Monday, September 24, 2012

Vancouver: Guu Izakaya

With its geographic location on the West coast of North America, Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities that come to mind. This lends itself well to being rich in culinary delights. With the large population of Japanese, izakaya establishments are commonplace. There are a few major players in Vancouver, and some have multiple locations with slightly different personalities: Guu, Hapa, Zakkushi, and Kingyo. As you can imagine, it was not easy narrowing it down to just one, so we went to the Original Guu on Thurlow since it was withing walking distance of our hotel.

We left for an early dinner and took a detour to take in the surroundings of our area. An izakaya is a Japanese pub serving tapas style food. Not only is it about the food, but it's also about the lively, loud atmosphere. You can only imagine our surprised when we saw a dozen or so other people already waiting to enter fifteen minutes prior to the restaurant's opening time!

Once opening time had arrived, people were efficiently seated and servers began arriving at tables to take orders and yell them to the chefs! It is a bit intimidating at first, especially since English was not a strong suit for the staff, so you're left to your own devices.

Thankfully, our ordering skills did not disappoint! Our dishes arrived piping hot and fresh. They were beautifully prepared and tasted as good as they looked.

Saba shio: grilled mackeral with salt

kim chi fried rice

tontoro: grilled pork cheek with yuzu ponzu 

Yaki udon

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vancouver: Meat & Bread

Six months in Seattle would not be completed without a visit from my parents. To make it worthwhile, we planned to drive up to Vancouver for Labor Day weekend so that they could spend a few days during the week with their friends. Crossing the border on a holiday weekend is not a quick and easy process. By the time we reached city center, we were famished. I had already planned to hit Meat & Bread for their popular porchetta sandwich. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. In fact, my mom proclaimed it to be the best sandwich she ever had. The ciabatta was fresh, with a light and chewy crumb. The porchetta was flavorful and had the right amount of fattiness. A squeeze of yellow mustard was served on the side for dipping. We added a meatball sandwich to share, but another porchetta sandwich would've probably been the better way to go.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Onto Seward

After our tram ride, we continued onward to Seward. We decided to take a quick detour to stop in Whittier, what an unusual town! We had to pay $12 for the one lane tunnel into town. The tunnel goes into town on the hour, and leaves town on the half hour. If you don't time it right, you'll have to wait until the next opportunity!

The entire town lives in an old building used for barracks and officers' housing from WWII! Aaron read about some amazing views from the building. We wandered in as if we knew where we were going. I'm sure we stood out like sore thumbs in this small town. Once we arrived at the top floor, it was quite obvious that there was not going to be a viewpoint at all. We scurried out before anyone inquired about our intent.

There's even a couple of documentaries about the "strange town." We met the reindeer lady outside her store as we were walking through the "town center."

Once we finally reach Seward, we spent some time in the Alaska Sealife Center. A portion of the settlement after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was used to build the research and rehabilitation Sealife Center.

After the Sealife Center, we wanted to hit Exit Glacier. En route to the visitor center, there are several markers along the way showing how much the glacier has retreated over the years due to changes in the world climate. Seeing the human impact on nature like this really makes one think twice about our daily habits.
The next day, we had a tour booked through Kenai Fjords tours to take us to Northwestern Glacier, which happens to be named after my alma mater! I'd never been on a whale watching boat tour, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had always heard that Alaska was teeming with wildlife, but this tour surpassed my wildest expectations. I was a little worried about being bored on a 9 hour tour, but time flew by! We saw orca pods, humpback whales, sea otters (my personal favorite), puffins, seals, seal lions, and more!

After our tour, we grabbed a quick dinner at Chinooks before hitting the road back to Anchorage for the night. The halibut fish and chips were beer battered, which is my favorite for fish.
 On the docks, you can see the fisherman processing the day's catch. It was quite amazing to see the various sizes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breakfast in Girdwood

We packed rather light for our long weekend in Alaska, so after our jeans got covered in mud from our hike, we decided to do some laundry in town before heading onward. While our clothes were in the washer, we enjoyed breakfast at the Bake Shop. Our timing was perfect because as soon as we sat down, a huge tour bus dropped off 30+ people! 

We ordered the Sweet Roll to go, so that we could enjoy it during our drive later in the day.  Rather than just a cinnamon sugar filling, these rolls had a fruity swirl and a huge pat of softened butter on the side.

 They have a few egg scrambles and omelets on the menu, but I prefer to order something that I can't easily recreate at home. We each ordered three sourdough pancakes. They were thin and huge with that sourdough tang. If you're looking for a carby start to your day, be sure to check out the Bake Shop.
After finishing our laundry, we returned to our hotel to take the tram up to the mountain top. The views were breath taking.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dinner in Girdwood

After brunch in Anchorage, we jumped onto the Seward Highway toward Girdwood for our first night's stay. We stayed at the luxurious Hotel Alyeska, which I highly recommend. It's situated "in a lush valley surrounded by mountain peaks, hanging glaciers and spectacular ocean views."

We worked up an appetite after a five mile hike behind the resort to reach the hand tram.

For dinner, we drove to Jack Sprat, where the chef's resume includes such high profile restaurants like the French Laundry.

For starters, we couldn't resist their highly acclaimed yam fries. I couldn't believe the size of each fry! They were as big as a biscotti! The fries had a delicate coating rich in garlicky flavor, which was cut by the jalapeno arugula aioli. 
We added a salad of roasted beets, bruleed goat cheese, and toasted walnuts with orange citronette over mixed greens to make us feel less indulgent about our yam fries. The ratio of ingredients was just right.

Pan seared halibut served over smoked paprika polenta, roasted broccolini, and roasted tomato and oregano vinaigrette.

Aaron opted for the evening special: King Salmon with king crab meat, baby bok choy, roasted potatoes in a lemon grass & crab meat cream sauce. He proclaimed it one of the best things he's ever eaten. I could see why after I stole a few bites off his plate. The sauce was light and flavorful in support of the gorgeously fresh salmon and crab meat.
While in Alaska, you feel compelled to support the local fishing industry, and so the obvious choice for me was the pan roasted halibut with roasted tomato & oregano vinaigrette over smoked paprika polenta and broccolini. 

We were so spoiled with fresh, local seafood, I really don't know how we will ever eat so well when we return to Chicago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Anchorage Brunch

While planning our time in Seattle, we were determined to take advantage of our close proximity to so many great destinations. At the top of our list was Alaska. While many people travel to Alaska via a cruise, I was hesitant to take too much time off at any given time since I am technically here for work. We decided on a long weekend. This allowed us to pack in a lot of our own interests in a short amount of time without having to waste time cruising on a boat or being constrained by their schedule.

Thankfully, our honeymoon flights to Australia two years ago rewarded up with enough miles for our flights. Delta partners with Alaska Airlines, which naturally has a hub here in Seattle. It was our first experience with Alaska Airlines, which was quite pleasant for us.

Food and activities in Alaska don't come cheaply with their limited tourism season and freight costs for things from the mainland. Fishing is a major source of income, so we both wanted to enjoy seafood at every meal possible. Since we had an early flight, and we gained an hour, it was time for lunch we arrived. We picked out Snow City Cafe, and given the crowd, we knew we made the right choice. I'm so glad I made reservations using Open Table on my phone to avoid the long wait.

We ordered the crabby omelet which was overflowing with fresh, flaky crab meat and melted mozzarella. I loved the rich, creamy avocado slices on top. The hash browns were phenomenal: crisp on the outside,
 smooth and creamy on the inside.
 For the second entree, we went with our server's recommendation for the salmon cakes. Unfortunately, we didn't find that they lived up to her hype, and furthermore, our egg yolks were not as runny as we would have liked. 
Breakfast dishes also come with toast, and I chose sourdough since it's just as legendary as sourdough from San Francisco. Each table has a jar of homemade jam, and we enjoyed the strawberry flavor. I love the homey touches of this popular local eatery.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Raspberry with Chocolate Jam

I just finished making a small batch of Christine Ferber's raspberry with chocolate jam. It was incredibly messy after walking away from the stove for 2 minutes resulting in my biggest kitchen mess ever. Thank goodness this wasn't my own kitchen. Considering the very small yield, itt was also incredibly expensive to get organic raspberries and top notch bittersweet chocolate. In the end, it was so worth it, and I am a jam snob for life.