Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good Eats on PEI


In the past, I've posted about Prince Edward Island and how much I love spending time out there.  I realised on my most recent trip that although I've said a lot about beaches, of which there are many excellent choices, and goat soap, which I seriously loaded up on this time, I'd never remembered to take photos of the best restaurants to share.  Ergo, this post shall attempt to rectify this omission.  I hope you like seafood!

Lobster


Yes. Lobster.  Every. single. day.  There is definitely no lack of lobster on PEI, and there are really a lot of great places to eat it in all kinds of different ways, but I'm just going to say for the record that Water Prince has the best whole cooked lobster and best lobster roll you can find in Charlottetown.  This totally unassuming, cute, compact place is easily missed because it's not on the main street.  It's at the intersection of Water St. and Prince St. (see what they did there?) and looks like a corner store.  HOWEVER, do not be deceived.  This little spot serves up an amazing lobster roll with french fries, or really darn good potato salad if you like.  We go here every visit for whole lobster, and picked up a lobster roll as soon as we got to Charlottetown.  Priorities!  For the lover of fresh seafood, Water Prince will even cold-ship lobster and mussels to you, across the country.  No big deal.


Fish and Chips

 

The very best fish and chips is even easier to miss than the best lobster for the uninitiated traveller to PEI.  Rick's Fish'n'Chips, in the town of St. Peter's, is truly a hidden gem.  It's busy enough as it is, since there's only a small amount of seating in this very small restaurant, and patio seating is at a premium on nice days, so try not to tell anyone about this place.  To get there, take route 2 east from Charlottetown and keep on trucking.  You can't miss St. Peter's Bay, full of mussel stakes, with two white churches overlooking it.  Go there, order the two-piece fish and chips, and be prepared to be blown away by the crunchiest batter, juiciest fish, and fresh-out-of-the-frier fries.  I recommend a strawberry milkshake (served in the silver milkshake mixer) as the perfect pairing.

Beer

 

OK, I guess this is not really a food, but no list of places to eat on PEI would be complete without mentioning the Gahan House pub and brewery.  Responsible for producing such memorable pints as the Blueberry Wheat, Sir John A Honey Brown ale, and Beach Chair lager, Gahan House is worth making a stop and purchasing a tasting flight of the season's beers.  New beers are always popping up, making it a fun repeat-destination for the beer lover.  In fact, the blueberry wheat beer is new this year, and it's so good that I hope they decide to continue it.  Gahan House is more than just a brewery, though; a big old mansion with numerous rooms of comfortable seating and a multi-level patio at the back makes this place a great spot for a meal.  The food is great, and the menu changes from time to time for greater selection.  That said, if you really can't make it to the restaurant, Gahan beers are also available in PEI liquor stores.  Stock up!

Pizza 

 

One may not choose to travel to PEI for pizza, but should one wish to eat some pizza, or is suddenly struck by a mad craving for wood-oven creations, remember this:  Route 3 Eatery.  This has got to be the most difficult-to-find restaurant that I'll ever recommend, but you will find it.  Trust yourself, and your stomach, to lead you there.  Route 3 Eatery is a small shanty-like building, of grey wood, like an old west saloon, with a small porch on the front of it.  It's on route 3, so that's easy, between Charlottetown and Montague, near a village called Vernon River.  This pizza could stand up to the best of the gourmet pizzaiolo-style places in Toronto or Montreal.  There are other things on the menu as well, but the pizza is what we went for, and it's definitely what we'll go back for.

Fancy Shmancy

 

Date night!  When you really want to treat yo'self, since it is a vacation after all, there's one spot that's open year 'round and offers truly incredible culinary delights.  This place is called Lot 30 - named for its lot number on the original plan of 400 lots in the city of Charlottetown some many years ago.  I do believe that I ate the best scallops of my life at this restaurant.  They offer fresh PEI oysters, or oysters Rockefeller for the raw-averse person, and an ever-changing menu of fresh fish, mussels, lobster, and meats from around the island.  After feasting on oysters, I had the lobster bake on this trip, which was a combination of lobster and quahogs (giant clams) in a garlic cream sauce, served with spinach-ricotta cornbread and seasonal greens (baby white beets, scapes, kale, leeks, etc.).  HOLY GOD.  My mouth is watering just thinking of it.  Drew had the surf 'n' turf, which included braised lamb shoulder with cremini mushroom gravy, scallops fried in garlic butter, white navy beans, and seasonal greens.  YUM.  I had a peaches, ice cream, and scone dessert, while Drew had a molten chocolate cake.  So gluttonous.  So good.  Additional awesomeness: there's a tv screen over the bar that focuses on the plating area in the kitchen, so you can see your food being plated, and you can see that it doesn't sit there under warming lights for 10 minutes before you get to eat it.  Nice.  Ask for Kevin as your waiter, and tell him some folks in Ontario are thinking of him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sympathy for Dinosaurs


The fundamental question of philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide, said Camus.  Once this question is answered, everything else falls in; one either kills oneself, or one eats food, sleeps, works, loves, and moves through the days toward some other kind of death.  Some people never have to ask this question, and some people never wonder, but other people have to ask and answer more than once.  Camus thought that philosophers had to ask and answer, and that if Nietzsche was right and philosophers had to 'lead by example' insofar as they had to live the philosophy that they espoused, then philosophers had to examine the question of suicide and answer it through action.  Once there was action, the answer was clear.

Yesterday, I woke up wondering what the point of "it all" is. Camus would say that I was ambushed by the absurd:"at any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face. As it is, in its distressing nudity, in its light without effulgence, it is elusive," he says. Absurdity is hard to get a handle on, as the mind hesitates to look at it. Feeling the absurdity of existence can make a person despair. The ultimate pointlessness of life, if one takes the long view into the future of the planet, is overwhelming. So where can the mind go from there? Absurdity pushes us towards the fundamental question. If absurdity makes you say yes to suicide, then living is completely out of the question. If it makes you say no to suicide, then you have to find something about life to say yes to. A no to suicide is ultimately a resistance to absurdity's compelling evidence that nothing really matters, but in this world without gods, what does matter?

My answer in the face of absurdity is that all the little things matter, and that being alive matters, as a nice gift of existence that one might never have had and which will be taken away from one again at some point in time. There's no real, ultimate, deep meaning to life. It's nice to be here though, to love people and be loved back, to feel the sun on one's face and to help other things live. Trees never ask what the point of it all is, and maybe that's why I like them so much. In a way it's just a really stupid question. The answer, that there is no point, is obvious. The question of what you're going to do about it is the one that matters.

I recognize when absurdity slaps me in the face that about 60% of my feeling comes from sympathy for the dinosaurs. Their world ended while they were in the middle of doing things with their lives, and ours will too. There won't be much warning, or when there is warning it will come way too late for us to do anything about it. So I sympathize, and empathize, and fear, too, the end that they didn't fear. Another 30% of my feeling is a kind of distress that comes from my impression that what I'm doing right now with my life doesn't matter right now in the world, and that's hard. I'm someone who wants my existence to have a positive impact on the world around me, even if small, and to help people who don't know me. Sometimes my work gets me there, but sometimes not. I'm working on changing that, but it's slow-going. The final 10% is fear and doubt of various kinds, related to my own future - maybe I'll fail, maybe I'll never get where I want to go, maybe I'll never feel satisfied. When the world ends, I don't want to feel like I've wasted my whole life.

Ultimately, though, 100% of the absurdity gets overridden by the meaning that I make for myself in the world around me. My life has meaning because of the people I love and who I want to spend time with, and the things that I enjoy doing. Not thinking about an afterlife really frees one up to think about what's good now - eating food, drinking wine, riding my bike, talking to people, taking road trips, connecting to the world... Lots of things are worth doing and living for in this short time that we have. Work is an unfortunately large part of life, and it's easy to let it grind you down. But when absurdity pushes me to ask the fundamental question, my answer is always no.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Corison's Incredible Cabs

Red wine barrels at Corison

I had the wonderful good fortune to visit Corison winery in Napa Valley, and to taste there the most wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon.  Started by Cathy Corison and made from high-quality vineyards in and around Rutherford, including a small plot of 40 year old Cab vines, Corison is renowned for the elegant, juicy, deep red wines that pour out of its many barrels.

The winery itself, which looks like a really big old schoolhouse, sits in the middle of the Kronos vineyard.  Kronos is the acre of land (approximately) that is planted with 40 year old vines - some of the oldest in the region.  Cathy replaces vines one at a time when necessary, and only after they've stopped producing grapes for three years in a row.  You can see, in the photo to the right, how the old vines of Kronos are widely planted and can be clearly distinguished from the neighbouring vines (which are not part of Corison's property).  Kronos wines are hand-crafted, made from this vineyard only, and are completely remarkable for the intensity of colour and flavours.  We got to try some, and the glass was overflowing with cherries, field berries, and a hint of graphite.  The wine tasted as if the vines really knew what they were doing out there, and loved the place that they were in.

Corison's wines are 'typically Cabernet,' there's nothing strange or unexpected happening here.  It's straight-up, high quality, no-messing-around, real Cab Sauv.  In a place where I felt like I'd been mostly drinking someone's experiment every day, it was refreshing to taste seriously well-crafted Cab with no funny business.

 Corison knows her grapes, and knows her style.  We tasted some of her wines from different years, and while the growing season and the age gave the wines different characters, one could tell right away that they were sisters.  They came from the same place, with the same caring and knowledgeable hands helping them develop, and had the same structural backbone.  Beautifully balanced, angular but juicy, and full of ripe cherries, currants, plums, and some tobacco leaf, these Cabs left nothing to be desired.
Thanks to Elaine for bringing me here for a tasting. Fun!