Posts tagged ‘british columbia’

June 16, 2014

A night at Vikram Vij’s new restaurant, My Shanti

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Vikram Vij is eager to welcome diners to his restaurant in the suburbs. (Herman Chor photo)

[This article was originally published on Vacay.ca on June 8, 2014.]

SURREY, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s 7 pm on the first Wednesday in June and the lineup at Vij’sis two hours long. Those at the back of the queue may not know it but they could hop in a car and drive 45 minutes to find food prepared by the same cooks as the famous Vancouver Indian restaurant. Not only that, these days they’ll also find Vikram Vij at My Shanti.

The celebrity chef’s newest enterprise opened on June 2 and for the time being it needs its owner’s attention. “It’s like a baby,” he says of the 130-seat restaurant with an exterior so eye-catching you’ll think it belongs in Times Square, not a suburban strip mall.

For 20 years, Vij has spent most of his evenings working the room at Vij’s, making it a destination restaurant unlike any other in Canada. With My Shanti, he sees an opportunity to elevate the food choices in the suburbs. He also indulges in showcasing more of his recipe book, filling the menu at My Shanti with regional dishes from India.

Anyone who has been to Vij’s knows the cuisine is a blend of European technique and Indian flavours. My Shanti is more traditionally Indian. “These are the dishes I’ve wanted to share with people for a while. They are from different regions of India, from places I’ve visited many times over the years,” says Vij, who juggles his time between the restaurants, his packaged food product line and numerous TV appearances, including as an upcoming member of CBC’s “Dragons’ Den.”

Vikram Vij’s Culinary Tour of India

Though the cuisine at My Shanti isn’t the same as Vij’s or Rangoli — the small eatery next door to Vij’s on Granville Street that’s also often packed with diners — some of the experience is unmistakeable. The spices that are so sublimely blended together you don’t realize there are dozens of them in each bite, the texture of perfectly prepared basmati rice, the heat that hits the back of your throat after you’ve enjoyed the other flavours first. Those are all hallmarks of Vij’s food and it’s what you’ll discover in the Indian dishes at My Shanti.

“This really is just like Calcutta fish,” Mariellen Ward, my dining companion, said with both joy and surprise when she bit into the steamed tilapia ($19.50), served with mustard gravy reminiscent of dishes from the capital city of the state of West Bengal. “This is really is like being back in India.”

Ward is an excellent person to gauge the authenticity of My Shanti’s recipes. Her website, BreatheDreamGo.com, has been recognized as a leading authority on travel to India and she has visited the country several times in the past decade. She assured that the menu accomplished Vij’s aim of giving diners a culinary tour of his homeland. Dishes evoke the diverse tastes of the Asian nation. The names on the menu tell diners the origin of the appetizers and entrees.

As good as the food is, the decor is a match — starting with that shimmering exterior. It is made of 4,000 sequins, affixed by hand to tiny hooks attached to a brick wall. The wind ripples through the sequins, causing a lovely wave of silver to streak above your head.

Mysorian vegetable thoran ($15) is a curry mixed with delicious grated coconut; Hydrabadi chicken biryani ($22) is served with Vij’s “3 Mistresses” — spicy sauces that include tamarind and chili concoctions; and Goan Oyster Pakoras ($11.25) are tasty morsels breaded in chick-pea flour and served with a tangy green chili creme fraiche. There are also Bollywood references and colloquial Hindi phrases used on the food and cocktail menu (try the rum-based Dawa Daru, $11). The standout, though, is a flavourful appetizer inspired by South America. The Peruvian/Indian ceviche of fish and shrimp features the seafood dropped into a gol gappa (a thin, crisp, hollow, bite-size bread bowl) and served atop a non-alcoholic shot of tamarind juice. Pop the seafood-stuffed gol gappa into your mouth and throw back the tamarind shot. Unique and incredibly tasty.

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January 2, 2014

Best of Canadian travel for 2013

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Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands is surrounded by pristine Pacific scenery. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This is my look back at 2013 travels across Canada, as first published in Vacay.ca on December 30, 2013.]

When I think back to my 2013 travels, one day will dominate my reminiscences — September 21. The last day of summer, the first full day of my return to British Columbia as a resident, and the single most stunning photographic experience of my life. I wasn’t alone in that assessment. On a journey with a half-dozen well-travelled journalists and photographers, I witnessed grizzly bears snatching and chewing salmon within a few strides of where I stood, a school of 150 dolphins propelling through the north Pacific with a pair of full-span rainbows as a backdrop, and an inter-species dance between sea lions and some of those same dolphins in the gloaming of the night.

This experience that was fit for a cinema took place in the Discovery Islands, a place all travellers should endeavour to find themselves one day. That morning and afternoon were captured in an article and photo slideshow published this fall.

Except for a couple of sojourns to the Caribbean, I spent the entire year’s travels within Canada, exploring its abundance of wonders. Although my trip to Sonora Resort stands at the top, it was far from a singular highlight.

DINING

Best dinner: I can never name just one, so here are three: Le Laurie Raphaël in Quebec City presented a happy mix of elegance, playfulness and culinary creativity; Araxi in Whistler showcased chef James Walt’s brilliance and passion for local food; at Sonora Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property, chef Terry Pichor treats diners to a course called “pre-dessert” — one reason why its tasting menu is a must for culinary travellers.

Best dinner enjoyed at a bar: I pulled up a stool at Bar Isabel in Toronto and was wowed by a handful of zesty Spanish dishes that would fit suitably in Iberia. Oh, and the drinks are great, too.

Best dinner enjoyed with a sabre: At Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, the Champagne sabering ritual is something you have to do — read why.

Best lunch: At Annie’s Table in Prince Edward Island, chef Norm Zeledon taught me to shuck oysters (and how to douse them with a shot of the province’s moonshine) and introduced me to the wonders of black garlic. He then cooked up some delicious mussels that we enjoyed in the lovely property that is a converted church. (Runner-up: The Lobster Pound in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where chef Richard Moore isn’t stingy with the portion sizes.)

Best liquid lunch: I had a few of those at Chase, which has one of the premier patios in Toronto and a terrific rum selection.

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December 3, 2013

White-water rafting turns out to be more fun than scary

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The Cheakamus River in Squamish provides soft adventure thrills for beginners and families. (Canadian Outback Adventures photo)

[Article first published in Vacay.ca on October 21, 2013]

SQUAMISH, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The guide tells our group, “You are going to fall in the water. Every one of you.” He does it with certainty and in a dead-serious tone of voice that sets me shaking. I don’t like being in water, unless it’s warm, contained, and with a bar I’m able to swim up to. Dropping into cold water that’s racing for Mexico and dotted with jagged rocks whose purpose appears to be to crack the bones of anyone unfortunate or foolish enough to splash into the rapids isn’t my thing and never will be.

As the guide details how he plans to retrieve each of us when we do fall into the chilly Cheakamus River — which he repeats again we are sure to do — I am thinking about hanging up my oar and making for higher ground. But a big part of a travel writer’s job description is attempting things not in one’s comfort zone, so readers like you can know what it’s really like before you set out for the adventure yourself. It’s kind of like the work a proxy would perform for medieval noblemen, tasting their food just to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.

So, for you, I undertook my first white-water rafting trip, a two-hour thrill ride that was far safer than anything I expected and gave me a new appreciation for the soft-core adventures Canada offers.

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September 18, 2010

Queen Charlotte Lodge Reels Them In

[Thanks to the folks at the Queen Charlotte Lodge for a very exciting visit in August. Here’s an article from the Saturday, September 18 issue of the Toronto Star headlined “Chasing the Chief”.]

HAIDA GWAII, B.C.—The Haida are a matriarchal society, so it seems fitting that Jessica Eussen and the other women who journey to fish these waters would outperform the men. In one of those momentous, tell-it-to-your-grandkids, I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-pulled-off highlights of life, Jessica, a tiny 18-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, reeled in a 43-pound Chinook salmon while on a fishing trip with her father.

The thing was about half the size of her and coaxed a smile just as wide.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said a few minutes after being congratulated by other anglers in awe of the feat as well as the dockhands at the Queen Charlotte Lodge, which has built a reputation as a world-class fishing destination during its nearly two decades of operation.

It attracts avid sports fishermen who come to chase the tyee, or “chief”, a Chinook salmon that weighs at least 30 pounds. But the lodge has succeeded in guiding novices to trophy catches too, as Jessica’s tyee last month proved, and that’s helped it become a choice spot for families and couples.

Jessica’s father, Remy, chose fishing as the activity to spend time with his daughter before she leaves for university because “there are no electronics. It’s quiet, you can really bond.”

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July 14, 2010

Visiting Brady’s Beach in Bamfield, B.C.

[From “Beauty and the Beach” in the Toronto Star, July 3, 2010]

BAMFIELD, B.C.—The perfect beach — far, far from crowds and close to heaven — is a traveller’s Holy Grail or Fountain of Youth, a thing of myth that sets us jetting over oceans to rummage around dots of rock and sand that belong to Thailand, or sailing about the Caribbean for the lone island that has escaped commerce.

Such extravagant explorations may not be necessary for Canadians, though. Brady’s Beach in Bamfield, a funny little place that Garrison Keillor or Richard Russo could go to town with, is a British Columbian beauty with many of the hallmarks of the legendary beach-to-end-all-beaches: It’s hard to reach and nearly unheard of; has not one café, chain hotel, Starbucks or McDonald’s near it; and possesses the ability to put your mind in a place you might only be able to reach with hard drugs.

To make it to the beach you first have to find your way to Bamfield. It has a population of not many and seems made for a fable.

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