Tag Archives: restaurants

Restaurant Review: The Absinthe Bistro

I live in East Vancouver (BC) and we have a large number of restaurants on the Drive. In the past year or two some of the standbys of many years (or even decades) have disappeared. Latin Quarter, with its lousy food, but good Latino music finally was driven into the ground. Stormcrow, the pub with cheap food for gaming geeks seems to be doing quite well in its place. One of the Italian places disappeared and the Dime Roadhouse, with its $5 food and college crowd atmosphere opened up. An Italian pizzeria moved in where a video store once was so we’re keeping our healthy balance of Italian restaurants in a once predominantly Italian neighborhood. There are Indian, Japanese, continental and Cafe Carthage as well as other types along the Drive.

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The Absinthe Bistro at 1260 Commercial Dr. lives up to French quaintness.

The other day I was on the Drive and noticed that Turk’s coffee house had disappeared (we have a glut of coffee places) and instead there was Absinthe Bistro. It looked tiny, yet quaint. Two of my friends and I go for “wings” throughout the year but since this is the holiday season we often look for something a little fancier. I suggested trying the bistro.

Run by a Cory and Juliana Pearson, the Absinthe Bistro has room for about 24-30 patrons. Cory trained with famous Parisian chefs for six years and then returned to Vancouver. Along with Juliana, they started the restaurant in August.  It has an open design and you can see right into the kitchen. We went on a Wednesday and the place was never full but had people coming and going. We stayed for about three hours and didn’t feel rushed. Cory and Juliana each had a person helping them in their respective domains.

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Ice & water are put in the top and the glass of absinthe, with sugar cube is placed beneath so the water runs over the sugar.

The floor is a raised white matte tile, with smaller black diamond shaped tiles between every four. This was repeated in the bathroom where one friend reported that the design worked well. The bistro had dark, straight-lined chairs and tables. Each table had a small flower bowl with a daisy floating in it. The walls are white with a few gilt framed mirros and posters. A simple elegant interior. There is a dark countered bar with a lovely water decanter used for absinthe. And of course, I had to have one (and I love absinthe). I asked if it was an original or a reproduction. Juliana said they had tried to find antiques but even broken ones were $2,000. The place also sports four impressive chandeliers.

The service was the right amount of attentive, and Juliana was very cordial. The menu features three appetizers, three main course and three desserts. You can mix and match with a fixed menu price of $35 for three courses or $28 for two, or order al a carte. With a small venue and giving attention to each dish, this is a wise choice and means everything is prepared fresh. The menu changes frequently.

For the appetizer, two of us had the tuna tartare with salad. The online menu says seaweed but ousr was a medley of greens. They will change the side dishes and their kitchen warrants. This tartare was amazing and a good sized portion about 3 inches square. My other friend had the soup of the day, which was carrot and cumin and he said it was very good. For dinner, two of us chose the pan-seared scallops with beurre blanc, sauteed spinach and potato puree. You might think that a potato puree is like mashed potatoes and I would have thought so too but I can say that these were the smoothest and tastiest potatoes I’ve ever had. The proportion was generous and I even gave the last two forkfuls to my friend because they were too good to be wasted. One might consider three scallops to be meager but these were good sized and perfectly seared. Considering what they cost (I made cioppino a few weeks ago and scallops are expensive) this turned out to be just the right amount, set with the spinach. The flavors were so well blended that you could taste each aspect individually and married together.

One friend ordered the duck leg confit with the same sides. He declared after he finished the he usually doesn’t like duck. I said, well why did you order it? He thought he’d try it again and he declared it excellent as well. For drinks, one of us doesn’t drink and he stuck with water, my other friend chose beer and I had a couple of glasses of wine after the absinthe. The menu specializes in French wines of course. This is probably the country whose wines I’m least familiar with. I asked Juliana what the La Vielle Ferme Ventoux was like and she described it so well that when I tasted it, it matched her description. This told me she knew her wines.

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The lava cake is a chocoholic’s fantasy.

For dessert, two of us ordered the molten chocolate lava cake with house made vanilla bean ice cream, and I had the classic French vanilla creme brulee. My brulee looked huge but this dish was shallow so there was a large surface of crackle, which made each spoonful a smooth taste of creamy and crunchy. I tasted the lava cake and it had that bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate paired with the sweetness of the ice cream. They warned us at the beginning that they needed extra time to bake the cakes so they were fresh and hot, with oozing centers.

We stayed after eating and had another drink. Not one of us felt like we needed any more to eat. In fact I couldn’t finish the brulee. There wasn’t any portion of the evening that we didn’t enjoy. All three of us declared each dish as excellent. Juliana said their weekends have been very busy but the weekdays have not yet been full. I can say that this is the best food I’ve had on the Drive, or in any other parts of the city, in a long time and the Absinthe Bistro rates up there with the other five-star restaurants. I suggest not waiting to taste the wonders in this bistro because once everyone knows about it reservations will fill up fast. Congratulations to the Pearson on having a perfect blend.

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Traveling in Europe: Horley, England

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Six Bells--You can see how low the ceiling is.

My recent trip to Europe began with flying into Gatwick airport, which is south of Victoria Station by a half-hour train ride. I stayed in Horley, Surrey (a suburb next to the airport) because I was only there for a day and a half. The first night, after a nap to reset my clock, I just wandered down the road to Ye Olde Six Bells. It was quite dark with inadequate lighting. I also brushed against overgrown nettles. Luckily it was just a light brush because my leg itched for about an hour.

The history of this pub goes back around 700 years, when a man named Norman Lord want refreshment to get through the long sermons at St. Bartholomew’s. A place that old has whitewashed walls, huge dark wooden beams, low ceilings and rambling rooms. I imagine that over the centuries the rooms were added one at a time, the wooden floored ones being the oldest, though no floors would be original. The first floor might very well have been packed earth and straw spread  over it.

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A conglomeration of woods.

Buildings throughout the medieval era were white washed to preserve the mortaring and stonework and to add light to dark structures only lit by candles and oil lamps. Six Bells was all of this, with a note on the ceilings saying “Duck or Grouse.” Above the bar it said, “Before you ask, yes we have hit our heads a lot.” Since this seem to be the normal height for old pubs I must assume that people were shorter at one time, plus I imagine the places were time consuming and expensive to build, and space wasn’t wasted on high ceilings. It may have kept the warmth in as well.

Unlike North American pubs, many British ale houses or public houses are part restaurant and you’ll see people bringing their children. The central and oldest area is the bar, and rooms jut off in three directions for diners to sit.

The Six Bells menu is quite extensive and I had  a fish pie, since it seemed traditional British fare; a mixture of peas (the English love their peas), potatoes, shrimp, smoked haddock and cod in a white wine, coriander cream sauce, with a salad of red onion, tomato, spinach and tongues of cucumber in a simple vinaigrette. It was tasty and filling, costing around 10 pounds. I was too full to try dessert, which some British just call puddings in a generic way. I like to sample new ciders and England is the place to do it. I tried the Aspall Suffolk cider at 5.5% alcohol (higher than most of the beers on tap). This drink worked very well with the smoky taste of the pie and I think the food brought out the cider’s flavor. Aspall is a light golden color, light on the tongue (medium effervescence), crisp apple taste and not overly dry. The flavor isn’t too strong but it’s more noticeable than Strongbow’s nondescript taste. Of all the ciders I tried on my trip this one remains one of my favorites.

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Aspall Suffolk Cider

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The fish pie at Ye Olde Six Bells

I would recommend Ye Olde Six Bells. The rest of Horley seemed rather small. The second night I had Chinese food and though it was a simple fare of broccoli, chicken and mushrooms I found the chicken tasted old. Not bad but not fresh, and I’m quite sensitive to the change in meat flavors. It could have contributed to the stomach unrest that hit me the next day as I arrived in Amsterdam.

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Six Bells at night: a conglomerate of eras

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Ebb and Flow of the Olympics

We’re nearing the end of the Olympics and this is partly what it’s been like on the streets: traffic has been far better than normal. There are fewer cars, even if going away from the downtown core, so either everyone is at the Olympics or they left town. Which means I’m not looking forward to Monday morning traffic, which will be heavy and chaotic.

This lack of car traffic has all translated into a feast of famine aspect for many merchandisers and restaurants in the city. There are so many people in the downtown core that even the street food vendors are making thousands to tens of thousands a day, and the restaurants have constant lines. Olympic related merchandise is selling but little else. Yet if you’re in the food and drink business you are truly making a killing.

On Commercial Drive near where I live, it’s a different story. On Tuesday night I walked up the street to have a drink at one of my regular spots, The Libra Room. I passed the Latin Quarter and thought it was closed. Not a soul inside except one person at the bar watching a TV screen, and he was most likely staff. A couple of the Italian restaurants were equally void of life. Only the Charlatan, a sports bar with several large screens, was busy because of the Olympic sports. The Libra Room had a few people but they were way down on patrons and I’ve never seen the owner looking so unhappy.

What this means in the long run is that there are a few places and people making a true killing downtown and business has gone down everywhere else. In total revenue for the city, it is probably higher than normal but not as high as one might think. And yet, everyone who has been going downtown says that it’s crazy but it’s fun and the energy is so positive. Some people have just gone to people-watch.

Although I hate crowds I was planning on going down tomorrow night but I’ve now injured myself at the gym so it might not be possible. And should I manage it, one friend lives downtown so we can take refuge when it gets too cold or wet or crowded.

This is also the end of February. Two years ago, come March, I started this blog and have tried to write five days a week except for when I was on holidays. I think it might be possible to run out of opinion on things but I’m not there yet. However, even though some of these pieces have less research than they would if I was employed to write them, they still take time. I will be cutting back to writing three times a week as of March, hopefully giving me more time to write on other things, such as my novel or short stories.

With that note, Aberrant Dreams is relaunching with hopefully fewer of the time snags that caught them last go round. I will be back editing as senior fantasy editor. If you want to check out the site (still developing but submissions can be sent in) then go here http://aberrantdreams.com/content/ and read the guidelines. It’s hard to run any kind of magazine these days and Joe Dickerson and Lonny Harper have been trying it without any sponsors so it’s out of pocket for them to pay people. Some day I’d like to run my magazine as well but that will take some $$ first.

So in the meantime, go enjoy the last of the Olympics any way you want, whether that’s staying far away, just checking stats on the computer or going into the throng. And here’s to all the amazing athletes who have competed, whether they won or not. They’re still the best in the world and have dedicated time and energy to their achievements and sports. Go World!

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Vancouver Goes Puritan Over Booze

Port cities are often more cosmopolitan that interior cities. This has been an age-old pattern, common where sailors and merchants from many lands came to sell exotic and unusual wares. People of various races as well as different customs would mingle in such a city and tolerance for difference was greater. It was true in the 8th century, the 15th century and is true today.

Vancouver, being a port city is more liberal in many things and culturally mixed for various reasons. You might almost expect it to be European in sentiment. By European I mean the easy laissez-faire of open patios, siestas, late night restaurants and drinking. This doesn’t give way to the degeneration of society but to an acceptance of a natural flow. The more taboo, bad or wrong something is deemed to be, in the eyes of the law, the more people will resist against it if it doesn’t feel right. And so it is with the puritan bylaws on selling alcohol and staying open late.

I had the chance, a few years back, to be in Montreal for a convention. We ended up going off to pubs and restaurants when the hotel bar closed up. From what I could tell the pubs and drinking establishments have a soft closing time that seems to be when the bartender wants to go home. We didn’t get to bed before 4 am any night and we were in pubs and restaurants. No one that I saw got overly rowdy but those of us who started our evening late or wanted to party a bit longer were able to do so. It was fun and nice to know that you didn’t have to be partying by 9  and out of the lounge by midnight.

Cinderella still continues to visit Vancouver, often having to be home by midnight, or the restaurants having to close up by this rather early time. This bylaw of early closings has been fought for years but for some reason City Hall wants to keep the draconian mindset. The only exception has been nightclubs in the downtown core on Granville Street. The problem is that many people don’t like nightclubs where fights among the 20-something set seem more common and therefore a search is de rigueur. Parking is hard to find and expensive (moreso because the City isn’t fulfilling its mandate of supplying affordable parking) and many people would rather stay in their neighborhoods where they can walk and avoid driving while drinking.

The City has had this unfair favoritism for about five years now. On top of the early closings and ways of tamping down culture with any place that has live music made to stop at midnight, the City Hall brain children have figured out a new bylaw. This one is the height of stupidity and outmoded thinking. The City, as of January (just in time for the Olympics, folks) wants all restaurants to have their alcohol sales equal their food sales. Fifty-fifty. So that means if you go in and have a $12-burger and want two ciders at $7 each, you’ll only be allowed one. Or if you go for dinner with a friend, say each spending $20 on food, you’ll only be allowed a $40 bottle of wine, not anything higher, nor more than one bottle.

Perhaps Vancouver’s eggheads feel that everyone is too thin and needs to eat more? Perhaps they want to promote beer or the cheapest swill only. That’s what we’re going to get. (Let’s not even mention Campbell’s monster, the HST, that will suck enough extra money and make going out a thing of the past.) Restaurants always make their money on the alcohol and without those profits we’ll see restaurants going the way of the dodo. Smart move, Mr. Mayor and all your cronies. Where have you put your brains?

The smart thing to do would be to let restaurants and clubs stay open longer across the city and allow them to serve alcohol. A fifty-fifty rule will kill the industry. Some cosmopolitan city we’ll have, where arts and culture are already suffering extreme cuts to the point of nonexistence. This will surely pull in tons of revenue that the city is somehow anticipating for the Olympics. Apologies, Madame et Monsieur, that wine is too expensive. Please try our special plonk instead. Oh and only two glasses each. Sorry, no dessert wine without dessert.

Now I’ve always said that if you don’t vote you can’t complain and I didn’t get a chance to vote in the last civic election so I guess I deserve what I get. However, I’m sure many of the restaurant owners did vote and they are extremely unhappy. My suggestion to the cogs that run Vancouver is to take a look at the great European cities, at Montreal and other places, and see what they do and how they handle restaurants and alcohol sales. Maybe the bible thumpers will get upset but then they don’t have to go to the restaurants. But we’re not going to have an all-out booze orgy unless they keep the drinking only on Granville Street where young guys congregate and drink too much. Spread it out and make it more like the local pubs of Great Britain and Ireland.

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Cursed Restaurant Locations

CBC Radio One was talking about the cursed restaurant phenomenon yesterday. A timely topic for Hallowe’en. The curse involves numerous restaurants going through a death knell in one location. I can’t speak to the 1809 W. 1st Avenue curse, but it’s gone through three restaurants in three years, I believe.

I can speak to other cursed areas, or deadzones as I call them When I worked in Kits there was a deadzone on the north side of the west 2000 block. I don’t know what was there originally but it was right in the heart of numerous clothing stores, restaurants and other commercial venues. Le Grec, an extremely successful Greek tapas (or mezes)  restaurant started on Commercial Dr. They decided to expand and move to the larger area in Kits, 2041 W. 4th Ave.

Well, they lasted a year maybe two. Their fame didn’t seem to travel and the restaurant was only ever partially filled. After that, there came a string of restaurants, all suffering the same fate. For a short time the location became some sort of import store, which also succumbed to the deadzone fate. At some point the front of the place was renovated to open it up but the restaurant that went in also fizzled away. Then Hell’s Kitchen went in, with massive renovations and success at last. Maybe it’s because their name includes hell or they sold their souls or that they sell pizzas both eat-in and take-out but they have had a longer success than any predecessor.

The place where Le Grec began on 1447 Commercial Drive, had been an Italian restaurant in its heyday. Then it had sat empty for years until Le Grec moved in. After they went to Kits, Bukowski’s moved in. Maybe Bukowski’s had a heyday with musicians and readings and I seem to recall something about it but it slowly died down. It still drew people in but it never seemed full. I believe they had a fairly good run of years before their eventual slide.

After they faded away another restaurant went in. They painted the walls a sort of bloody red and had some type of Asian fusion food thing going on. They even had bluesy musicians in there. But even though they’d only taken a month or two for renos, nobody came. I went in a few times the food wasn’t bad, but people avoided the place like the plague. I think there gets to be a point where a place can’t generate clientele and then anyone going in sees the emptiness and changes their minds.

The unique aspects of this location is that it’s smallish and three tiered. The top tier was loungelike and restauranty. The middle tier was always restaurant and the bottom tier, farthest from street level, was the bar.

After the Asian fusion place, another place with something like soul Seoul food took over but didn’t even make it a year. The restaurant sat for a bit and then underwent a massive renovation, where the people who own the Five Point, a very successful sports bar/restaurant on Main St., took it over. The Charlatan changed the layout and put the bar up front on street level with big sports TV screens. They expanded the middle section and kept a bar/lounge area at the bottom. The red walls stayed but were toned to dried blood red with more subdued lighting. The sports TVs alone have kept the Charlatan popular along with pretty good food. So they too have broken the deadzone curse.

There seem to be several things that curse a restaurant. It could be a combo of bad management, decor, food, location, management or all of these. It takes breaking the perceived mindset of the public who may place an aversion on the area from past experiences. Whatever the case, some restaurants really struggle to get going in certain locations. I don’t think anyone is standing out front and saying, curse you 1809 W. first. After all, what would be the point? But the public will also need to take the plunge when something new opens up and the restaurateurs will have to be open to criticisms to keep the place going.

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There is No Harmonization to Campbell’s New Tax

Gordon Campbell’s two-faced Liberals want to bring in a tax that they say they had no idea about three months ago. If this is in fact true I’d have to say this party is pretty poor in long-term planning. Long-term planning that raised and then took off a half percent on our PST (2004). Poor planning in giving everyone a pre-election bribe of $100. Poor planning in the Olympics, embroiling our tax dollars into it, and then going, oh gosh it’s overbudget. I could have told them this three years ago.

Was ever a word so misused as to take two taxes and call it harmonization? GST, the government tax, covers many things but not food (unless you’re buying a bag of nachos or cookies because the government decided that was unnecessary. Oh and you can buy two cookies and pay GST but not if you buy six, unless it’s a bag, like a bulk thing. If you figure this out, let me know, but the feds have been taxing our food choices for a long time.) So GST hits many things.

And then there’s PST, the provinicial sales tax. It also hits some things but not always the same things as the GST. Some of the items usually exempt are books, children’s clothing and footwear, vitamins, dietary supplements and food for human consumption. But if you’re at a restaurant that food is charged GST because it’s a service, I think. It’s never made a lot of sense.  Here is a list of what is currently PST exempt (not a full list) but will possibly have the HST on them: PSTexemptions

One glib quote by the Tourism Minister was: “The HST is going to be good for all concerned, but there are going to be exceptions,” intoned B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger. (seattlepi.com) Hmm, good for all but there are exceptions, like every consumer out there. Basically you and me, unless you’re big business. And one minister said something like, all the provinces have done this HST, except that Alberta, NWT, Yukon and Nunavut have no provincial tax. Only New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia have an HST. That is hardly all of the other provinces by far. And remember, we pay these taxes as we buy things and then when we do income tax we pay federal and provincial tax at that time as well.

Facebook already has over 100,000 members protesting the NO BC HST. A recent poll puts people opposing the HST at 87%. How does the government think this is fair when it’s not even an extra percent we’ll be paying on many items (which include such things as condo fees). It’s not even 5% more, the rate of the GST, which would be exorbitant. It’s 7%, which is more than double. Imagine going out for dinner and you know how a bill for $60 often has an extra $10 of tax on it? Well, that will be now an extra $20 in tax. Will I be going out as much? No. And the same will happen to many people. Or they’ll go out an pay less in tips because of the extra cost. This will of course impact the restaurant and entertainment industry, where people will then be laid off because business has slowed.

Those exempt school books and kids’s clothes? No more. It’s already a shame that we have tax on books and food in any form but you’ll probably not be buying a bag of chips when you’re paying 12% on the price of the bag. Because the government has given warning but not bothered to discuss this first, there is huge backlash. And really what is the reasoning for increasing our taxes by 7% on things? Deficit. Campbell screwed up.

I can’t even get into the fiasco of the Olympics and how so many things weren’t reported on and budgets were not revealed. How many aspects are costing waaay more than anticipated (because they didn’t want to shock the taxpayers)? The City of Vancouver raised the price of their city parking as a way to gather more revenue for their part of the Olympics. Campbell, well he’s not admitting he screwed up, but he’ll just charge us extra so he can pay off the Olympic deficit.

If you want to pay more, sit back and be harmonized. If not, then do everything you can. Complain, contact your MLA and MP. Writer letters. But if you think the protests and petitions will change the tune that Campbell is singing, think again. When he made massive cuts in his first reign, there were 40,000+ people who protested in person, and Campbell just continued scything through jobs. And lest people forget, he tore up union contracts of hospital workers, subsequently causing the cleanliness of hospitals to deteriorate more, and was found by the courts to be in the wrong, but that was years later, even if those people had to be compensated. He probably saved himself a few bucks doing that.

So, I’m just saying, Campbell is very close to all those dictators, who do what they want, trumping it up as “good for the people who don’t know what’s good for them”. And even if the people protest vehemently, it will make no difference. Just watch and see.

Oh and if you didn’t vote in the last election, no matter what you voted, then it’s your fault. With 50% voter turnout it could have changed things, or maybe not. But if you don’t vote you don’t have the right to complain because you didn’t try and do anything about it.

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Dark and Scary: Bathrooms

Restaurateurs, wherever you are, learn this lesson. No matter how dreamy, retro, romantic, funky or sporty your restaurant, pub or lounge, one thing you do not want ever, and I mean ever, is a dark and scary bathroom.

Maybe guys like pissing in the dark, though I doubt it because their aim is never that good, but women really don’t.

When I was a teenager, in high school, the janitors went on strike. I didn’t have the opportunity to see what state the boys’ bathroom ended up in but reports were the girls’ was the worst. And it was more disgusting than a pigsty, which really is just pigs wallowing in mud (and maybe some other organic matter). The girls stopped short of wiping their butts and throwing it on the floor but used tampons and sanitary napkins were spread far and wide.

It was truly appalling. In our me-me-me culture, women are as bad as men. There are those women who don’ t like to sit on a toilet seat because of germs or because someone sprinkled on the seat, so they squat above. Some also come from cultures where squat toilets are the norm. However, some of these squatters spray everywhere because there is a larger space in which their non-aim can go. Unlike guys, we don’t have a hose to direct.

I think half of these people leave the bathroom stall, having flushed, but not wiping the seat, because they didn’t touch it, or they don’t care and are ignorant of other people’s use. Sometimes it is the toilet’s fault where the water splashes up when the toilet is flushed.  In either case, I tend to check and wipe the seat before I leave. After all, I try to leave the toilet how I would like to have it found.

When I enter any sort of public/restaurant bathroom, I always check for toilet paper and then put some down on the seat. The few times I haven’t checked, thinking I’m safe I’ve had the misfortune of sitting in a wet spot and there is nothing more disgusting than sitting in another person’s urine. Ick!

So bright lights for the toilets are tantamount. Romantic mood lighting doesn’t help there, nor when a woman is trying to fix her make-up. Glaringly bright fluorescents that give people green-tinged skin and makes them look like zombies is not optimal but I would take it over the dark and scary toilet.

One of the worst in Vancouver, is Waazubee’s on Commercial. It’s cramped with dark blue walls, doors that rarely close right and just too dark. Time for a reno, Bennie.

Of course the scariest toilets were when I was in Asia. Singapore had modern, flush toilets, but they were squat toilets. There was a hole in the floor (porcelain, mind you) with metal footprints on either side showing you where to put your feet, as well as which direction to face (it wasn’t always easy to tell). Being a big of a benevolent tyranny, they also had very large signs posted about the fines people would receive for not flushing. It was something like $50-100.

That was the luxury in the predominantly Asian squat  toilet. Some were a horrific combo, such as the porcelain bowl, absolutely filthy and stained, but with no seat. You had to squat halfway and that was harder than squatting to the floor. And try it with dysentery, not sure if you’re going to puke or have diarrhea or both. Yeah, that was way too much fun.

Then there was the long, unlit tunnel behind some ramshackle cinder block and brick building. You ducked and duckwalked in, past a tattered sheet hung on a string, and squatted over a runnel with some water trickling through. Fetid does not describe the odor in the hot Indian sun.

The experience of using a squat toilet on the Indian trains was something else. There was a bar to hang onto as you watched the tracks beneath the hole. As well, you’re swaying to and fro, which helps little with hitting that hole. Imagine trying to hold a skirt up, squatting and hanging on and then having to use toilet paper. That was a very interesting problem.

In Mexico City the toilets were usually brightly lit but few of them flushed. This wasn’t long after a big earthquake and their water table is notoriously low. If you didn’t bring your own toilet paper you had to pay some matronly senora for paper, by the square. But the worst was that because the toilets weren’t flushing, you did your business in them but put all paper in an open garbage can beside them. Imagine the smell in the heat of Mexican summer. Not exactly pleasant, and very very disgusting.

So, in retrospect a dark restaurant bathroom may be paradise but a lot of them could improve. The Japanese and some other European countries are big on bidets that wash and blow dry your nether regions. No paper is used and considering the number of trees we kill for toilet paper, it’s not a bad solution. In India they didn’t always use toilet paper either, or water. That’s why it was important to always always carry your own.

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An Appetizer by Any Other Name

A month ago my brother was visiting from Edmonton. He wanted to hear blues music (jazz, if not blues) and I tried to find a restaurant with said music. We found one in Yaletown (and spent a half hour finding parking) and finally went into the restaurant called Capone’s. As you can guess, it’s an Italian theme, with some pasta dishes on the menu. Not particularly memorable food either.

But there on the first page was “Tapas.” My brother raised an eyebrow and said, “We call these appetizers in Edmonton.” And you would think in an Italian restaurant these dishes would be called “antipasti,” not the Spanish “tapas.”

Well, I explained to my brother the new wave of tapas bars or restaurants in Vancouver. If you’re a restaurant you have a tapas menu and on it you list all sorts of sumptuous morsels. You bring them out on simple plates, but elegantly and artistically arranged. Then no one seems to mind that they’re paying $12 for three scallops. Tapas menus tend to range from $10-$14 with $12 being the average.

If you switch out the word tapas and pop in “appetizer” suddenly it’s not as appetizing and people would protest paying the higher price for just an appetizer. Granted we don’t need as much food as our hunter-gather ancestors did but the tapas drapery does seem to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Sure some restaurants do have appetizers reaching that range but the prices are not comparable always to the style of restaurant. Stella’s in East Van is a Belgium beer and tapas bar. A little cultural mixing there. Their dishes are pretty tasty.

Last night I was at Habit on Main St. They have a small menu with items ranging from $9-$18. There is no true differentiation between an appetizer and the main meal and the small menu says right at the top, Best to be shared. Some of these items that we had–the beet salad and the crispy tofu with eggplant–could have been considered tapas, but they were much larger portions and though two of us shared, these dishes could have been tapassed out to four people easily. If they had been listed as tapas, they would have been half the size for the same price.

So next time you’re sitting down to an artistic repast of bite-size tapas, presume you’re paying for the art and the name, and enjoy. Oh, and chew slowly to get your money’s worth.

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