I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
Related to a pop-up restaurant, a pop-up dinner occurs when a location is turned into an impromptu eating area for a limited time and for a limited number of people. If I was to wager a guess, the difference between a pop-up dinner and a pop-up restaurant is that the latter would be obligated to throw down tables and chairs.
Recently, Home Sweet Home entertained the former and staged a “standing-room” six-course meal at their location with the help of the staff of the soon-to-be-re-opened Copper Pig. While there, I discussed at length with a few of the other patrons the possibility of other businesses doing the same. The requirements would include a location with the open floor space to accommodate patrons as well as a chef and cooking staff willing to pull it off. I also believe an optional requirement would be for a business to promote their products as well, like Home Sweet Home did.
So with that in mind, I am calling out two business owners to stage such a dinner.
James Bhang: Currently, the former head chef of the best sushi restaurant this city ever had—Suzuran—is in school to pursue a scientific degree which I’m sure will eventually lead to a cure for cancer or a miracle solution to our energy demands involving—I don’t know—tallow and fish poop. But the point is that he’s no longer a sushi chef, and I have a problem with that. He has the talent, and after talking to the other patrons at the HSH pop-up dinner, there’s definitely the demand. It would be a one-evening event and there’s the potential to rake in considerable revenue to fund more schoolwork.
Nicole Cooper: At only 25—and just, she turned it only last week—Nicole Cooper stands as one of the city’s most promising success stories. While I was in Calgary, I stumbled upon the only Canadian location of an international chain positioned optimally in the core of downtown Calgary. It was called Oil & Vinegar, and I dreamt of how amazing it would be if we had such a place in Prince George. I knew it was futile…three months, 4Oak opened. It looks incredible, dominated by polished wood, stainless steel canisters offering various flavors and ages, and huge swathes of unused real estate. Apparently, they had already fielded a private event with local chef-savant Ryan Cyre. The ingredients are there, the space is there, and the money would come.
This is their Field of Dreams moments. I`m calling out Nicole and James to stage pop-up dinners. They have the means and we have the wallets. You never know, it could even be fun.
I’m in Toronto for a technology symposium. I know it sounds like the first sentence in a cyber-thriller script pitch, but it’s true. I even had a limo service to my hotel. Well, when I say limo service, it’s only because they called it that. I guess I missed the notice when limos became defined by tinted windows and dual climate control. I suppose any four-door black Lincoln constitutes a limo in this backward little country. I mean where’s my glass of friggin’ champagne?!
I got to the hotel faster than Buckaroo Banzaii because the speed limit on Ontario roads is apparently Mach 1. And the limo driver was talking on his handheld smartphone while driving—that instilled a lot of confidence. I thought I was staying at the nice Sheraton the symposium was located at, but in truth I was dumped into Best Western the next door, so far down what looked like a mile-long hallway, I think I could see the curvature of the Earth. Not kidding, my hotel room couldn’t have been any further away without me coming back (little Truman Show reference there).
What does any of this have to do with my blog? Well, it means that I have three evenings to review as many local spots as I can before being shuttled back to my little village. One night has been reserved for bowling; I’m not sure about the others. Oh, and apparently I’m sharing a hotel room to…wish I had known that earlier.
I’m not sure if anyone else has condensed the Nechako Oyster Bar to NOB, but I’ll be doing so for the rest of this review…because it sounds funny. And why shouldn’t they embrace it.
“Have you been to the NOB?”
“You really need to experience the NOB.”
My compatriot and I arrived at the NOB on a Saturday evening, me still in my dirtied red work uniform, my friend decked in velour…yes, velour (I should’ve brought a coat). The NOB is located somewhat out of the way in an area of town I wouldn’t normally associate with fine dining; it’s next to a pub and flanked by, and this is true, a strip club. I have to hand it to the owners, they went for the carpet bomb approach in gratifying every facet of Prince George society. I’m now honestly surprised there isn’t a beer & wine store around the corner (can’t make that assumption, there probably is). The moment you walk into the NOB, any assumptions of the restaurant given the outside décor and neighboring businesses is shattered. The NOB looks amazing. Sure, I can nitpick at their use of booths. 48 North did this as well—most high-end restaurant avoid booths (I know, I checked). I’m sure there’s a reason, something about being able to attend each customer equally while avoiding the “reach intrusion”. Booths offer more intimacy, though you do end up making assumptions on the waistlines of potential customers (one family restaurant I went to forced me to sit on the edge of my couch just so I could reach my plate). The lighting was intimate and I didn’t recall hearing any music. It’s not a bad approach at all.
The menu embraces the restaurant’s concept, almost entirely seafood. But does it have oysters? We’ve seen restaurants in town claim something in the title but then not deliver. Not this time…oh no…not this time at all. We both ordered varieties of oysters, his pan-fried, mine as raw as an Eddie Murphy comedy routine. To maintain freshness, stock is somewhat random, pulled from sources across the province. I was given a choice, but being uneducated in this regard, I let the waitress decide. My plate arrived with the morsels sitting in the half shell, resting on ice. It was fringed by a half lemon, a vinegar concoction, and a teeny-weeny adorable little sealed bottle of tabasco. Without instructions, I improvised—squirt the lemon, drizzle the vinegar, dash the hot sauce, ensure the oyster had been properly shucked, and then slide the whole thing down. Disgusting to some, amazing to others. I fell into the latter. I’ve had raw oysters three times now and this tops the list of experiences.
The mains fell to expected choices. I ordered the halibut and frites (fish & chips to you philistines) while my friend ordered the conventional halibut stuck after gulping down a bowl of chowder (that’s “chowdaaa”) with what looked like a trawler load of fresh seafood. His halibut steak was brilliant, near perfection, though our official judgment was that the platting was…traditional, with the steak resting comfortably on a bed of vegetables and potatoes. Mine, on the other hand, needed several spins to properly appreciate the artistry of the presentation. From metal pail topped with truffle fries and cheese, to the perfectly stacked battered halibut, to the dollop of homemade slaw, to having the whole thing resting upon imitation newspaper made from wax paper and adorned with faux articles about seafood. That’s a level of attention to detail that must be stressed and praised for sixty words in an already over-budget restaurant review. I avoided the ketchup but the NOB has the best tartar sauce I’ve had to date. I usually hate tartar sauce. They should bottle and sell if they’re not already.
Prices are very reasonable, though their wine menu could use some finessing. There are more red options than white, with only a handful of the latter listed, odd given that it’s the general assumption you pair white with fish. I felt the wine prices were also a little steep. My two dishes totaled less than $35 while my friend emptied the wallet at $65. I must also admit, this marks the second time in as many weeks a restaurant has undercharged me for a dish, instilling me with so much guilt, I upped the percentage on the tip. I admit this could be the restaurant’s way of trying to induce a more positive review. If that was the NOB’s intention, then they should totally keep doing that.
Ahem, I mean—what I meant to say was that it wouldn’t have mattered. The Nechako Oyster Bar could be the best seafood restaurant I’ve been to, a fantastic alternative to the steak & potato joints saturating our city. If I was to make any recommendation, it would be to perhaps expand the menu to include a tuna dish or two. And I was to make a suggestion to the owner of this block-sized empire, expand the local parking and add a few more outside lights. To everyone else, don’t let that discourage you. Throw on your prized velour jacket, make a reservation, and enjoy some of the best seafood this town has to offer.
OVERALL: 8.5 out of 10
I was looking forward to this one—to finally review a new restaurant weeks after opening, and new 48 North is; they’re practically steeped in afterbirth. There’s a lot I need to discuss, so I’m going to skip my usual pop culture references and self deprecating humor and get right into it. 48 North is good, close to great. It has issues, some which it can address.
Let’s start with the name, because obviously someone is going to compare them to North 54. Fact, 54 is Prince George’s latitude. You might suspect that 48 could be our longitude, it’s not, it’s actually 122. Too bad, that would’ve been funny, especially if they merged with North 54 and became 48 North 54. 48 North is actually the latitude of Victoria, where the owners opened their first restaurant. I was also told it was a reference the owners pulled from their home in India. Although I’d love to endorse that, it makes a lot more sense (stupid that it is) that someone would expand a location from Victoria to another city and not change the name. There already is another 48 North in Kelowna…where the latitude is 50. In my review of 53 North in Edinburgh, I postulated that there could be a restaurant for every degree of latitude. I never thought there would ones out of place. It’s like when Monday Night Football plays games on Thursday night but still calls itself Monday Night Football. I mean what’s up with that?!
I’m ranting, where was I…
It’s also far too bright. They need to bring down the lighting by at least 25%. Finally, I must bring up the dress code…yes, dress code. I don’t expect staff to stand on ceremony, but what I do expect is attire above the level sees in a night club. Our chef came out to greet our table, something I’ll mention later when discussing how awesome 48 North is, but he did so wearing an unbuttoned casual shirt. Where is his chef’s jacket? Dude…Doug—that’s his name, Doug (we’ve gone monosyllabic)—you have the position. Take pride in it. Then there was our waitress and her very short one piece dress. The skirt was more like an extra-wide belt topped with, for me to be blunt, ventilations—rips across the back. I don’t require that staff walk around in fedoras and tails (thought that would be friggin’ awesome!), but if the staff at Moxis dress better than you, you know there’s a problem.
And that’s it…that’s the end of the criticism. You might think I’ll mention price, but when you add service and plating, it stands up there with the best in town. I can see where they can improve, but the important thing is that they can. The menu was at this moment on a single laminated sheet larger than a school whiteboard, but it didn’t take long for us to settle on a phalanx of dishes. I had the venison carpaccio (topped with arugula, capers, and parmesan) and the cherry duck breast (cherry Sauce, fondant potatoes and seasonal vegetables), while my companions had the scallops (pan seared with bacon tomato marmalade and balsamic reduction), French onion soup, fillet mignon (crispy onions and port wine reduction), and strip loin. It was all amazing. The platting was expertly achieved and the flavors were robust. And like I said before, the chef came out to our table on more than one occasion, a practice I hope he didn’t just do for us if he suspected who I was (the $800 my friend was carrying might have given it away). The prices were high, but the end result was worth it. In its current state, it’s not trying to appropriate any customers from North 54, but the semi-casual atmosphere—to me—indicates an approach similar to White Goose, and 48 North has a long way to reach that crescendo. But only four weeks in, 48 North has the important aspects down—a nice selection and good food. After they settle in and find their voice, hopefully implement a few suggestions, 48 North could be a real contender in Prince George.
OVERALL: 8.4 out of 10
The Bear’s Paw Cafe—Wells, BC
Only in a town with a population smaller than a business management class would the best restaurant be a tiny café with homemade mugs and mismatched tablecloths. But don’t let that fool you, the Bear’s Paw Café is probably one of the best places you can eat for a hundred kilometers. Yeah, yeah, I-I-I know that there are only ten restaurants in that range, but dammit, it’s still a title to be proud of!
The Bear’s Paw cafe is the kind of restaurant I really love going to, the kind my blog was designed for. Oh sure, I love pampering myself in a posh high class restaurant, but they don’t need my promotion to succeed. That’s not saying Bear’s Paw requires it either, but it’s the type of place I love talking about.
Of the five restaurants in Wells you can eat at, it tops the list among the various review sites, and five minutes into entering, I could see why—it’s proudly rustic. A radio plays local music, punctuated by an announcer mentioning the very restaurant I was inside. Local arts hangs on the wall. The few TVs present show photos from the owners’ hiking trips across British Columbia. There’s even a stage where local acts play (like that night). Bear’s Paw is more adorable than a Teddy Ruxpin after being caught in the rain. The specials are scrawled daily on a blackboard—whatever piques the cook’s interest that day. The owners were delightful if a tad blunt, maybe adoringly blunt would be a better description. They talk honestly and proudly about their food. The menu is tight and efficient, only three mains with double that for appetizers, how it should be for small places like this. It’s not lazy, it just proves the dishes are cooked to order. My girlfriend ordered their “legendary” ribs while I a hamburger—YES, a hamburger. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll order hamburger in a burger joint if that’s what they’re good at, though this one was delivered sans cheese. I admit that was odd, but was more surprised when I realized I hadn’t noticed until half-way through the meal.
On a side note, wells must have a fascination with frogs. The store next door is called Frog on the Bog. There are drinks from the Dead Frog’s Brewery. Bear’s Paw has frog novelties scattered about including matching salt and pepper shakers. It makes me wonder why they went with the name they did…seems there was a more appropriate alternative staring them right in the face. Too late now, it’s called Bear’s Paw; they even blasted the name onto custom-made ceramic coffee mugs—OH MY GOD, THAT’S ADORABLE! Look at that! It was like they were made in their kid’s art class. I wanted to buy one. On the recommendation of the server/owner, I opted for vegetables on the side instead of fries. They were honestly quite good save for that one strange alien…I don’t know…”thing” I couldn’t recognize. Was it some odd local produce farmed downstream from agricultural runoff? No, it was just bok choy. Regardless, it was not the most edible part of the meal, though I would praise the cheese-less burger.
Despite having few places to eat, Wells does have recommendations, and I can see why Bear’s Paw tops the list. As they open for the evening, I’d recommend stopping on the way home from Barkerville. It would be hard to miss the giant arrow.
For those interested, 4 OAK expanded into Kamloops. Here is a video detailing the location and its owner.
Long Duck Tong
Long Duck Tong is one of only two restaurants to choose from in Barkerville—the other being Wake Up Jake, which was closed this day due to a family emergency. As such, both have the unfortunate obligation to overcharge their food, which Long Ding Dong embraces fully.
Wait, did I get that name right?
Oh sure, there are smaller vendors, just few that allow you to sit down and enjoy a meal. Long Diddy Tong has chairs, though these are small and lack any cushions, part and parcel of being a Chinese restaurant in a historic town, even if said down is slightly anachronistic. The dated décor is intentional, and I for one, embrace it. From the racially insensitive caricature greeting you at the door to the stained wood interior—I know it’s veneer and not made from a genuine building. Beyond the swinging doors is a modern kitchen. You can pay by debit unlike the old days when it would’ve been—I’m assuming—teeth and tufts of women’s hair. But it also doesn’t have the mainstay of modern western Chinese cuisine, a buffet, and for that Long Duck Dong lands on my list of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever been to (admittedly, there are currently only five on said list and this one lands at the bottom).
Long Bing Bong features an impressive collection of modern and authentic Chinese dishes including Szechuan and dim sum, one of my favorites. However, I avoided the latter and got drawn to the sizzling satay chicken while my girlfriend ordered the pepper beef. She also asked for chicken chow mein while I added a fringe of potstickers. All of this culminated in a full table with far too much food. We didn’t even notice the lack of rice, something apparently you had to order separately. Knowing perfectly well we couldn’t take anything home, I suffered abdominal distension trying to fit it all in. I was further encouraged to finish my plate when I saw the bill. Half the dishes mentioned were over $20, and despite ordering water, the full meal with tip still emptied the wallet at $70! And remember when I mentioned 66 words ago that none of it came with rice. Pepper beef, satay chicken, none of it with rice. I haven’t been fleeced this bad since ordering Viagra from that discount website (I still hold hope).
Don’t get me wrong, Long Duck Song is fantastic compared to other Chinese restaurants. I’ve had better, but I’ve also had much, much worse. Comparing Hong Kong Tong to other Chinese locations in Prince George, it would be in the top three. But it’s also not a place I’d be able to frequent often. Of course, if Long Duck Wrong was in Prince George, it would be less expensive. The reason it costs as much as a gastric lavage procedure (something I came dangerously close to requiring) is because of its remote location, increasing ingredient transport cost and customer demand. It’s an even bet that if a second Chinese restaurant opened up in Barkerville, prices across the town would drop faster than my pants in about ninety minutes.
But between this and Wake Up Jake, there was really no contest, but perhaps order only one dish per person instead of two. Go for a combination or accompany a larger group. My official stance is to recommend Long Donkey Kong, but just be aware of how much you’ll eventually be spending.
Long Dong Tong…
Long Ping Pong…
…I’ll stop now.
To give you an idea how long it’s been since I last visited Barkerville, back then, it was free to enter.
Yeah. I’m old.
What’s changed since? Not much. A few more buildings, a few additional novelties, but it’s pretty much the same, part and parcel of being a historical town. It’s not like they can add a Ferris wheel or a castle…though a castle probably wouldn’t be the most anachronistic thing here.
But I jumped the introduction. For most people, visiting Barkerville involves an extended drive marked by a bathroom break in Quesnel, because really, why does Quesnel exist other than to be a glorified rest stop? You either pee at the 7/11 on the way to Vancouver or you pee at the A&W on the way to Wells. There should be a sign, “Come for the piss, stay for the food.” Most of the restaurants aren’t much more than bathrooms with a fast-food joints attached.
We entered Barkerville on a Saturday morning before 11 AM on a cool September morning. It was unsurprisingly sparse, the town shuts down after this month for the season. We figured the day would be engaging, and we’d leave at the town’s closing around 5:00. After wandering through a few buildings and promising to shop before we left, we found lunch at the Chinese restaurant, Long-Dong-something (I’ll review that separately). Afterward, we looked at our watch, it had just rolled past noon.
After we skipped the theater and walked through every building we could, we wandered up to the Courthouse and back, about a 30 minute walk. Afterwards, I looked at my watch, 2:00. Wow, time moved slowly around here.
We built stone towers by a brook and made for the other outlook for a nice view.
3:00, running out of things to do.
Okay, we decided to go shopping finally and blew 50 bucks on fudge. My girlfriend bought two pieces of art from a local dealer. Finally, at 3:45, knowing we had seen pretty much everything, we decided to go to Wells early. And that really says it about Barkerville. It’s not like Disneyland where you need three full days to see everything. With Barkerville, you can walk slowly and still cover the whole thing in an afternoon. Very little has actually changed since last I was here…which I do imagine is pretty much the point. I mean it is a recommendation, just don’t expect any surprises. I do recommend following one of the tours though. And I do fully admit that during the peak season, this place is a lot livelier.
But we did want to see Wells, which also claimed a historic district. I’m not sure it’s historic as more just Wells refusing to join the 21st century. There is no cell service anywhere. The one and only place I found wireless internet only offered 20 MB free before cutting me off, which basically meant downloading emails and getting one message off to a friend. Pooley St. is a modest little dated section of town that appears more like a 19th century Mexican village than a Canadian historic site. No cars and with the bright yellow hotel to my right, I had this overpowering inclination to walk down the middle of the street and wait for the shutters to slam closed as I passed. I wanted to whistle the theme from a Fistful of Dollars. Like Barkerville, there was little to no people around. I thought Wells had a population of about 50—I counted maybe twenty people wandering around the streets.
I kind of liked Wells, though. It was a classic rural town with cute personalities and distracting primary colors. I asked three people to recommend a place to eat and they all agreed, the Bear Paw Cafe. I had been recommended the Big H’s Fish and Chips back home, but my girlfriend wasn’t feeling into halibut, unfortunate since the parking lot around the “H”s trailer (because that’s what it is, a trailer) was adorable. It was fringed by a classic “U”-shaped motel plucked right from the 60’s, and populated by classic cars. If I was a conspiracy nut, I’d think the wormhole from The Philadelphia Experiment had opened up, and if I fell into temptation to cross the threshold, I’d be enjoying fantastic fish and chips from 1955. Thankfully the Bear Paw was an adorable restaurant (reviewed separately).
In conclusion, Barkerville is a quaint tourist attraction worthy of an afternoon augmented by a nice drive and a secondary attraction with surprising hidden value. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by English castles, just don’t expect anything world shattering.
On occasion, I like expanding my reviews to other cities and other countries. I’ve taken on the best of Vancouver, Calgary, London, and Edinburgh, the latter I visited twice. These entries generate the highest number of views on the various websites I post to. Even though I have more entries in Prince George than all of the UK combined, there are simply more people there than here.
Next up, Italy, like all of Italy. My mother and I alternate destinations—I chose London last time, and now she get’s Italy (I’m picking Germany next, by the way). From October 6th to 18th, I’ll be traversing the sights, sounds, and tastes of one of the birthplaces of modern cuisine. Of yeah, and there are some churches and castles to see as well.
To preview this upcoming journey, here are some of the hotels I’ll be staying at:
Something has changed in Prince George, and we have the youth to thank for it. Am I referring to those bruising themselves at the skate park, those believing tweeting a cause is akin to fighting for it? No. I’m talking about my generation. People may claim I’m old, and they’d be right to an extent—elevator music is sounding pretty good, and I’ve started leaning forward driving uphill—but I’m still part of a sprightly generation belligerently refusing to settle into the lives of our parents. They defined this city by shopping at big block retailers, buying trucks, and eating at family restaurants. It was and old town with old ideas, but my generation is starting to make a claim. We’re the ones with tuner cars and public art projects, the ones that go to the BCNE to watch cooking competitions while avoiding the rodeo. I’m making a generalization, but I believe we’re the ones that packed the stands to watch Blue Man Group. We open restaurants like Copper Pig and Shiraz. And we open stores like 4OAK and Home Sweet Home.
Home Sweet Home is amazing. Yes, I admit, its selection is limited and some of it can be purchased from the health food aisle at Superstore, but where it shines is with its local products. Locally sourced produce and baking needs. Canned sauces and dips. Homemade pies. Every time I visit Home Sweet Home, something has changed. Is it evolving or adjusting? You don’t come to HSH just for a jug of milk and a carton of eggs (though you can). You come in with the same curiosity as a pubescent boy when opening his older brother’s dirty magazine—an overwhelming desire to see what’s inside. And like a Stanley Kubrick film, you can’t help but hang around. The owners are delightful and the atmosphere welcoming.
And do you want to know the real shocker? The food is good and not even that expensive. I really hope they don’t get wind and start overcharging. Their hummus is great and maybe a dollar more than Superstore. Their Dijon is cheaper, better tasting, and packed with enough wine that it could be the first time you got drunk on a condiment. But with prices bordering on reasonable, I keep wanting to return. With other places, they are a momentary curiosity, ultimately too pricey for sustained patronage, but Home Sweet Home has found a nice balance to entice people to become regulars. Hell, I’ve been there four times and they already called me by name.
Finally, I wanted to praise HSH’s dedication to community, following the examples set by other progressive businesses in town like Shiraz, Copper Pig, and Nancy O’s, Home Sweet Home has made their little shop an epicenter for social events including recent pop-up dinners and cooking classes. I recently attended a wine and cheese event. My hope is that they continue their success and maybe even blow down the eastern wall to expand, just as long as they don’t risk what they’ve already accomplished.