London Pub – Vancouver, BC


London Pub
700 Main St.
Vancouver, BC
(604) 684-7732

A year ago this week I was in London, UK.  So fitting that I should visit a gastropub that has taken that city’s name in its title.  Nestled in a restored corner space of a brick building on the southern edge of Chinatown along Main Street, this still relatively new establishment seems to have a carved out a niche for itself with a loyal and locally residing customer base, judging by how busy and loud it got during the course of my stay.  Large, spacious, things to do like some pool tables, video games and big screens to watch sports, it has none of that commercially produced feel of say a Boston Pizza, but rather feel just like the work of some folks who wanted to create a place to hang out, have some suds and meet up with friends for some pub grub.  My kind of joint…

The London Pub while first and foremost a watering hole, did have some food on the menu to peruse from and with nothing in my stomach after a long day of work, we figured something to munch on would be good.   Looking to split something more substantial the the listing of smaller appetizers shown, we opted to try one of their pizza’s, 11-inch I believe.   The barbecue chicken seemed to be the most appealing and substantial of the lot, so that’s what we ordered from the personable young lass who was assigned to our table with the high stools.  Fairly chewy and softer textured dough and on the sweeter side with the sauce, gourmet pizza it is not, but for someone who was in need of some sustenance, it fit the bill just fine.  Size-wise, more than enough for the pair of us.

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Cioppino’s – San Francisco, CA


Cioppino’s
400 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-9311

Big groups require big spaces to eat.  Case in point, our party of eight needed ample space to stretch out as well as to be grouped together for a final farewell dinner in San Fran.  With many of us wanting to do some walking around just to see more than the downtown core where we’d spent most of our week, we ended up trekking along the water front and ended up at Cioppino’s for our evening meal.  This place fit the bill as we could see other large parties inside and even got a space up on the top level tired ares that seemed more suited to diners in tables of five or more.  It had a kind of mess hall feel to it, but we were not that close to the other rambunctious gatherings taking place but not too isolated so that we felt neglected, it was a perfect balance.

Apparently, this establishment has a decent history serving up hearty Italian and seafood cuisine.  I’m sure it falls into the realm of the tourist lot, given its location.  But turns out, it didn’t feel that kitschy at all and could have been even better if on a smaller scale with more focused service and attention.  There are times when ambiance and scale really do make a difference in the whole dining experience – and this was one of them.  Perhaps they were smaller when they started, but now are a full fledged, large scale operation.  A decent choice of draft beers (including the local Anchor Steam, and Big Daddy IPA) and red wines (Sonoma, Napa Valley) gave us a good way to get our appetites going further.

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Zibetto Espresso Bar & Manhattan Gourmet 56 – New York, NY


Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY

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Manhattan Gourmet 56
1377 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
(212) 246-4410

A sunny 86F day in NYC with nothing to do in the morning.  A perfect setup for a casual walk in Manhattan and to grab a simple breakfast to enjoy on the benches of Central Park.  As a die-hard addict in need of a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, my first stop after bypassing those dreadful Starbucks outlets was Zibetto.  Essentially a long narrow space that couldn’t be more than eight feet wide and anchored by a sleek looking, white tiled and similarly colored marble counter-top bar accented with some metallic touches, it fit with my mental image of an Italian espresso bar.

Staffed with some slick looking, white shirted gents efficiently buzzing around behind the bar, there was already a strong lineup in place, as well as some other customers enjoying their cups of hot liquid at the tiny armrest like shelves jutting out from the walls.  Clearly, its a place to have your drink in a jiffy, no lounging around here sucking up free wi-fi or anything and generally disrupting the business need of turnover on the part of the proprietors.

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Foodosophy of British Food


Quickly now, what comes to your mind when you hear the words French Cuisine?

For me, fine dining, regional, and an assortment of French translations for common ingredients that are clearly the fading remnants of my eight plus years of childhood education in the language come rushing out at me.

Now do the same for say, Italian or Chinese.  I’m sure strong images pop into your mind, mainly of the favorable variety, including some great dishes or full meals you’ve had associated with the countries from which they came.

And how about British food?

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Bourbon and Branch – San Francisco, CA


Bourbon and Branch
501 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 931-7292

“No photo’s allowed”.  Oops. Sorry.

While I am a big fan of history, I’ve never really believed that all things used to be better in the good old days. While nostalgia will often make the past seem much more appealing than it actually was, I will admit that occasionally, they did things better. People took more time and care in their work – more craftsmanship. One place where that still holds true is Bourbon and Branch.

Bourbon and Branch is an old Speakeasy that actually operated as “The Ipswitch – A Beverage Parlor” from 1921 to 1923.  The current incarnation is a throw back to those good old days. From a password required to get in (easily found on the web), to secret entrances to escape the prohibition agents in case they ever raided, they’ve done their best to recreate the ambiance and atmosphere of the 20’s and 30’s. Rules from no cell phones to no standing at the bar, you definitely get a feel for the period.

What they haven’t left in the 20’s is the art of mixology. Starting with very carefully selected spirits and ingredients, carefully composed to provide the best cocktails possible, they are artists and masters at blending and mixing drinks. They certainly take their time with each element, from hand juicing, straining, muddling, chilling, pouring, every aspect of creating your cocktail is deliberate and intentional.

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Black Diamond – Memphis, TN


Black Diamond
153 Beale Street
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 521-0800

When you think Beale Street, most people think Blues. BB King. Smoky dive bars, neon lights. In actual fact, it is crowded with tourist bars, clubs, and a lot of tourists. Except for the Black Diamond.

We didn’t plan on coming here. Our plan was to go to Dyer’s for some fried burgers. But they were closed. And an impromptu torrential downpour meant we had to seek shelter, especially when caught without an umbrella – a bad decision in Memphis in general. We found a place that was close, and not overly crowded. “Black Diamond” written in neon. Sure, why not.

Plastic chairs and dirty tables. Locals who didn’t appreciate their space being invaded. Smoking indoors (ack!). There were no blues, but there was football. And beer. Cold beer.

People would expect places like the Black Diamond to have bad service – well surprisingly enough, it was quite good. The server was friendly, and efficient. And he brought beer, menus, and took our orders. No complaints.

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Elwood’s – Vancouver, BC


Elwood’s
3145 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 736-4301

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Along this end of West Broadway, pubs are quite well represented. Perhaps its due to the relative abundance of residential areas just blocks off on each side of this corridor, and the proximity to the University of British Columbia campus. So if you like to have a quick pint after work in your neighborhood or on the way back home from a busy day of classes, this stretch has several options for you (Coppertank Grill, The Shack, Gargoyles, The Wolf and Hound, etc.).

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Swannie’s – Seattle, WA


Swannie’s
222 S Main Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 622-9353

Say what you will, and I’m sure many of our Canadian readers could if given the chance, about the believed shortcomings of our neighbours to the south, but you have to admit they really know how to go all out when it comes to combining two of the classic male pastimes – eating/drinking plus sports…

Where else can you start from the early morning, drinking beer and gobble down a hearty, greasy breakfast in a pub while watching sports on giant tv screens amid the company of many others who are there for same purpose as you?

After making the short drive down from Vancouver, a group of us made our way down to Pioneer Square, just a few blocks away from Qwest Field, the home grounds of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.  With Opening Day kickoff hours away, we thought we could easily find a free (as in not having to pay money to park) spot to watch the early games playing in the eastern time zone, before we made the short walk to the stadium.  Oh how wrong we were.

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The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar – Seattle, WA


The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar
1301 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA
(206) 623-3500

“One for the road!” my pal exclaimed as we toured the area around Pike Place Market in the evening hours before we made our trek back to Vancouver (following an afternoon at the ballpark and a light meal at Elysian Fields).

With the still blistery hot temperature of the day (an all-time high for Seattle) prevailing, we soon were desperate for some shade and relative comfort.  It was baffling how the ambient temperature seemed to drop a few degrees as we got closer and closer to the waterfront – much needed relief from the high 30C weather.  With only the desire to be in some more manageable environment and a cold one to kick back with, we stumbled upon The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar.  With its open patio, we figured it would suffice.  But a total tourist trap, I know…

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Tonimoes and Shivers at the Mackenzie Hotel – Inuvik, NWT


Tonimoes Restaurant, Shivers Bar @ Mackenzie Hotel
185 Mackenzie Road, Inuvik
Northwest Territories
(867) 777-2861

Sunday Brunch. Nice in theory. Generally over-rated in my personal opinion. You typically pay more than you would pay for breakfast, to eat more than you would, or should, normally eat, with a wider selection of items of a lesser quality. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the “romantic” aspects of brunch. Socialization. A time of gathering. That wonderfully fuzzy time that’s not too early, but still acceptable to be eating breakfast. It’s nice. But the quality can really vary. And then there’s brunch, and there is BRUNCH. At Tonimoes at the MacKenzie Delta Hotel, we’re talking brunch.

The Mackenzie Delta Hotel is the most famous hotel in Inuvik. Which is kind of like saying the Eiffel Tower is the most famous tower in Paris. Not a lot of competition. However, well before venturing to Inuvik, I had heard a lot regarding the Mackenzie. Their “scotch” night. Sunday Brunch. Best meal in Inuvik. Only meal in Inuvik. Really, with a reputation like that, there was only one thing to do – try it myself.

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Sunday Brunch is a quiet family affair. The room was mostly empty, filled with a few families, and a few couples. It’s a nice room – clean, well appointed if a little spread apart. There is, afterall, spacious, and then there an uncomfortable amount of space between tables.

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My beef with buffets often comes down to the food. Many dishes  sit around for long periods of time, being gently warmed to well done by the red glow of the heat lamp. Most things lack freshness – or a la minute as many breakfast items (like poached eggs) should be cooked at. At Tonimoes, all my worst buffet nightmares come true. Chafing dishes filled with cooked foods, kept warm for hours. The bacon is crispy-soggy, the eggs, inedible. Most of the hot dishes are in fact barely edible. Hollandaise that has separated. Potatoes that do not taste like potatoes. I tried a little of everything, and ended up sticking to safe things that i would not get sick on. Like bacon and breakfast sausage. Eggs are a bit too adventerous for me.

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The best thing available? The carrot cake. One of the many previously frozen desserts available, but seemed to withstand freezing much better than some of the other choices. Nothing to write home about, but after biting and spitting out one of the chocolate tarts, this was welcome relief indeed.

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I didnt go into this experience loving brunch, and i have to admit, this one didnt convert me either. Food? Poor. Price? Average.  If you need a requisite 12,000 calories before heading into the bush, then maybe this is the meal for you. Otherwise? You’d be better off not eating at all. Not really, but pretty close.

Bonus Coverage: Shivers Bar at the Mackenzie Hotel.

So i was told that you’ve not had a true Mackenzie experience until you’ve eaten at Shivers. Im not sure what a Mackenzie experience is, but after my Brunch experience, i should’ve known better. One night, I went in to Shivers to order some food. They have a BBQ half chicken with mashed potatoes and veg as the daily special. Sounds great, so i give it an order. After all, how badly can they mess up roast chicken?

Well, my dining companions order as well. And their food comes. 40 minutes later, still no chicken. Finally, my chicken shows up. A little over zealous in the application of bulls eye (actually, after having looked at the local grocery store, it’s more likely Heinz) BBQ sauce, but looks good. I slice into the chicken. It’s a bit firm. But i manage. Take a bite…and then spit it out. It’s frozen on the inside, and still raw.

Now the service is excellent there. The manager came over and rectified it immediately. Brought me a new order of nachos, which were comped, and quite large and excellent to boot. I feel for the manager. He was not surprised my food was raw. He’s handled this situation before…numerous times i would guess.

So, let me sum it up for you. There is no dining experience like the Mackenzie Hotel. When people tell you this, it really means, it’s generally terrible, but, if you stick to safe elements, you’ll be ok.  Nachos, wings, burgers, beer. These were all quite reasonable, and the only things that should be ordered off the menu. The manager is nice, and a decent guy to talk to. If he isnt spending his evening running around trying to fix raw chicken orders. There really is no where like the Mackenzie Hotel!

The Flair Bar – Seoul, KOR


The Flair Bar
572-2 Shinsa-dong, Kangnam-ku
Seoul, South Korea
+82 2 545 5554

Life imitating art. That’s what I thought the moment the performance show began at The Flair Bar.

At the end of a long night that included a fantastic barbecue dinner hosted by my local business associates at their favorite neighborhood restaurant, followed by a few pints at a local pub, my colleague and I were being walked back to our hotel by our gracious Korean hosts when I could see a look in their eyes as if to say, “do you really want to call it a night?”. I glanced over to my still awake colleague and gave him a “why not?” expression and our friends then proceeded to lead us down another busy street lined with shops still open and welcoming revelers still looking for another place to fuel up on more liquor and socialize.

Now I am sure many of you are familiar with Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, and perhaps one of his movies in which he portrayed a cocky bartender who learned to toss bottles of booze with the dexterity of a circus performer. Clearly, this place had patterned their place after the movie set and had the concept down pat as after we had sat down at a table and ordered a round of drinks, suddenly things came to life. The lights lowered, and a blast of music came on followed by a boisterous voice on the speakers. Looking closer, I noticed it was a young woman on the microphone who was standing towards one side of the long counter bar that anchored the room.

Although I had not a clue as to what she was saying, it was clear that the patrons sure did, and had probably been sitting waiting for the show to begin. It seemed like she began things by introducing her team of flair artists, who came from the back kitchen area one by one and did a short routine of throwing bottles up in the air. They then broke into a larger team routine in which team members juggled together. The MC then shouted out questions and some members of the crowd began saying things back, which turned out to be orders. The flair bartenders engaged in more difficult tricks all the while composing the drinks that were being ordered. Despite not knowing the language, the visuals themselves served to help me understand what was going on and to be that up front and personal to the show, was quite entertaining.

The show then evolved into a sort of auction. Special drink orders, even food items were being put up for bids from the engaged customers. My colleague even got into the action, not even knowing what was up for bid. I think people can easily get caught up in the lively atmosphere that is created – much of the credit goes to the MC, who was commanding the show and getting a lot of audience participation. In the end, my friend lost out on a bid for what turned out to be some special cocktail, but seeing our disappointment, and probably since we stood out as foreigners, we were presented with a 12 inch pizza as a consolation prize.

The flair bartenders were a talented crew. The array of tricks they performed was impressive, and coupled with the energetic mistress of ceremonies, this last stop on our evening turned out to be quite the high. I am quite glad that we stopped in, and appreciate the incredible luck we had in finding such an innovative establishment, that we probably never expected to find in Seoul. In places like this that have a “gimmick”, that alone is not enough though. The level of engagement that the crowd has with the performers, is a critical element in creating the atmosphere that we found so enjoyable. If you ever find your way to the Kangnam district in Seoul, I’d suggest you give this show a chance.