli closed, and The Drive Coffee Bar took its place at 1670 Commercial; and it has proven to be a whole lot more than just a coffee bar. They make really good use of a long thin room. I have been to political meet-and-greets there, for example, and they have their Tuesday night open mic music sessions and on Wednesday night’s they have Weekly Stories.  In a couple of weeks they are adding intimate theatre to their repertoire.

On March 1st and 3rd at 8:00pm, Jo Dworschak will present her award-winning one-woman show, Oh Man; an autobiographical monologue featuring the problems she has with the men in her life, only to learn she’s pregnant and having a boy.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite.


The Whiskey War Goes On and On

January 26, 2019

One year ago, I reported on the BC Government’s seizure of $40,000 worth of whiskey from Fets Whiskey Kitchen on Commercial Drive (here, here, and here).  You may recall that, although Fets purchased their whiskey from legal outlets and paid the full price and the full tax on the purchases, they were technically not allowed to purchase from those outlets.  Similar seizures were made in Victoria.

Last June, the BC Government’s own panel set up to look into the issue, recommended changes to the law to allow the kind of purchases that Fets had made.  This month, the Federal Competition Bureau entered the fray in support of Fets, declaring the BC regulations “anti-competitive”.  It is now 12 months since the raid, and more than six months since the panel’s report, but Fets still doesn’t have their whiskey back, and they are still on the hook for legal expenses and potential fines.  According to an article on Whiskey Cast:

“While the other three bars settled their enforcement cases with the province and paid small fines, the Fergies [Fets owners] are still fighting the potential loss of around $40,000 (CAD) worth of whisky and a proposed fine of $3,000. Their hearing has been pushed back to this May.”

I am clearly on the side of Fets in this fight, but regardless of right or wrong, it is crazy that this can drag on so long. As mentioned above, the government’s own panel came up with recommendations six months ago but they are “still under review.”  I certainly don’t believe that government and business should operate in an identical fashion, but, seriously, no business would survive if they took so long to make a decision, especially in this day and age.

Our otherwise worthy AG needs to get off the pot and make this right for a business that has helped the Drive flourish for more than thirty years.

[Hat tip to Nati Harron for the link to Whiskey Cast]

 

 


Schnitzel and Wine!

August 24, 2018

This coming Sunday (26th), the Downlow Chicken Shack at 905 Commercial is closing out the summer with a special schnitzel and wine menu that sounds like fun.  The event goes from 5:30pm to 10:00pm.  I’m sure there will be crowds.

I could rewrite the Scout’s piece on this and pretend I know what’s going on, but I’m happier to point you to their article.


The New Nicks Is A’Coming

April 18, 2018

When Nick’s Spaghetti House closed after 62 years in business at 631 Commercial, there was already talk of another restaurant moving into the space.  Now, that talk has become concrete action.

The old restaurant is being refurbished and will open as Pepino’s Spaghetti House, owned and operated by the chefs and management team who have been so successful with their Savio Volpe osteria at Fraser & Kingsway.  Much of the ambience of Nick’s is being kept, according to a story in Scout Magazine, including the old murals.

Image: Scout Magazine

There is hope the new restaurant will open in June.

The convenience store that used to be next door to Nick’s has also been taken over by the same group. After a complete refit it will reopen as Caffe La Tana, a traditional food store and cafe.

That northern part of Commercial Drive is home to a wide range of less expensive houses and small relatively affordable apartment blocks. It seems to me that Pepino’s and La Tana are probably looking for a more exclusive clientele which they hope to find once that stretch of the neighbourhood is thoroughly gentrified. In the meanwhile, their marketing will aim, I am sure, for the destination crowd.