Thursday, March 29, 2012

Goodbye Refuel

All good things come to an end so they say. It is the same with Refuel which has long been one of my favorite restaurants in Vancouver. I wrote about it earlier here, which will give you a bit more background.

Last Saturday, Refuel closed its doors for the last time. This was a sad occasion for me, having enjoyed so many great meals at this place. It has extra special meaning because it was the favorite hangout of Kai and I whenever Connie was out for an evening. Kai literally grew up eating Fuel and Refuel food and as he got older, he really started appreciating what they were cooking. He would devour their risotto and loved their hamburger but most of all, adored their pork belly rack. It was with some pride that I witnessed him eating one of those by himself recently during one of our visits. The other thing I appreciate so much about this team is how down to earth they are. Visting Refuel or the Campagnolos is always like visiting friends with the people in the kitchen and front of the house always happy to see you. Sharing their passion for food is what they love to do and again I very much appreciate seeing this with Kai who I think learnt a lot from interacting with them. So yeah, I am sad this chapter is closing but the Refuel crew certainly isn't out for the count, their other restaurants, Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma are doing well and they are getting close to opening The Fat Dragon. Needless to say we will be there on opening day.

Refuel's final event was one of their late-night PIG dinners which was hosted by R&B brewery. The PIG dinners are all about the pork, which has always been Refuel's specialty given that they buy and butcher their own pigs from Sloping Hill Farm on Vancouver Island. The location for this event was perfect, we were seated on beer kegs at long tables at the brewery while the beer flowed and the food kept coming.

The menu was a feat of pig-inspired cooking with most dishes featuring bacon or some other form of pig meat. The theme was picnic-styled, chef Jane was inspired by her childhood as well as the necessity of the big sharing plates and having to pre-cook most of the food since the brewery doesn't have a kitchen to speak of.

The table at the start of dinner, with The Cure salamis, prosciutto and pickled vegetables
Devilled eggs!
The amosphere in the room was excited and happy with everyone there fans and regulars of Refuel, knowing what they were in for. It was great to see some of the staff members as well that are so familiar, it felt like a big giant family reunion.

Beer marinated fried chicken
Talk about comfort food and the brilliant combination of bacon, beer and meat. I was very happily scarfing down this feast and slowly but surely reached epic heights of full-ness. R&B also presented their new beer, Darksnout bacon oatmeal stout. Beer with a smoky bacon flavor. What else is there to say?

The Darksnout ready to be tapped
Ridiculously good mashed potatoes with bacon and scallions
Beer braised Sloping Hill pork shoulder...fall-apart tender and oh so delicious
Beer infused maple glazed ham leg
Cheddar bacon cornbread with whipped lard
And finally...olive oil cake with candied bacon and crème fraîche
The table after an hour or so...

Jane Cornborough, the Refuel chef and Katherine Manson, Refuel manager
The kichen crew, happy after a job extremely well done!
Well, this was certainly one evening to remember. Many thanks to the Refuel crew for setting up this great event and to the R&B guys for having us. I hope that the Refuel legacy continues in the Fat Dragon, I wish Rob, Tom, Ted & Katharine the best of luck!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A boy's weekend

With Connie spending a few well-deserved days in Seattle with a girlfriend, Kai and I are spending a weekend together. So what have we been doing so far? Well, on Friday morning we headed up Grouse mountain. It had been dumping snow up the local mountains all week so it was time to sample some of it. Grouse early on a weekday morning is a completely different experience than Grouse at mid-day on a Sunday. No crowds, no line-ups and heaps and heaps of fresh snow. It was pretty epic actually, we got a few hours of powder runs in until we were both exhausted and headed down again, thoroughly satisfied. We headed straight for Thomas Haas for a sumptuous lunch:

Oh and might I add that my little sports car, much derided for being impractical, easily held my big powder board and the rest of the gear we brought up?

We then headed home where we spent some time lounging around. Well, Kai did the lounging while I spent a long time trying to figure out why my wireless router wasn't playing nice with the new cable modem that Shaw sent me for the broadband 50 service that I signed up for. A 50 megabit connection is great but I didn't expect to have to spend many hours trying to figure out why things didn't work as before. The shaw tech support guy couldn't help either so in the end I gave up and had him enable the wireless option in the modem. That solved things but it meant I had to go around and reconfigure the many wireless devices in the house. This included the wireless bridge that I have a bunch of things like the Xbox and the Denon receiver hooked up to, I never knew there was so much to know about IP addresses, gateways, DNS servers, etc. But I managed to make it work in the end.

The arrival of the long-awaited iPad caused lots of excitement and Kai was soon happily playing away with it while I was still staring at router setup screens. Dinner time came along, I had booked us at Kits Daily, one of my local favorites. Chef Brian had a six course tasting menu set up and we were ready for it. Razor clams, asparagus soup, duck meatballs in risotto, pork belly, steak and pear almond tart were all eagerly devoured. The meal was incredible and Kai loved it. He was quite the hit with the other diners and the staff, I guess 8-year olds who manage 6-course tasting menus don't come around very often!

Pork belly on barley risotto topped with a quail's egg

On Saturday morning we went for the famous Cartem's Donuts. We drove out to their bakery on Commercial Drive which turns out to be in a great little smoked meat shop. The donuts were almost sold out already but we managed to score a couple of cinnamon sugar ones and I have to admit their were delicious. I also picked up some smoked ham, krakowska sausage and pot pies. We then visited the farmer's market and headed back home for some more iPad fun. I found a cat toy that displays moving balls, mice and other colorful objects that Jude went pretty crazy about. I read about these earlier and the glass of the iPad is strong enough to withstand cat claws so it is safe for them to swat.

The weather cleared up a bit and the sun actually came out so we headed for the soccer field by Kai's school to burn off some energy. Kai surely did his best and ran around like a little madman until he actually asked to stop, something he rarely does!

When I heard that Refuel is closing at the end of next week, I was devastated. I also resolved to eat there as much as possible so tonight we headed there for dinner. Neither of us ate much during the day so we were famished and ready for some Refuel classics: the rack of porkbelly confit. I had my favorites, a Negroni to start off, some leek and potato soup followed by the absolutely out of this world delicious pork belly rack. Think a strip of pork belly, bone still on, slow-cooked in pork fat (sounds much worse than it is!), then crisped to perfection in a hot pan. Tonight it came with a little mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts. Two of Kai's favorites so we achieved perfection.

The rest of the evening was spent watching 'Real Steel' while Jude lounged in the armchair.

Tomorrow morning we'll head for the Science Center and we'll see what is in store for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The most astounding fact...

is that I don't write enough in this blog? Maybe. Connie spends a lot of time on her beautiful blog. I let mine linger and write occasionally when inspiration strikes or Audi does something cool :-)

But the most astounding fact about the universe to me gets eloquently explained by Neil deGrasse Tyson in this video:

It is rather impressive to think that everything you see around us is made from atoms forged in the blazing hot cores of exploding stars. In its dying moments, a massive star explodes with unimaginable force and is called a supernova. The immense temperatures and pressure at the star's core result in runaway nuclear fusion processes that produce lots of heavy elements. These are then ejected into space by the explosion and eventually, many, many years later cool down and form into new stars, planets, asteroids and pretty much everything else you find in a typical solar system such as ours. Quite amazing.

A supernova can lead to other, deeply fascinating things like neutron stars and black holes. Neutron stars are the extremely dense remnants of supernovas that were not heavy enough to fully collapse into a black hole. They are made entirely of neutrons and can in some way be seen as a massive atomic nucleus. They manage to squeeze about 1.2-2 times the mass of our sun into a region about 12 kilometers in diameter. A single teaspoon of neutron star material weighs about 900 times the Great Pyramid!

Then there are black holes, the fabled and ultimately mysterious objects that lurk in the universe. Infinitely dense and small regions of spacetime where physics (and reality) as we know it breaks down. Nothing can escape from them, in some ways the ultimate testament to the indifference of nature. There is a lot more that can be said about black holes, maybe in another post sometime...