Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Deep Cove is . . .

a crowd of discerning, food-loving folks in flip flops." (A quote found on a few web sites.) Well, we left the flip flops at home but found a bistro worthy of Vancouverites’ discerning tastes.

Knowing that we were going to spend the day in Deep Cove, British Columbia, I did my usual preliminary research on dining options. I was looking for something near the water, casual, and cheap. But I kept coming back to the interesting menu for the Arms Reach Bistro. The place was described as casual and was within an arm’s reach of the water. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Normally, we would sit on the front patio under one of the bright yellow umbrellas, but were told that there would be a twenty to thirty-minute wait. But we could be seated inside immediately.

“Inside” sounded just right, and we were led to the back porch-like dining room with a wall of windows looking out toward the cove.

The walls were painted a soft chocolate brown and the banquette running along two walls were upholstered with striped blue and brown fabric. The cove view and the minimalistic, but stylish, décor made this a relaxing place to sit and enjoy a good meal.

The bistro opened in 2004, and the owners Erick and Alistair (last name unknown) have developed a network of local food suppliers. Produce comes from Emerald Earth, olive oil from Vito Nardiello, espresso beans from Moja Coffee, and homemade sausages from Rocky’s Meats. The owners have used environmentally friendly building supplies and low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. This is a restaurant that pays attention to the little things.

The soups available on the day of our visit were a Tomato, Saffron and Seafood Chowder with fresh coriander and a Cream of Asparagus and Peas topped with fresh mint pesto. For salads, we could chose from; the Grilled prawn and rocket (arugula) salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and mango tossed in a fresh mint and honey vinaigrette; the Chad Salad with mesclun greens, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese, and toasted cashews and tossed in raspberry-garlic vinaigrette; or the Caprese with fresh mozzarella and vine-ripened tomatoes dressed with basil, olive oil and balsamic reduction. Hungry yet?

Appetizers included; Calamari Frito served with a spicy marinara; braised lamb ragout served with raita (an Indian yogurt condiment) and grilled pita; Saltspring Island Mussels steamed in coconut milk, green curry, lime juice, and cilantro and served with hand-cut fries; and Saltspring Island Mussels tossed with handmade local Chorizo sausage in a tomato, basil and, Chardonnay sauce and also served with hand-cut fries.

Chuck has developed this new interest in pasta and debated between: the Penne Russa with finely chopped tomatoes and asparagus tossed in a vodka, basil, and rosé sauce; Linguine Pescatore with chopped prawns and fresh Dungeness crab tossed with tomato, garlic, tarragon, and extra virgin olive oil; and Spicy Spaghetti with Tiger prawns and handmade Chorizo sausage tossed with chilis, lemon zest, tomato sauce and fresh basil.

It was this last that he chose, and in a word, it was spectacular. The chorizo had been removed from its casings and fried to a medium-sized crumble. The sausage’s seasonings permeated the light tomato sauce and coated and colored every strand of the perfectly cooked pasta. And the portion of sausage to prawns was just right. Too much sausage would have overpowered the prawns, too little would have made for a bland dish. This is a dish that I need to try to recreate.

For reasons that will be explained in a later blog, I have been watching a lot of Food Network Canada. One program unique to Canada is I Do, Let’s Eat which chronicles the trials and tribulations of the bride and groom, their parents, and – especially – their reception caterer. A number of the episodes highlighted a bridal couple either from India or whose parents were from India, and a dish called Butter Chicken was always part of the wedding meal.

Butter chicken (or murgh makhani) is a dish from Punjab. The sauce, is made by heating and mixing butter, tomato puree, and various spices, often including cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, fenugreek and fresh cream. Cashew paste can also be added to make the gravy thicker. It must be noted that of all the spices added to the dish it is dried fenugreek leaves that gives the dish its unique flavor.
So when I saw Curried Butter Chicken with cashews, ginger, cilantro, and madras curry served with jasmine rice, I abandoned my plans for one of the two mussel appetizers and instead ordered the Butter Chicken.

First, this was very good, but not as good as Chuck’s pasta. The sauce resembled a very thick and very rich cream of tomato soup which had been moderately seasoned with curry which gave it enough spice for interest. And the amount of thinly-sliced chicken seemed to be limitless. Just when I thought I was finished, there was more chicken hidden under the rice or sauce. Given the richness of the butter sauce, this was almost too large a portion.

I give Chuck’s pasta a 5.0 Addie rating, and I do intend to try to replicate it. My butter chicken, while a little too rich for my taste, still merits a 4.0 Addie rating.

What? No dessert? But not at the Arms Reach. As we drove into town, I spied the Gelato Express, and that was our post-meal destination.

From among a large selection of flavors, Chuck ordered a two scoop dish with both Cherry Mania and Hazelnut. My two scoops contained the coffee and the dark chocolate. All four had the intensity of flavor that ice cream [other than Wilcoxson’s (Billings, MT) huckleberry] can’t match and was a perfect ending for our day in Deep Cove.

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