Saturday, June 29, 2013

Santorini Roasted Lamb Recipe: Eating Greek with the Ravenous Traveler

Santorini Roasted Lamb Recipe: Eating Greek with the Ravenous Traveler originally appeared on

As if Greek food alone weren’t enough of a reason to visit Greece, 2013 is the Year of Gastronomy on the island of Santorini, where the Selene Restaurant offers cooking classes to ravenous travelers. With the recent economic and political turmoil driving down prices and keeping less-adventurous travelers away, this is the perfect year to visit Greece: the country is as safe as can be; you won’t be crowded; and numerous food-related parties are scheduled throughout the year on Santorini...
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Driving Route 3 from Vancouver to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

Wow: They tell you that British Columbia is incredibly beautiful, but you can't really fathom the snow-peaked mountains, rippling rivers, stunning rock formations, and picturesque farming towns until you've visited. From Vancouver, Power Strip, Sicko, and I, the Pillsbury Dutch Boy, took Route 1 to Route 3 and drive through the simply stunning countryside of northern Cascadia. The Cascade Mountains connect Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, and man are they pretty: 

Hope Slide: a huge portion of this mountain simply fell off in 1965

And if you look a little closer, you'll see the beautiful locals:

Typical British Columbia Folk
Seriously, the Cascade Mountain Ranges is the heart and soul that connects us in the Northwest, and the mountains play a key defining role in our wine and food culture. Here are a few more photos to inspire you to visit this part of the world. They begin in Vancouver and Richmond British Columbia and continue on along Route 3 through Manning Provincial Park to the Okanagan Valley. The next series of posts will be all about the amazing wine, food, and hotels in the Okanagan Valley:

Downtown Vancouver BC baby!

We lucked out with excellent weather

All food lovers must check out Granville Public Market when in Vancouver

Sadly, local cherries were still a couple weeks away

Where else other than Vancouver do you get a tree-topped buildings, sunny beaches, and snow-capped mountains?

Granville Public Market

These mountains surrounded us everywhere in the Richmond neighborhood

Then we took off on Route 3...

with pure, awesome scenery the entire way...

to arrive to Tinhorn Winery in the Okanagan Valley!

Potentially, some of the information in this article may have been obtained during a press trip funded by a Canadian tourism board, either the Richmond or Okanagan tourism boards, in particular.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wine Tasting at Lulu Lule Winery (Urban Winery in Vancouver, British Columbia)

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

It's nice to know that Vancouver British Columbia has several wineries nearby, and you can drive just a few minutes and go wine tasting. Most the wineries are located in Fraser Valley, although you can also visit the Gulf Islands and Victoria Island wine regions, and they offer a selection of grape and other fruit wines. At Lulu Island Winery, I tried my first fruit wines, and, though, to my palate, they did not have the complexity of grape wines, they were quite interesting. In particular, Lulu Island Winery makes a passion-fruit wine that would be fascinating to taste alongside Thai curry.

Located on Westminster Highway in the Richmond neighborhood of Vancouver, Lulu Island Winery offers daily tastings of five wines for free, and you can book a VIP tour and tasting for $10 (our wonderful guide, Corinne Toutoux, said to keep an eye on Groupon and other sites for deals).

In addition to sampling a nice 2010 Viognier, 2011 Cabernet Franc, and 2011 Meritage, I got to learn about winemaking in the Richmond neighborhood and the Richmond neighborhood's history. For example, Richmond used to be called Lulu Island, and many of the winery's grapes come from the Okanagan Valley—a great wine region that we'll be visiting in the next post.

I also learned about Canadian wine laws, which have been a hot subject of debate as of late. Our guide Corinne said that, until recently, it was difficult to bring wine from one Canadian province to another with incurring a hefty tax. It seems that she and other wine folk are happy to have this levy lifted, and Corinne pointed out that it helps wineries in different parts of Canada to work more closely together.

Unfortunately, the Canadian government still puts a heavy tax on its wines, and you might be able to find Canadian wines for a lower price in the United States, where the wines are not so taxed. It's a bizarre situation. Another bizarre fact that I learned later: In the Richmond neighborhood, a business can only call itself a winery if it has grapes growing onsite: this means that wineries that source their grapes elsewhere still have to grow token vineyards just to market themselves as wineries.


While we're talking legalese, I might as well give you the low down on buying wine in Canada and bringing it back to the U.S. While Canadian taxes are higher, the wines still come at a good price, and United States customs typically taxes you about 21cents a bottle to bring it back to the U.S. Make sure to declare your wine, because U.S. customs tends to check—plus, they rarely make you pay any tax if you're bringing back less than 24 bottles of wine.

In terms of price, most wines in British Columbia tend to cost over $20, but they come at a high value. I've tasted some very nice white and red wines with great acidity that cost between $20-$40 and should go for $30-$60. Canadian wines are still under the radar, and they're worthy much more, I promise. Which means only one thing: Get thee to Canadia!

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Richmond tourism board.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Croatia for Ravenous Travelers: A Gourmet's Introduction

We take a break from the previously schedule Northwest Road Trip series to take you to Croatia, where you can eat and drink like a king or a white-truffle-obsessed school girl, depending on your want:

This article originally appeared on the Viator travel website

Sandwiched between some of Europe’s most seductive culinary cultures, Croatia has fascinated epicurean travelers with surprisingly great food and wine since gaining independence in 1996. Some areas of Croatia were part of Italy until the end of WWII, and you’ll find gnocchi, pastas, and olive oil-based dishes on one hand and, on the other, paprika, yoghurt, spicy grilled meats, and other icons of the Near East. This melting pot of delicious foods has induced everyone from backpackers to Anthony Bourdain to enjoy fresh mussels and local wine on Croatia’s pebble beaches.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Sampling Another Culinary Delicacy of Richmond, Vancouver: Spot Prawns

A visit to Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant in the Steveston neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia. 

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag

Ah, the press trip: so misunderstood. One of the toughest parts about press trips, as a journalist, is judging the authenticity of your experiences. Due to simple logistics, many of the wineries, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that you visit have had a long time to prepare for your arrival. Sometimes, this is just practical: The winery should make sure that a knowledgeable representative is available during the visit to answer our, often tedious and complicated, questions. Other times, the business pulls out all the stops, and it can be pretty painful to watch a hardworking waiter or concierge bend over backward to provide a “special” experience (I should also point out that I worked as a waiter for nine years, I have lots of good chef buddies, and I still work in wineries from time to time). But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my six or so years of culinary travel writing, it’s that you cannot fake hospitality.

This was beyond evident at Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant in Steveston, Vancouver. Bonnie, our waitress, made us feel instantly at home; chef Danilo Ibarra became a fast friend; and manager Rob maintained a professional yet familial cordiality while giving us an honest and expert assessment of the British Columbia wine scene. For me, hospitality is one of the most important things on earth; I learned it from my Irish relatives and the Italians who welcomed me into their homes throughout Italy. At its core, hospitality is about making others feel truly at home, and it usually involves copious amounts of food and wine.

Blue Canoe is located in Steveston, a small working waterfront in the Richmond neighborhood of Vancouver. Often overlooked by travelers, Steveston has a great little boardwalk, and the plethora of fisherfolk ensures fresher-than-fresh seafood, including Vancouver’s delicious specialty, spot prawns (when in season). Richmond, Vancouver, is one of the only places on earth where spot prawns are found, and Blue Canoe specializes in seafood. Chef Danilo Ibarra utilizes a Nicaraguan heritage, French training, and British Columbia’s excellent produce to create darn unique dishes. 

Located on a small pier, Blue Canoe restaurant has killer views of the Fraser River. Grab a seat on the glassed-in patio and order a couple signature cocktails. Canadians love their Caesars, which are more or less a Bloody Mary made with clamato juice. I went for the Sweet Mojave Rain, which combined Hypnotiq, tequila, pinot gris, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup. If you’re visiting between late April and mid-June, ask whether spot prawns are in season, and if they are, order them immediately. Danilo specializes in inventing distinctive preparations for the day’s freshest seafood.

Overall, Blue Canoe offers competitive prices. Our incredibly innovative plates of halibut, trout, and sablefish were each around $30; other entrees ranged between $14 and $40; and cocktails were $7. The wine list was quite expensive, which is typical in Canada, where liquor taxes are exorbitant. Blue Canoe serves a range of dishes, some of which draw inspiration from Danilo's Nicaraguan upbringing; offerings include ceviche, sirloin with quinoa, burgers, and paella.

We began with the spot prawns, which came with a honeydew, cantaloupe, and mint salsa and a cucumber slaw. There’s no wrong way to eat a spot prawn, so roll up your sleeves and dig in (the wait staff will hook up warm water with lemon and a whole nother round of napkins afterward). Spot prawns are a bit richer than typical prawns—I found them closer to lobster than shrimp. Danilo had gone out with "Fisherman Frank" Keitsch of Organic Ocean to catch the spot prawns that morning (famed local blogger Lindsay Anderson of 365 Days of Dining was also on the boat, where [lucky fishermen!] Danilo made ceviche with the day’s catch on the spot).

Next, Bonnie and Danilo directed us toward the other fresh seafood: the halibut, trout, and sablefish. The halibut arrived atop house-made herb gnocchi, finished with a prawn cognac sauce. The trout, prepared with a walnut tarragon brown-butter sauce, was accompanied by purple potatoes, and the pan-seared sablefish came with rice pilaf and an orange-ginger soya-miso glaze. Every dish was wildly different. Miss Kristin, aka Power Strip; Marcy Gordon, aka Sicko; and myself, aka Dim Sum, couldn't keep our hands off each other’s plates. Sicko’s was super buttery, with a crispy seer; Power Strip’s was topped with caramelized walnuts; and my gnocchi were extraordinarily light (Danilo uses the rule of 2x2x2: 2 lbs potatoes, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of flour). To go with it all, Bonnie recommended a fantastic pinot gris produced by Pentage Winery in Okanagan. It had a peach-like hue and light, delicate flavors reminiscent of a fresh French rosé. Damn, it was good.

For dessert, Danilo recommended his signature tres leches, which incorporated chocolate, coconut, whipped cream, caramel, a gooseberry, and a strawberry carved into a rose. It was perfect for sharing, and so good with a neat Crown Royal.

All I could say was thank you.

After lots of laughs with the Blue Canoe crew, Power Strip, Sicko, and Dim Sum headed out into the Steveston night, knowing that we’d eaten some of Vancouver’s best, and having made wonderful connections with people in an unfamiliar land.

The indoor dining room at Blue Canoe, and, btw...

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Richmond BC tourism board.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Where to Eat in Richmond, Vancouver, British Columbia

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

With over 200 restaurants within a 15-minute walk from our hotel, we had a lot of dining options. The Richmond neighborhood, a 15-minute Skytrain ride from downtown Vancouver, has one of the largest Chinese populations outside of China, and these people love to eat. In addition to Chinese restaurants, you can select from Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and more. But there’s one major problem: The restaurants are hiding in plain site, and ravenous travelers will have to break out of their typical way of doing things in order to get an authentic taste of the East. I mean, don't be like these guys:

Explicitly, many of Richmond’s best restaurants are hidden inside of strip malls, and it’s a surreal experience to see entire marquees filled with Chinese characters. But, after one taste of the king crab at Vivacity Restaurant, you’ll be glad you persevered. Vivacity Restaurant serves traditional Cantonese Chinese cuisine, and the menu is so vast that you could eat there every day for months without ordering the same dish.

Entering, the day’s specials and the market price for the king crab were written in Chinese. We were seated by an English-speaking waiter who offered a number of recommendations and then took our orders; we were pretty simple guests: the king crab please.

Alaskan king crab is a delicacy in any culture. Our king crab cost $18 a pound, weighed 11 pounds, and could have fed an army. As part of the dining experience, the waiter presents your seafood, and he showed us the full size of our crab:

At Vivacity Restaurant, you can order your crab in a multiple preparations, and our waiter recommended steamed with garlic, salt and pepper, and with curried rice. These simple descriptions were deceptive, and the preparations were both beautifully uncomplicated and yet refined. The steamed preparation was simply perfectly steamed crab covered with gently sautéed garlic and chopped scallion.

The salt and pepper preparation involved gently deep-fried crab topped with carefully sliced-and-deep-fried garlic and grilled jalapeno, onion, and red bell pepper.

The rice came served inside of the crab’s giant shell, with a mix of shrimp, scallops, egg, and curry and other spices. I wasn’t a big fan of the rice, but the other preparations were light and awesome. The steamed crab is for purists, and the salt and pepper offers a crunch.

For four people, Vivacity Restaurant recommends ordering a starter soup for the table and two-to-three plates. Here’s a list of the other recommended dishes provided by our waiter:

Deep-Fried Squid with Pepper & Salt—$17
Spare Ribs with Honey & Garlic—$17
Sweet & Sour Pork with Lychee—$17
Scallops with Honey & Walnut—$17
Pan-Fried, Sliced Beef with Garlic and Onion—$17
Green Beans with Spicy Minced Pork—$16
Hot Pot with Assorted Meats, Seafood, & Tofu—$19
Yang Chow Friend Rice—$15
Flat Noodle with Beef & Bean Sprouts in Soy Sauce—$17
"The House Special" with Fried Noodles, Seafood, & Meat—$17
And here’s a list of other restaurant recommendations provided by locals I met along our journey:

Jap-a-Dog Food Truck, the one, the only!
Roaming Dragon Food Truck, Pan Asian combined with Mexican; short rib tacos!
Shanghai River, serves the traditional cuisine of Shanghai, China
Hog Shack, a BBQ joint in Steveston that specializes in pulled pork, Smoked Lover's Platter, "Burned Ends" (not on the menu; order a week in advance); craft beer
Suhang Restaurant, one of Richmond's best Shanghainese restaurants, specializing in marinated bean curd, rice cakes, and pickled vegetables
Leisure Tea & Coffee, for bubble tea, coffee, and finger foods 
Haroo Restaurant, excellent homemade Korean comfort food
L'Opera Patisserie, a great breakfast pastry spot

Also, if visiting Richmond over the weekend, make sure to check out the Richmond Night Market and the International Summer Night Market. With more than 150 food stalls, these markets serve up a huge selection of Asian cuisines. Expect to find such dishes as Japanese takoyaki, hurricane fries, mini donuts, skewered seaweed, squid pancakes, roasted yams, fresh duck wraps, and fresh dragon’s beard candy. Check the websites for hours of operation. Open May-September/October.


Portions of this article include information obtained during a press trip funded by the Richmond tourism board.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gettin' Hot: Arriving in the Richmond Neighborhood of Vancouver, BC

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

After hanging with Nigerian Dwarf Goats in Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon, Miss Kristin and I met up with @marcygordon to explore the wine countries of British Columbia. #NWRoadtrip, a wine-fueled travel writing expedition to the great wine countries of the Pacific Northwest, is in full effect. Take a look at this ravenous wine-and-travel crew:

After a quick and easy border crossing, we arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we're staying in the Richmond neighborhood. This neighborhood, just south of the city center, is famous for its flourishing Chinese culture (seriously: literally 200 Asian restaurants within walking distance of our hotel!) and the beautiful old British fishing village of Steveston. 

We will be eating and drinking everything in sight.

Over the next few days, we'll eat some of the most authentic Chinese food ever; visit the fruit and grape wineries of Fraser Valley and Richmond; and finish with an epic meal in Steveston—all with funny glasses!

Snow-capped mountains surround Vancouver and Richmond on all sides. Amazing.

Here's a quick visitor's guide to Vancouver's Richmond neighborhood in British Columbia:

Money: Right now, the Canadian dollar is slightly stronger than the American, but many businesses let you pay in American dollars without an additional surcharge or increase in price. 

Richmond Sights: 
  • 200+ Asian dining options within just a few blocks, from Cantonese and Taiwanese to Korean BBQ, dim sum, and sushi (more on this in a later post).
  • Steveston, a picturesque fishing waterfront with lots of restaurant options and a boardwalk—all well off the typical tourist route. 
  • Minoru Park, a pleasant park with ponds, weeping willows, lily pads and lilies/lotus flowers, and lots of waterfowl. Great for a stroll, with lots of benches: perfect for a picnic, or just to watch the locals lawn-bowl.
  • Dover Beach: With trails along the coast, this is a nice place to take a stroll. Plus, a viewing platform lets you watch seaplanes take off and land.
Where to Stay: Stay either 1) near where Minoru Boulevard crosses Westminster Highway, for access to lots of Asian dining options, Minoru Park, and Dover Beach or 2) in Steveston, for a working waterfront and lots of Western-style seafood restaurants.

Transportation: The nice thing about staying near Minoru Boulevard is that you can hop on the SkyTrain. This easy-to-use public transportation option takes you to downtown Vancouver in 15 minutes. The $4, two-zone ticket is good for 90 minutes. The Vancouver airport is less than 10 minutes by public transportation. In addition, your hotel will likely offer a free shuttle; Sheraton Vancouver Airport did (it has comfortable beds, a nice poolside dining area, and good food).

For more information, contact the Richmond tourism board.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Richmond tourism board.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Smith Berry Barn in Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

As one of the last stops on our visit to northern Willamette Valley before heading northward, we checked out the Smith Berry Barn outside of Hillsboro; it was clearly an epicenter of the region's culinary bounty. The roadside store sells farm-fresh produce, jams, honey, and more—much of which is made using fruit and vegetables grown onsite. Smith Berry Barn also offers U Pick fruits, berries, and vegetables seasonally, and the season usually runs June 1-October 1. In total, they grow more than 20 types of berries and 25 varieties of apples, along with spatterings of other u-pick crops. Here are some photos to give you a taste of the good country livin' at Smith Berry Barn in Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Located at 24500 SW Scholls Ferry Rd, Hillsboro, OR

Local raspberry honey, anyone?

Local herbs and spices

Soooo many jams, relishes, dressings, mustards, and more

Yeah, that's right: Bacon Pickles.

Even more jams? Jeesh.

We're taking off to Vancouver next! Stay ravenous.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Washington County tourism board.

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...