Archive for August, 2011

August 29, 2011

Tom Morello, City and Colour, Steve Earle highlight 2011 Ottawa Folk Festival

Tom Morello at Ottawa Folk Festival 2011

Tom Morello and his Black Spartacus acoustic guitar put on a show at the Ottawa Folk Fest.

OTTAWA — Tom Morello’s presence at the Ottawa Folk Festival was such a curiosity even he seemed to think he had to explain it.

Morello preceded his set on Saturday night beneath the stars at Hog’s Back Park with a few words about how folk music takes many forms including — he wanted us to believe — hard-driving, guitar-bleating rock. He then sent out to prove his point.

Playing under the name The Nightwatchman, the founding member of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave blistered through his first two songs before settling into a few tunes that were actually folksy. His hit “One Man Revolution” was strikingly appropriate for an event that heralds the activist singers known for their political messages.

As always, though, the highlight of Morello’s show was his version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a searing tour de force from one of the world’s most talented guitarists. Morello, who has been playing the Springsteen song since his days with Rage, absolutely assaults his electric six string during the solo. He manhandles the guitar with his teeth, his palms and those gifted fingers of his that make you wonder if the instrument wasn’t created for him to play that song.

Dallas Green at Ottawa Folk Festival

Dallas Green's City and Colour drew a big crowd at the Ottawa Folk Festival.

While still energetic on stage at age 47, Morello has mellowed to where he can laugh and have fun with the audience. He got everyone — even those who seemed to be planted to their lawn chairs for the full weekend — to jump and sing to his encore, a rendition of the title song from his new album “World Wide Rebel Songs.”

August 25, 2011

Suzie McNeil, King Sunshine and the Marquee Rose Shine in Blue Mountains

Suzy McNeil in Thornbury

Suzie McNeil won over the crowd in Thornbury. (Julia Pelish photography)

THORNBURY, ONTARIO — Cottage country calls all Torontonians — including, it turns out, some of the city’s most listenable musicians. During the recent Peak to Shore Music Festival, headlined by Sarah Harmer, I caught stellar performances from three acts at Blue Mountain Village and in the wonderfully inviting little town of Thornbury.

Suzie McNeil It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since McNeil appeared on “Rock Star: INXS,” wowing judge Dave Navarro with her voice, her sweetness and other charms. McNeil didn’t skyrocket to superstardom, but she has earned four top 10 hits in Canada since 2007 and headlined on stage in the theatre production of “We Will Rock You.” During the Peak to Shore Festival, McNeil performed two shows in Thornbury on August 13, a day when she had major car trouble and “merch” issues (CDs she’d hoped to sell never made it up from Toronto). She related those stories and woes of “getting dumped” to the audiences while beaming and laughing and seeming to be genuinely enjoying her time on stage. You couldn’t help but like someone so easygoing and natural — and talented. McNeil has total command of her pitch-perfect voice and she demonstrated it first on Bruce Street in Thornbury and later at Bridges, a tavern with a sprawling lawn that made for an enchanting setting for a show. Although she’s put out three albums, McNeil isn’t above singing cover songs. In fact, about half of her set were popular hits most listeners would know — from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (which McNeil actually made likeable) to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen classic that the Mississauga singer performed on the reality-TV show that made her a star in 2005. Her most recent single, “Merry Go Round,” is a tuneful, melodious, easy-to-listen-to song — like most everything else she puts out.

King Sunshine If you didn’t know better you’d think this gang of nine from Toronto came straight out of New Orleans. They’ve got a horn section, a funky beat and a lead singer with one big voice. Their song “At the Party,” which is five years old now, sounds as fresh as anything out there. During their show in the middle of a 30 Celsius-degree afternoon, they had feet tapping and more than a few people shaking when the horn section descended the stage to liven things up like a veteran Dixieland troupe. This is a fun group that makes sure everyone has a blast. Plus, Maya Killtron’s voice dazzles.

August 22, 2011

The Great Dessert Search, Edition No. 2: Grandma Lambe’s Apple Pie

Grandma Lambe's pies

Grandma Lambe's produces more than 100 homemade pies a day. (Copyrighted photo by Julia Pelish Photography)

MEAFORD, ONTARIO — Grace Lambe made her first pie for sale 26 years ago because she had peaches that were going bad. “I didn’t want to waste them,” she says, “so I made the pies and put them out on a stand and they sold. To think, from that came this business.”

Grandma Lambe’s is much more than a dollars-and-cents operation, though. Set on 2,000 acres of family-owned farmland just east of the Meaford business district, the country bakery and market is a community institution, tourist attraction and history lesson in one charming structure in Grey County.

August 11, 2011

Is Nicli in Vancouver the best pizza in Canada?

Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver

A pie with capricciosa at Nicli Antica Pizzeria, which is a wonderful new spot in Gastown.

VANCOUVER — Vancouver already is home to Canada’s best Indian restaurant (Vij’s), probably its top sushi experience (Tojo’s), unmatched Chinese fusion (Bao-Bei) and some of the finest seafood restaurants in the country. And you just might be able to add best pizzeria to the roster of greats.

Nicli Antica Pizzeria opened six months ago and the initial response was so strong the restaurant once ran out of dough to meet the demand, wine director and assistant general manager Matthew Morgenstern told me last week.

When a contact strongly suggested I try the new pizza place in Gastown, I expected to walk into a New York-style parlour with an oven burning in front of me and a mustachioed guy in a checkered apron waiting to take my order for a slice. Gastown has some Brooklyn edginess to it, of course, and Nicli’s location at 62 Cordova Street East puts it just a block and a half northwest of the notoriously drug-riddled Main & Hastings intersection. So walking into an establishment with pristine walls and tables gleaming white and lit with candles may make you wonder for a moment if you’re tripping out too.

For one thing, Vancouver just doesn’t do pizza well. Everyone from eastern Canada has complained about the poor choices available when they live or visit here. Second, if this city were to have a pizzeria that offers a fine-dining experience, you’d think it would be found in Yaletown, among the $15 martinis and $5 lattes and $200 jeans. Instead, former St. Thomas, Ontario resident Bill McCaig opted to open his authentic Neapolitan pizza place in a former RCMP riding stables, with a vaulted ceiling and spacious main hall on a downtrodden stretch of the city.

“It was kind of a scary proposition,” he says of deciding on the address. “I had some second thoughts that people would come and then they did.”

Taste for yourself and you’ll know why. The thin-crust pies are made in a wood-fired Gianni Acunto oven imported from Italy and specifically designed for pizza. It heats up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which creates the delicate texture of the crust. The sauce on the Capricciosa pie ($20) was so deliciously sweet it offered an instant realization of what pizza should taste like.

“A lot of people told me why don’t you use a gas oven? But if it’s not a wood-fired oven it’s not authentic Neapolitan pizza and the whole point of this is to make it authentic,” McCaig told me, adding that he had to go through some hurdles to get Vancouver politicians to approve the oven for use. “You can use all the same ingredients and make a pizza that’s kind of like mine, but without the oven it’s not going to be the same.”

McCaig went into the culinary business after retiring from the waste-management industry in the early 2000s. He studied French cooking and visited Naples, where he had pizza “that was so much better than anything I had ever had.” He worked in Calgary restaurants before coming to Vancouver and taking notice of the awful state of pizza making in the city.

August 9, 2011

Ensemble an incredible achievement for Vancouver’s ‘Top Chef’

Christopher Cho at Ensemble

Bar manager Christopher Cho keeps the drinks and the good times coming at Ensemble.

VANCOUVER — On the night of the Vancouver riots, while everyone else in the city was consumed with what might catch fire, the staff at the city’s most talked about new restaurant were worried about what might float away. The restaurant in a building that’s been called “cursed” suffered a freak flood that bar manager Christopher Cho said left the dining room covered in three inches of water and forced the restaurant to close for two weeks.

“We were called down there early in the morning and when I first heard about it I thought that one of the rioters had smashed in some windows or something,” said Cho. Turns out, a water heater tank had burst, giving the restaurant reason to re-decorate early in its life.

August 8, 2011

Inventive L’Abattoir a true star on Vancouver restaurant scene

Paul Grunberg of L'Abbatoir

GM Paul Grunberg of L'Abattoir shows off the restaurant's Warm Steelhead and Potato Salad.

VANCOUVER — It’s when you attempt to describe Lee Cooper’s cuisine that you realize the uniqueness of L’Abattoir. The year-old restaurant in Gastown has been called French-influenced, inspired bistro fare, contemporary and nouveau West Coast. Some associated with the restaurant even call the L’Abattoir experience “post-fine dining.”

It might be all of those things but perhaps finding the right category for the food isn’t as important as the adjectives to describe how you feel when you taste it. In a word, L’Abattoir makes life more pleasant. The dishes coming out of Cooper’s kitchen are so velvety smooth in texture and flavour you can get lost in deconstructing it. Whether it’s the silky mushroom and bacon blanquette (a kind of stew typically made from white wine) that covers the delicious Rabbit Cannelloni ($17) or the exquisite flavours from the Warm Steelhead and Potato Salad ($15), L’Abattoir leaves you feeling not only satisfied but mesmerized by dishes that are hard to imagine being replicated in another kitchen.

“You’re not going to find cooking like this anywhere in the country,” general manager Paul Grunberg told me when I dropped in the other day. “I believe so passionately in what Lee Cooper is doing and in his talents as a chef.”

Grunberg and Cooper worked at Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s celebrated restaurant in the two-year-old Shangri-La in Vancouver’s wealthy west end. Cooper also worked for a year at the Fat Duck, the English restaurant that perennially ranks in the top five of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The results of that pedigree are on display in a restaurant that’s wonderfully laid back in attitude and ambience but isn’t loose in service or gastronomical ambitions. Located in a historic building that was once home to the Irish Heather whiskey bar (now moved across the street), L’Abattoir can seat diners in its loft area highlighted by exposed brick or the slender rear hall that faces the rejuvenated Gaoler’s Mews square.

READ A REVIEW OF VIJ’S IN VANCOUVER

Meat Hook from L'Abbatoir

Have a few of the Meat Hook cocktails from L'Abattoir and you just may be down for the count.

L’Abattoir is one of a handful of high-quality, independently owned restaurants recently opened in Gastown. Those restaurants, which include Bao-Bei and Nicli Antica Pizzeria, are surprisingly affordable for the level of the cuisine they offer. No entrée on the L’Abattoir menu is above $30 and most cocktails from renowned mixologist Shaun Layton are in the $10 range, a fair price when you consider they’re some of the best drinks you’ll find in the country. Layton and his bar staff match Cooper’s unique dishes with inventive flavours of their own. The Donald Draper, named after the “Mad Men” character, is a whimsical take on an Old-Fashioned that balances the sweet and sour tastes of the ingredients: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Pineau De Charentes apertif, Abricot de Rouillson, Peychauds bitters and a rim of Absinthe. The Banana Daiquiri is far from the sweet, dessert-like flavours most people associate with that drink. Layton’s take is a … pleasant surprise. It’s a boozy version of the drink and after one sip your thoughts about what a daiquiri should taste like change forever.