What New Westminster inspires me to eat

Photo: Juli Shannon via Flickr
Photo: Juli Shannon via Flickr

Lately I’ve been thinking about how my surroundings inspire my food choices. Reading my way through the Canada Reads books inspired a date with bacon ice cream, a rise in my comfort food intake, and delight in a layered chocolate torte! But what about where we live? What effect does our city have on our food choices?

My career started in downtown Vancouver in a tall building surrounded by sushi and Asian fusion restaurants. Lunch of choice: sushi most days. It’s clean (no chance of soup slippage on your suit), and is fast to eat. Plus, it looks fashionable! It’s a nice ensemble of different colours and shapes wrapped in a black suit of seaweed – somewhat resembling my corporate ensemble.

Or, a loopy salad for the days you need a break from soy sauce. I say loopy because salad bars abound in Vancouver and the kinds of toppings you can put on your salad make bacon ice cream sound quite normal.

So what happened when I started working in New Westminster?

The first thing I noticed about New Westminster is how much it is a “home.” The inclusive community included an array of late afternoon pies, and local and family run restaurants and cafes. Suddenly I found my lunch of choice shifting towards paninis, real hearty foods, and it-looks -like-your-mother-made-it concoctions.

Sometimes I look at paninis filled with freshly colourful vegetables and wonder: how am I going to eat this? Luckily we have panini presses, and although the vegetables add height, it is great to know that as much as possible they are locally sourced and put together with high quality ingredients.

Some of my favourite haunts are La Rustica and La Lorraine providing a perfect ambiance for office meetings and business lunches. The quiet atmosphere combined with an assortment of freshly made pastas, seafood, and sauces might just be what you need to seal that all important deal.   For a working lunch that’s in a relaxing atmosphere I like The Hide Out Cafe. Computer stations and wireless Internet make sure that you stay connected, while delicious paninis and soups and relaxing music make your connectivity stress free.

You may not have to look far to find what the answer to your lunch cravings — just look at your city.

What are your thoughts? How do you think your city is influencing your food choices?

The Orange Room, Reviewed Again

Orange Room patio in warmer and lighter weather, by waferboard
Orange Room patio in warmer and lighter weather, by waferboard

Update: End of 2010: The Orange Room has closed permanently. Boo!

Will, Briana, and I found ourselves with some toddler free time this past weekend, and after mistakenly planning to hit up Perogy Night (it’s this coming Friday, people!) we ended up at The Orange Room. This simple place has been described as “the closest thing New Westminster has to hip” and has also played host to one of our tweet-ups, prompting Haiku Empress and guest poster Marcy Koopmans to refer to our gathering at the Orange Room as the  “least awkward meet up of mostly total strangers that I’ve ever been to.”

Last May, Briana also posted her review shortly after new owners took over and resurrected the Room, and while there were a few growing pains to be worked out such as supply issues and slow (yet pleasant) service, the general consensus here at Tenth among the contributors and the readers is that the Orange Room is probably among the top 5 restaurants this city has to offer. Personally, any restaurant that goes out of its way to source local food gets points in my book, just for trying.

So with no toddlers in tow, and only baby Nora (aka: the blob) listening in, we three headed to have some adult dinner conversation, and, dare I say it, an impromptu 3/4 Tenth to the Fraser Editorial Team meeting. We were seated at our selection of tables, a choice I really like being offered rather than simply being led to whatever table balanced out the servers’ plates.  For a Friday night at 6:30pm, I was a little bit unsettled at the few tables that were filled, but during the course of our meal, the place filled out – apparently New West eats late. Menus were presented and drink orders taken -a bottle of house red  -Vodawine – a peppery and berry noted red blend, $25.

All three of us were impressed that management had decided to tweak the menu after a six month stint back in business, promoting “classic European Fine Cuisine” by Executive Chef Randie Guest. While I was all for the tapas style menu previously offered, and happily cobbled together meals selecting a variety of tapas, some items simply didn’t go together, and there were duplications (for example, bread with the cheese plate and also bread with the spinach salad meant a bread overload and as much as I love carbs, one can only eat so much).  The previous menu also had a few items that I never tried because their entree-sized prices didn’t compute on an appetizer sized dish. However, the addition of actual entree sized offerings on the new menu, including a few pasta and steak options, prompted the three of us to decide to go big or go home.

Briana and I are fans of splitting dishes – meal math says that if you split what you are eating with another person, you have the opportunity to try twice as many items. We settled on two appies to share.

Appetizers
Appetizers

The organic Chorizo Sausage on Crispy Potato Nuggets, $6, was an item leftover from the first menu incarnation and I’m glad it stayed. Spicy but not in-your-face-hot sausage slices on a bed of cripsy bite sized potato nuggets complemented with an amazing ketchup dip that all of us agreed went with more than the dish it came with. It was so good, in fact,we used it with the Almond Baked Camembert, Baby Spinach and Organic Artisan French Baguette, $13. A full camembert wheel, crusted and baked to ooey gooey perfection, paired with delightful delicate baby spinach with some sort of light and zesty dressing and a dish of fresh salsa. Our only complaint was that we weren’t given enough baguette to slather the Camembert onto, and we ended up forking globs of cheese directly into our mouths after dipping them in the yummy spicy ketchup of the potato nuggets (not always a bad thing).

While both of us would normally shy away from ordering pasta at restaurants (a person can make a nice pasta at home so why go out and pay for it?), we were both drawn to the Neptune Seafood Fettuccine with Salt Spring Mussels, Prawns, Scallops & Sautéed Mushrooms in a White Wine, Garlic and Parmesan Thick Cream Sauce, $18 because a) the pasta is handmade each day and b) that’s a lot of lovely, local seafood we couldn’t resist. We asked them to part the entree into two dishes and they were happy to oblige. While we both agree that the sauce was a tad watery, and the fresh pasta felt a bit overdone, the generous amounts of seafood was superb and the cheesy spicy flavour of the sauce overshadowed any shortcomings and we both thoroughly enjoyed the dish.

Seafood Stuffed Steak
Seafood Stuffed Steak
Will elected to try the Seafood New York, $28; an organic 8 oz New York steak stuffed with fresh seafood in a lobster Brandy-peppercorn cream sauce, served with smoked Gouda Duchesse potatoes and fresh market vegetables. It arrived done to order and it was so good, that after his first bite he couldn’t speak, and could only offer us our own mouthfuls of steak swished into the brandy peppercorn sauce. The presentation of the dish was amazing, with fluffly potatoes piped onto the plate and then baked up for a slightly crisp outside, and the fresh market vegetables plated delicately into the potato.  A welcome departure from the usual “green beans and broccoli” touted as the vegetable du jour at most establishments was whole baby beets, fresh tiny carrots, and asparagus.

Briana and I craved some sweets at the end of our meal, and selected Pistachio Baklavas, $10 – two dairy free baklavas served with warm honey and sliced almonds and some fresh fruit for decoration. While the flavour was nice, and presentation was delightful, the baklava lacked a satiafactory crispness.

Pistachio Baklavas with Honey and fruits
Pistachio Baklavas with Honey and fruits
Additionally, Will and Briana were really disappointed by their apres-dinner Americano and decaf Latte. (I opted to finish the bottle of red wine, and was therefore, pleased).

Service was good – no rave reviews but no complaints either. Dishes arrived and went as one would hope, and server/ table banter was mercifully kept to a minimum. We were never kept waiting or rushed. A trip to the restroom was also satisfactory – facilites are well stocked, clean, and functional, although I would really like some sort of shelf to put my purse on while I wash my hands as the only option currently is the floor.

All in all, the menu changes are a great indication of a owner / management team that can run a restaurant. Some of the growing pains that Briana experienced during the first review back in May seem to have worked themselves out. And while we all know we will keep going to the Orange Room regardless of how they change because we want local business to thrive and succeed, it’s satisfying knowing you can recommend a place wholeheartedly.

I apologize if any of the prices are wrong. We did it from memory, and I had a few glasses of wine.

Like Christmas in September

Combine Doing Its Thing
Combine Doing Its Thing

About a year ago, my friend Briana sent me a link to an interesting proposal. She knew I was an active bread baker (and still am, although my production has slowed with the hot summer months) and she felt I would be interested in the Urban Grains Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for grain. The Vancouver Grain CSA started by Martin and Ayla Twigg is simple – spurned on by the ever-popular 100 Mile Diet, Martin and Ayla researched, found, and planned a way to live in Vancouver and eat local grain. I was intrigued, signed up for the mailing list, and as a result of signing up early, was one of the very lucky folks to be offered a share in April. I eagerly sent in my cheque and have been waiting patiently ever since while Martin and Ayla post pictures and other teasers along the way on the website.

Combine
Combine

Community Supported Agriculture isn’t new. Basically, the shareholders are the bank. We pay ahead of time, and our investment provides enough money to plant, grow, harvest, and process the grain and we should end up with 20kg of grain – bagged in three different varieties. A very successful CSA was started in Creston a few years ago and the concept has been practised on smaller scales for decades within groups of neighbours. And it isn’t without risk – rain or other factors could have ruined our crop and we could have technically received nothing for our investment. At one point, I was  holding my breath worried about the triticale. And because grain isn’t generally something that is commonly grown for human consumption here in the the Greater Vancouver / Fraser Valley area – most of the grain we can buy at the store comes from places far away –  it was through the willingness of the farmer to try it out that the project has  succeeded.

Our grain CSA has changed since its inception – Martin and Ayla have made the difficult and personal decision to move to the East Coast, and a new person, Chris,  is co-ordinating  the efforts. It’s been an exciting and fun journey to watch and wait for the harvest.

Sacks of Goodness
Sacks of Goodness

This past weekend, I got the email I was waiting for. My grain is ready. I’m so excited to go and pick it up Saturday I can hardly sleep. I know I shouldn’t be this excited over some bags of grain, but it thrills me – grain grown here that I can bake into loaves of bread for my family. It encourages me to continue to find alternative ways to eat without buying from Super Big Grocery Store X. It makes me feel like I have control over the food I put inside our bodies. And quite frankly, it’s like Christmas in September.

Images courtesy of www.urbangrains.ca

Metro Van’s only vegan store opens in New West

This is a guest post from Glenn Gaetz from Liberation B.C. , an animal rights group that advocates for a vegan lifestyle and an end to all exploitation of animals. You can find Glenn on Twitter @liberationbc.

A new business opened on Canada Day in New Westminster: Karmavore, an all-vegan store. This is the metro Vancouver area’s only vegan shop (short-lived Vegetate on Robson was the first).

Why a vegan shop? The owners wanted to run a business that was entirely in line with their values. A portion of profits are donated to animal-friendly charities, and the store has a policy of not supporting charities that support animal testing (which most of Canada’s health charities do). They are working to be as positive a business as possible, using only 100% recycled paper (when they must print) and only offering items for sale that are free of animal products, not tested on animals, environmentally friendly, and fair trade.

The shop itself is a cute little store on East Columbia. It’s a friendly and inviting space, with a beautiful dark floor and large front window.

Now that Karmavore is open, there is finally a store selling vegan shoes. No more hunting through regular shoe stores looking at labels and trying to figure out if that piece of shiny brown material is leather or not.

Although their selection is small (but will increase as time goes on) they’ve got some good, essential, basic shoes. For women, they have a range of shoes, from traditional dress shoes to high-heeled boots. For men, the selection is smaller, but includes dress shoes in black and brown, sandals, and some really cool sneakers from Vegetarian Shoes with recycled tire soles.

Currently, all of the t-shirts they’re selling come from Herbivore Clothing Company, a Portland vegan shirt maker, which means all of the t-shirts are cool and must-have additions to your closet. Herbivore is close to becoming the uniform for vegans. Their shirts feature clever and cool designs, and elicit praise from meat-eaters and vegans alike. The ‘I’m vegan and I ♥ You‘ shirt with the elephant is my current favorite. I can’t say it enough: Herbivore makes the best t-shirts ever. Plus, they’re all printed on American Apparel t-shirts, and they’ve been moving to printing on organic cotten as well. This means they’re more expensive than your normal t-shirt, but well worth the price in awesomeness.

They’ve also got some belts, wallets, and even gloves. To be honest, after looking at the shoes and shirts, I headed across the store to the food. One really smart move the owners made was to make sure there are plenty of lower-priced items so that no one ever needs to leave empty-handed. If none of the shoes or shirts strikes your fancy, you can grab a Sweet & Sara S’more and pop for the trip home.

The highlight of my trip out to the store was the marshmallows from the Chicago Soy Dairy. These are marshmallows like you had when you were a kid. Eating them is like eating bite-sized pillows made out of sugar. I have a theory that making them involves elves and magic, but the people from the Chicago Soy Dairy tell me this isn’t the case. I don’t actually believe them. They’re just too good.

They also sell some marshmallow mixes and other sweet things, vegan energy bars, makeup, vegan pet food, and books. The selection will hopefully grow as the store matures, so there will likely be new treasures to discover on the shelves.

If you can’t make it out to the store in person, or you just want to see what they have, visit their website (www.karmavore.ca). You can order online, read their blog, and find out more about them.

Being only a 30 minute skytrain ride from Downtown Vancouver makes the store really convenient. They’re about 6-8 blocks from the Sapperton skytrain station. It’s well worth a trip for anyone who wants to support a vegan business or check out some new alternatives. Plus, the people who work there are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and the trip is worth it just to meet them.

Tell them I said hi!

Towards a Wireless City *UPDATED WITH MAP*

SEE OUR CHALLENGE BELOW – TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WIRELESS CAFE HOTSPOT!

I am one of those people who works better when I have a din of white noise behind me, when I’m in a place with a good feel, surrounded by people but not in demand. For me, coffee and good work go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have spent the majority of my university years (both undergrad and post-grad) doing my studying and schoolwork in coffee shops.

When I lived at SFU, I was able to give my business to the locally owned SFU institution Renaissance Coffee and the new organic sustainably-minded joint, Nature’s Garden Organic Deli run by SFU alumni Bill and Doris. What I loved about these places is that they had free wireless internet for patrons, good seating for using a computer, and a friendly atmosphere. Though the food at Renaissance wasn’t my favourite, and their “organic-ness” is in dispute, they were open the latest of the on-campus coffee places and their internet was provided through the SFU wireless system. Nature’s Garden had great organic food, cheap coffee and nice people. In a pinch, I’d frequent the Starbucks at Kensington and Hastings which featured a long study table with several outlets, strong fast internet access (at a steep price), and great white noise.

Now that I live off campus and am a working professional, I still enjoy a good wireless cafe for those times that I’m blogging at T2F or Disadventure, or for when I’m finishing up my thesis work. However, when I’m in New West visiting Will and Briana (also T2F creators), there are no good wireless cafes to go to if you want to support local business.

Now some of you would argue this, citing Blenz at 6th and 6th (a Canadian franchise) which provides free wireless to customers but has no outlets available, and the six Starbucks locations all over the city, which provide wireless internet free for two hours with a valid starbucks card code. However – given this city’s many students, the popular coffee culture, and the increasing popularity and dependence on wireless internet devices, if a New West native like me is unable to identify a good, locally owned wireless internet cafe, I think there aren’t enough to meet the demand. Even the amazing former Yaletownish eatery in New West’s Uptown, The Orange Room, had no internet access for patrons.

Two wireless cafe-finding resources, notably Vancouver.wifimug.org (a user-generated index of wireless cafes in Greater Vancouver that has sadly fallen far out of date) and nodeDB.com show no updated listings of New West wireless cafes. If a student, person traveling on business, or any of the growing throng of Blackberry and iPhone users travelled through New West, they’d find no convenient, social place to connect – either to the internet or to other people. For those who are unfamiliar, let me let you in on the culture of wireless internet that seems to have changed our society: I believe that this lack of connection makes a lasting statement about our community to visitors and residents alike that we are stuck, isolated and unconnected. Sure, that might be dramatic, but New West is perpetually on the precipice of transformation from one-trick ‘historic town’ pony to a multi-dimensional, multi-generational dynamic city. So you say New Westminster is a historic little town which isn’t trying to be the next Silicon Valley – I say check out touristy and historic litle LaConner (with less than 1000 municipal citizens) where my parents live, provides wireless internet to downtown visitors and residents free of charge. The signal in the streets is strong enough to check your e-mail, but step into your favourite bookstore/cafe where they provide broadband wireless and power outlets so you can stop for a bite, a book, and a browse on the internet if you need it.

I greatly appreciate the cafes without plugs or wireless internet, so I can sit and chat with my friends and enjoy the time spent in a nice social environment. But I assure you, it’s not those cafes I keep an index of in my head – it’s the cafes with a strong wireless signal, at least one accessible power outlet, and a reasonable coffee environment that I remember. Since wireless internet became widely available (and as cheap as a one-time $90 wireless router and broadband access at $40/month), many have remarked how wireless internet has improved business for coffee shops and bookstores, even giving them an edge over the big-chain franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds, who charge for internet usage.

“For me, it’s about creating a coffeehouse experience that’s relevant to my customers,” says Jody Hall, who opened Verité Coffee in Madrona six month ago with free Wi-Fi in mind. She estimates that an average of 25 to 30 customers use the service daily. “In today’s culture, wireless is part of our daily lives. I want our coffeehouse to be a place people meet and gather, and if that’s something they need for their meeting, then I want to have that.”

(…)

“What it did for us initially was get the word out about us quickly,” says Michael Prins, owner of Herkimer Coffee, which opened with Wi-Fi available a year ago.

“I think it is a big draw,” says Anya Webb, owner of Fremont Coffee. She suspects she’s stealing at least a little bit of business from the Caffe Ladro across the street (where the Wi-Fi is not free). “It brings people in.”

(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wi-fi’s on the (coffee) house, 01/07/04)

There is one main reason that many cafes provide only a signal and not appropriate seating or power outlets – they need or want to limit the number of people like me, who occupy seating for paying customers while using up the internet. However, I encourage the locally-owned coffee shops in New West to reconsider providing free internet access to patrons as part of their business model – both to present a connected, dynamic face to the customer, and also to give them a leg up on the big-chain opposition, making local business ultimately more successful. It’s completely fair game to restrict the signal to paying customers (as Blenz does) to ensure your signal brings the return it is supposed to. Another approach for small cafes is to post signage reserving some seating for non-computer customers during peak hours to ensure seating is available for the non-career internet users in the cafe.


Here’s my standard for a “good” wireless cafe:

– appropriate seating, including chairs and tables or bar-height chairs and counters

– a strong, uncomplicated wireless signal (password or not)

– 1-2 accessible power outlets.

Wireless Internet Cafes in New West:

Blenz Coffee: 6th and 6th (Uptown): Wireless signal; password protected for customers only; plenty of seating but no power outlets

Starbucks Coffee (Multiple Locations: Westminster Centre on 6th Street; E. Columbia & Sherbrooke; Columbia & 6th Ave*; McBride Blvd & 8th Ave. See also Burnaby Crossing, at 10th Ave & 6th Street) Limited/Pay Usage only. Westminster Centre, Royal Square have no power outlets; E.Columbia & Sherbrooke, 6th & Columbia have one or more outlets available. Columbia and 6th Ave’s internet has not been working for the last month. December 2008.

Sounds Promising (listings unverified):

– The Hide Out Cafe: 716 Carnarvon Street (Downtown). Cafe, deli, organic & internet access.

Other free wireless internet sources in New West:

The New Westminster Public Library (6th Avenue at 7th Street) Wireless Internet access is governed by the library’s Internet Access Policy, and is available throughout the building. A table is reserved for laptop users requiring cable internet access, with 4 ethernet cables and power outlets. Ten study carrels are also equipped with power outlets.

What do you think? Share with us your favourite places to chill out and plug in. What do you think about wi-fi users in public cafes? Help T2F assemble an up-to-date list of wireless cafes in New Westminster.

Here’s a map of wireless internet locations so far:


View Larger Map